March 2012

The Adventures of OR7

I don’t want folk to think that since my operation  i’ve gone totally Orwellian on you and put myself to sleep at night chanting the mantra “Four legs good, two legs bad”, but i have to say that i’ve been, umm, tracking with great interest California’s newest Oregonian immigrant, OR7.  Up in Oregon they’ve renamed him “Journey” but we Californians are sticking with “OR7”, the name he was given as a pup.

Think about it.  Do you know a single guy who wouldn’t rather be called “OR7” than “Journey”?  Or even a married guy?  Shucks, you kin call me “O.R.” for short.

Seems that OR7 was already famous in Oregon before he extended his journey into California to grab the title of first wolf here in nearly a century, but the move into California spread his fame.  And well,  not everybody loves OR7.  Environmentalists love him on principle, but ranchers and hunters see wolves as a threat to their cattle and the ungulates they hunt since wolves feed primarily on deer but will eat just about any animal if they’re hungry enough.

With our usual moderation, we here at Matte Gray think there’s room for a few wolves in California.  The ones that stalk cattle can pay the price, leaving some wild to help the hunters keep the ungulate population under control to reduce overgrazing and the resultant riparian erosion.
Everyone wonders why OR7 has made his journey of over a thousand miles, but you don’t have to watch a wolf pack too long to figure it out.  Only the alpha male gets to mate, so if you’re young and the hormones are acting up, you have to go off and start your own pack by luring a female out of another pack.  You know, the old Handsome Stranger bit.  Unfortunately, nobody has told OR7 that from the beginning he’s been headed in the wrong direction since his pack was the westernmost in the land.

On the other hand, if he wants to submit his application, we have an opening for a young, healthy male in our zoo.  Lifetime job security and top of the line health benefits. And we have to be delicate about this in the job description, but applicants must be willing to assist the luscious lady wolves in the production of offspring.  And no, we are not providing photos.  What kind of site do you think this is?

And i can’t think of a transition to this Potrero Hill sight since OR7 is mostly color blind:

blue doors

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Crime Scene Photo

Sometimes we can take a look at a photo and interpret it like a Hogarth.  Like this crime scene that i spotted on my last visit to Carol.  If you sit down and think it through, you realize that the murderers must have tossed the decapitated, skinned, and horribly mutilated corpse off the back of the truck and then squashed it flat as they backed the truck over it into the garage.

And Carol?  Oh, she sleeps like a baby right next door.

crime scene

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Another White Meat

California Fish and Game Commission President Daniel Richards achieved notariety when he shot a mountain lion at Flying B Ranch, a “Corporate” hunting and fishing lodge in Idaho last January and then sent to Western Outdoor News a photo of himself grinning broadly as he held up the carcass, little expecting mountain lion huggers to see the photo.

So there was a bit of an outcry among city folk and Democrats and that sort, and there’s been a good deal of newspaper coverage.   My own outrage, of course, was monumental.  Just wait, you bastard, one of these days i’m gonna catch you in my new body without your snowmobile, your rifle, and your pack of dogs.  Mano a mano will be just fine with me even though you clearly outweigh me by forty pounds.  Yes, biting is permitted.

Richards neglected to get his story straight with Joseph Peterson, the ranch manager, so their accounts show glaring inconsistencies.  Hell, the account of neither man is even consistent with itself.  Peterson claims that Richards shot the lion “as a favor” since the lion was “roaming the property” and had to be killed because it was a “threat”.   Hmmm.  The ranch website (see above link) states that the ranch property is only 5,000 acres but that it has got “exclusive permits to outfit (sic) in 740,000 acres of the Nez Perce and Clearwater National forests in North Central Idaho.”  Sounds like a sweet deal to me, getting access to hunting rights in national park acreage a hundred fifty times the size of your own property, and then i start wondering why somebody would be doing you a favor to kill a mountain lion that you could charge somebody else $6,800 to kill…or for that matter why you’d be calling an important part of your revenue stream a threat.

Richards, not knowing that Peterson would be saying Richards was doing him a favor, is now in total damage control mode and is claiming that he shot the lion in order to eat it.  Next, he’ll be saying he shot it to feed his starving sister like Jean Valjean.  Meanwhile the ranch manager is scrambling frantically to back Richards up and is declaring that lion is a very popular meat with hunters and is considered a delicacy somewhat like pork loin but tastier.  And much better, he avows, than bear or horse.

Well that changes everything and explains Richards’ triumphal grin since now i can just look at him and see he was clearly envisioning braising a lion loin with turnips and serving it with a good Chardonay.

When i wrote about finally getting around to eating horse in Amsterdam and finding it absolutely delicious, all of my former equestrienne friends were appalled.  But this takes the pressure off me.  If lion tastes better, hey, i can do without horse.

But i’m willing to be reasonable about this.  I think we should be careful not to eat up all the mountain lions but rather make certain that we’re taking only a sustainable harvest.

And of course that’s Richards’ job as Fish and Game Commission President…to determine a harvest level that will make it possible for our children and grandchildren to enjoy mountain lion.  Well, at least those grandchildren that can pay $6,800 apiece for them.

Oh, and speaking of paying $6,800, the plot has thickened.  Seems that in California elected officials are prohibited from taking gifts worth over $420 per year, and the lion lovers are attacking Richards over this, too.

Oh, and since we’re talking about predators, here’s proof that they’re everywhere, great and small:



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Lt. Chung and the Howlies

In the Spring of 1964 i attended IOBC (Infantry Officers Basic Course) at Ft. Benning, Georgia as my first duty assignment after graduating from Texas Tech and being commissioned in January.  Even though most of my fellow students were typical Caucasians, the class included an eclectic mix of American ethnicities.

Like, for example, Lt. Chung from Hawaii, who besides his exotic appearance distinguished himself by pronouncing the name of his native state in the strangest manner [hɐˈwɐiʔi], breaking what i was saying as the final diphthong into two separate sounds with a glottal stop between them.  How was i to know that was the way it was pronounced way out there in the middle of the ocean?

The only Chinese i had ever seen in real life before that were the folks who ran the Ming Tree restaurant in Lubbock, Texas and an exchange student whose path i crossed on campus but with whom i do not recall speaking.  And clearly many of my fellow students back then were similarly inexperienced, so for us Chung was an exotic encounter.

Other students were clearly more familiar with Chinese people and engaged in good natured ethnic banter with him.  Chung was a good sport about it, and laughingly referred to the rest of us as ‘you howlies’, an expression i hadn’t heard but assumed meant that we were howlingly funny…in a jocular way.

And then i went off to Germany for two years of language tales and a little US Army in my spare time.

Several years later, when i was in graduate school, i ran across the Hawaiian pejorative for Caucasians, the equivalent of ‘gringo’, a strange word spelled ‘haole’.  It took a while to sink in that this was what Chung had been calling us and that he’d been giving as good as he took.

Oh, and speaking of exotics, here’s an Aeonium arboreum atropurpureum around the corner on Liberty Street that’s just about to burst:

Aeonium arboreum atropurpureum

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The Vat of Chocolate

Ahh, fond memories of that Smothers Brothers skit from the sixties, but don’t bother hunting it down on YouTube, as it has not worn well and was much funnier back then.  To cut to the chase, yes, there was a vat of chocolate, but i neither fell into it nor yelled, “Fire!” like Tommy did since he knew nobody would come to his aid if he yelled, “Chocolate!”

See, i went to Dandelion Chocolate’s Chocolate 101 event last night, and it was everything i’d imagined and more.   A couple of the principals conducted the show, Alice and Cam, both lean as ferrets in spite of all that chocolate but, unlike ferrets, delightfully nice.

They started us out with an hour-long overview of ingredients and a tasting of types of chocolate:  dark chocolate – a bittersweet bar from Patric, milk chocolate – Scharffen Berger, 100% – from Pralus, white – the Askinoise, and finally a confection made of cocoa powder, hydrogenated palm oil, sugar, lecithin, and probably some artificial flavors that was designed to taste like chocolate but could not be called “chocolate” since it had no cocoa butter.  After the others, it was dreadful and had such a weird taste that i disposed of it discreetly.  And no, i did not know what it was when i put it in my mouth since i was trying to make this a fair tasting.

After we’d tasted all the chocolate types, they gave us samples of a puree of chocolate fruit.  No no, not the beans, but the fruit that dries up before the seed pod is harvested.  Hell, i didn’t know the fruit was even edible, but it’s delicious, perhaps more so because i can’t imagine being able to buy it in this country.  And no, it doesn’t taste like chocolate.

The second hour was the best part.  They led us over to the beginning of the production line, where there were stacks of 50 kilo bags of fermented and dried cocoa beans.  We got to crack open the beans and taste them as Alice and Cam demonstrated how to determine the quality of the beans using a magra, a sort of bean guillotine that lets you chop fifty beans precisely in half with one push and then holds them perfectly displayed for your examination.

Next, the roasters.  Here, the point was driven home that Dandelion is still a very small operation.  The roasters are a couple of home-microwave-size ovens with wire mesh cylinders in which the beans are tumbled as they roast.  Looked to me like they were designed for home roasting of coffee beans, and as with coffee, what a difference the roasting makes! The raw beans didn’t really taste much like chocolate, but roasting them made a dramatic difference.

From the roaster, the beans go into a cracker that whacks them just hard enough to shatter them into chunks.  And then they go into a homemade riddle that separates out the larger chunks on two levels for another pass through the cracker. The finely cracked beans are put through a Rube Goldbergian homemade winnower that blow/sucks the chaff away to get the beans ready for the pre-grinder, which is store bought since they discovered that the standard heavy duty peanut butter grinder works great.  What comes out looks like a darker colored, chunky peanut butter but with very small chunks.

The pre-grinder supplies four melangers, which grind the pre-ground beans and sugar with stone wheels in a process that takes a couple of days or so.  Here’s the largest, which is about 18-20 inches across.  What Dandelion uses as melangers are sold as Indian spice grinders.



After the melanger comes the temperer.  And this is the only machine they use that was actually manufactured for processing chocolate. And at that point the chocolate is ready to be poured into molds, and the tour is over.  If they do Chocolate 101 again, i recommend it as it’s both fun and informative.  And while i’m recommending, their home page is really a communal blog, and i found it highly entertaining reading.

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