Thursday, January 31, 2008

Don Mason's Dutch oven newsletter

Here's the latest edition of Don Mason's Dutch oven newsletter.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A late breakfast ... eggs over splat

Not bad for a guy who's trying to cook, take pictures and nurse a mending leg at the same time. This is my first attempt to catch eggs over easy in motion.

With the camera on a tripod, I opened up the diaphragm to f/3.5 and set the ISO to 800 (hence, the graininess). On the Canon 350D kit lens, you can only use f/3.5 with the lens set at 18mm. I did this to achieve the fastest shutter speed possible (1/125 sec) without using the flash.

I then positioned the camera on the tripod without concern for composition. I figured I could crop the photo in post-processing. My goal was to have the lens at its widest to capture runaway eggs in the frame.

The trickiest park of the whole process is doing two things at once. The first pat of butter went down the drain as a burnt offering to the plumber. After cooling the skillet, I waited to melt the second pat until the camera was ready. Once the eggs were ready to flip, I maneuvered the skillet with my left hand while depressing the trigger in burst mode with my right.

For the record, both yokes broke as they pancaked into the skillet. The goal is to "raise the pan to meet them so that the exposed yolks experience the softest landing possible," advises Food Network host Alton Brown. It's difficult to control the action of the skillet when your attention is divided between two seemingly unrelated actions.
And save the pepper for the plate. The black streaks on the pair of eggs don't look that appealing.

I've adapted Alton Brown's classic recipe for eggs over easy to a cast iron chef's skillet (which really means I replaced the words "non-stick" with "well-seasoned cast iron" -- all else remains). A gentle wipe with paper towels after each use will preserve the slick skillet for many breakfasts. Clean the skillet while warm.

I reserve my Lodge Logic Chefs Skillet for eggs. That means nothing -- I mean nothing -- else gets cooked in the skillet. Use another skillet for pork chops.

2 eggs (the fresher the better)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Salt and pepper

Heat a small well-seasoned cast iron skillet with sloped sides over low heat and add butter. As soon as the butter stops foaming, crack the eggs into the pan. Lift the handle about an inch so that the eggs pool in the far corner of the pan. Hold for 30 seconds or until the whites start to set, then lower the handle and give the pan a jiggle just to make sure there's no sticking. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and continue to cook over low heat until the whites become opaque.

Jiggle to loosen the eggs, then lift the pan, holding it about a foot above the heat. Now, flip the eggs over by pushing the pan away and snapping upward simultaneously. Once the eggs start their somersault, raise the pan to meet them so that the exposed yolks experience the softest landing possible.

The goal of course is to avoid breaking the yolks. If you succeed, count to 10 slowly then flip the eggs again, slide them onto a plate and serve. (Here's the best part ...) If the yolks do break, act like you meant them to, fry for another minute and serve. They'll still taste great.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2008 Northern California Dutch oven cookoffs

Here's a list of Dutch oven cookoffs in Northern California for 2008. Don Mason, who chair several of these events, assembled the list, which also includes one event in Oregon. Check with the contact person for applications, information and maps and to make sure dates and time are correct.

Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff
January 19, 2008: Colusa County Fairgrounds, Colusa, California
Contact: Vicky Stegall 530-458-8009 or Liz Dawley

February open

Nor Cal Sports Show and various cookoffs
February 29 to March 2, 2008: Shasta County Fairgrounds, Anderson, California
February 29: iron chef cookoff
March 1: Dutch oven cookoff
March 2: BBQ cook-off
Contact: Lynn Gilliss 530-365-1381

Colusa Western Days and Dutch Oven Cookoff
April 4-6, 2008: Colusa County Fairgrounds
April 5: Dutch oven cookoff
Contact: Colusa chamber of commerce 530-458-5525

Cook’en in the Park Dutch Oven Cookoff
May 17, 2008: Red Bluff Marina City Park, Red Bluff, California
Boy Scouts and 4-H cooking teams are invited
Contact: Red Bluff Parks and Recreation 530-527-8177 or Don Mason 530-527-1027 or

Fall River Pioneer Days and Dutch Oven Cookoff
June 7, 2008: Fort Crook Museum, Fall River Mills, California
Contact: Jim and Caroline Geiger 530-873-4863 or

High Desert Challenge of the Black Pots
August 2, 2008: L&S Gardens, La Pine, Oregon
This is a three pot IDOS sanctioned cookoff
Contact: Linda Stephenson 541-536-2049 or

Olive Festival and Dutch Oven Cookoff
August 23, 2008 (saturday) corning, california two dishes must contain california processed olives. Contact: corning chamber of commerce 530-824-5550 or don mason
530-527-1027 or

Draft horse classic and Dutch Oven Cookoff
September 21, 2008: Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley, California
Contact: fairgrounds 530-273-6217 or Larry Martin 530-764-5310 or

Fortuna Apple Harvest Festival and Dutch Oven Cookoff
October 4, 2008: Rohner Park, Fortuna, California
The dessert dish must have apples
Contact: Aaron Atkisson 707-764-5310 or Fortuna Parks and Recreation 707-725-7620

November open

December open

If you have a Dutch oven cookoff coming up in 2008, let Don Mason know soon. He will add your event to the list and send out a correction.

Dutch oven cooking newsletter
Don mason
23390 Hillman court
Red bluff, California 9608

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chicken Spaghetti

Tonight's meal comes from jail and fits every stereotype of jail food. It's heavy, starchy and loaded with fat.

But the creator of this baked chicken casserole missed one important stereotype about jail food -- it tastes good. And yes, it fills you, and makes you feel good about the meal.

The cooks at the Ionia County Jail, Ionia, Michigan, regularly prepare chicken spaghetti. "Inmates ask to take this recipe with them when they are released," said cook Cindi Ruehs. Cole slaw, peas, mixed fruit, bread and margarine accompany the meal.

The recipe is featured on the 2008 Jones Zylon Cooking for Crowds calendar. The company supplies the corrections industry with serving trays, dishes, flatware, carts and racks.

Monday night, I found that Reuhs' chicken spaghetti recipe easily converts into a skillet casserole dish. You'll get eight to 12 servings in a standard 10-inch skillet. A precooked (4-1/2-pound) fryer and a one-pound box of spaghetti formed the base for my recipe.

I roasted the chicken Sunday evening with one sliced onion and one carrot in a 375-degree F. oven. Monday, while spaghetti cooked in a large stockpot, I boned and diced the chicken, discarding the skin. The roasted onion and carrot added a nice flavor element to the casserole.

When cooked to al dente, I dumped the drained spaghetti and diced chicken into the skillet. I then mixed 2 (14-ounce) cans of condensed cream of chicken soup, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper together in a medium bowl. The sauce, chicken and pasta were mixed in the skillet.

I baked the casserole in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes. Although Reuhs' adds cheese to the sauce, I elected to top the dish with shredded sharp cheddar cheese after crisping the pasta in the oven. Once I spread the cheese over the casserole, it took another 20 minutes to add some color to the cheese and bring the whole dish to 165-degrees in the center.

Chicken spaghetti is a great one-skillet dish. Add frozen broccoli flowerettes or peas to boost its flavor profile. A handful of diced flat leaf parsley makes a simple garnish.

And the nutrition profile isn't as bad as you'd think. One serving (at eight servings per skillet) contains 533 calories with 54 percent of the calories from fat. You can reduce fat in the recipe by using Campbell's 98% fat free condensed soup and discarding the chicken skin.


25 pounds diced chicken
4 cups diced green peppers
12 pounds spaghetti
3 (50-ounce) cans chicken soup
3 (50-ounce) cans mushroom soup
5 pounds shredded cheese
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons pepper
3 pounds margarine

Day before serving: Cook and dice chicken. Save chicken stock to cook spaghetti in. Dice green peppers. Day of serving: Start preparation about 2:30 p.m.

Remove fat from stock. Cook spaghetti in stock. In tilt skillet, melt margarine and saute green peppers until tender. Add soups to butter mixture and heat until warm.

Add cooked spaghetti and diced chicken. Heat to temp (165-degrees F.). Add cheese and mix in.

Servings: 120 (8-ounce) black or orange handle spoodle.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Falls on Fly Creek

Falls on Fly Creek
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
I was envious of my brother's ambulance ride in the early 1960s when we lived in Fresno. Although my death-defying attempt to stop an automobile with my bicycle was serious, mom transported my to the hospital in the backseat of the family car. Michael's similar accident one year later gave him the honor of being the first on my generation to make the same journey in the back of an an ambulance.

Content to stay out of the backseat of an ambulance, I've lived my life in the 46 years since the accident in relatively good health. That was until yesterday, when -- indirectly as a result of climbing down the rock embankment on Sunday's photographic adventure -- I rode in the back of Medic 48 from my home to Marshal Hospital in Placerville.

I awoke at 5 a.m. Tuesday with excruciating pain in my left-upper leg, pain that was more like a day-long leg cramp. I finally called 911 about 2 p.m. when I realized that my leg wasn't getting better and there was no one to take me to the hospital -- my wife is visiting the grandkids, my mother was out all day and my son (who doesn't drive) was in school. The doctor said it looks like tendonitis.

So, it looks like I'll have to par back some of my photographic jaunts until my leg heals. It looks like I won't be climbing dowm any rock embankments soon.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Eagle Club rock art

Eagle Club rock art
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
An outdoor author (Colin Fletcher, I believe) once said only ancient Indians are allowed to build a campfire up against a large rock. All others must use a campfire ring. (I searched in vain today for the quote, but couldn’t find it.)

This “ancient” advertisement must follow in that line. We only permit pioneer casino owners to paint their billboard on a rock. All others must erect a sign.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A ride through Wilson Canyon

I first saw Wilson Canyon eighteen months ago I helped friend Keith haul a 1940 Dodge Power Wagon from Yerington, Nevada. The West Walker River cuts through the mile-long canyon on its journey south to Topaz Lake. Though not as spectacular as other canyons, it offers many photographic opportunities.

The two-hour drive from Placerville to Yerington gave me time to scout a score of photo locations. As I pointed the truck through the American River canyon on Highway 50, my son jotted images of the drive in my notebook as I dictated.

I didn't have time to shoot the canyon during our 2006 visit. Loading and towing the Power Wagon occupied most of our time on that trip. After a visit to see my aunt, who lives in Yerington, we pointed our two-truck caravan back home. I never was able to photograph the beautiful scenery along the way.

Yesterday, I returned to Yerington for a sadder visit -- to attend the memorial service for my cousin, Patrick, who died suddenly last month.

The service gave us a chance to remember Patrick. The last time him was at my father's funeral. I believe he counted dad as a favorite uncle -- dad and Patrick had a special bond.

On any other day, this drive would've taken four or five hours. As we drove I made mental note of a dozen or more stops to make on the return trip. Snow covered rapids on the South Fork American River, grazing cows in the fields south of Gardnerville and the red hues of Wilson Canyon attracted my attention.

But I knew that I couldn't get the camera out until the trip home. My only hope was that we'd leave in time to use the natural daylight. Since the day started as one of those neutral gray days that distort your pictures, I was looking for one for the sun to break through the clouds.

We left my aunt's house at 2:30 p.m. Although it'd be nice to walk the canyon end-to-end, an old advertisement painted on the canyon wall attracted me to the south end of the canyon. I'll post three or four photos from the stop in the next week.

I still need to drive up the American River canyon. It was dusk by the time we crested Echo Summit. I'll make it up Highway 50 soon. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures of Wilson Canyon. I'll soon have a chance to explore with my camera in happier times.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Sierra Nevada Ramblings-a blog worth reading

It's rare that I find a blog worth writing about. When I first ventured upon Sierra Nevada Ramblings last month, I knew I'd return each week for a visit.

The blogger and photographer of Sierra Nevada Ramblings has plenty of opportunity to take breathtaking images of the Sierra Nevada. A job as a seasonal National Park Service ranger often places Zhakee Williams in the some of the best scenery in California.

Off-season pictures -- like the one of Walker Pass in the southern Sierra -- are equally spectacular. Zhakee has lived close to her photographic venue for close to two decades.

Like most photographers, Zhakee's photography seems to be improving with each blog post. I especially enjoyed the article and pictures of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery with its castle-like buildings.

Sierra Nevada Ramblings is a blog worth reading -- and viewing.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Winter Camp Dutch Oven Cookoff rules and entry form

Here's the rules and entry form for the Winter Dutch Oven Cookoff. The cookoff is an annual event that's held at the Colusa County (California) Fairgrounds on Saturday, January 19, 2008. The event opens at 7 a.m. sharp with the cook's meeting at 8:30 a.m.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Grandpa's mug

Grandpa's mug
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
Until my wife and I became a grandparents, I always had a hard time choosing a coffee mug at my in-law's house. It didn't feel right sipping freshly brewed coffee from a mug that labeled me as something I'm not.

It's much easier sporting a "Big Dogs Can Cook" mug than one that tells the world my children are having children. As such, I always selected my coffee mug very carefully. Each morning, I'd carefully work my way through each mug until I found one that sent the right message.

Then our oldest daughter blessed us with a granddaughter four years ago. I thought that would make the process much easier. It did for a few months. Then my mother-in-law purchased a bunch of great-grandparent mugs.

I can't win for loosing!

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The old road

The old road
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
This stone retaining wall holds the old road up a few hundred yards south of Plymouth. Even though I've driven down California Highway 49 past this rock wall many times, I never noticed the drain.

It's easy to miss when you whiz by in a truck. I didn't see it until I walked up to the wall in a nice rain. Sometimes you have to stop and explore with camera in hand.

Now I have to snap a photo of a water steam draining through the rock. That would make an impressing picture.

What's a horizontal boring machine?

As a writer, I've always felt the need to describe the things I write about in accurate terminology.

So, it comes as no surprise to Sam, Keith and the guys at the El Dorado Western Railway that I'm always quizzing them on the proper terminology used to describe the parts of the locomotive and rolling stock.

This morning, I approached Sam, the railway's lead machinist, and asked him to identify the milling machine that he was cleaning after yesterday's big storm. The wind tore away a piece of the corrugated roof off right above one of the milling machines.

"I looks like a big drill press," I inquired, a logical conclusion when I look back on six years of junior and senior high school shop classes. The machine's three-inch horizontal spindle matches my memory of the drill presses in the school shops. It's just turned 90 degrees so it sets parallel to the floor.

Well, sort of, Sam answered. "It's a horizontal boring machine."

I continued shooting pictures of storm damage to the machine shop's rusted roof. After a dozen shots, I found the manufacturer's plate on the drill head of the boring machine.

I called out to Sam in my quest to speak the language of a machinist: "It's a 'horizontal boring, drilling and milling machine.'" The builder's plate backed up my claim.

"I've never heard it called a 'horizontal boring, drilling and milling machine.'" Call it a "horizontal" and everyone in the shop knows what you're talking about, Sam said.

"All I've ever called it is a 'horizontal boring machine,' or 'horizontal' for short," Sam instructed as he pushed a crumpled paper towel through the T-slots on the table. Sam was focused on rust prevention at that point.

Sam took a minute to describe how the machine was used to bore the three steam cylinders of the Diamond and Caldor No. 4 locomotive.

Once secured on the table, he moved the engines sideways to line each cylinder with the drill spindle. Since the table is set at a fixed height off the floor of the shop, Sam moved drill head vertically to match each cylinder's center line. Once he was ready to re-bore each cylinder, he set the table to gently feed the cylinder into the boring tool.

My quest to describe the inner workings the railroad soon came to a close for another week. As Sam cleaned the horizontal, Keith, Bill and I went vertical to make roof repairs that couldn't wait.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Please stay tuned

Please stay tuned
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
Please stay tuned.

I'm posting this message from work because I have no dial tone at home, and the AT&T technician won't be out until Sunday. Unless you want to pay for a cable or satellite Internet connection, there are few low-priced options for those of who live in the country.

It seems my photo-a-day plan is out of the question now! I guess two of 365 days isn’t bad. Most people never get moving with their resolutions.

I’ll post more photos (here and on my blog) this weekend when I’ll be able to take advantage of my father-in-law’s high-speed connection. See you then.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Broadway horseman 2

Broadway horseman 2
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
This horse and rider are trotting through the Rite Aid parking lot as the sun is setting yesterday. Whiskey, the eight-year-old mustang, was "bred in the wild, born in captivity."

"I've had him since he hit the ground," said the nameless horseman. He captured and tamed the horse's mother.

Horse and rider were pointed toward downtown Placerville to celebrate the New Year.

Broadway horseman 1

Broadway horseman 1
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
I saw this horse and rider heading into the sun down Broadway in Placerville, California yesterday. I left the house around 3 p.m. on a hunt for photo-worthy subjects. I figured I needed to start the New Year with fresh subjects.

Although my original intent was to shoot airplanes taking off from Placerville's hill-top airport, the horse and rider presented a refreshing target.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Operator error

In case you heard a scream come from Diamond Springs -- don't be alarmed. It's not the cold house, or my ice-cold bare feet tucked under the dining room table.

I just deleted over half of my 2007 images from the hard drive! Like an idiot -- one who must read the Idiot's Guide to the Microsoft Recycle Bin -- I blindly clicked OK on the dialog box that told me that certain folders couldn't be recovered. (Why I was deleting the images is a discussion for another time.)

To my credit, about 33 of the 40 folders of last year's photographs were backed up to an external hard drive. The best I can determine, I last backed up my files in early December. (I know, my bad!)

Seven (or is it six?) folders -- most of my shooting for December -- seems to be the focus of my search for now. Fortunately, my railroad photos are secure in their own folder.

The missing pictures are from of a hike on the El Dorado Trail, holiday potluck at work, Christmas Day model train adventure, light fixture repairs at the church building, first snow in Diamond Springs and the grand kids this last weekend.

One habit helped me recover all the missing photos in the past hour, all except those from the holiday potluck.

I never delete any images off the CompactFlash card until I need it again. The pics of the grand kids were tucked safely away on the card in the camera. My second card -- stored in the camera bag -- contained all the missing the missing images except the holiday potluck.

At this point, all I lost were the pictures that I had processed for the blog. I'm relieved!

My feet are still cold -- I've been stuck at the laptop for the past two hours recovering photos. Hot coffee and an occasional hug from my seven-month-old granddaughter have kept me warm.

Favorite photos of 2007

I downloaded some 18.7 gigabytes of digital photographs onto my hard drive in 2007. At this point, I can't tell you how many pictures I took, nor do I intend to count them.

While my hard drive-clogging encounter with my camera produced a few print-worthy images last year, I favor many average pictures for a different reason.

I don't value every picture for its photographic quality. Many of my photographs don't rise to that level. But I still enjoy gazing at them because they represent more than art to me.

This picture of the Georgetown ditch camp is the first of several such photos. I took it last year on a Saturday trip to the Airport Flat area in Eldorado National Forest.

I discovered the ditch camp during our first camping trip to the South Fork Campground in 1994. At the time, South Fork was a free campground. We camped there each year until the Forest Service concerted it to a group campground in the late 1990s.

One of the more interesting sights in the area is an old camp along the South Fork of the Rubicon River. Today, it's rundown (and appears to be under renovation). But it the camp was full of water ditch maintenance workers back in the early 1900s. Anytime workers gather in one place, they need to eat. My guess is that this building was the kitchen, dining room and general assembly hall for the camp.