Tuesday, December 30, 2014


What the?


It's a Norwegian pastry type or maybe bread type thing, and it's one of those sweet things that has been traditionally made and enjoyed by many Norwegian families over the Christmas holiday since time Scandinavian immortal.  Every family has some sort of tasty treat they make for the holiday.  You know, Christmas sugar cookies in every shape imaginable decorated with all sorts of colorful chemical stuff, Aunt Marge's Fruit Cake, Fudge, Aunt Betty's Fudge Fruit Cake, Lefsa.  See how easy it fits in?

Mrs. Antonson's Lefsa recipe, which is the only one I have ever known, comes direct from Norway via Ketchikan, Alaska, where my Mother was born to two Norwegian immigrants.  Mrs. Antonsen was a neighbor, apparently, and part of a clan that migrated to that particular spot in America from the home country. 

The only recipes I have seen for Lefsa use potato as an ingredient.  As a matter of fact, I have seen a gazillion recipes for potato Lefsa(e).  I have even sampled a few here and there.  But in my opinion, nothing compares with Mrs. Antonson's Lefsa.  This recipe is something completely different and absolutely fabulous. It is for this reason that I will be keeping some of the ingredients and the amounts thereof under cover.  I may have plans to take the old country by storm with my own brand of Lefsa madness, one of these days.  Maybe.  Besides, you don't have the rolling pin nor the fortitude to make the forthcoming mess.  Trust me.

It takes a while to make, and it is not for the challenged chef.  You’ll also get a good workout in during the rolling procedure.  If done correctly, your shoulders and forearms should ache when you’re finished.  You really almost have to have some Norwegian blood in you to deal with all the hoopla involved. 

It’s been a Christmas holiday tradition in our family since forever and I’ve only missed a couple years of making it since I took over the reins from my Mother in the mid-1970’s.  As a matter of fact, back in the late 1970’s, when my older brother and I still drank, we’d spend a Saturday in early December destroying someone’s kitchen.  Usually mine. 

We’d start about eight in the morning, both with the recipe and beer.  We’d usually 8x the recipe too, ensuring we’d have fun for hours and Lefsa for days.  By the time we were done, (including whacking a few dough balls with a tennis racquet one memorable year) we pretty much needed a fire hose to clean up the mess.  That's usually why my lovely wife would go shopping all day when we made it.

You’ll need a big work place too.  You’ll be ultimately rolling oval sheets of dough to potentially 10”x18”.  You’ll need a large, flat, floured surface and a pancake griddle to cook the sheet for a couple minutes once rolled.  Then you’ll need a place to stack the sheets of Lefsa once they’re cooked. 

You’ll also need a rolling pin, the bigger the better.  I actually have a Lefsa rolling pin that was my Grandmothers.  It's older than me.  It is solid wood, 17” wide, and has an indented grid pattern all round.  The pattern will add character to your finished product, however, it is not necessary to actually accomplish the end result.  However, if you don't make your Lefsa with the grid pattern people will know you aren't Norwegian.  

Making Lefsa is a good two-person project.  One person can start to roll dough balls into a flat sheet, the other can take it from there to really roll it thin.  Then one can start throwing dough balls at the other.  Then the other one can shake up an unopened beer and saturate the other.  Are you getting the picture here? 
Total kitchen chaos.  But when you are ultimately finished, you will have a soft, flat, velvety dough or bread enfolding a luscious, creamy cinnamon-sugar butter.  It literally melts in your mouth!  But it is a lot of work, especially with a helper.  The kitchen will be destroyed and you'll probably end up really wet and very sticky.  With flour in your hair.  Not a flower.  Maybe you should just go to the movies instead.

However, if you decide to give it a go, here we go!

First you mix together sugar, corn syrup, evaporated milk and another secret ingredient.  Once blended you add a couple cups of flour that's been infused with some other secret ingredients.

Once that is blended, then you begin to add ½ -1 cup of flour at a time, kneading with your hands to finally make a semi-hard, rubbery dough.   It is generally a pretty sticky situation and one that does not lend itself to taking photographs easily.  Cleanly either.

Then make a ball of dough, somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball.  Roll it until it’s firm in your hands, then put on floured surface and begin to roll flat with your rolling pin.  Flip and roll, adding flour as necessary so it does not stick.  You want this sheet as thin as you can get it.  1/8”?  1/16”? 1/32”?  I mean THIN!!  If there ever was a complaint from my Mother or my late Uncle Andy it was because the sheet wasn’t thin enough.  I cannot stress this enough, ok??  Thin!  Work those shoulders thin.  It should finally become an avant-garde or imperfect oval shape of around 10-12” wide by 14-16” long. 

You'll notice the rolling pin was floured before using.  This is very important if you have a rolling pin with a grid pattern.  Otherwise you could spend the better part of the next year trying to get it clean.  Trust me on this.  This dough is really, really sticky.  You'll have to continually add flour to your rolling surface too.  This is why it gets so messy...flour somehow ends up everywhere!

Once you think you have your sheet thin enough, roll it again, paying special attention to the edges, which seem to grow (sometimes)Then it's time to cook it on one side.  The sheet of Lefsa at this stage is quite flimsy, especially if you got it thin enough.  I use two items to lift it and get it over to the griddle.  Two spatulas will do, however I'm snooty and use a Lefsa stick for half my lift.  Get both underneath the sheet, elevate and then gently lay onto your 350 degree griddle.  The sheet of Lefsa doesn't always fall clean, so then you must massage and finesse the edges so the sheet lays flat on the griddle.

Cook ONE SIDE ONLY, about 2-4 minutes, until lightly browned.  Little bubbles will appear on the top

and the bottom should look like this:

The sheet is a lot more sturdy at this point, you can take off the griddle with your hands or feet and start stacking!  The sides may curl a little, this is normal.  Once cooled, this thin sheet will become hard and can be brittle.  Handle with care.  At this stage, it’ll last forever, or at least a year.  Whichever is longer.

Now, let's complete this masterpiece.  But first, let's clean the kitchen.  This could take the rest of the day, depending on how much beer you drank.  Once the kitchen is cleaned, it'll probably be time for a nap.  Maybe you should wait to butter it until the next day.

Fortunately, now that the pastry is done, it can sit as is until you want to "butter" it up. We always used to  “wing” the butter, which could be extremely time consuming adding this and that, tasting, then adding a little more.  Of this or that.  By the time you think you got it perfect your taste buds have gone south from the cinnamon, butter and beer and you’re no where close.  So you start over again, at least with another beer to wash all that sweet taste out of your mouth.

My darling daughter and I finally concocted a cinnamon sugar butter recipe with some very measured and concise taste tests.  This recipe received my Mother’s approval before she died, and since she was the only remaining family Lefsa scion, that was the only vote that really mattered.  Unfortunately, by the time we got around to writing it down Uncle Andy had passed on.   Basically you combine the three in measured amounts and whip in your Kitchenaid for a while.  Until whipped and frothy.

Then the fun begins.  Get a few hand towels or bath towels, whatever, and place one down on your work area. Take a sheet of Lefsa and moisten the COOKED SIDE ONLY.   Just place it under your kitchen faucet and allow warm running water to cover the entire cooked surface.  Moisten every square inch!  Then place it on a towel and cover with another towel.   

Moisten another sheet and so on.  The butter recipe I use will cover 8-9 sheets, so that is what I'll usually moisten.  Then let them sit for 10-15 minutes and allow the Lefsa to soften.  Sometimes if the sheets are a few months old you might have to re-moisten. 

Take a now soft sheet of Lefsa and place it cooked side up on a cutting board.  Butter ½ the sheet, then fold the unbuttered half over the top of the buttered half.  You now have made a sandwich.  Or a burrito.

Remember this is imperfect.  You will have spots here and there on the edges that are open and uncovered.  Take a knife and trim the edges so they’re clean.  Put these on one plate. 

Once the edges are clean (and remember, don’t worry about the shape) then you can slice up pieces of Lefsa from what’s remaining.  You should be able to come up with 6 to 8 clean pieces per sheet, about the size of a basic cookie, only with 3,4,5 or 6-sided shapes.  Doesn’t matter. 

When my mom did this, the clean edge pieces were used as gifts and for the holiday occasion.  We were told, under no uncertain terms, HANDS OFF!  However, the cut-off edges were open hunting and were usually gobbled up before they hit the plate.  Our entire family, including cousins, and my dear Uncle Andy always remember the edges as the best part.  I am also incredibly happy to say this tradition has now been passed on.  This year as I cut the Lefsa both children and grandchildren hovered.  Those scraps never had a chance. 

All right, that’s it.  If you got this far (without actual ingredients) I hope you enjoy this tasty treat as much as our family has for decades.  If not, I hope you enjoy Aunt Betty's Fudge Fruit Cake, or whatever the tasty treat is that has graced your family for the holidays.  Hope your Christmas was Merry.  Happy New Year.        

Friday, December 19, 2014

Over My Dead Pickle Barrel, or Bernadette

As many of you know who have been reading this blog for a while, I have a propensity for naming things.  Body parts, fences, shoes, socks, nebuli's.  I originally came up with the name "Bertha" for the new beast that graces our nether yard, but then I already have plans for an even larger beast, and "Bertha" should always be reserved and used for the largest of anything.  No matter what it is.  I have no idea why.  So I decided on "Bernadette", which is a great 4 Tops song by the way.  "Bertha" is also a great Dead tune by the way.

Nothing like the Dead at Winterland either.  By the way.

By this time you may be wondering just what the heck I'm talking about.  So am I.  Let's start at the beginning, at the other part of the title to this post, the simple and highly functional pickle barrel, and then maybe we can all figure it out together.

Last August, or September, I mean, who can remember that far back, a friend of my sons gifted me a couple pickle barrels.  You may be more familiar with them as rain barrels, those terra cotta colored 55 gallon plastic food safe pickle barrels that seem to be popping up everywhere for use as a rain barrel.

It's all a great idea, but what do you do when the barrel gets full?  And guess what?  If you have that barrel on the end of a downspout from your roof's rain gutters, that puppy is going to fill up fast.  Like in one storm fast.  I'll get back to that soon.  So what do you do with the water?

If you put a water spigot down at the bottom like you should, then you can gravity feed some plants around the barrel with a hose.  But why water the plants when they've just been rained on?  You can cap the barrel and at least you have 55 gallons of water to use in the summer.  And then reroute your downspout around the barrel and let the water flow like it used to.  But then you've got aesthetics to deal with.  It's a conundrum, I know, and hardly worth the effort for just 55 gallons.

I suppose if you live in the desert, one or two rain storms might be all you get for the season.  Then you happily may have an extra 55 gallons of water you can douse your cacti with.  Not so here in the Sierra foothills, even when we have a drought.  Last year we got about 30 inches, and that amount of rain will fill those barrels more than twice.

However, if you live on a hillside, like I do, there's this thing called "gravity" which is mighty useful when you want to move gallons of water simply and easily.  But that all came as an after thought; first I got these barrels a few months back.  And they were orange.  So I painted them green.  And I put spigots at the bottom.
This was pretty easy to do, simply drilling the appropriate size hole in the bottom and inserting the spigot.  Unfortunately, the top opening to the barrel was too narrow to fit my fat ass in to screw a nut on the inside.  So I caulked the fitting as best as possible and screwed it in lightly.  Then I added good old Henry's Wet Patch around the exterior seam to make sure they didn't leak.

Once that was done, I cut and fit some screen to go over the top.  Both lids were two piece, one solid round that fits snugly into the screw ring, and then, of course, the threaded screw ring. 
Once the screen was cut I fit it into the lip of the ring and was able to lightly screw that combination onto the barrel.  By doing this most larger debris like sticks, leaves, mosquitoes and flying camel turds will hopefully stay out of the water.

Once all that was done I deployed them up at Chicken Fantasia Land, where I have two small roofs shedding into two small gutters.  I have been routing the water away from the area with three inch flex, which, by the way, scares the hell out of the chickens.  I suppose they think it's some sort of very big, ugly anaconda.  Who knows?  Anyway, I had to do some angular stuff to the downspouts so they would shed into the bucket, but that was simple and easy.  Cut here, suture there.  Then I sat back and waited for some rain.

I didn't have to wait too long.  We started getting rain in October, and I quickly found out those barrels can fill up fast.  We got about 3/4 of an inch and they were about a third full.  The next one and a half inches of rain just about filled them up.  The roofs are only 96 square feet and 56 square feet respectfully, for a teeny weeny combined total of 150 square feet.  Imagine what your house can yield?

I started to think what a waste. I now had a hundred gallons of water and nothing to do with it.  All the plants around the house had been receiving rain, nothing needed watering.  And then I started to cogitate.  That's always dangerous, and usually means more work.  If just a couple inches of water shedding on to those two small roofs yielded that much water, what if I had a larger storage area?  You know, a bigger tank?

And Bernadette, the concept, was born.  But first, I had to cogitate some more.  Considering the location of the two barrels, I figured the ideal area would be downhill from them and off to the side.  You know, back here:
Or over there:
It's a dead area in between the steps that lead up to the chickens and the property line, right next to one of my utility areas where I store very useful crap.  All of that location is being set up so that most of it will be out of view from the house and main living area of the back patio.  Hopefully that back deck and patio situation will get going later next spring.  I will, of course, keep you posted!  (Pun totally intended.)

Once I did the measurements and knew it would fit, excavation began.  Since I am still not quite any where near 100% due to Uncle Wiggley's festive juncture upon my soul, my fabulous son was over to help with the heavy stuff.  The night prior to excavation I was woken up by little project demons who hassled me about the possibility the chosen spot was going to require a little extra work because of a couple prior projects.  It turned out those demons were dead center correct.
That's a live 220 electric line on the left, that's a 3/4 inch water line on the right.  Both head up to the chickens, who knew I would be revisiting the location once again?  Fortunately since I buried both lines I knew pretty much where they were so they weren't accidentally breached.  And fortunately there was enough flex in the 220 line to not have to do much with it.  The water line, however, needed to be rerouted with a couple 45's.  I did them at a slower 33 rpm speed.

I did the angles, my son did the shoveling and wheel barrowing.  All the dirt, about 15 barrows full, went to a specific parking area where another post will be in the making shortly.  It'll be about 8 posts being installed on a hillside, going 3 feet deep in the ground to support a short retaining wall.  Which will safely expand the parking area and help alleviate erosion.  It'll be a post about posts.  On a steep slope.  Who says I don't have any fun around here?

Before we knew it, we had a rerouted water line and a level pad.

Then we tossed down about a half yard of pea gravel for a nice base
and finished up the cinder block planter base which will partially hide the tank.  I will also plant more Phlox, a deer resistant ground cover with bright pink and purple blossoms inside the cinder block this spring.   They will hopefully take off and cover the block.  That's the plan anyway.
As I was working on the pad, I was also figuring out just where the heck I was going to find Bertha.  Or Bernadette.  I was looking at size and price.  I was scouring the internet.  I looked at a few of the local lumber stores.  I was doing an insane amount of research, and then I called an old pal, the GM, over at Byer's Leafguard, where I worked for a few years a few years back.

I am getting some roof material from them for the garden potting shed and I casually mentioned I was looking for a water tank.  Well, one thing led to another and I ended up getting my tank through them.  Here's why:

They offered the same product that was available everywhere.   While their price was $85.00 more than the best price I found on line, they didn't charge a delivery fee of around $350.00.  Even I can do that math.  Plus I was buying local, from friends even, and they delivered and helped roll her to her location for free.

Of course Byer's still does their flagship product, Leafguard gutters, but now they also do roofing and rain barrels apparently.  The products and workmanship are fabulous, and they are also a great bunch of people.  We have had them install both a new lifetime comp roof as well as Leafguard gutters.  If you need anything along that line, check out their site and give 'em a call.  You can tell them I sent you, but they'll probably charge more.

Here's Bernadette where she lay.  That little dent in her side where she rode in the pick up truck will be gone as soon as more water arrives.
There was a pre-stubbed hole at the bottom, I just needed to get the appropriate material at the plumbing store before I started off-loading water into it.  $9.00 and ten minutes later I attached a hose to the bottom of one of my pickle barrels and opened her up.  I had to massage the hose elevation a bit, but Bernadette is set up so that both barrels gravity flow down into her top.  With inches to spare.  She is also positioned so that I can gravity feed from her to plants on the deck and patio.  I also have the option of adding a pump to the situation.  I now have off loaded a minimum of 200 gallons into Bernadette, and it takes very little to do this.  I simply move the hose back and forth between the catch barrels. 

Throughout the summer months I will routinely utilize 5 to 10 gallons of water per day to keep the patio and deck plants wet.  Yeah, it gets that dry and hot here.  Based on those numbers, if I used the maximum, I should have 132 days worth of stored water.  That's almost 5 months.

Now let's do some math.  My old Bud at Byers gave me a formula to work with.  Basically 1 inch of rain on a 1000 square foot of roof area will produce 600 gallons of water. So my 150 square feet should produce around 90 gallons with 1 inch of rain.  Based on that, we will only need around 14 to 15 inches of rain to fill Bernadette.  And all this catch the rain water paraphernalia is out and away from the house.  It's all structured to be as minimally visible as possible, and will be in time.

Now that I am aware so much water can be so easily captured, I have plans to add at least another two tanks, probably 4,995 gallons each.  I have one roof area that's probably 500 square feet that already has an underground line running underneath the lawn and dumping out on the other side of the picket fence.  On a hillside.  The pipe is already a few feet above ground.  All I need to do is dig another pad, add a couple feet of pipe and the tank.  Gravity fed again.  We would only need about 8-9 inches of rain to fill that one.  If the annual normal is 56 inches, shouldn't that be easily attained?

That tank would also be positioned to gravity feed much of the property, as would another that could be strategically placed to receive almost as good a flow.  I wouldn't even have to dig a pad for that one.  That's almost 10,000 gallons of water, without too much hassle at all. 

There's also another potential spot down by the orchard.  Imagine if I placed a 4,995 gallon tank down there.  I could easily have an orchard of 20 trees and not have to worry about well water much at all, even giving them each 10 gallons per week.  That's 200 gallons per week, 800 per month.  Times 6 months.  I really only need to heavily water them 4 months out of the year.  Imagine the water table savings.

As I cogitate away, I believe I could water this entire property all spring and summer without using much well water at all.  Fulfillment of these cogitations might also enable me to go ahead with the vineyard plan I've thought about for the front hillside with perfect southwestern exposure.  It was a halted thought when I realized it would take too much water.  But now I could water the entire vineyard without tapping the well.

I could capture 15-20,000 gallons of rain water without being an eyesore.  For less than $10,000.  Easily.


Homestead Animal Update

It is with heavy heart that I announce our ever so friendly little Speckled Sussex hen, Beatrix, has passed away.  Last week when I went up to "release the hounds", my loving way to state I am letting the girls out of their safe enclosure for the day, I noticed she was laying in the dirt in the corner with her head towards the fence.  Not a good sign.

I picked her up, she was somewhat alert and exhibiting no outward signs of trauma.  All her feathers were intact.  I caressed her back and cooed at her, and then she gave one last gasp and her legs gave one final kick.  And then she died in my arms.  I have no idea why. 

I still have no idea why she died.  If she died of some disease none of the other birds have caught it.  She couldn't have been cold.  The big door of the hen house is closed now for winter and a light comes on inside during the coldest of night.  They are all truly pampered hens. 

All the other girls are doing fine.  We're only getting 1 or 2 eggs per day right now from them slackers, sometimes they deliver a big goose egg.  Which is kinda weird considering they're chickens.

Merry Christmas y'all.  Happy Holidays, Seasons Greetings, Happy Chanukah.   Did I get 'em all?

I hope this holiday gives you as much time as possible to spend with the ones you love.   

Friday, December 12, 2014

There's Spaghetti in My Underwear/Small Town Cuisine

My lovely wife and I moved back to this small town community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in 2009.  We originally moved here from the San Francisco Bay Area in 1979.  There’s a few chapters of life that can be found between here and there in “Late Night Letters to the Moon”, which is available on Amazon.com.  That's a whole nother story, and contains things like going to hell and back and buying some new socks. The "hell" part is probably a lot more entertaining than the "sock" part.  Unless, of course, you have a major fetish for socks.

We were lured away from this scenic mountain locale in 2005 by a substantial monetary offer to my lovely wife to take over a title company branch office in Monterey, Ca.  Why not?  She was the top escrow maven of this county at the time and who doesn’t love the Pacific Coast?  Especially Monterey?

A year there and a couple years in Capitola, CA, and my lovely wife was getting burned out with the fourteen hour days in the hellaciously fast paced and freakish world of escrow.  Dealing with money and humans.  Other people's money.  Yeesh.  I have a whole nother story about that.  See paragraph one.  

We also figured we’d never be able to afford a home on the central coast when an 800 square foot house on a postage stamp lot was selling for around 800K.  That warranted a trip up to Portland, OR for a year to check out that scene.  

I say this so ambivalently now.  That was a lot of moving for older type folks who have a lot of crap.  It’s not like we were twenty, could partially fill up a VW van and skedaddle out to parts unknown.  Nope, we’ve got a lot of crap.  We fill up a BIG moving truck.  BIG truck.  We had to plan.

Professional movers did the first move out of here and it was paid for by my lovely wife’s new employer.  We had to pack and pay for the rest of the moves, and we’ve got a lot of crap.   I must admit, I did get very good at packing.  I had to, my lovely wife has a penchant for lovely, quite fragile glass and porcelain artsy type creations.  See: The Drunk Rooster.

Five thick, hardcore big box dish packs full of her breakable, decorative porcelain and glass.  I said, why not collect stamps?  They, too, are lovely creations of art you can look at and admire.  And when we move, they can fit underneath the front seat of the car in a cigar box quite nicely thank you.  She smiled, as she always does, but she did not listen to me.  She continued to find porcelain and glass wherever we went.

While the locale and climate were quite lovely and there was a fabulous doughnut shop there, it was lonely up in Portland, especially for my lovely wife.  I was telecommuting and she wasn’t working, and she's a little social butterfly.  She did a lot of volunteer work-we both joined the Red Cross-and we also became members of the Portland Art Museum.  But it wasn't enough, and it was nothing like the social community here that we were a part of for 30 years, more or less.  That takes a long time nourish.

We were also further away from our children, grandchildren and my lovely wife’s parents.  After living in Portland for a year, we began discussing how close we could move to the SF Bay Area but still be able to afford a house.  And Nevada County, California, our old adopted home turf, came back into view.

We made a recon run and were welcomed back with open arms by family and friends.  Within a couple months we had packed (again) and were back in our old home town.

Our amazing cat Tom knew he was home too.  He became quite animated in the car as we wound up into the pine scented hills from the valley floor.  Once we were at our new rental and we let him go, he immediately was drawn to a small pile of pine needles on the drive.  After a snort full, he was on his back  rolling in the old scents of home.  Tom went on his last walk to forever last summer.  I am so happy he was able to spend the last 4 years of his 18 year life in a place that he obviously knew and loved.

We were in that rental house for a year and then my lovely wife found this house on the side of a hill.  All it needed was a fool.  To watch the sun go down with the eyes in his head.  And see the world go ‘round.  And round.  And become more than a little obsessed with creating a colorful, panoramic and functioning dot of earth. 

Long before we left on our four year five move two state walkabout, we went to a crab feed here with some friends.  It was hosted by one of the local volunteer fire departments, which we always try to get on out and support.

Inside the firehouse, which had been cleared for this occasion, were three or four long rows of tables and chairs running the entire length of the room.  I think the entire hall was geared to seat about eighty people, maybe a hundred, of which we were a party of six.  We found our little spot of paper tablecloth and sat down with unabated anticipation.

I don’t know about you, but I’d never been to a crab feed before.  Fortunately, the friends we went with had and gave us a little guidance.  The first thing that came out of the kitchen was a plate of spaghetti.  And probably not very good spaghetti either.  Vermicelli with unadorned tomato sauce and a sprig of oregano.  I was so hungry I almost ate some, but one of our friends abruptly halted the forward movement of my fork. 

“No, no, no,” he said, “You don’t want to eat those crappy carbs, you want crab.  Don’t waste your waist on that.  They want you to eat that so you’ll eat less crab.  No carbs, crab.  Trust me.”   And he threw the plate away.  I almost potentially thought about hypothetically wanting to maybe put a handful of spaghetti in my pants, just so the title of this post could fit in with the body, but that would have been messy.  And stupid.  So I didn't.  

Next came a handful of lettuce with some Thousand Island dressing on it.  There was also a cherry tomato on top.  I figured that small amount of roughage couldn’t hurt, and much to the chagrin to my purist crab eating fiends, I mean friends, I managed to get in a couple bites before they took that plate away.  

Then came a bucket of crab legs to our little crab clan of six.  It wasn’t a huge bucket, like something you'd put oats in to feed a horse.  Or whatever they put food in for Sumo wrestlers.  It was about the size of a standard ice bucket you’d see at the Hilton, or Motel 6.  But it was full of crab legs.  Everybody took a socially acceptable amount, not quite depleting the bucket of its luscious fodder.  By the time we had almost finished our first round, the second bucket came.

Now, you know, we don’t live on the coast here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  And crab, usually somewhat pricey in the grocery stores, is usually considered a delicacy in these here parts.  So, you know, “All you can eat crab for $25.00. Charity Event.  Blah, blah, blah.”  I’m thinking maybe they'll cap our group at three buckets.  I mean, they couldn't really mean, “All you can eat”, could they? 

I expanded my belt buckle when the fourth bucket came.  I got giddy when the fifth bucket came. After the sixth, or maybe the seventh bucket, I wandered outside to find the Vomitorium.  I found a pine tree and had a smoke instead.

Then I went back inside, loosened my belt ANOTHER notch and partook of another two or three buckets of crab.  I felt like I was at a Roman orgy, but without the Romans.  Or naked people for that matter.  Which is probably a good thing since most folks were fabulously bloated by this point in the evening’s soiree and wouldn't feel fabulous naked.  Especially in front of strangers.  Or friends.

I would imagine enough crab was consumed that night to fill up at least one episode of the “Deadliest Catch”.  Or maybe a swimming pool.  By the way, a fabulous  game to play drunk when money is no object: drain a swimming pool and fill it with pickles.  Toss in a frog.  Whoever finds the frog wins.  You could reverse it, fill the pool with frogs and toss in a pickle, but it's a lot easier to catch and contain one frog than it is forty thousand.  Just a thought.

 It was great to catch up on a little seafood since there aren’t really any restaurants in town specializing in ocean delights.  I mean, you can get the catch of the day at many fine restaurants in town, but there's no specific fish stand to speak of.  Like Phil's in Moss Landing, which is absolutely fabulous by the way.

Speaking of restaurants, we do have a number of fine establishment here in our twin city towns of Grass Valley and Nevada City.  There aren’t any chain restaurants either.  Nothing like an Appleby's, or Chili's.  Or Ruth's Chris.  What is that anyway, Ruth or Chris?   There’s a bit of a small town resistance here to any of  that falderal, which is a showy but worthless trifle, flapdoodle or nonsense, by the way, coming in and taking business away from the established, local independents.  

If you want a steak here in town, head on out to The Willo, which is a couple miles out of Nevada City in the country.  Casual dining at its best, The Willo has like five, or maybe six items on the menu.  BBQ New York steak, BBQ chicken, BBQ ribs and a BBQ pork chop.  I think they've recently added some BBQ fish.  That’s about it.  Sense a theme here?  Whatever you order comes with some beans, green salad and slice of garlic bread, all on the same plate.  You also get a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Ambiance runs high at The Willo.  You can get cocktails there, play shuffleboard in the bar and for an extra fifty cents you can cook your own steak at the huge indoor BBQ.  There’s also a painting of the old SF-Oakland Bay Bridge with teeny weeny miniature Christmas lights running both sides of the span.  If that ain’t enough, there’s also velvet's of Elvis and the Duke on the wall.  Class trash at its best.

Another great steak house, The Owl Grill and Saloon, is located in downtown Grass Valley.  Recently  taken over by an old high school alum chum, Steve Graham, the Owl still sports much of the same great meaty menu, but now presented with a little more panache, flavor and flair.  The Owl is much more upscale than the Willo, but both have their place.  

A nice, romantic dinner, the Owl.  A nice, shit kicking time, the Willo.  Any questions? 

If haute cuisine is more your thing, head on over to The New Moon Cafe in Nevada City.  There Chef Peter Selaya is always cooking up new, exciting and tasty culinary works of art.  You can watch him do his stove top ballet through the large picture window near the entrance.  

South of the border?  Maria’s.  There’s also Thai.  Italian.  Sushi.  There’s pizza.  There's a host of other very fine dining establishments, like Tofanelli's, Cirino's, and Lefty's, to name a few.  All restaurants listed have been around for years, they have definitely withstood the taste of time.

There's a couple of pastie shops too.  Yeah, right.  Get your mind out of where you know it just went.  That's, like, Cornish pasties.  Again, I am not referring to a lively young lass with small items of glitz adorned strategically ala Janet Jackson, I am referring to kind of like a meat pot pie or burrito, only different.  This delicacy was brought to the area during the gold rush by Cornish miners who came to work in the gold mines.

There’s a few small coffee shops too.  There used to be a Denny’s, but since most of the locals stayed with small, local shops they left town.  It’s a bagel shop now.  I think only five of the main line fast food crap places are represented here, but not all of them.  Only one IHop.  So we have that going for us.

One night a couple months back in 2014 we ate at a local restaurant with a couple of the same friends we went to the crab feed with.  We’re all foodies.  They had a gift certificate for The Swiss House, an off the beaten track and out of the way place touting Swiss and German food as their specialty.  Somehow the Swiss House had remained in the same location for a couple decades.  It isn’t located downtown where most of the eateries are; it's out by the freeway interchange, if you want to call it that.  It’s probably more like a highway intersection.  The industrial part of town.  Without the industry.

We arrived at 7:00 PM on a Saturday evening.  There was a couple at the six seat bar having cocktails, and there were also two other tables in the restaurant that were occupied when we arrived.  It appeared to be a fairly quiet evening, with about eighteen tables sitting empty.  The décor was straight out of the late seventies, with walnut wainscoting and red and gold flambé wallpaper everywhere.  

The hostess, a lovely Asian woman in her early seventies, left us with menus and a glass of water.  Fifteen minutes later we had yet to be approached by a waiter or waitress.  With two lovely spouses thirsting for Martini’s, I decided to head to the bar myself to get the ladies a drink.  There, I learned from the couple seated, that the bartender had been missing for about the same amount of time as our hostess.  And we still had not seen a waiter.  Or waitress.  This was beginning to feel like an Agatha Christie mystery.  Or Blake Edwards romp.

We soon learned our seventies hostess was also our waitress as well as the bartender.  And chef’s spouse.   She was a busy girl.  Besides her and the chef, there was only one other person helping in the back.  I wonder what would have happened if the place had all twenty tables occupied?  We'd probably be paying extra, just like at The Willo, to help cook our own meal. 

We had a lot of fun poking fun at just about everything that was going on; the decor, the ambiance, the service.  Or lack thereof.  But when the food finally came, arguably it was some of the best tasting cuisine in the area.  Chef Karl definitely has his schnitzels down.  Perfectly cooked vegetables.  Perfectly tasty and textured sauces.  The food was impeccable.  And once we got into the one person waitress/hostess/bartender slow show pace, we had a wonderful time.  I would highly recommend this establishment to any and all.  Just don't be in a hurry.

As I write this, I am sad to say that Lily Pai Resch, the energetic and multi-tasking hostess/waitress/bartender and wife of Karl the chef, has recently passed away.  The restaurant is closed until further notice per their website.

Besides the cadre of wonderful and delicious edible locations that grace our effervescent community, we also have a unique feature that is a staple at our county fair.  It is one tasty avenue that is called Treat Street.  It ought to be a boulevard.

Basically it’s a hundred yard long, twenty foot wide walk with food stands on each side offering a wide variety of eats. From stuffed baked potatoes to burgers to tacos to brats to hot buttered corn on the cob to possibly the absolute best darn corn dogs on the planet.  Home town fair fare at its finest and each food vendor is a local charity or volunteer organization.  

Several local volunteer fire departments are represented, several churches, the Rotary, the Elks, Big Brothers/Sisters, Boy Scouts, ETC.  Besides the camaraderie, these organizations make a ton of money.  Job’s Daughters, with their uber fantabulous corn dogs, anchors the street and ALWAYS has a line from twenty to forty deep.  They sell a ton of dawgs each year during the fair.

Treat Street is not as lit up during the 4th of July as it is during the county fair.  A few booths are usually open, but not all of them.  It was 4th of July, 2010, on Treat Street, that I knew, after our four year walkabout, we were home.  

The 4th of July is a big deal around this community.  The two towns flip each year hosting a parade, which is actually a pretty darn good affair.  Marching bands, humans on horses and fire trucks.  A couple batons.  A few old cars.  A few old bats.  A politician or two.  We haven’t been in a few years because they switched the start time to 1:00 in the afternoon.  And these foothills can get quite warm in the middle of summer.

I’m not much of one for heat.  I can do the high 80’s and low 90’s OK, but when it gets up there in the high 90’s to triple digits count me out.  I need to be in or near a body of water or in an air conditioned room, definitely not standing out in the street sweating and sweltering and waving a miniature American flag.  Back when the kids were young we went all the time.  Back then the parade started at 10:00 AM, which was great.  And a lot cooler. 

I think one of the reasons they changed to a later start time was to seamlessly motivate and lure folks on out to the fairgrounds right after the parade for further patriotic celebration.  And to spend money of course.

There’s always been a huge aerial fireworks display at the fairgrounds, which always draws a huge crowd.  But that doesn’t usually start until, you know, dark, which is when most people would arrive.  But the fairgrounds always opened right after the parade, around noon.  I guess not that many people were migrating out there immediately following the parade.  We never did.  Who wants to spend an entire afternoon in the heat, sweating and sweltering?

We would usually find a body of water and submerge ourselves for the afternoon.  Then we'd mosey on out to see the fireworks around 7:00 PM.  Now that the parade ends around 3:00 PM, I guess more folks are heading out earlier to partake of the festivities than before.  Not us, but some folks. 

By the way, we have the best darn fairgrounds in Northern California, if not the world.  Tall pines grace the grounds and offer tons of shade in the heat of summer.  During the fair the long, main walk is lined with regiments of bright orange marigolds.  Rustic red colored buildings dotted everywhere present quilts, baked goods, flowers, produce, and paintings during the  fair, all entered with the hopes to take home a blue ribbon.  I keep threatening to enter one of my African Violets, but I always seem to miss the deadline. One of these years...

The fairgrounds hosts many other events throughout the year, like the annual Father’s Day Blue Grass Festival, KVMR's Celtic Festival, the World Music Fest, the Strawberry Music Fest, Clydesdale Horse Fest, Classic Car Fests, a Home & Garden Show and a few isotopes.  More or less.

It was at the 4th of July, 2010 celebration, that I experienced a very warm, subtle and welcome Aha!  Although we didn’t go to the parade, we still moseyed out to the fairgrounds around 7:00 for the fireworks.  We got together with my sister and her family and ultimately an entourage of fifteen to twenty, which included kids, grandkids, vegetables and hangers on meandered out.  We brought blankets and chairs and set up a nice little island in a huge sea of madness with hundreds of other folks.

After we had set out our blankets and chairs, my lovely wife and I meandered off to explore the festivities.  I ended up in some Treat Street line, getting something nourishing, you know, like caramel corn or ice cream.  And I was standing there, in line, soaking up the atmosphere.  Some country music and children’s laughter danced in the background, a subtle breeze tickled my fancy.  And I was overcome with a mellow melange of  melancholy and nostalgia as a soft, sugar sweet symphony swept over my sensibilities.  I knew we had come home.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wilson Picket My Fence

"Idle chatter makes my mind wander."

I just came up with that, unless somebody else did.  You can use it if you like.

It's kind of funny how projects get started around here.  There's a hundred or so on the burner all the time; front, back, center and medium rare.  Hell, there's always going to be projects, we live in the country.  Who's bright idea was this, anyway? 

One of the ones on center stage this year has been the picket fence that frames our front lawn and is a standard for our sunset views.

A few of the fence posts had rotted as had several of the laterals.  And many of the pickets were suffering from a variety of maladies.  Yeah, this project was going to be a big one.  But before I get going too much here, I think we need a little Wilson to get this Picket post rolling along before we gets too far into the Midnight Hour

So I had been cogitating my method de repair and how best to attack this picket beast for a few months.  And as I was cogitating, which I can be prone to do especially when looking at a rather long and dubious situation, my lovely wife was given a cute cat statue that will situate by the potting shed, where the picket fence ends.  Or starts.  Depending on your point of view.

While the cat statute looked really clean and cute, the fence looked pretty shabby as did the potting shed.   I hadn't really touched either one because I knew this day would be coming.  And with the arrival of the cute cat statue the game was on.  Good thing I had been cogitating.

Near as I could tell, I needed to replace 4 posts.  As I got entirely too intimate in picket fence land, I discovered a couple more needed to be replaced.  Fortunately they weren't all together, so I was able to retain some of the picket/lateral action which ultimately helped me retain the level.

As the posts came down, a number of the laterals also needed replacing.  The previous owner really hadn't done anything with just about everything around here for a decade or so, let alone the picket fence.  There was A LOT of deferred maintenance, and this little area really needed some attention.  

The potting shed, another focal point for the front yard, is a bastion of mysteries.  The inside, where I store my chain saws as well as many other macho outdoor tools, is pink.

I think the place started out as a playhouse for a little girl, and then as she outgrew the joint he tried to paint it to match the house.  Sort of.
You'll notice he didn't quite finish the trim on the sides as well as the rear of the structure.  So the new trim color will be white to match the picket fence.  And the body of the shed will become the butter cream yellow the house will eventually become.  Not only did homeboy choose an asinine color for the house, when he eventually painted the shed he did it bass ackwards.

Plus that roof needed major attention.  When I removed the moss I also noticed a small amount of dry rot along the gable ends, or the edge of the "A" you see at the top.  This happened because homey did not allow for any kind of overhang over the edge, nor did he flash the edge.  No, I'm not talking about him wearing a raincoat and then exposing himself to structures, I'm talking about the placement of an "L" shaped strip of metal that slides under the roofing material and then hangs over the top of the fascia.  We'll get back to the roof later.

The first move in any home improvement situation like this is the demolition phase.  As much as I would like to use either some C-4 or the backs of a couple strapping young bucks, I usually have to get out the pick and shovel myself.  A pry bar and a hammer.  And a bucket for all the lethal hardware that comes my way.
All those keen and macho tools are mostly stored in the pink room, in case you wanted to know.

Any time I do demolition that involves hard sharpened steel is to remove that threat toot sweet.  There's too many tender paws around here, like mine, and the grand kids, that really don't need an encounter with a rusty nail.  So after I get a section off, I remove all the nails I can find.

In this little gambit, and I did not remove all the pickets or horizontals, I yanked out a couple hundred nails.  Homeboy tapped in 6 to 8 nails at each end of the horizontals I removed.  I used an "L" bracket with a couple screws when I replaced them.  Less metal and they're sturdier too.

Once I had pertinent laterals and pickets removed, it was then OK to launch into removing the posts, which were all in concrete by the way.

So I attacked my first post.  I dug, and I pried, and I sweated, and I toiled.  Thirty minutes later I had dug down about 3 1/2 inches.  By that time I said the hell with it and filled my partial hole with water.  To be addressed the next day.
You notice that PVC right next to the concrete up there?  Yeah, that thin white line?  That part of the front lawn sprinkler system?  The one I put my pick through?
Well, it turned out another ten inches and it was the end of the line.  So I quick clipped the end and put an end cap on it.  Once that area of the fence was complete I went back and added another 6 feet or so on to that clipped end and put in another sprinkler head.  That area had not been getting an adequate amount of water from the system anyway, so I had inadvertently unearthed an advantage.  Or made lemonade from an errant pick stab. 

I went back the next day and with my heavy duty six foot long pry bar I easily maneuvered that concrete out of the hole.  Five minutes.  Then I dropped in my new post, tossed in some concrete, leveled it and let it sit.  I moved on to the next, and eventually had a couple posts drying at the same time.

While all this was going on I was also contending with a lot of malnourished fence pickets.  Without paint for a decade (or more) many of the pickets were dry rotted and split.  Some I was able to save, some had to be tossed.  I set up a little picket hospital for the ones that could be saved. and as I labored over the posts and horizontals, I also mended a few pickets every day.  This involved gluing long cracks, clamping them and also patching many holes.  I needed me some Mustang Sally by this point in time.

The front yard was a pretty chaotic scene for a while, with all sorts of commotion going on.

But once it was torn apart, things got put back together relatively quickly, over the course of a week or two.

Once the laterals were up, the pickets were lined up and put up, with screws, just like ducks in a row.  A lot of 'em.  Quack quack.  A friend asked why I didn't go with new pickets.  Two reasons:  One was cost.  There's a lot of pickets on that there fence, like 235.  If I replaced half of them at Home Depot's price of $2.59 each I'd be looking at $303.00.  But since these are older pickets and hard to find, I'd have had to replace them all.  If I did vinyl it'd cost around $928.00.  But cost was not the most important part of the equation anyway.

You all may (or may not) have heard of the latest decorating trendy type situation, "shabby chic"?  Well, that's motus operandi around here.  I make things looks nice nice and then I have to mess it up a little.  A bash here, a ding there.  That sort of thing.  Makes my lovely wife happy.  What can I say?

So my process was to essentially make the entire fence structurally sound but then still retain a little of the aging luster.  I was able to replace the 20 or so pickets that were tossed with extra pickets from the picket bone yard.  Homeboy had about forty feet of extraneous picket fencing up around the place, and when I removed it I was able to retain many of the parts and pieces, just for an occasion as this.  Many of them have charming knot holes, a little bend here and hiccup there.
After all the pickets were up I blasted everything with a pressure washer, and then went along and methodically caulked and patched all the trim and holes.  Along the entire fence.  Yeah, it was a project.  Basically I wanted to make sure no water could get in between the pickets and the laterals.  That's where the majority of dry rot would be found if left open, so I closed it all off, one picket at a time.  It was a lot of fun.  I'm kidding.

Next, utilizing an airless sprayer I picked up at a garage sale last summer for $40, I sprayed all the trim on the potting shed.  Prior to painting, I removed the moss on the potting shed roof with a rake.  Extending way beyond my physical mass and potential.  Then I sprayed it with weed killer.  A new black comp shingle roof to match the main house will becoming shortly.

I thought it would be a great idea to use the sprayer on the fence, but I quickly discovered half the paint was heading out into the atmosphere.  There, uh, apparently was a lot of space in between surface area(s).  I ended up painting the fence by hand, taking about 45 minutes per section.  That, too, was a lot of fun.   Just kidding.  Where was Tom Sawyer and his fellas when I needed them?

That part of the job, the fence painting part, was interrupted in mid October when my appendix, Uncle Wiggley, decided to burst.  And boy, was that a lot of fun.  Again, kidding.  That little diversion set me back a good two to three weeks. 

I started painting the fence again a couple weeks after surgery, taking about an hour and a quarter per section this time around, or about 30 minutes longer.  What can I say?  There was a hole in my bucket and the wind had torn through my sails.  And my hair was all undone.  And I'm certainly not getting any younger.  Shorter, but not any younger.

 Then I started in on the shed, one side at a time.

My lovely wife suggested the planter boxes be black, you know, accent.  So I added a little razzle dazzle and painted them black.  Which reminds me of another song.  And in the meantime, while several other last minute pushes for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday were being attended to, I was also tossed a somewhat beat up classic weather vane, which would adorn the potting shed roof.

You may notice a few holes in the round ball thing a ma bob. Thing.  No doubt placed there by a non well intentioned pre-pubescent 12 year boy with a BB gun.

I bent the metal around the holes as best I could and then got out some old fashioned "Bondo" to fill in the remaining holes and valleys.  Works on cars and wood floors, right?  Why not weather vane thing a ma bob  things?  Then I sanded it down to a relatively unevenly smooth finish.  Next I broke the weather vane down so that I could paint it.

Once all the potting shed painting was complete, then I added the brick landing in front.  Without that it would get quite muddy right in front of the door.  Rain would also splatter mud and gunk up on the recently painted front.  I simply couldn't have that.  And once the planters had been painted, they certainly needed some plants.  With deer netting all around of course.

Notice how nice the cat statue looks now?

Even though the new roof will be forthcoming in a couple weeks, my lovely wife wanted the newly refurbished weather vane up so that the multitudes that will be descending for the Thanksgiving Holiday can "oooh" and "ahhh".

It's actually level and compass sighted in for optimum actual functional display purposes.  Held in by 4 lag bolts with a little Henry's Wet Patch underneath, it will come off quite quickly when it's time for the new roof.

With a little luck I shouldn't have to revisit this project for another decade.  Hopefully two.  And by that time, I'm sure as hell not going to be too motivated to dig up any rotten posts.

You know, a lot of folks have asked if I'm going to name the fence.  I mean, how silly.  I only name highly relevant and sometimes irrelevant things, like my kids, gold fish, ankles and appendix.  Although, now that I think about it, there is a logical choice, Wilson.

Animal Update

Our flock of fowl birds is doing fine.  Most of them have been molting, which is like shedding, only with feathers.  And since it takes a lot of protein to produce feathers, egg production falls during this process.  And since they already slow down laying in the fall and winter, we're like getting only 1 to 2 eggs per day right now. 

The other day a week or so ago I decided to lock up the flock a little early, like around 4:00 PM.  With it getting dark earlier now, they're all pretty much perched up around 5:00, but I was feeling lazy and decided to put 'em in early.  As I started walking up, I noticed the hens were getting a little agitated and were all conglomerating in one corner of the pen.  That's usually not a good sign.

Then I noticed a larger than domestic gray feline sitting on it's haunches at the back gate.  Initially I thought it might be one of our girls, they're getting their winter coats and are getting quite fluffy.  And then I remembered they were both in the house.  As I approached the cat retreated, fairly quickly, but not before I identified it as a Bobcat.  Who I believe was lookin for a little snack.

Fortunately, the flock's day time pen has a six foot high fence around it.  I'm sure the Bobcat could have gotten in-the Ringtail did-but not too easily.  And fortunately, I interrupted his flock salivation perusal by coming out a bit early.  If he had gotten in I'm sure I would have lost at least one hen before I got the alert.

Speaking of fluffy kittens, Daisy and Lilly are adapting quite fine.  They both sensed the loss of Joey, and seem to be settling in to their reign.

Hope you all enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday.