Sunday, October 31, 2010

Labor savin' backhoe

You appreciate the value of heavy machinery after devoting the past two Saturdays to working on the railroad. In the photograph, Bob McCormack of Placerville excavates a drainage ditch alongside the historic Southern Pacific Placerville Branch rail line near the Town of El Dorado. Bob operates M&M Performance, an auto repair and engine rebuild shop in Diamond Springs, with his son, Jeremy.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The things I do to keep my job!

The staff at work graciously allowed the clients to paint our faces today. The young lady that painted my face won the contest! The last time I painted my face I was crawling in mud with a M-16 rifle in tow.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Asian-style sauce for vegetables

Here's a quick Asian-style sauce that I use at work to flavor steamed vegetables. I use 1-1/2 to 2 cups sauce to flavor four pounds of cooked vegetables, which will feed 25 residents in my program.


If desired, add sauteed minced fresh garlic and ginger in place of the powdered versions. Adjust the amounts of soy sauce, oyster sauce and lemon juice to suit your taste. Substitute sherry for all or part of the lemon juice if desired.

3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup oyster sauce
Granulated garlic, to taste
Ground ginger, to taste
3/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup cornstarch

Combine, stock, soy sauce, oyster sauce, garlic and ginger in a saucepan. Heat to boiling. Combine lemon juice and cornstarch. Slowly pour cornstarch mixture into stock. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened. Check seasoning. Makes about 1 quarts sauce.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Culinary firepower

I trust the photographer made sure the M-4 carbine was clearned before he allowed the Sailor to point it at him!

SAN BERNARDINO STRAIT (Oct. 20, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Plowden, left, and Logistics Specialist Seaman David Mangum take positions during a visit, board, search and seizure team exercise aboard the amphibious transport dock ship USS Denver (LPD 9). Denver is part of the permanently forward-deployed Essex Amphibious Ready Group and is underway for a scheduled patrol in the western Pacific Ocean.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Bryan Blair.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wiskey Creek Dutch oven gathering

A DOG, or Dutch oven gathering, is a pot luck meal where participants cook cook their food offering in cast iron Dutch ovens. The dish is uaually cook at the picnic site where the Dog is being held.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fixin' salad

Strickly speaking, Seaman Mumphrey is preparing salad in the galley, not the mess decks. The mess decks is the naval term for the ship's enlisted dining room.

ARABIAN SEA (Oct. 12, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Christine Mumphrey, from Phoenix, Ariz., prepares lettuce for the salad bar on the mess decks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75). The Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group is deployed supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Marie Brindovas.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Please respect trains

I rode the Gold Line from mid-town Sacramento to the Hazel Station this evening. While the train was stopped at the University/65th Street Station, a westbound train slowly approached the station.

Several people must've ran between the two trains because the operator of my train gave this warning in a stern voice over the intercom:

"There is a train coming (on the track) beside me," warned the operator. "Please do not run in front of it."

I share her concern. Approaching trains kill and maim thousands each year. Many of these accidents occur at grade crossings.

Although I don't know the extent of Sacramento Regional Transit Anthority light rail safety record around its stations, I frequently see pedestrians darting around operating trains.

I'm reminded of a similar incident in 2007. As I waited for my evening bus home, I watched a young teenage pedestrian jump a coupler on the Blue Line at 8th and K Streets.

While these incidents didn't result in an accident, they're a stark reminder of what can happen when someone tries to outrun an approaching train.

Next time you see a train coming, please wait. You'll be rewarded with life.

I borrowed the image from an Amtrak conductor who's known as El Cobrador on Steve and I routinely share photos and information on local railroad operations.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Smokin' in Cayucos

You find smokers in the most unlikely places. When we checked in at the Cayucos Beach Inn two weeks ago, the clerk asked if we were with the "golf group." I said no and didn't think about the question until we returned from my nephew's wedding late that night.

At 11 p.m., I found several couples lounging around the picnic tables and large white tent in the parking lot. I must have missed the trailer-mounted smoker with its torpedo-shaped cooking chamber.

The motel parking lot was filled with the sweet aroma of oak when I walked to the breakfast room Saturday morning. I walked over to the smoker after breakfast and introduced myself.

Up at 3 a.m., the Texas-born pitmaster had loaded 12 full sized beef briskets into the smoker as soon as the fire was ready. Late morning found Roy, who now hails from California City, soaking in the brisk ocean air next to the smoker with the other cooks.

Roy and his companions were playing the waiting game, waiting for hungry golfers to return from the course and for the smoke to work its magic. Around 100 golfers were expecting Texas smoked brisket and simmered pinto beans at six.

Roy's mission was two-fold that morning: Give the golfers good food and tell them about brisket. No one knows about brisket in California, said Roy. When approached, most presume he's smoking tri-tip, a reasonable presumption since we were a few miles up Highway 101 from Santa Maria tri-tip country.

"Everyone asks me if I do tri-tip," said Roy. "I'm from Texas. I do brisket."

He's done well with the golfers. We're like family," explained Roy. Rightfully so. Most of the golfers are co-workers and acquaintances of his employer, a rock quarry in Ridgecrest, California. The crew gathers annually in the seaside community for a company golf tournament.

Too bad I couldn't hang around to feast on some tender Texas smoked brisket. The deep red hue invited me when Roy opened the lid to show me the meat. But a six-hour road trip called me home.

Finding a smoker may not be a standard occurrence in this beach resort. But when you mix a group of dessert golfers with succulent Texas barbecue, you have the fixin's for a good game and a great meal.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ford Model A smoker

Last Sunday I asked my readers to identify this dome-like structure. Other that the detail offered in the photograph, I only gave two clues. "While it's connected to a food device today, it has its origin as a non-food object," I said in my blog article of October 3, 2010.

Two intrepid readers posted their guesses as to the identity of the devise. Brenda first asked if it was a "pressure cooker" on Sunday evening. Her response sounds reasonable. As the past director of the Southern California Chapter of IDOS, Brenda wrangles cast iron Dutch ovens at the chapter's beach gatherings.

"I'm guessing a blowout for a steam loco," posted Ed on Monday from his Southern California home, where he chronicles his family's camping adventures at Our Camping Blog.

Neither Brenda or Ed supplied the right answer. You could say that Brenda came the closest to revealing the identity of the cooking devise. Here's another picture of the devise from last Sunday:

I found this trailer-mounted smoker at the California BBQ Association-sponsored Smokin' For Gold event at the El Dorado County Fairgrounds. Andy Ferrendelli fabricated the smoker out of a early twentieth century fuel delivery tank.

"The closest I've been able to date (the tank) is 1918-1920," said Andy. He found the tank in Colusa, California, about 14 miles south of his home in Princeton. After burning it out, Andy discovered that the tank was built in Wasco, California, by Baker Brothers.

Today the dome serves no purpose other that as a historical attachment to the smoker. A cleaned and polished brass fuel breather valve tops the clean-out port.

Three such tanks were mounted on a Ford Model A truck, said Andy. The tank is made of a nickel alloy.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The 1090

I know you can't wait to learn the answer to the question, "What 'food supply form' is Petty Officer White filling out?" It's the 1090, of course.

The 1090 is also known as the Food Preparation Worksheet (NAVSUP FORM 1090). The
Mess Management Specialist 1&C Rate Training Manual offers this explanation of the worksheet:
The first requisite to good cooking is an accurate knowledge of the items to be prepared. MS personnel have specific instructions on which foods to prepare, the recipe card number, the number of portions to prepare, time to start preparations, special instructions from the leading MS, and serving instructions. These instructions are furnished on the Food-Preparation Worksheet, NAVSUP Form 1090.
Now you know ...

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Oct. 6, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Melody White, assigned to the supply department's S-2 division, fills out a food supply form in the S-2 office aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). George H.W. Bush is conducting training operations in the Atlantic Ocean.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtis.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Three hands

Saturday morning, El Dorado Western Railway President Keith Berry instructed volunteer Cal Jessiman to give me a refresher course on the operation of the CP< No. 4 speeder. I last ran the track inection car two years ago at an open house on the site of the then proposed railway park in the Town of El Dorado.

Keith wanted my son Jacob and me to make several training runs between the El Dorado and Blanchard crossings while he picked up additional equipment at the county museum.

I followed as Cal detailed the protocol to start the speeder. "This is going to take three hands," explained Cal. I soon leaned what he meant.

To operate the Kalamzoo speeder, grip the clutch lever with your right hand and grab the brake lever with your left hand, said Cal. Then somehow, use your "free hand" to control the throttle.

As Cal explained the process, I rehearsed the emergency braking procedure in my hand and with my hands. Better to simulate disengaging the clutch and engaging the brake now than to fumble through it when a worker walks onto the tracks in front of the moving speeder.

To start the engine, set the brake and place the transmission in neutral, instructed Cal. Turn the key, while gently nudging the throttle forward until the engine catches. Next came the tricky part -- throwing the transmission into gear and proceeding without stalling the engine.

Cal continued. Disengage the clutch with your right hand, shift the transmission into low range and slowly let the clutch out. This is wear the three handed operation comes into play.

I slowly guided the clutch until the transmission was firmly engaged. At the same time I had to be ready to give the engine gasoline to keep it from cutting out. With my left hand on the brake, I slipped the clutch, slowly reduced pressure on the brake and gave the engine one-third throttle -- it worked!

The speeder only jerked once or twice. Two longs on the horn and we were off for the El Dorado Road crossing. (Two long toots on the horn tells railroad workers that you've released the brakes and are proceeding forward.)

Once we were rolling westward on the Placerville Branch, I asked Cal about the origin of his three hands tag. "You know, that sounds a lot like something Keith would say."

"That's exactly what Keith was telling me (yesterday)," said Cal. "You need three hands to do this." Cal operated the speeder for the first time Thursday.

Twenty-three minutes later the run ended. We arrived at Hagen's Crossing, a dirt driveway that crosses the tracks about one-quarter mile east of the railroad depot site. It was time to pass the throttle to the next operator.

Jacob jumped into the operator's seat. A bit apprehensive about the process, he motioned with his hands as I walked him through it.

"Wear gloves," I said as I guided him through the process. "The engine throws off a lot of heat. Keep your left hand on the brake and your right on the clutch and your eye on the road."

It was up to Jacob to figure out how to manage the throttle!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

What is it?

Here's a question for confirmed cooking gadget guys and gals in blogger land: What is it?

If you know the identity of the object in the photograph, please post your answer in a comment. I'll answer the question in a week or so.

I'll give you a clue. While it's connected to a food device today, it has its origin as a non-food object. For extra credit, can you identify the origin of the device?

My cast iron rule

This blog article began as a comment to the Ramblings on Cast Iron blog. After typing three paragraphs on my thoughts about purchasing cast iron skillets and Dutch ovens on eBay, I converted my comments into a blog post here.

I occasionally browse the cast iron listings on eBay, mostly for fun. I've never purchased any cast iron from the on-line auction site. Shipping is just too expensive, especially since many of the vendors seem to be located east of the Mississippi and I'm in California.

Any cast iron piece in my collection must be functional and ready to use. That's my rule. There are no idle pieces in my collection. Each piece must serve a function and be able to work over a hot bed of coals. You won't find any museum pieces in my modest collection (12 skillets, 13 Dutch ovens and two or three trivets).

When I purchase a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven (a rare event these days), I don't want to screw around with heavy cleaning or reconditioning. I leave that for others. Plus, I just don't have the time for the lengthy process.

This rule saved me from purchasing a $510 Griswold 20-inch cast iron skillet last year, a piece that I'd love to own. Two factors attract me to the skillet. It's size makes it the perfect cooking vessel for a crowd. The 20-inch skillet will make quick work of a big batch of cottage fried potatoes for a hungry crowd of campers.

The mammoth skillet was manufactured in a time when durability and quality meant something. While I find the contemporary Lodge 17-inch skillet is an acceptable replacement, the larger vintage Griswold or Lodge 20-inch skillet would be the perfect addition to my battery of cast iron cookware.

(For readers that feel compelled to advise me buy the Bayou Classic 20-inch skillet, please save your words. I won't buy it.)

If you feel the need to purchase cast iron through eBay, click over to the Ramblings on Cast Iron blog. "And I've found that many (eBay) sellers don't know much about what they're selling," warns greenturtle, the Ramblings' blogger. "Often, the description of the size and volume is listed incorrectly."

As a buyer, you need to do your homework. "And always search online for the current market price," adds greenturle. "Some sellers vastly overcharge." Armed with common model and size information, you'll also know that the "8" on the handle is the model number, not the diameter, for instance. The Lodge No. 8 skillet (SKU L8SK3) is 10-1/4 inches in diameter, not 8 inches.

Unless you're a serious collector of cast iron, my rule will serve you well. Avoid eBay and make sure each purchase is ready to work. If you locate a 20-inch Griswold skillet for a reasonable price, buy it. Make sure it's ready to fry up a huge batch of sausage gravy at your next family reunion breakfast.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Learning to drive

My son Jacob learned how to operate a speeder car on the Placerville Branch rail line today. Jacob and I joined a work crew from the El Dorado Western Railway at the site of the El Dorado County Historical Railroad Museum in the Town of El Dorado, California.

The Camino, Placerville and Lake Tahoe Railroad No. 4 speeder rolls into the old Southern Pacific Railroad depot site at El Dorado during a November 2008 open house. Also called a track inspection car, railroads used speeders to inspect the track and quickly shuttle work crews on the rails. Pick up trucks with flanged rail wheels replaced speeders in the 1990s.

Field day

In Navy parlance, a field day is a day, or specific period of time, devoted to heavy cleaning. When I was in the Navy, we typically devoted one evening each week to the field day. All ship's cooks, including the off duty watch, scrubbed every nook and cranny in the galley, bakery and food storage spaces.

SAN DIEGO (Sept. 30, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist Seaman Anne M. Alfiler, from Seattle, Wash., wipes down the inside of a ventilation system in the galley of Wardroom III during a ship-wide field day aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz is scheduled for a board of inspection and survey in October.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Orrin Batiste.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Roastin' red peppers

Nothing enhances the flavor of sweet red bell peppers like being roasted over an open flame. Heat even benefits Anaheim and poblano chilies, slightly hotter cousins to the sweet peppers. Roasting concentrates the flavor and caramelizes the natural sugars. Once the charred skin has been removed, the peppers can be sliced, diced or pureed and used in almost any dish.

I took this picture out Charlotte's Bakery and Cafe in Diamond Springs last month. Since chef and owner Carolyn Kumpe doesn't have a gas range or charbroiler inside the cafe, her cooks roast red peppers on the propane grill outside the store. Once roasted, the peppers can be used in sandwiches, salads and soups of all kinds.