Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day Off

Balloons flying over camp this morning!

Today was the rest day for most of the tribe. A few chose to ride the optional ride through Pope Valley: 48.2 miles with one pretty intense climb of about 1100 feet over just a couple of miles. Many tribe members chose to explore the shops and restaurants in Calistoga; a venturous couple headed off to the mud baths; ten of the rowdies headed off for four hours of winery exploration with Joe as their chauffeur. Jack and I chose to ride for a couple of hours before preparing the nights feast.

Dinner tonight: fish taco night. Tossed green salad in a raspberry vinaigrette, grilled rock cod and corn tortillas with all the trimmings, cilantro lime coleslaw, shrimp quesadillas with mango salsa, basmati rice, grilled peppers and onions with tofu, and a beautiful cheese tray featuring two fabulous French style cheeses from the Marin County Cheese Company complete with dates and fruit! This tribe is in love with cheese and wine! I saw quite a few cases of wine come back from town as well as some lovely olive oils.

Tomorrow is a 52.8 (give or take depending on your choice of measuring devices)mile day. Lunch stop is in the Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve; one of the few Redwood groves left. The alternate loop of is a pretty intense ten miles with a big climb and a HUGE downhill! The next two days have more of the same for alternates: we'll see how many dare to climb!

We stay tomorrow night at Casini Ranch on the Russian River. It's an eclectic campground in a pretty eclectic area! Hopefully the kitchen we have tonight will be in working order! New menu tonight: Jamaican theme! I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Best laid plans......

The tribe at dinner: Aaron's sampling of tonights fare.

What a day for the tribe today! Up early to beat the heat, we fueled them up with pancakes and scrambled eggs for a long hard day of climbing in and out of the wineries.

The ride today is gorgeous, miles and miles of vines and amazing, huge wineries. 73.1 miles to be exact. The heat today topped at 103*F. Not any fun to ride in! The tribe was pretty well shot when they got into camp. Thank goodness for a layover day tomorrow.

The new menus that I wrote for the tour got all shot to heck today. I had planned on utilizing a kitchen for some great new entrees to treat the tribe to. The kitchen we had last year was amazing. The one that we got to today was not going to work. The oven didn't work, there was not place to set up except on the black asphalt, no fun in this heat. So, plan B. A shady spot near the tribe with water and a pavilion with a cool breeze!

So, no oven roasted herb chicken with fall root vegetables tonight. We fell back on the old favorite, Greek Lemon Chicken; marinated veggie pasta salad; spiced rice and lentils; steamed asparagus; eggplant & portabello strata; fresh breads from the Model bakery in St. Helena; (A must when you come through the town!); and cappuccino nanaimo bars for dessert. It was a good menu for the heat.

Only one mishap today: Sarah and Lilly crashed while ogling the wineries. No serious injuries, but some pretty good road rash. It was cute to hear Sarah tell Lilly; "you know, when you ran over me it wasn't too bad! You're really light!". Cute.

Tomorrow is a good day for a layover. Walking distance into Calistoga, Joe's planning a wine tour for 10 lucky individuals, a 48 mile optional ride, or just plain hanging out. Sounds good to me!


The camp ground at Spring Lake: Mechanic Joe hard at work: Chief Kevin, hard at work?

SKUNK: 1a) A small carnivorous New World mammal of the genus Mephitis, having a bushy black tail and black fur with white markings that ejects a foul smelling oily liquid when frightened or in danger.
2b) Not what you want to wake up and see staring into your tent at 2:00 in the morning.

Today's ride completed, the tribe gathered at Spring Lake Park for some R&R and bonding after a pretty easy first day. The park is adjacent to Spring Lake and is acres of brown grass and California Live Oak trees. Everything is so dry due to a late heat spell in the valley. The temperature was right at 100*F most of the afternoon. It was nice as it cooled down in the evening!

Dinner tonight consisted of a wedge salad with bacon and hard boiled eggs, carrot raisin salad, honey spiced pork chops, Russian fingerling potatoes, yellow vegetable curry and pound cake with strawberry rhubarb sauce for dessert.

The the couple years we have been staying here we have never seen a critter other that tribes of squirrels that are more interested in gathering nuts than they are in bothering us. SO, we thought nothing of leaving the snack kit out next to the truck during the night. I suppose we should never trust what we cannot see! We could not see that there are raccoons and SKUNKS in the park. We were introduced to them at 2:00 in the morning. I had the fly tied back on the tent to enjoy the night breeze. The little Le' Piue thought it was so that he could come visiting! Have you ever woke up with a skunk staring into your face? I screamed. Kevin heard me scream! Because I didn't scream twice he figured everything was ok. Jack woke up and we contemplated how to rid ourselves of a skunk without being doused in eau de' skunk juice. You know, you really can't. We let the little guy run around camp and explore for a couple of hours. He visited Aaron and we know he investigated Joe's truck. Just about the time he decided to leave for the evening his buddy Rocky Raccoon appeared. HE was interested in the snack kit. Jack got up and tried to shoo him away. He would look up at him and tried to figure out if Jack was serious. This went on for awhile until he finally high tailed it up the street. Critters.

We backed tracked today on the way to Santa Rosa to the Marin French Cheese Company, the oldest continually operating cheese factory in the United States, to pick up some great French style artisan cheeses to serve later in the week. The cheese company made history in 2005 by beating the French in the famous International blind tasting. A must see what you go through the valley!

Tomorrow is the long day for the tribe. Going to be a hot one!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chantrelles & Cheese!

The new Chief, Kevin; Aaron's bike and Aaron after 21 days on the road; Chantrelles! Yumm!

Farm Fresh has begun! After four weeks off I am ready to cook for the tribe one last time this year! And, I hope to make this a specially delightful culinary experience!

After a day and a half of driving, (thank you Jack!), we reached Petaluma on Saturday afternoon. We were greeted by throngs of people attending the Taste of Petaluma as well as the Vietnam Memorial Gathering. Petaluma is the weekend get-away for the people of San Francisco. It is close enough for a day trip and there is no shortage of great restaurants, antique shops, brew pubs, and planned community activities. We had a great lunch at a local pub and then met up with my "cheese connection".

Last year at the Ferry Building's Farmer's Market at Fisherman's Wharf I discovered a small Cheese Company from just outside of Petaluma. I was looking for the "perfect" cheese to compliment the Spiced Pumpkin and Lentil Salad that I was planning to prepare on the trip. One taste of Achadinha Cheese Company's Capricious aged goats cheese, I was sold. Another one of those "Jack tried to keep me on budget" moments! I won. The cheese is amazing and I was determined to track down more for this trip. I met up with Donna, the owner & cheese maker at a booth at the Taste and not only was I successful scoring a wheel of Capricious, I snagged a wheel of their Broncha cheese as well. The Broncha is an aged goats cheese made on 7/21/09, a mild quiet morning on the farm! It is a semi hard cheese that is complimented with a "touch of blue". It has a creamy, semi tart, mildly pungent flavor that lent well to the pasta feature of the night; bow tie pasta with fresh chantrelle mushrooms and grated Broncha cheese. YUMMMMM! You can find the company on line by googling Achadinha Cheese Company, and if you are lucky you to can partake in some fabulous cheese. They also have a goat summer sausage that we found to be subtle in the goat flavor and very very good. Tell Donna that I sent you!

The tribe all gathered quite early in the afternoon on Sunday and we are off! Aaron joined us on the last day of his trip down the coast; looking forward to riding in the truck and eating mom's cooking! Good job Aaron! Our new fearless chief on this trip is Kevin, his first tour on his own! He has a great support staff, including Joe the Mechanic who completed leading the Northern Tier Self Contained ride a couple of weeks ago. Congrats Joe and good luck Kevin!

Tonight's dinner was: Spinach salad with cherry tomato medley in a white balsamic vinaigrette;salmon fettuccine with peppers and fennel, linguine with pesto; artichoke hearts & kalamata olives; bow tie pasta with fresh chantrelles & Broncha cheese; sauteed zucchini & carrots, fresh French breads & Nanaimo bars for dessert. This is going to be fun!

Tomorrow's ride is a bumpy back road adventure to Santa Rosa for a night in the State Park, and then on to two days in Calistoga. The weather is hot: 90's today and tomorrow, then should cool down a little as we head to the coast. So follow along and we'll see what mischief that we can get into!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chef Kathy Rants

Ok you guys: I know I'm not perfect, but give me a break! I was privilaged to read the reviews of all the summer trips on Sunday. So, I have not had a good nights sleep since then. My obsessive compulsive brain just won't let go of the not so good comments. I should be able to justify in my silly little head that I can't please everyone all the time and that I do make mistakes, but I have chosen a career (is that what this is?) of trying to please everyone every time! Poor Jack has had to listen to me rant for the last four days. Says I take it way to personal. Me? No way. It feels to me that the more effort I put into the menues, the quality of the product that I serve, the more critical my audiance is.

(I do want to say, before I get started, that we did recieve many great comments and reviews! The critisisms were the minority, I just obsesse about them. I do want to thank all of you that appreciate what I do and are supportive of us! THANK YOU!)

Do you realize that in the last 15 years I have catered 84 bike tours. 84 times the average of 70 participants. 5,880 people have been privy to having catered meals in some of the worst conditions imaginable: I love cooking in 107* heat or sleeting hail. 5,880 people, 3 meals a day: 17,640 meals. 17,640 meals for the average of 6 days of touring: 105,840 individual meals I have prepared. And I'm not perfect? Should be! Don't you think? And of these some 5,880 people that I have catered to, some 806 of them have "special needs" that I try to accomodate while feeding everyone else! That's 4,836 sandwiches that have to be made seperately!

If there is a food allergy, intolerance, preference, like or dislike, I have just about seen it all. I'm supposed to make them all happy all the time!

So: here's my rebuttle: I'm a "chef" so I'm allowed to rebute.

Ok, I put you the vegetarians name on a chicken salad sandwich ONE TIME. You indicated no red meat. It was chicken breast.

You don't want any foods with hydrogenated vegeatable oil? Margarine was all I had in the truck. I will try to provide butter from now on, but bring your own REAL maple syrup. Yes, I can put more of my budget into providing it for you, but forget the seafood feast at Bayview State Park. I do that beacause I want to share our fabulous local fare. It's not in the "budget", just ask Jack. And I won't splurge and buy the amazing cheeses in the wine country. Jack tried to reel me in on that one, but I won. They were good!

If you don't want a rice and lentil wrap, Veggie person, there is ALWAYS peanut butter and jelly and bread at the lunch stop, as you suggested.

Hate my job? What did I do to deserve that one? Oh, I know: your darling youngster took 14 pieces of watermelon, 6 ears of corn and 15 desserts. (who's counting?) Maybe I wasn't gentle enough in addressing this issue during the week. For that I apologize.

More fresh foods: what do you think $2000.00 of organic, sustanably grown produce is doing in the back of my truck. I didn't pick it fresh that morning. I did in Colorado, but that opportuinity doesn't come up in Utah where nothing grows. Guess I could have served cactus.

Yes, the bananas on the last day were a little soft. They were not mushy! But it's still a banana. Good fuel!

And about recycling: I try to recycle whenever possible, but it's not my fault the majority of the states that we're in don't recycle. I drove around following a park ranger in Borrego Springs for an hour trying to find a recycle for glass: the state cut their recycling program because of budget cuts, and Montana has to ship the glass too far so it's not cost effective. And what is the logic behind, "wasting our time washing dishes to cut the amount of garbage when we don't recycle?". We are saving almost 4 large bags of trash a day on the low end by washing our own dishes. I will, however, try harder to recycle. I cannot haul it 2000 miles home. Though, at home I am a recycling maniac. Just ask Jack and Scott.

Breakfast on the last day was cold? It was in a chaefer with sterno, but when you show up 3 minutes before breakfast is over, you're having a good day because there was breakfast. AND: we're outside for goodness sake. It's cold out here. Hint: I have on long johns and a hat.

About food safety: I have my food handler's card. As well, I am HACCP certified by the State of Washington. My restaurant was recognized for our food safety practices in our county. I sat on an advisory board with the health department for two years. I think I know a thing about food safety. 106,000 meals later, I have never had a food borne illness outbreak. If you had a tummy bug on the last day that you think was from your sandwich, I don't. No one else got sick. Sounds like a tummy bug. And, I don't make the sandwiches the night before. I got up at 4 that morning to make them before breakfast. (I did make the sandwiches the night before on Washington, but had a fridge to put them in.) I have thrown away 50 pounds of lunch meat in Colorado because when I tempt the cooler, it was not in the safety zone. Oh yeah, I do know what that is by the way. I have tossed out breakfast sausage, eggs, chicken, and much more because I was not comfortable with it. Jack makes fun of me because I smell everything: the nose knows.

More protein at breakfast? Tough one when you don't like eggs. There is always a bowl of walnuts with the oatmeal. Great source of protein. I will never, as suggested, put out a bowl of protein bars. Logic behind this? History has shown that when a group, presented with an unlimited supply of gooddies, will pack every pocket available with extra bars that will then get packed to go home. One year the comment was made that I should provide a blender and protein shakes at the water stops. OK.!!!

Yes, I am ranting. Not being really nice? Just frustrated. I really do try to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone. AND I DO APPRECIATE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITISISM.
But you don't have to be mean. Mean is reserved for me at 5:30 in the morning. Just ask Jack. I am constantly learning and changing on these tours. I have had many suggestions from participants that are great ideas! But just know, I am not perfect and I can't make everyone happy. I will, however, keep trying as long as you'll have me.

I love what I do. I have a passion for what I do. (There are days that I really question why I am doing this to myself.) (My family questions my sanity quite often.) But, I will keep on keeping on. Hopefully I'll see you on your next tour and we can laugh about my ranting. And, I'll try to be nice. :)

Pickled tomatoes and Peanut Yam Tofu

Ok ok. It has taken me awhile to let go of this recipe, but I have been busy! After getting home from Oregon I had a garden full of veggies to can, crab to catch, and a trip to Vegas with my best friend! Priorities you know! Vegas was a blast and we'll see how my pickled green tomatoes turn out!
Here is the recipe for Peanut Yam Tofu. This is the "involved" from scratch recipe. It is amazing, but there is a short cut that I will post at the end. Serve this over steamed rice or fresh rice noodles! You can use the dried noodles as well. Some of the ingredients may be a tricky to find: kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass can be found in all Asian markets. If you can find Frozen minced lemon grass it is great to have on hand, just keep it in the freezer. It is fromGolden International Co. Also: beware of the fish sauce. If you have not used it before it is very potent. A little bit goes a long way. Funny story about fish sauce: when I owned my catering truck that we named Norm, (As far from normal as you could get), Dad built a spice rack along the edge of the Granny's Attic for me. I had a bottle of fish sauce, industrial size, stored on this shelf. Of course it wasn't really secure. It didn't survive a really big bump, I guess. It spilled all over the inside of the truck and leaked into the cab. We could never keep the windows closed for any long period of time after that as the smell would just about kill you! Don't spill the fish sauce.

Peanut Yam Tofu:

2 tablespoons canola oil : 1 cup chopped onion : 1 cup diced red & green peppers : 2 cloves garlic, minced : 1 tablespoon chopped lemongrass : 3 kaffir lime leaves or 2 tsp grated lime zest : 1 teaspoon Thai curry paste : 1/2 teaspoon curry powder : 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk : 1 cup chunky peanut butter : 1/2 cup milk : 1 cinnamon stick : 3 bay leaves : 3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce : 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar : 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice : 2 teaspoons tamarind paste : 1 large can unsweetened yams : 8 ounces firm tofu

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, peppers, garlic, lemongrass, lime leaves, curry paste and curry powder: saute until tender. Stir in the coconut milk, penaut butter, milk, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, fish sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, tamarind paste, yams and tofu. Heat through over meduim heat, smashing the yams as it cooks. It will thicken as it sits: serve over cooked rice noodles or steamed rice.

Ok: the shortcut: Saute your veggies and add 2-3 cups of Yoshida Gourmet Sauce and 1 cup coconut milk. (Gourmet sauce is available at most grocery stores or Costco). Add peanut butter and curry powder, yams and tofu. Cook until heated through, smashing the yams. Not the original thing, but it is quick and easy!

This recipe is great with chicken or shrimp in it as well. Have fun with this!