DONE

RoastedLambBaja

After roasting for a bit over four hours in an oven set at 300 degrees, my leg of lamb was cooked to perfection — slightly pink inside with crispy bits of fat on the outside.

I salted and peppered it, then added a little sifted flour and a little sour cream to the drippings to make a sublime gravy.

I don’t want to get carried away, but this was the best leg of lamb I’ve ever eaten. The dish wasn’t a particular favorite in my family growing up, and I never cook it myself, but I’ve eaten some fine leg of lamb in some fine restaurants around the world, particularly in France — most notably the Auberge de la Regalido in Fontvieille (below) — where they know how to do it right, and this beat them all.

AubergedelaRegalido

I expected grass-fed lamb to be less tender and to have a stronger flavor than conventionally raised lamb, but this was not the case here. This meat was extremely tender and had a very subtle flavor.

It came from Minnesota via an on online provider called Grass-Fed Traditions, shipped frozen in dry ice. I can’t recommend it highly enough:

Grass-Fed Traditions

READY

OvenReadyBaja

. . . for the oven.

In addition to the rub I applied yesterday, I also cut slits in the meat and stuffed them with pieces of garlic and sprigs of rosemary. I like my lamb well seasoned.

It’s been in the oven an hour now and already the aromas filling my home are sublime. About three more hours to go.

Click on the image to enlarge.

PREPARATION

LambWithRubBaja

For my birthday, my sister Lee sent me a leg of grass-fed lamb. In preparation for roasting it tomorrow I’ve covered it with a rub of olive oil, minced garlic and fresh rosemary and placed it in the icebox to sit overnight.

I’ll report on further progress tomorrow.

Click on the image to enlarge.

SHIRRED EGGS

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Shirred eggs are basically just baked eggs, usually cooked in small oven-safe flat-bottomed baking dishes or ramekins and served in the containers they’re cooked in.

They can be prepared very simply by just buttering the dish and cracking the eggs (without breaking the yolks) into the dish. Salt and pepper the eggs to taste and cook them to the consistency desired.  (At 10 minutes in a 375-degree oven the eggs will start to set and become opaque.)  One can also add some ham to the bottom of the dish, or some cooked rice, and sprinkle cheese over the tops of the eggs, plus any herbs one fancies. Some recipes call for the addition of a little cream to the eggs.  Variations are endless.

I cooked the eggs pictured above in a bowl designed for French onion soup, with the eggs on a bed of precooked rice I had on hand and with Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.  Delicious and very easy to prepare.

Click on the image to enlarge.

RAMBLINGS

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Yesterday Jae and I discovered a great Korean restaurant, or “barstaurant” as it styles itself, called Soyo — really good food and exceptionally pretty waitresses.

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We also checked out the Fantastic Swap Meet, which used to proclaim itself “the world’s largest indoor swap meet” but for some reason no longer does. It’s very large, however, and filled to bursting with stuff, of every description.  Jae managed to resist buying a stun gun, even though they were heavily discounted.

JaeMargaritaBaja

Tonight we dined at Ricardo’s Mexican restaurant, a Las Vegas fixture for many years and very close to my home. I had eaten there once about six years ago and found the food mediocre. It was the same tonight. I’ll try it again six years from now and let you know if anything has changed. They had some good Mexican beer on draft, however, and served vast margaritas. Jae ordered one and somehow finished it. Then he dashed off to a poker tournament at the Luxor.

He’s been making about $50 a day gambling.

[Update: Jae busted out of the tournament before the final table.  He made a call he probably shouldn't have made because he was "feeling lucky".  In retrospect he blames this feeling on the margarita.]

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FRAUNCES TAVERN

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[Image via Paul Pearson & Shorpy]

Fraunces Tavern, seen above in 1900, is sometimes called the oldest bar in New York City, though it has not been in continuous operation since it started selling spirits in the 1760s.  It’s presently housed in a somewhat conjectural reconstruction of its original building, where George Washington bade farewell to his officers after the Revolutionary War:

1002px-Frauncestavern

The oldest continuously operating bar in New York City is McSorley’s Old Ale House, which claims to date from 1854 but may have actually opened in the 1860s.

McSorley's_Bar_1912_John_Sloan

In any case, McSorley’s has hardly changed at all since John Sloan painted the picture above in 1912.

Click on the images to enlarge.

SOME THOUGHTS ON RED BEANS AND RICE

RedBeansRicePhilosophyBaja

. . . of a philosophical nature.

Red beans and rice was an invention of Creole chefs in the kitchens of The French Quarter in New Orleans, but its enduring popularity and ubiquity in Louisiana are due to the fact that it’s basically a dish for poor folks — a way of adding flavor and spice to the timeless staples of beans and rice.

Variations on red beans and rice can be found all over the Caribbean and Latin America.  What distinguish the New Orleans variant are the local spicy sausages and the cured pork of one sort or another.

RedBeansWiththeRiceBaja

The meats are a kind of lagniappe — treats that enhance the simplicity of beans and rice.  If you’re not poor, there’s a tendency to think that even more meat will make the dish even better.  If you’re delighted, when eating a traditional plate of red beans and rice, to get a bit of sausage or ham in a forkful of the beans, then it stands to reason that getting several bits of sausage or ham in a forkful will delight you even more.

This is true, as I have learned from experience, but only up to a point, as I have also learned from experience.  If you get to the point where the beans start to seem like an afterthought, just garnish for a meat stew, you have gone too far.  The beans and rice have to carry the freight of the dish, or it’s not really red beans and rice as it’s eaten in New Orleans.

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ROUTE 66

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As we started out on our last day on the road, Anna and I had a sudden urge for a good breakfast of bacon and eggs. Our choices were limited on the Interstate, so when we spotted a Denny’s sign from the highway we took the exit and found ourselves on an old stretch of Route 66.  “How bad could a Denny’s be?” we asked ourselves.

Pretty bad.  The Denny’s we arrived at smelled odd inside and had a lot of people waiting for tables, so we set off in search of something else. What we found was the funky little restaurant above, where we had some perfectly good eggs and bacon in a joint with a little character.

AnnaGuestRoomBaja

We continued on and reached Las Vegas before nightfall. Anna braved the horrors of my apartment and continued with her online teaching chores. The next day I gave a her a real treat — driving her to the local T. J. Maxx, so she could buy a new suitcase. Then we had a late lunch at an Irish pub near my place — we were both hammered and felt that some hearty pub food was just what we needed. It hit the mark exactly.

We woke early the next morning and I took Anna to the airport to catch a 6am flight back to North Carolina — and suddenly the epic road trip was over. My body was still vibrating, as though I was still in the car, and my mind was sapped from the swirl of experiences encountered during a month on the road.

I’ve now written blog posts about most of it, and feel partly human again. Time to get back to staying put and writing fiction.

Click on the images to enlarge.

ALBUQUERQUE

AnnaAlbuquerqueBaja

Anna and I stopped for the night in Albuquerque.  We had no particular reason to stop there — it was just a convenient place to break our mad dash back to Las Vegas.  On Yelp I found a restaurant called Antiquity in Old Town that sounded interesting, so we took the exit for the restaurant and discovered a Best Western Plus right by the off-ramp.  It had thoughtfully provided an area with tables outside for smokers (above) where Anna I rendezvoused for the half mile walk to the restaurant.

AnnaOldTownBaja

The place turned out to be jammed, with a 45-minute wait for a table, so we passed the time in the Old Town plaza, which has few really old buildings but was pleasant enough at twilight.

LloydOldTownBaja

Antiquity turned out to be worth the wait.  It’s housed in a genuinely old building just off the plaza, dimly lit with wooden dividers between the tables.  “Very romantic,” said Anna.  “Too bad I’m here with my brother.”

The restaurant specializes in filets of beef wrapped in bacon and broiled, which is what I had.  It was delicious.  Anna had a perfectly cooked salmon filet.  The service was slow, because of a big party in attendance, which gave us time to quaff many alcoholic beverages and shed the tensions of the road.  The staff was extremely friendly and apologetic about the wait.

AntiquityServersBaja

It was raining when we went back outside after the meal, and we didn’t know if the area of our walk was safe at night, so we asked the staff for the number of a taxi service — but this they would not supply.  Instead the owner himself appeared and offered to drive us back to our motel in his own car, which he did.  He was a cheerful fellow, and told us that the next day would mark the 15th anniversary of the opening of the restaurant.

A fine last night on the road — with the pleasant discovery of a good restaurant and some good people in an interesting place.  It’s the sort of thing that can still happen on what’s left of The Great American Roadside.

Click on the images to enlarge.