Y’all, I know I don’t have to tell you that since moving to Texas I have become nigh unto obsessed with, if not possessed by, a certain kind of Texas BBQ—central TX style beef. Smoked beef of certain cuts, to be more specific, and those cuts, prepared by the Kreuz and Lockhart family of pits, to be precise. Brisket, burnt ends, and beef belly, Oh MY! If you’re not a carnivore, I will simply tell you that the umami jammed into beef by means of the proprietary rub-and-smoke ingredients and processes of these meat-mystics is akin to combining all of the known vegan or vegetarian Fifth Taste elements (not to be confused with The Fifth Element, though that has its admittedly tasty moments as well) and letting a flock of angels swim around in it for a while before serving. All told, it makes good sense to me to post a paean to this fabulous stuff on a day dedicated to love.
Kreuz/Lockhart beef is so good that I can add nothing meaningful by making “recipes” for food with it, and once in my greedy hands it would never last long enough to get from its brown paper wrapper all the way to my kitchen anyhow (see note‡ below)
Here’s my Lockhart take on an Old Fashioned. Hope you like it; Lockhart’s spectacular smoked meats deserve all of the signature taste treats they can get for further exposure and dining/drinking pleasure. Bacon’s dandy, but it’s no substitute for Lockhart goodies. Not that I’m prejudiced or anything.
Miss Kitty’s Smokin’ Lockhart Old-Fashioned (Miss Kitty’s SLO, for short)
2 tsp Miss Kitty’s Smokin’ Lockhart Simple Syrup (recipe below)*
1 tsp liquid from Texas Candy-Krisp Jalapeños
2 or more dashes orange bitters, optional
1 jigger (1.5 fl oz) Herman Marshall Texas Bourbon Whiskey
Stir these ingredients together and add ice.
Twist a good hunk of orange zest over the top of the drink.
Garnish with an orange slice and a Texas Candy-Krisp Jalapeño.
I hope I don’t have to tell y’all it’s time to drink the potion!
* Miss Kitty’s Smokin’ Lockhart Simple Syrup
(My invention, and danged tasty if I do say so myself. And, naturally, I do.)
Put “leftover” ‡Note: (HA!—more likely, better get some ‘specially for this recipe, or you’ll eat it all before you can do anything else with it, like I usually do) Lockhart beef belly, burnt ends, and/or brisket in a pot or—better yet—a slow cooker, and cover with water. Simmer for at least three hours, adding water as needed to keep the meat all covered and get maximum broth from it. When it’s concentrated enough to smell like you crawled into the Lockhart smoker for a nap, strain the meat and fat out of the liquid, put the liquid into a suitable stovetop pot (nonstick is handy for syrups), add an equal amount of granulated sugar, and cook it together over medium to medium-high heat until the sugar’s all melted and it begins to bubble, but don’t scorch it. You’ve got enough built-in smoke from the meat not to want to spoil that smoky goodness.
If it’s too thick when done, blend in a little more water, and if it’s not thick enough, melt in a bit more sugar. When it’s cooled, you’ll probably need to skim off the fat that stayed on the meat-strained liquid. Not an exact science here, but a fine art. This stuff is so freaking delicious, I use it like honey on toast or cornbread, syrup on waffles, and whatever else comes into my tiny head before I just lick the spoon.
And just in case you’ve never seen this classic moment of Old Fashioned comedic history:
(Jim Backus & co. in a delightful little scene from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.)
Cheers from here!
Rain. It’s been quite plentiful in North Texas this last year or so, which isn’t historically common. Certainly feels like a different place, whether the weather is on a truly new cycle or it’s merely a blip in the cosmic scheme of things, and my traveling-companion and I marvel every time we’re out and about at how strangely, beautifully green the region is for this time of year. It helps to take the edge off of the heat, as well, and I can’t help but smell that magical eau-de-vie perfume exhaled by the world when it’s rainy and feel renewed, myself. What a calming effect it has.
I know that many parts of the world are being treated less kindly by the rains and getting swamped in floods, and hope that mother earth will find a balance that harms none, helps all to flourish, but can’t help being grateful for our gentler and more nourishing version of the weather thus far. Our road trip to Santa Fe and back in late July/early August not only provided further evidence in its proliferation of green and growing things along our route but treated us to the beauties of stormy summer skies and perfumed earthy air quite a few times, as well. While storms do bring their troubles with them, those that do kindly leave us unharmed are a magnificent show of power and spectacle and beauty beyond human invention and remind me to show my respect and appreciation for nature more often.
The scent is all; this haunting
fragrance takes, in perfect synchrony,
my breath away and gives it back again,
back in electric rush as though
I’d leapt from ocean’s-depths
straight into air again—
This moment, this aching, longing,
of miniature infinity, this marks the time
when I find myself renewed, reborn—
The atomized eternity
that I breathe in, that I
pull in through every singing, sharp
electron of my frame, makes me go racing
back into the origins of time—still
fleeting, pass through iron gates
to death, and just as suddenly,
burst forth and know the spangled joys
of present life again
Santa Fe Afternoon
(A Breaking Storm’s Baptism)
Ochre and indigo, shadows and fire,
and in the far-off pines, a chanting bird
insinuating secret things is heard,
then joined by other birds, whose hearts’ desire
Is that the fulsome, clouded, darkling sky
should soon release a feathered shaft its own:
the lightning, thunder echoing with groan
and shout, to rout the perching birds to fly,
For they all wait, as we, gravity-bound,
wait under porches’ purple-gloaming eaves
for when the rain shakes us out of the leaves
to chase again the richness of this ground,
For water always wakens us once more,
Resuscitating all with petrichor.
With this little photo-essay and pair of poems, I’m reflecting on those joys, but also giving you a little preview: my books #2 and 3 should be published in good time for winter gift shopping, whether you’re interested in giving something to someone else or treating yourself! One of the books is a second volume sharing additional adventures in Miss Kitty’s Fabulous Emporium of Magical Thinking (or, MiKiFEMT-1), and the other will be a more grownup book of my poetry and visual images. Both in full color, this time. Not to worry, you can still get copies of that first book of nonsensical delights shipped directly to you any time you like, just by visiting good old Amazon online. You should have plenty of reading material handy in case the rain comes to visit again…
The steadily clear, cloudless skies of a still very warm October day in north Texas lend themselves mostly to seeing the world as a series of crisp cutouts, light and shadow unmitigated by much subtlety. But after spending the last six years living here, I have found an interesting fine-textured, mellow character that offers much of the softening effect the light might seem to steal from the scenery. It comes in those rare times, like yesterday afternoon, when my spousal-person and I have the time and leisure to wander slowly and savor those things that are uniquely alluring about this still somewhat alien terrain.
Instead of the flat and unchanging brown I had somehow come to expect from Texas when I was still a foreigner to it all, sitting up in the very northwest corner of the country and imagining I was moving to dry, unmitigated plains, this part of the state is actually a softly rolling zone, a puffy quilt as opposed to a hospital-corners flat sheet. There are little ravines and arroyos tucked into it, sliding slopes of no great height but enough curvaceous amplitude to give a sense of motion and variation. There are no natural lakes around here, but a good number of created ones, and Ray Roberts Lake is a massive reservoir with thousands of acres of state park land along its shores. The farther inland oak-and-pine forested walking paths are currently closed because of flooding, an exceedingly rare thing in this region but brought on by last winter and spring’s astonishing rain performance. So even if it weren’t for the possibility that there’d be more mosquitos in the shady walk (thanks a bunch, West Nile virus), sticking to the breezier open areas of the lakeside was more promising.
As we drove out toward the lake, I was reminded of how the tall native grasses’ and wildflowers’ color and texture, height, and movement hide the sharp edges of the landscape; how the rolling terrain lulls me; how vast stretches of these, stands of trees between ranchland pastures and open plains, and the broad blue dome of the sky all become blurs of comfortable sameness. All things gain or lose specificity of detail with our relative nearness or distance, whether physical or mental.
As we’d drive nearer to a change in the topography or flora, or a lasso of vultures would tighten in the sky overhead, the edges and distinctions becoming more defined again, our eyes and minds would shift back to notice details. As we passed through these, we would relax once more into that easeful somnolence of a Sunday afternoon’s outing and see only large patches of color, texture, movement. A leafy copse at the edge of one of the area’s sweeping ranches first looks like a dark and fuzzy blend of earthy greens and browns, then gradually coalesces into trees and grasses, then proves to be shading a small group of magnificent longhorns who graze steadily, undisturbed by the larger or smaller picture.
I am reminded once more of how small a part of any picture I am, yet how free to be a moving, changing, unique point of interest within it if and as I choose. All of us are both at once: concrete and distinct, yet subsumed in the greater whole as mere specks, little dots of disappearing solidarity within the hazy afternoon of history. I am content.
Here in north Texas, the seasons are not so much defined as a slow mosey between the traditional two months of cool (also referred to locally as Winter) and the various pretend-seasons of Really Warm, Hot, and Hotter’n a Pistol. So it helps a transplanted northerner like me to occasionally do stuff that makes me feel a little more like there’s a change in the day, if not in the air. It matters less whether I do things that welcome the incoming time of year or ones that celebrate the last-hurrahs of the ending one, or, as often as not, things that bridge the gap in that same sidelong saunter as the so-called changes occur.
Since I do love autumn as much as any season, and it’s perhaps one of the less visible ones hereabouts, it’s fun to pull out recipes and treats that speak to me of the setting of summer’s sun and the rising of a harvest moon. I’m not a pumpkin fanatic like so many seem to be, and they, along with other squashes and root vegetables, are available pretty much all year long, but there is admittedly something compellingly autumnal in the scent and taste of these, roasted and seasoned just so. Anything that reinforces my sense of time, particularly when things get busy as they have been lately and I forget entirely what day it is, let alone what season. So here I am once again posting my Tuesday post on a Wednesday. I may be becoming more predictable than the seasons!
For a very easy to make little sweet that can pass for either a side dish or dessert, as need be, sweet potatoes or yams are a nice leaning-into-autumn treat that have more fiber and nutrients than the usual fluff, and are still both sweet and mild so they can be blended with quite a range of tastes successfully. In this case, I mean both our tastes and the number of flavors that meld well with sweet potatoes. As the end of summer is not yet fully fled, I can still find some juicy, ripe peaches, too, that magnificent fruit pregnant with late-season sun. Coincidentally, they share a warm, rich color palette with sweet potatoes, so they can be a lovely stealth ingredient in this dish, waiting to surprise tastebuds with their delectable and desirable intensity.
Sweet Potato-Peach Fluff
Baked or roasted sweet potato, peeled and pureed thoroughly. Equal amount of ripe peach flesh, uncooked, peeled, and also pureed. Blend them together thoroughly, adding (to your taste) browned butter, lime juice, salt, ground cardamom, and cinnamon. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold. A nice chilled glass of hard cider or freshly crushed non-alcoholic cider would not be amiss to wash this down, and it would go wonderfully with anything from a cheesy mushroom gratin to roasted duck breast, pit smoked ham to grilled cruciferous vegetables with walnuts. Or a big scoop of dulce de leche ice cream!
I’ve enjoyed these six years of living in north Texas, and I expect to enjoy the next whatever-number of years here, too. But after just returning from a roots tour of sorts in the Pacific Northwest, visiting family and familiar territory where I grew up, I am reminded that the riches of one’s birthplace can have no insuperable competition elsewhere in the universe if one has been as blessed with hometown wealth as I have been. I won’t say much more, because yes, I am happy wherever I find love and landscape enough to keep me contented, but I will leave you with a couple of photos as food for thought on the subject just the same. I suspect you know whereof I speak, no matter where your roots lie.
Other than my general adherence to food posts on Tuesday—for no particular reason on my part other than my constant love of eating—I don’t often go with the popular day of the week trends or memes or whatever they are. But what makes me happy can render even the loquacious-unto-verbose me speechless, so what better to do than shut up and hand it over with no further fuss. My gift to you, therefore: a [nearly] Wordless Wednesday. The roadside view on Saturday was simply too fabulous not to be shared.
Today, a nearly perfect day of blue and gold and bracing new-leafed green, demanded that it be enjoyed from outside the house. We, my darling chauffeur-companion-partner and I, obeyed. We went to the park.
Being in a massive park, but one zoned as a number of separate and more intimate places devoted to strolling, picnics, camping, horseback riding, fishing, and the like, we found no shortage of pleasant places to revel in the marvels of a sweet north Texas spring day. Tiny, starlike rain lilies leaping up from the sleepy clay shine like miniature suns but are even more sweetly pretty, somehow, when they’re nestling little pollinator insects. The swell of tree fungus at the base of a stump is pierced by the skyward plunge of a dainty but strong sprout of new growth from the cut tree.
And in the short, wooded path at the park’s entrance, where the last years’ drought has compromised the forested patch of this little zone to the point where a careless spark or a small lightning strike blackened the undergrowth and seared the feet of the pines, the leaf-mould blanketing the path is whispering with scurrying insects. Dragonflies zip, crickets hum, and a flurry of minute emerald beetles flashes across the shadows into the warm sunlight on the piney dirt in search of other green things to dedicate to the extension of their fleeting little lives.
Renewal and refreshment are all around at this time of year, even in those parts of the hemisphere not so visibly on the brink of bloom. The very knowledge that the season of change and growth is near gives us a little nudge, when we let it, to remember that we, too, might be capable of change and growth. We, too, might bloom, with just a touch of faith and effort.
Time for another dose of Texas-inspired meditation. Because I live in Texas. And I got to meditatin’. And I have been known to think—as American Thanksgiving Day approached, for example, but pretty much whenever it comes to me too—that one of the things I am perpetually impressed by and immensely grateful for is the soulful dedication of those people who do all of the difficult and endless and mainly unsung tasks, at often invisible jobs, to make life bearable and beautiful for the rest of us.
It would be an exaggeration to claim that My Heroes have Always been Cowboys, but I do indeed respect the role they play in this pantheon of working-class wonders whose gifts are so much-needed and so often unheralded by the rest of us. I thank you sincerely, all of you independent gas station owners, ditch diggers, restaurant servers, car wash detailers, dry cleaning operators, factory workers, day laborers, and all of your committed fellow-men and women who carry us all on your backs.
In the cooler parts of the year, my fancy often turns to chili. It’s hot and hearty, filling and lightly (my versions) spicy, and it can be made in big batches and frozen in smaller ones for later ease of meal preparation. And I am quite open-minded when it comes to chili. I say this with full knowledge that as a Texas immigrant I risk censure, if not being thrown bodily into someone’s smoker. But of course, one has only to do a quick online search for Texas Chili to discover that while there are certain characteristics generally accepted as required for any chili to qualify for the Texas stamp of approval, the variety of actual recipes is just as broad and full of little surprises as the flat and arid plains of West Texas. And trust me, that’s going some.
The central tenet of Texan chili religion, as far as I can tell, is that it is meat-centric and it contains no beans. Northerners and other heathens are quite accustomed to thinking of meat as just another potentially wonderful addendum to a stew-like, tomato-y dish characterized by its spices rather than its more concrete contents, and I confess that I find it a little surprising and somewhat confusing to see “chili con carne” listed on a Texan menu, under the circumstances, but meat does seem to be the universally assumed Truth about good Texas chili. I am happy to make or eat all-meat chili, but I’ve nothing against chili with beans, with or without meat, or even a lot of other sorts of chile spiced vegetarian dishes. The latter are rarely what I would consider chili, myself, but if the texture and flavor profile of the concoction suggests that identity, I’m not going to waste valuable eating time on arguing the point.
You notice that I do differentiate between chili and chile, but that’s a simple linguistic issue in which the tongue plays only a minor role, not the happier and more significant one of tasting: chili is the dish seasoned with chiles, the spicy peppers or capsicums. Many use the spellings interchangeably, and there is no problem with that in my mind, either; I am always more interested in how these things play out on my palate than on my linguistic palette. In any case, it is the flavor of these deviously delicious capsicums, combined with a few other characteristic tastes, that most readily identifies a dish as chili to me.
I have nothing against making what I call ‘instant chili’* when time is short and the appetite yearns for that warming food. Since it’s the spice blend that carries the main weight of the dish’s identity, as long as I have that handy I can make what I think is a pretty fine facsimile of the long-cooked treat. So what are the flavors that I most want my chili to have?
Chiles. My favorite ways to introduce them to my cooking include, at various times, a number of possible dried, crushed, and/or powdered versions of capsicums, sold by spice companies as Chili Powder or Red Pepper Flakes or, simply, as individually named ground peppers or whole dried pods. While the pods of dried capsicums can certainly be made into a nice dusty powder in a good mortar, or can be rehydrated and pulverized to a paste (with a stick blender or food processor is most efficient), they are easier to keep whole and ground to powder in a dedicated spice grinder, like my tiny and cheap old electric coffee grinder that has never even met a coffee bean. I always have my go-to chipotle-spiked salsa in the kitchen, and that’s an easy ingredient to use as well. My favorite, though, is to mash or blend chipotles canned en adobo. I find San Marcos brand delicious even though they have never deemed it worthwhile to change their misspelled label. See? I’m not that picky about linguistics.
The other spices and flavors that I most care about putting in my chili are cumin, smoked paprika, a bit of black pepper, garlic powder, freeze-dried minced shallots, and usually a bit of oregano (Mexican oregano, if I have it). Cumin is the second-most characteristic spice flavor in this and many other Tex-Mex or Mexican foods, and having a kitchen bereft of that spice would leave me feeling like half a person. So make sure there’s plenty of warming, soul feeding, earthy cumin in my chili. And salt! But I don’t add much of that during the process, because of course one of the other secrets to chili is its long, slow melding of flavors, and if I’m making ‘instant chili’ it’s going straight to the bowls of individuals who will choose how salty they like it.
What is this ‘instant’ chili*, you ask? Just a quick fry-up of ground meat (usually beef, but whatever minced meat I have on hand, mixed or singly) with the aforementioned spices, dosed with enough tomato sauces (salsa, tinned tomato sauce/puree/pieces/paste) to make a nice thick stew, and if I want them, tinned beans—black beans, kidney beans, pintos or black-eyed peas or (a little White Trash favorite of mine) field peas, whatever shelled, cooked beans I’ve got on hand. When one is hankering, one makes do.
When one has oodles of time, one makes the real, slow-cooked stuff in quantity. You could call it a name I think appropriate enough:
I start mine with a batch of homemade bone broth. Then, after preparing dried beans (I like to mix black beans, pintos, and small kidney beans for a fun range of colors and textures), I cook them in some of that good broth. Meanwhile, the meat chili is essentially a separate preparation: I like to put a batch of beef in my slow cooker, well covered in more of the same broth and seasoned with the spices and peppers I choose for the occasion. I use a mixture of coarsely ground beef and cubes (about 2 cm or 1 inch) of stew beef, and the amount of fat in even high-percentage ground meat is generally balanced out by the lean toughness of stew cuts, so I don’t need to skim the cooked meat-broth combination at all. If I’m putting any vegetables into my chili, those will almost always be mirepoix and sometimes, sweet capsicums. I’m less of a fan of green capsicums (bell peppers) than of the milder, less burp-inducing red, orange and yellow ones, but if bodily noises were really a serious issue, I’d hardly be making chili at all, would I. Wink-wink. Preparing the beans properly, if they’re included in the mix, does make a difference in that regard, anyway.
When I have vegetables to add to my chili, I pre-cook them with a slow sauté in butter, both enjoying the bit of caramelization and the butter itself as added flavor elements, and then they can jump in the pool with the meat. Whether with vegetables or without, the meat is likely to cook at a very low heat for at least 24 hours, if not more. I enjoy the freedom to potter around and do other household tasks while sniffing that great perfume for a long time, as it builds the appetite while infusing the flavor. Somewhere in that day or three, the meat (and veg) will have absorbed most of the broth, and I’ll add my tomato elements. While the spice blend is perhaps the identifying signature of chili, it’s no chili to me without good tomato flavor, so again, I add about enough to make a fairly soupy spaghetti sauce consistency, knowing that eventually the cooked beans will be added, or in the absence of beans, the meat and veg will soak up yet more of that tomato goodness.
This is less of a recipe, as you know is pretty typical of my approach in the kitchen, than a guide to possible combinations that will please me. The proportions are different every time, and whether I add beans, or even vegetables, is a matter of mood and company more than a matter of Texan patriotism; I am, after all, a Northern invader. But I can tell you, it’s generally pretty darn good stuff. Add a few tender corn tortillas that have been layered with salsa or tinned enchilada sauce, plus cheese: cheddar, Monterey Jack, Cotija, Queso Blanco, or any such blend or substitution of similar types of mild and sharp, melting and melt-resistant chewy cheeses that suit your fancy and then heated through. If that meal doesn’t fulfill your chili dreams, there are always a multitude of cooks around here who have what they will assure you is the one, true, Texan article.