Braised Duck + The Series

October 25, 2016

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.
~Michael Caine

The World Series begins tonight — with a connection to the past, the two teams with the longest title droughts in the same game (parenthetically or asterisk laden) the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs have gone over a century without a series win, and the Indians with many decades without winning in unfulfilled seasons. Times of anguish without a taste. One of the most touted series ever — history and the game is here, it waits for no one. By the way, it is the aces, Kluber (Indians) vs. Lester (Cubs) that will take the mound in Game One.

I must admit to adoring the Cubs, as my childhood was suffused with Chicago, and then watching those fans delirious with their team in the field and later in Wrigleyville, tears streaming and beers and shots in hand, after the NCLS game clincher. I was fortunate enough as a grasshopper to meet Billy Williams, now still barely holding on, as well as Ernie Banks (and his no. 14 in diamonds) and Ron Santo, now both gone. I have experienced ivied and bricked Wrigley Field with men fans donned in suits and fedoras and women adored in finery during daytime games as well as Jack Brickhouse who bellowed “Hey, Hey” to signal Cubs’ home runs. As Williams has been quoted, “they’re somewhere celebrating now,” and these legends should be proud given their regular season winning percentage of 103-58.

The Cubs have superb starting pitching, assume a keen approach at the plate, use the field well, value divine defense, and have a sublime bullpen to boot. Sound familiar? — yes, Virginia, I have seen us win. Then again, the Indians also have supreme starting pitching, run the bases well and have a glorious bullpen too.

Nothing against Cleveland, but despite the “old-school look” of upper socks, the Cubs have earned one. Then again, the Indians play at home.

BRAISED DUCK

1 whole duck (around 4 lbs — preferably Pekin), cut into 8 or so pieces, plus liver reserved & trimmings coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried herbes de provence
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Refrigerate well dried, cut, seasoned pieces overnight in a ziploc bag. Turn a couple of times.

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 (28 oz) san marzano tomatoes, cut well
1 C dry red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 piece of cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
2 bay leaves, dried
4 thyme sprigs

2 lbs small plums, pits removed and halved
1 lb turnips, quartered or more
1 lb parsnips, sliced & halved
1 carrot, peeled and roughly sliced
1-2 T butter

1/2 C Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 T chives, finely chopped
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped
1 t lemon zest, grated
1-2 t extra virgin olive oil

Place a heavy, wide skillet with extra virgin olive oil, butter and fresh garlic cloves over medium high heat. When the pan becomes shimmering and hot, add the duck so as not to crowd — likely in a couple of batches — 5 minutes per side. Set aside, tented in foil on a baking dish or platter.

Pour off all but 2 T of duck fat into a ramekin and cover (for a later day). Add tomatoes, stirring well, then add wine and broth and bring to a nice simmer. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Transfer duck to a heavy, large Dutch oven and pour the broth mixture & herbs/spices over the duck.  Cover and simmer for about 40 or so minutes, until duck is quite tender.

Heat butter and duck fat in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add reserved plums skin side down as well as turnips and parsnips and sauté for a minute or so, until lightly browned, then turn and cook on skin side for a minute more.

Transfer duck to a warmed platter and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with sautéed plums, turnips and parsnips.  Mix together parsley, chives, walnuts, lemon zest and olive oil. Sprinkle this mixture over the top and serve.

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To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its own voice as well as its feature.
~Thomas Hardy

On July 29, 2016, it is National Gnarly Day, a term which seems to have accrued several meanings:  (1) of course, the natural knotty protuberance on a tree; (2) something that goes beyond radical, distasteful or extreme; and/or (3) something that meets perfection, skill or the ideal. Perhaps, “gnarly” is an admix of three nuances, who knows?  I certainly do not, but adore, am provoked and intrigued, how the word and day can transmute depending upon usages, verbal and otherwise.  As a neophyte language aficionado, “gnarly is sort of down my alley…and sometimes even gives pause.  No, no, not down the condiments aisle where Johnny first uttered “ketchup” in order to be posted on social media — not a true experience shared quietly, almost in a whisper with knowing smiles, between parents after hours.

So you know, National Gnarly Day happens to fall on the last Friday of each July. Here is something that fits the bill, but also has the green hues and sapidity that avocados bestow. Happy National Gnarly Day Eve !

SCRAMBLED EGGS + SLICED AVOCADOS

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2-3 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, free range or pastured eggs
1 T heavy whipping cream or crème fraîche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Pinch of white pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Larger pinch of herbes de provence

1-2 avocados, sliced lengthwise & then halved

Melt the oil, butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet.

Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and a dollop of cream and crème fraîche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour into the skillet, with the heat on low. With a wooden spatula, gently stir the egg mixture, lifting it up and over from the bottom as it thickens. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture, a mass of soft curds, will be achieved.  In a quiet, gnarly fashion.

Slice and add the avocado slices and again cook slowly.

The eggs thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — please do not forget that the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from both the stove top and the pan (like many foodstuffs, including green beans, asparagus, broccoli, and most meats, etc).

The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.
~Mark Twain

Just seems there should be little demand to visit venues in Santa Barbara or even Southern Cal, as a whole, where the in crowds frequent. You know, where people say “like” repetitively and thoughtlessly as if the word is a linguistic filler.

So many glorious campsites with scenery that is flat breathtaking, serenely overlooking the Big Blue where the plethora of marine mammals exist — pastoral stuff. There is a campus of radiantly hued tents, and above that are the parked RV’s usually hooked to electricity inlets/outlets (none of which can be seen from the cloth huts).

Almost each foggy or overcast morning, before she departed to the “glamping” joint across the way, we crawled out of our tent and after morning ablutions, promptly began the fire and heating the tortillas so the meal completo could be packed inside. Donned in aprons (I likely looked absurd) we grilled each tortilla feast on state-provided, round, grated, dug-in, barbeque pits after just barely scrambling the eggs and cooking the meat aside ever so assiduously on a pan. Rosemary sprigs from nearby plants were plucked and dropped into the fire when ready. Then, there were exquisite avocados plucked by friends from close sprawling ranches and, of course, tomatillo sauce, salsa verde, salsa rojo, queso fresco, crema, cilantro, radishes and rekindling the goods...with several cups of joe. Our grub for the day.

The skies cleared, it warmed as the sun shone through in mid-morning just slightly toasting the eucalypti leaves so their scents diffused, then she disappeared for work, and I tried to heal thyself (often by watching dolphins graze).

This post may prove trivial to some, but it was the boon of our existence every morning.

EGGS, BACON & AVOCADO TORTILLAS

3-4 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, local, free range eggs
1 T whipping cream or creme fraiche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper
Small amount of herbes de provence and/or thyme

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet or a iron cast pan. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and/or thyme and a dollop of cream or creme fraiche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour egg mixture into the skillet, with the heat on medium low. With a flat, wooden spatula, gently stir the eggs, lifting it up and over from the bottom as they thicken. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the heat.

(As an alternative, try fried eggs covered in the skillet top cooked in a smearing of olive oil with salt and pepper only).

Gently cooked guanciale, pancetta, bacon, serrano or proscuitto

Avocado slices, alluringly fresh

Salsa verde and/or salsa rojo
Queso fresco and/or fine goat cheese
Crema

Radishes, sliced
Cilantro leaves, chopped

Beef Roast(s) & Lists

December 14, 2015

The list is the origin of the culture…we like lists because we don’t want to die.
~Umberto Eco

Admittedly, I have been a daffy list maker since early youth (as you may already know from reading these posts — well, if you have even been perusing). My mother taught me how to compile ceaseless lists as she was an avid maker, and then it became eerily second nature to me. Occasionally, I feverishly scrawled notes next to the bedside table and often have scribbled them before meetings and calls.  Some of my quirks no doubt could have been sadly passed on to my children and mates. Then again, perhaps it has helped for me and others to make haphazard notes, offhand outlines, draft questions, occasionally “fluidly” write, proofread copy, and finally edit. In some senses, listing could prove a vile habit, but at other times making them appears highly efficient. Thanks, Mom.

Not sure lists avoid death, though.

KC STRIP LOIN OR BONE-IN RIB EYE ROAST

2 T sea salt & truffle salt
Black peppers, slightly roasted
2 T coriander seeds, slightly roasted
1 1/2 T herbes de provence

5-6 lb Kansas City strip loin roast, tied at 2″ intervals or bone-in rib eye roast, tied between ribs
8 cloves garlic, minced

1 stick of soft, unsalted butter

2 bunches (not sprigs) rosemary
2 bunches (not sprigs) thyme

1 lbs medium parsnips, peeled and cut
1 lbs medium carrots, peeled and cut
1 lbs medium turnips, peeled and cut

Chanterelles, enoki and shittake mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

Horseradish sauce (an aside which can be prepared while the beef roasts or the oven preheats)
1 C crème fraîche
2 T Dijon mustard
3 T grated horseradish
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together crème fraîche, Dijon mustard, horseradish and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and then refrigerate (and/or…)

Aïoli (see January 25, 2009 post for 3 recipes)

Coarsely grind peppercorns, coriander in an electric mill. Combine with herbes de provence and sea salt in a small bowl and sprinkle mixture evenly over roast. Add the minced garlic and massage well all over.  Wrap beef tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Bring to room temperature unwrapped before roasting and cover well with soft, unsalted butter.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Put herbs + branches, parsnips, carrots and turnip slices and set roast atop.

Roast the beef, uncovered, for about 1 hour. Check with an internal thermometer after 45 minutes. For medium rare (at most), take the roast out of the oven when the thermometer registers 115-120 F (as you already may know, residual heat will cause roast to continue cooking as it rests).

Sauté chanterelles, enoki and shittake mushrooms briefly in butter in a heavy pan.  They can be arranged upon the roasts or root vegetables after the meat is done.

Remove and tent with foil, allowing meat rest for 20 minutes because the temperature should rise to about 125 F or so.

Slice the beef (to your liking) into 1/2″ or more thick pieces and arrange on a warmed platter or on plates. As far as the bone-in rib eye, cut at the bone/ribs.

Put the roasted vegetables, garlic and mushrooms in bowls and pass the horseradish sauce and/or aioli separately. Serve with twice baked potatoes or new potatoes and dill and greens, whether a vegetable or salad.

Finish by sprinkling with a green herb, such as tarragon and/or thyme leaves — then bonhomie, baby.

And to all, a good night.

The more you approach infinity, the deeper you penetrate terror.
~Gustave Flaubert

ParisLa Ville Lumière, le Paname…an eternal, perpetual place in many psyches (including mine).

A psychotically surreal Friday the 13th evening. I admit to feeling empty, melancholic, enraged, mournful, abhorrent, sorrowful all at the same time — no way to view a match at the Stade de France, savor a meal at lieux like Le Petit Cambodge, La Belle Équipe café, Le Carillon, Café Bonne Bière, Sushi Maki, La Cosa Nostra and La Petit Balona, or revel in a concert at the Théâtre de Bataclan.

Yet, I feel somehow staunch and resolute en même temps. A bewildering mélange of emotions…confused thoughts, but by no means nothing like the victims’ loved ones whose souls suffer and agonize. The outpouring of empathy has been overwhelming. My sincere condolences and thanks, that simple.

The etymology of the word “terror” is sadly and Frenchly ironic. Terror (n.): from the early 15 century late middle English “something that frightens, causes fear and dread” is derived directly from the Old French terreur (14 century), earlier from the Latin terrorem or “fear, fright, dread, alarm,” from the Latin verb terrere “to make fearful, frighten.”

The term “terrorism” itself was coined in Paris during the wake of the 1789 revolution as a term to describe the government’s bloody campaign against counter revolutionaries. The Reign of Terror also known as Le Régime de la Terreur, a ruthless movement begun after the execution of Robespierre by guillotine in the late 18th century, was meant to purge the country of enemies of the French Revolution. The Reign was incited by competing legislative bodies, the moderate Girondins, also called the Brissontins, and the militant Jacobins, and was marked by political repression and mass executions of purported rivals.

Now, one must perplex at what W (who held hands longingly with a theocratic “royal” Saudi prince), Cheney and Rumsfeld have recently wrought upon the world. Once a country piques or provokes a tribe what other tribes, caliphates or sub-tribes are created? There is little doubt that simple hypothesis was not lucidly thought through at high places.  If not or if so, for shame.

In any event, just wonder aloud, openly discuss, and consider the calamitous precedents before invading other countries with boots on the ground.  Forget not l’Arabie saoudite as have W and his friends, confidants so conveniently done.  Please do not overreact with bellicose language, saber rattling and hawkish behavior as was done after 9.11 and the “War(s) on Terror” which have destabilized the Middle East and have spawned the now thriving Daesh, Dai’sh, Islamic State, ISIS, and/or ISIL. Whatever their nomenclature du jour may be.

This is dire reality not a time for spewing knee jerk, xenophobic and visceral, wrong headed, rash polemic and panic.

You know the drill well, Parigots — stay steady, resolute and resilient, do not deny your lifestyle or rituals, embrace your senses and those about you, rebound however maimed, cherish the ephemeral nature of life, and remain quietly vigilant yet defiant of the malefactors.  No doubt it may prove cursive to feel vulnerable and doubtful, but please keep all in perspective. Please do not allow delirium to trump reason and forever remember those words:  liberté, égalité, et fraternité.

The word “terrorism” has a somehow slightly different, peculiar sense but still maintains the same hues, although the meaning stays insidious. It usually means the “use of violence to human life, fear, coercion or intimidation in pursuit of political or religious aims.” It often is an abhorrent, indiscriminate act of violence against innocent humankind, against society. But, the word still retains its blurred vernacular and semantic ambiguities — for instance, is it mere lunacy?  Who terrorizes, intimidates, displaces another? What constitutes such an act?  While no one definition of “terrorism” has gained universal acceptance or precise use, it does remain an emerging combined military and political-religious word and applies to varied circumstances.

But, the “definition” and “history” of terrorism aside, there remains zero doubt about who should take responsibility for the deaths of blameless victims this Parisian weekend.  The same arcane, cruel and oppressive jihadist bunch that has an apocalyptic black flag and severed head for emblems. Non-believers? Really?

And enough of your false and deceptive misnomer, allahu akbar, bros, as you ruthlessly carve off kidnapped heads with bound hands and fanatically kill and maim innocents with AK-47 assault rifles at close range.   In no way can this horrific carnage be affirmed by any contorted interpretation of the Holy Qur’an or any other known sacred scriptures.

Bistro fare often comforts on dark days. Please slowly dine on this sauté + ragoût with family and friends, preferably with bare feet.

CHICKEN FRICASSEE + LENTILS

2 lbs local chicken wings, legs, thighs (perhaps more goodies, like gizzards)
Some chicken stock, a couple tabs of unsalted butter & extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin disks
1 medium turnip, peeled and carved into 1″ pieces
4-5 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 t dried herbes de provence
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 t dried oregano
2 dried bay leaves

1 lb dried lentilles du puy
3 C water and chicken stock, combined in equal parts (1 1/2 C each)

Splash of apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Grated parmiggiano-reggianno & tarragon

Put the wings, legs, thighs, etc. into a large, heavy, Dutch oven or sauté pan with some chicken stock, butter and olive oil. Cook over medium high heat for about 5 minutes per side, until the chicken is browned.

Add the carrots, onion, turnip, garlic, oregano, thyme sprigs, herbes de provence, and bay leaves to the Dutch oven or sauté pan and cook for about a minute or two.  Do not burn anything.

Then, add the lentils du puy, water, salt and pepper, apple cider vinegar, and reduce the heat but still boil gently, covered, for some 30 minutes. Assure that the lentils are quite tender and, of course, most of the liquid has been absorbed.

Discard the thyme sprigs and bay leaves.  Serve in shallow soup bowls with chicken atop, and finish with fresh tarragon leaves and a fresh grating of parmiggiano-reggiano.

Fools make feasts and wise men eat them.
~Benjamin Franklin

Provence — a poetic, mystical southern land which extends from the French Alps on the upper edge, bordered by the bank of the lower Rhône River on the west, abutting the Italian border on the lower east and finally falling into the Mediterranean Sea to the south.

Where villages-perchés seem to cling to bluffs, where marchés quietly demand that you explore serendipitously, and where the sun kisses you throughout the year. The clarity of light, the luminosity is nearly unsurpassed…not to mention the sprawling vistas, microclimates, cobblestone streets, earth tones tinted in brilliant ochres, sparse yet gentle landscapes, lavender fields, from squat olive to narrow pine and cypress trees, an achingly azure shimmering sea with pristine shores and grottoes. There is a feeling of isolation there. An evocative feast for the senses.

Grande destinations include Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Carcassone, Gordes, Arles, La Camargue, Eze, Grasse, St. Tropez, Cassis, St. Raphael, La Luberon, Vence (to name a few). Remember, the papal capital was in Avignon and seven successive popes were housed in France, not Rome. Provence only joined France in 1860, so think Italy too.

Then again, there are some places like the Marseille ghetto with its infamous high rise slums and notorious drug related violence and gang wars. Best avoid (or repair) those.

POULET PROVENCAL et SALADE DE MESCLUN

6-8 bone in, skin on, chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
All purpose flour
3 T olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

Herbes de Provence (see below)
1-2 lemons, quartered
10 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled
12 Niçoise olives, depending upon size
4-6 medium shallots, peeled and halved
1/2 C chicken stock
1/2 C dry white wine
1/4 C pastis

1-2 T fresh local honey

8 sprigs of thyme, for serving on each plate

Preheat oven to 400 F

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Put the flour in a shallow bowl, and lightly dredge the chicken, shaking the pieces to remove excess flour.

Heat and swirl the oil and butter in a large roasting pan on the stove, and place the floured chicken in the pan, skin side up. Season the chicken on the skin side with the herbes de Provence. Arrange the lemons, garlic cloves, olives, and shallots around the chicken, and then add the chicken stock, white wine and pastis to the roasting pan.

Put the loaded roaster in the oven, and cook for 25-30 minutes, and baste several times with pan juices. Continue roasting and basting for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, adding the honey scantily during the last 15 minutes in a slow drizzle — until the chicken is quite crisp and the meat shows yellow juices when pricked. Allow to rest for about 8 minutes before serving.

Serve on plates or on a platter with warmed pan juices spooned over the chicken, garnished with thyme sprigs. Present with a mesclun salad with blueberries, French feta cheese, hazelnuts (June 28, 2010) and champagne vinaigrette (see below again).

Herbes de Provence

No doubt you can find herbes de Provence with your spice monger or even at the market. But, you can always and ever easily prepare your own.

3 T dried thyme
2 T dried savory
1 T dried oregano
3 t dried rosemary
2 t dried marjoram
1 T dried lavender flowers

Combine herbs, and store in an airtight container at cool, room temperature.

Champagne Vinaigrette

1 C extra virgin olive oil

1/4 C champagne vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t local honey
1/2 shallot, peeled and minced
1 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground pepper

In a glass bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, honey, shallot, salt and pepper. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the oil in a narrow, steady stream. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. Taste for seasoning, not with your finger, but with whatever greens (ideally mesclun) you are serving.

As you may recall, mesclun is a varied amalgam of dainty salad leaves which originated in Provence.

Handle a book as a bee does a flower, extract its sweetness but do not damage it.
~John Muir

It has been been propounded by neuroscientists and philosophers that insects, like bees, have consciousnesses, but not much in the way of ethical consequences. But, that they are aware, feel.

This is a sad tale of nearly epic proportions – a saga about vanishing honeybees and what their errant plight means to our agriculture and dining tables; a story of science, politics, threatened livelihoods and jeopardized crops; and a legend about environmental research and chemical imprints. Finally, it bespeaks even more than a tragedy about our species which so rarely pays attention until some brink is reached.

Just imagine. During the balmy weather in summer, honeybees are quite active, foraging through local flora sources for nectar while meticulously maintaining their hives and producing honey. To survive the winter, bees usually cluster together inside their cubist apiaries for warmth, enduring the cold on their own surpluses and food furnished by keepers. All seems so soul soothing, almost serene, over the years.

But then dating back nearly a decade, swarms of bees begin almost suicidally fleeing some of their beehives, with many dropping dead, and the rest having almost disappeared. Bees inexplicably abandoned their colonies en masse, leaving behind brood, food and bewildered beekeepers. Apiculturalists were perplexed. These otherwise marvelous eusocial critters began to flee confusedly, aimlessly, at epidemic rates, devastating apiaries and both smaller independents and larger commercial bee operations. Bees and keepers soon sadly and suddenly have discovered that hives have very few adults left in a colony, and the bodies are often not found. Seemingly healthy bees were and are leaving, some forever gone in this death spiral. The widespread collapse of so many colonies of this otherwise resilient species is a particularly vexing problem for these darlings, beekeepers, farmers, honey aficionados, scientists, environmentalists, and politicians alike.

While such disappearances have occurred throughout apiculture, and were known by varying names (disappearing disease, spring dwindle, May disease, autumn collapse, fall dwindle disease), etymological researchers have dubbed this current global epidemic as Colony Collapse Disorder. This is a continuing, drastic trend of honeybee losses that should not be countenanced and regulatory agencies and often irrational politicians should take note.

The culprits offered up for the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) have formed a sometimes bedraggled landscape:

1) Systemic and toxic neonicotinoid (neonic) pesticides, with the compounding exposure applied to fields (even when non-fatal) such as clothianidin and imidachloprid, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites;

2) Fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases such as varroa and tracheal mites (parasites) and pathogenic infestation, such as nosema ceranae – a gut fungi;

3) Nutritional deficiencies such as a lessening of genetic biodiversity (monocultures) that lack flowering plants and native pollinators and encourage immune suppressive GMO species; and

4) In the United States, beekeeping practices which disrupt colonies by moving massive numbers of bees in trucks across the country to pollinate crops.

Until now, a direct link was not directly found between neonicointinoids and Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees and other pollinators. However, a recent study published in the Bulletin of Insectology in May, 2014, from Harvard’s School of Public Health has linked neonicointinoid pesticides with distressing Colony Collapse Disorder. Two widely used neonicotinoids appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies particularly during harsh winters, according to this study. There was a nexus made between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder, in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and perish. Researchers also found that low doses of clothianidin had the same negative effect.

Although other studies have suggested that die-offs in honeybee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, this Harvard study found that bees in the hives exhibiting Colony Collapse Disorder had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. Stated otherwise, bee populations in the control colonies began to increase as expected, but populations in the neonicotinoid treated hives continued to diminish. These findings suggest that the neonicotinoids are causing an unhealthy biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to Colony Collapse Disorder. While scientists rarely speak in absolutes, many across the world, including members of the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides have labeled neonicotinoids more toxic than DDT. The bottom of the food chain is disappearing. Now, there is some emerging evidence that neonics impact human health.

More recently, after a meta-analysis of systemic pesticides such as neonicotinoids which reviewed some 800 peer reviewed reports a scientific board found that there is clear evidence of harm from neonicotiods to trigger regulatory action. Now published in the journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonicotinoids (neonics) pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonicotinoids (neonics), a nerve poison, were first registered for use in the mid 90’s, are systemic chemicals absorbed vascularly into plant tissue and are often present in pollen and nectar, making them toxic to pollinators, such as honeybees. These systemic pesticides are derived from nicotine and target insects’ nervous systems. There are some six types of neonictinoids with the most common one being imidachloprid. Neonicotinoids, which are the most widely used insecticides on the planet having been applied to vast swaths of farmland and home acreage. The residue often reaches lethal concentrations and persists in soil for months, even years, after just a single application. Honeybees exposed to sublethal doses of neonicotinoids can experience problems with flying and navigation, increased susceptibility to disease, diminished fertility, reduced taste sensitivity, and slower remembrance skills, which all impact their foraging abilities.

A honeybee colony often contains residue from nearly hundreds of human pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But, remember synergy: where the accumulating interaction of elements is greater than the sum of individual parts. Together, these chemicals form a toxic medley which can substantially afflict the bees’ immune systems, making the population more susceptible to diseases.

Honeybees are simply critical to the grub supply as some 1/3 of what humans consume benefits directly or indirectly from pollination. Crops that would not grow without honeybees include apples, cucumbers, broccoli, onions, pumpkins, carrots, avocados, almonds, and so on. Honeybees account for some 80% of all insect pollination. Some $15 billion of crops in this country alone depend upon these long heralded angels of agriculture. Some have even espoused that the honeybee may allay our world hunger crisis. Yet, honeybee populations are in steep decline as nearly one-third of colonies in the states have vanished with some percentages even much higher in some regions. To continue losing bees at such levels would prove catastrophic.

Seems demand should be made that regulatory authorities require studies on how exposure to low dosages of combined compounds may affect bee (and human) health before blithely approving toxic chemicals. As has been done in the European Union, the states should adopt a ban on some neonicotinoids on crops that attract bees and other pollinators. This prohibition could readily be revisited within a couple of years if there is a showing that bee health has not improved. This is at the core of the differing approaches to environmental regulation between Europe, Canada, Australia and others and the United States. While Europe, et al., is willing to remove products from the shelf until proven safe, the United States often allows industry to sell poisons until shown almost beyond a reasonable doubt they are harmful. The latter process can last years, even decades, while casualties mount and marketing/lobbying ploys run amok.

Colony Collapse Disorder is just another reminder that human society often threatens habitats and breeding patterns. Reducing exposure to pesticides and promoting the genetic diversity of honeybees, crops and expanding pollinators are critical steps toward sustainable agriculture and providing for posterity, not directed toward the short term profits of agribusiness. Reassessing the risk and curtailing the use of neonicotinoids should be promptly considered. Again, corporate “humanity’s” avaricious hand has sadly transformed our world.

Last but not least, ask more of your gardens. Promote and protect by cultivating varieties of pollinator plants that lure and encourage a diverse abundance of bee, butterfly, bat and bird species (et al). To create a more fecund life for critters, choose productive native species. The internet has numerous sources for local habitat and planting suggestions — for instance, http://www.pollinator.org.

The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams.
~Henry David Thoreau

Honeybees likely evolved from hunting wasps which acquired a taste for nectar. Fossil evidence is sparse, but they probably appeared in tropical lands about the same time as flowering plants in the Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Some opine that honeybees were domesticated some 4,500 years ago in Egypt.

Apis mellifera, our current honeybee, is a species native to the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and but was later introduced by humans to North America shortly before the 17th century. Europeans fleeing wars, poverty, intolerant laws or religious persecution brought thorough beekeeping skills here. Before crossing the pond, Apis mellifera had to adapt to a broad array of habitats ranging from harsh winters, late springs and hot summers, through alpine, cool temperate, maritime, Mediterranean rim, desert and tropical environments.

Honeybees are segmented in most body parts: three segments of thorax, six visible segments of abdomen while the other three are modified into the sting, legs and antennae. Honeybees are invertebrates, having an exoskeleton, which is covered with layers of wax. The main component is chitin which is a polymer of glucose and can support a great deal of weight. The wax layers protect bees from losing water and the chitin prevents bees from growing continually. So, during larval stages, bees must necessarily shed their skins. Bees also have an open circulatory system, meaning that they do not have veins or arteries, but rather all their internal organs are bathed in a liquid called hemolymph which is a mix of blood and lymphatic fluid. Bees breathe through a complex structure of network of tracheas and air sacs. Oxygen is vacuumed into the body through openings on each segment by expansion of the air sacs, then the segments are closed and air sacs are compressed to force the air into smaller tracheas until individual tubules reach individual cells.

Adult bees are divided into a single queen, female workers and male drones. The queen will leave the hive only once to mate with several drones, storing sperm in her spermatheca to last her lifetime. In order to rear and defend the eggs lain by the queen, worker bees develop stinging mechanisms, pollen baskets, dance languages and labor divisions. Tasks are divided according to age and colony needs. Younger worker bees tend to the queen, and older worker bees forage, construct wax cells, convert nectar into honey, clean cells and guard the hive. Ideally, a healthy hive is a collection of overlapping generations.

Honeybees provide essential pollination for crops, orchards and flowers as well as honey and wax for food, sweeteners and cosmetics. Nectar is a clear substance with about 80% water and complex sugars, produced by some plants to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees amass nectar to produce honey and while collecting the nectar, they inadvertently yet scrupulously transfer pollen from male to female flowers. Pollen is a fine powder of microscopic particles from the male flower that can fertilize the female flower to produce seed. It is produced by anthers, the male reproductive organs found in pollinators.

Since last year marked the hundred year anniversary of the abundant and cherished passenger pigeon dying in the largest scale human extinction of a species seems eerily paradoxical.

Now, on to a recipe for lamb, honey & herbs, among others. I am an unabashed honeyholic, so this is not only a natural, but often honey is used as a sugar substitute in these pages. Honey truly is the bee’s knees — it has a sublimely long shelf life, comes in varied infusions, has seasonal varieties and even unprocessed forms. Divine like fine wine (or better yet…).

HONEYED HERBED LEG OF LAMB

One 7 to 8 lb. bone-in leg of lamb, room temperature

1/4 C rosemary leaves, minced
1/4 C thyme leaves
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 C+ Dijon mustard
1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C unprocessed honey
1/4 C lavender honey

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de provence or ras al hanout

1 C chicken or vegetable stock

Sauce (optional)
1/2 bottle red wine

2 shallots, chopped
1/2 T unprocessed honey

2 C chicken stock/broth
2 T all purpose flour
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Put roasting pan with drippings back on the stove at medium-high heat. Add wine and reduce by half, scraping up any bits from bottom of pan.

Strain with a fine mesh strainer and put back in pot. Add shallots and honey, then simmer until the shallots are soft.

In a small bowl, whisk together stock/broth and flour. Add to reduction and simmer about 10 minutes, or until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Leg of lamb
Preheat oven to 500 F, then reduce to 375 F just before placing the leg on the rack.

Pulse the rosemary, thyme and garlic until minced. Then, add the mustard, olive oil and both honeys to blend, forming a paste. Slightly season the honeyed herbed mustard with salt and pepper, making sure that both are well mixed into the paste.

Season the leg of lamb generously with salt, pepper and herbes de provence (for a French lean) or ras al hanout (for a North African slant), massaging all into the meat, and then rub, cover the lamb roast with the honeyed herbed mustard paste.

Set the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Add the stock to the outside of the pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 F and roast the lamb for about 1 1/2 hours, until an internal thermometer inserted in the center of the meat (not bone) registers 135-140 F or so, depending on your likes. In a lamb leg, the deep meat is the most efficient heat conductor, and using the bone to measure temperature is a “no-no” as the meat closest to the bone can end up significantly more rare than the rest of the meat. Remember, the lamb’s internal temperature will continue to rise by about 5 F as it rests.

Make the sauce while the leg of lamb reposes after transferring to a cutting board or platter. Let the meat rest for about 20 minutes, slice carefully and serve on dinner plates, ladling with sauce.

Pourboire: You may also wish to brine the leg in advance for about 6-7 hours. Afterward removing the meat from the brine and before apply the seasonings and paste, carefully wipe off excess seasoning and brine from the lamb. Simply use the brine solution outlined here in the roasted pork loin recipe dated November 24, 2010.