“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GO WEST”

“GO WEST, YOUNG MAN, GO WEST” was an expression first used by John Babsone Lane Soule in the Terre Haute Express in 1851. It appealed to Horace Greeley, who rephrased it slightly in an editorial in the New York Tribune on 13 July 1865. The phrase captured the imaginations of clerks, mechanics, and soldiers returning from the Civil War, many of whom moved west to take up a homestead.

This is the saga of Carrie and I homesteading Tennessee in the latter part of 2016.

Far from young, we chose to disregard this advice by going east instead. We were more old, beaten and battered. Carrie had been under the sword of Damocles for years by her employer (who will not mention by name, but their initials are AT&T). The company had been downsizing in the West, outsourcing to European Baltic countries, and looking to the future of having no employees and the pride of ownership of droids to do the work. I mean, who has not traveled the long and painful labyrinth of telephone prompting by a computer with English and grammar as a second language? The future look bright! (yes, no spellcheck here!)

Carrie was finally given notice of her impending unemployment, and scrambled for a lateral position, as we could not keep our lavish two-buck-chuck Patterson lifestyle on her early retirement, and my meager post-laid-off finances. She had all the kudos, awards, and fantastic (Trump phrase) evaluations and recommendations from her immediate supervisors, who also gave her a means to network into another position in the organization. She applied and we were on the short list to move to Puerto Rico.

I considered this to be a prolonged vacation. We would not have to bring anything, as it would be too expensive to ship. Alas, the job fell through so the short list would not include us. So much for exotic food and company. Disappointment!

In the final hours of her being employed, and offer came through for a position in Knoxville Tennessee.

After a few bottles of wine, we agreed this was a good thing? We had two weeks to clear out our Patterson home of 17 years, to say farewell to everyone we knew in our life, hire a landscaper, pool person, and property management company to rent the homestead out. Carrie accomplished all this and more with the determination of a Honey Badger. I hung on for the ride. She traveled to Knoxville and secured a new house (rental) for us to live. Does anyone really live in Knoxville? I mean, you can exist there, but really live? We will see.

 With the help of family, friends, and neighbors, we packed up half of our beloved possessions (crap) and placed in a local storage unit. The rest of our prized possessions and keepsakes (more crap) we had loaded in a Mayflower Moving Van, and would be sent on ahead of us. We would take the low road and travel in our two vehicles, converted into prairie schooners to traverse the great land of ours. I think the United States still owns some of the drier parts of Arizona; the rest belongs to foreign conglomerates.

 Our prized pets (not crap) Mini and Baxter would endure the same hardships as pets did in the earlier frontier migrations. These would include poor room service at some motels, hiding Baxter at every inn (who would think a 20 pond cat not welcome?) and having to do their business in inclement weather. and disposition of the trail boss (Carrie) and her top hand (me). All said and done, they were real troopers.

 Our odyssey started late in the afternoon. We had overseen the lading of our ship Mayflower, and started to drive to our first destination, Barstow California. On the way over after passing Tehachapi, we encountered Big Moon, dust storm, and a flight of insects the size of birds. Total Stephen King theme drive. I will mention at this point, that arriving late at night to any accommodation will ensure that parking will neither be nearby or convenient.

Barstow… looks better at night and in a rear view mirror.

From Barstow, we made good mileage and arrived in Gallup New Mexico. Uneventful day, good nights rest. The landscape is on the level. Very, very level. A man in Medicine Hat, Alberta, told me once “This place is so flat that if your dog ran away, you could still see him a week later.” These are such places.

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Our first stop of interest was a place advertised along numerous billboards along the highway as “World Famous Laguna Burger.” As this was not a World Famous large ball of twine, or small horse, but rather something we could eat, we stopped there. Nice exterior of building, screaming 1950 style. Parking lot was empty, not a good sign. After we secured the livestock (Mini and Baxter) we entered the restaurant and looked over the menu. While we were doing this, the parking lot filled up, and so did the eatery. It was 11am, and all the locals were down for lunch. A very good sign.

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We ordered and received maybe the best burger I have had in a long time. It was indeed world class, and thus “World Famous.” They used spices I had never tasted, somewhat like habaneros, but milder. Still might warm though!

 

On to Albuquerque New Mexico, and the very small world we live in.

The Inn had a complementary breakfast in the main dining room. We were seated at my request at the one table with beaming sunshine on it, as it was a chilly morning. One of the two middle-aged woman and senior at the next table exclaimed. “You must be from California truing to get that last bit of sunshine”! I confessed that we were indeed from California.

“What part are you from?”

We had always answered Modesto, because who had ever heard of Patterson. This time we answered where we were raised, Watsonville.

She said,” so am I. I graduated from High School in 1975”

I replied that I also graduated in 1975. I asked her name, she answered “Sandy Shaffer.” I said, “Mike McCollum here, I haven’t seen you in 40 years!” Giving her a big hug, her companion said, “ I am Debbie Hart, I graduated with your brother David.”

We chatted through breakfast, informing them of our move and their visit to relatives for Thanksgiving in Arkansas, I think. Such a small world. Ten minutes either way at that motel, and we never would have seen them.

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That day, my prairie schooner (2009 Toyota Corolla) started making high-pitched noises. I first thought it may be a heat related phenomenon, and only noticed it when we made it to the motel in Shamrock Texas on a Saturday night. After I stopped and killed the engine, the noises completely stopped! What good fortune! The noises reappeared the next day upon starting the schooner. As it was a Sunday, and planet Texas was completely closed, I decided to drive until the noise stopped and then call AAA road service for a tow to next civilized community with a reputable mechanic or unrepeatable dealership. We pulled into a small country market (and yes, that was it’s name) a little east of Checotah, Oklahoma.

By now, the sound from my schooner had morphed into an unearthly screech, not uncommon in most Godzilla movies. I believe the old girl had hit the wall, last legs, time to tow, put her down, dirt nap, and sing in the choir invisible. At this point, Carrie, who has been riding drag in this herd, walked over to a young man painting a shed in the parking lot of this establishment and asked for a vehicle diagnosis. He at first was leaning toward a flywheel failure, along with total belt disaster on the very near horizon, like the next mile, or maybe leaving the parking lot. At which point we inquired who might be his favorite mechanic. He said, ”I have no favorite, I do all my own work. If you go and get the water pump and belt I will have it done in 10 minutes.” I did not disbelieve him; he was looking like the real deal. I offered my phone to call for part availability, he politely refused, called on his own phone to a couple of local O’Rieley’s auto stores, and found the parts. I took off in Carries car to collect them in a local town. That in itself was challenge, and with infallible Google GPS, I remained on earth and found said store, bought a water pump and belt, returned and John indeed did install within 10 minutes. (The clerk at store took out the pump and asked if it was the right part. I told him I would not know it from a glazed doughnut) I had asked John what would be the install charge before I got the parts, he said right about nothing. True to his word, I offered $100. He politely refused. I countered with $50. Refused again. I countered with $20. He said there would be no charge. I am still in total awe of that young man. Ten minutes. I am now forever will be wondering what the good folks at the dealership are doing for the past three hours per visit? My Prairie schooner was back in action, trail-worthy, and as yet, I have not felt the need for inspection of his work. We are trying to track him down, to find out his address to send a proper thank you card, as we are sure he will not take anything for his kindness. We would also like to tell his parents of what a fine job they did. It is obvious to me that this kind of creed is learned, not everyone has it, most do not, or ever will.

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Eastward Bound! We arrived in Nashville on a windy day, set up camp at the Sheraton Music City Hotel. Bedded down the animals for the night, forged for food and drink at the bar. We were rewarded with a sandwich (which we split) and a couple glasses of Merlot. The bill was a highfalutin $50.00 plus tip. So much for forging for food. We would stick to the provisions we had brought with us.

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After a hearty breakfast of chips and water, we had planned to explore Nashville. This is a strange city. Skyscrapers sit next to small (in comparison) brick buildings from years gone by. One boasted of the Johnny Cash Museum, no doubt rich on the inside, in contradiction of it’s very modest exterior. We explored the Country Music Hall of Fame, a very modern building, three stories tall, with every exhibit displaying the best and possibly worst of Country Music. More stuff to dust. All right, we dug it!

 

On to Knoxville and our new life.

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We arrived the day before Thanksgiving for a walk through of the house, property owner passed on our keys, and I met some of the neighbors, good people.

We resupplied at the local grocers and hardware store, and prepared for our Thanksgiving meal. This time I will remind Carrie to actually bring home the piece of dinner selected and saved for Mini. She has missed out on a lot!

Our dinner was supplied by the Mecca of restaurants in the south, The Cracker Barrel. This is an interesting establishment. One part is dedicated to a country store like vibe; the other is for informal dining. Very informal. I will need to work on this one, as my head has not wrapped around this yet. I will not judge.

We are thankful for the meal, our friends and neighbors, our livestock (Mini and Baxter) and the adventure. We did a quick trip to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and loved it.

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On the way back, we had reached a fork in the road, one way to Gatlinburg, one way to Townsend, which was the way we came. We chose the road to Townsend. triptoknoxville015 We learned that night that the town of Gatlinburg pretty well burned to the ground from wildfires and 60mph winds. We would have driven right into it. Yikes!

The next day, with the fires still burning, winds decreased to 50mph, severe thunderstorm warnings along with severe flood warnings, a tornado touched down in a nearby town.

Welcome to Tennessee!

I am sure that in the following days and months, we will assimilate, not unlike the Borg on Star Trek Next Generation, and learn to tailgate people at 80 miles per hour, and “peel out” of parking lots at every opportunity.

We will keep y’all posted. And Happy Holidays!

 

 

Cabo

Cabo San Lucas is a quiet fishing village on the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico. Well, it might have been at one time. With an International Airport, it is now a tourist destination for most of population of Earth. The town itself has no other reason for existence other than tourism. It is a dry, foreboding land. As seen from space in NASA photos, the shape of the area looks like a sirloin steak, or maybe a lobster tail.

Most of the town of Patterson and surrounding villages, signed on the trip via Linda DeForest and All Seasons Travel. There were about 50 people in all, on two flights from San Francisco directly to Cabo. Patterson never had it so quiet that week.

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We all stayed at the RIU Palace Cabo San Lucas, a great Hotel, all-inclusive, featuring a wet bar every 10 feet. Our room also had a wet bar with four bottles of hard liquor tempting the seasoned traveler who might be too “tired” to venture from their room. We abstained. Being in a Palace, we expected to see some royalty, but that was not to be, unless you count Crown Royal. We did get to enjoy the never-ending labyrinth at the Hotel. The concierge at the front desk described it as the route to our room, which consisted of walking what seemed like miles, taking two separate elevators before arriving at our destination room. At the end of our five-day stay, we could actually navigate our way within minutes. This was not a place of fasting or sobriety. Our party kept it within normal limits on both. I mean, why go on vacation if you can’t remember it?Food was everywhere, with many inclusive restaurants and buffets. Traditional fare, Mexican cuisine, and even a Sushi bar. Steak and Lobster for dinner on the first night!

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The next day we were ready to see the sights, and the first being the downtown area and whale watching with the company Whale Watch Cabo. We were assigned a small boat, which included a captain/first mate/ navigator/helmsman (all one guy) and a guide named Lisa Hofmann. She was not an ordinary guide. Lisa had a degree in Marine Biology from her hometown Hamburg, Germany. Her guide experience included exotic places like Iceland, Costa Rica, and Australia. She made for a much better “biological interpretation” (guide) as she was not speculating or making stuff up as we embarked on a three hour tour. Where have I heard that before? OK, it was 2.5 hours, but a three-hour tour sounds much better. This was not only entertaining but also educational. Our shipmates consisted of members of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, or some drinking society. This was my opinion after spending 2.5 hours with them. They were indeed quiet odd. They became nervous after finding out there was no wet bar on board. The whales were magnificent, and if our “skipper” was a little faster, we may have seen more than their backside. Just kidding. I would rather see a whale swimming away from our small boat, than observe one bearing down at ramming speed right for us. All in all, with the seascape, whales, sea lions and other marine life, a more than “well worth it” tour. On our way back to the Hotel, we visited a local restaurant, Las Guacamayas for lunch. The venue featured fantastic authentic Mexican food with great service and a Mariachi Band as a bonus. We had three ice-cold beers, six specialty tacos, and plates of condiments for under $20.00. It was well worth the visit. For dinner that night at the Hotel, we again had Steak and Lobster.

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After we secured a car rental at the Hotel, we were on our way to the Sierra Lagunas Waterfall Hike near the small village of Santiago, north-east of the city of Cabo San Lucas. On the way, I experienced the sudden onset of Montezuma’s revenge, also known as the Aztec two-step. Those not familiar with this national malady, it can be described with the same symptoms of dysentery, only faster acting. As soon as I recognized the symptoms, I knew time was short. I remembered the rental man saying that if we trashed the car, we would pay. He was referring to spilling booze on the interior, to mention this; I assumed it had happened before.

This would be far worse. Our new destination would be a car wash and detail shop, not the waterfalls of our plans. I quickly spotted a service station, luckily with a working bathroom. I sprinted from the car, and then slowed to a stop. My wife thought that it was game over, but I just needed to have one last moment of composure before entering the “El Bano.”

Close call. Too close. My hands shaking from the experience, smiling, and with raised spirits and needed confidence, we were soon back to the road! On our last day driving back to the Airport, I paused, reflected, and thanked the heavens as we passed that service station.

We made it to Santiago and then went “off roading” with the rented vehicle. I say “off roading”, because the road turned from asphalt, to dirt, to silt, to a dry streambed, and finally a narrow goat trail with spectacular views of the landscape below the cliff we traversed. We did not mention this to the rental agency.

The Sierra Lagunas waterfall was very elusive, maybe even a “Stealth Waterfall.” I think the locals kept moving it to evade tourists. Following directions clearly marked in a foreign language along our route, we appeared to have passed the final game trail to the falls many times. We stopped a fellow traveler (with vehicle plates from Canada, Que?) for directions. He explained that his group was also looking for the falls, and speculated that the path we were on would eventually end up in Mexico City. We agreed, and decided to change plans and head for the nearest Cantina. We don’t need no stinking waterfalls! After having a satisfying cerveza (beer) and enjoying the slow pace of the peaceful village, we left Santiago and headed back to the Palace. That night for dinner, we again had Steak and Lobster. I thought I could never say this, but this was getting old.

The traditional Towel folders at the RIU

The traditional Towel folders at the RIU

For entertainment the Palace hosted a sadistic audience participation show, they called Karaoke. I have seen car wrecks and a few train wrecks, but nothing can describe the horror of inebriated tourists on stage butchering the top 10 songs of yesteryear. As the wait staff was quick on serving high-octane cocktails, we soon became numb to the experience, then indifferent, and finally amused at the show. A good time was had by all!

And then we had Steak and Lobster.

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Stuffed

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Stuffed

 

Years ago I worked at a newspaper in Watsonville California, the Register Pajaronian. A reporter informed me about the Thanksgiving lunch he had partaken in at the local church. The meal was for all the local homeless people. He had mentioned that the food was good, but he had never had runny stuffing before.

Runny stuffing! Yikes! I had never heard of such a travesty!

The stuffing of my youth had many different flavors, but only one texture.

That of semi-cured concrete.

In search of the perfect stuffing on “the net,” I found one that was almost deserving of the time and effort to make. It did have one main ingredient that I could not get past. Turkey liver. A member of the food group known as “giblets.”

When I was in college, I took a courses in Human Anatomy and Zoology.I do not remember the instructor going over giblets. I might have been dozing, but it does not ring a bell.

I did have a music instructor in High School who had a Turkey neck, but I doubt if she had a gizzard, also in the giblet food group.

Lucky for the general public, I did not pursue a health career, not knowing a giblet from a hole in the ground.

The following recipe has been modified beyond recognition for enhancement of flavor and to protect the innocent. Bon appetit!

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups cubed whole wheat bread (2 slices per cup)
  • 4 cups cubed white bread (2 slices per cup)
  • 1 pound ground pork sausage
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 3 teaspoons dried sage
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Golden Delicious apple, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 cup turkey, chicken or vulture stock
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degree F (175 degree C). Spread the white and whole wheat bread cubes in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until evenly toasted. Transfer toasted bread cubes to a large bowl.
  2. In a large skillet, cook the sausage and onions over medium heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps until evenly browned. Add the celery, sage, rosemary, and thyme; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes to blend flavors.
  3. Pour sausage mixture over bread in bowl. Mix in chopped apple, dried cranberries, and parsley. Drizzle with stock and melted butter, and mix lightly. Everything into a casserole dish, cover with foil, cook for 45 minutes.

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Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta

Fresh Basil Pesto Pasta

Have you ever had fresh basil pesto? If so, then you know what a delicious additive it is to so many Italian dishes. Or by itself, just top off a cracker and cheese for a tasty snack. I would “pair” it with a red, white, or pink wine, or maybe a brown beer. Or if you feel spirited, maybe some blue antifreeze colored wine cooler. If you are not in the mood to travel to Italy to procure such a treat, just make it yourself! I have sampled manufactured jarred pesto sold the local supermarkets, and it has a flavor that I can only describe as a mixture of lawnmower shavings and a salt lick. I assure you I have never knowingly consumed either of the two. I can only imagine that the chef is mindful of that “millennium shelf life”, and added a lethal amount of salt to keep it as fresh as the decade it was made.

Through the years, I have cooked pasta with varied results. To test cooked pasta, I have bitten through it to judge the texture, threw it on the ceiling to see if it stuck, and have even consulted a local shaman. All of these methods worked to a varying degree. What I have found to be the best method for cooking pasta is to follow the directions on the box. These pasta masters are a clever group, and when all else fails; follow directions. It has never failed. Try this recipe; it is well worth the effort.

pestopastasmallIngredients

  • 8 oz fresh basil leaves, (2 packages of Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (save another ½ cup for garnish)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • One box Packaged Pasta (linguine)

 

Method

1 Measure and pour pine nuts in a frying pan, set heat on high, keep the nuts moving as not to burn them. When they are toasted, they will release their flavorful oils. Remove from heat, stop toasting process by pouring them into a large room temperature plate. This will stop them from burning. Save 1/4 cup for garnish. Place the basil leaves and 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times. Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.

2 While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Divide in half, saving some for other purposes such as added to cheese and crackers, or add to a pizza. Yum!

3 Cook pasta per package directions. Save one cup of pasta water, Drain in colander, mix (carefully fold) one half of pesto you just made into the pasta in a large saucepan or sauté’ pan, or whatever, add pasta water as needed. The cooked pasta will suck out all moisture in the pesto, so adding the pasta water back will make it hydrated one more. Serve with toasted pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. This is the stuff dreams are made of.