I have to admit that I have never attended a Burns night celebration. Just what is Burns night? Why it’s just the celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s poet laureate, Robert Burns.
Rabbie, as he is known, is probably best known for Auld Lang Syne, which is traditionally sung on Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve as we Americans know it.
Robert Burns (25 January 1759 – 21 July 1796), also known familiarly as Rabbie Burns, the NationalBard, Bard of Ayrshire and the Ploughman Poet and various other names and epithets, was a Scottish poet and lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He is the best known of the poets who have written in the Scots language, although much of his writing is also in English and a light Scots dialect, accessible to an audience beyond Scotland. He also wrote in standard English, and in these writings his political or civil commentary is often at its bluntest.
He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement, and after his death he became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism, and a cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish diaspora around the world. Celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries, and his influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. In 2009 he was chosen as the greatest Scot by the Scottish public in a vote run by Scottish television channel STV.
Of course, the traditional meal served at a Burns night dinner is haggis, neeps and tatties. So what are these foods?
If you don’t know what haggis is, that may be a good thing. True haggis is illegal in the USA due to some of the organs used in the traditional recipe. The joke is that a haggis is a small furry creature found in the highlands of Scotland. The legs on one side of it’s body is longer than the other side so it can run around the mountain side. Funny, but not true. Click the link above to see what it really is. I don’t know if the haggis we had in Scotland was traditional or not, but I really enjoyed it. Wifey, not so much. Neeps are mashed turnips and tatties nothing more than mashed potatoes. The neeps and tatties are not to be cooked together. And don’t forget the dram of Scotch whisky!
Rabbie so enjoyed haggis he wrote a poem about it. It’s in the old Scot’s language so don’t expect it to understand it. This Wikisource page has the English translation.
“Address to a Haggis” (1787)Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,Painch, tripe, or thairm:Weel are ye worthy o’ a graceAs lang’s my arm.The groaning trencher there ye fill,Your hurdies like a distant hill,Your pin wad help to mend a millIn time o need,While thro your pores the dews distilLike amber bead.His knife see rustic Labour dight,An cut you up wi ready slight,Trenching your gushing entrails bright,Like onie ditch;And then, O what a glorious sight,Warm-reekin, rich!Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyveAre bent like drums;The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,‘Bethankit’ hums.Is there that owre his French ragout,Or olio that wad staw a sow,Or fricassee wad mak her spewWi perfect scunner,Looks down wi sneering, scornfu viewOn sic a dinner?Poor devil! see him owre his trash,As feckless as a wither’d rash,His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,His nieve a nit;Thro bloody flood or field to dash,O how unfit!But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,The trembling earth resounds his tread,Clap in his walie nieve a blade,He’ll make it whissle;An legs an arms, an heads will sned,Like taps o thrissle.Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,And dish them out their bill o fare,Auld Scotland wants nae skinking wareThat jaups in luggies:But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,Gie her a Haggis
Pipers welcome guests to the dinner, and then after dinner a ceilidh (dance) begins.
The piping in of the haggis and the Address to a Haggis. (I would turn the volume down if anyone is sleeping or you’re in a public place). The pipes are not appreciated by everyone, sadly.
As opposed to hot potato, or even Hot Tuna, the late 60’s spin-off of Jefferson Airplane…
Now that you have no idea where I’m going with this; Welcome! I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post either. In essence I came here to talk about food. And by food I mean hot tomatoes. And by hot tomatoes I mean they ain’t my favorite.
When I was a kid, I enjoyed spaghetti. Not so much any more. My tastes have changed quite a bit over the years. I just don’t care tomato sauce all that much. I will eat it (except for sloppy joe’s – I cannot stomach those), but I prefer my tomatoes raw. And that goes for the majority of my veggies as well. Give me a salad, tacos, a sandwich, gyros (please more gyros), with nice chunks or slices of fresh tomato and I’m good. Throw them in a pot and turn up the heat and I’m going to the (beer) fridge to see what else I can find.
Even pizza! Yes, I know; I’m a geek. Pizza is supposed to be my main food group (along with Doritos and Mountain Dew). I don’t really care for any of those things. But give me a pizza that doesn’t have “red sauce” (Hello Mellow Mushroom’s Holy Shiitake!) and I’m down with that.
Son-the-younger (a.k.a. son-the-chef) makes a wonderful veggie sauce that uses tomatoes as it’s base. But there are so many other veggies in it the tomatoes aren’t so strong. We’re lucky that he’ll make a big ol’ pot of it and we can freeze several quarts for later use.
Not only has my tomato taste changed, so has many other foods. As a kid I would never eat brussel sprouts, asparagus, avocado or even broccoli. Now I eat them all. Again, preferably raw. Wifey makes this amazing dill dip that is so good on raw veggies (and chips, and grilled cheese sammies). There are so many nights that she and I will have fresh veggies and dip as our vegetable for dinner. I’m sure I make up for the calories that I save with the veggies with the amount of dip. Not that I use that much dip per piece, I just eat that much! Portion control is not my strong suit.
Funny story – the first time I had dinner at Wifey’s house (before we were married), my wonderful mother in law asked my if I wanted “a slice of pear”. “Sure” I said, “I like pears!”. Next thing I know I have a very large slice of avocado sitting in front of me. I look at it dumbfounded. “Uh… That’s not a pear” I say as respectfully as I could. Dear ol’ mother in law comes back; “Yes it is. It’s an alligator pear!” “A what?” I exclaim. “That’s an avocado. Not a pear!”. Needless to say, I had never heard the term alligator pear. I had to politely refuse said “pear”. Then sweet mom hit me with her all important question; “Have you ever tried it?”. Her one rule was you had try whatever food she was offering before you can say you didn’t like it. There were many dinners at her house where I had a spoonful of something I had never tried before. I learned early to say that it was something new, just a spoonful, please. I miss her.
I also have a good story where I turned the tables of trying new things on her. But that’s another post..
Here’s one of my guitar gods, Stevie Ray Vaughn doing Mary Had A Little Lamb. ‘Cause lamb is food, and this is a food post.. So it fits.. Kinda?
Well, here I am, two weeks into my semi-retirement. Just so you know, I have not been sitting on my ass the entire time. Mainly because I can’t sit for all that long, nor stand, nor lay down for that matter. The herniated discs in my back have not improved as I had expected.
And, since this is Veteran’s Day weekend, we have our annual “smoke out”. We used to do this twice a year, at Memorial Day as well, but we had to cut one out. Just too much work, and too expensive. As usual, we’ll have about 25 folks show up. Some driving an hour or so just to hang out with us. I consider this an honor and privilege to host these folks. Son-the-elder will not be joining us this year as he is still overseas with his Army unit. It’s also granddaughter-the-younger’s birthday celebration.
I have also been doing physical therapy three times a week in an effort to get my back and legs stronger, so that I can handle smoking all that meat overnight Saturday and most of the day Sunday. It’s been mixed results, as this week has been a very difficult week with a high level of pain. But between the doctor, my wonderful tech lady, Wifey and doing my exercises and stretches, I feel much better today. The jury is waiting to hear the complaints after this weekend..
I’ve also been trying to do some more of the home repairs/upgrades we started a couple of weeks ago. That is slow going for me, but I do what I can and take a break to rest my back and legs. Much to Wifey’s surprise and delight, I do the basic housecleaning (sweep/mop/etc..) during the day as I can. I am still looking for a part time job to both supplement my income and keep me from going stir crazy. I can only sit and do nothing for so long. I’ve already read three books down my down time.
For now, my beer costs have not gone up. I am doing my best not to start drinking at lunch every day. And so far, that has held true. But “watch this space”. One thing that has gone up is coffee. When I was working I would normally have just one cup at home in the mornings and then drink the job’s coffee. Now it’s my usual four cups every morning. And we won’t get into weekend consumption when both of us are hitting the brew hard.
So, today while making lunch for the crew today, I saw this on the bag of fries;
You don’t normally see a temp of 420. 425, 450, or 350 are the usual settings. So I asked Wifey, how do you think they came up with 420? Was it years of testing? Trying all the variables of times and temps? I would love to have seen the lab records…
“Tried half a bag @350 for 1 hour. Still soggy, inedible. Gave to the dog. He wouldn’t eat them either.”
“Tried half a bag @475 for 1 hour. Had to call the fire department. Dog howled at the sirens.”
“Tried half a bag @475 for 30 minutes. Dog chipped a tooth on them.”
“Tried half a bag @350 for 90 minutes. Same as last attempt. Dog afraid to try them.”
“Gave up and ate them frozen. Dog is very pissed.”
But what I think really happened was like this.
Tech 1: “Let’s try half a bag @420.”
Tech 2: “420? Who the fuck cooks at 420?”
Tech 1: “It’s 420. Get it?”
Tech 2: “Huh??”
Tech 1: “420 – you know.. As in.. (points at baggy in lab coat pocket).”
Tech 2: “Ah… Yes, they’ll eat anything after that shit!”
OK, maybe not. But it could have happened at my house!
It’s like the story that sharks don’t eat people because they don’t like the way we taste. Now who the hell did that taste test? I say it went like this;
Scene: Two labs techs stand by a large pool with a great white shark swimming in it.
Tech1: Throws in a chicken and watches while the shark eats the chicken.
Tech 2: Writes on clipboard; “Shark likes chicken”
Tech 1: Throws a pig into the pool, watches while shark eats the pig.
Tech 2: Writes on clipboard; “Shark likes pig”
Tech 1: Pushes a cow into the pool. Shark eats the cow.
Tech 2: Writes on clipboard; “Shark likes cow”
Tech 1: Thinks for a moment, pushes tech 2 into the pool. The shark bites Tech 2, but doesn’t eat him/her.
Tech 1: Writes on clipboard; “Shark doesn’t like humans”
Actually, the shark was full, and was hoping for some ice cream.
No? Then let me tell you a true story. Yes, really. This is true.
When we lived in Alaska our neighbors called us the “ethnic family”. Not that we were “ethnic” (whatever that means). After all we are your basic WASP. They were referring to our eating habits. If you follow me on Twitter or better yet, Instagram (links at the bottom of the post) you know we eat from just about every “ethnic” group out there.
One guy in particular, “Long John” asked almost every night; “What are you making tonight?”
“Don’t you guys eat normal food”? He would ask…
Now, to be honest, those pictures are not from when we were in Alaska. They are much more current, but that’s what we ate then and now. We have stepped up the game since then tho..
And seafood, of course. This is #Floriduh after all.
And I haven’t even started on the grilled and/or smoked stuff!
Both of my faithful readers, along with those that follow me on Twitter and the FaceBook (links are at the bottom of every post folks), know we like beer. A lot. Although we usually go for US craft beers, and even then specifically local brews, we are not above some of the mass produced stuff either. But before you go and think we’re drinking the big brews we all know (and hate), we do our best to avoid anything from the really big guys; ABIn-Bev (Budweiser and such) and the Miller-Coors group, among others. As far as I’m concerned (Wifey wisely is not chiming in on this topic), all that those guys produce is yellow fizzy water. Or, if you prefer cougar piss.
One of the mass produced beers we do like is Modelo. And yes, sadly, it’s owned by ABIn-Bev. </sigh> We prefer Negra Modelo, but even Especial is nice.
So what am I getting at here? (Yes he’s off on some tangent again…) Well it’s this. Modelo has taken a very macho stance in it’s current advertising. They’ve been using UFC fighters, futbol (soccer for us Americans) teams, and now this. As a wimpy old fat guy, I guess I don’t fit their profile. Wifey was the one who saw this commerical and said “We can’t drink Modelo anymore. We’re not fighters”.
Well, I’m not changing to Corona (Mexican yellow fizzy water). Guess we’ll have to sneak our Negra’s. And to really screw things up, with our “Cuban” dinner tonight (Citrus Skirt Steak, Yellow Rice and Black Beans, with an Avocado Salad, I’ll have a Warsteiner Pilsner.
No, this is not some half-assed attempt to get Modelo to send me free beer. It’s a full-assed attempt. Please make this go viral so they send me FREE BEER!!!
Now, I am not all that picky an eater. At least, not anymore. There was a time when there were lots of foods I wouldn’t eat. The majority of those foods are no longer in that category. Liver, however, is still at the top of that list. Yet, I like haggis. I’m going to blame this on preparation and presentation. Not to mention the cultural impact of a dish like haggis. I had an open mind that I wanted to try it when we took our vacation in Scotland a few months back. (You did read those posts right? If not, here’s the first of the series.)
One of the things that Wifey and I enjoy at times, actually as often as possible, is appetizers for dinner. Breakfast for dinner is another fav. We like that the portions are smaller and there are several choices available to share. We usually go out to enjoy this, but last night I decided we’d do it at home.
Just your basic spinach and blue cheese dip and a shrimp stuffed portobello mushroom. Sorry for the lousy picture of the mushroom cap, but Wifey was elbowing me out of the way to start eating.
The biggest problem that I’ve come across as a “foodie” is a general dislike of “fast food”. I basically refuse to eat at the usual places, McDonald’s, Burger King, Chick-Fil-A, or even KFC. So, where’s a guy to eat a quick lunch? Arby’s is a passing choice, but even Subway or other sandwich shops are unappealing to me. I do my best to make enough dinner to bring leftovers for lunch, but there are many nights that we skip dinner entirely, or like last night just make “tapas” kind of dishes that don’t leave much for leftovers.
If you saw my post the other day (this one), I am happy to report that this morning I caught the little froggie and released her to the front yard. She (Wifey insists on calling the froggie a “she”. I didn’t know how to go about asking a froggie which gender he/she may be. I’m not even sure if froggies have a gender discrimination group or not.) had been hopping around under the kitchen sink for over a week, we first saw her last Wednesday, 14 August. There was a great chorus of froggies when I left for work this morning. I’d like to think they were singing my praises. Not likely, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I’ll leave you with this video that has no bearing what-so-ever on this post. But it’s my favorite Van Morrison song, and I heard it on the way to work this morning (after the froggies finished). I suggest you turn it up loud and let the music envelope you!
Today would have been Julia Child’s 107th birthday (15 August 1912 – 13 August 2004). Wow! Where does the time go? My grandmother, Nanny, and I used to watch her shows often. But I must admit I much preferred Graham Kerr and The Galloping Gourmet. Most likely it was the accent. Julia was a bit hard for my young ears to understand.
Specifically, two ladies that gave me a love of good food and how to prepare it.
Those two ladies, are my paternal grandmother “Nanny” and my great aunt (my maternal grandmother’s sister), Arline. I’ve mentioned Nanny several times before on this blog, so I will start with Aunt Arline.
Just about every year of my childhood we would all pile into the family station wagon (mom always drove a station wagon) and head out to visit mom’s family in South Carolina. We would leave way before the sun came up and drive the 14 or so hours straight through, stopping only for gas, restroom breaks, and a quick meal. Since this was before I-95 was completed, we had to travel the entire distance of the Florida Turnpike. The turnpike is, without a doubt, one the most boring drives in America. Flat and straight, and the same damn trees the entire way. Since it runs through the middle of the state, there aren’t even any alligators to break up the monotomy.
But it did have well maintained and clean rest areas. Several of them, such as the one at Fort Pierce, even had full service restuarants. Dad wouldn’t dare pass up that rest area. It was a great place to gas up the car and fill our bellies as well. The only other stop would be somewhere in Georgia at a Stucky’s for the filling up of both car and kids.
Finally arriving at our destination of Marion, SC things would go downhill quickly as all the cousins showed up. Many days were spent running around in the yards of various family members; especially Aunt Arline’s yard. You do remember Aunt Arline right? This part of the post is about her.
She had a pond in her back yard. I wasn’t allowed to go down to the pond by myself. My mom couldn’t swim and was deathly afraid I would fall in and drown. And with good reason, as when I was abvout 5 I did fall into a pool at a friend’s house; and if it wasn’t for my brother who noticed my struggling to get to the side of the pool and jumped in a brought me safely out of the water, I probably would have drowned.
Out of that pond Aunt Arline would catch some little brim or sunfish. She would scale and gut them, then fry them whole. Remember, this is South Carolina in the 60’s. Damn near everything was fried. I will admit that at first I didn’t even want to try a whole fried fish (I means bones??). But one of my uncles showed me how to open them up and get to the good stuff. I was hooked after that – bones and all. Aunt Arline also had a cage that she kept crickets in for bait. She would somehow catch these crickets by hand! I never did figure out how.
So, let’s talk about Sunday dinners at Aunt Arline’s. There would so much food! There isn’t a buffet around that could compare. Of course there were, at times, 20 or so of us eating. I was not allowed in the kitchen then. That was all the women. My mom, her sisters, my older sisters and some cousins that were old enough handled all the cooking. The “men folk” sat out front talking weather, politics and such. My cousins that were too young to take part in the serious talk would be outside playing in the mud, trying to get down to pond, and just basically getting into trouble.
But then, those magic words – “Dinner is ready”! Naturally, we all had to wash up, which took quite some time since there was only one bathroom we were allowed to use. But by the time the kids got to our table, our moms would have a plate ready for us.
And what a plate! There would be at least three kinds of meats; ham, the fish she caught, and my all time favorite – fried chicken. Fried chicken is still my most favorite meal. Many times there would also be a turkey or a beef roast! Then there would be so many veggies – all fresh. Lima beans (another of my favorites), corn, black-eyed peas, collard and/or mustard greens. Then mashed potatoes and rice. Three kinds of bread – cornbread, dinner rolls, and just plain white. Three or four sticks of real butter would be placed around the tables, along with the usual vinegear for the greens, and if needed, condiments to make sandwiches. One thing I don’t remember is ever seeing a “garden salad”; you know lettuce and chopped veggies. But I don’t think I missed it. To this day, I still don’t care for greens.
We would sit around and eat and drink (Carolina Sweet Tea) until we couldn’t move. Then at some secret signal (unknown to “men folk” and kids), out of nowhere large white bed sheets would be used to cover everything up. Nothing put into little plastic containers that go “burp” when you do that other secret thing men folk are not allowed to understand. Nothing even close to a precaution except keeping the bugs off (and kids out).
Then, at another prearranged secret signal the sheets would be taken off and everyone would sit back down and eat. Remember, this is the 60’s in rural South Carolina. Microwave ovens are still a good 10 – 15 years away from general use, so everything was at “room tempature”, whatever that is.
Now, I had no issues with the meat not being reheated. And as much as I love mashed potatoes and limas, I balked at eating them cold. This was where the sandwich fixings came in for me. But mom still wasn’t happy. I had to have a “balanced meal”, meaning veggies. But I would not eat them cold like that. So Aunt Arline came up with a fix. She would take a big helping of the limas (she knew I would eat them all), toss them into a small pan with another stick of butter (Paula Dean has nothing on my family), and heat them up for me. Such a sweet lady! I would then take the entire pot of butter and beans and pour it over a mound of mashed potatoes or rice, depending on which I could get my hands on. Guess it’s not really odd that the majority of my mom’s family died of cholestrol issues, and that I fight that myself.
Let’s switch gears and sides (in a civil war theme). Obvisiouly, my mom is from South Carolina. The little town her daddy’s tobacco farm was in, Fork, is no longer there. She couldn’t remember exactly where the town was but believed it was swallowed by Marion. And that’s where Aunt Arline lived, Marion, South Carolina.
Dad, on the other hand, was from central Pennsylvania. I joke we had the civil war in our house growing up. Mom was a southerner and grew up Baptist. Dad, a yankee (and a damn yankee at that), grew up in a Methodist church. After WWII they settled in the south (if you can consider Miami part of the “south”) and went to a Methodist church. Best of both worlds?
Nanny (again, you do remember Nanny, right? This part of the post is about her), was an exceptional lady. She was widowed at the age of 34 in 1919. Dad was all of 6. She never remarried. From 1919 until she came to live with us about 1968 or so, she was out on her own. She spent a lot of time going between Pennsylvania and Florida, playing the snowbird roll, before she stayed permantly. This was mostly before my time and when I was an infant, so I don’t really remember it.
What I do remember is her cooking. We may not have had the big ol’ spread that we had in South Carolina, but the quality was every bit as good. Nanny was the one that really started me cooking. I was old enough (well almost) to stay around when she was preparing meals. It also helped that I was the only child at home then and our little kitchen had a dining table. I could sit there out of the way and watch, ask questions and more importantly taste!
Not only did she cook your basic meals, she could bake. She would make bread from scratch. This is where I learned how to use yeast. Being the smart woman that she was, she always made me a small loaf when she was baking bread. As soon as it was cool enough to remove from the pan she would give me the first loaf and yet another stick of butter and send me off to get out of her way.
And here is another example of fried chicken; yet completly different from Aunt Arline’s. The crust was different and she would use a buttermilk bath on the chicken pieces. Still every bit as good, just different. Not to brag (who am I kidding??) I have been told that my fried chicken is better than either of their’s. That may be, but I will admit that I am nowhere as consistent as either of these ladies.
But Nanny taught me something more than fried chicken and bread. She taught me BBQ. We didn’t have a smoker growing up, and I can only remember my dad grilling something once. But both my brother and I love to cook with fire. We had to get it from somewhere. It was Nanny. She had a BBQ resuarant in the Altoona, Pennsylvania area. I can find city directories from 1935 and 1936 that list her as the owner. Can you imagine being a widow with a young adult son, in the middle of the Great Depression, and making a good living from a restuarant? The industry that has a very high if not the highest failure rate? Blows my mind.
Her potato salad, fresh made coleslaw and beans were out of this world! And a meatloaf to die for. Somewhere there is a recipe book with all these notes. I really think the printed recipes were there as a distraction. The true treasure were the handwritten notes in the back. My mom, a better than average cook in her own right, added to that collection.
It makes me a bit sad to know that I didn’t get the chance to cook for these ladies before they shuffled off to wherever great cooks go. I’m sure there would have been lots of “this is nice, but if you had done ….” comments. And I would have taken everyone of those comments to heart and tried to live up to their legacy another time.
Yes, today I hit the big 6 – 0, I think about 7PM tonight, but I don’t have my birth certificate here to read. Sixty damn years on this rock travelling around the sun. Not bad for one who didn’t expect to see 25. But you can blame Wifey® for that. I would have been either dead or living on the street long ago if not for her love.
Here are some of the things that stand out about my early life growing up in South Florida.
Go barefoot as often as possible – screw the sand burrs.
Rain can be fun – I remember sitting in my front yard watching it rain on the house across the street – but not on me.
Wear sunscreen – well, I didn’t learn that as a kid. I was much older with kids of my own before that sunk in. I dare say I was sunburned more often than not.
Needless to say, life has taught me many lessons since those carefree days of running around in just a pair of shorts, chasing lizards, and playing ball. Most of it good, but there have been lots of tough lessons too. But I won’t get into that.
Things from way-back-when I still remember;
My big brother picking me up early to go fishing on my birthdays. I never caught a single damn fish, but it was still fun, riding down US1 to the Florida Keys and fishing off the pylons and bridges.
The first football game I went to. My mother was president of the high school PTA, so she always had a little table or booth at every game. I don’t remember what the function of the table was for, was she selling something? But I remember that first game, I was maybe 6. Her table was in a location where she couldn’t see the field, so she had to listen to the PA announcer to know how the game was progressing. Our team had made a first down, and mom, being the somewhat rabid football fan that she was, was happy. I had no idea what a “first down” was, so I asked. All she said was “that means they get to keep going”. Not knowing anything about football, or any sport really, it made no sense to me. But it made my mom happy, so I took it as a good thing.
My oldest sister took me along with her date, to a local fair. This was one of the little travelling deals that used to set up in shopping center parking lots. You just don’t see those anymore. She, and my other sister as well, would take me along to these affairs quite often. I clearly remember sitting in the Faris Wheel, between my sister and her date, stuck at the top for a good ten minutes. It was night time, so all the lights in the area were quite amazing. We could even see a little of the airport from our vantage point. I don’t think her date was as excited as I was. I wonder why??
My other sister and her friends using me as a makeup dummy. They used to try different shades of lipstick, and who knows what else on me to find the correct complimentary colors. Maybe that’s why clown makeup was such an obvious thing for me. Who knew lipstick was a gateway drug??
The importance of animals. We always had a pet of some kind in the house. Many times several at the same time. I learned just how important that relationship is, and it taught me the compassion and some of the responsibilities that are needed to maintain a family.
Since my birthday falls around, and sometimes on, Thanksgiving, my mom would buy me pretty much whatever I wanted for my birthday dinner. Mostly to get me out of the way while she and my sisters were working on the big dinner. I always asked for pizza. From one place only. Frankie’s on Bird Road. They didn’t deliver, and the line was always long. But I would get my pizza, take it to my room, turn up the music as loud as I could get away with. That was cool!
My (still) best friend, Maurice and I spending entire days driving around in what we called “The Search For The Blue Nehi”. For those that don’t know what that is. A blue Nehi is a cream soda. It just happens to be a very lovely shade of blue. And it’s very hard to find. But it was a way to just drive around, make fun of people, and spend time with someone important.
I could go on forever. Remembrances of my military days. Going to Alaska, Korea, and all over the country. Having spent twenty years in the military and never seeing a day of combat is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, it kept me safe, but all my soldier buddies that were pulled from our hospital duties to deploy for Desert Shield/Storm came back at least one rank higher (some two ranks higher). Meanwhile, the reservists that came in to take their place lost my promotion paperwork twice!
What about my wife and kids and grandkids? So many memories I could write pages upon pages. So that will be another post, I’m afraid.
Before I leave you today, I do have a birthday request. Not just for my birthday, but for anyone’s birthday.
I have been blessed with more than I need. I have family, friends, a roof over my head that has room for more than just me, food aplenty, lots of beer and whisky, and pretty good health. While I want lots of stuff, I am not in need of anything. I bet you’ve friends and family that can say the same. So, don’t give material things (unless there is a special need for that thing). What I would love is donations to a good charity instead. And there are many LOCAL charities available.
A local women’s shelter
A local homeless shelter
Your local animal shelter
A local food bank
I don’t like big conglomerate charity places (i.e. United Way and the like). Their problem is overhead. One report I read said that for every dollar donated to these types of organizations, only 3 cents or so actually make to the folks that need it. Give directly whenever possible. National charities are good too.
The Red Cross (International!)
Many veteran’s organizations.
That’s enough, you get my drift. Make a donation in your loved one’s name (and don’t wait for a birthday or other holiday). And if you’re an Amazon shopper like I am, use their automatic donation option. You can have a portion of your purchases go directly to the charity of your choice. It costs you nothing. Currently, I have St. Jude’s as my choice. But I do change it now and then.
Having said that, if anyone wants to send me a boatload of cash so I can get those “wants, but not needs”, I’m not gonna say no. A nice big pellet smoker, an RV (along with a new vehicle) are on that list. And they ain’t cheap.
But now I have to take on another of my birthday traditions. Namely, cook my own birthday dinner. But hey, I don’t mind. I cook because I love to eat.
Thanks for spending a little of my birthday with me. I appreciate your time. Hope your day goes well, as I expect mine to go. But I really must go, the smoker ain’t gonna light itself!
I leave you with this video, which has absolutely nothing to do with birthdays. But it’s another memory from one of my trips around the sun. This one is for you Lloyd.
(I originally was calling this event a “Throw Down”, but since I was the only one running the smoker, that title just didn’t fit. Kinda hard to “throw down” against yourself!)
Yes, I’m a bit late, but it was a very busy weekend. I seriously doubt I had more than 8 hours total sleep between Friday night and Sunday morning. Keep reading and you’ll understand.
The Sunday party was excellent. We had about 30 – 35 people show up. We had friends and family come in from an hour or more away, and folks from just down the street. Several kids for granddaughter-the-younger’s birthday. Lots of food, craftbeer, whisky (and whiskey), and did I mention food??
I picked up a not quite 10-pound pork butt and a not quite 16-pound beef brisket from my local butcher on Wednesday. While I have smoked a brisket this size before, I have never smoked a butt ever! I was somewhat apprehensive but very eager to try.
The butt, all trimmed
The brisket, all trimmed
I started the butt about noon on Saturday. The plan was to heavily smoke it (I used a combination of hickory, cherry and apple woods) until it reached about 140º F internal temperature. I had recently purchased a little device to help maintain the temperature in my big ol’ smoker and to keep a better eye on the meat temperature as well. And I had nothing but problems with this device.
It’s called a “CyberQ Cloud”, put out by The BBQ Gurus. I had already done a test run two weeks ago to make sure it was working as expected. One excellent feature is that it can connect to my home Wi-Fi setup and I can sit inside and watch a webpage that has all my temps, timers, and just about anything else being monitored. But for whatever reason, it just would not connect to my Wi-Fi even though it showed it as available in the list. I tried calling the support 800 number, but they’re not open on the weekends? Seriously? You have to figure that most people BBQ on the weekends (unlike my family – we’ll fire up a grill anytime!). Yet there was nobody to answer the phone. “Please leave a message and we’ll get back to you” is NOT good customer support. I even tried to contact them via their Twitter, and never got a response. I could still use the unit, I just had to run in and out to check the monitor since it wouldn’t connect to the cloud.
We used “Cool Smoke Rub” all over the outside and injected it with a basic solution of apple juice, salt & sugar and other stuff. The butt reached the target temp about 6PM. I let it sit a little longer while we ate dinner.
After the smoker but before wrapping and into the oven.
Then I wrapped it in foil and placed it in a low (225º F) oven for overnight. It didn’t need any more smoke since I had very heavy smoke going the entire time it was in the smoker.
So it was time to trim the brisket, inject with a beef broth solution and dry brine it. It would not get its “Big Bad Beef Rub” until tomorrow morning.
The plan was to get up at 3AM Sunday morning so I could get the brisket on the smoker by 4AM. Due to the problems I had with the CyberQ, I changed my alarm to 2AM to give me time to get it working again. And since the universe hates me, I was up and out of bed at 1AM. What a life.
It took a factory reset to get the CyberQ reconnected. Thankfully there is ample documentation on the web for the device. It only took about 45 minutes to get it back up and connected. Whew!
So the brisket when on the smoker about an hour earlier than planned. No worries, it can be held in a faux cambro (basically an empty plastic beer cooler) for up to 5 hours without a problem.
This what a brisket looks like at 0 dark 30!
The brisket probably weighed in around 14 1/2 pound or so after trimming. And since I didn’t separate the two muscles that make up a brisket, I knew this would take quite a bit of time. Following a very basic plan for brisket is simple. Smoke (I used all mesquite for this brisket) until it hits the “stall”. This usually occurs around 150º – 170º F. Mine kicked in about 160º F. I then wrapped it in butcher paper in a process known as the “Texas Crutch”. Some use foil for this step, but I prefer to use the paper. I believe it leaves the “bark” (that wonderful outer crispy edge) much dryer and crunchy. It also will help cut down on the cooking time. Once the brisket is wrapped, you return it to the smoker (or an oven at 235º F or so) until it reaches an internal temp somewhere around 195º F or so. When you hit the mark at 195º then cut the point muscle off from the flat muscle. I then test the flat for tenderness by sliding my temp probe into various areas of the meat. If it slides in “like buttah” then you’re good to go, if not you can continue to cook until it reaches the 203º to 205º F range. But be careful, it’s very easy to overcook and dry it out!
When I separate the point, they become the wonderful concoction known as “burnt ends”. What I like to do, and Wifey® requires that I do this any time I’m doing brisket,
Chunking the point
is to chunk the point up and throw in the pan that has been set in the smoker to catch all the drippings along with some warmed Au Jus and then covered and set in a warm oven to braise for a time. There are no “set times” for any of this. Every piece of meat and every smoker are different. Throw in other variables like weather (I had to pull the brisket off the smoker early due to a sudden rainstorm and finish it in the oven), and you can’t go by time. The temperature and tenderness of the meat is what makes it done.
These little flavor bombs are damn tasty. And look how juicy those are.
On Sunday, the CyberQ redeemed itself. It worked as expected, and I enjoyed sitting in the garage with my music playing and watching my cook being recorded on the web.
The butt shredded up very nicely! I had also made a vinegar sauce for the butt. As much as Wifey® loves her brisket, I love pulled pork even more. My grandmother taught me that if any meat is seasoned and cooked properly it won’t need sauce. Seeing as she had, as a widow, at the height of the great depression, a successful BBQ restaurant, I’ll believe her. But I do like a vinegar sauce with my pulled pork.
And I’m very happy to say that several folks said the magic words – “Best I’ve ever had!” and “It didn’t need any sauce”. I take that as the highest compliment to be had. Thank you all!
I guess it was a good cook in any event. With all that meat, there was damn near nothing left. I was really hoping to have a pulled pork sandwich from lunch Monday, as I think I had one burnt end, one slice of brisket, and maybe two tastes of the pork. I did graze on all the other side dishes that friends brought, and some we made, but I didn’t get much of the meat.
This is all that was left.. (And I brought it for lunch today!)
A little bit of pork, and one lonely brisket slice!
And my beautiful granddaughter-the-younger had a good birthday with her friends as well. I do believe her uncle’s (son-the-elder) gift was the hit of the party! A Harry Potter Lego set.
I have no idea what time it was when I fell asleep. I remember most everybody leaving, especially those that had to drive an hour or more. All I remember was sitting down with a nice craftbeer and nodding off. It was a very long day. It started at 1AM, and didn’t end until that evening. I’m way too old to be up that long. Wifey® and I were smart enough to take Monday off. We knew that we’d be in no shape to do anything. I slept most of the day away.
Here are some links to the recipes and instructions I’ve been using.
Smoking Meat. Jeff Phillips website. This was the first website I found several years ago. I have used many of the resources available here. For this cook I based my pork butt on this guide.
Cool Smoke. BBQ Champion Tuffy Stone’s website. The website doesn’t have much in the way of free recipes, but his book; Cool Smoke: The Art of Great Barbecue has a crazy amount of good stuff.
CyberQ Cloud. The BBQ Gurus have a whole line of BBQ stuff. From full on smokers, to tongs and other accessories.
I hope this little post was something enjoyable for you to read. Hopefully, the food porn didn’t make you drool too much!
And thanks again, to everyone that came over. I enjoyed myself, and I think ya’ll did too! (And a special thanks to those that helped put away the food, the grills and other parts and pieces after I had crashed for the night!)