Last time I baked pizza in a cast iron skillet, I had intended to bake the pizza in a 14-inch Dutch oven. I set up a chimney of charcoal briquettes on the patio. Switching direction midway through the process, the charcoal sat outside on the patio for three weeks.
In the meantime, the Sierra Nevada foothills received five inches of snow. A dome of snow capped the chimney. With melting snow dripping down the chimney, I figured the charcoal was lost.
I didn't bother to inspect the charcoal as it dried.
The Dutch ovens remained in the garage through most of February. Itching to cook outdoors today, I rescued a 10-inch camp oven and set it on the Dutch oven table next to the charcoal chimney. With a new storm on the horizon, this seemed like the best time to use the charcoal.
I lit the wadded newsprint under the chimney. Blue smoke drifted into the backyard within minutes. A week of unseasonably warm weather dried the charcoal. Even the paper immediately caught fire. The family was enjoying a nice meal within the hour.
I'm happy. One of my favorite Dutch oven meals, Mexican rice with chicken (arroz con pollo), was on the menu. And I didn't have to discard a chimney of charcoal.
For 42 years I've had two culinary careers -- one that paid the bills and the other imagined. Growing up in Fresno in the 1960s, I attended Camp San Joaquin in Sequoia National Forest. To me the cook and his assistant had the best job. Where else could I pursuit my passion for cooking and my love of the mountains at the same time, I reasoned? With retirement here, ambition may soon turn to gold, Lord willing.