My next-door neighbor and I were talking about food needs a day or so ago – neighbor, who is actually the niece of a long-time neighbor come to Texas to take care of her aunt, a lovely woman who is slowly devolving into age-related dementia – and I were talking about cheap eats. Neighbor-niece thinks the world of us, as we have shared many dishes with her. I talked for a bit about the Boston Baked Beans recipe that I did a couple of days ago and recalled this favorite from my mother’s repertoire. I think that it must be a genuine Depression-era recipe, as Mom said that it had been a feature on Granny Jessie’s table in the 1930s and 1940s, when money was short and main dishes were preferred to be simple, wholesome, and tempting to the appetites of working men and hungry teenagers, especially Grandpa Jim who was the most unadventurous man in the West of the world when it came to culinary experimentation – and above all, filling. We ate it when Dad was in grad school on the GI Bill, and long afterwards, because Mom had a house of hungry teenagers.


1 larghish potato, peeled and thinly sliced

1 similarly largish onion, also thinly sliced.

1 cup white rice, rinsed and drained (although brown would likely work as well.)

1 lb lean ground hamburger, crumbled (or really, any ground meat. I think chicken or turkey would work well for this; pork might be too fatty.)

1 14-oz can tomato sauce.

Salt and pepper. Really daring – maybe thyme and oregano; a light sprinkle over each finished layer.

Layer potato, rice, onions, crumbled meat in a casserole; two or three layers of each – Mom used a enameled 2 or 3 quart enameled number, porcelain-covered cast iron, with a cover.

Pour tomato sauce over all. Fill up can with water – hey, beef broth for extra punch – pour over top of the casserole. Cover and bake until potato layer is tender, and beef is cooked.

And that’s it. Simple, filling and inexpensive – although ground beef may verge on the pricy these days.

We were always able, even at the height of the lock-down covidiocy, to walk the dogs and later Wee Jamie the Wonder Grandson, in our neighborhood. Which is a small and working-to-middle-class homeowners, a great many of whom are military retirees. We were always grateful that our city and state administration didn’t go all “self-isolate at home” safety-Nazi on us and pursue with crushing law-enforcement authority anyone daring to go for a walk in a quite park or a swim in the ocean. In two more years, I will have paid off the mortgage, which should indicate how long I have lived here.

We saw, in the real estate/banking debacle of 2008, a lot of vacant homes in the neighborhood go on the market for months – some interesting foreclosures and abandoned houses as well. There was a house gutted by a fire set by teenagers which went through at least two flippers trying to make bank, and another which was painted dark gray, fitted out with bars on all the windows and an amazing spread of monitoring cameras. Yes, we all knew that the current residents of that place were processing drugs, at the very least. If they were hoping to go unnoticed in a quiet suburb, no, they didn’t. Everyone started calling it “Cellblock C on ‘street name’” and halfway expecting the place to explode one day, sending the roof in several different directions; we all within range hoped that our homeowner’s insurance would cover repairs. Another rental property was a drug and party house. Everyone within the radius of about three blocks knew this – and watched with appreciative interest when half the local SAPD substation busted them in a mass raid which had some of the cops asking for the use of a neighbor’s hose to wash the human feces off of their shoes. I had already researched the name and address of the absentee owner, who lived in Palo Alto, California. I was on the verge of writing a strongly-worded letter to him and his management company, when the police dropped in for a quiet visit and chat with the then-tenant. (The current tenants are nice and responsible people, although I reserve some doubts about the rainbow flag on the back porch.)

Presently, there is one house up the road where a tenant with extreme hoarder tendencies was evicted last month – the mountains of junk that the tenant didn’t take with him was dumped on the lawn, and eventually taken away in several trailer-loads to the dump, but not after there were crowds going through the piles – even a conflict between two men, which resulted in a stabbing and the police being called! That eviction was the talk of the neighborhood for at least a week.

The one thing that I have noticed is that many neighbors have spruced up the exterior – new siding, new paint, replacing windows and roofs. At least three houses have gone for metal, instead of asphalt shingles, even though the metal roof will cost about three times as much. The prospect of not having to replace a shingle roof every ten or twelve years, does have appeal, since Texas weather is very hard on shingle roofing. The sequence of developers who filled out the neighborhood had a repertoire of about twenty basic designs – from single story narrow cottages of about 1,000 square feet, all the way up to two-story units of 2.000+, a kind of generic brick

Later – the house itself, with the new paint job all but complete

and stick-built early 20th century suburban/neo-Palladian/simple Victorian style. There were about thirty different colors of brick, a few the traditional rose or dark red, most of them in shades of beige, brown or grey. This resulted in those houses which weren’t entirely sided with brick, being painted in complimentary colors; colors which explored the whole vibrant palette of pale beige, medium beige, light brown, grey-brown, beige brown and off-white. Lately, some owners have rebelled – and painted over the brick, and explored such colors as leaf-green, Caribbean blue, sage-green, or stark white over all the brick and siding, with black trim and shutters – which, along with a very dark gray roof, gives a kind of Elizabethan look to the place. And just this week, another neighbor, having gone for all new hardiplank siding, took a color scheme from a camo-style Santa hat, that was sent to the husband when he was deployed – they’ve painted over the bricks with sandy-yellow, the siding in dark O.D. green, and the trim – the facia boards and window surrounds – in black. It looks better than it sounds, actually.

Anyway, this is the week that the city comes around with the enormous trash trucks, to collect up bulk trash, like furniture and used fence panels. Sometimes there is good pickings, in what is put out – the metal recyclers usually get to all the clapped out appliances and rusty BBQ sets. In the past, I scored a lot of good-sized garden pots, and a big chiminea, and we have brought home two end tables (of different design and on different occasions) an arm chair and a tuffet – both of which got reupholstered and have done very well for us, ever since. No really good finds this year, though – I think people are holding on to the usable stuff, and posting it for sale on Next Door or Ebay, rather than just putting it out for the trash.

And that was my week – yours?

The next installment of the Lone Star series is done – the further adventures of Texas Ranger James Reade and his blood-brother, Toby Shaw of the Delaware – Yes, it’s titled Lone Star Blood, and will be launched in print and ebook by the end of this month! Yay, me! Another item checked off my yearly to-do list! One of the short adventures was published last year in the anthology volume Tales Around the Supper Table Vol. Two! I intended it as a retelling and homage of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, which at least two reviewers of the anthology considered to be a rip-off. No, it’s an homage – every excellent plot ought to be taken out for a romp in every geographical location where it might be made to fit! Anyway, my version of that adventure and four others will be available in print and ebook by the end of March, 2023.

Oh, the varied delights that are on display on the Tube of Ewe! I followed the links from another weblog to this little feature, copied out and printed the recipe and tried it out this week, following this nice gentleman’s advice – well, more or less. Never again shall canned baked Boston beans cross my lips; the resulting beans were savory to the nth degree – and cheap! Really, a one-pound bag of Navy beans, a square of salt-pork, an onion and some standard items from the pantry, including hot Indian mustard powder, not the recommended Coleman’s mustard and six hours at a low temperature in my oven, and oh, were they good! Savory, tender, full of flavor with the salt pork melting unctuously into the beans and the cooking liquid. What we didn’t eat got parted out into silicon 2-cup molds, and then decanted and vacuum-sealed for the freezer.

Alas, we didn’t have a proper New England covered pottery bean pot to cook them in – I thought we did, it was one of the items gifted to us by the family of a deceased neighbor, clearing out the hoarded stuff in the garage. Alas, the perfect glazed pottery bean pot had what looked like a factory flaw in the bottom – a small crack, which wasn’t sealed by the resulting glaze, and which would have sent a constant dribble of water out of it. (Honestly, I don’t know why the neighbor had an essentially useless object, but her garage was full of similarly useless stuff.) Well, that’s something going to the thrift-store donation pile, with the proviso that it’s more for show than actual function. At this point in life, I have no need for stuff that can’t really be used for the intended purpose. In the end, I baked the beans in a Williams-Sonoma glazed pottery tureen that I got on sale ages ago for Mom because the color of it suited the décor of her kitchen. No idea if Mom ever actually used it, before it came back to me, and sat on display on the upper level of the kitchen cabinets, until I pressed it into service to bake the beans in.


1 lb. dried Navy, Soldier, Pea, or other favorite beans.

6 Tbs. brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup Grandma’s dark molasses

2 tsp. dry Coleman’s mustard

1 tsp. salt

1 medium onion, chopped coarsely

4-6 oz. fat salt pork belly, scored crosswise to rind in 1/2 inch squares.  Do not cut through rind.  Hint: pork cuts easier if frozen.



Pick over beans for defects or stones, wash, and soak overnight in 1-1/2 gallons water.

In morning, parboil about 25 minutes.  Skins will crack open when blown upon.  Do not add any salt.

Remove beans with slotted spoon to crock, but reserve the liquid, which will be needed throughout cooking for replenishment.

Add remaining ingredients and stir in enough of the reserved liquid generously to completely cover.  Place pork on top of beans with the cut pork belly side down, with rind facing up.

Cover with crockery lid or cover loosely with foil.  Do not seal tightly.

Check at least every 90 minutes and don’t allow beans to dry out.  Replenish with reserved parboil water as needed during cooking to maintain liquid.

Bake at 275° F for six hours, or until tender.

NOTE:  Kidney, yellow-eye and certain others require longer cooking times at increased temperature of 300°.

09. March 2023 · 2 comments · Categories: Memoir

Not the whole summer, and not at a classic old-fashioned summer camp, beloved in stories of juvenile derring-do among the pines – some never-neverland in the mountains of the old north-east states, with a lake and a rivalry with the boy’s camp across the lake, a summer of crafts and campfires, spent among upper middle class peers enjoying a break from the sweltering city. No – as a teen, I had a whole week every summer at live-away camp in the upper reaches of Oak Glen; a facility owned and run by the Lutheran Church, among the apple orchards and rocky hills above Yucaipa, in San Bernardino County, up against the tall mountain range that runs along the backbone of California. I suppose that in the off-season, Camp Yolijwa served as a center for retreats and conferences among the Lutheran devout – but in the summer months, it was the camp experience for tweens and teens. I rather think the sessions were age-segregated – young teens, mid-teens, older teens, and some special sessions for … well, I’ll get to that in another post, perhaps.

Camp week began on a Sunday afternoon, after a long drive in the old Plymouth station wagon, with a week’s worth of clothes, a sleeping bag and pillow (and for me, a stack of books) packed in an old military surplus duffle bag thrown in the back, behind the passenger seat. The session ended the following Saturday mid-morning – but for me, that week was pure bliss. I looked forward to that precious week, all through the intervening year. The facilities then were relatively basic – three stepped conblock double dormitories set into the sloping hillside below the administration building, which also housed a classroom. Each dormitory consisted then of a long room fitted out with old military surplus metal bunk beds – fifteen or so, if memory serves, and a latrine and bathroom facility at the inner end. The windows at the uphill side were narrow and looked out upon nothing in particular save the lower walls of the dorm on the level above. Ten or eleven bunks were lined up with their heads against the uphill wall – but the rest were ranged along the wall with windows that looked out on the downhill side – a long meadow culminating in a grove of trees that sheltered the Lodge, and beyond that, a V of mountains that ended in a band of smog that denoted the lowlands … the little burg of Oak Glen, with Yucaipa, San Bernadino and the bigger city on the lowlands beyond. At sunset, that band turned fiery red. After the first year at Camp Yulijwa, I always took care to claim one of the upper bunks that looked out on that view. Above the mundane world, apart from it for the space of a week, removed from school and every particle of social misery, to which I was heir to, as a plump and brainy child with braces and glasses and a lack of social confidence. At Yolijwa, I could be someone else for a week; a blank slate, as it were, and among strangers. You could make yourself into something else, at camp. And I did and relished the hell out of the experience.

Oh, Camp Yolijwa, how I did love thee! The Spartan barracks of the dorms, the clear mountain air, the apple trees, the freedom to be a new person, the ephemeral comradeship of a handful of fellow campers! It was a church-based camp, of course – but I really cannot recall being particularly oppressed by this. Lutherans are generally open-minded, sometimes a bit too open-minded of late. After breakfast in the Lodge, we had brief morning devotions, when we were set free to go read the morning lesson, perhaps a bit of the Bible and meditate up them privately, wherever the spirit took us. I was in the habit of climbing into the crotch of a small tree somewhere on the grounds – this, from my habit at home, when Mom was prone to order me to do some chore or other, if she saw me reading a book in the living room. One beautiful misty morning, I saw a doe deer and her pair of spotted fauns, meandering through the trees, when I looked up from my readings. After morning vespers and meditations, we usually had some kind of religious classes; it’s in my mind that such counted for most of us against Confirmation requirements. Sometimes we went on a hike down in the canyon, to a trickle of waterfall coming down the rock face, or a field trip to a local art museum. Those classes were held in the Lodge, or sometimes in the little arena built into the slope of the hill, a stepped half-circle of simple benches. Sometime in the morning, we also had an inspection of our quarters – our dorm and bathroom were expected to be relatively spotless, swept clean, our bedding straightened, and all personal possessions put away, or at least neatly arranged.

The Lodge was a mid-century-modern construction, a vaulted ceiling, a huge stone fireplace and window-walls that looked out on the grounds, three-quarters of the way around. Half was a general meeting place, and half was the dining room, set about with the same long tables and metal folding chairs which featured in about every mid-century Lutheran parish hall ever. I don’t think that I ever ventured into the kitchen itself, which was presided over by Bert. She and her husband, Doc, were the then-permanent caretakers and whole-time staff. They lived on the grounds full-time. I don’t know if they had a small cottage somewhere, or if there was some cozy apartment attached to the Lodge. I did hear that they had a dog who had chased a bear out of the apple grove, one harsh winter. Doc and Bert were ageless – middle-aged, I recall. I don’t remember anything about Doc, particularly, but Bert was an absolutely priceless cook. The meals that emerged from the kitchen at Camp Yolijwa were amazing – the best mass-meals that I ever ate, save until the kitchen at Sondrestrom AB, Greenland. The dessert that I do remember clearly was a whole baked apple in a tender crust, with a spoonful of custard poured over. My first year there, my twenty-something aged camp-counselor was copying over Bert’s cookbook for her own use, having to reduce the quantities given for each recipe by about 90 percent. (We campers were amazingly tender of our counselor, since it had been given to us that she was married to a Marine, currently stationed at Khe Sanh. We all knew about Vietnam. We were afraid that her husband was doomed and treated her as a new or near to new-made widow.)

After lunch – recreation time. The pool was opened, and that was where just about everyone gravitated, for summertime in Southern California was hot, and the Olympic-sized pool was gloriously cool. On Thursday evenings – that was something special. We walked down some side roads, past a farmhouse in an apple grove, and climbed the fire road that wound higher and higher up the side of Pisgah Peak. We would pause for evening vespers halfway up the trail, where there was a carve-out in the mountainside, then continue up to the cleared area at the very top. It would be sunset by then – and we would spread out our sleeping bags and sleep under the stars – about as well as one could sleep on hard ground, but we were kids, and it was an adventure to sleep under the open sky on the top of a small mountain. In the morning, we would stagger down the fire road, and have breakfast in the lodge.

Oh, summer camp, the happy culmination of my year, from the seventh grade on – and then I came back several years as a camp counselor myself. I lived for that blissful week, and nothing could ever ruin it for me, not even the summer when a fellow camper tried to play the same mind games of exclusion and mean-girl scorn that I had already encountered in junior high. And I just wasn’t going to play, falling into the trap of uncertainty and self-loathing – not when I had lived for this one precious week. There was no way that this girl could ruin the week for me, so I ignored her, resolutely for the entire week – and had a marvelous time in consequence. Who was she, that someone that I neither liked or respected, could have the power to ruin my day, or my week? I had all the power! (We did sort of come to a rapprochement at the very end of camp week, when we were the last two campers waiting at the admin building for our parents to show up.) I went back to school that autumn, feeling as if I had just gotten fitted for a suit of plate armor. Nothing the middle-school mean girls could do or say could have any effect on me, after that. They had no power – or more precisely,  the power that they had was only what I had allowed them. And once I stopped caring about the actions and opinions of people that I neither liked or respected … well, I had plate armor, then. After that, school was a place that I just had to be for certain hours of the day. The people in it … eh, I could take them or leave them alone, and leave them alone mostly, was what I did for all the rest of the time I spent in public school.

Camp Yolijwa is still there, in Oak Glen, California, although now it seems to be called Luther Glen. It looks now to be much expanded, with a big new main lodge where the apple orchard used to be. The old lodge at the bottom of the hill, the swimming pool and the three plain dorm buildings appear to be where I recalled them to be, but there is a road cut through the wilderness area down below the main camp precinct, where we played ‘Capture the Flag.’ My younger brother, JP, did camp there, in canvas tents on timber floors, but he was never as fond of or as loyal to Camp Yolijwa as I was.

(I thought that I might have some pictures to go with this post … but none that I can find, other than some blurry black and white shots of the Lodge and cabin interiors from an old album. Maybe I can find some others, later.)