Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Thursday Adventure

Remember how yesterday I threatened to whup up a batch of hot dipping sauce for my pasties? What I had in mind was something along the lines of Asian sweet chili sauce, which I adore, but starring ingredients I had on hand. Like dried cranberries, cranberry juice and a small can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Something that would, by the way, fit comfortably in that cute little apple juice jug I had saved for just such an eventuality. After a great deal of online research, I succeeded in concocting my own twist on assorted recipes and came up with what I considered a winner -- but not without a certain amount of adventure.

The first part of the adventure dealt with the thermal qualities of the chipotle peppers and the adobo sauce -- both of which are considered by the uninitiated to be somewhere between molten lava and the hinges of hell insofar as heat is concerned. The recipes I looked at suggested using just part of a pepper and taking the seeds out. I have never understood the logic of seeding a chili pepper. That's where the heat is, for heaven's sake. What's the point of a chili pepper without heat? I never, never, never seed my chili peppers. I simply use less, then add more in small increments until I reach the heat level I can handle without breaking out the fire extinguisher.

That is, I usually do it that way. Sometimes I throw caution to the winds, laugh in the face of danger and toss the whole durned pepper in, guts, feathers and all. Today was one of those reckless times ... and the pepper was not one of the smaller ones. Nor was the tablespoon of adobo sauce anything like "scant." A preliminary taste test alerted me to that error in judgement. Once I put out the flames and wiped my eyes, I immediately added another cup of cranberry juice to dilute the Scoville factor to acceptable levels.

The next adventure came when it was time to run the sauce through the blender to puree everything down to relative liquidity. I usually shove the lid securely into the top of the blender but today I just set it on top, one hand lightly holding it in place. Don't ask me why. I have no clue. Then I punched the button for the Chainsaw Massacre setting (puree for those of you without such a macho blender).

Hooboy! The powerful torque blew the liquid straight up, lifting the lid completly away from the blender. Before I could slam it back down, I had very hot sauce splashed on my wrist, my watch, my sweatshirt and liberally sprinkled across the neighboring microwave, chopper and roasting oven. Nice move, Dee. (Note to self: always batten down hatches when using blender.)

Okay, I didn't lose all that much sauce in the blender debacle. It just seemed that way while I was mopping it up. I poured some of the sauce into a shallow bowl and put the rest in the apple juice bottle (see above). Then I nuked the other half of yesterday's pasty and sat down to put the sauce to the critical test.

Dip. Bite. Munch. Dip. Bite. Munch. Let eyes widen in appreciation. Moan with pleasure. Not with pain. The heat level is not painful. Although it is hot enough to make my nose run. Blow nose. Continue to dip, bite, munch until pasty is history. Lick fingers. Smile.

The recipe follows. You may, of course, adjust the amounts of the chipotle and adobo to suit your own preferences. By the way, this is not a thick sauce and would lend itself very well to basting roasted or grilled meats. But if you prefer thick, simply put it back in the saucepan after running it through the blender. Bring to a boil and add about a tablespoon of corn starch that's been dissolved in a couple of tablespoons of cold water. Stir until sauce thickens. Remove from heat.


1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 chipotle pepper, minced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup whisky (or bourbon or rum)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cups cranberry juice

Put all ingredients in sauce pan. Bring to a boil, turn down to simmer, cover with lid and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit another 15 minutes. Run through blender on the puree setting. Can be served hot or cold. Will keep a looooong time in refrigerator.

A note on the booze: Triple Sec would be good here, as the orange flavor always goes great with cranberry. But you don't have to use alcohol. Pretty much any fruit juice will work fine. Or just skip that quarter cup of liquid. Won't hurt a thing.

Just for the record, I was only kidding about the worm killer thing. Honest. On the other hand, I certainly don't have worms.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


A certain Old Grey Poet is to blame for the advent of these gorgeous critters. All he had to do was mention pasties and I was yearning, lusting, craving my own meal of this ancient and totally satisfying treat. We speak, Coffee Mates, of the famous Cornish Pasty.

If you are new to the phenomenon, you need to know they are pronounced PASS-tee. If you pronounce them PACE-tee, you're talking about the doodads strippers attach to their bazooms and that's a whole nuther endeavor entirely. If you pronounce them PAWS-tee, you might be from Australia. Or, I been told, certain locations in Montana. For information on pasty history (a long and honorable one), pictures and recipes, all you need do is Google Cornish Pasty and you'll have a ton of links to follow and enjoy.

I first learned about them when living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the standard filling was diced meat, diced potatoes, onions and turnips. Sometimes carrots. If you prefer, you can use ground meat instead of diced and you can add whatever blend of vegetables you have on hand that appeals to you. The result is a full meal you can eat in your hand -- sort of the original Hot Pockets, only better.

The filling I used was a mixture of elk meat, potato and onion, seasoned with salt, pepper and onion powder, and topped with a few thin pats of butter. I'd have loved to add some turnip or rutabaga but didn't have any. So be it. Oh! Almost forgot -- I baked 'em at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

The neat thing I want to share with you, though, is the crust recipe I tried for the first time. I think it's absolutely perfect for a pasty crust. There are variations you can Google but this is basically what I did:


2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 egg
1/4 to 1/2 cup sour cream

Cut butter into flour and salt. Whisk egg and sour cream together and stir rapidly into flour mixture, just until dough forms. You may or may not have to add more sour cream. Play it by ear. When dough has formed, divide in half, form into patties, wrap in plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for at least an hour.

About the sour cream: I started with a quarter cup and kept adding more, a heaping spoonful at a time. One never knows how much moisture flour is going to need on a given day. You just sort of feel it out and go with the flow. You can leave the dough in the refrigerator for a couple of days before using. I made this batch yesterday so it was 24 hours before I took it out. It rolls out easily and smoothly, handles like a dream and bakes up tender and flaky. The important thing here is, although tender, it's still sturdy enough so it holds up without falling apart in your hands while you're trying to eat.

Yes, you eat pasties with your hands. Put the silverware back in the drawer.

See the photo below? I was going to eat the whole dinner plate-sized critter. That's how hungry I was. I only got two-thirds of the way through one half. That's how filling pasties are. Sometimes I like to make a hot dipping sauce to go with a pasty meal but tonight I elected to just eat it naked. I mean the pasty was naked. I was fully clothed. No need to frighten the horses.

Fortunately, pasties are just as good cold as they are hot so I can go back to the uneaten half later without having to heat anything up. Maybe I'll fix some chipotle cheese sauce to go with the other pasty tomorrow. In any case, thank you, John, for such a lovely, beguiling suggestion. Even my tummy is smiling tonight.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Legends Are Hard to Come By

One of the reasons the camera loves the west coast is the abundance of seastacks, those rugged monolithic upthrusts of rock strewn along beaches and offshore like dragon's teeth and other fanciful shapes. The ingredients of seastacks can vary but I think those in this area are mostly basalt. One source tells me they were once part of an underwater reef complex. That would be a greatly over-simplified explanation of seastacks and good enough for our purposes here. What I want to bring to your attention is how the various shapes of these rock formations so easily and naturally inspire colorful legends.

Not all seastacks come accompanied with their own stories -- like the Indian princess with her basket of kittens or the tribal elder hurled into the sea by an evil spirit. So I'm looking at the above shot of the cove just west-by-northwest of the Port Orford dock and, as you can see, there are a couple of big seastacks close to the cliff, flanked on the right by two smaller formations. I don't know if there are any legends that go with that grouping or not but as I stood there on the dock I got to thinking it might be fun to make something up.

Zooming in on the little guys, we can see they stand there on the edge of the outgoing tide, thoughtfully contemplating the pocket-sized beachlet in front of them. A cozy little space it is, sand covered by rock and tastefully edged with a tangle of driftwood and kelp. Nice place for a picnic -- as long as the tide is out.

I don't know. There may be something warped in my legend-creation mode. I keep looking at those figures and trying to come up with a suitable dramatic story to go with them. No matter how hard I try to dream up characters more dashing, more romantic, I keep getting insistent impulses from a couple of crusty old bachelors named Stanley and Earl. I'm not making this up. They are making it up, I swear it, and this is what they're telling me ...

The little cove is Stanley's living room. Stanley is the pudgy one on the left. Earl has come to visit him -- please note he brought a couple of cases of beer, laying directly behind him. Earl looks around and says, "Jeez, Stanley, is this whachoo call minimalist decor?"

"No, Earl. This is called what's-left-after-the-divorce."

"Oh." Long silence. Then, "I brought some beer. Thought we could watch the Super Bowl."

"Hell, Earl. If you brought enough beer, we've got room to play the Super Bowl."

Another long silence. Then, "Stanley, do you get the feeling we're in a really weird Indian legend?"



"Nope. I get the feeling we're in a rejected Far Side cartoon."

Well, shucky-darn. So much for "easily and naturally" making up random legends. Stanley and Earl were kind of fun, though. And don't worry about them messing up the cove when they drink beer and watch the Super Bowl. The incoming tide will tidy it right up. Oops. Did I just make a pun?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Of Place Names & Pot Roasts

This is one of those weird days on the Internet. Not Major weird, just You're-Starting-To-Piss-Me-Off weird. I'm talking about the Comments feature, specifically. Twice I tried to respond to comments for yesterday's post and twice Blogger informed me I couldn't do it. Piffle and phooie. I'm doing a quarterback sneak here and getting another post in place, to boot. Take that, Blogger!

John, you mentioned signs of Spring. Well, I have an even more dramatic harbinger -- just downloaded the online catalog from Tomato Bob's place. There is nothing that gets me more spring-oriented than photos of luscious 'maters of all sizes and colors. Looking through the catalog, one has the urge to sit there with a salt shaker, that's how tempting the pictures are.

Kate, I think there are some place names that take hold in lots of different places. Sugarloaf is certainly one and, for the record, we have a Bald Mountain here, too (without the "y").

Bonnie, you did see Humbug when you were here. You just didn't realize it. See the photo above of Battle Rock? Now, picture this in your mind's eye -- as we stand there facing Battle Rock, you know that just over the bluff to our right is the cove with the dock and jetty. The same southbound view as from Battle Rock, just a slightly different angle. Got it?

Now ... if you shift your gaze just a teensy little bit to the left (which translates to the photo below) -- wallah! There is ol' Humbug, slightly different angle than yesterday's picture from the dock but same distinctive shape. As we stood there, Highway 101 was directly behind us. It wanders south out of town and winds its way along the coast for the six miles it takes to reach Humbug -- which is a state park. There are excellent camp grounds and hiking trails, old growth timber, temperate rain forest flora, including rhododendrons up to 30 feet tall and if you manage to hike to Humbug's top, you can have a picnic, break out the binoculars and do a little whale watching.

I'm not in Port Orford today so I can't say for sure -- I suspect, however, Humbug has a solid cap settled on its brow because it's been overcast and drizzly since the wee hours of 'o-dark-thirty. As a form of retaliation, I have a chunk of beef roasting away in the portable oven. I'll have all afternoon to figure out what sublime things I'm going to do with it.

About that oven -- I imagine you are all familiar with the big roasters one usually thinks about when one mentions such things. You know -- the monsters our mothers hauled out at Thanksgiving and Christmas, when oven space is so crucial, and then had to figure out where to store its bulk the rest of the year. Which is why I never bothered getting one. Way too big and bothersome for me.

Until I discovered, very recently, they make the durned thangs in smaller sizes! Well, as they say in the south, "Butter my butt and call me biscuit." That puts a whole different light on things. I did a lot of research and ended up with a six-quart Nesco that I am learning to love. Just the right size to roast a chicken but not so big it's a counter-space hog. Uses way less electricity than the regular oven and is definitely easier to clean. Has the full temperature control range -- I can use it like a slow cooker, like a regular oven or like a steamer. I'm told it doesn't brown like a regular oven -- at least for some things -- but there are work-arounds for that. All in all, I find myself grinning a lot when I use it. That's a good sign.

Now, if I could just figure out how to download some luscious vine-ripened 'maters from Tomato Bob's web site, I'd be truly in 'em.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This Really IS Humbug

What you see in the foreground is the southern end of the dock at Port Orford, with assorted pallets and equipment taking up parking spaces along the western edge. To the right, atop the jumble of jetty rock, you can see a gull coming in for a landing. (If you left-click on the photo, you can see a larger version.)

What you see in the background is the view I had for a good share of my childhood -- Humbug Mountain. Six miles south of Port Orford and rising 1756 feet right out of the ocean, Humbug has a reputation for being a sort of weather barometer around here. You can see a thin strip of fog across Humbug's face, like a gauzy scarf, and you can see low-lying ground fog along the beaches, all reflective of the overcast day but nothing to alarm anyone. It's when the sky lowers itself down and lays a cap on Humbug's head that we know the nasty weather is near upon us.

I won't swear to the details of this story but apparently it used to be known as Sugarloaf Mountain. Supposedly, a party was sent out to explore the mountain. Unfortunately, they pointed themselves north of Port Orford instead of south, based, it's said on false information -- or humbug. The term gradually became the accepted name for the mountain. I find that kind of mistake hard to believe when you see how visible the durned thang is. Another story claims miners were zeroing in on the black sands near the mountain because of rumors of gold -- which turned out to be a humbug claim. That sounds closer to the truth.

But we'll probably never really know -- and I like that. A little mystery leaves wiggle room for one's imagination and that's a Good Thang.

Friday, January 23, 2009

More Enchilada Magic

You can really appreciate the generosity of digital camera technology in a situation like the one that produced the above photo. That's because it took me about a squillion attempts to get a meager few decent shots of wave action against the rocks the other day. I guaran-damn-tee ya, there wouldn't have been anywhere near that many attempts had I been restricted to conventional film!

That photo op came about on Wednesday. I was blessed with an unexpected visit from my brother for a few days and, on that particular day, we went down to the dock in Port Orford for a bit before meeting niece Wendi and having a fabulous pizza made by grandson Albert at the cafe where he works. While Merle was over on the east side of the dock taking pictures of some kind of rigging or other, I was on the west side taking pictures of rocks and surf and kelp and seagulls. This particular shot was the result of focusing in on one area of a channel between the jetty rocks and trying to capture the exact moment the incoming waves would demonstrate their most impressive explosions against immovable surfaces. Timing was everything. Split-second failures were plentiful. The nice thing about it is, with surf pictures, even the failures are fun.

On another note entirely, I just happen to have an alternate enchilada sauce recipe to share with you. It is, I think, just as good as the one I gave you in a previous post, which makes it impossible for me to choose a favorite. I think determining which one to make in the future will depend a lot on what ingredients I have on hand and maybe even how much I need. While the other recipe made about 4 cups of sauce, this one makes 2 -- although you could certainly double it if you needed to.

I found it at a wonderful food site produced by Rockin Robin. There is so much good information and so many good recipes, you'll just have to bookmark her. I'm sure you'll want to read her instructions for the Raving Enchilada Sauce because I sorta-kinda fiddled with it a bit. Turned it into a microwave recipe, is what I did. Five minutes. Here's how I did it:


In a 1-quart microwave-safe bowl, mix together:

4 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons allpurpose flour

Using a wire whisk, blend the dry ingredients evenly to prevent lumpy sauce. Gradually pour in 2 cups chicken broth, whisking all the while, until mixture is well blended. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Whisk vigorously, nuke 1 minute. Whisk again, nuke another minute. Whisk and nuke a final minute, 5 minutes in all. Give it a finishing whisk and it's ready to use.

Okay, the sauce is so easy and quick, it's almost magical. But maybe you're not in the mood to fill and roll all those enchiladas, eh? I certainly wasn't -- which is why I finally surrendered and fixed 'em layered style, like Mexican lasagna. Holy jalapeno, Batman! Not only does the enchilada stack taste exactly as wonderful as the rolled-up version, the only thing you lose is the muss and the fuss.

For my purposes, a medium-sized square casserole dish worked fine and the corn tortillas fit the space perfectly. Pour in a little sauce, flop a tortilla into it, then start laying on whatever you want for filling. Pre-cooked seasoned meats like chicken, pulled pork, hamburger -- whatever. I used bite-sized bits of chicken that I quickly fried with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of liquid smoke. You can sprinkle on chopped onion, sweet or hot peppers, chopped olives or anything else that strikes your fancy. Then a sprinkle of shredded cheese, a drizzle of sauce and another tortilla. Repeat layers until you're out of filling ingredients, top off with final tortilla and a generous drizzle of sauce and a decorative sprinkle of shredded cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

To serve, I just cut the stack into 4 wedges, pie-style. Additional glops of sour cream or guacamole or salsa are optional. Bliss is unavoidable.

Friday, January 2, 2009

First You Cry ...

I think this is about my favorite photo of my friend Cecil Talley, taken a few years ago when he was still having his fishing adventures. Since that shot was taken, his world gradually closed in as his body began its relentless process of breakdown.

Not that mere physical problems ever stopped Cees from enjoying life or dampened his irrepressible sense of humor. He never got bitter, never wasted time feeling sorry for himself, never rationed his great generosity of spirit. And his family and friends have been blessed because he has been so utterly indomitable.

Back in 1980, Cees sold a short story to the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Here's what they said, by way of introduction ...

This is the 545th "first story" to be published by Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine ... Once again we should all be mightily encouraged by a first appearance in print. The author, Cecil Talley, was sixty-three when he submitted "The Farmer in the Well" -- take heart, all you beginners!

Mr. Talley thinks his wife ("who has endured me for forty-two years"), his two sons, and his five granddaughters will get a thrill out of seeing "The Farmer in the Well" in EQMM. They should indeed! Mr. Talley is "an old sign painter who never made it past the eighth grade." We share their thrill -- as we do with all our new writers, old and young...

Well, that was 28 years ago, and Cees never stopped writing ... not his stories and not his nearly daily e-mail communication with friends. Between his love of wordsmithing, his love of fishing and his delight with the Internet, he kept us entertained with tales of seemingly endless fishing mishaps. The boat wouldn't unload when he got to the lake. Or it would but the weather turned bad. Or he couldn't find a fishing partner when the weather was good. Or the motor went gunnybag on him so he had to get a new one. And the "good deal" turned out to be a dud. And on and on and, as Cees would always query, "Now, would a Texan lie?"

Nor did he ever stop learning new things. He started fiddling with PhotoShop and was constantly sharing experiments and projects that showed off his boundless curiosity and, often, his self-deprecating sense of humor. I still grin when I look at a photo he sent me where he'd imposed his own face over that of a big old longhorn bull. Well, he was a Texan. That explains a lot. (Insert smile.)

Then, a few months ago, he simply couldn't sit at the computer any longer. At that point, his son Lou did more than care for his father's physical well-being. He served as able go-between, printing off e-mail messages from friends so Cees could read them, and keeping us informed about how things were going.

Tonight, sadly, Lou had to tell us Cees died quietly in his sleep.

Well, first you cry. Then you start remembering all the good stuff. The throat still aches and the eyes still leak but the smiles keep coming ... and get stronger. And you can picture Cees strolling up to the Pearly Gates and giving St. Peter a friendly Texas howdy and then he says, "How's the fishing?"

Another Texan friend, Jeri, said it best: "I pray that our Cees now has a boat with a motor that always runs and a lake with an endless supply of fish. And I *know* that now he has a Buddy who loves to fish as much as he did."

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Pretender or Contender?


I am not perplexed because the first day of the year -- in this location -- has been a continuous overcast with equally continuous mild wind, busy tossing about billows and sheets of also equally continuous rain. For that I am simply resigned. This is, after all, coastal Oregon in the winter.

No, my state of perplexity arises from Maggie's comment on yesterday's post, casually referring to the enchilada sauce as mole sauce. (Pronounced mo-lay.) Understand, Maggie, I'm not quarreling with that designation. I'm just confused by it.

See, I've always thought of mole sauce as a far more complicated dish to prepare, using a kajillion ingredients, taking up hours of time to prepare, and leaving a kitchen clean-up of awesome proportions. I get exhausted just reading the ingredient list, with its array of spices, seeds, nuts and fruits. Although there are countless variations on the mole recipe, that complexity seems to be a common characteristic.

Well, until today, that's what I thought. But Maggie got me to tunneling through the Google underground like a mole. (Pronounced like the furry little fellow with the frightful claws.) And, yes, I found tons of recipes in the ingredient-heavy mode. There is a fun and interesting article (with recipe) on the Texas Cooking web site that will give you a good picture of what my idea of mole has always been. And why I've never tried it, she said with a wry smile.

There is a less complicated mole recipe with lots of photos of the process, demonstrated by Adriana on a Mexican cooking site. Be sure to click on the link labeled "Cooking Directory" at the bottom of the page for plenty more good Mexican recipe links.

But I kept tunneling, mole-like, and, yes, I kept finding simpler and simpler mole recipes. I really should have expected it. Busy cooks are constantly experimenting and finding ways to simplify recipes so as to achieve more or less the same result with less effort and time. The traditional mole sauce is not immune. Some of the simpler recipes were exceedingly close to my enchilada sauce recipe. Exceedingly.

Still, I have to question -- gently, timidly -- the validity of those highly attenuated versions. Using chocolate, for instance, doesn't make it mole. It just makes it Mexican. In fact, not all mole recipes ask for chocolate. When I think of the complexity of flavor derived from the wealth of traditional ingredients, I find it difficult to believe the simplified version could really compare. Thus, do they actually have the right to call themselves mole or are they charming impostors with pretensions of grandeur?

Oh. Look. I guess this is where I should have gone in the first place -- the dictionary. And there are plenty of online dictionaries. And definition after definition tells me "mole" is derived from the Aztec (or Nahuatl) word "molli" -- which means concoction or sauce.

Oh. (blink, blink) Mole is a sauce. Whether complicated or simplified, it's a sauce. Which would mean my simple little enchilada sauce is really a saucy mole, just as Maggie said. Oh Maggie, you saucy wench. You knew that all along.

Speaking of "simple little enchilada sauce," I meant to mention in yesterday's post that you can use chicken broth instead of water when making the sauce. I had actually planned on doing that when I was making it but forgot. And then I forgot to tell you. Is there no end to my perplexedness? Is that a word?