ChaCha passed

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Our dog, ChaCha, passed today. Many thanks to Arrowhead Animal Hospital and Dr. Grant Mayne, for the care and understanding in her final days here with us. ChaCha was a stellar dog. She performed all endeavors with vigor and love. ChaCha displayed splendid behavior that we could all learn from. Pleasant journeys old friend and we’ll see you down the road.

 

The One Armed Cookbook: Halibut on a Cedar Plank

halibut on cedar
Halibut on a Cedar Plank

If you thought you only cook salmon on a cedar plank, you’re wrong. We had planks down South one time but no salmon. So we decided to use halibut, which we had lots of and a new recipe was born. And we’ve loved it ever since!

First you need a plank. You can buy planks that cost more that then the fish is worth if you go to a BBQ store or you can make your own and save lots of pesos.

We live in the mountains where cedar is abundant. You just cut a dry cedar log to length and split it into less than 1” planks. Or you can go to any DYI box store and buy cedar fencing. Cut it into about 8” lengths and you’re in business. Make sure the wood has not been treated with anything. You’re pretty safe with cedar. It usually isn’t. But ask someone at the store if you’re unsure. The ¾” thickness that most fencing planks come in is perfect. You can actually use them more than once.

So now you have a plank cut to a length that fits your filet(s). The next step is to soak it in water for about an 30 minutes. You can add apple juice, homebrew, wine or whatever to give some interesting aromas and taste if you like.

Ingredients:

Filets of halibut, lemon, brown sugar, salt, pepper, garlic and a little olive oil.

 Steps:

Lightly rub the filets with a little olive oil.

Sprinkle filets with brown sugar, chopped garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

Slice a half lemon and lay slices on top of the filets. Save a little to serve with the filets.

Place the plank on a hot grill and let set covered for about 10 minutes before you put the fish on.

Now place the filets on the plank(s) and cook until it flakes but is still moist, depending on the thickness about 15 or 20 minutes. You just need to watch it and not drink and talk with your friends; unless you’re a woman as they’re capable of doing more than one task at a time.

It is important to close the cover of the BBQ to get the benefits of the cedar smoke.

When you savor this delicate dish with it’s cedar smoked flavor, you will cry and believe that life is splendid.

Weekly Lessons From the Road: Fresh Chicken Enchiladas

Boy with Chickens
Fresh Chicken Enchiladas!

As I write this, I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop in the world, Hotshots in Lake Arrowhead, CA. And believe me, I’ve been to my share around the world and all pale to this gem in the mountains of Southern California.

When my dish came I was reminded of another time I ordered chicken. I had been riding a 2nd Class bus for days after crossing the Guatemalan border into Mexico. I knew this was going to be an adventure when I saw the sign on the bus driver’s visor that read, “Jesuscristo Mi Copiloto—Jesus Christ is my Copilot.” Above the inscription hung a collection of crucifixes and crosses and a picture of Christ ascending into the heavens.

As we wound through the first mountains that evening, I noticed the bus driver was turning his headlights off when passing on blind curves. He explained to me that this allowed him to see the lights of oncoming vehicles. He laughed when I suggested that another vehicle could be doing the same thing and pointed to the sign. I retired to the back of the bus with some campesinos and shared my flask.

As the trip progressed, I contracted dysentery requiring the bus driver to make frequent stops. Ultimately, the patience of the driver and the passengers was at an end and I found myself in Vera Cruz recuperating. A kind lady hotelier and a local pharmacist eventually put me right, which is another story.

I knew I was on the mend when I had the overwhelming craving for fresh chicken enchiladas, Vera Cruz style. My hostess told me of a local restaurant in her neighborhood that made the best in the city. She laughed and assured me they would be really fresh.

I decided I was strong enough to walk and could use the evening air. As I made my way through the narrow streets it began to rain, slowing my progress. Finally, I saw the little place down an alley and quickened my pace to get out of the weather.

I was about halfway, when a young man sprinted past me chased by a rotund policeman; huffing and puffing, pistol drawn. I had just enough time to dodge into an alcove as he began firing. After a several shots he bent over trying to catch his breath. The young man disappeared into the mist. The policeman and I went to dinner.

Inside was so steamy that you couldn’t see out the windows. My newfound friend and I were the only customers, so took seats near the kitchen. The policeman validated that the enchiladas were the best in town. The waitress was a short, little firebrand that stood tapping her foot impatiently as she waited for our orders.

I asked her if the chicken was fresh before I ordered. She laughed, as though to a private joke and assured me I wouldn’t find fresher. Right after she entered the kitchen with our orders, a small boy darted through it’s swinging doors, past us, disappearing outside. I quizzically looked at the policeman but he just shrugged assuring me all was normal. Of course, I took that with a grain-of-salt as this was the same man who minutes before had been shooting at someone out front.

Now, in Mexico you wait for your meal. It takes time and nothing happens very quickly. But usually it’s worth it. Dinner is a social event that should be savored. But this dinner was really taking a long time. Just as I was about to call the waitress over, the boy returned with a chicken under each arm and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later we heard squawking and the chopping of what sounded like a cleaver followed by silence; except for subdued laughter and the rattling of pots.

After about half-and-hour, we had the freshest and most savory chicken enchiladas I’ve ever tasted to this day. And I made a few lifelong friends that have enriched my world ever since, but, as I said before, that’s another story.

The road to the freshest chicken enchiladas you’ve ever tasted, can be a long and unpredictable one, but, as in life, the rewards can be great.

Baja Bound!

Bahia de los angeles, campo gecko

In a few days, I’m headed to baja for a couple weeks because someone has to keep an eye on things 🙂 …. I entered the 101st. Airborne, jump school on April 23,1967, Fort Benning, Georgia..After that, was–well, after that. .So I like to be somewhere that I feel I earned….. You know what I’m talking about Johnnie Griffitts and  John H. Bogacki … We made it and are still going on… The only easy day was yesterday and yesterday was a …….

Weekly Lessons From the Road: A Polite Robbery

chilimac
Chili Mac

Back in the late sixties I was traveling with some friends along the coast road from Puerta Vallarta to San Blas. We had the road to ourselves and the stars were just coming out as we wound through the jungle. I had just repaired my BMW motorcycle and for once it was running well. I had hoed weeds all summer to earn it from an old man who had it setting in his barn (a story in itself). We were moving fast enough to cool us from the sweltering humidity when we came upon a tree blocking the road.

I was the first to stop and investigate. As the rest of our group came to a stop, a small group of armed men and women stepped out of the jungle and surrounded us. The leader pointed an AK-47 at me and demanded money. I was intimately familiar with this weapon as I was just out of the military. I could tell he was uncomfortable and surprised when he realized that we were all gringos.

Immediately, I took exception and told the leader that he couldn’t take all of our money as we needed to get home and, further, my girlfriend was expecting. This threw the whole group into a whispered discussion. Now, I admit I made the part up about my girlfriend but the rest was true. We had all stretched our spring break, which was designed to be a week long, into several months. Our parents (especially my girlfriend’s) and the college officials did not see the humor in our change of vacation plans.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, the leader nervously asked me how much we needed to get home. I replied that we only had a $125US between us and we needed a least a hundred to get home. I pointed sympathetically to my girlfriend. We bartered for a good hour and finally settled on us giving them $25US and cooking them dinner.

Everyone relaxed and the AKs were set aside. It was a communal affair with us sharing what we had for dinner. This being the sixties in Mexico, the women cooked while the men shared a bottle of tequila chased by macho stories. This was the birth of one of the recipes in the one-arm cook book, Chili Mac. They loved it.

The evening wore on as many of us nodded off. Our impromptu campfire died down and as silently as they stepped out to meet us, they drifted back into the jungle like sleep walking ghosts.

After moving the log I commented that it was the politest robbery I’ve ever heard of. I learned that evening that sometimes when you step into a drama and you just have to play it out. Besides, there might be a story in it.

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Weekly Recipe From The One-Arm Cookbook: Chili Mac

Okay, here is a staple for all of us who have been adventuring in Baja over the years. This is a dish you truly can prepare while sipping a beer in one hand. We always carry a couple of pounds of macaroni and a several cans of chili just in case. And we’ve gotten so use to preparing this while setting up camp that everyone complains if we don’t! In fact, our children have been known to ask for it when we’re settled and could cook anything.

You cook this after a long day of traveling overland trying to get unlost. You finally have found the beach you’ve heard about and its getting dark. So, chili mac comes to the rescue. You can cook it in minutes while your sipping a beer and setting up camp.

I apologize in advance to my foodie friends and bloggers I follow. But when in Baja, necessity is the mother of all invention. 

Here’s all you need: a little salt, 4 cans of chili (8oz.) and a 1 pound of macaroni to serve about 5 or 6 hungry adventurers.

Chili Mac ingredients
Chili Mac Ingredients

Steps:

Boil 4 quarts of water (salt to taste) or use sea water.

Heat cans of chili – or if you want to get really gourmet, use homemade you already prepared.

Dump the 1 pound bag of macaroni into to the boiling water. Bring back to boil and stir occasionally. Mac should be ready in about 6 to 8 minutes depending of altitude.

When the mac is soft to your taste, pour the water off. If you’re on a moto you probably didn’t bring a colander so use a lid; or we’ve even been known to use a flip flop when desperate.

When the chili is warm, mix both together and enjoy.

It will replinish you and give you enough energy to finish setting up.

Tomorrow, you can go out and catch a real meal!

Chili Mac
Chili Mac – All you need is a cerveza.

Weekly Lesson from the Road: Language and Communication

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Communication

Early one morning in Playa de Estero I woke up to a loud conversation just outside my window. I couldn’t really tell what was being said at first but it was loud. I was living in an old airstream trailer at the time and had all the windows open. It was August in Baja on the Pacific side and the fishing had been spectacular and the dinners and drinking even better. So it was just way too early to be waking up.

I slowly pulled myself out of bed to see who was making so much noise when I saw and learned something very special. Three old friends were straddling their bicycles out front. They were so intent talking that they didn’t notice me .

It was Vic, Coach, and K-Mart Bob causing the racket. All three men were pushing 90 years old and had been friends for over 60 years. Vic was a tall lanky man who looked  like what I imagined Don Quioxte be like. He was missing an ear from his time in the South Pacific in WWII and he was stone deaf without his hearing aides, which was most of the time as he thought they made him look old. K-mart Bob definitely didn’t have his. I had helped him search his whole trailer the day before. He thought his dog, Misty, had eaten them. K-mart Bob had been a manager of a K-mart in San Diego before retiring in Baja. Coach, had been the women’s swimming coach at Claremont College and before that had played in the 1936 Rose Bowl. He always wore his but they didn’t do much good. Both Coach and K-mart Bob would’ve made a good Sancho Panzas to Vic.

As I leaned out the door and listened, I was mesmerized. All three men were shouting at each other trying to be heard as they gastrulated dramatically. Coach asked K-Mart Bob, “Are you feeling any pain this morning?” K-mart answered, “No! I don’t need a Goddamn Cane! What about you?” Vic interrupted, “I don’t have the flu why is it going around?” They continued in this way for a good 15 minutes, conversing but not actually hearing each other.

When they finally broke up, I stopped K-mart and asked him what they had been talking about. He said that they had had a good visit like they did every morning. For years they had made a point to stop and “catch up.” He paused and said, “You know there’s a lot of flu going around.”

I learned early that morning that communication was not really about language at all.

Weekly Recipe: Halibut on Foil with Butter and Garlic topped with Fresh Parmesan Cheese (Cheese is optional)

Ken with two keeper halibut
Ken with two keeper halibut

Halibut on Foil with Butter and Garlic topped with Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese (cheese is optional):

In Baja, besides motorcycling, there is the fishing and believe me it’s world class. Both coasts, the Pacific and the Sea of Cortez, offer year round fishing with literally hundreds of different species to catch.

But if you find yourself in the estuaries of the Pacific, get yourself over the shelf of a sloping sandbar in about eleven feet of water, and you can catch halibut almost any time of the year. Some months are better than others but fresh halibut is our favorite. These are California Halibut and keepers for us weigh around 6 pounds but can grow up to 35.

Our dear friends, Tom and Candy Lanza, created this dish years ago. And we stole it without shame! My wife, Tammy, has made this recipe a tradition in our family. You can cook these delicate filets in a pit filled with coals on a lonely beach or in a BBQ on your back patio back in civilization.

Out of all the ways to cook this divine fish, we feel this is the tastiest and the easiest method after a long day out adventuring, especially down in Playa de Estero, where the halibut are plentiful.

Serving size:

 Depending on size of the halibut, 1 to 1 ½ fillets per person. Left overs will not go to waste!

 Ingredients:

A couple of sheets of aluminum foil

Fresh halibut filets (1 ½ per person)

Garlic salt to taste

1 stick of real butter

Fresh grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Method:

Filet a fresh Halibut and put on plate

Pat down the Halibut with paper towels, put back in frig or ice chest to keep chilled

Heat up BBQ (charcoal or gas) to piping hot but leave the top open or off (closing the lid will end with poached fish not crispy)

Lay out aluminum foil with the edges turned up to catch and hold the butter (double layer of foil recommended)

Smear a half of a stick of real butter on the foil and be careful not to poke holes in it

Sprinkle liberally with garlic salt on the butter and foil

When the butter is bubbling, lay the filets of halibut on the foil

When the edges of the fillets start to whiten and less pink is visible, gently flip the fillets, smearing more butter on the foil to prevent sticking

(Optional) – Sprinkle with fresh grated parmesan cheese

Cook until flaky and white, no visible pink in the center… poke with spatula edge, the fillet should bounce back when done

Fresh Halibut
Ready to come off the grill!

When you taste this delicacy you know you are living well and so go forth!

Serve with rice and beans or rice and fresh steamed green beans or just by itself!

Life is very good.

We Don’t Own Things–Things Own Us! – Weekly Lessons from the Road

Ready to head out for a three month adventure in Baja.
Ready to head out for a three month adventure in Baja.

It is always the same every time I get ready for an adventure. I get so wrapped up in the planning and packing that I’m exhausted by the time I throw my leg over the motorcycle and twist the throttle. And what is craziest about all this is I always pack too much which is half the reason I’m tired in the first place. I realize it is not the effort of packing but how all that stuff weighs on the mind.

I learned from many past adventures, that, except for emergency gear, if you haven’t used it in first three days you don’t need it. So I pack it up and send it home at the first chance I get. This makes for better traveling; as packing and unpacking gear is faster and less cumbersome when setting up and breaking down camp and its just plain easier to find where I stashed something on the motorcycle. Life on the road becomes less cluttered.

So, while it is easier for me now days to get ready for an adventure, I still pack more than I need. And really, I’m down to one pair cargo pants that make into shorts, two pairs of underwear, one Jetbol to cook in–you get the picture.

I have slowly grown into to a minimalist on the road. But what I’m noticing is that this philosophy has carried over into my life off the road. After several months out, I return needing less, and more, importantly, wanting less.

To paraphrase Thoreau, we don’t own things–things own us.

Have any of you found this to be true? Or is it just me?