Chef Tom’s Cowboy Soup and Story

If I were on a Cooking Show the Story Title (daily prompt) would be my Secret Ingredient. The genre would be my choice for flavor profile.

Flavor Profile (Genre): Western



Troubled route

The thwack of the arrow was sudden and sharp, startling Chica who reared up fast and snorted. Graham stuck to his saddle but pulled the reins up short. “Whoa, girl.” Chica held, breathing hard, still alarmed by the sudden sound.

Graham looked up at the long arrow sticking out of the fat arm of a Saguaro, not five feet from his head. “Them’s Comanche feathers.” he thought, as he slowly turned his head up in the direction from where the arrow flew.  He pondered, “Woulda split my head in two. That there’s a warnin’. Don’t go no further. Old Jake told me this canyon would be trouble. Shoulda listened. But it’s this way, or another three days goin’ ‘round.”

He peered along the top of the canyon walls. “Nuthin’ to see. Maybe a scout, or a huntin’ party. Coulda kilt me sure enough. I best git afore they turn me into a porkapine.”

As a sign of respect Graham raised a hand in the air to say “Message received.” Pressing the reins against Chica’s neck, she turned and headed back the way they came.

“Ain’t gonna get t’ Dove Creek till end o’ the week. They gonna have to start without me. Billy says they found gold up in the Dolores River. Hope there’s some left when I get there.”

A distant rumble of thunder echoed through the ravine. Graham looked up at the darkening sky. His heart did a jump as he realized he was riding along a narrow arroyo. “If the sky opens up and we’re not outta here, there’ll be a flash flood. Porkapine or floppin’ fish, take yer pick.”

He gave Chica a couple of quick jabs in her side. “Git up, girl, let’s go!” Chica took off, winding quickly through the tight walls. She ran straight out though the dust and sharp turns for about a mile before Graham could see the opening into the wide open valley.

August day

The chill in the air told Graham he’d climbed high enough out of the heat of the valley to where he might see snow. Chica ascended slowly up the rough trail towards the line of trees along the top of the ridge.

“Might be able t’see the township from up here.” he thought. “Been three long weeks makin’ it ‘round the canyon, across Hopi land. Nary a soul, neither. They probably saw us. You feel lonely as me, Chica?” he asked his horse. Her silence confirmed it. “Be mighty nice to see someone…anyone.”

Winding through the ragged pines along the rocky rim of the ridge, he pulled up short and stopped. Leaning forward in the saddle, he peered down the long green valley. There in the distance, sure enough, was smoke comin’ from one the big buildings. Graham figgered them tiny insects walkin’ through the street must be local folks.

“Git up, girl, let’s go.” he said quietly, giving Chica’s ribs a soft tap with his boot. She began to make the slow climb down the other side of the ridge towards Wilbur Springs.

Took nearly two hours to get off the top of that perch up in the rocks. He found the dirt road that led to the small town rutted deep by wagon wheels. Ambling his way along he saw a hand-painted board nailed to a tree. “Wilbur Spings”

“Ha!” he chuckled. “Guess the school ain’t built yet. Someone left out a whole letter, and no one even noticed.”

Graham pulled up to the front of Josie’s Saloon, dismounted, and loosely wrapped the reins around the hitchin’ rail. He took a minute to brush some of the trail dust off his pants, kickin’ the front steps to get rid of the dirt from his boots.

“Whiskey’d be good right about now.” he thought, and pushed open the doors to the saloon. There was only three people in the place including the barkeep, but they all turned at once at the sound of him comin’ in. An old gal at the bar’s end sat plump and painted, her breasts barely contained by her corset, and lips the color or ripe raspberries. She smiled a little when she caught Graham’s eye.

“Must be Josie.” he thought, as he made his way over to the bar.


“What kin I getcha, stranger?” asked the tall man behind the bar. He was wiping a glass with a dirty towel.

“Whiskey.” said Graham, reaching into his side pocket for a coin.

Barkeep poured a tall shot into a short glass and pushed it over in front of the man.

“Obliged.” said Graham and took a long pull, wincing as the fiery booze hit the back of his throat.

“Passin’ through?”

“Yup. On my way up t’Dove Creek near the border. Headin’ out first light. Need a room for a night if’n you got one. Place for my horse, too’d, be nice.”

“Plenty of rooms, Mister.” said the big woman at the end of the bar. “No one comes round here much anymore since the mine shut down.” She paused to size him up. “Beds’re clean. Two bits. John’s out back.”

She was grinning at him as he took another gulp of bad whisky. “Watered down, but I’ll take it.” he thought, as the liquor burned its way down his gullet. Graham felt embarrassed at her wide smile. Large, blue-painted eyes, berry-colored mouth, missin’ tooth, and a high pile of red hair tangled up into haphazard curls. She was a sight.  Graham hadn’t been with a woman in…Jesus…can’t nary recollect last time.

This gal is a lot of woman.

“Nights get pretty chilly up this high. We keep the fire going til late, though, so you’re welcome to mosey on back downstairs and have a drink.” She smiled again, and said, “Or something else.”

Old Josie knew what a man looked like when he was interested. She stepped lightly down from her roost at the bar’s end and made her way over to sit right next to the handsomest cowboy come ‘round in a coon’s age. He’s got money, too.  Her perfume wafted over Graham.

“You must be Josie.” he said, placing his hand on her knee.

“And you must be lonely.” she quietly responded, covering his hand with hers.

Completely ill-equipped

Graham wiped the old mirror with the towel from the wash basin. Dipping the dried-out brush into the water, he spread it around on the top of the lanolin cup to get a good lather. He hadn’t had a shave in a while so dragging a dull straight razor through three weeks of rough beard took some doing. But he got it done, splashed his face some, then dried it off with the towel.

He smelled like an old skunk. Like an old skunk who died and was left out in the sun. Standing in the wide washtub, he got himself wet as he could, then grabbed up some of that shavin’ soap and went after the worst parts.

“Josie comes up here I gotta smell better than this. Old gal’s probably used to cowboys a-stinkin’, but I don’t need to be one.” He got rid of most of the reek and got himself dressed. His old clothes brought all them smells back, but they’s all he had.

“Gotta get me some grub, and some more of that watered-up whiskey. See if’n I can catch Josie’s eye agin.” He moved over to the wood-slat bed and sat down on the mattress. Felt soft enough.

Taking one last look in the faded mirror, he gave his mustache a twirl, and let himself out into the hallway, down the winding stairs, to the bar. Heard the fire crackling away and caught the eye of the barkeep. Holding up two fingers, he climbed up on a stool. Bartender poured him a long shot of whiskey and slid the glass in front of him.

“You got anythin’ to eat?” asked Graham. “Feelin’ mighty peckish.”

“Got some chili and cornbread. I can fix a mess of that if it suits yer fancy”

“Sounds good to me. Obliged. And foller this up, would ya?” he said holding up his empty glass.

Graham felt a hand on his shoulder and smelled her perfume before he turned. Josie was standing behind him with a big grin on her face, that one missin’ tooth, and all that red hair.

Cool morning

Graham mopped up the last of his Mexican eggs with a corner of bread, took a final gulp of strong coffee, and caught the eye of the barkeep. He was leanin’ back, rubbin’ on a glass with a dirty towel, and lookin’ at him with a knowin’ smirk.

Old Josie proved to be one of the better romps in the hay. She shore did know her way ‘round, he thought. After three goes he had to say stop, though he coulda gone a little longer. Ended up with his pecker so sore he thought he was peein’ sideways.

That was a lot of woman.

He shoved a few coins towards the bartender, belched long and deep, and said “Much obliged.”

“Anytime, friend. Good luck on yer travels. Watch out fer Injuns.”

“Will do.”

He turned at the door and saw Josie standing at the top of the stairs. Took a minute to take her all in. Her tussled mop of red hair, her ample bosom, that sweet perfume. She gave him a short wave. He tipped his hat. She leaned on the railing and smiled at him, showing that one tooth gone.

Graham walked across the dusty street to the livery and saddled up Chica. He flipped a coin into the hand of the stableman and rode off into the cool morning.

At the top of the ridge, he looked back to Wilbur Springs. Still smelt like an old skunk, but he also smelt a might perfumey…like Old Josie.

And that ain’t bad.

The arrow

Graham stared at the rough pictograph on the canyon wall. An arrow with the pointy end facing left is for warding off evil spirits. This was the third arrow he’d seen since he entered the narrow canyon.

“I gotta stop takin’ shortcuts.” he thought.

There were other drawings along the jagged wall. Symbols for family and for warriors. But there was one that stood out from the rest. Wasn’t drawn in the same style, neither. Where most were drawn by slate and barely visible, this one was darker, almost black.

Graham dismounted and patted Chica on her neck to say “Stay here, girl.” Walking closer to the image, what he thought was black paint was a deep brown-red.

“That there’s blood.” he said, whistling softly.

The drawing was almost human because it had two arms and two legs, but the fingers were long and pointy, like claws. And the head was a dog, or maybe a bear, with big teeth and two big horns comin’ out of each side.

Graham felt the heat of the high sun. The thick silence of the place pressed against him. He took a hard swallow as his heart pounded against his shirt.

“Now, Mister,” he said to himself, “Don’t you go getting’ skeert. Jus’ some ol’ superstition is all.”

He’d heard a story from a band of Pueblos about an evil spirit up here in Ghost Canyon, between the Kachina and Owachomo stone bridges. Supposed to have long claws and the head of a wolf. Navaho called the creature a Skin Walker.

Graham caught movement to his left. He turned to see a large shadow moving steady along the stone wall towards him. Near ten feet away there came a loud, echoing screech that made Graham nearly jump out of his skin. Chica reared up, snorted, and took off runnin’ down the ravine as fast as she could.


Graham looked up just in time to see the biggest damn screech owl he’d even seen dive at his head so that he fell over backwards onto the hard dirt.


This is a return of an old favorite with a new name. One could call it Cowboy Soup, so I am. Full of big chunks of beef and vegetables. Serve it with the Country Cornbread for a tasty, healthy, filling meal.


Cowboy Soup

Serves 6


2 pounds boneless short ribs, cut into 2-inch chunks

2 boxes beef stock (bone broth, if you can find it)

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large white onion, halved and sliced into 1-inch pieces

salt and pepper to taste

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds

2 large celery sticks, cut into 2-inch pieces

2 large zucchini squash, cut in 2-inch chunks

3 large ears frozen corn on the cob, halved

1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

1 small green cabbage, cut into 2-inch chunks

1 whole lime, wedged

12 good corn tortillas

hot sauce

Brown the beef well in olive oil over med-high heat, about 3-5 min per side.  Remove the meat to a bowl.

Caramelize the onions in the fat remaining (turn heat to low and cook the onions in the fat, stirring occasionally until onions are brown and sweet).

Add the garlic. Add back in the meat, sprinkle with the salt and pepper, add the stock, and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 60 minutes. Then uncover and skim off the foam and grease.

Add the carrots, celery stick, squash, corn, green beans, and cabbage. Cover, and continue simmering for 30 more minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Turn the heat off and serve hot with lime wedges, hot sauce and warm corn tortillas. Make sure each bowl gets a couple of big chunks of beef, and a piece of corn.

Country Cornbread

Serves 6


3/4 cup white cornmeal

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk

3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted

Heat a dry cast iron skillet in middle of your oven while preheating oven to 450°F.

Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder and soda, and salt. Add egg, buttermilk, and 1/2 cup melted butter, then quickly stir together.

Remove hot skillet from oven. Use remaining melted butter to oil the pan. Pour in the batter. Bake until golden and a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes total.


The Cleverlys

The Cleverlys

I am VERY happy to have found these guys. They are hilarious. Their gig is to take popular covers and put them through the twangy lens of bluegrass. They’ve earned their name.

I listened to a bunch and liked these the best.

Walk Like an Egyptian

She’s Not There

No Diggity



Chef Tom is currently transitioning from Personal Chef to Private Chef. He also teaches cooking classes, caters small parties and leads overseas culinary tours. His specialty for the last twelve years has been cooking for people with food allergies and sensitivities. His motto is “Food should give you pleasure, not pressure.”

Check him out at

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