Sunday, December 29, 2013

Plans

Wow!  Another year is basically over.  It’s amazing just how slow they go by and how quickly they end.  I spend each year planning things I never do, and doing things I never planned.  That’s not to say that everything I planned to do didn’t get done, nor did I finish all the things I never planned to do in the first place.  However, I did fail to finish much of what I planned to do, and I did actually finish much I really had no desire to do.
 
There are really only a few big things I plan to do each year.  The Annual Wild Game Feed is one, Santa Claus is another, and go fishing is not last on the list.  This past year I managed to do two out of three.  I didn’t make it out to the water to fish, and this is really sad since I live across the street from the beach.
 
I didn’t plan to get ill this year, but I did a good job of it, and even after eight months of this affliction, I’m still not finished with the project.  While I’m not well, I am functional, and I keep on keeping on.  I did make it to the Annual Wild Game Feed this year, I did work for a few weeks as Santa Claus, including some television time, and I did earn a certification as a Master Food Preserver.  So I guess this was a successful year in completing things I planned to do.
 
I’m just getting my feet wet as a master food preserver.  My early life on the farm gave me a curiosity about how things work, and food preservation was one of those things.  For years I’ve canned and pickled unique items just because I liked them, and no one was producing them commercially.  Now I’m starting to teach others how to do it.  Such fun.
 
The path to the certification required learning about food safety and the techniques to ensure a safe finished product.  The more I think about the methods we used on the farm to preserve our harvest, the more I realize how lucky we were not to have succumbed to botulism.
 
This year I planned to clean out my garage.  Oops.  I wanted to finish another novel.  Oh, well.  I had hopes of losing another 50 pounds.  I gained 10. 
 
Not all is lost, and nothing here can be considered a failure.  There is always next year.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Air Freshener

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in many different atmospheres.  By atmosphere I’m talking about the scent(s) in the air.  It could be good, interesting, or a nose pincher.  Growing up in Texas there was the atmosphere of the barnyard, and it was completely different from the atmosphere of the stockyard.  The atmosphere of the slaughterhouse where I worked part time as a teenager was similar to the atmosphere at the bait house where I stopped before going fishing.  The atmosphere in the cities where I worked was the complete opposite of the atmosphere high in the mountains where I hunted.  And there is nothing quite like the atmosphere in a barbeque joint.
 
There are smells that are so neutral no one notices.  Some are a light scent (good or bad), and some are quite strong (good or bad), but not everyone perceives these scents the same way.  For instance, I like the smell of good strong cheese, but I’ve discovered it is not allowed in my home.  There is nothing like the smell of a possum roast; however, as much as my wife agrees with me on this, she doesn’t seem the think it is a good smell.  On the other hand, I can’t walk through the beauty section of a department store without gagging.  How these fragrances are supposed to be pleasing to men is beyond my understanding.
 
The waiting room at my doctor’s office uses a plug-in air freshener that literally makes my eyes burn and activates my asthma.  A popular import store reeks of burned dung.  They say it is incense.  I took my car to be washed and the air freshener they used was called ‘new car.’  I thought it smelled more like something rotting in the back of my refrigerator.
 
I’ve been thinking about the fragrances I would like surrounding me.  How about barbeque?  Or fried chicken?  Pizza anyone?  I miss the smell of real Tex-Mex, so this would be a good one for me.  Recently I was in a winery and the smell of fermentation was fantastic.  Speaking of fermentation, how about a beer fragrance?  Or a whiskey fragrance?  Make mine a single malt scotch.  What about fresh baked bread? Each year I attend the Wild Game Feed in Irvine, California, and I get to smell roasting pig, grilled game birds, chili, deep fried frog legs, buffalo ribs over wood smoke, and a few other things.  Each one would make a great fragrance.
 
I’m serious about this.  I recently heard of air freshener called ‘fart.’  If they can put this stuff into a container, why can’t they capture the smell of a good cigar?  I would buy that in a heartbeat.  In fact, I believe I could put it to good use the next time I walk into a department store and have to pass through the beauty section to get to the sporting goods area.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hank

I’ve received several requests for some more stories involving my friend Hank.  In my posts, I believe the first mention of him was in my 9th post “Catfish”, and my second mentioned was in my 51st post “I Dare You”.  He has appeared from time to time in some of my stories, and he will most likely appear again, but it is difficult for me to write about him.
 
Over the lengthening years of my life I have lost many friends and family members.  Some moved on, sometimes I moved on.  Some were killed by war, accident or disease, and some were far older than me and time took its toll.  But Hank’s death was much harder on me than most.
 
I grew up with a very large extended family.  My four grandparents had over forty siblings.  Most of these family members were very prolific; however, my parents were the only surviving children of their parents.  But many of my grandparent’s generation lived to be well over one hundred years of age.  By the time I was a teenager I had a family of many hundreds of members.
 
This also meant I attended many funerals.  Some months I attended more than one on the same day, and most months had at least one.  I was no stranger to losing people I liked and loved.  But Hank’s passing was like losing my own brother and best friend at the same time; therefore, writing about him is difficult.
 
On the positive side, our adventures together were great fun, and I will continue to remember the good times with him in some of my stories.  Here is a short one.
 
One afternoon I had a message waiting for me at a company store I was visiting in Alabama.  It was from Hank, and it said he was on his way to do some fishing in Montana.  If I could meet up with him in Billings in a few days, we could find out what kind of fish were in the Yellowstone River.  I was leaving that afternoon for Cheyenne, Wyoming for a business meeting, but I could take a couple of days to fish up in Montana after it was over.
 
I flew into the airport at Billings and rented a car to drive down into the city (the Billings airport is high up on a plateau above the city) and catch up with Hank at the hotel where he was staying.  When I drove into the parking lot of the hotel, I saw Hank getting out of his car with a big ice chest.  I let him struggle with it while I unloaded my baggage and headed in to get a room.  About an hour later we met in the lobby.
 
“I just talked to the chef, and he’s going to prepare dinner for us with the trout I caught today.”
 
Dinner that night was great.  I can’t recall a better trout dinner.
 
About 4:30 the next morning we left to drive to his fishing hole where he assured me there were more fish than we could handle.  However, when we got there, we couldn’t find a place to park.  Apparently this fishing hole was known to more than just Hank, so we drove up the highway a few more miles.
 
We stopped at a small coffee shop for breakfast, and while we were discussing where to go fishing, a gentleman came over to speak with us.
 
“I couldn’t help but overhear your situation.  Around here the best fishing spots are on private property, and you have to know someone to go there.  But if you don’t mind me tagging along, we can go to my ranch, and I’ll show you more trout than you’ve ever seen.”
 
It seems that we hit the jackpot.  We finished breakfast, and an hour later we were fishing.  Hank sat down on the bank beside the gentleman and started talking.  Before long they discovered they had family ties through marriage.  I don’t know how that worked out, but apparently they were some kind of cousins.  And we had a permanent invitation to visit and fish just about anytime we wanted.
 
Hank seemed to have relatives everywhere.  Over the few years of our adventures, we were joined in Tennessee by a cousin, in Utah by an uncle, in New Hampshire by a, uh, another relative, in New York by his grandfather, in California by some other relative, and in several other places by various family members.
 
We fished until early afternoon when hunger began to talk to us.  After packing things back into the car, Hank and I followed his newly found cousin to the ranch headquarters where lunch was being provided for the nearby workers.  For those hands farther out, a truck would be delivering boxed lunches for them.
 
The afternoon was spent just talking and having fun with our host.  He was a fourth generation rancher, and his wife was a fifth generation rancher.  Hank’s connection to them was never clear to me, but they figured it out and talked for a solid hour about people they both knew.
 
It wasn’t much of an adventure with Hank, but it was typical of many of our outings.  We basically just hung out together and did things we enjoyed.  This day was one of those hang out days.  Afterward, we went back to the hotel where we had dinner and talked about our upcoming first skydive.  See “I Dare You.”

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Turkey and Stuffing

Thanksgiving is a turkey-eating day.  Yes, one can eat just about anything one chooses on any given day, including Thanksgiving, but a turkey just seems like the right thing to put on the table for this holiday.
 
I have always liked cooking turkeys.  It doesn’t matter to me if it goes in the oven, in the smoker, on the grill, on a spit, in a pit, in a roaster, or in a deep fryer.  I’ve breaded it and cooked it like fried chicken.  I’ve cut it into chunks and simmered it.  I’ve microwaved it.  I cooked one in a solar oven.  I cooked one in a reflector system made of aluminum foil and charcoal baskets.  I cooked one in a horno (southwest version of a pizza oven).  I even cooked one by cutting it into pieces and roasting it over a campfire on hotdog forks.
 
I also like cooking everything that goes with a turkey, but my favorite side dish is the stuffing.  Growing up in Texas, stuffing (or dressing) was quite simple.  Some cornbread and/or white bread, butter, sage, salt, and pepper.  Mix in some chicken stock, and shove it into the bird before cooking.  But I take a different approach.  To me, the amount of stuffing that will fit into a turkey will feed one person only; therefore, I cook the stuffing separately and in great quantity.  And mine is a little more complex that the stuff(ing) I grew up with.
 
I believe the stuffing should match the flavor of the turkey.  At times I’ve experienced things like a sage rubbed turkey with a fruit stuffing.  How about a smoked turkey with oyster jambalaya stuffing?  I’ll never forget the barbeque grilled turkey with honey and wild rice stuffing.  I ate every one of them, but the flavors were not quite right.  I’m not saying turkey and stuffing should be perfectly matched, but they should be very close so the stuffing becomes an extension of the flavor of the turkey.
 
Here is one of my favorite turkey/stuffing combinations:
 
Southwestern Turkey with Tamale Stuffing
Serves 12.
 
Garlic-Chile Paste:                                       
    50 cloves garlic, unpeeled (about 3 to 4 heads)                
    2 dried ancho chiles, rinsed                                   
    1 dried guajillo chiles, rinsed                                
    1 dried negro chile, rinsed                                    
    1/2 cup corn oil (prefered) or canola oil                      
    2 teaspoons toasted and ground cumin seeds                     
    1 teaspoon table molasses or honey                             
Turkey:                                                    
    1 (18 to 20) pound turkey                                      
    2 tablespoons corn oil (prefered) or canola oil                
    1 3/4 pounds turkey neck, wings, backs, cut into 1 to 2-inch pieces
    1 white or yellow onion, chopped                               
    3 ribs celery, chopped                                         
    2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped                            
    1 teaspoon allspice berries                                    
    5 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey stock               
Gravy:   
    1/3 cup (approximately) all purpose flour                                                                       
    1/2 cup Chili-Garlic Paste
     6 cups low-sodium chicken broth, or turkey stock               
     1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper                                    

Garlic-Chile Paste:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Cut a small slit in each clove of garlic and distribute on a baking sheet.  Place on center rack in oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until garlic begins to brown.  Remove and cool 5 to 10 minutes. Peel garlic and remove hard tips.  Measure 1/2 cup of the garlic, reserving any extra pieces.  Blend in a food processor to form a rough puree.
 
In a small cast-iron skillet, toast chiles until blistered and fragrant.  Allow to cool, then remove stems and seeds.  Tear into pieces and place in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Simmer over medium-low heat until chiles are soft, about 15 minutes.  Add softened chiles and any remaining liquid, oil, cumin, and molasses to garlic in processor. Puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
 
Turkey:  Remove the giblets, and dry the turkey with paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper to season.  Loosen skin of breast by sliding hand or wooden spoon under the skin.  Spread about 1/2 cup of the chile paste under the skin.  Fill the cavities with stuffing, if desired.  (If leaving the turkey unstuffed, place in the main cavity 1 yellow onion, halved, and 1 bunch of cilantro.  Place in the neck cavity ½ yellow onion and ½ bunch cilantro.)  Rub 2 tablespoons paste all over outside of turkey, and reserve remaining paste for gravy.  Tie the legs together and place the turkey on a rack in a roasting pan.
 
Preheat the oven to 325F with the rack in the lowest third of the oven.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the cut-up turkey parts (and giblets if using) and the onion.  Saute about 15 minutes until brown.  Remove the parts to the roasting pan, surrounding the turkey.  Add to the roasting pan the celery, tomatoes, allspice, and any remaining garlic.  Add 2 cups broth or stock and roast the turkey for 1 1/2 hours.  Tent the turkey and pan loosely with heavy aluminum foil and continue to roast until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 180F (about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more).  During this time, baste the turkey with the pan drippings and the remaining 3 cups of broth or stock.  (If the turkey is stuffed, the additional roasting time will be up to 3 hours longer.)
 
When turkey is finished, remove to a platter or carving board and tent with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes.  Reserve the contents of the roasting pan for making the gravy.
 
Gravy:  With a large slotted spoon or tongs, remove turkey parts from pan and discard. Pour mixture in pan into sieve set over large bowl.  Press on the solids in sieve to release liquid. Spoon fat from pan juices; add enough broth to juices to measure 6 cups.
 
Stir 1/2 cup reserved garlic-chili paste in heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until liquefied. Add flour and stir 1 minute (mixture will be very thick). Gradually add 6 cups broth mixture, whisking until smooth. Simmer until reduced to 4 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Season with cayenne, salt and pepper.

Tamale Stuffing
Serves 12.

    ¼ cup butter, divided                                  
    1 medium yellow onion, diced                                 
    4 cloves garlic, minced                                         
    8 cups crumbled cornbread                                      
    1 teaspoon ground cumin                                      
    1 teaspoon dried sage                                        
    ½ cup chopped cilantro                                        
    6 jalapeño peppers stemmed, seeded, diced                      
    2 cup frozen roasted corn kernels                              
    2 cup toasted and chopped pecans                               
    8 ounces shredded pepper jack cheese                           
    12 cups turkey or chicken tamales, chopped                      
    4 cups turkey or chicken broth                                 
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste          

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
 
In a large cast-iron skillet, melt the butter on medium-low heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds.
 
Once cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the cooked onions and garlic to a large bowl. Add to the large bowl the crumbled cornbread, cumin, sage, cilantro, corn kernels, pecans, diced jalapenos, and pepper jack cheese. Stir until well combined. Gently stir in the chopped tamales, and place the stuffing in 2 greased 9x9 baking dishes.
 
Pour over the turkey or chicken broth over the stuffing and gently stir to combine. Adjust seasonings and add salt and pepper to taste. Cover the baking pans with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15 more minutes or until top is lightly browned and the edges are crisp.
 
Note:  I use two 9x9 baking dishes rather than one larger baking dish in order to cook the stuffing more evenly.  You can use a larger dish, but the edges will be hard and the center very soft.  You can also stuff the turkey with this recipe, but I prefer an unstuffed turkey.  I think the turkey and stuffing both taste better when cooked separately.
 
Also:  There is a lot of turkey and stuffing here.  It can easily serve about 14 to 16 people, but I like larger portions and leftovers if possible.
 
For the tamales, I like to make my own, but I’m not opposed to buying them.  Red Pork tamales are acceptable here, but homemade chicken or turkey tamales are best, especially if the filling includes some Garlic-Chile Paste made according to the turkey recipe above.
 
I’m not a big gravy eater (other than biscuits and gravy), and sometimes I don’t even bother to make it.  Sometimes I just use salsa or pico de gallo.  I’ve even used chili.  Choose what works best for you.
 
I also find that this turkey and stuffing combination is perfect with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Kayak

Hank and John and I decided to kayak the Grand Canyon.  We had been kayaking for about two years in white water where we could find it, and we decided it was time for the big one.
 
We were not really prepared for the journey.  We didn’t know the river, we didn’t know how long it would take, and we didn’t know what we were doing.  Since no one told us we couldn’t do it, we did it anyway.
 
Our plan was simple, as most of our plans were since we really didn’t have a plan.   We drove to a place called Lee’s Ferry on the west side of the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River where we launched our kayaks.  John’s wife would meet us at a place called Diamond Creek about 200 plus miles down river in about 10 days more or less.  Everything in between was an unknown except for John’s wife—she was headed to Las Vegas.
 
It was quite an adventure.  The one thing we learned was that all white water is not created equal.  There is white water, there is White Water, and there is WHITE WATER!!  The first few hours was white water.  Then it changed to White Water.  And just beyond that was WHITE WATER!!  Then there was the big one.
 
We were about 4 days into the experience when we met up with the wall.  It was a giant haystack the likes of which we had never heard, much less seen.  This thing had a preliminary drop of about 30 to 40 feet before it rose up about 30 to 40 feet above the level of the river.  We immediately turned toward the bank.  On the bank we realize we could portage around this monster, and Hank and I began the process, but John…  Well, John decided to give it a try.
 
A haystack is basically a submerged rock forcing the water to go around and over it.  The lift of the water over the rock is the haystack.  The bigger the rock, the bigger the haystack.  This one had to have a rock the size of Pike’s Peak—more or less.  There was no way of knowing just how big that rock was or if it rose above the height of the river.  But John didn’t care.
 
Hank and I watched in fear and horror as John raced toward the haystack.  Where the water fell away before lifting up to the sky, John kept going in a straight line through the air and disappeared into the wall of water like an arrow through a piece of paper.  Hank and I did the only thing we could.  We quickly portaged around the haystack and began looking for the remnants of John.
 
We could see a straight line downriver about three-quarters of a mile, but no John.  We climbed into our kayaks and began paddling and searching for anything to return to his wife, but nothing.  Actually about two or three minutes was all that passed from the time we lost John until Hank saw him pop up out of the water nearly a half mile ahead of us.  And miracle of miracles, John was still in his kayak.  He paddled to the bank while we paddled to catch up.
 
We decided to take a long break for lunch while John told us of his adventure.  About the time he was airborne and just before he knifed into the wall of water, he remembered what causes a haystack.  But it was too late.  Into the water he went, and the pressure was enormous, but he encountered no rock, probably due to the upward thrust of the water.  When he realized he was still alive, he was out of his kayak under the river somewhere.  At least he was still tethered to the kayak, as was the paddle.  Just as he climbed back into the kayak, he came to the surface.  All he had to do then was get to the bank and empty the water from his transportation.  And then we showed up.
 
After a rest, a lunch, and a regathering of our senses, we pack up to visit the river again.  But John headed back upriver.  It worked once, maybe it would work again.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fishing Local

In Southern California exists an unexplainable urge to turn all rivers into a cement trough.  Actually the idea is to keep the waters manageable during the floods that occur after a hard rain, but the concept of a ‘river’ disappears in all the cement.  For anyone wanting to fish the local waters, this limits the choices; however, there are still a number of places to hunt for fish.  Whether or not the fish are actually there may be another story.
 
Recently Clark and I headed to some of the local parks to fly fish.  These parks ranged in size from an acre or so to two rather large pieces of turf covering many city blocks each.  All of the parks had at least one pond or small lake stocked with trout and other fish by the Department of Fish and Game, or so it is rumored.
 
The first stop was a very small pond about eight miles away.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this many ducks in one place in my life.  If there was water in the pond, it was under a thick layer of, um, duck exhaust.  And the smell.  I’ve spent many years around farm animals, and this was as bad a smell as I’ve ever experienced.  Needless to say, we drove to the next park on our list.
 
Park number two was about two or three miles away from the first park, and it showed some promise.  The pond was maybe 40 yards wide at it greatest width and no more than a hundred yards long, and it was ringed with fisherpersons (is that the right term?) standing on the concrete sidewalk around its perimeter.  They must know something about this place for so many to be fishing at one time.  We spent about an hour or so there and came to the conclusion that the fisherpersons were wrong.
 
From there we journeyed a couple of miles to a large park with a small lake that covered several acres.  Now this looked like a place to fish.  The banks were dirt, grass, and mud just like it should be.  There was stuff growing in the water along the edges, and there were birds flying overhead.  (Not that the birds had an effect on the conditions of this lake, I just happen to like birds around.)  But after an hour or so Clark and I decided to try elsewhere.
 
The last stop of the day was at Eldorado Park.  This is a very big city park with several ponds and lakes that are stocked occasionally by the Department of Fish and Game with trout, bass, catfish, etc., depending on the season.  We had heard that Area III is the place to fish, and we wanted to give it a try.  But it wasn’t our day.  Living in southern California has the occasional disadvantage of areas restricted for temporary use by the film industry, and this was one of those days.  So we drove around the remainder of the park checking out the concrete ponds.
 
There was, however, one place known as Horseshoe Lake.  It is a small impoundment with no concrete in sight, and it looked fishable.  For two hours we tossed our artificials into the water, and we had a couple of hits, but no fish were brought to hand.  Since these were the only hits of the day, we had to chalk this outing up to the enjoyment of the outdoors.
 
Since that day Clark and I revisited Eldorado Park.  I believe I could copy the last two paragraphs word for word concerning the second visit.  The one change would be that the Department of Fish and Game was about five minutes ahead of us entering the park; however, they dropped the fish into Area III, which was still off limits due to use by the film industry.  Rats!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Noodler

My fishing experiences have included some rather unorthodox methods of attracting fish.  Sure I’ve used a cane pole with a string and a hook attached.  And there was the trotline.   An old crank box telephone shocked more than a few fish to the surface, and a throw net brought in a few things other than fish.  I bow hunted fish on many occasions, and once tried my hand at spear fishing.  But the craziest fishing method I ever tried was noodling.
 
It would not surprise me to find out that most fishermen have seen illustrations concerning how to fish.  Any library in the country probably has more than a few books on the subject, and I know many fishermen who own a personal library on the topic.  I know I must own more than twenty books on how to fish various waters with an endless array of equipment.  And in several of these books are illustrations of someone reaching under a cut bank to grab a fish.  That technique is known as noodling.
 
In many states noodling is either illegal or is considered to be so ridiculous as to not even need a law.  Who in their right mind would reach under a bank to grab at an unknown entity?  Did it ever occur to anyone that it might not be a fish under that bank?  Most states understand that it is impossible to stop people from noodling and rarely enforce any laws as may exist on the subject.  There is a prevailing opinion that a noodler takes extreme risks, and if something goes wrong, the self-inflicted punishment is both justified and sufficient.  But noodlers are a breed of their own.
 
A neighboring state just to the north of Texas (I won’t say which one, but that’s OK) has some prime noodling waters.  At least according to my cousin.  My cousin was a noodler.  I don’t know why my cousin was a noodler, but he was a noodler.  He wasn’t raised that way.   I guess he just fell in with the wrong crowd.  Vern lived for just two things (three if one includes beer) and those were bull riding and noodling.  By far the bull riding was higher on the intelligence scale.
 
I didn’t see Vern very often due to the fact he was usually in some hospital somewhere recovering from bull riding or noodling, but we came across each other from time to time at my grandparent’s lake property.  On one occasion I was telling him about my hunt for a giant catfish at Possum Kingdom Lake west of Fort Worth.  He responded with stories of catching catfish by hand.  I knew he had been doing this for a few years, but this was something we in the family just didn’t talk about.  However, it was now in the open.  Vern came out from under the cut bank and was actually admitting he was a noodler.
 
My sense of adventure prevented me from just walking away from this nonsense, and by the evening I was thinking I might give it a try.  “Might” is the key word here.  I didn’t say I “Would” give it a try.  At the very least I wanted to see for myself how it was done.  Vern said he would pick me up in a couple of weeks and we would drive to his favorite noodling hole about a hundred miles to the north.  I felt a small panic attack start in my toes and work itself upward to my head.  The only thing I thought could be worse than noodling was riding somewhere with Vern.
 
I arranged to have a business meeting in Oklahoma City so I could meet up with Vern at the chosen lake and not have to ride anywhere with him.  This was a wise idea.  Trust me.  The lake was a number of miles away from my business meeting, but it was a lifetime of driving closer than had I ridden there from Texas with Vern at the wheel.  We met up at the appointed place.  I showed up about two hours late thinking Vern would just be arriving about that time, but I was still almost three hours early, so I used the time to watch some noodlers in action.  Oh, boy.
 
The first man was a loner.  He parked his truck a short distance from my car and started taking off his clothes.  He put on some shorts (thank God) and a pair of old tennis shoes, grabbed a coil of rope, and walked down the slope to the water’s edge.  He stepped into the water and began walking along the edge of the bank to an area of overhang.
 
I couldn’t see exactly what he was doing, but it appeared he was feeling the bank under the water with his feet.  Then he stopped, dived under the water for a long time, and finally came up with a big catfish.  His hand was in the big fish’s mouth with his fingers sticking out of the gills.  And the fish was thrashing hard.  More than once the man disappeared back under the water from fighting the fish, but he kept his hand in that fish’s mouth anyway.  After several minutes he managed to get the rope looped through the gills and mouth and started towing the monster back to where he had entered the water.
 
I watched him haul the fish up onto dry ground and tie the rope to a tree so it couldn’t thrash its way back to the water.  The man walked back to his truck where he picked up his club and knife to do what he had to do to keep the fish.  After he put the cleaned fish into his ice chest, he calmly dressed, then walked over to me with a short piece of rope.
 
“Can you wrap this thing around my left arm just above the elbow?  And pull it real tight.”  I looked at his left arm and saw the snakebites.  Four of them.  “Water moccasins got me again.  Gotta’ go see the doc.”
 
My eyes followed him as he drove away, but I soon turned my attention to a group of four or five men working their way along a bank about two hundred yards away.  I could see the rope one man was hauling behind him and it looked as though they had already been successful.  I watched as one of the men dived under the water and came up with another catfish, but he had some help wrestling it, and soon it was on the rope with the others.
 
When they reached the sloped area where they could exit the water, they dragged their fish up onto the ground and tied them to the same tree the previous man had used.  Then one of them trotted up to the road and disappeared while the others produced a knife and began cleaning the fish.  Later the man who had disappeared returned with a truck and several large ice chests.
 
I took a few minutes to talk with the men about their adventures in noodling.  One man was missing several fingers from a snapping turtle mistake a few years earlier.  And another man had a heavily scarred arm from a beaver.  Apparently snapping turtles and beavers are as much a problem to noodlers as are snakes.  Every one of the men had been bitten more than once by various poisonous snakes.  I was beginning to think I needed to miss my appointment with Vern.  After all, he was running very late, and I could say I had to get back to a meeting.
 
The men left with their catch, and Vern arrived before their dust settled.  I told him about what I had seen, and he just laughed.  “Goes with the territory,” was his only comment about it.  Well, I had committed myself to this, so I was going through with it.
 
We drove to a nearby place that Vern believed held opportunities to noodle a catfish out of its hole in the bank.  We entered the water and worked our way along a bank.  Vern found a hole and had me feel of it with my foot so I would know what to look for in the future (like I was really going to do this in the future).  Then he pushed his foot deep into the hole to determine if there was something in there, and there was.  Just what it was remained an unknown at the moment.  Then Vern dived under the water.
 
I thought for a while Vern wasn’t coming up, but eventually he surfaced with his hand in the mouth of a big catfish.  And the fight was on.  I managed to get the rope looped around the fish’s tail and started dragging it to the shore.  Vern was trying to retrieve his hand, which the catfish had decided to keep as a souvenir of the event.  Ultimately I dragged the fish onto the ground and tied the rope to a nearby tree.
 
First things first, Vern’s hand needed help.  We used a t-shirt to form a wrap around his hand and forearm where the skin was missing and held it on with some masking tape.  Then we cleaned the fish.  We had just finished packing it into Vern’s ice chest when we had a visit from the Department of Game and Fish.  (Or was it Fish and Game?)
 
“You boys just noodling around?”  We answered that was what we were doing.  “Well good, ‘cause if you was fishing, I’d have to check your licenses.”  The warden looked over at Vern’s arm and said, “Looks like you took a nasty fall there.  You might want to go have a doctor look at it.”  With that he got back in his truck and drove away.
 
I actually had a valid fishing license for this state, but I doubt Vern did.  And I hadn’t really thought that noodling might be illegal here.  Most likely the warden thought Vern had already paid a price worthy of a noodler.

Friday, September 20, 2013

2013 Wild Game Feed

The Wild Game Feed in Irvine this year was another success.  There is nothing quite like a bunch of men getting together to drink beer and eat.  There were contests, games, demonstrations, raffles, and just plain fun.  The food was great as always, and the camaraderie of the men was fantastic. 

I set up my shelter and tables with a few chairs, opened some jars of pickled quail eggs I always bring along, and talked with anyone that came by.  Cigars were exchanged, stories were swapped, and I’m quite certain some of the fish tales were not based entirely on reality.  (What is it about fishermen?)

Again, I must congratulate the members of the Annual Wild Game Feed on the superb planning, execution and management of this event.  It works like a well-oiled machine.

Well, the food is gone, the beer kegs are empty, and the cigars are just stubs in the ashtrays.  Now the waiting begins for next year’s Annual Wild Game Feed.  Waiting, waiting, waiting…

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Sport

Today I went fishing again with Clark.  Eldorado Park is just a few miles from where we live, and several of the ponds are regularly stocked with trout, bass, and catfish, so it has become a close and quick getaway for us.  The grounds are rather large and accommodate many fisherpersons of all skill levels with ease.  We worked our way around to the far north end of Area III where access is a little more restrictive due to trees and reeds, and this is where I had a small accident.
 
Accidents are the norm with me.  I get my hand stuck in the doors at the malls.  I trip over small pebbles on the sidewalk.  I walk into trees.  Elevator doors, escalators, low tree branches—all are just accidents with my name on them.  And I absolutely fear steps and curbs.  You get the idea.  I wear trifocals after having had cataract surgery, and I just don’t notice the things that are about to bite me.  But sometimes the accidents aren’t completely my fault, although the one today was mostly my fault.  The rest of the blame goes to that big bass.
 
It was a simple thing, really.  I tossed a plastic worm through the reeds about ten feet into the water, and at the count of ‘one’ a big bass hit it.  The problem was that I was standing on a steep slippery slope and the bass just surprised me enough that I moved my feet the wrong way.  Down I went towards, and eventually into, the water.  As I fell I grabbed at a tree and left a few square inches of skin behind.  Then the bass broke the line and got away.  I’ve had worse, and I’m just fine.  But given a choice of keeping my skin or the bass, I’ll take the bass.  The skin grows back in a couple of weeks.
 
This reminded me of the number of times I’ve been told that fishing isn’t really a sport.  Football, baseball, hockey, soccer, etc., are sports; fishing is just for people without a life.  Growing up in Texas, there were those who rode horses and bulls, those who played football, those who played in a band, and those who fished.  (I would have included those who drink beer, but that category transcends all other categories.)  On the whole, the categories got along with each other, but occasionally there was an individual whose idea of a sport was very narrow.
 
I had a neighbor with a narrow mind.  In fact his forehead was only about three inches wide, and as one followed the length of his long nose downward, one could easily see that his mouth was his biggest feature.  He reminded me of a triangle with the point at the top.  He believed fishing could not possibly be a sport since one had no possibility of injury.  He did, however, believe being in a band was a sport since he personally witnessed the local high school band members whipping the football team in a Saturday afternoon game.
 
One day I had enough, and I challenged him to a weekend of combat fishing.  In exchange I would subject myself to his sport—Saturday afternoon football at the local park.  Strangely enough he agreed to this.  His only stipulation was that I had to provide my own football team to play against his.  Okay, I know about seven or eight guys who would be glad to join me, fishermen every one.
 
I picked up Willie at about five a.m. the next Saturday morning and drove him to my grandparent’s lake house where we launched one of the boats and motored over to a fishing hole.  I knew the fishing here would be good, and I knew Willie would have fun catching a few fish in spite of his idea that fishing was not a sport.  What I didn’t tell him about was long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen, bug repellant, lunch, water, a hat, and the fact that I don’t stop fishing until dark.
 
About two in the afternoon Willie was almost in tears, and I was almost feeling sorry for him, but not quite.  I do give him credit for not whining or complaining about his situation; however, I wanted him to understand that fishing is not something to make light of.  It is a sport, and it can be a tough sport.  As the sun began to settle in the west, I turned the boat back to the landing.
 
I was actually afraid I might have overdone it a bit when I discovered Willie was too stiff to get out of the boat without help.  And any help involved touching his sun-scorched skin.  For about half and hour I eased him around until the feeling returned to his legs, and finally he could step over the boat rail and climb up to the dock under his own power.  Then he discovered we still had to clean the boat and put it away right after we cleaned the fish and put them away. 
 
On the way home that night I stopped at a local burger joint to get the poor guy something to eat.  Very slowly Willie worked his way into the restaurant and into a booth where he sat staring into the distance.  When the waitress came by for our order, Willie didn’t even notice her, so I ordered for him.  When the food came, he methodically ate the burger and fries, and downed the soda without ever changing his stare into the unknown void.  When he finished, I directed him back into the car and took him home.
 
I didn’t see or hear from Willie for several weeks after that trip, but eventually he recovered, because he came over to remind me about the football game.  I invited him in and we had a talk about ‘sport.’  I didn’t convert him into a fisherman, but he was willing to concede the category of fishing did belong with horse and bull riding, football, and band.  He told me the only other time he had ever hurt so much was after the football game when the band members outscored the football team by some thirty-five points.  Anything that could cause such pain must be a sport.
 
We arranged for the football game to take place at the Peewee league field at the local park in two weeks.  It was a shorter field than regulation, but it was free to use just for requesting a reservation.  When I arrived, the first thing I noticed was about a dozen guys in helmets and pads.  But I wasn’t worried.  I brought along ten band members.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Old Badgers

In my young adult days I was standing in the right place at the right time to get a promotion at the company where I worked.  It wasn’t just any promotion, it was a big promotion.  I jumped from a local department manager to a national corporate manager by being in the physical line of sight of one of the big wigs in the company when he decided he needed some help.  I had no idea of what I was getting in to, but I was able to keep the position for almost seven years before seeking another life.
 
Due to the position, I was expected to be in each of four offices around the country at least twice every three weeks, and the rest of the time I spent on the road (or in the sky) among more than seventy territorial offices, and whenever I could spare the time, I was to visit the individual company stores.  Since I was almost completely in control of my own schedule, I was able to take “down time” just about anywhere I wished, and I used my “down time” in the best hunting and fishing areas I could find.
 
Hunting was never at the top of my list of things to do, but I did hunt a few times each year.  The basic problem was that hunting usually took more than a day to accomplish, and it almost always required “tags” to hunt what I wanted to hunt.  More often than not, I wasn’t successful when the drawings occurred, but luck was there from time to time.
 
One year I drew a deer tag for Colorado, but I missed out on the elk tag.  Oh well.  I took some of my down time in southwest Colorado in the rough Uncompahgre National Forest area and started my hunt.  I hiked about six or so miles from the campground into the wilderness where I came upon an old barbed-wire fence (in Texas we would call it bob-war).  It was mid-morning and warm so I sat down and leaned back on one of the fence posts to look out across the large mountain meadow in front of me.  I guess I was tired and fell asleep, because the next thing I knew a foot was nudging me in the side.
 
The game warden said he was just testing to see if I was alive.  Apparently I gave him some cause for concern.  He checked my rifle to see if it was loaded, chambered, safety on or off, etc., and I passed the exam since I was still carrying the rounds in my pocket instead of the rifle.  Then he asked if he could sit down and have some lunch with me.  That got my attention.  I checked my watch and realized I had been asleep at least three hours.  We had lunch.
 
Just as we were finishing up, I noticed a movement at the far end of the meadow and motioned to the warden to take a look.  Neither of us could see it clearly due to some shadows, but he encouraged me to load up and use the scope on the rifle.  I did, but it wasn’t a deer.  Instead it was an eight by eight elk.  It was beautiful, but I didn’t have the right tag, and I was sitting beside a game warden.  I handed the rifle to him to look at it, and he sat there looking at it no more than four seconds before he pulled the trigger.
 
I didn’t quite know what to do.  He handed me back the rifle and thanked me for the opportunity to harvest such a trophy.  We found the elk within twenty feet of the impact point, and it was just plain big.  The warden had some kind of a portable two-way communication radio with him, and he used it to call for help.  About forty-five minutes later, another warden with a 4 x 4 pickup arrived, and we winched the elk into the bed.  It was about that time I realized these wardens had done this before.  Now I was thinking I had better disappear before someone decides I shot the elk.  But before I had a chance to run, they drove away leaving me to my own fate.
 
Not all down times were as exciting, and few were more than just a day or so visiting the great open cathedral we call nature, but another instance comes to mind where I took a day to go fishing.
 
I was at one of our stores in Minnesota, and the store manager asked if I would like to go fishing.  The store sold licenses, so I was ready in less than an hour.  We traveled to a nearby body of water that covered maybe ten to twelve acres, and there we threw our lines in the water.  He was a fly fisherman, and I was a wannabe, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask for lessons.  Instead I used the spinning gear I always packed for my travels.  I don’t know if there were any fish in that pond, or just why we chose it in the first place, but it wasn’t work, and you know what they say about the “worst day fishing…”
 
We had been there about twenty minutes or so when we heard a racket just to the north of us.  Looking over that direction, I spotted the first badger I had ever seen outside of a picture book, zoo, or taxidermy shop.  It was actually fun to look at until I realized it was mad at me.  Apparently I had invaded its territory.
 
Reggie the store manager said that these things usually won’t try to out run us, and if we just move away it will settle down and leave us alone.  So we moved about fifty yards or so to the south.  About ten or fifteen minutes later the hissing and racket returned.  We looked up to see the badger had not given up on us.  So we moved further south and around the westward turn of the pond.  This time we were about one hundred or more yards from the critter.
 
One hundred yards wasn’t enough.  The old badger was relentless, so we moved on, this time circling around to the northwest corner of the water, where we were left in peace for about an hour.  But the peace was again disturbed, and we circled back to where we started.  When we heard the hissing again, we decided it was time to leave.  At this point one would think the badger would give up, but one would think incorrectly.
 
Reggie and I returned to the store, where we discussed business for a few hours, and then we walked over to a restaurant for dinner.  We returned to the store for another hour or two of discussions before he started to take me to my hotel for the night.  When we walked out to his car, the two rear tires were flat.  He called the car club he was a member of and soon a tow truck was there to do some tire repair.  When the first tire was pulled off, the repairman commented that we must have hit something hard to knock such a piece of the tire off.  The second tire had the same problem, but this time, caught in the cracked edges of the ruined tire was a large tuft of badger hair.
 
I had a good laugh over this, but Reggie did not.  At least not until I had him put two new tires on my expense account.  I figure that the work accomplished after the few hours of fishing was far more than if we had worked the entire day, therefore, the new tires could be justified by the time savings.  Well, that’s what I told Reggie.  When I got back to my main office in Chicago a few days later, I wrote a check to cover the tires.
 
My boss didn’t understand.  All he could comprehend was that I had used the expense account to cover personal expenses.  He backed off some when he found out I had already written the check to reimburse the company, but he didn’t let it go.  As the months went by, he would still remind me about it from time to time.
 
Almost two years later I found myself back at Reggie’s store and of course we went fishing.  Needless to say we went back to the same pond, but this time we caught a few fish, and we heard no hissing.  We laughed and joked about the badger the entire time we were there until we decided to go back to the store.  When we got to the car, the two rear tires were flat, and crawling off into the brush was the butt of our jokes from the last few hours.
 
I guess some old badgers just can’t take a joke.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Marfa

Somewhere around sunset I was having dinner at a small café in Marfa, Texas when an old cowboy came in with a bottle of his favorite beverage in a brown paper bag.  The older lady who had waited on me immediately grabbed a big wooden bean masher and informed him in rapid fire Spanish he was leaving right now if not sooner.  With that she snatched the bag from his hands and threw it out the front door toward the street, and then marched the man out the door with the bean masher held up in a very threatening manner.  This is how I met Carolina Borunda Humphries.
 
My cousin’s family had a ranch in west Texas where he and I spent a little time hunting for dove, deer and, at one time, a mountain lion.  It wasn’t too far (maybe 30 miles) from the small town of Marfa where one of the best cafés on this earth stood for most of the 20th century—The Old Borunda.
 
I don’t know just how accurate this is, but I have read somewhere the cafe was started in 1887 by Tula Borunda Gutierrez and in about 1908 it was rented to Carolina Borunda a sister-in-law.  In 1938 the café was passed on to Carolina Borunda Humphries, the daughter of Carolina Borunda.  And in her hands it thrived until 1985 when a family illness forced the doors to close.  When those doors closed, an era ended, but Tex-Mex is alive and well because of this small café.  Many Tex-Mex historians point directly to this establishment as the point of origin for this gastronomical phenomenon.
 
The town of Marfa lives on today to a certain extent because of James Dean and the movie “Giant” filmed in part near the town.  Many of the Hollywood stars of the day stayed at the Hotel Paisano, and that was my hotel of choice also, but not because of the stars, it was because of room availability the first time I was in town.  There were other places to stay, but the Paisano was the only one with a vacancy the first time I was there.  They gave me the “James Dean” room.  Okay, it was just a room, but apparently James Dean slept there.  So did I, so why didn’t they rename it the “David Lloyd” room?  I need to talk to them about that.
 
Marfa is known for another happening.  It’s called “the Marfa lights.”  Who knows what they are, but they are the subjects of endless speculation.  These same blueish lights could be seen at my cousin’s ranch, or so he said.  I never saw them.
 
Many times I’ve thought back on the four times I ate at the Old Borunda.  I believe it was truly the center of the Tex-Mex universe when Carolina Humphries was the owner/cook, and maybe that’s what the lights are about.  Maybe some space aliens are out there searching for a great stacked enchilada with a fried egg on top.  I know I’ve never had a better one anywhere.
 
I won’t even try to copy her version of the enchilada.  Others such as Robb Walsh have done a wonderful job of keeping Carolina’s legacy alive, and I could do it no justice.  Therefore, here is my recipe for Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas.  These enchiladas were a favorite of mine before visiting the Old Borunda.
 
Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas
Makes 6 servings, or 4 large servings, or maybe 2 really large servings.  One?

4 Anaheim chiles
3 jalapeno chiles
4 medium tomatillos
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or more as needed
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves
8 ounces sour cream
2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cooked, cooled, and shredded
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
12 (6-inch) flour or corn tortillas
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Longhorn or Colby cheese             
 
Under a broiler or over a gas flame, roast the chiles until blackened and blistered, turning every few minutes.  Place in a tight sealing plastic bag and let stand 15 to 20 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, peel off the blackened skins and discard.  Remove the seeds and stems and discard.  Chop the remaining chiles.  Should measure just under 3/4 cup.  Husk, rinse and chop the tomatillos and add to the chiles.
 
Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame and add the onion to the pan.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the garlic and continue to cook about 1 additional minute.  Sprinkle with the flour, and stir for about 1 minute.  Add the chiles, tomatillos, cumin, coriander, salt, and chicken broth.  Bring to a simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and allow to cool at least one hour, and three is preferable.
 
When cool, puree until smooth.  Use batches if necessary.  Remove 3 cups of the mixture to a bowl and set aside.  To the blender add the cilantro and the sour cream and puree to make the sour cream sauce.  Set aside.
 
To the 3 reserved cups of puree, add the shredded chicken, and chopped medium onion, and mix well.
 
Preheat oven to 350F.
 
Wrap the tortillas in a damp cloth and heat in a microwave until soft. Pour about 1/3 cup of the sour cream mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish and spread to coat the bottom. Place 3 tablespoonfuls of the chicken mixture in each tortilla, roll up and place seam side down in the baking dish. Pour remaining sour cream mixture over all and top with shredded cheeses.
 
Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350F for about 1/2 hour.  Serve hot and bubbling.
 
It doesn’t hurt to have a James Dean movie playing on the television.
 
I know I’ve said many times that everything is better with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.  This may be one of the few exceptions, but I’m not willing to find out.