Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Old Badgers

In my young adult days I was standing in the right place at the right time to get a promotion at the company where I worked.  It wasn’t just any promotion, it was a big promotion.  I jumped from a local department manager to a national corporate manager by being in the physical line of sight of one of the big wigs in the company when he decided he needed some help.  I had no idea of what I was getting in to, but I was able to keep the position for almost seven years before seeking another life.
 
Due to the position, I was expected to be in each of four offices around the country at least twice every three weeks, and the rest of the time I spent on the road (or in the sky) among more than seventy territorial offices, and whenever I could spare the time, I was to visit the individual company stores.  Since I was almost completely in control of my own schedule, I was able to take “down time” just about anywhere I wished, and I used my “down time” in the best hunting and fishing areas I could find.
 
Hunting was never at the top of my list of things to do, but I did hunt a few times each year.  The basic problem was that hunting usually took more than a day to accomplish, and it almost always required “tags” to hunt what I wanted to hunt.  More often than not, I wasn’t successful when the drawings occurred, but luck was there from time to time.
 
One year I drew a deer tag for Colorado, but I missed out on the elk tag.  Oh well.  I took some of my down time in southwest Colorado in the rough Uncompahgre National Forest area and started my hunt.  I hiked about six or so miles from the campground into the wilderness where I came upon an old barbed-wire fence (in Texas we would call it bob-war).  It was mid-morning and warm so I sat down and leaned back on one of the fence posts to look out across the large mountain meadow in front of me.  I guess I was tired and fell asleep, because the next thing I knew a foot was nudging me in the side.
 
The game warden said he was just testing to see if I was alive.  Apparently I gave him some cause for concern.  He checked my rifle to see if it was loaded, chambered, safety on or off, etc., and I passed the exam since I was still carrying the rounds in my pocket instead of the rifle.  Then he asked if he could sit down and have some lunch with me.  That got my attention.  I checked my watch and realized I had been asleep at least three hours.  We had lunch.
 
Just as we were finishing up, I noticed a movement at the far end of the meadow and motioned to the warden to take a look.  Neither of us could see it clearly due to some shadows, but he encouraged me to load up and use the scope on the rifle.  I did, but it wasn’t a deer.  Instead it was an eight by eight elk.  It was beautiful, but I didn’t have the right tag, and I was sitting beside a game warden.  I handed the rifle to him to look at it, and he sat there looking at it no more than four seconds before he pulled the trigger.
 
I didn’t quite know what to do.  He handed me back the rifle and thanked me for the opportunity to harvest such a trophy.  We found the elk within twenty feet of the impact point, and it was just plain big.  The warden had some kind of a portable two-way communication radio with him, and he used it to call for help.  About forty-five minutes later, another warden with a 4 x 4 pickup arrived, and we winched the elk into the bed.  It was about that time I realized these wardens had done this before.  Now I was thinking I had better disappear before someone decides I shot the elk.  But before I had a chance to run, they drove away leaving me to my own fate.
 
Not all down times were as exciting, and few were more than just a day or so visiting the great open cathedral we call nature, but another instance comes to mind where I took a day to go fishing.
 
I was at one of our stores in Minnesota, and the store manager asked if I would like to go fishing.  The store sold licenses, so I was ready in less than an hour.  We traveled to a nearby body of water that covered maybe ten to twelve acres, and there we threw our lines in the water.  He was a fly fisherman, and I was a wannabe, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for lessons.  Instead I used the spinning gear I always packed for my travels.  I don’t know if there were any fish in that pond, or just why we chose it in the first place, but it wasn’t work, and you know what they say about the “worst day fishing…”
 
We had been there about twenty minutes or so when we heard a racket just to the north of us.  Looking over that direction, I spotted the first badger I had ever seen outside of a picture book, zoo, or taxidermy shop.  It was actually fun to look at until I realized it was mad at me.  Apparently I had invaded its territory.
 
Reggie the store manager said that these things usually won’t try to out run us, and if we just move away it will settle down and leave us alone.  So we moved about fifty yards or so to the south.  About ten or fifteen minutes later the hissing and racket returned.  We looked up to see the badger had not given up on us.  So we moved further south and around the westward turn of the pond.  This time we were about one hundred or more yards from the critter.
 
One hundred yards wasn’t enough.  The old badger was relentless, so we moved on, this time circling around to the northwest corner of the water, where we were left in peace for about an hour.  But the peace was again disturbed, and we circled back to where we started.  When we heard the hissing again, we decided it was time to leave.  At this point one would think the badger would give up, but one would think incorrectly.
 
Reggie and I returned to the store, where we discussed business for a few hours, and then we walked over to a restaurant for dinner.  We returned to the store for another hour or two of discussions before he started to take me to my hotel for the night.  When we walked out to his car, the two rear tires were flat.  He called the car club he was a member of and soon a tow truck was there to do some tire repair.  When the first tire was pulled off, the repairman commented that we must have hit something hard to knock such a piece of the tire off.  The second tire had the same problem, but this time, caught in the cracked edges of the ruined tire was a large tuft of badger hair.
 
I had a good laugh over this, but Reggie did not.  At least not until I had him put two new tires on my expense account.  I figure that the work accomplished after the few hours of fishing was far more than if we had worked the entire day, therefore, the new tires could be justified by the time savings.  Well, that’s what I told Reggie.  When I got back to my main office in Chicago a few days later, I wrote a check to cover the tires.
 
My boss didn’t understand.  All he could comprehend was that I had used the expense account to cover personal expenses.  He backed off some when he found out I had already written the check to reimburse the company, but he didn’t let it go.  As the months went by, he would still remind me about it from time to time.
 
Almost two years later I found myself back at Reggie’s store and of course we went fishing.  Needless to say we went back to the same pond, but this time we caught a few fish, and we heard no hissing.  We laughed and joked about the badger the entire time we were there until we decided to go back to the store.  When we got to the car, the two rear tires were flat, and crawling off into the brush was the butt of our jokes from the last few hours.
 
I guess some old badgers just can’t take a joke.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Marfa

Somewhere around sunset I was having dinner at a small café in Marfa, Texas when an old cowboy came in with a bottle of his favorite beverage in a brown paper bag.  The older lady who had waited on me immediately grabbed a big wooden bean masher and informed him in rapid fire Spanish he was leaving right now if not sooner.  With that she snatched the bag from his hands and threw it out the front door toward the street, and then marched the man out the door with the bean masher held up in a very threatening manner.  This is how I met Carolina Borunda Humphries.
 
My cousin’s family had a ranch in west Texas where he and I spent a little time hunting for dove, deer and, at one time, a mountain lion.  It wasn’t too far (maybe 30 miles) from the small town of Marfa where one of the best cafés on this earth stood for most of the 20th century—The Old Borunda.
 
I don’t know just how accurate this is, but I have read somewhere the cafe was started in 1887 by Tula Borunda Gutierrez and in about 1908 it was rented to Carolina Borunda a sister-in-law.  In 1938 the café was passed on to Carolina Borunda Humphries, the daughter of Carolina Borunda.  And in her hands it thrived until 1985 when a family illness forced the doors to close.  When those doors closed, an era ended, but Tex-Mex is alive and well because of this small café.  Many Tex-Mex historians point directly to this establishment as the point of origin for this gastronomical phenomenon.
 
The town of Marfa lives on today to a certain extent because of James Dean and the movie “Giant” filmed in part near the town.  Many of the Hollywood stars of the day stayed at the Hotel Paisano, and that was my hotel of choice also, but not because of the stars, it was because of room availability the first time I was in town.  There were other places to stay, but the Paisano was the only one with a vacancy the first time I was there.  They gave me the “James Dean” room.  Okay, it was just a room, but apparently James Dean slept there.  So did I, so why didn’t they rename it the “David Lloyd” room?  I need to talk to them about that.
 
Marfa is known for another happening.  It’s called “the Marfa lights.”  Who knows what they are, but they are the subjects of endless speculation.  These same blueish lights could be seen at my cousin’s ranch, or so he said.  I never saw them.
 
Many times I’ve thought back on the four times I ate at the Old Borunda.  I believe it was truly the center of the Tex-Mex universe when Carolina Humphries was the owner/cook, and maybe that’s what the lights are about.  Maybe some space aliens are out there searching for a great stacked enchilada with a fried egg on top.  I know I’ve never had a better one anywhere.
 
I won’t even try to copy her version of the enchilada.  Others such as Robb Walsh have done a wonderful job of keeping Carolina’s legacy alive, and I could do it no justice.  Therefore, here is my recipe for Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas.  These enchiladas were a favorite of mine before visiting the Old Borunda.
 
Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
Makes 6 servings, or 4 large servings, or maybe 2 really large servings.  One?

4 Anaheim chiles
3 jalapeno chiles
4 medium tomatillos
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or more as needed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
8 ounces sour cream
2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cooked, cooled, and shredded
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
12 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Longhorn or Colby cheese             
 
Under a broiler or over a gas flame, roast the chiles until blackened and blistered, turning every few minutes.  Place in a tight sealing plastic bag and let stand 15 to 20 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, peel off the blackened skins and discard.  Remove the seeds and stems and discard.  Chop the remaining chiles.  Should measure just under 3/4 cup.  Husk, rinse and chop the tomatillos and add to the chiles.
 
Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame and add the onion to the pan.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the garlic and continue to cook about 1 additional minute.  Sprinkle with the flour, and stir for about 1 minute.  Add the chiles, tomatillos, cumin, coriander, salt, and chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and allow to cool at least one hour, and three is preferable.
 
When cool, puree until smooth.  Use batches if necessary.  Remove 3 cups of the mixture to a bowl and set aside.  To the blender add the cilantro and the sour cream and puree to make the sour cream sauce.  Set aside.
 
To the 3 reserved cups of puree, add the shredded chicken, and chopped medium onion, and mix well.
 
Preheat oven to 350F.
 
Wrap the tortillas in a damp cloth and heat in a microwave until soft. Pour about 1/3 cup of the sour cream mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place 3 tablespoonfuls of the chicken mixture in each tortilla, roll up and place seam side down in the baking dish. Pour remaining sour cream mixture over all and top with shredded cheeses.
 
Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for about 1/2 hour.  Serve hot and bubbling.
 
It doesn’t hurt to have a James Dean movie playing on the television.
 
I know I’ve said many times that everything is better with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.  This may be one of the few exceptions, but I’m not willing to find out.