Saying Goodbye to Last Year’s Summer

There are many ways people gauge the end of summer.  For some it’s as simple as looking at a date on the calendar.  For others, yearly rituals like closing up beach houses, pulling the leaf rake out of the shed or closing pools serve as a sad indication that autumn, with it’s shorter days and colorful leaves is just around the corner.

Nature of course has her own methods.  Heat and humidity (at least here in Delaware) give way to cooler days, and even cooler nights.  Summer flowers fade into memory as fall colors from mums and sedums start to prevail.  The night sky intrudes more into our daytime as the summer triangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) slides from sight and Orion begins to rise in the southern sky.

But some of us have other methods to gauge when summer is over, and indeed it doesn’t even have to be the summer in the current calendar year.  For me, summer 2011 ended on Sunday when the last of the vacuum sealed pulled pork was taken from the freezer.  Having taken a trip to BJs to stock up on some pantry items, Tracey suggested picking up rolls for dinner and hinted that perhaps, just perhaps, it was time to let last year’s summer finally go.

The prep was easy enough, some sliced onions in a pan until they were translucent and then in with the thawed pork.  Soon the tantalizing aroma of smoke, onions and meat was wafting through the kitchen.  When ever I walk into a Yankee Candle store get dragged into a Yankee Candle store by Tracey, I always give a silent prayer that someone there has realized the gold mine they would be sitting on if they would infuse this bouquet into one of their candles.  I hold my breath as I scan down the shelves hoping to find Smoked Pork® between  Sage and Citrus; and Soft Blanket™.  Always to be denied.  Don’t any men work in that place?

Looks good. Smells awesome.

Once the pork was heated through I hit it with kosher salt, two caps of apple cider vinegar and red pepper flakes – and stepped away.  I happened upon this simplistic preparation at a winery one summer where a local BBQ team was set up to serve sandwiches to people out on the wine trail.  Only three ingredients, but each having a very important and distinct role.  It starts with the tang of the vinegar balancing the sweetness of the meat and then the red pepper flakes adding a welcomed, but understated heat to the party.  Salt?  Well salt does what salt always does – make things taste better.  I quickly adopted this method  which I have playfully dubbed “naked” for serving my pork, but I am not a man of strong will power and found it impossible to give up on BBQ sauce entirely.   But I turned this into a positive when I realized that by not putting BBQ sauce on the pork, it was leaving me and my fellow diners the opportunity to take our sandwiches in any direction we individually wished.  After all, what could be better than BBQ sauce – well obviously having your choice of BBQ sauces!

So once the food hits the table, I break out the six pack of BBQ sauces.  I have to thank my friend Lisa for the inspiration here.  One year for Christmas she got me a set of white squirt bottles because I had mentioned how I loved Guy Fieri’s set up with his oils on “Guy’s Big Bite”.  When she bought them, our mutual friend John asked her, “Why are you buying him those?  You know he’s never going to use them.”  Of course John should know better then question the connection between two Aquarians born only a day apart.

The “six pack” stands ready.

Oh he was right, I couldn’t really use them for my oils like Guy does.  I already had a set up for that.  However, I could use them to bottle different BBQ sauces to put on the table.  So I grabbed a couple of my favorite sauces (that’s another post) and a couple I wanted to try and bottled them up.  To make them all transportable, I put them in a Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB six pack holder which is an excellent use for it, second only to transporting six bottles of Scarlet Lady into my house.

Needless to say, the pork was very good and still tasted as smokey as the day I … well, smoked it.  And while I admit it was sort of sad to sit there and stare at my empty plate and realize that my summer of yesterday had finally come to end. I could take comfort that another summer was indeed around the corner and that Tracey was already thinking ahead.

“This was the last of the pork right?”

“Yeah”

“So when are you making more?”

The Dry Rub – 2012

Saturday the XX’s were all booked up doing stuff, and the XY was at his mom’s so I took advantage of the morning to hit the local farmer’s market.  Along with some veggies, I was looking for spices to make my dry rub for this year.  I make one batch every year, changing it from year to year however I see fit.

The Perfect Rub is Here. You Just Have to Find it.

This is what I had last year:

  • 1 part Smoked Paprika
  • 1 1/2 parts Spanish Paprika
  • 2  parts Kosher Salt
  • 1 part Roasted Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Black Pepper
  • 1 part Onion Powder
  • 1 part Dry Chipolte Powder
  • 1 part Dry Oregano
  • 1 part Dry Thyme

This year I decided to cut out the smoked paprika and let the smoke from the wood take more center stage.  I also cut down the ground chipolte because one container was all they had.  Good thing to, the spice in the final rub is at a nice level so I don’t think it needed any more.  I did run into one issue.  When I picked up my bags of oregano, instead of getting oregano leaves I accidentally picked up what’s called “cut sifted oregano”, which is just oregano stems cut into about 1 inch long pieces.  As I stood there, my mind screaming “foul” and “devil-witchery” (honestly, what kind of sadistic bastard wants stems in their herbs?  Did they learn nothing from their pot smoking friends in high school?) I luckily remembered that I had a container of stand alone oregano in my spice cabinet.  Luckily I had enough for my needs.  This was where I landed this year:

Some Assembly Required
  • 2  parts Spanish Paprika
  • 2  parts Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 part Roasted Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 part Garlic Powder
  • 1 part Course Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 part Onion Powder
  • 1/2 part Dry Chipolte Powder
  • 1 part Dry Oregano
  • 1 part Dry Thyme
  • 1 part Cumin

I was thinking of adding sugar to it this year, but instead I’m going to experiment with getting the sweetness on my pork from spraying it down with apple liquor (a tip I got from one of the bartenders at Two Stones) and playing around with honey and agave nectar.

The Finished Rub

Once it was all combined I split it into two batches.  One half I jarred as is, the other I added 1 part ground ginger, 1/2 part lemon pepper and three packets of McCormick’s Mojito Lime marinade (if anyone knows a good dry source of lime flavoring let me know).  This more citrus flavored rub I use on my ribs.

Pretty happy with both of them, although to be honest the island rub is my favorite.  Now I just need for this rain to move out so I can rub this stuff on some meat.

This Side of the Vernal Equinox

I see the signs of spring around me.  It’s not hard, if you have taken the time to learn where to look. The cycles of the moon, the movements of the planets and the changes in seasons all have a story to tell for those who wish to listen.  As someone who fancies his spirituality lying somewhere nearer to a naturalist outlook rather than a traditional religion, I have often stated to my friends that I am on a first name basis with nature. I’ve prided myself (either correctly or incorrectly) on listening to her, and trying to understand the messages that she is sending.   And over the last few weeks, she’s had a lot to say.

Although it is the coming fall that speaks to me most, the return of spring is definitely the most dramatic of the seasonal changes, pushing the grey scales of winter aside in favor of colorful spring flowers and shrubs along with the reawakening of green grass (or the yellow of dandelions if your yard is like mine).

Already the usual signs of spring have begun to cycle around me.  My daffodils have come and gone.  My star magnolia has already dropped its white flowers in favor of the soft, pussy willow like pods that will adorn it for the rest of summer.  My dogwood tree grows brighter every day as its white flowers begin to open.  By the purple hue on the vines of my wisteria, I know that soon its open flowers will be spreading their fragrance across my backyard.

I’ve recently discovered that newer ventures in my life also can indicate to me the changing of the seasons.  Here in the blogging world posts of bike rides and baseball have begun to arrive.  Photo blogs have begun to post pictures of vibrant spring flowers in lieu of the cold, snowy landscapes of weeks past. People have begun to write about their summer plans, trips to be taken, and outside projects that need attention.  All together they serve as an indication that indeed, outside the dingy office in which I type this, nature is moving forward in her cycle of rebirth.

Even a trip to the local home stores bear signs of spring’s arrival that are impossible to deny:

Like the rabbits in my back yard, a group of grills play silently outside of a local Home Depot
Ever a reminder that Spring is a time of birth, small grills are commonly seen this time of year.
To the keen eye, it is obvious that this pile of wood has begun to be picked over. Perhaps by some animal looking for materials to build its Spring home. Or possibly for some other need....
Symmetry and order in nature.

Yes, the signs are undeniable all around us.  Even those that are less in tune with nature should be able to realize by whatever activities you enjoy that yes; we are surely on this side of the Vernal Equinox.

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