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Monday, May 19, 2014

Clementine, Tommy Hall, and Steak Vesuvius

Clementine, Tommy Hall and Steak Vesuvius

By Richard Roland

A Long Time

I didn't realize it had been so long since I had seen Tommy as it has been roughly 7 years. The last time was when we went to the Conservatory in Golden Gate Park and then had Pakistani food at a nice restaurant that Tommy treated my mother Clementine and myself to. I still consider Tommy my step dad. Ever since Clementine moved to Kelseyville which is in the Clear Lake, California area about 4 years ago, this has left a gap of 5 years since Clementine had seen Tommy. She formerly lived in San Leandro, Ca., which is about 30 minutes from SF. So years had passed since both of us had seen Tommy.

That all changed this last Saturday. Friday, the night before, it hit me that the next morning I was going to get together with Tommy, drive through a beautiful, or I should say a myriad of beautiful vistas and landscapes in the Napa Valley and beyond, to see Clementine in Kelseyville.  Great anticipation. I visit her as much as I can considering it is a 2.5 hour drive from Contra Costa where I live.


Clementine lives in a beautiful area whose beauty belies its affordability, that is, the inexpensive cost of living in such a nice area. This is because Clear Lake is not on a business/work track and not easily accessible to commuters who would be still involved in the 9 to 5, so this place would be a downfall for such folks.  However, for those that are retired, rich, or on limited income, it is the perfect place.

For Northern California, it is not as expensive as it could be, to be sure. If Clear Lake was located near San Francisco, Sacramento, or even closer to Santa Rosa, you would not be able to buy a home in Clear Lake's paradise for less than 800K. But because of the aforementioned locale away from work corridors, folks can find nice homes for about 120K and surround themselves in an awesome nature exhibit called Clear Lake which is made up of Kelseyville, Lakeport, a town called Nice (pronounced Niece), and the town of Clear Lake. You can also rent a place for about $700 a month which is not bad for a private abode, a standalone small house.

When concerts were held at Konocti Harbor, which is not far from where Clementine now lives, famed country music star Alan Jackson used to come up one week earlier than his concert to spend time boating on the lake. That tells you all you need to know. On three-day weekends, people flock to Clear Lake. Nuff said.

The Drive

What diametrical opposites, SF and the Wine Country are. So there I was in downtown SF picking up Tommy and realizing how that is about to contrast with where we were to be later on in Wine Country with Tommy and Clementine and myself. No, I'm not picking on SF.....I just prefer the country. SF has great places to visit, dine, and take in. Contra Costa is about 30 minutes from Tommy in good traffic.
Okay, so Tommy has his backpack with him and his Jazz CD's to play in the car. I have a very comfortable late model Kia Minivan that I know he will not get a backache from. I see him, he has energy, is healthy, looks great, etc., he hops in.

We head over the Golden Gate and our conversations range from the mathematics of the universe, music, the Elevators, food, food, and more food. We love gourmet food. Conversations from the abstract to the practical. Yes, he is a genius, but I have a gifted IQ so I can follow him and I get him......however my interests to the extreme side of things are in NDE/Afterlife in particular and his focuses are politics and the mathematics behind the universe. So I can understand him, but I like to ground a conversation to more down-to-earth subjects like Heaven...LOL....no pun intended, actually. But that didn't last too long so I did something out of the ordinary for me, I became a listener.....an active listener, though.

The Plan

I decided before this trip that I would make a dish that Tommy and Clementine used to love that Tommy got the recipe for, from a restaurant in Austin, TX long ago, a dish called Steak Vesuvius. Tommy asked for and received the recipe and Clementine and he had the dish many times. Damn, if it would take my mother forever to have it finally cross her mind to give me the recipe, which was two months ago and I have made it several times since. My wife and I love it. Neither of us have ever cared for bell peppers because all we had to that point was uncooked Bell Peppers, but I knew the dish had to be great because Tommy/Clementine as a unit and individually know great food - and it was excellent. 

Back to the road

So I made a huge batch of Steak Vesuvius and froze individual bags of it and rice for each of them. Got some drinks and snacks and an ice chest and hit the road prior to arriving at Tommy's location in SF. I made the batch for each of them to unfreeze and reheat later because the plan I made was to treat the two of them to a lunch at Park Place, a restaurant near Clementines in Lakepor, and then they would later have a nice Steak Vesuvius dinner when everyone parted ways.

Tommy and I traveled from highway 101 to 12 to 29 and up through the Napa Valley. Tommy said he had never been through Napa, which took me by surprise, seeing how long he has lived in the Bay Area, at least 45 years. Closest for him was Sabastopol. We saw countless vineyards from highway 12 on. Tommy is a pleasant individual, does not impose his beliefs even if they are complex. I say this as if having gotten to know him for the first time and this is a part truth. Intellectual exchanges between a 3-8 year old child and an adult in his at-the-time 20's are minimal so now myself as an adult, would allow the floodgates to open for a new interaction.

Tommy can be both abstract and practical. I used to be more abstract, but being a microsoft computer systems engineer has trained me to be more practical/analytical than to be abstract/analytical. But I find that anecdotal evidence can be pretty strong at times. Science does not always have the answers but some day I believe there will be many more connective tissues between science and spirituality.......some day.

So Tommy and I are driving along and he asks if he can have a toke and I said sure! I have not had any pot since 91' but I have dreams about it, have wanted it badly, but decided that my mind has to be a focus beam for what I do for a living. But I never get a contact high so I'm good for this ride. He takes one toke of his sensimilla and puts it out. He does this to make his stash last longer. I've never forgotten the smell of sensimilla. I use to buy and sell it, joints that is, long ago. About every hour he would take his little toke. Smelled great!

I can see he is loving the scenery as we travel past these sites for sore eyes with the one hiccup called Napa, the town, which is nondescript, really. Past those windy curves of Calistoga, through Middleton and about that time I let Tommy know we are 30 minutes from Clementine's place. I have heard the words "far out" more in one day than I have in 30 years, lol. But, perhaps for the first time in ages for Tommy, those words really fit in a practical sense because compared to SF, we were FAR OUT! LOL. Didn't hear "Groovy".....got to hear "Cool" but that is still a current expression, Groovy it seems is not, or not for him.


At last, we arrive. Point four zero acres, a small house next to a cottage, painted in a deep gold color and looking like an Italian villa and there is my mother coming out of her little house. Garden, roses, a little water fountain, courtyard; she has taken thrift store items and discounted artistic items from a variety of locations to make a little oasis for herself. Tommy loved the drive, was not in any pain from the drive because my minivan has great seats and his comfort was most important to me because pain can color a person's experience and mute a potentially wonderful time and he was in perfect form. So was my mother. We sat and talked in the courtyard after she showed Tommy around her yard. He would stop and look at everything and even name the plants he saw. He took everything in. That type of attention to nature made the trip and its destination that much more fascinating to him, and more satisfying to me knowing he appreciated every little thing! Clementine and he caught up on things a bit. They are great friends and will remain so for the rest of their lives.

Park Place

The three of use then headed to Lakeport to Park Place restaurant. Homemade Pasta and great Clam Chowder were to be had. Tommy had the Thai Curry Pasta which he loved. We had the Fettuccine and meatballs. And we all had the Clam Chowder. Then we went to the park at the lake which was less than a block away.....Gazebo, beach, park with trees, families strolling, beautiful day! I didn't mention this earlier but I had my Golden Retriever with me for the ride. Tommy was very nice to my dog which is a prerequisite for tolerance from me, lol.

I took him (my dog that is) to the beach and he jumped into the lake and went for his shwim, shwim....that's how I say it. Tommy and Clementine sat on a bench looking cute as hell together from the perspective I had! Kind of like in some sort of movie ending.  We stayed there for a while and then went back to Clementine's because she had Tres Leches, a dessert for South America. It was the first time Tommy and I had it.....delicious. She also made a drink called Lime Rickey which is Agave, soda water, limes, sugar, and ice. Also wonderful.
Tommy became fixated on the drawings Clementine has done of wild animals and most recently, people and pet portraits. More conversations followed and then like all good things, a few hours spent at Clear Lake, we had to head back out of such a nice fantasy......or was that what reality is really supposed to be like all the time......and life just doesn't allow it for more than a few precious moments that ultimately have to find their way into a memory. I need to make more memories like that. We all need to.

The Drive Back

I won't go into the details of the drive back but it was filled with conversation similar to that which took place on the way up. Tommy wrote down some shows he thought I would like. He has Direct TV and so do I and he watches foreign channels and political channels.

It became apparent to all of us that we need to do this more often. We are now thinking of a fall BBQ at Clementine's or Christmas Dinner at her place. I think that would be great. 


Time stands till for no one and no matter how much we would love to be able to just reach up and turn the hands of that clock on the wall backward, and have the world around us go back to when we were with the ones we love, who are now gone, reality is a bitter pill to swallow.....one that reminds us this is not possible, and also the clock only goes back 12 hours........that fact and the great event of the day was an example of sardonic splendor............till we meet up on God's golden shores. But not so fast! There will be repeats. Distance is not allowed to separate us for long, while we are on the green grass of this world.

To anyone reading this......saying you plan to get together and doing it while everyone is down here, on earth, and yet putting it off, will only come back to haunt you some day, and for the rest of your lives. Put WHATEVER THE HELL IT IS you are doing down and make that call and get together with your loved ones while you still can.
Saturday, I captured a moment in time. There will be more for us. Sadly for some reading this, they will let that sort of thing pass them by. It may not be too late. It wasn't too late for us, but it could have been. Both Tommy and Clementine survived heart attacks in the last couple years and this is past them now. They both were vibrant on Saturday and I see many more to come and I thank God that is the case.

Richard Roland

STEAK VESUVIUS (One of Clementine and Tommy's favorite dishes)
You have to make this, it is great!
Serves 4 well. 

Couple of tablespoons oil - enough for meat first and then for vegetables
1.5 lb's of Stewing Beef (or good ground beef)
3 large Onions, chopped in 3/4 inch square pieces
1 green, 1 yellow, 1 red and 1 orange bell pepper, cleaned and seeded and chopped into 3/4 inch squares
3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
4 medium tomatoes, very coarsely chopped

You will need a fairly large frying pan, with a lid.

If Stewing Beef:
Cut up the cubes even smaller, place over oil in pot, low heat, saute beef till 3/4 brown, add a little water, cover pot, cook very low for 1 hour.

If Ground Beef:
Make ground beef into small patties (usually five or so per pound), season with salt and pepper, and brown both sides at high heat in a little oil.  Remove from pan and set aside, wipe out pan and heat a little more oil. 

Both meats:
Saute the onion and Jalapeno peppers, stirring occasionally, over medium heat, until the onions are clear and the peppers are softened about 15 minutes on low.  Then add the remaining vegetables, minus the Tomatoes, mix in and cook on low heat for 15 minutes. Nestle the browned beef patties or the steak cubes into the vegetables and place the tomatoes on top of all.  Season all with salt and pepper.  Cook, covered, at low heat until the patties are just cooked through and the tomatoes have fallen apart, about 20 minutes.  Do not add any liquid - the tomatoes will make the sauce.  Taste for seasoning, and if the sauce is not "hot" enough, stir in a little cayenne pepper until spicy enough. 

This can be served with rice or noodles or any other starchy grain.

Important note:  The flavor of this recipe is completely altered by the addition or the removal of a single ingredient and by the changing of a single step of preparation - so follow the recipe exactly.

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Slide Machine said...

It's really great to hear everyone is doing so well, thanks for the charming tale!
And thanks for the recipe too, gonna make that.... ;)

Anonymous said...

I meant to also add that you want to add plenty of salt and pepper to the recipe. With the right balance of both, it is delicious!

Richard Roland