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Renee-Lucie BenoitI've been living in California since 1977. All this time I have really enjoyed the cuisine. For example, there's the groundbreaking way of cooking started by Alice Waters that has influenced many people. It's known as "California Cuisine." However, California had its own cuisine long before Alice. This is the cuisine rooted in Spanish traditions.

The Spanish Californios were ranchers and they took good food seriously. When I was learning to make rag rugs from my neighbor Anna she introduced me to poquito beans (also known as pinquito) and Santa Maria-style barbecue. I made them and immediately became addicted. Poquito or pinquito (either way is right) beans are a long-standing tradition on the Central Coast of California. These little (for that's what poquito means: "little") beans have been used in Santa Maria-style barbecue for generations. Anna is from a family that ranched in Santa Barbara county. She should know.

Start with dry beans.

This small, chili-type bean is loaded with California history. They are a cross between a pink bean and a small white bean, and grow well in the fertile soil and mild climate of the Santa Maria Valley, which is the only place where they are grown commercially. Some think the Santa Maria "Pinks" were brought in with the migrant citrus workers in the 1950s (they also introduced us to the tri-tip cut of meat), but now there's some thought that it was a crop during the Californio Mission era. Whatever its origins, it's delicious and meaty and the perfect match for any barbecue, chili or even salad. They hold their shape and don't get mushy.

A typical Santa Maria-style BBQ will include poquito beans, macaroni and cheese, a fresh green salad, toasted sweet french bread, salsa, coffee and a simple desert like fresh strawberries. The meat will be a thick cut of beef seasoned only with salt, pepper and a hint of garlic, cooked over coals made of red oak also known as coast live oak. To be authentic the cut of meat should be 3 inches thick and weigh 3 to 4 pounds, but in modern days a smaller cut, frequently tri-tip, is more popular.

The traditional Santa Maria-style barbecue menu was even copyrighted by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce in 1978.

The Santa Maria grill is made of iron and usually has a hand crank that lifts or lowers the grill over the coals to the desired distance from the heat. The Santa Maria Valley is often rather windy, so the style of cooking is over hot burning coals as opposed to the cooler radiant heat that covered grills use.

President Ronald Reagan was an avid fan of Santa Maria-style barbecue. Several barbecues were held on the South Lawn of the White House for him.

For authenticity you can order poquitos online.

Santa Maria-Style Barbecue Beans
Yields 10 to 16 servings.

(My recipe follows the recipe that's on the back of the Bonipak poquito beans package.)

2 pounds poquitos beans
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1/2 pound ground beef
1 envelope chili mix or 1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 to 4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1  1/2 cups tomato juice or tomato sauce

Cover beans generously with water.

Let the beans soak.

Bring to a boil and add salt and pepper. Turn heat to simmer and cook two hours or until tender.

In a separate pan (cast iron works great!), sauté in this order:

onion and garlic;

Cooking the onions.


Add the bacon to the onions.

then hamburger.

Add hamburger.

Brown both meats. Don't burn the onions and garlic.

Brown the meats and onion.

Drain off as much fat as you can and then add chili mix, pepper, salt, oregano and tomato juice. Cook until thoroughly warmed through.

Add the desired spices.

Add the mixture to beans and simmer 1 hour.

Add the meat mixture to the beans.

These beans are a meal all by themselves. I love them with warm buttered French bread.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI've had just about every kind of cookware imaginable. Why, I even demonstrated Tefal French non-stick cookware in Macy's when I was young. (Teflon! Pure PTFE coating, folks!) My great aunt once gave me a Lifetime brand stainless steel cook pot that I still have. But the piece de resistance of my cookware stash are my old iron pans. I got them when my grandmother passed and I cherish them like they are precious jewels. Not only do they remind me of my grandmother (she received them as a wedding present when she was 19 and had them until her death at 87) but they have been my mainstay through every phase of my life.


My beautiful iron pans

I'm kind of a pioneer-ophile (if there's such a word). I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as a child. I also read all of Willa Cather's books when I got older. I see images of a covered wagon rolling across a prairie with the black cast-iron skillet hanging from the wagon’s bow. My dad cooked his Canadian specialty Shanty Beans in a cast-iron dutch oven buried in the earth under hot coals. So you see this sturdy black cookware was a highly prized possession of my ancestors. I'm not the first to have it be left to favorite relatives in wills. I think every self-sufficient home should be cooking with cast iron.

What's so great about cast iron? As you can see it can last a very long time when properly cared for. That makes it an economical choice. If properly seasoned, it's better than any PTFE non-stick Teflon thing. It's better because it will not leach unhealthy chemicals into your system and, in fact, in can add healthy iron to your food especially when you're cooking with acidic foods such as tomatoes. If it's properly seasoned, you don't have to use as much oil to cook with. Food cooks evenly in it because it distributes heat evenly. I don't need to be a scientist to claim this. My experience of 40-plus years of cooking tells me so.

On the "lighter" side, it's heavy so you can use it to build up your muscle strength. If I can lift my pot with one hand I feel a trip to the work-out place is less necessary. I've yet to brain my husband with a pan, but it's there if he needs it. You need to practice with firearms, but if you're hefting an iron pot every day you've got all the practice you need when the time comes. When I watch old movies and the heroine grabs a knife out of the drawer to defend herself, I think now why didn't she grab the pan? If the bad guy has a gun she can use the pan as a shield and then clock him on the head with it.

Back to reality: I've used an iron pan to cook cream cornbread with chilies and cheese in my oven. There's a great Artisan Bread recipe in GRIT Magazine's Guide to Homemade Bread. Guess what? The iron pan is perfect to cook it in when you have a tight fitting lid. I've even used it to cook over an open campfire or on the Weber. The wonderful thing about cast-iron cookware is, the more you use it the better it gets.

I never buy cast-iron pans new. I always look for them at garage sales. This is how I got my pans for camping. I just make sure there aren't any cracks. If you get one from a yard sale, you will most likely need to properly clean it and then re-season it before you use it. And don’t pass up a used piece of cast iron because it’s rusted. If the price is right you can repair it with a little elbow grease.

For general cleaning you will need only a steel pad and warm water. I'm not talking about Brillo. You don't want to use any soap in it. I'm talking about the little pure steel wire-y thingies you find in the cleaning section of the store next to the little copper wire-y thingies.

Once it's clean all you need is a little good quality oil to season it with. I like olive oil. No rancid oil, please. I just put my iron pan on the stove and pour a little olive oil in it and then I wipe most of it away. Then I heat it a little bit over low heat. Don't let it smoke. I've been told that the process opens the pores of the metal and lets the oil soak in but don't quote me on that. Over-heating hurts the pan and you're taking a chance of burning it up. So set the kitchen timer for 5 minutes and keep an eye on it.

Iron pans are the best. What do you use your iron pans for?


Renee-Lucie BenoitI'm going to share with you something other teachers don't share. My first effort. I should say "I meant to do that." But I didn't. It was very good because it taught me a lot. The more you do this the better you get. Just like anything.



Anna and I are having fun.


This is to show you no one is ever good at the beginning. I keep this first rug as a reminder of my humble and humorous beginnings.

Note: Part One neglected to state the recommended size of the crochet hook for this project. It's 10 to 11 mm; metal (aluminum or steel), but if you can't find metal, plastic is OK.

Part Two: Making the Actual Rug

Start to make the first loop by winding the long end of the fabric around your fingers over and under. Pinch the short end of the fabric between your thumb and pointer finger leaving a couple inches dangling.


The strip winds around your fingers.

Then (and this is important) slide your hook underneath the strip of fabric that is between your thumb and forefinger.


Your hook goes underneath the strip – always.

Now pull out a small loop while twisting it at its base. Pinch it between your thumb and forefinger.


Your first loop.

Now you're going to chain stitch. I was so clumsy at first, but now I have the hang of it. And since I am basically all thumbs I know you will, too.


Chaining is a single crochet over and over.


Continue chaining until you have 18 stitches.


The finished 18 chains.

Now you're ready to go around the end with a double crochet loop to start the second row.

Up until now you've been making one loop and pulling your strip through to make a chain. Now you're going to pick up two stitches to give the corner some slack. You have to pick up two stitches at the turns because you need to create slack in the corners. Otherwise the corners will start to "cup" and the rug will not lay flat. If you take a couple stitches and it looks like some cupping is happening, pull out a stitch or two and add some doubles. What I've just described here is all you need to know about stitches for this project. Basically you make single stitches on the straight and double stitches when you round the ends.


Start singing, "She'll be coming around the mountain when she comes!"


Make one double crochet (two loops).


Pick up your next loop from the second side.


Pull your next loop through.


Start single crocheting the second row.


Keep single crocheting until the end of the second row.


You can add a different color by using the hobo knot to attach the ends together.

I have found that the shape of my finished rug is determined to a degree by the shape of my first 3 rows. That's why I have made such a big deal about the first 3 rows. The remainder of the rug is simply repetition of the first 3 rows. If you see an obvious bend or distortion taking shape in the first 3 rows it might be best to start over again.

Remember: Always stick your hook underneath the fabric strip, hook and pull in through the hole.

Warning: Don't make too many double loops on the corners. It is possible to get a wavy result from too many double loops. How many extra loops you make is determined – to a degree – by the thickness of the fabric and how tight the turn is. I have found one double loop (another way of saying double crochet) on every other one is right for my sheet fabric. You might need to add more or less.

How do you know when to start adding a stitch? When the bend in the previous inside row lines up with where you are.


Simply single crochet back towards the way you came on every other hole until it is used up.

Here's something that will make you happy: the process is forgiving. This is a handmade rug. It's not supposed to be flawless. That is part of the charm.

"A job worth doing is worth doing well." – Old Wives' Saying


Anna with her friend the monkey.

Renee-Lucie BenoitThere's a woman I know who is a neighbor of ours. She lives across the creek from us and her name is Anna. She is in her 80s and is not in good health. In spite of that, she is still full of pep especially if you mention her favorite topics, which are crocheting rag rugs and quilting. I met her at the local craft fair when we had booths next to each other. She was selling her rag rugs and I was selling my pastel paintings. I didn't make much money that weekend but I came away with a gorgeous rag rug and a new friend.

Anna is right out of the pages of a Foxfire book. Those are the wonderful books edited by Eliot Wigginton from the 1960s and 70s that were all about preserving the knowledge of a generation of folks whose knowledge and experience with old timey ways might otherwise be lost. By the way, Anna is a Gabrielino-Tongva Native American. Her mother taught her how to make these useful and beautiful rugs from scraps of left over fabric and worn out things. Nothing was wasted.


A beautiful rug that Anna made.

I am so lucky that Anna is such a wonderful person who loves to share her knowledge. I asked her to teach me and she happily agreed. I really didn't know what I was getting into when I asked her though. I just knew that I wanted to learn and that I was very motivated. I decided to share what she has taught me with you. I think this will give you an idea of how to do it. If you can't figure out how to do it from our instructions, I would counsel you to find a local crafts person like Anna and see if she is willing to show you first hand. It might seem complicated so I'll try to simplify the instructions without leaving anything out.

Part One: The Basic Prep

What you need:

Enough 100-percent cotton or cotton blend fabric equivalent to a least 10 yards or more. Fabric can be purchased but you can also scour your closet or local second-hand stores for used bed sheets. I did both. I found fabric on sale that I thought was attractive and I also went to a couple second-hand stores and found more. I also had an old flannel sheet. However, now that I have tried to crochet flannel I would not counsel a beginner to use it. I went ahead and ripped up the sheet and started crocheting with it but found that there's too much "tooth" on flannel. Flannel kind of sticks to itself and that makes it a bit harder to work with.

So smooth cotton is best. Colored fabric is also best. Darker colored fabric is better and patterns are fine. (See Anna's example above.) We think a rug made in all light colors and especially white is not practical. This is our prejudice. It's undoubtedly because we live in the country and dirt reigns supreme. So unless you have unlimited water and like to do laundry we would counsel you to limit the white and light colors that you use.

Speaking of water, it's always best to wash and dry your fabric before you start.

Scissors to cut with.

A ruler or your fingers so you can measure 1 1/2 inches wide. (I find that two of my fingers are about 1 1/2 inches wide.)

A large crochet hook. Anna likes steel the best. She says steel won't break like plastic might. I couldn't find a steel one of the correct size so my plastic one is fine for now. My crochet hooks aren't labeled as to size so I can't tell you a size. Mine and Anna's are about an inch and a half in circumference. Here's a photo that might help.



In Part One: The Basics we're going to prep the materials. Once you're good at crocheting, the prep work takes the longest of all the process. Or so I'm told! The first step is to make strips about 1 1/2 inches wide. The longer the better.

Making the Strips


Rip strips of fabric 1 1/2-inches wide and as long as possible.



Making a Hobo Knot

This is one way to connect your strips together without the necessity of a sewing machine. Once you start crocheting you will be surprised how fast you use up a strip so you want to have at least a yard, maybe two of strip ready to go.


Lay two strips together, right over left. Overlap about 2 inches.


Fold the strips in the middle.


Cut a small notch all the way through.


Poke your finger in to see if your notch is big enough.


Take the other end of the strip and push it through the notch from underneath.


Start pulling the end through.


Keep pulling while holding the two pieces of fabric together.


You might have to pull firmly at the end. I used two colors of fabric so you could see how it's supposed to look.

The hobo knot is easy to make. However, once I started crocheting, I experienced difficulty pulling the knots through the crochet loops so when I complained to Anna she told me how to make a continuous strip.

Making a continuous strip

Cut a little notch into the edge of your fabric so the strip will be about 1 1/2-inches wide. Rip the fabric all the way across but stop short of the edge by about an inch. Move over on that side and cut another notch so it is about 1 1/2 inches away from the ripped pieces edge. Rip that in the same way. Stop short. Notch. Rip. Continue doing this – back and forth – until all your fabric is one very, very, very long 1 1/2-inch-wide piece.


Ripping the fabric.

Don't make a huge ball of fabric strips unless you want to make your rug all one color. You want to have a bunch of medium-size balls so you can change out the color every row or two. Here's an example.


Winding the ball.

Now we're ready for the next step, which is starting to crochet in Part Two. Prep your materials this week and shout out any questions you have. I will do my best to answer them and if I can't answer, I have Anna The Expert to consult with! I will get back to you!


Renee-Lucie BenoitI visited my daughter in Santa Cruz around Christmas time. Santa Cruz is such a fun place. It's noisy and crowded but they have good wholesome food everywhere and, of course, they have the Pacific Ocean. So even though there's all that hubbub of all those people, there's still a way to escape at the water's edge. We saw dolphins in the waves and pelicans in formation gliding gracefully on the off shore flow.

We always eat at a vegetarian restaurant in Capitola called Dharma's. It's all vegetarian and they give you huge portions. Out here on the ranch, it's impossible to find creative vegetarian food unless you make it yourself so it's fun to go to a restaurant that specializes in it. The last time we went, they had a salad that had a huge pile of sunflower sprouts plopped on top. That gave me an idea for fresh veggies to supplement the standard red leaf lettuce we've had to get from the grocery store for my salads. Did I mention my husband only eats "man food" that doesn't include anything that isn't white or brown? That's another story.

Sunflower sprouts are easy as pie just like all sprouts. Just plan ahead a little and you'll have as many of these delectable little units as you care to have.

What you need:
Potting soil
Food grade black oil sunflower seeds
Leftover cinnamon roll tray with clear lid from the bakery, or any container and plastic wrap


Mix equal parts perlite and potting soil.


Spread about 2 inches deep of this mix in your tray.


Spread a single layer of the seeds on the soil.


Sprinkle another 1/2 inch deep of the mix over the seeds. Moisten with water.


Cover with the tray top or plastic wrap and put in a safe place where the kiddies or the cats who haven't been counter trained can't reach it.


Check every day for a week and moisten as necessary. Nature will do her job and in a couple days you'll start to see sprouts.


In a week you'll have sprouts to clip off above soil level to put on your salad. If there are any seeds hulls clinging to the sprouts, you can wait until they drop off naturally or you can very gingerly pull them off the leaves. Be careful not to break the leaf or pull the sprout out of the ground. If the hull won't budge leave it be.


The sprouts won't grow after you clip them off. Just clean the soil of the roots and you can start all over again with the same soil. The sprouts are sweetest when they are new. You don't need to wash them as you know exactly what went on to them as they grew. Which is ... nothing!

Bon appetit!


Renee-Lucie BenoitMarty and I are proud to introduce to you our long awaited and much ballyhooed extension to our chicken pen. It's been months in the making but that's not because we're such lazy folks and it takes us forever to complete a project. Well, not too much anyway! No, it took us so long because other things kept taking priority over the project. Finally things started to slow down and then it started to rain and the rain never let up for what seems a couple months. It seemed so biblical but really it wasn't. It just seemed that way. The good thing about the rain was that it softened the ground so it made it that much easier to dig the post holes. So in a way the delay really helped us out. As you may remember we live in the cement-for-ground region of the country.


The extension is the part right behind me. A covered standing room only section. Love it!

So at the beginning of this month, we really started in earnest and now it's done except for some paint touch up and adding some interior chicken wire to make it 100-percent predator proof. Oh, did I mention squirrel proof? We have some of the fattest and healthiest ground squirrels on the planet. They've been regularly gorging their fat little faces on chicken feed and scratch. Oh, many's the time I went to the chicken pen only to see Mr. or Mrs. Squirrel vacating the premises like greased lightning. They know they're bad, but they can't help themselves!

Now that we've concocted a fool proof method for keeping them out, I plan to see less and less of the crafty little beggars around my precious chicken pen. Our method is laying 15 inches of chicken wire attached to the bottom of the pen boards and extending out at ground level buried under walk-on bark. This also serves as a deterrent to coyotes and raccoons. All our neighbors have had their chicken populations wiped out by these predators, but we've suffered nary a loss. We have a chicken Fort Knox, and it's worth it!

Now we're soliciting advice on dual purpose (meat and eggs) chicken breeds that do well in both cold weather (lows 15-dgrees to mid-30s in winter) but mostly heat (over 100 degrees for days at a time in summer). I've been researching Lakenvelders and Dominiques. What do you all think?


Renee-Lucie BenoitI love aprons. They’re something my grammy wore every day (except to church, of course!). Aprons helped keep her dresses clean. She didn’t have many dresses because she didn’t have a lot of extra money for new ones. She had to keep the ones she had as clean as she could. She usually made her own dresses and that was relatively time consuming. Aprons, on the other hand, are easy to make, use little fabric and are easy to wash.

I’m going to show you how to make a simple apron. You don’t even need a pattern. All you need is a sewing machine, thread, scissors like pinking shears, an iron and ironing board, and something to measure with. The beauty of this apron is that it doesn’t have to fit perfectly so if you make a mistake it will still work.

I think the best fabric to use is 100-percent cotton because it is absorbent. I think patterned fabric is better than solid or white because it shows less dirt. You are going to get it dirty. That’s the point! You need about 1 3/4 yards of fabric that is 44 inches wide. I was lucky to find fabric on sale for $2 a yard.

Wash and dry the fabric before you start. This is so the fabric will be pre-shrunk and you get no nasty sizing surprises later. Iron your washed and dried fabric and lay it out flat WRONG SIDE OUT on your table. Decide what length you want it and add 6 inches for the hem. I marked it on the wrong side with chalk. Cut away the excess. We're going to use it for the waist band and apron strings later.

mark hem  side hem

Next hem both vertical side edges. Make the hem at least 1/4 inch wide. Iron your seam flat.

Note: When I sew a line of stitches I always do something they taught me in Home Ec class. To keep the ends from raveling, I sew in about a half inch and then I stop my machine, switch the lever to reverse and I sew back over what I just sewed. Then I switch back to forward and continue. I do this at the end of my stitch, too.


My sewing machine is an old Singer table top model. My mom gave it to me when I was 20 years old. It was 35 years old then. Now I’m 64 years old. This machine is the energizer bunny. I’ve only had it serviced once. It doesn’t do anything except sew backwards and forwards and wind a bobbin. But that’s all I need and I love it!

first hem foldOK, now, let’s hem the bottom. Like you did on the vertical side edges start by turning over the edge about a 1/4 of an inch. Iron it flat.

You can sew your hem or blind stitch it by hand. But because we’re doing it the easy way I just sewed the hem. Before you sew, turn the hem up and pin baste it in place. Pin against the stitch direction. Then you can sew right over the pins. The needle will miss them but if it hits a little it will slide off.






Now take the top and sew the largest stitches you can in three rows closely spaced together. These are called basting stitches.

Note: Make sure your bobbin has a lot of thread before you start. You are going to make one continuous line of stitches all the way across. You can’t have a gap. It makes it really difficult to pull the gathers in the next step if the stitches aren’t all one continuous line. If your bobbin runs out of thread mid-line you’ve made yourself a problem. Now is a good time to check and make sure you’re not almost out of thread.


Once you’ve done that, take the fabric and start pulling the threads to gather them. Grab hold of the three top threads and pull lightly. See how hard you have to pull without breaking the threads. The three lines make it harder for the threads to break when you’re pulling. The three lines also make for a better gather in my humble opinion.


As you gather do a little section at a time and then space the gathers as evenly as you can. Gather until the top of the apron is the width you want it to fit at your waist. Set it aside.


Next we have to make the waist band and apron strings. They're all one piece. Decide how wide you want your waist band and apron strings. I’m going to make them about 2 inches when finished. Cut strips of fabric 4 inches wide and enough length to make the waistband and apron strings a total of 96 inches long.


You want a generous length so you can tie the strings in a nice big bow. Sew your strips together at each end with RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER


Iron your seams flat.


Then lay your strips on the ironing board and fold them in half lengthwise inside out. Turn one of the edges over about 1/4 inch and iron it flat. Next WITH RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER position the edge of the waist band in the middle of the gathers.


Pin baste it in place.


Turn it over and sew along the gathers all the way through.


Then turn the waist band over. Iron a little 1/4-inch hem in the long side.


Fold the waistband/apron strings in half over the top of the apron. Pin baste it in place.


Now sew up the long sides all the way to the end and then across the end. Iron everything again and voila! You have your simple apron!


Sara LovelandHow many things can you do with an apron? Aprons can be used as a potholder to remove hot things from the oven. The edge of one will dry a child’s tears and sometimes will clean out dirty ears. You can carry almost anything in the folds of an apron: eggs, chicks, apples, peaches, carrots and kittens. Every shy child knows where to go when company comes – the folds of Mother’s apron. They’re good for wiping away perspiration in the heat of summer canning. Wood chips and kindling come to the kitchen in the folds of an apron. When unexpected company drives up the road, it’s surprising how much furniture an apron can dust in a matter of minutes. When dinner is ready, walk out onto the porch, wave your apron, and everybody knows it’s time to come in to dinner.

I didn't have a picture of Grammy in her apron, so here's Aunt Sara Loveland.

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