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Sockeye: hook, line, and sinker.

08.22.14

Sockeye UnderwaterLet this be evidence that I have one of the coolest jobs ever. I’m currently shooting a project for Slow Food Canada, capturing what ‘Slow Food’ means in Canada. In so doing, I’m driving and flying across the country doing and seeing some amazing stuff. Like this. The sockeye fishery in the Okanagan was in peril a relatively short time ago, and a variety of groups including many first nations groups got together, decided it was time to do something, and got about doing it. They started a myriad of projects that would give the sockeye a chance – everything from reintroducing fry to ‘ladders’ at dams along the Columbia river. It’s turned into an amazing success story of humans acknowledging some of our wrongdoing in food and making it right. It gives me hope for our species and those that we impact as we go about our lives.

I spent a glorious morning this week in a boat trolling for sockeye on Osoyoos lake. We caught 7 in an hour, and was certainly one of the most memorable salmon fishing trips I’ve been on. Salmon is squarely in my top 3 meat favourites, so I acknowledge my bias, but the Okanagan – which had me at the ridiculous abundance of fruits, vegetables, physical beauty, and increasingly good quality wine – has got me hook, line, and sinker now that salmon is part of the equation. Already planning the trip back in 2015, and so much more to say about this, but will leave it to the coming video.
Sockeye

The Untold Stories – Black Bear [Pt 1]

08.14.14

Gutting a Black Bear w/ Pocket KnivesWhen we started to take a look at the 2014 production schedule of From The Wild, it was clear that there were going to be some epic memories captured on camera. One of those was the haul-out of the black bear in crotch-deep water, then walking a mile or two in sloshing boots and soaked jeans with a bear carcass soaking the guys in blood. What I didn’t expect as an outcome of the project is the crazy, hard to believe true stories that simply wouldn’t or couldn’t make the episode edit for a variety of reasons – in the case of the bear haul-out, it was far crazier than shown in the edit, but I had to tame down the gore if we were going to have any chance at a broadcaster touching it. So that’s one memory left out of the edit – the intense gore associated with the project. We’re constantly debating the merits of sanitization of food content.

Another is the simple lack of time to spell everything out – an example being the bear skull below that did appear in the final shot. It’s the actual skull from the sow harvested in the episode. We’d taken a few days between the hunt and the post interviews, and in that time Trevor had boiled, peroxided, and painstakingly cleaned the skull – including gluing in any teeth that had fallen out during the process. No small task. I’m still impressed. Didn’t have time to mention the context of the skull in the show though.

Also didn’t have time to mention what’s happening in the photo top left. I laughed. We were prepared, and well equipped, with all field dressing gear in my vehicle. Except that evening we’d hopped into Jeff’s vehicle as it was far more capable in the mud holes we were going to need to get through in the area we wanted to check out. When it came time to gut the bear: no field dressing knives. Trevor happened to have a couple crappy pocket knives he’d been handed by a relative earlier in the week – still in his pocket. So the boys got to it with horribly qualified tools. These are two pro butchers who, side by side, kill and gut a dozen or two animals every week at work, struggling to gain every inch through the hide. Then Jeff says ‘no problem, I’ve had to gut an animal with my Durango key before’. Dodge Durango. Couldn’t believe it. #superhero

Worst of all though, is having to omit ‘that which might be misunderstood‘. This episode has an intense story attached to it that one day may make ‘Part 2′. Maybe.

My takeaway: for all the epic adventure we can capture and show on camera, there will always be so much more to the story. It’s a piece of the legacy of the series that’s becoming dear to me - an unexpected treasure.

Black Bear Skull

Trout yes, Pike no

08.12.14

Talbot Lake, Jasper National ParkThis summer, I was invited to a friend’s friend’s place. This friend of a friend was holding an event called ‘Troutapalooza‘, and last I checked, this guy doesn’t turn down offers like that. He had an amply stocked trout pond and I had my first lessons in fly fishing that night – super fun. Landing a large rainbow for my dinner didn’t take long, and while looking for the fish bonker to dispatch the fish, my new fishing teacher held the fish firmly and whacked it with his knuckles, killing the fish swiftly. I was impressed. I so had to try that. So I did that night, killing a few fish with my bare hands, wondering why I’d ever done anything different. So effective, so easy, so low tech.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I’m at Talbot Lake in Jasper National Park with my family, not being able to stay away after shooting S1E4 of FTW there. I catch a pike in short order, and use my new-found manly, rugged fish-bonking technology of my knuckles. All went well, except that I was shortly thereafter in slight shock, looking for the first aid kit in my vehicle to get the bleeding stopped in my knuckles. The cuts were small, but deep, beyond the capabilities of a band-aid and more in gauze and tape territory. Once seated, bandaged, and assessing what the heck I did wrong, I looked at the fish, with its obvious bony skill protrusions that had easily spit me open. Easy takeaway: when it comes to knuckle fish kills, trout yes, pike no.

Jasper Lake, Jasper National Park

 

FROM THE WILD – S1E4 – JASPER

08.10.14

Medicine Lake, JasperOne bucket list item down. I’ve been wanting to do a trout fishing trip, in a canoe, in Jasper National Park…for years. When planning the From The Wild production schedule for the year, this trip’s inclusion was therefore a must. And it didn’t disappoint. Four lakes in three days, with Jeff Senger and Brayden Kozak from Three Boars. Brayden had never caught a fish, and we were resolved to change that. The scenery was epic, we laughed til it hurt, baked in 34C July heat, ate well, chilled our beer in a screaming cold mountain stream, and had some epic experiences that none of us will ever forget. This episode is the first to have footage from my Phantom DJI quadcopter – which explains the aerials around Pyramid and Medicine lakes. It also inflicted the most damage to gear with camera and quadcopter taking a plunge in Pyramid Lake, and a near tip of the canoe with my 5D3 into Talbot – worst prior was getting the 5D3 & post lens covered in muddy water as we raced down a cutline making distance between us and a black bear in Episode 3. If you haven’t watched that mess yet, you really should. Good times.

FULL EPISODES AVAILABLE HERE

FROM THE WILD – S1E3 – BEAR

05.22.14

Black Bear - Spring Bear Hunt

Don’t think I wasn’t apprehensive about tackling this one. When the prospect of bear hunting for From The Wild first came up, I scoffed. I’m now firmly on the opposite side of that fence. Rationale: Spring bear is not in fact fatty at all, which many claim is what makes it ‘gross’. Bear meat is far from ‘gross’, and in fact is more delicately flavoured than moose or elk. The bear in the photo and the others we saw are feeding heavily on the first grasses of the season. Bears are omnivores, like pigs, and I’m fine ethically with eating a pig. My backyard hens are omnivores too for that matter. Bears are a managed species in Alberta and hunters aren’t chomping at the bit because 1] they’re gross to eat (false) and 2] it’s illegal to abandon the hide so it’s a commitment to get it processed afterwards. Sadly, it would have been fully legal for us to harvest this bear, skin it, and walk with the hide leaving the carcass for the scavengers. Instead, we’re putting it to marvellously good use. I’m now on a mission to wake others up to the fact that black bear indeed should have a place in our culinary repertoire, especially if we’re going to claim that we know the foods of the place that we live. Expect more posts about bear, and I welcome any challenges about the ethics around its culinary use. For those of you who are going to see me at Host Edmonton – bear is on the menu. Full episode is still in edit.

FULL EPISODES AVAILABLE HERE

FROM THE WILD – S1E2 – MEADOW

03.22.14

Northern Pike, Saskatchewan

“the level of excitement when you catch a fish, that could only be measured against the incredible periods of boredom, and the immense amount of struggling – you’re battling the elements, and you’re suffering. Only through that suffering can you know the joy of when you actually get a fish up on the ice” – Jeff Senger, From The Wild, S1E1

What he said. Shooting at Spray lakes was epic and unforgettable despite the slow action, and thanks to a standing offer from my dad to go visit him at his place in Saskatchewan, episode two was equally memorable for different reasons – one being we caught piles of fish. The province of Saskatchewan has a vastly higher lake-to-fisherman ratio than Alberta, which means there’s more fish, and fewer folks after them. We headed off every morning on sleds through the bush to get to the larger nearby lake that regularly produces 20lb+ pike and donky-whopper perch [a term I'm stealing from Jeff, and that autocorrect wants to call 'dinky whopper']. I landed the biggest pike of my life to date hand bombing braided line in bare hands off a tip up. We pigged out on fresh fish and roe, and took photos of fish like it was 1972.


FULL EPISODES AVAILABLE HERE

FROM THE WILD – SPRAY

02.01.14

Spray Lakes Ice FishingI’m not even sure where to start on this one. ‘From The Wild’ will be a 12-part/season series exploring wild food outdoors – hunting, fishing, foraging, and the inevitable adventures they send you on. They’re 22 minute shows, and this is the intro/trailer for episode 1, which we just finished shooting on the epic Spray Lakes. The full length shows will be available on Vimeo on Demand starting in Februray 2014. We’re sickly and blissfully in love with this project.

I’ve talked about and piloted a variety of video series concepts over the past few years, dabbled in a variety of approaches to video production in the world of food, and this one’s the first with a solid production schedule, budget, and exciting potential distribution partners. It’s the concept that seems to best fit they way I’m comfortable producing content from an artsy-fartsy production standpoint. I’ve been exploring the pay-per-view video content model for at least a year or two, but the online mechanisms weren’t quite ready, and nor were the videos I was producing at the time. Now they are. It’s a model that I’m sure will rub some the wrong way, but it’s what will allow us to produce the best quality content we can on a regular basis. Shooting of Episode 2 happens in the next 2-3 weeks.

FULL EPISODES AVAILABLE HERE

Whitetail Hunt #2

12.04.13

Deer Hunt 2

So apparently fate would have it that last year’s season of harvesting zero big game was to be juxtaposed with 2013′s crazy successful season. First morning out deer hunting, I filled my general whitetail tag. Bought supplemental doe tags because I didn’t think I’d actually shoot my elk. Being as it may that hunting is the new golf for business meetings, and butcher and friend Jeff Senger and I were overdue meeting re: a business we’re about to roll out – the obvious choice of venue for such a meeting was clearly a deer hunt. By late morning, we were loading up a whitetail. I’m used to shooting a calf moose every year, and that’s the end of the season. So this 3 animals in 4 days thing is both new, exciting, and a whole lot of fun, especially given the company I was keeping.

As an aside, Jeff is a gutting ninja. He slaughters animals for a living, so by the time I went to the truck to get my knives 50 yards away and back, he had the animal tagged, gutted, and dealt with. Gutting ninja.

I’ve been asked a few times already what I’m going to do with all the meat. The reality is that when you hunt with friends, the meat gets shared amongst families. So I don’t have a singular whole big game animal in my freezer, all of them having been shared. I still have lots though, much of it being made into delicious smoked sausages, and lots of elk and deer will be on the menu at my home until next hunting season. Big game season is now over. Time to start looking at seed catalogs.

Why I Need an Annual ‘Charcuterie Day’

11.25.13

Charcuterie Day - Sausage and Bacon It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that an annual ‘Charcuterie Day‘ marathon immediately following the annual ‘Pig Day‘ is in my future for a long, long time. Here’s why.

Bacon.

Beyond bacon [reason alone], I’m not concerned with the possibility of trichinosis in my extremely high quality bush-raised-and-handled-by-me pork and skipping right past freezing and into to curing and dry curing. Purists prefer this approach to frozen meats. I’m happy to have it an outcome of pragmatism. Having spent a few hours breaking down the pig, I have fresh in the brain a host of ideas for the delicious possibilities in front of me, and can save myself the following steps: bagging, butcher paper wrapping, hauling to freezer, energy required for freezing, taking it out to defrost, throwing out of packaging, handling of post-freeze sloppy wet meat [fresh is nicer to work with]. I also avoid the possibility of neglecting a cut deep in my freezer, and the worry of having to inventory it to figure out whether that is the case or not.

So I spent a relaxed 8 hour day putting it all up. Both entire sides of the pig went into various forms of bacon – some plain, some spiced with chili, white pepper [deep gratitude to John at Oyama Sausage for the hook-up], and fennel before getting hot smoked. No more ‘when are you going to make bacon again?’ from the family for this guy. It’s done. I also put up the 2 pig faces into guanciale, and a kilo or so of back fat into lardo. In this year’s case, I’d just shot a deer a week prior, so taking fresh deer trim and making 15lbs or so of best-I’ve-ever-made sausage with fresh pig belly seemed sensible. Salted a whole back leg for its long fate of air drying.

I acknowledge that it’s super handy to have cold storage that is my cellar setup to handle the volume of meats so that they’re not consuming my entire fridge. If that was required though, it’d be worth the bother. A big change for me is that I to finally caved on my ‘no energy input‘ purism about my wine/cider/charcuterie cellar and actually put a heater and humidifier in there to create the conditions necessary for dry curing. I’m going to say though [read: justify to myself] that the energy my humidifier and heater consume are a saw-off for the freezer energy, time, and packaging I won’t use for the dry cured items. So while I used to have a 2-3 month natural window [Jun-Aug] of optimal temp and humidity in my 6x6x8′ dry curing chamber, I’ll now have it rolling year round.  Gearing it up is a bit challenging as substantially all of what others have done and shared online relates to the constraints of a repurposed fridge. Still trying to figure out the best way to tweak out my space. A happy problem.

A reason NOT to do a ‘Charcuterie Day’ immediately post ‘Pig day’? It’s a busy time of year typically, and there are many another food thing to tend to. I’m over that one. Or perhaps you don’t have your own ‘Pig Day‘ to follow up. That, my friends, unless you have a religious/cultural justification, needs to be rectified.

Charcuterie Day - Venison Sausage

Elk Hunt 2013

11.19.13

Elk Hunt - Hunting

Elk are damn smart. Someone visiting Jasper National Park might not think so as they drive by an elk casually grazing within the throw of a paperweight, but in any other setting they demonstrate why they out-survived the sabre toothed cat and the wooly mammoth. I’m serious, look it up. They’re nocturnal feeders [park elk excluded], so you’re essentially trying to get between them and their feed just before dark, or coming back from it at first dawn. It’s how the hunt goes – one I’ve been doing since 2006. When my calf moose draw was declined for the first time since that same year and I was left holding an antlerless elk tag, I was highly motivated to buy deer tags. Such was my optimism for success.

As it turned out this year was going to be different. The guys had been out before me [I'm spoiled, I know] and had two fields with serious amounts of elk track to hunt. First night out there was a missed chance at a large herd. Next morning I saw a bull that I’d have had no chance at even if I had a tag. This was already success as my prior experience was hunting elk morning and evening for days without seeing a thing. Day 2′s evening, we spread out across the field where we’d had the chance the first evening. I heard animals in the bush right away, but without cows chirping or bulls bugling there was no way to know for sure whether it’s deer, a coyote [one did turn up], a moose, etc. An hour or more in, as legal shooting time approached and after a visit from a coyote, my heart freaked out as I saw a string of elk walking out of the bush into the field to feed about 150-200 yards away. A lot went through the brain in those few seconds that get printed indelibly before pulling the trigger – including a pile of adrenaline that doesn’t help the cause. It IS antlerless, right? Not interested in making THAT mistake. It IS a safe shooting direction considering the location of my hunting partners, yeah? It’s broadside. There are other animals coming, should I scope others? They’re calm now…do I have time, or if I hesitate will they turn and bolt? I then had this moment of realization that I’d been hunting days of years for this one singular moment to happen – my crosshairs on an elk I was tagged up for. Committed. Pulled the trigger. The elk went down in its tracks. I got really, REALLY cold as the adreneline jolt went away. One of the most memorable hunts of my life just ended as well as I could have hoped.

Elk Hunt Kill

I suspect my gratitude for the successes I’ve had big game hunting this year is in part to last year’s doing without having been on the floor sick rather than on my hunt. I went a year without big game for the first time in a decade. Not a drama as there many other delicious things to eat, but it made me consider how much it’d become part of my culinary culture. My grandfather’s recent passing reminded me all season of the legacy of culture he left behind. My dad shared a story this time out about my grandfather first taking him deer hunting when my dad was 21. He’d shot a whitetail and didn’t even know what to do with it when it was down. My dad’s one of the most seasoned, accomplished, and cool-headed hunters I know. My newbie-ism is slowly dissolving, and I’m now bringing my kids out. Just in my immediate family game will have impacted the culture and flavours in our  Canadian kitchens for 100-200 years. When I was a kid that sounded like a really long time. It doesn’t anymore.