Saturday, February 26, 2011

Beal Street Baked Beans

Seventy degrees outside and I'm off to the store to purchase yet another bag of mesquite chunks of wood. About to fire up the grill and throw some all American red meat on those hot coals and aggravate my neighbors one more time as smoke permeates the entire block we live on.

I have two great stories of my summer barbecue shenanigans while living in Dallas but I'll save one for another day and spill out this one for now.

My senior level account executive that I was working under at this small agency in North Dallas in 1992 knew very well of my affections for smoked meat. I had brought in a fairly decent job and as a thank you, he went out and purchased me my very first barbecue pit.

Well I couldn't wait to get it home and quickly put it together and placed it strategically in my back yard ready to break in a ten pound brisket that I had taken great care in rubbing down with all kinds of goodness.

I fired up the pit and went inside not really thinking too much about it and pulled the brisket out to warm into room temperature.

About one hour later, the entire University Park fire department had ascended into my backyard with truck in tow geared up with oxygen masks and axes in hand ready to put out what they thought would be at least a three alarm fire.

Much to their surprise and aggravation, they were shocked to see a barbecue pit pushing out more smoke than probably what was allowed in the city limits.

With disgruntled looks on their faces, they headed back to their truck at which point I yelled at them, "You boys come on back in about ten hours!"

They were not amused.

With any barbecue dish, you've got to have baked beans and summer time is definitely a calling card for this staple side item. And the best recipe I've ever had for baked beans comes right out of the Memphis Junior League Cook Book titled, Heart and Soul.

I promise you that they will come running back for seconds on this so make sure you make plenty. I double it on most occasions.

Beal Street Baked Beans

1 1/2 lbs ground beef (I've replaced this with sausage before and it's off the hook.)
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 Tablespoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/4 cups catsup
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 
2 16-ounce cans pork and beans

Cook ground beef and onion until meat is brown, sprinkling with lemon-pepper seasoning and garlic powder. Drain and add catsup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard and pepper. Mix until well combined.

Carefully stir in beans until well mixed. Bake about 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Serves 10-12

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mr. Mixie Dough

In 1933, my father's sister would pop out into the world and among many other treasures that a child is bestowed, my grandmother, her mother, would bring home a book one day for evening bed time stories. The name of the book was Mr. Mixie Dough.

Mr. Mixie Dough was published in 1934 when my aunt was only a year old. The creator, Vernon Simeon Plemion Grant, would give the world his story and illustrations of an elf who lives way up in the sky and bakes all kinds of things for the children who live in "Behind-The-Clouds-Town."

Vernon Grant was born in 1902 in Coleridge, Nebraska to Oliver Simeon Grant and Chloe Barkely Grant. When he turned six, his family would move to South Dakota where they homesteaded. Young Vernon had an early love for art and growing up on the prairies would serve as inspiration for his early paintings.

His family would leave South Dakota when he was a teen moving to California where he would study business law and public speaking at the University of Southern California. By the age of 21, he enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago and to help pay for this education, Grant created "Chalk Talks" which would become popular acts on the vaudeville circuit.

In the 1930s, a small company consisting of only 44 employees in Battle Creek Michigan came out with a new cereal to rival their top shelf brand of corn flakes. W.K. Kellogg called this new breakfast cereal, Snap®, Crackle® and Pop®. To promote the new product, Mr. Kellogg launched a radio campaign in 1933 around the same time Grant was releasing his new book, Mr. Mixie Dough. Hearing the radio commercial, Grant would approach Kellogg's and present his concepts for what he imagined Snap®, Crackle® and Pop® should look like. It is believed that Mr. Mixie Dough served as the inspiration behind these breakfast cereal icons.

Over seven decades, Grant would become a legend within the creative world of advertising helping launch General Electric, Gillette and Hershey's with his illustrations.

He would continue making art until 1985 when unfortunately he felt his work was not up to his own expectations forcing him to lay the brushes down. He died in 1990 at the age of 88 and the Charlotte Observer noted that although Grant's illustrations would delight people for years, "in the long run his greatest gift to the community may be the standard of citizenship he exemplified."

Vernon Grant represents a time when developing brands was as humble as the companies that needed them. When corporations were all about the dreams that stemmed from great imagination and not so hung up on big egos, human resources and legal departments. It was about the product and the idea behind the product.

Ideas. The good ones are always worth fighting for.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Less is More

Not that my opinion matters much but I dislike modern gospel music. The Kirk Franklins of the world are an absolute knob turner for me but different strokes for different folks I guess.

I suppose I'm just a purist who still believes that less is more. To me, having less brings out the most creativity within the human spirit. The less you have to work with, the more you have to rely on yourself to make things happen.

For this reason, I lean on the traditional side of gospel which offers a more pure and authentic sound. A sound that takes work from the vocalist on both his singing and listening. Vocalists like the Swan Silvertones who were so in touch with each other, it's almost like they were one man with several mouths to sing with.

The history of Gospel music is somewhat of a mystery. Mainly because the folks that created it were forbidden to read or write during it's evolution. Even the great lover of sociology and music himself, Alan Lomax, had a tough time figuring out where it developed within the U.S. speculating that it's origins were strongest in the Carolinas.

The facts of gospel music can be determined by just listening. The songs themselves sound very similar to work songs. A call and answer method using a lead to call and a group to answer. Chain gang workers and cotton farmers used these songs to help boost spirits within the working environment. Slaves were forbidden to use their musical instruments a lot of times and given their lack of funds in general, had to create something from nothing within their churches. This is when the form of gospel sung in a cappella (pronounced ah kuh-pel-uh) became it's very own art form and would spark the fire which gave birth to soul music. The term "a cappella"  simply means vocals only. No help from musical instruments.

What we all really miss these days with modern music is the amount of discipline it takes to produce authentic quality. Most if not all of the current music is not created by the artist/band as it's the engineer who holds the keys for the way a record sounds. If the vocalist is out of tune, no problem. The audio software fixes the issues and creates even better vocal tones for the next fifteen year old super star.

It's the same for photography with all the magazines you see at the grocery store.  Hours are spent shaping and fixing the way a woman looks for a cover shot. I know this to be true as I'm a manipulator of communications and it's my job to make everything look pretty. Photography is no exception.

The Landis Family from Creedmoor, North Carolina are probably one of the best examples of gospel sung in it's purest form. The entire family is musical but the Landis brothers represent incredible talent showcasing their ability to sing as one unit. It's a lost art form now as even traditional gospel is difficult to find. The pressures of more money to be made from a younger market have been slowly killing the old ways. The ways that made far more with much less.

Word to you my brothers and sisters. If they don't have gospel in Heaven, I ain't going.