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!
FORT WORTH TEXAS
I was raised by a single mother and we lived all over Fort Worth. We never owned a home. We lived off of Camp Bowie not far from the circle, we lived off of Lancaster, and across from Seminary South and somewhere around Lipscomb I believe. One of my favorite places that we lived was in a house next to Bluebonnet circle and I went to school at Bluebonnet elementary. I think I was in the second grade and I walked back and forth to school every day.
I was a pretty average kid, I think. I played cowboys and Indians, watched slam Bang theatre and The Three stooges. In Fort Worth and there was also a local kid show called Mr. Peppermint that I watched every morning. I had an imaginary friend named snowball that I out grew when I was around seven. My mother very briefly married a very abusive man and we moved to Houston and lived there for about a year before retuning to Fort Worth. They divorced after about a year and a half. He was a violent man with a very bad temper and would slap my mother around. There were Saturday morning cartoons and I was a cub scout. I road my bike all over the neighborhood. I played pick up baseball games in the street and we were of the generation of games. The kids in my neighborhood would always come together for epic games of hide and seek or tag that would last for days and span blocks. We would take trips to Forrest park and ride the mini train and visit the zoo quiet frequently. There was swimming at lake Benbrook and picnics and cookouts at lake worth. Music was always a big part of my life and we would listen to the radio all the time and play records, and people would come over and pick and sing. Around 1963, we were living in The South Plaza Apartments across from Seminary South and a couple of young guys that were in college would come over and play guitar and sing. I was about 10 years old at the time, and I was just mesmerized by the guitars. One of the young men was a guy named John Dutchendorph. Now I do not know if I spelled the last name right, but years later we would see him when he made it big as John Denver.
I guess you could also call us a strange group in the fact that we were raised to not be scared…so we would watch nightmare theater on Friday night. I grew up on Frankenstein and the Mummy and the Wolfman. We would always make jokes when a Mummy movie was on about how anyone would ever be killed by the Mummy because he moved so slow.
Saturday nights at 10 o’clock meant one thing and that was wrestling from the North Side Colosseum on Channel 11. The show was actually taped on Monday nights and showed on Saturday nights. There were all you could eat fried clams on Wednesday night at Howard Johnsons. The Stock Show and Rodeo every year in the winter. Trips to downtown and one of my greatest memories is of Mrs. Bairds Bakery off of Hulen Street and driving past there and smelling the bread baking.
My life was simple and uncomplicated as the way all kids lives should be. Play, school, fun and of course the ranch. Things would eventually change and not all of it for the better., but up until I was about 10 years old life was a bowl of cherries.
GRANDMA AND GRANDPA AND THE LITTLE HOSS RANCH
I did not know it then, but I do know it now. I was one very lucky kid. One of the greatest things about my life growing up was a place called “The Little Hoss Ranch”. My Grandpa, was actually my step grandpa. My grandma divorced my real grandpa before I was born and I only really met him once or twice. I did not know him. The man that I knew as my grandpa was named Lorne Hoffman and he was a real life honest to goodness cowboy and he was the ranch manager of a real life honest to goodness real working Texas cattle ranch called The Little Hoss Ranch. The ranch was located about 30 miles south of Fort Worth and sat on over 5,000 acres between Cresson and Godley mostly in Johnson county. My earliest memories are of the ranch and as a boy growing up it was a very big part of my life. I spent as much time at the ranch as I did in Fort Worth, and to this day when I think of a childhood home, I think of the ranch. My grandparents were the patriarchs of our family and their small house and the ranch was the gathering place for everyone. I am most definitely a product to this day of my experiences at the ranch. Many of the first life lessons I learned, I learned there.
The first time I was ever touched by death was when my great grandfather died. I was probably around 6 or 7. He was my grandma’s father and we all called him Big Dad. It really affected me when he died and it really scared me. It was the first time that I experienced something like this. The loss and emptiness and finality really got to me, I had no real understanding of it and I was really spooked. That night after the funeral I stayed at the ranch. And as I lay in bed in the back bedroom, I kept thinking about it and the more I thought about it the more scared I got until I could not take it. I got out of bed and walked to the door of grandparent’s bedroom. I stood in the doorway and called out and immediately my grandma sat up and asked what was wrong and to this day I still remember exactly what I said.
“I don’t want to die”. That was it, just that one sentence that summed up my fears completely.
Grandma got out of bed and came over and took me by the hand and led me into the little living room and sat down in her chair and set me on her lap, and there in the dark she spoke to me in a quiet soothing voice. She explained to me that dying was a part of living and that it was not an end, but a beginning to something else. What she was saying to me was deeply rooted in her faith. She told me that was life’s plan and that we all die. That she would die and grandpa would die and my momma and brother and sister and Petey the dog…and yes…someday I would die, but that you can’t think about dying, you think about living and that I would not die for a very long time. I truly wish I could remember all she said to me that night sitting there in the dark those many years ago, but what I remember the most is the calming of my fear. After a while she led me back into the bedroom and put me back in bed and sat with me for a while. I finally drifted off secure in the fact that I was not going to die that night and a little bit braver.
IN THE BEGINNING
I was born in Midland Texas on June the 10th 1953 at Midland memorial Hospital. You know, when I say that, it seems to be a long time ago and that seems to make me an old guy. When I was born, my parents lived in a very small town called Rankin, that is about 55 mile south of Midland. Midland was the closest town with a hospital and that is how Midland, Texas became my official hometown, but I never really lived there. I would return to the hospital about 6 months after I was born, but I will get to that…
Rankin Texas played a very big part in my early life. My Aunt Pat and Uncle Hubert along with my cousins lived in Rankin and I am just pretty sure that is how my mother and father met. My mother lived in Ft Worth, but visited Rankin often. My father was a driller and my mother was a homemaker. They divorced when I was very young and then briefly remarried, but that is about all I know concerning that. I did not really know my father, although he had visiting rights, those kind of just came and went, and we only saw each other sporadically and it would sometimes be more than a year or two sometimes between visits.
When I was about 6 months old, I became very sick. Now of course I do not remember any of this and can only relate to you what I was told. It seems to have come on quiet suddenly and had mostly to do with a respiratory problem. This illness was the reason I revisited Midland Memorial Hospital and it is where I was for quite some time. The truth of the matter is, I almost died and they tell me that I quit breathing twice and once was for about 30 minutes, but they kept bringing me back. At one point I had a lung collapse and that is why I have my Tractotomy scar. I also have a scar on my right forearm that was caused by some sort of chemical burn at the hospital. I think they had told my parents that I would not survive, but a man known to me only as Dr Penn is credited for saving my life. I did eventually recover, but there were issues. Because of the illness there were things that I would have to deal with my whole life. One of those was a sever loss in calcium while I was sick and this would affect my teeth and my bones. I started losing my teeth when I was still in my teens, but held on to most of them up until my 40’s. they also told my parents that I would be a sickly child, but that never happened and I can say that I was a pretty normal kid.
When I was about 5 years old, we moved to Kuwait and lived there for about a year and a half. My father worked for a drilling company and was allowed to bring his family. He was moving up the ladder and was a drilling superintendent. I really do not remember anything about this time of my life, my earliest memories revolve around Fort Worth Texas and a place called The Little Hoss Ranch, and of course Rankin. I think I was around 5 or 6 when my parents divorced for the second time and I believe it was a pretty nasty divorce. All I know is that I loved Fort Worth Texas and to this day consider it my home
There Is Something About A Cookie
I have never met a cookie that I didn’t like, and that’s a fact. There is just something so right about a cookie. Regardless of the flavor or the shape or the size, it is just impossible to find any cookie with a fault. They are the perfect one handed snack. They can fit in your pocket. Cookies can bring you up when you are down and above all else they are just plain good.
My favorite cookie is a simple shortbread cookie. I love them. They are not fancy, but they are so good. I can still remember walking into the house after school and smelling cookies baking in the oven, or seeing a fresh pile on the kitchen table waiting to be snatched. Grandma made a very mean oatmeal raisin cookie and she also put chopped dates in them. My Aunt Pat made the ultimate chocolate chip cookie that were just amazing and she also made the famous fruit cookies that would come out at Christmas. Now a days, I know time is short and sometimes there is very little of it, and making a good cookie takes a little time, but I have a recipe that is quick, simple, easy and you can literally make these cookies in about 20 minutes and most of that time is baking time.
Many years ago I worked on an off shore oil rig in the gulf of Mexico. I was the night cook and had to feed about 120 people 2 meals a shift. Supplies were delivered every week, but we were very limited as far as what we could order. The catering company did not want us using a lot of boxed or packaged food and we were required to really cook from scratch. There were a few exceptions. We were allowed loaves of bread and the other thing we were allowed was cake mix. This is where I picked up this recipe. The flavor of your cookie is all in the flavor of the cake mix…I call them…
Cake Box Cookies
1 box cake mix (Flavor is your choice)
1 stick butter
in a mixing bowl place all ingredients and beat well to completely combine.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and scoop out about 1 1/2 -2 Tablespoons of the batter and place on cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.
Place in oven and bake for 10-12 minutes
let cool and then enjoy.
If you have never heard of this recipe, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
THE NEW YEAR
January was always an eventful time for me growing up. If I was in Ft Worth, it meant going back to school after a long holiday and getting back into the routine. If I was at the ranch it meant the early morning risings of getting up and getting out to feed the cattle, which was a routine and ritual for wintertime ranch life…and…if there are any of y’all out there that understand what I mean, then you know exactly what I mean. Rain, cold, snow, sleet, ice…it did not matter, you had to do it. As a young boy, I only road in the cab with my grandpa, and only occasionally had to get out to open a gate. As I grew older, I wanted to help more and that was my downfall…lol…
Januaries in North Texas could be brutal and a blue norther could blow in and just ruin your day. There were many mornings with snow and ice on the ground and a stiff wind blowing out of the north that could reach down and slap you cold. We would dress in layers with long underwear, coveralls, heavy coats and scarfs, gloves and hats with earmuffs and still be chilled to the bone. I remember those cold mornings to this day and I still remember the first time I finally got my chance to help. I had begged and begged my grandpa to help and one morning, he finally relented and said I could get in back and drop off hay…I lasted about 3 minutes before I was asking to get back into the cab and yes, I was teased without mercy…lol…I think I was about 8 years old. As I got older though, I began to help out more and by the time I was 13-14 years old, I was an old hand and did my share. Of course, I had to pay my dues. The very first real time I was put in back to help, I was told to set back on top of the cab and wave a handkerchief so the cows in back could see us. So, I sat back there waving that handkerchief like a fool and could not for the life of me understand what was so funny…or the first time you were asked to chop ice off of the top of the tanks and the old hand would slap the water with the flat side to splash that ice water up on you.You had to be a boy on a ranch to understand this…One of the great things about those days was finishing…lol… we started early and would be finished by 9 or 10 and everyone would take a little break. We would get back to the warmth of the house and there was always a snack waiting. Grandma always had coffee waiting and some little something on the table. My grandpas favorite was her pound cake and that was always a treat to see slices of it on the kitchen table as we walked in. I miss those days and I guess looking back on them, maybe it was not that cold or maybe I just wish I could be back in the cab of that old truck.
LITTLE HOSS RANCH POUND CAKE
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons lemon extracts
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
3 cups flour
Mix all ingredients in mixing bowl for 2 ½ minutes or until well blended
Pour batter into a greased and lightly floured Bundt pan
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes
One of the great things about my childhood was having the best of both worlds. Ft Worth was a magical place at Christmas time. You always knew it was the holiday season when the downtown was lighted up and out lined. Now a days it is on all the time, but when I was kid, downtown was only outlined at Christmas. The Christmas parade was a huge deal and many of the department stores had special sections for kids to shop by themselves. The Zoo was always decorated and the train in Forrest Park would have lights and tinsel on it…and then there was the ranch.
Grandpa would always hang lights in the trees on the drive way and on their house, even though there was not a lot of traffic that way. Deer hunting and varmint hunting always was a big deal at Christmas time and there was it seemed an endless stream of food coming out of grandma’s kitchen.
Actual work seemed to slow down except for the early mornings of going out to feed the cattle. When that daily winter chore was finished a lot of the times, especially when we were only a few days from Christmas, everyone would just come back after lunch and work in the shop. One thing that stands out in my memory, is everyone was in a good mood and I looked forward to spending as much time at the ranch as I could.
I guess the older you get, the more nostalgic you get., and you begin to reflect more on what was and what you had. When your living in the moment ,you can’t really can’t see it , because you are there. It is only with the distance of time that you are able to see that what was, and for me ,that wraps around me like a warm blanket.
I hope each and every one of you have the same memories and experiences in your life and are able to hold on all that they mean to you. Merry Christmas and Happy new Year.
I know that the normal and most expected use for that leftover brisket is some really good sandwiches, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. I mean you could not beat a good brisket sandwich with a stick even if you wanted to. But if you would like to try something different and something that can dress up your table or take that football party to a different level, I have a wonderful suggestion for you. This is a great recipe with a couple of steps, but still easy, and it is delicious. It is Ranchers stew and it is a new way to use that left over brisket.
1 large russet potato peeled and sliced into half moons
2 ½ cups of that great brisket recipe that I gave you. Chopped or diced
½ cups carrots diced
½ cup yellow onion diced
¼ cup bell pepper diced
2 Tbsp minced garlic
4 Tbsp butter
4 ½ Tbsp flour
3-4 cups of that pan drippings and broth from the brisket remember I told you to save it
1 ½ cup shredded cheddar
In a medium size sauce pan place potatoes and cover with water and place on medium high heat.
Cook potatoes until just done then remove from heat drain well and let cool
In a large pot or stovetop casserole over medium heat melt butter. Add onions, carrots and bell pepper. Cook vegetable stirring constantly for about 1 minute
Add Garlic and continue to cook and stir until vegetable start to brown.
Add Brisket and stir well to completely combine for about 2 minutes.
Add flour and stir well to form roux.
Add the pan drippings and broth 1 cup at a time stirring and bringing back to a boil until thick sauce forms.
Salt and pepper to taste
Remove from heat and arrange potatoes on top of stew and then cover with cheese.
Cover and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes
Remove cover and turn on broiler and broil until cheese just starts to brown
Remove and serve.
This is a great dish that is sure to please.
TEXAS BRISKET (well almost)
Texas is known for many things. The Dallas Cowboys, BBQ, boots, buckles, Willie Nelson and Tex-Mex cuisine, are just a few on a very long list that come to mind. Texas regional cuisine is unique in so many ways. You can mention Chicken Fried Steak in the same sentence as Beef Enchiladas topped with Chili or the name of any BBQ joint in any town with a population of over 100.
In Texas, beef is king and our traditions of BBQ has followed that tradition for about 150 years. Texas BBQ is all about smoking and that cooking method came to us by way of the Czech and German immigrant to Texas in the 1800’s. They brought their smoking techniques and well…the rest is history. You will find smoked brisket in virtually every BBQ joint across Texas, and it is one very tasty dish. Depending on the size the cut, they will be smoked anywhere from 12 to 17 hours. The preferred wood for smoking in Texas is mesquite, but many will debate that point with either oak or even pecan. the one thing that is never debated is the wonderful and unique flavor the smoking gives to the meat.
Now, I know that not everyone has or can even own a smoker, because of any number of reasons, so…I have come up with a recipe that can come as close to the flavor of smoked brisket as is possible. All it will take is one special ingredient…and you really do need this to get this flavor
I am not going to give you measurements for the spices, because honestly it would depend on the size of the brisket. Remember this though…this is a big piece of meat and a little sprinkle is not going to get it done. You need to really cover this brisket with some spices…
Granulated garlic or garlic powder
McCormick Mesquite BBQ seasoning you can order this from Spice world.com
Cover meat with spices in the order give
Place brisket in deep roasting pan and tightly cover with foil
Place in a 250 degree oven
Slow roast until completely done
It is really going to depend on the size of the brisket 6 hours is a good starting point. The brisket will be done when I sharp knife inserted in the thickest part of the meat goes in very easily.
When it is done remove from oven and let cool and then clean and slice against the grain to serve.One very important thing that you want to do, is save the pan dripping and the juices because I am going to give you a recipe that will knock your socks off and you will need them to do the recipe.
GRACIE AND BUDDY
I had a dog for 15 ½ years. Her name was Gracie. We found each other in Prescott Arizona in 1998.Over 20 years ago. She was a scrawny and sickly puppy when I found her. At the time, I had no intension of having a pet, I was busy and traveled a great deal and just did not think I could take care of one. Sometimes though, things just don’t work out like you planned. Such was the case with Gracie. Instead of finding her a home, she schemed her way into my heart and for the next 15 ½ years she never left my side. Very shortly after we came to be, I moved to Mesquite Nevada and took a job as a sous chef at a casino. I had moved into an efficiency apartment in a brand new complex, and my apartment was on the third floor. Although it was an efficiency it was fairly large and it was very nice. Gracie was about 3 months old and a little ball of charcoal colored fluff. She was full of energy and like all puppies she wanted attention and wanted to play. I was working about 10 hours a day from early in the morning until the middle of the afternoon, and she was by herself a lot. For the first few days after I started my job, everything was okay, but then the third day arrived and when I walked through the door at the end of my work day, my apartment looked like a bomb had gone off in it. I stood in disbelief at what I was seeing. The cushions of the couch were on the floor and ripped to shreds. The couch itself had large rips all over it. Books and knickknacks where scattered across the floor from one end of the apartment to the other in pieces, and the book shelf was turned over on its side leaning against the remnants of my little Palm plant that looked as though it had suffered a horrible death. My Nintendo player lay in pieces and 3 of the vertical blinds on the sliding glass door had been pulled off and destroyed and my trash can from the kitchen was laying in pieces and garbage was strewn all across the apartment… Laying in the middle of all of this, looking up at me with a wagging tail going a mile a minute was Gracie. It took me 2 hours to clean up the house. I stuffed the foam back into the cushions and couch and covered rips with duct tape. My poor little palm plant along with just about everything else on the floor went into the trash. Of course, Gracie was totally oblivious to anything and when I was finally finished cleaning and repairing and sat down on what was left of my couch, she did as she always did. She jumped up next to me, laid down and laid here head on my leg. The next days and weeks that followed were almost a mirror of that first day. I would come home and the apartment would be wrecked. I was slowly losing my mind on what to do until one day I was offered a kennel and that solved the problem. Gracie would stay in the kennel all day while I was at work. When she hit a little over a year old I started letting her out when I went to work and except for a few minor set backs she never attacked the house again.
We lived in Mesquite for 3 years and then moved to Portland Oregon.
I had seen Gracie grow from a hell raising destructive puppy, to a beautiful and gentle young lady. We lived in Portland for about 2 ½ years and then moved to Oak Grove Kentucky. by then Gracie was 5 years old and as mellow and sweet as any animal I had ever known. One night, when I came home from work, I saw a lump or something sitting by my front door. At first, I thought it was package, but as I got out of my truck and started up the steps on my deck the lump moved and then jumped up. I stood there staring at a little black puppy…and it was staring back.I started to reach down to pet him and he immediately took off. I laughed about it and that was it. The next morning when I let Gracie out,the puppy was back and laying on the deck. Gracie immediately ran over to it and began sniffing it. Again I reached down to try to pet it, but just like the night before it took off. The puppy continued coming around and I began to sit food and water out for it.By then it would slowly inch up to me and allow me to pet it. Occasionally, I would look out the window when Gracie was outside and see them playing together in the yard. One night it was raining and storming really hard and I let the puppy in the house…and that was it. I was now the owner of 2 dogs…lol… I named him Buddy. Gracie was quick to accept him and Buddy was crazy about Gracie and would follow her everywhere.
For the next 10 years the 3 of us traveled all over the country through good times and bad. I returned to Texas in 2010 first to Whitney Texas and then to San Angelo. Gracie was getting old, but still in good health, but in the summer of 2013 she took a very drastic turn and deteriorated very quickly. The light had gone out of her eyes and she was having more and more trouble walking. She spent the greater portion of each day sleeping and by November it was obvious that nothing else could be done and I had to make the hardest decision of my life. The night before I took her to the vet, I picked her up and lay her on the couch next to me and she did what she had always done…she laid her head on my leg. I was with her to the end and she was buried at my cousins place wrapped in her blanket under the Texas sky.
The days following were hard for me and for Buddy. He was confused and wondering where his beloved Gracie was.He was not eating and I was a wreck, but together we got through it. I made one more move to a little town called Big lake in 2015. Buddy was almost 12 years old and getting grey, but still spry and enjoying the good life. On a Sunday in October I felt like getting out for a while and we took a short road trip enjoying some beautiful weather. That night all was fine as usual, but Monday morning when I got up something was wrong. Buddy could barely get up and seemed confused. I had to help him outside, I thought he was just having a senior day, but by the afternoon he was worse. He had not eaten or drank anything most of the day. I took him to the vet which was an hour away. They examined and at first the news seemed good and they thought he just had an infection, but he was running a very high fever. They gave him a shot and gave me some antibiotics for him and sent us home. He passed away the next afternoon. It happened so quickly, I was really taken by surprise and I felt helpless to help him. He was 12 ½ years old. We buried him next to Gracie and I found comfort in the fact that they were together again.
For almost 20 years I had Gracie and Buddy in my life. Through thick or thin and good and bad it was the three of us and then the two of us against the world. Gracie has been gone 6 years now and Buddy has been gone 3 years, but there is not a day or a week that goes by that I do not think of them. I pass their pictures every day on my wall along with the rest of my family. They are still a presence in my life and always will be. I could write a book about all of our adventures together and all the antics that we shared. I don’t know if you ever stop missing those that you lose…but for me Gracie and Buddy will always be part of my life… and they are as alive today in my memories as the they were the first day that we met.
GOT TO HAVE THIS PART TWO
Besides the obvious things that a good cook needs to keep on hand as far as daily staples, over the years I have found some products that I feel are superior when it comes to delivering flavor and consistency. I keep these little gems on hand and use them almost on a daily basis and lament when I run out and have to use something else. These items can take your cooking to a new level and I am happy to share them with you.
1. Many years ago, I was opening a Tex-Mex restaurant in the heart of Nashville. I had already decided that brisket was going to be on the menu. Try as I might I could not find an economical way to do this. Of course I wanted it to be authentic and therefore I wanted mesquite wood to smoke it, but reality set in as far as the expense involved and the owners just would not go for it…so…I came up with a plan B. I searched and searched and found an ingredient that I have been using ever since and I swear by this product. McCormick Mesquite BBQ Seasoning
Now this product is not normally found in grocery stores, because it is a commercial product,but you can find it on Amazon and I order it through SpicePlace.com. It has an amazing flavor and can be used for a variety of recipes. I highly recommend it when you want that very unique flavor…you will not be disappointed.
2. As a chef and professional cook, I have had access to certain products that are available to commercial kitchens, but not always available in regular grocery stores. One of these products is what is known as “bases”. You have probably seen me in a recipe refer to chicken base…well this is the ingredient that I am talking about. A base is a product that is most commonly in a very thick paste form. It is concentrated and usually has a high salt content.Commercial cooking has been using these for years and they come in all flavors(chicken base, beef base, lobster base, fish base…) They are a wonderful product and can really instill that flavor you are looking for. Several years ago a product came out that mirrors these commercial bases.The name brand is “Better than bullion” and it is so true.
It is a fantastic product and comes in chicken and beef flavor. In most cases you find it on the soup aisle or with the bullion cubes.I swear you will love this product and all it will take is one use and you will be hooked.
3. I know all of y’all have seen a recipe that uses beef broth or chicken broth. It is a common ingredient in a whole lot of recipes. A little trick that chefs use is substituting broth with Consommé.
You have most probably seen this on the soup aisle, because that is exactly what it is…a clarified soup. It is made with a concentrated broth or stock or a combination of both and it is packed with flavor. Now I am not going to lead you on…making consommé is a process and it is not really anything you want to do…but it is easy to buy. I highly recommend the next time you have recipe that calls for beef broth that you substitute Consommé…you will be surprised.
simply because I have to have coffee in the morning
I GOT TO HAVE THIS PART ONE
I think there are just some things, that you just can’t do without. I also believe that there are some things that are essential to good cooking or, are just better ingredients. Whether for a recipe or just taste, there is nothing wrong with spending just a little bit more to get the desired result or to get that wonderful flavor. For instance, I can not imagine having pancakes or waffles or a great biscuit, without real maple syrup. Now, I know maple syrup is expensive, but I do not have pancakes or waffles every day. I also do not slather the before mentioned treats in a gallon of syrup every time I indulge in them. I do not think there is anything wrong or inferior in commercial brand syrups, and I eat them and I use them. I also totally don’t mind spending $6.00 on a bottle of pure maple syrup knowing it will probably last me a few months. The same thing is true for vanilla…now there is nothing wrong with vanilla extract and I use it, but only as a last resort. I keep a bottle of pure vanilla in my pantry constantly and the way it is used, it lasts for quite a while. The point that I am trying to make is pretty simple. Life is short and it should be enjoyed to the fullest. There are some things that I personally think are essential in a kitchen. I call them my “can’t do without list”. They are ingredients and condiments that through the years I have discovered as staples that I use over and over and offer flavor, convenience and that little extra punch to many recipes and I am going to share them with you. The truth is…you probably already know them.
1.The first one is the most obvious. It is Butter. Yes folks, butter. Not margarine. Real butter. Butter adds a distinctive flavor that can both be bold and also very sublime, but can add a ton of textures to a dish. The other great thing about butter is it goes with anything, and I do mean anything. Whether it is a vegetable of any kind or fish, or beef, or chicken, or pork. You want a better biscuit? Don’t use lard…use butter. You want a better sauce? Don’t use corn starch…use butter. Butter is the ultimate cooking fat and should be in every good cooks refrigerator.
2. Another great fat that is essential to good cooking is cream. Like butter, cream can add body and a delicate flavor to a dish with just the most minimal effort. Sometimes all it takes is just a splash as a finisher to take a dish to another level…and like butter, it goes with everything. I always have a pint of cream in my frig and so should you.
3. If you are going to use an oil…please, use a good olive oil. Olive oil is phenomenal for vegetables or any kind of sautéing and is very versatile… One of the great things about olive oil also is, it is very good for you. It is heart healthy and low in saturated fat, but best of all it has a wonderful flavor.
4. Whole grain and stone ground mustard is a condiment that is very often forgotten and overlooked as far as cooking is concerned. I think that most people only think of mustard as the yellow stuff that you put on a hot dog, but I am here to tell you that these mustards can add a punch to sauces, dressings and a host or recipes and…they are just a great condiment.
Like all children growing up, Fridays were a day of celebration and of anticipation of adventures to come.It signaled the end of the week. School was out for two glorious days and that meant freedom for a boy.There could be a visit to the ranch or even to Rankin. If we were staying at home it still meant Saturday morning cartoons,endless hours on my bike exploring the neighborhood and pushing my boundaries.Meeting up with friends and beginning the elaborate planning of some game that we would invent as we went along or getting a pickup game of baseball in a empty field or simply laying in the grass staring at the sky could take up some serious time. Friday also meant Friday night,and that meant in most cases either a special meal at home, like taco night or burger night or pizza night. Taco night would be a big skillet of taco meat set in the middle of the table with all the fixings set around it and we would all just dig in and make our tacos just the way you liked them. Burger night was like taco night only with a big plate of burger patties that was done outside on the grill, and we would make our own burgers with all the condiments on the table…just as a side note we never had hamburger buns,we always had our burgers on bread,which is still how I like them today. Pizza night was a family affair – mamma would make the dough and then we would all put what we liked on it (mine was and still is today hamburger and onions with cheese). If we were not having a special dinner at home, Friday nights meant going out to dinner to one of our favorite restaurants like Pancho’s or The Pancake parlor. Friday nights also meant Nightmare Theater on Channel 11. It showed old scary movies and was hosted by the guy who played Icky Twerp on Slam bang Theater. Friday’s have changed a lot since those days. I became a cook and worked on almost every weekend there was and mostly at night. Weekends became just another day, which is why I have so much respect and camaraderie with service workers, because they are usually working when everyone else is off. and having fun. It is fun though to remember those days and how excited you were when Friday got here and unknown adventures laid ahead. What are your Friday memories?
For those of y’all that follow the Texas Chef, you know that I often speak of Sunday breakfast, and of how it was a special meal. Well, it was…it was something that we all looked forward to and it did not matter if it was at home in Fort Worth or if it was at the ranch, Sunday breakfast was a special time and many memories were built around it. Even sometimes on the rare occasion when we were not home on Sunday mornings, my family would seek out a restaurant and have a big Sunday breakfast the same as if we were in our own kitchen.
Sunday breakfast was a tradition that was passed down in my family, that reinforced what food and meals were really for. Sure, it was nourishment and you had to eat to live…but, food for us, and meals were more than that, it was what we shared and what brought us together, both in the good times and the bad times. For as far back as I can remember, food was the thread that wove through us and made for some memories that I still cherish to this day.
Sunday breakfast was the meal where the good food came out…lol…During the week, there was so much going on with school and work, that there was no time to waste, but…on Sunday mornings you could take your time and linger. Many a talk we had around the Sunday morning breakfast table…and…like I said, that is when the good food came out. Sundays were times for pancakes, western omelets, waffles or mama’s blueberry crumb coffee cake. I especially liked Sunday breakfast when I was at the ranch, because I could look forward to the real deal…steak and eggs. Grandma would cut steaks off of a roast and pound them out and dust them in seasoned flour and then fry them in her cast iron skillet. They would come out so tender and so tasty…you could literally cut them with a fork…add her famous home fries and a couple of fried eggs fried in bacon grease…now that is a memory worth holding on to…lol…
I hope each and every one of you create your own memories and start a Sunday morning tradition. It does not have to be big or extravagant, what is really about is sharing and being with one another…lets eat.
Down Home Texas
The “Down Home Texas Tour”, has been an amazing experience for me this year, and has provided me with the opportunity to do what I love to do…and that is travel around Texas.
The tour kicked off in February in Andrews, Texas, and has continued through to the present day, and I have been having a blast. I have traveled to San Angelo, Presidio, Ft Davis and Van Horn. I had stops in Alpine, Brady, Lamesa and Kerrville. I went to Fredericksburg, Waco, Ft Worth and Weatherford. I visited San Antonio, Llano, Bandera, Dublin, Ft Stockton and Big Spring. When it all is said and done, I visited over 30 towns this year and I have met scores of the nicest people that there could possibly be. I have been sung to, I have been given birthday presents, I have been invited to people’s homes and to family events and the hospitality that I have been shown has been indescribable.
Of course, it has not been without a few glitches and moments to remember. In Victoria, Texas the event was cancelled at the last moment because of the venue not being ready and HEB stepped in just in time on the day of and saved the day. There was the blown tire on my way to Marfa – I had to cancel and reschedule (and by the way, I will see you Marfa in a couple of weeks). My car overheated on the way to Grandbury and that event had to be rescheduled. The rain storm on the way to San Antonio that was so intense I had to pull over and stop because I literally could not see the road. I have spotted Javalina hogs, Porcupine and Deer. I have come to a dead stop in deep West Texas to let a herd of wild goats cross the road and I have been stopped 4 times by the State Patrol.
The greatest thing that has happened to me though, is meeting and making so many new friends and having the opportunity to meet fans and visit with some really, really nice people…and, it ain’t over yet. In the weeks to come I will be in Snyder, Coleman, Grandbury and Marfa and will be making a return visit to Andrews where it all started…and…we are still adding dates.
I want to thank and give a great big shout out to all the folks and businesses that have contributed to the tour. The Bandera general Store and Glen and his wife have hosted me on three separate occasions and it is a great place. Porter’s Market, who sponsored the tour the whole month of April. If you have the opportunity to visit a Porter’s store I highly recommend it. Fat Boys BBQ in Brady, Texas…try their Quail Poppers. McCall’s and Judy in Lamesa Texas who fed me cookies and I had a wonderful time. The Dublin Bottling Works in Dublin, Texas. The Farmers Market in Weatherford. Lowe’s Super market in Big Lake and Ft Stockton and of course to HEB that bailed out the event in Victoria.
It has truly been an amazing time and I am looking forward to the rest of what is yet to come and to all the adventures that are still waiting to be had…I hope to see each and every one of y’all down the road.
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 overview, add in 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, 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, 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 outlined 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 seconds 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 is 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 used 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 once 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 used 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 abandoned 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 grandmother’s and grandfather’s 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 – 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 quite 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