Monday, April 30, 2012

Anniversary

Today is the thirty-fifth annual celebration of our wedding.  Thirty-five years ago I watched as Rachael walked down the aisle toward me and our future as a married couple.  I was and am one very blessed man.

Life hasn’t always been kind, but it has always been an adventure.  We have had our share of struggles, but together we always managed to get through.  At no time have I ever doubted my decision to enter this union.

Rachael doesn’t hunt or fish.  She doesn’t make saddles, belts, purses, or dog collars, and she doesn’t go shopping in the sporting goods store.  At the same time, I don’t decorate cakes, make crafts, draw or paint, or shop in the floral departments.  However, she isn’t shy about using a hammer or saw, and I like to sew.  I enjoy accounting.  Rachael enjoys graphic arts.

We both like to read and write.  We like to cook and create.  We enjoy long drives, and antique/thrift/junk stores.  We like being with each other and discovering things.  And we’ve never run out of things to talk about.

I’m looking forward to another thirty-five years with this wonderful person.  Thank you Rachael.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Chili Controversy

In “Chili For One” I wrote about my East Texas Chili and how I came up with it, and I’ve received a lot of complaints that it isn’t a “true Texas chili.”  The idea of flavor was first and foremost when I developed this recipe, and I don’t apologize for making a chili that tastes good.  Yes, I added beans and tomatoes, and I call it a Texas Chili.  I don’t call it a True Texas Chili, but I do question what makes a “true Texas chili.”

I was born in Fort Worth, Texas.  I grew up in Texas.  I lived there 26 years before moving out of the state, but I still have family and friends in Texas.  My Texas roots can be traced back to the 1830’s through one branch of the family, the 1820’s through another branch of the family, and there is evidence a portion of my history may go back to the 1500’s.  I believe I have the background to call the chili I developed in Texas a Texas Chili.

My Texas family made chili.  Sometimes it had beans, and sometime it did not have beans.  Sometimes it had tomatoes, and sometimes it did not have tomatoes.  Sometimes it had meat, and sometimes it did not have meat.  Sometimes it was red, and sometimes it was green.  All of it was made in Texas by Texans.

I’ve eaten chili in 48 of the 50 states (I’ve missed Maine and Florida) as well as D.C., and I’ve eaten chili in Canada, Mexico, France, England, Germany, Italy, and Spain.  Some I enjoyed more than others, but every one was worth trying. 

I know about “purists.”  Most of us contain some degree of pride about one thing or another.  Chili purists are no different from Barbeque purists.  (Notice how I spelled ‘barbeque’.)  We all have our likes and dislikes.  That’s what makes for many different recipes.  The beauty of diversity is the escape from boredom and the mundane. 

I do like beanless and/or tomatoless chili as well as beaned and/or tomatoed chili.  I also like it over spaghetti.  I’ve had chili over Fritos, hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, potato salad, and green beans (again, some I enjoyed more than others), but the interesting thing is all of this was in Texas.  In one of the revered chili pots of San Antonio, I had a fantastic meatless chili with beans and tomatoes.  And it was made in the tiny restaurant of a family who were decedents of the original “Chili Queens.”

Chili seems to have originated with the ingredients on hand.  Peppers, fresh and dried, were in most kitchens, as were beans.  Tomatoes grew in many gardens alongside of onions.  Beef was plentiful, and goats were everywhere.  Goats in Texas chili??  Yes.  And good Texas chili at that.  (I’ll write about goats in Texas cuisine another time.)

All of this gets me back to where I started, if it’s not any good, it doesn’t matter if it’s a “true Texas chili,” it’s just not any good.  See “Chili For One.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Moose

I was a bow hunter until I was almost twenty-three years old.  Since I couldn’t own a rifle until my twenty-first birthday (Texas laws at that time), and since I didn’t have an adult over twenty-one to hunt with me, I was restricted to using a bow.  But I didn’t mind.  I was considered to be good with a bow, and after I turned twenty-one and purchased my first rifle, I had the privilege of hunting in two separate seasons.  But I gave up bow hunting after an incident with some wild javalina in west Texas.

Before I retired my bow I managed to take several deer, one elk, one black bear, a bighorn sheep, who knows how many rabbits, squirrels, and other critters including fish, but the one I remember most was the moose.  I had been hoping to make this trip happen for a long time, but I had to wait on two events to come about before I could actually do it.  First I had to turn twenty-one, and second I had to be drawn for a tag.  Both occurred in the same year.

I sent in my out of state application along with my license fee and a few other fees the state of Idaho required many months before my birthday, and since I was to turn twenty-one before the start of moose season, there was no automatic rejection.  By the time the drawing was finally held, I had forgotten about it.  When the tags came in the mail I was completely surprised.

There were still a few months of waiting before the hunt could proceed, but there was also much to do.  First of all there was my job.  I had to arrange for the hunt to coincide with a business trip to the area so to minimize my use of vacation time.  Then I had to study the designated hunt area.

When I looked at the topo map of the area north and east of Coeur d’Alene where I was to hunt, I realized that it wasn’t flat land.  I was by no means out of shape at that time in my life, but I did not spend much time in the mountains where the air is a bit thinner than what I was used to.  So I started training.

The first thing was to arrange my business trips so I would have at least two free days each week to spend hiking.  If the cities I visited were in or near the mountains, so much the better.  I had an office in Denver, so this was a convenient place to be for access to the mountains, but I also had offices in New York City, Dallas, and Chicago.  So I started taking the stairs instead of the elevators.  I placed a backpack in each office, and except for Denver, I filled the packs with bricks.  I did get a few strange looks as I walked the city streets in a business suit and hiking boots while wearing a heavy backpack.  I didn’t care.

Many cities in the west were near enough to some mountains to provide a hiking or backpacking workout, and in the east are plenty of great rugged areas also.  And I made certain I was rarely far from one of these areas.  By the end of the summer I was in the best shape of my life.

Normally I would fly from city to city and rent a vehicle when I arrived, but I was also free to drive between cities if I so chose.  My home was in Fort Worth, and when I was there in August, I decided to drive my car to Denver and leave it there for a few days as I continued my travels by plane.  About two weeks later I drove from Denver to Salt Lake City, and my car stayed there a week or so.  By the middle of September, I had my car in Spokane and it was time to go hunting.  I drove to Coeur d’Alene and made it my base of operations, and then the next morning I drove into the mountains to find a campground.

I had never hunted moose before, nor did I know anyone who had done so.  I wasn’t opposed to using a guide, but I wanted to do this myself.  I had studied moose habitat and sort of understood that moose are where you find them.  The most likely places would be near a lake, pond, or river, but could also be just about anywhere else.  In other words, I didn’t know what I was doing.

The first three days of hunting would have been great if I had been hunting deer, bear, or elk, but I wasn’t.  I was hunting moose.  The weather was clear, the days were comfortable, and the nights were cold, and there wasn’t a moose to be found.  I hiked back to my car, and then drove back to Coeur d’Alene for a hot shower and a good cooked meal.

Just to break up the trip, I stopped into the company store in the city and visited with the store manager.  It wasn’t an official visit; I was just spending some time with a friend.  We talked about moose, needless to say, and he had a few tips.  The first was give up.  The second was to set my bow on the ground and walk about thirty yards away from it.  Third was to take a nap.  In every case a moose was certain to show up.  Thanks a lot.

The next morning I was already a few miles into the mountains when the sun came up.  My car was in a campground where I had staked a claim on an empty spot, and I was not going back to Coeur d’Alene until either I had a moose, or Sunday evening showed up.  I had two more days.

By noontime, I was already working my way back to the campground and had only a mile or so to go.  I came upon a small pond where I leaned my bow against a tree, took off my pack, and pulled out a sandwich.  The day was beautiful and warm, and I was just starting to think about quitting this hunt and going back to work.  Well I finished the sandwich, leaned back against a tree and fell asleep.

I began dreaming about the beauty of these mountains, the flowing waters I had crossed, the deer and elk I had seen, and the snorting.  Snorting?  I opened my eyes, and there was a moose.  It was just as my friend had said, give up, set down the bow, and take a nap.  I looked around for my bow and spotted it leaning against a tree about ten feet away.  Could I reach it without the moose seeing me?  Not a chance.

I eased an arrow from the quiver I had on my hip, jumped up and ran to the bow, fitted the arrow, drew back, and released.  All the while the moose was just watching.  The arrow disappeared into the chest of the moose; the moose looked down, then over at me, and then it turned and ran away.

I followed that moose about four miles before finding where it had fallen.  And it wasn’t before that moment that I realized just how big it was and how big a task it would be to get it out of there.  The four miles the moose had run was all downhill directly away from the campground where my car was.  What to do?

I decided to tag the moose, and leave a note for any passing bears that this belonged to me, and I would be back tomorrow to collect it.  I always carried some bright cloth or rope with me, so I used it to mark a trail as I worked my way back to my car.  At the campground, I loaded everything into the car and drove back to Coeur d’Alene.  It was almost dark when I checked into a motel for the night, but by seven the next morning I was at a stable ready to rent a horse.

I’m glad the old wrangler running the stable had seen this before.  One horse wasn’t enough, and one person wasn’t enough.  He was going with me.  We would take his truck and trailer with four mules.  All he would charge me was an arm and a leg.  At least he would use the moose’s arm and leg as payment.

By noon we were standing by the moose, and thankfully it hadn’t been disturbed.  The night was near freezing, and the moose had not begun to spoil.  It took both of us to gut it and quarter it.  The wrangler asked for the head to mount as a trophy, and I didn’t hesitate to give it to him.  It took all four mules to pack that beast out of there.  Back in the city, we drove straight to a butcher shop that prepared the meat for us.  I presented the tag and antlers to the Department of Fish and Game, filled out the required paperwork, and took the head back to the wrangler. 

All of this took a bit of time, and it was Tuesday afternoon before everything was completed.  I had allowed myself plenty of vacation time for the hunt, but I was hoping to have two or three days left over for some fishing.  As it was I needed to be back on the job in Spokane by Thursday, and the fishing would just have to wait for another time.

The butcher shipped the meat to my home in Texas where for months I either ate or gave away moose meat.  I was glad when it was gone, but I still wanted to go fishing in the area.  By the following summer I had my chance.

When I arrived back in Coeur d’Alene I had my fishing rod ready to go.  I took care of company business the first day I was there, and the following morning I was leaving town for the mountains.  On the way out of town, I passed by the stable where the wrangler was standing out front throwing a rope at a post.  I stopped in.  When I got out of the car, he recognized me and dragged me into his “office” to see the moose head he had mounted on the wall.  Somehow it seemed even bigger than when it was still on the moose.  Then he hung a closed sign on his door, grabbed his fishing pole, and we went fishing. 

I don’t think the old wrangler ever told me his name, but we shared a good time fishing and swapping stories that day.  I didn’t get back to Coeur d’Alene for another year, and when I did, the old man had passed on.  When I went into the stable to find him, the new wrangler gave me the news, and I was saddened by it.  I pointed up to the moose head and mentioned that he and I had pulled that moose out of the mountains almost two years ago.  The new wrangler said he had heard the story a hundred times.  That moose head had been the old man’s most prized possession.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Barbeque

One cannot be a Texan without having a close relationship with barbeque.  I don’t know the official statistics on the barbeque restaurant density as compared to the population mass, but I would not be surprised to discover that it is a ratio of 10:1 with the restaurants representing the larger number.

Fort Worth (my point of origin) was known for its stockyards, and consequently the local restaurants served a lot of beef.  Much of this beef was/is in the form of barbequed or grilled meats.  But almost anywhere in the state barbeque is readily available.

I traveled the country for several years for my employer, and I always sought out barbeque.  Most of the time I was out of Texas, so I decided to sample my way through the different approaches to preparing it in other states.  Was I ever surprised?  But I found out chicken, pork, turkey, mutton, and a few other things can also fit into a smoker, and be worth eating—usually.

To me grilling is not barbequing; however, any number of barbeque restaurants around the country use only a grill.  But to them it is barbeque.  Okay.  They just don’t know what they are missing.  I’ve been invited to homes in Texas where a weekend barbeque is just grilled hamburgers or hotdogs, so I guess the terms barbeque and grill are somewhat interchangeable, but to me there is a distinct difference.

Then there are barbeque sauces.  I’m not much of a sauce person.  When I do have it, I prefer something a bit thin with a peppery/vinegary bite to it.  Unless I’m eating barbeque from somewhere outside of Texas.  That’s when I want a thick sauce, even a sweet sauce.  Maybe I’m trying to mask the taste a little, but that doesn’t stop me from eating it.

The reality is barbeque is where you find it.  Everyone has a regional preference, me included, but I’ll never turn down some else’s preference, especially if they are buying.  And by opening myself to other barbeque sources, I can say what my preferences are based on knowledge rather than regional pride.

With this said, my preference for barbeque is the central Texas style.  There is something called the Barbeque Trail around Austin, and this is a great place to start if one wants good central Texas barbeque.  There are, however, many places that are not listed on the Barbeque Trail, and I have yet to find one that should be avoided.  Then again, never in my travels have I found a barbeque restaurant to avoid, although some may not be my preference, but as I said, barbeque is where you find it.

When I am having a barbeque at my own home, I tend to make brisket.  When I was growing up, the brisket was a cheap cut of beef, and easy to find, and it has a very beefy flavor.  But brisket isn’t the only thing I’ll put on the rack.  Sausages, pork, chicken, turkey, venison, even beans or mac and cheese have been known to spend time in my smoker.  But I’ll take a good smoked brisket before just about anything else.  Here is one of the many ways I handle brisket.  Warning:  It’s not fast food.


Smoked Brisket

    1 whole beef brisket (10 to 12 pounds), untrimmed
    ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
    ½ cup coarse salt
    ½ cup coarse ground black pepper
    ½ cup ancho chile powder

Score the exposed fat on the brisket with a sharp knife to make a ½-inch crosshatch pattern.  Using a pastry brush, apply the balsamic vinegar to the fat, covering evenly.  Cover the brisket with plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Mix together the salt, ground pepper, and chile powder to make a rub.  Remove the brisket from the refrigerator, uncover, and pat the dry rub onto all surfaces of the meat and fat.  If there is any left over, just apply to the fat.  Recover and place back into the refrigerator overnight.

Early (very early) the next morning, remove the brisket from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature while preparing the smoker with an oak and/or pecan wood fire.  (Alternatively, prepare a charcoal fire and add oak and/or pecan chunks that have been soaked in water about 1 hour.  Replenish the wood chunks each time additional charcoal is added to the smoker.)  When the smoker has reached about 225F, unwrap the brisket and place on the grill rack, fat side up, as far from the heat source as possible.  Maintain a temperature of 220F to 230F for about 8 to 9 hours.  Remove the brisket, wrap in aluminum foil, and place back into the smoker for another 3 to 4 hours, maintaining the 220F to 230F temperature.

Again remove the brisket from the smoker, unwrap and separate the top and bottom layers.  Rewrap the individual layers in foil and return the top layer to the smoker for an additional 2 hours allowing the fire to die down.  The bottom layer should remain wrapped in foil, and wrapped again in a thick towel, and allowed to rest at room temperature about 30 to 45 minutes before slicing and serving.

When the remaining top portion of the brisket is finished, remove from the smoker, wrap in a thick towel, and allow to rest about ½ hour before unwrapping, thinly slicing across the grain and serving.

Enough said.  Time to eat.