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Marlene

Camping, Princess Style

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I love the yellow sunset! and I'm off to find the chicken recipe.

 

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The Furnace Creek Ranch at Death Valley has gone through major changes over the last two years. I wish I had pictures for the "before", but after two days of looking I still can't find many. I'll do my best with words.

 

I believe the Ranch, such as it was, dated back to the 1920's or '30's, when good roads and automobiles began to make it less difficult to travel rugged terrain. The cabins, shops and restaurants were all wooden structures, following a theme that would look familiar to any fan of American westerns. There is a stable with horses for folks interested in horseback tours. There is a Borax museum with fascinating artifacts and explanations of the geology and history of the area. There are also laundry facilities, a U.S. Post office, a golf course watered with recycled water, a date grove that is no longer commercially harvested (they leave the fruit for the wildlife), a warm-springs-fed swimming pool. (The nearby Furnace Creek airport, the lowest in this country, provides interesting ground school material for flight students.) In addition to rooms and cabins, the resort has a dry-camping area with the evocative name of Fiddlers Campground. The Ranch, while not inexpensive, always seemed to be more family-oriented and less fancy than the Furnace Creek Inn, a very swishy resort up the hill above sea level, where the movie stars hung out. Maybe they still do.

 

We liked the casual western-style atmosphere of the Furnace Creek Ranch buildings. The bar had posters from movies and TV shows filmed in Death Valley. The restaurants had photos of the area in earlier times. The bare wooden plank floors added to the relaxed atmosphere of the place, and we could walk to dinner at night from our campground for beer and burgers or pizza, or steak or salmon at the more upscale steakhouse. Two years ago we enjoyed pizza and beer at the bar. We thought it excellent.

 

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During our visit two years ago we learned that the owner corporation, Xanterra, planned to raze the buildings and rebuild in a more Mediterranean motif. We were dismayed until we learned from a few employees that the existing buildings were miserable places to work: too hot in the summer, moldy (or was it mildewy?) due to the age of the wood, pest-infested. Okay, that made sense. We'd just have to wait and see what the new design looked like.

 

In looking back over this topic I see that last year I didn't even bother posting about Death Valley, aside from a teaser-title "A Dearth in Death Valley". The restaurants and shop buildings had indeed been demolished. There was a new, large, open-plan cafeteria called The Date Garden Oasis set up as a temporary measure during construction. We walked in but walked out due to the long line and overwhelming din. We went to the 19th Hole at the golf course and found that their grill had shut down for the night. After a couple of beers by their fireplace we walked back to the trailer and ate something - I forget what - and hoped for an improvement by our next visit.

 

We've just come from that next visit. The original stone entrance gate is intact. The Borax Museum and its exhibits are unchanged, to our great relief, with its old maps and artifacts inside and mining and railroad equipment outside. The new buildings and grounds are nice. I'd say the new design isn't jarring except in contrast to the earlier motif; it's more in keeping with the design of the posh Inn a few miles uphill. Note the rain chains in the upper-right photo of this collage. I've always admired rain chains as a clever way to channel rainwater from the eave gutters to the ground.

 

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The old firepit in the dirt courtyard outside the general store and restaurant is gone. In its place is a patio, complete with tables and chairs for relaxing and dining outside. It looks like one might be able to cook in this fireplace, although the management might not appreciate it.

 

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We went in to check out the restaurants and their offerings.  I was determined to dine there one night, preferably where I could get a steak. My darling is much more the beer-and-burger sort, but will occasionally yield to my more extravagant tastes as long as he can get a beer or three. The interiors have continued the Western theme, although I think they went a bit overboard in the Last Kind Words Saloon. 

 

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Alas, the schedule and prices aced us out. It isn't clear from these pictures, but the "Sandwiches, Burgers and Such" menu applied only from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Dinner began at 5:00 and went until 9:00, but no burgers, or sandwiches of any type were to be had at that time. The 19th Hole Grill, over at the golf course, would offer burgers - but only until 5:00. We eat later than that.

 

The left side of the collage below shows the choices that would have applied at what we consider a civilized time to eat, usually around 7 p.m. We could have chosen from "Steaks, Chops and Ribs" or the "Death Valley Specialties" or the "Plate to Share" (appetizers, basically). A flatbread would have been the contemporary alternative to pizza, but that would be the closest we could get to pizza and beer, or any meal at the price range my darling prefers.

 

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I'm afraid that even I, with my extravagant tastes, balked at the prices for the full dinner I'd been advocating. (Go ahead, snicker if you wish.) Those prices may be right in line with big-city dining and are considerably less than I've seen posted on eGullet from very upscale restaurants. But I shied away from spending $40 on the 6-ounce ribeye with mushroom-merlot sauce that had caught my eye. I kept thinking, "it's so small! and what if the steak isn't cooked properly?" I can do a lot of experimenting for that kind of money. I'd rather save my splurge money for exploring new cuisine or techniques.

 

Xanterra has put a lot of money into the new setup and needs to recoup it. That's business, and I wish them well.  However, unless there's an adjustment that allows dinner past 5:00 without blowing the budget they'll be recouping it without our help at the restaurants.

 

I'll show in another post how we spent our money instead, and what we ate at "home".


Edited by Smithy Added link to post about earlier visit (log)
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1 hour ago, Smithy said:

I'm afraid that even I, with my extravagant tastes, balked at the prices for the full dinner I'd been advocating. (Go ahead, snicker if you wish.)

 

No snickering here. Instead, full agreement.

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It's windy and cool today - not cold by any stretch of the imagination for this time of year, but the wind is gusting over 40 mph so that it feels a lot cooler than the ambient 58F. The trailer rocks and howls occasionally in the stronger gusts. All told, it's a good day to sit inside and write, with the occasional break to go walking. I'll finish the Death Valley story.

 

I mentioned in my previous post that Xanterra has a primitive camping area with the enticing name Fiddlers Campground. We wanted to spend a few days in Death Valley to wait out some bad weather, see what changes had been wrought, and maybe do some sightseeing between bouts of storm. (We also wanted to eat out and let someone else do the cleanup, but I've already told what happened there.) We knew that the federal camping facilities were closed because of the current government shutdown, but that the private campgrounds were still running. We found room at Fiddlers.

 

Fiddlers is a big dirt lot, but the campsites are around the perimeter and there are campfire rings - large, group-sized campfire rings - in the middle. Perfect for a jam session or a gab session. During our stay, we sometimes found ourselves with reasonable elbow room and sometimes with near neighbors - but many of them were interesting. There were hardy tent-campers amongst the trailer-campers. I could admire them without envying them.

 

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We - that is, mostly I - shopped. The new general store at the Ranch at Furnace Creek has a larger selection of everything than before: souvenirs, clothes, books, novelty foods, jewelry. Their selection of fresh and frozen staple foods has expanded. It's expensive, of course: the souvenirs because That's Just The Way Things Are and the groceries because they travel a long and little-used route. (I'm sure that also influences the restaurant prices, and they claim to use sustainable food sourcing.) Six-packs of beer that would cost $10 - $12 at home ran more like $16 - !8. We bought some anyway, to sample some local labels and to satisfy our thirst for beer. I looked over their wine selection and was especially interested by this label:

 

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I like malbec. I considered buying a bottle. Then I looked at the price. $55!  Nope.

 

I satisfied myself with some inexpensive jewelry and a tea towel. I'm a sucker for that 1950's artwork.

 

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The official, federal Death Valley Visitor's Center at Furnace Creek was open and staffed, thanks to a donation from the Death Valley Natural History Association. They get their money from membership fees, donations, and proceeds of sales in the Visitor Center gift shop. I looked hard for cookbooks that appealed to me, but I seem to have exhausted their supply. (Not that I've exhausted the content of cookbooks purchased in past trips, mind, but I couldn't find any others that appealed.) I found these, however, and scooped them up.

 

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Maybe I'll get around to giving the knot book to some children I know in a few years. It's better than mine, and I figure I'll give it a good workout first. The "Days on the Road" account includes discussion of food they found along the way, and will be good reading for me on days that I'm feeling fed up with trailer life and need a kick in the perspective.

 

Back at the trailer, the aforementioned $40 6-oz ribeye in a mushroom-merlot sauce had put a bee in my bonnet. So had the $34 rack of pork ribs. One cool day, I baked those ribs in a low and slow oven that helped keep the trailer warm. The ribs had been tagging along since we left home, the last of a special purchase from Amor Pork in Battle Lake, Minnesota last fall. Amor is a small family farm that sells directly from their shop. They claim sustainable and humane practices. I haven't checked the farm out in person, but their meat is good.

 

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My sister had given me a selection of meat rubs for Christmas; I chose the "Kansas City Barbecue Rub" for this batch. 

 

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The final result:

 

 

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We've been disappointed sometimes in restaurants when ribs were overcooked to the point of being dried out, or quickly cooked to the point of toughness. Who knows how The Last Good Word Saloon does them? We didn't find out, because we had this.

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The steak with mushroom-merlot sauce took more research on my part. After flailing around in various cookbooks (I was sure that my Western National Parks' Lodges Cookbook had something like that - but no!) I turned to the eGullet Culinary Institute, and found just what I needed: the excellent course on Non Stock-based Sauces. I used that as a basis for making the wine sauce, using dried wild mushrooms and a cabernet sauvignon that I mistook for merlot until it was open.

 

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Yes, I kept notes. Yes, I'd do it again. The steak was more done than either of us preferred, but not too badly so.

 

And it was a LOT more than 6 ounces per person.

And it cost no more than $40 for both of us.

And there were leftovers.

 

Oh, one final note about Fiddlers: on the day we were packing up to go, a new friend came over to visit. Then, and only then, did we discover that we're all musicians and could have been enjoying making music together! Well, we can hope for next year.

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Knots. A critical skill that’s mostly forgotten and really worth preserving. I don’t know too many...square, half hitch, bowline, clinch, surgeons is about it, but I use each many times a year.  Whatever young people you have in mind will be improved by the book!

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We have a copy of The  Ashley Book of Knots and, if I want to be frustrated, I get it out and try to tie any knot in it,.  It is a wonder I ever learned to tie my shoes

My husband, on the other hand, tied the cutest little monkey fist knot and it was on my key chain for years. And he can tie a perfect bowline without even saying. The rabbit  comes up out of the hole, goes around the tree."..... ,. Okay back to the topic, sorry.


Edited by IowaDee (log)
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I spent the summer and autumn of '80 working the inshore fishery in Newfoundland with my father and my uncle. My uncle tried repeatedly to teach me the necessary handful of basic knots, and failed miserably. I think he thought I was deliberately screwing it up, in order to avoid responsibility, but in truth I was just as frustrated as he was.

 

I was never any good at 3D puzzles, either, or anything in general that requires spatial perception (I bang my head a LOT).

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My father joined the navy and was on exchange with the Royal Navy during the war. He taught the local Sea Cadets and I recall a lovely little leather folio filled with knots that he had made. Of course the monkey's fist was my favourite. I never mastered it - try as I might. 

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I only know the farm type knots that keep a hay bale from falling out of the truck bed, or keeping livestock from wandering away, or tying a younger sibling to a tree for...........................reasons.  

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2 hours ago, lemniscate said:

I only know the farm type knots that keep a hay bale from falling out of the truck bed, or keeping livestock from wandering away, or tying a younger sibling to a tree for...........................reasons.  

 

The youngsters I have in mind may come to exactly that, unless they decide to try the knots on their father or mother instead. :laugh: They're both a bit young for knots yet, though, so I have time to play with the book first. I did a lot of macrame in my younger years, including a watch band of my own design, made from tatting thread, that took the better part of our family's 2-week camping trip to make when I wasn't water skiing or driving the boat. I wore it for years, until it wore out.

 

I've always loved knots and knotwork, but there are very useful knots that I have to think too hard about: the trucker's hitch, and this hitch that is quite solid if you pull on one end and that immediately unties if you pull on the other. Hmm, is this the hay bale hitch?

 

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I forgot to mention that I purchased a couple of packages of coffee at the general store in Death Valley: an Italian roast and a French roast, both by Blind Dog Coffee Roasters out of Gardnerville, Nevada. I'm drinking some of the French roast right now. It's winier and less harsh than most French roasts of my experience...it could become an expensive habit if I had ready access to it.

 

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Last night was a skillet dinner that was another attempt at creative and delicious uses of brussels sprouts while working through refrigerator stock. We both liked it, but the sprouts were superfluous to the rest of the dish: not quite a jarring note, but not really belonging either. We like sprouts with bacon, with or without cheese; we also had some hot Italian sausage in there that I think went with the sprouts. I can't imagine the pasta being the problem. i suspect the tomato sauce, made from ElainaA's Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce recipe and stored in the freezer all this time, was what took the flavors at right angles to the sprouts. A brighter sauce, say with a touch of citrus, might have played off them better. Ideas, anyone? 

 

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At any rate, we now have a bunch of leftovers from the last few meals, still have space in the refrigerator and freezer, and are running low on some important supplies. We'll be going to a grocery store tomorrow or the next day, and then no doubt we'll be right back to an overfilled freezer and refrigerator.

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32 minutes ago, Smithy said:

 

 

Last night was a skillet dinner that was another attempt at creative and delicious uses of brussels sprouts while working through refrigerator stock. We both liked it, but the sprouts were superfluous to the rest of the dish: not quite a jarring note, but not really belonging either. We like sprouts with bacon, with or without cheese; we also had some hot Italian sausage in there that I think went with the sprouts. I can't imagine the pasta being the problem. i suspect the tomato sauce, made from ElainaA's Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce recipe and stored in the freezer all this time, was what took the flavors at right angles to the sprouts. A brighter sauce, say with a touch of citrus, might have played off them better. Ideas, anyone? 

 

 

I have always found balsamic vinegar to be a natural pairing with Brussels sprouts; my favorite prep is to cut them fry them cut-side-down in bacon grease (or olive oil) until they caramelize, and toss them with a healthy portion of balsamic vinegar. I'm not sure exactly what you'd put with that to make it "saucy" enough for pasta, though. I'd agree I think a tomato sauce would get crossways. How about using more balsamic, and just adding a little pasta water?

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2 hours ago, kayb said:

 

I have always found balsamic vinegar to be a natural pairing with Brussels sprouts; my favorite prep is to cut them fry them cut-side-down in bacon grease (or olive oil) until they caramelize, and toss them with a healthy portion of balsamic vinegar. I'm not sure exactly what you'd put with that to make it "saucy" enough for pasta, though. I'd agree I think a tomato sauce would get crossways. How about using more balsamic, and just adding a little pasta water?

 

That probably would have worked. My usual sprout treatment is much like yours when I'm doing the sprouts as a side. Adding pasta was a new take. Thanks for the confirmation about the tomatoes. 


Edited by Smithy grammar (log)

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I have a bunch of Hachiya persimmon pulp from our trip to Ivanhoe (my earliest home) and need to do something with it today. While I ponder the possibilities, I'm breakfasting in yogurt with Fuyu persimmon that I bought from a fruit stand at Christmas time.  Beautiful, isn't it?

 

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Tasty, too.

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Oh, my...Blind Dog Coffee Roasters have an Amazon presence.

Here, with a different label, is the Death Valley French Roast, ground and whole bean.

They have other roasts as well, including the Italian roast that I bought but haven't opened.

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A couple of days ago when we were hiding out from the desert wind, I set out to make pita bread. I used the Tucson sourdough starter I began last November and the Sonoran flour blend from Barrio Bread in Tucson in place of white whole wheat flour. It's been at least a year since I made pita, and it took a few flat non-puffies to get the temperature and thickness right, but overall I'm well pleased.

 

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The flavor is good. I still haven't done a rigorous test to compare the performance and flavor of the Duluth sourdough starter and the Tucson sourdough starter, but right now I lean toward preferring the Tucson starter. It's entirely possible that the refreshing time and the resting time of the dough have much more influence than the starter culture. Several topics I've found here on eG suggest that to be the case.

 

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More bread-baking today. I've been experimenting with using persimmon pulp in a sourdough bread. I flailed around a bit with proportions: adding some water, then overcompensating and needing more flour to get the dough right. Nonetheless, it wasn't bad. My darling prefers soft bread and thought the texture of this was reminiscent of his mother's bread - that's high praise indeed!  I think it needed time and temperature adjustments; the bottom crust was tough and the interior a tad mushy despite internal temperature measurements of 98C. (I probably need to check the calibration on my thermometer.) The flavor's pretty good, though. The persimmon pulp gives it the darkish color, and the sweetness of the persimmon cancels the sourdough flavor. As my best friend said last year, you'd never guess that it was a sourdough loaf. Perhaps calling it a "wild yeast" dough would be more accurate.

 

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We finished the leftover ribeye by cutting it into small chunks and very gently reheating it in sauce, then committing it to a green salad. There was too little of the original wine sauce, so I had to augment it with some other sauces we had in the fridge. This meal used up the last of our fresh greens and tomatoes. It's time for a grocery run!

 

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Here's a bit more of the local color, for those of you who need a break from storms.

 

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13 hours ago, kayb said:

 

I have always found balsamic vinegar to be a natural pairing with Brussels sprouts; my favorite prep is to cut them fry them cut-side-down in bacon grease (or olive oil) until they caramelize, and toss them with a healthy portion of balsamic vinegar. I'm not sure exactly what you'd put with that to make it "saucy" enough for pasta, though. I'd agree I think a tomato sauce would get crossways. How about using more balsamic, and just adding a little pasta water?

 

I also find balsamic a natural pairing for Brussels sprouts.  Sadly I once calculated the price per drop.

 

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beautiful flowers....thank you!   I picked up a primrose plant (1.29) and two boquets of tulips as I NEED that pop of live color in my life right now.  The good part is in May the primrose will join her/his others in the gardens around the house.

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As we have done for many years now, we braved the traffic of the L.A. Basin to spend Midwinter's Eve and Midwinter Day with our dearest and oldest friend. When I say "oldest" I am not simply referring to the number of years I've known her; she turned 98 this trip!  We helped her celebrate in two birthday parties on two evenings, with other friends joining us for food, music and visiting. There was a lot of visiting, one-on-one, during the intervening day. There were also walks, admiring the flowers and enjoying the warm sun, and there were naps.

 

Although our friend is in remarkably good health, she hasn't as much energy as she once did and the household routine has changed to reflect that fact. Where once I might have cooked at least one dinner, complete with bread, dinners are generally prepared in advance by the housekeeper.  These birthday dinners were selected by the Birthday Woman and prepared by her daughter, and they were good. One night it was salmon with steamed vegetables and potatoes; the other night was some delectable chicken dish with appropriate vegetables and rice. I'm sure I'm forgetting something of the main courses and sides. Does it all sound too healthful for birthday celebrations? Well yes -- but that all went out the window with the birthday cakes: huge ice cream cakes with frosting and flowers. A different cake for each night. And hot chocolate or hot cider, according to the eaters' wishes. Each night we dined happily, told stories, then brought out the guitars for an evening of song...beginning with the requisite birthday song, of course.

 

Breakfast during our visit was left up to us. Lunch brings me to my food pictures, and a small lamentation of change. Wolfe's Market was the small but excellent market closest to my college when I was a student there. Truth to tell, it was generally too expensive for me at the time, and my tastes ran more to Mystic Mint cookies (which involved walking another mile to the Albertson's with my best friend) than fine roast chicken. We had dorm food, and that was good enough. Over the years of coming back to visit I became acquainted with the high quality of Wolfe's produce, meat, breads and cheeses. Their deli counter was a delight. 

 

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Well, Wolfe's is now only a deli. It's a delightful deli, but the market portion has been walled off to make a restaurant. We understand that the owner-family (2nd or 3rd generation) had to make difficult business decisions and that the market had been losing money for nearly a decade. It's the passing of an era. 

 

But! It's a great deli!

 

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Our lunches were sandwiches made to order and then brought home to eat. They were generous and delicious. On the second day of visiting, I tagged along on a vain attempt to contribute money to the cause. (I was foiled on that; our hostess simply told the staff to add the order to her account.) What I did do was snap photos and purchase foods for our meals once we moved on to our next stop.

 

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I bought fruit salad, a vegetable salad with spinach, feta cheese, tomatoes and I-forget-what-else, and a sour cream potato salad that for me is the Platonic Ideal of potato salads. Next time I visit, I'm buying more of that. A LOT more.  I also purchased enchiladas to share for the following night's dinner: one chicken, one green chile and pork. Somehow, I seem not to have gotten pictures of them.

 

We left the next day, headed out of The Basin and up the California coast. I commented both on the way in and on the way out at how light and easy the traffic was, and what a blessing it was to have sunny weather. "Don't say that!" said my darling. I thought he was afraid I'd be jinxing the trip, since this seemed ideal to me:

 

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But no.  It seems he prefers this sort of traffic and weather (photo from 2 years ago)...

 

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...because everything is traveling more slowly. In traffic like that, I want to hide my eyes and hope we get through without incident. To him, it's better than sailing along at 55 mph with all the traffic flowing around us. Go figure.


Edited by Smithy Clarified timing: exchanged "trip" for "year" in first paragraph (log)
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Great story. I see everyone headed north and south travel surprisingly light

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I could spend some serious money in that deli. Enjoying this trip!

 

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Sunrise on the Salton Sea. This lake is rapidly shrinking, but the winter rains may be helping with the water level slightly. We haven't been to the harbor or the Visitor Center yet to see whether there's a significant difference. I doubt it has affected the water level, but it's certainly helped the plants that bloom where runoff is trapped by the railroad grade.

 

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Yesterday I made another batch of fruit salad for my darling's breakfast, now that we're restocked. 

 

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In the evening, we baked a pork steak and shared it. In a marvelous demonstration of restraint and foresight, I only cooked one of the two we purchased at the last stop, because of their size. I also tried a broccoli recipe from a new-used cookbook I picked up at Pismo Beach. I haven't told you about that trip, or the grocery store, or several other stops yet. Pretend you're watching a Quentin Tarantino movie.

 

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The broccoli recipe is wonderful. The dressing is made of lemon juice, garlic, anchovies (don't tell my darling), sun-dried tomatoes (I used some of the oven-roasted batch from our freezer) and olive oil, all whirred together in the food processor until smooth. A bit of grated parmesan is stirred in. The whole lot goes over steamed broccoli.

 

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This is delicious, and we'll be doing it again. I think the same dressing will work well on other vegetables.

 

However...

 

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This pork steak, with its savory-salty coating of cumin, sweet and hot paprika, various seasoned salts, bread crumbs and corn meal, was delicious. So was the garlicky, tart, lemony broccoli. They didn't necessarily compliment each other, though. While they weren't as incompatible as, oh, a bagpipe and lute playing a duet, they were singing their own songs instead of harmonizing.

 

How do you go about deciding in advance whether various dishes will enhance? I can do this with tried-and-true combinations, but when I venture into new territory it doesn't always work as well as I'd expected. I may start a topic on the idea, unless someone can point me to an existing topic. So far the best I've found is Food Pairing, which led to a web site that is much more about building new recipes than deciding whether separate recipes will work together well.

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