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Renee-Lucie BenoitHere's a super easy summer chicken dish to grill outdoors and help keep the kitchen cool. I was introduced to a version of it when I went to a local fast food restaurant that served Mexican food. Of course, they would not share their recipe so to the best of my ability I came up with a my own version and, if I do say so myself, I like it even better.

Crazy Grilled Citrus Marinated Chicken


1 chicken, quartered (or 3-4 chicken breasts depending on how big they are or 4 chicken thighs)
1 tablespoon mild chili powder
1 tablespoon mild paprika
2 teaspoons cumin powder
About 1/2 to 3/4 cup of orange juice, fresh or frozen (if you use fresh grate the skin, too)
Juice of 3 limes, fresh or reconstituted
1 teaspoon of sugar
8 - 10 garlic cloves (or less if that's too garlicky for you) finely chopped
1/2 bunch coarsely chopped cilantro
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup beer or pineapple juice (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste


Put chicken in a glass or ceramic dish. Don't use metal because the orange juice will react and give it a funny taste. Mix all the ingredients together and stir well. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn it to coat all the pieces. Let it sit on the counter for no more than an hour then put in the refrigerator for 24 hours if you can. The flavors are more robust if you do but if you're ready to eat sooner at least marinate it for an hour or two.


Grill your chicken over a hot grill according to what cut of meat you have until it is golden brown and crispy.

Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and serve with lime wedges for squeezing. I like a fresh tomato and green bell pepper salad with chopped scallions on the side.


Renee-Lucie Benoit"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you." — Leviticus 23:22

The Bible instructed farmers to leave something behind when they harvested. Is this a practice that modern day people can follow? I make friends with my neighbors and we share leftover fruits and vegetables that we can't use. In a way this is modern gleaning. No one is asking for payment. It's a barter system or it's just a gift. When we lived in Tracy the farmer who lived just across the road brought boxes of cucumbers and tomatoes to share. We could have as many as we wanted. Both city mouse and country mouse can benefit from sharing.

Here's what I have on my property that could go into the cornucopia when the time comes.



Some store bought potatoes were sprouting, so rather than throw them away or put them in the compost I planted them in the dirt. I have no idea what variety they are. Some kind of baking potato no doubt and it will be fun to discover what surprises the earth might yield when the time comes to harvest.

Yucca, also known as Spanish Dagger


Our yucca is a slender-stemmed plant and 12 feet high with a stocky, branched trunk. It has whitish flowers at this time of year and later on there will be fruit. If the birds don't get them first the fruit and the flowers can be eaten raw or cooked. I'm waiting to taste my first yucca fruit and I'm told it has a bittersweet and juicy flesh. I've also been told that the flowering stem can be peeled and boiled like asparagus.  



Did you know that a nectarine is just a smooth-skinned peach? I always thought that a nectarine was a cross between a peach and a plum but a little research reveals  that nectarines belong to the same species as peaches. It's just a fuzzless peach! Our nectarines have been neglected but they still taste just as good. Remember what Joni Mitchell sang? "Hey farmer, farmer, put away the DDT now. Give me spots on my apples but leave me the birds and the bees." Our nectarine tree will benefit from pruning this winter and then next spring I hope to see larger, cleaner fruit.



We have what is known as a sweet or common orange tree. I love it in the spring when it's in bloom because the flowers are very fragrant. I make juice from the fruit to drink and also marinate chicken for my own version of Pollo Loco (Crazy Chicken) and this year I think I might make marmalade for Christmas presents. I could also make orange essential oil and candied peel.

What plants are in your neighborhood that could be used for good things?


Renee-Lucie BenoitKeep on Truckin'. This is a famous phrase that was coined in the 60s by cartoonist R. Crumb.

However, in ranch and farm country the phrase has an even bigger significance. Trucks are de rigueur in the country. That means they are a necessity. But what is a truck?

In my youth, which I admit was somewhere back in the prehistoric era, we called them pickup trucks. Don't ask me why. That's just what we did. Then as time went on it got shortened to just truck and pickup was rarely used. The problem is, people are now using the term "truck" for every last vehicle out there that isn't a passenger car! Out here in the country we have the equivalent of the 50 Inuit words for 50 kinds of snow but instead for trucks.  There is a simple but big difference between what is a truck and what is not. Unfortunately it still is all too common even out in the country that people apply the term "truck" to the wrong vehicle. My intent is not to scold. My intent is to set the record straight in a friendly way because I love you all and I want you to be correct. I, too, did not know the difference.

When people refer to their miniature, half- or three-quarter ton pickups as trucks I feel like I need to say something. Sometimes my husband does, too. Oh, all right, mostly me. Before I met him I was guilty of being clueless. He informed me like the kind patient person he is.  Now that I am in the Circle of Trust — also known as the Circle of Trucks — I have gained the ability to Know Things. Yay. Much better position to be in. Good positions are rare in life. My husband Knows Things. He tells me all the time.

Just so there's no guessing, a pickup is a utility vehicle weighing less than a ton. Pickups are for, well, picking things up. Bagged dirt from Home Depot or Lowes, lumber from same if you have a rack, plants from the nursery. We use the horse trailer for livestock panels and taking crap to the dump (so we don't have to tarp it). We don't have a truck. We have a pickup.


Photo by Fotolia/andrey snegirev

As an aside please do not call your SUV a truck. It is not a truck. It is an SUV. A Sport Utility VEHICLE. Yes, I know. Yes, it might be built on a "truck" chassis. But see where you were misled?  It's a misnomer from the get-go.


Photo by Fotolia/RobertNyholm

Trucks, on the other hand, are heavy duty vehicles weighing over one ton. They often haul heavy stuff. Here are examples of trucks.  Fire trucks, semi tractors aka semis, dump trucks, water tank trucks, logging trucks, etc.


Photo by Fotolia/Jaroslav Pachý Sr.

Now that you know the difference, you might happen to be in conversation with someone in the Circle of Trucks.  You will now sound smart and informed. You will sound like a card-carrying member of the Circle of Trucks. It's a good thing.

So when you go to town to get stuff you are most likely doing it in a pickup. It's all right. Now you know. Let's start a movement to get our terminology straight and Keep On Truckin'!  


Renee-Lucie BenoitWe recently moved into a predominately Hispanic area and I love getting into the cultural world of wherever I go. I've been all over the world and in all the places I've gone I don't spend much time in the resort. No, I go to where the local people are as long as I feel safe and because I've done this I think my experience of a culture is much richer.

When we went to the grocery store a few weeks ago we noticed a little shop on the corner. It was called "Paleta-landia Antojitos". Paletas are frozen popsicles. Antojitos are snacks. It looked inviting so one day we went there and discovered that they make their own tortillas with a press just like the one Marty made for me and that I gave how-to-make instructions for in a Capper's post a few months ago. So you can imagine that their tacos were really good and being only $2.75 each and big just one was fine and dandy!

Looking at the menu I saw something called "mangonada." What was that, I wondered? It looked really good in the picture so I asked the gal what they put in it. She said fresh mango, mango sherbet, chamoy, tajin seasoning, lime and then last but not least they poked a tamarindo candy straw down into the center.

The next time we went I ordered one. It was pretty good but I decided I could do without the tamarindo straw and with a little less chamoy. Chamoy by the way, is apricot preserves with lime and ancho chili powder all mixed together that make a sauce.

Mexicans really like this dessert-like treat. This is my kitchen tested version.

Renee's Mangonada

Makes 2 servings


1 large mango, peeled and cut into chunks (see instructions at end of article)

The juice of one fresh lime

2-3 tablespoons chamoy (as desired) (See recipe that follows)

4 scoops of frozen mango sherbet or mango coconut ice cream

Chile lime salt, such as Tajín, to taste


Spoon chamoy around the inside of the glass. Put one scoop of mango sherbet into the cup. Add in fresh mango chunks. Layer with more chamoy, sherbet and mango. Sprinkle Tajin chile lime salt on top. If you want serve with a tamarindo straw inserted.

restaurant style

Homemade Chamoy Sauce

1/2 cup apricot spreadable fruit

Juice of 1 lime

2 teaspoons ground ancho chili pepper

1- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to taste

4-5 fresh ripe apricots

Combine everything in a food processor or blender and run on high until completely smooth. You can add a bit of water if it's too thick.

Cutting up a Mango

I actually learned this method in Hawaii where we had what they called a "peach" mango tree in the yard. Oh, my, but those mangoes were heavenly!

Select a ripe mango. They give a little at the stem end and they have a fruity scent.


Cut off the tip to have a flat end to stand the mango up with.


The mango pit is kind of oblong/flat. Slice it into quarters around the pit.


Score the mango slice but not all the way through the skin.


Invert the mango slice and it will look like a "hedgehog". Scoop out the flesh with a spoon.


There are suggestions on the internet for using a glass to scoop the flesh out with but I find that way a bit dangerous and besides this way works like a charm and there's no breakable glass involved. Leave it to the Hawaiians! They know mangoes!


Renee-Lucie BenoitWe're embracing the culture of the area of the San Joaquin Valley that we've have moved into. The culture here is decidedly Hispanic. I've found Hispanic peoples to be some of the most amenable and friendly cultures of the world. They're hard-working and intelligent, creative and fun loving. They have one of the best cuisines in the world. That's the place we start to enjoy another culture. The food.

I've travelled all over Mexico and I went to Spain once. In Spain we enjoyed Mediterranean cuisine of renown. In Mexico we enjoyed regional cuisines that were at once familiar and exotic. We ate grilled fish and chicken by a river cascade. We ate street food in Mexico City and San Cristobal de la Casas.

Back in the States it's Mexico's 4th of July, also known as Cinco de Mayo. This day celebrates the unlikely victory over French forces by the Mexican army at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza. We're celebrating by making a sumptuous version of enchiladas I like to call Deep Dish Enchilada Pie. I make it a few different ways and it's easy to modify to any old way you want it.

Deep Dish Enchilada Pie

Half a yellow onion, diced
Half a bell pepper, diced
2 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Small can of green chilies (hot or mild) or fresh jalapenos (hot) or Anaheim (mild), chopped
Taco seasoning (homemade or packaged)
1 breast chicken or 1/4 pound hamburger or both (I make my chicken in a crock pot with onion, garlic, chicken broth, salt and pepper, and cumin)
1 cup cheese (cheddar, Colby or Monterey Jack or a combination)
1 cup enchilada sauce (canned or homemade)
Cornbread (from a mix or homemade) enough for 3-4 cups of batter

Saute your onions and bell pepper in olive oil until soft. (If using hamburger meat set aside the onions and bell pepper and add this now and brown it. Drain fat. Add the onions and bell pepper back in after it's browned). Add drained green chilies and heat through. Add green onions and heat through. Add taco seasoning, cooked chicken, cilantro and stir.


Make your corn bread according to instructions. Pour half the batter in the bottom of a Bundt pan or springform pan or any baking pan. I use a Bundt pan if I want it to be extra festive or a springform pan (line the bottom with parchment paper) if I want to make it look like a Mexican Chicago pizza. You can use any pan (wipe it with some crisco, lard or olive oil, or spray it with Pam) if you are fine with scooping it out with a big serving spoon.

fourth layer

Spoon the mixture around evenly inside the pan on top of the cornbread batter. Then spoon more cornbread batter on top of that so you have a cornbread layer. mixture layer, cheese layer and finally cornbread layer. Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 40 minutes. If you use a Bundt or springform pan let it cool a bit before unmolding it. Pour warmed enchilada sauce over the whole thing and more for serving. If you're using a pan just go ahead and scoop and eat while hot.


Serve with margaritas or shots of tequila. Happy Independence Day!


Renee-Lucie BenoitWe live in one of the premier almond growing areas of America if not the premier area of the world. The San Joaquin Valley. Just down the road from us there are acres and acres of almond groves. So naturally I'm taking an interest in almonds. Just so you know, if you grow almonds you pronounce it "eh-muns". If you're a manufacturer or consumer it's "all-muns". Which are you?


I love almond milk. I started drinking it when I noticed that I got "phlegm-ish" (not "Flemish") after I drank cow's milk. Now that I have a really big market from which to get organic almonds I decided that I should make my own. My grandmother would not have made her own almond milk. She was from Illinois and almonds don't grow there. But if she had been from California I am 100% positive she would have made it. She was a homemade girl.

Making almond milk is super easy. Here's how I did it. This recipe makes about 2 cups. You make a little at a time since homemade doesn't last as long as store bought. It's not pasteurized.


2 cups raw almonds, preferably organic

3-4 cups water, plus more for soaking



Fine mesh strainer

Measuring cup


Fine-mesh cheese cloth


If you didn't buy blanched almonds (and I didn't because blanched are oh-so-expensive) remove the skins by boiling water and then immersing the almonds in it for about 5 minutes. Test one. You're looking for the skin to slip off easily.


Once you've got them all skinned soak the almonds overnight or up to 2 days. Put them in a bowl and cover them with water. They will plump a bit as they absorb water so cover them with a little extra. Covered with a cloth or refrigerate for up to 2 days. The longer the almonds soak, the creamier the almond milk will be.


Drain the almonds and rinse them under cool running water. Discard the soaking water. It contains phytic acid which works against the body's ability to absorb nutrients.

Put the almonds in the blender and cover with 2 cups of water and depending on how thick it becomes as you blend add more water until it is the consistency you want it. You can always add more water later but you want enough water so the almonds don't turn into paste.

Blend at the highest speed for 2 minutes. You're looking for the almonds to be broken down into a very fine meal. The liquid should be white and opaque.


Pour the whole business into a fine mesh strainer. Stir the liquid to get as much milk out as you can and then put the meal into fine mesh cheesecloth. Clean your hands and then gather the cheese cloth around the almond meal and squeeze to extract as much almond milk as possible.


Taste the almond milk. If it tastes good to you, you're done. You can add sweetener or flavoring. I add a little bit of vanilla and honey — that's it.


Store the milk in a sealed container in the fridge. Try to use it right away just as you would any fresh homemade beverage. It hasn't been pasteurized and won't keep really long. That's the benefit, though. It hasn't had all the nutrients cooked out of it. Be aware that it will separate when stored. Just give it a good shake to mix it.


Use your imagination for what to do with the leftover almond meal. You can add it to cooked cereal, smoothies, and muffins as it is. I'm actually going to add some to a pie crust for a treat. You can also spread it out on a baking sheet and bake it in a low oven until completely dry (2 to 3 hours). Dry almond meal can be kept frozen for several months.


What will you do with your homemade almond milk?



Renee-Lucie Benoit"Spring has sprung. The grass is riz. I wonder where the flowers is?"

Answer: They're everywhere!


In the meantime I'm getting ready to plant my victory garden. First I need to see what I'm working with.

Do It Yourself Soil Sediment Test

Soil is where the garden starts. If you don't have good soil you're not going to have healthy plants. Healthy plants resist insects and disease. Plant health begins with what they're sitting in.

People used to think all you had to do was add fertilizer. Then compost became all the rage. All that is good and fine, but the best approach is to know what you have. Then you can amend according to what you actually need without guessing so you'll be gardening more accurately. Take a tip from commercial growers. They know their soil inside out.

On our new place I have decent soil to work so I'm getting with the program. When I put the fork to the soil it goes in easy and turns easy. I'm so happy after 4 years of terrible, awful, very bad, no good, heavy clay soil.

This simple, low cost test will help us get off to the right start for the rest of the garden.

What You Need:

straight-sided, flat-bottomed clear jar

something to measure with

dish soap (optional)

calculator (if you're fractionally impaired, as I am)

First, dig a soil sample from the plant root zone in the area your garden will be. Discard any plant material as best you can. Dig enough to full the jar by 1/3.

 soil in jar

If you find any worms, of course, remove them and put them back in their habitat! Yay, worms! Crumble the soil and pick out any pebbles or roots, etc.

Fill the jar to 1/3. I add a little tiny drop of dish soap. This helps get the soil particles wet and separated but this step is optional. Now fill the jar with water within an inch of the top, put the lid on tight, and give it a good shake to get all the soil wet and suspended. Keep shaking until nothing is left on the bottom or sides. Set the jar on a flat surface and watch it settle.

Sand settles first because the particles are large and therefore heavy.  The sandy layer will look coarse.  If you look close you will actually see the sand particles. The silt and clay layers do not look coarse. They will just be a color. Dark brown or light brown. Mark where the sand ends and the next layer begins.

Silt is the next layer to settle out. This will take about an hour. You will notice it is a different color. Most often it is darker. Mark where the silt layer begins and ends.

Clay is the slowest of the soil particles to settle. Heavy clay layer will settle out in a day. Finer clay might take two days. You can let the clay settle for up to a week. It all depends on your soil.

Measure the depth of each layer and the total soil depth. These measurements are used to calculate the percentage of each soil component.


My jar shows 1-1/2 (1.5) inches of sand, 1/2 (.5) inch of silt, and 1/4 (.25) inch of clay, for a total of 2-1/4 (2.25) inches. Divide each particle depth by the total soil depth to get the percentages:

1.5 divided by 2.25 = .66 or 66% sand

.5 divided by 2.25 = 0.22 or 22% silt

.25 divided by 2.25 = .11 or 11% clay.

Interpreting the Test

Using a soil triangle chart, I am able to figure out what kind of soil structure I am dealing with. It gives me a foundation to work from for how to amend my soil as needed. Here what the triangle chart looks like, you can find all sorts of variations on the web.


Here's how I use the chart. (For fun you can download an excel version from the USDA that will calculate it for you).

Find the numbers that correspond to your percentages. You're basically drawing a line from your percentage number to where the 3 percentage numbers intersect. From the clay side draw a line from left to right until the intersection. For the silt draw from right to left until intersection. For sand draw from bottom to top until intersection. My test results in sandy clay loam.

So I'll be adding compost, manures, bio-char, and old mulch to enhance the moisture holding properties.

What will you do with your soil?



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