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Sunday 2018.1.21

Why I Read

Having read the book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff, I next read Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green, which I finished reading on Thursday. I read an interesting phrase by Bannon in chapter 7: "Facts get shares; opinions get shrugs." It was said in connection with a book that was written revealing Hillary Clinton dirt. The phrase made me think about my cooking videos.

Anyone can have an opinion; me too. I've often said, "Some people believe having an opinion makes them an authority. It doesn't; it only makes them opinionated." I like what Steve Bannon said. With more than 300 cooking videos on YouTube, I see quite a few opinionated comments, some by trolls only wanting to elicit a response. I don't respond. I shrug and "hide" them. They can write comments, and they can see their comments, but no one else will, including me. The hope is that they will become discouraged when seeing no responses and they will move elsewhere to troll.

I Knew the Books Were Coming

I can't remember if I wrote it in a blog. I know I said it in a vlog. Books will be published about the Trump presidency, as they have about many of the presidents. They are already being sold. I hardly have time to finish one book before another one appears. Now I am reading It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America by David Cay Johnston. The title reminds me of a book I read in 2013, It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.

I watch the news everyday and I pay particular attention when they bring someone onto the set to comment on politics or government. Often, it's someone who has just published a book.

Voting

Something I read in the Washington Post (I don't read only books) helped me to appreciate how we, the USA, got to its present state of affairs. It goes back earlier than November 8, 2016, and can help explain what happened on that date.

It can be traced back about a decade, although it goes back further. A decade is far enough because most voters lack a long-term memory. That is proven by the number of people who say they'd rather have George W. Bush as president rather than Trump.

During the Obama administration the Republican party earned their reputation as the "Party of No." GOP stood for "Grand Obstructionist Party." Good legislation that might have benefitted the American people was struck down by Republicans because it might make Obama look good. Whether it was because he was a Democrat or African American, the GOP was hell-bent on making him look like a failure. Remember Mitch O'Connel's agenda, saying that the foremost objective of the party was to assure Obama would be a one-term president. (They failed at that too.)

People have become so disgusted with their government in this country that many are staying away from the polls. Where the voters once cared about the morality and character of their president, they now shrug their shoulders and stay home on election day. However, the outliers, the fringe dwellers, the extremists are becoming fired up because they now see where their vote might matter. This was where Steve Bannon's genius came into play.

In states like California, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, a more powerful fringe population won't change the state from blue to red. But battleground states — Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, etc. — can be tipped by extremist voters.

Many extremists hate politicians, if not all forms of government. They'd rather vote for a celebrity like Trump or Oprah, or a child molester like Roy Moore. And I have friends who, although not extremists, might be considered extremist voters because they vote for the Libertarian candidate rather than the Democrat or Republican, even though they know their candidate won't win. It's another form of protest vote. And, again, it didn't matter here in California. They could have voted for Kermit the Frog; Clinton would nonetheless get all of Calfironia's electoral college votes.

The problem rears its ugly head in another way. How many candidates were there for the GOP nomination? 17? The Democrats had fewer options, but the best both parties could come up with were Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither was a good candidate.

What might we expect in the future? As long as politicians and parties point the finger of blame at those on the other side of the aisle, we can probably expect more of the same. If the government were to stop serving themselves and start serving the American people — all the people, not just the wealthiest people — the people might take an interest in their government again. Will it happen? I'm too much of a realist to hope so.

Making Bread

I finally got around to making bread using the bannetons I received as a gift last month. As a reminder, here again is the photograph:

They are cane baskets in which the bread dough is allowed to rise a second time before baking. The dough is transferred from the bannetons to a baking sheet (you don't put the bannetons in the oven). Supposedly, the cane and flour (used to prep the baskets) wick away moisture from the outside of the dough, helping it to hold its shape when turned out for baking. From my research I learned that this is a good way to bake bread made from moist dough that would normally flatten out when placed on a baking sheet or pizza stone.

And here's an interesting side note. Bannetons are supposedly French. So in my research I turned, where else, to my Larousse Gastronomique Culinary Encyclopedia for more information. Not a word about them. I checked my baking books, bread book, pastry books, Professional Chef textbook, and found almost nothing. Not even Julia Child (not especially known for breads) discussed them. One book mentioned them, but gave no instructions for using them. I found most of what I know from researching the Internet, mostly YouTube.

Bread dough can be a challenge at times. As mentioned in my last blog, I purchased a 25-pound bag of flour at Costco. It behaved differently. I weighed my flour and water — 900 grams flour and 600 grams water. That's a 67% ratio, which should give me a moist dough. I had to work a lot water, maybe ¼ cup (60ml) to get the moisture balance I wanted — a wet, sticky dough. This is where the "artisan" description comes from when baking bread. After a while, you learn about the texture and feel of the dough, when it's just right, and what to do to adjust it when it's not right.

The dough, thankfully, fell out of the bannetons without a molecule of it sticking. Thank you YouTube (for the videos I watched to learn how to prepare bannetons). I baked the loaves in a rather hot oven. I'm accustomed to baking bread at 375°F (190°C), but I baked these at 425°F (220°C) because I wanted a browner crust. Here is the bread:

I haven't baked bread in a long time, but this recipe makes me want to bake bread regularly again.

Wednesday 2018.1.17

Getting Technical — Backups

When there's nothing to do, there's always something to do. This past weekend, with nothing on TV I wanted to watch, I had time on my hands. I decided to use it wisely to backup my computers. It had been too long and my cooking videos hard disk drive (HDD) was filling up. After backups, my video HDD went from more than ¾ full to less than ¼ full.

I've mentioned it in earlier blogs; I backup my videos in two different ways, lest I lose anything. The files are copied to a backup HDD and the files are also archived, using WinRAR, to DVD blanks. The DVDs are tested with WinRAR on another computer to make certain the archive has no errors. I always test them now because several years ago I bought a 100-disc stack of Sony blanks and there was a 25% failure rate. Thankfully I had that second backup on an HDD. I was able to restore the archives.

Getting Technical — Hard Disk Drives

Some people might think HDDs are an obsession with me, or at least a vice. Looking around my home office, I count 20 drives, either in external enclosures or bare. Two of those drives are SSDs — solid state drives, no moving parts. In fact, drive is misnomer for SSDs. There is nothing to drive. There is no motor. They're all electronics inside, mostly memory chips.

Hard disk drives have a life expectancy of three to five years, if left inside a computer that runs all day. The motor inside eventually wears out and the drive dies. However, if the HDD sits on a shelf, rarely used except for occasional backups, it can last a very long time. Some of my drives are old, but I can still use them for storage.

I can use bare drives now rather than buying enclosures for them. The computers I built two years ago have an HDD dock in the top. Slide in a hard disk, copy files to it, and remove the drive to store on a shelf. What I need, and can't find, is some sort of rack storage system for storing about 20 HDDs.

Getting Technical — Blu-ray Media

When I built my computers, I bought Blu-ray disc burners. At the time, Blu-ray blanks were too expensive. The storage media was new. I knew the price would come down eventually. I checked Amazon and they currently sell for about 50¢ each. You can now buy a 50-disc spindle of blanks for around $25.

At 25GB storage per disc (compared to 4.7GB for DVD blanks), they're an affordable option now. I won't burn Blu-ray movies onto discs. I have no interest in that. But I do use a lot of storage because of shooting cooking videos. I put a package on my Amazon wish list.

And Speaking of Amazon

The final step in my e-bike pastime was fulfilled. To recap: Back in October I bought a Pedego Platinum Interceptor pedal-assist electric bicycle (e-bike). In November I had a trailer hitch put on my SUV when it was in the shop for scheduled maintenance and a smog inspection.

This week I was driving home from the store and I saw an SUV with a trailer hitch bike rack on the back. I followed it and found it in the Costco parking lot. I didn't get there in time to speak with the owner, but I was able to look at the bike rack. It was a Thule (pronounced TOO•lee) and it looked ideal for my needs. My problem is that I have a spare tire mounted on the back of my car. It takes up enough room to possibly conflict with a bike rack. However, the rack I saw has space for two bikes and I need to transport only one. The outer-most carrier would leave plenty of room for the spare tire.

Next, weight. My Pedago is heavy. Besides being a big bike with a heavy frame (it isn't carbon fiber like my neighbor's Cervélo that I could lift with one finger), it has a motor in the rear wheel and a battery pack beneath the cargo carrier. The battery pack alone weighs more than nine pounds (4kg). I literally cannot lift the bike high enough to place it on a bike rack. I can lift it off the ground, but my arms aren't strong enough to lift it to the height of the rack. However, with the battery removed, I have enough strength.

And so I ordered the bike rack from Amazon. It was shipped the next day and should arrive next week Tuesday.

It will require some assembly when it arrives and I will probably assemble it without the forward carrier. I might video the assembly. I will only ever need to carry one bike and with the spare tire in the way, I will probably never be able to carry two. There is no need for the second carrier. I'll store it in the shed for spare parts.

Meanwhile, I watched as many videos as I could find on YouTube, looking mostly at those that reviewed the Thule T2 Pro XT. Not surprising, there was a little confusion. One review said it could accommodate all models of bikes, except e-bikes. Others said e-bikes are okay. Another said maximum wheel base is 48 inches (mine is 49½ inches), but another reviewer said a bike with 60-inch wheel base would fit. I won't know until I have mine assembled. The issue with e-bikes is often the weight, but with the battery removed and stored in the car.…

Does Flour Count?

I made a New Year's Resolution to buy no groceries except milk and maybe frozen vegetables until I eat the food in the freezer. So far, I've kept true to my resolution. However, as mentioned in an earlier blog, someone sent me some bannetons for Christmas. They are cane bowls in which bread dough is allowed to rise before transferring to a cookie sheet or pizza stone to bake. They give the finished bread an attractive artisanal appearance. I didn't have any flour, but I wanted to do a bread video using the bannetons.

The Costco here sells a 25-pound (11.3kg) of flour for, currently, $5.59. At that price, a one-pound loaf of bread costs only about 25¢ to make. So I bought a bag and portioned it into one-pound amounts, each sealed in plastic pouches using my impulse heat sealer and poly tubing. It has two advantages. The packets are easier to handle than a big bag. If there are any bugs anywhere in the flour, they might only infest one or two of the small packets, not the entire 25-pound bag. I've never seen any insects in this brand of flour.

Sunday 2018.1.14

Salt Crystals

I have had, for many years (more than I want to count) a bottle of Tiparos fish sauce in my cupboard. When I was in college a Vietnamese girlfriend taught me to cook with it. It is extract of anchovy, and as such it is very salty. By letting the bottle sit undisturbed for a long time, it forms salt crystals in the bottom, especially if the cap doesn't fit perfectly, allowing the sauce to slowly evaporate. And I should clarify: the bottle of Tiparos in my cupboard was the same bottle I had in college.

Fish sauce, by the way, is made from fermented anchovies, and, if I have my facts straight, Lee & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce had a similar beginning in India.

In keeping with my New Year's Resolution to buy no groceries until I eat most of the food in the freezer (if not all of it), I've been cleaning out cupboards. It was time to discard the Tiparos. Besides, I bought a bottle of Red Boat fish sauce that a friend, who had been to Vietnam, claimed was the queen of fish sauces, the best you could buy. Chefs recommend it.

The crystals in the bottom of the Tiparos bottle were outrageously large. Here's a photo, and showing what a bottle of fish sauce looks like:

The crystals are dark rather than white because the sauce was dark. If salt weren't so inexpensive, and if I didn't already have four different kinds of salt in my cupboard, I might be tempted to use a cheese grater to grind a little of these crystals into my food.

How can you use fish sauce (sometimes referred to as an "umami bomb" with no MSG added)? Vanessa, the girlfriend, used it with soy sauce and other ingredients to flavor the soup base for her won ton soup. I never got the hang of making my soup taste as good as hers, and thus the bottle was seldom used.

There are some recipes that call for anchovies. An Italian friend would use them a lot. In fact, she was the one who taught me to appreciate the beauty of anchovies. Some people cringe at the thought of them, but really they add a subtle nuance to a sauce or other food if used correctly. The trick is to use only one or two fillets and let them dissolve into the food. They break up easily. I keep anchovies in my refrigerator and there are times when I can't imagine an Italian food — such as a hearty Bolognese — without one or two anchovy fillets worked into it.

As for the fish sauce, I use it less often than the fillets, although it is certainly more convenient. I hadn't experimented with the Red Boat sauce yet. Using my Instant Pot for soups would provide an opportunity, as shown below. A teaspoon or two might be enough.

And, for what it might be worth: The Tiparos bottle says "product of Thailand"; whereas, the Red Boat bottle says "made in Vietnam."

If you want some ideas for using fish sauce, google "uses for fish sauce" to see what comes up. It gave me some ideas. I wonder how it might enhance split pea soup…

Expensive Restaurants

I saw a news video about some of the high-end restaurants where people might want to eat during the new year while visiting places like New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco. I couldn't help but think: If the chef uses tweezers to arrange the food on a plate, you're not going to walk away at the end of your meal feeling as satisfied as you might after eating at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

Spontaneous Stew

I had some fun with my Instant Pot on Friday, as I alluded to above. I did something I've never done in a cooking video — I worked without a recipe. When I shoot a video I always have a recipe taped to the wall of my kitchen and the ingredients in large type on a cue card attached to my camera's tripod.

With an Instant Pot counter-top cooker there is a temptation to simply be spontaneous. Toss things in the pot, cook them quickly, and sit down to a hearty meal. I decided to name my creation Spontaneous Stew. The most important ingredient is the liquid. Start with a good stock or broth and you will end up with a delicious soup. I did add a little fish sauce for that little extra je ne sais quoi of flavor. This stew is fantastic. I'll be making it again (and again).

You can make a vegan version using vegetable stock. I even found vegan Italian sausages, "Tofurky," made with tofu. They were good enough to enjoy in the stew. The stew pictured above is a satisfying winter meal, a real "comfort food." I will make it as often as I have foods in the refrigerator and/or freezer to use up.

Oranges

One of my favorite flavors is that of the orange, especially if it is tree ripened. A neighbor has an orange tree that I cannot identify, despite my forays onto the Internet. He gave me a bag of them. The fruit is small, like a tangerine, round rather than oblong, thin skinned, and has a rind that does not peel easily. There are too many seeds to enjoy eating them. So I juiced the bag of oranges, getting only 1½ cups (350ml) of juice. It was very sweet with a rich orange flavor, and was gone before the end of the day.

Before juicing them, I used a vegetable peeler to remove most of the peel, which I cut into strips and candied following a DIY recipe I found online.

The plan, eventually, is to make orange biscotti with the candied peel and some Cointreau. I love biscotti too. It if goes well, there will be a video.

Wednesday 2018.1.10

Mud Slides

First, where I live there is no danger from mud slides or debris flows. I'm safe.

The worst fears were realized Monday night/Tuesday morning. I was awake several hours Monday evening because a windy storm blew through. There was heavy rain and noisy wind. I can sleep through rain, but wind keeps me awake. I worry about wind damage. I checked my awnings — the parts of my house I most worry about — the following morning and they were not torn off or loose.

Watching the rain radar, it was odd to see where there rain was falling. There was plenty of rain to the west and the east, but our area was fairly dry. Looking at the rain report this morning, more than 2 inches had fallen where I live. Most of that rain fell during the previous night.

Looking at the rainfall map, parts of the Thomas fire burn zone received four to five inches of rain in 24 hours. At the height of the storm, ½ inch of rain fell in 15 minutes.

The local TV station was providing constant coverage yesterday. Devastating debris flows swept through some residential areas near the burn zone. Homes were swept off their foundation. Utility poles were down, the railroad tracks were blocked with debris, part of the 101 freeway was closed because of debris. Officials confirmed 15 people had died, so far. They are looking for the missing. There were mandatory evacuation notices, but many people chose to remain in their home.

Some people had their cars packed, ready to evacuate on short notice, but there is no notice when there is a mud slide. It happens in seconds. One family reported hearing the noise, saw water coming into their home, and went out their front door only to see their packed cars being swept away by the mud and water.

More rain fell yesterday. It was heavy at times, but only light rain fell where I live. Feeling safe, one of my favorite pleasures in retirement is to open all the drapes and watch it rain outside while I am dry and warm in my own home.

Today is sunny. Fair weather is forecast for the remainder of the week. That will help with the cleanup and repairs. In my yard, the wind blew down more dead branches from my juniper tree. I use a shop vac to clean up under the tree. It works better than anything else I tried.

Graft

No, not illegal gain through political power or position. Graft as in grafting a twig from one tree onto the branch of another. I watched a YouTube video that demonstrated the procedure. It looked easy. The man said citrus trees are among the easiest to graft.

I took an interest in grafting when it was made clear that my Buddha's hand tree was grafted onto another specie of root stock, evident by the knob on the trunk, the junction between the stock and the tree. Supposedly citrus trees grown from seeds are more susceptible to disease in the soil. Root stock with better immunity is used.

The Buddha's hand has some small branches on which there are currently no leaves, although there are buds where new leaves might develop; so those seem like the best places to graft a twig. My neighbor has a Mandarin orange tree and he let me prune a twig. Here is my first graft.

I don't know that this is done the correct way. Some web sites say to remove all the leaves from the "scion" — the twig that is grafted to the tree. In the video I watched, the leaves were left on. It might not even matter with a citrus tree. Healing time can take six to eight weeks for the graft to fully recover and the tape can be removed. I ordered some proper grafting tape on Amazon to use with my future grafts.

I have others planned. There are plenty of leafless branches available. The Buddha's hand tree is such an odd one, I thought it might be more fun to turn the tree into a multi-citrus-fruit tree.

I've shown pictures of the Buddha's hand citrus before, but here is another one to remind you of how strange this fruit looks.

The tree continues to bloom and new fruits are developing.

So here's my new plan: Occasionally buy some odd-looking citrus fruit when I can find it. Hopefully there will be a seed inside. Germinate the seed, plant the seedling, and cultivate it until it grows large enough to be used as a scion. Then graft it to the Buddha's hand tree. I'll buy limes next.

And Speaking of Buying Fruit…

How am I doing with my New Year's Resolution to buy no groceries until I eat the foods in the freezer? It's only the 10th of January, but I continue to eat freezer foods. Yesterday I took the last two packets of Golumpki out. They're thawing in the refrigerator.

I haven't made much of a dent in the inventory in 10 days — my freezer really was full — but I'm seeing some progress. I think there is frozen split pea soup in there, somewhere, and I'll look for that next. I have a five-pound bag of dry split peas and plenty of chicken stock. I'll make more soup soon. That will add to the inventory, but it will use up some of my frozen stock; so even though it might be a net zero sum gain, it's better because the shape of the chicken stock takes up more room than the packets of soup.

Reading

I finished reading the book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. I enjoyed the book very much. Wolff's writing style makes the book pleasant to read and the information, depending on whether you are a Republican or Democrat, is very informative and entertaining. I vlogged about it, which you can watch by clicking on the graphic.

Or CLICK HERE.

There were, of course, many reviews of the book — some positive, some negative. One person commented on my video, "I see you like fiction." That gave me a good laugh. The book might not reveal much that is positive about the president that person voted into office, but that doesn't make the book entirely ficticious. Believe what you want, but Donald Trump is an awful man. And don't comment on the book until you read it.

Sunday 2018.1.7

Some Rain!

We did, indeed, enjoy a little rain. Where I live, only about a quarter of an inch fell, but that was fine with me. My landscaping was thoroughly watered and there wasn't enough rain to cause major debris flows or mud slides in the fire region.

During the few days of sunny weather I worked outside again, trimming more of my Dymondia. I'm hoping to have all my yard trimmed by the end of winter, maybe sooner, depending on the weather.

More rain is expected this week. The next storm could be serious. Although it is still early, the forecast is for "rain, heavy at times." That does not bode well for the fire area. We are hoping for the best for the people down in Ventura and areas east of Santa Barbara.

Much Anticipated

There was more than enough hype. The news channels and media outlets were covering it daily with excerpts and quotes from early releases. Unless you were living in a cave beneath the ice sheet covering Antarctica, you heard about the most in-demand book so far in 2018—Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff.

Amazon sold out quickly. As of this writing, their shipping estimate is "2 to 4 weeks." According to The Washington Post, people were lined up before midnight in D.C. on Thursday evening to get their copy. Many bookstores sold out their inventory in minutes. If you have a tablet e‑reader, the most efficient way to get the book is to download a digital copy from sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

I got a digital copy. The release date was originally set for Tuesday, January 9. However, Steve Bannon's lawyer issued a cease and desist order to the publisher, and there was so much demand for it, Little Brown moved up the date to this past Friday.

Many news sources, such as The Washington Post, are saying there are some inaccuracies in the exposé, but that the book is such a good read, "Why wouldn't you read it?" I'm quoting them.

And for those who might not have heard, Michael Wolff had unprecedented access to people in the White House. He was a permanent presence in the West Wing for several months. Some news analysts said this is typical when the Executive Branch is filled with people who are not familiar with the ways of Washington. Although some spoke "on deep background" or "off the record," they then went on to tell their stories in the media, thus going on the record.

I know there are many people who like Donald Trump as President. The stock market in the USA is doing well (although some economists are now saying Wall Street is overdue for a correction). Depending on where you get your news — the far left media, the far right, or somewhere in between — your opinion of Trump will likely differ from the opinion of others. I have my opinions too, and I need to remind myself: "Having an opinion doesn't make me an authority; it only makes me opinionated." And thus I get my news from many sources, including other countries, and I read books — lots of books — because that is where the fullest story is revealed.

When someone starts spouting their conspiracy theories, I like to ask, "What books have you read lately?" Most of them haven't opened a book in years, but they know their information is factual because someone told them so. I'm thankful my parents, although not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, read the newspaper everyday. In a high school Civics class we were taught how to read a newspaper. I read the news online now.

So far, I've read half the book. It's very readable. Although you might need a dictionary (some of the words I never encountered before), the style is simple enough to be appreciated by most people. The narrative isn't weighed down with an overabundance of facts and figures.

Earthquake!

Yesterday evening, at 5:31, we experienced an earthquake. It wasn't much, but as always, it sent me to the USGS website to see where it was located. Was it a local small one, or were we at the fringe of a huge quake in Los Angeles? The U.S. Geological Survey reported it as a 3.8 quake centered about 9 miles west of where I live. That is one thing I appreciate about the fault line that runs through the Santa Barbara channel. It releases its energy often enough to never build up the kind of energy that causes major damage when the big quakes erupt.

Hot Dog Buns

This week's feature recipe, New England Style Hot Dog Buns, is something I've been thinking about for a long time. I grew up in Connecticut and the buns there are different from those sold in the stores here in California. I liked the buns I ate in my childhood because we would butter and toast the sides, which added more flavor. I eat my hot dogs unadorned with condiments like mustard, ketchup, relish, etc. A simple hot dog on a bun is good enough for me; so I like the buns to have good flavor. Buttering and toasting them is the only way to prepare them.

Wednesday 2018.1.3

A New Year Begins

What is it about beginnings that excite us or make us feel all warm and happy inside? Is it our prospects for the future? Or is it the relief of putting behind us some times we'd prefer to forget?

I'm happy about 2018 arriving. On Monday morning I got out of bed and while my coffee was brewing I changed my calendars. Out with the old and in with the new. Later that day I changed all the filters on my computers (a monthly rather than annual chore).

During the evening before, I listened to the annual KUSC New Year's Eve Bash, an evening of comedy. I was not as entertained this year. It wasn't as funny as it had been in past years. So I went to bed well before midnight and let the revelers ring in the New Year while I slumbered. I had a strange dream too:

Maybe it went along with "out with the old." I was in a huge warehouse on top of a hill — really huge, larger than any airliner hanger. It was many stories high and stretched into the distance. We were cleaning it out. It was filled with junk and we were literally throwing things out the front door where the stuff would roll down the hill into oblivion. There was a dome in the lower left, just the top of the dome visible above the top of the hill, and I understood it to be the dome on top of the United Nations building. If I were a Nostradamus type person I'd predict many nations will tumble in 2018, but I'm not. It was just a dream (I hope).

The Holiday Season Ends

What is it about holidays, especially Christmas, that fill us with Christian charity and good cheer? And what it is about the following days that turn (or return) some people into Grinches and Scrooges? Is it the frustration and aggravation of standing in long lines at stores to exchange their Christmas presents for the money they would rather have received?

I shouldn't laugh, but I am amused. I love YouTube's "Hide Comments" function. It's a stroke of brilliance. A troll leaves a nasty comment on one of my videos and I "hide" that person on my channel. They can continue to write comments and they can see them, but no one else, including me, will see them. The brilliance is that trolls often want to see the response. They are amused by the replies, especially if a flame war erupts. However, if no one sees the comment, no one responds. And the trolls move on to leave comments elsewhere. I really like YouTube and if I were asked to name one feature I like most, it would probably be the Hide function.

I looked at my list of "banned" (hidden) people on my YouTube channel. There are currently about 70 people on the list. I've been uploading videos to YouTube for more than seven years. So, on average, I ban about 10 per year. That isn't even one per month.

However, in the past four days I've banned six, so far. Some are banned for insulting or insensitive remarks, such as anti-Semitic comments. Others are banned for being just plain stoopid (misspelling intentional). I know most of my fans are mature enough to disregard such comments; however, I feel it is my responsibility to keep my channel as clean as possible for my viewers. I want them to feel safe.

What Comes Around Goes Back

It was slightly more than a year ago, early December 2016. A neighbor gave me four packages of Nissin brand Cup Noodles. You've seen them, I'm sure. I vlogged about them. Click the image to view that old vlog video.

Or CLICK HERE.

Having never tried one, it was worth experimenting. I prepared one according to package directions, ate some, discarded the remainder, and swore never to eat one again. I tucked the other three packages into the back of a cupboard where they were quickly forgotten.

This week, in trying to remain faithful to my New Year's resolution, I decided to empty the kitchen cabinets, clean them, and determine what to keep and what to discard. The Cup Noodles appeared again. Yesterday I brought them back to the woman who gave them to me. She and her son like them; so she was pleased with the gift.

Rain Today?

Weather.org has been predicting rain for this week. The probabilities are not high — 20% today, 30% tonight and tomorrow, then sunshine again. In my experience 20% is as near to zero as makes no difference; however, we'll take anything. Although we are four months into our rainy season, which begins on September 1st, we've seen no significant rainfall yet this season. We received less than 10% of the rain we typically get by this time each year.

A quick check of the radar showed that rain is indeed approaching, although most of it is heading northward in the Bay Area. However, we might get some rain down here in the Southland.

I've been anticipating today's rain. It's a good time to start trimming the Dymondia ground cover, which grows over the stones if I don't occasionally trim it back. A good steady rain will help the plants recover. Here is what my landscaping looks like, trimmed on the left and to be trimmed on the right:

I do a little each day, filling a pair of five-gallon buckets with trim before dumping it into the trash bin. My bin will only hold so much; so I can't do the whole yard. And although the landscaping is not 100% maintenance-free, trimming Dymondia once or twice a year is far better than mowing the lawn every week. Changing the landscaping was one of my best ideas in retirement. It also contributes a little to California's need for water conservation. We're allowed to water our landscaping twice each week. I water my yard only once a month during dry periods and not at all when we have rain. Dymondia is drought-tolerant.

More Christmas Presents

They arrived late because they were sent late. Some people become really busy during the holidays, especially if they are cooks who plan big feasts for friends and family; so they ask, "Would you mind if I sent your present after things settle down here?" Of course not. A box arrived yesterday.

It was amusing because I was outside talking with one of my neighbors when the postal person drove up to deliver the parcel. My neighbor wanted to know what was in the box. I was happy to open it in front of her. The items were packed inside a box that once held a cat litter box. "But you ain't got no cats," she said as the outer wrapping was torn off. Digging deeper, I showed her two baking pans, one for madeleins and the other for little cakes.

The cake pan looks like a muffin pan, but the cups are actually deeper and more vertical. I have a recipe for some apple muffins that would work well in that cake pan. Rather than using cupcake liners (the cups are too deep) you make short tubes with parchment paper and they prevent the "muffing tops" from spreading into the other cakes. There is very little room between the cups. The presentation value is excellent and it will probably be a video I'll make soon, when I can buy groceries again.*

*In case you hadn't read my last blog of 2017, I made a New Year's Resolution to buy no groceries until I ate the food in my freezer, which is full. The exception would be milk for my coffee and maybe an occasional bag of frozen vegetables, but only when needed, to fill out my Minute Meals.

I'm thinking of shooting a "spontaneous stew" video later this week, using my Instant Pot. I'm always willing to experiment with new foods; so I bought some vegan sausages. They are made with tofu. I thought they might work well in a stew, cut up. We shall see.

And so 2018 is starting off in delightful ways. I feel good about that.