Friday, July 30, 2010

Road Photo Friday: Nogal Peak and White Sands

The Scampwalker clan -- including the three pooches -- made the 14-hour trek to New Mexico for a week of fun with family. It was a terrific trip to the Land of Enchantment, and one that included plenty of time in the great outdoors.

An impromptu hike led us to the top of Nogal Peak, one of the higher points in south central New Mexico.

The views were stunning from 10,000 feet, and well worth the steep climb. And the photos really don't do it justice.  That's Mrs. Scampwalker and her dad admiring the view several hundred feet below us.

We weren't the only folks on Nogal Peak enjoying the view. My father-in-law pointed out the masses of ladybugs congregating on this unknown plant.

That evening, we visited White Sands National Monument. It's about the most appropriately-named place on earth -- 275 square miles of pure, white gypsum sand dunes.

Winds move the dunes more than 30 feet a year. But a few plants, like soaptree yucca, manage to survive by growing a foot a year, just to keep its flowers and leaves above the sand. Many plants grow 30 feet tall or more -- but you'd never know it, most has been claimed by the shifting sand.

Of course, White Sands is also home to an active missile testing range. And then there's the Trinity Site, where they detonated the first atomic bomb and changed the course of human history. Quiet nature and beauty, juxtaposed with manmade power and fury -- but equally desolate in both ways.

But enough of the waxing philosophic. The kids were there to sled the dunes -- some probably close to 40 feet tall. My son knows no fear.

During the summer months, the park is open late on full moon nights. You can easily see several hundred yards with nothing more than the glow of the moon. Surreal, to say the least.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Scampwalker's Blowtorch Rellenos With Venison Gravy

I can't claim credit for any component of this recipe, but I can claim that the amalgam is all my own.

The typical stuffing pepper (literally chile relleno in Spanish) is an anaheim or poblano -- the latter (and my favorite) is similar in size to an elongated green pepper, though a much deeper green in color.  The trouble with these two varieties is that they've got tough skins -- tough enough that if you cook them without removing the skin, you get something similar to Saran Wrap encasing your peppers.  Most relleno recipes tell you to broil your peppers to sear off the skin, but I've learned the hard way that this process softens the pepper too much -- not good when you get around to frying them.

Enter the "blowtorch" portion of this recipe.  It has nothing to do with the heat of the pepper -- poblanos generally are mild, if prepped correctly.  Instead, the fire portion of the equation was pioneered by my father some 30 years ago... and it's as effective as it is just plain bad-ass.  And the kids love it.  Fire up that propane torch you've got laying around to burn the skin until it blackens and pops.  Then put the whole peppers in a paper bag for 20 minutes or so to help the skin separate from the flesh of the pepper.  Rinse off the charred skin under cold water and you're ready to go.
I'm not saying my Dad invented this blowtorch process -- you can find internet references to it these days -- but then, who was surfing the web back during the Reagan administration?

The process after that is fairly straightforward:
  • Cut a slit lengthwise in each pepper, and carefully scoop out the seeds and white veins (this is where the hotness is)
  • Stuff either cubed or shredded cheese in each pepper -- we used sharp cheddar this time, but a Mexican asadero is nice too
  • Separate a half dozen eggs; in one bowl, beat the whites until they're stiff.  In a second bowl, mix the yolks with 1/4 cup flour, then fold that mixture into the egg whites
  • Roll each stuffed pepper in a plate of dry flour, and then dip into the egg mixture, making sure the batter adheres to the pepper
  • Fry it with the slit-side down side first in a cast iron skillet filled with an inch of hot oil.  Turn it when golden brown, and remove when finished
That's pretty much it.  Never being one that's content with "pretty much" though, I chose to put together a chili gravy to accompany the rellenos.  There's a terrific recipe over at the Homesick Texan, who took it from Tex-Mex authority Robb Walsh:
  • Heat the 1/4 cup canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Stir in the 1/4 cup flour and stir for 3 to 4 minutes, or until it makes a light brown roux
  • Add 1/2 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp salt, 1.5 tsp garlic powder, 2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp oregano, and 2 tbs chili powder to the roux and constantly stir for a minute or so
  • Gradually pour in two cups of chicken broth, and let simmer for 15 minutes
I gilded the lily a bit more by browning a package or two of ground venison in a separate skillet along with some chopped fresh garlic, jalapenos, and tomatoes.  After everything was cooked through, I combined the meat with the chili gravy, and poured that over the relleno.  Heaven.

As we sat there last night eating, we derived an added measure of satisfaction knowing that almost everything on our plates -- from every vegetable to the eggs to the venison -- were naturally raised and harvested.  And really, really tasty.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hey NSSF,I Know My Sport Is Dying, But Do You Have To Remind Me?!?!

There's word today from the organizers of the annual SHOT Show that they've redesigned the logo for the king of all shooting and hunting trade expositions.  The new logo, shown at left, is allegedly "strong," "clean," "inclusive" and "modern" -- all good things, apparently, to the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Gone is the earnest, shotgun-toting upland hunter with a boot-polishing, panting golden retriever at his side.  I wasn't a particularly huge fan of the old logo, but it made me proud that my sport was was represented in such a high-profile icon.

“Times change and trade shows change, reflecting current buying and selling trends,” said Chris Dolnack, senior vice president of NSSF.  "By eliminating the hunter and the dog, the logo now better reflects the diverse audiences of today’s SHOT Show."

Did you really have to use the word ELIMINATING, Chris?  I mean, I get it.  Hunting is but one portion of the shooting sports pie, and upland hunting is an increasingly smaller crumb of said pie.  Deer hunting, target shooting, tactical and law enforcement are where the money's at these days -- hell, I've even got a black gun.  So I understand businesses need to adapt to where the green is, which is probably why the new logo features a green target.  Fitting, eh?

But still... I just feel so... eliminated.

Schlitz Tall Boys: Back To Where It All Began

The year was probably 1978 or 1979, and I was hanging out with my dad and my grandpa in the backyard on Moraine Drive in Lincoln, Nebraska.  It was a warm September Saturday, and we were listening to a Cornhuskers road game on the transistor radio, where Big Red was doubtlessly humiliating a hapless Iowa State or something. 

Dad and Gramps were drinking beer, and I asked them if I could try it.  I almost remember them glancing furtively to make sure that mom and Grammy weren't around before they offered me a sip.  I remember it being bubbly and very odd tasting -- but not altogether unpleasant.

And I remember the can.  It was bigger than the average Coke can, and the scripted Schlitz logo contrasted sharply with the words TALL BOY that were inscribed across the front.  "Why do they call it a tall boy when boys aren't supposed to drink beer?" I wondered aloud, in a classic question that only a 10-year-old kid would muster.  I don't recall the answer, if there was one then or if there is one now.

Schlitz and I drifted apart after that.  I didn't have another sip of beer until I was in my latter years of high school, and by that time, Schlitz had been acquired, the recipe jiggered and on its way to oblivion.  And besides, I was more interested in getting my hands on Bud Light, the gold standard aristocrat of high school beer.

Today though, the tall boy is back in all of its Schlitz glory.  It's a brilliant stroke of nostalgic marketing genius, to be sure -- but you know what?  This beer is pretty damn good on a hot, sticky, lawn-mowing Saturday -- the perfect yard beer for my money.  The new can touts the "classic 60s formula," and it is indeed fuller-bodied and less watery than most budget beers, yet it's light enough to throw back on a hot afternoon. 

I've found that it's a bit of a challenge to find it -- one of the guys at the liquor store says they can hardly keep it in stock. That's too bad... because when you're out of Schlitz... you're out of beer!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Axis Buck

Nearly 18 months ago, I was fortunate enough to kill a trophy axis deer. I'm not the kind of hunter that lusts after big racks (deer anyhow), but I knew as soon as this animal was on the ground that I'd have to have him mounted. And today, I'm certainly glad I did.

I picked him up over the weekend during a quick family trip to Dallas (thanks Dad & Mom!) and last night, Mrs. Scampwalker helped me hang him on the chimney over the fireplace mantle.  (Yes, I am married to a saint for allowing a critter to inhabit such a prominent spot in the Casa Scampwalker.)  I think you'll agree the taxidermy job was spectacular. They're unique animals, and I'm glad I paid a few extra bucks to get the full shoulder mount that shows off his spotted markings.

If you look closely, you'll also see that he was in the process of shedding his velvet when he met the business end of a 7mm-08 bullet. I shot the deer in March -- but before anyone freaks out, bear in mind that there is no season on axis deer in Texas.  They're considered an exotic species, even though they run free on many ranches throughout Texas. Even more interesting is that Axis apparently don't rut during any particular season -- fully antlered bucks can be seen standing alongside mature male deer with no headgear at all, at any time of the year.

While the venison he provided is long gone, it's satisfying to me that I can immortalize this beautiful animal in perpetuity.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Alejandro Escovedo: Street Songs of Love

It would be hard to beat punk-rock survivor Alejandro Escovedo's 2008 effort, Real Animal.  And I'm not sure his new follow-up record, Street Songs of Love, quite does it.

But it's pretty damned close.  Whereas Real Animal was very autobiographical, Street Songs is, as the title suggests, a set of songs about love -- pure and not so pure -- that gets its beautiful depth and scruffy character from someone who's seen the best and worst of life.

This time around, Escovedo is bringing a couple of friends with him.  The Boss himself shows up on the rocker "Faith." That's something of a role reversal, since it was Escovedo playing "Always A Friend" onstage with Springsteen and the E Street Band a couple years back.

Ian Hunter also lends his inimitable voice on the sad but masterfully produced "Down In The Bowery."  That production work is again handled by Chuck Prophet, who uses a female chorus to sprinkle a liberal dose of fun, retro oohs and yeaahs throughout the album.

Other standout tracks include the rocker "Anchor," and "Street Songs," the cool rapping title track.  Whether you're a longtime Escovedo fan or just looking to get your feed wet, Street Songs is easy to love.

Road Photo Friday: Awesomest. Shower. Ever.

After an aborted fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico courtesy of Hurricane Alex, nothing feels better than a good hot shower.  All that sticky, salty, sand-filled air-and-water-mix that's blowing in your face at 40-plus mile-per-hour leaves you feeling pretty road hard and put away wet.

The folks at Galveston's Hotel Galvez understand that.  In addition to the traditional fully adjustable wall-mounted showerhead, there's a second pizza-sized sprinkler placed in the middle of the stall's ceiling.

The result is full frontal hot-water bliss.  Why don't more places do this?  And why the hell didn't I build one into my shower stall when I redid it a couple years back?