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Ready to Roll

18 Apr

My very first travel blog in 2007 started with this post. We’ve come a long way, Barbie.

I will be sharing images and impressions as we tour the USA.


Home-Cured Green Olives

7 Sep
Green ripe olives ready for cracking and curing

Green ripe olives ready for cracking and curing

Two years ago I found fresh green olives at the Chico Farmers Market. Curious, I asked the farmer how difficult it would be to home-cure them. He assured me that water curing and brining is simple, if somewhat time-consuming, but well worth the wait. I purchased 10 pounds, prepared them, and the first time we opened a jar of finished olives I wished I had made 20 pounds.

So this year I bought 20 pounds of Barouni olives from Chaffin Family Orchards. They shipped me the box on Tuesday, it arrived on Friday, and on Saturday a friend helped me crack them in preparation for the water-cure.

Olives picked off the tree contain a very bitter compound called oleuropine and they must be “cured” before they are seasoned and brined. There are several methods for curing olives, including water, salt brine and lye solution.

How to Home Cure Olives

Water curing does not change the flavor of the olives as much as other curing methods, so I prefer that technique. Green ripe Barouni olives are large, meaty and are grown specifically for home preparation.

Olives should be cracked, not smashed...just enough to let them leach.

Olives should be cracked, not smashed…just enough to let them leach out the bitter compound.

The first step is to sort and wash the olives, removing any damaged or bruised fruit. Then each olive is “cracked” to expose the pit so that the bitter flavor can be leached out. Next, they are placed in a glass or food-grade plastic container and submerged in water. The water is then drained and replaced daily for a week to 10 days, depending on the level of bitterness you prefer.

After curing, the olives are placed in a “finish brine” of water, salt, vinegar and seasonings. Finally, they are bottled and left to rest for 4 or 5 days and can be kept for up to a year in the refrigerator. The longer they remain refrigerated the more flavor they absorb.

Here is the recipe I use to make Mediterranean Cracked Olives. I’ll update this post when my olives are finished!

Mediterranean Cracked Olive Recipe

Sheet Mulching Lawn #1

26 Jun
We mowed this lawn short and gave it a good, deep soak before we began the sheet mulch progress.

We mowed this lawn short and gave it a good, deep soak before we began the sheet mulch progress.

Our smallest and easiest to convert lawn is in the front of the house beside the driveway. It measures nearly 1000 square feet, has some lovely contours, a river rock face,  and backs up to some mature shrubs and conifers. It is clearly where we should begin, since it will not require any hardscape or permeable paths, other than a little track for the golf cart to go from driveway back to pump house and water tanks. Today we began prepping the site for planting at end of summer by sheet mulching.

Sheet mulching is a layered compost/mulch system that uses cardboard or newspapers as a barrier to help suffocate and decompose the lawn, without having to dig up the sod and haul it away, along with all the beneficial micro organisms that live in the top few inches of the soil. Compost and mulch are then layered on top of the weed barrier, mimicking the build up of leaves and debris on a forest floor. To plant trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals in the new planting medium, you simply cut holes in the mulch and cardboard. We plan to start planting in late August, when temps start to drop. The later the better, actually, and a lot of the mulch and cardboard will probably be decomposed by then,

Recycled cardboard creates a weed barrier and helps compost the lawn, preserving all of the micronutrients in the soil.

Recycled cardboard creates a weed barrier and helps compost the lawn, preserving all of the micro-organisms in the soil.

Nitrogen in mushroom compost helps cardboard break down.

Nitrogen in mushroom compost helps break down the carbon in the cardboard.

Wood chips cover cardboard and mushroom compost, about 5 inches deep in total.

Wood chips cover cardboard and mushroom compost, about 5 inches deep in total.

Sheet mulch ultimately creates a humus-rich soil where bacteria, fungi, and other micro-organisms can thrive and help make nutrients easily available to plants. The thick layer of mulch also discourages weeds and conserves moisture.

By the end of summer this converted lawn space will be composted and ready to plant with California natives and Mediterranean plants. Over the cooler months of fall, winter and spring, the plants will develop root systems that can endure our dry, hot summer weather with minimal irrigation, no maintenance, and no chemical fertilizers or herbicides which might run off into our creek and the aquifer that feeds our well.

And, by the way, even drought-tolerant plants need watering to get established, and a drip irrigation system is the most efficient way to deliver needed water. Fall planting is also advised to take advantage of cooler temperatures and the winter/spring rains.

If you are thinking about the SCVWD landscape rebate program, check out their irrigation hardware rebate offers, as well.

Grass Gotta Go!

23 Jun

View from the pool...thirsty grass gotta go.

I learned of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Landscape Rebate Program last year and looked into the rules and requirements, but I didn’t proceed. Mainly because it seemed such a daunting task, given my limited knowledge of drought tolerant plants.

This year, when they extended the program, I visited a neighbor’s garden that had been converted from almost 9,000 square feet of lawn to California native plants. It looked nice enough, and when she showed me a copy of the check she received for $17,000 I became a believer. Money talks.

I did some more research, attended a public forum on the program and soon realized that not only would this incentive pay for the conversion, but there was clearly enough money built into the rebate that I could afford an expert to design the gardens. Limited knowledge problem solved.

Enter Deborah Cottingham, landscape designer, specializing in Native California and drought tolerant plants. Debbie has designed several “rebate ready” gardens and fully understands the program requirements. I visited her 2+ acre property a few weeks ago to get a first hand look at a mature native garden. It was dizzying!

A Hummingbird on Salvia clevelandii, Alpine Cleveland sage or Musk Sage from Las Pilitas Nursery

A Hummingbird on Salvia clevelandii, Alpine Cleveland sage or Musk Sage from Las Pilitas Nursery.

And so we have begun. Debbie has walked, measured and photographed two of my big lawns, and designed a beautiful, interesting, low maintenance, Water-wise Garden that will attract birds, butterflies and bees. I have begun to stockpile wood chips and hoard cardboard for sheet mulching (another blog), and I am familiarizing myself with all the plants she has chosen. Tomorrow I will submit my application to the Santa Clara Valley Water District, along with the landscape design, plant list and photos of the existing lawns. And wait. Until they approve. Until I get my Notice to Proceed. Or not. I am going to turn off the sprinklers and start digging tomorrow.

Hasta pronto!

Back to Blogging…New Topic

18 Jun

Oh  man! I have not posted a blog in 2 or more years.

When I was still WORKING…I used to break up my day by writing little stories and posting pictures about my LIFE. That included gardening, cooking, canning, preserving and travel in the motorhome. Now that I’ve retired, my LIFE has become taking care of the monster we’ve created with orchard, vegetable garden and chicken ranch.

These days it seems I mostly communicate via messaging, Facebook, and Instagram, and I rarely retreat to the back of the house where the big monitor and computer reside.

Tomorrow we are getting up at dark am to drive to the coast to get some laying hens. I’m also in the middle of converting 2 more lawns to native/drought resistant landscapes. I think I will share a bit of this. We are experiencing a severe drought here in California, and local water districts are offering some incentives to change. Even if they didn’t, I am learning a lot about a genre of plants that are much more interesting than green grass lawns.

Trying to recall how to add images and links to a blog. Let me know if you give a shit.

Lemon Dainty

30 Jan


It’s the height of Meyer Lemon season and I am fortunate that my friend Susan has a huge tree and is so generous with the fruit. She also gave me this recipe that she found in an old Junior League cookbook…remember when we used cookbooks rather than google search?

The editor of the cookbook described the recipe as such:

This was found, neatly penned, on a tattered page of an old family recipe book. The date was 1931, the description “…a delicate crust will form on top of the pudding…supplies its own sauce. Very fine.”

It is indeed a very fine pudding cake. It is also pretty, easy to make, light and tangy, and it can be made gluten free!

Here’s the recipe and a couple of notes.

1 cup sugar
¼ cup flour (any GF flour will do)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
5 to 6 tablespoons lemon juice
Grated rind of 2 small lemons
3 egg yolks
1 ½ cups milk
3 egg whites, beaten stiff

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add melted butter, lemon juice and rind. Blend with a whisk. Add yolks and milk and beat with whisk until well-blended.

Beat whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into lemon mixture. Pour into a buttered 1 ½ quart soufflé dish. Set dish in a shallow roasting pan filled with 1 inch of hot water. Bake one hour.


This is a pretty dessert that anyone can make…even if you’ve never folded egg whites into a batter before. If you find that idea daunting, here’s a quick how-to video.

Folding Egg Whites 

Cake on the top and custard on the bottom...truly dainty!

Cake on the top and custard on the bottom…truly dainty!

This dessert an be served warm or cold in shallow bowls. Lovely with fresh berries!

Mexican Comfort Food

14 Jan


My son-in-law, Jeremy,  arguably makes the best Chicken Tortilla Soup north of the border, so I’ve taken a few pages from his cookbook to create this hearty, flavorful dish. One of his secrets is the roasted corn. You can buy this at Trader Joe’s if you’re lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood; but you can also roast two ears of fresh corn on the grill and then cut the kernels off.

Tortilla Soup is one of my favorite “foodie movies”. It brilliantly displays the art of Mexican cuisine and how food can bring people together. One of the best scenes in the film is over a family dinner of  Tortilla Soup, where Paul Rodriguez, as the suitor of one daughter, nervously prates on about the “toppings” that are part of the dish, and how much he enjoys them. “I love toppings. Sometimes I go to restaurants and just order toppings”.

Whenever our family eats this dish together someone always makes a reference to this part of the movie, and Jeremy even manages a bit of a Mexican accent when he says it! So here’s my slow cooker version of a soup that comforts me and connects me to my Big Fat Mexican Family!

1 lb chicken breast, trimmed
½ bag of Trader Joe’s roasted sweet corn or 1 can sweet corn
15 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
5 cups chicken stock
1 medium onion, chopped
3 jalapano peppers, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt & pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in slow cooker and cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Shred chicken and return to slow cooker.


If possible, the day before you make the soup you can cut tortillas in strips and let them dry out on a baking sheet. An hour before serving place the baking sheet in a 250 degree oven and let them slowly roast. Keep an eye on them and when they are golden remove from oven.



Tortilla Strips
Shredded white cabbage
Shredded cheese
Avocado, cubed
Green onions, chopped
Cilantro, chopped


Buen provecho, amigos! Enjoy!