Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Let The Bounty Begin

It's been about a month and a half since I talked about my garden -- that 20x20 expanse of hope that we planted back in mid-May.

I'm happy to report that the garden is doing fine -- amazing in fact.  That's by no means a brag, I assure you.  Sure, we've set the table by timely planting, watering, mulching, and weeding but nearly every crop in my patch has thrived.  I mean, like moreso than many other accomplished Master Gardeners that are my neighbors.  And I have no idea why.  Maybe there is something to this green thumb thing. 

Whatever it is, it's been a great family affair, and truth told, kind of addicting.  I used to dread pulling weeds, now I actually enjoy it (no such luck for the kids yet).  And walking up to my plot (it's on the neighborhood schoolyards about a mile from my house) is akin to the feeling you used to get on Christmas morning -- you never know what you'll find.

Such was the case over the weekend.  We'd all been looking forward to harvesting the first Early Girl tomato of the season, but we all assumed there'd be little else to do other than pull a few more weeds.  Boy were we wrong.

The tomato was indeed ripe for the picking, and so were peppers (jalapenos, bells, and anchos), eggplant, zuchini, a few green and yellow wax beans, carrots, and a nice boquet of zinias and other garden flowers. 
The kids have hatched a plan to sell any extra produce (the Good Lord willing, I think we'll have plenty) at my office, with the proceeds going to the local food bank.  Hopefully their "Tomatoes For Change" campaign will help some folks out who otherwise might go hungry.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Great Lenexa Barbecue Battle

That "fog" you see in the photo above isn't fog at all.  It's the pungent, sweet smell of barbecue smoke, thanks to this weekend's Great Lenexa Barbecue Battle.  Faithful readers of 8MM know that Kansas Citians consider themselves to be at the epicenter of the best barbecue restaurants and backyard smoking in the world, and the cookoff this weekend is yet more proof that 'Cue is King in KC.

Most contests like these are two-day affairs.  Things kick off on Fridays, and nearly 200 teams converge on Sar-Ko-Par park, less than a mile from Casa Scampwalker.  It's easy to know when it's competition weekend -- we're greeted by the telltale aroma as soon as we walk out our front door.  Friday nights are typically social affairs.  It pays to know people -- all the parties (replete with outstanding smoked meat and copious amounts of beer) are private, but the mood is jovial and it usually isn't too difficult to find someone that's willing to throw you a bone (so to speak).

We walked over to the park this morning to snap these photos, and while the crowds were gone, the scene was just heating up, with plenty of hungover guys getting ready to plate their offerings for the judges.  As big as this event is, it's small potatoes compared to the American Royal Barbecue, held every fall in KC and considered the biggest and most prestigious contest of its kind anywhere.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The New QU

When I arrived home from work yesterday evening, a new (and very different-looking) Quail Unlimited magazine was sitting on the counter.  Gone was the cheesy cursive masthead logo, and gone was the terrible, amateurish cover photo that usually adorned the increasingly thin magazine.

It was replaced by a rather hefty book with an updated logo (even though the stylized quail head looks a bit like a pissed off chicken) and a lovely photo of a covey rise by esteemed outdoor photographer Terry Allen.

The magazine -- and ,much of the organization itself -- is now administered by Steve Smith and Village Press, the same guys that publish and edit Pointing Dog Journal, among other titles.  I haven't had much of a chance to read the magazine, but in flipping through it, I'm betting it's going to stay a little longer in my "reading library" than the old QU magazines.

While I'm still not quite ready to throw my money -- and sweat equity -- at the organization again, this step is nonetheless promising.  Mr. Smith can put together a magazine, and more importantly, Village Press has mailing lists and marketing savvy that just may help save this once-proud conservation group.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Arizona Mearns Quail, A Photo Essay

One could make a convincing argument that Mearns quail are nicknamed "Fool's Quail" for a number of good reasons. One glance at these little birds explains at least part of the moniker. They look like they were cobbled together by God's Spare Parts Department -- particularly the cockbirds. A ruddy, toupee-looking crest, a stubby beak, a polka-dotted breast, and a sawed-off tail. Yet without a doubt, the birds are some of the most beautiful birds an upland hunter can hope to pursue.

Their uniqueness extends to their feet -- long toes and toenails further distinguish this bird from his other quail cousins. The funky-looking appendages are perfectly suited though for the Mearns' primary means of eating -- digging at small roots and tubers found just below the surface of the arid, scrub oak dotted hills that they inhabit.

The birds are best found at 5,000 feet (give or take) above sea level. They can be found in feeder canyons, feeding and loafing in grassy meadows. The scenery is beautiful, and much of it is spent walking up-and-down, or at least traversing loose rock hillsides.

Those lacking healthy hearts or good boot leather need not apply.

We hunted public lands within a mile or so of the Mexican border, and saw numerous instances of illegal border crossings and makeshift camps. Water jugs, empty backpacks, tin cans, and small campfires dotted the landscape wherever we went.  Border Patrol jeeps, planes, and helicopters showed themselves from time to time, on a far more important hunt of their own. I never felt in danger, but I did feel on more than one occasion like I was being watched... friend or foe I'm not certain.

Jim's string of shorthairs were Mearns marvels. They'd lock on point, and relocate as the covey moved, never bumping a bird. Once the dogs corner them, the guns move in. These quail hold tightly -- so much so that you'd think you were chasing preserve birds.

On a Mearns rise, I quickly learned that two shots are too many, but three shots are never enough. Invariably, I'd unload my gun on the one or two initial birds to take wing, only to have an unloaded gun when the larger covey flushed, right at my feet.

Fool's Quail indeed.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Holy Trinity of Smoke

Barbeque makes old ones feel young
Barbeque makes everybody someone
If you're feelin' puny and you don't know what to do
Treat yourself to some meat - eat some barbeque
-Robert Earl Keen

Like millions of Americans over this past Memorial Day Weekend, I participated in the ritual of the barbeque. For many (mostly panty-waisted easterners), "having a barbeque" means grilling hamburgers, hot dogs, or some other form of meat. Not so in Kansas City. Here, it means honest-to-God smoked meat, cooked low-and-slow over a wood fire.

For my entire life, I've used a Little Chief smoker for jerky, salmon, and chickens, but it wasn't until I moved to KC that I began dabbling in what I call the Holy Trinity of smoked meat -- ribs, pulled pork, and brisket. Ribs are probably the easiest to master -- rub 'em down with assorted spices, fire up the smoker, and pull 'em off when the meat is tender but not yet falling off the bone.

Pulled pork -- a pork butt -- was a bit of a challenge, at least until I purchased a remote digital thermometer that allowed me to measure doneness by temperature and not time. Time, I've learned, is a bad way to measure BBQ, since there are so many variables in the equation -- smoker temperature, ambient temperature, and the actual cut of meat, to name a few.

Even with a thermometer though, beef brisket remained my bugaboo -- until last weekend. I had tried many different recipes, and every single one of them produced a piece of meat that was either tough or dry -- or many times both. I used an adapted version of Meathead's Barbeque Beef Brisket Texas Style, and the results were terrific.

The leftovers ain't bad, either. Sliced beef sandwiches, chopped brisket with scrambled with eggs, or minced in homemade flour tortillas with cilantro and onion (today's lunch) are all great ways to make this meat sing.