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2Today I am suffering with a terrible case of wanderlust. It’s nearly 100 degrees outside and not a day to go exploring, which is probably why I feel like doing exactly that. Further contributing to my tapping feet I enjoyed a conversation with my son this morning mostly devoted to his upcoming trip to Cancun. The tickets include himself, his wife, and their two children one boy and one girl, eleven and twelve respectfully. Detailing the highlights for me and directing me to a site on-line showing pictures, my skin turned a deeper shade of green the longer we spoke. By the end of the conversation you could have thrown me in the pot with the delicious soup noted below and not been able to tell me from a leaf of spinach.

The resort they’re visiting is all-inclusive, so once you lay down your money for the tickets the food and beverages are included in the overall price. Naturally, if you want to visit the nearby ruins or enjoy other side trips they come at an extra cost, but while in the resort you can order one brightly umbrella bedecked drink after another guilt free. Other than any messages your liver might be sending up. However, as an aside if visiting one of these resorts do not pillage the mini-bar in your room unless you have the cash to cover it. From what I understand the all-inclusive umbrella extends only to restaurants and lounges.

ZipCruises are structured the same way, with the exception of the ones I’ve been on at least charging for alcoholic beverages. Back in the 90’s I took a ship from Miami to Key West and then on to Cozumel. Luckily for us it was spring break and so we shared quarters with hundreds of fun crazed college students bent on consuming as much alcohol as possible on their parent’s dime. One kid who we’d seen vomiting in the potted plants in the pool area the night before was presented with a $700 bill for alcohol from the same night. If I was his mother he’d really be sick by the time he got home.

At any rate my kids are going on several side visits. My son, Steve, is a hands on dad and has provided his kids with a rich background of sports, education, and experiences to take with them into adulthood. Makes me most proud. They swim like fish and both of them snorkel skillfully and havexel-ha-park some minimal scuba training. To be honest I’ve stayed away from scuba equipment as of this writing. Being claustrophobic the ideal atmosphere for me isn’t hundreds of feet below sea level with a mask covering my face. I’d be likely to take a great white on while trying to get out of the water. Watching documentaries on the ocean floor fascinates me but the idea of going down, down, down, not so much.

xelha_011One place he mentioned specifically was Xel-Ha Park. This is a lush park devoted to water lovers with something for everybody. Mayan ruins, jungle trails, bike riding, underwater caves, and swimming with the dolphins are just some of the fabulous attractions in a park touted as being the most beautiful aquarium in the world. I’ve got one flipper on and I’m ready to roll. Swimming with the dolphins is high up on my bucket list. Also walking with the penguins on the beach in New Zealand. The list seems to be growing as my bank account is dwindling.

Bank robbery is an option, but orange washes me out and I don’t like guns. Did you see the bank robber on the news who cleverly disguised himself in a see-through plastic bag? There’s a guy who stood in the stupid line a bit too long.

As delighted as I am that my kids are living the dream, I’m not as enthused about flying these days. Aside from everything in the news I watched a movie with Liam Niessen titled Non-Stop which sealed the deal. To take my mind of of it, and since I was ironing I turned on another movie. This one titled, The Impossible. A true story about a doctor and her family swept away by a tidal wave in Thailand. It’s not beyond the scope of possibility I may never leave the house again. That’s it for me. No more disaster movies.

Company is coming and I haven’t seen any hands when I called for volunteers to peel the eggs for the deviled eggs so I’d better run. Have a safe and happy day.

Even in the heat, this soup got an A+++++ from my other half. To quote him exactly, “I could keep eating this until I throw up”. Not delicately put, but I believe there is a compliment cleverly buried in there somewhere.

Crockpot Italian Sausage, Zucchini, Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

6 plum tomatoes, halved
1/2 green pepper, seeded
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Italian sausages, hot
2 cups diced zucchini
1 ear of fresh corn or 1/2 cup canned corn
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water
8 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. basil
1 bay leaf
1 pkg. Sazon Goya (or 1 tsp. hot paprika)
1/2 bag spinach
1 cup cooked ditalini pasta
Parmesan cheese and fresh basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Toss tomatoes and green pepper with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes and pepper on foil cut side down. Bake for 15-20 mins. or until charred. Place in plastic bag for 15 mins. and peel off skins. Coarsely chop.

Cook Italian sausage and slice into 3/4″ slices.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over med. heat. Add onion and celery and cook 6 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min.

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Add tomatoes and peppers, sausage, onion/garlic mixture, zucchini, corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water, stock, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, bay leaf and Sazon Goya. Mix well.
Cook on high for 1 hr. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 7 hrs. Add spinach (stemmed and broken into large pieces) and ditilini. Cook for an additional hr. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve topped with shredded Parmesan and fresh basil if desired.

1 - Copy

Good news! Grab your checkbooks. I heard this morning for $32,000 you can join the President and other influential Washintonians for lunch. If you choose to attend only the reception prior to the luncheon, make your checks out for $10,000 and grab an appetizer plate. It must be interesting to move in such circles. The fly on the wall wonders what’s on the menu, as even before the state of the union I’m generally concerned with what’s to eat. For sure you’re not likely to get a plate of deviled eggs, little wienies in barbecue sauce, or a meatball sandwich. For $32,000 I’d like to start with some goose liver pate perched atop delicate toast points. Then let’s move on to an assortment of excellent imported cheeses resting next to a glistening sliver of sticky honeycomb. Pair all the above with some equally excellent wines, and, let’s see, a Prius, and I think it’s worth the outlay. I admire the president but for that amount of money I’ll put a dent in my home mortgage and enjoy a tuna sandwich, thank you very much.

I’ve attended some fairly high brow events over the years. While working in Boston in my twenties, my job threw me into the mix with a lot of well-heeled people. Fortunately my grandparents and my mother took care of my manners early on, so I managed to get through it without suffering total humiliation. The American Cancer Society, the name on my paychecks at the time, courted a lot of influential people into their fold, both as contributors and spokespeople. Fund raising functions were often held at exclusive locations and packed with political and social movers and shakers. Boston, aside from being one of my favorite cities for many reasons, houses many of the old money gentry. The upper crust is a closely guarded somewhat cliquish community populated by incredibly wealthy individuals. Somewhat spellbound by all the grandeur, I still far preferred the wonderful diversity of the city found in the fragrant Italian delis and ethnically flavored burroughs. Toni’s in Roslindale, I was surprised to note, is still open for business. I last went there in the 70’s and would go again was I to visit the city today. Their meat compared to what you find on the market shelves, cannot be beat. Homemade sausages, imported deli meats and cheeses. My taste buds are doing a happy dance at the thought of it all.

It’s the aromas of those delis and sandwich shops I remember most. Ripe cheeses, pungent meats, and the biting pickly smells when you opened the lid to the huge jars of pickles sitting on the counter. Makes my mouth water. Smell is so much a part of our eating and cooking experience. My maternal grandmother, a fabulous baker and cook, lost her sense of taste and smell to a stroke in her eighties. After that she reported life simply wasn’t the same. She ate, naturally, as we must to exist, but her enjoyment of food ended for her on the day of her stroke.

So much of our lives are guided by our noses. Certainly our noses bring us pleasure. Breathing in the glorious fragrance of a rose, serves to enhance the beauty of the flower. The smell of brewing coffee first thing in the morning to me actually surpasses the taste of the brew itself. Along with providing us pleasure, our nostrils also serve as alarms such as in the case of gas or chemical leaks or fire. I was interested to hear about a man working at NASA who smells for a living. By this I do not mean to insinuate the man doesn’t bathe. I don’t know him well enough, or at all, to base this on any fact. Rather his actual job has been for many years spending his days while at work smelling. I cannot confirm this, but I have a feeling he has an office to himself. To add another fact to the tomes of things I did not know, astronauts need to be provided an atmosphere fragrance free in order to keep from becoming ill. This is under this gentleman’s job description. Interesting.

Another fact along these same lines is about bees. For those of you who may have read my previous blogs on the subject, not my favorite insect. I understand the need for them in the balance of nature. I’d just prefer they do their good work somewhere other than in my presence. For some reason they sense my feelings on the subject and choose to sting me more often then not, thus my animosity. At any rate, they are using bees to ferret out drugs in the same manner they employ drug dogs. Bees, as opposed to their canine counterparts, have a much shorter training curve and by nature are more compact and easier to handle. The insects are trained by being exposed to a smell and then rewarded with sugar immediately following. After a brief period the bees will stick out their bee tongues when the familiar smell is introduced in anticipation of the treat to follow. Now here’s another fact to add to my encyclopedia of little known facts, I don’t believe I realized bees had tongues and rather long ones at that for their size. Every day is a new adventure.

Soooooooo, these are my convoluted thoughts for the day.

On a lighter note, the humiliation I missed out on in my earlier experiences has come to roost as I’ve gotten older. This morning I went to fetch the newspaper. Clad in my signature sleepwear, men’s boxers and a tee-shirt (Victoria’s Secret – Intimate Rendezvous Collection – argh), I eyed the paper from the front window. Normally I would slip on a pair of shorts but since we have no neighbors to our left at the moment I took the chance. The paper is always thrown about half way up the driveway so with my Croc’s in place and looking nothing but fabulous I made a run for it. Just as I bent down to pick up my paper the trash truck drove up. Ah yes, trash day. They waved. I waved back. Sigh.

In honor of wonderful Boston memories I offer up the meatball sub. We ate ours down to the ground with forks and yums.

Italian Meatball Sandwich

1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 French rolls split and toasted
Fresh basil
Shredded Italian blend cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix together all ingredients through red pepper flakes in large mixing bowl. Mix until well blended but don’t over mix.

Form into eight meatballs.

Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray. Bake meatballs for 10 mins. turning once. Drain and put in a deep frying pan.

Sauce

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic minced,
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 jar basil spaghetti sauce
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes

Heat oil over medium heat in skillet. Add bell pepper and onion and cook until translucent, about 6 mins. Add garlic. Cook for 1 min. Add sauces and heat until warm.

Pour over meatballs in pan. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over med.-low heat for 20 mins.

Toast rolls. Spread inside of all rolls with sauce. Place two meatballs on bottom of each roll. Top with desired amount of cheese and garnish with fresh basil.

Serves 4.

2

What an odd day. I woke up to a fine mist decorating the windshield of the car, the skies overcast, and the air heavy. Atypical of Northern California weather this time of year, it’s a bit unnerving. Old timers used to refer to weather patterns of this sort as “earthquake weather”. To add to the odd mix the weather’s serving up, our immediate neighbors are moving out. We are friendly with them casually, not what I’d call friends. However, I am used to waving good morning or catching up on their lives while collecting the mail. Every afternoon like clockwork their cat comes down the hill to drink out of our bird fountain and in the heat of the day he catches a siesta underneath our car. It feels odd, if you will, not to see a light on in their window.

Not to be a nosy neighbor, but our living room window faces out on their driveway, we have watched the proceedings as they unfolded. Early yesterday morning five vehicles pulled up and people poured out. Since then a U-Haul has made numerous trips and all the pickups filled and emptied many times. Reminiscent of those videos of people exiting a car that just keep filing out one after another, loads keep exiting the house. Where on earth all this stuff was stored in a house smaller than ours boggles my mind. Watching the proceedings has served to cement my resolution not to move again any time soon. Another strange occurrence is the new occupants are moving in before the old have moved out. Never tried that before.

To add to the confusion, our new cell phones arrived. Droids, ach. Compared to the technology floating around at the moment they’re like comparing a caveman’s club to a scud missile, but for us they’re a step up. The moment we deactivated the old cellular service if became quickly apparent we had no idea how to either make or receive a phone call on the new units. To be honest, I couldn’t even figure out the voice mail message. When a call did come in the caller was informed I was too stupid to know how to set up a voice mail account so they’d have to call back when I located an active brain cell. Nice, a phone with attitude. First I had to figure out how to get into the phone as it was locked. Having accomplished that, another call came in. Three phones appeared on the screen, one white, one green, and one red. If you went with the logic used at a stoplight one would think pushing on the green phone would achieve the desired effect. Apparently this would be too easy. Repeatedly pushing all three phones, the call finally went to the voice mail guardian who once again reported I was too ignorant to own the device. Trial and error proved you have to move the green phone inside a circle in order to engage a caller. A glimmer of hope.

Next, I went to the contacts. Figuring out how to access adding a new contact I began the laborious task of entering all the numbers from my old phone. Usually the contacts could be moved along in a simple transfer on a sims card. Our old phones, so old the technology probably only exists in a dusty garage somewhere, aren’t compatible with the new not allowing this to occur. Fortunately there’s an X to erase an incorrectly entered letter because you need to have fingertips the size of a pencil eraser to do this with any accuracy. I am here to report it is most amazing these little phones aren’t floating in the toilet at the moment, but I am not one to give up on a good fight.

As of this writing I still have no voice mail message in place, and have no idea what an app is or how to own one, but I will in short order. It puts me in mind of learning the computer. How confusing at first were the floppy discs, yes I said floppy discs, and files floating on a computer screen which stored your information? Just learning to maneuver the mouse was incredibly awkward. Now it seems as familiar as tying my shoes (They still do that don’t they?). In the beginning the instructor might as well have been teaching me Mandarin Chinese. To stop for a moment on tying shoes, I was interested to note while working in my daughter’s day care children aren’t taught this skill anymore. Along with telling time, done digitally these days, velcro has replaced laces eliminating the necessity of tying anything when putting on one’s shoes. I certainly hope they’re never faced with a pair of laced tennis shoes as adults. No matter how many times you try to get laces to stick to one another, as yet I’ve never owned a pair that did. Also, if confronted with a clock on the wall with hands and numerals will they have to ask someone when to go to lunch?

Another constantly fluxing media would be music. There were 8-tracks, which were huge. It was like inserting a loaf of bread in the 8-track player which took up half the dashboard. If you carried more than five in the car you had to travel alone, as there was no place for a passenger to sit. Cassettes followed, much smaller and easier to manage. With each innovation new devices were necessary to use them ensuring just as you crested the learning curve, another upgrade would swoop in to recreate the bog in your brain. CD’s came along once we’d gotten a grip on the cassettes. Naturally, a CD player, CD case, and of course the CD’s themselves were necessary to get into the swing of things. Many times over the years my garage sales have been kept afloat with leftover pieces of each bit of technology as it became outdated.

So I continue to strive to keep up with each technological jump. I fear I am trailing far behind, but like Hansel and Gretel I am leaving a trail of used devices to mark my way.

These are some of my favorite green beans. My bins are stocked with fresh vegetables and this is a great way to put them to work.

BLT (Bacon, Lemon and Tomato) Green Beans

l lb. green beans, trimmed
Garlic salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
8 button mushrooms, sliced thin
4 slices crisp bacon, crumbled

Lemon Sauce

1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

Place all sauce ingredients in small saucepan over med. heat. Whisk and cook until butter is melted.

Place beans in top of steamer over 2″ water. Sprinkle with garlic salt. Steam green beans until fork tender, about 10 mins. Drain.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in skillet over med.-low heat. Add garlic, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. Saute about 6-8 mins. until tomatoes are wilted and mushrooms cooked.

Add tomato/mushroom mixture to green beans and toss with sauce. Top with crumbled bacon.

2

This week has gone by so quickly I feel like my inner clock was set on hyperspeed. Last Sunday I drove to my daughters to help her with her day care as she recently had rotator cuff surgery. Certainly I have spent days with the mini-people there before, but mostly as an art consultant (I’m excellent at coloring inside the lines) or perhaps a short order cook (sorry, my puns again). Being somewhat in charge was for me a first.

Monday was populated solely with little boys. For those of you who have such beings running about your house, you will understand when I say having six boys four and under to keep an eye on for 8-10 hours definitely provides you with a work out. What an amazing amount of energy these small beings have. If I could tap into 10% of it I could clean the house top to bottom and solve the world’s problems before my first cup of coffee. The back yard at my daughter’s home is tailored to the business at hand. Eight or so bikes are lined up in one corner and an oval track circles the play area in the center set up with all manner of slides and climbing equipment. Another corner, obviously for the young ladies or future chefs, contains a line up of plastic kid-sized kitchen appliances and a large container holding dolls, water toys, fake food items, and pots and pans.

Once breakfast is out of the way, the kids are released to the wild to work off some energy to allow them to nap later in the day. Nap time is something I quickly found was both for the benefit of the children as well as those keeping an eye on them.

They refer to me as “Nana”. Not because I bear a striking resemblance to the Darling family’s faithful companion, but because this is the name I answer to when my grandchildren are speaking to me. After hearing this name repeated 3,465,922 times, I am considering changing it to something more difficult to pronounce like Xochitl.

I found them engaging, and so willing to be entertained. On my left hand my little finger won’t straighten out, being permanently bent towards my palm. This began when I turned forty, along with so many other things. Doctor’s refer to this as Dupuytren contracture. Not uncommon, it is an ailment limited mainly to fair-skinned, blue-eyed people of English descent. More prevalent in men, I once again have chosen to break the mold. It is not so noticeable that people cross themselves when passing me, but it is annoying. Not painful in the least but rather unattractive. Let’s say I’d prefer it not to be there than to be. However, at this juncture I’m surgeried out so this will wait for another time. In the pre-school set, particularly the boys, this was a source of constant entertainment. Each day when they came in my finger was put on display for various parents or newcomers. I was waiting for a call from Barnum once I arrived home.

Boys versus girls is as much of a mystery at their age as it will be as they become older. What engages each sex and how they approach a given situation is as defined before school age as it is once we’ve graduated and become adults. The boys, in this group at least, play roughly. No hitting is allowed in the pre-school. This does not mean there is no hitting, just it is not allowed. Encouraged to use their words to deal with a situation, occasionally once the words have been stated they are reinforced by a nudge or a punch for good measure. In this event a chair in the corner or a step allow them 5 minutes to consider their behavior and issue an expected “I’m sorry” to ensure their release. The girls, younger as a group, seem to settle their disputes with less physical interaction. When it came to disputes over dolls or particularly treasured stuffed animals, hair pulling sometimes came into play. As with the boys, the steps again were used as a cooling off place.

All in all, I found them polite most of the time, energetic, and willing to embrace any information you threw their way. Young minds easily accept the existence of twelve-foot aliens with green toes and bulbous noses protruding from their knees or intellectual alligators with spectacles living underneath their bunk beds existing on dust bunnies. As we get older more and more of our inner child erodes away. Truly, this is a shame. Perhaps our most endearing trait at that age is seeing the world around us with new eyes able to see fully all the wonders our world holds. It is not practical to retain all our childhood traits. Many, such as nose picking and sticking out our tongues would be deemed socially undesirable in adult society, though some adults still practice these behaviors. However, the sense of awe on watching a butterfly lit on opening bloom, or experiencing your first electrical storm, would be nice to hold on to.

During my time there, my favorite experience was sharing time with a six-year-old answering to Noah. I was told on the first day Noah was a highly functioning autistic. This seems far more prevalent in youngsters of this generation than mine, but perhaps it is just more reported. Noah is somewhat of a savant for six, able to spell even complex words in spit spot time. School is difficult for him. Discipline problems abound, and the bit of genius with spelling doesn’t follow for all subjects. Last year he spent a good deal of time cooling his heels outside the principals office for one infraction or another. Another symptom is not wanting physical contact. Immediately we formed a friendship. Older than the other children, he stayed up during nap time. We shared several hours of conversation, books, and puzzle assembling. He sat next to me and read sitting with his elbow touching mine. Each day he told me stories and asked intelligent questions. On my last day he took his shoes lined up with the other children’s and placed them instead neatly next to mine sitting the corner. This gesture touched me greatly.

It’s funny how easily you slip back into the role of “Mom”. Would I want to do this every day? NO WAY. I’ve done my poopy diapers and snotty noses, but it was fun to have them on loan and gave me a great appreciation for the gratification teachers must get from their classrooms.

This pasta was just the ticket for my crop of mint growing on the porch. Light and satisfying without a lot of trouble.

Spinach and Leek Pasta

Pasta

8 oz. penne pasta, cooked
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
2 tsp. olive oil, separated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup prosciutto, diced
1 cup leeks, sliced thin
6 button mushrooms, sliced thin
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 9 oz. bag baby spinach, cleaned and stemmed

Sauce

3 oz. olive oil
3 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
2 oz. ricotta salata (you can use feta)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Parmesan cheese for serving

Mix all ingredients for sauce together. Add pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim asparagus and toss with 1 tsp. olive oil, salt and garlic salt. Add pepper. Spread in single layer on cookie sheet and bake for 10 mins. until fork tender.

In skillet cook prosciutto until crisp over med. heat. Drain on paper towels.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain reserving 1/2 ladle of pasta water.

In same skillet used for prosciutto sweat leaks, mushrooms, green onions and garlic in 1 tsp. olive oil over low heat until leeks begin to soften. Add spinach, cooked asparagus, and prosciutto and continue cooking until spinach is wilted.

Add to cooked penne and toss well with sauce and reserved pasta water.

1

Several people in my life are about to deal with recent graduates heading off to college in the fall. Entrance forms completed, acceptance letters received, the summer is preparing them for a shift in their universe. A bed, familiarly occupied in their homes, will soon be empty. No clothes piled on the floor, wet towels in the bathroom, or unmade beds left by the usual resident in view. A strange calm will hang over the house with noise levels significantly reduced by the loss of one teenager and his or her entourage. It is all part of the of the dichotomy of raising kids. On the one hand they can drive you to the liquor cabinet by keeping you feeling like you are teetering on the edge. Then without notice of a shift in the wind, the same dust disturber will pick you a bunch of scruffy wildflowers or offer an unexpected “I Love You” hug filling you with parental love and the overwhelming urge to protect them from all things cold and unpalatable life is likely to serve on their plate.

My two hit high school a year apart. It was the first time I’d courted the idea one day they would leave the nest. Still, four years seemed a lifetime hovering somewhere far off in the distance. With a frenetic life filled with work, children, friends, sports, and whatever else, the thought of them not sharing my house faded into the background not resurrected until the first graduation ceremony loomed on the horizon. Where had the time gone? It seemed as though I’d just tied the first wiggly tooth to a string on the doorknob the day before. Soccer camp couldn’t have been seven years ago? The school plays, long nights struggling over homework, family vacations, milestone birthdays, scraped knees, had flown past like someone had hit fast forward on the remote.

I sat that hot day in the hard bleachers feeling a knot in my throat and tears forming in the corners of my eyes as my first born stepped up when her name was called to accept her diploma for time served. A limo was rented jointly by five groups of parents following the ceremony. The adults stood as a cohesive unit on the corner watching the excited teens pile into the car swallowed up as if into the belly of the whale, wanting to hold on but knowing we must let them go. You cannot hold on to your children. In essence, they are only yours on loan. Our task is to guide them in the right direction, hopefully teach them survival skills, offer love and support, discipline them when appropriate, and eventually be strong enough to gently nudge them out the door towards their own destinies. It’s a tough assignment.

Junior college was next on my daughter’s list. One had been selected close to where my mother made her home. Her spare room was made available and a truck rented to relocate my daughter’s bedroom furniture and other belongings. Only a two-hour drive it seemed like a continent away. A recently acquired boyfriend, who would eventually sign on as husband added to her already packed calendar so I kept up by phone and frequent visits but it was not to be quite the same ever again. This is as it should be.

For weeks I sat in her room staring at the murky fish bowl left behind for the one who’d kept the fish alive up until that point. Not sure who I was if not a chauffeur, chaperone and guidance counselor I concentrated on the chick still in the hen house until he enlisted in the army directly out of high and I found myself on my own. For a while I struggled with my identity, but one day I woke up, stretched my arms, opened the blinds and found I had a whole day to myself. I spent the day digging into a new book on the nightstand, with only the cat and dog to entertain. After nearly twenty years of to-do’s, there was something rather freeing about having nothing to-do on a Saturday. I was not yet forty so time, if the universe was willing, was stretched out well before me.

Change is often unsettling, but stirring the pot occasionally tends to make the flavors more interesting. Stepping out of our comfort zones to embrace new experiences takes a bit of getting used to. For me, my life changes direction often. Over the years I’ve found myself in new situations, faced with new surroundings, new people, new jobs, and new challenges and joys. Always these changes have brought with them new perspectives and new learning experiences.

This week, for example, I’m headed down to help my daughter man her day care for a few days. Here I thought my dirty diaper changing and face wiping days were behind me. I have visited before many times, but this will be my first hands on experience with the little pirates. Hopefully, I shall return unscathed with some fresh blog notes to relate. See you when I get back.

This recipe was surprisingly delicious. As my mouth remains a little tender from the surgery, I am preparing meals easy on the teeth. My other half wasn’t sure he was going to like this but said he’d like to have it again soon, always a good sign.

Pork Burgers with Red Cabbage Slaw

Pork Burgers

1 1/2 lbs. boneless center cut pork chops, trimmed and cubed
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 Tbsp. chives, chopped fine
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup Panko break crumbs
3 Tbsp. olive oil

4 sesame seed hamburger buns

Place meat in food processor and pulse until meat is a fine texture. Remove to bowl and add remaining ingredients except egg and bread crumbs, mixing well with fingertips. Form into four patties.

Mix together Panko and plain bread crumbs in shallow dish. In another shallow dish beat eggs. Dip each patty first in egg and then in bread crumbs to coat.

Heat olive oil over med-high heat in large skillet. Brown patties on both side, about 5-6 mins. per side.

Red Cabbage Slaw

2 cups shredded red cabbage
1/2 red onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
2 tsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Place cabbage and onion in medium bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients. Pour over cabbage and toss well. Salt and pepper to taste. Allow to rest in refrigerator for 2 hours. prior to serving.

Sriracha Mayonnaise

1/2 cup mayonnaise
3-4 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce

Whisk together all ingredients.

Spread mayonnaise on toasted buns. Place pork patties on lower bun and top with red cabbage slaw.

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I was reading recently about a 91-year-old widow who recently purchased her first home. The American dream. In an odd twist of fate, an incident involving a scam artist led her to discover her husband’s participation in the Korean War entitled her to a VA loan. Due to her advanced age, her daughter had to agree to move in with her to qualify her for the loan, but what an amazing achievement at this time in her life.

Over the span of my life I’ve owned four homes, including the one I’m living in now. My first house came shortly after my first marriage. Pregnant not long after the I Do’s were exchanged, we needed more than a one bedroom apartment for our unexpected addition. After some searching we put a bid on a house in our price range, about $1.50 and change, and when accepted by the seller signed our lives away. It was a great house in a not so great neighborhood, but it was ours and we were glad to have it.

No furniture to speak of, my husband took two twin beds and actually created a living room set which served us well for a year until it could be replaced by the actual thing. A dining room set was purchased at a garage sale. My bed, dresser, and night stands were purloined from my mother when I moved out, and the baby furniture donated by the excited grandparents to-be. It wasn’t exactly “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, but we were young and considered ourselves stylin’ in the suburbs.

As with many older houses, the house had problems. The plumbing, though working, tended towards sluggish. Equipped with central air, after fifteen years of service the unit labored on particularly hot days to keep the rooms comfortably cool. I availed myself of the two ring blow up pool in the back yard once the babies came along if the house got too warm. Two windows in the house were painted shut. Those that did open took the strength of Andre the Giant to shove them up. Former tenants, embracing the free-love movement capturing the country at the time, had hung love beads in each and every doorway. At first we found these charming, then annoying, and after having them wrapped around our necks and tangled in our hair, it came down to them or us. In the end, they had to go.

Our daughter was born in July of that first year. Three baby showers and doting grandparents contributed substantially to filling the drawers in the olive baby dresser my stepfather emblazoned with colorful flowers. A diaper service, a gift from a friend, provided us three months of service. Used diapers were placed on the porch in a pail on pick up days and returned folded and fragrant several days later. Once gone, I realized quickly what a huge blessing it had been. A washer and dryer were not included in our budget. After my husband’s entire supply of underwear, shirts and socks disappeared at the laundromat we managed to save up enough to get a used washing machine. The clothesline strung across the yard remained the only option for drying. Cloth diapers, smelling fresh when dried in the breeze, tend to get brittle enough to substitute as weapons of mass destruction despite how much fabric softener you loaded in the machine. Parents today lean towards disposables. What a godsend. Peel off the tape, fold the soiled diaper in a roll and toss it in the trash.

My sons impending arrival was disclosed by my obstetrician two months after my daughter arrived. Definitely I needed to look into what was causing this population explosion. By the end of the following summer I had two in diapers and still no dryer in place. At that same point my little girl became fully mobile. You can’t wait for your kids to walk, cheer them on as they take their first tentative steps, and then wonder as they poke through every nook and cranny of the house why on earth you were so excited.

This particular day I had changed a soiled diaper on my son, depositing it in the toilet for rinsing. During this procedure my toddler was scurrying about trying to carry on a conversation with me in whatever language babies speak. Not fluent in her language I held up my end of the conversation in mine as I placed a new diaper on the baby on the changing table. Note to God. Truly you need at least eight arms and eyes on both side of your head to manage small children. Please rethink this.

While finishing up I heard the toilet flush. Huh? Oh-oh. Grabbing the baby I rounded the corner to find my daughter beaming up at me and pointing to the toilet. “Yes, I heard”. A noise began overhead. A groaning of such proportions as I’d never heard up to that point and probably since. If someone had told me the Goodyear Blimp had just landed on my roof, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It began in one area over the commode and progressed across the ceiling. Placing the baby in the crib and grabbing my little girl’s hand I stared at the ceiling as the noise, if possible, intensified.

As if a dam had burst, water the color found on a tube of burnt sienna burst forth from every available orifice in the bathroom. The sink, the bathtub, and the toilet. Racing for the phone I called my husband. Given instructions I first turned off the water, then called Roto-Rooter, and finally surveyed the unpleasant and fragrant mess in left in the waters path. Looking up at me my daughter grinned. It is amazing they progress beyond their second year.

Roto-Rooter showed up an hour later. Removing his hat and scratching his head, the technician said “Please tell me it isn’t a cloth diaper”. “Sorry”, I said, “not your lucky day”. It was a relief to know I wasn’t the only idiot having done such a thing. After much groaning and speaking under his breath the clog was finally dislodged and life, as they say, returned to normal. This, naturally, as normal as mine ever chooses to be.

These burgers are such an unexpected and delicious burst of flavors. Yum.

Pita Burgers with Sweet and Sour Cucumbers and Yogurt Sauce

Pita Burgers

2 lbs. ground sirloin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. fine black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup cilantro
4 pita halves
Feta cheese with sun-dried tomatoes (or plain feta)
Sliced tomatoes
Lettuce

Mince onion and garlic in food processor. Saute onion, garlic, cumin, cardamom, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes in oil over med-high heat about 5 mins. Cool.

Pulse ground sirloin in food processor until fine. Mix with garlic/onion/spice mixture. Add mint and cilantro. Form into 6 oblong patties.

Heat in griddle over med. heat until browned on both sides, about 4 mins. per side. Sprinkle with feta cheese, cover and cook on low for 3 mins. or until slightly melted. Drain on paper towels.

Sweet and Sour Cucumbers

1 English cucumber sliced thin
1/2 large red onion, sliced thin
1 cup white vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. Splenda or sugar
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Place vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and pepper flakes in small saucepan. Bring to boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour over cucumbers and onions and allow to marinate 3 hours.

Yogurt Sauce

1 cup plain yogurt (I used low-fat)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. dill
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together all ingredients. Allow to sit in refrigerator for 1 hr. before serving.

For burgers

Slather yogurt sauce on inside of pita halves. Insert burgers. Add tomatoes and lettuce if desired and top with sweet and sour cucumbers. Serves 6.

final

It’s a busy time at the animal shelter, kittens are in full bloom. Wee furry faces of the cutest variety peek out of nearly every cage in the kitten viewing room. New mother’s with their broods are sequestered in an area to the front of the building. Kittens when weaned will be put up for adoption, and the mother’s fixed to prevent further over population. Having additional inmates in the cages also requires extra hands on deck. This makes moving around in the labyrinth of rooms a bit dicey. One of the attendants voiced “it’s like my mother’s kitchen in here, with eight children all under foot”.

As volunteers we do our best to clean our charges cages with the least amount of discomfort to each animal. After a while you learn to read the individual cats before sticking your hand in, avoiding a confrontation if the cat is not too excited about receiving unexpected company. There is such a thing as cage rage, sort of like road rage in humans. These animals you approach with extreme caution or you’ll end up in the emergency room getting stiches.

There are also the escape artists. Kitties who, though not aggressive, would prefer to have a little more leg room. With these cats you have to be quick. They certainly are. Taking your attention off them for a minute while the cage door is open will result in an escapee before you can spell c.a.t. Today a young cat whose name tag read “Connie” decided to bolt when the opportunity arose making a run for it. A sort of cat lock down occurs when this happens so the cat doesn’t get out into the dog quarters and create a major “swat team”, if you will, situation.

Once we had her confined to one room another volunteer and I laid towels along the floor and began the process of crawling around on our hands and knees trying to locate the truant behind all the crates and supplies stacked about the room. A seemingly easy process if you had an animal wanting to be caught, but when they don’t they have the upper hand, or paw in this situation. Calling her name, coaxing her with treats, and putting a fresh dish of wet food out, the progress we’d made after a half an hour included two tail sitings, and a face peering out from behind a palette of cat food which I swear looked as if it was smiling.

The door opened and an employee walked in asking what we were doing. Explaining we had a runaway, she asked us to describe the cat. “Black and white with a black dot on her nose”, says I, wondering what difference it made to the woman. “A tuxedo cat I think”, I added, trying to be polite. She replied, “like this one”? Turning around still on my knees I saw Connie the cat reclining on the chair in the corner watching the whole procedure with one eye open and what I felt was a hint of amusement. Really? Makes you wonder which one of the two species is actually higher on the food chain.

I could eat this salad every night, and if I did it would be a healthy choice. I use my leftover corn bread to create the croutons and I’m good to go. Also, I’m assuming most people don’t have fig infused balsamic. A good balsamic will do fine, the fig simply adds an extra dimension.

Spinach Fruit Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette and Corn Bread Croutons

1 bag baby spinach, washed and torn into large pieces
2 large oranges, peeled and sliced 1/4″
1/2 cup green grapes, halved
1 cup watermelon, chunked
1/4 small red onion, sliced thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Corn Bread Croutons

1 pkg. corn bread baked and cooled
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Lawry’s garlic salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Take half the corn bread and cut into 1″ cubes, reserving rest for other use. Cover cookie sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Place cubes in bowl and toss with melted butter. Spread in single layer on prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle with garlic salt. Bake for 20 mins. or until golden brown, turning once. Sprinkle over salad as desired. Store remaining in plastic bag for 1 week.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

1 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup EV olive oil
1 tsp. fig balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Bring pomegranate juice to a boil over high heat in small saucepan. Reduce heat to low boil and reduce to 1/3 cup, about 10 mins.

Whisk together with remaining ingredients and chill.

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