Food for Thought

Once, a philosopher; twice, a fool

It is August 1.

If you had asked me on July 15: “Karl, what are the top five things you love to do, more than any other? Tell me, huh?”

I would have quickly said my number-three favorite thing was cooking.

Ask me the same question today, August 1, and cooking does not appear on the list. Anywhere. Especially, cooking for a crowd.

I’m finished with it. I recently hit a culinary brick wall, at 100 mph. I lived to tell about it; but just barely.

The accident scene: My youngest daughter Ivy’s wedding.

Let’s go back in time, to June.

It started innocently enough. With a very poor decision on my part — as all my problems do. If I remember correctly, I was sipping at a fourth glass of Syrah at the time, so I was more of an idiot than usual.

“Dad, you know, I’ve been thinking about my wedding reception, and there’s nothing I want more than food cooked by you and Uncle Ronnie and Uncle Mike.”

Nothing? Are you sure? You don’t want to see me do the Doctor Daddio Twist? You don’t want me to write a special ode for the occasion?

Nope.

From my friend Mike: A shrimp boil, complete with husky crustaceans precisely seasoned and perfectly cooked, along with potatoes and corn on the cob.

I know what she wants from my pal, Ron: Carne adovada — a significant portion of cow braised then napped with a sauce incorporating the finest, fragrant ground New Mexican red.

But, what does she want from Dad?

Finger food, perhaps? Little bits of toothsome stuff, easy to handle, easy to transport? Crostini? Commercial pizza rolls?

No such luck.

Pork and chiles.

“How many people will be there?” I ask. “How many do I need to cook for?”

I’m feeling pretty confident. I have to make dinner for 35 or so, for the rehearsal dinner. I need to feed family and friends at another dinner — maybe 25 in number. I have a breakfast scheduled for 12 or so folks. All within four days. I can handle anything, can’t I?

“Oh, not many. Maybe three-hundred fifty. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Maybe a few more.”

I fail to hesitate, fail to pose alternatives. Swept along on a current of false confidence, and Syrah, I agree.

And thus …we have my undoing.

So, the plan: Open Karl’s Pork Shack two weeks before the event and cook pigs, many pigs. Enough pigs for 350 people. Maybe a few more.

An alarm bell sounds in Iowa; the pork industry goes to DEFCON 5. They bring in busloads of illegal workers to man the night shifts at the packing plants.

I can handle dinner for 10, 12, even 20 people. No sweat. It’s all in the prep. But, 350 people? This requires some cipherin’.

The process: Take one Big Daddy pork butt per day and braise it from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning. Do this at least 14 times.

Step one: Buy a slow cooker; a device I’ve never used. I do all my braising and roasting in the oven. This project calls for a 6-quart, high-tech cooker. Digital. A machine that tells you the time in London, Tokyo, Mombai, that speaks to you in the language of your choosing.

Step two: Figure the recipe. This is easy: Take the massive hunk o’ hog, wash it, dry it, remove extra surface fat, as much connective tissue as possible, and all the silver skin. Gotta get rid of that silver skin.

I slash myself on several occasions, but things go rather well, all things considered — as in, when manhandling 10-pound wads of slippery pig flesh while wielding a sharp blade.

Step three: Salt and pepper the surface of the meat as well as within its folds; apply a rub of ground cumin and dried oregano.

Step four: Put giant mess of pork flesh in slow cooker, add one chunked white onion, 10 or so cloves of garlic, sliced. Contribute a can of diced, fire roasted tomatoes and their juice, a small can of diced, chopped jalapenos, drained, and a cup of chicken stock. Perhaps a measure more of the ground cumin and the oregano. Hurl in a tablespoon of Espanola red and mix. The cooker is covered, turned to low, the timer set for 11 hours. The machine tells me to sleep well, in Portuguese.

It’s 3 a.m. and I hear another voice. “What’s that smell? Karl? What do I smell? It’s awful.”

Scientists dressed in crisp, white lab coats have done countless experiments and determined smells cannot wake a person.

They did not test my wife, Kathy.

“Dear God, I think I’m going to be sick. I can’t sleep. I’m going to have to turn on the light and read my new copy of O. Oprah says that a woman in late middle-age can find unexpected happiness in a new relationship. It’s apparently never too late.”

Step five: At 7:05 a.m., turn off slow cooker. Remove pork from broth with tongs, and place meat in a large ceramic bowl. The meat separates easily, much of the unmelted fat falling away, to be discarded (where’s a dog when you need one?). I shred the meat in the bowl, then tear the hot flesh into smaller pieces. I am burned, but not badly. In fact, the heat feels nice on my knife wounds. I add a quarter cup of the braising liquid to the meat, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, put the meat in the fridge to cool throughout the day. I save the remaining broth in a freezer baggie, seal tight and place in freezer compartment.

Step six: Purchase another pork butt at store after work. Return home, take last night’s pork from fridge, tear it up a bit more as meat is placed in freezer bag. Seal bag and put in freezer, wash ceramic bowl.

Step 7: Repeat cooking process. Next day, repeat storage process.

Do this fourteen times. Regardless of obstacles.

Such as: “I can’t stand it. The smell of pork is driving me crazy. This is so wrong.”

By the night before the wedding, I have the large freezer compartment of the fridge completely filled with packs of solid pig. Plus, I have stashed four bags of frozen braising liquid — several quarts.

Now, the tricky part

Whaddya do with about 80 pounds of rock-solid pig flesh when your target date for offering it to hungry and somewhat inebriated diners is less then 24 hours away?

Let them chip bits off a frozen hunk with a hammer and chisel and suck on the cold shards?

Way too post-modern for the Pagosa wedding crowd.

Nope, it’s gotta be hot.

Wedding Day schedule:

Step one: The night before, throw away everything in the refrigerator compartment and transfer the bags of frozen pork to the shelves, giving them an overnight stay at a higher temp. It will thaw them enough to allow most of the meat to be pulled apart.

Step two: Borrow some hotel pans from a pro. Pans to fit into large chafing dishes (which I also borrow from a pro), atop sterno-agitated baths of water. I remind myself to have a fire extinguisher on hand (reference above-mentioned inebriated guests).

Step three: Call some friends and ask if I can borrow their ovens for several hours.

Step four: Get out of bed at 5 a.m. Remove bags from fridge and set on countertop for an hour or so, to further hasten thawing.

Step five: Tear up wads o’meat. Chop up hunks that remain frozen. Bandage new gashes in hands. Place meat in hotel pans. At the same time, remove packs of frozen stock from fridge. Scrape congealed fat from surface of stock, thaw stock in large kettle, periodically skimming fat from surface.

Step six: Take 20 dozen flour tortillas; cut the tortillas in half. Double wrap a dozen (24 halves) in foil. Repeat 20 times.

Step seven: Strain thawed stock and return to kettle. Add Espanola red to taste, bring to boil and reduce by one-third. Pour stock over meat in hotel pans. Seal hotel pans tightly in foil — two sheets.

Step eight: Put several pans of meat in oven, at 300 degrees. Take remaining pans to friends’ houses and put in 300 ovens.

Step nine: Take caterer’s hotbox (large, insulated oven on wheels, with racks for pans, borrowed from a pro) to reception site, plug in and turn heat gauge to 175. The big concern here is that the meat, once in the oven, remains at a temperature where the chances of killing guests is minimized (though, at this point, I am starting to feel detached from the event). The other concern, incidentally, is the ferocious lightning and rain storm parked directly above the hilltop reception site. But, that is God’s work; I have to adjust.

Step 10: When meats in hotel pans have warmed, pack pans in back of pickup truck along with foil packs of tortillas. Heft cooler full of iced packs of shredded cheeses and containers of sour cream into truck, as well as a box full of bowls and serving utensils. Put chafing dishes, cans of sterno, water for bain-marie pans into truck. Jet to friends’ house and pick up remaining pans of meat. Rocket to reception site — now somewhat of a mud bog — put hotel pans and tortillas in hot box, put cooler beneath serving tables, put bowls and utensils on table, put chafing dishes on table, fill bain-maries, light sterno. Extinguish flames on shirt sleeve.

Speed home, change into rented suit (“You look like an undertaker”) tidy up a bit, and head back to the site. The wedding, which was planned for an idyllic, open field on a ranch near town has been forced under the huge tent atop the hill by the deluge. I put on a snappy apron and get food ready prior to the ceremony. Ronnie is there with his half cow and we put the meat into a chafing dish. Mike is there with a bevy of fish cookers and he sets up just outside the tent because — again God’s work (apparently my daughter and soon-to-be son in-law are held in somewhat good favor) — the skies have cleared; the weather is grand.

On to a bainmarie goes a pan of pork. Into another wire-rack chafing dish go several dozen tortillas. Into bowls go cheeses and sour cream.

Oh, and a black bean and corn salsa ( black beans, roasted corn kernels, roasted tomatoes, roasted and diced jalapenos, diced white onion, dice red Bell pepper, lime juice, smushed garlic, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper) that I whipped up in my spare time is put in a huge bowl and placed on the table as well.

I walk Ivy down the aisle. We execute a fluid daddy-daughter dance (Earth Wind and Fire) and I retreat to the end of the tent to hover and replace pans in chafing dishes when necessary.

There is a ton of chow — ours and some incredible appetizers and casseroles produced by Todd and Kellie. And plenty to drink. The wedding cake is the best I’ve ever tasted, again thanks to Kellie.

The party is a smash.

And, at 1 a.m., what do I have to show for it besides lacerations and a muddy rented suit?

About 30 pounds of pork.

I hope the bears enjoyed it.

I’m never cooking for a crowd again.

What’s Cookin?

Herb Basted Corn

4 ears corn, husks and silk removed
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoonchopped fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1.In a large skillet over high heat, bring 1 inch water to a boil. Add husked corn on the cob; cover skillet and cook 5 minutes. Using metal tongs, transfer corn to aluminum foil-lined baking dish.
2. Meanwhile in a small skillet over low heat, melt butter, parsley, rosemary and marjoram. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper, if desired.
Heat grill, brush ears of corn with butter herb mixture. Grill corn 5 minutes or until fork tender, turning frequently. Yields 4 servings.


Alvin Clarence Fitzhugh

On Monday, Aug. 6, 2007, a few minutes before 4:30 p.m., Alvin Clarence Fitzhugh passed into eternal rest at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colo. He was 91 years of age.

Alvin was born in Antonito, Colo., Jan. 14, 1916. He spent his youth in Antonito and Denver before settling on his family ranch in Chromo, Colo., where he made his living as a rancher and farmer until his death. Alvin was a hard worker and many found it difficult to keep up with him, even into his later years. Many visitors to the Chromo area will remember seeing Alvin walking down the side of the road with his shovel over his shoulder, which he did often. Alvin loved to fish and travel, having seen much of the United States from Alaska to Florida. Even up until a few weeks before his passing, Alvin had just returned from a trip to Missouri.

Alvin was a lifelong member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Pagosa Springs Lodge No. 122. During his tenure, Alvin held every office in the lodge he was so dedicated to. He was a caring man and no one ever stopped to see him without being provided all the hospitalities he had to offer. If Alvin ever heard of anyone in distress — locally or abroad — all Alvin wanted to know was whether or not he could help them.

Alvin was preceded in death by his sisters, Ruth, Elizabeth and Evelyn; his beloved wives, Georgie and Willie Faye; as well as close friends Frank Faye and Reba and Jack McCain.

Alvin is survived by his wife, Ethel; children, Sheila, Diane and Alvin Louis and his wife, Carol; grandchildren, Candy and her husband, Lee, Michael, Joshua and his wife Becky; and great-grandchildren, Seth, Aaron, Joshua, Lee and Savannah Rose. He is also survived by many lifelong friends and family including Tinnie Lattin, Catherine Martinez and family, R.D. Hott, Robert Gieseke, Dick and Violet Devore, as well as many in-laws, cousins and loving friends across the nation. Alvin’s life will be celebrated by those who knew him and he will be sorely missed.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Aug. 18, 2007, at 10 a.m. at the United Methodist Church in Pagosa Springs.

LOCALS

Lt. Joel Michael Lomasney

Lt. Joel Michael Lomasney, U.S.M.C., son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lomasney, received his wings as a pilot in the U.S.M.C. at a ceremony in Whiting A.F.B., Milton, Florida, on July 13, 2007. Lt. Lomasney has been assigned to the U.S.M.C. air station in New River, North Carolina, to begin training to fly the Osprey.

Doctor Rutherford and Doctor Rutherford.

Pagosa’s newest Dr. Rutherford, Jordan is seen here with his father, Glenn, at the graduation of C.U. School of Dentistry’s class of 2007, marking the beginning of a profession in dentistry.  “Doctor Jordan” has joined “Dr. Glenn” in practice at Pagosa Smiles in Pagosa Springs.

Darin J. Lister

Air Force Cadet Darin J. Lister, of Pagosa Springs, has graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The graduate received a bachelor of science degree and was commissioned as a second lieutenant.

The academy offers a four-year educational program of instruction and experience designed to provide cadets the knowledge and character essential for air and space leaders, and the motivation to serve as Air Force career officers. The curriculum provides a balanced program of military training, academics, physical training, athletic conditioning, and character and ethical development. The courses of study allow cadets to acquire a broad education in the basic and engineering sciences, social sciences, the humanities, including additional elective courses needed to complete requirements for one of 25 major areas of study.

The new lieutenants go on to serve as pilots, navigators, engineers, maintenance officers, professionals in various management and technical fields, and some attend medical or graduate school with special scholarships, while others go directly to non-rated Air Force-wide assignments.

Lister will be a pilot assigned to the 57th Operations Support Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nev.

He is the son of Larry and Cindy L. Lister of Pagosa Springs.

He graduated from Pagosa Springs High School in 2002.

BIRTHS

Colter Cordell Carnley

Chadd and Christa Carnley would like to welcome into the world our little Blessing from God.
 Colter Cordell Carnley was born on July 25 at 2.22 p.m. at Mercy Regional Medical Center, in Durango.
Weight was 9 pounds 2 1/4 ounces and he was 20 inches long. Family members there to celebrate his birth were: Grandparents Pete and Valerie Bailey, and Tom and Jan Carnley, along with his aunts and uncles Israel, Leslie, Evey, Sarah, Levi, Deborah Bailey and Ceth Carnley. It is a true miracle and blessing to be able to see what God has created. We pray that Colter will be a man of God and that Christ will always lead his path. Thanks to all our family and friends for the prayers sent our way.

WEDDINGS

Kelly Marie Kay and Anthony Bronc Maestas

Kelly Marie Kay and Anthony Bronc Maestas will wed Saturday, Aug. 25, in Colorado Springs.
Kelly is the daughter of Rob and Susan Kay, of Pagosa Springs. Anthony is the son of Michael Maestas and Eleanor and Todd Shelton, of Pagosa Springs.
The couple will reside in Colorado Springs, and will honeymoon in Hawaii.