Perfect Father’s Day. I spent the majority of the actual day focusing on the girls, which was sublime. Bob Evans was the consensus for breakfast, which doesn’t happen often but it sure sounded good today. I made sure to get a big bowl of grits and think about my Dad. It was his day too…I know. After breakfast we went to see the new Madagascar movie. One of the great byproducts of parenting is getting to become a kid again and doing things I haven’t done forever or haven’t done in a long time. I love the Madagascar movies! Actually, I love every kid movie I see these days. They are so fun and much better than when I was a kid. Going to the movies with the girls is kind of our ‘thing’. Rhonda goes sometimes, but Ava, Lily and I really own that real estate. Love it.
The other unquestionably manly thing that I did this Father’s Day was compete in a rib-off with some friends. We’ve been talking about it for months, joking with each other about how we have been raising our own hogs and harvesting exotic spices to make secret rubs. This weekend the contest was finally here. I had so much fun getting ready for it that I even made labels for the two sauces I would enter and had team shirts made for the family! Of course everyone would appreciate the gamesmanship, right? Trash talking is a big part of that. (Note: the labels on my sauces indicated that they were already the winners of this year’s contest…heh heh heh…see below.)
I’ve been working on my ribs for weeks and experimenting with different types and amounts of rubs & smoke as well as different cooking techniques. I’ve done it all – grilled, smoked, boiled, baked, pressure cooked…all of it. I even deep-fried some ribs for fun. Not bad but you still have to cook them another way first. In the end I decided that rubbing them and letting them site for about 36 hours was the best way to spice them. I did two racks, one with a rub from the Savory Spice Company and one that I made. For cooking I opted for simply smoking them with hickory chips at 225 for the better part of a day. I know…hardly a ground breaking recipe and process.
I also made two sauces, one each to go with the ribs. The first was an apple chipotle barbecue that was very dark with a deep, rich and spicy taste. I’ve made it a few times and have to be very careful about how much I cook it down because it can get too sweet…or spicy…or smoky… The other sauce was a Memphis style vinegar-based sauce that I truly believed would be the winner. That sauce is good on anything. Both were made a day in advance so I could get them bottled up and get the labels on. We actually took two bottles of each – one to use with the ribs and one to set on the counter and gloat about…
Ah… tragedy. So I didn’t win the rib contest, Dave did. He should have, too; I actually voted for him. Like me, he only smoked his ribs. Smart. Two variances between his ribs and mine – 1) time of cooking – he smoked his 8 hours – nearly twice what I did. 2) type of ribs – he used St. Louis style and I used baby backs. I don’t think the type of ribs mattered much for flavor. It may be that St. Louis hold up better to long cooking. One thing I would change about the contest next year is either doing the sauces and the ribs separately and giving two awards (which is what we did, but not officially) or not allowing sauces to intermingle with ribs. I paired my sauces with what I cooked, so it seemed to me that the whole process got infected when someone put my sauce on other ribs and we only gave an award for ribs. Ah…salty loser I guess. Rheuben Gibson, who is a professional furniture maker, made a fabulous trophy out of a cow rib and it will sit in Dave’s house until next June when I come back to claim it as its rightful owner.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about my Dad today, even beyond the grits. Two common ways people think about the deceased it seems. One, they wish the person was still around to observe or partake in the current goings-on in their life (or maybe give them direction). Two, they question whether or not the person who passed would be proud of them. Maybe those two things are really different slants on the same dynamic. Regardless, I don’t do either of those. I know he’s proud of me and for some reason the notion of him never being involved in my day-to-day doesn’t torture me. It’s probably because we went for several years with a gulf of mental space between us. Or maybe it was the physical space because we didn’t live in the same state for more than two decades. Who knows.
What is true is that he is constantly on my mind. I asked Rhonda the other day how often she thinks about her Dad. She goes for days now, she said, sometimes weeks. There was an awkward silence after she answered. I think it was clear that I wasn’t going to answer my own question…so she asked. “Every day. Usually a couple times an hour.” It’s true. He is also in my dreams every night, usually when I was between the ages of 10 and 20. I don’t know what that means or says about me. But I’ll say this much…when I am thinking about my Dad, I am thinking about how to be a better person. Not a better person than him, a better person than me – very important distinction.
That was his indirect and long-lasting gift to me and it simultaneously drives, soothes, clarifies and tortures.