Something new for dinner

My explorations into Namibian cuisine have taken another step.  You may not want to hear about it, but hey, if you read my oryx brain story, this one should go down easy. Ready?

Jay and I ate deep-fried zebra snake.

Seriously.

It went like this:

Our chickens were in a major brooding mood.  A few of them were just desperate to sit on some eggs, and we wanted more chickens, so we let them.  The first hen hatched 13 eggs, and with that we doubled our chicken herd.

The second clutch was a bit of an accident.  The hen hid her eggs in tall grass and before we knew it, she disappeared to sit on them.  In time, we found her and her eggs, and with a bit more time, 10 chicks hatched.

Back in the coop, we could hardly keep the hens from sitting so we let one more have a chance.  Eventually, 8 more chicks were born.

Doing the maths, we now had 31 baby chickens running around.

No matter where in the world they were, these helpless balls of meat would attract predators.  I knew better than to expect them all to survive to adulthood, but nevertheless, when they began to disappear, it was depressing.

The original thirteen stayed strong.  Either their mom was tough and kicked some ass whenever something tried to grab one, or they just got lucky.  The second batch of ten, though, had a newbie, slightly air-headed, mom, and within a week, they were whittled down to five.

Then, the third batch began to dwindle – one or two at a time, every few days.  We had a repeat offender on our hands; a nocturnal snake who knew he’d found the jackpot.

When a python took one of the thirteen, who were now pretty big, he was too fat to escape.  So we hauled him out the next morning and transported him far from the house.  But the chicks kept disappearing.

One morning, I found another of the thirteen unable to walk.  His leg had a clear snake bite on it, and he died soon after.  Now we knew we had a venomous snake – that ruled out another python.  And mambas being day snakes left only one other suspect: the zebra snake.

http://lh6.ggpht.com/4bg4hIj9USj_Bg2m3vXYujHdaZjILZaxrUtNn2dht0fFbzewxiqquaYLkKRJFCNd7lQ0fo-nQkihkCE3MfTcDA=s1200

Zebra snake. Photo courtesy projectnoah.org

We began fortifying our coops.  Normally, we use just one, but with all these new animals, we were using two old, non-snake-proof ones.  We fixed holes, cemented around the bases, put up extra mesh fencing, and rested better once they were done, thinking the chickens were safe.

Yet the next morning, two more of the oldest chicks were dead but not eaten, a third paralyzed, and one of the younger chicks gone and another half-eaten and then regurgitated.  It was frustrating enough having my chickens become snake food, but to have them killed and not be anyone’s food was even worse.

I declared war.

My grand plan of attack, as told to Jay: hang bells around the coop wherever a snake might enter and then sleep outside.  “Whenever a bell rings”, I told him, “I’m going out there, and I’m taking the shotgun.”

Jay assured me this wasn’t necessary (kindly brushing aside the fact that we own approximately two bells, one being strapped to a goat’s neck, and I have only a slim idea of how to work the shotgun which is a bit overkill, anyway).  His much more realistic plan: attach a spotlight to a car battery and set it near the coop.  We then set the alarm for 3 a.m. and go out there, well-lit, in search of a snake.

Right on schedule, the snake turned up the second night.  And we didn’t even have to set the alarm, he was in the coop before we went to bed.  Jay took the appropriate-sized rifle, I held the light, and a minute later we had a dead, meter-long zebra snake.

Doing my maths again, this one snake had killed 14 chicks.  To ensure that they didn’t die in vain, in my mind, there was only one thing to do: we had to eat the snake.

Our farm staff was as clueless as we were about how to prepare a snake, not to mention completely revolted by the whole idea.  So, we briefly consulted the internet, then grabbed a knife and chopped off its head.

headlessThe head contains the venom, so headless venomous snakes are safe to eat.  The next task was to remove the skin.  First, we cut the bits holding it to the muscle,

skin be goneand after that, the skin peeled right off.

skin removalThen, out came the guts,

gutsthat contained the last of the last baby chicken,

my chickand just like that we had innards to toss, meat to eat, and a skin to . . . do something with.

3 of a kindIn the kitchen, the meat was chopped up,

filetsbattered up,

bread crumbin'and fried up.

deep fryMost people say that snake meat, ironically, tastes like chicken.  Not being a big meat eater myself, that’s the best comparison I have for you.  Jay constructively noted that it tasted like snake. In any case, there was about as much meat as there was bone, making for a tedious meal.  I’m certainly interested in trying other, fatter species, though.

So, ye legless varmints beware, there be snake eaters on this here farm.

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The mystery of the black cat and the full moon

Like most places in the world, every month or so, we get a full moon here on the farm.  Generally, it is a welcome occasion.  There is a local theory that it brings rain, but otherwise, it simply allows us to move about at night without clinging to a flashlight (or torch, depending on your English proclivities) or walking into things.  Plus, it’s pretty.

moon 'n cloudsThere is one drawback, though.  When the full moon slides into the sky over the hill in the east, it takes the sanity of one of our three cats with it.

She isn’t ever really normal.  Normal is not a cat adjective.  But back in the States, this little black cat of mine had no reaction to the state of the moon.  Maybe it was because we lived in an apartment and the outdoors were not a part of her life.  Maybe coming to this Namibian farm has brought out the leopard inside of her.  Maybe her brain is flashing images of huge yet very slow lizards, or hordes of giggling mice traipsing through the kitchen, champagne in one hand, cheese gobs in the other. I don’t know.  She simply cannot control the instinct telling her that she must go outside.

the cat

The little black cat, covered in dirt, and probably hunting something.

It seems to only affect her in the winter.  She’ll patrol the room, pacing back and forth, mewing and squeaking, informing us of her distress.  And this is when we are still downstairs eating dinner.  We can hear her through the wall (which, to be fair, is made of logs and fairly porous).  Once we climb into bed the fun really begins.  Like a pouting 4-year-old, she stomps over us to get to the window above our heads, wails her misery to the world on the windowsill for a few minutes, and then leaps down again with a four-footed landing and stomps back the other way.

This is then repeated throughout the night.

Jay and I used to just sleep through it, or pretend to.  I felt guilty for subjecting him to my apparently PMSing cat, but once we got some sleep again, we’d laugh it off and forget about it.  Til the next month.

But this time, I thought of a solution.  It was so simple, it was aggravating to think of how much sleep was lost by us not having thought of it before.

Water.

My cats hate water.  Unless it is going down their throat – by their own doing – it is evil. I tried to give them a bath once when all three became infested with fleas.  I walked away from it bloody and wetter than they were.  When a stream of water comes their way, they will do anything to avoid it.

Thus, needing a water-launching device and not owning a water gun, I turned to the syringes left over from multitudes of cow injections.  Once the needle is off, those things can shoot surprisingly far.

Problem is, our little syringes only hold one round, and it’s easy to miss a small black cat even with a full moon.  Which is, of course, exactly what happened.  So I stepped it up a notch.  With a whole glass of water in my mouth, I headed toward the warbling.  The first squirt hit the ground, and the cat bolted across the room, still singing her woes.  I caught up to her, and let out another squirt.  Another miss, another puddle.  She was hiding behind the bedside lamp now, by Jay’s head.  He seemed semi-asleep despite the commotion, but I was on a mission.  I shot the last of my water and hit the cat square on.  She took off again, silent this time, and I climbed back into bed for a triumphant sleep.

The cat spent the night and those to follow on the lonely chair by the glass door.  I suppose she was either mad or she wanted to keep an eye out in case those oafish lizards wandered by.  In any case, it seems mother nature had heard her distress calls.  One night a gust of wind blew the door open and by the time we noticed, the cat had long ago disappeared into the night.

Luckily, she returned by morning with that innocent cat look on her face, despite the headless mouse in the shower.  I have no idea if it was meant as a gift, to say all is forgiven, or if she brought it as proof, to say “I told you so”.

I don’t believe that I will ever figure out my cats.  I don’t intend to try.  I would only like to sleep.  And, if it’s not too much to ask, keep decapitated wildlife out of the bathroom.

the gift

Thanks.

 

Our island

Jay and I are reading a book right now (we like the same kind of books and it was just easier to read together than read over the other’s shoulder) by Linda Greenlaw of The Perfect Storm fame, about her life on “a very small island”.  Jay and I have always envisioned ourselves living on an island and our conversations on the topic have reignited while reading this book.  The less people the better, we figure, even if it were just the two of us, plus the cats and Sniffdog, obviously, for company and entertainment.  The peace, solitude, and freedom sound ideal to us.  Running around naked, living off the land, free to be ridiculous. But I realized, when it comes down to it, we basically do that already on this place we call a farm that is located just west of the middle of nowhere.

Although it would be fabulous if we needed a boat to get here, we do need to drive quite a hefty distance (about 45 minutes) from the nearest town where our mail is delivered and beer is bought.  The journey even comes with dangerous animals to avoid, though they have legs and not fins.

We hunt for our meat (and by “we” I mean “not me”) and scavenge for fruits and vegetables in the wilds of the garden (but I am learning wild edible things).  Fresh water is up to us to haul out of the ground and we are not hooked up to an outside source of electricity.  Solar panels and a generator, though not homemade, power our fridge and computer.

Occasions do pop up when we run around naked.  Usually when it is very hot and the farm workers have (hopefully) left for home.  In fact, we would probably be naked more often if it were considered an acceptable form of attire and would not frighten the people who have to work with us.  Our ridiculousness is also reigned in as to not lose all respect of the staff, although I’m quite sure they already think I am completely weird, like when they catch me talking to the cats.

Sometimes we even get time when it is just the two of us, no sounds or sights of other people.  We are surrounded by our animals, with a beer in hand, as the sun is leaving for other parts of the world.  It is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been or can imagine.

So while our farm is fairly remote, private, and serene, I would not be upset if a big, fat body of water were to take up residence at the edge of it.  It would be swell indeed to run for beer in a trusty lil’ sailboat.

I think I’ll have to keep dreaming on that one.

Top 5 farm things I try to avoid

As much as I try to help on the farm, learn the five separate languages I might encounter, what this switch operates and what that button does, what each of the 13-letter-name medicines in the fridge’s butter cubby are for, and what to do when an angsty rabid kudu comes to the front gate, there are some things that I just do not gel with.  Here’s the top 5 I’ve determined that are best left to the professionals.

1. Genny the generator

Genny is, no doubt, an important part of the farm.  Since Nampower, Namibia’s state-run (and only) electricity supplier, decided our farm was too far out to hook up to the grid (even though all our neighbors are), this lady provides a lot of our power.  While we are trying to move more towards solar, she still carries a chunk of the load.  But to get her going, it takes a good couple swings of the crank, and take my word, the crank is, proportionally, just as big.  It ain’t for woosies, or otherwise meager-armed folks such as myself.  I’ve certainly tried, sweat and swear words flowing, but she just groans a little and lays back down, like my cats when I disturb them at nap time.  My main job in regards to Genny, therefore, is to turn her off when the batteries are charged and that’s no easy task either.  Just take a look at the accompanying circuit box:Indeed, to stop her thunderous revolutions, I first must enter the room and remind myself that she will not tear herself free of the concrete floor and chew me to pulp.  If I keep all extremities clear of her moving parts, I should remain whole.  (To this day, I have only injured myself once with this intimidating piece of machinery, and that was when my knee came to rest on a metal tube which I quickly learned was the exhaust pipe).  After that, I need only flip four switches, push a button, pull a thingy down until she stops her sputtering, and then disconnect her battery.  I believe that is as intimate as I shall ever be with the giant engine and her labyrinthine electrical box.  Any more than that and one of us will no longer work properly.

2.  Keys

A single key is harmless enough, but when they congregate, I prefer not to be present.

I know it’s a farm and all, we have doors and gates and things with locks, but I do not believe we have so many of them.  This isn’t even the only key bundle nor are bundles the only place in which keys are kept.  So, to avoid acute key anxiety, I do as I do with Genny, keep it simple.  I know the keys to the rooms which hold things important to the continuation of my life, and the rest I have absolutely no idea what they do or to what treasures they have access and I’d like to keep it that way.

3.  The slaughter shed

This is where animals go once they’ve been shot.  Normally, they are shot to feed the farm staff to prevent poaching.  Sometimes, hunters shoot them so they can put the heads on their walls.  Regardless, here, they are strung up by their hind legs, gradually reduced to pieces which includes the use of that handsaw on the back wall, and their blood and other excrement drains into the large hole in the floor.  I have actually helped in this process before, really only because there was no one else to do it.  And while the biologist inside me was sort of interested in this massive science project, it’s not something I look forward to.

4.  Water intersections

This is another one that seems innocent.

But one must know that water pipelines run throughout the farm, each one connected to the next.  If I close or open just one pipe, the water is going to go somewhere else and I never quite know where that is.  For example, if we pump water to the house, it can either go to the garden and water the orange trees, it can go to our reservoir so that we can shower off the cow poop at the end of the day, or it can bypass us and fill the workers’ water tank.  For each of those things, the pattern of open and closed valves must be just right or I’ll end up watering an oasis somewhere in the Namib desert. To make things more complicated, sometimes water is pumped to the house using the engine at the windmill down by the main road and sometimes it falls on Genny’s shoulders.  Sometimes they are both running and I don’t know who is doing it.  But if our reservoir is full and begins to overflow, I need to stop it.  Do I stop Genny or the engine at the windmill?  Do I need to open or close the valves at the house or the valves at the main road?  Do the workers need water?  Or do I need to fill the big reservoir that feeds the rest of the farm?  Answer quickly now, the water is a-wasting.  And these intersections are all over the farm. If any of the miles of underground pipe breaks then the water must be closed at one or more of them and who knows which one that might be.

5.  Saws

This last one is probably the most important for me to avoid for genetic reasons; I’ve inherited a calamitous gene which earned me my nickname “Disasterpants”, one that has caused countless injuries to me and my family for many years now.  As such, I stay as far away from this thing as possible:

This saw cuts our wood, wood that we use to heat our water, post our fences, or to otherwise build or burn, but why must it be so big?  Namibia is not known for its gigantic trees and even if it was, I would rather chop all my wood by hand than to have to come within slicing distance of Spikey here (although I may do just as much damage to myself with an axe).  If I have to gather some logs for the fire, even when it is not connected to a single watt of electricity,  I move quickly, deliberately, and then get the hell out of there.  I can feel it watching me.

Same goes for the handheld spinning blade, known as a grinder (enough reason to leave it alone):

And ditto for the meat saw:

This blade moves up and down very quickly and very loudly.  Some people on the farm saw their meat just fine with this thing; fast and smooth, no worries, no problem.  And that is why I call them the professionals and let them saw or slaughter or lock and unlock whatever they want and I go feed the baby chickens.

Eating Brain and Opening the Mind

*Please be warned that there are some graphic images in this post.  However, the post itself is aimed to enlighten and educate.*

 

In an attempt to experience all the Namibian cuisine has to offer, I did it.  I ate brain.

We shot an oryx yesterday.  Not my favorite part about farm life but it has to be done.  It’s either give the farm staff meat, or they take it.  And in a poacher’s trap is a brutal way to die.  So I remind myself as we load the carcass on the truck, it’s better this way.

Jay and I have tried other odd traditional foods.  Testicles and intestines come to mind, also both from an oryx.  But the fact is, they are only odd to some minds.  Some folks see it as food and not to be wasted.  I found this article about Indianans, that is citizens of the state of Indiana, who love their deep-fried cow brain sandwiches.  (The article is in reference to the mad cow scare in the States.  It is very rare for humans to get sick from eating sick cows.  And mom, the oryx here are brain-disease free.)  They say the practice dates back to European settlers who were “frugal with their slaughtered cattle”.  It is meat, after all. 

I, as a reform vegetarian, agree.  If the animal has to die, it should at least not be wasted.  So, let’s give the brain a try.

Traditionally, Namibians bake the head.  A hole is dug in the ground with hot coals lining the bottom of the pit.  The head is set in there and covered again for a few hours.  An old man on our farm lives for oryx heads.  Apparently, the cheeks are quite tasty as well. 

We took a more modern route.  We used a frying pan.  But first, we had to get the brain out, and for that we used a saw.  I have no idea how natives, without access to saws, get the skull open.

With a spoon we scooped out the organ.  It was much smaller than I had expected, compared to the size of the head.  It was certainly a very strange experience.

With onions, potatoes, garlic, and some spices we cooked it up.  It smelled like any other meat in a frying pan.

And then it was time for the first bite.  I was shocked.  It was good.  Actually, brain has little flavor on its own, it only tasted good because of the other stuff cooked with it.  It is more of a texture food; it is very creamy.  So I wondered then, is it loaded with fat?  A little research shows beef brain (there is little info even on beef brain, much less oryx brain) is loaded with protein, vitamins, and minerals without much fat or carbohydrates.  However, deep-fried sandwiches are probably a little higher in calories. 

It just goes to show you, fear keeps us from many things we may very well enjoy.  I urge you to try something new, food or otherwise, and keep your mind open.

A very Namibian dinner: oryx brain with green salad from our garden (which, by the way, really balances the richness of the meat), and the favorite local beer, Tafel lager. Complete with leopard-print tablecloth.

 

First day back in Namibia

There was a rabid kudu attacking the cattle at the corral by the house.  So Jay, Sniffel, and I trudged down there, me still half asleep since my body had no idea what time it was, and Jay with a rifle over his shoulder.  Sniffel bounced along in his usual, jolly, all-is-well spirit. 

The kudu thought it was hiding in a bush, but we could see it perfectly clearly.  One whistle from Jay and it looked directly at us.  One quick bullet to the head and it collapsed, dead, to the ground.  Normally, when we shoot an animal on the farm, it is for food and I still have never gotten used to it.  When it is rabid, it’s not so hard; I know we are releasing it from an agonizing death.  And when I say we, I mean Jay, while I stand a few feet back, restraining the dog from bravely bringing down the animal by his tiny self. 

We tied it to the back of our diesel pick-up truck by its long, twisted horns and hauled it to the vulture restaurant, a self-descriptive place not far down the road.

One cow had already been infected. (Usually, they are bitten as the rabid animal fights to get to the water trough.  Rabies lames the throat muscles thereby causing an insatiable thirst which is why the animals seem crazed).  She couldn’t stand anymore but to scramble a few steps in any direction.  She was drooling at the mouth.  She had miscarried.  Where the calf should have come out was then only blood.  We propped her up with a few small boulders; at least she wouldn’t be on her side.  Their bodies shut down faster when they are on their side.  We shot her up with the last of our rabies vaccination and hoped for the best.  Two mornings later, we found her dead.  Overnight, jackals had taken her eyes, udder, and some of her internal organs after ripping open her backside.  She, too, was hauled to the restaurant.  We scared away many vultures, resting after feeding on the kudu.  We laid the cow to rest next to the skin and bones which was a live animal just 48 hours ago.  Vultures hovered for yet another day.

I’ve done these things before, they are not uncommon on our Namibian farm.  It was simply an abrupt and blunt welcome back and a reminder how far I had traveled from the city life of the past three months in the States.

                     Earth to earth, so easy to see in Africa.