Slow-Cooked BBQ Pig tails

Pig tails are a staple in my family. They’re plentiful and easy to find in my hometown of Kitchener, ON, which also happens to be home to the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world.

I’ve been told by my family that pig tails are a traditionally German food. So it makes sense that a family that’s lived in this city a few generations would call this a staple.

However, the recipe that serves as our base when making pig tails is from an old Canadian-Mennonite Cookbook. The city is bordered by a large Mennonite community, so this makes sense as well. What are the actual origins of the recipe, German or Mennonite? I really am not sure.

That said, the recipe I make is my own version. It’s different than the way my Dad makes it. And different than Nana’s recipe. So I think I’ve decided that it can be influenced by both potential origins.

One thing we can agree on, however, is that pig tails make a very affordable and delicious dinner. Traditionally, my family serves this with a side of roasted or boiled potato and sauerkraut.

Lately, I’ll serve it with a side of brown rice or sweet potato and a salad.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs pig tails

BBQ Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil (I use grapeseed)
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 bottle dark beer (Shhhh don’t tell S that I cook with beer)
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Mix all of the BBQ Sauce ingredients.
  3. Toss the pig tails in a large roasting pan and mix in the sauce until evenly coated.
  4. Roast for 20 minutes at a high temperature.
  5. Turn the heat down to 280 degrees Fahrenheit and let it roast for 2-3 hours. The fat should render a bit, the meat will become tender, and the sauce will be caramelized.
  6. Let the meat rest for a bit before serving.
  7. Enjoy and keep lots of napkins at the table! (The sauce can be a bit messy)

You Don’t Win Friends With Salad

Eat more salad, they told me.

And yet the whole time, this clip from a older episode of The Simpsons (Lisa the Vegetarian first aired in 1995) was running through my head:

I’m not opposed to eating vegetables. I’m not opposed to eating salad. I just thought, previously, that I was doing ok with my ratio of food-type consumption.

First, a Dietician told me that I needed more leafy greens in my diet. Then, a Natuopathic Doctor. It took two professionals to set me on the right track.

And you know what? 9 months later I can honestly say it’s been a long time since I’ve felt as good as I do now. It’s not just that I eat salad. I made a lot of dietary changes. But salads have probably been the biggest change and the most challenging to integrate. At first, ideas for salad didn’t come naturally. And they don’t always now, but it’s getting easier. I have to meal plan. I have to make new choices at the grocery store.

I had to decide it was time for a change.

I’ve learned to embrace salads as a daily food choice, as part of my meal planning, and part of my grocery budget.

Know what else? I’ve won friends with salad.

I’m slowly becoming known as the friend with all the salad ideas. People have mentioned that my constant barrage of salad pictures on Instagram inspires their own salad-making!

Vegas Vacation Day 7: Farewell Mountains!

And on the 7th day, we had to say goodbye to our vacation. We woke up early to depart Joshua Tree. Goodbye California!

Because we’d made the drive mostly at night on the way there, we decided to make a few stops on the way back. We stopped along Route 66 at a gas station, cafe, and former army barracks. It reminded me of something you’d see in an old movie from the 60’s or earlier. We snapped a few pics with the Route 66 road signs and moved along.

We stopped to admire the desert flowers and some train tracks. Ok, you caught me, we stopped to take goofy photos on the train tracks. But sadly, none of them are mine (I was in many). Trying to balance on a train track. Pretending to menace my friends with a railroad spike. Y’know, normal stuff.

We then stopped at Buffalo Bills, hoping to ride the roller coaster around the building. It wasn’t running that day, so we settled for lunch.

With a few more hours to spare before we needed to check in for our flight home, we stopped at Cannibal Crag for a quick climb. There, we met up with a climber from our home gym!

I lead Mac and Ronnie in Cheese. It took longer than I’d care to admit. After a week of climbing fairly hard, I was experiencing some serious head game. I had lead things as at this difficulty many times over. I had top-roped much more difficult climbs. And yet, there I found myself, frozen in place. I didn’t want to fall. Down climb? No way. Go up? Not that either. S was very patient with me. Waiting. Encouraging. Trying to give beta for a route he’d never climbed himself. The others chimed in with beta. You see, I’m stubborn. And I know I can do it. But sometimes this irrational fear just kicks in. I climbed up. Nope. Down climbed to the last bolt. Tried another way. Yikes that’s worse. Down climbed again. Finally, I just went for it.

And then I wondered why I was ever worried about falling. I love those moments when I prove myself wrong.

But I equally love the moments when I fall and remember that it’s not a big deal. I just climb back up, evaluate why I fell, and try again.

Vegas Vacation Day 6: We’re not in Vegas anymore (Joshua Tree)

Ok, so the title of the Vegas Vacation becomes a bit misleading at this point. Because we decided to pack up the rental mini van and head on to another nearby climbing adventure. Joshua Tree, California!

Why Joshua Tree? Because it was on my bucket list. And I pulled the “it’s my birthday tomorrow” card. Thanks friends for letting me win this one. You’re the best.

First stop was breakfast. We stopped at Denny’s I think. Where I got the free it’s your borthday breakfast. This is when the maple syrup incident took place. If I’ve talked to you about this trip in person, you’ve probably heard this story many times. KinOhio wanted to buy me breakfast (what an awesome friend). When she found out that breakfst was on the house, she offered to buy me dinner instead. And I don’t know how the next part came about, but somehow a bet was made. If S drank the entire container of maple syrup (not the real, Canadian syrup, unfortunately), she would buy dinner for the entire group. Of course, L and I thought this would be a great idea and cheered him on. We watch, impressed and a bit horrified, as S drank the syrup with a straw in one giant but excrutiatingly slow gulp. This event has become legend.

Second stop, the local gear shop. I picked up the climbing guide for the area. The group purchased a few momentos (t-shirts, hand jammies, and the like). And we spent quite a while talking with the clerk, getting recommendations for the best place to climb that would also be easy to find.

I never did catch the name of the place we chose. Or any of the routes that were set up.

But the approach was very notable. Especially compared to Red Rock Canyon. We saw a big rock. We drove to a parking spot near it. We laughed and took pictures of the super hardcore approach of about 20 feet of flat ground. How would we ever make it? Do you think I should change out of my flip flops into approach shoes? Water! Water! I don’t think I can make it.

All jokes aside, this area was gorgeous! We had many single pitch trad route options (thanks to D & J for being fearless and knowledgeable rope guns) and were located next to a field of the namesake Joshua trees.

My first climb of the day, I sported the ridiculous felt birthday hat. J had packed it in our dangerously close to the weight limit suitcase. So I couldn’t refuse. I think I might have even kept the hat on for the second and possibly the third climb. But by midday, it was just too hot. And so the birthday hat made its way back to the minivan.

This was probably one of the trickiest days for me climbing. Not because of the skill level (well, some of it was beyond me). But because of the heat. It had been hot in Red Rock Canyon, but I had been able to find shelter in the shade of rocks. I had much less luck doing so in Joshua Tree. The sun was hot, the vegetation sparse, and the shade from rocks difficult to find and changing quickly with the sun. I reapplied sunscreen more times that I can count. I tried soaking my Buff with water to keep cool, and had to ditch my long sleeve sun shirt. I never thought I’d complain about heat. Especially in the midst of Canadian winter.

At dusk, we headed out. Making a quick stop to practice our tree pose in a field of Joshua Trees.

Guacamole

Guacamole, or “whack-a-mole” as we often refer to it at home, is probably one of my all-time favourite foods. And it’s was one of the few Mexican foods I can could eat since taking some food-related irritants out of my diet (more on that another time though). I can still eat this, but I have to be more careful about how much and how often I indulge.

One of the things I love about making this dish, is that it’s very versatile. That is, there are a few necessary staples. And everything else can be added according to preference, or what you happen to have on hand (You can even easily divide a single batch into portions to accomodate everyone’s taste preferences).

Me? I add a bit of everything! I love my guacamole with LOTS of tomatoes and garlic. And only a bit of heat. And a good amount of fresh cilantro.

S has similar tastes, but likes fewer tomatoes and more jalapeno. And NO cilantro. Sometimes I sneak in a bit of dried cilantro because the flavour is mild.

I think he might be one of the unfortunate few who taste soap…

Ingredients

  • 5 small Hass avocados
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Flour tortillas to make chips

Optional ingredients

  • 3 medium-sized vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • Fresh cilantro

Substitutions

  • Lime: 1-2 tablespoons of concentrated lime juice
  • Hass avocados: Jamaican avocados (the taste is milder)
  • Fresh cilantro: Dried cilantro has a much milder flavour
  • Vine-ripened tomatoes: Grape tomatoes, halved
  • Flour tortillas: Corn chips or naan bread

Directions

  1. Prepare all of the add-ins: mince the garlic, chop tomatoes, slice an onion, juice a lime. Have everything EXCEPT the avocado ready to go.
  2. If you’re making your own tortillas into chips, slice your tortillas now and toss them in the oven to crisp up. Watch them closely so they don’t burn. If you’re using a bag of chips, open them up and put them in a fancy serving bowl.
  3. Slice and scoop the avocado from the husk.
  4. Mash it! I like to use a potato masher.
  5. This is a good time to divide into portions if you want to make a few different combinations.
  6. Add the fixings (garlic, salt, lime, and anything else you’ve prepared).
  7. If you like the dip chunky, mix it quickly and you’re done! If you like the dip smooth, mash it up some more before serving.
  8. Serve with chips.

Storage tips

  1. Reserve the avocado pit and put it in any leftover guacamole.
  2. Add a bit of extra lime juice on top of the dip, don’t mix it in.
  3. Cover the leftovers with a piece of plastic wrap that is placed directly on top of the dip, smooth it down to push out any air bubbles.
  4. Store it in an opaque container so no light gets in.

Vegas Vacation Day 5: Red Rocks Rendezvous, Get Up and Rock Clinic

On the second day of the Rendezvous, S, L, K in Ohio and I all signed up for the same clinic. I somehow convinced them to participate in a trad-focused clinic called Get Up and Rock. With a name like that, it was bound to be amazing, right?

Get Up and Rock: “Basic trad techniques for ALL ABILITIES. This course addresses basic traditional skills for beginner to advanced level climbers. gear placement, cleaning gear” (Red Rock Rendezvous).

The other half of the group went to an Aid climbing clinic – returning super excited to put what they learned into practice.

The clinic was not what I thought… and exactly what I was looking for all at the same time. It just depended on which of our guides you happened to be hanging out with. (I wish I could remember their names, but I can’t, it’s been well over a year, so I’ll just refer to them as Guide #1 and Guide #2).

Guide #1 trad lead a route and set up a top rope for us. We were given the opportunity to climb the route at a slower than usual pace, taking time to inspect his gear placements. Some of the climbers who signed up for this clinic were very new to climbing and he took the time to make sure they had a good experience. For my climb, I did a mock lead. The guide provided a catch on top rope, and one of the new-to-climbing participants learned how to lead belay.

Guide #2 spent the time teaching us knots that are critical to trad climbing. Figure 8. Now tie it one-handed. Fancy! We tried it, it’s as hard as it looks. Figure 8 on a bite. Prusik. Double fisherman, tying two ropes together. Clove hitch. One handed clove hitch. Way easier than the one-handed figure 8. Guide #2 really knew his stuff and was a natural entertainer. Not only did he teach us the essential knots, he attempted to teach us to tie them quickly and with flair!

While we were on the trip to climb, our group really enjoyed the day “off” to learn new skills. L, K, and I spent some time comparing scrapes and bruises from the past few days. Our badges of honour. Laughing that, somehow, they seemed to almost match. At this point we were bruised, scraped, caked with desert sand and sweat, smelly, in need of a hair wash, and covered in chalk. We’ve never looked so beautiful.

We’d been travelling, hiking some of the most grueling trails we’d experienced to date (at the time), climbing hard, eating too much junk food, stuffing ourselves at all-you-can-eat buffets and sleeping too little. The rest day with a gorgeous view was just what we needed.

Mixed Seafood with Saffron Sauce and Rice

My challenge lately has been to make meals that don’t require a trip to the grocery store (with the exception of a few essentials). And honestly I’m amazed at how much crap — I mean food — is actually in the freezer.

It’s been 3 weeks since I’ve done a serious shopping trip. I’m still pulling food out of the freezer! And there’s still more to go.

This meal is a result of using up leftovers. Wine that’s been in the fridge since who knows when. (Oh hey S, I opened your white wine. Hope you don’t mind I turned it into delicious food!) Seafood mix that’s been in the freezer at least 3 months now (I bought it on a whim when I was grocery shopping while hungry). And saffron that I purchased so long ago I don’t care to figure it out (let’s just say I’m pretty sure I was still living with my parents and possibly even in undergrad at the time).

The result? Tons of food to keep as leftovers. Used up a bunch of food that I had purchased without a plan. And created more dishes that usual to clean up later (but that’s ok, because  now I have leftovers).

Mixed Seafood with Saffron Sauce and Rice

Ingredients

  • 2 cups white wine (I used a Pinot Grigio)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup rice (I used Jasmine rice)
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 package of mixed seafood (I think it was about 1kg), thawed
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. In a sauce pan, heat 1 cup of the white wine, add saffron, cover, and remove from heat. Set aside to let the saffron steep.
  2. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add rice. Cook for a minute, stirring, to coat the rice.
  3. Add 1 cup of white wine and two cups of chicken stock. Cook rice until tender.
  4. Melt the remaining butter in a large cooking pot. Add garlic. Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add seafood mixture. Cover. And cook until heated through/cooked (the seafood mix I purchased was pre-cooked).
  5. Put it all together! Combine the steeped saffron, rice, and seafood. Sprinkle with parsley and lemon juice.
  6. Beg someone else to help with the dishes.

Dreaming of adventure in 2017

Last fall, we were planning a trip to Algonquin to hike the 35km Highland Backpacking Trail.

I know, I know. Who hikes in Algonquin? That’s THE place to go to canoe/portage. Just take a moment to do a quick Google search of this trail. It’s beautiful. And it comes highly ranked as one of the top hiking trails in Ontario. A must see! I wanted to complete the 35km trail (as opposed to the 19km loop), because what’s the point of going all that way if I’m not going to hike the entire trail? I’m a bit of a completionist.

We had it planned. We booked the days off of work. And as the day approached, I eagerly checked the forecast. It was October, so chances are it would be chilly. But I was determined that if I packed enough and wore enough layers, mittens, socks, sweaters, jackets, moisture wicking clothing… I could do this. It would work.

And slowly, my dreams of a fall hike started to dwindle. 50% chance of rain. 60% chance of rain. 70% chance of rain. 90% chance of rain.

We made the call to stay home. We cancelled our vacation days (to be used another time). We stayed in, listened to the rain, and watched a movie instead. I don’t think I’m prepared to do this as a winter adventure. As much as I’d like to. I don’t have winter camping gear or experience. I get cold easily. And winters in Northern Ontario can be quite harsh. Especially so if you’re under-prepared.

So I’ve resigned to waiting. 2017 is going to be an epic year.

We’ve already begun to plan some adventures (and I’m sure there will be more than what it planned). We will definitely make it to: Algonquin, Tobermory (and finally visit The Grotto), Cape Croker, Bon Echo. Maybe Killarney, Red River Gorge, New River Gorge, Red Rocks.

Vegas Vacation Day 4: Red Rocks Rendezvous, Multi-Pitch Clinic

Of all the places we could have gone for a rock climbing vacation, we chose Red Rocks because, mid-vacation, the Mountain Gear Red Rocks Rendezvous would be taking place.

The Rendezvous is a yearly, weekend long, outdoor climbing festival. The focus is on sharpening your rock climbing skills through clinics. These clinics cater to all types of rock climbers from beginners to experienced. There are also courses for trail running, yoga, and mountain biking. And many vendors (some of our favourites were New Belgium Brewing, and Joshua Tree Skin Care) are on site to promote their products. So many free samples!

We all chose very different clinics for our first day of the Rendezvous. A few went to an introduction to Aid Climbing, others went to Beginner/Intermediate Lead Climbing, and K in Ohio and I paid extra for a multi-pitch clinic!

Our poor group of friends had to get up an hour earlier than necessary this day because our clinic started earlier than the others. They had time to visit the Pancake Breakfast at the festival grounds, while we RAN to our meeting spot with the American Alpine Institute.

We were the last group to arrive for the clinic (woops). But our guide, Chad, was waiting with trad gear packed and a brand new rope all bundled up. We divvied up the gear, and away we went!

We hiked… and hiked… and hiked some more. This honestly felt like the longest appraoch yet. And I was carrying both my pack and a rope. Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make it without a significant break. I made the group stop for a water break at least twice. Water was helpful. But it gave me just enough time to catch my breath and adjust the rope.

 

 

We hiked from the festival grounds to the Lotta Balls Wall at First Creek Canyon. I think it felt like it took forever because we weren’t given a time estimate for how long it would take to get there. And because the rope I was hauling was a 70m rope (a HUGE difference in weight when you’re used to hiking with a 60m rope). Not to mention that my top walking speed – which isn’t quick to begin with – decreases as you add weight. So with a pack full of water, some Cliff bars and other snacks, sunscreen, and a rope, I wasn’t going anywhere quickly. Sorry friends.

When we arrive at the Lotta Balls wall, as we had guessed, the other groups had beat us there. I must have looked beat… one of the other guides joked that I should have made Chad carry the rope because he likes to be the pack mule (or something like that) so he can set a quick pace. It never occurred to me to ask for help. I guess I’m just stubborn like that.

We were hoping to climb Black Magic, but it was already taken. Lotta Balls was another option. Also taken. By process of elimination… Trihardral it is! Honestly, we were so excited to climb multi-pitch it didn’t matter much which route our guide chose. We just wanted to climb!

Before we started climbing, Chad informed us that there was a piece of trad gear, a cam, that had become a permanent fixture of the route. We were welcome to try to acquire some crag booty, but he had tried already, unsuccessfully. Then, the guide next to us chimed in, informing us that it was his gear and he’d be really happy if we managed to retrieve and return it. There was some friendly banter about who “owned” the cam if someone happened to retrieve it.

Chad lead the route. K in Ohio and I took turns simply following, or pulling the gear as we followed. This was super helpful because it gave me opportunities to look at gear placements for when I finally work up the nerve (and money) to get a trad rack of my own. (This has been on my mind a lot lately with summer vacations to Bon Echo and Sleeping Giant booked, where we currently plan to do a lot of hiking.)

With Chad doing all the hard work of leading, we did a lot of chatting. We made friends with the group and guide climbing next to us. We found out the other guide is a photographer on top of being a mountain guide. Check out Alasdair’s website. I also follow him on social media because photos of adventure (especially climbing adventures) are awesome and give me ideas of where I’d like to travel myself.

Eventually, we got to the cam that was stuck. I mean really stuck. It didn’t look old… but it was visibly older than all of Chad’s gear. I tried to get it. I really did. It didn’t budge. I yelled up to confirm that this was indeed the “permanent” piece of gear. Yep. That’s it. I gave up after a few minutes. I left it there. And we continued our climb. It’s probably still there. If you’re ever in Red Rocks climbing Trihardral and get the crag booty, good for you! I can point you in the direction of the original owner.

The view from the top of the climb was, as expected, spectacular. Desert as far as the eye can see. Although if you were here at night you’d be looking right towards the Las Vegas lights!

What crag booty have you retrieved over the years? Did you keep it? Track down the original owner? Or discard it?

Vegas Vacation Day 3: Black Corridor

Day 3 I was ready for a break from the sun. Seriously. As much as I couldn’t wait to get away from the cold, overcast days of March in Southern Ontario, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sweltering, unrelenting, sunny days in the desert.

So when we were sitting in our hotel room deciding what and where we would climb the next day I insisted on a shady spot. And turns out J and D knew just the spot for us. Black Corridor!

As advertised in the guide book, Black Corridor was a fairly narrow corridor between two red sandstone cliff faces decorated with black markings in the sand. It was beautiful, provided shade all day, and was full of single pitch climbs within our group’s ability.

What I disliked about this spot was that it was fairly crowded. It was obviously a popular spot with the local climbers. And that it was fairly narrow if you were to take a lead fall. If you swung out far for any reason, hitting the other side of the wall was a potential (albeit very unlikely) hazard.

Again, I wish I’d written down the climbs that we accomplished, but I think we climbed:

  • 757 2×4
  • The CEL
  • Bon Ez
  • Lewd, Crude, and Misconstrued
  • Black Gold (this was wayyy too difficult for most of the group, we mostly just tried this on a top rope setup)

But the most unbelieveable (or “unbelayvable” if you read Climbing.com) story of the day comes from a group we were climbing next to. This group seemed to be teaching a friend how to lead climb. Climber was obviously hesitant. Belayer and Observer (I can’t even bring myself to call this person a spotter) were over confident and not taking what, to our group, would have been obvious safety precautions.

Climber was clipped into the first draw and made it to the second bolt. Climber was NOT in a secure place. The “Elvis leg” was jittering. She was telling her friends that her hands were not feeling secure. She was obviously afraid.

What happened next shocked us. Observer starts yelling encouragement and beta. Belayer starts feeding more rope to climber. Meanwhile, climber looks like she could fall any second.

We wanted to look away. We didn’t want to witness a climber decking in the middle of the desert. There was no quick way to medical help. We debated stepping in. We wanted to tell the belayer to take in slack (the rope is dynamic after all, and will stretch if the climber falls), also, it’s better to have a hard catch then hit the ground. But it was like a train wreck or a highway accident — all we could do was watch, jaws dropped, and hope for the best.

I’m happy to say, things worked out for this group. Climber was able to safely clip the draw to the bolt. Then held onto the draw as she clipped in the rope. Again, not an ideal situation but much better than falling.

 

 

We ended up not saying anything to this group. Though to this day I want to educate them on safety measures while lead climbing. What would you have done? Would you interfere mid climb? Would you talk to them once everyone is safely on the ground? How do you advocate safe climbing practices?