Monday, December 26, 2016

A Cajun Christmas.......Natchitoches, Louisiana

      Barb and I established our own Christmas traditions after retirement to visit somewhere new each holiday season.  Two years ago it was on the banks of the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park and last year we spent it with good friends in San Felipe, Baja California, Mexico.  This year we return to the warmth and traditions of Cajun Country.
      This was a fairly easy two day drive (but we took 4) from our grandson in Marlow, Oklahoma doing the WalMart boondocking thing along the way in Idabel, Oklahoma.  This totals 9 days of boondocking so far on this trip equating to a cost adjusted savings of $270 since October 1st.  Diesel was $2.28/gal and we averaged about 13.6 per gallon from start to finish on this leg.  We also treated ourselves to a complete truck/RV wash at Blue Beacon Truck Wash in West Shreveport, LA.  They do such a nice job in about 15 minutes; getting ALL the road grime and dirt off, and for me the $36 is worth it.  I had extra time built into our schedule so we stayed 2 overnights (mommy break) at the Diamond Jack Casino in Shreveport;  full hookups, laundry, showers, cable for only $25/night.  Good Sam discount takes another 10% off.  Barb won $90 her first night, but gave it all back plus a bit more on night #2. 
      Let me take you back for a moment in cinema history.....this movie "Steel Magnolias" was filmed here....the Christmas scene where Julia Roberts comes home to visit the family during the holidays.  The banks of Cane River Lake in this small, quaint Louisiana town of Natchitoches embody all that is the best of the South......landscapes, horticulture, architecture, culture, fellowship, festivities, and of course food.  We visited here last winter prior to Mardi Gras, but once discovering the nationally famous festivities that occur each holiday season we made our reservations early.  We stayed at the Nakatosh Campgrounds, just 4 miles outside the town and right off Interstate 49.  A decent park with all the amenities for the fairly reasonable price of $165/week.  The CG has full hookups, ample parking, showers, laundry, and is close to the festivities.  It is located very close to BK, McDonalds, a Mexican Restaurant, several hotels and gas stations, including a truck stop right next to the campground so you have to be ready for the noise of parked semi trucks all night.  I WOULD NOT recommend eating at the French Market Truck Stop Buffet just west of here; the food isn't worth the price. In addition to the National Historic District downtown the normal shopping and business district stayed PACKED for most of our visit. 
     On our arrival in the campground we were, of course, met with a new challenge.  Our electric front hitch jack was intermittently operating and smelled of overheating.  There is no RV sales or service within 75 miles in any direction so we decided to wait for now.  I can always raise/lower it manually so once we got camp set be it for now.  Since it was our arrival night we decided to treat ourselves to dinner in the village eating at Mama's Oyster House.  Barb loved her gator while I ate my fill of fried oysters!  Afterwards we walked the streets for a bit taking in the lights.  This is the 90th year of the City of Lights Christmas Celebration. 

      The entire Cane River Lake waterfront is ablaze with lights for 6 weeks prior to Christmas.  Weekends provide Kids Festivals down on the waterfront with Friday providing fireworks and Fri/Sat live Cajun and Zydeco Bands.  Food from Boudin to Catfish to Gator on a Stick to PoBoys, and of course funnel cakes abound.    
      FYI, the entire downtown historical district is very 'parking restricted' during these festivities so unless you want to park at the outlying hotels and 'shuttle in' ($20 round trip per person) or park in the designated downtown lots for up to $65 OR MORE per day you learn to leave early, find the few areas that are open to free parking and be willing to walk several blocks.  What the's exercise, right?  It's not like I'm NOT going to eat!
     Spent my WARM Christmas Eve Day (80 degrees) making the Praline Pecan Pound Cake for the big dinner and then Christmas Eve we just relaxed.   In the days after Christmas we did a bit more shopping, stocking up on Tasso, Chorizo, and a few of Lasyone's Famous Meat Pies.   Filled with your choice of pork, beef, or crawfish.....think of them as fried pastys and just as tasty. 
Pictures courtesy of Layone's
      In addition to the delicious local cuisine I prepared Tillamook BABBS Sandwiches n Soup, Chicken Cordon Bleu, SW Grilled Tilapia, Taco Boat Chorizo Salads, Leftover Quail Salad Night, and of course Fettucine Cudighi w/Cabbage whose leftovers would satisfy us on arrival at our next stop. 
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Taco Boat Chorizo Salads
      Our Christmas dinner was pretty sweet.  I found a very good slow cooker recipe for quail (which we have plenty).  I also made baked sweet taters with marshmallows and syrup, steamed broccoli with Hollandaise Sauce, deviled eggs, and of course Hawaiian Dinner Rolls. 
      We were blessed with a gift of pecans from our inlaws in Oklahoma so instead of the normal Pecan Pie I tried a new dessert recipe for Pecan Pound Cake with glaze.  Much like any other pound cake it was dense, but delicious......just like Pecan Pie.  
Praline Pecan Pound Cake
Christmas Dinner 2016
      Diesel was much more expensive in Natchitoches averaging from $2.44-$2.61 per gallon, but we were able to find $2.25 per gallon in some smaller outlying towns.   This has been another wonderful holiday experience on the road, experiencing cultures blended with our own to just get the very best out of life.......Joie de Vivre!  From here in a few days we travel further south to Breaux Bridge, LA for some relaxation, catfishing, even more stocking up of our mobile larder, and of course a Cajun New Years celebration!  Christmas 2017?   Who knows.......laissez les bon temps rouler! 

"Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all of one's lifetime"
                                                                             Mark Twain

WiFi courtesy of Verizon MiFi

Monday, December 12, 2016

RV TV Antennas....upgrades and mistakes.

      In my novice 13 years of RVing I have always just assumed that when I set up and cranked up my old standard TV antenna that it was the best I could do.  We (at least me) I don't really have any interest in a satellite system so far so I was quite satisfied with just picking some local stations to view the news, weather, ABC NBC CBS, etc. 
      The vast majority of RVs come with this standard T system crank up antenna which does work pretty well in itself.  In our first RV, a Keystone Cougar, this system worked very well for the entire 11 years of it's life.  On our new model RV you can see the crank up handle is clearly labeled LUBRICATE GEARS TWICE YEARLY.  I did not pay any more due attention than I do to my latest gas receipt.  This only requires a quick spray of a silicon based lubricant.  This was not the case on our first RV.  LESSON LEARNED  Unfortunately our new RV, a Rockwood Windjammer we were not so lucky.    MAJOR MISTAKE.  Recently I noticed that the antenna was becoming harder and harder to raise and on the last stop it was nearly impossible.  I decided to lower the antenna, but on the down stroke the antenna finally jammed and the entire inner gear assembly broke off and fell into my hands inside the RV.  I lowered it best I could and addressed the issue when we once again visited civilization.  I would effectively label this experience "familiarity breeds contempt".   So I would caution folks to make sure you realize that this maintenance requirement exists so as not to experience my 'faux pas'. 
      Nevertheless here we are and rather than simply fix the same system that I destroyed in the first place I looked for an upgrade that would make my life easier and maybe even more efficient.  While visiting our grandson I set up an appointment at the local RV dealer to upgrade my current antenna system with something more efficient, streamlined, and low profile.  By this I also mean NOT REQUIRING CRANK UP. 
      We decided on the King OA8200 HDTV antenna.  This unit is low profile and once installed only requires an azimuth adjustment easily done within the RV itself.  The antenna system was easily adapted to our old RV mount. 

      Additionally, the inside antenna control mounts in the same position and includes azimuth (left to right) steering as well as a DC powered amplifier with attenuation control and LEDs to indicate signal strength.  You simply turn on the TV, run an auto channel scan, turn the antenna control to improve picture, turn on the powered amplifier, and turn the attenuation control to fine tune the reception, voila!  I am not going to go into all the specifics and tech specs about antenna gain or -dbm, but it is a much more efficient system.  For those of you thirsting for these specs there is   There is no raising or lowering the antenna system.  When packing up to depart you should return the unit azimuth control to the default position which is actually backward, but the most aerodynamic for road travel.  The entire unit on the roof stands a modest 8" tall. 
      I would be less than honest to state that this issue did not originally result from my own ignorance, but I feel it important to share the fact that more avenues do exist for OTR TV reception and improvement.   My cost for this upgrade was $314......and a bit of humility. 

      The TV reception was remarkably improved; crystal clear and sharp.  We also expanded our menu, going from 14 to 22 channels at our current location. 

"Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error" 
                                                                 Marcus Tullius Cicero

Monday, December 5, 2016

Pheasant Hunting: Roux Discovers the Deep End of the Pool

Photo courtesy of Pheasants Unlimited
      Thanksgiving week spent with our grandson was about as perfect as can be.  We consider ourselves to be so very lucky having a 15 year old grandson that still likes to spend time with us.  We were blessed to be invited to dinner by our ex-inlaws.  The house was FULL and everybody always treats us as warmly as you can imagine.  Plenty of great food.......and FOOTBALL!    We were back on the road within a couple of relaxing days (to work off the feast) looking forward to another hunting adventure.  Roux was so very ready. 
      Pheasant hunting is different than just about any other type of upland bird hunting.  Why?  Because these birds would at times rather run than fly.  This can give even the most well trained pup fits.  Trained to hunt/point scent/not sight; a running rooster can confuse the snot right out of a pup.  The bird is right here!  Oh wait, he's not.......where the hell is he?!?!?  I have to 'refind' him.  Everything about this type of hunt is different.  There can more walking, heavier loads, longer shots, and more hunters.  This is the 'Cadillac' of game birds. 
      Roux performed about as well as can be expected on her first quail hunt.  In fact she performed pretty well despite dry, warm conditions.  For this hunt we ventured even further NW into the panhandle of Oklahoma and the SW regions of Kansas....near the metropolises of Hooker, Tyrone, Hardesty, Adams, Turpin, and Liberal.

      After 'watering up' at the Balko Truck stop we camped at Optima WMA in Oklahoma which is high (3000 feet elevation) broken prairie with lots of game.  Here we could find quail, pheasant, deer, and rabbits.  Quail season just reopened after it's hiatus agreement with deer gun hunters so we could pursue both birds.  The drought continues for much of western Oklahoma with little rain and humidity in the low 20% tops.  Dry and dusty.  As such, the entire WMA was posted no open fires due to the danger.  So much for a fire pit.  Also, on setup we noticed the RV antenna was very hard to raise so we decided to return it to the down position.  This proved to be the right answer cause when the antenna was lowered fully the entire turn-handle-gear mechanism broke off from the ceiling, completely stripped.  I guess we're getting a new antenna when we get back.  Stuff happens! 

      NOTE:  This is December so temps in the Oklahoma Panhandle were much colder with night time lows easily in the low 20s and teens.  This was 'boondocking protocol' and our first real test of the ENTIRE RV boondocking system in concert during frigid conditions.  We do have the Polar Package on our RV so insulation is increased.  We ran total solar between the 130W suitcase and the 230W truck panels all day to keep all batteries charged.  The RV utilized propane to heat and run the fridge while the RV onboard and truck battery bank powered the rest.  This included the holding tank heaters (part of the Polar Package to prevent freezing), which are also 12VDC.  We have only used these once and not 'off grid'.   It was interesting to see the difference in power draw overnight.  I like to limit the drain on the entire battery load to about 20% daily optimally before recharge, but our drains were more in the 30% to 40% range.  I am still satisfied with these results considering the RV heater fans and tank heaters DO DRAW THE JUICE when used all night long in these conditions.  Generator backup (with Battery Tender) and 13 extra gallons of fuel were on board for power and/or battery bank top off.  I did top off the battery banks nightly, using about 5 hours of generator time daily equating to 40 hours of generator time and $15.12 in gas.   It is always important to bring the battery bank up as close to 100% each day as possible.  Speaking of gas, diesel for this trip was $2.12 in Woodward and $2.28 in Guymon.

       We spent the day before the pheasant opener scouting locations.    Besides the WMA there are thousands of acres of farm fields throughout this county.  Many were marked LEASED LAND...NO HUNTING.  There are many areas of public easement such as railroad grades etc., but we knocked on our share of farmhouse doors as well.  We were able to hook up with permission to hunt some private land near Adams on the opener.  Darryl really only hunts deer, but knew where there plenty of pheasant and quail on both private and CRP land so he told us to show up opening morning and he'd take us around.  My 12 gauge Browning Citori chokes here were switched to modified over full with #6 shot.  These birds are easily 3 times the size of bobwhite quail.
      Roux did only fair work during this trip.  She ranged well and responded simply to the whistle for directions, but all too often needed voice commands.  She gave us no trouble retrieving birds as I think the size of the pheasant intimidated her a bit.  She preferred to bring the birds to 'Mommy Barb', but I got to carry them.  Quail were much easier for her and she always looked so proud of herself when she found one. 
Not a bad opening day
      Opening day was a memory in the making.  We hunted with the land owner on several pieces of property to which he had access.  Roux had her problems opening morning due to the first 6 things she found were jackrabbits and it really screwed up her nose and attention span for a few hours.  About half of day #1 was without Roux.  We managed to each get our limit of 2 roosters (4 total) during a couple of hours of morning hunting (in fact I was 2 for 3 shooting), but bumped many coveys of quail in the process and I harvested 9 Bobwhites as well.  I was less successful with my shooting ratio here, something like 9 for 21.  We decided to come back the next day and try our luck with them.   The pheasant were in large groups and flushed farther out than we would have liked, but there were plenty of them.  After cleaning, vacuum sealing, and freezing our bounty I gave both our pheasant to Darryl who was gracious enough to show us the hunting areas.  He and his wife pretty much live off the venison he harvests yearly and the chicken he raises, hardly ever buying meat.  They both enjoy wild game and pheasant was a treat.  Is this what is called 'networking'?   
Quail Opening Day
      Day #2 went just about as well with plenty of birds and shooting opportunities.  We were not able to hunt many pheasants as they ran fits around Roux and flushed well out of range.  One particular piece property where we had seen dozens of roosters was occupied by other hunters today.  So after a bit we concentrated on quail and 'sacked them up'.  We got more Blues than Bobs today and that is okay cause they are bit larger bird.  We limited out with our 10 birds in about 2 1/2 hours.  My shooting had not improved.  I ended up something like 10 for 19, but there were plenty of birds.  We ended our day early around 12:30 and then dropped Roux off at the RV while Barb and I ran into town for a propane refill.  With the COLD nights we're eating up a 30 pound propane bottle in 4 nights. 
Quail Day 2
     It rained all night after day 2 and after midnight sometime the temps dropped below freezing leaving us with a bit of surprise dusting of snow on day 3.  As the sun rose the mix turned back to rain.  We were doing well enough so treated ourselves to a day off and went back to sleep for a couple of extra hours, no matter what Roux and Bones wanted.  We did a bit of driving around scouting more land and other camping possibilities for the future.   The old National Wildlife Refuge campsites on the SW and West side of Optima Dam are still there although completely abandoned.  There are no facilities, but some grassy concrete camping pads and a few picnic tables in disrepair, but certainly still usable.  I have sent an email off to Army Corp of Engineers to check and see if primitive camping is still allowed there.  Another good boondocking spot. 

Bringing back that 'rascally rooster' to mommy
      The Daily Oklahoman had forecasted the best quail year in nearly 30 years and although it didn't turn out that way for us near Woodward and Fort Supply we certainly hit the MOTHERLOAD here in the panhandle.  There were bountiful pheasants as well even though we didn't sack them up like we did quail.  We had a great time and will certainly enjoy the bounty in our freezer throughout this winter.  At only 18 months old Roux did her best even though she is still immature and learning she seemed to really enjoy the work.  Yeah, Roux will get a couple of days off.   
     Roux did pretty well with the "Quail Thing"
      Every night was COLD and CLEAR and filled with the sound of Coyote Concerts.  We were really hoping they would venture closer to camp for some 5.56mm serenading.  Due to even more incoming (and much colder) winter weather we decided to break camp early and head back south towards Marlow and spend some more time with our grandson before heading out to our Cajun Christmas.  Our freezer is fuller and we had some good times, meeting a new friend.  We hope to get together with Darryl again maybe next year for some more 'birdy adventures'.  We scampered back about 178 miles SE to Watonga to Roman Nose State Park for a few days to hide out before the final 104 miles into Marlow, OK.  Our reservations back at the RV park in Marlow were still a few days off.   It has been a fun trip. 
Pitkin County Pork Chops, Biscuits, and Corn
      During the week we dined on Pitkin County Pork Steaks, Estrellita Sopita, BLTs, Ham & Bean Soup, Basque Oxtail Stew, Steak Ums and Eggs, Smashed Redskins, Chorizo, and Hvarti with Scallions, and Krauted Chicken Breasts.  Cold weather hunting takes a lot out of you so I made sure to prepare hardy meals nightly to enjoy and renew our spirits.   
Redskins, Chorizo, and Havarti w/Scallions
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog.  You are his life, his love, his leader.  He will be yours...faithful and true to the last beat of his heart" 
WiFi courtesy of Hooker, OK Loves Truck Stop

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Estrellita Sopita – A Mexican soup for colds and flu

      The first time we sampled this was at Burritos Victoria in Las Cruces, NM.  It was part of the lunch special so Barb and I tried it.  Although the restaurant is a small, local franchised chain and not rated very highly rated as a Mexican restaurant we loved the soup.  It was so very warm, creamy, delicious, and soothing that we wanted the recipe for ourselves.   They would not give us their recipe, but with some online investigative diligence I was able to find the closest thing.  Mineral rich chicken broth, fresh farm eggs, pasta, and sea salt.  It's especially light on the stomach and sure to please any adult or child.  One hint:  you have to like poached eggs....
      The list of ingredients is quite simple:

8 cups of chicken broth
1 package of Estrella pasta (small star shapes), but I like to use Moderna Brand Vermicelli (same as the restaurant) This can be modified to your personal preference.
2 eggs
dash sea salt
dash white pepper
you can add a small can of shredded chicken to this if you like

      In a large stock pot, bring the chicken broth to a boil.  Once the broth is boiling add a full handful of pasta per person to the pot.  Boil the pasta for 1 minute, then add the eggs to the boiling stock (1 per person).  (of course these times may vary depending on the pasta you choose......the eggs need about 4 minutes to properly poach)
      When 5 minutes are complete (or longer if the eggs are not cooked to your liking) use a slotted spoon and distribute the eggs (1 each) to each person's bowl.  Top them with pasta, broth, salt, and pepper. 

      This recipe is found in nearly every Mexican home and throughout the SW.  It is very much akin to the old chicken soup recipes from many Americans and immigrants for many years, but the addition of the poached eggs really tops it off.  The addition of the white pepper, vermicelli, and shredded chicken is my personal touch.  We love it served with crusty bread or garlic bread sticks.  This is the perfect comfort food for cooler weather, be it early spring, late fall, and of course winter.  We chose it for our "Pheasant Hunting Opening Eve" supper.  It is very easy to prepare, taking minimal time to put on the table.  If you serve it piping hot the steam is sure to help clear any congestion.  It works very well for us on the road in the RV over the winters. 

" A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to it's old dimensions" 
                                                                     Oliver Wendell Holmes

WiFi courtesy of McDonalds, Guymon, Oklahoma