Sunday, July 31, 2011
Is there anything in this world better than pork? Bacon, ham, cracklin's, shoulders, babyback ribs, St. Louis style ribs, from the tail to the oink it's all good. It's one of the few things I don't ever get tired of seeing some pretentious chef or travel host eat on whatever show they're on. Although, I really wasn't that enraptured by watching Andrew Zimmern eat pork balls or pork bunghole. I guess that would be the exception.
It does seem at times that every Golden Corral fry cook has a show these days and I avoid most of them. Instead I tend to watch Phineas & Ferb or catch a rerun of Blazing Saddles on one of the cable networks because you know that BZ is ALWAYS showing on one of them! Of course there is always the SyFy network with some B-movie starring Lou Diamond Phillips or Randy Quaid fighting aliens or natural disasters. But since those rarely have any pork (other than the acting) I tend to just fire up the smoker and get to cooking.
I think the main issue I have with some people cooking pork is that they seem to over season it. You don't need 20 herbs and spices to make pork taste good. Most times you just need some salt and pepper and a smoker. I see pork shoulder recipes that call for ingredients such as Chinese 5 spice or red wine vinegar or olive tapenade or sazon seasoning and whatever else some chef can think of to put on it that someone hasn't done before. Just because no one ever cooked a pork shoulder with axle grease and testicle sweat doesn't mean you should just so that you can "put your own spin" on it.
Yesterday we went fishing from around 6 p.m. until darkness set in. We didn't catch any fish so my wife, daughter and I stopped at the grocery store. Here in small town west Texas we don't have "supermarkets", we have "grocery stores". Usually the strangest thing we ever see in our local grocery store is the Mormon women from that FLDS ranch when they come in to stock up on food and lawyers. Other than that everything is pretty normal. Well, west Texas "normal". So, where was I? Oh, yeah, we went fishing and then to the grocery store. We bought a small pork shoulder since we are only 3 humans and 3 dogs in our house. Our dogs think they're human but I figure any dog in this world that is loved and cared for properly most likely thinks it is human. If it doesn't then the dog's human family did something wrong. Back to the pork...
So after we got home and unloaded the fishing gear and groceries, I took a shower. No one wants a man rubbing and marinading pork with Catfish Charlie Blood Bait on his hands and clothes, especially my wife. I took out some apple juice and poured it in a glass bowl and then put the shoulder in there to marinate overnight. As I said, you don't need to add much to pork. This morning when I opened the refrigerator to check on the pork shoulder, it looked at me from it's pool of apple juice and said "I'm ready for my closeup Mr. Demille". I was stunned that the pork actually talked to me. I was more stunned that it had soaked up over half of the apple juice. Maybe I should have been more stunned that the pork talked to me but it was before my first cup of coffee so I have that reasoning to fall back on.
Well, I just so happened to have had my digital camera with me. Yep, there I was, just woke up, no coffee yet, talking pork shoulder and lo and behold, a digital camera appearing miraculously in my hand. So here is a picture of the pork in the "marinade". "Marinade" sounds so much more fancier than "apple juice".
I let the pork rest in the "marinade" for a few while I soaked some apple wood chips in water. I then went out and lit the smoker. As you probably remember me saying, we're in west Texas. We're in the smack dab middle of some sort of biblical drought. It's so bad that we don't even make drought jokes anymore. We used to make drought jokes but then God got all serious on us and now we're afraid to mention the word thinking it may cause the drought to drag on a few more years. We had a tropical storm named "Don" that hit the coast and it was so scared of the drought that it didn't even drop any rain. Just typing the word "drought" gives me the dry mouth.
Anyway, my smoker isn't afraid of the drought. Out here the drought and fire hazards have caused the city and county to ban cooking with charcoal or wood. I just so happen to have a propane smoker so I cheat a little and put a box of wet wood chips in it and let it smoke. After I got the smoker up and running, I rubbed the shoulder with a Maple rub. Not only is it good for pork but it heals sprains and strains almost as good as WD-40.
I somehow happened to have my camera with me at the smoker and got a picture of our pork shoulder doing its thing.
I'll baste with a concoction of apple juice and brown sugar. Not much brown sugar, after all, I'm cooking a pork shoulder and not a pie. The little fella will smoke most of the day at around 250 degrees. If I fall asleep in my easy chair, the temperature may rise to 280 degrees, depending on how long my nap rages out of control. Sunday naps are notorious for causing all kinds of problems from failing to clean the garage/truck/trailer/yard/bathroom to smoker temperatures getting dangerously high.
As Lone Wadi said in "The Outlaw Josey Wales", "Endeavor to persevere" and so I shall.
© 2011 Bill Hancock
Monday, July 25, 2011
I am descended from great east Texas hillbilly stock. Growing up I was reminded of that fact constantly through my father's never ending endeavors. I don't know if any of my ancestral family members ever married within the family but I am almost certain it must have occurred at least two or three times. There were times where my father and his family did things that just absolutely defied all common sense and were usually hilarious, even if that wasn't the intention at the beginning of the given endeavor.
My father and his brother, Henry, were hillbillies of the highest caliber that enjoyed their Schlitz beer, usually a case or two at a time. During the day they were good old hard working east Texas loggers and during the evenings they were usually too intoxicated to know what they were during the day. As you can expect, evenings were usually the time they cooked up most of their Mensa club ideas for solving some great problem that was before them. Most of the time they just argued over how to solve whatever problem they were discussing until they passed out on the front porch.
One morning we awoke to a chicken coop that had the remains of several unlucky residents that had fallen victim to some four legged prowlers in the middle of the night. Dad was incensed and told Uncle Henry that he was certain the fowl stealing suspects were wolves, and not just any wolf but none other than the dreaded east Texas Red Wolf. It didn't matter that Red Wolves hadn't been spotted in east Texas since the last covered wagon arrived from somewhere east. This was a point my mother matter-of-factly brought up to him as she casually cooked our breakfast. Well, dad felt the need to inform us for the umpteenth time that he was indeed born and raised on east Texas farms and therefore knew when he was dealing with a fearsome Red Wolf, the scourge of east Texas. My brother, Ken, was two years younger than me at 10 years old and asked dad, "Was it a coyote?" Of course dad hat to reiterate vehemently that it was a Red wolf and that he and uncle Henry would "Deal with those sons-a-bitches tonight".
Dad and uncle Henry went off to work and mom, Ken and I all did what it is that you do when you live in the country. We fed the chickens, milked our cow, did the laundry, swept off the back porch several times and took periodic naps in the shade. The chickens were highly important to us because we ate their eggs for breakfast and usually had fried or baked chicken two or three nights a week. They were also important to the local wild animal population who were known to snack on an escaped hen or two here and there. There were around sixty or so survivors in the chicken pen/coop that were obviously the best of the best as they had escaped the carnage brought on by the infamous Red Wolf Of East Texas.
Well, dad and uncle Henry came home from work around 6 p.m., each of them carrying a case of Schlitz beer. They assured my mother that they had a fool-proof plan to put the chicken raiding Red Wolf on the endangered species list. Mom told them it was just coyotes and to put whatever idea they had to rest before someone got hurt. They wouldn't have no part of quitting and dad was more determined than ever that they would carry out his and Uncle Henry's carefully devised plan.
But, you see, this was east Texas. As I said before, this was hillbilly country. This area of east Texas around Rusk, Texas was on the border between western Louisiana Cajuns and Texas Rednecks. A beautiful area of tall pine trees, grand cypress trees, deep rivers and abundant wild game frolicking around in meadows of deep green grass and dandelions. It was also an area full of poison ivy, poison oak, bull nettle weeds with a never ending sting that went to your soul and every kind of poisonous snake native to North America. So, you took the good with the bad.
Dad and uncle Henry had the good and noble intention of ridding us of a pack of marauding killer wolves. The bad part of the idea involved three things: Shotguns, tall trees and Schlitz beer. Even at the tender age of twelve I knew that there was no way this could end well. For me, several things came into play which had me looking forward to the evenings festivities: We didn't own a television; It got dark early that time of year; And I had been whooped with a razor strap for the hundredth time for smacking my brother with a nettle so I had nothing better to do on a Friday night than to watch my dad and uncle Henry climb two tall pine trees with shotguns, beer and flashlights.
The soon-to-be crime scene was fairly large. The chicken pen was twenty feet wide and about forty feet long with a large wooden swaybacked coop at the end. My father and Uncle Henry had been enjoying their Schlitz beer when they built the coop so there wasn't a square corner or level part of the floor in the whole danged thing. It looked like it was built by a cross eyed billy goat.
Dad slung his 20 gauge shotgun over his shoulder and shinnied up a sparsely limbed pine tree next to one corner of the coop. Uncle Henry slung his shotgun likewise and climbed a pine tree at the other end of the pen. Dad had some nylon twine with him and dropped an end down and told mother in his east Texas twang, "Anne, tie on a six pack. I'm gonna pull that case of beer up here one six pack at a time." Mother grudgingly obliged and uncle Henry quickly followed with the same request. I sat on the back porch with mom and Ken and listened to dad and uncle Henry pop the tops on beer after beer while they performed equipment checks repeatedly.
"Got yer shotgun ready, Henry?".
"Got yer flashlight handy, Henry?"
"You watchin' to the north and west?"
"Aight, I'm a'watching to the east and south. You git ready."
Now, that might seem like it was a quick conversation but it actually lasted 20 minutes or so in sober human time. Conversations in east Texas move very slow when you're obliged to take three or four sips of beer between responses.
Right after dark my dad yelled down to my mother, "Anne, you and the boys git in the house. The wolves won't show up with y'all outside on that thar back porch and there's liable to be shootin' when they do show up." The absolute core logic of the intoxicated east Texas hillbilly has never been surpassed by the rest of mankind.
Our house and out buildings sat on top of that sandy hill about 8 miles outside of Rusk. It was surrounded, as you've probably discerned, by pine trees, gum trees, willow trees and all sorts of wild shrubs and assorted undergrowth. A small stream ran along our property at the back in the shade of the pine forest. The house was a two bedroom wood framed home sparsely furnished with a wood burning pot belly stove, a rickety dining room table and four chairs that were also our living room chairs for not watching a television that we didn't own. Mostly they acted as back porch Schlitz beer drinking chairs for dad, Uncle Henry and other relatives that showed up from time to time.
Ken got sleepy went to bed around 10 o'clock. Mother and I each sat in a dining/living/Schiltz beer drinking chair next to a living room window from which we watched dad and uncle Henry as they laid in wait for the unsuspecting predators. We could hear them clearing, checking and then reloading their shotguns regularly along with the sounds of beer cans being opened from time to time. They were sure to rain certain death and destruction down on the unsuspecting wolves.
I dozed off in the multitasking chair sometime around midnight. Mother woke me with a couple of nudges with her elbow because the final act of the Great Red Coyote Hillbilly play was about to happen. We had an old kerosene lantern turned down low and I could see its reflection in the window we were looking out of. Off in the distance I heard a coyote, er, I mean a Red wolf yipping as he traipsed through the woods towards his midnight snack and certain demise. About that time I heard a second "wolf" yipping and figured it was an even match, two unsuspecting wolves against two drunk hillbillies. Two drunk hillbillies sitting in the moonlit night, fifteen to twenty feet high in pine trees with guns, beer and flashlights.
About an hour later mother and I saw the first Red Coyote arrive at the chicken pen. It was one of those bright nights that seemed even brighter with the reflection of the sand from our hill. He slowly scouted around it looking for an opening as the chickens peacefully slept inside the coop. Red Coyote number two arrived a few moments later and went right up to the gate of the pen and pushed against it a couple of times. Obviously this Red Coyote was a professional and had been in our pen before as he knew exactly where the gate was. I was somewhat surprised when mother said "You know, I don't here Bill and Henry talking. Do you think they're waiting for them to get in the pen?" Well, dad and Uncle Henry were obviously waiting with their eyes closed. The professional coyote pushed against the pen door a few more times and the hinges squeaked loudly. About that time I heard dad yell "Henry, the damned wolves are in the pen." Well, actually, they weren't "in" the pen, they were still outside it but that did not have any effect on what happened next.
I heard the loud report of dad's shotgun going off and then saw pieces of wood from the chicken coop flying. Instantly chickens started squawking and flooding out of the coop like family members from a family reunion when the last of the potato salad is gone. I heard Henry's shotgun fire and saw feathers flying in the moonlight as if someone had torn open a goose down pillow. Chickens were running blind and at high speed in the moonlight as they clucked like old women sewing a quilt. They ran into the chicken wire time and time again. About that time dad fired his shotgun at a stationary Red Coyote/Wolf. I think the animal was originally stunned at all of the commotion then just decided to hang around and see what fun was to be had. Dad missed the coyote by ten chickens and a fence post but he managed to fall backward from his perch in the pine and landed just about as squarely as you possibly could on the fence without trying to. His shotgun hit the ground about the same time his feet caught the top of the fence, bounced off and over his head, flipping him and depositing him unceremoniously face down on the ground. If there had been a net there to catch dad it would have been the greatest trapeze act of all time.
During this act, uncle Henry turned on his flashlight, dropped it, fired two more blasts from his trusty shotgun and then yelled "Bill! I got one!" Dad was face down on the ground and trying to suck wind into his deflated lungs. He didn't respond to Henry other than to make some labored sucking sounds and I think he may have even cried a little bit.
Mother and I ran out to check the damage to dad, the chickens and the dreaded Red Coyote Wolves. After a couple of hours the final tally was:
2 entire cases of Schlitz beer.
11 chickens dead due to being shot with shotguns.
8 chickens apparently dead of heart attack or due to sustained catastrophic damage from repeatedly running into the chicken wire.
5 chicken remains found outside of the pen after they had been killed and consumed by the Red scourges of east Texas, most likely during or right after the mayhem.
1 chicken coop wall with numerous bullet holes from at least 2 shotgun blasts.
1 broken arm
1 dislocated shoulder
1 broken shotgun butt
No Red Wolf Coyotes were harmed.
© 2011 Bill Hancock
Sunday, July 24, 2011
One Saturday while my wife and I were visiting Fredericksburg, Texas, we went to a popular hot sauce shop that I had visited a few times before. The name of the shop is Rustlin' Rob's. The shop has all the hot sauces, bar-b-cue sauces, jellies and jams you can imagine and you can sample all of them.
Anyone that's been in there knows that the hottest of the hot stuff is in the back section of the store on the right. The area has warning signs all around regarding how hot some of the sauces in that area are. Most folks take heed. It's not a place for those with sensitive tongues and stomachs such as greenhorns and pilgrims.
Personally I love hot sauces. I grew up eating jalapenos, squash peppers, habaneros and many other peppers that once you bit into them, immediately brought you religion. With that being said, I'm not a glutton for pain. I don't like hot sauces just because they are hot. I like the peppers for their flavor along with garlic, vinegar, salt and the other various seasonings.
Prior to visiting Rustlin' Rob's my wife and I stopped and got a cup of coffee. You know the kind, those with the fancy foreign names and all the creams and caramels and such. I knew from experience not to go int RR's empty handed. So, we took our overpriced coffees left the shop for what would be the scene of yuppie devastation.
Fredricksburg, Texas is only an hour or so from Austin and is usually packed on the weekends. You can't hardly walk down the sidewalk because there are more people out there than at a rich man's funeral. We entered Rustlin' Rob's and being a weekend, it was packed as expected. Over 20 years I had watched Fredericksburg grow from a quiet destination for a few families to yuppieville every Saturday and Sunday.
I entered RR with my wife in tow and started showing her around since it was her first time in there. We sashayed through the crowd and looked at a few relishes, various chow chows, jellies and pickled everything. Once we got to the back of the store, I showed my wife the Hell room, as I call it. While perusing the various stomach and colon dissolving hot sauce concoctions, we discovered a hot sauce called "Defcon". It was something such as Defcon 4 or 14 or whatever, I didn't really pay attention to the number. The combination of "Hot Sauce" and "Defcon" on the jar immediately sucked me in like a hair ball in a vacuum cleaner.
So, I'm mesmerized as I examined the bottle carefully. All around the tables and shelves holding the sauces are 1 oz plastic cups containing a sample of each respective sauce. Sitting on a paper plate beside the cups are some kind of wheat crackers about the size of a teaspoon. I noticed that no one had sucked in their stomachs and pushed out their chests and tried that Defcon sauce. I observed two things. First, that sauce was as dark as the Galveston marsh mud. Secondly, everyone seemed to be giving that little old cup of hot sauce about a 5' clearance as they walked passed it. The fellas would look at it as they passed it and make some comment to their wives, who were usually dragging along two or three unhappy kids that tried to stick their fingers in everything. So, figuring it was hotter than a $2 whore on Saturday night, and not being one to throw caution to the wind, I took one of them small wheat crackers and dipped the tip of it in that sauce while several other folks looked on and waited to see the results of my endeavor.
Everyone has had those moments in their lives, usually very few, where time appears to either completely stop or slow down to a snails crawl. It is that one split second that seems like an eternity. It was like Jodie Foster in that science fiction movie, "Contact", where she dropped in that big ball thingy for a split second but in her time inside the ball it seemed like ages.
That was the way my life went when that cracker and hot sauce first entered my mouth. It hadn't even touched my tongue but the fumes assaulted me like my drunk ex-mother-in-law on Thanksgiving. I knew within the split second from that cracker and hot sauce entering my mouth and me letting go of the cracker that something just outright terrible was about to happen to me. It seemed like hours passed as I flinched and waited for that cracker and hot sauce to make contact with my quivering tongue.
To this day I believe that God himself hit me in the head with a sledgehammer. I saw flashes of light and I couldn't breathe but stood there like a man and tried my best not to curl in a fetal position and cry like a baby. I gulped down my cup of HOT coffee and then before I could think twice, I had grabbed my wife's cup of ice cappuccino whatever and sucked it down faster than a ex-wife spends an alimony check. Lava would not have incinerated my tongue the way that hot sauce did.
But, that was when things got interesting. You see, I fared relatively well. The burning eventually stopped as did my profuse sweating. But there were a couple of the yuppie fellas from Austin that couldn't help but comment. Now, I don't have anything against yuppie pilgrims, but if you're standing their in khaki shorts, a polo shirt knockoff and $5 Target store boat shoes, you probably shouldn't make snarky comments to a fella wearing Wrangler jeans, a cowboy hat and button down shirt who just bit into a small bit of brimstone hell. A lady standing their watching me asked how hot it was. I said it was hot enough to melt the shoes off a horse but it was tolerable. Her khaki short clad husband apparently took that as a test-of-manhood challenge. He suddenly reached out and grabbed one of them little crackers and spooned about a teaspoon of that Defcon Satan's Sweaty Nut Sack hot sauce on it. He casually plopped that cracker in his smirking, smart aleck mouth as he looked at me.
And that was when reality proved what a bitch it can be.
First his face turned red. Redder than a greenhorn's ass after a full day in the saddle. It was obvious that he had given up the annoying habit of actually breathing. I would have offered him something to drink but I had already drank my coffee, my wife's coffee, some 6 yr old girl's water and the milk from a baby's bottle that I snatched out of his stroller during my bought with the inferno. So I'm watching that yuppie fella and I couldn't be sure, but I was thinking he actually started turning purplish black. I had never in my life seen a living human being turn that color. It was like he was already dead and his body was in the process of decomposing right before my eyes. Then I thought, well maybe that sauce has a chameleon effect and he's just turning the same color it is.
While I was watching Mr. Yuppie with mild amusement and wonderment at how he was still standing, another khaki boat shoe clad character who had been watching came up with his wife. His wife said "It can't be that hot". If he ever gets divorced from that woman, he can use what she said against her in court after what happened next. That man took a spoon full of demon's testicle extract and put it on a cracker and plopped it in his mouth like it was a cold apple fritter. Within about a second he tried to spit it out but his mouth wasn't working. I know because my face was still numb from my encounter. The sauce just kind of dribbled down his chin while his eyes shot tears straight out like a horny toad. He doubled over and opened his mouth just hoping that stuff would fall out since he couldn't spit. It appeared that he tried to bite his tongue off a couple of times just to end the pain.
Meanwhile, Yuppie Numero Uno has a couple of bottles of water his wife grabbed. I don't know how much he actually drank because he was pouring it all over his face. I chalked it up to the numb face syndrome. I also think he was suffering from temporary blindness because I almost lost my vision after my encounter. His shirt was soaked with water and sweat and his fancy khaki shorts were soaked with water and, apparently, various bodily fluids.
The store manager came back there to see what was going on because of all the commotion. She huffed like an old veteran cop at his thousandth crime scene, looked at me and said, "That is the way it usually starts. One person takes a small taste and then a couple of others gotta do it but they always take a bigger bite than the first guy."
At this point, she became the best crisis worker in the state. If that woman was a hostage negotiator, she'd talk the bad guys out and save the victim every time. Both of those fellas were still bent over gasping and talking to Jesus. She stood between them and bent over while calmly talking to both of them like she was talking them off a tall bridge. She said "It's ok. The burn will be gone in about 15 minutes. Just breathe and take it slow. I'm here with you. You're doing fine."
An employee brought back a jar and she gave them some sort of pecan butter to put in their mouths. They got the butter in after the third or fourth tries because they still couldn't feel their faces. Their wives just stood there talking and trying to figure out what happened because as one of them said "It couldn't have been that bad. I don't know what his (her husband's) problem is.".
One of them turned to me and said "I saw you taste it, why didn't hit hurt you like that?"
I said "I'm from west Texas and I know not to step off the porch before I know what's in the grass."
We left while both of them fellas tried to stand upright with dignity while they continued shoving that butter in their mouth like they were stoking a coal burning stove.
© 2011 Bill Hancock