When I look back across my life, the one constant, the one thing that stands out as a common thread is pretty simple. Whether through purpose or design or simply accident and chance, I can truthfully say without any hesitation…my life has not been boring, and it has been quite a ride.
I was born into a family with deep roots. I was born in Texas. I had grandparents that lived and worked on a ranch, and that ranch was very much a part of my childhood. I have traveled and lived from one end of this great country to the other. From the Atlantic to the Pacific and many places in between. Like all people I have had my ups and downs and my victories and failures. I have had fun and I do not regret one single moment and would do it all over again. It ain’t always been pretty, but it is mine….these are my stories!
It’s Never Too Late to Learn to Salsa
One of the great things about growing up, and living in Texas, is salsa. I have been eating salsa for as long as I can remember, as a matter of fact, I cannot remember not eating salsa. I bet I was in diapers, sitting in someone’s lap, when whoever it was dipped a little piece of a chip in the salsa and brushed it against my lips. Whoever that might have been, I would like to thank them right now. I love salsa, and I love it in all its glorious forms. As far as I am concerned, next to Guacamole and BBQ, it is just probably one of the greatest food inventions ever. Think about it. It is a dip, it is a condiment, It is cheap to make and it is easy to make, it can be used as an ingredient in in so many recipes, it can be turned into a soup and a sauce…and…on top of all of that, it is just so tasty. I mean really, who does not like salsa.
Now in Texas, there are two schools of thought on salsa…traditional or smooth, and chunky, which happens to be my favorite. The really only difference between the two, is how they are finished. Now, don’t get me wrong. I will most definitely never turn down smooth salsa, as a matter of fact, I will not turn down salsa at all, for any reason. Chunky is just my preference.
Salsa means sauce in Spanish, and that pretty much describes exactly what it is, that can be deceiving sometimes though because the word sauce in Spanish can mean a lot of different things. Pico De Gallo is actually a salsa most commonly known as Salsa Fresca, though most folks would not consider it a sauce. There are as many ways to make salsa as there are chips to dip it in. The traditional red tomato-based salsa is what most people are familiar with, but it can be made with beans, corn, fruit…you name it, and it has probably been done. It is a simple food and very tasty, and never under any circumstances should you buy it. The best salsa is fresh and homemade…it is very easy to make and almost impossible to mess up…so dive in and learn to Salsa, you will never regret it.
2 12/ cups diced watermelon
1 jalapeno stemmed seeded and diced
3 Tbsp. diced red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. diced green bell pepper
3 Tbsp. diced red onion
Juice of 1 lime
3 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix to completely and refrigerate.
How Did All This Happen…The Ranch
I was born in Midland Texas in 1953.I was raised for the most part in Fort Worth, which is in north Texas. My grandparents worked and lived on a large working Texas cattle ranch outside of Fort Worth, called The Little Hoss Ranch. My grandfather was the ranch manager and for as far back as I can remember the ranch was a part of my life, and a big one. It was my families gathering place,and to this day when I think of a childhood home, I think of the ranch. It was a special place. I am sure that I look at it now after all these years with a certain amount of nostalgia and maybe a little bit of myth making, but it was a very real place and it was a great place to grow up. I had many adventures there and learned a great deal about life. I learned of birth and death and loss and hope. I learned how to ride a horse, herd cattle, hoe a garden and to drive a stick shift. I learned how to shoot a rifle and milk a cow and to tell the truth. Life was simple, straight to the point and uncomplicated…and I loved it.
Life on the ranch moved in seasons. Winters were the calving season and feeding season. Every morning regardless of weather,you were up before dawn to load trucks with hay and feed,and then the routine of driving through the pastures,opening and closing gates and doling out hay and feed pellets off of the back of the truck to the hungry cattle. If it were really cold and it frequently was,you might have to chop ice off of the tanks so the cattle could get water. When I was little the majority of all I did was was ride in the truck and open and close gates, but as I got older I would take my turn on the back of the truck. Spring and summer were the times of maintenance and plowing, seeding,cutting,wind rowing and bailing and putting up hay to get ready for winter. Fall was selling season and big semi trucks would come and go to take cattle to market. Now, I know this is just sort of a quick over view,add in to this all the other stuff like repairing fences and moving cattle and spraying mesquite and doctoring the cattle and deer hunting and fishing and cook outs and varmint hunting and picnics and fishing…well…you can see that it was a full life.
To go along with all of this,was the food. Meals and food were more than just nourishment for the body,but it was nourishment for the soul. Hardy breakfasts and lunches,Sunday breakfasts and Sunday dinners,watermelon on the carport, fish fries by the tank, birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, BBQ’s, pot lucks and dinners at the church. We used food to celebrate and to mourn and to bring us together as a family. Whether it was something as simple as popping some popcorn at night for a late snack or driving into town to eat out,each was equally important. Grandma was an incredible cook that could create a meal or a cake or a loaf of bread as easily as if there were no effort at all. Everything was fresh. Fresh milk,eggs from the chicken house,fresh vegetables from the garden. There were two freezers on the ranch that were full of beef, pork and deer meat and goat. During the hunting seasons,there would be squirrel, dove, quail and also rabbit that were abundant and everywhere.
I guess this is where it all started for me,but who could have ever known…the story continues
How Did All This Happen…Fort Worth
I already told y’all, that I was raised in Ft Worth. How lucky could I have possibly been. I love Fort Worth and to this day consider it my second hometown. I was raised by a single mother and we lived in several places around Fort Worth. My most vivid memory was of a house that we lived in by Bluebonnet circle, and I went to Bluebonnet Elementary. I think I might have been in the second grade. I walked back and forth to school and we had a bulldog named Lady. I was a cub scout, and I was also a member of the Panther Boys Club. Life in Fort Worth was great. We would go to Forrest Park and have picnics and ride the little train. There used to be a little amusement park there with rides and games, but it is not there anymore. The Fort Worth Zoo was an incredible place and we would go often. At Christmas time the city skyline would be out lined in lights, they keep them on all year round now. Heritage Hall was in downtown; it was a museum that had these dioramas of ancient life in Texas. The circus would come to town every year and we would all go to The Will Rodgers Coliseum to see the circus. I use to have a picture autographed by Emmitt Kelly, who was a famous clown. Of course another yearly event was the Texas Fat Stock Show and Rodeo, and we went every year a couple of times. Every Monday night at the Northside Coliseum would be wrestling. We would go fishing out at Benbrook lake and go wading at the dam.
Of course it was a different time than it is now. We walked everywhere or road our bikes and in most cases you knew everyone on your street. We drank from the hose, took shortcuts by cutting through people’s backyards, toilet papered houses on Halloween and had Block Parties, which I thought was amazing. They do not do Block Parties anymore, but I loved them. If you do not know what a block party is, it is when the whole block gets together and has a party outside and in the street, they were incredible. All the adults would sit in lawn chairs up and down the street and the kids would play. everyone sat out tables of food and there was always someone who sat their stereo outside and there would be dancing in the street.
To go along with all of this, was the food…
Friday nights there was all you can eat fried clams at Howard Johnson’s by Seminary South. Hot Dogs with chili at the Drive-in. The Zuider Zee, which was a great seafood restaurant by the Camp Bowie circle. That is where I ate my first raw oyster that my grandpa bought me. The Italian Inn also at the circle had singing waiters. Ashburn’s Ice cream on Berry street was a favorite place for us. There was a man there that could make a sound like a train whistle. Poncho’s Mexican Buffet was a place that we ate at often. They were so cool. You went down the line and picked what you wanted, and if you wanted second you ran up a little Mexican flag on your table and the waitress would come by and you would tell them what you wanted, and they had the greatest sopapillos ever…. But one of the greatest food memories that I have of Fort Worth is of something that I never ate. Mrs. Baird’s bakery was just off of Hulen Street and when you drove past it on the freeway you could smell the bread baking and it was a heavenly aroma. Sometimes we would drive by it on purpose just to smell the bread. To this day if I smell fresh bread baking I am immediately transported back to that little boy with his head out the window driving by the bakery.
I lived in the best of two worlds and they were separate and connected at the same time…the story continues.
How Did All This happen…Rankin
As a young boy growing up, I had a love affair with a little west Texas town called Rankin. I loved Rankin, and my connection to it was twofold. It is where my Aunt Pat and Uncle Hubert and cousins Sue and Patricia lived. It was also where my real father and my grandparents on my father’s side lived, Grandpa Box and Martha and Uncle Jerry.
Rankin was not then and still, is not more than just a little bump in the road. A very small town that sits in the west Texas mesquite desert and completely reliant on the oil and ranching business. If you have ever seen the movie “The last Picture Show”, that would very well describe the size and scope of Rankin…and I loved it. I was one very happy camper whenever it was announced that we were going to Rankin, and I spent a lot of time there as a kid up until I was about 10 years old. I was guaranteed 2 weeks every summer for sure to visit my father. Occasional Christmases. Always 2 weeks every summer to visit Aunt Pat and Uncle Hubert and many weekends throughout the year. My favorite time to visit Rankin was in the summer. Rankin had the greatest public swimming pool that there ever was. It is where I learned to swim at about 3 years old and it was one of my favorite places. I remember that we would walk across the highway to go to the pool (you walked everywhere in Rankin) and it would be so hot that you would leave your foot prints in the asphalt on the road.
My Aunt Pat and Uncle Hubert lived in a small shotgun house right off of the highway. It had a great front porch and a dusty dirt backyard with a swing set. I use to have a picture of all of us kids sitting on the front porch eating popsicles. Their house sat next to a hill that led up to the library. I think I almost gave my Aunt Pat a heart attack when I was about 8 years old I dragged an old shaky bicycle that I had found with flat and bent tires. Aunt Pat came out the back door just as I was about to ride the bike down the hill. She yelled at me to get off that bike and get down that hill, but it was too late, I pushed off and away I went. Providence must have been on my side and somehow I made it down the hill in one piece without crashing. Aunt Pat was white as a ghost by the time I came to a stop with a big grin on my face. I use to also climb that hill and go up and climb onto the roof of the Library. From the top of the roof you could see all of Rankin.
When I visited my father, we always stayed out at Grandpa Box’s house. They lived across the railroad tracks about a quarter of a mile from town. I had a B.B. gun and would spend hours hunting and shooting striped lizards. I would ride with Grandpa Box as he made his rounds checking the gauges on the county and city water tanks. My Father was a very outdoors guy and he would take me for hikes in the desert and climbing the mesas around town. He worked in the oil fields and although I really do not remember it, we lived in Kuwait when I was about 4 years old.
To go along with all of this, was the food. My Aunt Pat, who was really my great aunt (she was my grandmas sister) was an incredible cook. I was especially crazy about her fried chicken, and she made the best homemade cookies. There was cold watermelon sitting on the front porch. There were incredibly tasty chili dogs at the little league park. Big barrels of popcorn at the picture show, they used real melted butter. My father was quite the barbequer and he would cook out a lot. One of my favorites was the BBQ rabbit that they would make, Martha ( I could not call her grandma,I always had to call her Martha) made some of the greatest cornbread and brown gravy that I can still taste to this day.
Rankin was definitely a very big part of my life growing up, unfortunately it all came to an end when I was about 9 years old. Uncle Hubert’s company transferred him to Midland and except for one last visit to my father when I was 10 years old, that ended the connection for me….
So that is the three places in my life that pretty much started me off…who could have known.
The story continues…
This was my Aunt Pat and Uncle Hubert’s house in Rankin.It has been abandon for decades.
Fresh Tomatoes and Lessons from the Garden
Behind the house that my grandmother and grandfather lived in, was a plot of land that was simply known as the garden. A huge rectangle of north Texas black earth, that was in some sort of constant use. It is probably exactly what you might expect to see on a Texas ranch, and it truly was a thing of beauty.
The garden was not a hobby and it was not something used to give a housewife something to do; it was exactly what it was intended to be…a source of food, and food it did produce. It was not tended to by hired help. Every single item that came from the garden was a direct result of my grandmothers and grandfathers hands. ….and they were good at it. The garden was a good place and a familiar place. We all took our turns tilling and helping and pulling weeds and moving the hose and picking and harvesting. When we went fishing, we dug the worms from the garden and grandma would have us throw egg shells and peels and coffee grounds onto the dirt and then turn it in. The garden smelled good …it smelled fresh and clean
Fresh vegetables were a staple and there were plenty of every kind…squash, sweet corn, potatoes, peas, black eye peas, snap beans, onions, beets, cabbage, lettuce, okra, peppers,…you name it and they grew it…and they were spectacular, but the one that stands out most in my mind, the one that I can still taste to this day, were the tomatoes. If you have never tasted fresh tomatoes straight out of the ground you don’t know what you are missing. They have a different flavor, yeah, they still taste like a tomato, but there is freshness and a clean taste that the supermarket tomatoes just don’t have.
Grandma grew big beefsteak tomatoes and yellow tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes that were all different colors. They were big and juicy and flavorful, and I loved them and miss them very much.
I learned a lot of lessons in that garden. I learned that you don’t hoe against the rows. Now I don’t really know how to explain that but I bet I still know how to do it. I learned how to work and to see a job through. I learned patience and appreciation…. But the biggest lesson I learned as a boy.Never tell your grandmother that you didn’t have anything to do…you would be pulling weeds in the garden.
Tomato Avocado Salad
2 fresh tomatoes diced
1 large ripe or two small avocado diced
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
salt and pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lime
3 Tbsp. olive oil
place all ingredients in a bowl and fold together
When I was a boy growing up, there was a place on the ranch that I considered to be magical. It was called Fall Creek. A flat rocky dried up creek bed surrounded on three sides by thick forest. Fall Creek was an actual creek that ran through parts of Hood and Johnson counties, but the Fall Creek that I knew and loved was just a small patch about two acres in size that sat at the very back end of the ranch. When I was little, there was still a little water flowing, but by the time I was a teenager the water was gone and the flat rock escarpment was all that remained. Fall Creek was a favorite place for us for picnics and cookouts, parties and socials. We hunted deer and varmints there, and the very first time that I stayed up all night ended at fall Creek. I had been allowed to go wolf hunting with a family friend named Mr. Keys and we ended up at Fall Creek just at sunrise. Mr. Keys built a camp fire and he cooked bacon and eggs, and we all sat there and ate breakfast from tin plates and drank coffee from tin cups and I thought at that exact moment, that I was grown up.
One of my greatest memories of Fall Creek, is of an incredible cookout and party that took place on a 4th of July when I was about 9 years old. There had been many parties and cookouts on Fall Creek, but this one was different. One of the ladies, who was a member of my Grandparents church and was also very good friends with my grandmother, her grandson was coming back from Germany, where he had been stationed in the army for 2 years. It also just happened to be 4th of July weekend and so a major get together was planned. All of the people from the Cresson church were there. Neighbors and friends and family members and anybody else that was invited. There must have been a hundred people there. It started in the morning and it lasted all day. A couple of men had brought out smokers and they started barbequing in the morning and you could smell it cooking all day. All of the ladies brought food and there was food everywhere. Long tables were unfolded and sheets were used as table cloths. It was amazing. There were a few men who brought guitars and they played music and people were dancing on the flat rocks of Fall Creek. The ice cream churns were pulled out and loaded up and all of us kids had to take turns turning the crank. Some horse shoes were set up and the men pitched horseshoe while the ladies sat in lawn chairs under the trees. We kid played and played. Some of the men pulled their rifles out of their pick- ups and impromptu shooting contest started. We ate all day long and as dusk settled in lanterns were lit and fires built and then…the fireworks came out. All the kids ran around with sparklers and the older kids sat off bottle rockets and roman candles. There was BBQ and fried chicken and pork roast and big beef roasts. There was potato salads and beans and cole slaw and pies and salads and cakes and watermelon and banana pudding and corn bread and corn on the cob that we roasted over the open fires. The food went on forever and was spread out along what seemed like a highway of tables.
When it finally came to an end, and everything was cleaned up and loaded up and goodbyes were said and hugs exchanged, I remember setting in the back of the pick-up as we drove back to the house and the line of cars and trucks looked like a caravan with their lights on driving through the pastures to get back to the main roads. Every now and then you would hear a horn blow and see a set of lights peel off. It was quiet a wonderful day and one that will be in my memories forever.
Grandma’s Cucumbers and Onions in Sour Cream
1 cucumber peeled and sliced
½ red onion sliced thin
½ cup sour cream
½ tsp chicken base
1 tsp minced garlic
black pepper to taste
mix sour cream,chicken base and garlic together until well blended
add cucumbers,onions and black pepper
fold together until well blended