What a strange feeling; is destiny calling? At first I couldn't see what it was that had me in the moment that, if I don't react, now, my life will never be the same again.
It's kind of like, not exactly, but similar to that "moment" you try to articulate to your kids of when you met their mother. Chance obviously has a big play in it. And, again, I hasten to add that discovering a smoker at the Murrumbateman field days, isn't quite the same as when you find a life partner, a very patient one at that, and create a family rather than a slab of bacon.
However, chance had me this day, walking through the arena with my one polished Blundstone boot – those people that sell you dubbin will never do both no matter how you try and trick them – with my son, whose existence is inextricably linked to me meeting a tall girl with a big smile in a bar almost 30 years ago, and getting this feeling again that I need to react.
What was it that was drawing me in like a blowfly to a horse float? I looked around and nothing seemed to stand out, alpaca stand, the snake man, for some reason beyond comprehension, a Costco stand, but still nothing that interests me ... hang on. There's this guy, quite unassuming yet with a confidence, standing next to a wine barrel. He is looking directly at me with a slight grin on his face. Out of the barrel drifts a little smoke, hickory I think. I edge closer, unable to look away. It's all happening, again, in slow motion. "Welcome," he says, "I believe I can help you. Is this what you have been looking for your entire life?"
Attached to the barrel is a UFO Cold Smoke Creator. To sum up – and I know that any man worth his salt out there at this moment is web-searching this – a stainless-steel tube that you fill with wood chips of your choice and ignite at the bottom. Attached to this is a fish tank pump that passes air through the device, collecting all its woody goodness and then passing this in any vessel you can think of. A wine barrel, or an old Weber, that fridge you can't seem to get rid of, your garden shed.
They all become potential smokehouses. Cripes, I can envisage a caravan and you smoke your cold cuts as you drive around blocking the roads. This little device, designed by the Kiwis to show that they are not only better than us at rugby but can also invent stuff, is a gem and we should all take a minute to respect the great mind that came up with this.
Once I was dragged out of there, I could not get home fast enough to start drilling holes in anything that could remotely become my new smokehouse. Sure, the chicken coop was going too far – you can't give them a little smoking while they are still clucking, but I was heady with possibility and only limited by my as yet fully explored imagination.
The biggest downer, of my life I think, was getting all this ready, my pork belly salting away in its brine, and the WHO (World Health Organisation) brings out their untimely warnings on the dangers of eating processed meats. What?
Sure it wasn't directed at bacon in particular but all foods containing nitrites and nitrates, so anything from your local deli. And the news is not good. Eating this stuff "apparently" could only be more dangerous to you if you did so while having a cigarette in Chernobyl.
To say that I'm devastated is to not fully understand how tightly I've hitched my existence to this beast. For close to 10 years now I've have basically been showing you really tasty ways of killing yourself. It's early days yet, and you know that there must be reasonable people involved who can check this out, find the real villains. I have always thought kale and quinoa would be seen in years to come as the worst legal things you could put inside your body. Surely bacon, sweet, salty, smoky bacon can't be bad for us. It's some vegetarian beat-up, or hopefully this is all just a weird nightmare brought on by the pungent smoke that exists in my house now that I've converted the laundry into a smoker while my wife is overseas.
I'm going to make a stand here, be defiant and say, sure all things in moderation but surely using a little smoked bacon as a dressing for oysters couldn't possibly do you any more harm than living in the horror that life would be without cured meats.
For this you need a good bacon, and the best comes from the Pialligo Estate Smokehouse – sorry boys, I feel for you in this, bacon's lowest hour – and you need big oysters, those that can take some heat and there's none better on the planet than those that come up from the south coast and get sold at the regional markets by Tall Paul.
Oysters kilpatrick: A finger to the WHO!
12 large pacific oysters
4 slices Pialligo Estate Smokehouse streaky bacon, chopped
3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp barbecue sauce, of good quality
1 tbsp Maggi seasoning
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
100g gruyere cheese, finely grated
Arrange the oysters on a heat-proof platter and heat the grill in the oven. In a small pot, cook the bacon, in its own grease, until crispy. Add the various sauces and cook down until thick. Cool a little and divide among the oysters. Sprinkle lightly with cheese and place under the hot grill and cook quickly until cheese starts to melt.
Fun fact – If you have a butane flame thrower for caramelising creme brulee and whatnot, this is perfect for flaming the oysters – it's quick, visually pleasing and a neat party trick.