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.