Saturday, December 27, 2008

Winter Driving Emergencies

I check in on what's happening with Annette, over at the Ward House quite often. She wrote about being unexpectedly stranded by the weather recently, and about how unprepared they were. Luckily, friends lived nearby, but she asked about what she should have had in the car to be more prepared for a winter emergency. I've had a lot of experience driving alone over snowy mountain passes, so I responded with what is currently in my car. I thought maybe others could benefit from hearing what I keep in my car for winter driving emergencies, so I'm expanding my comment into this post. Maybe this will spark some ideas of what to stash in your own winter vehicle.

Behind my driver's seat I keep a rolled-up fleece blanket, a roll of paper towels (to clean off spattered headlights and windows), a big bottle of water (mainly for cleaning spatters too, but drinkable in an emergency), an ice scraper and a snow brush. Underneath the seat are an umbrella, a billed hat, and old but still usable wiper blades. In the glove box I keep a flashlight and extra batteries, spare glasses, and sunglasses. I always have my purse, with sunscreen and chapstick.

In the trunk is a box holding an old pair of felt-pack boots (the rubber uppers are held together with duct tape, but they'll work in an emergency) stuffed with a billed cap, knit hat, gloves, knee-high wool socks and a couple of kerchiefs, plus an old down army-surplus mummy sleeping bag liner and some candles and matches in a tin can. There's also a small folding military-type shovel. I can get to these items from inside the car by folding down the back seat if necessary. To keep the box (and other stuff) from sliding back and forth in my trunk, I put down a couple strips of no-slide drawer liners. The rest of the trunk is empty most of the time, eliminating excess weight to increase fuel efficiency.

The bottom of my trunk lifts up, allowing access to a small compartment that holds the spare tire (it's one of those weeny wheels, not a full-size spare). I've managed to fit quite a bit of emergency supplies into that compartment. Wrapped around the tire are a tow rope, a set of jumper cables, and tire cables (there isn't enough clearance in my wheel wells for chains). Tucked in alongside and over the top are half a bag of kitty litter, a mechanic's jumpsuit, a small towel, an old jean jacket, and a big plastic hooded poncho to either wear or put down on the ground while putting the cables on. Over where the jack is stored is enough room for a survival knife. Things I really should have, but don’t, are a cell phone and those reflective stand-up triangles (or flares, but I prefer re-usable items).

A few more words about using tire chains (or cables): when you have to put them on, it's guaranteed to be sloppy, cold, and wet out. If you know ahead of time that you'll have to be putting chains on up ahead, it's better to put them on while you're still in the parking garage. If that's not possible, get as far off the travel lane someplace you're still able to get back on the road. Having some kind of plastic to kneel on can help keep you from getting soaked. Here in the Sierras, there are often guys that can get your chains on and off for you - but they only take cash, so carry a couple of tens or twenties. Chains need to be tightened with a rubber ring with hooks on it. That rubber can degrade and crack apart over time, so check each winter to see if you need to replace those.

Try to drive on the "top half" of your tank. Cold weather can increase condensation inside a near-empty gas tank, causing problems, and you don't want to be worrying about running out of gas while you wait for an accident up ahead to be cleared. If you do end up stranded out on the open road, it's better to stay in your car - tie a kerchief to the antenna to signal that there's someone inside. Try to stay as dry as possible. If you're running the engine (preferably only periodically) to stay warm, make sure the tailpipe isn't blocked with snow. Tragically, three young Squaw Valley employees died near here a couple of days ago, in their snowed-in car, from carbon monoxide poisoning. Check the road and weather conditions before you leave, let someone know where you're going, and again when you arrive. Being prepared may help prevent a tragedy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A White Christmas

After we went to bed Christmas Eve, we could hear the wind howling and the pattering of raindrops throughout the night. Before daybreak, it had changed to snow, so we woke to a white Christmas. Aries left for work (casinos never close). Since the weather was so bad, I was glad he emailed as soon as he got there. They'd had to follow three snowplows and a Highway Patrol car (I'm sure glad those guys don't take Christmas off either) all the way over the hill - 25 miles at 20 mph in whiteout conditions. An hour later, he emailed again. Six co-workers were late, one on the same road just a few minutes after Aries was held up when a semi jack-knifed and blocked the road for an hour. My heart goes out to all those stranded in their holiday travels by the weather.

When I first looked out, we had maybe three inches - an hour later twice that. When it let up a bit, I bundled up and went out to get some paths shoveled. With my IPod tucked in my back pocket, I enjoy the workout, out in the fresh air. First, down to the chicken coop, clearing around their feeder and re-filling the frozen water pan. A parade of chickens followed me as I cleared a path past the dog run (they like hanging out in the doghouse, our dog is an inside dog) towards the patio. Then, I worked my way past the garage to the woodpile. Those are the essential paths. After clearing off a bit of the patio, the satellite dish, and back to the deck, I headed out front to do a path to the mailbox, and then cleaned off my car. Chores done, I headed back inside and put more wood in the stove. Watching the finches waiting out the storm in the shelter of a lilac bush outside the window, I called Colorado to catch up on news of the rest of my family.

A few days ago, our neighbor a couple of houses above us was standing in line at the grocery store when the people in front of him won a free 18-pound turkey. They didn't want it, so turned and offered it to him. His landlady, the next street over, offered to cook it with all the trimmings on Christmas Day, and we were invited to join the feast. After another pass around my paths in the afternoon, I walked up to help with the meal preparations. Other friends and family came later, and Aries came up when he got home from work. A wonderful time, good food and friendship, was had by all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Soup & Bread for Christmas Eve

The traditional Christmas Eve supper at our house growing up was always Oyster Stew. Basically just canned oysters (we were in land-locked Colorado, after all), milk, and butter, served with round oyster crackers. It was ok, but I didn't really like eating the big oyster chunks. The hot, buttery milk was good, but not really enough. So I've adapted Dad's tradition to suit my own tastes. Sticking with the idea of a seafood soup, I make a red vegetable chowder using canned baby clams. Add a homemade artisan-style crusty loaf of bread and some champagne with a splash of peach brandy (a budget Bellini, and really dresses up cheap champagne) and we've got a wonderful Christmas Eve supper (candlelight optional).

Vegetable Clam Chowder (makes 4-6 supper-size servings)
1 cup clam juice
1 cup water
8 oz tomato sauce
16 oz canned whole tomatoes, cut into chunks
2 medium potatoes, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 onions, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 tablespoon marjoram
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sugar
10 oz canned baby clams
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
salt & pepper to taste

Combine clam juice (from canned clams too), water, tomato sauce, tomatoes, potatoes, green pepper, carrots, onion, celery, marjoram, thyme, salt, pepper, and sugar in large saucepan. Bring to boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer about 20 minutes, or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add clams and corn. Simmer soup for another 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Optional: garnish with chopped parsley when serving.

I'm starting the bread tonight - a very wet, no-knead dough that gets its flavor from sitting overnight on the counter; its crusty goodness from being baked inside a very hot dutch oven. The recipe is now many places on the Internet. I first came upon it a year ago in Mother Earth News and love how easy it is to turn out an artisan-style loaf, without any fancy equipment, and very little effort (read the article all the way through, and some of the comments - I love the suggestion to use your microwave as a bread box. I, too, have to reduce the heat a bit for my cast-iron dutch oven, but the amounts work well for me).

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shopping the Cellar

I haven't done any experiments (mainly because I don't, and won't, grow any control veggies to compare against), but I really think that veggies grown organically keep better than those subjected to chemicals. Even so, I know some of the things I store won't make it in storage. I keep a watchful eye on what's in the cellar - using most things in a timely manner, and taking action when there's something that could damage the rest (one bad apple really can spoil the whole bunch).

I do have one dilemma to which I've given a lot of thought. When things are reaching the limit of their storage life, I used to think I should use up the ones going bad first. But that meant I was always getting the worst of the bunch, and I don't like that. If I were shopping at a store, I certainly wouldn't pick the worst veggies I could find, so why should I do that in my cellar? So now I choose the best when shopping my cellar. I do the same the next time I go after something, knowing once again that I'm getting the best of what's there, until all that's left is better going to the chickens or into the compost. I know not everything will make it no matter what I do, and I'm so much happier knowing we're getting the best, every time.

By the way, as I type I'm snacking on a fresh zucchini muffin as the snow starts to fall once again. By letting the last of the summer's crop grow big and then storing them, I really can be eating home-grown zucchini at Christmas time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quick and Easy Fudge

A lot of my Christmas recipes are traditional family hand-me-downs - Grandma's Meringue Cookies, Mom's fruitcake recipe with just candied fruits and nuts, my sister's Cranberry Liqueur. But my favorite holiday treat is homemade fudge, and the family recipes just didn't cut it. They called for candy thermometers or boiling the mixture to something-something stage involving dripping it onto a plate or into a cup of cold water, then glopping around with it to assess when it was ready. And then the fudge didn't ever stay creamy good - it quickly turned into hard sugary cubes. I now use a new recipe, begged from a co-worker a few years ago. So quick, so easy, and so, so good!

Quick and Easy Fudge (makes 64 one-inch pieces)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (see note below)
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups chopped nuts, or craisins, or dried pie cherries, or ?

Butter 8"x8" pan. Heat milk and chocolates in 2-quart pan, stirring constantly, until melted. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla and whatever else you're adding. Spread evenly in pan. Refrigerate 1 hour, then cut into 1" pieces.

Note: If you have a no-canned goods kitchen, here's a recipe for making your own
Sweetened Condensed Milk (equal to a 14-oz can)
1 cup instant dry milk
3 tablespoons melted butter or margarine
⅔ cup sugar
⅓ cup boiling water
Mix in a blender until smooth. Store refrigerated.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Children Were Nestled All Snug in Their Bed

Ok, we don't have children, but Albert and Boris, our house pets, were just so cute this morning curled up together between the tree and the wood stove. The sun was shining, but the temps only got up to freezing. We got a couple inches of snow here on the valley floor (more than a foot just ten minutes up the hill), but it won't be melting for at least the next week. Temperatures will probably drop down close to zero again tonight. The house has been down in the mid-fifties when I get up in the morning, but starting up a fire and letting the sun shine in gets it warmed up again quickly.

I've got paths shoveled down to the dirt linking house, coop, mailbox, garage and woodpile so I can go out to do chores without getting cold feet or tracking snow back into the house. The chickens like it too - they use the paths to spread out from pen to dog run to the bird feeders up close to the house, enjoying their chance at a bit of sun. We're still getting two to four eggs a day - the new girls are going strong, and Missy's crossbreeds are looking good with their brand new fluffy feathers all grown back in. Aries even took two dozen eggs to work with him today, and could have held an auction - the guys were so anxious to get them they would have bid against each other.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Bit Like Christmas

It's looking a bit more like winter outside today, a dusting of snow on the ground. For some of the chickens, it's their first experience with this cold white stuff. Coach, our little bantam rooster, found a perch to keep his feet feathers dry. Some of the older hens stayed in the coop until mid-day, others like hanging out in the house in the dog run. The younger hens were all foraging under the bird feeders for spilled seed until the guineas came up and bullied everyone else away. I made some wonderful muffins from the last of the Asian pears for breakfast, then finished my holiday decorating. The temperatures are barely above freezing, and the wind makes it even colder. It's a good day to stay inside, nice and cozy near the wood stove.

Friday, December 12, 2008

December and Food

I spent about 4 hours today standing outside the Governors Mansion here in town, as a volunteer working the Drive-Through Holiday Food Drive. This is a big annual event, with two locations in Reno, the one I worked in Carson City, and one more in Minden to the south. In 12 hours, we collected almost 40,000 pounds here, with over 160,000 pounds total for the four locations - even more than last year! Even though the need is greater than in years past, the urge to give is even greater. I'm fortunate to live in such a caring town.

We got lucky with the weather too - chilly but not too cold, and little wind for most of the day. But now, tonight, the barometer is dropping, the winds are picking up, snow is in the forecast, and for the next three days the high temperatures are supposed to be below freezing. The blue kale and leeks are about all that's left out in the garden, and I'll probably cut more of the kale tomorrow.

I've brought the last of the stored eggplants out of the cellar - they were starting to get some soft spots. I think they held better last year, stored in the kitchen pantry - the cellar, now at about 48 degrees, may be too cold. I still have a couple of zucchini left too, so I'm going to make Unemployed Shepherds Pie from the Vegetarian Times magazine (I just love that name - it's a vegetarian recipe - no lamb, no work for the shepherd - snerk!). I halve the recipe for the two of us. It's one of my favorite meatless meals. Even my hard-core carnivore husband likes it.

I've been using the red onions - the yellow ones will keep longer. I did have to take care of one problem in the cellar before it got worse: I'd packed the carrots and cabbages in buckets with a bit of straw in the bottom, and then noticed I had aphids in those buckets. So I brought those out, cleaned the buckets and hosed everything off, let the veggies dry for the afternoon, and then packed them back into the buckets, no straw. I'm still experimenting for the best way to store fresh cabbages. I wrapped three in newspapers and put them back into a bucket. One I now have in the house, using some in a soup a few days ago, and coleslaw for tonight's dinner. The apples, tomatoes, and grapes are still keeping nicely. I bring a few more up to the kitchen a couple of times a week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Favorite Version of White Christmas

I just love this version of White Christmas, by The Drifters, with animation by Joshua Held. I hope you will too.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Canning Salmon

I love salmon. When I get the chance to go out to dinner at a really nice place, odds are I'll order the salmon. Even though I've never lived near an ocean, I've caught and canned my share of salmon. Sockeye salmon, the pink-fleshed tasty kind, spawn and live for a while in fresh water before heading downstream to the sea. But there's also a landlocked variety of sockeye that lives its entire life in fresh water, called kokanee salmon. When I lived in Leadville, I'd try to make it out to my favorite spot on the river in the fall, just before it entered a big mountain reservoir, for salmon snagging (Colorado has a legal snagging season in the fall - the mature salmon heading upstream to spawn aren't interested in hitting a lure, but you can snag them with big weighted treble hooks using a jerk-n-reel tactic. They're going to die anyway, and it's food in the pantry).

My dad loved fishing. Every summer, my folks would camp at mountain reservoirs, taking the boat out all day, rigged for salmon fishing. Mom would take the pressure cooker and jars along, and after a couple of days of fishing success would can the salmon right there at their campsite. Since moving to Nevada, I'd always beg them to bring me jars of salmon when they were coming out to visit. But, while writing my last post, I realized that with the passing of my dad earlier this year, those jars of salmon might not be quite so plentiful now.

My Colorado brother has dad's boat now, he likes to fish, and probably even cans his salmon. But I don't see him very often. My Colorado sister and her husband also have a boat, fish for salmon, and might have to start canning their own catch (Mom might still do it for them - they live close by). So I still might be able to beg jars from family on occasion. But then again, Lake Tahoe, right over the hill, has kokanee in it. I might have to start looking around for someone with a boat, and start canning my own salmon again. When I asked Aries to ask his co-workers about who goes fishing, he said one guy had mentioned maybe trading fresh salmon for our eggs. That would work. Or maybe I can find someone that would trade salmon for my canning efforts - we could split the results (especially if I could get them to return the empty jars for "re-filling"). I'll have to look into that. If you do have access to fresh salmon, whether from salt- or fresh-water, and a pressure cooker or canner, salmon are easy to can.

Canning Salmon
Kokanee aren't as big as ocean salmon, so they're usually canned cut in cross-wise chunks, skin-on, instead of filleted. Gut the fish, and cut off the head and tail. Remove loose scales and clean the skin by scraping. Cut away the flabby belly flap and the fins (cutting down into the flesh to get the fin bones too). Cut crosswise in lengths to fit your jar leaving at least ½" headspace. Pack into sterilized pint jars - straight-sided wide-mouth jars work best. Add 1 teaspoon vinegar to each jar, seal, and process at 10 pounds pressure for 90 minutes.

Salmon creates its own juices during the canning process. Leaving the skin on means more of the Omega 3 oil that makes eating salmon so good for you. The vinegar softens the little bones so that they just disappear. When I use a jar of salmon, I'll drain off the liquid, pull off the skin, and pick out the big backbone sections. Then I'm ready to make salmon patties, dip, pasta salads, all kinds of good eats.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Salmon Dip or Spread

I'm going to a potluck holiday party this evening, and I'm supposed to bring an appetizer. The party is in Reno, about a good half hour's drive away, so I didn't want to do anything hot that would get cold, or cold that would be wilted by the time I got there. I didn't even ask about the availability of kitchen equipment - once I get to the party I didn't want to be cooking anything there. Mom's Salmon Dip is always a crowd-pleaser - that would be perfect.

I already had all the ingredients. I'd bought a big carton of soft cream cheese for stuffing celery for Thanksgiving, and had plenty left. Canned salmon is readily available in the grocery store, if a bit pricey, but I still have a couple of jars the folks had canned, fishing in Colorado. But I couldn't find my recipe! And here, I'd just written over at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op about how I really do need to organize my recipes better. How embarrassing! But it's Mom's recipe, Mom's at my sister's house right now, and besides, I knew my sister loves that recipe and frequently takes it to potlucks too. So I gave her a call (and that recipe is now securely enshrined in my little Grey Book).

Salmon Dip (makes a little over 2 cups)
Note: start the dried onion reconstituting about 20 minutes ahead of time

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
13 oz. canned salmon, drained, skin and bones removed
4 teaspoons dried minced onion, pre-soaked in
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 teaspoons horseradish (I know on my recipe, if I ever find it, that I have that written as 1 tablespoon. So I asked Frogtail why write it like that? She said because a tablespoon doesn't fit in the horseradish jar. Good point.)

Mix everything together and refrigerate.

This can be just mounded on a platter, surrounded by crackers or little toasts. But looking through my cupboard, I spied a vintage cup, from when Tiki Bars were all the rage, from the now long-gone Top of the Wheel restaurant up at Lake Tahoe. It was the perfect size, so I packed the dip in there - it'll travel better. The party is an employee one for the tour guide company I work for. I think they'll get a kick out of this presentation. I've got a bowl for the crackers, so I'll just swing by the grocery store on my way out of town, pick up a box of Wheat Thins, and I'm all set (and if they don't eat it all, I'm getting me some onion bagels on my way back through town - that'll make a decadent breakfast tomorrow. I suppose I should mention that this freezes nicely too - I can save half for a New Year's Day brunch).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

100 Random Things About Me

When I logged in to my blogging Dashboard, I saw that the Zucchini Muffins post made one hundred posts. So, as I've seen other bloggers do to honor the occasion, I've done this post. Enjoy, or ignore, your choice:

1. My first "real" job was working for Burger King
2. I've sold dictionaries door-to-door – I was one of the company's top 100 salespeople that summer and made enough, working straight commission, to pay for my next 9 months of school
3. I've lived in Colorado, Michigan (1 summer), Iowa (1 summer) and Nevada
4. I'm the oldest of five – two brothers, two sisters
5. I love to travel – anywhere, any time, even just going for a drive
6. I’ve climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, as my 50th birthday present to myself
7. I've hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
8. My first time in an airplane was flying from Los Angeles to Hawaii, when I was nine years old. Looking down, at blue and clouds, I thought we were so high up it was like looking up towards the sky – until we went over a ship and I realized the blue was water
9. I can read music, both bass and treble clef - I took accordion lessons when I was eight years old
10. I still have two accordions, and I still play (not in public – only for my own amusement)
11. I can also play the harmonica – just straight notes – but wish I could bend notes and play the blues
12. I earned my B.S. degree, in Human Ecology, on the 25-year plan – pulling together the credits from four different institutions of higher education
13. I lived above 10,000 feet for 10 years – I feel better at high altitudes
14. I donate blood – more than six gallons, a pint at a time, to date
15. My maternal grandmother taught me to embroider
16. My mom taught me to sew
17. My first college roommate taught me to crochet
18. I taught myself to knit (still working on that)
19. I'm a certified open-water scuba diver
20. My favorite author is Robert Heinlein – ever since reading "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel" as a fifth grader
21. Kim Basinger is my "famous birthday twin"
22. I got my motorcycle license when I was 19
23. I've owned motorcycles since I was 21
24. I have a scar on my left knee, from the four stitches needed when I dropped my first bike – I picked the bike up, got it home, and then drove myself to the hospital
25. I don't care for liver, lamb, or lima beans
26. I've eaten guinea pig in Peru – looks like road-kill, tastes like chicken dark meat
27. And tried the goat in a Masaii warrior camp in Africa (didn't like that at all – I spit it out without swallowing. I liked the shredded goat in barbecue sauce - at least, I think it was goat - at a Filipino party)
28. I love hot springs – my favorite is the Tabacon Resort in Costa Rica: an entire hot river, flowing from the base of an active volcano, diverted into various pools and waterfalls, with beautiful paths winding through the jungle landscaping
29. I'm nearsighted – I remember getting glasses in fifth grade and how amazing it was when I could see individual leaves on the trees
30. I now wear mono-vision contacts – my left lens is for distance, my right lens is for reading
31. I won a Gold Key in the national Scholastic Art Contest in high school for a pencil drawing
32. I've worked as a free-lance sign painter, doing free-hand lettering before they came out with the computer graphics design programs – my specialty was writing backwards on the inside of glass windows
33. I used to work as a construction laborer – working both highway and high-rise jobs
34. I was a certified Traffic Control Supervisor for Colorado state highway jobs
35. I have no fear of heights (but have no desire to jump from them, either – I'll probably never skydive or bungee jump. I’m more the "stand at the edge, lean over, and spit" type)
36. I think of my gardening and landscaping as the slowest art form
37. My favorite color is dark hunter green
38. I'm missing four premolar teeth (one each side, top and bottom, just behind the canine teeth) - pulled as a teenager before getting braces. I used to think someone in the future would someday find my skull and think I was some kind of missing link
39. Novocain works on me, but slowly. I hated the dentist that pulled the above teeth because I wasn’t numb when he pulled them. He just put sunglasses and headphones on me, told me to hold onto the arms of the chair, and pulled the teeth anyway (I threatened to bite him if my mom ever took me back there – she didn't). I got numb later, at home. I've finally figured out that if I need dental work, to go in and get the shots, then wait at least another hour
40. I wrecked my first car on an icy winter road when I slid sideways over a fifty-foot cliff. The car rolled and was totaled – I got a bruise on my right thigh from the steering wheel. They had to lower a rope so I could climb back up through the waist-deep snow
41. I have photos of me with every car I've owned, when the odometer turned over back to zero
42. My favorite artists are Maxfield Parrish and M.C. Escher
43. I prefer to sit cross-legged with my feet up under me, and will often kick off my shoes and do so whenever I can manage it (I do try to act "normal" in restaurants and during job interviews though)
44. Visual spatial relationships come easy to me (examples: I'm really good at packing all the camping gear into my compact car's trunk, or putting together a pleasing layout for a newsletter)
45. I hate any percentage of polyester in sheets – it makes them feel like plastic. Only 100% cotton for me
46. I won't drink diet soft drinks – I can't stand the metallic aftertaste of artificial sweeteners
47. I like the taste of club soda
48. My favorite television show is Doctor Who (ever since the Tom Baker days, which we could only see occasionally on our PBS station)
49. If I ever get a personalized license plate, I want it to say TARDIS
50. My favorite rock band is Queen. Freddy Mercury had such an amazing voice. I never saw them live
51. The first live rock concert I saw was the Moody Blues, when I had just turned 16
52. I learned to drive in a car with a standard transmission
53. I still prefer manually going through the gears when driving – all our current vehicles have standard transmissions
54. I've never owned a cell phone
55. I love my IPod – it’s completely filled with my favorite rock albums. I set it on shuffle while out walking with the dog
56. I've always had "mobile music" devices, with earplugs - starting with a transistor radio, then a little portable cassette player, CD players, and now the IPod
57. Cross-country skiing is great with music – I had never really gotten into the right rhythm until I started skiing with my earphones on
58. I don't wear music downhill skiing
59. I learned to ski downhill when I was 15, and still get out a couple of times each year (although I now find it harder to get up if I fall)
60. I used to work in a restaurant at the top of a ski run. My commute included riding the lift up in the morning, then skiing down a 1½ mile intermediate run after work each day. I'd do it without thinking, easy – just like other people would ride an escalator
61. I was a "ski bum" for years. For one of my annual passes, I talked them into letting me get my picture taken wearing big black Groucho nose-n-mustache glasses. A lot of the lift checkers never even noticed, but when they did, they loved it
62. I love animals
63. I have, however, been bitten hard enough to draw blood by a rabbit, a hamster, a pony, and two dogs (the hamster died the next day – mom took the dead hamster to the vet to make sure it didn’t have rabies or distemper – just crotchety old age, I guess)
64. I also got a two-inch "hickey" on my arm, playing with a 5' stingray while diving near Stingray City in the Cayman Islands
65. I've petted, swum with, and dove with wild dolphins. Though they look like fish, I find it interesting that they're warm to the touch and when they make that eek-eek-eek noise it comes from their blowhole, not their mouth
66. I've stroked a wild moray eel, half-out of its cave while the dive master was holding some food for it just out of reach. They feel soft, like firm jello, and a bit slimy. That was in Bora Bora, French Polynesia, and the dive master would only speak French to me (I don’t speak French) but it wasn’t an issue once we were under water
67. Long as we’re talking sea creatures, I’ve also carried a 4' reef shark around, cradled under my arm, while snorkeling. The dive master had made a pet of it – it would come up, swim up under your arm and just lie there, along for the ride
68. If I ever get the chance, I want to ride a camel and an elephant
69. I'm fascinated by the ruins of ancient civilizations – I think initially sparked by reading an article, as a child, in National Geographic about excavating Pompeii
70. Egypt, Italy and Greece are high on my list of places I want to visit (and New Zealand)
71. I'm right-handed, but prefer using a computer mouse with my left hand
72. I played fast-pitch softball for 10 years as a child, usually at shortstop
73. As a waitress, I've waited on a few famous people: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Red Skelton, Mary Tyler Moore, Randy Quaid, and Sally Fields come to mind
74. Jack Nicholson once came over to our table in a Mexican restaurant in Leadville Colorado, drunk as a skunk, and sat down to tell us all about the rafting trip he'd taken that day – another round of margaritas, please
75. I speak Spanish well-enough to be able to function by myself in a Spanish-speaking country
76. Working with numbers – math, budgets, accounting, bookkeeping – comes easy for me
77. I would rather read than watch television
78. I read the newspaper regularly, and like to read any English ones I can find when I’m in a foreign country
79. My mom read to me so much when I was a toddler that I memorized my favorite books. I'd sit and recite them, turning the pages at the right place and people thought I was reading as a three-year old. I wasn't – I learned to read in first grade, along with everybody else
80. My birthday is in December. My parents had the option for me to start Kindergarten early and be one of the youngest in the class or wait another year. They waited, so I'd only be two grades ahead of my sister. As a result, I was a head taller than most of my schoolmates all through elementary school
81. School was always easy for me – so easy that I'd finish the assignment, then turn around and talk to the other kids. So I was usually seated up front, next to the teacher's desk, to keep me from bothering the other children while they were still trying to do their work. I think this is why no one noticed I needed glasses until fifth grade
82. My early elementary schooling was in combination classes - first & second for first grade; second & third for second grade. When I finished my assignment, I'd do the other grade's too. I was always being given "extra credit" assignments to do by myself. I loved it, especially when it was something to read
83. I like dark chocolate, especially Dove dark chocolate
84. I dip my grilled cheese sandwiches in ketchup
85. I've never colored my hair
86. I prefer my toilet paper to roll off the top, away from the wall
87. I keep the toilet lid closed. This habit started when my Afghan hound used to drink from the toilet, dunking his long ears in the process, and then dripping them across the seat
88. My Afghan hound's name was Omar. He was a pound hound I raised from a half-grown puppy. He’s been gone 10 years now. I held him when I had to have him put to sleep, then went out to my car, sat there, and cried. It was a hard thing to do, but I felt it was also the right way to do it
89. I dread the thought that I might someday have to make that type of decision about a person
90. I have long straight hair, and I’ll play with it and twist it when I'm bored or thinking about something
91. I don't wear rings – not even a wedding ring (if my now-husband wanted to spend a lot of money on me, I asked that he buy me a motorcycle instead. He did. He doesn't wear a ring either)
92. I rarely wear necklaces either
93. I do wear earrings. I have one hole pierced in each ear. If dear husband wants to give me jewelry, he buys real gemstone earrings (he’s been well-trained)
94. He says I proposed to him. After we'd been dating for over a year, I was out in my garden working and he came over to visit. I said something like, "Where do you see our relationship going – are we getting married, or what?" He said, "Ok. When?" I just stood there open-mouthed, looking at him. "Well,” he repeated, “When?" "How about October, after I’ve harvested the garden," I finally said. "I don’t want to move until then."
95. We eloped. I didn't want to deal with all my relatives showing up. We were married by the Justice of the Peace outside the courthouse in Virginia City, Nevada (that courthouse is one of the few where the statue of Justice does not wear a blindfold), with my sister and my roommate at the time standing up for us
96. The Justice of the Peace was on vacation on the date we originally picked. We already had our work vacation time arranged for our honeymoon, so we went on our honeymoon and then got married when we got back a week later
97. My honeymoon was a camping trip – through Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, over to the Pacific at Morro Bay, and up through Big Sur
98. We agreed before we were married that neither of us wanted children
99. I don't really like babies much. I like other people's children after they're potty-trained and can talk
100. I love my life – I wouldn't change a thing!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Zucchini Muffins

Now is the time of year when my stored vegetables make up the bulk of our fresh eating options. Over time, and by experimenting, I've learned which items need to be used sooner than others. Some of the big zucchini, the last of last summer's crop, are now starting to soften down in the cellar, so I've been going through at least one of them per week. When using a big stored zucchini, I'll split it length-wise and scrape out the fibrous seed cavity just like a winter squash, leaving only the edible green skin and flesh. I can then cut half-moon slices for soup or a stir-fry, or shred it using the big holes on a box grater to make fritters or muffins. After much tweaking and experimenting, I finally have a zucchini muffin recipe we both really like. The key was using dry milk instead of adding any more liquid to the zucchini mixture.

Zucchini Muffins (makes 12 muffins)

Mix together:
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 egg
2 tablespoons applesauce (or oil)
¾ cup sugar
⅓ cup dry milk powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon lemon extract

Mix together, then stir in, just until all is moistened
(Grandma wisdom: stirring only 17 times):
1½ cups whole wheat flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda (sift out any lumps)
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Then stir in (Grandma again: stirring only 3 more times):
⅓ cup raisins, with enough chopped nuts to make it ½ cup

Divide between 12 sprayed or greased muffin cups. Bake at 375º
20 minutes.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A New Apron

An organization I belong to decided to have a booth at a crafts fair as a fundraiser. They asked the members to make and donate things to sell, so I made some insulated teapot cozies. I had the insulation padding, so just needed to go through my fabric stash and put together some nice coordinating bits of cotton. I don't have pictures of any of the ones I made to sell, but in the process I found a yard of a flowered print with colors I just love. How convenient! My old apron had just ripped, worn through too thin to even patch, so I had been thinking I should make myself a new one. Re-discovering that green/pink/maroon print in my stash was wonderful timing!

This time, I wanted to make a reversible apron - one side for cooking, one side for baking. The dark green flower side would hide gravy and tomato sauce spatters. Now I just needed a lighter colored fabric for the flour side. I have an old duvet cover (is that redundant?) I don't use anymore. The bottom side of that is a little diagonal pink ribbon/green flower print on white - that would be perfect! Time for a little re-purposing then. Now for a pattern. I don't like aprons that hang on my neck. I prefer ones that go over my shoulders. I've made a pattern from an old bib-type granny apron I like, so I was ready to sew.

So I've been busy sewing. First the fundraiser tea cozies, to get them ready in time for the crafts fair. Then, when I cut out the new apron pieces from the dark green flower fabric, I had just enough left over to make myself a new teapot cozy too - the one at the top of this post. With a bit of solid dark green for pocket trim and waist ties (and the cozy lining), I have a brand new, double-sided reversible apron just in time for cooking Thanksgiving dinner. And I got all the sewing finished just in time too. I had to put away my sewing machine and table in order to change that room over into guest room status. My mom flew in from Colorado yesterday, and my sister and her family will be here from California in a couple more days. The more, the merrier!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Storing Summer Vegetables into Fall

I don't really like canning all that much. For some things, it's the best way to preserve the harvest. But I have to balance that with what we'll actually eat. Aries doesn't like anything with vinegar, so I'm the only one that will eat pickles of any kind. Both of us prefer honey on our toast (and we barter our eggs with a beekeeper), so only occasionally will I make a batch of jam (strawberry or peach). Tomatoes, now, we eat a lot of, so those I can in various configurations (see previous posts on canning for those recipes). And I use applesauce instead of oil in a lot of my baking recipes, so canning a batch or two of applesauce is also an annual undertaking.

I don't freeze too much either. We only have the freezer part of our refrigerator, so space is an issue. Besides, I don't really like having my winter food supply dependent on a constant source of electricity - winter storms have been known to knock out power here for hours. Fruit, I dehydrate if I get a bumper crop, and also experiment with making hard ciders and perry. For the most part, we eat fresh vegetables when they're in season, and go for low-maintenance storage and cold-season crops to stretch our fresh foods options.

We do have a cellar. I open it up when nights start getting colder (but not below freezing) and then close it up during the warmer fall days to drop the temperature inside. Right now, the temperature down there is in the middle 50's. That's the perfect temperature for keeping some summer vegetables, at least into December. Refrigerators are too cold to keep summer vegetables into fall, but you might be able to do what I do with an unheated closet, enclosing an outside stairwell into your basement, or even under the bed in a closed-off guest room. I always let the last few zucchini grow pretty big - they'll keep almost as well as some winter squashes. Cellar-ripened slicing tomatoes are always on my Thanksgiving table, and usually Christmas too. Eggplant will keep until New Year's, if we don't eat them all first. I let them get full-sized but still firm, cut the stem close and break off the pointy parts of the caps (you don't want to damage the actual fruit part), and then wrap each tightly in plastic wrap. This year I tried growing lemon cucumbers, and just ate the last of them - they kept just piled in a big lightly-covered bowl. If I'd grown more, I think they would have made it to my Thanksgiving table as well.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gift Goodies, and An Award

A lovely box just arrived in the mail. I was a lucky winner of a Chex Mix Spa Basket, awarded to me by Nancy M. over at Southern Blessings, courtesy of, a General Mills marketing site. Besides a box of their very yummy new whole grain, caramel and chocolate snack bars, there were some self-pampering items: a loofah sponge, fingernail brush, hand massager, buffing spa towel, candles, and lotion that smells good enough to eat (cat not included). Scaly dry winter skin, begone! Thanks, Nancy!

And while I'm thanking Nancy, I also have to thank her for the Proximity Award. It's an international award, about people connecting all over the world. It says, in Portuguese, "This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY!" How wonderfully sweet, especially since I'm also a contributor to an international cooperative blog, The Simple Green Frugal Co-op (quite the mouthful - I didn't name it - but the name really does say it all). The award is supposed to be passed on, but I told Nancy I really don't like picking favorites when it comes to passing on these type of things. She said that was ok - that I didn't have to do it, but she wanted me to be acknowledged. Thank you. But now that I think of it, I really would like to acknowledge my fellow bloggers in the Co-op:

Bel - Belinda Moore
Eilleen - Consumption Rebellion
FT - Notes from the Frugal Trenches
Heather - Beauty that Moves
Julie - Towards Sustainability
Marc - Garden Desk
Melinda - 1 Green Generation
Paul - A Posse Ad Esse
and the one that started it all:
Rhonda Jean - Down to Earth
All very deserving of an award acknowledging The Proximity, the nearness in space, time, and relationships, of us all.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Fall is here, the nights are frosty, and that means dinner is often a hot soup and bread. Soup makes a great meal. I've got a lot of favorite soup recipes, but sometimes I'll just throw something together from leftovers. Last night, I had some white beans I'd pressure-cooked a couple of nights before. Chop some leeks and kale from the garden, carrots and garlic from storage, and add a couple of glops of cooked-down tomato puree (the last of the paste tomatoes, that I didn't feel like canning so have just kept a big tupper-ful in the refrigerator), and I soon had a wonderful soup simmering on the stove (I also stirred a spoonful of basil pesto into each bowl when I dished it up). Now, for some kind of bread . . .

I buy most of my grains and flours from the bulk bins in a local supermarket. It's more economical and saves on packaging waste. In my kitchen, from years spent working in restaurants and bars, I've amassed quite a few gallon glass jars for storage (during my ski-bum days in Colorado, I worked in a restaurant on top of the mountain; occasionally skiing down after work with an empty jar in my backpack - being especially careful not to fall). Whenever I'm in a thrift store, I like to browse the kitchen area, and have picked up various measuring cups to keep in the jars as scoops. The scoops are distributed according to what will be the most useful - half-cups in the flours and oats, quarter-cup in the sugar, third-cup in the dry milk, one-cups in the rice and couscous. It makes it easy and quick whenever I want to bake something - one scoop of this, two of that.

Cornbread sounded good. By the time the kale and carrots would be done, the bread would be coming out of the oven. Here's the basic recipe, with the adaptations I made this time:

Cornbread one 8x8" pan, 10" cast iron skillet, or 12 muffins

1 cup cornmeal (I prefer yellow)
1 cup flour (I used half whole-wheat & half whole-wheat pastry flour)
1/4 cup sugar (the Colorado relatives use 1/2 cup, but I don't like my cornbread that sweet)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil (I used applesauce instead)
1 egg
1 cup milk (I used buttermilk)

Grease pan well, or use non-stick spray (for skillet-sizzled cornbread, see note below). Mix dry ingredients in bowl. Mix wet ingredients together in large measuring cup. Add wet to dry, stirring just until combined (optional: I'll often then stir in ½ cup something extra - maybe cheddar cheese, or frozen corn, or chopped chiles, but not this time). Pour into prepared pan, leveling top surface. Bake 400º 20 minutes (muffins take only about 16 minutes).

Split pieces of leftover cornbread make a good toaster-oven pizza, or it can be cut into cubes and left out to dry, then stored in a jar or bag, and used for making stuffing/dressing some other night.

Note: After being gifted The Cornbread Gospels, by Crescent Dragonwagon (a great book - a couple hundred corn-based recipes, meal menus, plus trivia, background, and wonderful tales by a gifted storyteller), I now prefer baking my cornbread in my cast-iron skillet. Preheat oven 375º, and prepare batter. Melt a tablespoon of butter in skillet on stove top until it sizzles, swirling it around to coat bottom and sides. Pour the batter into the skillet, cook another minute on top of the stove, and then bake 20 minutes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Late Halloween Treat

Aries works in Facilities Maintenance for a big South Lake Tahoe casino. Last year, he was up on the roof doing some repairs and had to remove a couple of big 15" plastic owls someone had put up there years ago to deter pigeons. The boss told him to toss them out, so, of course he brought them home for our garden. The paint has weathered, and the plastic eyes are scratched and faded, but they have that distinctive horned owl silhouette. They don't really work very well on the wild birds, but the chickens give them a wide berth, especially right after I've moved them to a new location. I use them more like garden art pieces. One, I've had perched on top of a bean teepee framework since September.

Lately, in the evenings, Aries has been cleaning up the garden and gathering the leaves as they fall, adding to our compost pile between the chicken pen and the garden. Yesterday, it was almost dark as I walked down to the chicken coop to close it up for the night. I've been letting the chickens out in the afternoons to roam about our entire fenced-in lot, so their gate was propped open too.

As I walked down there, I could see that Aries had moved that plastic owl to the gate post of the chicken pen. "Oh, I'm sure the chickens appreciate that," I was thinking as I walked down there. Then, it swiveled its head and looked at me! I stopped dead in my tracks, then looked over at the bean teepee still standing in the empty garden. The plastic owl was still there. I went back up to the house, making Aries follow me back out. He thought I was trying to fool him with the plastic owl too. When we got a bit too close, the very real, great horned owl took off across the field to the south. Owls fly so quietly - none of that flappy flappy stuff - just stretch out their wings and silently glide away. Spooky!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


The past week has been a bit crazy around here. I'm a member of Soroptimists. That's an international non-profit service organization, with a membership of professional women, dedicated to improving the lives of women and children, locally and around the world. My local club chartered more than 50 years ago. There might even be a Soroptimists Club in your town. I love being a member. My club is a wonderful source of female camaraderie, both for just having fun and in working together to help our community.

Here in Carson City, we provide thousands of dollars in scholarships annually to local high school girls, and to women heads-of-household working towards a degree. That money is pretty much covered by endowment funds willed to us from past members. But we also have other programs we sponsor, as well as giving to charitable organizations here in town. That means fundraising, in an economy where money is getting tighter and the need getting greater.

Our biggest Program is helping uninsured women get breast cancer early-detection screenings. In the five years we've run this program, we've paid for over 800 mammograms and ultrasounds, plus 11 biopsies. We hold an annual golf tournament fundraiser for that, usually in early October (nasty weather this year meant less for that program too). We run the Backpack Attack - filling new back-to-school backpacks with school and hygiene supplies for children in need. That program is donation-funded, and lots of volunteer hours by club members. Our Easter Shoe Program, the Legal Fund for domestic violence victims, putting together little surprises for the house-bound Meals on Wheels recipients, and more - it makes me feel good to be a part of all that we do.

But there is still so much need here, so we needed to come up with more fundraising ideas (keeping in mind that many of our members are working full-time, raising their families, and still devoting time and effort to the club). I came up with selling sleeve garters during the Nevada Day celebration the end of October. They'd fit right in - they're old-west oriented, would appeal to both men and women, and would be a reasonably priced ($5) souvenir. The Parade theme this year was Hollywood in Nevada, so we thought silver with black lace would be a good fit. I was in charge of putting it all together - finding a source for the garters, getting the necessary vendor permits, doing early publicity releases, pre-sale distribution, and lining up the club members to get out there and sell them. Unfortunately, the weather Nevada Day was cold, rainy, windy, and quite miserable. That meant less crowds out and about, and our sales were way below projections (and the economy worsening by the minute didn't help either).

I still think this can be a really great part of future Nevada Day celebrations, changing colors to fit the theme each year. I envision all the Sheriff's Deputies, parade officials, local dignitaries, and bystanders sporting a garter on Nevada Day in a visible show of support for what the Soroptimists do in this town. But right now, I'm a bit downhearted - we ended up losing money on this, and I feel responsible.

Monday, October 27, 2008

When You Get Free Apples, Make Applesauce

I didn't get much of a fruit crop this year. Just about every time something else came into bloom last Spring, we'd get another freeze. That happens more often than not, but about every three to four years we squeak by and end up with bumper crops of everything. Just not this year for my trees. However, I do know of a big old apple tree, over in the part of town built in the 1860's, on the lawn of a lawyer's office. It had a beautiful bunch of apples this year, and no one ever seems to want them. So, just before the hard freeze, Aries and I took the ladder over and picked a bushel box full (free is good - and I did take a bucketful into the office to share too).

I went through and separated out any that had blemishes - to eat now and to make a batch of applesauce (and a pie too - Aries does love apple pie). I don't know what kind of apples they are (no one else does, either), so I don't know if they'll keep very well, but I put the really nice ones down in the cellar and will keep an eye on them. If they do store well, I might try rooting a cutting (oh, I'll probably try it anyway - I don't know if it's the micro-climate where it's growing or if it is just perfectly adapted to the area, but it did set a nice crop when my trees didn't). The apples look a bit like Jonathans.

Applesauce is probably the easiest thing there is to make and can. All you need is a paring knife, a pot to cook them in, and a potato masher (apple juice, jars, and boiling water bath optional). I sat down in front of the TV to watch a movie, cut the apples into quarters, cored and peeled them and put the chunks into a pot of water with some lemon juice added. When I was ready to cook them, I drained out the water and added apple juice to cover the bottom of the pot maybe an inch. I think cooking them with juice instead of water makes for a better end product. I use a flame-tamer under the pot, and cook them with the lid on until soft. It's more steaming than boiling them. In the meantime, I get my boiling water bath heating up, sterilizing jars and rings (half-pints fit our needs best). When the apples are soft, I just mash them up with the potato masher, fill the jars to ¼", seal, and process 10 minutes after the water starts to boil again.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Enchilada Sauce (pressure canned)

Another annual tomato processing project around here is canning a batch of enchilada sauce. I grow and dry my own peppers (and the onions, garlic, and thyme), but if you have some extra tomatoes and a pressure canner/cooker it might be worth your while to shop for the dried chiles. Most of our grocery stores here have a Hispanic foods section, with a pegboard display of herbs, spices, and dried chiles in cellophane packets. I always check there for herbs - prices are a lot better than buying the little jars in the spice aisle (then just transfer them to the recycled glass jars of my spice rack). In my supermarket, more than enough dried chiles for this recipe were less than $3.

The big chiles are usually labeled California or New Mexico chiles. They're the pretty shiny chiles most often hung up as a decoration (if you're using ones from a decorative string, make sure they haven't been varnished or treated with any kind of preservative coating. If you use them from the bottom, you can keep the string looking nice, if just a bit shorter). Chipotle is really a generic term meaning any smoked chile. Jalapeños are the ones most commonly preserved this way, so here chipotle usually means a smoked jalapeño. But the cellophane packets are marketed to Spanish-speakers, so the smoked chiles you want for this recipe will more likely be labeled Morita (or maybe Tipico). They'll look like little wrinkled reddish-brown cigar butts.

Enchilada Sauce (8 pints)

2 onions + 3 bulbs garlic, drizzled with olive oil (no need to peel, just make sure root end is clean). Wrap in foil packet, roast 45 minutes at 375º.

8 dried California + 24 Chipotle chiles. Rinse with cool water, remove stems, cover with boiling water and soak 45 minutes. Drain before proceeding.

4 pounds tomatoes, cored and halved

Add veggies above to 6 quarts water with 8 sprigs thyme (about 3 tablespoons dried) and 4 teaspoons non-iodized salt. Simmer 45 minutes.

Discard half the cooking water (about 3 quarts - I ladle it out, pouring it through a wire sieve into a measuring bowl). Puree the veggies (I just run it all through my blender - I don't have a food mill, but that would probably work too) and press through wire sieve along with remaining cooking water. Discard the dry pulp remaining in the sieve. Fill sterilized pint jars to ½" headspace. Seal, pressure-can 50 minutes at 7-10 pounds pressure (depending on what type of pressure regulator you have). Let canner return to zero pressure on its own before opening.

Making Enchiladas
One pint of the sauce above makes a 9x13" pan of 12 enchiladas. This sauce is hot, a concentrate, and needs to be stretched and mellowed. Traditional recipes use cream (8 ounces sour or whipping), or you can use a can of evaporated milk, but I usually whisk one can of condensed cream of mushroom soup into the pint of sauce. Prepare approximately 2 cups of filling (beef, or shrimp & crab, or pork, or leftover turkey, or sauteed onion & mushroom with tofu, or eggs & potatoes, or whatever else you think might be good. I'm going to experiment with diced eggplant - don't tell Aries) binding it together with a bit of sauce. Soften corn tortillas according to package directions. Divide filling equally, roll up in the tortillas, and place in baking pan seam-side down. Pour sauce mixture over all, smooshing them down with your spatula to completely cover and soak edges of the tortillas. Top with shredded cheddar (optional - and I also sprinkle with chopped black olives). Bake uncovered 400º 20 minutes or until bubbling. Comer, beber, y reir (Eat, drink and laugh)!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Pepper Pantry

In my garden every year, one 50' soaker hose bed is the "Fruiting Bed". This includes my tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and chiles - all started from seed inside in early Spring and set out as plants in June. I always try to have 5-6 bell pepper plants, 5-6 big roasting-type chile plants, a jalapeño or two to use fresh, and then 2-3 plants of a different hot pepper each year. This year, I had a couple of Cayenne pepper plants, and one Habanero. Last year, I grew Ancho chiles; year before that, Paprika.

The fully ripe hot peppers, I hang up to dry. A length of peppers sewn together for drying is called a ristra, the Spanish word for string. Using a big needle threaded with a doubled length of heavy-duty carpet thread, I make a big knot in the end then thread through the thickest part of the stem just above each fruit, pushing each one down to the end and turning them different directions. I make a hanging loop in the top end, wrap a little label with type of pepper and the year around the string, and hang them up. The wall between my kitchen and living room has a big cutout area. Aries took a big dowel, slid a bunch of "S" hooks on it, and attached it to the top of the cutout for me to hang my ristras (that's corn up there too). They're both decorative and tasty.

A lot of the dried chiles I grind into powders to use in cooking. I have a coffee grinder that I use only for grinding spices (when I'm finished grinding something, I clean it by grinding some rice into powder, then dumping it out - that absorbs any flavors and oils, and keeps my chili from tasting like curry). When I need some chile powder, I'll take down a ristra, rinse the chiles to remove any dust, and hang it outside to make sure they're completely dry again before grinding. I'll break the chiles apart (wearing gloves), remove stems, the pithy inside ribs and the seeds (saving some for when I want to grow that variety again), and grind just the red skin. I re-use yeast jars to store the different powders - they have a rubber rim inside the lid that seals tight, and the dark glass keeps the flavor and color from fading.

Next year, it will be time to plant extra Jalapeño pepper plants. These short thick peppers are too fleshy to hang and dry - they tend to rot instead. However, they can be preserved by drying in a smoker - then they're called Chipotle peppers. Chipotles, either ground or a whole one removed before serving, add a wonderful smoky heat to winter's bean crockpots or soups. I have half a jar of powder, a few whole ones, and just used the rest making a batch of enchilada sauce (I'll put that canning recipe in a separate post).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monitor Pass

Aries is on vacation for two weeks. He always takes vacation time in October, ever since our honeymoon (it was our 19th anniversary, earlier this month). We usually get a hard freeze by mid-October, so he helps clean up the garden for the season, makes compost, and does all the household maintenance chores before winter sets in - clean the chimney, roof and gutter repairs, vehicle maintenance, drain the irrigation system, lots of little honey-do's. But we also make time for little daytrip outings too. Autumn is such a nice time of year here. The nights are chilly, but the days quite often are blue skies and moderate temperatures.

A couple of days ago, we decided to take a drive over Monitor Pass. We headed south out of town, crossing the California state line in the Carson Valley, through the little hamlet of Woodfords, and continued south through the tiny town of Markleeville. We continued south along the east fork of the Carson River, where the cottonwoods and willows were just starting to turn to gold. We left the river and turned east, climbing up over Monitor Pass.

Monitor Pass is one of the higher passes in the area, at 8,300 feet, and usually closed November to April by snow. On top is a big grove of aspen trees, that can be stunning this time of year. We turned off the paved road and drove up into the aspen grove. Unfortunately, a dry winter last year, and an early snow this year, left the colors dulled and some of the leaves already down. But it was a nice day to get out, let the dog run, and wander about the grove, crunching over the snow still lingering in the shady spots.

Basque sheepherders have been scratching and carving the smooth white bark of aspen trees in the West since the 1860's. Many of the carvings are names and dates - an "I was here" marking. Some are a bit more artistic - perhaps the shape or face of a loved one back home. Still others are even more graphic about what was on these lonely shepherds' minds - some to the point of being considered pornography. I'll only post some of the more G-rated ones here.

After a while, we get back in the truck and start down the eastern side of the Pass. As the road switchbacks down, the change in vegetation, from the evergreen forests of the Sierra to the piñon pines and chaparral of the Great Basin, is obvious. The Great Basin is the high-desert between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. This vast area isn't flat - it's wrinkled and rippled, like the inside part of a sheet of corrugated cardboard, range after mountain range alternating with little valleys across all of Nevada and most of Utah. It's called a Basin because none of the water flowing here ever reaches an ocean - the snow melts into rivers that either just disappear into the sand, or flow into lakes, like the Great Salt Lake, and are lost to evaporation. At the bottom of the pass, we turn north, crossing the state line back into Nevada at Topaz Lake, and a 45-minute drive back home. (The two photos directly above almost fit together as a panorama - the dark hill in the middle distance on the extreme right of the lower photo is the same one on the left side of the upper photo; the snow-covered peaks, right side of the upper photo are the Sierra Nevada range in California, the ones in the lower photo are looking east across two smaller Nevada ranges.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hot Sauce Recipes

Aries is on vacation for two weeks so he's around the house, getting in my way, and helping out. It was nice today, so he was out in the garden, cleaning up everything that froze, shredding it, cleaning out the chicken coop, and mixing it all together to start our compost for next year. I spent most of the day in the kitchen. I had enough paste tomatoes ripe to make a batch of tomato sauce, so I got the tomatoes started cooking down. Then, once I had the water heating for sterilizing jars, I figured I might as well do something with the hot peppers.

I'm just about out of the Jalapeño Hot Sauce I made in 2006, but I didn't get very many jalapeño peppers this year. What few I had, I just sliced and froze. This is the recipe I usually make every couple of years:

Jalapeño Hot Sauce (makes 20 oz.)

1 t vegetable oil
20 fresh Jalapeño peppers, sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ C minced onion
¾ t non-iodized salt
2 C water
½ C sugar (optional)
1 C white vinegar

Over high heat, in glass, enameled or stainless steel pan, sauté oil, peppers, garlic, onion, and salt for 4 minutes. Add water and sugar, and simmer 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Transfer mixture to food processor or blender and puree until smooth. With machine running, slowly add vinegar. Pour into sterilized jars or bottles with tight-fitting lids. This sauce will keep for months when stored in the refrigerator.

I save and reuse little glass bottles, especially the ones that have an inside shaker/dribbler-type cap, like sesame oil or wine vinegar. Using jalapeños makes a reasonably mild green sauce.

But with no jalapeños, I decided to experiment with cayenne peppers. The cayennes that were red ripe on the plants at harvest time I'd hung up to dry. The rest of them, I'd dumped into a bowl on the counter for a couple of weeks. Quite a few of them ripened up red too, so I substituted 15 big red meaty cayenne peppers for the jalapeños in the recipe above. Since they're hotter, and a lot of peppers' heat is in the inside ribs and seeds, I de-ribbed and seeded them (wearing latex surgical gloves - very important to wear gloves when working with hot peppers!). I'm thinking it should turn out like Tabasco sauce. It's on the left in the photo.

I also got a few Habanero peppers this year. Only a couple were orange ripe at harvest, but left in a bowl on the counter, almost all turned orange eventually. Some of those, I strung up to dry, and a few more I de-ribbed, seeded, and froze. With the rest, I thought I'd try an experimental adaptation of the jalapeño recipe, combined with the memory of a Habanero hot sauce I bought when I was in Belize. That's it in the middle, making for a very nice hot sauce rainbow.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Harvesting Carrots and Potatoes

The temps went down to 19 here for a couple of nights, so I'm so glad I'd gotten the carrots and potatoes dug up the day before (both can be damaged by freezing temperatures). I got a good crop of carrots, by shading the seeds with an old sheet at planting time. It really helped germination in our dry climate by keeping the seed bed moist. By sitting out there later and thinning the carrot patch, I have enough nice big roots to store in the cellar until next summer. After digging, I clipped the tops to less than an inch (longer, they'll shrivel the root; too close and the top of the carrot will start to rot). I put an inch of straw into the bottom of a couple of 3.5-gallon buckets, filled both with the unwashed carrots, put lids on to keep moisture in, and put them down in the cellar. A few that had cracked, and a few that were too tiny to store I brought in to eat now.

I'm still experimenting with potato growing methods. This year, I planted my seed potatoes, saved from the year before, about six inches deep and then piled straw 15" deep over the top inside a wire cage. So now, evaluating the results of my experiment: the Yukon Golds (right bin) did really well, with big potatoes both on top of the dirt and underneath the surface; the Russets (left bin) I got were nice, but the yield wasn't as good as last year's. The straw did keep them from greening up, but some of the plants didn't make it up through the straw. We still had to do quite a bit of digging and sifting through the dirt to make sure we got most of them, too. The goal is lots of nice-sized potatoes, easily harvested without missing any. So, next year, I think I'll try planting only a inch or two deep (potatoes make new potatoes only above the seed potato), use the wire and sticks cage again, and add the same amount of straw over the top but only a couple of inches at a time.

The Yukons I left in their bin, the Russets filled a 5-gallon bucket. They're all in the cellar now too - lids on both since I also have fruit down there. The ethylene gas that the apples and grapes put out can cause the potatoes to sprout in storage (some old-timers say to not store fruit and potatoes together), but since it's the only space I have, the lid barriers work well enough.

We also found something interesting in the straw, inside the cage near the edge - an abandoned clutch of quail eggs. I wonder why she laid that many and then left them. Maybe something happened to her - the cat isn't allowed in the garden (I hiss and run him off whenever I see him even nearby, and besides, he doesn't kill his catches anyway), but we do have hawks and owls living nearby. Oh well, there's certainly no shortage of quail around here - I think they're why I haven't gotten a decent lettuce crop for years.