Category: Holidays

A Flight Deck Picnic on the USS America, and The 2010 Grilling Season Begins


Click on either photo for a larger version.

It’s now the beginning of the 2010 grilling season here in the midwest and I’ve finally been able to grill a couple times without having to wear a parka. Any time I start worrying about how many people I’m cooking for at any given meal, I think back to the day these pics were taken. I wasn’t a cook on the aircraft carrier USS America (I was just a technician in one of the electronics repair labs on the ship) but I saw how hard the cooks worked in feeding a crew of over 5,000 men four meals each day. (As ships operate 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, with two shifts, there’s a fourth meal around 1 a.m. for the night shift.) I took these pics almost exactly 18 years ago on May 22, 1992. We were making the passage from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal and the Captain had designated that day “Ditch Day”, a common name for such events. There was BBQ chicken, burgers, baked beans, corn, cole slaw, tossed salad, potato salad, dill pickles, and plenty of canned Coca-Cola for everyone. The day was rather hot, so there were massive water balloon fights and a few somewhat “leaky” firefighting hoses strewn about the deck. Note the band to the left of the first picture. How the drummer managed to get his kit onboard a combat vessel is beyond me.

Before anyone asks, the ship is no longer afloat:

In $22 million worth of “experiments that will last from four to six weeks,” the AP reports, “the Navy will batter the America with explosives, both underwater and above the surface, watching from afar and through monitoring devices placed on the vessel.” … These explosions would presumably simulate attacks by torpedoes, cruise missiles and perhaps a small boat suicide attack like the one that damaged the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 … At the end, explosive scuttling charges placed to flood the ship will be detonated, and the America will begin its descent to the sea floor …

According to Wikipedia, the scuttling location on May 14, 2005, was 33°09′09″N, 71°39′07″W, around 250 miles (400 km) southeast of Cape Hatteras. The wreck lies in 2,810 fathoms (5139 metres or 16,860 feet).

So how many are you grilling for this weekend? Navy ships around the world may very well be conducting such a picnic as the one in these photos, with thousands in attendance on a small metal “island”. We can only hope the sailors on those vessels can have as peaceful a picnic as we did that day.

For the rest of us, outdoor cooking has come a long way from the green, boxy, stamped metal cookstoves that were seemingly obiquitous from the 1940s through the 1980s. Those particular cookstoves are still available today and are still popular in a lot of circles. But with today’s cooks watching more cooking shows on television and having more experience with professional-grade equipment, equipment design has taken huge strides towards providing the same grade of equipment in considerably lower-cost packages.

In the summer of 2008 whan I ran the beachhouse concession here in Luna Pier, Michigan, next to the public Lake Erie beach I offered just a bit of breakfast for a while. I tried frozen sandwiches and breakfast burritos, muffins and danishes, and even simple donuts, but didn’t sell enough of any of them to satisfy being open for those hours. I finally shut down breakfast and instead opened the shop at 11 a.m for lunch. If I’d have had the Blackstone Four-Burner Griddle pictured above, I could have made customers complete, fresh breakfast including eggs, diner-style omelets, hash browns, etc. We could have also grilled the hot dogs for our Flint-Style Coneys like they do on the west coast instead of steaming them. All of that would have been a lot better.

If you were able to stop at our house for the City-Wide Yard Sale in 2006 or 2007 you’ll know that I enjoy deep-frying handmade corndogs in my King Kooker 18″ Rectangular Cooker. The company also makes the above Triple-Burner Outdoor Camp Stove. I can see this being used for soups, chili, cast iron skillets for breakfast in the morning … all without taking up space on the picnic table and risking burning someone on the arm. This thing would be quite versatile in any camp I’ve been part of.

As to deep-frying, I’ve seen these beasties in stores and I’ll tall you what, I’m impressed! R&V Works manufactures these deep fryers in single, double or triple configurations. Carts are avaible to double some of these up, making quad and sextuplet fryers, like the one shown above. The folks running the Lenten Fish Dinner at the American Legion Post here in Luna Pier could have used one of the six-basket units, with two baskets each for the Alaskan cod, the breaded shrimp, and the hand-cut French fries. They use three electric deep fryers for all of this, which together end up costing about twice as much as the R&V Works cart unit. And since the cart unit uses standard LP gas, its operation costs are a little bit less over the long run.

Going camping this summer? Are you involved at all with the cooking for a local Scouting troop or campground? Is there some special event you’d like to cook for? Or do you want to get a serious start on some great tailgating equipment? All of this gear, and plenty more like it, are out there in outdoor supply shops and on the internet for ordering. Get to it!

Thanksgiving Dinner 2009 at the Occoquan Inn, Occoquan, VA


A slice of the fresh Blue Ribbon Pumpkin Pie, with whipped cream. Dessert first, right? Other available desserts were an Apple Cinnamon Cobbler and a Chocolate Coffee Mousse.

We’d been planning this trip for a while: Spending Thanksgiving with Mary’s youngest son, LCpl John Winckowski, USMC, just north of where he’s stationed at Quantico, south of Washington, DC. It fell to me to find a place for Thanksgiving dinner so I headed to Serious Eats out of New York City to ask the question:

We’ll be in the Potomac Mills area for Thanksgiving. Does anyone have any suggestions for a decent (i.e., comfortable, pleasant, not fast food) restaurant for 6 or so for dinner? Doesn’t quite matter if it’s a “traditional” Thanksgiving Day meal, although that would be preferred.

The first answer, from user Womandingo, included the following:

Alas, the Woodbridge area is not known for its culinary diversity. You might want to come a few miles north on I-95 to Occoquan, a really pretty place right on the river where there are some lovely little locally-owned restaurants … One really nice place in Occoquan is The Garden Kitchen – http://www.gardenkitchen.com/home – I don’t know if they’re doing a Thanksgiving dinner, but I would be surprised if they weren’t … Check out the Occoquan Inn, another pretty place, that IS serving Thanksgiving dinner and taking reservations now – http://www.occoquaninn.com/occinn.php … I wish I could give you better information about the area around Potomac Mills, but, alas, it’s just not designed for gourmands – or even people who want to eat better than fast food … Good luck.

Womandingo is quite correct about the lack of diversity around the Potomac Mills Shopping Center itself. The area is loaded with chains, ranging from White Castle to 5 Guys, Denny’s to Chili’s and Applebee’s and just about everything else. It’s just not well-suited for anything close to a “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner, especially a dinner to share with someone who’s had mostly Mess Hall food for months at a time.

After a couple false starts I finally nailed down a noon reservation for us for Thanksgiving dinner at the Occoquan Inn in Occoquan, Virginia, for their limited menu from noon to 4 p.m., the only time the Inn would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Womandingo’s other suggestion, The Garden Inn, a block away from the Occoquan Inn, was closed for Thanksgiving.

A brass historical marker on the front of the Occoquan Inn indicates the older construction is circa 1780, although the framed copy of the ghost story next to the marker places construction in 1810. The building, the village itself, the river that runs through the valley behind the Inn … this is all authentic older America. Occoquan’s city hall is a converted one-room schoolhouse, one which is quite similar to the circa 1861 schoolhouse Briahna lives in.

We arrived at the restaurant shortly before noon and, as other guests headed behind the Inn to the river, we were the first ones seated. It turned out our reservation was for the table near the center of the front window, making for a beautiful view of the village. By 12:10, the Inn was packed with guests.


Mary, John and Briahna after being seated.

For the rest of this post, I’ll let the photos basically speak for themselves. This was a beautiful meal. If you have a chance to enjoy eating at the Occoquan Inn as we did, make sure you do. Thanks Womandingo!


While you may not think of shrimp as an appetizer for Thanksgiving, Mary’s family does follow this tradition. These were plump and flavorful shrimp, with a wonderful dipping sauce.


Marinated mushroom caps, with whipped cream cheese with bacon and balsamic. The filling was incredibly light and airy with a rich flavor.


Baby spinach salad with hot bacon dressing and boiled egg. The spinach couldn’t have been fresher or crispier. A Ceasar salad was also available, as were a Virginia Clam Chowder and a Blue Crab Bisque. Briahna and I had the chowder and while it’s almost impossible to get a good photo of, it was positively stunning.


The Traditional Tom Turkey Dinner with roasted turkey, stock gravy, baked ham (which wasn’t listed on the menu), country-style stuffing, sweet potatoes, whipped potatoes, crisp fresh vegetables and housemade cranberry sauce. This plate was huge, piled high, and quite simply, too much wonderful food to finish with desserts in-sight! Other available entrees were Roast Prime Rib of Beef with horseradish sauce, Baked Rockfish Supreme in an herb marinade with shrimp and wild rice, and Chicken Imperial stuffed with blue crab and a lemon Hollandaise sauce.

Follow-Up to My Peeps Rant

Following my Peeps rant from the other day, the bin on the right was given to me by Mary and Briahna this morning. Fortunately, it was a joke Easter basket, filled with Peep bath toys, a Peeps coloring project, a 24-piece Peep puzzle for 4-year-olds, and a few pounds of the creatures themselves. Behind it is my real Easter basket, which was better as far as I’m concerned. My response to Mary and Briahna at the Bin ‘O Peeps? “Peep YOU!”

Peeps; A Rant

At Beth’s wedding in May 2008, an army of Peeps readied itself for an attack on Minas Tirith …

The other day my daughter Briahna said the darndest thing. She said, “I like to leave Peeps out for about a week so they get stale”. Mary and I just looked at her funny. Why? Because she was actually serious about it.

Newsflash, Bri: Peeps are made stale. They’re stale marshmallows. Inside, they’re just weird. And the outer crust is as though they’ve been in the sun too long next to the untouched potato salad that smells like overused and underwashed wet feet.

That’s why I hate Peeps. They’re just nasty.

They even look evil. Look at that photo. I didn’t do anything to the Peeps in the photo to make them look evil. They just do. From Captain Quint in Jaws, those are “Lifeless eyes, like a dolls eyes”. And so many of them. They’re just … wrong. And evil.

Peeps belong in the wrong side of the stories of Lord of the Rings. There should be a movie titled Attack of the Killer Peeps. And to paraphrase Nathan Lane in Mouse Hunt, “Nostradamus didn’t see these things coming”.

And they are coming. This weekend. Peeps are coming in droves.

Beware of their cutesy inroads. Peeps Lip Balm. The Peeps Diorama Contest at the Washington Post.

Then there are recipes for cloning.

And Lord of the Peeps.

So don’t give me any friggin’ Peeps. Any Peeps given to me will be shipped to the home of a Toledo police officer, where the Peeps will be severely dealt with.

I kid you not.

Photos: Lenten Fish Fry Dinners, American Legion Post 193, Luna Pier, MI


A plated Lenten Fish Fry Dinner at American Legion Post 193, located here in Luna Pier, Michigan.

Coming out of American Legion Post 193 after shooting these photos, while still looking forward to having dinner there with Mary, my right foot hit the front edge of the bottom step out the front door of the place. The foot twisted around and all my weight went onto my toes as they rolled under. The sprain is one of the worst I’ve had. No, we’ll not sue! That would be nonsense. I’ll head up there sometime with some yellow safety paint for the edge of that short step as it’s definitely built wrong and is very deceiving. This is the second time I’ve twisted an ankle on it. Mary went in later to get dinners to go, and we ate at home. Even though she and I were able to share a quiet evening eating dinner at home, we were really looking forward to spending time with people there at the Post and will likely return another Friday for their company.

Fish Fry Dinners on Fridays during Lent. They seem to be everywhere, from restaurants having all-you-can-eat fried fish and seafood specials on Fridays, to just about every Catholic parrish hosting the dinners as well. Yesterday morning during their news broadcast, our friends at 13abc listed some of the participating churches in the Toledo area which are hosting these dinners from now until April 10th.

When I was growing up, Myer Elementary School would never serve meat on Friday in the lunchroom. It was always Cheese Pizza made in a sheet pan. The cheese was shredded too small, and we thought it looked like maggots. Still, it was good, as the lunch ladies made it fresh. I’d have rather had fish though.

So what are these dinners all about? Where’d they come from? From Wikipedia, an article titled, “Fasting and abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church“:

Contemporary legislation is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini … Current practice of fast and abstinence is regulated by Canons 1250-1253. They specify that all Fridays throughout the year, and the time of Lent are penitential times throughout the entire Church … Under Canon 1253, the local norms for fasting and abstinence are determined by each episcopal conference … Abstinence from all meat is to be observed by all Roman Catholics 14 years old and older on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent … Parishes in the United States often sponsor a fish fry during Lent. In predominantly Roman Catholic areas, restaurants may adjust their menus during Lent by adding seafood items to the menu in an attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics.

Other organizations also attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics by hosting their own Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinners. Here in Luna Pier, where fishing is quite popular and fishing charters operate out of our in-town marina, American Legion Post 193 has hosted their own Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinners for many years. These photos are from the dinner hosted for the public yesterday evening, and every Friday through April 10th.


Fresh-cut French Fries, not quite out of the cutter. These beautiful potatoes are Barbara Anns, supplied in 50 lb. restaurant-quantity bags by Smith Bros. Farms just a few miles from Luna Pier in Erie, Michigan.

Once the gang in the kitchen understood who I was and that I wanted some good photos so I could spread the word about these dinners, they were telling me all kinds of things about their operation there. The state had just come through within the last couple days for a health inspection, and the Post’s kitchen and processes didn’t receive a single “hit”. Not one issue on the inspection. The guys in the kitchen work quite hard to ensure a clean place, and it shows in the food they serve. They also told me that last Friday, February 27th, was the best night they’d ever had in all the years they’ve hosted these dinners.


A pile of frozen commercial Alaska Cod thaws briefly in a sheet pan for the evening’s dinners. All this fish would be served during a single evening’s fish dinner operation.

There were three dual deep fryers in the kitchen, countertop food-service-grade electric models that sell for $800 or so. With the cod, shimp and French fries all needing to be cooked simultaneously for these dinners I’m surprised there weren’t more fryers back there than there were.

The kitchen crew was starting with some fine-looking Alaskan cod. Filets were dredge in Young’s All Purpose Batter Mix, which is made in a small garage on Summit Street in Toledo. This batter mix is extremely popular, available at Kroger, smaller groceries, and Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops. Fisherman love the stuff. It works well and doesn’t overpower the fish while giving the fish a crispy coating that’s quite satisfying.

Shrimp arrives at the Post previously breaded from a food-service supplier. Unlike some breaded shrimp, the breading and sizings are rather consistent in the shrimp the Post is serving. Sides and condiments for these dinners include Cole Slaw from GFS Marketplace (with a hint of horseradish), a roll, and tarter and cocktail sauces for dipping.

I’ve mentioned before that Mary doesn’t really like fish. But with this dinner, she ate all of it. She seems to like lighter, more milder-tasting fish prepared well, and this dinner was certainly that.


A basket of shrimp comes out of one of the deep fryers.

The first pic of this post is a close-up of a plated serving of the Posts’s Friday Lenten Fish Fry Dinner. For that photo, the plating had been prepared by and was being held for the photo by this young lady. An admitted Luna Pier Cook reader (she high-fived me when I verified this was me), it was also her 20th birthday. Her dedication to the Post really shows when you consider that’s where she decided to spend her birthday evening. Of course, she absolutely hates having her picture taken …