Friday, July 4, 2008

First Annual COB Speicher Chili Cookoff.

I have to take a break from our regularly scheduled vacation programming to vent a little.

When I got back from vacation I was informed that there was going to be a chili cookoff here at the base and I had been signed up to represent the dept. Those of you who know me know that I was honored and excited to do so. I love to cook, and I love to cook chili. I have a huge chili pot and lots of spices here in Iraq with me.

I started prep a few days ago. I purchased steaks from the PX, took a couple of to-go boxes full of onion, tomato, jalapeño slices, and pinto beans from the DFAC, made sure I had beer (non-alcoholic of course!), and lined up my spices.

Yesterday, I diced up the steaks, seasoned the meat heavily with onion, garlic, cumin, and jalapeños, and let it sit overnight in the fridge to meld all together.

I fired up the grill at 4am this morning and started heating the pan.

The meat went into a little hot olive oil to brown, got stirred around a bit every few minutes, then in went the tomato, more onion, a load spices, and more jalapeño.

Once that was simmering away nicely, I added beer, V8 juice (no tomato sauce available), and tossed on the lid.

I checked the progress periodically, made seasoning / liquid adjustments, and stirred, stirred, stirred. Around 10:30 AM, I tasted the concoction, declared it good, and called the concoction "Chili."

The judging was held at our area offices on the north side of the camp. A small group of emissaries was dispatched with me to escort the pot via an unreported route. We arrived safely at 11:30 and turned in our entry. The tasting began at noon sharp.

Judges tasting chili while spectators watch and hydrate. (It was 129 deg F here today.)

Judges about to announce the winner(s).

I knew I was in trouble when the late-entry canned chili from the HSE dept placed third. The lady who won first place is a very nice lady, but her chili was reminiscent of spaghetti sauce. Delicious, mildly spicy spaghetti sauce, but spaghetti sauce nonetheless. Here she is with my... I mean her trophy.

The first place trophy.

I know that I can't help that the judges were milquetoast Yankees who's lips get blistered by black pepper, but I still sat there feeling like I should have won. This wasn't a superior chili that beat me, but inferior taste buds!

After the official judging, people kept coming up to me telling me that they thought my chili should have won. As I stood beside my pan dishing out bowl after bowl of delicious Texas Red, I heard people telling their friends, "Hey, try this guy's chili! It's the real deal!" or "As hot as this is, I want to eat more! How do you do that?" The flattery was humbling.

I was standing down by the other end of chili row when I heard someone yell, "Time to go! We're out of Chili!"

What? We're not out of chili. There are still people standing in line. Let me look.

Sure enough. About 1/2 left in each pot. Let's go check out the winner's pot.

A little less than 1/2 a pot left over.

"What do you guys mean we're out of chili?"
"No, Joel. YOUR chili. It's all gone."

Second place, my behind. ;)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Tobago Vacation - Day 4 - June 2008

I woke up wanting to do more than see the local shops and beach. I wanted to see the whole island. Tobago is around 7.5 miles wide, 25 miles long, and very mountainous. There are waterfalls, old forts with sweeping views of the ocean, many small parks, and a forest reserve that is older than the USA.

After a quick breakfast of local fruit I had purchased the day before, I asked Paul if he could recommend a car rental company. He did, so I walked down to pick up a car. $300.00 TT ($50.00 US) later, I was in my right-hand drive Hyundai Matrix driving on the left side of the road. Yes, it was a little weird at first, but pretty soon it was second nature. That's me on the right.

A quick check of the GPS so I can find my way back to the hotel.... wait... does that sign say "K-Mart?"

Unfortunately, I didn't take the time to visit.

Setting out from Crown Point, I drove to the Eastern side of the island and up the coast. It was a magnificent drive.

Somewhere along the way I stopped and took a picture of this HUGE abandoned house up on the side of one of the mountains. At one time it must have been some kind of place because there is actually a paved road running up to it. I'm a bit of an explorer and I had to fight to keep from driving up and going inside. With my luck it probably wouldn't have been abandoned after all!

Stopping at one of the many small beaches on the island, I couldn't help but take yet another pan. Those of you who are better photographers than I am, yes, I know I should have turned my camera sideways and gotten more vertical coverage.

Gorgeous, no?

Driving on up the coast I found a place to take this shot. Had it not been for the two large trees in the foreground, I think this might be suitable for a postcard. It was a beautiful view. (Get used to me saying that.)

Further up, sitting just off the coast of Speyside, Tobago is an island set aside as a bird santuary called "Little Tobago" or "Bird of Paradise Island."

What I found more interesting is the little island in-between Speyside and Little Tobago called "Goat Island." Goat Island was the home of writer Ian Fleming. In this photo you can see Mr. Fleming's old house on Goat Island with Little Tobago looming in the background.

Do I need to say it?

Some weird rock formation with a hole in it. (Zoomed in below.) Taken from one of the highest points on the island.

Speaking of high spots:

While driving through the mountains I noticed what looked like cow pies laying on the road. I thought, "Cow pies? What kind of weird Tobagoan mountain animal makes things that look like cow pies."

I quickly found out.

It seems that cows make things that look like cow pies.

After getting back to the hotel, Paul informed me that there is "One proper herd of cattle" on the island. They are a mix of all kinds of breeds including some Zebu and Water Buffalo.

The hotel serves the beef on their menu when it's available. Sadly, it was not available while I was there. However, I did have some wonderful yellow-fin tuna and garlic shrimp expertly prepared by Paul.

Same cow there on the right... just from higher up.

Whomever owns the herd of cattle stakes them out to graze along the roadside for miles. You'll see goats staked out all over the island as well.

It must be a pretty common occurrence as there are signs in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve telling people that tethering of animals is not allowed.

It sure seems to keep the roadside weeds in check.

Today would be the first day to visit a fort. Tobago was once the home of many fierce battles. She's changed hands no less than 31 times. The last "major" upset was on her sister island, Trinidad, in 1990 when there was a coup brought about by:

a) Baptists
b) Muslims
c) Catholics
d) George Bush

All you left-wing idiots are wrong for guessing D. The correct answer is B, Muslims. Big surprise, huh? I'm sure someone will call for my death for pointing that out.

But I digress.

There are cannon placements like this all over Tobago.

One can only imagine the thunderous belching of smoke and fire over the waters as an enemy ship came around the bend just a few hundred yards offshore.

If memory serves, the cannonballs shot from these particular cannon weighed 18lbs each.

This old guardian has stood vigilant for hundreds of years.

I didn't take a chance and sample the water, but locals fill water jugs from springs located all over the island. I ran across this fill station in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve.

Coming back down out of the mountains was a treat. I wonder how many tires and brake shoes the typical car goes through in a year. This was one of the easier areas to drive. (Mom, don't click this video. You're on dial-up. The clip would take all day to download.)

Oh! I almost forgot about the leaf cutter ants! I was standing by the car taking pictures when a little yellow something that was moving across the ground caught my eye. At first I thought it was a tiny butterfly, but as I got closer I saw ants! I was in a National Geographic Special! Of course I filmed them.

With all the running around I did today, bedtime came early and easy.