Vibrant India (a book review)

Sorry for my extended hiatus from writing lately! Life has been very busy at work, trying to get my garden going, and adding  a new dog to the family – I am working on a post to catch up on past events, but first, here is a book review to get things moving!

vibrant india

I have been keeping an eye out for new cookbooks that feature vegetarian and (mostly) gluten free recipes. When I saw “Vibrant India”, I knew that I found what I’d been looking for. I brought it home, and before I could sit down and look at it- my wife picked it up and read it cover to cover! As a recently diagnosed Celiac patient, she now has to follow a gluten free diet, so this collection of fresh colorful recipes is inspiring. I can see myself making quite a few of these recipes (and be the hero for doing it!)

I always appreciate a cookbook that not only presents a recipe, but teaches me how to make the components of that recipe. This book has a section on making the different spice blends from scratch! Very nice! It also has another section on making chutneys and pickles. (Can’t wait to make the Cilantro Coconut Chutney!)

The section on the author’s Family History and South Indian Food Traditions is very interesting reading. There is a lot of tradition and culture that I did not know, but really sets the tone for this book!

The one thing that intimidated me for a moment was sourcing  some of the listed ingredients in the recipes, especially Curry leaves (not powder). Fortunately, the author has a list of resources for finding your ingredients- not surprisingly, you can buy fresh or dried curry leaves, or even seeds if you care to grow your own, at Amazon!

About the Author Chitra Agrawal

This book was given to me by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. If you are a blogger as well, I would suggest checking out their website – they always have an interesting variety of books available for review!

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Aquarium of the Pacific

My oldest daughter called last week and said that she would be in Southern California (Long Beach)  for the weekend. We jumped at the chance to go visit and said that we would meet her on Saturday and spend the day.  So all week we debated about where we would go while we were there… go to the beach? rain in the forecast. Knotts Berry Farm? Possibly,  but again, rain. Visit the Queen Mary? Reggae festival on Saturday. In the end, we decided to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Saturday came and so did the rain. We seem to be getting our fair share of it these days! It’s a shame that the California government isn’t interested in building (and upgrading) more reservoirs to save some of this rain to help out in our next drought which is probably not too far away… better to spend billions on a bullet train to nowhere in earthquake country! Yikes!

Admission to the aquarium was $22- thanks to the $8 off coupons that my wife found ($48 dollar discount…. nice!) As it had stopped raining, we headed to the outdoor exhibits first.

First stop was a station where you can observe and even pet jellyfish. Their stinging cells are too small to cause pain in humans. All the jellyfish that I have encountered in the past did cause pain… so this was nice!

Then we were off to feed the lorikeets some special nectar! $4.00 for a little cup, but I went into the enclosure with no food and the birds still came and visited me. Fun.

They had quite a variety of stingrays. Some places were set up that you could pet them…


The penguins were fun to watch. It’s amazing how fast they can swim in their little enclosure.

Also outside were sharks, steelhead, horseshoe crabs, sea lions and a few other things. Time to see the indoor exhibits. ..


These little eels were not even the size of a pencil!

This is why it was hard to find Nemo… there are too many of them!

More amazing jellyfish!

Hammerhead Shark

Pipe fish

Various seahorses. The last one is a leafy dragon and looks more like a piece of seaweed  than a seahorse!

Puffer fish


I was really impressed with my visit to the aquarium.  So much variety. So many unusual sights, but most importantly – every species in every display looked healthy and happy.                                Highly recommended.

Once we left the aquarium, we looked to our right and had a great view of the Queen Mary!  Also, in case you were wondering- we could hear the reggae festival from across the channel!



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The Pastrami Project V2.0

Wow! I just noticed that it has been 4 years since I started this blog. Time sure  has gone by fast! When I started writing, this was a food blog with a emphasis on doing things yourself (because you really can make things at home that are much better than store bought or from a restaurant!)  My Pastrami Project is a great example of that. It is very easy to make at home, the ingredients are inexpensive and it is better than anything that I can buy or order! Over the last 4 years I have made some changes to the original recipe that I believe make it even better yet so her is version 2.0!

The first thing that I changed was the cut of beef. I now use a tri tip roast instead of brisket. The meat is a little less dense and it has a bit more marbling. I have even used top sirloin before and it turned out good!

The other thing that I changed was the curing salt. Morton’s Tenderquick  is an easy and foolproof salt for curing your meat (Just add 1 tablespoon per lb), but it is sometimes hard to locate (even on Amazon) and the price varies widely as such. My new recipe calls for Pink Curing salt (Prague Powder#1) It’s readily available, easy to use and averages about $6 to $8 per lb, but one teaspoon is all that is needed to cure 5 lbs of meat, so it’s pretty economical. (I figure that it cost me 8 cents for the pink curing salt in this recipe!)

I hope that you will try my version 2.0, and if you do- let me know what you think!


Pastrami V2.0

What you will need:

  • 1 tri tip roast (trimmed of most fat) 3 lbs
  • Pink Curing Salt (readily available on Amazon)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Brown Sugar
  • Black Pepper
  • Ground Coriander (If you live near a Winco store they sell this in their bulk section)
  • Garlic Powder

The recipe below is for a 3 lb roast. If your making a larger amount just make it proportional. Just remember that the pink curing salt needs to be 1 teaspoon for every 5 lbs of meat!

Step 1

Trim tri tip of excess fat and then stab meat with a paring knife approximately once per square inch. Insert meat into a 1 gallon  Ziploc bag or Tupperware that is large enough to hold everything without leaking.

Curing Rub

  • 1/2 teaspoon of Pink Curing Salt (Prague #1)
  • 3 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 Tablespoons Black Pepper (I like coarse ground)
  • 2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Coriander
  • 2 Tablespoons Garlic Powder

Mix rub well and empty into container with meat. Shake bag to cover meat with rub. At this point I usually open container and add 2 tablespoons water- just to get the process going!

Put Ziploc bag into refrigerator and turn over once or twice a day for 7 days so the curing rub can work it’s magic!!.

After 7 days, remove from refrigerator rinse off all of the curing rub and soak in a bowl full of water to remove the excess salts. After half an hour or so- dump the water and refill with fresh and soak for 15 min more. Lay meat out on a cutting board while you mix up the dry rub.

Dry Rub

  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Apply rub to the meat and place in your barbecue to hot smoke to an internal temperature of 150f. If you don’t have a barbecue you could just finish this off in the oven, but I love the smokiness that the hot smoking adds!

Cut yourself off a piece and enjoy what you just created… the best pastrami around!


Slice the meat thin and against the grain for an awesome pastrami sandwich or pastrami burger!


Another great thing you can do is take the whole pastrami roast to your next picnic like I did on this outing!


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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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