Watermelon salad for a summer BBQ

Watermelon salad for a summer BBQ

We are not a particularly Handy Family, so I was surprised when LL suggested we spend Memorial Day weekend sanding and revarnishing the kitchen cabinets. They definitely needed to be slathered with love after all these years of heavy use (18 years, really, since we built the kitchen? Wow!) And we had the time – when you live next to the beach, you tend to stay away from it on days the crowds appear. Like Memorial Day. So we enlisted the help of a Handy Friend, dug around in the shed to find the palm and detail sanders left over from a different round of remodeling, stocked up on sandpaper, and away we went.

The Amazing Texas-Toast-Bacon-and-Egg-Sandwich

The Amazing Texas-Toast-Bacon-and-Egg-Sandwich

Kid Two still loves Texas toast but along the way has acquired a taste for paninis with egg and baby greens with a bit of cheese. It was only a matter of time before he decided to try and combine the buttery crunchiness of Texas toast with savory eggy-ness of his panini. Like all good things, it’s a bit of work, but totally worth it. You have to start by making Texas toast. When that’s finished, layer thin slices of cheese and a handful of baby greens on one side. Top with crumbled, cooked bacon and a cooked scrambled egg. Top with the second piece of toast and there you go – a tasty handful of the ultimate bacon and egg meal: It’s pretty good on a paper plate with strawberries, too:...
Barbecued chicken and gouda pizza

Barbecued chicken and gouda pizza

Tangy barbecue sauce, rich gouda, crunchy tart red onion, and savory chicken . . . one of my favorite combos for Friday pizza night. For any pizza night, really. Here is the lightly topped thin crust in the pizza oven: And the finished pie ready to slice: Delicious! Ingredients: Best Barbecue Sauce Pizza crust Cooked chicken (I toss the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon pepper before grilling it) Thinly sliced red onion Shredded gouda cheese...
Monster mutsu apples, homegrown

Monster mutsu apples, homegrown

I bought my apple tree in a 5-gallon pot near the end of summer 2011. It was a skinny 5-footer with three marble-sized apples growing on the branches. Kid Two dug a big-enough hole in the only available spot in our small front yard, right next to the front walk where it’s shaded most mornings by an enormous Ponderosa lemon tree we planted 21 years ago after buying this house. If Novella Carpenter could grow fruit trees close together up in Oakland, I thought, with enough compost and loving care I could, too. The existing apples dropped off soon after the transplant, and within a couple of weeks the leaves began to curl and brown. I pulled out the digital microscope and discovered our baby tree was a host for happy aphids and this tiny insect that I later found out is a white apple leafhopper: Aargh. I’m a laissez-faire kind of gardener, so I really wanted to give the tree all the tools it needed to help itself. No pesticides. After some research and with high hopes, I set two bags of ladybugs free to feast on the aphids, planted several bunches of chives around the trunk. and worked a cupful of fruit tree fertilizer into the soil every month. Winter set in and I crossed my fingers. Spring brought pale pink and white blossoms along with fresh green leaves. I set another bag of ladybugs free and enjoyed the apple tree chives. By May tiny apples were growing, and the leaves looked green and healthy. By mid-summer the tree had filled out nicely, shielding the growing apples. I stopped paying...
Ice cream bread is a real thing

Ice cream bread is a real thing

I thought the email that Downtown Tom forwarded me from a distant cousin was a joke – the one that said “ICE CREAM BREAD TWO INGREDIENT (no joke!)” in the subject line. It had to be a joke, right? The only two ingredients were 2 cups of softened ice cream and 1-1/2 cups self-rising flour. But it made sense that it would work. Ice cream is milk and eggs and sugar; self-rising flour has baking soda and salt, so all the components are technically there. So in the interest of science, we made it. The Kids brought home Dryer’s low-fat cookie dough ice cream and regular flour for the project*,  so I added the baking soda and salt myself to make it self-rising. I didn’t have the required 8×4 inch bread pan, so I used a larger 9×5 inch. And it was bread, to be sure, but not a particular interesting or flavorful one. The dog like it, though: So I made it again. The problem had to be the low-fat ice cream, we thought, so the second time around we used Marianne’s 1020 ice cream, a rich, luscious creamy caramel ice cream with fudge swirls and chunks of Oreo cookies that’s made locally in Santa Cruz. Oh, and I bought actual self-rising flour and an 8×4 inch loaf pan, just in case that made a difference. I didn’t, really. It was still a lovely small loaf, dense and moist, perfectly passable but still disappointingly bland. There is something lost in translation, I suppose. We were expecting sweet ice cream flavor and all we got was, well, bread. Bread...
Midnight in Juneau

Midnight in Juneau

Downtown Tom and Grandma Juju, and my sister’s family just got home from an Alaskan cruise, what sounds like a fabulous, relaxing time during which they waved at grizzly bears on the beach, watched whale flukes on Glacier Bay, hunted for John Brown’s grave, and saw Victoria in a horse-drawn carriage. The ship off from Seattle – a town they all agreed seemed fabulous and worth it’s own trip. They have wanted to revisit their old homes in Sitka and Juneau for as long as I can remember, and my sister’s college graduation along with a couple of significant birthdays was the catalyst to carpe diem. Sitka is where my sister and I went to kindergarten and first grade way before there was tourism or wifi or even much fresh fruit, where we learned to ride bikes while careening down Mt. Edgecumbe, where we picked blueberries while looking fearfully for bears, and where we screamed with delight as we slid around on glaciers and solidified our love for the out-of-doors. So the trip was bittersweet for my parents – their old government homes had been razed, there were coffee shops and that cruise ship port – their memories flowed but the glacier had ebbed. Their daughters are grown and it was all good but  just . . . different. Except for the sunset. Here’s a photo Grandpa Tom took . . sunset doesn’t last all evening, unless you’re in Alaska in the summer:   To end, George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.”   embedded by Embedded VideoYouTube...
First fish

First fish

A quick stop at Day’s Market for a bag of ice was the daily de rigueur in the sailboat days of our early marriage. No refrigerator on the Ericson 30 we called home, just a deep insulated box under the speck of formica counter that needed constant replenishment to keep our chardonnay chilled and sundries shivery. It had been a long time since I’d even glanced at that sign – a grow-the-baby-to-the-cusp-of-his-twenties length of time, and stopping there again that Saturday morning for a bag of ice made those memories misty and my nostalgia shivery. It wasn’t the time or place to reminisce, though; I had a date with a salmon. This email, from Fisherman Frank of the Gayle R, came late one Friday, 4 or 5 days after the opening of commercial salmon season: Dear Salmon Fans, Plenty of fish, but the early bird always gets the worm!  (No earlier than 10 o’clock though, please). The cost is $10/lb for the whole fish.  Frank will filet and/or steak the fish for you.  Please remember to bring an ice chest. Cash is preferred, but local checks are OK.  If you don’t think you want a whole fish (average is 11-12 lbs), find a friend to split one with you.  Can’t beat the price!! Thanks ~ see you at E-dock! I was a newbie on his list, the one he sends when he’s on his way back to the harbor with a fresh load of live Dungeness crab, so didn’t realize his repertoire included salmon. Who could resist the lure of the freshest, local-est, line caught fish around? Not me. I was there by 10am after a stop at the bank, the...
Mystery dinner?

Mystery dinner?

So THIS is what the Kids are up to when I’m not home to cook. I saw this mystery meal after downloading the photos on my camera; the home-cooked fare I missed going to see the Stones. Kids cooking for themselves. Nice job, guys:     Mind if I steal the recipe? I’m thinking of adding poblano pepper, red onion and cherry tomato....
Happy Birthday Grandma Juju!

Happy Birthday Grandma Juju!

Today is my mother’s 70th birthday. She loves flowers almost as much as she loves her grandchildren; since I couldn’t be there to celebrate in person, I was happy to find this clever floral birthday cake to fete her: She has been blessed with four children, seven grandchildren, and a husband who likes to bake. Dad (aka Downtown Tom) tried his hand this year at decorating a cake for her. It turned out pretty well, especially considering it was his first try: He said he followed this Ina Garten recipe from Food Network, and they both said it was delicious, so if you’re looking for a chocolate cake recipe recommendation go ahead and try it. Here are mom and dad and I on one of their visits to me last year. Happy Birthday...
Taco soup your way, either fast or slow

Taco soup your way, either fast or slow

Two recipes for taco soup, a dish I had neither made nor tasted, popped up in my inbox recently. The first one is a slow-cooker recipe from Janice Gullett, a Life in the Skillet reader who found me while planning a trip to Loreto, Mexico. The second one, courtesy of one of my lovely sisters-in-law, is a super-fast, super-efficient, 30 minute to the table version. A note: both call for taco seasoning – which is what makes them taco soup. Janice’s for any supermarket brand packet and Rita’s for the taco seasoning from Penzey’s. I always make my own; it’s actually really easy to make with regular pantry ingredients; click here for my recipe. They are both delicious. The slow-cooker version I’ve put here first has quite a bit of spice from the adobo chilies, and the chicken is exceptionally tender. Don’t try and take the shortcut to add the adobos in the beginning or it will be too spicy. I used dark beer and parsley instead of cilantro and served with flour tortillas. Double up on the beans on either recipe to make a vegetarian version. Slow cooker chicken taco soup   Save Print Prep time 15 mins Cook time 7 hours Total time 7 hours 15 mins   This is a spicy slow-cooker meal in a pot. Author: Janice Gullett Recipe type: Entree Cuisine: Mexican Ingredients • 1 onion, chopped 1 (16 ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed 1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed 1 (15 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained (or use frozen) 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce 1 (12 fluid ounce) can or...
Fiction for foodies: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Fiction for foodies: Baking Cakes in Kigali

Every now and then I read a book that just perfectly illustrates how food as a theme unites all the people of the world. Baking Cakes in Kigali is one of those books. It’s most likely not a novel you’ve heard of; at least I hadn’t, although author Gaile Parkin made Oprah’s poll of favorite contemporary women writers the year after it was published. My newest sister-in-law – the one on our family who ALWAYS  knows what’s going on – gave me this copy on one of my trips back to St. Louis. Once I dove into the story. I was completely enthralled – read it straight through the day and into the night. The protagonist is Angel Tungaraza, a married mother raising her four grandchildren while running a cake-baking business. I love her character; she’s wise, insightful, and empathetic, the type of person to whom others confide their problems. With flour, sugar, eggs, and food coloring, she sets the wheels in motion to solve any tricky situation or problem that arises with a light heart and a perfectly decorated cake. This isn’t magical realism, though. Here’s the deal – the best part of the novel is the contrast of Angel’s baking business against the setting, her middle-class household in post-genocide Rwanda. The only thing I knew about the country was locked in my memories of horrific reports that I honestly tried to block, and Parkin, who lived in Rwanda for a time, created a sweet story of people who live normal lives – working, schooling, traveling, and marrying – against a devastated past. Cake and joy are the ties...
The Kids are alright

The Kids are alright

Here is another reason my kids rock – not just because they wash the dishes – they also entertain me with their interesting views on the world and play Canasta. Best of all, they also give me handmade birthday and Christmas cards and gifts. Check out this year’s gift:

Geometry, guacamole-style

My Kids are pretty good at finding the fun things on YouTube – I never would have known about Magical Trevor or Gangnam Style on my own. It’s not that I don’t have the time; I’m really just not clued in enough. The newest YouTube discovery is Kahn Academy mathematician Vi Hart’s channel. We almost mastered the hexaflexagon, folding strip of strip of paper into perfect equilateral triangles and folding them in on themselves, when she wondered why you had to make these cool folding origami-like disks with paper? Why not use . . . food? So if you find yourself with an extra large flour tortilla and want to make your kids sing for their supper, consider sitting them down in front of a computer with a plate of guacamole to make hexaflexamexagons. That sounds like a really bad idea now that I write it down. You should probably have a couple of big towels handy. Check it out, though, she’s totally fun: embedded by Embedded VideoYouTube DirektFlex Mex...
The edible cell

The edible cell

With only one or two exceptions, I love every single one of the teachers my kids have had. They’ve embraced experiential learning, largely abandoning lectures and rote memorization in favor of group projects, individual presentations, skits, and songs. It works. I have two boys who love to learn and who have excellent communication skills as a result; by junior high, they’d logged more time speaking in front of a group than I had by college. The Edible Cell is my favorite of their hands-on learning projects so far. Why hand a kid a plant cell drawing and ask him to label all the parts for 100 points when you can send him home and ask him to construct a plant cell with edible items from your kitchen? Sending kids home to do kitchen things requires a small budget and a large amount of parental cooperation. Because I’m a stay-at-home mom, I’m by default a cooperative parent, so the afternoon of the assignment I shepherded three boys to our corner market, gave them each a couple of dollars, and let them go crazy picking out candy. Sadly no one else was in our aisle to overhear them discussing what would make the best endoplasmic reticulum; I would have loved to see the questioning eyebrows. What I loved even more, though, was watching the kids as they made a big batch of brownies from scratch: reading the recipe, searching for ingredients, carefully (sort of) measuring them out, setting the oven temperature, discussing the different parts of a cell and how best to arrange the candy – observing that process of actively...