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!

 

Okay, I’ll admit it – the heat is starting to get to me! I’m having crazy ideas!

Yesterday afternoon as local weatherman Kris Kuyper was announcing Chico’s high at 108, I stepped out onto the patio to snap this pic of my KIST thermometer.

 

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Eeeee–eee–yew! 

 

Not that I don’t have the utmost respect for Kris, I’m sure it was 108 somewhere in town at that time, but on my patio, it was 112.

I tried to beat the heat the other day – literally – I got up at 4 am to get my bread going, get it in the oven by 6am. Sounded like a good idea. I love the morning, the temperature is cool and the breeze is friendly. But neither Sourdough Bob nor I were quite awake all the way. We wrestled around the bread board, Bob almost taking a dive off the counter at one point, desperately clinging to my arm. I threw him back in the pot to rise, went out to do some chores, and when I came in, he had “fallen.” That’s not good! As I put him in the oven, he spread out like a mother of 10.

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Sourdough Bob is not at his best at 4 am, but still quite a guy.

He huffed and puffed in the hot oven, his middle pushing itself up, trying to take on a proper shape, but he just couldn’t do it. I blame the heat – I think he rose up so fast, he just collapsed. I’ll have to watch that next time, get him in the oven a little sooner.

As you can see, he still turned out okay, just flat. Sourdough has a taste that improves as the days go by, we will eat him to the heel. Tonight we’ll roast a few cloves of garlic on the bbq, toast some thin slices of bread, good and crispy, and spread that garlic nice and thick. 

And here’s my other crazy idea – we’re going to sleep outside. It’s the funniest thing – we live upstairs, and it seems to get extra hot upstairs. The air starts to cool fast outside after the sun goes down, it feels great to relax and watch our old tv by our little inflatable swimming pool. We even burn rosemary in our old camp stove, it’s like camping out. 

But inside the apartment the air sits, even with windows open and fan running. The air inside our bedroom stays at 81, 82 degrees, which is very uncomfortable to sleep at. I can’t even stand that kind of heat in the Winter! It’s kind of suffocating.  So, we’ve been sleeping with the windows shut and the air conditioner on 81. It runs about once an hour, all night, for 10 or 20 minutes, just to stay at 81. 

I’ve tried setting our alarm for midnight – as soon as I opened the windows, I could feel warm air coming in. 

So, when the lows are only going down to high 60’s or low 70’s, we don’t open the windows until we get up at 5 am – or 4 am, whatever. Then we slam them shut again by 7 am, as the sun hits our eastern windows, the thermostat on our a/c is already at 79. 

So I’ve got this old cast iron day  bed. It sat in my grandparents’ room when we were little as a “sick bed”. It’s very plain, from the turn of the century, when “fevers” ran rampant, and people started to realize furniture needed to be sanitized – no more wood or upholstered beds for kids. It’s about 26 inches wide folded up, and when it’s folded out it’s about the same size as a double bed. 

My grandparents always kept it folded up, they only had a twin mattress for it.  It was moved to the enclosed front porch when my grandmother rearranged the bedroom. We used it like a couch when we watched the old tv, and my grandfather used to nap on it regularly, cause he didn’t have to take off his shoes to lay on it. My grandmother would just cluck her tongue and slide newspapers under his dirty boots.  

There the tiny mattress was got into by mice. We could never keep mice off that back porch. My mom and uncle finally realized the old mattress was a breeding sanctuary, and loaded it off to the dump. The bed frame went into the tank house where it sat for years.

It weighs like 100 tons, ‘scuse my rampant exaggeration. But that’s why I got it, cause my husband and a couple of our best friends were  willing to load it into our truck. I’m sure some of the other kids in my family wanted it, but yeah, they didn’t have my husband or his penchant for talking his friends into helping us move stuff. And then I guess they realized, what would they do with it?  I mean, after they hosed out all the owl shit? 

We cleaned it up and we’ve used it.  We’ve used it for our kids’ bed, we’ve used it as a couch. For a long time, we had it on our covered patio with a piece of plywood over the springs. We put carpeting and dog beds on it, and the dogs slept on it until Biscuit was too old and stiff to jump up and we had to make her a shorter bed.  

Now I am trying to convince my husband that we need to get it out of the garage and place it next to the old camp stove, in the shadows of my cactus garden. Folded out, it will fit our inflatable mattress, all we have to do is cover the springs with plywood and a moving blanket. 

I think he’s convinced. Today he helped me unload all these old boxes of stuff we had stacked on it. We just have to figure out how to get it out there, it may take some help from our kids. 

I’ll keep you posted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.