Monday, August 31, 2009

Boot chief petty officer

I post this photo in honor of the latest class of chief culinary specialists in the U.S. Navy. I was first advanced to chief petty officer 24 years ago next month ...

PEARL HARBOR (Aug. 29, 2009) -- Chief Culinary Specialist (Select) Frankie Lee landscapes an area outside an abandoned air control tower on Ford Island. Chief petty officers and chief selects cleaned the area as part of the chief induction process as it will be the backdrop for the Naval Station Pearl Harbor's official chief pinning ceremony next month.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric J. Cutright.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saga of the Deer Crossing oven, part 3

Relief came during the first week of Session 2. Jim called RJB Gas Plumbing Service, a local El Dorado County gas plumber. Owner Roy, a man my age with over 30 years experience, quickly discovered the problem and repaired it.

Roy said that Deer Crossing's oven was in better condition that two well-known El Dorado County eateries, both restaurants that Debbie and I have enjoyed. Roy brought me up-to-date on happenings in local establishments while he repaired the oven pilots and cleaned both burners.

Costly parts precluded replacement of both thermostats. I told Jim that I could live without a thermostat for the season as long as the ovens worked. I manually adjusted the oven temperature for the remainder of the summer.

I put both ovens to the test one day later during my third pizza night of the season. "The oven worked beautifully -- no flame-outs -- took 12 to 15 minutes for each batch," I wrote in my notebook.

As I often did throughout the summer, I expressed my relief in words. With 26 (12-inch) pizzas to bake that evening, pizza night had the potential of being a disaster.

"Music to my ears," I wrote with a feeling of liberation. "I lit both ovens and after a momentary pause, both burners went 'whoosh' as they're supposed to do -- the infamous DCC oven has been conquered!"

I wrote that note on Thursday, July 9, my last recoded comment regarding the ovens for the summer. Three weeks into my summer job the problem was solved.

Deer Crossing Camp's most important piece of culinary equipment was in top shape. Many thanks, Jim!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don Mason's Dutch oven newsletter

Here's the mid-summer edition of Don Mason's Dutch oven cooking newsletter. To have a copy emailed directly to you, contact Don at

Saga of the Deer Crossing oven, part 2

The first big test for the ovens came on the first of eight pizza nights. I couldn't go one meal without re-lighting the oven pilot. Many meals I had to re-light it one or two times.

The process to light a pilot was cumbersome at best. I knelt down, pushed the pilot button down with my left hand and shoved the stick lighter up next to the pilot.

My hand cramped as I depressed the red button. And I couldn't release it because it it took a minute or more to heat the pilot to a point where it'd stay lit.

In the 35 to 40 minutes it took to bake a cake, I was usually on my knees three or four time making sure the burner was still burning. The pilot had to be re-lit once just to bake the cake.

Jim must've sensed my frustration with the whole process. I talked to him about the ovens daily with the hope that he'd locate the technical manual and repair the oven.

But there was no manual to be found on-line. Jim expressed his reluctance to tinker with adjusting the pilot. Although as the camp director, Jim has trained himself to maintain the camp, he had never tackled the oven.

Trepidation surfaced as I approached the first pizza night. Both ovens had to heat to 500 degrees for an hour or more as I baked 20 (12-inch) pizzas. The only way the meal would be successful was to have two ovens that worked perfectly.

"Both ovens handled reasonably well," I recorded in my notebook with some relief. "I had to manually light the left oven -- it worked all evening." Although the right oven eventually gave out, disaster was adverted that night.

To manually light the burner (or bypass the pilot), I jammed the stick lighter up against the burner and turned the oven dial to 350 degrees. Flame slid down the burner after a 10-second pause.

This was the only time that I successfully lit the burner in this manner. I tried unsuccessfully one other time. Safety concerns (like burning all hair off my head and face) restrained me from trying the unsafe method any more.

The right oven gave me more fits that first pizza night. "(It) gave out on me twice and I couldn't re-light it after the second time," I wrote.

That means that I went to me knees -- a physically challenging move for this fifty-something chef -- and once again jammed the stick lighter up against the pilot and start the process over. Fortunately, I was able to finish baking the pizza in the left-hand oven.

To be continued ...

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saga of the Deer Crossing oven

Two events made life in the Deer Crossing Camp kitchen easier this summer. Debbie's constant companionship was a great comfort to me during her seven-week stay.

She was a constant companion (as I reported here), one with whom I could talk and find solace. Even when we were in different rooms in the lodge, just knowing that she was present. I always knew that I'd see her in a little while and we'd be able to talk.

I can't imagine what this summer would've been like of Jim hadn't allowed Debbie to join me. Each work week would've felt much longer than the sum of its six days. Her presence relieved my mind of endless waiting for my next day off, a wait that would've been marked by loneliness and longing to see her.

I was blessed this summer and I am grateful to the camp's owner and director, Jim Wiltens, for allowing her to stay with me.

The second event had more of a physical impact on my stay at Deer Crossing Wilderness Camp. I discovered early during the training session that the ovens were going to give me fits all summer long.

An early heads up from the camp's 2008 chef in May warned me that the "ovens must be watched carefully for temperature fluctuations." Blake's words came true on Tuesday of my second week at camp.

I served caramelized chicken (chicken breasts basted with a soy-catsup-honey sauce that caramelized in the oven) and mashed potatoes with apple crisp that evening to the 15 staff at camp for training. I had to re-light each oven four or five times. The pilot seemed to blow out each time the burner cycled off.

I wasn't able to brown the crisp topping to a nice, even golden color. Jim and I talked about the ovens that night – this first of many conversations over the next two weeks.

From that first conversation we looked for solutions. Jim searched for a technical manual for the Imperial brand oven on the Internet, but never found one. Neither Jim nor I were willing to play with the oven's settings without some technical guidance.

The problem calmed down during the remainder of the training week. I didn't record anything in my notebook for the until the first pizza night during Session 1. Once I learned to handle the oven with care, like gingerly opening and closing the oven door, the problem seemed to go away for a few days.

To be continued ...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Iron horse chef

Every so often I find pose on the blogoshere that's worth reprinting with little comment. One steam engineer for the Pacific Coast Railroad at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch in Southern California has devolpoed the unique talent of cookin' on the backhead.

Enjoy ...
Engineer Jeff "Grumps" Badger may be a vegetarian, but that doesn't stop him from enjoying some good eatin'. You see, when God gave us the steam engine, he intended for no hoghead to ever go hungry on a hard day's work. The steam locomotive backhead -- the great grandaddy of the dashboard -- might well be the most unexpected kitchen known to man. From injectors to hydrostatic lubricators, firedoor dampers to deck hoses and trycocks to warming trays, there's enough cooking capabilities on these rolling teapots to concoct every carbon-coated creation imaginable. And you thought we'd just let all that lost thermal efficiency escape into the atmosphere! (Click here read more.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Leeks at Meyers Farmer's Market

I took my family to The Gateway Cafe in Meyers, California, for lunch yesterday after church services. Since we live less than an hour from the Lake Tahoe area, it was an easy drive.

As we drove up to the restaurant, which is located near the junction of U.S. Highway 50 and California State Route 89, I saw the Meyers Farmer's Market. The market runs each Sunday in August from 2 to 7 p.m. It's located at 3200 U.S. 50.

After lunch -- a tough choice between The Gateway's black & blue burger and a veggie burger -- my wife, son and I drove over to the farmer's market, located adjacent to the Meyers Downtown Cafe. The open air market gave us a chance to stock up on produce. The crisper in the refrigerator of a bit bare since I've been out of town for the past 10 weeks.

We purchased a basic produce selection (carrots, cauliflower, corn-on-the-cob, green onions and leeks) from the Rodriguez Fruit & Vegetable Growers booth of Watsonville, California.

I now need to work on a few ideas to use the vegetables. A couple soups from 'Round the Chuckbox come to mind: creamy potato leek soup with bacon or Dutch Girl Cooking's split pea soup with leeks and celery root. A pan-roasted cauliflower gratin will make a flavorful casserole for tomorrow night.

I might also try something new, like leeks braised in cream, garlic and lemon. Or a in a dinner quiche with ham and a nice blue cheese. The other option is to use them in place of onions for a few dinners this week.

I now need to head to the Cameron Park Farmer's Market on Wednesday or Placerville Farmer's Market on Saturday to buy more produce.

Sunday, August 16, 2009


What do you do when faced with this choice, both from the burger menu at The Gateway Cafe (3140 Highway 50, Meyers, California, 96155) in Meyers, California?

Black & Blue Burger
Quite possibly the best burger on the planet! Spicy blackened burger topped with melted blue cheese sauce, crispy onions and two bacon strips
Veggie Burger
Garden burger topped, jack cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes and sprouts with our spicy salsa aioli
While the veggie burger has some good ingredients listed -- who wouldn't try the spicy salsa aioli -- it took me about five milliseconds to select the Black & Blue!

Home at last ...

I arrived home at 1:30 p.m. after enjoying a fulfilling 67 days at camp. By my account I was responsible for 6,863 meals over nine and one-half weeks.

While that sounds like an impressive accomplishment, remember that I was only feeding 65 campers and staff of the camp's peak attendance in July. It was a relaxing summer, one where I rarely had to rush meals.

I'll have more to say in the coming week or so. My notebook is full of articles, enough to keep the blog going for the rest of August and into September.

Now onto important things, like looking for work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Old Glory no more

Old Glory no more
Originally uploaded by SeabeeCook
The flag pole at Deer Crossing Camp is a hold over from its days as the Loon Lake Boy Scout Camp (mid-1960s to mid-1970s). It stands proudly on the rock knoll that overlooks the Deer Crossing lodge.

I can imagine many a moving flag raising ceremony at the pole when the Boy Scouts used the camp. Young Boy Scouts standing in formation on the rock shelf below the ensign, dressed in khaki uniforms with neatly tied kerchiefs, give a steady salute to the proud symbol of our wonderful nation.

Deer Crossing only uses the pole as a rally point for fire drills and missing campers. I'd love to see the pole renovated and the nation's proud flag flown again up high.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A lonely time at camp

It's been lonely at Deer Crossing Camp without my wife. I took her home last night so that she could stay with our son, who returned from a summer at grandma's house.

It didn't really hit me until 11:30 this morning, when I sat down for the first time during lunch production. I felt a tear or two as I scribed notes in my camp cooking notebook.

An acute emptiness came over me. It's strange. As long as I was busy this morning, I didn't seem to miss her as much.

It's that empty feeling you get when half is missing -- a void that can only be filled one person, my wife of 28 years. Staying busy only takes my mind off of her for a few minutes.

Although we were at odds in the kitchen sometimes -- probably because I acted like the chef even when Debbie was in the kitchen. It's tough trying to be both husband and chef when your wife is one of your workers. It's a relationship that needs great care and understanding.

Still Debbie was a great comfort these past seven weeks. We'd talk when things became stressful in the camp kitchen. She's always been a good shoulder to lean on, especially when I was willing to listen.

We had a unique relationship at Deer Crossing Camp. Debbie and I were the only married couple at the camp for most of the summer. We'd talk in the evening and work out our differences.

Even though we had some rough days in the kitchen -- probably because her ideas differed from my on some issues -- I've learned to approach marriage as designed by God.

I treat her with understanding and give her a place of honor in my life. After all, we're "together of the grace of life" (1 Peter 3:7). I doesn't make sense to me to treat my wife any other way.

I'm going to continue to miss Debbie as I work this last week at camp.

Unlike the training session last June, when I didn't see her for 10 days, I have a day off on Sunday. I'll be home in time to pick Debbie and Jacob up so we can worship in Camino.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Knot tying chef

One of the side benefits to working a wilderness camp is you have the opportunity to learn skills other than in the culinary arts. Over the past nine weeks, I've become proficient in operating two different Honda generators, testing the water for chlorine content, bear-proofing waist disposal and cleaning the grease trap.

These are skills that I initially learned in the U.S. Navy Seabees in the early 1980s, but had set aside. But they are skills that the wilderness chef must master if he's to work independently of other camp staff.

Often the chef and his crew are the only ones in camp between meals. A self-sufficient culinary crew can relieve others of these tasks during the day when many are busy with other duties.

I recently re-learned to tie several important camp knots. Last week I asked David at Deer Crossing Camp to show me the bowline, a knot that's eluded me for years. I could never remember when the rabbit was supposed to come in or out of the hole or when he was supposed to go around the tree and dive back into the hole.

David patiently said, "The rabbit comes out of the hole, goes around the tree and back into the hole."

Simple enough. Then he said something that made sense to me.

"The tree in the lower piece in the loop," explained David.

It clicked -- suddenly I understood the process. In one simple sentence, David, an 18-year-old sailing instructor from Lenzie, Scotland, erased several decades of frustration with the bowline.

Since our Saturday know tying class -- one that took me back to knot tying in Navy boot camp -- I've working on a dozen other knots. Musty from handling pigtails, my hands have been busy practicing several useful knots.

Some, like the monkey fist, won't help me secure a kitchen tent to the forest floor. But it may if I need to weight down the end of a line or anchor a line to a rock crevace.

The figure eight, clove hitch and half hitch -- all knots that I've re-acquainted myself with over the past week -- will come in handy next time I need to secure a tarpiline over the wilderness kitchen.

Note: The links take you to an animated knot tying website called Animated Knots by Grog.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Scrambled eggs in camp

I find scrambled eggs in camp to be an easy process. You can cook the perfect eggs every time by following a few simple rules. The key is to use the right skillet, control heat and stop cooking at the right time.

I start with two large eggs per person at camp at the beginning of each session. We serve scrambled eggs four times during each two-week session. I crack more or less eggs for the next egg breakfast, based on camper acceptance.

The campers at Deer Crossing Camp generally won't eat more than two eggs each. Crack more eggs if you have a group of hearty eaters. I found that 10 dozen was good for the 65 campers and staff during Session 2.

I cracked 12 dozen for the session's first breakfast on Monday, July 6, 2009. After watching campers dump leftover eggs into the garbage, I reduced the number by two dozen. Sessions 2 and 3 ate closer to two eggs per person.

Crack the eggs into the appropriate-sized bowl or bowls. Whisk to combine. Season each dozen large eggs with 1-cup milk, 1-teaspoon salt and white pepper to taste. Whisk to incorporate milk and seasonings.

I like to cook scrambled eggs in a cast iron skillet. While you can use any heavy skillet with a thick cooking surface, I find cast iron to be a good conductor of heat. And with a well seasoned skillet, you won't have any problem with sticking.

Heat the skillet over medium heat until a layer of butter sizzles lightly in the bottom of the pan. Don't over-heat the skillet as this leads to scorched eggs.

I prefer to cook the eggs at a lower temperature than what's recommended by many recipes. I find that I get better quality control.

Pour the eggs into the skillet once it's heated. You should hear a light sizzle. Too much sizzle means that the skillet is too hot. This is where practice will help. About four- to five-dozen large eggs will fit inside a 17-inch Lodge skillet.

Using a steel or wood spatula, gently pull the spatula across the bottom of the skillet. Let the spatula glide. Apply too much pressure and you'll pick up the layer of overcooked eggs on the bottom. The goal is to release newly cooked eggs into the liquid mass while leaving any crust behind.

Watch the heat during cooking. Lower the temperature if the eggs are cooking too fast. Conversely, increase the flame is the eggs aren't cooking fast enough. Again, experience counts here. It takes upwards of 20 minutes to cook a 4- or 5-dozen batch of scrambled eggs in a large skillet.

Cook the eggs to the soft-set stage. A digital thermometer should read between 165 and 170 degrees F. The eggs will continue to cook for the first 10 minutes the skillet. I find that eggs with a slight undercooked appearance will be perfect by the time they reach the table.

While you can cook then to medium-set (about 175 degrees) your group is squeamish about soft eggs, I don't recommend going much further than medium-set. No one appreciates dry, overcooked eggs.


This recipe comes from Food For Fifty. This recipe varies slightly in amounts than my recommendations. It gives you a good, basic recipe to start, plus some variations.

8-1/3 pounds eggs (about 75 total)
1-1/2 quarts milk
2 tablespoons salt
8 ounces margarine

Break eggs into mixer bowl. If using frozen eggs, defrost. Beat slightly on medium speed, using wire whip attachment.

Add milk and salt to eggs. Beat until blended. Refrigerate mixture, removing small amounts as needed.

Melt margarine in fry pan, griddle or steam-jacketed kettle. Pour in egg mixture (see notes). Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until of desired consistency. Eggs should be glossy and 165°F. Serve with No. 10 dipper.


Potentially hazardous food. Hold uncooked mixture below 41°F and cooked eggs above 135°F.

Breaking and pooling large quantities of shell eggs is not recommended.

Use pasteurized eggs when scrambled egg mixture must be held longer than 2 hours.

The type of equipment used will determine batch size. Eggs should be cooked in small batches and held for a minimum amount of time before serving.

STEAMER METHOD. Melt 4 ounces margarine or butter in each of two steamer or counter pans. Pour egg mixture into pans. Steam for 6-8 minutes at 5 pounds pressure until desired degree of hardness is reached.

OVEN METHOD. Melt 4 ounces margarine or butter in each of two counter or baking pans. Pour egg mixture into pans. Bake approximately 20 minutes at 350°F, stirring once after 10 minutes of baking.

For lower cholesterol, egg whites may be substituted for half of the whole eggs.


Scrambled Eggs and Cheese. Add 1-pound grated cheddar cheese.

Scrambled Eggs and Chipped Beef. Add 1-pound chopped chipped beef. Reduce salt to 1 Tbsp or less.

Scrambled Eggs and Ham. Add 1-1/4 pounds chopped cooked ham. Reduce salt to 1-tablespoon or less.

Navy iron chef competition

We never had this much fun "back in the day" ...

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (July 30, 2009) -- Food Network Chef Robert Irvine gives Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Andre Keith, assigned to Naval Hospital Jacksonville, pointers during the cooking portion of the 2009 Commander, Navy Region Southeast Iron Chef Competition at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Keith's team took second place during the competition.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (July 30, 2009) -- Navy Culinary Specialists rush to prepare their dishes before the clock runs out during the 2009 Commander, Navy Region Southeast Iron Chef Competition.

U.S. Navy photos by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Rebecca Kruck.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Flying cook for Jeep Jamporee

Friend and fellow outdoor chef Dave Herzog flew into Rubicon Springs in El Dorado County, California, Sunday to cook for the Jeep Jamporee for two weeks. Since the helo pad is very close to Deer Crossing Camp, I tried to get across Loon Lake on Sunday to see him and take a look at his gear, but missed him.

Last Thursday I inquired as to when we could get together. Dave replied with this message on Facebook:
I'm teaching classes at SW [Sportsman's Warehouse] in Rocklin, grocery shopping at Cosco, then packing and weighing everything for the helicopter lift into camp on Sunday morning. Sunday Morning we will be at the heli pad around 9 a.m. flying Cast Iron, food and gear into camp to set up. The pad is over by the Dam and that's where I'll be all morning, then flying overhead around noon to set up the kitchen and cook dinner.
We have a chance to get together Saturday when he has a few days off. I'll report back on his menu and see if I can get some pictures of the kitchen set up.

Since I took this photo around 1 p.m. Sunday, he could be on this helo!

Update: I spoke to Dave on Sunday, August 16. He was on the pictured helo, a long with the head cook.