It must be the heat

Our dear friends Conchita and Mariano gave me a ton of courgettes this morning, so I spent the afternoon making ratatouille. While standing there stirring and sweating I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of summer produce.

Right now the temperature is about 34 C outside (93 F), precisely the type of temperature where you do NOT want to be standing over a hot stove. And yet, this is when all the wonderful produce appears in our gardens and markets. Since we can’t eat it all fresh, the obvious thing is to find a way to preserve it and that usually means heat.

It’s completely crazy, of course. We would really all much rather be doing anything other than cooking in this weather, but if we don’t cook it then it is wasted and we won’t have it available for use during the winter.

We’re lucky, of course, because we have the assistance of our wonderful modern appliances. If you live in a modern house in America you probably have your air conditioning on, but here in our far from modern house the thick stone walls, the double-glazed windows and extra insulation in the attic and the special heat reflecting curtain on the front door keep the house extremely comfortable But think about our ancestors; they were doing all  their preserving on wood burning stoves with no real insulation to speak of. Certainly nothing like a/c existed. But they managed and fed their families through the lean times on all that they were able to store over these hot summer months.

I’ll try to reflect on that next time I’m standing in the kitchen wishing I was anywhere else; we’re lucky in today’s world and should think about that more often.

Ciao for now.



What a boring subject, huh?

I’ve known since we moved to the Possum Kingdom that our water here is harder than what we had in L.A.. To be honest, I was shocked, because our water there was super hard. But here, the dog’s stainless steel bowls were covered in lime scale after having water in them for just a few days. Our tea kettle had to be boiled with vinegar or lemon juice almost every week and I don’t even want to think about the state of our pipes.

Our wonderful plumber, Christian Drouin, put in an cartridge that doesn’t actually soften the water (softened water isn’t good to drink) but which has resin in it that keeps the scale hardening in the same way (I must admit that I don’t have the explanation of how it works all that clearly in my head). That does help to a certain extent.

But, since last summer I’ve noticed another problem with the water. It often smells and tastes very, very strongly of chlorine. My guess is that the water purifying plant has made some changes. Certainly it’s something that is worse after a lot of rain, so I imagine they increase the chlorine content after storms. Besides the smell, my skin always felt itchy and “tight” after taking a shower and even using creams and lotions didn’t seem to really help.

Far worse, I noticed a phenomenon with Shmoo that I had forgotten about. I had first noticed it with the late, great, Taffy-Jerome when we originally fed him in plastic dishes, then later after we moved from Rancho Palos Verdes to Reseda: his black nose started to lose it’s color, then his lips turned pink instead of black. Now, Shmoo’s nose was going from black to beige. The Taffy experience had been so long ago that I didn’t remember it at first, but this past spring it came back to mind. Clearly, Shmoo was reacting to the chlorine in the water.

I know it sounds odd, but it is a known phenomenon, although it usually is associated with the use of plastc dishes. My first line of defense was to buy a Brita filter to put on the kitchen tap and to only give Shmoo water that came out of that tap. Within 2 weeks the color had started to return to his nose.

I decided to talk to Christian and see if we couldn’t put something on the whole house to improve the water for all the sinks and showers. For less than 100 euros we were able to add an extra filter cartridge to the system that we already had that would run ALL the household water through an activated charcoal filter. We noticed the effects immediately.

First, people have started to comment on how good my coffee and tea are! I suppose it makes sense, any food that relies on mostly water to exist is going to be profoundly affected by the quality of that water. I certainly have noticed over the years that when I make bread it has a different taste depending on the water and flour that I use.

Second, my skin no longer feels uncomfortable after showering and my hair is softer, silkier and shinier, and it stays cleaner for a longer time. I don’t have to use any conditioning products on it either.

Third, the tea kettle doesn’t have to be descaled. I’m assuming that my coffee maker will last longer as well, not to mention the hot water heater and all the rest of the pipes in the house.

But, best of all, Shmoo’s nose has almost regained all it’s color. It’s not totally black yet, but I’m hoping it will be by the end of summer.

Water; we need to pay more attention to it.

Ciao for now.


Introducing: Deep-Fried Possum

I’ve noticed that people really like it when I post about food, and I haven’t done that for a while. So, as with the new Chateau-Shmoo category here, I’m going to start this new one called Deep-Fried Possum which will be about food, cooking and enjoying the two.

Recently, I’ve found a truly wonderful and revolutionary cookbook. It’s called RATIO: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. The author is Michael Ruhlman. I have rarely felt myself as inspired as I am by this book. It is NOT a recipe book, per se, but it is a book that explains the ratios of ingredients that make up the basics of recipes. By knowing these, we can easily create our own recipes for just about every category of cooking without needing a library of cookbooks.

I don’t know when I’ve read a cookbook cover to cover this way, as if it was a novel and not a cookbook at all. Perhaps it speaks to the geek in me who strives to understand why things are the way they are; but for whatever reason it has become my new food bible. Each section makes me want to get into the kitchen and just start creating.

If you’re of a “need to know” mindset, you really need to check this book out. It will open your eyes.