Dirt plumes and smoke – it’s August in NorCal!

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Chico is laying under a blanket of guck.

My husband and I took the dogs for a walk up Hwy 32 yesterday. The air is cooler just 15 minutes above town, and the dogs like a change of scenery. Me too.

Coming back into town, we saw the valley is covered with a thick layer of dirt and smoke.   We’ve had fires burning in every direction for the last couple of months – the Minerva fire near Quincy was only announced contained yesterday.  Now we are in harvest season.  If you look hard in the upper left corner of the picture you can see the dirt plumes – somebody is sweeping their orchard, getting ready to shake their nuts. Prune harvest is already in full swing, next nuts, then rice. 

Remember that old kids’ song –  Thank you dirt, thank you a bunch, cause Dirt, you made my lunch…

I know it’s cooler lately, but seeing that picture, I’m almost afraid to open the windows at night. We open them up after 9pm, and slam them shut again by 7am.

The air is still clear enough to enjoy the rise of The Giant, about 5 am. Right now Betelgeuese is burning red above my neighbor’s trees.

It’s still to hot to bake – again we’ve fallen onto store bread. I miss things like pizza and bread, so I’ve been experimenting around with my son’s old toaster oven. We bought it for him when he went to college but now his roommate has a better one, so he left his old cheapie with us. I realized, I could plug it in on the patio table and bake outside instead of heating up the house.  It worked like gang busters! I made three tiny pizzas the other day and yesterday I made three tiny loaves of bread.

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It looks like a big hot dog bun, which reminds me – I could wrap some dough around a frankfurter from the meat locker and have a giant pig in a blanket! Next time!

Yes, they were so cute, we ate the first one before it was even cool. We loaded it full of leftover chicken and a nice tomato from the garden and that was the end of it. That’s a problem around here, trying to keep a fresh loaf of bread for more than a day. 

We did something new the other day – we made a trip over to Food Maxx. We don’t shop there very often, but saw an ad for whole chickens, two in the bag for 79 cents a pound. Can’t beat that. They also had 12 packs of Scott tissue for $3-something a pack, that’s crazy cheap. So we indulged in hoarding, it was like a run on an Argentinian super market.

I harvested my grapes last week – as usual I was surprised how many there were and how long it took me to process them.

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This was the first basket, all picked off the stems and ready for the juicer.

Again we had a hard time keeping our hands off these. We ate a lot of the grapes while we were picking them and then we drank the pint of juice we got for breakfast. Luckily there were more left.

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More and more.

I pick them off the stems while watching tv. Luckily there was a good Charles Bronson picture on the movies channel – Break Out! – and I was able to do the whole wad in one day.  I got three pints of juice!  I froze it and will be glad to see it in January.

I actually still have a nice bag of grapes in the fridge, they are wonderful in my morning smoothie, and I put them out on the counter in the morning so my husband will eat a mouthful.

The sun is just starting to light up the sky, time to go outside!

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

The heat brings out the colors

Not even the first day of Summer yet and my yard is looking pretty dry.

 

My geeshy sakes, didn’t I tell you the weather around here is weird.  As of yesterday I still had more than half a rain barrel left from that last rain storm we had, as the mercury edged it’s way up to 102.  Weatherman says we are looking at a solid  week of 105-plus.

And here’s the kicker – lows in the 70’s...

That’s just nasty. I guess 70 degrees feels good on a Spring day, but on a Summer night it feels like, “you’ve got to be kidding! This is my low?!”

So I busted it out in the morning to do some yard work, and I heard air conditioners kicking on all over my neighborhood. One was mine, so I shinnied up the stairs and turned it up to 82. I had it on 80, and there it was, kicking on at 8am. Eeeee-yew, it’s going to be a corker!

So we live outside in the early morning, and the late evening. We try to nap during the day, either inside under the air vents or in our ginchee hammock, hung between two young oaks, over a section of green lawn where I can run the sprinkler for a few minutes to cool the air. We also have a little plastic swimming pool to dunk in when we are working outside, really refreshing.

We’ve been using the grill to cook our meals – Safeway has the chicken “picnic pack” on sale for 99 cents a pound – that’s about 6 drumsticks and 6 – 8 thighs.  We bought two and my husband threw the dozen drumsticks on the grill – that’s almost six meals for two old people, we didn’t have to cook for a couple of days. Drumsticks are nice cold – always nice to have cold food waiting on a a 100-plus day.

The thighs went into the freezer for another time.

Last night we had a steak – it’s true, steak makes me feel wealthy, even when times are tough. We buy a boneless rib roast at Cash and Carry and cut our own steaks. They’re delicious, and we can cut them as thin or thick as we like. Right now, in this economy, we’re cutting them so thin you can see the charcoals underneath – they cook quicker too!

By evening we’re pretty tired, nap or no nap, and we usually make our way out to the patio to watch the sun go down. You know I never get tired of taking pictures of sunrise and sunset. Last night, sunset was incredible, almost like some sort of aurora borealis. It started out slow.

 

That’s what it looked like on my digi-cam, as if the pink was liquid, pouring down.

Here’s a picture my husband took with his cell phone.

Wow!

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight!

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. 

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! 

Try something new – the Himalayan salt block we got for Christmas is a new twist on grilling

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These are two steaks my husband cut from a boneless rib roast we bought at Cash and Carry, sizzling away on the Himalayan salt cooking block my son got us for Christmas.  The fingerling potatoes are also from Cash and  Carry.

Wow, this weather has had us on our toes. Every morning I look out into the darkness to see if any tree branches have fallen, our sycamore trees have had a whopping from that wind. I’m on edge for a power outage – just the other side of the park, a whole neighborhood was dark and cold for hours yesterday when a tree took down a power line. We’re ready, our nerves are tingling, and our hackles are up. 

What we’re really watching for is a break in the storm, so we can fire up the grill, and get some meat going. Standing around the bbq with that fresh cold wind in our hair seems like an adventure after being stuck in the muck all day.

Our kids were very nice to us this Christmas – they know us, and they know what we like, even if we haven’t tried it before. The older one is always coming up with something new.  He grew up imitating Dad, now he seems to be taking the lead. This Christmas he gave us a cooking stone made of pink salt. The first thing I said was, “it’s too pretty to use!” Silly, silly Mom!

Salt and food have gone together since man first licked his salty finger. I think it was an instant addiction, but wonder how long it took people to figure out about curing food. I know it was important from very early on – there is a “salt trail” in Glenn County that leads all the way to Oregon. Archaeologists and the local people claim it was trekked for a thousand years, great wars took place along that trail – over salt. There are salt licks all around the foothills on the west side of the valley, people dug it out, and fought for it. It was like gold to them.

So I guess it was a natural feeling I had, holding that heavy block of pure salt in my hands – I wanted to wrap it up and hide it. 

But my son insisted, if we handled it correctly, it would get a nice patina like my pizza stone, and we would have it for many years. The most important things are don’t get it too wet and don’t heat it too fast. 

My husband took care of heating it – he put it on the grill  as soon as he got the charcoals going. As it heated up, he was afraid he hadn’t added enough charcoal, that the coals would be out before the meat was on the stone. That was not a problem – once that stone gets hot it’s like a frying pan. The meat sizzled away.

We got a boneless rib roast at Cash and Carry for about $100.  This was our second attempt at cutting it – this time we got 19 steaks, a bag of stir-fry meat we trimmed out of the fat, and a neat little roast to put in our smoker.  We wrap the steaks in plastic film wrap and stack them into zip-lock freezer bags. We wrapped a half dozen for each of our kids – it’s comforting knowing they have meat in their freezers. 

We threw the last two steaks on the salt stone. We’d found a nice bag of fingerling potatoes at Cash and  Carry – I steam those whole for 10 minutes and then toss them with olive oil, salt and garlic powder. They roast really well whole on the bbq.  

The steak was done to perfection before the coals were gone. I had to force myself to slow down eating it, I tried to chew each bite slowly, it was hard. Those meals seem to go too fast, given the anticipation that goes into it.

And then were left with that greasy stone. My husband  put it on a little baking rack in his shop to cool, and we forgot it overnight. He brought it in the next morning and I had the sudden compulsion to toss it out, but remembered what my son said. I got a hand-size piece of green scrubber, ran it under hot tap water, and then went about scrubbing off the baked on grease. It essentially washed right off, leaving a light stain. I held it over the sink and just scrubbed the grease. The whole stone got damp, but not wet.  I patted it dry with paper towels and set it on the baking rack. It was dry and smooth within an hour. It cleaned up a lot like my pizza stone – you could see stains, but it feels clean to the touch. 

We used it again, this time for boneless chicken breasts.  At first they looked weird without grill marks, but wow, they melted in our mouths, they were so juicy and tender. 

So, I will give the salt block two thumbs up. We keep it stored in it’s box in my husband’s shop, where it is relatively dry and close to the grill. Next time we’re going to throw some shrimp on there. 

I’ll keep you posted.