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final
California is known for earthquakes. Several weeks ago Napa Valley was hit by the largest quake in California in twenty-five years. When one comes and no lives are lost, we who live here breath a sigh of relief. In our soul of souls, however, we know others are lurking in the wings. Perhaps larger, perhaps arriving at at a worse time of day than this one which came in the wee hours of the morning. If another one will come is not the question, rather when? People who live in areas plagued by repeated severe weather patterns either learn to adapt or move I would guess. Citizens of Kansas or Oklahoma, part of an area nicknamed tornado alley, are probably not totally surprised to see a funnel cloud forming on their horizon. Likewise, Californian citizens are not confused when the earth begins to move and shift beneath their feet. Nervous certainly, but not surprised. Even if you’ve already experienced an earthquake you are never really prepared for another one. It’s not so much the unsettling feeling of having your center of gravity rocking and rolling but the not knowing how long it will last or how much damage it will leave in it’s wake. Two minutes can feel like an hour.

Outside the window the sky is red with the smoke from the numerous fires burning around Northern California. My girlfriend in Boise called yesterday to thank us for sending choking smoke up there when the wind shifted in their direction. Boise where she lives, was so impacted with it people not understanding where it originated from thought it was the end of the world.

This lack of moisture is beginning to get to me. Endless weather reports with no precipitation in sight serve to make me edgy. I need my seasons. Like a fallen leaf, I would wither and die in a place where there were no signs in nature announcing the passing of one season into the next. Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Perhaps because I’m a November baby. There’s something comforting to me about the changing colors in the trees, the crunching of leaves under your boots, and the days blending earlier into night. Already I have pulled out the boxes marked “fall” from the garage. Vases and containers previously filled with summer flowers now display autumn colors.

September to me is the gateway to the major holidays of the year. This is both a plus and a minus. With Christmas easing towards me on the calendar comes the added stress of getting my presents purchased and wrapped. Thanksgiving used to signal huge holiday get togethers for our family but with everyone spread out these days we tend to gather in smaller groups closer to home to avoid the horrendous traffic present on holidays. In the past I have driven a straight path from the Washington border to the Bay Area to share turkey with my family, flown two-thirds of the U.S. to join my grandchildren on Christmas morning, and sat in traffic for four hours to travel the usual hour’s road time to trick or trick with my son’s children.

When you blend families there is the added factor of yours and theirs. I consider them ours but nonetheless it adds another layer or two to the pie. Do you go here or there? Where did you go last year? Do you cook or do they? Ach. I can remember holidays past where when the dust settled I could be found sitting in a corner my face splattered with gravy looking at every dish in my house sitting dirty in the sink. It’s always fun though, and well worth the effort.

Our house is much smaller now, so large gatherings would be nearly impossible. Though I don’t miss the larger digs, I do miss the ease of entertaining it provided. With so many available spaces to put up a banquet table or add a game table or two, we always had plenty of room with space to spare. Life is meant to change, and you need to be able to change along with it, so I will not whine about but was but enjoy and be thankful for what is.

Soon I’ll be looking for my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in my DVR and watching Scout run through the woods in her pickle costume. Old familiar movies always make me feel the holidays are coming.

Sometimes I crave a hot dog. We don’t have them often as they aren’t a favorite of my other half. Hot dogs were the first meal we shared together, actually, as our first date was to a hockey game. I remember because they were $10 a dog and I thought they ought to come with papers for that price. I was the only one in the stands cheering on the Canadian team, a fact Rick reminds me often nearly ended our relationship if not our lives, before it got a chance to begin.

This hot dog chili is a favorite of my grandkids. The baguettes need to be used the day you buy them as I’m sure you know. When in France I was fascinated to see people walking down the streets carrying baguettes half wrapped in paper. Nearly every person seemed to have stopped at the boulangerie on the way home from work. The bread there was unbelievably good. The next day, however, you could use it as a weapon.

Baguette Dogs with Tangy Chili

2 baguettes, cut in half and cored
4 large dinner franks
Yellow mustard
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped red onions

Chili

1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 can water
1/4 cup tomato catsup
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin

Brown ground beef, peppers, onion, and garlic over med.-high heat until meat is fully cooked. Keep breaking it down with spatula to make meat as fine as possible. Drain on paper towels and return to pan.

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Add remaining ingredients to meat mixture. Mix well. Bring to boil over med.-high heat. Reduce heat and cook for 20 mins. over med.-low heat until mixture has thickened.

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Cut baguettes in half in center and then lengthwise. Scoop out centers. Cook dinner franks covered in boiling water until full heated.

Spread insides of baguettes with yellow mustard and catsup. Place one frank in bottom of each piece. Top with chili, cheese, and red onion.

Serves 4

final

It has been a crazy few weeks. If it could go wrong, it did. To me it occurs that nothing actually goes wrong until it is imperative for it to go right. As I mentioned previously my mother and her roommate came up on the train to spend the week. Always it adds an extra dimension to your life when company stays under you’re roof. Flexibility is the key word to keep everything running smoothly, and to expect the unexpected. When trying a new recipe, for example, I have found all goes smoothly when only my other half and I are going to sample the end result. As soon as you add extra guests to the mix it’s like sending up a flare to the universe. The electricity goes off, the potatoes blow up in the oven, the slow cooker gets a short, or the sauce needed to complete the recipe breaks as you are serving the plates. Not sure if it’s a case of bad karma or Murphy simply getting up into my business.

Saturday night was the anniversary of Rick’s birth, as he likes to put it. I’m sure you read about it in the newspaper. To celebrate I planned a dinner. I baked a cake and a pie and invited several neighbors to share dessert. About an hour before dinner another neighbor living below us stopped by to let us know there was a fire burning in our area. He suggested we prepare in the event the situation became more urgent. Fire terrifies me. I’m sure it terrifies any sane person. This year it is particularly unsettling with the dry season at it’s worst and the ready availability of dry fuel in our well-treed community. My mother reminds me regularly about the dangers of moving to an area so well populated with tall trees. How lucky for me the only fire thus far would break out at the exact time she was visiting.  My mum worries about everything. When she was born I’m sure she was thinking all the way down the chute the doctor would most likely drop her on the other end. Sigh. Until I had to, I wasn’t going to say a word. Not one word. No point in stirring the pot if nothing is sticking to the bottom.

Everything went ahead as planned. I made such frequent visits to our laptop in the bedroom to check the progress of the firefighters my mother questioned if I had a bladder infection. Thankfully, our wonderful firefighters got the blaze under control before disaster struck unlike many others still burning across our beautiful state. Those of us who choose to live in timbered areas sleep with one eye open these days. Although we are a prime target, the vulnerability covers an area far greater than the forests unfortunately. Our thoughts go out to those immediately affected. To lose your home and all your treasures must be an unbelievable blow.

Cleaning up after the party, plans were discussed for the following morning. Our last night together it would be up early to make the train departing at 12:20 from Sacramento. About 8:00 a.m. I began getting people moving and made a lunch for my mother and Doc to carry on the train. They are older weren’t comfortable at the thought of wandering around the cars once moving.

I programmed the GPS. The few bags were stored in the trunk and and with plenty of time allotted for travel and a quick Egg McMuffin, we headed out. The freeway was busier than usual. Construction crews working on Sunday were setting up blinking horses here and there. Still within a safe time parameter the GPS suddenly went black. What? Sigh. We shook it. Then we tried plugging it back in and removing the cord and reinserting it with no effect. A black screen and no idea where to go from there. Even the red light, usually visible when the unit is operating, was out. Rick was fussing about whether or not the socket had gone south or whether we now had to buy a new GPS. Mother was freaked out about getting to the train station. I was looking for a bar open on Sunday. Reaching in my purse for my cell phone, good news, I left it at home. Funny how dependent we are on our devices. In the old days I would have had a map in the glove compartment. With no clue how to proceed, I had Rick pull over at a convenience store. Once inside I inquired as to where I might find maps. The kid manning the cash register looked at me as if I’d asked him on what counter I might locate elephant kibble. There were no maps apparently. To be honest I’m not sure the guy even grasped the concept. However, he had his phone and offered to look up directions. Tapping at the keyboard he shouted freeway exits at me as I ran back out to the car. Do they still make maps? I think they should for just such occasions.

Somehow we made our way to downtown Sacramento. Once downtown we were caught in the snarl of looky loos checking out Old Town and the Capital buildings. Knowing we were in the general area, there was still no red brick building in sight saying Amtrak. Seeing a fire station with several firemen working on the cab of a fire engine, I yelled at Rick to stop once again. Sprinting over the hedges ( Allyson Felix has nothing on me) I ran up to the fire truck. Two astonished firemen holding chamois greeted me. Explaining the situation I asked directions on where to go from there.  One pointed in one direction, with the other directed my eyes another way. Guys, guys, guys, help me out here. I’m not getting any younger. Finally, I threw caution to the wind and chose Door No. 2. Ten minutes later we pulled into the train station with 15 minutes to spare. This program of anxiety would rival Weight Watchers for peeling the pounds off. I pulled out the luggage, rallied the troops, and went to the window inside the station to alert the Amtrak personnel my charges would need a ride to the shortly arriving train. In minutes the tram pulled up and with hurried goodbyes I waved adieu to my mom and Doc. Whew. As it turned out the tram rider went over a bump dumping my mother’s suitcase and one other on the ground behind the tram. They had to stop and gather them up making them nearly late for the train.

It is good to have company. It is good when company leaves. They are glad to go home and you are glad to reclaim yours. For me, I’m tired and need an adult beverage.

This veal stew is just yummy. I don’t cook veal often, but when I do I wonder why.

Crockpot Veal Stew with Root Vegetables

1 lb. veal stew meat
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
3 carrots, peeled and cut in 1″ chunks
2 large ribs celery cut in 1/2″ slices
1 onion, large chunks
4 1/2″ slices of green pepper cut in chunks
2 parsnips, peeled and cut in chunks
1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 10 1/2 can beef consomme
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup dry red wine
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 bay leaves
Rice or egg noodles

Heat oil in large skillet over med.-high heat. Place flour, 1/4 tsp. salt, garlic powder, and 1/8 tsp. black pepper in large resealable plastic bag. Drop meat inside and shake well to coat.

Brown meat in oil until golden brown on all sides.

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Spray bottom of 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place onions, green pepper, and celery in bottom. Top with browned meat.

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Layer remaining vegetables on top of meat.

In a large bowl mix together diced tomatoes and all the remaining ingredients. Pour over meat and vegetables. Cook on high for 2 hours. Reduce heat and cook on low for 8 hours opening twice to stir. Serve over a bed of brown rice or egg noodles if desired.

final

Spanking is in the news lately with people weighing in on both sides of the issue. Do you or don’t you? Is it an effective form of punishment for kids or not? Adrian Peterson, a Minnesota Vikings player, has been indicted by a grand jury in Montgomery,  Texas, for child abuse after beating his 4-year-old son repeatedly with a tree branch. Beating might be the optimum word in this case. Whipping is a more accepted form of punishment below the Mason Dixon line. Most people I knew while living in the south had stories to tell about switches being used on their bottoms or hands following doing something that displeased their parents. Interesting enough when a poll was taken asking spanking yes or no, 79% of the people polled agreed with spanking as an acceptable form of punishment.

I didn’t spank my children. Well, perhaps when they were little if I’d exhausted my last nerve they got a pat or two on a well padded bum, but in general I did not use this as punishment. Instead I was big on consequences. My kids fully understood my 1-2-3 rule. Similar to Newton’s Third Law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If I asked them to stop doing a behavior and I got to the third request, that was two too many. Once we were driving to Great America for a day at the park. At the time I had a huge station wagon. If you’re old enough you’ll remember what station wagons looked like, or if you’ve seen Vacation with Chevy Chase, similar to the Family Truckster. A vehicle large enough to land a 747 on, yellow with fake wood trim. Ours had two bench seats toward the front of the vehicle and another all the way in the back. We had two kids, three dogs, two cats, often half the soccer team, or a myriad friends, plus groceries, and whatever else needed to be carted back and forth. That day we were at full capacity. Naturally excited about a day filled with screaming on rides, stuffing themselves with junk food, and generally going wild, the car was a beehive of conversation and activity. Back in the day, again dating myself, seat belts weren’t universally used. Kids roamed like free range chickens in a vehicle, limited only to the space provided by the manufacturer. This led to the inevitable who’s going to sit by the window arguments, “he’s touching me” whining, and general mayhem accompanying nearly any outing involving children and their parents.

Leaving room for understanding their excitement, I still kept in mind I was driving a moving automobile and responsible for the young lives under my care. Several times when things got out of hand I asked them to calm down. When things got ridiculous, I said loudly, “I will not ask again. If you do not stop, I’ll turn around and we’ll head home”. Silence fell quickly, but before long it accelerated once again this time resulting a whack to the back of my head from an errant Frisbee.  Turning on my signal, I exited at the next available off ramp My son, realizing this to be far before our scheduled turn off asked what I was doing. Was I getting gas? Did I need to use the facilities, get a drink, go mud wrestling? I crossed over the freeway and got on the on-ramp heading back towards home. Realization swept through the car like a wildfire through a dry canyon.  Tears and begging ensued and apologies flowed like lava from a volcano. One thing I do know about kids, if you say something and don’t follow through with it you might as well hand them the tiller and give them full command of the boat.  A sorry lot of pouting faces pulled into our driveway that day. However, despite the disappointment, the next time I asked them to settle down in the car, they heard what I was saying quite clearly remembering what they still refer to as of this day, as the infamous “Great America debacle”.

Our house was always a gathering place as my children moved up the lines on the wall delineating their height. I like to think I was a fun mom, but a parent nonetheless. Time outs weren’t the rage at the time. We didn’t apologize for enforcing discipline nor spend hours explaining our actions. Rules were explained and enforced. Love was doled out generously but all focus was not on the younger people in the family but rather the family unit as a whole. Unapologetically we took time for ourselves here and there and children were not always included in our social functions nor our conversations. I liked it.

If my daughter was here she would recount six weeks of an unfortunate summer where she colored so far outside the lines she found herself on restriction. Sixteen at the time had I beaten her with a baseball bat no punishment could have hurt worse than this. No phones (there were not computers at the time – I know!), no friends, no movies, no skating, and a list of chores to do to keep her from getting bored. Believe me it was as difficult for me as it was for her. I loved my children but I wanted them to learn that action comes with responsibility. Certainly you have a free mind to choose the option you wish, but with that comes taking responsibility for the choices you’ve made.

So, spanking sits on the playing field. Personally, I don’t think it’s effective. Sometimes, I suppose it might be necessary, but if so I would think only to delineate the serious offenses from those less grave. In my twenties I had a friend who spanked her kids for everything from sassing her to knocking off a jewelry store. They had no idea that one offense was worse than the other. Also, she would constantly say, “if you do that one more time, you’re going to get a whipping”. This was never enforced until she finally snapped now really angry to give them a smack. I found if I felt truly angry, a few minutes on an adult time out made me react more reasonably to my children.

Hitting to my way of thinking breeds hitting. I don’t know. Do I think parents should go to jail for spanking their kids? No. Do I think parents should go to jail for beating their children? Yes, and throw away the key. It’s a hard call.

I served this to my guests over the weekend and they were thrilled with it. The fun is in the presentation, but the yum is in the eating with the delicate eggs and the tangy sauce.

Mini-Omelets with Tangy Sauce on a Biscuit

4 baked biscuits
4 eggs
2 Tbsp. half and half
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa (your choice of heat)
1 Tbsp. chives, chopped
Salt and pepper as desired
8 Tbsp. cheddar cheese, shredded
4 wood skewers
1-2 bangers or thick breakfast sausage cooked, cut into 2″ chunks
4 slices crispy bacon
Olives and celery stalks

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray ramekins with cooking spray. Whisk together eggs, half and half, salsa, chives, salt and pepper. Pour 1/4 of mix into each of the prepared ramekins.

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Place in baking dish with 2 cup of water on bottom. Bake for 30 mins. or until eggs are set. Remove from oven and sprinkle 2 Tbsp. of cheese over each omelet. Return to oven for 5 mins. or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Holding the ramekin with an oven mitt, use a butter knife to loosen from sides. Slice onto dish.

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Halve biscuits. Slather both sides with sauce. Place omelets on biscuits to make sandwich.

Place 1 chunk of cooked sausage on skewer about 1/3 of the way down. Push sandwich down to meet sausage. Push a second sausage on skewer to secure top. Fold bacon and insert on skewer. Top with olive if desired.

Serves 4

Sauce

4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
2 tsp. yellow mustard
4 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. chives chopped
4-8 dashes hot sauce as desired

Whisk together and spread on both sides of biscuits.

For a great Bloody Mary recipe you might try http://www.food.com/recipe/best-ever-bloody-mary-416835. It’s the one I use.

fall final
Sunday last I boarded the train in Sacramento and rode three hours to my destination in San Jose. Certainly I’ve been on trains before, but it’s been a while. I’d forgotten what a nice mode of transportation train travel can be. Rolling along the tracks lulled by the gentle rocking of the cars. It was a nice break from driving. I have made the trip back and forth by car so many times over the years I could set the car on autopilot and like a drunk cowboy’s horse it would make its way back to the bunk house. I entertained myself reading and watching the scenery change outside my window. So much graffiti painted on the backs of buildings and abandoned vehicles. Some of the backstreet artwork was absolutely amazing. New faces came and went as original riders got off and new ones boarded at the various stops we made. Many wandering the cars were wearing green baseball jerseys with players names across the back. The A’s had a scheduled game. Half the train emptied when we pulled into Oakland. One kid found me unbearably interesting. I believe he was around eleven. He’d show up in the seat across from me and announce “I’m here again”. Kind of sweet.

The beginning of the trip did not bode well for the rest of it. Somehow I got the idea my train was leaving the station around noon. This departure time in mind, I allowed for the hour’s travel to the station, plus time to walk to the loading platform. Not familiar with downtown Sacramento, and never having been to the station before we planned to lean on the GPS to get us there. Rick has absolutely no sense of direction. The man could get lost navigating from the pantry to the kitchen. As for me, I have an innate directional indicator. However, if I’ve never been to a location before it can’t be depended on to be entirely accurate. Around 7:45, thinking I had all the time in the world, I sat down to enjoy a cup of coffee and peruse the newspaper. Rick was still fighting dragons in his dreams. Looking at my tickets sitting on the table, the numbers 9:15 a.m. jumped up off the page at me. Whoops. Fortunately my makeup was on and my hair done. Dressed in exercise shorts, and a tee-shirt I ran into the bedroom and literally dragged the sleeping Rick out of bed. Explaining the situation, I urged him to get dressed while pulling clothes on myself. Sitting and standing concurrently we looked like two drunks playing musical chairs. Grabbing my duffel bag and carry on bag on my way out, we hopped in the car. The duffel bag felt unusually light. Later I was to find this was due to the fact I’d forgotten to grab the small pile of clothes I was planning to wear while away. Sigh. With me everything doesn’t always go as planned. It would be a pleasant surprise for Rick I’m sure, if for once it would.

Without coffee, Rick’s Prince Charming card can find itself in serious jeopardy of being revoked. That morning so far was not shaping up to put a smile on his face. It was a relatively one-sided conversation going down the hill. I chattered. He drove along probably quietly devising sinister ways to push me out the car door without spending his remaining years in incarceration.

Arriving in Sacramento, the GPS announced our final turnoff. The street took us on a ride across the American River along the I Bridge. Cool. As lovely as it was it was not unfortunately the correct way to go. Pretty nonetheless. I found this slightly amusing. Rick had to search a bit deeper to find the humor. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, I say. However, I did not say this out loud. After one u-turn and another incorrect turn back over the bridge we went. Looking out the window I tried not to smile. Sometimes when I’m nervous I can’t help myself. Icicles had actually begun to form on the tip of my nose from the chill wafting across from the driver’s side of the car. Finally the GPS said “right turn”. This time we had the right turn but again, unfortunately, we cut the turn a bit tight. I say we figuratively, for actually I was not driving. Did not feel that was the time to point this out this either, but I’m just saying. The rim of the right front tire scraped loudly along the cement. Oh-oh.

By the time I was dropped off at the station frostbite had set in. Rick just kept repeating, “now I understand”. I’m glad he understood because I had no idea what he was referring to. Somehow I felt it had something to do with women in general, but I didn’t think that was the time to dig further for answers.

The parking lot was full so we said hasty goodbyes exchanging a kiss so cool it nearly cemented our lips together like skin when it contacts a frozen surface. By the time the train pulled out of the station Rick had finished his first cup of coffee and called to wish me a safe trip. As it turned out I was to wear the same clothes for three days until I brought my Mother and her roommate back on the train, but life was good. Rick on the other hand got half way home before the “tire pressure is low” indicator came on. Being Sunday, naturally no tire stores were open. One emergency road call and a spare in place he made it home. If life gives you lemons. Oh, never mind.

I posted this delicious pie recipe last year. A technical mystery has erased it from my history. Recently I was asked by several people for the recipe so I thought I’d post it yet again to have it available. It is a never fail recipe with a little elbow grease involved but more than well worth the effort. Don’t believe I’ve ever served it to company without having someone request the recipe.

IMG_6646Apple and Ripe Cheddar Pie

2 pie crusts
9 Granny Smith apples, sliced thin
14 thin strips of ripe cheddar cheese
1/2 cup butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1/4 cup cold water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Slice apples in piles of three apples each.

Place one pie crust in bottom of deep dish pie dish. Forming a circle rotate around piling apples one on top of the other. Take 1/2 of the cheese slices and form a ring in the middle of the apples.

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Repeat with apple layer, then cheese layer, then apple layer.

Place the other crust on flat surface. Cut into 3/4″ strips. Layer half the strips across one way and then the remaining strips back across them the opposite way leaving space in between like in a lattice. Crimp the edges together.

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final

Over the past few weeks there have been three reported incidents of leg room rage on airplanes. Passengers who either wouldn’t allow the person in front of them to put their seats back or passengers so cramped they lost it with a passenger either in front of or in back of them while trying to claim what little area comes with their ticket. It is ridiculous how tightly the airlines are willing to confine us in order to serve their Screen-shot-2010-10-21-at-10.49.56-AMbottom line. I found the diagram to the left showing what the future could hold in store as airlines attempt to squeeze more and more people into the same cabin space. Sort of half sitting half standing. Really? And we’re okay with this? Why not suspend us from hooks on the ceiling like sides of beef? Maybe freeze us before take off so we don’t require any attention during the flight. If things get this extreme I’ll take a boat, bus or a train before I’ll fly. Seriously. I realize my not flying have little impact on the carriers. Also, I can see where other means of transportation less expeditious won’t work for many people. Time holds us hostage to the airline companies, but I will definitely fight standing up in my seat to promote their profit margin.

A friend of mine recently returned from a trip to British Columbia. Customarily she will pick up something at the airport food courts to take with her on the plane. On this trip she was late arriving at the airport. With no time to stop for food she barely made her flight. On the plane she was offered a snack menu from which to choose from. For $8.00 she opted for cheese and crackers assuming they couldn’t do much damage to that. Unfortunately, the airline outdid themselves. Amazing how you can completely ruin four slices of cheese and a package crackers. According to my friend the cheese resisted all attempts to be cut. Tearing it, pulling it, slicing it, proved fruitless. Chewing definitely wasn’t an option. I believe this could be a new secret weapon. A micro-fabric so invincible to outside forces it could be adopted by NASA to create spacesuits or to reinforce the walls on future space stations. After a while you just have to laugh.

Besides the obvious comfort considerations, there are health issues associated with sitting in such cramped positions for long periods of time. Diabetics, for example, often have leg circulation or foot issues. Strokes and heart attacks can actually be induced by such conditions, and certainly if you’re traveling with small children it can make a sometimes bad situation nearly unbearable.

Once, flying to the east coast, I got seated in the very last row of seats. This was interesting. Not only are you forced to sit perfectly erect during the entire flight, the bank of toilets are located directly behind you. A steady flow of customers either pass by or stand in line directly over you. I made one attempt at trying to sleep but found no matter how I shifted, my mind couldn’t wrap itself around the fact I expected my body to sleep in such a position. Even if I did drift off, I would jerk myself awake to find some waiting restroom patron watching me to see if I slept with my mouth open or snored. I ended up sitting straight in my seat for the five-hour flight. Fortunately, they had a beverage service.

You pay for every little perk these days. Gone are the days when wee bags of peanuts or pretzels were handed to you with your beverage of choice. Also gone are the days when flight attendants wandered through the cabins offering newspapers or magazines to read or a blanket and pillow if a nap was what you needed. If you want a pillow or blanket on many airlines they offer you one for around $7.00, and reading material is limited to the map of the exits or the in-flight magazine in the seat pocket, also benefiting the airlines.

All these are only the obvious extra charges. There are also a myriad of “hidden fees”. Are we having fun yet? If not, let’s take a look at what’s happening to that over weight allowance bag you coughed up $75 for at the check-in point. It’s highly possible baggage carriers are either sifting through your underwear or tucking that tablet into their jacket before throwing your suitcase on top of the pile.

Personally I’m not adverse to a little spoiling. The original Orient Express stopped running in 2009 I believe. You can still book a suite on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express for $5,000 plus a person, however. Sign me up please. Before you leave you are given a bottle of wine and served champagne. Lunch is a three-course affair in the dining car. Afternoon tea follows later in the day served in your cabin. The day is summed up with a four-course meal created by talented French chefs, and then off to bed which has been turned down, undoubtedly with a chocolate on your pillow. Mornings breakfast is served in your cabin, with an attendant pouring steaming cups of coffee or tea and seeing to your every need. This sounds way better to me than having a pillow/blanket pack thrown at me for an exchange of funds.

Malaysia Airlines recently came up with the incredibly bad taste campaign to enter a “bucket list” contest to win airline tickets or prizes. Considering their recent track record in the air, having a contest based on all the things you’d like to tick of your list before dying seems rather bad form.

I’m off on the train to San Jose this afternoon leaving Rick and Boo the Queen of Cats to man the oars. Made this soup to keep him going. Yum.

Savory Rotisserie Chicken Noodle Soup

1 rotisserie chicken cut up
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped sliced
3 carrots, sliced
3 ribs celery, sliced
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
1 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
8 cups chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can water
1 cup 2% evaporated milk
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 cup cooked peas
2 cups cooked egg noodles
Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in stock pot over med. heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Saute 6-8 mins. until onion is translucent and vegetables are tender. Stir in seasonings, broth, and bouillon granules. Add potatoes, mushroom soup, and water. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to med.-low and simmer for 45 mins. partially covered.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

Add chicken, milk, and peas. Continue cooking for 15 mins. Add parsley.

Place 1/3 cup noodles in bottom of each of 6 soup bowls. Ladle soup over top. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

final
Finally I made it to the health club for orientation on the machines. They do this in groups so there were two other ladies waiting at a table I was directed to when I arrived. At the front desk we all been told to sit and wait for Cody, our machine guru, to arrive. Being good newbies we sat as instructed and struck up a conversation. Shortly, an exquisitely sculpted young man came over to our table and introduced himself as Cody. Lush hair, perfectly proportioned, tan, and blessed with a set of blindingly white incredibly straight teeth. Barbie would have left Ken for this boy. Up until Cody walked up we’d been chatting away amiably. Upon his arrival, the three of us sat with our mouths agape as Cody the Magnificent laid out the plan for the upcoming hour. Apparently August was eye candy month for me because I had the glorious Dr. Puddinface just last week when I got the splinter in my palm. Telling Rick about this when I came home, I said the female instructors were equally as dazzling. If he wished to exercise his option to look but not touch he was welcome to get a membership. He said he didn’t think so. It seems he secretly suspected they’d want him to exercise while there.

It makes all the sense in the world to me that health clubs and spas hire beautiful people. One does not hire a bald man to promote hair products, nor a person with severely crooked teeth to man the front line at the dentist’s office. We are addicted to beauty in our culture. The myth they are selling, I would assume, is that after you use their hair products, slather their cream on your skin, or sweat on their equipment you will ultimately look like their representatives. Even I, who leans toward taking most everybody at their word, can’t buy into that.

For a young guy Cody was surprisingly patient and engaging. Their HR person did a good job in recruiting him. Before proceeding, we were asked to fill out a questionnaire and answer some questions to narrow down the muscle groups we wished to target. It turns out my target group includes everything from the tip of my pointed head to the bottom of my flat feet. Basically, there was nothing between those two points not in need of some attention. Good to know. It’s fortunate I have fairly good self esteem or I might have gone into the tank about then. The thing that is deceptive, I believe, is that I’m small. In clothes I look fine. It’s when summer comes along and I have to free those upper arms or legs that I start noticing the skin isn’t as tight as it once was. I don’t expect to achieve anything near perfection but I would like to give gravity a little push back. I have a friend who is quite large busted, a curse I have never had to deal with. Her “girls” as she refers to them, have moved to a new location beneath her arms and refuse to return to the front unless confined by a bra. Vindication for me for all those years in gym class when I was entering puberty.

Once the questions were answered, Cody ushered us along a bank of huge machines stopping at one on the end. Men and women red faced and sweaty struggled on the machines in the main cavity of the room. Ah, exercise looks like so much fun, smells like it too. Cody sat in the seat provided for the user on the machine. He set the difficulty, placed his feet on a long metal bar, and breathing in and out moved the bar effortlessly back and forth bringing his knees to his chest and back. Looked so easy. Gesturing for me to go next, I sat down. As instructed, I planted my feet squarely where his had been. Waiting a minute or two with nothing happening Cody asked if the machine was on. As it happens it was. My brain was sending a message to my knees to push the bar. Clearly push came through several times. As much as I felt my knees straining to comply with the request, my muscles simply couldn’t make it happen. After some adjustment, probably reducing the torque to “newborn”, the bar moved when I pushed my knees. There’s nothing like a good workout to point out what truly abysmal shape you’re in. The other ladies had the same issues, so at least I wasn’t alone in my humiliation.

Over the next fifty minutes we became acquainted with ten machines, all working different muscle groups. On each machine we did about six to ten reps. Doesn’t seem like much does it? I didn’t think so either. Easy peasey. Waking up the following morning each muscle group addressed announced itself loudly. First they counted off in order, and then all together. Ow.

As luck would have it it was my day to work at the animal shelter. To add to my good fortune, I was volunteered for all the bottom cages as several of the other volunteers in that day were hurt or had had recent surgery. Crawling around on the floor feeling every muscle I’d pulled from the day before none of the cats questioned my movements. Animals can sense when to engage and when not to, and that day definitely weighed heavily on the side of the not pushing the envelope.

So, I embark on a journey of self-improvement once again. I get myself to where I think I’ve improved enough to stop and then find I’ve a long journey ahead beyond the bend in the road. Sigh.

This delicious appetizer or side is usually served on toast points, bruschetta, or in a sandwich. When serving it on toast points I give each guest a steaming packet to open and spread on themselves. Usually you use anchovies in the traditional version of this dish, but my family won’t go near them. So, I came up with this delicious alternative.

Mushrooms in Parchment (Funghi ‘Ncartati)

1 lb. mushrooms (your selection), sliced thin
8 slices Coppa Ham, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 green onions, chopped white and green
1 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine
4 Tbsp. olive oil
4 Tbsp. Italian bread crumbs
4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
Juice of 1 lemon
Generous grind of black pepper
Lemon slices
6 squares parchment paper, 12″ x 12″
Extra olive oil

Preheat oven to 375

Slice mushrooms thin. Place in medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients up to lemon slices. Mix well.

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Brush one side of each piece of parchment paper with olive oil in the center. In the middle slightly towards the front of the paper place 1/6 of the mushroom mixture. Top with a slice of lemon.

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Fold paper in half over mushrooms and crease. Beginning with upper left hand corner, fold and crease, fold and crease. Follow all around the outside of the paper to form a half moon.

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Place on cookie sheet. Bake for 10 mins.

1

Prices continue to rise. People are searching for ways to cut costs to keep their heads above the water line. I clip coupons and scan the paper for sales in an effort to keep food costs down. Our pharmacy sends emails with specials on coffee and cosmetics, which I try to follow up on. As it happens, I needed a few things from the pharmacy yesterday, but only had one coupon appropriate for what I was buying. Putting my items in the basket I went to the front of the store to check out. Because of the holiday weekend, all lines were busy. Being in no particular hurry, I chose a line and got behind the last shopper. The woman in front of me had an extremely full cart, but other lines were equally backed up so I stayed put. Luck being what it is, the woman turned out to be an extreme couponer. In the kiddie seat beside her purse was a bulging notebook. Standing at the register it flipped open to reveal page after page of plastic sleeves filled with coupons. Each section was tabbed and in her hand she held a stack of coupons about 3″ high. I’m not lying here. Naturally, each coupon had to scanned. Some were good. Some were not. I knit a sweater, wrote the great American novel, and took a class on Spanish as a second language while waiting for her receipt to print. In the end, she paid about $6.00 for the overflowing basket and went on her way. I bought some hair mousse and two twelve-packs of toilet paper. Handing over thirty dollars and one $.50 off coupon, I received enough change in return to purchase a pack of breath mints.

I wish I had the time, patience, and energy to collect and categorize all those coupons. Really I do. I admire the tenacity, but question the resources. My life doesn’t have the bandwidth to include the hours it must take to amass such a collection. Not only do you have to obtain the coupons in the first place, but you have to sort by like coupons, file them, and travel about to appropriate places to use them. Also, they go out of date fairly quickly. You would have to go through periodically and throw out the ones already past their use date. Ach.

Bartering though, is another concept for cutting costs I’m toying with. For example, my dear friend Louise and I barter every six weeks in a manner of speaking. While living in our previous home, Louise was the first friend I made when we moved to that area, also my hairdresser. When we moved, Louise sort of came with me. Every six weeks she travels here to touch up my hair. In exchange I make her a fabulous meal, provide her with her favorite adult beverage, and, if she has the time, offer my downstairs guest bedroom for the night cooking her breakfast in the morning before she leaves. This gives her a night away in the tall trees, provides us a chance to catch up on our lives, and leaves me root free for another six weeks. Works beautifully for us.

With this in mind I came up with an idea. I know. Please write down the date. It may not happen again for another decade or two. I had a large computer monitor I wanted out of my craft room. We defer to our laptop these days for everything so it was just gathering dust. I ran an ad to sell it on Craig’s List with no takers. I reduced the price to nearly free. Still no response. This is a very nice monitor, practically new. Hmmmmm. So, I came up with an idea. I needed a few bushes and tree limbs trimmed. I posted the monitor under free stuff at no cost with one caveat. Whoever claimed it needed to trim my trees and bushes. Having no idea how this would work I hit “publish” and went on my way. My phone and my email lit up with responses. Actually I had to remove the ad to make it stop. A student at Sac State was the first to respond.

Our student arrived about two hours later. I handed him the trimmers. In about an hour he did a nice job on the yard, piling the trimmings in my trash can. In exchange, I handed him the monitor and after mutual nods of appreciation he went on his way. This was an idea I can embrace. Sort of a win/win.

This is not the first time I have dabbled in bartering. I have swapped my artwork for services in the past, and have used my writing skills in exchange for goods a time or two. Bartering is certainly not a new concept, dating back to prehistoric days. Perhaps a warm pelt was exchanged for a willing bride, or meat for the best cave to wait out the winter in.

I will try this again. It allowed me to help out a student needing a desk, and it helped me to get rid of the tree limbs encroaching on my driveway. Yea.

This dressing leans toward the sweet. I’ve always called it sugar salad. The dressing should be made the day before for the best results. Yummy.

3Sweet and Sour Salad

2 hearts of romaine, chopped
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/3 cup green bell pepper, sliced in strips
1/3 cup orange bell pepper, sliced in strips
8 radishes, sliced thin

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. minced onion
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 tsp. poppy seeds

Whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate 24 hrs. for best results. Toss with salad ingredients just before serving.

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