I know, it’s old – but nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven!

I bet everybody has plenty of days when they work so hard dinnertime comes around like a big surprise. You try to plan ahead, sure, but life happens. My husband and I like to eat and we like to cook, but there are days when we get so busy we just forget about dinner.

When we know what’s ahead, a project that will take all day, or a few busy days in a row, we make a casserole. A casserole is like money in the bank. Sure you think you would get bored eating the same thing every night, but when 6 pm rolls around and your head is confused and your stomach is talking smack (Taco Wagon! Taco Wagon!), it’s nice to have that old mystery pie sitting in the fridge.

One of our favorite casserole meals is lasagna – flat noodles layered with meat and cheese and tomato sauce.  One batch makes two big casserole pans full, at least four meals and some quick snacks.

Lasagna is one of the easiest things to make with homemade pasta because the pasta only has to be rolled out into strips, no cutting into noodles.

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I think I used too much whole wheat flour, these were a little tough to roll out, the edges are ragged. But who cares?

I don’t mind if my noodles are rough and inconsistent sizes, we just lay them down over the filling, it all bakes together.

For a two pan batch I use about three cups of flour, 4 eggs, two tablespoons of olive oil, and a teaspoon or two of salt. I say “about” because the more whole wheat flour I add the less flour I use overall. If I add a cup of whole wheat flour then I only use about 2 and ¾ cup of flour total.

A big batch like this is hard to get together, and I might have used too much whole wheat flour, so my husband helps me roll it out. He cuts a little ball of dough and rolls it between his hands into a little rope, then flattens it with our wooden rolling pin. I roll those out with the pasta press as neatly as possible. They come out in different lengths but we just cut them with the kitchen scissors.

For filling this time we used boneless chicken thighs. My husband sautes them in a cast iron frying pan with garlic and onions, etc, cutting them into bite size pieces as they cook. He adds white wine, and throws in some chunky pieces of mushroom.

Our tomato patch didn’t amount to much this year, the heat frying the flowers so they would not pollinate. We had sandwich and salad tomatoes, but never a single pint of sauce. I knew this Winter would be tough without homemade tomato sauce.

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Start with a splash of sauce on the bottom of the pan, lay some noodles over that – homemade noodles don’t have to be cooked ahead.

We find canned sauce tastes like the can, so we looked at various brands in glass jars. There were some pricey brands, we chose the cheapest (Safeway Select) and were disappointed.  It tasted watery and flat, as though they had   cracked a can of tomatoes, boiled them down and sluiced them into the jars. We finally found Classico to be both within our budget – at about $2.50 a can – and palatable enough to get us through Winter.

Wow – we use two jars, that adds $5 to the price of the meal. Now we know!

I like the jars for storage too – I use them for pickled green beans and/or asparagus. The lids screw back on tight.

Dairy makes my stomach hurt sometimes, but this dish needs a little cream in the sauce, so we use cottage cheese, sparingly. We spoon it in with the meat filling – this time chicken sauteed with garlic and onions, pretty simple.

 

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We used chicken this time, but we like to use meatballs when we have them. You brown those a little and then lay them in a layer over the noodles just like the chicken.

This batch was a little extra work because I didn’t pay attention when I was mixing the dough for the noodles, it was dry and hard to work. But three days and three meals later, that is a distant memory. We have another portion for lunch today, and when we get home tomorrow, there will be a whole pan waiting in the refrigerator.

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No, I never get tired of eating this stuff.

We cover the top with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese and bake it at 350 under a foil cover for about 30 minutes, get that sauce good and bubbling. Then the foil comes off for about 10 minutes. You might want to put a cookie sheet under it so it doesn’t get all over the bottom of your stove.

We’ve been working so hard lately, by dinner time, I’m ready to be scooped up in a bucket and set by the trash bin. Having something that can just be wrapped in foil and set on the wood stove is very comforting.  I make a couple of days’ worth of salad ahead too, and right now, Cash and Carry has a fantastic deal on asparagus. We can wrap that in foil and put it on the wood stove too, delicious within a half hour.

Take care of yourselves.

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Who let an old dog paint the house?

The weather has been spectacular here lately, with bright sunny days and highs in the 60’s. It should be raining here and snowing in the mountains, but instead of worrying about drought my husband and I have been “making hay while the sun shines.”

Our house and our rentals are in constant need of repairs. Right now everything could use a coat of paint.  This is perfect weather for painting.

Have I complained enough about being an “empty nester”? Here’s a big sticker – my kids were both taller than me by the time they were 15 years old, had long, monkey arms, big strong hands, and endless amounts of energy. I’ll never forget the time, for fun, they had a contest to see who could turn over my compost pile faster. They stood on either side of the pile with flat shovels and started scooping it up, throwing it on top. It was gorgeous, “black gold”, steaming in the winter sun. They had the whole 6′ x 10′ pile turned over in about 15 minutes, laughing all the way.

They also tagged along with Dad to do the rentals. The little guy is exceptionally adept at puttying nail holes, and the big one is good with a paint brush.

The last time we turned over our big rental, I told our younger son I was going to let the windows go dirty. They were old storm windows, had to be removed once in a while to clean the tracks, and I just don’t have that kind of strength anymore. The kid took that as a challenge – he went to the rental the next day and cleaned every damned window, tracks and all. They hadn’t been that clean for years, and they ran over those tracks so fast we had to tell the new tenants to be careful opening and shutting.

So now the big one has his own house and a commute to work. This is the first year he has not had time to mount a ladder with a bucket of soapy water and clean my upstairs windows. I can do it, but the sight of me on a ladder gives my husband high blood pressure, so I been waiting for an opportunity when he’s not home. Just because a person kicks a ladder down and falls off a roof trying to get down – one time! And nobody trusts you on a ladder anymore! What they don’t know won’t hurt them.

Anyway, as I was saying, we don’t have those kids at home to do our chores anymore, so my husband has shown me how to use a paint brush. He used to be so picky about stuff like that, now he’s desperate enough to put up with a few brush marks and a drippy-drip once in a while.

So yesterday I painted whatever I could reach without a ladder. He seems to be fine with my work, he stopped pointing out the drippy-drips.

We found out, last time we painted our apartment, we never put the second coat on the back. Sheesh – I know why – it’s the biggest side of the building, we were probably butt tired by that time and thought we’d finish up the next day.

Yes, my hands feel like somebody smashed them off at the wrists, but I’m pretty happy with myself – Old Dog can still learn a new trick!

We’ve got to get the public back into public meetings

Well, I went to the meeting Downtown, I asked some pointy questions, and found out things are worse than I ever could have imagined. It’s Mutiny on the Bounty, our public “servants” are on a neverending holiday.

I was locking up my bicycle when Mayor Sean Morgan and city clerk Debbie Presson came strolling out of the city building. They tried to ignore me but I ran to catch up – my kid’s college had just handed the mayor’s kid’s college their lunch bucket in a football game, and I  wanted to rub it in good, since the mayor made such a big deal about his kid being picked up to play on a football scholarship.   Mayor Morgan can be a real jackass at times, and I like to get my knuckles into his scalp whenever I get the chance. He who dishes it out, can just take it.  All good fun!

But then back to city business – I reminded Ms. Presson that I was still waiting for a response to the e-mail I’d sent her and her staff a month ago, asking why she had referenced a document involving a deal made with CalPERS last March in a recent agenda, but had not provided the document. It said, “attached” in the agenda report, so I had to wonder – why wasn’t it attached? She started to babble about it, very nervous – it  was supposed to be attached to the agenda, but golly-gee-whiz, this $140,000/year employee who just got a raise to cover her 12 percent share of her 70 percent pension couldn’t seem to figure out how to use her computer.  She was flustered, and I realized my husband was right – she had done something bad (incompetence or insubordination?), and she didn’t answer me via e-mail because she hadn’t wanted to incriminate herself in writing. But she stood there at the door of city hall and told me, essentially, that she was unable (unwilling?) to do her job.

These people just kill me. That document was a  release, signed by our full city council, of any damages that come about as a result of CalPERS failure to provide the pensions they had promised. 

Hey, did you hear about this?

http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/article6473781.html

That is just one story about the corruption and bribery that ran the California Public Retirement System into deficit over the last 10 – 20 years. But we’re not allowed to hold them responsible for our current situation because our council just signed a release.  We’re on the hook for 80 – 90 percent of these pensions, which CalPERS said they’d pay with stock market returns. Except they allowed people like Villalobos to act without oversight or accountability, and he and his friends did what bad people always do when they are handed a pile of unwatched money – they spent it on themselves, and left us holding the bag.

But Debbie Presson tells me as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth that she just couldn’t figure out how to load that document onto the agenda to which it was supposed to be attached. 

And you wonder why I go to these meetings – we hadn’t even got into the building yet, and she handed me that steaming pile.

The meeting was a discussion of why our streets are so shot  to pieces and whether developers should have to pay more in fees to fix them. Finance department staffer Scott Dowell explained that every project carries “overhead” – he admitted, that’s pensions – and that currently, “overhead” amounts to 15 percent of the cost of any project. He also announced it would go up every year – next year 16%, in a few years, 18%, and more and more. Yeah, just like our CalPERS payments.

Public works staffers said of 14 projects which had been identified as “funded” in 2009, nine had to be dropped from the list, because there is no longer any funding.

Where you ‘spose that money went? I’ll tell you what – we need to put a mousetrap in the city cookie jar!

Woody had it right when he said, “California is a  garden of Eden, yes it’s a paradise to live in or see.  But, believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot,  if you ain’t got the Do Re Mi!”

 

 

 

 

Go to a meeting, raise a fist once in a while

Today I will get on my 1956 Raleigh Superbe roadster and trundle through the muck of Bidwell Park in 38 degrees to attend a city of Chico Finance Committee meeting.  I’m just guessing on the temperature, that’s what it was on my patio yesterday at 8 am.

I’ll tell you why I do it – I hate surprises. Discussions are had at these morning meetings – by the time an issue gets to the full council meeting – sometimes years later – it’s been decided, and there’s a very small window for running any type of referendum. Council meetings are little more than rubber stamp sessions. Every now and then a councilor takes a stand – usually because he/she knows an unpopular motion is going to pass, and they can make a show for the peanut gallery.

I’m giving up a morning’s work for this, and I always go back and forth on attending these meetings. I know my husband would like me to quit and pay more attention to our private affairs, but he’s intelligent enough to know – these people make decisions that land like monkey wrenches in our personal lives and business.  Decisions they’ve made over the last five to ten years have taken Chico down quite a notch – you just had to be here to watch the bums roll in, the streets crack up, our premier park – one of the largest city parks in the continental United States  – turn into a rambling bum camp full of invasive non-native species and rot. Meanwhile the cost of housing has tripled. Ten years ago we  talked about Economic Development – now whole meetings are devoted to worsening crime, financial deficit, and giving of raises to city management. I know – that last one doesn’t make sense, does it?

Today they will put the stick to local developers, telling them they need to pay drastically higher fees – or, start building higher densities.  Real developers – people who build homes – know the buyers want a bigger house with a yard.  But $taff tells us these high density subdivisions will bring lower impacts (and out of the other side of their mouth, they remind council more housing brings more property taxes…)

So I  get on my old ‘cycle and head Downtown – for what? To be a witness? Surely nothing I do will make any change. Or will it? Never know until you try.

 

 

 

 

Focus on the food

I’m conflicted on Thanksgiving. For one thing, it’s so forced, so frantic – like, Release the Lemmings!  Looking at the tv news, I see people lined up in airports, cars lined up on the roads. On the home front, I try to get my groceries by the Tuesday before, shop for at least three or four days, because something really weird happens to the average shopper on Wednesday, and the desperation makes me nervous. I’m afraid somebody’s going to carjack me over a can of cranberries.

I mean, I’ve seen full grown men, pushing a shopping cart full of kids, none of whom have been in a grocery store more than three times a year, wandering the aisles of Safeway with this frightened expression, a tiny slip of paper in hand.  That either means, Mom is at home getting ready for company, and she’s sent the pack of them out of the house on some fool’s errand so she can have 5 minutes peace, or it means, Mom didn’t have time to shop, God help us.

Yeah, that’s the other thing – this holiday largely falls on the backs of women, who feel some sort of weird pressure to show the world that while they work 40+ hours a week they still know how to put a gourmet meal on the table for a family of 10.

On the other hand, it’s a food holiday, and you all know how I love to eat! And I love to see my kids sitting across the table. So we start early and enjoy ourselves at home. 

We haven’t done a turkey for years, too much work, but the best turkey we ever did was on the bbq with indirect heat. Here’s a good blog for bbq:

http://juanchosbbq.blogspot.com/search?q=turkey

We do most of our meat on the bbq or smoker these days – with the smoker, we can cook a big quantity of meat ahead, relax the rest of the holiday weekend. We already had an enormous chicken we’d bought at Safeway – we watch for whole chickens to go on sale at 99 cents a pound and we usually buy at least two.  But we needed something else to make it worth firing up the smoker, so Tuesday we went out, hunting and gathering. At Cash and Carry we found a pork shoulder roast for about $11, just the right size.

My husband had the meat in the smoker by 10 am. The chicken only takes a few hours, but the pork had to be on for 10 hours, and then foil wrapped and loaded into the oven for the finish. My husband explained to me, taking the meat up to 200 degrees breaks down the fats and proteins and gives it that stringy texture we all love – pulled pork!

My son pulled into town about 2 pm, the smell of smoked chicken greeted him in the driveway.  We carved the chicken Tuesday night and over half is sitting in the fridge for tacos tomorrow night. The pork was ready for sandwiches yesterday at lunch and tacos for dinner last night, we’ll finish off the rest over breakfast, maybe have another sandwich for lunch. 

We asked our kids last week what they wanted to eat for Thanksgiving dinner and without a pause they answered “steak.”

We get meat from Grandpa once a year when he butchers a steer, and when we’ve eaten all that we go to Cash and  Carry for a big boneless rib roast.  This time we bought a real whopper, cause we wanted steaks to send home with our kids. My husband cuts them with his super sharp filet knife, and I stand by with a box of plastic film wrap and a big freezer bag. I wrap each steak and stack it in the bag – when we want a steak I can separate them with a spatula. I’ve done the calculations, and depending on the price, it has worked out between $5 – 6 for a steak big enough to feed two adults, with leftovers for breakfast.

A steak dinner really takes the stress out of Thanksgiving. 

Cash and Carry also has a good deal on asparagus, and they have bags of small potatoes for about $4.

So what am I grateful for this year? 

It’s always good to have swell kids and a great spouse. It’s good to have a home that you love. It’s good to live in California – as much as I gripe about The Moonbeam. I’m thankful for the family that raised me to be tough and mean, while also showing me how to enjoy the little things that make life great.

Happy Thanksgiving, however you spend it, whatever you eat with whomever, I hope it’s a good day for you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flak catchers beware! I found the can crusher!

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Sunrise over Oroville

We had a few nice days camping before the rain came back. Check out that sunrise – and people ask me why I would want to live up there.

Back in Chico, me and the dogs are holed up in the house again. When the rain let up for an hour or so around noon, we went out to see what there was to see.  I notice the grass I’d planted outside my front door is finally coming in,  on a dead heat with the weedlings.

In this weather grass actually has a chance.

 

Good thing my husband hauled out the rain barrels.

 

My cactus garden loves this weather. 

Toward the end of Summer, when it was just DRY, my nopal cactus had started to wither, it was shocking – the leaves began to wrinkle up like raisins. As soon as the weather turned wet they started to swell up, so much a few leaves actually broke off from their own weight – see the leaf laying on the ground there next to the strawberry pot. I notice they can rip very badly if they fall off by themselves, so I’ve been watching, and when they start to sag I cut them off with the loppers. I save them in an old planter pot and plant them elsewhere when I find a spot. They last forever, just sitting there in the pot, looking sad, and then you put them in the ground and look what happens! 

No it’s not pleasant working outside in a dumper, but I got plenty of other stuff to occupy my time. Back to The Hoard. 

Last Spring we sold an old rental, and my older son, who was living in the “mother-in-law” unit with his girlfriend, had less than a week after the new place was available to  get their stuff out of the old place. They tried to save time by moving a bunch of stuff into our garage. I have to laugh – moving is so frantic – they took everything.  Once the panic had settled down, they looked at their mish mash of boxes and realized, a lot of it should go either to the thrift store or the trash. Since they both have real jobs now, I’ve finally decided to take on the job of sorting through their stuff. I found out – a lot of it belongs to my husband and I, junk we’d left behind in the garage at their apartment when we moved off the property. 

I’m always asking my husband, “what is this and is it usable?” 

Sometimes he laughs and thumbs toward the trash pile, other times he says, “wow, I forgot that…”  The other day we found my mom’s old can crusher.

Score!

My mother was a consummate hoarder, where do you think I got  half my junk? She also drank Pepsi out of the can, it was like her oxygen tank. “Where the hell is my Pepsi?!”  A child of the Great Depression, she never threw away any type of metal. She saved her Pepsi cans for the neighbors kids, and sometimes she’d even drive the whole pile of kids in my gramps’  ’66 Chevy pick-up to the scrap yard to turn the hoard into cash.

I’ll never forget how shocked the neighbors were when she died – one said, “she just took the kids to the dump last week…gave ’em all $5…”  Yep, that was my mom!

Mom’s garage would get cluttered with cans sometimes, and the neighbor kids weren’t always around to help, so her boyfriend got her a can crusher – what a romantic!  My mom loved stuff like that. Screw it to the fence, drop in the can, pull that lever and VOILA!  That’s French for “Holy Shit!”   Can comes out looking like it’s been had-over by an 18-wheeler.

They don’t call it The Crusher for nothing.

When my mother died I saved everything – including a Post It note I found on the refrigerator – “call the kids”  The can crusher went in my husband’s shop, along with  other relics – tools and farm junk. My husband is also a hoarder, that’s why it’s so tough to throw anything away around here.   I was pretty excited to find it again, because my husband has recently switched to canned beer. I like the cans better, they aren’t as heavy, they don’t break, and they don’t seem to hold as much residue – so they don’t stink as bad as bottles. And now I can crush them to roughly one-tenth their original size – they take up almost no space, and we can take them to the recycling center in old dog food bags. We don’t have to go as often either, and the trips are more lucrative.

And I can’t tell you how fun it is smacking down those cans – listen, an old bitch like me has got to let off a little steam once in a while. It’s fun imagining that I am putting one or another government flak catcher in there and SMASH! 

 

 

 

Rainy day is a good day to whittle down the hoard

I rolled over in bed at about 4 am and hollered, “Stop it!” I yelled so loud I woke myself up.

My husband rolled over to answer, “It’s not me, it’s the rain gutter…”

We realized, when we cleaned our gutters, we forgot to put the board back. There’s a downspout that takes run-off from a big section of roof, and when the rain really gets going, the stream hits the gutter below like a hammer. It’s right out side my son’s bedroom, so he noticed it the first rainstorm. He and his dad climbed up on a ladder and fitted a piece of scrap wood into the gutter, and that seemed to be the ticket. It dulled the persistent wham! wham! wham! to a livable thumpthumpthumpthump.

So today we’re going to get up there and take care of that – it’s one of those things you can’t ignore, sounds like somebody’s trying to tear the house down.

In the meantime, I couldn’t sleep anymore, having woke up enough to feel all the aches and pains, I had to get up. I stumbled into the kitchen, led by the glow of the little light on my coffee pot. Badges follows me out every morning, bumping at my elbow with his nose – he likes me to move his bed to the spot next to my computer chair when I get up, so he can lay next to me while I clatter at the keys.

On a day like today, I have to sit in the dark and think, “What day is it? Am I supposed to be dragging my garbage cans out to the curb?”   No, which is always a relief.  But this morning I realized, it’s Monday, and Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away. My son is coming home for an extended weekend, and I have to clean out his room. We have a really bad habit of putting stuff in there.

For example, two old people don’t need six dining chairs, so there they go into the boy’s room. And so on. The bed is covered with boxes of junk I been sorting to throw out or whatever. The shelves are all disheveled from my attempts at reorganizing. Opening the door is always a shock – I don’t go in there too often. I thought I would make my “office” in there, but found, it’s kind of a sad room without a boy living in it. 

I’ll tell you what else – having an empty room in your house makes it way too easy to HOARD!  Too easy to put off throwing stuff away – hide it in there, decide later…

There’s a difference between storing something you have regular but not constant use for – like dining chairs – and stuff you just can’t throw away, “because it’s still perfectly good…” even though you have no use for it, now or in the foreseeable future.  I know – take it to Good Will!

Would you believe, the thrift stores in our town suffer periods of glut? Especially at the end of the school year, when college students vacate our town by the carload. My husband and I tried to take in a load of stuff in July, and were turned away from two stores. Salvation Army no longer takes donations at their stores located around town, we are expected to drive to their facility at the airport. 

I’ll tell you the truth – half of it went into the garbage can when we came home. I took a hard look at it – old linens, old clothes – who wants those? Those went into the trash.  I looked again – a lot of stuff we’ve been left with by tenants who never came back to get it. A perfectly good cast iron pan with lid – I already have the identical pan. Kitchen gadgets. A stack of paperback books. 

Today I will stack it in the garage, and this week I will load it into the  car. I find the holidays are a good time to take stuff to the thrift stores.  It will feel good, it always feels good. Probably not for the reasons it should feel good, but it will feel good.