Monthly Archives: December 2008

Good Morning

December sunrise in Discovery BayThe trees are beautifully trimmed with sparkling ornaments and family memories, the house is seeping with Winter cheer, gifts have been shared, delectable foods have been enjoyed with family and friends … and now the quiet.  You will need to simply conjure up the sounds of geese in the distance and terns fishing (with great success!) just to the left of this photo.

Enjoy both the zest and quiet of the season.  Blessings to you and your family.

What Is Missing Here?

gingerbread pieces

Don’t you just love those little frames in the Sunday comics with the two very similar pictures and the trick is to find at least 6 differences between them? Well, for this little game, you’ll need a bit of imagination to figure out what should be in the pictures, but I’ve got confidence in your architectural knowledge to fill in the gaps here.

A quick bit of back story here … for years and years, we’ve made homemade gingerbread houses at the holidays and set them out for all to enjoy. It was with great joy that my mom gave me a heavy mold to use after my frustration with cutting individual pieces from large sheets of gingerbread. There is a bit of time involved, making and chilling the dough, baking the houses (half at a time), cooling the industrial quality gingerbread, making the frosting, building the houses, and very importantly letting them set for 24 hours before the decorating begins. Naturally, decorating involves the consumption of great amounts of candy! After all was said and done, any family friend could easily figure out which house was created by which child. These creations screamed out with personality. Two years ago, there was some grumbling about having to decorate the houses, so last year …. no houses! No houses lead to further grumbling, so this year the houses returned and all was well in the world again.

Fast forward to this week. The baking was done and the assorted pieces were all set out on plates waiting for the houses to be built. Then, this morning, I found this ….. more gingerbread pieces

After speaking with each of the kids, it turns out that no one has any idea at all what happened to the other pieces. Gasp! They claim that the puppy methodically worked her way through the same building piece from each plate without disturbing the other pieces nor leaving any crumbs. Uh, huh. Righto.

Update: Sick puppy this morning. Very, very sick … Perhaps my teens didn’t chow down on the house pieces after all. 😉

Marvelous Manderins

Wolfe signHave you ever had the experience where you go out looking for one thing and magically find something else? And loved it?

This weekend, a journey up Walnut Avenue looking for nuts (go figure, with a street name like that!), lead to a discovery of a whole new world right in my back yard. There are one or two families with nut businesses in Brentwood, and to the best of my recollection they were off Walnut. Signs abound for this and that fruit and vegetable stands on this street, so there was no need to check the exact address. Sure, some of you would check the address which is easy to find from an ad in a local newspaper, but that’s just not how I fly.bridge to Wolfe farm

Nuts I did not find, but the lure of a sign for Wolfe Mandarins intrigued me. Off the road I went. Signs lead me to the end of that road, and onto a dirt road. Past small homes and a larger historic estate. Round the bend. Across the sweetest little wood bridge. Wolfe tableRight up onto the Wolfe property and to a small overhang with a table holding the most vibrant citrus ever. Wow! Mind you, all of this is just a stone’s throw from various strip malls with all of the usual corporate brands. Simply amazing.

The little sign said that they were out harvesting citrus, but to go

ahead and purchase mandarins if you so choose and leave the money in the till. Yeah, really.

Now I have a lovely bag of Mandarin Oranges to include in a salad for our small Monday Night Football social gathering this evening. Wolfe’s is now on my “best” list. With a short journey to a magical place and time right here in the neighborhood, who could resist?

Fall Has Arrived – In December

Fall leaves and pumpkins on trailerThe warm days and evenings of November were delightful. Grilling dinner on the back deck, long walks along the levee, knowing that others outside California were not so lucky … ahhhhhh, the good life. Some years, summer does seem to trail off well into October before Fall arrives, but this year was even later. For those foodies who love to live local, there are benefits. Fall Squash in basketAs in, vegetable stands that are still open. Amazing. Enjoy the pics of the onset of Fall in my little neck of the woods. Pimento peppers Oh, and those beautiful peppers? Find a few of them in the Spicy Bean Salad.

Spicy Bean Salad

spicy bean saladKaleidoscope dinner time again. Hmmmm, cooking dinner for a large family, not much time of my own for anything fancy, need to find something that can last in their fridge or freezer just in case of a family emergency. Enchiladas! One pan of cheese and one of chicken will give them some alternatives. Check. Rice. Check. Beans? This is where the plan fell apart. Personally, I’m soooooo tired of re-fried beans. If it was just for myself, I’d do a little black bean and tart queso fresco number. Perhaps my favorite “hearty” summer chip dip? It was time to try something new.

After perusing my favorite online haunts, I narrowed in on one that sounded like a winner both for taste and time. The original came from Karen Castle at www.allrecipes.com and is titled Mexican Bean Salad. Naturally, I altered it based on what was readily available (avocados on sale … yes!) and just my own personal preferences. But believe you me, that dressing is a total winner! It can best be described as a collision between a 3 bean salad dressing and your favorite Mexican spices that make you want to jump up and dance. Oh yeah, like that.

Without further adieu, here we go …

Ingredients:

  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 pimento pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 3 avocados, diced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 1 dash hot pepper sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine beans, bell peppers, and red onion.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt, garlic, cilantro, cumin, and black pepper. Season to taste with hot sauce and chili powder.
  3. Pour olive oil dressing over vegetables; mix well. Gently fold in avocado. Chill thoroughly, and serve cold.

Notes:

  • Do give this dish some time to chill. Chill is better than no chill. And, the density of the dish (geek alert!) means that the salad likes to retain its heat.
  • Make enough for left overs. A healthy snack like this is perfect to stash in the fridge for snacking families.
  • Those pimento peppers? Those are part of the local angle  cuz I had just picked some up from the vegetable stand and love them, but are not worth a trip to a specialty store just for this dish.
  • Did you catch that? Yes, vegetable stand in December. That’s why we pay the big prices to live in California!

Almost Bananas with Guilt

banana breadGluttony. That’s a thing of the past with foodies. Now, restraint is the new gluttony. Slow food. Locavores. Eating closer to the bottom of the food chain. Yeah, those are the subtopics of the current chapter. As someone who purposefully does not purchase many fresh foods grown outside California, I must confess to one weakness … bananas. Grown outside my entire continent, sprayed with various chemicals to control their ripening, transported half way across the world using oil that we … ok, let’s stop there. Simply put, I like ’em. And, my teenage son goes through them with like they are candy when he’s competing in one sport or another.

As for over ripe bananas, the obvious answer is banana bread! I found a recipe a few years back that did me well. Sure, it required 3 bowls and used shortening, but it was some pretty good stuff. When that big ol’ container of questionable shortening was finally finished (banana bread being its only use ’round here) I went on an expedition for a new plan. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you banana bread made with 2 bowls and no questionable ingredients! This is straight from Allrecipes.com and incorporates several reader suggestions. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Slowly add dry mixture until just incorporated. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Notes:

* Go ahead and mush those bananas between your fingers …. its fun!

* When teen age kids are so excited over your banana bread and just pull the puffy top right off the loaf, take it as a supreme compliment.