Food, Wine & Just Good Living With SaucyJoe

It started with a love of food, wine & fun and blossomed into a maddening pursuit of the best recipes, techniques, grills, smokers, wines, crafted beers, rubs, marinades and sauces... We do more than play with our meat though -- we review and discuss all things cooking, drinking, reading, laughing and living at SaucyJoe's.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Earth, Zen & Fire


ed note: This guest column was contrubuted by our fire pit comrade, Curt Simmons. Curt's a professor, gentleman chicken farmer (we're all gentlemen in the charming hamlet of N. Grand Prairie) and assistant to his medical-transcription goddess wifey, Lori. This article is what we refer to as "a longer form commentary" so, we're going to have to cut it up into 2 installments. To see the entire article, go to our November Philosophy Section on the SJ. Here's #1, on the philosophy of fire and how to get started:

The Perfect Fire

On most cool weekends, up to three generations of friends and family members will gather on our patio to talk, laugh and sometimes howl a little around the fire pit. It wasn’t always this way. In fact, when my wife and daughter first threw the fire ring box in the cart at Home Depot, I was fairly cool to the idea. I pictured it ending up with all the other useless, rusting junk in the backyard, but I was so relieved that they had chosen the $50.00 ring instead of the $400.00 brass urn that I just smiled and began reading the assembly instructions. Three years later, I would say it is one of my favorite possessions ranking only behind the family ski boat for pleasant memories.

Like so many former necessities that have been eliminated by technology, a real, honest to goodness, old school, regulation campfire with flames and smoke and sparks is now a luxury item. But once indulged, this luxury soon transforms itself into a necessity. In our lightning paced, point and click world of sound bytes and electronic noise, a good campfire beckons us to stop, sit, and warm the souls that we have put on ice during the week. While it bathes us with its radiant heat, it burns away the layers of triviality and rearranges our priorities. For a few precious moments, we actually enjoy each other and appreciate our lives together.

It all makes sense, of course. When we gather around a fire, we are really celebrating life itself. Cosmologists tell us the universe was created by a fiery explosion, and although we curse it during the Texas summers, a giant ball of fire makes life possible on our watery planet. Throughout history, fire has been seen by religions and used by industry as a purifying agent. Native Americans sought their visions in front of a fire, and today the same fire that forms the center of our planet seems to burn at the center of our hearts. And if all this seems a little heavy and philosophical, a big fire is hands down the best way to cook a marshmallow. Over the past few years, the Saucy Joes team has, and we say this with all modesty, perfected the basic urban campfire. We’d like to share our delicious recipe with you, and although no written rules actually exist, an informal code of conduct has evolved for the true connoisseurs of backyard fire watching.

The first step to releasing your “Inner Thoreau” is choosing your fire pit. You’ll want to pick a model that fits your aesthetic tastes and, more importantly, one that you will actually use. Ours is a three foot, black, steel circle with 14” sides. Moose and deer glow through the stamped hole patterns in a hokey sort of 1950s, North Woods meets Art Deco motif. I lined the bottom with fire proof bricks and put a grate in the middle to elevate the logs. We bought some squishy soft patio chairs to circle the ring and now you can put your feet on the sides until the soles of your shoes start to smoke and melt. My wife and daughter decorated a few garage-sale, end tables, and last year we painted a giant Texas flag on the back of the garage. We finally added a few white, Christmas lights to the fence and gutters to complete the theme. If you had to classify it, you would probably call it redneck chic, but it fits me like a glove.

Once the pit, or urn or chiminea is installed, the only missing element is the wood itself. Around Texas, father oak is the king of the fire pits, but any hardwood will work. Kindling can range from small sticks and twigs to cut up 2X4s sitting around the garage. If you don’t have any of those, a wax fire log from the grocery store will do the trick. Any local telephone pole will probably display at least one firewood advertisement which will, again, more than likely be oak. Sometimes blends of different woods are nice, and we have found that adding a nice chunk of cedar or pinon when the oak has turned to embers gives an incense that would make the Gods on Olympus smile. Having said all that, the all time, number one, best firewood is free firewood. Late summer and early fall walks are wonderful times to scout the neighborhood for tree trimmers. Once darkness falls, a quick jaunt in the pickup can net two to three fires in a single run.

Coming Next: Fire foods and music...

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