Sunday, April 30, 2017

Only Planes and Trains Today

The California State Railroad Museum was the place to be on our second tour of the day.  This really is a GREAT museum that everyone should check out if they have the chance.  With the railroad being built from both the East and the West at the same time, it was a race to the finish line.  The hardest part was crossing over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The scene here depicts just that accomplishment as they tunneled through the mountains.

It's almost unimaginable they could complete this task without heavy equipment.  Beginning with regular crew, they got a slow start when GOLD was discovered and everyone disappeared like scurrying rats.
In order to get it built, they hired a few Chinese workers, who handled the gunpowder with expertise. Why didn't they use nitroglycerin or something more powerful?  Because they didn't want the resulting rock to be blasted clear across the canyon.  They needed it easily accessible, by wheelbarrow no less, for roadbeds.    They were such good workers, they eventually came in droves to work on the railroad.
Toward the end, the supervisors were boasting about how far their crew could lay track in one day.  Finally, this crew broke the record with ten miles of track laid in one day, exactly 148 years to the day of our tour.
Although the celebration was supposed to be something like May 8, which is when Sacramento began to party hardy, the big guns didn't arrive in Promontory Utah until May 10.  Sacramento was STILL celebrating.  They had connected one side of the world to the other in their book.
There's lots of old trains in the museum ... some as tall as my house.  Here's one unique piece of equipment that just arrived for the show before it has to return to work.  It's one of four snow blowers used over Donner Pass to this day.  She's looks pretty shiny and new!!  Don't quote me, but I think he said the apparatus was built in 1920 and is still the best tool for the job today.  
Here's our crew of Golden Spike members attending this rally, including one who is an Engineer of the train ride here.
There are even exhibits you can walk through, including a replica of the old passenger train I used to ride as a kid.  When we got out of hand, we were summarily put on the train and carted off to Bakersfield to my Aunt's house.  I don't think it helped ... we STILL got in trouble.  These two passenger cars are a little fancier than what I rode in.
Look at the painting on the ceilings.  They even have a dining car you can walk through, which showcases all the different dishes used by each railroad.  There was one in particular that was blue and always came with the "special" of the day.  People didn't even need to look at the menu ... they just asked for the Blue Plate Special.
I'm sure these trains didn't look this pretty after having been on the rails a day or two, but this gives you an idea of how fascinating and awe inspiring they must have been upon first sight.  
Once through the museum, the Carnes' and I made a beeline for the ice cream store.  Old Town has revitalized itself quite a bit since I was here last.  All the empty storefronts seems to be full again with tourist T-shirts and candy shops.
Next up was the Basement Tour.  Lots of interesting facts, but my advice is to take the GHOST tour at night.  Back in the day, Sacramento was built right on the river, LEVEL with the river.  When all that snow in the Sierras melted and came downstream, Sacramento flooded badly, year after year.  

The townspeople finally got together and came up with some solutions.  Raise the streets and straighten the river.  Apparently the river had a big S curve at the end, resulting in tons of silt.  When the snow melt began, all that silt clogged the river and caused flooding.  If they straightened it, the American river would flow more easily into the Sacramento River.   

Straight ahead is the bank, with it's ceiling high windows and crown molding, all painted gold to entice people to put their money there.    We entered the back door of what is now the basement, but used to be the bank proper.
Although I expected to see wallpaper and parts of the beautiful wood interior of the bank, what we found was all brick.  By the way, there are NO pictures allowed INSIDE.  We were all given marconi devices so we could hear what the tour guide was saying.  I missed the part about no pictures because it kept going on and off.
So what the townspeople did was add dirt on top of dirt to raise the road, holding it in with brick walls and buttresses you can see on the left hand side.  It's not GREAT brick work, but it's still holding today.  In some cases, the previous first floors were then used as basements and they added a story to the top of the building.  In other cases, they lifted the building inch by inch until it was level with the road, whereupon they put pillars underneath, keeping it at the new level.  

As you walk around, you can see some open spaces that show exactly how high they raised the roads.  Some store owners used their new basements for storage of goods, some for their trash.  Many bottles, combs and pieces of china have been found to date and are displayed for you to see.  The back of this building was rented out to a nice young lady for her business of .... well you can imagine I'm sure.  Some of the items on display appear to have been hers.
Having now walked a total of eight hours, we were all pretty tired as our feet screamed in distress.  While some stayed in Old Sacramento for dinner, I had to return to let the puppies out.  Driving in this area at 5:30 isn't a good idea.  In spite of my attempts to move over to the required left turn lane, the nice Sacramentans wouldn't let me over and I ended up across the river in WEST Sacramento before finally finding a freeway entrance.  The twenty minute drive took me 75 minutes ... I should have stayed for dinner!!

Alas, there were no planes on this trip except this one skimming the trees heading to the Sacramento Airport.  
There's one more train ride before the pot luck supper that caused me a little consternation.  I should have opted for the green beans in the Instant Pot, but instead decided to temp fate with a cheesy potato recipe I've never made before.  You can't say I'm not adventuresome.  Details tomorrow.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

The first stop yesterday in the hectic life of a Golden Spike member was the California Automobile Museum.  Ever heard of it?  Me neither, so I was pretty excited when we headed off to our first tour.  As is the case in most big cities, our RV accommodations are on the farthest side of the city.  I'm not the best at reading directions, and my Jeep does NOT have GPS.

After many turns and a long section of freeway followed by many MORE turns, I amazingly arrived at the destination.  I was not so lucky later on.  Although there weren't a lot of signs, I was pretty sure this was the place.
The wooden-built building is spectacular and BIG, with most all of the floor space full of amazing vehicles, from the very first Mercedes Benz to of Ford's first quadracycle.  On this particular week, they had a large presentation of old fire engines and horse drawn ladder wagons.  
There was a story about how they came about, but it was a long one.  They started with a large collection of cars owned by an older gentleman who didn't like paying taxes.  He stored his cars here while in a court battle with the IRS, who I'm sure you know, won their case!!  IRS finally agreed to allow the cars to remain until most were eventually sold off.  From there, more people began showing up with cars to be on display and there you have it .... a car museum.  

This is a beauty ... a 1904 Model B Touring which originally sold for $2,000.  With only 750 produced, they soon discontinued this first four cylinder car.  Only five remain in the world.  Please don't touch!!!
Much as I try to take pictures of the vehicle description, I missed this one.  I've really no idea what it is ... I can't pronounce it and I've never heard of it before.  I was distracted by our docents continuous conversation when all I wanted to do was look at the cars.  He corralled us like an old time cow poke, and despite our wanderings, cracked the whip like a pro ... a retired aircraft engineer I think he said.
At any rate, some of the stories were interesting ... like the car belonging to Mr. Giannini, the Bank of Italy entrepreneur who kept his money hidden instead of at the bank when the big fire hit San Francisco.  That made it readily available when people were clamoring for cash to rebuild.  He obviously made a fortune and drove a very nice chocolate brown beauty!!
One of the first ever RV's ... a homemade crazy combination of cars ... was made by a test pilot with several engineering degrees.  An Oldsmobile Toronado front wheel drive, along with many parts and pieces, became a 1971 Star Streak motorhome.
I'm not sure about his design ... the bathroom faces the only entrance door, with only a half wall between you and the outside world.  It was also the shower.  There's a fridge immediately to the left of the door frame, a double sink on one side and a stove on the other.  The entire rest of the rig is two big couches that make into a large bed.  Certainly not the RV's of today!!
There were lots of 60's and 70's cars, including the GTO I drove as an 18 year old, a few race cars, Ricky Nelson's mustang and this not-so-beautiful beauty.  Can you guess what it is?  
A black and red Edsel, now probably worth a fortune.  Hyped as the car of the future, it was deemed ugly and overpriced, becoming one of Ford's failures.
This gorgeous machine is definitely one I would take home.  An original Shelby Cobra worth a small fortune!!  There are many MANY more cars in the museum, a lot of which we didn't get to see because we were forced to listen to too many stories.    Don't get me wrong, he was a wonderful docent and very knowledgeable.  I guess we were just a rogue bunch of old folks who were more interested in the cars than most of the stories.
Almost two hours later, we gathered in the 60's diner for a lunch of sandwiches, chips and cookies before heading off to the California State Railroad Museum.   I made it to the museum with no problem, but had a little trouble getting back home.  Most everyone stayed in Old Town Sacramento for dinner, while I really needed to return to my puppies, it being three hours past their dinner and "go out" time.  

Due to the mass of one way streets, crazy on ramps and no signage, I ended up in WEST Sacramento when no one would let me make that left turn.  It being 5:15 on a Friday night, didn't help.  One hour and twelve minutes later, I finally made the 20 minute trip back home.   PHEW!!!  I'm tired from all the walking yesterday, so I'm holding those train pictures for tomorrow morning.  

We're off again early this morning to actually RIDE the train.  I wonder if there are still any train robbers around this part of the country?  Who knows, maybe we'll run into one or two.  I hope they aren't aircraft engineers!!  

Friday, April 28, 2017

Golden Spike Rally - Sacramento

And I was OFF .... to the Golden Spike Train Rally in Sacramento.  I knew it would be a short 3 hour trip ... and like Gilligan, I hoped I wouldn't get lost.   It went pretty smoothly getting packed up and ready to go.  When I loaded Jonathan, he started screeching like a banshee and no amount of kitty kitty or disco Jon would settle him down.

That of course put the dogs on edge.  They are highly attuned to the bird since he has better hearing than they do.   I went out one door, whereupon Cooper snuck out faster than I could flip a switch.  He's a runner, a problem child, but luckily he ran straight into the garage where he was quickly captured.

Then it was out the back door with Cooper in hand and Jessie on a leash.  It turned into a Three Stooges comedy.  Jessie got right to the door before backing out of her collar and running back to the house, which made Cooper do a dance in my arms, forcing me to put him down.  Then HE ran back to the house.

On the second try, I carried Jessie until my arm about fell off ... she's a pretty hefty gal ... and I had to put her down, whereupon they both ran AGAIN back to the house.  On the third try, I actually got them both in the rig, but had to return to lock the house.  Cooper's Houdini skills kicked in and he escaped AGAIN!!

By now I'm laughing so hard I can't see straight.  I guess they don't really want to leave the nice big back yard.  Finally, with both harnesses in place, they reluctantly climbed in the rig and began shaking in their boots to the still screeching Jonathan.  It's a ZOO I tell you!!

Traffic wasn't bad, but the wind sure was.  Even at 55 mph, and sometimes down to 50, the wind whipped me back and forth across my lane.  Right off the bat, a 70 mph Greyhound Bus passed me with a SWOOSH that pushed me over two feet.  YIKES!!  I hate it when that happens.

The views were nice and green with loads of white flowers alongside the freeway.  All that water has made California beautiful again.
Even the forever brown golf course near Stockton was pretty ... except for all the electrical towers.  By now the wind had settled down, but I kept up my 55 mph in the interest of fuel conservation.
Arriving at Cal Expo, they were quick to check me in and send me off to my parking site.  Lucky for me I have one of the halfway level sites.  They usually put me in the big gravel lot in back, but for whatever reason, they moved our group to the paved parking ... all except one.  Kurt and Betty Simon are relegated to the gravel.
We had some great appetizers for dinner, followed by classroom orientation on the activities, all in the middle of the parking lot, since the building was occupied by another group.  Today we're off to the Automobile Museum, then over to the Train Museum in Old Sacramento.  The last tour of the day will be the Underground Tour.  I can't wait for THAT one.

In the old days, all the buildings along the river were built EVEN with the water level.  Most every year, it would flood.  Eventually the people got smart and raised the level of the streets, over 20 feet in some cases, but left the buildings intact, building second and third floors instead.  You can actually wander through what is now the basements of many of those original buildings.  Pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Time To Go

I'm pretty excited this morning to climb into my new rig and hit the road for Sacramento.  Isn't she a beauty??  Yeah, you're right.  It's not mine, nor could it ever be.  Once that car is inside, there's no storage room AT ALL.  If you look close, the base must drag along the ground as it pulls the car underneath, then is elevated to the proper height for ground clearance?  That's taking up ALL my chatchkey space!!
I finally got around to washing the windshield and checking the tire pressure on my REAL rig.  I packed a little food stuff, but left out things like cooking sherry, soy sauce ... all those things you carry for a much longer trip.  I even left all the bread in the freezer at home since I'm watching the carbs much more closely.  

Next up, I checked the tire pressure on the Jeep and used my new Ryobi compressor.  It looks like it would only work for basketballs or bicycle tires, but I have to say this little workhorse is great for the Jeep tires.  The battery even worked after having sat in the car for probably three months.   Of course the tires only hold 34 pounds of pressure, but this baby worked like a charm.  SO much easier to drag around than my huge air compressor.
I spent the rest of the afternoon making note after note of the things I don't want to forget.  Yup ... I'm a sticky note person.  I have them everywhere.  It's not that I can't remember, I've just got too many other things swishing around in my brain.  Like OH RATS!!!  I forgot to go to the grocery store yesterday and pick up something for the first day's appetizers.  No really, I did forget.  Definitely should have written THAT one down.

Late afternoon, I gathered up and organized the audit binder I created and trotted down to the Elks Lodge for my free Committee Chairman dinner/meeting.  I figure if I go to enough of these, I'll get my $147 worth of dues in food!!  Wasn't I surprised when the NEW chairman said I was required to read and approve the outside auditor's report and findings before I step down.  I mean really, he could have waited until AFTER I ate my steak (which was delicious by the way).

I told him it was too late ... I stepped down an hour ago when I walked in the door.  In fact, I was told originally that was NOT on my list of duties.  This nice gentleman has been around FOREVER and knows all the rules, so I acquiesced with the statement OH GEE, I'll be gone to officially assume the property I purchased in Arizona.  "Well you COULD appoint someone" he says.  

Instantly, YOU, flashed through my head.  My bad .... I let him think I would work around my schedule, but in truth, I'll be gone the entire month the audit becomes available.   My "appointment" will be forthcoming!!

Forgetting the appetizers I have to produce for this afternoon's happy hour, I worked on finishing this elephant for my quilt.  There's so many cute designs, it's hard to pick which ones to make.  
I'm a little slow this morning, but should have everything packed up and ready to leave by noon, with one short stop to find something edible for happy hour.  It's about a three hour drive, owing only to the bad roads and a couple of tricky turnoffs, not to mention traffic.  I better get cracking!!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


You thought I forgot the wonderful, dazzling, exciting, magnificent MAGIC KINGDOM??  No such luck!!  It was on my mind so much that I completely forgot to wash the windshield of the rig yesterday.  I really need to get my act together, as I leave first thing in the morning.

At any rate, I headed off to the land of knights and peasants in time for my usual coca cola in the bar before the hoards arrive.  I absolutely love it when Robert Duvall shows up.  You talk about body doubles ... this guy is the spitting image of Robert.  He wears the same hat, the same clothes and walks the same way.  When he walks in off the street, you think you're in a bar somewhere out on the prairie.  One of these days I'll get up enough nerve to talk to him, mostly to find out if he's single!!!

Anyway, after a dinner of popcorn and peanuts, at least that was my plan, I headed downstairs to find the entire setup already complete.  The Castle Lawyer had arrived and taken care of business.  I LOVE it when she's there!

Everything went according to plan, except the vile calculating contraption I call the infernal machine has taken the debit/credit card machine under it's wing and caused havoc all night long.  Actually I'm sure that had a lot to do with operator error, but it frustrated the Castle Lawyer and I very nicely.  She hasn't used it in some time, being out sick and all.

No matter what we did, it got locked up, with no amount of pushing buttons having any affect whatsoever.  The mini-me infernal machine had to be unplugged THREE times!!

I passed on the stomach churning brownies and the homemade fudge, but got hung up on the best little Philippine taquitos (they have a name, but it escapes me this early in the morning) I've ever had. Still hungry, I followed that up with a hot dog ... nothing else, just a hot dog, that inspired instant rumbling distress in my stomach that continues to this very moment.  It's TUMS for breakfast!!  Woohoo!
It was an unusual night in that there were no fights or arguments and everyone yelled Bingo loud enough to collect their money.  We had NOT a lot of people, but some really big spenders and gave out a total of $4,750 in prizes.  Those big spenders just make us all shake our heads as we count out all their nickels, dimes and pennies.

Since I can never sleep once I get home, I spent an hour working on the next quilt block.  I spent the rest of my restless, sleepless night thinking about the house in Arizona, not to mention the rally that begins tomorrow.   Did I pack everything??   The answer is NOT YET.
Last night I received two emails from the rally organizers looking for tables and other stuff for the outdoor orientation, since the indoor one was taken up by someone else.  Hopefully there won't be a downpour, but I'm not holding my breath.  So I'm off to add more to the load in the Jeep, wash the windshield, load the food, both dog, bird and people, check the air in all ten tires and wash clothes to take with me. 

The good news ..... I've been stressing about the auditing job I've been doing for the Elks, especially since I'm really not there enough.  Last night a wonderful gentlemen came up to me and said he had just been appointed Audit Committee Chairman.  I jumped for joy!!!!!  Best news EVER!!  For one, he's done every job around at both the local and district level, so he knows his stuff.  The bad news ... I have to attend a dinner tonight ... taking away more of my packing time.  I'm mostly excited because finally there's someone to show me the ropes as far as the Elks requirements.  Nancy's a happy camper!!

It's time to get packing!!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Who You Gonna Call???

It's too bad there aren't any ghostbusters around because I sure could use one.   My electric bill has been extraordinarily high the last two months when it usually runs around $90.  Sometimes it's just not worth the effort or the stress to figure it all out, so I just pay the bill and go on about my way.

Yesterday when I checked on-line for my last months bill, I discovered it was THREE times the normal. I got angry because I do so MUCH to keep my bill low.   I have not been using lights, and I haven't used my ovens, my air conditioning or my heating AT ALL.  It was time to become a PG&E-buster and find out what's going on.

There's absolutely no use calling them ... their answer is so sorry charlie ... your meter says you used it, you pay for it.     Good 'ole PG&E ... who now advertises about how they killed people in the San Bruno gas pipe explosion because of their negligence ... "but we're fixing it".  Yup ... that's their local advertisement.
Anyway, I checked out everything I could think of when I finally got to the sprinklers.  They run more than anything around here.   Although the gardeners are supposed to keep an eye on them, as in check them at least once a month to make sure they are working, they have a 90 year old's memory.  I suppose that has something to do with me throwing a fit about the Roundup-dead plants.

I know you're as tired of hearing me complain about my gardeners as I am.  Originally DAD took care of the yard and kept everything up ... a real conscientious guy.  When his son took over,  the quality went downhill.  Mow and blow as they say, and gone with the wind.

At any rate, I noticed a sprinkler head that was broken off about three months ago.  I asked him to replace it.  Of course he didn't have any extras, but promised he would get it fixed.
With my ghostbuster hat on, I decided to check the sprinkler timer.  Maybe something was up with that.  Nope ... it all looked fine.  Seeing the grass getting dry, I decided to run all the stations and double check their output.  Wasn't I surprised when I discovered a fountain in the front yard running water like a river down the driveway.

Buried deep in the grass was the broken sprinkler head I asked him to replace three months ago.  THREE MONTHS this thing has been pouring water down the drain and running my pump motor hour after hour while I was in Arizona.  Ghost BUSTED!!  Now of course, I'm turning red around the ears as steam pours off the top of my head!!   Nancy is NOT a happy camper!!

I called the DAD really early yesterday ... I have him on speed dial ... but nothing has been repaired as of yet.  There are also two leaking main valves that require repair, which he promised to fix two weeks ago.    I suppose part of it is on me ... I should be checking them constantly and not rely on anyone else.

The trouble is, who am I gonna call?  I've gone through just about every yard service in town that I can afford.  I've come to the conclusion it's time to cut back on grass and plant concrete.  I've turned the sprinklers OFF and deposited my ghostbuster hat in the closet.  Case closed ..... for now.  I'm willing to bet my PG&E bill will be MUCH lower next month.  Thank you for letting me rant!!!

On a happier note, I signed a contract on the house in Arizona and sent my deposit check.  Assuming all the inspections are good, it should close on or about May 17th.  YAY!!!!!

Now where did I leave the phone number for my concrete guy???

Monday, April 24, 2017

Critters You Can Sleep With

This blog isn't ALL about the critters, but they are so darn cute I can't help myself!!  Not the critters like those that sleep in MY bed ... a Jack Russell and a Poodle who growl if you move a muscle ... but THIS kind that play in and out of the borders across the quilt I'm making.  Come on, you have to admit these are the cutest things EVER!!
I wasn't able to acquire all the fabric I needed, but got enough to get started.  Did you ever notice there are hardly any BROWN fabric colors to choose from?  Not that you all hang out at the fabric store, but believe me, in my little corner of the world, there are twenty five reds to every one brown.

So I'm starting with black and white.  The first square was this little penguin.  These seem to take quite a bit longer than the Halloween variety since you sew the borders on while it's in the frame.  
Pretty cute in my book ... not that I have any grandchildren or great grandchildren to give it to, but hopefully someone will come along that loves it as much as I do.  
I'm working on getting the rig ready for this weekend's rally.  It's a lot of work for just four days.  Oh well ... it needs to be done anyway.  First up ... sanitize the fresh water tank.  I think I've mentioned before how Mr. Chance told me to hook up my water hose and pour the bleach inside, then hook it to the water faucet.

The first couple of times I tried that, I ended up with more bleach on me and the ground than in the tank.  I've finally gotten it down.  If I move the handle to TANK FILL and lift the hose slowly, the water runs FROM the hose, making room for the bleach.  I'm so proud I didn't spill not one little drop.  Fill tank, wait, dump tank ... fill tank, wait, dump tank and finally it's full, hopefully sanitized and ready to go.  

Not that I drink out of the faucet ... I don't, nor do I COOK with tank water.  It just tastes bad to me, not to mention the fact that if I don't get it clean enough I could make someone really sick.  I always used bottled water.  I know there are a myriad of filters out there I could hook up, but what a pain in the patootie they are.  If I had a husband, that would be his first job ... hook up the filters.

In between fills and dumps of water, I wandered down to the Elks RV Park, all of maybe two miles away, for the free steak dinner ... members only.  There were lots of Bloody Mary's poured, most all of which stayed on the tables until tossed in the trash.  I've no idea what the girl did wrong, but they were apparently horrible.  I didn't do a taste test.

I was taken aback when the steak was served by HAND instead of tongs ... YIKES!! ... but my little rib eye was delicious.  The potatoes were yummy, but the guys forgot the butter, salt and pepper, like men are apt to do.  Sorry, but the ladies know that's the truth!!  

The beans were apparently ordered by someone NOT in the know.   He got the wrong kind ... which they then tried to transform into something else.  It didn't work.  They were good with the sausage, linguica and brown sugar, even though baked beans are already loaded with sugar.  The biggest mistake was adding molasses.  Good grief ... a tablespoon might have been okay, but they added an entire jar.  WHOA NELLY!!!  

I choked down a couple of tablespoons before hiding them with my napkin.  I finished my salad instead.  Hey ... it's FREE and it's STEAK!!  Oh ... I forgot to mention they bought rolls that SHOULD have been baked before serving ... but they didn't.  Again, it was FREE, so really I'm NOT complaining.   (You believed that, right??)  The good news is I brought home TWO extra steaks that I can transform into two more meals!!

Once home, I worked on my second critter and am now starting my third.  At least these critters won't be growling at whoever they sleep with!!  Apparently Jessie growled when she was overrun by dogs at her "other" house.  Cooper, being a tiny puppy when I got him, picked up on that bad habit almost immediately, in spite of my warnings of the dire consequences, which were of course non-existent.  
As much as I thought the rain was over, there are cloudy skies overhead, making it harder to wash the rig windows.  I still have groceries to get, the bed to strip and packing for MY critters.  I think I take more for them than I do for me!!  Three days till lift off!!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Instant Pot Madness

Here's my Instant Pot wisdom of the day and my chicken cacciatore recipe.

If you're thinking about getting one, join the Instant Pot Community on Facebook.  Be ready to be inundated with a million posts, thereby missing some of your REAL friends posts.  I stayed connected just long enough to gather some information, then UNFOLLOWED.    I discovered the best place for recipes is  Pinterest, not so much.  Lots of recipes, but lots of fails.

Most of the posts are from people without brains.  I apologize in advance, but really ... how many times have you put ingredients in your crock pot WITHOUT the insert, then turned it on and left the building.  Not many, I'm willing to guess.  If you are looking for a recipe, scroll back through the posts, or better yet, go to the Instant Pot Community page and use the search function.  Please don't ask how to boil eggs ... it has been asked literally a million times!!   I'm happy to answer any questions I can .. just send me a message.
The pot you see here is a 5 quart size, more than enough for me or a family of four.  The next size up is a 6 quart ... no bigger around, just taller.  If you are cooking for an army that lives in your neighborhood or you want soup for the next year, buy the 8 quart.

There are basically TWO models, or types of Instant Pots.  The DUO 50 (5 qt) or 60 (6 qt) and the LUX.  Don't buy the Lux.  It has a lid that is much harder to handle and put in place.  It has less buttons to play with and will only cook some things with a complicated recipe of pushing said buttons.  The DUO is the Nikon of pots ..... the LUX is that old brownie camera your mother had.  Trust me on this one because I have BOTH.  I don't recommend any other brand (there are many) and they have MANY problems.  Customer service on the IP has been terrific so I have read.

When you cook in the Instant Pot, you must ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS (emphasis on always) have at least one cup of water or liquid in the pot.  Otherwise, there won't be enough steam to get to pressure.  If you are following an Instant Pot recipe, you should be okay.  You're grandmothers chicken recipe may not work so well.

Just like the old fashioned pressure cooker I have in the cupboard, these new ones have silicon rings in the lid.  A weird trait of silicon is it sucks up the smell of whatever you are cooking.  I personally don't mind since I like smelling the chicken I cooked as I walk by the stove two days later.  The problem comes when you bake cheesecake in the same pot and it comes out tasting like chicken and garlic.  For that reason, order the colored silicon rings ( so you can switch them out when you cook something sweet.    Blue for sweets, red for meats.
The questions always arise ... what accessories should I get?  Besides the rings (and the trivet that comes with the pot), I suggest a wire basket.  This one HAD metal handles that easily break off, making it a perfect fit for the pot.  Okay, not as easy as they made it sound ... it took me fifteen minutes of twisting and pulling.  It's plenty big for a crowd of green beans or cut up potatoes for salad.  The little feet are not tall enough .... place the trivet inside the pot and put this on the trivet to keep the water AWAY from your potatoes.
The Push Pan (like the old fashioned cheesecake pans) is a must.  Springform pans work too, but a smaller size is required due to the spring sticking out a little too far.  This pan is good for any number of things, like cakes, cheesecakes, lasagne, tamale pie, quiche, egg casserole ... just about anything you can imagine.  No one said lasagne had to be in a square pan.  Just a note here ... if the recipe calls for foil to be put over the top ... like cheesecake or chocolate cake ... be sure and not miss that step.  Otherwise you will have a soggy water-logged cake from all the water dripping from the lid onto your cake.  In fact, I have covered everything I cooked in this pan.
So here's the chicken cacciatore recipe.  You can also cook it in your crock pot, it will just take all day versus 30 minutes.

2 pounds boneless chicken thighs 
2 tbsp oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp tomato paste (rest goes in freezer for next time)
1 red bell pepper
8 oz sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 sm can black olives (add after cooking is complete)

Select SAUTE function on your instant pot and wait for it to say HOT.  Add in the oil and brown the chicken for a minute or two.  Remove from pot.  Add a tiny bit more oil if needed and toss in the onion.   Keep stirring (I use a wooden spoon) until all the good bits are off the bottom of the pot.  If you don't get all the bits off the bottom, they will burn, giving a lovely inedible taste to your chicken.  Add in the garlic.  Hit the CANCEL button which turns the pot off.

Add in the tomatoes, vinegar and spices, giving it a quick stir.  Top with chicken and remaining vegetables with broth going in last.  Secure the lid and select the manual button.  It will automatically cook on HIGH but you have to adjust the time.  The default on mine is 30 minutes, so after hitting the manual button, I keep hitting the minus sign ( - ) until it gets down to EIGHT minutes.  Be sure the valve on top is set to SEALING and walk away.  For this recipe NPR for 5 minutes, then QPR, both described below.  Stir in the olives before serving.

That's it ... just let it go.  You may or may not hear a little steam escaping ... you may or may not hear the valve closing.  Once the pot reaches pressure, it will automatically start counting down the time you set.  Be patient ... full pots (never more than 2/3 full) take longer to reach pressure.

Once done, it beeps at you and begins the count UP for the NPR ... natural pressure release.  In other words, it will release the inside pressure naturally and the pin will drop, allowing you to remove the lid ..... OR ..... you can quick release the pressure QPR by lifting the valve, whereupon the steam will come screaming out until the pin drops.  Don't do this with your fingers, for obvious reasons.  I use the same wooden spoon to GENTLY lift the valve releasing the pressure.   Once the pin drops,  dinner is served, after you stir in the olives!! 

As with all cookware, it takes a little getting used to.  Sometimes that steak my mother cremated took 30 minutes to burn to a crisp, sometimes 40.  It's the same with the Instant Pot.   If the contents aren't done to your satisfaction, replace the lid and start it again for maybe an additional 5 minutes.  There's a little bit of trial and error the first several times you BAKE in it ... although my cheesecake, chocolate cake and flan came out perfectly every time.    Beginner's luck!!!

Another tip .... never Quick Release meat, even if the recipe tells you to.  The meat is sitting in your pot, all relaxed and happy until you release the pressure quickly, in which case it tightens up like the charlie horse in your calf at midnight ... and it will stay that way, TOUGH as nails.  Let the pot count up to at least 10 minutes before releasing the pressure for your meat to remain happy and tender.  Not so much for chicken, but definitely for any other kind of meat.

The book that comes with the unit is basically worthless.  I haven't found an Instant Pot cookbook yet, but I'm on the hunt.  In the meantime, I use PAPRIKA (iPhone app) to capture recipes from Facebook and the internet on my phone.  Works like a charm.  

Tomorrow ... critters you can sleep with!!!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

In The Interest of Fair Advertising

I don't frequent fast food joints.  Although I love LOVE their food, I gain weight just looking at it.  I haven't had a craving for hamburgers in years when I stopped in at In-N-Out in Gilroy.  You already know how disappointing the french fries were.

So on my way home yesterday from purchasing material in Turlock, I had to drive by not one, but TWO Mickey D's.  Barbara Westerfield suggested I try THEIR fries.  Well why not???  Life's short.  So in the interest of fair advertising, here's my report.

I gobbled down the first one right out of the nice brown bag before I even left the parking lot.  WHAT A DIFFERENCE!  They were hot, crispy on the edges with just a hint of salt and completely cooked through like a french fry should be.  I could even tell they had been in a boiling bath of oil, giving them just the right texture.  They were half gone by the time I got home (it's about a mile away).
Here's why you get your french fries at McDonald's, but your burger at In-N-Out.  McDonald's has changed up their menu.  They used to have a large selection of delicious things, but alas, I only saw one chicken sandwich and about six burgers.  Chicken nuggets don't count.  Eating chicken parts I can't recognize is a dangerous health risk.  

Not wanting another burger, since they post all the calories on each and every one, I settled for the Artisan Chicken Sandwich.  Trust me folks, there is nothing "artisan" about it.  Maybe it's the bun that meets their criteria.  Yes, there really is a bun smashed to death under that tough piece of chicken.  The top bun didn't fair well either.  The best part was the not-quite-ripe tomatoe covered with a limp piece of lettuce.  

An Artisan is a skilled crafts worker who makes things by hand.  I suppose I have to admit it was thrown together by hand, including the teaspoon of something resembling sauce underneath the chicken.  I honestly couldn't taste it at all ... I tried .... before dumping two tablespoons of honey mustard into the middle.  It didn't help.

I'm on a quest now ... something like the bread pudding of the year award we were trying to drop on someone as the Westerfields and I crossed the United States to Maine.  I HAVE to find the best french fries.  I'll skip anything with the name Artisan.
My trip out of town yesterday was to pick up fabric to make a baby quilt.  I know ... there are no babies in my life, but it's the cutest thing EVER!!  My embroidery machine that I picked up in Tucson is the bees knees!!!    So sad for me, I didn't get QUITE enough material, so I'll have to return today, driving right by Carls Junior!!
Obviously the diet has gone out the window the last week or so, so I'm trying to get back on track with another Instant Pot wonder.  There are a million recipes out there ... many of which do NOT turn out well for others, so I decided to stick with a known formula.  Here's the first chicken cacciatore recipe I made.  It's a keeper, so I made it again last night.  Gosh darn ... this stuff is GOOD!!
I served it over a little bit of rice, in an actual ceramic BOWL.  I did learn a lesson here ... cut up chicken breast takes longer to cook than thighs, even though it's all the same size.  I'm sticking that piece of information in my brain in the hopes it will reappear the next time I cook chicken.
It's time to get organized and start packing for a rally in Sacramento coming up this week.  Not sure I'm going to use it, but the Instant Pot will go with me everywhere from now on, so I need to procure a place for it to ride.  Reorganization ... not my forte!!  Maybe I can find a Taco Bell in Old Town Sacramento to further my quest ... oh wait ... they don't have french fries!!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Robbers Pass

I haven't been taking my camera with me lately ... shame on me!!  I did remember it on my trip over the hill to Gilroy and Morgan Hill, but only after driving five miles down the road.  That's usually enough for me to say forget it ... but this time I went back.  California is gorgeous in the springtime.

As you drive up over the Diablo Mountains between the Santa Clara Valley and our Central Valley, you can see nothing but green.  In the olden days, back when I was a kid (not really), it was the site of a stage station on the Butterfield Overland stagecoach mail route.  It connected St. Louis Missouri with San Francisco and quickly became known as Robbers Pass.
On this particular day, the clouds looked like they were playing tic tac toe.  The Yokut Indians were the first to use this trail to traverse the mountains and trade with the coastal tribes.  It's a beautiful area, but unfortunately there aren't many turnouts where you can stop and enjoy the view.  In fact, there are none.  I stopped in a big driveway with no parking signs every ten feet.
It's more well known name of Pacheco Pass was for Francisco Pacheco who owned 35,000 acres of Mexican Land Grants, but people knew it as Robbers Pass because of all the holdups that took place there.   There was only one route over the hills in central California, so it was the perfect setup for bad guys looking to garner a few bucks without working for it.

Seems kind of weird, but on the Eastern side of the Diablo mountains there is a huge dam creating the San Luis Reservoir.  It's an artificial lake and stores water taken from the Sacramento River Delta.  Water comes from the California Aqueduct system, is pumped UPHILL into the lake, then is released back DOWN into the forebay where it continues on south for irrigation and "other purposes" meaning water for the Los Angeles area.  This is the first time it has been full in many years.
Although it is a recreation area for boaters and fishermen, it is notoriously windy and has caused many deaths from overturned boats.  I caught my biggest fish ever at this location.  
At any rate, on the way back I didn't see any robbers, but I did see lots of water in the San Luis Wildlife area.  Water from the San Joaquin River spreads out on this flood plain (that is when there IS water) as far as the eye can see, making it a perfect habitat for ducks and all water critters.
There's no place to stop along this highway either.  You would think they could widen the road a little, but apparently they don't want visitors.  I stopped by a bridge in a spot barely wide enough for my truck and left my flashers on just long enough to get this pictures of the ducks scurrying away.
As you get closer to the river proper, there is a large parking area, completely flooded.  If you're brave, you can tempt fate and try to cross over to it.  I didn't stay too long ... there were a couple of fishermen just a little too close for comfort. 
It really is a beautiful area, whether in the spring when everything is green, or in the summer when the hills look like velvet from the brown summer grass.  Take someone with you for pictures because you're going to want to keep your eyes on the road.  

This is a major truck corridor to the Bay Area, along with tons of people who are in a BIG hurry on a  narrow and steep highway, making it a rather dangerous ride.  I can't believe we rode Pacheco Pass on our motorcycles back in the old days and lived to tell the story.    Someone was definitely looking out for us on Robbers Pass.