cooking for 8 or 15 – The Man Cave is missing the wide screen.

I’ve been through this routine before. What are we working on? Who is showing up? What time are you getting there?

Have you any guess as to how many variables go on into a simple trip to Lake Havasu? Over the years I have become accustomed to just being there. Showing up and doing whatever. Now, since my skills are no longer needed behind the wrench replacing a motor, or testing for an electrical short . . . which I still get called for those; The crew I see when I go out to Havasu has become somewhat institutionalized into anticipating some creation from me, all while they sit back and watch. Well they rarely ever sit back and watch as there is always a piece of equipment (toys) to work on to get ready for the next day. The group out at this place in Havasu has found an additional strength in my capabilities as a trade off, so they are willing to keep me away from the equipment repairs and back to searing up the latest catch (not really . . . Havasu?) or ‘Q’ing up the chicken. They also know they are not going to get something ordinary; I’m gonna be kickin’ it up somehow.Johnny's Teriyaki Chicken Skewers.

By the questions asked in the first paragraph, I attempt to rationalize any decisions for how much food I should be preparing, how I should be serving, and what foods are folks going to like; but I have to deal with a lot of unknowns. Just the question of timing is difficult. I just have to be ready to flex and be ready to go “game on”, basically at the drop of a hat. I could be the only person there prepping my dinner, and suddenly 15 people show up . . . and they’re hungry and thirsty, having just arrived after a 5 hour drive from the Los Angeles area.

I just begin creating after my own 5-hour drive from San Diego; actually I have been creating for three days. Did  some prep-work the day before and have been working on a menu for the last few. But, am I cooking for 8 or 15? I plan for 15 . . . don’t know why; because the norm is around 8-10. As any good cook would know, to always recognize that someone else will show up, yet reserving the thought that I might have some leftovers to use for next morning’s breakfast.

Another of the variables I have to deal with is if there is equipment that needs fixed, worked on or pulled out and started. You see, there is a massive toy garage that houses many boats, motorcycles and other manly toys. This is one of the biggest and best man caves I know of. We even have the next level being planned; to add a projector with drop down retractable screen. You see, we don’t watch too much TV out there, but video is the only thing missing from the cave, so we figured we will make it retractable.

Anyway, that story was written some time ago. I really don’t know when. Me seems to think it was from my last trip well over a year ago.

Lake Havasu was a get-away for me, as I’m sure it is for many others. It was a place I had frequented about 3 times a year. When I had to get away, . . . I had to get away. These were usually guy-trips but I would usually always see some of the wives or girl friends from other friends and sometimes their kids . . . even some of the now older kids. I don’t really remember who is always with who. Over the years I have developed friendships with many of those that visited the Lake at the same time as I. I guess that’s why I would cook for 15. I like that fix. It reminds me of being at my current home and anticipating a slew of folks dropping through, often times initiated through a then, very close (dear and distance) relative and family, including his wife.  She is dying of a cancer and has recently been visited by her Priest. I have been told to stay away . . . even from the funeral.

That is hard. Knowing someone whom you have loved with the family along side of their children, whose ages are very similar to mine; and, they live literally just over the hill about 3 miles away. Knowing that she is dying very soon.

That family is husbanded and fathered by one of my ever-best friends I’ve known for as long as I’ve known my wife . . . his youngest sister. A relationship so long that I was even made a Chef Salad in the middle of the week on my 21st birthday. Yes, he turned me into a Chef Salad because I passed out after watching the band RV and The Fabulous Shadows at a club overlooking Mission Beach/Bay. No I didn’t pass out at the club . . . I passed out on his couch; and the next morning was “ouch”! I still remember those times with him. Well that was over 30 years ago. A lot of times with him since.

I remember having those large family celebrations in which everyone would show up. Whether it was at my home or at his Bellagio. He has a very nice home with an enormous and well-outfitted culinarian’s dream kitchen. It is a very nice home. Location, view, pool and amenities. I remember her doing quite well in that kitchen. She always had a local vegetable or some other creation that she had perfected, while my Brother-in-Law would be grilling up something . . . usually quite well. I think I may have finally learned to prepare a whole flap roast just as good as he. Or whether the cooking was at another cousin’s house . . . or in-laws house, good food and cooking were wherever the family had congregated. Unfortunately, he will probably lose that palace since paying for his wife’s deteriorating health for several years. Experiences of helping build part of that home with he, and the very large family parties we would have there. I may not ever experience that again.

This moment is now about lost family experiences and those relationships that have otherwise become tarnished through those experiences. “You’ll never be going back to Lake Tahoe”, my wife playfully hollers at me after learning of another family crisis, if you can call them that; an seemingly eminent family divorce. I guess that other “girl” has been associated with those trips to Havasu. I haven’t been back to Havasu in over a year and was very much looking forward to joining a “guys trip” sometime again soon. To see those other friends and families I have now only maintained Facebook relationships with.

Life goes on. It’s hard when those relationships, whether they are one-time friends that you have only seen again as a selfie, or those that have endured the many years such as long-time family. Yes, the divorce situation has kids that have grown up along with ours, with the same ages as ours. And that long-time wife is part of that equation. She, or the other dying member have been with our families for many years . . . many years . . . like 30. They will always be loved, remembered and very welcomed in our homes, even if it’s only past memories. I’m not so worried because the possibility still exists as all of the kids continue to grow, graduate and marry. Hopefully those times will be never-omitting experiences we all can once again share.

The times are of remembering that family, . . . having always been family . . . even as jacked up as we all are . . . in someone’s (family’s) eye. I’ve been told that I may have said something to my brother-in-law. I’ve been told that I am being vented on as the person to blame for the eminent dying of his wife. Fuck I don’t know. It’s just hard to wrap my arms around long-time relationships that have become destroyed or otherwise bruised. Those memories that linger. Those experiences we all shared; even remembering some of those experiences were also hardships through life. Perhaps these are just more of those family experiences that will shape us. Even remembering stupid shit like recipes or techniques we’ve learned from those relationships. Or remembering that friendships and family will always lead to food. It’s what brings us together . . . always. Even if it’s remembering that family dinners around the table are what develops those intimate family relationships . . . beginning with our own, or even those with other friends of the family.

As we go through life, remembering things that may have been done or said through those relationships need to be vetted out. They need to be mended by time. Unfortunately I may never get to say good bye to someone that was loved so deeply by family, and I. As I get older I know I will lose certain relationships. I guess I never realized that I would lose certain experiences. I guess I could only hope that I can have those experiences once again.

Isn’t that what I talk about . . . experiences?

Dicks

Michelle died after writing this a couple of days ago. She was loved by many.

Survival of the fittest – The Gopher Hole – Escondido, CA

Date line is stamped with this blog. Somehow we keep going back. We are considered “regulars”.

punxsutawney-phil

The Gopher Hole has now, long been a focus of my studies and hopes for some three years now. Having recently learned of its inevitable . . . I think the name of the joint should be renamed Punxsutawney Phil’s. Such slow change . . . if any. Three years ago I began showing up here, and today I keep coming back.

For most of those three years, if not all, Ms. Leann Rimes has been the General Manager of The Gopher Hole sports bar that is located in the clubhouse of Castle Creek Country Club in Escondido, CA. Located just about 1/4 mile east from the Gopher Canyon/Old Highway 395/Champagne Blvd. off-ramp from Interstate 15; this Gopher Hole has now become the local watering hole for many of the residents living in the general area, and a genuine gold mine if happening upon this place while lodging at Tuscany Hills. I guess Tuscany Hills has offers of wine getaways in the region. Stay there and walk next door to The Gopher Hole some evening. You may not know that the Gopher Hole is even there (no advertising agreement), but it is. They have bar specials every day.

Ms. Rimes spoke with me one day about the joint and its stagnation; yet with a now successful operation that features weekly local and National live musicians, 20 tap handles and a menu that seems to give most patrons a reason to keep coming back.

Upon first arrival, you may slip back in time about 3 years ago when much of the building’s aesthetics and landscaping was the same as it is today. You may perhaps, back then noticed the sign at the street entrance went without light until about a year ago when they finally changed the bulb (?). You may also have realized the interior of the joint has mostly remained the same, after an initial remodel was executed about 3 of those years ago making the bar area larger, removal of the restaurant area, keeping the formal event room and making the pro-shop smaller. But the lack of noticeable changes to the decor, the same empty outside patio area and the peeling window tint on the large panoramic golf-course view windows suggest there hasn’t been much profit to be had or success to be shared.hole

But the fact remains, Leann has taken the red and made it black. Leann has shown her ability to run a successful bar/restaurant. I didn’t initially see that ability in her, but have since understood her performance. But you know what? Leann’s ability to turn this place around within the confines of difficult circumstances have only strengthened her and made her that much more of a valuable asset. I wont speak much of those circumstances, but will give you reason to visit.

One of those reasons happened upon me one day when returning home from work to a hungry family. The suggestion from my kids was to get a quick take-out order of burgers or sandwiches and bring them back home so as to not interrupt an evening of homework.

I remember that evening very well; because of course, I had to sample the eats. Opening the first of the take-out styrofoam carry-out containers revealed the most perfectly plated to-go order. I was enamored at the quality of the presentation. It was probably the best looking take-out order I have ever witnessed. I was very impressed . . . and this was just a burger and fries. Sorry, but it just looked very appetizing; and what is one of the first things we notice about our food? That’s right, how it looks.

Subsequent visits for cocktails (rotating craft beer list) for me and burgers for my boys, I have noticed a significant quality shift from some of the previous visits. Both the quality of the food and the quality of the presentation. Not a bad job from that kitchen. I would rank the overall Gopher Hole food as “a cut above” most other golf courses can regularly produce. I’m beginning to realize why it is I keep returning. The array of tap handles serving many of the local breweries, the good music on Friday nights (to include the periodic National recording artist passing through), the decent food and the regular, very cool, staff.

Seems that Leann has something to offer her employees to keep them serving at this establishment. Many of that staff has been here almost nearly as long as Leann. That says something about her as a boss, and the ability of the bar to draw decent tips from the patrons. Something is going on that is right. I’m not going to say the service is overwhelmingly great, because sometimes it’s not. Just as any establishment being guided by limited profits, it’s hard to keep an adequate quantity of staff to support operations at all times. But each of those servers, cooks and bartenders treat each customer as their own, keeping the overall quality experience alive. Each musical artist plays for the locals as if they personally knew each of those dancing patrons.

The place hasn’t changed much from the looks of things, but the customers all seem to keep coming, and the regulars are still regulars. And speaking with the servers and others, the pace has been steadily increasing. I notice the place seems to keep pretty good pace with anything else going on in that area. Not a bad deal for a public golf course’s 9/18th hole.

So don’t expect to find an exceptional experience at the “Hole”. What you can expect to find are the same locals supporting their local establishment. What you will find is some great music on a Friday night. What you will find is the Millennial drinkers frequenting this place right along side of the regulars . . . , even considered regulars themselves; . . . or in my case, as with several others, . . . their Millennial drinkers. Perhaps that’s because Dad is buying.

It seems that everyone knows your name here at the Hole . . . and those Friday nights seem to be getting just a little better each visit. I used to say that I wouldn’t return, but . . .

Dicks

A Lake Tahoe retreat. Better defining the “Customer Experience”. PART – 5 (Final)

So here’s the deal. After staying in the Heavenly Village area for a week, and after some recollection and deliberation; my wife and I identified a couple of key things we feel would fill Wolfgang Puck’s financially backed years of presence in that location, now occupied by a struggling establishment that is seemingly anticipating its own demise.

timthumbI’m talking about Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery, located just below the Heavenly Gondola in a premier location that can immediately draw the attention of the vacationing traveler. Gunbarrel’s location used to be Wolfgang Puck’s quick-stop gourmet sandwiches and bites that drew a handsome crowd hoping to catch a bit of iconic culinary delight. Since our last visit Wolfgang’s place had closed and Gunbarrel has now taken over. I think the story actually has another establishment occupying the space for a short time until they decided the competition in the area was too fierce with Base Camp Pizza claiming the prize for drawing a crowd.

Of our list of considerations; first and foremost, it’s gonna have to keep pace musically . . . or I like to use “sonically” to compete with Base Camp. I use the word “sonically” because the music that is heard is the first thing that gets your attention around the Village, especially just departing the Gondola or even sitting at the pool of either of the two Marriott’s.

Next is customer interaction. Just across the Gondola’s path is Fire and Ice, another outdoor patio bar with large fire pits but no live music. What Fire and Ice has is a customer interactive Mongolian Grill inside, and again their directly under the Gondola location. Fire and Ice seems to have a good draw of customers, but the food is nothing I can’t get at most Mongolian grill/Chinese buffets near where I live. I won’t say I’ll never go back to Fire and Ice, but I’m not clammerin’.

A third factor we identified is a good breakfast with signature dishes, unique Benedicts and omelets; and you better have some bacon. We found no immediate breakfast being served in the direct location as all of the Village establishments seem to open just before the lunch hour. I didn’t see much of a breakfast crowd anywhere around the Village, other than a Starbucks directly next door to the Wolfgang location and another coffee/bakery/breakfast place on the far end. I hadn’t seen a crowd at the bakery place.Tri%20Tip-grilled

Finally another factor is smell. Base Camp’s kitchen can be smelled throughout the skating rink area of the Village because the prevailing breeze through that tunnel forces it that way. Wolfgang’s location can benefit from a constantly going California-style outdoor grill (visual), with tri-tips and chicken to provide the smell in the immediate Gondola area indicating their may be quick bites and sandwiches. I think it would be quite noticeable once the traveler or worker comes off the mountain.  Not a Kansas City-style BBQ, but the clean smell of California Oak or Mesquite (native) hardwoods.

Finally, I have a motif . . . ok, call it a business plan idea. I saw this when visiting another establishment. Something definitely missing from the Village, and anywhere in South Lake Tahoe. Better yet, even a heavy tourist draw from the vacation traveler from all of the Lake Tahoe area. It just may do the trick up in South Lake Tahoe. I mean big time well!

You know how to get a hold of me…

Dicks

A Lake Tahoe retreat. Better defining the “Customer Experience”. PART – 4

I think one of the better highlights of our journey came when my eldest and new-bride . . . and new-brides brother appeared the Thursday morning. They came in at 3:30am. The gaming captain (wife) drug me across the border to hopefully stay awake for the night until they kids got in, but we immediately knew they weren’t gonna be in for a while, so we chilled at The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I hung at the bar and re-learned to play video poker while she ran amok. I’m going to give Hard Rock the vote for best atmospheric sound (sonically speaking); though I’m only giving it just for the bar area alone. The dynamic sound kept me droppin’ the coins while I drank some sort of large-distributer beer.

Although having the entertaining sounds to keep me betting while in the bar, that same expectation of sound was not heard throughout the remainder of the casino. Same old shitty sound as any other. When on the casino floor, while I watched others bet away, and there not being a band playing somewhere in the casino ((another less, but understandable glitch . . . hmmm, wait a minute . . . hmmm, Base Camp (Part-2)). I regress. While on the casino floor, I was anticipating hearing a very nice sound system that is barely audible. The kind of sound system you realize is driving your emotions but you have no answer as to “why” . . . then within yourself, you find it. But, I never found it. So, back to the bar.

15-Heavenly-Observation-Deck-Venue-VixensThursday took us up the Heavenly Gondola once again. The previous trip (Tuesday) was the first day my youngest wanted to ski whatever was remaining of the winter’s slope. That day, we headed up the >$50/person Gondola ride up the hill to the first view-point stop. Wow! Our last trip we never went to see the views from that point. Glad we did this time. I guess they have weddings up there. Give ‘er a quick stop, you won’t be dissatisfied. The ticket price includes all-day riding on the Gondola, so once you’re there, take a look, then keep going up to the Heavenly Resort Ski area . . . and find those bacon Marys.

Thursday was family ski day . . . yay! I skied with the wife. Yes, I did some snowboarding before in my younger days, but figured at my age the single edge is not worth the comfortable Uggs.

That morning of snow was of the last three ski days on Heavenly for the season, as we found out once in the Village. Heavenly offered Spring time skiing at its very best. Compared to Big Bear area resorts in Sothern California, waaaaaay better. I told my son, “This snow is better than the worse day of a good snowfall in Big Bear”. The snow is much lighter, barely any ice, and slush is only found waiting for the chairs and the area as we got off the Gondola.

So we did the morning, family thing on the slopes. I realized muscles, or lack there of, in places I forgot I had. We met for lunch after about seven runs that morning and, wait for it, . . . COCKTAILS!!! Yes, we were there for lunch with the family after the morning on the slope, but we stopped to refresh and recollect. Now, what I recall is my wife busting her ass three times that morning and I, ZERO. After lunch those fools went back up, and I ordered another Mary, they are very, very good. With a thick piece of Praline-Candied bacon, and some vegetable stick never seen in San Diego. At least I’ve never seen it. I sat and spoke with the locals that were there to work or board, and a few vacationers while I drank that second double . . . probably spilled more of it than drank. Trust me I was quite amused for another couple of hours or so.

What I did notice, while under the influence of that  second double-(Goose) Bloody Mary, was the lack of good “everyday sound” atop the lodge area. Perhaps they like to underplay their entertainment value associated with some of the bands featured up there (looks like the remnants of a stage remained) or the arrival of the DJ Cat. Heavenly offers this word about the DJ Cat, “the ski world’s best après ski party closer to the slopes. A retired grooming machine was given new life and overhauled with a state-of-the-art sound system fit for a nightclub. The machine became our one of a kind DJ CAT. You’ll find some of Tahoe’s best DJs performing on the DJ CAT outside Tamarack Lodge before Unbuckle or making guest appearances around the mountain. We went all in with 52 speakers and 12000 watts of amps. When you come across the DJ CAT, you’ll know it.” Perhaps they are too cheap to upgrade to a better outdoor system. Mine at home sounds better.

Another night at the Casino’s, this time with the kids, except the one who had Spring Break homework. Then finally another night back home (relax, home is where my wallet is).

Dicks

A Lake Tahoe retreat. Better defining the “Customer Experience”. PART – 3

ensenada-hussongsA trip to South Lake Tahoe is an experience in itself; however, there are so many other things to see and do if you travel just a short distance from the popular Heavenly Village area. First, if you haven’t gone around the Lake, then I suggest you do take the all-day trip . . . or at least a good part of the day will be spent riding around the Lake Tahoe shoreline at 45mph. We had done that before so we were looking for something new or different. This vacation, our stay in the area included a couple of quick gambling trips to just the other side  of the Nevada/California border where gaming is available and bountiful in the local casinos or, as in our case this time, a quick trip to Reno.

Reno is about 1 hour from South Lake Tahoe if you make your way back over the hill and drop back down to California Interstate 395 . . . and yes, there is an “Old 395” in that part of the state as well. I say “Old 395” because just beyond the outskirts of Carson City, Nevada a fresh multi-lane interstate has sprouted up. We used that expressway to travel to Reno, but returned along the path that started it all. I  have also experienced growth and progress and have succumbed to an expressway improvement in my area as well. Yes, I live directly along a section of the “Old 395” in San Diego County and have watched and suffered as the multi-lane expressway I-15 was built to the now “autobahn” viewable from my back yard. I call it the autobahn because of the 4.5 mile strip of uninterrupted interstate that is frequented by high-speed wannabe’s evading police radars or just racing someone else with the same delight for speed.

Reno2 Reno1Our trip to Reno was to be a quick ordeal as we just wanted to see the city and the gaming area that is known by business travelers and vacationers alike. The historic entry sign into the city of Reno had this awesome (biggest I’ve seen) climbing wall on one side of the building. I think I’d have to do it just say I did. Anyway, we stopped through many of the casinos in the downtown area and happened upon a restaurant name we have known for years in Baja California, just south of the United States/Mexico boarder in a little town called Ensenada. Being somewhat surprised when stumbling upon Hussong’s Cantina in Baja (the original is literally a tequila shot and Mexican beer watering hole in the wall) located in Ensenada, B.C. We were seemingly just as surprised when we found Hussong’s inside the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino. And don’t ask me why we were in the Silver Legacy . . . not even a name I recognize while writing this. Anyway, We were hungry and decided to giver ‘er a try. We figured worse case scenario is we end up eating some really bad Americanized south of the border imitated slop. What you must realize is Hussong’s in Baja doesn’t serve food if I remember correctly. Hussong’s in Baja was nothing more than a place for the weary off-road enthusiast to stop and get a cold one and a shot before continuing the journey to a race area like the San Felipe, B.C. or another town for viewing the Baja 1000.

The Hussong’s in Reno was decorated similarly to that of the original in Baja with a shit-for-décor appearance, several Mexican mementos and a few off road pictures signed by race entrants that appeal to the Baja enthusiast. I remember the hood of a race truck hanging from the ceiling above me while I ate. My guessing is the only patrons inside were those Southern California residents that understand the traditional Hussong’s theme. I guess there’s another Hussong’s in Vegas as well, and rightfully so. I tried to follow some kind of historical linage about Hussong’s but really found no corporate affiliation between any of the locations . . . . and knowing a bit about the history of Hussong’s, it doesn’t suprized me that this Reno location may or very well, may not be owned by some kooks not associated with the original, or maybe they are the same kooks. I really am unsure as to who owns or operates what, and/or where. The Hussong’s in Reno was no different than the original other than the drink prices were now big city high and the other thing . . . they serve food here. Ok, let’s see what gives being we were hungry and our hunger was steering us toward Mexican food.hussong's1

First thing’s first, “I’ll have a traditional margarita and the special Chili Relleno”. I didn’t know it was the “special” Relleno, but I saw that it was filled with marinated skirt steak (in that area it’s called skirt) inside of a roasted, not fried, green Poblano (in that area it’s called Poblano) chili with cheese , topped with more cheese and probably an enchilada sauce. I happen to have an affinity for roasted Rellenos. I think the wife had the fish tacos. Her tacos were obviously shy on the amount of fish inside but my Relleno was very full of chopped or cubed steak and quite delicious. The fish tacos were not bad either. All of the dishes we saw on the tables were large portions but lacked any familiarity of color. I don’t know if it was their themed cuisine, but pale colors were abundant. Tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cilantro, sauce, steak, fish and tortillas all looked about the same color. Similar pale looking food that you would find on the streets of Mexico, so I almost think it was on purpose. Flavors were fine, if not rather good, just there was no excitement from the colors on the plates. The palate was not stimulating the palette. Something like that.

On the trip back from Reno along the Old 395 we had an alternate mission having evacuated all chocolate from our hotel room the night before, was to return home with some chocolate. My son and I are huge chocolate fans and we must have underestimated our consumption needs and just ran out. We found the Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory in a small town outside of Carson City along the Old 395. The search for chocolate that morning had us grab some pre-packaged stuff from the local Village store, so we basically had to stop in because we were out of good chocolate. Inside to our delight was every imaginable candied treat of dark, mike and white chocolates made into bars, nuggets, creams and fudge. The nice staff inside allowed us to try so much stuff, we were comatose for the remainder of the ride home that day. The Chocolate Nugget Candy store also had fresh, made on site, taffy. If I remember, the fudge was also made on site . . . and pretty satisfying.

Making our way back to the South Lake Tahoe area we passed the Safeway super market and needed some supplies for the hotel room. Upon passing the meat counter area I noticed some very fresh-looking California Halibut. The butcher got it in that Tuesday morning. No smell . . . and, come to find out, no taste. I had prepared an in-hotel meal (remember we’re staying at a nice time-share) that took me down to the newly installed BBQ grills located just below my room’s  window overlooking the pool area. The whole time I was there I saw only the kid-type meals being burned by the drunken fathers being told to “go and cook the hot dogs”. I, on the other hand, had prepared the basil-crusted Halibut, with fresh-grilled garlic bread (with fresh butter and garlic). The Halibut was also cooked with a compound-herbed butter. Unfortunately the fish had ZERO flavor. Perhaps some would rather it be that way . . .

So off for another night . . .

Dicks

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