Monday, June 20, 2016

Perfect Pizza

 Finally!  The Perfect Pizza!

Raising 4 kids, 3 of which worked in pizza restaurants (back in the day) brought some great pizzas into our home!  Not to mention the pizza making techniques that were shared through time.  We even started having a "make our own" pizza night on Christmas Eve!  That is when I was informed that I was doing it all wrong!
pizza, vegtables, dough, cheese, sauce 
Throw in the fact that, due to health reasons, low sodium meals are a must at our house.  We keep the salt shaker out for guests and advise that all of the meals are cooked without salt.  That is the easy part.  Reading labels and picking and choosing ingredients that are not salt laden is the hard part.  I have had many years of practice!

The word perfect is just my "for now" word.  If this recipe were truly perfect, then you would make, and can your own pizza sauce from the bounty of your vegetable garden! And you would use homemade Mozzarella cheese!

 But here is how I do it NOW!

For the dough:
4 cups unbleached flour (bread flour works best)
1 3/4 cups warm water (divided)
3 tablespoons olive oil (more to coat the proofing bowl)
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast (in the jar or 1 packet will be fine)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Turn oven on to 175 degrees.
Measure 3/4 cup of warm water (you will add the other cup of warm water later) and add the yeast and the sugar - dissolve, let sit 5 minutes until if foams.  Now turn off the oven. assemble all the other ingredients in a bowl, then add the foamy yeast stuff and stir it all with a spoon.

Now if you decide to just dump everything together and skip dissolving the yeast first, it still will turn out fine - I am telling you the way I learned to get the dough just perfect!

I use a dough hook on a mixer for about 3 or 4 minutes for the kneading, then I take half of the dough and place it in an oiled storage bag, it goes in the fridge for another pizza in about 5 days or so. I place the other half in a large oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball of dough, and place in that preheated but previously turned off oven for no more than 45 minutes. (Do NOT over proof the dough, or you will not know how perfect it could have been!)  You now have enough time to get the rest of the ingredients prepared......

As I said, I do not can my own pizza sauce, and there brands lower sodium then Trader Joe's brand, but they just do not taste that good, so this is what I use.  About 1/3 jar is what you need for one pizza.  It's 350 mg. of sodium per 1/4 cup - this (and the cheese) is where I choose to budget the sodium content.

Thinly slice: 
Red Onion, Green Onion, (or both)
Colored Bell Peppers (your choice)
Black Olives
Fresh Mushrooms

Put the slices on a dinner plate, each ingredient should take up the space of about 1/4 of the plate.  Too much of the toppings can make the pizza soggy, you don't want that!

Grate 1/2 lb. of Mozzarella Cheese - a little more is ok, we are trying to watch the sodium at our house. We tried substituting for a lower sodium cheese, like Swiss, but it tasted like a combination quiche-pizza!  A different animal.  Got to have the Mozzarella!

I find a cheese at Costco that we use as a Parmesan replacement, I use a fine grate to process it and I only add a tiny bit to this pizza.  It is called Lake Country Asiago Cheese and bears the Kirkland Brand.

OK, now on with it - take out the dough and a rolling pin and a floured bread board. 
Preheat your oven - I use "convect roast" at 425 degrees, but you might have to use 450 degrees if you do not have convect options on your oven.

Roll out the dough, place on a pizza stone (important) and heap up the edges of dough a little, spoon on and spread the sauce, sprinkle all but a  handful of Mozzarella Cheese, decorate with your veggie slices, sprinkle remainder of cheese and a light sprinkle of the finely grated Asiago cheese at the end - THEN a light sprinkle (about a teaspoon) of crushed red pepper flakes (optional) before it goes it goes into that hot oven!

25 minutes!
(But check in 15 or 20, you might get a different time depending on the performance of your oven.)

Let me know if you make a perfect pizza!  Enjoy!

footnote:  You can find some truly unique and delicious cooking ideas by following my daughter's blog: McMillen Kitchen.  You are welcome!  ;)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Selling The House

Selling the House
by Cheryl Newcomb

 The old familiar sight of "For Sale" signs are popping up all over the neighborhood showing increased activity on the housing market, a good thing after a long and depressed market for years. The rises and declines of home sales will often the timing for those who are motivated to make this change for any reason, steering the seller through the pending chapter change.  First, the staging must take place to get that sale, however long it might take. 

 Hearing the chatter of friends and family sharing their experiences with their own process of "showing" the house has my attentions as I remember my own efforts in this arena, many years ago.  Some things we just do not forget!  The frustrations, fears, and tireless efforts to entice a buyer so they can move on with their own life's plans can quickly become drudgery in routine.  Re-sweeping an almost clean floor, polishing a doorknob as you quickly exit - late for work again!  I remind those who share these experiences with me, using those magic words in response, the same words that pulled me through the same process so many years ago - It Only Takes One Buyer!  Once that happens, the whole process is behind you and your new adventures wait.

To look back at this intense but fleeting moment (depending on how often you sell and buy homes in your lifetime) can bring a perspective of defining moments to life's circumstances.  It is much like the year you graduated from High School, a reference point - Just like your graduating year, you will recite the year you moved from one house to another. You find yourself using the address of where you lived to define the era.  Selling a house for any reason is one of the big page-turners, a means big change!

 Digging through old folders of paperwork produced the email that I sent to my family once the offer was accepted on my last house.  While "methods" of fresh baking bread and vases of flowers are widely used techniques for enticing a buyer for sale of a house, it was a magic moment for me to think back on the events that surrounded the sale of the house where my children had grown up.
Sent: May 14, 2001

Subject: Strawberries

Our house was on the market for 60 days. We would get about one showing per week, which is typical of our area.  Showing a house with three teenagers and the busy schedules that go along with that is a pain to lay the least!   The kids were real good about it, picking up every morning, making beds, etc....

 We got a call on Saturday night that there would be a showing on Sunday at 4:00PM.  The kids had a picnic to go to that day and I had to go to town to get groceries because my car was going into the shop the next day.  I came home with a car loaded with groceries and a "feeling" about this particular showing.  Barely was there time to put the groceries away and spit shine everything to make the proper impressions.  I packed the fridge, got out the dust rag and mop and hurried through the tiresome routine, but had forgotten to put away the flat of freshly picked strawberries that I had bought at the fruit stand.

 They were as big as red apples, and the reddest I had ever seen!  As I checked the clock, I realized there was no time to pare up the berries and no room in the fridge to slip the whole flat in so I got out a huge white bowl and just dumped them in and placed it on the kitchen table nest to a crystal vase and a basket of napkins...  The sun was streaming in the kitchen windows and the strawberries sparkled!  It gave the perfect "Country" effect.

 The call came in at about 10:00PM that night.  We had an offer!  Cassie heard me on the phone and was having one of her typical restless nights so she came in to ask me about the offer, she knew I was excited!  She lay down beside me in my bed and after a while she whispered, "Mom, I know what sold the house."  "It was the strawberries!"  I told her that I thought she was right and sent her to bed.

 A week later I was becoming anxious about the motor home not being sold through I had been aggressively advertising and showing the RV to potential buyers for months.  With inflated gas prices as front-page news, the chances of a reasonable sale were dwindling and I feared not being able to get out of the loan. I was waiting on a possible offer of the only interested party I had lined up so far.  Cassie suggested a bowl of strawberries might do the trick.  So I shrugged as I took out the bowl of fruit and the offer come in the very next day!

 It looks like the page turning is finally taking place! We are packed and ready to move into our new home and you bet I will put a big bowl of fresh strawberries on the kitchen table!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

To Remember Nam

The picture speaks a thousand words... and so many more.  My cousin posted this photo on Facebook and the comment thread it produced is full of memories that tug at hearts. Little truths leach out from those who were there.  The unspoken... remaining so because there are no words. The occupation of Viet Nam, a war that continued for decades.... that sent so many young boys overseas.  An era that is never lost or forgotten as many may think.

Viet Nam ~ 1970
 I was around 11 - 13ish years old during this 60's - early 70's era. My own age group of peers really do not know the "feeling" that goes with this time. Only those that had close family members serve in Viet Nam would know what I came to understand. Though there were many who served, many shared little of what they experienced upon their return. The painful truths were stuffed away as young men tried to come back and be the way they were when they left for their tour of duty. Only to find that coming home was painful as well.

 It was a time of confusion, conflict, the quest for peace was demonstrated amidst a time when support for our troops was needed most.  Loyalties were tested, sons were lost to war, protests, marches, political unrest, and violence erupted even as people tried their hardest to escape the mounting tensions and seek their own calm within the turbulence.

 Five of my cousins served in Nam, with two of them returning home by way of my family's West Coast residence.  I was excited each time there was news of a "visit" from one of my cousins, only to learn that these visits would hold a significance of this era in my heart that would last a lifetime.  I quickly figured out this was not the same as when relatives vacationed and stayed at our house in California.  This was more of a passage, so to speak.  An important one.

My memories that are connected to these events are of packaging homemade cookies, using plain popped popcorn to absorb the shock of the long trip and rough handling as they were transported half way around the world.  This project was spearheaded in our home by my sister, 7 years my senior. It was her classmates and the cousins that were her age that disappeared as one by one so many were drafted into service.  As more boys left for Viet Nam, more girls packed care packages.... this went on for years.

 Upon one cousin's return from his tour in Viet Nam, I remember my Mom putting his uniform in the washing machine over and over again, as he protested.  She was determined to get the smell of the jungle out of it, he told her he would just dispose of it, there was no use. The washer chugged and the whole house smelled of it!  I can still smell that strong, dank, putrid smell of the jungle that followed each of them home.  It does not wash away.

As another cousin came through via San Francisco, we had to go get him at the hospital; he was recovering from a virus that affected his lungs.  I always looked up to these cousins; they were older than I, and wiser.  I longed to be their age and know more about the world.  I was still learning.  

 I first saw my cousin in a hospital bed. He looked different from the boy that gave us rides on his brother's motorcycle in Wyoming. I saw his expression, clearly glad to be "home".  In contrast, I will never forget what was shared or the struggle in his eyes to understand.  His need for normalcy came first, then the long road ahead of many decades to try to make sense of the times. And heal. His lungs healed quickly, his soul, not so much.

 I now realize, that they were just young boys with little roots of identity just starting to form in there hearts...

 I had a conversation with my parents in the 90s. I brought up the 60s era and describing it as a pivotal time and how I saw it as a catalyst for some of the diversity that I see as beneficial to our society. They disagreed!  They remembered this time as extremely painful with emotions scattered. Fear and tragedy were so prevalent as the headlines showed unrest and there were disagreements about almost everything. I could see that these memories are difficult for them, even so many years later. Here was a generation that had witnessed WW11 and the Great Depression.  They had rebuilt their continuance only to have the rug pulled out from under them once again - this time with little direction as so many energies were divided.  It was like the puzzle pieces were just thrown up into the air and no one knew how they would scatter or where they would land, or how to put the puzzle back together again.

The recent posting of this photograph on Facebook brought modern day comments that I will share. My admiration goes out to those who speak of these events that they have spent a lifetime coping with. A part of their being lives these milestones day after day.

Out of 20 grandchildren of my grandparents, five cousins served in Viet Nam - there were 20 of us!
Terry was there in 1970-71
Ron was there in 1968-1969
Al was there March 1968 to December 1968.

Al: "The Army lost my records for a year so I didn't have much time left when I went over. If you had to be lost, San Antonio was a better place to be than Vietnam. I got a full-time job as a pharmacist and moonlighted at being in the Army. Can you be AWOL if you don't officially exist? I was an E-2, the second lowest rank, but I had an apartment where my next door neighbor was a Lieutenant Colonel."

Al: "Allen was there in 1964. He went on a troop ship. It took about a month to get there. When they got there they had to climb down cargo nets to get off. They had few creature comforts at that time."

Al:  " Gary was there during the time I was. We talked on the phone about getting together when he came to Vung Tau but it didn't work out."

The conversations continued:
(Speaking of the photograph)

Terry: I showed this photo to a friend, Rod, yesterday. Now I cant stop thinking about these guys. Thought I would share it with you again.

Al: As many times as you want to share it, Terry is OK with me. I wear a "Vietnam Veteran" cap about 99% of the time. Guys come up to me all the time and after we talk a little they say, "I've never told anybody this before but...." When they finish I tell them that my story is a little different. I was a pharmacist in Vung Tau an in- country R&R center. My weapon of choice was a syringe of penicillin. I never shot at a VC but I killed a lot of VD. They laugh and go on their way. I feel like they got something out in the open for the first time and I made them laugh to let them know that everything can be OK. Maybe it is not OK yet but it can be.

Terry: Al, Vung Tau was a life saver for us grunts. Went there 4 or 5 times. Yeah it doesn't matter what we did in Nam we all understand each other. And we are there for each other.

Al: On the rare occasion when someone wants to give me a hard time I tell them that I have talked to hundreds, if not thousands of Vietnamese and not one of them has ever said that America should not have done what we did. We paid a high price but the Vietnamese paid an even higher price especially after the Americans left. When I tell older Vietnamese that I was in Vung Tau they almost always respond with "That is where I made my escape." Then they pour out their story, too. I rarely try to make them laugh. The usually end by grasping my hand and bowing their head and saying thank you.

And this photo, gently inserted as a comment by Jan:

And, of course there was the reference to the beer.....
Richard: Good old Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Ahhhhhhh

Terry: PBR'S at 100 degrees. Almost burn your lips.

Richard: 88 cases on a pallet.

Richard: Up on the DMZ we got mostly Ballantine beer. It sucked.
Al: Did you have to pay for it? In Vung Tau it was 10 cents per can.
Terry: Not on the fire base cuz we were the guys that were crazy and cried guns. Beer was free.

Al: in Vung Tau there was a screw-up platoon. They guarded the supply depots. About once a month a pallet of beer disappeared. The top brands were always available in the Mi mi bar. It was the Miami bar but the a fell off.

The sharing of this photo says so many different things, some of which I have not heard as it speaks to so many! I see the camaraderie and the paradox of loneliness. A group of soldiers, longing to go home but keeping each other strong. No doubt, the connections are visible here. Connections that stood the test of time, some transcending death itself - and the messages will carry forth, for generations to come. 

As the quest for Peace shows that Love reigns, even when there is no peace...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mocktail Mary - New Recipe

tomato, smoothie, savory, glass straw, veggies, garnish, juice So many smoothies that are featured every day on Instagram inspire me to try my own recipe. There are some that use methods that have some awesome health benefits.  I decided to make up this savory smoothie, and - oh baby, I nailed it!  I call it the Mocktail Mary because it tastes like a Bloody Mary, but has absolutely no alcohol in it which makes it a great morning brunch drink or before dinner appetizer, even if you are avoiding the typical cocktail hour ritual.  This recipe is a great way to squeeze more vegetables into your diet and does not have the sweet fruit that so many smoothie recipes call for.

Ok, here goes:

I rough chop my veggies and put them on a pie plate.  I put the plate in the freezer for about an hour.  This quick freeze helps the chopped veggies liquefy easily in the blender and the concoction will become frosty and thick like a smoothie.

1/2 a peeled Cucumber
Two ribs of Celery
1/2 a Red Bell Pepper (Yellow is good too)
1 thin slice JalapeƱo Pepper
Three slices of Red Cabbage
Two small Tomatoes

Freeze, then put them in the blender and let them thaw for a few minutes.

Juice of two Fresh Limes
2 Tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar (Use the real stuff, it's good for you!)
A dash of Balsamic vinegar (the vinegars are what makes it taste boozy.)
2 teaspoons of Tabasco Sauce (adjust to taste)
1 Cup of Trader Joe's brand Low Sodium Garden Patch Juice.
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Blend it up and spoon it into two 8-ounce glasses.
Garnish with Baby Beet Leaves, Baby Kale Leaves, Lime Slices, and Chervil.
(Or whatever edibles you have growing in the garden, like Parsley or Thyme).
Add a glass straw by GlassDharma!
tomato, glass straw, beverage, smoothie, savory, recipe


GlassDharma gives away free glass straws every year for Earth Day and you can get one just by participating in the project.  You view a video and answer a few simple questions to get a coupon code.  Checkout the project here.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Joyfull New Year

New Year 2015

One of the biggest days of the year is New Years!  Not because everything changes in just one day... some of the things in the New Year will be a continuance of the year before, it is just another day, after all.  But, the event of the New Year as a marker in time has it's opportunities.  It is like cleaning out the refrigerator.  You clean up what is still good and put it back, you throw out what is spoiled from being there too long, and you get to start fresh.

My desire to *live mindfully* this year is my resolution.  Not the kind of "mindful" that keeps me from sleeping at night as I excessively try to solve every issue that pops into my head, whether it's my own or someone else's circumstance.  Not the kind of mindful that Just. Will. Not. Let. Go. of a topic - even though it has been hammered to death!  The kind of "mindful" I refer to is more about living in the present moment, taking note of what is actually happening, and paying attention to the tasks at hand.

Multitasking has its place, but there comes a time when multitasking becomes a habit that is - distracting.  Thoughts race ahead to what I will do or say next, or memories and replays take up so much mind-space that I am not sure how I got from one place to another in my travels.  Mindful attention will keep me from wondering what that person was trying to tell me - or wishing I had noticed more landmarks as I try to find direction to a destination for the second time.  My intent to be more mind-full will encourage me to pay attention to the trees I walk by everyday and hear the bird songs as they change with the season.  It will help me to really listen to what others are saying.

Joyful! - I am adding "joyful" to my "mindful" resolution.  Sometimes it takes an effort to live knowing true joy in a day.  This is not to say that each moment will be deliriously happy or that we have to await a windfall of joy to come our way..  Rather I will learn to claim the joy in the generic circumstances of a day, joy that I know is there for the taking.  The idea that we can change things for ourselves prompts me to look for the joy in the ordinary as I gravitate towards people and places that lay a foundation for my resolution.  I will seek experiences that make my soul sing! ... Or even just hum a little.  These little, ordinary joys will not go un-noticed because of other distractions that seem to pop up and try to overtake my emotions, leaning them toward worry and regret. I will choose JOY - even more than I do now - in 2015!

My four adult children all love to cook.  This brings me great joy to see how they inspire the people they spend their time with to have fun with meal preparation.  It becomes infectious to those who look on, not wanting to be left out of the happiness factor they notice, as the careful decisions are made during the chopping and blending of ingredients.  Three of them worked in food services (one still does) and the one that did not has recently started a food blog.  I see this "talent" as a true gift of choice - to take something as simple as preparing a meal and turn it into a ritual of joy.  I am sure this was handed down through generations but as I look around at our culture, I know this is certainly not the norm amongst most of their peers.

The point I am making is that joy can spread and grow!  It multiplies - everyone wants more joy!  How would that be if the whole world became a little more joyful?  Maybe that starts with me...

I will mindfully and joyfully choose more time outdoors!  Noticing the rhythm of nature sets up a canvas for living in the moment and choosing joy.  It is difficult to see the shooting stars or a flower blooming if one stays indoors most of the time.  All Seasons have their glory so even in Winter I will bundle up and venture out into surroundings that have so much more to show me than the confines of my own creature comforts, within the walls of my home.  The ritual to open the front door to greet the day or throw open the shutters to let sunshine stream into the kitchen are touch stones to this idea.  But taking that a little further means dressing for the weather conditions and stepping into the elements. If the weather conditions are so severe that I have to put this off, I will long for the time to get back outside knowing storms pass quickly and the sun will shine again.  It will make my whole year better to spend more time outside, I know it will!

2015 is almost here and I vow to "work on" my choice to be MINDFULLY present and to seek JOY as it happens!

I am wishing for those who find themselves reading this blog post a Joyful year full of opportunities for whatever makes your heart sing! 
Happy New Year!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cutting the Pomegranates

Growing up in California, we were no stranger to the cutting of the pomegranate!  My Dad would meticulously cut an X into the top and bottom of the fruit, then score the skin connecting each corner of the X.

We shared a pomegranate last night.  He is 87 now.  He was happy to have me cut it and seed it so he could eat it out of a bowl with a spoon!

I recently learned that scoring it around the middle, avoiding the top and bottom where the flesh is thick and harder to split, would result in an easy way to crack it open.  Then to patiently peel away the interior layers of the flesh to break out the juicy red seeds......  Patience, still!

This method looks kinda messy - I have not tried it!

On Facebook, I ran across this posted video - now this totally makes sense!  So how many ways are there to peel a pomegranate?!
Now here is a combination of all of the ways I have learned that you cut a pomegranate!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

White Pines Picnic

Bike Ride in the Woods

"Time for a bike ride and picnic", I told my husband.  "Let's venture out and find a new trail."

bike, bike trail, single track, mountains, arnold, california
Single Track Bike Trail
In the early days of acquiring mountain bikes, we scoured the internet for bike trails and read the reviews and ratings, looking for trails rated "easy"  and knowing not to attempt trails that are considered "difficult". Something happens along the way of adventures in general where the tendency to throw caution to the wind in the spirit of excitement makes you forget your own rules.

There are very thin lines between the different elements of wanting to have some fun. There is the reach for something new as well as finding an unknown while surprise and risk play into the equation as well. Adrenaline and how it feels is a big contributing component.  Safety issues remain in any sport, so being mindful of how much risk to take is important as one weighs all the factors of how to proceed.

"The big pencil"
We re-read the directions, veer left at the town of Arnold, go past the elementary school and turn right at the big pencil.  We looked at each other in amusement.  The big pencil!  The directions were spot on as we pulled into the parking lot at the Sierra Logging Museum with the gate to the trailhead right in front of us.  We were in the woods!  It was the perfect weather this last day of May.
Paved Road 
The paved trail started to climb - here is where we start to get our bearings, it has been a while since we had the bikes out.  Once the asphalt gave way to a dirt single track I really got excited to think we were traveling deeper into the woods.  The trail got steeper both up and down and my tires, not treaded heavily enough for this terrain started slipping all over the place in the dusty, powdery pine needles. Though we have taken mountain paths through thick woods and ridden on the pine needle covered forest floors during other rides, this slippery carpet seemed to be a combination of  fine dust and pine pollen.  We found ourselves walking the bikes a third of the time, anxious to get up to "the rim" where surely the trail would level out.

Hairpin turns and steeper climbs made it less possible to ride the trail and there was no sign of reaching an area that would suffice for the kind of riding we like to do, so we finally turned around, knowing we had to navigate through each difficulty over again in order to get back to the car.

We made it with one spill, a bent wheel, a cracked reflector and the resolve to get my tires replaced with a deeper tread,  ASAP!

I found this video of the trail, but it seems like there are a lot of uphill parts cut out!  By the way, I do not jump logs with my mountain bike like the rider featured in this video does!  The video does show how gorgeous it is along this trail!

Arnold Rim Trail from South County Ciclista on Vimeo.

White Pines Lake Picnic
Bikes back on the rack, we drove out of the parking lot (at the big pencil) and down to the White Pines Lake Picnic area to find the most charming little kayaking lake with recreational percs everywhere.  Playgrounds, Horseshoe pits, a little league field, a Disc Golf Court, a sand beach and swimming hole, and trails all around the lake.  For all the people present, it is a quiet area with lots of fishing and Kayaking, no motor boats allowed.

We will be back to this lake for sure, but next time we will try a different entrance to the Rim Trail rather than start at the top of the mountain trailhead.  It might be time to go and read the reviews again before choosing the next new trail.

california, arnold, mother-lode, gold country
White Pines Lake