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Renee-Lucie BenoitHere's a great recipe for hot summer nights. It's frozen. What could be better? Plan ahead because you have to freeze it each time you add a layer. For example, it might be best to start in the morning if you want to eat it at night.

This frozen treat has its own page in Wikipedia, that online encyclopedia. I suppose every famous cookie has its own, but I think it's kind of funny. I grew up in the days when every child worth her salt had her own Encyclopedia Britannica or World Book in the family library. I can't imagine cookies being in an encyclopedia but maybe they were. I was too busy studying the natives of New Guinea with the amazing bones in their noses! Cannibals! Now that's a worthy subject. We didn't have any of those in Iowa and I hope we don't have any now.


My version is vegan and gluten free.

So it amused me to see that the humble Nanaimo cookie bar has its own Wikipedia page. I first tasted Nanaimo Bars when we were in my dad's home province of Quebec, Canada. Dad grew up in Quebec on the Ottawa River right across from Ontario. The bars were super scrumptious if you like the combination of almonds, coconut and chocolate. Now that I think of it they are the same flavor as Mounds bars. So there ya go. If you like Mounds bars you'll like Nanaimo bars. Wikipedia says they are "Canada's Favorite Confection." They get their name from the little town of Nanaimo in British Columbia where someone won a prize for making them. The city makes their claim to fame by posting the recipe on their website.

In 1954, the recipe "Mabel's Squares" was published in "The Country Woman's Favorite" by the Upper Gloucester Women's Institute in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. The recipe was submitted by Mrs. Harold Payne, the daughter of Mabel Knowles Scott (1883-1957). The ingredients list, quantities and method closely match the recipe found on the City of Nanaimo website.

My recipe is the vegan, gluten free and low carbohydrate version.

Nanaimo Bars

1  1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1  1/2 cups skinless almond flour (I used skinless almonds and ground them to a fine powder in the food processor.
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup cocoa powder
10 pitted dates chopped into little pieces
A few pinches of salt

2 cups cashews (soak them in water for 2 hours or more)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup coconut oil, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt

Chocolate topping:
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
A pinch of salt

For the crust: Add everything to your food processor and process with the knife blade for a few seconds to blend. It should stick together slightly. Add a little water if you need to or a couple more dates. Press into a 9-inch-square pan. Put the crust in the freezer.

Filling: Add cashews, water, maple syrup, vanilla, coconut oil and salt to food processor fitted with knife blade. You can use a blender if you don't have one. Blend until smooth and creamy. Pour over crust and smooth. Freeze for 2 hours.

Chocolate topping: Put maple syrup, coconut oil, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt in blender or food processor fitted with the knife blade. Blend until creamy. Spread over filling and freeze for 4 hours.

Cut and serve. Serves 9 to 18 depending on how big you make the bars.


Renee-Lucie BenoitI'm not from the South, but one thing I've heard that they make a lot down there is cornbread. You know I was "born in the corn" (Iowa) so that's right up my alley. However, I have a somewhat different way of making cornbread. It's not for all you people out there who just want to mix up the batter and stick 'er in the oven. That's great! I have an old-fashioned way that is supposed to make the corn more digestible and to give up more of its nutrients. Give it a try. It's almost like spoonbread. I love cornbread that's very moist. This is it. I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and by the way if you have collard greens or kale growing in your garden right now, this cornbread is really wonderful with greens. I'll include my Brown Butter Greens recipe, too. It's easy as pie. I can make a meal of these two items all by themselves.

Chile Cheese Cornbread


1  1/2 cups lime water (see below)
2 cups freshly ground cornmeal or packaged cornmeal
1/2 cup freshly ground spelt, whole wheat flour or packaged white unbleached flour
1/2 cup unbleached white flour (if all you have is white flour then it will be a total of 1 cup)
1 cup buttermilk or yogurt
3 eggs lightly beaten
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup grated mexican style cheese
1 small diced green chile (I use jalapeno)

(Lime water: Place 1 inch pickling lime in a 2-quart jar. Fill jar with filtered water and shake well. Cover tightly and let stand overnight. The powder will settle and the resultant liquid will be your lime water. It's not necessary to refrigerate. Just set it in a cool place. To use, just pour out the clear part carefully.

pickling lime

Soaking cornmeal is said to improve the amino acid quality and also makes certain B vitamins more available.)

lime soak

Soak cornmeal in lime water for about 7 hours.

Stir in flours and buttermilk and let stand in a warm place for 12 to 24 hours. It will rise better if you do this.


Blend in remaining ingredients.


Pour into a buttered and floured 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking pan. Bake at 325 F for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Greens in Brown Butter With Pepper Flakes

Pick a bunch of greens, rinse and cut out the tough spines.


Tear or cut into large pieces.


In the meantime, put a big pot of water with a handful of salt on to boil. When the water is boiling, dump your greens into the pot and let them boil for a scant minute or two. We're not trying to cook them. We're just parboiling them to soften them a bit. (By the way, use your cooled cooking water for soup or any other thing you can think of. Maybe just drink it!)


On the side, take your iron skillet and put a 1/4 cup butter in it. Melt the butter and let it brown. Don't let it burn.


Drain your greens and immediately put them into the hot pan. It will spatter. Stir the greens around to coat with butter. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and red pepper flakes to your liking.


Serve with Chile Cheese Cornbread.



Renee-Lucie BenoitYou could say it's in my blood. Or not. It depends on what side of the family you're viewing me from. If you look from the French side of my family you would say, well, if you're from the Alsace-Lorraine area of France I might give you that. If you look at me from the German side you'd say slam dunk! I don't have a clue where my French relations got on the boat for their sail across the pond. The closest I can get is Canada so today we're going to look at me from my German side of the family.

Back to my original statement: It's in my blood. That is to say, sauerkraut is in my blood. Well, not strictly speaking. That would be pretty weird even though I can be quite sharp but only now and then, please, like when I whack my thumb with a hammer. Otherwise, I'm like strudel. No, really I am. Trust me. Oh, well ....

Today I made sauerkraut. Actually, today I finished my sauerkraut and put it in a dispenser for when I make the greatly anticipated meal of bratwurst and new potatoes. Sauerkraut doesn't have to be in your blood but it helps. Sauerkraut is really easy to make and good for you. My grandmother Frieda claimed she never got sick a day in her life because she always ate sauerkraut. This is pushing it a bit but I'm 100-percent positive it helped her stay healthy.

This is because the fermentation process that transforms salt and cabbage into sauerkraut increases the vitamins, particularly C and B vitamins, and food enzymes. Also, homemade sauerkraut is very rich in beneficial bacteria that help make our immune systems stronger and create essential vitamins in our digestive tracts. At any time of year, but especially winter when fresh food can be hard to come by, homemade fermented foods are really good to eat.

The key to making sauerkraut successfully is to have a crock or container that can be virtually closed off to the air. I have a large stoneware crock that has a pretty darn tight fitting plate to cover the fermenting kraut. I put a big bag of water on top of it so the kraut is completely submerged under its juices. Bacteria in the air, which can cause spoiling, cannot penetrate much so whatever does penetrate – because we're not talking hazmat suits in a clean room laboratory – is neutralized by the salt.


Crunchy yummy cabbage kraut. Not the insipid mushy canned kind. Which is good, too! But this is much better!


1 head organically grown cabbage about 3 to 5 pounds
1 tablespoon pickling or unrefined sea salt (read labels! You'd be surprised what they put in sea salt these days!)
1 teaspoon caraway seed (optional)

Core and shred your cabbage. I used a Cuisinart with the shredding blade. (I would have used my great-grandfather's kraut cutter but I loaned it to my Aunt J and she has it still!) Wash your hands thoroughly. Toss cabbage, salt and caraway seed – if you're using it – together in a large mixing bowl and begin to squeeze it all together with your hands, kneading it thoroughly.

When the cabbage starts to release juice, transfer it to your crock. Some people feel better investing in a fermenter. It's up to you. One thing I keep doing during the process is wash my hands. If I go off and do something, when I come back I wash my hands. We're just taking precautions not to get naughty inappropriate bacteria in with the kraut. Pack the salted cabbage into the crock or fermenter as tightly as you can, eliminating air bubbles. I use a clean wooden mallet or pestle and mash, mash, mash until the juices come up enough to cover the kraut. Don't worry about mashing it to a pulp. Cabbage has some pretty strong fiber in it.

Sometimes my cabbage doesn't produce a lot of liquid. It just has to cover the shredded cabbage so don't be concerned. If you don't get enough liquid to cover, mash more. You might have to mash for quite a few minutes. I'd also say make sure that your cabbage has been shredded pretty fine. It doesn't have to be shredded into a pulp but it has to be cut up quite small or thinly. Otherwise just mash and mash some more. If there are larger chunks it's OK. Just as long as most of it is fine, it will work.

Then I have a plate that fits into the crock so I almost can't get it out. But I can. I take a new zip lock bag, fill it with water and put it on top of the plate to hold the plate down. Juices will leak over the edge but that's OK. The bag will seal it off from the air. Cover the whole she-bang with cheese cloth or a light cloth, secure it and allow it to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for at least 1 week. You can try some after a few days until it is done to your liking. If it's too salty you can rinse it in cold filtered water. Then eat it or put it in the fridge or other cold storage. It should keep for at least 6 months and up to 1 year, but it won't because you'll have eaten it all way before that.

If scum appears floating in the brine of your homemade sauerkraut, just spoon it off. You won't be able to remove it all, but spoon off what you can and don't worry about it. The real key to preparing homemade sauerkraut, and any fermented food, is that the liquid covers the cabbage.

Gesunder appetit!

bratwurst and sauerkraut | Fotolia/Brent Hofacker

Photo: Fotolia/Brent Hofacker


Renee-Lucie BenoitOne of my fondest childhood memories is playing in a gigantic white barn on my grandmother's farm in Ohio. It was like exploring the ruins of a Mayan temple. The huge main floor seemed like a dusty cathedral. The understory where many cows had lived was dark and mysterious. The pigeons flapping away in the rafters thrilled me. My grandmother's barn is long gone, but that experience has always stayed with me, which makes the story I am about to tell you all that much more special to me.

An amazing old post-and-beam timber-frame barn is on the outskirts of the little town of Chester, California. As you drive out Highway 32 on the east side of town, you'll turn your gaze south toward Lake Almanor and there, in a large meadow, is an imposing structure way back off the highway. You can tell it's a huge barn because it looks huge even at that distance. It's like some farm country Taj Mahal. The setting helps. It's smack dab in the middle of a wide open field. The field is flat as a pancake.


This timber frame barn, nearly 150 years old, is a celebration of wood on a massive scale.


The steep pitch of the roof enables snow to slide off easily. (Photo by Jan Davies)

I talked with Marilyn Quadrio, co-director of the Chester-Lake Almanor Museum and a local historian. Vanessa Vasquez of the Feather River Land Trust drove over from Quincy to give us a tour. It turns out the FRLT is making a campaign to buy and preserve the land and the barn so it was good timing.

Marilyn, who is a wonderful storyteller, told us the fascinating history of the early settlers. One of them was Melissa Bailey Olsen. Melissa was the matriarch of the family and a founder of Chester. Her husband, Peter Olsen, was a Norwegian immigrant who made his way to Plumas County via Pennsylvania. He was a master barn builder.

Have you ever thought about what goes into making a barn of this size? As I stood in the center of the barn gazing up into the rafters I was struck by the size and sheer volume of material needed to build it. Except for using the steam-powered saw mill, everything was constructed through manual labor. Even at the height of the industrial revolution of the 19th century, mass-produced materials had not reached the farm. The farmer found happiness through making things we get from catalogs today. Real joy came from designing and doing.

It almost goes without saying that the effort to raise this barn was enormous. The trees were felled by hand (they did not have chainsaws in 1870). The beams were hewn out of a single tree trunk with broad axes and adzes. The broad axe was used for chopping or notching and hewing square timbers. The adze was used for smoothing the timbers. Drills, chisels and mallets were used to form the mortises and tenon joinery. Very few nails were ever used. A maul, which is a heavy wooden mallet with iron reinforcing, was used to pound beams into place.

With pike poles and ropes, a team of laborers lifted the enormous bents. Bents are handmade prefabricated framed units of the barn that form the bays. The Olsen barn is a "basilican" plan. This plan was devised for barns when the span was too great for the rafters to take the load of the roof and too wide for a single horizontal beam. They used what are called "purlins." A purlin is a longitudinal member that supports the rafters in between the plates and the ridge. Posts and braces supported the purlin. Because of the size of the barn, purlins were used in the Olsen barn. The result is a central space called a "nave" – like in a church – and the galleries at the sides form the aisles – also like in a church. Depending on the purpose of the barn, the central area might be a threshing floor or, in the case of the Olsen barn, hay was stored there. The dairy cows were milked and fed in the aisles.


A cathedral of wood. (Photo by Jan Davies)


The mark of the adze. (Photo by Jan Davies)


A great horned owl says, "Thank you for my barn." (Photo by Jan Davies)

I made up my mind to calculate a rough estimate for how much material might go into a barn of this size. We didn't take our tape measure to the barn so we made an educated guess as to its size. We decided to estimate that the barn is 50 feet tall, 80 feet long and 50 feet wide. We estimated that the sides of the barn were 15 feet high and the roof is 80 feet long and 45 feet tall.

This reads like a book from the Bible. The book Numbers comes to mind. There would have been about 3,600 shake shingles that needed to be shaved. They would have needed about 376 boards for siding, and 82 individual lodge pole pines trees dressed out for the rafters. For the main beams, 40 trees would have had to be felled and made square. The trees would have been Douglas fir, red cedar or yellow pine. For the posts, they would have needed 54 more trees. Each post would have also been carved out of a single tree. Then they would have needed 54 braces, but they would not have to be from a single tree as they were smaller. Finally each beam and post would need to be carved to fit the mortise and tenon joints. In addition to all this, dowels were hand carved to fit the joints.


The mortise and tenon joints are invisible, but you can see the anchoring dowels.

Marilyn said, "The siding came from a 10- to 29-mile radius. There was plentiful timber everywhere, and sawmills processed the wood. The original roof was covered with handmade shake shingles. During the 19th century and even the early 20th, there were shake makers traveling up into the forests and shaving shakes all summer, but Peter made his own. The latches and gate hardware used on the barn were hand forged by local blacksmiths."

Here are some photographs of the Olsen family. Unfortunately there are no surviving photographs of the barn builder himself.

four Olsens 

George Olsen, second from left, with milk pails, Maude Gay, Ed Olsen's baby Freda, wife Carrie and son Bill.


Back row: George Olsen, Melissa's niece Blanche Stuckey, granddaughter Edith Martin, son Frank Bailey, niece Maude Gay, son Ed Olsen. Front row: Melissa Bailey Olsen, grandnephew Randall Gay, sister Elizabeth Stuckey.

Marilyn said, "The people living on the slopes of Mt. Lassen were isolated so they had to be self-reliant, and also reliant upon their neighbors. All this knowledge does not have to be lost. All we have to do is take an interest and it can be preserved."

My Barn

by Dean Hughes

Look there!
It stands today
As strong as six-score memoried years ago;
A big barn built to last the long rows of sleek cows,
In the stables underneath,
The long dark winter through.

                Examine, if you will,
These giant plates and beams,
These stalwart loins and limbs and thighs.
Each one was once upon a splendid time
A giant pine
Singing a hundred feet towards the skies,
Then topped to sixty feet of needed length,
Hewed from the round to fourteen inches square.

                See there!
The marks of the hewing axe and adze,
Swung straight and true.

                Read there the tale
Of toil and sweat and a fine pride
In shaping these great timbers.

                Stand with me
A wondrous moment.

                In that crafted tree
Is history enough of old great-grandsire times
A century ago and more.

                Those sheathing boards,
Those tenons, mortices and dowels,
Those thews and sinews,
Those mitres beveled true,
Fitted in tight embrace to fight the winds
And the strong side-thrust of the sheaves and hay.

                There stands my barn!

                                Monument to the past!
                                                Feast for the present!
                                                                Song for the future!

From the "The Barn: A Vanishing Landmark in North America" by Eric Arthur and Dudley Witney. Published by Galahad Books in 1972.

If you feel inspired to help save the Olsen barn, please contact Feather River Land Trust via the website, by phone at 530-283-5758, or via email.


Renee-Lucie BenoitDear friends,

We  just got back from a much needed, long-awaited road trip to the Southwest. It's great to live on a ranch or homestead, but it's also important to get a change of scenery! We usually go to Hawaii because we love it so much and because it's completely and 100-percent different from where we live.

However, we could not afford it this time, and so we decided to go to see the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Sedona. We had never been there as a couple. It was pretty different in the sense of the spectacular scenery and because it was still late winter or early spring – depending on which side of the coin you're viewing it from.

We actually had one day where we came out to a snow-covered car. Anyway we had a Grand Time, but we're glad to be back.



There was an old farmer named Martin,
From his many shoes you can't part him,
Wife says, "They must go!"
He shrieks, "No, no, no!"
This stubborn old farmer named Martin.

Renee-Lucie BenoitMy husband said, "Come here. Look at this. Don't you think this would make a good story?" He was talking about his footwear. He's finally gotten it that any and everything on this ranch is a potential subject for a story. I've often thought about writer's block and it ain't here, folks. Just swing, well, a dead anything, and you'll hit a story in the making. That's just how it is. There, I've said it.

So on this particular day the husband says, "Get out your camera. Take a picture. I bet you can think of things to say about my boots," and I think, well, yes, the first thing I can think of is you have too many! Then he goes on to describe what they're all for and in a minute I can clearly see why he needs them all.


Going clockwise starting at the top:

  1. Tennis shoes also known as sneakers – worn when he wants walking comfort and he doesn't need ...
  2. Cowboy bootshis all-time favorite. They're work boots for work that isn't gross and disgusting.
  3. Insulated waterproof boots – worn for work and riding in wet and cold conditions.
  4. Navy SEAL combo boots that are 100-percent waterproof – worn when wading in really deep water such as when he's putting boards in the weir. They are also easy to walk in.
  5. Totally worn out cowboy boots – worn for work when the work is gross and disgusting. Like walking in cow poop.
  6. Shearling boots – worn when the tootsies feel cold.
  7. Cheap-o water shoes – worn at the lake for swimming and bobbing around in the water. The wade to shore is rocky.
  8. Rubber boots – for wading in the creek so your pants don't get wet.
  9. Dress cowboy boots – worn for nice occasions.
  10. The cat doesn't care about any of this. He's only interested in licking his leg.
  11. Don't you love the cast aluminum boot jack in the upper right corner? I'm not sure what it is. A big ole stag beetle?

My husband is Imelda Marcos in work boots. I bet Imelda could come up with an explanation for why she had all those shoes, too! I think of the day my grandmother explained to me how, when she was a girl, they had two pairs of shoes, period. One for working and one for church. They got a new pair when the old ones completely wore out and could no longer be repaired by the cobbler.

Don't you think we're a little bit spoiled?


Renee-Lucie BenoitI have many memories of my grandmother. One of them centers around Easter Sunday. My grandmother was a devout Christian and went to the Lutheran church. We were all Lutherans. Even her father-in-law, our great-grandfather, was a Lutheran minister. Some cousins in Iowa endowed the Lutheran Seminary at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and the library was named after my grandfather's family. So, of course, we grew up as Lutherans. Easter was a big deal. Every Easter we'd get new dresses, hats, shoes and little handbags. We even had new socks with a little bit of lace around the cuff.


Me, my sister and our little brother in our fancy duds.

Then we'd get in the car and drive to the service, which was grand and glorious, but a little overwhelming to us little ones. Mrs. Melvin played the enormous organ. I think I loved church mostly for her playing. The altar would be arrayed with pots and pots of Easter lilies. Everyone was on their best behavior. It felt a little like I imagine the festivities at "Downton Abbey" might have felt. The weather was always gorgeous and then there was Easter dinner afterwards.

This is where Grandmother came in. She was always the consummate cook. She put up most of her own food, and she baked such good angel food cakes that the people in town came to her with requests, and she'd bake the cakes and sell them for a little side money.

Easter dinner always included home-cured ham and fried chicken from chickens she raised herself. She baked Parkerhouse rolls and, even though she didn't have a cow by that time, her butter was the best tasting I've ever had. Maybe she got the fresh churned butter from some of the cousins who still had a dairy cow. There would be mashed potatoes and green beans with almonds. There was always the ubiquitous jello mold with lime or orange jello and carrots and pineapple.

To go along with the ham, my grandmother made the best sweet pickled corn relish. And at the end there would be the angel food cake with strawberry preserves spooned liberally over it all. It's a wonder we weren't all obese. Well, some of us were a little, as they say, hefty, but I guess with all the work that was done before and after dinner we had a chance to burn it off.

After it was all done and my mom and Grandmother retired to the kitchen to clean up a bit, we children would go out on the front porch where Grandmother had a porch swing and we'd just crank that sucker up. Looking back it's wonder we didn't fly off the porch and land in the doctor's office. Sister and brother would get on and I would get in back and push like my life depended on it. We didn't have a concept of danger, and we never looked up to see if the screws eyes were holding. It was just great fun.

Now those days are long gone. Grandmother passed away years ago. Even Mother and Dad are gone now. We "youngsters" are still here, and someday we'll be gone, too. In the meantime those wonderful memories will live on and, if I can, I will try to make Easter Sunday for my family the way Grandmother would make it.

Happy Easter to everyone!

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