Cherry Tomato Sauce (to Freeze)

Let me just start by saying that we’ve learned our lesson, and next year we will be planting fewer cherry tomatoes and more “regular” tomatoes (we have three cherry tomato plants this year). John and I both love cherry tomatoes when they’re fresh off the vine, because they are so sweet and don’t require any prep (besides rinsing) before you can use them in salads. But they’re more difficult to preserve because they are almost impossible to efficiently peel, even using my favorite lazy method. And like I’ve said before, I’m just not ready to tackle the tomato-canning process. The only solution I’ve come up with to preserve cherry tomatoes is to make – and then freeze – cherry tomato sauce. The good news is that sauce made from cherry tomatoes is incredibly sweet and flavorful, so it’s totally worth the effort. I make a very basic sauce, because we often add extra ingredients when we use it later on, so I want this sauce to be adaptable. Here’s my basic recipe:

Cherry Tomato Sauce (to Freeze)
Makes about 5 pints, depending on how much you reduce the sauce.
1 c. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
about 5 quarts cherry tomatoes, rinsed
2 bay leaves
salt

1. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. I use a lot of olive oil in my tomato sauce because I think it helps maintain the flavor of the sauce when it freezes. It’s also really tasty!
2. Add the onions and carrot and saute briefly.
3. Add the cherry tomatoes and stir occasionally until they start to pop and form a very watery sauce. Add the bay leaves and salt to taste (remember it will cook down, so go easy on the salt to start with).
4. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce seems more “saucy” than “watery,” then gradually reduce the heat as needed to keep the sauce from sputtering. Simmer for a couple of hours, until the sauce is a little thinner than you want it to be. Taste and add more salt if needed.
5. Puree the sauce in a blender, being careful not to put too much in at once. Make sure to let the steam vent out of the blender as you go.
6. Strain the sauce to remove the peels and seeds. I just pour the sauce through a plastic strainer, and use a silicone spatula to stir it around until I’m left with just peels and seeds (see photo below).
7. Pour the sauce into clean pint-sized freezer-safe jars, making sure to leave a generous 1/2-inch head space to allow for expansion when the sauce freezes. If you decide to use quart-sized jars, I recommend leaving 1 inch of head space.
8. Let cool to about room temperature (30-45 minutes), then screw on the lids, label and freeze.

If the process sounds involved, let me assure you it’s really not. The prep work is minimal, and you basically just let it do its thing for a few hours. The only part that requires any real effort is the blending and straining, and you can avoid that if you have a food mill (I don’t). Unfortunately, there’s no way around picking all those dang cherry tomatoes. Next year…

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Freezing Tomatoes (The Lazy Way)

Over the holiday weekend, I was chatting with my friend J about different methods of preserving tomatoes. I knew that I was going to need to start processing some of our garden produce, and I’m never quite sure what to do with all of our tomatoes. I’ve frozen tomato sauce successfully, but we end up buying a lot of canned tomatoes during the winter. Canning tomatoes safely at home requires a very specific process that I’m just not ready to tackle. Most methods I’ve heard of for freezing tomatoes require you to blanch and peel them first. I’ve done that before, and it’s messy and time-consuming – enough so that I really, really didn’t want to do it. Still, one of my goals this season was to preserve more of our garden tomatoes and reduce our use of canned tomatoes.

I’ve mentioned before that J knows a lot about keeping foods fresh, and this weekend she shared a tip that was almost too good to be true. J said that her Mother-in-Law and Grandmother-in-Law both freeze tomatoes – without blanching and peeling them – using an incredibly simple method. They just lop the top off the tomatoes and toss them in a bag in the freezer. When you defrost the tomatoes, the peel comes right off! Naturally, I was really excited to try this method myself.

I started by picked the ripe garden tomatoes. I’ve read that you get the best results when you process fruits and veggies as soon as possible after picking.

We don’t use any funky chemicals in our garden, but this year we started to get blossom-end rot, so we sprayed a calcium solution on the plant leaves (which was totally effective, by the way). Although the foliar calcium treatment is organic, I still soaked the tomatoes in water to remove any over-spray residue. Then I just cut off the tops, along with any old bits of blossom-end rot and any cracked areas.

I put the tomatoes in plastic bags in the freezer. I pulled a couple out the next morning to see if the method really works. I put the frozen tomatoes in a bowl to defrost (you can also run them under warm water).

After the outside of the tomatoes defrosted, I tried peeling them. Just like J said, the peels slipped right off, and I was left with perfectly peeled garden tomatoes to use in place of purchased canned tomatoes!

I am so thrilled with this easy and effective method of freezing tomatoes! I feel really proud that I can easily put up more of our garden tomatoes and reduce our need to buy canned tomatoes during the winter. Now I’m starting to think that preserving produce can actually be really easy if you just find the right method…and this method is even easier than driving to the store to buy a can of tomatoes!

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Tent Trailer Packing List

John and I both grew up camping, and it’s still one of our favorite things to do. Some of the best, most relaxing times we’ve had together have been when we’ve gone out camping for a week or two. Until recently, we tent-camped. We would gather all of our camping gear, shoe-horn it into the back of John’s truck, head out, unpack everything, and then pack it all back up when we were ready to move to the next spot. It took hours and was a huge production. When we decided to buy our tent trailer a year and a half ago, the main reason was that it would make it easier to get out and go camping, because we could keep the trailer stocked with all of our camping gear. I admit that a comfier bed was a real bonus for me, too!

Having the trailer really has made it easier to head out on our camping adventures. We have pretty much everything we need in the trailer, and just have to pack food, clothes, drinks, and campfire stuff. Following the lead of John’s Mom, who uses an extensive array of lists to pack for her frequent trips, I made a packing list of everything we stock in the trailer. Here’s the basic layout of our tent trailer (click to enlarge):

Trailer Packing List
I’m including a few Amazon links so you know what I’m talking about, but they aren’t affiliate links.*

Entry Cabinet
Keys
Small Level (To level the trailer when we set up.)
Flashlight
Lighter
Headlamps
Spare Batteries
Baby Wipes
Shop Towels
Whisk Broom
Trailer Hitch and Lock
Shims (Also to level the trailer, if needed.)

Cookware Box
We love to cook good food when we camp. We almost never cook camping classics like burgers and hot dogs, though.
Pasta Pot and Lid
Skillet and Lid
Set of 3 Nested Pots/Lids (My old backpacking set, this brand.)
Colander
Small Mixing Bowl
Silicone Measuring Cup
6 Plates
6 Bowls
6 Glasses
1 Mug (For me. John doesn’t drink hot beverages.)
2 Wooden Spoons
Spatula
Pasta Scoop
Ladle
2 Skewers
Chef’s Knife
Cutting Board
Paper Plates and Bowls
Extension Cord (We keep this by the cookware box for the rare cases when we have hookups.)

Dish Pan and Drain
These go on the floor, and we keep stuff in them.
Place Mats
Dish Towel
Straw Trivet
Dr. Bronner’s Soap
Campsuds
Spray Cleaner
SPF 15 Lotion (Multipurpose!)

Bedding #1
For our bed.
Sheets
Towels and Washcloths
Comforter and Cover
Spare Blanket
Indian Bedspread (This is my all-time favorite hot weather bedding. It’s very loosely-woven cotton. So light and cool.)

Trash Can

Drawers
Can Opener
Bottle/Wine Opener
Pot Gripper (For backpacking pots/pans.)
A Variety of Knives
Silverware
Lighters
Clothespins (To hang clothes/towels on the awning, and to close the curtains fully.)
Lantern Mantels (We don’t take our lantern very often, but we stock these in case we do.)

Trash Bags
Spices/Salt/Pepper
Rubber Gloves
Playing Cards

First Aid Kit
Sunscreen
Bug Repellent
Duct Tape
Shout Wipes (I think I’m going to take these out, though, so I can take them to work, where I actually care if I spill.)
Tick Removal Kit

Sink Cabinet
Fresh and Waste Water Hoses (For the rare cases when we have hookups.)
A Couple of Small Propane Cans
Coleman Adapter Hose (So we can hook our camp stove to a 20# propane tank. Much more practical.)

Toys
Kites
Badminton
Frisbee
Small American Flag (I’m not “rah-rah” patriotic, but camping makes me happy to have the freedoms I so often take for granted. John’s not sold on this, even though his Mom gave it to us, haha!)

Bedding #2
Our Pillows.
2nd Set of Sheets/Towels/Washcloths (Guests bring their own pillows and blankets/covers.)

Floor Storage #1
Right in front of the door, so we can access it when the trailer is down.
Crank (To raise the tent trailer.)
Chocks

Floor Storage #2
Food Bin (Someday, I’ll write another post on our favorite camping foods. We’re particular!)
Coleman Camp Stove (We don’t take the stove that came with our trailer because it’s too small.)
Canopy

That’s it! We definitely don’t pack light…after all, we’re on vacation and we’re car-camping in a trailer. We are all about the comfort! Any other campers out there? Do you backpack, tent camp, trailer, RV, or any and all? Inquiring minds want to know! And please share any good camping areas that are drivable from Northern California!

*Although California residents are no longer eligible to be Amazon Associates, I’ve never been one. I don’t run ads, and I don’t have any desire to “monetize” this blog. Just me and whatever I feel like writing about.

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Thoughts on Consumption

I think a lot about consumption. Not the disease, but the act of consuming stuff. I’m not an ascetic by any means; I’m not even a minimalist. I just try to avoid buying things that I don’t “need,” which also means that I try to avoid wanting things that I don’t need. That’s challenging for me. I feel like our culture is so driven by consumption, the idea that you need something newer and better (or even just different) from what you already have. I find this problematic because of the insane amount of crap that gets made to feed our insatiable appetites for new stuff, and the corollary insane amount of crap that gets discarded in favor of the “newer/better/different” thing (CRT’s anyone?). Also, I don’t want to spend my time thinking about stuff, acquiring stuff, and being surrounded by stuff. I want to spend my time doing things I enjoy, things that are generally not stuff-related, unless that “stuff” is wine, books, or my camping gear. Or my sewing stuff. Or my coral lipstick and my new belt. Come to think of it, some new shoes would look great with that belt. Or my…

Yeah, I’m definitely not perfect, but I am working on it. I don’t have any solutions, but I think that contemplating my own feelings about consumption has helped me change my spending habits for the better. Mainly, I try to:

1. Buy fewer new things, and not buy things that won’t last.
2. Make the things I have last longer.
3. Not treat shopping as entertainment.
4. Avoid things (some magazines/TV/internet) that make me want to consume.

Anyhoo, on the non-consumption tip, we had a great time hanging out with some friends who came up to stay with us this weekend. I don’t have any photos of the garden adventures, gold panning, or train ogling, but I did grab a glamour shot of the oatmeal pancakes I made for breakfast one day.

I use the recipe from The New Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook, which I totally recommend. The only changes I make are to omit the oil from the batter and to use white flour instead of whole wheat. I add oil to the pan before I pour each pancake – it gives them a little crispy finish that is extra good.

1 1/4 c. milk
1 c. rolled oats
2 eggs, beaten
1 T. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt

Mix the milk and the oats together and let them sit for a few minutes until the oats soften up. Mix in the eggs and the brown sugar. Pour in the flour in one spot, then add the baking powder and salt on top of the flour. Using a dry fork, mix the baking powder and salt into the flour pile, then mix the whole batter together. Preheat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Add a nickel-sized puddle of oil, then pour 1/4 c. of batter right onto the oil. I do two pancakes at a time like this. Cook on the first side until the pancakes bubble up and the bubbles pop, and the edges start to look dry. Then flip them and cook until the second side is brown. I have to lower the heat a bit after the first few pancakes. You want to adjust the heat so the pancakes are simultaneously ready to flip and as brown as you like them. You’ll get it! I served these with maple syrup and some fresh nectarines. They were yummy.

I’m still thinking about consumption. 🙂

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Marinated Summer Veggies (and Garden Developments)

I think I’ve mentioned before that it’s been a strange gardening year here in Northern California. Everything is ripening a lot later than normal because of the unusually cold, wet Spring. Well, we’re still in the midst of the zucchini onslaught, but some of our other veggies* are finally starting to ripen. We have our first ripe tomatoes!

In honor of this momentous occasion, I ate about half the cherry tomatoes off the plant. And ate the only bigger ripe tomato like an apple, right there in the garden. It was fantastic! Seriously, I felt like all of the work that went into our garden this year was worth it for just that moment.

I did manage to save the rest of the ripe tomatoes, and I decided to make some marinated veggies with zucchini, onions, and basil from our garden. I wanted the veggies to be raw and crunchy, but I decided that I’d sear the zucchini and onions to give them a little extra flavor and sweetness. I just cut them in half and grilled them like I described here, but just until they were seared, not until they were cooked through.

I diced everything up (chopped the basil) and tossed it all together with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. I stuck it in the fridge for a while until we were ready to eat dinner, but it doesn’t really need to marinade – it’s good to eat right after you make it.

In other garden news, we have some soybeans! John, who is obsessed with commodity crops, is very happy.

This is the first year we’ve planted pumpkins, and they are getting huuuuuuge! I hope they stick around until October so we can have homegrown Jack-O-Lanterns!

*Fruit, bulbs, herbs, whatever…it’s all “veggies” to me. 🙂

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Culvert Troubleshooting

We live on a flat part of an otherwise pretty steep road, and there’s a drainage ditch along our side of the road. Our driveway crosses a culvert that’s aligned with the drainage ditch and allows water to flow under our driveway.

The photo above shows the outlet (downhill side) of the culvert. There are a few problems:

1. The driveway is sinking just a little bit right around the outlet of the culvert.
2. There are cracks in the driveway around the sunken area.
3. It’s hard to see in the photo above, but the culvert looks like it’s partially collapsed.
4. You can’t tell how well the driveway is supported because of all the dirt and wood in front of the culvert.
5. I pulled out a chunk of loose asphalt to the left of the culvert. That’ll need to be fixed!

My big concern was that the culvert wasn’t properly installed. When you put in a culvert, all the fill material around and above it is supposed to be compacted so it won’t settle. I am entirely unconvinced that the previous owner would have done that. If that material is settling, the driveway would sink, damaging the pavement and also collapsing (and eventually destroying) the culvert. There would be no way to fix it without ripping out a section of driveway above the culvert. I really, really, did not want to do that. Since the culvert is still moving water just fine during our winter storms, I knew it wasn’t destroyed, but I decided it was time to figure out what was really going on and tackle any major repairs before any more damage occurs during the next rainy season.

So I started digging. I had to dig out and remove enough stuff to be able see everything. Here are the before and after photos:


That piece of telephone pole wasn’t supporting anything, so I just took it out. You can see where it was used to pour the concrete, but it must have broken away over time. After digging everything out and taking a good look, I realized that things weren’t nearly as bad as I’d feared. The driveway is well-supported, and the culvert isn’t collapsed at all. The reason it looked like it was collapsed is that it’s about two-thirds full of sediment!

The cracks in the driveway had allowed water to flow under the asphalt and wash away a small amount of the dirt underneath, allowing the driveway to settle a tiny bit, which widened the cracks, which let more water in, and so on. The solution is pretty easy: we’ll just push concrete into the small areas that have washed out, then get the driveway patched and sealed to prevent it from happening again. The existing settling is minor and won’t be a problem.

The bigger problem is the sediment in the culvert, and I think I know why it’s happening. The drainage ditch wasn’t graded properly below the outlet, so the water coming out of the culvert wasn’t moving very fast. Slow-moving water can’t carry much sediment, so the sediment dropped out, right in our culvert! To fix that problem, we have to regrade the drainage ditch below the culvert, but that’s a heck of a lot easier than ripping up the driveway! 🙂

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Zucchini Madness (How to Use All That Zucchini)

It seems like everyone I know is overrun with zucchini and summer squash right now. Just one plant in the garden seems to produce more than is possible for a single family to to consume. Every year, I try to think of new and different ways to use it all up, and every year I go back to the same old recipes I know and love. I like zucchini. I don’t want to cover up the flavor, I want to enjoy it! And I’m a lazy cook. I’ve tried my share of complicated recipes, and I generally find that they aren’t worth the time and effort. So, without further ado, here’s an exhaustive look at what we do with all that zucchini: tips, easy zucchini recipes, and how to freeze zucchini to use it later.

Picking Zucchini
Zucchini (and other summer squash) needs to be picked when it’s small and tender. Six to eight inches long is ideal. And make sure to check your plants daily and pick everything that’s ripe. Really get under and around the whole plant – those suckers like to hide, and they get huge before you know it.

You’re going to miss some. Go ahead and shred anything 8-12 inches long to use in baking (more on that later), but compost or trash anything larger. The ruler on the left in the photo below is a foot long…the big zuke on the left is a goner, but everything else can still be used.

Grilling Zucchini
My favorite way of preparing zucchini is to grill it on the barbeque. It’s so easy, so delicious, and it actually looks and tastes really gourmet. Here’s my method for grilling zucchini:

1. Cut your zucchini or summer squash lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Don’t cut them too thin, or they will fall apart when they cook.
2. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3. Grill over medium heat until you have nice grill marks. I do 45 degree angles on both sides, and spear them with a fork to move/flip.
4. Don’t freak out if they’re good and brown but still not tender! Just put them in a covered dish and let them steam…they will finish cooking.
5. If you’re feeling extra-fancy, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss on some fresh basil. Heaven.



Using Raw Zucchini (Pasta Salad Recipe)
You can absolutely eat zucchini raw. It’s mild and has a soft-but-crunchy texture. You can put it in any kind of salad, or eat it as a crudité, but my favorite way to use it raw is in pasta salad. I’m usually not very brand-conscious, but this recipe is very all-American and brand-loyal. The dressing is key, and it just doesn’t taste the same to me if I don’t use Kraft and Best Foods. Feel free to substitute your favorites at your own risk! Here’s my recipe for pasta salad with zucchini:

8 oz. short pasta (cooked, drained, and rinsed under cold water until cool)
1 zucchini (cut in quarters lengthwise and thinly sliced)
1 red bell pepper (diced)
3 scallions (thinly sliced)
1/2 can medium olives (I leave them whole because John doesn’t like them)
2 slices sharp cheddar (cut in matchsticks)
4 oz. ham (diced if you’re lazy, otherwise matchsticks)
~1/4 c. Best Foods Light Mayo
~1/4 c. Kraft Italian Salad Dressing
black pepper

Mix the dressing: it’s just half mayo, half Italian salad dressing. Mix all the other ingredients in a large bowl. Add the dressing slowly until you have enough for your taste (I hate too much dressing on my pasta salad). Grind a bunch of black pepper over the top.

Simple, right? And infinitely variable. I didn’t have many of the ingredients on hand last night, but I definitely wasn’t going to make a special trip to the store. I whipped up a batch with what I did have: zucchini, red onion, and sharp cheddar. Delish. I really encourage you to experiment with this recipe.

Sautéing Zucchini (Stove Top Method)
Nowadays, my mom grills zucchini (I love you Mom!), but when I was growing up, we only ate zucchini one way: cooked in tomato sauce. I did not like it. The first time I had it prepared any other way was on a trip to Wisconsin, when a distant relative we were staying with sautéed zucchini with butter and basil. It was so delicious, and the first time I realized zucchini could be good. I still enjoy it cooked this way on the stovetop. Here’s my method for sautéing zucchini:

1. In a pan over medium heat, melt enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan.
2. Slice zucchini crosswise into 3/8-inch-thick rounds.
3. Put the zucchini rounds in a single layer in the hot pan and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried basil or marjoram.
4. Cook them until they start to brown on the first side, flip them, lower the heat, and cook until they’re just soft (don’t overcook). I spear them with a fork to flip them.
5. Put the zukes on a plate and (important!) drizzle the remaining browned butter over them.

Zucchini cooked this way is seriously unbelievably rich and delicious. John and I ate the entire pan I cooked in about two minutes.



Shredding and Freezing Zucchini
The National Center for Home Food Preservation doesn’t recommend canning zucchini or summer squash, so the only way to preserve it at home is to freeze it. But freezing causes the texture of zucchini to deteriorate. My preferred way to deal with this problem is to freeze shredded zucchini and use it later in baking (where the change in texture won’t be noticeable). I like to freeze my zucchini in pre-measured blocks so I only have to defrost what I need for a recipe. Here’s my method for freezing shredded zucchini:

1. Shred the zucchini finely.
2. Put it in a strainer over a bowl.
3. Let it drain until it’s a little wetter than shredded carrots, then stir it to make sure it’s uniformly moist.
4. Put plastic wrap down on a cookie sheet.
5. Measure half-cups of zucchini, roll them into rough balls, and put them on the cookie sheet.
6. Freeze the shredded zucchini balls on the cookie sheet until they’re solid, then toss them in a freezer bag and keep them frozen until you’re ready to defrost and use them.



Baking with Zucchini (Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe)
Last year, my good friend J and her family came for a visit. J brought a batch of zucchini chocolate chip cookies that she baked using her version of Barbara Kingsolver’s recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. They were delicious. J’s a great cook, and she also seems to know how to keep every baked good as fresh as the day she baked it. She told me that she always keeps her zucchini cookies in the freezer. In fact, they taste even better right out of the freezer! I now freeze all my cookies, but that’s a tale for another day. I modified Kingsolver’s recipe to use more zucchini and to omit the honey, which I rarely have on hand. These cookies are soft and cakey, not crisp. Here’s my recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cookies:

1/2 c. butter
1 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
2 c. loosely packed zucchini (finely shredded, drained like I discussed above)
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the butter and the brown sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy, then beat in the egg and vanilla. With the mixer running, sprinkle in the salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix thoroughly. From now on, be careful not to over-mix. Mix in the zucchini, then mix in the flours until barely mixed. Mix in the chocolate chips. Use 2T of dough per cookie, and make sure there are chocolate chips in every one. FYI, I use a cookie scooper, and I always bake my cookies on parchment on an air-insulated pan. Bake 15 minutes, or until set. After you take them out of the oven, let the cookies set for a few minutes on the sheet, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Once cool, put those puppies in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer! Makes a little less than 3 dozen.

Note: Okay, I know this could have been, like, six blog posts, but I just don’t work that way. I want all my zucchini madness to be in one (extremely long) post for easy reference. 🙂 I would love to hear how you use and store your abundance of zucchini – the easier, the better. Please share in the comments!

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July Garden Update

This has been a strange year for gardening. It’s been a lot cooler than normal, and everything got a late start. We had to replant several things that didn’t make it through the cold May nights, and those plants that did survive seemed to stay the same size for the entire month. Here are some pics of the garden just about a month ago. Fortunately, the plants seem to be doing pretty well now, even if they are about six weeks behind a normal schedule! Here’s the garden this morning (you also get a preview of the new irrigation system!):

The tomatoes and tomatillos are going nuts.

We have pumpkin, zucchini, and yellow squash (straight-neck squash).

Japanese cucumbers.

John’s commodity crops (soybeans and corn).

Most exciting, our peppers are finally looking good this year. The past two years, they just haven’t thrived. I think some extra fertilizer did the trick this year, and the mulch may have helped too.

Anaheim Chili Pepper.

Bell Pepper.

Anyone else having a weird gardening year from this weird weather?

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What Were We Thinking? (Before Photos)

Looking through the photos we took five years ago when we were buying our house, all I can think is, “what were we thinking?” If someone else showed me these photos and said they were thinking of buying this house, I would tell them, “don’t walk away, run.” Then John and I would privately discuss how crazy they were to even consider it. It looks like so much work…and it was. Today, I love our house and think we made the right choice to buy it – it’s perfect for us, and we definitely saw its potential (we were so young, naive, and optimistic 🙂 ). But it was UGLY. UG-LY. Hideous. Filthy. Dark, dingy, disgusting. I could go on. Let’s take a look.

Here’s the entry.

Here’s a view from the entry looking the other direction. You can see the dining area to the left and the entry to the living room.

Here’s another view looking straight into the living room. This room is really hard to photograph (and the previous owner kept all the shades drawn and lights off).

The dining area.

The kitchen. Here’s how it looks now.

Upstairs bathroom.

“Built-In” in the den. I feel that needs to be in quotes.

Top of the stairs going down to the bedrooms (our living areas are all on the second floor, as is the entry).

Bottom of the same stairs. Yes, those are (filthy, disgusting, who lives like this??) stains on the stairs.

Downstairs hallway. Here’s the “after”.

Downstairs guest bathroom.

Another “built-in” in the master bath (and John, the most attractive thing in this photo…in any of these photos).

Just so you don’t think we’re completely nuts, here’s one of the main reasons we bought this house…the location.

Redbud in bloom.

Amazing sunset, with Mount Diablo in the distance, barely poking through the haze. See more of our sunset photos here.

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Making Muesli

I frequently make homemade granola using a recipe from Lorna Sass’s Complete Vegetarian Kitchen. It’s not a “clustery” granola – the oats stay separate, with a light glaze from the oil and maple syrup in the recipe. When I saw ECAB’s recent post on making homemade muesli, I knew I had to give it a try. Muesli’s a lot lighter than granola (because it doesn’t have any added sugar or fats), but also a lot easier to make. I’ve bought Kellogg’s Mueslix cereal from time to time for years, but it’s always struck me as pretty expensive, and I never really liked the corn flakes. I decided to make my own version of muesli minus the flakes – basically a raw granola.

I just used what I had on hand. Here’s my ad-hoc recipe:

2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped macadamia nuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon

I dumped everything into a skillet and toasted it on the stove over medium heat (stirring occasionally) until it smelled, um, toasty. I really think that helps bring out the flavors in the oats, nuts, and coconut. Once it was done, I sprinkled it over yogurt, drizzled it with maple syrup, and topped it with a few dried cranberries. It was great!

Now I’m thinking of all the other flavor combinations I can make. Rosemary-pecan-cranberry (like one of my favorite Trader Joe’s treats) or ginger-walnut. I think this is going to be a great way to use up all the random small bags of dried fruits and nuts that end up in my cupboard!

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