The observer, Jan. 29 

The Observer's mother comes from mountain folk, people who spent their days on Good Ol' Rockytop wrestling black bears, dodging the revenooers, and trying to coax a living out of the scrubbiest dirt known to man. Given that, our well-worn family cookbook is packed with stick-to-your-ribs recipes from back in the day when an 8,000-calorie breakfast of eggs, biscuits, fried 'taters, sausage, bacon, ham, fatback, salt pork and melted lard was considered “a good start.”

Last Sunday, we made one of our breakfast favorites from childhood: chocolate gravy and biscuits. Many Arkansans I know have fond memories of this dish. The rest have no memory of it, because they died long ago from eating chocolate gravy and biscuits. The Diabeetus, you know.

If you're looking to really blow your New Year's Resolution Diet all to hell and back, chocolate gravy is easy to make. It's not quite nirvana without homemade biscuits, but canned will do in a pinch. 

First, get yourself a saucepan, or a generously-sized hubcap. In that saucepan, combine three tablespoons of cocoa powder, three tablespoons of whatever flour you have on hand, a dash of salt, a cup (!) of white sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla extract and enough water to thin it to a syrup. Shoo away your grubby, barefoot kids and wipe your hands on your apron. Over a low flame, heat the mixture until the sugar melts. Add another cup and a half of water and then bring the mixture to a boil over a low flame, stirring constantly. Yell at your husband to get that damn coonhound off the bed. Once the mixture boils, drop in a full stick of butter (!) and stir until it melts. Remove from the flame and serve over biscuits. Thank God for the chocolate bounty he has bestowed. Eat. Then go plow the back 40, because you just ate a cup of sugar, a whole stick of butter and a dozen biscuits.


Joe Neal is the co-author of Arkansas Birds, a fat hardback volume that gives the particulars on birds who live or pass through our state, like movements of resident birds, how rare a certain species is, that kind of thing.

Over the weekend, he collected evidence on another species — humans. Result: People can be no damn good.

In an e-mail to the birding community listserv, Neal recounted his trip last weekend to Beaver Lake, where he'd gone bird-watching with a friend. They spied a large flock of grebes (Horned Grebes, to be exact) rafting there on the lake; 162, by his count. Then this came into his scope vision: A bass boat, driving right for the grebes. It purposely plowed into the flock, never slowing. Then the boat circled back, and one of the guys in the boat plucked what Neal described as a “mangled” grebe from the water. “I heard laughter and saw them grinning through my spotting scope, then tossing the bloody grebe back, like it was trash.”

The Observer knows, as would anyone who reads this awful story, which was the trash.

Unlike dogs, cats and horses, whose protection is being legislated over at the Capitol, waterfowl are already protected by law. Men who get their jollies slicing up birds can be fined and their boat confiscated — if they get caught.

The Observer hopes that a) the next time these guys decide to feed waterfowl to their bass boat motors, they get caught and punished and b) that they are rare variations in their species.


The Observer was motoring along I-630 near Baptist Hospital the other night when we saw a strange, dark shape loom out of the shadows. What we first thought was a trick of the eye turned out to be a guy on a bicycle, descending the freeway onramp. He was coatless, dressed all in dark clothes, and — bizarrely — was balancing a large cardboard box between his chest and the handlebars.

As we passed him by, the bicyclist calmly glanced over his shoulder and then merged to the inside lane, pushing the “share the road” edict to suicidal levels and making us suspect that some sort of recreational substance might well be involved. Luckily, traffic was light, so we didn't have to witness him doing his impression of a bug on a windshield. It seemed inevitable, however. He soon fell away into our taillights.

Godspeed, dumb traveler. We hope you and your box made it wherever it was you needed to be. 



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