Category Archives: great food and wine

Dear Tom, my son promised he wouldn’t weaponize the ghost peppers.

Ghost Peppers or Red Naga: Where the Ghost Pepper is From and Why It’s so Hot.

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The (dreaded) Red Naga.

My son made me grow them. He has plans. I did warn him there would be no weaponizing of the Ghost Peppers. Merely harvesting them was scary enough. For the time being they are safely ensconced in my freezer. Along with these chilies- bought the seedlings from a corner vendor:

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Chilies Diablo.

All he could say was~ “Chilies Diablo. Muy caliente.” So far I’ve harvested two quart bags and I’ve got at least another couple quarts still ripening on the plants. I too have plans!

Sambal Oelek!

I’ve very excited about this! Chrismukkah presents for all!

I’ve had a little time on my hands and a little produce left over from last year. Finally got around to dealing with it.

I added this year’s quince harvest to last year’s harvest (freezer) and made two pints of quince jam. The stuff is like gold! A gallon of quinces made a measly two pints.

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Quince Jam.

I also dried my drunken figs. Yes, drunken. They’ve been soaking in rum for a year, I’ll have you know! I dried them with my new food dehydrator.

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Dried Drunken Figs.

These are killer, man. Each one is like a shot of rum.

I thought I’d give a shout out to Jake- He treed a mountain lion last week. Dang! The thing was yowling at him like a kazoo! Jake went insane chasing the lion across the yard. It managed to scramble up into one of our redwoods. Seriously, the yowling sounded like a kazoo. My son said, “Mom, I don’t think there are any wild kazoos marauding around Napa.” Took me a long time to get the dog back in so the lion could be on his/her merry way. Hey, I don’t care about mountain lions. They snag the vicious marauding raccoons, so… (And yeah, it’s always me who has to go out and retrieve the dog. Oscar can sleep through an earthquake.)

Speaking of raccoons– Another shout out to my goldfish. Our little pond is a good example of survival of the fittest. This tough guy is two years old! He’s outlasted twelve other goldfish, all of whom have been eaten by raccoons and egrets. He’s super smart. Has a good hiding place. Only comes out for me even though I’ve never fed him. Occasionally I pull out some of the algae, otherwise the pond is a nice little ecosystem. Provides him with all the food he requires.

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The Goldfish.

His name is Fishy-Fishy. If anyone has a better suggestion I’m sure he won’t mind.

Still recovering. More on that at a later time.

That’s about it for now. Peace out.

Julia

 

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Dear Tom, Spring has sprung!

You’ll appreciate the fact that I’m already using produce from my garden.

Asparagus – oh yes – for weeks now.

Last night I harvested arugula, cilantro, baby garlic, and my secret green – wild stinging nettle. Love stinging nettle!

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Stinging nettle. Great green, if you know how to use it.

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Cilantro, arugula and baby garlic.

I harvested and washed the young greens. (Always wear gloves when picking nettles. I just covered my hands with a dishtowel and tossed them directly into a glass bowl of hot water – nuked them in the microwave for 90 seconds and voila! No sting. Nettles are better than spinach. And they are super healthy. They have a delicate flavor. Always pick before they bloom.)

Then I chopped everything coarsely and stuffed it all into my food processor, along with maybe 1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of black pepper and 1 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. Because I wanted the pesto to be shiny, I added two raw egg yolks. (Just me. Feel free to leave out.)

I cooked up a box of pasta and opened a bag of frozen baby peas. Dumped the peas in a big mixing bowl, dumped the hot pasta plus three scoops of boiling pasta water on top of the peas and then stirred in the pesto.

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Later I’ll add some additional salt and Parmesan cheese to taste.

Yummy spring pesto pasta! Welcome to springtime in California!

XOXO! Julia

Dear Tom, I don’t see the point…

2015 has been exhausting, both for me, personally, and for our nation and our world. I’m plumb tuckered out.

I’m tired of blogging – an exercise which I suspect means little these days.

I’m tired of the publishing wars. Legacy publishing versus indie publishing versus far too many authors I know who are now poor as church mice, homeless even- authors who once upon a time, as in three or four years ago, made bundles of money.

Now me, I’ve never made bundles so I’ve never spent bundles. As they say– don’t give up the day job. Oh, a couple years ago, 2010-1013, the world was a much different (and more hopeful) place. I made a bunch. I sold lots of books. The life of writing was good and I felt inspired to write more and more and more.

These days, not so much. In fact, I find myself less and less interested in engaging the market, i.e., readers, and I have little interest in promotion. To be honest, I find it hard to muster the energy. Attempts to engage, attempts to promote, don’t sell books anyway. So engagement, just like blogging, is another exercise in futility.

But what about that pot of gold, you ask? What about that lightening strike? The newly discovered land? Well, I ain’t holding my breath. Never have.

You know, I’ve read those books – the strike it rich quick books – those books that have caught fire, those six-figure signings, and except for the very first book in the Hunger Games series, those six-figure books bored me to tears. Whatever it was about those books that caught fire did not ignite the fires within me. Couldn’t even make it through the first five pages of a couple of them.

BORING…

More and more I find myself buying nonfiction and re-reading my old favorites in the fiction genre.

But do I plan to quit altogether? Quit writing? Huh. Good question. Maybe. I’m working on a short story as we speak. I have a re-release scheduled for February or March. I have a number of books in the queue. Maybe I’ll finish them, maybe I won’t.

Regardless, I am convinced I’ll be appreciated after I’m dead. My stuff is good. Someday someone will realize it.

In the meantime:

I’m busy with family and friends. I’m traveling. I’ve got bushels and bushels of lemons to juice for lemon curd. I have to figure out how to halter break my steer, Hank. All in all, while my appreciation and affection for the beauty in life continues to grow, my attachment to the publishing world diminishes.

And I’m okay with that.

I miss you. 2015 was a sucky year for you and your family. They lost you. I lost you, my dear dear friend.

I look forward to 2016. The number fifteen has always bothered me in any case. I think it’s a bad luck number. 2015 has been proof of that for so many people.

Anyway, I’m tired– was up the entire night with a sick dog. No, not a kid although I did have a couple kids home– a sick dog. When I say the entire night I mean exactly that, the entire night. Oscar slept through the whole thing. But then that’s typical for Oscar. He sleeps the sleep of the dead. I wake if a neighbor three doors down drops a pin. Onto plush carpet.

The best blog around? The one worth reading? Marylin’s – Things I Want to Tell My Mother. Her recent post is frame-worthy: The Gift of Words. Go read it, you’ll love it.

All right, Tom, maybe I’ll re-watch the genius Big Bang episode (The Opening Night Excitation) and go to bed!

I love you, Tom. Here’s to the approaching New Year.

XOXO! Julia

 

 

Dear Tom, #FreeBacon

Oh. My. God. Can people just shut the ‘eff up already???

bacon

Bacon is not the devil. Tofu hot dogs are more likely to kill you. Yeah, there, I said it – and I’m speaking as a former vegan!

Here’s an idea! How about~ ALL THINGS IN MODERATION?

You wanna know what made us fat? Low-fat and fat-free. Cutting out all animal products, especially animal fats. Give it up already! Animal fat bad. Monosaturated fat good. Blah-blah-blah. So full of it.

When food producers cut out fat, they replace fat with processed carbohydrates. PROCESSED CARBOHYDRATES. Might as well just shove one spoonful of white sugar after another into your mouth. All day long.

Quit demonizing animal products. You know why we have big brains? Animal protein and animal fat and cooking. (See Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.)

When white men first encountered the Plains Indians, guess what? Their were struck by their incredible good health and longevity (lack of small pox immunity notwithstanding). The Plains Indians, along with the Eskimos, both of whom traditionally ate a diet based upon fat and fatty meats, did not suffer from any of the white man’s diseases, including tooth decay. No tooth decay. No heart disease. No diabetes. No cancer. No obesity. How do you like those apples? These observations were noted in the literature of the time.

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Eskimo diet

Cured meats have been consumed in European countries for centuries – like for a couple thousand years at least. And despite the fact that Europeans smoke more than Americans, they have lower rates of cancer. When we were in France, what did we eat? Cured meats, cheese, foie gras, whole chickens with skin, fatty beef and lamb, duck fat, cream, whole milk, olive oil, olives, meat, pasta, bagettes. We lost weight. Vegetables, you ask? What about vegetables? Not a single restaurant served a salad, let alone a side of vegetables. Oh sure, there were farmer’s markets and we bought vegetables, but even when we ate home cooked meals in the homes of our French hosts, we were served no vegetables except potatoes. And the French are not fat. I did not see a single fat French-person in the countryside. You may have read that obesity is increasing in France. Yes, perhaps, but only in places where the French have replaced their traditional high-fat high meat meals with processed foods- like Americans.

cured meats

If you can find them- and believe me, they are hard to find- studies indicate that while vegans and vegetarians may have a slightly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, they have a slightly higher risk of cancer.

Here’s what I say:

Kale is not the superfood you think it is.

Smoothies are not the answer. For oh-so-many reasons.

Animal fat is not the enemy.

Meat is not the enemy.

Potatoes are not the enemy.

I love milk chocolate and I will not apologize.

Excessive sugar, processed carbohydrates, and polyunsaturated vegetable oils may well be the enemy. As in, avoid low-fat and nonfat diets and foods fried in vegetable oils like the plague they are.

Another read and I cannot recommend this book enough: The Big Fat Surprise, Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, by Nina Teicholz.

The Big Fat Surprise, Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, Nina Teicholz

The Big Fat Surprise, Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet, Nina Teicholz

 

 

Dear Tom, Coming soon when I’m no longer sick and vomitting my guts out – the misguided villainization of red meat, cholesterol, saturated fat and salt.

But for now I must return to my little bed…

No, not red meat or salt or saturated fat or cholesterol related…

Dear Tom, I’m sorry I haven’t written but I’ve been busy going insane.

First off let me say this – it is no fun, as in zero fun, to drive to the Oakland Airport and back four times in ten days, San Francisco and back three times in ten days, and get an injection of radioactive shit, be forced to drink three liters of water in three hours, and then lie flat on your back on a hard-ass plastic table, not moving, for an entire hour, while the bones in your foot are scanned. (Both of my feet were taped to a plastic form so I couldn’t move them if I’d tried.)

You know, I used to model, as in life-model for art classes. You would think the hardest thing was being naked in front of like forty people. Nope. The hardest thing in the world was not moving. That was super hard. And if you have one of those drawings of me stashed away, please keep it stashed away. In my defense the money was really good. And I had bills to pay.

On the bright side my youngest DOES NOT have lymphoma- yeah, been dealing with this, and it has been confirmed~ I am, as I’ve been saying all along, a super taster.

Brain

Oh, I’ve also been doing stuff with books, lots of stuff, which makes me think I should quit writing altogether and take up painting. Again. I like painting. It’s messy good fun. And I won’t have to think about the bazillions of awful books sold every single day while my amazing books sell one or two copies a month.

So yes, she DOES NOT have lymphoma. Scared the crap out of us, as you can imagine. But I got to sit in a Radioactive lab, as in I was the only person, place or thing in the room not encased in lead. Even the syringe used to inject the radioactive substance into my vein was encased in lead. But we know I’m a super taster because… well, I have said it for years. Cilantro tastes like chlorine gas. Arugula makes me vomit. The tap water tastes like penicillin mold. Raisins taste like poison. That wine tastes like creosote and sweat. (This is supposed to be a good thing?) Ladybugs are bitter when you accidentally ingest one. The dog’s feet smell like popcorn. The cat smells like bacon. There’s a skunk five miles away…) Anywhooo… So Debbie, as in her name was Debbie and I really liked her despite her lead get-up, started an IV. (A feat in itself. You try starting an IV wearing lead gloves.) She said, “All you’ll feel is the IV. You won’t feel a thing with the injection. You won’t get sick. There are no side effects. You won’t even know I’ve injected it.” Thus she injected it. Within a second of the injection, I said, “Ewwwwww. That’s not true. There is a side effect.” And she asked, “Oh? What?” And I said, “That injection tastes like the inside of an old tuna can dipped in garlic.”

And she said, “Huh. So you’re one of the one-percent who can taste the radiation.”

Ha! Again~ Brain

Perhaps I can get a job tasting for radiation.

In the meantime it’s fall, which means harvest. So…

Yesterday I used the last of the beets, the last head of cabbage, and some of the potatoes to make borscht – with beef. No, I didn’t grow the beef. My daughter did.

Today I’m pulling the skins off the mucho tomatoes I harvested to make tomato sauce to go with the eggplants I harvested so I can make eggplant Parmesean. And I have been ordered by my children, yes, my children still order me about, to make both chocolate croissants and a Coca-cola cake. Yep. There is such a thing as a Coca-cola cake. And I have been ordered to bake one as in this afternoon. The croissants I’ll freeze raw so they can bake and eat as desired. But since one of the children DOES NOT have lymphoma I will bake and freeze and can and sauce whatever she wants. And I will do it with gratitude in my heart.

Oh, about the books… What books? Who has time for books???

XOXO! Miss you, Tom. My thoughts are with Ishbel and your kids and grandkids. Julia

Dear Tom, the ghost wore shoes with wooden heels…

and he clomped around at night.

I wish I was a better artist. I’d draw you a picture. This was one of those rare occasions when I saw an entire ghost – or to paraphrase Dan Aykroyd from Ghostbusters – a full body apparition.

Let me explain~

The house we rented in La Roque Gageac was ages old. Who knows when the foundation was first laid? It has been a residence of sorts since, quite possibly, Gallo-Roman times. The village itself definitely existed at the time of the Viking invasion of France. The Vikings raided La Roque Gageac when they sailed up the Dordogne River. (I do hope Rollo was one of the raiders!)

That’s a whole lotta history! Let’s face it, this region is where Lascaux is located.

Prehistoric cave paintings, Lascaux.

Prehistoric cave paintings, Lascaux.

But the house has been renovated since Gallo-Roman times. Obviously. Because we had indoor plumbing times three. Although two of the three bathrooms were built into the actual rock wall. Which was sorta cool even when one considers the bats sleeping just outside the shower vent. But yes, remember, French bats. Cute bats.

But back to the ghost… No, he wasn’t Rollo. Darn!

Rollo (Vikings)

Rollo (Vikings)

Here’s how it happened. Because I was busy directing traffic around our cars while everyone else unloaded luggage at the lower end of the Roman road so we could schlep the luggage up the Roman road (think steep hill) and then I had to find a place to park (harder than you think), I was the last person to enter the house– aside from the little bat sleeping behind the shutter who was actually the last person to enter the house.

So being the last person to enter the house, I was the first person to explore the house because everyone else decided the first thing to do was open a bottle of wine and sit out on the terrace. And drink it. France…

I walked upstairs and felt him before I saw him. Felt him the second I entered the bedroom to the left of the stairs. Then I saw him, standing over by the window. He wasn’t flashy, he was rather pedestrian. But still he was dead. My youngest daughter had already called dibs on the biggest bathroom sans bats. So this was her room.

It’s never a good idea to arrive at a rental house in France and announce to your family drinking wine and enjoying the view from the terrace that the house is haunted. I decided to keep my mouth shut. I figured I could just suck it up and ignore Mr. Ghost.

That night we all went to bed, well, all except my husband who was still using his Kindle to check out baseball scores. I was having trouble sleeping in my little single bed, tossing and turning. I turned over and low and behold, there he was, in profile, standing by the window.

I got the feeling he wanted me to open the shutters. I didn’t like it, not one bit. Nevertheless I tiptoed past him and opened the shutters. I needed to let some light into the room anyway. Even the best of ghosts are disconcerting.

I slept fitfully. Felt better once the hubs finally came to bed. The ghost was quiet all night so in the morning I was willing to let bygones be bygones. Until my youngest daughter walked into our bedroom. She was shaking. She’s never seen a ghost in her life.

“There’s a ghost in my room.”

Damn.

“Mom, don’t you walk away from me. Is there a ghost in my bedroom? Over by the window? Go look.”

Double damn.

“Yep.”

“Get rid of him, mom.”

“I can’t.”

“Wait a minute… You knew he was here, didn’t you?”

“Um…”

“When did you first see him?”

“Um, um, yesterday?”

“And where did you see him?”

“Um, in your room?”

“And you didn’t tell me???”

“Um…”

“I am not sleeping with a ghost. I’m sleeping in your room from now on. Or you’re sleeping in my room. Or dad’s sleeping in my room. I don’t want to see him any… He’s gone.”

“Moooooooooom!” It was my older daughter. She’s also never ever seen a ghost. “Moooooooom! There’s a ghost in our bedroom.”

My youngest and I ran downstairs.

“Where?”

“Over there, by the window.”

Sure enough, there he was, staring at the window.

I said, “Open the shutters.”

Eyes wide, my daughters stared at me. “Are you insane? You open the shutters.”

So I had to open the shutters.

Neither my husband nor my son-in-law could see the ghost, although my son-in-law did kill the largest spider I’ve ever seen that was a. indoors and b. not in a horror movie.

So we moved my youngest daughter’s twin bed into our room and the three of us slept together every night. Didn’t stop the ghost. He clomped around the house, always turning up at one window or another.

The worst night was our last night. We had to get up at 4 a.m., leave by 4:30. We had a two, two and a half hour drive to the Bordeaux airport – we all had flights leaving around 8:30.

At 1 a.m. (I know because I glanced at my cell phone) I was awakened by the loud clomping of wooden-heeled shoes on our wooden bedroom floor. First he stopped over my bed, then walked around my bed and stopped to look down at my sleeping husband, then he headed to my daughter’s bed. I sat up and I said, “No.”

He vanished then, but of course so did my night’s sleep. One must guard one’s daughters from wandering ghosts.

Let me try to describe the gentleman~ He looked to be in his forties, but then he could have been in his thirties. I’m not sure how rapidly people aged back in those days, you know, several hundred years ago. He was 5’7″, maybe 5’8″. I’m guessing he weighed (in life) around 150 pounds. His hair was sort of chestnut brown in color, no gray, and it was coarse, a little wavy. He had it pulled back. It wasn’t super long, rather it was just long enough to tie back at the nape of his neck. His forehead sloped and he had a low hairline. As in a low hairline. I don’t exactly know how to describe hairlines. I only know I have a big forehead. His forehead sloped down to his eyebrows, which were thick and kinda bushy.

His eyes slanted down at the outside corners. And like most parents he had bags under his eyes. But he wasn’t wrinkled.

His nose was straight, wide, a little bulbous at the tip, and he had a receding chin, a bit of a double chin, actually. Small but nice ears. He wore a long forest green overcoat or jacket, homespun, definitely homespun. I could see the weaver’s work. Under the overcoat was a shirt, white, with collar and cuffs but not like we wear today. I just know the collar stuck up above the jacket and the cuffs showed below the sleeves of the jacket. He wore short pants. They came to his knees and they were fitted, not baggy, not pantaloons. Stockings and pointy shoes with wooden heels.

He never smiled. He never spoke. He mostly stared out various windows but he seemed interested in us. Especially in my daughters but not in the way you think. I got the distinct feeling he was looking out the window because he was waiting for his own daughter. He wasn’t sad, he was more… pensive. Worried. Concerned.

I wonder what happened. I wonder how he got stuck between worlds.

It was one of my most extraordinary ghost experiences. This is the first time I’ve seen a ghost manifest with such clarity and this was the first time anyone in my family has seen a ghost, period. It’s always been me. From the time I was a kid, just me.

I wrote to the owner of the house, asking him if he knew anything about a ghost. He didn’t respond. Who knows? Maybe my email went into his spam folder. But I’d sure love to know the history of the house. And as I said, I wish I was a better artist. I’ve never been good at life-drawing. (Or dead drawing.)

P.S. We all made it home safe and sound with our luggage. We had ourselves quite an adventure.

XOXO! Julia