Saturday, November 30, 2013

Be Adventuresome!! You Can Do It!!!

When it comes to cooking, I usually tell people I can't.  Sure enough if I say I can fix something, it becomes a disaster worthy of a burial in the back yard.  I am adventuresome enough however, to try anything once .. like the turkey tetrazzini that's still in my freezer.  I had quite a bit of leftover pork, and decided I would substitute meats.  Bad idea .... in fact I had to substitute a couple of things.  It was awful.  There are still two containers in my freezer that will be laid to rest in the cold dark earth after Christmas.

Around this time of year, I usually like to make some ooey gooey delicious treat to give away to friends and neighbors.  This year I bought Sees candy.  Feeling badly about that, when my friend at the Elks mentioned his daughter was selling Baklava, that Greek morsel of walnuts and dough, soaked in honey syrup ... I thought it might be a nice gift.  Problem was, I've never made baklava.  Everyone I talked to said it was WAY too hard.  Fifteen minutes on the internet and recipe in hand, I'm braving the kitchen hoping for a miracle.  I CAN DO THIS!!

Fillo Dough is intimidating ... no doubt about it, but be BRAVE!!  It's easy to work with.  You can purchase a box in the freezer section of your grocery store.  Take it out and leave it on the counter for two hours to thaw.  I then unrolled it and spread it on my trusty pillowcase pastry cloth.
Here's the bad part ... one whole pound of butter, melted.  Lay one sheet in the bottom of the pan and brush with butter.  Nine more times and I had butter all over everything.   Now for the nuts ... one pounds of walnuts, ground up in my antique food processor.  I really do need to replace it.  I couldn't even remember which way to slide the bowl to get it going and it seemed bent ... how did THAT happen???  Four more layers with butter, nuts, more layers, nuts ... and so on.  I ended up with 10 layers on the top.  I should have taken more pictures, but my hands were covered in buttery goo!!

Now comes the hard part ... slicing it into those pretty triangle shapes before I bake it.  Even with my sharpest knife, it was hard not to mess up the top.  While that was baking for an hour, I made the sugar/honey syrup.  Actually, I made the sugar/honey syrup, candy, terrible mess ... because I left out the water part.  It was noted in the "bottom" of the recipe to add 1-1/2 cups water!!  This is what usually happens to me when I cook.  About the time I couldn't get it or the spoon out of the pot, I heated it almost to the flame point and dumped it in the outside garbage can as smoke and steam rose through the air.  Time to reread the recipe and start over.  At least I had enough ingredients to make a second batch. THIS is finally the finished product, a liquid syrup. 
Once out of the oven and slightly cooled, I poured the also cooled syrup over the lovely brown dough in the pan.  For some reason I think I had too much liquid, but it looked pretty amazing.  I snuck a couple of small corner pieces for a taste test.
I think I died and went to heaven ... it still needs to soak a little longer, but it is AMAZING!!!!  
I seriously can't believe it came out so good.  I don't even LIKE honey!!!  My friends who came to dinner agreed ... the pumpkin pie was still in the fridge and the Baklava was almost gone.  
Gee ... what to do with the last two pieces!!!  They were gone in a flash!!  Truthfully, we didn't eat the entire pan.  I put half away in the freezer to wrap later as gifts.  This morning, I took ONE out and thawed it for a taste test ... some things just weren't meant to be frozen.  THIS however, worked perfectly.  It tasted like I had just made it!!!   

So even if you are a not-so-great cook like me, you can make a delicious pastry treat for your family and friends.  Just be adventuresome ... YOU CAN DO IT!!!  If it's really bad, like my tetrazzini, freeze it for awhile, then when no one's looking, grab your shovel and have a nice ceremony!!!

Friday, November 29, 2013

I'm SOOOOOO Full!!!

I bet everyone either heard or said THAT yesterday!!!!  It was the same at my house!!
Although I usually spend Thanksgiving with an Escapees Group in Los Banos, I accepted an invitation to my friend Chris' house for Thanksgiving dinner.  They were my test subjects for the first smoked turkey.  Thankfully they didn't croak, but it was WAY too smoky.  In the end, because I was again attempting to smoke turkeys for us, they loaded up all their goodies and came to MY house.  Really, I think they all just wanted to play with Cooper and Jessie!!

I purchased larger 10 pound breasts for this smoking project.  Naturally, the thawing of the turkeys didn't go as expected.  I actually had 33 pounds of turkey defrosting in my refrigerator, which turned it into a freezer.  With no progress in site, I took them out for a cold water bath, then separated them on different shelves.  A final water bath the night before, a good dose of seasoning with another 12 hours rest and they were finally ready to go in the smoker.  All went as planned there ... not so much for the REST of the dinner.  Here they are about two hours in when I stopped the smoke and let them continue to slow cook.
Since everything smothered in gravy is better ... I also cooked a turkey in the oven for the wonderful drippings that result in the best gravy!!  THIS is what started the problems ... I was in too much of a hurry and got it in the oven half an hour too soon.  When trying to get all of this food on the table at the same, timing is critical!!!  With the internet down, I couldn't check the length of time required for perfect doneness!!  The smokers would be ready at 1:00 with a one hour rest.  THIS dumb turkey went in at 7:30 and was done by 12:00.  We aren't eating until 2:00!!!  So I wrapped it up, hoping for the best.  At least we'll have GREAT gravy!!

In the meantime, Chris and her family were making up for the family pictures I was going to take for them in front of my Christmas tree.  Instead of 1:00, they arrived at 1:45 and we still had potatoes to cook and mash!!  OH MY!!!  We ARE getting rather behind!!  By the time the pictures were done and the gravy cooked, it was 3:00 ... that one hour rest for the turkey turned into THREE!!

We reheated everything and I chopped up the smoked turkey ... it was DEVINE!!!  I think I will never eat an oven-roasted turkey again!!  Even though it sat longer than desired, it was the most delicious, tender, moist with just-a-slight-smoky-flavor turkey I've ever eaten!!  The final menu consisted of turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and fresh baked bread which we sat down to eat at 3:15.  At 3:30 we were done!!!  
I'M SOOOOOO FULL!!!!!  On top of that, we had pumpkin pie, banana cream pie and baklava (that's tomorrow's story!!).  It was wonderful to spend the day with this great family!!  
Although I wasn't supposed to be IN the photo shoot, once we get started, it's hard to stop.  We got some great family images, some father-daughters, some sisters, some mom and daughters ... and then we got carried away with Miss Sydney in her white dress, levi jacket and red cowboy boots.  It turned into a full blown photo shoot!!!  
We also tried to get Jessie to sit with Cooper, but she wasn't having any of it.  She got jealous of the attention and tried to bite Coops head off.  Like the spoiled child she is, she was banished while we finished with my Christmas card picture!!
What could be better ... great friends, good food and photography all in the same day!!  The best part????  I have another smoked turkey in my fridge that I'm having for breakfast, with mashed potatoes and gravy!!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Someone decided people shouldn't be on the Internet on Thanksgiving!!!  My Internet has been down since late last night, so this will be a short one from my phone!!!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!!!  Enjoy the food and family!!!!

I'm smoking two big turkeys. Wish me luck!!!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Visit From Costa Rica Friends!

Before I begin, I wanted to mention that the limo service we used from San Francisco to Sonora was Le Grande Affaire Limo Hometown ... EXCELLENT professional service!!  Just tell them those two crazy ladies from Costa Rica told you to call!!!

THEY'RE    B  A  A  C  K !!!!!  While on our recent trip to Costa Rica, the bird we saw most was the Turkey Buzzard.  They were everywhere from the coast to the mountains, flying on the thermals.  I guess since they knew Patty and I were leaving, they decided to come visit me at my house.  There must have been a huge swarm following our plane ... because they all landed in my back yard three days after we did.
This is a perfect example that explains the name of my home .. Buzzards Roost!!  Thank goodness I don't have to worry about my dogs ... the huge birds only eat carrion.  With a wingspan of over 4 feet, they are pretty intimidating!
Whenever it is a rather wet drippy morning, they all come out about 8:00 am to warm up and dry their wings.  Soon they will disappear on the thermals, to return to their nesting trees on my neighbor's property at night.  They can be pretty messy, so I'm glad they stay on THAT side of the fence.  Apparently they are not in jeopardy of extinction ... I counted 32 roosting this morning.  Two more were on the ground with wings spread while my horse stood in the far corner.  Once they hit the ground, Showby was having none of it!!
Hard to sneak up on for good closeup photography, I'll put on my camo coat this afternoon and see if I can capture those precious faces!!!!

In the meantime, I'm looking at some major repairs on our old ranch house.  I definitely think it's time to sell!!!

Finding Our Way Home!!

Once burned ... twice shy!!!  Patty and I were pretty leery about getting to the airport.  We were up at 4:00 am to pack and repack our still wet and now wreaking clothes, trying to keep what dry things we had away from the tainted ones.   At 5:15 we picked up our snack breakfast (actually Patty did, I passed on this one) ... and headed out to await our bus/van/transport to the airport.  Luckily we had arrived the night before just in time to get our airport tax paid at the hotel.  We figured it would be easier to navigate the airport with one less thing to worry about.

Then a miracle happened ... the van showed up on time!!  I don't know what happened to everyone, but I felt like we were at the airport alone.  In less than 20 minutes, we were checked in and ready to go.  With well over two hours to wait, we checked out the gift shop and read.  Surely it can't be THIS easy!!!  And of course it wasn't .... a HUGE group of noisy kids walked by, all in bright yellow shirts.  Patty said uh oh!!!  I said something I can't print here.  We finally boarded to discover our seats were row two ... at the BACK of the plane.  Just as we sat down, 22 noisy yellow-shirted kids sat in front of us!!!  OMG!! ... someone has been totally testing my patience this entire trip and I think I'm going to fail!!  Alas, we are aloft amidst squeals and giggles.
The crew asked them several times to quiet down, and with the exception of jumping around when the seat belt light was ON, they weren't too bad ... I just tried my best to ignore them.  Patty noted that almost all had cell phones and/or computer games.  I finally tapped on the shoulder in front of me and asked where they were going.  I was going to bribe someone whatever it took to get first class seats if they said San Francisco.  Thankfully, they said Oklahoma City ... they were all exchange students from San Jose going to Oklahoma.  Thank you God!!!!

Arriving in Dallas having dutifully filled out our customs paperwork, they surprised us with new personal check-in stations that require you push a bunch of buttons and it takes your picture.  Trouble was, Patty wasn't tall enough and they got a nice picture of her forehead!!  Mine didn't bear any resemblance to me at all since they made me take off my visor and got me from the nose up.  Oh well, we got through, had some breakfast and with a HUGE sigh of relief two hours later, boarded our last flight to San Francisco.  Oh ... the paperwork we filled out went in the trash.
Still to come ... finding our "limo" transfer from the airport to Sonora.  I figured once we got our luggage, we would deal with that situation.  And then there was Chris!!!  Before we even landed, I got a text message from him saying he was there, waiting to pick us up.  We were ecstatic and VERY tired, but happy to know our friends wouldn't be put upon to come pick us up in San Francisco!!  Ten minutes later, he pulled up in a nice black limo, jumped out in a tuxedo and loaded our luggage.  You can imagine HIS thoughts when he saw us in wrinkled shorts and dirty tennis shoes!!  Now THIS is the way to travel!!!  And we're off!!!  to a really slow start.  It's 6:00 pm, dark, and of course we are stuck in traffic.  This time however, we don't care how long it takes us.  Chris was an excellent driver and got us safely to the Junction Parking Lot in Sonora in 3 hours 20 minutes --- still much more than the 2 hours 17 minutes Collette scheduled.
I'm sure there is a lesson here somewhere ... have patience ... go with the flow ... WHATEVER!!!  Suffice to say I will never sign up with Collette Vacations again ... and any vacations I DO sign up for I will check out their scheduling with a fine tooth comb!!  I know what you're thinking ... would she do it again??  The answer is YES ... I did find Costa Rica amazing enough to return some day with my own guide for a photographic road trip ... in a few years when I've forgotten the bad parts!!!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Almost The End of The Story!!

It is our last day in paradise ... not exactly MY description, but under different circumstances I would definitely agree.   Our chariot awaits at the dock to take us back to civilization.  It's a shame really, because with preparation, this would be an exquisite place to visit.  Maybe I will return with a guide of my own for photography.   Of course that is being said by someone who is no longer exceedingly wet due to humidity and rain, whose mosquito bites have slightly disappeared and is warm and cozy in front of the fireplace!!  It took us all of five minutes to pack up our stinky wet clothes and head to the boat ... I mean chariot!!
The mosquitos on THIS side of Costa Rica are small and don't make much noise, but they are VERY sneaky and mostly come out after a nice rain.  Poor Patty had a bad one, that even with medication, didn't want to clear up.  I had three nasty bites, even though we kept ourselves drenched in OFF!!
Thankfully it is not raining upon our arrival back on the muddy canal bank.  We waited 1-1/2 hours for the bus, having a nice rest in the sun while our clothes rotted in our luggage!!
With this being the only access for supplies and tourists making the trip to Tortuguero, it was crowded  with tourists, tour buses and supply trucks.   The building you see has a patio area that was packed with people before we arrived, and when the sun peaked out around the clouds, MORE crowded in.
Finally our bus arrived!!!  There was no one holding a sign for this one.  Everyone just ran around asking every driver that came in, where they were going.  When the guide Carla said San Jose, we jumped on board.
A stop for lunch at the same restaurant we ate at previously (behind a guarded gate) was a GREAT one for me.  We ate quickly ... and of course at the wrong table ... the stepchildren had to pick up and move, but at least this time we sat with other guests ... for all of five minutes.  I knew there were poison frogs around the tree out front, and I didn't want to miss any opportunity for pictures!!
To my overwhelming surprise, I found the only critter I had not captured so far, hanging from a tall tree.  Really, this sloth is pretty ugly ... but beautiful to my camera.  Sloths are awake only 4 hours a day, sleeping for 20.  This beauty was not only awake, but hungry!!!
He moved from one branch to another as he made his way to the tastiest leaves.  They DO move very slow ... even when he hung by his feet to scratch his head ... he scratched in slow motion.  When he pulled himself back up, it was in slow motion.
I won't bore you with all the images I took ... I watched him for over 30 minutes.  He finally made his way to the end of the tree amid the leaves and munched away.
Then the stepchildren feeling began again.  After a 3-1/2 hour bus ride, we were dropped off at a different hotel than we expected.  We asked Carla about the van that was to pick us up as the other passengers raced to their hotel rooms.  Finally loaded into a small tour bus with seven other passengers, our luggage tags as well as Carla's clipboard, said we were going to the Doubletree Hotel.  Ahhh no ... NO ... that is NOT our hotel.  Our luggage is stashed at the Wyndham Hotel!!!  Of course the driver didn't speak English, but thank goodness one of the English speaking guides jumped in our van and explained where to go.    Can you see the traffic here??  San Jose at 4:00 pm is worse than San Francisco at 6:00 am.  It was almost two hours to our hotel ... and we were the very last two stepchildren to be dropped off.  
In driving the other passengers to THEIR hotels, we passed this Hemingway House and wondered if he actually spent time here.  Since he lived in Cuba for awhile, it was possible.  I would have asked the driver, but no hablo english.  Funny thing about San Jose ... people don't let you into traffic.  We were literally driving on the shoulder because no one would let us move over.  I'm shocked that the people were so nice until they got in their vehicles.  It was taking so long, I asked if this "flight" served dinner, but after a little interpretation by the guide, the driver just laughed loudly!!!  
I can't tell you how happy we were to have finally arrived back at our hotel in San Jose.  The room that was so-so in the beginning, was the BEST EVER upon our return.  It had air conditioning, clean water, HOT water from all faucets, washcloths, lots of towels and a toilet that flushed!!!  Besides that, they had a gift shop that we planned on exiting through!!!  But first ... I discovered that my purse/overnight bag had gotten wet on the bottom ... so now ALL of the stuff in my bag is a nasty stinky mess.  Where are those garbage bags?????  We "borrowed" two more!!  

Early to bed, early to rise.  We meet our driver at 5:30 am to head to the airport.  I called Collette Vacations to verify that we really WOULD have a ride ... and they told me "of course!!  They are scheduled at 5:00 pm".   PM??????   Uh WRONG!!!  A.M. my dear Collette friend ... A.M.   Ten minutes on hold while they called the transport people and it was finally confirmed.  Now you KNOW I didn't find any comfort in THAT, so I double checked the hotel shuttle to the airport at 6:00 am.  ALWAYS be prepared is my new motto!!!

And we STILL have to brave the airports for the flight home!!!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Happened to Cinderella's Carriage?

I never expected this to be a Cinderella story, and if it was I certainly wouldn't have picked the Stepchildren part to play, but that seems to have been thrust upon us.  No matter, maybe we'll get to ride in Cinderella's carriage!!   

Up until now, it has rained, but it hasn't really RAINED if you know what I mean.  THAT however is soon to change.   Our new very nice guide, Willis is taking us to another area downriver for a bird watching walk.  We saw ONE ... an oriole and heard a toucan too far off in the bushes to see.  Willis
 was very knowledgeable and personable though, so we enjoyed his company.  Once a native boat driver, he had continued to talk to the tourists until he learned English, so was able to become a tour guide.
Cruising down the river ...  
Just a side note ... see the white box inside the building??  That is the stove where they cook their meals.
I heard Willis mention to the boat driver that he could smell the rain ... a big storm.  We were too busy looking for the birds and critters to pay attention.  This trail we will walk is named for the flowers we will find later on.  
There are not as many flowers on this side of the country, but those here are very colorful.  
All around us on this trail were huge lumps of dirt attached to the trees.  Willis scratched the surface of one to show us the tenants ... termites!!!  They build these huge balls of mud to keep dry.  We should have taken note.  You can eat termites in a pinch ... if you are starving.  Willis says they taste like chicken!!  Funny guy!!!
Here is the one Oriole we found while bird watching.  I later determined that the birds and animals knew something we didn't.  There really WAS a storm coming ... and it was a BIG one!!
All of a sudden it started to rain buckets!!!!  And the wind came up whirling the treetops sideways, as huge cracks rang out and branches started coming from the sky.  Willis said, and I quote "RUN!!!!!"  This is toooo dangerous!!!  OMG ... we ran (those of us who heard him anyway) in heavy rubber boots through mud and water back to the rivers edge, away from the trees.  This image is blurry from the RAIN!!!!!
Back at the start of our very short walk, my camera soaking wet even with my best efforts to keep it in a plastic bag ... and soaked to the bone, we sat in the bar of this hotel until our carriage arrived.  Darn ... still not Cinderella's carriage.   Can we wake up from this bad dream now???   To say I was mad as a wet hen, was an understatement!!!
At our hotel, I took this horrible picture of me standing in front of our 18' mirror, soaking wet.  Thankfully I wore my running shirt this day, as it is quick to dry.  At least it WOULD have been quick to dry if we were not in the middle of a sweltering jungle.  Again, everyone jumped in the pool to cool off, as Patty and I sat wet and complaining by our room.  Alright, I was complaining ... I was afraid I had ruined my Nikon camera and I had enough of being unprepared.  We had another "tour" in the afternoon, so we decided to just keep our dirty wet clothes on, since we only had ONE dry change of clothes.  Maybe it WAS a good thing we were placed at that dinner table by ourselves!!
Just about the time we were to leave for the boat tour, now barefoot due to hot soaking wet shoes, would't you know I would step on some critter that stung the heck out of my foot.  It felt like a hot needle, forcing me to walk on the side of my foot.  As we headed to the launch, I asked Willis to check it out, but he found nothing other than a round white spot.  It burned for another hour.  Note to self:  do NOT go barefoot in or near the jungle.   

Pleading for a COVERED boat for the afternoon cruise fell on deaf ears as the stepchildren were herded onto an open boat with life jackets for seat cushions, and we were off with Willis for a romantic trip down the canals.  In the "old" days, lumber companies came here to harvest mahogany for furniture manufacture.  
Every company had their own canal to float their logs to the ships waiting to carry them to sawmills.  The further up the canals, the narrower they got. 
Here is the Poponjoche flower that the area is named for.  This is the diamond ring of Nicaragua.  Natives use this flower to ask for someone's hand in marriage.  
This time the rain held out for the most part.  Although we are still wearing our wet clothes, it was to our advantage, as the moving boat cooled us off a little.  My camera, towel dried, still seemed to be working, so I continued to click away.  Here is a male Basilisk lizard again ... we saw lots of these guys on the river.
As we went up the canals, the overgrowth got thicker and the jungle darker.  So much so, that even with the highest adjustment on my camera, I couldn't get these amazing tree roots in focus.  I'm sure I heard the growl of a tiger, the trumpet of an elephant and zip zip ... DUCK!!!  Oh wait ... that's Disneyland!!  Funny how this replicated the jungle ride!!
A few macaws flew screeching so far overhead that we couldn't tell what color they were.  This male iguana was basking in the light looking for the love of his life.  You can tell by the orange color.  Even Willis was wondering where everyone went!!
With no other wildlife in site, I asked Willis about the poison dart frogs.  I definitely did NOT want to go home without a picture.  When the boat driver saw a small opening in the forest, he drove the boat up to the edge where Willis jumped off and went looking.  We couldn't believe it!!!  In five minutes he came back with this half inch long baby in his hands.  A full grown poison dart frog.
But wait!!!!  Aren't they poisonous???  Only the blood he says ... only the blood.  It seems these little guys eat termites and fire ants, making their blood poisonous to all predators, including us.  If you don't get the blood on you, you will be okay.  Amazing!!!  
That was it for the creatures.  Rather disappointed, we headed back to the lodge where we were met with hot cocoa and goodies.  By now, having been in wet clothes all day, this tastes pretty good and the cocoa is nothing short of amazing!!!  AND it's instant ... I took a picture of the package and have since ordered some.  With no tracking numbers, it will probably come as a surprise two months from now.
Back at our room and finally half way dry ... at least in dry clothes (for the moment), Patty came running into the room to say the monkeys were out.  Camera in hand, I raced outside for the following images.  This made being the stepchildren okay for the moment!!!
We were told these capuchin monkeys come out for every meal, since the locals used to feed them.  Up until now, we had not seen them.  I took dozens of pictures!!!  He's actually blowing a bubble here!!

Lots of very sharp teeth.
Fairly quiet, these little guys didn't make much noise.
Unlike the howlers that woke us up with their screams every morning at 5:00 am.  FINALLY!!! A good howler image!!!  Not the prettiest of faces ... I was just so excited as I snapped away!!
I forgot to mention that one meal, Patty and I snuck away to the "other" restaurant, bad stepchildren that we were, where we had a short visit with a couple from Canada on a "self tour".  We think however, that each restaurant may get remuneration based on the number of guests, and so returned to our imposed stepchildren table to eat in silence.  It was strange, to say the least.  See the pretty place settings on the "other" tables???  There were only TWO on ours!!!  I had to laugh!!  This was definitely no Cinderella story!!  But the stepsisters were alive and well!!
At least we had the pretty centerpiece all to ourselves.
After dinner, since there was no reason to hang around the table, I suggested we get our flashlights and find some frogs.  As we walked around they were VERY loud ... squawking incessantly.  I kept telling Patty there was one CLOSE ... I could HEAR him!!!  Finally I screamed HE'S IN MY HAIR!!!  Then a big SQUAWK right in my ear!!!  OMG!!!  He's on my SHOULDER!!!!  Not knowing if they were poisonous or not, I was trying to get my phone camera out for a picture.  Poor Patty hadn't used my phone, and while she tried to take a picture, I was jumping around like a little girl.  Finally close enough to a bush, he jumped off.  Thankfully he wasn't poisonous and didn't leave any "presents" on my only clean shirt.
Now in the bushes, I traded Patty the phone for the flashlight which she held while I snapped away ... I was greatly relieved that he was now on the bush and not on me.
Here's my buddy Croaker in all his glory!!!  Wouldn't you know, the best image I got the entire trip was not with my fancy expensive camera, but my I-Phone!!
A couple of night shots of our room and we turned in for the night.  Although we drank the hotel water everywhere we went in Costa Rica, we did NOT drink it here.  Outside each set of rooms was a water cooler that we used for drinking water.  
Knowing the howlers would have the stepchildren sisters up early, we borrowed (okay, we stole) all the plastic bags from the garbage cans to stash our wet clothes in and turned in for the night.  We went to sleep to the croaking frogs and night critters. At the end of our jungle extension, we will head back up the canal in our boat ... not the Cinderella carriage I was hoping for!!!   I'm just praying for a covered one!!!