Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Sourdough starter and pancakes

As we progress through this cooking odyssey together, one thing you will need is a sourdough starter.  Making a good sourdough starter is actually pretty easy.  I use sourdough for breads, doughnuts and pancakes all the time so this is an important step. 

First, get yourself something to store it in.  I like a sealable crock.  One of those with the wire clamp to hold the lid on.  Here's the thing, though.  I remove the rubber seal!  So, there is some air circulation but it's still well covered.  Just a canning jar will do, but it would have to be a pretty big one...quart sized or more.  I like the crock because I got one big enough to hold five or six cups of starter, it stays closed without strangling my starter and the mouth is big enough to get a measuring cup in to scoop out what I need. 

Now, put in 2 cups of all purpose flour and two cups of "no sugar added" fruit juice.  I make my own apple juice and always have some of that on hand so that's what I used the last time I had to make starter; about a year ago. 

Another way is to boil some peeled potatoes; maybe making mashed or something, and use the left over water instead of juice.  I’ve done both.  When your starter is a few years old you won’t be able to tell which liquid you used.  

Mix the flour and the juice well and leave it lightly covered for two or three days, stirring once in a while each day.  Once you have a good bubbling action going on...called a "sponge", and you can smell that sour, yeasty smell, then you have starter.  

Over time, the stored starter will develop a brownish colored liquid on top.  This is called “hootch” and is just part of the sourdough.  I mix it back into the starter once in a while.  Some people pour it off.  Whatever “floats yer stick” here. is a great page about maintaining sourdough starters.  I keep mine in the crock in the refrigerator.  I try to remember to "feed" it once in a while but usually it is replenished, or "fed", often enough because I am using it. 

 Starter can last for a long time…years even…if you store it correctly, use it once in a while and, even if not using it, feed it occasionally.   The old chuckwagon cooks kept their starter for years, sometimes sleeping with it in their bedroll so it wouldn’t freeze. 

Now that you have your starter working; it’s bubbling a little and smells “yeasty” , it’s time to put it to use.

Sourdough Pancakes

The night before, mix well (to incorporate some air) 1 cup of your starter with 1 ½  cups of all purpose flour and ¾  cup of warm water.  Cover and leave at warm room temperature: 70-85 degrees, overnight.  

The next morning, return one cup of the starter mixture to your crock.

Then, mix the remaining 1 ½ cups of starter with:

1 egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon of sugar…more if you want.  I like a little more.
¾ tablespoon of salt
½ teaspoon (generous) of baking soda
2 tablespoons of milk

Try to have your ingredients at room temperature.  This will help to make more tender pancakes.

Your pancakes will be a little heavier and not as fluffy as you are used to.  In my opinion, the sourdough flavor blends with a fruity syrup better than regular maple syrup.  I also like these with butter and my home made raspberry jam. 

Now that you have made sourdough pancakes from scratch, here’s a cheat.

Depending on how many you are making, put ½ to 1 cup of starter in your mixing bowl and then add your favorite boxed pancake mix and just make your regular mix, using your sourdough starter as part of the liquid.  This gives you the sourdough flavor, they’ll be a little fluffier  than scratch and it’s a little easier because you can do this spontaneously without having to plan from the night before.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ridicuous, disgusting and useless "Women's March"

I just can’t seem to get over the incredible hypocrisy and foolishness of the “Womens March” with which we are still being assaulted.  

 I’ve read all I can about what they thought they were protesting and I can’t find a single consistent reply.  Apparently, they were marching because they were bored and they don’t like President Trump. 

Most of what they claim to be for or against or whatever; is simple hypocrisy and/or ignorance.  One of the organizers of the Womens March, Linda Sarsour, is a Sharia Law loving Muslim.  Are ANY of these marching women cognizant of the way women are treated under Muslim rule?  How can they support stoning, genital mutilation and general oppression against women?


If you don’t like what President Trump said, several years ago, about women, but don’t care that President Clinton faced multiple accusations of rape and sexual assault and that his wife, Hillary, actively worked to stifle the voices of his victims, then you are incredibly hypocritical and that kind of hypocrisy completely negates any possible substance in your argument. 

President Trump has Never Once spoken out against immigration or immigrants.  For crying out loud, his WIFE is an immigrant and a naturalized citizen!  President Trump is actively against ILLEGAL Immigration.  Big difference.  That’s the difference between a houseguest and a burglar.
I don’t know if you are aware of this, but women in America are protected by the same Constitution as any other American and enjoy the same rights and privileges.  President Trump has been hiring women and paying them as much or more as the men in their positions for many years.  Ever heard of KellyAnne Conway? 

Were you marching in support of LGBTQ rights?  First, once again, as American Citizens their rights were secured in 1788 when the Constitution was ratified.  What rights do they not have?  In addition, In a Williams Institute review based on an June–September 2012 Gallup poll, approximately 3.4 percent of American adults identify themselves as being LGBT. ( 

In conclusion, I must reference those who dressed in vagina suits.  If (big if) there were any substantive, logical or useful message in this women's march, it was destroyed by these foolish, ridiculous lunatics.  From now on, whenever you reference your womens march, most sentient beings will remember the symbol of your march…the walking pussy.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Protest is good. Rioting bad. Think.

I realize that I'm a tiny voice in a world not of my making. Only a few people actually read my posts and it's unlikely that I make any difference with them.
But, I have to try.
I don't care your skin color, political preference, education, profession, gender or desired gender. I don't care with whom or what you want to have consensual sex. I don't care if you were born in the United States or not.
I care if you hurt other people or their property. I care if you are violating the law. I care if you are violating the Constitution of the United States.
I have a primarily conservative, sometimes libertarian political view.
If you are a political liberal, try to get this through your head...I Am Not Your Enemy! I may be your political opponent in a debate. But, unless someone initiates physical violence into our debate, we are not Fighting.
Although we may hold diametrically opposing political, moral, religious or sexual views and I might argue with you about them until we are both exhausted and in desperate need of having a beer together, I will defend your right to your views with my last breath. As a matter of fact, as a Military Veteran, I took an oath to do just exactly that and I have done so for people, more than once!
You don't like Trump, whether politically or personally. Fine. I'm ready to give him time to show his true self to us. He's been in office three days. So far, he hasn't done anything to upset me and I can't imagine how he has upset you so much yet.
I didn't like Obama; politically at first and then, over time, I developed a personal dislike for the man. I voted against him both times. The first time, I took a deep breath and sat back, hoping his "Hope and Change" would be a good thing.
I participated in Tea Party rallies and "protests" as well as far too much debate here on Facebook. I bitched and whined about Obama from day one and I'm happy to bitch about him more if people would like.
I never beat up an Obama supporter. I never set fire to a car or broke a window in the name of "protest". I would be one of the first to stand between rioters and their victims, no matter who the victim might be.
One of the main reasons I got into Law Enforcement, long ago, was because I don't like bullies and I take pride in the times I stood between violent people and defenseless victims. I'd do it again today, defending the most left-wing, anti-gun, LGBT, transgender, tax and spend liberal you can find.
Knock off the violence. You only make yourselves look criminal and I believe violence does damage to your cause.

Friday, January 20, 2017

President Trump: Inspiring. Uplifting.

I watched the Inauguration this morning. It's the first one I've ever watched and I was uplifted, proud and inspired.
God was actually front and center in the event with prayers and speeches by pastors and others.
America and her greatness were also in the forefront of the speeches.
And with those who have done the majority of the damage sitting right behind him, Trump told it like it is! He talked about the failures of the past with those who failed us on the stage with him. And his admonition that it all stops now! "Two simple rules...Buy American and Hire American"! He talked about the rule of law and the defense of our nation and our BORDERS. He actually named "Radical Islamic Terrorism" and pledged to wipe them off the map.
I am filled with hope for the future now where for the past eight years, I've lived in despair.

My thanks to a loving God who watches over our nation.
"And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands. (Book of Mormon; 1 Nephi 2:19–20.)".
There is no question in my mind that our Founding Fathers were inspired and guided by God to create this country.  The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are both Divinely Inspired documents and as long as we continue to follow the principles and commandments of God and His Son, Jesus Christ, our country will flourish.
Some of my favorite quotes from President Trump’s Inauguration speech:

“When You Open Your Heart to Patriotism, There Is No Room for Prejudice 

Today will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again... This oath is of allegiance to all Americans.

We will shine for everyone to follow. We will unite the world against radical Islamic terrorism which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth.

From this day forward, it is going to be only America First! America First...”

The UK Telegraph has posted the entire speech, in video and text.  Read and/or watch it here:

We are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you the people... January 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day people became the rulers of this nationWe are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you the people... January 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day people became the rulers of this nationWe are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you the people... January 20, 2017 will be remembered as the day people became the rulers of this nation


Sunday, January 15, 2017

I understand Anti-Trumpers

In a way, I understand the sentiment of those who are so virulently opposed to President Trump. I developed a visceral dislike for Obama very quickly. I learned to hate him as much as these people hate Trump.
I never voted for Obama. I could see that he had no experience, not only in governance but in life. He has lived a life of theory without substance and that was obvious from the beginning. I believed Hillary when she suggested that he wasn't born in the U.S. and I still think that is likely true.
But, once he was elected, I laid back and watched to see if his theories might actually work and maybe even make the positive changes he espoused during his campaign.
I didn't protest and immediately decide that he wasn't "my President". Neither did anyone else I can think of. Am I missing something or were there zero violent protests against B. Hussein? Were there threats of violence at his inauguration? As far as I know, there weren't.
Very quickly, after his election, I saw that he wasn't very smart. Cunning, maybe, and a good reader but totally unable to function without his teleprompter or some other way for smarter people to help him with answers. His communication skills were silly and he'd have benefitted from some time with Toastmasters or even a high school public speaking class. Again, though, as long as he had something to read, he was ok.
His stance on gun control was laughable, his deliberate efforts to alienate the public from our police caused much suffering among the general public. His continued harping on race relations also caused much suffering and set our countries efforts at reducing racism back 50 years, at least. People call Trump racist? He's not even in the same BUILDING with Obama for radical racism. Obama has always quietly tried to build on Jeremiah Wright's rhetoric.
Obama has always favored Islam over Christianity. We see Islam being taught in our schools while it is "unconstitutional" to teach any Christianity. Many of Obamas staff are Muslims and he's made it very clear that he stands with Islam. Can you imagine Roosevelt filling his staff with Germans and Japanese?
Along those lines, making a deal with Iran that turned them loose to develop nuclear weapons and further sponsor terrorism around the world was incredibly stupid.
His theoretic national security policies created ISIS and caused the furtherance of Terrorism throughout the world.
I grew to loathe Barry Sorotero or B. Hussein Obama or whatever his name will be next week. I hated the sound of his voice and had complete contempt for everything he stood for, said or did and I complained about him and his policies constantly but I didn't join with violent groups and block freeways or beat up Obama supporters.
Many others felt as I but the protests against Obama and his policies were peaceful. Nothing like a Black Lives Matter attack or a Fergusson, MO, riot. How many anti-Obama rallies became violent riots? Once again, I can't think of any.
Hillary and her supporters were filled with contempt for Trumps refusal to concede the election during the last debate but when Trump WON, they began rioting, looting and burning and still haven't surrendered! The hypocrisy of the liberal Democrats is so all encompassing that it just makes me want to "urp".  
No, I learned to hate Obama as much as these people already hate Trump. Once I developed my dislike for him, it's doubtful that he could have done anything, no matter how positive, of which I would have approved. I just learned to dislike the man personally and wouldn't give him credit for ANYthing at that point...ever. So, I understand what anti-Trumpers are feeling now and can only hope that they suffer as long as we did.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Let's try some Cookies!

Before we start with cooking anything, I need to emphasize the key to this whole enterprise and that is…preparation.  If you are planning southwestern style diced potatoes for breakfast, dice the potatoes and ingredients and then mix it all together the night before.  Put your meat out to thaw, get your sourdough starter warmed up, make your salad.  Anything that can be prepared to a point and then finished later should be.  

When I was a kid, we didn’t live next door to a grocery store so if there were things we had to buy; we did so in bulk, often once a month (or even longer).  Neither my Grandmother nor my mother went to the store for meals every day as I see people do today.  They had pantries where weeks or months of supplies were stored.  Grandmother had a “root cellar” where many things were kept.  I remember being sent to the root cellar to get canned (canned at home, of course) goods, potatoes, onions or garlic.  By the time of my memories we had a refrigerator so I don’t have any firsthand experience of how she kept things before that. 

If you plan to bake things for yourself, then plan certain days when that will be done.  My Grandmother had to provide lunches for my Grandfather and a couple of my uncles back in the logging days so she had to have food ready.  She baked bread on Wednesday.  She made enough loaves to go through the week.  Cookies were on Thursday.  Pies and cakes were made the day she planned to serve them.  She had her menu for the week planned out in advance and had all the ingredients for those meals prepared sometimes a couple of days before the meal was cooked.  

I remember that she would boil a pot of potatoes and store them in the refrigerator for later use.  Sometimes they were diced for frying, sometimes made into mashed or potato pancakes or whatever.  The point being, she was prepared in advance.

Ok, now that we’ve got our tools and we’re prepared to productively use part of our day, it’s time to cook something. Let’s start with something easy.  How about Chocolate chip cookies? 

My Great-grandmother’s house always smelled of cookies.  She always had chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies in a cookie jar in the kitchen so when any of us kids would take the time to visit her, it was a rewarding experience.  Maybe she did that just so we would visit more often?  

I remember small grocery stores in our area that had their own bakery and the whole store smelled so great because of it.  That bakery smell would hit me as I walked in the door and those freshly baked cookies were fabulous.  It doesn’t seem as if I find those kinds of places any more.  If you want cookies in the store you buy the prepackaged ones. 

When you walk down the cookie aisle, you’ll see many different brands of chocolate chip cookies; crisp, soft, big, little, bags of miniatures, packages of two together…on and on.  Most of these I like ok.  I mean, is there such a thing as a “bad” chocolate chip cookie? 

But the ones my Mom made were always the best.  I like them about 2” in diameter and fairly crispy but not crunchy.  I don’t want to have to dunk a cookie in coffee to be able to chew it. 

The recipe I normally use is the one on the back of the Nestle’s chocolate chip bag.



·                                 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

·                                 1 teaspoon baking soda

·                                 1 teaspoon salt

·                                 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

·                                 3/4 cup granulated sugar

·                                 3/4 cup packed brown sugar

·                                 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

·                                 2 large eggs

·                                 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375° F.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Pan Cookie Variation Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Prepare dough as above. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool in pan on wire rack. Makes 4 dozen bars.

For High Altitude (over 5200ft) Increase flour to 2 1/2 cups. Add 2 teaspoons water with flour and reduce both granulated sugar and brown sugar to 2/3 cup each. Bake drop cookies for 8 to 10 minutes and pan cookie for 17 to 19 minutes.

Here’s where you can start making this your own.  Semi-sweet, milk chocolate, butterscotch, cinnamon or whatever chips. M&Ms maybe?  Reeses pieces?  Add chopped walnuts if you want.  How about adding some toffee chips?  How about all of the above?  Remember, though, if you are putting in a couple of different kinds of chips, split it up so you put in about 2 cups of chips total.  To that you can still add a cup of walnuts and not dry out your dough. 

Be aware of what they look like when they are done the way you want them so you can make them the same way next time.  I like mine a little golden brown and crispy.  Light tan is a little softer and more chewy.  You can deliberately make them a little thinner and more crispy by adding a half stick more butter to the recipe. For light and cakey cookies use 1 ¾ sticks of butter.  That’s another positive about doing this yourself.  It’s ok to experiment!   

If you are making cookies for a varied group, you might want to either skip putting in nuts or at least ask the group if anyone has nut allergies. 

At a Roundup camp in Nevada one time, the dough in my first batch of cookies turned out really thin.  Just a film of cookie with lumps of chocolate chips in it.  I called it cookie leather.  It still tasted good but the cookies were super thin and crunchy.  As I was watching the first batch in the oven and seeing this happening, I realized my problem and fixed the rest of the dough.   

The cookhouse was at a higher elevation than even my home in Montana so my 4000ft elevation recipe didn’t have enough flour in it for my almost 6000ft location.  I added a half cup of flour and some water so the rest of the cookies came out the way I wanted.  We ate all of them anyway!

This is where a thin metal spatula is nice as it will easily slide under the hot cookies so you can take them off the pan.  If you’re kind of folding the cookies up because the spatula is sticking, just spray the spatula with a little pan oil each time.   

I like to lay the cookies out on waxed paper or even a clean counter until they cool and get a little more solid, then I can stack them on a plate or in a container and they keep their shape. 

Try it.  Make your own cookies.  It’s really easy, takes very little time out of your day and you not only have better cookies, the way you and your family like them, but the people you are cooking for think you’re a hero.   

Maybe the grandkids will visit more often, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Make It Yourself" tools

First, let's look at some of the things you need.  Most of these things can be found in second hand stores if you look for them.  Always be alert for cooking utensils when you are browsing the second hand stores.  

Get a pastry cutter.  I don't like the ones with heavy wire, much like a wire whisk.  I want the pastry cutter with rigid metal blades.

Wire whisk.  Several of these of different sizes.  I don't like the flat ones or the spiral ones.  Just plain wire whisks will do the best job.

Wooden spoons. At least one long handled one you can use for continuous stirring over a hot pot. By this I mean, have a couple of 10” wooden spoons for normal mixing but find one with a longer handle for the times you are standing over the pot, stirring continuously while the steam billows up and cooks YOU. A long handled spoon is really nice at this point in your life.
Spatulas:  I, first, want a thin metal one that will easily slide under my eggs or pancakes.  But, I also want a rigid plastic one that I will be using for things like browning meats or scrambling eggs.

Scrapers: be picky.  Get scrapers with flexible soft rubber blades and blades that are well secured to the handle.  It's a pain when the head comes off of one of these things while you are scraping batter out of a bowl.

Mixing bowls: Several different sizes. Glass, plastic or stainless steel; whatever you like best. I kind of like glass or plastic as they can also be used in a microwave and I want a more curved bowl with as little flat bottom inside as I can get. One with a flat platform outside but completely rounded inside is great.   

Rolling pin:  I'm traditional here. Wood.  Use what you like but I can tell you, you'll be much happier with an actual rolling pin than trying to make pie crusts by rolling it out with a big bottle and a wooden rolling pin just seems to work better for me than plastic, porcelain or stone! 

Flour sifter.  I like the kind with the squeeze handle, not the hand crank. 

Knife:  Once again, a very personal choice.  I have a Dexter sandwich knife that is almost always in my hand.  The shape is just what I want, the blade stays sharp and I use it for almost anything a knife can be used for.  A really good chef with whom I worked had a set of knives that he kept incredibly sharp.  I've seen him use his big knife to slice through a piece of typing paper that was just hanging from the ticket rack...slicing UP through the paper!  Try it.  Also, a bread slicer so you can more easily make uniform slices of the fresh bread you just baked.  I use what they call a “fiddle bow” bread slicer which has a serrated blade, some space and a wooden back so if you cut with the blade into the bread and the wooden back holding the slice in place, each slice is about the same thickness.

 Mixers, electric, hand and stand up.  Kitchenaide standing mixers are the gold standard but I also like my Sunbeam.  Electric hand mixers seem more useful to me for smaller dishes or making stuff for one or two people.  An old fashioned hand cranking mixer is nice to have.  If the power goes out or some other problem exists, being able to crank on your hand mixer and make your whipped cream or cake mix with that can make you the hero! 

Baking pans: 9x13 and 9x9 cake pans .  I like glass the best but regular non-stick or metal cake pans are good. What they call "jelly roll pans" which are basically sheets with a small edge around them.  Multiple sizes.  I also use small pizza pans as cookie sheets or to catch boil-overs in the oven.  If you will be cooking for larger groups then getting larger sizes of these is important. 

Casserole dishes of various sizes are good to have.  Once again, think about how big your groups might be.  You might want pretty good sized dishes. 

Covered roasting pan, preferably with an internal rack.

Sauce pans of various sizes.  You'll be using these for gravies, breakfast cereals and so on. 

Stock pots in various sizes, I have one, two and three gallon ones.

Cooling racks; square, rectangular and round.

If you’ve got all this stuff in your kitchen, you can do almost anything, from baking your own bread to putting together your traditional turkey dinner. 

Like I’ve said, stocking your kitchen with a trip to the second hand store can save a bunch of money and often get you some really nice stuff.  A lot of what I use would be considered antiques but I often find the older stuff is the best.
Now we come to one of my real passions in the cooking world...Cast Iron.  I have skillets, pots, dutch ovens, fryers, griddles...I love 'em.  I have a skillet that is only about 4" in diameter that is just the right size for frying one or two eggs.  I have another skillet that is 15" in diameter that I use for groups.  I can scramble more than a dozen eggs and cook them all at once in this skillet.  I can brown 5lbs of hamburger in it.  Make several small pancakes all at once.  It's great but I pretty much just store it unless I'm doing something like a hunting camp or roundup crew where I'll need to cook large amounts all at once.
And, yes, those of us who are seriously into cast iron cooking are fanatic about caring for it.  NO SOAP!  If I have to scrub it, I put salt in it and use the salt as an abrasive.  Actually, this article at argues with me a little about the soap issue but it's a really good article and explains a lot about why and how to use cast iron.
This article also touches on the fact that older cast iron looks a little different than newer.  Either is good but I am always alert at second hand stores, yard sales and antique stores for older cast iron pans and I've taken some time to research them a little so I have an idea of the value of a pan when I find one.
Here's a picture of the difference between pre-1950 and more recently made cast iron.  The pan on the right is older and was made back when they still polished them as part of the manufacture process.  If you find one with this satiny sheen, it's worth grabbing!
Ok.  If you have the tools I've talked about here you have the makings of a pretty efficient kitchen.  Are there other things?  Of course.  Meat thermometers and candy thermometers.  I once had a thermometer that would show me the surface temp of my pans.  Another cook where I was working broke it.  That's what I get for not taking it home each night.
Anyway, this stuff is a good start.  As we move along here, I'll likely think of other things you should have but, for now, get out to the second hand stores, antique shops and yard sales and get equipped!

Sunday, January 08, 2017

"Make It Yourself" Cooking Background.

This story really does have a point, if you bear with me.  I'm laying the groundwork for some articles on how to cook things for yourself.  I walk through the bakery aisles in grocery stores and see pies, cakes, doughnuts and cookies.  They all look good but I'm really not tempted to buy them.  Mass-produced pastries just aren't as good as the ones I make myself!  The same with dinner.  Why would I buy a pre-cooked and frozen lasagna when I can make one myself, at home, that will be better, in all ways, than the one from the store?  And, I don't even want to get into frozen waffles, pancakes and "breakfast sandwiches".  Yuck!

I started working in cafes, in West Yellowstone, when I was 10 years old.  I was hired as a dishwasher at the Silver Horseshoe Café.  I'd never done anything but deliver papers before that and had never washed dishes in a restaurant before and restaurants in West Yellowstone are incredibly busy in the summer time.  It's "slam! bang!" busy from the time the doors open until the place closes and there's no time for screwing around.

The cook tried to get me to understand how to get dishes done very quickly and I kind of caught on but...not.  I remember him bringing the stove top grates to me and telling me to get them "clean and shiny like new".  Well, they were iron grates with years of crust on them and I spent a huge amount of time trying to actually get all that off.  He came over and saw me still scrubbing the, at this point already clean, grates and took them back and put them back on the stove.

I didn't really learn the whole dishwasher job very well there as I didn't last long.  I mean, come on!  It was summer in West Yellowstone and I was ten years old!  There were fish to catch and camping and swimming to do so I kind of called in sick a lot.  In todays world, I don't think we can even hire kids that young.

As I got older, I learned to do not only the dishwasher job but everything there is to do in a restaurant, including waiting tables, cooking, being "host", bussing tables and washing dishes.  In most of the places I worked back then, the dishwasher was kind of the Prep Cook's assistant so I boiled, peeled, hashed, cut and mashed potatoes, made soups and chili, baked rolls and other things like that.  Dishwashers also were the cleaners of everything, bathrooms, floors, freezers and refrigerators...pretty much any greasy, dirty cleanup that needed done, the dishwasher was the go-to guy.

My Mom was one of the most sought after restaurant cooks in West Yellowstone back then and we wound up working places and shifts together so I learned how to work the grill from her as well as from other accomplished café cooks.  By the time I was 16 I was able to handle any job in the place and often did.  If someone didn't show up, I was the first one they'd call to fill in so I might be dishwasher one day, cook the next and waiting tables another time.

When I enlisted in the Air Force, as a policeman, I told myself I would NEVER work in a café again!  Never say never, folks.  It's too big a word.  I'm right back to being the "floater" again.  Now, I'm not doing it full time but it's not uncommon for my phone to ring and a waitress hollers "Help!" so I wander over to the Mint and fill in wherever they need me.  I've helped out at Parade Rest Ranch in West Yellowstone a few times over the years too.

My point here (Yes, I'm finally getting to it) is that I have a pretty extensive background in the restaurant business and in cooking.  So, a few years ago, I heard that one of our local outfitters needed a cook for his hunting camp.  I'd never done that kind of thing before but figured I could learn by doing.

I quickly learned that the style of cooking at a place like that is very different from cooking "on the line" in a café.  In a café, you are basically heating up and assembling meal components as quickly as possible.  Everything has been portioned out and you just cook it up and throw it together.  At hunting camp, I was making "family style" meals; one big meal for everybody.  How much do you make and how do you make that much all at once?  More like the Prep Cook in a restaurant than the grill cook.

I did figure it out, though, and found that it was a very rewarding and enjoyable style of cooking.  I got a lot more personal satisfaction out of making good, presentable and enjoyable meals for a group as opposed to a lot of meals, fast.  At hunting camp I made my own bread and rolls and provided breakfast, lunch and dinner with a variety of entrees, sides and deserts for as few as 3 people and as many as 14. Rifle season in Montana lasts until Thanksgiving so I actually prepared and served a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner, with all the fixins, for the first time in my life.  I kind of pretended I was an old-time chuckwagon cook and treated the job in that way.  It worked.

A year or so later, Parade Rest needed a dinner cook for the last month of the season and I filled in there; once again cooking family style, this time for as many as 60 people a couple of times (with lots of help).  I really enjoyed it and decided this was something I could do well and still have fun.

Last fall, I cooked for a roundup crew in Nevada for a month.  As few as three and as many as eight people for whom I provided breakfast and dinner every day for almost a month.  Once again, I made almost everything from scratch, including bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, cookies and pies as well as breakfast and dinner entree's and sides.  It was enjoyable and satisfying and I feel like I might have finally found my nitch, after only over 50 years!

So, my plan here is to provide a few insights I've gained in 40+ years of food service, with an emphasis on doing for yourself what the grocery stores are trying to do for you.  Make your own doughnuts, cookies and pies.  Cinnamon rolls seemed really hard to me the first time I made some.  Pie crusts can be frustrating but you can make your own that will be as good or even better than one from the store and you have the satisfaction of having made it yourself.

Remember, I cooked my first traditional Thanksgiving dinner in a tent in the mountains of Montana.  You can certainly manage to make dinner in your kitchen at home!

Check back here once in a while for a continuation of this theme.  I'll give you an idea of the tools I like and the work-arounds and shortcuts I've learned over the years.  Maybe we can have some fun here together.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Winter musings

Interesting winter this year. 

First, those who don't live here in the Great White North may not be aware that we consider winter as being from November to at least March.  Autumn is usually long gone by a snowy and cold Thanksgiving and spring is just a dream until mid-march; sometimes later. 

This also depends on where you live in Montana.  If you are in West Yellowstone or Wisdom you can pretty much add a month on each end.

Anyway, our winter started out kind of warm.  I was only lighting a fire in the evenings all through November as it was too warm during the day to bother.  Once December got here, though, the Gods looked around and said: Oh!  Winter!  Sorry, we forgot." and took away all the heat from the sun.  Here in Townsend on December 17 we were at 26 below zero.  That's not wind chill, folks. That's the temp before wind chill.  West Yellowstone was the official cold spot in the nation, a distinction they "win" many times each winter, at minus 43.  The unofficial (I don't know who the officials are) cold spot was near Butte, MT at a place called Elk Park...48 below...

Then, we got some decent temps with a little more snow and it was starting to look as if things were going to be ok for a while.  Sorry.  The Gods were watching again.  Single digit and sub-zero temps for almost a week.  The worst I saw here was -16 but, again, West Yellowstone got into the -30s and won at least one more cold spot designation.

This wouldn't be so bad but I live in a rusty old trailer house and my water lines run inside the furnace ducting so when it gets really cold I let the wood stove go out and allow my furnace to run.  So, I lie in bed listening to the nickels blowing around in my house!  The happiest people in Montana this time of year are those at Northwestern Energy!

Growing up in West Yellowstone made me kind of blasé about cold temperatures but now I think back on the ice and frost climbing up the INSIDE of our door and going a month or more with subzero temps.  I remember the bus drivers standing around in the motel parking lots with little fires under the oil pans of the busses so the oil would thaw enough to start the bus.  I think about these things and then wonder what our heating bills must have been back then.  When you're a kid, you don't think about that kind of thing but I sure notice the heat bills now!

Well, the temps are climbing a little today.  We're already up to 10 above and I'm going to get the woodstove fired up, at least for the day.  If we can stay above zero, I'll let the furnace rest for a while.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Heartland on Canadian TV

I've been enjoying a TV show for a year or so now called Heartland.  It's a Canadian show so it's not easy to get in real time here in the U.S. but Joann had seen an episode or two somewhere and it was on Netflix so I decided to watch it with her.

Heartland has become kind of a ritual now.  Whenever Joann and I are together and have time, we turn it on for an episode or two.  We only watch it when we are together and we've tried to not "binge watch" and wear it out.  There are only seven seasons on Netflix and I bought seasons 8 and 9 on DVD.  They just finished season 10 and I can only hope there will be additional seasons ahead.  I don't know when season 10 will be available to buy yet and we're almost done with the season 9 DVDs.

It interests me that U.S. TV programs are sex, gunfights and gays.  Some of the most popular shows in Canadian TV have been Due South, Red Green and Heartland.  An incredibly opposite mix of tastes.  Mine run more Canadian-like.

Heartland is funny, happy and friendly.  The sex is very low key and the violence is virtually non-existent.  On Heartland, a kiss is important, even earthshaking at times.  On U.S. TV shows a kiss is the precursor to showing some skin; often on same sex partners.

I heartily recommend the show to everyone.  Start with Season 1, episode 1 and work your way through ten years of the Bartlett/Fleming family activities; as we did and are doing.