Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Meal No. 2619: Deviled Chicken Thighs

Saturday, the Fourth of July, in the year of hell: 2020. A hot breezeless day that proved ill-suited to outdoor labors but perfect for an indulgent late-afternoon hour-long nap. I found myself digging through boxes in my hope-to-be-a-study-one-day junk room, and eventually found what I was looking for. It means I also found things that I wasn't at the moment looking for but had wanted someday to track down, including a mess of pictures from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, mostly, that were not in the photo albums from that era. (I also found a small stash of my dad's pics from World War II in the Pacific that I'd long ago misplaced, so that's also a bonus.) It became more interesting to start scanning these and that means I never even tried to pick up a shovel or pickaxe even though the skies were clear.

At dinnertime, a meat and two sides were sufficient celebration of the holiday, and I had deviled chicken thighs, buttered peas, and a batch of the rather delicious mac and cheese based on the Willie Mae Scotch House recipe—a New Orleans classic!

"Deviled Chicken Drumsticks," by Ian Knauer. In Gourmet, August 2008.

"Willie Mae's Mac and Cheese," shared by Willie Mae's Scotch House of New Orleans via Good Morning America. [Published 19 May 2020]

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Irrigation System: Wiring the Automatic Valves

In the continuing and long-running adventure of installing my own irrigation system here at the house, we've reached the stage of running the direct-burial landscape wire and connecting up the automatic valves in both the front and rear manifold boxes.

A week or so ago, I determined best placement for conduit routes and bore one-inch holes in the foundation block (rear addition) and foundation brick (front). I did a preliminary survey of the routes for the wiring both under the front porch and in the crawl space under the front parlours and under the kitchen addition.

I had two 500-foot spools of 16 AWG wire (one red, one white) and had fun figuring out how to best set them up to spool so that I could pull them through those tight and dirty spaces under the house.

Held by the looped handles of my two wheelbarrows on a rebar post worked, as did driving a piece of rebar into the ground with a small length of PVC pipe under it to help it spin freely. To keep my zones straight, I marked rings around the red wires for each of the valves: one ring for zone 1, two rings for zone 2, three rings for zone 3.

I pretty much got the long stretches of wiring run Sunday a week ago (front and rear valve manifolds) and then ran the wire for the stand-alone valve in the kitchen herb garden last Friday.

Last Wednesday morning I tackled wiring the backyard valves and was glad that I didn't have to learn any hard lessons while doing so:

On Friday evening, I set the valve manifold for the front yard and glued the PVC line connections to be ready to tie into the whole system. Then, I was able to get those valves wired up before it became too dark to see. (That's why the picture below is a bit dim: it was around 8:45 pm.)

Not to sound like a broken record, but given that I'm operating with little knowledge and even less experience, I'm feeling pretty decent about it thus far. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'm putting together a workable system!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Meal No. 2618: Chicken Salad Melts on Brioche Buns

I avoided being completely defeated by the heat that has finally rolled in here as of the first Friday of July, and it was another day of forward progress on the irrigation system. My labors were such that they didn't tax me too much as temps topped out at 92°F by late afternoon, but I won't say it was sweat-free! At dinnertime, I was glad to still have more of the delicious chicken salad I'd made earlier in the week, this time to load onto a brioche bun with a slice of American cheese, baked long enough to melt it, and then topped with a slice of tomato. Even when the meals here are simple, they still manage to satisfy.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Meal No. 2617: Sage and Garlic Pan-Seared Pork Chops

Last Thursday proved to be a most reasonable weather day even though you can tell we have entered July. It got up into the upper 80s but remained a bit breezy, with reasonable humidity and with the flies and mosquitoes somewhere besides here. I finished screening the rest of my old topsoil pile and used it to partially fill in the irrigation line trenches in the backyard, and I also brought six wheelbarrow loads of hard clay I'd dug up out of the front yard to add in as well. I knocked off in time to shower and then set to work on a simple dinner of pan-seared garlic and sage pork chops, roasted spiced sweet potato chunks, and summer squash with onion. Those sweet potatoes were quite good again (guess it's the second time I've made 'em) but I still need to take the time to separate and space them so that they'll get a more roasted exterior. And this was the first time I felt like I got the summer squash to taste as good as it always was when my former teaching teammate Stephanie Toney would make it for me.  It was all a great way to end another fine day at the Roediger House.

Although I now go by memory and feel, the basics of the pork chop recipe are found here: "Your New Favorite Pork Chops," by Alison Roman, in Bon Appétit, March 2015, p. 35.

"Roasted Sweet Potatoes," from Chelsea Lords of [Published 04 March 2019]

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Salted Coffee Caramel Mocha Nutella Brownies

A neighbor had asked me to pick up a jar of Nutella on my next Costco run, which occurred last Tuesday, and that left me with my own jar to put to use. I've got a few recipes that call for Nutella that I never have gotten around to. With the weather being a bit dicey last Tuesday, I stayed inside and decided to try making salted coffee caramel mocha Nutella brownies. It sure did leave me with a lot of dirty bowls and pots for being really just kind of ordinary. And it's a far cry from the amazing skillet brownies from the same recipe blogger. Thank goodness for the coffee caramel sauce, which was fantastic...that's what made it worth the next day's problematic weigh-in.

"Salted Caramel Mocha + Nutella Brownies," from Tieghan Girard of the Half-Baked Harvest blog. [Published 26 September 2014]

Friday, July 3, 2020

Meal No. 2616: Sous Vide Chicken Salad

When the coronavirus pandemic and accompanying shut-down had as an accompanying feature the panicked shopping and hoarding by the masses, I too felt I'd better be safe than sorry and that included buying a big bag of frozen chicken breasts from Costco. As we move into summer, the meat supply seems to have stabilized a bit and there is hope that the crisis will not spiral down to that level.

So, what about all those chicken breasts, though? I pulled out three of them and transferred them to a bag in the fridge in hopes they would thaw reasonably quickly. They didn't. It took four days for them to become at least somewhat pliable...but it was enough to be able to season and prep them for sous vide cooking. And boy howdy did they turn out absolutely fantastic: flavorful, juicy, perfectly cooked. And perfect for a homemade batch of chicken salad served Tuesday night on brioche buns.

That day started out uncomfortably humid and became sprinkly on and off, keeping me from continuing yard labors. In fact, Monday was the first miserable kind of summer day and included flies in the daytime and swarming mosquitoes when I was working on the front irrigation valve box into the late evening. I'm counting myself lucky that I was able to get out and appreciate all the good weather days leading up to this week. I can love summer all I want to, but I also know that sometimes it just isn't going to love me back.

Based on "Sous Vide Chicken Breast," by Yolanda on

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Meal No. 2615: Beef Bourguignon

After several days of salads, and skipping dinner altogether last Sunday night, I was glad I had a chuck roast in the fridge as the main ingredient for a delicious beef bourguignon late Monday afternoon. It was hearty, full-flavored, and exceptionally silky, with the bonus of sautéed garlic-butter-marsala mushrooms added in at the end of the cooking time. In the battle between egg noodles and mashed potatoes as the bed on which it lay, the noodles won out this time.

As long as I was splurging on a French/Julia Child-inspired dinner, I couldn't shake the feeling that it deserved homemade cheddar-and-chive buttermilk biscuits as well. That part ain't so French and fancy, but the feast was for me, not for the potential critics.

"Beef Bourguignon (Julia Child Recipe)," from Karina of [Published 18 February 2018]

"Cheddar and Chive Drop Biscuits," from Brandie Skibinski of The Country Cook blog. [Published 21 September 2015]

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Meal No. 2614: Power Greens with Homemade Caesar Dressing

Salads haven't been as common lately at mealtime, but that's what dinner was composed of two nights in a row. Last Friday night, after a full day putting together my first valve manifold and getting it hooked in to the backyard irrigation zones, a simple supper of Caesar-topped power greens, with refreshing tomato chunks on the side, was just what I needed.

Based on "Easy Lemon Caesar Salad Dressing," by Kim of

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Manifold Destiny

That right there is a valve manifold. A few months ago, if you'd mentioned "valve manifold" to me, I'm not sure I would have known what it should conjure in my imagination. But planning, developing, and installing my own irrigation system has taught me quite a few things. (I won't know if I've been a good student until the new connection to the city water system gets established.) That photo above is the finished version of the second manifold I made last Saturday, which took about half the time as the first one I made on Friday.

You see, Friday and Saturday were a couple more picture-perfect summer days: moderate temps, breezes, reasonable humidity, no flies or mosquitoes, pleasant sunshine. I set up my outside yard table, covered it in a plastic sheet, and marked off my valve manifold box so I could start laying out the design of that first manifold.

I began working on this just after noon, with various breaks throughout the afternoon and then stopping for an easy supper of salad.

I made an effort to align things and to bring a measure of precision to the layout but I'm very much a novice. By all appearances, though, it ended up being a pretty workable finished product.

I got that first manifold set in its valve box near the back door and tied in most of the accompanying irrigation lines. I decided I needed to deepen the trench that runs alongside it, up to the back corner of the house, and saved that to finish on Saturday. I stopped working and put my tools away around 9:15 pm Friday night.

The weather Saturday was a duplicate of Friday, and I started on the valve manifold for the front yard zones around noon as well (photo above). I had it completed before 4 pm, although I should add that I only got as far as constructing it...I will not install it in its valve box until after the new irrigation meter and water line are installed by my utilities contractor.

The next step will be pulling the wires to the automatic valves and running them under the house and into the cellar, where I'll have my irrigation controller. This will be a whole 'nother element of my education but I'm getting a kick out of trying to pull all this off.

Speaking of valves: I decided I wanted to have a master drain with a manual valve, and I tied it in to a drain line in the front wall (as part of another project that will be in a future blog post).

To maintain the benefit of gravity and a downward slope for it, the simple ball valve I installed was pretty deep in the ground, so I fashioned an access tube out of some of my 4-inch PVC drain line.

The placement was a bit tricky because this was the same area where I'd routed drain lines from the side of the parking lot.

I actually installed two of these and designed a similar access sleeve for the other one as well.

They both required bushing adaptors in order to close them off with a threaded cap but I don't expect to be using the drain all that often, so I'm glad for it to be a solid seal:

My sister recently pondered: What did we do for home projects before Youtube? I guess we bought books or attended workshops at Lowe's...or just hired people to do it for us. One of my dad's favorite expressions was: If you don't have education, use your common sense. With this project, I've tried to be sensible even though I'm pretty uneducated about this stuff.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Quarantine Task Jar: Installing a Tie Rack

Here's another small chore completed, thanks to the latest slip drawn from the quarantine task jar, during a rainy spell earlier this month. The photo above is of the inside of the enormous wardrobe in the master bedroom, and on the door you see ties hanging on an old string. For several years now, since my acquisition of ties exceeded the capacity of my tie rack on the inside of the master bedroom closet door, this is where I've hung the newer ones that I most often reach for on my working days. Not the best arrangement, especially because of how easily they slipped down and would get creased at the bottom of that cabinet door. For years I've had a new tie rack tucked away that I had grabbed on impulse but hadn't installed yet.

Unfortunately, once I opened the new tie rack, I found it was smaller than I had remembered. I still put it up, because it fits that narrow door well, but I decided I'd better rethink this and instead get myself a larger one.

The tie rack I've held onto for years was my father's. It has been with me everywhere I've lived since moving out of my childhood home after college: Winston-Salem, Wake Forest University, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Charlottesville, and back to Winston-Salem.

It holds a lot of ties, but I also like that the individual hangers are hinged, so it's easy to "page" through the ties. Alas, I wasn't able to find anything similar, either in capacity or in design, and had to settle for fixed racks and lesser capacity. A speedy delivery from Amazon solved the issue and now I've got two racks on the inside of the closet door:

Those three ties proudly displayed on the upper rack, by the way, are the three I kept from my dad after he died in 1981: two great wild ones from the 70s plus a normal professional classic red tie. And the new small rack inside the wardrobe? Perfect for my small collection of rarely-worn bow ties:

On a related note: A quick check of the blog tells me that I've made only limited references to that wardrobe and have just a single picture of it from April 2004 in this dated blog post. (A more recent post on the master bedroom from Fall 2014 can be found here.)

Finally, let me note that the idea behind the quarantine task jar, which cranked up back in March with the initial shut-down orders at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, was to entice me to a measure of qualified productivity regarding tons of chores that were languishing on my grand to-do list. It really worked fantastically well to carry me through the rest of the winter and into the early spring. But with the good weather and the relative enormity of some outdoor projects, I haven't needed the discipline or incentive, and draws from the task jar have been few and far between.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The WORST EVER Chocolate Chip Cookies

I could have been outside working more last Wednesday evening after the southwestern Caesar salad supper...and instead I made cookies. These are a basic chocolate chip cookie, perhaps, but there's nothing basic about how delicious and addictive they are. Perhaps in a rare show of enforced self-control, I limited myself only because I committed to giving away samples to various neighbors on the street...still, though, I greedily hoarded a few, if you must know.

"The WORST EVER Chocolate Chip Cookies," from Sam Merritt of [Published 28 November 2018; Updated 13 November 2019]

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Meal No. 2613: Southwestern Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken

I continue to be mighty happy that it's not yet the yucky days of summer. Wednesday brought another glorious dawning morning with incredibly pleasant temps and light breezes for enjoying coffee and a quiet start to the day with Sumner at my feet. It also allowed me to get an earlier start in the yard that took me up to lunchtime. Then I ventured to City Hall to see about placing the order for a second water meter for the irrigation system and then I fell into a nap! By late afternoon, a less pleasant humidity had rolled in and I decided to worry about dinner instead. On the menu: Southwestern Caesar salad topped with sous vide chicken thighs that I finished on the grill. Adorned with diced fresh tomato, corn, and black beans, it was a creamy and spicy abundance of flavors.

Southwestern Caesar Dressing was my creation but was based on:

Friday, June 26, 2020

Meal No. 2612: Sheet Pan Beef Nachos

Once again the dinner menu on a recent evening was dictated by the sell-by date on a meat item in the fridge. That's what led me to throw together a quick batch of sheet pan beef nachos last Monday night, as a brief interruption to a very full yard work day (that didn't end until about 9:45 pm!). Oh, but they were ever so good, enjoyed on paper plates in the camp chairs in the nice breezes of that early summer evening.

Taco-Style Meat Based on "Crispy Beef Tacos," by Hilah Johnson. From

Seasoning was based on "Taco Seasoning I," from Bill Echols on

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Quarantine Task Jar: The Broken Chair Leg

A couple of summers ago, when the Roediger House played host to the family of an old Wake Forest grad school chum of mine, the leg of one of my parlour side chairs gave way. It's another of the small items on the long-running to-do list that ended up on a slip in my quarantine task jar. It was drawn at the end of May. I discovered belatedly that the picture above was terribly misfocused, but it'll still do as a "before" shot (along with this zoomed out view, below).

I do not pretend that there was anything expert about my repair efforts...

...and I'll not be surprised if they fail at their first serious test of stability and strength. It's a chair that doesn't get a lot of action, and I'm just glad it's no longer sitting at an angle in the comforting environs of the North Parlour.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Meal No. 2611: Roasted Salmon and Broccoli

Sunday was stunning for the first full day of summer. It was a long stretch of coffee and reading and a bit of computer work as the morning proceeded, in the camp chairs out on the driveway. I made reasonable efforts with the ongoing yard projects (including initial installation of eight out of 16 sprinkler heads!) and was happy to put roasted salmon and roasted broccoli on the dinner plates that night. It was a fine day.

Now that summer has officially begun, as of this past Saturday, I can stop and marvel at how this month of June seems to be proceeding, which is proving to be rather a balance of gorgeous and amazing days and no small number of wet ones. Given how awful the mosquitos and flies were the last couple of summers, it was interesting to note that neither has been much on the scene just yet. Last week granted me the privilege of seeing the first goldfinch of the season, unable to compete with the teeming crowds of other birds at the front feeders. I also spied—briefly!—a hummingbird, attracted by the bee balm my sister had given me a few years ago. Lightning bugs showed up a couple of weeks ago. The daylilies are still bursting with beauty. The petunias in the planters are growing and glowing and spreading. The clarion call of official summer burst forth late afternoon on Sunday: the first cicada with its glorious song. Although I am still pretty dedicated to my yard labors thus far, I do dread when the heat and humidity of the real summer overwhelm me. As of this moment, though? Life's pretty darned good in the mini-universe of the Roediger House.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Meal No. 2610: Glorious Beef & Mushroom Stir Fry

With beef tenderloin on a better-than-usual sale, which I appreciated all the more given how meat prices have surged during the coronavirus pandemic, I brought home a moderate-sized one to carve into steaks (prepped for later sous vide cooking) and for making a couple of meals right away. Friday night's beef tenderloin tips was immediately followed by beef and mushroom stir fry over rice noodles on Saturday night. This meal is one of two that I consistently have made over the last 12 years, after I got my first useful wok cookbook, and it always satisfies.

"Glorious Beef with Mushrooms," in Wok Fast by Hugh Carpenter and Teri Sandison. Ten Speed Press, 2002, p. 87 (recipe) and p. 26-27 (marinade and sauce).