Friday, March 11, 2011

Finally, the Blue and Gold Saga

If you are reading this now, you will know that I am ridiculously overdue.  I haven’t been procrastinating or avoiding.  Just busy.  Sorry for the delay and the suspense, and thanks for the maintained interest!

The Blue and Gold celebration was… well, I am not sure really.  I actually spent so little time insde participating in the activities that I can’t tender a solid opinion.  I was outside filling and tending a beautiful collective of cast iron.  My day was, in a word, glorious.  Don’t get me wrong, I was elated to see my son make his achievement and receive the accolades of scout rank advancement.  But I was there to do something else.  I was given the opportunity to arrange desserts for 200+ using the pack’s favored method of outdoor cooking, dutch ovens.  I assembled a team of willing volunteers, Little Brother Mark, Ryan “Mr. Wizard”, and my biological little sister, Paula (who selflessly drove up from Orange City just to help.  The real event started in the preceding two days, as I shopped my heart out for food supplies.  In the event of a natural disaster, as societies assembled into smaller collectives, my wife and I would be the hunter and gatherers.  We love to shop, so this was me in my element.  Mr. Wizard and I had met over Bulleit Bourbon Wednesday night and laid out a game plan or playlist of how we thought things may manifest.  List in hand, I cruised the aisles of Super Wal-Mart, Publix and Sam’s.  $200+ later, cart dipping dangerously low in the front under the weight of canned pie fillings and cake mixes, I headed home. 
Friday night, the Wiz joined me and we prepped our supplies.  The estimate was to start with 2 pumpkin breads, followed by 12 assorted pies, cobblers and cakes.  Once completed, another round of 12.  This would feed generously, around 8 to 10 servings from each dutch.  I had donated pots from Ryan, Sue, Ty and Misty, Patrick, Kyle,  Little Brother Mark, and Michael.  We had the iron.  Prepping the stuff was my idea.  Obviously we couldn’t add the oil, milk and eggs.  Instead, we dumped any dry goods into a gallon ziplock, then put that in another ziplock along with the cans of filling to go with them.  Mr Wizard was hesitant to waste so much plastic (kudos mr enviornmentality), but I promised to recycle and reuse any I could.  So we filled a footlocker with the premixes, got all kitchen stuff ready, and called it a night.  I might add that during this my wife was trying to help complete our son’s contribution to the cake auction, a dragon that was to spew smoke from its mouth.  So around 1:30 am, mr wizard and I headed for his pad to assemble a fan for the base of the cake.  By Guinness:30 we had decided the plan was not going to work out.  So the cake went on smokeless.  In its defense, though, it won honors as the highest bid upon and highly sought after.
The next morning started entirely too early.  But feeling enthusiastic, I leapt into action.  The event started officially at 2, but my plan was to arrive at 11 and get set up.  Make a couple of pumpkin breads as starters, and move onto the first course.  My sister arrived from OC on time.  We loaded up the boxes and assorted gear and headed out.  We made a few last stops, which took longer than expected.  I went to Army Navy Outdoors and picked up dogtags for each of the dutch ovens.  This proved valuable as a tool for identifying each of the ovens as we cooked.  We ended up reaching the location about 11:30, still in reasonable limits.  I had padded our time slightly so we were fine.
Things were starting to materialize at the location as well.  I saw several participants moving around and beginning their own setups.  We were directed to our area.  It turned out to be a raised sidewalk on the back side of the church gymnasium, with a wall on one side and a railing on the other, just outside the door in the corner of the gym where all of the food would be staged.  We scoped out everything and began setting up.  Mark identified some concerns and we moved things around so that we wouldn’t burn any walls or ignite any gas lines (yikes).  Traffic was limited by caution tape (compliments of John Howard, Dutch Oven Genius).  We were concerned that kids would be fascinated and might get too near the hot coals.  We got right to work. 
I can not say I have ever worked with a better crew.  Everyone just sort of fell into motion, their areas of optimum contribution seemed natural.  Ryan and I worked at a prep table mixing and added ingredients to pots, Paula zipped around adding hands wherever needed, and Mark worked near the end.  His position was sort of “overseer”.  He kept track of cooking times, provided the eyeball of experience on “doneness” and kept things light.  He and I have a great rapport, so the mood was jovial.  While I was coordinating, Mark managed to look like he was standing next to the grill in the backyard, missing only a beer in his hand.  In fact he was standing by a grill.  While he managed countless details of several ovens, he entertained himself and my sister by making a 1QT pot pie, and grilling tilapia fillets on his lodge hibachi grill. 
As people moved into the event, we occasionally had spectators slide out the door (escaping the noise of wild eyed kids) and start watching us.  It was gratifying to see people watch us with fascination.  Call me egocentric, but I loved the attention.   But more than that, I love the interest it created in cast iron cooking.  I went inside at one point, and as I came back, there were a number of kids standing outside the door screaming into a large fan that had been put up for us.  I love kids, but can’t deal with too much “kid”.  A parent was watching the kids.  We locked eyes and I simply said, “No. Unh-unh.  Not going to happen.”  She tried to usher the kids away, but two kids in particular, the Rigney twins, were lost in the childhood rapture of yelling into a large fan.  I simply yelled “Liam! Aiden!”.  When they looked at me, I thumbed towards the gym and they whisked away, to the amazement of the parent.  I looked at her and said “I speak Rigney.” 
Somewhere near the beginning, I smelled something familiar.  When lighting our charcoal chimneys, Mr Wizard will often  use twigs to help prolong the flame of starter paper.  As I smelled this and made the association, it occurred to me that Mark was using a burner 25 feet away  to start the charcoal.  I looked over the rail to the ground 8 feet below, and realized that a piece of charcoal had slipped over the edge and started a grass fire.  There was a circle about a foot in diameter with flames and everything.  The Wiz jumped the rail and managed the moment.  Whew!  Things were moving along inside.  We started rolling in with desserts, and realized we needed more table space.  We ended up with about 16 feet of table, all covered with glorious cakes and pies.
There was an interlude where parent volunteers were recognized.  Everyone was dressed in either uniforms, or dressy casual clothing, and here I am wearing a pack tshirt, a leather apron, a belt knife, and a cool hat, proudly bearing my IDOS pin.  The awards were cute and sweet, some were tongue in cheek.  Mr Wizard was given a figure holding bacon on a stick.  Oh yeah.  I got one that was a small bed with BSA sheets, two figures under the covers. One bore my face, looking scrunched up and severe, the other was my wife looking shocked, complete with yarn hair sticking out in several directions.  The award was the Dutch Oven award.  Do the math.
By the time we had finished the first round, it was just time to have the second round rolling.  In retrospect, we should have never slowed down.  People had been finished eating for some time, so I thought it may be a stretch to expect a run on desserts so long after the main meal.  But, as I had initially suspected, there was such a variety, and such a desire to “sample”, people were making repeat visits, and tapping more than one well, such as it was.  We had one dish that didn’t materialize as expected.  What I originally thought was a bagged peach crisp mix was actually peach cobbler mix.  I had enjoyed much success with a previous incarnation of the apple crisp mix, and looked forward to making the peach.  The crisp mix is in a bag at winn Dixie for about $4, and is simply fruit filling, the powdered mix and some melted butter.  When mixed and cooked, the peach cobbler looked like a creamy snottish glaze.  So we quickly threw in another cake mix on top, and remanded it to the coals. 
I think we ended up creating 22 dishes.  One of them was a blueberry crisp I had made in the 2qt for my lovely wife.  She was occupied when I delivered it, and I offered some to her mother.  She said absolutely not, that she was stuffed and couldn’t eat another bite.  I left a large helping for Sherry (wife) and put the rest out for general consumption.  It was discovered quickly and I hear was regarded as the best of the day.  As the last plateful of blueberry crisp was taken away from the table, I saw my mother in law rushing up saying “Blueberry Crisp, Blueberry crisp, where is it?  It was so good, I have to have some!”  I was able to scrape a few berries from the bottom of the pot, but will definitely be making that again. 
There were about 4 complete desserts left when everyone departed, but it was easy enough to find someone willing to doggy bag them.  The only dish that was not popular was the banana crumble.  It was also the most complicated recipe, so I will have to review the process and see where we missed the mark.  I have had it before and saw people practically fight over it. 
Referencing again my egocentricity, I felt like a lot of people didn’t realize what we were doing.  Maybe that isn’t the best approach, and certainly not a need for personal recognition of some sort.  But I felt like it was a cool thing that was going on out there.  Also, it was a link to other times in our heritage and history.  To not know that is to trivialize the moment, and reduce what we created to merely sweets on the table.  Overall though, we were entertained ourselves as people drifted out occasionally and said nice things about how cool it all was, and how they wished they were out there doing that.  I should probably get a dutch oven recruiter’s badge of some sort…
As things drew to an end, we started breaking down our station as well.  Cleanup was crisp and organized, as was to be expected.  Mark was far more experienced than the rest of us, and had packed up almost twice as much in half the time.  My sister had to move on to her own adventures, awaiting back in central Florida.  Ryan was diligent and focused, as anyone who knows him would expect.  He spirited away the dirty bowls and utensils and had everything washed up in no time.  Coal leftovers were disposed of, and piece at a time, everything was stowed to go. 
As the event was put behind us, I was thrilled.  If I categorized the day’s events and activities, I would say “success”.  It was managed and organized, efficient, effective and satisfying.  No disappointments, so major hurdles or surprises.  My most specific thought about the entire day was how great it was working with the group I did.  The four of us should open a dutch oven restaurant.  Our motto would be “You get your food when it is ready”.  To the others, let me say my warmest and most heartfelt thanks.  You made the day work, and it worked very well.  To pack 182, hope you enjoyed eating it even half as much as we enjoyed making it.  If you did, I know it was good.
In closing, to all, and as always, Love and Iron!

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! You've captured everything good and right about that amazing day. There aren't proper words to describe how we worked together as a group. It was a real dynamic, and I'm proud to have been a part of it! I do hope it wasn't anything I did that made the banana crumbles not great. It has been on my mind. Otherwise, the day couldn't have been any better. Thank you for letting me be a part of it!