Leftover Turkey Chili

We were lucky enough to have some leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. We had some delicious turkey soup one night, a few turkey sandwiches, and last, some turkey chili. I had considered turkey chili for dinner, and the recipe I generally use is good, and calls for ground turkey. But Ted suggested we might make a recipe with the leftover roast turkey. That seemed like a good idea to me, but I wasn’t sure the same recipe that starts with raw ground turkey would work well with roasted turkey leftovers. So I found this recipe on Foodnetwork. I measured and I only had 1 1/2 cups of turkey left, so I halved the recipe. I didn’t fancy the idea of mashed potatoes or rice, so I went old school and made corn bread instead. I served the chili over a bit of sharp cheddar cheese, with a dollop of sour cream on top, and a bit of avocado to make it even better. Delicious.

Leftover Turkey Chili
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups leftover roasted turkey meat, white and dark combined, chopped or pulled into 3/4-inch pieces
One 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Two 15-ounce cans pinto beans
Leftover mashed potatoes or cooked rice, for serving
Sour cream and chopped scallion, for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in the jalapeno and garlic and cook until they soften slightly, about 1 minute.

Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the turkey and stir until well coated in the spices. Pour in the tomatoes and chicken broth and scrape up any spices that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the chili to a simmer on medium-low and cook, uncovered, on until the liquid has reduced by a few inches and the chili has thickened, about 1 hour.

Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans; leave the bean liquid in the second can. Add all the beans plus the reserved bean liquid to the pot and heat until the beans are warmed through, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve in bowls over potatoes or rice with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Giving Thanks for Cranberry Sauce


I’ve spoken here before about Thanksgiving, about how as a child, it was my least favorite holiday of the year.  (I should clarify that I am only talking about the years when I was in California…I don’t remember much about Thanksgiving in Alaska, but I’m sure it was lovely and fine.)  My entire family (on my mom’s side) is obsessed with weight.  My grandmother decided at a young age that she was NOT going to be fat like her parents and aunts, and pretty much has been on a diet ever since.  To the point where now, at age 92 and weighing in at about 88 lbs, she will still make comments like, “Well, since I ate that brownie, I’ll have to starve myself tomorrow.”  It’s digusting.  She raised her kids to be obsessed with weight as well, putting my mom on a diet when she was about 10.  It backfired, and the combination of her obsession and family genetics put all of her children into the overweight/obese category, though my aunt Colleen was much thinner than my mom or my uncle.

As might be expected, the conversation at family gatherings was often about dieting, about what one should and should not eat, what works and what doesn’t, on and on and on.  And all the while, of course, there’s turkey and stuffing and potatoes and candied yams and gravy and pie and fruit salad and cranberry sauce and rolls.  Please eat, enjoy…with an undertone of, you wouldn’t be so big if you didn’t enjoy quite so much.  Ugh.  Add to that the chain smoking by both of my grandparents, and throw in a big helping of my grandpa’s acid tongue and sarchasm, and you get the idea.  No family gatherings were particularly wonderful or happy, but Thanksgiving seemed to me to be about food food food, and with this family, that was not a good thing.  Plus most of the food wasn’t good.  Turkey was dried out, mashed potatoes from a box, brown gravy from a packet, cranberry sauce from a can, yams from a can.  Almost nothing was fresh.

I did always like the fruit salad and the cranberry sauce, canned though it was.  Actually, I liked the mashed potatoes and gravy from a box/packet, if truth be told.  It wasn’t until I was older and tried these things made from scratch that I realized that my grandparents’ cooking was like living in Plato’s cave, eating shadow versions of dishes, and there was a real world out there with delicious versionis of these same foods.

I remember the first time I tried cranberry sauce that wasn’t canned.  It was 1993, and Ted and I were newly married.  My mom had moved to Alaska that summer, though Richard and his wife had not moved up there yet, and were still in California.  Richard and Kathy were married the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and my mom had flown down for the wedding.  Generally we have Thanksgiving at Ted’s parents house, but we decided that year to have Thanksgiving at our apartment in San Francisco.  Kathy asked what she could bring, and I don’t remember if she brought pie or something else, but I do remember that she brought cranberry sauce.  It was a revelation. SO good.  Not overly sweet.  Fresh tasting.  I begged her for her recipe, and she looked at me, stunned.  “It’s on the back of the bag”, she said.  “1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, cranberries….cook over medium heat until the cranberries pop.  Chill.  That’s it.”   I think she felt that day about the same as she did when she told Richard they were going to make mashed potatoes, and he grabbed the box of powdered potatoes, while she grabbed fresh potatoes from the produce aisle.

Ever since that year, I’ve made this version of cranberry sauce, with a few exceptions.  One year I tried a savory version, which I did not care for.  One year I added a pinch of salt, which was fine but not really any different.  This year, for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, I tried a new recipe.  I don’t know what motivated me to do so, but I did.  It’s very similar to the one on the cranberry bag, but has less liquid.  You start out over low heat with the sugar, cranberries, and only 2 tblsp of water instead of a cup.  When the sugar dissolves, you have plenty of liquid, so then you turn up the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.  I found the recipe on Food Network, and they added a strip of orange peel, which I don’t fancy.  Some commenters used 2 tblsp OJ instead of water.  Result?  A lovely cranberry sauce!  Not adding as much water gives you more concentrated cranberry flavor.  Also, I used a bit less than a cup of sugar.  Maybe more than 3/4 of a cup, I’m not exactly sure.  Delicious. So this is the cranberry sauce recipe that I’m making for today’s Thanksgiving feast.

I’ll be thinking of Kathy, and thanking her for introducing me to fresh cranberry sauce.  I’ll be thinking of my mom and all of the years when she would come to California for a month, and Thanksgiving was during that time and she would spend a week with us.  I wish we were able to do that this year.  I’ll be thinking of my grandma and how much I love her, even if a visit with her means coming home smelling like cigarettes.  I’ll be thinking of my grandpa and how much I loved him, even if he was a mean old man.  I’ll be enjoying a lovely day of delicious, freshly made food, laughter, music, wine, and fun with our new dog, at Ted’s parents house.  I do have a lot to be thankful for.  (I considered changing that to the more gramattically correct, “I do have much for which to be thankful” but I don’t like it, so I didn’t.)

I’m also making my Grandma’s fruit salad, sweet potato pudding, and as an appetizer, shrimp cocktail.

If you’ve not tried fresh cranberry sauce, or if you have only tried the version with 1 whole cup of water, give this one a try.  It’s delicious.

Cranberry Sauce

12 0z cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tblsp water or orange juice
1 strip orange or lemon zest, optional


Put all ingredients into a saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.

Puppy Love

Mulder the day we met him. So sweet, a bit shy and overwhelmed.

Mulder the day we met him. So sweet, a bit shy and overwhelmed.

I am most happy to introduce you to our new teen-puppy, Mulder!

Mulder is 7 1/2 months old Keeshond teen-puppy.  Teen-puppy is my term for his age, because he’s almost fully grown (30ish lbs now), but still a puppy in so many ways. Our sweet girl Genevieve was 1/2 kees/1/2 Sheltie. We got her from a local Keeshonden rescue back in 2002, when she was 4. She was such a good dog, and when she died in early 2012 (can you believe it’s been that long?), we were heartbroken. As time went by, we eventually decided we were ready to open our hearts and our home to another dog. We thought we’d like to get another Kees from the same rescue, so last December, we put in our application. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. About 6 weeks after putting in our application, having heard NOTHING, I emailed the rescue and asked if there was something wrong with our application. The reply came back, no, nothing wrong, but for better or for worse, NO DOGS are currently available for adoption. She said in her 20 years, they had never had such a long dry spell. I follow the rescue on Facebook, so I had seen several lovely dogs come and go in the last year, and indeed, there had been nothing in the last few months. So we tried to be patient. Every once in awhile we’d get an email…we have a dog…but we were hoping for a young dog, maybe 4 years or younger, and at least mostly healthy, so we wouldn’t be starting off with an old sick dog. We know that part is in the future with any pet, but we didn’t have the fortitude to start out that way. So we continued to wait.

Mulder on Sunday, looking very mature and calm.

Mulder on Sunday, looking very mature and calm.

When we thought maybe we weren’t going to get a Keeshond, we went to the local animal shelter a few times. There were some sweet dogs, but none that we fell in love with. We went to another rescue, for a husky, but that dog was a bit too much for my arthritic hands to manage. A sled dog is perhaps not what you want if you don’t want to be pulled. Perhaps we could have trained her out of that habit, but she was SO high energy, and not so much what we were looking for. So we tried some more to be patient.

And obviously, our patience eventually paid off. Late in October, the rescue contacted us to say they have a dog! Younger than we were wanting, almost 7 months old, but very sweet, healthy, and would we like to meet him? So off we went to meet him, and we fell in love right away. He had to stay at his foster home for a few weeks, so he could see the vet, be fully evaluated, and then neutered. Then we could bring him home. Last Saturday was the day, so we’ve had him for just over a week now. He is certainly a puppy, and he has to learn our confusing and weird rules, such as, no dogs on the beds. No dogs on the sofa. No dogs on the recliner. Very strange for him, as he was allowed full access to the furniture at the foster home, and perhaps at his last home before that as well. He has to learn that sometimes we leave the house, but that we will come back. He has to learn to rest in his crate when we’re gone, because we’re not thrilled with the idea of him chewing up our house while we’re not here to supervise. He has to learn to walk nicely on the leash. He has to learn to not bark at EVERYTHING. He’s learning pretty well. His barking has decreased substantially, he rarely tries to get on the furniture now, and he likes his crate (as long as he’s not locked in…that he doesn’t care for). He’s in his crate right now, playing with one of his toys, though the door is open. We’ll close it at some point so he can get more used to that. He’s playful and sweet and SUCH a good boy. We’re really enjoying having him in our home. So please, say hello and welcome to Mulder.

In other news: Today is my 10 year blogiversary. I had several real-life friends and family with blogs early on, and I met many new friends through blogging. I have enjoyed coming here, and coming to your blogs, and seeing the world though a bit of a different lens, over these last 10 years. My involvement has certainly waned as of late, but that’s OK. Maybe I’ll get more into a daily blogging groove again someday, maybe not. But I’m happy to be here, happy to share this part of my life with you, happy to have these friendships. Happy blogiversary to me.  P.S. My spell-check knows how to spell ‘blogiversary’.

A Little Life

A Little Life
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is supposedly the story of four friends, but is instead the story of one broken man and his friends.

It is the story of Jude, a man who has unquestionably had the worst childhood imagined. Orphaned as a baby, raised by abusive monks, who beat and raped him repeatedly, he runs away as a child with one of the monks, who says he will love him as a son. But only a horribly abusive father would do to Jude the things Brother Luke does. And of course, things get worse from there on out, until Jude is about 16, and goes to college.

From that point on, it is the story of Jude’s friendship with 3 fellow students, Willem, J.B., and Malcom. Willem gets some time telling his side of the story, J.B. less so, and if Malcom had more than one chapter I’d be surprised. These four friends finish college and do astoudingly well in life. Jude is a corporate lawyer, who finds the parental love he has always craved by being adopted as an adult. Willem is an actor who starts out in school plays, and by the end of the book is a star of the screen and stage. J.B. is an artist, whose work focuses on his three beloved friends, and whose work is immediately regocnized for how amazing it is. Malcom is an architect, and is amazingly successful. The four of them jet around the world and live a fairly glamourous life, though they deeply appreciate all that they have and never take it for granted. They are somewhat happy, except for J.B.’s descent into drug addiction, and Jude’s inability to recover either physically or emotionally from his childhood.

Jude is easily the most tortured character I’ve ever come across. The abuse he suffered was complete, and for awhile there, every person he turned to for help would then abuse him as well. It’s like he was marked. He had some fairly common survivor issues, where he blamed himself for a lot of what happened to him, and felt that it somehow his own fault. Even in his fantasies, where he changes his fate and thus avoids some of the worst abuses, he is still living at the monestary, being beaten and raped as a small child. It’s horrific.

The book reminded me of nothing more than an opera. So overblown and dramatic. So intricate and detailed. There were long passages when, difficult as the subject matter was, the book really clicked and I enjoyed it. I liked the characters and wanted things to go well for them. By the end, though, it went on far too long for me, and I was relieved to be done with it. I had stopped caring about the characters, which is probably a good thing considering how things turned out. At 720 pages, I think it could have lost at least 300 pages and been a better book for it.

I don’t remember where I heard about this book. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and was at the top of several best seller lists for awhile. I borrowed it from the library, and I’m happily returning it today.

A Day in the City



Yesterday found the three of us going into the City. For Ted, it was a work day, so we dropped him off a few blocks from his office, and then we went to have some fun. We met up with our friends, Marilee and Paul. Marilee is my dear friend, whom I met in Latin class while studying at San Francisco State back in the early 90s. Paul is her wonderful husband, who she met on an archilogical dig in Greece. We went to b. Patisserie on California Street, and enjoyed kouign-amann, the lovely pastry that you see above. I had never heard of kouign-amann, but it is similar to a croissant, though sweeter and a bit crisper. Delicious. The picture above I took from the Wikipedia page on kouign-amann, though it was taken at this same little restaurant. We spent a lovely hour or so there, catching up and enjoying our coffee and sweets. It was perfect.


Then Maya and I drove to Grace Cathedral, which is actually only 2 blocks from Marilee and Paul’s house, and they walked back from the restaurant, but the arthritis in my feet would not have allowed such a journey. It’s almost 2 miles (from the restaurant to GC), which my feet can do, but I would have suffered the rest of the day for it, which did not interest me. Also, pretty steep hills. Anyway, Maya is taking a class in Art History that she is really enjoying, and one of her assignments was to go to Grace Cathedral, it being the closest Gothic Cathedral to us. Paris would have been better perhaps, but much more expensive.


I’ve been to Grace Cathedral once before. Another dear friend of mine, Janet, was married in one of the chapels there, way back when Maya was a baby. I did notice how grand and beautiful it was at that time, but I was also busy being a bridesmaid and doing bridesmaid things, so this time I had more time to look around. The architecture, the pointed arches, the art on the walls, the gloreous stained glass. It was wonderful. We spent about an hour and a half there, really trying to get a good feel of the place. If I were religious, and if I lived in the neighborhood, I think I’d stop by from time to time. Heck, even if I just lived in the neighborhood. Really beautiful.

Fresco depicting the fire destroying the old Grace Cathedral, Grace Cathedral. San Francisco, California, USA

Fresco depicting the fire destroying the old Grace Cathedral, Grace Cathedral. San Francisco, California, USA

We were intrigued by the frescos on the walls, which depicted the history of California and of the Church. This one depicts the fire of 1906 that destroyed the old Grace Church, the predecessor to the current Cathedral. After the earthquake and fire, the Crocker family, which had had a mansion at this location which burned to the ground, they donated the land so the Cathedral could be built.


I considered the labyrinth inside the Cathedral, and started to walk it, but found my mind wasn’t in the right place for it. Perhaps it was the $2.75 per 15 minutes I was paying to park at the garage across the street, perhaps it was the beautiful architecture and art surrounding me, that seemed a better use of such expensive time. It is supposed to be very calming, and to help one spiritually. You can read more about it, if you’re interested.


We took a moment to stop in the Interfaith Aids Memorial chapel of the church, to remember the friends I had who died from Aids, back before the current medicines that are allowing people to live so much longer with the disease. Two of my coworkers from my hotel days, Damon and Shelby, both died horrible deaths. Ugh. It was a long time ago, and it was nice to reflect on their lives.

From there, we drove over to Nordstrom, so Maya could get her leather boots shined. She had been playing soccer in them with some kids at her work (She works in the after school care at her old elemtary school), and the boots were pretty dirty. That task accomplished, we shopped a bit, then voila, Ted’s work day was over. So we went to pick him up, and then we went to dinner.

We went to the Clement Street Bar and Grill, a sentimental favorite. My friend Janet first took me there, I think, or at least suggested it to me when I first moved to SF in 1987, I don’t remember which. It’s where I had dinner with my parents that same fall, the first day I had ever met my dad. It’s where Ted and I, with some friends, celebrated our graduation from college in 1990. It’s basic California cuisine. I don’t think the menu has changed much over the years, but that’s OK. Ted had a delicious steak, I had lovely crab cakes, and Maya had a goat cheese salad.

It was a lovely day, but by the time we got home at a little after 9, we were tuckered out, and ready for bed.

Friday Randomness

4 out of 5 ain’t bad. I’m not a fan of In-N-Out Burger, except that they pay better than most fast food places, and supposedly they use better quality ingredients. But the food is meh. And Maya likes to tell the story of when she went with her cheer squad, and she asked for a veggie burger. She didn’t know that their version of a veggie burger is a standard hamburger, sans beef. Bun, lettuce, tomato, onion, and sauce. Needless to say, she was hungry soon after.

Anyway, what else is going on? It’s hot. It’s been over 100 for the last several days, and I’m tired of it. I dislike the heat, though I’m thankful that it’s a dry heat and no humidity. So it may be 102, but it FEELS like it’s 97. I’ll take 100 and dry over 85 and humid any day, so I guess it’s a good thing I live here. We’re supposed to get a break starting tomorrow, with temps in the 90s, and then into the low 80s for several days after that. I can’t wait.

Do you ever get cold sores? Have you ever wondered whether Abreva works? I’ve been trying Abreva for several years now, on the occasional cold sore that pops up. Maybe one every 2 years. Generally I feel the cold sore coming, and I think, “Gah, I’d better buy some Abreva”, but then I don’t get there for at least 12 hours. I put it on and hope for the best, but generally the cold sore still bugs me. Well, a few weeks ago I woke up feeling like I might be getting a cold sore, and I had some new (not expired) Abreva in the house, and used it right away. I applied it maybe 2x a day for the next few days. I barely got any cold sore at all. I don’t think it was visible, but in any case, it was much less uncomfortable than usual. The stuff works! Consider that an endorsement.

Do you like cooking shows? I sometimes do, and one chef that I really like it Jacques Pepin. He has a new series starting tomorrow on our local PBS station. I’ve only watched him on PBS, locally, so I don’t know if all (or most) PBS stations carry his shows, but if yours does, give it a try.
Update: Jacques just alerted me, via Facebook, that his show will start here tomorrow, and nationally next Saturday, Sept 19th.

Did you have a nice Labor Day? We had some friends over on Sunday for a swim in our very cold pool. Monday I pretty much relaxed…Ted had to work. Labor Day is always worth stopping and thinking about the labor movement, and the benefits that it has brought us. Safer working conditions, 5 day work week, overtime pay, minimum wage. I’m thankful for all of that, though I’ve never been the member of a union. Ted’s a member of SAG/AFTRA, which gets us free DVDs of award nominated movies every winter. Not as important as safe working conditions, but nice nonetheless.

I’m plugging along on my inflammatory arthritis treatment. I’m optomistic that it’s working, though it’s slower than I’d like. I still can’t really go for a nice long walk without suffering for it for hours, and I can only dream of wearing my rings again someday, but I’m much better than I was seveal months ago, and I do think it’s working. I’m very glad for that.

Since my Uncle Forrest passed away, my cousin and I have been asked to serve as trustees of our Grandma’s estate. So we’ve been helping her to plan for her eventual death, and trying to plan for her wishes to be carried out when that sad day comes. That motivated me to buy an urn for my mom’s ashes. It was too much, emotionally, for too long, and her ashes have been sitting in the closet, quietly waiting. When my Grandma dies, she wants to have her ashes buried in the grave with her first husband, my mom’s father. My mom said, off-handedly, that we should scatter her ashes on her father’s grave if something were to happen to her. Well, I haven’t done that, and I don’t really like the idea of it. So I talked to my Grandma, and she said we can bury my mom’s ashes in with hers and my Grandfather’s coffin. So now at least I feel ready for that. I will say, Amazon is a lovely thing. I got a very nice wood urn for $89, with an engraved plate with her name on top. I think she would have liked it, and I know she would have been happy that I didn’t pay the $600 – $700 I would have paid if I bought it at a funeral home.

Maya did the 23&me thing, as did my dad. Pretty interesting stuff, though of course no real surprises. You send in a vial of your saliva, and they run it through some DNA tests, and they tell you who your ancestors are, genetically. Not any famous names or anything, but ‘56% Britiish, 23% French’, that sort of thing.

Lastly, (but not least) here we are, it’s September 11th again. What an amazingly horrible day that was, and the reprecussions have been horrific in the extreme. We can never forget that day, even if we wish we could. Our world has been changed in so many ways, and I don’t know that any of it has been for the better. Not any. Such a somber occasion. We are flying our flag in rememberance. It doesn’t feel like enough. Likely because it isn’t. I don’t know what would be enough, other than staying involved, politically, and trying to make this a world in which such atrocities do not happen again. It feels like we keep saying that, doesn’t it?


is Lily Tomlin’s movie.  There are other actors, such as Sam Elliott, Julia Garner, and Marcia Gay Harden, and they all give nuanced, wonderful performances.  But the story is that of Lily Tomlin’s character, Elle.  Elle is a 70-something grandmother, recently widowed by the death of her long term love. She is a writer and poet, who is down to her last few dollars when her granddaughter, Sage, comes to her for help.  Sage is pregnant and needs money for an abortion, so off they go in search of funds, either collecting from friends who owe Elle money, collecting from Sage’s sometimish boyfriend, selling valuable (?) belongings, or borrowing money from an ex.  Whatever it takes.  Tomlin hits all the right notes.  Notes of grief for her loss, love for her granddaughter, her ever present wit and sharp tongue.  I don’t know if Tomlin will win an Oscar for her low key, pitch perfect performance, but she’s certainly in the running, and I expect she’ll win a few other awards along the way.

Our hot dry burning state

imagepicture of lovely drought resistant landscaping

California is a bit of a mess right now.  OK, more than a bit.  I’m sick of this damn drought, as I’m sure everyone else in the state is.

Everything is dry dry dry.  August is generally dry.  We rarely get any measurable wet between May or June and October.  But this was the dryest winter on record, so we started out dry.  Ugh.  We’re under orders from our Governor to reduce our water use, which is a good thing.  But it sucks.  So many dead lawns everywhere.  Then there are the people who continue to water their lawns, oblivious to the suffering around them.  One green lawn, reminding us of the way things used to be, surrounded by brown dead lawns, reminding us of what is.  Then there are those who landscape with bark and drought tolerant plants, reminding us of how things ought to be.  We don’t have a lawn, we have a tiny front area and a small back area, both more patio than yard, and it’s all bricks.  We have a hodgepodge of plants around the perimeter of the back patio, filled in with potted plants.   There once was a theme to the perimeter plants, meaning there was some sense of cohesiveness, but there are goddamned eucalyptus trees on the other side of our fence, and they pretty much do their best to kill whatever is below them. So the plants that we put there on purpose have all died years ago, and whenever I get a potted plant that outgrows its pot, in the ground it goes, and good luck fighting the eucalyptus.  None of that is due to the drought, just the neighboring trees and my general neglect (don’t water enough, don’t fertilize often).

So here we are, taking our drought showers and saving water in the sink (like when you rinse an apple) in a pitcher to water the plants, and I assume that we’re all in this together.  Until I find out that we’re not.  The central valley, my home for many years of my mis-spent youth, is fertile ground for many many crops, including the big money maker, nuts.  Mostly almonds and pistachios, which are big deal money makers.  If you’re a tomato farmer, or a corn farmer, you can decide to let your fields go fallow in years of drought.  But trees need water, you cannot fallow that field.  You can let your trees die perhaps, but that’s awfully expensive, and I don’t really expect anyone to do that.  But then I heard the other day that some farmers are actually PLANTING almond and pistachio trees now.  NOW, in this horrible drought, when there is simply not enough water.  Why?  Because the drought has driven prices up, so there’s good money to be made.   But wait, you may ask, how will they water these trees, if there is no water?  The answer is depressing.  There are some huge aquifers under the valley, vast underground lakes, which are being pumped dry.  These aquifers have been there for generations, and farmers generally do pump some water out in dry years.  But they’re pumping so much out, they now have to get much bigger drills,  the ones used for fracking oil out of tar sands, in order to reach the shrinking water levels.  Which is making the valley sink.  How can we possibly be so damned stupid?  I mean, yes, you have to feed your family, you want to employ people and keep the economy from collapsing around you.  But to increase production now of all times, seems beyond selfish.  It makes me want to take a long bath, and I hate baths.  How, you may ask, does the government allow this?  Because they’re elected by the farmers, and our water rights in California were put in place almost a hundred years ago, and not much has changed.  There are changes coming to the water rights rules, but those won’t be in effect for at least 5 years (I think maybe it’s 10, but I’m not positive), so what use  is that?

And then, of course, there are the fires.  Fire in California in the summer is pretty much a given, but this year’s fires are acting differenttly than they have acted in the past, likely because the trees are SO dry, and the weather is generally hotter than it has been before.  So that’s fun.  Last Saturday, we decided to get out of dodge, which was a good thing because the wind had shifted and was sending smoke down our way from the lake fires, which aren’t really that close.  Our town is at the foot of a mountain, and you coudln’t even tell there was a mountain in the area, it was so smokey.  It smelled bad, and made me worry for those with breathing and heart problems.  We went to Monterey, which is right on the ocean and lovely and cool and just what the doctor ordered, aside from the long  drive getting there.  It took us almost 3.5 hours from here, which would generally be a bit over 2 hours. Ugh.  We should have spent the night.  So the fires are burning, (not just here, the whole west coast), and they are using active duty military to fight the fires, as well as convicts.  It’s a mess.

The question, of course, is “will it rain this winter?”  Will we have a real nasty beautiful wet winter, the kind that puts water in our reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and streams?  The kind that erodes coastlines and sends people’s houses sliding down hillsides in a bunch of mud, and floods the same towns that always seem to flood in wet years?  We need one.  We need an ugly winter, the kind that punishes a lot of people who live or drive or walk in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We may get it.  There’s talk of a strong El Nino brewing off the coast.  But there was similar talk last year, and it didn’t happen.  There’s talk about that high pressure system that sat off the coast of California last winter, forcing the jet stream north, forcing the wet and cold to punish the rest of the country with record snowfalls, while we sat here with gorgeous weather, watching, longingly.  That high pressure system that may or may not be out there again this winter.

I love California.  I love San Francisco and Tahoe and Monterey.  I love Napa and Bodega Bay and Sonoma.  It hurts to see my beloved home in such dire circumstances.  Sometimes we talk about moving, to get away from the drought.  Wondering if we wait to see how things turn out, if we’ll blow it and our house will be worthless. Hard to believe with current housing prices being so stupidly high, but I guess it’s possible.  I don’t want to move.  I love it here.  I want to stick it out and see if things get better.

Did I mention the little earthquake we had last week?  It had the decency to wait until almost 7am, and wasn’t a big one, didn’t do a lot of damage. (My friend’s hat fell off of her bookcase)  That was the only damage I heard of at first, but then it turned otu that several water mains busted.  Maybe because of the earthquake, maybe because the pipes are 90 years old, I don’t know.

Poor California.  I hope things get better, soon.

Thai Chicken Salad

Thai Chicken Salad

Gorgeous photo found here, along with the recipe.

On a lighter note, thankfully, after the sadness of last week, I think it’s time for a recipe.

One item I like to order when we go out to eat is either a Chinese Chicken Salad or a Thai Chicken Salad. I like the crispy crunchiness of it, the sweet and tangy and (sometimes) hot of it. Delicious.  The other day it was 102 degrees, so the idea of a salad for dinner appealed to me.

I’ve tried to make an Asian chicken salad once before, but it sucked. It was too sweet, kind of gloppy, all around wrong. I’m not a good enough cook to figure out a recipe on my own, so I rely on folks who are so inclined. So I looked online, and found this recipe.

The best thing about online recipes (and sometimes an annoying thing about them), is that they have reviews. The reviews can warn you if a recipe is truly crap, or if there are revisions that you might like. Too sweet, too gloppy, too whatever. This recipe received an average rating of 5/5 stars, and the 200 comments were all of the “this is SO GOOD” variety, that I decided to trust it.

I’m so glad I did. When I serve a salad for dinner, I feel like Ted and Maya are disappointed. They both like salad just fine, but generally prefer it as a side dish. Tonight was no different, at least at first. But once they had had a few bites, Maya said she really liked this dish, and it’s a keeper. Ted agreed. I don’t think he was quite as enthusiastic as she was, but he was OK with it. That’s a win when it comes to serving a salad for dinner.

I followed the recipe as is, except that I added roasted chicken breast and roasted peanuts, and I omitted the edamame she had. Chicken for protein, peanuts for crunch. The sauce is delicious, and the only ingredients I didn’t have on hand beforehand were rice wine vinegar and ginger.

I liked the blog where I got the recipe, Once Upon a Chef. I think I might try her Peruvian chicken next, in honor of our yummy neighborhood Peruvian restaurant.

Thai Crunch Salad with Peanut Dressing
Slightly revised from a recipe by Jennifer Segal
Servings: 4
Total Time: 30 Minutes

For the Thai Peanut Dressing

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, from one lime
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
2-1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1-inch square piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (J’s note, I forgot the red pepper flakes, so I put them on the table for those that wanted heat, aka, Ted)
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves

For the Salad
2 bone-in chicken breasts, skin on (J’s note, this is not part of the original recipe. I added the chicken.)
4 cups chopped Napa cabbage or shredded coleslaw mix (J’s note, I’m not terribly fond of regular green cabbage, though I do like Napa Cabbage, so I used that)
1/2 head red cabbage, chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced into bite-sized pieces
1 small English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
2 medium scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup roasted salted peanuts

For the dressing, combine all of the ingredients except for the cilantro in a blender and process until completely smooth. Add the cilantro and blend for a few seconds until the cilantro is finely chopped. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the chicken, preheat oven to 375F. I use my toaster oven for this, so it won’t heat up the kitchen. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, and roast for about 45 minutes, or until it’s done to your liking. Let cool, and shred the meat. Discard the skin (or eat the crispy skin while hot, if that’s your thing. That’s sometimes my thing.)

For the salad, combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. If serving right away, drizzle the peanut dressing over top and toss; otherwise, serve the dressing on the side so the salad doesn’t get soggy.

Life’s Still Sweet and Sour

One of Maya’s high school classmates was murdered last week. She was 19 years old, home for the summer after her first year of college, an engineering student in San Diego. She was bright, well liked by so many, a star on the High School track team. Her whole life ahead of her. An ex boyfriend from several years ago rang her doorbell before 7 am, and shot her, then shot himself. I think her parents were there and saw her die. She was not a close friend of Maya’s, but she liked her, and it’s so damned shocking and horrible and makes me think ugly thoughts, like, “If you’re suicidal, be decent and don’t take anyone else out with you”, which of course is cruel in its own way, and makes no sense, because clearly the ex-boyfriend (Stanford, engineering student, 2 years older) was out of his mind with something. And a better, more charitable thought is just wishing he weren’t in so much pain to begin with, or that he had gotten all of the help he needed. The young woman’s mother is a Nurse Practitioner at Maya’s doctor’s office, and has cared for her several times. I don’t know her well, but it hits too close to home.

Ted’s uncle died last week. I’ve never met this uncle, but he lived with Ted and his family for awhile when Ted was 19 or 20, and he liked him a lot. He was a good man, well loved by the family. He was far too young to die. It’s a shock to the family. It’s upsetting and sad and Ted’s dad has to deal with the first loss of a sibling. He comes from a large family, so he’s not alone by any means. But gah.

You know what? Skip the sweet. I’ll get there, but this one is just sour.

Hopping on the Band Wagon

ice cream

I’ve seen this ‘recipe’ around the internet, and there’s even a device you can buy if you want, rather than using a food processor.  I decided to give it a try, as I had some very ripe bananas, Ted is cutting back on his dairy, and we have some vegan friends who might enjoy this.  So here goes…One Ingredient Ice Cream, or, more truthfully, frozen banana puree.

  1. Slice a very ripe (but not TOO far gone) banana into 1 inch or less coins.
  2. Put sliced banana in a freezer bag or other airtight container, and freeze overnight, or at least four hours.
  3. Put frozen banana slices into food processor, and blend away.  At first it will look like frozen shards of banana, but if you stick with it, they will smooth out into a creamy batch of banana, the same consistency as soft serve ice cream.  If you want to add other ingredients, now is the time.  Peanut butter, cocoa powder, Nutella, whatever floats your boat.  Clearly, this will make it two ingredient ice cream, or however many things you add, but that’s between you and your brain to figure out.
  4. Pour into airtight containers and freeze to set.  You can skip this step and just eat it creamy and soft if you so choose.

Guess what?  It doesn’t taste like ice cream.  It tastes like bananas.  But it’s sweet and creamy and cold.  I made mine with chocolate syrup added in the mix, then more chocolate syrup and some nuts to serve.  It tasted like a banana split.  I don’t think anyone would say, “Ice cream?  No, I’d rather have a frozen banana.”  But if you have some really ripe bananas you want to do something with, or if you are making dessert for a vegan, this could work. Give it a try if you’re into such things.

Herndon Road

On my way to Grandma Wells funeral on Wednesday, I happened to drive past Herndon Road in Ceres (right off Highway 99), which I’ve always wondered about. My great-great grandfather owned a house and small orchard there back in the 40s (and for years prior), when they were constructing Highway 99. The govt. bought the land from the family to construct Hwy 99, and as part of the deal, the streets were named for family. I suspect that a few names may have been changed over the years, because I couldn’t find 2 I was looking for. But I found Herndon Road, of course, which was the family name. (That part of the family is from Herndon, VA) Then I found Joyce, which is only a block and turns into a Hwy on-ramp, but was named for my mom when she was very small and the only grandchild. My great-great grandparents house was on the corner of Joyce and Herndon. I also saw Nadine, which was named for my great aunt, and Eugene, which was named for my great uncle (who died as an infant). Apparently my great grandfather lived on the corner of Nadine and Herndon, which had once been a part of his father’s land. I didn’t see Virginia or Florence, which I think used to be there, and were for my Grandma and Great Aunt Flo. And I think if there was a Eugene, there would have been one for my other great aunt, Roberta, who died as a child.

These were the two sides of my family coming together for me, as my Grandma whose life we were celebrating was my dad’s mother, and my great grandfather was on my mom’s side.

The money from that deal (eminent domain) paid to send my mom’s generation of cousins to college, I believe.  So maybe not interesting to anyone else, but it was interesting to me.  And kind of sad, because the neighborhood isn’t great.  The houses all looked pretty run down.  I considered trying to figure out if one of the houses might be the old farmhouse, but none of them looked like good candidates for that.  Certainly a poor neighborhood between a highway and a Home Depot is not what the land looked like 75 years ago.  Nice though, that the corners of Herdon and Joyce, and Herndon and Nadine, are still there today.

Grandma Wells

Grandma on Horseback
My Grandmother Wells died a couple of weeks ago, and yesterday was her funeral. It was sad, because she’s gone, and she was a wonderful, if complicated woman. I met her when I was 22, at my Grandfather’s funeral. Though she had only learned of my existence a short time before, she welcomed me with open arms. Listening to my father tell the story of her life, being born in Shasta, CA, and moving to Ohio (down near West Virginia) as a girl. Riding a horse to school, opening her own beauty shop, eloping with my Grandfather (who may or may not have been engaged to someone else at the time). She convinced him to move to California, and they made a life together in Modesto for many years, in the house he built out of a garage. There she raised my dad, and for a short while, his younger brother Bobby, who was institutionalized because he had Downs Syndrome, which was sadly what they did back in the 40s. He lived with the family until he was about 3, and then taken away, which was devastating to my Grandmother, and I don’t think she ever recovered from it. When in her early 50s, she got a job running reports for Gallo Wine, and ended up working there for 30 years, finally retiring at the age of 82. She would have been 99 this September.

Listening to my sister talk about childhood memories of trips to Modesto to visit, made me ache all over again at not knowing my dad’s side of the family growing up. My mom made the decision, or perhaps let it make itself by simply not taking action, based on several factors. The largest was her own abuse at the hands of her stepfather, which made her wary of men being around young girls, even though she knew at every level that my father was a good man and not capable of such things. I don’t think she necessarily made the decision consciously, but there were no men in her life from the time I got to be about 9 years old. When she got pregnant with me, she actually thought she was already pregnant, and didn’t put 2 + 2 together until I was 4 or 5. Suddenly the timing of my birth (at 5 lbs, though if she had already been pregnant, I would have been about 4 weeks overdue), and the fact that I looked so much like my dad, clicked. By then, my dad was married and had my sisters, and I don’t think my mom wanted to intrude upon that. So we went along that way, with me thinking my dad knew about me but not caring, until I was 21. Then my mom got in touch with my Grandparents, and asked for my dad’s number. He was in his car the following week, coming from Oregon to meet me.

I’m so thankful for that, because he is a wonderful man, and I feel so very loved and cherished by him, my step-mom (not my sisters’ mom, they divorced decades ago), and my sisters. I have nieces and nephews who I love and enjoy and adore. But I do feel sad sometimes, knowing that when my sisters were visiting Modesto, I was just down the road in Stockton, and we could have had time together every summer. I could have gone to Oregon to visit. It could have been, but was not.

Maya was thinking these same thoughts, and getting angry at my mom on my behalf.  I’ve spent a good amount of time angry at her about this very thing, but have made the effort to let that go. Knowing that while what she did was wrong, she truly did her very best for me and my brother, and it does absolutely no good to hang on to anger about what cannot be changed. If we had a time machine, and could go back, of course I would try to change this part of my life, and also have my brother know his father as well. But I can’t, so I have to let it go.

So, I didn’t know my Grandmother the way my sisters did. I know her only as my adult self. I have fond memories of going to visit her in the cool mornings, planting flowers in her yard, helping her to prune back vines that threatened to take over her shed and fence. Memories of bringing Maya to visit when she was a baby. Having lunch with her many a time, and having her tell me to ‘drive defensively’ as I got in the car to go home. She helped to pay for Maya’s preschool education. She included me in every way she could from the day we met. She was a kind, sometimes stern, often awkward woman, and I loved her very much.

One thing I discovered after she died was of her love of horses. I do wish I had known that sooner, though I doubt we would have gone for long horseback rides or anything.

It was sad losing her, but hearing the details of her long life was really nice, and of course getting to see my family was wonderful, as always.

Parada New Peru

Several years ago, the parking lot for our local BART station was converted (at least partially) into a couple of large buildings, with real estate for shops, parking, and restaurants on the first floors, and apartments up above. This change pretty much coincided with the crash of our economy, and likely for that reason, much of the retail space remains empty. There is a Starbucks, of course. There is a ‘brow bar’, a ballet studio for the toddler set, an insurance agent’s office, and a place to take your dog for training and play. About a year and a half ago, we noticed that one of the store fronts was rented, but development didn’t happen. It just sat there, for about a year. I don’t know the story, if there were funding issues or what, but several months ago we finally saw some movement, and a lot of work going into a new restaurant. It finally opened about 2 weeks ago, and it was worth the wait.

Parada New Peru is the latest offering from chef Carlos Altamirano. He is a well renowned chef in the Bay Area, with a Michelin starred restaurant, La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, three other restaurants, and several food trucks delivering his food to the area. If I had known all of this before hand, perhaps we would have made a reservation before walking over for dinner on our 22nd anniversary. As it was, it was more like, “Want to try that new Peruvian place?” “Sure!” So off we went. We arrived at about 5:15 on Friday night, and were told they were booked solid until 8. We had a play in SF at 7:30, so that wouldn’t work for us. They suggested we get take out. OK, but the atmosphere is nice, and it’s our anniversary, and we wanted to sit down for a few minutes at least. There was a table in the small bar area that was reserved for 6:00, so they let us sit and have a drink and an appetizer, then we took our main course to go.

We started with the cebiche (the Peruvian spelling of the word I’ve always seen spelled ‘ceviche’) tasting, which included 3 cebiches: Pescado (fish of the day), Chino (ahi tuna), and Mixto (fish, prawns, and calamari).  They were all delicious and complex.  One had a little heat, one was tart, and the third was maybe a little sweet.  My favorites were the tuna and the mix.  So good.  I had a glass of wine, though I have no idea what it was.  Just that it was white.  Ted had a Manhattan, which he declared good, but not the best.  He wasn’t a big fan of the orange peel in his drink, but otherwise it was good.  For our main course, I had the  Lomo Saltado, which was a delicious stir fried beef tenderloin, with onions, tomatoes, soy sauce & shoestring fries.  Oddly, it came with both fries and rice.  I like both, so that was OK by me.  I’m not familiar enough with Peruvian food to know if this is normal or not.  Seemed like a lot of starch.  Ted had the Langostino Crocantes, which was crispy quinoa encrusted wild Mexican white shrimp with sweet potato gratin & Inca Kola BBQ.  It was delicious, though a little more sweet than he wanted.  Perhaps that was the gratin.  Both dishes were really good, the ambiance was lively, the wait staff friendly.

I didn’t feel like our waiter knew the menu as well as he should have, but it’s a new restaurant. Give it some time, and I’m sure they’ll have it all figured out.  I wish the prices were a little more reasonable, as our casual dinner ran about $100 for the two of us.  There were plenty of staff on hand, the rent is high around here, and it tasted like the ingredients were all top line and really good quality.  I hope it does well, and I look forward to going back. Welcome to the neighborhood, Parada.  Glad to have you here.