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. 

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.

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…

 

Smoke ’em if you got ’em! Our new smoker made cooking for the family a breeze!

The family gathered around the smoker this year.

The family gathered around the smoker this year.

Years ago my husband and I gave up trying to cook whole turkey for Thanksgiving, it was just too much trouble and not that tasty.  We switched to whole chickens, which are cheap and easy to prepare.  We don’t try to cook that kind of meat in the house, either, we have always grilled over indirect heat. But when a friend of ours picked up a barrel smoker at a yard sale, and started telling us about all the great meals he was getting out of it, my husband had a sudden inspiration for taking the usual doldrums out of Thanksgiving.

My husband did some research online and found the Southern Country charcoal barrel smoker at Lowe’s for a very reasonable price – $79.  He had it put together and ready to go the same day. It had to be seasoned, so he fired it up – it was ready for meat within an hour.  He wanted to give it a  test  run, so we used a simple salt rub on some bone-in thighs we’d just bought at Safeway for 99 cents a pound, pinned the skin together with a couple of toothpicks,  and loaded them into the smoker.

How many times can you say, “OMG!” in one lifetime? This smoker promises plenty of “OMG!” moments. I’m sorry, but I think our Lord would like to hear about this, I don’t think I’m taking anybody’s name in vain  here.

Four hours later we hauled out eight perfectly cooked chicken thighs. They were juicy, tender and delicious. The best thing was, we were able to cook  a large quantity. 

Nothing like leftovers!

Nothing like leftovers!

I’ve seen two articles in the past week regarding Americans’ eating habits as a nation. Apparently people are spending more and more money eating out, less at the grocery store.  That’s too rich for me, every time we eat at a restaurant I can’t help making a mental list of the groceries I could have bought on the same tab. My husband and I might spend $50 on a meal out – for about $65, we get a forty pound box of huge chicken breasts at Cash and Carry. Thighs are usually less than $50 for a 40 pound box. 

 I know it seems onerous to come home from work and prepare a nice meal, but all it takes is planning.  The first plan to make is how and where to buy food in practical quantities that achieve a discount. The second plan is storage and management.  The third plan is how to make a meal that lasts at least two nights. 

I’m not saying we’re perfect, but the more time we put into planning the less hassle we find in making the actual meal.  An old contractor around here, Howard Slater, used to say, “for every dollar you spend on planning your project, you save seven in building it…” I don’t know if the numbers are still good, but I’d say that’s a pretty good analogy for meal planning. 

It’s also nice to have staple meals that you do well.

The meat came right off the bone and into the skillet.

The meat came right off the bone and into the skillet.

I usually have cooked rice around the house because it is a component of my homemade dog food. The dogs get half the pot and then we have a nice bowl of rice in the fridge for whatever quick meal. Tacos are just too easy to make, we eat them a lot.

Tacos are an easy staple meal - even homemade tortillas.

Tacos are an easy staple meal – even homemade tortillas. There’s the last tomato from our garden.  

I just picked up a 10 lb bag of brown Basmati rice at Cash and Carry for about $8.50.  You might think 10 pounds of rice is a lot but all you need is a couple of big jars or plastic bins and a space under your counter.  I go through 10 pounds in a little over a month.

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Here’s a 10 pound bag of rice – contained in a plastic sealed bag inside this ornate burlap bag. I store it in two big jars under my counter. The bag, which has handles and a real zipper,  makes a nice shopping sack, or you can stuff it and use it for a pillow on your patio.

 

Something else we have been eye-balling at Cash and Carry are the Cornish game hens. My mom liked these when I was little and baked them in the oven like a regular size chicken. She marinated  them with cheap white wine and called them drunken chickens. She treated them like the food of kings, so I always assumed they were expensive. Not so – Cash and Carry usually  has them for $1.99/lb, and this week Safeway priced them down to $1.69/lb.  The regular price on a whole chicken is $1.89 a pound, so we will probably be eating more of these little birds. 

We bought four for Thanksgiving, for a party of six.  They were frozen  hard enough to bust the windshield out of a ’66 Peterbilt, so we had to set them in the fridge for a couple of days. When we had them thawed out, we divided them up between dry rub and wet brine and set them in  separate zip lock  bags all morning. By noon my husband had them in the smoker, and by 4 pm, they were done to a positively perfect turn.

My husband served up a plentiful meal out of the smoker, adding some salmon we also got on sale at Safeway, and some boneless chicken thighs, also divided between wet and dry brine.  I added potatoes, beans and carrots and a green salad – pretty typical meal around here. 

It was a long day, but planning made it come off without a hitch.  We ate early, went for a family stroll into the evening darkness, looking for signs of life among our neighbors.  Then we came home and sat around the old camp stove. I was shocked how long the kids were willing to sit there with us, they seemed happy to be together. All last week I worried about keeping them entertained – all it took was a meal and a fire.

Try something new – grilled rabbit does not taste like chicken!

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Looks like chicken?

My husband and I have some friends who order their organic meats online. It’s expensive but cheap – cheaper than buying these  expensive meats at the store, that is. 

But mistakes are made – they recently received somebody else’s order, and the company just gifted it to them. There were some items they could use – lobster!  And chicken, like they’d ordered. But they didn’t have any use for the De Bruin rabbit, so passed it along to us.

http://www.iowarabbit.com/

I don’t know if I believe their claims about the rabbits being raised all happy and such, but I grew up on a farm and that has never really been a concern of mine.  Clean and healthy can be seen, since I can’t talk to a  rabbit I will never know whether they are happy or not. Read “Watership Down.” 

I’ve eaten rabbit, once at a French restaurant, and once at the Fox and Goose in Sacramento. Both times it was kind of tough and chewy, nothing special. I would not have gone out and bought it again.  But it wasn’t horrible, so I was ready to see what my husband could do with it on the grill.

The rabbit was nicely cut, four legs and two breasts.  He put a rub of salt  and garlic powder on  it and set it in a bag on the counter for a couple of hours.  Then he chose from his collection of store sauces – a pineapple  concoction. Sometimes he makes his own sauce, other times he turns to the bottle.  Then he went out to get the grill going. I found some little apples in the fridge from last Summer, and filled them with the pineapple sauce.

I’ve watched my husband learn how to grill over the last 25 years, he’s becoming a master at it. I remember when he couldn’t do chicken, it was always burned on the outside and questionable on the inside. But now I believe he could make an old tire taste like steal au  poivre.

“Bugs” as we call him turned out great. We each polished off a leg quarter and part of a breast, with leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Tasted great with plain brown  rice  and salad, those little apples sliced up in lieu of tomatoes.

No, it did not taste like chicken. It was completely  different. You’ll have to try it yourself!