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Cooking in the West


When you live on a creek or a river, flooding is a springtime fear. It is ironic that we have prayed for rain since March, but now that the flooding has begun we are almost tempted to pause that prayer. Many areas of our state are still in severe drought, but we are under flood watches. The last major flood washed out our bridge, and we vowed we would move to Cohagen, Montana if it happened again. Fortunately for the residents of Cohagen our new bridge, which cost us and FEMA a lot of money, has held strong so far. It is not that we have anything against Cohagen--it is just one of the hottest, driest places I have ever experienced. One year on a wagon train trip from Ingomar to Circle, the day we passed through Cohagen at four miles per hour, my bottom lip swelled up to the size of a hot dog from the blazing heat beating down relentlessly.

The last major flood on Lower Deer Creek was in 2011. This is my recollection of that flood, which left us fording the creek for 5 months before the bridge could be rebuilt.

May 20, 2011: It has been raining for two days, and the creek is rising. There was a bear on the porch twice during the night. I wonder if it was some sort of sign that we are supposed to build an ark? At least God didn’t have a warped sense of humor and send us a wolf! In any event, we might have misread the sign, so Bret’s friend, Lenny Schlabach, shot the bear, because he had a tag, and it had been bothering our cows and the Halverson’s lambs. In all the excitement of the bear hunt, we didn’t realize we should have moved vehicles across the rapidly rising creek before dark.

May 21, 2011. The world is supposed to end on this date according to some Mayan prophecy, so I guess if I drown in the creek driving across it, it won’t matter much. During the night, the solid half of our bridge settled a few inches below the cattle guard part of the bridge. Obviously , the concrete that the bridge is sitting on is shifting in the flood water. I need to take Lisa, a guest from Germany, to see Yellowstone today, so I decided to keep the door of the car open and drive across really fast. Since I lived through the experience, everyone else decided to drive their vehicles across also. Old Faithful went off right on time, so I figure the world isn’t going to end in an earthquake today.

May 22, 2011: The world didn’t end yesterday, which means I am going to have to make the truck payment, clean the house, and do all those things I was putting off just in case the world actually did end. I was going to Google the size of a cubit, but the creek has gone back down and no more animals have shown up on the porch for a ride, so I guess we won’t spend Sunday building an ark. The sun is shining, and it seems like the worst might be over.

May 24, 2011: It has been pouring rain all day. We took Lisa to the airport and moved all the vehicles and animals to higher ground. Every coulee is running several feet deep. We suspect as we cross the sagging bridge on the four wheeler that it will be for the last time. The power flickers off, so we go to bed wondering what lies ahead.

May 25, 2011: The bridge is gone. The cattle guard portion of it is leaning up against some willows, but the steel beams, wooden beams, concrete slabs, rip rap, and bridge deck have vanished. With the rip rap washed out, the raging creek is eating away the banks on both sides of the creek. I decide to take pictures. Bret and Bryan (our guest from St. Louis) are standing by three big round bales at the edge of the creek. Seconds after they move away from the bales, the whole bank buckles and the bales pitch into the water. My heart pounds and my hands shake on the camera so badly that I fail to capture the moment on film, because I realize that the boys would have been killed if they had not moved seconds earlier. I am supposed to swear in the Sweet Grass County High School Board members tonight, but I cannot safely get there, so we have to do it by telephone. Tomorrow, we will find a way to get to the road up over the big hill behind us, which will take us down to Prairie Dog Town. We watched the phone pole and line wash into the creek, so we know we won’t have a phone or internet for a long while. Our cell phones work if we stand on a picnic table in the driveway and don’t move a muscle during the conversation.

May 26, 2011: The mourning phase that follows natural disaster has hit me today. I have experienced several wildfires and several floods, and I know that I will go through the stages of grief just as though a loved one had died. I know our neighbors are going through the same thing, and many of them are much worse off than we are. We do not have water in our house, so we are very lucky. We try not to think about the loss of hay, hayfields, ditches, fences, and the exorbitant cost of replacing the roads and bridge. We are all safe , which is all that counts, but the forecast is for more rain for several days. We cannot even get down to the Musselshell ranch to see what we are facing there, because the only way through Roundup, Montana is with a row boat. But. . . life goes on just somewhat inconvenienced. I have to cook for a retirement dinner for three of my colleagues and a hundred guests tomorrow night. I am going to have to forfeit my airline ticket to my niece’s graduation in Colorado this weekend. Somehow, we will get our calves branded and our cattle hauled to the Musselshell Ranch. There is no time for self pity. The late Duane Mothershead, who lived over the hill on Upper Deer Creek used to say, “If this was easy, everybody would be doing it!” That’s about the only way to look at it; besides that . . . we can diversify our operation even further--we now have whitewater rafting right out the front door!

The best thing about a flood is that the fire danger is reduced at least temporarily. So it is a good time to break out the outdoor cooking recipes and the Dutch ovens. These are some of my favorite low fire danger recipes.

Cedar Plank Salmon:

2 lbs. fresh salmon fillets

1 C. sour cream

1/2 C. melted butter

4 cloves pressed garlic

Alpine Touch or other seasoned salt to taste

dill to taste (optional)

Don't buy expensive cedar planks in the barbecue aisle. Go to your local hardware store and ask if they will give you some scrap cedar to make planks that will fit the size of your barbecue. Soak the planks in water for several hours. You may have to weight them down with cans from the pantry. Skin the salmon with a sharp knife and place on the soaked board. Mix the sour cream, melted butter, pressed garlic, seasoned salt, and dill together and spread on top of the salmon. Cook over medium hot grill until salmon flakes (approximately 20 minutes). Do not turn it, but you may tent it loosely with foil. The board will char, which gives the smoked flavor. Note: For a sweet teriyaki salmon glaze, mix brown sugar with soy sauce until it is "spreadable". Marinate the salmon in this mixture, and then baste it over the salmon filets on the plank as it cooks.

Dutch Oven Parmesan Potatoes:

3 lbs. red potatoes, scrubbed and chopped bite sized

1/2 C. melted butter

several cloves of pressed garlic to taste

2/3 C. Parmesan cheese, divided

seasoned salt to taste

parsley flakes (optional)

Melt butter in a 12 inch Dutch oven or 9 X 13 baking pan. Coat chopped potatoes with butter. Mix 1/3 C. cheese, garlic, and seasoning and stir into potatoes. Cook in the oven for one hour at 350 degrees. Just before serving, top with shredded Parmesan or other cheese of your choice. To cook outside with briquettes and a 12 inch Dutch oven, arrange 8 coals on the bottom and 17 on the top. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour, rotating the lid and oven every 15 minutes.

Lazy Dutch Oven Cobbler:

1 large and one regular sized can of sliced peaches with syrup

1 pkg. yellow or white cake mix

ground cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

1.5 sticks butter

In a 12 inch Dutch oven, dump peaches in the bottom. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour dry cake mix over top of peaches and spices. Cut 1.5 sticks of butter into pats and dot them on top of the cake mix. Bake in the Dutch oven with 15 coals on the bottom and 10 on the top for about 45 minutes or until done. Remember to rotate the oven and lid every 15 minutes. Serve warm with fresh whipped cream. If you want to bake it in the range oven, use a 9 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.


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