Saturday, September 12, 2009

Of Bears and Bagels

So Friday at work was insanely busy. It wasn't necessarily the number of cases - although that was quite high enough - so much as the type of case: ones that required extensive workups, deep and complicated reasoning, meticulous client communication and education. There were several complex cases that came in unscheduled and required lengthy procedures or testing protocols. Two of the nurses were out due to unexpected events, which left us unusually short-handed. And of course to top it off, there was the usual complement of abscesses and lacerations and hit-by-cars to field, just like any other day. This was somewhat more frustrating in view of the fact that my Saturday - a day usually jammed with appointments, often double- or triple-booked, a day when people calling for emergent cases are often told that we will get them in, but they may have to wait - had only four cases booked for the entire day. Four. I've never, in 14 years here, seen a Saturday as lightly booked. There were moments - well, hours - where all three doctors working Friday afternoon half-wished that some of the cases pouring through the doors would pour through on Saturday, just to give us enough time to manage the cases in front of us.

Like most days, though, it had its compensations. For one thing, we did a lot of good that day, got a lot of work done and helped a lot of animals and people. For another, it was one of those days that reminds me that by and large, I love my clients. Most of our clients are great, and several of the ones I saw that day were particular favorites of mine. One client - a client who has become a friend, and whose entire family are favorites of mine - had brought her elderly dog in for a procedure. Our pre-surgical bloods located a significant issue, however, so rather than proceed that day, I advised a course of treatment to address the metabolic disorder, with re-check bloods in a month. The client - a warm-hearted, funny, charming woman with strikingly beautiful eyes - thanked me for delaying the procedure, agreed to all suggested treatments, and then followed that up by asking, "And do you guys want donuts or bagels today?"

"Er - well, you don't have to do that, but if you're asking, I'd vote bagels," I said.

"Good choice. And do you want REAL bagels, or the crappy kind from the grocery store?"

"I don't know... do we want real bagels or the crappy grocery store bagels?" I asked SS, sitting nearby.

"We want real bagels," she said, laughing. "Is that FJ on the phone?" she adds, recognizing the behavior.

"Yes," I tell her. Meanwhile, FJ is asking me, "What kind of cream cheese do you like?"

"Well, personally I don't like the fruit kinds much, but anything else is fine," I say.

"Good for you!" she commends me. "How many people are there today?" SS counts them up for me and relays the information.

"Twelve," I tell FJ, thinking: That's convenient. An even dozen.

"Okay," FJ tells me cheerfully.

" You're my favorite now," I tell FJ, teasing, in a half-flirty, half-coy tone.

"I'm your favorite now?!?" she asks me - reasonably enough, since FJ and I like to go out to coffee and have girl-talk together.

"I heard that," SS says, laughing. FJ sighs.

"I know; my dad always wins," she sighs, resigned - but in truth, JF and both her parents are so good, so kind, so genuinely warm and loving and thoughtful and good-humored and generous that you would be very hard-pressed to choose between them. They are all lovely people, always a delight to deal with, and I've been very fortunate to be able to treat their pets for many years now. They are the kind of people who humble you, by virtue of no more than being who they are: You want to be a better person so that you can be worthy of their regard.

Half an hour later FJ arrives with enough bagels to feed an army and three different kinds of cream cheese.

Have I mentioned I love my clients?

One way or another we made it through the day and I left work only a half hour late. I needed to bring sheep feed out to the farm; when I got there, R helped me unload it. R had been moose hunting and was home for one night before going back out. I asked if she'd gotten anything yet.

"No, but my hunting partner got a bear... sort of by accident," she said.

"There has to be a story with that," I said.

"Well, we were in camp tented up and my hunting partner heard something crashing around and rattling things and poking around the fly of his tent. He waited til the snuffling went away and then stuck his head out. There was a bear in camp."

Oh, dear. Besides being dangerous in their own right, bears are destructive to property - they are, for example, fond of plastic and will readily chew up and destroy even extremely sturdy plastic objects, such as the impact-resistant equipment lockers on the backs of the 4-wheelers, and parts of the 4-wheelers themselves. In addition, the presence of a bear in camp pretty much ensures the complete absence of moose anywhere in the vicinity. Moreover, a bear that is not cautious about human habitations and presence is a potential hazard to every person it encounters.

"Yikes," I said.

"Yeah," agreed R. "Anyway, K got it before it did much damage, although it was pretty interested in our outhouse. There were ropes of bear spit hanging off the seat. A little too close for comfort, if you ask me."

I'll say.

"Come on in and have a glass of wine," she added, brightening.

Well. After the day I just spent, that sounds awfully good. You don't have to ask ME twice.

I went in and had a glass of wine and chit-chatted a bit with S and R and YS, sipping at a glass of Merlot (which had the strange and mysterious ability to magically refill itself every time I turned my back.... or maybe that was R being hospitable.) After more like two glasses of wine, S stood up.

"Come on, it's dinner time," S said, gesturing me into the kitchen. Well, this was not really my plan, but hey - I find it hard to turn down such invites at Wildwood, where the food is always as good as the conversation.

"What're we having?" I asked, sniffing appreciatively.

"Bear heart," S smiles.

"Yeah, I called to find out what parts of a bear you would want to use," R said. "S told me 'everything but the rectum'."

"Yup. No bear asses around here," says YS, to general amusement. This is followed by a story that S tells us about having gone to a specialty foods store in Anchorage once in search of jellyfish, which she had been told might be an interesting gastronomic delicacy. The store employees looked at her like this was the weirdest and most disgusting request imaginable.

"This is a store that carries pig rectum," she adds, to put it in context.

"Pig rectum...? To EAT?" I ask, in some astonishment; I thought that was only used for Fear Factor gross-out points.

"Yes, to eat. Jellyfish were unbearably disgusting to everyone there, but evidently pig rectum is just fine."

"Um... ew," I said, secretly glad that the usable parts of a bear do not include anything rectal whatsoever. I'm not sure if it was the wine - lubricating my ease of amnesia - or if it was simply that the smells from the kitchen were growing increasingly enticing, but I quickly forgot all about bear behinds (and pig ones, too) and got myself a plate.

So I had bear heart for dinner. I expected this to be tough, both because heart muscle is in constant motion from birth to death, never still, and so might be expected to be a little tough; and also because bear needs to be cooked very thoroughly in order to avoid the risk of trichinosis, a parasite that can kill you - quite painfully, I hear. But the bear heart was surprisingly tender - and having eaten bear before (although never, I assure you, the bear ass) I knew I would find the flavor to my taste. The best enchiladas I ever had were made from bear.

And bear heart: Yum.

I've lived in Alaska for many years, and have eaten many things here that I'd never tried (and sometimes never even heard of) before I got here: high-bush cranberries, low-bush cranberries, salmon berries, birch syrup, fiddlehead ferns, squash flowers, moose, caribou, reindeer, puff-ball mushrooms and morels, roasted kid and peacock eggs and pilot bread and candied fireweed, rose hips strait off the bush, rhubarb champagne and home-made kefir, pickled green beans and pickled pike, not to mention various kinds of secret-recipe sauces and ways to make or preserve fish and fowl and whatever else you might think of. But even for all that, eating bear heart was a bit of a novelty. But you don't want to waste the sacrifice, so if you shoot a bear, my advice is that you cook it thoroughly and honor the animal by using every last bit of it.

Except the bear behind.


MaskedMan said...

Yes. Definately leave the bear behind behind.

Good clients, indeed. Considerate, too.

How does one season bear meat? Any differently from, say, 'plain vanilla' beef? And does bear make good Carne Asada? Does it make good Mole Poblano or Mole Verde?

Holly said...

you have a very adventurous palate, unlike moi. We have A Great White Hunter at station who lives out of his freezer, he brought bear in once but I honestly didn't have the courage to try it.

Your clients are both generous and kind....just what every vet should have. Were the bagels good too???? Asks the "plain cream cheese on her bagel" blog stalk errrr...follower.

AKDD said...

Yes, I love that whole family of clients. They're the kind you're willing to give your unlisted number to. They're the kind that see a sale for $10 cheapie blankets at Wal-Mart and pick up three or four to donate for us to cut up for cage blankets, or who drop off 2 loaves of dark rye from their favorite bakery because I once mentioned it's my favorite bread.

As for bear seasoning... I would describe bear meat as sort of between elk and moose in flavor... not so gamey as venison, but richer and deeper than beef. I have no expereince with other bear recipes besides the enchiladas and the bear heart, but I would imagine that if you like elk (which I'm fairly certain you've had) in a given dish, you'd probably also like bear. Bearing in mind (so to speak) that you want to be very very certain to cook it thoroughly. Rumor has it that fish bears are kind of rank and fishy-tasting, but berry/squirrel/grass bears are yummy.

Dragon43 said...

You have so much fun....

I am not as adventurous as you when it comes to eating things but I want to hear more about how he dispatched the bear. What did he use and stuff and such?

Oh yeah, what MM said X 2, leave the behind behind.

AKDD said...

Holly - the bagels WERE good. About the same size and weight as hub caps, too, lest we wither away to nothing. :)

I think I'm just kind of a "try it and see" personality in general (food being no exception). I will say there are a few things I really don't WANT to try - like pig rectum! - but for the most part, I'm willing to give it a go at least once. I did discover, however, that mountain lion is NOT to my taste.... something about the mouth-feel of that is completely repellant to me.

Dragon, I'll try to find out what was used to bag the bear. My friend R is still out on the hunt for moose, but I'll ask her when she gets back. It was a small black bear, mind you, not a polar bear or a griz, both of which would take considerably more stopping power. Especially a polar bear on the charge (I knew a woman who dropped one of those, once, and lived to tell the tale. Now, SHE was adventurous.)

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in the rhubarb champagne that you mentioned. That sounds delightfull.

I will try anything to eat as well. Usually twice to make sure I really didn't or do like it.

How are all your animals doing?

MaskedMan said...

If R is paking the kind of authority you need to reliably drop a moose, well, that'll do for pretty much any kind of bear you'd care to name, from ursus americanus to ursus maritimus.

Hmmm. Not dissimilar to elk, you say? That, to me, implies going a bit lighter on some of the seasonings, to allow the meat to speak for itself.

AKDD said...

Beth, the champagne - home-made by a client, and given in gratitude for a house call - was pretty good. Dry, with a very fine carbonation. Unusual, but good. My own critters are all doing fine, thank you for asking, and I hope yours are as well.

MM, R has dropped many a moose in her day. She's a born and bred Alaskan. They don't actually pitch you out of the state if you've lived here lifelong and never hunted moose, but they do sort of look at you funny. :p Her hunting partner (who actually dropped the bear) is also a many-times-successful moose hunter. But as to what they had with them to shoot with - not sure. R was cleaning her rifle the night of the bear heart, but I was chattering away with S and YS and didn't pay close attention.

You'd definitely want to NOT mask the flavor of the bear meat too much, IMO. To ME it's similar to elk - but that's not necessarily what YOU would think; we do share genetics, but not the same brain! (Lucky for YOU!) My best advice is to try it and get your own sense of it. Although I'm guessing that bear seasons are thin on the ground in your neck of the woods. :D

Texan said...

Loved the story ... though I am a vegetarian of over 20 yrs so I think I will pass on trying bear... I do totally agree if you kill it, eat it or use it, don't waste it!... The circle of life.....

Sounds like you have some great clients!

MaskedMan said...

PA has a bear season, but it's short and restrictive. Also, I don't personally know anyone whom hunts bear. Second youngest sister's husband bags an elk every now and again, though. I suppose I could find myself some bear on the specialty meats market. Or maybe not.

EvenSong said...

My experience of bear meat, back in NW Montana, was that it was sort of *sweet*--must have been a berry-eater--and it was a fall season bear, so a little more fat that you might get in the spring after hibernation. The loin steaks were the most tender meat I have ever had the privilege of letting melt in my mouth!