Monday, February 21, 2011

Delmar Smith: King of Bird Dogs

During the course of any given lifetime, it's not often that any one individual encounters true greatness. One of those times happend to me recently.

I had the distinct privilege of attending the first two days of the National Championship Field Trial at Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, Tennessee this week. It was truly an amazing experience, and one I'll discuss in more detail later.

But back to my brush with greatness. During my time at Ames, I spent my days with (among others) the great Delmar Smith. I'm not sure there are sufficient adjectives to describe this prince of a man. Part Will Rogers philosopher, part P.T. Barnum showman, Delmar is the most significant and influential bird dog man still roaming the earth today.

An Oklahoman born and bred, he grew up raising cattle and breaking horses, and transferred that knowledge of animals to sporting dogs. Early on, he had a fair amount of success in field trials, but it wasn't until his Brittanys started winning that he started gaining some much-deserved notoriety, and jarring the pointer-setter duopoly in the process. From there, it was full speed ahead.

Like any good bird dog man, you would expect a certain amount of bullshit, and he splendidly delivers. But this man -- a spry 85 years old -- has a mind like a steel trap and a handshake much the same. Standing next to him hearing him recount the people he's known and the dogs he's trained (or is it the other way around?) is simply amazing.

And God bless it, he's funnier than hell, too. Several people came up to him during the trial and mentioned hearing this NPR appearance. If you have an extra ten minutes, you'll understand the spell that this man casts.

Mostly though, Delmar Smith left me with a simple yet profound thought. As he tells it, many years ago, Delmar was having dinner with John Olin -- CEO of the then-Winchester empire -- and the gun magnate was having maddening issues with a new gun.

"He told me he went to the factory and started making changes to the gun, one at a time. He started with the butt plate. When that didn't work, he changed the screws of the butt plate. Then he changed the wood and the angle of the stock. And he just moved forward from there, and before long, the problem was fixed. He changed one variable at a time, and that's a lesson I took with me to bird dogs. Make single changes, and you'll be able to isolate the problem."

Simple words, but profound. And ones we'd all do well to heed -- whether it's bird dogs, our work lives, friends, or family.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

These Are The Times That Try Men's Souls

Bird hunting season is behind us.

Fishing is sixty days away.

It's dark at 5:30 in the afternoon.

There's a foot of dirty, gray snow on the ground.

It's warmer in my freezer than it is outside.

Football season is over.

Basketball season has yet to get interesting.

Truly, these are the times that try men's souls.

So, what else sucks about this time of year?  Discuss.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Road Photo Friday: The Season In Photos

Yeah, I know it's not Friday.  But this really isn't a photo, either.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Love Affair With Refried Beans

Growing up in the Midwest refried beans were typically only served as a side dish to tacos -- a can of Old El Paso, that mom would thin with some water.  An afterthought, really.  To me they always smelled (and looked) like canned dog food, but I enjoyed them anyway.

Fast forward to my college years in San Antonio.  A Taco Cabana was always nearby, and the cheapest thing on the menu was the bean and cheese taco.  Swaddled in foil and served steaming hot, it was peasant food, but hey, that was me!  Just a homemade tortilla, smoky, rich refried beans, and some shredded cheese.  It was heaven, and I lived on the things.

As toddlers, our kids lived on them too.  It was (and still is) the Scampwalker family equivalent to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  They are equally tasty morning, noon, or night.  Now our frijoles refritos are homemade, and I can happily report that they no longer smell like Alpo.

Scampwalker's Refried Beans

Roast 3-4 garic cloves, wrapped in foil, in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, sort a 16-ounce bag of pinto beans (black beans also work well) for any pebbles or other debris, put into a large pot with 8 cups of water, and add 3 bay leaves.  Do not add salt now -- your beans will never get fully tender if you do.

Cover and simmer for about 3 hours,  adding the peeled garlic when it's done roasting.  Check the beans occasionally, and if they're still tough, add water as needed.  You'll know they're done when they are tender and start sticking to the bottom of the pot and almost all the water is absorbed.  Remove from heat.

Add a fresh chopped tomato if in season, or a half can of tomato paste.  If you save bacon grease (and everyone should), add 2-3 tablespoons of it.  Otherwise add 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  You can also add salt at this time, although I typically don't if I'm using bacon grease.

Mash them with a potato masher.  I prefer mine still a bit chunky, but if you want them really creamy, you can finish them off with a hand mixer.

Serve them with homemade tortillas, shredded cheddar cheese, cilantro, and pico de gallo.  I suppose the beans will save for a week or more in the refrigerator, but they're never around long enough to know for sure.