DINNER TIME! Dutch Oven Beef Stew

It can still get a little chilly at night here in Northern California. A hearty stew is just the thing to take the chill off.

This recipe used a cast iron Dutch oven inside of a conventional oven. It takes several hours to finish but most of that time, it's "set and forget." Just a little bit of preparation at the beginning and two stirrings during cook time.

2 lbs. - beef stew chunks
2 strips - bacon
1/2 med. onion
4 med carrots
10 small yellow potatoes
4 oz. - sliced mushrooms
10 oz. - frozen peas
1 med. tomato
1 can - beef broth
1/4 cup - sherry
2 tablespoons - mince garlic
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon - thyme
1 bay leaves
1/4 cup - cornstarch
2 tablespoons - olive oil

My wife and son don't like chunks of onion so, instead of dicing, I put the onion in the blender on a medium speed with 2 tablespoons of water for 5 seconds (you can dice if you like). Then, it's peel the carrots and slice into quarter inch chunks.

I quarter the potatoes and set aside in a bowl with the carrots.

Dice the tomato and set aside in a separate bowl.

Preheat the oven to 285 degrees.

Cut up the bacon into small chunks. Heat the olive oil in the Dutch oven on the stovetop at medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until just done in the oil.

Add the onion and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the beef, salt and pepper. Stir occasionally and cook another 5 minutes.

Add half the sherry, stir and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Turn off the heat and add the vegetables, bay leaves, garlic, thyme, mushrooms, and cornstarch.

Pour in the broth and the rest of the sherry.

Oops! I forgot the tomatoes so I add them (you can add with the rest of the vegetables).

Cover and put in oven for 2 hours. At that time, remove cover and stir. Cover it back up and cook another two hours. Stir again and cover. Cook one more hour and serve.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

MOVING CHRONICLES: Easing the Property Tax Burden in a High Tax State

So why did we choose to move where we did? Why did we stay in California instead of moving to a lower tax state? How did we still do it affordably?

First off, we did consider moving out. California is a very high tax state and it's getting higher every year. Now they want to tax our soda, water, and even ding us for every mile we drive...in addition to the other myriad taxes we already pay.

We looked...Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and even a few states farther away, like Tennessee and North Carolina...but, in the end there's no place like home. California is still the best we've seen and we don't want to be too far away from family.

How did we make it affordable? Well, contrary to common belief, not everywhere in California is suffering from sky-high home prices. Yes, you can pay well into the seven figures for a hovel in places like Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, and San Francisco, but there vast swaths of the state that are away from those high-priced locales where you can get some bargains.

We found it was almost impossible to live near the coast on our budget...however you can find reasonable near ocean house prices in the far north in places like Eureka...so we explore in the other direction.  Home prices in the Central Valley, Redding, Red Bluff, Chico, the deserts, and Sierras are very reasonable, it just became a search of where it would be reasonable and desirable.

The Motherlode region ended up being the most appealing. This is the historic area where gold was mined from the Motherlode in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains during the Gold Rush. It extends...roughly...along highway 49 from the area around Auburn in the north down to Mariposa and Oakhurst in the south.

Great homes could be found here for our $400,000 maximum price. Heck, I can still go out and find decent homes in the area (and in the other areas mentioned above) for less than $200,000.

Why was that our maximum price? One reason...property taxes. We would not have a mortgage payment, since we could pay cash, but we'd need to keep those taxes down to a manageable level to be able to afford it on our fixed and small retirement income.

One tax that is under control in our Golden State is property taxes. Thanks to Proposition 13, passed four decades ago, property taxes are strictly controlled and not allowed to jump dramatically. It's something the politicians in Sacramento hate but it makes the state liveable for the rest of us.

The gist of it is this:

  • Basic property tax is 1% of the assessed value at the time of the sale, usually the sale price.
  • Only if 2/3 of the property owners in a defined area vote for an increase can that basic amount go higher than that...for instance, the local school district can put a 1/4% increase on the ballot to get more funds. If 2/3 of the property owners agree, then the local property tax would go to 1.25% of the assessed value at the time the sale.
  • The property tax can only be raised by a maximum of 2% a year so, if you paid $1,000 this year in property tax, next year expect to pay $1,020 - even if the assessed value of your house doubles or triples or more.
  • When the property is sold, the new buyer pays on the newly assessed amount.

It's this last point that makes it hard to relocate within the state sometimes. If you paid $100,000 for your house 30 years ago and, over time, your tax is now around $2,000...you could be on the hook for a lot more if the houses you're looking at cost half a million or more (an extremely common and low price in this state). That's at least $5,000 per year.

We figured we could afford up to $4,000 per year which defined our top end house price.

It took a year of very casually looking at houses up here and, believe it or not, one day of intense house hunting to find the home we ended up with in Amador County in the heart of the state's gold country.

There are also two other propositions out there, Prop 60 and Prop 90, aimed at tax relief for seniors 55 or older. Both are able to be used one time.

Prop 60 states that if you move to another part of the same county you live in, you can take your tax rate with you so, if you paying tax on the $50,000 house you bought in the 70's and buy a million dollar McMansion a few towns away, your property tax will not rise.

Prop 90 works the same way if you move to another county that reciprocates. Currently, there are 10 counties that do:

Los Angeles
San Bernardino
San Diego
San Mateo
Santa Clara

These counties include some pricey and desirable real estate such as La Jolla, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, Claremont, Pasadena, Palo Alto, Ojai, and Thousand Oaks.

In short, you might have to give up your dream of living beachfront in Malibu or Monterey, but there are plenty of areas in this 3rd largest state in the nation where you can find a new dream.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Cream of Asparagus and Ham Soup

We've moved and we're no longer suburban. We'll now be known as The Cheapskate Rural Dweller since we live at least a half hour from anything that could be deemed a city or suburb.

Time to ease back into the blogging grind and we'll do it with a recipe.

It's been cold up here in Northern California and it's great soup weather. Here's one I came up with this week.

1/2 bunch of asparagus
1 cup spinach
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 medium onion
1 medium pasilla chile
1/2 pound cubed ham
1/4 cup sherry
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Kosher salt
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon tarragon
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Start by putting a stock pot half full of water and 2 tablespoons of salt on the stove and bring to a boil. Cut the crown spears off of the asparagus.

Put in a strainer and hang in boiling water. Cut the rest of the asparagus into 2 inch lengths.

Slice the chile into strips, remove the seeds, and then cut into 1 inch squares.

After the asparagus crowns have boiled for 5 or 6 minutes, remove and set aside. Put the chile chunks , asparagus stalks, carrots, and spinach into the boiling water. Boil for 8 minutes and strain out all but one cup of water.

Put the boiled vegetables, the onion, and the one cup of reserved water into a blender and puree for 5 seconds.

Pour the mixture into a saucepan, add the sherry, garlic, parmesan cheese, and simmer for one hour. Stir every 5 to 10 minutes.

10 minutes before the simmer period is over, add the ham and asparagus spears.

5 minutes after turning off the heat, stir in the cream.

Serve and sprinkle the cheddar over the top.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

GARDENING: The Charlie Brown Christmas Cactus

Our Christmas cactus has seen better days. My wife said to do something about it so I'm repotting it. This is how it looked before I started.

First, it's off to the store to get some cactus potting mix.

Next, with some gloves because there is still a few small and sharp needles, I remove it from the hanging basket and knock off all the old mix.

I find an appropriate pot to put it in.

Fill about half way with mix...

...and tamp down.

The plant kind of fell apart when I removed the mix from it so I pick the healthiest looking piece and put it in the pot, fill the rest of the way with mix, and tamp down the mix very firmly with a hammer handle.

Water it in with B1...

...and put it where it will get normal watering.

Let's hope it come back strong.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2019 - All Rights Reserved

D-DAY - Living with Type 2: 2018 Update, New Meds, New Results

An ongoing look a life as a type II diabetic...

Last year at this time, I was in the 8 range for my A1C readings and pushing 160-190 on my glucose readings. My weight wasn't going anywhere, either, so in June, I sat down with my doctor and discusses my options.

I had been taking a combination of Metformin and pioglitazone to control my glucose, plus supplementing those with broccoli sprout extract. 

I hate the pioglitazone because it doesn't do a lot for my readings...a very temporary drop of 10 points or so...and has the troubling side effect of weight gain. It also increases your risk for bladder cancer.

My personal research showed that SGLT2 Inhibitors also lower your numbers and have a common side effect of weight loss.  This class is where you find the likes of Trulicity, Farxiga, and Jardiance.

The bad side effects of this type of drug, where it triggers your kidneys to flush out excess blood sugar through urination, is dehydration which can lead to a urinary tract infection. 

Still, it sounded like something that would work for me...I'd just have to make sure to stay hydrated.

Before my June appointment, I check with my insurer to see how much these meds...which currently have no generic equivalent...would cost. Jardiance, for example, without insurance would be well above $500 for a 1 month supply. With my insurance, Trulicity would be $100 a month and Jardiance $35.

My doctor preferred the once-a-week injection of Trulicity but I preferred paying the lower amount for the pill form of Jardiance. He said he'd consider it after he reviewed the results of this visit's tests.

Low and behold, the lab got the instructions wrong and didn't do a A1C test...the main test to check on a diabetic's progress. The doctor told me to come back in for another blood test. After being stuck 5 times for the last test, I wasn't thrilled with that prospect. 

Metformin, twice a day, and one Jardiance in the morning

I told him I'd wait until the next 3 month checkup and would appreciate it if he'd make the call to the pharmacy for the Jardiance.  He was agreeable to this so I started the new Jardiance regimen (at 10mg a day, the lowest dose).

I haven't gotten any UTIs yet but I do get very thirsty and dehydrated at times. I now have a liter sized sports bottle that I bought in Calgary last year. This gets filled once in the morning, drank from during the day, then filled again at dinner so I drink two liters of water a day.

As you can imagine, I need to know where the nearest restroom is at all times but, otherwise, it's a small price to pay.

In addition, I had my first hypoglycemic incident when I took my midday metformin at a local diner after ordering. The food didn't come out for 45 minutes and I got real woozy until the manager gave me a glass of orange juice.  I'll never take metformin again with having some food handy.

Fast forward to October, it's time for my next checkup.  A1C has dropped to 7.4. Still too high but headed in the right direction. My weight has finally started to drop again, another 5 pounds came off bringing my total weight loss from diagnosis (three years ago) to 30 pounds. My blood sugar numbers have dropped back to the 120-140 range, with occasional forays down below 100 and up to 180.

For now, it's not a perfect score but it's headed in the right direction. The doctor agrees, too, so we'll keep this regimen in place and keep monitoring every few months. Since this is a progressive disease, there will come a time when we'll need to adjust again but I'll enjoy this level for awhile.

(DISCLAIMER: This series about Type II is not meant to apply to everyone. This is what works for me, you need to consult with your own medical professionals to find out what will work for you.  My goal here is to simply give you hope that once you're diagnosed, life as you know it does not have to end...you can still enjoy life and the treats it offers.)

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved


Last week, I made some really good Mexican style rib eye steaks on the barbecue. They were delicious but I made more than we can eat. This week, I'm using those leftovers to make a quick dinner here at home instead of going out to spend too much money on fast food.

I have about eight ounces of steak in this container. 

I'll chop it up into thin, small pieces.

That chopped steak will go into a skillet for 3-4 minutes over medium heat. Just to warm it up, not so much to cook it anymore. That will be set aside for a minute when done.

I'll take 8 corn tortillas and warm them up in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. I'll put 1/8 of the steak into a tortilla, sprinkle on some shredded cheddar or jack (or better yet, a blend of the two), some hot salsa, and fold over.

In a 12" skillet, I'm putting in 3 tablespoons of olive oil and bringing up the heat to medium for about 4 minutes of preheating.  Two of the filled tortillas will go in. Hold the tortilla down with a wooden spoon to keep from unfolding for about a minute, until the cheese melts enough to glue it together.

About 2-3 minutes on each side, until slightly browned and crispy. Put on a paper towel on a plate and cover until all the tacos are done.

They're now delicious, crunchy, and ready to eat.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Mexican Style Rib Eye Steak

Sometimes, we'll go to a restaurant and have a great meal...a great meal that I'd like to replicate at home. This week's recipe is one of those.

Rudy's is a Mexican restaurant near our home in Monrovia, California. On the menu, under "Carne Asada," is this one...what comes out is basically a rib eye steak served with rice and beans.

Here is my version...


4 10- oz choice (or better), 1 inch thick rib eye steaks
1 bunch Mexican green onions (can substitute regular green onions if needed)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons melted butter
1-2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Put the steaks in a plastic bowl, platter, large dish, etc.

Sprinkle Worcestershire sauce on both sides .

Brush melted butter onto both sides.

Sprink Kosher salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper on both sides.

On a hot grill, with burning charcoal on one half only,  place the onions over the hot coals for three minutes on each side. Then, put the onions on the other side of the grill (indirect heat). Put the steak over the coals for three minute per side.

Move steaks to indirect heat side of grill. Place one onion on top of each steak. Cook covered (with lid on) 6-7 minutes per side for medium rare.

Place on platter, cover with foil for a 10 minute rest when done.

We like to serve with rice and beans, plus a grille onion you can slice up and eat with the steak, and a little hot salsa sprinkled over the top.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2018 - All Rights Reserved

DINNER TIME! Dutch Oven Beef Stew

It can still get a little chilly at night here in Northern California. A hearty stew is just the thing to take the chill off. This reci...