Muffy Vhay: Living on the edge of the wild

Chocolate Espresso Custard

Chocolate Espresso Custard

We live on the edge of the wildland, which we share with many wild creatures, including deer, coyotes, bobcats, rabbits, and most recently, mustangs. By and large, that goes pretty well, but not always. Sometimes nature can be cruel and heartbreaking. We can keep the deer and the rabbits out of the garden with a fence, and we try to keep the dogs from running in the hills — bobcat and coyote territory.

The mustangs, that’s another story. Most are probably feral, not really wild, and they are lovely to watch. Everyone stops along the road to photograph them. It’s the wide-open West, after all and the horses are symbols of that, but they are a serious problem. Way overpopulated, a hazard on the roadways, and a nuisance in our fields and elsewhere. The local brand inspector, charged with dealing with them in this area, has told us the Virginia Range can support about 500 head, but is now home to around 2,000 horses. Unsustainable, for sure — hard on the horses and a problem for residents. There are solutions, but they are not popular.

Everyone loves the deer, but not everyone feels that way about the coyotes. They hunt the rabbits, voles, and gophers in our fields, and are fun to watch. But someone (locally?) is trying to trap them, which is not a humane way to control the population. Recently — and this was as hard to write as it was to watch — a young coyote came into our yard and sat under the big pine tree by the studio. We think he came for help, though Nancy Laird at the Wild Animal Infirmary here in the valley has told us not to ascribe human emotions to wild animals. The coyote could hardly move, was thin, and didn’t look right. When I went toward it, it hobbled away slowly and cowered under the truck. I went back in the house and got David. The two of us ascertained it was missing almost all of one front leg, and about half of the other one. We’re pretty sure he had chewed off his limbs to get out of a trap — that’s what coyotes do. It was heartbreaking, and has haunted me since. So this is a plea to reduce populations, if necessary, humanely — and not by trapping. That coyote suffered needlessly.

The world, however, doesn’t come to a halt. The great horned owls are nesting; the quail and doves are mating; and cows and horses and deer are already quite pregnant. In short, it’s almost spring, and Valentine’s Day is just a few days away. So we’ll mark the beginning of a new season with good thoughts and a special chocolate dessert.


This recipe can be halved, doubled, or tripled easily. Half fills two of my 6-ounce ramekins. It can be made the day before and refrigerated until serving time.

Lightly butter 4 6-ounce or 6 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups; set aside. Set oven to 325 degrees.

Get out a baking dish that will hold all the ramekins, and line it with a double layer of paper towel. Put the kettle on to have some boiling water available.

Melt 2 1/2 ounce bittersweet chocolate in microwave or top of double boiler. Keep warm.

In a medium bowl, beat till pale yellow and thick and set aside:

2 whole eggs

2 egg yolks

3/4 cup sugar

In a small saucepan, heat till steaming (do not let boil):

2 cups 1/2 and 1/2

1 generous teaspoon espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Add chocolate to egg mixture, mix well. Then add cream. Mix well.

Fill the ramekins and put them in the baking dish. Pour hot water into pan to go about 1/2 way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake at 325 for about 30–40 minutes. As soon as the edges are set, and the middles are still a bit wiggly, they are done. Remove from oven and cool a bit before refrigerating.

Serve with whipped cream (and a fruit garnish if you wish).

David and Muffy Vhay own Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast. Contact the ranch at 775-882-3643.


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