Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Cookies That May Be Better For You

Flourless choco-nut gems are not sugar-free but using a sugar substitute cuts the carbs and doesn't wreck the flavor.
This recipe came from the For the Love of Food blog.
I miss the carb-bomb labors of love Christmas treats my mom used to send every year all the way from South Dakota in TWO large batches: frosted melt-in-the-mouth sugar cookies in cut-out shapes; ginger and peanut butter cookies; Russian tea cakes; Chex mix, and the family favorite—Special K Bars which, in addition to the highly processed cereal, included peanut butter, a load of the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup, and a bag of chocolate chips melted on top.

Alas, over the past decade, I've become a serious carb-avoider. During my most dedicated periods, I try to limit myself to fewer than 30 unrefined carbs a day, which equals around two slices of bread. Notice I said "try." My intentions are noble but I often fail. Like at a party the other night. I won't go into details, but some failures are massive. Even a couple days of eating like a stereotypical overweight American makes me cringe at the scale, sending me straight into carb-correction mode.

I guess it's worked; I am not skinny, but my weight has fluctuated only a few pounds, up or down, from the day it dawned on me that refined carb reduction was my best bet for combatting creeping weight gain.

Still, I miss the cookies and went on a hunt for lower-carb alternatives. This post is sorta late to do any good for this holiday season, but I think these two recipes are transferrable to various celebrations throughout the year, and maybe even for lunchbox treats.
I have to admit I also reverting to one of my mom's type cookies, the nut-and-butter-rich Russian tea cakes, to bring to a post Christmas visit to our son and family. I know somebody there who loves them!

On to the goods!
As you can see, this oft-repeated recipe has gone through some revisions since my sister first sent it to me a few years ago.  These are really really good, even with substitutions.

Flourless Espresso Chocolate and Nut Gems
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (or semisweet if you can't find bittersweet) chopped into medium chunks
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sugar, Splenda, or another sugar substitute. I get 22 rather than 24 mini-cupcakes using Splenda.
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (sub instant coffee if you must)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts or other nuts. Optional.
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar. Optional.
Preheat oven to 375. Coat mini-muffin tin, or tins, with cooking spray. I used coconut spray, even though my 24-c tin is supposedly non stick. Combine the chopped chocolate and butter in a microwave-proof glass bowl and heat for two minutes, then one minute at a time, stirring after each minute until melted. Alternatively, use a double-boiler. Whisk in sugar or Splenda, vanilla and espresso powder, then whisk in eggs until well combined. Sift cocoa powder over the top and whisk until smooth. Stir in the ground nuts. Spoon mixture into mini-muffin tins, filling nearly to the top. Bake until cookies have risen, 8-10 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then carefully remove from tin to a cooling rack. Sift powdered sugar lightly over the "gems."

I was able to find a 24-mini muffin tin; two 12-ers will also do the trick. Note
 two empty spaces due to using Splenda.
Walnuts ground up in a food processor. Discovery! When processing walnuts
in my Cuisinart, most of the bitter membranes in the nuts ended up on the
sides of the bowl and were easy to wipe out. 
    Lemon coconut cookies are lemon heaven, according to, where this recipe originated.
Lemon Coconut Cookies
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons lemon zest
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons butter or ghee, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup raw honey
Cool the dough for a half hour in the refrigerator. (My addition to the recipe!)
Preheat oven  to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Do not skip this step!)
Mix all ingredients until well blended. Place one tablespoons of batter at a time on the baking sheet about two inches apart. Place another piece of parchment paper, or wax paper,  over each mound of batter in turn, pressing with the bottom of a glass to flatten to about 1/8 inch thickness. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool for five minutes then transfer carefully to a cooling rack. Cookies that aren't immediately consumed should be stored in the freezer.

Note: These cookies are a bit fragile. Handle with care. They're great eaten right out of the freezer.

Other lower carb, may-be-better-for-you desserts

Berries Crisp - you'd have to use frozen this time of year, but still great!
Avocado, chocolate and peanut butter pudding or pie. Fantastic. You have to try to believe. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dialing Back Christmas

The swaddled trees symbolize, sorta, what I've done with Christmas; wrapped it up. But wait! There's hope.

Soon after the Halloween pumpkins disappear, the Thanksgiving turkeys have been devoured, and Black Friday has sucked in an army of discount-sock buyers, I curl into an inert lump with a sign on my butt saying, "Wake me when it's over."

I am so done with Christmas, which, of course, is an unacceptable noun in our Happy Holidays culture. This national vocabulary revision occurred over decades, during which I morphed from a child bedazzled by Santa, Jesus, Christmas trees, and sugar cookies, to a 30-something mother successfully replicating the elaborate Christmases provided by my cookie-baking, gift-making, party-giving, decorating-dervish mother, into an, ahem, older woman, adverse to most things Christmas.
It wasn't always thus.

For about a dozen years, PK and I hosted a Christmas Eve celebration with numerous local families whose close relatives lived far away, as did ours. Visits from Santa and the elves—who arrived atop the local fire department's truck—loud off-key carol singing, extra special recipes, outrageous feasting, funky family performances, and delighted young children, made Christmas eve a memory-making fun fest.

Then the kids grew up, and when teen eye-rolling occurred, it wasn't quite as much fun. Our tradition faded over a few transitional years, as things do, when their time passes. As our annual party gradually faded away, so did my enthusiasm for decorating, baking, hosting, and for damn sure, gift giving.

Decades ago, my one and only sibling and I agreed to a binding no-gift policy, although we fretted together annually over gift options to honor our parents, who never indicated they weren't interested. My mom decorated for Christmas, and she sent cards, with my help, through age 98. She died before she turned 99, but I'm sure, that had she lived, we would have continued to consult her ever-dwindling card list, write greetings,  and slap stamps onto festive envelopes.

As for gifts, I can't remember the last time PK and I exchanged them. We don't need or want anything except to travel, and to spend time with our grandchildren, so what's the point of buying something that the other person doesn't need and likely doesn't want, and can certainly do without? And forgets? Giving out of obligation isn't really "giving." What's the point?

Exactly. There is no point, except to buy into the crazy shopping culture built up around the season.
Over the past 30-some years, my attitude about the "season" has deteriorated to nearly complete rejection, especially for most of the trappings and expected behaviors. The season of obligation? Of credit-card maxing, terrible sweaters, sugar bombs, pajama overload, nauseating Muzak carols, and plastic toys? No, thank you! I know I'm not alone.

An aging relative said in a recent email:
Christmas is coming so fast and I am not ready and have no excuse. It is a lot of work for one day. I think we need to go back to the true meaning of Christmas instead of making it a season.   

A long-time friend announced:
We're getting out of town, out of the country, away from all this craziness.

Another, whose house is usually ablaze with lights:
I can't do it anymore. It's too much work and my electric bill goes way up.

On the other hand, I got a "holiday letter" this week from a longtime friend, JoAnne Heron, who said this:
It will take an extra dose of intention to make holiness a part of the season, knowing that there is so much desperation and environmental degradation in this world. One has to work hard to be positive and have perspective in this blessed time of year… diligent, to absorb and live the lessons of the Child for whom this season was named. And really, the only way I can deal with it is to take responsibility for myself, to love fully, to create beauty, tread lightly on the earth, and be as kind of possible to all. 

Her words gave me pause, and I reviewed the decades to see what Christmas behaviors/traditions I might resurrect, what made a difference to others and also made me feel good and right with the world. And, what I can once and for all shed.

What I'm Over 

Obligatory gift giving 
I make exception for the grandchildren, who have no unmet needs except, perhaps, the continuing adoration of their grandparents made manifest in wrapped packages. We must do our part. It is our privilege to spoil them.

Shopping of almost any kind, (except at local family businesses and for groceries and gas) between Black Friday and December 26 because the traffic is crazy, parking lots are ram fests, people are stressed and cranky, the piped in Christmas music is nauseating, and it's all so outside of what the pure Christmas spirit is all about.

Christmas trees.  No more for us. Our property is already festooned with at least 30 now-mature former live trees. We've never purchased a harvested tree, but applaud friends who've made hunting down their own tree in the forest a family tradition. The fake tree doesn't cut it, either.
We've taken the past couple years to decorating house foliage, this year, a snake plant.
A  house plant doubling as Christmas tree.

Christmas music.  I once loved traditional Christmas carols. Years ago I bought a used piano so I could play carols for our Christmas Eve party, but sold it about 10 years ago. Carols piped into nearly every shopping space has ruined them for me. Last year I attended a sing-along Handel's Messiah concert, and even that didn't induce the Christmas spirit, although I'll always love the Hallelujah chorus. In closing, I have one thing to say about commercial Christmas music: Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Go ahead and click. I dare you!

Christmas cards and letters. I gave up the card business years ago, although I assisted my elderly mother for the last seven Christmases of her life in writing notes on cards and addressing envelopes. She loved getting cards. I still love getting Christmas letters, even if they're smarmy or bragging. Every single one, whether emailed, snail-mailed, or delivered in person, is read and read again.

However, I may have written my last one. Here's the deal. I write this blog and also post umpteen photos of our travels on Facebook. I don't need to do any more communicating. Life has been good, and our sons and grandchildren are spectacular, and even though I don't mind if others boast, I need to get over it myself. My past holiday letters have too much family chest thumping, although innocent. If I were to write a letter this year, I'd mention that PK did require a hip replacement, but it went so well, it's hardly worth mentioning. Especially if your hip replacement wasn't the best, as his was. And if your children and grandchildren aren't as magnificent as ours are, well, what the hell's wrong with you? See what I mean?

What I'm Keeping

Charitable giving.  Non profits want to take advantage of the holiday spirit, plus tax time is coming up for those charitable gift deductions. Be generous. Local non profits desperately need your support.

Giving out of pocket to homeless and others.  Bedraggled people begging at freeway ramps or around shopping centers are people just like us, but whose stories we probably can't fathom or know. A woman near a shopping center last week displayed a sign saying something like, "I'm not trash. I am down on my luck." I rolled down the window and handed her a bill. She cried as she thanked me.

At any point in most of our lives, it could have been us not being "trash".  Give, give, give. Street corners, soup kitchens, school backpack drives, gift trees, toy drives, food collection points, gifts for nursing home residents, for housebound people, for families living in cars or people sleeping on cardboard over heating vents. At no time of the year is the disparity between what "we" have and what "they" have more apparent or sobering. Hand a $20 bill to a downtrodden somebody standing with a sign in the cold rain or snow and see how that makes you feel. You won't miss the $20, but you'll make his or her day and provide a meal or two. Or maybe a beer or two? Not for us to judge.

Baking - I made sugar cookies decorated with colored frosting for years. Baked Mexican wedding "cakes" and stirred up rich dark chocolate fudge. The grandchildren don't know this, but their parents do. And the parents say no to sweets. But I decided to defy them. My wonderful mother, every Christmas, sent boxes of homemade treats. I still have some of her packing tins. We're all trying to escape sugar and flour, but I'm going to search for healthier treats and our grandchildren may someday remember their Christmas treat-providing grandma!

Countering evil in the world. That's a formidable job, given the vitriol and fear that's surging in the global consciousness, but if millions take it on, maybe a vibe will gather in the ether and a giant tuning fork in the unending universe will vibrate waves of harmony toward earth. Part of contributing to this harmony is being a good friend, a loving partner, parent, and grand parent. It's also about being non judgmental, forgiving, generous and remembering, even if you are without religious faith, to love your neighbor as yourself, to be kind and tenderhearted. As John Lennon sang,  Imagine.  We can live as one.

Lights!  Nothing to argue with there. Put 'em up, even if you believe in nothing but the flickering human spirit. Light up the winter darkness, illuminate your living room or kitchen or bedroom or yard. Combat the gloom with brightness and color. If you admire Jesus, remember what he said about forgiveness and loving your enemies. Carry the light.

And hey, have yourself a merry little Christmas!

This is it! Christmas at our house 2015. One room decked out in lights. A houseplant serving as a "tree", a few candles, some incense, fresh greens, and blues, jazz and rock n' roll on the sound system.  And in our hearts, perhaps more kindness, more understanding, more forgiveness, more tuning into universal goodness because we know it exists, call it what you will.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Spiralized Sweet Potato Fries and How to Use A lot of Zucchini

                           Spiralized sweet potato "fries" roasted at 425. Recipe below. 
I rarely get so excited about a kitchen gadget that I promote it. I'm not saying that just because I'm smitten with the spiralizer, you should run right out and buy one. It took me a year to respond, with my credit card, to a friend who alerted me to this clever device that is now my second best friend in the kitchen, my bestie being my food processor,which happens to be a Cuisinart.

My friend even loaned me her spiralizer because she was certain that if I used it, I would rush forth with the plastic card. I  admit I didn't even try the damn thing before returning it to her. Why? I was attempting to purge possessions, not accumulate them. Also, as I saw it, the spiralizer would hog a significant chunk of kitchen storage and be just another piece of plastic about which to feel guilt and remorse. So I returned it to my friend saying, thanks, but no thanks. 

Then zucchini season reared up. As usual, I gave away or tossed into the compost an embarrassing poundage of zucchini flesh. (Somehow, we always have way too much zucchini, even when we limit ourselves to two or three plants.) Then I remembered the spiralizer, and in desperation, used Amazon Prime to have one delivered within a couple days. And then the fun began! The poor neighbors, and others upon whom I'd foisted excess produce, no longer had to feign enthusiasm for zucchini; I actually was able to use most of it. Yes. We ate a TON of zucchini, but as noodles, and somehow, that makes a difference.
This is my Padrone spiralizer with a perfect zucchini transformed into noodles. You don't think zucchini noodles will cut the mustard? I was worried, as PK is a skinny bastard who doesn't need to cut carbs or calories and is sorta turned off by veggie noodles, and I am a hanging on for-dear-life-to a-reasonable-weight-70-year-old-size 12. Fortunately, I'm, not yet in a vegetative state. We reached a compromise with a 2/3 zuke and 1/3 "real" pasta blend. I later got rid of the "real"pasta, and he failed to notice.
Zucchini noodles quick frying in a little olive oil and salt.
Zuke noodles are joined by cooked "real" noodles. The zuke noodles came from a large zucchini while the pasta was a scant handful before it was boiled. Obviously, the pasta swells and the zucchini shrinks. This is indicative of what happens when we eat pasta (swell) and when we eat zucchini (shrink.)
The real pasta boils on the back burner as I test the zucchini noodles for "al dente" with  a hand which appears to be on loan from a wax museum, 

Obviously, the pasta swells and the zucchini shrinks. This is indicative of what happens when we eat pasta (swell) and when we eat zucchini (shrink.)

Zucchini was the obvious first choice for veggie noodles, but once the zucchini plants up and died, I moved on to potatoes, sweet potatoes, and beets. And according to food bloggers, I'm just getting started. For recipes and in-depth info, check out this blog and get a steady stream of recipes and ways to use the spiralizer. In addition to noodles, it can also slice veggies into thin rounds.

The sweet potato fries are great! Easy, tasty, nutritious. Here they are with a salmon patty sandwich and a green salad with avocado. Recipe below.
The spiralizer seems to work best with firm veggies 3-4 inches in diameter. Cut them into lengths of six or seven inches, or more, depending upon your model. The Paderno is good and costs around $35. I like it because it has super good suction to hold it in place while processing, comes with three interchangeable blades, and is easy to use and to clean. 
The object in the forefront is what's left of a sweet potato after spiralizing—a stump and a core. The pile of noodles is atop parchment paper on a baking sheet almost ready to pop into the oven. All it needs is a couple tablespoons of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. 

For two hungry people
  • 1 large sweet potato. Choose one that is relatively straight and about 3 to 3.5 inches in diameter.
  • olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pepper flakes, optional


Preheat the oven to 425.
Spiralize the sweet potato. You will need to cut it to fit for spiralizing.
Snip the noodles into lengths of your choice, or not.(Some people love long curly fries, but they take longer to roast and may not cook as evenly as snipped noodles.)

Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the oiled noodles over the paper and salt and pepper to taste. Add pepper flakes if you like them. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, then check for doneness. Use tongs to turn, and roast another 10 minutes, watching closely so they don't burn.

The sweet potatoes may also be fried, preferably in a cast-iron skillet. But this requires closer attention and more oil. However, the fries will be crunchier.

Ready to try a spiralizer? You can't go wrong.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New Terriitory on the Oregon Coast with Four Wheel Camper and Friends - plus a Secret

What is it about oceans that makes us feel like masters of the universe? Who isn't spellbound by the surf and surge, the soaring seabirds and the deep sea beings, so close and yet a world away. Here friend Dave Frank gathers power and beauty, drama and danger, as he attempts to command  the Pacific Ocean. 

Usually PK and I head to coast alone, but in early October we joined a group of 12 in the Humbug Mountain/Port Orford area of the Southern Oregon coast. Basking here in the late afternoon sun with margaritas,  burritos, and old friends, we couldn't be more warmed.
For 40-some years, PK and I have traveled to the Oregon coast. It's where we met in the 1970s, and where we return periodically to refuel. We did so in early October, and as we made the return trip to our inland Rogue Valley home, we reveled once again in our good fortune to live so close to an ultimate power place—the Pacific Ocean's interface with the wild Oregon shore.

I say "wild" because the Southern Oregon shore, in addition to being relatively undeveloped,  belongs to everyone. In Oregon, not even Donald Trump can own a beach or block access to one. Since the Beach Bill  became law in 1967, all 362 miles of Oregon coast is open territory. If you can drive or walk there, it's yours. Is that great, or what?

As usual, we traveled in our little Four-Wheel Camper clamped onto an aging Toyota Tundra. Also as usual, when we stay in developed campgrounds such as the Oregon State Park's Humbug Mountain campground, we brought down the neighborhood.

With a pop-up camper, no matter how deluxe we think it is, we rank just a notch above tent dwellers, who are usually segregated without electricity, water hook-ups, or, of course, sewer connection.  (At this campground, however, the tent sites were the only ones on the creek! The fact that the creek was without water doesn't matter. Tent camping is encouraged in Oregon!) Directly across the camp road, however, we were hunkered amidst mammoth RVs. I have no problem with big RVs, but I don't want one.

Honestly, PK and I are a bit smug about our little 4WC. When we hear the generators rev up and catch the sterile glimmer of television screens, and people actually walking around in those those big boxes on wheels, we congratulate one another as we suck in our guts and co-exist in our roughly four-feet long, two-feet wide floorspace. The 4WC isn't for everyone, but for people like us who camped in tents for umpteen years, it is extravagant. It is bliss. It is luxury.

Our grandkids LOVE the 4WC. No sooner do we set up in their backyard than they're all over it. As you can see, we lack a dance floor, but we do enjoy a refrigerator/freezer, sink, 2-burner stove, furnace, queen-sized bed, and a decent sound system. And lights. And did I say heat? And an outside shower. And an awning.  Let's not talk about the toilet, though. Nothing to talk about.
Back to the beach. We have our favorite spots, including this overlook on the Indian Sands trail just north of Brookings.
We've hiked the steep trail to get to this view 20+ times. When we were younger, we skirted the edge of a rocky path with a straight shot to the crazy surging boils 25 feet below. We now enjoy danger from a distance, where a stumble doesn't necessarily mean certain death. 
But on this trip we discovered new wonders that somehow eluded us on previous visits, such as....

We'd never camped at Humbug Mountain, although we climbed to the top of the mountain years ago. And although we'd rented a motel room a couple times in nearby Port Orford, we had never set foot on this Port Orford beach, which is terrifying It's one of those super steep sloped beaches with huge waves that you don't want to play chicken with. Go there and be alone with the wind, sand, and robust waves. Take a little bag for your agates. Don't wade into the surf.
  Locals call it Agate Beach, but Tseriadun is the official name.
 Watch for sneaker waves! Also agates just lying about.
The Port Orford Lifeboat Station museum and associated trails are not to be missed if you have any interest whatsoever in how the early Coast Guard rescued ship-wreck survivors in this treacherous stretch of coast, and also how they lived in a structure that is now a museum. Even if you don't have an interest, you may develop one visiting the museum and trails.
 This tiny sheltered cove served as the Coast Guard's harbor during the years strong brave guys braved treacherous conditions to rescue victims of frequent shipwrecks. If you're going through Port Orford, take time for the museum and a short walk to see this cove, and......a trail along the bluff that leads to sights such as......
     Seals sunning themselves in perfect states of lethargy. We were mesmerized by them and also ....
Whales! Or maybe only one whale, which cavorted near the seal-covered rocks.

From Grants Pass, Port Orford is 153 miles, a three-hour drive.
Just up Hwy. 101 from Port Orford is Cape Blanco, the western-most point on the Oregon coast, where a lighthouse still beams and friendly volunteers will tell you that the lighthouse stairs are no longer safe since a recent minor offshore earthquake resulted in a lighthouse crack. New to me were the great trails and incredible views above and beyond the lighthouse.
Smart (older) hikers bring hiking poles when walking sometimes-steep-and-rocky coastal trails, 

A new-to-me beach on Cape Blanco within  sight of the lighthouse. Gail Frank leads the way.

The Secret
Fall is the best time on the southern Oregon coast, and don't discount winter; watch the forecast for winter weather windows. 

Unless you live within a few hours of the Southern Oregon coast, you may not be able to take advantage of counter-intuitive realities; late fall and winter can be the best times to visit. Unless you're a surfer with a wetsuit, the Oregon coast is not for swimming and sunbathing. It is all about drama and grandeur with breathtaking vistas and myriad hiking ops. If you can, skip the crowds, visit during the off season and enjoy the "Brookings Effect" which renders the southern-most Oregon coast mild and dry while rain prevails elsewhere.
This blazing sun visited the Southern Oregon coast on December 15, 2013. It was 70 degrees for two days in a row!  Off-season rates, empty beaches and big show-off winter surf  made this one of our best coast trips ever. Mid-summer heat waves in the inland valleys often mean coastal fog during what are usually considered prime vacation travel months - July and August. Not here.
A  December sun sets in Gold Beach, Oregon.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Pot Grow Next Door

Marijuana farmers don't claim to have a farm, but a "grow." We know about this because one, we share a fence with a "grow" and two, Southern Oregon and Northern California - the State of Jefferson - is a premier pot-growing region.

This guy, part of the pot-grower-next-door group, is surrounded by mature marijuana plants,. He looks kinda gnarly, but he doesn't give off bad-guy vibes at all. He's a friendly smiley local who went to high school with our oldest son and now makes a living from one of the Northwest's most sought-after legal products. The money and the goods are in the buds, easily visible at the top of the stalks.
In case you don't keep up with marijuana laws, it is legal to grow and possess pot in Oregon for recreational or medicinal purposes.We're not alone, with Colorado, Washington and Alaska joining the pot renegade movement. But the trend has not exactly resulted in a national change of heart.

Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana while 23 other states have eased restrictions, but federal agents are still arresting people caught with the drug in record numbers. During 2014, marijuana arrests skyrocketed with someone being charged with possession every 45 seconds, the FBI announced last week. That’s 1,700 people a day.... Read more » Legalize It: Marijuana ...

So despite the fact that pot is a fact of life here in Oregon, pot is still contraband in much of the USA. I'm sad that taxpayer dollars continue to be spent to catch, prosecute and imprison US citizens who grow or use pot. What a horrific and stupid waste of resources, human and otherwise.  The only threat legal marijuana growers pose is to the Mexican drug cartels, representatives of which I guess are now skipping Oregon, at least for marijuana sales.

We've had a  pot grow next door for going on four years, and it hasn't made a bit of difference to us, except the, uh, aromas, at harvest time. Which is as we speak are wafting my way in great drifts of fragrance. Some would say "blasts of skunk spray." 

It isn't as if we're buddies with the growers. We actually just went over there for the first time a couple days ago.

The fence had held us back. As Robert Frost noted in his beloved poem, Mending Wall, about fences;  Something there is that doesn't love a wall.  Fences are all about barriers.

Those tall solid pot-grow fences did the trick for us. We sometimes parked the tractor near the fence and climbed up on the seat to peek over the fence, curious, but reluctant to intrude, thinking the pot growers next door were secretive and somehow nefarious. We could hear their music and their voices, but without eye contact, we had little to go on.

There's no way to accidentally see a marijuana grow in Oregon because laws insist that all evidence that a grow exists must be hidden behind a tall solid fence. No way to hide the tippy-top buds this time of year, however. So even though you can't see the actual plants most of the growing season, you know the pot is there because of the fences. They are everywhere in southwestern Oregon, which with our Mediterranean climate, is ideal pot cultivation terrain. 

When we visited, I learned that our neighbors started their operation three years ago with medicinal plants and continue to grow for medical marijuana cardholders. By "neighbors" I mean the ones with whom we share a fence, not our other "neighbors" on our one-mile dusty and rutted country road where the "grow" count ranges from five to fifteen, depending upon whom you ask. One tweaker sort of gal who lives near the end of the road, says she thinks there are 17 grows along our road, most of them hidden in the forest.

(I picked her up hitchhiking a few days ago when we had this conversation. She had a day off from cleaning motel rooms. She'd asked to work, but got her day off anyway. What was she going to do? "I have nothing to do," she confessed. " I'll drink my beer (which she'd walked two miles into town to buy) and go to bed." It was before noon. I realize it  seems judgmental to tell that story. But I'm not judging, just feeling sad for a person, who, if she isn't cleaning motel rooms, has nothing to look forward to.)

Mid-October is prime pot harvest and also means "cleaners" are coming from hither and yon to meticulously separate the chaff from the grain, the leaves from the buds. It's only the buds, baby. Everything else is compost. 
Snip, snip, snip. Hours upon hours. Lots of labor goes into producing pot.
We can see the tallest plants and their burgeoning buds from our side of the fence. Smell em, too. 
Control central for watering and fertilziing an estimated three dozen extravagant pot plants exuding a heady, so to speak, aroma that some neighbors complain is skunky. I like the smell. It's rich and earthy. Not unlike strong coffee or diesel fumes.
This year our neighbors grew several varieties in order to avoid having to harvest and clean them all at the same time, which last year drove them to the brink, The colorful names include Blue City Diesel(??), Reserve? I should go over there and look again. Purple Dream, Monkey Balls and several more. The various strains produce a staggered harvest, so to speak.The different varieties are also said to have different medicinal benefits. 

This variety may have a pep-up effect? Or perhaps the name refers to the shape of the buds? 
Or the smell?

They're growing big and they ARE home. Our neighbors. We're OK with them.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Salmon patties with dill sauce

PK went to Alaska for six days earlier this month and returned triumphant with close to 75 (!!) pounds of fish, about two-thirds salmon and the rest, halibut. He wasn't beating his chest in the least. Except for the day he and his buddies fished for halibut on the open ocean amidst 18-foot swells in a small boat, he claims catching fish was easy. Even I could do it!
Salmon patties are a tasty use for leftover salmon.
Figuring all his costs, including his wading outfit and fishing gear, flight, lodging, and strong drink, the fish now filling our freezer cost about $40 a pound. Not counting the fun he had catching it.

He's been home a couple weeks now,  and we've barbecued salmon on the Traeger twice, and also smoked a couple of fillets. Both times I've made salmon cakes or patties or burgers or croquettes or whatever you want to call them, with the leftovers. They were a hit with guests, and we liked them, too.

I bet I read 20 recipes before one landed fortuitously in my day's email via the Inspiralized blog. My recipe is based on that one, but borrows bits and pieces from numerous other sources and ingredients that seemed like they'd fit. I was cooking for four, but this amount made six generous patties. The recipe can be scaled back for smaller amounts of fish.

The second batch included a salmon fillet that PK brined and smoked in the Traeger. Somehow the proportions of salt vs. sugar for the brine got reversed and the "smoked salmon" was salty enough to melt road ice. It worked well, however, mixed with plain grilled salmon for salmon patties made without additional salt.

In addition to the cooked fish, the recipe includes celery, garlic, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, bread crumbs, scallions,  jalapeno pepper, an egg, and celery salt  or smoked salt.

Whirr up most of the ingredients in a food processor before adding the salmon.
Flaked salmon ready to mix in.

Process the salmon it in pulses to make sure it doesn't get mushy.

Fry in olive or other oil. A cast iron pan works better for me than non stick.

Cooling on a wire rack, salmon patties may be eaten cold or hot. They can also be frozen, but put waxed paper or foil between the patties. 

Simple early fall supper- salmon patties and Caprese salad. 

Salmon patties

1 1/2 pound of cooked salmon, skin, bones and dark stuff removed
4 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp celery salt, or to taste
4 -5 finely chopped garlic cloves
2-3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped (optional)
1/2 stalk celery, finely chopped (use the leafy end)
1/2 cup dried sprouted grain bread crumbs (or any other bread crumbs)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 large egg or 2 medium
1 tablespoon lemon zest
chili pepper flakes to taste
4 or 5 scallions, chopped, including the green part

Roughly chop or tear apart the cleaned-up salmon. Chop the scallions, including some of the green part. Set aside.
Process the dill weed and the garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the other ingredients, except the salmon and the scallions, and process. Add the salmon and pulse until well mixed but not into a slurry.

Mix in the chopped scallions by hand.

Form patties and fry in olive oil (or other oil) until cooked through slightly browned. Serve hot or cold with dill sauce.

Amped-up Caprese salad.

Got a great salmon or halibut recipe? PLEASE send it either via comments or email me: Thanks!

Amped-up Caprese Salad

There's no such thing as a bad Caprese salad, unless, of course, the tomatoes are mealy out-of-season gagging units purchased at the supermarket. So the first ingredient is great tomatoes.

After that, there are a couple of things that can levitate your Caprese: smoked salt and balsamic glaze.
This salad fills a dinner plate and is ample for two people. It occupied about half a plate in a recent supper for two that featured only Caprese  salad and salmon patties. At our house, that''s plenty.

A huge Brandywine was enough for a Caprese salad for two.
Amped-up Caprese Salad

1 huge or 2 large-medium fresh garden tomatoes, sliced
fresh mozzarella
balsamic glaze*
olive oil
fresh basil leaves
smoked salt* (or not)

Slice tomatoes and arrange on a plate. Tip plate to drain before proceeding. Slice cheese and place a slice or two on each tomato. Salt with smoked salt, or regular salt if you lack smoked. Tear the basil, slice into strips, or apply as whole leaves atop the tomatoes. Drizzle lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Then top with a drizzle of balsamic glaze (the most important part!) 

*Smoked salt can be purchased in bulk in rural southern Oregon grocery stores so I imagine it's available most anywhere. 
*Balsamic glaze can be purchased at Trader Joe's and likely elsewhere.

Salmon patties with dill sauce

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Best Damn Salsa!

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Here's PK a few years back with a great pepper harvest. For salsa, we use the mixed color sweet peppers on the right combined with lots of the red hot peppers. 

I'm on a roll here with recipies to use up gargantuan garden harvests Here's one for a great salsa. If you don't have a garden bordering on obscene, then head to the nearest farmers' market. You can halve the recipe to make about 8 pints. Otherwise, clear your shelves for 16 - 17 pints.
Just out of the canning pot, 2015's salsa. I love the brilliant color and the crisp pops of sealing jars and the promise of easy tangy salsa throughout  the winter. 
Roma-type tomatoes are best for cooking and canning.

We have a half dozen salsa recipes in our canning binder, but this is the one that keeps stocking our pantry, year after year. We've tweaked it many times. It's hot, but not too hot. Sweet, but not too sweet. We've named it after the people who passed it along, Jack and Lois Harris. With numerous refinements over the years we call it:

Jack and Lois Salsa Suprema
16 cups peeled, cored, diced  Roma type tomatoes
3-4 cups chopped green peppers (8-12 medium peppers)
8 cups chopped onions, not sweet
8 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped. A few habaneros and other peppers may be added to spice it up
11/2 cups tomato paste (2 small cans)
15 oz can tomato soup (no water)
2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 or 2 can black beans, rinsed and drained (we use 1 can)
6 T garlic chili sauce
6 T serrano sauce (or Sriracha sauce)
1.5 cups white vinegar
4 T sugar
4 T salt
8 tsp garlic powder
2 T cayenne pepper

Note: This recipe requires two large pots. Measure the ingredients and divide between the pots. After simmering for an hour or more, you will be able to combine the two batches for canning.

Boil water and immerse batches of Roma tomatoes for a few minutes. Remove, douse with cold water, slip the skins off, remove core, cut into large chunks and drain in a colander while you're processing the next batch. Pulse the peeled tomatoes in a food processor or blender until roughly chopped, then dump into your two pots.  Divide and add the other ingredients.

Cook uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring frequently. Can in a water bath canner for 15 minutes, timing after water reaches a rolling boil. Or use a pressure cooker, which is what we do.
With a pressure cooker, you can stack the pints and get it all done in one batch. Follow the directions provided for your pressure cooker. (After venting steam for 10 minutes after the pressure gauge pops up, place the weight over the steam vent and process until the pressure comes up to 10. Turn off heat and leave it alone until the pressure gauge falls down.)
Seventeen pints came from this recipe. Yowsers! Lots of work, lots of love. Lots of chips.