It has been way to long since I last traveled. All this was due to covid which is still ravaging the country. Despite that we booked a family trip back in the spring. Pat was really interested in getting everyone together since it has been so long. She decided on Door County, WI and this would be my first real vacation since this started.
I planned my trip to arrive early and stay late. Flying from Portland I was upgraded to first class on the flight over. After getting the rental car I did some shopping for cannabis now that Illinois is a recreational state. I spent the night in Rockford, IL before continuing to La Crosse the next morning.
The Fourth of July fell on Friday this year, the perfect day of the week if you ask me. It has been in the mid-90’s the last few days but the heat wave broke and was in the low 80’s for July 4th. Combine that with a good breeze and the day was perfect for being outside.
We decided to BBQ ribs at the house and with Will and Sondra driving up from North Carolina, we gathered the family for an old fashion BBQ. Like most of my stuff, my BBQ books are packed in a box so I searched the internet for a new rub and sauce recipe. Not long after I put the ribs on the grill the smell was amazing. It had this spicy notes to it and with the hickory smoke, the combo was a good one. I modified the rub a little to add some more kick and I think it was a good idea in the end. When the rest if the family showed up to the house, Will said he could smell the ribs as they drove down the street. So far so good on cooking them.
The rest of the afternoon we hanged out on the deck. Greg and I smoked cigars and everyone sampled a myriad of beers that I purchased the day before. I love days like this. Days I get to sit back, smoke cigars, drink good beer and chill with family.
After four hours on the grill the moment of truth was reveled. For the first several hours I was able to keep a constant 225 temperature in the grill. The last few hours were a little tougher but for the most part all afternoon I had a constant low heat. To me, this is the critical part of BBQ. Anyone can make a rub and put it on meet. To cook it at the right temp for several hours is what makes you a BBQ master. With Matt’s help I pulled off the ribs from the grill and they looked amazing. One rack I had trouble getting out so I was pushing on one of the bones to free it and the whole bone just popped right out. All indications pointed to perfectly cooked ribs. A sample a few minutes later confirmed, I had an exceptional set of cooked ribs. With all the family gather I felt some pressure to perform and I came through with flying colors. Everyone agreed they were amazing.
After dinner Will, Sondra, and Maggie packed up their gear and headed to Washington, D.C. Will and Sondra wanted to catch the fireworks before heading to North Dakota. I thought about going but I was in a really good groove so I stayed with everyone else at the house. We light off a few roman candles and watch the fireworks on PBS instead. I know it is not the same as being there, but we didn’t have to fight the crowds to see the show.
It was a long day but a good day with the family. The weather was absolutely perfect all day with cool temperatures and a good breeze. The ribs came out amazing and all the sides hit the spot. I hope next year to have the Forth of July party at our new house and invite everyone over there to celebrate.
This weekend we usually go to the beach house but half the family bailed because of a wedding and Bobby and Tracy are in the process of moving to Washington. We couldn’t rally the troops so we scrapped the plan this year. Just because we didn’t go to the beach doesn’t mean it wasn’t a weekend packed with events.
This was the last weekend to spend with Bobby, Tracy and the kids before they all leave for Washington so we headed to Winery at La Grange for one last tasting. Saturday the winery was throwing a big Labor Day weekend party with BBQ, live music, and specials on wine. We scored a table and sat outside enjoying the decent weather. Pat had complimentary wine tastings that we used and we plowed through a few bottles just relaxing.
Saturday was also Nancy’s mother’s birthday so we head up the road from La Grange to Greg and Maggie’s house for dinner. Greg smoked several whole chicken that came out really well along with all the trimmings. That evening we relaxed in his tiki bar, drinking and smoking like usually, and hatched a plan for Sunday. The beach was out so we planned to play a round of golf at the Osprey’s at Belmont Bay in Woodbridge. It has been several years since I played golf. Maggie is getting into it because of work, Nancy has always played, and Greg was playing because it was something to do with our wives.
We got a late tee time for Sunday but started the day off with a bang. The temperature was not bad at 10:30am but it was going to get hot and humid as the day went on. It took 4:30 hours to complete our round and I must say that by the end, I was ready for the 19th hole. It was a long day of drinking beer in the hot sun. The course was pretty banged up this late in the season but it was a challenge. Lots of elevation change throughout the course, several blind greens, and narrow fairways most of the time.
Monday was celebrated at my Dad’s house. Matt was cooking some ribs and it was the last family dinner before everyone left for Washington. Bobby already started his journey to Washington in his truck. He was driving the entire way, 48 hours according to Google and needed an early start. Tracy, the kids, and Marley where flying out on Tuesday. It was a last supper of sorts. Over the weekend we all agreed it would be a while before we got together as a family but that plan is already in the works.
It was a long weekend filled with activities. For a holiday that is meant to celebrate the working man, I sure didn’t do much relaxing. I thankfully got to spend a ton of time with both sides of my family which was nice. Will have to see what happens next year.
Last weekend we (Nancy, my dad, Pat, Matt and I) went to Wisconsin for the high school graduation of my cousin David’s oldest son, Andy. It was going to be a giant party at the park across from Rose’s house as we would need all the space we could get. We flew out on Friday morning to Milwaukee and from there we drove across the state to La Crosse. On Sunday we would head back to Madison to visit more family and catch the plane out of Milwaukee on Monday.
I couldn’t wait for the long four day weekend in Wisconsin. I was looking forward to introducing Nancy to the rest of the family and for her to see were I spent many summers, a few Thanksgivings, and Christmases thrown in for good measure. Once we landed in Milwaukee the first thing we noticed was the severe temperature drop. We just left temps approaching 100 degrees in DC and Milwaukee was a brisk 60 and cloudy. When we got to Rose’s house a few hours later everyone kept apologizing for such cold weather. I was loving it, I could have used a sweet shirt, but I was not going to complain about the cool weather. I didn’t complain about the cool temps in San Francisco either.
After getting the rental car it took about three hours to reach La Crosse. We arrived at Rose’s house and walked right into a party. We were offered something to drink and gladly took up the offer. Not 10 minutes after we arrived others started showing up to welcome us back to Wisconsin. In no time the house was filled with guests and everyone was having a great time. Some of these guys I have not seen in five years so it was great to catch up with everyone. Nancy, Matt and I spent most of our time outside on the deck, even thought it was drizzling. It was just great to be outside enjoying the company. Eventually we got the fire pit going and enjoyed a toasty fire with our drinks. We did eat as well, someone brought authentic German potato salad and it brought back memories. That and the brats and locally made hotdogs and I was in heaven. Even had a few local brews from the New Glarus Brewing Company, the Spotted Cow was taste. Late into the night we bullshitted.
The sleeping arrangements at Rose’s house are limited so us kids shacked up at David and Teresa’s house just down the street. David came back to pickup us up so we wouldn’t have to stumble, I mean walk in the dark. On the way back we got lost so we stopped by The Ridge to get some directions.
Five years ago, the last time I was in Wisconsin, turned into an epic and memorable trip. Not only for me but for my entire family as well. It was Mike and Roses 40th wedding anniversary so I went up to help celebrate. After a welcoming house party we headed to The Ridge for a few more drinking. I really wanted some scotch but they didn’t have any so I got tequila instead. This was my fatal mistake, Jose and I just don’t get along. Every five years I need to challenge that friendship and this trip was that time. I remember my cousin Kenny and I sitting at the bar just knocking back the drinks. Needless to say the next day, not just the morning but all day, I was feeling rough. I pretty much missed the ceremony and party afterwards. I felt so bad, I was ashamed I drank so much. My family took it all in stride and they have never let me forget about that night.
Nancy has heard the stories over the years from different family members so as we drove to David’s house she wanted to see the now infamous bar. The place looks exactly like I remember it five years ago. We bellied up to the bar in the same spot and ordered a round. For a mere $10 we got four drinks, including the Spotted Cow. After the round we finally found our way back to the house and headed to the basement for a night cap. By now it was late and we were all exhausted so to bed we went.
The next morning I woke up and was feeling great, no hangover this time. All morning we did was we could to help get ready for the party. From what I heard 200+ people from all over Wisconsin were showing up for this party. Teresa’s family is rather large and four of the kids were graduating at the same time so they rolled the parties all in one. The party was held at the local park which has ample space to accommodate this large crowd. We spend the afternoon mingling with family, drinking a little, and stuffing our faces with pork BBQ. A friend of David’s spent Friday roasting and entire pig for the party and it was awesome
By late afternoon most of our family was off at church or…..doing something else and it eventually was just Nancy, Matt, my cousin Kenny and I left at the party. Not knowing anyone else we headed to Rose’s house for a private party, we cracked open some beers and enjoyed the view from the deck. Ever since I was a kid the view has been the same, an panoramic view of green fields and farms with a blue sky and white fluffy clouds as far as the eye can see. I was happy Nancy got to see this fond memory of my childhood. It was amazing but as darkness approached more people migrated to the deck, by 8pm it was full. We talked, drank, and eventually got the fire pit out to make some s’mores. Afterwards imagine if you can, 10 drunks walking from Rose’s house to The Ridge. It was a crazy site seeing us all walking down the street. At The Ridge we had another couple of rounds and called it a night.
Sunday, our last day in La Crosse. Teresa cooked a great breakfast of sausage gravy and biscuits which kept us going most of the afternoon. After we got a tour of the local fire station. David is a volunteer firefighter and is very proud of his work and the new station they have on the ridge. Saying our goodbyes to David and Teresa, Rose and Mike, and finally Marvin we headed for Madison through the rolling hills of the back country. Highway driving might be faster but it certainly lacks the stunning beauty of the state. On our way we stopped in Coon Valley to visit their recently completed war memorial. The memorial lists all those from the local area that have fought for our nation starting with World War I. I got to see my Dad’s name engraved in marble.
When we arrived in Madison we visited with Pat’s sister Eillen and her husband Gerry who cooked a wonderful meal for us weary road warriors. Same pattern as the previous two days: drinks, food, and then more drinks outside. It must have been well after 10pm before we called it a night. There was no spare bedrooms at Gerry and Eillen’s so Kenny and Patti, who live in Madison, offered their place to Nancy and I for the night. Their kids started summer camp so the four of us had a few more drinks and talked late into the night before catching some zzz.
The next morning was very low key, which I loved. In their living room is a high square table that Kenny, Nancy and I sat at all morning talking, getting a little work done and generally just shooting the shit till 11am. Precisely on time my Dad pulls up in the rental and we head towards Milwaukee to catch our flight. It was a short drive and we made it to the airport in no time, got through security (even with my refusal to use the millimeter wave machine and have some dude feel my junk) and waited for our flight.
Finally got home about 7pm and Nancy and I just relaxed the rest of the evening. It was a long day of travel and after three days of drinking our bodies craved rest and relaxation. I only wish we took off Tuesday so we could recover properly from our little adventure up north. It was great seeing everyone up there for the weekend and we are looking forward to seeing most of my Wisconsin family at our wedding were we will tear it up in a foreign country.
I don’t know how this saying came about, but your 30’s are called the “dirty 30’s.” I have been in my thirty’s for a few years and there is nothing dirty about them. I will say that most people have grown up and will continue to grow up while in their 30, becoming more responsible with each passing year.
The last of the 20-somethings, Nancy, had her birthday on Sunday so we celebrated with some friends and family at the house. I was in charge of cooking and Nancy wanted ribs, mac and cheese, and grilled vegetables for the evening. For an appetizer I cooked a kick ass brie dish that was completely gone in no time. The mac and cheese receipt was taken from a grilling cookbook. For the ribs I was able to use my new rib rack that Matt got me for Christmas and rib cook book that went along with it. The three racks I purchased fit nicely in the rack and I got to cooking around 4pm.
I was busy in the kitchen prepping food when our guests started arriving about 5:30. I was so busy getting things ready I completely lost track of the time and didn’t start cooking the ribs till almost 7:30. We planned on eating around 8 so I blew that time out of water real quick. In the end there where two 45 minute cooking seasons before the ribs were finished.
To prepare the ribs I used a maple and brown sugar rub and separate maple glaze for the ribs and I must say they were fantastic! I was a little worried about the time it would take to cook everything and the ribs not coming out good. In the end the cook time took longer than I estimated but the ribs where cooked perfectly and everyone loved them. It was a good feeling that for 10 minutes the house was quit. All evening the the house was filled with conversation and commotion, you could hear a pin drop while everyone ate the ribs. We ate two racks for diner and later in the evening we finished off the last rack as a late night snack. The only thing I screwed up was the timing, but that didn’t matter when the food was finally served.
I started the ribs off for 45 minutes of indirect heat on the grill, to this I added a handful of smoking chips to each pile of coil. After the initial 45 minutes it was time to add more coals and start the vegetables cooking. I got a second pile of coal going and put the ribs right over the head, flanked on each side by vegetable skewers. I also used this time to apply a generous amount of glaze to the ribs. Half way through the basting process while talking to Nancy I see the door open and someone yelling “there is a fire in the kitchen” with the fire alarm going off in the back ground. I couldn’t believe it and being right in the middle of basting the ribs I couldn’t do much about it. I asked Nancy to investigate for me and she confirmed that yes there was a fire in the oven. The mac & cheese was suppose to brown under the broiler and I put the food to close to the burner so the crust caught on fire. I never panicked, I just calmly put the lid down on the grill and walked in side.
Everyone was gather in the kitchen not sure what to do. Tracy was desperate to put the fire out, scurrying around looking for a fire extinguisher I suspect. First job was to stop that damn fire alarm, so I barked at Bobby to pull it off the ceiling and take it outside, now I could hear myself think. I grabbed an oven mitt and pulled out the casserole dish from the oven, indeed it was on engulfed in fire. Then as the calm person I am I blew out the fire, crisis over. The mac & cheese was a little worse for ware but everyone was safe and the house was still standing with no damage. I looked at Nancy and asked if that was enough excitement for her birthday. The casserole didn’t look pretty, but I scrapped off the burnt crush, reapplied a fresh layer and put it back in the broiler much lower from the heat source. After the only emergency of the night was over I went back outside to tend the ribs while everyone else went back to talking, smoking and drinking.
Another 45 minutes passed and it was time to pull the ribs off the grill. At this point it was well past 9pm and I was nervous. I had never cooked ribs before and I was not sure how they would turn out. Would they be cooked enough, burned, taste like crap? I didn’t know. When I opened the grill lid to look a quick scan revealed the vegetables looked perfect and ribs didn’t look burn, but I was only looking at the underside so not a good judge. As I brought the three slabs into the kitchen everyone has assembled to watch, which is typical when someone in the family grills. I laid them on the cutting board and flipped them over…..they looked amazing! The next test, doneness. When I cut into the first one it was perfectly cooked with just a bit of juice.
After eating it was time for a nap, everyone was so full the food coma was quickly setting in. To jolt use back to life the smokers all had a cigarette in the cold, another round of shots and time for a little dancing. For Christmas Nancy got Dance Party 2 which we played for almost 2 hours. Of course the the fellas didn’t fell much like dancing but after I got up there and showed them how it was done everyone loosened up. We traded off between everyone and had a grate time shacking our booties. I know Nancy took a few videos and I don’t even want to see what I look like, I probably look like a fool but it certainly was fun.
Another cigarette outside which brought us just past midnight and officially Nancy’s birthday. A quick happy birthday and some awesome cookies Matt made and it was back in side. This late in the evening we lost Nicole and Jeff but the rest of use stuck it out for a round of poker. It is becoming something of a tradition that when the family gets together for a party we get at least one round of poker in. The stakes are only $5 but it is a ton of fun talking shit. We killed the last rack of ribs while playing, had to satisfy the midnight munchies and the ribs certainly hit the spot on that.
The next morning the ladies where not feeling well. Both Tracy and Nancy had a lot to drink, I think it was the jello shots that put them over the edge. Thankfully Bobby was feeling good and made some kick ass omelets for everyone using the grilled vegetables and left over cheese from the night before. The rest of the day Nancy and I didn’t do crap. It was a lazy day spent watching tv and getting a few things done around the house. I personally couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday