Get out there – leaving the comfort zone behind, we tried a new grocery store

My husband and I were out running errands when we bumped into our old friend Jerry. Jerry’s always a guy to speak his mind – “you guys are crazy to shop at Safeway!” he opined. He suggested Winco and Food Maxx, assuring us all their stuff was high quality.

We realized we did need to shop around.  We’ve shopped at Safeway for years because it is an easy bike ride from our house, but we thought we were being smart, buying on sale, and supplementing our pantry with trips to discount stores like Cash and Carry and Walmart. We hadn’t tried another grocery store for years.

Coincidentally we got a coupon from Food Maxx, offering not only cheap prices but free items – a 5 lb bag of russet potatoes, a case of bottled water, and a ROTISSERIE CHICKEN! Get the heck out! So we drove over to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was the strip mall it’s located in has seen better days, but the front of the store was no dirtier than Safeway has been the last year or so, and no bums standing around the entrance. The carts were clean, that’s a plus. But I was kind of intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings.

That’s why I need to get out more. I get in a rut, and when unexpected changes come up I feel a thousand years old and suddenly senile. I couldn’t help but notice my husband and I were clinging to each other like a couple of baby bats. 

We came out of it immediately in the produce section – lots of nice fruits and vegies, very fresh, and a lot cheaper than Safeway. We came for a free bag of potatoes, but I noticed bulk potatoes were half as much as Safeway. Some things were not that much cheaper, but really nice, like the spinach. It’s hard finding spinach that’s not all bruised and rotten in the center of the bunch. You can understand why a lot of people don’t like spinach. But Food Maxx had nice, firm, crisp green spinach for about $1.99 a bunch, I wish I had got two. 

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Here’s what you can do with spinach – spinach tacos!

We’d had chicken tacos the night before, and there was plenty of meat and beans left over. As I opened the bunch of spinach and handled those nice crispy leaves I immediately came up with an idea for lunch – we heated up the leftover taco filling, washed some big spinach leaves and lined them with strips of cheese and avocado slices. Look at those spinach tacos! Delicioso!

Of course for dinner that night we had half of our FREE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN. Pardon the caps, but it was exciting – we got two meals out of that bird, at a time when we are busy and tired in the evening and too broke to eat at a restaurant. 

We spent $40 and got almost as much in free stuff. We were so happy with the little russets we got, we’ve had potatoes in one form or another at almost every meal. I always cook two extras for breakfast.

So, yeah, it does pay to change your habits and try something new once in a while. Get out there! 

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Tried single living for a couple of days, didn’t like it – but ate well!

When I took the picture the flash caught the swirling mist all around me.

Something we haven’t had here in a few years is fog. I used to hate fog, but since the drought, I am glad to see it – this indicates our weather is changing in a new direction, maybe out of drought.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

We  get all the best weather right here in the North State!  

My husband went out of town for a couple of days to visit his dad, so I have been on my own with the dogs. I want to give them a good walk, dogs need their routine, but I worry that I  can’t handle both of them, especially if a bigger, more aggressive dog comes along. So, I hit the trail at about 6:30 am to beat the Sunday crowd, my headlamp beaming back at me from a thick wall of fog. 

In the light of my headlamp  I could see why everything on my patio was dripping wet this morning. 

I did not see another soul. We tramped along the trail, trying not to slip in goopy mud, watching all around for signs of life. January is usually a very gloomy time in Chico.

Gloomy  time to spend a weekend alone!  I try to keep myself cheered up by spending a lot of time outside with the dogs, working in the yard, keep the camp stove hot.  And, you might think it’s not much fun to eat alone, but I always make myself a meal that my husband doesn’t particularly care for.  At his suggestion, we went to Safeway the day before he left and bought me a pound of mussels.

This is about half a pound of mussels – about $3 worth – and more than enough for a skinny old lady.

Clams are nice, but the shells are heavier and they’re a dollar more a pound. You get a lot for your money with mussels, which are also very nutritious. My husband will eat them, but finds them a little strong, preferring clams.  So when he’s out of town, I feast for a couple of nights on mussels. 

Here’s another thing – they are a great one pan meal.

I start with vegetables cut up small, here an onion, half a zucchini and two mushrooms.

I’m too embarrassed to tell you how much butter I use, you be your own judge, jury and executioner. I like to get the vegies good and brown before I add a few ladles full of broth (which I had made earlier in the day by simmering some leftover romaine, cabbage, and celery hearts for about an hour). I slop in some cheap white wine too, never cook with anything that costs more than five or six bucks. I put in just enough liquid to steam the mussels.

I’ve eaten this two nights straight and looking at the picture I could sit down for another helping.

I cover those for three minutes while I hack off a piece of sourdough. Bob never gets stale, he ages to perfection, and a good rubbery sourdough heel is just what you need for a dish like this. Reminds me of sopas, the Portuguese bread soup, only with shell fish instead of beef. 

A cabbage, carrot and celery salad with yogurt dressing and a slice of avocado on the side, and you got yourself a $20 meal. 

I know I used to pay $12 for a side of mussels, no salad, at the Black Crow, and that place has been out of business for years. Why bother to eat out when you can get yourself a meal like this at home? The whole thing took me less than half an hour, and that’s counting the time it took to make a big bowl of salad and wash the mussels. Cost less than $5. 

 

Another nice thing is, easy clean up –  I ate everything but the shells and the pot!

 

Have you got the Winter Blues? Go outside!

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I know, it’s been Winter for less than a month, but Spring is already trying to get her foot in the door.

Out walking my dogs in the fog this morning, I noticed those frilly daffodils are busting up along my driveway, this bunch already has buds on it.  There are more bunches spreading down the driveway into my tenant’s yard – gophers? How do they do that?

The sprouts push right up through the gravel base in my driveway, it’s amazing.

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See how hyacinth pushes the rocks aside to get to the sun.

Last year I didn’t get many daffodils, and only one bloom.  The hyacinth didn’t bloom at all.  Every Winter is different, so every Spring is different. Last year we had generous rains, with some cold hail storms, but not many Spring flowers. This year has been fairly dry  and sunny, and the recent rains have been warm. Go figure.

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I think that purple bud at center is an early bloom.

One of the red bud trees already has tiny clusters of flower buds.

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See the tiny buds a little above-right of center – they will burst into the prettiest pink bunches. Red bud trees are native to this area, and once mature, need very little water.

The grass I planted is full of weeds.

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This is how sticker weeds take over – they lift up and spread out and kill the grass. Some of these weeds can grow to the size of a dinner plate, and every sticker they produce is full of more seeds.

But if you mow at the right time, you can kill most of them. I’ll throw down the rest of the grass seed I bought, and with regular mowing and watering  I can get a nice lawn going here again. I don’t need a perfectly manicured lawn, but I hope I can keep it from going to stickers again. 

This has been an odd year – Hummer has been here almost all Winter, leaving only during the stormy weather. He isn’t completely dependent on flowers – I’ve watched him swishing around, doing his little bug-eating dance all day.  But, he’s really happy about the rosemary blooming – I sat and watched him for a while yesterday, sitting at the top of our crepe myrtle tree, singing away, then diving pell-mell into the rosemary bush.

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Sorry it’s blurry.  This is what everything looks like to me when I can’t find  my glasses.

These tiny purple flowers must be packed with nectar, Hummer spends his days guarding over and eating from this bush. He gets real testy about the rosemary – he’ll buzz you if you stand there too long. Biscuit likes to crawl inside this bush and scratch herself all over – the bush shakes.   Hummer has just had to learn to get along with her.

I’ll tell you what’s nice – I like to break off a bundle of these rosemary branches and burn them in my camp stove – the smell is outrageous.

Winter doesn’t always have to give you The Blues!

 

 

 

 

Roast your vegies!

 

We got  those dumping rains I was hoping for, and Weatherman says more next  week. I  gave Estelle another brooch and set her back on the shelf – your happy voodoo doll, is your safe voodoo doll.

As usual for this time of year, we’ve been cooking and eating alot. My new favorite is roasted vegetables.

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I cut the cauliflower, beans and carrots into small pieces because they roast faster that way. Then I stir in some olive oil and toss it all with salt and pepper.

 

When I was young we were told to steam our vegetables, that boiling took the nutrients out.  It’s easy to over steam, and then you get the same as boiled. So I tried par boiling – 3 minutes in fast boiling water, then a cold rinse. That works okay for green beans, asparagus, and thin sliced carrots, but it’s still boiling. 

I quit eating broccoli and cauliflower because it was easy to over cook and under cooked they gave me indigestion.

Then I saw a recipe for grilled asparagus, wrapped with bacon slices. We loved it, and realized, we can do this in our oven, without the bacon. Roasted asparagus is one of my favorites now – Cash and Carry has big bags of asparagus for about five bucks.

So we started roasting all our vegies. Cauliflower and broccoli cook perfect, no more gas or stomach ache!

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I turn my oven on 400 and put the cookie sheet in for about 10 minutes, get it good and hot. Then I spread the vegies out and set them back in for another 10 minutes, stir, then 10 more minutes.

 

This is the only way to eat green onions, the ends get crispy, roots and all. That little tip on the string bean toasts perfect. I like a little crunch in my vegies!

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For me they’re done when things turn carmel brown. That little pepper will melt in your mouth. We topped it off with roasted chicken breast and a cabbage and carrot salad with some homemade yogurt dressing.

Those little sweet peppers roast perfect whole. I get those in the bag at Safeway, they’re a good deal, but Cash and Carry has a bigger bag for about the same price, if you feel you can use them fast enough. 

And lately Safeway has had bone-in chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, which is crazy cheap. I like bone-in chicken breast because it’s easy to cook – 350 degrees, bone side up for 20 minutes, flip it, skin side up for 15 – 20 more. I use my grandma’s old meat thermometer so I don’t have to worry about over cooking it.  The skin gets good and crispy brown, and the meat stays so tender and juicy. One of those feeds the both of us for dinner, and there’s usually enough scraps for cheese and crackers the next day. We cook two, so we have two dinners in one pan. 

Cold roasted vegies are a great salad topper the next day.

I’m probably the last person on Earth to find out about  roasting vegies, but I figured I better hip any of you who might still be in the dark!

 

 

 

 

It’s not hoarding if it’s useful

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I gave Estelle a new brooch and, no kidding, it started raining the next day.

It started raining last Thursday. Mostly just showers, but a few hours steady. Enough that I can turn off my sprinklers, and that’s money in the bank.

This morning it’s just dumping. Good thing we got a “new” rain barrel the other day.

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Some long time neighbors were moving, and they had piled their unwanted hoard on the sidewalk in front of their house, alongside a trailer loaded with absolute garbage. They bid us to help ourselves.

The rain barrel looked almost new, I was compelled to ask them if they had put it in the “out” pile by mistake, but a little voice in the back of my head said, “just load it in the truck!”

There was a shelf unit, big like we needed and in good shape, lots of shelf space for the tools that had been laying all over the work bench. This was something I’d actually been looking for, watching “free” piles all over town.  It’s not exactly stylish, but it’s tall, sturdy, and has room for more shelves.

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But there was more stuff.  It was like walking into a saloon after an AA meeting. There was a pair of iron legs, looked like they were from a work bench, old and ornate, but for some practical use. There are holes where wood was attached, and you can still read “Sears and Roebuck” in the iron.  They both had a hinged piece, and after my husband gave them a good blast with our pressure washer, the hinges became movable again.

Suddenly we realized what we had – these desks were still in use in Glenn County schools when I was a kid.

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We showed our son, who enjoys wood working, and he thought it was a good score.

Remember, it’s not hoarding if it’s useful!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A year that starts with a Super Moon can’t be all bad

I went outside this morning just as Super Moon was sliding into the Northwest – it was huge!  The clouds are moving in – chances of rain are looking good.

My husband made me a nifty table for my Dutch oven out of some old junk.

My husband and son were working outside yesterday, so I decided to take my baking outside.  I loaded my old camp stove full of tree trash and got it going hot, then set my Dutch oven on top to  get good and warm while I went inside to knead the bread.

We’ve been cleaning out our garage and shop, thinning out old junk, and my husband came across an old metal frame and a metal tray he’d found in the shop at our old property. We have no idea what they were originally used for, but he set them up to make a great table for my Dutch oven. It’s not junk anymore if you find a good use for it!  It’s the perfect height, no more stooping.

Looks like Super Moon!

The bread cooks fast in the Dutch oven, and it gets a really nice crispy crust.

Perfect!

An hour on the kitchen counter, cooled off just in time for lunch. 

Sourdough Bob – he’s a popular guy, people just want to eat him up.

 

I noticed a few people had read last year’s post about the Himalayan salt stone my older son got us last Christmas – we haven’t used it for a couple of months, thanks for reminding me! 

My husband just scrapes the stone with a spatula each time he uses it, it’s got a nice smooth “patina”.

We sliced a whole boneless chicken breast as thin as possible – that’s dinner and a couple of days of sandwiches. We don’t spice them at all.  They cook very quickly on the stone, and come off juicy and tender, with just the right amount of salt. Now that my younger son has got a chance to use it we’ll probably get him one for his next birthday. 

Wow Christmas went fast, and now it’s 2018.  I haven’t thought much about resolutions, but here’s one – more outdoor cooking!

By the light of the Super Moon

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Greetings, Earthlings.

This month the moon will come unusually close to the Earth, not once, but twice.

Should we be worried?  Is this what happened to the dinosaurs? Is the moon trying to change lanes on the intergalatic freeway? 

It’s worth taking a look – we were out on the bike just before sunset Friday evening and Super Moon floated up over the eastern horizon like a giant smiling pinata. That’s the best time to see it, it’s biggest right at sunset. You might start looking at about 4:30. 

So we’ve got plans to cook outside the next few nights, be sure to get a good look at it.

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The potatoes are steamed ahead for about 10 minutes, whole, and then I cut them in half. Everything gets olive oil, salt and pepper, and my husband likes a little paprika on the potatoes.

We got our younger son a neat little gas grill  for Christmas, one of those units you can pack up like a suitcase. It has a little tray for crumbs and grease, and the grill is really easy to clean. 

He already learned one lesson about grilling:

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But he’d never actually used a grill, just watched Dad. Dad is all about charcoal, and lately, wood, but we used to have a  gas grill, so my husband fell right back into it.  I think he wants to go back to gas now! It’s so fast – no charcoal chimney, no guessing how many charcoals, no greasy ashes to deal with later.  And perfect grill marks!

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So pretty!

 I don’t want to go entirely back to gas, but this little unit is great for taking on the road. I may have to buy one for my husband’s birthday later this year. 

Don’t forget to get out there at sunset and see Super Moon for yourselves! And remember, it’s supposed to appear again at the end of January.