This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Green Beans and Bacon

My recent review of The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan set me to thinking about the Okie influences in my upbringing. Of course, whenever I get to thinking about that I inevitably find my way to the topic of food. The table, or "the board"as Gramma Willie referred to it, was the focal point of the home. It was where the family always gathered twice a day weekdays and three times on the weekends.

My Okie Gramma Willie served up simple great food and plenty of it whenever we would visit her ramshackle home in Bakersfield, California in the 50's and 60's. Fried chicken, black-eyed peas, home-made biscuits and gravy. The traditions of her table also influenced the food that went on my mother's table.
As I was preparing a Christmas dinner menu for Christmas 2008, I thought of my Gramma Willie's grean beans with bacon. So simple and about as far away from anything gourmet as you can get, yet they are so incredibly rich with a smoky flavor of bacon.

The recipe:

Gramma Willie's Green Beans with Bacon

6 cans of Blue Lake green beans
6 slices of bacon
salt and pepper to taste

Open all the cans of green beans and dump the entire contents (yes, even the water) into a crock pot. Slice the bacon into chunks about 1-inch wide. Add into crock pot with beans. A few grinds of cracked black pepper and salt the beans to taste. Adjust seasoning after cooking. Turn crock pot on to low and let simmer for 10-14 hours. The longer the better! Beans will darken in color, mush down and bacon will cook through. Stir beans occasionally. Serves 8-10 as a side dish.

Yeah, I know it seems too simple, but remember that a lot of the best things in life are. Try it if you haven't. I think you'll love it.

Note: You can use fresh green beans, it just takes longer to cook them down. I have tried it and I still like the canned variety better for this recipe. Probably just my Okie genes! You can also add some sauted shallots or onions and you can also fry up the bacon before adding to the green beans. Options!
Bon apetit!
_____________________________

Great Books for Great Readers #1

I steer to one side of my series of book reviews centered around cooking and highlight a book that gives life to an era in American history that has a special place in my heart. The book--The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan has won a National Book Award for a beautiful, yet heartbreaking story.

I grew up in a family whose roots were literally in the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. My mother's parents were what were called Okies, a derisive term that labeled a group of folks trying to escape a life of misery and hoping to restart their lives by moving to other areas of America. Many went to California as did my grandparents. Californians rejected them, forcing many to turn back at the borders; others who made it in were not allowed to settle in towns so they built ramshackle Hoovervilles on the edge of towns. Vigilante citizens often with the tacit approval of the law bulldozed or burned many Hoovervilles forcing the residents to keep moving. Those that found work often only found more misery.

Parts of Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Oklahoma and other midwestern states were opened to the land rushes and homesteading that allowed Americans and foreighers to have a last chance at getting a piece of America just by settling and farming or ranching the land. For these farmers this was a dream come true. The virgin land was ready to be tilled and planted and they tore up millions of acres. They planted wheat and some even got wealthy as long as the wheat prices stayed high during and right after World War I. But the price began to fall over the years until the price paid for wheat went below what it cost to produce. Farmers who had ben given extensions of credit bought tractors and cars and built homes. But when they could no longer pay their bills, they found themselves in big trouble. As if that weren't enough, the Great Depression struck in 1929 and banks began to fail across America. Many of these farmers lost all they had saved putting them deeper into debt. Then the 1930's saw a horrendous seven year drought. Suddenly nothing would grow. Poor agricultural practices soon had the parched land beginning to literally blow away. Dust storms of epic proportions, wind blowing across the prarie tore lose the top soil and blew it across America. Combined with blistering summer heat and frigid cold winters, misery made up their daily lives. These courageous people tried to stay and thousands died trying--trying to hang onto a dying dream.

Franklin Roosevelt was elected president and slowly began creating programs to help, but for many people it was too late. Whole towns simply disappeared in the roiling sand storms or were abandoned by those trying to escape. Areas once inhabited by thousands today count only hundreds of citizens if any at all.

This story is simultaneously heart breaking and awe inspriring. The greatest generation is often decribed as those brave souls who fought World War II, but the Okies of the Dust Bowl era were every bit as brave and courageous at a time when their own country all but forgot about them, even rejected them.
I long ago found great respect for my grandparents and their story as migrant farm workers during that historic period. Having read this story gives me even greater reason to honor their memory for the sacrifices they made that gave me so many opportunities they were denied.

For American history buffs this is a must read!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Great Books for Great Cooks # 2

Alice Waters & Chez Panisse

by Thomas McNamee

A history of Chez Panisse, culinary mecca for many slow foods, seasonal and California cuisine afficionados, is chronicled in this book by Thomas McNamee. McNamee was given unprecedented access to the cast and crew of this famous bistro in Berkeley, California.

Alice Waters, the founder, part owner and sometime chef of Chez Panisse is the central character of the story, but the many other characters (and they are characters) who have come through her kitchen and dining room as well as her personal life are introduced.

Alice Waters introduced sustainable gardens in schools and museums; she even tried to convince the White House to create one. She was able to convince school districts to begin cooking according to the seasons, using organic foods cooked from scratch rather than the commonly used procedure of processed foods. Her efforts encouraged small local entreprenurial farmers and ranchers to begin producing foods organically for her restaurant's needs--fruit and veggies, seafood, beef, cheese, etc. The local availability of these foods created a demand which influenced communities far and wide to begin supporting farmer's markets which have proliferated across America.

Today Alice's ideas have spread across the country, even influencing my own school which has created a vital garden right across the street providing vegetables for our cafeteria salad bar in the fall and spring each year. Our school also offers fresh fruit to students daily, much of which is grown right here in Washington state.
Alice Waters and Chez Panisse is also terrific look inside the world of this famous restaurant, the people who have made it famous and the shaky financial history that has come close so many times to closing the doors of this treasure only to have been saved by one benefactor after another.
One of my dreams is to one day walk through the doors of Chez Panisse and spend an evening at a table enjoying not only a great meal, but to bask in the glow of history. Alice Water's influence has changed the way millions cook and the way they think about the food they are cooking--where it came from, who grew it, and how best to prepare it. Thank you, Alice!








Monday, December 8, 2008

Basta Pasta

Homemade pasta! Sounds great, huh? Too much trouble though, huh? Well, now, think about it for a minute.

Pasta isn't that hard to make. There are plenty of easy to use devices on the market to help you out and the fresh pasta that results can not be compared to any of that dried stuff on your grocery shelf.


Wanna make a flavored pasta? Tomato, spinach, squid ink, lemon-pepper? Easy, too! You just need to have a few ingredients on hand.

The real problem is which pasta to make. You should know there are literally hundreds of different kinds of pasta, each with its own purpose, tradition, place of birth in Italy. From angel hair pasta's fine strings to the wide lasagne pasta, to shells of all sizes, tubes, wagon wheels and bow ties, rice-like orzo to stuffable manicotti. The types, sizes, shapes and flavors are almost limitless.

So, what tools do you need? Not much really. Or, you can buy an extruding type machine with dies. They come in all price ranges. I bought my first one from Ron Popeil. Yeah, the pocket fisherman and ginzu knives guy. He actually makes a pretty good machine. I bought mine used on e-bay real cheap and it came with 30 dies, each making a different shape of pasta.

You can also buy very expensive extruders with better dies and more horsepower.

A pasta roller of some type is pretty imperative as the alternative is a lot of pretty hard work--rolling and rolling. The pasta roller machines roll the pasta dough into sheets, thinner and thinner until it is ready to be cut into fettachini or spaghetti, etc. These type machines are limited as to the types of pasta they'll make but they have a reputation for longevity and they do what they do very well. Imperia and Atlas are the most popular brands and they can come with an electric motor. These machines can run $75 and up.

The Kitchen-Aid mixer has a pasta roller option attachement that runs about $100. It will flatten dough, make angel hair, lasagne, or spaghetti.

All of these machines have limitations all have their pluses. Basically if you can get your dough rolled out flat and thin you can cut it or shape it into all sorts of pasta types yourself.


Or, you can make it from scratch on a counter top as in the old style or in a bowl or a food processor. There will be those that turn there noses up at one or more of these options, but in the end you will still have made fresh pasta at a fraction of the cost of the store brands.


Here is the recipe for a basic handmade pasta dough. If you bought and extruder, follow the recipe in their book.


Making the Dough by Hand


Ingredients:

3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 extra large eggs
1 extra large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Pile the flour in a mound on the countertop.
Make a deep well in the center of the flour.
Break the eggs into the well.
Add the salt and oil.

With the fork, gently start pushing flour into the eggs and oil and mixing them together so that the eggs and flour blend.
Mix together until the dough forms a firm, solid ball.
The dough should be in a solid, firm ball that is not sticky. Add more flour if it is too wet. Don't over knead. Wrap the ball in cellophane and set aside for 30 minutes.

Now you need that pasta maker. Roll the dough out according to the thickness needed for the type pasta you are making. Some need to be thinner, other thicker. Ravioli, for an example, needs to be thinner. Tagliatelle and Fettucine need to be thicker. The owner's manual will guide you through this part.

There are other tools you can add to your pasta arsenal. I like my ravioli cutter. Use it to crimp the edges of a sheet of flat pasta dough with the filling laid out and the econd sheet laid over the first. The cutter crimps the edge sealing the filing inside the individual ravioli.

I use a drying rack to hang the still moist pasta after extruding it. It hangs over the rack until dry when it can then be packaged for long term storage. But you can also freeze your pasta for a time if you don't plan to use it all right away.

Finding good recipes for different flavors of pasta is as easy as an Internet search and there are plenty of options out there. It comes down to finding the recipe that sounds good to you. White sauce, tomato based sauces, aioli sauce--what's your pleasure?

To wrap up this blog episode, here is my recipe for Tre-Tinta Pasta Puttanesca.

Mangia!


Tre-Tinta Pasta Puttanesca

Pastas:

Egg noodle fettucine
Tomato fettucine
Spinach fettucine
Three colors honoring the colors of the Italian flag.

Alternative: Use only one color of pasta and purchase a high quality pasta pre-made.

Sauce ingredients:

Italian plum tomatoes either fresh or canned
Olive oil
Garlic
Onion
Red pepper flakes
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Kalamata Olives pitted
Capers
Lemon zest
Fresh Basil
Fresh Rosemary
Sea salt and Fresh ground pepper to taste
Sweet and hot sausage links
Roasted Marinated Chicken Breast


Quick Tomato Sauce: 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 pound sweet and or spicy Italian sausages sliced on the bias ½ inch thick
And or chunks of roasted chicken breast pulled from the bone
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons) 3 cloves garlic, chopped 3 1/2 cups whole, p
eeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped Sprig fresh thyme Sprig fresh basil 2 teaspoons kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs, olives, capers, lemon zest, artichoke hearts and chicken and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Cook pasta in large pot of well salted water until just al dente. Drain but do not rinse cooked pasta. Arrange pastas on large platter according to color of Italian flag. Ladle finished sauce over the top of the pasta. Serve.
________________________________________


















Friday, December 5, 2008

Turkey Leftovers?

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past and that turkey carcass is looking more and more boney, maybe it is time to think about what can be done with it. Sure a quick trip to the garbage can would solve the entire problem, but what a waste of a lot of flavorful potential stock chalk full of vitimins and minerals and, if grandma was correct, healing power for the common cold.

Toss the bones from that turkey carcass into a stock pot and cover it with fresh cold water. Set it to simmer on the stove. Toss in a few pepper corns and a bay leaf. Quick chop an onion and toss it in. Then rough chop some celery (here is a place to make use of the celery leaves usually thrown away unless you are making Bloody Marys) and carrot and toss it in along with a garlic clove or two. Simmer this stock for a couple of hours covered keeping an eye on the liquid level.

Pour off the liquid through a colander and some cheese cloth reserving the liquid. No need to worry about clarifying this stock. The rustic form is fine for our intent here.
Toss the veggies out. Pick over the bones pulling off any meat left behind. Toss it into the reserved stock. Toss the bones out with the veggies.

Next, chill the stock overnight. The next day skim the fat hardened on the top of the stock which will have turned into a gelee due to the protein present in the stock (its like gelatin).

Reheat the stock and reduce it slowly until it has become the strength you like. The more it is reduced the stronger the turkey flavor. You should be able to get a good 6-8 cups of delicious stock from a 15-20 pound bird.

Add in whatever you like. This depends entirely on what direction you want to go with the stock. Add some soba noodles, tofu, ginger and go Asian. Spice it up with jalapeno and cilantro and a little lime to go south of the border.

If you have any more turkey meat left over, chopp it or pull it from the bones and toss it in. Add in any carrots, celery, onion, pasta, beans, rice, peas, whatever you like. Don't add in too much or it can overwhelm the amount of broth so your soup will turn into a stew (unless of course that is your intent).
Simmer your concoction until the veggies are cooked through. Serve immediately in soup bowls with your choice of garnish--rosemary, sage, a little sour cream, whatever.

Away at work all day? Cook the whole thing in a crock pot on low and oh, the smell that will welcome you on a cold winter's night!

Bon appetit!
____________________________




____________________________________

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Great Books for Great Cooks!

If you are looking for a great holiday gift this season look no further than this terrific read from the noted author on cooking-- Michael Ruhlman. The author of other great reads for lovers of the culinary arts such as The Making of a Chef and The Elements of Cooking, Ruhlman has found Foie gras again with his newest book.

The Soul of a Chef: The Persuit of Pefection is a must read for anyone interested in the evolutionary process a chef can go through on his or her journey towards perfection. Not that all chefs aspire to such lofty goals, but the three chefs Michael Ruhlman spends time with in his research for this book are all determinedly looking for it.

This book is divided (for lack of a better word) into three sections though in the final analysis Ruhlman masterfully blends them together. He begins with a torturous journey for a half dozen aspiring Master Chefs through the arduous test to become a Certified Master Chef, a title bestowed to few and then only after an unbelieveable 10 day trial by fire at the Culinary Institute of America. Only one of the chefs manages to pass this ultimate test of skill in our story. Reading this part of the book you feel all the emotions the candidates feel as they slowly drop out of the grinding test or are eliminated from it. Alternately euphoric then to the depths of despair, it really gets under your skin as you read their individual stories.

Next up, Ruhlman takes us to Michael Symon's restaurant Lola in Cleveland. Symons, who is a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America has also become big on the Food Network scene of late. The pace inside his kitchen at Lola is described in frenetic detail as he and his amazing staff, working in hellish temperatures and at a pace that would make most people collapse midway through the service, yet they manage to produce amazing cuisine and love doing it. What drives a person to work under such conditions day in and day out, year after year?

Finally, to a more calm place--Yountville, California and Thomas Keller's The French Laundry considered by many to be the finest restaurant in the United States. Thomas Keller has a more Zen-like approach to cooking--calmly producing his cuisine with care and respect for what the food is and where it came from. He is constantly striving for perfection though many of his diners would argue he long ago achieved it. Ruhlman spends time watching, helping and eating in this fabulous restaurant and we are the lucky recipients of his experiences there.

Each of these scenarios is explored with such care and depth that I wanted the reading experience to go on forever. My next travel adventures anywhere near Cleveland or Yountville will definately include stops at Lola and The French Laundry if only to experience even a little of whatever part of perfection is on the menu.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I'm Back!

Feeling much better and having had a very restful Thanksgiving holiday, I returned to school today and my teaching duties.

Our holiday was low key yet had all the trimmings of a great Thanksgiving meal.

I tried a brinning solution for our turkey using what sounded like a great recipe from the Neeleys from the Food Network. I'd seen the Neeleys themselves demostrating this recipe on two separate shows the week before Thanksgiving. Looked pretty good so I decided to give it a try.

I have considered brinning a turkey for several years now but put it of since my turkeys always come out very moist, which is the point of brinning in the first place. This recipe looked so good and easy I decided this would be the year to give it a try.

Recipe:

1 gallon of fresh cook water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of bourbon
1 Tablespoon of pepper corns

Mix all ingredients well inside a bag large enough to fit the turkey and liquid. Carefully lower the turkey into the bag. Close up the bag and lower it into an ice chest. Cover bag with ice and set out in the garage or other cool room. Or, place it in your refrigerator if you have the space.

Brine the turkey for up to 24 hours ahead or at least 12 hours turning the turkey over at least once during the process. Keep an eye on the ice adding more ice as needed to keep the turkey ice cold.

Remove the turkey from the brine when ready to roast it. Pat the turkey dry and prepare it for roasting as you usually do.
_________________________

I tried this brinning solution and let it brine for about 24 hours. When all was said and done I really couldn't tell any difference in the taste. Of course, I suppose it is possible that this turkey could have been very dry had I not brinned it. But as you can see, it looked great and it tasted as good as any turkey I've ever prepared.



So will I bother to brine next year? Well, it wasn't a lot of extra work, but any extra unnecessary work at holiday time is just a waste of time. So probably not!

The rest of our 2008 Thanksgiving dinner menu:

  • Roast Turkey
  • Turkey gravy
  • Cornbread and Sausage Dressing
  • Roasted Brussles Sprouts
  • Orange Cranberry Chutney
  • Cranberry Fluff Salad
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake w/ Pecan Crust

We had friends over for the dinner as well and Peggy, Lara and Fred all contributed to the meal as well. We spent a wonderful afternoon with Gram and the Wepprechts. Along about time for dessert our friend Scott Opsahl came by for a short visit. By about 9:00 pm everyone had gone and the dinner was all but clean up. I finished carving the other half of the turkey and we found a home for all the left overs in the fridge. ________________________________________

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Feeling a Little Under the Weather!

I don't know what it is, but you certainly don't want it! I cough half the night, run a fever, have laryngitis, a stuffy nose. In short, I feel ucky!
Just when parent conferences are about to start. It couldn't be a worse time. I do have from now until next Monday to get my voice back. Otherwise, I don't know what I'll do.
So stay clear of me if you know what's good for you! I'm quarantined!
I'm taking the next couple of days off work and lying low in hopes that it will clear up by next Monday.
Mommy! A binky, hot cocoa and Andy Griffith re-runs please! Excuse me, while I go to bed!
______________________

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack Obama Wins! America Rejoins Humanity!

It sounds really, really good! President Barack Obama. After two long years of campaigning and eight years of feeling ashamed to have to admit that our president is George Bush, last night at about 10 pm Pacific time, Barack Obama took to a stage in Grant's Park in Chicago, making history and accepting the results of election 2008 with an inspiring speech.

Tears of pride and joy streamed down the faces of millions of Americans, many, of course, the faces of African Americans who have waited for over 200 years for this moment of ultimate acceptance. But all Americans could feel proud of this moment. Here is a leader all can look to as a man of honor, integrity, passion, commitment and intelligence.

His victory speech was eloquent, beautiful, articulate, hopeful and it mesmerized the over 100,000 folks standing in Grant's Park and the millions watching around the world.

Mom and I sat in a living room across town at an election party which was loud and talkative. But when Barack took the stage the mood turned serious--all eyes glistened, all ears taking in his every historic word.

A real sense of pride in our country and a feeling that we had truly rejoined the human race after 8 years of living in the dark ages filled the room.

This morning newspaper headlines across America announced the dramatic news! I looked all over trying to find a copy of the video of the speech and found this link. Enjoy!

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1155201977/bctid1901061128

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wedding Bells


On Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 3:30 pm GMT, our daughter Kate walked into the formal room set aside for such occasions at the Register's Office in Bristol, England. She was escorted by Nick Abbott and surrounded by family and friends. In a brief but solemn and emotional ceremony, Kate and Nick said their vows and were declared married. Then, with lots of smiles and a few tears, we all walked downstairs and out into the crisp autumn day.



The new family members and friends all posed for a few photographs on the front steps of the Register's Office and then walked a few yards to a champagne reception. Ben, the Best Man and Nick's best friend since childhood, offered a toast to the newlyweds and everyone clinked glasses. More photos, chit chat, hugs, kisses, a few more tears, lots of smiles!


Another short walk up the hill to a Greek restaurant for dinner and more toasts with Retsina, the traditional Greek wine made not with grapes but with pine needles. Course after course came to the table. Amazing! No, not more. Pace yourself, more is coming. And it did!

Decisions were made for getting together in the future. We will fly back again in December to be with the entire family for Christmas, Boxing Day, a few days in Wales and finally, the big formal wedding at Ashton Court Manor on January 3rd, 2009.

We arranged a time for Liz and Ray, Nick's parents, to come out to see us in July when they celebrate their 40th anniversary and we have big plans to show them around our Washington.

We also planned a trip to Greece with Liz and Ray the summer of 2010.
The evening began to wind down when those with children said they needed to go. It was way past bedtime for their babies--and for moms and dads who must set their own schedules by their baby's sleeping cycle. It was past their bedtime as well.

Mom and I walked the 25 minutes across town to the kid's flat leaving them to go their new way into the world on their own, but surely not alone. Two families joined by marriage and a common love of these two wonderful people will watch over them and continue to offer love and support.

The next day they headed off for Prague and a short honeymoon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Mama's Macaroni and Cheese

I guess I really don't know where the recipe actually came from. All I know is I learned it from my mother who prepared it for me nearly every anniversary of my birth. I requested it every year and mama happily made a couple of giant Corningware casserole dishes full of this ooey gooey delight--enough to feed a family much larger than ours and yet by midnight even the leftovers would be gone! You could walk into the darkened kitchen, quietly lifting a fork out of the drawer and turn toward the leftover pan only to nearly stab another family member already standing protectively over the dish.

My family today almost never enjoys this comforting dish since the carbs and fat are a no no. But when my wife asked me to cook dinner for her choir retreat, which I have done for almost 15 years now, we started brainstorming. Most years we do a carb fest of one type or another anyway--spaghetti or lasagne. I had been doing Costco frozen lasagne for years and I was tired of it. Tired of serving up a frozen dinner to college kids who pretty much survive on that kind of diet and tired of the routine. The kids love home cooking so why not our macaroni and cheese?


This recipe is as easy as they get, very filling and cheap to make, all three important features for this particular dinner. So here it is:


Mama's Macaroni and Cheese

2 pounds elbow macaroni
2 pounds sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and pepper

In a large pot of salted, boiling water add the macaroni. Cook until al dente. Pour off into a colander. Drain well.

Using a cheese shredder, shred all the cheese into a bowl.

In a baking dish place a layer of the macaroni. Lightly salt and pepper the macaroni. Spread a layer of the cheese over the macaroni. Repeat this process twice more.

Bake the dish in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and crisp and the interior miost and gooey.

Yep, that's it! I told you it was easy. No sauces to make. Just mac and cheese. Once you've tried this you'll never go back to that Kraft box! Bon Apetit!
_____________________________________





Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Da Chili is Good!

With Fall in the air, my culinary thoughts have begun to turn to soups, stews and chowders; hearty, meaty, full of rich flavorful broths and lots of veggies and legumes.

With several groups coming to our home this week, students from the University, friends, etc., I thought it would be a good idea to make a pot of our two favorite and most popular soups--Potato Cheese Soup and my chili beans. My focus in this episode of A Fork in the Road is my chili.

I know there is great debate about how chili should be prepared and taste, whether it should have beans or not, whether it should be sweet or spicy. I have had a lot of bowls of chili in all parts of the United States, most recently on a road trip through the midwest and one of the "chili capitals," in this case, Cincinati, Ohio. I enjoyed the locally famous 3-way chili at Camp Washington and less so at the chain called Skyline. But the chili is to sweet and has no beans. The locals sweeten their style of chili with cinnamon and cocoa powder. Not really my cup of tea, but it was fun and different to have a platter of spaghetti land in front of me slathered with chili, onions, cheese and other available additions, each adding to the name 3-way chili, 4-way chili and so on. Pretty amazing to look at and attempt to consume. Still, I like my chili better!

I can't account for the heritage of my chili's. I learned to make it from my mother who was an Okie and whose parents were from Texas and Tennessee. Does that explain anything?

Regardless, my chili has made a satisfying fall or winter supper for my family for years. It tastes great with chopped Walla Walla or Maui sweet onions and grated cheddar cheese over the top. We have also served the chili over a layer of Fritos and, while living in Hawaii, a layer of sticky white rice. Awesome!

With that big build up, you are maybe wondering just how good is this chili? Well, here's the recipe. Let me know what you think and as always, don't be afraid to tweak my recipe. Add something new to it, increase the spicing. Have fun!

Michael's Chili Beans

1 pound--ground beef
2 pounds--pinto beans (dry or in the can)
3 T chili powder
3 T cumin, ground

3 T brown sugar (optional)
2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic, cloves minced
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed
water
salt and pepper



With dry pintos make sure to pick them over looking for small rocks, dirt or other inedible material. Rinse dry beans in colander, place in a bowl and cover with water over night.

Next day, place soaking beans in a stock pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil and cook until the beans are tender.

With canned beans, drain in a colander. They are already cooked so cooking will take less time.

Saute onions and garlic in saute pan with olive oil. Pour out onto paper towels and drain. Add back into saute pan along with ground beef. Break up beef as it browns and stir together with garlic and onions. Add in tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, sugar and stir until heated through.

Pour beef mixture into simmering beans. Continue cooking until mixture is well combined. Taste adding salt, pepper and further spicing to match your taste.

Serve with corn bread and top with your choice of accompaniments--sour cream, cheese, onions, Fritos, or rice.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Barbecued King Salmon with Orange Butter Marinade

The Marinade:

1/4 c Orange Juice Concentrate
1/4 c Butter
1/4 c Brown Sugar
3 T Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 Medium Red Onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
Salt and Pepper to taste
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder

In a small sauce pan, melt butter. Add brown sugar and orange juice concentrate. Stir until ingredients are melted and blended together well.

Place salmon filet on a baking sheet covered with aluminum foil. Using a pastry brush, paint the filet liberally with the marinade. Sprinkle onion and garlic powders over sauce, salt and pepper. Scatter the onion slices over the top of the filet.

Preheat barbecue to 300 degrees. Place salmon baking sheet directly onto the barbecue grate. Close lid. After about 10 minutes, slather more of the marinade on the filet and reclose the lid.

The salmon should be done within about 15-20 minutes but keep an eye on it as the thickness of the filet will determine the actual cooking time. To be sure, using a knife, cut into the thickest point of the filet and check for doneness. Paint or pour more marinade over filet just before serving.

Variations: Use lemon slices and lemonade concentrate or lime slices and limeade concentrate in the sauce.

What a Party!

Well, the BIG party was a great success. Nearly 80 folks showed up, the salmon was barbecued to perfection using my friend Rick's awesome recipe and our jazz combo played into the night as the full moon rose over Bellingham Bay and the Cascade Mountains.

The garden, after working so hard on it all summer, was at its peak and we received so many comments about how lovely it was. We scattered chairs and tables around the lawn and folks sat in the gazebo, the upper garden, the secret garden and all around the lawn. Tiki torches near the entrances lit the way into each garden sanctuary.

The only downside to the evening, which turned out not to be for us, was that everyone was gone by 9:30. What's up with people? Anyway, it was a boon for the four of us as we had the jazz combo all to ourselves for a private set on the back deck. Julian McDonough, Mike Allen and Mark, a young bassist (I didn't catch his last name) all played incredibly. We have been long time fans of Julian and Mike and go hear them wherever they play when we have the chance. It was a special priviledge to have them play just for us.

Kate and Nick loved the evening, which was the point, and we had another few days together with them before, first Nick, and then Kate had to say goodbye and fly off back to England.

It was so wonderful having them safely under our roof and to be able to talk and visit, share meals, play cribbage and Tarot, and see more of them together. It has become so apparent to us that these two special people were absolutely made for one another. It makes it all the more incredible that, growing up and living on opposite sides of the planet, they were able to find each other in the first place.

We next see them in October when we fly off to England to see them married. It is a simple ceremony, not the more lavish affair set for January, but more to satisfy the legal requirements of the British government so that Kate is legal in the UK.

We will fly in for just a week to stand up with them along with a few of their closest family and friends. Then we plan to spend a few days in Edinburgh, Scotland before flying back home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On Their Way Home!

Kate and Nick are, at this writing, packing bags, checking passports, preparing for a sleepless night in preparation for a long flight from Bristol to New York to Seattle and finally home to Bellingham. It will be a long trip for them. It has been a long wait for Leslie and I.

Leslie will be at the airport tomorrow night waiting anxiously for her first sighting of them coming up the hallway and into the main terminal at Seatac. I'll still be at home since I have to work.

They'll head for the nearby hotel or decide to just sit, relax, play a little Cribbage and chat. . .and touch. A hour or so later Elise, Kate's maid of honor arrives from Baltimore and then they can all head for the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Even before their arrival home on Friday afternoon, they will be busy all day shopping in hopes of finding the perfect wedding dress for Kate!

The anxious feeling in our house is palpable. We have waited so long for this moment and now as the actual moment closes in it seems time has slowed to a snail's pace.

To have the entire family under our roof, knowing they sleep safely and soundly across the hall, is a feeling only a parent seperated too long from their child can know. Your heart is almost ready to burst with the joy that you somehow, even if for only a few days, have some at least some power over their safety and comfort!

I only have another day to wait and I can make it. But I wish I didn't have to.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Final Touches to Summer Garden Projects

Today was a beautiful day in the garden. The next to last day before school starts and we were blessed with a few gorgeous hours to work and to sit and enjoy our labor.
We brought in a final half yard of Alpine Green gravel to place in a few final spots and finish the graveling projects for the season. A serendipidous find at a local discount store gave us a charming addition to the yard. A few other details completed the picture for the season.

Our half yard of gravel turned out to be the wrong color. I had evidently been hauling in a different color all summer and this Alpine Green, though I love it, just doesn't match what was already being used. We spread it around trying to blend it into what we already had and we'll hope for the best. Over the years as we add gravel to the existing spots we'll bring in the Alpine since I like it better and eventually it will all look fine. In the meantime the goals were to finish off a bit of the path around the east side of the barn, create a small hint of a path at the edge of the deck and to level the new concrete bench installed recently on the stage in the Secret Garden. The rest of the gravel would be used to begin graveling the back side of the barn (actually a project for next spring) where it will act as the foundation and floor for the lean-to greenhouse that we'll install on the back of the barn.

While we were out on a shopping run and to pick up the gravel yesterday, we went into K-Mart's garden center looking for some end of season plants to replace one that had died in a planter on the front porch. They were cleaned out of plants but we stumbled across two nice looking fountains that were on a very good sale. We chose the classic Italian looking one that you would commonly find built into a stone wall. The thing weighs a ton. We couldn't begin to lift it into the truck, but after some help from a pallet lift and another guy my size, we eventually got it into the back of our truck. We didn't even consider how we'd get it out but we knew we'd have to since the gravel had to be loaded. After deciding to place it on the lower deck near the hot tub we next had to figure out how to get it out of the truck. Physics to the rescue. I found a 6 foot length of 2" X 6" and was able to lift the base of the fountain just high enough for Leslie to slip the lumber under the fountain. Another lift and another push under the fountain with the lumber and we were set. Leslie pushed the 2 X 6 towards the ground as I pulled the fountain further out on the edge of the tailgate. The fountain's center of gravity tilted just enough and the fountain came up in the air. Carefully maneuvering the fountain to keep it centered, we slide it slowly down the 2 X 6 until the base was on the ground. It was easy to tilt it upright and from there a dolly moved the fountain right where we wanted it. A few mums in some new pots surrounding the base and our new fountain looked gorgeous.

The spot where the new fountain was placed was the former home of an already exisiting fountain. I had planned to put a fountain in the Secret Garden but that was to be a project for next season. But the price for the new fountain was so good we just couldn't pass it up. So the old fountain went into the bed along the west wall of the barn right next to an exisiting electrical outlet. Perfect spot. It now happily bubbles away in its new home surrounded by flowers and plants as if it was always there. We are now a three fountain family. The gurgling of the water can be heard just about anywhere you sit in the garden now. This new location for the fountain also adds to the quiet, contemplative atmosphere of the Secret Garden while sitting on the new bench. We were able to balance the bench by adding more gravel under the legs and that has made sitting there a more secure and comfortable feeling.

With these last few touches, we were able to spend some time just sitting and enjoying all our hard work this summer. I am trying to look at the garden and enjoy how beautiful it looks now. My tendency is to look at it as a work in progress and only see what still needs doing or what my next project will be. But the truth is when I think back on what my little 1/3 of an acre of heaven looked like when we moved into our home 13 years ago, it really is quite remarkable what we have accomplished.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Big Party!

Two weks and counting until the big party we have been planning for the past several months. The garden is about as ready as it is going to be. The menu is planned. The kids have their tickets and will soon be flying over for the celebration of their engagement.

They have already moved on to the next step long ago--the wedding. In fact part of their time spent here will be shopping for the perfect wedding dress. Shops all the way from Seattle to Bellingham have been located on the map and the plan of attack set in place. Hopefully, by the time Kate actually arrives home, after a couple of days of shopping, the dress will have been purchased. Check!




Then we can all throw ourselves into the preparation of the party on Saturday. The band, the Julian McDonough trio, who played at our 30th anniversary blow out last summer, will return at Kate and Nick's request, to play into the evening. They play the hottest jazz in the area and everyone loved their playing last year.

We have settled on the menu and at Kate's request we will have:

  • Barbequed Chinook Salmon (I caught on my recent fishing trip to Canada)
  • Roasted Red Northwest Potatoes
  • Northwest Micro-Green Salad with Oregonzola Bleu Chees and Granny Smith Apples
  • Northwest Bumbleberry Cobblers

Lots of Northwest wines and micro-brews will be on hand so the party should go splendidly.

80 of our family's closest friends have RSVP'ed and plan to help celebrate into the night.

So how do we top that? What's next?

Well, the wedding venue is settled--The Ashton Court Estate on the outskirts of Bristol. Check!

The invitations are sent, the band hired, the menu set, the wedding party all set, the checks are in the mail and plans for flying to the U.K. all done. Check!

So we wait for Kate and Nick's arrival in another week so we can have a few moments of precious time with them and we await the celebration of the biggest occasion in the life of two people who have committed their lives to one another. We are excited, anxious, nervous (mostly the father of the bride speech is causing that) and so proud. Here's to the happy couple--Cheers!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My new class!

My penultimate year of teaching begins. With a new free software called Wordle I created this document that creatively describes my class with one word descriptors including student names and events and activities students will experience in my classroom. Really cool effect. After typing in the key words (larger fonts are a result of typing in the word multiple times) you can randomize the direction of the word flow, colors and font style.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

School Daze!

The start of a new school year is just around the corner and as my mind begins to crank up in anticipation of a fresh new year beginning, I look forward to the very real possibility that I am beginning the penultimate year of my teaching career, a sobering thought but also one that causes me to begin thinking about my future and what I'll do with myself. The house will be paid off later this year and my wife feels confidant that we can afford for me to retire. Ah, retirement! How quickly that point in my life has sneaked up?

Actually, to be completely honest, I have been giving my retirement from full time teaching a great deal of thought over the past few years. We have been carefully planning for this transition and I do have some very real plans.

First, I don't want to just give up teaching completely. I figure I'll substitute teach for a few years partly to make money to pay for my varied interests. I need to be able to pay for my love of golf, travel, gardening of course, technology, books, cooking, etc. All this requires a certain amount of cash and since I am still enjoying working with the kids, why not sub? What I won't miss are the committees, the meetings and the seemingly endless, mindless and meaningless reforms which the profession is so fond of foisting on teachers. Politicians, having little knowledge of education and who seem to always ask the wrong people for advice, make knee-jerk decisions that we in the trenches are left to implement with fewer and fewer dollars just so they can look like they are doing something, anything, to try and improve standardized test scores and get themselves re-elected. It is all just too frustrating. I just want to teach. Yes, I want to do it right and I am always interested in new ideas and strategies to do it better, but too many of the latest ideas are misguided and show too little thought to possibly be what's best for the kids.

So, with that kind of attitude, it is time to be thinking about heading out the door and on to new and interesting adventures, leaving the fulltime work to a fresh new generation of teachers with their pants on fire and excited about everyday they come to school. I'll continue to sub in classrooms if they'll have me and I'm sure I will enjoy it most days. The nice thing is that, at the end of the day, I will walk out the door and leave the worries teachers have for their kids with someone else. No meetings, no committees, no poorly organized inservices, just come in and work with a bunch of kids for the day and leave. If the class is poorly managed, I just won't go there again. If I'd rather play golf or garden or go out to meet buddies for breakfast, I just won't take the gig. Simple.

I thought I'd volunteer at the local Museum of Radio and Electricity, at the Literacy Council, the Senior Center, or any one of many other opportunities I haven't even explored yet. Of course, with our daughter getting married in a few months, I also really look forward to being a grandad and spoiling those grandbabies. Oh, I'll keep busy, no doubt of it. I'll also take over much of the responsibility around the house since my wife will still be working for at least several more years.

I'm really looking forward to this transition in my life. It isn't just one step closer to the grave for me. It really is just a new period of my life I hope to live and enjoy for many, many years to come. So bring it on and look out world, here I come.

But in the meantime, I still have a couple of great years left working with some terrific kids and teachers and I'm looking forward to that. One day at a time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gone Fishin'

For the past 2 years I have had the opportunity to go with a buddy of mine up to Canada for a few days of Salmon and Halibut fishing. If you have been following my blog then you might remember last year's trip was a rousing success. I brought back my limit in Chinook, Coho and Halibut filling my freezer with fish that lasted through most of the winter. I caught my very first salmon, a 25 plus pound Chinook.

Well, the tradition, if 2 years in row counts as a tradition, continued this year. This trip was especially important since at least part of the catch is to be the main course for our daughter Kate and her fiance Nick's Engagement Party to be held at our home in September. Those paying attention to my blog would remember I have mentioned "The Party" many times this summer when referring to the goals and objectives of my garden projects.

Rick, my fishing guide, and I plus a friend of his, headed off for the west coast of Vancouver Island and the small, isolated village of Ucluelet, British Columbia. This year Rick bought a brand new boat, a Campion Explorer model 682, complete with galley and head.

The trip to Ucluelet (you-clue-let) takes several hours and includes a border crossing, no easy task these days, a ferry ride and a hairy drive with lots of curves over the mountains of Vancouver Island.

We left about 5:30 am on Friday, August 15th heading for the Canadian border at the Peace Arch truck crossing. We took the ferry from Tsawwassen, having breakfast on board after finally getting the truck and boat aboard the ferry, then I sat back and napped for the hour and a half ride to Naniamo, B.C.
The drive across the middle of the island is full of stunning scenery, pristine lakes, cascading rivers and gorgeous mountain vistas. The only stop we made was to purchase our fishing license. We ignored the scenic spots because the fish were waiting!
The Canadian Princess is permanently moored in the inner harbor at Ucluelet. It is a 230 foot, 1930's vintage ship refurbished and moored here as a resort mostly for fishing groups, many of which fly or bus in for a few days. The weekend warriors are taken out on a fleet of fishing "puke" boats into the deeper waters off Ucluelet. Most return happy with their few Coho salmon and then fly off back to their desk jobs in the big city.


The inner harbor at Ucluelet, British Columbia. This is where we moored the boat for the night. It is always full of commercial and private fishing boats and some sailing vessels as well, so we sometimes had to tie up to another vessel and walk across it to get at the dock.




This Bald Eagle is often seen sitting in this tree on a small island just outside the Ucluelet government marina. We would sit just off this island after returning from fishing while Rick cleaned our catch, throwing the heads and entrails overboard. This provided plenty of food for the local bird, crab and sea lion population.








Sunset off a point in Ucluelet.




The Amphitrite Point Lighthouse, a federal heritage protection site, at the end of Coast Guard Road in Ucluelet, was built in 1915. It sits overlooking the entrance to Barkley Sound. Remarkable for the rugged, rocky coastline and dramatic crashing sea waves, it is easily accessible and offers gorgeous sunset views.
Our catch this year was not as plenitful as last year's though we did return with plenty of fish. The first couple of days of fishing were noteworthy for their rough seas, 6-8 foot swells and thick fog. The fishing was not particularly good though we did manage to land a few Coho and Chinook.
Day 3 turned out to be the best of the 3 days of fishing. The fog had pretty much lifted, the sun made an appearance and the sea was nearly flat calm. This made fishing much easier and enjoyable. We also had much more luck. The highlights of the day were catching a 15 pound Coho on a plug lure that did not have all the drag of a spinner attached to it. This gave the fish a chance to fight longer since it didn;t tire out quickly dragging the spinner around. The fish jumped and danced on the water and was a blast and a challenge to land. The other highlight of the day was watching Rick catch and land a 41 pound Halibut. It was enormous, or do I thought. Turns out that the world's record is 480 pounds, but our little guy was still amazing to me.
We spent a lot of our off hours sitting at the Eagle's Nest Marine Pub dining on hamburgers. I tried their fish and chips the first night and they were so heavily battered and overcooked that it was like eating a piece of styrofoam. Even the hamburgers were overcooked but they were loaded with veggies and condiments plus a platter of good fries so I stuck the the burgers. The only other place we ate at was Romans Pizza and Grill, a friendly, rockin' place popular with locals and visitors alike. The food is adaquate, the service friendly, the music LOUD, but it took us well over and hour to get our food and then it was cold. The night was chilly and I had my heart set on some steaming clam chowder, but it arrived luke warm and and with a thick milk skin on top.
We arrived home on Tuesday afternoon, divied up the fish and headed our seperate ways. I brought mine home and spent Wednesday morning fileting about 8 Chinook and Coho salmon in the kitchen. What a mess! But by the end of the morning we had everything bagged up in Seal-A-Meal bags and in the freezer.
The bottom line, my freezer is full of beautiful salmon and halibut filets and I'll be able to easily feed the 70-80 folks we are expecting for The Party in September and have enough left over for quite a few meals well into the fall season. Mission accomplished!