Tonight I had to stop at the grocery store on my home from work so it was close to 7:00 when I pulled in the driveway. Far too late to cook anything time consuming. A very cold storm front was on its way out and I shivered in the 49F air as I carried the groceries into the house. Brett was in the shower; no doubt trying to get warm. The temperature in the house wasn't much better: 54F. Brett doesn't want to be bothered with tending the wood stove so while I'm at work he just deals with being in a cold house. After unloading the groceries and changing into my sweats, I lit a fire. Priorities.
I set the oven to 425, pulled out my small roasting pan, drizzled it with olive oil and slid it into the oven. While it was warming up, I cut up red and white potatoes into quarters. They cook quicker if they are in small pieces. I tossed them in a bowl with more olive oil, salt, pepper and some grated Parmesan cheese.
I dumped them onto the hot roasting pan in the oven where they made a very satisfactory sizzling sound as I spread them out into a single row. The potatoes would take the longest to cook, 20-30 minutes, so they went first.
Next, I chopped up three apples and put them in a saucepan with about an inch of water. I brought the water to a boil and cooked the apples until they were soft.
The pork chops only needed five minutes per side so I killed about ten minutes folding sheets in front of the fire. Back in the kitchen, I seasoned the pork chops with Seasoned Salt. My mother always seasoned her pork roasts with Seasoned Salt and I it's still my favorite pork seasoning.
I put my cast iron pan on the stove and let it preheat on medium high for a few minutes. I added a splash of peanut oil (it does well with high heat) and put in the pork chops. Cast iron pans are inexpensive and nothing puts a beautiful sear on meat in quite the same way. Five minutes per side. Perfect. The final trick? Add a tablespoon (or two) of butter to the pan at the very end and when it has melted, use a spoon to baste it over the meat.
I pulled the potatoes out of the oven, nicely browned and soft (check by poking with a butter knife). I mashed the apples and added a spoonful of brown sugar and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Brett poured the wine while I plated our food.
When I take my lessons with Katy, she reminds me of the usual stuff -- eyes up, hands up, shoulders back and down, thigh rolled onto the saddle, and headlights pointing forward. All terms I've heard from previous trainers or in clinics. But Katy threw me a new one at my last lesson.
I hold my head a bit forward, like many people. It may be from looking at a computer all day or reading books or walking with my head down. When riding, the goal is to ride with your body in a straight line from your ear, through your shoulder, down to your hip and out your foot. You don't want your head jutting forward like a turtle.
So, this is what Katy told me to do: Pull my head back, tuck my chin a tad, and look down at my chest. If you can see cleavage, your head is back far enough. Of course, the fact that I have no cleavage makes this exercise a bit challenging but I get the concept. And it isn't an analogy I'm likely to forget.
1. I discovered salmon in my 20s through my friend Janice. Up until that time, my experience with salmon had been limited to salmon patties and other disgusting variations. Janice invited me over to her place for freshly caught salmon, barbecued. It was a revelation. I loved it up until the time I was pregnant with Camille. Her father ate salmon at least once a week, while I hid the bedroom with my nose pressed against the screen, trying to breathe in air that didn't smell like fish. Periodically, as Camille and her brother grew, I would try to eat salmon but my stomach always turned. All other varieties of fish tasted wonderful and I've been happily eating Ahi, halibut, trout and even catfish all these years. A few weeks ago, Brett and I went to a wine and food function at a local winery. One of the food pairings was salmon. I thought, what the heck, and took a bite. My stomach didn't roll and the salmon tasted awfully good. It was a small piece of fish, about the size of a ping pong ball, and I ate it all. Last week, I bravely ordered salmon at a work dinner and loved it. Last night, I made it for dinner. It was delicious. Camille is 19 now -- I disliked salmon for a long time.
2. Speaking of kids, I was reading Inger's blog and she posted about not having kids of her own. Although it was her choice, she sometimes wishes she had a grandchild. When I was a teenager and in my 20s, I didn't want kids at all. I didn't particularly like little kids and I didn't want to be tied down. Then my sister had a baby when I was in my late 20s. I adored Nicholas and spent every weekend that I could at her house babysitting. I didn't have Camille and Kyle until I was in my 30s and I loved (almost) every minute of their childhood. I'm still not a gushy fan of little kids -- toddlers and babies especially -- but I sure enjoy adolescents and teenagers. I know, I'm weird.
3. Brett and I are traveling to San Diego this weekend for the wedding of our nephew, Pete, and his lovely fiance, Jen. We're looking forward to spending time with Brett's brother and sister, as well. Vanessa will be looking after the animals and Sedona will be on raccoon patrol.
4. Kersey has been spending a lot of time under the house retrieving footballs and other remnants from prior owners. She's very busy and very pleased with herself.
5. Our oak trees are starting to turn golden. I was sitting on the porch last weekend when a breeze brushed through the trees. The air above the front lawn was full of gold snow; the leaves are snowflake size and they hung, drifted and swayed glitter gold on their way down to the ground.
On weeknights, there isn't much time to cook an elaborate dinner by the time I get home and the evening chores are done. I had vegetables from the farmers market and a skirt steak, pre-seasoned, in the refrigerator.
I started with beets. I had a nice bunch of small beets, perfect for the two of us. I set the oven to 450F and got out my small roasting sheet. After rinsing them and twisting off their tops, I cut off the top and bottom. I put each beet in the center of a piece of foil, drizzled each with olive oil and sprinkled with a little salt and pepper.
After gathering the foil up to make little packages, I slid the pan into the oven and roasted the beets until a butter knife slid into a beet easily, about 35 minutes.
While the beets were roasting, I put a small pot with salted water on the burner. I prepped my bag of green beans and slid them into the boiling water. I like beans al dente (with a little give when I bite down) so when they got to that point, I drained them and added some butter, salt and pepper to the pot.
Meanwhile, I mixed up some of my best quality olive oil with about half as much balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. I threw a handful of walnuts into a dry frying pan and toasted them on medium heat.
When the beets were done, I switched the oven to broil and put the skirt steak in for three minutes or so on each side. Skirt steak is thin and if it cooks beyond medium rare, it gets tough. While the steak cooked, I rubbed the skins off of the beets with a paper towel. A paper towel works great -- you don't burn your fingers and it rubs the skins right off.
I tossed the warm beets with the vinaigrette and some goat cheese. I scattered the walnuts on top once they were on the plate. I carved the steak, poured the wine, and we were ready to eat.
Tuesday, Brett took Mufasa to a cow working clinic with a trainer recommended to him by Katy, our dressage trainer. Brett was nervous the night before, worrying about every nuance of taking Mufasa to the clinic. Brett had worked with Flash at a few cow clinics and they traveled to mounted patrol trainings all the time. But, he and Mufasa had not participated in clinics before.
Brett loaded up the trailer the day before with his western tack and made sure the trailer was set up with hay and clean shavings. Then he spent a fitful night thinking about the next day. I headed off to work, kissing Brett goodbye and wishing him luck. I'm not sure he noticed; he was very focused on the day ahead. Mufasa was a bit reluctant to load but walked in on the second attempt. He unloaded at the trainer's ranch and stood calmly while Brett got him tacked up.
Mufasa started his career as a competitive roping horse so cows don't bother him. At the clinic, Brett and Mufasa moved cows, sorted cows, and cut cows out of the herd. Mufasa did everything with level -headed calm. At one point, Brett and Mufasa were moving a cow down to the far end of the arena. The cow was pulling away from them and Brett knew that they were going to have to canter to get the job done. Flash enjoyed working cattle but he viewed it as an opportunity to throw in some yee-haw antics so Brett was a bit nervous about asking for canter given his history with Flash. Mufasa is a different horse. A very different horse. He cantered calmly after the cow with no silly behavior at all.
You may remember that Mufasa has some trust issues, especially with his face. After a year, he trusts me to rub his muzzle but he still flinches if I forget and try to rub his forehead. The trainer said that it is common for roping cowboys to hit their horses on the face while they are waiting in the box for their event to start. This is how they move the horse into the position to burst out of the box when the barrier drops. We know that Mufasa was sold because he wasn't fast enough out of the box. It isn't hard to imagine that he was roughed up a bit in an attempt to get him amped and fast out of the box. Mufasa's issues are consistent with being hit on the face - especially with a rope. He is distrustful of the rope while he is being groomed. But he's fine with a rope swinging around the horns of a cow.
I'm glad that they had a successful time together. They both had fun and they had an opportunity to build on their relationship. Brett's fired up and ready to find more clinics for him and Mufasa to attend.
Saturday was sunny and warm. The morning chill was gone by the time we finished chores at 8:00. There was a flock of red-winged blackbirds hanging out in the pasture with the donkeys while I mucked.
I wasn't sure what they were until they, finally, flew off and the red bar on their wings flashed in the sun.
On our way back from Apple Hill, we decided to drive down a side road that has intrigued both of us. We weren't sure where it went or how far but we weren't in a hurry so Brett made a u-turn and we drove back and turned right. The road was narrow, like our lane, and wound past small ranches. There were some really cool barns. I was partial to the red one; Brett liked the one with old weathered wood. I'm sure he was thinking of things he could build with that wood.
The road climbed up higher into the mountains. Later, I looked at a map and I could see that the road comes out above Sly Park lake. We could have done a loop since Sly Park is only 15 minutes from us, but we didn't know that at the time and there was no cell service to check an online map. The road got very narrow and went through a two or three groves of Sequoia trees. I didn't think they grew here but I checked my Sierra Trees book when we got home and, yes, they do. Very cool.
We ended our morning exploration with a visit to one of the wineries at the end of our road. Beautiful grounds, nice people, decent wine.
If you roll down the hill behind the vineyards, you'll end up at the back of our property.
With the night time temperatures consistently in the low 30s, we've been bringing the dogs in at night. Before heading upstairs to bed, I open the laundry room door and call them. Kersey comes tearing around the corner from the front porch (where I suspect she has been sleeping on the couch) and slides to a stop at the base of the back porch stairs. She makes two or three cautious lunges at them, before scrambling up and squeezing past me into the laundry room. I call again for Sedona but she doesn't arrive. I give Kersey some belly rubs while we wait. Standing out on the porch, shivering, I call for Sedona again. Sometimes, she will finally arrive coming from the direction of the barn. Sometimes, she decides to stay outside. With her thick coat I know she isn't cold so I let her make the choice. But I did wonder why she didn't want belly rubs and a dog bisucuit - and a comfortable fleecy dog bed for her old bones.
We aren't wondering anymore. Saturday morning, Brett found her in the barn. She had treed trapped a raccoon up in the barn rafters. The raccoon was trying his hardest to hide.
Kersey joined in, barking her head off, trying to convince us that she was also a 'coon dog.
The raccoon was huge. I told him that it was very rude to dig up my garden and scatter my daffodil bulbs everywhere. He told me that he was living here first and to deal with it.
Fine, I said. We're going to be gone for a few hours. I'm putting the dogs in their dog run. When we get home, you had better be gone.
He glared at me.
Let me start by saying that correcting bad habits/learning to ride in balance is painful. I rode Winston again last Friday and worked some more on keeping my hands up -- which caused me to use my shoulder muscles more/differently. Friday night I woke from a dream where I was in pain to discover that, yes, I was in pain. My shoulders were REALLY sore. Aleve is my new best friend.
The work paid off, though. Katy was pleased with my progress and I loved how we surprised her with how well we were doing. ...which is not to say that she didn't have more to teach us. I wish I had pictures to show you what we were doing but my camera man was unavailable so we'll have to make it work with words.
I confessed that my canter transitions have always been a problem because I either throw away all contact -- causing Winston to wonder what happened -- or I fail to follow with my hands, shutting him down. I shared with her the wonderful transitions I got this week by working Winston on a long rein at trot and then asking from my seat without changing my hands at all. She laughed and said that is how she teaches the canter transition. It should come from a swinging seat and not a poking outside leg.
On a 20m circle at walk, I used my seat to get Winston round and in almost shoulder-fore. To do this, I sat deep and followed with my high hands. My shoulders were turned towards the inside of the circle and so was my outside toe. Okay, it wasn't turned that far but is felt like it was. By turning my outside toe in, my thigh turned also, laying flat against the saddle so I could keep the outside rein full without falling out. I put a little weight in my outside foot to counteract my tendency to lean in as I turned my shoulders. Then I asked for trot while keeping all of that going. We did this a few times, and when the transitions were smooth with no rushing but a reaching hind leg and a soft frame - I let Winston take a lap around the arena in a nice stretchy, relaxed frame.
When we get the transitions consistently soft from my seat, we'll work on the same thing for canter.
After a quick run through the Farmers Market in downtown Placerville this morning, which has fewer and fewer vendors each week as we crawl towards winter, we headed to Apple Hill. Its crazy there on the weekends with everybody coming up from Sacramento for apples, cider, pie and brisk fall mountain air. We were there shortly after 10:00 when the orchards open in an effort to beat the crowds. There are many orchards in Apple Hill from small out-of-the-way places to big operations with security guards directing traffic, crafts and vendors. My friend, Audrey, told me that Rainbow Mountain has the best apple cider donuts so that is where we went.
I was craving a caramel apple and Brett wanted some cider. We both had a donut and they were delicious. The donuts were piping hot, crispy and dusted with cinnamon sugar. Down the hatch before I even thought about taking a picture. I was going to just eat half of mine since I try to avoid fried food (not a happy thing without my gallbladder). That didn't happen either. I ate the whole thing without even thinking.
Apple Hill is a twenty minute drive up the mountain from us. The views as we wound back down to our valley were stunning.
We bought apples too, of course. I used a Golden Delicious, a Pink Lady and a Granny Smith to make apple sauce. It was perfect with the pork roast I made for dinner. The apples were so tasty that I only needed to add a dash of sugar and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
1. Lytha wondered why I was planting in October. It is best time of year to plant perennials -- at least in California. The days are warm but the nights are cold. The soil is still nice and warm. When you nestle a new plant into the ground the roots reach and stretch, getting a strong presence before the cold and sleep set in. Meanwhile, the upper part of the plant doesn't do anything because all the energy is being used underground. In the spring, the plant wakes up with its running shoes already on and gets to work. With its root system well established, the above ground part thrives. Of course, this doesn't work with annuals or summer vegetables but it is the best way to plant steady-Eddy shrubs.
2. Spaghetti frittata -- so easy, so good, so many requests for the recipe. Click here to go to My Carolina Kitchen where I found the recipe. I used basil instead of parsley since that is what I had on hand. The trick is to have everything ready to go: the cheese grated, the eggs beaten, the herbs chopped because it goes fast. The recipe directs you to tilt the pan over the burner flame to brown the edges. I have a flat top cooktop so I just left it on the burner until it was nicely browned. It worked fine.
3. Feral Janice suggested that I do a work night recipe series. I'm thinking about it; maybe not a full-on series but a weekly post... Its a possibility.
4. This morning when I left for work, I heard on the traffic report that there was an accident that had one of the freeway lanes (there are only two) closed. I decided to take back roads and bypass the inevitable congestion. Now that the nights are consistently in the 30s, the trees are brilliant orange, red and gold. I might have to take the scenic route more often.
5. The fence is coming apart in the oak pasture. Brett figures 40 posts need to be replaced plus cross rails and wire. He was awake all night worrying about how to get that done -- who to hire, and how to pay for it. Ranch life... a never-ending money pit.
When we lived at Aspen Meadows I never cooked during the week. I would ride in the morning and then head into the office after rush hour. That meant I drove home after the evening rush hour, arriving home at 8:00 or so. Dinner was usually a bowl of cereal for me and something equally exciting for Brett.
At my new job, people tend to get into the office early and then head out the door by 5:00. I'm at my desk between 7:30 and 8:00 and back home before 6:00. I am able to help Brett with the evening chores -- at least, I will until the time changes and it starts getting dark at 4:00 in the afternoon. I'm also cooking dinner during the week; nothing fancy or time consuming, but cooking nonetheless.
Tonight I roasted some butternut squash and piled it on top of a mixture of lettuce.
I tried something new to go with the salad: a spaghetti frittata.
Fast, easy and quite tasty. Spaghetti, Parmesan cheese, chopped basil and eggs.
I wanted to ride Winston this evening after work. Brett fed the horses early, mucked, gave water to the goats, and brought Winston and Mufasa into the barn so all I had to do was change into my breeches when I got home. I was in a race with the setting sun.
Winston was a pill while I was grooming him -- pushy and mouthy. He reminded me of the boys in junior high who strutted around the school insulting anyone within earshot. Too cool for their own skins. Obnoxious as hell. Once we were tacked up, Brett and I walked the horses out to the dressage court. Winston balked as we approached the arena but I was on foot so I was able to keep him going without any trouble. I was concerned about getting on though.
I know some of my readers don't ride their horses at feeding time. It isn't my favorite time to ride either but I'm a firm believer in having a horse who is used to being ridden at all times of the day. I also had no other option if I wanted to get a ride in during the week. So there I stood, watching Brett get on Mufasa, with the sun setting behind the oak trees and the evening chill rolling into the valley. And a ball of dread in my belly.
Winston stood quietly at the mounting block. Once I was on, he took two steps, popped his head in the air, lowered it, and humped his back.
I gave him a loose rein, grabbed hold of the bucking strap, and nudged him forward. Amazingly, he went. He walked a few steps and then broke into a rushed trot. I sat deep, he came back to a walk. While we walked around with the reins long and his ears signaling his indecision about whether to behave or be a brat, I started talking out loud.
"One, two, button my shoe. Three, four, shut the door. Hands up. Eyes up. Ankles out. One, two... oops, hands up. Loose rein, leg on, are you getting all this Winston? Crap, my hands are low again."
Funny thing, the talking calmed both of us. Pretty soon we had a lovely swinging walk and I started working on bend from my seat. Then trot; good work. I thought I would experiment with canter. I have, historically, had trouble with my hands in the canter transition. Either I throw the reins away or I restrict. I already had Winston on a long rein so I kept them the same. When I slid my outside leg back, he stepped cleanly and quietly into a lovely canter.
I was pleased with the ride. Pleased that I got past my fear. Pleased that Winston acknowledged me as leader and got past his tantrums. Pleased that he decided to work with me and not against me. And when I got off, he looked pretty pleased himself.
One of my close friends flew up to Sacramento today for a meeting. Afterwards, I drove her out to see Oak Creek Ranch. She wanted to see our new place and I needed her advice. Brett has been putting up shelves in the laundry room to give me more storage space. He painted the shelves a soft grey to match the sink vanity. I like the contrast of white sink and grey vanity but I wasn't sure of which color to use on the walls. Sandie is an artist and I love her use of color in both her paintings and her home. She advised painting the walls white and the existing cupboards grey. Brett rolled his eyes at the work involved with painting the cupboards too, but he liked the idea.
I took Sandie into my garden to show her the raised bed Brett built. Horrors! The bed was a mess; deep animal prints and plants half buried. Nothing was dead and nothing was eaten. It was odd. We speculated; not a deer since the lettuce hadn't been eaten and not the dogs or a fox because the garden is fenced. I leveled the dirt, unburied the lettuce and parsley, and we wandered out to see the animals.
In the front yard, two of the lavender plants were uprooted, laying on the grass with the root ball still intact and shaped like the pots they came from. They were withered but still alive and there were no nibble marks. The same deep prints were in the soft ground of the flower bed.
At the entrance to the barn, I found more chaos. One of the wine barrel planters was a mess of daffodil, tulip and freesia bulbs scattered on top of the soil. My neat, orderly (and attempted artistic) arrangement was history. Not only had the bulbs been dug up, they had been messed up. I was not pleased.
Meanwhile, our trainer was giving Vanessa a lesson in the dressage court. I walked over to say hello to her mom, Cindy. As Sandie, Cindy and I stood talking I mentioned the mystery marauder in my garden. Cindy smiled knowingly and said "raccoons." They are notorious for uprooting newly planted plants and tossing them carelessly aside.
And so my Sierra Nevada foothills gardening education continues.
Winston watched me go to the barn and get his halter. He was eager to come out and work.
I wasn't sure how today's lesson would go and I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn't ridden Winston since my last lesson. I needn't have worried. Winston was calm as a cucumber. Katy immediately commented on our loose rein, relaxed warm up.
Katy worked on my position. I know that I turn my toes out like airplane wings. Katy had me think about turning my heel out instead of my toes in -- and for some reason that thought works better for me.
She noted that I tend to carry my hands low, almost resting on my thighs and well below Winston's wither. She explained to me that at that angle, the bit hits the roof of Winston's mouth when I take up the contact. I knew it was wrong, but I had no idea I was making Winston uncomfortable. Talk about motivation to do it right.
We worked on transitions from walk to trot. Winston has always had trouble keeping a nice frame and I attributed it to appy-tude. Not so. I was holding the contact in the transition, with my hands low, and he was anticipating pain. I feel horrible. When I kept my hands hip high, straight out from my elbows, and gave in the transition, Winston quickly learned that it wasn't going to hurt and relaxed. This was definitely my biggest take-away from the lesson.
We also did more "ride from your seat" work -- bending by using my inside leg, pushing my inside seat bone and shoulder back, and not restricting with the reins. I loved how Winston moved freely, reaching and stretching.
Brett and Mufasa were up next. They spent some time talking about Brett's riding history, what kind of riding he likes to do, and what his goals are.
Katy loved Mufasa. She loved how he was licking his lips throughout the lesson and trying his heart out.
Brett got the focused position treatment too. Brett's leg started too far forward but by the end of the lesson, he was lined up in a nice straight line.
Mufasa rushes at the trot so Katy taught Brett how to regulate Mufasa's speed with just his seat.
And how to halt by sitting deep.
She also told Brett about a trainer, close by, who worked with Ray Hunt and Tom Dornance. She starts horses, trains them for trail and trains them for cattle work. Brett is thinking about riding in one of her clinics. I think both Brett and Mufasa would love, and excel, with that work. They sure seem to be happy with each other; a great match.