24 August 2008


I visited New Orleans this week, as I do a couple of times each year. Had some free times one evening, which I spent in Jackson Square. It was hot and muggy but with a breeze, which made the out of doors immensely bearable. Spent a nice long hour smoking a cigar and sipping a cup of cafe au lait from Cafe DuMonde. It was so nice I walked back to my hotel, got another cigar and went back for another cup and another hour of sipping coffee and strolling the french quarter. Stray cats gather in the square at sundown, as do the stray souls.

I walked by, but did not dine, at one of my favorite restaurants, Muriels. I'm not one to dine alone and as this was a solo trip I chose to make my dinner from a Lucky Dog and a diet Pepsi. Walked along the wicked end of Bourbon Street.

The rolling of the Mississippi. I have raised my children under the influence of this grand old dragon that slices America in two. I am not sure that I like the Mississippi, not in the way that I like the White River in North Arkansas or the Doe River in Tennessee. Big rivers are killers. The Kenai River is a killer. The Missouri River is a killer. Given the chance the Mississippi would swallow me, while the Doe River would gently push me to her banks.

20 August 2008

The Mother Ship

Yesterday I went to Mass at St. Albans for Father Mike's noonday homily. Funny how phrases that you have heard all your life suddenly hit you. Today it was... "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us"

I think often about the Catholic Church. This is despite the fact, or because, I was raised a great distance theologically from Rome. In my adult life I have been continually surrounded by its influence. It is the moral anchor on social issues of my adult years, and many many theological ones.

It is unwavering.

I think about several key facts about this church. The Catholic Church claims to be the true Christian Church. It is the only major Christian denominations that does. There are more Catholics than any other Christian denomination. It is the oldest Christian denomination. Perhaps it follows that every Christian must at some point answer the question, "Why am I not a Catholic?". We have to face the claims of Rome and accept them or reject them. We cannot ignore them.

The Catholic Church prays for unity among Christians. Constantly. Protestants do not. The weirdest thing about Protestantism has to be the way it ignores this one thing that must grieve the Father, the disunity in the Church. Not only do we ignore it, many denominations are downright proud of how unlike other denominations, particularly the Catholics they are, and how wide the gulf is between this group and that. Protestants boast about a rebellion that should bring us to tears.

If I were not a Christian, this disunity and plethora of variations of Christianity would be the single biggest obstacle to my conversion.

Why am I not Catholic? I am working on the answer. I'm a baptist by heritage, but I take my children to cathedrals and I make sure they know how to spot Peter, the saint with the keys. The first Pope, I'm not sure. I always told them maybe, never told them no. Not much of a hedge, but something.

19 August 2008

Get that saddle back

Pondering the appearance of two would-be leaders of a temporal kingdom in a self-proclaimed outpost of the heavenly one.....

If the purpose of the church is to bring glory to God and to draw people of the world closer to Christ, what role did this event play in that holy mission?

"For while it is possible for a king to wish very much to be a saint, it is not possible for a saint to wish very much to be a king. " - G. K. Chesterton

17 August 2008

The Verdict

Latest smoking attempt a dud, based on family reaction. Beef ribs definitely a mistake, cooked too long. Inside was passable, bark was bitter. Pork ribs on the dry side. Pork shoulder was good but I think heat should have been higher at some point in the process, perhaps the early hours. In the end 20 hours at 175 was not what I thought it would be. Would like to try a roast at the same temp for 36 hours or so. Typically one of my 20 hour roasts would have about 4 hours spent in the 250+ temp range.

16 August 2008

Dry Rub

For those who don't know, Dry Rub refers to one of two ways to season barbecue. There is the wet stuff, all those red sauces. There is the dry rub, a combination of spices rubbed on the meat at the outset and then largely left alone. You have to be good to rely on a dry rub. With the right red sauce you can make anything edible. If you've got the right wood and an experienced cook, a good pork shoulder will almost season itself.

Smoking pork has to be my favourite diversions. I just don't seem to be able to get enough of it. It's becoming one of the few things I really love about Summer. It started out of boredom during long weekends spent alone here during 2003-04. I played around for a time with cheap cuts of meat, chicken and cuts of pork from the expiration rack at Dub's grocery.

Now, five years into this hobby, I am finally turning out meat that is passable. It took a while. Lots of mistakes. My family is the best gauge. Not by what they say but by what they eat. There are times when the leftovers languish and others when they don't make it past 24 hours.

Currently working on the long slow smoking of pork roasts and ribs. 175 degrees and 18-24 hours of smoking. The roasts almost always come out well. The ribs are more difficult. I know there are many who will wrap ribs in foil to seal in moisture but to me this is cheating. I want to create a great rib that comes from nothing but the smoke. Generally I think my ribs are a bit on the tough side. I cook them too hot too long and dry them out. Part of the problem is I never smoke just ribs. I've usually got a roast on that I'm paying more attention to, building that smoke ring.

I like the relaxing nature of smoking. Grilling is hard hot work. You get your hands burned and your hair singed. Smoking is more work just spread out over more time. If grilling is surfing, smoking is strolling for seashells.

I have not smoked beef much. Most folks will smoke a brisket from time to time, self included. Other than that, you probably have to go to Texas for decent barbecued beef. As I write there are pork ribs, beef ribs and a pork shoulder in the smoker. It's 7pm, they've been on about 2 hours. I'll nurse the smoker through the night and then check the product in the am.

15 August 2008

It's my Fault

In the afternoons, San Francisco is like any other big city. Crowds of suburbanites pounding the pavement, moving their bodies back and forth between places of work, dining establishments, and home.

In the morning... San Francisco is special.

In the mornings there is a taste and feel to the air, both crisp and with a hint of moisture. Yesterday morning on the edge of Chinatown I walked down Kearny Street toward Market, past old Chinese women on their way to work at a local shop, past the smiling hobos just waking up, past traders rushing to get in before the New York open... it's hard not to fall in love with this place. Here the smells of the city do not sour overnight, they ferment.

I never miss San Francisco when I am away, but when I am back I always wonder why.

Note: The Ton Yong Thai Cafe at 901 Kearny Street is a great place for takeout and a late night escape from drug-addled prostitutes in pickup trucks. As I stand on a street corner outside a non-descript Hilton at 11pm these ladies remind me of a favourite quote from the heroine in the novel Kushiel's Dart, "When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me."

12 August 2008

Run for cover

I find it difficult to accept unsolicited advice. My earliest recollection was one summer in my youth when a kid from across the street, a year my senior and the neighborhood blowhard, said "Let me give you a bit of friendly advice for the sixth grade....".

Unfortunately I have been not only the the recipient but also the giver of such at times. Perhaps as one ages it becomes more difficult to keep all this pseudo-wisdom safely locked in the brain.

It's not unlike the feeling I get when peeking at a neighbors scrabble tiles and the struggle to keep my mouth shut when a 50 point word is jumping out of their tray into my face. "Helping" only makes one feel smart and smug, it does nothing for other players.

A self-determined solution to a problem, even if a lousy one, is better than a perfect one constructed by others. You learn by solving problems for yourself.

11 August 2008

Invaders in the Cities

CS Lewis had an insight that I lack..... A passage from one of my favourite books.

"Why is God landing in this enemy occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side. God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, alright: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else-something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God with out disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. " - Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis

08 August 2008

Thank you Hans Heider

My earliest known ancestor, Hans Heider, was born in Glashuetten, Oberfranken Province, Bavaria in 1704. At age 25 he emigrated to America, sailing from Rotterdam to Philadelphia, arriving on the ship Mortonhouse on August 17, 1729.