Friday, December 21, 2012

First Day of Winter!

It's been a long time since the official, annual calendar start of winter (Dec 21st) has arrived like this! It started snowing yesterday afternoon just after Papa left for work and hasn't stopped yet! He didn't make it home until almost 5 this morning :0

I was out in the quiet splendor of the storm several times, up til midnight last night, trying to keep a path open to the garage, wood shed/carport, Jenny's path around the house to the front porch & bird feeder.. and STILL couldn't keep up! Remember back in 3rd grade Mrs. Thompson's old snow storm adage: Little flakes Big snow? That's what I kept saying over and over while tossing shovel after shovel-full of the stuff!

The local weather station is reporting the I-5 north of Redding is closed & Papa said Burney has 30" of snow - we're almost that deep, too! This morning, at the Cal Trans yard, he had to shovel out a hole just to open his truck door in order to get in it to drive home! Check out the load of snow that had filled his truck bed overnight:

We've seen 2 vehicles stuck here by the house, including Peggie's 4-wheel SUV at the driveway gate (her 4-W lo isn't working). She borrowed a shovel and got going again before the county plow came by and buried us with a 3 foot berm. That means no mail delivery at the mailbox today! I can't possibly get it all dug out in time for the carrier.

So hey...can one of you kids catch a quick flight home & help me shovel?


  !Mele Kalikimaka - you lucky ducks!

{how do you like this year's wreath-making attempt?!}

! UPDATE ! Sunday December 23rd

Here's a video clip from the Intermountain News site of the streets in town. See Papa's truck at around 35 seconds in!

In other wild news we lost our little Ben Franklin store...Yep, the roof collapsed under the weight of the snow load :/

Store catastrophe!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fall has come..and almost gone :o

Dad-gummit! It's happened again. Summer just barely got its foot in the door and now she's done skipped out :/

Here's the Mulberry tree out back dropping its golden canopy:

The usual gorgeous Fall colors seemed to come on so quickly.. and all while it was still incredibly summery (shorts-weather & sandal-warm). So, with the cold snap that's set in the past few days, I find I'm completely undone by it. Poured rain here at home in the wee hours this morning and snowed on all the passes. Lassen & Bogart got almost 7 inches of snow! This is the first of the season.

A few weeks back Abby called me up and said that, as the calendar changed from the Summer into the Autumn months, she started to feel a bit anxious about Summer being over & Winter coming on. And then! she realized, "Heck, I live in Hawaii! It's gonna be summer forever!!" Color me jealous!

Since last March a few new & old weird health issues have dogged me, threatening to eliminate my ability to thoroughly revel in the joy of being released from the cold & inactivity that this old cold house & property wrap us in 9 months of the year. Hence the disappointment seeing the winter months encroaching already. Which actually began with the first frost hitting the garden the other day.

BUT! since today is a rainy day (first in months), and we are trapped in the one warm room indoors, it's a good day to catch up on journal-ing & posting pictures of the times I was mobile & energized!

One gorgeous day in early June I'd taken a drive over to Peggie's & happened to have my camera along & took a few pics of the view before getting to their dirt road..

Peggie's home (distant left beyond the specks of cattle), West Prospect (to left of hay barns), Sugar Loaf (center), snow-covered Lassen to its right

Back at the house I noticed how many of our Western Fence Lizards were out-and-about & got a shot of this guy sunbathing on a digger pine cone (with a bit of Jenny-dog's hair in its mouth, poor thing!):

Because I was laid up all Spring to early Summer the garden got off to a late start. Since 'The Move' had displaced so many garden tubs & their soil we had to essentially start over this year. Ben & Papa & Peggie were instrumental in digging & hauling more soil from Peggie's ranch. On my good days I'd work on re-doing the beds to protect against moles, gophers, & the ever-present, invasive tree roots. Papa helped me mix in the peat moss & perlite & dolomite. Little by little I was able to start putting in starts & seeds.           

I was anxious to get this part of the gardening done, not only because it was getting on towards July & it would be too short of a growing season, but I also knew my time was short before my upcoming hand surgery (second in 2 years).

July 19th Eli took a ride with me to the surgeon in Walnut Creek. He was along for 3 reasons:

1) Being especially interested in human anatomy he wanted to observe the procedure.

2) Most likely I'd need a driver for the trip home. Last time I was able to drive both ways, even though Papa was with me. But this episode promised to be more intensive because my case of this damnable Dupytrens is also especially aggressive (the previous surgery outcome was not long-lasting-- only lasted 3 wks before the re-growth :/

3) He's such TERRIFIC company! I love spending time with this boy, and with his being away at school most of the year I don't get enough Mama/Son time...

So he took some Family Leave Time at work and headed down the mountain early early the day of my appointment. It was a grand trip & he didn't even faint when they worked my hand over with the numbing needle.. the boy's got needle aversion, doncha know :D

Eli took pictures at a busy intersection of a cool pedestrian bridge so Abby & Ben could see & admire its construction :)

Arriving at the hospital parking lot I parked, opened my car door, & was immersed in the delightful scent of blooming star jasmine. I was out & in it immediately!

Don't remember what Eli said, but it was obviously purty dang funny:

A few photographic tender ♥Mama-loves-the-middle-child♥ photos...

..and then into the torture chamber:

A BEFORE image:

And an AFTER .. fat & swollen, sore & numb:

Not a huge change this time around. Though the tight contracture in the palm is always relieved (see how nice & flat the palm is now? It's usually curled up into a cup shape), the cords up through the finger are becoming more intrusive & not as responsive to the operation. In more severe cases, when the PIP joint (top of knuckle) is affected, as mine is, it cannot be helped & the knuckle will ever be bent, painful, and annoying. But then, the entire affected parts on my right hand have all 3 of those issues & sometimes drives me almost to tears :/

One day, when our first world nation joins the rest of the developed countries on this planet, I will have affordable health care and fly to Florida to have this crippled up mess worked on by Dr. Eaton, the amazing doctor who introduced the technique to America. At least that's my dream before the condition reaches the stage it can no longer be helped :)

Okay then, I'm not done with updates to 'What I Did For My Summer Vacation' ..not by a long shot!.. so the next time the weather (which has now turned from rain to snow right here at the house..eek!) keeps us indoors I'll share some more story time & pictures =)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Preserving Summer

..this is my vegetable version of Summer In A Jar: Amish Zucchini Relish. Or, in lieu of enough zucchini -- cucumbers. Yes, yes, I know. I may be the only one in the world that leaves her car windows down & front door wide open in late summer in case any one wants to anonymously unload their bumper crop of summer squash ;)

Since losing the use of my raised beds I've had problems growing zucchini in a plastic tub. I think I may simply be planting too many in it. Next year maybe I'll get smart and try one plant per pot instead of cramming all 3 into one.

The tasty non-bitter, so-sweet-n-tender-you-can-eat-the-skin cucumbers out-produce the zucchinis now. So I just substitute them in my standard recipe & grate what I do get of the squash into freezer packs to use in winter for carrot.. I mean, zucchini ..cakes.

Besides the usual flowers, some climbing green bean plants for beauty & early fall meals, basil, oregano, sage, & thyme (from Kay's garden), chives, corn, tomatoes, rhubarb, & strawberries... growing the ingredients for that amazing relish are thee most essential garden crops. So Gypsy peppers & onions, cukes & zucchinis reign supreme. I like Gypsy peppers because they are extremely prolific & easy to grow. They come on so much faster than bell peppers, too. It's simply beautiful to watch them change day by day as they mature from pale yellow-green, to yellow, to orange, to red... thin-skinned & crisp, they are delicious from the yellow stage on!

I'm pretty doggone proud of this relish recipe because I created it from a good basic one I found many years ago, adding & subtracting ingredients that fit our tastes. It won me a blue ribbon at the fair back in the good old days when I used to have fun exhibiting my kitchen crafts. If all that wasn't enough it's also the absolute tastiest, finest, most beautiful relish money can't buy!

** so kind as to ignore the 'scorch' misspelling!**
In the past I used the old Oster stand mixer's grinder attachment to process the vegetables. When that finally gave up the ghost I switched to its tiny food processor attachment. So it's a long process, but one that I still enjoy. One day I'll enjoy it even more when I own a normal-sized processor! I like making those chunks of vegetables turn into this colorful relish blend with just the push of a button:

Next, putting together all the gorgeous spices & seed textures & colors, it becomes a virtual artist's palette.

I love the way the whole house fills with the scent of the cooking relish. That sweet-tart, spicy, vinegar-y scent is actually quite heady & therapeutic; talk about aromatherapy! To me, this is one major 'feel-good' air freshener!

The easiest method for sanitizing the canning jars was the invention of the microwave oven. Just place squeaky clean hot jars, filled half full of hot water, into a clean microwave & boil for 10 to 20 minutes (depending on jar size: half pints to quart).

So the first jars are filled & ready for the steam canner. I'm excited! But wait, there's more cooking pleasure to come - cuz the most fun of all is when there's that awesome musical sound of the pop!pop!pop! when the processing of the jars is complete and each lid seals!

It's so intensely gratifying for me to see the literal fruits-of-my-labors all lined up on the kitchen counter top and then stored in neat, tidy rows in the pantry waiting for a year of sweet relish use. Simplest & best Thousand Island Dressing you can imagine? Mama's relish stirred into a mixture of mayo & ketchup. mmm-mmm good!

This was the 2nd batch I've made in the past week or so. With any luck, and the weather holds, I'll be making a third before the frost bites!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Deli-Style Rye ..or.. I'm Proud I Did It :)

Abby's my latest hero. She's the one that was both curious & brave enough to experiment with a cool new-fangled method of bread-baking. After she made an inspiring journal entry -with pictures!- about this 'Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day', I decided to borrow a book from the library and think about giving it a try myself.

But it's been too hot, or I've been too busy, or it's too smoky, or I've got to get the relish made, or what if the recipe doesn't work for me, or, or, or. Well now. The wild fires all around us are either contained or right on the verge of it. The sky is mostly blue again & the air is almost always sweet to breathe once more. The garden's at the stage it doesn't need so much work or attention. I've just harvested cucumbers & peppers and turned them into our first batch of the season's Amish Pickle Relish.

..and I've renewed the book twice. That makes 6 weeks I've been toying with the idea :/

1. Kay had given me some rye flour from the Butte Creek Mill up in Eagle Point, Oregon.
2. I had caraway seed.
3. We love rye bread.
4. The Artisan Bread cookbook has a deli-style rye bread recipe.

And, with only 3 days left in August, the weather's taken a bit of a turn towards the cool of September. Okay then, I'm in!

And Mama's bakin' again =)

I mixed up the easy, no-knead batter, set it aside to rise for a coupla hours, then tucked it in the fridge to rest for the night. I got up earlier than normal just because I was so excited to try out this too-simple-to-believe recipe and play with the dough; shaping, sprinkling the cornmeal on parchment for it to rest on, brushing with a cornstarch wash to glaze it, making the deep cuts across the top for the 'oven-spring' rising, sliding the loaf onto the preheated baking sheet (I can't wait to get a baking stone!) and watching it rise in the oven.

And so how did it turn out? Absolutely, fantastically delicious! It's got that awesome rye bread flavor, and get this, store-bought rye texture; chewy with a fine crumb. A-maze-ing! The crust starts out crisp but then softens as it cools.

Peggie happened to stop by while I was baking so I couldn't resist sending that first loaf home with her for their supper.

I had enough dough left to make another loaf so I started right in on it. It didn't rise as high as the first, and, not sure if it was as yummy as we imagined, Papa & I kept going back into the kitchen for just another wee slice. We just had to keep checking to see if it's truly as good as we thought ;) We're treating it as dessert tonight...

After supper I mixed up a full batch that'll make 4 more little 1-pound loaves. Or heck, maybe I'll do 2 small & 1 larger one so I can slice it up for Papa's sandwiches for work. But at any rate I've GOT to get one made & sent over to Kay's family since she's the one that contributed the rye!

Abby was so enamored with the new baking skills this method opened up to her she wanted to invest in the cookbooks. I decided to surprise her with the first in the series for her birthday.  Now I've decided to 'gift' myself (& Papa & the neighbors ;) the book, too.

I'm convinced the elusive sourdough artisan bread ..that I've been spending years attempting to recreate.. is very nearly about to make its long-anticipated arrival on the Haus Der Baker culinary scene! Watch for it..

**9/6/12 UPDATE: I've learned that if you use a 'medium' rye flour it makes a lighter, less-dense loaf. My flour is stone ground 'whole' rye flour, which actually I've found I prefer though Papa likes the lighter loaf equally as well. Also, I've decided to leave off the caraway seeds on top. They just mostly fall off anyway. You may, however, decide to stick 'em on better with an egg white wash. I use the original recipe's wash w/o the seeds now before slashing the dough. Gives a nice shiny crust & helps the knife make the cuts nicely, too. But sometimes I don't bother w/a wash at all.

I've also had success cutting the stone-ground rye back to a half cup only & replacing the omitted half cup with unbleached all-purpose white. Makes it a tad bit lighter, though I do really like the more dense version as well.

**Additional UPDATES: as per the suggestions for using baking stones from the Artisan Bread authors, I recently purchased this ceramic glazed stone by Emile Henry from Zappos:

Beautiful & practical all rolled into one. I knew I wouldn't be able to handle the staining on a regular stone, and appreciated that this one can be beautiful & cleaned, as well as function perfectly as a 'regular' baking stone. I loved the eggplant color but decided the classy black one would better compliment my baked goods & match our awesome black oven. It works grand!

**Not wanting to warp my good broiler pan I've left off using it for the steam production during baking. Now I just place a Pyrex bowl filled with hot water on the bottom shelf at the same time I place the baking stone on the middle shelf for preheating. It works just fine! I've also discovered it's a-okay to omit the steam method all together.**

**One more cool note: the longer you leave the dough in the fridge the more of a sourdough it becomes. The rye breads I make by the 3rd day on become a real-live, noticeably tangy sourdough rye**

Jeff Hertzberg's Deli-Style Rye
Makes 4 one pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ Tablespoons dry yeast
1½ Tablespoons salt
1½ Tablespoons caraway seeds
1 cup rye flour
5½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon corn starch
½ cup water

1 - 2 tablespoons caraway seeds

Mix the yeast, salt, and caraway seeds with the water in a large bowl or container. Mix in the remaining dry ingredients with a spoon until they are thoroughly combined. Don't worry about kneading, but you want to mix until there are no more lumps of dry flour. Use wet hands to do this, if necessary.

Cover the dough loosely and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours.

The dough can be used immediately, though it is recommended to cover it and refrigerate it for anywhere from 1 day to 2 weeks.

On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound chunk (roughly the size of a grapefruit). Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching and rotating it. Elongate the ball into an oval-shaped loaf. Allow to rest and rise on a cornmeal-covered pizza peel or cookie sheet for at least 40 minutes. {NOTE: I place the shaped dough on a piece of cornmeal-covered parchment paper on a cookie sheet so it can be easily slid off, paper & all, onto the pre-heated baking stone}

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty tray on another shelf in the oven.

Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust of the loaf with the wash and sprinkle on the additional caraway seeds. Slash deep parallel cuts across the loaf using a serrated bread knife.

Slide the loaf off of the tray onto the baking stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the other pan and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaf is deep brown and firm. Allow to cool before slicing and eating. {NOTE: crust softens after a few hours, especially if, after cooling, it's left in sealed plastic bag overnight}

More tips on baking this recipe here -> Artisan Bread In 5 rye bread tips

Plus the site's very helpful FAQ page here -> FAQ

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Prayin' fer rain :/

...things were looking up. Between the fire-fighting efforts and a bit of a break with higher humidity (gives a lower ignition point to the forest flotsam & jetsam), the situation was getting better. Day time temperatures had dropped to under a hundred degrees and the near-constant smoke was thinning.

Back-burning up on West Prospect had been proving successful. We watched one of those operations blazing late last Sunday night (Aug 12th) from the fence line by the chicken coop. It was horrific to watch as trees would light up like a giant's torch.

A couple days later Ray told me they switched to doing them after midnight when the general Old Station citizenry were most likely a-bed and wouldn't be quite so freaked by the sight.

*  It was much more up-close-and-personal than my camera can capture *

By Wednesday (Aug 15th) the temperatures were starting to cool a tad. Still, the smoke-filled valley made the daylight unnaturally dim. This next picture was taken at 10 am that morning:

The Park & USFS's Reading Fire was getting close to 50% contained. People at fire camp were quite optimistic. So now we come to the next big event.

Yesterday morning (Saturday, Aug 18th), in the wee hours, a brief storm came through the area, cooling it down even more & letting the scent of a light rain make the air a bit sweeter to breathe. Tragically it also brought more lightning strikes.

Around 2:30 pm it suddenly got very dark here. Dark like a rainy afternoon, but this also had that weird yellow-orange light to it. I ran outside to see what was up. I could see no close-range indication of fire, just a huge layer of smoke blotting out the sun and ashes coming down like tiny snowflakes.

When Papa got home from work I learned there was a fire down near Manton heading towards Shingletown! We kept checking for updates online. This new threat, the Ponderosa Fire, in a matter of hours, blew up from 500 acres to several thousand. Here is a picture from the news site, taken from down in the valley on the Manton side, looking back up at the towering, billowing smoke:

Last evening, after supper, I went into the kitchen to tidy up. Someone, somehow, had spilled pepper flakes all over the counter under the window. Wait a minute... that's not pepper.. it's ash! And the white window sills are speckled with it as well! You can see charred pine needle particles mixed among the gray ash. Crazy!

When we got up this morning it looked like there had been a light sprinkling of pepper-infused snow dusted all over everything.

As of today (Sunday the 19th) the fire has burned 12,000 acres, remains zero percent contained, and is spreading north-northeast from the Manton area toward the communities of Shingletown and Viola. 

The ash continues to come down and the day has turned all yellow-y again. That's not an over-exposed picture you see, it's the actual-factual real color:

The boys, with Caitlyn & Dana, needed to get to Redding today for supplies but couldn't go west on Hwy 44 from Manzanita. They had to come all the way around and go down by way of 299. There was a clear spell from smoke when they stopped by this morning. Eli came out to see me in the garden & I snapped a picture of him from where I was picking cucumbers...

 ...just before he ran off to the valley:

It was an amazing moment having blue skies above.

Cal Fire says there are 3,000 homes, 20 commercial buildings, and 300 outbuildings threatened. It has destroyed at least 7 homes. There are mandatory evacuations in and around the Shingletown area & Hwy 44 is closed from the Lake McCumber road up to Viola. I guess it comes as no surprise that Shasta County has declared a state of emergency. This is a map of the fire's current anticipated path:

Papa just called from work to say the smoke is so thick they can't see more than a quarter mile. Only one of his crew & his boss showed up today. Being that they're all from Shingletown that was pretty much expected; they're busy protecting their homes or evacuating.

Wild, wild times. So ya... PRAY FOR RAIN!