Monday, December 29, 2008

Dr Lowry's Sweet Salmon

There was a period of my life when peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a staple. Then one day, around the age of fourteen, I had had enough. Overnight I went from a daily PB&J to eating them a handful of times ever since. About ten years ago the same thing happened with fresh salmon. I went from eating it several times a week to almost never.

Luckily, that wall that blocks fresh salmon has a door for smoked salmon. And Dr. L's version was a sweet holiday treat. I served it cold with a wedge of lime and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Vintage Reserve 1996 at cellar temperature.

The secrets to Dr. L's excellent salmon, I am told, are fresh skinless salmon fillets from Costco and cherry hardwood logs in the Pitts and Spitts model U1830 smoker.


Fresh skinless salmon fillets (skin off allows maximum brine absorption).
Dark brown sugar
Kosher salt
Apple cider
Cinnamon sticks
Bay Leaves
Black pepper corns
Red pepper flakes
Fennel seeds
Fresh thyme


1. Rinse salmon fillets in cold water; pat dry with paper towels.

2. In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of dark brown sugar, 1/4 cup of kosher salt, 4 cups of apple cider (100% natural) and slowly bring to a boil (make sure all solids (sugar and salt) are dissolved. Then add 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 bay leaves, 2 teaspoons of black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1.5 teaspoons of whole allspice, 6 springs of fresh thyme.

3. Chill brine until cold to the touch.

4. Submerge salmon fillet into chilled brine for 6-8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

5. Remove fillets and place on wire rack on a cookie sheet. Put back in refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Some of the dry spices (peppercorns, allspice, bay leaves) will stick to the fillets.

6. Soak cherrywood logs in water for two hours prior to starting smoker.

7. Using damper, establish smoker temperature at 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

8. Smoke fillets for 1 hour; then chill overnight in refrigerator.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mrs. Longcope's Punch

Ann's Christmas party was anchored by her enormous piano at one end of the house and an enormous bowl of Mrs. Longcope's punch at the other. Her brother, Robert, was kind enough to share the punch recipe with me.

4 bottles Mount Gay rum
4 bottles Bacardi rum
4 bottles Courvoisier
3 bottles lemon juice
2 cups peach brandy
and equal amount of Earl Grey tea
1 block of ice

Serves 120

As always, the punch was excellent, conversations flowed and the carols were a joy.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I-80 Bookends

Rest Stop View of Delaware Water Gap

With the George Washington Bridge at one end and the Bay Bridge at the other, Interstate 80 must have the most elegant ends of any American highway. And there is no shortage of points of interest along the way. John McPhee distilled his passion for I-80 road cuts into Annals of the Former World.

Sidney, Nebraska

Three weeks ago I was in New Haven, on Friday I was in Berkeley; I stopped in Nebraska on the way.

Bay Bridge, San Francisco

Monday, September 1, 2008

Barrel Conditioned Beer at the Toad

Barrel conditioning meant nothing to me in 1978. What will remain with me always is the taste of a cider drawn from a cask at a farm in Dyfed, Wales late one afternoon that summer. Father Doxsey had volunteered a bunch of boys to help a local farmer put up hay. It was a day much like today: hot, sunny and dry. Our reward was an elixar. Cool, frothy, sour, sweet and an aftertaste which has lingered for decades.

Paul Stokeld's beer engine caught my attention as soon as I walked into the Toad in the Hole in Santa Rosa, California. It was a little early in the season for room temperature beer, but I could not resist. Paul drew a pint of Big Bear Cask Conditioned Stout. It quenched my thirst nicely.

The Toad was a convivial place. There was a long bar populated by several groups engaged in animated conversation. A good selection of vintage British rock was on the sound system, loud enough to be heard but not so loud you had to raise your voice to talk over it. Futbol was on one flat screen, football on the other. A dozen beers were on tap.

Paul's menu featured quintessential pub fare. There was a cornish pasty at the top and I wavered. Ultimately the scent of malt vinegar tilted me toward the fish and chips. I was not disappointed. For dessert I drank a cold draught of Eric's "Lips of Faith" Ale from New Belgium . The peach infusion was magic.

Rokket and Kavod at Rush Creek

After the first twenty five mile loop of the Fifty Mile Labor Day weekend Reunion Race at Rush Creek Ranch in Lisco, Nebraska, Rokket and Kavod were about even. Riders Karen Kroop and Sue Horne had had a very tight finish in the 50 race the previous week at the Colorado Horse Park. There were whispers of unfinished business. When the race began at 6 on Saturday morning the air was clear, cool and still. By noon the sky was cloudless, the temperature in the eighties and wind about 15 knots: excitement was high.

This year, Rush Creek hosted its third endurance race and the second of what should become an annual Labor Day weekend event. Dozens of riders, mostly from neighboring states (and one, Robert Barkley from Pennsylvania, who has been to all three Rush Creek races), came to the home of endurance racing legends Rushcreek Ladd and Rushcreek Mark, both now in the AERC Hall of Fame.

The Rush Creek Land & Livestock Company was established around 1890 by Thomas E. Wells. It is a still a family owned cattle ranch. Arabians first came to Rush Creek in the 1940s after Chicago banker A.W. Harris persuaded his friend Preston Wells (son of T. E. Wells) to consider Arabians as ranch ponies. Preston reasoned that the size and disposition of the breed might enable cowboys to train their horses more quickly with fewer injuries. Over the ensuing decades, Rush Creek bred Arabians solely for ranch work.

In the early 1980s, Preston's nephew, Tom Wells was offered over $5,000 for a seasoned Rush Creek horse. “No horse is worth that much,” he observed and decided to accept the offer. At the time, Rush Creek provided each ranch employee four horses to work with. That meant there were potentially dozens of well trained horses to choose from. But at Rush Creek, once horses were turned over to employees, the animals remained in their care for as long as they remained employees. Tom would not pressure anyone to give up his or her horse. So he gave up one his own, Rushcreek Ladd.

Now Rush Creek actively breeds horses with endurance riders in mind. The Reunion event was conceived to showcase Rush Creek Arabians. Ranch Manager Lyle Sherfey and his wife Teresa hosted the event. This weekend four Rush Creek horses competed. Rushcreek Rising and Rushcreek Pesto finished first and second in Saturday’s Twenty Five Mile race. Both are still owned by Rush Creek and were ridden by Kim Ebb and Beau Larson. Deb Kolegraf returned to Lisco from North Dakota with Rushcreek Jerdee last year for the Twenty Five Mile race and this year finished fifth in Saturday's Fifty Mile race. On Sunday, Rushcreek Pinon competed in the Twenty Five Mile race.

Three veterinarians, Otis Schmitt(Tennessee), Art King (Canada) and Rich Palmer(Nebraska), supervised the races. Their goal was to ensure the "fitness to continue" of each horse in the competition (riders' health was a secondary concern). They looked for rapid pulse recovery (below 64) and then checked to make sure it was stable by having the rider trot the horse before checking the pulse again. They also listened for gut sounds and did pinch tests to see that the horses were properly hydrated. All horses were checked half way through each loop and again upon completion of the loop; there was a mandatory rest period after each vet check.

Cheryl Winter crewed for Karen Kroon and explained that well conditioned horses have highly visible veins and arteries which help the animal dissipate heat quickly. After the first half of the Saturday race, Rokket was at ease, his muscles clearly defined with a pattern of veins and arteries superimposed above them.

Typically after 50 miles, horses are spread out. But not at the 2008 Reunion race. The star performers in this year's first Fifty Mile were Rokket and Kavod. Rokket was a handsome fourteen year old with seven or eight years of endurance racing experience. Kavod was ten year old with five years of racing experience. After 50 miles on the trail they trotted up the slope approaching the finish line side by side. With a couple hundred yards to go, they broke into a full run. Kavod won the race by a nose. Rokket won the Rushcreek Mark Memorial Cup for finishing the race in the Best Condition.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Boulder Breakfast

"Would you like a piece of toast for breakfast? We have it with peanut butter and sprouts."

"Um. Okay. Sure."

I was doubtful. I should have known better. Boulder does not disappoint when it comes to interesting food. The key was the fresh pea sprouts (a little maple syrup in the peanut butter didn't hurt). Crunchy bread, crunchy sprouts. Great breakfast, dudes.

El El Frijoles Rocks

On the wrong side of the highway in Playa del Carmen, on the Riviera Maya, El Oasis Mariscos serves excellent tacos de camarones. The dining area is under a pergola and has about a dozen crudely fashioned wooden tables with deceptively heavy matching chairs. The menu is in Spanish and is short and shrimp tacos are the specialty. While they are sold individually, a typical order would be three. They arrive at the table quickly: small batter fried shrimp on small freshly made soft taco shells. The soft crunchy hot slighty sweet shrimp with one of the house salsas is always a delight. When I am heading south toward Tulum, I plan my day around passing that taco stand at noon.

Taco joints north of the border seldom have that appeal. El El Frijoles on Route 15 in Sargentville, Maine was an exception. I liked everything about this place. Driving past heading toward Deer Isle, I caught only the name and I laughed out loud. On the way back later in the afternoon, I got a better look at the sign, the art gallery in front and the picnic tables. Two miles further up the road I turned around and went back. The name and promise of lobster tacos were too much to ignore.

Behind the main house/art gallery facing the road was a small barn which had been converted into a taqueria. Driving past, I had not noticed how many cars we parked under the trees. Most of the picnic tables were occupied. Things were looking promising. Inside there were four very small tables (total seating for nine only); we snagged one just as the evening rain started. We ordered the daily special, haddock tacos, as well as the lobster tacos and a couple ears of native sweet corn. Memories of the taco stand in Playa floated by as we waited. My expectations were high and they were exurberantly exceeded. The taco shells were fresh, hot, and home made. The haddock was grilled then topped with a mild green chili sauce; the lobster was topped with a sweeter red chili sauce. Both were world class. And the corn was the best I had eaten all year. Since it will be a while before we can return, we ordered seconds.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tobacco Barns in the Corn Fields

Tobacco barns still populate the countryside in Southern Wisconsin but the leaf itself is less evident. Corn seems to have taken its place. I suspect something more complicated than crop rotation is responsible for the changing landscape. Perhaps the end of tobacco subsidies in 2005 and misbegotten ethanol policies bear some responsibility. I would feel a lot better about ethanol if the U.S. government eliminated subsidies for corn and the plants which convert the crop from food to fuel.

The Shell station in Cambridge used to have a sign in front advertising NO ETHANOL. Not anymore. (This struck me as a bold statement, considering its proximity to the corn fields.) Apparently, the station is now required by Wisconsin law to supply gasoline with ethanol. So now only the Shell V Power 93 octane fuel is unadulterated. It costs $0.30 (about 7%)per gallon more, but yields about 9% better mileage (29.2 mpg versus 26.7 mpg as tested this morning on Interstate 39 in my 2003 Passat V6 4 Motion Wagon--I filled up with gas without ethanol for my trip and drew the tank down to empty before refueling with 89 octane 10% ethanol at a Kwiktrip in Stevens Point).

Friday, July 11, 2008

Briq's Root Beer Float

Visits to the A&W Drive In were always a treat. Those heavy chilled mugs with frothy root beer more than compensated for the mediocre burgers. A scoop of vanilla ice cream added to the suds was transcendent. Both were changed in delightful ways: the root beer lost some of its heavy sweetness and the ice cream grew a crunchy crust.

I don't know if A&W still uses glass mugs. I was about to find out when I ran across Briq's Soft Serve on the north side of Wausau, Wisconsin. Classic walk up joint with picnic tables under shade trees. Since I was already primed for a root beer float, I ordered one at Briq's. Apparently the creator of the Briq's version had a passing familiarity with icebergs: the vast majority of the Briq's soft serve ice cream lurked below the surface. No surprise coming from a place which is the "home of the one pound ice cream cone." I ordered a small and it was enough for a small family.

At some point, I will investigate the use of glass mugs at A&W, but only if I don't pass an independent drive in on the way.

Briq's is located just off US 51 on Merrill Road in the general direction of the A&W.

Cajun Chowder in Coloma

There are no gators in Coloma, Wisconsin and nothing remotely like a bayou. But somehow the magicians in the kitchen at the Coloma Coffeehouse figured out the cajun thing anyway. Maybe it has something to do with the humitidity this summer. The chowder was packed with seafood; the broth was thick; the pepper was spot on; I had to hunt for the rice. I wish I had ordered the bowl.

Coloma Coffeehouse, 157 N Front St,, Coloma WI 54930 715/228 JAVA (5282)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Cousin Ruth and the Stone Bones

Years ago, Ruth discovered fossil camel and rhinoceros bones exposed in a mound in western Nebraska. This was no idle claim: the bones were properly identified, catalogued and displayed at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln with full credit given to the finder. Yesterday, we returned to the site of her discovery.

A Brule clay mound rose about 100 feet above the surrounding terrain. Ruth said the fossils she found were "just lying on the ground." I was incredulous. "A tooth was exposed, and then we dug out the jaw." The mound was located about two miles north of the North Platte about 200 feet higher than the current highwater mark but still well within the wide valley the river has cut over eons. The ground was littered with smooth, flat granite and basalt stones which had been carried from the mountains several hundred miles to the west and then deposited here when the channel shifted south.

William, Ruth's son, made the first new discovery. It was a rib fragment which "chinged" when he tapped it against another rock. He thought it was metal and was prepared to discard it. Soon his brother Edward found some fossil bone fragments. They were indeed just lying on the ground. They were near the top of the mound and somewhat protected by thick slabs of limestone which originally capped the oligocene clay mound and inhibited erosion. The age of clay suggests the bones we found protruding from it were 25-30 million years old.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Matt from Galesburg

Matt climbed into the Hertz Subaru Outback outside Hot Springs, South Dakota. He was on his way to New Mexico via the Four Corners and Grand Canyon. Originally from Galesburg, Illinois, he has worked as a day laborer and made his home in Texas, Florida or on the road. When I met him, he was seeing "a bit of the country."

If he still had his scooter, I would not have met him. It was impounded in Florida. Matt was passionate about scooters. He could get over 100 miles per gallon. He had traveled from Texas to Illinois on about six gallons of gas. He could carry his pack on the running board. He had nothing good to say about the police, especially the police in Louisiana. They harassed him and confiscated his scooters; his driver's license too. He was on his way to New Mexico because he had heard it was easy to get a new license there.

Matt's backpack was stretched drum tight. He claimed it weighed 100 pounds. Having seen the effort required to heft it, I had no reason to doubt that figure. He carried his life in that pack. He had foot long spikes to secure his tent and a hatchet to cut firewood.

He was dressed in shorts, heavy boots and wore a camouflage baseball cap. On the road, he was called Willy for obvious reasons; he even had the ponytail. He was lean and tanned like a Gulf Coast fisherman. He had professional tattoos on his arms and chest and amateur ink on his fingers. He complained that he could no longer hike 20 miles with his pack due to a bad back.

We crossed the North Platte in Bridgeport, Nebraska and stopped at Runza for a late lunch. He remembered having something like a Runza in LA about 20 years ago. It was a calzone. I had wolfed down half my Runza before I noticed how slowly and deliberately he ate. We returned to the bridge over the Platte and I dropped him off; 140 miles closer to the Grand Canyon than he had been a couple hours earlier. He would make camp under the bridge.

Matt turned 49 last week; he was born on June 18, 1959.

Breakfast at Bully's

Presidents are a big deal in Rapid City. Bronze statues of greet pedestrians in the historic district. At Mount Rushmore, Teddy Roosevelt may literally be in the shadow of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, but he is remembered with exceeding warmth in town. Bully Blends Coffee & Tea Shop is a case in point.

For breakfast I had an excellent Bullrito. Offering a half portion was a fine idea because it allowed me to rationalize the purchase of a dangerous Bullrownie. (You can't be too careful when venturing out across the high plains.) Everything is made in house and the staff is gracious to a fault.

Granite Faces in the Black Hills

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Glass of Your Own

Barely Blond might describe the woman behind the bar or the draft she drew from the keg. Tonight the Firehouse Brewery had five of their own craft brews on tap. The jolly couple to my right proposed the Blond and Megan, the bartender, seconded the motion. Barely Blond was a voluptuous ale: great body with Eastern European hop sass. If I were a local, I would have enjoyed it in my own numbered glass.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sullivan's Brontosaurus

Jurassic Park reinvented dinosaurs. Before Steven Speilberg brought them back to life, however, they were dusty skeletons in natural history museums or Emmit Sullivan sculptures in South Dakota's Dinosaur Park.


Sullivan rendered tail dragging, reptilian behemoths life size in concrete over steel mesh and then painted them bright green. Today they look cartoonish, but I suspect that has more to do with what has happened to dinosaurs over the seven decades which have passed since Sullivan and his WPA crew were at work.

The fate of two iconic dinosaurs, brontosaurus and trachodon, tells part of the story. They were demoted. Brontosaurus has been reclassified as Apatosaurus; Trachodon is now Hadrosaurid. Both were the creations of early bone hunters. Later research has shown they were cobbled together from two or more creatures. But they captured the imagination and became real for generations of enthusiasts.

Trachodon and Brontosaurus

Paleontologists have a much deeper understanding of dinosaurs now than they did in Sullivan's time. The closest living relatives of dinosaurs, we are told, are birds, not reptiles. Most probably were not green; they probably did not drag their tails. Contrary to conventional wisdom, they were survivors and ruled the planet for over 100 million years. Only recently did we learn their tenure was abruptly terminated when the Earth collided with a very large rock (estimated to be about the size of Mount Everest) 63 million years ago. Otherwise, they might still be in charge.


None of that serious scholarship detracts from the charm of the Dinosaur Park. Sullivan's sculptures will continue to inspire. Kids at least. Riding Triceratops beats peering at presidents on Mount Rushmore any day.

T. Rex and Triceratops

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fin Special

Escolar is surfacing everywhere. Nick Macioge is making it into his special white tuna roll at Fin in Lenox, Massachusetts. But the best thing about this roll is not the fish, it is the jalapeƱo salsa. Minced peppers, onions, lemon, lime and olive oil. According to Nick, the key to controlling the burn is to use peppers with uncracked skins. Next time I will try it on tuna tuna.

Fructose and Gout

Audrae Erickson and the Corn Refiners Association are going on the offensive. Corn has been vying with oil as the leading news item among the commodities due to anticipated crop losses resulting from flooding across the Midwest. But the CRA's new PR campaign is attempting to deal with a more difficult problem: consumer perception of high fructose corn syrup. The industry is concerned about the negative impact of books like Dr. Richard J. Johnson's The Sugar Fix. Erickson has an uphill slog.

We all know that too much sugar is bad for us, and we all know that contemporary diets contain too much sugar. What I found newsworthy in Johnson's book was the assertion fructose plays an important role in the production of uric acid which in turn causes gout. I already knew about the usual gout suspects: foods high in purines (shell fish, red meat, beans, asparagus, mushrooms, and beer). I did not know I had to be careful about dessert too. (Balch & Balch's Prescription for Nutritional Healing, 1990, made no mention of fructose when discussing gout).

Johnson did not suggest a healthy diet should be devoid of fructose, but he did strongly recommend that it be low in fructose. Makes sense to me. Since reading the book, I have replaced my roadtrip Starbucks Frappuccinos with espressos or iced teas and cut way back refined sugars. (Shellfish and beer are generally off the menu too.) I am feeling much better.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Berkshire Ferns

Trips to The Belfry were always happy occasions. Fresh air, vigorous activity, cold nights; fishing, canoeing, camping; shopping (hardware, groceries, tackle), building (new porch, new steps to the lake), wood fired cooking (both in the kitchen and outside). We loved those trips. We spent time with our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. And, without quite knowing it, we learned a lot. Grandfather knew the names and habits of every animal and most plants; he wanted us to know how to identify the things around us also.

Some of the education stuck, but not enough. I was perhaps a C student. Today, I might pass a test to identify animals but I would fail dismally to identify most plants. I don't know how Grandfather remembered everything. We have Google. With that resource in mind, I decided to learn which ferns inhabit my woods.

After an hour or so in tick land and several more on the computer, I can now identify, with a degree of confidence, seven of the eight ferns I found (I gave up on the fern at the top of this post). Given the similarity among many of the ferns, I suspect I will find more on my next field trip. The Connecticut Botanical Society was excellent. The USDA site was helpful but cumbersome.

Bracken Fern

Christmas Fern

Cinnamon Fern

Maidenhair Fern

Mountain Woodfern

New York Fern

Sensitive Fern

And finally, the mountain laurel I thought was ready to blossom a month ago, has opened up.