Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Pigskins Replace Canvas

Football Illustration by artist Hall Groat II

If you've been reading my short but sharp comments on Facebook these days, then you know I'm not a big fan of what our government has done regarding our debt. Fifteen trillion dollars in the hole and still spending daily like some crazed old lady with a credit card glued to the shopping network. Where does it all end? Is our society on it's way to a repressed existence much like the popular book The Hunger Games? Which by they way is a pretty good little read.

But this rant isn't about our government. At least, not in so many words as this is more about us. A society that has lost their way and can't seem to see it either because we can't or we just refuse to.

In August of this year, the state of Texas lost 900 jobs in local school districts. This was due to $4 billion in cuts to Texas public schools and the blood bath is just beginning as according to the proposed Texas state budget for 2012-2013, Texas faces a huge shortfall, estimated to be between $15 and $27 billion.  Education stands to bear a significant portion of the proposed cuts in the next two-year state budget, which currently reduces education funding by 10% (nearly $5 billion). Approximately $771 million of the reduction will come from colleges and universities and they tell me several financial aid programs will stop accepting applications.

Prior to this in April, our State House killed funding for the Texas Commission on the Arts slashing $3.5 million in contributions. The Commission and its programs affect 2.2 million Texans statewide providing funding to a wide variety of events and programs, from the Austin Shakespeare Festival to the Amarillo Opera. It also provides marketing and promotional services to help rural Texas towns attract tourists.

The commission also uses funds to promote arts in education, providing grants to Texas students across the state through its Young Masters program, which last year gave 22 students grants of up to $2,500 in financial assistance to pursue the arts for up to three years.

But hold the phone my friends as this won't hurt the football program will it? It would seem that like Mr. Holland, the football program stays while everything else gets cut. And if that doesn't make you ashamed, then you are an idiot.

With America essentially in bankruptcy while an apparent group of monkeys given the name of Super Committee fail to make any changes whatsoever, we the people remain in denial refusing to change our way of life continuing to throw good money after bad.

For example, say hello to Allen High School. Back in April around the same time the TCA was being slashed all to hell, the city of Allen approved the construction of their new high school football stadium. The cost? A mere $60 million dollars. Yes my friends, you read that correctly as I said "high school" football stadium....sixtymeeeeeeeeeellion dollars.

Now I'm all about a good football game and as most of you know, I'm a tailgating fool. But get real folks. When was the last time you witnessed a running back solving dire economic challenges? Or better yet, creating a product, service or piece of art that essentially changes lives for the better? I won't argue that there have been some rare exceptions but Jack Bechta, a well known sports agent, was quoted in saying he was totally convinced that 75% of all professional football players will go broke about three to five years after leaving the game. This due to their outlandish lifestyles as well as shortcomings within their own educational background. So what do we do? We pull money away from the programs that actually further education and culture in order to keep feeding this machine.

As mentioned, it's hard to beat a good football game but the idea that we are this out of touch with what's really important has a terrible price associated with it.

Our entire well being of who we are as a society is based upon creativity. We are but a mere product of the ultimate Creative Himself who I'm convinced thrives on the things He has molded within His own hands. Wouldn't it stand to reason that our main purpose in life is to create and learn? To further His purpose and stand with conviction on the importance of a better society? A creative and learning society that actually contributes to this world rather than take from it?

It is with this that I close with Mr. Holland. Or as it was for me and my senior class, 
Mr. Keith Hooks. A man forced to leave his passion in order to provide for his family because our society refuses to invest in what is important. 

Take heed my good internet folk. If we are to make a difference in this world we must invest in our future. And for all of us, this means the education and creativity of our children as well as our very own society.

None of us are as creative as all of us. –Steve Jobs

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cast Iron Crazy

When I was five years old, the greatest movie in the world would hit the big screen starring John Wayne. The Cowboys would make it's debut in 1972 engraving one of two frightening childhood memories that have remained in my mind for years. The first would be the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang while the other is of Bruce Dern as Asa Watts who almost made me wet the bed. But aside from all the crying when John Wayne loses his life, I was always amazed that they had apple pie on the trail ride. How was this possible? Where was the oven in the wagon?

It wouldn't be until later in my years that I would begin the long hard road of cast iron cooking. And yes, it is possible to cook an apple pie on a trail ride granted you have the right cast iron pot.

Dutch Oven cooking is no small task as I mentioned to someone the other day the older I've gotten the more my toys weigh. Seems like everything I own now that's worth playing around with has to be pulled on a trailer or hauled in a truck and a Dutch Oven that's going to cook in great capacity is not exactly easy to maneuver around. But once you've got it seasoned and ready, the flavor that follows remains unmatched by any cookware in the kitchen.

The preparation of cast iron is one that I have practiced for over twenty years now. I've been frying eggs in a black skillet since I was old enough to stand but cooking with Dutch Ovens came about in my twenties as I began to learn the art of cowboy cooking.

There's plenty of misinformation about cast iron when it comes to seasoning and cleaning and I don't claim to know everything but twenty years of messing with it has helped me learn what to do and more importantly, what not to do.

Before I go into the seasoning process, it's important to point out the difference between a new cast iron piece and an old one. Old cast iron before WW2 was made completely different than what we have now as the old skillets are smoother and lighter. This was due to the excellent machine work done on the skillets at that time as soon after the depression, they began to cut back on expenses leaving them heavier with a rougher surface. Both of them work well for different things such as eggs are cooked better in an older skillet and meats are cooked better in a heavier skillet. They both retain oil for seasoning but the older ones are a little trickier.

Granted you buy an old skillet in a flea market that has the smooth bottom, you'll want to strip it just to be safe as quite frankly you don't know what's been cooking in that thing and these days you can't be too sure. Place the skillet in the oven open side face down and start the oven cleaning process. This will burn off all the old oil and take it down to the metal.

After the oven shuts down, pull the skillet out and take it outside to dust off.

Wash the skillet with water and dry it off with a towel. Now coat the entire skillet with Crisco and place open face down in the oven to bake at 250 degrees. (It is so much better to do this on a gas grill as it really makes for a big mess in the oven.) Leave it in for fifteen minutes or so pulling it out to wipe it down with a paper towel. You want to leave some oil on the skillet but too much will make it tacky. Especially on the old skillets that have a smooth surface as oil gums up if you don't wipe it down. Place it back in the oven.

Pull it out after a couple of hours and you should be good go. From now on, you can season the skillet on the stove top using Crisco. Simply coat it and get it hot. When the oil starts to swim around on the slick surface and you see a little smoke, cut the heat off and wipe it down using a paper towel. Note I said a little smoke.

Cleaning your cast iron is extremely simple once you've got it seasoned. Pour hot water in it and let it sit for a few minutes. I recommend wiping it clean using one of these sponges that has an abrasive side. Be gentle though as the new ones are a bit harsh and can take off the seasoning. I prefer using an older one.

Preparing to cook with cast iron is really a pain in the back side but once you've got it seasoned there is no better way to go. And anything worth having at all is worth the time you put into it.

Now go season your cast iron. You're burning daylight.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Old Stand By

With four boys running through our house, we go through five gallons of milk in a week. That's a little over a gallon per boy bringing the total on milk alone to around eighty dollars a month. This is the standing joke with my family and the punch line is always that we should buy a dairy cow and put her in the backyard. Of course I know my wife would love to milk her twice a day which I'm told will render two gallons putting you around fourteen gallons a week. Instead of a lemonade stand, perhaps we could sell milk to all the neighbors.

My grandfather was a farmer and they had two milk cows which produced twenty eight gallons of milk per week. They actually used it not only for themselves but to make butter and feed the hogs.

A favorite stand by for my grandfather was cold milk and corn bread and not separately but mixed together in a tall glass and eaten with a spoon. I've done this on many occasions which has raised some interesting looks from my family but it really is good. Especially with left over corn bread.

I'm not going to give you a recipe for putting corn bread into a glass. Hopefully you're smart enough to figure that out on your own but I will give you a great cornbread recipe.

The trick to making good corn bread is to heat the skillet first. And if you don't have a well seasoned cast iron skillet then you should purchase one and season it yourself. Take some time and do your homework on the proper care of cast iron. It lasts forever and really bakes better than any other material I've used in the kitchen. Or on the ground.

Down Home Cornbread

First, make sure your cast iron skillet (# 8) is well seasoned. Use non-stick spray or Crisco coating the inside of the skillet. Place the cold skillet in an oven and then start the pre-heating process to 450 degrees.

2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3-4 Tablespoons melted butter
Single drop of Mexican Vanilla

Combine the buttermilk, eggs and baking soda and beat it well. In another bowl, sift together the cornmeal, sugar and salt. Add the buttermilk mixture, butter and vanilla mixing well.

When the oven buzzes reaching 450 degrees, take out the skillet and pour in the mixture. Bake until golden brown.

Serves 8 to 10.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Little Boy

In March of 2012, I will be faced with a young man eighteen years of age. For years, I've always heard they grow up fast but I had no idea. I kept telling myself that I've got three more under him and I could bury my feelings within the comfort of having the remaining three still at home.

What is so painful I think is to see myself in him on so many different levels. It is absolutely shocking to watch him shake hands and mingle with his friends, all the while reaching for manhood. A man that in my eyes is still a small boy that used to collect dinosaurs. I have to excuse myself and catch my breath as it feels like someone pulling my guts out a great deal of the time.

Lately I've had a lot of fear dealing with him growing up. And within this fear is an uncertainty of direction as he travels with the talents God has given him. Over drinks with a friend in Dallas, I spoke of this fear as it deals with the road traveled by musical people. He is seriously hitting this road with the maturity level of a 25 year old kid and not a seventeen year old boy working tirelessly on his voice as well as piano in his down time. Yes...he considers that down time.

My fear is always the same. How will he make a living doing this? What kind of job will he land? A world so foreign to me regardless of the musicians that I've had the pleasure of hanging around with for so many years. I took the road most traveled which is a career, the corporate life. Well...sort of.

When explaining all of this to my friend, he softly said, "I've heard him sing and he's great. Do you really think Stevie Ray Vaughan ever worried about where his next meal was going to come from?"

Which led me to a verse from Matthew which reads, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

A verse we all struggle with as it's just plain hard to swallow. It's why we have savings accounts but I guess that's down right laughable as most folks have lost a great deal or all of their retirement due to the recession. These days, the market is like going to Vegas.

Aside from all of that, I'm still trying to get my head around leaving him at a college dorm room. What the hell will that be like? He sleeps, wakes up, feeds himself and then goes to class? Are you kidding me? I couldn't even find my Spanish class and still have nightmares about it. "SeƱor Holt, how nice of you to finally join us." It's the definition of an anxiety attack except I'm not naked with socks on like most classroom dreams I have.

Standing over six feet tall now, he towers over us all and I still have no idea if he's a boy or a man. I can only hope that the man he is becoming will never lose the little boy that I used to throw in the air. The little boy that used to sing in the back seat of my car. The little boy that threw a baseball through my den window...twice. The little boy who will soon leave me to create a life for himself and become a man.

It is with this thought I leave you a message from the heart. I have met many a man who lost the little boy that lived within them. Life is not easy as I've seen a great deal of hardships the older I've become but I've tried to keep that little boy alive as best I can. He shows up around Halloween to toilet paper a house or a hot summer night to play harmonica with a bunch of brothers in the hood. He is what makes me who I am and I can only hope and pray that my son will know this little boy for himself. The little boy that makes life worth living.

The great man is he that does not lose his child's heart.

Here's to the anxious and worried parent. God be with us all.