I’m in full support of gun rights and gun safety, and that’s why I have been aghast to hear the rapid-fire reports of a machine gun in our suburban Houston neighborhood in recent days and nights.
To clarify, we live in unincorporated Harris County, which can sometimes seem like the Wild West on suburbia given its lack of zoning and a fair amount of crime. But, we are policed here in our area by the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. The deputies have been getting a lot of calls about full-automatic gunfire, which seems to be coming from one of the bayous in the neighborhood.
The shots are being heard across a wide radius, judging by the comments on the NextDoor app. Now, some folks commented they think it’s just fireworks, but they have been corrected by military vets and others familiar with the actual sound of gunfire. Or, by anyone who has watched news coverage of a war zone or a war movie.
This is not semi-automatic gunfire like that of an AR-15. My man, who lived in Beirut at the outset of its civil war, came in from the patio the other night to tell me he heard a machine gun. I said, “you mean full auto?” and he said, “yeah, full auto.” I stepped outside and lo and behold, it was an unmistakable sound.
I’ve been at the gun range with my bolt-action rifle target shooting amid people with semi-automatic rifles and I know what the latter sounds like. This sound carrying across the neighborhood is not semi-automatic.
This egregious behavior went from an initial shock to furious comments on social media. We first heard it at night, but Sunday afternoon, we heard it again. Byron and I drove toward the area we suspect it is coming from, a waste site on a particular bayou (there are several here that feed into the neighboring Addicks Reservoir). We pulled up to a realtor standing outside an open house he was hosting and he agreed it’s a machine gun, noting he had been in the military. Just as I started to dial the sheriff’s department, we saw a deputy’s patrol car pulling up to a man standing beside his truck. He had just called the sheriff’s department to report the problem.
The NextDoor discussion is getting more urgent with people adamantly expressing that we need to keep calling to help the police triangulate the source of the sound. One of the most involved commenters has related the Sheriff’s Department is deploying a helicopter and K-9s, and come to think of it, we did hear a helicopter flying low the other night.
I firmly believe Americans have a Second Amendment right to bear arms, whether for self-protection or hunting. But, full automatic rifle, a.k.a. machine gun, is severely restricted and regulated, for good reason. And, whoever is doing this is incredibly reckless. It would be reckless to shoot any firearm wantonly in a residential area. During dove season, we often hear shotguns on a large, nearby property and those shooters are not endangering anyone.
The machine gun on the bayou is hopefully a fleeting phenomenon that will be shut down by law enforcement.
When I first heard of people hunting hogs by helicopter, I grimaced. It seems rather unseemly, right? After all, it’s not very sporting.
The problem with hogs are they are not simply game, like deer or duck. Wild hogs are an invasive species that damage the environment and well, hog the resources that actual game eat. Living in Texas, we have seen first-hand the extensive damage hogs beat into the landscape, along roads, in fields and on other land.
Sadly, we are now seeing their handiwork on land owned by my boyfriend’s Dad in North Georgia. These are deep, mountainous woods. Hardwoods stretching high to the sky, gripping steep glens and protecting creeks. The trees are full of squirrels and birds and shed carpets of acorns, which we tend to think are intended for deer, not the ravenous hogs.
At Thanksgiving, we returned to these woods to deer hunt. Our first outing, we quietly entered a clearing with a high perch and heard movement. We stood still and surprisingly, two hogs walked toward us, oblivious. Byron raised his rifle. As he was between me and the hogs, I kept my muzzle skyward.
The two hogs were in a tall grass and amazingly did not see us, even at about 15 yards. At that point, Byron had a shot and dispatched one. The other took off down the mountain. We went to the large sow on the ground.
What can one sow mean to an area? A friend with a family ranch in Texas has noted that the gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days. That’s one way of thinking about it, though I have read a wild sow typically has one to two litters a year. Now, in a given area, there will be more than one sow and the population can really take off.
The first time I saw a herd in action was at Peach Point, a wildlife preserve near Freeport, Texas. The wildlife managers were hosting a public hog hunt and due to high demand, held a lottery for the hunters. Once selected, we were assigned blinds. Each parcel was small enough that they did not want people walking around with rifles shooting into the wild.
We sat in our blind within an electric transmission right of way and watched hogs from a distance of more than 300 yards. In short, we didn’t have a shot. We did get in some wonderful bird watching, in particular. a male Cardinal and two females who seemed to be vying for his attention.
Then, on the way back from lunch while driving in the truck, we saw a huge herd running across an expanse of Gulf Prairie. There were scores of them, including many piglets running alongside big mama sows and scary looking boars. My jaw was swinging in the wind. Without a legal shot under the management practices at hand for that hunt, we were left to gaze in wonderment and horror.
Flash forward back to North Georgia. Our deer hunt was now a hog hunt, for all intents and purposes. The next afternoon, I sat in a dell between a mountainside and a creek, waiting. This was directly below the clearing at the mountaintop where we saw the first two.
The woods are full of beauty.
Suddenly, I heard something that sounded like a swift, heavy rain. The sky was gray, not wet. There was no wind, although it sounded like wind. It was the sound of multitudes of hog hooves schussing through the dry leaves covering the ground.
The train of hogs was coming my way. I had been sitting in wait for a deer. Now, I stood and drew my rifle upon a shooting stick. I aimed for a space the hogs would pass en route to the creek. There was some grass between me and the space. Suddenly, my line of vision through the scope was engulfed with hogs. They rushed past in a grouping.
Rather than blast away, I vainly attempted to focus on one hog to get a clean shot. But it was gone and then another. And another.
I tried to retrain my rifle, to no avail. In short, I whiffed. I resolved I had the wrong gun for the job. Granted, blaming your equipment is the lamest excuse in the book. If I had the chance to do it again, I might not go for that perfect shot.
But, why do hunters go for the optimal shot? For starters, it is humane to cleanly take the animal. Also, if you are planning to eat the meat, you want a clean shot. Of equal importance, is safety. You don’t want to get into the habit of wantonly shooting. You want to aim and take out that particular hog, deer, bird, whichever.
I was simply overwhelmed. I had stayed true to the moral that you must be 100% certain you have a clean kill shot before pulling the trigger. I had that with my first buck. I most certainly did not have that as a dozen large, medium and small hogs raced through tall grass.
Could I have succeeded in hitting one or two? Yes, but they would not have likely dropped liked stones. The ethic being do not kill if the animal would extensively linger or run off with an injury. Have I taken another buck and a doe on other occasions where they ran? Yes, but they only moved briefly and then dropped. One buck took a lung shot and an apparent adrenaline rush. A doe bolted about 20 feet and went down.
When it came to these hogs, I was stunned by their speed. It also reminded me of duck hunting when you wait and wait and suddenly a couple dozen scream overhead. I had trouble focusing on one to take in the moment as milliseconds elapse and then the moment was gone.
I admit I was jealous of Byron’s hog in the clearing. When they came upon us, they were lumbering. One was so big, for a moment, we thought it was a bear. Once they got close, they were obviously hog. I had hoped to stalk the one that ran, but he disappeared into the thick woods. That next day, I missed my chance.
So what to do? We are planning to return in April. If I see another train of hogs, I will plan to shoot one at a time.
We never fancied ourselves to be the type of people to post a crazy-looking, hand-scrawled sign on our front-door warning looters they could be shot. To avoid any misunderstanding in our disaster zone with law enforcement, a companion sign asks police to call the homeowner. This became critically important, as documented on our front-porch security video (more on that later).
Hurricane Harvey’s devastating aftermath unfurled a new normal that includes such lifestyle changes as having a “slow no wake” navigation sign on the back of your vehicle, using a gasoline-powered generator to keep on the fridge, fans, WIFI and satellite TV, and washing coffee pots and cooking pans in the backyard.
The good thing coming out of our mostly submerged subdivision next to the overflowed Addicks Reservoir in Northwest Harris County is a new fellowship in the neighborhood. We have 144 single-family dwellings that are usually well-kempt. Historically, people here give friendly waves and tend to socialize with their immediate next-door neighbors.
Some of the neighbors had flooded before, with Hurricane Ike in 2008 and with the Tax Day Flood of 2016. This is by far the worst. But something funny happened when evacuees started clomping back in with waders and boats. A friendly spirit buoyed people. A Facebook group started filling up with neighbors who had not yet met, and while their homes were still flooded, they asked when we could have a neighborhood cookout to get to know each other. Our waste treatment plant is damaged, so we don’t have sewer service, but people are ready to party.
Who is Houston
That is Houston. If you’ve never been here before, allow me to explain. When I moved here in 2006 from Washington, D.C., I was amazed how Houston is so friendly. You have the best conversations in office building elevator rides or at the grocery store. Houston is like a funky, sophisticated hybrid of the congeniality of a small Southern town and the cosmopolitan amenities of the multi-cultural megapolis that it is. It does not matter if you are from a small Texas town or the other side of the world, the only constant is friendliness.
In prior months, I saw an article suggesting that while the Houston region is extraordinarily diverse, it is fractured socially among demographics, even geographically. That gave me pause as I wondered what the author is talking about. Our neighborhood looks like the United Nations, just like this region as a whole. Think of a ginormous set of contiguous suburbs that are primarily diverse.
Basically, if you are not friendly or helpful, you won’t fit in here. Texans are also very resourceful; suddenly flooded streets in this region were filled with john boats, kayaks and lifted-up pickup trucks. My boyfriend and I are in one of the only houses in our neighborhood that did not flood (water came up to the caulked doors and into the garage). We watched on TV and Facebook what we called the Redneck Nation coming out to save people. No one is going to make fun of a monster truck again.
A Tale of O. Harvey
We were not able to get out in our own boat for a few key reasons. Just before the storm, Byron had bought a john boat for a gator hunt. The Friday morning before Harvey’s landfall near Rockport/Port A/Corpus, a delivery truck driver brought me the 210-lb. engine in a crate. The outer bands were already bringing rain and I saluted him to drive carefully to get home to deal with his own affairs ahead of Harvey.
We then nosed our vehicles up the sloped driveway to the garage doors with the hope of keeping them dry. When the street became laden with rainwater, we moved a vehicle to angle out the boat. We realized we might have to employ the boat well ahead of the gator hunt. The water began to rise and our immediate neighbors started communicating at each others’ doors. Byron and I realized we needed to get the big engine on the boat. Once secured, we turned our attention to our gasoline supply. We patted ourselves on the shoulders for having filled tanks ahead of time.
Then, it hit me. I asked Byron where the motor oil was for the boat motor. We did not have any. We asked a neighbor, but no luck. Soon we were surrounded by shockingly and frighteningly high floodwaters. To borrow from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” water, water everywhere, but no operable boat engine. Forgive another literary allusion, but I realized we were in a modern-day scenario befitting an O. Henry short story.
Think of the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi,” in which the wife wants to buy her husband a fob for his watch for Christmas and he wants to buy her combs for her long hair. She cuts her hair to sell to pay for the fob, and he sells the watch to buy the combs. Well, at least they had each other! We wish to commend the armada of volunteers from Texas and beyond. We owe you one.
Hello, Men with Guns
I have Byron, who I first met in an outdoors club. We have had hunting and camping trips together, including roughing it for a week in the Arizona desert, which prepared me for camping at home. Byron spent formative years in Lagos, Nigeria, moving in after a civil war there, before his family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, only to see its civil war break out. The man is cool as a cucumber, no matter what is happening. Which brings me to the gunmen at our front door at a time where the only way into the subdivision was by boat (unless you knew we could open a backyard gate into a backroad that had become an ad hoc public boat ramp area).
Upon waking, we saw a security notification on our phones and checked the video: at 4:46 a.m., two men came to our front door with AR-15s, and one of them actually swung his leveled rifle at the front door. If you are not a gun owner, let me tell you some gun safety basics: consider every gun to be loaded (#1) and do not point a gun at someone. In this scenario, don’t ring someone’s door at 4 in the morning and point your semi-automatic weapon at the door.
We then reviewed the footage in a video editing program on my computer and could zoom in for some stills. I called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number (we live in unincorporated Harris County) and the dispatcher sounded shocked. An officer called me right away and within minutes, two deputies were standing on our patio reviewing the video. Two more deputies arrived and then the supervisor in charge of all patrols in this area. Officer Smith was outstanding!
Good guys: Harris County Sheriff’s deputies respond to our call regarding unidentified gunmen.
He looked closely and said they were not his men and did not appear to be any other Harris County law enforcement (we have constables too). He asked me to give him the images so he could circulate it. The officer also related there is a volunteer group of law enforcement officers who had come in from other jurisdictions to provide patrols.
There had been a call to our sheriff’s department around the time of our porch visitors from someone reporting four men with flashlights. We don’t know if these were those men or if they had been looking for those men. Later that day, Byron reconnected by phone with our State Representative, Dwayne Bohac, who came right away prior to this incident when I reached out to him to discuss the neighborhood’s devastation.
Our new friend: Texas State Representative Dwane Bohac, R-District 138, on a fact-finding mission and meeting constituents after Hurricane Harvey.
Byron is HOA president and concerned for the welfare of all the homeowners, especially as the preponderance of them flooded. Representative Bohac came out in waders to see firsthand the scope of the damage. He also has followed up to see how it is going. When you are in a widespread disaster, you need to communicate.
The Facebook group has helped a lot, but visiting face-to-face with neighbors has been the most informative. We met a multi-generational family that lives on the opposite side of the subdivision, closer to the creek that enters Addicks Reservoir. One of the sisters related that as the water rose around them, they had opened some windows and heard people screaming from the house next to our retention pond. The people inside were inundated, could smell natural gas and could not get through to 9-1-1, she related. She got through.
U.S. Coast Guard rescue being performed in our submerged Harris County neighborhood after Hurricane Harvey.
The neighbors were saved and soon enough, strangers in a boat showed up for her family. They loaded her grandparents, both in their 90s, onto the family couch to float them to the rescue boat. Once out on the road behind our house, she said the family collected and then her dad had a funny question: “Is that my couch?” Those rescuers must have had a really big boat!
We have been incredibly lucky to hold down the fort with our dogs, but there rarely seems to be a moment’s peace in a crisis. I was looking forward to Saturday Night Live for much needed comic relief, but instead local newscasters announced they were going to keep on with continuing coverage, which turned out to be footage of people cutting out drywall. There have been deaths and near deaths across dozens of counties, a brand-new mandatory evacuation had been announced earlier and a chemical plant was controlling a fire, so I get the point of breaking news. (I am a former journalist.) Wet drywall isn’t news. Just as I was bemoaning the lack of laughs, someone rang our door.
Our hearts pounded as we scrambled to look at the live video on one phone and answer the phone call on another device (our sign to law enforcement). They called. They were real law enforcement. I saw the guy in charge holding his hands over his waders to show he posed no threat.
I felt bad for scaring them! While Byron spoke to this officer (from the San Antonio area), I peered out the window by the door. His face was so nice! He looked earnestly at me as he signaled all was cool. I wished I could have thanked him, but they were gone. They were checking on people. God Bless.
Natural Disaster Etiquette
If you have friends or family in the zone of a colossal disaster and you wish to express concern, be aware that calling them at 7 a.m. might not be so considerate, as intended, if they were up all night in a sleeping bag wondering if their house would flood in the manner of a scene from “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” or recovering from the adrenaline rush of late-night doorbells.
Basically, don’t ask for details about to what extent people are naked and/or afraid, or what they are eating, etc.
No self-respecting Texan goes without breakfast tacos just because of a hurricane.
Similarly, expressing political outrage on Facebook about Melania’s stiletto heels for her hurricane wreckage tour is stating the obvious to people who are using camping toilets with specially designed plastic baggies and showering on their patio with a garden hose. Besides, if she had shown up looking like someone outfitted her by Cabela’s for an early teal duck hunt, people would have mocked her for that. The clothing is irrelevant.
New outdoor shower area
In the same vein, do not tag your hurricane victim friends with articles by national magazines or news organizations written to argue how stupid their region’s existence is. Or, criticizing their elected officials as hypocrites or some such. As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, we can criticize each other in our community because we are a family. Think about how you would feel if people outside your family said something bad about your mama, during a crisis, no less.
Mayor Turner also had advice for anyone getting ornery around here: “Check Yourself! Check yourself.” We are getting through this together as the amazing, strong and beautiful region, and Texas strong family, we are.
My boyfriend endured a stressful work week so I wanted to make a perfect sandwich for him on Friday. The bakery-fresh English toasting bread held ham, turkey and cheese with sliced lettuce and tomato.
I placed the mayo and mustard on just right. I evenly layered the meats and cheese. I adorned each quarter with a half a jalapeno olive, affixed with toothpicks. The plate also had green grapes and pretzel sticks. I placed this work of art up on the bar-height counter.
Byron walked in and I went to present this masterpiece, only to realize Buster the Catahoula Leopard Dog ate one of the quarters, toothpick and all. The vet said to keep an eye on him. We prayed it would pass without injuring him.
Checking the aftermath of the puppy’s counter surfing reminded us of this scene from Jaws.
The dog seemed unfazed and he enthusiastically ate a big bowl of kibble for dinner, per usual.
We settled in to watch Dateline and the puppy became uncharacteristically quiet. We praise him for calmly laying down. But, it was an upset stomach that brought him down. Suddenly, he stood to the barf position. I guided him to his crate and gave him a bowl of fresh water. Within minutes, the poor doggie barfed up dinner along with other things.
Mercifully, Buster rejected the toothpick and there was no apparent blood. I felt like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the autopsy scene in Jaws when he pulled a license plate and other random items from a shark’s belly; when the puppy coughed up his dinner, we found the toothpick, the olive, tomato, turkey, a rubber band and a dryer sheet.
He felt good enough for a little second dinner. We encouraged him to drink extra water. He went to bed at his normal time and woke us up for his breakfast.
We updated the vet’s office with his condition. I am very relieved he did not eat the green grapes, which are harmful to dogs.
For breakfast this morning, I opted to prepare a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Buster watched and sniffed as I cooked the bacon, which at no time was left unattended. While I fried the egg, the bacon dish was secured in the microwave for storage. Buster himself was secured. It is a good idea in this house to place a wayward or begging dog in a crate or the bedroom to prevent counter surfing.
The next time you make a sandwich that won’t be immediately eaten by a human, be sure to lock it a way. The microwave is a great spot to stash food to keep it away from the doggies!
The Sage Leopard is a lifestyle blog primarily about cooking, but bear in mind it is named for a dog who thinks he is a prince. Today, Higgins reminded me I have always told him I love him more than anything, except he now notices I love someone else too.
That someone is Buster Tobias, our Catahoula Leopard Dog, who is at this writing is 50 pounds and counting. He’s nine months old and new aspects of his personality continue to emerge, including jealously.
As I pet Higgins on the love seat tonight, Buster first sat in disbelief and let out a protest howl. He then laid down and bore into my soul with the guilt-trip eyes. Higgins challenged me to stop giving him my undivided attention.
This dynamic might be part of the reason I’ve struggled to train them alone. Instead, my boyfriend and I took them to our favorite dog trainer. Higgins immediately knew his master from his boarding school days and Buster is so happy-go-lucky he had no idea what we were bringing him into. After a few visits, Buster started crying on the way to obedience training, even if training mostly amounts to heel, sit, stay and lay down.
The truth is Buster is not a fan of rules any more than Higgins is. When he first was learning to stay in lay-down mode, he started stretching out his back and front legs to inch forward with his paws.
His trainer was not letting him get away with it. Whining ensued. I think I caught Higgins laughing at Buster. The key to getting this training to stick was bringing Byron along so the four of us trained together. That’s when the hounds realized I was serious. Now they had two humans to follow.
Tonight when Byron got home, Buster had not immediately noticed because he was outside. When he came back in, I asked, “where’s Daddy” and Buster ran to the front door. When he eventually found his human daddy in the master bedroom, he wagged his tail and wholeheartedly greeted Byron.
This begins a night of relaxing and a cycle of habits: Higgins racing around the backyard looking for possums and barking like crazy, Buster climbing furniture to watch Higgins through windows and crying, and of course: Higgins and Buster vying for the role of top dog.
I’ve seen javelina on hunts in Texas and Arizona, but had not yet been on a dedicated javelina hunt. I had no idea what to expect.
I knew what the hunt would likely be like: gear up and sit quietly. Maybe stalk, quietly. What I didn’t know was what the meat would taste like if we were to harvest any. You can tell just by looking at javelina that the meat will be very, very lean.
Contrary to popular opinion, the javelina is not a wild hog. It’s in the peccary family. They are pretty wild looking. It’s the kind of animal that looks prehistoric and kinda bizarre in the way an alligator is amazing to gaze upon.
In Texas, there is no hunting limit on wild hogs because that is an invasive species. By contrast, the javelina is supposed to be here and hunting them is regulated. We were on a Texas Parks and Wildlife management hunt and each hunter was allowed to only take one javelina.
We were encouraged to take as many hogs and coyotes though. The coyotes eat the deer on this wildlife management area and the hogs are destructive to the environment. We did not see any hogs but heard a lot of coyotes.
The hunt was fielded by a drawing and Byron and I were among those picked. They also had a lot of standby hunters hoping to be drawn the first morning of a three-day hunt. I actually had the honor of drawing a select few from those names in a bucket.
Ultimately, there were about 40 hunters on a wildlife management area covering 15,000 acres. Byron estimates our compartment was more than 600 acres. To get around, we drove the truck over dirt roads and senderos (dirt paths). Some of the roads were pretty treacherous and as Byron maneuvered his big pickup over and through giant holes, he joked he sure wished he had a BMW. Seriously, we are not car people. I need a vehicle my dogs can jump into and I don’t worry about floods or mud.
The first afternoon we made our way around our compartment, finding old deer blinds to use and corning some of the roads and senderos. We used deer corn, which javelina like to eat.
The next morning, we set out before dawn. Legal shooting time is a half hour before sunrise. I climbed up into a blind I checked out the day before, above the road we corned. After dawn, I heard hoof steps, but it was a young buck. No javelinas showed.
I moved to another location for the afternoon and sat quietly. This may be my favorite part of hunting. Just sitting. Listening. Bird watching. I bring a journal and take notes about the nature around me. I may jot down notes for a novel I am working on. I breathe deep and let go of things that don’t really matter.
I just sit. It’s wonderful. It’s something I reflect on over and over when I am busy in regular life. It’s these small moments I can go back to in my mind and regain perspective. It is so quiet you notice everything.
It’s also hard to not notice the sound of a four-legged creature coming through brush. The stride sounded shorter than a deer. It was a javelina, I was sure. He emerged onto the sendero. I was shocked.
He moved along and I took deep breaths. I slowly raised my rifle. Slowly. Watching him through the scope, I waited to see if he would move into a broadside position. The moment came to pass. I saw I had a clean shot and took it. He dropped. I lowered the rifle and breathed.
This is a stunning moment to collect. You have taken a life to harvest the meat. Again, this was an unknown to me. I wanted to be fully thankful and appreciative of the harvest. My phone vibrated. My boyfriend texted to check if the report he heard was from my rifle. I affirmed. He said he would head my way.
I waited 20 minutes. We met and moved to the javelina. It was time to field dress it. I asked Byron for a moment and rested my hand on the javelina’s torso and cheek. My man said a prayer of thanksgiving. Hunters do not take hunting lightly. For starters, there are plenty of hunts where you do not get anything. That’s why it’s called hunting. Moreover, we eat the meat. I love cooking with venison. I was very nervous about javelina. When we dressed it, I could tell this was a very healthy, lean animal.
We placed it in the truckbed and brought him to the check station. I reported where exactly I took it and a wildlife manager weighed it and checked its teeth to gauge the age. Three years old. We placed it in a meat locker and went back out for a few hours.
Byron too harvested a javelina from the same area. We sat together in silence after I had spotted them and radioed Byron to rejoin me. I had been wondering if a coyote was going to show up to take what we had left of the javelina. I was somewhat surprised to see more javelina. Byron and I sat there a good while when they came along again.
When we returned to the check station, we joined other hunters who were also cleaning their meat. I asked them how they liked to cook it. Chorizo. Sausage. Another guy likes to wrap in foil with veggies and roast it over a fire. Byron took great care in icing down and re-icing the meat. He then was diligent in trimming any fat. He packed the back strap and tenderloin in kitchen shrink wrap (Food Saver). We also used a meat grinder and sealed up that meat as well.
The first thing I made was spaghetti with tomato and ground javelina sauce.
Javelina browning with parsley and spices.
To start the tomatoes, I sautéed diced garlic and onion in olive oil and added dried oregano and parsley. Once the garlic turned gold, I added a big can of plum tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then turn to low to simmer for at least a half hour. In a separate pan, I browned the javelina in olive oil with fresh parsley. Again, salt and pepper to taste. Once it was cooked, it was time to confront the unknown. I took a fork and picked up a piece. The taste? Good. Very nice. Nothing overpowering. Lean. Perfect for sauces. I think it will be great in chili too. That’s next!
Fishermen might tell whoppers, but hunters always tell the truth.
Last weekend my boyfriend and I went on javelina hunt on the Chap. That’s short for Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, south of Cotulla, Texas. We had driven our covered wagon there and brought our personal chef Cookie.
We set up camp with other hunters and I impressed all the guys by starting a fire by using my eyeglasses as a magnifying glass to capture the sun’s rays. Everyone started swapping tips on hunting and cooking with game. As evening settled in, one guy pulled out his phone to show us an app with electronic coyote calls.
He placed it on a piece of firewood and let ‘er rip. Sure enough, a pack of coyotes circled the fire. The big daddy coyote swooped in, snatched the phone in its mouth and confidently trotted off.
The man howled and whipped out a handgun. He shot at the coyote and the beast dropped the phone. We were impressed it wasn’t damaged except for teeth marks in the case. That was enough excitement for one night and we drifted off to sleep. I had the strangest dreams in which the trees seemed to have voices.
The scratching of an armadillo on the tent awoke me and I geared up. I reached the deer blind before dawn and climbed the ladder to await javelina. Soon enough, I heard hoof steps.
A young buck with little antlers was eating the corn I had left out the afternoon before for the javelinas. Then, I could have sworn I heard a whisper in a male voice: “Be careful.” I looked down the sendero in the opposite direction and saw a majestic old buck with a huge rack of antlers. Was it his voice that spoke? I shook my head and saw him slip into the brush, like a ghost.
That afternoon, I switched blinds. This one was a so-called tower blind, essentially comprised of two plastic molded chairs perched up on a small platform with little ladders. The seating arrangement was nestled between thick brush and abutting this area’s sendero. It wasn’t long, surprisingly enough, before a javelina emerged up the path. I took aim, but couldn’t get off a shot. I could have sworn I heard that voice again while I draw a bead on the javelina. “Be careful.”
The javelina moved forward out of view. It spooked me and I radioed my boyfriend to join me. I told him I spotted what we were looking for and went back to a crossroads of senderos to wait for his truck. We walked back and I showed him the pond where I suspected the javelina were watering.
We walked up to the tower blind and got situated. Eventually, three javelina showed up, weaving in and out of the brush and sendero like someone laying a latticework pie crust. Two emerged and started coming our way. It was laborious to watch them slowly making their way along the corn trail. Again, I could have sworn I heard something strange in the wind. Then, a fluttering and rustling as a green jay settled in a branch of a mesquite tree behind me.
The javelinas don’t have great vision and they didn’t notice us up off the ground in the chairs. Soon enough, they were walking right toward us. Then right in front of us under our boots. I could not believe it. We barely breathed. Then, they moved along passed us. Byron slowly drew his rifle up to his left shoulder and I drew in a breath.
He took aim and I saw his left finger slide onto the trigger. Suddenly, a voice screamed out. I couldn’t believe it. I recognized that voice as the same with the be careful warning. It was the green jay screaming, “Look out! Look out! Look out!”
I wrote this after a real javelina hunt for a Tall Tales Contest in my Toastmasters International club. I hope you enjoyed it!
It never ceases to amaze me that imported shrimp is available in the supermarkets here when we are so close to the Gulf of Mexico and its wild shrimp. And the price difference is really not that notable.
Another staple of Gulf Coast living is crawfish season, which seems to go on a really long time. I was sent to the grocery store to buy a couple of pounds for a certain someone who eats them like they are going out of style. Oh well, the store only had a 15-lb. sack the fish counter guy said they don’t split. Instead, I resorted to 2 lbs. of wild Gulf shrimp, a lobster tail and a cluster of snow crab. Terrible, right?
Anyhoo, my work was nearly done because my man was going to boil the seafood. I did intervene to vote again putting corn and potatoes in the seafood boil. If you do that the spices concentrate in the corn and potato, rendering them nearly inedible, even for spicy food lovers like me. I allowed the corn to go in the boil, but not potatoes.
Instead, I used the same red potatoes to make potato salad with a local twist: Meyer lemon juice. This time of year is all about the citrus in this region and we are blessed with a Meyer lemon tree.
I got to work on the tater salad while Byron organized his shrimp boil. Ahem, meaning he got the water, a lemon and some Cajun spices ready.
I boiled a separate pot of water with the potatoes in it. It was a 2 lb. bag of red potatoes. The timing depends on the size of the potatoes. Try waiting 20 minutes and test a potato with a toothpick. You can use a slotted spoon to place the potato in a spoon rest.
While the water boils and potatoes cook, collect your salad dressing ingredients (see below). Start by chopping garlic and the fresh dill. Cut the stem off the jalapeno and seed it. Then dice. Mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Use a whisk and place the bowl in the fridge. Once the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander and let them cool. When they are cool, fold the creamy dressing in with the potatoes in a large serving bowl and enjoy.
Preferably serve with a seafood boil! The ranch dressing cools your palate while eating spicy seafood.
Lemon pesto on pasta is downright divine. You can eat a big bowl of pasta while enjoying the refreshing aura of citrus flavor.
What makes it pesto? It contains pine nuts, just like basil pesto, as well as garlic an Parmesan cheese.
Pasta happiness: Meyer lemon pesto, spaghetti, chèvre and basil.
Before I tell you how I came to make lemon pesto, courtesy of a Pinterest search and a Tasty Kitchen recipe, I want to tell you why I find lemons so romantic.
Shortly after my boyfriend of several years started dating, we walked around his yard and he showed me where he thought about planting trees, shrubs or flowers. In the side yard where he considered planting vegetables, I asked about a little plant, maybe 18 inches high. He did not know what it was. Well, it was a Meyer lemon tree that grew and grew and grew.
It grew so big, that at one point it toppled over under its own weight during a massive rainstorm. But that moment when we first examined it and wondered, Byron found a ladybug on one of the tree’s leaves. I told him it was good luck to find a ladybug. Now, I associate the Meyer lemons with good luck.
We have found many uses for all the lemon juice. It is wonderful for deglazing a pan or marinating chicken. What surprised me was our lemon juice wasn’t great for baking.
At least that was the case with the juice from our first couple of Meyer lemon harvests. I’m going to try again. I started keeping an eye out on Pinterest for savory lemon recipes in addition to lemon desserts.
I have always loved lemon cake and always asked for one for my childhood birthday parties. It became a running joke during family slide shows if one of my birthday parties popped up for my sisters to bemoan yet another lemon cake. My mom even ordered a lemon cake from a local bakery in my college town for my 21st birthday.
I was totally intrigued by the lemon pesto idea. Why not? Lemon piccata chicken tastes great with a side of pasta. Now, I will insist you try this with a real Meyer lemon, not anything else.
Ingredients (based on the Tasty Kitchen recipe linked above)
1 Meyer lemon
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup shredded Parmesan
¼ cup pine nuts (or a little bit more)
½ teaspoon honey (I used my honey dipper to place a bit more)
(I also had fresh basil and goat cheese on hand to add to the dish.)
To prepare the pesto, I simply placed the ingredients in my old Cuisinart food processor. But before placing in the lemon, I also had slice the tips off, quartered it and removed the seeds. I hit pulse, saw that it was nicely mixing and let her rip. Voila, lemon pesto.
I cooked a pound of spaghetti and tossed it with half of the pesto. That was just the right amount. The pasta was served with chevre goat cheese and basil. The leftovers were delicious too. The pesto was originally made Saturday night. Tuesday night, I pulled it out of the fridge and tossed it with bucatini. Again, I added chevre and some drizzles of olive oil.
To finish it, I sprinkled in more Parmesan, basil leaves, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Once again, I’ll have lemon pesto pasta leftovers and look forward to eating it on my birthday!
I found myself at the garage workbench, prying open the plastic grinding cap of a black peppercorns jar and wondering why I have to go to a spice store to buy loose peppercorns. Go to any grocery store and I challenge you to find black pepper that is not already ground or packaged with its own convenient plastic grinder attached to the top of the jar. Thing is I like to grind my own pepper and my own pink salt. I like pinching this, sprinkling that and pouring in something else.
Last night, I was making hummus and accidentally spilled in more paprika than intended. No problem! At least it wasn’t the cumin. The whole point of cooking is to bring together flavors, not just pour sauce out of a jar.
Baking ham takes time and Madeira wine
For the recent New Year’s celebration, I wanted a basic little ham to cook in a Madeira wine bath. Now, I needed two cups of Madeira and only had one, but I found a cup of frozen red wine in the freezer, which was perfect. The ham baked in 3 parts chicken broth to 2 parts red wine/Madeira with two bay leaves. Whenever a recipe or standard practice calls for two bay leaves, I just can’t help myself and toss in two.
Here’s how to start the ham: slice two large carrots and one medium size onion in large pieces. Pour olive oil (about 1/4 cup) into Dutch oven over gas stove. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute carrots and onions in pot. Sprinkle some dried herbs in (I used herbs de provence) and the two bay leaves.
Sprinkle herbs in with carrots and onions.
Once the onions are golden place the ham in the pot. Pour in the wine and stock. Bring to a boil and place in the over to cook for two to two-and-half hours. Here’s the tricky part: about every 20-30 minutes you want to baste the ham with the cooking juices so clear everyone from the kitchen because you are pulling out a very hot Dutch over pot. Use your best oven mitts. If possible, rest the pot on the open over door and carefully pull off the lid. With a ladle, generously pour the wine-stock juices over the ham.
Ham with hoppin john, turnip greens and corn bread muffin.
The other delightful thing you can do with the ham-wine-stock juice is use it for other food you are cooking at the same time. For New Year’s, I was making hoppin john and ladled ample amounts of my stock into the black-eyed peas. This would work with with any beans.
The key to this kind of cooking is patience. This is not a quick fix. There is no immediate gratification. Let it bake. Let is stew. Let it ruminated. Relax. And then enjoy.