Friday, July 11, 2008

Set Your TIVOs

For Sunday night. HBO is beginning its production of Evan Wright's Generation Kill.

I read his series in Rolling Stone when it was first published and later bought the book. I thought it was one of the better things I ever read about actual combat. He did not minimize what was going on, there were some truly horrible things which happened during the initial, fast paced push into Bagdhad. Thing was, you came to love these gritty Marines.

Later I also read the memior of that unit's Platoon Leader, Nathaniel Fick, who wrote the beautiful One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.

What struck me was that reading these memoirs, written without any contact or communication between the two authors, was that the stories jived. They dovetailed perfectly. Both on the events that took place, and the effect that those events had on the Marines who were right in the middle. That speaks volumes as to the truth of the recollections. That's an amazing thing in a combat memoir. Combat can blur all perceptions. Many times there were things that I remembered vividly, things I felt had been seared into my memory, that turned out to have been seen in a totally different way by others who were also there. Memories of combat and battles is like trying to describe a party that you only saw by looking through a tube from a roll of paper towells. Vision is restricted and most of the time restricted to the very immediate front of your sight lines. This didn't happen here.

This was a light armored Marine Force Recon outfit. They were the "pointy end of the spear" in the invasion of Iraq.

This is very well worth a long look. If you don't have HBO offer to take a cake or something over to somebody who has it. Camp out. Watch this.


Friday Random Ten

We're having a pretty lazy morning. My sister is driving down from the north to collect her daughter after an extended visit. There's a show that culminates the drama camp another sister was running tonight. Other than that it's about nibbling through left overs and taking it easy.

Here's the soundtrack for the morning, courtesy of "shuffle."

Where Were You? - - - Jonathan Brooke
By Myself - - - Mel Torme
Ay, Te Dejo en San Antonio - - - Flaco Jimenez
The Empty Page - - - Sonic Youth
Try It One More Time - - - Allman Brothers
Plastic, Fantastic Lover - - - Jefferson Airplane
Catch Me In The Morning - - - Doug Sahm
The Shape I'm In - - - The Band
Sugar Mountain - - - Neil Young (live, acoustic bootleg)
I've Got a Crush On You - - - Linda Ronstadt/Nelson Riddle

Bonus Track: (the one playing right now)

Mr. DJ - - - The Conquerors (very rare sixties reggae)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Best Mexican Food In The World

Is at Camacho's Place. You hear restauranteurs talking all the time about the importance of Location. Here's the truth of that. If you have a good location you can serve shit burgers and people will come once to savor the view. If there's enough traffic you will never have to worry about steady or repeat business.
If your food is exceptional, people will flock to your door.

I set out this afternoon about 12:30 to be there to pick up the order I made by calling Maria Camacho at home last night. Just making the order took about half an hour because I had to give her an update on every single one of my kids, all my sisters, promise to tell my cousin, the brilliant attorney's partner hello from Maria and her son. All that good, honest local stuff.

The first landmark on the drive is The New River, or as we locals call it, Shit Creek. This is one of the most polluted waterways in the world. One mouthfull of this water can quite literally kill you.

Coming up out of the river basin, you see Billy Hale's horse operation.

Billy has some of the most prized cutters and penning stock in the West. You can take one of his ponies into a feedlot pen looking for the mostly black one with a white splotch over its left eye and once you put that horse on the cow, that cow will be forced out of the herd, and coaxed to where ever you want it to go. All you have to do is hang the fuck on. Once one of these guys gets a bead on a cow they drop into that pea picking stance and they fucking explode at light speed in what ever direction they need to go to get the job done. Nothing like a cutting horse to show you how superfulous a rider really is on a working ranch. Billy has also been kind enough to offer a very reasonable boarding set up for my arabs come September. Stud fees from Casey are involved, I don't think Casey will mind a bit.

Next is about eight miles of this:

But don't relax too much. If you miss the turn, you'll have less than a mile before you're across the border. Chertoff's fence hasn't happened yet. Here's the thing to remember, when the pavement ends you're in Mexico. Act accordingly. Lucky for us all, there's a high voltage transmission line at the road we need to turn left on.

Before I quit drinking I still managed to miss that turn a few times.

The next landmark is Farmer Ed's feedlot. This is an old fashioned farmer's co-operative venture. Hay farmers pool their resources to have a ready market for their overages. There's some damned fine beef here. The main breed is Brangus. Regular Angus cows can't take the desert heat, Bhramas taste like shit but are hardy as hell. These aren't anywhere near as tractable as the Angus beeves, but that's why Billy's horses are such top notch masters. One of Billy's Bulldog Quarter Horses will not only make that cow do what ever you want, they will humiliate the poor horned critter too.

Right across from the feed lot they are cutting a field of Timothy.

This is a great smelling crop, normally, driving past something like this I would roll down the windows and inhale deeply. Sweet, country hay. Smells great. Since there are about 3,000 cows on the other side of the road, I just keep driving.

Back down into the New River Basin to cross Shit Creek again.

Up the bluff, past Danny Phillip's Cattle yard. Another 5,000 goddamned cattle.

Then we're here. Camacho's Place, established in 1946.

The place started out as a country store, but Maria Primera, being a tender hearted soul, began making tortas and burritos for the field hands and vaqueros. Word got out and folks started showing up for cooked food. It is pure Norteño cuisine. Poor people's, working people's food. It is wonderful stuff. The parking lot is always full. People start coming in at 7 a.m. and will eat steady until 9 p.m., except on Mondays (closed) and Sundays (they open after Mass, when ever after Mass happens)

That's the original counter from the store, those are the original reefer cases too. They still work.

That's the main dining area. Those dark brown beams are the main framing of the building, and the family houses. They started out as railroad ties, but when the Southern Pacific discontinued its runs to San Diego they left all this fine timber lying around and Tapio figured "Porque no?" There are ten consecutive years of Blue Angels portraits on the wall. It's a rite of passage for new members of the Angels to come here and taste real Mexican food.

I don't know if you can make out the headline but it's about how the Skipper of the Blue Angels was surprised by his crew. They flew from Pensacola to NAF El Centro, picked up his birthday lunch and flew back. Your tax dollars at work.

Here's the three generations who have owned and operated this fine restaurant. The fourth generation (and the third Maria) are here now.

The food comes and I drive the same road back. Once at home I spread out the goodies.

Quesadilla Especiale Take an uncooked tortilla round, stuff with cotija and jack cheese, crimp and fry. Total, gooey, lucious, goodness. Also something you won't find anywhere else. This is Norteño Pocho style. Delicioso.

Arroz, Salsa Roja, y frijoles. Each one of them exquisite.

Rolled tacos. Machaca, and cotija cheese, rolled in home made tortillas and fried to a perfect crispy but not crunchy texture. The perfect mixture of crisp and chew.
There were also some flat tacos, which are exactly the same, the machaca and the cotija are flash fried together, then shredded lettuce, diced tomatos and grated jack cheese are added. I blew the picture, sorry, they're all gone now. I only got two dozen of them. Nope, I didn't blow the picture at all, just blew the order of them. Now it's right These beauties below are the tacos. Probably the smell and the anticipation drove me temporarily insane and shit.

Every thing on the menu here is homemade, from local ingredients. It's all so very good. Especially since the folks here have been family friends forever. That makes it extra nice.


Monday, July 07, 2008


One of the first things that you'll notice is that this is essentially a Salsa Bandera with avocado added. And yes, this wonderful stuff uses the same ingredients and techniques. Since the Salsa Bandera post covered most of the technique points I'll concentrate on the other essentials.

I'm expecting Arizona relatives to stop by for lunch on their way to San Diego. I'll be going to the world famous Camacho's Place, that legendary Mexican food restaurant in the middle of nowhere on a ditch bank between the cattle feed lot and the hay company. Expect some pictures on that sometime tomorrow. Since Camacho's is where I learned about things like Guacamole I make it myself and concentrate instead on the other fine food that they make.

For Guacamole, the first step is to halve, seed, and skin the avocados. Since there are a grip of folks stopping by, and they'll be hungry, I'm using six avocados. For a Gaucamole you want your avocados to be slightly soft to the touch. Being fussy while you choose your avocados makes all the difference with this. Be ruthless.

After you've cut the skinned halves into fairly large chunks stick them into a big bowl. This is a great time to drizzle the chunks with a good dose of lime (or lemon, depends on what fruit is better), I'm using the Mexican Limón, what a southerner would call a "Key Lime" except that the Florida Keys think that trailer parks and tourist dives are better use for the land than citrus groves, they buy the limes for their pie from Mexico. These limes are small and I used the juice from four of them for the first drizzling. This will help to keep the avocados from turning brown. (more on that whole turning brown issue later)

For proportions, figure on one tomato and one onion, diced small for every two avocados. Use the Salsa Bandera techniques for seeding and removing the pith from the chiles. I'm using fresh from the garden jalepeños. The amount you use is quite simply a matter of personal taste. I used five this time. All this gets dumped right into the bowl and the potato masher is hauled out and you work it into a nice, chunky sauce.

For extra heat, should you desire extra heat, you can always add in more jalapeño, or, grab the old Tapatio® and give it a healthy shake or two.

Keep at it with the potato masher until your Guacamole is a consistency that you prefer.

Serve as a dip, with tortilla chips (these are some blue corn chips that I just made), serve as a condiment to be put on tacos, enchiladas, chimichangas, hot dogs, hamburgers, or just about any damn thing you want.

Give it a try. You'll love it. Make sure that you play around with the proportions of the ingredients. Make this wonderful sauce your very own.


Sunday, July 06, 2008

Lattice Crust Cherry Red Raspberry Pie

This is one of my favorite pies. I doubt you noticed, since you're not like around me and stuff, but posts like the last two about SERE and torture take a fucking toll on me.

I needs me some big time comfort food. Ain't kidding. I about capped on some poor slob in San Diego last Friday. My nerves are frayed and my temper's short. That can be fucking dangerous for innocent bystanders. When Ranger, who stalked the same jungles as I did, notices that my language has gotten decidedly salty, it's time to calm the fuck down and shit.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour (when a recipe calls for pastry flour use this 2 to 1 mix)
2 tablespoons super rich butter powder, optional* (You can usually find this at a Cake decorating store and, while optional it makes a huge taste difference)
1 cup shortening (or if you're like me and don't give a fuck use Lard)
1 whole egg
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup ice water

I use the stand mixer for the initial mixing. It's easier and more thorough. First the shortening (this time it's Crisco Butter flavor) and the flour are cut into one another for a full mix.

Now, I switch to hand mixing because a lot of this goes by pure feel. This is where cooking becomes art, a lot of the texture of the crust depends on things like the barometer and relative humidity. A crust that will be flaky and crisp but still tender just has an indescribable feel when it's in the dough stage. The only way to get that feel is to make a lot of pies. Now the liquid ingredients, the egg, the ice water (ice water is important, no substitute or shortcut will do) and the salt are all working into the dough. When it is done, you will have a smooth, mostly elastic dough. It looks like this:

Separate the dough into two discs and wrap one closely with plastic. Put that into the fridge and roll the other one out, put it into a pie pan.

Trim the excess crust to about 1/2", cover closely with plastic and put that in the fridge too.

Now, on to the filling.

Ingredients for Pie filling

10 ounce package of frozen red raspberries, thawed
2 cups pitted canned pie cherries in juice
1 1/4 cup baker's sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Drain the thawed raspberries, reserving the juice. Add enough juice from the cherries to make 1 cup.

In a sauce pan mix the sugar, cornstarch, salt, cherries and the cup of juice. Over a medium heat bring to a simmer and hold for 5 to six minutes. The mixture should be somewhat thick and clear. It will burn like hell itstelf if you get any on you so be carefull. You can add up to another tablespoon of cornstarch a teaspoon at a time (3 teaspoons=1 tablespoon) to thicken the mixture more according to your own preferences. If you add cornstarch be sure and simmer the mixture at least two minutes to keep that nasty library paste aftertaste from happening. When the juice returns to thick and clear, remove from the heat, stir in the butter until it is well incorporated, set aside and allow to come to room temperature.

Put that into the bottom shell and set aside. Now, take the disc in the fridge out and roll it flat and thin. Cut that into 1" strips. Lay the strips across the pie so that they are almost but not quite touching. Starting from the center, fold every other strip back halfway, lay a strip down crossways.

Repeat this until the pie has a nice, woven lattice all the way around. Trim off the excess and crimp.

Shield the edge of the crust by cutting a circle of foil enough to cover the pie, fold that in half, cut out all but about an inch and a half from the center, and shield the edge with that.

Bake on the center rack at 400° for fifteen minutes. Remove the foil, and reduce the temperature to 350°. Bake for another 40 minutes. Note: Be sure to have a foil covered cookie sheet or something beneath the pie while it's baking to catch any drips and bubble overs. When the top crust is golden brown, remove and cool completely (overnight is best, but four to six hours should do well enough).

Remember to try to pretend humility and be gracious when you accept your acclaim for serving this wonderful pie. False humility is its very own fulfulling pride.