Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Closing Doors and Opening Windows

      It is no secret that Barb and I have spent a considerable amount of time with my mom in Western Washington the past year and a half.  We have taken care of some of the property and rental maintenance, her finances, and made sure she was able to continue to live 'on her own'.  This was the only thing she asked of us when Dad passed away 17 years ago, "Let me live in my own home".  Between me and my two sisters we have worked hard to grant that wish. 
      Time has a way of changing things, mostly due to age and health concerns.  Mom turns 90 this year and the time has finally come to change our course of action.  She has worked with us throughout, although stubbornly at times (perhaps a look at my own future?).  We had plenty of help from mom's renter, Rosalie.  She checked on mom daily, took her the mail, took her to the store and doctor when needed, and made sure the house was clean.  She will always remain a family friend.  Recently mom has realized that it is time and has decided to move in with my sister Deb in Salem, Oregon.  Deb and Jim built her a small efficiency apartment near their garage about a year ago and this was always our plan for this year.  The closer it got, the more mom dug her heels in, but in the end I want to believe that love and trust of her family finally won out.  Barb has been a Saint throughout all of this.  I can't even tally the incredible workload she willingly shouldered in order to make sure Mom was taken care of; admittedly I was just a 'gopher'.
      Deb and Jim moved mom to her new 'crib' the second to last weekend of June.  I can't even imagine how difficult that was for all of them.  She lived there with Dad for nearly 52 years.  My sisters and I grew up there.  BBQs, family reunions, and all those years in between.  Everything we are is a result of that environment.  It was a great time to grow up in Western Washington.  
      I gave everyone several more weeks to let mom get settled in as she remembered everything she forgot to bring before I flew home.  This time was also tainted by a couple of disagreements with my siblings that we had to just put aside.  It was also quite the juggling act for Barb and I as it was the year to power wash the house, clean and wax the RV, as well as an unexpected dental surgery to replace my loosening bridge.  We did get the new barn roof in place before my departure.  Once again, Barb was tasked with taking care of our home front when I flew to Washington.  I only booked a one way ticket from Traverse City to Seattle as an 'open ended round trip' was $$$ and I didn't really know when I was returning home.  The price was a very reasonable $305.  I would figure out the leg home later.
         I flew into Seattle on July 23rd and was graciously met by dear friends from high school who shuttled me home.  It was a bit weird at first, walking into a nearly empty house by myself not being met and hugged by mom.   I would stay there throughout my time and be able to drive mom's van in order to get things done and save a few $$$ on a rental car.
     I spent the first week inventorying the house, deciding in what order to do what, what to sell, and what to haul to the dump.  With a little help from my friends, that turned out to be the easy part.  I spent the first 5 weeks camped out in the house as my office and base of operations.
     Selling the assorted items turned out to be a FAIL as I ended up coming down so much on items just to move them.  I did cut my youngest sister a huge break on mom's antique china hutch.  One sofa and an oak entertainment center ended up going with the house.  Once the house was ready and cleaned, I moved in with friends for 3 weeks.  
     The buyer is mom's neighbor, a contractor who wants to renovate the house and move his own aging mother in next to him.  Our renter would be able to stay on as well.  It is a WIN WIN for everybody.  Negotiations with them not only went very well, but the offer was very fair and mom decided to accept.  A bit of email and Verisign Magic back and forth to Salem, OR and the deal was in place.  The rest of the process took nearly 2 months total for financing (twice), house inspection, appraisals (again twice), septic pumping and repair (with county code certification) and home insurance matters.  There is a rental unit on the property as well adding another dimension to the sale process.   Our renter was an absolute angel throughout this entire process.  She has lived there for 12 years and will always be family to us.   Several issues with paperwork plagued us requiring days to solve.  Every place has it's own issues and I learned damn near every one of them.   I did have to make two day trips to Salem, OR (350 miles roundtrip) for Power of Attorney updates and to open Mom's healthcare trust account. We finally closed on the house sale September 19th, 8 weeks after my arrival.  I seem to remember this naïve dude in Michigan saying he should be able to wrap this up in about a month.
     After a last look around with a few tears and hugs from everyone I left home traveling south to Salem, OR to return mom's van to her and spend a few days before flying back to Michigan.  I still managed to get decent plane fare home on a 'red eye' from Portland, OR for $350.  Barb has a kidney cyst that although benign needs drained and I want to get back for that as well.  We head south again soon.
     I owe a big debt of thanks to all the friends who helped Barb and I throughout not only this trip, but the entire process the past two years.  You helped me with 'dump runs', kept me company, fed, and out of trouble.  Dan and Carol Taylor, Annette and Clarence Stancil, Dan McNamara, and most of all John and Wilma Meek who not only helped with the garage sale last summer, but hauling to the dump this trip and housing me for the last 3 weeks.  We love you all. I head home now, very ready for a reunion with my own family and of course the mandatory slobber survivability test with the furbabies.   Behind I leave a piece of personal history and many, many memories.  This blog chapter is but a 2 month part of those memories.


      It is said that when God closes a door, he opens a window.  Mom is enjoying her new 'digs' in Oregon and for that I am so very grateful.  She is very near family on a daily basis as well as able to enjoy her life and my sister's good cooking.  Barb and I look forward to visiting her in the future.
      Another part of the journey.  I pray for many more years that mom can help keep my sorry ass in line.  You will always sit at the head our table, mother.  We love you.   

"Your age is measured by your dreams, not by the years"
Amit Ray
WiFi courtesy of John & Wilma Meek

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Frederic Inn, Michigan

Entry Way
      Dining joints come and go.  Some eclectic, some trendy, downtown or rural, fusion, or just another way of showcasing the same cuisines that also come and go.  I mean no harm to the more trendy or upscale eateries, but I have had some of my best meals at the smaller local 'mom and pop' places or even truck stops at times.  Price is not often an issue with me, but quality is.  We have dined at many fine restaurants in Traverse City, but sometimes you just want a good meal close to home.  This review will come at no surprise to locals.  It is a treasure.  
      Frederic Inn is a local place, located 14 miles east of us on County Road 612.  We have eaten there many times.  Also located just 2 miles west of I-75, Frederic is a MAJOR stop on the NW Michigan Snowmobile Trail System and during winter time, the traffic both on and off road can rival many interstate highways.  In fact the main street entry is enclosed within a building wide 'mud room' so that you may escape the freezing weather from parking to entry.
The Bar
      When you enter, your initial impression would mostly likely be a small bar with a couple of tables for dining.  There is, however, another whole room for dining as well.  Many nights during the week it is pretty casual with occupancy nowhere near full.  During weekend specials or winter weekends, it is very much 'first come, first served' if at all.  
The Main Dining Room (and there is another)
      First of all, the Frederic Inn has been awarded Best of the North for not only their Wet Burrito, but their entire Mexican Cuisine for several years.  Their menu is characteristically 'Up North' with burgers, both fresh walleye, perch, and whitefish; ribs, soups and salads, chicken, steaks, pizza, Friday fish fry, and some very tasty liver and onions.
Introducing the 'Super Wet Burrito'
      Obviously their Wet Burrito is the most famous entrée, but other items deserve merit as well. All their fish entrees are delicious!  An entire Wet Burrito is an enormous meal that may very well require a 'to go' box.  Barb always gets the 'Baby Wet Burrito' and sometimes can't finish that.  It is a delicious, but hearty meal. We have eaten there several times on Friday and Saturday Prime Rib.  This is NOT TO BE OVERLOOKED.  We can honestly state this Prime Rib is as good as any we've ever eaten.
Prime Rib
      We thoroughly enjoyed our meal, the meat was done to perfection;  tender, and tasty.  Barb likes hers well done and I prefer a medium rare, but sometimes 'butt end' piece.  Tonight's cut was a bit more 'medium', but delicious nonetheless.  There was plenty of Au Jus.  I did ask for horseradish.  The sides were mashed taters and the salad bar.  The service were excellent.  We enjoyed drinks with our dinner with a total price of $42.  
      For us Frederic Inn is a close, comfortable standby, ALWAYS good food at a fair price.  For those winter fanatics it is a major stopping point, beer joint, and warming place for friends and family.  For those traveling to the Great White North any time of year I have to say that this should be a MUST SEE on your way.  You will never be disappointed.  Dilly Dilly!

 "I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my list"
Susan Sontag

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Friday, July 13, 2018


      As old as Germany itself, this recipe brings out the best in the culture.  Pork Hocks (or knuckle), open fire, traditional seasonings and Hot Potato Salad and Dumplings.  There is no down side here.  I have eaten this many times and within the past several years have found if I request the larger 'hocks' from a local butcher I can create this as I wish.  When selecting them I ask to see their largest.  The bigger the better.  The natural thick skin of a pork hock serves well for holding seasonings and controlling temps while over the fire.  I picked my hocks this year from Stewarts Meats in McKenna, WA.  This is a regional favorite in Western Washington for any type of meat product you desire.
      First off, lay your hocks out on a cutting board and let rise to room temperature.  Then spread and rub in a mix of:

2 Tblspn sea salt
4 cloves, ground
4 juniper berries, ground
10 black peppercorns, ground

NOTE:  These proportions can be modified as to your particular tastes.

Seasoned Hocks
      Grind using mortar and pestle.  Then place in the refrigerator uncovered for 12-24 hours.  When ready to cook thread the hocks on a rotisserie spit and rotate over a high fire heat until internal temperature reaches 190 degrees, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.  I roast my hocks on my Aus Spit over my outdoor fire pit using a mix of maple and cherry wood.  This normally takes about 2 hours, depending on fire.  These were BIG hocks and took a bit over 3 hours.  When ready, remove from the spit and let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Almost done on the spit
       I usually finish this off serving it with Potato Dumplings, Spätzle, or Hot German Potato Salad.  These recipes will not be published at this time as they are my mother's (and generations before) personal recipes and out of respect for them I will only share the picture.  These hocks were big enough only one side dish was needed.  The best of Deutschland.  Joie de Vivre!  

Bon Appetite'

"If the only prayer you said in your whole life was Thank You, that would suffice" 
Meister Eckhart

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi 


Thursday, July 5, 2018

My Girl Gets Back In The Game

      When I met Barb she was also an avid hunter and fisherman, but as the years progressed she settled in with fishing.  She was always a good shot and her skill in bow hunting was just as impressive.  Recently, after a number of my retiree trips for bear, deer, and pig hunting Barb expressed an interest in once again 'joining the fray'.  I couldn't be happier.  
      The weapons I shoot are much larger than she would be comfortable with (7mm Rem Mag, 45 Long Colt, 45/70 Gov't.) so I spent some time with research.  I wanted a bolt action weapon (in my opinion the most accurate) in a caliber that she would be comfortable shooting.  After much research and talking with other friends I trust we decided on the 7mm-08 Remington.  An exceptional caliber for ballistics as well as a 'not too brutal' recoil.  This caliber would provide excellent ballistics out to several hundred yards as well as knockdown power for any and all game Barb would want to conquer.  The 150 grain Federal Power Shok Speer Bullet with Hot Cor technology pumps 2650 fps at 2350 flbs providing all the energy and knock power Barb will ever need.

      Even in light of all the recent CRAP involving Remington Barb chose to go with the Remington Model Seven in synthetic stock, stainless finish.  Weighing in at a 6 1/2 pounds it fit her very nicely.  We ordered this through Lake Effect Guns n Gear in Kalkaska, MI.  Next we would search for an appropriate scope in stainless finish to complete her rifle.
      We selected the scope in a Nikon Pro Staff 2.5 x 10 with rings and mounts.  Because we use our Cabela's card so much during the year we had accumulated enough bonus points to get the scope for $88 less.  Nice!  We had the scope mounted and bore sighted at Lake Effect Guns and Gear as well.  She sighted it in at our farm using the Caldwell Gun Sled.  As always the initial set up is a booger, but once completely adjusted she adapted.  It was a very hot morning to shoot and the rifle provided 'balls on tight groups' right out of the box. Our goal is .67" low at 25 yards which will put it dead on at 100 yards.  I wanted to sight the rifle on it's initial upward trajectory as it will continue to rise through zero and fall again within it at 100 yards, our site in target.  We finished up this morning at about 1 1/2" low.  It will take a bit more tuning.  There is never any hurry to get it right.  Finding accurate ballistic tables for this round online proved to be challenging, but Nikon provides a very helpful website that more than solved our problem. 

"Some people wait their entire lives to meet their hunting buddy....I married mine"  
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Iron Pig Smokehouse, Gaylord, Michigan

      This is my first review of an 'up north' BBQ eatery as I have been hesitant cause BBQ is SO VERY DIFFERENT across the country.  Texas, Oklahoma, Memphis, Kansas City, the Carolinas and the Deep South all have their own styles of cooking with smoke and the BBQ sauces are nowhere alike.  I have eaten Q several times around the north and have found not one to be of the same quality and taste of the south.  Sorry, it is what it is.  I LOVE the Southern Q, especially Texas.  But, I like to keep an open mind and love the Q.  I have seen this restaurant advertised and recommended by a couple of friends on Facebook.  
      Barb and I visited the Iron Pig on a weekend just before July 4th.  It was a HOT weekend, in fact it was nearly 100 degrees this night.  It is easy to find on West Main Street in downtown Gaylord.  Parking can be an issue so plan on arriving early.   They do take reservations.  This place is essentially a small bar (approx. 44 people) with tables and bar seating for dining.  There is one big screen TV.  Also there are trivia game stations at every table just like at Buffalo Wild Wings.  Arrive early, find a place to sit, and then place your order at the window.

      I had scouted the menu in advance.  This is always a good idea so you know what you are or are not getting in advance.  They offer several good looking appetizers including Smoked Mac n Cheese, Spicy Chili, and Cheese Curds.  The menu also includes a selection of sandwiches including the smoked brisket, Reuben, Pulled Chicken and Pork, and Kielbasa, Salads, Burgers, and even a small Mexican selection.  There is even a small menu for kids.  They do offer an online ordering system if so desired.  The BBQ section is pretty straightforward, but somewhat small.  They offer a Half or Full Rack of Ribs, Brisket Platter, 3 Piece Chicken Platter, and a Sampler Platter.  I was hoping for some Pork Belly or Burnt Ends.  Even the Pulled Pork is only offered on a sandwich.
      Barb and I ordered the Half Rack of Ribs and Brisket Platter with the intent of swapping meats back and forth to sample.  Both platters came with Homemade Coleslaw, Smoked Beans, Onion/Cukes, and Jalapeno Cornbread.

      The ribs were Baby Backs and the brisket was already chopped when served.  I like the brisket still in slice so I can taste and savor the bark.  Everything is smoked over cherry wood.  BBQ sauce was served on top of the ribs as well as on side for both dishes.  First of all the meat was lightly smoked, tender, moist, and delicious.  The BBQ sauce was lightly spiced, but with a little too much Cumin.  The BBQ beans were tasty, the coleslaw was absolutely dry with no dressing, the sliced onions and cukes were good, but the cornbread was sweet with no Jalapeno taste or spiciness whatsoever.  The cornbread was also served covered with a sweet brown sauce.  Our meat was excellent, but the BBQ sauce, coleslaw, and cornbread were sadly lacking.  Don't call it Jalapeno Cornbread if there isn't any.  I remind myself that this is 'northern Q' and they take pride in their own tastes and styles.  Total cost for our meals with large iced tea was $34.95.  The service was excellent. 
      Overall, we found the Iron Pig Smokehouse to be decent Q.  It is a somewhat small venue so arrive early.  The ribs didn't last, but Barb did bring quite a bit of the brisket home to make a sandwich later with my BBQ Sauce. 

"Being so closely related to the south, barbeque was part of segregation and helped defeat it" 
Bobby Seale
WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Shawarma Without the Politics

      What a beautiful summer.  Things around the Ponderosa are progressing with clean up, move back in, and settling back in to our 'home lifestyle'.  It inspires me to further explore new cuisines.  I have always wanted to try to prepare Middle Eastern, most notably Lebanese and the dish of Shawarma.  I ate plenty of this during my MANY trips to the Middle East during my USAF career.  This area is known for it's myriad dishes of meat, citrus, legumes, nuts, and assorted vegetables, but always spiced to perfection.  For me this cuisine was a welcome diversion from the many days spent there for reasons above and far beyond the simple folks who live there. Such staples such as lamb, chicken, goat, etc. are usually marinated with a thick mixture containing yogurt for a day and then grilled or roasted.  It is usually served either in a pita type bread or with it on the side with spiced pickles and a garlic dipping sauce.  For this meal we use a recipe from the Livernois Tap in Ferndale, MI using chicken wings.  
      These wings get their tenderness from being marinated in a highly spiced Greek Yogurt.  The key to the flavor is toasting the cumin and black peppercorns to intensify their flavor.  Once marinated they are slowly cooked until tender and finished on the grill to give them a smoky flavor.  I also used Smoked Paprika to accentuate this flavor.

2 dozen wings, cleaned
1 Tblspn cumin
1 tspn black peppercorns
1 Tblspn smoked paprika
1 tspn turmeric
3/4 tspn garlic powder
2 tspn salt
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

      Clean your wings and place them in a large bowl, set aside.   In a small skillet, toast the cumin and black peppercorns over medium heat while constantly stirring.  You should see smoke wisps when toasting.  Remove these and put on a plate to cool.  Once cool, grind these spices to a powder with a mortar and pestle.  Place in bowl and mix with the smoked paprika, turmeric, garlic powder, salt, and cinnamon.  Reserve 2 Tblspn.

Mix the remaining spices with the Greek yogurt.  Add the spiced yogurt mixture to the chicken and toss to coat evenly.  Marinate chicken in refrigerator for 12-24 hours

     When ready to cook, preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on a sided baking sheet.  Cover tightly with foil, sealing edges.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the chicken wings are very tender and cooked through.  Heat grill, sprinkle wings with reserved spices and grill for 6-7 minutes or until grill marks present.  Serve hot with Tzatziki, rice, Tajine seasoned cukes, or spiced pickles.  Although this recipe used chicken wings, I served pita and tzatziki sauce on the side if the desire rises to make either a sandwich or eat them like wings with a pita side.  Either way it is delicious.

" Part of the secret of a success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out from the inside"
Lebanese Proverb

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Hot Summer? Try a Cous Cous Salad

      This time of year the heat really begins to rise and sometimes even raise it's ugly head earlier than expected.  For us that either means grilling outside or something fresher, such as salads.  In my on again off again venture to lose weight I have always been able to prepare and enjoy the healthier menu items.  For the unfamiliar Cous Cous is a North African type of Semolina made from crushed Durum Wheat.  It turns out to be quite delicious when prepared correctly.  
     We tried it several times last summer at mom's house and found it to be quite bland until I began to prepare it using chicken broth instead of water.  Then I discovered some in the stores that are already flavored.  This is a recipe that uses flavored Cous Cous with the addition of some ingredients we favor and resulted in a very tasty dish that can be enjoyed as a meal in itself.  The choice of a meat topping is your own:  grilled chicken, beef, pork, or lamb.  Plan on about 1/4 pound per serving. On this meal I added a pound of ground Wild Boar sautéed.   

1 cup chicken broth or water
3/4 cup cous cous uncooked
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped, unpeeled cucumber
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds
3 Tblspn Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tblspn Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tblspn Dijon Mustard
Salt and pepper to taste


Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan, stir in cous cous.  Remove from heat, let stand covered 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork, uncover and let cool.  Combine cooked cous cous, cherries, almonds, green onions, carrots, cucumber in a large bowl, mix well.
Combine vinegar, olive oil, and mustard in a small container and mix well. Pour over cous cous mixture, stirring well to combine all ingredients.  Season with salt n pepper.  Place on individual plates and top with meat of choice. Serve cooled or warm.

"Don't be afraid to adapt new ingredients into your own techniques and traditional ingredients into new recipes" 
Jose Garces
WiFi courtesy of our crappy local Verizon MiFi signal
(much like my diet it's on again off again)