Sunday, April 28, 2013

If you write it . . .

I often get asked if I think kids still read adventure stories.  Stories, that is, that take place on this world, in this universe, roughly within the last hundred years or so, and don’t involve werewolves, vampires, or swordplay.  
 My immediate response is either a slightly sarcastic (I know, those of you who know me personally are stunned that I would be even slightly sarcastic), "Well, if they don’t the last, six hundred pages, eight drafts, and ten years of my life have been wasted!", or a wide-eyed “Geez, I sure hope so!”

I have actually wondered about this, though, as I ran my eyes along the new book shelf in the middle grade section of our local library.  It sure seems as if the majority of titles for kids in the age group I’m writing for involve some sort of unworldly creature that must be vanquished.  Which is not to say that that is not in and of itself an adventure, and thus an adventure story. 

 But while I admit to having an extremely vivid imagination, it tends to stay grounded on earth.  And while I did enjoy the occasional fantasy like Madeleine L’Engles’s A Wrinkle in Time, or Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, I tended to prefer My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, the Misty of Chincoteague series by Marguerite Henry . . .

I asked our local librarian if kids still took out the books I loved in my childhood and the ones I continued reading through adolescence and into high school whenever I needed the comfort of the familiar - the Lois Lenski series including Strawberry Girl, Blue Ridge Billy, and Bayou Suzette, Katherine Paterson’s  Bridge to Terabithia, Kin Platt’s The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear. (Okay, I admit I was a bit morbid back then.)

She assured me adventure stories were still popular with both boys and girls.  Gary Paulsen’ Hatchet, The River and others, Ben Mikaelsen’s, Stranded, Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me; books that take you out of yourself and  away, but not so far away that you don’t think, yeah, I could do that.  Or, I wish I’d been able to do that.  Or even, I wish I’d grown up there.  

 So that’s the kind of books I’ve written.  The sort of if-I’d grown-up-there-I-could-have-done-that books that I loved to read.  Now, will kids these days want to read them?

Geez, I hope so.

Just to show you I haven't changed, here's a few shots of my bookshelf now-

Yeah. Like that.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

If you give a girl a pig . .

Yep, another semi cooking blog. This one’s for you, Amy Scott. Meat.

But first, I must tell you my asparagus are coming up. Or is it, my asparagus is coming up? Either way, if I don’t eat them raw standing in the garden, my favorite cooking technique is to grill them.
Toss them in a little bit of good olive oil and sprinkle a little kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper on the spears, then drop them onto a hot grill for about a minute. That’s all it takes. Amazing side dish.

Or serve the grilled asparagus cold on a spring salad with a little vinaigrette. Also great on pizza. The asparagus. Not the vinaigrette. Never tried a vinaigrette pizza. I assume it would be a bit soggy. 
Just my take on the subject.

Now for the pork. We are talking barbeque here, oven barbeque for those of us not fortunate enough to live near a great BBQ  place. Which is 95% of us. Or have a wood smoker, which cuts out another 50% or so.

Get yourself a whole pork shoulder. I know, it’s a lot of meat, but BBQ freezes beautifully in small packages, and then you can have it anytime you want, with no more effort than remembering to pull it out of the freezer.

Personally I would recommend a wild pig that your neighbor brought you in December and which you have butchered yourself and frozen. But I realize some of you might not be that fortunate.

 Especially those of you in cities. In that case, try and find a locally sourced pig. You will notice the difference, I assure you.

Rub the entire shoulder with a mixture of 3 parts kosher salt, two parts granulated onion, two parts granulated garlic, one part each black coarse ground pepper, smoked paprika, ground cumin and ground thyme. If you like spice add one part cayenne.

Put the shoulder in a pan and add 1 tsp. of liquid smoke, one dark beer, a splash of cider vinegar, and cover tightly. Put in a 300 degree oven for 4-5 hrs or until you can pull the meat off the bone. Uncover and cool.

(I remove most of the fat before I make my bbq. If you don’t, cook for at least an hour uncovered to get the fat cap crisp.) Be sure and watch during this time to make sure all the liquid doesn’t evaporate. Add water if necessary. You don’t want the stuff on the bottom to burn, or the meat to dry out.

Cool the shoulder in the pan overnight in the fridge. In the morning take the meat out and remove the fat that has congealed on the top of the liquid (which will now resemble jello)

Pull the meat off the bone, removing as much fat as you wish in the process.  Add to the stock in the bottom of the pan 2 T ketchup, 2 T mustard, and 2 T cider vinegar. Heat up the mix (if you want you can transfer the sauce beginnings to a saucepan at this point.

Taste the now liquid mixture after stirring thoroughly. 

Now, depending on your preference, if you like Memphis or Kansas City style, add honey, more ketchup or tomato paste till it tastes right. If you like South Carolina style, add mustard to taste. If, like me, you like a NC vinegar based sauce, add more vinegar. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Now you can get creative if you want.  Add a flavored vinegar, or balsamic? Add that weird mustard your friend gave you for a present last year. Add Cajun spices. Whatever you want to make it taste the way you like it. The hell with everybody else.

This is YOUR Que.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

If you give a dog a walk . . .

Spring returned this morning after three crazy days of heat, and I was actually able to wait till after 8 a.m. to walk the dogs. Took the camera this time, so this shall be a rather pictorial blog. And yes, spellcheck thinks that’s a word, so it is.

what are we waiting for?

The dogs are extremely happy to be walking, after a day of rain and no walk. An acre and a half of yard and woods invisibly fenced off for them to run in, and they want to walk with a human. I think we’ve taken this domestication thing too far.
 lets go!
mandy shows off her new hair growing back. (it is, i insist it is.)

the stream is running full
 chance inspects the storm damage

we are #247 on the list for cleanup. or maybe 237. it's hard to keep track.
 the pink guy shows up every year down by the creek. i just love him.

some bird planted this. haven't seen it before on the road. birdscaping. nice touch.
now this is a happy dog.
 the first mayapples
i swear, there is something exciting here!

brave bug needs a drink. walking is hard work.

come on, i know it's steep. but at the end is breakfast!
the end. (with pansies)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

If you give a girl a fish . . .

 Seared striped bass
striped bass pooling after bait fish

Cut the fish into four 6 oz. portions. Make sure all scales are removed from skin. Pat the skin dry with a paper towel and season the fish on both sides with coarse salt.

Heat a large sauté pan coated generously with extra virgin olive oil over high heat. Grape seed oil will work as well.

Coat the bottom of another slightly smaller sauté pan with olive oil. This is to keep the fish from sticking. Gently place the fish fillets skin side down in the sauté pan and place the other sauté pan directly on top of the fish. This presses the skin of the bass onto the bottom of the sauté pan and will allow the skin to crisp.

After 3 minutes remove the top pan from the fish so that steam can escape. As the bass cooks it will turn from translucent to opaque. Cook the fish approximately 2/3's of the way on the skin side (watch as the fish changes in translucency from the skin up) and flip it over for the last 1/3 of the cooking time.

The rule for fish is about 7 to 8 minutes per inch of thickness, a little less if you like your fish more on the rare side, but bass is an extremely dense fish, and may take longer to cook than lighter fishes.

This bass needs nothing else if it is Cuttyhunk fresh striper. A grind of the pepper shaper, and if you want to be decadent, a slight drizzle of a good balsamic vinegar. Not too much, or your lovely crispy skin will wilt.
i did not catch this

The first time I went striped bass fishing was seven years ago.  Now, some of you are probably doing the math in your head.  That’s right; I never went bass fishing the entire fifteen years I lived on the island. 

It’s not that the fishing guides weren’t generous about taking us out if they had no clients, I could’ve gone any number of times each summer.  Except for one small problem.  I get seasick.  Really seasick, especially in the boat that’s bobbing up and down on the waves while anchored. 

While this fact stopped me from actually fishing, it never stopped me from talking about fishing as if I knew something about the sport.  I felt as if I had been fishing for years, just from the countless morningsI spent listening to George, Joe, and Roland talk about fishing while they sat on the other side of the counter at 6 AM waiting for their eggs.  I knew so much about the sport of striped bass fishing from listing to the guides all those years I felt I was qualified to write articles about the subject of striper fishing off the island of Cuttyhunk. 
bass plugs

Okay, it sounds a bit crazy now, and were I to undertake such a project today I might consider doing a bit of research.  But it seemed like a good idea at the time.  And in fact, I did place three articles in Trophy Striper magazine in the summer of 1991.  I traded each article fee, which was three hundred dollars, for advertising space next to the article.  

And it’s not like the guys didn’t actually say those things I quoted them as saying.  I’m sure they did, at some point, during some summer while I was cooking breakfast.  Just maybe not to me, and not in an interview format. 

But hey, those articles and the ads next to them brought in a fair amount of business.  And that’s what it’s all about.
bass plug we found on barges beach last summer

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

When It's Springtime in the Shenandoah Valley ...

It’s spring here, or at least the calendar says it’s spring. 

 The weather alternates between sunshine and snow flurries, the daffodils are frostbitten and stunted up here on the mountain, even the lettuce I planted three weeks ago is confused.  

 We are two weeks behind town here in our blooming seasons in the best of springs, and this has not been the best of springs. 

 Some things maintain their usual cycles, though.  The road into town is daily littered with at least one or two small bodies awaiting disposal by vulture and crow.  This is the birthing season, when skunks and raccoons have filled their dens with new kits and the year old males are shoved out into the world to fend for themselves.  

 And since we have inserted ourselves into most of their habitats it is unfortunately natural that we find them crowded into ours.  We pave two and four-lane roads through their fields and forests and the young males find themselves facing an unfamiliar and terrifying realm. 

Think of them as teenage boys stumbling into a grown-up world they have no knowledge of, and perhaps have a little more patience on the roads in February, March and April.  I laugh when I call spring "Stupid Young Male Skunk Season," but it is always "Stupid Human Drivers Season."
Coyotes, too, give birth around this time, and from the dens that ring the property around the house, come a cacophony of squeaks and whines and growls that keep the dogs on edge.  Unlike the smaller animals, we don’t see the coyotes as road kill.  In fact, we rarely see the coyotes at all, although we can hear them throughout the year.   

And there was that one winter when, instead of just seeing tracks everywhere, I saw the almost ghostly silhouettes of a half a dozen coyotes through the blanket of a thick snowstorm, racing in a head-to-tail line at line at the edge of the trees just past the garden.  

We are in their world.