Saturday, May 19, 2007

This is my friend Michael.

The 'Kan EWa
Back in The 'Kan EWA from the rain forests and beaches of Puerto Vallarta. Interesting week. It's very, very seldom that I do not connect with a people; this week I ruefully was reminded, again, of how Northern European I apparently am. Despite any language barrier anywhere, I never fail to feel a spark and be warmed by mothers with their children, teenagers waiting for the bus, waiters working hard, grandmothers on a walk. I always have all kinds of interesting, joyful, gracious encounters with people and their town, no matter what country.

Not this week. I was seen, unilaterally, as a money bearing, overbearing, irksome source of existence/subsistence not to be trusted or respected. I couldn't spend enough money in a shop; I couldn't smile wide enough or speak softly enough. Everything is negotiable. Anything is negotiable. They name their price, you name yours and the antagonism begins. All in the name of cultural merchantability, of course. When you hold your line, they say Don't play games and become sullen. Nothing is fair in Mexico. Everything is fair in Mexico. Game, that is.

And yet there is no industry, there is no commerce, there is virtually nothing in the lives of these people that isn't American-driven. Puerto Vallarta, like my hometown, is a beachtown and the business is tourism. I heard no French, German nor British English on the dusty streets of town this week; but I did hear six different dialects of American English. And the Americans were eating, drinking (Worst t-shirt: Maybe of all time: I AM SHY But I Have A Big Dick), shopping and soaking up the sun in the most gleeful of manners. And while I saw no ugly Americans this week I did see lots and lots of ugly souvenirs and cheaply made goods. Maybe the contrast was made all the more stark by the most exquisite of beaches--the North Shore of Oahu has nothing on Puerto Vallarta.

So it was a puzzling, confusing week. The bright exception was the professional, extremely competent guides in the rain forest, who expertly sent tourists flying 560 feet above the ground. I just can't think they are different people that all the other natives of Puerto Vallarta, but somehow the commonalities and similarities are lost on me.

The 'Kan EWA

Monday, May 14, 2007

So where to begin?

I dunno. There were lots of preliminaries but the real stuff started on about the third zip line. I was in the rain forest with the guides, a climbing harness, a safety strap and the buckle thing. I am afraid of heights; always cry a little bit when I have to get on the step ladder to hang pictures at the office so I do it after everyone's gone. Never been much of a downhill skier; get cold and scared. So how did I find myself on the canopy tour zipping around the rain forest on thick wire cables high above the giant trees? This I don't know. I just really, really wanted to do it.

The first few lines really made me doubt the decision that had me get up early, go into town, transfer at the terminal place and head up the mountain with all these other American tourists. Although once we got into the truck and headed up the mountain, things started looking up. It was a big diesel, construction-dump type truck. They welded racks on it for sideboards, lashed a canopy on top, and put seats in the back. It was a completely open air ride. Cool! I liked this. Much, much better than some bus. The ocean air was in your nose and ears and the sun on your face and as this truck careened around the corners of the ocean cliffs, you thought, okay a motorcyle. I'm getting it. This is why they do it.

So we get to the place and the guides are quite impressive. The requisite charming, handsome, competent guides but this time quite, quite strong and funny--funny, funny, funny with kinky, self-deprecating humor these Jorges, Juans, Joses, Jesses and Jesuses. Very smart, fully in charge of the physics of the whole feat and making me easy, easy, easy from the moment they smiled and said, hooola.

Jesus was actually the photographer but his t-shirt did not have his name printed on it. He told me his name when I came 1/4 mile across the river gorge, the wind picking me up mid-cable and throwing me about a bit as I zoomed into the platform, shreiking JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH! I explained to my new best friends that it was an old Irish saying, when Jesus spoke up and said, you knooooooow, thas ma nay-aim.... That particular run was 560 feet above the river and yes, was really, really scarey. Serious rush. We crossed the river back and forth several times at that point to be sure that we were getting the real essence of having the living crap scared out of us. It all went very fast for me--I went fast, tucked my knees up, leaned waaay into the wind and let the sun fondle my face. Didn't want to see a thing, only feel it. So I slammed into platforms before I even had a good dread going on and the boys would say WHOA! And unbuckle me with pats and send me on.

whoa indeed. Going over the tree tops was fun and invigorating but you climb and climb up the side of the mountain, on a series of carefully carved paths, for the Main Event. By the time you get to that big one that goes across the river, there are no trees. It's too high up. It's you, the sun, the wind and the rocks below. And Jorge waits for you a quarter mile down the line. So they say to you are you ready? and you answer are you ready?! and push off before they let you go. Did not take the time to fully ponder the event and did not back out of being scared. Did not break my fall as I fell all the way into all of it. I can't wait to do it again. I may even downhill this winter.

On Location
Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco
Mama JD stopped by with an offer to play I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours. It's been my experience that noone ever really shows you theirs but as MamaJ is a Viking and a Vandal, as am I, it would be unseemly not to play. Downright unsociable! Herewith are 7 random things about JBelle from The 'Kan EWA.

1. I hate to cook.

2. The thing I love about the city, any city, and the woods are one and the same: you go on foot and survive on your wits. Love the city. Love the woods.

3. Don't like driving. Like to drive. Don't like driving. The car is such a bothersome annoyance of day to day living in The 'Kan EWA. I would happily go on foot from the bus. Well, that's not totally true now, is it? I'd love to have a driver. I'd sit in the back seat and fiddle with my iPod and my Treo and hop out and then back in again. Yup, a driver. Would love it. Although let it be know that I LOVE to walk to work.

4. My ideal job: perennial gardener at Manito Park. It's completely true they are doing some lovely things with annuals around the park lately; nevertheless, I want to be in the perennials. And their rose garden is lovely, but they use buckets and buckets of chemicals, making it a highly toxic no fly zone for birds and bugs and bees. sigh. I want to be in the perennials. 12 months a year. In the seventies, the gardeners used to work with their dogs, who of course, had the ubiqutous red bandana tied around their neck.

5. My favorite non-native artists are Chagall and Klimpt. But that figures, right? My favorite local artists in this order are: Horswill, McCudden and Grimes.

6. Which brings up another point: although I have met Michael Horswill (and he IS from Montana), usually I do not have a desire to meet people whose work I deeply admire. Or people I admire. Would rather read their books, know their work, watch them in action.

7. Finally, I am riding my bike through Viet Nam in November with 8 other people I do not know. In through Ho Chi Minh, out through Hanoi. Renting my bike when I get there. Trek. We'll see; we'll see....

On Location
Puerta Vallarta, Jalisco

Saturday, May 12, 2007


(i love you too)



The 'Kan EWA

He always was this. From Day 1. He was a beloved only grandson. Do you remember me telling you about the day he was born?

I like to think about him when he was in about the fourth grade. That was his hair and teeth period.

They were a famous duo; sometimes more "famous" than others.


Looking damned good

The new baby

A party with the boys on May 12 about 23 years ago.

Happy Birthday, Ben. I hope #33 is

the best year of your entire life!




The 'Kan EWA

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


A personal technique from the Executive Chef at Bellemaison

You only need two things for good fried chicken. A good pan and locally grown chicken. If I had to do without one, I'd use a different pan. What makes good chicken is grain-fed, fresh chicken. Not slop-fed shipped chicken from Arkansas. I beg your pardon, my dear readers in Arkansas and I assure you, this is how it is in The Kan 'EWA. And if I was in Arkansas, and you agreed to feed the chickens grain, I'd HAPPILY use your chicken as I'm sure it would be the freshest, most wholesome alternative. But here, for good chicken we use Washington grown, fresh, not frozen.

In a dutch oven, preferably cast iron, heat canola oil until a small fleck of flour sizzles and sparks. After having washed, cut up and floured boneless, skinless chicken breasts, place in hot oil and salt and pepper. Cook on high until a nice crust forms. Turn chicken with tongs, not a fork, and salt and pepper again. Now turn heat down to medium low, cover the pan, and let chicken steam until done. You can tell because the color of the meat will change and the flesh will not be flexible. Be careful on boneless chicken not to overcook. Transfer to a pan covered with foil and keep in the oven at 250 until you have finished cooking all the chicken. Here at Bellemaison, we go for the drumsticks for the dark meat, because that's what the kids like. Joe Montana is a bit of a thigh man and from time to time, I indulge him. The thighs don't seem to do as well if they are skinned and I have a philosophical difference with chicken skin. I give the drumsticks a special dispensation however. If you are looking for the logic, let me assure on that point: there is none. The chicken here at Bellemaison is the bedrock of comfort food and we offer it to you with our highest assurance.



The 'Kan EWA

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

JBelle's Mac and Cheese

There was a brief, brief period of time where we used the box. It's not something we're proud of. It was a weird time in our life. If anything, it gave us an overriding appreciation and value for good cheese and a properly salted and oiled water. Thank God those days are long gone. This will please every little kid who ever graces your door and many of the big kids, too. But know this: they will eat like truck drivers.

1 pkg salad macaroni,

cooked with oil and salt to al dente,

draining in colander in sink

2 pounds sharp cheddar, grated

1 cube butter

1 cup flour

2 cans evaporated milk

Heat a large saute pan until hot and melt butter. Immediately turn heat way down as butter will burn quite easily. Using a small mesh strainer, sift flour into the bubbling butter and stir in quickly with wire whip to avoid lumps. The heat should be very low at this stage. Once the bubbling butter has absorbed the flour, add one can of milk in a very small steady stream, stirring very fast. Continue to whip and stir until milk is absorbed. Stir in next can of milk similarly as butter/flour mixture cooks. Repeat: heat is very low. If your timing is off and you end up with lumps, pour the butter/flour mixture into the sieve and strain into another bowl, using the wire whip to eliminate all lumps. Turn back into saute pan. Turn heat off. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. You have to be careful with the cayenne. I always forget a little goes a long way and that even the slightest bit too much cayenne will ravage those little taste buds even if the teenage boys and their daddys love the cayenne. Slightly undersalt to taste as the sharp cheese will force a technical correction to proper seasoning. Turning heat back on, add all the grated cheese except for two healthy handsful. With a wooden spoon, stir in cheese to melt, getting to the bottom of the pan and turning the cheese into and over the sauce. You should have a perfect cheese sauce at this stage. Turn the macaroni back into cooking pan and pour cheese sauce over, incorporating into the macaroni with wooden spoon. Turn into a sprayed casserole and top with the remaining cheese. Bake 350 degrees until cheese browns and bubble. More hugs. Lots and lots of smiles. Very few preservatives.

Note: I use salad macaroni because the little spoons seem to get it into the little mouths better.



The 'Kan EWA
The Jello of Bellemaison

It's true. We have served jello on the Patio at JBelle's for many years. Many of guests we've had were little kids so we developed what they tell me is the best jello in the history of civilization. The Chows and I don't eat too much jello so we take it under advisement. Herewith is our recipe for Jello of the Gods:

2 large boxes strawberry jello

3 large bananas, mashed

1 small carton sour cream at room temperature

16 oz frozen sweetened strawberries

In a 9 x 13 pan, make the first box of jello as directed on the box, except cut the cold water in half. After the cold water step, add the 3 bananas and whip moderately to bind the jello and bananas. Refrigerate for one hour. Remove from refrigerator and frost with sour cream. Refrigerate for an additional two hours. Prepare second box of jello, omitting cold water and substituting frozen strawberries. Remove jello pan from refrigerator and carefully pour liquid jello/strawberry mixture over set jello being carefully not to divot the sour cream. Refrigerate for at least four hours. Cut and serve. Stand back and watch ear-to-ear smiles. Collect your hugs.



The 'Kan EWA

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Inspired by Fresh Rhubarb Cake over at Gardener Girl's and fresh strawberries in the produce section, here's one of our favorites. This practically evaporates once it's out of the oven.

The Pound Cake of Bellemaison

(with all praise and glory to Millie)

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter at room temp

3 cups all -purpose flour

8 ounces cream cheese at room temp

3 cups granulated sugar

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

6 large eggs at room temp

Position rack in lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray a 10-inch tube pan with non-stick spray. I use a long loaf pan that I purchased at a garage sale. It's perfect.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer set on high speed, beat together the 1 1/2 cups butter, cream cheese, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides using a rubber spatula, and then beat on high speed for 1 minute longer. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each addition just until the flour disappears. Do not overmix. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a rubber spatula.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the top comes out clean, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove from the over and let the cake rest in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert a rack on top of the cake, invert the cake and rack, and then lift off the pan. Let cool slightly.

The 'Kan EWA

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Chows and I are still pretty much beside ourselves with this virus that renders us unable to post new pictures. We walked in the garden this morning and it was so nice to see that despite the cold weather, spring is here. The roses are putting out new growth, the daffodils and tulips are up, the forsythia, the alyssum, yellow, white and purple, and the forget me nots make the garden a wonderful place to be on a Saturday morning. The magnolia tree is starting to bloom. I have some new ideas for Joe Montana's mother's iris. My order from Edmunds' Roses in Tualatin, Oregon is in: Fragrant Cloud, of course, Moondance, Miss All American Beauty, Royal William AND Royal Amethyst. Sheila's Perfume, too. We're going to replace one of the fences that the early winter storm destroyed and create some new portals. We're also going to do some different things by the pet graveyard--gasp, take some roses out. So all this and more gives us much inspiration. And hope. Ya need yer hope.



The 'Kan EWA