Thursday, July 28, 2011

Refrig Pickles

One day's harvest.
Earlier this week I tried out a recipe for refrigerator pickles from the food preservation/canning book my coworker got me. That book is awesome! And the recipe was fantastic--I tasted the pickles for the first time tonight. AMAZING. Crunchy, tangy, sweet, salty...I love pickles. My husband hates pickles--the taste and the smell (and, warning, the smell permeated the house when I made these.).

(FYI, Tonight I had the pickles chopped up and added to a salad of red leaf lettuce, carrots, chick peas, walnuts, cranberries, and tuna. Side dish: sorta home made [bread machine] whole wheat-oatmeal-molasses bread with butter and my jam!]) (BTW, I don't take pictures of food when I am very hungry and about to eat it, so you'll just have to imagine those things.)

Soon-to-be pickles
The pickles were made using cucumbers from our freaking amazing work garden--that thing pumps out cucs like you wouldn't believe (see first photo). Or maybe you would believe it, but all I can say is that I'm glad I'm sharing the cucumbers. Geez.

Grandma's pot still going strong!
The gist of the refrigerator pickles I made (ingredients and further direction below) is this:

Slice cucs
Mix together pickling liquid and boil it
Pour hot liquid over cucs (and onions in this case) in large bowl
Let sit until cool enough to handle
Pack cucs and onions into jars
Pour liquid over
Close jars
Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, ideally 2 weeks---eat. Consume within 3 months.

Less mess than canning jam.
Small warm-blooded kitchen visitors are still of another species in this house.

I'm not sure, they might look kind of gross, but they look better in person and taste fantastic!

This recipe is taken from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving--
Easy Zesty Bread and Butter Chunks (mine are slices/spears)

1/4 cup pickling spice (place in a cheesecloth bag)
6 cups trimmed pickling cucumbers (I cut mine into slices)
1 onion peeled and sliced
3 cups vinegar
2/3 cup sugar
2 T salt
1 T prepared horseradish
1 T celery seeds
2 t ginger
1 tsp tumeric

Place cucs and onion in a big bowl.
Put everything else in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat, cover and boil gently for 5 minutes. 
Pour liquid over cucs and onion, cover with waxed paper and let sit for about 30 minutes. Discard spice bag.
Pack cucs and onion into jars, ladle liquid over. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating--best after 2 weeks. Eat within 3 months. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Butter and sugar craving...

So, I've been trying to eat healthier lately. For like a week. It's really hard! My main thing is to take a break from baking (and therefore not eat baked goods) as well as stop eating as much in the evenings (no dessert, no after dinner snacks, a little less for dinner).

Today, I saw this: Buttery Sugary Goodness With Cinnamon

(Photo from, see link above)
Those are not healthy, not even close to healthy. But so much better than plain carrots! (To me, at least!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Eagle Lakes, Soda Springs, Meeks Bay--all in a weekend

This is what our Saturday mornings look like. Van, dogs, cereal...
We had another Sierra trip this past weekend. As always, it was sort of a whirlwind, but we did get some good downtime in, in addition to road biking, hiking, exploring, van camping, etc.

The dogs love our Auburn camp spot. Lots of small mammals, birds, and a coyote even ran right by us!
We started out driving to Auburn Friday after work and going to our secret van camping spot. In the morning on Saturday (after breakfast and wildlife viewing, see pics above), we parked the van in the shade (and turned on the dog ventilation system--some great window fans) and took our road bikes out for a hill-laden voyage. We miss hills and hadn't gone for a ride away from Davis in WAY too long!

One of my favorite hills, Baxter Grade, going up..

Mt. Vernon Road
After riding, we let the dogs out for a short romp then drove up the hill farther to the Eagle Lakes area. We wished we had brought our hike book (it now lives in the van along with our Sierra Natural History book), because we didn't have any great ideas of places to go. So, we ended up in an OHV area hiking on dirt roads. It was OK, except that we chose the wrong road and ended up not going to Eagle Lakes! We did get a good workout though, and the dogs loved it. I think this area would be a great start point for a backpacking trip--there are a bunch of lakes back in there!

The first mile probably averaged around an 18-20% grade...
Not the most amazing view, but we did agree that the I80 corridor is crazy--several
roads and train tracks make for a big swath through the mountains.
Dude cuteness on the trail.
After our hike, we drove up to Soda Springs Road, intending to drive to the end of the road to a trailhead so we could hike to Tinker's Nob on Sunday. Unfortunately, the road was very rutted and (after we got the van unstuck from a very tiny ditch) we decided to just find a camp spot and hike elsewhere the next day. Much to our surprise and excitement, we ended up here: 

With this:

(FYI: That is the same margarita mix we had at our wedding from
World Market, we really recommend it and we want to try the other mixers they make!)
Another pizza from the dutch oven: crust pre-made by me with tomato sauce, italian cheese blend, broccoli, pepperoni, and nectarine. The nectarine added and amazing sweetness that really complimented the other flavors! 
The camp spot had great views and the dogs LOVED it. Even Spencer was totally happy sniffing in the bushes. This video is probably only entertaining to me, but I also did a 360 at the end to show the views!

On Sunday we drove to Meek's Bay at Lake Tahoe and did a ~10 mile hike out to a couple of lakes. We hiked out on FR 14N42 (see map here) to a line of lakes. This area was a nice day hike (lots of flowers) and would be a good point for a weekend backpacking trip so you could see more lakes than we did in a day. Recommended! The second lake we reached was warm enough to swim and we had fun (Spencer swam with us and we forced Carex to give it a try..). 

Gilia (sky rockets)
Aquilegia (columbine)
Our swimming lake.
The face of a dog who doesn't like water and went swimming anyway... (this is
after she had the crazies and ran all over the place after swimming to shore!)
In all, we had a great weekend. We hiked out, got an ice cream cone on the way home and made it back to Bruce the cat at home before dinner!

Happy about swimming.
Until next time...have a great week!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Food. Frozen. Fresh. Fantastic.

My house is clean. It is Thursday evening. Well for you it might be Friday. Which I think is better, so lucky you.

This post is about two things:

First, the Bananas. (Which can be breakfast, or dessert. Or dinner.)

I made them once for dinner on a Friday...I was totally hooked!
Now I make banana peanut butter (omit the chocolate...I know, that's kind of illegal but I'm trying to be more healthy) shakes for breakfast a few days a week. They are so easy and delicious! 

Basic recipe and instructions:
Frozen bananas
Spoonful of peanut butter
(Chocolate chips if you want...or if you want really decadent, Reese's PB cups)
Blend with hand blender! Done!

I pre-slice and freeze ripe bananas and keep them in freezer bags. 

Just peel, slice, lay out on parchment or wax paper on a cookie sheet, and freeze. 
Then transfer to bags to store. 
Easy! Those shakes are awesome, and so is this.

On to the basil! 

(Interruption: After typing the whole thing about the bananas, I had to go make a shake for chocolate though!)

Tonight for dinner I made: 
Pesto (from scratch)
Thin spaghetti
Sautéed zucchini
Grilled mahi mahi (<--Husband grilled this)

The pesto was amazing! I made a huge mess with olive oil during it (all over the counter), but worth it:

Eventually I might get a better camera and improve my picture-taking skillz.

Yes that is sunshine on my zucchinis! I do love all of the windows in our house.

We ate garden-fresh tomatoes as a snack while I cooked. This photo is mostly to show the hard water spot ON THE GARDEN FRESH TOMATO. Straight from the garden. <3 hard water.

By the time I was done making dinner, I was so hungry I ate it without taking pictures of the finished product...sorry. It was great! 

Approximate recipe...

Pesto (based on The Joy of Cooking)
2 cups basil leaves
1/3 cups pine nuts (I used toasted walnuts)
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup grated parmesean
Whirl in food processor into a thick paste. 
Then drizzle in 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil while processor runs.

Cook thin spaghetti. 

Wash, slice, and saute zucchini in a little olive oil until soft. 

Grill mahi mahi filets (ours were 4 oz each) about 4 minutes per side over med-high heat. 

Mix some pesto with the pasta, top with zuc and a dollop more of pesto, top 
with mahi mahi...squeeze lemon over the top. 

Have a great weekend! We are going adventuring...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Realities of a first time jam session

I read a lot of blogs that have beautiful, glamorous pictures of home preserved foods. Like on Food in Jars, or my friend (and amazingly wonderful wedding photographer) Caroline's blog, Coeur de La. I love these blogs (like other non-food blogs) because they have great photography and great information! 

However, my first canning experience looked and felt nothing like this (meaning, I'm totally jealous and hope someday my jamming looks like that! Obviously I should take a jam class!). 

My first jam experience looked like that photo above. And like this:

We have hard water. REALLY, REALLY, HARD WATER. 
I knew this, but I didn't realize how this would affect my canning.
Well, to start, it coated my pots with white film 
(not a total surprise, but this was coating to a whole new level).
It also totally encrusted all of my jars in the same thick, gritty mineral film:

Not exactly jam-dream material! 
When I first pulled them out of the water bath I had to make a worried phone call to my friend/coworker/master food preserver mentor to ask if this had ever happened to her before. Nope. Dang! Just my luck to live in a neighborhood where everything that gets touched by water turns frosty white! 

Alas, while nothing was pretty about the experience, 5 of my 6 jars did seal, and the jam is pretty good. 

I did learn:
*Definitely prefer doing low sugar recipes using the low-sugar pectin
(This first recipe I did was a full sugar version--8 cups fruit to 7 cups sugar! 
WHOA! Probably won't do that again any time soon...)
*After getting my mineral-frosted jars, I looked up a solution online: add 2 T of white 
vinegar to your canner water bath. I doubted this would work (did you see those jars?!), 
but I tried it (experimentally simmered a jar for 20 minutes in the vinegar 
water bath)--NO buildup. VINEGAR WORKS! Amazing! 
Wish I'd known that one before I started...
*I love canning
*I'm on a health kick, and I'm thinking I'm going to use canning as my new 
hobby to replace baking (I'll let you know how well that works...) 
(I gave away almost all of the jam btw)
*My pots at home are too small to do anything larger than 
4 oz (tiny) jars--they are not tall enough, so when processing, 
the boiling water will massively overflow if you have 8 oz jars in there. 
Learned that the hard way. Ordered a water bath canner and rack this evening! 
*Pickles are my next project
*Someday I will be as glamorous (or able to take those glamorous 
photographs) as the blogs I mentioned at the beginning of this post! :)

Frosty. Gritty.
My friend/coworker/master food preserver mentor got me 
The step-by-step directions are awesome for newbies 
and there are tons of recipes. I made the first recipe in the book, strawberry jam, 
but I used their variation to make "Lemony Strawberry Jam" (adding lemon zest). 

My other food preserving interest: dehydrating. I'll keep you updated! 

Not. Glamorous. 
PS The jam is quite good on waffles. I just ate two as my pre-bike-to-work-power-snack! 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Canids and Felid.

Have you met these guys yet?



The Bruce.
I am beautiful.
These are our pets.
Carex the german shepherd mix.
Dude (aka Spencer) the border collie-aussie mix.
Bruce the cat. AKA, Brucifer, Brucells, Brucetillion, etc.

Definition of cute.
This is her, "WTF IS ON MY FACE" look.
PS, she turns into a statue when the doggles go on, refusing to move and if
possible ramming her face into your body. 
The dogs go with us most places; they have their own packs for backpacking and they love the trail. Bruce is more of a homebody, but he knows all of the neighbors and prefers to sleep 16 hours a day. Bruce also has boogers, due to a kittenhood sinus infection turned chronic mucus problem (worsened due to his smashed face). It's probably better that you don't experience this firsthand. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Slow baked country style pork ribs...YES.

I made that.
-BBQ Country Style Pork Ribs with Salad and Bread-
Delicious, and very easy to make!

I mixed some barbeque sauce with a little water and/or juice (ideally I think you'd use orange juice, but we only had tropical worked but I used mostly water so the pork didn't taste like Hawaii). Frequently I make my own barbeque sauce (like for pulled pork sandwiches) but I was lazy so I used Bull's Eye original (one of the few that does not have corn syrup as the first ingredient, actually it has no corn syrup at all, just sugar). Pour the sauce-juice-water mixture over some boneless country style pork ribs in a 9 x 13" dish, cover with foil...bake at 300 for three hours, then uncover and increase the heat to 350...30 minutes more, turn ribs over, 30 minutes more, done.


Served with large salad (lettuce, beets, garbanzos, tomato, dried cranberries and cherries, carrots) and toasted buns (to make your own sandwich or for cleaning the sauce off of your plate).


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Snow in the summer: Spaulding Lake area, July 2011

This past weekend we hit the road again. 

Like usual, I-80 east up the hill. 
This time, we decided to stay a little lower in hopes of avoiding lots of snow, 
but still high enough to avoid the valley heat. 

It didn't really work. For the snow, at least. 

Yeah, that's an ice and snow covered lake. In July. Actually, it's Island Lake, a very popular summer destination for short backpacking trips. It's a great swimming lake! Really! I was actually at this lake 2 years ago this month, and it was full of swimmers. This year, folks stayed on shore. 

The snow makes our dogs go crazy! Lots of playing along the way. 
We took I-80 east to Highway 20, and exited westbound on 20 to Bowman Lake road. We left Friday after work, and camped that night near the Carr Lake trailhead (map, also note there is a campground at the trailhead but it can be very busy). On Saturday we hiked out of Carr Lake, past Feeley Lake, Island Lake, and out toward Crooked Lakes. The snow was unbelievable! We were probably on snow maybe 80% or more of the time. Even out in the sun, there was snow--this area must be a cold microclimate because it was definitely unusual. 

Snow in the's like a magnet. 
I'm not actually this cool.
Snow slide zone!
We probably hiked 5-6 miles around the Island Lake area. Mr. Active has spent a lot of time mountain biking in this area, and I've hiked here many times. It's a great destination for Bay Area and Valley folks who want a shorter drive. There are some really cool granite areas you can get to from the Spaulding Lake area! Great for day hikes and backpacking. 

Our unexpected snow day resulted in tired dogs and tired people, as well as sunburns for both of us. 
I'm destined to have horrible tan lines. 

After our hike, we decided to drive out Bowman Road to Bowman Lake 
to see if we could find a nice dispersed campsite even farther into the National forest. 
Don't do this. 
Bowman Lake is a long drive out on a very bumpy road, and it's a dammed lake that fisherman love. We couldn't find any good dispersed camping, so it ended up being a scenic (and long, and bumpy) detour! We even also drove out to Highway 20 and west to Bear Valley to check out camping there...mosquito-city! As Mr. Active says, "It was an adventure. Adventures aren't always fun."
We ended up at a great site near the Yuba River right off Bowman Road. 
We were very happy to be done driving! 

Since we were in the van (with fridge and water heater!) we ate ice cream we had bought the previous night and had hot showers before dinner. Yeah, we are very aware that "camping" with the van is not really camping. :) The van = our vehicle to get us to cool places for outdoor activities. 

Finally at camp and loving the van. Fridge contained: salsa, veggies, ranch dip, and tortilla chips and the makings for an amazing dinner!

Carex loves snow. She goes NUTS for hours on end! The result = this. 
For dinner, we broke out our dutch oven (thanks to our Minnesota friends!) 
and made this:

You are jealous. We ate this while camping. And it was ah-mazing. 

Pre-made dough (precooked for a bit in the dutch oven) plus these toppings: tomato paste (sprinkled with garlic powder and oregano), zucchini, sun dried tomatoes, pepperoni, and three kinds of cheese: parmesean + pepper jack + cheddar. 

After a long day of fun, we slept well and the next morning drove a very short distance to a pullout on Bowman Lake road to pick up a trail out past Spaulding Lake. 
The first part of the trail is along the flume that is fed by Fuller Lake (map). We don't know why (with all of this snowy runoff) but the flume was nearly empty.

This hike had NO snow visible 
(and we were so close to our hiking route on Saturday!). 
It looked and felt much more summery. 

We hiked out past Spaulding Lake up Bear River, which feeds the lake. 
This river was NUTS--super high flows. 

We only went out about 4 miles from the trailhead, but if you go farther 
you get into even cooler granite areas. We just didn't have time on Sunday. 
Our turnaround point was in some granite with a neat little pond and lots of wildflowers:

In all, it was a great weekend--even with all of the snow. 
If you want to visit Island Lake area, I'd recommend you wait until August!! 

Coming soon: a post of flower photos taken on this and many other trips.