Putting a Hit Out on Pheasants for the Holidays
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Lately, commentator Heather King has been very interested in the hunting season in Minnesota. The reason for her interest is complicated because she lives in Los Angeles. And she's never been hunting.
HEATHER KING: For years, my friend Joe has been telling me about his childhood buddy, Dale Quinn. They grew up in Pipestone, Minnesota. The two of them still get together every summer and go up north fishing for a week, yhough Joe ended up in Hollywood and Dale's been working a forklift at the St. Paul Coca-Cola bottling plant for 25 years.
It may be that I'm a small town girl myself and it may be that Joe tells such a good story that my heart warms to every detail. I've never met Dale Quinn, but the way Joe described him, felt like I understood something of his love for the land. Thanks to Joe's stories, out here in the land of the sunshine and the palms, I even feel like I know when pheasant hunting season starts in Minnesota.
I could just picture Dale Quinn, the lone outdoorsman, brooding over the campfire with a Grain Belt beer in one hand and a smoked down GPC cigarette in the other.
This year, Joe and I got an idea while drinking coffee on the blazing sidewalk outside the Tropical Café. We'd get Dale Quinn to shoot us a few pheasants in Pipestown and send them out to LA.
Over the course of the next few weeks, all we could talk about was the pheasant fest. What recipes should we use? Who should we invite? We had philosophical discussions. Hunting's sacred to him, Joe explained. You don't just see a bird on the ground and blow it away. You wait until it's on the wing. Plus, the meat's better that way.
Finally, they arrived FedEx on Joe's doorstep, four fat Midwestern pheasants packed on ice, plucked, cleaned and with a partridge breast thrown in for good measure.
We cooked them at my place with wild rice, braised mushrooms and caramelized squash. We invited two friends and said grace, especially remembering Dale, of course. We had ourselves a feast. The dinner talk was pure Hollywood - agents, producers, the upcoming run of Joe's wacky Christmas play. But the birds were straight Minnesota, tasting faintly, I swear, of acorns, soybeans, wheat.
We yakked around the table until after midnight. It was only after everyone had left and I was doing the dishes that my mind drifted back to the phone call I'd had with Dale the week before. It was the first time we'd ever talked. I'd caught him at dusk out in the cornfield after a day of hunting.
Here's what he said. Makes me kind of sad, now. This part of the state is dying. Pipestown had maybe 6000 people in it when me and Joe were growing up. Now it's more like four. Sure is pretty, though. All I can hear right now is the sound of a corn dryer out there somewhere, coming across the prairie, and the whole sky along the west is a deep, deep red.
Joe summed it up the next day. That was special. He was right. Dale had shot the birds just for us, shipped them blood fresh. We'd eaten them and it had brought the three of us together in some strangely intimate way. And I don't know what made me happier, that we'd pulled off the pheasant fest or that next time we're drinking coffee outside the Tropical Café and Joe brings up Dale Quinn and Pipestown, Minnesota, I'll feel like I'm part of the story, too.
SIEGEL: Heather King lives in Los Angeles.
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