Chiang Kai Shek’s Gold Served with Trent Marshall’s Lasagna

The sweet aroma of lasagna in the oven filled Trent Marshall and Darcey Anderson’s Anchorage penthouse. It was the week before Christmas and it was cold. Trent and Darcey had brought their family to Alaska to enjoy a white Christmas. It was cold but not cold enough to keep the girls of the family from their holiday shopping, though Ivy was heard grumbling about ice and snow as they left.

After he got the lasagna in the oven, Trent lost himself in a tome from the book shelf that included a section on the removal of Chinese gold reserves from the mainland to Taiwan when Chiang Kai Shek led his army and several hundred thousand civilians fleeing the victorious communists at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.

When Chiang realized he had lost the war, he secretly began moving his forces to Taiwan. He flew almost five hundred military aircraft to the island along with twenty six naval vessels. He also used several dozen ships to smuggle China’s complete gold reserves from the mainland. Before Mao Zedong realized what was happening, Chiang successfully moved some 135 tons of gold plus several national artistic treasures to Taiwan. It was that huge cache of gold that would serve as the basis of Taiwan’s future commercial success.

Trent was vaguely familiar with the story. His interest was stirred the previous weekend while on a family trip. As it was unseasonably warm then, Trent took Darcey, their daughter Kelli, Darcey’s mother Betty, and Ivy, Trent’s surrogate mother, on a drive through the mountains south to Seward.

While the women explored the shops along the water front, Trent strolled along the dock looking at boats. One in particular attracted his attention. It was an old boat. He thought it came from the first half of the twentieth century. The name, written in faded paint on the bow, said “Chuan.” it seemed somehow familiar to him.

He learned in his research that day that Chiang used many ships and aircraft to spirit the gold away from the mainland. Eighty or ninety of those ships eventually defected back to the communist government. One sank. And one simply disappeared. The Chuan.

It wasn’t known if the Chuan was carrying gold when it vanished. With 135 tons of gold moving to Taiwan there would certainly be a temptation.

Trent closed the book and looked thoughtfully out the window, his gaze following Cook Inlet. Perhaps another adventure was shaping up.

But first…lasagna!

Trent Marshall’s Lasagna

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup onion, finely chopped

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound ground beef

2 pounds canned tomatoes

8 ounces tomato sauce

6 ounces tomato paste

1/2 cup red wine

2 tablespoons Worcestershire

1 teaspoon oregano

Lasagna

1 teaspoon basil

1 teaspoon sugar

Creole seasoning & pepper to taste

1 cup ricotta

1/2 cup parmesan, grated

1 pound mozzarella, grated

lasagna noodles

Saute the onion in olive oil until it is soft and beginning to color. Add the garlic and cook a minute longer. Don’t let the garlic burn. Add the ground beef. Stir to mix well and continue cooking until the meat is browned.

Add all the remaining ingredients except for the cheeses and noodles. Gently simmer the sauce for at least an hour and up to four hours.

Create layers in an oven proof pan beginning with a thin layer of sauce. A glass dish is best.

Next cover the pan with noodles. Trent uses pre-cooked noodles. Then make layers as follows: a thicker layer of sauce; crumbles of ricotta; sprinkles of parmesan; a layer of mozzarella. Repeat the layers, ending with sauce and then mozzarella.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Terrific when snow is on the ground!

Collards & Corn Bread Are Great But What Does 7:48 Mean?

Jacques Houston snapped awake.

7:48.

He could see 7:48 in his mind. He could see it clearly. What did it mean? 7:48. Was it a time? A significant time? Was something pivotal in his life going to occur at 7:48?

The numbers stayed with him through the following days as he went about his routine in New Orleans’ French Quarter. 7:48.

Jacques wasn’t smart. He didn’t have to be smart. He worked for a man who was and who was invested in numerous businesses that operated well outside the law. Jacques didn’t have to think. He only had to do as he was told.

Jacques was also not involved in the 21st century. He had neither mobile phone nor computer. He had a television but received only over the air channels. He watched old movies and sitcoms. He wore a cheap, old-fashioned wrist watch. His most prized possession was a Thompson submachine gun, the last of which was made in 1945. It was still a vicious, effective weapon.

He went to the restaurant his boss used as his office at mid day seven days a week. He stayed there usually until about ten o’clock in the evening. If the boss had something for him to do he received his orders verbally. Otherwise he waited.

On Sunday he was given a package and told to place it in a particular place in a particular manner in the home of homicide detective Jordan Baron. The cop, Jacques was told, would be gone on from 4:30 until 6:30 that evening. It was vital that Jacques get into Baron’s home during that period. He must be gone by 6:30.

Jacques thought he knew what was in the package. He wasn’t especially interested. Baron had been causing problems for the boss recently. Jacques assumed the boss decided to get the cop out of the way.

Collard greens & corn bread.

It was easy to bypass the security system at Baron’s apartment and pick the lock. It took a few minutes longer than Jacques had planned but he thought time remained plentiful.

Once inside, Jacques placed the duffel bag he carried on a table. He first removed his precious Thompson and laid it carefully aside. Then the package.

As he went about placing the package and preparing it as he had been instructed, he didn’t worry about time. He had plenty.

He thought that until he heard the click of a revolver being cocked. Then he heard the voice.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Detective Baron said. “You’re thinking you can reach that antiquated weapon on the table and lace me up with twenty rounds.”

“But I know I can get off one round from this antiquated weapon,” Baron continued, waving the Webley revolver Trent Marshall had given him, “that will rip through your brain at least two seconds before you can touch the Thompson.”

Jacques wasn’t smart. He was smart enough not to test Baron’s theory.

The detective called for the bomb squad. Then he maliciously made Jacques sit on the package on the bathroom floor, his hands cuffed to the piping under the sink. He left Jacques there with the door closed. If the bomb exploded before the squad arrived they would lose Jacques and part of Baron’s bathroom. Neither would be a great loss.

“But you were supposed to be gone until 6:30,” Jacques protested as he was led away by two uniformed officers.

“Yes, and I was forty-five minutes late,” Baron said.

Jacques looked puzzled. Baron suddenly realized why. He laughed.

“Today is Sunday, March 9th, Jacques,” Baron said, “the first day of Daylight Savings Time. We set our clocks an hour forward last night.”

“Nobody told me,” Jacques mumbled.

As he passed the large clock on Baron’s wall, he didn’t notice the hands pointed to 7:48.

With his home returned to normal and no damage done, Baron took the collard greens and corn bread, leftovers from dinner at Trent and Darcey’s that evening, to the kitchen. They knew it was one of his favorite meals. They made it especially for him.

He especially liked the way they made their collards because they use tasso, that delicious, spiced Louisiana ham. If tasso isn’t available, any good quality ham will do or, in a real emergency, even bacon.

Jordan Baron’s Collard Greens

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, chopped

8 ounces tasso, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

5 cloves garlic, minced

3 – 4 pounds collard greens (about four bunches) with the thick stems removed and the leaves torn into pieces

salt & pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, heat the olive oil. When it is hot but not smoking, add the onion and tasso. Saute until the onion is softened and beginning to show color, and the tasso has begun to brown. Toss in the garlic and continue cooking for no more than a minute or two. Be careful to avoid burning the garlic.

Add the collards and enough water to comfortably cover them. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about an hour, or until the greens are cooked through.

If you’re really smart, you’ll serve the greens with corn bread.

As Jordan Baron would say, “Bon temps!”