Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dark Days Challenge No. 2: Moussaka

I'm not the kind of cook who prepares complex dishes. Barbecuing, oven roasting and boiling water for pasta is just fine.

The moussaka recipe sort of crept up on me. I had two beautiful eggplants from the farmers' market, some ground beef from a local ranch and tomato sauce that I froze last summer. The ingredients pictured here (I forgot to include the potatoes which came from our CSA box) seemed pretty benign. I did not, however, read what you were supposed to do with all of them. I'd never made moussaka before but I figured, how hard could it be?

By the time I was done I had used just about every pot and pan in the kitchen. Luckily Kerry handles the clean up chores, but I knew I was going to hear about this.

I had to make a roux, separate eggs, whip egg whites until stiff, blend the yolks with grated cheese and then put it all together to pour on top of the meat, potatoes, eggplant, onion, garlic and tomato sauce. It actually turned out just like it was supposed to. I discovered that a roux is not hard to make and that the huge eggs from a local farm were just right for the yolks and egg whites.

Even the olive oil was local from Chaffin Orchards Farm up in Oroville. The only things that were not local: butter, cream, flour and cheese.

I know all of you have probably done this stuff a million times, but not this locavore. I've been sick with a bad cold ever since so it's a good thing there is lots of moussaka plus leftover turkey from our gracious hostess at Thanksgiving. I'm on the mend so am looking forward to my next, less complex, dish.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Post Thanksgiving Recipe Idea: Turkey Risotto

That was one of the first Tweets I read this morning. Sounds like a great idea. Especially if you are not a turkey fan.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was exceptional in every sense of the word. My friend Jean was the hostess. There were 19 people (including five young children) and nine dogs (one only made a brief appearance; Belle is so tiny should would have been trampled by the other nine).

The eight remaining dogs included an aging pit bull named Dubby, Harleen and her buddies Tucker, a French bulldog who has one ear that salutes and one that doesn't, and Bailey, the Goldendoodle (Tucker, Harleen and Bailey are pictured on Jean's sofa when she took care of Harleen so we could go to Palm Desert.) The other dogs included a Havanese named Louie (only four months old), an Airedale named Sophie, and two Corgis named Spongee and Babs. Babs didn't spend much time with the others. She's not thrilled about crowds.

Jean prepared a feast that was topped off by four pies: pumpkin chiffon, pumpkin, pecan and coconut cream. The latter was my pick. She had cooked an extra turkey so we all got leftovers to take home. That's why the turkey risotto idea was so appealing.

A cold has a grip on my head. Just hope I didn't pass it on to anyone last night. I tried to keep my hands to myself. Glad I did my Dark Days Challenge Meal before I felt lousy. I'll post it tomorrow even though we ate it Wednesday night.

Hope all of you had a great Turkey Day. There is so much for which we can be thankful. The State Dinner at the White House made me happy once again that Barack Obama is president and Michelle is First Lady. She looked stunning in her gold gown. Ah, to have those arms....
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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Grandma And Sweet Potatoes

I've been thinking about a Thanksgiving blog for a few days; everything I thought of seemed pretty trite. Kerry and I are blessed with so many good things and our families are all doing so well. It would have been one of those yadda-yadda lists that would have bored everyone. Living this life is wonderful; writing about it really isn't.

Then this morning Mark called to get the recipe for my grandma's sweet potatoes. As I gave it to him I realized that I should write about her; she has been giving back to the family for so many years even though she's been dead since 1970.

I loved and still love my grandma more than any other woman in my life. She was there for me so many times when my own mother wasn't. As I've written before, loving was not an adjective anyone would have used for my family. On the outside we looked perfect, but within the confines of the house life was pretty awful.

Grandma was a Locavore long before the term was coined. All she had was local; she cooked it simply and well. Her pork chops with gravy and mashed potatoes were to die for. And her creamed corn did not come from a can. Her seasonings: salt and pepper. I remember helping her make applesauce from their backyard apple tree when I was very small.

She believed that meat was not really good for you but chocolate held the secret to longevity; she lived to be nearly 90. Her favorite was chocolate-covered cherries. My teeth hurt just thinking about how sweet they are. During the depression when money was short she made butter and sugar sandwiches for dessert. I still make them.

I was named for her (Kathleen), but her nickname was Kit not Kathy. She was a lot shorter than I am which means she was really short. Tiny feet in those old-lady black leather lace-up shoes with a short heel. She wore a corset, which was the cause of at least one trip to the emergency room. She was having trouble breathing; the doctor diagnosed a too-tight corset. Got a new one and breathing was fine. I'm not sure she would have had enough muscle tone to sit up without the corset.

But back to the sweet potatoes and the phone call. Mark is more precise in his cooking than either my grandma or me. Here's the recipe. Cut sweet potatoes (the ones with red skin) into quarter-inch slices. Layer in a baking dish. Place pats of butter all over the top of the potato slices (usually about half a pound). Pour an entire box of dark brown sugar over everything and press down. Cover tightly with tin foil. Bake for an hour at 350 degrees. When the potatoes are softened, uncover the dish and turn up the oven to 400 degrees. You cook them until they start to caramelize. This is the tricky part. You withdraw a little liquid and then baste with the liquid left. This goes on for up to an hour. Until you finally have these yummy sweet potatoes.

My grandma had a hard life in many ways but still she gave so much love regardless of what happened. She was 29 when she married my grandpa who was 21. Scandalous. She was the old maid school teacher in town. She suffered from depression long before there was any help for her. At one point she simply went to bed for two years. That gene for depression was passed on to my mother, brother, sister and me. She lost her only son in World War II. She had two daughters who did not live to be very old either. My mother killed herself at 54 and Aunt Jerry died of lung cancer in her early 60s. I always wanted Aunt Jerry to be my mother. She was there to save us when my mother got out of control.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dark Days Challenge And Water Buffalo

Yes, I served barbecued water buffalo for our first Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge meal. The cut was filet mignon; it was delicious, moist and tender. I did put a little homemade barbecue sauce on top of mine. Kerry ate his with only salt and pepper. The locally grown organic vegetables are broccoli and potatoes that have been oven roasted in olive oil from Chaffin Orchards near Oroville, CA. Decorative pumpkins came in our last CSA box from The Natural Trading Company. I have to do better on the wine. This was from Trader Joe's but wasn't local. Next week it will be.

Nick and James Chapel raise water buffalo in Meridian, CA, which is a wide spot in the road on the Sacramento River. Their farm joined the Sierra/Placer meat club a couple of months ago. Roger Ingram, the UC extension guy who runs the club, had to convince me to try it. He claimed it was delicious; he was right.

Beef filet mignon in the club is $22 per pound. Water buffalo is $10 a pound. That helped convince me too.

So we are off to a good start for the Dark Days Challenge. Thanks again to www. for once again hosting the challenge. Her blog will have a recap of the 50 participants' meals each Monday.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Knobs And Pulls

Wayne, a local handyman, was here with his son, Mike, for most of the day doing various things. Among those things was adding knobs and pulls to our kitchen cupboards. I really like the way it looks. The ladies who help us with design stuff for the house suggested it when they came by to talk about re-carpeting three rooms.

I told them I really wasn't happy with my cupboards. They suggested pulls and knobs as a way to dress them up without spending a fortune. They brought us all kinds of samples; we chose the ones that you see. Click on the picture to biggify so you can see more detail.

Wayne and Mike also installed two ceiling fans and finally got the vent over the stove to work. We've been here for six plus years without a working vent. Now the smell of garlic cooking in olive oil will be shared with the cows in the nearby pasture.

Not much else happening here today. Just a nice, quiet fall day.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cats And The Mayan Calendar

Apparently while we were in Palm Desert our cats got a hold of the Mayan calendar that says the world is going to end in 2012. To prepare, they have been eating more than they should for their waistlines. I guess they figure the extra food will help them get through the Apocalypse. They had really trimmed down over the summer so maybe this is just an annual event. They look like little furry sausages.

Had a good, lazy time in Palm Desert. I managed to avoid eating meat the entire time and still enjoy my meals. I just don't want to eat meat if I don't know from whence it came. My favorite was at Babe's: a tamale stuffed with goat cheese and smothered in a spicy tomato sauce.

The worst was a baked potato with veggies and cheese at the Claim Jumper in Temecula. We visited Kerry's Aunt Harriet there; she likes the Claim Jumper so we always go there when we visit. The vegetables were probably all frozen even though they were in season.

This week is the beginning of the Dark Days Challenge so you will be reading more about food for a few months than you have lately. The goal is to cook one meal from local, seasonal ingredients each week, take a picture of it and post to my blog. There are 50 bloggers from all over the country who will be doing this. It's the brainchild of Laura in Washington State. Her blog is

Well, that's all for now. The sun sending us its last few rays of the day. I love the colors when it does that.
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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Palm Desert Bound For A Week

Sunday we trade our wonderful rural life for that of Palm Desert and its fountains, lakes, over-watered lawns and many, many golf courses and plastic surgeons.

Kerry's dad, a wonderful man whom I dearly loved the short time I knew him, bought two time shares several years ago at the Marriott Desert Springs. This is a picture of the hotel lobby. Only in the desert in California would you find a lake in the lobby and boat that will take you on tours of the resort or to your restaurant in the evening. Life jackets are included.

The first time I was there I asked the young woman who was captaining our boat about the source of the lake's water. She assured me it didn't come from Northern California; it came from the Colorado River. That did not make me feel any better. Such a waste of precious resources.

Harleen has gone to our friend Jean's for the week. Jean has a young Goldendoodle named Bailey and a French bulldog named Tucker. Based on their behavior tonight when we brought Harleen to Jean's home, things will be just fine.

We are driving; it's easier and much less expensive than flying. Our travel ritual is to have Chinese food for dinner the night before we leave. We take the leftovers with us and have that for lunch so we don't have to stop long. It's about nine hours from our house to the time share.

My goal today was to finish reading the book "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett. I got it from the library as a seven-day loan. It was 442 pages so that's a bit much for me for seven days. But I finished it tonight, a day late. But we'll slip it in the box at the Carnegie Library in Lincoln in the morning as we head for the desert. Lincoln has a one-day grace period so I won't be fined. It is a must read.

I leave town with an iris blooming; this happened a couple of years ago but not with this same plant. I can see it when I look out my sewing studio window. I always miss being in our home with it's peace and quite. Tonight it feels strange to have Harleen's crate gone. There is a big white block of carpet that is cleaner than any other part of the room.

So, I'll be back in a week. Hope you all have a good one.
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Thursday, November 05, 2009


I've had lots of things I've been going to write about but somehow never got around to it. The latest fabric art piece I'm working on has consumed me. I just love it.

I've been thinking about writing about Urbanhennery's Dark Days Challenge, which I signed up for, and the new way I fixed chard the other night. I'll still get around to those but first I have to comment on the vote in Maine to not allow gay marriage.

I am dumbfounded by the world's intolerance to anyone who is not like the family in the first grade reading book, "Dick and Jane." For those of you too young to remember them, the family was written version of Ozzie and Harriet or Leave it to Beaver. The cat was named Puff; the dog Spot. Dick and Jane were the children whose adventures helped us learned to read.

Intolerance shows up in church, voting booths, schools and just about everywhere else. I don't understand what is wrong with letting people live their lives in whatever way they want. As long as it doesn't hurt anyone, who cares who they sleep with or have sex with.

My son Mark was raised without any specific religion. I simply told him to treat people well. The short version of the Golden Rule. It worked; when he thought his boy scout leader was a bigot for statements made about the Vietnamese, Mark called him on it and asked for an apology to the troop. He never got it so quit the troop. I was so proud of him for that. He never got to be an Eagle Scout, but he did stand up to an intolerant person. Big life lesson there.

I have many gay and lesbian friends. Many of them have been in committed relationships much longer than any of my straight friends. That includes me; I married and divorced my first husband twice. That, perhaps, was carrying "tolerance" a bit too far.

Many of my gay and lesbian friends have children. I don't really care how they got them, but I do know that they are wonderful parents struggling with the same issues that heterosexual parents struggle with.

One lesbian couple I know were asked to leave the Catholic church they attended when the pastor found out that one of the couple was pregnant. Now that takes intolerance to a whole new level. The Catholic church is very good at legislating morality. I should know because I used to be a Catholic.

The fact that California passed Prop 8 to outlaw gay marriage somehow has emboldened the rest of the intolerant people in this country. It's sad that homosexuals who love each other cannot enjoy the rights that we heterosexuals enjoy.

If you are offended by what I've written, then I ask you to think about why you are offended. Perhaps you are intolerant. Please tell me what you think even if you are anonymous. Dialogue is always good.

I oven roasted the chard. Tear the leaves from the stems, lay on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, bake at 450 degrees for five minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle balsamic vinegar on the chard. It's delicious.