Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Another Foothill Conservancy Event - Mokelumne River Cleanup on October 19th


Just wanted to let everyone know that the Foothill Conservancy will be having a clean-up day on the Mokelumne River on Saturday, Oct 19th. I unfortunately will be at my high school reunion back in Fresno that day, so I will not be able to go. It seems my schedule never lines up with their events! One of these days it will work out. Here is the information below for anyone who is interested in going.
Annual Mokelumne River Cleanup
Saturday, October 19, 8:30 am to noon
Whether you have volunteered for the Mokelumne River cleanup before, or are coming for the first time, your efforts will help improve the water quality of our beloved Moke. Get first-hand experience in identifying harmful impacts to the Moke, and learn about the importance of the Moke's watershed for recreation and fish and wildlife habitats – all while having fun!
Two cleanup locations:
  • North Fork at Highway 26
  • Electra and Big Bar

BRING: Just bring your family, work gloves, canteen, sunscreen, and insect repellent. Sponsors will provide drinking water and trash bags. Wear good walking shoes/boots and a hat (long pants are recommended). Flotation devices are strongly recommended for children working close to the waters edge.
No pets or alcoholic beverages please.
INFORMATION: Event liability forms must be completed by all participants at sign-in; participants under 18 are welcome but must have liability forms completed by a parent or guardian. You will be contacted by a coordinator to confirm your registration. For further information, contact Randy Berg or call him at (209) 295-4900.

Mokelumne Electra run photo

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Butternut Soup Recipe and High Speed Internet


I know the title of the post is a little strange, or a lot strange, but I am excited! I love my house and my property but it doesn't have internet up there. Well, the internet is everywhere what I am missing is an internet service provider to allow me to get online. Of course there is dial- up but when you have been using high speed as long as I have, I don't think I could actually stand the speed of dial-up. After dial-up the next thing available is satellite, but do you have any idea how much that costs? Minimum is $99 per month not including installation charges. I heard from some of the people up there that to get a decent speed on the satellite service, they are paying over $200 a month. Are you kidding me? 
This one guy who lives in the subdivision full-time started talking to Comcast and keep going until he found someone who would look at our area. Then that person left. And he tried again and found another person and then they left... so he tried again and emailed a bunch of us to see if we would be interested in calling Comcast as well. About 15 to 20 of us did but they kept saying no. While I was on vacation and trying out a new restaurant, some of the locals there were discussing a new internet start-up using the radio tower system. He is a local guy and just getting started but I got online and found him as soon as I got back to Walnut Creek. He couldn't help me because his towers need line-of-sight and they can't see me but I told him the story. That we have a group of owners looking for internet and after I told the group about him, they all called him. So now.. he has a map where he could put his towers and I sent it to the group. The owners of the land that is useable said, sure do it... so I have hope again. If I want to live their full-time and make money from the property, I have to have internet. Will let you know!


I like to make soups because they can use all sorts of leftovers bits and pieces and once you get the basic method down, they are really easy. Today I made butternut squash soup with sweet potatoes, carrots and ginger. The basic recipe is below for you to try. 

Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato Soup

When some people see these 2 items in the supermarket they often think they are too tedious to bring home and cook them unless it is for a holiday meal. But I have to tell you that I discovered butternut squash soup when a friend brought over a basic version of it for a dinner party. I didn’t think about it much after that until a few years ago, I read a magazine recipe for it and thought it looked like a good thing to try. The trick to making the soup easy was that you didn’t have to try and cut up a raw butternut squash and cube it and boil it. They are an awkward shape and really hard! Nope, you just threw the whole squash into the oven and cooked it until soft. After it cooled it was really easy to tear apart and make soup of it. So that is how I cook all my butternut squash for soup. After 3 or 4 batches of it I decided to add sweet potato to it since the oven was going anyway, why not? Turned out to be one of the moments in cooking that why not became why didn’t I do this before?
These 2 vegetables are some of the most nutrient dense foods you can eat and they fill you up which is great since I am trying to change my eating habits for the better right now.
Today – I added a couple of other items, carrots and ginger. I got them from a nice farmer from Fresno at my local farmer’s market and decided to see what would taste like and I am glad I did. The carrots add a bit of sweetness without sugar of any kind and the ginger gives it just a bit of warmth.
Here is how I made it, starting with the basic butternut squash instructions.

Basic Soup
1         Medium to Large Butternut Squash
2         Boxes  of Chicken or Vegetable Broth (8 cups)
1         large onion
2         tbls of olive oil

Spices include the usual salt and pepper to taste but I always use garlic powder in this one as well. You can make it spicy with cayenne or hot sauce but wait until it is done before doing that.
To start – Turn your oven on to 425 degrees. Put the squash on a baking sheet lined with foil, and cook until done. Usually about 40 mins but check at 30mins and every 10 mins after that. You are looking for a change in the shape so that it looks like it has collapsed inside. Remove from the oven and let it cool for at least 1 hour, or overnight. When the squash is cool enough to handle cut it open and scrape out the seeds and fibers. Then scoop out the flesh into a bowl to use for the soup.
For the soup – dice the onion and cook with the olive oil in a large soup pot. Cook until just starting to turn translucent and then add the stock and the squash. Simmer it for about 15 mins and taste for seasoning.
To finish – take the pot off the heat and get out your stick blender. Mine is one my mom gave me just after I got married. It was hers and has just done a great job. If you don’t have a stick blender you can use a regular blender if you are really careful and do it in batches. Or a hand mixer or if you have none of those, you are going to have to whisk it by hand.
Blend up the soup until it reaches the consistency and smoothness you like. Serve!

If you get this basic recipe down you can add anything to it you feel would be tasty with the squash.
For my soup today, this is what I did –
2 each medium sweet potatoes
1 inch knob of ginger
3 to 4 carrots
I cleaned and cut up the sweet potato and cooked it in the oven with the squash. To make my soup I started the same with “sweating” the onions in a bit of olive oil. I cleaned and cut up the carrots and added them to the pot with the broth. Then I peeled and diced the ginger and added it to the pot with garlic powder, pepper and a small pinch of salt. I let that boil for about 20 minutes to cook the carrots and then I added in the broken up squash and sweet potatoes. Turn the heat down and let it simmer for about 15 mins just to get everything heated up and soft. Finish with blender and season to taste.

I always make way more than I need and freeze it. It freezes really well and it rewarms really nicely.

IF you want to make this a little less healthy and little more decadent, after it cools down just a bit, stir in some cream or whole milk. Makes it really silky and delicious and if you use that for a holiday appetizer everyone thinks you slaved all day over it…. but you know better.


Monday, September 16, 2013

New Windows Update 9/16/13


There are some details still to be done on the window installation like the fact that one is still missing.. but otherwise it is looking really good! 
First the old pictures - 

Bay Window

Broken sliding glass door

Front windows
Here is some of the "during" pictures. These windows took a long time because the siding was wrapped around the frame of the windows. And the frames on these are deeper than the old ones so every frame had to be cut to fit.
You can see the old siding (gray) coming out from the new siding. That is what they had to cut.

Scaffolding on the front

Scaffolding on the south side 

This is how high up he was when working - and notice the new window!

Big hole to replace the old sliding door.

Close up of one of the windows. 

Front view - so pretty!

They did a great job - just waiting to get it all finished..


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Another Project - Fixing a Broken Garden Pipe

How to fix a broken irrigation pipe

It wasn't enough that the deer, raccoon's and turkeys have stripped my garden to just stems again, one of them broke the pipe that connected the water lines to the trees and raised beds.

This is all that is left of a 15 pound pumpkin that wasn't even ripe ~ just the stem!

It is a standard PVC pipe with 2 hose faucets that I connected the drip lines to and run it on a timer. When “whomever” snapped it in half the water just gushed out everywhere for 90 mins when the timer went off every other day. Nice water bill I got… They also broke my fence but that isn't hard to do since it is a wire fence that was beaten down by the Boer goats a few years ago.

The big hole in my fence, most likely from a fat raccoon too lazy to climb it.
Fixing PVC pipes that are at or near the surface like this is really easy to do - and cheap! It can also be fun when you are fitting the pieces together and coming up with more creative ways to do it. A couple hints to make it easier;
  1. DRY FIT - before you rush ahead and glue stuff together and get it wrong, put all the parts together without glue and see if it works in the hole.
  2. Glue everything you can on "dry land" leaving only the connection to the water line to glue while you are in the hole.
My pipe was snapped off - I think a deer must have kicked it pretty hard or tripped over it!

Step 1 - Dig out the area and determine the extent of the damage
First - dig out around the pipe until you get to the broken section. Be careful you don't break more pipe in the process. You need to have some room under  the pipe as well for the saw blade. You want to be able to clearly see the connections and figure out what pieces you need to buy. 
This is what it looks like after digging it out
 After digging it up I can see that I need to cut the old elbow joint off and put on a new one along with a short length of straight pipe up, and attach the faucet to that. In order to get the right parts, bring your old ones with you. The pipes are different widths and you want to only make one trip if possible.(Trust me this is from experience - I have a bucket of pvc fittings that are the wrong size.. finally got smart enough to know I needed to bring some of the old pipe.)

To fix this I needed 1-1/2 inch pipe - so here is what I got for supplies:

  • 90 degree elbow
  • 2 ft section of straight pipe (I only used about 18 inches of it - more for the spares bucket)
  • Connector for the faucet that had one side to be glued to the pipe and the other threaded to take the brass faucet. (Test it in the store!)
  • Faucet that fit into the threaded section of the pipe connection 
  • Teflon tape
  • Small hacksaw (works good in the tight spots)
  • PVC "blue" (waterproof) glue
  • Sandpaper

Supplies  laid out on my garage floor

You need a small hacksaw like this to cut the PVC pipe - notice the warning message on the bottom right of the package. "Caution! Saw blades are sharp!"

Step 2 - Cut off the broken piece
To make this work again I will need to glue a new elbow to the straight water pipe that is still in the ground. First cut off the elbow using your hacksaw as close as you can to the straight pipe. When you have done that, take a rag and wipe the pipe off on the outside so the glue will adhere correctly.
The elbow connection is cut off - this is the pipe before it is cleaned.
 Step 3 - Assemble the new section
After you have dry-fitted the new parts and have made sure the length is correct and the position of the elbows are right, it is time to glue!
Using the sandpaper rough up the inside of the connecting joints and the outside of the straight pipe. Then working carefully and quickly, take some of the glue and put it around the outside of the straight pipe and the inside of the joint. Push the parts together and twist into the correct angle and position. You have to do this really fast because the glue dries in 30 seconds. Hold the parts there with some pressure for a minute and move on to the next connection.  For this repair, I put it all together in the garage (below) - and used teflon tape on the threads before connecting the faucet to prevent leaking.

All ready to go into the ground and hook up to the other pipe

Step 4 - Attach the new section to the existing pipe
After getting the faucet assembly done, you need to connect the whole thing to the water pipe that is in the ground. After cleaning the pipe section, do a "dry-run" without the glue first to get the mechanics of how you are connecting the two sections together. Work quickly and glue the 2 ends of the pipe and push them together and hold for a minute.
Step 5 - Leave it alone
You have to let the glue cure and become waterproof but it should only take an hour before you can lightly test it. After that leave it alone for a day or so.. then you can use it!

This whole thing cost me about $10 in parts and I went on to put together a couple of others at the same time. This is a totally doable project for even the novice "DIY-er" so give it a try next time you get a broken pipe... you can always call the professionals later if you can't get it done.


Monday, September 2, 2013

Bats Update -9/2/2013

Remember how the pest company came out and put that one-way door on my house to get rid of the bats in the attic? Well it did work... They left my attic space over that window and I thought they had moved back to a cave or something.

Nope - they moved under my deck. I have a couple of support joists that are about 2 inches apart from each other. When I was doing my standard walk around the house, I noticed a bunch of droppings on the ground under the deck. (Actually, Casey smelled them first and I noticed her and walked over.) See that beam that is not painted?

I looked up and couldn't see anything until I got the right angle to see them...I counted 20 or so bats up in that little space. 

My deck as viewed from the ground
If you can't see them well, zoom in...

Kinda cute...if you like flying rodents.
 I love having bats around the house because I really don't have any mosquito problems this year, but this is a little much. Of course I had to film them at night flying out...
I am the stupid person whistling in this video... it seems to get them vocalizing...

I have hung up a bat house for them nearby, and am trying some techniques to get them to move out.. it seems to be working as the day I left the house I only counted 5 still stubbornly refusing to move on. I just hope they are in the bat house and haven't found a way back into my house!


Family Recipe # 2 - Grandma Tonseth's Shrimp Casserole

Family Recipe #2 – Grandma Tonseth’s Shrimp Casserole

My dad’s family, raised 6 kids on very little money. This recipe is one that is attributed to his mother, although I am not sure where she got it. My dad says that she made this for them at Christmas and it was a tradition for them. My grandma didn’t talk much about things like recipes, and lived the last part of her life by herself in the house her family built in the desert outside Newberry Springs, CA. It uses basic pantry ingredients and once again is not the healthiest but you can substitute low-sodium soup if you want. Each of my dad’s siblings and their spouses make this differently but here is the basic recipe:

½ bag of large elbow macaroni
2 cans of small shrimp (Drain the liquid from only one of the cans.)
1 cans of cream of mushroom soup
1 can of creamed corn
Shredded cheddar cheese (Grandma would use a block of cheese and shred some for the top layer while cutting chunks to mix into it.)
Frozen peas
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the macaroni as per the instructions on the bag. When cooked, rinse with cold water and drain.
In a large mixing bowl combine-
Shrimp – with the liquid from 1 of the cans
Cream Corn
Mix together until blended – you can add a little water if you need to thin it a bit.
Add in the pasta and gently fold until well mixed with the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover with shredded cheese and with foil.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 35 mins – then remove the foil. Turn on the broiler and place under the broiler until the cheese is bubbling and browned.

Remove and let cool before trying to serve.
My mom likes to add celery and green onions as well…


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Vacation Post #1 – Sonoma, CA - August 14th and 15th

Vacation Post #1   Sonoma, CA - August 14th and 15th

I decided to do something for myself that didn’t involve gardening or working on the house over this vacation. So I splurged and got a room at theFairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa for a couple of days. This is way more than I would usually be comfortable spending on a hotel room but my life has been so busy the last 7 months that I decided to do it. The hotel is one that has mineral water in all the pools and a giant spa so I just did it. The hotel itself is impressive, very big but keeps that mission charm to it. The staff is wonderful and my room was great! The only issue was the cost of everything there, but what do you expect at a Fairmont? I did book a spa treatment and it was so worth it! The spa area is as large as some hotels with 2 swimming pools, a mineral pool, a Jacuzzi and 2 steam rooms. There were as many men there as women which is was surprising. They even have a cafĂ© and a store if you would like to buy some over-priced swim wear. I got a hotel signature treatment which started with mud being painted on my body and then I was wrapped in plastic and warm towels. It was like a cocoon or a burrito, imagine whichever makes the most sense to you. The mud was not some local farm mud, oh no.. it was mud from the moors of Hungary. Finely ground until it is like a talcum powder feeling and then mixed with warm water until it resembles a really thick pudding. Then after you steep in the mud burrito for about 15 mins or so, you get to wash it off. The guy doing my treatment helped wipe it off my back and then I got to get in the shower and scrub it off. It doesn’t come off easily and I was finding small mud spots for days. After that, you get into a bath with bubbles and mineral salts and soak for about 15 mins more. Then you get a massage! So the whole thing took about 90 mins and cost me about $300.. but my skin was so smooth that it was ridiculous. After that I swam and lounged by the pool and even had a beer while I talked to a nice lady visiting from Seattle. It was so relaxing that I had to go take a nap! One thing I took a picture of was these chair and table sets that were all around the resort grounds under the trees. They are cleverly made from wine barrel pieces of wood.

I also spent time at the plaza in Sonoma where the last mission in the state resides. It is mission Solano and I went through a tour of the mission and the soldier’s barracks next door. It is a very nice little town square kind of feeling with the old mission and new shops and wine bars and restaurants etc..
When I was driving home, I stopped along the way at a wildlife viewing area and took some pictures of the landscape. The area used to be mainly marshland and there was enough water in the sloughs to have flat bottom boats come in from the bay to deliver items to Sonoma and pick up things to bring back to San Francisco. There wasn’t any bridges back then so the water was a key to supplying the area and commerce. Then levees were created to drain out the water and allow it to be farmed so that entire area is gone. However, a movement in the bay area is underway to purchase any of these tidal areas and restore them. Down in the south bay, there are old salt ponds that aren’t needed any more and they are being restored as well. What has been discovered is the tidal marsh area served a vital purpose in filtering out the brackish water and providing shelter for lots of animals and birds. It is nice to see these areas being restored again, and you can see in the pictures, the marsh area and the farm land and vineyards, all playing nice together.

Old Theater in the plaza

Sonoma Mission

Adobe Walls

Courtyard fountain that I assume use to be a well

Oven in the courtyard



Soldiers Barracks

Soldiers Barracks


Marsh Area

View from the marsh restoration area - next to a field of hay and the vineyards

It was a wonderful trip and I am glad that I did it… I hate spending money like that but I think it was well worth it. I came back relaxed and ready to go to Tucson to see Nick.


Favorite Summer Recipe - "Taco" Salad

Family Recipe #1 “Taco Salad”

The recipes that I have posted so far are my own – this one is one that my mother started making when I was a teenager living in Fresno. You have to remember that we weren’t very sophisticated back then when it came to ethnic food. So I have renamed this the “trailer park taco salad” because it isn’t even remotely related to a taco or any other Mexican food. I have also changed the recipe a bit to lighten it up by using ground turkey instead of ground beef. This is something I make during the summer when it is hot and you don’t really want to cook. It is super easy and you can customize it any way you want to - for instance you can add green chiles or jalapenos if you wanted!

1 big bag of Doritos flavored tortilla chips
1 pound of ground turkey
1 jar of salsa – whatever kind and heat you like
Taco seasoning – Any brand
Romaine lettuce cut up into pieces
2 tomatoes - chopped
Shredded jack or cheddar cheese
1 can of black beans
Sour cream (non-fat works in this recipe because you have so much other stuff going on)
Chopped green onions
Brown the ground turkey in a large skillet until cooked through over medium high heat. This can take 10 minutes or so.
Add the taco seasoning to the meat but use 3 times the recommended amount and very little water. Just enough water to get the seasoning to stick to the meat.
Once that is that is mixed in with the meat, remove it from the stove to cool off.
Chop up the lettuce and the tomatoes while you are waiting for the meat to cool down.  About 15 – 20 minutes.
Open and drain the can of black beans and mix it into the ground meat – try not to smash the beans too much.
(If you get gassy from beans, pour the beans into a colander and rinse them a bit, that will help.)
In a big mixing bowl or salad bowl add –
Meat and Bean mixture
Salsa (not too much as you can add more individually)
Mix those together gently.
To serve
On a large plate or flat bowl – grab a handful of Doritos and put them as the base.
Add the meat mixture on top of the chips
Top with the sour cream, green onions, hot sauce or cheese etc… anything that you like.


If you put the chips in the meat mixture, they will get soggy when you put the leftovers in the refrigerator. Leaving them out and putting them on the plate at the time of serving will keep them crunchy.