Never, in my life, did I think I would ever end up in North Dakota for anything. Not to say that it does not hold beauty… because it does. I just always thought if I ever had the opportunity to visit, it would be to drive through it in order to get somewhere else. A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being invited to cook for a group of really kind individuals during their pheasant hunting week in a small rural area.
It is funny how we tend to picture something or someone a certain way and when we see it, our picture is nowhere close to what we had imagined. The minute I stepped out of the plane, I felt like I was still in Texas…but a cleaner version of Texas. The countryside had smooth low-rolling hills free of trash and looked as though it had just been mowed. There was a stillness in the air…until the next day, which brought a cold front of a light spit of rain and fog (my favorite weather) followed by another day of wind so high, it put Texas wind to shame. The environment seemed so different but yet the same. I was intrigued about how the week would pan out.
A small town burger is almost always never a bad idea. Especially, if it is only offered in one place in the entire town. With a menu of a burger, cheeseburger, or mushroom Swiss burger, the place was bound to know what the hell they were doing…
I chuckled as we walked into the bar. The staff hurriedly scattered away from a table like roaches scurrying after a flip of a light switch. “We have customers!!!” That comical relief took a bit of the sting away from being in a strange place. Comfort really sat in after I had one of the best burgers I have ever had away from home.
That afternoon, I had the opportunity to go out with a few of the hunters to experience what they do before I got busy cooking up a storm. The landscape was utterly breathtaking as was the little trek. The fact that I am so out of shape was never more clear to me as that day. The Labradors stayed by their masters’ sides as the Cocker Spaniels were all over the place zipping through the brush looking for birds. All I could think about was how in the hell did those little fuckers have the energy to do so. Then, I had a jarring flashback of the day I had to run 4 miles total in seventh grade athletics and then another 3 1/2 in tennis practice. That was the day I decided to never run again even if I were being chased by a clown with a knife. I suddenly felt weak in the knees.
After our drive out to the Badlands, we washed up and drove into another small nearby town for dinner. I was going to enjoy every bit of it as it was my day off before I actually got busy with work. The restaurant was full of burly men enjoying a football game along with their chicken fried steak and beers. Right away, I felt I was going to like this meal. A mixture of sounds from the locals’ laughter, the game on the TV, and the clanking of dishes had me excited for my dining experience. As soon as I witnessed our waitress take our order, turn it in to the kitchen, then, sat amidst the men and shotgunned a beer, I KNEW I was going to enjoy my experience! I turned down the iceberg salad bar but made love to my chicken fried chicken. When dining out, no matter how elegant or simple a meal is, I always appreciate the times I get to enjoy someone else’s cooking. I take in my surroundings as well as the meal itself and find a way to respect every element of the experience. If I don’t, the experience is void.
Friday morning came quickly with eager hunters to bring in pheasant for nightly meals. Every afternoon, I was graciously given a bucket of pheasant to use for dinner. I’m just gonna straight up confess that I had never worked with pheasant before. I was anxious to see how my dishes were going to turn out. No pheasant to prepare the first evening…so we enjoyed a damn good grilled steak dinner prepared by one of the participants. I was tempted to steal that grill, by the way….it was big enough for me to take a nap in!
After preparing and clearing breakfast and lunch, the hunting crew went out again while I filleted fifteen to twenty feathered and gutted pheasant each afternoon. I found the bird to be rather tender and mild which had lent a little forgiveness to my dishes. There was no way my pheasant would suck if I coated it with Panko and hid it in a bunch of wild rice! I have to say, it was pretty tasty! Look out! Then came Pheasant Pot Pie, Pheasant Tacos, and Pheasant Stew made with leftover sausage brought by one of the participants. Every night was filled with awesome appetizers and delicious pies prepared by the hunters.
Six days of cooking three meals for 24 individuals….check. One hellacious burn and carpal tunnel aggravation…check. Coolest experience to cook for some of the most “down to Earth”, grateful, and kind group of people….check. And the best part of it all, 20,456 stolen kisses from lots of precious doggies…check.
Thank you, Wildrose Kennels, for the wonderful opportunity <3