Thursday, March 15, 2012

Spring Deer Season

Next week we are taking about six more deer. Sort of a one-day gun season.

And we're not going to be outlaws.

Our local department of wildlife biologist, Johnny Berry, is coming to work with us in harvesting some does for biological analysis. Pretty much to assess their overall health and reproductive activity.

I have never seen an official deer autopsy. But next week I get to participate in six of them. Apparently Johnny is going to do it all except for some special liver analysis that will later happen in Baton Rouge.

The actual deer will remain in our cooler to age. Then then meat will be charitably donated by a party other than us.

Johnny and another state biologist will do the actual shooting. Roux, our tracking dog, will be on standby to help with the retrieval.

It sounds like another learning adventure.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cooking a la Karen

Those of you who have known me for many years, know that cooking is not my best quality.  Growing up, my Mom did all the cooking.  It never occurred to me to help out in the kitchen to learn and, hey, she didn't ask.  Bless her heart.

So I go off to college and there's this great option your parents can purchase where someone else cooks 3 meals a day for you in a cafeteria.  Awesome.  Count me in.

After I moved off-campus and got my own microwave, I quickly became friends with Budget Gourmets (remember those?) and cereal bars.  There was always cheap fast food for lunch.  See?  Who needs cooking? I'm over 21 years old at this point and I haven't seen a need for it yet.

In my first job out of college, I learned about business lunches.  I was making money and spending it at restaurants.  That became a way of life . . . and I liked it.  I still had the occasional heat-n-eat, but I preferred restaurants.  Nice ones.

As part of the business world, Jeff and I traveled a good bit.  We dined at some fabulous places and, let's just say, we were a little spoiled.

Fast forward to Agriana.  Did I mention we live in a rural area?  Even if we had all the restaurant offerings of Baton Rouge or Lafayette, we are still 10 miles from the nearest small town (St. Joseph),  35 miles from the nearest fast food place, and an hour and a half away from any sizable restaurant.  I don't mind telling you, I was a little panicked.

It was touch-and-go at first.  As an example, I will share with you our first Thanksgiving up here.  For just the two of us, I decided on a turkey breast rather than a full turkey.  I didn't notice it was already cooked.  Trust me, you can't add flavor to a store-bought, already cooked, generic turkey breast.  I found a sourdough and sausage dressing recipe . . . doesn't that sound good?  I used venison sausage and was so excited about making this dish (the excitement was before I knew the turkey was precooked).  The recipe called for something like 3 teaspoons each of fresh sage and thyme and something else.  Did you know that if you didn't have fresh herbs (which I didn't find at the local grocery), you could use dried . . . in about a third of the amount?  A THIRD.  Yeah, well, I didn't know that.  I dumped 3 teaspoons of each dried herb in there.  It was horrible.  I tried to fix it but it only got worse.  It was inedible.

And it's not like I could easily run to the store for more supplies, or to a restaurant for take-out.  We suffered through it, and I got a new attitude about cooking.

Cooking is on my terms.  Not some recipe.  I've decided that recipes are only suggestions.  I was never good at following directions anyway.  I'm definitely one of these "a little of this, a little of that" cooks.  I buy lots of cookbooks and magazines and scan them for ideas.  Then I improvise with what I have on hand.  And so far it's working for us.

Our freezer is full of venison.  We plan ahead and season it when we package it, so it's ready out of the freezer.  I have a vacuum sealer, so I may buy several rotisserie chickens at a time to pick and seal . . . I have seasoned chicken ready out of the freezer for gumbo or soup or whatever.  I also have sealed packages of creole seasoning (chopped onions, celery, bell pepper and garlic) to pull out as needed.  And when I cook, I cook big batches . . . then vacuum seal portion sizes for dinners later.

So I'm figuring it out.  And actually enjoying it.

One friend asked for a recipe . . . I can't give you exact measurements, but I can give you my suggestions on venison spaghetti:  I start with browning my creole seasoning in olive oil.  I like to leave the bell peppers in larger slices for spaghetti.  Then I add my Italian venison (1/3 ground pork, 2/3 ground venison and Italian seasonings) to brown it.  Sometimes I do it in small meatballs, sometimes just bulk.  I gave up on sauce . . . too heavy.  I use a big can of diced tomatoes and a little tomato paste with water.  After tasting it, I generally add a little garlic powder.  Spaghetti needs garlic!  I've been known to add a little Tony's, too.  The lighter sauce brings out the flavors of the seasoning and venison more.  A friend taught me that.  I let it all simmer a while in my big cast iron pot and serve over pasta.

Not bad for someone who never learned to cook :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Black Bear Adventure

It looks like at least one of our black bears is a little camera shy.  Or maybe he's just playful.  While Mom and Cub #1 check out the feeder, Cub #2 dismantles the camera.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday night

I often tell Karen on Friday nights to get out our boogie shoes. It's a joke because there is nothing to do up here.

Many years ago I was on a dive trip in Maui. (I was working, alright!) While looking at Pacific fish I'd never seen before it hit me that those fish and that reef are there every day of every year. Even though I never plan to return, beautiful fish are there waiting if I ever do wish to return. They are there. It's up to me to get there.

A similar thought comes to me each Friday night. The French Quarter is there, as loud and festive and alive as ever. It's up to me to get there.

As I sit here around seven PM writing this, my truck is full of gas. The credit card in my pocket could book a room at the Royal Sonesta. Karen would need about 30 minutes to pack. Donna could probably look after Roux, our dog, for the weekend.

It's Friday night. Thrills and joys are mine by eleven tonight. They are there. It's up to me to get there.

Post Script:

The only real vacation Karen and I ever took was to the French Quarter for a weekend. Every other trip had a purpose that drove the agenda, the schedule, and the mission. But on this one trip we had a wonderful time that Friday night. The kind of fun where you ask yourself why we don't do this every night.

Fast forward to five AM Saturday morning. I woke with a near-panic. We had no business being in New Orleans that day and the rest of the weekend. There's work that must be done. We must pack immediately and get back to my office as soon as possible. I have so many obligations and just plain doing the work is the only way to meet those obligations. I consoled myself and agreed with myself that I would at least let Karen sleep until she woke on her on.

Well bless Karen's little loving heart, she didn't buy into my panic at all. "Let's at least go have breakfast first." Fair enough. And maybe one of those champagne orange juice things. Then find a cafe for more coffee to discuss all of the projects. Then on to lunch with maybe a rum drink.  The next thing I know, we're singing along with the band in some club and the sun has long set. "You men are so easy", Yolanda Rabalais once scolded me.

I love living here

Since I was a very young boy I have seen myself retiring to a large tract of land. At seven years old we lived on 23 acres, which seemed like all the land in the world. When I was twelve we bought another 30 acres behind the original 23, to create a long tract of 50 acres. Again this was all the land in the world.

At 37 years old I bought this place. It's 2200 acres. At 48 years old I retired and moved here.   That boyhood dream came true.

It's surreal to see so few people during the week. I have one man who works here full time to help with general maintenance.  And yes, maintenance here is more than one full time person. I tried for about six months to do it by myself and it was exhausting while falling ever further behind. In the summer the grass grows. That requires cutting in the open areas and applying RoundUp along 12.5 miles of fence.

So outside of one hired hand, we have only one friend who visits.  She's very nice and like us, retired with the time to make the trip over to see us and participate in what we are doing.

On any given week we see the hired hand, our friend Donna, and usually one of the oilfield people. Outside of these it's got to be someone with a specific mission to come through the gate. Today it was Bubba from Delta Fuel bringing 2000 gallons of diesel for the spring and summer. And the truck driver bring rock for some road repair. Tuesday it was the driver from Sol's Pipe and Steel bringing a delivery of steel for various projects on the agenda.

And then there's Karen. She and I have some critical common cultural components. We are both first-born, intelligent, and driven. She grew up in an area with about the same "ruralness" as I did. She was closer to the smaller town of Covington while I was further from the larger town of Baton Rouge. While she never would have imagined herself living in a place like this with its severity of isolation, it's become her cherished way of life to live here and take loving care of me. Chalk one up for love conquering all.

Living with Karen is divine. She's supremely competent, beautiful, active, diligent, funny, and my over the top loving wife. She was made for me. I am incredibly lucky to have her.  Well, we are lucky to have each other.

How long will I love living here? Who knows.

Beyond any personal choice of staying here, I am very concerned about what is happening around the world and our national debt. The vast majority of  sovereign debt, theirs and ours, will never be repaid. The western world just does not produce that much. And the other financial obligations here including Medicare and Social Security you can just forget. There is absolutely no way future workers in this country, of all income levels, will ever be productive enough for the government to confiscate that much money from them during their working years.  You can forget all of those touchy feelings about social contracts and such. Contacts, written and otherwise, are worthless if either side can't fulfill. And to be frank, your children can't fulfill. And why should they? They didn't pocket anything in exchange for the debt we are leaving them. Okay, that's all for another blog posting later, but the point is that the world live in now around here might become a FSU (Former Soviet Union) style pot of crabs.   And I'd prefer that the nearest crabs are down the road at least.

So yes, I love living here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The wildlife here is really incredible.  If only I had a dollar for each time I thought "I wish I had my camera with me!"

Just a few days ago, Jeff came into the kitchen to get me . . . "Quick!  Come see!"  I ran to the porch and there was an otter playing in the front yard.  Before I could even think about my camera, the otter trotted off into the woods.

Here is a link to some pictures on my Facebook page.  Our friend, Paige, took the first half of the pictures and I took the second half.

The picture of the black bear by the food trough has a story.  A few days prior to the picture, we had spilled sunflower seeds just outside the feeder.  Then it rained and made the area and the seeds soft.  We were driving by the feeder, which is about 100 yds from the road, and saw the bear on the ground.  He was a cute little thing!  It was one of those moments when I had my camera and quickly started snapping photos.  The bear wasn't really interested in us, so we watched him for a little while.  He was using his front paws to work the soft seeds into a mash, then eating it.

Jeff urged me to get out of the truck to get a better picture.  My first thought was "no way!" as I'm not too keen on getting attacked by a bear . . . but Jeff urged me on, telling me it would be okay.  Since I trust him (or maybe I am a fool), I got out of the truck and walked a few steps to take more photos.  The bear didn't seem to care.  So I walked a little closer.  And so on . . . and so on . . .

Before I know it, I am closer to the bear than I am to Jeff, still taking pictures.  Funny how brave you become when nothing bad is happening as you try something that, just moments ago, scared you.  I was about 30 yds away from the bear when the bear finally decided I was bothering his mealtime.  He slowly got up and sauntered off into the woods.

I walked back to the truck, quite proud of myself.  Jeff was grinning at me, with his gun by his side (just in case he had to scare the bear away).  And, yes, I was also thankful I was still in one piece.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Welcome to our blog

What is Agriana?  Jeff selected the name for it's literal meaning, "a collection of farming."  Agriana is located in Tensas Parish, Louisiana.  We have beautiful hardwood trees, sloughs (swampy areas), a man-made lake and scenic paths.  We believe this area was once an old oxbow lake, as we have concentrated areas of underground sand as well as distinct high and low areas in a river shape.

The wildlife is abundant here.  A list would include (but not be limited to!) deer, black bears, coyotes, bobcats, otters, beavers, opossums, armadillos, ducks, doves, buzzards, crows, other birds, snakes, fish, alligators . . . and 3 cats and a dog.

We hope to share our adventures here with you.  We look forward to interacting with you through your comments and feedback.  Thanks for reading.

Jeff & Karen Lewis