Friday, August 27, 2010

My Favorite Utensil

When thinking about utensils there are three basic kinds: forks, knives, and spoons. From these three there are multiple silverware branches such as the salad fork and the butter knife. We mustn’t forget the spork, which is the result of inbreeding by the spoon and the fork. My favorite of the basic three is the spoon.


Although forks are certainly handy and knives are fun, because it’s always exciting to use a knife as your sole utensil and pretend to be a pirate, spoons are far superior. Yes, spoons are mostly used for soups, stews, and cereals, but they are also revered for the most wonderful food of all: Ice cream.

Ice Cream: No forks allowed.
My small spoon obsession came to be when I was a little girl. My family and I would go to visit my grandma in her small apartment complex in Concord, CA. There are a few things that I clearly remember about my grandma’s apartment. The first is her X Files video collection. I found it amusing that my 80 something year old grandma was obsessed with X Files. The second was her brown, spinny, recliner chair. I enjoyed spinning in it, as we did not have any spinny chairs at my house. The third was my grandma’s spoon collection.

The spoon collection was one of her prized possessions. The spoons hung on her wall on wooden spoon racks that were decorated with small paintings of birds and flowers. The spoons were not used for eating but were strictly for decorative purposes, as they were collector spoons. All of the spoons were from different places that either my grandma or her friends and relatives had traveled to.

Seattle, Italy, Puerto Vallarta, Australia

When my grandma aged, as grandmas do, she started asking family members what we all wanted of her collectables when she was no longer with us. The only thing I really wanted (besides for my grandma not to die) was the spoon collection. When she did pass on, true to her word, I inherited the spoons.

Homeless Spoons

The spoon collection has hung in all three of the kitchens I have called my own. Whenever we move, something doesn’t feel right until the spoons are up. They complete my kitchen and add the right touch of vintage décor that I love.

I like looking at all the places my grandma and family have visited. I compare where I have been to the spoons and sometimes where I would like to go. There is a very nice Paris spoon with the Eiffel Tower on top that I am rather fond of, being that Paris is my ultimate travel destination. Of note are a few spoons from Solvang California, a small Danish themed town. These spoons remind me most of my grandma because she always bragged that she was 100% Danish. This is a fact that I try to keep on the down low here in the  very Dutch town of Ripon. There are more spoons than there are racks, because I am unable to find another spoon rack that coordinates with the three that I already have.
Even the backside of the Paris Spoon is pretty

The only gold spoon in the collection: Paris

Many of the spoons are still in their original boxes. There are a few repeats, a few cheesy ones, and some are tarnished. Many are silver plated, others are made out of inexpensive metal, but to me they are as precious as gold. My spoons are much more than utensils used to eat chicken noodle soup. For me they are far off travels, sweet memories, and an essential part of my home.


The Happiest Place on Earth Spoon

Colorado Spoon

Notice that it is from the "Dutch American Import Co?!"

Some of the more playful spoons

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mosquito Lake

Mosquito Lake

For our annual end of the summer camping trip I wanted to go somewhere different. Per my mother in law’s suggestion we decided on Lake Alpine. Lake Alpine is about a two and a half hour drive from Ripon up Highway 4 and is my new favorite camping spot. My hiking/camping/outdoorsy friend Lindsey came along for the fun as well.
We love camping!
After working multiple 12 hour night shifts in a row and sleeping a mere 3 hours, I packed what I could for us campers and waited for Danny and Lindsey to get off work. Packing for a camping trip takes a lot of planning. There are multiple meals to be cooked, weather situations to prepare for, possible emergency situations, lighting operations, and toilet questions. This is why I don’t recommend planning and packing only hours before you leave. You are bound to forget something (toothbrushes). At least I remembered the toothpaste.

Heading up Highway 4 is a fun drive. There are cute little towns and beautiful landscapes to look at. I was tempted to pull over and try some alligator jerky from the nice looking man on the side of the road, but Danny just gave me a funny look when I mentioned it in excitement. When passing the sweet mountain town of Arnold, Danny got very excited about a certain diner exclaiming, “They have the best ice cream in the WORLD there!”

Just when we were getting close enough that we were experiencing that, “super excited ready to get out of the car feeling” we came upon a road block. We were forced to wait a while for cars on the left side to pass us, then had to follow a work truck and drive on the left side of the road. We felt rather British.

When we finally arrived at Lake Alpine we were met with disappointment. No we were not disappointed with the lake (beautiful) or campgrounds (clean), but all the spots were filled. There are three campgrounds around Lake Alpine and all three are first come first serve. When I had heard that the campgrounds were first come first serve, my miniscule amount of OCDness was alarmed, but we had a backup plan: Mosquito Lake.
Lake Alpine
Mosquito Lake is approximately 5 miles past Lake Alpine, but feels a bit longer as you have to drive on a very narrow, windy, slightly, scary road. The gods of outdoor fun were looking out for us as there were a couple of wonderful camping spots open. Mosquito Lake campground is very small. There are about 12 or so spots. The location is perfect. It is right across from the lake, close to hiking/backpacking trails, and close enough to Lake Alpine for more recreating. The cost per night is a whopping $5. There is no running water (the bathrooms consist of outhouses) so make sure to bring plenty, or one of those super cool water purifiers. If you are a camper that must shower every day, there are showers back at the Lake Alpine Lodge.

Mosquito Lake
We picked an excellent campsite near some fun boulders with a view of the lake. After setting up camp and realizing that Lindsey’s air mattress is far superior to my regular bed, we made dinner. Danny and I had bunless hot dogs with a slew of garden vegetables. Lindsey had her hot dog normal style with extra miracle whip. Eww. After dinner and dishes, (the worst part of camping) we sat around the campfire and listened to Lindsey’s interesting mix of I Tunes music and played my favorite game Catch Phrase. We also happened to be camping during a meteor shower. As if the stars in the sky aren’t amazing enough when you are out of the valley smog, the heavens certainly put on a great show.

We roasted marshmallows and made smores. I have a rule for camping. My rule is that no matter how healthy you are trying to eat, always make smores. You never know when a bear might attack. While you are being gruesomely attacked, at least you can find solace in remembering your delicious chocolate treat during your remaining minutes of life.
Fire Starter
Going to sleep that night was difficult. I had worked the night before and the first night back to “normal” sleeping hours is always difficult, plus I always forget how cold it gets at night in the mountains. I was forced to wear socks while sleeping, which is just plain horrid.

The next morning we woke up to the sun. Which is far earlier than I normally wake up, but I was grateful for its warmth. It turns out Lindsey couldn’t sleep either. Of course Danny who falls asleep without any problems ever, had a great night’s sleep. Breakfast was bacon, scrambled eggs, and fruit for Danny and I and a couple bites of oatmeal for Lindsey who is not a breakfast person. I tried to explain to her that it is the most important meal of the day, but she would have nothing of it.

Start of our hike
We planned on taking a hike up to Lake Heiser that morning. There are tons of little lakes in the greater Lake Alpine area. Most have trails going to them. We chose Lake Heiser because in total it was a 5 mile hike and we wanted to go to Lake Alpine for some rafting later in the day. The hike begins at Mosquito Lake and has a sharp incline in the beginning. The hike started out interestingly enough with a shirtless hippy man wearing a wide brimmed hat, skipping down the trail. With such an incline at such high altitude (8,000 something feet), I was fairly nervous (although it didn't seem to phase the hippy). The last hike I had been on was at Pinecrest Lake, which doesn’t even compare to this one. Danny, who is in incredible shape, even remarked that it was more of a hike than he had anticipated.

Unfortunately Lindsey started feeling sick. She was throwing up…which is never pleasant especially when your heart is already racing a million miles a minute and it’s difficult to catch your breath. Lindsey decided she would go back and get better, while Danny and I ventured on. I would like to once again take this time to point out to Lindsey, the importance of eating breakfast.

Lake Heiser

We forged on without Lindsey and somehow I made it. Actually I felt pretty good. My hiking Half Dome preparations have been paying off. My heart rate and breathing did increase, but I recovered quickly. The hike to Lake Heiser is beautiful. We passed ponds, breathtaking views, and wild flowers. When nearing the destination Mother Nature gives you a glimpse of Lake Heiser, which is a sweet little lake, surrounded with large granite rocks, tall trees, and more wild flowers.
Ta da!
The hike back went by in a flash. We got back to our campsite to find a much happier Lindsey. We ate a quick lunch, then packed up Lindsey’s inflatable raft and headed to Lake Alpine. Lake Alpine is similar to Pinecrest Lake in size, scenery, and boating rules, but less crowded. Lake Alpine is the perfect lake for Lindsey’s raft because motor boats are only allowed to go at a slow pace.

Lindsey’s raft is a class “3” water craft. What that means, I do not know. I can tell you that there are multiple places in the raft that need to be inflated with air and it comes with oars. We carried the class 3 water craft from our parking spot to the lake, which was much more difficult than it sounds for three able bodied people. I ended up supporting the middle of the raft with my head. Turns out I won’t be winning any awards for my incredible ability to balance things on my dome.

We rowed across the lake. I sat in the middle of the raft and was deemed useless in my rowing abilities by Danny. I blame it on the oar as I was given the lesser one. Once we got to the other side we got out and waded a bit. The water temperature was pleasant until a breeze kicked in. The trip across the lake went faster as we rowed with purpose and I tried not being so lame in my rowing skills. Deflating a raft is much more difficult than it should be. I found that sitting on it while squeezing the air port was the best method.

On the way “home” we stopped by the general store, per my request. I have a small fascination with small town general stores. You can always find something exciting on the shelves. At the Lake Alpine general store I did not see anything very exciting besides the young foreign man behind the counter who hasn’t quite mastered the English language enough to tell jokes.

Once we got back to the campsite Danny started heating up the BBQ. Lindsey and I left Danny in his manly domain and went on a little adventure. She showed me where she had camped before by Mosquito Lake. Because it is such a cool spot and I want to be sure that it is available for our next camping trip, I am going to leave it a secret. I will tell you that there were two adorable ponds with a little duck family residing in them. There were fun rocks to climb that allowed us to see all around without trees obstructing our view.

We then walked around Mosquito Lake. We were interested in the four or so boarded up mystery cabins. We took a questionable bridge across the lake. We discovered a storage building built out of stone with a “D” carved in the door. Lindsey thought it was for food storage or perhaps an outhouse. I think the “D” stands for Dungeon and it’s where the owners of the mystery cabins keep snoopy campers like Lindsey and I. We quickly moved on from the creepy cabin area.

D is for Dungeon

Mystery Cabins
After our adventure, we ate dinner. Dinner was steak and sweet potatoes for Danny and I. We learned that Lindsey had never had a sweet potato before, so we offered one of ours. I am happy to say that the slightly picky eater, Lindsey, enjoyed her sweet potato. Dinner was followed by more sitting, campfire music, smores, and Catch Phrase. We went to bed early, exhausted after our long day. Despite our noisy teenage neighbors, we were all able to sleep soundly.

Lindsey, chopping wood since 2010
We woke up, ate a quick breakfast, packed, and hit the road. The worst part about the last day of camping is taking down the tent and unpacking at home. The best part has to be taking a long hot shower and sleeping in clean sheets.

Next time you want to sleep a little closer to the stars, go on a hike, or wander through wild flowers, I suggest the Lake Alpine area. It is clean, has many things to do, and is not over crowded. The area is beautiful and offers multiple camping and pseudo camping amenities. From backpacking to cabins, there is  something for everyone.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Cooking Adventures: Marinara Sauce

Ever since our CSA started up again, I have been meaning to blog about all the wonderful things I make with my weekly vegetable bounty. Sometimes life’s silliness gets in the way of my plans, but I’m back on track and ready to cook up a storm.

I am not the best cook in the world, but I am willing to experiment and because of this about 75% of the things I make turn out pretty good. (I just made up that statistic.) Eating Paleo means that Danny and I exclude things like grains, dairy (a little is okay), sugars, and processed foods from our diet. That leaves meats (preferably free range and grass fed), fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and fats for us to consume. Being creative is the key to Paleo, because eating chicken with a side of vegetables every night is just boring.

When tomatoes are in season, our CSA sends us a plethora of them. I am not the type of person who can just eat a tomato like an apple, so I use them in a mixture of dishes. My favorite recipe thus far, is marinara sauce because it is simple, can be used in a multitude of dishes, and can be freezed for the harsh tomatoless winter months.

I found this simple recipe for Marinara Sauce on the Food Network’s Website. The recipe is courtesy of Michael Chiarello.


• 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

• 3 large cloves garlic, minced (I always add extra…we get a lot of garlic in our CSA)

• 4 cups of tomato puree (If I have more, which usually I do, I just add it to the pot…and I’ve never noticed a difference. I make the tomato puree in my magic bullet, which is not that magical. You can use a food processor or a blender. Simply chop up the tomatoes and press blend or pulse…whatever)

• 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves (Again, something I often have on hand because of the good old CSA)

• 1 large fresh basil stem with leaves removed (I chop up the leaves and throw them in there, it looks, and tastes prettier that way)

• 1 teaspoon of sea salt, preferably gray salt (I don’t know what gray salt is, I use plain sea salt, and I don’t measure)

• The recipe does not call for pepper, but I add it because it just seems like a good idea


Heat the olive oil in a large pot over moderate heat. Add the garlic and sauté until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes to the garlic and bring to a simmer. Add the parsley, basil, and salt. Simmer until reduced to a sauce like consistency, about 15 minutes. Add more time, if you add extra stuff like I do.

Michael says that if the sauce tastes too acidic, add baking soda and cook 5 more minutes. If it needs a touch of sweetness add sugar and cook for 5 more minutes. I find that as long as you have good tomatoes the sauce doesn’t need any sugar or baking soda, which is good considering I’m not supposed to have sugar. Remove the basil stem before serving.

I like to use the marinara sauce in a flourless chicken parmesan recipe, a Paleo lasagna, and as a side for vegetables. It is also wonderful for meatballs with spaghetti squash. If you aren’t on a Paleo diet, I would use it for mozzarella sticks or some delicious starchy pasta.


Garlic and Fresh Basil
Chop it up!
Not so Magical Bullet time
Pulse it!
Chip chop chip...the basil
No parsley this week from the CSA, had to result to the dried stuff
Wahhh La!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Knights Ferry: To and Fro

Summer break is coming to an end and for this little lady it means my husband will be going back to work as a P.E. teacher. With the school year lurking around the corner, Danny and I try to do a few end of the summer activities together. Once school starts, quality time consists of me going to a wrestling match to cheer on the coach and his team. This past Saturday we took a drive up to the beautiful Knights Ferry.

Knights Ferry is about a 30-45 minute drive from the lovely town of Ripon and a 10-15 minute drive past the cowboy town of Oakdale. I always enjoy the country drive to Knights Ferry, as it reminds me to going to various fishing lakes and on camping adventures as a child.

Somewhere between Oakdale and Knights Ferry, on the left side of Highway 108, there is a small memorial for a horse named Cricket along a barbed wire fence. I remember when Cricket was alive prior to 1993 and as certain as the rising sun; he would stand there hanging his head over the fence watching the cars go by. He was a roadside friend for many.

Just past the Cricket memorial, is Lovers Leap. Lovers Leap is a 200 ish feet peak off of 108. The edge of Lovers Leap hangs over the Stanislaus River. Legend has it that long ago two Native American tribes were at war in the area. One of the chief's sons and the other chief's daughter fell in love. In a Romeo and Juliet fashion, the two lovers jumped off the cliff to their death because they were forbidden to be together. Lovers Leap is now marked with an American flag and surrounded with barbed wire...very romantic.

Knights Ferry was once the site of a ferry crossing during the gold rush days. It has the longest covered bridge this side of the Mississippi. There are plenty of old mill and jail ruins to play in. Picnic tables, BBQs, and different beach access areas line both sides of the river.  Also, Knights Ferry is now the begining of a river rafting adventure tour.

My mom used to take my brother and I, along with a friend or two, to Knights Ferry during the summer. One of my favorite things to do was to climb rocks. I felt so adventuresome. Years later I forced Danny to go rock climbing with me so I could relive my childhood experiences.

My mom was quite the adventuresome lady and would come to Knights Ferry before it was a popular recreation area. She would swim in the snow melt river and climb the rocks. She likes to tell a story about how it was at Knights Ferry that she first knew my dad was in love with her. Apparently at the time they had been hanging out a lot. My mom took my dad to her special Knights Ferry. My mom dove into the snow melt water and  swam across the rapid river. My dad was quite impressed and quite frankly, didn’t want to get in the ice cold water, but he crossed the river anyway to meet my mom on the other side. My mom says she thought to herself, “Wow, he must really love me.” My dad tells us now he just didn’t want to seem like a wimp compared to my mom. Either way, I’m sure it was love.

Danny and I started our Knights Ferry adventure with a picnic consisting of his homemade ceviche. It was cool, light, and delicious. For dessert we had CSA strawberries, which were seriously the best strawberries I have ever had.

After our light lunch, we found a private beach area surrounded by wild blackberries. I wanted to try one, but Danny kept saying I would die or at least have food posioning. He may be a manly man about some things, but at times he is the biggest sissy I have ever met. We took off our shoes and stepped into the ice cold water. We then found multiple flat rocks and skipped them. My best skip was a three skipper. Danny got a 5 skipper. Danny then decided to wade further in the water while I read my book I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced. As I was reading about this sad little girl’s life, I couldn’t help but be thankful for my own.

Danny soon was waist deep in the water, when I decided it would be funny for him to go in all the way. At first I attempted reverse psychology techniques, but telling your husband, “I bet you can’t handle the cold,” isn't as effective as saying it to, say for example, a 3 year old.

We then saw a Styrofoam lid to an ice chest slowly floating down the river. Now was my chance. Danny simply had to save the beloved environment from the well known horrors of Styrofoam! And he did! He braved the ice cold waters just like my dad did for my mom 30 some odd years ago.

On our way back to Ripon, we decided to splurge and get dinner at the House of Beef. The meat was good, the salad/soup bar was lacking, but my Diet Pepsi glass was never empty and for that, I was a happy girl. The steaks may be good at House of Beef, but if you like finer dining and don’t particularly care for the décor of butcher knives and NASCAR memorabilia, I would suggest skipping it. The House of Beef has expanded its empire into the daycare center arena.  The building next door is called the House of Tykes. I’m just glad we didn’t confuse which one served dinner.

While driving our meat filled selves back on River Road, we noticed a self serve fruit stand. The fruit stand owner was also selling fresh eggs so we picked up a dozen for 3 dollars (a good deal for cage free, organic fed goodness) and sampled the dried nectarines. There are plenty of other fruit stands along the way, that are sure to have some fresh eats.

It was a wonderful, relaxing, end of the summer day. Next time you are bored, broke, or want to fall in love go to Knights Ferry. There is plenty to do, or not do, and exciting things along the way and back.