Ode to a Moonless Night

Years ago, my wife and I went on a cattle drive.  We played cowboy and cowgirl for a week, while moving cattle down from the Mugollon mountains of New Mexico to the dessert floor, near the town of  Alma. 

Keep in mind, prior to our cattle drive, my wife’s most memorable experience of horseback riding was being bucked from a horse, along with her sister, at her grandparent’s farm in Kansas.  My experience with horses was hardly better.  I spent three months on a ranch and occasionally moved cattle from one pasture to another.  Most of the time, I fixed fences and learned how to be a ranch hand from my uncle John, and my younger cousins, Shane and Hugh.  I was a city boy but I fell in love with the dessert Southwest. 

Many years later, I accepted an invitation from my uncle to join him on a cattle drive.  Cattle were grazing in the mountains during the summer and, as autumn approached, they needed to be driven down to the ranch for the winter.

We decided to join the drive, as long as we could make camp on the mountain, before the drive.  We bought a tent and sleeping bags and we were dead set on camping.  All of the ranchers, including my kind-hearted uncle, thought we were a little crazy, but we insisted on camping and, despite the bitter cold nights, I was glad we did.

We drove up to the mountain top, during the daytime and by late afternoon we made camp and started a campfire.  I set up a Dutch oven over a fire and started boiling some pinto beans.  How rustic!  Living like real cowboys!

Six hours later, the beans showed no signs of softening.  The sun dipped beneath the tops of the tall pine trees and, by early evening, the sky turned deep blue and the thin mountain air chilled quickly.  A few minutes later, we shivering and cold, under a moonless sky.

We scooted closer and closer to the fire and were mesmerized by the glowing flames.  We gave up on the beans and decided to eat granola.

We sat in silence for a long time, staring at the fire, and then we awoke from our trance and talked and laughed and told stories.  It wasn’t long before the campfire was the only thing we could see.  The mountain was quiet, except for the crackling fire and, even though we could see each other’s faces in the flickering light, we couldn’t see anything outside of the fire ring.

As the fire dwindled, the chill crept in and my wife grabbed a fresh piece of wood and jabbed it into the heart of the fire ring.  Thousands of wild embers spiraled upward, into the black sky, crisscrossing and swimming upward, like tiny, weightless fairies, searching for the heavens.  We watched the display, in awe.  She jabbed at the fire again, and a new salvo of embers erupted.  Again and again, we poked at the fire and watched as newborn embers whizzed into the black night.  Each tiny ember followed its own trajectory and moved toward its own destiny.   Some embers flickered and sputtered.  Some embers sailed up high, beyond the dark treetops.  Some embers sizzled and popped but every ember rode together on a whirling vortex that seemed chaotic but beautifully composed.

We received the U.S. presidential election results today and I am still buzzing. 

My late night snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with fresh apple slices.  It’s a meal that keeps me young at heart and gives me unexplainable joy.  Simple food for a simple person, I suppose.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Ingredients:

Two slices of bread

A copious amount of peanut butter

A generous splotch of jam or jelly

One crisp apple, cored and sliced.

Directions:

Really?  I think you can figure this one out on your own.

On a serious note, I am grateful be an American.  It’s a complicated mess, at times, but I love the complicated messy people that I live with.  We can achieve anything as long as we are compassionate to each other and as long as we are willing to work together.  We are the embers that fly into the night sky, giving warmth and joy to each other, while we spiral upward.

Beef Stroganoff-ish

This isn’t a classic Beef Stroganoff…it’s more like a stripped down version.  But that is where my heart is tonight.  Basic.  Essential.  Sincere.

I didn’t realize I was making Beef Stroganoff until I was nearly done making this dish.  It all started rather innocently with me deciding what to do with a leftover beef pot roast that was at risk of drying out in the refrigerator. 

I pulled some items from the refrigerator and the pantry and I began putting stuff in measuring cups, as if I was working from a recipe.  Who was I trying to fool?  I was just making stuff up, as usual. 

The simple fact of the matter is, I just wanted to make something to help ease our troubled minds.  Our lives are under a tremendous strain right now and our emotions are conflicted. 

We need to find some comfort every day.  We should gather our families together to share a meal and make time to share our thoughts and feelings. 

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups elbow macaroni

1 Tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

2 cups chicken stock

2 Tbs beef bouillon

1 Tbs ground black pepper

1 Tbs salt

½ cup half and half

1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1 ½ lbs cooked beef roast

8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced

Directions:

Boil the macaroni in a large pot of lightly salted water.  Strain the macaroni when it becomes tender.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, add olive oil and sauté the onion until the onion begins to soften.

Move the onion aside, in the pan and add butter.  Set the heat to low.

Add flour and whisk the butter and flour. 

Add the chicken stock, beef bouillon, pepper and salt.  Turn heat to medium and whisk.  Once the sauce thickens add the Worcestershire sauce and the half and half.  Whisk to incorporate.

Add the beef and stir.

Cover and simmer at low heat for 30 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and stir briefly.  Turn off the heat and add the macaroni.  Stir to mix and turn out to a large serving bowl.

Creamy Potato and Celery Soup with Ham

Ingredients:

8 small russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 Tbs olive oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

6 stalks celery, chopped

1 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

4 cups vegetable broth

2 cups chicken broth

½ cup half-and-half (whole milk and cream)

1 cup smoked ham, chopped into ½” cubes

5 oz white cheddar cheese, grated

4 green onions, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the diced potatoes.   Boil the potatoes until cooked through and softened.  Strain the potatoes in a colander.

In a large pot over high heat, add olive oil, garlic and onions.  Cook and for a minute or two, until the onions are translucent.

Add the chopped celery stalks and cook for another 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, add 1 tablespoon of butter to 2 tablespoons of flour. Mix and mash together with a fork. Add a splash of broth and mix a little more. Add the mixture to the pan. Stir to combine.

Add the vegetable broth and chicken broth.  Stir and bring to boil.  Cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

Pour the soup into the blender and add the potatoes.  Puree until smooth.  This may need to be done in batches, depending on the capacity of the blender. Return the soup to the pot.

Add the half and half and the ham.  Heat at low temperature for a few minutes while stirring occasionally.

Turn the heat off and add the shredded cheese.  Slowly stir the soup once or twice.  Do not over-stir.  Allow the cheese to melt without much interference.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Top with diced scallions.