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Wednesday 2020.21.20

Ham and Bean Soup

Yesterday I used some of those beans I ordered to make Ham and Bean Soup. As I said in Sunday's blog, I used some of the Serrano ham I have in the freezer. I'm still taking some flack for that ham. You might remember from many months ago I bought it at a clearance price from Costco. The store originally sold them at $100 each. On Amazon the same ham currently sells for $200. The clearance price was $50.

I bought the ham as an ingredient to use in cooking. I removed all the meat from the bone and portioned it into 4-ounce packets for freezing. The enthusiasts and traditionalists have since reminded me, several times, that the ham is supposed to be sliced paper thin and eaten as is. It's not for cooking. Hah, I say. Hah! At $50, you can do what you want with it.

Our little secret: In the video I never mentioned the Serrano ham. I simply said I was using 8 ounces of diced ham. I also like the ham in Split Pea Soup.

The video is on YouTube as "unlisted," but you can watch it now by clicking on this link:


Do I Have an ASMR Voice?

People have told me my cooking videos have a natural ASMR quality. ASMR is "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response." I first wrote about in September, 2017. My videos, they say, have a calming quality. One person this week described the sounds he appreciates, right down to the circles of shelf liner I use under my bowls. Aha, I say. Aha! That explains it.

I don't like sharp percussive noises. I don't like the sound a glass bowl makes when I set it down on a hard kitchen counter. I hate when something noisily falls into the sink. You don't see it in the video, but just out of sight lines of my camera I have that cushioning shelf liner to the left and right on my counter.

I don't cushion all my cooking equipment when I'm preparing meals for myself, but I really dislike those noises in my videos. I try to keep things quiet. In many cases, I even adjust the audio in post-production to reduce the noise the Vitamix makes or when a large metal spoon hits the side of a bowl or pan.

So that explains it. I personally like peace and quiet. Some people come home and put on the TV or the stereo. There is always background noise. My home is always quiet. Sometimes I even watch a football game with the TV muted. So when I make videos, I aim for the same peace and quiet, and evidently that is what gives my cooking videos that ASMR quality.

Ham and Bean Soup Revisited

The soup, besides being a meal to enjoy and leftovers to freeze for later, was also an experiment. I started with dry beans. What is the typical preparation for dry beans? You soak them for several hours. There are quick methods, like boil for an hour and then let them rest for an hour. Many recipes say to soak them overnight. I did a little research on cannellini beans and most sources recommend a minimum soaking time of seven hours.

However, while doing my research I saw a video on YouTube in which the cook suggested soaking and cooking the beans at the same time in either a crock pot or in an Instant Pot using the slow cook setting. It was worth an experiment. So, yesterday morning I started early so that I could start the soaking/cooking by about 10:00. All went well. The Instant Pot was up and running at 10:15, meaning my pot of soup would be ready to eat at 5:15.

What was the end result? I knew the flavor would be good because I knew the ingredients — homemade chicken stock, fresh vegetables and herbs. What could go wrong? My biggest concern was that the beans wouldn't be tender enough. And a note about cooking beans:

If possible, try to cook them at the slowest simmer possible. Too much agitation in the pot will break up the beans, especially cannellini beans, which are tender. I set the Instant Pot's slow cook method to the lowest heat. The pressure release valve was set to "Venting" and I could hold my fingers over it. No steam was escaping.

The beans cooked just tender enough. They were a little al dente, which I like.

Finally, the Tomato Plant

The first Roma tomato is developing.

Whether it will survive or not, that's another issue. The nights are starting to get colder. Nighttime temperatures as low as the low 40s are forecast for later this week. However, I think it's fun just seeing the plant grow. I'll need to stake it soon.

And, Finally, the Last Debate

Will I watch the debate? Probably. I would not be the least bit surprised if Trump gets so frustrated with his microphone being turned off ("I'm the President; you can't mute me!") that he walks off the stage. No matter what happens, it's bound to be another spectacle, but maybe not the dumpster fire of the last debate. Will it help his election prospects? Probably not. Millions of Americans have aleady voted. I voted.

Sunday 2020.10.18

Summer's Last Hurrah?

Phew! It has been a warm week here on the West Coast. Counties up north issued a red flag warning for fires. I've seen 100°F in October in past years. It never got quite that hot here this week but temperatures were in the 90s — enough to require air conditioning. On Wednesday I saw 97° on my thermometer. Thursday and Friday were the same, with yesterday a little cooler, but not by much. This past week was probably my last use of the air conditioners until next summer.

The week to come is supposed to be much milder. And if the weather forecasts are accurate, we'll return to a pattern of foggy mornings and partly sunny afternoons. This morning was overcast. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating: I never realized how few sunny days we have here in this part of California until I purchased a Sun Oven. Thankfully I don't depend on it for my meals.

Got Beans?

With winter nearing quickly (despite this week's heat) I am continuing to plan for my winter soups. By now you should know that Pasta Fagioli is one of my favorites. Although I've used other kinds of beans, even pinto, cannellini beans are traditional. But try to find them in the grocery stores. The only dry cannellinis are from Bob's Red Mill and they are outrageously expensive.

Welcome Amazon. Earlier this week I ordered some. I might have overdone it. Three pounds seemed satisfactory, but the ten-pound box was so much more economical. Yep. I did it. I ordered ten pounds. Dry beans don't last forever, but thankfully they do last a long time. When they arrive, if they are all in one big bag, I'll portion them into 1-pound heat sealed plastic bags, like the bags in which they are sold in the store. I can store those in the shed. For longer storage I'll use my vacuum sealer. And I might do a Kitchen Vlog video about it.

Why cannellini beans? Besides being traditional, they have a creamy texture. They make a satisfying soup. And I don't need to save them for Pasta Fagioli exclusively. There are other bean soups worth trying. In fact, some of them might become future recipes and videos for this web site. One recipe I am working on is Ham and Bean Soup. I'll use some of the Serrano ham I have in the freezer.

My Kitchen Vlog

I videoed another Kitchen Vlog this past week. With less than three weeks to go until the election, I couldn't resist saying something political. I was a little proud of myself; I was less biased than usual. You can watch it by clicking on this graphic link:


I try to remain optimistic about the coming election, but Trump has already stated he is packing the Supreme Court with toadies who will decide in his favor when he challenges the election results. He is also using the Court to protect the secrecy of his tax returns. If he needs to bias the U.S. Supreme Court in his favor, he must have something significant to hide. If he fails to win a second term in office, the indictments that will soon follow should be revealing. If you ask me, he is behaving like a very desperate, cornered man.

If the Court does grant him a second term in office, despite a clear victory by Joe Biden, hunker down, shelter in place, and stay away from your windows. I don't wish to be an alarmist, but I wouldn't be surprised if such a decision caused an uprising similar to the civil unrest many of us remember from the 1960s, especially if the Court also overturns some established norms like Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, and same-sex marriage.

Container Garden

How is the tomato plant doing, and the onions? One of the onions died in the ground. Stuff happens. Another one sprouted green stalks. The other three still look alive, but not much is happening. The tomato plant bloomed again. That's two groups of flowers.

I moved the container to the other side of my home where it will be in full sunshine nearly all the day. I wait to see what happens when the days get colder. As I've said before, we rarely see frost, but temperatures in the low 40s or high 30s are not uncommon at night in winter.

Wednesday 2020.10.14

More Good News

If you've been faithfully following this blog recently, you will know about my car's battery issues. You will have read that I bought a smart/automatic charger. For the past week I was in phase two of the testing.

For phase two I re-attached the battery cables and left the car unused during that time. After the initial charge the battery was holding at 80% capacity. That's enough to start the car. After a week of the cables being attached, the capacity was still at 80%. That's good news. It means there isn't a short anywhere that is slowly draining my battery. The real issue is that the battery is getting old and won't hold a full charge like it once did. A new one, when I'm ready to purchase one, is about $80 at Costco.

Sun Chili

We are finally getting some really sunny days here in SoCal. The coastal fog is staying away. The days are warm — maybe summer's last hurrah. And there is plenty of sunshine to use my Sun Oven.

However, as winter approaches and the shadows get longer, most of my driveway remains in the shade all day. But, thankfully, there is no structure on the other side, the south side, of my home.

As for the chili, I used my Texas Beef Chili recipe, but cut it in half because I'm not using my largest cooking pot. One trick I learned to help with timing, wait until the glass door starts to fog up. That indicates the liquid inside is starting to simmer. Then start timing from there. I cooked the chili two hours. The result was a delicious and savory chili, some of which I enjoyed for dinner, but most of which was portioned for freezing to enjoy later in the season. The beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender.

You can view the video with this link. It's currently unlisted on YouTube, but you can watch it now.


I had enough thawed beef chuck for a second pot, which I made yesterday.

As for the Sun Oven, it continues to impress me. Although we do not have the most direct energy from the sun, it being autumn, the oven's temperature got up to 340°F (171°C). The Winter Solstice is December 21st. If the weather is sunny, I'll plan to cook something that day to test the oven when the sun's energy is the weakest.

Give Me a Little Time

Nothing is perfect. Everything can use a little improvement, if it's possible. Take the rack that fits in my Sun Oven.

In an earlier blog I wrote about the Granite Ware bean pot I ordered from Amazon. I used it to cook the chili. You can see it in the YouTube video. However, it slides around too much on the rack inside the Sun Oven. If it's nearly full with liquid, it could tilt either forward or backward and liquid can spill out. That hasn't happened yet, but the possibility has been weighing on my mind. Give me time to think about the problem and I might be able to solve it.

I had in the shed a ¾-inch dowel that was the perfect length, cut in half. That, with a few wire ties, solved the problem. And if I need to use a wider pot that won't fit between the dowels, the rack is reversible. It's not an elegant fix, but sometimes the most useful solutions are more practical than beautiful.

Sunday 2020.10.11


I tried to watch the VP debate, more for entertainment than for any other purpose. If there had been a college football game on TV, I would have watched that instead. I had already submitted my ballot — I mailed it the same day I received it. Voting here in California is easy. It's such an overwhelmingly blue state, votes for Republican candidates won't change any outcomes.

From the debate's outset neither candidate seemed interested in obeying the rules they had agreed to obey, and the vice president started out the most uncooperative. His seemed like the behavior of someone on the defensive. I'll leave it at that. As I said, I voted already. Nothing either of them could say would change my vote. So I quit watching after about half an hour.

As such, I missed the fly saga. Seeing it afterward, I couldn't help wondering where a fly's nostrils are (yes, I know they breathe through their exoskeleton) and do they make swabs small enough for such Covid testing. How do you contact trace a fly? Okay, enough already. Actually, as I think about it, a garbage dumpster is a good place for flies, which is also a good image for the current White House. Really, enough already.

And So It Begins

We are seeing the first predictions of rain. 20% changes to 10% and changes to drizzle as the day approaches. Then, when the day arrives, no rain. It happens this time of year. We haven't seen any rain all summer. We anticipate the first rain of the season. But realistically, that probably won't happen, at least not in any appreciable way, until around Thanksgiving toward the end of November.

I like the rain this time of year. A good rain gives the land a good washing, rinsing away the dust and road film that has been collecting for months. It also gives my landscaping a good watering. The last seasonal prediction I saw said California is moving into a mild La Niña condition, lower than normal rain. That's okay if it doesn't last too long. Years of La Niña lead to drought and a water moratorium.

As for the reservoir, toward the end of the rainy season in April the lake was at 80% capacity. It's now at about 70%. Not bad.

Deep Cleaning

I decided it was time to do another deep cleaning of my home. The purchase of the electric floor mop helped me come to that decision because it made washing the kitchen floor so easy.

Deep cleaning involves more than just dusting and vacuuming (but just shy of shampooing the carpets, which I'll do around Thanksgiving). Everything gets cleaned, such as vacuuming the globe and chain of the hanging light fixtures.

It takes time. I do one room per day, each day taking an hour or more to thoroughly clean everything. The kitchen, for example: The stove grates (AKA hobs) are sprayed with oven cleaner and allowed to sit; the stove and hood are washed and all the foil is replaced (I protect some areas with foil because they get dirty so easily). And that's just the stove. There are sinks, counters, cabinets, a refrigerator/freezer, and a floor. It takes time.

Although my home is always neat enough to allow visitors in (no one is visiting during this time of pandemic), it never looks like a cozy little home. I do videos; therefore, there are lighting instruments and silk light diffusers hanging from the ceiling. I sometimes need to explain to guests my home is a TV studio.

Another Surprise

You never know from where a blessing might come. If you've read this blog long enough, you'll remember I used to have a neighbor I highly disliked. She was mean and selfish, and she had barking dogs too — three of them, and we are only allowed one per home. A year ago this past August she moved away and some pleasant neighbors moved in.

One thing the former neighbor did that I always hated was she planted a thorny little tree next to my yard. It was a weird tree. The leaves were tiny and pointed. You couldn't prune it without wearing protective leather gloves. It made a mess too. I really hated that tree.

Yesterday morning I was working outside in the yard and the neighbors and I struck up a conversation. One topic was the tree. It was obviously dying. They didn't like it either and therefore they never watered it. They wished they could get it taken out. I volunteered, free of charge.

It only took about an hour. I worked at a leisurely pace, mostly to cut everything up small enough to fit in my trash bin. With my pruning shears, a tree saw, and my chain saw I was able to cut the tree down to ground level — actually a little lower because I dug soil away from around the stump. Then I coated the exposed surface of the stump with some stump killer. And all the debris fit neatly into my bin with room to spare.

The tree is gone and I am delighted.

Wednesday 2020.10.7

A Little Surprise

My tomato plant and onions continue to survive and show some signs of growth. One development was two little flower buds on the tomato plant. They might be good for a photograph, but I doubt I'll see fruit. Although frost is rare here in Southern California, the nights are beginning to get cooler and if the nighttime temperatures drop below 50°F, it's unlikely the plant will produce any fruit. The flowers will probably fall off instead.

I won't be disappointed if the flowers fail. I wasn't planning a harvest anyway, not this late in the year and certainly not with so new and young a plant. Instead, this is my first experiment with container gardening. It's nice to see a flower though. It tells me the plant is thriving.

Electric Mopping

One chore that isn't done often enough in my home is washing the kitchen floor. I didn't have a mop. As early as my first apartment in college I used to mop the kitchen floor every week. That was back in the 1970s. The mop was eventually discarded prior to moving (I moved several times when I was in college) with the idea of eventually buying a new one. They were inexpensive. However, I never bought one.

I've been washing the kitchen floor on my hands and knees, working with a sponge and bucket, and paper towels to clean up the water. No more. I decided I am getting too old for that kind of work. Besides, my back isn't what it used to be (and it has always been a problem anyway).

This week I bought a Bissell Crosswave Multi-surface Cleaner. I didn't get the one I initially wanted because the local Best Buy store didn't have that one in stock. Instead, I bought the Pet Pro, even though I don't have any pets. It cost a little more, but it was available to bring home immediately.

I'm very happy with it. The Crosswave made washing the kitchen floor quick and easy. Using the "small area" volume level on the supply reservoir, there was enough cleaning solution to wash the kitchen floor, the entryway tiles, and the bathroom floor too. It was a breeze. Thank you Bissell.

My Car's Battery

Yesterday I needed to use the car (to get that Bissell floor cleaner). I checked it with the charger; it was at 80%. That shows the battery isn't holding a charge and might need to be replaced soon. I attached cables and the car started easily.

The next test is to see how well the battery holds a charge with the cables attached. I did go into the car at night. With all the doors closed there were no lights on. If something is draining the battery, it is probably a short somewhere in the wiring. I might be able to limp the car along with the trickle charger until I'm ready to buy a new one.

Sunday 2020.10.4

This Changes Everything

I was watching the news on TV Thursday evening when it was announced that presidential advisor Hope Hicks tested positive for COVID-19 and was symptomatic. Like most Americans still awake in front of their TV, I thought of the danger Trump might be in. Within less than two hours it was announced that he and Melania also tested positive.

I was filled with mixed feelings. Since then, I've been searching the online news media for information that might put the events into some useful perspective. Perhaps Britain's The Guardian said it best.

The president has been cavalier throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Now, a month before the election, this changes everything.

It is likely to go down as the biggest "October surprise" in the history of US presidential elections. Yet anyone who was paying attention could have seen it coming.

Yes, some saw it coming, but as an "October surprise" I never expected. The release of Trump's tax records was easily predictable. I'd vlogged about it. Some dirt about Hunter, Biden's son, was likely from Republicans. But I never expected a COVID-19 diagnosis for the White House.

Some on the right are criticizing those on the left who are gleeful about the diagnosis. That's just hypocrisy. Many of those critics would have been equally gleeful if Biden had tested positive instead of Trump.

Maybe one good outcome from this crisis was the announcement that there would likely be no more debates. I was a witness to the event on Tuesday. It was painful to watch. Another positive might be a renewed emphasis on the importance of wearing a mask.


Not everything can go perfectly. I think it was King Solomon who said "Time and unforseen circumstances befall us all." I've had my share lately.

The last FOUR videos I attempted were total failures, or at least nearly so. I thought I might edit them and upload them anyway, as examples of how things can go wrong. But I changed my mind. A few mistakes are okay, but I want a video to be good enough to be useful to others. Ergo: I'm feeling discouraged. Maybe I need to start planning my videos better with shot-by-shop schedules.

Maybe a good antidote to feelings of failures is to revisit some successes. It might seem like a very little thing, but I changed the plastic bags that cover my computer keyboards. I've blogged about them before. It took a while to get used to typing through plastic bags, but the beauty of it is that I haven't needed to clean a keyboard since May of last year. So, recovering the keyboards let me see how nice and clean they look. That makes me happy.

The idea came to me a long time ago when a family that once lived in this town covered their TV remote control in plastic. I've been doing that for all my remotes, and the benefit has been incredible. When I change the plastic, they look as clean and new as they did when I first got them.

There's an added benefit. I use a remote to control my video camera — mostly to start and stop a clip I'm recording. I mostly use my camera for cooking videos; so my fingers can sometimes get a little food reside on them. That remote is actually heat-sealed in its own little plastic envelope so I can run it under the faucet to clean it with a little soap and water.

And Another Thing

I have a Nook e-book reader tablet. The battery discharged and attempts to charge it proved fruitless. It was dead.

I wondered how I might disassemble it to put the plastic in recycling. I gave it a couple of good raps against the back and it booted up perfectly again. That also made me feel good, despite the video failures (one of which I might be able to fix with pickups — we'll see…).


How are my onions doing?

Two of them are growing green shoots. The other four are still green and show some signs of growth, but no shoots are sprouting yet.


Meanwhile, the tomato plant has a few flower buds on it. I never expected fruit this late in the season, but I might have a few tomatoes to photograph in coming weeks.


How about the Italian parsley?

Here is what I know about parsley: It lives for only two years. During the first year it gets established. During the second year it will flourish, flower, produce seeds, then die. The seeds become the next generation. Some seeds fell into the center of the pot and those germinated into new plants.

Meanwhile, I collected the seeds, but I didn't know what they would do. So I planted all of them around the perimeter of the container. That might have been too much. It appears they're all coming up. Oh well. I'll have plenty of parsley this year. It might be an opportunity to test my Sun Oven as a dehydrator.

Is it possible to over-crowd parsley? Maybe not.

And, Finally, My Car's Battery

I've written about it before. I don't drive enough to keep it charged. I hop in my car to make a quick trip to the store, turn the key, nothing. So I bought a trickle charger.

It's a neat and light-weight device. Internal computer electronics help protect the battery from over-charging. It even has a repair cycle that can help refurbish and older battery. There was a learning curve for me. The user's manual doesn't provide enough information. After a few days of experimenting with different settings and then letting it work for hours and hours, it finally charged the battery to 100%.

Now comes the next test. I left the battery cables off. I'll wait a week or two and then attach them. If the battery is drained, despite being disconnected, then it will need to be replaced. I can buy one at Costco. If the car starts, the battery is okay. Maybe there is a little electrical short somewhere in my car's wiring that is slowly draining the battery. Leaving the trickle charger on it might help me get more use out of the car until I replace it with a new car someday.

I did a Kitchen Vlog video about it. It was one of the four videos that was a failure. However, there was enough to work with. It took three different sessions of shooting pickups, but I finally got enough to assemble a video. I'll probably upload it to YouTube later today.