Friday, December 26, 2014

Hacked!

In case you’ve been wondering where I’ve been for a few weeks, I’ve been busy as Santa.  It was a very long season with many visits and events, and only a few hours off.  I think I’ve got the best job in the world.

Also, I write many months ahead of posting, and I had over thirty finished stories ready to place into the blog.  I stored them on a portable hard drive with two other portable hard drives used as backups, but on December 3rd I plugged in my backups and main storage units, turned on my computer and watched as my mouse pointer began to move rapidly on its own.  I realized someone was remotely accessing my computer, so I switched off my internet (an external switch on the front of my computer), and I shut down my computer.  A reboot without the internet activated quickly revealed both my backups to be erased and overwritten with a single huge file, and my main storage drive was about two-thirds erased.  All of my stories, and most of my research data were simply gone.  I took the drives to a recovery specialist only to be told a few days later nothing could be recovered on the backups, and the only thing they could recover on the main storage drive were files of photos of purses and wallets, none of which were mine.

It may take me a while to get more stories posted, but bear with me as I try to rebuild.  I don’t seem to run out of stories, but it takes me a while to get them into print.

Thanks,

David

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Bear

In the early morning hours of a wet, windy day, I realized I needed to make that trip everyone has to make in the morning after waking up.  I was high up in the Uncompahgre Wilderness area in southwestern Colorado, and even though it was the middle of July, it was quite cold in addition to being wet and windy.  Oh, did I mention the early morning hours were well before any hint of daylight had arrived.

I crawled out of my sleeping bag, tossed aside the blanket lying over the bag, and I pulled on my moccasins.  I figured my long johns were just fine for the short trip I needed, and besides, I wasn’t planning on doing much before returning to the tent.  The tent had an inner zipper and a tie down flap over it, neither of which I bothered to close while making my run to the nearest tree.

I was delayed only a few moments before making my return journey of about 30 feet, but when I returned to my tent, it had a new occupant.  It seems a rather fuzzy brown critter about my size had decided my blanket and sleeping bag inside the tent was much better than the cold rain outside.

I’ve encountered bears any number of times over the years, but I never had one decide to sleep in my tent before.  Once in New Mexico I had a bear climb up a tree and jump out from one of the branches to catch my food bag while falling to the ground.  I let him keep it.  I had a bear sitting with his back against my car door when I returned from a pit stop along the side of a road in eastern Tennessee.  I yelled at it and threw a stick its direction, and it just wandered off.  While fishing in the mountains above San Bernardino, California, I looked up to see a bear on the other side of the stream about the same time he saw me.  Each of us just backed away.  At least another dozen times bears have entered my realm of awareness, but never before had I faced a situation like this.

I considered beating on the sides of the tent with a stick and yelling at it, but I decided that having a tent between me and an angry bear wasn’t enough of a barrier.  I considered lighting a fire and trying to smoke it out, but 1) my lighter was in my pants pocket in the tent, and 2) it was raining.  I resigned myself to waiting it out.  Then I began to wonder just how late does a bear sleep?

It stopped raining just at dawn, and within minutes the sky cleared and the temperature dropped to the point I could see some ice forming in places.  I was huddled against a tree with a thick layer of pine needles and grass piled over as much of me as I could manage. It didn’t keep me dry, but it helped retain some heat in my body.  Actually, it wasn’t too bad, except for being wet, cold, and miserable.

I had placed my tent near the west end of the small clearing so the sun would strike it as quickly as it made appearance, and within minutes of the arrival of the first rays of light, the bear came out of the tent dragging my blanket with him.  I watched as the bear returned to the tent to retrieve my sleeping bag, which he laid alongside of the blanket.  Then he stretched out over the two items, and went back to sleep in the sun.  Great!

I waited for a few hours until the bear awakened and wandered off into the woods to do what bears do in the woods before I crawled out of my nest of pine needles.  I was only a few minutes getting cleaned up, dressed, packed and into my backpack ready for the trail when I heard a snort behind me.  I turned to see the bear again.  This time he was looking a bit confused.  Where was the shelter?  And where was that warm bedding?  And who was this person with the big hump on his back?

The bear turned around and disappeared back into the woods, leaving me with just a memory.  But what a memory.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Lazy Day Beef Ribs

I like beef ribs a little more than pork ribs.  Trust me, I will never turn down pork ribs, but give me a choice and I will take the beef.  This is mainly due to growing up with more beef than pork available on the dinner table (not that there was ever very much of either one).

Mostly dinner beef consisted of hamburger, but occasionally (every few months) whole cuts appeared on the plate.  Steak wasn’t common, and I assume it was because I was a kid, and the best cuts went to the adults.  The first time I had steak I believe I was 8 or 9 years old.  My parents started talking about it a week or so ahead of the dinner when I was to get my first taste of it, and they extolled the virtues of the steak in great excess.  I couldn’t figure this out, but I guessed it must be something out of this world.

I came into the house on Saturday evening expecting my first steak dinner, but the smell from the kitchen worried me a lot.  My first thought was that something had rotted in the trash.  Soon my mother came out of the kitchen and noticed me sitting on the sofa reading.

“The steaks will be ready in a few minutes.  Go get washed up for dinner.”

Everyone gathered at the table and I was handed a plate with my steak on it.  I didn’t remember any piece of beef looking like this before.  It was sort of fried and covered with onions and gravy.  And the smell!  Ugh!  But I took a bite.  That was the worst thing I had ever put into my mouth.  I couldn’t eat it.  Needless to say I was in trouble.  I could either eat it or go to bed early and hungry.  I went to bed.

About a year or so later we visited some family friends and steaks were on the grill.  As soon as I heard we were having steaks, I wanted to go home.  Oh, how I wanted to go home.  I didn’t care what anyone thought about my actions, I wasn’t going to eat that steak, and I was going home.

Well, I was forced under threat of a major whipping to stay and eat that steak.  And to my surprise, it looked good, it smelled good, and it tasted good.  What happened?

Later that evening I commented about the difference in the steaks.  I heard some grumbling from my parents but little else.  The next day I was told that what the friends had served was actually liver and not steak.  Well I decided I liked liver.

A few months later, we went to a restaurant where liver was on the menu, and I ordered it.  I remember the waitress giving me a strange look, and I remember my parents looking at each other as though something was dreadfully wrong, but no one stopped me from placing my order.  And when the liver came to the table, I was horrified.  They made a mistake, I didn’t want steak, I wanted liver, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything else.

Finally the truth came out.  My parents had thought I would eat the liver if they called it steak.  They didn’t expect to go somewhere where an actual steak would be served to me, and when it happened at the home of the friends, they weren’t certain of what to say or do, so they let me believe the steak was liver.  Then I ordered the liver at the restaurant.  Well, it was time to fess up.

I didn’t trust them for a long time because of this, and I didn’t eat steak for a long time either.  By the time I was an adult, my tastes had changed a bit, and I was now including liver in my diet every 15 or 20 years, and steak was something I found I could enjoy more regularly, but for most of my teen years, I stayed away from either of them.  Beef, for me, meant brisket, roasts, hamburger, or ribs. 

The beef rib is a Texas favorite, but honestly, it takes a lot of work to do it up right.  Not to mention the time.  Granted, it’s worth it, but sometimes I’m busy, and I don’t have the time to fuss with the fire and smoker all day.  My goal was to have tasty beef ribs without making a mockery of the Texas classic, so I went another direction, and the results are outstanding.  And they cannot be compared to the barbequed version.  They stand on their own.

Lazy Day Beef Ribs

Serves 4 two times.  Or 1 eight times.

    3 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
    3 dried Guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
    1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, stemmed and seeded
    2 tablespoons adobo sauce
    2 ½ cups water
    1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
    4 cloves garlic, chopped
    2 tablespoons dark honey
    Juice of 1 lime
    8 big meaty beef short ribs, trimmed of excess fat
    1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon coffee crystals
    1 cup beef broth

Rinse the chiles (except chipotle) under cold running water, and then place in a medium bowl.  Cover with boiling water and soak until softened, about 30 minutes; drain saving the liquid in another bowl. Transfer all of the chiles to a blender with the onion, garlic, chipotles with sauce, honey, lime juice, and about 1 tsp salt and puree until smooth.

Pat ribs dry and season with 2 teaspoons salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then brown ribs in batches, turning occasionally, about 5 to 8 minutes per batch. Transfer when browned to large (6 quart) slow cooker. 

Very carefully add chile purée to the fat in the skillet and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the reserved chile soaking liquid, coffee crystals, and beef broth, and bring to a slow boil.  Reduce the chile broth by about one quarter of its original volume, and then slowly pour over ribs (liquid should come about halfway up sides of meat).

Turn the slow cooker on High and cover with the lid.  Go do something else for about 5 to 6 hours.  Or turn the slow cooker on low and do something else for 10 to 12 hours.  Either way, when ready to serve, remove the ribs from the cooker to a platter and keep warm.  Skim the fat from the pot juices and reduce in a saucepan on the stove.

Serve over some mashed potatoes, rice, polenta, or grits.  Add a couple of big cheese enchiladas on the side and this meal will be hard to beat.

I’ve noticed these ribs are better on the day after making them, and better still after waiting another day.  Better than liver any day.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Prairie Chicken

Nebraska is a big wide-open state with endless vistas of corn and wheat interspersed with houses, barns, and windmills.  Actually there is much more to it than that, but farming is the dominant perception one has while driving through the state.

I had to visit a company store in Kearney where one of the department managers was an old high school friend.  Actually he went to a different high school from me, but we lived near each other, and soon became friends.  It seems his family was from near Kearney and had a rather large farm they tended, but for about four years mom and the kids moved to Fort Worth to take care of a sick relative.  I lost track of Barney just after graduation when his family moved away.  When I met him again, it was at the store in Kearney, to which his family had returned.

We spent the evening discussing old times, and it wasn’t long before he invited me to his family farm for a visit.  He mentioned hunting prairie chicken if I could make it there in the next few weeks.  Hunt??  Is a four-pound canary fat??  Yes!  I will be there!

I went on to a number of other company stores in the central plains before I could arrange to return to Kearney, but in a couple of weeks I was back and ready for prairie chicken.  I drove to Barn’s family farm where he and I went over our plans.  Well, actually he went over the plans.  I just listened.  I was quite surprised that this hunt was not with shotguns, but with cameras.

I didn’t quite know what to think.  I had never thought of hunting without some kind of a weapon, and I couldn’t understand the purpose, but I had my camera with me, and I was willing to give it a try.

That evening, just as the sun was disappearing, we were sitting outside on his front porch, and I could hear the strangest noise in the distance.  It sounded something like a “boom” or a prolonged “thump.”  “That’s the chicken we’re looking for.”  Barn told me the place we were going before sunrise would be filled with that noise.

Well, okay.  I can’t say I was enthused.  I really wanted to taste some prairie chicken, but my friend was certain I would enjoy using a camera on these birds. 

By 4am the next morning we were in his Jeep driving to the far end of the farm where a large area was still untouched prairie grasslands.  We stopped and hiked about a quarter of a mile to a place where that booming sound could be heard very close by.  Here we sat down and waited, but we didn’t wait long.  As the sky quickly grew light, the prairie chickens begin to gather. 

For about 3 hours I was treated to a ritual the likes of which I had never before witnessed.  It was a mating ritual where the male prairie chickens would dance, jump, vault, spread their plumage, and in general put on a display designed to attract a female prairie chicken.  The booming was almost non-stop among the male birds, and the females were gathered around watching.  Sometimes a female bird would join in with a male and soon the new couple would disappear into the prairie grass to do their prairie chicken stuff in private.

I watched with my mouth hanging open until a fly flew in.  After that I remembered what I was there for.  I picked up my camera and started taking pictures.  I believe I burned through every roll of film I had with me that day.  Most of the photos were bad, but a handful were very good by my amateur standards, and I enjoyed looking at them and bringing back the memories for several years.

I never had another opportunity to hunt prairie chicken either with a camera or a shotgun, and it’s just as well.  Like so many of our wild game in North America, the numbers are dwindling and careful management is necessary for the species’ survival. 

I won’t say whether hunting or fishing is right or wrong, but a camera can provide great satisfaction to a hunter or fisherman.  I haven’t hunted for many years now, but that is mostly due to physical abilities.  And even if I could hunt today, it would most likely be with a camera.  As for fishing, I catch and release, and when I can remember to bring a camera along, I photograph my catch.

My prairie chicken hunt was in 1972.  I like to think there are many more birds today just because I used a camera rather than my shotgun back then.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Man of Few Words

I’ve known quiet people in my life, but one stands out as unique.  Most quiet people have a voice, and when they speak, they really have something to say.  Small talk is worthless to them, but they are not without a sense of humor and will occasionally participate in a joke or good story.  However…

Late in the spring one year I was in the town of Rutland, Vermont to meet with the manager of the small store my company had there.  I never quite figured out the culture of the area, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Some years later someone told me the harder I tried to figure it out, the worse the divide would become.  The best way to function was to keep one’s mouth shut and just watch.  Meanwhile, I was working hard at having a conversation with Josiah.

I arrived at the store and asked to see the manager.  The employee raised an eyebrow, looked me up and down, and then pointed toward a corner of the store.  I walked over to the corner where two men were looking at a few sheets of paper.  I asked if one of them was the store manager.  Both nodded ‘yes.’  I introduced myself to both of them, and one motioned me to follow him.

Walking through the store to the manager’s office, I realized no one was talking.  There were sales personnel waiting on customers, but not a word was being uttered.  The store was so quiet it felt almost strange.  Once in the office Josiah sat down behind his desk and looked over at me until I began to squirm.  Finally I sat down, reached into my briefcase for some papers, and handed them to him.  He looked them over, signed them, and handed them back to me.  Then he got up and walked out of the office.  Not a word had been spoken.

I sat there for a few moments wondering what I should do next before he walked back in with two fishing rods and a tackle box.  He reached into his wallet, pulled out his fishing license and pointed at it with his eyebrows raised.  I reached into my wallet, shuffled through about thirty fishing licenses from various states until I found the one for Vermont.  I lifted it up, pointed at it, and raised my eyebrows.  Josiah smiled.  We walked out to his truck, climbed in and drove a few miles to the east to a place called Kent Pond.

We were both still dressed in suits as we fished along the dam and from along the shore of this small impoundment, but we weren’t alone.  I saw four or five other fishermen wearing suits or at least upscale casual during our four or five hours at the water’s edge.  The fish we caught were pumpkin seed and largemouth bass, and after we cleaned them, Josiah wrapped them in newspaper and placed them in an empty cooler.  From there we drove to a nearby house where he disappeared inside with the cooler for a few minutes.  Soon he was back in the truck and we were driving back to the store.  Silence reigned supreme.  There was not a word about the fish, the fishing, the weather, business—anything.  I wondered if this man could even speak at all.

Back in Josiah’s office, he picked up a few papers from his desk and handed them to me to look at.  On top was a newspaper comic strip of ‘Barney Google’ and below it was one of ‘Li’l Abner.’  Underneath that was a stack of blank typing paper.  I looked at these for a while, and then handed them back.  He nodded in approval, and then got up and showed me the door.

I drove back up to Montpelier where I was staying at a motel. And I’ve wondered ever since what happened. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014 Wild Game Feed

It’s over for another year.  Words cannot express my agony of waiting for it to happen again.  I know time passes, and the Feed will return next year on the third Friday of September, but no matter how I look at it, it’s still a year away.

Each year begins, at least for me, on the day following the Annual Wild Game Feed in Irvine, CA.  And it ends when the sun goes down on the Feed.  Yes, I do have a life the rest of the year, and it is very full, but rarely does a day go by when I fail to think about the next Feed.

If you have never been to this event before, you have missed a great time.  Tickets are not necessarily easy to obtain, but if you can do so, this event will be like nothing you’ve ever attended.  The order form for the tickets usually makes an appearance in May (more or less), and the tickets are quickly sold out.  If you get the opportunity to order tickets, don’t hesitate even one day or you may miss out.

Thanks to everyone who came by my shelter for a visit and some quail eggs.  You made it so much fun for me again this year that I wish we could do this year around.  To my new friends, it was great to meet you, and to my returning friends, thanks for coming back.  We’ll see each other again next year.

This year’s Annual Wild Game Feed was unbelievable.  And every one I have attended I could say the same thing about.  I’ve watched it grow from five or six hundred attendees to about fifteen hundred.  And with each passing year, the events and demos have grown.  And with each passing year, it just gets better.

I have nothing but praise for the organizers of this giant fundraiser.  They work hard to provide an outstanding time for the participants, and they raise a lot of money for charities.  I hope they take a few days to rest before starting to work on next year’s Feed.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fly Shop

I grew up in fishing country, Texas to be exact.  Every hardware store in the state sold fishing equipment, and some even sold a few tools and nails.  My personal favorite was Buddies Hardware, which was really no more than an extension of Buddies Grocery Store.  The reasons I preferred it were relatively simple.  First because it was just a few blocks from my home, and second because I could get food and bait at the same time. 

Over time stores began to appear specializing in sporting goods, but most carried only the most basic fishing supplies.  But then again, this was Texas, and serious fishing was done with just basic equipment.  The simpler the better.  I don’t recall when the hardware stores began to drop the line of fishing gear in favor of such mundane items as hammers and screwdrivers, but over time I realized that a major change had taken place.

I’ve fished with a tree branch, trimmed of excess leaves and twigs, attached to kite string tied to a bent nail with a worm from the garden stuck on it.  For a float, I used one of the excess twigs trimmed from the tree branch.  And it worked.  Sometimes I didn’t even use the tree branch.  But my grandfather had a more novel approach to fishing.

Papa had a small boat he had nailed together from old lumber he had around the farm.  It weighed about 10,000 pounds as far as I was concerned, but he was able to load it into the back end of his 1938 Ford Coupe and tie it so it wouldn’t fall out onto the road again.  We would drive to one of the nearby stock tanks (a man-made watering hole for cattle and coyotes) and go fishing.

Once we had the boat in the middle of the tank, he would unbox his “fishing gear.”  It was an old crank box telephone with two long bare wires coming out of the back.  He would throw one wire over each side of the boat into the water and give the box a few fast cranks.  Over the next 30 or 40 seconds fish would float to the surface and we could pick the biggest ones to take home for dinner.  This was fishing at its best.

One day Papa came home with a store-bought boat.  It may have been 3rd or 4th hand, but at one time it was store bought.  The boat was a 10 foot jon boat, and it was a thing of beauty.  While it was still heavy to me, I could actually load it into the back of the old car by myself, but Papa still insisted on tying it down himself.  It didn’t take long for us to try it out.

We drove out to a rather large stock tank on a friend’s property a few miles away and launched the boat.  We climbed in, rowed to the middle and tossed over the wires.  In his usual manner, Papa gave the old telephone a few quick cranks, but it was only momentum that created all cranks after one.  We realized a little too late that electricity, water, and a metal jon boat do not go well together.  In a vain attempt to remedy the situation, he tried to uncrank it, which produced the same effect.

The fish floated to the surface as they always did, but this time we just looked at them with compassion.  We saw any number of potential dinner options, but we were just too, um, stunned to take advantage of the situation.  By the time we could gather our wits about us, the fish had recovered enough to swim back to the bottom of the tank.  Our only choice now was to crank the telephone again or just go home.

It was a long five miles home.  We carried the jon boat over to where the old wooden boat lay and set it along side the old craft.  And we stood there looking at the two boats for several minutes before putting away the telephone on its shelf in the nearby barn.

We never spoke to each other about the lesson learned that day, much less to anyone else for many years.  Actually he passed away without ever saying anything about it at all.  The jon boat simply disappeared one day, and the old wooden boat rotted beyond repair from lack of use.  The lesson I learned from it was to go back to what I knew best, a string, some kind of a float such as a cork, a hook, and a worm.  This brings me back to the evolution of the sporting goods store. 
           
When the hardware stores began to decline from their glory days as the place to buy fishing equipment, the sporting goods stores started carrying more fishing items.  The problem I had with these stores was that no one there knew anything about fishing. 

The stores carried backpacks and camping equipment.  I could understand this since fishing could occasionally involve some hiking and quite often a few nights of camping.  I could understand the football equipment, the baseball equipment, and even the basketball equipment.  I definitely could understand the hunting equipment.  I could not understand the skiing equipment, especially in Texas.  I could not understand the specialized clothes that everyone seemed to need to ski, hunt, or fish.  I could not understand why the people working the store knew everything about skiing and nothing about anything else.

The fisherman was now on his own.  No longer could he go to local hardware store and find out where the fish were biting.  No longer could he ask for a specific size of hook and get it.  No longer could fishing stories be swapped with someone who had been there and let the big one get away.  The sporting goods stores were just a big cold place with little to offer the traditional Texas fisherman.

It didn’t take long for someone to realize the problem.  I began to see something called Tackle Stores pop up around the state.  These were much better than the sporting goods stores in that the people running them did know something about fishing, and the product line was all about fishing, but the personal relationship once developed in the local hardware store was missing.  Still it was better than nothing.

I fished for many years under the guidance of these sporting goods stores and tackle stores, largely having to figure things out for myself.  When I took up fly-fishing, I assumed that little would change in the situation.  There is, however, something I was not expecting to find—The Fly Shop.

They don’t sell nails, hammers, lumber, or chain.  They don’t have 16 year olds expounding the virtues of snowboards.  They don’t have footballs, baseballs, or basketballs.  They sell fishing equipment, albeit very specialized equipment.  This is the dream I lost when the hardware stores started selling nails, hammers, lumber, and chain. 

I was directed to one of the few remaining fly fishing stores in Southern California by the fly fishers I met at the Long Beach Casting Club.  Actually, they told me of 5 or 6 stores, but only one was near to my home, so I went there.  I walked in the door and just stood there blocking the aisle for about one minute.  That’s how long it took for someone to offer to help me.  I don’t believe I’ve had anyone offer to help me with fishing equipment in 30 years or more.  Not only was this person willing to help, but he also actually fished on a regular basis.  I walked into the store expecting nothing.  I walked out of the store having had all my dreams fulfilled.  Well, most of them.  Some we don’t talk about.

I have since been to many fly-fishing stores.  They range from sophisticated operations to small one-person shops, but in each and every one I can expect and get personal attention by someone who knows what they are talking about.  Well, at least they know more than me.  But I have never met anyone working such a store that doesn’t fly fish.  The person may be happy, grumpy, tired, bored, or something else altogether, but they all speak with some knowledge.  They know the best rivers and lakes in the area, and where to fish on them, and what to fish with.  They know all the secrets of the local area and often far beyond its borders.  They know I’m not there just to buy some flies or leaders or other trinkets, although they gladly take my money for them, they know I’m there to pick their brains about fishing.  And they give freely of their knowledge.

I’ve been a fly fisherman for just a short amount of time, but during this brief adventure, no fewer than four store closures have come to my attention with many others obviously struggling.  Can the fishing community afford to allow the Fly Shops go the way of the old Hardware Stores?  I think not.  Yes, there are many tackle shops around, and they are decidedly better than the ones of 30 or 40 years ago, but few have much in the way of fly-fishing equipment.  While fly-fishing is probably not going away anytime soon, the local suppliers may need to turn to nails, hammers, lumber, and chain to keep their doors open.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Arizona Years

For ten years my wife and I lived in Arizona, specifically in the Paradise Valley area of northeast Phoenix.  We didn’t live in Paradise Valley, which is next to Phoenix and not in Paradise Valley, but in Paradise Valley that is in Phoenix and not in Paradise Valley.  I don’t know any other way to say it.  Maybe I should say we lived in northeast Phoenix and leave it alone with that.

As a hunter and fisherman I was in paradise (okay, I’ll leave this word alone now), but I rarely hunted or fished during those years.  Honestly, there was just too much to see and do, and the outdoor sports morphed into travel and photography.  A few minutes from our home brought us into the beauty of the Sonoran Desert where our eyes could feast on some of the most intriguing flora and fauna in America.  (I think I will qualify that by stating I have seen very intriguing flora and fauna just about everywhere, but the Sonoran Desert is very, very different from most other places.)

At first we were taken by the hummingbirds that kept feeding at the blooming tree in our front yard (I never did determine what kind of tree).  We put up a hummingbird feeder on our porch so we could get a closer view of them, and it was then we noticed there were a number of different kinds of hummingbirds.  Soon we were researching the tiny birds at the library (long before we had internet), and the more we learned, the more we wanted to learn.

Our research led us into a love of the desert wildlife that I cannot begin to explain.  Watching a red-tailed hawk circling, hunting for a meal was just as fascinating as observing the burrowing owls living under a sidewalk at a nearby mall.  A rain would bring out millions of frogs that would disappear again before the water drained into the soil.  Hiking to an ancient Native American ruin and finding a Gila monster sunning itself was a thrill.  Even an inner tube float down the Salt River provided a fish’s view of the eagles flying from the cliff high above.

Soon our ventures out across the state searching for new discoveries became almost an obsession.  The old west was still alive and well just off many of the back roads.  The vistas of the Navajo reservation were endless.  The mesa villages of the Hopi were a step back in time many hundreds of years.  The Grand Canyon deserves its name.  The petrified forest and painted desert are beyond description.  And the list of places goes on and on.  Sahuaro National Park, Tombstone, the Dos Cabezas Wilderness, Organ Pipe National Monument, Prescott, the Salt River Canyon, the Mogollon Rim, the Tonto National Forest, Oak Creek Canyon, the hummingbirds of Ramsey Canyon, and many other places named and unnamed.

While driving through the Petrified Forest, we stopped to observe an antelope wandering beside the road.  It was taking its time, but eventually walked within twenty feet of our car as it crossed the road in front of us.

Driving north on the Black Canyon Highway out of Phoenix, we decided to take a remote exit and just see what was down the road.  In less than a hundred yards the road changed from concrete to asphalt to dirt, but we kept driving.  At about 4 miles we realized the road was a bit too rough for our car so we turned around to return to the highway; however, our way was blocked by hundreds of horses.  I stopped the car and we watched and photographed for nearly an hour before they wandered away.

On the Hopi reservation we decided to drive up the narrow road to First Mesa and the village of Walpi.  We arrived to discover a ceremony was about to take place, and we were allowed to attend (but no cameras).  We were guided into an area among the pueblos where we privileged to witness the continuation of centuries of history.

Tubac and Tumacacori.  Canyon de Chelly.  Mission Xavier del Bac.  Lake Powell, Navajo Bridge, and Lee’s Ferry.  Superstition Mountains and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  And the Apache Trail.

We drove up to Monument Valley and over into Utah to spend the night in Mexican Hat.  Our goal was to explore some of the Anasazi ruins around the Four Corners area, but we were in such awe of what we found we couldn’t absorb much of anything.  A week later we returned to Phoenix with a carload of purchased books and headed straight to the library to search for more.  This adventure alone occupied us for many years.

Yes, I did some hunting and fishing, but very little beyond a few trips to a lake or river to throw a line in for a few hours, or some sporadic dove hunting when the season opened.  Something changed when I moved to Arizona.  I had always appreciated the beauty of nature, but until now I had never understood grandeur.  Yes, I had seen it before.  Never had I been awed before.

Unfortunately, time passes quickly, and Arizona is now a distant memory for both of us.  Fortunately, for once in my life I took photos.  Thousands of photos.  Someday I’ll sort through them.

Update:
Just a couple of weeks ago we returned to Phoenix for the passing of a friend.  It’s been just over twenty years since we visited the area, and much was the same and much was changed.  Areas we used to drive to in order to escape the city are now housing tracts.  A shopping center is on top of the land where I used to target practice.  Dirt roads are now 6-lane streets.  Rawhide village has been moved to a reservation.  Oaxaca village is just gone.  All very sad.

On the other hand, the hawks still sit on top of the telephone poles surveying the land for some meal to wander by.  The sky at sunset is still unbelievably colorful.  Saguaros stand erect everywhere.  The small town feel of the Phoenix has been replaced by tall buildings and freeways, but just a few minutes from the edge of the city one can still imagine the days of the early Spanish explorers, the Apaches and other native Americans, the miners, and of course the Old West.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Trotline

The idea of fishing encompasses many techniques.  Most involve a pole with a string and a hook, but there are other techniques.  Spear fishing is one of those approaches most people have heard of, and so is netting.  However, there are other ways to catch fish.  Noodling works for some people, and so do fish traps.  Electro-stunning is quite frowned upon, and even dynamite is used on occasion.  One of the least publicized is the trotline.

A trotline is simply a rope strung between two points and a number of short strings with baited hooks attached at intervals.  This is lowered into the water and left alone for a day.  With some luck, there will be fish on those hooks when one returns.  I consider this a lazy way to catch fish, but once when I had a few days in town I decided to give it a try.

My great-uncle Sam was adamantly against using a trotline, but he agreed with me that I should try it at least once in order to know what it was about.  He showed me how to build it and gave me a few pointers about setting the hook depth.  He even suggested a few places where I might wish to set it up.  If he didn’t use a trotline, how did he know so much about it?

I had listened to Sam for about a year as he taught me about fishing, and he was always right.  There was no exception, and that’s no exaggeration.  He was always right.  That man knew how to fish, and when he said to do this or try that, I did it.  And he was always right.

I loaded the trotline parts into my canoe and paddled over to a large inlet where a stream was emptying into the lake.  It was a wide inlet and about 7 or 8 feet deep at the center, but I had never seen anyone use the stream for anything, so I set up my trotline across the mouth.

I strung the rope from one stump sticking up out of the water to a stick in the water on the other side.  There were any number of stumps and sticks available, but I chose according to convenience.  I probed the depths to determine how deep to set the hooks and tied them onto the strings accordingly as I spaced them along the rope.  And I baited with a variety of items from bacon rind to chunks of fish from previous outings.  Then I paddled back to our dock and drove home.

The next afternoon I arrived back at the trotline and was disappointed to find my hooks still baited.  I checked each one, replaced a couple that needed replacing, and paddled back to the dock.  I walked over to Sam’s house and told him what I had found.

He scratched his whiskery chin and stared at the floor for a few minutes, and then he decided to take a look for himself.  We could take the canoe, but I had to do all the work.  Fine with me.  Within an hour were back at the trotline where he spent about 2 minutes looking over how I had it set up.

“You attached the rope to the wrong stick.  Move it over to that one next to it.”

I looked at the stick just 6 inches away and wondered why 6 inches could make a difference, but I didn’t say anything, I just moved the rope.  That was all.  We, uh, I paddled back to the dock.  Sam got out of the canoe then told me to go back and collect my fish.  By now I was getting tired.  The sun was getting low, but I still had about 2 hours of light left, so I paddled back.

The first thing I noticed was the rope moving around and the stick was bending back and forth.  I had a fish on one of the hooks, but which one?  I started along the line pulling up the strings one at a time.  By the time I pulled up the last string, I had 8 catfish from 15 to 20 inches long.  The rest were a bit smaller, although I kept them anyway.  I re-baited my hooks and paddled home.

I cleaned the fish and packed them away before putting away my canoe.  Then I sat down with Sam and asked how moving the rope just 6 inches could make so much difference.  His response was that the rope needed to line up with the noon sun on June 21st.  Huh??  I never did get an answer that made sense, but the next morning the trotline was full again.

Just to test his theory, I moved the rope back to the original stick, and that evening I went fishless.  I moved the line back, and the next morning, my trotline was full again.  I was convinced Sam knew something he wasn’t sharing with me, but he stayed with his story.

I never had the opportunity to run the trotline again, so I’ve never tested the theory at a different location, but at the same time I keep remembering Sam was never wrong on anything else about fishing.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Breakfast

To a Texan the only way to start a day is by attacking a substantial breakfast.  I’m not talking about a leisurely conversation with a cup of coffee and a roll, I’m talking about a literal attack against a formidable opponent.  It could also be called ‘striving toward a goal,’ or ‘man vs. food,’ or ‘a winning attitude.’  It could be.  But that would be a Texas-sized understatement.  But any way you look at it, breakfast in Texas is not for wimps.

A simple breakfast is just a couple of eggs, a chicken fried steak or two, biscuits and gravy, and some home fries.  Grits may or may not be included, just keep them off my plate.  But it’s not too unusual to see the addition of bacon, ham, fried catfish, enchiladas, beefsteak, pork chops, and fruit pies.  Beans, rice, and tortillas are a given.  French fries are always a welcomed change from home fries, and one could easily include just about anything else found on a Tex-Mex menu from tamales to carne asada.  Even a barbeque menu makes a good breakfast.  Coffee is no-brainer, and I’ve been asked more than once at a restaurant if I wanted a beer.  Once I was brought a shot of tequila with my orange juice.  Yes!!  That’s what I’m talking about!

It’s a wonder that Texans aren’t as big as the state, or at least the region of abode, but hard work is the norm and the calories are put to good use.  Life on the farms and ranches starts early and isn’t over until the sun is long gone.  Every day.  Some of the larger spreads have two breakfasts.  The first one is just enough to get started gathering eggs or other small chores.  Then comes the big one.  After that, it’s off to the hard work for five or six hours before the next meal arrives.

After I began working and traveling for a company in the late ‘sixties, I discovered breakfast isn’t the same in other parts of the country.  In Denver I encountered something called a ‘quiche.’  Basically it was just a small slice of baked scrambled eggs in a pie shell with a few things such as onions, cheese and spinach thrown in.  After eating two full breakfasts of these things, I was still hungry.

New York was some fish on a piece of bread shaped like a doughnut.  It took me a few years to appreciate the bagel, but it’s still just fish on a piece of bread.

Many of the southern states served grits with some substantial sides such as shrimp or ham and bacon and eggs.  Not too bad, but not enough, and I’m not a fan of grits anyway.

California served juice and salad, or just a cinnamon roll.  Idaho served potatoes and eggs (more please).  Wisconsin served eggs and cheese with a sausage (a very good sausage).  Chicago was pastry and weak coffee.  A restaurant in Vermont served unlimited pancakes with maple syrup.  The main problem was the use of sawdust instead of flour to make the pancakes.  Many places had a good, but rather small, breakfast.  And just as many places served a large inedible breakfast.

In St. Louis I encountered a pork steak for breakfast.  It came with three eggs, biscuits and gravy, home fries, a big slice of ham and some sausage links.  I was just about to declare St. Louis a part of Texas when I discovered this was being served family style to the three of us at the table.  Oh, well.

I found a place near Oklahoma City that served a fantastic breakfast.  It was a truck stop café with seating for about 30 or so, but the parking area was a bit small, and about 20 trucks would fill it up.  Even so, the place always had people standing outside the door waiting to get in.  I was driving by one morning when several of the truckers were leaving, so I took advantage of the open parking and stopped in.  It was the right thing to do.

The waitress looked at me for about 3 seconds, and then said, “Fort Worth, right?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll get your breakfast.  Meanwhile, coffee’s over there.  Help yourself.”

I got my coffee and sat back down before I realized I hadn’t even ordered my breakfast.  But it didn’t matter.  Within a couple of minutes the biscuits and gravy arrived with a big chicken fried steak.  Two more minutes and I had three eggs over easy with home fries.  I was swallowing the last bite of the chicken fried steak when a plate of ham, bacon and sausages arrived, along with more biscuits and gravy and two more eggs.  She came back by with a bowl of grits, but before she set them down, she looked at me for a moment, and then walked away with the bowl.  She returned with two big cheese enchiladas and a wedge of apple pie.  (How did she know?)

“I’m sorry, but we’re out of apricot pie.  Hope the apple is okay.”

“Perfect.”

There were a few other ‘perfect’ breakfasts I found outside of Texas, and they were mostly at truck stops or out of the way cafes.  Not every perfect breakfast came with enchiladas and pie, but every one of them was good and in quantity.

A recipe for a Texas breakfast menu is not an easy thing to do, but here is a recipe for one of my favorite inclusions in a Texas breakfast.  Just remember, every breakfast is better with a couple of big cheese enchiladas.

Machaca con Huevos
Serves 4 to 6.

         Marinade:                                                 
    1 tablespoon A-1 Steak Sauce
    1 tablespoon soy sauce
    2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce                                   
    Juice of 4 to 5 limes
    Juice of 1 large orange
    1 chipotle chile in adobo, minced
    1 teaspoon adobo sauce                                              
    4 cloves garlic, chopped                                       
    1 teaspoon ground cumin                                        
    1 teaspoon chili powder mix                                        
    1/2 teaspoon dried crushed oregano                             
    1/2 teaspoon salt                                              
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper                        
    1/2 cup olive oil                                              
         Machaca:                                                  
    3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 4 to 6 pieces     
    1 large red onion, cut in half lengthwise, then sliced across  
    1 large red or green bell pepper, sliced                       
    4 cloves garlic, chopped                                       
    1 (10-ounce) can tomatoes with chiles, diced                  
    1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles                             
    1/2 cup beef stock                                             
    1 tablespoon dried crushed oregano                             
    1 tablespoon ground cumin                                       
    1 teaspoon Mexican hot pepper sauce such as Cholula or Tapatio                                     
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper                    
    Olive oil for the pan                                          

    8 large eggs, lightly beaten  
    1 small red onion, chopped
    2 New Mexico or Anaheim green chiles (preferably Hatch chiles)
    Unsalted butter
    3 plum tomatoes, chopped
    3 cups dried Machaca
    chopped cilantro
    flour tortillas

Marinade and Machaca:
Whisk all the marinade ingredients together.  Pierce the meat deeply all over with a sharp fork, then place the beef chunks into the marinade.  Cover and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

Remove meat from the marinade, drain, and pat dry.  Discard the marinade.  Allow the meat to sit, covered, for about 45 to 60 minutes to bring to room temperature. 

In a large heavy pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.  Sear the meat well on all sides, in batches so as not to crowd them.  Remove the meat as it is browned and set aside.  When all of the pieces are browned, pour out the accumulated fat in the pot leaving a layer of drippings on the bottom of the pot.  Bring the pot back up to a medium heat, add in the onion, peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes to soften. 

Add the tomatoes, broth, pepper sauce and spices, and cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to release all the browned bits.  When it comes to a boil, place the beef chunks back in and push down until each piece is submerged, and then lower the heat to bring down to a low simmer.  Simmer, covered, for a few hours.  Stir from time to time, but keep the heat as low as possible and still simmer.

After 2 ½ to 3 hours the meat should be fall-apart tender. Lift the meat out of the sauce, let cool for about 15 minutes, and then using two forks shred the beef along the grain.  Return some of the meat back into the sauce in the pan and cook some more to reduce and thicken the sauce.  This is perfect for burrito or enchilada filling, or served with rice and beans.  But reserve at least half of the meat to make the dried machaca.

Spread the shredded meat in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Bake in a 250F oven for 20 minutes.  Check after 20 minutes. The meat should be dry to the touch with no accumulated moisture beneath.  If not, dry an additional 10 minutes.  Alternatively, the beef can be dried on top of the stove using a cast-iron skillet over medium low heat.  Stir often.

Machaca con Huevos:
Saute the onion and peppers in butter, and when they have softened, add in the chopped tomato and machaca.  When hot, remove from the pan, and then on medium heat cook scrambled eggs until almost done.  Stir in the machaca and tomato mixture.  Garnish with cilantro. Serve with hot flour or corn tortillas.

As always, breakfast is best served with a couple of big cheese enchiladas, but I’ve said this before.

Since I moved away from Texas I don’t hear much about machaca anymore, and I don’t know why this is so.  I occasionally find it in a restaurant in a chimichanga, or a burrito, but I can’t count on getting my machaca fix very often unless I make it myself.  This is the recipe I’ve been using for a very long time, and as with most good eats, it isn’t fast food.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ice Fishing

I like warm weather.  Today is July 4th, and it’s warm outside.  Actually, it’s almost hot, but that’s okay.  I can always find a cool spot if I need it, but I can never seem to find a way to get warm when it’s cold outside.

I’ve lived most of my life in places like Texas, southern California, and Arizona, and I have rarely allowed myself to experience the cold.  At various times circumstances dictated a trip to cold country, but a shivering body and chattering teeth are not my favorite forms of exercise.  I think it is great that some persons like to ski, or ice skate, or snowboard.  I think it is great that some persons ride snowmobiles and some persons ride bobsleds.  I think it is great that Santa lives at the North Pole.  I think it is great that I live where it is warm.

In Fort Worth the temperature would occasionally drop below freezing in the winter and a reading of ‘zero’ was not overly unusual, but warmer days were never far off.  In Arizona cold nights were not uncommon, but warm days were expected.  And I’ve never seen snow in Long Beach, CA. 

My first experience with extreme cold was on a business trip to Great Falls, Montana.  I left Dallas in 70-degree weather and landed in Great Falls in minus 40-degree weather.  I had on a heavy coat, but it wasn’t enough.  When I stepped off the plane, I could instantly feel my various parts freezing.  Or maybe the problem was that I couldn’t feel my various parts freezing.  My parts were growing numb very fast.  I wore a handlebar mustache in those days, and when I placed my hand over my face to protect it from the weather, I broke off one side of my mustache.  It had instantly frozen.  So I did the only thing that made sense at the time—I broke off the other side.  Oh, well.

I rented a car that had a block heater.  At my motel I could park just outside my door and plug in the car to an electrical outlet to keep the engine block warm without running the car all night.  Cool.  (Maybe that was the wrong expression.)  I parked the car and went inside to get the extension cord the motel provided.  When I tossed it out of the door to uncoil it, the cord shattered in mid-toss.  It froze as fast as my mustache.  I guess that was the reason the motel had about a dozen extension cords in my room.

The following morning I met with the manager of the store I was visiting, and all he could do was stare at my face.  Finally I asked him if something was wrong.

“It’s your mustache.  Why is it so lopsided?  And your hair is a different length on each side.  Is this a new trend that hasn’t reached Montana yet?”

I knew my mustache had a problem, but my hair?  Apparently I had managed to break off a large portion of my hair on the way to the store that morning.  I wanted to go home.

On a business trip to Minnesota, I was talked into some ice fishing.  The temperature was only about 10 below so I wasn’t too worried about my newly re-grown mustache, but it was still very cold.  Leonard, the store manager, assured me we would be quite comfortable.  He had an ice hut.  I didn’t understand exactly what I was getting into, but I was reluctantly willing to give it a try.

About 5am we were standing at the edge of a frozen lake with a sled full of our gear.  Maybe I should say that it was all Leonard’s gear.  I owned absolutely nothing suited for this adventure.  In the dark distance I could see a number of cabin-like structures sitting out on the ice and most of them had smoke emanating from a pipe extending through the roof.  We were going out to the red one.  Wait, they were all red, but Leonard knew exactly which one was his.

I had never walked very far on ice before, but it wasn’t as difficult as I had supposed it would be.  Visions of slipping and sliding and falling were going through my brain, but nothing like that happened.  I just walked normally, and together we pulled the sled behind us to Leonard’s ice hut where a sign on the door identified him as the owner.

Inside we were sheltered from the elements to a degree.  The hut was about six feet wide and about eight feet long and had a wooden floor in it with a trap door that could be lifted up to expose the ice underneath.  There was a small cast iron stove at one end in which Leonard started a wood fire.  Soon there was a coffee pot on top of the stove and we were getting ready to fish.

The first thing to do was to open the trap door and cut a hole in the ice.  Leonard used an auger and a metal spade to accomplish this, and he threw the excess ice into a bucket and then he then tossed the contents out of the door.  He opened a small box and removed from it some heavy fishing line with a leader and a lure of some kind attached to the end.  Into the hole he dropped the lure and lowered the line about 10 feet.  And he sat there holding that line.  Occasionally Leonard would raise and lower the line a few inches, but mostly he sat there.  Finally I asked him what came next.

“Oh, well, uh, not much unless a fish bites.  Sometimes we need to scoop out the ice from the hole.  It re-freezes quickly.”  Leonard was happy, but I was bored—and cold.

It didn’t take me long to realize that only one person fished at a time, and Leonard was doing the fishing.  My job was to sit quietly, sip coffee, and keep the fire in the stove going.  After an hour of so of this, Leonard handed me the line so I could take a turn “fishing.”  No sooner than I had taken the line, a fish took the lure.

It wasn’t a big fish, although it did require some effort to retrieve.  I’ve never been much for hand line fishing, but when attempting it with cold hands and heavy gloves, it becomes rather difficult.  I couldn’t feel the fishing line through the gloves.  In fact, I couldn’t feel the inside of my gloves with my cold hands.  But I managed to get the fish up through the hole and into the cabin.  It wiggled for about ten seconds before freezing, and after I removed the lure, the fish was tossed into the corner of the cabin.  We didn’t need an ice chest—we were sitting in a freezer.

Then Leonard took over the fishing duties again, and I can honestly say I was glad he did.  I believe I could find more enjoyment by watching paint dry.  I was cold, I was bored, I was cold.  I threw more wood into the stove, poured another cup of coffee, and I waited.  About 10am I began to wonder what was going on outside the hut.  I opened the door to see snow falling and several men pulling their sleds back toward the edge of the lake.  Maybe it was time to go.

Leonard laughed at the idea.  “Wimps!  They’re just fair weather fishermen.  Afraid of a little snow.”  Apparently we weren’t going to go.

At last Leonard caught a fish and tossed it over with the other one.  I took the line when he handed it back to me, and I dropped the lure back into the hole.  And I sat there with Leonard looking at me as though he was the happiest man on this earth.  Maybe he was.  He was certainly happier than me.

It was well into the afternoon when I caught another fish, and I thought we would go home at this point, but I was incorrect about this.  Leonard wanted to give it another try.  I opened the door again to look out at the snow and could see little more than a gray/white fog.  Now I was starting to worry.  I actually had thoughts of abandoning this effort and trying to find my own way back to the truck.  But, 1) I didn’t have a clue where the truck was, and 2) Leonard had the keys.  I closed the door, threw some wood into the stove, poured another cup of coffee, and sat down.

Leonard caught his second fish about 5:30 and said that was probably about all the fish were going to pull out of there today.  At last he was going home.  We packed our things (including the four fish) onto the sled and started off into the now very dark fog.  With unerring accuracy we walked to the truck and within an hour I was back in my hotel room where it was warm.  Warm.

I was to visit Leonard’s store several more times over the next few years, but always in the summer.  He would constantly remind me of the great time we experienced ice fishing, and he would never forget to invite me back; however, for some strange reason, my visits to his store were always in the summer.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

John Henry

My great uncle was one of the most kind and gentle persons I’ve ever known, and his wife was every bit his equal.  Their life was hard, difficult at best, but the only time I ever heard a complaint was when the bag of pecans was getting low.

I’ve written before about Aunt Gertrude’s pies, but I’ve said little about Uncle John.  Sometimes it’s rather difficult to bring back his memory without remembering the loss I felt when he died.  I was almost twelve, and my family had just returned from a week in Missouri, when we were notified that Uncle John had fallen through the unfinished roof on one of his barns.  It took me a long time to adjust.  Even though it was over 50 years ago, the memories are still alive.

I enjoyed being at his farm near Kennedale where the world’s best watermelons grew.  I would go there during the summers with my grandfather to help out in the fields while the giant green orbs grew sweeter in the hot sun.  I don’t believe I was much of a helper, but I was made to feel useful, and always at the end of the day was the big dinner Aunt Gertrude would prepare.  After the pie was finished, we would retire to Uncle John’s sitting room where we would, uh, sit. 

There was no television, but we would watch the radio for a while.  Inevitably Uncle John would open his big bag of pecans, and we would all have a few.  That bag was never empty, although sometimes it would get a bit low; however, the following night it would be full again.  It took me a couple of years before I discovered the secret of the bottomless pecan bag, and it was so simple.  Uncle John kept several big barrels full of them in one of his barns.  Those pecans were used for Aunt Gertrude’s pecan pies, as well as many of the other special treats she made, but they were also used for just general munching.

The Texas state tree is the pecan tree, and they are everywhere.  The native pecan is a rather small nut with a hard shell and a rich oily flavor that no other pecan can equal.  There are many good pecans grown across America, and most of them are much better for decorating than is the Texas native pecan, but the flavor…  Uncle John’s barrels of pecans were gathered from the big native trees growing in the bottom lands along the banks of the Trinity River, but I also remember seeing a few 50 pound bags of paper shell pecans propped up against the sides of those barrels, so apparently any pecan was better than no pecan.  I agree completely.

A few years ago I realized that I have very few recipes requiring any nut other than pecans.  As I inherited or developed these cooking instructions, the pecan was always the preferred nut.  I never use peanuts (I’m allergic to them), hazel nuts sometimes appear, as do walnuts.  Somehow Chiles en Nogada would just be wrong with pecans instead of walnuts, but the pecan is the nut of choice for most of my cooking. 

I have often wondered if I made my choice of using the pecan based on taste preference, or through the influence of Uncle John.  Either way, I do like pecans, and one of my three- or four-hundred favorite ways to consume them in the form of a praline.  This is one of the simplest of candies to make, but be careful, it is extremely hot when forming the patty.

Texas Pecan Pralines
Makes a whole bunch, but never enough.

    1/2 cup granulated sugar                                       
    1/2 cup light corn syrup                                       
    1/2 cup butter                                                 
    1/2 cup heavy cream                                            
    1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract                              
    1 pinch ground cinnamon                                        
    1 1/2 cups chopped pecans                                      

Cook the sugar and syrup over a medium high heat to 250F. Remove from heat and stir in the butter until melted. Slowly add the cream until thoroughly blended (return to heat if needed).

Return to heat and bring the mixture to 242F. The caramel should be a deep golden color. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla, cinnamon, and pecans. Beat for 5-10 minutes until almost cool. Mixture should mound on the spoon but still be able to drop and be stirred easily. Drop (using 2 tablespoons) onto parchment. Allow pralines to cool completely before serving.

I don’t know how long the pralines keep.  They never lasted long enough to find out.

This praline is the chewy type.  My favorite, but I’ll never turn down the crunchy type either.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Deer Suit

I have written several times that I no longer hunt.  My body just can’t do it any more, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.  One of the things I often think about is my last deer hunt.

It was a simple affair in the mountains above San Bernardino, California many years ago.  I had two tags, one for bear and one for deer, and I had set up a small camp where I could spend a few days if I found it necessary to stay that long.

I arrived in the late afternoon to set up my camp, and later I grabbed my rifle to do some exploring.  I walked around for a few hours, returned to camp, ate dinner, and crawled into my sleeping bag.  By 6:30am the following morning, I was about a mile from my camp looking for deer.  A bear would be bonus, but even if I saw one, I don’t believe I would have taken it.

When the light became bright enough to distinguish the details of my surroundings, I slowly shifted my position for a better look around me.  There was a small clearing a few yards away, and just beyond that was a small flowing stream.  I waited.  And waited.

By late morning, I gave up and moved a few hundred yards uphill and a few hundred yards to the east.  From this position I could see down a long brushy slope to a grove of trees about 250 yards away.  It was a good spot, but the weather was a little warm, so I guessed the deer wouldn’t be moving around for another few hours.  I dug my lunch out of my pack and enjoyed the scenery for a while before taking a nap.

I awoke about 4pm to the faint sound of cracking twigs.  It wasn’t a big noise, but it was not the sound of a branch falling from a tree.  It was the sound of something being stepped upon, and I started searching for the point of origin.

I used my field glasses to examine the landscape around me, and I saw some movement in the shrubs about 200 to 220 yards downhill near the trees.  I focused in as sharp as I could with those 4x glasses, but I just could not tell with certainty what it was that was moving about.  I could tell from the movement of the vegetation that it was big.

I watched it for about 10 minutes before I could finally see a set of antlers moving about.  At first I thought it was just some twigs, but they were closely matched and moving in tandem.  It had to be antlers.

I exchanged the field glasses for my 30-06 and watched the movement through the scope just waiting for a clear shot.  After a few minutes the antlers began to sway side to side, and then they turned around as though the deer’s head was spinning 360 degrees.  Something wasn’t right.

I zoomed my scope to its full 10 power and looked as closely as I could at the deer.  Now I was really confused.  No deer I had ever seen was the golden color of dyed buckskin leather.  I made sure the safety was in place on the rifle, and exchanged it for the field glasses again.  I watched for maybe 15 minutes before the deer stood up on its hind legs, reached up with its front legs and pulled off its head revealing a man with a beard bushier than my own.

What was he thinking?  If I had possessed less patience and had decided to go ahead and harvest the deer I was seeing, the man could have been severely injured or dead.  I could go on a rant for many pages here, but I won’t.  I’ll just say that dressing up in a deer suit and running about in front of other hunters during deer season isn’t the smartest thing I have ever witnessed.

I immediately returned to my camp, loaded everything into my car and drove home.  I’ve never hunted since.

Monday, May 26, 2014

46th Annual Wild Game Feed

New Post on July 8, 2019.  51st Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on May 30, 2018.  50th Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on June 23, 2017.  49th Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on June 1, 2016.  48th Annual Wild Game Feed.

New Post on May 27, 2015.  47th Annual Wild Game Feed.

My order form for tickets to the 2014 Annual Wild Game Feed in Irvine, CA has arrived!   Last year I received several hundred requests for tickets from some who were just learning about the Feed, some who didn’t order tickets when the form arrived, and some who just forgot to order (how could anyone forget?).  The reality is the Feed was sold out of tickets by about July 1st, and this year they expect to sell out even earlier.  I missed many friends last year simply because they hesitated to order their ticket when the form arrived.  Unfortunately, I do not have tickets other than my own.  I am just a purchaser like everyone else.

That being said, this is the biggest Wild Game Feed I’ve ever heard of, and it’s the best one I’ve ever attended.  The food is a carnivore’s utopia, and it never runs out.  The beer is unlimited, and it never runs out.  Last year I arrived with 78 cigars, gave away about 125, and came home with 88—a gain of ten—after consuming 6 myself.  I met many old friends, made many new friends, and I was still meeting and making friends when the sun went down and it was time to go home.

I value my friends from the Wild Game Feed.  We come from many different walks in life, and it doesn’t matter.  Male (required), old (like me), young (but at least 21), rich, not rich, just named Rich, Wall Street, sanitation worker, bottle collector—at the Feed, we are equal, and we are friends, and we will remain friends.  We are there for only a handful of reasons.  Fundraising for charities is the main reason, followed closely by food, beer, cigars, and old/new friends.  Some are there for the drawings for the great prizes, and some are there for the competitions.  But all are there to have fun.

The organizers know what they are doing, and every year I’m amazed to see how smoothly it works from start to finish.  At no time does this event appear to become chaotic or disorganized, even with more than 1,300 guests.  Each member of the Annual Wild Game Feed has a specific job, and it always gets done.  It takes a year of planning by these dedicated men to pull it off, and ‘pull it off’ they do.  While it is hard work (for them), it is also great fun (for everyone else), and it is a terrific revenue source for various charities.  To the organizers, I thank you.

Remember to order your ticket as quickly as you can.  They will sell out.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Catalina Island

Yesterday I was walking Biggie across the street at the plaza from where the Belmont Pier extends out into the ocean.  It was a nice warm day, but it wasn’t completely clear.  A light foggy haze/smog was slightly diminishing the view to distant Catalina Island, but I thought to myself, “I’ve been able to see this island almost every day for nearly twenty years.”

After moving to SoCal in 1975, I lived at the foot of Mt. San Antonio (Old Baldy) for five months before I was able to see it.  The smog was thick virtually every day, and when the smog was light, the wind was blowing dirt in thick clouds.  Finally, one day I was driving somewhere with some new friends, and I saw the mountains for the first time.

“Where did those come from?”  The question blurted from my mouth before I could stop it, and my friends looked at me as though I had just lost my mind.

It was somewhat the same thing the first time I walked across the sand at Huntington Beach.  I could hear the ocean, but I was about twenty-five feet away from it before I could see it.

For seven years I lived in SoCal, and for about two of those years, I was an independent sales rep for a number of companies.  I traveled the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Barbara to San Diego regularly and almost never saw the ocean through the smog.  And the only times I was aware of the nearby mountains was when I was in them.

Smog was, and still is, a problem, but it is nothing like nearly forty years ago.  When Rachael and I returned in the early nineties from a ten-year stay in Arizona, the effect of emission controls on vehicles and industries was beginning to make a positive impact.  By the time we moved to our present home in Long Beach, Catalina Island (more than twenty miles away) was almost always visible, and I have rarely failed to start my day by looking at it.

Today, Biggie and I walked back to the plaza, and the island was perfectly clear.  We sat down on the edge of one of the big planters on the plaza and just watched as visitors from distant places came by and pointed out across the water and commented about how large the island is.  Of course, they also took time to pet Biggie.

I’ve been told I spend too much time reminiscing about the ‘good old days.’  Yes, I have some great (and not so great) memories of times gone by, but every day is another ‘good old day’ to add to my growing list.  Sitting on the planter with Biggie, long drives with my wife, friends at the Casting Club, the Wild Game Feed, working as an actor, writing, volunteering for projects as a master food preserver, leatherwork, fishing, cooking, reading—the list keeps on going, and it’s all good.  Catalina Island is just a bonus.  Maybe some day Rachael and I will take the ferry over there.  We’ve had tickets for almost fifteen years, and yes, they’re still usable. 

I don’t think of Catalina Island as a way to turn a bad day into a good day.  It’s just a reminder of how good I have it.  I am very blessed.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chucker

Everyone who has ever hunted chucker could sign their name at the bottom of this story, and no one would doubt they wrote it.  I heard it many times before my first (and only) chucker hunt, and I’ve heard it many times since.  The only way to hunt chucker effectively is in one’s dreams.

Bird hunting was usually an afterthought for me.  Fishing was always first on my list, and hunting was a second choice.  In the category of hunting, deer hunting was first, elk came in second, and at the very bottom of the list was bird hunting somewhere below rabbit hunting, squirrel hunting, and ‘possum hunting.  I was good with a shotgun, but I preferred single projectile hunting.

I was visiting a company store in Arizona one year and the store’s manager invited me on a quail hunt.  Okay, but I didn’t have a shotgun with me.  No problem.  The store manager had one I could borrow, if I didn’t mind using a twenty-gauge.  If I am going to bird hunt, I prefer a twenty-gauge, so the hunt was on.  We finished our work, and made plans for the next morning.

Lanny picked me up at my hotel about 3:30 the next morning and we drove about two hours to a valley where he said his family had farmed and ranched since the 1870’s.  Apparently they were the target of various raids by the people who occupied the land before them, but they had managed to remain and build generations of family.  Now the family just used the old farmhouse as a weekend retreat and hunting lodge.

We arrived with the sky growing light in the east, and I really enjoyed watching the valley come alive as the first rays of light met up with the lush green meadows and hillsides.  The stream running through the middle of it made me wish I had brought along my fishing equipment.  I thought this was a fantasy world—a painting that became a reality.  But this wasn’t where we were going to hunt.  This was where we were stopping for breakfast.

After a breakfast that was the dream of every Texan, we drove over to another nearby valley, and the contrast between the two valleys was indescribable.  The second valley was definitely a desert.  The cacti were everywhere, grass was nonexistent, and every bush had a rattlesnake under it.  This was where we were going to hunt.

The quail were running everywhere, and we kept the dogs busy for several hours as we gained our limit.  But I kept noticing another bird, and finally I asked about it.  Lanny bit his lower lip and looked down at the ground for a while before responding.

“They’re chucker.”

“Can we hunt them?”

“Only once.”

“Just once?  Why just once?”

“I’d rather not say.”

I couldn’t get anything more out of Lanny about the chucker, but as I traveled about the country, I began asking about chucker hunting.  I heard the same story over and over and over about how they are the mathematicians of the bird world.  They examine the type of shotgun one is carrying, the chokes, and the loads, They then watch the speed one is walking and calculate how fast they have to run uphill to stay just out of the range of the pellets.

Yeah, right.  But it took a long time for me to find someone who would join me for a chucker hunt.  At last I found someone.  $300 for the day (1971), plus food and beverages.  And fuel.  A dog would be $100 extra.

The hunt was back in Arizona, not too far from where I had been quail hunting with Lanny the year before.  This time I was much more prepared with snake guards and my own twenty-gauge.  Rhonda (the guide) suggested I use magnum #6 shot and a full choke.  He (yes, the name was Rhonda) also suggested I train by wearing heavy boots with 5 pound ankle weights and run up several flights of stairs four or five times a day for a couple of months before the hunt.

I felt stupid wearing a suit with heavy boots and ankle weights, but I did it anyway, and I’m glad I did.  As anyone who has ever hunted chucker knows, these birds always run uphill.  No matter how fast or slow a hunter is, the birds will always be about 50 to 60 yards ahead—running uphill.  I climbed those hills so much that day, my next stop could easily have been the top of Mt. Everest

Each time the birds reached the top of the hill, they would fly up into the air above my head and settle back down at the bottom the hill—always 50 to 60 yards from me.  I was glad for the magnum loads for the few shots I was able to take, but it was only for the birds that were behind in their mathematics homework.  I took about a dozen shots at chucker who strayed within 50 yards, and four of them went home with me.  But I must say it was a very tough day.


About 3 o’clock I had had enough.  I was hot, tired, thirsty, dirty, and frustrated.  I had encountered so many cacti that I had as many thorns as any of them.  I don’t remember ever having wasted so much money for such a small return on my investment.  And I now understood why Lanny didn’t want to talk about hunting chucker.  No one wants to be outsmarted by a bird with a Ph.D. in mathematics.