If I'd met Mother Nature in 2012, I would have to assume at this point in 2013 that she is bipolar. Record high temperatures last March pushed us to planting time nearly a month ahead of an average start date. At the beginning of June 2012, we did not yet know that the rain wouldn't fall for another six weeks, and temperatures would hold steady in the triple digit zone.
I asked my sister to snap a picture of me standing in the corn we planted on April 2. I was surprised at how well the crops looked without more than a few tenths of precipitation since seed met soil, and wanted to show off our earliest planted corn blowing away that old "knee high by Fourth of July" saying.
For most people, a barbecue emergency would entail running out of buns or over-charring the chicken wings. For the men and women of Operation BBQ Relief, that means it's time to drive into a disaster zone, fire up their smokers and serve hot meals to people on worst day of their lives.
There is something about barbecue that brings out the best in humankind. It's an inherently generous undertaking. No one makes just enough for a couple of plates; the time and effort just wouldn't be worth it. A giant hunk of meat - a shoulder, brisket, slab or ribs or even a whole, delicious beast - is cause for celebration and camaraderie.
It also presents a built-in invitation in the form of a smoky, meaty scent that acts as a homing beacon to your backyard. If you 'cue it up, they will come.
But after tornadoes laid waste to the town of Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this week, many residents were left without a backyard to call their own - let alone a smoker, tongs or even a plate from which to eat. That's when Operation BBQ Relief rolled in.
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Allison Robicelli is the co-owner (with her husband Matt) of Robicelli's, an award-winning cupcake business in New York City, and author of the upcoming "Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes." Follow her on Twitter @robicellis.
My husband and I lost our first business in the fall of 2009. There were a billion contributing factors: a collapsing economy, a rent hike, a horrific family tragedy and a crumbling marriage that needed to be saved. Talking about it four years later seems like a trivial footnote in our story - some sort of inciting plot device that occurred offstage, scarcely remembered by the time the curtains closed. They hustled, they persevered, they became Q-list food celebrities and they all lived happily ever after.
No matter how far into the story we get, like a broken bone that never quite heals, I can still feel those initial moments of fallout as if they were yesterday: the fear of truly having lost it all; the jarring realization that in an instant, everything we had built may be gone forever and we might not not be strong enough to rebuild. I recall looking at my children and wondering how we let this happen, if we could have prevented it and how we can protect them when we couldn’t even protect ourselves.
It was worse than terror; it was a life without hope. A life I thought of ending more than once.
While we survived, I have been unable to purge the memory of what I felt in those months. The feeling rose again and turned into empathy in the days after Superstorm Sandy, and again this week watching a tornado destroy Moore, Oklahoma.
On his dock along the banks of Bayou Yscloskey, Darren Stander makes the pelicans dance.
More than a dozen of the birds have landed or hopped onto the dock, where Stander takes in crabs and oysters from the fishermen who work the bayou and Lake Borgne at its mouth. The pelicans rock back and forth, beaks rising and falling, as he waves a bait fish over their heads.
At least he's got some company. There's not much else going on at his dock these days. There used to be two or three people working with him; now he's alone. The catch that's coming in is light, particularly for crabs.
"Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that," said Stander, 26.
The Dekalb seed company recently shared a poster on Facebook depicting the top corn yields of 1940 and it got the gears turning in my head. For many decades, corn growers at the local, state and national level have competed in yield contests to see who can grow the most corn per acre. Bragging rights are at stake (and sometimes cash and prizes), and the 1940 yield contest winner for my home state of Indiana harvested 94.81 bushels per acre.
What about that clicks in my ag-nerd brain? The fact that in 2012, hopefully the worst drought of my farming career, saw our farm garner an average corn yield of 94.7 bushels per acre. For all intents and purposes, that's equal to the best of the best in my great grandfather’s day.
The poster shows a 102.38 bushel average for contestants over 12 states. The U.S. averaged about 123 bushels per acre following the horrendous drought of 2012. By those numbers, today’s worst is better than yesteryear’s top dogs.
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