Thursday, October 29, 2009

Etc. -- Picture Challenge, Snow Day

Today starts in just the right way, at the Donut Mill, the best little bakery in Woodland Park, Colorado.

The best way to face a snow day.

A Typical Pikes Peak area Commuter Vehicle :)
(Notice snowplow)

A Good Shopping Day!

No Garden of the Gods Horseback Riding Today!

It's so beautiful, I could eat it.

Self-Portrait: I was there!

Knife Edges

The Most Beautiful City Park in the United States

Wind vs. Snow

My daughter, who lives near me, posted a blog on the wind they have been having. Since I am in Woodland Park/Colorado Springs, Colorado I have not had to endure that. Instead, we are having winter snowstorms and the like. But just to show that, even far away from home, I can still be affected, I offer this photograph of my truck, Truquita, which has been at my husband's disposal for ferrying my son around. He was driving in town and a limb blew off a tree and smashed the windshield. As you can see, it nearly punched a hole in the center of the windshield.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More etc. 2-- Bunny

Melinda knitted me a bunny for my birthday. This is no ordinary bunny. She charmed it somehow so that everyone who sees it has a spell put on them and they all repeat the following procedure:

"Aaawwwww!!!" (repeat in higher pitched voice)
Arms reach out, grasp Bunny.
"Ohhhh, I LOVE it!" (giggle)
"Oh, it's ADORABLE (or CUTE)"
"I LOVE it!" (said while clasping voodoo bunny to breast)
"How did she DO it?"

So far that has happened to everyone who has been near it.
Even though the reaction is not as visible in men, believe it, they are suffering the same effects.

My sister, with the voodoo bunny.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Horseback Riding in Garden of the Gods

Here is the "etc" part of Food Adventures Etc.
Yesterday I took my first horseback ride, in Garden of the Gods in Colorado.

Here I will slightly digress. When I was a kid, my two sisters were horsie girls. They loved horses. our family went through three horses with them. (I'm counting Misty, the little shetland pony) I just totally wasn't interested. The only aspect of the whole thing that I enjoyed was my older sister's plastic horse collection. And that was because the Barbies could ride them. I will give her credit though, she tried to convert me. I was intrigued by her book "The Black Stallion." She wouldn't let me read it until she had given me a couple lessons on horse tack and the parts of the horse. I still know what withers and chestnuts are. And somehow, I ended up on the horse going down the drive once or twice. But it is fuzzy and I'm sure wasn't under my control.

I'm visiting my sister in Woodland Park, near Colorado Springs which is a short drive to Garden of the Gods. We set up a one hour ride Saturday with the Academy Riding Stables there at the park. I made darn sure they knew I hadn't ridden before so they would give me the easiest beast there. The picture they took was in front of Rattlesnake Rock. This big fella's name is Justin and he is a Morgan. Yes, my legs felt a little rubbery when I got off, but recovered nicely. It's funny that today, Tuesday, is when I am feeling a lot of pull in my thighs! (As in, hard to get up off the sofa)

That same day, we toured the Molly Kathleen Mine in Cripple Creek, Colorado. The shaft goes down 1,000 feet. Here is the apparatus that takes the little cage down.

Only my sister and I were on that tour. They only use real miners for guides, so this guy knew his stuff and could answer every question.

I didn't have any claustrophobic moments, but as I looked through the mesh floor of the cage as it dropped and saw the 40 feet of water that lay below the bottom level where we were to get off, I mentioned to the guide that this encompassed 2 of my fears: of deep water and heights.

It snowed that night. Many people might say, "So what?" But to me and those of us from the Central Valley in California, snow is something you drive up to the mountains to see, and then drive back home again. But this was happening... right outside THE FRONT DOOR!

Last night we drove over to Pueblo, Colorado for the state finals high school marching band competition. My niece plays clarinet in the Woodland Park band, which was in the competition. My sister and I drove over, her dad came over from work, and her grandparents drove down to see her compete. So I got a great family picture for them!

It must have been youth and adrenaline that enabled the various color guard flag twirlers to function in their wispy, sleeveless little outfits. It was cold! I kept expecting ice to crunch under my feet, but the mud was soft. I could have sworn it was about 29 degrees, but the thermometer stubbornly insisted it was above freezing all day and evening.

Stay tuned! More to come in the next few days!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meals Gone Wrong

Yes, I guess I’m a pretty darn good cook. Maybe not always gourmet, but I have my ways.

I started at a young age with mudpies and graduated to kitchen cupboard ingredients. My first real cooking project was a cocoa devil’s food cake from an old Gold Medal Flour cookbook at the age of about 8 or 9. It turned out great, even though I had to use Nestles Quik instead of real cocoa, since at our house we didn’t even know what real cocoa was like. Experience and Mrs. Diaz’s homemaking class have been the best teachers in my life. But I’ve had my share of meals gone wrong. Let’s explore three of them, shall we?

The Shish Kebob:
We’d only been married a year or so. For some ungodly reason I had allowed myself to agree to a dinner invitation at my house for my husband’s co-workers and boss. I decided something elegant would be shish kebob, like my mother-in-law made sometimes. I fixed the little creatures up on bamboo sticks, not knowing you are supposed to soak them first. I had my little portable barbeque on the deck, while the crowd was in the house, socializing. The briquettes were ready. I laid them on the fire. Drip drip. Flare flare. FLARE! FLARE! FLAME! Yikes!! Moving them around didn’t do any good, the bbq was too small. Things were getting sooty. I thought I had heard that people would spritz the coals with water to cool them down. I had some drinking water. All I could think of was to put out the flame; not that splashing water on it would put out the coals. Oops. Well, some of the coals were still hottish. Dinner was already late. Bad news, the meat was still pretty undone. Good news, everything was black enough, you couldn’t tell. So I pronounced that dinner was served. I don’t think they noticed.

The Ham Dinner:
Ham has always been my favorite meat. We would usually have a nice big ham half for holiday dinners. A nice fatty rind that would baste the meat as it slow-cooked, its pink smokiness tenderly yielding to the carving knife. I had this vision in mind when I was asked to plan a dinner for my husband’s and his family’s Masonic lodge. I put the order in to the local meat shop for enough ham for about 50 to 60 people. I remember that I had powdered mashed potatoes planned and that I was going to make gravy from the ham drippings – don’t ask me what I was thinking, remember, I didn’t have that much experience yet. It sounded like a good idea. The afternoon came and I was down at the hall waiting for the person who was bringing me the ham. She handed me the white paper-wrapped packages and I opened them I saw… ham lunchmeat. That’s what it looked like to me. Shaped and formed rectangles of sliced ham tied with string into three inch thick packages with heating instructions. No juicy drippings, no tenderness, just thin flat pink squares. There was nothing much I could do about it. I heated them up and served them. I ran to the store and bought enough envelopes of instant gravy mix to go on the potatoes. What a boring meal! I was mortified.

The Cornish Game Hens:
For approximately 10 years following when I served 2 cute little Cornish game hens for dinner one night, but husband would not let me utter the words “Cornish game hens” in his presence. You must know, I understood and practiced good sanitation in the kitchen, especially with raw poultry. I didn’t cross-contaminate, I washed everything properly, I cooked the hens till they were thoroughly done. But I guess in the real world, anything could happen. And, while I remained perfectly healthy, my husband didn’t. In a very noisy way. All night. You might can imagine. Then again, maybe not. I guess that Liquid Smoke flavoring I basted them with began to pall after a few hours. Anyway, after he was properly recovered, he whispered, “Don’t even say C…ish G… H…ns ever again.” After all this time, I can now say it, but I still can’t cook them for him.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I'm SAD, you're SAD, we're all SAD, Hee hee Hah ha Aaaaaaayeee!

By now, I expect most people have heard of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. When I first read about it, I had an “Ah Ha!” moment. I had been confused as to why the dark days of winter seemed to cause lethargy and a certain “down” feeling. The reduction in light entering the brain from the shortening of days, the overcast skies, fog and rain causes chemical changes in the brain. So now I don’t have to slink around guiltily while turning on lights; it’s my mental health prescription! I have lamps strategically placed in every dark corner. If something seems too dim, I yank out the 60 watt and replace it with 100 watts. My faves are the 200 watts.

At first I was all in favor of the new twirly energy saving bulbs. My reason was that now I could have a virtual 100 watts in outlets only rated for 60. But gradually, the wicked truth of these bulbs emerged. When it’s cold and dark, the time when you really need that blast of light, they have to warm up. I stagger into the kitchen at 6 AM and turn on the spots over the sink. Two anemic little eyes glow balefully back at me as I stare at them hatefully. Over the course of about 5 minutes, they come to something near their official lumens. When my husband comes into the bathroom he never fails to make the comment, “Time to light the torches!” as he flicks on the light bar over the counter. So I just leave them on most of the time. I have a fear that someday I’ll look for some nice warm incandescents and they just won’t be in the stores. So I’m starting to hoard them when I find them cheap.

Another curious prescription for this malady is food. Yes, food. But not just any food. You need foods that are all those things you don’t normally eat when you are trying to lose weight, to eat healthily, to exhibit self-control, etc. And this brings me to the day before yesterday…

It was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it was a dark and stormy day. The first big fall storm here in California, remnants of a typhoon somewhere else on the globe. It hit with a blast, but I was prepared with good plans. I was going to roll my coin stash while watching an action video. I had every light on the house on. I gave myself permission to open my husband’s big bag of M&Ms and filch a little cup of them. I had a couple of good books scattered around for later. Then, disaster. The power went off at 11:30 AM. And stayed off. It was dark and windy outside. It was dark and gloomy inside.

When I went to pick up my son at school, I suggested we pick up something for dinner, since the range is electric. He didn’t hesitate: Winco fried chicken. Deep fried. And potato wedges, seasoned and deep fried. I felt like an addict relapsing as I threw things in the cart. A replacement bag of M&Ms, since the other one was almost gone by now, and the worst of all, I kid you not, a box of Ho Ho’s. What was I thinking? I was not thinking, I was medicating.

When I was a kid, Ho Ho’s were my absolute favorite of the snack cakes. I loved how convoluted and complicated they were. Ding Dongs came out at the same time, but I disdained them. Simple little slugs of chocolate cake with a splat of crème and dipped in chocolate coating. But Ho Ho’s, they were thin little square cake-lettes spread with crème and then artfully rolled up and dipped in chocolate coating. You could dismantle them with your fingers and mouth, eating the component parts. The flavor was rich and chocolaty and sweet.

It had been a long, long time. After my son and I watched a DVD on my laptop plugged into my travel trailer, ate the fried meal, came back into the dark house and lit candles and oil lanterns, we dived into the box of Ho Ho’s. Contents: 12 rolls. 6 apiece. Would it be enough? But a funny thing happened. They didn’t taste as good as I remembered. They were sort of bland. It wasn’t as fun to unroll them and lick the crème off. Where was the rich chocolaty taste? Where were the good feeling tones? I should have gotten Ben & Jerry’s. I don’t know how many I ate, but I gave the last two to my son.

So the good and the bad. There’s one less medication to help me on the dark days of winter. But, I won’t be tempted when I push the cart past the tower of Ho Ho’s that has been next to the eggs for the past 3 weeks. Now I’m wondering though. Would this be the same case for those wonderful little cupcakes with the white swirly across the top? And the Twinkies? Should I mess with memory and see if they are still good, or use this chance to find out they are not and remove the temptation?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cooking for the 3rd (Warning! Probably Tedious)

Unless you know me, Civil War Reenacting, and our unit cooking, you are highly likely to find this post tedious. But just in case certain people are interested, and just in case I forget how it all went and need to go back and look, I am going to spell out the weekend’s worth of cooking for the 3rd US Artillery at Kearny Park Fresno Reenactment.

This was the last of my 3 major cooking episodes for this event year for the California Historical Artillery Society. My roster showed that I had about 17 for dinner on Friday, and anywhere from 25 to 30 for the remainder of the meals. It turned out that there were only about 13 on Friday and 28 to 32 for the rest of the meals.

Friday night:
We arrived around 4pm. Good Ol’ M.J., J.B., and William had just set up the cook tent and were contemplating the next step- the fly, when we drove up with the forge and my huge pile of stuff. I was HAPPY the tent was up, as that isn’t always the case. I had planned on Chili Beans, salad (a constant at the meals) apple pie (already made) and cornbread in a dutch oven.
The beans: I don’t care as much for chili powder as I do paste made from whole chilis, (pasillas) so I had made up a jar of that. I opened cans of pintos and kidney beans, added canned crushed tomatoes, lots and lots of ground beef (ground from cross rib roasts on sale. I can’t stand to use the pre-ground stuff) and cumin, garlic, oregano, lemon juice. They were good.
The cornbread: Didn’t happen. Of course no one built a fire until way too late for that. I had to use the French bread for the following night instead.
The pie: I have to admit, it was about the best I’ve made. Braeburns and Golden Delicious, about 2 to 1. A pinch of cloves, lots of cinnamon. A big splash of orange juice, mostly brown sugar, some white.
Notes to self: Never ever plan on cooking anything over the fire the first night. Start the food before you think you should. I had to hustle to get the beans done in time. It’s not nice to still be cooking after dark!

Saturday breakfast:
The horror of this was that the First Sgt called for breakfast to be a 7 am! That was actually reveille! But officer’s call was at 8 am. Food was done just after 7:30, and they still made officers call.
The bacon: Oh it was lovely! Thick and meaty. I pointed to the stack of bacon in the meat case I wanted, but when my back was turned, the clerk started pulling it from the back where it was more fatty. I noticed and politely reminded her that I wanted the other. I got 6 pounds. As I cooked it over the propane, I kept it warm in a dutch oven over the fire.
The eggs: One flat. One flat just exactly fits in the big cast iron skillet along with a huge lake of bacon grease. Yum!
The fruit: Cantaloupe and grapes. The melon was the sweetest I’d ever tasted.
The oatmeal: I cooked it an hour ahead and it stayed hot until time to eat, giving me more time for the other stuff. It amazes me how many people like oatmeal! Served with sides of raw washed sugar, raisins and pecans.
Other stuff: Although burrito sized tortillas would hold everything better, I bought the soft taco size. They are MUCH cheaper, and people don’t want that much bread anyway. I surreptitiously watched the captain try to roll up his portion in it until he finally gave up and used a fork. Cheese and salsas to dress it all.
Notes to self: When making a huge batch of oatmeal, add extra water or it is too too thick, and stop cooking it just this side of mushy, since it gets more mushy.

Saturday Noon:
The battle times were strange, so lunch wasn’t until about 2pm. So I set out apples and donated cookies and spice cake for snacks. Also, there are ALWAYS goobers available!
The lunchmeat: I had wonderful quality smoked turkey and Italian roast beef. Tillamook cheddar and swiss cheese.
The Bread: A disappointment. The little sandwich buns were a little too small and dried out quick. They only looked big in the store because of my new glasses, I realize now. But I did get two packages of whole grain little sandwich flatbreads which were very popular. If they had had more on the shelf, I would have gotten them. I also put in the leftover tortillas into the bread basket.
The salad: (yawn) iceberg mix.
More fruit: sliced peaches. apples.
The Macaroni salad: Made at home the day before. Yes, I followed directions for the portions, but made far too much. But noodles are cheap, so I didn’t mind. I had to flavor it up with lemon juice, as it always gets bland after is sets awhile.
The Cookies: Today’s cookies were the molasses crinkles. Hugely popular. What works very well is to make them (2 batches), cook them, and then freeze them in Ziploc freezer bags until the event.
The Special Beverage: I had brought a 2 liter bottle of my homemade ginger ale. While the troops were finishing their lunch, I wrapped a towel around the plastic bottle, hung a bunch of blue willow cups on my fingers, and walked it around, offering samples. I strained it through a little sieve. The best compliment was from one of the guys who said, “This ginger ale kicks @ss!”
Notes to self: Walmart has the best little sandwich buns. Food Maxx has the best produce and fruit. Winco has the best price/quality lunchmeat and cheese.

Saturday Night
The stew: Blanded up on me! Not bad, but not wonderful either. So that irritates me. I’d made it at home. I notice how many people pour off the juice to get the meat. I may quit with the homemade stew…
The cornbread: So it was cornbread instead of French bread, since I used that for the chili beans. It turned out very nice, only a little over done on some of the bottom. I made 2 big dutch ovens of it. The hard part was cooking it over wood coals instead of briquettes. Makes it more magic than science getting it right. It was very popular.
The rice: Which I forgot to cook, so we didn’t have any.
Salad: (yawn)
The dessert: Ahhh… I had made my old favorite. Lemon pound cake. It is a wonderful, rich cake. I made raspberry sauce and whipped cream to spoon over it.
Notes to self: I’m tempted to make the cornbread up ahead and just heat it up, but it is SO good, fresh out of the dutch oven.

Sunday morning:
The Ham: This is definitely the way to go. Bacon on Saturday, ham on Sunday. A real ham, not those wimpy deli things, or the dry spiral ones. Baked ahead of time, sliced, foil wrapped, and heated in a dutch oven over the fire.
Everything else: The same as Saturday. Except variations in the fruit, like honeydew melon.
The pineapple upside down cake: Didn’t happen. There was the other pound cake that didn’t get cut into, so I served that with the raspberry sauce I still had lots of.
Notes to self: The ham takes longer than you’d think to heat, so get it in early! You should know by now!

Sunday lunch:
Same as Saturday, but with the addition of potato chips
The cookies: Sugar cookies this time, the “One Half” recipe. I call it that because almost all the ingredients are one half of something.

Other stuff:
Coffee. The previous cook handed down his method, which works like a charm and you don’t end up with the over-cooked sludge in the bottom. Boil water in big coffee pot. Measure out grounds in tin dough riser. Pour boiling water over them. Wait 6 minutes. Set coffee strainer in sieve and place in pot. Pour coffee through them until the grounds start to come out. Keep warm on edge of fire.
Lemonade. I just can’t bring myself to use CountryTime. But we had to on Sunday because I ran out.

And that’s it. I’ve been asked to be provisioner for next year, and have accepted. But I want more free time, so I’ll be compromising with canned things and pre-made things more than I did this year. But I’ll make up for it with the molasses cookies!