Friday, January 31, 2014

Grilled Zebra Ribeye

One of my very favorite eating experiences ever occurred in Tokyo when my daughter, who lived there, found a restaurant for us that served only horse. The restaurant staff only spoke Japanese and ended up bringing a waiter from another restaurant in the same building (one that only served blowfish) who spoke limited English to serve us. We could not read the menu, but he suggested we order their multi-course horse meal, and for the next hour and a half or so we tried horse soup, horse sashimi, horse tartar, and grilled horse. The combination of the setting, the unusual dishes and the fabulous food made for a meal that we still talk about. I've wondered a number of times since then if zebra, which is closely related to the horse, would be as good to eat as the horse was.
Zebra picture taken from here
My uncle went to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) on a hunting safari in 1958 and over the course of a month had an opportunity to shoot quite a few African big game animals, including zebra. His guide, who he called  "the Great White Hunter," of Pakistani descent, employed something like eight African men as part of his camp, including four "trackers" and two "gun-bearers." I asked my uncle if they ate the game they shot and he replied that that was what they all ate during the month-long hunt. He made a DVD from the 16 mm film that he took on the trip and he sent it to me just recently. In one part of the DVD he mentions that when eating the game, the African men preferred the intestines while he and the Great White Hunter preferred the back strap. 
Zebra shot by my uncle in Africa in 1958. 
I finally got the opportunity to find out how zebra tastes when Anshu Pathak of Exotic Meat Market made some zebra meat available. He provided me with a zebra ribeye and I was surprised by how little fat was in the meat and by how red it was. 
zebra ribeye
I applied a little olive oil to the outside of the ribeye, sprinkled on some salt and put it over indirect heat on a grill. The zebra cooked unevenly and I'm not sure exactly why. Part of it was certainly attributable to the apparent unevenness of the cut, some portions looked thicker than others. It may also have had something to do with placement on the grill, some portions were likely closer to the flame and cooked faster than portions farther away from the flame. The more cooked portions were very stiff and chewy and much of the taste had been cooked out. Other portions were much more rare and as a consequence were more juicy, pliable and tasty. Other portions were nearly raw and were not stiff at all. These portions were the easiest to eat, but I found that I preferred portions that were a little more cooked. 

More cooked piece of zebra.
A more rare piece of zebra.
A virtually raw piece of zebra.
Here is where a sous vide would really be helpful. Cooking it slowly over a long period of time at a low temperature would allow it to cook without robbing it of its tenderness. The zebra was not gamy, but was rather mild. It did not have the lightly sweet taste that horse has. Because of the lack of fat and tendency for it to toughen up quickly with cooking, it virtually necessitates eating it raw, or near to raw, or cooked very slowly over a long period of time sous vide. 

This was really brought home to me several weeks ago when we ate at the restaurant True, a fabulous restaurant, in Montgomery, Alabama. I originally avoided consideration of a pheasant dish they had on the menu because I have had such a bad experience with pheasant being overcooked and tasteless. But our waiter coaxed me into getting the pheasant by raving how marvelous it was. So I changed my order to the pheasant and he was right, it was very, very tender and had great taste. The James Beard nominated chef and owner, Wesley True, visited our table when we were nearly finished and I mentioned to him that the pheasant was by far the best pheasant I've ever eaten and I asked how he cooked it. He responded that it was cooked sous vide at 200 degrees for two hours. I think a sous vide is in my future. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Northern Pintail

The male northern pintail is a duck with a dark brown head, blue-gray bill and a white stripe extending down the side of its head to its white breast. It his gray legs, feet, sides and back and brown and black patterning on its sides and back, and particularly black stripes on the back in the shoulder area. . It also has a long central tail feather which gives it its name of "pintail."  The female northern pintail has a shorter tail, a lighter brown head, and a scalloped and mottled light brown back. Pintails spend the summers and breed in northern climes, including Alaska, Canada and the northern half of the U.S. and winters in the southern U.S., Mexico, Central America and the northern tip of South America. They also breed in northern Europe and Asia and winter in southern Europe, southern Asia and Africa. I saw these pintails at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida. 
Male northern pintail.
Female and male northern pintail
Northern pintails with a roseate spoonbill in the background. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Like the willet, the sanderling is a member of the sandpiper family, but much smaller. In the picture below, a group of sanderlings run along the beach and a portion of a much larger willet is in the background to the right. When Wikipedia says they "rush madly around at the edge of the surf" it describes their activity perfectly, except "in unison" should be added to the description. They are like lemmings with ADD. What they are doing is feeding on small crustaceans, isopods and mole crabs, that live in burrows beneath the sand. As the tide comes in, these crustaceans move to the upper layers of the sand to feed on plankton and detritus that washes over them with each wave and then burrow back down again, very quickly, as the wave retreats. As the wave water swirls around it makes the sand softer and allows the sanderling beak to penetrate the sand further. So what the sanderling does is thrust its beak in the sand at random and to find these crustacean morsels. So the sanderling activity is maximizing their chances of eating their favorite food. The sanderling breeds in the High Arctic in the summer then migrates huge distances, 1,900 to 6,200 miles, for the winter. Their non-breeding plummage is pale, mostly white with a dark shoulder patch, and black legs and bill.  
Sanderlings rush about with a much larger willet behind them to the back right.

Two by two, as if into the Ark.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


The willet is a shorebird in the sandpiper family with gray legs, a long, straight and dark bill, with a body that is dark gray above and light gray underneath. It has a white tail with a dark band at the end. They forage on mud flats or in shallow water for insects, crustaceans and marine worms. They are a species at risk because of habitation loss. I saw some willets at the Canaveral National Seashore on Cape Canaveral in Florida, very near the Kennedy Space Center. 
The willet: long, straight, dark bill with dark gray above and light gray underneath.
The willet: gray legs.
The willet darts about the waves as they come in and out. The dark band at the end of the tail is visible. 

Foraging for food in shallow water. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Breaded and Fried Chicken Livers and Gizzards - Monroeville, Alabama

We took a side trip over to the small Alabama town of Monroeville, home of Harper Lee, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book To Kill a Mockingbird. There we viewed the Monroe County Courthouse where Harper's attorney father, the inspiration for Atticus Finch, used to practice law. The courtroom there was the model for the courtroom used in the movie. Harper Lee lived on the main street several blocks down from the courthouse and had a sometime neighbor and friend by the name of Truman Capote, the author of In Cold Blood, another great book. Capote is now considered  the father of the historical crime novel. All that remains of Truman Capote's old home is some foundational walls, and next door, on what was Harper Lee's old home, now stands Mel's Dairy Dream. 
Old Monroe County courthouse in Monroeville, Alabama.
The real courtroom which was the model for the courtroom in the film, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Judy, on the stand, will be my witness that the livers and gizzards were pretty good. 
Mel's Dairy Dream, on the site of Harper Lee's home in Monroeville.
What drew us to Mel's was a sign proclaiming "chicken livers and gizzards." Believe it or not, it was actually Judy who called my attention to it as we drove by. So I turned around and we went back. We'd just had fried chicken two days before in Atlanta at Gladys Knight's, so I decided it would be fun to get some of that as well and compare it. The fried chicken was a cross between Gladys Knight's and KFC, it had a heavier coating than Gladys Knight's, similar to KFC, but it was crispier than KFC, similar to Gladys Knight's. It came with some hot sauce and in keeping with Southern tradition, I sprinkled it liberally on the chicken. 
Fried chicken thighs with a roll, sweet potato fries and Louisiana hot sauce.
Crispy outer coating and nice moist meat inside.
The chicken livers and gizzards were heavily coated with the same coating as was on the chicken, but thicker. And dare I say it was quite good. The liver was moist and smooth and combined well with the salty, crisp coating. The gizzards were very chewy and also combined well with the crisp coating. The hot sauce went very well with both items. I think it is the first time I have ever had either liver or gizzards breaded and fried. And if I lived in Monroeville, it would not be the last time. We ate it all. 
Mixture of fried chicken livers and gizzards with french fries and a roll.
Some of the fried liver unmasked, coated with some hot sauce.
Some of the fried gizzard unmasked.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Gladys Knight's Chicken & Waffles - Atlanta

During a visit to Martin Luther King's birth home in Atlanta, Georgia, the park ranger giving the tour described King's favorite foods as cornbread and collared greens. It was approaching lunch time and the circumstances got us craving some good Southern comfort food. A first glade class of black kids from the Atlanta area was on the tour so we asked one of the teachers where we could find some good cornbread and collared greens for lunch. The teacher suggested Gladys Knight's Chicken and Waffles, a fun connection for us as Gladys Knight is a member of the LDS Church and we'd heard that she had a restaurant in Atlanta. Signs for fried chicken and waffles are everywhere in the south, so this was also a great opportunity to try those Southern staples as well.  

A sign inside the restaurant.
I'm still a little confused about the name of the restaurant. I've seen it as Gladys Night's Chicken & Waffles, Gladys Knight's Signature Chicken & Waffles, Gladys Knight and Ron Winan's Chicken & Waffles, Gladys & Ron's Chicken & Waffles and Gladys and Ron's. Shanga Hankerson, the son of Gladys, apparently got the idea to start the restaurant and enlisted Gladys and Ron to go in with him. They now have a group of about six restaurants and I'm not sure if some of the restaurants have different names which causes some of the confusion?

Gladys Knight, of course, known as "the Empress of Soul," is an R&B singer-songwriter and seven time Grammy Award winner. Her hits include "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" and "Midnight Train to Georgia." Ron Winans is also a Grammy Award winning soul singer. Apparently the concept of chicken and waffles together was first used in the 1930s at the Wells Supper Club in Harlem, near the Apollo and Savoy Theaters. After a show musicians would come in late and could not decide whether they wanted dinner or breakfast, so they got both. Shanga Hankerson has noted that his father lived in Harlem near the Wells Supper Club and his mother was one of those musicians who would visit the restaurant. Eating waffles and chicken together was part of his growing up. 

The atmosphere is fun. The music of Gladys plays in the background and  pictures of Gladys, Ron and other musicians adorn the beautiful dark wood walls. 
Poor picture, but it does give a feel for the dark wood walls and decor.
Judy ordered a sampler plate of collared greens, black-eyed peas, corn and cheese n' grits, complete with a cornbread muffin. The muffin was nice and sweet and I loved the collared greens, they were very soggy and salty. The black-eyed peas were a little too firm for my taste and the corn was okay, but tasted like it came out of a can. The grits were great.
I got a plate with three fried chicken thighs, sweet yellow squash, corn and a cornbread muffin. I also ordered a side waffle just to see what it was like. I was not impressed with the waffle. They only provided room temperature syrup and the waffle was too undercooked for me. On the other hand, Judy really liked the waffle and thought it one of the best she's ever had. The fried chicken has a very crisp coating which covers some nice moist dark meat underneath. They provided some Louisiana pepper sauce and green hot pepper sauce which I've never tried on chicken before. I decided I was in the south and needed to do it like the southerner's do, so I sprinkled the hot sauce liberally on the chicken and quite enjoyed it. The yellow squash was very sweet and soggy. I don't mind the soggy, but it was a little too sweet for me. It was not a great meal, but for what we were hungry for and other considerations it satisfied a number of wants. However, later in the trip, in Gainesville, Florida, we ate at a Waffle House, a chain we saw all over the South. If that was the standard, Glady's Knight's would be Chez Panisse.  

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Roseate Spoonbill

Last year when we visited Florida and Everglades National Park I really wanted to get a picture of a roseate spoonbill. The famous birder, Roger Tory Peterson, called the roseate spoonbill "one of the most breathtaking of the world's weirdest birds." We did see several spoonbills from long distances, and their breath-taking pink color was fabulous, but were never able to get a good view or the elusive picture. This year on my visit to Florida (I have had seminars in January in Florida the past two years) I had an opportunity to visit Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Canaveral, adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center (on the Atlantic Coast) and the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, on the Gulf Coast, near Fort Myers. It appears those places are two of the best places in the U.S. to view roseate spoonbills. In fact, the Wikipedia article on roseate spoonbills mentions only those two places, Merritt Island as a place they breed and Darling as a good place to see them. Both places are amazing venues to see many kinds of birds and I did see spoonbills at each place. 
Spoonbill at Merritt Island: from Biolab Road.
Even from a distance the red eye stands out. Note the pink shadow in the water.
Getting ready for the night: Just off the Indigo Trail in J.N. "Ding" Darling NWR. Standing on one leg and bill tucked behind on the back under feathers.
This was about 5:30 p.m. When I came back the next morning they were gone. A ranger told me that they are only in this spot in the evenings.
While the others have gone into "hibernation," this fellow gives me some great close-up opportunities.
One of the distinctive features of the roseate spoonbill is the long spoon-shaped gray bill which it sweeps from side to side in shallow water to collect things it likes to eat, including small fish, amphibians, mollusks, shrimp, snails and insects. Another distinctive feature is the pink to red color, including dark red eyes and legs, and light pink wings with a dark red fringe. Add to that color some orange on the tail feathers, face and shoulders, a green tinge on the bald head and a dark band around the base of the skull. The neck, chest and upper back are white. Like a flamingo, the pink color comes from its diet of crustaceans that feed on certain types of algae. The depth of pink and redness are influenced by the age of the bird (they get pinker as they get older) and the quality of the diet.  
Close-up they're quite ugly: wrinkled light-green skull cap, dark ridge around the skull, blood-shot red eyes, orange around the eyes like bad eye liner, wrinkled and bar neck skin, and a bill reminiscent of a stork.
The bill from another angle, looking up into the air.
Looking into the air from another angle: orange around the eyes and a peek inside the long bill. Also a different look at the black around the skull. 
But then you look at the dark red, orange and pink and hardly notice the bill.
With the bill hidden behind in the back feathers you notice the red legs, orange around the eye and orange on the tail feathers. Has a cyclopian look. 
Roseate spoonbills were nearly extinct in the U.S. by about 1900. There were only a few dozen nesting pairs left: victims of the popularity of their feathers for womens' hats and the decimation of the environments they inhabited. Today, through conservation, they've made a comeback and they are no longer considered an endangered species. There are over a thousand nesting pairs in Florida now.  
A roseate spoonbill getting ready to fly with a great white egret to the right and two snowy egrets behind it: along the Wildlife Drive at Darling NWR.