Sunday, December 28, 2014

Retirement Boondocking: Year #1 Stats

     Although I have planned, researched, and built my initial boondocking system for several years I have also had a year or two prior to this to shake down and fine tune my project.  Since we are currently in an RV park in Las Cruces, NM we have effectively completed our first year of utilizing this system.  Honestly, we did not use the water purification system but twice.  There was always plenty of fresh water available for free in town prior to establishing camp.  If the solar panels were the 'workhorse' of the system then the battery bank was the 'heart and soul'.   The CEA Solar Panels easily outperformed the Harbor Freight panels due to weight, efficiency, and performance.  The battery bank, consisting of 4 Trojan T-105REs performed like the stallions I knew they would be.  The battery bank is the most important link in any designed off grid system.  Trojan batteries routinely discharged no more than 20% will have an effective life span of nearly 10,000 cycles.  The occasional discharge to as low as 50% is not a factor.  The total system including the onboard battery provides 585 AH of power easily recharged via panels and Honda generator backup if needed.   Interconnect wiring was via simple 4 gauge jumper cables from bank to RV onboard.  Very little line loss was evident.  Solar panels come with standard 15' leads, but I purchased extensions to 45' to account for RV placement in shade while panels could be in full sun.  Longer cables would seriously reduce voltage supplies. 

     With our Alaska trip and our first Winter South Adventure we were on the road 224 days during 2014.  We boondocked 59 days during this time.  Boondocking is defined as overnights utilizing solar panels, water pump, or generator/on board battery or battery bank NOT in RV parks, campgrounds, or connected to external commercial resources. This may have been Wal Mart parking lots, Cabelas, National or State Forest dispersed camping areas, or just pulled off the side of the road whenever or wherever feasible. Waste water dumping is nearly always available at RV friendly facilities (and some waste water treatment facilities) for little or no charge.  These site locations can easily be 'Googled'.  Admittedly, we utilized much more of these options on our return trip from Alaska as we 'learned the ropes'.  Our campsite/water/electric savings totaled $1003.  Our generator use to augment solar and battery bank use totaled 180 hours at $81 (generator runs 20 hours on 3 gallons of gas averaging $3 a gallon with 2 oil changes for the generator at $5 each.  This amounted to a net savings of $912 for the year. 
     We achieved nearly all of what we set out to except to use it more than we did.  We do plan on looking for more opportunities in the years to come.  Make no mistake, we do utilize commercial RV parks and campgrounds over half the time in order to enjoy (much like anyone) the facilities and comforts of civilization.  We are planning on attending the largest RV Show in the world at Quartzite, AZ in January.  Who knows what new gadgets I might discover?  Nothing makes my wife happier than a Laundromat and a local Wal Mart. 

WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Big Bend National Park

     It was not heavily on our minds where to spend our first Christmas on the road after retirement.  This year it just turned out to be here. Big Bend Nat'l Park is located in SW Texas on the banks of the Rio Grande River.  The term 'banks' might be a bit of a misnomer as the river here cuts through deep gorges and ravines that inspire the imagination. 
      Looking for a place to get away from it all?  This might just be it.  The park is located 411 miles NW of San Antonio and 290 miles SE of El Paso, and as such pretty much qualifies it as in the middle of nowhere.  The last town is Marathon, TX about 95 miles north of our campground.  The park is renown for hiking and river trips through some very spectacular country.  Barb and I reserved a campsite in Rio Grande Village without power and water which allowed us to break out the boondocking equipment once again.  Camping here is perfect for solar power with abundant sunshine forecast during our visit.  Luckily our campsite was located next to a water spigot and staying only 5 days allowed us not to worry about waste water dumping till departure.  Thanks to our Golden Access Pass our 5 day visit cost us a mere $35.  We only needed to run the generator about an hour a night (except for Christmas) to completely top off our battery bank thanks to the sunshine.  It is important to note that the only cell phone service in the park is AT & T and it is extremely limited.  Stores at Rio Grande Village and Panther Junction do offer WiFi, as well as gasoline and diesel.  With the sheer high mileage commuting involved in the park this is pretty handy and the prices are very reasonable. 
     The park itself contains several distinct ecosystems.  All the elevations have a variety of about a dozen different types of cactus as well as about a half dozen types of yucca and agave.
      Wildlife varies depending on where you are.  They do claim that about 2 dozen mountain lions inhabit the park and as such anywhere you are, you're likely in one's territory.  The park is enormous and so each adventure will take you many miles by the end of the day. 

     Our first day we ventured to the far SW corner of the park to Castalon.  The road wanders over hills, through arroyos, and many miles of desert.  This area is home to Javelina, Mountain Lion, Roadrunners, Tarantulas, and 4 different types of rattlesnakes.  We traveled over 100 miles this day ending up at the Rio Grande River Cliffs bordering Mexico. 

Unfortunately the only wildlife we saw this day was an 'eight legged freak'. 
      Day 2 was a beautiful, warm day and so we decided to venture to the Chisos Mountain Lodge and Basin area.  About 5 miles past Panther Junction you turn and head uphill with elevations rising fairly quickly.  We had some rain at camp the night prior, but at these elevations the precipitation remarkably changes to a more frozen form, even in the desert!   
     The area is home to whitetail deer, mountain lions, and a population of about 17 black bears, but our 'wildlife curse' continued.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful.  I thought it was the most beautiful place in the park.  We had lunch at the Chisos Mountain Lodge: Soup, Salad Bar, & Club Sandwiches for $24.  We discovered they were also having a Christmas Dinner, but we had already decided on our menu.  Afterwards we strolled out and explored the basin area which includes a visitor center, store, and a camping area.  There is a size restriction on RVs for this campground of less than 24', which is evident due to the tight winding roads on the trip up.  The basin itself is a high desert bowl surrounded by peaks topping 5600 feet with the most beautiful view being 'The Window' which provides a view to the valley below. 

     The area is home to several unique types of vegetation.  Although there are yucca plants all over the park the variety found here have very tall flower/seed pod stalks. 
     This area of the park is also home to some pretty fascinating agave plants.  A cousin of the aloe plant, the agave once mature will grow a very tall tree with limbs out of it's core.  This rise to heights very much like the yucca. 
      Christmas Day found us with another very warm, sunny day although feeling a little out of place.  Wildlife here consisted of two retirees and an impatient dog and cat.  I had worked out a menu that we felt was on a smaller scale due to our situation and yet still festive and delicious to be remembered.  Christmas Eve we enjoyed the first of our 'Hog Hunting Bounty' with some Wild Hog Fajitas and Ranch Beans.  The Wild Hog meat is delicious, but does require seasoning.   

      Christmas Day the bounty continued with us enjoying Crock Pot Wild Hog Tenderloin (which required 4 hours of generator time), Baked Sweet Potatoes, Deviled Eggs, and some Fresh Fruit.  Although not fancy, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. 
     Our last day in the park we ventured a bit closer to the campground with a hike to the Boquillas Canyon Crossing Area.  It was another beautiful, sunny day.  Javelinas, mountain lions, and snakes also frequent here.  Although we saw none, we did see tracks.  This area actually overlaps with Mexico and the Boquillas Crossing is place where you can cross to the south. We did come across a very personable gentleman selling souvenirs at several places as he traveled on his burro, but the signs warned that purchasing any souvenirs from Mexican Nationals was illegal.  Barb told me later that the same trinkets he wanted only $6 for were $14 in the park gift shops.  Capitalism......?  There are also others just across the river that seemed to be looking for something better.  
      Boquillas Canyon is where the Rio Grande River in the lower park enters the canyon area which has proven to be so beautiful. Steep escarpments rise 1400 feet from the river providing views of indescribable beauty.  The cliffs do not stop the prickly pear cactus from growing whenever and wherever they can, even on the high cliffs. 
      It was also in this area that our 'Wildlife Curse' was interrupted as we watched a couple of the more famous local residents play on the banks, but funny......they don't really go "Beep Beep"
      This park proved to be quite the hidden treasure.  It is located far away for the nearest definition of civilization, but loaded with beauty on so many levels.  The park offers a little bit of something for anyone and everyone.  I found it impressive that the campgrounds in this park were over half full during this Christmas week.  Barb and I found that our ideas of traditional Christmas needed some redefining this trip, but were not the least disappointed at our choice of destination.  Next year?  Something different. 
NOTE:  As I sit here editing and publishing this blog I am in Van Horn, TX watching it snow with temps in the 20s.  Not what we figured for winter down south, but we are learning to 'go with the flow'.  Interestingly enough the community of Van Horn does NOT allow any RV parking in places other than licensed RV Wal Mart or Truck Stop boondocking here.  In fact it is a $65 fine.  So far this has truly been Joie de Vivre. 
WiFi courtesy of the Desert Willow Campground in Van Horn, TX.  


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Catfish Charlies Corpus Christi, TX

     With a vast area encompassing Portland, Rockport, North Beach, Padre Island, and the entire bay region Corpus Christi offers literally dozens of restaurants for seafood dining.  In fact they come and go seasonally.  For over 30 years this establishment has been a cornerstone to Corpus Christi culture.  Generations of families have frequented this place, including my parents for the years they 'wintered' at Rockport.  I did not want to follow the 'retiree craze dining trail', but was looking for a good, sit down, dining experience offering the best of local cuisine.   Catfish Charlie's is just such a place. 
     Located very much on the Hwy 358 corridor exiting at the corner of Airline and McArdle , it is a pretty easy commute from anywhere in the bay area.  This area consists largely of a strip mall so you have to look carefully to spot it.  Barb and I visited here on a Thursday so as to avoid the weekend crowd and 'Winter Texans' this time of year.  Actually, I guess we qualify as 'Winter Texans' now as well. 
     The atmosphere is very down home, relaxing with a long, high ceiling dining area and tables covered with red/white checkered table cloths that add to the comfortable feel.  Although I came here on the advice of great catfish the menu quickly led me to believe that great Cajun food is available here as well. 

     We both got large ice teas and were treated to a basket of some of the best hushpuppies I have ever had.  Barb also ordered a basket of fried dill pickle spears w/ranch which I must admit were pretty tasty. 

     Giving in to our Cajun desires Barb ordered the Catfish Po Boy and I went with the Oyster Po Boy with a side cup of Seafood Gumbo.  When the food arrived we were both a bit overwhelmed.  The portions are very generous with Steak Fries and Coleslaw.  The Seafood Gumbo?  As delicious as any I have ever tasted.  Both sandwiches were served on a whole wheat hoagie style bun with lettuce, tomato, and dressing and were 'Hmmmm-Doggee-Good' as well as the coleslaw.  The catfish is cornmeal breaded and fried to a delicious moistness.  The oysters are fresh, battered, and fried perfectly. Of course half the meal required a 'to go' box cause there was no way we were going to destroy this feast in one sitting. 

     The servers are very friendly and efficient.  The manager made a trip around to us once just to share some thoughts on the food and service.  She told me she loves oysters as well and always gets a side of extras just to fill up her sandwich.  Our total came to just under $30, pretty reasonable for fresh food served in such generous proportions.  This place gets 4 stars!  Ok Mom, you were right, Catfish Charlies is one place well worth trying when in the Rockport Corpus Christi area! 
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

This Little Piggie Went.......BANG!

     Another item on my bucket list has always been to hunt wild hogs.  Feral hogs number about 6 million in the U.S. with nearly 2 million of those in Texas.  There are many different avenues and services available by which to accomplish this type of hunt.  It is free with permission on private land to alleviate crop depredation.  I, however, do not have this option available to me this year.  I was hoping to hunt with a very good friend of mine who is just retiring from the USAF, but he is still undergoing the endless gauntlet of VA medical red tape that was supposed to be fixed by now.  I did visit with his brother in La Grange and we are looking forward to such a trip next year.  So for me this year it is sub-lease a ranch for a couple of days in South Texas with camping and butchering services. runs such an adventure on the Candelaria Ranch  between San Antonio and Houston.  This is a full service hunting ranch with other hunts for trophy deer, rams, elk, etc. but hogs are their #1 business as there are so many of them.  Their super discounted package deal ($299 for 3 days and 2 pigs) was just too good to pass up even though I was just looking for a medium size (125 pound) feeder pig to stuff my RV freezer with this year.  I figured it was a good way to get my 'feet wet' before we decide if we may want to make this a yearly trip.  All I needed in addition was the $48 Texas 5 day non-resident hunting license for sport hunting.

      My price was reduced since I was camping in my own RV, but they do offer a very nice lodge (and all meals as part of the above package) or private cabins should you wish.   I decided to use my 45 Long Colt handgun this year instead of the crossbow although that may be an adventure for a bigger hog next trip.  The 300 grain Buffalo Bore jacketed bullets will be more than enough to stop one of these beasts.  It is the same weapon I used on my Black Bear trip last year.  This would require a hunting blind or spot and stalk type of hunt with final ranges within 75 or so yards.  South Central Texas is a mix of cactus, mesquite, and thick brush.  Perfect hog habitat.  Two tracks criss-cross the ranch throughout.

     We arrived at the ranch the day before the hunt.  I paid for 2 nights camping in order for us to set up, get things in order as well as cut and wrap our meat the day after the hunt.  Camp was set up in an area next to the cabins and main ranch lodge; nothing fancy, but electricity and water.  I was concerned about an incoming front that was due to cool things off with thunderstorms, but we arrived to 76 degree weather and only a 20% chance the next couple of days.  We were also privy to ranch livestock that came through not only of curiosity, but to visit one of the stock tanks.  We watched as several ranch jeeps with hogs came by us from successful hunters.  In fact,  the count on our arrival day was 12 hogs. 

          "Ranch Boss" Paul picked me up the next morning at 9 a.m. and took me out to the lowland swamp thicket area.  It was a fairly open mix of elm and oak trees with plenty of acorns.  I set up with my Ruger, monopod, and backpack w/raingear (cause I never trust the weatherman).   The blind setup was complete with chairs and many logs stacked to provide a fort-type appearance about 3 feet high.  I was placed in an area where 2 fence lines intersected and it was obvious that many, many hogs had used this run area before.  There was even a well used wallow about 60 yards down the track.  I sat the entire morning and through lunch without seeing a single thing, which was a bit disappointing since I quit counting gun shots at about 50.  About 2:15 everything broke loose.  I was setting up a shot of a nice sow coming down the near fence line with a couple piglets when something caught my eye to the far side.  I turned to glance at a group of at least 50 hogs and piglets that had come down the far side without the least bit of noise.  Of course everyone quickly scattered when they came to realize what I was and I was left with a still fully loaded gun and a pretty surprised look on my face.  I didn't have to wait long for a 2nd chance as it was only minutes later that a very nice hog came down the same side and gave me a very good shot at about 20 yards. 
     Here is where I gained a new respect for the toughness of these animals.  I put a very good shot right through the ribs of this pig only to have it just walk away bleeding up the trail, but not falling.  I went to follow it figuring it would fall eventually, but it didn't.  It turned to walk back my way so I stepped off in the brush and lay down to prepare for another shot.  I got 2 more shots through the shoulder before it finally laid down about 100 yards away.  I did have to finish it off with one 'between the eyes' before it was all over.  When I talked to the other hunters later they told me this is fairly common.  Not very many hogs go down with a single shot.  In fact my butcher presented me with one of the 300 grain jacketed bullets; mushroomed nicely, but still lodged in the shoulder, not breaking it! 
     My tusker weighed in at 115 lbs which is just about what I wanted; a meat pig.  We ended up with 48 lbs of meat.  There were several others on the scales topping 200 today.  In fact on the drive back to the ranch in the jeep I saw probably another 100 or so in several herds.  There were 3 hogs over 400 lbs harvested today including a 505 lb brute!  The  Candeleria Ranch offers a very nice hunt with plenty of animals, a 2 pig limit, a nice lodge, full room and board for 3 days @ $299.  Butchering is extra, averaging $50 a hog.  I got my feet wet this time, learning plenty, and will probably not be my last time hog hunting.  I have one of the hams injected and Tender Quick curing in a brine on ice for a campfire in New Mexico in about 2 weeks. 
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Holy Grail of BBQ Part 4: Chisholm Trail BBQ Lockhart, TX


     This is the last stop on our magical BBQ Tour of Lockhart Texas.  Billed as the BBQ Capital of Texas, this tour hasn't disappointed.  Tonight was no exception.  Lockhart Smokehouse is located right on Colorado Street on the south end of town.  Not to be outdone by their local neighbors, Chisholm Trail serves up a tasty meal. The restaurant packs in a daily crowd made up mostly of locals and it too, has made the Texas Monthly list of Texas' best barbecue restaurants.

     Chisholm Trail Bar-BQ has a cafeteria style serving line and offers a large selection of salads and side dishes to go along with the sausage, brisket, ribs, turkey, chicken and fajitas. They also have excellent fried catfish on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.  One side of the serving line consists of 'dine in' clientele and the other side consists of take out or group orders.  Needless to say both sides were full.  It was, after all, Friday night.  Since we've had our fill of coleslaw, potato salad, and baked beans Barb went with the Carrot Raisin Salad and Fried Taters where as I went with the Cucumber Salad, Cheesy Pea Salad, and Fried Taters.  This place has the largest, most diversified salad and side bar in town.  Once you reach the head of the line you once again place your order at the butcher block.  Barb went with Pork Spare Ribs and a Beef Rib and I once again ordered my usual:  Brisket and Pork Sausage.  The total for our meal with ice tea:  a remarkably reasonable $19.83. 
     Once again this is a 'No Sauce' BBQ, but forks, knives, spoons, and paper plates were provided.  Although the beef rib was not as big as Black's it was just as tasty.  The spareribs were good and Barb loved her Carrot Raisin Salad.  The pork sausage rivaled anyone else's in town and the brisket......well, it was just the best darned brisket I've had in Lockhart.  Moist and tender with a decent flavor of smoke, I only wish it had a dark crunchy crust.  The signs on the walls don't lie:  Texas Monthly Awards for Best Chicken Fried Steak, Best BBQ, and Best Brisket (twice).  The service was very good with friendly, smiling folks who made sure you got plenty to eat. 
     Although this isn't billed as famously as one of the other 'big boys BBQs' in town, Chisholm Trail BBQ deserves the same credit.  It was delicious food at a very reasonable price.  Texas Monthly rated this place 4.5 on a scale of 1 to 5.  I would most certainly have to agree.  I learned something during this stop: my brisket doesn't hold a candle to anything I've had here!
     Tomorrow we move further south in search of our own pork on the hoof so to speak.  WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Holy Grail of BBQ Part 3: Smitty's Market Lockhart, TX

     Here we are at Part 3 of the Lockhart Holy Grail BBQ Tour of Texas:  Smitty's Market.  This was the original home of Kreuz Market and it's founder for over 50 years until family squabbles forced a parting of the ways.  As the story was told to me, when the father and daughter settled their differences it included him taking the last coals out of the smoker, up the street, and into the current home of Kreuz Market where he kindled his next pit.  The original location was renamed Smitty's Market and here we are.  Although the main entrance is located a block off Colorado Street, most folks enter via the back door off the parking lot where you can whet your appetite by walking through the smoke pit area. 
      I actually heard the phrase "BBQ Mecca" among the folks in the parking lot when we arrived.  The aroma attacks you as soon as you cross the parking lot and enter the door.  Of course, this is the same aroma found nearly anywhere in Lockhart.  

      Once you navigate the pit room hallway you arrive at the butcher block where you order your feast.  Once again we chose a weeknight to avoid the crowds. 
 Barb ordered the Pork Spare Ribs (Smitty's doesn't do beef ribs) and I ordered the brisket and Sausage.  Just like Kreuz Market your meat is placed on several layers of butcher block paper with some bread.  BBQ sauce was offered as well.  Our meal came with bread and once we ordered sides, ice tea, and a cold beer our total came to $31. 
     Seating in the dining room is long cafeteria communal type tables which adds to the down home feel of a diner.  I have decided that slow smoked, concentrating on moisture and less smoke taste, is Texas BBQ.  Smitty's brisket is the best I have had to date.  A very nice crisp smoky outer bark with a delicious, moist inside.  The Pork Spare Ribs were good with a nice outer crust as well.  The mild Pork Sausage was the best I have ever had......crisp outside with a crunch to reach the tasty moist inside, delicious!  The BBQ sauce is once again a watery vinegar based blend.  The leftovers will get mine later tonight.  The coleslaw was a bit dry whereas the potato salad and pinto beans were good.  The service was excellent with a nice, young man who kept up with our every need including keeping our table bussed and free of our trash. 
     Texas Monthly only rated Smitty's a 3 on a scale of 1-5, but I would easily give them a 4.  Good brisket with great sausage and good ribs.  Maybe I should bottle and sell my own BBQ sauce here? 
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Portable Hot Spot.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Gathering of Eagles

     I retired from the US Air Force 21 years ago.  This career provided me with the honor of serving with some of the finest men and women this country will ever know.  Part of my journey throughout retirement has included visiting some very old and close friends with whom I shared many a long deployment in support of our country. 
     Major Jody Arnold was a Mission Crew Commander and my Flight Commander in the 966th AWACTS during my tenure there as ART/CDMT Superintendent.  It was part of the largest Programmed Flying Training Program in the entire Air Force.  Working for Jody was always more like working 'with' Jody.  He was very much like a 2nd father to me.  We had tremendous mutual respect for each other's abilities and professional acumen.  In other words you could say he kept my butt out of trouble.  Our flight consisted of nearly 30 instructors whose job it was to provide flight training for the Computer and Radar Techs entering the AWACS crew force.  It was a tremendous honor for me to have Major Arnold come back a year after his own retirement to preside over mine.  Barb and I really enjoyed sitting down with Jody and Juanita and reliving some old times as well as catching up on our current life paths. 
     Jody and wife Juanita reside on their 80 acre ranch in Salado, Texas.  Since his Air Force retirement Jody has worked in teaching and currently as a Continuous Learning Improvements Projects Coach at Scott White Hospital. 

     Colonel Jesse Shanks was a Mission Crew Commander and perhaps the most charismatic, battle tested warrior AWACS has ever known.  He served with many other aircrew members that will always remember how well he took care of his crews.  He knew the value of teamwork.  Although I was not a member of his 'hard crew', I had the honor of flying with Col. Shanks a couple of times.  I will always remember his balanced concerned for the mission and the men and women who served.  I remember him coming back and talking to me while I was working a particularly difficult radar issue and asking if there was anything he could do for me.  Afterwards he thanked me for my hard work and successful problem resolution, offering to buy me a beer.  "Uncle Jesse" was always Mission first.......crewmembers pretty damned close after.  Always first on station for a mission and last off the aircraft, that was Uncle Jesse.  Jesse and his wife, Doris are both fully retired and reside in San Marcos, Texas.
     I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with both these fine warriors, gentlemen, and friends.   Barb and I will always cherish the warm Texas greetings, fellowship, and southern hospitality shared during both these visits.  I will not soon forget Juanita's Green Chicken or Doris' Texas Sheet Cake and Jalapeno Bacon Deviled Eggs!  Although these photographs may add evidence to the contrary, I was not the shortest person in AWACS or the US Air Force! 
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi Hotspot.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Holy Grail of BBQ Part 2: Black's BBQ Lockhart, TX

     Black's BBQ is the 2nd stop during our tour of Lockhart, TX.  Also located downtown within walking distance of Kreuz Market and Smitty's Market, Black's lays claim to being the oldest BBQ in the state owned by the same family.  Again, tradition here is the key.  We visited Black's on Sunday evening to avoid the weekend rush which defines and sometimes disrupts visiting such famous eateries.  The restaurant entrance is 2 blocks off the main street and 1 block north of the town square. 
     One of the first things you notice when you approach Black's is the enormous lot next to the restaurant devoted to the storage of smoking wood, most notably red oak.  I was a bit surprised as I always thought in Texas mesquite would be the wood of choice, but so far everybody is using red oak.  Given the amount of business these BBQs do on a weekly basis the sheer size of this area should probably not be surprising. 
      Once inside the narrow hallway leads you past the dining area and to the serving line.  This is a 'serve yourself' type of deal.  First you pick up your paper plate or 'to go box' (later) and then decide on your choice of sides and there are plenty!  Barb got mac n cheese and coleslaw and I decided on some potato salad and green beans.  Then you arrive at the Butcher Block Counter. There appears to be only a single pit but 2 blocks at Blacks.    The butcher will pull out an assortment of meats for you to choose from.  You decide on the cut and portions and then it is weighed and you are charged accordingly. 

     Barb chose the sausage link and a VERY LARGE beef rib and I went with the sliced brisket and a couple of baby back ribs.  I decided portions on what I thought was enough, but the price tag brought me back to reality pretty quickly.  With drinks dinner came to $43.59! 
     The entire facility is much smaller than we expected.  The dining area had communal tables, but it was kind of homey.  Barb loved her coleslaw and we both loved the LARGE (9" and 1 1/2 pounds) beef rib, very tasty.  The smoked sausage is 90% beef and 10% pork and fairly tasty.  Once again I thought the brisket was very moist and tender, but with only a small hint of smoke taste.  It is covered with a very nice thick black crust that has a definitely deeper smoky crunch to it.  The baby back ribs were good.  Finally, the BBQ sauce was vinegar based and fairly watery.  I longed for my own.  I inquired as to the brisket smoking methodology and was surprised to learn that the briskets are cooked for 8 hours on a rotisserie using only wood and then stored for a couple days in a cooler, then smoked for 4 more hours in the old brick pits.  It still makes for an incredibly moist meat.  I only wished for a bit more smoke.  Service was once again excellent; someone even taking away our empty trash and fetching us a 'to go' box for the inevitable pile of leftovers. Maybe my eyes being bigger than my stomach added to the $$$$ price tag? 
     Black's BBQ is a very nice place with good food and very good service.  However, feeding a large family could be a bit pricey.  I am still looking for a bit more smoke and zest, but maybe Texas BBQ over oak is what this is all about.  Texas Monthly rated Black's 4.2 on a scale from 1 to 5.  I would rate it somewhere around 3.7.   
WiFi courtesy of my Verizon MiFi.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Holy Grail of BBQ Part 1: Kreuz Market Lockhart, TX

    Welcome to the home of Texas BBQ, Lockhart, TX.  4 of the Top BBQs in the state are here.  This town is renowned for BBQ.  It has been part of their culture since the beginning of the 20th Century.   Texas BBQ is a flavor and tradition all it's own.  Kreuz Market might be the biggest building in all of Lockhart, TX.  Located downtown it encompasses nearly an entire city block, including about an entire acre of woodpile!  I suppose this may be considered to be a bit bold titling this 'The Holy Grail of BBQ', but I have waited a long time to sample this and until I find something better so be it. 

     Kreuz Market has been at or near the top of the rankings since 1973!  It owes it's reputation to the simple concept of GREAT FOOD with few amenities and no allowance for BBQ sauce.  That's right, NO SAUCE.  In fact the sign upon entering says it all.  Like many folks, they believe that good BBQ needs no sauce. The flavor is all you need. 
     As you enter through a long hallway and enter the heart of the beast itself, your nose awakens.  You are in the smokehouse.  When you reach the entry you stand in line waiting on your own personal butcher.  When you are summoned forward you will be asked what you want and then it is taken from one of the 8 enormous horizontal smoke chambers that surround 270 degrees of the room.  Your butcher then places it on his block table and cuts as much as you want of whatever you want cut to your preference. 


     Barb ordered two links of Jalapeno Cheese Sausage and I ordered 4 spareribs and several slices of brisket.  Your order is placed on several layers of brown butcher paper and several slices of bread are added while the top is simply gathered together before you pay and enter the dining area.  Price depends on what and how much you order.  Sides and drinks are extra.  The dining area consists of table seating with another counter to order your choice of sides and a drink.  Barb got Mac n Cheese and I got German Tater Salad.  We both drank the tea, which we sweetened ourselves.  Sweet Tea is not available.  There is a roll of paper towels on each table which are paramount to the experience.  There is also Chrystal's Hot Sauce if you wish.  This type of meal/setting works well for Barb and I as we like to taste and sample all the meats and sides available. 
     Notice the ONLY choice of eating utensils available.  Ironically, the plastic knives were not needed in the least.  Once again there IS NO BBQ sauce allowed.  I found their signature entre, the brisket, to be very moist and tender, easily torn and eaten with bare hands, but had very little flavor or smoke.  The ribs were some of the best I have ever eaten, easily leaving the bone with a very nice dark crunchy crust to savor.  The ribs have a distinct black pepper flavor that is delicious, but not too overpowering.  I don't think Barb realized that she ordered spicy sausage links, but I found them delicious and not that hot.  Barb enjoyed her Mac n Cheese, but I did not think the German Tater Salad was very good.  The staff was extremely friendly and ensured we had everything we needed (except BBQ sauce).  The entire experience was very much like a family picnic with good food.  Total for our meal was right at $28.  I am by no means an expert on BBQ, but I have eaten more than most and know what I like.  Texas Monthly rated Kreuz Market 4.2 on a scale of 1-5.  Due only to the brisket I would rate it slightly lower at about 4.0.  The sausage and ribs are to die for!
WiFi courtesy of our Verizon MiFi hotspot. 


Monday, November 24, 2014

Grandsonville......and renewing my love affair with Gizzards!

     We arrived in Marlow, Oklahoma escaping the worst of the early cold front that reduced much of the Midwest to shivering far too early this year.  SW Oklahoma was still very cold with nights in the low 20s.  We camped at a local RV park about 5 miles north of town; nothing fancy, but the essentials at a fair price.  For the first night we still ran the portable space heaters to keep pipes clear and on the morning of the next day were able to successfully pump and heat water without any damage.  Of course, the first hot shower in a couple of days was a welcome experience.  We now own a 'heated water hose' which ensures good flow in any type of cold climate (hopefully). 

       Our grandson is now 13 years old and attends middle school here.  I am not going to
elaborate further except to reiterate '13 year.....middle schooler'.  Yep, those days of innocence are gone.  We enjoyed some great times together, but did include daily inspections of the backpack to ensure there was no 'forgotten' homework.  We do share a common serious interest in classic Sci Fi movies, especially the old ones in black and white.  I picked up a few more of my favorites (that I could find) for us to share during our visit.  He is HEAVILY into the gaming culture, but far and away his passion is old Sci Fi flicks.  I'll take what I can get.  Apparently he missed the opportunity for school pictures this year so we spent an afternoon with him at the local park taking plenty of shots which we saved to CD for his mom and dad to have printed as they please.  We also did our Christmas shopping for the lad although he didn't seem to appreciate waiting on Grandma's love of gift wrapping as much as she did.
      Down to the nitty gritty.  I LOVE GIZZARDS, always have ever since my grandmother made them for me at a very young age.  Of course, you won't hardly ever find them up north so my visits down south sometimes center around this delicacy.  I don't know what it is about that buttery, crunchy, lean taste of a chicken gizzard that makes me feel warm, fuzzy, and down home all over.  There is also BBQ and plenty of catfish.  This is the home of some of the finest southern cuisine you can experience.  The key to healthy eating is proportions and control.  We did not harvest a deer this fall so we made do to restock part of our freezer with local fare such as hot links and a great ham.  I used to love my trips back to Oklahoma to purchase a great piece of brisket, sometimes on sale for $.89/pound.  The price of beef has skyrocketed in recent years and with the drought the prices now hover around $3.89/pound.  We took one day to drive up to Oklahoma City to do some shopping for hard to get items.  I returned with 4 pounds of alligator meat, 3 pounds of boudin, and 2 containers of roux mix.  You know, the important things!
     We did dine out quite a bit with our grandson, but still managed to create a Reindeer Casserole and a Cajun Venison Andouille Chorizo Cassoulet for him at the RV.  He LOVED the Reindeer, polishing off half a 9" x 12" dish by himself!  Actually, he loves just about anything within reach of his fork.  I know Grandpa wishes he could still eat like that without packing on the pounds!
       We celebrated Christmas a bit early as well.  Brock now has several new games for his system and about 6 more classic movies to watch to fuel our future debates.    

     We had a great visit, staying about 2 weeks.  We always thoroughly enjoy our visits to Oklahoma and this trip was no exception.  Next up for us:  we head further south beginning our search for the "Holy Grail"......the Top BBQ joints in Texas.  Of course this may be a bone of contention between my recommendations from the Food Channel and local friends we intend to visit.  It will, of course, all work itself out on our own taste buds. 
WiFi courtesy of Dave and Sharon's RV Park.