Sunday, March 5, 2017

Miller High Life Chili

Since it's twelve degrees out today (March 5, 2017) here in southern Vermont, I thought it would be a good day to make my Miller High Life Chili, and share the recipe.  It's a simple chili, really, and you can make it as spicey as you like.  Personally, I like it relatively mild, so I can taste all the ingredients, rather than just the spice.  You need to round up these ingredients (I strongly recommend a complete 6-pack of the Miller High bottle for the chili, four bottles to stay hydrated with during the cooking process, and one to enjoy with the chili):

Back when I worked at the National Wild Turkey Federation's South Carolina headquarters, the boss decided that all the male employees had to make a chili for a competition to be judged by all the female employees.  He liked to do crap like that.  Anyway, this chili won hands down.  I thought it was because it was so wonderful.  Turns out, every male in the building except yours truly was a big deer hunter and virtually force fed their families exclusively on venison.  The ladies all told me the reason they liked mine so much was because it was the only one made with beef!  Ego deflating information.  But I digress (don't I always?).

This was the first time I used crushed tomatoes; I won't do that again.  I much prefer whole peeled canned tomatoes.  I cut them up as the cook in the chili.  Years ago, when I had a big garden, I would blanch, peel and freeze my tomatoes to make this chili much better than store bought!

First step is to cut up those white onions into fairly course pieces.

I always use my cast iron dutch oven for this recipe.  Frankly, I think it would be a sin to make it in anything but a cast iron dutch oven, remembering that when the chili is done to get it out of the cast iron; cast iron does not like tomato-based products sitting in it for very long, nor do the tomato-based products.  Can pick up an iron taste.

Anyway, cover the bottom of the oven with a thin layer of olive oil, and start to glaze them:

As they are glazing, I start adding the spices (salt, pepper and camp mix only; save the chili powder until all the ingredients are in).  The old "salt and pepper to taste" axiom comes into play here.

The salt, pepper and chili powder are pretty straightforward, every day spices.  The camp mix bears some explanation:  a few years back, my pal Vin Swazey up in New Brunswick introduced me to it; he found it in one of the big liquor store complexes along I-95 in New Hampshire, near its border with Maine.  It is amazing stuff from a small, family company in Hollis, New Hampshire.  You can buy it, and there other very good spice concoctions here: .  We regularly use their spud fixin', lemon pepper, and honey-cinnamon camp mixes.  This has been an uncompensated advertisement.  Back to the chili.

I typically use about a third of one of those little jars of chili powder in this recipe, adding a little at a time until I get the "heat" level I like.  Continuing with my didactic style, I really think you should only use a wooden spoon to stir/mix ingredients in your chili.  Don't know why.  Stainless Steel just seems wrong here.  I think it bruises the ingredients.  And don't even think about plastic.

Just glaze the don't want them to get soft or burned...they're going to be cooking for about an hour total, so they have plenty of time to soften up.  Time to add that pound of ground chuck.  Make sure it's the 80:20 stuff.  We need the fat for taste!

Use that wooden spoon to stir the beef and onions so that the beef browns evenly:

Time for all the other ingredients.  Drain the two cans of dark red kidney beans, toss 'em in with the beef and onions.  Don't drain the cans of tomatoes...dump the whole cans in.  And of course, the main ingredient: one bottle of Miller High Life beer.

Simmer and occasionally stir for one hour and it's done!


Now you have to eat this stuff, and there only one way to serve it:  topped with Made in Vermont Cabot's Seriously Sharp cheddar cheese:

And of course, it has to be enjoyed with that one bottle of High Life left from the six pack because you stayed well-hydrated during the cooking process!

I like to put it up in single serving containers (I'm the only chili eater in the house) for future cold weather lunches.

And there you have it...Miller High Life Chili.  Also great to put in a wide-mouth thermos for cold weather fishing or hunting or hiking lunches!


Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Montana State Oral History Project

I'm pleased and proud to have participated in Montana State University's (Bozeman) Oral History Project.  From MSU's website, an overview of their complete project:

The MSU Trout and Salmonid Collection is part of an overall effort to create the world’s largest and most comprehensive research center for all information related to the study of these valuable and sought after species. Our efforts are three pronged and include our print collection which holds over 12,000 titles; our Archival Collection which includes the papers of angling luminaries like Bud Lilly, George Grant, and John Gierach; and our Digital Collections which includes our Trout and Salmonid Artwork Digitization Project and our Angling Oral Histories project. Our physical collections are located on the 2nd floor of Renne Library and open from 8am-5pm Monday-Friday. Tours of the collection are available by contacting our Special Collections Librarian, James Thull, at

And concerning their oral history project specifically:

The Angling Oral Histories Project is the largest and most comprehensive effort ever undertaken to document the history of all things related to trout and salmonids. We are interviewing anglers, guides, authors, politicians, scientists, and other individuals who have been associated with or impacted trout and/or salmonids. The project has already captured many of the leading voices from the world of angling including Joan Wulff, Bob Jacklin, Tom Alkire, Lefty Kreh, and AD Maddox.

I hope you'll enjoy the oral histories, found here:

We continue to lose the pioneers of our sport on a daily basis.  I, for one, am thrilled that MSU is conducting this project.   The actual videos of individuals are very well done; you can see the question being asked on the right side of the screen; you can even click back and forth among those questions to skip or re-hear a question.  The project leader, James Thull, is doing an outstanding job; he tailors his questions to the individual he is interviewing.  You can tell he does that because he asks guys like Leigh Perkins what famous people he's fished, not so much, lol.

Cheers, Gary

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Shadow Box Framing - Start to Finish

When Mike Valla gave back to me the sixty-odd hairwings I tied for his latest book, Tying and Fishing Bucktails and Other Hairwings - Atlantic Salmon Flies to Steelhead Flies, I knew I wanted to donate them to the Miramichi Salmon Association's Boston fundraising dinner auction.  But how to present them?  To store the flies, I put some sheet Styrofoam down in a cigar box.  For awhile, I thought that would be good enough to send to the auction.  But then I thought, "How about in a nice Wheatley box?"   The problem with that would be how one would keep the names straight (if one wanted to keep the group of flies together as a collection)?  What to do?

As luck would have it, I was straightening up a few things in the basement (don't know what I was thinking there...Sisyphus had a better chance of rolling that boulder all the way to the top of the hill than I do of straightening out our basement!) I happened upon some old precut mat boards that Bridget had from years ago.  They were 11"X14" with a 7.5"X9.5" cutout.  Hmmmm.  Took one to the shop, grabbed the flies, and started playing around with them.  Looked like 25 hairwings would fit nicely in that opening, and 10 streamers fit well, too.  That little light bulb in my head that usually glows so dimly started to was the solution to my presentation problem!

Now, my hands shake too much to be able to print or write the way I used to, but I can use the Word program on my computer a little, so I started laying out a background from the alphabetical list of the flies:

Yup, that was going to work (notice that the flies are facing in a different direction than the final product.  Don't know why, but every one that does this sort of thing seems to orient the fly so that the head is on the right.  Maybe because, at least for right-handed tyers, that's usually the best side of the fly?

I decided I'd use the method where one uses wire from the back side of the backing, through a bead, around the fly and back through the backing.  Found a couple youtube videos about how to do it.  As an old museum director, I just couldn't make myself use the very non-reversible method involving glue, which effectively destroys the fly (to my mind).  BUT that means having to punch a very straight set of holes through the backing mat.

Enter my drafting set from my 1968 Freshman Drafting class in my Automotive Technology college curriculum.  Forty nine years young and still in service!  First step: lay the paper on the drafting board and make sure it's parallel with the T-square:


I laid a row of hooks about the names on the left-most column, and with a sharp pencil marked where the eye and apex of the bend of the hook lay.

Measured the typical hook (almost all Gamakatsu T10-6H's):

Drew centerline's through each column of names, then went 5/8's" inch on each side of center line, and using the triangle, started a grid system (this is all on a plain sheet of copy paper).

Now, between using the T-square and the triangle, starting with just those first couple dots, I have a complete grid system that allows me to punch holes for the wire in exactly the same relation to each name as any other name. 

Then I taped the plain paper with layout on it over the nice cardstock I want to use for the actual background, and using my trusty dissecting needle (AKA (nowadays) dubbing needle) I start punching holes through both sheets.  Oh, did I mention that said needle came from Freshman Biology class when I started College all over again in 1978 in Natural Resources Conservation?  Obviously, you should never through a good tool away.

The nice ivory-colored card stock all punched up and ready for flies:

I used a spray adhesive to glue the cardstock to the acid-free mat board backing:

Really, the hardest part is more thinking, just doing.  Well, except for when we have to make the shadow box frames, of course.  All we need are flies, glass beads (thank you, Wal-mart), and silver wire (size small is pictured.  After one fly, I switched to medium.  If you ever try this, you'll see why I switched to medium).

Pretty easy, really.  Pass the wire through the bead, through the eye of the fly, back through the bead, pass both ends through the matting, and tape off.  After two or three, it really goes quickly:

But wait, there's more!  We need to make the thick "between mat" (I'm sure there's a word for that part that real framers use).  So I went to the local art supply store - surprisingly, there actually is one in Bennington, Vermont - and found 1/4" acid free foamcore board.

Lay out and cut two 11"X14" pieces...

Lay the cutout mat we've been using over the foamcore and trace the opening:

Now we take our handy-dandy six inch by 1/2 inch steel ruler that we've also been lugging around for a thousand years and use it to enlarge the opening by 1/2 inch:

Now we take our big steel rule and razor knife to cut out two identical pieces of foamcore:

Note:  I did all of these steps 4 times, since I'm making four framings.  Well, three for my flies and one for someone else's (hopefully).   Anyway, 1/4" doesn't get it for thickness; we need 1/2", so out comes the trusty spray glue and we have what we need, thickness-wise:

If you peer into a shadow box like this, you'd be able to see the foamcore.  Can't have that, so we slice up some seafoam green mat board (to match the main outside mat) and cover the foamcore:

The foamcore that I cut out makes a good form to keep the strips in place while the glue drys.  Have to trim it slightly to account for the thickness of the strips; a wedge or two helps where needed:

Nice and neat finish to this part of the ordeal project:

The time has come to put all this work away in a safe place...sawdust time.  I had looked into store-bought shadow box frames...but none of them looked right to me...and I couldn't afford them anyway.
I did have an 8' length of 5/4"X6" pine left over from some project or other; looked like it would be perfect, and give me enough wood to make four frames after I cut the knots out.  Must have clear wood for these frames!  I ripped the piece into 1 3/8" strips. That width would allow me to run the strips through the joiner to remove saw marks and straighten them, and then to sand them to get to the 1 1/4" width I desired.

Strips cut:

Through the joiner:

Enough for the four frames after cutting out the knots:

Ganging up a set for almost final sanding.  This ensures that they all stay the same dimension.

It's important to "ease" the edges.  Sharp edges don't take paint or stain well, and they get bonked and look bad pretty easily.

First cut in making a piece of frame.  Initally, I was going to do this in one pass through the router, but after I got that all set up and realized how close my fingers would be coming to a sharp object spinning at 15,000 rpm's, I opted for the more time consuming table saw method.

Second cut gives the final actual profile of the frame.

Ready for the miter saw!

I screw a board down at the correct length to ensure each piece  is cut to exactly the same length.  If you try and measure and cut each piece individually, you A. spend way too much time, and B.  are probably going to have bad miter joints because the pieces aren't exactly the same length.  I have to set this up twice, since the frames are rectangular.

Four sets ready for glue-up:

Gluing mitered corners can be a pain if you don't have a good clamping system.  I bought one such clamp years ago, and could never make it work.  For whatever reason, the day I was doing this I had an "I will not be defeated" attitude about the thing, and finally figured it out.  Happy me!  With good glue and a good fixture, there is no need for nails at the joints.  I was using the little square to ensure that the frame really was square in the clamp

Pretty nice miter joints if I do say so myself.  Which I do!

Now we have four frames ready for staining and clear finishing:

On to staining.  If you're using Minwax products, its important to use their Pre-stain stuff when staining softwoods.  Through the miracle of chemistry, it prevents the stain from blotching on that kind of wood.  I'm using Minwax's English Chestnut stain; used it on other projects, and everyone seems to like it.

How do you stain an object like this, he asked himself while staring at it for what seemed like hours.  Seeing all the cut-off pieces from the project, that dim bulb once again blazed to brightness:  a fixture, made from scrapes, that would hold the back of the frame (which I stain first, then let dry) off the table and allow me to get the tops and sides without holding on to it:

Put a box under the fixture, and it's ready to be sprayed with the final satin clear coat:

Add glass, set in the mat set, place a final matboard backing, secure with push points, and Voila!, the framings are finished. 

That was quite a project; I'm pleased with the end results.  There are certainly many ways to make a shadow box framing.  This is probably the redneck way!  Now I just hope that at least two other folks are, too....takes two to make an auction, doncha know.