Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Just Can't Wait to Get On The Road Again

Every few years, we need a road trip but I'm not sure driving two-thirds of the way across the country in November was the best choice.  Still, any road trip where we are still married at the end can be considered a success, right?

You may know that Mark and I just returned from an adventure the likes of which we haven't seen in YEARS.  After seemingly searching to the ends of the internet, he finally found the ultimate, the PERFECT, the OPTIMUM, the just right recreational vehicle he has been seeking.  A "super C"garage hauler;  like a class-C but bigger and with cargo hauling capacity that allows you to carry motorcycles to races. This has a Freightliner chassis, a motorhome with sleeping for six (five comfortably).  And a garage big enough to carry a full-size vehicle. While I was thrilled he found it, deals must be acted upon and this one was in in Ohio.  And it's November.

The opportunity had to be seized so off we went, driving to Ohio in four days, picked up the great white beast, parked my car in the back, then headed home. We had a "bucket list" of 15 states we had not yet visited and six were picked off on the way to Ohio. Because of Winter Storm Avery's trajectory, we took a more southerly route home to miss the snow, knocking out three more states before connecting to Interstate 40 which we had taken across country when we were first married in 1975.  I hope to cover the trip in topics in a revival of my Beachcomber's Blog and I would be remiss if I didn't start with the food...or, more accurately, the brews that accompany so many of our meals when we travel. 

Often people remark on the fact that so many of our photos include (or are exclusively) beer.  Good microbrews from Humboldt and afar. "Hmmm.  Do you guys ALWAYS drink? Are you some kind of BEER connoisseurs?"  No (well, kinda) and no.  What we like is good food and almost without fail, we find it at breweries.

Why would we travel two-thirds of the way across the country to eat at Denny's? Or Applebees?  No offense to either but, we did that in 1975 when we drove to South Carolina soon after we married.  McDonald's ALL the way across Interstate 40 then coming home on "Eye One Oh" (Interstate 10 in CB lingo), it was Denny's. We had the "Superbird" (sliced turkey and some sort of white cheese on grilled sourdough) in every state we touched.  We like to think we have evolved in the past forty some years and seek to enjoy more of the culture in the places we travel.

TRAVEL=CULTURE=FOOD=PEOPLE.  While we may not travel as well as Anthony Bourdain, he once quoted Mark Twain, saying that  "travel is fatal to prejudice".   Traveling opens your mind and hearts to different ways of living and makes it a little harder to judge folks.  Don't get me wrong, there are assholes everywhere but, walking into a diner in Indianapolis or a donut shop in Canada to be greeted by a local asking "where y'all from?" never gets old.  Out of state plates are a good conversation starter.  And food options make life interesting.

On the road early one morning after "boondockin" at a truck stop in Kentucky, we searched the food options on the highway signs and spotted "Rodney's Southern Style Home Cookin". Mark is more of a breakfast foodie than I am but, while traveling on two good meals a day, breakfast has to be more substantial than my normal yogurt and granola.  We checked out the specials and, while I was tempted by chicken and waffles, I spotted chicken livers on the lunch menu and asked if that was an option early in the day.  "Oh, sure, honey, we can fix up a breakfast if you want". Really?  "You want eggs?" "Yes, two, over medium."Hash browns?" "Yes". "I'll go get that. You two are gonna be fuller `an a tick after this".  And she wasn't wrong.  Super yummy. Filling.  Learned about her brother Rodney. And her mama.  Honestly you can't have more fun than that early in the morning.

Just like our local, west coast breweries have fish and chips, local food offerings in land-locked states have other options. I asked our waiter at the Rebel Kettle Brewery in Little Rock what was good; how was the crawfish po-boy? He said it was one of his favorites (you can usually tell if a waiter is fibbing and why would they?  Bullshit does not make for good tips.)  It WAS yummy, crawfish overflowing from the bun that were added to my side salad so the little "bugs" were enjoyed two ways in one meal. Chicken tenders are prepared differently in different regions. Grits come as a breakfast side as often as hash browns. Or chicken livers. Even cole slaw is different as you travel across the country. These are things you won't find if you don't venture beyond the chain restaurant menu.  Oh, you know what you're going to GET when you stick to a chain you're familiar with but, what fun is that?!

We like our dark beer - porters, stouts, dark ales.  And we've tried them everywhere.  Well, not everywhere but everywhere we've been.  So far.  There are places we missed in the states we've seen and states we haven't even set foot in.  So many breweries, so little time.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Karma Chameleon

On the list of things that women can't do that men don't think about? Jumpstarting a stranger's car.

Last night, like many of you, I was once again struck by the amazing sunset.  I had left the house that morning with an armload of parcels in preparation of an upcoming work ceremony so left without my "good" camera so, naturally, this is the evening I have a few moments at the exact time of a stellar sunset.  As they say, "the best camera for the job is the one you have", so I decided it was best to catch it with my iPhone than not catch it at all.  I pulled into the parking lot at the end of Truesdale at dusk, locked my car and walked to the water's edge to take a few shots of the pinks and oranges overtaking the sky.  

Truthfully, I seldom walk to the end of the Del Norte pier with my camera anymore, recognizing the detriment to my safety.  I try and be aware and not put myself into those situations that endanger me.  Before getting out of the car in this small lot, I did look around, checking my surroundings for what can sometimes be a sketchy crowd. Except for a woman sitting in her little beater car reading, it looked safe but, as I left my car, she called out to me through her window and asked if I had jumper cables.  "No, sorry" as I walked away immediately feeling pangs of guilt - I have cables.  As I captured the beautiful darkening sky, my mind reminded me that she was a woman alone though I'm confident this was not the first evening she had sat in a darkened parking lot alone, if you catch my drift.  She can handle herself.  Then my mind, again, reminded me I have three daughters, any one of which might find themselves alone in a parking lot with a dead battery having sat too long with the radio or lights on. Sigh...if I don't help her, she'll have to ask other people, putting herself in potential danger.  

I walked back to my car, checked the hatch to confirm I had the cables and asked her if she knew how to use them because, frankly, I always forget.  She did so I pulled my car nose-to-nose with hers and  popped the hood.  As I got out of the car and handed her the cables, I realized I was in a dimly-lit parking lot, often frequented by a pretty unsavory collection of people, leaving my keys in the ignition with the car running.  What am I doing?!  As she popped the black and red cables on to her car's battery posts then mine, I looked around nervously. She got in her car and it started right up.  We "whoop"ed for a second (maybe that was just me), she disconnected the cables, and handed them back with a brief thank you.  I backed up, she drove off and sat for a second, breathing a sigh of relief.  Doors locked.

She was not effusive in her thanks - not ungrateful but I gather from her adept use of  the cables that this was not her first run at this rodeo.  She does this all the time.  I do not.  I didn't realize how unaccustomed I was to this until I got to my meeting and realized I was shaking.  Maybe not shaky but unnerved.  As I joined the few early women at the meeting, I shared my experience and shocked myself by breaking into a brief ugly cry, recognizing how I had potentially put myself into a situation where I could have been car-jacked in a heartbeat. (Thank you MaryEllen for the needed hug to sooth my embarrassment).   This "damsel in distress" could easily have had a partner waiting in the dark corner of the lot and, while I was being a good Samaritan, they might have joyfully conked me over the head and taken my car, purse...EVERYTHING.  The cops that would take the report, whom I probably know, would shake their head as they took their report and put my distinctively striped Subaru on the BOL list . My husband would say, "you did WHAT?!". 

And the internet?  The trolls would remind me I should NEVER leave my car running with the keys in it. I should NEVER put myself in that position.  The anonymous trolls know EVERYTHING.  But, to my original point, would the same situation even warrant a mention by a man? How many times has my husband jump-started a stranger's car without telling even one person. Without coming home and saying, "ya know what I did today?".  And, when he did it, would I or anyone have questioned his carelessness in doing so?  

Well, here's one thing the trolls DON'T know: the trolls don't know that sometimes the Karma Fairy exists. The trolls don't know that "kindness is never wasted".  But I really need to take a self-defense class.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Will Our World Come Tumbling Down?

Dear Democratic Senators and Congresspeople...please do not filibuster on my behalf.  No matter the cause. No matter the reason. DO NOT FILIBUSTER in my name.  It's juvenile. It was juvenile when the Republicans did it and it will be no less childish if you do it. A great lady recently reminded us.... "When they go low, we go high.".  They have gone low and will no doubt go lower.

Mitch McConnell has already said that he will "guarantee" this Supreme Court justice.  He has already decided that if they don't win, he'll change the rules so they can win.  Like our President, they can't stand to lose and won't admit when they DO lose. We have spent eight years witnessing that the current Republican Senate and Congress are poor losers.  Now we are seeing that they are just as poor winners.

Don't get me wrong...don't give in.  Resist and we will resist with you.  We will all fight and will go down fighting but please don't go down to their level.  These people are the reason people hate politicians.  They are obstructionists. You are better than that. We are better than that. Better than them.  We need to go high every time they go low.  Their world is not the one we want to live in.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Look At Me...I'm Old But I'm Happy

As I spent last week working on my take-home final exam for Master Food Preservers and preparing for graduation night and the presentation of ceremonial aprons, I’m even more excited than I was at the start, more than five weeks ago.  I’m so looking forward to the growing season so I can try some new sauerkraut.  

I have never been a fan of sauerkraut and generally thought it was a perfectly crappy thing to do to a perfectly good hot dog (or corned beef on rye).  Several classmates were already experienced in fermenting sauerkraut and Jeffrey brought some for me to try, promising not to take offence if I winced and even gave me a napkin to … purge into should I feel the need.  As it happens, fresh (I use the term loosely) sauerkraut tastes NOTHING like the noxious stuff that comes in a can.  It actually tastes like cabbage.  With a kick.

A few years back I fell in love with a cabbage salsa served at a (now defunct) Mexican restaurant here in Eureka and made a decent attempt at replicating it though it wasn't quite right. Now, I have begun wondering if it was actually fermented. 

I did some online research and found a number of spicy kraut recipes that added jalapenos so I jumped in and started my first batch of kraut...with a few jalapenos tossed in. Now, I wait for the bubbles, showing me the fermenting process has begun. Soon, my kitchen should smell like....well, like the kraut should be aging out in the barn. If it turns out, I plan to make more this year when my Bayside Park Farm CSA share is overflowing with cabbage. I also pickled a few jars of asparagus this weekend while they're in season. With new skills acquired, seasonal abbondanza is anticipated greatly.

I recommend the Master Food Preserver program highly. The State Ag Extensions make these programs available as a way to get the information out to the people.  There is a Facebook page that you can follow to keep up on upcoming classes and demos. The Master Gardener program works similarly.  Ours was a fun class with awesome fun people. Though I’m not much for public speaking and waxing eloquent in front of a crowd, I’m looking forward to maintaining my certification by sharing the information I now posess. Food Security is more than just a buzzword around here and I hope to help people to recognize that feeding their families well IS possible, no matter the income. Taking advantage of gleaning opportunities and planting just a few vegetables in the summer that can be preserved to last through the off-season can greatly expand your food budget. PLUS, it’s fun and few things are as satisfying as a collection of jars filled with a rainbow of foods that you have canned yourself.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gitchi Gitchi Ya Ya Da Da

Today's adventures in Master Preservers...we entered the realm of "Fruit Spreads and Syrups" and twice today got to break into groups and create.  The kitchen at the Eureka Co-Op was filled with the smells of lemons, ginger, strawberries and the sounds of crashing pans, timers and laughter.  My group made "Quick" Lemon-Ginger Marmalade. I'm not sure about the "quick" (thus the quotation marks) since much time was spent separating the membrane and seeds but the end results were worth it. I've never been a huge fan of marmalade, probably because commercially created versions are sticky sweet but this version was SO flavorful. I can't wait to recreate it in my own kitchen.  Most of us had some experience with water-bath canning but it's good to correct and adjust our processes and even understand the reasons we do what we do. 

While we made our Lemon-Ginger Marmalade, other groups made a Mango Salsa and Apple Pie filling. The smells were heavenly.  I feel as if we dirtied EVERY bowl and pot in that kitchen on the way to finishing these three projects. After washing the mountainous pile pots and pans followed by a brief lunch break, we gathered in new groups for another project.  This time I worked on a low-sugar blueberry freezer jam (the jury is still out on the flavor of this particular recipe) while the other two groups created Fig Jam with dried figs and Strawberry-Kiwi Jam. Again, the fragrance was so heavenly, we couldn't resist poking our heads into the projects the other groups were working on.  I have plans now to expand my repertoire beyond my beloved blackberry jam and have my sites set on marmalades.  I know exactly what to do the next time I see a great deal on lemons!

This course is so fun, I'm not even sad in giving up my coveted Saturdays. I'm learning so much and am well on my way to being a much more confident canner. Monday evening, we'll do some pickling, including a chutney which is another step outside my comfort zone.  Somewhere in there, I need to conjure up a homework assignment for a class presentation (we each have to do two) and, after the great jobs done by this morning's over-achievers, I have some work to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

We Be Jammin'

Since starting the Master Preserver Course, Clostridium botulinums has become part of my vocabulary. Nasty nasty botulism, as opposed to the fun kind of botox the Hollywood types have injected into their skin to smooth out wrinkles (who the HECK thought THAT was a good idea?!) is “an anaerobic, spore-forming rod that produces a potent neurotoxin.The spores are heat-resistant and can survive in foods that are incorrectly or minimally processed…..”.  Yikes!  And the capper?  “Most of the 10 to 30 outbreaks [of foodborne botulism] that are reported annually in the United States are associated with inadequately processed, home-canned foods". (straight from the USDA’s Bad Bug Book).  Ugh! I'm a bit of a rule-rebel but even I can see some rules are based in logic.
After just two class meetings, I have learned that the method of jam-making my mom taught me is “open kettle canning” and, “We don’t recommend it”.  Well, crap!  I haven’t killed anyone but I’ll have to reteach my kids the proper way, instead of Grandma's way. I have also learned that I really SHOULD be removing the canning jar rings when I store my canned product away.  Why?  Any schmutz left under the ring from the canning process could contaminate the ring and cause it to not seal the NEXT jar properly. Not only that but the ring will keep me from noticing a seeping jar which, if not sealed properly, could begin to nurture those nasty little Clostridium botulinums spores, all hidden behind a ring that APPEARS to be sitting pretty on the shelf.
Oh well, I hope to regale y’all of my adventures learning (and, in some cases, relearning)  how to safely and properly “put foods by”. The course will keep me busy for a month of Monday nights and Saturdays, freezing, canning, pickling and dehydrating in order to save the season's harvests. After that, I will be expected to put in some volunteer time proselytizing in the name of safe food preservation, because the recipes and processes recommended by State Cooperative Extensions are vetted..scientifically tested to contain proper processing times and procedures.  I will be available to entertain at a kitchen near you in order to put in my time. It looks to be a fun group I am learning with and learning from.  Look out pickling cukes...I’m comin’ for ya!

Friday, January 22, 2016

No More Three-By-Fives

Hoping I would see the world with both my eyes

Seems like the drearier our Humboldt weather is, the more enthusiastically the interwebs explode when the sky is airbrushed with a glorious rainbow, jaw-dropping sunset or wondrous sunrise.  If you follow Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, your feed is painted the fanciful shades of a blue-gray sky brushed by the sun with pinks and oranges.  Whether with the ubiquitous smart phone or a billion-dollar DSLR, we struggle to get THE photo, the one everyone sees and “sighs…” and shares with the rest of the digital universe.  But sometimes I just can’t get THE photo.

The fabulous sunrises we have been blessed with this season, while visible and awe-inspiring, are impossible to commit to digital “film” from my house without the web of powerlines that cross the sky.  Try as I might to use those black lines in an artistic way, they just undermine all of my efforts to record the perfect sky. The houses don’t darken enough to be the perfect silhouettes.  I pull off at the Humboldt Hill vista point to catch the view on the way to work, but the sun’s effect was hidden behind the trees.  I pulled to the rear of the parking lot at South Bay Elementary School south of town but, by then, the sun has climbed beyond a point where the clouds were the fiery orange they had been just fifteen minutes before.   

Today I finally overcame
Trying to fit the world inside a picture frame

Well, I probably didn’t really OVERCOME the urge, but have come to the realization that sometimes I need to just stop.  And enjoy.  Without the camera…..and, like this John Mayer song, trying to enjoy it with BOTH my eyes.  

Oh, it won’t be easy.  I’ll still dodge through traffic after work, trying desperately to get to the perfect spot to photograph that stunning sunset I can see from the highway during my evening commute.  Or I’ll text the boss from the ‘T’ on the north spit, to let him know I’ll be a bit late while I try and capture the red rubber ball of a moon as it sets in the morning.  But sometimes, when those things don’t look promising, I will just sit and enjoy those few fabulous moments.  With both my eyes.