Don't drop the camera...

I was reading a book on the late photographer Garry Winogrand earlier this summer. The book is titled The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand and it's a good book. In it I came across a passage where it implied whenever people asked for Winogrand's advise on photography, he often wisecracked “Don’t drop the camera.”

Last night I took a trailside tumble off the edge of a steep mountainside and fell about 10-15 feet before crashing into a large granite rock with my head. It wasn’t a free fall — if I did that and landed square on my head as I did I probably wouldn’t be writing this small story this morning — someone else at the local paper would be. I slid most of that distance head-first through trees and rock. And fast. 

RIP, T109. d. August 16, 2018.

In the process, I lost a favorite camera to another rock. This camera was a Leica T109, probably a rebranded Panasonic with Leica glass. It’s a 4/3 compact camera but it fit easily into my pants pocket, had a terrific set of features including a viewfinder that I really liked, and it was very capable for this type of camera. It was a real workhorse for me and was my best go-to travel camera.

****

It was an odd day from the get-go. I dawdled, as I too often do these days, and got a late start from Seattle. I left about 10:30 AM, a little late for a hike in North Cascades National Park. The closest edge of the park is about 2-½ hours from Seattle on a day with light traffic, and most trailheads are a bit remote and require an additional 30-60 minutes of driving. It’s summer and there’s no such thing as light traffic in or around Seattle anymore on these long days. Plus, there were several long middle-of-nowhere back-ups on I-5 due to the summer road repair season. Spontaneity is a thing of the past, it seems. But leaving at 10:30 AM was late even in the earlier Age of Spontaneity

It’s been smoky in Washington in recent weeks due to many forest fires and when I pulled into the small foothills town of Concrete off the North Cascades Highway, you could barely see the mountains ahead of you. Everything looked dingy and crispy dry. I almost decided to turn back around and try another day, but I went on. As I thought might happen, as I got closer to the mountains, the smoke always seemed further ahead so, though hazy, I’d still get some views. 

On the drive up the Cascade River Road, in the upper reaches where it can be rough, especially for a passenger car, and where it washes out almost every winter, there was a small passenger car that went off the edge of the road. It’s basically a single lane road up there with few pullouts and I suspect the young driver drove to the edge to let another car pass on its way down. He misjudged a little and his right wheels slipped off the partially sunken road and the car had bottomed out.  I felt bad for him, but he was probably a little lucky. He went off in a small section with asphalt. If it had been only dirt and rocks, he may have slipped completely of the edge and down quite far into the forest below. A tow truck had already arrived by the time I reached him and was preparing to pull him out. The closest town is Marblemount, about 23 miles down the Cascade River Road, the uppermost 13 miles of them unpaved and a bit rough. But the tow truck service had him pulled out in about 15 minutes (there was a lot of scraping as to be expected, but the car wasn't leaking any oil or other fluids) and about 15 minutes later, I arrived at the dusty trailhead. With the added traffic and tow delay, I had lost about an hour.

I started on the trail about 2:30 PM, the latest start time I’ve probably had for a day hike of this nature and distance. Due to that late start, I hiked only about 6 miles up to and along Sahale Arm, a little less than I usually do. I believe it is 6-½ to 7 miles to the climber’s camps at the base of Sahale glacier.  I set a 5:00 PM turnaround time for myself and modified it to 5:45 PM up on the arm. I didn’t want to hike out in the dark which is so often the case with me on this trail.

In the early evening on my way back down, I stopped to take a couple of photos from the trail as the sun set behind Hidden Lake Peak. I was in the easy lower forest with probably less than two miles remaining before reaching my car. After snapping the last of the photos, I turned to my left to continue to head down the trail. I must’ve been closer to the edge than I realized. My right foot fell into the void when I was expecting ground. Instantly I had that "oh no" thought – though I was thinking something other than no – and before I knew it I was falling and crashing head first through trees and rocks. I couldn’t stop the fall or arrest myself, and only came to a hard stop when the top of my head met a large granite boulder. I was wearing a canvas ‘fisherman’s’ crusher hat and that cushioned my head a little, but not much. It probably prevented a more serious cut.

Last image from the camera.

I was a bit dazed and after shaking off the stars, I realized my left knee and ankle were pretty sore – I wondered whether I could walk on them. I could with a slight gimp. They are still sore this morning. I twisted and whacked them on the fall. My right wrist is a bit sprained as well this morning. I must have used it to cushion the fall. This was the hand I was carrying my camera with. My left shin, arm and hand were bloodied, but mostly these were superficial cuts or road burns. They stung a little, but that’s it. The camera was crushed. I was shaken, dazed and shaky for most of the remaining walk to the car, but by the time I reached the parking lot at 8:30 PM I felt fine enough for the three hour drive home last night. Besides, what choice did I have?

All said, I probably am no more banged up than your average high school or college football player gets in a single hard hit in any given game. And they probably experience dozens of those hits every game, every week. But I’m not 18 or 20 years old any longer and not anywhere near the shape I was back when I was. I’m about 3 times that age now and it takes a little longer to heal.

****

In the end, last night I was lucky. I have a small history of falling off of things like ledges, embankments, bikes and ladders — mostly trailside or natural ledges; mostly in the dark. Last night it wasn’t dark. I was just simply careless. And I dropped the goddamn camera in the process. It could have been far worse, and the camera is replaceable. This morning, I’m only a little worse for wear — and a little materially poorer. For some reason, this entire summer, starting in about early May, has seemed a little off-kilter to me. And I'm not sure why. 

Sometimes, when reflecting on the many stupid things I’ve done over my life, I’ll brush them off with the self-effacing comment “Yeah, well I was young and stupid then. I’m not so young anymore.” This almost always elicits the question "How about stupid — you still stupid?" Last night, I answered that — in spades.

A quick and cool meal for a hot summer night

Openers:
Tortilla chips and homemade guacamole
a bowl of chilled gazpacho soup

Main dish:
Tarragon chicken salad
(deli) on slightly warmed pita bread
diced nectarine with squeeze of lime over the top.


Recipes:
Basic and Simple Guacamole,
[i]:

1. Grind into a paste (5 minutes) using a mortar and pistil:

a. A heavy pinch or two of kosher salt;
b. 1 to 1-½  teaspoons of chopped cilantro;
c. 1 tablespoon of finely diced onions (usually white, but red works fine); and
d. 1 finely diced Serrano pepper*  

2. Prepare the avocado (1 minute):

a. Slice one small-medium firm but ripe avocado in half lengthwise;
b. remove the pit; and
c. slice the guacamole flesh in each half in a crisscross argyle pattern.

3. Mix the cilantro paste and avocado flesh. Add a squeeze of lime juice (1 minute)

a. Scoop the flesh out of the skins and mix with the paste in a bowl;
b. leave the guacamole slightly chunky after mixing; and
c. squeeze ¼ of a lime over the guacamole.

Guacamole
Click to enlarge

****

Gazpacho Soup (prepared two days ago; about 1 hour to prepare)  [ii]

1. Add 1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes to a large bowl including the liquid.

2. Reserve 2-3 of the whole tomatoes, chop into ¾ inch chunks, and store temporariy in a small bowl.

3. Add the following to the tomatoes and liquid in the bowl:

  • 1 cup of tomato juice;
  • 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar;
  • 1 toothpaste-sized or smaller squirt of Amore garlic paste;
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil;
  • 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt;
  • ½ teaspoon of sugar (raw); and
  • ½ teaspoon of dried oregano (prefer Mexican oregano, but it's not important)

4. Puree these ingredients in large food processor. Set aside in a large bowl.

5. Add to the pureed liquid:

  • the previously reserved and chopped tomatoes;
  • 1 stalk of finely chopped celery:
  • 1 small green chile, seeded and finely chopped. Serrano or jalapeno peppers work fine:
  • ½ cup (72 gr) of peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber:
  • ¼ cup (37 gr) of finely chopped red onion;
  • ¼ cup (37 gr)of seeded and finely chopped green bell pepper; and
  • ⅓ cup (55 gr) of sliced pimento-stuffed olives.

6. Cover and chill for 8 hours to 3 days.

Add garnishments of sliced avocado or chopped cilantro sprigs, as desired.

Gazpacho Soup
Click to enlarge


Notes and acknowledgements

[i]  As found in the New York Times and several other publications, most recently on July 1, 2018.
https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1008-guacamole. I follow this recipe – sans tomato – and have for several years, having lost my original source for the recipe.

[ii] Basic recipe reference: Cooking A to Z, The Complete Culinary Reference Tool; California Culinary Academy; Horn, Jane, editor; The Cole Group; 1992.

A warm and dry summer

Just a few graphics to revisit and see where we stand with temperatures and precipitation totals for Seattle Washington in 2016-17.

Temperatures

Seattle's 2017 summer began very pleasantly. It began early, around mid-May. June and July were extremely pleasant, with sunny skies nearly every day and temperatures in the mid-70s. But when the calendar flipped over to August, a smoky heat wave rolled into the region. Combined with a very dry past three months, the region feels hot and tinder dry currently.

Click to enlarge.

Precipitation

Like last year, the year began very wet. In fact, using the water year calendar which begins on October 1, Seattle had nearly 13 inches more rain than a typical water year by early May. This exceeded 2016's huge totals on that date. 

But, around May 16, the spigot was shut off. And aside from one drenching, winter-like day in mid-June, the region has been very dry.

Click to enlarge.

An experiment with mint (and red peppers)...

I planted a small herb garden on the back deck this summer. The deck is on the south side of my house and is in one of the few sunny spots back there. The herb containers included basil, mint, oregano and tarragon. All are doing quite well with the sunny and warm summer we've enjoyed so far. Especially the mint.

I'm unsure why I planted the mint other than the smell of it on hot days. I have ready recipes and situations for the other herbs, but not mint — aside from a farro grain salad I only occasionally make. After a search on the web, I found a recipe for a mint-sweet red pepper marinade1 for using with chicken kebabs prior to grilling.

I decided to adopt and modify this recipe to suit the whole chicken breasts I already had in the refrigerator.

Click to enlarge...

Step 1. Creating the sweet pepper paste (photos 1-3)

The marinade called for Turkish sweet red pepper paste. Unable to find jarred paste in the grocery store, I looked online for a recipe. I found a few online and followed one2 from food.com. I modified this recipe slightly to account for my available ingredients.

The sweet pepper paste recipe called for blending two types of peppers: red capsicum peppers with red sweet peppers. I used five fresh Fresno red peppers for the heat (capsicum). These peppers are similar in size to jalapeno peppers but have less heat. After trimming off the ends, splitting in half, and removing the seeds (photo 1), I sliced the pepper halves crosswise into ¼-inch strips.

I chose jarred Peppadew piquante peppers for the sweet red peppers (photo 2). A local pizza chain uses these peppers on one of their pies and the results are terrific. These were ready to eat and were rather small. The online recipe calls for an equal number of capsicums to sweet peppers, but I selected about nine of the piquante peppers due to their size to balance the Fresno red peppers. I sliced these in ¼-inch strips as well.

I then combined the pepper strips with 40 ml of olive oil, 20 ml of water, and 1 teaspoon each of sugar and salt in a food processor and pulsed these ingredients to a oily, wet paste. The final step in making the paste was to simmer the mix until it thickened a bit. This took about 15-20 minutes on very low heat (photo 3).

Step 2. Creating the marinade (photos 4 & 5)

The modified ingredient list for the marinade included:

  • fresh mint (rather that dried mint), 2 tablespoons;
  • italian seasoning, dried (in place of dried thyme which I did not have), 1 tbsp;
  • red pepper flakes, 1 tbsp;
  • 1 tbsp of the sweet red pepper paste made in Step 1;
  • sun-dried tomato paste (in place of standard tomato paste which I was out of), 1 tbsp;
  • Aleppo pepper, 1 tbsp;
  • fresh ground black pepper, 1 tsp;
  • olive oil, 1 cup.

Simply mix and blend these ingredients with a whisk in a large bowl. Then pour over the chicken breasts and let them sit for 2-3 hours in the refrigerator.

I ran the grill on high. I cooked the first side for 7-½ minutes; then flipped them on the second side for 6-½ minutes (photo 6).

After starting dinner with a cool green salad on a hot day, I served a main course of the mint-pepper chicken breasts with roasted potatoes and several lemon slices for drizzling over everything.

Served here with grilled potatoes and lemon slices for drizzling over everything.

 

3. Results and thoughts...

This was a pretty good recipe. The chicken was a bit overdone on the exterior, but this was mostly the marinade becoming toasty on the hot grill. The chicken was extremely moist and tender on the inside, with juices running clear.

A few things I'll certainly try different next time:

  • I'll use boneless and skinless chicken breast. They will hold the marinade better and would be easier to slice and eat. I usually buy chicken in this form. For some reason, I had purchased fryer breasts. I like fried chicken but rarely make it. I'm not sure why I purchased chicken with the skin and bone in place.
     
  • I think serving the chicken sliced (after grilling) would work better as well.
     
  • I may try the marinade with less olive oil and try to make it more of a pasty rub. The olive oil was fine, but one cup of it left the marinade runny and, more importantly, a whole a lot of oil to clean up after eating. The recipe called for enough marinade to cover kebabs for 6-8 people. I should have adjusted the volume for less. This much oil is not something I wish to wash down the kitchen sink drain. I handled the excess oil by soaking it in paper towels and making a 'compost burrito'. After rolling, I tossed the burrito into the compost bin.
     
  • I'll back off the grill time slightly. Rather than a 7.5/6.5 minutes split on each side, I'll set the timer for 6.5/5.5 minutes.
     
  • I'll try the sweet red pepper paste tonight as a smear on a grilled sausage sandwich. I'll report later.
     
  • I'll try the marinade on a flank steak I plan to grill later this week. I think it would also pair well with grilled pork loin. Again, I'll report later.

Recipe Source Notes

  1. Saveur Magazine; Mint & Aleppo Pepper Marinated Chicken Kebabs (Tavuk Kebabi);  http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Tavuk-Kebabi-Mint-and-Aleppo-Pepper-Marinated-Chicken-Kebabs; date: May 20, 2013.
  2. Food.com; Turkish Red Pepper Paste; http://www.food.com/recipe/turkish-red-pepper-paste-294358.