Thursday, May 26, 2016

Another Use for that Cast Iron Skillet

I always shake my head when I see all the boxes and brands of cornbread mix in the store, most of the ingredient lists which read like a chemical experiment.  Cornbread is about the easiest bread in the world to make and I've yet to meet someone that didn't like it.

I made some cornbread with my low gluten wild yeast whole wheat sourdough  with no extra flour added to the batter and it turned out awesome so I then wanted to try and make some that was gluten free, without using a bunch of almond and coconut flours.  How about gluten free sourdough? Use rice flour - it ferments easily, making a great base for delicious bread with that nice tang you associate with sourdough. 

I LOVE sourdough bread for the taste AND the health benefits:

Sourdough is:
– easy to digest
– contains the healthy gut bacteria lactobacillus (the same major player in yogurt and kefir)
– has most of the phytic acid  broken down and
– doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar like traditional bread often does (I'm hypoglycemic so this is always a concern)
Gluten Free Sourdough Starter
You will need:

  • 1 cup Water
  • 2 and 1/4 tsp Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 and 1/2 cup White Rice Flour (I'm pretty sure brown rice flour would also work, this is just what I had on hand)

To make starter in a 1 quarter glass container (yes, you can use plastic, but I prefer glass), combine 1 cup of 110  - 115 F non chlorinated water and  2 and 1/4 tsp active dry yeast and 1 and 1/2 cups white rice flour. Let sit loosely covered in a warm place for 12 hours, stirring with a wooden spoon every 3-4 hours, before using for the first time.  It's thick to start out, then thins, with often a layer of liquid on the top, this is normal and you simply stir before using.

Each time  you use a cup simply replace what is used with a cup of warm water (preferably non chlorinated) about 110 degrees F.  and 1 and 1/2 cups white rice flour.  Let it sit loosely covered for 12 hours before using again or store in refrigerator for later use.  In a few days add a cup of the water and a cup and a half of the flour and stir, letting it sit 12 hours at room temperature.  This should give you enough to make your first bread, but always make sure you leave at least one cup of starter left.

Try and use it weekly as regular feeding will make for a more robust starter and over time it will get more "sour" for that flavor.  But if it sits for more than two weeks reactivate it by removing a cup of starter, then feed it by replacing that with 1 cup four, 2/3 cup flour, 2/3 cup water and a teaspoon of sugar.  Let sit at room temperature for 12 hours, then put back in fridge.  

And if you want to throw in a handful of fresh blueberries and cooked bacon no one is going to stop you.

For the gluten free cornbread.

1 cup GF Sourdough Starter
2 cups cornmeal

1 1/2 cups milk 
4 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup lard, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Mix milk and lemon juice together and let sit a few minutes.  Preheat oven to 425 F. and grease a 10 inch ovenproof skillet or baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine the starter, cornmeal, milk mixture, sugar and eggs (beaten first).  Stir in the melted lard, salt and baking soda.  Bake 25-30 minutes.

Serve with butter and honey 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Chapter 23 - And So We Stay Earthbound

A Chapter from the Upcoming Book - "Small Town Roads"
Sometimes you think you can fly, only to be destined to drown.

And so we stay earthbound. "Should have". "Would have". Those are words in all of our hearts, at least once. We recall much of a life as each year passes, candles on another cake, warm breath against the flames. But what do you remember most, the best day of your life or your last regret?

The difference is profound.

I look at my Dad, and when my only brother's name is mentioned he gets this look of profound grief on his face, even as I've learned to get through the day as a stoic. He is a man who is not Time's trinket and for him, my brothers collapse and death on Good Friday was if it was yesterday.

But he'd not have given up the experience of adopting and raising him, both of us, for any happier ending.
I remember a few short years ago, when I thought my heart was in pieces, not likely to heal.  A fractured goodbye, and the realization that the person I had cared for, who had asked to meet my family and had done so, was a breathing ghost. I was left with just a rose, drying between two pages, the blood from an internal thorn let tearing something loose inside, the print of nose against the glass of a skyscraper where I leaned into it so the tears couldn't be seen. Afterwards, I wondered if life was even worth living, there in that brief darkness before there is light.

But I didn't go down that path, the thought only one of brief self pity, not intended to be action. I had a really good cry or two and a giant plate of Nachos and a beer or three with a six foot pony-tailed blond, who has always been my rock among best friends. Then, after a long night's sleep and an even longer bike ride, I picked up the phone and called a guy friend, someone I had chatted on line with for years. I knew he would understand.My boyfriend and I broke up", was all I said, and he listened, as he always did while I talked it out, and tried to put it behind me.
It wasn't the first time my heart had broke, and wouldn't be the last, but the feeling peeled something from me, like skin from an onion, leaving nerves exposed to a cold that bit with weasel teeth. It brought back a memory of that first loss of someone I loved and  a memory of how I handled it. For that first time my heart broke, I did what a lot of people do. I pushed everyone away, pushing my boundaries, sometimes hanging up high in the air, the g-forces on my body a distraction from the pain, the air parting like the Red Sea, my only need to move on at maximum risk to my body, and minimum risk to my soul.

I wanted nothing from the world but the ability to push through it without being touched.  I talked little to people but much to the sky, whispering to it my regrets as I rolled through 40 degrees of bank, taking counsel with that great blue solitude.
You think that cheating death like that would make me feel alive but for a time, it was a battle without passion, grey and colorless, with neither the urge to win, or the fear to lose, played out before an arena with no audience.  I came within a few knots of a final pronouncement more than once, and found that I had nothing left to say.

The only sound was the wings cleaving the air, a sound that is like all other sounds of profound mystery, the lap of a wave upon a shore, the echo of taps, the whispers of a voice that speaks to you in dreams from an eternity away, heard but not comprehensible.

I lost out on a lot of life during those brief years.
This time, I was a bit older, and a little scar tissue and I weren't strangers, having been through much worse than breaking up a budding relationship. This time I was going to open myself up to friends and get out and enjoy my life with the four legged friend who had taught me that lesson. With Barkley in tow, we got out and we talked and we learned to laugh again, and in fairly short order. There was whiskey and bacon and late nights with two good friends laughing as we compared the merits of Barry White versus William Shatner and Greensleeves or Zamfir and his Pan Flute as music for romance. On one of the rare days I let that last heartache get the better of me, one of those friends said "if you had to do it all again, knowing it would teach you how to feel again, would you"?  I looked her and said "Oh yes."
I didn't see my friend  that I called that night for quite a few months, our regular long talks continuing with the usual matters between people that share mutual friends, hobbies and books, even if they don't share the same generation. Then one night he mentioned a date with a ballerina, and I pictured them out, so young, beautiful, laughing and felt something twist in my chest that had not been there for a while. But I didn't say anything.
Then one day he called me after landing from a  long business trip overseas and asked me to an event we both loved, not a date, just a typical outing with a friend someplace upstate.  I said yes and plans were made. After hanging out all  that day, he asked if I wanted to get a bite to eat once we'd had a chance to get cleaned up (playing with steam engines all day can get a little dirty) and we located a couple quick burger places near our respective hotels.  He showed up at my door dressed in dress pants and a crisp shirt, and the burger joint I was expecting as planned, turned into a intimate, elegant bistro, a glass of wine, and  a conversation about things much deeper than the night, things only hinted at, never said.

Halfway through the meal I thought  to myself "holy cow, this is a date".

That was four summers ago, on a warm, clear day.  That date is now my husband.

Because he asked.
How often do we stay silent, when we are searching, when we need help, when we are hurt?  How often do we shut ourselves away when we want a cool touch upon the brow or a hand that helps us up a steep slope. There is so much that can keep us from the truth of things, holding us in that toil of a heart's hesitation.

Sometimes it's pride, sometimes it's hurt. Sometimes it's history.  Often it's the fear of being rejected The safety stays on, the mouth stays closed and while we think we are protecting ourselves, we're merely closing a door on life, one that can be as fixed as one of a prison.  In doing so sometimes we lose a friend, we lose an opportunity or we lose on love- that improbable, inexplicable and sometimes bewildering thing that binds us together despite our blood, or through it.
A fellow I knew professionally, lamented to me in a moment of vulnerability after a very late night on the job that his old high school crush was marrying someone else.  I said "did you ever ask her out" and he said "no. . . I knew she would say no, she was beautiful and popular and I'm. . . . ", accepting the words as he uttered them with an almost eager fatalism. That which makes something its truth also makes its meaning.  I should have offered comfort, but I remained silent, not knowing what to say.

So he and I just continued to work, in silence, our untrammeled feet taking us to a place rendered quiet not by solitude, but by loss. We worked on, blind and deaf to any emotion but the gathering and I realized I should have said something, if only, "next time. . . ask" said with a smile, and a hug from a friend, not a colleague.
I had a birthday a few short months ago,  I looked at what was around me, and how I almost lost it, lost myself, simply by never taking the chance, listening to my fears, and not to my heart.  For the past does have a way of coming back to us.  You can fear in in silence, treating it as if you would an unwanted dream or you can learn from it, remembering it like a fine book, full of wonders and maybe occasional warfare, but as full of life as  the landscape around you.

For what I've learned in 50 some years on this planet, is the earth is simply a standing place and how you look at what is around you is your loss or your gain.
The sky and water welded together without joint, the sun descending down, touching the lake with a soundless hiss.  Soon, the moon would spread over this place with the thick sheen of silver. This was just one day in time, one day to be cataloged in memory.  The living trees, the flowers planted by another's hands, so still they appear to have been formed in stone, even to the smallest bud, the feather stroke of a tiny leaf.

I touched the porch railing of this old house, tracing it the way fingers trace a human backbone, there under the skin, in silent perusal of that which becomes wonder. Another year older, another day wiser. I could worry about, or as I did on that birthday, when  I could give my best friend and husband a T-Shirt that says "I Can't Drive 55" and just laugh, a sound that  will bend the trees and shake the fixed stars in the sky.  I turn towards the door, where there is a light on, awaiting.

LB Johnson 2016

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Weekend Canon Fodder

Angry bird blocking sidewalk
The best part of waking up.
A local company was going to throw this out, and a perfectly good variac as well. 
 Going to ship this to Tam and Bobbie.
Escape by a hare
Remnants of old Chicago history
Yes, I sure want to drive a double decker bus in Chicago traffic!
Who is a good girl?
Chill mornings
Warm afternoons
Grill time
Anyone can microwave
 Homemade Korean barbecue sauce
Winging it.
It will be Monday before we know it

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday Night Chuckwagon

While Partner in Grime went and got supplies to rebuild the back porch steps,, I baked, cleaned and cooked.

Call me old fashioned but I enjoy taking care of a home and a kitchen for my husband so he's got a comfortable place to come home to after a long day of work.
My great grandmother did that, my grandmother did that, my Mom did that.  But they did it out of love, the greatest of reasons.

My husband does as much work as I do, it's a shared responsibility but I enjoy doing the tasks he doesn't like to do, just as he cleans the gutters which I do not like to do.

Because if I was expected to do everything it would be.


But I'm lucky to have a husband like my Dad, that views the house as a shared responsibility.  As he deals with spiders, and plumbing reworkings, I try and leave enough meals so that after a long day he doesn't HAVE to cook.

Tonight's was "what's in the fridge:

3 large tortillas.
the usual canned stuff.
some frozen veggies
2 cooked chicken breasts
about a cup of sour cream
a bag and a half of cheese
and a few jalapenos


I can make something out of that. (the light was pretty low but you get the idea)

Tex Mex Chicken-Jalapeno Lasagna

No noodles to boil and a tasty mix of creamy, cheesy, and savory with a nice little crisp bite from the peppers. 

In a cast iron pan with a little olive oil saute until softened;

1 large or two small onions

Set aside 2 cups of grated Mexican Blend Cheese

In a bowl mix:

Can of Cream of Cluck Soup
A cup of sour cream
A small box of spinach, thawed and drained and squeezed  between paper towers til all the moisture is out.
A few dashes of seasoning salt (I used Janes Krazy Mixed Up Salt - My favorite).
The sauteed onions
3-5 chopped de-seeded jalepanos (I used 5 for hot, not make your eyes water hot, but zippy)

Chop up 2-3 chicken breasts (or your favorite protein choice, dusted with a little ancho chili powder before cooking).

Layer in a non stick sprayed 8 x 8 pan

1 flour tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a big handful of cheese

1 tortilla
1/3 of the soup mixture
1/2 of the chicken
a handful of cheese

1 tortilla
remaining soup mixture
remaining cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, at 325 F for 35 minutes, until bubbly and the cheese is melted.
It was REALLY tasty and  made enough to feed six folks, and should freeze really well for leftovers.

Friday, May 20, 2016

On Strategy

Partner in Grime had a business trip to South Africa and came back with this chessboard which is really cool.  So for tonight, just some photos and quotes as the last couple of work days were long and busy.

"Firmness cannot show itself, of course, if a man keeps changing his mind."  It demands sticking to one's convictions. - Clauswitz , On War
"Time . . . is less likely to bring favor to the victor than to the vanquished. . . An offensive war requires above all a quick, irresistible decision. . . .  Any kind of interruption, pause, or suspension of activity is inconsistent with the nature of offensive war." - Clauswitz, On War
“Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.”  - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”  - Napoleon
Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.”  - Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom
“I need you to be clever, Bean. I need you to think of solutions to problems we haven't seen yet. I want you to try things that no one has ever tried because they're absolutely stupid.”  - Orson Scott Card, Enders Game
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”  - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  - Dwight D. Eisenhower

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Author's News - and a Sneak Peak at a Great Western

The banner was from an Irish broadcast that featured The Book of Barkley and I thought it was so cute.

After being out two years and holding #1 for six months, TBOB is still in the top 30 in sales in genre at Amazon, and donating all of it's sales regularly to Search Dog Foundation and animal rescue (though this months sales are going to a blogger with a dog with expensive cancer treatment while my regular donations come out of my paycheck).

It's sold in 6 different countries and has been featured in four magazines, including Kirkus Reviews of which I am very proud.  But what was fun, really fun, was when Partner in Grime was in London on business and actually saw it on display in a big bookstore.  Even better, next to the display of books was a sign "Also by this author", with another book by LB Johnson.  

On Erectile Dysfunction.

Wrong LB Johnson!

My publisher made a flurry of phone calls, but it still cracks us up.

Thanks to all of you for the support. On an author note -  our friend and the person who married Partner in Grime and I,

has his new (and first) Western coming out next week, following his successful sci-fi series of books.

Standby for info, Having been given an advance copy, I can say - it's an exhilarating read.  Look for it on May 23.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

DIY Dining - A Kitchen Update

With the kitchen project and working -  blogging time is limited but here's an update on the remodel while the pizza cools a bit. It was great to have my stove unwrapped and usable.
I am glad we had the cabinets custom made instead of trying to craft them ourselves - makes the whole remodel SO much easier on everyone (except all of the plaster work). This is all cosmetic, not structural but still takes some time.

Here is the original kitchen from back when the Range was purchased years ago (Partner couldn't include both the red ceiling and the red floor or the camera would explode.)  Yes, those are metal cabinets, they are also metal cabinets covered in SPARKLY CONTACT PAPER FROM THE 60'S

SHINY (and NOT in a good way)
When we met and made the decision to ditch my house and make this our home, he had upgraded the house with an Ikea sofa and a few great antiques but there was a lot to be done. But as with any engineer "fixer upper" was like waving well, a red linoleum floor at a bull.

He provided this picture when the project started - I think I commented about needing to get the cat a scratching post.
But the kitchen - like the rest of the house -  with a lot of love and work, is coming together though there is some structural bits that will need to get done when we get those permits in hand.

 Love the new hardware - it fits what is on the ancient stove.
Still a lot of plaster work to do, but it's getting there.  We're going to finish that up and paint after the back porch and fence are done.  Abby Lab needs a yard she can run free in.  Barkley had a big one in Indy but Abby's never had that luxury as I was in the crash pad when I got her.

The light fixture was found at a business going out of business in an old part of the city.
 Yes, there will be a skirt made for the sink, just like my Scandinavian Grandma had.
 The antique appliances are staying - they just fit the place  When the plaster work is done, the ceiling will be white and the walls will be a rich buttery cream color.
It's going to be fun to get the colorful decorative stuff set up as well.

The homes we make for ourselves are the best ones to come home to.