Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Don’t Give Me That Baloney! I Want Real Bolognese!

Living up here on the frozen tundra near Buffalo, NY, I am partial to recipes for “comfort food” to get us through the July 5-to-next-July 3 winter season. A long while back, I found a quick and easy recipe for “Spaghetti Bolognese” that we’ve served now and then. The recipe included, among other things, spaghetti and sour cream.

I recently stumbled upon an article about Pasta Bolognese from genuine gentlemen of Bologna. Its revelations consumed me with shame for serving a poor, domestic, “Family Circle” sort of Bolognese all these years. I think you’ll enjoy the entire article including, of course, the Bologna locals’ recipe.

When Nancy and I tried the Tagliatelle Bolognese as suggested, we were left just a bit flat. Some of the disappointment was due to short cuts I took in my preparation. So last night I resolved to give it another try, making changes and substitutions that might work better in our house. Here’s what I changed:

1) I took pains to mince the celery and carrots to almost 1/8” size this time;

2) Instead of using diced tomatoes, I used crushed tomatoes. This was a good move to improve plate appeal;

3) We had some leftover shiitake, cremini, and oyster mushrooms in the crisper. I recalled from last winter’s reading of Cook’s Illustrated “The Science of Good Cooking” that such toadstools contributed “umami,” or savory goodness to any dish. So I chopped them small and included them in the recipe. The chopped mushrooms did not visually stand out on the plate, but the sauce was happy they were there;

4) Instead of using ground beef, last night I used ground “pheasburger.” So tonight our sauce looked like this:

5) Although the article avers that Tagliatelle was sacred in Bologna, Nancy and I found that the wide long noodles did not pick up and hold sauce well. We have discovered this with several other saucy dishes as well. Last night we used a pasta that we find binds better with sauce: orecchiette. We were not disappointed.

Not only did this blend of ingredients have better plate appeal, it was also really tasty. Enjoy with a bottle of Chianti Classico Riserva!

Here’s my recipe for “pheasburger”:

4 lb. boneless pheasant breast
1 lb. bacon
3 or 4 large garlic cloves
1 generous handful of breadcrumbs
2 eggs
1/2 shot glass of salt

Run all ingredients through a meat grinder and freeze in 1 lb. bags.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Upland Bird Hunting In New York State 2013-14

(Entries are arranged from oldest to newest.)

September 14 - Niagara County

Upland season has not opened yet for me. But my release club ran its annual Youth Day today, and Gordie was once again invited to be a “guide dog,” effectively opening his “season.”

Gordie clearly has a happy customer.

Young Rick was a terrific young man who was very comfortable in conversation with adults. I'm glad he got his bird.

October 08 - Erie County

Weekend rains had wet down our woodcock grounds and cooled things off nicely. Gordie moved 4 birds today in less than an hour. I was hunting with my “pheasant gun,” as I planned for us to chase released birds afterwards. It’s a 16 gauge Ugartechea from LCS with a nice finish added by Doug Turnbull. It’s a bit tight and stout for woodcock, but gunning in the gnarlies is good practice for late fall hunting for ditch parrots.

Uggie 16 gauge and the season's first woodcock.

October 13 - Erie County

I hunted The Big West Field today with Jim S. and Gordie. There was an on-and-off drizzle that cooled our coverts off so that Gordie was able to enjoy an active 90 minutes. We flushed 5 birds, shot at 4 and brought 3 home. Rumor has it that Jim will be serving those birds and some other goodies as well come this Wednesday night. I’ll let you know.

October 18 - Allegany County

Gordie and I headed to the Southern Tier today. In a spot where we have taken woodcock before, we took one more. It’s a nice spot.

October 19 - Erie County

Gordie flushed three today in the rain behind The Rifle Range. He’s now settled in for a warm nap.

October 20 - Erie County

We hunted the Big West Field with Jim S. and his friend Tom. I’m delighted that Gordie got him his first-ever woodcock.

October 22 - Erie County

Gordie and I hunted the Big West Field on a crisp, bright day that made the ubiquitous too deep puddles less onerous. Gordie flushed 4 woodcock and 2 snipe in a bit over an hour. Sweet!

October 23 - Erie County

Gordie and I hunted the Rotten Gun Club today on a confused day of black showers here, sun drenched cumulus clouds there. Gordie flushed 4 woodcock and I went two for two on the birds I actually saw. My shooting starts to fall into form around the 3rd week of the season. That’s probably because the leaves and vegetation have begun to fall, providing better sight of the target birds, and because I’ve just gotten back into the habit of shouldering my gun well.

October 25 - Erie County

Gordie and I hunted North Of The Pond today. Of the four birds that Gordie flushed, I took the only one I was able to get a shot at.

Winds of Biblical proportion are forecast for tomorrow. We’ll see.

October 26 - Erie County

“Winds of Biblical proportion are forecast for tomorrow. We’ll see.”  is what I wrote yesterday. While it was windy, it was far from a problem. The problem was there were no birds, as Gordie flushed only one in a cold and wet hour.

We took Dan on the Rock’s advice and warmed up with some soup when we got home.

October 27 - Erie County

Gordie flushed four today. I should have brought home two but missed a simple straight away. Ouch!

November 12 - Erie and Niagara Counties

Gordie flushed 3 wc today. I have never found them quite this late in the year. Maybe I should have been looking harder?

He also found two beautiful roosters in Niagara County.

November 14 - Erie County

Gordie flushed just one wc today, and happily marks the end of NY’s wc season. I’m giving him tomorrow off. Then we’ll chase ditch parrots in relatively safe areas until deer season ends. After that, if the snows aren’t too deep, we’ll head to ski country for some late season grouse hunting.

(This space saved for the next hunt.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

How Many Woodcock Count As One Grouse?

I recently reviewed my hunting logs back to 1993 when I began hunting birds over flushing spaniels. I discovered that for every grouse I’ve taken in that time, I’ve taken precisely 20 woodcock.

There’s a good reason for this. My very productive home woodcock coverts lie north of the NYS Thruway (I-90) in the orchards of the “lake plain”, and so every hunt there is a woodcock hunt, possibly a woodcock and pheasant hunt, but never ever a woodcock and grouse hunt. When I searched my Filemaker database for “woodcock > 0,” none of the pinged records contained a grouse. I was astonished, and reran my search to make sure I wasn’t making a Boolean error. Nope. I’ve never taken a grouse and a woodcock on the same hunt.

If we had moved to northern NY as I’d wanted in 1980, that proportion would certainly be much different, as grouse were and are relatively abundant there compared with the coverts south of Buffalo near the Pennsylvania line. Even so, my numbers tell what we upland hunters all know: a ruffed grouse shot fairly on the wing on public land in NY is an increasingly rare prize.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Down To Their Last Strike?

Listening to the ALDS game the other night, I heard the play-by-play guy say that the team at bat, with two men out and with two strikes on the hitter, was “down to their last strike.” Michael Kay used this phrase often as he broadcast the seemingly inevitable ending of games in which “Mr. Sandman” Mariano Rivera closed the ninth inning.

No matter who utters it, this statement is easily exposed as false. Should Rivera or any other closer have the opposing team on the ropes with two outs and a two strike count, any of several events - a single, a walk, a batter hit by pitch - gives the batting team 3 fresh new strikes. Claiming that the reliever is a strike away from victory is closer to the truth. But it’s not the absolute truth, because the closer could also win the game with any of several events including a ground out, a fly out or throwing a runner out stealing. He could also lose the game if the game’s on the road and he gives up a walk-off winning run.

I get the idea: the closer could win the game with one more strike, the batting team would lose if the current batter is charged with one more strike. But the batting team is not down to its last strike.

Speaking of third strikes, here's a great song about a little boy's ability to bounce back from baseball adversity.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Stephen Bodio Writes That Guy de la Valdene Reads Cold Duck!

Well, maybe not in so many words. Let me explain.

Back in March, 2010, I wrote a piece for Cold Duck that addressed the increasing amount of time I spend hunting old familiar places as I get older. You can read it here if you'd like.

In Bodio’s “A Sportsman’s Library,” he offers thumbnails of “100 essential, engaging, offbeat, and occasionally odd fishing and hunting books….” One such book is Guy de la Valdene’s “The Fragrance of Grass,” written in 2011. Of Valdene, Bodio writes “These days he shoots partridge in Montana behind easygoing dogs like working cockers, and quail on his Florida farm. At a certain age, close or familiar begins to look exactly right. ‘The past is a different country’.”

Valdene’s observations and mine clearly identify us as fellow travelers. I’m delighted that my Cold Duck post was available in 2011 to serve as an inspiration for his book. Their respective publication dates leave scant room for doubt that Cold Duck was the chicken that laid the “Fragrance” egg.

Valdene seems like a swell guy. I’d probably hunt with him if he asked, in his coverts or mine.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fly Fishing For Trout In New York State

(Entries are arranged from oldest to newest.)

2013 May 20 - Cattaraugus County

This brown was the first fish of the day. It took a #16 Adams Wulff.

I measured the fish off the rod streamside and then off a ruler when I returned home. At 13 inches, it’s the best trout I’ve ever taken on a fly in New York.

2013 August 16 - Cattaraugus County

In the same pool where I took the 13 incher in May, I took a nice rainbow that looked a lot like this one. Unfortunately, the fish took the #16 Adams Parachute a bit deep, so I wasted no time cutting the leader, reviving the fish and watching it swim vigorously away.

The same pool provided several more strikes today and this 7 inch brownie.

This stream seems to get a damn beaver dam every year. Fortunately the stream is in snow country, and the spring runoff usually blows the dams out.

2013 August 23 - Wyoming County

This young brown solidly took a #16 Henryville Caddis in the first pool of the day. And what a beautiful day it was, certainly one of the finest of the season. With bird season fast approaching, I wonder whether I’ll have any more days like this on the water this year? 

Friday, May 17, 2013

This Creek Is Clearly My Favorite

(This post first appeared on June 14, 2011. Updates including today's appear below in chronological order.)
June 14, 2011

My mentor Alois “Louie” R. introduced me to stream fishing for trout in 1961. He was quite an outdoorsman: he had a “camp” in the Southern Tier, rifles and shotguns, a beagle named “Pepper” that was poison on rabbits, deer heads on the wall, and an old bamboo fly rod with an automatic fly reel that he used to drift salted minnows downstream. His son was grown and chasing other things by 1961, so Louie picked me up as a sort of “project kid.” I thought he was 10 feet tall.
One day around 1980, I was drifting salted minnows down stream with absolutely no luck when, after maybe 500 yards of work, I bumped into a father-son team fishing dries upstream. The father was maybe 65, the son 40ish. I asked if I might follow behind them to watch how this here fly fishing stuff was done. They said sure, come on along, and with that they continued fishing up through the stretch I’d just spent an hour wading through.

I was dumbfounded. They immediately began catching fish - nice fish for that stream - in water I had just muddled through. They were fishing one rod, alternating with each fish caught and released, and they must have caught 8 or so in the next hour. It may have been a good or average evening for them, but it was transformational for me. Clearly this fly fishy stuff worked.

Within a week, I caught a trout on a fly for the first time. It was on different water - Tonawanda Creek, to be exact - and the fly, of all things, was a #12 Hornberg that I’d picked up at the local Orvis shop. I’d initially been apprehensive whether I could make the dry fly thing work, so I asked the salesman to recommend something wet. How he suggested a Hornberg, and why I bought it, both seem a mystery now.

It didn’t take long after that for my personal dry fly style to emerge and solidify. I like to fish when I like to fish. That is, if I have four hours free and the fishing muse is chewing on my ear, then away I go. It doesn’t matter to me at all if it’s “the wrong time,” or whether the right hatch is coming off or not, or the solunar tables say “stay home.” The fish better accommodate my schedule, dammit. I realized that I didn’t need several boxfuls of flies to match all the hatches if I wasn’t going to dance to their tune anyway. I bought a bunch of Adams in #14 and #16 and I was off to the races. I later learned to add elk hair caddis flies in the same size. That was that until my eyes couldn’t follow a #16 black caddis or Adams as well as they used to. I added Ausable Wulffs to the box and got happy again. So now I have a 6-compartment fly box about the size of a pinochle deck for all my fake bug needs.

Today I fished the creek where that father-son team first slipped me the fly fish Kool Aid 30 years ago. There’s no need to keep it a secret: it’s Clear Creek, home to lovely little stream bred rainbows.

I immediately hooked up with a good fish for that water - it had my new 4 weight rod quite excited - and, desperately wanting to get a good photo of it for this blogpost, I tried to “get it on the reel.” Why I tried that with only 15-20’ of line out is beyond me. Needless to say, the fish broke off.

But I soldiered on and, after landing another fish that broke off in my attempts to photograph it, finally caught a fish who didn’t mind having its picture taken. For those who haven’t tried it, it’s easier to catch ‘em than to photograph ‘em. We’ll try to post some photos that are a bit more impressive as the summer rolls along.

This wild rainbow from Clear Creek took a #16 Ausable Wulff

May 17, 2013
A sunny 70° afternoon was forecast today, so I headed south around 11 after finishing morning chores. I parked at a favorite spot and walked a mile downstream to my usual put in. “The Office” was looking quite friendly today.

I was not on the water 2 minutes when I hooked a silvery 9” - 11” rainbow at the head of a blue-green pool. It was easily the best fish of the day. As with a similar brown I hooked two weeks ago, the fish elected to pre-lease about 5’ from my eager mitts. I was terribly crest fallen; the fish would have looked spiffy in these pages. But I got over it and soldiered on.
In the next pool, I realized I had the same fly on now which lost that nice brown two weeks ago. It occurred to me that the hook maybe had a dull or bent point, so I swapped it with a fresh #16 Adams Wulff. Two pools further, I landed the first fish of the year!:

Some fisherman might choose not to display this photo. I attach it, however, as absolute proof that I did not "lose" the previous two fish; on the contrary, my dull hook hypothesis is definitively substantiated.
An alternative explanation is Ed Zern’s observation that fishermen are born honest, but they get over it.
Several pools later, I landed a slightly better fish after changing to a #16 Royal Wulff. It was flopping around quite actively, and I wanted to get it back in the water ASAP, so please forgive my shadow in the photo.

The last and best landed fish of the day also took the Royal Wulff at the head of a long, slick, “you gotta fish me” run.

I’m considering getting a net so that I can land fish and keep them in the stream while I photograph them. I’ve never yet had one go belly up on me, but it just seems like the right thing to do. When I find a net I like, I’ll probably bring it home.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Boy, Can This Boykin Hunt!

(This post first appeared on December 11, 2009. Updates including today's appear below in chronological order.)
The Boykin Spaniels were simply tearing it up when I watched them running Master Hunt Tests several years ago. And though the dogs clearly had a lot of hunt bred into them, they also hunted agreeably and merrily for their guns. I suspect that the hagiographic yarns spun by the breed’s cheerleaders have a whole bunch of truth in them.

Every Boykin I’ve seen looks like a cross between an American Water Spaniel and an English Cocker, and from what I gather, has desirable characteristics of each. That’s a lot of prime dog in a 35 pound package.

The Boykin Spaniel
I might give Boykins a closer look the next time I'm in the puppy market. Whatever the next pup's breed, I’ll resort to an old trick for sneaking it in the door. When we visit the litter I'm sold on, I'll get the breeder to wander off and talk turkey with me for 5 minutes. By the time we get back, the right pup will have found my wife.

Sneaky Trick: Letting My Wife Approve The Purchase
David DiBenedetto came upon this stratagem on his own and has been happy ever since. You can read about his Boykin bitch “Pritchard” in Garden and Gun and Field & Stream.

For even more on this pleasant flushing spaniel (pheasant flushing is a value-added bonus), visit the Boykin Spaniel Society.

May 9, 2010

Here's more on the Boykin Spaniel from Jim Spencer in a recent Gun Dog magazine.

March 26, 2013

Apparently they’re terrific turtle dogs as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Social Media Is A Spittoon For Saloon Wits

After logging into LaceNook (not its real name) faithfully and often happily for the last three years, I have decided to close my account and quit using it forevermore. A friend or two has suggested that I’m just temporarily burned out with this “social medium,” and that I’ll return sooner or later. No, Sirree. Although I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s quip about another addictive vice - “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I've done it thousands of times.” - it says here I’m all through.

I started Cold Duck after I retired in 2004. I was interested in using my new-found leisure trying to write stories that sounded like those I’d read in Field & Stream as a kid in the ‘60s. I discovered soon enough that it’s hard work to write stuff that reads easy. But with support and encouragement from like-minded bloggers, I enjoyed the challenge of “producing original content.”

But a funny thing happened on the way to the original content forum: along came “LaceNook.” I didn’t notice it at first, but the blogosphere, or at least my sector of it, soon began to shrink. I think I can guess why. Writing stuff I’m satisfied to include in Cold Duck remains hard work. It’s much easier to crash my friends’ discussions and crack wise like a saloon wit. Although I have several other concerns about “LaceNook,” I’m leaving it ultimately because its easy way out is too attractive to lazy old me. Cold Duck offers me the attractive challenge of writing as good a story as I can. Both my readers will be happy whenever I do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Doodling With Bean

(This post was originally written in June, 2007.)
My wife Nancy joined a fancy golf club carved from a rural area loaded with pheasants, rabbits, ducks and geese. Since “Yes, Dear” acknowledges the inevitable so painlessly, I agreed to swap our house in the city for a tidy ranch near the course. Maybe I was sandbagging just a little. But I swear I didn’t know that woodcock sky danced in the redbush meadows a 5 iron from the back door.
Some homework followed to identify an all-purpose dog that would help me fill our table from the teeming venatic pantry I’d dithered into. After reading seductive reports from the breed's cheerleaders in Wisconsin, I decided that an American Water Spaniel was just what I needed.
By the time we'd driven our 7 week old pup home from the airport in May, 1994, Bean had already bonded with Nancy, leaving her with a smile on her face and a puddle in her lap. His house breaking also moved quickly along. He figured out what the pet door was for right after we shared our first sandwich at lunch. He sure learned fast. Watching how proudly Bean paraded around with my socks and Nancy's unmentionables, I figured he was ready to start yard work with a dummy. Bean was delighted to start working with me, too.

Young Bean gives a canvas bumper a wary sniff
We were on a walk late in August when I got an encouraging peek into our future. Bean had stopped on a trail leading past a little trickle out back and, just for a second, intently studied the scent leaking from the dogwood on his right. When his nose wrote a check that his paws seemed compelled to cash, he charged into the tangle. Fifteen yards later, he’d flushed his first woodcock. I’m not sure who was most surprised: the woodcock, who whistled bug-eyed past my ear, or Bean or me. But two out of us three knew right off that we liked it a lot.

By Labor Day weekend, Bean seemed ready for his first practice putting it all together, so we were off to a local preserve. I was not surprised when he caught on well, working his ground between the wing gunners and easily finding downed birds. Of course, there were some initial retrieving problems, but Bean corrected them pretty quickly.

Bean ponders remedies for a reluctant retrieve. My water entry eventually improved.
Hey, give me a break. I was pretty green.
My typical performance with a scattergun is flaccidly mediocre, highlighted occasionally with flashes of dullness. So it was with a groundless optimism that I selected my new 28 gauge over/ under and rushed out the back yard gate after work on our first Opening Day. Two things swiftly became crystal clear. Bean was really good at flushing woodcock. But the little 28 bore was not going to help polish his retrieving. So after two days of filling my vest with spent shells instead of feathers, I switched to my old faithful 20 gauge.

Shooting the suddenly treacherous 20 added two more days but no birds to our bag. Getting real serious, I finally grabbed an open choked 12 gauge and with a set to my jaw marched out the back gate. We hunted familiar dogwood until the meadow ended in old rows of towering white pines. Beyond this edge a hillside sloped gently down to a lazy creek. All at once Bean did a two-step across the gentle breeze and flushed the day’s first bird which made its way in slow motion up through an expansive redbush. An eyeblink after it transitioned into outbound flight, I finally centered our first woodcock. We sure were a pair of proud partners.

Bean occasionally retrieved woodcock with gusto. Whenever a bird fell into any water at all, he’d reliably go get it. He was just as good when a woodcock fell deep in the thick stuff and out of my sight. Somehow that curly brown head knew these were the tough birds that I needed a spaniel for, and he did fine work on them.

To a water spaniel, however, it’s only reasonable that if some birds were clearly “his,” then other birds must be “mine.” Such canine logic impelled Bean to trot out to birds that fell on sparsely covered ground right under my nose and squat placidly behind them. There he would sit with infinite patience until I held up my end of the bargain.

If he was sometimes an opinionated curmudgeon, Bean could also be quite a joker. On one memorable day, my cousin Richard and I were hunting woodcock in a familiar covert. Bean flushed a bird which buzzed Rick’s head like a low-house 8 in a stiff cross wind. Richard reflexively ducked, then whirled around and made a good shot to fringe the bird with his well-worn Model 97. The little bird disappeared in a prickly thicket of hawthorn. Bean went smartly after the bird. But after a moment’s search, he returned only about half way back to us, empty-handed. Then he just lay down on the thicket’s edge with his hind paws tucked beneath him, his forepaws extended and his head held high, like some fuzzy sphinx with Alfalfa’s top knot. Rick and I stomped past the hopelessly addled dog and began scratching through the thicket looking for the bird. The thicket scratched back quite effectively. With sweat stinging my lacerated head and arms, I stomped over to give a good tongue lashing to Bean, who remained in serene repose in a comfortable clearing. He wouldn't even look at me. But I swear he was grinning when I found the woodcock hidden under his meaty forepaw. He’d somehow had it squirreled away there all along.

Like the woodcock, the seasons whistled quickly by. Before I knew it, my promising but ditzy puppy had matured into an accomplished but ditzy adult. Too soon, Bean discovered he’d picked the right owners but the wrong parents. One day he was doctoring for one illness, then for two, and finally three. By 2004, we pretty much left our beloved woodcocking to others and pursued a preserve pheasant or two on the better groomed sections of a nearby club. I told Bean I was getting old and sore and needed the change, but I’m not sure he bought it.

Bean left us on a beautiful sunny day in September, 2005. When I returned home from errands late in the afternoon, I found a note from Nancy mentioning that Bean had gone out for a nap just before she’d left the house. After I’d thumbed through the mail, I went outside to wake my buddy who I could see snoozing peacefully on the warm blanket of grass. It was just like the old bugger to fool me one more time. He always enjoyed it when he had the last laugh.

It took a year before I was ready to scatter Bean's ashes. As the upland seasons began, I set him free to roam in 3 coverts that were always special to us. Now that the woodcock are returning again with the first warm hints of Spring, it's time to let him go by sharing the joy in his story.