Sunday, November 30, 2014

Success Is Number 547

Congratulations to Number 547 for completing National Blog Posting Month 2014, the ninth consecutive November for this blog.

Hey, that's us!

It's a warm Sunday afternoon.  Kink is sound asleep on my lap.  He's melting ... melting!  Hot, limp cat draped over me.

The grits were good today, said the non sequitur.  No, seriously, the grits were good today.  Not too salty.  I tell you, over salt the grits ONE time in 30 years and suddenly you're this guy:

That's right the Salt Monster from the original Star Trek, "Man Trap."  Hey, it's not really a monster, it's just drawn that way.

Yes, I over-salted the grits and I nearly had my millionth batch of grits perfectly cooked.  Now, the counter has been reset to 1.  I'll put a sign in my kitchen -

Number of Days Since Over-Salted Grits:  1

Over-salting was just too easy.  I was thinking "pasta" when I dumped in the salt.  I knew it was too much but the evil part of my mind said, "So what?" and I carried on.  Big mistake.  I went from George Clooney stunt double to the Salt Monster in one fell shake.  Literally.

Today, much chastened from my previous neglect and failure I measured out the salt in my palm like I always do.  No dumping.  Just a careful, precise-ish, half-teaspoon give or take a grain or two.

So, that's it.  End of the month.  End of NaBloPoMo.  And the end, hopefully, of the Salt Monster.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Home Again

As Dorothy said, there's no place like home.

We had a great Thanksgiving in New Mexico and my next turkey will be covered in green chili and cheese, but there's no place like home.

We arrived to a darkened house, but the mailbox was empty telling us that the neighbors had been doing their duty, and were greeted by our faithful cat, Kink, who was very, very, very happy to see us.

After a quick run to the grocery store and a light dinner we settled down for a few quiet moments before our eyes started to sting, Kink started to whimper and kick his cat dream that we realized it was time to call it a night.

Clean up can wait until the morning.  All is well in the house and it was a great start to the holiday season.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Bubba Gump That Turkey

"My given name is Benjamin Buford Blue.  People call me Bubba."

One of the best scenes in Forrest Gump is Bubba telling Forrest Gump all the ways to serve shrimp.

You can boil it, fry it, sauté it, grill it, make kebobs, gumbo, soup, orange shrimp, coconut shrimp, shrimp sandwich ...

On and on for several scenes until Bubba pauses and says, "I think that's all."

Here we are the day after Thanksgiving and we're thinking about, cogitating, noodling, pondering and rubbing our chin whiskers on how to Bubba Gump that turkey.

We could make sandwiches, whip up a turkey-egg-mayo salad, concoct a curry or just eat it off the bone like wild animals.

We could do a soup, a bisque, a gumbo, a hotpot, a goulash or with white wine and mushrooms.

Turkey pot pie, turkey shepherd's pie, turkey Irish pie, turkey apple pie - er, no - or turkey surprise pie (warning: contains apples).

Stacked turkey slices with gravy, turkey with warmed stuffing and cranberry sauce, or turkey in the smoker for 10 minutes just to give that "is this smoked?" flavor.

Turkey enchiladas with jack cheese, lettuce and sour cream, or turkey empanadas or turkey tortilla wraps, turkey tostadas or turkey nachos with cheese and jalapeños.

Turkey risotto, turkey spaghetti - both white and red, turkey ratatouille and turkey je ne sais pas!

All Bubba Gumped out we settled on a family favorite:

Turkey Tetrazzini or as I call it being a chemist and all, Turkey Tetrachloride.

Here's the basic blueprint:

Set the oven to bake at 350.

Shredded turkey
Cooked spaghetti
White sauce made from butter, flour, white wine and cream.
Mushrooms, sliced
Toasted almond slivers
Parmesan cheese

Toast the almonds in a pan or oven.  Sauté the mushrooms.  Make the white sauce.   Add the mushrooms, almonds and turkey.  Adjust the mixture with cream so it's a bit sloppy.  Butter up a casserole dish and toss in the spaghetti.  Cover with the turkey sauce and stir it up a bit.  Grate a generous amount of cheese over the top, and if you like (I like!) stir it in a bit and add more on the top.

Put in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.

Serve with copious amounts of wine, salad and garlic bread.

Bubba would be proud.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Old Generation, New Generation

Today is Thanksgiving and I've been giving some thought to the calls I've received recently.

"Hey, Dad, how do you make sausage rolls?"

"Hey, Dad, can you send me the recipe for cornbread stuffing?"

"Hey, Dad, how do you do Thanksgiving in London?  They don't have the right stuff."

That's the New Generation starting their own family traditions, borrowing from old family traditions. The holiday season is all about food.  Food is what brings a family together and family food traditions are very strong.

I remember the year I suggested we do goose or pork or fish or something, anything, but turkey for Christmas.  The cold, stony silence was quite enough to tell me that turkey it was, lots of turkey, in fact, a Giant Macy's Parade sized turkey!

Some traditions you just don't mess with.

More flexibility and acceptance was to be had with side dishes.  We've cycled through "dirty rice" stuffing, candied yams, green bean casseroles, grilled yams with chipotle sauce, Brussels sprouts in many forms and all manner of experiment both failed and successful.

But, as we did many years ago, each family will develop their own traditions sacred and profane to themselves to be honored and handed down as "tradition" to families of their own.

Back in the day we had cookbooks and recipe cards.  We had a three-ring binder with clippings, recipes from newspapers and handwritten notes.  Our first few Thanksgiving meals were prepared by memory, guessing and following instructions from venerable sources like Gourmet Magazine,  the Southern Living cookbook and the Good Housekeeping cookbook - great references even today.

And, today, cookbooks have been replaced for all intent by the Internet where one can find a dozen recipes for any dish in seconds.  Yet, for all its power Internet recipes lack the human touch.  The details that turn a meal into a great meal, a memorable occasion.

How do you know when the pastry is "right?"  Well, you touch it like so and if it reacts like so it's ready.

How do you know when the turkey is done?  Well, you wiggle the leg or stick the instant read thermometer right here and check the temperature but also look at the color of the juice that comes out.

What's the best recipe for pecan pie?  Simple, it's on the side of the Karo Syrup bottle.  Deviate from that recipe at your peril.

Thanksgiving dinner has always been more about family than recipes.  Thanksgiving is about being together, working together and culminating in a celebration of togetherness regardless of the turkey or side dishes.  It's the process, not the product that's important.  It's all about fun, chaos, bellyache laughter, disasters, stories and perhaps a calamity or two, that at the end of it all, it doesn't matter what's on the table so much as what's around the table.

Family.  Old generation.  New generation.  Passing it forward.

I wouldn't miss it for anything!

Bacon, My Bacon

I'm always looking for new ways to enjoy bacon.

At the Savoy de Mesilla in Las Cruces, New Mexico, what was there on the menu but this -

Bacon Wrapped Dates

To be honest it could have been "Bacon Wrapped Anything" and I would have ordered.  The description went on to say that the bacon was "jalapeño flavored" meaning it would be a little spicy. My imagination shifted into high gear.  Sweet, succulent dates wrapped in salty, spicy, crisp bacon.  What was not to like about that combination!

For years bacon was just bacon, although calling bacon "just bacon" should really be a crime.  But, that's the way it was.  Bacon at breakfast, fried and served with eggs, pancakes or waffles (or all three!), or bacon crumbled on salad which in my humble opinion is a waste of perfectly good bacon.  For sure the bacon looks good on lettuce's CV, but not so much lettuce on bacon's.

Anyway, getting to the chase the presentation was outstanding and the bacon wrapped dates were even better.  See for yourself.

A less glamorous but as addictive bacon treat was discovered earlier in the year at the Silver Fox in Casper, Wyoming.  The menu read -

Bacon Knots

"What are bacon knots," I asked the waitress innocently?

Her eyes rolled back in her head, she started to make gurgling noises and drooled a bit just before going into a Meg Ryan impression from "When Harry Met Sally."  You know the one, don't pretend you don't.

After she regained consciousness she began to describe with all the tenderness and love of recounting her first kiss in the 8th grade with Lance how thick-cut bacon was literally tied into a knot, dredged in brown sugar and baked in the oven until done.

She was still in a trance when I asked, "Overhand?"

Returning to the Land of the Living with a visible startle she looked at me and said, "What?"

"Overhand," I repeated, "is the bacon tied with an overhand knot?  Or do you tie two rashers together with a square knot?  Ever tried a bowline?"

She looked at me as if I were from Mars speaking Sanskrit and said huffily, "A knot.  Just a knot.  Do you want to order some or knot, I mean not?"

Yes, please, we said and make it a double.  I refrained from making a double-knot pun because I had used up all my Good Will tokens.

Moments later our bacon knots arrived and we were not disappointed.  The bacon was cooked to perfection and the brown sugar had left just a hint of a glaze.  They were not too sweet at all and I could see doing bacon knots with a sprinkling of cayenne pepper or chipotle chili powder.

The surprise was the knot.  I wondered why bacon wasn't simply dredged in brown sugar and cooked in strips.  However, there was something about eating the knot that was magical.  It was like eating something bacon wasn't supposed to be.  Bacon could be a strip, wrapped around something or crumbled, but not served in a "chunk" like a knot.

It seemed a little naughty or "knotty" to throw out one more bad pun.  The bacon knots disappeared quickly but "knot" before I managed to preserve one for posterity.

I give you The Bacon Knot -

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stuffing the Stuffing

It's two days to Thanksgiving and all the talk around the table is about food.  Not the food we're eating or the food we ate during the day, but the food we're going to eat in two more days.

Stuffing about stuffing.

Is the cornbread baked?  Do we have the pecans and celery?  What about the pies?  Can we stuff the pies into the stuffing?

And so it goes.

I can't imagine the first Thanksgiving went like this.  Did the Pilgrims fret about celery, pecans and stuffing, or were they more worried about getting through the month without starving?

I think the first Thanksgiving was much less prepared.  More like a pot luck dinner or a dinner party than a grand event.

"Hey, Martha, I sort of invited a bunch of Iroquois on Thursday to share grits."

"What, Walter, I have nothing to wear!  How could you?  And grits?  We can't serve our guests grits.  Go get some yams or something."

Somehow I don't think Martha and Walter had "conjugal relations" that evening.

Monday, November 24, 2014

House Full of Conversations

Is this my boarding pass?

Here are the apples.  The oven is on.

I'll clear the dishes.

What time does my flight leave?

Cinnamon, who wanted cinnamon?

I think I'm going to get that Mustang.  It's really cool.

Your flight isn't until Friday.

I found the foil, is the oven on?

Seven minutes at 450 will work.

We'll need some more pies if we eat this one.  I'm going to eat all this pie.

We're good pie makers.

We can take the leftovers and cover them in cheese.

We'll need more cheese.

We need celery, no, not for the pie.  For the salad.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Land of Enchantment

New Mexico is called the Land of Enchantment.

For me that means two things:  Mexican food with lots of local peppers, and cats.

Tonight I settled on beef flautas with green chili sauce and for the cat a local named Zoe.

The food was outstanding and the cat tolerated my presence in her universe.

So far, so good.

Saturday, November 22, 2014



Oh, the King.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Only Temporary

Eons ago, 15 years to be exact, we had a party at our house and decided to move the big Klipshorn speakers into the "Family Room."  So far, so good.

However, the Klipshorn's are "corner" speakers that require a corner to sit in.  Surprisingly, most houses today don't have two corners for such speakers.  Thus, we had to improvise and put one speaker in a corner next to the stereo unit, and the other speaker wayyyyyy across the room AND across an opening.

What to do with the wires?

Duct tape!  Yep, duct tape solved the problem of people tripping on the wires and provided a "temporary" solution for the next FIFTEEN YEARS.

Yes.  Monster Cable was duct taped to the floor in our house for FIFTEEN YEARS.  Actually, after a few days you hardly notice it, aside from the daily complaint of "When are you going to do something about those duct taped wires?!?"

Soon, I would reply, giving me another year or two grace.

Well, finally, we had our floor replaced and the contractor said, "I can hide those wires," and so he did.

So.  He.  Did.

All hail the contractor!

Look, Ma, no wires!  But, great sound.  Astounding sound!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Carpet Out, Wood In

The great floor renovation project continues.

Today, the wood was laid in the Master Bedroom which previously had carpet.  Here's the progress:

Lots of sawing, whacking, hammering and more hammering going on late into the night.  Don't these guys ever sleep?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Whack and Done

The great floor project continues with great progress.  Now that the floor is leveled and then environmental conditions are right, the wood goes down.

Like this:

Bang, bang, I laid it down.
Bang, bang it went down pound!
Bang, bang I laid those floorboards down.

Now the floor is down and level
We'll have a party, drink and revel
The old floor is a memory
And now we'll have a big par-TEE!

Bang, bang we laid it down
Bang, bang it went down pound!
Bang, bang we laid those floorboards down.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scrape and Goop

The great floor replacement project continues.

Today was filled with scraping bits and pieces off the old floor, sweeping and cleaning the dust and junk, and spreading leveling goop to make the floor flat.

The light pattern is from the front door reflecting off the wet floor goop.  The best part about the floor project is that I just get to watch.  That's a good thing since I have no clue what's going on.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Visit From Shiva

Shiva the destroyer visited my house today - by invitation.

My "hardwood" floors were deteriorating rapidly and I decided to replace them.  How could hardwood floors deteriorate and why couldn't I just sand and refinish them?  Well, they aren't exactly hardwood floors.  The "hardwood" is engineered by layering a hardwood veneer on a couple of layers of plywood.  Once the veneer goes bad such that sanding would expose the underlying plywood, it's not possible to apply a proper stain and finish.

Sadly, the floors were refinished about five years ago, but that application failed as you can see in this photo of the floor protected by an area rug.

The floor is not only faded and dull but if you could see it closely the veneer has degraded and pitted to a large extent.

The floor was removed by three strong, young men wielding large hammers and a nail bar, and it came up surprisingly easily.  Whack, rip, and there was a pile of rubble where once a floor lay.

Once picked up and brushed up the rooms were ready for new wood to be laid down.

Thus ends Part 1 of the renovation project.  Stay tuned for Part 2.  And 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and ...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back to Gilwell

Gilwell Park is a tract of land donated to the Boy Scouts in England for training and to serve as a base of operations.

The first adult training course now known as Wood Badge was held there in 1919 by Robert Baden-Powell himself.  Since then, thousands of Wood Badge courses have been conducted around the world.   Each Wood Badge course becomes Gilwell Field representing the original park where Baden-Powell held his first course.  Below is Gillwell Field at Camp Strake near Houston, Texas.

Alas, Camp Strake has been sold due to the encroaching of development in the area.  Surrounded by houses, roads, railroads and a nearby intercontinental airport, Camp Strake is no longer a place to "get away from it all," rather it's in the middle of it all.

So, the camp has been sold and this weekend was conducted the last Wood Badge course ever at Camp Strake.

This property of trees, trails, lakes and wildlife will become a network of road, houses, malls and traffic congestion.

It's very said, but only a reflection on our society and how it grows.

I'm privileged to have spent the final weekend at a Wood Badge course at Camp Strake, in the cold, clean air and still calm of dawn's light.  Farewell, Camp Strake, you leave memories with me forever.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Cat

Kink is sitting on the table.   There he is.

Kink is cool and unmoved by current events.  He's the Cat.

And There He Is.


Friday, November 14, 2014


Back in the ancient days, and I'm sure some food historian is going to correct me, and that's fine, but back in the ancient days of my childhood there was only one kine of peppercorn:  black.

You had black peppercorns for your grinder or grind black pepper in a shaker.

Black.  Nothing else.

Not so today.  Today we have a plethora (love that word!) of pepper options:  black, white, pink, green, red and shades in between.

Now I have in my house a variety of pepper grinders each filled with their individual delicacy.

My favorite?


Yep.  After all that my favorite is just plain black peppercorn.

I don't know why I bothered buying all those other pepper mills.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

OMG, Tommy Is Dead!

Tom Magliozzi has died.  Click or Clack of the Tappet brothers has died.  I don't know which one it was and I'm sure he would have wanted it that way.

Click and Clack have been part of my live for over 30 years.  I love "Car Talk" the NPR radio program and I would catch it usually on a Saturday morning when I was en route to some event, usually Scouting related.  Coming or going to a campout or some other activity.

Car Talk is, hands down, my favorite NPR radio program (unless I write about another favorite program!) because it combined comedy with facts and that's an important component to life.

Comedy and facts.

Fact:  You're going to die.

Comedy:  Die laughing!

So, to Tommy, don't drive like my brother and to the other Clacker, Ray, don't drive like my brother.

Loved you both.  Best wishes going forward.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Kat Toy Snax

I don't know the name of the marketing genius who came up with the idea of "Cat Toy Snacks," but the guy clearly has never owned a cat.

Here's the blueprint:

Cat Snack in the shape of a little ball that the cat will "play" with before eating.

Around here we call those things "lizards" and they're not round.

Seriously, marketing dude, my cat is going to "play" with a snack before snarfing it down in loud, greedy, crunchy chomps?

No.  Freaking.  Way.

Here's how the "Cat Toy Snacks" went down.

"Come here, Kink old buddy, I've got some snack-o's for you!"


"Here they are.  Play with them then eat them."

Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.  Crunch.

No play.  None at all.  Not even any interest in play.  No batting them around.  Just crunching.  And more crunching.

Cat Toy Snacks?  I think I hear the sound of a cat snack marketing guy getting fired.

Now, round Tater Tots?  Yeah, I'd go for those!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It's a good year for squirrels. By that I mean the trees are dropping nuts aplenty and the squirrels are bigger and more numerous than I've ever seen them.

Also, the squirrels seem to have figured out how to dodge cars - less squirrel pelts on the road.

Today I noticed a particularly large squirrel today climbing the big oak tree in the front yard.  He had a mouth full of nuts and was grabbing more and was so heavy that the branch he was on nearly touched the ground.

Happy squirrel.

I also noticed around the lawn a bunch of acorns.  Clearly the squirrels had a lot of work to do to get that mess cleaned up.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Porky Stewy Thing Revisited

OK, here's the blueprint:

Pork chops or sirloin slices or pork whatever, chopped
2 onions, chopped
1 bell pepper, any color, chopped
5-6 tomatillos, chopped
4-5 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded
can of any bean, optional
some chopped carrots
chicken stock, or Knorr stock cube 
time - about 2 hours.

Put everything in a pot and cook it for two hours.  Spice it up with garlic powder, cumin and chili powder if you like.  Or not.  Salt to taste.

That's it.  Two hours is the main ingredient.  Just let it simmer on low and you have dinner.  Serve with toasted tortillas and vast quantities of red wine.

You can thank me later!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Polar Express

Or Vortex.  Or whatever it's called.

"Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's coooooold out there today!"

Groundhog Day.  A favorite film of mine.

Cold weather.  I love cold weather.  You can always get warm in cold weather but it can be a problem getting cool in hot weather.   That's my view and I'm sticking with it.

When I lived "up North" I used to get LL Bean catalogs about this time of year advertising all manner of flannel.  Why flannel has to come in red/black/yellow checks I have no idea, but I loved the thought of warm flannel on a cold day.  "Up North" we got the LL Bean catalogs starting in August which, I think, it got cold up where LL Bean lived in Maine.  "Down South" of "Up North" where I lived any signs of winter didn't appear until nearly Thanksgiving, not Labor Day.

Still, it was great to look at all the warming things I could buy.  Flannel coats, flannel shirts, flannel socks and so forth.  I bought them all and couldn't wait to break them out at the first sign of the temperature dipping below 80.

Moving along, we moved to the Deep South where LL Bean is more a legend than a clothing outlet and stories of cold revolve around the day Grandpa wore socks with his sandals.  Why, you'd have to live in a meat locker to wear flannel.

The newspapers would report, "Man wearing flannel shirt dies of heat exhaustion."  Terrible would it be.

So, the LL Bean catalogs simply stopped coming.  For years I was deprived of super models wearing ear-flap hats, long flannel shirts and boots.  Oh, the humanity!  It's simply too hot down here for flannel, super models or not, and sales must have been suffering so much the the old Beans just gave up on us.

Until this year.

I was amazed to find a flannel-filled LL Bean catalog in my mailbox just the other day!  Glorious flannel bikinis, tank tops, t-shirts, shorts and scarves.

Well, it appears that LL Bean has been watching the Polar Vortex and, yes, it's going to get chilly-willy down here in Bayou City.

Flannel time!

That remains to be seen.  Meanwhile, I think I have some old LL Bean flannel socks tucked away deep in a sock drawer and I might haul them out.

Meanwhile, LL Bean, could you do a few more photo shoots with your flannel super models?  Just a suggestion.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Up and Back

The drive up and back today wasn't too bad.

The drive up was about 40 miles in the early morning and there were reports of road works, but I got a tip to take the Krufker Express to Tollway and south to Jefferson and west to Ella and home free.

That worked.

Word came later that the road works announced earlier wouldn't start until night so it was clear sailing down the Beltway to home.

That worked.

So, up and back both worked for different reasons.

I drove about 100 miles today just to do some teaching and inspiring and stuff like that, and I often drive farther and longer to do the same thing.

But think back 50 or 100 years and that would have been a several day trip.  Who traveled 100 miles, round trip, in a day?  Nobody!  That was insane.

Not to say that what I did today was not insane!  That's something to ponder

Friday, November 07, 2014

Stuck in Traffic

Whenever I travel in a new city I always enjoy the traffic reports even though they mean totally nothing to me.

This report makes sense to me because I've lived in Houston, Texas for nearly 20 years:  the Gulf Freeway is backed up all the way down to NASA One and traffic is normal around the Loop with some congestion at 290.  Coming in from Katy it's backed up at the Beltway but clear to the north.  Time from The Woodlands to downtown is about 45 minutes.

OK, that report covers a lot of Houston which is approximately 60 miles by 60 miles square.  Yep, it's that big.  On a good day it takes you an hour to cross Houston east to west or north to south.

It takes some time here to learn the short names like "Loop" and "Beltway" and where they are in reference to other parts of the city.  Katy is to the west, The Woodlands are in the north and NASA One is down south.  So, if I hear that the Gulf Freeway is backed up ... who cares!  I live in the southwest and it doesn't affect me at all.

And that brings us to a "foreign" city.  The traffic reports are the same and sound like this to me:

Oh, don't get on the Krufker Parkway this morning, it's a par-KING-lot.  Better to take the 20 down to Planters and across to the Parker and up the 9 to 10 and merge to 70.

Uh, right.  Where am I, Siri?

*boing*  Where am I Siri?  I don't recognize "Where am I Siri."  I suggest you are in a certain creek without a paddle.

My advice is to stay in the center lane, follow the big truck about half a mile ahead and when he changes lanes, you change lanes.

Krufker Parkway?  Really?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Back to Pork

Well, I got the word that beef tomato sauce dishes were out and something else had to be in.

Sorta vague.

But, looking  back over 30-plus years of cooking I realized that I had fallen into many ruts.  There was the Chicken Kiev rut.  The Beef Bourgeon rut.  The Dirty Rice rut.

Each rut a nice place to be but not nice to be for too long.

Apparently, I'm in a "tomato sauce" rut.  Whoa!  What?  I love tomato sauces!  They're the basis for many recipes including chili, curry, stew (previously touted!), spaghetti and many, many other dishes.  How could tomato go so wrong?

Well, it's because tomato-based sauces became the staple rather than the exception.  They became stale, not fresh.  Ordinary, not exciting.

So, how to address this dilemma?  Obviously to embark on a bunch of non-tomato recipes until tomatoes are back in fashion!

That shouldn't take more than a decade, right?

We'll start tonight with pork chops in wine sauce with cream and mushrooms.  I think this is going to be a winner!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014


I struggled with smoking meat for many years.  Too hot, too cold, too smokey, not enough smokey - it was a mess.

Then I stumbled on the secret:  the CookShack smoker.

Smoking angst done.

Put the stuff in the smoker, press the ON button and wait 6-7 hours.

Today was an example of that.  I smoked 6 lbs of salmon with hardly any effort.  I just brined the fish filets, patted them dry and put them in the smoker with some chunks of apple wood.  Six hours later the perfectly smoked and salted salmon came out to great acclaim.

I'll freeze them in small portions for future enjoyment.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Ewwwww, Stew! (Not!)

Not to criticize my Mother, but I will her cooking.  Now, all of us revere our mother's cooking because that's all we knew.  But, as a student of cooking and a spawn of my mother's cooking I feel I can be some authority about the things she got wrong.

Like most things.

Now, my mother was known as a "good cook" and possibly a "great cook" but if there was a recipe that was received by the family as, "Ewwwww, stew!" then it requires a more detailed analysis.

Why "Ewwwww, stew!"  I think it stems from the thin sauce, scant spices and general tastelessness. 

I know, that's harsh.  But, my Mom served a thin gruel when it came to stew.

What astounded me about this whole thing was my immediate success at making my first stew by simply following a recipe from Southern Living Magazine!  How simple is that?  I just followed the recipe and the stew came out saucy and meaty and flavorful and spicy and all the things that the stew of my childhood lacked.

So, there you have it.  Rebellious son disses Mom's stew.  Headlines everywhere.

I think where my Mom went wrong was not giving the stew enough time to cook.  I won't imagine her constraints on time because I was a kid and not privy to the adult conversations at that time, but I think it was simply not enough time.

If you give a stew about two hours and let the ingredients cook together and simmer then you will have a successful dish.  If you try to hurry it - disaster.  Thin, weak, tasteless and what I remember having as a kid.  Maybe there just wasn't time back then.

Now that the weather has turned and it's November I'll be doing a beef stew, and I'll let it simmer on low for at least two hours and I'll adjust the spices just so and add a grate of nutmeg at just the right time.

Because, you see, beef stew in November is a comfort food.  It's the sort of thing you look forward to, not go, "Ewwwww, stew!"  No, there will be none of that Ewwwwww-ing in my house.

And I'll bake a batch of scratch biscuits to prove it!

Tincture of Time.  That's what a good stew takes.  A rich, thick meaty sauce chock full of vegetables is just what the doctor ordered for a cold-day meal.

Monday, November 03, 2014

RIP Sandy the Cat

Sandy the cat died this year.  He was 21 hooman years old.  Sandy was a friend to all - people, kids (who aren't really people, right?), dogs, other cats and, well, everybody.  Sandy was truly a friend to all.  The one characteristic that universally stood out with Sandy was his Purr.  He had a great Purr Box that could be heard across a room, through walls and beyond.  It was loud, it was heartfelt, it was genuine and it was Sandy.  Everybody who met Sandy would exclaim, "Oh, what a loud purr!"  And that was Sandy.

Sandy got lost twice, both times after a move.  The first time Sandy got lost he went down a storm drain as he had done many times - in a different town - and got lost in the subterranean labyrinth.  We thought he was lost forever, but a month later he returned home, thinner, dirtier but happier.

The second time was after we moved from the "drain" house to a new house and Sandy went walk-a-bout and didn't return home for several days.  Then, one evening, we had a knock on the door and there was this young woman, a veterinarian student, with Sandy in tow.  She was on her way home, stopped at a stop sign and noticed this cat sitting on the corner looking lost.  She pulled over and found that he had a collar and tag.  She called us up to say she had "Sandy" and we directed her the few blocks to our house.  He never got lost again!

In his final years, Sandy got more feeble, unable to jump on chairs or climb stairs.  He spent his time sleeping, eating and puttering around the ground floor.  In his final days he slept a lot and finally just stopped.  I found him lifeless on the kitchen floor by his food bowl looking fast asleep but that long, long sleep we all will enjoy when our time comes.  Sandy's time came and he peacefully slipped into the next realm where he is undoubtedly chasing mice and birds and eating Kat Chow.  RIP Sandy.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Sour Dough Starter

Some many years ago I started a Sour Dough Starter and it was active for about 7 years.  Then we moved and I never got it going again.

I love sour dough bread, rolls and pancakes but it takes some time and preparation to make.   In ye olde days the starter was made by combining a ball of dough with a little milk or just water, covering the ball with a cloth and letting it "ferment" in the kitchen.

In modern times a sour dough starter can be made with a packet of bread yeast, nonfat dried milk, flour and a jar, but the basic idea of letting yeast grow in dough and using that to seed a loaf of bread.

Annual Cold?

I just reviewed my 2013 NaBloPoMo postings and learned that I had a cold this time last year.  Well, hello déjà vu, my old friend, I'm here to comfort you again.  Yep, two weeks of sudden sniffles, scratchy throat and the kind of stuff that drives you to Nyquil-ville.

Not bad, though, one mild cold in a year.  Could be a lot worse.  I survived the Flu Attack of 1991 and still remember that episode:  hunkered under the covers, talking to the doctor on the phone such that he said, "Uh, don't come in, OK, I'll just drop some antibiotics by parachute and you'll be fine ... or not."  Sage advice.

Speaking of sage advice I once got some advice from a doctor that I clearly misunderstood, that caused great hilarity in a certain pharmacy and I'm sure they still tell the story.

During an annual physical I mentioned that my wife was in the throes of a flu attack and sneezing, coughing, stuffed up, aches and pains and all the stuff associate with a flu attack, or flu-like.  I asked if there was anything I could do to help relieve her suffering.

He told me, "Tincture of time" but what I heard was "Tincture of thyme."  I was not aware of the idiom at the time but I proved myself an idiot of the time a few minutes later at the pharmacy.

After perusing the shelves and discovering Tincture of Clove, and Tincture of Garlic and Tincture of Mint, I was unable to find Tincture of Thyme, so I went up to the pharmacist and asked him, "I'm looking for Tincture of Thyme, do you have any?"

The pharmacist looked at me for a long time and finally said, "We're fresh out.  Come back in a week."

There was something about the look on his face, the twinkle in his eye, the smirk on his lips, the suppressed guffaw in his throat that indicated to me that I had been had by the Second Oldest Trick in the Book.

On the way home my poor brain figured it out and I had one of those "D'oh!" moments.  Not the first, not the last.

And the Oldest Trick in the Book, according to the popular commercial is, "Lookest over there.  Ha, I madest thou look."

Yeah, there is an oldest trick in the book.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

NaBloPoMo 2014

Well, it's that time of year again.

It seems like yesterday that it was that time of the year again:  National Blog Posting Month.

Write a blog post every day during the month of November.  Simple, right?  Yeah, well look at this blog.  I've definitely fallen off the wagon with just  few postings the entire year.  Pitiful.  Like last year I could blame Facebook, Twitter, Vine - oh, look a squirrel - and a host of other distractions but the bottom line is lack of discipline and dedication to the art of writing.

It takes some effort to write every day and I greatly admire my author friends who write from 10 to noon, or 5 to midnight, or 3 to 4 AM - or whenever on a regular basis.   "That's my writing time.  I never miss my writing time," they coo.  Alas, I am way too easily distracted to adhere to that kind of structure.  As a professional procrastinator I have enough projects that have ripened to the point of rotting that my life is anything but structured.

Write a blog posting?  How about that messy garage, sure could use some straightening up!

Write a blog posting?  Ugh, have you seen the office, that round table has had stuff sitting on it for TWO YEARS!

Write a blog posting?  Oops, need to go to the grocery store and pick up dinner.

And so it goes.  (Thanks, Kurt.)

Every year I say, "This year is going to be better, different," and each year is more or less the same, playing catch up, running around, and, you know, that garage is still a mess and the stuff on that round table will sit there another year.

I think it boils down to committing to a task.  Commitment.  I'm pretty good about that once I set my mind to it.  I guess the problem is that I don't set my mind too often or maybe to the right stuff.

So, here's to NaBloPoMo 2014.  I've been doing this since the project started in 2006 and never missed a year, never missed a day.  At least in November.

Now, only if we had NaGarTidyMo I might make a dent in that garage mess ...