Friday, December 31, 2010

Salsa Americana

I began the year by posting a recipe for fresh tomato salsa. One of the residents, an accomplished cook, showed me how to make fresh salsa by roasting plump tomatoes, onion and whole garlic cloves in a large skillet. "I make this salsa the way my grandmother taught me to make it," she said.

Since that day in early January I've experimented with a number of different salsas, including mango and roasted red pepper. Each time I toss one or two strange ingredients into a salsa, the ladies throw a look or two my way, but soon come back for more. Cucumber often finds its way into lunch-time salsas. I've successfully pared cucumber with cantaloupe.

Since the residents find comfort in familiar foods, I often prepare a more traditional tomato salsa for Mexican meals or snack with chips and salsa. I assemble salsa from canned tomatoes when the price of tomatoes climbs each winter. This is my basic salsa recipe.


1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1/2 onion, diced small
3 jalapeno peppers, diced small
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced fine (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Check seasoning and adjust heat by adding jalapeno, chipotle or cayenne in desired amounts. Run through a blender or food processor for a finer consistency. Makes about 1 quart.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fresh herbs add flavor to your camp cooking

I wrote this article in September 2001 ...

"Try one or two new dishes each trip. It's fun, and it'll expand your culinary repertoire," I wrote in my third Suite101 article, "A Camper's Dozen: 13 Tips To Successful Meals In Camp (Part 2)."

"If you family loves chicken, serve it roasted in a Dutch oven with new potatoes, carrots and zucchini. As you lift the oven lid, the sweet scent of rosemary will bring the family running to the table."

Like any cooking, camp meals grow old after a while. Chicken fried in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven is very good. But the meal is loaded with fat. In today's nutrition conscience world, it’s best to balance high fat meals with those that are lower in fat. One way to accomplish that is by using fresh herbs.

Fresh herbs transform any dish into a culinary delight by enhancing the flavor of a dish. Who doesn't enjoy Italian pasta dishes flavored with basil and thyme? Or Mexican meals spiced with cilantro and oregano? Using fresh herbs in camp cooking will produce many flavor-packed meals for your family.

Fresh herbs in camp cooking

According to The New Professional Chef, "Herbs are the leaves of aromatic plants and are used primarily to add flavor to foods." Although most herbs can be purchased dried, fresh herbs are easy to use. Examples include thyme, rosemary and basil.

Select herbs that have a fresh, strong aroma. A weak or stale aroma is a good indicator that an herb sprig may be old. The New Professional Chef says, "They should have good color (usually green), fresh looking leaves and stems, and no wilt, brown spots, sunburn, or pest damage."

To keep herbs as fresh as possible, buy in small amounts. And try not to buy them any sooner that a few days before your camping trip. Wrap sprigs of fresh herbs in a damp paper towel and place them into a plastic storage bag. Store fresh herbs a refrigerator or ice chest.

Use the whole sprig when possible. The recipe for Dutch Oven Roast Chicken with Herbs uses whole sprigs of thyme, rosemary and chervil in the chest cavity of the chicken. This flavors the meat and drippings. If the recipe calls for chopped or minced herbs cut them just before they're needed. Prolonged exposure to heat gives many herbs a bitter taste. (When using dried herbs, add them early in the cooking process -- dried herbs need longer simmering times to enhance flavor.)

Chefs often cut leafy herbs in fine shreds (called a chiffonade cut). Roll or stack the herbs and cut into very fine strips with your cook’s knife. Herbs cut in chiffonade are used to flavor many soups, stews and casseroles.

Fresh herbs are also used to garnish a dish just before serving. Pinch about one tablespoon of the shredded herb and sprinkle over the dish. In my last article, "Dutch Oven Chicken Enchiladas," chopped cilantro is used to add color and fresh flavor to the casserole. Whole sprigs can also be used to garnish a plate.

Fresh herbs are added to a dish toward the end the cooking process. This preserves their flavor. Add fresh herbs in the last 30 to 45 minutes in long-cooking dishes like stews and soups. For vegetables and other quick-cooking dishes, add herbs as you start cooking. Add herbs to casseroles when you mix the dish.

Add herbs to uncooked dishes early to blend in flavors. Fresh herbs in salad dressings should be given two or more hours to develop the flavor. Add herbs to cold dishes like salads, dips and raw vegetables several hours in advance.

To convert recipes that call for dried herbs, substitute three times the amount of fresh herbs as dried herbs. For example, one tablespoon of fresh basil equals one teaspoon of dried basil.

Dutch Oven Roast Chicken with Herbs

Last June after a fun hike from Woods Lake to Winnamuca Lake, near California’s Carson Pass, I roasted a chicken in my 12-inch Dutch oven for my family and my parents. The chicken, which was flavored with rosemary, thyme and chervil, browned nicely in the Dutch oven.

1 3 to 4-pound chicken
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
3 cloves minced garlic
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh chervil
1/2 cup chicken stock or wine

Use a 12-inch Dutch oven for this recipe. Ignite 25 charcoal briquettes and let them burn until they are barely covered with ash, about 20 minutes. For a 350-degree oven, you’ll need 8 briquettes underneath and 17 on top of the oven.

Wash chicken, pat dry and place on a baking rack, breast-side up, in oven. Lightly season the chest cavity and skin with salt, pepper and garlic. Place 2 thyme and rosemary sprigs inside the chest cavity and chop the remainder. Sprinkle chopped herbs over skin.

Place lid on oven. Arrange 17 charcoal briquettes to the oven lid and 8 briquettes underneath. Bake about 1-hour and 15 minutes until juices run clear and the leg easily pulls apart. Cut into chicken into quarters. Serves 4 to 5. Use pan drippings to flavor side dished if desired.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blue Ridge hosts Sailors, families for Christmas dinner

Story and photos by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Josh Huebner.

YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) -- USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) and embarked 7th Fleet staff Sailors were welcomed aboard to share the holiday with shipmates and family during a special Christmas dinner in the crew's galley Dec. 25 while the ship was in Yokosuka, Japan.

While most Sailors enjoyed a day off or leave for Christmas, a portion of the ship's crew stayed aboard to maintain the flagship's mission readiness.

For 15 of those Sailors, the mission was to prepare a Christmas dinner for their shipmates standing duty and those who couldn't make it home.

"We started preparing and cooking at 7 a.m.," said Culinary Specialist 1st Class Corey Montgomery, wardroom supervisor. "A lot of the people coming to the dinner are here on duty so we're trying to make their Christmas a little better by giving them a great meal, to make them feel at home."

In the crew's galley, Culinary Specialist 1st Class Mario Urbina, the watch captain, kept his team motivated while helping them prepare the spread.

"Everyone really puts in the extra effort during special meals like this. I've been in the Navy nine years, and I've worked on Christmas six times, so I know how much a good meal can mean to someone when they're working the holidays," said Urbina.

Christmas lights and decorations lit up the mess decks as Sailors brought family members aboard to share the meal and holiday spirit.

Yeoman 3rd Class Donta Freeman, an administrative assistant, brought his friend Hospitalman Apprentice Sara Clark, who is stationed at Naval Hospital Yokosuka, aboard to join him for dinner.

"It's really cool they did this for us. It's nice being able to share Christmas with friends and have a big dinner," said Freeman.

The chefs cooked a spread that included turkey, glazed ham, carved roast rib-eye, shrimp and pies.

"This is something we're proud to do, it's standard," said Chief Culinary Specialist Egbert San Pedro, "It's the traditional family dinner and the Sailors really like having a special meal while they're serving on Christmas."

Blue Ridge has won the Capt. Edward F. Ney Award for food service excellence three times in its history and is competing to win the award for the second time in a row after winning the award in 2010.

Blue Ridge beat out 178 ships in the U.S. Pacific Fleet to become a finalist for this year's competition.

Blue Ridge serves under Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group 7/Task Force 76, the Navy's only forward deployed amphibious force. Blue Ridge is the flagship for Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with an operating detachment in Sasebo, Japan.

Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Guillermo Weillard carves a Christmas turkey during dinner service aboard the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). Blue Ridge and embarked U.S. 7th Fleet staff Sailors and family members enjoyed Christmas dinner aboard the flagship.

Culinary Specialist Seaman Michael Angelo Leobo eats Christmas dinner with his friend, Information Systems Technician Seaman Apprentice Amy Jones, aboard the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship, USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19). Blue Ridge and embarked U.S. 7th Fleet staff Sailors and family members enjoyed Christmas dinner aboard the flagship.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas dinner at work

Since more residents are away from the house today, I planned a simple menu with a bit of flare.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hogger on the Placerville rail line

Hogger is the traditional term for a locomotive engineer. According to one story, engineers were the best paid on the train crew. It's said they ate better (and more!) than the conductors and trainmen. It sorta goes hand-in-hand with being a chef, doesn't it?

Today I have my first chance to operate the El Dorado Western Railway No. 1 locomotive on the historic Placerville Branch rail line in the town of El Dorado, California. While the 15-minute run doesn't make me a card-carrying hogger, it was the first step toward certification as a locomotive engineer.
The 18-ton switcher and I share a birth year! Constructed by Plymouth Locomotive Works of Plymouth, Ohio, in 1952, the El Dorado Western Railway received it from the CertainTeed Corporation in Chowchilla, California last Friday.

Merry Christmas from Iron Kettle

Monday, December 20, 2010

Potato and roasted red pepper tortilla soup

I have developed five or six signature soups for the meal program at work. While I serve soup every day with the noon meal, the familiar flavor of these soups add a level of comfort to the clients, many of which are dealing with a lot of issues in their recovery.

Even when I throw of quick soup of leftovers together, the connoisseurs in the house quickly return accolades to the kitchen. The comfort of a hot bowl of soup adds a level of security to many residents.

"I've always enjoyed your soup," volunteered a resident just after the Thanksgiving Day holiday. "I get up about 5 o'clock and go out back with a cup of coffee and your soup -- those are my two joys!"

Every so often I hit the Mother Lode with the noontime soup. Two weeks ago I morphed the menued pepper pot soup into a spicy potato and roasted red pepper soup. Thickened with corn tortillas and finished with tempered sour cream, the infusion of mild roasted red peppers and hot jalapeno chilies gave the soup a unique character.

After lunch, several residents noted that the soup was the "best ever." I now plan to menu the soup every two weeks. Next to house classics, like split pea and clam chowder, this slightly spicy version of classic pepper pot soup will please residents.

"I love having soup before I go to school," said a resident as she left the house on a rainy winter day. "It keeps me warm."


4 ounces butter
1 pound diced onion
8 ounces diced carrot
8 ounces diced celery
2 jalapeno peppers, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2-1/2 quarts chicken stock
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 bay leaves
2 pounds potatoes, diced
12 ounces roasted red peppers
9 corn tortillas, cut into strips
2 cups sour cream

Saute onion, carrot, celery and jalapeno in butter until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add garlic in the last two minutes, being careful not to scorch it.

Combine stock, herbs, potatoes, red peppers and sauteed vegetables. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes to develop flavor. Add corn tortillas to broth and cook for additional 5 minutes. The tortillas should completely dissolve in the soup.

Temper sour cream by slowly whisking about 2 cups of hot soup into the sour cream. Pour sour cream mixture into soup and stir to combine. Check seasoning.

Yield 1 gallon. Serves 20 (6-ounce) or 15 (8-ounce portions).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dutch oven chicken enchiladas with cilantro lime rice and cucumber relish

Here's a recipe series from September 2000:

I've never been very good at rolling enchiladas. I don't know what happens –– they just fall apart. Since my enchiladas resemble a casserole more than tortilla wraps from south of the border, I figure: Why not build a casserole in the first place?

You'd think that with 30 years experience in Navy galleys and institutional kitchens, I'd be able to roll thousands of enchiladas in an afternoon. But unlike Mexican restaurants, institutional kitchens often purchase pre-rolled enchiladas. Cook a red chili sauce, chop a handful of yellow onions and grate a brick of sharp cheddar cheese and you have the makings of a pan of enchiladas.

You have two choices when camping: roll enchiladas or prepare a casserole. You could heat a pan of oil, dip corn tortillas and fill them fill beef or chicken. But why bother? My goal is to keep things simple. Unless you're worried about plate presentation, Dutch oven enchilada casserole is a straightforward approach to preparing this Mexican favorite.


This chicken enchilada recipe uses a mild cream-based green chili sauce that's a refreshing change from the heavier red chili sauce. For a creamer texture, substitute half-and-half for the milk in the recipe. Imitation crab can also be used in place of chicken for seafood enchiladas.

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
2 (4-ounce) cans diced green peppers
1-1/4 pounds diced pre-cooked chicken
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese
5 corn tortillas
Cilantro leaves and sour cream for garnish

Use a 12-inch Dutch oven for this recipe. Ignite 25 to 30 charcoal briquettes and let them burn until they are barely covered with ash, about 20 minutes. For a 350-degree oven, you'll need 8 briquettes underneath and 17 on top of the oven. You may need several extra briquettes underneath the oven while preparing the sauce.

Arrange 14 briquettes underneath oven in a circle. Melt butter in the oven. Add onions and sweat. Add the garlic and sweat until you smell them. Stir in flour and spices; cook roux about 5 to 10 minutes, but do not brown. Add stock and milk; cook until thickened, about 10 minutes.

Add chicken and half of the cheese to the sauce; simmer until cheese melts. Remove half of the meat and sauce mixture into a bowl. Tear or cut tortillas into wedges. Arrange half of the tortilla wedges over the meat mixture in the oven. Spoon the remaining meat mixture over the tortillas. Arrange remaining tortilla wedges over meat mixture.

Place lid on oven. Remove 6 briquettes from underneath oven and place them on lid. Place 11 additional briquettes on lid and cook for 30 to 35 minutes, until sauce bubbles. (You will have 8 briquettes underneath and 17 on top.) (Or bake in a 350-degree oven.) Sprinkle remaining cheese over enchiladas. Cover; bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes to melt cheese. Garnish each serving with cilantro leaf and sour cream dollop. Serves 5 to 6.

Serve enchiladas with cilantro lime rice and cucumber relish (recipes follow).


If you tire of eating Mexican or Spanish rice that's made with a hearty red sauce, you'll enjoy cilantro lime rice. Simply cook a dish of white rice. When it's nice and fluffy, toss in lime juice, chopped cilantro and lime zest. You can use you favorite recipe for white rice or this recipe.

1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup minced onions
2 cloves minced garlic
1-1/2 cups medium grain rice
2-7/8 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
3 tablespoon lime juice (or the juice of 1 lime)
1/2 teaspoon lime zest

Use a 10-inch Dutch oven for this recipe. Ignite 21 charcoal briquettes and let them burn until they are barely covered with ash, about 20 minutes. For a 350-degree oven, you'll need 7 briquettes underneath and 14 on top of the oven.

Arrange 7 briquettes underneath oven in a circle. Pour oil in oven and heat. Add onions and sweat. Add garlic and sweat until you smell them. Add rice and coat with oil. Add water, salt and pepper.

Place lid on oven. Arrange 14 briquettes on lid and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until done. Fluff rice and mix in cilantro, juice and zest. Serves four to six.


Cucumber relish can be used in place of salsa or served on the side as a salad.

2 peeled and seeded cucumbers
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 fluid ounces white wine vinegar
3 fl. oz. water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 diced shallot or 1/4 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Mix all ingredients together. Add additional sugar if you desire a sweeter relish. Chill in cooler until ready to serve. Makes about 2-1/2 cups.

Still want to roll tortillas?

C.W. "Butch" Welch, author of Cee Dub's Dutch Oven and Other Camp Cookin' and More Cee Dub's Dutch Oven and Other Camp Cookin', has a simple method for rolling enchiladas. He uses burrito-sized flour tortillas instead of corn.

Cee Dub –– as he affectionately known by his readers –– says: "To roll my enchiladas, I place the lid of a 12-inch Dutch oven with handle towards the burner on my propane cookstove. I turn the stove on low. After the lid heats up, I place each tortilla on the lid to warm them up. Ten seconds to the side should be about right. Once warmed, they are quite pliable.

"Then I place two to three tablespoons of filling in a line a couple inches from one side. First, I fold the side over the filling. Next, I tuck each end in before rolling it the rest of the way closed. I lay them with the exposed flap down on a plate or cookie sheet for a few minutes to cool. I put enough enchilada sauce in the bottom of the Dutch oven before I place the enchiladas in. On occasion, I've done two layers, but I prefer to just use one layer. Then I pour the remainder of my sauce over the enchiladas."

You can order Cee Dub's books and videos from

I adapted these recipes from other sources. Sunset Magazine originally published the recipe for Dutch oven chicken enchiladas in its June 1985 issue. The recipe is attributed to Salmon River Outfitters from Columbia, Calif. The recipes for cilantro lime rice and cucumber relish were adapted for Dutch ovens from the New Professional Chef, 6th edition.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Navy carver

I've always enjoyed working as a carve on the serving line.

SAN DIEGO (Dec. 8, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Victor Marrero serves prime rib and lobster during the grand opening of the Naval Amphibious Base Coronado Galley. The galley serves 2,400 to 3,000 meals a day.

Renovated naval amphibious base galley opens for business

Photo and article by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice John Grandin.

CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- An official ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the reopening of the galley at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif., Dec. 8 after more than a year and nearly $9 million in renovations.

The renovation, which began July 2009, is the first major upgrade the building has experienced since the 1970s.

During the galley opening ceremony, Capt. Yancy Lindsey, commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado, lead the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Following the ceremony, galley staff served a special opening day meal consisting of steak and lobster for all who attended.

"The galley is intended for naval special warfare, basic underwater deterrence and special warfare combatant craft students so they can be fueled to become elite warriors for the Navy," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Cesar Valencia, the food service officer of Naval Base Coronado.

The Naval Amphibious Base galley is one of the largest the Navy has to offer and includes a staff of 30 Navy culinary specialists and 27 civilian contractors who prepare 2,400 to 3,000 meals a day.

Naval Amphibious Base Coronado is made up of naval special warfare teams and training facilities and provides major administrative and logistical support to the amphibious units, which are located on the base. The base also conducts research and tests newly developed amphibious equipment.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hotcakes at 9,000 feet

I posted this story August 2000 on, about two weeks after returning home from a family backpacking trips up the Middle Fork San Joaquin River. We were going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of a family backpacking trip to Mt. Whitney, but couldn't travel about the 10,000-foot elevation mark due to my mother's health.

A few weeks ago, I cooked hotcakes and bacon over a campfire in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. During the four-day backpacking trip, the two hotcake breakfasts tasted much better than freeze-dried scrambled eggs and homemade granola cereal. These golden brown wheat cakes brought back fond memories of childhood camping vacations and weekend backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada.

Hotcakes became a weekend event at in the Karoly house early in my parent’s life together. Although Mom was the principle cook in the family, Saturday mornings served as a time for us five siblings to help Dad measure flour and milk into a bowl and to crack a couple eggs. While he mixed the batter, Dad said, “Limps do not affect the flavor.” We heard his gentle reminder not to over mix the hotcake batter each Saturday.

One sibling made syrup from brown sugar and water, while others got the dishes out and set the table. With a glass of Donald Duck orange juice in front each of seven place settings, Dad grilled golden hotcakes on a aluminum griddle that’s reportedly cast from the block of an old Ford V8. At mealtime, a platter of hotcakes and a plate of bacon strips or sausage patties sat ready to nourish the Karolys once more.

Whether it was Saturday morning breakfast or camping trips to places like Buck Meadow in the Sierra National Forest or the Cottonwood Lakes near Mt. Whitney, hotcakes have been a Karoly tradition since my father started making them for his growing family sometime in the 1950s. Since then, Dad has served hotcakes on every camping and backpacking trip. Hotcakes will forever bring back memories of the pressed steel backpacking griddle that Dad inherited from my grandfather and family breakfasts in California's great snowy range.


Nothing hits the spot like hotcakes that are smothered with brown sugar syrup, especially if they’re made from scratch. Scratch hotcakes are superior to many of the prepared mixes on the market today. This recipe is adapted from an early edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book. Except for the addition of buttermilk, this is the recipe I’ve known my whole life.

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup dry buttermilk blend (see note)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1 egg
2 Tbsp. cooking oil or melted bacon grease

At home. Stir together flour, sugar, dry buttermilk blend, baking powder, soda and salt. Place hotcake mix into a suitable container. Pack the egg and oil.

For backpacking trips, we place the whole egg inside the dry mix. The theory goes like this: Should the egg break, remove the shell, add water and mix. I’ll have to test it one-day -- we've never broken an egg in my memory.

In camp. Light a campfire and burn until you have a bed of hot coals. (Hotcakes can be cooked over a campstove if desired.)

Pour mix into a bowl. Crack the egg into the dry mixture. Add the water and mix with a wire whip just until the batter is blended. Add the oil or bacon grease and mix again just until the batter is blended. The batter will be slightly lumpy.

When the coals are ready, spread them under a lightly greased cast iron skillet or griddle and heat just until it smokes. For each hotcake, pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto the hot griddle or skillet. Turn when each hotcake’s surface is bubbly and the edges are slightly dry. Cook until golden brown. Serve with butter and brown sugar syrup (recipe follows).

This recipe makes about eight 4-inch hotcakes and can be easily doubled for larger groups.

Buttermilk note: I use Saco Cultured Buttermilk Blend, which is sold in a 12-oz. container. Call Saco Foods toll-free at 1-800-373-7226 or email for information about their products. Substitute 1-1/3 cups cultured buttermilk for the dry buttermilk and water if desired.


This formula for this recipe is two parts sugar to one-part water. It produces syrup that’s superior to bottled syrups. After eating hotcakes smothered in brown sugar syrup for nearby half a century, nothing beats it, except genuine maple syrup.

1 cup boiling water
2 cups packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon imitation maple flavor

Add brown sugar to boiling water and cook until dissolved. Remove from heat. Add maple flavor and mix. For milder syrup, substitute 1 cup granulated sugar for 1-cup brown sugar.

Makes about two cups.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Taking better photographs

I've reprinted a couple of photography tips from a member of the Royal Tine discussion group. MTTrapper was invited to write the November tip of the month for the website. He graciously allowed me to use his tip on 'Round the Chuckbox.

What's your favorite photograph?

Here's a few tips on taking better photographs.

1. Get a tripod and a wireless remote.

Modern Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras are now reasonably priced. A Canon Rebel series can be bought with a couple of lenses for well under a grand. But, most people ignore the tried and true accessories like a tripod and wireless remote.

Why do you need them?

Here's an example:

I shot this photo at 1/10th of a second. If I had hand held the camera the entire photo would be blurry. Instead, the only blurring is in her hand which shows action in a still photo.

Shooting closeups really add drama to the shot, but macro photos require precise focus. A tripod steadies the camera.

Shots like this are really eye catching, but require exposures up to an hour or so. You can't hold a camera steady that long.

Set up the camera on a tripod and then with the remote and delayed timer, take a photo of yourself.

The remote timer also allows you to fire the camera without touching the camera, thus eliminating camera shake.

2. Use a flash for daylight shots.

A flash fills in the shadows under the brims of hats and gives the entire photo much more snap.

If you want decent photos to help sell anything on eBay or Craig's List, a tripod and flash are a necessity to create photos that sell.

Photographs and article used by permission.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Not all railroad work is work

On Saturday, the El Dorado Western Railway participated in the Town of El Dorado's Gold Rush Christmas. It was a relaxing day after working on the track for the past seven Saturdays. Instead of cutting brush or wielding a shovel all day, Jacob and I enjoyed a pancake breakfast with railroad buddies at the El Dorado Community Hall.

Put my granddaughter in a moving vehicle and she's sound asleep! She's drifting into dreamland as she watches her reflection the speeder's taillight. It's as if she has a built-in dimmer switch. Turn the engine on and her eyes glaze over in an instant.

My wife Debbie and our granddaughter pose for a portrait as the speeder returns to El Dorado. Since her first ride in October, Nevaeh has asked when she could ride the train gain.

Twice I was able to take the Camino, Placerville and Lake Tahoe Railroad No. 4 speeder out for a spin between the old SP depot site and Blanchard Road to the east. Click to read an article on the operation of the speeder.

13 tips to successful camp meals, part 2

Here's the second instalment of articles from 2000 and 2001. This post is a follow-up to the article that I uploaded last Sunday.

"We value our time spent cooking because it provides a good opportunity for us to chat and work together," Bob Rider, webmaster of, said recently. Bob and his wife Brianna enjoy creating meals as a team when camping near their Santa Rosa, Calif. home. Eating "great food" is one of the joys of camping to the Rider family.

Other families, like Pete and Lorna Boilard of southern Maine, use camp meals as an opportunity to teach their children to cook. "Whipping up a hearty meal without a whole kitchen at hand is satisfying," Pete Boilard said. "(Camping has) proven to be a fun place for our daughters to try preparing some favorites for themselves like macaroni and cheese or French toast."

Many prepare appetizing family meals while camping. But the last thing you need is to helplessly sit in the tent while a black bear ravages your cache or to be frantically searching for an emergency room because your child has stomach cramps and diarrhea. Putting some thought into how you operate your camp kitchen will give you peace of mind.

Once you arrive at the campground, a few simple tips will help you safely cook good meals:
  • Walk the ground -- When a military unit occupies a new position, the first thing a troop leader does is to "walk the ground." He learns the lay of the land, notes likely avenues of approach for the enemy and looks for ideal places to spot his weapons. Likewise, the camper looks for water runoff patterns, trees and rocks that protect the camp from the wind, and firm, level ground to set up the tent and locate the kitchen. Some campers, like Boilard, bring an elaborate camping outfit (see Pete’s Camping Page for a description of his Campmaster 2000). Others simply look for a picnic table, fireplace, running water and toilet facilities.
  • Wash your hands -- A salmonella infection -- or worst yet E. coli -- is the last ailment you want when camping. Nausea, diarrhea and fever are never pleasurable, especially when you're 40 or 50 miles away from the nearest medical treatment facility. You can avoid food borne illness by following a few simple rules: keep food cold in an ice chest (below 41 deg. F.), don't allow food to stay in the open for more than two hours, cook food to the proper internal temperature (usually 160 deg. F. or above), wash and sanitize dishes after each meal, and wash your hands often.
  • Campfire – For me, there’s nothing more comforting than sitting around a crackling fire while I read one of my favorite books. Camping without a campfire is like a day without food. It refreshes the soul after a vigorous day of camping. Mike Bentley and his family rely on the campfire, as I do. Bentley cooks many of their meals on an old barbecue grill that’s suspended from a homemade iron tripod. When the he wants quick meals in camp, they "prepare the food at home and simply throw them on the tripod … at the campsite."
  • Re-supply – Re-supply takes many forms. For trips up to a week, you should be able to pack all your food into one or two ice chests and a couple boxes. So unless one of the kids spills the salad dressing onto the ground or ice cream treats are in order, you won’t have to visit the local general store. On longer trips, you’ll need to think about replenishing your food supply along the way.
  • Don't feed the animals -- Your best defense against wild animals is to keep food in a safe place so they can't get into your cache and ruin your vacation. In bear country, this means placing all of your food in your vehicle each night and covering it with a blanket or tarp. Black bears can identify ice chests, grocery bags, and cardboard boxes as potential food sources. Boilard advises: "No food in the tents. Period. The food box and coolers spend the nights in the van."
  • Cook wonderful meals -- Try one or two new dishes each trips. It’s fun, and it’ll expand your culinary repertoire. If you family loves chicken, serve it roasted in a Dutch oven with new potatoes, carrots and zucchini. As you lift the oven lid, the sweet scent of rosemary will bring the family running to the table. Popular magazines are full of fresh ideas. This month, for example, Sunset features a "Simple summer supper." Grilled plum-marinated lamb and thyme-grilled asparagus sound appetizing. And "Watermelon weather" suggests new ways to serve one of America’s favorite summer treats.
Well, the title says there will be 13 tips to cooking great camp meals. Here is this: Enjoy your meals in the outdoors. Now that you're settled in and have cooked an elegant meal for your family, it's time to savor the food and the mountain air. Spread a nice table cloth, light a few candles and set a vase of vibrant flowers on the table (please check local laws before picking wildflowers).

Pete Boilard said it best: "Relax and enjoy."

Featured websites

Bob and Brianna Rider have visited places like Scotts Flat Lake, Gualala River Redwood Park and Clear Lake State Park this summer. They have an extensive section on cast iron cooking. Topics include selecting a Dutch oven, seasoning cast iron, cooking and temperature control and care and cleaning the Dutch oven.

Pete’s Camping Page

Pete and Lorna Boilard average 30 to 45 nights camping in New England campgrounds each year. The star attraction on Pete’s Camping Page is the Campmaster 2000, a eight-foot utility trailer that’s been rigged to haul all of their camping gear.

Mike’s Camping Page

Mike Bentley has grouped scores of camping links on his website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find camp and outdoor cooking links.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

13 tips to successful camp meals, part 1

This winter I plan to reprint articles I wrote for in 2000 and 2001. While a suspect one or two references to events of a decade past may stump one or two readers, you'll find that the information is helpful. Many address the fundamentals of camp cooking for the family.

Enjoy the articles,


You may be a wonderful cook who's able to balance sourdough proofing in the sun with a lasagna that you've layered in a Dutch oven. But your sense of timing won't salvage the meal if you forgot yeast or left the noodles on the cupboard shelf. Putting some thought into your camping at home can save you a lot of woes in the wild.

Campers like Pete Boilard and his family are always ready for their next camping adventure: "We have a 30-gallon tote with our camping kitchen in it. Most of the stuff is extras and yard sale type stuff, though we did buy a few things new," Boilard explains on his website, Pete’s Camping Page (see links at the end of the article).

Everything from dish towels to cutlery and dinnerware to pots and pans are packed into one of the plastic storage boxes. The second tote holds the groceries. After each trip, the Boilards restock the groceries, top the dishwashing detergent bottle and launder the dishtowels. All they have to get ready for the next trip is write a menu, pull a few meals out of the deep-freeze, and pack the ice chests.

It's that simple. Here are six tips that will help get ready for appetizing meals in camp:
  • Plan a menu -- Try one or two new dishes each trip. "You'll never know what great meals are out there if you don't try any new ones. Check out the Internet for tons of campfire recipes," Mike Bentley said. The menu is the cornerstone of your camping adventure. But it doesn't have to be detailed. A simple list of meals will do as long as you ensure that your family is getting a balanced diet. You’ll use the menu and recipes (whether they're in your head or on paper) to build a shopping list and guide packing. And don't forget to bring recipes for any unfamiliar dishes along on the trip.
  • Bring "bailout" food -- Bailout food can rescue your family from a cold, hard rain, especially if you don't have the energy to start a fire when everything is saturated. Ramen noodle soup (a favorite with my children), canned pork and beans, and packaged pasta products are all great foods the can be prepared in a pinch. And they also make quick lunches.
  • Prepare meals ahead -- Many times my family has arrived in camp in the late evening. With small children -- whose bellies are telling them that dinner passed them by hours ago -- you what to quickly cook a healthy meal without all the fuss. The Boilards solve this problem by preparing one or more casseroles at home. “Meatloaf or chicken dishes that just need to be heated and laid over toast or fresh cooked rice work well,” Boilard said. Once you're in camp, you can set up the stove and reheat the meal in a matter of minutes instead of hours.
  • Make a checklist -- A checklist serves two purposes: It lists everything you're taking on the trip so you don't forget anything. (But don't repeat my mistake from our last trip: I had cottage cheese on my list and still forgot it. You wouldn't believe how expensive cottage cheese is in the general store in Kirkwood!) And, unless you have an extremely well-stocked pantry, you'll need to a shopping list for the trip to the supermarket.
  • Pack smartly -- You might say, "Just use an ice chest or two for the perishables and place the dry goods in a box." Well, you're half-right. The trick is to pack smartly. For several years, I've wrapped each package of frozen meat two sheets of newsprint and placed them into a self-closing freezer bag (like zipper lock bags). All of the meat packages are then closely packed together in one or two ice chests. For long trips, I use two ice chests.
  • Select good cookware -- If you take several camping trips each year, it's a good idea to set aside cookware for camping. You don't have to run out to a sporting goods store and buy specialized campware. Old pots and pans from your kitchen will work as well. If you enjoy cooking over the campfire like the Bentleys, you'll also need a good cast iron skillet or griddle, a sturdy fire grate, and several Dutch ovens.
In my next article, I’ll explore seven more tips that’ll help you cook wonderful meals in camp. You’ll find tips on locating a good campsite, camp set up, sanitation in camp, cooking over campfire, restocking at local stores, and dealing with wild animals.

So, in the meantime, get ready for your next camping trip. And when you get there, remember Bentley’s advise: "With all camp cooking take your time, relax and savor the smells of the food and fire."

Featured websites

Pete's Camping Page

The Boilard’s average 30 to 45 nights camping in New England campgrounds each year. The star attraction on Pete’s Camping Page is the Campmaster 2000, an eight-foot utility trailer that’s been rigged to haul all of their camping gear.

Mike’s Camping Page

Mike Bentley has grouped scores of camping links on his website. Scroll to the bottom of the page to find camp and outdoor cooking links.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cranberry-glazed carrots

Faced with over a quart of leftover cranberry sauce at work, I added it to glazed carrots at dinnertime.


Seven pounds as purchased should yield 5 pounds edible portion.

5 pounds carrots, sliced on the bias 1/4-inch thick
4 ounces butter
4 ounces sugar
3 cups chicken stock or water
Salt, to taste
1 cup cranberry sauce

Melt margarine in saucepan over low heat. Stir in sugar, salt, and stock or water. Add carrots and cook, covered, over low heat until almost tender. Remove cover, stir in cranberry sauce and continue cooking, until liquid to reduces to a glaze and carrots are tender. Serves 25 (1/2-cup) portions.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More Thanksgiving at sea ...

SAN DIEGO (Nov. 25, 2010) -- Aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West addresses the ship's culinary specialists before the ship's traditional Thanksgiving meal is served to the crew and their families. The Nimitz-class carrier is currently preparing for its upcoming Western Pacific deployment.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kevin C. Harbach.

Thanksgiving at sea ...

The culinary specialists serve a traditional menu from aft mess on an aircraft carrier. In my day the forward mess was the express line, where Sailors could get hamburgers, chili or fried chicken, plus salads and other quick-serve menu items.

PACIFIC OCEAN (November 25, 2010) -- Culinary Specialist 1st Class Lemuel ManLogon from Stokton, Calif., prepares a traditional Thanksgiving feast on the aft mess decks aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). George Washington is currently on a scheduled patrol in the Western Pacific.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David A. Cox.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day menu

I'm blessed to have the day off. With my phone number on speed-dial, two 15-pound birds should be in the oven at work. I left the kitchen in the hands of a capable resident.

My own turkey is in the oven. I smeared a layer of butter, seasoned with kosher salt, minced garlic, black pepper and chopped fresh rosemary, between the skin and breast. The 15-1/2-pound turkey will bake for 3-1/2 to 4 hours in a 325-degree oven.

This is already shaping up to be a relaxing Thanksgiving for me and my family. Each of my brothers and sisters will contribute one or two side dishes when we gather later this afternoon. In addition to the turkey, I'll prepare my Simon and Garfunkel gravy (mustard-herb gravy with parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme).

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Cilantro lime dressing

I purchase cilantro at work in one pound packages from Sysco. Although this may seem like a large quantity for a small residential facility, I'm able to use it between my biweekly deliveries.

This vinaigrette recipe consumes two to three hands full each time I prepare it. It's just as good with or without the sweeteners.


1 cup lime juice
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 bunches cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cups olive oil

Puree lime juice, vinegar and cilantro with immersion blender or in food processor. Add honey, sugar, salt, garlic and mustard. Puree until smooth. Slowly stream oil while blending.

Makes about 1 quart.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Taking care of the admiral

Other websites identify Chief Tavares as a senior chief petty officer, one grade higher. Here's a story from on the Navy enlisted aides that took care of Vice President Dick Cheney's official residence in Washington, D.C.

Here's a snapshot of the duties of of an enlisted aide: "Responsible for public quarters and flag mess operations. Prepares meals, coordinates quarters maintenance and performs official function planning duties. Adheres to protocol, etiquette and quarters security requirements" (

ARLINGTON, Va. (Nov. 17, 2010) -- Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead introduces the Navy nominee for Enlisted Aide of the Year, Chief Culinary Specialist Wes Tavares during the Salute to Military Chefs dinner presented by the USO of Metropolitan Washington. Of the five service members nominated for the award, Tavares was selected as the 2010 Enlisted Aide of the Year.

U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Tiffini Jones Vanderwyst.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A railroading letdown

While stopped at the Q Street railroad grade crossing in mid-town Sacramento yesterday afternoon, I waited for the train to appear.

No roar from of a pair of EMD diesel-electric locomotives or train horn warmed me of an approaching train. I wondered if the crossing gate had malfunctioned.

After several minutes a lone Union Pacific hi-rail truck rambled up the Sacramento Subdivision, the old Western Pacific line that slices mid-town Sacramento in two between 19th and 20th streets.

The crossing arms on P Street dropped then shot back up as if the signal grew impatient. As he approached the crossing, the driver braked to give the gates time to activate again.

It was a railroading letdown. Like the scene in one of the Lethal Weapon films, I expected a northbound freight to come barreling up the tracks, right on the bumper of the hi-railer!

In the photograph, a Union Pacific Chevy hi-rail maintenance-of-way pickup truck escorting a Dakota Helicopters spray rig through the Sacramento Amtrak depot in May 2006. Dakota Helicopters & Air Service is a company that specializes in railway vegetation management.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wedding train

The readers of the El Dorado Western Railway blog may not know this little know fact: One of our board members was married on a train. The nuptials were held on Bear Mountain on the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton, California, some 10 years ago.

A photograph, with the happy couple posing for the photographer on the brakeman's footrest of the Dixiana No. 1, greets me each I visit the couple. The shotgun stack, as it reaches for the sky in the bright afternoon light of the Coast Range, always catches my eye as I enter their country home. (No pun intended ... the tall, narrow smokestack is called a shotgun stack because of its resemblance to a shotgun barrel.)

The Shay was a fitting venue for their wedding. As one of the railway's longest running volunteers, this board member dates back to the early days of the renovation of the Diamond and Caldor No. 4 Shay.

I'm sometimes envious of my friends. They did something that I would've loved to have done. Since I'm nearly 30 years into my marriage, I doubt I'll have opportunity to get married on a train. Besides, my wife may have something to say about it!

Unless family tradition dictates otherwise, I highly recommend a special train wedding to our loyal railfans. A Facebook posting alerted me to this Portland wedding on-board the Oregon Pacific yesterday:

"A special train operated Saturday in Portland. But this is a special train in a different sort of way because a couple in our railfan community were married aboard! Leia and George charted this Oregon Pacific train for their ceremony which as long time railfans this was a perfect way for them to have their wedding and celebrate their day!"

Click over to Dogcaught: A Railroad Blog for the rest of the story and more photographs.

Who knows, maybe the El Dorado Western Railway will offer the occasional wedding special soon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Spinach and rice gratin

I prepared this spinach and rice gratin last week at work as a side dish. I enjoy it because the flavor of the spinach predominates.


Press as much liquid from spinach as possible before combining with egg, rice and Bechamel sauce. Top with Gruyere cheese for additional flavor. Bake a half recipe in greased 9x13-inch pan.

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup diced onion, small dice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart milk, heated
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 bay leaves
1 cup Parmesan cheese
6 large eggs, whipped
1 quart cooked rice
6 pounds frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Add onions and sweat until translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in flour to form roux. Continue cooking for 2 additional minutes.

Add milk and stir to combine. Add ground clove, nutmeg, bay leaves and Parmesan cheese. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring frequently. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool.

Meanwhile, combine whipped eggs and cooled rice in large bowl. Slowly add cooled Bechamel to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Fold in pressed and drained spinach.

Transfer spinach mixture to greased 12x20x2-inch hotel pan. Bake in 350-degree oven, uncovered, until hot and bubbling, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Combine bread crumbs, melted butter and Parmesan cheese. Evenly sprinkle bread crumb mixture over spinach. Return to oven and continue baking until bread crumbs brown.

Cut each 12x20x2-inch hotel pan into 24 squares (4x6). Serve 1 square per portion.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From pallet to palette

Col. Clifton Perry chooses from a variety of food offered by the 18th Services Squadron single pallet expeditionary kitchen during the Pacific Air Forces Operational Readiness Inspection March 11 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The deployable kitchen can be set up from pallet to serving in under four hours. PACAF is conducting the inspection from March 9 to 15 to validate the mission readiness of the 18th Wing. Colonel Perry is the 18th Wing chaplain.

U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Jeremy McGuffin.

Dinner in Afghanistan

PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Sgt. Timothy Hunnicutt from Atlanta, and U.S. Army Pvt. Clayton C. Hilderbrand from Ceres, Va., both food service specialists from 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, prepare rice and noodles for dinner for Soldiers stationed at Forward Operating Base Tillman.

Photo credit: U.S. Army Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr., Task Force Currahee Public Affairs, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

We owe a lot to combat veterans

Here's re-print of an article I wrote in March 2008 on these pages ...

Although two of my ships sailed in and out of Vietnamese waters in 1972 and 1973, I was never directly exposed to combat. So, please understand that I pass this quote on from Lt. Calhoun not as a member of the fraternity of combat veterans, but as a serviceman who has a limited understanding of the sense of loss felt by combat veterans.

It really doesn't matter that Calhoun wrote these words in 1990. I'm sure the events of two and one-half weeks combat on the island fortress Corregidor were permanently etched in his mind. Combat has a way of changing the lives of its participants forever.

Here's Calhoun's description of his deep sense of loss as the 2nd Battalion prepared to leave Corregidor on March 8, 1945:
For the most part we were happy, and relived, to be leaving this dusty mass of wreckage where death lurked at every turn. Possibly just as great an emotion was intense pride; we had retaken our great fortress marking this event forever as the high water mark of our lives, or at the least ranking with the high water marks. Memories were indelibly burned in our minds for so long as we shall live. Yet not all was joy. We were leaving behind some forty-nine battalion brothers who would never grow old. Even after forty-five years the grief is still there. Another thought which survives the years is the haunting question, why them and not me?
As a nation, we owe these veterans the greatest sense of gratitude we can muster. They gave their lives -- even those who survived the 49 who remain on the island to this day.

It's their sacrifice (and that of all veterans before and after World War II) that allow this nation to live and enjoy the freedoms that we hold dear. Thousands of lives have changed just in my 55 years on earth. While our freedoms come from the Constitution and Bill of Rights, it's the serviceman who allows us to keep those freedoms.

Whether fighting the spread of Communism in Vietnam and during the Cold War or fighting terrorists on the fields of Iraq and Afghanistan today, many veterans willing enlisted in a cause they see as greater than themselves. These men and women have set their individual lives aside for a time to willing and voluntarily serve their country.

And many gave their lives so others could live. When you see a veteran today, give him a hug and offer your heart-felt thanks. He or she has been through a lot.

Let me close with this though from Lt. Calhoun from an article titled, "Does it Matter?":
... physical discomforts are superficial which can be laughed at ... later.

It is the mental trials that are seared in the soul. The memory of those young men with whom you served will never end. We were a close team, brothers following orders in every move. Our association was seven days a week. More that that, we company grade officers were required to censor mail--a hated task. I learned their loved ones, their dreams, their fears, their plans for the future, and often their inner thoughts. To some I became father-confessor. As some made the supreme sacrifice, the living became more precious. "Oh, God, don't let them die!" Though that pain began so long ago, it is still here today. The tears still flow and will as long as I draw breath.
Enough said ...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Asian-style barbecue sauce

Here's a barbecue sauce recipe that I've prepare at work several times over the past month. I've posted it at the request of a staff member.

Use in sauce place of traditional barbecue sauce. The posted recipe will marinade 5 or 6 racks of spareribs.

At work, I use red wive vinegar in place of the sherry wine.


Tahini is a ground sesame seed paste, with a consistency that's similar to peanut butter. You can find in the ethnic foods aisle of your grocery store.

1-1/8 cups honey
1-1/8 cups hoisin sauce
3/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup tahini
1 cup chopped green onions
6 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Sriacha hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon orange extract

Combine all ingredients in a smaucepan. Heat to blend flavors. Makes about 5 cups.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stirin' the pot

I remember working over the coppers, the Navy's term for the steam-jacketed kettle, with the humidity in the galley running close to 100 percent!

SAN DIEGO (Oct. 21, 2010) Culinary Specialist Seaman Apprentice Tavon Doss, from Baltimore, Md., stirs pasta in a boiling kettle in the galley aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) during the Capt. Edward F. Ney Memorial Award inspection. Nimitz and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) are the two finalists competing for the award given to the fleet's best overall food service. Nimitz is preparing for a scheduled Docking Planned Incremental Availability in Bremerton, Wash. and is homeported at Naval Base Coronado.

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Peter Merrill.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

A vote for coffee, straight up

As a regular at the Starbucks coffee shop at 16th and P Streets in mid-town Sacramento, I seek out the richest cup of coffee.

I stopped in this evening to buy a cup of coffee for the train ride home. As he filled my mug, the barista, a young man in his 20s, asked, "Room for cream"?

"No. There's only one way to drink coffee," I responded.

"Straight up!" exclaimed the barista.

Straight up is the only way to drink coffee, black, thick and full bodied.

That's my vote. What's yours?

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.