Reporting From Dubois

Reporting From Dubois

While doing research in Wyoming, I reported on this weeklong event, which was great for the participating kids–and extremely edifying and helpful to me. The Boys & Girls Club of Dubois, along with Traci Jo Isaly, put together a team of instructors that included local historian Stephen V. Banks, backcountry guides and Sheep Eater experts Meredith and Tory Taylor, geologist Johanna Thompson. Tom Lucas, a Dubois artist and arguably the premier craftsman of traditional Shoshone items, taught drawing. Isaly guided the roughly dozen kids through the making of figures that explored local history and their own inner histories. The Susan Kathleen Black Foundation underwrote the program, which is called PLACE (People Land and Community Education). It’s programs like this that make me proud to be a part of SKB.

A Sense of PLACE: SKB and the Boys & Girls Club of Dubois Team Up

Intensive Immersive Wyoming Trip

Intensive Immersive Wyoming Trip

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

I just returned from a great trip to Wyoming, where I was working on two writing projects. I had two tasks–to report on an event sponsored by the SKB foundation, and to do research for a writing project on the history of visual art in the Wind River Mountains and their adjacent valleys.

Wyoming feels like home to me, especially Dubois. I started most days with a 5×7 painting, often before 6 a.m. My research took me to Cody, Jackson Hole, Dubois, and Pinedale, and along the way, I visited friends, ranches, restaurants, and a little patch of land called Yellowstone National Park. The Grand Tetons impressed as usual, the wildlife made my heart beat faster, and the research was fruitful. Most days I cooked my own food, as I was staying at a friend’s vacation home.

Here’s the lowdown, by the numbers:

• 3,700 miles in the air going from NYC to Wyoming and back
• 1,197 miles in a rental car driving around the state of Wyoming
• 11 days
• 14 in-person interviews
• 1,174 photos
• 3 videos
• 6,620 words of note-taking
• 13 paintings

Work like this makes me feel alive.


The 5x7s I painted in acrylic while in Wyoming. (I gave away the 13th one.)

Cheap Chicken

The photos and videos of chickens in factory farms are horrifying. The research into birds given antibiotics–and what that means for both us and the chickens–is scary. And a free-range, organic chicken costs almost five times as much as a Perdue chicken in my neighborhood.

We have found halal chickens are the best value when we want to eat ethically. But we are pretty strapped for cash, and we have two hungry boys. So about half the time, we buy Perdue chicken or similar. Fairly taste-free, so oversized that our older son ponders whether they have benefited from breast augmentation courtesy of Uncle Rico, this chicken meat needs a lot of help.

Today, I sliced open some skinless boneless breasts and put slivered scallions in the cavity. I sprinkled lemon pepper on the inside, then bound them around with two slices of par-baked thick-slice bacon, misted them with olive oil, and baked them.

We had already had a big meal at lunch because my wife teaches at night, so I only made asparagus to accompany. To sauce it all together, I took some of the rendered bacon grease, fried some garlic, added white wine, lemon juice, and water and a bit of chicken bouillon paste, and reduced. I added some dried rosemary and thyme, then mixed about three Tablespoons of sour cream with one Tablespoon of flour, and thickened the sauce with that. I poured that over the finished chicken and the asparagus.

Lift Your Little Head Up to the Sky and Sing

With apologies to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I present this fun little painting.

Lynne and I saw this song sparrow nearly every morning for a month on our morning walks to Dyckman Fields. We walk together for exercise, but it also gives us a chance to talk to each other beyond the admin stuff that dominates so much of our household conversation. Each morning, this little bird inspired me, singing his heart out, head tilted up to the skies. Wonderful.

So I took lots of photos. I drew him a few times and settled on a pose. I drew the pose on a piece of wood I–ahem–upcycled from the curb, and sent the photo to my good friend Jim Coe for advice. He is a bird expert and a fine painter, so I wanted to know if I were veering too far off the path on this. I am not a very tight painter, but accuracy counts. That’s the journalist side of me.

So he gave some tips and i burned it and then I painted it with acrylic. I love this darling little thing, but I put it up for sale here.

Burning Wood

Burning Wood

For a couple of years, I’ve been borrowing my older son’s woodburning tool to draw on wood, then painting it with acrylic paints. I’ve used slices from tree trunks and nice hardwood boards from drawers I find discarded on the sidewalk here in Inwood.

This morning, I drew, burnt, and painted this drawer back. I took the photo of the American goldfinches about two weeks ago on a morning walk with my wife.

I enjoy burning wood, and have since I was a boy. I like painting on wood, too.

D2-Style Pernil

D2-Style Pernil

I make pernil almost twice a month for my family. Everyone loves it, and it’s economical. Pernil is a pork shoulder that is slow roasted with Puerto Rican spices. Our neighborhood is a great place to buy the pork shoulder; the customers want a pernil that has lots of fat in it and a thick layer of skin on one side. If you buy a pork shoulder in a fancier neighborhood, it will be too lean and trimmed too close to be of any use to me. I don’t pretend that my pernil is authentic. True Puerto Rican style would be to cook the pernil so that you can eat the chewy skin. I braise it. I also don’t make my own sofrito. I’m not a good Puerto Rican, but I get a pass because my Southern roots blend well with that cuisine in a few crucial ways.

Here’s my process.

Pork shoulder, Sazon Ranchero, three packets of Sazon powder, Adobo powder.

I cut a slit along the top of the skin and cut a big pocket in between the skin and fat and the meat.

Cutting a pocket in between the meat and the fat/skin

I put Adobo powder, Sazon powder (both Goya) all over the shoulder and plenty in the pocket. Then I squirt as much Sazon Ranchero liquid into the pocket that it can hold, squishing it around so it gets all the way down into the bottom of the pocket.

Squirting Sazon Ranchero into the pocket and squishing it all around.

Add a dribble of vinegar to the bottom of the pan, then I put it in the oven at 9am at 200 degrees.

A bit of vinegar before it goes in the oven.

At 6:30pm, I take it out and suck all the pot juices out with a turkey baster. That liquid gold will be used to cook the rice. (I also put some in the small colorado beans that I have simmering with diced carrots and onions.) Then, I pull off the skin and pull out the big bone from the shoulder, and serve the pernil in a big bowl with tongs.

Rice n beans and pernil

I put lots of hot sauce on my pernil. Ω

Lots of Frank’s Hot Sauce for me, please!