Well, it’s February. And it’s still winter in Minnesota. Tho the sun may tarry in the sky now a few minutes longer than it once did, signifying, perhaps, that the summer processes have begun, I’m here to say, you can’t really tell. It’s just plain cold out. Snow still courts our yard, it’s still dark when I come home from work, and there is a patch of ice on the driveway that I think has been there since Thanksgiving. But that’s Minnesota. And after a while you simply come to accept your deep freeze situation in life, and just make the best of it. Indeed, there comes a point in every Minnesotan’s winter campaign where they acknowledge to themselves and the rest of the free world, that it’s not going to get any warmer for a while, and that they for one are done complaining about it. Mostly.
A good example of what I mean was found on my routine food sortie to the local Cub grocery store. There outside the motion activated sliding doors perched this lovely ice sculpture. I guess I can’t tell you what it is tho. Looks something like a duck and a man merged together, and carrying a purse. It doesn’t really matter, I guess. What matters, like all good gifts, is the thought behind it. The poetic triumph of it all. For here stands a sculpture really of what it means to be Minnesotan. To be stuck in the cold for half the year. Nay, half of your life, when you think about it. It is at once an icy monolith to the power of positive thinking! It says that life in the ice box has not gotten this soul down. That they will make the best of it, regardless. Lemonade, if you will, wrought from winter’s harshest fruit. Yup, that ice sculpture was much more than the tangible work of a talented person. It is a symbol of sanity when everyone around you is losing theirs. Odd that you can gleam so much just going to the store for some chicken wings, but it is so.
Later that evening, speaking of chicken wings, I fired up the old Weber kettle grill for supper. One of the things I like to do, when the charcoal chimney is under fire, is give it a little whack on it’s side with the tongs, and watch how the sparks scatter into the night. Sometimes it makes for interesting photos. Sometimes not. But even so, I enjoy the artistic spray of sparks flashing against a dark, wintry sky. It soothes me.
There is also a certain comradeship amid the coals. They give off two things a winter bound pit keeper craves: light and heat. And oh what a joy it is on these frosty winter evenings to bandy close to a hemorrhaging bed of orange coals. To feel the heat rolling out of the pit. It takes the sting out of the cold night, and loosens a stiffened soul. And for a while at least, you are content in your dark little corner of the globe, managing your meat over this beautiful bed of briquettes. Even in the middle of a Minnesota winter, out on the patio in the cold, there is joy to be found, patron to the pit. Like so many hardy folk around here, you just have to make the best of it.
These wings were seasoned first in one of our favorite blends, Poultry Perfection, from the great folks at Miners Mix. They’ve been awful good to us, and it’s our privilege to thank them yet again for sharing their wares with us. True spice wizards if ever we’ve seen any. Anyways, at the end of the cook, we glazed over the wings with some Sweet Baby Rays as per custom in BBQ fare, whilst back inside, some banter of the bodacious sort was at hand.
My bride whipped up a hearty batch of Miners Mix Bodacious Bean Dip. Mercy, it’s good stuff, people, very tasty, and one box seems more than plentiful, I might add. A plentiful bean dipping Nirvana. Plentiful also in the after effects come bed time, for thy cotton sheets may billow as if hit by a soft summer breeze. I almost slept on the couch that night if not for the mercy of my lovely wife. But like most good Minnesotans, she too made the best of it. We all did. Mostly. And Amen.
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It was seven below the zero mark, iffin it weren’t colder. And I think it was. Nobody was outside anyways, to tell me otherwise, not even the tweety birds. No one save for me, that is. And it was cold alright. The keen wind cut through the pond-side spruce with all the compassion and loveliness of a pit bull getting his favorite parts snipped off. The snow on the patio squeaked underfoot. And your breath, if you had any, spiraled like exhaust from an old diesel truck, and carried in the breeze a fathom and half over snow encrusted fields. Indeed, the day was cold against your face. My fellow patron and I were to discuss it, and we surmised that the odds were high, and probably accurate even, that I likely was the only humanoid within a hundred mile radius, out of warm doors right then, putting meat to flame on the BBQ. Oh how the neighbors must all roll their eyes every time they see my smoke rise, whilst the wind-driven ice crystals tap over their window pane. No matter, we Patrons of the Pit are a curious group by default. Not one for common thinking and none such. Forsaking oven and stove to cook instead over charcoal and wood, outside, and under random skies, we stand stalwart and proud at our pits, with our collars up and trimmed towards the tempest. BBQing in the cold is just what we do. What we have to do. Unless, I suppose you live, say, in Ecuador.
We have a reader amongst us, a long-time subscriber if you will, and an all-around good guy. Formerly of Minnesota, now roosting in the tropical climes of Ecuador. We have watched his blog, John and Mary Living it up in Ecuador, over the years, and admired their strange adventures, and knack for good living. If the winter draws long for you, do yourself a favor and check out their wonderful blog. It will warm you up, both inside and out. But the old boy there has a sense of humor, I must say, one that I often ponder in vain whilst I’m manning the smoker on sub-zero days like these. You see, he likes to chime in, and reminisce of what Minnesota in the winter was like. To nonchalantly act like he is in your corner. To recall fondly snowstorms in April, of football on the frozen ground, and of course, the cold. And then all too often, he likes to end his comments with some thing like this, and I quote “ I have to admit that I now usher in winter with a nice dip in the pool or the warm Pacific Ocean and a nap on the beach covered in SPF-30” John from Ecuador likes to rub it in that way. And we’re not just talking about his sunscreen. So it’s 7 Below. Lets smoke some ribs! We did this rack fairly simple. First rubbing it down with a little brown sugar, then hit it with a spicy rub I had sitting about. A little something to usher in the heat, if you can call it that. We placed the rack “bone-side” down on the pit, over a steely bosom crackling with orange glowing coals and two fist-sized chunks of hickory. Because it was so cold, no water was added to the water pan of the WSM. It didn’t need any help keeping them temps low today. Lid on. Damper tweaked. A nice pillar of blue-tinted smoke was soon in curl. And as nice as it was out there, I don’t mind admitting none, I sidled it back inside to my easy chair, and pulled a Grandma blanket up to my chin. Glory be! Feet propped up towards the fireplace, my socks hanging off my toes like Stan Laurel in his prime, oh what sheer pleasure it is to bandy with one’s favorite blanket and fire whilst smoking pork ribs on a frosty winter’s day. And as per most rib smokes this side of perfection, I may or may not have dozed off in turn. At hour three, we went ahead and foiled the ribs with another patting of brown sugar, a few dollops of butter and a shot or two of honey, just because. It smelled good enough to tear into right here, but like a good pit boy, I resisted. My elder brother says patience comes to those who wait. I think ribs probably aren’t far behind. A good hour or so in the foil, smoker running at roughly 257 degrees higher than the outside ambient temperature = 1 rack of authentically procured BBQ ribs. The real thing, people. Oh buddy! Varnish with your favorite sauce if you please, and ingest accordingly and at your will or whimsy. SPF-30 optional, at least for some of us. Amen. Four and a Half Hour Hickory Smoked Pork Ribs . Yum! A touch of heat and bunch of sweet. Another way to pass a northern cold snap with a wee bit of class, and patron to the pit. Grill on!
Way up north in the hinter regions, there resides a modest lake in good form. Two hundred acres plus, I should wager, and if you had a mind to, you could see twelve feet down into it’s gin-clear waters – the aquatic homestead of umpteen bucket mouth bass, and northern pike. The shores there are delightful too, studded in Red and White Pines, with the occasional sturdy Oak thrown in for good measure. A walk amid these tall timbers invariably reveals beavers at work, and whitetails on the forage. Downy woodpeckers engaged in wild headbanging, and of course the customary sighting of Minnesota’s most beloved bird, the common loon. Oh how it’s otherworldly song echoes through the forest primeval, and likewise the tender recesses of your soul.
I had occasion earlier this Autumn, just before deer season in point of fact, to take my passion for loitering up way of this lake. There is a modest cabin there, topped by gray shingles clad with green moss, and an old, rickety outhouse outback, where you are to toss a scoop of lye down the hole after each use. No electricity, no plumbing, no worries. Simple arrangements to be sure. And if less is really more, then this was just what I was looking for. A little respite, if you will, from the ever-whirling urban machine. From sirens screaming and horns blaring. From a world sadly fraught with haste. To these tranquil shores I have come now, to tarry long under tall pines where the breeze gently murmurs. To brew a cup of tea, toss another log on the fire, and just gaze out over the water, in no hurry to do anything, or go anywhere…
Eventually tho, my tummy had other ideas, namely lunch!
There is an old kettle grill up there, mercifully. A Weber wanna-be, but good enough for my likes, for a patron of the pit is not picky under such remote conditions afield. We will gladly cook out of an old tin can plucked from a garbage pile, if there is nothing else. In point of fact, we have. So this old kettle grill was quite the luxury, you see. Crikies, the world was ours! So the coals where promptly fired and put to work down in it’s steely bosom, and I enjoyed the comforting heat radiating up out of the kettle into the cool, blue Minnesota sky. Life was good in northern Minnesota. But it was about to get better. Time to plop on the meat!
In a small hamlet no less than a half hours drive away, we procured from the local butcher shop there a mass quantity of hot dogs and some rather rotund bratwursts. Under the flag of simple living, we had simple food. I would wash no dishes this weekend. Nay, I would eat like a beast instead, and wipe my chin only with a sleeve. Likewise, if I wanted to burp, I’d burp. If I wanted to scratch, I’d scratch. You get the idea. And besides, some times a good dog, swirled in ketchup, mustard and onions just plain hits the spot. Such was the case today, on the shores of paradise. The simple life, people. No TV channels to flip. Now twits to tweet. We didn’t even have cell phone reception…And I reveled in every minute of it. It is good for us. It is medicine. From time to time, I concluded, it is well for a soul to unplug from the “Borg Collective”, and live simply. Or barring that, simply live. Star Trek fans will understand.
And in the distance, somewhere down the lake, the silence broke again with echoes of loon song. Amen.
Brats and Dogs and Whispering pines. Simple Living and good times, patron to the pit!
The rainy season continues to pummel our fair land that is Minnesota. Flash floods are common place. As are the seemingly daily thunder storms. Likewise the unruly uprooting of fallen trees, courtesy of the soften soils and stiff gales. It has been a decidedly sporty locale, here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes – most of them now, and in a word, satiated. The pit-side pond has also swollen to say the least, and between the tempests, I slipped into my water proof boots, and took a stroll down there. Slowly ambling alongside the tall grasses and flooded banks. My boots sucking into wet earth reminiscent of my bog romping days of youth, where if I was lucky, my ecology professor told me, I might find the rare and highly esteemed, Trailing Arbutus. A plant so rare, I was told, that it would have put a normal man of means into serious debt should he pick it and bring it home. Should the department of natural resources catch wind that is.
What I found along the pond’s edge was something not so rare, but beautiful to behold, and equally as unidentifiable to me. I’m guessing an Iris. That’s what my botanical gut says. I wish I knew wildflowers better. It is a gaping fissure in my knowledge I’d like to fill some day. I’d rather know wildflowers than know a second language, I think. This one was of a delicate nature, like all flowers are, yet charming, and independent in the same breath. About 15 inches in stalk I should wager, and violet flavored blooms the rough stature of overly soggy potato chips. A resident token of beauty and an act of small rebellion in a land wrought by the storms. It stood ever so proudly, doing what seemed like nothing at all other than looking lovely for the benefit of photographers. Anyways, I liked seeing it there at the water’s edge. It belonged. And if one of you might know it’s true identity, and I suspect you do, do let me know.
Now onto something I do know – cheeseburgers!
Six robust patties sizzled in one accord over a beautiful bed of coals. Light plumes of cherry wood smoke curled through the cast iron grate. And sunbeams washed over the lawn in a glorious golden light. Yes, the rains had ebbed long enough for that precious glowing orb of light to burn aloft in an endless blue sky. A reprieve well-earned, snatched from soddened battlefields, and for the evening at least, all the world was right again. And dry.
The burgers today were seasoned with one envelope of Lipton Onion Soup Mix, cobbled through-out the ground beef, then lightly dusted over with a bit of Famous Dave’s Steak and Burger Seasoning. We placed them opposite the hot coals, or in-direct for you technical grill-smiths, put the lid on, dampers tweaked, and let the pit do it’s thing. In good time, flip thy meat according to your pit master instincts. You know how it works.
There is something very authentic that happens when the wood smoke curls. Every grill jockey knows it. Every pit keeper longs for it. An infallible sense of well-being and contentment seems to rise with those aromatic, wispy tendrils of smoke. It’s enough to move a man, or even a gaggle of women, to draw a lovely beverage and just sit. Legs crossed like ambassadors of high leisure, ice clinking in our glass, let us at once let up on the accelerator pedal of life, and just be. Like that showy flower down by the pond’s edge, may we revel in what is still. And just be. In a world detached with haste, rushing from one posture to another, oh what sweet respite we garner in the simple act of watching smoke taper into a blue, pastel sky. And for a while at least, it is all that we need. Amen.
Cherry Smoked Cheddar Cheese Burgers with all the fixings. Yum! Because when the sky stops falling we all need to eat. Nay we need to live.
The winds howl like Joshua’s trumpets, and the snows they fall almost, but not quite, horizontal, riding a northern gale. Four inches have accumulated out at the pit today, and a couple more are on the way they say. The roads have gone from motorbike friendly, yesterday, to an all-out 4-wheel drive, blizzard-incarnate today. Once fully functioning automobiles have mired and gone asunder, the way they always do on bad roads, their fenders gashed, and their owners shaken. Grumpy old men mutter to themselves as they go unpack their snow blowers – again. The wintry tempest wages on despite, ever the heartless taxman. Welcome to April in Minnesota. And we do love it this way. Well, least wise some of us do.
I had to admire one individual in particular today, the stately lady cardinal out at the pit-side feeder. Here was a soul not about to give up her supper just because of a raging snow storm. I admired her spunk. Her tenacity to carry on. For that feeder was swinging in the wind, the snowflakes hurtling through the air, but she tucked herself into the lee of it, scant as it was, and dined on the savory seeds there as if it were just another day at office. Well done, Mama Cardinal. A true patron of pit. Speaking of which, we procured a tasty supper off the grill last night, just under the wire as it were, before the blizzard hit. So grab a hot brew, and a good blanket, and settle in some where soft, and we’ll tell you more about it.
It was different sort of day yesterday. Much different. Blue skies, gentle breezes, and a band of tweety birds that wouldn’t let up. They belted out their pre-programmed chorus’ with great exuberance, and utter charm. Spring was in the air, and so was the flirtatious melodies of the Cardinals, and Red Wing Black Birds. Of the Robins and even the ducks which waddled by the pit as the first plumes of smoke wafted into the air. They are residents around the pond-side pit, and often give me a visit whilst I’m manning the coals there. They need to check in on me, you see, to make certain that it is not their kin they smell cooking under the lid. And it wasn’t. What it was, however, was chicken thighs. I get in a hankering for good BBQ chicken thighs from time to time. And it has been quite some time, it seems, since I’ve ingested any. Today was the day. The day we would make things right again.
Here’s how we did them up. Firstly, we hit the thighs liberally with some Sucklebusters Competition Rub. An excellent rub from a great company run by good people. The kind of rub where you can actually pronounce everything on the ingredient list on the back of the bottle. I like stuff like that. So we dusted over the thighs in this rub, and placed them skin side down over direct heat to start. This is your classic searing option, available at a pit keeper’s discretion. The idea is to crisp up that ever-flubbery skin-flap inherent to chicken thighs. To transform it from a rubbery monstrosity, to a well-crisped, flame-pampered delight. A minute or two over direct heat usually does the trick. If your chicken begins to resemble unlit charcoal, however, you’ve probably brought the technique too far down the rabbit hole.
After a suitable crisping session, and a slurp off your favorite beverage, it is time to escort the thighs to the cooler side of the pit, opposite the hot coals. Flip them over there, crispy-side up, and admire your work for a moment. Every painter fancies to step back from the easel at appropriate moments. So be it at the pit. Feel the heat bellow out of the old kettle grill, and how it merges hence with cool air aloft. Listen to how the meat sizzles in complete compliance on a hot cast iron grate. And note that for a moment at least, how your world is at once a simple place to be. Meat + Fire = Contented Man. Which explains, by and far, why we like to BBQ so much.
Anyways, next we tossed onto the bed of orange glowing coals, two small chunks of smoke wood. One of hickory, and the other being apple – just because. Then gently placed the old, enameled lid into position, with the top damper directly over the spoils. By the time another slurp of beverage was had, the draft had already engaged, and lovely, aromatic tendrils of wood smoke spiraled sloppily into a gorgeous blue sky. I had but to sit back in my BBQ man chair, and take in the day. In point of fact, I did. Legs crossed like a gentleman of leisure, beverage in hand, it was sufficient pleasure to simply watch the smoke curl and the world twirl. Contented man indeed. For a while anyways, this was all I needed. I occasionally lit from my chair to varnish on some Honey BBQ Sauce, again from the good folks at Sucklebusters. But that was the extent of my pit-side ambition today. And it was wonderful.
After a half hour or so, or when the meat reached 165 internal, I plated up and took my plunder inside. As I slid shut the patio door, I paused momentarily, and glanced back out into the yard. There past the rising wood smoke, the Mama Cardinal watched from the Alders. I smiled as she darted up to the feeder, happy as a bird can be I reckon, that I had finally left. I guess it was supper time for both of us, and she was ready to eat. Tomorrow would be no different. Just colder. Amen.
Hickory Apple Smoked Honey BBQ Chicken thighs. Man! Talk about good grillin! Onslaught of slobbers and drool acceptable. It’s your keyboard.
Greeted by a wall of freshly drifted snow against the patio door, I carefully slid it open and got to work. You know you have a lot of snow when the first couple of shovel loads can be done whilst still standing inside the house, but that is how it has been this winter. It has been common place indeed. In point of fact, Minnesota is currently courting a hallowed slot in the top ten, coldest, most snowiest winters on record. Least wise in our state this is so. Over 40 days now, below the zero mark. 60 plus days if you live up north. It has been a deep, penetrating sort of cold that which has never ceased. Squirrels have fallen from trees and young boys have fused their tongues to subzero steel. And if you have invested in snow blowers this year, you are a wise soul. Seems like every day you hear their guttural rumble somewhere, echoing through the neighborhood. Reaching for records indeed. And I guess I believe it, as I finally shoveled enough snow out-of-the-way to shut the door behind me. Brilliant sunbeams sparkled over mounds of white, drawing mine eyes unto thin, uncanny slits. The air is fresh and cold, the way it always is the day after a good blizzard. And the snow it stands ever deep, and even deeper still where it has drifted between the old spruce trees just off the patio. I like how their stately boughs humbly bend in submission, selflessly playing the hand it was dealt, yet somehow attain even more beauty because of it. Nice trick. I do fancy those trees. They are the faithful ambiance patron to the pond-side pit, and have seen many winters. Many blizzards. Many BBQ’s. Such is the case today, under clear, and what seems eternally cold skies. And after I finish digging out here, and take a nap perhaps, I’ll cook up some supper and tell you about it.
On the pit tonight, something a little different. A little southwestern fare to warm a winter-locked, Minnesotan’s soul. Chicken quesadillas on the grill. If you can make a grilled cheese sandwich, you can make one of these. And doing them on the grill will at once transport this classic appetizer to a whole new realm seldom found in your local restaurant, courtesy of rising wood smoke. The first order of business is grill up some chicken. Any cut will do. We seasoned ours in some spicy Cajun seasoning to introduce a degree of heat to the flavor profile, and placed them on the pit over medium indirect heat. The cold poultry immediately sizzled upon contact with the hot iron grate. A lovely sound on a hushed winter’s eve. I rummaged around in the resident wood pile and plucked out a tennis ball sized chunk of hickory wood, and added it to the coals. Flipped the meat over and plopped on the old, black, enameled lid. Hickory smoke soon was in draft, and wafting serenely out of the pit damper. A smile on my face, I slipped my hands into the warm pockets of my smoking jacket and considered the evening before me. That brilliant sun of earlier has long since slipped down into the west, and the tweety birds have all went to roost, snug together in feathery balls. And the heavenly stage hands have pulled clear the cosmic curtain for what soft star light falls on fields of snow. And a toe nail moon dallies over bending spruce. What a privilege it is, even this side of the zero mark, to smell the wood smoke rising on a wintry eve such as this.
When the chicken is done to your satisfaction, bring it inside to chop it up. Get yourself two flour tortillas and butter one side of each, and assemble your quesadilla like you would a grilled cheese sandwich. Sprinkle a manly amount of shredded cheese on it, along with the smoked, chopped chicken. And then maybe add some more cheese! Lots of folks at this point, will toss all matter of things into their quesadillas. Things like: onions, peppers, mushrooms, chives, tomatoes, bacon, and so forth. And it’s all good. Make it however you like. But if all you have is cheese and chicken, like we did, that is perfectly acceptable too, to a hungry belly. Once assembled, bring your creation back out to the pit. You have a nice bed of coals going there after all, so why not do it right!
Place your quesadilla opposite the hot coals. Yes, our old kettle grill is half-entombed in a snow bank. You can’t even see its legs anymore. Its top poking out of the snow like an black flower in a sea of white. Didn’t I mention we’ve had a real winter up here! Anyways, put the lid on and let it bake spell. After a few minutes, you will want to turn the quesadilla 180 degrees for even cooking. Whence it has toasted up some, and the tortilla on the bottom has become crispy, affectionately flip thy spoils over, like a first pancake, and cook the other side in equal fashion. Here is a cook where we cannot assume our standard posture of BBQ, belly up in the easy chair, for we must keep an eye on our intended plunder, lest the burning fates fall upon these tender tortillas with scant remorse. Indeed, we must stand abreast the pit like men were born to do, on guard and with lovely beverage in hand. For this is our moment, our gastronomic beach-head for to establish culinary harmony between pit and home. Be ever mindful then, and parlay your spoils with great effectiveness to the dinner table. A dollop of sour cream or salsa, and your tummy you will find, just took a trip a south, past old and leaky borders, to where the sun stills holds stalwart, hemorrhaging over fields of green. Amen.
Hickory Smoked Chicken Quesadillas hot off the grill. Crispy, gooey,cheesy, smokey goodness patron to the pit. Man! You don’t have to endure an epic winter to appreciate this sort of thing, but it helps!
If you are from the northern tier states, and you have lately and by chance poked your nose unassumingly outward of warm environs, well it is no secret that it is butt-cold out there. In your face, nothing-you-can-do-about-it, butt-cold. The kind of cold that which penetrates the crust of a person’s finest attitude, slaps them strong across face, and can have them cowering on the ground in matter of sheer minutes. The fellow on the morning news said a given face, pretty or not, had in his estimation, about five minutes out there, before frost bite would latch on to your epidermis and ruin your day. Upon waking this morning, it was 21 below in Minneapolis. Schools statewide were canceled, the educational system’s white flag tossed onto the ring of battle, where upon it promptly froze to the ground. And the common sense sort of people in town stayed home if they could, curled up under old grandma quilts, nursing hot teas, and mused headlong about the weather out there. Others of us tho, carried on as normal, went to work, and when duties were done, came home and promptly lit the BBQ as if it were the middle of July. Yeah, it’s just what we do!
On the grill tonight, a simplistic respite from the complexities of the smokey arts, whilst also a gentle parlay towards classical american succulence – the chicken thigh. Thighs are one of our most favorite parts of the chicken to grill. High fat content keeps this dark meat moist and juicy, and if married with the right rubs or seasonings, it is a real treat. Our rub of tonight was Famous Dave’s Rib Rub. It says on the bottle to use it on every thing, not just ribs. So we did. It provides an easy but not over-powering heat, and some other spices too that just seem to work on a variety of meats. Old Dave is famous for a reason I guess. Anyways, we dusted the thighs over pretty good whilst the coals matured out on the pit. Then doffed the old woolen smoking jacket and made haste out into the deep, penetrating cold.
Banking the hot coals to the back of the pit for in-direct cooking, we placed the seasoned thighs over the cooler regions of the grill, which is real easy to do, don’t you know, when the mercury scraps the minus 20 mark. Mercy. The heat from the coals bellowed up out of the pit in stark contrast to the frozen world beyond. I tossed on a couple of chunks of apple wood, watched them quickly catch blaze as I tucked my hands into my pockets. I gazed at the fire for a moment, and enjoyed how the light felt against my face. What a pleasure it is, tho quaint in size, to be in the good company of fire and flame on a night such as this. A night where all the world bends on knee to the authority of a merciless cold. Where would we be if it were not but for the spoils of fire. Of glorious and unabridged heat. The energy that which drive our days, and caters to our nights. It would be mighty cold chicken thighs tonight indeed, with out this, a simple fire.
I put the black enameled lid atop the old kettle grill, and the draft caught soon enough, and ushered out a lovely wood smoke through the top vent. We were up and cooking, and there was contentment in the pit. I might have dallied some there, dreaming of summer BBQ’s past, of cool, green grasses and song birds serenading from atop wavering willows, but the peculiar feeling of my left eye lid fusing shut sort of snapped me back to reality. What ever! I sidled inside, unashamed, and drew a hot beverage there. I got to watching the evening news, which I seldom do, with a hot brew cradled in my hands. The weatherman said that today was a special day here in Minnesota. He said that at one point during the day, for a moment anyways, that Minnesota was colder than even the north pole. In point of fact, he added, Minnesota was colder than anywhere. He said, sort of proudly, that this was the coldest place on earth, today. And I believed him.
I smiled sharply as I gazed out at my faithful pit, puffing stoically away on the patio. It’s a good pit. A faithful stead. And it knows not the inclement of weather, nor some days do I think it even cares. Who says you have to hang up your BBQ tongs when the mercury plummets! Indeed, with but a degree of mild lunacy, the grilling season may be extended the calendar long. And rewardingly so. And if you’re really lucky, you can even claim to have grilled your chicken thighs in the coldest place on earth.
Here in Minnesota, when the weather starts to turn, and the temperatures fall to subzero levels, we the faithful remnant, who call Minnesota our home, have to partake in an annual ritual known as, “winterizing the house“. Now when winterizing the house, we do such things as adding more insulation in the attic to prevent any heat from escaping. We blow out sprinkler lines and insulate outdoor water faucets to prevent water freezing in the lines and bursting pipes. Some people do the bare minimum to winterize a house and other folks go a few extra steps towards convincing victory, under the flag of reason – better to be safe than sorry.
We Patrons must also do the same in preparation for Minnesota’s wintry grilling season. As the temperatures drop and our bodies begin to acclimatize, we also must take the proper steps so we don’t lose that much coveted heat, or even worse…our pipes bursting. Now some Minnesotans do the bare minimum to prepare themselves for the winter months, but we Patrons of the Pit, we will always take a few extra steps because as mentioned earlier, it is better to be safe rather than sorry. We think so anyways.
Here at the Pit the proper attire for keeping cozy in the frozen out-of-doors is like second nature. For we are both fans of winter camping and so long johns, hats, gloves and even our smoking jackets are never an understatement. We are a rare breed; we take great delight in sitting beside our smoky pits, and as its chimney puffs away we might light up ones pipe and take in a good English tobacco. As the harsh winter winds slap sharp snowflakes across our face, we fill our trusted Stanley thermoses with our favorite hot drink, and sip away. As the temperature plummets past zero we begin to hug the hoods of our pits while a small camp fire may join us during a bitter cold smoking session, sharing in its efforts to keep us warm. Therefore, insulating the inside of our bodies after standing outside at our Pits during one of our famous blizzards is something we can always work on. This weekend we started that process with Homemade Chicken Soup.
- 1 (3 pound) whole chicken
- 4 carrots, halved
- 4 stalks celery, halved
- 1 large onion, halved
- 1 Bay Leaf
- Water to cover
- Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to taste
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules (optional)
- Desired amount of Egg Noodles
- Desired amount of Wild Rice
Put the chicken, carrots, celery, onion, in a large soup pot and cover with cold water. Heat and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken meat falls off of the bones (skim off foam every so often).
Take everything out of the pot. Strain the broth. Pick the meat off of the bones and chop the carrots, celery and onion. Season the broth with salt, pepper, chicken bouillon and Garlic Powder to taste, if desired. We added a can of Cream Of Chicken Soup to thicken the broth up a little. Return the chicken, carrots, celery and onion to the pot and stir together. At this time also add the noodles and wild rice. Cook until Noodles and Wild Rice become soft and serve.
There is nothing better than dumping hot soup down one’s gullet and bringing a sudden rush of warmth to our bodies, thus beginning the process of acclimatizing our bodies from the inside out. Over the next few months, we might surprise the blog world with recipes for keeping one’s self warm and well insulated. So, let the process of winterizing begin.
“Soup puts the heart at ease, calms down the violence of hunger, eliminates the tension of the day, and awakens and refines the appetite.”
A hard rain drummed over the tent fly, and the tempest howled through the pines. Rain, and a good amount of it, beat over the land in a relentless onslaught, like pitch forks and hammer handles, and then, after reconsidering, up and went side-ways for a while, courtesy of the gales. My camping crony and I were held up in the tent, as if we had anyplace else to cower at such times, trapped deep in the wilderness. The lightning cracked through the heavens, and exploded like warheads all around us. And the thunder rattled the very earth upon which we hunkered. It was getting a little sporty out there. Just another day camping in Minnesota’s Canoe Country. It wasn’t always like this though. Why, in point of fact, just a few minutes ago, we were enjoying a rather lovely supper over a crackling, jack pine, fire. It was pretty good too, by camp fire standards. So grab yourself a manly beverage, get comfy, and let me tell you about it.
It started as a simple respite, fire-side, frying up a pound of Jimmy Deans Italian Sausage. You can do it in a frying pan, or even wrap it in foil, and place it in the coals to cook. Whilst the sausage was arriving on the gastronomic front, we started up the biscuits over the campfire. It’s real easy to do too. As any camp fire gourmet knows, you do not need an oven to bake a biscuit. For reasons of simplicity, and patron to the lazy-camping arts, we procured one of them cans of biscuit dough from town. You know the kind. The kind that you peel open a bit, waiting for it to suddenly pop into submission. And we packed the frying pan full of them, and put it over direct heat. Mean while on the camp stove, we set on two cups of water to boil. I looked up from the fire pit, and the lake reached like glass for the furthest shores. A pair of loons floated serenely out there, and wailed a lonesome, eerie song, which echoed through the forest prime evil, not to mention the very chambers of our souls. This was living. This day, this camp fire, this lake in the woods – pristine, and untouched by the wages of man. Glory!
Time to flip the biscuits. All of which were done with a flip of the wrist, like a fine French chef, sending all six biscuits up into the air simultaneously, rotating in amber shafts of sunlight, and remarkably all landing as they ought to, back in the frying pan. My eye brow raised. I was expecting one or two maybe to exile for the ground, and roll happy-go-lucky through the forest duff, and topple on down into the lake, but every once in a while, we are mistaken for food ninjas. And we keep our mouths shut when we are, and nonchalance is at once or closest ally.
Sunbeams suddenly faded, like the turn of a dimmer switch on the dining room wall. Like the man upstairs was standing at the light board of life, pulling the sliders down, and raising some others, queuing the thickening clouds. A wisp of wind curled through the campfire. Thunder bellowed in the West. The water on the camp stove was boiling now. Time to add the gravy mix. The easy kind of gravy you get from a packet. One cup of water per packet. Nothing fancy in the hinter regions today, leastwise when a brooding storm gathers in the distance. Why must it always happen at supper time. Anyways, in short order, it all came together well enough. The sausage, the biscuits, and the gravy. And here is the trick to save on washing some dishes. Forego the plates and forks altogether, and instead, split a biscuit, lay some Italian sausage in there, and spoon in a couple globs of savory gravy, just because. A sandwich fit for a hobo. Or a king.
Glory be, but they were tasty! We gobbled them all down, like hungry lions to a fallen wildebeest. Each sandwich inhaled progressively swifter, as the rain drops began tapping like Beethoven over the land and the lake. A hot-white lightning bolt suddenly splits the sky in two, and the rain increased, dousing our cooking fire, mercifully after the deed was done. We dash for cover of the tent, tucked into the forest hollow. And the tempest commences. But we are content. Well, as content as two fellows caught in severe weather in a little tent in the middle of the woods can be I guess. For our bellies are at least full, having done that which we fiercely love. And if we were going to perish by lightening bolt today, we figured, at least we would be well fed.
The storm eventually passed, like all storms do. We emerged from our little tent like two, unassuming ground hogs to assess our world. And it was beautiful. Washed clean, and renewed. The lake was like glass again, with a deep reflection of its wild shores. Rain drops tenderly cling from fragrant pine needles, and the loons serenade again, from across the bay. I wanted to mutter something profound, but that would only spoil the tranquility.
Biscuits and Gravy Sandwiches, made over the open fire, under wild skies, patron to paradise. Man! The simple life, people. And how I long to be there once again. 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.