Thursday, September 30, 2010

Drivin' spikes

Drivin' spikes
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
When the El Dorado Western Railway drives spikes, it does so the old fashion way. Maul in hand, railway volunteer Ben Cunha takes his turn at driving a railroad spike on the Southern Pacific Placerville Branch last Saturday.

Railway crews are currently replacing missing spikes by manually driving them into the tie with a sledge hammer. Once the crew becomes proficient in the use of a sledgehammer, it will graduate to the traditional spike maul, a large double-sided sledge hammer with long, thin heads.

Historic Hawes Farm first annual Dutch cookoff

The First Annual Dutch oven cookoff at the Historic Hawes Farm will be held Saturday, October 30, 2010. This event will be held at Historic Hawes Farms, 21923 Dersch Road Anderson, California.

This is a three-pot contest. However, if you wish to cook in one or two pots, that is okay. The three-pots cookoff should have a main dish, bread and dessert. $100 and a plaque will be awarded to the first place winner for each category. Plaques will be awarded to second and third places. You could win all three! We will be cooking in an open air barn. Halloween theme table decorations are encouraged. A special plaque will be given for the best table decoration.

Please return the application by October 8th. We need to arrange for tables and chairs.

We will be there about 7 a.m.. Start cooking when you need to. A cooks meeting will be held at 9 a.m. and judging will commence at 1 p.m. The public may purchase tasting tickets ($5 each) to sample your dishes after they have been judged. The ticket holder then can vote for the dishes they like best. Plaques for People Choice Award will also be awarded.

We are encouraging all beginning Dutch oven cooks to participate and cook. You should have a good time and you can learn a lot. As our rules say, "Have Fun and Cook great Food."

If you have any questions please contact Don Mason at Hope you can join us for good fun and great food.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A summer of salads

All summer I worked on providing an extra salad for lunch each weekday. Many have become weekly offerings, in addition to the tossed green salad. To the residents, many who've spent the better part of their lives avoiding salads and vegetables, they're a refreshing change from standard institutional fare.

The combination of common fruits and vegetables (cantaloupe, pear tomatoes and cucumbers, for instance) with fresh herbs (mint in this case) transformed individual flavors into new culinary adventures.

Success is often measured in small steps at work. There's always going to be one or two vocal residents who'll never touch anything green. "I don't eat no stinkin' vegetables, Chef Steve," was the refrain from one such resident all summer long.

"Steve, you're an odd duck," proclaimed another resident as she watched me place a large bowl the cantaloupe and tomato salad in the refrigerator several weeks ago.

The combination of cantaloupe chunks, pear tomato halves and diced cucumber may seem odd to some. But when coated with a minty, slightly sweet vinaigrette, about half the residents enjoyed the salad.

Sometimes the oddest combinations produce the best results. Cantaloupe and tomato salad helped me present the melon in a new form, one that the residents appreciated.

If that makes me an "odd duck," so be it!


Here is a list of salads that I've posted to 'Round the Chuckbox over the past several years. In addition to the salads that I worked on this summer, I've included several from my tenure at FC Camp.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Southwest tortilla soup

Over the weekend, my wife in formed me her Tuesday lady’s Bible study was hosting a potluck lunch after class. Since I cook a lot of the meals at home, I used the opportunity to test a new recipe.

I found the original recipe in the article, "Some Like it HOT," in the September 2010 issue of Food Management. While the trade magazine’s pages are mostly devoted to managing large on-site dining operations, I enjoy reading the monthly recipe spreads. Several soups with a south-of-the-border flare caught my eye.

As often happens, the picture that accompanied the recipe for southwest tortilla soup first attracted my attention. The deep green pureed soup drew my attention because it resembled other soups that I often prepare at work (like split pea and cream of zucchini with basil).

I restructured the recipe to accommodate the ingredients that I had on hand at home. The original recipe didn’t include tomatillos. I thought that the addition of the common chili verde ingredient would add a nice bright flavor to the soup.

I also toned down the spice level by eliminating the red habanero and jalapeƱo chilies. I figured this would be a welcomed adjustment since many of the ladies in the Bible study are older. The milder poblano and canned Anaheim chilies would impart distinct flavor notes while reigning in the spice level.

I also plan on introducing southwest tortilla soup at work in the next week. Other than multiplying the recipe by a factor of four or five, I won’t change anything.


Smoked paprika will add a smokey flavor to the soup.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 sweet onion, quartered
4 garlic cloves
1 poblano chili, sliced
2 roma tomatoes, quartered
1 (7-ounce) can diced green chilies
1 (12-ounce) can tomatillos, cut in half
1 tablespoon cilantro
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cups chicken stock
2 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Salt and pepper to taste
Pepper jack cheese, shredded
Cilantro leaves for garnish

In stockpot or Dutch oven, saute onion, garlic, poblano and tomato in hot oil. After onions begin to caramelize, add cilantro, paprika and cumin. Cook for two minutes. Add canned chilies, tomatillos and stock.

Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes to develop flavors. Add corn tortillas to broth and let cook for additional 5 minutes. The tortillas should completely dissolve in the stock.

Remove from heat and puree soup mixture until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with pepper jack cheese and cilantro leaves. Serves 4 (1-cup) portions.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

As purchased

A week ago I posted this sample question from the 1976 Mess Management Specialist 3 & 2 Rate Trailing Manual:

What does the abbreviation A.P. stand for on a recipe card?
1. As preferred
2. As purchased
3. After peeling
4. After parboiling

With many Navy multiple-choice exams, you can always rule out two answers as incorrect. The leaves two possible correct answers. You can eliminate numbers 1 and 4. "As preferred" and "After parboiling" don't make any sense to the trained cook. If you selected number 3, "After peeling," you're on the right track.

In a recipe, the notation "A.P." (for "as purchased") signifies that the ingredient is to be weighted in its purchase state. This means the ingredient is weighted before parring, peeling or trimming. Once the waste portion has been removed from the ingredient, the resulting part is called "Edible portion" (or "E.P.").

The correct answer is number 2, "as purchased."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

PG&E No. 35 trolley car near White Rock Road

The Pacific Gas & Electric Trolley No. 35 picked up railroad workers near the White Rock Road grade crossing as it prepared to return to Hampton Station on Sunday, September 19, 2010. The El Dorado Western Railway came close to putting its Whiting Trackmobile to work on the Placerville Branch line. Around 2:30 p.m., an official from the Folsom Rail and Transportation Festival stopped by our booth to ask if the Trackmobile was available to recover the trolley as it had stalled on the tracks just north of White Rock Road.

We were told that the trolley's power supply had failed and the vehicle that was going to tow it back, a Regional Transit Unimog hi-rail truck, had jumped the rails. Event organizers thought that the Trackmobile was the ideal recovery vehicle. To effect the recovery, plan was for Keith Berry to drive it south on Old Placerville Road to the site, mount the rails between the Unimog and the trolley and tow it to a point where crews could repair the generator.

In the end, our services weren't needed. But it would've been a photographer's dream to see the El Dorado Western No. 601 Trackmobile towing the PG&E No. 35 back to the northern terminus.

Like EDWR's Trackmobile, the trolley was one of unique artifacts at the Folsom Railfest. It required an alternate source of electricity for the event since the Placerville Branch doesn't have overhead power lines. Normally, the trolley is more at home on the Regional Transit rail lines, where it draws electricity from overhead power line through the trolley pole.

Photographer Philip S. Rose provided some insight into the operation of the trolley in the Village Life newspaper: "To power the vintage rail conveyance, Railfest organizers rented the huge generator being towed behind. (Folsom, El Dorado & Sacramento Historical Railroad Association) member Bob Morrison built a rectifier to convert the AC to DC power for the old streetcar."

The trolley was used throughout the weekend event to give paid rides to the public. The PG&E No. 35 was built in 1913 by the American Car Co. PG&E ran it on its Sacramento City Lines until 1934, when it was retired.

"In 1999, Sacramento Regional Transit purchased a beautifully restored trolley (PG&E 35) from the California Trolley & Railroad Corporation in San Jose," according to the Railway Preservation Resources (RPR Consulting) website page for Sacramento. "The car had been completely rebuilt in the late1980s as part of group of seven immaculately restored trolleys for operation in San Jose. Car 35 is operated on special occasions over a portion of the Light Rail system in the downtown area."

An interesting fact about the trolley is that it carries two road numbers. When restored, the car operated as the San Jose Railroad No. 129. The No. 35 wasn't available and it was renumbered 129, the next available number for the railroad. When Regional Transit purchased the car, a representative told us that the purchase agreement required them maintain the car's No. 129 identity.

Conductor Eric Olds of Folsom, punches a passenger's ticket on an afternoon trolley run on Saturday. Eric is a member of the Folsom, El Dorado & Sacramento Historical Railroad Association. He frequently operates their Skagit No. 30 speeder as the motorman.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seagoing cookoff

When I worked at a large state-run institution, the kitchen occasionally hosted an in-house cookoff. We'd do ribs in the fall. Springtime was reserved for chili. Since we couldn't take time out of our busy schedules to cook on-site, each contestant cooked the dish at home and presented it to the judges at work.

Everyone enjoyed the contests and adjoining potluck lunch. It gave us a chance to compare cooking styles and helped to boost morale.

PACIFIC OCEAN (Sept. 20, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Jonathon K. Yates, from Greenville, N.C., stirs chili for the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group chili competition in the galley of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). Culinary specialists from all units in the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group were invited to participate in the chili cook-off. Abraham Lincoln is underway on a scheduled deployment to the U.S. 7th and 5th Fleet areas of responsibility.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brian Morales.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A proud moment

It's a proud moment in the life of an Sailor she makes chief petty officer. The advancement of Chief Craig took place 25 years after my advancement to chief mess management specialist in 1985.

BLUEFIELDS, Nicaragua (Sept. 16, 2010) -- Chief Culinary Specialist Lafern Craig, from St. Thomas, Jamaica, salutes the side boys as she is piped in during a chief petty officer pinning ceremony aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD 7). Iwo Jima is off the coast of Nicaragua in support of Continuing Promise 2010, a humanitarian civic assistance mission. The assigned medical and engineering staff embarked aboard is working with partner nations to provide medical, dental, veterinary, engineering assistance to improve mutual understanding of medical issues and technology.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Christopher Stoltz.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Test time

I probably took around two dozen advancement exams during my 29-year active and reserve career. That's an exam every six months until I passed the exam with a high enough score to warrant advancement. All example were multiple choice.

Here's a sample question from the 1976
Mess Management Specialist 3 & 2 Rate Trailing Manual:

What does the abbreviation A.P. stand for on a recipe card?
1. As preferred
2. As purchased
3. After peeling
4. After parboiling

Do you know that answer?

EAST CHINA SEA (Sept. 9, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Lea Bansil takes the Navy-wide E-5 exam aboard the forward deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2). Essex is part of the forward-deployed Essex amphibious ready group and is on patrol in the western Pacific region.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Matthew A. Ebarb.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I don't claim any bit of authenticity in my rendition of pasticcio. Until last night, I had never heard of pasticcio or its Greek cousin, pastitsio. It's one of those dishes that I worked out without looking into its origin. So it may not meet the expectation of an expert in authentic Greek or Italian food.

My rendition quickly evolved after watching the "Timeless" episode of Diners, Drive Ins and Dives. Host Guy Fieri featured the Greek Corner Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., as the lead diner in last night's show.

Restaurant owners George and Themis Boretos menu a baked pasta with meat sauce that's topped with a custard-like Bechamel and baked. As I watched one of the brothers demonstrate how to make the casserole to Guy, I grabbed my notebook and wrote down the process.

Instead of preparing the meat sauce with the clove and cinnamon, I worked on a simple way to convert the recipe to Italian flavors. I didn't want to introduce the Greek flavors just yet at work. A casserole with the more familiar Italian flavor profile would be more widely accepted.

When I arrived at work this morning, I looked up pastitsio on Wikipedia. It's a "Greek or generally Middle Eastern baked pasta dish including pasta, meat sauce, and a custard or bechamel sauce. The dish comes from the Italian tradition of 'pasticcio (di pasta),' literally mess or scramble."

It's interesting to note that the Greek term "pastitsio takes its name from the Italian pasticcio, a large family of pies often involving pasta and ragu. Many Italian versions include a pastry crust, some include bechamel." Other than to note the similarity between the two dishes, I didn't take the time to look up the Italian version.

I found the brother's recipe on the Food Network after a couple clicks. Their recipe became the basis for my rendition. This helped me work quickly instead of taking time to recreate the dish. The doubled recipe easily fit in a 2-inch deep hotel pan.

I don't think the residents cared about the authenticity of my pasticcio. They enjoyed the flavors. I will prepare the casserole again soon.


This recipe is adapted from one provided to the Food Network by the Greek Corner Restaurant. The pasta and meat mixture fills the hotel pan to the brim. The firm bechamel will fit in the pan without spilling over.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Ground black pepper, to taste
4 bay leaves
1-1/2 tablespoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 pounds ground beef (80/20 blend is best)
Salt, to taste
1 cup peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 pounds ziti or penne, cooked
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
Bechamel sauce, recipe follows

In a large saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil, onion, garlic, black pepper, to taste, bay leaves, basil and oregano and saute for a few minutes. Add ground beef, stirring continuously, until all the meat is cooked and browned. Stir in salt, to taste, fresh tomato and tomato puree. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, then remove the bay leaves.

Brush a 2x12x20-inch hotel pan generously with melted margarine. Add the cooked ziti or penne, beaten egg, cheese and meat mixture. Mix until well combined. Top with bechamel sauce and sprinkle with more grated Parmesan. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes in a preheated 300-degree F oven. Remove from the oven and cool 15 minutes.

Cut 4 by 6 for 24 regular servings. For hearty eaters, cut 3 by 4 for 12 large servings.

Bechamel sauce:
2 quarts milk
1 pound margarine
1 pound all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and ground black pepper

Heat the milk in medium saucepan over low heat. In separate medium saucepan over medium heat, melt margarine, then add flour and mix well. Stir in heated milk, beaten eggs, cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg, to taste. Whisk until thickened. Keep warm until ready to use.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Barbecue of cat?

My son caught our young male black and white cat napping in the ash pan of out Webber kettle grill the other day. One would hope he moves before things get toasty!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tuna and noodles

During my teen years it would seem on nights that I was famished, mom always baked a hearty casserole of tuna and noodles. I could never endure the large chucks of celery floating in the casserole. Consiquently, I never really cared for the combination of canned tuna, sauce and noodles.

To this day, tuna and noodles is one dish that I won't purposely eat. I don't remember the last time that I sat down to a helping of the casserole. And I've never cooked it for my own family.

Tuna and noodles wasn't my first choice for dinner at work last Wednesday. My original thought was to prepare hamburger stroganoff, a dish that the residents have enjoyed monthly for the past several months.

A resident who's approaching the half-way mark in the program asked me Tuesday if I could bake tuna and noodles with canned cream of mushroom soup. She'd recently resolved to offer solutions instead of continuously complaining about "chicken burnout." I accepted the idea and menued it in place of the stroganoff.

The residents began asking "What's for dinner" early in the afternoon. With the division between likes and dislikes running neck and neck, I though the casserole was going to be a disaster. Battle lines were clearly drawn. They either loved it or left the kitchen in disappointment.

Then something happened. As the afternoon progressed, likes inched ahead of the dislikes. By dinner time a full 60 percent of the residents said they looked forward to the meal. Over 90 percent of the residents ate the tuna and noodles for dinner that evening.

"Mr. Steve, you did good," said a resident as I headed home for the evening! I smiled and thanked her. I was able to take a dish that I don't like and deliver a quality product to the residents.


One (2 pound 11 ounces) pouch pack of tuna will work for this recipe. Sysco sells 6 pouches in each case under the Classic label.

I prepared the casserole with 1 (50-ounce) can of condensed cream of mushroom soup. See note for procedure. To boost flavor, add 1 pound sliced mushrooms to the sauteed onions and celery.

1-1/2 pounds egg noodles
2 pounds 12 ounces tuna
4 ounces margarine
12 ounces onions, small dice
12 ounces celery, small dice
3 ounces all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 quarts chicken stock
6 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Cook noodles according to package direction. Drain and place in bowl. (Should yield 4-1/2 pounds cooked.) Flake tuna and add to noodles.

Melt margarine in medium-sized saucepan. Add onions and celery. Saute until tender. Add flour and pepper to onion mixture. Stir until blended. Cook 5 to 10 minutes.

Stir in chicken stock gradually, stirring constantly with wire whip. Cook until thickened. Add tuna and noodles to sauce. Stir gently until well blended. Check seasoning.

Pour noodle mixture into greased 12x20x2-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with cheese. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Bake at 350°F until mixture is heated to 180°F and cheese is melted, 30 to 45 minutes. Serves 25 (8-ounce) portions.

Note: One 50-oz can condensed cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup and 1-pint milk may be substituted for the sauce made from margarine, flour and chicken stock.

This recipe was adapted from 11th edition of Food For Fifty by Mary Molt, Ph.D, R.D. (Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2001).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Enterprise Sailors enjoy steel beach picnic

This article highlights a Navy tradition at sea ...

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Travis S. Alston, USS Enterprise Public Affairs

USS ENTERPRISE, At sea (NNS) (September 9, 2010) -- Sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65) participated in their first steel beach picnic in more than three years Sept. 3 as the ship was underway conducting work-ups and flight operations.

A steel beach picnic is an outdoor barbecue on the flight deck where Sailors can relax and enjoy some well deserved rest while underway.

It's not uncommon for ships to take time out of their busy schedules to focus on crew morale. Traditions such as picnics, crossing-the-line ceremonies, and captain's cup competitions provide a boost to crews accustomed to working 12- to 18-hour days in demanding environments.

The picnic included ship's company and embarked squadrons' participation in Morale, Welfare and Recreation-sponsored events such as inflatable jousting, volleyball, table tennis, inflatable Sumo wrestling, pie in the eye and a bench-press competition.

Members from MWR, led by the Enterprise's Fun Boss, Brooke A. Newton, played a major role in planning and organizing the event. Newton is a civilian aboard whose job is to provide recreation activities for Sailors.

"This is a ship-wide event and requires all hands to assist," said Newton. "I am planning the recreation side of things as that's my role here aboard the ship. But I have the help of more than 100 volunteers in addition to the Supply Department Sailors to make these things successful."

Supply Department's S-2 Division took on the strenuous task of providing more than 4,200 Sailors and Marines with a feast of traditional barbecue-style entrees consisting of grilled Italian sausage, grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans, pasta salad, assorted cookies and brownies.

"The steel beach picnic gave the culinary specialists a chance to show off their skills," said Chief Culinary Specialist (SW/AW/SCW) Kathryn I. Thompson, the ship's food service production chief. "The majority of our food preparation and services happened the night prior. The CSs prepared more than 2,000 pounds of hot dogs, 3,000 pounds of hamburgers, 500 pounds of onions, and 300 gallons of baked beans."

For some Sailors aboard the ship, this event gave them an opportunity to take a breather and socialize with their peers before the ship's return to homeport.

"We were able to smile, enjoy each other's company and talk about something other than what happened at work," said Chief Aviation Maintenance Administrationman (select)(AW/SW) Courtney A. Kittrell. "It also gives us time to relax after working so hard."

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Weaverville Dutch oven cookoff

Hi All:

Mark your calendar for this great Dutch oven cookoff. Lots of fun and lots to do.

Don Mason

Dutch Oven Cookoff
Trinity County Historical Society
P.O. Box 333
Weaverville, CA 96093

Dear Dutch Oven Cooks:

On Saturday, October 9, 2010, the Trinity County Historical Society is hosting its 3rd annual TCHS Dutch Oven Cookoff. Proceeds from the cookoff go to a special project fund of the TCHS.

Cooking will take place in the Hal Goodyear History Park at the Jake Jackson Museum located on Main Street/Hwy 299 West in Weaverville, California. The cooking area opens at 7 a.m. A cooks meeting and sign-in will start promptly at 9 a.m. with People's Choice judging commencing at 1 p.m. This is a 1 to 3 pot cookoff: main dish, bread and dessert. There is a $10 entry fee per dish.

The public will be invited to purchase a tasting ticket and a ballot ($5 per person) to sample and vote for People's Choice Awards for each category (main dish, bread and dessert). Each category will have 1st, 2nd and 3rd place prizes. Prizes this year for each category are: $100 for 1st, $50 for 2nd, and $20 gift certificates to the TCHS for 3rd.

The table judged as "best looking" will receive a 1st place prize. The theme of the tables will be gold mining (the cook-off takes place in a gold mining history park). Judging will be based on theme, visual impact, beauty/order, and creativity.

Cookoff entrants will have a 12’ x 12’ cooking area with one table. You will be cooking in an open area so bring a type of E-Z up instant shelter. Trash cans for regular and recycled materials are provided.

Breakfast is easily had in the neighborhood of the park: The Nugget to the south and the Garden Cafe to the north, and often there is a community breakfast held at the Parish Hall of the Congregational Church (as of this letter this event has yet to be formalized).

Other activities are held the weekend of October 9th. The Salmon Festival will be celebrated in the Highland Art Center's park across the street from the museum. The museum will be holding a blacksmithing course on the same day.

My contact cell number is 530-410-8013. I look forward to seeing you in Weaverville. Come "show off" your culinary skills and enjoy beautiful Trinity County.


George P. Chapman
TCHS Dutch Oven Cookoff Chair

Contact the historical society for a copy of the rules and entry form.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Breakfast, plow disk cooker and Labor Day street fair

I set out this morning just after 8 a.m. to see what was happening at the Diamond Springs Labor Day Bazaar. Since the Firefighter's Association has centered the street fair around Fire Station 49 on the west end of town in recent years, I walked the length of Main Street before encountering any booths or exhibits. I made a straight line for Charlotte's Baker and Cafe for coffee and a morsel or two for breakfast.

I found chef and owner Carolyn Kumpe and crew busy frying torrijas and enpanadas. While I didn't taste the empanadas, they looked good. She filled them with two or three cheeses and served the stuffed pastries with a lively salsa.

After acquiring my obligatory cup of coffee, Carolyn handed me a paper dish with four gently fried torrijas slices . At a dollar a slice, the Spanish-style French toast made for a quick breakfast. From the first bite I knew I'd found a special treat.

Carolyn featured her torrijas with raspberry and orange blossom honey syrup on a Mother's Day special on News10 last May.

Torrijas are traditionally served at breakfast during Easter in Spain. Like traditional American French toast, torrijas is a popular way to use day-old bread. Carolyn used day-old baquettes, cut on the bias, for hers.

While talking to Carolyn, I saw this shallow outdoor pan. Mounted on a 60,000 BTU propane burner, the pan appeared to be a homemade. It's a cross between the shallow chef's sautee pan and a cast iron skillet.

The cooker was constructed to sit securely on the burner. The last thing you want is to accidently dump hot oil onto the burner. It looks like the cooker was made from of a discarded plow disk. The plow disk cooker can be used as a wok, heavy skillet or pan fryer.

I would've loved to hang around and talk to Carolyn and her cooks. But they were busy and I had to get over to the engine house to held the El Dorado Western Railway crew prepare the new Whiting Trackmobile for the parade at 1 p.m. My report on the parade is found at the El Dorado Western Railway blog.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Close call

A Placerville family is safe this afternoon after a wildland fire damaged their home on Missouri Flat Road. The fire was sparked by a malfunctioning catalytic converter, according to FOX40 News at 5:30 P.M. Firefighters contained the fire before it grew out of hand.

The fire had the potential to destroy a number of homes in the vicinity. At one point, the CHP Traffic Incident Information Page reported that it was evacuating Halyard Lane to the northeast of the fire. The fire had the potential to wipe out about a dozen historic California Door Company mill homes on Wedge Hill.

Units from the Diamond Springs-El Dorado Fire Protection District (DSP), El Dorado County Fire Protection District (ECF), Rescue Fire Protection District (RES) and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) responded to the incident. DSP Fire Chief Todd Cunningham was on the scene. While I'm not certain, he may've been the incident commander.

A cell phone call by my daughter alerted me to the fire shortly after 1 p.m. She encountered the CHP blockade at Forni Road while traveling south on Missouri Flat. Christen deduced from drifting smoke and a circling helicopter that a fire in the area caused the road closure.

Little did Christen know that she awakened the fire photographer in me. While I don't desire any loss of life or property, there's a certain sense of excitement when a fire occurs in the area. (I'm certain that excitement would turn to panic if my home was threatened by an advancing wildland fire.)

Bright yellow Nomex fire suits, polished red fire engines and drifting smoke all come together to make for great photography. Add a long camera lens and plenty of action and you have the potential for award-winning photographs. Although I've not received any awards for any of my photography, it's personally exciting to produce colorful photographs that are full of action.

In the past three years I've chanced upon four incidents that have given me the opportunity to "play" fire photographer. They include the 49er and Palmer fires in 2007. The 49er burned within two miles on my home. I also caught aircraft action at Dawson helispot and on the Clay Fire in 2008. Today was my first opportunity in two years to photograph a fire.

Here's a sampling of the pictures that I captured this afternoon:

The fire damaged the south side of the house, which was originally built for mill workers employed by the California Door Company. Shortly after I took this picture, I saw firefighters dragging smoldering objects from the interior of the house.

Firefighters assigned to Engine 2761 mop up hot spots on Wedge Hill. The CalFire engine is based at Station 20 in Camino. The headquarters of the Amador-El Dorado Unit (AEU) of CalFire is located at Station 20.

A firefighter assigned to AEU Engine 2771 just shut off the reel hose from the engine. You can see water dripping from the nozzle when you enlarge the picture. E2771 is quartered at Station 43 at the El Dorado Wye.

Water Tender 46 dwarfs E2771 during the mop up stage of the fire. Three water tenders supplied much needed water to the units on the scene.

A FOX40 cameraman interviews DSP Assistant Fire Chief Erik Peterson. The television station only ran a 10- or 15-second video of the fire as the second story at 5:30 p.m. The chief's interview was omitted from the coverage.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Zucchini hummus, part 2

Wednesday as I cut fresh broccoli and cauliflower into florets for the vegetable tray, one young resident approached me in the kitchen. "Mr. Steve, why do you hate us so?" said the resident as I arranged broccoli and cauliflower on the platter.

She was joking, of course. I've learned that you have to take resident pronouncements with a grain of salt. This resident was really saying, "If you really like us, you’d serve sweets for snack!"

At any point, about half the residents express a dislike for anything vegetable. Press individual residents and you'll learn that one likes broccoli, but eschews spinach in any form. Another will turn her at the sight of anything green, but will eat potatoes in any form -- fried, mashed, scalloped -- it doesn't matter. ("Get real, Mr. Steve. Potatoes aren't vegetables!")

I can only count Wednesday's vegetable tray with zucchini hummus as a partial success. While many clients loved the hummus, most devoured the dip with the accompanying tortilla chips. About half of the broccoli and cauliflower florets and the carrot sticks came back into the kitchen.

It seems that success came at a cost. They loved the healthy hummus with its bright, garlicky flavor and full-bodied goodness. Even though many ignored the fresh vegetables, they did eat a few tablespoons of pureed garbanzo beans and fresh zucchini.

According to the article in Relish that accompanied the recipe for zucchini hummus, I succeeded. "Raising an Adventurous Eater" (page 16, September 2010 issue) cites The Gastrokid Cookbook by authors Hugh Garvey and Matthew Yeomans.

Rule no. 6 for "Reclaiming the Family Dinner Table" is best applied here:
When in doubt, add salt, fat and acid. A tiny pinch of salt turns on the flavors of food. A tiny bit of butter adds sweetness and richness. The slightest spritz of lemon juice balances food and gives it another bit of contrast.
Garvey and Yeomans describe a practice that I follow each day at work. Make the food taste good, especially vegetables that are so often ignored by the residents, and they'll eat it. The addition of judicious amounts of salt, fat and acid adds life to foods that are otherwise bland.

As I posted the other day, the residents polished off the zucchini dip in about 20 minutes. Two full bowls of the dip satisfied their mid-afternoon hunger pains without loading them up on excess fat and sugar. A quick nutritional analysis in MasterCook shows the zucchini hummus is balanced nutritionally, with approximately 35 percent of its calories from fat.

Since I'm always looking for idea in my quest to instill an appreciation for vegetables (and other foods), I purchased the book yesterday. What works for children should translate into a drug and alcohol treatment facility. I'll report back when I receive my copy of the book. I'm sure that I'll have more to say about the issue as we move along.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Zucchini hummus

The residents at work attended an event at the California State Capitol today. Since I didn't have to cook lunch, I used the rare opportunity to complete my end of the month paperwork and to visit a new food outlet in mid-town Sacramento.

I was restless toward early afternoon. Instead of setting one of my regular snacks out on the counter, I used the extra time to prepare a welcome-home snack. In addition to tortilla chips and fresh tomato salsa, I prepared a vegetable tray with a zucchini hummus dip.

I found the hummus recipe in the morning paper. I generally pick up The Sacramento Bee so that I can browse the food section each Wednesday. (Incidental, I learned about the new food outlet, the Grocery Outlet at Capitol Ave. and 17th St., in today's paper.)

The recipes comes from Relish, "America's first food magazine distributed in your local paper the first of every month." I first prepared a double portion of the recipe as printed in the magazine. To give the dip a heightened flavor punch, I added extra minced garlic and lemon juice.

The residents polished off the first bowl of hummus dip in 13 minutes! "Mr. Steve, we like that stuff," exclaimed one resident as she wiped the bowl with a piece of broccoli. I quickly figured it was pointless to explain the ingredients in the dip. They liked it and weren't concerned about its makeup.


1 (28-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups coarsely chopped zucchini
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 kosher teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency is reached. Makes about 1 quart.