This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reply to a Reader--Good sources for meat

Seafood Hound,

My best sources for good quality beef are all local sources--small farmers who raise a few head of cattle specifically for sale on a small scale. I buy a 1/4 or 1/2 a cow and they arrange to have it packaged according to my needs. I have a close enough relationship with my supplier that he is also willing to let my beef age significantly longer than is generally done in grocery stores (usually 5-7 days). Mine is aged for 3 weeks. The difference in taste is unbelieveable! I also have local sources for lamb and pork. Check your local newspaper or the internet for someone offering meat privately in your local area. If you don't want to buy a whole side of beef, ask a friend to go in with you on it--or two or three. Sadly, the days of the local butcher shop, the kind that were in every town when I was growing up, with sawdust floors and men behind a meat counter who will cut the meat to your specific needs, are about gone. If you are lucky enough to still have one where you live, and it sounds as if you don't, these can still be great places to buy your meat. Develop a relationship with them, bring them a gift at the holidays (a fifth of their favorite libation works well) and spend a little time schmoozing when in their shop. Ask for suggestions, give them a chance to offer advice. They love this and listen carefully so they know you are interested in learning. They really love that! Best of luck to you and happy holidays, Chef Michael

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Chef Michael Will Be Away!

I am away just now. First, a new wireless system is being installed and so access to this site is difficult for the moment. Second, I will be visiting Bristol, England for two weeks to visit family. I will return in January if not sooner with more entries. I hope to be able to send greetings from England and Wales, where I will spend the new year. Perhaps a photo or two and some more foodie type news. I am anxious to find out about how great the food has become in England since my visit in 1972 (Okay, okay, I was there in 2002, but I did not eat at any of the posh new English eateries). I'll report to you and be back to more regular entries after the new year.

Have a safe and joyful holiday season.

Chef Michael

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Roasted Rosemary Sweet Potatoes and Red Potatoes

This potato combination is superb for a winter supper. The great nutritional value of the sweet potato combined with the fresh earthy flavor of new potatoes, finely chopped rosemary, butter, olive oil, salt and pepper serves up a fantastic side dish for fish, beef or chicken.

2 pounds of red potatoes
2 pounds of sweet potatoes
2 T fresh rosemary, finely chopped
4 T sweet butter
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the potatoes into bit size pieces (smaller pieces will cook faster) making sure the pieces are the same size. Place onto a baking sheet. Finely chop fresh rosemary and sprinkle over the potatoes. Drizzle olive oil over the potatoes. Salt and pepper. Mix the potatoes making sure they are well coated with the oil and herbs. Finally, cut up butter into bits and scatter them over the potatoes. Place in oven and roast turning potatoes a couple of times during the cooking process to evenly brown. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Salmon with Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce

The beurre blanc sauce is a branch off of one of the original four basic french mother sauces. Any chef must be able to successfully create any one of them and hundreds of dozens of variations, sans recipe, before ever receiving their diploma. Those four sauces are the basis for all of the other hundreds of other sauces in the world.

Bechamel Sauce (white)
Veloute Sauce (blond)
Brown (demi-glace) or Espagnole Sauce
Hollandaise Sauce (butter)

The original sauce would be made with egg yolks, but with so many concerned about the safety of eggs not cooked to oblivion, something had to be done. While nothing satisfies like the real thing, this version comes closee and is more forgiving. The basic sauce can be modified in numerous ways to enhance or bring forward a multitude of flavors from various meats or vegetables as in the version below.

Citrus Beurre Blanc Sauce

1 c heavy cream
1/2 bottle dry white wine
2 T minced shallot
2 T capers
juice of one fresh lemon
8 oz. sweet butter (2 cubes), cut into pats

Pour wine into a sauce pan. Add shallots. Bring to boil and reduce t about half. Add lemon juice and caper and continue reducing another couple of minutes. Stir in heavy cream. Reduce this to about half or until desired thickness. Reduce heat to medium. While whisking, add pats of butter one at a time. Allow each pat to melt before adding the next one. When all the butter is melted, turn the sauce to low and hold until ready to serve. Do not allow the sauce to get too hot (above 170 degrees) or it will seperate and be ruined. Spoon over salmon or most anything. It is delicious and rich.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Braised Oxtail in Red Wine and Mushroom Sauce

Oxtail, literally the tail of the ox cut into sections about 2 inches in length, was once thought of as just another part of the animal to eat as nothing would have been wasted. Today, it is the tail from a beef cow and seldom used. It is mostly bone but with succulent chunks of meat if you are willing to do a bit of work for them. Surprisingly, of late, oxtail has become a delicious addition to many upscale restaurants.

Never seen an oxtail at your supermarket? If you can find it, you will usually find the price very affordable. You may have to ask your butcher to order them. At my local supermarket they are often on display but go unpurchased until they wind up in the mark down bin. Sad, because the lowly oxtail, properly prepared, can be a richly delicious bonne bouche.

Here is one recipe I recently developed that I found delicious.

Braised Oxtail in Red Wine and Mushroom Sauce
Serves 6

6 pounds of oxtail cut 1 1/2 to 2 inches thick
2 cups Red Wine
2 cups of sweet onions such as Walla Walla sliced 1/4 inch
4 cups of assorted mushrooms chopped and sliced--shiitakes, criminis, chanterelles, oysters, porcinis and or morels (Use what you can find and experiment. Wild are best.)
2 cups of good beef broth
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Black Pepper
4 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1/4 cup Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Parsley, coarsely chopped

Brown off oxtails in a large, heavy dutch oven. When browned, remove oxtail pieces with tongs. Add onions, mushrooms, celery, carrots and bay leaf to oil. Saute until tender. Add oxtail back into vegetables. Add wine beef broth and wine. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer and cook on stove top for 3 hours or until the meat is nearly falling off the bone.

Uncover, tilt the dutch oven slightly, and skim as much fat as possible using a bulb baster or ladle. Remove the meat to a plate and keep warm. Remove bay leaf. Bring heat back up to high and reduce the pan sauce until thickened. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve oxtails over pasta or mashed potatoes and pour sauce over oxtails. Serve sprinkled with the chopped parsley.

Salmon Leftovers?

A problem like this probbably seldom happens as salmon prepared most of the time is most likely consumed without a thing left on the platter. But, on that rare occasion when a few tidbits might be left behind, don't throw it away. Use it to prepare a romantic, easy-to-fix, gourmet brunch on a lazy Sunday morning.

Scrambled Eggs with Salmon and Hollandaise

4 eggs
Salt and Pepper
1 T sweet butter
2 T diced shallot
Leftover salmon rough chopped or broken into bits
4 slices of bacon, cooked and broken into bits
2 T of chopped parsley or other fresh herb of your choice

In a non-stick pan, melt butter then add shallot and saute until transluscent. Crack eggs into a bowl, add a splash of water to them. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to your likeing. Whisk the egg mixture well to get a fluffier outcome. Pour eggs into the pan with butter and shallot. Sprinkle bacon and herbs over the eggs evenly. Scramble mixture to doneness of your liking.

2 slices of a good rustic-stye bread toasted

Quick and Easy Hollandaise Sauce

3 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 dash hot pepper sauce (e.g. Tabasco™)
1/2 cup butter

In a blender, combine the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice and hot pepper sauce. Cover, and blend for about 5 seconds.
Place the butter in a glass measuring cup. Heat butter in the microwave for about 1 minute, or until completely melted and hot. Set the blender on high speed, and pour the butter into the egg yolk mixture in a thin stream. It should thicken almost immediately. Keep the sauce warm until serving by placing the blender container in a pan of hot tap water.


Place a slice of the toasted bread on a plate, dish scrambled eggs over the toast. Ladle the Hollandaise over the eggs and around the plate. Sprinkle a bit of Paprika over the Hollandaise.

Serve with a glass of Mimosa (Orange juice and champagne) and the Sunday paper. Bon Apetit!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Salmon Recipe from Tim

We were over visiting our friends Tim and Kevin the other day. I was sharing my good fortune during my summer fishing trip. We were making a date to have them over for a salmon dinner and Tim mentioned a recipe he had that he particulrly liked. I liked teh basic idea, but as is my way, I took it and walked off in a slightly different direction. Here is what I came up with:

Salmon with a Citrus, White Wine and Dill-Mustard Sauce

4-3-4 oz. Salmon filets with skin on.
1/2 cup--Dijon Mustard
4 T fresh lime juice
Large splash of white wine
fresh dill finely chopped
2 T--sweet butter
Finely Chopped Italian Parsley for garnish

Thinly sliced shallots or,
thinly sliced sweet onion such as Walla Wallas
1 c canola oil

In a sauce pan stir together mustard, lime juice, and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce to a thickened sauce. Finish by stirring in the butter. Use a pastry brush to coat each filet, skin side down, with the sauce.

Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven. Cook about 15-20 minutes or until salmon flakes with a fork.

Using a vegetable slicer or mandoline, slice onions paper thin. In a fryer or put oil in a heavy skillet, heat oil to 350 degrees being careful. Dry onions carefully before frying. Place onions in oil and deep fry until golden brown. Drain and salt onions. Before serving the finished salmon, place a small nest of the onions on a plate. Place the finished filet on the onion nest. Drizzle remaining around the onion nest and the plate. Sprinkle plate with finely chopped Italian parsley. Serve.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

More Fun with Salmon!

Next time you visit your fish monger and pick out a nice whole salmon, no matter how you have them prepare it, filets, roasts or steaks, make sure you leave with the entire fish. Many times they assume you won't want the backbone or head of the fish and these contain some very usable parts--if you know what can be done with them and are willing to take the extra time. The fish monger will most likely sell those parts, you already paid for, to a crabber as bait. The backbone usually has quite a bit of delicious meat left between the rib bones and the head is also full of delicious salmon flavor.

Have them wrap up those parts separately. Take them home and freeze them until a day when you have the time to make this fabulous recipe.

Salmon Chowder

Place salmon bones and heads in a stock pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the water has been reduced to half. Pour through a strainer retaining liquid. Pick as much of the salmon meat off the bones and set aside.

2--russett potatoes cut into 1/2 inch square pieces

2--carrots cut into 1/2 inch square pieces

2--stalks of celery cut into 1/2 square pieces

1--large onion chopped in 1/2 pieces

2-ears of corn on the cob with corn removed from cob

2-T of Olive oil

2-4 ounce filets of salmon

1--quart of half and half

4--T of butter

4--T of flour

salt and pepper

parsley coursely chopped

1--bunch green onions dark green part sliced

Baked salmon filets until flaky, then set aside.

Place olive oil in large saute pan. Heat pan and add five vegetables. Add one teaspoon of salt and pepper and sweat the veggies until they appear opaque. Place veggies into a stock pot. Pour salmon stock over vegetables.

Using the same saute pan, make roux with 2 T of the butter and the flour, then add half and half. Stir constantly allowing mixture to come to boil and thicken. Add roux to vegetables and add the salmon meat from the bones and the filets. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer about 20 minutes or until potatoes and carrots are tender but firm. Add chopped parsley and tyhe remaining butter, stirring into mixture just before serving. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Pour into bowls and sprinkle green onions in the center.

Serves 4-6

Sunday, September 23, 2007

If You Must Break Rule #1

Here is Part II of my salmon recipe series. If you recall from my "Rule #1" entry, I said that salmon is at its best when you keep it simple. When you are paying upwards of $15-$20 a pound for anything, you should want to taste the thing you bought, not the far cheaper ingredients you purchased to make a relish or sauce to cover it up.

Realistically, of course, many folks just can't help monkeying with perfection and I suppose one can't be blamed for wanting to have a bit of variety. So if you are one of those, here are some recipe ideas that don't get too carried away while still retaining the integrity of the salmon.

Barbequed Ginger Miso Salmon with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes

Give your next dinner an Asian flavor with this unusual salmon glazing and mashed potatoes like none you have tasted before.

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 T low sodium soy sauce
2 T hot water
2 T white miso paste found in Asian food stores
2 T fresh grated ginger
4-6 oz. King Salmon filets, skin side down
green scallions sliced on the diagonal
salt and pepper

Preheat your barbecue to medium heat. Combine first 5 ingredients, stirring with a whisk. Arrange fish in a shallow tray lined with foil and suitable for use on the barbeque. Spray foil with cooking oil. Lay salmon filets on foil skin side down. Spoon miso mixture evenly over fish. Barbecue about 15-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Bast twice with miso mixture. Let salmon rest for 5 minutes. Keep covered with foil until ready to serve.

Sprinkle with scallions before serving.

Serves 4.

Mashed Potatoes:

1 pound cubed peeled Yukon gold potato
1 tablespoon wasabi powder (dried Japanese horseradish)
2 teaspoons butter
1 carton (8 oz.) plain low-fat yogurt

Place potatoes in a saucepan, and cover with water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender; drain. Return potato to pan. Add the remaining ingredients, and mash with a potato masher.
Yield: 5 servings (serving size: 1/2 cup)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Richmond Night Market

Richmond, British Columbia, Canada plays host to an Asian night market on summer weekend evenings. Music, kareoke, great deals on clothes, electronics, luggage and more, plus a fantastic array of foods from Asian nations including China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand. Some of the offerings are recognizable from any neighborhood ethnic Asian restaurant, but many others are more exotic and hard to find. Pronouncing the names of the foods is beyond me, but we ate dishes with octopus and squid, pork, beef, chicken and then there were the dishes featuring fruits. We tried a UFO, a dessert made of shave ice piled high and sprinkled with fresh stawberries, mangos and the fresh juices from those fruits. Delicious and refreshing!

All of this fun opens at 7 pm and continues until midnight Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout the summer. It comes to an end all too soon in early October.

Everything is done with cash. With the exchange rate almost even at this writing, they even take American dollars, though you'll receive Canadian money in return.

Most food items are $2 to $3, however there are some items which are pricier and

you can opt for combination plates that will give you a variety of tastings and include a beverage.

Check out this fun video clip of aguy selling a knife ala Ron Popeil in Chinese! People watching is definately great at the Market. So many people representing so many cultures.

Everyone was having fun and I felt absolutely safe despite the fact that there were so many people.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Rule #1

Salmon needs very little to make it awesome. I have seen people smoother it in sauces of all sorts, with fruit, veggies, seen it baked, fried, roasted, BBQed, seared, sashimied, you name it. I recently saw a recipe that called for the salmon to be smothered in mayonaise. Please people, keep it simple!

Salmon is at its best when it is lightly salted and peppered, a pat of butter placed in the middle and baked in a 375 degree oven until done. How long is that? Depends on the salmon, and the size and thickness of the filet or steak. It takes some experience doing it before you get the hang of it. Generally, a filet or steak will take between 20-30 minutes. Check to see if the salmon flakes easily and is a pale pink color in the middle. All you really need to worry about is that it is not overcooked. When salmon is perfect it is moist almost to the point of underdone.
Keep the fish and the plate simple and elegant. Serve the salmon with a mild vegetable such as broccoli or haricot verts, and with a light starch such as a long-grain rice. Salmon can stand on its own but it can be overpowered by what you serve it with. Honor it with simplicity!
Here is my salmon recipe of the day:
1--3-4 ounce piece of salmon filet per person with skin on.
Lightly oil with Olive Oil
Sprinkle with Kosher Salt and fresh ground pepper
One pat of fresh creamery butter in the middle of each piece of fish.
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees.
Place in a baking dish skin side down. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes.
Remove from oven. Let rest 5 minutes before plating.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

What To Do With All This Fish?

While attending my institution of higher learning way back in the 70's, I found myself in need of a means of supporting myself. Little money came my way from my family and after my dad passed away things got really tight. So I went to the school food service office and snagged a job as a dishwasher in the dorm cafeteria. Pots and pans, dinner plates, cups, glasses and flatware. Tons of it! All passing through a small window by hands sans face. This photo isn't of me but it gives you a feel for the situation I was working in. Imagine dishes times ten and the temperature a cool 100 degrees with humidity though. I worked hard, was never AWOL and eventually earned a rep as being very dependable, an important characteristic in the food service industry.

My boss walked in one day and asked if I'd be interested in being the weekend breakfast cook. Wow, out of the dishroom and into the kitchen? Yeah, I think I'd like that. I wasn't out of the dishroom at all. I just worked the breakfast on weekends and did the dinner dishes during the week. No problem. I worked 7 days a week and continued to be dependable, on-time and I turned out to be a pretty good breakfast cook. Eggs over easy, poached, sunny-side up, bacon, sausage, pancakes, you name it and I did it.

My boss walks in one and asked if I'd be interested in working in the main cafeteria. Out of the dishroom and into the main kitchen? I'd like that. Once again, I was in the dishroom. This time at the central cafeteria's main kitchen, a much bigger faciity and much busier place. I was still the breakfast cook on weekends at the dorm. Oh, well. I was always on time and dependable.

My boss walks in one day and asked if I'd be interested in working on evening catering events. "Would I be out of the dishroom?", I asked hopefully? "Oh, yeah", was his response.

Within the year that I'd been hired as a dishwasher at the dorm, I was the Student Manager and Catering Chef for all evening events at the school. During the next 2 years I attended every training session held by the corporate chefs that stopped by from time to time. Often I was the only employee that paid any attention to what the chef had to say. I listened and learned and I learned a lot. I prepared dinner for George Bush the first (I wouldn't boil water for George Bush the second.) He was only the CIA director at the time, but you'd have thought the president was eating with us what with all the security surrounding the event. Later in my career I cooked for the San Francisco 49ers camp, and many other well known dignitaries. I even cooked for the Gallo family of the Ernest and Julio Gallo clan. Today I cook mostly for special events around our church, community charitable organizations and the occasional catered event of one sort or another. Professional cooking is a young man's game and takes a horrific toll on you physically even when you are in good shape--and few cooks are in top shape. So doing it professionally on a day to day basis for me anymore is just not in the cards. Besides I have a full time job already as a teacher I love. So, nowdays it is just for the love of it and the fun of cooking for friends and family.

All of this was to give some background on my life and knowledge of the culinary arts as I prepare to launch into a series of blogs on the subject of cooking. First stop. . .what to do with all that fish I caught this summer. I am going to do a series on preparing salmon and halibut your friends will love. So stay tuned!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Final Tally

Our trip ended with our having caught our limits of King, Coho and Halibut. The fish on the right in this photo are the Kings which averaged a little over 20 pounds with the largest coming in at 26 pounds and my biggest fish about 23 pounds. Our catch of halibut averaged about 20 pounds and the Coho were about 12 to 14 pounds. The Coho catch are in the photo on the left. We also caught a couple of Redsnapper (below right) and a Ling Cod which met keeper status.

Besides the fun of catching my first ever salmon and catching my limit, there was the sheer beauty of the place. Being 22 miles off-shore, in a rolling sea with little possibility of being saved should anything go wrong was exhililarating. Surrounded by wild sealife, whales breaching, porpoise swimming in groups chasing bait fish and jumping out of the water the way you only see them do when at Sea World. Seeing eagles, sea lions, and critters of all sorts in their natural habitats was just amazing.

The natural beauty of the land was also awe inspiring. Hearing the bells of the off-shore bouys clanging mysteriously in the distance through the fog and the foghorn and light beaming from the lighthouse in predictable cycles were reassuring as we approached the coastline and got our first glimpse of land after a rainy, windy day at sea.
All in all, it was an adventure I hope to repeat again next year. Not just because I will have the chance to refill my freezer with fish I caught myself, feeling the wildness of the fish as it fights at the other end of the line, but because of the comraderie with friends and the opportunity to be in nature, surrounded by it, a part of it, feeling it with all 5 senses, not as we usually are, casual observers looking at it in captivity or through the windshield of our automobile. See you next year!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fishin"--Day 4

Today we ventured out to the outer banks, 20 plus miles off shore. The weather was finally cooperating and we couldn't wait to get out to where the fish were really bitin'. It took nearly an hour to cruise out to the South Bank. These banks are areas of fairly shallow water (still 200-300 feet) where in this case the fishing is great. Here Coho nearly jump into your boat. We would have Coho on our lines before we could get the line down to the depth we wanted. Then we would have to reel them in and determine whether they were keepers. The rule in the area was that if the Coho had no adipose fin, it meant the fish was "marked" and threfore could be kept. The adipose fin is located between the caudal (tail) and dorsal (the one on top) fins. It is sort of like the appendix in a human. It has no purpose but it is still there. The adipose is removed at the fish hatchery before the fish is released into the wild. The adipose fin can be seen on the fish at the right just in front of the tail on the top of the fish.

The water was flat calm all day and the temperature in the 70's. Perfect day for fishing and boy were the fish eager to please. Here we were in a 21 foot boat sitting on top of 250 feet of Pacific Ocean, 22 miles from the nearest land. Extraordinary! The Coho and Kings were all biting today. We wound up with nearly our limit of fish. In the afternoon we jigged for halibut (photo at right), a technique in which you place a lure on your line and send it to the bottom. Then you jerk or jig your line off the bottom every few seconds and allow it to drop back to the bottom. The halibut sees the lure rising and falling, rises from its resting place on the bottom and eats the lure. Now the steady and tedious reeling begins to get the halibut the 200 plus feet to the surface. It wears you out getting the fish up but then you have to get the fish in the boat and the fish doesn't like that idea. Rick uses a gaff, a stick with a sharp metal hook on the end to stick into the fish as soon as he can reach it. Then he pulls it up over the rail and into the boat. Whew! I could not get the idea apparently as I never did actually catch and reel one in on my own. Rick caught them all. On one he knew what he had and then handed me the rod. I reeled it in and landed my first halibut--a fish about 15-20 pounds.
We headed in after an incredible day of catching, keeping, and releasing Coho, King and halibut. The long cruise back to port was uneventful and pleasant due to the warm weather and calm seas, a day that would not be repeated the last day of fishing.

Fishin' Trip--Day 3

So just where in heck is this place I can barely pronouce--Ucluelet? Well, it is pronounced You-Clue-Let. Now run it together and you've got it. Where is it? A map of western Canada will show you a large island--Vancouver Island. No, Vancouver, British Columbia is not on Vancouver Island. Victoria is the provincial capital of British Columbia and the largest city on the island. A vast majority of the island is nearly inaccessible except by logging roads, boat or seaplane. It is mainly forest, lakes, rivers and stunning beauty.

The map at right shows Vancouver Island and about a quarter of the way up the west side (the left side) of the island you will find Ucluelet right below the Pacific Rim National Park.

Today was a stormy day and we headed towards Barkley Sound which is that area of water just between Ucluelet and Bamfield. You can't see them on this map but Barkley sound is covered with islands called the Broken Group (aeriel photo on left) and it was on the leeward side of those islands that we went fishing. Had a bit of luck here mostly with Kings and a Coho or two. On the leeward side of an island there is less wind. It is stronger on the opposite side or windward side of the island because the windward side faces towards the open sea. Fishing on the leeward side was easier and much more pleasant.
By the end of the day we had had another great day of fishing, nature watching and adventure. Only a couple of fish but they were great Kings. Dinner tonight was an encore at Roman's Italian restaurant. This time I had a huge Mediterranean Salad with kalamata olives, cherry tomatoes, red and green peppers, feta cheese and romaine. With it I ordered a bowl of the seafood chowder which was full of crab, shrimp, salmon, potatoes, and carrots in a thick creamy white broth. Another delicious dinner and only feet front our front door. To top off the night, Rick pulled out a tin of cookies his mother had sent along with a half gallon of milk. So dessert couldn't have been better--chocolate chip, walnut cookies dipped in ice cold milk. Then, off to bed before another early rise for more great fishing adventure.

My Fishin' Trip--Day 2

Got up early (6:00 am) this morning. Pulled on my waterproof boots, rain gear, wool hat and trudged out the door to the truck. A short drive over to the marina and we hauled out the ice chest with our lunch fixin's and walked down the gangway to the docks and out to the boat. As Rick readied the boat for a big day of fishing, I stowed away the ice chest and helped where I could to set up the gear. Mostly Rick wanted to do it himself so I watched, learning as much as possible. He attached the down rigger equipment on either side of the boat, pulled the rods and reels out of the cabin below deck and got the fresh bait ready in the bait locker. In the photo at right you can see the down rigger (the black device with the silver rod coming out of it and a red knob). Its job is to lower the lure to the desired depth. To do this a metal cable with a heavy lead ball attached, called the cannonball, is attached to the fishing line and then lowered to the desired depth. When a fish bites the cable attached to the fishing line, the cable automatically detaches from the line allowing the fisherman to begin reeling in the fish.

Today we fished along the stunning shoreline only yards from the rocks at times. We trolled along with the use of a secondary engine, much smaller than the main engine, and called a pusher. The main engine on our boat is a 150 horsepower Evinrude while the pusher was a 15 horsepower Yamaha. The pusher engine is designed to let you move along at slower speeds while consuming far less gas than the main engine. The photo at left shows the two engines on our boat.

The scenery was stunning and difficult to take your eyes off of. We had to really multi-task to keep safe and to land the fish that were biting our lures. But with Rick in charge and taking care to keep our little boat off the rocks and away from other boats in the area, I had much more time to watch the wildlife and take some photos. We saw schools of dolphins, whales breaching, eagles soaring, river otters, deer, and on and on.
We caught lots of small coho salmon, a couple of kings and with the exception of the 2 kings, everything was thrown back in. Too small!
Still, it was a beautiful day, a little rainy and windy causing the waves to keep me off balance much of the time. I need to get some sea legs!
Back at shore we off loaded our catch, cleaned up the boat and headed for dinner. This time we tried Roman's Italian, a pizzeria that also offered pasta and . . .ah, fresh halibut and chips! I ordered it and was not disappointed. We each enjoyed dinner and then walked back to the room for a well deserved good night's sleep.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My first Chinook Salmon

Rick and I arrived in the small fishing village of Ucluelet, British Columbia, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It was quite an adventure just getting there since it took about 3 hours to drive across the island from Nanaimo to Ucluelet. The drive took us through beautiful forests, along roaring streams and rivers, waterfalls and pristine lakes. We stopped along the way at some of the traditional stops Rick makes when he goes to Ucluelet--an ice cream shop, I had Nanaimo Bar flavored ice cream and at a gas and mini-market to buy our fishing licenses. The licenses for 5 days were only about $ 35. It does allow you to fish for whatever you want, wherever you want and as many as you want. There are limits which included, for the duration of our stay, 4 Chinooks, 4 Coho and 4 halibut each.

We arrived about 4 pm and headed straight to the docks to launch the boat, seen here at the left. We were in the water and headed out to fish by 5:00. We kept along the shoreline since our time was limited. Within a short time of dropping the line in the churning water, I had a bite and minutes later my first ever King (in Canada they are called Chinook) salmon. Only about 15 pounds, Rick insisted I should keep him since he was my first salmon. I didn't disagree since my experience fishing, and my last experience was 30 years ago, was that you were lucky if you caught anything and if it was legal, you kept it. Little did I know what was in store over the next 5 days of fishing. Here I am on the dock proudly holding up my first king salmon.

We fished a while longer, catching fish that were mostly too small and tossed them back. Then we headed back in to the Ucluelet inlet to find a spot to moor the boat and get some dinner.

We docked at the government marina, tied up and headed for the truck to go get dinner. Dinner was at the Island West Resort restaurant. I looked over the menu and didn't find fresh fish anywhere. Here we were sitting not 100 feet from the fish cleaning station on the dock and no mention of fresh fish on the menu. No fish and chips either. Weird! So we had an unmemorable dinner and headed over to the motel which was a dive but suited our needs. Unfortunately it was a $100 a night and was worth about half that. It was run by a young Chinese couple who were, for lack of a better word, well, let's just say they need to work on their people skills.

Finally, settled in our room after a long day just getting there and then a couple of hours of fishing, and my very first salmon, Rick pulled out a half gallon of milk and a tin of cookies his mother made just for the trip. They were walnut, chocolate chip (and I think oatmeal) cookies that were to die for. Dipping them into the cool milk and munching on a couple of those cookies was the perfect end to the day. To bed to dream about catching the big one tomorrow!

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Fishin' Trip

I am about to depart on my final big adventure for the summer--6 days of salmon and halibut fisihing off the western coast of Vancouver Island in Canada's western most provence of British Columbia. My golfin' buddy, Rick was a fishing guide in those waters when he was younger. In fact he even took John Wayne out fishing. He promises I will catch my limit of King Salmon and halibut. We will be taking his 21 foot boat out of Ucluelet.

So on Thursday morning we will drive up to the B.C. ferry landing at Horseshoe Bay, cross to Nanaimo on the east coast of Vancouver Island and then drive across the rustic, forested interior of the island to the less traveled west coast and our base for the week at Ucluelet.

We plan to go out about 12 miles off shore or in close to shore depending on tides and the where the fish are located. In between fishing we also plan to play some golf and probably eat all the wrong things. Hopefully we will eat a salmon or two before the week is up and we head home with our limits. Check my blog again in about a week and a half to read the journal of my trip and see some digital pics of the fish that didn't get away.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Aaaaaaand, We're Home!

Whew! Finally arrived home after a very long drive yesterday. Let's see, where did I leave off. Ah, yes.

We spent most of Sunday in Ashland. Drove the 15 minutes from Medford south to Ashland going along old Highway 99 instead of the I-5 freeway. It goes through the small communities of Phoenix and Talent, Oregon in route. Anyway, we arrived in Ashland, easily found a parking place and then wandered through town looking in on shops along the main drag. Most were open but we had little interest in what was being sold. Decided to have lunch at Lark's, a popular and well liked restaurant. We were both disappointed. We shared halibut and chips and a salad and smoked salmon quiche. Very uninspired lunch we could have had in any average restaurant. Glad we had canceled our reservations for dinner the night before. In all the many times we have visited Ashland, we have seldom ever had a memorable meal.

Pardon me for a bit while I step upon my soapbox. Why is it that so many restaurants that could easily do so, overlook something as simple as a garnish on a plate. With a simple garnish of fruit, fresh herb, vegetable confetti, etc. added to a chef's mise en place, a well prepared meal can take the leap to something that absolutely knocks the diner's socks off. Case in point. Lark, our lunch destination in Ashland. I am served a plate of fish and chips. It is all one color--yellow. The breaded fish is yellow. The french fries are yellow. This is a plate you could get from almost any northwest restaurant. But this is supposed to be an exceptional restaurant. So what would set this plate above the average. After all, the fries were fresh and had been twice fried which gives them a crisp outer crunch and a soft baked potato-like inner texture. The fish was fresh or flash frozen and had been dipped in an ever-so-light batter, so it was well prepared. But the monochromatic plate that sat before me gave me that "first impression" so important to anything in life, taht I should have gone to the fish and chips shop down the street where the same looking plate could have been had for a fraction of the price. Garnish people, GARNISH!

More window shopping and then a stop at Starbucks to use up some of the many Starbucks cards I received as end of the year gifts from students. They have come in pretty handy many times this summer. While standing in line, who should we see? Ed Rutschman. He was waiting for one of the shows to start and wandering around town as we were. He was there because his wife was playing in the Peter Britt Festival as she has for over 30 years. So we sat and chatted over coffee and then we all wandered over to the theater to see our first show. As You Like It was playing. It was set in the depression era United States. I am not normallly impressed with alternate settings of Shakespearen plays but this one won me over.

The play over we decided to go back to our room and rest before returning for the evening show. We ate our left-overs from the Black Bear Diner from the night before and then rested and napped. About 7:30 we left and drove back to Ashland for the evening performance. Before the show we visited the festival gift shop and there was Carla Rutschman with a friend. So we managed to see both Rutschman's.

This show was a Tom Stoppard farce called On The Razzle. It was punny, high energy and well done. I especially got into the second half of the show as the pace sped up and built to its climax. After the show we returned to our room and briefly started packing before heading off to bed.

Monday morning we rose bright and early for our drive home to Bellingham. Breakfasted at the hotel, finished packing and loading the car and then off on our drive north. We had arranged to meet friends in Vancouver, WA for lunch at Hudsons in the Heathman Lodge. We left Medford at 8:00 and needed to be in Vancouver by 12:30. Traffic flowed smoothly and we arrived only about 15 minutes behind schedule. As we drove, I worked at finishing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Almost finished just before we arrived so I had to wait until after lunch for the last couple of chapters. We enjoyed lunch at Hudson's and had a nice visit then headed on to our next destination. We had yet another appointment to keep before heading on home. We had purchased some Oregon goodies with which to make dinner at our daughter's house in Seattle. So we continued driving hours longer to get there. I managed to finish Harry Potter. What a great finish to a fantastic series.

Arrived at Kate's house about 5:30 and she was already home. We unpacked our goodies and had a great visit. The dinner of a salad with Oregon peaches, Rogue Creamery Bleu Cheese, red onion and a balsamic dressing accompanied by an artisan bread from a bakery in Eugene, Oregon and a delicious bottle of Oregon Pinot Gris was delicious.

We looked at our watch and realized it was 10:00 and we still had an hour and a half to get home. So we hugged our kid tight, hopped in the car and drove the final 90 miles home. We didn't even bother to unpack the car when we arrived, prefering to just climb upstairs and hop into our own comfy bed. Home at last! What a whirlwind adventure this passed week has been. Now to settle down for a couple of weeks before things get crazy again.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Crater Lake, Oregon

After breakfast we made a very early start driving up to Crater Lake, a place neither of us had ever been but wished we had so many times when passing by this part of the world. Just never seemed like enough time or just wasn't the right time. Today was the day. We drove the 75 miles up Highway 62 into the hills through scenic scrubland and then into the Umpqua National Forest. Driving through the little town of Shady Cove you need to definately observe the speed limits. Cute town and very serious about their speed limits. I nearly got caught going just a little too fast before I spotted the cop at the side of the road. Not satisfied with my reduced speed, he followed behind me most of the way through town and finally turned off.

We continued on driving on up to the Crater Lake National Park stopping to pay our $10 entry fee and then at the visitor's center to get oriented. Crater Lake is actually within the ancient collapsed caldera of Mount Mazama, a volcano which erupted and collapsed hundreds of thousands of years ago. The lake contains the purest water in the U.S. being fed only by rainfall and snowmelt. At its deepest point it is nearly 2,000 feet deep. It is nearly impossible to get to the edge of the lake as it is a collapsed volcanic caldera, the rim of which is hundreds of feet below and with sheer drop offs it is accessible only by a hair raising mile-long trail which drops 700 feet. Of course, it must be navigated back up hill when you leave so it is not for the faint of heart. If you choose to take the trail you will be rewarded with some choices. You can fish and catch all the fish you want without a license. You can swim in the pristine water, though the August water temperature is around 59 degrees. Or, you can take a boat ride out to Wizard Island for a day hike. If you enlarge the photo above you might be able to see the tiny boat cruising back to shore after picking up visitors to Wizard Island. Wizard Island is itself an ancient caldera sticking up several hundred feet above the surface of the lake. The photo on the right was taken on Wizard Island looking at the edge of the Mount Mazama caldera and the rim above the caldera.

We hiked along the rim of the caldera stopping to take a photo or take in the amazing views that changed with each stop. Then we walked over to the Crater Lake Lodge to look around inside and have lunch overlooking the lake. Outside on the front deck of the lodge stood a row of very confortable rocking chairs that give the occupant an uninterrupted view of the lake and a peaceful spot to read, sketch, visit or just take in the beauty of the view. Wildflowers and wildlife were everywhere you looked. Though we saw no black bears, people were warned that they did enter campgrounds and to be careful. We saw these two characters straight out of Walt Disney's Chip and Dale cartoons playing along the trail.

We left about 1:00 in order to get back to town and get some last minute shopping we needed to do before our trip north to home. Apparently it was a good thing that we had left so early in the morning since the traffic coming up to the park was sigificantly heavier as we descended the mountain. We saw Crater Lake at its finest. Quiet breezes blowing through the pines, few people around to spoil the serenity and a chance to see one of nature's most beautiful creations nearly to ourselves.

We arrived back in Medford about 2:00, dropped by a couple of stores including the Rogue Creamery which we had visited on our way south to Atwater. Now we wanted to pick up some of their scrumpcious award-winning bleu cheeses to take back with us. We had even bought an Igloo ice chest just to keep it in. We especially liked their Oregonzola Bleu and the Crater Lake Bleu cheeses. They were melt in your mouth delicious!
Had dinner at the Black Bear Diner in Medford. We didn't have any great expectation. It looked pretty much like the average coffee shop. We ordered the classic comfort food entrees of meatloaf and chicken-fried steak. It was actually really good. Who knew? A stop at Harry and David's to pick up some fruit and nuts for gifts back home and then back to our room. A big day! Tomorrow, Ashland and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Medford, Oregon

Our first full day in Medford was pretty uneventful. Slept in late, had breakfast and then we got moved or rather upgarded to a suite room because we are Choice Rewards members of the hotel chain we usually stay with. It gets us an extra 10% off the room rate, free upgrades when available and we pile up points towards a free nights stay.

Not a lot to say about Medford and environs. We did drive up to Jacksonville which is a very small town in the foothills west of Medford famous mainly for the Britt Festival which takes place this time of year. Very famous classical, jazz and country performers come here to the open air stage. We wandered through the 3 block main street and into the few shops that attracted us. Not much going on.

Then we drove into downtown Medford. Again, not much there. We drove up and down the main street of downtown and found it pretty much dead. So after a while we drove over to the area nearer our hotel. Had dinner at Si Casa Flores again. So good we decided to go again tonight. Then we went to Fred Meyer to find some Oregon wines to take back with us. We found some pretty good deals on local Pinot Gris and bought 6 bottles so we could get the extra 10% discount, plus Oregon has no sales tax so we saved another 8% there.

Back in our room now and ready for a quiet evening watching a movie. Tomorrow we plan to drive up to Crater Lake, somewhere neither of us have ever been but have always wanted to go.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

On The Road Again

Okay, enough wallowing in nostalgic woe is me. This morning we got up and drove back over to Atwater. We had breakfast at Jantz Cafe, a fantastic Mennonite cafe that served great food, especially baked goods. Then over to the house to add a few last minute touches to it before heading north. We stopped by Big Lots last night to pick up a door mat, a wall clock, some new little curtains for the plant room windows. We installed all these touches and made a last swing through each room to pick up any last bit of throw aways. Bud stopped by to say goodbye. It was a bit of a misty eyed moment for all of us. We told him if the house didn't sell we might keep it as a vacation home. He perked up, smiled and said, "really!" We also said goodbye to Connie who lives across the street and who told us to give mom her best when we see her. A last look at the house and then we sped off towards the freeway that would take us due north and back to our home.

We made great time, stopping along the way in far northern California. We stopped for lunch at Granzella's a good deli in Williams that also sells olives. They let you taste them too. We also stopped and tasted olives and olive oil at the Olive Pit and the Olive Hut, both in Corning. It was over 100 degrees and the landscape in all directions was dead grass and occasional ramshackle farms baking in the afternoon sun. We drove on passed Redding, Lake Shasta, Mount Shasta, Weed, Yreka and finally, climbing to nearly 4000 feet, the town of Hilt, the last settlement before the Oregon border. "Welcome to Oregon" the sign proclaimed and for the first time in 3 days my tummy stopped flip flopping. After reaching the highest elevation along I-5 the road began a quick descent into Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. 15 minutes later we arrived in Medford for the night. Halfway home. We are stopping here for the next 3 days just to rest and relax, explore the area and take in a couple of shows in Ashland.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Home Bittersweet Home

Arrived back in our hometown and parked the VW in the garage for the night. As the house is completely empty we had arranged to stay with the next door neighbor who has lived there since 1972 and been a terrific neighbor and friend to our family over the years. Bud also knows everything that goes on in the little town of Atwater. We walked next door and Bud, who has a set of keys so he can check in on things, handed them over and we walked in for the first time since all the contents of the house had been removed. It was completely empty, something I had never seen in the 35 years I have been going to that house. It was a surreal feeling knowing everything was gone and that we were there possibly for the last time ever. We walked around the house looking for anything that needed attention so we could talk to the realtor the next morning. As we wandered the house looking into cupboards and closets, we discovered little reminders of the family that had lived there for 45 years. A yard stick, a little oil can in the furnace closet used to oil the motor every fall, a remnant of one of mom's many arts and crafts hobbies. My tummy would do flip flips just thinking of what a huge change this was going to be in our lives. The end of an era.

A man, our dad, had spent many years of his air force career while living here. His daughter, my wife, grew up here. It occured to me how fleeting life is. You live your life enjoying its moments, its highs and lows. Life comes to an end and nearly everything that you have accumulated, considered dear and valuable, is sold at a garage sale or thrown out with the trash or given to Goodwill. It's gone and can never be relived or reaccumulated. Life, for the rest of us goes on. We are left only with memories, a photo album and maybe a few possessions we kept to remind us of that life that was lived. The center of so much of a life's activity, the most intimate moments in the life of a family are experienced in the home and this home is about to pass on to another family who will live their lives, have their special moments, holidays, and celebrations, never thinking a minute about those that came before. Life goes on.
Our daughter spent many weekends, almost all her major holidays and so many lazy summer days in this house. My wife grew up here. I courted my wife and asked her father for her hand in marriage in that house. Our wedding rehearsal dinner was held at the house. I cooked her parent's 25th and 50th wedding anniversary dinners in the kitchen. So many wonderful memories. So many bittersweet memories.

Bud's wife had passed away a few years ago and so he lives alone now. It was nice to spend the evening catching up with him and getting to know his super dog--Annie. She is a beautiful 2 year old blonde Lab with lots of energy. We went out to dinner at Rizonelli's, a local Italian joint we've been to so many times for their awesome hot salami sandwiches. Then back to Bud's place and more visiting before bed.

This morning Bud fixed us breakfast and then we wandered over to the house to wait for the realtor and to get started cleaning. Andy, our realtor, arrived about 9:30 and we walked through the house and discussed options for fixing certain things that might improve the chances of selling the house. We decided on new carpet in a couple of rooms and to expose the beautiful hardwood floors in the original part of the house--the living room and bedrooms. We also picked out a new vinyl floor for the kitchen. The house will be painted inside and completely cleaned inside and out. Funny, we will probably never see the house when it is finished. Maybe that is good since I will always remember it the way it was. And it gives the house and the lucky family who buys it a new start. So much was taken off our hands that we found ourselves with nothing much more to do except clean out the remaining belongings of our family, place them in trash bags and fill up 2 garbage bins.

So without any further reason to stay, we rearranged our schedule to head home early. Tomorrow, after one last bit of work on the house, one last goodbye to Bud and Annie, we will load up the VW and begin the drive back towards our home. We leave sadly but our home is in Bellingham now. We love it and all our friends. But a part of our hearts will always remain here in little Atwater.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Road Trip To California

We are making a quick road trip down to California and what may be one of the final times we ever have a need to go back to our hometowns of Merced and Atwater, California. The last remaining connection to California is my mother-in-law's home in Atwater. Atwater is a small agricultural community located in central California. Its biggest claim to fame is that it was once the site of Castle Air Force Base which closed down in the late 80's, early 90's. Now it is home to a prison, the billing headquarters for Cingular/ATT cellular, an air museum (a vestige of the old base) and not much else. A photo of the SR-71 Blackbird at the museum is pictured at right. We need to go there to check out the house and see what can be done to sell it. So for the next 7 days, we will be on the road and mostly dealing with mom's house. But in between we will have some fun.

Today, day 1: Monday, July 30th we left Bellingham about 8:00 am and drove south along I-5. We stopped in Portland to get gas and then on to Albany Oregon where we met Carolyn and Sam Darby, very old family friends, for lunch. We met them at Novak's, a famous Hungarian restaurant there in town. We have eaten there before and loved it. We had a great time catching up with Sam and Carolyn's adventures traveling all over the world. They are both well into their retirement years but just don't seem to be slowing down. The food at Novaks was a disappointment. We remembered it being so much better. Anyway, another hour and a half and we arrived at our first day destination of Roseburg, Oregon. That is where I am right now writing this to you. We are staying at the Quality Inn (picture on the right) where we were upgraded to a suite so it is a nice room.
Tomorrow we travel on to our final destination--Atwater, California, our hometown. I will keep you informed about our adventures along the way so stay tuned!