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State of the State Ain't That Great

Tuco the Dog assisting

Tuco the Dog assisting

One of the axioms, in the Puckerbrush especially, was you never complain about it raining in Texas.  Maybe it would be permissible to grouse about it?  Perhaps?  Folks are getting killed, bridges and houses washed away and still it rains.  I know we needed it to break the year’s long drought hereabouts and every night the news reports how the reservoirs are filling by the hour.  Still yet,  hanging out in an RV when it rains day after day is no bueno,…………… and we got flood warnings yet again this evening.   Maybe I oughta be thankful I am not sitting on a gate and having to work in the caliche hell mud mess that is unique to the oil patch.

I have been waiting on the Holiday Specials to come up at HEB.  I figured they would have some sort of barbecue meat on sale.  Lord knows I can’t afford it at regular price!  Sure enough they came out  with packer briskets at $1.77/lb.   I ain’t bitchin’ about the price but I seem to remember back in the day we could pickup brisket for $0.69/lb.  Fer chrissakes,  it ain’t filet!!! Oh well!

Cookmaster propane smoker in action

Cookmaster propane smoker in action

I had an appointment to meet a fella comin’ out of Houston to exchange some Benjamins for bowling equipment and we decided on Huntsville as being a likely place.  Huntsville also has an HEB and that is exactly where I headed after the exchange was done.   I had folding money and a long grocery list in my pocket.  Y’all might remember aside from picking up bread and eggs at the local Dollar Store I have only been to the grocery store once ($60) since arriving at the Secret Hideout 10 weeks ago.   I walked out of that smallish HEB with a cart full of items ($130) and 2 briskets.  The only other meat I purchased was a pound of baloney – which might be a portent of things to come in itself!

 

Little Blondie was a big believer in injecting and swabbing and coating meat in myriad ways when we fired up the smoker.  Granted, we turned out some tasty product but sometimes I think an appendectomy was the simpler operation.  Christ on a cracker!  It lasted for a full day or better from start to finish and by the time all was said and done I was just about too pooped to enjoy it.  Y’all know I was raised up in the flat Mississippi Delta of Western Tennessee and pork barbecue just was.  Memphis style piggy.  Nada mas.  I can’t ever remember anybody in the family doin’ up a pork shoulder — no, you just went to your fave BBQ place and bought a pound or two, some red slaw and some sauce.  Maybe you picked up a pint of two of beans if you were splurging.  Otherwise, some buns,  fresh onion slices and dill pickle was all you needed.   We never ate off butcher paper with our fingers.  Hell, the first time I heard of that kinda goings on over toward Lockhart, I thought it was heathenistic.   The most lasting impression of BBQ I have was the 4th of July fundraiser the Finley, TN VFD did every year.   They would get out underneath one of the big trailer sheds at the cotton gin and dig a long, long  trench maybe 5 foot wide and a hundred feet long.   On the eve of the 4th,   they would build up a big fire of hickory logs close to the action and when it started burning down toward coals, they would shovel them in that ground pit.  Along about dark, they would bring out big steel racks loaded with whole pork shoulders and lay them side by side across that pit.   There wasn’t no injecting or slathering or rubbing or basting.

Briskets on the propane smoker

Briskets on the propane smoker

The next morning word would go out the shoulders were done and farm trucks would start lining up to pick up the finished shoulders that had been pre-ordered.  Cash money.  No credit cards or swipin’ your iPhone across a dongle or whatever.   That BBQ was as simple made and as good as I have ever had; the memory sticking even after 50 years.  The reason being those fellas knew their craft.  They were Masters at it.  I reckon they are all gone now.  I figure you can’t cook pig in the open air dirt no more without some health food inspector closing you right down anyhow.   All the sadder for that fact.

Several weeks back I ran across this Texas Monthly article  about John Mueller, Aaron Franklin and Texas BBQ;  Austin,Tx BBQ to be specific. Texas Monthly is good about doing epic and sprawling articles about all things Texas.  Think about the movie Giant except it is a magazine article about BBQ.  That make any sense?  After reading the article, I bought Franklin’s recent book, Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, for the Kindle.  With every turn of the page,  I remembered back to that cotton gin shed on the 4th of July.

I could see some folks calling me a minimalist for the way I am livin’ here at the Secret Hideout.   Part of that is by necessity ’cause I just don’t have the money to live a high life.  The other part, the most important part, is most of our lives are lived by convenience and ease these days.  The old ways of getting by according to your own resources and knowledge have been pushed aside and forgotten.  I think in the back of my mind real often these older ways, getting by without most of the convenience of modern day society, are important and might be of use sooner than we might like.   I am not trying to turn the clock back to 1920 and get by, oh hell no!  I have the solar power and any other modern improvement I can get by hands on to live this life.  What I don’t have is the dependence on the electric grid, an addiction to a Smart Phone or the local fast food drive thru as my food source.

Cooking under cover while the monsoon rages

Cooking under cover while the monsoon rages

Back to that brisket………….  Little Blondie ended up with the Masterbuilt Digital Electric Smoker and I do miss that thing. It was convenient and turned out quality barbecue time after time. Fact is though it was a bit fragile for use out in the harsh environment of the Puckerbrush.  What I ended up with was its’ much cruder cousin , the Masterbuilt Propane Smoker.  It is little more than a propane burner inside a cheap sheet metal box with a door but let me tell ya it is one tough little operator.  The entire time  we were in South Texas it lived outside with no more than a 33 gallon garbage bag pulled down over it for protection from the elements.  Each and every time I drag that little beast out to use it it doesn’t let me down.  This time I was going to load it down with two large briskets that had been prepped with some kosher salt, cracked black pepper and a skoosh of smoked paprika.  That was it!  Hell, trimming them up and applying the rub didn’t take twenty minutes.  I poured some water in the smoker pan, added some oak chips and cracked that propane tank open at 275 degrees and we were smokin’!  About 5 hours later, at 145 meat temp, I wrapped those rascals in foil and throwed them back in for another 7 hours.

The result?  Tender, flavorful brisket with a peppery smokey bark  you can cut with a spoon.  I may be on to something here!  What is old is new again.

Secret Hideout Update:   I was hoping to replace the tired Interstate AGM batteries on the solar system with two Trojan T-105RE 6v batteries.  Found ’em 50 miles away for about $150 each.   Problem is when I open up the pocketbook, there ain’t nothin’ there.   The good news is the huge RENOGY® 250W panels and the MPPT TRACER Controller are throwing enough juice into those tired batteries that won’t hold a good charge that I can watch a few hours of TV nightly. If the sun is shining bright during the day, I can even run the little chest freezer.

Reality bites and fact of the matter is the bowling equipment market is depressed right now. Folks just don’t have the cash to be buying stuff.  I still have a few items left but no takers at a good price.  I will keep them rather than give ’em away.   I did call one of the gate guard companies last week and they have 12hr gates available in Oklahoma working out of one of those shacks.  Call me a prima donna but I ain’t lost nothin’ in Oklahoma and I always thought workin’ out of one of those shacks smacked pretty close to living in a cubicle.   Can’t and won’t go there ….  not just yet anyway.

Some people will just not leave the donation idea alone and I love each and every one of you for caring that much about me.  As a concession, I agreed to publish the URL for my Amazon Wish List.  The way I understand it works is you can buy stuff off the list and Amazon knows where to send it.  Amazon is smart like that.   If nothing  else, some of y’all might find the list interesting, an insight into what my brain is thinking and what new ideas are cookin’ .  Or maybe not;  most times my brain is like a jumble of white coat hangers.

The projects Tuco the Dog and me have on our list is getting smaller by the day.  Some projects have been completed and XX’d  off the list.   Some have been deferred due to funding shortfall.  I do know when we run short of things to do, it will be back to the oil patch for us.  I can’t be laying around doing nothin’.  Just don’t work that way!

End Note: Buck these Haggard Blues by Big House from the Woodstock Nation cd.  Big House has showed up here before.  They are obscure to a degree and not around any more.  Doesn’t mean the music is dead!  Get ya some!

 

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Surviving to Live

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An endless parade of mostly wore out batteries tried in myriad ways - no bueno

An endless parade of mostly wore out batteries tried in myriad ways – no bueno

9 weeks here at the Secret Hideout and a fella would think a daily routine would be established by now.  Umm, not so much.  What I didn’t know and what I didn’t anticipate and what my naivete masked is an appalling shortfall.  You know, I am forever tellin’ y’all not to buy goods and then just leave ’em in the corner gatherin’ dust.  You got to take what you have and use it, you got to take what you are thinkin’ and put it to practice.  I shoulda been listenin’ to my ownself a little more!  If I had been thrown out in the hinterlands where the bad dogs bark at night instead of landing here at the Hideout,  things would have gone badly.  Way bad! Muy malo!  I thought I was ready.  Pshaw right!  Not even!

First off, you have to survive the environment and Central Texas in the Late Spring and Summer means heat and humidity.  So let’s divide the survival plan up into days and nights which are two very different animals.   The NO Princess Palace is not exactly the perfect apocalyptic apartment.   Ventilation sucks with no proper 12v fans to circulate the air.  Hey, it was a great gate guard shack!  Just not so good an off grid boondocker.   I think I have the night time deal covered with the addition of the window air conditioner in the RV. Covered as long as Little Blue holds out and I can afford the 3/4 gallon of fuel it requires to run through the night.  If that kinda bad juju visits me and either one of those things goes away,  I reckon I can sling a hammock between two of these oak trees. In the meantime, it sure is luxurious to slide the door to the bedroom open after a sweltering day and revel in the cold conditioned air.  I feel almost guilty in a fashion to enjoy it so much; near sinful behavior on my part or somethin’.

The old way-  A Lodge Dutch Oven and a piece of dirt.  Crude and effective

The old way- A Lodge Dutch Oven and a piece of dirt. Crude and effective

The daytime routine is dictated by the heat of the day and the state of the batteries connected to the solar array.  If the temp is gettin’ up toward 90 or above,  you got to have a fan runnin’ to get by inside past noon or so.  By 3-4pm even with a fan, the heat runs my ass out.  So the way it has evolved, I try to get inside chores done by noon or shortly after and then the afternoons are spent piddling outside or relaxing in the shade somewhere with a cold one.  That sounds backasswards don’t it?   I should be outside working during the cool of the morning and then retreat to the Palace for shelter during the heat of the day, right?  That is what I did down south in the Puckerbrush when somebody else’s fuel was in the generator.  I can’t afford the luxury of that these days.

I know  my solar array and batteries are the keys to getting by long term. What I don’t know on this subject fills a book.  Let me give you an example.  Here is what I got at my disposal:

RENOGY 100w 12V Monocrystalline PV Panel – 3 of ’em

RENOGY 250W 24v Monocrystalline PV Panel – 4 of these sure nuff bad boys!

SunSaver 10L Charge Controller with LVD – This little baby will handle 2 100w panels

RENOGY 30 Amp PWM Charge Controller with LCD Display – This un will handle 3x what that little Sunsaver controller will.

Tripp Lite 2000w RV Inverter – Waitin’ in reserve until the day I get a battery bank with some real power in it

The evolving Hideout Outdoor Kitchen. A better way to cook!  FYI, Sourdough bread on the right, Texas Chili (no beans!) on the left

The evolving Hideout Outdoor Kitchen. A better way to cook! FYI, Sourdough bread on the left at about 425 degrees, Texas Chili (no beans!) on the right at 225 degrees.

2 Interstate DCM0100L 100ah AGM batteries.  These old workhorses have been in service 5 years, starting out life in the Old Girl and they are still flowing the juice.  But I gotta face facts.  Batteries get old and tired and they will take a charge — they just won’t hold it.  I bought these batteries under suspicious conditions  out of the back of a low ridin’ Hispanic flavored Chevy pickup in a Waffle House parking lot somewhere in the Metromess back in the day. New ones are $335 each and that is out of reach right now.  When your batteries get tired, one of the temporary stopgaps is to throw more juice at ’em.  Hell, I could do that and get by for a bit until the bank account had more dinero!   I bought these RENOGY Branch Connectors and figured I would chain two of those bad boy 250w panels together and breathe new life into those old Interstate batteries.  Uh, not so fast Solar Dude! (BTW, if you notice I dig those Renogy products you would be oh so right! First quality, attentive customer service and one of the best reps in the business!)

Current solar setup with MPPT controller

Current solar setup with MPPT controller

The problem with my scheme was I was using 24v panels to charge a 12v battery bank.  Luckily, I was savvy enough to get a Google education before I hooked it all up.  Without going into great detail, you got 2 flavors of solar controllers.  PWM controllers are bargain priced and will generally handle a 12v OR 24v battery bank.  The problem is very simple though.  The PWM controllers are sorta stupid slow and the battery bank voltage has to match that of the panels.  I couldn’t put those 24v panels in service to the 12v batteries with any controller I had.  To do that I would have to step up to the smarter MPPT solar controller.  Well dammit all anyway!  Always somethin’ ain’t it?  And wouldn’t you know it?  Those MPPT controllers ain’t cheap! I searched and searched, knowing full well I couldn’t drop several hundred dollars on yet another controller. I finally came across the MPPT TRACER 3215RN 30A Solar Charge Controller and agonized over the purchase for days.  I really had no choice.  You are either in the game or you are standing off to the side. There ain’t no gray area.

Harvesting electrons

Harvesting electrons

I am happy (mostly) with the present setup.  The 250w panels are flowing staggering amounts of free energy through the MPPT controller to the batteries but I still have to get a handle on my power consumption and the first step there is to find out exactly how much I am using in a days’ time.  I bought a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor and plugged it into the RV feed line at the generator and the result was very disheartening!  Somewhere between 15-20kwh each and every livelong day!  WTF!  At that prodigious level, I would have to have a pallet full of expensive batteries to get through a day.  I moved the Kill A Watt between various power hogs in the Palace and discovered the residential fridge was the biggest offender – by far.  Nothing to do but clean it out,  eat and throw a bunch of stuff away and cram the pitifully small RV fridge full.  The fridge is now sitting here as a useless hulk with the doors taped open to dry it out.   Maybe I will use it for storage or whatnot at some point.  Taking it out of the loop cut my consumption by 50%!

Another discovery (duh) was you can’t cook nothing inside the Palace on these hot days!  Not boil water, fry bacon or even use the Microwave!  Any little thing heats up the inside so bad and it takes hours to dissipate!  I had figgered I was going to have to move to an outside kitchen at some point.  The pioneers did it this way and it was for a definite reason!  I caught the Lodge Dutch Oven Cooking Table on sale and even though I couldn’t very well afford it, I knew I needed it while it was priced low. I was right because it nearly doubled in price the next day! Amazon can do some flakey pricing deals and sometimes you just luck out!

I will be talking at length about the outdoor kitchen in later blog posts I am sure.  The decision for this coming week is whether or not to completely drain the bank account to pick up some Trojan golf cart batteries to replace the Interstates that are on life support and not expected to survive much longer.  I will tell you this off grid deal is not for the squeamish or weak of heart!

A Serious Closing Note: I have had several good folks contact me and suggest putting a PayPal Donate button on the blog to generate some extra income. Said they would gladly throw a few dollars my way to help out and it sorta put something in my eye.   I appreciate the kind advice people but it ain’t happening for two reasons……  One, been there and done that. Y’all saved my ass after the Big Hails but there was a pure nasty side to that I will not open myself up to again.  EVER.

Second,  I am here at the Hideout BY CHOICE.  I could go back to work and pull down some good dinero with one phone call.  I choose not to do so and I certainly do not expect anyone to part with their hard earned dollars when my current financial situation, though not all that healthy, is certainly a free will decision on my part.  Old School.  I am just wired that way.

If y’all want to help out, hit those Amazon Links!  Nothing more; nothing less.

And that, my friends, is how the cow eat the cabbage.

End Note **NOT**:  How about an End Note that ain’t one?  I was surfin’ down the intwerwebs somewhere or another and ran across a deal that said this new group of fellas were the NEW Lynyrd Skynyrd and they call themselves  A Thousand Horses.  So I went and got me some and well, they ain’t much but typical Trashville -Extry Guitar.  Listened to one track and most of another and got tired of the jangle and cacophony pretty damn quick.  Complicated noise is not good music.   They ain’t got any rock n’ roll piano with the likes of Billy Powell sitttn’ on the bench,  no Gary Rossington with that guitar ringing clear and crisp and they damn sure got no Cassie Gaines and the other Honkettes singin’ it and shakin’ it in the background.

Excuse me, these guys suck!  Best I can figure some slick media guy was probably figgerin’ how to promote these guys and he hit on this most (un)original idea to throw  them out there as the New Skynyrd  – sucked me in; he did.   For less ‘n five minutes though so there is that.

Want some real deal Skynyrd?  Undiluted and and  high octane like it is s’posed to be?  Strap this on then….. ca. 1975 especially if you think you know what Southern Rock is all about and if you are younger than say 45 or so……… The education never ends Young Grasshopper.

and a good dose of Honkettes? From England ca. 1976 no less!  Check it out.  Many of these folks would be dead in a plane crash about a year later.

 

 

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UN-Roughing It

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A nice Sunday morning in May here at the Secret Hideout — Mother’s Day 2015.  Weather radio just squawked.  Tornado watch her for next 12 hours.  It is Texas in the Spring.  It is what it is.

Meerschaum Carved Pipe from Turkey

BFF Cait gifted me something;  a new pipe this week.  Her husband is in Turkey and that is where the meerschaum comes from.   It is a real smoker.  I dig it.

Been here at the Secret Hideout for 60 days now without the benefit of electricity from the Grid.  I guess that would be daunting to some??  I just treat

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What's Old Is New Again

Last weekend, April 18th and 19th, was spent down south of Bryan/ College Station at a shooting range.  I participated in a Project Appleseed event.

Practicing for Appleseed

Project Appleseed is an apolitical rifle marksmanship training program that focuses on teaching traditional rifle marksmanship from standing, sitting/kneeling, and prone positions over a two day weekend shooting clinic for what is termed an “Appleseed”. It is one of the major activities of The Revolutionary War Veterans Association (RWVA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that teaches and promotes traditional rifle marksmanship, while also teaching American heritage and history with the intent of encouraging people

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