Friday, August 28, 2009


We had oatmeal for breakfast this morning. My husband is more into the “egg wrap burrito” type thing, but this morning he asked for oatmeal.
I keep the oatmeal, dispensed from the bulk food bin at the grocers, in a large glass pickle jar. To my dismay, there were only traces of rolled oats left. Apparently, while I was away for the weekend, my son and husband had eaten up the easy food, i.e. leftovers and oatmeal, both of them being easily whipped up in the microwave. This shortage left me no choice; I had to go for the big guns now. I reached to the back of the grains ‘n stuff drawer and pulled out –the Steel Cut Oats. This was a job for the Stove Burner. So I measured them into a pot, set it to simmering and got busy waiting for them to get done. Since that takes at least ten minutes, I got to thinking about oats.

I’ve done a little research on various foods. Being a Civil War reenactor, I wouldn’t want to present to the public eating the wrong thing. Cold breakfast cereals were way later than 1863, so that leaves the porridges. “Farina” was common (think Cream of Wheat) but seemed to make its way to the invalid room often. Oatmeal was regarded as food for children. Personally, it all came down to which was easier to clean up from a cook pot without a sink and hot running water. Oats won, but barely. Gummy and sticky, yes, but at least not gritty.

It’s ironic that, as a child my son wouldn’t touch oatmeal. Now that he’s 16, he likes it. We have a rule that everyone cleans out the gummy and sticky in their bowl before they put it in the dishwasher, since no one has been able to formulate a detergent to dissolve it completely.

We didn’t eat oatmeal as kids (unless you counted Quakers Original Oatmeal Cookies); we ate Wheat Hearts, with honey and raisins. The first time I was face to face with a bowl of oatmeal was in the 6th grade Science and Conservation Camp.

There were about 7 of us campers plus one counselor at each table. Campers took turns bringing the platters and bowls of food to their tables. Bacon, eggs, potatoes, milk. All those nice kid-friendly breakfast foods. But always there was the big white ceramic bowl full of oatmeal. It was stiff, and mounded in peaks. Its lumpy texture had a purplish-gray cast to it. The handle of a big steel serving spoon rose up from the middle. No one ever had any. That is, except the counselor. He made encouraging noises about it that you might expect from the wicked queen trying to talk Snow White into taking the apple.

If you don’t cook steel cut oats long enough, they are quite hard and crunchy. (see previous post about cooking birdseed) The best ones I ever had were at a friend’s slumber party (yes, grown women still have slumber parties!). She had put them in a crock pot with a little milk and let them cook all night long. Creamy! She had the right idea for dealing with gummy and sticky, she used a crock pot liner.

Finally, these oats are done. I like mine this way: Stir in raisins when they are just done. Sprinkle chopped toasted almonds evenly. Pour some cold milk over the top. Spoon it up so that each spoonful gets some of the cold milk and some of the hot oats. My husband likes a dollop of honey and a slab of butter. He says it helps grease them on the way down. I guess he is dealing with gummy and sticky in his own way.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Brilliant Idea

At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. I was packing up for the Golden Old Time Jam and Campout in Boonville, and I was filling up my food tub. If I didn’t bring any goodies, if I didn’t even bring sugar or honey to make up something, then no matter how tempted I was, I wouldn’t eat those things that make one fat. Smugly, I packed cans of beans and olives, tuna fish, corn tortillas and olive oil, and two kinds of cheese. I brought milk and Grape-Nuts and walnuts. Mayonnaise and beer. Seasoned quinoa grains. And a mystery can from the scratch-and-dent cart that I thought might be mandarin oranges.

I arrived Friday at noon, after a long drive. Any time I felt hungry, I just heated up the griddle, threw a tortilla on it and arranged different ingredients from the ice chest on it. Everything was lovely. The fairgrounds filled up with Volkswagon vans, pop-up canopies, tents, and Priuses. As soon as people arrived, they got right down to business- the business of playing Old-Time music. It seemed the only thing that suspended the playing momentarily was when friends would put out the spread and have potluck. I had a few offers, but I was really enjoying my tortillas.

Saturday morning, my daughter Melinda arrived. Like-minded, in both food and music, we enjoyed the day together in perfect harmony. We had a lovely little jam, tucked back behind my truck, until my fingers started to give out and it grew a little chilly. Melinda and I kicked back then, enjoying the night, listening to the music. A few minutes passed. Then I had to say it.

“I want something sweet.”
“So do I,” she said. “Did you bring anything?”
“Neither did I.”

We pondered this calamity in silence for a few minutes. We already knew it was no use walking to the little store uptown—we’d tried that for ice earlier and they’d already closed.

“What have you got?” I asked.
“I have some trail mix. It has a few chocolate chips in it.”

Well, that was good news. Chocolate is always good news.

“Is that it?”
“I have some cinnamon too. We could make oatmeal and sprinkle the cinnamon and trail mix over.”

Then I remembered a half jar of home-made applesauce I’d thrown in the ice chest. All together, this sounded like it might work. Desperation can make many solutions sound rational.

“Oh Oh! I have some millet! Let’s use that instead of oatmeal!”
Now, I didn’t really know what millet was; I’d never eaten it. We were unsure of how long to cook it, so we hovered over the little bubbling pot, periodically testing the little round seeds. The first few grains I tasted brought a memory rushing back. I was a little kid again, playing in one of my grandfather’s big parakeet cages. He raised them to sell. We loved to play in the ones that had been emptied to clean because the seeds on the floor came up past our ankles, and we could dig around in them looking for lost parakeet eggs. I loved that grainy aroma. And now I realized it—I was eating bird seed.

Bird seed apparently takes a long time to cook. 10 minutes went by, and my standards were lowering by the second. Finally, although the seeds were still a little hard, we decided they were done enough and made our desserts. Melinda stirred in the cinnamon, we spooned it into Dixie cups and topped it with trail mix and applesauce. We crunched without speaking for a few minutes.

“With the applesauce, it’s sort of like apple pie,” she bravely said.
“Mmm. Sort of. I guess.”

Each of the 3 chocolate chips in my portion was a bright star in the middle of my harvest cup. It looked like something a schoolchild would make for a “Christmas Present for the Birds.” I ate until all that was left in the cup was millet. At least I didn’t crave anything sweet anymore.

Next morning, buying ice at the little market, we noticed the fudge display. We stopped. In an out-of-body experience, I heard myself ordering a quarter pound of chocolate praline fudge. I decided it was fate when the clerk misunderstood and boxed us up a half pound. It was delicious and probably the only thing that could have settled the bird seed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Adventure is the Whole Problem

The Problem to what? you may ask. Well, that nasty problem of being overweight and eating all the wrong things for a healthy body.

It's easy to ruminate on these things, as I sit here regretting the second piece of birthday cake and ice cream. 2 layer German Chocolate (homemade icing with extra pecans) cake and Double Cookie Dough Ice Cream. Ok, so the pecans were healthful. Uhh, there were a few eggs in the cake. Oh yes, I drank green tea with it! Anti-oxidents and all. It was great fun making the cake, and yes, it was delicious.

What if food were boring? We would all just eat what we needed. It would be a task we needed to do to live. I'm sure we could still find pleasure in eating. Just look at a dog tearing into his kibbles. Kibbles for breakfast, kibbles for lunch, kibbles for dinner. And still it's, "Wow! Look! Kibbles!" What would people kibbles be like?

I'm thinking sort of a trail mix, but in biscuits. Into the hopper would tumble veggies, protein, fiber, a little fat, and little round hard cakes would pour out into a sack. A machine would sew across the top, and the pallet of bags would end up at the little grocery store, which would also sell beer and ice. No more agonizing about what's for dinner. No more "Just one more piece for my mouth." No more dishes to wash. There's something slyly tempting about the whole idea. But...

I think I would end up doing things like, "I wonder what a kibble would taste like deep-fried?" And we are back again to the adventure. So I guess I'll just have to attempt self-control while continuing to hunt up new gastronomical pleasures.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Magical Wiggliness of it all

Who really likes Jello? I mean, really enjoys eating it? Why? Is it the violent hue, the intensely artificial flavor, or is just the magical wiggliness of it all?

We ate a fair amount of Jello growing up. It contained gelatin, which was deemed to be good for you in some vague way. Good for your fingernails. Fingernails were sort of like hard skin. So maybe Jello was good for your skin. Or something. Usually we dumped canned fruit into it. Back then, canned fruit was always in thick syrup. We used the "juice" (see previous reference to syrup) for part of the cold water to make the Jello, adding an extra shot of sucrose. (At least that was before high fructose corn syrup) We could never manage to follow directions to let it set part way, stir in the chilled fruit, then let it finish setting so that the fruit was mixed in. Our fruit always floated, to make a crusty fruit topping on the red wiggliness.

Ok, so it was sort of fun. Cut out a blob, tap it with your spoon and watch it wiggle. Spoon up a bite. Sort of like eating punch. The funnest time I ever had with Jello was when they came out with "Jello 1-2-3." You made it up and then beat the heck out of it with a mixer, poured it into parfait glasses and stuck it in the fridge. It magically separated into three layers, a foamy white one on top, a creamy pink one in the middle, and a plain red wiggly one on the bottom.

Perhaps one thing that has put me off Jello is a lovely surprise I got when I returned to our home after my honeymoon. My friends and relatives had trashed - whoops - "decorated" the house to welcome us. The "fun" mostly consisted of rice all over the floor, some of the furniture dismantled, toilet paper, talcum powder... ad nauseum... But the worst of all was the institutional size Jello - serves 500 - that had been dumped in the bathtub full of water. Jello doesn't do all that well not refrigerated. For a week. It WAS red...

What brought Jello to my mind again lately was the BBC miniseries of Gormenghast. At the Brunch that the King calls for to celebrate the birth of his son, a magnificent green Jello pyramid was served. It was huge, and a very deep and brilliant green. On the top was an apricot-sized dark red orb. Unfortunately, things deteriorated at the Brunch and it was never served. But it was so remarkable, that I have been thinking on what might be a worthy, wiggly thing to do with Jello.

So what about it? What could I create that would be more exciting that just the wiggliness? Should I eat my Frappacino? Has anyone made Green Tea Jello? I've heard about trapping liquor shots in gelatin. Is it funner to eat your likker than to drink it? Stay tuned...

Friday, August 14, 2009


A simple, staple bread is something most cultures own. Tortillas, Chapatis, Naan, Frybread, Wonderbread... Our family created its own traditional waybread years ago when I was a little kid and we were camping.

My dad liked to get away from it all. We had a pickup with an overhead camper that had a tiny kitchen and just enough places for all 6 of us to sleep crowded. We drove a lot, because he didn't like to stay in one place longer than one night. Before we left, my mother would stock up the little cupboards with all the ingredients for whipping up homecooked meals wherever we might end up.

One trip turned out to be particularly long. We were in the pines somewhere. I'm sure none of us kids knew just where because we spent all the driving time reading from the sack of books we always brought. We hadn't seen a grocery store for a while. Supplies were low. Just how low, we didn't know. That wasn't our responsibility. Our job was to gather wood for a campfire, not fight with each other, go to bed when told, and eat what was served.

My mother was a great cook. Not a recipe sort of cook, she could pull stuff out and use a pinch of this and a scoop of that, and there was dinner. But that night, there weren't many things to pull out. While we were tucked back into the booth reading and waiting for dinner, she was heating up a cast iron skillet. Soon the delicious aroma of cooking was in the air. Mom turned to us with a paper plate filled with little fried breads. They were white and fluffy inside and crusty dark brown on top and bottom. They were delicious! Our happy babble as we scarfed them down must have warmed her. We all ate until we were full. We thought that this was some amazing recipe that she had been holding back on us.

"What are they? What are they called?" We asked.

"Desperados," she said with a smile.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Heaven on a Square Plate

How do they do it? Please! Somebody tell me!

One of the things I like to do is attempt to recreate a particularly luscious dish that I've tasted at a restaurant. I've had mixed successes... sometimes not so good, sometimes even better than the original. But this... ah, this dainty morsel, I can't even think of how to start.

Cape Fear, a little restaurant in tiny Duncan's Mills, just down the road from Guerneville, CA, is an modest looking little place. Sort of a cozy, East Coast, upscale, seafood specialty eatery. Two years ago I discovered... Shrimp Grits.

Shrimp Grits arrived on a square red plate, 2 inches larger around than the square cake of seasoned grits. Decoratively laid out atop the grits were 4 beautiful shrimp, delicately sprinkled with green slivers of something oniony. But the cloud of glory was the sauce, that pink and spicy sauce. That savory, just-hot-enough sauce cascaded over the shrimps, drenched the grits, and pooled in the red square plate. And when I ran out of grits to dip in it, I raided the bread basket to mop up every bit that I, politely, could. (No, I didn't lick the plate- I was in public!) I warn you, it has a lot of garlic, so if you are out with someone, as painful as it is, you must share a bit.

Shrimp Grits is only an appetizer, so I must recommend an entree to follow it up. The Smoked Salmon Tortellini, if not heaven, is at least paradise. After that, you must use all your powers of persuasion to get someone to order the Bread Pudding so you can have a few bites, since by now you'll be much too full to order your own!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Diesel Burger

I know why I never noticed that little cafe before; it's in that old section of Yuba City next to the levee, but not quite on the part of the street that is on the way to somewhere. We were tooling around town thrifting and visiting the antique malls when the name on the glass popped out at me: "Sundowner Cafe - Home of the Diesel Burger." While I, by myself would have been a little wary, I had two men in the car with me. I heard the faint sounds of "Hubba Hubba!" as we circled the block for a parking spot in the shade.

Sandwiched in between a huge gift store and an office was the little, almost hole-in-the-wall cafe with the handpainted name on it, quaintly decorated with sundown type illustrations. Just the word "diesel" , which starts the same as "diner" made me think of something manly and greasy with lots of torque. But it was a sweet little place; well, not really sweet, but clean and pleasant-looking. I only glanced at the menu; of course I had to get the signature product. "Three Diesel Burgers, please. The waitress nodded approvingly as she wrote it down.

"For your side, do you want potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, or fries?"
What the heck, if I'm going to cholesterol hell, I'll take first class. "Fries."
The waitress grinned and nodded as she scribbled it down. "Good choice!"

Before I even had time to regret my choice she was back with 3 heaping platters. It needed to be a platter so the fries could find a perch beside the Diesel Burger. This sucka was like the burgers your momma used to make when poppa rode in after a long day herding cattle. "Woman! What's for dinner? I could eat a cow!" It was hot, it was delicious. The beef was fresh and about 3/4 of an inch thick. A big slab of purple onion, a couple fresh tomato slices, pickles and lettuce kept it company. So many things kept falling out of it, I had to finish it with a fork.

As we lingered through the last bites of fries (fresh, skin-on fries), the cook/owner came out and stood with the waitress, glancing over at us.

"How'd you like it?'
"Excellet!" I managed to say, through the fan of lettuce in my mouth.
"Great! Come again!"
"Oh, we will!" I was already eying my neighbor's thin and crispy stack of pancakes hanging off the edge of her platter...

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Itty-Bitty Teeny Cherry Tomatoes

The only reason I plant a garden each summer is for home-grown tomatoes. Oh yeah, I'll throw in some eggplants and zuccini, but the prize is the tomatoes. I like Early Girls, (since the wait for the first one is long enough!) some kind of beefsteak type, and then maybe an heirloom (this year it was Mr. Stripey). This year I accidentally picked up a 6 pack of Cherry 100's. I think they are called "100's" because it takes a hundred to actually have a mouthful. Of course I had to plant them, couldn't waste the plants! And boy, did they grow! If they hadn't drooped over, they'd probably be 5 feet tall. They drooped because I never get around to properly tying up my plants with any regularity. They are loaded with millions of Itty-Bitty Teeny Cherry Tomatoes. Some are no bigger than the tip of my pinky. I can't even get to most of them without pawing through the heart of the icky green jungle of vines. But that's ok, there are plenty on the outside too. So I have all these wonderful big red orbs all over my other vines, and why am I raking through the little pipsqueaks? Because they are the most delicious flavor of any tomatoes I have ever eaten.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Homemade Ginger Ale - The Old Fashioned Way

Ever since an ill-fated attempt at creating homemade root beer 20 years ago, I hadn't attempted the process again. Lately, I'd been thinking about trying it, but this time with ginger ale. (Did you know that if you opened the bottle of root beer before thoroughly chilling it, the contents would magically begin dripping off the ceiling onto your head before you even got the lid completely off?) I found several recipes for "homemade ginger ale" using a cooked syrup and selzer, but, how boring! NOT an adventure! I found a marvelous process for making it with yeast at this site.
Since the guy is a phD and a professor of Biology and Chemistry, I figured he knew what he was talking about. I had just picked up a bottle capper at the thrift store and was imagining the beautiful bottles in a row until I read that he does not recommend glass. "If the bottle explodes, plastic is messy, glass is dangerous." (sigh) But instead of one 2 liter soda bottle called for, I used 2 one-liter bottles, which worked out fine. This was a very exciting project because... it was so easy! and cheap! And maybe dangerous! Basically, measure cane sugar and yeast, shred ginger root, juice a lemon, pour in water, cap it. I let it sit outside on the dryer for one day. Every time I walked by, I gave the bottle a squeeze, to check on the rising pressure. I felt like I was feeling the belly of a pregnant woman, checking on the progress of the baby. When it felt tight, very tight, into the fridge it went. And I wasn't even tempted to crack the lid early! (refer to root beer debacle) When I did open it the next day, it did boil over a little, but the next bottle, I cracked and tightened in increments letting the gas out gradually, driving everyone nuts who was waiting for a taste. We all agreed - I'll never buy ginger ale again. I already have the next batch chilling, this one with a little more ginger root and some pineapple juice and a bit of honey added for flavor.

Added May 2012:
Don't be afraid to let the bottle get pretty hard! And it tastes best if it matures in the fridge for a day or two to let the ginger flavor infuse it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Great Adventure

Technology challenged Homemaker embarks on new adventure! This may take some getting used to, but Food is such a great subject! It is interesting is someway to everyone.
And the "etc." ... that's because there are other interesting things to talk about, and I'm leaving my options open.