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Whidbey Recipes

"Last August, on the final day of the Island County Fair, two small granddaughters decided they wanted to participate in the Barnyard Scramble. I wasn't crazy about the idea, but they're rather shy, non-agressive little girls, 7 and 5, and I was fairly certain they'd catch nothing. My daughter, their Mom, agreed, so we watched them line up, take off, and run frantically around the arena in the dust.Well, many of the older, wiser kids were being very kind and helpful with the smaller, less experienced ones and, as a result, both granddaughters ended up with an armful of chicken. They were delighted; their Mom and I were not. Just as we were explaining that no way could they keep two chickens, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that anyone who'd captured an animal they didn't want or couldn't care for could either exchange it for something else, as long as supplies lasted, or just turn it in. By the time we got there, all animals were gone except for more chickens and one very small, tan bunny with a floppy ear. The chickens were willingly given up in exchange for the wee bunny with the floppy ear.My daughter had rabbits as a kid, several black-and-white Dutch that were with us for several years, so she felt confident she could deal with one little rabbit and it would be a great learning experience for the girls, right? Well, that it has been, for all of them, but not quite as planned.That wee, tan bunny, christened Miss Buns Rabbit, was very quickly house-broken, and at first was given the run of the place when Mom and girls came from work/school, returning docilely to her cage as soon as food was put in her bowl. Well, Miss Buns now weighs more than 35 lbs., has outgrown two cages and shows no signs of slowing down her growth. The girls are no longer able to pick up Miss Buns to cuddle her, and if either of them happens to lie down on the floor while she's running free, Miss Buns leaps onto her mid-section and pins her to the floor while she nibbles on hair or clothes. To date, Miss Buns has wiped out two TV cables and a computer connection, narrowly escaping electrocution (unfortunately). All avenues to cables, cords, plugs or anything electrical have been barricaded off and Miss Buns is denied access to all but two rooms of the house.As she grew, Miss Buns became very possessive of her cage, her food dish and water bottle, even her droppings. She began hissing at the girls when they tried to clean her cage and then even started attacking them, teeth bared, pushing them aside as they tried to put fresh food and water into her cage. Finally, they had to resort to luring or herding Miss Buns into the bathroom and slamming the door to keep her in while they did their cleaning and refueling chores, all the while listening to Miss Buns scratching and thumping at the bathroom door. As of this writing, she has annihilated two shower curtains while locked up for the cleaning ritual. Lately Miss Buns has been thumping a lot, with both back feet. Cute, you're thinking, just like Thumper in the Bambi movie. Not. Miss Buns thumps so loudly it makes you jump out of your skin. She does it when you least expect it, including the middle of the night. In the midst of bedtime stories, WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!; when the girls are doing their homework, THUMP-A-THUMP-A-THUMP! The cage rattles and shakes as Miss Buns stretches out her lethal back legs and tries to thump down the walls of Jericho. The girls think it's cute; I can tell my daughter is uneasy, perhaps even intimidated. I know I am.Miss Buns is now more-or-less banished to a deck outdoors, but, because of neighborhood dogs, she's not entirely safe and the girls are unhappy about it because they love Miss Buns dearly and want her indoors with them. As soon as they come home from school, they let Miss Buns into the house, where she proceeds to hop in small figure 8 patterns around their feet until she has satisfied herself they are under control, then she bounds off to terrorize anyone or anything else she comes across. I think of her as the Rabbit from outer space, alien bunny waiting for the rest of her species to arrive and take over. Remember, Miss Buns was presumably born and bred here on the Island, which means there are undoubtedly many more just like her biding their time, waiting their chance. And if you're a parent, I'd think twice about letting the kids enter any Barnyard Scramble this summer; they just may end up in a cage, held hostage by the harmless-appearing but dangerous kin of Miss Buns Rabbit.Somewhere out there is the person or persons who brought a wee, tan bunny with one floppy ear (both ears now flop) to the Island County Fair to be adopted by some unsuspecting family. If you happen to be reading this column, I'd really appreciate a call or an email from you (221-3900, or falwal@msn.com). I promise not to make you take Miss Buns back; it would devastate my granddaughters. But I'd really like to know just how much bigger this alien rabbit may get to be, and if her bizarre behavior is typical of her species. I'd also like to ask the organizers of the Barnyard Scramble if an animal captured one year can be exchanged for something else the following year.We'll trade you one tan rabbit, size extra-extra-large, in return for almost anything else except chickens. RecipesMy granddaughters won't be reading this column, so I can use these recipes. Not that I'd even consider this possibility for Miss Buns Rabbit, but.....well, let's just say the thought may have crossed my mind. In Italy, where I captured both these recipes, rabbit is both common and popular. If you can't or don't wish to use rabbit, however, substitute chicken, but not if the kids brought it home from the Island County Fair. Coniglio Con Pomodori (Rabbit With Tomato Sauce)1 rabbit, 2 lbs., boned and cut into pieces3-4 cloves garlic, thinly slicedThinly sliced pancetta or lean bacon, one slice per each piece of rabbit1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped3 T. chopped fresh basil1 t. dried oregano2 T. hearty burgundy wineSalt and freshly ground pepper, to taste4 T. olive oilPat rabbit pieces dry with paper towels. Place a thin slice of garlic or two on each piece and wrap a slice of pancetta or bacon around it, making sure the garlic is held in place.Place tomatoes in a non-stick skillet and cook them briefly until they release some of their liquid and begin to dry out a bit (adding any leftover slices of garlic, also). Stir in the basil, oregano, wine and salt and pepper; cook a few minutes longer.Place tomato mixture in a layer on the bottom of a baking dish. Arrange the rabbit pieces on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle with the olive oil and bake, uncovered, in a preheated 400 degree oven 40 to 50 minutes, or until rabbit is tender. Baste from time to time with any juices in the dish and if it appears to be drying out too much, cover with foil after about 25 minutes for remainder of cook time.Rabbit in a Stew2-3 lb. rabbit, cut into piecesSalt, pepper and dash of nutmeg1/4 cup butter1 onion, finely chopped2-3 cloves garlic, minced1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce1/3 cup vermouth (dry or sweet; I prefer dry)1 bay leaf1/4 t. each whole allspice and black peppercorns1/4 cup small white pickled onions, drained1/2 cup creme fraiche or heavy whipping creamSprinkle rabbit pieces with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Melt butter in a wide skillet or a 4-5 qt. Dutch oven over med. heat. Brown rabbit pieces, half at a time; remove when browned.When all rabbit pieces have been browned, add chopped onion to same pan; cook, stirring, until soft. Mix in garlic, tomato sauce, vermouth, bay leaf, allspice and peppercorns. Add rabbit and pickled onions. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer until rabbit is very tender (50-60 minutes). Remove to a warm serving dish and keep warm while making sauce.Skim fat from the cooking liquid; add cream and bring to a boil over high heat. Continue cooking, stirring, until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Pour sauce over rabbit and serve immediately. Serves 4-6.Note: Unless rabbit is a habit in your family, it's probably best to tell the kids it's chicken in these recipes."

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