Monday, November 09, 2015

Cinderella Pumpkin with Intent to Distribute

This year Axel and I went to Country Pumpkins in Orland to get Halloween decor for the front doorstep.  I wanted the reddest pumpkin I could find so it would match my front door.  Yes, I admit to that.

I ended up purchasing a red Cinderella pumpkin.  At the checkout, the kind sales lady asked what I was going to do with it.  I told her that I was planning to put it by my door to look pretty.  She chuckled and said that Cinderella pumpkins make the most delicious pumpkin meat for cooking. I am so glad she said that because I might not have thought to cook this intimidating-looking squash.

This was as red as it got at Country Pumpkins

Fast forward to last Thursday when Mom came over for a visit.  She admired the pumpkin and I told her I was going to roast it soon.  "Oh, yes," she says, "Good idea. There is going to be a pumpkin shortage this year."

"Really?" I said, a bit dubious on the notion.  Sounds like something the pumpkin lobby cooked up to sell more pumpkin, sooner.

"Yes, I had your dad buy my whole supply of canned pumpkin for the holidays already," she said.  So there you have it folks.  If you still have any pumpkins left, roast them up and freeze them (or can them if you trust your skills).  You can sell it on street corners come Christmas when someone has a hankering for pumpkin pie.  I prepped mine for the black market tonight.

It turns out that a Cinderella pumpkin is actually a dream to slice through.  Even removing and separating the plump seeds was very easy in comparison to the standard jack-o-lantern pumpkins.  I cut the whole thing in to eight enormous wedges and roasted them on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper for about an hour and a half at 350.  If you do not fill your entire oven with pumpkin (like I did because I am impatient) the roasting time may be less.

The pumpkin, halved. My cutting board is huge but it looks like a shingle beneath this pumpkin.

One wedge went to a soup for tonight's dinner (recipe below- guesstimates so use your best judgement).  Two of the less-roasty wedges were reserved for Jon to cube up and use in some recipes he has planned... maybe I can get him to make this one. With the other fives wedges, I scooped out the custard-like flesh into my largest bowl and pureed with my immersion blender.  It looked like I was mass-producing baby food.
The baby food.

How I bagged it without making a huge mess.  That cylinder came with my immersion blender and is a perfect quart-sized bag holder..

Bagging it up.

The liquid gold (do you think they could bust me with intent to sell?)

The toasted seeds.  You have to toast the seeds even if you do not want to. Sorry.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Stuff you need

  • 1/8 of a giant Cinderella Pumpkin, haphazardly roasted at 350
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 3 cups of water (or chicken stock if you want to be fancy-pants)
  • Bullion cubes if you are using water (enough for four cups of liquid).  I like Knorr vegetable cubes because Sara recommended them and she is a much better cook than I.
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan plus more for garnish
  • 8-16 oz delicious mushrooms, sliced (but if you must use button mushrooms, I won't tell)
  • Some lemon juice if you have it but, if not, no biggie
  • Some butter, oil, salt and pepper

Stuff you need to do

  1. In your soup pot, sauté the onion with some light salt and pepper on medium until soft.
  2. Add the garlic, rosemary, and nutmeg and sauté some more.
  3. Add the stock and pumpkin, bring to a boil.
  4. Puree with your immersion blender.  If you don't have one, get one for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Festivus.
  5. Add milk and heat back up but don't boil. Puree some more to make it light and foamy.
  6. Melt in the grated Parmesan
  7. Taste and add salt and/or pepper if needed
  8. Sauté the mushrooms in olive oil until cooked. Add a little butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
  9. Serve soup with a scoop of mushrooms in the middle, top with reserved Parmesan and freshly ground pepper

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Busted, but let's just keep this between us and two million other people

This weekend we experienced a mixed bag, including a birthday celebration, a disc golf tournament, and a viral Internet post.

It all started with Leah turning 18 on Friday.  She requested, as a birthday present, that we let her have the house to herself Friday night to host a party.  Since we live in a small house with one living space, we said yes. It would be hard to have a nice party with one’s parents taking up the whole couch.  The only rule: do nothing that gets anyone sued, evicted, or jailed.  This rule seems to cover most of the bases.

Jon, Axel and I were left needing a place to stay Friday night.  We were planning to play a disc golf tournament in Paradise on Saturday morning (a whole 20 minutes from Chico), so we booked a room at the Comfort Inn right near the golf course.  When the front desk asked for my zip code at check-in I felt a little sheepish answering 95926.

The tournament, Shasta Series 2015 (#2) at Lava Creek Disc Golf Course, was Axel’s first two round singles tournament. He was placed with random groups of golfers both rounds and had to practice etiquette and good sportsmanship on his own.  He got a thumbs-up from his fellow players and even made a 70 foot birdie.  I found out about the birdie when I overheard someone say, “Did you see that little kid’s putt on hole five?” Axel played very well and we all had fun.

Axel driving on hole 17 at Lava Creek Disc Golf Course

We came home around dark on Saturday to find Leah still cleaning up after her party.  The place looked good but the tile floors appeared heavily trafficked.  Leah said she’d had fun.  Then, this morning, I found out just how much fun when I discovered the following spreadsheet printout:

This situation reminds me of my own 16th birthday party in which my parents went to dinner and a movie so I could have a pool party.  Upon Mom and Dad’s return they tried slip in the side gate so as not to disturb the party.  Unfortunately party guests had been ditching their empties in the shadowy side yard, leaving my parents tripping over beer cans and bottles on their way in.  I got in no trouble whatsoever, but I suppose that 1992 parents were not so freaked-out about litigation and media shit-storms.

Half of me is furious at Leah for serving alcohol to her fellow high school seniors and concerned that some angry parents will come knocking.  They still may.  The other half is amused by the hostessing skills.  Fruit and veggie trays?  Signage? Laying out bedding and pillows?

Ultimately I did what any 2015 amused parent would do and I posted a picture of the spreadsheet on the Internet (after dispensing punishments of course).  The Internet was also amused.  Two million views later, here are some of my favorite comments:

  • Well... If she has her shit together like this, I don't know how I would feel as a parent.
  • "Look what we found. I hope you had fun, young lady, because as punishment, you're organizing our next party."
  • Axel is clever to have fabricated this and leave it lying around to frame his sister.
  • She was classy and cute about it. My 15 y/o parties involved indoor fireworks and cleaning vomit out of unlikely places
  • She forgot to write "destroy this paper" on there so it’s understandable why she forgot.

Someone said: "I really have to know how you brought this to her attention. (please say it comes with a video!!!)"  So I posted this, which is the actual moment of confrontation (probably violating thousands of parenting rules here so don't break your tongue snickering at me):

The top Internet responses:
  • "Okay. Okay. Okay." The fear... I can FEEL it through the texts.
  • Oh man that got my heart racing, and I moved out 10 years ago. BUSTED!
  • Only time will leah
  • Weird, is this how parents yell at kids in the 21st century?
And my favorite: "Are you one of those families that text each other when you are in separate rooms of the house?" to which I replied, "Yes, 21st century intercom."

Needless to say, Leah’s unsupervised use of our house is now cut-off.  She’s also landed herself a week-long trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Thanksgiving break (rather than staying home alone and spending Thanksgiving with her best friend).  I guess she can mix us some holiday vodka gummy bears.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Partially Naked Cyclocross

After watching Jon churn through the mud at last Sunday's Cyclocross race in Lembi Park, I felt a sudden urge to write a blog post.  Force of habit perhaps.

We arrived at the course in a steady rain.  Finally, a rainy day in California!  Jon had new Challenge "Limus" tubular mud tires and was, of course, also equipped with a decade of mud experience.  I suspect, given how dusty and parched the last four years have been, some of the newer Cali-Crossers in the race had never ridden proper, muddy 'cross courses before.  

After Jon's warm-up lap he came to the car and smiled, like, "I got this."  I smiled, too. All of us felt pretty confident as we headed to the start area, so imagine my surprise when, after the start whistle had blown and the racers were on their way, some guy was off the back and riding partially naked, struggling to put on his clothes, and that guy was Jon.

Yes, Jon started the race about 25% naked.  Right before the start he had decided his undershirt was too hot.  He peeled off the top half of his skin suit, whipping off his undershirt and tossing it to me.  Before he could get the top back on, the start whistle blew.  

In retrospect, he said he should have just stayed there and finished getting dressed, but instead he chased after the pack with a comically exposed shoulder, back and chest.  The inside-out sleeve flapped in the wind behind him as he rode, hands-free, along the rutted trail, struggling to put his clothes back on.  The pack sprinted ahead as the crowd laughed at Jon's shockingly bare skin.  He was in dead last.  I still hold out hope that someone has pictures.

Jon's mom, Mimi, was there with me to watch the insane start.  We waited seven minutes for the pack to finish lap one and by then Jon had already moved up to about 10th place.  He was now fully clothed but his side was covered in mud from a crash.  We cheered him on and hoped for the best, walking toward the back of the course.  

At the back of the course we found a twisty network of ups and downs as well as the bike pit, which I was pleased to see was almost entirely manned by women.  Girlfriends and wives perhaps? So different from Belgium.  

As Jon came whipping back through, one spunky girl from the pit confirmed for Jon that the two men just ahead were the leaders of the Elite race.  They were Justin Thomas of Reno Wheelmen and Gareth Feldstein of Real Wheels.  Jon, of course, was just confirming these were the leaders having passed racer after racer, striving to erase the damage from the wardrobe malfunction.  

Next lap he finally caught the two leaders and promptly managed to pass Gareth in a tight corner, foot out, cornering like a mad man. Soon it was just Jon and Justin fighting it out at the front.  Right about then that same spunky gal from the pit began yelling at the other racers: "The guy with the beard and mustache is not 35+!  He is not 35+!."  35+ is an age-protected category, and she was right, 41 year-old grey-beard Jon had chosen to race in the Elite category instead.  Mimi and I laughed.

Eventually Jon got ahead of Justin and held a strong pace.  Justin got tangled in some course tape right as Jon was getting a gap and that gap held. By the time Jon crossed the finish on the final lap he had over 30 seconds on the rest of the field.  It was a gap big enough to allow Jon to cruise through the finish riding no-hands, only this time he was riding no-hands to celebrate victory rather than to get dressed. 

Mimi and I agreed it was fun to be back out watching Cyclocross again, though she lamented forgetting her cowbell.  We watched Jon in a post-race interview and then followed him to the medical tent to get the crash wounds cleaned.  After that we did what any good Cyclocross aficionados would do and headed to the beer garden.  Jon had a vanilla stout float.  I definitely saw a lot of beer gardens in Belgium, but never beer with ice cream.  

The winner drinks his beer float.

The podium shot.  Another top step finish for the very-successful Chico Masters Cycling Team

Jon being interviewed by Fit and Filthy.

Yep, he looks pretty fit and filthy to me.

And the bike does too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


After my old theater-style popcorn maker went kaput, I mourned for a while and then started the search for a smaller footprint popcorn maker. As it turned out the device was already in my kitchen... a wok!  I know I can make popcorn in a pot, but that involves so much shaking and (often) burning. With the wok, since only a small area in the lowest part of the pan is directly heated, it makes a great popcorn maker.  The heavier un-popped kernels stay near the heat source while the fluffy popped pieces spring away.  My wok is electric which makes it easy to dial-in the heat but you could do this with a regular wok on a small burner as well.

To make the Wok-Corn happen, I had to study how popcorn pops. A few facts:
  • Popcorn pops at about 350 degrees F (180 C)
  • Before it pops the inner starches, fats, and water need to make a gel. The gel is how popcorn becomes fluffy.
  • Once it reaches 135 psi the hull breaches.  By then, if you have a hull filled with a soft gel, the explosion will create a fluffy foam out of the gelatinous starches and proteins.

Wok-Corn Recipe:
  1. Heat 1/2 cup high quality kernels in 2 tablespoons ghee (or oil) at about 200 degrees in a tightly lidded wok. The ghee gives the popcorn a buttery flavor but does not burn the way butter would. I get my corn from Tietz Farms. The key here is fresh corn with good moisture content.
  2. Steam the kernels in wok with the lid closed for 2-3 minutes.  Give it a shake once or twice. Do not let it pop yet- the gel is forming.  
  3. After the steaming process, turn the heat up to 350 degrees F. The kernels will pop very fast. Once you count a 2 second gap between pops, pour immediately into a large bowl.
  4. Sprinkle with your favorite very fine salt. I like flavored salts.  My friend, Laura, sent me some of this from my old home in Boulder, Colorado and it is my go-to wok-corn topping

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Great French Press Coffee

Great coffee does not have to cost a fortune.  As much as I want a Nespresso, or, heck, an Italian espresso machine that costs as much as a car and a live-in barista to run the thing, in the end we do the French Press thing here.

While the French Press is widely lauded as a simple and inexpensive way of making superb coffee at home, often the coffee we make tastes bitter or just does not have the kick of, say, a small cup of Starbucks brewed coffee.  I find myself venturing outside the home when I really want to get pepped up.

The set up.

Today I resolved to stop cheating on my French Press, so I set out searching the web for the best French Press methods.  Here is what I learned:

1.) Use good beans- duh.  I bought the Pike Place whole beans from Starbucks for this project. They are similar in price to the Peets' Major Dickinson beans we previously used but give me the peace of mind that I am really replicating that jittery Starbucks brew I love so much.  Go to Caffeine Informer to find out how much pep is in your bean.  You can even find out what is a lethal dose of your favorite caffeinated beverage.  It turns out that 65 cups of brewed coffee would kill me.

2.) Grind with a burr grinder.  The grind should look like breadcrumbs.  If your coffee tastes over-extracted, grind coarser.  If your coffee is weak, grind finer.  If your coffee tastes good, mark that grind level on your burr grinder.  Lock it in and rip the knob off.

3.) Fill your French Press with hot tap water and plunge it while your filtered water boils in the kettle.  Before adding the grounds pour out the hot water.  This not only cleans out yesterday's coffee flavor, but heats all of the parts of your French Press.

4.) Put 1 tablespoon of grounds per cup of water into the French Press.  Keep a scoop handy. Set a timer for four minutes.

5.) Pour half the boiling water over the grounds and let it "bloom."  One minute later, stir and add the rest of the water.  Cover with the cap (plunger up and spout closed).

6.) At the four minute mark plunge the plunger slowly.  Pour into your cup and enjoy.  If you have made extra, pour right away into a thermal carafe otherwise the coffee will continue to extract and will become sludgy.  Or save in a glass jar and refrigerate for iced coffee later.

Now you will be so caffeinated that you will spend your lunch hour writing a blog post.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Not Exactly Bowled Over at the NFC Championship

Dang. The Niners lost.
The hopeful fans.
At halftime we were feeling good. Dang dang dang. Go Broncos beat those seachickens!!!! 

In other news, our neighbor Natalia turned eight this weekend and Axel and I got to go to her birthday bowling extravaganza. Thanks Julie and Chris for inviting us!

Axel and the birthday princess (her tiara was hurting so she took it off). 

Axel gets the spare.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Playoffs? You talkin' about playoffs? Yes. And Pooks' Pulled Pork. And Seattle Seachicken Wings.

Not just playoffs. Division championships. Gameday preparations are underway across SF, Seattle, Denver, New England and even lil ole Chico (though there has yet to be an Aaron Rodgers sighting up here). Tonight I am getting ready for having friends over on Sunday so I am making my old standby- Pooks' Pulled Pork.

It's easy:

1) Put a pork roast (shoulder aka 'butt' roast is best) in a crockpot over a bed of sliced onion. Turn on low and wait 8-10 hours (overnight works). If the roast doesn't all fit cut it into pieces and make it fit. Extra credit for browning the meat first.

2) Take the cooked roast out and pull the meat away from the bone and fat, shredding it with your fingers. Cover meat in your favorite BBQ sauce. Do whatever you want with the liquid and onions- they're not needed.

3) Reheat and serve on hamburger buns with cole slaw as a side. Hint on the slaw: a bag of pre-chopped cabbage is your friend. Dressing is just mayo with some vinegar, sugar and celery seed.

Here is my roast, browned and ready to have an overnight spa treatment in the crock pot. I find naming the roast makes it taste better. This one is Henry, Hank for short.

Don't like pork? I'm also making chicken wings (aka Seattle Seachicken Wings). I buy the frozen chicken wing portions when I'd rather be disc golfing than cutting up chicken wings. If I'm feeling special I'll buy fresh wings and cut each wing into three pieces by hand. Just cut the two joints on the wing; keep the drummettes and middles for guests and the wing tips for making the best chicken stock ever.

Wings are easy once you've got them cut up:

1) Line a baking sheet with parchment and lay out the wing portions in an even layer. Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or so. (Or BBQ them if you want)

2) While the little chickies cook, make the sauce. Adjust quantities to suit the number of wings you're making. The recipe is 2 parts hot sauce (Frank's Hot Sauce is what I use) 1 part butter. Yes butter- my favorite. Just had a cholesterol test this week and my good cholesterol is high and my bad cholesterol is normal. Go ahead and eat butter people.

3) Toss the crispy wings in your sauce and serve with celery and blue cheese and/or ranch dressing. Oh, and napkins. Lots and lots of napkins.

GO NINERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Soup and Glow Golf Season

Ham shanks were on sale at the butcher today and, since it is soup season in the Baker household, split pea soup was a natural choice. I might add that soup season made a lot more sense in Boulder, where I may be wandering in from snow shoveling or pickaxing an ice shelf. Here in Chico my only reason to keep the tradition is sheer exhaustion from fancy holiday cooking and baking. 

So the soup was a new recipe from the winner of Pacifica's Fog Festival Pea Soup contest. Usually I do the boring puréed soup so this was a real departure. The big takeaways were: use carrots to sweeten the stock then remove them, add some fresh peas right at the end and make a kick ass crostini to go with it. The full recipe is here:

In other news, the soup took so long to make that Axel and I did not get in our afternoon disc golf round. Jon made up for it by taking me glow golfing under the full moon tonight. In the first round we were tied going into the last hole (Jon won). Round two was a total blow out. 

The glow disc golfer in his native habitat. 

Chopped ingredients ready to become soup.

A bay leaf (I hope) foraged from Lava Creek Disc Golf Course was included in the soup. Other forage at this course includes blackberries, grapes, and peaches.

Axel unloaded the dishwasher for me while I cooked. What a sweetie.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creamy Chicken and Kale Soup

Tonight, for the first time ever, one of my made-up recipes was good enough for both Axel and Jon to recommend I write it down.  What better way to record it than in a blog post that may remain at the top of my blog for the next two years (see previous blog post).

With no further ado, I give you Creamy Chicken and Kale Soup.  Unless you have been naughty in which case, "No soup for you!"

Creamy Chicken Kale Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 chicken breasts
3 – 4 cups shredded kale (they sell this conveniently pre-shredded nowadays)
32 ounces chicken stock
2 cups half and half or milk
1 stick of butter
½ cup flour
¼ cup vermouth (you could use white wine, too)
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon white truffle oil (optional)

Salt and pepper chicken breasts on both sides.  In a large heavy bottomed soup pot, sauté the chicken in the olive oil over medium high heat.  Brown on both sides but leave uncooked in the middle.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add stick of butter to the pan and melt over medium heat.  Add flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring with a whisk.  Pour in all of the chicken stock and whisk until smooth.  Bring to a boil, mixture will start to thicken.  Reduce heat to low, add milk, vermouth, poultry seasoning, and onion powder and simmer for at least 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Steam shredded kale in a vegetable steamer for 7-10 minutes until just tender.

Chop the sautéed chicken into small pieces.

Add the steamed kale and chopped chicken into the soup liquid and let simmer over low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 5 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.  It may require a good deal of salt if your stock and/or butter were unsalted.

Finish by stirring in some white truffle oil.  You could also plate it with a drizzle of oil depending on how much truffle flavor is desired.  No truffle oil?  You could probably use another flavorful oil instead (or none at all).  Mom gave me truffle oil for Christmas so maybe it is my new secret culinary weapon.  Keep it in the fridge to make it last longer.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Tonic for all Your Ills

Tonight, my newfangled birthday present led me to an old fashioned recipe: homemade tonic water.  Okay, so the recipe isn't totally old fashioned, but the making of tonic water with quinine has been around for a long time. Did you know quinine (cinchona) originated in Peru and its bark not only fights malaria but has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties as well.  It used to be prescribed in the US for nocturnal leg cramps and Lupus.  Careful, though, kiddies.  Overdoing it is known to cause cardiac arrhythmia and other nasty side effects.

A tonic of quinine bark is bitter.  To drink it daily requires some tangy citrus, sweetener, and - if you were a British officer in Africa - gin!  So the gin and tonic was born.  I imagine they enjoyed taking their medicine each night (probably free of leg cramps).

Back to the newfangled birthday present: a Sodastream soda maker I received from Mom and Dad.  It makes sparkling water, but Bed Bath and Beyond sells a variety of syrups, including tonic syrup, to flavor the water.  Unfortunately, their tonic syrup contains sucralose; I call it super-gross- can't drink the stuff.  About a month ago, resolved to make my own tonic syrup, I searched the Internet for a recipe.

Quinine was the problem ingredient, which I eventually found at Zooscape (not that I would recommend the place).  It took three weeks to arrive.  Citric Acid was a little difficult, too, but I procured mine at the Chico Home Brew Shop.  Here's the recipe... 

Bring the following to a boil:

4 cups water
1/4 cup quinine bark powder
1/4 cup citric acid
1 cup chopped lemongrass
1 tsp whole allspice
zest and juice of a lemon, lime, and orange

Simmer covered for 20 minutes, then strain. I found if I pour slowly, most of the quinine bark stays at the bottom and I can just discard that opaque bit.  Other people used coffee filters (very slow) or a french press to strain.

Reheat with 1 cup of Agave Nectar or 1.5 cups of cane sugar until fully integrated.

Gin and Tonic Recipe:

1/2 shot tonic syrup
1 shot gin
Cover with sparkling water to taste

Zesting into the pot.

 The strained liquid.  Did I mention your tonic will be orange?

 Final product.  Yummy!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boxing Day Disc Golf

I got out of the kitchen by the day after Christmas just in time to burn off some pie and show the dads Chico's finest disc golf course, Peregrine Point.  On the way, we saw a highway patrolman driving slowly in the opposite direction, attempting to prevent some loose cattle from entering the roadway.

The cattle must have come our way.

Watch out, Dad!

 They eventually got a moove-on, and so did we.

Bill threw a nice roller out of trouble on hole three.

 The canyon views at Peregrine are pretty nice.

Jon was stuck in a bush and could only pitch out for par.

Anonymous Discraft man.

Dad, Scott, and I all threw into this bush, which sucked.  But then we all managed to make the putt, so we were redeemed.

 Scott was upset enough about throwing into the bush that he flipped me off, but he was still able to smile because he saved par.

Jon and his dad, very close to where someone fell off the cliff earlier this summer.

Dad was not so close to the edge.

My drive on hole 9.  The only birdie I got that round.

Pooks putting.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Winter Solstice Time, Chico Style

Below are some snippets of Chateau Baker from today. While I miss the snow at Christmas, it is novel and welcome to be playing disc golf in the warmth, looking at flowers, and wearing tank tops.  There is no chance I'll be pick-axing an ice shelf in my driveway this year (hi Laura).


Lena would know what this is.

Probably this, too.

These look like they'll be in full bloom by... January?

Seasonal color.

Good thing Santa Pig is foregoing the pants.

Good thing Jon is foregoing the shirt.  *whistle*