Mid-February can be the cruelest month.
Well, March and April can be a bit harsh too. But usually, by the time the final invitations for the NCAA tournament are handed out, winter has released its death grip.
That’s not the case with February, however. Things can be pretty dicey for another month.
For skiers and ice anglers, my foreboding makes little sense. January was a record month for snow, and all that river storage on the slopes makes skiers happy. I was a skier once, sort of, but that was in another century. I’ve also never been too thrilled about walking around on solid water, even when there are fish to be caught.
Not that there’s anything wrong with either of these fine winter sports. They just don’t float my boat.
For me, February is a bridge between the tail end of bird hunting season and the early glimmers of fishing season. March 7 is my early season Holy Grail. It’s the soonest I ever caught the skwala hatch on the Bitterroot River just right and had a wide-open afternoon of dry fly fishing.
That was more than a decade ago and I don’t recall if it was a light snow year. I do recall it snowed on March 8.
Thanks to January, this year looks good for river flows, though I’m hoping not too good. In 2019 I made plans to conduct extensive field research on the Big Horn River in May and June. I figured a good tailwater was exactly what I needed for early season fishing. I figured wrong. There was so much winter river storage left last spring, the Big Horn ran high and cold well into summer.
So for now I’m reduced to my usual winter indoor routine. Sadly, my favorite college hoops team doesn’t look like tourney material this year. But LeBron has the Lakers looking sharp, and my favorite overseas team, Liverpool Football Club, is running away with the English Premier League. So even without a favorite during March Madness, there will be enough sports on the television to keep me occupied.
My other winter distraction is the kitchen. Last year my freezer was crowded with birds: pheasant, chukars and quail. For one sports viewing party I made confit out of a pheasant and a couple of chukars using olive oil in my sous vide. I crisped up a couple of chukar legs in the skillet and ate them with an arugula salad just like they do with duck confit in French bistros — or my kitchen.
The good stuff rarely makes it as far as the dining room.
The sous vide is pretty handy for confit. You don’t need a vat of lipids as you do with the traditional French method of slowly poaching meat in its own fat. With the sous vide I used just enough oil to cover the birds. But to make it work you need to make a super-sized vacuum-sealed bag. As the sealer draws the air out of the bag it can pull the oil with it, preventing a solid seal. With a bigger bag the oil has farther to travel, allowing the heat seal to form before the oil gets in the way.
The rest of the birds were chunked and ground, then cooked into a ragù Bolognese. I combined the ragù with béchamel sauce and spinach-tinted noodles to make a lasagna that took second place in a casserole contest at a March Madness party with coworkers and their kids. After the initial voting I was tied for first, but knew I was doomed in the final tally. I was matched up against a cheesy, little smokey sausage casserole around which the youth vote coalesced.
I should have forced the littles and their undeveloped palates outside to play in the snow until the recount was over.
Rob Breeding is the editor of www.mthookandbullet.com.