America was born and lives at the family table

 

 

Yes the heat wave went away, leaving us with a new appreciation for temperatures under 110. Isn’t it funny how we learn to get used to stuff – now 100 is almost comfortable!

The heat dried things out pretty good. The sycamores are shedding like it’s September. But the crepe myrtle is blooming prettier than ever.  

We had out-of-town relatives who came a long way to see us, we tried to show them some California hospitality. We’ve  been on a tight budget because we’ve had to spend some money selling a rental while getting no rent from same.  So we had to be on our toes and plan ahead.

We’ve learned to watch Safeway online and take advantage of sales.  A couple of times a month they usually put whole chickens on sale, sometimes as cheap as 89 cents a pound. When our cousins first told us their plans, we started checking the website almost every day until we found Safeway had the birds marked down to 99 cents a pound – you can get a big 6 pound bird for less than 6 bucks, that’s pretty darned nice!

The day before our family was to arrive, my husband set up our smoker and Badges took his post alongside – we call him, Grill Dawg.   Andy put the chickens in about noon, the weather was nice enough to be outside and do some chores while we enjoyed the aroma.  I could hear the men on the construction site next door commenting on it.

Later that afternoon I took up watch on the smoker and my husband went to Chico Locker to pick up a tri-tip – my favorite, the Yukon Gold. A two pound tri-tip will run about $22, but you get a lot of meat.

The tri-tip went on the grill the next morning, with our guests expected somewhere around 2pm, we were well ahead of the game. As soon as the roast came off the grill we went to Cash and Carry to pick up a couple of watermelons – about $2 per melon, what a deal, they are crisp and sweet. One was enough for the afternoon, and then I have the other for the rest of the week. We also got a huge pack of strawberries for about $5.  I buy a lot of these melons and berries, cutting what we don’t eat right away into bite size chunks and putting them in ziplock bags in the freezer.

My son had come home from college for the visit, so I wanted to make him some corn tortillas. It’s so easy, I can make 20 tortillas within an hour, and set them on a plate between two paper towels, under a pot lid. 

Our cousins arrived exactly on time. They were coming from a three-day visit to the Bay Area, and had already remarked about the cold and rain in San Francisco. Their pictures showed heavy fog. Imagine stepping from that into 100 degrees! Luckily we had kept them well-informed about the previous stretch of 110, so they were grateful to get out onto the pavement without their shoes sticking to the street.

We hustled them into our apartment, where we’d kept the thermostat at 79 all day. We don’t have much furniture, but we have a big dining table with an extra leaf,  so we were able to sit everybody around the table – 9 altogether, like The Waltons. We’d had to scramble for chairs, borrowed one folding chair from our son, but we were left with plenty of elbow room. 

I always feel good when my guests get up to help themselves to seconds, the kids took thirds. My husband was proud as a peach, he really likes to grill and smoke, and have a big crowd at the table. My corn tortillas flew off the plate.

I’m sitting here now, we haven’t taken the leaf out of the table, we’re still missing our guests. We won’t see them again for many years, their kids will visit us with the grandchildren probably. 

We were watching the news last night and Debbie Cobb read a pick-up story about entertaining for the holidays. They do these every year, for those summer picnic holidays, it’s just a push piece for people to go out and SPEND!  She said a meal of burgers and hot dogs for 10 people  should cost about $55 a person, averaging about $550.  I had to laugh – she got that wrong, I looked it up.  Articles I found online said it was $5.50 a person, not $55 a person. Debbie, it’s time to retire!  We spent less than $100 on our meal, including sodas. We fed 9 people, and we’re still eating the left-overs. 

So I hope the rest of you will enjoy this holiday, chow down with your special relatives and friends, and remember, the cornerstone of America is the family table. 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop 120!

 

Hmm, AccuWeather reports it’s 97 in Chico right now.

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Oooo-la-la!

 

The KIST thermometer has my money – 111. It was 98 degrees on my patio at 10 this morning, I knew we were in for a whopper.

The weather is a serious subject around here, that’s not just an old farmer joke. This kind of weather, well – it sure gets your attention, doesn’t it? 

The nicest part of the day is about 5 am. I like to  go outside and see what I can get done before the sun hits my yard.

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More than two days of triple digits and stuff just starts dying around the yard.

 

Yesterday I filled a wheelbarrow with dead and dying feverfew flowers.  They were beautiful as long as we kept getting those rain showers, grew waist high, covered with those dainty white flowers. Within a couple of days of this heat, they turned to straw flowers. 

It is helpful when you have outside work in this heat to stay close to water. We have one of those wading pools, the dogs like to stand in it while they drink, and we like to stand in it to cool down and un-scatter our thoughts. I call it, “The Think Tank”. 

The other day I was cleaning a patch of dead flowers out of my tenant’s yard, I was determined to get rid of it before it became the neighborhood eyesore. Like everything else, they came in like gangbusters, some of them grew up over my head. When they were in full bloom, the iridescent purple flowers were enough to slow down traffic. As they went to seed, the big puffy white heads were also very attractive. Then the rains stopped and they turned dead and brown – instant ugly! 

So I put on a pair of men’s swim trunks and tank top over my oldest crapped-out bikini, and I dived in there. Of course the beautiful flowers had been hiding a tangled mess of every kind of sticker weed we got around here. I laid a tarp out on the ground next to the patch and started yanking them out by the roots and tossing them into a neat pile, all end to end, how nice. That way I can drag that tarp through the gate and out to the compost pile.

Ever find yourself in a giant weed patch in the beating sun? Just when I thought I would have to call Butte County Search and Rescue, I burrowed my way out of there. I turned around to admire my work – only I could appreciate the scene, cause I knew how bad it looked before I started. All those dead flowers gone, nice clean ground left behind, and no more rain to bring weeds. I will not have to touch that patch again for months and months. 

I wrapped up my weed burrito and headed for the garden compost pile. It was after 9am, and the sweat was trickling through my eyebrows – you know how, when your hands are full and all dirty, you always think there’s bugs in your hair? I couldn’t get over the notion I had spiders all over me, and I had to stop a couple of times to run my fingers through my hair, jiggle my clothes, jump up and down like an old jackass.

I had so many stickers in my socks, I just stripped them off and tossed them into the pile behind the tarp load. 

Me and the dogs went to stand in the Think Tank.  I reached up to scratch my head and found a bunch of wild parsley seeds stuck to my scalp – they have a velcro cover, and they’re a bitch to get out of your pets’ fur, not much easier to pull out of your own hair! 

It’s too hot to work outside by 10am. My husband also does his chores early. Then we go inside. Our apartment, with the thermostat set at 81, is a pleasant refuge. We also find my husband’s shop, on the shady side of the house, with a tile on concrete floor, stays relatively cool all day. The dogs plod along behind us, Badges dropping himself like a bag of sticks.

There’s nothing much to do in the worst part of the afternoon but lay down for a nap, wait it out, stay fresh for later.  I putter in the house too, plenty of inside chores. Today I cleaned my kitchen cabinets, even put some lemon oil on the doors. Good to rifle through your cabinets once in a while, clean that freezer too!

We cook a lot of meals on the bbq outside, and we try to cook enough meat so we don’t have to cook for another day or two. I’ll tell you what else – I make a big batch of rice every few days, it’s good reheated or cold, on salad. One of my favorite bedtime snacks is a bowl of brown rice, brown sugar and milk. 

It’s fun to go outside at 8:30 or so at night, light a candlelaria, sit and watch the sun go down. It’s still hot outside, but it’s getting cooler, which is way different than getting hotter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This break in the temps gives us some good time to do some outdoor cookin’!

Thursday we had our first June rainstorm. The wind picked up about midnight,  and by 4 am it was pouring. When we went out to walk the dogs about 7 am it was what I would  call a hard sprinkle. There were small tree limbs scattered in the driveway and sycamore bark everywhere. Sycamore sheds this time of year, the papery bark looks like sections of a jigsaw puzzle.

 

 

All the flowers are so happy.

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These echinacea seem to be reaching for the sun.  You can see I been harvesting tree litter for my old wood stove.

 

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Hummer’s favorite stuff.

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Even old mother cactus, overwhelmed by her horde, managed to put out a blossom.

I’ve been collecting all those downed branches and sticks and piling them up on a shelf next to my grandpa’s old camp stove. As long as it doesn’t sit in the mud and get rotten, downed wood is great for a fire, it’s already seasoned and ready to go. It’s nice to sit around the fire at night, even in Summer. 

And I’ve been practicing with my dutch ovens.

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This is a perfect set-up for a Dutch oven, heat on the bottom, heat on the top.

I’ve had smaller pots for a long time, I’ve made muffins in a tiny tin, cornbread, even brownies in the Dutch oven. But I wanted to see if I could turn out a good loaf of everyday bread. So, I stoked up the stove, then threw in about 25 charcoals. When those got hot, I arranged them on the lid of the Dutch oven and let them sit for about 10 minutes. Then I threw more charcoals in the wood stove.

Yeah, it was hot in front of that thing, I watched it from the shade of my patio.

When the pot was almost ready (the coals were white and I held my hand about 5 inches over the pot to see that it was good and hot) I had to go and get my dough, which was rising on my breadboard in the kitchen upstairs. That’s when it got tricky. I have to learn to do this by myself, my husband can’t always be there to open the door or raise the pot lid for me. I have to remember to run downstairs and open the door, field two excited dogs, and I have to have a place to set the board down where Badges can’t get it while I raise the lid on the pot.  

So I put an old gas can we had next to the stove (!) and used it as a side table. 

The dough felt good, it went into the pot with a little “sssss!”  

I kept a watch on the coals, and every so many minutes I lifted the lid and gave the bread a little squirt from my mister bottle. Within 15 minutes it was getting pretty brown on top, so I moved the coals to the edge of the lid. 

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I started with the coals placed in the middle but moved them to the outside of the lid.

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The top was getting brown but it wasn’t done yet so we added 4 charcoals underneath the pot.

This loaf took about 45 minutes, only 5 minutes longer than the conventional oven. It was almost perfect, but could have been a little browner on the bottom. 

The pot is smaller than my oven, so I had to divide the dough. The second loaf turned out even better – browner on the bottom.

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This one turned out a little different – but like my children, I love them both.

It’s always good to learn something new. 

Chicken soup still good medicine

Tuesday I finally succumbed to the pollen – I couldn’t lay down in bed, or my sinuses would close up like Tupperware. My dog Badges was also having some sort of breathing problem – same as a couple of weeks ago, he was coughing and gagging, as if he had something stuck in his throat. 

So, having laid awake since 1 am, I finally gave up the bed about 2:30, pulled up my little ottoman and settled into my cushy Walmart office chair to see what was on the late show. Oh, my God, all kinds of crap.

I like NBTV, out of Santa Rosa. It’s a small privately owned station that has lots of different shows. The other afternoon I watched a half hour documentary about a century run called  “The Barkley”.  Very interesting – the kind of stuff you used to see on PBS before they went all cooking and home improvement.  

They produce their own shows too.  At about 4 am the owner hosts his own show – “Creature Feature”.  Tuesday night he was playing one of my all time faves – The Head That Wouldn’t Die!  So I turned on the coffee pot and decided it was too late to try to sleep.

Last time this happened he was playing “Little Shop of Horrors,” the original from 1960.  I had never seen that, always felt left out – wow, it was great!  What Schlock!

But yeah, the party was over when the sun came up and I realized I’d pulled an all-nighter.  My eyes were so dried out I couldn’t decide which was worse, closing them or holding them open. My neck and head hurt from sitting in a chair all night. 

I had wanted to go to a “Local Government Committee” meeting at 3:30 that afternoon. I realized that was out. I knew I would not be able to take a nap, and by 3:30 I’d be a piece of walking toast. The North wind was already picking up outside, and at 3 am the weatherman had told me – there would be a pollen “advisory”.  

Nothing beats the pollen like a bowl of chicken miso soup.

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Comfort food.

My husband had just bbq’d an enormous boneless chicken breast. We get those in a 40 pound box at Cash and Carry. They are frozen in a big wad – I usually leave them in the sink overnight, they soften up, and I can separate them, wrap each one in plastic wrap and put them in Ziplock bags for the freezer. They are full breasts and probably twice as big as the chicken breasts they have at Safeway. I fillet them for the grill and we get at least two dinners and sandwiches for a couple of days. 

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We got four fillets out of one double breast, here are two of them. Each fillet is almost as big as the single breasts they sell in the pack at Safeway.

I usually make soup with a raw chicken thigh, but it’s certainly easier to use the cooked chicken. I saute the onion and celery tops as usual, then add the chicken, cut into bite size pieces.  I try to keep chicken broth on hand, it’s good for cooking rice and other dishes.  I added about two cups and then another two cups water, with a teaspoon of salt for each cup of water.

Once this is simmering along, I ladle out a little of of the broth into a cup and mix it with a couple of tablespoons of miso paste, then put it back.

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Miso is getting so available now.

I’ve just started using miso paste again since my son gave me a little container. It used to be hard to find and expensive, the packaging was such that I could never use the whole thing before it went bad. Nowadays there are lots of different brands, and good old Westbrae has it in these neat little plastic containers. There is a plastic film inside to keep the remainder fresh. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and it’s hanging in there fine.

To that I add chopped carrots and more celery. When the whole thing is really cooking I add noodles. This time I had the rest of a pack of dry udon noodles – we use these for stirfry alot.

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You can keep these dry Westpac noodles around the house forever. Since I made this pot of soup we found Safeway again carries the “fresh pac” noodles, in the produce department, near the mushrooms. But these were good in a pinch.

The dry noodles have to be boiled for about 8 minutes to attain that fat, slippery udon texture. The fresh ones just need to be heated – you can dump them in and turn off the pot, leave it setting on the stove. The great thing about udon noodles is they just keep getting fatter and yummier. 

I call this “instant soup” – it took less than half an hour to put together. We ate it for three days – the first night we had soup and salad for dinner.  After that we ate it gladly for lunch and anytime we needed a pick-me up.  It really made us feel good to come in from the pollen storm to a pot of soup. 

I did it! Gluten-free birthday cake!

Thanks fellow bloggers for your support – I made the gluten-free birthday cake! 

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Well, giant cookie, really.

I got the recipe from my grandma.

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You can tell from the grease stains, this is one of my fave recipes.

Because my son is trying to cut gluten from his diet, I made some substitutions. 

 

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Here’s the usual suspects – oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and good old white sugar – I’ll work on a different sweetener next time, but Basil Rene is right – the world of sugar substitutes is fraught with peril. I used half and half brown and white like Gram says.

In lieu of a sugar substitute, I just cut the amount of sugar down to 2/3’s  cup. 

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Here’s the brown basmati I buy at Cash and Carry in 10 pound sacks, and here’s some coconut oil I found at Walmart for less than $4.

I wasn’t sure about buying the coconut oil at Walmart, but it was the cheapest. My son told me the more expensive oils are “refined” so that you can use them at higher temperatures, for stuff like sautes and stir-fries. I like it for baking – it’s very light, without any odor.

As for amount, I thought I better check, so I googled cookie recipes using coconut oil. I found one that matched my recipe – half a cup of liquid coconut oil for a half a cup butter.  

When I added the oil to the sugar, it didn’t seem right, too wet. But the egg mixed in well, and when I added the rice flour, oats and Krispies, it looked just like the dough I got using butter and wheat flour. It’s always kind of crumbly, when I make cookies, I mash it into spoonful-size balls and set them on the sheet, where they melt into thin, crispy wafers, just like  Gram used to make.  Or I just mash the whole pile of dough into a pan and make “cookie bars.” 

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I wanted a cake so I mashed it into a cake pan.

Baking time was the variable – for my usual size pan I bake them 20 – 25 minutes at 350, waiting for the top to turn brown. This pan was smaller and deeper so I had to bake it closer to 35 minutes. This made it more like a cake than a cookie, but the edges were still  crunchy.

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Here’s the topping – looks like a mess!

I got an idea for a “cookie tart” from Chef Pepin, it just didn’t turn out exactly the way he did it – we just dumped a couple of pints of blueberries and a cut pear into a sauce pan, without sugar or anything, and stirred it into this mess. It was delicious, the tart fruit made the perfect compliment for the sweet cookie-cake. 

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We sent most of the cake home with the birthday boy, but I saved a piece for my husband to eat for breakfast.

Like Chef Pepin would say – et voila! There it is, a gluten free birthday cake. 

 

 

 

Waiting out Winter

As if to remind us, it’s only February, Jack Frost rode into town last night.

Back to Winter

Back to Winter

Clear skies mean lower temperatures. As eager as we were to get out in the sun yesterday, we found ourselves running back inside with numb hands, poking at the thermostat, hovering around the kitchen. After a morning of storm clean-up, I spent yesterday afternoon cooking,  made a big batch of tortillas and a pot of rice.

One pan wonder.

One pan wonder.

My husband got a steak out of the freezer and cut two thin steaks with his filet knife, then threw them into a pan with the rice. Before I knew it we were eating burritos.

I love it when a good plan comes together.

I love it when a good plan comes together.

Try new things – Juanita goes gluten-free

Did you know, you can make flour out of rice? Am I the last person to find out about this?

I try to avoid food fads, but I’ve heard for years that the gluten found in wheat flour will exacerbate pollen allergies. My husband and son are both extra sensitive to pollen – trees like almond and mulberry have made them really sick. Their eyelids puff up, their faces turn red, and they get instant headaches after being exposed to those type of trees. 

My husband has learned to wear a mask when he has to expose himself, he’s also lost a little of his sensitivity over the years. Meanwhile my son seems to be headed right into the worst of it – he’s still in his 20’s, when your body seems to fielding a new set of hormones.

So he and his girlfriend have decided to avoid gluten. My first thought was – what will you eat? I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of life without wheat.  For Cripessake – I’ve spent years learning how to make my own bread, pasta, pizza, etc, why would I want to give up wheat?!

I just bought a 25 pound sack of hard red wheat berries. I had a hard time finding a reliable source of wheat berries here in town, so I went online and got a big bag. And of course it was about half the price per pound, so nya nya Raleys!   As you know, I have storage – it sits in jars and zipper bags on the little turnaround shelf under my counter. I’ve already polished off a big jar’s worth. 

But of course I buy rice in bulk too. So, when I noticed, on the box in which I store my wheat mill, it says all the things the mill will grind, including rice.  I read rice is gluten free. 

In fact, my son had sent me this picture of his rice pancakes one morning.

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My son wanted to assure me he and his bgf were eating right.

Well, you never learn if you don’t try new things. So I dumped a cup of rice into my mill and it ground up into the nicest flour, a little grainier than wheat flour, but usable. I made a batch of oatmeal cookies with it, having read that oatmeal is also gluten-free. They turned out really well. 

So, my son’s birthday is coming up, and instead of the usual gluten-rich angel food cake, I will make him a cookie tart covered with fruit. I got the idea from Jacque Pepin. He made a sugar cookie one day on his show and covered it with glazed raspberries heated in a frying pan. The other day they had blueberries on sale at Safeway, $3 for a big container. I will also get some peaches out of the freezer – I still have a gallon zipper bag full from last Summer. 

One thing I know is that my son is happy when his parents pay attention to what’s going on in his life. They grow up but they don’t stop being your kids,  thank goodness!