Baby Steps

After mentioning my rib rub mixture the other day, I decided to make some more and went on a search for the recipe.  Now, along with the baby steps in organizing my life such as this blog vs. daily thoughts on pieces of paper and pictures which never coalesce into any form, I keep a file on my computer of all my recipes (well, mine and others).

It's really nice.  Under recipes I have set up files for "Baking", "Beef", "Chicken, eggs, etc.", "Drinks", "Fish", "Fruits", "Lamb, curries, etc", well you get the idea.  I love it, no more oddball pieces of paper to corral!  And I can paste a photo onto the recipe, something that never happens with scraps of paper.  I started doing this when I made a cookbook in 1992 to give to family and friends for Christmas.  Then I slacked off and years went by.  About 2 years ago, I took the cookbook files and as I sort through the forest of papers that has become my life, I type up any recipes that surface and scan the pics into the computer, then toss the paper.  It's quite freeing and is fabulous when you want a recipe...no more digging through piles of paper and magazines!

Now there still are some glitches in my system, such as when I'm developing a recipe.  I wind up with a collection of print outs from recipe sites and then take the most common ingredients used across all plus a few extra things I think might work.  I make notes all over them as I go about what to try in the next batch.  Till I finalize it, it doesn't go in the computer.

It seems that's the fate of my rub recipe which I've been futzing with for about 8 months now.  It is not in my file!!!  Eek!  I just about "had" it down!  (Minor hissy fit here...)  Drats!  Okay, well I won't be sharing the rub "in the works" with you today.  Suffice it to say, it's a better system than before, but still needs some tweaking.



Taking charge

When I am under a lot of stress, I tend to forget to eat until it’s about 8 pm when it dawns on me that I’m famished!  Since that seems to be the current trend, I decided to make some things that could be kept on hand, stored in the fridge for several days and be ready to eat.  My tuna, macaroni and etc. salad is always a perfect standby but during the summer, I like to take advantage of some of the fresh veggies that are available.

I have a friend who loves, no, LOVES Caprese salad.  It has cut up  bocconcini mozzarella (Trader Joes has these in tubs of water by Mozzarella Fresca), halved cherry tomatoes (preferably heirlooms also from TJ’s), a chiffonade of fresh basil (ditto TJ’s) with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.  I wanted to make that, but didn’t want to buy the whole tub of fresh basil at TJ’s (I prefer to use my basil plant which unfortunately is quite dead).  So I picked up a tub of their Genovese Pesto instead.

I halved the heirloom tomatoes and let drain in a colander.  I drained, then randomly chopped each bocconcini into 3 or 4 pieces each and let them drain on paper towels.  Then tossed them together in a bowl large enough to mix it all together.  Added enough pesto to coat which was about 5/8 – 2/3 of the tub.  Topped it all off with a few grinds of Celtic sea salt.  Mixed all together and let stand covered while I finished the main course, maybe 15 minutes.  Plated it all up and oh my was it GOOD!  It went perfectly with the baby back ribs I made using my own rub.  So good!  It yielded about 2 1/2 cups.

After making this, I googled "tiny mozzarella balls" and found a lot of tips for adding and subtracting assorted ingredients in place of some of the items listed above such as:

·      Marinate the bocconcini in Kosher salt, pepper, crushed garlic clove, 1-2 t. lemon  juice and 2 T. EVOO for about an hour.
      (Note:  EEVO = Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

·      Add balsamic vinegar or sun-dried tomatoes or pitted Kalmata olives, chopped

·      Add pepper flakes, hot peppers etc. (I don’t like things so spicy so I ignore this)

·      Add roasted sweet red peppers and raw or cooked corn kernels or pine nuts

·      Add cooked crumbled bacon, parsley, Parmesan cheese and mayo

·      Add horseradish and/or Dijon mustard

Frankly, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got but may experiement with pine nuts or roasted red peppers or corn kernels now and then.  You could probably mix it up with chopped thyme, and/or oregano with EVOO.

Author's note, a day later:  you may want to drain the tomatoes a while longer because I found that overnight they’d given off quite a bit of water.  To thwart this, I added another spoon of pesto and a spoon of olive oil, which brought the taste and consistency back up to speed.


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Last night came and went and I don't think it got below 80F!  Eeek!  Top that off with a cloud bank arriving to hold in the heat and you have another potential inferno to look forward to.  My window AC came on at 9 AM!  That's how bad it is.  But it seems the universe took pity on us and it's only predicted to be 100 today (vs. 110 that was predicted yesterday) with a low of 67.  Right now it's 94.5F but with enough humidity (28%) to make it feel like over 100!  Ick.  Still it is a bit of mercy.

And yes, I know this is riveting reading.  But we get so little in the way of weather, that when something unusual hits, it's the talk of the town, literally!  Yesterday I had to run a couple of errands and in each store I walked into I was asked by an employee, "how hot is it out there" or something to that effect.  I thought the drops of perspiration rolling down my temples and sopping wet hair at the nape of my neck would have given it away, guess not.

The weather announcers on TV last night were in heaven predicting more deadly heat and warning about forest fires.  As I sit here writing this, I've heard over 5 sirens roll down my street and off into the distance, so I'm guessing that there might be one spotted in the hills.  I don't want to stick my head out the door to look though, too hot.  Hopefully it's just an odd coincidence and not a wild fire.  The street I live on gets all the ambulance, fire and police traffic because there are 4-way stop signs all the way, so it's safer for them.  

Mr. Blue is pretty knocked out, preferring to sleep his way through the heat.  On Sunday we did play ball and then since it was warm, we had a bit of water chase which he loves.  It starts with me trying to water the potted plants and he begins to go nuts.  So I have to water first to the far right, then to the far left and back and forth as he chases after the water.  If I linger too long on a plant he'll try to jump onto the pot to "attack" and bite the water or if I manage to elude him, he gets so frustrated that he'll grab one of the long cymbidium leaves and drag it off and out of it's pot!  Oh, and the sound effects during this are hysterical...small, little shrieks and whimpers that crescendo to a piercingly shrill "baaaaaarrrrrkkk"!  I hope to get some pics of this because it is so funny, but until I grow a 3rd arm, it's pretty tough.  I'm also afraid, I'd wind up spraying my camera with water by mistake!

This is Blue sleeping on my Christmas projects in baggies.  Does not look like it would be comfortable!

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Dante's Inferno

Well, it had to happen sooner or later.  This summer has been remarkably sweet.  None of this climbing into the triple digits starting in June.  In fact, until last Thursday we've only had a few high 90's days!  Everyone has whispered about this marvel because they don't want the universe to get wind of it and suddenly turn up the heat.  As I said, until last Thursday...one of the women in the craft group piped up with "this has been the coolest summer on record!"  Sure enough a warming trend started the next day.

Today, my thermometer read 117F before noon.  By the end of the day, LA had set a record...113F.  I'm glad I didn't look at my thermometer for the rest of the day because the area I live in is normally 10 to 20 degrees higher than LA proper!  Window A/C units had their work cut out for them.  Tomorrow's supposed to be even hotter!  What made this hissy fit of weather so bad is the greater than normal amount of humidity in the air.

I've been in 120 degrees with maybe 7% humidity and it wasn't as bad as this!  I think the humidity was in the 20's which makes a HUGE difference in this kind of heat.  The news reported power outages already.  I may be living in my bathtub if the power goes out here.  Of course, I'll have to run out and buy ice since the freezer in the refrigerator here has no shelves for ice cube trays.

Poor Blue shifts his position to a new "cooler" spot on the hardwood floor about every 10 minutes!



Autumn Plans

It's cold here today!  I had to put on long pants and a sweatshirt!  Blue is staying in his little den under my desk.  High today is 69F and it's overcast.  Makes me want to slip back into bed under a big fluffy comforter.  Supposedly it's supposed to start warming up.  I really hope not, I had plans for making chicken stew and dumplings on Friday.  MmmmMmmm!  The autumnal equinox is tomorrow.  I love fall and spring in Southern California...most of the time.  There have been years where it's stayed hot straight through September and October!  Hard to get in the mood for Halloween and Thanksgiving when it's in the 90's or higher.  When it's that hot, the amount of effort that goes into costumes for kids really declines and they weren't that great to begin with.

I remember my mother making so many costumes through the years.  My brother was Dracula with a full floor length, black cape lined in red.  I was a princess in 6th grade in a lime green dress with triangular sleeves trimmed in gold rick-rack (they flared out as they reached the wrist) and purple vest also trimmed in gold rick-rack with a peplum.  My hat was a pointed cone shaped headdress that had a long silk scarf flowing out from the point.  I loved wearing that costume!  Those were the days where it was safe to trick or treat at night and after a certain age you could go with friends and no parents.  But then, I'm giving away my age again.

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Crazy Heart

It always amazes me how poisonous this divorce is and how the poison can cripple and depress me.  I had two documents that my lawyer prepared to send to the opposing council (OC) regarding their last letter and the upcoming deposition of doltoid.  There were a number of areas that had to be filled in (costs less if I do it vs. them rooting through 4 years of documents) and I had put it off for 8 days but knew I had to just sit down and do it.  So I spent about 5 hours yesterday digging through the boxes of divorce documents in the garage to get the needed info.

I had rented "Crazy Heart" (which was excellent by the way) and thought I was alright.  But I woke up this morning and literally could not bring myself to get out of bed till 11:45.  I was so depressed and dead in my heart.  It's like I can feel the poison in my veins.  If I envision it, I see blackness where blood should be.

It's also strange how forgetful it makes me and I have to be very careful in my movements and driving when this hits because I don't alway see things.  Hard to explain, but I become rather "fragile" when the poison strikes.  I really thought I'd gotten beyond the effects it can have on me, but I guess not.  You should see how slow I'm typing right now, it's as if I've been shifted into a slow motion movie and can't speed up.

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Soup's On!

I love the fact that it's cooling down so nicely in the evenings because it means that I can engage in one of my favorite cooking activities, making soup.  On the menu is a soup that's an amalgam of flavors from childhood and traveling.  I was a kid when I first tasted kale, that bunch of greens which resembles swiss chard but with curls.  My Aunt made a soup with it and also creamed kale, very Danish, when we'd visit her and Grandma.  Later in life, while on vacation in Portugal, I discovered Caldo Verde.  I loved it!

When I got back home I searched all the cookbooks and cooking magazines I could find for the recipe.  I finally found one for Caldo Verde and of course had to make it immediately.  The odd thing about the recipe was that it called for 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon!  Though I had my doubts I followed the recipe.  The effect on the soup was nothing like I expected...it was delicious!  The cinnamon wove it's way through the other ingredients resembling nothing of it's baking overtones.  At the time I was experimenting with making curry and realized that it leaned more toward the savory than the sweet in this soup, much like spices in curries.

Over the years I've played around with the ingredients, using turnip or celery root instead of potatoes, but I never ever alter the cinnamon except to add a wee bit more.  I've used chicken stock instead of beef stock as well as the two together.  I think I like it best with chicken stock.  The garlic gets increased sometimes depending on my mood.  (Note:  in cutting it up tonight, I measured how much I used and it was almost 2 1/2 tablespoons, but let your palette be your guide, I love garlic.)  When I cut the onions up, I usually chop them in a 1/4 to 1/2 inch dice since I like a chowder like soup.  A recent change is deleting the garlic press and chopping the garlic into 1/8 to 1/4 inch bits which when bitten into add a mellow burst of flavor in the soup.

The sausage I use is Hillshire Farms turkey Kielbasa or the low fat version (again the Midwesterner comes out plus I don't like the spiciness of linguica) and you can use the whole rope or just half.  I've tried other generic or store brands and just haven't been happy with the taste.  When I buy it I cut the rope in half, wrap and freeze it, then I can thaw however much I'm in the mood for.  If you check your store's weekly circulars, you'll often find it 2/$5 vs. the usual $4.69 and up!

Your bunch of kale shouldn't cost more than $1.50 and should have 5-6 stems.  I usually find it for $0.99 at Ralph's.  Kale should be a nice crisp dark green, avoid yellowing or wilted kale, it can't be revived and the taste will be quite bitter.  I used to use two bunches but lately have been happy with one.  Using two really crowds out the flavors of the other ingredients.  Over the years it's become sort of a cross between Danish kale soup and the Portugeuse Caldo Verde.  Wow, I never thought I could write so much about a soup!  So without further ado, I give you the recipe!

2 T. unsalted butter or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped (see notes above)
1/8 t. ground cinnamon
1 lb. kale, stems removed, finely chopped (see notes above)
4 c. strong beef stock (see notes above) 
2-3 white rose-type potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2” cubes  and cooked
Smoked sausage, sliced into 1/4 to /2 inch rounds (i.e. Keilbasa, Linguica, etc.)
Salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat.  Add the onion, cook 5 minutes.  Do not brown.  Add the garlic, cook 2 minutes longer. Stir cinnamon into onion mixture, cook another minute.  Add the kale, tossing to coat it well.  Add the stock.  I often will add stock after the kale has cooked down, so all ingredients are just under liquid.  Heat to boiling, reduce the heat.  Simmer, covered, 20 minutes.

Take cooked potato and the sliced sausage, add to the soup mixture.  Heat until hot and then serve.  Sprinkle with parmesan if desired.  Serves 4-6 depending on whether it's accompanying a main course or it's the dinner itself.  It makes a great dinner paired with a baguette and butter.

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Fluff and Fold

I know I've spoken of my mom's insane ironing penchant...ironing everything from bed sheets to dad's undershirts and shorts.  I think socks were one of the few things that escaped ironing.  They did however have a proper way of being folded.

Another habit my mother had that always amazed me was folding the towels and sheets in just such a way.  She told me once, when I asked why, that you never knew when someone would look in the closet so you wanted everything to look proper.  This must have been something she picked up long ago when she was raised by her grandmother who had grown up in the Victorian era.  Grandma (actually my Great Grandmother) was born in 1865!  Anyway, aside from being ironed, sheets and pillowcases were folded in a special way.

The towels had a similar set of folding rules.  No haphazard folding in half and half again then calling it a day.  No, first you folded them in 3’s lengthwise, then in half horizontally and again in half horizontally.  They were stacked with the curved fold showing, not the tail ends.  My mother was very pleased when everything lined up just perfectly in the linen closet.  These days, I fold in whatever way allows me to get the most in the small space of this rental and since I never “entertain”, I really don’t care how the closet looks.  Currently my value is on space or lack thereof and not “the view”.

Thinking back, I do have to say that opening the linen closet at my mom's home was always a pleasure.  The smell of freshly ironed linen...so pleasant...there's nothing like it!  And though I'm not about to start ironing bed linens, there was something quite wonderful about sliding into a bed just made with ironed sheets.  In the time before Egyptian cotton and zillion thread counts, ironing really tamed cotton.




Sometimes, from out of the blue, a thought will hit me and just knock me over!  I know I've talked about how much I dislike ironing, but today as I ironed three of my linen blouses I suddenly felt rich!  Having three blouses hanging up, ready to wear actually made me feel rich!  How odd is that?

Maybe it's about having less, you appreciate simple things more...?  I recently received an email from my pen pal of many years and in it she wrote:  "The older you get, the more meaning you find in simple things don't you think?"  I think losing so much makes you aware of what is really important.  And while I will go to my grave hating ironing, it's nice to know I found something of value in it.  I never had such a feeling even when I could afford to go to the cleaners at $5.65 per blouse!

Which brings me to the question of why are cleaners so expensive?  A few years ago, after the cleaners I'd been using, lost a pair of pants and wouldn't reimburse me for them, I tried a new cleaners that was recommended to me by a customer in my store.  It didn't dawn on me to inquire what the cost would be for a blouse.  So you can imagine my jaw hitting the floor when the clerk brought the two blouses and said that'll be $20.70.  I was speechless.  What rare and priceless extra special services had they performed to make the cost twice what I'd been paying at another cleaners?  I certainly couldn't see any difference.  Maybe they charged extra for not losing items...!  Needless to say, I never returned to that establishment.  Looking back on that little event, I wonder how people can afford it!  I concluded back then that at the rate of $10 a blouse, I could buy a new blouse about every 6 cleanings!  It just struck me as ludicrous!

Maybe it's a group of experiences that suddenly gels in the brain and pops out as a unique thought, I don't know, but having three fresh and ready to wear blouses hanging from the door jam made me feel positively rich.



Can Take the Girl Out of the Midwest, but...

Yes, you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of the girl.  A few days ago I was shopping for Caldo Verde ingredients and came upon a true Midwestern delicacy.  Summer sausage.  And not just plain summer sausage... "Original Garlic Summer Sausage"!  Yes, I have several friends (obviously not Midwesterners) who cringe when I use the words summer sausage and delicacy in reference to each other.  And yes, I did have the sandwich all assembled and took a bite out of it when remembered I wanted to photograph it...sorry.

Needless to say I splurged and bought the little piece of heaven.  There are two ways to go with a summer sausage sandwich, either a soft white little bun or a crispy topped roll all soft and fluffy inside.  I went with cripsy and that was my lunch today.  It was mmmmmmm good!  It's amazing the memories that come flooding back when you slice the artery-clogging goody.  Oh, and you of course, have to butter the bread with real butter.  I mean, if you're going to indulge in something like this, why cut corners, enjoy the experience to the fullest!  

I think everyone has comfort food memories from past times and experiences and when it's something that brings one feelings of happiness and pleasure, they need to indulge in them every now and then!  Life is too short not to.  Just don't eat crusty top buns near your keyboard and mouse, you'll be typing and rolling over teensy crumbs for hours afterwards!