Labor Day

She sits
She sits on a folding chair
She sits on a folding chair in the sun next to a flatbed truck piled high with corn
It’s 92 in the shade but there is no shade
Just sun
And a truck
And corn on the cob
Parked in the lot of an abandoned mall
Cedar Mall
Cedar Mall, the shopping mall that delaminated the downtown of Owatonna, Minnesota
I pull up in a rental car
Now a stranger in my own home
I pull up and get out
I pull up and get out and I ask how much
Five dollars a dozen
Five dollars a dozen for the best corn on the cob
Bought off a flatbed truck
From a girl who sits
In the sun
On a folding chair
A strand of brown hair falling over her face
Is this corn local you ask, making conversation
Just making conversation
Her face falls like it will fall again, a hundred times, a thousand
No, it’s from Rochester

Recipe: Corn on the Cob

Most of the time, I think I can improve a dish, tweak it here, add a couple ingredients there…make it mine. Make it better. With corn on the cob, not so much. People grill it or cut off the kernels and saute with red pepper, etc. etc. And I’ve done all that. But really, you can’t improve corn on the cob much beyond butter. Salt. Pepper.

First, get good corn. Local if you can. Or from Rochester, that’s OK. Buy it from a flatbed truck, not a grocery store. Certainly not Walmart.

Then bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. The water should be as salty as sea water. Put your corn in and cook for 3 minutes. That’s plenty. Melt some butter. Maybe squeeze some lime into it. When the corn is done, paint it with the butter and lime using a pastry brush. Salt. Pepper. Use good salt, not iodized.

That’s it.

Eat Well.

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Bean There/Done That

By popular demand (as in someone asked) I am sharing my recipe for black bean and corn salad.  This is a summertime staple, I make a batch a couple time a months in the warmer months, or when attending those things we used to do in olden times, backyard BBQ picnics.  This salad is great with a slab of salmon, a grilled chicken thigh, some tri-tip…a cold, clean white or rose wine is your go-to with this, or your house beer, in my case Pacifico.  I haven’t measured proportions on this in 20 years, so take these with a grain of salt and your own taste.  Boiling up your own black beans probably improves this dish, but I never seem to get around to that.  Adjust ingredients to your own taste. Regardless, putting this together several hours before eating so that the flavors meld together is highly recommended.

This recipe has a good lime tangy brightness.  If you don’t like that, back off on the lime. 

Black Bean and Corn Salad

One can black beans, rinsed

Equal amount corn (fresh is best, frozen works fine)

One cup chopped spring onion, red onion or green onions. 

One half red bell pepper, fine dice

Optional – One whole chopped jalepeno pepper (ribs and seeds removed)

¼ cup chopped green garlic, OR two cloves minced regular garlic

1 cup chopped cilantro

Chopped mint to taste (I use 10-12 leaves, cut into chiffonade)

Other chopped fresh herbs as available (oregano, marjoram, chives, lemon thyme…)

Salt and pepper to taste

Lime Vinaigrette Dressing

Juice of 2 limes

¼ cup EVOO

TBS ground cumin

Pinch cayenne

Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously.

Combine salad ingredients and toss well.  A couple hours before serving, drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss again lightly.  Expertly adjust seasonings. 

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John’s Not Authentic Pork Chili Verde

You asked for it, here it is. I love this in the autumn – tomatillos are in season and the salsa gives it a bright, clean flavor. Kick it up with as many jalepenos as you like. Please resist the urge to use canned salsa verde. It will not taste even remotely like this dish.

Pork Chili Verde

1-2 lbs pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes

Onion, coarsely chopped

1 carrot, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, diced

16 very small new potatoes (I like the multi-colored ones) OR 1 large russet, chopped bite size 

1 cup each frozen peas and corn

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup reserved tomatillo cooking water

Chili Verde Salsa

8 large tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed well.

1 poblano pepper, seeds and white parts removed

1 jalepeno pepper, seeds white part removed (optional)

4 cloves garlic

Half an onion, coarsely chopped

Salt to taste

Large bunch cilantro (with stems)

To make salsa

Put tomatillos, peppers, garlic and onion in boiling water.  Cook until tomatillos are soft, about 15-20 minutes.  Remove veggies from water and let cool.  Reserve cooking water. When cooled, put veggies and cilantro in food processor with a ladle or two of cooled cooking water.  Pulse and then process until smooth.  Add more water if it’s too thick. It should be the consistency of dipping salsa.  Salt to taste. Set aside.

Assemble the stew

Add pork chunks to dutch oven or large cast iron pot on medium high with a bit of olive oil.  Brown well.  Add onion and carrot, saute 3 minutes.  Add garlic, cook a minute longer.  Add chicken stock and one cup reserved tomatillo cooking water.  This should about cover the pork/veggie mixture.  Bring to a boil then reduce to very low simmer and cover.  Simmer on very low (a few bubbles now and then) for 1.5 hours. Liquid should have reduced by about half.  If it gets too low, add more chicken stock and reserved cooking water.

Add potatoes and 2 cups tomatillo salsa.  Cook 30 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender.  Add peas and corn and cook 5 more minutes on low heat.  Correct seasonings.

Serve with warm tortillas and grated cotija cheese. Best with cerveza, but a hearty red wine works too.

Serves 4.

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Le Renard

I fed a fox. 

She came up on my deck and sat on the lounge chair at night

Hid my rubber sandals and knocked over plants

I left her some cool water and kibble

And she stayed awhile

But the neighbors complained when their chickens and cats disappeared

So I quit leaving her food

No more fox.

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In the Soup

A few nights ago, I dreamed that I was fly-fishing for steelhead in a river of potato leek soup. It would be reasonable to conclude that said dream was the result of too much garlic in the spaghetti sauce, but it would take an alarming amount of the stinking rose to affect my dreams thusly, given the copious amounts of it that I consume on a daily basis, usually to no discernable effect on my evening chimeras. 

More likely, this dream was due to my thoughts turning, as they will, to an upcoming excursion with the Birddog. As my partner in crime – my codelincuente, if you will – the Birddog accompanied me about ten years ago on a Missouri River trout-fishing trip in Montana in early October. Our luck holding as per usual, it snowed eight inches the night we arrived in Craig and temps plunged into the single digits. Did I mention that this was early October

Amazingly, a few fish took pity on us and impaled themselves on our drowned nymph lures (pheasant tails and zebra midges, if you must know) and we were… um… hooked. Over the next few visits to The Mo (as the locals call it) we caught on to the game, finally netting over a hundred trout between us in two days of angling (no whities counted; all rainbows and browns caught and released). These days, of course, we tie one hand behind our backs and fish only with floating dry flies, usually stalking visible, feeding fish. It bears noting that our efforts are amply enhanced by the services of guides like (Big) Dan Kelly and (Captain) Mike Guerin. 

Somewhere down the tracks, our fishing trips started to morph. Inspired by the likes of Jim Harrison, Russell Chatham, Tom McGuane, Richard Brautigan, and Guy de la Valdene, we began to cook our own dinners and pack our own shore lunches. Craig, Montana, boasts a decent restaurant that approaches fine dining, called Izaak’s (of Walton fame). There you can get fried walleye, bison steak, rib-eyes, double-wide pork chops, and pillowy ravioli. The drinks are strong and the waitresses are co-eds on leave from one of the local colleges (by local, I mean within 150 miles). Despite the existence of this perfectly serviceable eating establishment, the siren song of the cabin kitchen beckoned, and we began to book lodgings with a keen eye to cooking for ourselves. 

If memory serves (and it does so decreasingly), our first attempt at fly-camp cooking was in Maupin, Oregon, where we were chasing the salmon fly hatch on the famed Deschutes River. Due mostly to ineptitude, we had little luck with jungle fishing for the rainbows known locally as redsides, but the trip was made memorable by the nice batch of linguine vongole I whipped up on a Coleman stove. (Note to self: don’t set up a propane-fired camp stove on a plastic table ever again.) After this first al fresco attempt at fine dining, we realized that our culinary efforts would be better served with modern conveniences like stoves and refrigerators, not to mention cabinets stocked with pots, pans, cutting boards, and the like. Knives are another matter: when not subjected to the inspections of our fine TSA agents, I bring my own cutlery (classic Wüsthof blades suit me fine). 

Over the years, our cooking efforts have ramped up considerably. We’ve had BBQ ribs with home-brewed ancho chili sauce; T-bones and filet mignon smothered with compound butter; venison; pork shoulder braised several hours in tomatillo sauce; Flintstone-esque pork chops; panko-crusted pan-fried walleye; grilled quail painted with reduced balsamic vinegar; pasta with hot Italian sausage… you know, the usual. Last year’s Umpqua trip featured wood duck breasts wrapped in prosciutto and pan fried to medium rare, then finished with a honey and sherry vinegar sauce in the Italian style of sweet and sour. 

The side dish to the wood duck breast was equal to the main: Thomas Keller’s leek bread pudding. It is a concoction at once airy and spectacularly rich, the main ingredients being bread, leeks, cream, and eggs. Once you have had this so-called “side dish,” you will never go back to common bread dressing again. You can thank me next Thanksgiving. 

Speaking of sides, they are by no means at the margins of our meals. We often invest significant energy and effort into accompaniments like heavily-garlicked creamy polenta, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes studded with chanterelle mushrooms, sautéed chard, creamed spinach, salads made in the Greek-style, and sautéed French radishes. Desserts are an afterthought – think Pepperidge Farm cookies dunked in Laphroig, a peaty, smoky Scotch from the Isle of Islay.  

I would be remiss not to mention the shore lunches, which by necessity are more casual dining experiences, eaten standing up and without plates or cutlery. Sandwiches fit this bill nicely. Most guides are understandably less than enthused about putting together lunches in addition to their considerable catalog of professional chores, many of which are undertaken at 4:00 in the morning. Better that they focus on the fishing and let us take care of the eating. Our waterside repasts often include my version of the muffaletta sandwich, made famous by the Central Grocery in New Orleans. This sandwich stacks ham, salami, and mortadella meats with provolone and a spread made of both green and black olives. My other sammie specialty is roast beef piled high with thick slabs of red onion and sliced pickles. These have received the fishing-guide equivalent of a Michelin star. Last summer we went south of the border and made tacos, wrapping leftover tomatillo-braised shredded pork in soft tortillas with homemade pico de gallo. An ice-cold bottle of French roséfrom Provence met its match. A speckled brown trout was taken from the very next riffle – the perfect dessert. IMG_2498 (2)

I’m not sure why I dreamed about fishing in potato leek soup the other night, as this dish is not on the menu for our upcoming trip. A Freudian therapist would no doubt have a field day with such subconscious meanderings, but I am far less interested in what the dream says about my sex life than I am about the inexplicable fact that I did not taste the soup. Too much garlic? Not enough salt? Now we’ll never know. 

You might be thinking that these excursions are more about eating and less about fishing. If so, you should be disabused of that notion. The fishing here is serious, save for the goofy headgear that has become my “brand.” Last summer I hooked numerous rainbow and brown trout wearing a pith helmet of all things, an accoutrement that my Belgian work colleague admired with a single caveat: “It’s vaguely racist, though.” Tell that to Melania Trump. The winter prior, I landed a steelhead that surpassed sixteen pounds while wearing a Harris herringbone tweed flat cap. This haberdashery is a bit of tom-foolery – just trying to not take myself too seriously, a problem to which I am prone. 


Angling for the leviathans we seek is serious business (hats notwithstanding), and you’d better be ready – not to mention intensely focused and “in the moment,” as they say in Buddhist circles – lest you have not only your hat handed to you, but your rod shoved up your backside. Oregon winter steelhead are the Mike Tysons of fish, back when he was still a serious boxer and not a parody. Give me a couple of words to describe them and I will hand you “mean” and “angry” for starters. These are not worm-sippers dabbling your bobber; they slash at your sunken yarn egg pattern like stream-dwelling serial killers. When the strike indicator dives, you drive that hook into the heartless mouth of the steelhead with everything you’ve got. You know in a second whether you are hung up on some sunken old-growth Douglas fir or you have hooked up with underwater thunder. If the latter, any wandering thoughts of poaching a New York strip steak with fresh herb butter to a perfect medium rare go out the window. Nope, your mind and body are now joined in a zen-like effort to bring your fish to the net. A stray thought – say of the “bikini hatch” you saw last summer floating down the river in rubber inner tubes – will leave you limp-lined and defeated. 

Fly-fishing and cooking are two endeavors where “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” (as Jim McKay used to say on Wide World of Sports) are closely juxtaposed; it only makes sense to me that the two be combined. It’s amazing what a perfectly braised lamb shank – its meat falling off the bone and plonked into a bowl of creamy polenta – will do for you after your soul has been crushed by a screaming steelhead trout that snapped you off, the fish equivalent of extending you its middle finger. Maybe combine that shank with a bottle or two of Barolo and/or Barbera and you are soon sailing down Recovery Road. The moon comes up; the moon goes down. You live to fish another day. 

Upon further review, it occurs to me that I might benefit by increasing the number of activities in my life that require walking the tightrope between victory and defeat. Let’s face facts: those are two sides of the same coin, and you can’t have one without risking the other. If you’re like me (and I know I am), you live most of your life too near the middle of the road. Doing so leaves you only dreaming of steelhead, rather than catching them. Better to rouse yourself, get on the river once in a while, and get your line in the water. 

Braised Lamb Shanks (enough for two hearty eaters)

Set oven to 325 degrees.


2 good-sized, bone-in lamb shanks

Salt and pepper

Half an onion, coarsely chopped

Two large carrots, coarsely chopped

One whole head of garlic

One large can of tomatoes

Half a bottle of wine (red or white; either is good) 

Two sprigs of fresh rosemary


2 cups of beef broth (homemade – so much better than store-bought)

Season the shanks with the salt and pepper and brown them in a Dutch oven. Make sure they get a good brown crust on them. Remove from the pot. 

Put a little olive oil in the pot and sauté the onions and carrots. While they are sautéing, empty the tomatoes and their juice into a bowl and crush by hand, leaving them in fairly large chunks. Add the wine (white will give you a lighter sauce, red a richer one – both are good; it just depends on your mood). Bring the wine and vegetables to a rolling boil. Add the tomatoes, broth, rosemary, and thyme. Cut the head of garlic in two latitudinally, as though you were going to roast it, and add both halves to the pot. Add the lamb shanks and any meat juices that have accumulated. The shanks should be mostly submerged. If they’re not, top up the liquid with more wine and broth.

Put the pot in the oven and cook for 2 hours, checking periodically to make sure the shanks are still mostly covered. Top up with wine and broth if needed. Once the meat is falling off the bone, remove the shanks and tent them to keep them warm. Carefully skim the fat from the remaining liquid, tipping the pot to one side. Once most of the fat is off, take out the woody portions of the rosemary and thyme. Remove the garlic halves and squeeze out the garlic cloves.  Mash the softened vegetables with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon. Reduce the remaining liquid until it becomes a thick sauce and serve over the lamb shanks.

I like to put some nice creamy polenta in a bowl, stick in the shank bone pointing up, and then ladle some sauce around it. This makes for a pretty dramatic presentation. As for wine, this is the time for a badass Italian like a super Tuscan or Barolo. A French Rhone would do just fine as well. After a meal like this, it’s Dream On. 

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Haute Dish: Green Bean Casserole

In honor of Dorcas Reilly, the inventor of the Green Bean Casserole and Campbell Soup Kitchen Supervisor, who passed away on October 15, 2018 at the age of 92, I re-blog this post. The website with her recipe got 2.7 MILLION hits last Thanksgiving. In a fair world, her recipe would have made her rich. Sad to say, she just had to settle for famous. RIP Dorcas.


Late last summer, I had my first chance to visit Brooklyn, which might well qualify as the current poster child for upscaling. Yuppies, having been shagged out of even the Lower East Side, have flocked to Brooklyn’s neighborhoods and transformed them. A walk through Park Slope or Williamsburg or Crown Heights, which was once a matter of taking your life into your hands, is now dangerous only in that you have to watch out for Lululemon-encased mommies jogging at midday while pushing their spawn in designer turbo-strollers. Despite that minor annoyance, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is gorgeous, and is every bit as pleasant as Manhattan’s more famous Olmsted-designed open spaces.

Such upscaling is not necessarily all a bad thing. Park Slope, Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and a dozen other Brooklyn neighborhoods, once dens of decidedly dark-side dealings, are today as safe as pie – “sanitized for your protection,” as a friend…

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Aioli All Wrong

Jerry:  Are you still master of your domain?

Elaine:  I am queen of the castle! 

Recent events in the kitchen left me head in hands, brow furrowed, my inner voice suggesting not-so-nice nostrums. I had ruined the homemade aioli, and in the process wasted two cups of impossibly expensive olive oil from Italy. And by ruined, I mean I’d created a separated, watery mess of egg yolks, lemon, garlic, and mustard from Dijon, France. A mess by any measure. Ish.

So, you may be asking, why go to the terrible trouble of making homemade aioli when a perfectly acceptable facsimile by Hellmann’s or Best Foods can be procured at every market in America? To that question, I can only reply: Have you ever had homemade aioli? It is to store-bought mayonnaise as Iberian jamon made from pigs that eat acorns under cork trees is to Hormel Black Label. Like so many things, it is the same, but different.

How this culinary disaster, this cocina catastrophe, happened is partially beside the point. Suffice to say that being in too great a rush is a situation with which I am all too familiar. Sensei says: Speed up by slowing down. In layman’s terms, I added the oil too fast, thereby preventing proper molecular emulsification. Turns out, making aioli is a chemistry experiment. Who knew! You can’t just dump the oil into the lemony yolk and mustard mixture; you have to drip it in with patience and practiced intention. Flub this process and you end up with a ruined mess of mayo-not-so-much. And not just a little off — I mean all the way ruined, in the “totally unusable” form of the word. In FEMA terms, an inedible Irma.

So there I stood, rubber spatula in hand, staring ashamed into the unusable, unsavory mess in my KitchenAid. Before I could get around to tossing the whole shebang down the Insinkerator, I decided to check in with the patron saint of home cooks and Francophiles everywhere to try to figure out how I had gone so horribly wrong.

Julia Child to the rescue.

Some time back, I procured a treasured volume of the book Julia and Jacques Cook at Home from Culpepper Books in Tacoma, WA, my former base of operation. Culpepper’s is a splendid little cranny, nooked into brick block between a bank and a very nice Italian joint called Europa Bistro. This bitty gem of a bookstore has an exceptional cookbook section. In addition to JJ@H, I have procured several other cooking books, including my de rigueur copy of Larousse Gastronomique. JJ@H reads as much like a work of fiction as a collection of recipes, with the key literary components of conflict, crisis, and resolution all present.

In the section on making your own mayonnaise, I learned that aioli is a lot like life: It is simple, but not easy. Aioli is important. Its creation is among the most elementary, foundational skills of cooking, but it is also oh-so-easy to screw up.

A frequent construct of the book is for Jacques and Julia to offer different approaches and techniques for the same dish. In her section, Julia not only offers tips on whipping up the perfect aioli, but devotes a lengthy section to its resuscitation if it should break.  DON’T THROW AWAY a separated aioli, she admonishes; it can almost always be resurrected. In fact, learning how to salvage this sauce is a critical kitchen skill on its own, because sooner or later, no matter how skilled one becomes, a moment of inattentiveness will cause you to bungle it. Madame Julia goes so far as to suggest ruining a batch on purpose, so you will know how to repair it when the time comes.  Acquiring this skill, she says, will provide the home cook with a profound sense of accomplishment and mastery. The idea is that fixing something is often more satisfying than creating it perfectly in the first place. It’s like The Nordstrom Way, but in the kitchen instead of women’s shoes.

You can read the full instructions in the manual (RTFM to my engineering friends), but here is the gist: Place a dab of Dijon (the mustard, not the town) in a metal bowl and whisk in a tablespoon of your dreck. As this emulsifies and thickens, keep adding more dreck in minuscule increments, all the while beating it as though your life depended upon it.  Before long, you will have a half a batch rescued, and then you can add the rest faster.

Following the tutelage of my patron saint, I saved the mayo, if not the day. And Julia was right about that mastery thing too. Seldom have I been so proud of myself.

There is a life lesson embedded in there somewhere, but I’ll resist the urge to emulsify you with it, my gentle readers. Suffice to say that while you can save a ruined aioli, you can’t un-grill an overdone steak (a particular bitch if you just took out a second mortgage to pay for that porterhouse, even at today’s low, low interest rates).

So am I the Master of My Domain, the Lord of the Manor? Depends on what time of day you ask. Thanks to a teaspoon of inspiration from Julia Child, though, for this one glorious moment, full of grace, Yes I Am.

Julia Child’s Food Processor Aioli

If you want to be super-authentic and become known as a true kitchen ninja, you can do this with a metal bowl and a hand whisk. I have done it this way, but it makes my wrist sore. 




2 large egg yolks (save the whites for something else; they are always nice to have around)

1.5 tsp. good Dijon mustard (the smooth stuff, not the whole grain)

1 tbsp. lemon juice (from a Meyer lemon, if you have one)

Dash each of salt and pepper

Up to 2 cups good oil (this greatly affects the taste of the dish; for a milder flavor, cut a good EVOO with canola oil).

Pulse the first 4 ingredients in your food processor until they are well combined. With the blade running, slowly (and by slowly, I mean excruciatingly so) drizzle in the oil — one drop at a time to start, then a steady thread, and finally a stream. Augment with minced or roasted garlic and/or finely chopped fresh herbs like parsley, chive, or chervil.

Eat Well.

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The Krummholz Effect

My dad and I were tramping around the area of Dungeness Spit some years ago now, back when he could still tramp around. Dungeness Spit is a 5.5 mile-long comma of sand and driftwood on the top end of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, a spit that curls out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Dad loved this kind of excursion – he always found something interesting, something that few others would take notice of. Along our walk, we encountered some oddly misshapen fir trees, terrifically gnarled and bent over, their branches brushed not haphazardly but in a single direction, as though they had been styled with a brush and half a can of Dapper Dan. Donald Trump had nothing on these comb-overs. 13935d75f6b5b0f242808b0517376fdd

“Ah,” my father said. “Look at that!” He pointed at the contorted conifers. “Great example of the Krummholz Effect!” I had seen such trees before – especially in undeveloped, deserted coastal areas with harsh weather and constant, often howling winds – but I had not previously heard there was a technical term for them, beyond maybe “windblown.” Always the scientist, my dad went on to explain that trees exposed to harsh weather and prevailing winds become severely stunted, with growth only possible on the leeward side. They are typically seen at sub-alpine locations at high altitude, so it was especially interesting for my father to see them at sea level. “It must blow like this here all the time,” he conjectured, our jackets luffing in the gale. I simply nodded. Of course it did.

After a typical lecture on the subject of the Krummholz Effect – how it occurred and under what conditions – my father paused, gazing over the spit and the strait. It was a cold, clear, windy day, and we had great views to the north over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with Vancouver Island clearly visible in the distance. Dad finally said, “You know, Dr. Moyle used to call me Krummholz.” I was slightly stunned. To my knowledge, my dad had never had a nickname in his life. People either called him John or Mr. Idstrom. To me, he was only Dad – never Pops, or Papa, or Pa-Paw. Not even Father. I didn’t dare call him my old man, even out of earshot. So a nickname? Breaking news to me. He was a not a nickname kinda guy.
Being a tad curious, I inquired as to why Dr. Moyle – a man I had heard him refer to many times as his mentor – called him Krummholz. My dad simply held up his left hand.

I got it.

Two digits of that hand were bulbous and bent, twisted not by a prevailing wind but by alarming encounters with 1) a house fan (middle finger knuckle knocked off) and 2) a pistol (ring finger accidentally shot straight through while grouse hunting). I nodded in understanding and he added nothing further to the conversation. Collars popped and fists jammed in our pockets, we humped it back to the car.

Of course I knew Dr. Moyle, or rather, knew of him. As a newly minted biology major from St. Olaf College with an abiding interest in hunting and fishing, my father’s first real adult job was in Dr. Moyle’s lab. In the mid-1950s, young men who liked to hunt and fish did what they could to sign on with the Department of Conservation’s Division of Fish and Game (as it was called at the time). My dad was lucky: he had a relative in the department who helped him get his foot in the door, banding ducks and performing other grunt work during summer breaks. Degree in hand, he managed to snag a seat at the bench in the lab of one of Minnesota’s first great wildlife biologists, Dr. John B. Moyle.

Dr. Moyle is legendary in Minnesota’s conservation biology circles, but I didn’t need to conduct a Google search to know that. Throughout my young life, my dad would periodically mention him when passing on a lesson about frogs, wildflowers, snakes, bats, or the various sub-aquatic plants one finds in a healthy freshwater marsh, in the way one might footnote a research citation. I never met Dr. Moyle, but he clearly impressed my father and those impressions were passed along, almost genetically, to me.

Although both injuries maimed my father more or less equally, it was the shooting accident that most impressed me as a kid. When he was 19, my father was hunting grouse outside of Remer, MN, where his mother’s cousin Irene and her husband Walt owned a cabin (“The Shack,” as Walt called it) on the shore of Little Thunder Lake. How Dad accomplished the feat of almost blowing off his finger is a complicated story that involves a shotgun, a pistol, and a wing-shot ruffed grouse. The grouse ultimately fared even worse than Dad’s knuckle, which, as I said, was blown pretty much to smithereens but not completely off. The bagged bird was plucked, roasted at high heat, and eaten, rather than preserved for posterity via taxidermy. In hindsight, it would have been cooler to be able to point out to my buddies the bird specifically responsible for my dad’s mangled finger, but c’est la vie. Impressively, after shooting himself, young Krummholz wrapped his mutilated hand in a bandanna and drove to Brainerd, the location of the nearest hospital emergency room. (Those familiar with the movie Fargo, by Minnesota brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, will appreciate the irony of a bloody accidental shooting in the general vicinity of Brainerd.)

As for the nickname, it did not stick. I knew and hunted with many of my father’s coworkers and never heard any of them call him Krummholz, or any other name but John. Perhaps it was because Dr. Moyle’s reference was scientifically half-baked, an observation that did not stand up to scrutiny. Sure, the hand looked like a tree whose gnarly limbs were shaped by relentless, unremitting stress. But even cursory research would have revealed that the contortion was the result of a catastrophic event, not an ongoing experience. I guess the lesson is that if you want a nickname (or a metaphor, for that matter) to stick, a surface observation alone is insufficient. As we know, even a leap of faith requires some modicum of physical evidence, a platform from whence one might make the jump.

The whole story of my dad’s nickname and his gnarled hand came to me the other day when I was driving along California’s Highway 1, hugging the Pacific coast between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, where there are several excellent examples of cypress trees that are Krummholzed all to heck by our persistent and stiff westerlies. The boughs and limbs of the trees up and down that section of highway, particularly just south of Pescadero, are combed over like Donald Trump after a visit to the beauty salon. After being reminded of my dad, I got thinking about Krummholzing – not necessarily as natural effect, but as (surprise!) a psychic metaphor. Eureka! We all live with various injuries, some of them visibly apparent and, like my father’s fingers, the result of accident or incident. More often, we suffer from an invisible disfigurement of the soul, caused by something parallel to the prevailing winds: the constant drip-drip of the bad voices within us. The nearly imperceptible whispers of these voices make us emotionally misshapen; their subsonic, howling mental gales mold us into who we are. They are the unseen Krummholz Effects that somehow manage to twist and bend our lives. Stupid, lazy, incompetent, unworthy, undesired, worthless – stop me any time. It’s these flatulent interior winds that screw us sideways. The problem, of course, is that their effects are never visible to the naked eye until it’s too late – if you’re like me (and I know I am), it takes the equivalent of a psychic colonoscopy to even see we have a problem here, much less to get Houston working on a solution.

Thankfully, I have come to recognize a reliable symptom that tells me I am Krummholzed there and back, and it should come as no surprise to my gentle readers that it involves food. Roasting a whole chicken the same way, with the same side dishes, every Sunday night for months on end? Sure, you may have perfected the crispy skin and the gravy that goes with the mashed potatoes and creamed haricots verts – but talk about boring. One day you look up and find yourself Krummholzed! Don’t get me wrong: I love myself a perfectly roasted whole chicken, and although it requires few real culinary skills, it does take practice and some attentiveness. But if you ask me, sticking with one “signature dish” for too long is a surefire way to ruin the fun of eating.

Sometimes it only takes a small adjustment to cure the Krummholz Blues. The other day, after walking my ancient, creaky Labrador (yes, we have our similarities) on his regular 1.5-mile loop, I realized that I hadn’t really noticed my surroundings for several weeks. Any practitioner of Zen Buddhism – or even the newly popular, religion-stripped practice of California Mindfulness – will tell you that walking a half hour with no notice of your surroundings does not contribute much to your psychic well-being. The next day, I walked the same loop but on the opposite side of the street. Holy cow, did that do the trick! I may as well have been strolling in a foreign country. One house needed a new paint job; another had torn out the front grass and planted a gorgeous flower garden…stuff like that. To call it a revelation would be overstating, but it was nonetheless startling to realize how different things looked from the other side of the street.

So my advice, to you and to myself: Walk on the other side of the street once in a while. Take a different route to work. Forego the blueberry muffin and try the one with kale. And for goodness sake, spatchcock that chicken! Recognize the signs that your psychic limbs are being twisted and that the prevailing breeze is of your own making. Straighten that spine.

Spatchcocked Chicken

If you haven’t spatchcocked a fowl before, now is the time to learn. A spatchcocked bird retains all its bones and ligament (the stuff that keeps it moist and juicy), but makes for quicker cooking and a nice, uniformly crisp skin.
Really, it’s quite easy. Flip a whole chicken on its breast, spine up. Using stout kitchen shears and beginning at the Pope’s nose, make a cut just to one side of the backbone, all the way to the neck. Then do the other side, removing the spine from the bird. Now crack the breastbone with a butcher knife so that the bird lies flat. Voila, you have spatchcocked your first bird!spatchcocked-chicken

Next comes the fun, creative part that keeps you thinking. A spatchcocked bird is perfect for the grill, and any one of a zillion preparations will do once you have that bird flattened out. You can certainly slather it with BBQ sauce, preferably something made at home. Or whip up a marinade with garlic, lemon, olive oil, and fresh rosemary. One of my favorites is to mix up a nice sludge of Moroccan spices like ground cumin, coriander, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, cayenne, clove, salt, and pepper. Add a splash of olive oil and some mashed-up preserved lemon (Thomas Keller’s recipe for preserved lemon in his seminal Ad Hoc at Home book is recommended reading). The mixture should resemble a thick paste. Rub this paste all over both sides of your spatchcocked chicken and put it on a medium-hot grill. I like to start skin-side up to render off a bit of fat first, then finish skin-side down to prevent scorching.

This dish would go nicely with some Israeli couscous, a simple arugula salad, and perhaps a glass or two of California zinfandel.

Eat Well.

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Get What You Need

Since we are soon approaching Thanksgiving, I am bringing back this post about the MOST important food of the day, Mashed Potatoes. Read all about it.


What do you really need?

The question came up this week when my friend Chef Gordon Naccarato posted a question on his award-winning Pacific Grill Blog (  about sweet potato casserole with marshmallows:  Necessity or abomination? 

It got me to thinking about Thanksgiving necessities. For example, I’d be delighted with a large stuffed salmon over a turkey, especially accompanied by a largish platter of Penn Cove Selects as an appetizer.  Pecan pie, cherry, or key lime could sub in for punkin and I’d be fine with that.  Stuffing?  Make mine bread, cornbread, oyster…it’s all good to me.  Veggies?  Brussels sprouts are the tradition around my home, but I’m good with lots of options there. Sufferin’ succotash anyone?

If you’re like me (and I know I am), it’s all good.  Still, there is one Thanksgiving dish upon which there can be no discussion, no compromise, no negotiation.  One dish so modest…

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Mr. Jones Goes on a Field Trip

Another oldie but goodie from your intrepid reporter.


Something is happening and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

–Robert Zimmerman
Hibbing, Minnesota

I was feeling in need of some adventure the other day, so I grabbed my passport and shuffled my wing tips on over to a place I had read about in the business section recently, but had somehow never noticed in my travels. Not that this is place is difficult to miss; it is a non-descript building in a suburban strip mall, in perhaps the most forgettable town I know — Federal Way, Washington. Harry Potter must have loaned his invisibility cloak to this place.  Verily, it disappears from sight.

My field trip destination was a place by the beguiling name of H-Mart — merely typing those six characters makes me suppress a yawn. Still, I had been intrigued by the article I read, which announced that this Korean-owned, New Jersey-headquartered outfit…

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