Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Boondocking: Ojibwa Casino Marquette, Michigan

        We have stayed here several times now and since we were on our way home from our winter's journey we set up here for a few days of relaxation once again.  Yes, we are going to wage war on the local 'one armed bandits', but we would stay here regardless.  Simply put, they pay you to stay here.  Yes, that's right.......THEY PAY YOU TO STAY HERE!  The Ojibwa Casino http://www.ojibwacasino.com/marquette-location/4111176 is located on the south shore of Lake Superior about 10 miles east of Marquette on M-28.  This is beautiful country.  It is a fairly unknown casino as things go unless you are a local.  It is a small format facility, lacking the flair of the much larger Kewadin Casinos.  There are many slot machines, a couple of blackjack tables and roulette as well as a small bar and snack bar.  No floor shows, no hotel, no super buffet restaurant, pretty bare bones.  Don't misunderstand me, it is still a very nice establishment. 
      The secret here is a very good location in proximity to the greater Marquette, Negaunee, and Ishpeming area as well as a large area of the Lake Superior shoreline.  And.....it's free!       
      There are 7 sandy, level sites that are very deep (100+').  They sit in the pine trees on the west side of the parking lot about 100 yards from the casino.  These sites have both 30 and 50 amp power boxes, picnic tables, and garbage cans, but no water or sewer.  You must 'water up' before arriving and then dump somewhere else when leaving.  We watered up at the truck stop in Rapid River, MI about 40 miles to the south so as to NOT haul the water weight any longer than necessary, but there are other options as well.  We will dump our sewer at the Straits State Park at the Mackinac Bridge on our way home.  The sites are all FIRST COME FIRST SERVE.  We have never been here in the summer time therefore have never experienced NO VACANCY.  I'm sure it is much different during peak summer travel time.  The regular parking lot is also free for overnight camping without any amenities, but it is quite angled and leveling out here could be a challenge.  You would never be able to stay here during the winter as the snow is so deep and they do not plow.  This trip we arrived the 25th of April. 
      Upon arriving, picking a site, and then setting up......you must go inside the casino and check in with Guest Services.  Here is where the fun begins.  They register your name and camp spot, give you a free drink ticket to the bar,  two free coupons for blackjack hands, and a $5 bill to gamble as you wish!  Ready for this?   You must register every day, but you receive all these 'bennies' each and every day as well!  You don't have to be a casino patron to stay here, but I'm sure they count on it.  Barb and I do visit it each day for a bit, but also tour the local Marquette area as well.  If you haven't been in this area of the UP, it is a hidden treasure!  Two of our favorite local eateries are the Crossroads Bar for the best Pasty you will ever have http://extras.miningjournal.net/ads/MenuGuide2015/MenuGuide2015-16.jpg and Lagniappe, a Cajun restaurant that rivals many of the best in New Orleans with authentic, fresh, well prepared fare.  http://marquettecajun.com/  Another great stop is Ralph's Italian Deli in Ishpeming, about 25 miles to the west.  Great local ethnic favorites prepared fresh from scratch daily with sauces and meats to boggle the mind and taste buds!  http://www.ralphsitaliandeli.com/  Unfortunately, the diesel prices in the Marquette area were $2.24....
      This location is not only a great destination, but a great stopover if your destination is much farther.  Great location, friendly local casino, no charge, and many daily benefits you may have never seen before. 

"My favorite things in life don't cost any money.  It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time"
                                                                                 Steve Jobs

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Pointing the Diesel Metal Tent North......weather permitting

      My friend Ted Litz and I camped 'primitive style' for several years throughout our adventures, be it fishing or deer camp.  These are some of my fondest memories.  We referred to the RVs that other folks used as 'metal tents'.  Funny how age and experience changes our viewpoint and our equipment in the great outdoors, but never the experience.  I miss Ted.  We had our last RV, a 31' Keystone Cougar that served us faithfully throughout the Lower 48 and Alaska for nearly 12 years and over 50,000 miles.  Our new Rockwood Windjammer 'McMansion' has served us very well this first winter, even with the inevitable adjustments to a new unit and new 'furbabies' as well.  The quality of our travels and experience has not suffered in the least. 
     Following friends on Facebook I have noticed that MOST of the snow has gone from our area at home except for the large, plowed piles, but I know there will be a few more storms coming even though we were tempted to head north early.  We'll get there when we get there.....about the end of April.  We will make our eventual turn to the north shortly. 
      Spent over 3 weeks in Missouri visiting with Barb's family while the furbabies and I did some local exploring, including some geocaching and rockhounding.  We stayed at the Wildwood RV Park in Dexter, MO very near her family.  They do not have a website presence, but it is a nice, clean park with decent rates....$395/month.  There were no close boondocking opportunities here.  Last year we found several very nice Lake Superior Agates on gravel roads.  This surprised me till my research showed that these 'Lakers' are found as far south as Missouri.  The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is just the northern edge of the range.  More evidence of the massive land contours the glaciers created millions of years ago. 
The finest Banded Agate I found during my time in SE Missouri
      At one time the county roads in this area got their gravel from several pits on Crowley's Ridge just west of town.  This high ridge of ground is the most famous geological feature on the entire Mississippi River, running from SE Missouri down thru NE Arkansas.  It contains many fine geological specimens that both the glaciers and river not only formed, but relocated once upon a time.  However, all of the pits have closed and MODOT was only able to tell me where one other pit was located.  All of these pits I found to be closed and one even guarded.  We did find several more fine agates as well as some very nice Jasper and even some petrified wood while visiting good friends Nick and Martha Garuccio who live north in the Marquand area.  In the end just walking gravel roads turned out very well. 
      Barb spent quite a bit of time staying with her sisters visiting leaving me to do the 'bachelor thing'.  No remorse here:  gizzards, peppers, nachos, rice, and the furbabies....no complaints.  On the NCAA Basketball Championship night I decided to stay in, watch the game on the "RV- Tube" and put together a quick pot of  "Whatever I Could Find Jambalaya".  I found some frozen chunks of gator, spicy pork sausage, chicken broth, brown rice, and added a few chunks of cottage bacon from home.  I did cheat a bit as I began with Louisiana brand Cajun Jambalaya Mix.  I just put it all together with some extra onion, garlic, Tony Chachere's seasoning, some home grown sun-dried tomatoes and BAM!   Yumdogees!  Really not that fattening (although the Barley Pops were) and NOBODY TO WATCH ME EAT SECONDS EITHER.  Roux and Bones don't seem to get the same thrill of me being in the kitchen that I do.  By the way.......WHAT A GAME!
            It is still a great time to enjoy casseroles, soups, stews, and the like.  Held captive to my culinary charms, Barb was forced to endure Chicken Sopita Soup with Tillamook Texas Beef Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and a big old pot of Great Northern Beans, Ham, and Cornbread.

Chicken Sopita Soup w/Tillamook Texas Beef Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Great Northern Beans and Ham
      We have been keeping a close eye on the weather to the north as spring hasn't really committed to arriving AND STAYING in the Great Lakes region just yet.  Unfortunately, once again we delayed our departure from SE Missouri for another 3 days due to incoming storms here.  It is springtime here ya'll which means thunderstorms, but thankfully nothing more severe.   
      Finally, after 25 days we got back on the road NORTHBOUND.......stopping near Festus, MO (Indian Trail Campground http://www.indianfootlakecampground.com/RVcamp.html   $25/day....rating: bare essentials only) for 2 nights to visit Barb's Uncle Ronnie and then again in Keokuk, IA (Chatfield County Park  https://freecampsites.net/#!9299&query=sitedetails  $20/day.....rating:  electric & water w/RV dump station in a nicely wooded quiet setting just a couple miles out of town.  Very nice for the money) for 2 nights to visit her Uncle Bill.  Good folks.  Roux loved this camping spot, plenty of inviting woods to explore. 
An interesting side note:  We got our propane refilled at the Hawkeye Restaurant in town.  The camp host at the park told me he has the best prices in town.  I found it odd that a restaurant also sold propane so I asked.  The owner converted his truck to propane several years ago when the prices shot up, but found it increasingly difficult to find places to refill his truck.  So the local Ferrellgas distributer offered to put in a fill station for him where he could also sell to help defray his costs......
      Enroute we stopped at the Isle of Capri Casino on the banks of the Mississippi at the Iowa Wisconsin border. http://marquette.isleofcapricasinos.com/ A nice place, but a rather small parking lot to make space in.  There was supposed to be 3 free 30 amp hookups (first come first served), but I'll be darned if I could find them.  That's ok, solar is just fine. 
      After contributing part of our retirement to the local gaming establishment we came home and I finally perfected a recipe for Wild Boar Fajitas.  I have tried several different methods the past 15 months to no avail.......tender pretty much, tasty no.  This one is the real deal.  Sliced thin, marinated in Tony Chachere's Roasted Garlic Injectable Marinade for at least 24 hours, then sizzled with sliced sweet peppers, onion,  and chopped mango.  Served with Feta Guacamole on the side and fresh tortillas, delicious!
      Within another days travel we finally arrived in Waupaca, WI at our BFFs for a week of great relaxation and FREE MOOCHDOCKING!   We have known Mark and Robyn for over 40 years.  They live on the banks of the Crystal River in Central Wisconsin, beautiful country.  They also own the 3 acres across the road where he built a softball field/picnic area and a small RV camping area (with water, electric, porta-potty and free WiFi) for about 5 units. 
Camp Zepplin
      We spent the week relaxing, catching up, eating and drinking well, and of course shopping.  Additionally I got some nice black and white photography work done.

         Robyn made a terrific lasagna one night and on another I roasted a beautiful Cook's ham glazed with Boar's Head Brown Sugar & Spice Glaze over the fire pit.   Mark's store had an open house one of the nights we were in town with the theme "Farm & Country".  We stopped by for the snacks and the tour, but couldn't help "yanking our favorite worker's chain". 
     Always a fun stop to catch up and relax, we bid adieu to our BFFs and headed north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Perhaps a day or two of Lake Superior relaxation or some casino time for my lady. 

"Looking back at my life's voyage, I can only say that it has been a golden trip"
Ginger Rogers            

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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Wild Boar Mango Picadillo


      I am always looking for new recipes to prepare my wild game harvests.  I have found wild boar to be very tender when the animal is harvested young enough (<200 lbs.) and cooled quickly after butchering.  Wild Hogs can get mighty big (>400 lbs.) and although they make an impressive trophy, the meat isn't very palatable;  too tough and gamey.  My challenge for preparing wild hog has always been how to overcome the bland taste.  During my last hunting trip to south central Texas I had a chance to talk at length with the local 'Ranch Chef' who informed me that the best way to get the most flavor out of wild pig is injection and marinade.  Additionally, use plenty of dry rub or seasoning while cooking.  We have had good luck with Tony Chachere's Cajun Butter/Oil injection kits.  I'm sure the choices can be as varied as your imagination. 
      We always have plenty of strip type meat when butchering.  Previously we had only used this for Fajitas so our addition looked like a winner.  First of all we put small slices into the strips of meat and marinated this in a Mango Habanero sauce for several days, turning occasionally. 

      When ready to prepare meal heat a large cast iron skillet on medium high.  Add strips to the pan, not stirring, so the meat has a chance to brown.  Once one side is nicely browned use a fork or tongs to gently flip the pieces to the other side, stirring as little as possible.  When browned, drain off any fat in excess of a tablespoon (there won't be much).   While the meat mixture is simmering, cook a cup of either orzo or rice (your choice).  
       Lower the heat to medium and stir in 1/3 cup chopped onions, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 diced cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin (I use green chili powder), oregano, and thyme.  Gently stir in 1 cup of mild tomato based chunky salsa and 1 mango cut into small chunks as well.  I may even add some dried mangos if I have them on hand.   Simmer this for about 5 minutes.

      Reduce heat to low and cover pan, simmering for another 2 minutes.  Place an amount of orzo or rice onto serving dish and top with pork mix.  Sprinkle with chopped almonds and cilantro.  I found the dish to be incredibly delicious. 

"There is an absolute surety to the hands-on conservation lifestyle of hunting, fishing, and trapping where you know you're going to consume today"
            Ted Nugent
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