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.

We smoked a duck to ring in the New Year – I think 2017 is going to be a good year!

Golden, juicy and delicious - and only $2.99 a pound at Safeway.

Golden, juicy and delicious – and only $2.99 a pound at Safeway.

My husband and I have taken to buying much of our meat in bulk. We go so far as to buy our boneless chicken in 40 pound blocks at the local restaurant supply store, Cash and Carry, at about half the price of buying out of the cold case at the grocery store.  We keep an eye on their website for deals.

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We still look for deals at Safeway – we buy whole chickens whenever they are marked down. We’ve looked around, and Safeway consistently has the lowest sale price on whole chickens, sometimes as cheap as 79 cents a pound.  

When my father-in-law butchers a steer, we get a big package of meat from him, but he’s  getting pretty old, and he’s keeping fewer steers, selling some of them to his neighbors to offset the cost of feed and other expenses. When we ran out of meat last year and he didn’t have a steer on schedule, we went to Cash and Carry and bought a boneless rib roast for less than $100.  My husband cut that into about 15 steaks in his first attempt at meat cutting. Next time he thinks he can get at least five more, some of these were too thick.  We wrapped each steak in plastic wrap, and put them in zip-lock freezer bags, stowed away in our little chest freezer.  We can now have a steak dinner at about half the price of grocery store meat.

We are always on the look-out for good deals at Safeway, like the Cornish game hens we bought for Thanksgiving. Regularly $1.99 a pound, they were marked down to $1.69. We fed six adults on four birds, finger licking good. 

So we look in that cold case alot. One day we saw they had whole duck for $2.99 a pound, so we picked up a 5 pound bird at just less than $15.  I grew up on wild game, and duck was tough, but we liked it. This was a domestic bird, raised all kind and friendly by Amish people. We were curious  to see how it would smoke up.

Do you think I overuse the expression “OMG!” ? Let me know about that, and send me some synonyms. This bird was so delicious, I think there’s going to be trouble later when I take the remaining leg out of the fridge. 

 

When life gives you lemons… and limes…and oranges…

A bowl of lemons on the counter makes the whole apartment smell good.

Lemons bring Summer into the house.

My husband planted a couple of Meyer’s lemon trees alongside our house about 20 years ago, it turned out to be one of our best investments. There’s nothing like a bright, fragrant lemon to chase the Winter blues down the road.

My favorite recipe: squeeze a lemon into a tea cup, add boiling hot water and honey for a cup of strong tea. If you want to put hair on your chest add a crushed clove of garlic and a pinch of salt.  This is a good remedy for sore throat or sinus congestion.

Cut a lemon into sections on a little plate and set it on the counter – every time you get a fresh glass of water add a lemon section, it’s a real pick-me-up.  Makes the kitchen smell nice too.

Speaking of smell nice, spoon some baking soda down your drain, wash it down with the juice of one lemon, then run hot water through the drain.  Doing this regularly will keep your drain smelling fresher.

My next door neighbor likes to have a bowl of lemons handy to drizzle salad.  It makes a great dressing for fruit salad, just add a little honey. 

We also planted a lime tree along with the lemons, but the little fellow didn’t make it through the first hard Winter. Luckily we can go to Cash and Carry and get a good bag of limes for about two and a half bucks.

When we bought this bag, we were afraid we might not be able to use the whole thing - hah!

When we bought this bag, we were afraid we might not be able to use the whole thing – hah!

Once you get them in the house you find plenty of uses, you wonder how you got along without them!  We use the juice all over our food, we put sections in our water glass like lemon, and yesterday I found out you can squeeze and freeze the juice for later, just like lemon.

My mother-in-law gave me this old lemon press, it's one of my favorite things.

My mother-in-law gave me this old lemon press, it’s one of my favorite things.

The pint on top is lime juice. The oranges are Valencias brought over by our friend Wooten who has an enormous old tree in his yard.

The pint on top is lime juice, you can see the faint green color. The oranges laying aside are Valencias brought over by our friend who has an enormous old tree in his yard.

Just when I thought I had enough citrus fruit, our friend stopped over and gave me a box of Valencia oranges he’d gathered from an ancient tree his yard. The skin is so thin, you can squeeze them into a glass with your hand.  I juice those as I go along – I put one in my yogurt smoothie yesterday, and it tasted like Orange Julius.

I found a new recipe – “Liquid Sunshine” – a mix of carrot and orange juice. I’ll give it  a whack and let you know! 

It might be time to bring in your plants!

Oooooo - go back in the house!

Oooooo – go back in the house!

A local tv anchor complained recently that the weather had “suddenly” turned cold. That’s the kind of astute observation that marks our local journalism.  The school district can lie, cheat and steal, but the mercury drops a few degrees and it’s NEWSFLASH!

Of course I’d already wrapped my outside plants, for fear they would turn to mush.

Yard gets to looking a little dreary this time of year.

Yard gets to looking a little dreary this time of year.

Aloe vera does exceptionally well in Spring and Fall, hangs in there in Summer, but Winter can be a deal breaker.  One good freeze and the leaves all turn dark and wilt, then turn to mush and die, it’s so sad.  So I wrap them up in some old freeze cloth, and if it gets below 30, they all get toted into the garage.  I’ve had to leave them in the garage, opening the front door for daily sun, for a week at a time.

But don’t worry, the sun will come back. Just repeat after me – “la primavera esta a vuelta a la esquina” – Spring is right around the corner. As if to remind us – 

iris flowers are already opening all over my yard.

iris flowers – in my family they are called “flags” –  are already opening all over my yard.

 

In the meantime we turn to food for comfort.  Safeway had cheap whole chickens again – 99 cents a pound, that works out to about $5 to $6 for a bird.  We had to give the new smoker another run. 

A chicken in every pot - yeah, that is nice, isn't it!

A chicken in every pot – yeah, that is nice, isn’t it!

I don’t think the smoker will ever get boring. That chicken was so good we picked it to the bone, eating the last bits with crackers and cheese.

Of course, the grill has become part of our routine already. We got a “party pack” of drumsticks and thighs for $1.89 a pound, a huge pack for less than eight bucks, and ate bbq chicken  legs for two dinners and lunch.  No, it doesn’t get old – the first night we had grilled baby potatoes, and the second night we had rice – makes it a whole different meal. What was nice  about it was my husband only had to stand over the grill  one night.  We even  had left-over potatoes for breakfast.

And a person needs a hardy meal when they have a day of physical work ahead of them. Today we get rid of “Doug”.

After 15 years you get attached to a tree, even if it was doomed from the beginning.

After 15 years you get attached to a tree, even if it was doomed from the beginning.

I don’t know who planted a Douglas fir right under the power lines 30 years ago, but it was a poor decision. When we bought this place we knew Doug’s days were numbered, but he continued to flourish. So, it was a surprise when he started to turn brown last Spring. By mid-Summer, he was looking pretty dead. We realized we couldn’t take him down ourselves because of the proximity to the power lines, so we called  PG&E. They came out, in October? and took him right to the ground. He wasn’t a huge tree, it only took a few minutes, and he was gone. 

PG&E will cut down or trim a tree for free but the property owner is left to get rid of the mess. The other tree they removed, closer to our house, was a deodor cedar.  Cedar burns well in our camp stove, we’ve been cutting up the smaller branches and having nice fires in the morning and evening. We’ve stacked it next to our green house, so we can bring wood into the greenhouse to dry out. It burns great. But Doug is a real  sap – even dead and seasoned  he is a messy, dangerous burn. So today we will load most of Doug into the F-150 and take him to the city compost facility. The bigger logs will  be rolled to the edge of the property, kind of a reminder to the dog walking neighbors, where public property meets private property.

I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. Time for breakfast, wait for the mercury to go up a few notches…