Thursday, April 30, 2009

Time travel…the year is 1973 and we didn’t have to use the ‘Wayback Machine’

Kenwood High School Class of 1973 35th Class Reunion Saturday April 25, 2009

A word of warning to some of my regular readers, this post is not BBQ related.

Last Saturday night, I ventured to my 35th class reunion which was being held one year late due to a change in the reunion committee. My wife and I arrived at the hall with our good friends Jack and Renee and were greeted at the entrance way with some blue and white balloons, (our school colors), tied to a walker, at least someone has a sense of humor. Once inside, Jack leaned over and asked me “did we go to school with all of these old people?”

From that point on it seemed like we had stepped back into time. All of the sudden, it was 1973 as I wondered around shaking hands and hugging anyone with a nametag on. At one point, I think I hugged one of the wait staff. She was a good sport about it. My wife said she didn’t buy the story that I thought the young lady had graduated in our class, as she probably wasn’t even born yet when we left the hallowed halls of KHS. But that’s my story and I am sticking to it.

I have a very good recollection of names and faces from 30 years ago, even though I can’t remember what I had for lunch half the time. I amazed myself identifying some of the folks that I went to school with. The class reunion is a funny event. You see a person that you used to sit next to for 3 years of high school and haven’t seen in 20-30 years and after a few minutes of conversation, its like you left school just last week.

The other interesting phenomenon about a reunion is, after the initial greeting, some catch up small talk, there is an awkward pause as you try and find an exit line. Early in the evening, it was very difficult, but as the night wore on I got it down and moved around the room like the 18 year old that I once was, only with a little more girth.

The best part was seeing the old friends. In our early fifties now, it seemed that most of the inhibitions were gone. Jocks, nerds, geeks and prom queens all stood together hugging and talking about life, kids, grand kids, and the good old days. It was if we were all young again, at least for a few hours, no worries, no concerns, just friends, old stories and what was left of our fading memories.

It reminded me of the Bruce Springsteen song ‘Glory Days’. It seems as more and more water passes under my bridge it becomes harder for me to listen to that song without welling up. Talk about hitting home, that song does it to me every time. It sucks getting old, but, it does beat the alternative.

The shot of reality came when speaking with folks. I heard success stories, tragic tales, cancer survivors, retirements, marriages (some for the 3rd or 4th time), grandkids, cancer patients, and of course the ever growing list of those no longer with us. The reunion organizers did a very nice tribute to that group of classmates, which made everyone stop, think, remember and reflect.

The DJ played a mix of tunes from our school years and today and some of the folks even got up to dance. It seemed like everyone that attended really enjoyed themselves. Except of course the spouses who could be observed sitting quietly at the tables or standing with hands folded in the background, occasionally glancing at their watches. Time standing still for them I am sure.

But alas, as quick as the evening began, the lights were coming up signaling it was time to go home. Many stood around hugging and exchanging contact information that will probably never be used. A few of the hardy ones announced some were adjourning to a nearby watering hole, this reunion we would miss. Some made the suggestion that we should do this every year. A good idea, but somehow, I think some of the luster would get lost in the sauce. Once every five years is perfect.

As our classmates made their way to the exits for their journeys back to reality, I believe the thought many people had was, ‘this is the beginning of the end’. While statistics say many will live well into their 80’s-90’s, reality is, the list on the table in the corner will do nothing but grow, that’s life. The truth of the matter is, we are approaching the backside of middle age, which is a fact. One only needed to look around the lighted room for confirmation if it was needed.

I think that was why I could see the occasional tear in many people’s eyes as we stood and said our goodbyes. Everyone promising to stay in touch, but again, reality is, we know we probably wont and just hope to be lucky enough to meet again in another 5 years for another trip to down memory lane.

Everyone is so busy just living life and trying to survive, sometimes all we can do is just hang on, hope and go along for the ride. It is for that reason, you must be sure to enjoy the good times when they present themselves, like they did for us on Saturday night. As a wise old man once said, (not me, I sure as hell ain’t wise), ‘life is too short’. I believe we are all beginning to see the truth in those profound words of wisdom.

The next day as I reflected on the preceding night’s events, I felt fortunate to be able to attend the reunion and blessed to be able to see many of the folks that were a large part of my younger days. I am also very thankful to have remained close with a handful of folks from those early years and extremely lucky to have them as friends today.

The 2009 organizing committee did an outstanding job preparing the time capsule for our journey. The year 2013 will be here before we know it. I hope there will be another gathering of our classmates for our 40th year reunion. I also pray that the guest list for the table in the corner doesn’t grow too quickly, there are already too many people sitting there.

As folks took off for the ride home and back to the year 2009, I am sure many reached for the antacid, Tylenol, and the Ben-gay. Many nursing upset stomachs, sore and swollen feet and aching backs, after all, we are nothing but a bunch of old farts! Give me three Tylenol and pass me my Rolaids, its way past my bedtime.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pork in the Park - Salisbury Maryland - April 17-18 2009

The best laid plans……yada yada yada

My wife Jo and I have been taking regular monthly cooking classes for the past 5 years or so with a small group that have become good friends. Last fall, we cooked a dish that both Jo and I thought was off the charts. A pistachio crusted rockfish, stuffed with a crabmeat and scallop mousse. The dish was topped with a beurre blanc sauce; it was a hit with everyone at class that night.

We had friends over during the winter and served the very same dish and again it received rave reviews. I cooked it at the regular Christmas dinner for the gang that I went to high school with and even had non seafood eaters gobbling it up. Big on flavor, a little wow factor, great taste and texture, this dish had it all.

Of course, my mind was working, could I pull this off at Salisbury this year for the anything butt entry. The dish was fairly simple to make, you only needed to bake it at 350 for about 30 minutes. Overall, very easy to prepare, much can be done in advance, hmmmm, it is looking good. I wonder about the seafood availability.

Last weekend I stopped at our local seafood monger and inquired as to the possibilities. The young man behind the counter seemed to glaze over when I started asking about dry scallops, FRESH rockfish and jumbo lump crabmeat, he suggested that I call first thing Monday morning and speak to Joe, the manager.

Monday morning found me on the horn to seafood manger Joe, He assured me he could procure everything that I requested and would have it ready for pickup on Thursday afternoon. The only thing left was to figure out how to serve my entry.

For the ‘anything butt’ category at this contest, regular KCBS garnish rules do not apply. The only restriction was the submission had to fit into a ½ aluminum pan. Jo and I scoured Bel Air for days looking for just the right dish to place my, what was sure to be a top five finishing entry, into. We finally found the perfect size and shaped dish, and the best part was, they were only 2 bucks a piece.

The long winded point that I am trying to make here is I put an awful lot of time and money, (jumbo lump crabmeat at $32.00 a pound) into this dish.

Now, let’s talk dessert. Wife Jo would not be attending the Salisbury contest this year due to an out of state wedding she was invited to the same weekend. When it came time to decide between spending two days on your feet in a field or going to Florida for a few days, well, you know what happened to my dessert cook.

I next tried to bribe my niece Jackie who lives in New York to come down and cook the dessert entry. She is a student at the Culinary Institute of America, a phenomenal pastry chief and cake decorator, in other words, she’s a ringer. She’s also a lot of fun to have around. Who, in their right mind could turn down two days in a grass field, cooking and hanging out with their favorite Uncle and a couple of his beer drinking, cigar smoking, somewhere on the back side of middle aged buddies? I don’t think you could find a 20 something girl anywhere in the country that would rather do anything else, what a weekend it would be, it is what dreams are made for. Unfortunately, (or fortunately), for Jackie, she had to work and could not make it. She missed the cultural and culinary experience of a lifetime, maybe next year.

Oh well, we just wouldn’t do the dessert. I already had the anything butt in the bag. The clock was ticking. Sometime, late Tuesday afternoon, it hit me, I could do the dessert. I had a recipe for a pecan dish that would kill, yea, we’ll do it! No time to shop for dishes, I would just cut it into squares and place them into the tray, the dish, after all, was called ‘Pecan Squares’.

I copied the list of ingredients onto my shopping list and it was off to the races. Everything was on tract until we arrived at the contest site. It took Arthur and I a little longer than usual to set the camp, then we had a huge wind come through and do a little damage which set us back about 1 ½ hours. Meat trimming took a little longer than usual due to an additional step or two in my chicken program. Bottom line, we were behind.

I was bound and determined to get the anything butt entry to the judges, after all, there was $1,000 in prize money that would go a long way to buying a new trailer. It was mine for the plucking, money in the bank.

Three times during the late afternoon I announced to anyone that would listen that we were not going to do dessert. There just wasn’t time. Wait a minute, I glanced at the recipe, (for the first time since last fall) and figured we would only need 45 minutes of baking, we had an hour after the award winning anything butt submission went in, it was doable, desert was on.

Bobby got things started, blending the dry ingredients while I worked with Arthur and Erich assembling the sauce. We got it in the cooker just in the nick of time. The way it looked, the pan would be finished baking at about 7:50, which would give us enough time to cut into squares before building the box.

At about 7:45 I decided to take one last look at the recipe. It was then I noticed the next to the last step, “cool in refrigerator for 40 minutes before slicing into squares.” This blunder on my part illustrates what normal preparation and readiness can do when properly carried out. In this case, I was again on the short end of a stick, and the only one I had to blame was myself.

My first thought was to keep it quiet, how hard could it be to slice? I would whack it into squares and stick them into the box, no problem. That was until I removed the pan from the cooker. I stood staring at a molten hot pan of bubbling butter, sugar and pecans’, slicing into squares was not an option. Tick tock the clock never stops. Turn-in for this entry opened at 7:50 while I stared at the pan of lava this time came and went, what to do? Give up, not an option. Think.

I have an idea, Bobby, take the remaining heavy cream and whip it with some sugar. Erich, lets you and I cut some Styrofoam coffee cups to size to fit into a ½ pan. Pass me that spoon. The finished product at this time was very runny; I could scoop it out along with some of the crust. This I would dump into the cut down coffee cups, we would put a cup of whipped cream into the center, in each cup we would place a spoon, plastic was all we had, it would have to do, it goes well with a Styrofoam cup anyway!

Arthur drizzled the cups with some melted chocolate and there you have it, time? 8:03 someone cried out. I took the box and started towards the judge’s tent. This was my first trip in that direction for the day, I had not attended the cooks meeting and wasn’t exactly sure were the table would be set. I noticed I did not see the normal stream of runners heading towards the judges, most were coming back, having already dropped their boxes with plenty of time to spare.

It was then I heard a voice, “George, you’d better hustle, it is 8:04”. Who ever yelled that, thank you, I thought I had plenty of time. Those in the know will tell you that anything after 8:05 is not good. I began to run. Now, picture this if you dare, an over the hill, more than slightly rotund, athletically challenged, with two left feet BBQ cook with a dirty apron holding a ½ pan out in front of his self while he attempts to move his large frame without stumbling over his own extra large two feet. Funny, would be an under statement.

I dropped the box on the judges table at 8:04 and 45 seconds, what’s the rush? I had a whole 15 seconds to spare, yea right.

I suppose now you expect me to launch into the awards and how it was so exciting to walk forward to collect our first place prize for the anything butt category. My well planned, overly expensive AB entry. Well, let me give you the thumbnail version, who are those guys? Anything butt 43rd place, dessert 7th place. Ah, the benefits of a well planned and well executed contest submission. Just goes to show you, well….., I don’t have a clue.

The next day the KCBS portion of the contest went fairly smooth for WATG? Considering this was our first outing for the year. There were 92 teams entered and we finished 5th overall. Our only call to the stage was for 3rd place brisket. We were also very fortunate to receive the award given for the highest scoring Maryland team in the contest, which included a very nice prize and of course those ever important braggin rights.The contest was won by my friend Steve Farin cooking as I Smell Smoke. Steve was cooking with his parents and it was his birthday. Congratulations and Happy Birthday!

The moral of this post is to never say never. Like the Marine Corps, improvise, overcome, adapt. If you run into a problem, don’t panic, think, then work around it, do your best, or some other B-movie cliché. As for me, I gotta start thinking about my AB submission for next year, how about a bowl of chips with some salsa? Something easy, not a lot of planning, something with some yada yada yada.

Bloggers note:
Friday evening two folks stopped by our site on separate occasions to visit. They both commented on how much they enjoyed reading this blog. I was able to acknowledge their visit with a thank you but little else. As you can see from the above story, I was up to my ears in alligators Friday evening. I want to thank you for the kind words about the blog and I hope you get to stop by again sometime when we will have a minute to talk que.