Get out there – leaving the comfort zone behind, we tried a new grocery store

My husband and I were out running errands when we bumped into our old friend Jerry. Jerry’s always a guy to speak his mind – “you guys are crazy to shop at Safeway!” he opined. He suggested Winco and Food Maxx, assuring us all their stuff was high quality.

We realized we did need to shop around.  We’ve shopped at Safeway for years because it is an easy bike ride from our house, but we thought we were being smart, buying on sale, and supplementing our pantry with trips to discount stores like Cash and Carry and Walmart. We hadn’t tried another grocery store for years.

Coincidentally we got a coupon from Food Maxx, offering not only cheap prices but free items – a 5 lb bag of russet potatoes, a case of bottled water, and a ROTISSERIE CHICKEN! Get the heck out! So we drove over to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was the strip mall it’s located in has seen better days, but the front of the store was no dirtier than Safeway has been the last year or so, and no bums standing around the entrance. The carts were clean, that’s a plus. But I was kind of intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings.

That’s why I need to get out more. I get in a rut, and when unexpected changes come up I feel a thousand years old and suddenly senile. I couldn’t help but notice my husband and I were clinging to each other like a couple of baby bats. 

We came out of it immediately in the produce section – lots of nice fruits and vegies, very fresh, and a lot cheaper than Safeway. We came for a free bag of potatoes, but I noticed bulk potatoes were half as much as Safeway. Some things were not that much cheaper, but really nice, like the spinach. It’s hard finding spinach that’s not all bruised and rotten in the center of the bunch. You can understand why a lot of people don’t like spinach. But Food Maxx had nice, firm, crisp green spinach for about $1.99 a bunch, I wish I had got two. 

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Here’s what you can do with spinach – spinach tacos!

We’d had chicken tacos the night before, and there was plenty of meat and beans left over. As I opened the bunch of spinach and handled those nice crispy leaves I immediately came up with an idea for lunch – we heated up the leftover taco filling, washed some big spinach leaves and lined them with strips of cheese and avocado slices. Look at those spinach tacos! Delicioso!

Of course for dinner that night we had half of our FREE ROTISSERIE CHICKEN. Pardon the caps, but it was exciting – we got two meals out of that bird, at a time when we are busy and tired in the evening and too broke to eat at a restaurant. 

We spent $40 and got almost as much in free stuff. We were so happy with the little russets we got, we’ve had potatoes in one form or another at almost every meal. I always cook two extras for breakfast.

So, yeah, it does pay to change your habits and try something new once in a while. Get out there! 

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Tried single living for a couple of days, didn’t like it – but ate well!

When I took the picture the flash caught the swirling mist all around me.

Something we haven’t had here in a few years is fog. I used to hate fog, but since the drought, I am glad to see it – this indicates our weather is changing in a new direction, maybe out of drought.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

We  get all the best weather right here in the North State!  

My husband went out of town for a couple of days to visit his dad, so I have been on my own with the dogs. I want to give them a good walk, dogs need their routine, but I worry that I  can’t handle both of them, especially if a bigger, more aggressive dog comes along. So, I hit the trail at about 6:30 am to beat the Sunday crowd, my headlamp beaming back at me from a thick wall of fog. 

In the light of my headlamp  I could see why everything on my patio was dripping wet this morning. 

I did not see another soul. We tramped along the trail, trying not to slip in goopy mud, watching all around for signs of life. January is usually a very gloomy time in Chico.

Gloomy  time to spend a weekend alone!  I try to keep myself cheered up by spending a lot of time outside with the dogs, working in the yard, keep the camp stove hot.  And, you might think it’s not much fun to eat alone, but I always make myself a meal that my husband doesn’t particularly care for.  At his suggestion, we went to Safeway the day before he left and bought me a pound of mussels.

This is about half a pound of mussels – about $3 worth – and more than enough for a skinny old lady.

Clams are nice, but the shells are heavier and they’re a dollar more a pound. You get a lot for your money with mussels, which are also very nutritious. My husband will eat them, but finds them a little strong, preferring clams.  So when he’s out of town, I feast for a couple of nights on mussels. 

Here’s another thing – they are a great one pan meal.

I start with vegetables cut up small, here an onion, half a zucchini and two mushrooms.

I’m too embarrassed to tell you how much butter I use, you be your own judge, jury and executioner. I like to get the vegies good and brown before I add a few ladles full of broth (which I had made earlier in the day by simmering some leftover romaine, cabbage, and celery hearts for about an hour). I slop in some cheap white wine too, never cook with anything that costs more than five or six bucks. I put in just enough liquid to steam the mussels.

I’ve eaten this two nights straight and looking at the picture I could sit down for another helping.

I cover those for three minutes while I hack off a piece of sourdough. Bob never gets stale, he ages to perfection, and a good rubbery sourdough heel is just what you need for a dish like this. Reminds me of sopas, the Portuguese bread soup, only with shell fish instead of beef. 

A cabbage, carrot and celery salad with yogurt dressing and a slice of avocado on the side, and you got yourself a $20 meal. 

I know I used to pay $12 for a side of mussels, no salad, at the Black Crow, and that place has been out of business for years. Why bother to eat out when you can get yourself a meal like this at home? The whole thing took me less than half an hour, and that’s counting the time it took to make a big bowl of salad and wash the mussels. Cost less than $5. 

 

Another nice thing is, easy clean up –  I ate everything but the shells and the pot!

 

Roast your vegies!

 

We got  those dumping rains I was hoping for, and Weatherman says more next  week. I  gave Estelle another brooch and set her back on the shelf – your happy voodoo doll, is your safe voodoo doll.

As usual for this time of year, we’ve been cooking and eating alot. My new favorite is roasted vegetables.

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I cut the cauliflower, beans and carrots into small pieces because they roast faster that way. Then I stir in some olive oil and toss it all with salt and pepper.

 

When I was young we were told to steam our vegetables, that boiling took the nutrients out.  It’s easy to over steam, and then you get the same as boiled. So I tried par boiling – 3 minutes in fast boiling water, then a cold rinse. That works okay for green beans, asparagus, and thin sliced carrots, but it’s still boiling. 

I quit eating broccoli and cauliflower because it was easy to over cook and under cooked they gave me indigestion.

Then I saw a recipe for grilled asparagus, wrapped with bacon slices. We loved it, and realized, we can do this in our oven, without the bacon. Roasted asparagus is one of my favorites now – Cash and Carry has big bags of asparagus for about five bucks.

So we started roasting all our vegies. Cauliflower and broccoli cook perfect, no more gas or stomach ache!

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I turn my oven on 400 and put the cookie sheet in for about 10 minutes, get it good and hot. Then I spread the vegies out and set them back in for another 10 minutes, stir, then 10 more minutes.

 

This is the only way to eat green onions, the ends get crispy, roots and all. That little tip on the string bean toasts perfect. I like a little crunch in my vegies!

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For me they’re done when things turn carmel brown. That little pepper will melt in your mouth. We topped it off with roasted chicken breast and a cabbage and carrot salad with some homemade yogurt dressing.

Those little sweet peppers roast perfect whole. I get those in the bag at Safeway, they’re a good deal, but Cash and Carry has a bigger bag for about the same price, if you feel you can use them fast enough. 

And lately Safeway has had bone-in chicken breast for 99 cents a pound, which is crazy cheap. I like bone-in chicken breast because it’s easy to cook – 350 degrees, bone side up for 20 minutes, flip it, skin side up for 15 – 20 more. I use my grandma’s old meat thermometer so I don’t have to worry about over cooking it.  The skin gets good and crispy brown, and the meat stays so tender and juicy. One of those feeds the both of us for dinner, and there’s usually enough scraps for cheese and crackers the next day. We cook two, so we have two dinners in one pan. 

Cold roasted vegies are a great salad topper the next day.

I’m probably the last person on Earth to find out about  roasting vegies, but I figured I better hip any of you who might still be in the dark!

 

 

 

 

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 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.

https://www.smartfoodservice.com/content/store/37/

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. 

 

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…