Michelee Cabot

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imageIt’s just too easy to roll back the years, and be there. I’m back to eight years old. The images are strong – I’m there, digging my toes in the dirt and stirring it until it becomes a fine powder at least 8 inches deep, thus violating the rule to always wear shoes. That was to protect against whatever parasites were lurking in the loam. Ha. Although my shoes were a little girl’s dream, wooden platforms with banana trees carved and painted on the side, pale green straps criss-crossing over the toes – I was a barefoot kid. But I adored them, for they were, in fact – high heels. I mastered them instantly, being only eight years old and thrilled to the bone. They were just my size… Filipinos were a small people. We got them in the local town of Tarlac near our military post.

It was in Tarlac that I learned humility. It was an epiphany – a pivotal moment in my life. Mother and I were shopping with her friends. A crowd of natives gathered to stare at us Americans, following us closely as we moved about. I was the first white child, and blonde to boot, that most had ever seen. I was a curiosity to be examined. Watched. I preened, I held my head high, I walked with dignity. I pictured myself a princess, above them all, in my own mind. I stayed close to my mother through the clothes market, peering at and examining clothes, acting interested and, I thought, oh so very grown up. I walked proudly in my shoes.

Then we wanted to cross the street. Cars were non-existent, except for the jeep that had brought us. The village was dirt roads and dirt-floored stores, the occasional wooden walkway mocked up in the aisles, and outside here and there to pass over deep mud puddles. Dogs trailed, chickens scattered, children peered, adults stared. I felt very superior in this sea of black hair and black eyes. The crowd parted for us to cross to another store. I lifted my head the way I thought a princess should, like out of one of my fairy tale books, nose up – not deigning to look down in front of me. A princess wouldn’t look down. And guess what… OH yessss…. There was a banana peel. SO classic. Whoop! Thud! – up my feet flew – and down I went.  Big ouch!!! I dared not show pain, anything. I, the princess, had to carry this off, thought I to myself. Get up and smile, brush myself off. I did. Nobody smiled. They just stared.
I learned humility. My pride had shriveled. But my shoes had stayed on.

We were going home – to a home we didn’t know yet.  What would it be like, on the other side of the world?

 

Behind a giant V-spray of water, for 21 days our MATS transport ship muscled the sea out of its way, leaving behind spouting whales – and sometimes, escorting flocks of flying fish. Finally, finally  it settled into a thrumming drift towards the Manila dock. Arriving at the pier, impatient dependents crammed against the railing, calling out to joyful fathers and husbands. The dock below was a mass of men with grinning faces and waving arms. We excitedly spotted who we belonged to, pushed down the gangplank, did fierce whirling hugs – and then agonizingly waited to be processed.  Stuff had to be offloaded from the cargo, slowly swinging on hooks and ropes.

 

That done, a government car picked us up and hauled us away to distant Clark Field. It was full dark by the time we got there.  The road had been full of bumps and mysterious shadows, headlights briefly illuminating… something. I could see nothing outside. We eventually passed through Clark Field’s tall gates – formerly Fort Stotsenburg– a prewar post my mother had always spoken of in reverential tones. We pulled up to the commanding officer’s mansion. Here we would spend a few days until we traveled on to Daddy’s post. And new home.   Plantation-style, these Clark Field commander’s quarters were grand. Second floor bedrooms had screened balconies and wide porches. Downstairs, too. Inside, the floors gleamed with overlapping circular patterns of wax.  How fancy, I thought. How did they do that?

 

How? The next day I saw how – barefoot house boys swooped around on coconut halves, bending and skating in sweeping circles to bring back glow and shine, scuffed up by footfalls. Boy-powered waxing/buffing machines! Intrigued, my eyes followed their graceful moves, sometimes with a candle stub grinding under the coconut against the floor. “Missy do?” They grinned. “Oweeee!” I yipped… the hard coconut cups hurt my feet. I toppled off, giggling. As I walked around, my bare soles picked up a stiff layer of wax. (Shoes did too.) But the floors gleamed richly, in this commander’s showplace. Candle wax subbed for floor wax. We were in a land of make-do.  Mama whispered “Yankee ingenuity.” “Mommy,” I said – “looks like Filipino ingenuity.”  She sniffed.

 

Was our house going to be grand – like this?  “No, no, buttercup…” said my daddy. “Our house is nice, but not a mansion. But it’s built on a concrete pad… You can even roller skate in it!”  Oh boy – I could settle for that.  Our new home would be just the best.

jungleWe were adventurous, curious, and rambunctious, we transplanted military offspring. We were on Luzon, at the Army Air Corps base Florida Blanca – still Air Corps, not yet Air Force, that year. Newly reunited with our warrior dads, gleeful to be back in their arms, on their laps – and swung high on their shoulders. We were all ages of course – but this day’s gaggle was aged six to ten. Littler ones were left at home, while we were on out on a forbidden foray. Forbidden because of the danger of landmines, heinous wartime devices planted to demolish the stalking enemy – now perilous, of course, to the meandering innocent. There had been scrupulous cleanups; yet every week some poor GI was blown to bits while walking around in the fields – to pee, guy-style.

The Philippine Islands were home to a marvelous plant – a low-growing, fluffy sensitive plant. Think of our weedy little pinky puff-flowering touch-me-not, and bring it to a higher level. The kind that when you touch it, recoils and folds up its leaves to escape. Then on its own timing it slowly unfolds to again capture the sunshine. These grew knee-high and left an intriguing path as we kids plowed through them. As we stirred the greenery, up flew myriads of flying insects, from tiniest butterflies to gnats and mosquitoes – which circled maddeningly. When we passed through the field and looked back – we saw the sensitive plants delightfully filling in the channeled footpath we had forged. No one would ever have guessed we had passed by. Just the kind of field for landmines. If there were any, we missed them. Our guardian angels were busy.

Way across the open field, at its edge, arose a thick jungle of bushes, vines, and trees. It was after all, the tropics. As we pushed through, making our way to the edge of the valley beyond (at the right season, we saw agri-burnoff down there done by the farmers… mostly sugar cane) – with a shock we stumbled onto an airplane wreck hidden in the deep jungle shadows. Tentatively, a couple of us stepped gingerly into the crashed Japanese fuselage, tell-tale red circle on its side. Then we saw the upright helmeted, uniformed skeleton in the pilot’s seat. We didn’t go further to see the face, the actual skull. We pivoted and breathlessly rocketed out – shrieking in terror. Silly us… the dead couldn’t hurt us. Oh yeah? Maybe yes, maybe no. We could not report this – we were doing a forbidden thing.

It was Luzon, 1946. Small wild horses grazed the lands. When one soon met his grisly demise in that same field, we kids gathered and huddled, and marveled at our luck.

I finally confessed it, to a non-plussed father. He growled his disapproval – but it was way too late.  “I’m sorry, Daddy,” was hardly enough.  His hug gave forgiveness, and showed his relief.

JOE and the CARVING KNIFEAngry Chinaman

The wild sight is burned in my memory – Chinese Joe the cook, enraged, crazed, chasing fleeing terrified Lupe the housemaid with a carving knife held high to plunge into her back. His slitted eyes were on fire, his lips drawn back from his teeth, gaunt cheeks sucked in in fury. It was reflex – glaring, I bellowed “Joe Stop!! – give me that knife!” and lunged forward to grab it from him. He stopped, trembling.

I was eight years old, a yellow-haired brat, daughter of the conqueror. It was 1946, on Luzon. End of WW2. Head wavering, he gave it to me. The commotion drew my parents to the scene. “Give me the knife, Mike!” said Daddy, grimly – mother horrified and Daddy appalled. What had happened?
Joe was a gifted cook, master of the delicate merengue and flaky crusted rolls, creator and chef of dream-like, mouth-watering cuisine. He had come to us via an old restaurateur friend of my father, one he had bailed out of a Manila restaurant closure before the Conflict, back during a prewar posting. Lt. Morgan, my Daddy to be, had coughed up $50 to keep his restaurant open (a lot back then) – this money had enabled him, through the intervening years, to expand throughout the south pacific. He believed he owed his success to my father, and in the philosophy of the East, he was indebted for life. He was known to us as Charlie Corn, a vague approximation of what his name sounded like to Yankee ears. So when Charlie Corn heard that my father was back on Luzon, he appeared like a welcome genie with a cook for the household, someone he drew out of his army of restaurant cooks. And he had only the best. That excellence is what had prompted my father to keep him afloat all those years before.
Joe was a genius – but a temperamental one. Like most artists, he held his secrets close to his chest. NO one could watch him cook. Once day mother peeked in and saw him making his golden buttery rolls… he was spitting the glaze from between his teeth onto each before slipping the pan into the oven. Pit-tooey! pit-tooey! pit-tooey! And so on… Quietly she snuck away, deciding the oven’s heat would burn off the germs. The glaze was so lovely.

But foolish Lupe was not smart. She teased paranoid Joe relentlessly, peering into the kitchen from around the corner. His artistic license was threatened… He had secrets he would not, could not, share. He loathed Lupe and her teasing… He finally snapped. Violently. They  were on a chase through the living room when high-pitched oriental screams reached my ears, and I stepped up.
You never know what life will bring. If I had been older, I might not have been so bold. Yeah, I would have.
Some of us don’t have much sense.

www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

The year was… well, back when. We were in England, motoring through the Cotswold, when the two-lane became a car-brushing one-cart-track of leaning-in bushes and birds. We curled around the tree-shaded green hillsides, happily running across again a two-track, and suddenly found the roadway to be oddly wide, sunlit – and concrete. Vegetation intruded over the edges. Ka-bing! The lightbulb went off. “Hal – this is a runway!” I exclaimed. We were on an erstwhile WW2 runway, well absorbed into England’s roadways system. The wartime RAF had many of these, mostly now defunct and overgrown, deep in the countryside.

As we poked along, near Moreton-in-Marsh by now, we came upon another of those huge runways – this one adapted to creative reuse as both a truck-driving training school at one end (lots of maneuvering ultralightroom) and a flight school of ultralights and microlights at the other. It would never happen in the USA. We were bemused. And drawn in. As pilots, we were itching to get the overview of all the hedgerows and villages, sprawling picture-book pretty across the rolling countryside. Would the school sell us rides? Hesitating, we idled the car down the concrete till we found a shed, a few winged moth-like contraptions parked outside. Neither of us had been in one before – this could be a first. Inside, the instructors acted as if they had been waiting for us. Fiona would be mine, Hal got the very heavyset guy. And the microlight. Hal was tall and hefty… he hid his angst over the strain the two of them would be putting on the little craft – quietly sharing his worry with me. Fiona liked the enclosed ultralight, so that was that.

Fiona was a slender, lovely, fair-haired young woman, coolly assertive and authoritative. Tall. I felt like a shrimp, beside her. But we were to be cabin mates for a brief half-hour, and I could take that. My logged flight time, many more than hers, had been built in single engine aircraft and gliders – this invention I was climbing into was another class… like a glider with a motor.  But smaller.

So we signed up and rolled out… belted in firmly with the advisory to stay at or below 2,500’ – Fiona stated that was the permissible layer of airspace available to us in that area. The ceiling was flat and pale gray above us, a little disappointing.
I of course acquiesced to Fiona’s know-how. The little winged thing was, well, worryingly kite-like. At least we were out of the slipstream. Took a moment or two to get used to it. Then I found a bit of lift and attempted to circle in it to gain altitude – an action that startled and sent pretty Fiona into a dither. “Fiona,” I chided, “I’m a glider pilot!”  Never mind.  She reminded me of the altitude restriction for us in this area, so I straightened out and flew level. And did what I was there for – enjoy the overview, while carefully managing the controls. The hedgerows did indeed mark off one field from another, with intriguing peeks at medieval villages here and there – we could even see ancient footpaths trailing town to town across lots, avoiding roads. (Author Bill Bryson has written a definitive tome on his walk-about through Britain. Amazing place.)
The half-hour whizzed by, and we aimed back towards base (always within sight) to compare notes with Hal. He was happy.  The avoirdupois of the two men seemed to have no effect on the microlight’s performance; they leaped aloft quickly upon the initial acceleration, much to his relief. He had no desire to have his corpse shipped back to the States.  Me neither.  Fiona was relieved to offload her curious American passenger.
We paid and thanked the flight school, clambered into our car, and wound our way through the byways onto an A something or other, and got back to our digs high on our day’s discoveries. In the air or on the ground, travel is wonderful, from tight little one-track roads to soaring the overview. Life was good.

sailboat

So there I was, on a hot summer day, sharing a flight with fellow student Danny. Danny was a Boston bartender with flying dreams. (We all liked to split expenses in those days, when we could.) I’m in the pilot’s seat, and Danny is directing me over a big Boston area reservoir, to see if we can spot a sunken boat. We’re circling and circling, and Danny opens the window to see better. And cool off. He forgets the force of the slipstream – it could rip his nice sunglasses off and fling them into the reservoir… oops.  And sure enough, whip-snap there they go. “Oh s**t” says Danny.  But what can we do? Not a thing.

S**t happens.

On boats, especially. I mean, there you are, rocking about in the breeze… Or maybe still tied up at the dock?

The silliest, saddest I ever heard of – way above the angst of fleeing glasses – was when a friend was getting ready to sail the Atlantic, taking along a techie know-it-all sailing pal. Captain John was a Master, one who gave advanced celestial navigation classes.  (Having taken his classes, I can give five stars to his expertise.) He sniffed at his pal’s marine GPS (global navigation system) but was argued into it. “Hey, captain, we’re headed to Bermuda, you know!” Seemed like a cheat, to him. So our second-in-command places his treasured GPS on the flat rail, unsecured – I mean why not, they’re still at the dock, right? Caught up in the details of helping with casting off, he forgets the GPS. A motion catches his eye… he sees with horror from across the deck its response to the physics of the rocking boat – and watches helplessly as it slides with a happy splash into the harbor. Rushing to the railing, he watches it fade into the dark waters. Try to recover it? Not an option. They had cast off, they were moving out. Search in the harbor muck below?   A time-waster. The salt water would have totaled it anyway.

OH yes… S**t happens.  Especially when you’re not watching.

 

osh

THE INNER VOICE
Can it save your life?

We all get nudges from our Inner Voice. Some say it’s your Conscience – some insist it’s your Guardian Angel – some say instinct. Or psychic events. Whatever you call it, I pay attention whenever I get that scalp-prickling Heads Up. You know… “Don’t get into that elevator with him.” And “Your kid is straight ahead through the crowd“ – and wow, there he is.

Another thing.  If you listen, people will spill their guts when it’s something you really should know. It’s weird.

We were at the annual 7-day EAA Oshkosh, Wisconsin, fly-in event, a gathering of aviators from literally everywhere. It draws the aviation field’s smartest inventors and cleverest entrepreneurs. You rub elbows with fighter pilots, old and new test pilots – and astronauts. Lord Branson of Virgin Air shows up to tout his newest. They all come to strut their stuff. There’s a magnificent line-up of antique warbirds, a splendid separate area for ultralights… It’s vast. Acres of giant hangars are committed to sales booths – av-related products: avionics, aircraft parts, theme clothing… even jewelry and gorgeous paintings.  And yes, grandly tented pavilions of new aircraft for sale… yum.

Some 15,000 aircraft and a cajillion motor homes assemble to offload aviation buffs for seminars, new products, view the latest aviation improvements and static aircraft displays – and watch, of course, fabulous flying shows. Rooms are booked a year in advance or more. Many camp in wing tents in the aircraft parking area.

A couple of years back, we were humming along in a van from Oshkosh to Appleton’s airport, with the pilot of his own Meridian – a guy who was going to give us a demo ride. The oh-so-upscale Piper Meridian is the fancied up version of Piper’s Malibu Mirage. (Remember aviation’s early days and the sweet little Piper Cub? They’ve come a long way, baby.) We were browsing, admiring – not buying.  It’s SOP.  Everybody does it.  We had assured the folks at the Meridian pavilion that we were not in the market for a plane, especially not one that cost over $1,000,000, but they insisted we experience it. Pushy salesmen, but what the heck? Maybe we’d want to trade up from our sweet Cessna 210.

Ok. A free ride in a Meridian – why refuse it? They were hopeful. They were forceful.  They were salesmen.  We were weak.

So along the highway we rode. It was an hour’s trip away, our pilot-to-be got chatty. Apple-cheeked and gray-haired, a comfortable, nice-looking man. He had brought in his Meridian from another state on behalf of this company, to demo. As he prattled on, turning around to talk to me from the front seat, I started paying attention.

Whoa….! What’s this?!  He was telling us how for terrible years he had suffered debilitating convulsions that ruined his life, until finally a chip was implanted in his brain, a nano-width from the focus of his illness, blocking its malfunction.  My scalp crawled. Overwhelmingly, I sensed the Nudge.  Hm.

“So… What does the FAA say about this?” (One must advise FAA of all medical problems and surgeries.)

“FAA? Oh – they don’t know about it.”
Oops. The hair stood up on my neck, like a dog.

I desperately peered at the leaden skies stretching way beyond the horizon – no blue. Appleton would be no clearer than Oshkosh. An escape! We could tactfully duck out of this. I glanced at my husband and said in a voice that carried, “You know, I really would rather go up on a nice day. With this overcast we won’t be able to experience the Meridian the way we’d like.”

The pilot looked at us and said “Oh, we can fly right up over the deck – I’ll file IFR (instrument flight plan to be in clouds). It will be sunny on top.” I pretended to chew this over (no way was I putting my life in his hands) and said – “I’m sorry. That doesn’t do it for me.” The consensus was to turn around, return to home base – and go on a sunny day.

The Inner Voice whispered “Atta girl;” my guardian angel smiled.

Maybe it would have been absolutely ok –  I never later heard of an accident happening to this nice guy.  But I just knew that day I wasn’t supposed to go with him.

The artsy world of eating drifts continuously through culinary phases – nouvelle cuisine, mexican fusion, asian fusian, classic french… And so on. And even the dearly-beloved American burger (with cheese) has not escaped unnoticed. Here I’ve named and pictured two of the most mouth-watering creations in the USA. Move out of the way Mickey D, you too In-and-out. This place is for those who dream of, lust for, the best of the best of the best.

Please check my Magnificent Hamburgers post  – and comment with your own suggestions? 

Sadly, a masterpiece has vanished with the closing of Phoenix’s Fez Bistro.  A tragedy, for the addicted.  Its complicated, many-faceted sauce was a resistance-melting aphrodisiac, soaked into its homemade sourdough.  RIP Fez Burger.  But Phoenix seems to be a champion among champions for towering mouth-watering burgers.  Google them before you hit the city – you’ll find a panoply of choices.

Sorry Australia.  I cannot be tactful…. I cannot recommend the sliced raw beetroot and slaw-laden McDonald’s burger.  What on earth were they thinking?

 

 

Hangover Burger Lordsburg Taproom, La Verne CA
hangover burger
When I was high-chair size, I remember a busy-body lady leaning over to me and chirping “Look at those lovely carrots… Are they what make your cheeks so rosy?” Speaking to strangers was a no-no, but this needed a reply.”No… meat.”  I glared at the carrots.  I knew what I liked.

The world today seems to be becoming anti-beef.  Perhaps we Americans eat too much of it – but there it is.  Most of us love it – especially the iconic burger.  Here I give you a couple from our travels.

Hangover Burger, version from CA:

This jaw-widening treat is a half-pound patty of ground Kobe or Angus beef on a brioche bun, layered with onion strings, melted Muenster cheese and, importantly, chipotle bacon and chipotle mayonnaise and sauce.  Smoked chipotle peppers (nee jalapeno) smoked after they dry out. You might be able to buy this salsa, or sauce.  It isn’t overly picante – just smoky delicious.

*(Bacon recipe below, if you can’t find it at your market).

When the thick patty is cooked and the cheese slice well melted (I find medium rare best for flavor and juiciness, but my daughter-in-law recoils at pink) place 2 pieces of that outrageous bacon on it, spoon on a little chipotle salsa (chopped tomatoes and cilantro, 1 and 1/2 Tbs chopped canned chipotle peppers) – and slather chipotle aioli on the bun (more canned chipotle, mixed with mayonnaise – easy peasy) – then lay on some  pungent arugula. Add a scant handful of thinnest onion strings for a perfect crunchiness – and top with a tender fried egg.  Cover with the bun, pick it up with two hands, and have at it.  Bon appétit!

Sooo good.  And maybe it is good for a hangover… Or maybe it’s just that everything hangs over. (See photo above.)

*CHIPOTLE BACON

  • 6 slices thick-cut hickory smoked bacon
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar
  • 1 tablespoon southwest chipotle seasoning, mix (Mrs. Dash, Tones, Konriko or homemade)

 

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Arrange slices on baking sheet; bake until almost crisp (8-9 minutes). Drain the drippings from baking sheet and discard.
  2. In small bowl, combine agave nectar, chipotle seasoning and pepper. Brush bacon with the chipotle mixture; bake until glazed (8-10 minutes).

—————————————NEXT-

Then there’s the glorious, succulent, unimaginably delicious Zin Burger, from the bistro of the same name, in Tucson.  The caramelized onions can be sautéed in zinfandel, should you wish –  or so can optional mushrooms,  pictured here.  zin burgerThe homemade buns are fresh-baked from potato flour with a touch of honey.  And the cheese, warmed Manchego, nicely fits itself to the primo Kobe beef patty – all this sits on a blanket of delicately shredded lettuce.

Even my lettuce hater man likes it – the bed serves as a sponge for the burger’s savory juices.  Soooo good.

 

 

 

3 Axes (plural of axis)

 

Learning to fly – to maneuver an aircraft – isn’t hard, once you get it into your head that it’s nothing like a car.

 

A plane can be a slippery eel. It maddeningly wallows and bobs if you don’t remember it’s got three axes to slither around on. Happily, it has controls to manage all that. It’s all a battle with centrifugal force and the pull of gravity.

 

Axes. The three are Pitch, Yaw, and Roll.

The Pitch axis – an imaginary line that runs one side to the other through the plane, wingtip to wingtip. The nose goes down, the tail goes up, spinning around on that string. Scary ride.

The yaw axis? Picture the plane skewered on a flag pole, ground to sky, right through the middle. Where it can rotate on the horizontal, around and around, flat spinning parallel to the ground.  You see how pesky that could be?

 

Roll… the bead on the string line going through the plane front to back. Run amuck on that axis and you’d be like a screw drilling a hole through the sky.

A car is so different.   Your four-wheeled ride moves comfortably about on a flat plane. The ground. No actual roll, pitch, and yaw, the movements on the three axes of the airplane. Well, you can skid any old which-way if you get sloppy. It moves on the straight ahead one, shall we say the pitch axis. Throws you back when you accelerate. Throws you forward when you brake. The car tilts to the side when you turn it, the faster the turn the steeper the tilt. Naturally you lean sideways into that turn – countering that force, the centrifugal force.

You’re used to doing that on the ground – your body is trained. But now you’re not on the ground. In the airplane, a coordinated turn keeps you firmly erect, vertical, to your seat – no leaning. If you’re leaning, you must be slipping. Not good. You can always tell the newbie by the way they sag sideways when the plane turns – the tilted horizon they see cues them to do that. At first, from habit, you do too. But that’s silly. You do not feel any centrifugal force – that is, not if the turn is done right.

 

“Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate” was the muttered mantra.

Another thing. Your plane won’t back up, like a car. You have to work around that little handicap.

 

Alert. You’ll have to deal with a lot of “negative transfer”. It can be hilarious, it can be embarrassing. So often in the beginning days, when you’re parking your car say, at the grocery store? Or maybe at the watering hole… (At the “O” Club, Officers Club, military fighter pilots like my old friend “afterburner Art” were ever thumping backs and raising a glass to still being alive, after successfully rolling, pitching and yawing – dog-fighting – around the sky.)

 

So here you’re coming in for the “landing juice” (post-flight nip) to celebrate – or to settle your rattled nerves. Or scarf a burger, if food is your comfort thing. You roll into the parking place, checking outside the car, right and left, to make sure the wingtips will clear whatever is beside you – then give yourself a head-slap. No wings on the car, ninny. And when you fumble for the fuel/air mixture control to choke off your engine, you panic. Where’d it go?? That’s “negative transfer”.

Learning to fly is not easy, but it’s a fine challenge, and it’s fun. You can do it. Probably.