Meet Tom Turkey

Meet Tom.  Tom is a Bourbon Red heritage turkey who is free-ranging it on a farm in Wildwood Georgia where the grass is green, the sun is bright, and the hens are . . . well . . . at the moment, scarce.  Tom’s Tinas are off sitting on about 20 eggs they laid in a secret hiding spot where the two hens share incubation duties of a combined nest.

What’s remarkable about this story is that Tom and his Tinas participated in the act of procreation without assistance from humans.  That happens to be one of the criteria for a breed of turkey to be considered “heritage”–they have to be able to breed on their own.

But what exactly is a “heritage” turkey?  Perhaps the best way to define a heritage turkey is to say that it is a traditional turkey from back before tradition became to factory raise turkeys who can barely walk, let alone breed.

The criteria to be a heritage turkey are:  mate naturally, have a long productive lifespan, and grow slowly.  By “long” and “slowly,” I presume what is really meant is “longer than” and “slower than” the dominant breed of turkeys used by factory farms.  You can read about it from a better resource at the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy website, which I was paraphrasing.

Tom takes the first item on that list quite seriously.  However, after spending about 15 minutes trying to convince Tom that I am not a turkey hen and only being able to divert his attention by offering the distraction of my husband, I wonder if there might be a criteria missing?  I suppose the approach of attempting to mate with anyone and anything until one of those things turns out to be a turkey hen will work as long as the hens are close, but it seems a bit inefficient.

It also made Tom a challenging model when I was trying to get pictures.  It’s hard to hold a DSLR with a heavy lens and press the shutter button with one hand while holding back a horny turkey with the other.  When I squatted down to try to get an eye-level shot, Tom rushed me.  Thankfully, Tom is persistent but not violent.  He just keeps pushing his puffed chest up against whomever has attracted his attention over and over again in this crazy dance of you pushing him back and him pushing forward.  It’s a dance with only one step in two directions.

When we got ready to leave, we pulled an empty Styrofoam egg carton out of the car only to have Tom pull it out of our hands, drop it on the ground, and proceeded to jump on top of it as if it were a Tina.  It was the most remarkable display of species confusion I’ve ever seen.  I guess it’s a good thing that how many attempts it takes a turkey to figure out who to breed with isn’t part of the heritage criteria.

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Dead Animals

This little guy might have been less startling had his back half not been missing

This little guy might have been less startling had his back half not been missing

After a long lack of business trips, I spent most the week in Nashville at a conference.  It’s rather ironic that the conference was in Nashville–only a 2 hour drive from home.  Because I was there to present at a “pre-conference” session, I had to arrive on Sunday.  Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one.

A group of us congregated in the center of the Opryland Resort, trying to decide where to have dinner.  Since the probability of leaving the resort decreased with each day we were in Nashville, we decided to go off-prem for dinner since it was likely to be our only chance.

This guy gives the place a little kick

This guy gives the place a little kick

However, we ended up taking the hotel shuttle across the street to a place called Caney Fork.  Personally, I would have gladly driven downtown just to get a chance to get away from the resort that night, but I guess across the street was far enough for the rest of the group.

Caney Fork was a bit of an enigma.  It’s tag line is “Southern Style Camp Cuisine Served with a Killer Smile.”  There’s just something creepy about the word “killer” in that sentence.  That’s not the only thing creepy about the place.

A white-tail deer stares down diners

A white-tail deer stares down diners

I’m not fond of being reminded of the life I’m participating in taking when I eat a piece of meat.  I know this is hypocritical of me.  I have a great respect for responsible and talented hunters who take care to kill as quickly and painlessly as possible and who eat what they kill.  I just don’t want to be the one holding the gun.

The bar has a nautical theme

The bar has a nautical theme

I was a vegetarian for 10 years, but I guess that doesn’t give me a free pass from facing that the meat I eat comes from a living creature.  None-the-less, despite the hypocrisy, I do not want to face my dinner staring down at me from the wall while I eat.  I had a hard time swallowing the Elk burger I ordered as the glass eyes in the elk head on the wall glared at me.

A view of the dining room--including the front of a truck stuck into the wall

A view of the dining room–including the front of a truck stuck into the wall

The other thing I found a bit odd was how many of the animals displayed in the restaurant cannot be found in the wild in Tennessee.  Elk were recently reintroduced in Great Smoky National Park, but other than that herd, there hasn’t been an Elk in this part of the country since 1700.  That didn’t keep them from appearing in the Caney Fork restaurant next to wolves, moose, and a variety of other critters I’m pretty sure can only be found with any predictability out West.

A moose head decorates the entry area

A moose head decorates the entry area

I’m always suspicious of a restaurant whose interests seem to cross over into taxidermy.    But, the burger was pretty good, as were the fries.  No one seemed disappointed with their meal and I came home with some pretty interesting iPhone images.  While it would have been nice to make it downtown, Caney Fork was an adventure all its own.

Waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel

Waiting for the shuttle back to the hotel

Lessons Learned

Notice the bar top in this shot where the LED flash on the iPhone fired

Notice the bar top in this shot where the LED flash on the iPhone fired

News flash:  Pat and I changed our eating routine!

Mellow Mushroom pizza had become our regular thing on Friday nights.  The problem was that we could only count on the pizza being cooked properly about 50% of the time.  Sometimes it was burned.  Sometimes it was under cooked.  Often it was cold after I stood waiting for a long time to get waited on.

The final straw was when we invited Twiggy’s dad to join us for pizza the previous Friday and when we got home with the pizza, it was still raw in the middle.  I don’t mean undercooked, I mean raw.

So, we decided it was time to find a new Friday night gig.  We failed miserably and ended up grabbing a really awful take-and-bake pizza from Whole Foods.  We decided to try to find a Saturday gig instead (we’ve never had a Saturday gig).

Notice that while the bar top is darker and the beer taps less bright, not much else has changed

Notice that while the bar top is darker and the beer taps less bright, not much else has changed

Saturday mid-afternoon, we got so hungry we decided we would have a late lunch/early dinner at our new Saturday night place.  We headed out to get barbecue at the “Q with the View”–Sugar’s on Missionary Ridge.  However, when we arrived, they had a tour bus out front and a line of about 20 people outside the door.  We drove around for a while and, getting slightly lost, ended up at Public House in Warehouse Row–an area near the famous Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel that has been recently reinvented as a shopping/dining area in the original warehouse structures.  Public House is a restaurant we’d heard good things about, so we figured, what the heck.

We ended up eating at the bar because the restaurant wasn’t serving food at the time we arrived.  Thinking I needed to take some pictures for my blog, I played tourist and took out my iPhone.  The first shot I took, my flash went off unexpectedly, suddenly making us the center of attention at the bar!  Not exactly stealth!

By choosing the floor as the exposure setting, everything is visible (although maybe that's not a good thing here)

By choosing the floor as the exposure setting, everything is visible (although maybe that’s not a good thing here)

Let that be the first lesson about taking pictures with an iPhone in a public place with low light.  If you don’t want everyone to know you’re taking pictures, make sure you check the flash setting before you take the shot.

But, it affords an opportunity to make a few points about back-lit indoor photography with an iPhone when you don’t want to use flash.  First, notice the difference between the first two photos.  This first one was with flash the second without.  The only thing that’s brighter is the bar top.  The flash doesn’t fall far from the iPhone.

By choosing a lighted inset for the exposure setting, the people fade into silhouette and the floor disappears

By choosing a lighted inset for the exposure setting, the people fade into silhouette and the floor disappears

Now, look at the next two photos.  The first, using the Camera! app, I chose the floor behind the bar for the exposure setting, which allows us to see the floor (not very appealing).  In the last photo, I chose the lighted insets under the bar for the exposure setting.  It makes for more dramatic lighting and keeps everyone at the bar anonymous–not always a good thing, but works here.

Tuesday Night

Exactly how much stuff does it take for a road trip when I decide to take my DSLR?

Exactly how much stuff does it take for a road trip when I decide to take my DSLR?

Every Tuesday we eat the same thing.  This is our way of simplifying.  We have 3 nights a week when we always eat the same thing.  Or, as close to the same thing as a given restaurant gets.  It always surprises me how much variability there can be from one week to the next between the way a meal is made.

There are times I like surprises and then there are times I want my food to be utterly predictable.  Food items like pizza should be predictable, in my opinion.  I have never picked a favorite pizza joint on the basis of how frequently the way the pizza tastes changes.  Yet, one of the things that probably keeps us from getting bored with our eating routine is that we cannot predict how the pizza will taste or how the sushi will be prepared from one week to the next.

This is especially true of the pizza.  We usually eat Mellow Mushroom pizza having not found a mom and pop shop that we like yet.  We like Mellow Mushroom pizza about half the time.  The other half, it’s either over cooked, under cooked, or cold.  I’ve always wanted to be a fly on the wall in the kitchen to figure out exactly what goes wrong half the time.

Food art at a nice restaurant on the road--a far cry from the sushi

Food art at a nice restaurant on the road–a far cry from the sushi

Our Tuesday night choice is not pizza, however.  It’s the Rice Boxx.  This is a Chinese/Thai/Japanese place that has decent Chinese and sushi.  I have found a couple of dishes I like, but I tire of them quickly.  I have been ordering 1 shrimp tempura and 1 sweet potato roll every Tuesday night for months.  The sushi is OK, but once again unpredictable.  The thing that is predictable is that there will always be a surprise in the fortune cookies.

Sometimes it’s a missing fortune.  Sometimes it’s a fortune that is a weather forecast instead of a fortune.  Sometimes it’s the cookies themselves, which go from thicker to thiner styles and back again yet always come in the same wrapper.

On this particular Tuesday night, I was running around like a mad woman trying to pack for a road trip.  I had decided at the last minute, after working late, to leave that night instead of the next morning so I could avoid hitting Knoxville during the morning rush hour.  Pat went and picked up our food without me so I could finish packing.

I stopped running around like a mad woman long enough to sit down to eat when Pat returned.  There was a new sushi chef and he made the sushi smaller and tighter, making it easier to get the pieces in my mouth without making a mess.  When I finished my sushi, I opened up my fortune cookie, already smiling with anticipation as I tore open the wrapper.

Does this really count as a fortune?

Does this really count as a fortune?

This is what it said:  “An alien of some sort will be appearing to your shortly.”  I keep watching out for bright lights in the sky, but so far, nothing.

Baaa

Seriously--is there anything cuter?

Seriously–is there anything cuter?

Having spent the morning assisting at a birds of prey program at the Little Owl Festival at Audubon Acres, next on the agenda was lunch.  There are certain places that people who come to visit Chattanooga want to go.

Pat’s sister wanted to check out the Hair of the Dog Pub downtown.  My original sister-in-law came with a recommendation for Sugar’s Barbecue.  We decided on the “Q with a View” location of Sugar’s.  Not only does it offer great food and scenery, but there are also goats.  It’s a place we like to take visitors.

Mama was unperturbed by my presence and concentrated on what she was chewing

Mama was unperturbed by my presence and concentrated on what she was chewing

In case you are worried, no goat meat appears on the menu at Sugar’s.  I don’t know exactly why they have goats, but I like to think it’s for keeping the grass on the hillside trim.

Sugar’s has good barbecue.  We particularly like their brisket.  It’s extremely tender, falling apart when we pick at it.  I also love their macaroni and cheese.  And their mayonnaise-based coleslaw, which barely seems like it has mayo in it at all.  And their banana pudding is hard to resist.  I suppose it will come as no surprise if I mention I gained a pound or two in the day and a half my brother and sister-in-law visited?

Frolicking kids on the patio

Frolicking kids on the patio

After ordering and getting a tutorial on the various sauces Sugar’s offers (something I can never keep track of, except that there are 3 that are tomato based and 3 that are vinegar based), I slipped out to see the goats while we waited on the food.

The goats are divided into two areas.  One is along the hillside and has a series of footpaths that only goats could possibly navigate.  It’s like goat heaven.  Except perhaps for the poop.

Kids or puppies?

Kids or puppies?

The other area is in the middle of a lovely patio with picnic tables that are undoubtedly occupied during the months when it’s dry, sunny, and pleasantly warm without being too hot.  We have never been to Sugar’s during the kind of weather conditions that would encourage people to sit out on the patio.

The center of the patio is fenced in, forming a good-sized yard where several goats are usually hanging out, hoping for a handout.  On this day, three kids were hanging out with two moms.  They were irresistible.

Naw . . . they're not related

Naw . . . they’re not related

There really aren’t many things cuter than baby <fill in the blank>.  Baby birds, baby people, baby dogs, baby sheep . . . you name it.  They’re cute.  Goats are particularly cute babies.  Perhaps it’s their giant, floppy ears that seem so disproportional to their tiny heads.  Or maybe it’s that they look so innocent while their elders always seem to look like they’re up to something.

Front and back

Front and back

Whatever it is, I enjoyed getting some shots of the goats.  So much so, I couldn’t resist taking a few shots with the Hipstamatic app on my iPhone, too.  Funny how quickly a modern goat can be transported back in time.

Looking historical

Looking historical

Greasy Spoon Comfort Food

The Longhorn is a long-standing tradition.  It’s not the steakhouse chain, although people show up with gift cards and expect to be able to use them there.  I think if they’d ever been to the steakhouse chain, they would realize immediately that this place isn’t part of the same chain.

I’ve never asked why it’s called the Longhorn, but the building seems to have been architected to simulate longhorns with the roof.  Who knows if the building or the name came first?

It’s been around since the 50’s and the minute you look at it, you know it.  This is true both outside and in.  It’s possible the counter and stools have not been replaced since the restaurant was originally opened.

But that’s part of its charm.

Its real charm, though, is the wait staff.  It only took going in there twice in one week before they started looking up, smiling and saying, “Hey, Guys!” when we walked in the door.  By our fourth visit, 2 servers had our “usual” pretty much down.  There’s nothing like having someone remember you, look happy to see you, and manage to remember even part of what you like to eat considering how many people these ladies serve every day.

When you’re in the mood for a down-home, greasy-spoon, fill-you-up kind of breakfast, the Longhorn is top notch.  If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t go there.

But, if you’re in the mood for eggs, they’ll be cooked to order perfectly (assuming you know what you’re ordering–I’ve heard people complain about over-easy eggs being runny, someday they’ll figure it out).  The “scattered tatters” are crispy, traditional hash browns (shredded potatoes, fried) and are always tasty.

The bacon is usually perfect, but can be a little overly crispy if you get there at the wrong time.  But whatever you order, prepare yourself for grease.  There’s a lot of it.

Unless you order pancakes.  The pancakes are awesome and not greasy.  But don’t expect anything fancy like real butter or genuine maple syrup here–this is a place that pays tribute to its 50’s heritage with whipped margarine served in a cup and corn syrup with maple flavoring.

This is the kind of place you go when you feel like being low maintenance.

When you walk in the door and Sandy and Terry pause in the middle of slinging food because they’re genuinely glad to see you, you remember there are more important things in life than having real butter.

I love the food.  For better or worse, it’s comfort food to me.  But what keeps me coming faithfully back is the sense of belonging to a community of regulars.  We update one another on weekend events, discuss what haircuts will look best on me, the server, or someone sitting down the counter.  We trade barbs and tease one another.  When people are waiting, we scoot down to make space.

It’s a nice place to eat.

Why I Don’t Cook

When I returned from my recent adventure in Vermont, I was feeling motivated to eat as healthy as possible.  I also triggered an addiction to lobster, having stopped in Boston on both the way there and the way back, indulging in lobster rolls in both directions.

As such, I got out my favorite cookbook, “The Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook” and found myself drooling over the Lobster Fra Diavalo recipe.

By luck, my noon meeting cancelled and I managed to spend lunch at the grocery store.  I bought the provisions necessary for a 3-course meal–salad, entree, and dessert.

When my day had mostly wrapped up (I did have one evening conference call with some folks in Australia, but it didn’t last long), I started cooking.

Now, this is a rather rare phenomenon.  Finding me in the kitchen usually means I’m making coffee, eating yogurt straight out of the carton, or perhaps doing something as creative as making a smoothie.  But on this night, I was undertaking making 3 courses all for the same meal.

I started thawing the lobster tails for the Lobster Fra Diavalo.  I made pomegranate salad dressing and prepped the salad.  I put on wild rice to cook without fully reading the instructions (quite the risk taker).  I served the salad around 8PM, right after my conference call was over.  Not bad if you ignore the fact I’d started prepping around 5:30PM.

I thought I’d started the rice too late, but then I realized the sauce for the lobster had to cook down, so then my rice was going to be done too early.  I turned up the heat on the diavalo sauce in the hope of reducing it faster.  While it cooked, I made up some chocolate sauce from a New Life Hiking Spa recipe available on their website.  I was going to serve banana “ice cream” and chocolate sauce for dessert.

Note the time in the photo of the lobster cooking on the stove.  At 9:17, I was still trying to reduce the sauce.  We ate our lobster at 9:30.  It was actually quite good, if I do say so myself.  But, can lobster ever really taste bad?

Next, I took frozen bananas out of the freezer only to discover they weren’t really frozen all the way.  I decided to try to make the dessert anyway.  I put them in the blender and tried to puree them into an ice cream consistency.  Between their unfrozen state and my crappy blender, they came out more of a pudding consistency.  I enjoyed it anyway.  My husband wasn’t so keen on the dessert.  The chocolate sauce was tasty, but sweetened with maple syrup (not from Vermont), it was a little too mapley for him.

All in all, I invested about 5 hours of my time between planning, shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up for this one healthy meal.  I texted my friend that I now understand why I have time to workout–I don’t cook.