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L. Neil Smith's
Number 572, May 30, 2010

"True liberty is the right of every man to
decide for himself what is proper and just"

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A Saucy Proposal
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

As many of my readers know, I'm a Fort Collins, Colorado author of over thirty books, mostly science fiction action-adventure novels, as well as a lifelong appreciator of what I, at least, consider good food. I've written about food for publication on several occasions—anonymously, as a "mystery gourmet"—and talked about it on the radio.

Barbecue has always been a particular favorite of mine. I can remember the taste of the first barbecue I ever ate: takeout ribs from a "Happy Burro" restaurant in Denver, somewhere near Monaco. They came in a neat, white cardboard box with other goodies. My folks used to take them with us to the drive-in movie, also on Monaco. That must have been around 1950; I couldn't have been more than four or five years old. It wasn't until later that I learned they weren't burro ribs.

Okay, I admit I'm a carnivore. I'll eat any critter if it doesn't eat me first. I've never eaten bear or possum, but I have had seal and whale.

No, they don't taste like chicken.

I also still remember "Ray's Barbecue" from my high school days in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. As with many such establishments, Ray himself, a wiry, tough, Italian-looking guy ran the kitchen, sometimes waited on people at the counter, and conversed with his customers about the food and service when time allowed. I think he made his own incomparable sauce, which I tried in vain to duplicate for years afterward.

In general, barbecue has been sort of a life study with me. The worst I've had was in Panama City, Florida. It was a lot like broiled pterodactyl.

Ten years ago, there were no barbecue restaurants at all here in Fort Collins, a city otherwise celebrated for one of the highest number of restaurants per capita in the known Solar System. Although barbecue joints popped up from time to time, they almost always went away quickly, leaving us all tragically barbecueless. Today however, we seem to have over half a dozen, and several of them are very, very good.

In my endless quest for education on this subject, I believe I'm going to write about them next year (if there is a next year), the old and the new. My little book would be a sort of barbecue tour of Fort Collins.

I have fans and readers all over the world, some of whom visit me every year, mostly in the summertime. Generally they're interested in what I'm interested in. I know there are many people in Fort Collins who don't know about these places, and many more tourists who would come just to try them. This little book would be good for Fort Collins barbecue restaurants in particular, and the Fort Collins economy in general.

Permit me to observe up front that, although I know of certain raging controversies inside the barbecue reality tunnel, for the most part, I do not partake of them. There is, for example, the matter of smoking versus grilling. Advocates of each method cruelly deny their opposition's essential barbecueness. I say, bring me both and I'll give them a try and let you know after I recover from the bypass operation.

There are also lots of arguments about meat: chicken, pork, beef, or prawns on the barby. I personally feel that beef doesn't take to barbecuing as well, say, as pork or chicken, and I long to try some of those giant shrimp on my own Weber-clone or a rasher of crayfish. And it would be really fun to cook some bear or possum, or even seal and whale.

One of the biggest arguments in barbecueland involves the use of barbecue sauces. Many purists—mostly of the smoke persuasion—find the idea distasteful. I believe the concoction of sauces is an art all by itself, and I love the varieties you find in different restaurants.

The very best was a chain establishment called Blazers, which offered five or six radically different sauces. I used to go and buy the best meat, from a wild and wooly outfit called Ten Bears (who started with a big smoker on a trailer in the corner of a filling station lot) and then drop by Blazers for a couple of bottles of sauce, including a really garlicky one named after Texas, and one I'm dead sure was made from plums, rather than tomatoes, and labeled "Memphis".

The new restaurants here in town are just as wonderful, in their way. One of them persuaded me that mystery writer Cathy Reichs and the entire state of North Carolina aren't crazy for compounding a barbecue sauce from vinegar and mustard. Another offers a second menu of Cajun food, although, regrettably, mudbugs (maybe I should explain here that I'm talking about the miniature freshwater lobsters we call crayfish) are almost impossible to obtain here in the Mile High state. I'm not entirely sure why, but 95% of the crawdads eaten in America come from Louisiana.

I wish I had time to build a barbecue website, once the book is done. For that matter, I wish I could find financial backing for the book, which would allow me to go out and do more ... well, call it research.

Hey, it's a sticky job, but somebody has to do it.

You learn what's most important to you at times of stress. When I had a heart attack, it was far and away my wife and daughter. When I had to write 50,000 words last November for NaNoWriMo (look it up), I let the brakes off and wrote whatever occurred to me that fit the outline.

The book is called Sweeter Than Wine and my vampire viewpoint character's more or less unfettered stream of consciousness takes him to every interesting restaurant in fictional New Prospect, Colorado. The blood is for the virus, he explains, as he enjoys his hot and sour soup.

Or his doner kebab.

Or his mudbugs, boiled with corn, potatoes, and Andouille sausage.

When you read Sweeter Than Wine—it'll be finished this week and possibly published later this year—be sure and have snacks handy.

Or someone you'd like to bite.

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