And poof! Summer in the Valley

Living in the Central Valley has it’s perks for sure. It is only three hours to Los Angeles or the Bay Area, two hours to the coast, and an hour to the mountains. Our freezing time in the winter is pretty minimal, but we are rapidly (like tomorrow) approaching early summer. This year has been a little wonky with the temps; one week we went from 60 to high 80s. So tomorrow will be one of the hottest days of the year so far at mid 90s. Luckily, we do not have high humidity, or my hair would look like I put my finger in a light socket with all the frizz.

I am glad that people are getting the COVID-19 vaccines, and that the world is slowly inching towards the new normal. I have gotten used to wearing a mask, and it doesn’t bother me any more. It actually helps in two ways. First, it keeps the pollen level down from breathing it in, and second, it hides when I’m making frowny faces at people. Besides, think about it. How much money have we all invested in cute masks to wear over the last year and a half? They have become a fashion accessory, and I’m going to wear mine for awhile.

The semester is winding down, so that means graduate paperwork is flowing across my desk for checking and sending off for signatures. I have been in my department for long enough that I have seen one full cohort achieve a graduate degree. It makes me feel good knowing I helped keep them unflustered with helping with paperwork questions. The admissions cycle is done, and the new incoming cohort is furiously sending in their pile of paperwork. In August, the cycle will start again. It is an interesting dance, and I like that I am able to help where I can. I’ve also been doing the groundwork for going back in August to start on a BA. I’m a little excited, but not excited for homework. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy the scholastic journey and anthropology will provide an interesting trip.

I’ve been lagging on my cookbook collection updates, and I apologize for that. With 1200+ cookbooks, I’ve been pondering different ways to make the list accessible, but not overwhelming. I hope to have the new pages available soon. In the meantime, rest assured that there is one full book case (2’x1’x6′) full on celebrity chef books (plus a stack or two in the front room).

One way I’ve been keeping my creative ideas going is to participate in themed cooking challenges on Instagram. It is fun, and there is a mix of professional chefs and home cooks. I generally can hold my own, and I try to thing outside the box a little. Recently, a chef reached out to me to do collaborations with her for mystery boxes. The first box was fun, and the second one’s results will post on May 2nd. The ingredients are strawberries, cheese, takoyaki/ebilskiver pan, and chicharrons. I have an idea of what I’m going to do, but you’ll have to watch the social feeds to see what we come up with. I really had fun with the basket, and picking the curveball made me chuckle. I think I’ve watched a little too many Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen episodes.

Thanks for following the food adventures, and I hope you are playing Worst Cooks Bingo.


This recipe is easy to pull together in a short time, which makes it perfect for weeknights. One way to change this recipe up is to substitute mustard greens or kale for part of the cabbage. The leftovers (if there are any) make a great filling for pierogis. This dish can be a meal by itself, the star of the show, or just a supporting actor. The choice is up to you.

Colcannon and corned beef

3-4 potatoes (about 2-2 1/2 lbs), peeked and cut into chunks
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups of chopped cabbage
1/2 leek, diced (trim off dark green part)
2 green onions, minced (including the green tops)
1 cup milk or cream (1/2 and 1/2 works too)

Put the cut potatoes into a medium pot and cover with cold water, then add 2 tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender. Drain well in a colander, the place in a large bowl.

With the potatoes in a bowl, return the pot to the stove. Over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the cabbage (and greens if using them). Cook for 5-8 minutes, until the cabbage is softened and given off some water. If using greens as well, cook until the greens are wilted, about 4-6 minutes. Add the green onions and tops, and cook 1-2 minutes more.

Using a fork or potato masher, mash the potatoes with milk or cream and fold into the greens. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and mix in. Reduce the heat to medium. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more butter or milk/cream.

Taste the colcannon, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot with a dollop of butter in the center.

NOTE: If you are substituting greens for part of the cabbage, I wouldn’t change out more than half of the cabbage. It loses part of the Irish feel if there isn’t enough cabbage.

Happy almost-spring (the cookbook count continues)!

It is almost mid-March, and it feels like the start of 2021 was just a couple of weeks ago. It isn’t like time flying by and having fun, more like time runs together when you work remotely most of the time. I think of that as different than “working from home” because then you are setting your own hours. I’m still working the M-F 8a-5p on the clock; the difference is the commute takes 15-20 seconds to walk down the hallway. I do enjoy being able to do my job in the comfort of my own home, with as much hot beverage as I want.

Have you started spring cleaning your house yet? We are lucky with the weather being so nice in Central California (I know, the 100+ summer temps are coming!), and have started prepping the garden area to get things planted in a week or two. The plum trees are loaded with blooms, and all three citrus (lemon, lime, and kumquat) should be ready to do the same soon. There is nothing quite like fresh fruit and vegetables that you grow yourself. Watch for pickling, drying, and other preparations as the summer progresses. I have plenty of books and am not afraid to try something new.

The cookbook collection list will be updated soon, as I get the new layout for the web pages completed. Over the last few weeks I’ve been sorting and grouping books for ease of use. You can’t use it if you can’t find it. I’m curious to see what the final count will be, but I think it will be around 1200 cookbooks, give or take. There is one full bookcase of celebrity chef books, and that isn’t even a drop in the bucket. After listening to Simon Majumdar’s podcast episode about cookbooks, I am being very careful as I catalog the collection. The oldest one is from 1883, but I still have a few more boxes to sort out.

It is fun looking through the older cookbooks to see how things changed over time. The style used to be more of a combined paragraph style, whereas now the ingredients are split out from the preparation instructions. Measurements also have gotten more precise or smaller in quantity as household sizes changed. Instead of a bushel, we measure by cups or ounces. When I was pulling recipes for the Valentine videos, I compared some of the hardbound recipes to those online plus a few that had been translated into English. Those could be even stranger to look at. One online recipe called for something to be cut into 1/64 squares. Nope. I went for 2 inch cubes because no one is going to try to figure out what 1/64th of ANYTHING is. Another cookbook had a measurement that called for 7/8 cup of something. That one caused me to giggle a little. I rounded it up to a cup and adjusted the other ingredients; the recipe turned out just fine.

There are some cookbooks that definitely are time-stamped by their contents, while some breeze through the years without showing any age. There are also a few in the bunch that you’re never quite sure how serious (or joking) the authors were. Take 70s Dinner Party by Anna Pallai for starters. There is a whole section of (shocking) pictures of gelled or foods in aspic complete with sayings like, “For crimes against eggs, I sentence you to 7 years’ hard labor.” You get the idea. If you have a chance, go to see what an older relative has on their shelves. You might find a real treasure in their cookbooks. If you like a good podcast, I also highly recommend Simon Majumdar’s Eat My Globe. You’ll get bits and bobs of interesting food history along with a “dad” joke or two.

Well, I think I’ve rambled enough for today. I’m off to dig into the stacks for cookie recipes, and to try to fit a few more books on the shelves. Wish me luck. Or wish my husband the same, since I’m sure he’s hoping for dinner in a timely manner once we’re both off work for the day. Either way, more food adventures await in 2021 as it becomes safe to travel.

***BTW, if you haven’t heard, Alton Brown is touring starting later this year. Great showman, and always fun to interact with.

Earl Grey Martini

3 oz gin
1 Earl Grey tea bag
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 oz lemon juice, plus two lemon wedges for garnish
1 oz simple syrup

Pour gin into glass and sprinkle tea leaves on top. Let steep for 2 hours.

Pour sugar into a shallow dish, run a lemon wedge around the rim of a martini glass, then dip glass in sugar to coat.

Strain tea infused gin into a cocktail shaker with ice, add lemon juice, and simple syrup. Shake well, then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with lemon wedges.

Espresso Martini

1 1/2 oz vodka
1 oz freshly brewed espresso
3/4 oz Kahlua
shaved chocolate for garnish

Combine vodka, espresso, Kahlua, and ice in a shaker. Shake well to chill. Strain into martini glass and garnish with shaved chocolate.

Optional: you could substitute Irish Cream for the Kahlua.

Heart Sugar Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
red food coloring

In a medium bowl, combine shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla at medium speed until creamy.

In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and salt.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, and carefully blend together. Beat until well combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide the dough in half, and add red food coloring to one half. Shape each dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate one hour.

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Shape 1/2 -1 tbsp red dough into a rope, then do the same with the plain dough. Twist together and shape on the parchment paper in the shape of a heart, pinching the ends together. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Bake 10-12 minutes, until just golden brown on the bottom.

Transfer to a rack to cool.

Snack time!

Chocolate-covered cheesecake bites

1 1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (9-10 sheets)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter, melted
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners sugar
2 cups chocolate chips
2 tbsp coconut oil

Line a 8″x8″ baking dish with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine graham crackers, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter. Stir until the mixture resembles wet sand.

Press graham cracker mixture into the bottom of the lined baking dish in an even layer. You can use your hands or the back of a measuring cup (it should be pretty compact). Place in freezer for at least 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine softened cream cheese, confectioners sugar, and vanilla. Stir until smooth; there should be no lumps.

Retrieve the baking dish with the graham crackers, and spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the crust. Return the pan to the freezer, and freeze 2 hours or overnight.

Transfer the frozen cheesecak ont a cutting board and remove the parchment paper. Cut the block into 2″ cubes.

In a medium bowl, microwave the chocolate chips and coconut oil in 20-second intervals. Stir in between and watch to make sure it doesn’t burn. You want the chocolate to be melted and smooth.

Dip the cheesecake squares into the melted chocolate to coat, dripping off the excess chocolate. Set them on a tray lined with parchment paper and return to the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Enjoy!

Crab Cakes

2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1/2 cup red and yellow peppers, seeded and diced
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 Old Bay seasoning
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tbsp yellow mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 lb crab meat

Melt the oil and butter in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion, celery, peppers, pepper flakes, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay, salt, and pepper. Cook over medium low heat until the vegetables are soft, about 10-15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the crab meat, bread crumbs. eggs, mayonnaise, parsley, and mustard. Add the cooled, cooked vegetables and mix well. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes.

Remove from fridge and shape into patties. Heat a heavy pan over medium heat, and add just enough oil to cover the bottom.

Cook the crab cakes 5-7 minutes per side until golden brown. If they seem like they are scorching before cooking all the way through, lower the heat to medium low.

You can top with a dollop of sour cream, hot sauce, or drizzle of melted butter.

Mocktail Sangria

8 oz boiling water
1 black tea bag
1/4 cup sugar
8 oz cranberry juice
8 oz orange juice
2 cups sliced fruit (apples, pears, oranges, berries)
1/2 cup sparkling water

Pour boiling water over tea bag and steep for 5 minutes. Remove and stir in sugar until dissolved.

Combine tea, juices, and fruit. Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Stir in sparkling water before serving.

For garnish, spoon in some of the fruit into each glass before pouring.

Strawberry Basil Mule

4-6 strawberries, hulled and quartered
6-8 basil leaves, chopped
4-6 oz ginger beer
2 oz lime juice
3 oz vodka

Please strawberries, basil and a splash of ginger beer in mug. Muddle well, then pour in the lime juice and vodka.

Let sit for a few minutes.

Stir in ice to chill, and top off with ginger beer. Garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.

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