Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bear

In the early morning hours of a wet, windy day, I realized I needed to make that trip everyone has to make in the morning after waking up.  I was high up in the Uncompahgre Wilderness area in southwestern Colorado, and even though it was the middle of July, it was quite cold in addition to being wet and windy.  Oh, did I mention the early morning hours were well before any hint of daylight had arrived.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag, tossed aside the blanket lying over the bag, and I pulled on my moccasins.  I figured my long johns were just fine for the short trip I needed, and besides, I wasn’t planning on doing much before returning to the tent.  The tent had an inner zipper and a tie down flap over it, neither of which I bothered to close while making my run to the nearest tree.

I was delayed only a few moments before making my return journey of about 30 feet, but when I returned to my tent, it had a new occupant.  It seems a rather fuzzy brown critter about my size had decided my blanket and sleeping bag inside the tent was much better than the cold rain outside.

I’ve encountered bears any number of times over the years, but I never had one decide to sleep in my tent before.  Once in New Mexico I had a bear climb up a tree and jump out from one of the branches to catch my food bag while falling to the ground.  I let him keep it.  I had a bear sitting with his back against my car door when I returned from a pit stop along the side of a road in eastern Tennessee.  I yelled at it and threw a stick its direction, and it just wandered off.  While fishing in the mountains above San Bernardino, California, I looked up to see a bear on the other side of the stream about the same time he saw me.  Each of us just backed away.  At least another dozen times bears have entered my realm of awareness, but never before had I faced a situation like this.

I considered beating on the sides of the tent with a stick and yelling at it, but I decided that having a tent between me and an angry bear wasn’t enough of a barrier.  I considered lighting a fire and trying to smoke it out, but 1) my lighter was in my pants pocket in the tent, and 2) it was raining.  I resigned myself to waiting it out.  Then I began to wonder just how late does a bear sleep?

It stopped raining just at dawn, and within minutes the sky cleared and the temperature dropped to the point I could see some ice forming in places.  I was huddled against a tree with a thick layer of pine needles and grass piled over as much of me as I could manage. It didn’t keep me dry, but it helped retain some heat in my body.  Actually, it wasn’t too bad, except for being wet, cold, and miserable.

I had placed my tent near the west end of the small clearing so the sun would strike it as quickly as it made appearance, and within minutes of the arrival of the first rays of light, the bear came out of the tent dragging my blanket with him.  I watched as the bear returned to the tent to retrieve my sleeping bag, which he laid alongside of the blanket.  Then he stretched out over the two items, and went back to sleep in the sun.  Great!

I waited for a few hours until the bear awakened and wandered off into the woods to do what bears do in the woods before I crawled out of my nest of pine needles.  I was only a few minutes getting cleaned up, dressed, packed and into my backpack ready for the trail when I heard a snort behind me.  I turned to see the bear again.  This time he was looking a bit confused.  Where was the shelter?  And where was that warm bedding?  And who was this person with the big hump on his back?

The bear turned around and disappeared back into the woods, leaving me with just a memory.  But what a memory.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lazy Day Beef Ribs

I like beef ribs a little more than pork ribs.  Trust me, I will never turn down pork ribs, but give me a choice and I will take the beef.  This is mainly due to growing up with more beef than pork available on the dinner table (not that there was ever very much of either one).

Mostly dinner beef consisted of hamburger, but occasionally (every few months) whole cuts appeared on the plate.  Steak wasn’t common, and I assume it was because I was a kid, and the best cuts went to the adults.  The first time I had steak I believe I was 8 or 9 years old.  My parents started talking about it a week or so ahead of the dinner when I was to get my first taste of it, and they extolled the virtues of the steak in great excess.  I couldn’t figure this out, but I guessed it must be something out of this world.

I came into the house on Saturday evening expecting my first steak dinner, but the smell from the kitchen worried me a lot.  My first thought was that something had rotted in the trash.  Soon my mother came out of the kitchen and noticed me sitting on the sofa reading.

“The steaks will be ready in a few minutes.  Go get washed up for dinner.”

Everyone gathered at the table and I was handed a plate with my steak on it.  I didn’t remember any piece of beef looking like this before.  It was sort of fried and covered with onions and gravy.  And the smell!  Ugh!  But I took a bite.  That was the worst thing I had ever put into my mouth.  I couldn’t eat it.  Needless to say I was in trouble.  I could either eat it or go to bed early and hungry.  I went to bed.

About a year or so later we visited some family friends and steaks were on the grill.  As soon as I heard we were having steaks, I wanted to go home.  Oh, how I wanted to go home.  I didn’t care what anyone thought about my actions, I wasn’t going to eat that steak, and I was going home.

Well, I was forced under threat of a major whipping to stay and eat that steak.  And to my surprise, it looked good, it smelled good, and it tasted good.  What happened?

Later that evening I commented about the difference in the steaks.  I heard some grumbling from my parents but little else.  The next day I was told that what the friends had served was actually liver and not steak.  Well I decided I liked liver.

A few months later, we went to a restaurant where liver was on the menu, and I ordered it.  I remember the waitress giving me a strange look, and I remember my parents looking at each other as though something was dreadfully wrong, but no one stopped me from placing my order.  And when the liver came to the table, I was horrified.  They made a mistake, I didn’t want steak, I wanted liver, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything else.

Finally the truth came out.  My parents had thought I would eat the liver if they called it steak.  They didn’t expect to go somewhere where an actual steak would be served to me, and when it happened at the home of the friends, they weren’t certain of what to say or do, so they let me believe the steak was liver.  Then I ordered the liver at the restaurant.  Well, it was time to fess up.

I didn’t trust them for a long time because of this, and I didn’t eat steak for a long time either.  By the time I was an adult, my tastes had changed a bit, and I was now including liver in my diet every 15 or 20 years, and steak was something I found I could enjoy more regularly, but for most of my teen years, I stayed away from either of them.  Beef, for me, meant brisket, roasts, hamburger, or ribs. 

The beef rib is a Texas favorite, but honestly, it takes a lot of work to do it up right.  Not to mention the time.  Granted, it’s worth it, but sometimes I’m busy, and I don’t have the time to fuss with the fire and smoker all day.  My goal was to have tasty beef ribs without making a mockery of the Texas classic, so I went another direction, and the results are outstanding.  And they cannot be compared to the barbequed version.  They stand on their own.

Lazy Day Beef Ribs

Serves 4 two times.  Or 1 eight times.

    3 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
    3 dried Guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
    1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, stemmed and seeded
    2 tablespoons adobo sauce
    2 ½ cups water
    1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
    4 cloves garlic, chopped
    2 tablespoons dark honey
    Juice of 1 lime
    8 big meaty beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
    1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon coffee crystals
    1 cup beef broth

Rinse the chiles (except chipotle) under cold running water, and then place in a medium bowl.  Cover with boiling water and soak until softened, about 30 minutes; drain saving the liquid in another bowl. Transfer all of the chiles to a blender with the onion, garlic, chipotles with sauce, honey, lime juice, and about 1 tsp salt and puree until smooth.

Pat ribs dry and season with 2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown ribs in batches, turning occasionally, about 5 to 8 minutes per batch. Transfer when browned to large (6 quart) slow cooker. 

Very carefully add chile purée to the fat in the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the reserved chile soaking liquid, coffee crystals, and beef broth, and bring to a slow boil.  Reduce the chile broth by about one quarter of its original volume, and then slowly pour over ribs (liquid should come about halfway up sides of meat).

Turn the slow cooker on High and cover with the lid.  Go do something else for about 5 to 6 hours.  Or turn the slow cooker on low and do something else for 10 to 12 hours.  Either way, when ready to serve, remove the ribs from the cooker to a platter and keep warm.  Skim the fat from the pot juices and reduce in a saucepan on the stove.

Serve over some mashed potatoes, rice, polenta, or grits.  Add a couple of big cheese enchiladas on the side and this meal will be hard to beat.

I’ve noticed these ribs are better on the day after making them, and better still after waiting another day.  Better than liver any day.