Yesterday we were guests at Montana’s first Lamb Jam. The Lamb Jam is not a gross aspic of pulverized lamb, nor is it a christian music festival (Lamb of God), but it is a competitive, improvisational jam for chefs sponsored by the sheep industry to promote the eating of lamb meat. These foodie events happen across the west and Montana was finally having her first event. I already knew I was not a fan of lamb but Burt is and so are our friends so I played along. Within minutes of taking our seats I knew we were in for a looooong afternoon. All signs pointed to no food delivery efficiency. I predict our young 4H servers will be scared for life.
Our table went rogue with smuggled alcohol and soon we were ignoring social strictures. As this was the first year I’ll refrain from ranting about the logistical difficulties that caused suffering on all sides. I worried about the child labor but I also felt sorry for cooking teams trying to time their food preparation. Suffice it to say traffic jam was more fitting descriptor than jamming as in riffing on a theme. Our table used our loss of inhibition to cut the line and also pressure organizers to acquiesce to our demands. I don’t drink much but how can anybody expect a din filled room of adults to spend 4 hours waiting for trickles of food without imbibing? Add in a speaker from a family known to drone on without a point and they were lucky there wasn’t a riot.
On the upside: The food was great. Kudos to the food prep teams. Our table was filled with smart amiable people. We had a lot of laughs. Everyone was full of helpful ideas on how to thwart our passive waiting for food. I still don’t like lamb. The sliders, which were heavily seasoned, were very yummy. Anything that tasted like lamb was not for me. Burt lucked out because he got my refusals. I won the table’s party favor. I knit handbag resembling a lamb. We filled it with pilfered butter, leftover rolls, and lemon bars and then we ran for home.
One final note: https://www.facebook.com/pg/LambJamFestival/posts/ Check out this musical Lamb Jam.
Butte’s Pekin Noodle Parlor deserves a visit for the simple fact that it’s been in continuous operation since 1911. The interior design is essentially unchanged in these last 100+ years. Gone are the days when smugglers used adjacent tunnels and whores lived downstairs but you can visit and enjoy the private, curtained booths just the same. Waiters pop in and out from behind an orange curtain to serve. I wanted to ask for a Do Not Disturb sign to see what we could get away with inside our tangerine dream womb.
The food on the other hand must be approached with the right frame of mind. The wontons and egg rolls were just as I remembered eating at Chinese joints in the 1970s. The noodles were tender and spike with a mere morsel of pork. The egg rolls were stuffed, hot, and crispy. On the other hand the wonton broth was flavorless. It was the epitome of dishwater. I added soy sauce, salt and sweet and sour sauce to try and enhance it. My entree of chicken chow mein featured pressed chicken (cold cut style) served over a soggy celery stew. It tasted like Chun King from the can. The chicken was cold and draped in strips over the pale green gelatinous celery. That said, I liked it. Think elementary school hot lunch ala 1973 and you’ll see why I ordered the tuna sandwich every day. Burt had a mixed plate with pork, egg foo young and rice. The egg foo young was tasty. I would gladly order an egg foo young entree if we get a chance to go back. There’s a full bar and prices are very reasonable. I’m willing to take my chances and come again to find the dish that delights me.
You can read more about the history of this place HERE.
Many of us have elder care on the agenda. Near or far our parents may need a helping hand every day or only occasionally. My dad is a free range elder. At 76 he has complete control of his faculties and makes all decisions. I just check in and sometimes socialize with him. Now that he’s in Mexico we see each other more frequently but it’s easy. Burt’s dad, too, is pretty much an out of sight out of mind kind of dad. Well, never out of mind but not requiring of management. Here today we are helping with house chores and feeding but Jack is 100% self sufficient. He’s 89 1/2. It’s a pleasure to lend him a hand with a leaky roof or a bad faucet.
I have a friend with a mom in a nursing home. This mom has required all kinds of long distance assistance with life management. The mom has been living in assisted living or under nursing care for over a decade. The mom cannot get out of bed without two assistants. I admire this mom’s tenacity. Since she is under the care of a facility and cannot get out on her own she has very specific shopping needs. Here is a recent list items she requested my friend buy and ship to her.
Double stuff Oreos
Oreo candy bars (6 pk)
Strawberry jelly in a non-breakable container. Not preserves or jam.
Crackers, anything but ritz like (NO RITZ? I love Ritz!)
3- Red ball point pens, not cheap Bic type
A set of 3 lb hand weights in a pretty paisley like color
Some sort of nut, cheese and cranberry snack pack
As this list was relayed mom ordered dinner and the following was overheard:
No soup or spinach
2 slices lemon meringue pie
Part of me is all judgey and appalled. Then I sigh. Maybe I’m just jealous. I’d be dead in a week on a diet of that stuff. But this mom has lived her life on this kind of food. My friend once bribed her mom with a box of Dunkin’ Doughnuts. It takes years of training to achieve this kind of dietary tolerance. If you’re stuck in a nursing home, stuck in a bed in a nursing home, maybe a double stuffed Oreo is your only source of joy. I don’t know. I’ll tell you if I ever last that long.
Meanwhile Mimi is living on hand fed boiled chicken and temptations (the lemon meringue pie of her world).
The great feeder is a very efficient user of food stuffs. Mittelstadt family history is full of soup geniuses and Burt inherited the skills. While most of his soups contain run of the mill ingredients and resemble familiar recipes some are daring experiments in texture and flavor. Just this morning I was handed a bowl of steaming liquid and I caught a distinct whiff of potato salad. Immediately I knew I was expected to eat soup made from a leftover roadside stall chicken, macaroni salad, taco toppings and a side of our friend Lorna’s homemade potato salad. The broth was reconstituted from that gelatinous bouillon stuff Costco sells. Everything but the bouillon had been stored for two days in a styrofoam take away box in the fridge. My bleary eyes took in the pickled red onions floating in the mayonnaise scented broth. It did not look promising. I am pleased to report it was good. Not just better than it sounds but good, as in worthy of an intentional attempt to reproduce the recipe.
Here are your instructions:
1. Look for carnitas. Oops, the carnita stand is closed so find a chicken stand and buy a whole dried out barbecued chicken. Collect all the sides offered: cabbage, pickled onions, corn tortillas, salsas.
2. Play bridge for two hours while chicken rests in the box in the microwave (to keep it ‘safe’). Sides go in the fridge.
3. After Bridge (win if you can), share chicken tacos and potato salad with friends. Drink wine, if you like. Play more Bridge while all food stuffs sit on counter for another half hour.
4. Finish the card game and gather up leftovers. Take the offered left over potato salad. Take a lot, because you both really like potato salad. Drive half an hour home and finally refrigerate the dried out chicken and her sides.
5. Wait two days. Wife assumes you ate the leftovers when she was somewhere else. Wife never looks in fridge unsupervised. Wake up early because cat screamed in your ear. Think: Cripes! I have to make breakfast again! Why me?! Because you created a monster in your totally co-dependent non-cooking wife.
6. Open the fridge and see leftovers. The Mittelstadt soup genius gene awakens. The Soup genius says: That looks like a perfect soup and it’s kind of cold. I think I’ll throw it all in a pot of broth instead of making chicken tacos with a side of potato salad.
7. Throw it all in a pot. Simmer. Beat back the cat. Grate cheese. Cheese is the mighty soup savior. Nearly any mediocre soup can be saved if you throw in enough cheese. Beat back the cat eating the grated cheese. The 19 year old cat is very persistent. She’s as codependent as the wife.
8. Wife wakes and demands her brekky. Hand her a warm bowl of mayonnaise and potatoes and floating bits of chicken and red onions and stale corn tortillas. She likes it. At least she’s easy to please.
Moral of this story: Make more soup with those leftovers. Even lasagna thrown into broth is really yummy. In 13 years of soup with Burt there’s only been a couple bad ones and that was simply because I don’t like beef and some fish.
Food is at the foundation of our needs triangle. Water, shelter, are impossible to live without, too. Other stuff like love, kindness, or fulfillment, that’s all up higher. We can survive a lot if we have sustenance. I guess that’s how food wound up in all of my photos this week. Food follows us all the way up to self-actualization. Here’s a version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for your consideration.
Our group of kids are mostly making it to the bottom three. They have some serious belonging and safety issues in their day to day lives. If the only place you belong is the same place that beats you, where does that leave you? I think there’s more convolutions in life than this triangle allows but it’s good for the basic idea. Burt and I are trying to build them up towards esteem but we do a lot of feeding and providing safety, too.
A few weeks a go my friend Donna had the Bridge ladies over to her house to make bread. We all had our own mini-loaf pan and a bag of dough. Everyone was free to add ingredients to her bread to make the bread her own. I went for pure rosemary. I like rosemary bread. Other people used lemon peel or sage or garlic. There were many things to chose from. The bread was a kind of symbol for this needs hierarchy. We all had to have wheat, water, oil, and yeast. We had to have the right amount, too. Too much yeast and your bread will be full of hot air and lack structure. Water not warm enough? Your yeast wont rise and you’ll have a loaf too tough to eat. Donna guided us through the process from beginning to end. There were some corny angel readings that some of us rolled our eyes about but it helped pass the time and got me thinking about who are our real angels.
I posted the bread pictures on Facebook and Mayra saw them and decided she wanted to make bread, too. I sent her the recipe and we made plans to get together and bake. Today Mayra and Priscilla and I made the bread. Each person’s bread was as different as we are but all were perfect. First we changed the recipe to half whole wheat and half white flour. Then we decided to make rolls because they are easier to share and store. We stood at the table and made three batches of dough. To mine I added cheddar cheese and jalapeños. Mayra added parmesan and Priscilla went with nothing. We formed our rolls and loaded the trays. I sprinkled the tops with Trader Joe’s everything but the bagel spice. While the rolls rose we chatted, played with our phones, and sat quietly. The language barrier was a little high today. We could have used an angel card reading.
After the 20 minute rest we backed the rolls for twenty minutes. They came out overstounding. Really. This recipe is so simple and quick and you can do whatever you want. My jalapeño cheese bread was as close to the defunct Sweetgrass Bakery’s bread as anything I have ever tasted. Mayra’s was a lovely parmesan roll and Priscilla’s were perfectly dignified and ready for as much butter as you had on hand. Like a well developed person this dough can handle whatever you have in mind. It’s flexible but well formed. Uncomplicated but interesting. I wish life was this easy.
Here’s the recipe for plain rolls. Use your imagination to make it your own:
TOTAL TIME: 1:20
YIELD: 2 MINI LOAVES
• Cooking spray, for mini loaf pans
• 3 c. all-purpose flour, divided
• 1/4 c. sugar
• 1 .25-package active dry yeast
• 1 c. warm water
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 2 tsp. kosher salt
• Preheat oven to 375º and spray mini loaf pans with cooking spray. In a resealable plastic bag, place 1 cup flour, sugar, and yeast and add warm water.
• Seal bag and squish together with your hands to mix. Let rest 10 minutes at room temperature. (Yeast should activate.) Add 1 cup flour, oil, and salt to the bag, then seal and squish together.
• Add remaining cup of flour and mix until combined. Remove from bag and knead 5 minutes until smooth. Halve dough and place in two loaf pans. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise 30 minutes.
• Brush top of bread with olive oil or melted butter and bake until golden, about 30 minutes.
You can make one loaf instead of mini-loaves or you can hand form rolls. I omit the bag and use a bowl. I use half whole wheat and half white flour.
We are lucky. We have food, shelter, love. I wish I knew how to bring peace and love to the rest of the world. What happens out there does take a toll on all of us. I’m trying to stay informed and well balanced. It’s very hard. After a slew of medical tests all is well, so far. One more test to go. I’m calling what appears to be a psychological malady Trumpitis. Stomach pain caused by fear and worry. Meanwhile I’m going to focus on the good I have and hope to share it with you and take my prilosec.
Over there in Montana we were fishing and cliff jumping and eating well. It was a nice break after a solid three weeks in Seattle. Today we are back in Alpine, OR. The Gypsy Carpenters are back at work and gearing up for the solar eclipse. Our trailer is parked at 99.67% eclipse totality. I read that the edge effects of the moon blocking the sun are glorious and mysterious and that we should make the effort to get to the 100% edge. Unfortunately that edge varies depending on your elevation and we just can’t be sure. In general calculations we need to be three miles north on Monday. For weeks the big debate has been should we make the effort and if we should, how? ‘Officials’ everywhere are predicting an epic micro-migration of the population and warning that we should shelter in place. They say the interstates will be immobilized and the markets will have no food. The Gypsy Carpenters are thinking we are pretty stout. We could walk 3 miles. We could float three miles. We could find our Gazeteer and drive three miles of back roads. What should we do? Stay or go?
I have my locally famous chorizo turkey meatloaf cooking while I contemplate all this stuff. That’s a way to focus on the good. Cook. Given the predictions of traffic and food shortages and the proximity of North Korea’s missiles, Burt indulged my paranoia and let me hoard some food. Part of the deal is I have to cook the food. Day one done. The rest of the menu is beans, lentils, peas. We’re going to get our fiber.
Yesterday our friend and guide Esteban took us up to his sister’s ranch. The rustic farm is about an hour from El Pescadero and located on the edge of an arroyo. This trip materialized the way so many things happen here. Esteban stopped by to say hi. Burt said let’s take a trip to the mountains. We think Esteban said, “Do you want to see my sister’s ranch?” I think we said yes. We are not entirely sure if he asked or if we asked or how we wound up agreeing. Turkeys were mentioned. We made a date for an excursion.
Yesterday we arrived at Esteban’s house a few minutes late. He was surprised. We were very punctual according to him. This was after we called to say we would arrive an hour late and we arrived an hour and ten minutes later than originally agreed. Oops. We try so hard not to be prompt and we always fail. We are continuously arriving before our hosts expect us all over the world. This fashionably late thing is beyond our skill set. We couldn’t even start our show fifteen minutes late as all musicians are expected to do.
The journey to the rancho was full of words for trees and birds we happened to pass. Esteban used to be the forest ranger in the Sierra de la Laguna Biosphere Reserve. He knows all the local beings. What we could not understand was where we were going. Eventually we wound up at a very nice, brand new country getaway. There were two workers watering the plants. The yard was nicely landscaped. I pondered how a walk in the woods brought us to some rich person’s cabin in the mountains. I have no idea what transpired but the conclusion was that we were free to visit this spot and camp anytime we liked. I conclude Esteban was introducing us to the locals. I could be wrong. It was a very nice spot. Elvis peed on everything. When I said is Spanish that he had to mark everywhere we go the men all laughed. We piled back into the Exploder and headed back out to the highway. WTF. Are we going home already? Was that our trip? During all our visits Esteban and Burt and I have a three way dialogue that meanders and is very amorphous. I am never certain if we are going or coming, leaving or staying. His manner of guiding is similar. He takes us to a trail and says, “I’ll see you later.” We walk away wondering where we are going. We always get there, turn around and walk back. Esteban is where he left us. Everybody is happy.
At the highway we headed away from town and took another ranch road towards the mountains. At the end of this road we arrived at a ranch filled with animals. Cows, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys…The local lady of the house was working her butt of making cheese and doing laundry. The men were sitting and talking. I headed to the kitchen and chatted with another visiting female while we watched Lupita do her chores. Burt hung with us. There were wild birds in cages singing in the kitchen. I could hardly stand to look at the starling, grosbeak, sparrow and orioles but they are well loved by this quiet woman with few visitors. The woman was Esteban’s sister. She is also very comfortable in the wilderness and trapped all the birds herself. Now I know the whole family shares our love of birds.
Eventually Esteban takes us to a trail and say, “I’ll see you later. There’s water up there.” Burt and I and the Olvis walked until we found water. It was 4:00 PM. I could have spent the night there on the sandy bank with palm trees swaying and water trickling by. There were heaps of birds but we forgot our binoculars. Both of us. We returned to the ranch. There was Esteban waiting. I asked if we could buy a turkey. How much? $400 pesos. Muy caro, I thought but worth it to reward Lupita for all her hard work, so we agreed. They asked if we want it alive or dead. I envisioned carrying a live turkey back to town with Elvis and Olive and decided dead is best. One of the men caught the turkey while Esteban filled an enormous pot with water to boil. The unlucky dinner is caught, its feet bound, and it is hung upside down. Burt cut its throat. The bird was then plunged into boiling water and plucked and gutted. Both Burt and I have done this many times but it made us nervous doing it with a cross cultural audience but some things are the same no matter what language you use. Lupita gave me some much less expensive eggs. Finally we headed home.
I was scheduled to play tennis with Lurker Al today but I cancelled. Yesterday I woke up with a very stiff neck. I went to my tennis lesson because I thought it would loosen up with activity. After a miserable night last night I am worse today and have to conclude tennis did not help. No tennis today.
The night before last was when the stiff neck developed. There’s this thing I sometimes get where I suddenly develop an intense stabbing pain between my ribs and the sternum. Not a heart attack but a connective tissue thing. I can feel it very localized in the joint. It started up when I would overdo it rock climbing decades ago. The weird thing is the pain only comes at rest, usually after too much upper body activity. It also only happens to me on very rare occasions but when it does it is fully disabling for a few minutes. It sounds to me (based on internet research) it’s costochondritis. Recently there’s been an uptick in yoga, music, and tennis activity. So two nights ago I was trying to turn over in my sleep and got trapped in the covers. As I struggled to free myself I was stuck by a breath robbing pain in my sternum. I was stuck. My whole body froze as I tried to stay calm and let the spasm pass. I could only take shallow breaths. It resembles a calf cramp of the ribs. My neck must have been propping me in my mid-turn position. A few minutes passed, the pain subsided and I rolled over and went to sleep. I had fierce dreams of war and bomber planes and aliens. The next morning the stiff neck.
So today no yoga, no tennis, ice packs and aspirin. I still have the kids at 4:00. Tomorrow we planned for an epic mountain hike. I might not be up for the drive. Head bobbing for two hours on mountainous, washboard roads will not help. If we do make it, it’s likely the blog continuity will be broken.
Yesterday we went to our neighbor Priscila’s and reviewed some Mexican folk standards and worked on a new tune called La Flor de Capomo. Give it a listen. I’m currently using this brain worm as our 6 AM alarm every morning. It should make it into our repertoire soon. During our visit we learned Priscila’s family had just purchased three new goats and Prissy was making fresh cheese. She gave us a plate of requesón and crackers to enjoy. We took home some queso fresco, too. Yummy. Nothing better than your neighbor having too much homemade cheese.
With the gNash parked mere feet from the front door of our current project Burt takes full advantage of his early mornings and the accessibility. Recently he’s been going in as early as 3:00 AM. Now back on the west coast that’s midnight. I’ve been pondering what this means for Burt’s internal clock and our lark/owl interpersonal relations for weeks and then this morning happened. Burt woke up and misread the 11:00 PM as 1:00 AM. Our clock is two hours behind. He thought oh, it’s 3:00 I might as well go to work instead of trying to sleep. But it wasn’t 3:00, it was 1:00. Got that? So Burt showed up for breakfast at 8 AM after putting in nearly a day’s worth of work. In the meantime I was sleeping soundly in the spacious bed. We were both awake for breakfast of pea soup. Now it is 11:55 AM and Burt is sound asleep. I’m doing computer updates and backing up writing and photographs.
I made a pumpkin pie but I can’t bake it until Burt wakes up and lights the oven. As of yesterday we have been living in this 22′ box for seven years and I still can’t light the oven. Co-dependency is what they call it. We’re off to my brother and sister-in-law’s place for the holiday. We haven’t settled on a meal plan. I was supposed to bring my pie but Christian won some pies in a raffle and so I get to keep this one. There’s no such thing as too much pumpkin pie in this trailer.
Today Burt and Jen are finishing up the bedroom wall texture at the Kila cabin. I was going to go but I didn’t have any work to do so I decided to stay here and catch up, read, shower, and veg out. Everyone has caught the last summer cold of the season or the first winter cold. I can’t be sure which. The cold caused work delays so here we are still parked in Whitefish working on a cabin on a hill in Kila. Tomorrow we depart towards but not to Helena. We will stop first in Seeley Lake and go grouse hunting with Pete. Friday we will resume what is the start of our southward migration to Portal Irish Music Week. Music camp is pretty much full this year. There’s been some last minute cancellations but they were fully paid and we (as do all viable travel businesses) have a no refund policy within 60 days of the event. I promised to refund the money if replacements were found but so far no luck. I kind of feel bad and I kind of realize this is a feeling I must deal with if the camp and my finances are to survive.
In between snotty heads and ceiling work we made a trip out to Glacier Park. We’d heard the remote Polebridge entrance is frequently unstaffed so we thought we’d take a peek at Bowman Lake. Unlucky us. The gate had a toll collector. Since it was $30 just to drive in and see an alpine lake we decided to walk around the free Forest Service side of the North Fork of the Flathead River. Burt is just 9 months away from his $10 lifetime parks pass so we’re going to try and hold out until then on paying anymore park fees. Next week will be the last one. $30 to get into Yellowstone and Grand Teton. That will be a worthy one. Now that I write this I realize we will be surrounded by National Parks in Alexandria. Maybe we will buy one more annual parks pass. Writing as thinking.
Anyhoo. Burt fished and I stumbled along the log laden shore. The North Fork of the Flathead is a famously log chocked stream. Every year it seems somebody is caught in a ‘widow maker’ trap of logs blocking the channel. In fall the water is low and the logs are on shore. Burt caught a huge fish. He was pretty sure it was a Lake Trout but I had just read the warnings about the endangered Bull Trout looking a lot like a Lake trout, also called a mackinaw. When in Doubt Throw it Back. We discussed and we could not come up with the identifying features for one or the other fish. We were outside cell range so the internet was no use. Burt threw it back. That stung. No trout for dinner. Then Burt caught another. I informed him it was statistically improbable to catch two endangered species in 5 minutes. Not impossible but highly unlikely. That fish shook the hook as soon as we decided to keep it. Further research proved Burt right. It was a Lake Trout. The two are very similar looking but can be distinguished if you know what to look for. Now we do.
The Polebridge Mercantile is famous as an eccentric general store in the remote north woods of Montana. For 25 years I have heard rumors of its extraordinary bakery. I have been by on many occasions through the years but mostly in a rush to get somewhere else or in winter when services are reduced. Burt had never stopped. He hadn’t even heard the rumors of the bakery. Now I take good bakery rumors with a grain of salt. Good is relative. In general, the farther you are from civilization and the closer you are to a major tourist attraction the lower the quality of food. There’s a handicapping system. People will say food is good when it isn’t when they are far from home. Also, many people say that the Wheat Montana Bakery has good stuff and I think they are mediocre. The packed parking lot defies my understanding. Yesterday was the first time I ever had the chance to stop in and sample the wares but I was not expecting much. I have a healthy suspicion of all baked good recommendations. I was wrong. Again. I am glad I do not live near this bakery. I’d be a blimp and broke.
Burt and I, showing massive restraint, shared a Flathead cherry and chocolate turnover. What a delight! Buttery, flaky puff pastry filled with a thick slab of not too sweet cherry filling drizzled with real dark chocolate. “That’s the best turnover I have ever had!” exclaimed Burt. It was true for me too. It boggled the brain because it wasn’t just a one hit wonder. The bakery was filled with tempting delights. Savory scones, macaroons, huckleberry turnovers, chocolate croissants, warm sandwiches…We had to leave so I could still buckle my pants. We will never fail to stop in here for a snack again. Best bakery in the universe.