Saturday, February 27, 2010

Relish and Splendor

I've always believed that a boloney sandwich could top a Filet Mignon anyday; just depends on the company, really.

White bread, warm processed meat and hydrogenated vegetable oil spread superceding the delicate texture and flavor of a beef tenderloin?!

In a word: yes.

A memorable meal is a combination of many elements; among them are the food, atmosphere, ambiance and in this case, the company.

It was 1976 and my oldest brother, Steve, was working as the lone ranch hand on a 16 section parcel of Hell about 40 miles south of Grants, near the Zuni indian reservation. I would drive out from Albuquerque every so often with supplies in a '69 Olds Cutlass that blasted Steve Miller from an under dash, 8-track tape player. I was only 15, could legally drive in New Mexico and my parents recent divorce embued me with the spirit of Dr. King's words, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, I'm FREE at last!" Puffing on a couple of pilfered cigarettes and screaming the lyrics to 'Jet Airliner' with the windows down at 75 mph, put me on top of my teenage world.

"You can have California," I thought, "Freedom lies in the desert."

Leaving the only home I ever knew in Santa Cruz county was not what I would have chosen, but, two months removed had me whistling a different tune.

New Mexico was an escape in one sense and an awakening in another.

I guess this helps to explain how sitting on the tailgate of a pickup, shooting prairie dogs on a mesa in 'The Land of Enchantment' became one of my most treasured food memories. It wasn't really about the food, per se. The boloney sandwich was about 80 degrees with a fine, windblown grit as garnish and the day was about 100-105. God, it was hot. Oven door open, so hot you could hear the heat, hot.

Didn't matter though; I was spending the weekend with my brother, "The REAL cowboy!"

And this is how cowboys do it, they take what they get and don't complain.

"Wanna beer?" Steve asked as I leveled my .22 at a prairie dog mound about 75 yards away.
"Sure!" I chirped, remembering a moment later to feign routine, "Yeah, shur..." I followed with a more relaxed tone.

He had a six-pack of Coors bottles bobbing in an icy slush bucket near the pickup's wheel well behind us.

"Don't tell Mom!" Steve ordered.

No need for that instruction, I thought, that'd be a CARE package, Mercy Mission buster for sure!

I layed the rifle down, unscrewed the cap on a frosty Coors and took a long, slow pull off the bottle. It seemed the beer was approaching the solid phase, it was so insanely frigid.

The combination of cold and carbonation just about gave me a heart attack; there was a sharp, frozen pain behind my sternum that lasted about two seconds. It departed with a burp that eminated from the ankles. This is blissful, I thought, a beer in one hand, sandwich in the other.

"Quit swinging your f___ing legs! I can't shoot!" Steve told me.

Guess I was a little too blissful and got carried away.

"Sorry." I said.

"That's me pop that sucker that keeps poking his head out."

Steve took aim with the .25-20 and squeezed the trigger.


The tiny, soft-point bullet from the Winchester found it's target.

"Nice," I whispered, staring through binoculars.

Funny thing: when it gets up around 103, you conserve your motions instinctively; you don't talk much. You just listen and move with slow, direct purpose. And so, after a while, Steve said,

"Let's check 'em."

Miniature clouds puffed up from the soles of our boots as we walked from the pinon tree-lined road out to the prairie dog town. The dirt was finer than sand; it was a powder formed from being picked up and blown around, milling itself into a dust that looked and felt like brick red baby powder. It got everywhere. As the day wore on, it combined with the sweat on our arms and neck to form a delicate paste.

By the time we reached our target area, however, the geology had shifted to a mix of sand and pebbles among the scrub grass. The desert breeze teased the tops of the sage brush and they bobbed to every gust.

"Coyotes'll get 'em tonight," Steve said as we surveyed the carnage, "Damned things ruin grazing area and an animal can break a leg falling into one of their holes," he continued.

Our shooting completed, he gave me a tour of the ranch and we got a few things done.
By nightfall, we found ourselves sitting outside, having a chaw of tobacco and a beer, staring skyward in our aluminum patio chairs. The sky was as black as I've ever seen it and the stars twinkled between hues of white, pink and blue. It was completely silent except for the occasional shifting of an animal in the barn.

This is amazing, I thought, miles of nothing-ness filling my senses. Some distance away, coyotes began calling each other.

"Want some dinner?" Steve asked.
"Sure." I said.

"How 'bout a boloney sandwich?" he followed.

"A boloney sandwich sounds great."

That's it. Take care, God bless and remember:

"Food, Faith, Family and Friends
the Best Things in Life Aren't Things"

chef bq

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