Thursday, March 22, 2012

Uncle Dick Trick

My father’s side of our family is from upstate New York.  Tupper lake, Herkimer county, VanHornesville and other towns named for the native tribes that made up the Adirondack region that i cant pronounce let alone spell.

Every summer we would spend a week or two with my grandmother as well as aunts, uncles and cousins.  While our home life here in Massachusetts was conservative and tame our New York tribe was anything but.  I was old enough to know what a cocktail party was and just socially literate enough to be able to accurately interpret conversations the adults would have the morning after.  I loved those visits.  Hitting the throughway heading east was always sad for me.  
Missing my family really meant missing my uncle Dick.  He took me fishing and his wife at the time would take me on walks beside the rocky creek that ran along my grandmother’s yard.  It was from this creek that i first got a taste of fly-fishing.  I carried the wicker creel, uncle Dick caught and cleaned the trout and together we cooked ate our catch for breakfast.  As strange as it may sound, there is nothing like a native, brook trout for breakfast. 

Some years later my father had become very ill and my mother and I decided an upstate trip would put a little wind in our sails.  A day or two after our arrival uncle Dick decided we should visit his hunting camp.  Aunt Caroline , my cousins Richard, Adam and my mother were traveling to camp in the Jeep Wagoneer, while uncle Dick and I were in his beat up, ol powder blue ford pick up.  I was delighted to have time with him and I think he knew I needed it.

Uncle Dick is a world-class watercolor artist.  Painting and teaching art is all he has ever done professionally.  Add to a celebrated career as an artist the fact that a few years ago he was inducted into the Ohio Northern University’s football hall of fame, you begin to get a picture of the kind of man he is.  He works with wood, journals, paints, cooks, dreams, lectures, listens, watches, hunts, fishes with a fly rod, loves, ties trout flies,  raises, repairs, addresses, constructs, defends,  and corrects,. 

We made our way through the tree-lined road and as he drove he instructed.  Occasionally he would slow down and point to a particular stretch of road and explain why a particular scene would make a good painting.  You or I may have not noticed a difference but after he explained about color, composition and light it all made sense.  Time with my uncle enabled me to see the landscape differently.  The following lesson has enabled me to view differently the landscape of my heart.

“God and family first” Uncle Dick said. He then repeated it, making sure that I was paying attention.  I was.  I always listened when he talked.  “God and family first and then this is the order, art, fly fishing and hunting.  Those are my passions and those are my pursuits.  I have unapologetically built my life around these things and it is with these activities that I fill my days”. 

He would carry on talking about the virtue of finding one’s true passion and the importance of filling our lives with those things.  I was a teenager and I have never forgotten this lesson.  It has shaped a great deal of how I think and helped to form my world view.

For me its God, family and friends first, then music, fly fishing and cooking. These items are the deep call and longing of my heart.  They enable me to say no to things that do not fit and they are the ever-growing sunrise on the horizon of my years. 

What are your days made of? What are your passions?  Are you pursuing them?  What’s the chore, responsibility or “day job” holding you back?  Just curious…  In exchange for your thoughts I offer uncle Dick’s Stroganoff recipe.  Here it is in his own words.  Enjoy.

1 onion, diced or sliced thin
1 lb. lean hamburger (venison or beef)
1 lb. good smoked bacon
1 can condensed mushroom soup
1 pint of sour cream

Optional: canned or fresh sliced mushrooms

Brown onion in a pan.  Add more if you like it, less if you don’t.  Remove the onions from the pan.  Sometimes I add small cooked mushrooms, or fresh sliced mushrooms or any other kind as long as they are well cooked.
Brown the hamburger.  I always use venison, but it’s easier and less costly to buy beef hamburger at a store, rather than harvest a deer.  More fun with the hunting.
Drain the meat and remove it from the pan.
Cook the bacon.  I like bacon, but like the deer, much less costly to just buy a pound of bacon.  I like the $6 kind, and apple smoked or at least smoked.  Pan fry, microwave or otherwise cook very crisp, so it crumbles in your hand.  Drain, pat dry, and throw out all the bacon grease.  Crumble the bacon into ½ inch pieces.
Mix the bacon, onion, and hamburger in a pan and add a can of condensed mushroom soup. 
Stir in at least a pint of sour cream.
Serve hot over anything.  I like flat egg noodles, but rice, toast, spaghetti noodles or almost anything works because the taste is so great you’ll be eating it out of the pan. 
I never make a small batch because it freezes really well and you can add greater or lesser amounts of ingredients as you like.  I learned this from a friend in college and have never had it fail.  We also like it with canned venison, but you do have that deer problem.  You could try beef, steak or almost any beef, which I have tried.  I like lots of sour cream, not the low fat or anything like that.  The bacon is the key, I think.