Smoking a Turkey Breast in the Camp Chef

Healing sometimes comes in odd forms. Last weekend, I took what was a ‘baby step’ for me in getting back into barbecuing. It was also a chance to use up some of the ‘legacy’ frozen food in the freezer.

I’ve explained before that when my wife was so very sick, she would keep up on her physical therapy, improving to the point where she’d be ready to come up the two steps from the living room to the rest of the house and therefore be able to do cooking – which was one of her greatest passions.

She would be in such good spirits that she would then send me to the store that afternoon, to get this, and that, and this other… all special things for a special dinner the next day. But the next day would bring a significant setback; one that would keep her limited to the living room. And she would be so, for a soul-crushingly long time. And so, I would quietly put the special things for the special dinner into the freezer.

So, many of the special things in the freezer have an emotional connection because of this. Pulling out that turkey breast and deciding to cook it was a way to honour my grief and deal in a gentle way with the hurt; and I decided it was a way to also honour her, and her great passion for cooking.

Getting started: I defrosted the turkey breast in the fridge for a couple days, and it no longer felt hard (icy) in the center.

I have taken to keeping bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer; they’re a lot less likely to be wasted due to neglect this way. I learned the hard way from having to throw out all levels of monetary expense for fresh ingredients because of not being able to get them cooked before they turned to… slime.

I figured a 9 × 13 pan would be about right. Into this went a bag of frozen root vegetables, a bag of sliced mushrooms, a bag of sliced onions. I messed up and forgot to salt them, but things turned out surprisingly well anyway.

On top of this went the turkey breast. I didn’t do any special preparation, because the package instructions say to leave the mesh ON for cooking. And because it was my first time with anything like this. She always wanted to do these… Maybe next time, I’ll take that mesh off and give it a rubbing of ghee. (Butter will burn, ghee won’t.)

One quick grab shot as I’m getting ready to set the pan into the Camp Chef. I started with a cold barbecue because of all the frozen veg in the glass pan, and I was worried about the heat shock shattering the glass:

I set the Camp Chef for 230°, smoke level to 10 (max). Inserted a probe into the center, and connected that to my remote thermometer transmitter.

3-1/2 hours later, the internal temperature was about 135°. I turned up the heat to 350°, and left the smoke set to 10. I figured that if I continued to smoke at a low temperature, that it wouldn’t be done for another three hours or so. I wanted to get to bed at a reasonable hour…

Here we are with the internal temperature at a nice 165°, and if you look close, you can see wisps of steam rising from the veg in the bottom of the pan.

Everything turned out GREAT. The veg had a nice smoky flavour, the onions had caramelised nicely with a hint of smoke, and even the hard stuff like the carrots had a pleasant smoky thing going on.

The turkey turned out really moist and tender, and the only hard part was getting that darn mesh off it so I could cut it up. Made for a wonderful few dinners, and I hope I honoured my sweetheart in so doing.

And I got to do barbecuing once again. Finally. I’ll get to brag about it, and about how I learned from her, when I get to see her again. Looking forward so very much to that.

All that’s left is to express my gratitude in saying a quiet Grace in a quiet house; and to share a little with Thunder.

My Aussie-Buddy, Taking Control of His Domain

Thunder has been growing increasingly comfortable in living with me. I’ve seen him going from ‘velcro dog’ to being a bit more relaxed with all situations.
NOTE: This is a photo post; click any image to enlarge.)

A few days ago, we’d had the first real break in the Winter rains, here on the side of the mountain, and things had actually begun to dry out. Thunder had needed to go out, so I let him out, and waited. And waited. He was taking far longer than usual – although ‘usual’ has often been in the rain, so I understand him wanting to go out and get right back in, five minutes later.

But this time was way longer. I went to the window, and was overjoyed to see this:

An honest-to-God Sniffabout! He was finally out and exploring HIS back meadow. And that spot he’s so interested in, there… That was one of Dara’s favourite ‘potty spots’, for both #1 and #2. But it’s been raining for two and a half months – could there really be any scent left?

Meanwhile, over the last few days, those sniffabouts of his have grown longer… and longer… and longer. I’ve taken to calling him in when they get to over the 20-minute-mark.

Herders, when they are finally acclimated with their new homes, typically begin to instinctively do ‘denning’, where they find a convenient spot to “hide” where they feel comfortable – typically enclosed somewhat – sometimes really tight (never did figure out how Henry got into and then out of that little tiny space under the cedar chest), to somewhat open (Dara loved the far side of the bed, on the floor). And now Thunder is finding his denning spots; under the chair in the dining room:

And with the butt in roughly the same spot: Under the yew table in the dining room:

And under the chair back in the far corner of the living room, for those rare occasions when I’m watching some TV (oops, I disturbed him, so he’s looking at me to see if I’m getting up):

And his caretaking of me has gone up a notch: Almost every night, in the middle of the night, I need to get up for a couple minutes (old guy thing). Of course, I’ve come fully awake, so I grab my phone and do some reading on my current book so I can get back to sleep. He’s taken to watching me as I read, and typically with this expression of, “WHEN are you going to go back to sleep???”

And he just stands there, patiently. You can see just that sentiment in his face, with the one arched eyebrow…

Thank you Lord, for my Aussie-buddy; for making the house feel a little more like a home again.

Another Heartache, Dealt With… (sorta)

My wife’s Facebook profile came up today, suggesting her as a ‘friend’. Another stab in the heart.

She was more, so very much more, than that. So incredibly, vastly, more, that it defies description – even beyond any attempt to try.

I spent some time redacting her death certificate before I sent it to Facebook, and it is such a clinical description of the end of her life that… it hurts.

But you have to acknowledge the hurt before you can heal, right…?

I cannot tell you that I will ever fully heal; that I’ll ever be “okay”. Some shallower parts of Society would want me to ‘just get over it’, but I cannot. It’s like those big scars on my arm from my operation: They’ll always be there. This is a part of my life now, just as much as she was the most important part of my life, and always will be.

We’re All On The Same Crew

If you haven’t seen The Chosen, then it is a singular experience.

The series is crowdfunded, and as much of an honest look into the times of Christ as can be understood from the standpoint of our modern times.

It is presented as an historical chronology, not so much as proselytizing, but as a way to give the viewer an insight into those times during the Life of Christ.

It’s a portrayal of Christ highly weighted towards his humanity, rather than towards his divinity. It shows how his contemporaries saw Jesus as a man, a possible Prophet, more than Jesus as the fulfillment of God.

If you haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to take a look through at least the first couple episodes before you make up your mind.

Now to my point: I just finished watching the end of the second season, and rolled through to the outtakes at the end. Having been through many of these things with different actors, I totally understand it from their standpoint.

But something else stood out to me: I realized that all of us who are doing our best to serve the Audience Of One; that we are all on the same crew.

Maybe it’s from the standpoint of my days, my many days, in television production, that I understand that it takes so many people, seen and (many times that) unseen, to make a production happen. I have been privileged to have been a part of many, many, many, different productions, some of which were successful, and some of which were merely… completed.

But it is those days when I was working to please The Audience Of One, that I am most proud of.

And I saw that, in great measure, in those few moments of outtakes, at the end of The Chosen, Season 2. Even though the people are ‘just actors’, there is a reverence for the overall work in which they are participating.

And from the crew standpoint, you can see how they’re all a team. And that’s what being on the crew means: you’re a part of a team, doing great things.

We need to realize that we all are part of a team. (Did I just make a statement about the body of Christ? Yup.)

Assembling My Christmas Present (in pictures)

With her being gone, I wanted it to feel a little like Christmas.

I got something small, complex, and yet useful; something she would have picked out for me…

A ROKR Perpetual Calendar puzzle.

I’m always referring to a monthly calendar, so this will be an object in everyday use.

This isn’t to show step-by-step, but just some highlights. First thing I noticed is how wonderfully complete the ‘kit’ is (from past model railroad experience, that’s how I think of it).

Everything’s included, even wax to lubricate the gears, and a little square of sandpaper to knock off the few rough edges.

The laser-cut parts pop out with a bit of very gentle persuasion, and the whole engineering side is extremely well thought out, with extras of the smaller parts included.

You can tell that thought was put into the overall look, and the kit is a pleasure to assemble; even for my old arthritic fingers. Classical order, too: subassemblies first, then marry all together.

Here’s the final result: a pleasurable day, well spent; being a kid once again assembling models on my desk in my room.

A closeup, showing it’s displaying 12-2021.

I miss you, sweetheart. I wish I could kiss you and thank you. But I know you’re smiling…

The Desolation of Isolation

I’ve been working on this post for… a while. It’s because of the urging of the GriefShare website that I am sharing openly. Doing so IS helping with the healing. If you are experiencing grief, it is an excellent resource; even to daily email devotions.

It’s been hard to describe that feeling when the Sun and most of the stars go dark.

When the one true love and the light of my life died, that part of me, that part of me which she shared… suddenly was snuffed out.

And in a strong parallel to Tom Hanks’ Castaway, the Grandfather clock – our beautiful Grandfather clock that we found and bought together, seventeen years ago for our 30th anniversary, strikes the time from its place in the living room, reminding me once again of her absence...

In the darkness of her absence, I look back to the light she brought into my life; and all that joy, warmth, and incredible depth of mutual shared companionship, along with the deep partnership that we had together.

I always tried to put her first in everything we did together, and in the surrendering of myself in love to the mutual communion of our relationship, I found a rich depth of a sharing partnership beyond measure.

This surrendering of myself (“the girl comes first!”) enabled us both to share honestly with each other in ways that are uncommon in today’s world. In everything, EVERYTHING, she came first, as she often had clarity of vision that I did not. Insight, that I did not.

And the clock strikes, reminding me that time continues to pass without her…

Rooted in those intimate moments when we were quietly resting in each other’s arms; and those times we were just doing things together, we had the foundation to step out into the world in our individual careers; knowing that from the depths of our quiet moments together, we were LOVED. ACCEPTED. BELONGING TO EACH OTHER. FREE TO BE OURSELVES… And able to share anything, no matter how good… or bad. She always came first.

And the clock strikes, with the empty passage of time...

Over the years, out of love we took an interest in each other’s passions: I learned in depth about things like chintz tableware, various dish and plate and serveware patterns, filigreed perfume bottles; and gained an ability to spot any of these in a remote dark and dusty corner of an antique shop. Likewise, she developed an eye for antique roadway and railroad marking and signal lamps. The shared delight in our mutual “finds” over the years of what was strong evidence of more than just a marriage, but a true depth of a partnership; one which brought us so many warm memories. My greatest delight was in her joy and excitement about something… “But it’s so expensive…!” And I’d say, ‘just get it’; and her face would light up. And the Sun would shine in my heart.

We would talk of those places, wanting to visit them – well, many of them – again.

And the clock strikes, its bells echoing in the empty house…

And that is now all gone, except for those fading memories, never to be truly shared, again.

I tried silencing the chimes in the Grandfather clock; but doing so only exaggerated the silence in the house.

The grief can be crushing at times; yet I know she is home: in a far better place than here. She doesn’t have that constant agony any more, she isn’t an unwilling prisoner of her body any more; and I will see her again

And the clock strikes, reminding me again that I am alonefor now

Christmas trees come to mind, because it’s Christmas:
She loved, absolutely loved big, no, wait: huge Christmas trees. Everywhere we lived, she wanted the biggest Christmas tree that would fit. I remember when we had that two-story house with the tall entry, the one with the stairs that went up to the right, and the rest of the house to the left. The height of that entry exceeded 25 ft. So one Christmas we got a permit to go out into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest with my little import pickup, and cut a Christmas tree. After driving around for at least a couple of hours, she spotted the ideal candidate. Of course it was on the edge of a cliff… I had to run a snatch line back to the pickup truck and then carefully go cut the tree down without going over the edge of the cliff myself. It came down just fine, but it seemed a little heavy. It wasn’t until I got it back to the pickup truck that I realized it hung over both in front and in back of the truck, with the tip of the tree nearly dragging the ground in the back. But I managed to secure it, and we drove home with our massive Christmas tree. I put it up in the entry (after much heaving, grunting, and some swearing), and it was so tall that the top of it brushed the ceiling. I had only a 10-ft ladder, so we decided to sparingly decorate it so that it wouldn’t seem lopsided with decorations only for as far up as I could reach (halfway). The rest of them I managed to do with a broomstick and only then by leaning precariously over the edge of the stairs. But! It was absolutely magnificent! And in the house we built, now 31 years ago, the great room has a 15 ft ceiling. And you can guess how tall our trees were for several years. But eventually my knees started to give problems, and we had to go to 6 ft trees. However, they were all beautiful. Our favorites by far were the Grand Firs, followed by the White Firs… All of them as tall as we could manage, and yet all magnificent.

And again, the clock strikes…

It’s now, at this Christmastime, when I am really missing her bright spirit; this time will be the first time without her: She loved going through all of our numerous big boxes of decorations in the garage, plus all of the stuff in the closets, and pulling out and putting up everything. Traditional Scandinavian things, Swedish things, plus Department 56 Snow Village stuff and all of the accessories (animated and illuminated) and filling windows, shelves, counters… Any horizontal surface… with the reminders of Christmas.

And especially, her collection of Dala Horses, especially the ones that were rare sizes and colors, lined up like soldiers on the mantle.

And I just don’t feel like doing any of that, because her joy was my delight and encouragement. I loved it because she loved it…

And the clock strikes again, its chimes echoing through the empty house

I continue to walk forward through this grief, knowing that God is with me. I remain secure in the knowledge that although things were never promised to be easy, he always promised he would walk with me. AND that I will see her again.

Passing the Baton of Live-Fire Barbecuing

I “sold” my Weber Platinum Charcoal barbecue (and all of the dozen or so extra pieces and parts), last night.

I’ve been trying to find it a new home, because SOMEWHERE out there, there HAD to be SOMEBODY who would love to do live fire barbecuing; and this was absolutely the most perfect set of tools for that.

That barbecue represented for me years of passion for the art, and also all of the remembered warmth of years of creating wonderful dinners with my late gourmet-cook wife; and I could not bear to have all those wonderful memories, and this small-but-important part of our epic love story, end like that. In my grief, I could not allow that: it needed to serve a higher purpose.

I had a couple of friends offer to take the barbecue down and put it at the curb in front of their place, knowing that somebody would probably grab it and take it. Then I ‘would be rid of it‘.

But I just could not bear to have the story end like that. I couldn’t bear to see my passion for live fire barbecuing shared with my wife, dumped on the curb, like so much trash.

I’ve lived long enough to know that for too many people, that if you get something for free, it has no value to you. So you treat something of serious monetary value like dirt, because you didn’t pay anything for it. Sadly, this happens far too often anymore.

But came an answer to prayer:
The pest control guy came yesterday, and we got to chatting about barbecuing. He was saying that he has a pellet barbecue, but is unsatisfied with it. He related his love of barbecuing, and wanted to start doing true live fire barbecuing.

I told him about my Weber Platinum Barbecue, and how I’m unable to use it anymore, because of my physical limitations in getting up and down the deck steps while holding a tray full of materials for the barbecue. And about having a couple of really scary close calls with falls in the process.

I related how my wife and I had always worked together for so many years to create items that would be going out and cooked on the barbecue; she would stay in the kitchen, and hand me a tray out the end kitchen window, and then I could take that to the barbecue. When I was done, I would hand the tray back in to her through the window, and then come back up inside.

But when she got so sick, and unable to help with preparing the meal for the barbecue, I had done it all on my own, and then tried to take it out to the barbecue and back. After two near-falls on that trip, I quietly stopped barbecuing; not even telling her that I had; because I didn’t want her to feel badly about it. She already felt so badly about so many other things relating to her sickness, and I vowed I would not add to them.

I told the pest control guy about how that barbecue had been my old friend for many years, allowing me to practice the very real art of true live fire barbecuing. He totally agreed, and I then understood that he had a true passion for the fine art of live fire barbecuing.

He said, “I so totally know! This is something I wanted to do for quite some time, but I haven’t been able to afford a really decent barbecue. And a standalone smoker? WAY too much money for something that just does only one thing!”

I said, “My Weber Platinum cost around $250 new. I have a number of Weber accessories for it, plus a number of other things, including a really slick add-on that allows you to do smoking, using live fire. I also have a cover for it, which is still fairly new. Tell you what: I’ll sell it all to you for 20 bucks.”

I really wasn’t interested in the money; I was interested in passing on the tradition and art of true live fire cooking. And I knew I had just found ‘the next guy’ to receive that baton.

He became really excited about the barbecue and barbecuing possibilities, and we talked tips and techniques for at least the next half hour. He said he’d be back after he was done with work.

He came to pick it up, and he was about to hand me a twenty, and I said, “Keep it, and use it to buy a bag of Competition Charcoal at Cash & Carry. Merry Christmas!!

He and his wife (she was there to help), lit up like twin Christmas trees.

And they now have the tools to follow their passion and to create artful food, using the art of live fire cooking.

And me, I feel as if I have just stepped out of an O. Henry story…

May God bless you, and you bless others, this holiday season.

Of What Are You A Master?

I was watching a travel-and-cooking show, and the host was in France. The person he was interviewing asked the question in such a wise way, that I had to post it here.

Instead of asking, “What is your job?”, the person asked, “Of what are you a Master?”

This struck me as so incredibly wise, in these times when many of us allow our job to define us; instead of us defining ourselves by those talents which we have.

We are not limited by the present job we hold; instead we are freed to create and contribute by those talents which we possess.

Throughout our careers, God is gently molding us to find and understand those things at which we excel. Those things for which we were created to do. And when we can take a step back and take the time to think about these things, we can take time to realize, God made me to do this!

I have found that throughout the years, God put me in places, to learn things, to do things, to allow me to excel in my current career. Each job gave me a Master Class in each piece of what was required for me to be a Master of what I now do.

I in no way approach my work with arrogance; that arrogance of someone who has had rather a bit too much education rather than practical experience, and waves a piece of paper in your face, claiming to know far more than you do. Rather, I approach my work each day with humility; realizing that I would not be where I was, were it not for God’s hand in my life.

Look for that spark of God’s creation in your life and your work; follow it. Do what God made you to do, even if it seems different from what you’re doing now. If it requires you taking classes to find and follow your dream, fine. If it requires you looking into vocational School to follow your bent, fine. Follow that spark that God put into your heart; that thing that makes you happy when you do it; a thing that… when you do it, you feel God smiling upon you.

For there is no better feeling than to reach the end of a project, than to lean back, exhale in relief, and say, “Thank you Lord! We made it together!”

Fixing the ‘Perfect Fried Eggs’ Recipe

Okay, I always admit when I’m wrong. In this case, just a bit misguided; but a correction is warranted. It always wears upon my conscience when I’ve published incorrect information. I shall not draw negative parallels to certain so-called “News” organisations which seldom issue a retraction…

First, the wrong assumption: I had been thinking, that, like my omelette recipe, the frying pan used for the cover needed to be heated.

I could not have been more wrong.

All you need is some kind of cover; what happens is that the hot water flashes to steam, and does all the work for you. So, at the risk of too much repetition, let me update the method from a few days ago:

Heat your 8-in pan over medium low heat. Add some butter; and when that’s melted, crack in your eggs. Then add hot water, just enough to go all the way round the eggs on the outside. This is key: the water needs to go ALL the way around the eggs.

Now cover; and for the sake of convenience, I use a 12-inch frying pan for the job. This will nicely cover the 8-in, and save you all the fuss of having to clean a lid.

For perfectly cooked soft, runny eggs, wait about 45 seconds, then take a peek. They should be just about right. For medium eggs, wait about a minute and 20 seconds. Cooktops vary; this should be close.

The advantage to this method is that the eggs come easily out of the pan, with no sticking. See the previous post for photos, as the result is identical, and now it’s perfectly repeatable.

An Appropriate Reason to Give Thanks…

The house is no longer quiet. Hallelujah!

I welcomed my new four-footed, forever-friend into my house, last Saturday. (I’ve waited to post this as Bertha was such a complete disaster, and I didn’t want a repeat.)

For both of us, it’s been a period of adjustment. However, as of today, we seem to be at that point where we’ve mostly figured each other out, and our living together becomes smoother every day.

I was initially worried, because he wasn’t eating. Granted, he’s only 45 pounds of fluffy Australian Shepherd / Pomeranian mix, but still, he should be eating roughly half as much as Dara did – which would be about 3/4 cup per day for him. I started setting out food bowls in the places where I normally spend time during the day, just because he seems to want to be wherever I am – and not very far away, if at all. I took him to the vet yesterday, and he checks out okay physically. But something one of the techs said to me in the lot as they brought him back out made perfect sense: “Maybe he’s grieving”.

Of course.

The foster people told me that his owner had passed, leaving him alone. After the loss of my wife; boy, do I get THAT.

Meanwhile, you can tell how intelligent he is: He’s quickly learned the routines of my day, and of my evenings. He will often walk at my side, sharing the stride; never in front, and sometimes just a bit behind, especially when climbing stairs. He knows that when I come to the dining room to start my day, that I’m always bringing my breakfast along – and of course he gets little bits of it. I’m careful to watch his diet in that he needs to be eating his kibble to keep it balanced…

Yesterday, we had a VERY close call, the stuff of nightmares. At the vet’s visit, they had suggested to try changing his food. We went to a local ‘pet store’, where I was going to get several samples. He was a bundle of nerves in the back seat, but being really good about staying back there. I opened the door to get out, and did not feel him behind me as I got up. In a flash, he was out and on the parking lot pavement. There were cars driving by the back of the car, only a scant foot or two away, and not going slowly, either (What the hell is it with people wanting to drive 30 MPH in a parking lot, anyway?). Only a quick move from me got a handful of hair which held him in place. I managed to get turned around and pulled him back toward the car; at which point he got the idea and leapt quickly back to safety inside.

I’m beginning to think he’s part Fitbit: If I’m sitting too long, he starts to get ‘chatty’, in that way that an Aussie will. I sat down to do a few quick checks on my work PC, and after sitting here for an hour and a half, he’s whining and moaning at me. I got up, took my breakfast dish to the kitchen, sat back down; now, he’s fine.

He is taking his job as my Aussie Caretaker seriously. Of course, there are only so many places in the house I go regularly; he’s now got those scoped out so that he knows just where to lie so that he can keep an eye on me. The place that made him the most nervous (up until last night) is the sunroom. After all, “those doors are only glass”, and he can see the big world of the back meadow through them. Up until last night, he’d start trying to get me to move, typically after only about an hour. Once settled into one of the comfortable chairs in the “safe” dining room, all would be well.

Bedtime the first night with him was good; he found a spot on the floor where he could be vigilant and yet go and patrol the house whenever necessary. When I got up very early in the morning (old-guy thing), he was right there to shepherd me to and from the bathroom.

Subsequent nights, he’s spent on the bed next to me. Often, he’ll lie in the bottom corner, again vigilant to instantly attend to any small noise in the house (The icemaker is a continuing source of puzzlement.); although he changes locations and positions often. Lately, he’s been closer to the head of the bed, and to me.

He is so similar to Dara, in that he’s easy to care for. We’re getting potty signals sorted (although I don’t appreciate the need to go at 3AM, but hey, no accidents) and he’s getting used to, and adapting to, my circadian rhythms.

He’s also so similar to Dara, in terms of coat color. I have done a double-take, more than once.

His presence in the house is most welcome, and he is such a gentle soul to have as a companion. No longer does the house feel so dark and empty.

Welcome to your forever-home, Thunder. I love you already.

Thank you Lord, that the house isn’t suffocatingly quiet any more.