What I Learned Cooking in Tuscany — With 3 Cool Cooking Tips For You

October 21, 2010 § 14 Comments

In addition to shooting guns and canning jam, taking a cooking class in Italy is another item on my bucket list. Last week, I was lucky enough to fulfill this wish in Cortona, Tuscany, home to Frances Mayes of Under the Tuscan Sun fame and Il Falconiere, a 20-room inn with a Michelin-starred restaurant and cooking school (click here for their website).

Il Falconiere was built as a villa for a famous poet in the 17th century. It was then the family home of Riccardo Baracchi, the current proprietor. Riccardo, his wife, Silvia, and son, Benedetto, continue the family tradition of growing grapes and wine-making, which began in 1860. The restaurant and cooking school use produce grown on the property: olives and the resulting olive oil, fruits from trees lining gravel pathways and vegetables from a garden near the swimming pool.

Il Falconiere grounds at dusk

A close college friend, Leah, who lives in NYC, and I had decided to spend a week together meandering around Italy. Leah was happy to help me realize my food-obsessed desires (more on the others in a later post) during our trip.

So on a sunny Tuesday, we walked into the Baracchi family’s kitchen, which also serves as the setting for cooking classes.

The warm, cozy kitchen

We nibbled on pecorino made just south of Cortona and salami made just north, sipping the Baracchi family wines while getting to know the other four class participants. Coincidentally, all six of us were pairs of women who had been friends for years and had decided to spend time traveling in Italy together — what a great way to connect with a long-time friend, no?

Over the next four hours, we learned to cook a menu showcasing the best seasonal ingredients and traditional Tuscan dishes:

Stuffed zucchini blossoms

Zucchini blossoms stuffed with minted ricotta

with basil sauce and pine nuts

Pici pasta with cherry tomatoes

and chili and herbs

 

Veal medallion

Veal medallions with citrus-olive tapenade

on herb skewers

Pear & pine nut tart

with chocolate sauce

We trimmed zucchini blossoms with giant tweezers…

Chef Richard wields his favorite weapon

We whipped up a filling of ricotta, mint and chopped zucchini sauteed in olive oil with garlic and stuffed the flowers, an activity everyone enjoyed more than they expected…

Leah and me: Fun with pastry bags

We made pasta dough, learning that pasta in Tuscany is traditionally made with flour and water but no eggs, because they were thrifty cooks and saved the eggs for other uses. After letting the dough rest, we rolled it out, sliced it into bars and attempted to transform each bar into long, thin “snakes”, as Chef Richard called them. It took us a while to get the hang of it, so some noodles were appropriately serpentine while others looked more like squashed caterpillars. Ahh, well…we have time to let the magic of habit-forming apply to making pasta from scratch!

Kneading the silky dough

We stuffed veal medallions with a filling of garlic, herbs, black olives, orange zest, bread crumbs and pancetta, wrapping them in lardo (thinly sliced, cured pork fat) and skewering them with fresh herb sprigs before searing them in a pan and finishing them in the oven…

Veal medallion with wild fennel skewer

We assembled and baked the pear tart and awaited dessert eagerly, taking in its rich aroma. (I’ll share that recipe with you next.)

Then the six of us sat down to enjoy the meal that we’d made, each course accompanied by Baracchi family wines. We’d learned new recipes and cooking tips, and over dinner, we shared stories about our friendships and our lives. There we were, laughing, eating, drinking — together in food.

Leah, Chef Richard and me

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3 Cool Cooking Tips For You!

1 — Baking stuffed zucchini blossoms in high heat (400 degrees Fahrenheit) with a bit of vegetable stock crisps the edges and is a lot easier than frying them.

The finished zucchini flowers, baked at 400 degrees

2 — Using sturdy herb sprigs as meat skewers is an easy way to impart aroma and flavor while also adding beauty to your finished dish.

Veal medallion with fresh bay leaf skewer

3 — Placing meat on a square of parchment paper while searing it in a skillet allows you to brown the meat over high heat without burning it.

Veal medallion searing on parchment paper

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The Magic of Habit-Forming

October 5, 2010 § 10 Comments

Stop for a minute and think about the last thing you did that was fun, fulfilling and felt natural.

Maybe it was cooking your favorite meal from scratch without referencing the recipe, or strumming a song on your guitar with ease, or flowing through your yoga class. Maybe you were tired or sweaty at the end, but it felt good when you were doing it and you felt a sense of pride when you finished.

Now, ponder this: how many times did you do that thing before it came to you naturally? Before your hands knew how many tomatoes to chop, before your fingers knew which chords to strike, before your body knew how to fold itself into downward dog – all without thinking about it too much?

Knowing hands cooking a homemade meal

Often we talk about habits in negative terms: the bad habits we need to kick because they’re holding us back. But there are so many good habits that we form throughout our lives that enrich our daily experiences.

This realization hit me the other day in the garden. I’ve been “blessed”, shall we say, with the warring traits of obsessive anal-retentiveness and chronic forgetfulness, so I write everything down. I mean everything. If I don’t write down that we need sugar from the grocery store, two days later I’ll have measured flour and baking soda for a batch of chocolate chip cookies (like these tasty ones here) when an expletive escapes my mouth as I suddenly remember that we’re missing a key ingredient.

So when I started gardening, I wrote it all down: what I’d planted and when it needed to be watered, fertilized, pruned and harvested. Every Friday I’d write my plan for Monday, noting that I needed to fertilize the Meyer lemon that week but not the jalapa pepper. And every Monday I’d reference that plan religiously, checking off what I did, both for a sense of satisfaction and to recall that I actually did it.

Our Meyer lemon rejuve-ing...more on that later

But this week, I walked outside on a misty Monday morning having forgotten to look at my plan. I filled the watering can, toted out the fertilizer, snipped away errant shoots and pulled weeds. An hour later, the plants were happily satiated and cleaned up.

Jalapa pepper bounces back in our September heat

"Bright Lights" Swiss chard lives up to its name

And then it hit me: gardening had become a good habit for me.

It was such a small thing, but it felt a bit like magic. Just seven days ago I was nervously looking at my notebook before making each move in the garden, and now my hands just knew what to do, and when and how to do it. (And so far, the plants haven’t died on me.)

You could say, Gosh, gardening isn’t rocket science; it’s not that big a deal. And in some ways, you’d be right. However, one thing I’ve realized is that when we allow ourselves to revel in even our smallest accomplishments, it can improve the quality of our lives, because they’re signs that we’re learning and growing. And really, who doesn’t want to feel like they’re moving forward?

Dahlias are off and running!

So, here’s my suggestion to you for this week: Remember, two and a half minutes ago, when you started reading this post and conjured up that image of the thing you did that was fun, fulfilling and felt natural? And how just a few weeks, months or even years ago, you didn’t know how to do it? Hold that for a moment, and celebrate yourself for having experienced the magic of forming a good habit.

How To Have A Tomato Extravaganza — Canned, Jammed, Sauced & Toasty (RECIPE)

September 22, 2010 § 23 Comments

1 — Get up early. Have a big mug of coffee.

2 — Enlist a friend or loved one to accompany you (you’ll see why in a sec) to your local farmers’ market. Present your morning’s mission to your companion: to find the best darned tomato in the market. Sample all of the tomatoes; compare notes. Go to the farm stand that had the unilaterally best tomatoes and ask how much they’ll charge you for a 20-30 pound box (SFoodie reported prices at $1.60-$2 per pound for a box. I got a 30-pound box for 30 cents per pound at Alemany Farmers’ Market from the stand right near the Putnam Street entrance; they weren’t certified organic, but I asked, and the farm doesn’t spray and uses sustainable farming practices).

3 — Ask your companion very nicely to help you lug the box back to the car and into your abode.

30 pounds of tomatoes!

4 — Put on clothes you don’t mind getting tomato-ey, and an apron.

5 — In your kitchen:

  • Clear and clean counter space.
  • Set up your biggest cutting board on the counter. Fold paper towels length-wise and nestle them around your cutting board to catch the tomato juices that will run away once you start cutting up tomatoes.
  • Sharpen your favorite knife.
  • Set up the other kitchen utensils you’ll need, depending on what you’re making (see recipes below).
  • Turn on some lively music — whatever pumps you up.
  • Pour yourself a glass of wine or pop open a beer (by now, it might be noon — at least, it is somewhere).

6 — Let the extravaganza begin!

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RECIPES

I’ve ordered these roughly along the lines of how tasty they are relative to input of time and effort:

(1) OVEN-ROASTED TOMATOES – Easy-peasy, super flavorful, very versatile and freezable

(2) TOMATO JAM – The sweet-savory punch is, in my mind, completely worth it; while it takes some time to prepare (and more if you plan to can it), the recipe is relatively simple

(3) TOMATO SAUCE – Time-intensive but not technically difficult, and fresh tomato sauce, especially in the winter, is a treat

(4) CANNED TOMATOES – Time-intensive and takes some technique (more on my simultaneous interest in / fear of canning in a later post), but then again…tomatoes in January? Awesome

Specific recipes are below, including the volume of tomatoes I used and yields I got and serving notes.

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(1) OVEN-ROASTED TOMATOES

Volume: 3 pounds of small-ish tomatoes –> 56 tomato halves

Total Time: 4-6 hours + 15 minutes. Prep: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 4-6 hours

Planning Notes: The prep is minimal, and you can roast these while you’re watching TV. Or, if you want, you can prep the tomatoes and stick them in the oven before you go to bed. Just remember to set your alarm to get up and take them out of the oven so you don’t end up with tomato hockey pucks.

Thank you to Chiot’s Run for the inspiration for this recipe (click here for hers).

Ingredients

However many tomatoes you want to roast

Olive oil

Chopped herbs, if you like (I used basil, but oregano would be tasty too)

Cooking Instructions

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Wash the tomatoes and drain in a colander.

Washed and ready to go

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Slice smaller tomatoes in half, larger ones into quarters. Arrange them on top of the parchment paper on the baking sheet, leaving ¼ inch or so between the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle chopped herbs on top of tomatoes if using. Put in oven (middle rack).

Tomatoes should shrink considerably (see pictures below); be curled up around the edges and about as firm to the touch in the middle as the meaty part of your palm (under your thumb) while still slightly moist; and taste like sweet-tangy, concentrated tomato.

Before

After

Check in four hours. If the tomatoes meet the description above, take them out and let them cool on the pan. If they don’t, roast them for another one to two hours.

Once cool, you can pack into freezer bags; squeeze out the air before sealing. Or, you can put in an air-tight container and store in the fridge for a few days.

Serving Notes

Great in salads, with eggs (chopped in omelets or egg scrambles; in an egg sandwich), on pizza, tossed into pasta or plain.

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(2) TOMATO JAM

Volume: 3 pounds of tomatoes –> 24 ounces

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes; approx.  1 hour 45 minutes if canning. Prep: 15 minutes. Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes + 10 minutes processing time if canning

Planning Notes: If you’re canning the jam, make sure your jars, lids and rings are washed. Then, start bringing water to simmer in your boiling-water canner and put the jars in a 225 degree oven to sterilize them before you prep the jam ingredients.

I basically used Mark Bittman’s recipe (click here)

Notes On The Recipe

I doubled the recipe as I was canning it, so I used 1 large jalapeno and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne as I wanted a mellow heat to offset the sweetness, vs. a spicy jam. If you’re making the recipe as is, you could just use the jalapeno or do half of a jalapeno and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne.

Simmering the jam 1 hour 15 minutes as Bittman instructs did not yield a thick jam consistency for me, so I brought the jam to boil to the “gelling point”. There are three ways to test for the gelling point, but in my opinion the easiest way is the plate test: put 2 small plates in the freezer before you start cooking the jam. Bring the jam to boil; when it starts getting to a thick jam consistency, place a spoonful on the plate, put it back in the freezer for 1-2 minutes, take it out and run your finger through the jam. If the jam separates and slowly returns to its original form (vs. running right back together), it’s ready. If it runs right back, cook it 1-2 minutes longer and repeat the test with the clean plate.

Serving Notes

Here’s my favorite: Slather this on a warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuit (click here for my favorite cream biscuit recipe), and accompany it with a finger of smoky-sweet bourbon.

A fresh biscuit & tomato jam -- supreme comfort food

Also great on toast, eggs, fish and chicken.

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(3) TOMATO SAUCE

Volume: 6 pounds 7 ounces of tomatoes –> 2 ½ pints (about 3 pounds tomatoes per pint, or 6.5 pounds tomatoes per quart)

Total Time: Approx. 2 hours; 2 hours 40 minutes if canning. Prep: 20 minutes. Cooking Time: 1 hour 40 minutes + 35-40 minutes processing time if canning

Planning Notes: If you’re canning the sauce, make sure your jars, lids and rings are washed. Then, start bringing water to simmer in your boiling-water canner and put the jars in a 225 degree oven to sterilize them before you prep the sauce.

Adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

Ingredients

However many tomatoes you want to use for sauce

Bottled lemon juice if canning the sauce (the lemon juice acidifies the sauce so it doesn’t go bad; using bottled lemon juice is key because the acid level is consistent, whereas fresh lemons vary in acidity)

Seasonings, if you like: chopped herbs, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper (I made mine without since I use tomato sauce in a variety of recipes that may not go well with certain seasonings)

Cooking Instructions

Wash the tomatoes and drain in a colander. Slice in half, cut out the stem/core. Cut into quarters.

Ready for some simmering

Simmer 20 minutes in a large saucepot, stirring occasionally.

Puree tomatoes in a blender or food mill. Strain puree through a sieve to remove seeds and skins into a clean, large saucepot.

Cook juice over medium-high heat until it thickens and reduces by about half, or to desired consistency. This will take, depending on the volume of tomatoes you use, about 45 minutes.

If freezing, pour into sterilized jars or air-tight plastic containers and let cool before placing in freezer.

If canning, put lids in a saucepan of water and bring to a simmer (but don’t boil or a seal won’t form). When the sauce is ready, put 1 tablespoon of bottled lemon juice into each pint jar or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice into each quart jar. Ladle hot sauce into a jar, doing one jar at a time, leaving ½-inch headspace. Wipe jar rim clean with a damp, clean paper towel or cloth; put lid on jar; screw on ring until finger-tight and place in boiling-water canner. Repeat process with remaining jars. Bring boiling-water bath to roiling boil, and from that point, process 35 minutes for pints, 40 minutes for quarts.

Serving Notes

Great for use in chili, stews, pasta and pizza.

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(4) CANNED TOMATOES

Cannot wait to have these this fall/winter!

Volume: 15 pounds of tomatoes –> 13 ½ pints (about 1 – 1 ½ pounds of tomatoes per pint)

Total Time: Approx. 4 hours for 15 pounds. A lot longer with more tomatoes

Planning Notes: This is at least a half-day affair, all day if you’re doing a lot more tomatoes than 15 pounds. Just plan on being up to your arms (literally) in tomatoes, and don’t plan on much else that day!

Up to my elbows in tomatoes

I referenced The Bitten Word’s handy photo narrative and video (click here) and the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

Notes On The Recipe

According to The Joy Of Cooking, if you’re doing a huge load of tomatoes, instead of blanching them a few at a time in boiling water and then putting them in an ice bath, you can place tomatoes in a single layer in a large roasting pan, cover with boiling water, let cool and then slip off the skins. I didn’t try it, but it sounds a lot easier than the blanching / ice bath / peeling assembly line I did!

Serving Notes

Great for use in tomato soup, chili and stews all winter.

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Did you find this post helpful? Would you make any of these recipes? If so, please vote above or comment below!

Have You Ever Been Waylaid By A Farmer?

September 9, 2010 § 11 Comments

How — and where — might this happen, you ask? Well, imagine yourself walking down a fairly empty street in a city after dark, searching for a wine bar that’s hosting an event that you’re intrigued by — so intrigued that you’re attending this event all by yourself on a Wednesday night. You’ve never been to this bar, so you don’t know where it is, and after you pass an oil change shop and a laundromat but no signs of a lively affair, you feel a slight thread of anxiety weaving its way into your mind as you wonder, “What am I getting myself into?”

But then you see a giant portable pizza oven set up on the sidewalk, spitting out what looks like gourmet thin-crust pizza, and some hipster-y looking folks milling about with paper cups of what you soon discover is Four Barrel coffee, and someone pulling up on a Vespa. You suddenly recognize that you’re in the right place.

You walk into the bar, the room bathed in warm light and the walls lined with hundreds of bottles of European wine. You push your way through a huge crowd of people sipping wine and sampling the goodies offered by eight artisan food producers that are there for the evening — everything from vanilla pear butter that has an unexpected but lovely savory quality, to a whiskey chocolate truffle, to lacy florentine cookies, to spicy dry salami.

You feel a bit unmoored, being there alone in a crowd of people who have all clearly brought a friend — or five. You’re nibbling on another chocolate truffle — this one with fresh raspberry jam inside — and you’re wondering if you should go home, even though you’ve only been there for 10 minutes.

Then, suddenly, you notice a celebrity of sorts, commanding presence in the room. He stands out in this room of hipsters and young professionals. He’s a tall guy in overalls, silver streaks in his hair, and tanned skin that crinkles at his eyes when he flashes his electric grin, which he seems to do often. People seem eager to talk to him. The chocolate producer goes a bit agog when this guy comes over to nab a sweet, telling him that he visits his stand every Saturday at the farmers’ market.

You have absolutely no idea who this guy is. So, you decide to eat another whiskey chocolate truffle. When a soft moan escapes your mouth because it’s so darned good, and you ask the chocolate producer if he makes those with bourbon, and you get into a spirited dialogue about where to get the best bourbons*, you sense that the guy in overalls is smiling at you. Perhaps he’s amused that someone he doesn’t expect to loves bourbon.

Well, this is how I got waylaid by a farmer. Farmer Al of Frog Hollow Farm.

Those of you who frequent the Ferry Building in S.F. know this place — they have a shop in the building that sells their jams, pastries, coffee and some fruit, and a farmstand out back on Saturdays that sells 25 varieties of peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots, pluots, plums, Asian and European pears and table grapes grown on a 133-acre organic farm on the Sacramento River Delta.

For whatever reason, Farmer Al and I got to talking. He brought me over to his table, where I sampled Flavor King pluots and Emerald Beaut plums, peaches and cherry tomatoes (those pluots and plums were out of this world!). He told me his life story: how he grew up in Berkeley, started out teaching in Hawaii, then realized he wanted to go back to the land before anyone was doing that. How he didn’t know a thing about farming until he started doing it by planting his first peach tree in 1976. How he didn’t think he wanted kids until he married a woman who wanted them, and how it’s transformed his life into an even better existence. About his nephew, named Khyber, after the pass. About how much he loves his life.

His passion for growing the best fruit out there, and for doing it sustainably, was infectious**. To play on a theme I wrote about earlier this week, here was a man who was clearly following his bliss.

I think we ended up talking for 40 minutes. Not that I was keeping track; I was having too much fun. And not that I had a plan for that night with which this conversation interfered.

In fact, one thing I’ve discovered this year is that often, the best things happen when you have no plan. They happen when you allow yourself to go with what feels good and right, when you are fully present in the moment, when you keep yourself open to whatever might seem intriguing.

*If you, like me, love bourbon, try Pican in Oakland, which has an impressive bourbon tasting menu (BIG thanks to our friends Andy & Georgie who introduced us to it). The San Francisco Wine Trading Company also has a killer selection.

**So infectious that I asked Farmer Al if he’d take me on a tour of his farm. He said yes! So I’ll share that story with you once it happens. UPDATE: Here’s the link to the post about my visit.

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So, what exactly is this event I went to, you might be asking?

It was an event celebrating the launch of a book called Food Heroes by Georgia Pellegrini at a wine bar, Terroir. Food Heroes tells the stories and recipes of 16 culinary artisans across the world. Georgia’s own story is fascinating: she started at Lehman Brothers but decided that analyzing spreadsheets for 16 hours a day wasn’t her thing, at which point she enrolled at the French Culinary Institute and landed jobs at renowned farm-to-table restaurants (Gramercy Tavern and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York and La Chassagnette in France) before publishing this book. She has another, Girl Hunter, on the way, along with a TV show.

Click here to see photos of the event and descriptions of the artisan food producers who were there, and to learn more about Georgia.

Click here to learn more about the book, Food Heroes.

I’m going to read the book over the next couple of months. If you want to read it with me, let me know. I’d love to have some like-minded locavores to read and discuss it with.

And if you enjoyed this post, please share it with someone else you think would be tickled by it.

Strawberry Fortress Is Up

August 26, 2010 § 6 Comments

Yesterday I went to the hardware store, determined to come home with supplies to defend my ripening strawberries against further critter attacks. I intended to get stakes and netting, or maybe wire, to build a cage to keep the critters out.

At the hardware store, I met a lovely store employee named Esther, who agreed with my hunch that the critters are raccoons. Esther advised me to try encasing my plants in plastic milk jugs — cut off the bottoms, sink them into the dirt and leave the cap off to let the berries get light. She said it’d be cheaper and easier than building a cage, it would have the added benefit of providing a mini-hothouse for the berries to ripen quicker and it would enable me to test whether the raccoons still came around with added barriers in place.

Because running into this would NOT be fun

Interesting idea. Only problem is, we don’t buy milk in plastic jugs; we buy it in skinnier glass ones which would never fit around the plants. And I wasn’t about to go out and buy a bunch of milk in plastic jugs for this project.

Luckily, I have a habit of keeping jars. Every time we finish a jar of jam or olives or whatever, I wash out and keep the jar. I have an entire cabinet full of ‘em. I had no idea what I would do with all of these jars, I just figured they’d come in handy someday.

Well, that day has arrived.

I decided that instead of trying to encase the entire strawberry plant, I’d encase each ripening berry (or pair of berries) in a small glass jar, secure the jar in a shallow trench in the dirt so it doesn’t roll around, and then strategically place pointy bamboo skewers around the jar.

It’s a good thing I only have 12 strawberry plants.

Another strawberry fortress

For good measure, I also went outside late last night a few times and shined a flashlight around. I wanted to see if there were any critters lurking in the shadows, but thankfully, I didn’t have a midnight encounter with a raccoon. However, I think an unintended side effect may have been that they stayed away from the strawberry patch, because this morning, for once, there were no signs of critter attacks.

When my husband saw my contraptions and heard about my flashlight escapade, he immediately started searching online for good air pistols to buy.

Keep your fingers crossed for me that the strawberry fortresses work!

One Small Step Toward Becoming a Lady Hunter

August 21, 2010 § 11 Comments

Not me -- yet

In the spirit of living life to the fullest while you’re able, I keep a bucket list of sorts. Many of the items on the list have to do with living a more locavore life: making cheese, canning food, butchering a lamb or a pig (or heck, while we’re at it, why not both), figuring out how to milk a goat. Another item on the list is learning to shoot a gun.

If you’re going to eat meat, then I figure it’s good to experience, at least once in your life, what it requires to put that meat on the table. Although I don’t know if I’ll ever hunt my own food (slaughtering a chicken or a rabbit seems likelier to me at this point, but one thing I’ve learned is that you never really know), I like the idea that I could if I wanted to — or I suppose, if I ever had to. My dad hunts game birds and my father-in-law hunts deer and was a collegiate target shooter, so I’ve recently become enamored of the idea of joining their ranks and learning to shoot.

Today in Lana’i, a 144 square mile island that’s part of Hawaii, I took my first step toward fulfilling this wish. I have never in my life held, let alone, shot a gun, so this was a big deal. I was excited but also nervous that I might shoot someone…or my own foot.

A cheerful guy named Sid, a native of Oahu who is somehow a 49ers fan and loves to hunt the mouflon bighorn sheep and axis deer on Lana’i, was our guide on this adventure. He drove us up to Lana’i Pine Sporting Clays, a 14-station course where sporting clays are launched to simulate all manner of birds and even rabbits getting away from you as fast as possible. He had my husband and me don vests with deep pockets to hold the shells, strapped to a golf cart a 12-gauge shotgun for my husband and a 28-gauge for me, and drove us to station 1.

Shotgun parts

Once there, Sid showed me how to handle the shotgun properly. He advised me to always “open the action” (break open the barrel from the rest of the gun so I couldn’t accidentally shoot myself or others) before carrying the gun, and to carry it with the barrel pointed to the ground (much like we were all told to carry scissors pointy-end down in kindergarten). He showed me how to load the shells into the magazine, close the gun, wedge the stock against my cheek and shoulder, hold the barrel and unlock the safety, all while keeping my finger off the trigger. And then, with just those six and a half minutes of instruction under my belt, he told me to go ahead and shoot, and he launched a clay target into the air.

Umm…okay.

Suffice it to say, I missed the first one. I also didn’t realize I should be holding the gun rather firmly against my cheek and shoulder, so the recoil caused the gun’s stock to hit me in the face, and the recoil pad jammed me hard in the shoulder (six hours later as I write this, my cheek and shoulder hurt like hell). But, despite all that, it was fun.

Me, happy with shotgun in hand

Apparently the “introductory course” only entails the six and a half minutes I described above, because after watching my husband and me shoot a few rounds, Sid told us to have a good time and bade us goodbye. Sid obviously has a pretty awesome job.

My husband grew up shooting with his dad, so he did really well, hitting most of the clay targets (even one that shot out of a hut like a running rabbit). I only hit 5 out of 50, though I’m pretty psyched that I hit one of the tougher targets — mimicking a bird zooming away from you at top speed — dead on. (Yeah, yeah, bad pun — but I have to say that I get these gun-related sayings a lot more now — “smoking gun”, “lock, stock and barrel”…)

So, clearly I’m not going to feed the family with my hunting prowess anytime soon. But at least I’ve now shot a gun, and I also know how to hold the darned thing so that it doesn’t smack me in the face. I can’t wait to try out a shooting range I heard about in the Bay Area with a girlfriend who also wants to learn how to shoot guns, and get what I’m 100% certain will be a vastly better shooting lesson from my father-in-law this fall.

And who knows what’s next? Maybe I’ll go up to Sonoma and shoot one of those wild turkeys we saw running around.

Wild turkeys on the lam

I’d love to hear about your fun shooting experiences…and what you think about my first one!

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