Friday, May 29, 2020

Adventures in cheap packaged foods: Underwood Deviled Ham Spread

I was fascinated with deviled ham when I was a little kid. Maybe that was because I had a religious upbringing and anything with devils was alluring. I mean, there’s a red devil dancing right there on the package! That’s so… naughty!

And maybe it was the commercials. Look at the happy people gobbling it up. It must be delicious. It’s ham, after all. Ham is great.

And maybe it was because there was an Underwood Street at the end of our block.

I managed to harass Mom into buying some, and… My child tongue thought it was nasty. And it felt weird.

So, what would I think of the stuff about sixty years later? I tried a bite. My first reaction: gack. But I told myself to give it a moment, let the flavors work. Maybe something nice would happen—something mustardy and turmericy. Maybe it would stop being gritty.

Okay, the gackiness wore off a little. I took another taste. Nope. No more of this. I condemn thee to hell (the wastebasket).

There’s probably a culture, or subculture, or cult (devil worshippers?) to whom deviled ham tastes amazing. I’m not part of it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Some evenings just blow my mind

Shady character

You can tell it’s heating up here at 5,800 feet in southwest New Mexico. Not only have I worn shorts since 10 AM (awk, blindingly pale legs), I broke out my shade netting. Ah, that’s better.

Here’s a link to a previous post about the netting.


Working on the greenhouse door

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Seven years with my gear: SolarWorld 270W solar panel

This is the beginning of a new series where I review the Rolling Steel Tent’s long-serving equipment. Don’t worry, the “food” reviews will continue.

I had watched a bunch of videos and read a lot of articles about solar power and felt I knew just enough to put together a system. According to my calculations, I needed somewhere between 200 and 300 Watts. I preferred to get one large panel instead of two or more smaller ones so mounting and wiring would be simpler. All the experts said to go with monocrystalline cells. So I shopped around and chose this 270W panel made by SolarWorld. The price was about a dollar per Watt.

I turns out the panel was intended for large stationary arrays, not mobile applications, but that hasn’t been a problem. What I didn’t understand when I clicked buy was the 38 Volts the panel could pump out would require a fancy, very expensive charge controller (which I’ll cover in another post).

Despite a few hail storms, and accidentally driving 25 miles on the Interstate with the panel tilted up, there have been no problems. It keeps on generating electricity just like it should. Couldn’t ask for more.

Monday, May 25, 2020

On hold

I was going to start my summer travels today. In preparation, I checked my online bank statement last night and discovered a $139.09 purchase from Best Buy. Nope. Wasn’t me. I informed the bank and they deactivated my card.

The first person on the bank’s support line had a kind, friendly voice. After taking my information she switched me over to the claims department. The woman there sounded like ex-military. Direct, clipped, all business. It was the type voice that left me thinking, “This shit’s going to get done.”

So now I’m waiting “up to five business days” for the new card to arrive at my billing address, which is my mail forwarder in Quartzsite. Then two or three more days for the card to be sent here.

Oh well.

I had already withdrawn some cash, so I’m good there. The only automatic payment I have set up is with Netflix, but I haven’t watched it in a long time, so this is sort of an easy way to cancel that. I’ll need to enter new payment info for the phone and insurance. No big deal.

This was the first ever case of spurious activity on any of my accounts. That’s forty-something trouble-free years of digital banking. As I keep saying, I’m a lucky guy.

An email came just as I finished writing this post (less than a half hour since talking to the bank):

Yup, the shit is getting done

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Local flora

Minor construction

Sometimes it takes me a while (years) to remedy a small inconvenience. Sometimes it takes me a while to come up with the solution. Sometimes it takes me a while to be in a place where I have the resources to make the fix.

The space under my cabinet has been a catch-all for various things. The jack and associated bits used to be there. Then I built a box for them last autumn and they slumber comfortably under the bed. That made room for my shoes to move in, joining my air compressor, change jar, and tripod. But it was rather jumbled under there, and I was either moving shoes to get the tripod or moving the tripod to get shoes.

So yesterday I got a spare piece of plywood and a couple of 2x4 scraps from Lou and built a shelf. Ta-dah!

Now, what other years-old problem can I deal with next?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

New room

I helped Lou start his greenhouse. End walls will be built, a solar powered vent fan installed, weed cloth and gravel laid for a floor, and plastic stretched over the frame.

What’s next?

A year ago this week I began throat cancer treatment with a tracheostomy. I spent the summer receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments, with a spell in the hospital fighting an infection. I got back to nomad life in the fall and winter and made plans for the spring. Then I scrapped those plans when COVID-19 shut things down. I’ve spent the past five weeks at Lou’s place, back where the cancer story started.

Except for a quick loop through Utah, Colorado and northern New Mexico when I first finished treatment, I’ve spent the year essentially along the I-10 corridor, between Los Angeles and southwest New Mexico. That’s only a fraction of my usual annual wandering.

With travel and camping restrictions starting to ease, I began making plans again. Then a strange thing happened.

A tiny part of me started dreading returning to my former nomadic ways. It said, “Ugh, the logistics of life on the road. Charting courses, finding dispersed camping at the places you want to visit, being at the mercy of weather, and all that. And (whine) where is it even allowed these days with the ever-changing pandemic restrictions? That’ll require more research and vigilance. We’re fine here at Lou’s. We’re safe, we’re legal, and we have company. And water and electricity.”

But I realized it was just my lazy side not wanting to get up off the figurative and literal sofa and go figuratively and literally outside. Staying put was easy.

But the majority self—the one with the veto—replied, “Look, you sad little man, we didn’t go through cancer treatment so we could sit on our ass, even though it’s a significantly small one. We’re going. We just need to figure out a few things.”

“Not until after the new maps we ordered arrive.”

“Right, not until then.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

¿Quién es más macho ahora?

I followed Rusty’s tip and ordered some nitrile gloves from MSC Industrial Supply. They arrived today. I got black ones in order to look like a Manly ‘Merican Man® instead of some effete liberal wimp afraid of a little flu bug. The gloves were even packed in a box with a carbon fiber pattern printed on it for Extra Testosterone Fueled Man Power®. And, of course, I got Extra Large to fit my extra manly hands.

What would’ve been really cool, though, are blood red ones like the phlebotomists at UCLA Health wear. Alas, that wasn’t a choice at MSC.

Poking around again

Georgetown Road loops from state road 152 near the Santa Rita Mine, up into the forest, and down to state road 35 at Mimbres NM. About nine miles of sufficiently okay dirt road. I was up there to see what sort of dispersed camping spots I could find. Eh, nothing to get excited about. But there are some nice views.

Rise and shine and rise and shine

The Rolling Steel Tent is parked with the back windows facing east. Each morning, after a few moments of pink-to-amber glow on the horizon, the sun clears the ridge and dazzling light streams into the van.

It’s morning, dude. New day, new opportunities and all that.

Yeah, in a minute. Just let me luxuriate in this a while.

This morning there were bands of clouds along the horizon. So I got multiple sunrise light shows as the sun was revealed and obscured, revealed and obscured.

Woo! Encore! Encore!

Monday, May 18, 2020

I don’t always eat crap

I had a thought during breakfast yesterday. What if I put savory things in my oatmeal instead of sweet? That should work.

It turns out that’s not an original idea. I got thousands of hits when I googled savory oatmeal. It looked like you could use anything you like, essentially substituting oatmeal for rice, potatoes, pasta, couscous… Cool. What did I have on hand?

This evening I sautéed a bit of onion, a handful of mushrooms, and half a zucchini in garlic butter, tossed in some leftover pork roast, a little salt and pepper, and some splashes of Vietnamese fish sauce.

I make my oatmeal with less water than recommended because I don’t like it runny. It’s about the consistency of sticky rice.

It certainly looked good.

It. Was. Delicious! It’s going to become a regular thing.

What’s ahead?

When in doubt about the condition of a dirt road, the standard practice (if you don’t have a drone) is to get out and check. Walk ahead, see what’s up. Does it get worse? How much worse? Is the hoped-for destination worth the risks along the way?

One of the things I look for is signs other vehicles have passed that way recently. Are there fresh or semi-fresh tread marks in the dirt? What kind of treads? Street tires, or only gnarly off-road ones?

Bad photo of recent tire marks—a good sign

I was walking one of those roads earlier today. There were lumps and bumps but totally doable in just about anything other than a sports car. But then I came to a spot where someone had made a multi-point about-face, digging ruts in the soft ground on either side. Someone hadn’t wanted to go farther.

Just beyond, the road tilted steeply to one side—steeply enough to put the fear of tipping in ya, especially if you’re driving a tall vehicle. There was also a risk of high centering. There was no way around the tilt.

I knew I didn’t want to try taking the Rolling Steel Tent through there, but I continued walking along, just to see what there was to see. That’s when I noticed the tracks had an undisturbed layer of dead pine needles and other bits. No one had driven this way in a long time. That told me all I needed to know.

Undisturbed pine needles in the ruts

Sunday, May 17, 2020

While I was out driving around...

I pulled into a rest stop on I-10, between Lordsburg and Deming NM, to avail myself of the restroom. There was a lush ocotillo covered in blossoms, so I made a short video. After I peed.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Singing the blues

Lou recorded this song a couple of years ago, singing and playing both guitar parts. Today he asked me to put it on the interwebs. Here it is.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bare handed

A little over a year ago I bought a box of fifty nitrile gloves to wear while working with greasy things. “Fifty? I’ll never need that many. Don’t they have smaller packages?”

Well, thanks to the virus, I used a lot of those gloves in just the past couple of months. I’m all out. I’ve been trying to get more, but all the stores around this rather small town are out of them. Walmart, pharmacies, auto parts stores, hardware stores…

At Harbor Freight I asked when they expected their next shipment. “It was supposed to be today, but the truck got cancelled. So next Thursday, I guess.”

Lack of disposable gloves at Harbor Freight

Hmmm, what about food service gloves? The closest supplier is in Albuquerque. It costs about $45.00 to have a $3.50 box shipped (which is close to what it would cost in gas to go pick them up myself).

I posted about my glove hunt on Facebook and my friends/family suggested other sources. But one friend (who’s really more of a friend of my former wife, who is still a good friend) messaged me.
I have a bunch of gloves I could mail to you. I got them from Sally’s Beauty supply. If you give an address, I’ll send a bunch to you! Be well.
There are good people out there.

Meanwhile, I’m wearing my fleece gloves whenever I need to go for supplies. Better than nothing, I suppose. I soak them in alcohol afterward.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Adventures in cheap packaged foods: Bumble Bee Sun-Dried Tomato & Basil Seasoned Tuna

Today we have another selection from the world of seasoned tuna. As well as a special guest food critic.

I’m sun-dried tomato fan. And a big basil fan. (I was a loyal customer of a particular pizza-by-the-slice joint in my San Francisco neighborhood because they had basil shakers rather than oregano.) So a combination of the two with tuna? No hesitation.

And, yeah, I think it’s pretty good. However, it’s too vinegary for Lou. He said he might mix it with diced onions and mayonnaise. (But, Lou, mayo has vinegar in it, too.)

So, why is a tuna and salmon company named Bumble Bee? Well, it does roll off the tongue easier than Columbia River Packers Association, or any of the other names it had over the years.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Water bearer

If I’m going to be hiking in the desert (or anywhere, really) I’ll need to carry water. That’s kind of Rule Number One.

The low budget solution would be several plastic bottles in the day pack I’ve had for years (yet rarely used). But fishing bottles out of the pack whenever I want a drink is inconvenient, and having them flop and rattle around while walking/climbing is annoying.

Or I could go with a dedicated hydration pack. That would mean extra cost. And I’d want to carry other things besides water, like maps, camera, emergency gear, clothing layers, and food.

So I got this highly rated Platypus 3 liter hydration bladder to carry in my day pack. Unlike some day packs, mine doesn’t have a special pocket for bladders, but there are several internal compartments that can do the job.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Adventures in cheap packaged foods: Great Value Fully Cooked Corned Beef

I grew up in a culture that didn’t know corned beef was salt cured brisket. Hell, we didn’t even know what brisket was. To us corned beef was compressed flakes of pink meat that came in a can—either by itself or as hash—and was served in slices, usually with a fried egg, maybe on a sandwich. And that it tasted different from “regular” beef. We would’ve called it “tangy,” because “spicy” was way outside our frame of reference. Mostly, of course, it was salty.

So what would I think of canned corned beef now, not having eaten it since I was a kid? Would my adult tastebuds, my resurrected post-radiation therapy tastebuds, find it comforting or revolting?

I tried some straight from the can. Um, edible. Not horrible. Then I heated up a slice. That was better. Overall, I’d rate it in the middle of the Love-Hate scale, somewhere around Eh, Whatever.

I know there are more interesting things that can be done with corned beef. Mix it with this, season it with that, etc. However, I haven’t missed corned beef all these years, and I probably won’t miss it in the future. But if someone is going to serve it, plain or fancied up, then yeah, okay.

UPDATE: Speaking of mixing the corned beef with other things, I added some of the green chile elk sausage with it, and some string cheese. Quite good.

Another day of exploration

The original plan was to go north from where I’m staying in Mimbres and then drive up McKnight Road into the eastern part of the Gila Mountains. However, I discovered I would have to drive through the Mimbres River. I got out, looked at the depth and width, and decided, eeeehhh, I might be able to make it just fine, but I’m not in the mood to try it.

So I continued north on the highway to North Star Road (state road 150). No water crossing required. The first part of this unpaved road, from the valley up to the 7,000± foot ridge, had some bad washboard, then things smoothed out quite nicely. Spur roads and dirt tracks through juniper trees led to many dispersed camping sites, often with two or more bars of Verizon signal. (General cellular rule: good signal on ridges, little-to-no signal in ravines.)

Plenty of sites like this

North Star Road becomes state road 61, running over 50 miles through the southern Gila Mountains, crossing the Continental Divide Trail along the way, dropping in and out of pine-filled gullies.

I had crossed over the divide when I thought to check my gas gauge. Doh! I had forgotten to fill up before setting out. I had a quarter tank, which always seems to disappear faster than any of the previous three quarters. Hmmm, where would the closest gas be and how far could I get before running dry? I did the arithmetic. Thirty gallon tank divided by four equals seven-and-a-half gallons. At about sixteen miles per gallon I could get something like one hundred-twenty miles. Since I’d be coasting downhill at least part of the way, let’s say a hundred-forty miles. Could I count on there being gas somewhere to the east, north or west? How far? Or do I play it safe and turn around? Caution won the day.

On the way back there was a spur road and a sign stating MIMBRES RIVER 1 MI. I had enough gas for that diversion. The road got narrower and lumpier, then even narrower—essentially one lane—as it switchbacked down to the river. I could see a roomy dispersed campsite ahead, surrounded by pines and cottonwoods. I chuckled because I’d need to drive through the same river that had thwarted me earlier. But the water was much shallower. No problem.

Ah, such a nice place to spend the day.

Then other people started arriving. A couple of moms with kids. An angler. Two more that left when they saw we were already there. Popular place. My mellow was becoming harshed.

I got thinking about that very narrow road. And the drop-off on the switchbacks. And encountering oncoming traffic. And how I suck at backing up. I decided I should probably leave.

As I topped the switchbacks and got to where the road widened just a bit, a truck came the other way. Then, just before North Star Road, a mini convoy of three Tahoes rolled past me in a cloud of dust. I was glad I didn’t meet them on the switchbacks. It seems I have good luck with these things.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Forget something, Craig?

Today I found this biodegradable soap at a dispersed campsite instead of the usual beer cans, cigarette butts and shell casings. Poor Craig. Putting his name on it still didn’t keep him from losing it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Where am I going, and is it a good idea?

There are many times I prefer an empty road. Peace, solitude, decreased chance of a collision, etc. But there are times when it makes me anxious. Like when I went exploring in the Gila Mountains this morning.

I had a good idea where I wanted to go: from Mogollon to Preserve via National Forest fire roads. I had studied the atlas and Google maps, and there were squiggly lines going from Point A to Point B. Too many lines, some of them leading the wrong way, some leading to dead ends. The atlas showed which parts were unpaved, but there are degrees of unpaved, ranging from smooth as pavement to passible only by goats. I decided the only way to know for certain was to just go.

The forest road out of Mogollon features a sign advising high-clearance vehicles. But how high is high? The road is rather narrow and littered with small stones. But no mud or sand, no ruts, and only brief patches of washboard. As I drove, I thought, okay, this is doable. For now. But what if it gets a lot worse? What if I realize it’s too gnarly for the Rolling Steel Tent and me only after I’ve passed the last place to turn around? What if something breaks?

A couple of miles along I came upon a couple with a pickup, standing by the road, looking at the scenery. Okay, I thought, so I’m not the only fool up here. And if I have some sort of trouble, they’ll probably be along and might help me. I relaxed a little.

Not long after, the couple caught up with me. I sensed I was going too slow for them, so I pulled over at a wide spot and let them pass. Oh no. Now what if I needed help? The road hadn’t gotten bad so far, so maybe things would be fine.

It’s a nice day up among the conifers

I continued on, becoming more confident as the road got no worse, enjoying the adventure.

Then I came upon a couple of guys in an official looking truck. I thought they might be there to stop me, turn me around, because of conditions ahead. They just gave a nod and a little wave. Cool.

Around a couple of bends I saw why those guys were there. A front-end loader was smoothing the road and shoving fallen trees and rocks out of the way. Ah, so this little fire road was important enough to maintain. People besides crazy retired van bums use it. As if to demonstrate that point, a lady in a Nissan Merano came from the other direction. And then a couple of dudes in an old Tacoma. (There are always dudes in old Tacomas in the forests and deserts.) Then a rancher in a Silverado. And another in a Ram. Yay, I’m not alone up here!

About 9,000 feet up

Perhaps best of all, there were directional signs. As if they expected bozos like me to wander up there without knowing the way. Signs! Pointing to my destination. Reserve, that way. Yes. Thank you very much.

So my just-go-and-find-out strategy was successful. I suspect I’ll be exploring more of these mountain roads. At least until I get too confident and end up in a fix.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Adventures in free meat

This isn’t a food blog, but here I go again.

One of Lou’s neighbors gave him a hunk of elk sausage about the size of one’s forearm. Lou appreciates neighborly gifts but isn’t a fan of wild game, so he asked if I wanted it. Sure. I tried a slice of it today.

I was forewarned by W GREEN CHILE on the label. New Mexicans love their chiles. They offer license plates proclaiming the state is Chile Capital of the World. (Not to be confused with Santiago, the capital of Chile.)

It was very tasty, nothing gamey about it. Then the heat started to build. And build. Not to the point of pain, but pretty much overpowering any other flavors. The elk meat became little more than a medium to deliver chiles. It’s fun, but not something I’d want to make my main source of protein. It’ll take a long time to consume it all. Unless I pass it along. The gift that keeps on giving. And warming.

UPDATE: I experimented dicing some of this up and mixing it with corned beef (see May 9 post) and string cheese. That cut the heat, and the combination was quite good.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Customer feedback

Butterfield rest area, on US-180 between Silver City and Deming, New Mexico