Getting Ready For The Holidays


I can’t believe how fast the holidays snuck up on me this year! So many things to do and so little time…I just barely had time to cure another round of bacon…. There are 20 lbs smoking on my grill as I write this post, and in case you’re wondering – no, it’s not all for me! I made 10 lbs of Macallen (whisky) and Black Pepper bacon for my brother in law and his wife (Hi Monica!) The Macallan bacon is sitting towards the back of the grill, Rosemary Herb is in the right front and to the left is Cardamom and Nutmeg bacon! I highly recommend curing your own bacon and if you care to try- here’s my post on Bacon Curing!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving dinner with all of the in-laws, so later tonight I will be making some desserts to bring. Pots De Creme has been requested so I have to bring some! Also I will make a buttermilk pie which I will try to post about later!

Also, for some reason, my Baileys Banana Bread with Pine Nuts post has become very popular in the last few weeks with readers from the UK, Australia and other various countries! I assume that someone posted a link to the recipe, but I’m really curious as to where! My stats lately have been about 5x what I normally get. So if you found my blog by viewing the banana bread bread recipe- Did you try it? What did you think? and thanks for checking it out!


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The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

breadbaker     Wow! October 23… Where did the summer (and first month of fall) go! The weather is finally cooling off and it feels good to be firing up the oven for baking bread.Considering that, I think I picked a perfect book to review this time around! The weather here in the high desert is rainy (a rarity!) and in between writing this post I am putting some of the techniques that I’ve learned in this book to the test by making some french bread baguettes…


I was a little timid about slicing the dough before I put these in the oven so they don’t really look that great, but they tasted great with a bowl of soup on this rainy night! With practice, I will get my cuts to look good!  On to the review…

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice 15th Anniversary Edition

Peter Reinhart

This book is not just a collection of popular bread recipes prefaced with a chapter on the history of bread making. This is a bread workshop, a bread class, a virtual toolbox-condensed down to 300+ pages to make us all better bakers. Author Peter Reinhart will teach you the techniques and tips to make great Artisan Breads from start to finish!

One of the things that I really like about this book is the section on pre-ferments, a small portion of fermenting dough made a day earlier and stored overnight in the fridge that improves flavor and structure. This has made a huge difference in my breadmaking! Another thing that I like is how detailed the instructions are- for example, a recipe will list what temperature of water to add while mixing the dough and then add that once kneaded, the dough should be 77f to 81f (and what to do if it’s not!) One more little thing that I learned is how to score your dough properly before baking without collapsing all your hard work!

So far I have only tried two of the 47 formulas (recipes) but this book is a keeper- read The Bread Baker’s Apprentice for yourself… I’m sure you will agree!

Another worthwhile thing to check out is Peter Reinhart’s  blog- PizzaQuest  There is a lot of information here… Recipes, Webisodes, a forum (with more recipes!)  There are even free plans for building your own wood fired pizza oven!

Lastly, congratulations to Ten Speed Press for another informative and interesting book released!

FTC disclaimer:  The opinions that I have stated in my review are entirely my own, and were not influenced by any third party. I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

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The Trail to Hell is Paved with Snow and Mud

Bumpass Hell… What the heck is that? I had no idea that my wife and my daughter had planned this side trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park while we were visiting in Chico, California last week, but I am glad that they did- we had a great time!

The area that we visited was named after Kendall Vanhook Bumpass who, in 1865 walked on this active geothermal area and broke through the thin crust on the surface and burned his leg bad enough that it eventually had to be amputated. The temperatures in these pools range from 191f degrees to the highest recorded 322f (161C) It’s interesting to note that there were only two volcanic eruptions in the contiguous US in the 20th century- Mount St, Helens (May 18 1980) and Mt.Lassen (May 22 1915) It was apparent when we visited Bumpass Hell that there is still some geothermic or volcanic activity happening here!

The Bumpass Hell trailhead sits at approximately 8000+ ft and this area gets a lot of snow. Because of that, the trail doesn’t usually open until July 4 and closes when snow and ice make the trail too dangerous. It had snowed a week before we arrived and there was quite a bit of snow and ice (and mud!) on the trail

Our day started in Chico, where we drove 80 miles (1.5 hours) through Red Bluff, then east to the small town of Mineral which is right outside the national park. The entrance fee is $20, but there was nobody at the gate, so I am glad I had spare cash on me!

The first hint of what was just a mile or so inside the gate, Sulphur Works is a boiling spring that is literally right next to the road. As you would imagine, the steam that rises here smells strongly of sulphur!


There are quite a few crystal clear lakes along the road that are just beautiful. I’d love to camp alongside one of these!



On to the trailhead! The trail is 1.5 miles each way (3 miles total) and is a fairly easy hike, just watch out for mud, snow (or even worse) ice! Hiking boots and poles are highly recommended, although I was one of those tourists with tennis shoes!


About halfway to the pools there is an area of rocks and a type of low growing manzanita bush that looks like it’s in a park .Just beautiful.




The chipmunks were busy sunning themselves on the rocks. They look nice and fat for the winter and they are not afraid of humans walking near them!

After 1.5 miles, you arrive at the overview of Bumpass Hell! There’s a trail leading off to the right that takes you down to the pools. This was very muddy when we hiked this, so you want to watch your step!


Once you are down in the valley, there is a catwalk system installed so you can walk up to these boiling sulphur springs, mudpots, steam vents and fumaroles safely… you don’t want to suffer the same way that Bumpass did!





Walking along the catwalks was very interesting and somewhat primeval. The air even smelled primeval, but like I told my wife, it’s all part of the package. It just wouldn’t be the same if the air didn’t have that sulphurous smell! My daughter disagrees and says the smell is horrible…

It was a very fun day with the family, but it’s time to drive the 80 miles back to Chico and have dinner at Sierra Nevada Brewing! (and a nice pint!)


If you’re ever traveling through the Chico, Red Bluff, Mt Lassen area, I’d suggest a stop at Bumpass Hell and Sierra Nevada Brewery!


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Pizza in Chico 

This week we are visiting our daughter in the Northern California city of Chico! Chico is a college town that is chock full of trendy eateries, bars and beautiful parks. After a great Mexican food lunch today, we visited Bidwell Park.. 3600 acres of towering trees, green grass and lots of water! Three things that we don’t see a lot of in the Mojave Desert…Big Chico creek runs through the area and on the lower half of the park an ingenious public swimming pool, constructed in 1920, is built on top of the creek. By controlling the outflow of the creek below the pool above can be filled (or drained!) 

Below the pool spillway I noticed a large group of trout hanging out, waiting for something tasty to float by. 

I assume that fishing isn’t allowed in this area of I’m sure there would be a lot of fishermen here! I’d love to come back and explore the other 3,595 acres that I didn’t see…

One of the things that I wanted to do while I am here is teach my daughter the new pizza recipes / techniques that I learned from my review of the book “The Elements of Pizza”.  I had packed up a couple slabs of granite (great pizza stones) headed to a farmers market for some fresh toppings and we had a family pizza party! 

I really like this new recipe… just the right crispness on the bottom of the crust, but light and airy above.  I’ll have to post the recipe soon.

Here’s some nice Thai peppers that I picked up at the farmers market…

 The next thing on our list of things to do on our trip was to visit a place called Bumpass’s Hell in Lassen Volcanic National Park, which we did today. We had a blast, but I realize that I’m going to have to save this for my next post so come back and check it out! 

I had no idea there was such an active Volcanic area in California! 


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Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast


Another book review? Yes, I just can’t help myself it seems! When I see these interesting books become available for review- I just have to check them out! One interesting thing that I noticed last week was how many books I own are from Ten Speed Press! They seem to publish a lot of books that are interesting to me!  Bruce Aidell’s Complete Sausage Book  was the book that inspired me to start making sausage years ago! Recently, I reviewed The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish. This book really changed the way I view and make pizza! Olympia Provisions by Elias Castro… another gem. At this point, I probably own a dozen titles from Ten Speed Press and I am sure that I will add to that number soon!

Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast

As the subtitle states, this has to be the most comprehensive guide to the fungi of Coastal Nothern California I have ever read! At nearly 600 pages, this book chronicles literally hundreds of well known to obscure fungi with top notch photography, individual species descriptions, ecology and edibility (from “unknown” edible, toxic, hallucinogenic to downright deadly!)  Each variety also has additional comments with important information on identification, collection etc.

This is an indispensable reference book for casual to veteran mushroom hunters alike, and is well worth the purchase price… especially if you are foraging for a gourmet meal!  The book weighs over 3.5 lbs, so I probably wouldn’t carry it into the field.

FTC disclaimer:  The opinions that I have stated in my review are entirely my own, and were not influenced by any third party. I received this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.




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Pocket Bidding?

Today I have a quick cautionary blog tale for you!

Yesterday, as we were waiting for some friends to arrive for a BBQ- I took a minute and checked my phone for messages and any good news that might be happening in this world. (Once again, only bad news…)  the doorbell rings, I jam my phone in my pocket and go to let our guests in. As I was walking to the door I could hear my phone  make an occasional dinging noise, but I didn’t think much about it!

After a half an hour or so I decided to check the phone again, (as we all do these days!) and was shocked to see this on the screen!!!


I  have heard of pocket dialing someone, but never pocket bidding! Somehow my eBay app opened on my phone and apparently was poised to bid $785,777 on 5 pounds of green coffee beans from Cameroon that I had been looking at earlier in the day!!! I was real careful to not hit the “confirm bid” button and set the phone down. The next logical step was to take a picture of the  screen so I could share this on the blog!  For now on, I will be a bit more careful and lock the screen before I put my phone down.

While I am mentioning coffee, I have to tell you..   On Friday, I used the last of my roasted coffee and made a mental note to roast some more beans when I got home. When I got home from work I found that my son (Castiron Zack) saw that we were out of coffee, grabbed my coffee roaster and roasted up a batch of coffee solo! He did an excellent job and I am proud to see that DIY spirit in him! Maybe I’ll set him loose on some coffee from Camaroon if I can purchase some at a slightly lower price!!




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A New Tool For The Garden

Last week on a local gardening page on facebook someone mentioned that they were using a uv black light flashlight to find tomato horn worms in their garden. I have heard in the past that you could use a black light to locate scorpions, but I had no idea that you could purchase a black light flashlight to spot tomato worms! I decided that I had to try it- after a quick search on Amazon , I purchased this model for a whopping $11.99!


The body is made out of aluminum like a mag light and it feels solid! Here’s a //“>link if you wish to check it out!

Two days later- the flash light is here! It’s only sunset, but I have to see if this thing works!


I found one right away, but it didn’t light up like I imagined that it would… I’ll try it after dark!


Much better! This is going to be great to keep the tomato worms in check!!  The funny part about this is I handed the flashlight to my wife to let her find a worm too… she looked behind me about 2 feet and there was a scorpion!


The scorpion was maybe 1.5 inches long.  It was the first one that I’ve seen here in quite a while, although I shouldn’t be surprised… I do live in the Mojave Desert. The next time that I go out to the garden I will make sure to put shoes on!

While I am writing about the garden, I will add an update and some pictures.

Since I have a koi pond  which needs to have a portion of it’s water changed weekly, I do a lot of the watering of the garden directly from the pond. The garden seems to like the extra nutrients (especially the tomatoes!)

I have two varieties of tomatoes this year- I guess they both could be described as large cherry tomatoes (1′ to 1.5″) With the addition of the pond water these plants have completely overgrown the area I planted them in, but they don’t seem to mind (as it is so intensely sunny here, it may actually help them!)


“blue berries”


“purple bumblebee” not quite purple yet!


“Madhu Ras” Honey melon from India


Ali Baba Watermelon


Toothache plant

This plant I planted on a whim and then forgot about it until I saw the flowers! It is also called  “Electric Daisy” Chewing on a flower of this plant will make your mouth go numb, while it almost feels like electrical shocks on your tongue while you chew it. It will also make you drool like a hound dog at a barbecue!  I did try this once… probably won’t again!



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The Elements of Pizza

I’ve always enjoyed making things myself. Whether I am roasting coffee, curing bacon or making a pizza, if you learn to do it yourself it is going to be fresher and (hopefully) just the way you like it! Plus there is that feeling of satisfaction that you get when you realize that you can make this! I like that feeling and I don’t think that I will never change, but I’m also always looking to improve on what I’ve  learned.     When I first noticed the book “The Elements of Pizza” available  – I knew right away that I wanted to review it! My pizza making skills are not bad, we make pizza quite a bit, but what I feel needs improving  is my crusts. They are all ok, but I want a more flavorful,  lighter and crisper crust. Looks like I picked a good book to read!

Book Review
The Elements of Pizza
Ken Forkish


In reading this book, I hoped to improve my dough making skills and pick up some new techniques… from the first dough ball I made using this book, my pizza crust has really improved!  My crusts now have better taste, and are lighter and have a better texture. I have always used a stand mixer to mix my dough,  but I have learned how easy it is to mix by hand – which surprisingly takes very little time actually mixing / kneading.  Without mentioning to my children that I was using a different recipe, both commented to me that the crust on our pizza was really great and please make this again!
This book was an easy read, with great pictures that are printed on nicely weighted paper.

Besides dough, there are other sections on sauces,  toppings, entire specialty pizzas, and cooking, (Especially using a peel and stone!)
If you are looking to improve  your pizza skills, I highly recommend this  book!

FTC disclaimer:  The opinions that I have stated in my review are entirely my own, and were not influenced by any third party. I received this book from Blogging For Books In exchange for an honest review.

If you are a fellow blogger  that likes to read, I highly suggest checking out their website

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It’s so hot today that I’m smoking…

…Bacon, that is!  Here in Apple Valley we are under an excessive heat warning until Wednesday of this week. Tomorrow’s highs are supposed to be between 103 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit! The temperature today so far is 100f.

I have been curing bacon this week and today is smoking day, so I will just sit in the shade by the pond and take it easy!


I am still working on my pond filter/waterfall… it may take me all summer to get the waterfall done, but the filter is up and running in the water is now very clear! Unfortunately, any visiting egrets will be able to see their lunch a lot easier now!
My small garden seems to be really doing well with this heat – especially the squash.


I picked 6 zucchini  yesterday for the barbeque today and this morning there are six more ready to pick!
I also spotted my first watermelon growing this morning… it’s about the size of a quarter.


One more thing that I planted this year that’s doing well is Thai Red Roselle.



This variety of hibiscus  has citrus scented flowers, which is what you use to make Jamaica tea. The way this plant is growing-   should be able to harvest the spent flowers soon!


Mexican Day lily

So this week is going to be very hot but I’m going to enjoy it because there’s very little humidity! Next week I’m flying to Kansas.The weather forecast there is about 100 degrees but very high humidity… It will be interesting!
The reason I am willing to go and sweat in the Midwest next week is because my father is going in on Monday for open heart surgery. This is going to be a difficult week  for all and any prayers will be appreciated!

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Memorial Day Cookout

I am at my brother’s house (Castiron Don!) for Memorial Day today. I have to say that he makes awesome baby back ribs! They are off the hook… smoky, sweet and tender…I need him to do a guest post!

For dessert, my good friend Ralph made homemade vanilla ice cream topped with fresh strawberries! It was the best I’ve had in years!


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