Sunday, November 30, 2014

If you’re a giraffe, duck – if you can

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

A while back, after a run-in with a Brussels sprout, I started a list of ways I won’t buy the farm.

Choking on a Brussels spout is No. 1. Solid No. 1. Followed by these:

Hot-air balloon accident (unless one falls on me);

Getting trampled in a soccer riot; or,

Going to sleep or texting while I’m driving. Please pull over. Driving’s hard enough as it is.

A current situation of which I’ve become aware made it easy to add another item to the list: I won’t get killed in a big-game (or small game) safari hunting accident. If I’m in Botswana or Kenya, it’ll be to help somebody build a house or dig a sewerage ditch or to become a weather forecaster, which has to be the easiest job in all of Africa, outside of short-pants salesman.

Cousin Other (say it “OH-thur”) recently texted me play-by-play on his north Louisiana outdoorsman friend’s South Africa safari. It is not my cup of Mountain Dew, but to each his own.

“He’s hunted down various this-a-lopes and that-a-beasts and whatnot,” Other typed.

OK. Standard. I’ve seen the cable TV shows where the herds of dark livestock cover the African plain like a gigantic, slow-moving shadow. Who’ll miss one wildebeest?

But it’s Other’s next line that got me.

“Tomorrow,” he typed, “he’s going after a giraffe.”

“To kill?” I typed back. “Tell me it’s to bring home as a pet.”

It wasn’t to bring home as a pet. “I can’t see the sport either,” Other said. “Like targeting some zoo occupant.”

I remember a picture Other sent last October, of his granddaughter at the State Fair, feeding a giraffe a carrot. I viewed it again, looking for tell-tale signs of danger from the giraffe. Saw none. He looked fierce as a pillowcase.

The signs posted on the fence read “Carrots Only” and “Please Don’t Feed Animals From Your Mouth.” A giraffe would fit right in with kindergarteners at show-and-tell.

“Is he going to strap it to the hood, like a deer?” I asked Other. “Get it stuffed? Does he have a big vaulted ceiling in his den? Why kill a giraffe?”

A couple of days went by until Other texted this. “Got a report from Africa. He killed more zoo animals but missed a chance at a giraffe. He said they can duck and move fast as lightning.”

My prayers were being answered. Until a couple more days later.

“African update,” the text read. “Long Neck down.”

He sent me a picture of the giraffe and our friend, which I should not have looked at. And I shouldn’t have looked at the one of the shot zebra, which is basically a pony with stripes. Hurt me. These hunts are entirely legal and I’m sure safaris are a business that aids conservation, but shooting a giraffe or zebra – and hundreds do, more power to them – seems like shooting a stuffed animal.

Parts are being processed and hides and heads will make their way back here. No giraffe jerky though: no edible parts can leave Africa.

Again, I eat meat most every day. We are a pro-meat league, for sure. These days, somebody does the killing for me so I can eat hamburgers and fish and chicken. I don’t want to be the guy called on to thin out the herd. Better to be The Thinner of The Herd than The Thinnee, but count me out of the hunt for either role.

Giraffes and lions and zebras, as long as they stay on the plains of Africa, are safe from me. The only way I’d kill a giraffe is if I feed him too many carrots.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

You can taste tradition -- and taters -- on the menu

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

(SPC, with Non-Burned Marshmallows)

Thanksgiving is our annual reminder that you can put brown sugar and butter on a hammer and it would taste good. A challenge to chew, but tasty.

We probably don’t use brown sugar enough during the year, but that’s likely a lifesaver. The good Lord might have put a Brown Sugar Switch in our brains that He can turn off on most weeks, just to keep me and you from expanding to the size of, say, Bienville Parish.

Sure is good though. And smells like the holidays. Same as pine boughs and cinnamon and cider, and the occasional tipsy elder.

Add brown sugar to sweet potatoes and you’ve got your 1-2 hitters in the Sweet Potato Casserole lineup, a star around the house this time of year. Hardly ever think of it at any other calendar time, and a candied yam I wouldn’t eat on a dare. But Sweet Potato Casserole at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Automatic. Money.

About once every three months, people contact me or see me and ask me to mail them either this blueberry pound cake recipe I wrote about years ago or a cast iron skillet corn bread recipe I wrote about one long Christmas past. Neva McKay, one of the great all-time people, taught me and Reggie Redding how to make it in Home and Family Living in 1977, when we had to take Home and Family Living as a high school-required senior elective and when Mrs. McKay had to teach us something. Silverware placement evaded us; corn bread was right in our wheelhouse.

Those recipes never disappoint. Not me, anyway.

So, in keeping with the slipshod practice of sharing a recipe twice a decade or so, here is a classic Sweet Potato Casserole (SPC) recipe. There are variations; this is pretty much what they would teach you in SPC 101. If this recipe were a football pass play, it would be a down-and-out or a down-and-in. Add more brown sugar and you’ve got a post pattern. This is as basic, yet as classic as it gets.

I prefer this particular recipe because it’s the one my mother wrote out for me, longhand, on a piece of yellow legal pager in November of 2003. The only time it failed me was when my son and I, in December of 2003, tried a too-early freelance maneuver: we added tiny marshmallows to the top and put that under the broiler instead of in the oven to bake. If you’re keeping score at home, it takes, by our estimation, about one minute for broiled marshmallows to turn black, about two minutes for them to catch fire. We know that now. Didn’t then.

Here’s the classic marshmallow-less, unburned variation:

3 cups sweet potatoes (Fresh or canned, your call. Don’t sell short the canned sweet potatoes though: I’m a Sugary Sam man.)
One-half cup sugar and one-half cup butter
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
One-third cup Pet canned milk

All you do is mash up the potatoes and mix in the sugar, butter, eggs, vanilla and milk. Put it into a 13 by 9-inches baking pan.

That’s the body.

But the topping is key. The topping is appropriately named because, well, it is literally but also figuratively “tops.” You could eat this stuff for dessert.

To make the topping, first pray for a steady hand and a clear mind. Then melt one-third cup butter and mix it with one cup of light brown sugar, one-half cup flour and one cup of chopped pecans, (pronounced “pee-cans,” which is tacky when you spell it out like that, so it’s best to say it instead of spell it.) Doubling the topping or increasing it by half would not be the end of the world; you might even prefer it.

Sprinkle your topping (or just sort of move it around as it’s hard to “sprinkle”) on top of the potato mixture, then bake it for 25 minutes, maybe a touch more depending on your oven, at 350 degrees. Serves 10 to 12.


Interesting how TLC, short for tender loving care, rhymes with SPC. Coincidence? The satisfied and well-fed think not.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Any day is a good day to honor a veteran

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

“He was sure back in the sixties that everyone was hip,
Then they sent him off to Vietnam on his senior trip…”
--  “Old Hippie,” The Bellamy Brothers

More than once when he saw me ride up on my bicycle, Jimmy and his Levis would get out of a Dodge Charger and leave his high school buddies and walk across the Dairy Maid parking lot and buy me a dipped cone or a milkshake.

Part of the reason was he had a crush on my big sister. Pretty good reason.

But the other part was that he really did like me, and most everybody liked Jimmy. He was a good-looking senior who had thick hair that seemed to part and layer by itself, who didn’t care much for school, and who had a big smile that was wholesome and not dishonest, a smile that made you think it was OK to not like school and to like girls and a Dodge Charger and hanging around the Dairy Maid instead.

It didn’t seem right to me that they could send a nice guy like that to Southeast Asia, wherever that was. But they did, and when he came home, he knew how to fly a helicopter. He even knew how to fly one with his hands broken, which is what happened when they crashed and then took off again, bullets and mortar everywhere, a lot of guys with him either killing the enemy or getting killed, Jimmy flying some dead and some wounded out of there, a long way from the Dairy Maid and the umbrella-shaded picnic tables and the girls and the ice cream cones.

His smile was different when he got home. I haven’t seen him in years and years, but I wanted to thank him this week, on Veterans Day. He and a lot of other guys I know were veterans – some of them veterans of combat – before they were even 20 years old.

I didn’t grow up with this other friend, but he’s the one I call each November 11 and again on Memorial Day. I was still playing Little League in South Carolina when he got shipped overseas from Cotton Valley, compliments of the United States Army, to spend his final two years as a teenager fighting North Vietnamese, then other people in other places.

For the fateful reason of being a few years older than I was, he and Jimmy and thousands of others went, and I did not. But they’ve never held it against me; no veteran I know ever has.

Our boys went to school together; his son rode with me and my son to a Texas Rangers game one bright May Friday years ago. This veteran and I got to coach Little League together and eat on Fridays during football season together.

We aren't best friends and we live in different towns so we don't even see each other much these days. But I would trust him with my life. He is always a little surprised, or seems that way, when I call him each Veterans Day.

I've never talked to him about the fire fights, or what he saw and heard. He's barely mentioned it. But "barely" was enough for me to understand that while I was still playing electric football, he was learning how to fire a machine gun. At somebody. Who just might be shooting at him.

We can be friends and he can even tell me all the war stories. But we'll never have that shared experience. All I can do is thank him, and mean it, and try to use honestly -- and not abuse -- all the American freedoms he and others fought for.

My friend was fortunate he didn't get killed. He did his part without having to die. But a war changes things. Like the Bellamy Brothers sang, “…and they forced him to become a man, while he was still a boy…”

Each of us owes our lives to men and women who've fought to protect us. Some of them died decades before we were even born. It’s too late to thank them, but it’s not too late to thank, any day, the men and women who’ve served, the ones we see every day.