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Smoking and Writing

Recipes From the RanchSmoking cigarettes or pipes are no longer vogue for writers. And, there was a time in history when writers didn’t smoke: take Homer for instance, who lived pre-tabacco. Of course, he was probably cranking pages with chisel and rock and couldn’t hold a pipe properly.

But there was also a time when writers smoked as prolifically as they typed. Some informal thoughts link smoking to creativity; others to boredom in between re-writes; and others claim it calms ADHD. You’ll find nothing formal here, just an observation from me and one by Mark Twain. Mr. Twain, first:

“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”

For a short spell during summer, the year I hung out with my cousin T., we roped, rode horses and chewed tobacco. We even rode our horses to the country gas station and bought  a can of Skoal despite being only 12 and 10-years-old. My first romantic kiss was with a cowboy who tipped back his hat and shared his lip full of chaw with me.

I never mastered spitting and I never did see that cowboy again. Probably a good thing. And no one ever offered me a cigarette. So I never smoked. I never had to learn what it was to quit a thousand times.

Yet, there are smokers in my life whom I love. I refuse to lecture or give them gruesome tales of their future demise. I grew up in a shame-based family and I’m not about to dose it on others. They go to movies–they see the advertisements and the curl on the lip of the passerby when they light up in their designated areas.

What I learned from the smokers in my life is that smokers readily share stories and camaraderie. I once traveled cross-country from Minnesoto to NYC and back by train with a smoker. Our conductor smoked too, so she promised to knock on our room when we were stopping long enough to light up. I went too, despite hands in pockets. I just listened.

So one day, I decided to smoke, too. I went to designated smoking areas and lit up. It’s nice to smoke–you get a break, time to chill and unwind. Non-smokers never get that, always uptight and working on the clock. Smoking lets you light something on fire and watch slowly as it chars. It’s like meditation.

Of course, I don’t smoke cigarettes. I’ve got too much of a sweet tooth for tobac so bitter. I smoke marshmallows. Seriously, I do. I’ve always favored S’Mores, so when I took up the habit Jiffy Puff became my brand of choice.

Smoking & DrinkingIn the first months of quitting my career to write along the south shore of Lake Superior, I posted this photo which I entitled, ‘Smoking and Drinking.” The drink of choice at the time was San Pellegrino sparkling mineral water.

It’s true that such vices are gateways. I now drink Presecco when I can afford it, but I’ve been known to drink Brut champagne when I can’t. I’m hooked on the bubbles. For a while I was smoking the huge marshmallows, but I cut back to the originals.

Now truly I set out to post something worthwhile tonight. But after having a rough day I sat out on the porch to smoke and it reminded me that Australians have been deprived of S’Mores.

Therefore, in enlightenment of my friends down under, this Recipe From the Ranch involves smoking marshmallows. Of course, you don’t have to go full out flames and charcoal. You can daintily toast your marshmallow inches from the flame and let it slowly brown.

That’s what the Hub does, but then again, the Hub gets his smoke fix from a cherrywood pipe.

You can also microwave a marshmallow for 10 to 15 seconds, but that just seems weird. Kind of like, lighting up a Marlborough in the nuker.

The following recipe is courtesy of Hershey’s. Stateside they must sell a ton of bars during the camping season. No child in America goes camping or out to the backyard fire pit without the plea for “some more” marshmallows and chocolate.

Hershey’s S’Mores in Three Acts

1. Top two graham cracker squares each with one chocolate bar half.

SMores (2)

2. Light up two marshmallows on a long metal skewer until the flame dies out and marshmallows are crusty black. Or toast alongside the fire until barely brown.

SMores (3)

3. Carefully slide one marshmallow onto each chocolate-top graham cracker square and top with a second cracker.

SMores (4)

Enjoy your weekend! And remember this clever warning from Brooke Shields:

“Smoking kills. If you’re killed, you’ve lost a very important part of your life.”

 

Dump Cake

Recipes From the RanchAs unappetizing as it sounds, Dump Cake, is mainstay Dutch oven cooking.

Last week, Lisa Reiter of Sharing the Story, stirred up our memories of camping which led me to think of the camping cake that requires no stirring. That’s what a Dump Cake is–dump in the ingredients; no stirring required.

In 2007 my family camped in the northern forests of Wisconsin at Birch Lake. My kids were still kids then, as my eldest, Allison, was perched to fly the family coop. Kyle, the youngest was turning 16 and Brianna was going into her senior year of high school. It was trip that stirred my memory of fun family times in my Bite Size Memoir No. 5.

Birch Lake (2)

Because we were camping, the Dutch oven was working overtime. My husband grumbles that I bring the kitchen sink and I respond, “No, I bring the whole kitchen.” The kids tell him to hush and eat. They don’t mind packing the extra iron, utensils and food because we all like to eat like kings around the campfire.

A Dutch oven is a large cast iron pot with a flat lid. You can hang it over an open flame, set it on a grill or even snug it into coals. The latter is required for baking.

Ten years prior to this camping trip, in 1997, I was the writing intern for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. It was one of my first freelance gigs and I was covering an event called “Becoming an Outdoors Woman.” Being a buckaroo, I grew up outdoors and was no stranger to  logging camp meals and cowboy coffee.

Yet, I was not familiar with the Dutch oven. We had cast iron pans, enamel coffee pots and grills, but I learned how to use the oven on this assignment. Mountain-man, Darrel D. Johnson, was our teacher. He wore a fox-skin hat, leather leggings and was the keeper of  “extremely useful information.”

Today, I share with you Mountain-man Johnson’s recipe for Dump Cake.

Birch Lake (3)

It’s all in getting the coals white. Notice that we had half our fire pit dedicated to coals, the other half to wood. We aren’t fancy when camping, so just set that Dutch oven in the dirt and lightly butter the bottom. Add one can of cherry pie filling. Next, spread one box of yellow cake mix over the fruit. Melt one stick of butter and pour it over the mix. Don’t stir. Just “dump” the ingredients in the order given.

Birch Lake (4)

Nestle the Dutch oven into your pile of white-hot coals. Add a few coals to the lid, scattering evenly as you can see in the photo above. Bake about 10 minutes before you lift the lid to check progress.

Birch Lake (5)

Your Dump Cake is ready when the fruit bubbles up around the edges. When it is, remove it from the coals, but set the lid (with coals) back in place until the top is browned.

Birch Lake

Decorate if you’d like, as we did. Slice and serve like brownies.

The fun of a Dump Cake is that it’s versatile. You can use any can of pie filling or even canned crushed pineapple. You can add 1/2 to one cup of walnuts, almonds or pecans. You can use any boxed cake mix–white, yellow, spice, cherry, chocolate. Just remember to dump in order:

  • canned fruit
  • boxed cake
  • stick of melted butter

And there you have it–Dump Cake! And now a parting shot of Birch Lake:

DSC_0572

And that’s Bobo swimming for the canoe, not Nessie. But if you like magical creatures, join us for the June 4 Flash Fiction Challenge: June 4, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a fantastical element or creature. Respond by noon (PST) Tuesday, June 10 to be included in the compilation.

 

 

 

Rhubarb Cake

Recipes From the RanchSince being off-pond nearly three weeks, I’m hungry. Hungry for the view of the pond from my apple tree, hungry for the first fruits of my garden, hungry for writing.

Yet, I’ve been filled. Filled with the love a Mum has for her children no matter how old they are or what they are doing. It’s easy to say I’m proud of them when they’re making terrific leaps in life. But I’ve also been here long enough to understand that they struggle, too. We all do.

Life is like a rhubarb season. Rhubarb grows where planted, but comes into fruitfulness slowly, within it’s own timing. Rhubarb has amazing fruit, but toxic leaves. Life is like that, too–the good intertwines with the bad.

So we bake cake! Another metaphor for life–make something tasty out of it.

Rhubarb Snack Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 cups fresh rhubarb stalks

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. If you have a Kitchen Aid like I do (and yes, I brought it with me when I drove over to Montana) just toss all the ingredients except the rhubarb into the mixer and mix until creamy and smooth. That’s the easy buckaroo way. My son-in-law is a talented baker and would first cream the butter, then add the sugar, wet ingredients and finally the dry ingredients. But we both agree on folding the chopped rhubarb in at the last. Pour the mixture into a 9” x 13” baking pan and bake for about 45 minutes. Give it the finger-press-test: gently press a fingertip to the middle of the cake. If it leaves no indentation, then it is done. Set on a rack to cool.

The following is a snack cake (no frosting needed). Easy, tasty and fulfilling!

Rhubarb Cake (2)

 

Celebration Yellow Cake

Recipes From the RanchMaybe because it’s Easter weekend, cake postings seem popular today. They are certainly the go-to dessert for celebrations on the ranch. And my all-time favorite is yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

It might sound like a crazy cowgirl idea, but I think yellow cake with chocolate frosting is more chocolatey than chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Maybe the yellow cake accentuates the chocolate. Who knows? But it’s definitely a bright cake, rich for celebrating.

A California variation is to heavily sprinkle walnut pieces across the top. Walnuts are not found in this ranch pantry because they make my husband’s tongue tingle and swell. Tree nut allergies are serious, so this California-born buckaroo has gone without walnuts for 26 years.

Cakes are easy to make from scratch. Seriously. Ditch the boxed mixes and you will find that scratch-made cakes taste so much better, and are not any harder to make than the boxed kind.

Yellow Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of white sugar
  • 2 tsp. of vanilla
  • 2 farm fresh eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (my favorite is from Montana Wheat)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Pre-heat your oven to 350. Take a smidgeon of oil and coat the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ cake pan. I use a paper towel to keep the coating light. Then sprinkle a little flour and pat and turn the pan until it dusts the oiled bottom. I use a Kitchen Aid mixer and toss in all the ingredients and blend on medium speed for about three minutes. If you only have a wooden spoon, mix your wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls then add the flour slowly to the wet ingredients. Once you have batter, smooth and creamy, pour evenly into your cake pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until you can lightly press on the top with a finger and not make an indentation. Cool on a wire rack.

Chocolate Frosting

  • 1/3 cup butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Beat butter until it’s creamy and fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar and cocoa one cup at a time, beating well for a smooth frosting. Slowly beat in milk and vanilla. You can add tiny bits of more milk if you want a thinner consistency. I frost my cake in the pan, which is informal. If it’s a celebration that calls for polishing up your cowboy boots, then remove the cake onto a platter or foil-wrapped cardboard before frosting. Make sure your cake is cool before frosting or it might tear as you frost.

Happy Easter, everyone! Be reminded that there is hope!

Yellow Cake

Idaho Tri-Tip & Fanned Potato

Recipes From the RanchMeat and potatoes is a recurring theme in a ranch kitchen. When you live in Idaho, potatoes are the official state food. With so many ranches, beef is a close second.

Tri-tip is a west-coast cut. When this buckaroo lived in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, few butchers knew the cut. Even if they did, they cut different styles from that portion of beef so it was never available. Tri-tip is a favorite for those who smoke and barbeque, but it is also a quick steak.

My husband often works contract out of state and my kids are grown and flown. At times it’s just me and the dogs. Left to my own devices, I’d just write and poke about the pond all day, neglecting kitchen duties. But I’m not a fan of canned or boxed meals so I try to fix things that fit my tastes and my writer’s life.

That’s one reason why I like to bake potatoes. In the oven it takes about one hour. That means I can fix the potato then forget about it and write some more before prepping the rest of the meal.

Another reason I like baking potatoes is that I can prepare one at a time for my single meals, but easily add to the count when I have a full house. Same with tri-tip steak. I can slice up a tri-tip roast into writer-buckaroo sizes or prepare the roast for more guests. Versatility is desirable in the ranch kitchen.

This recipe serves up well with a side of asparagus because it’s spring and asparagus is tender and fresh at the stores. My husband grew up in northern Nevada and picked asparagus along the ditch banks. It’s still one of his favorite vegetables, but he missed out on this one!

Fanned Potato

  • 1 medium Idaho
  • 1 generous pat of butter
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • sprinkle of smoked paprika
  • sprinkle of sea salt
  • sprinkle of shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Chop garlic and melt butter (easy to do in 20 seconds in the microwave or a few minutes in a frying pan). Scrub the skin of the potato and set on a cutting board between two wooden spoons. Cut the potato as if you were slicing it, but stop when the knife hits the wooden spoons. This allows the potato to stay intact but  “fanned.” Place fanned potato on a piece of tin-foil (enough to securely wrap the potato). Drizzle the garlic butter between slices and sprinkle with salt and paprika. Seal the foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour. Remove, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Tri-Tip

Super easy–during the last 15 minutes of the potato baking, heat garlic butter in a pan (cast iron or steel is ideal). When I chop the garlic for the potato, I chop two more cloves and reserve for the steak. If you really like garlic (as I do, chop even more and roast it with the asparagus in the oven that last  15 minutes of baking the fanned potato). Once the garlic butter melts, slather both sides of the steak in it. Fry each side about 6-8 minutes (depending upon your preference). Salt and pepper with freshly hammered (cracked) black pepper.

Every kitchen buckaroo needs a hammer for cracking pepper!

Serve and eat and then go write some more.

Cowboy Tri-Tip & Fanned Potato (3) Cowboy Tri-Tip & Fanned Potato

 

 

Whiskey Bread Pudding

Recipes From the RanchSpring is subtle. While it’s difficult to capture the exact moment when grass greens or to know when the last snow squall will cover tilled sod or early peas, the light has returned to our days noticeably. I’ve read that it is light, not warmth, that triggers the return of migratory birds. This explains why robins show up, pecking at piles of snow.

Warmth, we can still gather from our ovens. And from a shot of whiskey.

On these spring mornings when the ranch pastures are coated with heavy frost, bread pudding seems like a direct line to heaven. Whiskey Bread Pudding is versatile. You can use up stale bread or cinnamon bagels. When company comes a’calling you can let a loaf of French bread harden on the shelf and then break it up for bread pudding.

In addition to using different breads, you can change the flavor profile easily. Sometimes I’ll toss in a cupful of frozen huckleberries or add raisins and cinnamon. Tomorrow, I’m making pumpkin bread pudding for guests to serve with linguica for breakfast. It’s supposed to be a cold spring day so we’ll enjoy the warmth of bread pudding and who knows–maybe we’ll splash a little whiskey into our coffee cups.

Whiskey Bread Pudding (Pumpkin Version)

  • 5 cups of torn chunks of baguette
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly crushed cardamon (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp. whiskey

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Tear apart a stale baguette (about 5 cups) into a 13″ x 9″ baking pan (ungreased). Mix remaining ingredients until smooth, like pumpkin-colored satin. Pour mixture over the bread. Bake for about 40 minutes, until an inserted butter-knife pulls out clean. You may need to bake 5 to 10  minutes longer.

You can serve this with whipped cream or whipped cream and Whiskey Sauce. Why not? It’s spring and it’s still chilly!

Whiskey Sauce

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 beaten egg yolk
  • 2 Tbsp. water
  • 2 Tbsp. whiskey

Melt butter, add sugar, yolk and water into a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it boils and the sugar crystals have dissolved. Remove from stove and add whiskey. Serve warm over warm bread pudding.

While warmth is the key factor to yummy bread pudding, whipped cream forms best with cold utensils. I place my Kitchen Aid whisk and bowl in the freezer for 10 minutes before whipping up the cream. Or you can use a buckaroo cheat–Cool Whip.

(Note: the photo below is of a blueberry version which omits the pumpkin and spices, increases the milk to 2 and 1/4 cups, reduces the bread to 4 cups (I used cinnamon bread for this one), omits the whiskey and is baked in an 8 x8 inch pan. Experimenting with bread pudding is easy!)

Bread Pudding

 

Clara’s Quesadillas

Recipes From the RanchMy Great-Grandmother Clara had a Portuguese last name, but she was half Scots and half French-Basque.  Growing up, I knew her as an aged, lean woman who liked to laugh and gamble at the nickle slots. She was a fiery old lady. In fact all the Kincaids were known for their heat in the small cow-town of Tres Pinos, California. They were tough pioneers and buckaroos with a fighting-spirit.

This Scots clan clung fiercely to their Catholic faith despite being kicked out of Scotland for fighting on behalf of the Bonnie Prince Charlie back in the mid-18th century. My particular ancestral line of Kincaids settled in Virginia then Missouri before pushing cattle into California to build up ranches that would feed the gold-rush miners. Great-Grandma Clara’s grandfather, James Kincaid, settled in the San Benito County area where hills and valleys were rich for growing hay and cattle. The Kincaids even helped to build the Tres Pinos Catholic Church.

Tres Pinos was the furthest inland from San Francisco that the train pushed. This track traveled through vineyards, orchards and ranches known to Steinbeck, and any story of his that I’ve read, I can’t help but picture the place of my birth; the same place where Great-Grandma Clara was born; the place where buckaroos come from. The Kincaid women were tough. Clara’s mother was a justice of the peace and famous for orneriness.

One Kincaid woman, an aunt of Clara’s, decided she had enough of being a ranch wife and left her husband and children, stepping onto that San Francisco bound train with a young, handsome cowboy. The story goes–which is printed for posterity in an old 1880s Tres Pinos newspaper–that the aunt’s husband met her at the station with a gun. He shot the young swain, but didn’t frighten his wife at all who simply yelled at her husband, wrapped her cowboy’s wounded arm and left on the train.

So it should come as no surprise that Great-Grandma Clara like food that matched the temperament in her Kincaid blood. She liked it hot. This recipe is a bit of an alteration on my part. Originally Clara heaped this cheese-topping on a split loaf of French bread, but I use it for quesadillas. Serve it with sliced mangoes for lunch or along side vegetable soup for dinner.

Clara’s Quesadillas

  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2-4 Tbsp spicy taco sauce
  • 1 can diced jalapenos (or you can use mild green peppers)
  • 1 can chopped black olives
  • 1/2-cup chopped red onion

Simply mix all the ingredients. When ready to make quesadillas, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. I prefer white-corn tortillas, but you can use your own preference. Set out as many tortillas as you want (my cookie sheet accommodates six at  a time, but usually I just make one or two for myself for lunch). scoop cheese mixture onto each tortilla, spreading evenly. Top with a second tortilla. Bake for five minutes and then carefully flip. Bake for another three to five minutes. Serve with sliced fruit, rice or a green salad to counter the heat.

Quesadillas