Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Return to Roaring River

In the mid-seventies I returned to Roaring River State Park in Missouri for the last time.  I guess I had been there at least 20 times in the 16 years since my family had first vacationed there in 1959, and I wasn’t tired of it yet.  By this time I had visited many of America’s greatest destinations, and this little park was simply my favorite.  It was here I first learned to enjoy nature.  It was here I first learned the basics of camping.  And it was here I developed my strong desire to fly fish.

For the past few years I had been privileged to hunt and fish across North America including Alaska, Canada, Spain, and a few other places.  I couldn’t get enough of the outdoors, and I took every opportunity to be there.  My first love was fishing, but hunting was a good second, and I had to be outdoors to do either one.  I thought nothing of strapping on a backpack, grabbing my fishing rod, and disappearing into the wild for a few days.  Sometimes I had a companion, and sometimes I did not.  But to Roaring River I always went alone.

I think my family traveled there only three or four times, and as soon as I could get there on my own, I didn’t hesitate to go.  For years I was drawn to the park like a moth to a flame.  Any opportunity to travel through Missouri or any of the states near the southern part of Missouri required a detour to the park.  I rarely spoke of the park to anyone because I was afraid that too many people would visit there and ruin it for me.  I guess I was selfish, but when one has found the end of the rainbow one becomes reluctant to share directions to the pot of gold. 

In 1969 I drove there on my own for the first time.  I knew the place was special from the family visits years earlier, and I knew I must return.  Besides, I had not seen anyone fly-fishing for a few years, and I wanted to see it again.  I was determined to learn the process, but at the same time I was unsure how to go about it.

I arrived at the park, paid my camping fee, found a campsite, and set up my tent.  I listened to the river talk to me for several days while I looked around the area.  I don’t recall talking to anyone in particular, nor do I remember seeing anything remarkable.  But the place had a voice of its own, and I listened.  When I drove out of the park to go home it was necessary for me to pull off the road into a picnic area just to cry.  I didn’t know why I was crying, but it seemed like the right thing to do.  It was a long drive home.

The following summer I drove back to the park four times.  Two of those times amounted to a stay of less than one day before I had to leave.  The other two times were three or four days each.  And the voice of the park was louder than ever.  The sound of the river was the same, but something else was tugging at me, and I couldn’t define it.

I always watched the fly fishermen with envy.  As I’ve said at other times, I’ve fished all my life, but the fly fishermen always had my undivided attention.  Each trip to this magical place was undertaken with the idea of spending time watching these special fishermen and learning from them.  I didn’t really know what it was I was learning, and I didn’t know that it was actually the river’s voice that was my instructor.  But I was trying to listen and understand.

On my last trip to the park I saw a man I had watched fishing many years before on my first trip to the park.  He was much older now, and his friend was still with him directing his casts toward the fish.  It was the blind man I had watched catch and release a rather large trout all those years ago.  He was still fishing and still catching and still releasing.

I sat down and just watched for a long time that morning.  The blind man released several fish in those hours, and his friend assisted him in everything he did.  They were close—brothers it turned out—and they were married to twin sisters.  I wouldn’t have known this if the blind man hadn’t started talking to me.

I don’t know how he knew I was there, but more remarkable, he asked me if I had ever learned to fly fish.  He said he remembered when I was just a small boy and had sat on a nearby log just watching him.  How could he remember that incident?  When I asked him, he simply asked if I remembered it.  I answered affirmatively.  Well, if I could remember it, he could also.

I spent the evening with him, his brother, and their wives at their campsite.  They were leaving the next morning, and they believed that because of age and distance, this would be their last night at Roaring River.  Little did I know it would be my last night as well.

It is nearly forty years since I placed my feet in Roaring River State Park, and often I think of the blind man and his family.  One of the things he told me that last night in the park was that he couldn’t stop hearing the river.  He had first heard it as a young man and was ever drawn back to it, and everything he had done in life was influenced by the river’s voice.  I had no idea what he meant when he said it.  Now it makes perfect sense.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Couple of Big Cheese Enchiladas


Anyone who knows me knows I believe that everything goes better with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.  Brisket, chicken, beans, salad, grapes, chocolate—everything.  I don’t care which comes first, the pie or the enchiladas, as long as there are a couple of big cheese enchiladas involved.

This makes it sound as though the cheese enchilada is my favorite dish, but as much as I like them, I see them only as a side dish.  It’s just that I believe they improve any meal, no matter what the main dish may be.

I was in a restaurant in Fort Worth in the late ‘sixties where cheese enchiladas were served with anything ordered.  It was a Tex-Mex place but called itself Mexican food.  I won’t give the name of the place, but it was a popular buffet eatery serving all you could stand for $1.29.  When I ordered the chicken sour cream enchiladas with a tamale and a chile relleno, it came with two cheese enchiladas on the side.  On another visit I asked for the cheese enchiladas and they came with two cheese enchiladas on the side.  I liked this place.

In Laredo I had breakfast at a small diner made from an old Airstream trailer.  My chicken fried steak was topped with two cheese enchiladas.  Dinner in Alpine came with a cheese enchilada appetizer and with another on top of my steak.  A fried chicken restaurant near College Station served their potato fries in a paper boat with a cheese enchilada on top and a pickle on the side—I never figured that one out.  And a truck stop outside of El Paso served a hamburger with a cheese enchilada in the middle. 

A friend had a small ranch near Freer where cheese enchiladas were served at every meal.  And one could get a couple of them at any time just by stopping in at the cook’s kitchen.  My great-aunt Emma lived in Turkey, Texas, and she always had a batch of them around, just watch out for the ashes from her cigar.

My friends were deep into the cheese enchiladas also, and we would have a gathering every few months just to enjoy our latest versions.  I don’t believe we ever made the things the same way twice, but no matter what we did to them, they were still cheese enchiladas.  Life was good.

One of the versions was very unique.  It was a cheese enchilada pizza.  Very simple, but it may be the best pizza I’ve ever had.

 
Cheese Enchilada Pizza
Makes 4 individual pizzas.

    1 cup roughly chopped onion
    2 teaspoons olive oil
    1 pound fresh masa
    Cornmeal for the baking sheets
    1 cup Red Sauce (recipe follows)
    1 (7-ounce) can whole green chiles, drained
    1 1/3 cup coarsely grated cheese (your choice or choices)
    8 pre-made room temperature cheese enchiladas (use leftovers from breakfast)
    Additional Red Sauce
    Additional coarsely grated cheese
    Coarsely chopped cilantro

In a skillet heat the olive oil and sauté the onions until translucent.  Set aside to cool.  Wipe the skillet out with paper towels and return to the heat.

Knead the masa until smooth, and then divide into four equal pieces.  Form each piece into a flattened pizza shape with slightly raised edges and place in the heated skillet for about 45 seconds (do not turn over).  Remove to a baking sheet (you will need two of these) sprinkled with cornmeal.  When all four portions are placed on the sheets, top each with a scant ¼ cup of the Red Sauce, 1/3 cup of the cheese, and ¼ of the onions.  Slice the whole green chiles into strips and divide among the four pizzas.

Lay 2 room temperature cheese enchiladas in the middle of each pizza, drizzle more Red Sauce over the enchiladas, top with additional cheese, sprinkle with some chopped cilantro, and bake at 450F for 7 to 12 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and browning.

There is no need to serve with a couple of big cheese enchiladas on the side, but it wouldn’t hurt.

Red Sauce
Makes about 4 1/2 cups.

    12 dried ancho chilies
    8 dried guajillo chilies
    4 dried New Mexico Chiles
    6 to 8 cups water                                                   
    1/3 cup white wine                                              
    1/2 white onion, peeled and diced                              
    5 cloves garlic, minced                                        
    8 teaspoons packed light brown sugar                           
    2 tablespoons ground cumin
    ½ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano                                    
    2 tablespoons honey                                            
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste          

Rinse the chiles to remove any dirt.  Slit each chile with a sharp knife and remove and discard the seeds and stem.  Place the peppers in a large saucepan and cover with water by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.  The peppers should be soft and have absorbed some liquid.  When cooked, remove the pan from the heat and set aside without draining.

While the peppers are cooking, combine the wine, onion, garlic, brown sugar, cumin, oregano, and honey in a small saucepan.  Set this mixture over medium heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are soft.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Using tongs, transfer the cooled chiles to the container of a blender.  Add about 2 cups of the chile liquid and all of the onion broth.  Cover the blender container and start blending at low speed, increasing to high speed as the puree becomes combined.  The result will be a thick, dark red sauce.  Adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper, and more honey if desired.  Use the sauce as is in a recipe, or place in a clean glass container and refrigerate.  Use the sauce within a week, or freeze for later.

This Red Sauce is a bit more complex than most, but the flavor is also more complex.  Perfect with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

You may notice I didn’t give a recipe for cheese enchiladas.  This was not a mistake.  There are countless ways to make these things, and I never make them the same way twice unless it is by accident.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Sleigh Trail

I first became a reluctant Santa in December 1969 while working for a Sears store in Fort Worth, Texas.  The store’s Santa had called in sick just a few minutes before time to appear, and the store manager pointed at me and said, “You’re the biggest guy in the store.  Get in the Santa suit.”  Thus I became Santa for the first time.  I donned the suit a few more times over the next two or three years, and while it was fun, it wasn’t my life’s passion.  Over the next 30 years, I put on the red suit only two or three more times, and it was always with great reluctance. 

In 1975 I grew my beard, but not to be Santa.  I just wanted to grow a beard.  Over time it began to turn gray, then white, and in 2002, I was standing in a grocery store line when a little girl peering over her father’s shoulder suddenly looked at me and shouted, “Santa!”  Well, it was December, so I went along with it and became Santa for her and other children in the store—and I liked it. 

A few months later, about April or so, I was in a Home Depot when a young boy ran up to me and grabbed hold of my leg shouting, “Thank you, Santa!  Thank you for my gift!”  The first thing I did was look around for a parent, then when I located his father grinning at the scene, I became Santa in the middle of the plumbing aisle.

In 2004, I heard on the news about a Santa organization having their annual meeting at a restaurant in Long Beach, CA, so I showed up.  Soon I was enrolled in a Santa School, and I’ve been Santa ever since. 

There is no end to the training and preparation to be a quality Santa.  I have a Master Santa Claus certificate from one the Santa schools, and I study being Santa on my own.  I look like Santa every day of the year, so I must always be prepared to be the best Santa I can be even when I think no one is looking, and in the middle of June.

This means grooming the hair and beard every day.  No drinking or smoking.  No bad breath or spicy foods.  Language must always be guarded.  The list is long, but I have to remember that no matter what I’m doing, people (especially children) always recognize me as Santa.

This also means there are places I cannot go.  Disneyland is such a place.  Anyone whose appearance is of Santa, or a pirate, or any other recognizable character whose look could possibly be confused with the Disney characters, will be barred from entering the park.  Also, I cannot go anywhere there is another working Santa, such as a mall, but this extends to many stores during November and December as well.  Children do not need the confusion of multiple Santa’s in one location.

I have to be current on games, toys, and anything else a child may be hoping to receive as a gift.  I also have to be prepared for those tough questions such as, “Why didn’t you come to my house last year?” or “Can you bring my Daddy home?” or “Why do my Mommy and Daddy fight?”  There are many tough questions, and it’s always hard to hear them from a child, but Santa has to be ready for them.

I am often online with other working Santa’s sharing our knowledge and experiences.  We learn from each other, and we help each other.  Several times I have had the opportunity to be a mentor to newer Santa’s, but the learning process always continues for every one of us.

I was recently the first Santa for a child barely 24 hours old.  His mother said she would have brought him to see me the day he was born, but they wouldn’t let her out of the hospital.

And I have had children approaching 100 years of age sit in my lap to make their Christmas requests.  For many of these older visitors it’s a very emotional experience to be sitting in Santa’s lap for the first time in their lives.  It’s surprising how many older persons have always longed for a chance to get that special hug and attention that Santa provides.

Every year the request list changes a little bit from the year before.  Recently the list has included Angry birds, Barbie (and everything that goes with Barbie), i-phones, i-pads, electronic pets, anything Elmo, bicycles, Legos, Harleys, Cameros, Weii, Xbox, PS3.  It’s an unending list with a lot of surprises.  Many two and three year old children just want toys—any toys.  World Peace comes up a lot. 
 
I have had requests for a turnip, a can of chicken noodle soup, a hippopotamus, and a big box (I hope she wanted a present inside of the big box).  One four year old wanted deodorant.

I have been privileged to appear at tree lightings for cities and resorts.  I have also been privileged to appear at nursing homes, car lots, garden nurseries, corporate events, and private homes.  I’ve even been seen on national television shows.

Many Santa’s belong to organizations and groups across America and around the world.  Some are local, some are national, and some are international, but all promote quality.  These organizations are helping families and businesses (really, anyone who hires a Santa) to realize the difference between the professional Santa with a real beard, real suit, real boots, and real belt, and a boxed kit Santa with pillow falling out from under his jacket and a beard at a strange angle. 

These organizations also have created a network of many hundreds of professional Santa’s who are in contact throughout the year helping each other improve through training and advice.

In mentioning the Santa organizations, I have to recognize Santa Tim Connaghan.  Through his efforts, many of today’s groups have come into being, and several have reached national and international recognition.  Also, Santa Tim produces one of the most notable Santa schools in America.  Anyone seeking more information about his schools can reach him at santa@realsantas.com .

Today’s American Santa is the result of an evolution that only since WWII has become somewhat standardized.  In the late 1700’s the Dutch of New York celebrated December 6 (St. Nicholas Day) with the character Sinterklass who was included in Washington Irving’s 1809 comic History of New York.  Later Clement Moore gave him a more current description in his poem A Visit from St. Nicholas also known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.  During the post-Civil War era, Thomas Nast continued the development of the appearance of Santa Claus through many illustrations for Harper’s Weekly, but nothing was consistent in the overall appearance of the person.

Santa Claus often appeared jolly and plump, as in Clement Moore’s poem, but just as often he was very thin.  His clothing was more often blue, or brown, or green rather than red.  And he often wore the long robes of the Dutch Sinterklass or other European versions of St. Nicholas.  It wasn’t until Haddon Sundblom began painting Santa for Coca-Cola advertisements in 1931 that the modern image of the jolly old elf began to take shape.  America was just beginning to accept this image of Santa when WWII began, so it was only after the war that the current Santa Claus really exploded with the post war prosperity.

Now this image of the American Santa Claus is spreading around the world.  Countries with a tradition based on St. Nicholas are not unaware of the American Santa even though they still keep their own customs and practices.  But in countries where there is no such tradition, the American Santa is becoming very popular.

Each year several hotels, malls, and large businesses in places such as Tokyo and Hong Kong import American Santas to visit with everyone.  These Santas are treated almost like movie stars as the people celebrate the season (even if they don’t know what the season is about).  Everyone enjoys having a photo made with Santa.

It is believed that the first printed use of the name Santa Claus is found in Rivington’s Gazette (New York City), December 23, 1773.

A Philadelphia merchant J.W. Parkinson may have been the first person to have a store Santa when in 1841 he hired a man to dress up as Kris Kringle and climb the chimney of his department store.

And “Jingle Bells” was originally written as a song for Thanksgiving.

A little more about me can be found at www.NeedSanta.com .

Friday, November 16, 2012

Matilija

The Matilija is a small stream.  Very small.  I believe I’ve caused more erosion than the Matilija just by spilling a glass of water.  But it is local.  And by local I’m referring to anything south of the Tejon or Cajon passes in Southern California, as well as anything between Santa Barbara and Palm Springs.
 
Clark took me up there on my first outing with a fly rod.  It was a two-hour drive, but since he was driving, I didn’t care.  I don’t get to be a passenger very often, and it was rather nice for a change.  We stopped at a market near Ojai and grabbed some things to chew on later, and then we drove the final few miles to the end of the road where we could park.  Actually it wasn’t the end of the road, but a gate prevented us from driving any farther.  At this place we put on the waders, assembled the rods, gathered up the chewables, and began the walk to the Matilija. 
 
I am a bit older than Clark.  Well, maybe I am a lot older than Clark.  He is compact.  I’ve grown sideways.  He is a fit outdoorsman.  I am an unfit indoorsman.  His boots are broken in.  My boots are new.  And the trail was either short or long, depending on who is recalling the hike.  But I had fun.
 
I caught my first trout on a fly on the Matilija that day.  It was a small wild rainbow that was all of five inches long, and it took me several hours to catch it.  The fly that did it was a gold ribbed hare’s ear in a size 16.  I was happy.
 
The Matilija allowed me to try out my new waders and boots.  I think the last time I wore waders was some forty years ago on a duck-hunting trip.  They were basically plastic coated canvas and were designed very well for letting the water leak in quickly and for chafing along the seams.  Oh, the chafing.  But it didn’t happen with these new breathable waders.  I did get a little damp, but not wet.  And the seams didn’t leak or chafe.  When I got home I turned them inside out and filled them with water to look for leaks, but no leaks, so I guess the dampness was self-induced.
 
As for the new boots, they could not have been better.  My last pair of hiking boots weighed in at about 15 pounds each, and took more than a year of heavy use to break in, and by then I needed new ones.  These wading boots are much better built than my old hiking boots, much lighter (although still about 4 pounds total), and I was able to have the insides rebuilt to fit my crooked feet exactly.  With these boots on I don’t need to wear the cumbersome brace I wear with my daily footwear.  I’m actually thinking about wearing them every day.  Maybe I’ll just wear the waders also—and keep a fly rod handy.
 
The walk to the Matilija was really a stroll by any standards, but I hadn’t been outdoors like this in many years and I am quite simply out of shape.  From the gate across the road we were able to cross through an access portal to follow the road over private property to the river.  While other hikers were trying to hop across on a few scattered rocks, Clark and I just waded through. 
 
We left the road to follow the trail alongside the river and again had a wade-through crossing.  After about ¾ of a mile, we came to another crossing, but this time we decided to wet our lines.  My 9-foot 5-weight rod was definitely overkill, but at the time it was all the fly rod I owned, so I used it.  I looked at the width of the river at this point and guessed that by extending my arm a bit I could simply drop a fly on the surface of the water by the bank across from me, and avoid casting altogether.  But then I looked upstream.  Beautiful.  And I could cast to the riffles from where I stood.
 
Nothing in my casting lessons at the Long Beach Casting Club prepared me for tree branches.  I raised my rod for a cast and hit a branch.  I tried side-arm and hit a tree.  I tried everything I could think of to cast that fly, but there just wasn’t enough room for my limited experience.  Then Clark mentioned the “bow and arrow” shot.  I have to admit that I felt somewhat stupid trying this method since it just didn’t match anything I knew about fishing—but it worked.  I got that fly exactly where I wanted it.  And a fish rose up to look at it.
 
I think the #16 mosquito I had tied on was about the same size as the fish that was looking at it.  The fish in this drainage are just not very big, and that was okay with me for this trip.  I considered the importance of this trip to be the experience of being outdoors again coupled with learning the real world use of my equipment.  Even I knew there would be a big difference between the casting pond and the river.  However, a 2-inch fish…
 
I “bow and arrowed” for a while, and discovered a 3-inch fish was also in the area.  Clark was downstream from me a ways, and when he reappeared he had caught and released a 4-inch trout.  I was jealous.  I wanted a trout, too.  But instead, we had lunch.
 
After our meal, I crossed the river and headed upriver about a quarter mile, past a camp with loud noise (I won’t say what kind of noise) coming from the couple in the tent, and on to a likely looking place.  The trail was about twenty feet or so above the water, but it was simple to pick my way down the slope to the falls with the pool below it.  I replaced my current fly with a gold ribbed hare’s ear and tossed my line into the froth at the bottom of the 8-foot falls.  I watched the drift, and I watched something rise up to look at it.
 
Four or five more attempts in different parts of the pool and a trout actually took the fly.  The 5-weight rod was way too big for this 5-inch fish, but I managed to get it to hand without ripping its lip apart.  It was just plain beautiful.  It was a small wild rainbow with a slight golden hue.  Wow.  My first trout on a fly rod.  Now for another.
 
I switched to a small pheasant tail and continued to work the corners of the pool and the edge of the froth under the falls.  And a second trout fell to my prowess.  This one was just 4 inches long, but just as wonderful to look at as the first.  I left the pheasant tail in place for a few more casts, then switched back to a mosquito. 
 
The mosquito was not effective except to catch tree branches and ultimately I left it in a branch.  I probably could have retrieved it, but I just left it there.  I went back to the gold ribbed hare’s ear and worked the pool for a while longer, but to no avail.
 
I gathered my things and climbed back up the slope where Clark was waiting for me.  He handed me a mosquito fly and said he had retrieved it for me.  He had been standing above me at the falls watching for a while.  I certainly didn’t see him, but it was a mosquito he handed me, and he knew I had lost it.
 
Such adventures come to an end.  We hiked back to the car where we shed the waders and replaced the boots with shoes.  Then we (he) drove back to Long Beach.  Clark did me a great favor that day.  He got me out of the house.  It’s something I had been threatening to do for a long time, but he knew just what to say to me that would get me moving—“Let’s go fishing.”

Monday, November 5, 2012

Uncle Joe's Place

I have memories of eating at my “Uncle” Joe’s place, but they are vague memories from the early years of my life.  My grandfather would sometimes take me to visit “Uncle” Joe, and we would always talk with him and “Aunt” Jessie while we ate spicy smoked beef and cheese enchiladas.  Then “Uncle” Joe went away.  My 4-year-old mind didn’t understand this, and it took me a number of years before I understood that he had died.  But we still went back from time to time to visit “Aunt” Jessie and her children.
 
“Uncle” Joe’s place was a restaurant.  I believe it was also their home, but I was never certain about it.  The building leaned according to the direction of the wind, and there was no, uh, décor to it.  It was simply a place to eat.  But it was a very, very good place to eat.
 
“Aunt” Jessie was also known as Mamasus to almost everyone else.  She and her children continued to feed anyone who walked in the door and through the kitchen to the room where only a few tables and chairs were set up.  And for years I continued to eat there, first with my family, and then as I grew up, on my own. 
 
When I was about 20 years old, some friends invited me to join them for dinner at Joe T. Garcia’s restaurant for some Mexican food.  I didn’t know where this was, and they were shocked.  Anyone from Fort Worth should know this.  But they gave me some familiar sounding directions, and I drove there.  It was “Uncle” Joe’s place.  I had been eating there all my life, and I didn’t know this tiny ramshackle house was well known and well respected among the Texas restaurants.
 
One of the Garcia children, Hope, greeted us on the way in and seated us at one of the two larger tables.  Without asking what we wanted, dinner was served.  As always the food was brought to the table family style, and everyone helped themselves to a portion from the serving dishes.  And as always it was very, very good. 
 
I made it back to the restaurant many more times over the next 5 or 6 years before I moved away from Fort Worth, and I began to notice a third generation of children making their appearance as helpers, servers, and cooks.  But the old restaurant always looked the same.  It was always leaning as though it was going to fall over, but it was always clean and freshly painted.  And busy.  I guess my visitations were timed about right, because I never waited for more than a few minutes for a place to sit down and eat, but I started noticing when I left, a long line of people were standing outside the door.
 
That was nearly 40 years ago.  I checked out the restaurant on-line recently and it is nothing like my memories.  There is a sprawling building with many spacious outdoor patios for the guests.  Ambience is the extreme opposite of the original building, and there is now a menu.  I hope to get back to visit some day and see if the food brings back memories of “Uncle” Joe’s place.
 
I can’t remember the exact flavors of the barbeque Joe T. served when I was a kid, but I do remember the uniqueness of the taste.  It was a flavorful, slightly spicy, smoked beef, and I am reminded more of chuck than brisket by the texture.  I don’t remember it being served after his passing, and it could have been something not normally available anyway.  Knowing my grandfather, he may well have special ordered it ahead of time.  But here is the version I created just to satisfy my own hunger.  Warning!  Don’t be in a hurry.
 
 
Spicy Smoked Beef
Serves 6.
 
    1 (10-ounce) can chipotle chilies in adobo
    ½ stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    1 (3 to 3 ½) pound chuck-eye roast.  Choose one that is well marbled.  (Even better, make a second roast at the same time.  There is never too much of this stuff.)
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
 
Set the roast(s) on a counter, covered, for about 30 to 45 minutes while preparing a smoker for low heat with oak and pecan wood as the smoke source.  The heat should never exceed 225F, and 210F to 215F is ideal.
 
Remove any stems from the chipotle chilies and place the chilies with all of the adobo sauce in a blender.  Pour in the butter and blend until smooth.
 
Rub the outside of the roast all over with the mixture, and then pierce deeply with a sharp fork to force some of the sauce into the meat (an injector also works).  Rub the meat again to evenly coat the meat.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top.
 
Wrap the meat in foil and place in a smoker for about 1 hour.  Open the foil wrapper so the meat and juices are still contained, but the meat is fully exposed to the smoke.  Smoke for three additional hours at 215F, and then allow the temperature to slowly reduce to about 190F to 195F over 1 or 2 more hours.  The internal temperature of the roast should also be about 190F to 195F.
 
Remove the roast from the smoker and wrap in several new layers of heavy foil.  Wrap the foil in several layers of towels, place in a small empty ice chest (not Styrofoam), and close the lid for 2 to 3 hours to finish.  This “sweating” time allows the fats in the meat to continue to melt and distribute through the meat.
 
Remove from the foil, slice and serve with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Spain

Hector and I were sent to Spain on a business trip during the time General Franco was still ruling the country.  I don’t really know or care what strings were pulled to get us there, but the company we worked for had stores in a few of the cities, and I was chosen to oversee several changes within the Spanish store chain.  Hector was sent along as my interpreter, and we expected to be there for many weeks, and possibly up to a year.

Hector was a colleague and my equal in position within the organization, so it was a bit odd to both of us that he would be selected to travel with me.  The department he ran for the company was important, and not just anyone could fill in for him while he was gone.  But we were assured that Hector’s position was not in jeopardy, and he was just being rewarded for his years of great service to the company.  Still…  But there was nothing that could be done about it.  Besides, he and I were good friends, and the fact that he was born in Puerto Rico and had a Hispanic surname should also be a benefit.

I, on the other hand, traveled so much that my department would probably not miss me.  My assistant/secretary was plenty capable to fill in while I was on the road.  So there was no problem expected here.

Our route had us changing planes several times with layovers in some great places.  We flew from Dallas to Chicago to New York.  We both had offices in New York City where we made one last check of our departments before boarding for Montreal.  From Montreal we flew to Heathrow outside of London where we took a four-hour break before flying to Paris.  Finally a long break.  We had two full days and a little more to see the city, but we spent the first day just sleeping in the hotel. 

French was not a language I ever mastered, and the French people were very happy when I didn’t try using it.  We took time to visit a few of the biggest landmarks, but all too soon the time was over and we had to take a flight to Dresden.  Again we had enough hours available to do some quick sightseeing.  From Dresden we flew to a city in Italy where we switched planes and flew to Madrid.  Eight days, six airlines, and our luggage arrived when we did.  It was a miracle.

It wasn’t until after we arrived in Madrid that I realized we just might have a difficult time in Spain.  In attempting to get a taxi, Hector pulled out of his pocket a Spanish-English/English-Spanish translation dictionary.  I looked at the book then at Hector then at the book.

“No one ever asked me if I could speak Spanish.  I was just told to travel with you as your interpreter.”

As I thought about it, I realized I might have done the same thing.

Business was business.  For many long weeks we dealt with what we had to do at the store in Madrid and several others in the western and southern regions of Spain.  Oh, we had breaks, and we definitely enjoyed the people, the culture, and the nightlife.  As we neared the end of the Madrid portion of our stay, one of the gentlemen at a store invited us to join him in hunting red-legged partridge. 

Hector wasn’t a hunter, but he was a fisherman, so he took time with another gentleman to fish one of the local rivers while I went bird hunting.  The hunt was okay, I guess.  It was a driven hunt with several men beating the landscape with sticks to chase the birds toward where I was waiting with the twelve-gauge.  I just stood there and waited until a bird flew by.  Boom.  Another bird.  Boom.

That evening the gentleman who provided this opportunity for me told me it was the best time he had ever experienced hunting.  I replied I had never done anything quite like it before.  Hector, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed his fishing trip.  Honestly I was jealous.

We found ourselves with a six-day break at the end of our work in Madrid, so we decided to take a flight over to Florence, Italy, just to say we had been there.  We went, we got lost, we had fun.  I do not believe I’ve ever seen so many pigeons in one place in my life.  I wish I had done some research before going there, but like most of my adventure plans, there was no real plan. 

We returned to Madrid to retrieve our belongings from our apartment just one day before we were supposed to be in Barcelona.  Again, we should have done some real planning, but the adventure would have suffered because of it.

Neither Hector nor I could figure out the train schedule from Madrid to Barcelona.  Suddenly no one understood our English or our attempts at Spanish.  And we watched as the train we needed left without us on board.  We hired a taxi.

The distance between Madrid and Barcelona is nearly 400 miles and it isn’t all flat land.  Somewhere in the dark of the moonless night we found ourselves on a winding mountain road in a taxi traveling at a high rate of speed.  When we left Madrid it was about 5pm, and we told the driver we needed to be in Barcelona by 7am the next morning.  The driver told us he needed to be back by 7am the next morning, so he would get us there as fast as he could.  And he was doing it.

Hector and I were actually thinking about getting out and walking.  In those mountains, the road took many hairpin turns with no guardrail such as we were used to seeing in the United States.  And the driver was doing it at 100 km/h or faster.  Each time he would come to a turn, he would turn off his lights and honk his horn twice.  Then he would turn his lights back on, but never did he slow down.

At a gas stop in one of the towns after leaving the mountains, we asked why he kept turning off the headlights.  He replied he did that so he could see the lights of any oncoming cars.  But he always honked twice in case they had their lights off also.  We made it to Barcelona in just under five hours.  And we got there before the train did.

Again, business was business, and we were all about business, that is until the end of each day.  Then it was all about the nightlife.  About three or four weeks into the Barcelona portion of our trip, we were invited to join a group of people on a quail hunt.  Again, Hector arranged a fishing trip with someone, leaving me to another driven hunt.  But this time was much more enjoyable.

I was never a fan of the twelve-gauge shotgun, but since no one with a sixteen- or twenty-gauge would make it available to me, I was saddled with the big twelve.  To my surprise, it was a muzzleloader.  I had never before fired a muzzleloading shotgun, so this could potentially make the hunt quite interesting.

I had a blast.  Literally.  It was another driven hunt where I stood in one place while some men beat the bushes with sticks to send the birds my direction.  But each time I pulled the trigger, the smoke would block any hope of seeing if I downed the bird.  Even the dog with me had no idea if he was to go search for a bird, or if he was to continue to sit and wait.  Once I decided I had missed a bird, but on the next fly-by I knew I was successful; however, the dog brought back two birds.

By the end of the day, I was tired.  A muzzleloading shotgun is a lot of work, but I was already a big fan of the muzzleloading rifle, so I was glad for this experience.  My shoulder was quite sore, and I found I could easily remember my reasons for preferring a twenty-gauge.

We finished our work in Spain in a few more weeks, and seven days and eight airlines later we (and our luggage) were back in Dallas.  As far as jobs go, it really was the experience of a lifetime.  We made many friends, and enjoyed a people and culture before the political changes occurred with the passing of the dictator Franco.  Hector’s job was waiting for him when he got back, and no word was ever mentioned of the dictionary he carried with him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Generations

My hunting days are over.  The years have taken their toll on this old body.  I still fish whenever I can, and I can still get to some moderately difficult places where I am often the only person around, but I am no longer able to carry the rifles or shotguns on those necessary long treks to find deer, elk, moose, etc.  And even if I could bring down such an animal, I could never find the strength to bring it home.  So for nearly twenty years, my rifles, shotguns, and pistols have been in storage.

About three years ago the decision was made to give away my firearms.  One of my colleagues at work wanted to teach his two sons about rifles and shotguns, so I gave him my .22 and my 12 gauge single shot.  A friend of mine was an actor extra and needed to put together an authentic pirate outfit.  I handed him my old flintlock tower pistol.  My .357 went to a law officer.  My .28 gauge went to a collector.  My .410 went to a friend who wanted to go rabbit hunting.  My 9mm is now in the hands of a weekend shooter.  It feels good to just say, “Here, take this.”

A few months ago I was visiting my nephew in a nearby city.  He is nearly thirty years old, but we have rarely had the opportunity to even see each other, much less sit and talk to each other.  I learned a lot that day.  I learned that he and his father-in-law often spend weekends at a shooting range, and he has always borrowed the firearms he uses.  I decided that day to give him two of my four remaining long guns.  These two firearms were passed to me from my two grandfathers—two of his great-grandfathers.

The first one I gave him was the twenty-gauge bolt-action shotgun I had inherited from my mother’s father when I was a teenager.  He had never seen anything like it.  When I gave him the history of the old gun, he almost cried.  He had never owned anything in his life that had history, much less family history.  Then I brought out the rifle.  My father’s father had purchased it new for a hunting trip in 1953.  It was a Winchester Model 70 in .30-06 with every deluxe feature that it could possibly have.  To top it off, it came with the original target and paperwork from the day it was factory proof-fired.  That date, Wednesday, August 24, 1949, was the day I was born.  I have held finer rifles, but I never held a better rifle.  And now it is his.

Over the years I have owned and sold many firearms.  I bought a strange-looking shotgun at an estate sale that turned out to be a W.J. Jeffrey Double Rifle .600 Nitro Express.  I fired it twice.  I unloaded the right barrel, and a few days later after the pain subsided, I pulled the trigger on the left barrel.  Enough was enough.  I turned a decent profit on it.  Almost as painful was a double-barreled 4-gauge flintlock rifle.  This beast threw a 4-ounce, 1-inch round ball.  And it was a sad day when I sold it, but the offer was just too good.

I like muzzle-stuffers.  Charcoal burners just seem to me to be a more fair way to hunt, giving the animal a better chance than is allowed with the modern high-tech weaponry.  Even the modern bow hunter has advantages over most of the click-boom shooters.  But I just like the process of loading and shooting the way it was done a few hundred years ago.  There is something about the smell of burning sulfur that brings out the ‘Daniel Boone’ in me.  Or at least it did at one time.  I gave away my tomahawk, Green River knives, and possibles bag to a neighbor who works with kids in outdoor adventures.

All I now have left are my .30-30 and my .50 cal. black powder rifle.  I’m making a new saddle scabbard for the .30-30, and when it’s finished my nephew will receive it.  The history for this rifle is simple: I purchased it new on my 21st birthday.  That leaves the .50 cal.  This one is hard for me to hand away.  My wife gave it to me on our first wedding anniversary.  I think I will leave it to him in my will.

I’m not planning to visit the ground any time soon; I’m just not able to hunt any more.  In a few years I may have to make the same decisions about my fishing gear, although I hope to be bringing in trout twenty years from now, even if it is just a few steps away from the car instead of a few miles up a stream.

I benefited from many who came before me.  The generations of experience they passed to me was jealously guarded for well over half a century.  But now it is time to entrust it to someone much younger.  And I already know he will pass it to his children.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Roadkill By Any Other Name

Pavement Pie, Road Pizza, Center-Line Roast, Flat Meat, Ground Meat, Speed Bump Chili, Slow-Rabbit Fricassee, Headlight Steaks with Gravel Gravy—no matter what it’s called, it’s still roadkill.

When I still lived in Texas, I received a phone call from a friend whose car had broken down.  He was in need of a ride home, so I said I would do it.  Dale lived a few miles south of Fort Worth in the town of Cleburne, but his car was at a repair shop near where I lived northeast of Fort Worth, so it was easy to pick him up, although it was a long ride to his home.  I didn’t mind.

We had just turned off the interstate highway toward his home when Dale nearly leaped out of the car.  “Pull Over!!  That truck just ran over a squirrel!”

I stopped, but I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal.  Squirrels, rabbits, ‘possums, armadillos, skunks, and just about anything else was often flattened on Texas roads.  However, Dale jumped out of the car and picked up the squirrel.  What was he going to do?  Take it to the vet?  Nurse it back to health?

Dale got back into the car with his prize and said, “Gonna add this to the ones in the freezer.  A couple more and I’ll have enough to make me a stew.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just started the car and finished the drive.  Dale, on the other hand, had plenty to say.  He apparently had a freezer full of roadkill, and was planning to have a barbeque in the near future.  He also had a saying, “If it’s round, get it off the ground.  If it’s flat, leave it where it’s at.”  To that I quickly developed my own saying, “Round or flat, leave it where it’s at.”  Not that I was ever tempted to do anything else.

When I dropped Dale off at his home, he invited me to come back for the barbeque in about three weeks.  I told him I thought I would be in Chicago.

Well, the three weeks passed, and I forgot to be in Chicago.  I stopped in the company store in Fort Worth to talk with the store manager, and the first person I saw was Dale.  He was shopping for a new smoker.

“David!  I thought you were going to be in Chicago today.”

“I just got back.”  Dang! I should have said I was getting ready to go.

“Great.  Come on by this evening.  I’m smoking up some of the good stuff from my freezer.”

Oh, Me!  “Sure, I’ll be there.”

I’ve eaten, or attempted to eat, just about every kind of meat found in North America, but it was taken by hunting with a weapon (think rifle, bow and arrow, shotgun), not a car or truck.  For some strange reason, Furry Frisbees have no appeal to me.  But I was trapped.  There was no way out of this without damaging our friendship.

I drove to Dale’s place hoping to run over some nails and have several flat tires.  I checked the gasoline in the car, but the tank was full.  I tested the brakes, but they were working just fine.  Why did I have to own a reliable car?  And the road was dry, not wet and slippery.  Where is all the ice and snow when you need it?  Basically I drove there without having any problems at all. 

Dale answered the door, and we went to his back yard where about twenty people with worried expressions on their faces were sitting around staring at the four smokers.  I joined them.  But I have to admit the smell was fantastic.  One man commented he was “standing in the middle of the road” about this meal.

All too soon Dale announced the smoking was done.  He lifted the lid on the first smoker and there was a turkey.  A whole turkey.  It wasn’t flat, and it wasn’t even lopsided.  When he lifted the lid on the second smoker, there were about ten racks of pork ribs.  Smokers three and four contained pork loins and beef briskets.

It was as though the entire world breathed a sigh of relief.  Suddenly all the worried looks disappeared and meaningful conversation began.  Later I asked Dale what happened to the idea of the roadkill barbeque.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that to my friends.  Besides, it always tastes like tire tread.”
 

Rabbit Stew
Serves 8 to 10.

    2 domestic rabbit (or 6 wild cottontails—please, don’t use roadkill)                        
    Kosher salt
    Olive oil for sauteing
    18 white pearl onions, peeled
    1 large red onion, sliced
    1 small yellow onion, sliced
    7 cloves garlic, chopped
    12 allspice berries
    12 black peppercorns
    2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon
    5 bay leaves
    1 small sprig fresh rosemary
    2 tablespoon dried oregano
    8 ounces pitted prunes
    1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
    ¼ cup tomato paste
    8 large tomatoes, skinned and chopped, or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) can crushed tomatoes      
    2 cup dry red wine
    1 cup sweet red wine such as port or Greek Mavrodaphne if you can find it
    1 cup chicken stock (if you just happen to have rabbit stock, use it instead)
    ½ cup red wine vinegar
    Freshly ground black pepper
    Extra-virgin olive oil
    Grated kefalotyri cheese
 
Cut the rabbits into pieces and remove as much meat as possible from the bones.  Cube the meat into bite-size pieces.  Add to the meat any scraps of meat such as the front legs (with bones), belly trimmings, etc. Salt the meat well and set aside for about ½ hour.  Salt the leftover bones and set aside in a separate dish.

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a skillet or sauté pan and brown the rabbit pieces. As each piece browns, move it to large Dutch oven. After browning the rabbit, saute the onions, adding more olive oil as necessary, for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat, until they are beginning to brown. Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Sprinkle with a little salt. Do not let the garlic burn.  Remove the onions to the Dutch oven along with the rabbit pieces. 

Add the rabbit bones to the skillet and sauté until brown.  Remove the bones to a platter lined with two layers of cheesecloth.  Gather the cloth into a bundle and tie the top.  Add this bundle to the Dutch oven.  Into another square of cheesecloth, place the allspice berries, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and rosemary.  Tie into a bundle and add to the Dutch oven.  Then add the oregano, prunes, and artichoke hearts to the Dutch oven.

To the skillet used for browning the rabbit and onions, add the wines, wine vinegar, stock, tomato paste and chopped tomatoes.  Reduce over high heat for about 5 to 6 minutes, then pour the mixture into the Dutch oven.

Bring the Dutch oven to a simmer. Cover and slowly simmer for about 1 hour before checking for doneness.  Then check every 15 to 20 minutes until the meat is almost falling apart.

To serve, remove the two bundles from the Dutch oven and discard.  Ladle the stew into bowls, and give each bowl a few grinds of black pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.  Top with a tablespoon or two of the grated kefalotyri cheese.

Wild cottontails have a little more flavor than the domestic rabbits, but domestic rabbit is more readily available for most people.  Whichever you choose, please, don’t go for the interstate edition.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

2012 Wild Game Feed

Another Annual Wild Game Feed at Irvine Lake has made it into the history books.  As usual it was a great success, and the organizers are to be commended.  I didn’t hear the final tally, but I believe there were somewhere between 1200 and 1300 men in attendance.  It has become normal for the tickets to sell out long before the event, and anyone privileged enough to receive an order form for the tickets is well advised to return it with payment as quickly as it is received.
 
I can’t begin to name all the events that took place during the day, but among the many attractions were an incredible display of trophies by the Safari Club International, a Gatling gun (fired on a regular basis), and a Sportsman’s Challenge with target shooting, archery, and casting.  The only events I participated in were eating, visiting friends, eating, cigars, eating, beer, and eating.
 
Now the countdown begins again for another year.  I can hardly wait.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hubie

I tried many times to have a dog, but for various reasons it never worked out.  One failure that still hurts over 40 years later was Hubie.  I had decided owning a dog was never going to work for me, and I would never own another one.  Then a friend moved away and left me his dog.
 
Hubie was a trained hunting dog.  I know he was a mixed breed with both spaniel and German shorthair, but in spite of having both flushing and pointer in his genealogy, he was most at home retrieving waterfowl.  He and I were good friends almost immediately. 
 
I had rarely hunted birds, and never before had I hunted water birds, but that was about to change.  As soon as the season opened, he and I took the canoe out to the reeds on a nearby lake and when the sun came up, the teal were flying.  I took a teal about 30 yards out, and Hubie climbed over the gunwales to bring it to me.  In about 2 hours I had my limit, and I knew we would be doing this again.
 
The second and third hunts were about the same as the first one, except that there were more ducks than teal, but all I could seem to score on were the teal.  Never the less, Hubie was all I could hope for in a hunting dog.  He and I managed to get in some quail hunting, and he was good at it, but the water was where he belonged.
 
We had time for one more duck hunt before the season closed, and at sunup we were in place among the reeds.  It wasn’t the place we had been on previous hunts, but it was close enough.  The reeds provided a natural blind with just enough space for me to watch the flyway over my half-dozen decoys.  It was a cold morning, but we were as warm as we could get in a canoe.  I had spread out a number of blankets for Hubie to lie on, and I had plenty of towels to dry off some of the excess water he would collect while retrieving my birds. 
 
The birds were there on time that morning.  I sat and watched the first few fly by without taking a shot, and Hubie let out a low growl of disapproval.  I finally raised my twenty-gauge and fired off a shot.  As the bird hit the water, Hubie jumped out of the canoe, and I heard the yelp.  I looked at where Hubie entered the water, and I saw the stick before I saw Hubie and the blood. 
 
As quickly as I could, I moved the canoe a few feet so I could grab onto the dog, but it was too late.  The stick had killed him almost instantly.  Bringing him back into the canoe, I guess I flashed back on all the dogs I had tried to own.  I know I cried.  I think I screamed out my anguish.  Other hunters quickly motored and paddled over to me thinking I was injured, but one look at my dog brought tears to most of them.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one to loose a dog in a similar manner.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beans

When one thinks of Texas (I like to think everyone does), many things come to mind.  It is both a state and a state of mind, and it is bigger than the sum of its parts.  It is said that everything is bigger in Texas, but as any Texan knows, it is the little things that make it big. 

Barbeque is big in Texas, and so are Tex-Mex, chicken-fried steak, catfish, and chili.  But it’s the small things that make these big.  The smoke, the seasonings, the simplicity, the pride (well, maybe that’s a big thing), but the little things add up to something bigger than the sum of its parts, just like the state.  I was thinking about one little thing a few days ago that is so small most Texans take it for granted, but without it history may have been a little different.  It’s the bean.

I’ve heard it said, “all Texans are full of beans.”  And while this is usually not said in a positive manner, I think there may be something to it.  Texas is home to a lot of bean eaters, and there are many ways to cook those beans so the Texans can be full of them.

Beans have long been a staple in mankind’s diet, and all too often beans were the only item in the diet.  Immigrant pioneers lived on beans.  They were easy to transport and prepare.  The cowboys lived on beans.  Farmers lived on beans.  Everyone grew a few beans in their gardens.  Beans were everywhere.  Just add water and heat and dinner was on the way.  Of course, a little salt, chiles, pork, onions, and other things could be added to the pot, but at the bottom of it all, it was a pot of beans.

I believe beans were responsible at times for the direction of history.  Their ease of transport allowed adventurers to travel far and wide.  How much more difficult would the cattle drives have been if beans were not along to fuel the men on horseback?  And what would “Blazing Saddles” have been without beans around the campfire?

Beans can stand alone, or they can be the foundation of something bigger.  They are also at home as an ingredient to another dish, or just sitting on the side of the plate.  Main meal, ingredient, side dish, or garnish, beans are at the foundation of every Texan’s life.  I’m not getting back into the controversy about beans in chili, except to say they are welcome in this Texan’s chili as an ingredient.

When I have a hankerin’ for beans as a main dish or side dish, this is the first recipe I think about.

Texas Beans
Serves 6 to 8.

    1 pound dried pinto beans                                      
    6 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded                             
    3 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
    2 Anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
    6 cloves garlic, minced                                        
    1 large yellow onion, diced                                                 
    1 (14 1/2-ounce) can tomatoes with juice                       
    1 tablespoon brown sugar                                         
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar                                 
    1 teaspoon paprika                                              
    1 teaspoon cumin                                               
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano                                     
    1 cup water                                                    
    5 cups beef broth
    1 cup beer (Shiner Bock is perfect)
    3 cups chopped cooked beef brisket
    Water as needed                     
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste          

Soak the beans covered in water—either overnight or the quick soak method in which you place the beans in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat and let sit for one hour.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans.
 
In a cast-iron skillet heated up to medium high, cook the anchos and guajillos on each side for a couple of minutes (or until they start to bubble and pop), turn off the heat and fill the skillet with hot water. Let them sit until soft and rehydrated, which should happen after half an hour or so.

In the pot in which you’ll be cooking your beans, heat up a teaspoon of canola oil and cook the onions and chopped Anaheim chilies for ten minutes on medium. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Throw the cooked onions, Anaheim chiles, and garlic in a blender and add the tomatoes, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, paprika, cumin, oregano, water and rehydrated ancho and guajillo chiles. Puree until smooth adding more water as needed.

Add the pinto beans, beef broth, and beer to the pot and stir in the chile puree. On high, bring the pot to a boil and then cover; turn the heat down to low and simmer for two and a half hours, gently stirring occasionally and checking the level of liquids. (Do not let the beans dry out or get too thick.)  Stir in the cooked beef brisket. At this point, I check my beans for tenderness as depending on the freshness of the beans I find that the cooking time can be as short as two and a half hours and as long as four hours. When you're satisfied that the beans are done, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve these with chopped onions, jalapenos, shredded cheese (your choice), warm tortillas, red salsa, or just about anything else you want on top.  (I like a couple of big cheese enchiladas with them.)

I gotta go check on my beans.