The 8th Day

Today we went to see how the sky looked after 8 days of wildfires in our area.  Earlier, the smoke was piled high into the sky, looking like an atom bomb had exploded nearby – a mushroom-shaped cloud on the horizon.  The air is brown and hazy.  Now, the wind has picked up, again with 60-80 mph gusts, and the clouds have flattened out.  This is the view from behind the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, looking west toward the cities of Ventura and further into Santa Barbara County where the coastal town of Carpinteria is being threatened.  While my in-laws are now home, friends elsewhere are in danger.  We await our turn . . . we have been lucky so far.


Strange Week

Altogether, this has been a strange week.  The air is filled with ash and smoke throughout the area surrounding me, but we are a small oasis which is (currently) not hit by the voracious wildfires burning throughout Southern California and air filled with ash and particulate matter.  We have had our share, but nothing like most of our locale.

I live in Ventura County, and the Thomas Fire forced my in-laws to flee, with very little and a lot to lose, in the middle of the night.  That was last Monday when they showed up on our doorstep at 1:00 a.m.  Today they left after driving to their home town, lucky to find their house standing, the evacuation order rescinded, and ash covering everything.  The ongoing winds have moved the soot and ash, along with the fires, further east and west and out to sea.  Others have not been so lucky.  Blocks of houses are no longer there.  While the Santa Ana winds have moved out the sooty air, they are still roaring around, sometimes up to 60-80 miles per hour.  Not pleasant, I assure you, in either cold or hot weather (today we had 80F  – fake news – there is no global warming).

We are so glad to have been able to take in my in-laws.   They were gracious and pleasant, and we actually had a lot of fun, even if their sleeping conditions were air mattresses on the floor and an old twin bed in the office my husband works from.  I guess it is sort of like a hurricane party – clustering together for comfort and safety and riding out the storm outside.  At some point, we may have to call upon them if our area goes up in smoke, because almost all of California has been suffering from a massive years-long drought.  We have too many trees on our property, but it costs thousands to take them all out at once, so we are sort of stuck – maybe take a few out at a time.  Having visitors is a bit disruptive of daily life patterns but reminds us of how important family and friends and community are.


Last night a fire started about 25 miles from where we live, in the dry mountains between Santa Paula and Ventura in California.  At 1 a.m. my in-laws showed up.  They may lose their home.  It is not pretty out there.  Most importantly, they are safe.

Cranberries & Yogurt

This is, admittedly, a rather odd title for a post, but in few minutes, you’ll see why.

Sugar is in everything, and so I decided I would try to make some cranberry sauce that has a good flavor, but is not filled with a cup of granulated white sugar.  I came across a number of recipes.  Some used stevia, the flavor of which I don’t like.  Others recommend aspartame or other synthetic sweeteners – all of these are horrid.  Sucralose is also suggested.  The fact is, I really don’t like the flavors of artificial or substitute sweeteners.  So, what is left?  A bit of research found some recipes using sweet cherries and cranberries, or adding apple sauce.  Orange flavoring via orange juice and zest.  Pineapple juice.  And honey, which is an easily digestible sweetener, and if not too strong, is okay with me!

So . . . I made up my own recipe for non-sugared cranberry sauce!

Cranberry Sauce Without Granulated Sugar

12 oz. cranberries
1 bosc pair, peeled and chopped
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. unsweetened apple sauce
zest and juice of 1 orange (I used a large navel orange)
2-4 T. honey

Simmer all the above together, and after cranberries have slowed their popping, pour in the juice of one orange, and its zest. Cook another 10 minutes on a low temperature. Sauce will be tart with a strong orange flavor. You may want to use less zest, or none, and just the juice. This is not a very cranberry sauce, but you do not want a sauce so sour your lips pucker!  Add some honey if you want (I added about 3 T – still tart, but not puckery – and I do like sour!).

Okay, now the yogurt part. Years ago I used to make my own yogurt. What? Yes, you can, and you can make it without an expensive yogurt maker. If you have a gas oven with a pilot light, there you go – home for your yogurt until done. My current stove is gas on top, electric inside, so I use an ice chest filled with a few bottles of boiling water to keep the yogurt warm, and I check on it periodically to make sure it is still warm. I let my yogurt set for 24 hours. Once done, you do need to cool it down so it won’t continue to ferment – too much is not a good thing.

There are two types of cultures for yogurt. Some are thermophilic, needing heat, and others are mesophilic, meaning room temperature is the best environment. I like Bulgarian yogurt, made with lactobacillus bulgaricus, and lactobacillus acidophilus. These days, with the increased knowledge about probiotics and prebiotics for gut health, it turns out that the acidophilus bifidus is not considered to be a “good” one for adults. Apparently breast fed babies gut flora is primarily acidophilus bifidus, but if it continues to flourish in the gut biome past weaning, it could set the individual up for digestive issues, such as celiac and other similar diseases. Here is a link to some interesting information about acidophilus bifidus.

So, I have some yogurt in my fridge.  It has bifidus in it.  A search for bifidus-free yogurt in the store to use as a starter yielded only one yogurt that does not have bifidus in it!  It is Siggi’s Sheep Yogurt, expensive, but bifidus free.  I bought some to use as a starter (it also tastes good!).  I also purchased a starter from Amazon for $8.00 which states it “contains live active bacteria like ”Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. Bulgaricus” and ”Streptococcus thermophilus” – there ya go!

My Yogurt Recipe

1 qt. whole milk
1/4 c. Siggi’s

Bring milk to simmer – hot to the touch. Watch on stove to be sure it does not burn, so stir it! Reduce to about 75 F. Take 1/2 c. cooled milk and whisk into the starter. Pour into 1 qt. container (or smaller containers, such as 2 pint jars, etc.). Place in ice chest filled with a few bottles of boiling water. Set aside to ferment for 24 hours.

Now you understand “Cranberries & Yogurt”!

Back to Work – Let the Stress Begin!

I had all of last week off – 10 days total – and in that time period we celebrated two Thanksgiving, did a whole lot of baking and cooking, saw friends and family.  In between, I managed to sketch and / or watercolor everyday.  In that time period, I had a lot of fun and found myself feeling really glad to be painting again.  Of course, some stuff was pure rubbish, but others produced a sense of satisfaction.  Even better, I could begin to see progress.  The connection between mind and hand and color and paper is beginning to return.

But now – can I keep this up?  Certainly not at the pace I was doing it.  But I have made a decision:  I will use my photos as the basis for sketches and paintings, and try to turn out two a week minimum, perhaps three.  When will I do it?  In the mornings, while I drink my coffee, and instead of looking at the depressing global situation, I’ll look at lines and colors instead.  Seems like a good deal, if you ask me!