CATCH AND DEVOUR
A Blog About.....
......moving from the South to the West, cooking and eating along the way, as well as the importance of slow food vs. fast food, growing food, and eating local with vignettes about life on the Double D Ranchette, a little piece of paradise in Northern Colorado. Who wants to catch and release when you can catch and devour?
High Plains Library District 2018 Writer in Residence
Where I grew up in central Louisiana and in New Orleans, my home for three decades, hunting and fishing were a way of life. With that so was cooking game and fish. Colorado, where I relocated after Hurricane Katrina, has a similar history of living off the land, whether it's through raising cattle, growing crops as a farmer or vegetables as a backyard gardener. Cooking and sharing meals with family and friends are part of the stories of our lives. Who doesn't remember their mother's gumbo (in my case), their grandmother's biscuits, or a favorite aunt's chocolate chip cookies? Food and cooking conjure up stories.
Catch and Devour is the name of my blog and book that will share recipes and stories. I am passionate about slow food and fresh ingredients. I make my home on a small acreage with two dogs, two horses, two barn cats, and a flock of free range hens. I am an avid gardener. Love camping and cooking outdoors. Dutch oven and one pot dishes over coals or in the kitchen. I read cookbooks for fun and memoirs for inspiration. I strive to live in the moment. Recipes for healthy food support this lifestyle.
WHAT IS CATCH AND DEVOUR?
The idea for Catch and Devour has been percolating in my mind since my childhood days dock fishing with cane poles for bream on the shores of Lake St. John in central Louisiana and filling coolers with redfish deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico at the oil rigs. I grew up catching fish and eating them. I learned to impale a wiggly earthworm or squirming cricket on a no. 4 hook for panfish and string chopped bait on a no. 8/0 hook for redfish by the age of 12. At the same time, I also learned to clean and filet my catch, bread them in Fish Fry, and drop them into the cast iron skillet sizzling with oil at just the right temperature, 350 degrees.
In the 1970s and 80s I worked at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries writing fishing and other outdoors stories for Louisiana Conservationist Magazine. Traveling around the state with rod, or shotgun, and notebook, my love of the smell of the water, landing fish….and eating them….continued to be nourished. I interviewed old time hunters and fishermen, ate hundreds of pounds of boiled crawfish, and learned how to make crawfish etouffee and gumbo from Cajun cooks throughout south Louisiana. As my recipe repertoire and cooking skills expanded, I often thought of writing a cookbook.
Fast forward to 2005 when Hurricane Katrina, actually levees broken apart by the burgeoning waters of Lake Pontchartrain, filled my home in uptown New Orleans with seven feet of water for two weeks and my life was irrevocably changed forever. In 2006 came a move west, to Colorado, to a home 5,000 feet above the flood line of my house on Jefferson Avenue in the Crescent City. Several pivotal things happened as a result of this move. One, I decided I wanted to write a memoir. I wanted to record some of my impressions about the South and the West, both places with incredible sense of place. But the South has an abundance, sometimes too much, water and the West is arid and dry. Access to water rights, or not, is an important way of life here in Northern Colorado. Suddenly two book ideas were floating in my head: a cookbook and memoir.
As I wrote vignettes for my memoir, I found myself including in the narrative important recipes from my childhood. My mother’s gumbo and biscuits, favorite dishes with game and fish, for example. Cooking and eating are such an integral part of anyone’s life, especially in the Southern culture and even more so in New Orleans where I lived for 30 years. Then as I began seriously outlining my ideas for a cookbook, I found myself including narrative about where the recipes came from and how they fit into my life. Why not combine these two books, I thought?
Then I was introduced to fly-fishing and was hooked. I loved the beauty and contemplative nature of being on a bubbling stream. But, what?! Most fly fishing rivers adhere to the catch and release method of conservation management?! I was accustomed to eating my catch. At first I didn’t understand but quickly learned that, especially on highly fished waters, carefully releasing fish improves native fish populations by allowing more fish to remain and reproduce in the ecosystem. But still, I can’t let go of the idea that if one hunts an animal for sport or catches a fish for sport, the experience is enhanced by devouring them after the catch.
Now don’t get me wrong, I get it. And I’m certainly not a lawbreaker, I respect all laws and particularly those that protect game and fish. I have since learned that there are some flyfishing streams where trout are so plentiful that you can keep some (a limit) of a certain size. And there are nearby lakes, Carter and Horsetooth in NOCO (Northern Colorado) and Pueblo in southern part of the state, where one can catch and devour walleye, bass, various pan fish and other species.
As I was describing my book idea to a friend, a writer and sportsman who eats his share of game meat, I was enthusiastically praising the attributes of a perfectly fried pan fish. I think you have the title, he said, you like to catch and devour your fish.
Around the same time, I read about what seemed like a wonderful symbiotic opportunity for me to more my project from hypothetical planning to reality. High Plains Library District in Greeley (Weld County) for the third year was sponsoring a Writer in Residence program in which they provide a small stipend for a local writer for six months in return for participating in library workshops and events. I applied. Four months later, after completing the written application and curtailing a camping trip to interview with the selection committee, I was offered the position! Catch and Devour was born.
FROM THE SOUTH TO THE WEST
Two Regions with Distinct Sense of Place
Since before my conscious memory, there have been several things I wanted in life: to live behind a white picket fence (in gratitude, I had this wish as a toddler), to have a horse (for thirty years I have owned not one, but usually two), to live on a farm (more about this later), and at some point, I wanted to marry Little Joe Cartwright. That last wish vanished somewhere along the way as I moved out of adolescence and into reality. I also wanted to spend as much time outside as I could, hike on trails in the woods, and live close to nature. As I write this, I realize I have been blessed with having these wishes granted.
I want to experience peace and quiet where I live. I have this to an extent where I live in rural Weld County in northern Colorado though more and more, development and “progress” are interfering with my dream. I want to be able to see stars at night and fireflies on some nights in summer. I want to walk barefoot through the grass and sit on a tractor. I want to know where my food came from and hopefully raise as much of it as I can. I want fresh farm eggs daily and fresh game meat in my freezer. I am blessed to have these wishes fulfilled as well.
I am grateful for farmers markets and food coops and growing as much fresh food in our short Colorado five month growing season as I can in my little “potager”.
I shudder at the thoughts of global warming, kids growing up attached to i-phones and i-pads and video games and no thoughts of running outdoors barefoot or hunting a deer. What a loss. I am grateful for the opportunity to have done this as a child and adolescent and young adult in Louisiana. And to continue that opportunity in the wide open spaces of the West.
LESS IS MORE
Less can be more in life and this philosophy definitely applies to cooking and eating. One of my most marked-up cookbooks is Marian Guibault’s French Women Don’t Get Fat. This book, and her other ones, are filled with recipes that are delicious because they are cooked with fresh ingredients. She emphasizes how simple dishes can be flavored with just the right herbs. How butter adds flavor and doesn’t have to be used in large quantities. How she loves to drink the finest champagne while she cooks (Veuve Cliquot to be exact) but limits herself to only one glass. Well sometimes two.
Portion control is important to both enjoying food and maintaining proper weight. In America, somewhere along the way, it somehow became fashionable to eat large quantities of food on large plates, often called “family” size. A proper meal should include a piece of meat or chicken or fish no larger than a deck of cards, a couple of vegetables, perhaps a salad. A meal can also be cooked in one pot, like gumbo or stew. The smallest pieces of meat can add flavor to a pot that is mostly a delicious combination of vegetables and broth. And for those who want to avoid meat altogether, the simplest soup or salad can be hearty and nutritious.
Slowing down life to cook well and eat slowly supports the “less is more” philosophy. Quantity is definitely not necessarily quality.
HOW I COOK
What the Recipes Will Be
Free form is how I like to cook and how recipes in this book will be presented. There will not be the usual organization used in so many cookbooks from years past with tables of contents divided into appetizer, salad, entrée, sides, and desserts. There will not necessarily be the list of ingredients, with exact measurements, followed by step-by-step explicit instructions. It simply does not matter in many dishes, especially in one pot meals for example, whether you use a half onion or a whole onion, a quarter cup of chopped onions vs. a half cup of chopped onions. It is often more fun to cook using whatever ingredients you find in the vegetable drawer such as red and yellow peppers or a little zucchini, a little squash, a few mustard greens or collard greens.
Baking is the one exception where exact measurements matter. But I do not like baking much, and with the exception of some staples like biscuits and scones, this book will not focus on baking.
Cooking times will often not be exact and might read “cook until done” or until meat is tender or fish is flaky, for example. A stew or gumbo might simmer anywhere from an hour or two or the better part of the day, filling your home with tantalizing aromas. Again, baking is different and exact temperatures and times must be adhered to.
One other place for precision is Dutch oven cooking outdoors over coals. It is imperative to have more coals on top than on bottom for baking biscuits or apple cobbler. Some dishes warrant more heat on bottom than on top. There are precise charts for how many coals on top and bottom make a 350 degree oven.
Otherwise, my recipes often go with the flow, using “a little of this, a little of that” philosophy.
REAL FOOD FOR REAL PEOPLE
Here we go
Just as catching a fish and throwing it into the pan, or cooking a piece of game meat that was honestly and humanely hunted in the wild, food can taste better when you have procured it yourself rather than gathered it from the shelves in a grocery store. The same holds true for growing food. I encourage everyone to try and grow a little food when you can. Whether it’s a small vegetable garden, a tomato plant in a patio pot, or herbs in a window box, give it a try. And what you don’t grow, do your best to buy locally from small farmers and growers. Farmers Markets and small specialty stores make this possible. If you can’t (or don’t want to have) chickens, pay a little extra for locally raised eggs. You will come to appreciate that fresh food is real food and tastes better than frozen, canned, and processed food.
Eating real food helps us slow down from the fast track and live our lives more mindfully.
Catch and devour what you can in life and this will translate into living a life with gusto and with gratitude. Catch and devour is a metaphor for a life well-lived.