Photo taken near Monument Valley, Utah

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Night on the Phannie?!!

Having only recently transitioned from a fifth wheel to a motorhome, it hadn’t quite occurred to me that this rolling carriage could have a use other than transporting us over long distances to places we want to go when on vacation.  It was Bubba who, in an uncharacteristic frenzy of neuron activity, came up with it.

Sandy and I had been talking about a day trip to Sherman, Texas, a bit less than a hundred miles northeast of Fort Worth, to eat dinner and attend a gospel concert. (Yes, we are fans of some of the groups.)  We mentioned it casually to Bubba and LouAnn, and that’s when Bubba’s pilot light was lit.  He knew his mother and dad were coming to visit that weekend and that he and his family would like to spend some time with them.  They all enjoy gospel music, so why not make it a two-family event, he thought. 

I really didn’t clue in to Bubba’s thought process until he began asking how many passengers Phannie would hold.  I knew that, as an avid RVer himself, he was dying to take a ride in our new coach, and it finally dawned on me that he was trying to conjure up a road trip for all of us in Phannie!

The more I thought about it, the more the idea appealed to me, and Sandy thought it would be fun, too.  So, we ordered concert tickets for everyone and settled on a departure time. 

Shortly after two o’clock, I fired up Phannie’s engine and backed her slowly out of the RV port attached to our house, up the driveway and into the street, curbside.  Now it is worthwhile to explain that the departure and arrival of this leviathan is not something that goes unnoticed in our neighborhood. The houses are built fairly close together, and the rumble of the big Caterpillar diesel engine can be felt as much as heard in the houses adjacent to ours.  This usually results in the appearance of an impromptu gathering of observers, perhaps out of curiosity to a degree, but more likely in anticipation of some calamity as I carefully negotiate the very tight 90-degree turn onto the street.  I don’t like to think of my neighbors as bloodthirsty, but why else would a NASCAR race be so popular if there weren’t some anticipation among the fans that a horrific crash could occur at any moment? 

When we built our house, it was designed to accommodate the storage of our fifth wheel under the RV port.  We hadn’t anticipated trading up to a class A motorhome, so the navigation of Phannie into and out of the driveway is fraught with hazards like rocks, trees, shrubbery and mailboxes—not just ours, but our neighbor’s across the street as well.  It takes very precise maneuvering to avoid these hazards, and I can truthfully say that if we had acquired a motorhome even one foot longer, it would have to be parked elsewhere. 

Phannie's Snug Quarters at Home

On this day, my neighbors would be disappointed; I got the geometry right, and Phannie settled obediently at the curb with no mayhem involved.

Sandy, as is her custom, joined me in the cockpit once the demolition derby was over, and we motored over to Bubba and LouAnn’s house, which is located in a rather hoity-toity neighborhood, and whose homeowners’ association enforces a ban on RV parking longer than 24 hours.  As we rumbled through the streets toward Bubba’s house, it was clear that the residents were unaccustomed to having their peaceful and manicured surroundings invaded by such a monstrosity as Phannie.  People working in their yards dropped their tools, and I’m pretty sure I saw one guy pick up a rope and make a noose with it.  Bubba’s house is situated on a corner lot, and I had to park in a configuration on the street that made it difficult for cars to squeeze through.  Although traffic is almost nonexistent in this neighborhood, this would be the day that several cars came along, and some of the drivers vented their frustration by honking their horns at the notion of having to drive carefully for 40 feet as they navigated past Phannie.  It is not clear what they expected the horn-blowing to accomplish, as the driverless Phannie paid little attention to the noise and certainly made no effort to move.  Although I could not read the lips of the drivers, I could tell from their animation that I was not particularly high up on their dance card. People have such short fuses these days!

In short order, everyone piled into the coach, with LouAnn providing beverages in a cooler and trays of snacks for the road.  Everyone oohed and aahed appropriately over Phannie and then settled in for the trip.  
The Barkers Check out Phannie:  Barry, LouAnn, (Sandy), Breann, Algene and Baby Carter  Duniven
The Old Captain Awaiting a Snack

I must say, it was a great deal of fun for our group to be together in roomy and comfortable surroundings as we cruised smoothly and silently toward our destination.  Being served our drinks and snacks up in the cockpit reminded Bubba and me of our former careers as airline pilots, when a flight attendant would appear on every leg to bring us food or drink.  We both agreed that the flight attendants of yesteryear were somewhat more cooperative than our wives, who, oddly enough, were not inclined to pay us the same deference as that to which we were accustomed as airline captains.  For example, we never once heard a flight attendant tell us to “get up and get it yourself” as we did on this trip.  While Bubba didn’t have much of an excuse to stay in his seat, I finally convinced the ladies that, in order for me to get up out of my seat, I would have to leave the steering wheel unattended at 60 miles per hour.  When this tidbit of information was finally processed, they reluctantly brought me my snack. (They brought Bubba's too, but only because he was wearing an arm sling after recent shoulder surgery.)  Tough bunch of stewardesses, these gals.

Fortunately, we had not consumed enough goodies to shrink from eating a fine catfish dinner at Huck’s in Denison, Texas, just north of Sherman.  This legendary catfish joint was almost full of patrons, even though we arrived before 5:00 p.m.
My Plate at Huck's (I'm so ashamed.)

Bubba and Catfish (Not sure which is which.)

Barry and Sandy Make Out at Huck's (She's so fickle!)

Algene and LouAnn Boarding at Huck's 

Upon our arrival at the concert hall in downtown Sherman, Phannie made such an impressive entrance that the parking attendants directed us to a VIP parking spot.  Do you suppose they thought we were one of the groups to perform that evening?  Maybe, but we didn’t say anything and kept our spot all evening.

The gospel group we had come to see was Ernie Haase andSignature Sound.  If you like gospel music and haven’t seen these guys, you are missing a treat. 

After the concert, we cruised back home, driving Phannie for the first time at night.  This proved to be a beneficial exercise, because I had not previously figured out all of the lighting controls on the coach.  By the time we rolled in the driveway, I was an expert.

Bubba, of course, was smitten with Phannie…bigtime.  My guess is that he will make the leap to a motorhome as soon as LouAnn lets him.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Things We Do Between Trips: Hatch Chiles and Hot Stuff

This will appeal to all you lovers of spicy foods.  I am a true pepperhead but, unfortunately, Sandy is not so much.  Often when I cook spicy stuff, I make separate batches--one for me and one for normal people.  

As the legendary Hatch chile harvest is in full swing, our local Albertson's had received several cases of Hatch chiles and was selling them by the case for $19.99.  I couldn't resist.  Snagging a case, I proclaimed to Sandy that I would roast these suckers and freeze them, and we would have Hatch chiles all winter.  She was a bit muted in her enthusiasm, but she smiled sweetly anyway.

Once home with my prize and an afternoon to waste, I fired up the gas grill and my Traeger smoker and loaded up both with the Hatch chiles.

Traeger Smoker

Hatch Chiles on the Gas Grill
Now I should take this opportunity to tell you that, while I have roasted these peppers before on the gas grill, I had not previously tried to roast them on the Traeger, so this was, in fact, an experiment.  For those of you who are not familiar with Traeger grills, you can only hope that Santa brings you one this Christmas.  If there is a better or easier way to do outdoor BBQ, I can't imagine what it would be.  You just put wood pellets in the hopper and turn on the switch, setting the desired temperature.  The Traeger does everything else, from lighting the fire to feeding itself the wood pellets, keeping the cooking temperature you have selected.  Amazing!  (I told you I love gadgets!)

Traeger "Lil Tex" Smoker

Wood Pellet Hopper and Temperature Control
So why do I still have the gas (well, it's really propane) grill since I'm so ga-ga over the Traeger?  Well, if you're looking for the kind of direct heat that will develop a sear, char or crust on something, the Traeger is not very good at that.  So, what's better than one BBQ cooker gadget?  Well, two of course!

All went well with roasting the peppers on the gas grill, but not so much with the Traeger.  The problem was that the Traeger cooked the peppers without charring the outside (see above).  This is the opposite of what was desired--a char on the outside to loosen the skin, but with the flesh of the pepper left somewhat undercooked underneath.  Because of this, the peppers roasted in the Traeger were more difficult to peel and were skimpier after peeling.

Charring Desired When Roasting Complete on the Gas Grill

Skinning and Seeding the Cooked Peppers

The Final Product After Roasting, Peeling and Seeding

Chopping the Cooked Peppers in Food Processor
After roasting, peeling, seeding and chopping the peppers, it was time to prepare them for freezing in small portions.  First, we chopped them slightly in the food processor, then Sandy suggested that we freeze them in muffin tins and afterward place the frozen chile "muffins" in a freezer bag.  That sounded good to me, so that's what we did.  When we ran out of muffin tins, we froze the last few in foil cupcake papers placed on a cookie sheet.  We discovered this was the best way to go, as the cupcake papers were definitely easier to remove after freezing.

Chiles in Muffin Tins for Freezing
Well, that's about it for this chile adventure.  One note of caution:  We learned the hard way to use latex gloves when doing the peeling and seeding.  We didn't this time, and we regretted it.  Duh!

So, what will we be cooking with all these peppers?  Well, we'll be sharing some recipes with you as we go along.  And, of course, we'll be giving some to friends, as well.  

That's enough for now; I need to find something cold to drink!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

More Gadgets

Okay, I admit it.  I love gadgets. My earliest recollection of this addiction is from 1968, when I purchased from an office supply store a new digital electronic calculator.  It was probably the first one sold in Nacogdoches, Texas, the small town where I grew up, but I had to have it.  It cost me $175, which was something like $400 in today's money.  Mind you, it had only the basic four arithmetic functions and no battery or printing capability, but it was so much cooler than the old "adding machines" with all the clunky moving parts and which couldn't multiply or divide.  I remember being mesmerized by watching the little LEDs instantly displaying the result of the most fiendish calculation I could come up with.

Things haven't changed much.  You can tell from reading this rag that I am still a soft touch for techie stuff.  Phannie, for example, has a newer, techier, entertainment system and a newer, techier, mattress than we have in our house!   

Fortunately, I have had the means to support this addiction over the years. I'm not sure what our family may have been deprived of if I hadn't been able to support them and the habit at the same time.  Perhaps another saving grace may be the fact that nowadays, I don't always buy new gadgets when they first come out.  I suppose the calculator ripoff in 1968 was indeed a teachable moment for me.  Such was the case when I switched to Apple computers, HD television and Blu-Ray DVDs.  These had all been on the market for a while when I jumped in.  Such is the case with my latest gadget, a Logitech Harmony 700 universal remote for the entertainment system in our house.  

It's not clear why I put up with using three remotes to control our TV, our A/V receiver and our DVD player for three years, but I did until one of the remotes went on the fritz the other day.  A friend had recommended a Logitech universal remote to bring peace and harmony to our entertainment system, and that's all the encouragement I needed.  I hopped right down to a nearby Target store and apprehended the Harmony 700 model for 120 bucks.  A little pricey, you say?  Well, I thought so, too, but my friend was insistent that this was what I needed.  And why the top of the line 700 model?  Well, it has a little video screen so that the remote can communicate with you...a techie feature that definitely pushes the buttons of us addicts! 

What's neat about this remote is that it is programmable via the web.  You just attach it to your computer using the included USB cable and log into Logitech's site.  You supply the makes and models of the TV/audio equipment you're going to control, and Logitech downloads to your remote all the drivers needed.  Simple, but effective.  After one false start (I had a hard time finding the model number of the DirecTV DVR and entered the wrong one), the new remote worked perfectly.  Now it's one remote for everything and the old ones are in a drawer.  Oh, by the way, the batteries in the remote are rechargeable.

Phannie?  Oh, yes, she will undoubtedly need one of these things for her system.

Logitech Harmony 700 Remote