Local lions rowdy at night

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MALIBU WAY OF LIFE / By Jody Stump

While driving along the coast, I heard this ear-stunning headline, “Sea lions sink a 35-foot sailboat in Newport Beach.” What?! I glanced offshore and saw our usually benign buddies of the sea sunning on Big Rock. I began to listen more intently to the story. What would our life at the beach be like if sea lions ganged up and came ashore?

Apparently, that is what happened in Newport. A gang of nineteen young male sea lions has turned delinquent, raiding seaside cottages and boarding boats. One night, they held a midnight party on an anchored sailboat. Barking and squealing into the night, they worked themselves into such a frenzy that they were throwing around their hefty, three-hundred pound bodies with wild abandon. The vessel broke apart and sank. Buoys, dinghies and even docks, have crumbled, victims to sea life run amok.

Like most of you, I suspect, I have never feared the mammals who share the sea. Sea lions, dolphins, otters-it has always been a thrill to swim in the same waters where they make their home. In my most treasured moments, album-of-the-mind, I have stored a game of tag I played with a baby sea lion frolicking off Rosarito Beach in Baja California. I was a teenager swimming just beyond the surf-line when I felt a soft tap on my shoulder. Startled, I sputtered up and found myself virtually nose to nose with its stiff whiskers and huge, glassy eyes peering like Kilroy above the surface. I don’t know why, but I reached out and tapped it back. The baby was probably two or three feet long, plump and fuzzy with baby fur. It backed off and then bumped my leg, lightly. I swam a few yards after it and just tipped the edge of a flipper. A little faster now, the sea lion came back and brushed against me with a bit more aggression. One more round and I called it quits and swam to shore, leaving no doubt on either part which of us was master of the element.

Later, swimming side-by-side with a dolphin, I experienced the same thrill and a similar escalation of contact, until once again, I had to back off and concede the sea to a superior force. As we, at the beach, live in ever closer contact with creatures off our shore, I am reminded of a passage from Douglas Adams’ sci-fi classic, “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” In it, his heroes are cast adrift from earth in a window-clad capsule. As they whirl through utter darkness, they are astonished to see a huge pod of dolphins cruising through space, waving their flippers and calling, “So long! And thanks for all the fish.”

VITELLO TONNATO

Serves 6-8

(This simple Italian classic is a counter-intuitive turf-and-surf combo. Rather than steak and shellfish, side by side, this smothers tender poached meat in a creamy fish sauce. Weird, but I first tasted it when I was house-sitting for a gourmet pal. I raided the Sub-Zero and heated up mysterious leftovers. The dish was so delicious, I begged for the recipe. Note that tonnato is good when it is first cooked, but it is best when made a day ahead).

For poaching:

2 to 2-1/ 2 pound top round veal roast OR turkey breast

1 large onion, peeled and studded with cloves

2 bay leaves

Bunch of fresh basil

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 garlic cloves

2 cups dry white wine

Peppercorns, to taste

For sauce:

1 can tuna, packed in olive oil

2 T. fresh lemon juice

3 flat anchovy fillets

3 T. capers, rinsed and drained

3/ 4 cup mayonnaise

1. In a pot just big enough to hold the meat, put in all the poaching ingredients plus water to cover. Remove meat.

2. Cover the pot; bring to a boil. Add meat and, when it returns to a boil, simmer

1 hour (turkey) or

1-1/ 2 to 2 hours (veal).

Cool 30 minutes.

3. Puree sauce ingredients together until smooth. Season to taste.

4. Slice meat into slices 1/ 4 inch thick. In a large plastic storage container, layer the slices with the sauce and refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Serve at room temperature with any of the following: black olives, capers, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, lemon slices, Italian parsley. It is also wonderful as an open-faced sandwich on toasted ciabatta or any rustic bread.