Saturday, December 22, 2012

Just Take a Walk!

If you know me, you know I love to take walks. I like to walk in the good weather and the bad. When we were little kids, we would dash outside barefoot, in shorts, and with an umbrella to walk up and down the country lane to enjoy the elements.

Where we recently moved isn't normally associated with regular snow, but we got a real treat for the Christmas time- Snow! It snowed off and on all day, interspersed with drizzle and freezing rain. Feeling like a kid again, I pulled on my rain shoes (no bare feet anymore!), my warm jacket, got my umbrella and my camera. I had a lovely walk, and I experienced so many moments that I would not have in my memory if I had stayed on the warm couch or drove my truck around.

The first sign that the snow might stick for awhile was the view of the rooftops from the second story window.

All the fireplugs here in town are painted an old-fashion red with a lucky silver top. They shone so brilliantly against the snow-dimmed earth colors and the gray sky, I had to smile and admire them.

Before I had gone a few steps down the sidewalk, up popped this green shrub with glowing red berries that seemed to melt the snowflakes with their fiery light.

I had to bend down for a closer look.

This fence along the sidewalk moved my eyes down the road like a series of flashing arrows.

By now, you may be noticing the little color theme in my pictures, RED! I didn't realize it until I reviewed them, but every shot has some item of red, a cherry glow of color in the wintery landscape.

I strode confidently along the icy walk with the help of my walking stick to save me from any slips. Approaching the side entrance to the mall, I heard the unmistakeable Eeeee Eeeee Eeeeee (think really high-pitched) of the cedar waxwing. I looked up into the sumac tree that was part of the landscaping and saw the little beauties, their pretty tail borders flashing yellow as they cutely ate the little berries. I also admired the fat robins sharing the tree with them.

I may have been more compelled to take a snow picture of my own truck if it were red like this one!

I kept walking, and decided to cross over the freeway on the pedestrian side of the bridge. I became aware of a man walking towards me, going the other direction. I like to meet people in the eye as I pass them, at least briefly, unless I perceive they might be annoyed at that. This fellow had a wide, white-toothed smile. He looked like he was about 65 or 70, thin and hatted. I smiled also, as we closed the gap. In spite of spectacles, his pale blue eyes stared ahead brilliantly. I thought they were looking at me, but then I wasn't sure as he passed by and they still stared at a spot over my shoulder. His skin was pale, chapped, with a white bristly chin. But the smile! It stayed fixed in place, wide and frozen. I decided that either he was a happy happy person, or it was his natural grimace against the cold wind.

If it hadn't been drizzling at the moment, I would have taken another picture up on the bridge approach. I already think that manzanita is a pretty tree-lett, with its twisty mahogany bark and gray-green evergreen leaves, but this wet trunk was gorgeous! The red trunk was a deep maroon brown with black crevasses where the bark had had an old injury. I had to stop and admire the depth of the color and take a picture in my brain.

Gray, white, black with shots of red! It always caught my eye.

Back at my place, I went outside on the patio, scooped up a handful of snow and put it in a Ziplock sandwich baggie and into the freezer. I guess I felt like I just needed something else to last of the day besides my pictures and the memory.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Great Anniversary Tasting Tour, Pt. 3

And now we come to the final installment of the Anniversary Tour. We spent the night at the Best Western Plus in Eureka. The room was comfy and convenient to the activity/pool/breakfast rooms. The only downside was the noise from the room above. Every floorboard seemed squeaky and creaky, kind of a strange thing for a motel. We heard every time someone got up in the night. But when you are on vacation and plan on sleeping in, it doesn't matter as much.

I was very impressed with the activity area. Part was enclosed, part was not. Part was covered, part was not. The floor was concrete, the ceiling was wood beams and such. There were patio furniture arrangements and tall propane patio burners to keep the temperature comfortable when the mist rolled in. Bright lights beamed down from fixtures (no dim fluorescents). Not only was there a pool, but there was a pool table. I was pitiful, never having played before. I finally begged off, letting my husband play against himself. This was MY kind of backyard patio!

After tooling around a little and enjoying yet another Starbucks (did we ever go to the same one twice?), it felt like we could make an early lunch at Eel River Brewery.

It's kind of neat how the breweries pick a geographical icon to make part of their logo, helping you remember the place, showing their pride in the place, making the art unique, and generally keeping the feel of the whole thing culturally local. I like that. Off hand I can think of: Sutter Buttes Brewing, Yuba City, the old water tower; Eel River, Fortuna, the old arched bridge that we crossed over to get into the town; Mad River, the leaping salmon; Redwood Curtain, the coastal redwoods (which only grow in the Pacific Northwest)... what significant figure would you put on a hometown brew you ran?


(We had hunted up Humbolt Brewing in Arcata, since that was one we had not been able to get to many years ago when we came (also for our anniversary!). But when we found out they had sold the brewing operations to an out of state company, we weren't interested anymore.)

Eel River taproom had two options, to eat inside or out, in a pretty picnic-looking area. We chose inside, with a good view of the brewboard. We decided to go with the individual sampler order route, and chose the Amber Ale, Porter, Triple Exultation, Ravens Eye, Onyx, Brown Ale, Cali Pale Ale, and Fortuna Fog.


They were all very good! All my notes have details like, "Best!" "Good!" "Rich" "Keeps up with other porters!" Of course, with so many tastings in a couple days, my main goals were to come across that specially good brew that pops up sometimes, and to decide which brewery was consistently good with its offerings. I think, after visiting Eel River, that I can confidently buy a variety out of the cold case knowing that it will be good. Noteworthy were the Onyx, which was Cascadian dark ale, and the Ravens Eye, a Russian Imperial Stout that compares favorably to North Coast's Old Rasputin.

Since we drove on home after this, via Hayfork (who would have thought such a vibrant little community would exist out in the middle of the mountainous nowhere?), you might think this was end of the tour. But no, I'm going to stick on a place we visited last weekend after a visit to beautiful Burney Falls.

You might imagine all kinds of reasons the town of Weed got its name, but they will probably be wrong. It is actually the last name of the man who founded it, a lumber guy. Since another kind of weed is sort of well-known in the general vicinity of the area, the Mount Shasta Brewing Company plays it up, rather than down. (why wouldn't they use the iconic image and aura of the famous and beautiful Mt. Shasta? Well, when I see that, I think of Shasta Cola.) They don't use the image of the plant so much, but they do have burlap marijuana sacks in their decor and brag to get your legal weed here!

The brewery was retrofitted from a historic creamery, giving lots of ambiance. You feel like you have stepped into an old feed store that someone has turned into their beer garage/den/lodge/pub. The brewing room is at one side and the bottling room is at the other. I'd love to come back when both are in operation. I think there would be a lot of going back and forth between the two and a lot to see.

This flight was amazing!


Since there was so much, we decided to share it, me generously offering all but a taste of the IPA to my husband.

I couldn't believe how good these were; each one was better than the next! When I started out, and I found the Golden lager not only drinkable, but something I would actually buy, I knew I was in for a treat. We worked our way through the regulars and then the seasonals. The Amber Ale was good enough that we bought a bottle of it. The Vanilla ESB deserves a special mention. I would never have put the two together, but it worked. It was like vanilla cream soda... but... beer. Unfortunately, it was only on tap, and we weren't prepared to buy a growler at that time.

Another special note was the Jalapeño Golden Ale. Forty pounds of jalapeño peppers will do a magnificent number on a barrel of beer. If you enjoy hot peppers and you like beer, trust me, you'll like pepper beer, and this is some of the best.

So that ends the Great Anniversary Tasting Tour. I hope you enjoyed it and are inspired to seek out the microbreweries in your area and get a taste of what they have to offer!

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Great Anniversary Tasting Tour, Pt. 2

Before we left home, I had looked up the various microbreweries in the Eureka/Arcata area and I found one that was fairly new, Redwood Curtain Brewery. They did not bottle; it only was served in the taproom. It was during that Happy Hour time between Tea and Supper, so we found the place and went in. It was in a peculiar location, sort of a newer metal-building strip mall type place. Everything inside looked clean, tidy and attractive. But sort of industrial. Not the cozy pub that I'd prefer, but ahh well.

Definitely worth a side trip if you are in the area. And the tasting reminded me of a past realization of how each breweries wares are connected in their flavor palate. They may be wildly different styles, but there seems to be an underlying connection between them all. And the description of each underlined that. "...with our proprietary yeast strain."

The confusing thing about this tasting thought, was the numbering on the board. At one point I thought I was tasting a different one and trying to make sense out of it, and then felt foolish when I realized it was something completely different. Look at the board and see if you don't agree!

The most interesting one was the Flaming Sombrero, AKA Rauchbier. The smoked malt really infused this. I'd probably return if in the area; though the beer wasn't in the "best" category, it was certainly good enough, with enough choices. There were no logo pints, so we bought one of the cute "half growlers" full of Imperial Golden Ale. The logo is sort of strange, pretty, but just sort of, well, not right, somehow. Maybe too symmetrical and hard to figure out on the first glance. One fat double-headed tree with a hole cut in it? Two trees lined up? Any other ideas? And while I'm at it, "Curtain?" Just doesn't seem like the sort of word that goes with "beer" or "brewery" or "taproom." It has connotations of something closed off, like a kitchen window, or a shower curtain.


By now, being ready for a meal again, we checked into the motel and walked up the street to Lost Coast Brewery. It had been several years since I had been there, and had been tremendously impressed with their many-glassed sampler. I was newer to the game though, and was curious to see how they stacked up after seeing all the world class beers I'd had since.

Viewing the menu, I realized that I already was familiar enough with the ones I liked, and I wasn't interested in trying some of the others again. So we tried another tack--food pairings.

This was sort of like a tapas thing with four smaller items and four beers. It was actually quite a bit of food, even with the two of us sharing. And the small samples paired with them were the right way to go. The food was delicious and matched the samples well. I think we were both impressed with the red pepper jelly. It was something more tasty than either of us would have thought. I'd never had that, but would now be willing to try a jar sometime.

In hindsight, we zipped through more tastings in a day than was fair for judging each one well. But you work with the time given you!

Stay tuned for Part 3!


Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Great Anniversary Tasting Tour, Pt. 1

What's a nice way to celebrate an early November anniversary? Hard to think of a more enjoyable outing than a drive over to the coast, through dark green conifers splashed with the occasional fire of deciduous trees turning fluorescent yellow, purplish red and neon orange on a windy mountain road. And when the destination includes a few microbreweries yet unvisited, well that's even better.

We headed west on Hwy 299 towards Eureka/Arcata on the most beautiful fall day. Since this is mostly (supposed to be) a food column, the main subject will be the eating and drinking, with occasional nods to the scenery, etc.

Our first stop was at the Mad River Brewery in Blue Lake. I'm not sure we would have found it without the GPS; either that, or Nuvi just sent us winding around the loopty loops of the residential and older commercial sections for fun. Mad River products are only available in limited varieties and locations in my area, so I was interested in seeing what all they made.

The taproom was small and well-appointed, with a nice homey feel. I knew they had limited food options, namely snacks, but I didn't realize the snacks were like what you'd get at a convenience store; chips, nuts, candy, etc. We hadn't eaten yet and didn't want to kill our lunch appetite on that kind of stuff, but not enjoying drinks on an empty stomach, decided to order a limited sampler and share it.

We skipped the Double IPA because we already knew what it tasted like, very enjoyable, really, a killer ale when you feel up to the robust and rich IPA flavor. They were all quite nice. There were so many samples we tasted on this trip that I am not going to tediously describe each one, but focus mainly on the noteworthy ones. My husband was pleasantly surprised by the Jamaican Red, since he usually does not enjoy the reds. I agreed; it was very good. The biggest surprise was the porter. It was rich and complex, toasty and just right for snuggling up to on a cool fall evening. We left with our pint logo glass to add to the collection. Now that we were properly primed for lunch, we headed for our next stop, Six Rivers Brewery in Arcata.

I had never even heard of Six Rivers Brewery before I started investigating via the Internet for likely pubs. I found out that they do bottle their beer, but the market is pretty well limited to local and the Bay Area. It was set up on a knoll, giving a nice view out across the west to the edge of the coastline. It was painted an unfortunate shade of baby blue, which made me think of all those sky blue Chevy pickup trucks sold in the 70's and the shower rooms of municipal swimming pools. The inside was attractive, with lots of wood, familiar and obscure beer signs, centerpiece bar and full light from the picture windows.

It's too bad that when I think of Six Rivers Brewery, the things that come immediately to mind are, in order:

The flies. Even if fly control had been a complimentary fly swatted upon being seated, it would have been preferable to having them crawling on the glass beside my head, crawling on the floor in a square of sunlight, and flying around the table waiting for my party trick of clapping them to death with my hands.

The service. It was sort of spotty, but the worst came when some of the sample glasses started to empty. The server began clearing them out of the wooden rack in front of me. I'd never had the waiter try to remove sample glasses when I was only halfway through the flight! But the worst was that when I asked her to just leave them until I was finished with them, she insisted on taking them, and continued coming back for more each time one was empty. She also attempted to remove my husband's pint while there was still a sip left until he stopped her.

The food. Ok, it was my fault for agreeing to a plate of deep fried various appetizers, but I was in a weak moment. But even then, it could have been better. Some were good, but some were not. Such as the onion rings that were overcooked and also only had a thin paper onion ring inside the batter shell.

I did not realize when I ordered the whole flight that not only were there 10 of them, but they were about 5 oz each! So I needed my helper here.
We worked our way through the samples, and also through the sample appetizer platter. The IPA was good, tasted to type, well-balanced, probably the best of the lot. I was interested in the raspberry lambic, since I was curious for the taste of that style, but didn't want to buy a bottle. It was very fruity, tangy, a nice sour taste. The Peach Bavarian Wheat surprised me. I'm not normally a fan of fruit beers, but this one had a great natural peach taste, delicate and not overpowered with the mild wheat beer background. Couldn't finish the pumpkin.

So, it was very interesting and educational, and the pint logo glass is very pretty, but I wouldn't search a bottle out in the store to purchase.

Stay tuned for the next two samplers in our beer tour!


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bottling Day!

There is something compelling about the idea of filling all those bottles with my brew and stamping them with a professional-looking crimped pry-off lid. Besides the crafty pleasure of it, it also meant the end of the different processes and the beginning of just "wait and see."

But before I could get started on the fun part, I had to do the dull and tedious part. I had to wash and sanitize all those bottles. The bottles were actually quite clean already, but I didn't know their history, and I was not willing to do or not do ANYTHING to jeopardize this first batch! So I used my super duper brew equipment cleaner, Five Star PBW. Turned out a couple bottles had a residue sludge in the bottoms, and sure enough, that slid right out. So I washed, and then I rinsed, and then I rinsed again. And then I filled them with sanitizer, which was, thankfully, no-rinse, and set them upside down in a laundry basket to wait. (Note to self; investigate bottle washers)

I boiled the lids and set them aside. My eager assistant lent his back and carried the carboy to the counter. I siphoned off the brew, mixing it with the priming sugar.

There is nothing like a good siphon! A couple of pumps and everything is flowing.


I filled, and I let my assistant do the capping.

Having a helper really made this part go smoother. I didn't have to worry about needing another hand all of a sudden. We got the batch bottled and capped, and now we have to wait. If it ends up being tasty and good, you'll hear all about it. But if it is nasty, then we'll all just forget about it until the next batch!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Standing Computer Desk Upgrade!

I've been using my new ironing board standing keyboard station for my computer desk for a week or so now. And it has really worked out great! I can lay out the papers I need to refer to, set aside items I don't need in my way right now, it adjusts infinitely for perhaps a little sitting, perhaps a little video watching, the mouse glides well over it, and I can still iron clothes on it on Mondays! But the wart on the nose has been the pesky iron holder on the end. It would have been ok if my iron fit on it, but it is too narrow for my Rowenta. So every time I bumped it or it got in my way, it was not, "Oh that iron holder!" It was "Oh the annoying piece of useless %*#)^@!"

Then I got to thinking, if only it were a cup holder. A cup holder that was safe around computers for no tipping of cups. It took me about a week to come up with just the right "found object" to make it all work.

I dug out the lid to a bulk DVD case and tried it out. First I had to flex the metal flanges of the iron holder out a little bit. That allowed the DVD lid to wedge snugly in the gap. But since it was straight up and down, I didn't feel safe with a full glass in it; it might continue to slide on down. So I took two very short and fat wood screws and barely screwed them through the plastic just below the rims on opposite sides of the lid. These made nice little stops to make the holder secure, and since it is wedged, it doesn't swing. There is no way my cup can tip over since it is deep in the holder. 


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Bew Day, Pt. 3

So now I have this big pot of boiling liquid that I need to cool down, and for the best beer, it needs to cool down fast. But what I can't do is mess with it because that will introduce bacteria and wild yeasts. In the length of time it will take to cool down to pitch MY yeast, the other beasties might have already taken control. What I really need is a wort chiller.



This handy device is set into the boiling wort to sanitize it, and then you take the pot off the stove and set it in the sink or outside and hook up one end to a garden hose of cold water. The other hose runs somewhere that you might appreciate having some nice hot water, like a hot tub. Alas, maybe next time. This time, I had to use the "make-do" approach.

I had to stack some of my cast iron on top to keep the pot from floating, since the liquid did not come up higher than the water. I ran cold water through the bath for an hour, making a little river on the other side of the fence and down the asphalt to the drain. I tested it a couple times, and FINALLY it came down enough to finish this part. By now everything that came close enough to barely kiss the wort had to be sanitized, so I was spritzing everything in the vicinity.

After I poured the wort into the fermentation bucket, I added more filtered water to bring it up to the 5 gallon mark. I took a sample out to test for the specific gravity.


This basically tells you how much dissolved sugars there are in the water, which reveals the potential alcohol level. You take a sample after the fermentation, subtract the difference, and then you can have an idea of the actual alcohol level.

My sample showed the same reading that my instructions said it should, so I know I didn't forget to add anything!


By the next morning the vodka in the airlock was bubbling away, sort of like your kid breathing. And just like a new mom, I found myself checking the nursery, err, closet to see if it was still breathing.

I'll be checking back in for the next step, transferring to the secondary fermenter!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Brew Day, pt 2

My potion had steeped for a half hour in the hot water; now it was time to crank it up. The barley tea had to come to a full rolling boil. Gas gives you the most control; I wouldn't have done this with an electric stove top. A turkey fryer would have been excellent to get it on up there, but the gas stove top was ok. In the meantime, I wanted to warm up the Liquid Malt Extract, from henceforth known as LME. (Brewing is full of abbreviations, and if you don't want to look like a total novice, you nod and smile when they talk in alphabet-ese)

I knew from the demonstration a few days ago that this stuff is thick and sticky. Really, it's worse than honey for being hard to rake out of the plastic can. So I did the recommended thing; I set the can into a pan of hot water. (I didn't actually heat the water on the stove with the can in it though!) While the mixture cooked, I replenished the hot water periodically.

Into the rolling boil, my helper gradually poured the Dry Malt Extract, henceforth known as DME, while I stirred. DME is a lot like Carnation Malted Milk, but sweeter and stickier.

Next came something known as the "hot break." They talked a lot about this, and it was confusing until I realized what they were talking about. You know when you are boiling noodles, or making cream of wheat, or boiling up some other mixture of water and carbohydrates, and then it is boiling, and if you turn around for an instant to get a spoon or answer the phone you hear SSSSSSSXXXXXS! as it boils out of the pan all over your stove top? You know that you just have to get it past that point by stirring, turning down the heat or spritzing cold water over the foam, and then the danger is past; it safely boils along until it's done. Well that's what is happening here. A chemical change happens to the bonds that keeps it from that boil-over danger after that, or at least until you add new ingredients.

So I passed through the fire with my hot break with no boil-overs or other dangers.

I never let the directions get very far from my hot little hands.

There were three kinds of hops to be added, for bittering, flavoring, and aroma. The first two were added in the middle of the hour-long boil.

These hops were added at the end in a steeping bag.

Near the end of the boil, the LME was added. (Actually, it wasn't added in a passive manner; I added it myself!)

At this point I needed to cool the wort (rhymes with "dirt," not "wart.") and cool it quickly. The best device would be a copper coiled wort chiller, but I didn't have one, so I did the next best thing. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Brew Day, Pt. 1

It wasn't to save money; no, I'd be lucky if it didn't cost MORE money. It wasn't to make something better than I could buy; I'm not sure if I could even come up with something as good as I could buy. But tell me, why does any crafter, garment sewer, baker, artist, musician, have to make THEIR OWN? I don't know why, but I know it's true. And I wanted to Brew My Own.

I yo yo between liking wine and microbrew beers the best. But I think that a good ale probably comes out on top. I have thought how fun and satisfying it would be to craft my own someday, and the day finally came. The week we moved, I found the information for the local home-brew club, portentously called the SOBs. There is another "S" in front of it that stands for Shasta, but I forget what the SOB part really stands for right now. It's probably the fumes of the yeast bubbling out of the cute little airlock on the fermenter.

I'm really not much for mixes. I made a cake from scratch by myself when I was in probably the 5th grade. I didn't know it was from scratch; I thought making a cake from scratch meant you weren't allowed to use a recipe. When I get complemented on a baked item that was from a mix, I find myself babbling apologies, that it was just from a mix, and anyone could do it, etc. and ad nauseum, though I'm getting better at just saying "Thank you." But beer making was foreign to my skill set, and I REALLY wanted my first batch to turn out well. So I bought a kit.

The kit was put together by the local home-brew shop, and was a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone. I went into the store with all the brew stuff I had, and the owner went through it, pulling items off the wall that I needed to complete my set-up. The one item I looked longingly at on the shelf was a wort cooler, a bootlegger-ish looking copper coil set-up that would quick-cool the wort, buy immersing it into the hot wort and running cold water through the copper pipe. But alas, that wasn't for today. It was my intention to make one myself for the next batch. One thing that was great about this local-made kit is that the hops and the yeast for it were kept in the 'fridge for freshness. And he ground the malted barley for it right then and there.

The next day was Brew Day.

I assembled the ingredients and read through the instructions. I cleaned everything again.

One of the best things you can do for your brew is use good water. It's no wonder that's what the major brewing companies brag about the most. It shouldn't have too many of the wrong minerals. It shouldn't have NO minerals, like distilled. And it definitely should not contain chlorine, which is what our tap water contains. I have been using a PUR pitcher system for my drinking water. It takes out all traces of the chlorine, and it tastes very nice. I could have went out and bought some bottled water, but I wasn't sure if it would taste as good as this. So I just decided to filter what I needed, which became tedious, I'll admit.

Next time, I'll taste test the purified water from the machine at the grocery store and probably get that.
I put the large stainless steel brew kettle with 2 gallons of hard won water on the range to heat up. (Thank you, Mike, for having good taste in brew kettles!) I had to take the temperature up to 157, drop in the bag of cracked roasted barley, and keep the temperature as close to 154 as I could for 30 minutes. There I found myself lacking a tool that would have made that easier--a long cooking thermometer that clips to the side of the kettle. The best one I had was a short instant read device, which I kept sticking into the water to make sure it wasn't heating up too much. One benefit was that I got to keep sniffing at the aromatic barley tea I was making. Yum!

Apparently, this part of the barley stuff was only for color and mouthfeel. The serious business was the barley malt extract. That's what would feed the yeast and create the beer.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

Friday, October 12, 2012

For a Standing Computer Station

I was going crazy trying to think of a thrifty way to have a lecturn-ish thingy to put my keyboard and mouse on to use in front of my computer. I had already put the computer monitor up on a monitor stand, which put it at just the right level.  For awhile I used my Peak folding music stand, but it wasn't sturdy enough in the horizontal position to work well.  Finally, I thought of this. I only use my ironing board once a week, and there it was, just lounging around, sitting in my closet the other 6 days of the week! Lazy thing, I'll put you to work!

It's great! Nice and long, for arranging pieces of work. It adjusts up and down nicely. The padded fabric surface is perfect for mousing. I like my keyboard tilted away from me, making it more ergonomic. I happen to have a longish,  thick gauge glass (if you look right under the monitor, you'll see it resting there) that I just prop under the front edge of the wireless keyboard, which puts it at the right angle to keep my wrists straight.

The only thing is the stupid iron rest attached to the end of the ironing board. I was happy to get it, that is, until I got it home and realized that it wasn't meant for a nice wide Rowenta iron. Oh well, I'm sure I'll think of a good use for it, maybe make it into a cup holder.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Brand New Adventurous Project!

Guess what I'm going to do????

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Things

There are a lot of new service providers to choose once you move to a new town, a new area. You have to find a new doctor, a new auto mechanic, a new dentist and optometrist. Most of it is pretty tedious. But I always enjoy trying out all my available options in my quest for a new...

Grocery Store! Yes, the most important shopping experience of my daily life. I spend more time there than any other shopping location, at least once a week, and what I get impacts every day of cooking and eating. Back in my previous town, I had settled on Winco. Winco was great for low prices and good selection. Sometimes the produce seemed, well, one-day-oldish, and the meat selection, while extremely affordable, was not that great. There was a lack of anything organic, and I didn't buy ice cream there. It seemed a little re-frozen sometimes. So I made up for the lack by shopping for other things at Raley's, BelAir, New Earth Market, filling in the gaps. Sometimes that made for a tiring shopping experience!

Now that I was only going to be cooking for two, I could afford to not pick a store based primarily on price, though that would be a consideration. Freshness, good price, an expanded meat market, cleanness, convenient location, some organics, variety in produce-- those were on my list.

All roads lead to Walmart. It seems to be the first place you visit when you are setting up house. Our Walmart is a humungous, brand new facility. I was more than a little annoyed though that the floor plan was not the same as all the rest. It was different, and I wandered around for a long time, getting my bearings. Walmart is not bad to pick up a few things, but I couldn't make it MY grocery store. It is crowded, both the parking lot and the store, at all hours, and the checkers are few. The groceries are ok, but when you carry everything, you can't carry a lot of it, even if the store is the size of all of Lemoncove.

I did try the local Raley's. It is obviously a smaller, older store. It is not bad, but seems more like a neighborhood market, not one to drive across town for.

I also went to the local Winco. It is across the boulevard from Walmart. It is also humungous, and it is also very crowded. I did not feel the magic.

Then I visited the newer, close-to-me Safeway store. What a nice place! The butcher was very helpful, and they carry all sorts of meats. The produce aisle is an exciting place to mill around in. There is a Starbucks inside, and also a Starbucks at the other end of the parking lot. A CVS is right next door, and on the other side is a Lowes. So I'm done looking, and that's a good feeling!

Still to ponder is the Costco option, now that I live in a town that actually has one close by.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Tread Desk

Here you have one super custom tread desk. I made it this afternoon with a piece of 1"x12" pine board.

I tried reading while walking 1mph on my treadmill yesterday, and it was actually quite nice. I held my book, which was ok, but if I have a newspaper, a laptop, a letter to write, then I know I'll want to have a flat surface in front of me. Also, I tend to move forward on the treadmill until my toes brush the housing in front, which is ridiculous because there is a mile of belt behind me-- I won't fall off the back! This table will keep my body away from running up the front of the treadmill.

I wanted the board to not rest on top of the hand controls (fast/slow, up/down), so I cut holes out with my jigsaw. I cut ovals from painters tape out of the shapes I needed and laid them sticky side up on top of the controls. Then I carefully set the board down in place and then picked it up again. The tape stuck to the spots I needed to cut out.

It was sort of handy; like almost all 1"x12" pine boards, it was cupped a little bit. The way the arms of the treadmill are, that worked out perfectly for the setting of the board, with the cupping flaring up.

I wanted ends on the board, though I didn't really need them. But because of the curve, I couldn't use a solid piece of 1"x2". It wouldn't have touched evenly across the end. So I cut 3" pieces and screwed them on, after pre-drilling.

Ta da!


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Deep Fry!

I've never been a deep fry type of person. Not that I don't love fried things, No Siree! French fries from the oven? Yeah yeah, they're all right. But fresh from the fry basket at a fast food restaurant? Yum! Microwaved corn dogs? Yawn; edible, anyway. But from the little window of the food vendor at the county fair? Just gimme the yellow mustard! And the crunchy crispiness of the fish in a basket of fish and chips can't be beat.


But it's a pain at home. The oil. The smoke. Regulating the temperature of the oil. You're afraid to get it too hot, so you err on keeping it too cold, so it takes too long and the food isn't crispy enough. I used to have a Fry Baby, and it worked pretty well the time or two I used it. But I just couldn't get excited about it for some reason.


And then Melinda showed up with a new little Cuisinart deep fryer and asked me to borrow it for a little while. I'm used to that sort of request. I think I am her test kitchen. I use a small household appliance, try out some recipes, learn some tips and then turn it back over to her so she can merrily use it.


It was so cute, that in spite of my "been there, done that" attitude on deep fry, I was game. What I like is that it has a lid with a carbon filter over the vent, so it minimizes the fry odors that escape. It also holds in any popping of the oil. It has a very nice temperature control set up and "heating" and "ready" lights. It is also smallish, so it doesn't use much oil.


I had a time of it when I went to plug it in. First I had to read lots of dire warnings to NOT use an EXTENSION cord! The cord is SHORT on PURPOSE! I know about the need for short cords. Years ago, my favorite TV show was "Rescue 911," hosted by William Shatner. In one of the episodes, a grandma was frying up taco shells in an electric wok for her grandkids. The wok was on a card table set a few feet away from the plug-in, leaving a kid-sized gap bridged by an electrical cord. Of course, you know what happened. One of the boys ran through that space, pulling the wok of boiling grease on to himself. Of course it had a happy ending because Granny called 911 and they told her to douse the tot in cold water until the paramedics arrived.


I seemed to be having some trouble plugging this appliance cord into the fryer though. It would only go in about a quarter of an inch and then it stopped. I pushed. I turned the plug the other way. Finally I got in close and inspected it. Amazing! It didn't "plug" into the fryer; it was held in place with a magnet! So any little tug on the cord would not move the fryer. It would pop off. Wonderful! You wonder how many people were burned before they came up with this.


I decided to make chicken nuggets for my first project. I used the method from the booklet that came with it. I cut the nuggets from boneless, skinless chicken thighs, dredged them in flour, shook off the excess, dipped them in egg wash (an egg whisked with a little water. I can't bear to use my Godfrey Family Farms Cage Free eggs for that, so I use cheap Winco eggs) and shook off the excess, and then dropped the nuggets in a bowl of seasoned Italian bread crumbs. I left the nuggets on a plate in the 'fridge while I got everything else ready. That helps the crumbs stay on during the cooking.


For cooking them, I did not use the basket. More nuggets at a time fit without using it. Instead, I used one of my favorite tools, a skimmer often used with Asian cooking. It has a bamboo handle and looks like a wire dream catcher at the end. They only took a couple minutes, and Oh! how delicious! Crispy and hot, juicy and tender. And not that greasy. My next project will be some sort of seafood. But I think for chicken nuggets alone, this device is worth the cupboard space!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Point Reyes Backpacking 2012, Pt 4

I spent a surprisingly warm night at Wildcat. When I peeked out from the tent flaps, I saw the reason why. A mist had settled over the campground, wisping and floating in a sea-gray way. 

A foggy morning just shouts for a hot cup of coffee!

Today was our last day on the trail. We had planned on getting underway around 8 to 9am, though there was no big hurry. Melinda “The Trailmaster” had figured it all out, that we would arrive at the Palomarin trailhead in the vicinity of noon. We would decide whether or not to stop for a lunch break when we saw what our leaving time was. Or driver was to pick us up at 12:30pm.

So we messed around. We went down to the beach to see if those nice Wigwam hiking socks were still abandoned in the sand. (they were; I took them) We drank our coffee, made breakfast, got dressed, looked at the birds, and took down the tents and packed them wet, since we could lay them out at home later that day. 

Once we finally hit the trail, we were shocked to note that it was almost 10:30. That would make our arrival closer to 1 or 1:30, if we did not stop for lunch. But we figured our driver wouldn’t start to worry until after an hour of waiting had passed. But we did step up the pace.

The trail was simple this day, no forks to get lost on.

 The only sort of side trip we took was where the Coast Trail split around the little lake and gave a nice view of the ocean on a little ledge sporting a sturdy little bench. I could feel a surprising strength in my legs as I strode along. It had been 3 days of good, solid hiking with a fair amount of ups and downs, but I was good for it. I’m sure that the vision of my husband whom I hadn’t seen for several days waiting at the base of the trailhead steps also gave wings to my feet.

Some of the interesting characteristics of the trail had to do with erosion. You could see many places where the trail was the handiest place for water to run down, with the anticipated results—gullies for trails. The gullies were very hard to walk in because they were only about as wide as a stride. So if you lined up one foot in front of the other, it worked. But if you swayed a bit, and a foot had to step out a little keep your balance, then it got tricky. Because there wasn’t room to put a foot aside. So what would happen is that the feet stayed lined up and the wobble was taken up by everything on up from the feet. I’m the swaying of my arms and backpack looked suspiciously like too much grape juice or a neurological problem. When it got too bad, someone had just started another trail up on the turf beside the gully, where you could hop up and continue on. More than once, I straddled the gully-trail, walking along on the shoulders.

We snacked on the way. I had brought a handful of Larabars. They were really nice! Such a simple product, which is why I like them so much. The base is just dates. Another couple of ingredients are added, and then imaginative names are applied. Add pecans and almonds, and call it Pecan Pie. Add dried cherries and almonds, and call it Cherry Pie. Add unsweetened coconut shreds, cashews and almonds, and call it Coconut Cream Pie. Add lemon, cashews and almonds and call it Lemon Pie. If I ate them all the time, I’d probably try to make them myself.

Each trip, we try to think of The Treat. What treat can we bring that may have no nutritional value at all but is necessary for general morale? At Olohne, we ate Sees Peanut Brittle. Pikes Peak was caramel corn one year and Paydays the next. The caramel corn was good, but a big pain to handle the pieces. The Payday was good, but I didn’t want the peanuts this year. I didn’t want to deal with chocolate and it’s melty mess. I’m not fond of hard candy, though we all enjoyed an occasional lemon drop from Melinda’s snacks. So after indulging in one of my favorite hobbies, mentally cataloging my favorite candy bars, I decided to buy Big Hunks for the trip. I got a bag of snack size ones to help me stagger them out throughout the trip, and also to share.

The Big Hunks were great! In the heat of the day, they were nice and soft, but not melty. If they were harder, I’d just make sure to gnaw them more carefully to not pull out fillings. The only change I’d make is to bring the regular sized ones next time. It was annoying to have to work with all the little papers to peel off each time I wanted a bite. It always made more than one piece of trash, and invariably I ate two at a time anyway.

We hurried right along, noticing the spot where we had taken a lunch break the previous year. Melinda was the one who recognized it. It had been foggy then, and today it was bright sunshine, so it looked completely different. We strung out along the trail a little more today as we neared Palomarin. The cliffs there are magnificent. And one thing that makes them magnificent is their danger. They are crumbly and go straight down a hundred feet or more to the bit of beach and rocky surf. We were starting to meet day hikers going for a walk along the cliff trail. Nola was behind, out of sight a few curves back.

Have you ever met a stranger who seemed to hit some deep unconscious sense in you with an aura of, well, maybe not evil, but with something maybe, “off,” something that makes you draw back, feel cautious, be suspicious? I met a man on the trail like that. The meeting was brief, just a whiff in passing as he strode by with his trekking poles. He didn’t look or speak to us, not in a bad way, not in a good way. I didn’t analyze it, didn’t speak of it, just noted it. Shortly afterwards, Nola caught up.

“Hey! Some serial killer could have just pushed me off the cliff. Just a little poke and I’d be gone! No one to see, and he would have just kept walking!”

Now that was peculiar talk from Nola. So I asked.

“What made you think of that? Was it perhaps about the time that last hiker passed by?”

“Yes! Something about him…”

Who can say?

Finally we were in sight of the stairs, then end of our journey. I dashed ahead and stood their looking into the windshield of the truck at the head of my husband, passing the waiting time by reading. He felt my gaze, I’m sure! And looked up at me. He pulled the truck closer and then got out, smiling at me. I beamed at him. He drew closer. I reached out to him, and I handed him my camera.

“Here, take our picture!”

(Unknown to us, he had thought we said to pick us up at 11 or so. He didn’t want to be late, so had waited from about 10:30 to 1:30, when we finally arrived. So now we know how much better we need to be about communicating and confirming our times!”