Excerpt : Cooking Wild and Wonderful

Cooking

Wild and Wonderful

(Buckaroos can be gourmets too)

Introduction

 

cooking wild and wonderful“Cinch him up, spur hard, and let him buck…”

Outside my kitchen window a pair of wild Merriam turkeys with a clutch of chicks investigate my flower beds to see what my bird feeders have spilled. 

They’re my clean-up crew. 

On the distant hillside a whitetail doe cautiously leads a spindly legged spotted fawn down to our north pasture. As I stroll along the long gravel driveway an osprey, the fish eagle, wings overhead on his way to beat the fly-fishermen to a breakfast of rainbow, brown, or native cutthroat trout from Wolfpack Ranch’s gurgling neighbor, one of the world’s most pristine fly fishing streams. While I’m at the mailbox, after my leisurely morning stroll, a pickup passes pulling a float boat and carrying a local fishing guide and a couple of eager clients, and I wave and get a smile and wave in return—It’s the country way, even if you don’t know the passersby, and I wouldn’t live anywhere else.

            Slipping the paper out of its yellow plastic container next to our oversized mailbox, I see our local paper—the Missoulian from over twenty five miles distant—sporting headlines GLACIER PARK HIGHWAY OPEN. Good news graces the front page.  The horrors of the rest of the country and world are relegated to the second page or deeper in the paper’s bowel, where they well belong.

            Ours is a good news type of place.

            And we love it here.

            At Wolfpack Ranch, in the shadow of Montana’s beautiful Sapphire Mountains, we’re all about good news, good times, good folks, and, of course, great food and country cooking.  What country depends upon what’s in the pantry on a particular day.  Although we love it here more than anywhere we’ve been we feel blessed to continue to travel and gain wonderful new friends, to collect great memories, and to gather hundreds of wonderful recipes.  We always try to take smiles, open minds, and open hearts, and as a result traveling has been a joy.

            And every country we’ve visited offers exciting, enticing, exhilarating flavors and foods.

            Most of the cooking at Wolfpack is up to me and I’ve been told I’m a fair hand at the art of the spatula, and the chore is fine by me as I love nothing more than bringing loving friends and family around the table to enjoy a great meal, a decent wine, and most of all, each other.  In fact if you love a thing, it’s not a chore at all.  And yeah, yeah, I can cook wild game or fresh caught trout over an open fire and am adept with cast iron including a venison stew or done-to-a-turn perfect cobbler in a Dutch oven, but that’s a small part of cooking with the Montana mystique.

            Most of what our Wolfpack Ranch kitchen is about is simple food, but with flair, more often than not with an original twist.  We shop in a country market, and exotic ingredients are not available unless we go to town or order over the internet.  So don’t expect me calling for caviar or callaloo or even cassava unless I suggest a readily available substitute.

            Cooking chores usually land with me because I’m lucky to be married to a beautiful, loving lady, Kat Martin, who just happens to also be productive and talented, an internationally known writer of women’s romantic suspense and historical romance.  She has only one fault and that’s working too hard, so the kitchen is usually my domain—not that Kat’s not a great cook in her own right.  If I don’t have background music of Willie Nelson lamenting some western woes in four-four time, I cook to the cadence of a word processor being pounded, sounds echoing from down our long hall to the office wing of the ranch house.  In our house everything radiates off the kitchen.

            I, too, am a writer and novelist, but when folks ask “Does your wife write also?” I always answer, “No, she writes.  I write also.”  She’s a driven lady, and her international success is a result.

            Cooking is now an avocation of mine, but has been a vocation. I cooked my way through college as the only fry cook, working three 30” x 6’ grills—eighteen feet demanding my intense concentration—serving 1,600 for lunch every day; and later I camp cooked, off-loading a mule string miles from the nearest road to do so; and even later owned my own beef restaurant.  My ‘office’ at college was a bank of three six-foot-long grills half-dozen feet in front of a bank of twenty deep-fryers.  Not exactly gourmet cooking, but generally nutritious and hopefully delicious.  However, it was God-help the student who stuck his head around the corner and said, “My pork chop was too done.”  After all, I was armed with a spatula with an eighteen inch blade.  I’ve mellowed over the years, and my cooking has more than likely improved.  If you can cook in a rough camp twenty miles from the nearest road, the rest of it is easy.  Now I’m spoiled by a beautiful modern kitchen and, even when camp cooking, spoiled by fancy outdoor equipment that makes life a lot easier than when the tools were only a wire grill or a piece of sheet iron badly balanced on a ring of rocks.

Like most chores it’s a lot more fun doing it just for the fun of it, and I now do—not that I don’t occasionally feed dozens if not hundreds. 

            One of the most enjoyable results of a reputation for some cooking expertise is our ability to donate the occasional five or six course dinner to the many worthy causes that have been born in Montana, and as a result to help raise some needed financing.  Lately we’ve donated in support of the International Wildlife Film Festival and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.  Worthy causes both, as the Film Festival supports film makers who bring critical wildlife and environmental issues before the public, and the Elk Foundation not only propagates America’s most magnificent antlered creature, the elk, throughout the U.S., but acquires critical habitat and migration routes protecting literally millions of acres not only for the elk but for all wildlife, and for man. 

            To tell the truth these donations of ours are not totally altruistic as a wonderful side benefit is making new friends who join us at a bountiful table —most of whom share similar interests and sympathies.

            Our most recent dinner/donation auctioned for $1,000.00 dollars for six to join Kat and me at Wolfpack Ranch for a six course gourmet feed.  When someone lays out ten crisp Franklins for a meal, over one hundred sixty bucks a plate, they expect and deserve to be well fed…not only well, but memorably.

            How does one offer up a meal worth that kind of money?

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