Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Burgers on the Grill

How Many Ducklings?

Here's the answer to Sunday's puzzle ...

Eight ducklings (plus mamma, center left) swam away from the photographer along the eastern shore to Odell Lake.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Alton's Road Crew Has Dinner at the The Swinging Grill

The restaurant the most intregued me on Feasting on Asphalt, was the Mexican Hat Lodge, in Mexican Hat, Utah. The town of 88 residents is located near the four corners area of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Here's what a Scrips Howard News Service story had to say about the restaurant and lodge:
The menu is primarily steak, which is cooked outdoors on an open grill that is held up by a wagon-wheel-shaped frame and swings back and forth while the beef sizzles. Hence, the restaurant's motto: "Home of the Swingin' Steak."

J.D. Mueller's family has owned the place since coming to Mexican Hat in 1979. (The town gets its name from a giant sandstone rock formation that resembles an upside-down sombrero.) Initially a dance hall and beer bar, the restaurant opened in 1990 and has been dishing up slabs of beef ever since to tourists who come to town to go hiking, rafting or horseback riding.

There is no indoor seating - "it's too nice outside to be inside," Mueller says.

Everything is cooked and served outside, except for the beans, which are first prepared in a pressure cooker for an hour and a half, then finished off on a wood cook stove outdoors.

The dining area is lit primarily by a string of bare light bulbs that bathe the place in a yellowish, campfire-like glow. On some nights, a garage door raises to reveal a makeshift stage. Mueller and his family are all musicians, and the family band often entertains guests by playing covers of country and rock songs.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Mallards of Odell Lake

We watched a flock of female Mallard ducks during our stay at the Odell Creek Campground earlier this month.

The ladies, about four or five in number, lived around the headwaters of Odell Creek.

Each evening, they fed along the shore of the creek, which is the main drainage for the lake in the eastern Cascade Range in central Oregon.

Usually the main group of females paddled in the wake of several exposed rocks along the southern shore of the creek.

Momma and her ducklings held back 10 or 15 feet further down stream.

I was confused all week as to the number of ducklings. Then Friday morning I had an opportunity to count them as the sat in the morning sun near the campground.

Can you count the ducklings? How many are they?

The answer in a few days.

Alton Brown's Hash Brown Breakfast

Alton Brown's new series, Feasting on Asphalt, concluded last Saturday with the crew winding its way from Monument Valley, New Mexico into the Los Angeles Basin.

My favorite segment on Feasting featured a hasty breakfast of hash browns, bacon and eggs, prepared in Linda and Woody Mettler's rolling kitchen.

Hungry for hash browns, Alton sent his production crew ahead to arrange "a place to cook breakfast." What they found was the Mettler's large Class A RV, camped at Monument Valley.

Linda gave Alton a tour of the galley, which featured a microwave/convention combo oven, sizable pantry and refrigerator and freezer with ice maker.

"Wow! That's more food than I have at home," said Alton.

After a brief segue to the history of mobile camping, starting with covered wagon, Alton settled down to breakfast.

He grated the potatoes into a bowl of water. The water is key, said Alton, to removing excess starch in the potato.

Then came the bams! Lots of 'em.

I suppose he could've skipped this part. But since Alton recovered a bottle of Emeril's Essence from the pantry, I'm sure he felt obligated.

"What the heck is that? Emeril's? He's everywhere!"

Don't stir the hash browns, cautioned Alton. Just toss with a spatula in the skillet. He looks for a crusty exterior with a creamy interior.

The scene shifted to Woody, coffee mug in hand: "You folks wouldn't believe how much coffee he used."

Alton believes in full-bodied coffee, packed with flavor. I agree. It's the only way to brew.

"He brought a pound. He used a pound."

Woody feasted on hash browns, bacon and eggs -- and a large mug of joe -- as the Alton and the crew joined in.

Next up after the commercial break: My favorite restaurant on Feasting on Asphalt.

Until then ...

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Trust Bus

This bus pulled up one evening when we were camped at Harris Beach State Park last month. They spent one night at the beach-side campground.

Although I didn't meet the couple who owned RV bus, they appeared to be in their 50s. I'm not sure what the bus is about or where they were heading. The bus had California plates.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fire Finance

Have you ever wandered how fire media relations people can say, "The so-and-so fire cost $3.1 million dollars to suppress?"

The folks who staff the finance section tabulate all costs associated with the fire and pay the bills. They also serve as the incident time keepers and handle workers compensation claims.

The Mt. Hood Complex Wildlands Fire has been burning since August 7. Lightening started the series of fires in the Mt. Hood Wilderness and Badger Creek Wilderness.

To date, approximately 1,400 acres has burned. The fire is 35 percent contained at this time.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

West Davis Lake Campground

An Osprey circles above
the lake shore in search
of prey in the warm
afternoon sun.
We camped at West Davis Lake Campground for three days in July 1990. The camp, located along the west shore of Odell Creek as it enters the lake, was situated in a nice stand of lodgepole pines.

Today, the campground is closed. The Davis Fire destroyed the campground in 2003. The area since has been converted to day use. The boat ramp is still in use.

According the the website for the Deschutes National Forest, the campground was supposed to reopen in 2005.

The 21,000-acre fire destroyed much of the lodgepole pine forest that surrounds Davis Lake. The fire started somewhere near the East Davis Lake Campground, visible in the stand of live pine trees in the background. Investigators believe the fire was of human origin.

Lupine flowers grow in the meadow along Odell Creek, near the boat ramp.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Alton Brown Endorses Campfires

Alton Brown has a new four-part special on the Food Network. Feasting on Asphalt "explores the history of eating on the move." The two remaining episodes air on Saturday, August 12 and 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Here's Alton's endorsement of things campfire:
Although we’ll stay in the occasional motor lodge as needed, many nights will be spent under tent or stars. For vast majority of human history, hotels didn’t exist and eating meant lighting a fire. The social aspect of sitting around that fire is one of the things our culture lost by taking most of our meals locked inside our cars.
Alton Brown, 2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

More on Eating Local

As we pulled away from the motel in Florence during vacation, my son located the local Subway restaurant in the Rite Aid shopping center on Highway 126.

"Hey, we could go to Subway," he said.

"You forget my rule," I responded. "Remember, we only eat local on the road."

"But Subway is local," he countered.

I drove straight through the Highway 126-101 intersection down 9th Street to Old Hickory's (1565 9th Street, Florence, Oregon, 541.997.9739).

My son's right. All restaurants are local in a sense. I'm sure the Subway is owned and operated by a local business operator.

Even the chain stores hire local residents to staff their establishments. They depend on local patrons and travelers for business.

So, yes son, they're local only in the sense of the patrons and employees.

The cuisine is dictated by some distant headquarters. In many cases, the food is only heated on site -- it's actually cooked elsewhere at a large commissary.

Subway has some good sandwiches. I enjoy a BMT at the Subway near my office each week. But I save quick-serve restaurants for my work-a-day week.

Local restaurants -- like Old Hickory -- give us a chance to experience some of the local cuisine. Local chefs bring their ideas to the table. Each chef has his own take on a dish.

Although I didn't detect any unique preparation at Old Hickory, it was a pleasure chowning down on tender baby backs and chicken that was cooked just right. And the cole slaw was not too sweet -- just right in my book.

Plus you know that the food is usually cooked from scratch, especially at places like Old Hickory. It's fun to see how local chefs treat the same food we all love and enjoy.

I figure I can eat mass-produced food 50 weeks of the year.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Quick Dutch Oven Beef Stew

Last Tuesday, we escaped the constant driving wind of Oregon's Odell Lake and set out for a picnic at nearby Davis Lake. We camped at Davis Lake, which is located about 20 miles by road northeast of Odell, in 1990.

We remembered that the Davis Lake campgrounds and picnic areas were set in among the lodgepole pine forest between several tall volcanic peaks. To our advantage, the area was much warmer and calmer than Odell Lake.

Odell Lake is know for its "quite brisk" winds. The U.S. Forest Service webpage for Odell Creek Campground (where we camped) says "whitecaps occasionally form." This isn't quite accurate -- they form everyday, usually in the afternoon.

We found ourselves looking for activities away from the lake to escape the winds.

We never made it to Davis Lake for the picnic. Two factors impeded our decision to find a spot along Odell Creek: First, Forest Road 4660, the main access into Davis Lake from the south, was closed at the Odell Creek bridge. Contractors were strengthening the bridge.

And we discovered that the lodgepole pine forest centered around the lake was burned on June and July 2003. Although we were able to reach the lake once the construction workers went home at 5 p.m., the area wasn't conducive to a picnic.


Please don't let the adjective quick fool you. The stew won't be ready in 30 minutes or less. Instead, this meat dish is quickly assembled before letting it simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Unlike traditional beef stew recipes, the diced chuck won't brown as the moisture in the marinate impedes browning. The peppy steak sauce compensates for the missing flavor from the deleted step.

2 pounds chuck roast, 1-1/2-inch dice
1 cup A1 Steak Sauce Marinade
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium beef broth
2 large carrots, 1/2-inch slice
2 medium potatoes, 1/2-inch dice

Place meat in 1-gallon zipper top bag and coat with marinade. Set in cooler for 30 minutes. Pre-heat 12-inch Dutch oven over medium heat. Sweat onions and garlic in oil until soft. Place meat in oven with broth. Stir and simmer approximately 1-1/2 hours, until meat is tender. Add carrots and potatoes and continue cook about 30 minutes, until done. Serve with toasted garlic bread, biscuits or cornbread.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Corning Olive Festival and Dutch Oven Cookoff

I'm back home after a week at Odell Creek Campground at Odell Lake, Oregon. The campground is operated by the Odell Lake Resort. I'll have more to say in the coming week.

Here's the latest ...

Don Mason has informed me that the 2006 Corning Olive Festival Dutch Oven Cookoff will be held at Woodson County Park in Corning, California on Saturday, August 26, 2006.

He provided the details in Jpeg images. Let me know if you can't read them.