Friday, July 30, 2010

A big cake!

I was astonished when I saw this huge cake at the celebration of the Island’s Municipal Improvement District’s 50th anniversary last night. The cake was about eight feet long. It was made in the shape of Bethel Island and had all of the island’s important features – roads, the main canal, the flat terrain, equipment at work, and levee rip-rap.

The rip-rap along the edge was created from sugar cubes. They really looked like the real thing. The waterside of the island’s dirt levee is protected from wave wash by large gray rocks. They are very important for safety. The cake had a good substantial coating all around the perimeter. We wish our real levee had such a solid barrier. There are gaps here and there along the real levee because the rock washes down during bad storms. A few gaps are created by fishermen and women who move the rocks aside to create comfortable fishing spots. The levee district is constantly trying to renew the rip-rap. It is hard work and very expensive.

The infamous Horseshoe Bend was accurately depicted by the cake-maker, Dustin Ramirez. Horseshoe Bend is a problem area because the current swirls around and erodes the bottom of the slough in that area. No matter how much rock has been placed there over the years it all gets sucked away. One project in the 1990s used huge boulders that were barged in. In a few years depth soundings could not find any of the boulders. The district has been working on a new solution with the Army Corps of Engineers and the State of California. The applications and engineering documents have taken years to get approval. Things are looking good, and we were told last night that approval is expected in 2011.

Mementos of the District history were displayed. The district was created by the state legislature in 1960. Prior to the voter’s approval of BIMID, the island’s levee was maintained by Reclamation District 1619. Voting in a reclamation district is not one person one vote; instead it goes by how much land you own. The largest landowners cast the largest votes. It was quite revolutionary when the small landowners over through the old system in 1960

A campaign poster promoting a slate of five “men” was interesting to read.
For many years we have had men on this island Good and Bad. The men of good
record are now in the majority, and must be definitely appraised by their
records and value to the community.

Here are the men [sic] who have put all their efforts, time and unselfish devotion to the cause of achieving a law that will benefit all and free us of the domination of a few large landowners on this Island.

There are a few who will do anything to confuse this election by Candidacy not to your interest but to weaken your vote for a good solid board of the peoples [sic] choice.

Vote For:
Doctor R. W. Casey, Ted Andronico, Julian Hribernik, Elaine Houser, and Ben Tomlin.

Elaine Houser is a practicing Attorney, a member of the California State Bar Association and the owner of a large resort.

I thought it was interesting that in 1960 Miss Houser was one of the “men of good record.”

The district has almost all the powers of a city (except planning and zoning) and its task is to maintain the levee (11 ½ miles) and collect and convey drainage waters and pump them out to keep the island dry and stable. The island is below sea level and flat so it could become a swamp if the water was not pumped out. The levee is not very big in proportion to the land area – picture it in your mind as the raised crust around a large pizza.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

California Gold Bricks

These are my favorite cookies. I’ve been making them since the 1950s and I’m still using my mother’s yellow Pyrex bowl. The recipe is very simple but I’m putting up lots of pictures to encourage you.

1 can sweetened condensed milk (NOT plain condensed milk). It is very thick
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 package of honey graham crackers, crushed (not the whole box)

UPDATE March 24, 2012
It seems the graham cracker companies have changed their packages. They weigh less than they did in 2010. Now I use one package plus two (2) more whole crackers. This is a bother, but a new necessity.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

I put two or three graham crackers at a time in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin. Pour the graham crumbs in a bowl with the chocolate chips. Stir them together.

Pour and scrape in the sweetened condensed milk into the bowl. It is very hard to get all the stuff out of the can because it is so thick.

Stir to mix thoroughly. It is challenging to get it mixed. Spread the mixture evenly in a 8” x 8” ungreased glass pan. I’ve tried greasing the pan or lining the pan with aluminum foil but the bricks are tough to get out, so I just know that I have a big job ahead when I make these.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the mixture is lightly golden brown around the edges. Put the pan on a rack to cool. When it is cool enough to touch gingerly, it is time to cut around the edges.

I use my Aycock spatula to do this loosening. It is the perfect tool for getting between the cooked mixture and the edges of the pan. Our family had several of the spatulas because my father printed the company’s catalogue in the 1950s and they were given to him after they were photographed. I looked the company up on the web and was pleased and surprised to see they are still in business HERE. I use my spatulas practically every day for spreading peanut butter or mayonnaise or jam. I can’t imagine living without them.

After you have loosened the edges, go away for a while. You have to wait until the chocolate chips have solidified a bit before you can cut them into squares with a sharp knife. After they are cut I use my Aycock spatula to pry the individual bricks out of the pan.
I think I had better invite someone over for cookies. I plan to take a few on a plate when I go over to the church for a meeting tomorrow.

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Eating well

I do love to eat and I was spoiled over the years by having my own splendid cook in residence. Figuring out what to cook for one person is hard. These past months I’ve been experimenting with all sorts of recipes. Some have been successful, others only so so. I refuse to eat TV dinners.
Yesterday, I found a delicious recipe called Pork with Celery Avgolemono. Of course it was supposed to serve six people. I cut the proportions down and made it for myself.

2 ½ tablespoons butter
1 lean, boneless pork chop, cut into bite size pieces
1/3 onion, sliced
1 ½ cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
5 or 6 stalks of celery cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
1 tablespoon flour
1 egg
Juice of ½ lemon
Pepper to taste
Hot cooked noodles (served over them)

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium size heavy frying pan (I use cast iron). Add meat and cook, turning the pieces over until browned on all sides. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add ½ tablespoon of butter, if needed, to the pan. Add onion slices and cook them over a low heat until they are soft. Return meat to the pan, than add water and the bouillon cubes. Bring to a boil, stir, reduce heat, cover pan and simmer for 1 hour.

Add celery pieces to pan and simmer covered for 15 minutes more.

Pour off ½ cup of the cooking liquid and set aside. Turn the burner under the pan off or very, very low.

In a small pan melt 1 tablespoon of butter and blend in 1 tablespoon of flour. Cook stirring until smooth. Stir flour mixture gradually into the meat and celery pan.

In a small bowl, beat an egg well with a whisk. Keep on beating and stir in the lemon juice. Then, gradually stir in the ½ cup warm cooking liquid that was set aside.

Next, gradually stir the lemon-egg mixture into the warm stew. Season with pepper. Heat the whole thing up, but do NOT boil (or you will have scrambled eggs).

Serve over hot noodles in a soup bowl.

According to Wikipedia, Avgolemono is a Greek soup made with egg and lemon juice mixed with broth, heated until it thickens but before it boils and curdles. Avgolemono translates to "egg-lemon,"

It may not look too pretty, but it was marvelous. I try not to talk to myself while I am alone at home, but last night I kept saying aloud, “Oh, this is good.”

Here are pictures of other tasty dishes I’ve set before myself. They all seem to require lots of fussing, but I’m worth it.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

No, it was the 22nd

I was wrong in my last post. It was the 22nd annual family picnic/barbecue. It all started in 1988.

I did a short video about the gatherings in 2008. See it here.

Terry, please note the "helmet hair" is the same in both pictures.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

21st Family Gathering

Holly opened her arms and welcomed us to our annual family picnic/barbeque last Saturday. The pool was cool on that hot day in Nevada City.

Davis and Victor drove me up to the gathering. We stopped at a marvelous bakery in Sacramento called Freeport Bakery on our way. If you are ever in the area be sure to stop by for their delicious flaky pastries.

Holly and Jon’s house was the new gathering location this year. It is a lovely place. It was so good to get hugs from everyone. I hadn’t seen little Joey, my great grandson, since May of last year. He and his dad (my grandson, Joseph) are handsome fellows.

Here is a photo of my brother-in-law Butch (on the left) and Jon (on the right).

I wondered why Butch was using a cane. He is the guy that goes on 100-mile bike rides several times a month and shorter ones several times a week. I asked him about the cane and he told me, “They were having a hip-replacement sale in Truckee on Thursday, so I rode my bike there and got one.” What?

Yes, he really had a hip replacement on Thursday, July 15th and was walking around at the family party on Saturday, the 17th. He had his x-rays to prove it and his wife, Virginia, verified it.

He told the real story. He did go up to Truckee on Thursday for a long bike ride. He stopped for coffee and when he got back on his bike to continue his ride, the wheel hit a rock and he went down with the bike. He called Virginia on his cell phone. She was on her way to the Sacramento airport to pick up her daughter and grandsons who were flying in for the family gathering. He, or someone standing by, called 911 and Butch was taken to the hospital. Virginia rushed up the mountains from Sacramento.

Butch said the Truckee hospital is really good for broken bones because it is in a ski resort area and deals with lots of them in the winter. That very afternoon, Butch was in surgery having a hip replacement. The doctors gave him permission to leave the hospital on Friday because his recovery was remarkable and they trusted him to do his exercises.

Butch is looking forward to stationary bike exercises, which he can start in two weeks. That is a story no one will be able to top at next year’s gathering.
* * *
Nephew Michael drove up from Southern California and took some beautiful candid portraits. He gave me permission to “borrow” some of them from his Flicker site.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sweet corn ice cream

Brentwood, our neighbor city, grows the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted. It is shipped all over the U.S. The city holds a Corn Fest every year in July.

This year my church, St. Alban’s Episcopal, came up with a unique and tasty treat to sell in a booth at the Corn Fest – sweet corn ice cream. People enjoyed it on this hot July weekend. The corn ice cream was creamy chiffon with actual fresh, sweet corn kernels stirred into the mix. It was made by a local ice cream store.

Father Aris was enthusiastic about the enterprise. With a predicted attendance of 30,000, we hoped to let the community know about our little church and whet their appetite for all we had to offer, one scoop at a time.

Jennifer and Bev were ready to welcome customers at the booth Saturday morning.

A lot of planning goes on before a big event. First, the corn has to be grown and harvested. Luckily, we have a church member who is a local corn farmer. Click on the field photo below to learn more about Brentwood’s sweet corn crop.

Cathy Massoni was a wonderful coordinator. She mapped out the plans and went over the logistics with the volunteers.

The guys were ready for the heavy lifting and transporting. A large (but non-working) freezer was donated to the church recently. Marcelino Clarke poked around found a $5 part which fixed it immediately. Then, because the wonderful, large freezer was working it seemed a good idea to take it to the Corn Fest booth and not have to bother with dry ice for storage.

The signs were made.

The little church will be ready for new visitors next week.

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Sunday, July 04, 2010

Driving by

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Every year, about this time, I drive by two beautiful Jacaranda trees on Sellers Avenue on my way to Brentwood. Most of the time I don’t have my camera with me when they are in magnificent bloom. They are most beautiful in mid-June. Today, I remembered to take my camera even though the trees are not at their peak. The trees are very tall and I can’t get close enough to capture their blossoms, but I found the picture at the top on Wikipedia with a creative commons license.

A few years ago I snapped a better picture. They grow in front of the old Cline Winery building.

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