Friday, December 31, 2010

Dark Days Challenge No. 4

It's a pot roast that was cooked in my crock pot. Usually it takes about eight hours. But we had a power failure on Sunday afternoon so the pot roast got its final cooking on Monday afternoon. Actually that turned out to be better. Lia, a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) who lives in Reno, was in the area to have her CCI breeding dog Darlan x-rayed. We invited Lia, Darlan and Lia's friend Frank over for dinner.

Darlan and Harleen had dog food. Darlan delivered 12 puppies on Dec. 29th, right on schedule. Each puppy weighed at least one pound. Darlan is a small Labrador retriever so this was quite a load for her to carry. Everyone is doing fine. In eight weeks the puppies will visit us on their way to being turned in to CCI in Santa Rosa, CA.

Back to the pot roast. The meat came from a local ranch. Potatoes and carrots from the farmers market in Auburn. The onions used were ones I dried last summer. Never dry onions in your house. The whole house smelled. I finally put my dehydrator out on the back deck. Much better. The sauce was local white wine mixed with local honey. The honey gave everything a nice glow.

I topped everything off with local shitake and oyster mushrooms that I sauteed in butter, which was not local. So that's my final dark days challenge meal of 2010. On to 2011. It's already in the crock pot.
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Friday, December 17, 2010

A Chicken With SOLE

This is meal three of Dark Day Challenge. It was pretty simple. A roasted chicken and a baked potato. But sometimes the simplest is the best. Kerry calls this comfort food.

We get our chickens from a local ranch so they are moist and tender. This one weighed 3.6 pounds.

I made a paste of unsalted butter with sage and chives from my garden and sea salt and ground pepper. Gently pulling away the chicken skin, I spread the butter and herbs underneath. It's a bit tricky and you have to go slowly or you tear the skin, but it can be done.

Baked potatoes were, well, baked until the skins were crispy. I love to eat the skin. This time Kerry did too. The sour cream was not local but it was Rbst-free.

I'm hoping to get one more meal in before we leave for Christmas next Tuesday.
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Sunday, December 12, 2010

DDC Meal Two

I didn't think that I would be able to do a second meal so soon; being on antibiotics has not exactly enhanced my appetite or my desire to cook. But tonight I took the last of the pills so felt invigorated. My sentence had been served.

Pork tenderloin is something I have never cooked. My parents used to take me to a place (actually a dive called Fred Grobe's Grill) in north Minneapolis where they served pork tenderloin sandwiches. I remember them as being delicious.

Bob at Coffee Pot Ranch had pork tenderloins so I gave it a whirl. First of all, they are incredibly tender. I coated them with a creole seasoning and then braised them in olive oil. Then into the oven for a bit and then I topped the meat with a sauce of honey (local from a mandarin orange grove), Dijon mustard and soy sauce.

While all this was happening, I was baking yams. So the final meal was pork tenderloin (Coffee Pot Ranch), yams from the farmer's market and a local chardonnay from Fawnridge. My absolute favorite chardonnay. Life just doesn't get much better.
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Friday, December 10, 2010

Field Trip To The Mushroom Farm

We went a little crazy buying mushrooms at the farm. From left: oyster, portabello, and shitakes.

Mushroom Adventures has been around for about 15 years. We discovered them when they appeared at the Auburn Farmers Market this year. Today we got a tour of the place and saw how each of these grow. It reminded me of field trips when I was in school.

They sell mushroom kits so you can try growing your own. Nina, our tour guide, said the shitakes are the hardest to grow. They grow from what looks like a large brick of compost that is made up of hay and chicken manure. Pretty disgusting looking bricks but from them grow these wonderful mushrooms. If you are interested, check out their web site: They ship kits via Fed Ex. But they don't ship mushrooms.

In addition to information on the kits, the web site also has recipes. Mushrooms keep well in the refrigerator as long as they are in paper bags. No plastic for these babies. No need to worry about contamination from the manure; the compost is heated to a high enough temperature to kill off the bad things before the mushroom spores are added.

These babies are going to be part of nearly every meal between now and when we leave for Christmas with Kerry's family in Washington.
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Dark Days Challenge: Meal One

Here's dinner before I cooked it: meatloaf and chard.

I don't think I've ever made meatloaf the same way twice. Yesterday I decided to try to spice it up a bit. (I'm originally from Minneapolis so didn't grow up with much spiciness.) We usually don't cook this much meat at once, but I love meatloaf sandwiches so made a big one.

The meatloaf consists of ground beef, ground pork and Basque lamb chorizo removed from the skin. All came from local ranches. I added the usual eggs, also from a local ranch, bread crumbs from local bread gone stale, and Annies organic ketchup. Seasonings included sea salt from France, smokey Spanish paprika and pepper. This was my first time using this type of paprika so I didn't add much. Will probably increase the amount next time.

The chard came from our farmers market. I sauteed it in local olive oil and apple cider vinegar (not local). The vinegar gives it just a hint of a bite.

I've been reading comments from Dark Day newbies. I commend you for your determination to stick to all things local. I am a bit more relaxed about the word "local." I apply it stringently to rice, bread, meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables. I live in Lincoln, CA so it's a lot easier here than in the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Condiments are another matter; I like to experiment with seasoning and much of the time that seasoning is not local. Also, I don't have much opportunity to use local butter but I make sure that it's free of a cow's worst enemy, Rbst. We are going to northern Washington for Christmas so I will stop by Golden Glen Creamery in the Skagit Valley and buy a bunch of their butter and cheese.

Not sure if I will get another meal in before next Wednesday; still fighting the antibiotic-induced nausea.
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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Oh, Canada, I am Pissed!

I thought I had discovered an economical way to order two of my asthma prescriptions for which there are no generics: Advair $311 per month and Singulair $200 per month. I'm in the Medicare "donut hole" so they are not covered right now. (It's a long story; don't ask). The first Advair order came without a hitch. It was $159 for a month's supply. Nice. said it would take 10-12 business days to arrive. That meant my last order should have been here on Dec. 6, last Monday.

It didn't arrive; when it didn't arrive the next day I called the 800-number. While the company says it's in Vancouver, Canada, that doesn't mean that's where they buy the drugs. My Advair comes from "the United Kingdom, said the person on the phone." He added that bad weather, higher security and the holidays had delayed my drug.

I pointed out that he represented a pharmacy that supplied medications to people who needed them; he did not work for Nordstroms. Actually Nordstroms would have cared more about a lost order than this guy.

Turns out when you call and place your order, they tell you where it's coming from, but when you place it online (as I did) you are not told this. So now it might arrive this week. Meanwhile I'm out of Advair. I finally hung up the phone and fumed. That's one thing about cell phones, you can't slam the receiver down and blast the listener's eardrum. Pushing "end call" is sort of anti-climactic.
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Wednesday, December 01, 2010

On Your Mark, Get Set, Go

It's the first day of the annual Dark Days Challenge, which is brought to you by Laura of The photo is from last year's challenge. I haven't made my first meal yet for this challenge. Even if you didn't sign up you can still play along for as much or as little as you want. Cook one meal each week where as many of the ingredients as possible are Sustainable, Organic, Local, and Ethical (SOLE). The challenge ends April 15, 2011. No prizes at the end, just the knowledge that you have cooked wholesome food for your family and friends.

The food pictured above was for a meatloaf and scalloped potato dinner. The cheese and ketchup were not local. I like to buy Tillamook cheese (comes from Oregon) because the company does not feed its cows the growth hormone Rbst. The ketchup is organic but not local. Everything else came from the farmer's market or the meat club we joined a couple of years ago. We get our pork, beef, chicken, lamb and eggs from local ranches and farms. Even the wine is local; Lucchesi is out of Grass Valley.

Tonight we are having London Broil that will be marinated and barbecued and oven-roasted broccoli. Pretty simple dinner, but it qualifies as my first of the new challenge. See, it doesn't have to be complicated just as much SOLE as possible. Hope you will give it a try over the next few months.
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Embellishments

They are called fabric beads and come from the creative mind of Gail Ellspermann. She was featured in a seven-year-old edition of Quilting Arts Magazine. My quilting bee friend MJ saw the magazine in a stack that was to be thrown away. She grabbed it and now it's mind. I made some yesterday. Really simple. The basic part is a drinking straw about 1.25 inches long. Using tacky glue, wrap the straw in fabric that has been torn into 1-inch strips. Cut the strips into two-inch segments. You want the frayed ends to show. The little pile of shiny gold stuff at the bottom of the photo is gold leaf. I used a special glue to apply it to the fabric-covered tubes and then wrapped them in any glitzy string, yarn or beads that I had. Thank you Gail. Her idea will become part of an art quilt that I'm making.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Recyling, Being Handicapped and Strikes

The French, and all of Europe for that matter, bring new meaning to the word "recycle."

Just a few examples pictured here. The Louvre was once a palace; the mausoleum was once a church, the Roman-built amphitheater in Vienne is still used for performances, and the Roman-built amphitheater in Avignon is now home to humane bullfighting (the bull lives to fight another day). No worry about bond elections to fund new football or baseball fields. Use what you already have. I like that idea. It's what makes Europe so interesting. Yes, there are new, modern buildings in Paris but they are really ugly. Not even sure I want to show you pictures of them.

Cobblestone streets are just fine with the French. It makes it really hard to be handicapped in France. We saw one person in a motorized wheel chair. He was really struggling to get around. At the church on the hill in Lyon where there are lots of steps and no railings, there is an elevator. But you have to go down six steps to get to it. As our guide in Lyon said, "we are a complicated people." I did see handicap parking, but not much of it.

Some of my family worried about us traveling to France during the strike by unions over increasing the number of years you must work before you can retire. We only saw them once and that was in Avignon. They dress in orange, play loud music and sometimes shut things down. We couldn't go to Versailles because the workers there were on strike for one day, the day we wanted to go there. Lots of disappointed people on our boat.

We learned that the next Saturday the lock workers on the Seine would not got to work. That meant all boat traffic in and out of Paris would come to a standstill for one day. We got back without problems but the next week's cruise would come back to Paris a day early due to the strikers actions.

When we arrived at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris we were greeted by a TV reporter from CANAL, which according to our guide is her favorite TV station. The reporter's English was pretty good. He wanted to know how we felt about coming to a country where workers were striking. I stepped forward when no one else did. I told him I thought it was a good thing that the French government was afraid of its citizens. In the U.S. we would be better off if the government felt that way. Don't know if I made it on the air because we couldn't get local programming on the boat. I do believe that; it wasn't just for the reporter. We just sit and take whatever the legislators do. I think the Tea Party will make it even harder for government to work because it has caused a rift in the Republican party.

Just some thoughts on a sunny, warm day in Lincoln, CA
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Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Photo For My Last Post

For the life of me I could not get this to load in the blog about French food. This is Magalie (accent on the first syllable). She was the chef on our cruise from Chalon-Sur-Saone to Avignon. A fine woman and a fabulous chef. I wanted to make sure you saw her. BTW that's me with her.
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Food In France

I'm not sure I can do it justice. On the cruise from Paris to Normandy we had a German chef whom we rarely saw. Food was great. On the cruise from Chalone-de-Sur to Avignon we had a French chef. Her food was awesome. Each evening we eagerly looked forward to Magalie's (accent on the first syllable) description of what we were having for dinner. I swear that many of us were drooling by the time she finished. Also, she often showed up for the light lunch (now that's a misnomer if there ever was one) in the Viking lounge. Her favorite word after "dessert" was "reduction." You can't have enough reduction when cooking french food.

I tried reduction when we got home. I made beef short ribs in the crock pot with a sauce of Calvados (bought in Normandy), duck stock, pomegranate molasses and soy sauce. Once the ribs were done, I reduced the sauce and served it and the meat over organic brown rice. So good!!!!

The flavors, presentation and freshness of the food is what french cooking is all about. Also, portion size. You may have six courses at every dinner (we did) but each course, except the entree, is just a few bites. The crab dish photo is a good example of that. It's beautiful and small. The desserts were also small portions but they had such a heady flavor, you didn't want more. Well, maybe sometimes. And also, the desserts were not really sugary. You knew the sugar was there but it didn't overwhelm your palate.

Kerry had eggs benedict one morning; the yolk was as orange as a pumpkin. That's the sign of a very happy chicken who got to run around in a farmyard and be a chicken. Next time you buy eggs in the super market check the color of the yolks. So many more nutrients in the darker colored yolks. They are also lower in cholesterol.

Bread, oh my God, it is awesome. At breakfast each day we had our choice of probably 15 different breads. Bread accompanied each meal and it was fresh. In every town we visited we saw the proverbial French man or woman walking with a long baguette. If they don't finish it on the day purchased, they still buy another one the next day. Baguettes make for great bread crumbs, although I can't imagine not finishing it.

Farmers Markets abound in France. Regardless of how small the town, the local farmers come to market at least once a week to sell their produce, eggs, cheese, meat and flowers. The lettuce we had on the boat was beautiful, flavorful and fresh. I never saw iceberg lettuce in France. We had lots of soup that was made from the fresh vegetables left from the dinner the night before. Delicious.

I never wondered if our meat had any antibiotics or hormones in it. As we traveled the countryside we learned that the white cattle that graze everywhere are called Charleroi but nicknamed "BBQ cattle" because the meat is so wonderful. If you don't buy your meat at the farmers market, then you can go to a charcuterie. It's a combination of deli and butcher shop. I stopped in one in Vienne. I told the owner, Mr. Dugand, that his shop was beautiful. His face lit up in a big smile. He spoke some English so we talked a bit. As I went to leave he handed me a sausage from a basket on top of the counter and said, "for you madame." I tried to pay but he wouldn't hear of it.

The concierge on board the boat said it would be delicious with some bread, cheese and wine. So that's what we are going to do with it. It was in my suitcase when we landed at SFO. I was really worried I would get busted by the food sniffing dog. He busted someone else and I made it out of the terminal.

Can't leave out cheese; so many kinds that I lost count. Everyday at lunch we had a tray of different cheeses with crusty bread. I probably ate the U.S. equivalent of $50 worth of cheese each day. All the cheeses were local and changed depending on where we were in France. I especially loved the soft, oozy cheeses that spreads like butter. Magalie made sure there were little signs on each cheese telling us the name.

Yes, you can get McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken, but I can't understand why anyone would want that stuff. Take your taste buds to France, you won't regret it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Getting Around In France

When you live in a country where a majority of the roads were built by the Romans for their horses and chariots, you are not going to find very many wide streets for big cars. Also with the cost of gasoline at around $8 a gallon you are going to find lots of alternatives to the traditional mode of transportation.

Here are just a few. Motorcyles and motorscooters are everywhere. They can get around in heavy traffic and can park just about anywhere, plus the mileage is good.

Next you have the Smart car which holds just two people, parks easily and gets good mileage. I personally think they are cute. Quite a few folks in Lincoln drive them.

The most interesting way of traveling is the rent-a-bicycle. That's a row of them in front of the red-awninged restaurant in Paris. You choose a bike, put the number and a payment method in the machine and ride off. You can return the bike anywhere there are rent-a bike stands. We saw a lot of these bikes, particularly among students. It's easier than carrying your personal bike up six flights of stairs (elevators are in short supply in France) to make sure it's not stolen.

And the final mode of transportation is the "choo choo" (the guides words not mine) train that takes you up a very steep, narrow road to a church on top of the hill overlooking the town of Vienne. The train has rubber tires and can easily wind its way through the narrow, cobblestoned streets of this Roman town.

And of course you have the TGV, France's fast train, subways, river barges, river cruise boats and many more. I did see one Toyota Landcruiser. It looked very out of place.
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Visiting Normandy

It's only fitting on this Veteran's Day that I show you photos from Normandy where the D-Day landing happened on June 6, 1944. It was a sad part of the France trip but an important place to visit. I learned a lot of things about D-Day that I had never heard in history class.

First we went to the museum pictured. There we watched a black and white film shot in England and France of the preparation for the landing and the landing itself. Seeing all those young, hopeful faces on the screen and then visiting the cemetery where many of them are buried was very sad. Families had their choice of burial in France or having the body shipped home. If they chose France, the U.S. government brought the family over to see the final resting place of their loved one. Crosses and Stars of David mark the graves; there are many who are unknown.

What I didn't know is that prior to D-Day the Germans destroyed the only deep water port in the area: Cherbourg, France. Therefore, the Americans and British knew they would have to build a deep water port in record time so they could supply the troops who were landing. Much of this preparation started a year earlier on the south coast of England. The big metal things resting on the beach were made in England and then floated to the coast of France after the landing. The first breakwater was made up of old ships that were sailed to the area from England and then sunk in a line. Two subsequent breakwaters were made up of the big metal things fashioned in England. Within a matter of weeks, the port of was operating. Workers in England were not told what they were making or how it would be used.

The Germans did other nasty things to foil the American and British operation. They knew that something was going to happen so they destroyed as many things as possible. They also flooded an area where they thought paratroopers might land; many of them drowned because of this.

My mother's brother, Leo, was killed in the Battle of the Bulge. He's the only relative I know of who was lost in World War II. When his mother (my grandmother) was alive we would go to the National Cemetery in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. We put flowers on his grave, and my grandma cried. It didn't matter that he had been dead a long time; she still grieved for her only son. He died just before I was born.

So many families have sacrificed loved ones to the God of War only to find out that we will still have another war. No one ever wins; we just move on to the next quarrel with a country. Quarrels escalate and people die. What a shame.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall Colors in France

France is a fantastic travel option for those folks who love fall colors. Here are a few examples of them. The top photo is the pond made famous by Monet's paintings. The wall is in the little village of Giverny where Claude Monet lived. The last photo is his house. That's our guide holding the sign. We wore earpieces so we could hear her without any shouting. Great system, especially in churches. We didn't get to see the lily pads in bloom, but we did get a wonderful glimpse of Monet's world in the fall. Plus it was foggy the morning we were there which made everything look ethereal.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cruising The Waterways of France

This is a picture of the Viking Cruise river boat on which we will travel for two weeks. It's long and low so it can fit under all those ancient bridges on the Seine, Rhone and Saone rivers. Only 150 passengers and 40 staff. The perfect size to get to know the people with whom we are traveling. Our room, with windows that open and a private bath, is on the middle level.

We fly to Paris this Saturday. After some touring in Paris we cruise to Normandy via Rouen. Each day we dock at a city for either a bus or a walking tour. My right knee is not very happy at the moment so I probably will choose the bus over walking. After the first week we return to Paris where we are bussed to Chalon-sur-Saone. There we begin our cruise of the Saone and Rhone rivers. Our final cruise destination is Avignon. We fly home from Marseilles via Frankfurt. That's the trip in a nutshell.

We booked the trip last December when it was half price. It's still more than we usually spend, but we decided it was a great way for Kerry to see France for the first time. I've been there lots and love it.

We are really looking forward to the food. No worries about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or feedlot meat. Just real food that doesn't come from a box. And if my knee is really bothering me I will find a small cafe in whatever town we are in and sit with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine while others romp around. Really looking forward to this trip. Our last big trip was Costa Rica. Don't have to worry about malaria in France. Sure hope the strikers have gone back to work.
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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Another Quilt Project

I'm working on this right now. The pattern is from Rose Hughes most recent book "Exploring Embellishments." Still needs lots more embellishment. I used a new fabric in this one. It's called Radiance; part silk and part cotton. You get the shine and feel of silk but the resilience of cotton. Made a great moon. The shiny stuff around the moon is Angelina fibers. Weird stuff but very effective.
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