Mucking in the Muck


Here in the U.S., “mucking” means “to play about in something” and “muck” mostly means “mud.”  I think it may mean other things in other parts of the world, such as all the debris in a barn.  So, here I am referring to mud, glorious mud!

We have been in the midst of a 6-year drought in California; this year, with heavy precipitation, the snowpack in the northern mountains is more than it has been in 22 years, but with warmer weather, the snow may melt.  Then what?  We do not have good water storage in much of the state, as in cities like Los Angeles, the water is drained to the sea.  Where I live, we don’t get snow (but can admire it on the distant mountains).  We get rain (when we get it).  It has been a regular rain for the season for the past two months, and this week promises another two or three storms.

Thus, our skies are dark and grey, and the roads are a mess.  So are the trails everywhere.  You can see footprints and paw prints and bike tracks.  It’s not a good time to go along cliffs as the potential of a landslide is pretty serious.  The ground becomes saturated and slips.  Houses along the ocean cliffs have been known to tumble.  Sadly, people are also killed because of the slippage, or seriously injured.  Just a few weeks ago, a colleague slipped and fell, and though I do not know the details, I wonder if this is what happened.  I’ve lost a couple of other friends the same way, on local trails.  Another friend fell and was seriously injured, but has made a good recovery considering all the metal in his back.

But the lure of the outdoors is there – the smell in the air of new growth, the light, the rush of water in usually dry creeks, the songs of birds and croaking of ravens and the screeches of the hawks.  It is all there to be savored and enjoyed, quietly, listening.

I took my old beat up Nikon FM2N with me, and a roll of Provia 100, and a 28mm lens from 1970 or so.  It does close ups, too.  I am looking forward to seeing what comes from the roll, as it was dreary outside, and the light in the late afternoon was not good.  I also brought my phone with me, partly for a potential emergency – hiking alone – but also to capture an image or two that might be worthwhile.  So, above, is a picture taken last night before I turned to go home.  The rains bring new growth, the first of which is this lovely white-flowered wild cucumber.

Going Crackers

Parmesan Corn CrackersThe world is driving me crackers, so I thought I should make some.  I have never made any, but figured they should be easy to do, and produce something of some value.  If you can roll out a pie crust, you can make crackers.  As with pasta, I think the key is to let the dough rest wrapped in plastic for about 30 minutes or more.  It is very easy to roll out if you keep your pastry surface lightly floured and flip the dough periodically.

Lately, I have been in a cornmeal mood, meaning cornbread, polenta and so on.  I have lot on hand, so I looked up recipes for crackers with cornmeal.  The one I settled on is the following:

Parmesan Corn Crackers

1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
3 T. soft butter
3/4 t. salt (I thought it was too much after tasting the crackers)
3/4 c. cool water
herbs for topping

Preheat oven to 400 F. Use two large cookie sheets.

Mix together the flours and cheese and (optional) salt. Cut the soft butter into the flour mixture, mushing between fingers or using a pastry blender until consistent in texture throughout. Using a fork, slowly mix in the water from the center. When it is ready, you should have a rather soft ball of dough. Knead for about 5 minutes on a lightly floured board.

Cut dough into 2 or 4 pieces (depending on the surface you plan to roll the crackers out upon), and wrap in plastic. Let rest for at least 30 minutes.

On your floured surface, roll out dough until 1/8 inch thick with your rolling pin. Add some powdered herbs to surface and press in with one or two more rolls. Flip the cracker dough routinely to prevent it from sticking to the board, adding extra flour to the board if necessary.  Dust your rolling pin, too.


Before cutting, prick with fork. If you forget, and cut the crackers first, go back and prick the crackers. You need this to help them bake properly. You can cut them into about 2×2 inch squares, or rectangles, or whatever your like. Maybe hearts for Valentine’s Day? I used my pizza cutter and all was well.

Using a spatula, remove crackers to cookie sheets. Bake about 10-15 minutes, or more if necessary, depending on thickness of cracker. Check your oven about half way through and change the pans on the racks. (My first batch burned as the heating element is on the bottom, and the crackers are quite thin.) I backed two pans at a time, twice.


Cool on wire racks. Store in container and eat with . . . whatever!

Altogether, it took about two hours to make these.

Kitchen Sink Soup


Toward the end of the month, and with $0.02 left in the food budget, we have to get creative.   Hence, Kitchen Sink Soup!

In the freezer, I found a cut-up chicken. I put it in a stew pot, added water, celery, onion, tomato slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, a carrot, and some herbs. I brought it to a boil, turned it down to a low simmer, covered, and cooked the chicken. I pulled out the chicken, and set it aside for a pot pie or something else for tomorrow (after all the soup is gone). I ran the broth through a sieve, set it aside, discarded the cooked veggies (put them into your compost if you have it), and washed out the kettle. From there, I did this:

Kitchen Sink Soup

2-3 T. olive oil
1 andouille or other sausage or leftover meat (or none), chopped
4-6 cloves grated garlic
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced,
1 zucchini, diced
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes (I used Cento’s San Marzano Plum Tomatoes)
1 15-oz can Great Northern Beans
1/2 c. pasta (I used orecchiette)
broth from the chicken I just stewed (you can use regular broth, about 6-8 cups)
salt, pepper, etc.
Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat stew pot, add olive oil. Place chopped onion in pan, saute over low heat until clear and golden. Add meat (if using) and saute a bit. Stir in grated garlic. Add remaining diced vegetables, saute until cooked. Once the vegetables are at the desired degree of being done, pour in the can of tomatoes. Mash up the tomatoes (I used my potato masher), and cook a bit more. Put in the chicken broth or whatever stock you are using. Bring to a boil, add pasta and beans. Drop to a simmer and cover pot. Watch to make sure the pot does not boil over from the cooking pasta. Check pasta for al dente. Ready to serve!

Ladle into bowls, sprinkle grated cheese on top, and eat with good bread. (We used our homemade sourdough.)


Projects, or, Wonder Woman Does Not Live Here


We have been enjoying rain for the past several weeks, and it shows.  Colors are more intense as the winter grasses emerge, the cold is shaking the leaves into color, and the subdued light intensifies the beauty of the trails nearby.  Of course, post-production helps, too.  I’ve enjoyed the weather – wind, rain, clouds, sunshine, cold.

The variety of weather has really helped, too, as this past week I’ve been dealing with dental problems and dental pain.  I didn’t know my teeth could be so annoying!!  However, things are calming down, and thank goodness for dental insurance, and good dentists.

Around here, there are a lot of things afoot, and not enough time to do them all.  I have been doing the following:

I thought I would be able to do it all, and still work my silly schedule, but it may be that I will need to scale back a bit.  I really want to do all these things, but find that an 11-hour day is so long that by the time I get home, I can just function.  This means eat dinner, do the dishes, and either fall asleep or watch a bit of TV, and then fall asleep.  How dull, eh?

What I am finding useful, though, is to actually schedule my creative time.   This means sit down and decide what I want to do on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  If I don’t, I get distracted, and other things just won’t happen.  And trust me, there are lots of things to distract me (besides aching teeth).  If I stay focused on my projects, I become a recluse and don’t get out of the house.  Friends and family help to keep me human, not a raving, obsessed something.

Rainy Day Walk


I’ve been rather housebound for the last few days, busy with this and that, and just plain lazy.  This morning, though, with the prediction of a whole day of rain, the allure of a walk in the damp was too much.  Our rain has dwindled into a slow drizzle, but it is so welcomed here in our parched California landscape.  The sky was a blue-grey, hinting at moisture to come, and it did soon after I started out, more like a misty rain than drops, which is fine when you want to go hiking.  The trails were all sticky – my boots sucked into the mud and made a rhythmic noise with each step.  Areas of the trail had not yet dried, but when they do, the trail will be lumpy and bumpy for a long time.

When I got to the area I wanted to explore – it’s always new, no matter how many times you go! – the parking area was closed for repairs.  I skirted around to where the oaks and cacti and stream and sycamore hang out, just in case it did get wetter.  It turns out that the recent rains have caused soil slippage, and some trees have toppled a bit.  One oak had fallen and split, so the work crew was waiting for the oak tree specialist (the city has one, as oak trees are protected where I live) to determine whether it needed anything or just a bit of a trim.


Here, a little bit of rain goes a long way, and soon enough the grasses begin to sprout for the upcoming spring.  Beige and brown give way to the delicate greens.  The cold temperatures have pushed the autumn leaves to golds and reds, so suddenly a dull grey-brown landscape pops into life.  The smell of the damp earth, the creeks with running water, and the occasional bird song or insect was all that could be heard.  A bit of bliss for a couple of hours!  Click a picture below to scroll through them.