Motherhood is a good gig!

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Here’s Old Mother Cactus and her children and grandchildren.   Those furry nodules to the upper right will hopefully bust into striking pink flowers before too long.

My succulents took a beating this past Winter, but my spiny flowering cactus seem to be happier than ever. They are reproducing so fast I can’t find pots for all their offspring, and most of them have two or more flower buds swelling with promise.

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This is a variety of aloe vera known as “Alligator” – I get it! Not only do the leaves remind me of snapping jaws but the flower spears resemble baby gators.

I’ve got sap from these alligator aloe before, they’re just not as juicy as their cousin. They are more hardy, taking to the bright open sun. I’ve been spreading these along my rock walls, in out of the way spots – they make a good ground cover, treated with the proper respect.

Speaking of the garden.

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Here’s our tomato nursery – the bigger plants are from the box store. I’ve transplanted them from their original sixpack containers and they are ready to go in the ground now. I planted the smaller ones from seeds we got from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I’ve started to put them into the sixpack containers left from the box store plants.

Last year my kids got me this cute little plastic tray with teeny tiny cups for planting seeds. It sits in another tray, and came with a lid, which I did not need.  It was supposed to be disposable, but I’m careful with it and I will  use it again next year. 

Baker Creek is a very reliable source of seeds – almost every one I planted sprouted.  Of course we love the Best Boys and Early Girls we get a Home Depot – they produce a lot, all Summer. Some of the heirloom varieties – like the beautiful Indigo Apple – produce a lot of fruit. Others produce small quantities of really good, big fruit.

https://worldofjuanita.com/2016/07/17/think-i-can-fill-my-empty-nest-with-tomatoes/

The Hungarian Heart  and the Carbon produced big, sweet, meaty tomatoes, weighing in at over a pound each. I don’t know if I got a dozen fruit between the two of them, so this year I’ve made sure to plant about a dozen seeds each, and the little plants are growing really well. 

Of course our tractor is on the fritz – we bought a used Kuboda tractor, a tiny backyard model, from a friend of ours about 10 years ago. It’s been great, but the last couple of Springs we’ve held our breath as my husband has jimmied the ignition switch. This year it won’t start, so we’re digging beds by hand and waiting to borrow our friend Wooton’s little rototiller. 

Luckily we still have about a dozen pints of tomato sauce in the freezer. Last night my younger son came home from college and we sat down to homemade pasta, meatballs, and sauce from last year’s garden. 

It’s good to be a mother. 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

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! 

Frog and Toad: not just for kids

The “atmospheric river” has run through our town, on it’s way to Nevada to wreak more havoc.

This morning I was surprised to see the moon shining in the bedroom window, bright and full. The only sound outside is a steady plop-plop from the rain spout.

We’ve been trying to stay busy during the rain, mitigate the outdoor damage when possible, clear the gutters and pick up storm debris. Things get moldy in this weather, the laundry won’t get dry, motivation gets wobbly. It is so tempting to crawl in between the flannels and go to sleep for a month or two. 

Reminds me of Frog and Toad Are Friends, a collection of buddy stories by Arnold Lobel.  I think “Spring” is my favorite story, because it’s so true. 

It’s Winter and Toad has been sleeping. Frog rushes to his door to wake him up, declaring,  “It’s Spring!”  But the only response from inside the door is “Blah!”

“The sun is shining! The snow is melting! Wake Up!” shouts Frog outside the door.  Toad answers, “I am not here…”

We’ve all had days like that, and friends like that.

Not one to be put off, Frog bursts into the house and actually pushes Toad out of bed, dragging him to the porch into the bright sunshine, where Toad complains he can’t see anything. “What you see is the clear warm light of April,” cajoles Frog, promising skipping in meadows, running through woods, swimming in the river, and counting stars on warm nights. 

This only drives Toad back into the bed, where he pulls the covers over his head. “You  can count them Frog, I will be too tired.”  

“You have been asleep since November,” complains  Frog.

“Well then,” says Toad, “a little more sleep will not hurt me…Come back and wake me up at about half past May…”

Frog is never flustered or put down, he always thinks of a solution. Standing in Toad’s house, realizing how lonely he will be over the next month, he sees the calendar on the wall is still on November, and begins tearing off the pages of Winter.  Arriving at May, he has a sudden flash of brilliance.

“Toad, Toad, wake up.  It is May now.”  

I don’t know if it’s okay to pull this type of prank on your friend, but I would say, it’s good to look out for each other. 

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I’ve been watching this daffodil bud, I think today’s the day.

Fledging the biddies

One more weekend with my younger son, then off to school Monday, Spit Spot!

I been through this Empty Nest business, I don’t want to get into that pit again, but I’ll say, enjoy your parenthood while you can. I do not want to hear you complaining about doing their laundry or the food bills or their friends hanging around.  I like being a mom, it’s what I’ve been doing for 25 years, and I’m probably going to keep doing it until I circle into the grave, like an old dog looking for a bed.

 

My kids have their problems, and it always feels good when they call me or my husband to talk about it. It also feels good when they call – or better yet, send a funny picture via cell phone – to say things are going good, ask us what we are doing. Sometimes I can tell, they just miss us.

Warms the cockles of my frozen old heart, yes it does.

One thing I worry about is do they eat right.  I hate to be a nag, you know me. Luckily my older son and his girlfriend put a lot of energy into gardening and eating fresh foods, and they even get their meat from local producers. They send us pictures of meals, and we send them pictures of meals – it’s the next best thing to eating with your kids or friends, share pictures of some wonderful meal you’ve come up with, and then another of yourselves shoveling it in at the table.  

The younger one is learning to cook for himself, but admits, when he has money, he finds it very tempting to eat out. He likes the sit-down restaurants, the family style joints, but still remembers being up all night with his girlfriend when she got sick after a meal at a restaurant. Sometimes, it’s not a matter of e-coli or salmonella, it’s just a matter of badly made –  maybe too much of some rich ingredient, like creme or some spice.  Of course that made them think more about cooking for themselves – nothing gets your attention like fear of food poisoning, you know, RIGHT NOW! 

You can’t teach your kids everything – I love those public service ads about brushing your teeth for two minutes – in comparison, parents try to tell their kid every important lesson of life in two minutes. I got it – we all brush our teeth for two minutes now, but I can’t train them for every situation that comes around the pike.

Oftentimes I’m relieved how well they handle a situation on their own – wing it, like baby birds.  The other day my older son casually told me about a problem he was having with a neighbor, but didn’t know how to approach the person. When he told me what it was, I realized – I would have got mad if my neighbor did that too.  We talked for a long time about what’s okay to put up with, when a neighbor or friend is worth a little more trouble, etc.  I was impressed that my son was putting himself in other people’s shoes, he tried to see the neighbor’s point of view, and decided – if it’s that bad, move away, otherwise, mitigate, learn to live with it.

Last year my younger son was “dorm cop” at his school living facility. They call it “community advisor.”  You never know what to expect out of a new job, I tried to put aside irrational fears. But the stuff that happened was beyond anything I could imagine – one boy taking hallucinogenic drugs and going on a tirade in the middle of the night, breaking light fixtures off the walls in the dorm, screaming and yelling and being combative with friends.  My son and other students called the police, then my son went out into the hallways and followed the boy and his friends from a safe distance, watching the police arrive and take the boy, who was subdued at the sight of the cop cars, off to a local hospital. My son had to go to the police station, as a representative of the school, to file a report about the incident.

Another time, he and a couple of other students had to go to the police station to report that one of the dorm residents had simply disappeared, they hadn’t heard from him, and were worried. The police handled them nicely, but they were kept waiting at the cop shop for hours. They boy was found to have got drunk and been arrested  another town over, too embarrassed to call his folks, he was still  cooling his heels in a jail cell. 

I felt bad  for the parents of these kids, but we’ve had horrible tragedies in Chico, I hate to recount the stuff that’s happened just over the past few years. I just feel lucky, my kids keep close, they talk to us.

One day I watched a brood of phoebe birds fledging in my back yard, it pricked at my heart, it was such a human scene. The bird parents fed the babies at first, but suddenly they started flying away when the biddies approached, refusing their desperate little pleas. They still sat by, always close, sometimes leading the babies to their favorite perches, showing them how. Slowly the babies caught on, the air was full of SNAP-ing beaks. But one little tyke, bless its heart, still screeched along after the parents, begging and begging. The parents refused it again and again.  Its little wings seemed so inadequate for the squatty fluffy body.

At one point, it landed in the windowsill where I sat at my desk, and began to pick bugs from a spider’s web. I was impressed with the ingenuity, just when its energy was flagging, the little wings seemed to be giving  out.  After that quick meal, it seemed renewed, the tone of its little screech was different. Little phoebe flittered out into the herb garden, and grabbed a yellow butterfly.   Then, still a clumsy little fledge, it floundered onto a valerian branch  and sat with the yellow wings sticking out the corners of its mouth. After a moment or two the wings dropped away, the rest of the bug was swallowed,  and the last I saw of the little bird was a flurry of fluff. 

I don’t want my sons to flitter away. I like them to go out in the world and come back home to roost a little. 

 

 

 

 

Those last lazy days

This morning as I poured myself a cup of coffee I noticed a very bright and wildly  sparkling red star out my window. Wandering out into the yard for a better look, I could see it was Aldebaran. I squeezed my old eyes together, and there was Taurus bearing down on Orion, who was cowering behind my neighbor’s ash trees. 

The Naked Ladies are blooming all over my yard while everything else is drying up and dying.

These narcissus pop up in the funniest places in my yard.

These narcissus pop up in the funniest places in my yard, so out of place among the dried up leaves and frowsy spider webs.

But there are other nice surprises.

These are very sweet and smooth.

The crab grass had overgrown the vines so badly my husband was actually surprised when he found all these lovely Charentais melons.

My husband planted several varieties of melons from seeds he bought out of the Baker Creek heirlooms catalog.  He put a lot of time into making good beds for them and now it’s paid off. It’s great to see my family stand around the kitchen counter slurping up melons.  If we can’t eat them fast enough I’ll be sure to cube one up and put it in a freezer bag. The melons I froze last year tasted incredible in January when the garden was dead and buried.

Another lazy afternoon treat is a big bowl of salsa.

These peppers are sweet and add some crunch.

These peppers are sweet and add some crunch.

Ah the end of Summer, the old panic sets in. In my mind I am still 8 years old and dreading the first day of school – now because I am left behind instead of going off alone. The world  seems dreary and repetitive, the chores neverending, the days too short. A week ago I wondered how I would make it through another 3-digit day, now I wish I could have put one of those days in a jar, save it for January.

This lazy week will pass and the chores will pile up pretty soon –  get the boy off to school, the flurry of Fall clean-up, and then, battening down for Winter. 

For now, I like to sit and watch tv with the family, eat a bowl of salsa, talk about swimming.

 

 

Think I can fill my empty nest with tomatoes?

For the last couple of years my husband and I have been watching our biddies take off, leaving us kicking around an empty nest. At least our older son has decided Chico is his town, and lives nearby.  Our younger son might be home for the last time – a month from now he and his girlfriend of two years will be taking their first apartment together at their new college.  

Heavy sigh.  They went off to orientation this weekend, reminding me – in about a month, he will be off to college again. Every year it’s the same – we go through the whole separation thing again, me and the dogs wandering around the house in circles, trying to remember why we came in there.

My husband is down in the dumps as well, his usual workaholic demeanor giving in to “I’m tired today…” 

Something had to give, so we wandered out to pick tomatoes. As you know, we have a lot of tomatoes.

This wall of Early Girls started producing, well, early. We pick a box of ripe tomatoes about every other day.

This wall of Early Girls started producing, well, early. We pick a box of ripe tomatoes about every other day.

But there’s others.

Here's a Paul Robeson. We've been getting so many of these, I'm in the habit of slicing them for meals,. They look like big tomato steaks.

Here’s a Paul Robeson. We’ve been getting so many of these, I’m in the habit of slicing them for meals,. They look like big tomato steaks.

These pretty striped cherry tomatoes are good on salads, but I have so many I think I'll make a batch of salsa.

These pretty striped cherry tomatoes are good on salads, but I have so many I think I’ll make a batch of salsa.

These are called "Indigo Apples." When they are ripe they will be dark red with a cap of dark purple. I like to add them to my cherry tomato salsa, the color combination is outrageous.

These are called “Indigo Apples.” When they are ripe they will be dark red with a cap of dark purple. I like to add them to my cherry tomato salsa, the color combination is outrageous.

This whopper, pictured next to a regular sized "Early Girl" is a Hungarian Heart.

This whopper, pictured next to a regular sized “Early Girl” is a Hungarian Heart.

The Hungarian Heart weighed in at 15 ounces on my mail scale, wowsers, went straight into the sauce pot. I don’t kid around. 

Been busy folks.

Been busy folks.

I’m so glad to have the chest freezer this time of year, our side-by-side is cramped and already full of fruit and chicken. The downstairs freezer starts to look a little barren about March, but it’s still handy for meat we buy cheap at Cash and Carry. Whatever it adds to our PG&E bill I’m confident it saves us as much in food money.

Here’s a tomato we have not tried before, which will be a standard in future.

 

This Carbon weighed in at 18 ounces.

This Carbon weighed in at 18 ounces.

I was sorry I didn’t take a picture before I cut this beast, but look at the smooth juicy flesh on this thing – a perfect blanket for some bacon or a burger. 

We had BLT’s for dinner, a nice light dinner for a couple of tired old empty nesters.