Monday, February 22, 2010

Lemon pie

Since I did videos on Friday and missed E Friday it looks like things will just be random around here. I tried for regular things on regular days, but seem to stray rather consistently now. So, on to something new: a cooking post.

Down in San Diego B and I were Master Gardeners. This is a nationwide program implemented by the universities in each state where people are trained in gardening and then volunteer time to help others. We went through several months of school to learn all about how to garden in southern California, problems, pests, plants, fertilizer, watering, and lots of other things. At the time B had over three hundred roses in our back yard and I was playing around with setting up watering systems for commercial avocado groves. We became friends with many of the other Master Gardeners around the San Diego area, and found all of the amazing things that could grow there. People became experts in things they were interested in: one guy did guava trees, he had about two dozen varieties in his back yard; one woman did cherimoyas, she had several types (and they were really good!); another did bananas; B did roses and flowers, I did watering systems, and taught classes in drip irrigation. When we moved here to Vegas one of the first things we did was to find the Master Gardener group, and seek advice on what would grow around here. The recommendation was to plant things that normally grow in the desert and skip everything else. That ended up being pretty good advice, as the soil here is pretty poor, and the temperature range will either cook colder plants or freeze ones from warmer climates, and with only two or three inches of rain a year you will spend a lot of money watering other stuff.

One of the people we met was Leslie Doyle, who is known around town as the Tomato Lady, because of her love of growing tomatoes. She teaches classes in growing and has a yard just full of plants. One of the fruit trees that she has in her yard is a Meyer Lemon, and one Christmas she was giving away bags of ripe lemons. Meyer lemons are very juicy and a bit sweeter than ones in the store, the skin is thinner and they don’t ship as well or keep for very long off the tree, so you don’t usually find them in stores. But they grow well in Vegas and we’ll probably put a tree in ourselves.

When Leslie gave me a bag I proceeded to look for recipes in which to use them. I made lemon cake and assorted puddings, but what I really wanted to do was make pies. We used to hit Marie Calendar restaurants a lot, their specialty is pies, and when they first opened the only thing they served were pies. MC has since expanded into a full menu, but I always like their pies. I liked the lemon meringue, but I’m not much of a meringue guy and usually at that just to get at the lemony goodness underneath. So I searched the web for lemon pies. I usually start at the Food Network web site, as I like watching a lot of their shows, being partial to Sandra Lee and Rachael mainly because they cook things that are good and easy to make, and Alton because he is technical and even though some of his recipes are complicated all the ones I have tried are good. I also have several books from each of them. Anyway, the search brought up this recipe which provided a good starting point for me. You can make this from three juicy lemons, zesting them first then juicing. I used a third of the zest in each layer and all the juice in the first layer.

This recipe makes two pies, so start with two cooked pie shells. You can follow the web site recipe or your own to make the shells; I buy frozen Marie Calendar pie shells at our local supermarket. They come two in a pack and bake up in fifteen minutes, and my pastry capabilities don’t produce a significantly better crust. The rest of the pie is put in cold, so go ahead and bake to good crusts.
For the bottom layer:
1 ½ cups sugar
6 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons butter
1 ½ cups boiling water
1 teaspoon lemon zest (or whatever you get from one lemon)
In a sauce pan combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, lemon juice and egg yolks. First do the dry stuff and mix well, then the juice and mix again, then the yolks. Use a whisk and make sure it is well combined. Then gradually stir in the boiling water; this tempers the yolks so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs. Add the butter, then put it on the stove over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly and boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the zest. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes and divide between the two shells. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for it to set before doing the second layer.
Layer two:
1 cup powdered sugar
8 0z. cream cheese softened
1 ½ cups milk (we use 2%)
2 packages instant lemon pudding
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Cream together sugar and cream cheese with spatula until smooth. Add milk and extracts and stir until well blended. Add pudding and beat with electric mixer for 2 minutes, then blend in 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Divide onto the two pies, pouring onto both, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to set. (Lemon extract optional, just adds some lemon flavor to layer)
Layer three:
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz. cream cheese softened
16 oz Cool Whip (one container, we use extra creamy)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Cream together sugar and cream cheese with spatula until smooth. Add extracts and mix, then fold in the Cool Whip and lemon zest. Divide onto the two pies. (Lemon extract optional, just adds some lemon flavor to layer) Chill for four hours before serving to insure that everything is set. (We usually can’t wait, and cut a ragged piece right away, as shown in the photo)

I’ve been making these pies for several years now, and bringing them into work and to customers. Since the recipe makes two pies we usually try to give one away as the two of us don’t need quite that much sugar all at once.

Last month I went over to Leslie’s and picked two big bags of lemons. When I got home, besides making two pies, I zested all the lemons and then squeezed them all. I measured out one cup servings and put them into disposable plastic cups, put the cups upright into zip lock freezer bags and put them all in my freezer. This way I can just take out one cup, and scoop out some of the zest, and make a few pies whenever I want to.

I posted this as thanks to story teller and pie baker Blond Duck (even if she will not give out her special coconut pie recipe), go and see what she is cooking up. Another great cook is Clotilde, who makes some neat sounding stuff (and anyway I'm in love with France)

So, there is our first Cooking with Joe segment. Try the pies, they are fairly easy to make. The first layer is on the stove and must be stirred constantly, but the top two layers are easy to let kids make and put on, so it can be a family affair. The eating probably will be.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Last year we were discussion shows and concerts around Vegas, and B mentioned that she would like to see Santana. He regularly appears at the Joint at the Hard Rock, doing a two week run every few months. So I purchased some tickets for us and gave them to her for Christmas; we went to the show last Saturday. It was a very good performance - over two hours of steady sounds, I think my ears are still ringing from the volume. The concert was great - after forty years Carlos still can make his guitar sing.

The Joint is a large room built just for concerts. The lighting was great, and the sound system was one of the best I’ve heard. All the music was bright and clear (and loud). Santana is a marvelous performer; on stage were three drummers, a keyboard, two other guitars, two horns and two singers. It was a very energetic evening. We had not been to the Hard Rock since their big makeover last year. The casino itself is about a half mile east of the Strip and caters to a much younger crowd than the other big resorts. The place was a little slow when we got there before the concert, but when we left (after 11 on a Saturday night) it was packed, the music on the casino floor was fast and loud (most casinos do not have 'background' music playing), the tables were full and there were even a few pole dancers on platforms in the center of the main floor.

I first heard Santana way back when I was in the Navy stationed in central California. His Abraxas album had just come out, and along with albums from It’s a Beautiful Day and Cold Blood we would wear out the record players. The opening album songs were Oye Como Va and Black Magic Woman, which Santana also used to open this concert as well. Still good after 40 years, and probably one of a few performers that were at Woodstock still on stage. This video is a mix from different concerts, you can see how his group expanded (and his hair line receded), but his guitar playing continued to be great

It is not the kind of music that you can just sit in your seat and enjoy, especially not in a live setting

Carlos started his first band in 1966, and after thirty years of performing he still had a big hit in the late 90’s with Smooth

Several people have posted videos of his Hard Rock performances, this one seemed to have about the best sound and view. If your visit to Vegas overlaps one of his sets please think about putting it on your list of things to see. I always recommend a Cirque show when anyone comes to town, and for those of you wanting a little faster music than our other regulars such as Celene (coming back to Caesar’s next year), Cher, Donny and Marie or Barry Manilow see Santana. The average age at this concert reflected Santana's longevity: almost everyone had gray hair and I did not feel like the old fart in the room. Even if you get standing tickets in the side balconies (like where this vid was shot from)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is it Spring yet?

We have been hearing all the news about snow back East, and I’ve been remembering what it was like to go out and sit in my cold car in the morning and not feel the heater doing anything even after I got to the work parking lot. It is much different here. We are about into Spring, and I am enjoying it.

What did I do the day of the big snowfall in Washington? I had to go outside and put out the pool pump, to pump all the rainwater off of the pool cover.

See it there, down in the pool, pulling off all that water from the heavy rains we had? And then that evening we went off to our local big home supply store and just had to comment on the display out front. Was it snow shovels and snow blowers? No, not quite . . .

Yesterday B spent some time getting our raised beds ready for veggies

Over under the trees some volunteer paperwhites had sprung up

But the rest of the yard still looks like winter

The only green grass is the different shade type that survives under the peach tree in our hot summers. The ground is still wet, we ended up with about 2.6 inches of rain total over three weeks, a lot more than we usually get, around half of our ‘average’ rainfall, and more than the 1.5 inches totall all of last year. This brings the worms up, so the birds keep coming back

Overhead the crisp air made my favorite sky patterns, lots of stripes.

And the temperatures? Low of 45 last night, it did hit 69 in our back yard yesterday. Supposed to warm up as the week goes on. You guys can keep your snow, and I love our summer 115 as well, so there.

(Sorry guys - that's a high yesterday of 20c with a low of 7c, in the summer it has gotten up to 47c since we've been here)

Friday, February 12, 2010

E Friday - year of the tiger

In following the tradition of Clare we return again to E Friday, where I post photos of my darling granddaughter E, because VG really likes to look at these pics.

When E and her mother were out visiting a few weeks ago we went down to the Strip to just walk a bit. One of our stops was the Venetian so that we could see what they had set up for the Chinese New Year, as that is one hotel that caters to foreigners, and does a good job of decorating throughout the year. Well, in the atrium they had set up a big tiger, since, well, this will be the year of the tiger.

E liked it, just had to reach over and pet its tail, and was disappointed that she couldn’t sit on its back. (hey, stripes with plastic flower leis look nice, no complaints now) And stripes alone look pretty good (right Lisa?)

Sorry, a bit of off-post here: while at the Venetian we did get to see one of my favorite Vegas sights; bride in wedding gown. This one is a little different than those just wandering the Strip; the white gondola is used for weddings, so she was being married here. Guess they are waiting for the minister to show up. No word on whether she did go out and wander the Strip for the entire afternoon wearing this outfit.

We did put her to work while here. She learned how to handle a broom, unfortunately it was because she found it herself and ended up sweeping up our gravel desert landscape.

She was not successful at sweeping up all the dirt however.
And she did put in quite an amount of time on the yellow swing.

Monday, February 08, 2010


Last week we had some visitors from the far North. We were able to spend a pleasant day with these guys, one of whom I met in a roundabout way through blog comments, the other two who came down to Vegas for a guys wild week out while their wives went on a religious getaway. That seems a fair tradeoff: the women get religion, the guys get Vegas. Not sure what all they did while they were here, but we took them off Strip to a local restaurant and then out to Red Rock.

Red Rock is a National Conservation Area located about a dozen miles west of the Strip, located in the Movaje Desert and a little higher in altitude than here. The above and below photos are from Calico Rocks area, and it is quite colorful.

Above you can see the clouds starting to come down. This was a day after our heavy rains, and there was still a lot of water flowing down the rocks in waterfalls and streams. In a few minutes we were surrounded by thick clouds and getting wet.
A little further along the loop trail we came to an area that had been used for sandstone mining, where the colored stripes were much more pronounced. And there was still a little snow on the ground.

In a strange coincidence some new bling started to show up around town. These little gold pins have started showing up on the outfits of some attractive adult entertainers.

These pins first made their appearance about a year ago, but only a few were seen and then they disappeared. These started showing up again this week. I spoke to the young lady wearing this one and she had an interesting tale about how she got it. She said a nice older man from the far north of Canada gave it to her. Unfortunately, like most younger people (yes, I consider myself an old fart too) geography is not a school subject that students pay much attention to, and young women like this one probably could not find Canada on a world map even if she did know how to spell it. But back to her story; she said the gentleman was very friendly and amusing, telling lots of jokes. He gave her this solid gold pin (instead of a tip) because he liked her, and insisted on pinning it on her outfit himself. She said he had some problems with the clasp that slid on the back, probably due to him loosing feelings in his fingers due to frostbite.

As the poor guy was trying to attach the clasp he kept dropping it, and had to keep reaching around inside her top to find it again, continuously apologizing about his inability to feel anything as he kept feeling around to find the small cap. She said he must have dropped it three or four times but kept smiling and telling jokes and fishing around for the clasp until he finally had it attached. She did say he was ever so nice and friendly and funny and the pin was nice and shiny and probably worth a lot of money because of the price of gold now (I’ll have to remember that line and try it out myself) but for some reason her skin was turning green right behind the pin.
Several other young attractive women in the entertainment industry here in Vegas had similar pins, and told similar stories, about the poor man with frostbite that insisted on putting on the pin but then kept dropping the clasp and having to spend considerable time reaching in to find it because he had lost feeling in his fingers.
This all sounded pretty good, until I noticed other girls with the pin located elsewhere.

And these girls told the same story, about the nice funny man that kept dropping the clasp and kept reaching down to find it. And dropping it, and having a difficult time finding it. Again, seeing as there really wasn’t that large an area to misplace it in, he seemed to be spending an awful lot of time just reaching around.

I kind of feel sorry for him myself, not being able to feel anything and continuously dropping things in the strangest places. Hmm, I wonder if he might have anything to do with the group of Canadians I met.

Friday, February 05, 2010

E posing

In following the tradition of Clare we return again to E Friday, where I post photos of my darling granddaughter E, because VG really likes to look at these pics.

E and her mom visited us a few weeks ago. Before taking them to the airport for their return to far off Portland we wanted a group photo, so I set up the camera on the counter, set the timer and we all gathered together for the image. To be safe, and insure that at least one photo had everybody with their eyes open we took several shots. Extracting E from the group, here is what she looked like:

Care to make a bet about which photo was the best one for the rest of us?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Nice week

It has been a really nice week here in Vegas. With the storms dropping all that rain last week everything is damp and starting to green up. The sky is blue and clear and sunny (well, that’s normal around here) and the mountains around us stand out. I didn’t take my camera when we went out last week, and tried to take a photo of the mountains with snow, this one is looking north from in front of our house

Those are the mountains there under the cloud. Yes, we have telephone poles and wires strung around the neighborhood. They are not along the street but run down the back yards, here crossing the street in the middle of the block. That’s our local grammar school down a block on the right, with a big blue canvas cover over the playground equipment. Pretty nice scene for January, with the green pines and palm trees.
The high humidity has given us some nice sunrises and sunsets, with clouds coming in at night and disappearing during the day.

These shots never look as good in pictures as they do in real life. Ah well, imagine the pinks and orange colors in there if you will.

Last week we volunteered to help the Habitat for Humanity group again. This time we were at the World Market Center consolidating furniture donations. Driving down we passed the new Ruvo Brain Institute designed by Frank Gehry being constructed across from the market. (no, I haven't distored this picture, the curves are really there. Wonder what the rooms look like inside)

I don’t know what is more impressive, that someone could design a building like that, that a company would agree to pay for it, or the builder that can actually make it happen. The back is made up of standard office rectangles, but the front is rather interesting.
The World Market Center is also interesting, not as curvy, but comprised of different angles

There are only three buildings constructed, with glass walkways connecting the upper floors (seen at far left in picture), with another three or four to be built as profits are made. This week they are holding the market - these buildings are really only used twice a year, for the week long furniture and furnishings shows. We’ll be back there on Friday after the show collecting more stuff for Habitat. They have two local stores where they sell these things, some of the stuff donated is brand new, just last year’s models of chairs and couches and tables and stuff.

Also doing some things at home. We plan on redoing our kitchen, and were just set to order the cabinets last June when my employer decided to cut back some more (no, still haven’t found anything, job market in Vegas is really the pits) but put plans on hold for a while. Our house was built in the late 60’s, and the kitchen is in need of a change. We still have the full ceiling fluorescent lights that were popular back then but have fallen out of favor. We are testing different lights and trying to decide on what we want, mainly trying out different LED and fluorescent fixtures, we’ve purchased a few different ones and I’ve mounted them in the kitchen ceiling to see what they look like. (well, it’s all coming down when we remodel) We are about settled on the LED spotlights over most of the counters, much more efficient than regular incandescent lights and a lot cooler and long lasting. We have already replaced some spots around the living room with LED spots, liking the way they look in our test situation. For general background lighting we will go with some 3 inch diameter fluorescent fixtures that Home Depot had in stock. B liked them, and wanted some more light in our front room, which does not have any ceiling fixture, just lamps on the tables, so I put up a string of four yesterday along the wall soffit.

They look pretty good, and at 11 watts each they don’t consume much power, or give off any heat (important in summertime Vegas). So I spent most of yesterday crouched in the attic, moving fiberglass insulation and stringing wire. But I also put in a few in the front entryway and kitchen to use as night lights, so as to keep some lights on around when we have guests spend the night. I'm still itching from the fiberglass embedded in my arms from all that, even after some showers to try and wash it out.

Last time we painted B decided to put horizontal stripes up, applied over the paint with a clear glaze. You don’t really notice the stripes as they are not a different color; they just reflect the light a little more. She did the painting too, trying to pull some more color in there without overwhelming things.

So that’s it for around here. Oh - for those of you that like Buster pics; he is getting old and at times has a problem with making it outside. He doesn’t use the flipper doors any more, his eyesight is too poor for him to find them, especially when he is outside wanting to come in, so we have to let him out. In the warmer seasons we just leave the doors open, we don’t have to worry about bugs out in the desert, and when the swamp coolers are on they just blow the air out the doors. We do keep doors closed when it is cold, like now, and really hot and the air conditioners are on, so we have to catch him when he stands at the door waiting for it to open. But sometimes he just gets off the bed and makes no attempt to get outside, heck, at 21 he is what, 147 dog years old? When I get that old I promised B that I would probably just stand up and let go myself, her problem to clean up. But then she will be equally old, so I guess it is up to our daughter (or whatever caretaker we end up with) that will have to worry about it. But back to Buster: we got him some ‘pants’ that hold doggy diapers that work fairly well at containing things. But after wearing them for a day he refuses to let us put them back on. He is rather cute like this, no?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Three February things

I wanted to do this more often, but thanks to Clare here are three beautiful things for today:
1. The sun is shining, and everything seems clean from the rain last week. The ground is still moist, and it smells like springtime. I bought several packs of flower bulbs yesterday and am working in the moist garden and anticipating colorful blooms in a few months.
2. Buster is out in the grass wandering around. Even almost blind and twenty one years old he still likes to sniff the grass and check things out. When he bumps into my leg he sniffs to make sure it’s me and just stands there waiting to be picked up.
3. Buster normally sleeps all day on our bed, but we can hear when he gets down and goes for a drink of water as the tags on his collar hit against the metal water bowl, and the distant clink clink echoes around the house.

OK, can’t do this without at least one picture, here he is just supervising us in the kitchen, that missing left eye doesn’t seem to bother him too much.