Humor: The Great Jake Debacle of Thanksgiving 2012

Others, those involved, may know this incident by another name, for we all suffered in our own ways.
Prosperity often precedes the greatest hardships. An abrupt shift in fortune remains the common component of every tragedy. The “Great Jake Debacle of Thanksgiving 2012” was no different.
 On the morning of the day before Thanksgiving 2012, my good friend Kevin and I sat shivering in the rain, concealed in the bramble of a thorn bush, waiting for turkeys to stir in their roosts and swoop down at sunrise.
      Dawn was near. Rain clouds gradually turned a lighter shade of gray. Blurred shadows in the distance took shape and rows of pine stood delineated in a haze of rain. In the roosts hens started yelping and clucking and soon we were able to make out the vague outline of locked wings coasting to the ground.
Half disappeared over the property line, while the rest moved in a procession along the ridges, toward our spot.  
When they were within range, we each fired two shots, though only one bird dropped and flapped about in the mud. I checked the time on my phone. After four years hunting this property, I knew turkey patterns down to the minute. In a half hour, they would be circling the ridges near the farmer’s cattle pen.
I slowly stalked ridges, drawing closer. From over a hundred yards away, I spotted a line of redheads cresting a hill. I sprinted to catch them on the next ridge, quickly ascended their previous hill, and saw the last bird in the train approaching the top of the next ridge, not far away. I lifted my shotgun, placed the bead of my muzzle on the base of its neck and fired.
The shot sent hundreds of nearby stooped mallards into the sky. They had lifted from muddy cattle fields and now swarmed above the pines. I futilely spent my last two shells in their direction.  
As I picked up my downed jake (immature male turkey), I heard a loud crack—a shot from a hundred yards away that echoed vibrantly along the ridges. I circled back to Kevin to find him holding the neck of his turkey hen in one hand, the neck of a hen mallard in the other.
In his laziness and indifference, Kevin handed me the duck to dress and pluck. So I did. I spent nearly two hours at home afterward plucking the birds, though I left the jake—at least 15 pounds—unfinished.
The next day our close group of friends gathered early in the morning for Thanksgiving. My good friend Scott and I drank High Life well before noon and together finished plucking my jake.

(Packer fandom forgiven during plucking) 

Another friend Amanda had received a domestic turkey from work. While that bird would serve as dinner, this jake was intended to serve as a snacking bird during football.
I lacquered teriyaki sauce over every flank, started a heap of coals in a chimney starter. I tossed the coals in my buddy Gabe’s Weber and threw a gallon of wet applewood chips atop and placed my sauced jake on the grate and started smoking the bird with minimal ventilation.

(Grill Mishap Suspect Number 1: Gabe)

Yet, somewhere amid the beer drinking and football, someone (possibly even myself) got a little too handsy with the grill vents. I came out an hour later to find plumes of fire spilling out the sides of the grill. I immediately removed the lid and used two sets of tongs to lift the grate and take my jake off the flames. Its entire backside was charred, though the front side seemed untouched.
I added more coals, more chips, re-adjusted the vents and placed the jake back in the grill to finish smoking. I was determined to salvage this harvest.
Later, presentation-side up, my smoked jake was a work of art, sitting on its platter for all to sample during football.
Many did, while others opted to wait for domestic turkey.
Amanda returned home from work and everyone, having brought their own dish to share, began prepping and reheating their contributions in the early afternoon. Gabe and I had the bright idea, with Kevin’s duck, to make a turducken this year. We crammed a store-bought chicken inside the cavity of that domestic turkey, followed by wild duck inside that chicken, and started roasting.

(Roasting the perfect, slightly wild turducken)

Scott’s contribution was an expired can of cranberry sauce, the first ominous piece in the painful mystery that would ensue.
It should be noted: Scott has a propensity for consuming expired goods. Prior to his wedding, his wife’s uncle had stockpiled cases of Hamm’s and brought the beer to share at the ceremony. Scott, not wanting one drop to go to waste, brought the remaining beer home with him and, even for months afterward, continued to drink and offer guests expired Hamm’s. He seemed offended when we grimaced while drinking.

(A Hamm’s man)

Scott was the first to get sick. After dinner, we listened to him violently disgorge his meal upstairs in the spare bathroom. My wife, Dara, and Amanda went upstairs to help.
Was it the cranberry sauce? We all laughed at his bravado, as he was the only one willing to dollop that purple gelatin atop his plate. He even sat with a posture of arrogance during dinner, stoutly dismissing every advocacy for caution.

(Patient Zero: Scott)

      Later that night, after we all had gone our separate ways, I woke to a severe pain in my stomach. My wife darkened our bedroom doorway, informing me she herself had just thrown up.
      It felt like razor blades were coursing through my intestines, though I never vomited.
      The next day we learned Amanda had been throwing up, while her husband, Gabe, also experienced similar pains to me. Our other friend, Sam, also expressed he wasn’t feeling well.
       Maybe it wasn’t the cranberry sauce? Was it the wild turkey? The turducken? My wife’s stuffing? My mashed potatoes? Whenever we thought we had narrowed it down, someone else would advise that they never tried that particular dish. Amanda never had the wild turkey. Sam never touched the turducken since he left early. There was no one constant among us.
        My wife later suggested Scott may have contracted the Norovirus during his recent business trip to Vancouver, since there was an outbreak of the virus there. But then why did all the guys (not including Scott) experience gut-wrenching pain and never vomit?
So many variables. The cause remains a mystery to this day. Still, perhaps the greatest tragedy was the pounds of leftovers that were viewed as suspects, never to be cherished twice. My jake—bigger than most toms, a true beauty—with sizeable portions of meat still remaining, was destined for the trash.
The idea itself of scraping baking pans packed with mounds of Thanksgiving staples into the garbage was nothing less than painful. They remained in our refrigerators for days, for we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to part with them.
Eventually, we simply had to.
Is there a lesson to be learned here? Hard to say when the root of the problem is still unknown. Regardless, to avoid food poisoning, here are some basic Thanksgiving tips:

·         Thaw your bird under cold running water, not at room temperature on the countertop. Bacteria grows rapidly in raw poultry at room temperature.
·         Always use an accurate meat thermometer to make certain the deepest part of the turkey breast reaches 165 degrees. Also check the inner-most portion of the thigh.
·         Cook your stuffing in a baking pan with chicken stock, not inside the cavity of the bird. That egg and bread mix, when stuffed inside the cavity of a bird, takes a very long time to cook adequately. Either your bird will dry out in the process or you will remove early when the stuffing hasn’t finished cooking. Uncooked stuffing presents a very high risk of food poisoning.
·         Be careful when “sanitizing” your countertops and work space, since sometimes old rags and sponges contain germs and will actually spread germs rather than disinfect. Use fresh towels or towelettes, perhaps even a sanitizer solution of bleach and water (1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water—NO MORE).
·         Finish your mashed potatoes well ahead of schedule or right before dinner, since that hot mix of potatoes and heavy cream will grow bacteria after cooked and left at room temperature. Either cook and refrigerate for several hours then reheat, or add the cream and mix shortly before serving, making certain the mashed potatoes stay between 140 to 165 degrees until put away, uncovered, in the refrigerator to cool. Mashed potatoes and stuffing are the leading causes of food poisoning on Thanksgiving.
·         Finally, don’t eat expired shit.

Who says Thanksgiving has to be turkey? Brandy apple-glazed pheasant will suffice.

      This is my favorite time of year—when the air turns just as crisp as the falling leaves. Sunlight has a softer quality to it, almost as if filtered through olive oil. For us bird hunters, all these signs mean just one thing: pheasant season is finally here.

      After a successful hunt, when it comes to dinner, the taste of pheasant itself ranks in the top tier for wild fowl.  

Whenever possible, I believe plucking every bird is a worthwhile endeavor, as the skin seals in juices and flavor while roasting.
Dry plucking requires time and patience, and perhaps a blow torch to singe smaller leftover feathers. There is also the option of dunking birds in steaming water and paraffin wax, then cooling under cold water and plucking. 
 Brining is also an important step, since soaking proteins in a salt-water solution for at least 24 hours reduces moisture loss during cooking by up to 15 percent. The end result is one succulent, flavorful bird.
 The sweet brandy apple glaze is a hint of autumn desert during dinner. Apply as liberally as you choose, but make certain to save room for pumpkin pie.
Makes four servings.
1 whole pheasant, 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, skin on. 
Pheasant brine:
1  1/2 gallons water
1 cup non-iodized salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup black pepper
7 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 large bulb of garlic, cloves peeled and smashed
2 honeycrisp apples, sliced
1 lemon, sliced and juiced
4 ounces fresh ginger, smashed
Brandy apple glaze:
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup shallots, julienne
1  1/2 tablespoons freshly minced garlic
1  1/2 ounces brandy
1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 cups chicken stock
3/4 cup apple cider
3 tablespoons apple butter
2 tablespoons honey
4 teaspoons salt
To roast pheasant: Once pheasant has sat completely covered by brine in fridge for 24 hours, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse pheasant, pat dry. If possible, truss bird. Lightly salt and pepper all sides. Cook pheasant, breast side up, at 450 degrees for 25 minutes, turn oven down to 350 degrees. Cover breast side of pheasant with sliced apples from brine. Cook for another 40-50 minutes. Check for an internal temperature of 160 degrees before removing. 
To make glaze: Start once pheasant is inserted into oven. Sautee shallots and garlic in butter on medium heat until shallots are soft and slightly browned. Deglaze with brandy, add vinegar, simmer for one minute before adding remaining ingredients. Cook on medium to medium-high for approximately 35 minutes or until liquids have reduced to one third. Stir often. Turn heat to simmer, and continue reducing until glaze acquires viscid texture and dark brown color (approximately another 10 minutes). Keep on low until ready to serve. 
To serve: Let roasted pheasant sit for five minutes. You may choose to remove apples or keep them atop skin. As well, you have the option to glaze pheasant as it cools, or wait until it is carved to drizzle glaze overtop individual servings.   

Stomach health secrets to improve your day afield and on the water: keeping it simple the night before

      When it comes to a full day of fishing or hunting, stomach health and what you eat and drink the night before is arguably just as important as any piece of equipment you place in your truck or boat.
Sure, chances are you already have your neoprene waders laid out, alongside your freshly cleaned and oil shotgun. The decoys are stacked in the boat. But what happens when the sun breaks the horizon and you feel a rumble in your stomach? Bloating has got your intestines feeling like they are digesting razor blades. Your only option may be to drop waders in the woods 100 yards back, thus potentially missing that first flock that decides to decoy at first light. 

      We have all been there. It is not a pleasant topic, and because no one wants to talk about, perhaps this is the reason we keep repeating our mistakes.

      Here is a strange fact you may have recognized but have never known the cause: increased adrenaline, perhaps at the sight of a river or upon hearing a flock of geese, can potentially induce the need to release your bowels. Here’s why:
Digestion requires blood to extract nutrients from food. Digestion consumes calories, calories required for other faculties in an emergency. That rise in adrenaline, simply because you are excited or “pumped,” can fool your body into thinking it is in “emergency mode.” Blood rushes to muscles. To get rid of all undigested food that is requiring blood, your body wishes to empty the digestive system. Bowel movements are not uncommon. Because the body has not had the chance to complete digestion and remove all the water from the fecal matter, the bowel movement can result in the runs or diarrhea.
       Ever read about a burglar taking a shit in the home they burglarized? Probably not. But it happens. Ask experienced law enforcement or my former professor Ben Percy who walked in a foul-smelling crime scene at home.
The adrenaline poop is a fact of life. You are not a weirdo because when you first sit down in your tree stand you immediately have an urge to search your bag for a roll of TP and dig a hole far, far away.
But how many of us actually indulge this sensation to shit? More than likely, not many. For the same reason professional bass fishermen have several rods and reels rigged and ready to go on the boat, instead of retying lures, passionate outdoors-men and women will go to extreme lengths, endure extreme conditions, to ensure time afield and on the water is well spent.
Upland bird hunters wear waterproof chaps because they know they could be working moisture-rich draws and  a wet pair of pants means slowed movement and a harder walk. Every hunter and fishermen, when expecting a full day, should always take as many precautions as possible—think outside the box, and think ahead.
The same goes for your stomach. If your body is going to tell you it needs a release, what you decided to put in it the night before will determine how easily you can forget about this inclination.

What to consider avoiding:

·         Certain vegetables containing sugars that formulate gas in your intestinal tract during digestion. Examples include onionsand artichokes, which contain fructose. Others vegetables include asparagus, brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage, which all contain raffinose, another type of sugar.
·         Certain fruits and artificial sweetenerscontaining gas-inducing sugars (sorbitol): prunes, apples, peaches and pears.
·         Acid foods, which can upset the lining of your stomach, such as garlic or oranges and all types of vinegar.
·         Spicy foods, which will also potentially upset the lining of your stomach, such as buffalo wings or jalapeños and most Mexican or Thai cuisine
·         Dairy products containing lactose (regardless of whether you are lactose intolerant) can cause issues during digestion. If you consume too much lactose, by eating such dairy products as soft cheesesand whole milk, these items are digested in the large intestine and therefore may cause bloating and gas. Never pleasant.
·         Fried foods such as fried chicken or beer-battered fish can moved through the body quickly undigested and potentially cause diarrhea or similar digestive issues.   
·         Processed foods such as Slim Jims, hot dogs and sausages or lunch meats high in preservatives lack fiber and contain additives that may upset certain types of stomachs.
·         All types of alcohol serve as a double-edged sword: alcohol dehydrates you while also serving as toxin to your stomach lining.   
·         Though often beneficial to your health, the type of fat found in eggs propels those breakfast proteins through your intestines and could potentially induce a premature bowel movement.
·         Everyone needs coffee to wake up at 3:30 in the morning and get ready to load the truck or haul the boat and make certain we beat the sunrise to the woods or our prime spot of water. Still, too much coffee or caffeine not only speeds you up, it also speeds up your digestive system, which could lead to diarrhea if digesting food isn’t allowed ample time for removal of water.  
·         Finally, though it pains me to say it: pizza. Between the cheeses and acidic pizza sauce containing oodles of garlic, to the myriad gas-inducing toppings, this Chicago favorite should be avoided at all costs prior to a full day of hunting or fishing.

What to consider consuming:

  • Soluble fiber foods. WedMD offers a great explanation of how fibrous foods promote healthy bowel movements. Soluble foods—which absorb water, binding other digested foods and turning them to mush—include oatmeal, regular Cheerios and other cereals, nuts and beans
  • Insoluble fiber foods such as whole-wheat bread or pasta or brown rice also help fit everything together. Imagine small Czech hedgehogs streaming through your intestines—insoluble fiber benefits digestion by unclogging routes and binding mush to get it moving in one solid mass.
  • No matter how great your gut feels, you’re still going to require energy for a full day. Lean meats such as grilled chicken or grilled fish (devoid of excess seasoning) serve as great sources of protein.
  • Finally, it is so common sense it is often forgotten: water. Proper hydration is essential on numerous levels. It promotes healthy digestion, helps avoid cramping during those multi-mile jaunts through brush and woods, while also combating fatigue.

Of course these points are just a set of guidelines. Different foods affect different people differently. You know your body best. Choose to eat what makes for a healthy stomach for you.
A recent source for a Pheasants Forever story I wrote had a great piece of advice: If any piece of equipment detracts from “being in the moment,” you did something wrong. This means if your feet are cold, you chose the wrong boots. Your legs are soaking and slowing down—you wore jeans when you should have worn chaps or waterproof pants. If you cannot simply enjoy being outdoors, appreciate every gift your senses are receiving, then you did something wrong.
Perhaps it was what you put in your mouth at the dinner table. Don’t pay for a supper oversight in the field or on the water. Remain conscious of your stomach—potentially just as much a liability as the gun or rod-and-reel in your hands.