Sadly, it’s too dark to fish

Sadly, it's too dark to fish

Sadly, it’s too dark to fish

Sadly, it’s too dark to fish

In memory of Bill Lowe 1964-2014

I’ve been lucky most of my life, even luckier to meet really cool people in really cool places. Billy Lowe was one of the coolest. For me this story starts with fly fishing but evolves into a friendship that was so much more. Once or twice in a lifetime we come across extraordinary people, extraordinary people that make us so much better than we really are.  Billy was one of those people. Everyone he met was better for it.  Now, those of you that have had the pleasure of fly fishing know it’s a very special sport. The equipment is beautiful, the motions graceful, and can appear to be in slow motion in real time.  Fur and feathers, artistically tied together to magically fool the fish.  Now along the path of the fly fisher comes the fishing guide.  Some guides will escort you to the river’s edge, point at a spot and describe the perfect cast to entice the quarry. Others may have a drift boat and row you down a river, holding the boat against the current so the fisherman has a chance for the perfect drift.  Bill was a guide of the latter persuasion and quite good at his craft.  A student of the sport, Billy had a great knowledge of the bugs, the equipment, and what method may be our best chance for success.  Really more of a professor than a student, a PHD in fly fishing. He was a renowned casting instructor and consultant of many fly shops and manufacturers.

Brother Billy

Brother Billy

Not all fishing guides are created equal.  In all fairness to them, experience is the best teacher. It is very hard work and days can often stretch to 16 hours. The investment to start, all tolled can run in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Add up the cost of a truck, boat, waders, rods, reels, countless flies, lines and leaders. Throw in gas, lunch, rain gear, cooler, thermos, and with all that, you’re now ready to drop the boat in the water, just the beginning.  To me, the most important part of the guide and guiding, (and what set Billy apart) is philosophy and attitude. I’ll never forget a trip to the Skeena River in British Columbia.  Billy was the host guide and had brought up a handful of NorCal fisherman.  As like most fishing trips, conversations quickly turn to fishing. This dinner conversation followed course.  One of the guests shared how he and his son, on their annual trip, will keep one steelhead to eat.  Billy thought for a bit and then said “They are tasty but you’re really eating my business partners.  Without the fish I’d have no work.”  Not that I hadn’t thought that way before, but that expression really hit home. Billy taught us that every fish mattered.  No matter what size, each one was important. He released his fish with such care.  If you want a photo, get ready and do it quickly.  Too slow and the fish goes back in the water.  Sorry, you’ll just have to catch another.

I’ve been fortunate to have fished in several places with several guides. I’ve often fished the same river with 4 or 5 different guides.  Some seemed glad to see you, others were pissed they got out of bed. Some boats were clean, others hiding old chicken bones from trips past. Billy’s boat was always clean, organized and his equipment was first rate.  For some guides, the job was work, others the work was pleasure.  Billy possessed the philosophy that transferred to his attitude that made each trip a wonderful experience.  Catching fish was a perk, but hanging with Billy was the real treat.  For Billy each trip was a time to teach. Great teachers are great encouragers. Billy was the best. Billy always told me what I was doing right, followed by a tip or two. Some guides will yell at you and focus on what you did wrong. Hey buddy, have a good life. No repeat trip for me.  When we had Billy booked, we knew we were in for a great day.  Could have been raining, windy, very slow, didn’t matter. The day was always great.  Some of Billy’s great advice “if you cast in front of the boat, your buddy can fish too” Or, “In all my years of fishing, I’ve never seen a fish caught with a cast like that, but you never know, it could happen.”. Oh, and we caught fish. As many as we were supposed to I figured.  For me, the saddest part of the day was seeing the take out come around the corner. Billy enjoyed himself too, but was happy the day was over, so he could get home to his best friend and bride Michelle.

Billy was equally as fun off the water. He loved good food, wine, a good cigar, single malt, and chocolate.  Fondly hated cream cheese and mayonnaise and wasn’t a big fan of mustard.  He loved playing his many guitars and listening to music.  He loved the sound of vinyl and old tube amps teamed up with vintage speakers. Music was always in his house, either by his hand or the turntable. Knock on his door and it would be hard to turn down a glass of wine or a beer.  Need a little repair on your waders or reel? Head out to the garage.  Good to go.

Billy always took a keen interest in what we wanted to share.  It could be real estate, food, even a persistent scrotum rash, he was interested.  He always made me feel whatever I wanted to talk about was interesting.  He rarely talked about himself unless it was to say how much he enjoyed a bottle of wine or a recipe.  Oh, and very willing to share fishing tips. No secret spots, secret bugs or “I’ll show you if you book with me.”  No “you should have been here yesterday.” Billy was never threatened by sharing real fishing advice. He knew we’d float again, wade and cast.

So we do our best to go on. We take what Billy taught us and move it forward.  We quote with confidence his expressions.  We are stoked to live every day.  We are cool and we know it.  All our bugs are bitchin and our ideas are right on every time.  We hug like it’s our last and we’re not afraid to show affection to our mates in public.  We have nicknames for everyone and they are always terms of endearment.  I’m Captain Colgan, forever. He’s Billy Bob to me.

Tight Lines Brother Billy. Hope they’re rising every day where you are.

 

Organic chicken thighs with lemon and spinach

Chicken thighs with lemon and spinach

Chicken thighs with lemon and spinach

Organic Chicken thighs with lemon and spinach

Serves 4-6

This dish normally calls for preserved lemons but I was all out. So, I used a little lemon zest with a little juice.  The base from this recipe came from a North African cookbook where preserved lemons are a big staple of their diet.  Preserved lemons are easy to make at home and simply are lemons rubbed in salt,                                                              submerged in brine and cured.

A whole cut up chicken works great but I like the speed and flavor of the chicken thighs. This is a very healthy dish, especially if we use organic chicken thighs and vegetables.  The spices included are recognized as some of the best for us.  Anti-inflammatory, cholesterol busting spices that add bunches of flavor.  This can be eaten in a bowl by itself but brown rice in the bottom of the bowl isn’t a bad idea.

Organic chicken thighs with lemon and spinach

I prefer to use all organic ingredients 

  • 3 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • I rib of celery finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, (about 3/4 cup) peeled and diced fine
  • 1 medium onion thinly sliced
  • 6 oz of washed raw baby spinach
  • 3 TBSP of chopped fresh cilantro
  • Zest from one lemon
  • 1 TBSP of lemon juice
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 and ½ TBSP EVOO
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • Salt and Pepper to tasteDSCN0950

Preheat oven to 300F. Rinse and dry the chicken thighs. Heat medium sized enamel Dutch oven (4-6 qt.) on medium high.  When heated add ½ the EVOO, so it just starts to smoke.  Add the thighs and remaining oil in batches, usually 3 thighs at a time, browning slightly on each side. Repeat until all thighs are browned.  Turn the heat down to medium and add the celery, carrot and onion.  Cook until the onions become soft, about 5 minutes.  Deglaze the Dutch oven with the ½ cup of chicken stock, removing all the nice brown bits off the bottom.  Add in the lemon zest and juice, spices, and cilantro.  Stir, combining all ingredients.  Add back in the chicken and cover.  Bring to a light boil on the stove.  When lightly boiling, put the Dutch oven in the preheated oven.  Cook covered for an hour to an hour and 15 minutes.  Remove the Dutch oven and stir in the spinach, just wilting.  Serve immediately in shallow bowls. The chicken will have released plenty of liquid to pair with the meat.  Put the chicken in each bowl over rice or by itself.  Top with the juice and vegetables.  Adjust for salt and pepper.

Tips:  If you like chicken breasts instead add another 15 minutes or so to the cooking time.  Be cautious not to add too much stock because the chicken when cooking (covered) will release a lot of liquid.  If you think you have too much liquid in the Dutch oven the lid can be removed the last 15 minutes.  Be careful not to dry out the meat.  Your joints should feel better, your nose should run and your heart should sing.  Enjoy!

RED TRI TIP CHILI

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

Fall is chili time in my house.  There is nothing better than a bowl of chili while watching a football game.  There are as many chili recipes as there are ingredients. The name chili coming from the spice (or chile peppers) used to flavor the dish.  I’ve eaten vegetarian chilis, ground turkey chilis, chili with beans, and chilis with beef or pork. Ground meat, chunks of meat, beans, no beans.  I like them all but I put chili into 2 categories, green or red.  Green chili uses the roasted but essentially raw green chile peppers while red uses the roasted, dried and ground red chile powders.  2 distinct but equally delicious chilis.  I also find it interesting the dish is spelled “chili” whereas the pepper is spelled “chile”.  The spelling may be debated but the dish is undoubtedly a cornerstone of great comfort food.  Like soups, stews, and gumbo, chili deserves a seat on the board and a place at the table.  In a world where “fresh” is equated with “best” it’s hard to deny that chili may be better the next day.

Beans or no beans? All inTraditional chili recipes have no beans.  As meat became more expensive beans were added as a filler (and thickener). Most commercial chilis contain beans.  In fact in some of the chilis, they are almost all beans, making it hard to find the meat, even though it’s listed on the package. Some contain several kinds of beans, kidney, red, pinto, white, etc.  When it comes to beans, I like them in red chili but not in green.  Spending time in wonderful SW Colorado, where Pinto beans were a big part of weekly meals, it takes me back home.

RED CHILI WITH TRI TIP

  • 5 lbs. of Tri Tip, trimmed of visible fat and cubed into 1 inches pieces
  • 4 cups of yellow onion diced
  • 4 cloves of minced fresh garlic
  • 4 cups low sodium beef stock
  • 5 cups minced tomatoes with juice
  • 3 Tablespoons mild chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup plus 4 Tablespoons Canola oil
  • ½ cup unbleached flour
  • 1 ½ cups cooked Pinto beans (optional)
  • 1 stalkcelery finely diced (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Trim the Tri Tip (bottom sirloin) of all visible fat and cut into I” cubes.  Heat a heavy stock pot on Cubed Tri Tiphigh and add 1 Tablespoon of Canola oil.  Brown the meat in batches covering the bottom of the pan.  Do not immediately stir.  After the meat starts to release its juices, stir.  Pour the meat (and juice) into a large bowl.  Repeat until all meat is browned.  Turn the heat to medium and add the onions and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes scraping any meat bits off the bottom of the pot.  Add the tomatoes, beef, stock, and beans (if adding) into the pot.  Stir while adding the chili powder and cayenne.  Taste for spice.  In a separate heavy skillet or sauce pan add the remaining ½ cup of Canola oil.  Heat on medium high until the oil begins to smoke.  Make a roux adding the flour a little at a time whisking as you go.  When all the flour is added, continue to stir, browning the flour.  I like a medium brown roux for this chili which is about the color of milk chocolate.  When the roux is done, carefully add to the chili.  It may spit and splatter.  Stir into the chili and turn the chili down to simmer.  Stir frequently.  !/2 hour before serving add the finely minced celery (optional) and adjust spice for heat.  Red chili can be eaten after a few hours of simmering but really gets good after about hour 4. 

Tips:  I like Tri Tip because the meat is moist and tender.  The cut contains enough fat to not dry out over time.  If you prefer ground meat in your chili, have your butcher grind a few Tri Tips.  Some of the supermarkets have gone to a single grind plate (saves them money) but a few of the better stores will still offer a few choices.  The coarsest grind is often called the chili plate, has the biggest holes and leaves the meat in nice spoon filling pieces. Leaner cuts of beef like round or sirloin tip dry out and lack the flavor to hold up to the big chile spices. 

Great with the red chili

Great with the red chili

On the side:  I like to put sharp cheddar cheese in my chili, either white or yellow.  I like the silky texture of the melted cheese against the chewiness of the meat.  The cheese also cuts the heat if the chili is spicy.  I also like to eat my red chili with cornbread, warm cornbread with melting butter and a little honey. 

What about wine?  I like a big spicy red wine with my red chili.  A big foothill’s Zinfandel suits me just fine.  Give me a blue collar bottle that doesn’t back down when the food is spicy.  There are many great choices for less than $15. 

Homemade goodness

Homemade goodness

Grab a heavy bowl, ladle in the chili, drop in the cheese, slice the corn bread, pour the wine, turn on the game and enjoy a great fall meal.  Make a big batch because tomorrow it will taste even better.