A cool wind stirs, as the last of a golden light ebbs over the neighborhood roof tops, their silhouetted chimney stacks puffing contentedly against a pale, autumn sky. Where geese occasionally cruise on the wing, first stars appear, and the moon holds still, suspended in time, above the old Cottonwood tree down by the pond. A tree almost, but not quite yet ready to give up its beloved leaves. Umpteen thousands of them, born of green, the shapely spawn of the Populus deltoides, such as the Latins have coined, and my but how they have fluttered brightly the summer long. A life of sunny days and rainy nights. Of storms and droughts. Of bluebird skies that would never end. Now one by one, laying to rest in fields of gold.
Oh what a show the Minnesota trees are putting on right now. By the time this is published, most of the leaves, save for the stubborn, old oaks, will have parted ways with their respective tree, and made their rendezvous with decay on the forest floor. One can’t help but to marvel at the beauty of it all right now, and I guess if you’re anything like us, kindle a good fire in the pit, and cook something there. To flip meat over flame whilst the leaves rain down upon thee. It’s good times, people. And while the coals come up to speed here, let us head inside, shall we, and see how we prepared tonight’s protein.
Now, just as I do not know how many leaves have fallen in my yard, likewise, I cannot tell you how many cheeseburgers I have grilled in my life. Both tallies are rather uncountable, I should wager, and neither will ever be enough. Oh how I fancy a good burger. When guests are to come over, burgers are at once an easy dinner solution that most people, save for the odd, toothless relative, seem to devour with a haste usually reserved for flannel clad individuals on a diet with a disturbing affection for maple glazed doughnuts. You know who you are. Burgers are just good, people. And they always will be. Here then is this patron’s go-to burger recipe when rumbling tummies come calling.
What we do is disperse one envelope of onion soup mix evenly through a pound or so of 80-20 ground beef . The soup mix, if you like that sort of thing, adds a delicious ensemble of flavor, that which favors beef, and can nary attempt to be any simpler. Work it into the meat good and thorough and get your hands dirty. It’s OK. Good meat responds to the hands that which pamper it. Anyways, that’s it for the seasoning. In point of fact, it’s more than enough. In the steel bowl towards the back, in case you were wondering, resides a few spuds from the fertile fields of Idaho, lovingly shaped by my beautiful bride into a plethora of french fries for to swim in the electric deep fryer. Nothing accents your burger craft with more authority than a batch of home-made french fries. Do go out of your way some time, and try it.
Burgers deployed over the iron grate, opposite the hot coals. You can cook burgers anyway you want. If you want to go directly over the coals, and cook them hot and fast, then let it be so. Today, however, I was in the mood to mosey. To take the scenic path as far as grill craft is concerned. So we placed them indirect, and tossed on a hunk of mesquite wood too.
After a fashion, the old, porcelain enameled lid was set in place, and the damper adjusted just so. Naturally there after I assumed the proper pit master position, in the outdoor man chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, lovely beverage within reach, and the brim of my hat tipped up in a rather nonchalant manner. The blue-tinted smoke spiraled out of the vent in long, magical tendrils, dissipating into the ether, and smelled point-blank out of this world. I hear the tell-tale honk from one of Minnesota’s patented voices, the Canadian goose, who it seems is always aloft this time of year – the benediction of Autumn. It brings a smile to my face, as I lean back and look over the kettle lid, at the old Cottonwood tree, standing handsome at the edge of the pond. It’s upper most canopy still lit in the evening sun. It’s leaves softly clacking in the breeze. And for a while at least, all the world spins as it should. These are but the moments pit-side we cling to, and try to remember come the frigid, short days of winter. And so I sat there in the quietude, with wood smoke rising, trying to remember. Amen.
God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December – James M Barrie
Mesquite Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers, Darting Canadian Geese, Autumn Awesomeness & Deep Moments – it’s all there, people, and patron to the pit.
Vacation was good. Romping about the Montana mountains with elder brother, in a dusty, old Jeep. Pitching encampments aside gin-clear trout streams, and beneath aromatic pines. Morning views of frosted ramparts thrusting high into a wild, Montana sky. Days of misty mountain majesty. Rains drops on pine needles. And wily rainbow trout at the end of thin tippets. These are but the days we will remember. Where the mountains did rise, our souls soared, and the rivers ran below it.
I remember them indeed. A thousand miles and seven days later, I remember. And as I bank the coals to the back of the old kettle grill this evening, looking upon the familiar scene patron to the home patio, I recall the natural splendor our eyes beheld amid the beautiful contours of Montana. “God gave us memories“, I once heard, “So we could have roses in December“. I am smitten for the flowers. I tossed on a cup cake-sized chunk of apple wood, directly on the coals. The heat felt good on my hands, as I pondered some more my recent trip afield. The memories we come back with, I thunk, are why we go on a trip in the first place. This is why we take pictures and write things down in our note books – to remember.
Anyways, to the business of supper. As the amber shafts of sunlight struck against the Cottonwoods, I plunked down two chicken thighs over in-direct heat, seasoned very simply in smoked garlic salt. Salt that I cold smoked earlier this summer, amid tweety birds and lofty ambition, and tucked away for further use. Today was the day. Also wrapped up in foil, we have a humdinger. Several potatoes, diced to uniform thickness, patted with a little butter, some salt and pepper. A few manly pinches of shredded cheddar cheese, and of course every one’s meat fantasy, bacon, chopped and scattered amid the spuds, like ambassadors to the cholesterol gods. All this wrapped tight in a pocket of aluminum foil, and set over direct heat for to come of age, and to its destiny according to my belly.
I put on the black-enameled lid, tweaked the damper, and the smoke of apple wood almost immediately began to curl. A smile lit over my face. Any pit master proper aspires for this portion of the cook. This glorious string of moments where meat is sizzling, and smoke is rising. There is harmony and well-being and contentment in the fellowship of the coals. And you sit back in your BBQ chair, legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, manly beverage at hand, and you simply survey your kingdom as it were. The angle of the sun, the banter of the birds, the wake of the muskrat propelling across the pond. I think half the reason people grill in the first place is to be out-of-doors. To bask in the inherent beauty patron to the pit.
Lifting the lid to check in on the plunder, the thighs have taken on a beautiful golden-brown color, wrought from the wages of smoke and heat. I flipped them once right along with the foiled potatoes. And mercy it smelled good!
Pit Tip: If you are smoking meat and want to simultaneously cook a side that doesn’t so much abide with a smokey taste, like potatoes, you can never go too far wrong with foiling them. The foil blocks the smoke whilst preserving the seasonings you so lovingly dappled there. And the world and your tummy is a better place for having done so. Tin foil and the pit keeper have a most understanding relationship.
The cheese in the foil married up kindly with the potatoes, sort of merging into them in a delightful, cheesy fusion. And the bacon basted the whole thing like only bacon can. Glory! Eating these potatoes, one sort of got the feeling he should check to make sure his health insurance premiums were up to date. Anyways, when the thighs are done, and the spuds are soft to the touch, plate-up the ensemble and sally forth to your loved ones. Note how the savory aromas of deeds well done trail you in to the house, and how heads will turn. Place the plate of steaming plunder on the counter, sprinkle on some more shredded cheese, and declare the supper bell hath rung. Mop up the drool as necessary.
Apple Smoked Garlic Chicken Thighs and Bacon Cheddar Potatoes. Man! Not quite a trip to mountain folds of Montana, but still something I might just remember a while. Something to do with where the wood smoke rises, and the flowers that which gently bloom there. Amen.
Way up yonder, on the northern tiers of Minnesota, we often press a tent stake patron to some pretty places here and there. Places of exquisite beauty, where the waters run clearly, and the breezes taste sweet, sifted through the fragrant pines. My fellow patron and I routinely visit these locales, if not even for but one day. One day to inhale that pure, unpretentious air, and to absorb a rarefied tranquility lost, but not forgotten, in the ever-whirling cog of society. Indeed, we fancy to strike off for the wilder places just as often as we can, for to live simply, and abandon all tension there. For we are at home in the woods, by and by, and love to tarry fire-side amid the whispering pines.
Putterers by nature, we are content for hours on end it seems to cook exotic camp food over smoldering coals, repair in our chairs, and simply watch the smoke rise unto the standing pines. To tell story, and play song, whilst dotingly poking at the fire. Bannocks baking in blackened skillets, chickadees flirting, and all the many phone calls at once escaped in our own personal, wilderness sanctum. Oh the places, the beautiful places, that we have loitered in, here and there.
Campfires of Birch and Balsam often flicker in camp, as the lake serenely laps upon our shore, and the stately pines sway gently in the breeze, like a thousand and one fly rods, nay, make that a thousand and two. Oh how we love to cook over the open flame in these places, to ply our craft, turning our spoils into shore lunch. The stars, the moon, the forest glade, we love it all, even the smoke in our face! And here is the thing I have noticed, and maybe some of you have to; every time back home when we thus light the grill, and we smell that campfire-like smoke lofting towards the heavens, are we not at once, and irrevocably so, reminiscent, and smitten deeply for these places. Because smell is at once patron to memories, and memories thus flood back of those quiet campsites nestled aside shimmering waters. And for a moment, we can taste again the simple life we had once aspired to there. Because here it is again, deep in an urban sprawl, working over this old kettle grill; and there are blackened skillets, and chickadees even, and the sweet fusion of memories gently forged, both here and there, over the swiftly ebbing seasons, and the smoke which curled there. Amen.