I’ve eaten squirrel

Way back in the 1980s, when Madonna was new and Lady Gaga was only a noise you made in the privacy of your own bathroom, I was the editor of a weekly newspaper.

It was a turbulent time in my life; at 23 I had aspirations of big-time journalism but was hampered by things like having to write on an electric typewriter and supervising an editorial staff of two, which included myself. The job was enlivened by the fact that I was presiding over the sole publication of the town where I was reared, and by spending much of a summer covering a grisly murder trial, the defendant in which was a member of my high-school graduating class.

Mmmmmmm

None of that has anything to do, however, with the fact that during this year, 1986, I consumed fried squirrel.

One of the things I miss desperately about being a reporter is all the interesting and unexpected things you get to do. In no particular order, among other duties both savory and unsavory, I’ve —

• Interviewed and photographed Cheryl Ladd

• Toured a dairy farm

• Covered a wedding between two carnival workers, on a Tilt-a-Whirl

• Profiled an all-senior citizen jazz band

• Interviewed a World War I veteran

• Written about a pet cemetery

Any one of these items would make an interesting blog post, and of course each made an interesting story published in an actual newspaper. Since my foray into television, I’ve also profiled a llama farm, the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, and ostrich burgers, as well as written scripts on subjects ranging from Melungeons to a Kentucky Derby winner.

Of course, along the way, you attend a lot of meetings of planning and zoning commissions, city councils, school boards, and just plain boreds. You wait outside in the hall during a lot of executive sessions, and you go to bed after four-hour meetings that end at midnight, and then get to work by 7 a.m. to write three stories based on that meeting for publication that afternoon.

But you also get to eat fried squirrel.

Rodents aren’t the only thing I consumed in the name of rural journalism; I once was the delighted recipient of a pound of home-churned butter. The lady who churned it had served as a “correspondent” for a neighboring town’s weekly for — oh, I don’t remember now — maybe 50 years, and I was profiling her and her little homey column. For those of you not raised in rural areas, local papers often published news from little communities about who’s visiting who, births and deaths, and other ordinary occurrences. It’s a throwback to a simpler time, when such goings-on were actually news.

The reason the butter was memorable (in addition to it was incredibly delicious on toasted homemade wheat bread) was that I was able to gaze upon the actual cow who produced the milk that made the butter, as I sat on the front porch interviewing the gracious correspondent. Her husband also plowed using draft horses, an incredible sight to see.

As was the plate of squirrel.

The squirrel actually was tied, metaphorically speaking, to the World War I veteran, whom I heard about from a representative of the local VFW (or Veterans of Foreign Wars) Post. The local post provided a watering hole for veterans, and did good works, too, like getting a WWI vet a hearing aid he couldn’t afford. They thought I might want to “write up” the donation, which I did — but I was much more interested in meeting him. This event is now more than 20 years ago, but even in the 1980s it was still far, far removed from a conflict that ended when women didn’t even have the vote. Hells yes, I wanted to interview him!

Which I did, and duly published the story of our meeting, which mainly was conducted via writing the questions on my pad, since he was stone deaf and hadn’t yet received the hearing aid. Yet he recited, from memory, in German, a poem he learned after the war, where he spent a few years doing something with German industry.

And then, I was invited to the VFW Post to dine on squirrel.

It was, as I have mentioned, fried, so I can report it was delicious — inasmuch as anything batter-dipped and deep-fried is. It also, as I always report when relaying this tale, tasted like nuts. I absolutely am not making that up. Nuts. Yes, indeed, fried squirrel tastes like nuts.

That’s just the sort of education rural journalism will provide, along with murder trials, meeting movie stars, politicians — and other celebrities, like butter-producing cows grazing in the pasture off the front porch, and Great War vets who will recite poetry for a rapt audience of one, in a tiny town in rural Kentucky.

If you like it, put a ring through it

In December, my daughter turned 18. In October, I’ll turn 50. Oh, how old I feel.

Aging sucks but, as they say, it beats the alternative, so I’m attempting to embrace it with good grace. Part of that good grace is accepting the reality of my first statement, which is I am actually the mother of an adult-age human being. And being such, she announced that in honor of her birthday, she’d like to do “something 18.”

Uh-oh, I thought, steeling myself for a discussion about tattoos. But no, she had her sights set on piercing her nose. So what ensued thereafter was a long amusing conversation wherein I questioned her desire to be tagged like an animal, and indicated that my approval would only be forthcoming if she’d consent to have the procedure completed by a qualified veterinarian.

Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t particularly amused.

But after torturing her a bit, we agreed that the piercing would be accepted, but only after I’d extracted the promise that she wouldn’t nag, cajole, beg, or plead that I agree to a tattoo and the subject was taboo until such time that she’d both earned a college degree and was self-supporting.

And lo, it was decreed that a piercing of the nostril shall occur.

We hied ourselves to Bleed Blue Tattoo and Piercing, a dubious choice based upon the name alone. Seriously, can’t people in Lexington name a business without inserting indecorous body parts, functions and fluids? Apparently not. But to explain a bit for those without the benefit of living where I do, “bleed blue” refers to the University of Kentucky Wildcats, the local religion which inspires in its fans a stigmata of fresh blue blood.

In our company with the piercee, Claire, was her beau fantastique, Graham, and sightseer brother, Christopher.

Here we are, ensconced in Chez Bleed Blue, awaiting the piercing by one Zak, a multi-tattooed and pierced personage who, truly, was a delight to meet. I asked him about his facial piercings, which he referred to as “surface” piercings, which I misunderstood as “circus” piercings. Ha, ha! But no matter, turns out Zak actually IS a member of a circus, and serves as ringmaster for a small local troupe.

And so we proceeded with the procedure. These photos, by the way, were ably snapped by the aforementioned Graham on his iPhone, and don’t represent the breadth of his photographic ability. Boy’s good; look at his website and you’ll see.

Zak sterilizes the area:

Zak crams a long, dangerous looking needle up into her nose:

And finally, Zak tags the young heifer … ahem, excuse me, places the nose decor into the nostril of the 18-year-old young lady:

As you can see, it’s a painful and horrifying experience, especially for the mother/witness.

Aw! Poor pierced pup!

Honestly, the whole thing didn’t alarm me very much; I myself possess several piercings, though all are confined to the ears. I just have five, and they’re in the usual places: the lobes and one perched at the top of my left ear. Years of allergies and the accompanying dripping and sneezing have rendered me totally without interest in poking holes and jewelry into my own tender nose.

But as you can see, a puncture wound seems to have made this gal happy.

May she forever be moooooved by the experience.

Big shoes to fill

Yesterday morning I was astonished to hear, along with the rest the world, via my AP News app on my phone that Benedict XVI is parking the Popemobile — permanently.

It seems unreal. Popes don’t resign! Popes pope until they poop out. There’s HISTORY here! Not since 1415 has one of them just decided, “eh, I’ve had enough of this gig. I no longer wish to preside over my own country and live in the Freaking Vatican.”

“Also, I wish for my head to be removed from the Pope Room tables at Buca di Beppo.”

Seriously, how could you give that up?

And then there’s the red shoes. I know, I know. I’ve made this point before. So sue me — shoes are an absorbing topic. And look what I found at the Pope Shoes Tumblr. (Can you believe it? a Tumblr devoted to Pope shoes?)

HOLY HUARACHES, BENEDICT! Sandals or slip-ons, textured leather to smooth, St. Peter’s throne shall never run out of options!

The pontiff was given this selection when he was touring Mexico last March. I ask you — how does one literally walk away from a job where people give you rooms full of shoes just for showing up?

All kidding aside, it’s because of his advanced age that Benedict has decided to give up the Holy Ghost. Early speculation had it that he determined that Pope John Paul II’s long years of decline were not a history he wanted to repeat. Sayeth the Associated Press:

Declaring that he lacks the strength to do his job, Pope Benedict XVI announced Monday he will resign Feb. 28 – becoming the first pontiff to step down in 600 years. His decision sets the stage for a mid-March conclave to elect a new leader for a Roman Catholic Church in deep turmoil.

The 85-year-old pope dropped the bombshell in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals, surprising even his closest collaborators even though he had made clear previously that he would step down if he became too old or infirm to carry on.

In Benedict’s own words:

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited” to the demands of being the pope, he told the cardinals.

“In order to govern the bark (ship) of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary – strengths which in the last few months, have deteriorated in me,” he said.

Now that everyone’s read The Davinci Code, there’s going to be several weeks of intense interest in Rome. Will plots be hatched? Will the fate of the world hinge on a decision of the College of Cardinals? Will Tom Hanks be involved?

We’ll all just have to wait for the other shoe to drop.

That’s the way I like it

I’ve been thinking of going vegetarian again. It’s been nearly nine years since I fell off the veggie wagon, which I rode happily for about a decade previously.

Barcode me baby
Food Inc.

I wasn’t a PETA pusher. I wasn’t a Food Inc. convert. I wasn’t even especially doing it for any sort of diet benefits. Initially, I just got sick of the taste of meat, and the idea of going without struck me as something interesting to do, something that required some discipline, and something that might be good for me.

On the whole, it was. I liked being vegetarian for all these reasons, and I liked that I felt more energetic. I had no trouble with my weight. But, as I say, this was nearly 20 years ago and when you’re 30, or at least when  *I* was 30, keeping weight off wasn’t any problem at all. Now, eh. I weigh a lot more than I’m comfortable with, and, remembering how good I felt when I wasn’t consuming animals, I’m thinking I might do it again.

But things are different now. Tras, while a good sport in general, isn’t a bit interested in giving up meat. He’ll eat some meatless meals, and no matter what I do he’ll support me … but he just isn’t interested in giving up his PETA status — People Eating Tasty Animals. And hey, I do admit, even in my veggie years, I found it hard to resist pepperoni, of all things. Trassie, who’s 8, is a grazer and eats probably 60 percent of what I cook. He’s more malleable but he’s still in that “I hate X” phase, where X  represents anything the recalcitrant child has never tasted before.

So there’s that. In the previous vegetarian years, my older two, Claire and Christopher, were in the macaroni and chicken nugget years; that’s about all they’d consume.

They did eat a lot of bean burritos, too, but what they were eating was easy to whip up, and I could make my stuff separate, any way I wanted to. Their dad covered his own food.

Now, I like to cook and experiment. I do enjoy making some meats; cooking a whole turkey for 20 at Thanksgiving, for instance, was interesting. I once made roasted goat thanks to the generosity of a Muslim neighbor, who knew I’d like it when she found out I’d cooked and eaten lamb in the past.

In a valiant effort to create something the whole family might enjoy, I dreamed up a vegetarian enchilada casserole, which bears only a passing resemblance to a genuinely Mexican dish. But it turned out great. Both Tras the husband and Tras the son liked it, as did Christopher the Beginning to Eat a Whole Lot More Variety Now That He’s 15. It hasn’t yet been tested on Claire, who these days dines most often in the company of Mssr. Le Boyfriend.

So here, my friends, is the recipe. Give it a try and see if you like it as much as we did. It sort of looks long and involved, but truly it’s not. Bon apetite!

Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole

8-9 small corn tortillas
1 can red beans, drained & rinsed
1 can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1/2 container large curd cottage cheese
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground chipotle pepper
3 tsp onion salt, divided
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground sea salt
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced
3 cups fresh spinach
1 small can sliced black olives
Shredded cheddar
Red pepper flakes
Chopped fresh tomatoes
Sliced green onions
Plain yogurt or sour cream
Queso blanco or feta

In medium mixing bowl, stir together tomatoes, beans, cottage cheese, cheeses, eggs, and spices, reserving 1 tsp onion salt.  Set aside.

Coat bottom and sides of oblong glass baking dish (8×10) with oil or cooking spray

Wrap tortillas in damp paper towels; microwave for 30 to 45 seconds until soft. Lay 4 tortillas in the bottom, overlapping as necessary.

Spoon half the bean mixture over tortillas. Layer half the sliced zucchinis over mixture, top with spinach.

Place next layer of tortillas over spinach and press into place. Layer remaining zucchini and the rest of the bean mixture.

Top with some shredded cheddar, olives, queso blanco (or feta), red pepper flakes and onion salt.

Cover with foil and bake in 375-degree oven for 1 hour, removing foil after 45 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to set for 5 to 10 minutes. Slice into squares.

Serve topped with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream and fresh tomatoes and green onions.

6-8 servings