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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

To continue the Perils of Susie, I painted yesterday.  Once settled in a new home you begin to notice both its highlights and shortcomings.  Somewhat like being in a new relationship, caught in the throes of infatuation little things often get overlooked at first observation.  With this house there were several thumbs down on a list with many, many thumbs up.  One slight negative is the washer and dryer are situated on the lower floor.  I don’t mind, it’s good exercise climbing up and down the stairs, but they are in the hall between the two spare bedrooms with no place to fold the clothes.  Surveying the area, I came up with an idea.  Like Lucy, my ideas do not always go as planned, but this one was a keeper. Passing the idea on to a contractor helping us with some things needing to be fixed, he took it and ran with it.  A rectangular piece of wood with a hinged leg that would fold up against the wall and secure when not in use.  Voila.  $40 later it was up and running, however remained unpainted.As you can see by my cave drawing below, Frank Lloyd Wright is not turning over in his grave at being bested in design, but it works and I don’t have to fold clothes on the bed or on top of the drawer, so I’m happy.

Sooooo, Susie took herself to Home Depot and purchased a small pot of paint, a wee roller and trough, and a brush.  Rick in his favorite easy chair was lost in an afternoon of dreams of his niners going to the Super Bowl. I taped the painter’s tarp to cover the surrounding areas.  It certainly would have been easier to paint if still apart, but it was a small project after all, so should come together quickly.

FOLDING TABLEAt any rate, I threw on an old tee shirt with bees all over the front (my nemesis as you might know) and an old pair of shorts.  Down into the belly of the house I went, armed with my brush and roller.  After surveying the project, I decided to start with the underside first, or when the table is in the “up” position.  Easy peasy.  I pulled up the table and secured the pin, and poured some paint in the trough.  Finding the roller smoother than the brush and easier, I went with that.  Working around the leg in the middle was a pain and soon I had paint on my hands.  Unaware the rolling motion was jiggling the pin in the hinge securing the table, I continued down the board bending to reach the bottom. One last roll shook the board free from the hinge slamming it soundly down on my head fresh paint and all. The cat lying on the floor next to me, definitely cashed in a life on this one.  Not only did a lovely circle of stars form in front of my face, but because I was facing down, thankfully, wet paint was slathered all over the back of my hair. Damn the concussion, my hair was painted. Oh-oh.

Panicked, I headed towards the bathroom leaving a trail of clothes in my wake.  Rick, awakened by the noise and seeing the splotched project and line of discarded clothing, sprinted in the bathroom at a pace I haven’t seen him attain since the last time I served liver and onions. Offering the Reader’s Digest explanation, I stuck my head under the tap. He shook his head. Sigh, that again. Under the hot water I shampooed and rinsed twice praying I wasn’t going to still be Ivory Bisque when I got out.  A goose egg any mother goose would be proud of sprouted across my crown.  Toweled off and clothed, Rick checked my head for damage.  He suggested we call in a phrenologist to read my bump and determine why I do such incredibly stupid things.

In the middle of the night I woke up to giggling on the other side of the bed.  Yes, I said giggling, a grown man.  It seems the more he thought about what I’d done the sillier it got.  At least I contribute some comic relief to the relationship.

He checked me several times during the night to see if I was speaking in tongues or unresponsive.  Since I’m sitting here typing this undeniably stupid story about myself and sharing it with you, the jury is still out on whether or not my head suffered permanent damage.  To loosely quote Kelly Lebrock, “don’t hate me because I’m stupid”.

Today I will repair my mess, but I’m one step ahead of the game because I’m going in in full military gear, pith helmet in place.

I have to tell you this was great “jam”.  I hesitated to make it because I wasn’t sure it sounded like I’d like it.  Bacon, however, can make even liver taste good, so I gave it a shot.  Yum, I say.  I intended to make the sandwich, take the picture, and give it to Rick but after one bite I ate the whole thing and had to create another.

Breakfast Sandwich with Bacon Jam

l lb. bacon, chopped
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup ale
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup (I used pure Canadian)
4 Tbsp. chili sauce
salt and pepper
4 English muffins
4 fried eggs
Salt and pepper

In large skillet cook bacon until crisp. Set aside.

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Drain on paper towels, reserving 1 Tbsp. of grease in pan.

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Add onion and garlic to grease in pan. Cook over med. heat about 10 mins. until onion is translucent.

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Add ale, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and chili sauce to pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 35-40 mins. until thick and bubbly. Add bacon and season with salt and pepper.

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Spread a spoonful on bottom of toasted and buttered English muffin. Top with fried egg and another spoonful of “jam” on top. Place top of English muffin over all.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Fall is lurking beyond the next corner.  Signs of the impending change are everywhere. Yellowed leaves caught up in the afternoon breeze can be seen spiraling to the ground and shadows stretch longer and arrive earlier in the day. Nobody loves this time of year with the associated leaves more than I do.  Lovely to hear the fall-leavescrunch beneath your feet during a brisk morning walk, and the natural cloth of color they throw across the table outside your window. As a kid in Nova Scotia, running and hurling yourself into the middle of a huge pile of newly raked leaves was an autumn right of passage. Like snow, however, leaves are pretty to look at and a pain in the rear to clean up after. Putting aside the negative aesthetics of having a yard full of leaves, fire season is fully upon us here in painfully dry California, and keeping your immediate surroundings free of ready fuel can come down to a matter of survival.

In our last house we had the same gardeners for eleven years.  It was a minimum upkeep yard with a pool in the back, built on the slope of a hill.  Every four weeks the family who tended it arrived in a truck, grandma, mom and dad, and teenage son.  They never missed, never raised their rates, and never did anything but a stellar job.  I miss them.  When we first moved in here we had them come once to do a general cleanup including their gas in the cost.  By the time we were done we could have purchased the adjacent lot.  So, I got a leaf blower. Shall I say we got a leaf blower. I say I got a leaf blower because I have learned over the years when Rick says “we”, it is in the hospital sense of the word. Like, “Have we taken our pills today?”.  He says it is an early Christmas gift, no need to thank him.

Now, I see you shaking your heads.  I’m not a big proponent of the noisy buggers either, but in our area you either blow or rake and our yard is huge and on a decided slope. Not the gazelle of my youth and looking terrible in traction, blow it shall be. I pulled the parts out of the box and assembled them.  Reading the limited instructions enclosed, it says the machine is guaranteed to produce gale force winds with the flick of a switch. Assuming this to be a noisy process and being a polite human, I waited for the virgin run until later morning. I’ve never operated a leaf blower up until now.  Not because I’m a princess I missed that line when signing up for this world, but because the occasion never presented itself I would suppose.

In the store, the salesman said it was easy peasy.  Plug it it, turn on the switch, light as a feather.  I found there are two speeds, 1 – Sub-Tropical Storm, 2 – Atlantic Hurricane.  Being intrinsically blonde I didn’t wear my glasses.  The first of many mistakes.  I began with speed 2 rather than 1, the second.  First, let me explain it is definitely not “light as a feather”.  For a full hour after I turned it off and returned it to the garage the muscles in my lower arms continued to involuntarily twitch.  For you fisherman, picture a freshly caught wide-mouth bass flopping around on the bottom of the boat.  Apparently I do not have the hang of it yet as when pointing the beast in one direction leaves, dust and debris blew everywhere.  There was, I must admit, a clean hole where I’d pointed, and the urgent need for an opthamologist.  The hole remained until I went over to the other side and began to work there.  Then, there was a clean hole in the new area and everything blew back to its original spot taking the new leaves with it.  Sigh.  After an hour it looked pretty good except for the fact that we’d only purchased a 50′ foot extension cord and needed a 100′, my bad .  There was a clearly visible line where the yard clean-up began and where the cord reached the end.  Ah well, I tried. Remind me to appropriately thank Santa for such a thoughtful gift by leaving him a liverwurst sandwich and a big glass of prune juice on Christmas Eve.

Speaking of Christmas, if we must before fall has even jump started, according to the news Kmart has already launched an advertising campaign to encourage shopping early.  Do you think we could at least purchase a pumpkin or change the flowers in our vases from summer to fall before they start with Santa themed ads?  I’m not ready.  That’s all there is to it.  My barbecue isn’t even cold yet and I’m still working on summer birthdays.  Ach.

We had company over the weekend and while out to dinner the conversation fell to the holidays.  Presents, in particular.  With extended families on both sides the cost of purchasing gifts for the adults and children in each family can get out of hand.  Rick said he read somewhere some families finish paying off Christmas from the previous year shortly before they start buying for the one coming up.  We’re not in that category, but it does get expensive.  As the little ones get older, or even once they can walk and talk, gifts on their lists to Santa get pricier.  What ever happened to Barbie or Lincoln Logs?  Gone are the days of a kid asking for a baseball bat, and even if they do, bats aren’t cheap these days, running upwards of a $100.00. Games used to be a go-to gift like Candy Land or Clue, but games for children these days are played on devices or Wii’s which can suck your supply of ready money quicker than Dracula at a Red Cross Blood Drive.

One year I watched in horror as a group of my offspring’s offspring tore into the gifts under the tree like army ants on a trek.  Such shredding and tearing has not been seen since the Watergate papers.  Clothes were thrown over shoulders and toys dumped in a pile.  My mouth dropped and my blood pressure rose.  This has never happened since, as new rules went into effect once the dust had settled.  Each child is handed a present and waits their turn to open it.  Thank you’s are in order whether it’s a crocheted soccer ball from Aunt Fran or an iPad from grandpa.

For me, I’d be happy to have a twinkling tree, the smell of stuffed bird emanating from the oven, Christmas carols playing in the background, and my family around me. A great deal of the joy of Christmas is wrapped in the anticipation. If every day was decorated so, it would make it less special. My humble opinion, again.

I wanted to share this tomato jam with you. A new friend brought me a jar she’d put up and her source and I found both the jam and the source outstanding. I served it on a baguette slice with a slab of cream cheese and it was amazing. A great way to use up the end of the season tomatoes. Visit Jennie’s blog at use real butter for the recipe and directions. You won’t be sorry.

jam

These potatoes are Rick’s No. 1.  The bit of onion adds just the right touch.  It is difficult to put exacts on the ingredients, as I’ve made them so often I fly by the seat of my pants so taste and add as you go, but this is very close.

Light as Air Oniony Mashed Potatoes

6 russet potatoes, peeled and cut in eighths
6-8 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. sour cream
1 cup whole milk
2 Tbsp. grated onion
Salt and pepper
Paprika

Cover potatoes with water in large saucepan. Bring to boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat and continue cooking at a low boil until fork tender and well cooked but not mushy. Drain well.

Heat milk in small saucepan over med. heat. Do not boil. Set aside.

Place in large bowl. Mash well with fork, reducing to small pellets. Add 2 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. sour cream and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Beat on high speed for 1 min. Add 2 Tbsp. butter and remaining sour cream. Beat on high speed for 1 min. Slowly add hot milk and beat until mixture is smooth and fluffy, 3-4 mins., stopping to add salt and pepper and to taste.

Add grated onion and additional butter, if desired, and whip again on high. Adjust seasoning. Spoon into serving dish and top with pat of butter and dusting of paprika. Serves 6.

Note: I like mashed potatoes light and fluffy, no lumps. Cooking them correctly is key and also whipping the heck out of the works for me every time.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Colorado is under water according to the news, and the New Jersey Boardwalk is burning.  Nature is certainly exacting her pound of flesh this year between the flooding, fires and tornadoes.  This brought to mind my flooding experience.  Yes, I have one of those to recall as well.  When it comes to disasters I started at A and worked my way through the alphabet.  If there’s ever a zephyr in the area, however mild, I’m probably in trouble.

We were living in Massachusetts at the time, the children still wearing Dr. Denton’s.  Wakefield was a small, typically charming New England town replete with all the perks afforded such a title.  Church steeples peeked through the trees and graveyards held markers recording history several centuries gone.  I loved it there.  It was a slow pace, the sidewalks tidily rolled up when the sun slid behind the hills. Sunday’s were reserved for worship or baking pies, or for the less pious, a chance to mow the lawn or dip a line in the beautiful lake which was the centerpiece of the town.

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Summer brought with it stifling humidity in sharp contrast to the bitter cold winter would likely deal out.  Sultry days my hair, hanging towards my waist at the time, would curl the minute I stepped out the door and remain in ringlets about my face most of the day.  Both my husband and I worked in Boston, about a forty minute commute depending on the weather.  A data processing major hired by a huge hotel firm, he often pulled long hours toiling to bring their antiquated systems into the current decade making it necessary for us to use creative planning to find time to spend together.

On this particular day it was steamy early on.  I had the day off, so my hours were filled with games in the yard and laundry and whatever a young mother busies herself with when her children are present.  The house, built in the 1800’s, was airy.  Fans rotated in nearly every room. An old building, air conditioning had never been installed.  It was hot, and still. Still, yes, unnaturally so.  Plans were made with a babysitter several towns over to free me up late afternoon for a “date night” in the city with my hubbie.  Not sure if I would recognize him in a crowd, I suggested he wear a clown suit and carry a bottle of seltzer so I could locate him in the restaurant.

Durgin Park  was to be our meeting spot.  A favorite of mine.  You ate fresh Yankee fare at tables seated next to everyone from theater goers in full finery to people just getting off work for the day.  The servers were hired for their acerbic personalities and could literally dish it out as well as they could take it.  Fun. Excited, I chose my outfit carefully, opting for a lovely summer dress of delicate voile in robin’s nest blue with sheer sleeves and an empire waistline.  Shortly after four, the children dressed in PJ’s were buckled in the back seat, their overnight bag tucked between them. Once secured myself, I backed the car out of the driveway.

On the road the sky took on a menacing demeanor, black clouds replacing puffy white ones present earlier in the day.  Pulling onto the Interstate a large drop of rain splashed across the windshield.  Wishing I had brought an umbrella, I switched on the A/C in the car.  Worn out from the day, my little pirates nodded off from time to time in the rear view mirror.

Lightning flashed outside the car and a thunder-clap followed loud enough to vibrate the steering wheel.  Both children’s heads popped up, not ones to miss excitement, just as rain spewed forth from the heavens.  Awed by the lightning flashes and rolling thunder, both children fell uncharacteristically quiet, my daughter inserting a well sucked thumb into her mouth.  Twice in my lifetime I have been caught in a deluge of this magnitude.  It came swiftly and with no mercy.  Cars simply stopped on the highway, lights blinking as the rain obscured them from view. For a while we all sat, and waited. Getting worse rather than better, I started the engine. Creeping at a snail’s pace I pulled over to the right hand lane, eventually exiting at an off ramp.  Water was cascading in a natural waterfall from the overpass bridge, and on the roadway branches of trees and debris rushed by.  Not wanting to alarm the babies, I made a game of it, but a hint of panic began to form below the surface.

Afraid to keep moving forward I pulled over to the side of the road behind another car parked with its lights on.  Water was rising outside the car. Pushing the door open I waded to the car in front of me.  Knocking on the window, it opened revealing man I would guess to have been in his fifties and his female companion.  I yelled over the wind I needed help and amazingly he came with me.  Inside my car he explained there was a Holiday Inn about a half a block up.  He suggested we each take a child and make our way there.   As I didn’t see any other immediate solution, I nodded in agreement.

Stopping at his car, after a brief conversation we retrieved what I learned later was to learn was his mother-in-law.  Not able to walk in the heels I was wearing, I abandoned them.  Barefoot and toting a wet baby, my lovely diaphanous dress now clung to my frame like cellophane might to a raw filet. Struggling against the wind and current, our strange band of travelers finally reached the hotel, and entered the lobby. As luck would have it, the lobby was filled with Shriners overflowing from an already packed and rowdy bar. Glasses in hand, most were already well on their way to a good time.  Suddenly noticing a young woman standing before them bare feet puddling on the carpet wearing a see-through dress and carrying a wet baby seemed to immediately catch their attention.  Quiet fell over the room.  Sloshing forward passed the stares, I held my head high and stepped up to the desk. Summoning what dignity remained, I inquired about a room.  Fortunately, I had a credit card with me.  The clerk explained there were two rooms available, a single and one with two queen beds.  The single went to my rescuers and the other I signed up for.  Exchanging contact information, thank you’s and hugs we parted company heading to our separate floors.

Phone lines were down and no communication possible to Boston.  I ordered huge cheeseburgers, fries, hot coffee and steaming chocolate from room service. Wrapping the children in towels after a warm bath, I fed them on the bed.  Around two the following morning I was able to get a hold of my husband, now frantic.  He joined us in the morning for breakfast.  I’ll never forget the look on those Shriner’s faces when I walked in that lobby.  It was like the sequel to Nell, for those two of you who actually saw that movie.

This soup was perfect.  There was a bit of nip in air last night so it hit the spot.  Usually my pics are better than this, but I was hungry and the hour was late.

French Onion Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
6 onions, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup port
8 cups beef broth
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 cup Gruyere or Swiss cheese, grated
garlic bread (recipe below)

Heat oil and butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions. Cook for 8-10 mins. until tender, stirring often.

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Reduce heat and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 45-60 mins. until onions are a lovely golden brown color. Add garlic and continue cooking 1-2 mins. until fragrant.

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Add port and bring to boil. Cook until liquid is reduced by 1/2. Add stock, salt, pepper, and thyme. Reduce to med.-low and cook for 40 mins.

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Garlic Bread

4 slices of baguette or Artisan bread
Butter
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated

Generously butter bread. Sprinkle equally with garlic powder and top with Parmesan cheese. Place 6″ under broiler until bubbly and browned. Leave broiler on.

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Place one slice of bread in bottom of dish. Ladle soup over top. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serves 4.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Over the weekend we bought a new stove. For me, this is right up there with being given a diamond. Not much for jewelry really. Oh, I wear my diamond ring for its sentimental significance, two dainty bracelets, all gifts from Rick, and when I go out in the world I wear earrings. Like a freshly cut Christmas tree, other than a hint of ice I come relatively unadorned. Truth be known, I’d rather receive gifts for the kitchen any day. Book, kitchen, and bed and bath stores sit right at the top of my list of favorite haunts. Over the years I’ve whiled away many an hour roaming kitchen emporiums admiring all the colorful interesting gadgets and whatnots available for sale.

The stove was purchased out of necessity, as the one we have now, propane powered, is shot.  Our last, as the one preceding it, was electric, not my favorite either. Gas cooktop is my preference with an electric oven, but propane is the existing energy source and we’re not investing a fortune to convert to gas simply to put a smile on Susie’s face.  That was a direct quote from management.  This one is SS, with five burners, the center one also a griddle. Originally we’d planned this purchase to follow not precede the holidays. However, a strange side effect of using the current stove made it necessary to push the date forward. As the song goes, “Susie’s as high as an elephant’s eye”, or the corn is, or something to that effect. It seems when the metal in the oven ages beyond its life expectancy it can emit fumes making it dangerous to use. Already silly enough with very little prodding, the fumes were not enhancing the quality of the meals produced by our kitchen staff. Last week while preparing carrot soup needing a pinch of chopped sage, in my euphoria I tossed in the whole bunch leaves intact, unwashed and tied. Minutes later I noticed my mistake floating along atop my soup like a recent homicide victim. Rick watching this, shook his head. He often does.

Later, discussing with him a Vietnamese restaurant advertising a sandwich he likes, I kept saying Vietmanese rather than the proper pronunciation. Correcting myself, I came up with, “Vinametnese”. Hmmm. Rick commented on my odd behavior after several such occurrences. He hadn’t mentioned it previously he said because for him it is apparently difficult to differentiate between my odd behavior and my normal behavior as my normal behavior often mirrors my odd. Uh, thank you for that keen observation. Okay I make up cat songs for Boo while I’m cleaning the house and actually celebrate Clean Sheet Day, but doesn’t everybody?

Hopefully this hasn’t resulted in any permanent damage as I’m quite sure I don’t have many gray cells to spare having used up the majority during my forgettable late twenties tequila shot days. Raising my kids, husbands, and animals claimed a good portion of the rest. Wandering about the house lately trying to remember what I was looking for when I first started in the direction I was headed confirms my fears I need to hold on to as many as I have left for the years looming ahead.

In the past, I’ve had run ins with appliances. I’ve written about many, possibly including my encounter with a gas stove when in my teens. On the odd chance I did not, I will now. In ninth grade, my best friend Michaelin, Mike to her friends (her parents wanted a boy), lived directly across the ivy from me in our apartment complex. Both latchkey kids, we walked to and from school together often hanging out at one house or the other after school until our parents came home. Once free of our school clothes, a snack was usually in order. On this day it was to be mini tacos at her house.

Mike turned on the oven and opened the door, placing the tray of tacos inside. Before closing it, I commented it smelled like gas. Upon closer examination, with not enough brainpower to create an original thought in a gnat, we finally determined the pilot light was out. Always full of suggestions then as now, I said I’d seen my stepfather light ours with a long kitchen match by inserting it in one of holes on the bottom of the stove. Piece of cake. So, handing Mike the match and box I stood to her rear as she dragged it across the flint and leaned to insert the lit match in the hole. Lambs to the slaughter. KABOOM!  We were propelled across the kitchen like two Siamese twin stuntmen in a Die Hard sequel landing in an untidy pile in the corner. Aside from the ringing in my ears I seemed all right.  All my limbs were attached and other than a long gash on one hand I appeared relatively uninjured. I did smell burnt hair. Mike began concurrently screaming while beating herself on the head.  Odd. Turning towards me her blonde bangs present prior to the explosion were reduced to short, black, smoldering stubs and her face was the color of someone recently involved in French fry diving.

Without stopping to speak, I grabbed her hand and dragged her upstairs to the bathroom. Turning the shower on cold I shoved her in. With the water running full blast I couldn’t hear the fireman beating on the door downstairs. Before long, several of them stormed through the bathroom door dragging a long hose dragging behind them. Examining us, an ambulance was summoned. Downstairs looked like a case for FEMA disaster relief.  Unable to get an answer at the door, and the door locked, the firemen broke it down. It now lived in the ivy out front.  Oh boy.  No bangs, no door, no stove …..secretly I prayed the hospital was in a small village along the Amazon or possibly the Outback of Australia because no matter how you cut the bread when our parents got home they weren’t going to like the sandwich.

In the end Mike wore fake bangs until hers grew in and her face returned to a hue found on the color pallet under skintones . For me, I didn’t have to shave my legs for months. Both of us gave up our allowance until the new door was paid for, and neither of us lit the stove ever again. When I got back to school word had spread like wildfire (no pun intended) about our misadventures. Rumors ranged from our heads having blown off and landing in the swimming pool to a nuclear blast occurring only in our neighborhood.  Once again the universe got a taste of me and spit me back out. Sigh.

This was quite yummy.  Passed down several times it has altered from the original but I liked this one a lot.

Lemony Tuscan Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus trimmed (1 1/2 lbs.)
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halves
1/4 cup red onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 lemon sliced thin
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

IMG_4603Rinse pine nuts. Place in medium size dry skillet. Heat over medium heat about 5 mins. until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray. Place asparagus, tomatoes, onions, and pine nuts in large mixing bowl. In separate bowl mix 2 Tbsp. olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Spread in single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Top with lemon slices.

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Bake for 15 mins. or until tender. Meanwhile combine lemon juice and remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Remove asparagus from oven and pour lemon juice/olive oil mixture over top. Sprinkle with lemon zest and cheese. Serves 4.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

While filling out an application to work with the local theater arts group, I came to the CONTACT INFORMATION section.  Under the main heading they had included a sub-heading reading Best way to Contact You. Never have I been faced with so many options for connection.

cell phone
text
blueberry
raspberry
Magic Jack
Jack in the Box
Face Time
footpad
iPad
hologram
telegram
flaming arrow

What was most interesting is the list did not include home phone.  Do people not have land lines anymore?  Good Lord, I’m getting so out of date I’m going to require regular dusting before too long.

Recently I read programs are in place to deprogram those high-tech individuals addicted to their devices. You know who you are.  The symptoms, for those of you texting and playing on-line poker while reading this, may include checking your phone within 10 seconds of opening your eyes, and the last thing before you close them to sleep. Those individuals for whom every facet of their lives revolves around their devices, including creating alarms to keep them on track for appointments during the day. The ones often seen scaling a hedge carrying a running garden hose to catch an incoming call. Mentioned also were the compulsive, if not somewhat narcissistic, people who make an art form of personal picture taking. You find them posting endless personal poses on their social media pages ranging from flossing their teeth to having their callouses filed. It’s epidemic. Researchers were saying that rather than living the moment, we’re capturing it in a lens. Interesting.

My phone issues lean in the opposite direction  Mine can often be found in a drawer. Late at night it wouldn’t be out of character for me to bury it in the back yard, or toss it out of the car window on the freeway. Anything to make it stop its incessant ringing. When we moved in this house I noticed there is a phone jack in the master bathroom, one place I draw the line.  I do not want to speak to someone who is thus occupied on their end, nor would I choose to ask them to bear with me was I in the same position.  Just me.

Face time draws you into a whole different dimension of phone communication.  Days of answering the phone in your boxer shorts with bed head, or sipping on a glass of wine during a business conference call are behind us.  Now you need to be fully dressed, makeup in place, and the house cleaned before considering engaging in a call.

Day before yesterday I needed to make several calls.  Since we’ve moved I’ve alerted all the principal players in my life, banks, credit cards, magazines, insurance companies, etc. of our new location. Every time, however, I have gone into Social Security on-line to change my address for my Social Security Card, I’ve been denied access because according to their system the information I’m providing them is incorrect. Specifically, where I was born.  Seeing no way to avoid waiting in the endless queue of a government phone system, I dialed the number and got the expected response. “Due to heavy phone volume you may expect an 11 minute wait.  For quicker response please refer to our online site at www…”.  Uh-huh.  Sigh.  I put the phone on speaker and went about making the batter for my fish. Thirty-four minutes later a gentlemen came on the phone.  After explaining my situation, he pulled up my account.  Once we established my SSN, DOB, and location he began with the security questions, four in total.  Mother’s maiden name, check.  First pet, check.  Where you were born, not so fast.  After answering the question with what I know to be correct, I was informed I was wrong.  Okay.  He suggested I pick another big city.  Really?  Could we narrow down to a country, or should I just start at the A’s?

I went and retrieved by birth certificate.  Why I did this I have no idea.  I know where I was born and it hasn’t changed since I arrived kicking and screaming in the delivery room.  I repeated my answer and he repeated this was incorrect and to try again.  In desperation I threw out, “um, New York City?”.  I did not win the car.  In the end he could not verify I was me, and I was beginning to doubt it myself, so I was instructed to visit my local social security office.  Sigh and sigh.

Yesterday we got up early, had our coffee, and headed to the local SS office. Our goal was to arrive a half an hour before they were to open.  This is not my first rodeo.  Last time I had to avail myself of their services I went midday.  I was number 175. They were calling number 46.  Never again.  This time I was 3.  Yea.  Should you have to go take every available piece of picture ID you’ve been issued since kindergarten. Guaranteed the one you leave at home is the one you’ll be asked for.  In my case, being Canadian, I needed my birth certificate and green card as well.  Everything was on a roll until she got to my green card.  It seems you have to renew the damn things every 15 years. I was one year passed the limit.  Ach. As a plus, it was determined although of Canadian Citizenship according to their records I was born in Long Beach, CA. This she attributed to CA also being the abbreviation for Canada.  What more can I say here?  Given a piece of paper with the location of the appropriate office in Sacramento, she suggested I arrive early.  Got it.

The last time I changed my green card I was the first body in the lobby at the Canadian Consulate. I remained there until closing at 5:00 that night.  The problem stems from my personal history. For me this is not new news. My father died when I was one.  For the purpose of clarification, let’s call him Frank Williams.  When I was nine Mother exchanged vows with Frank James who adopted me, changing her name and mine. So far it goes, Frank Williams to Frank James (refer to your chart and handouts).  Taking the plunge for the third but not last time Mother became Mrs. James Martin.  So we have Frank Williams to Frank James to James Martin in that order. It is, at best like trying to untangle a nest of horny water moccasins. Launching into the details of my marry-go-round got my last interviewer so confused I believe he assigned me a new card so he could go home and have a drink before dinner.

So, I may never be able to prove I am who I am. Who knows maybe I’m someone else and have only been kidding myself I’m me all these years.

This fish was lovely.  Honest.

Beer Battered Tilapia

1 lb. tilapia filets
flour for dredging
1 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
pinch cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/4 cups ale
3 Tbsp. vinegar

Heat 2″ of oil in large heavy bottomed pot over med-high heat.

Cut each filet in half. Pat dry and dredge in flour.

Mix together 1 1/2 cups flour, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, garlic powder, cayenne (optional), paprika, and black pepper. Slowly whisk in ale and vinegar until mixture is smooth.

IMG_4591

Dip flour dredged pieces into batter with a fork allowing excess to slightly drain off. Drop into oil and cook until golden brown (about 3 mins. on each side). Drain on paper towels. Serve with tartar sauce, malt vinegar and lemon wedges.

Serves 4

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Last night I set the alarm for 5 a.m. before turning off the light.  Today was my first day taking care of cats at the local animal shelter.  There were openings of a volunteer nature for either dog walkers or cat tenders, and after seeing me I was told the dogs would probably more likely be walking me, so cats it was.  Fine.  I love cats, or at least have great respect for their independent nature and total unwillingness to do anything but what they please twenty-three out of twenty-four hours of the day.

At the shelter I was surprised at the sheer volume of animals in attendance at kitty jail, if you will.  Why I was surprised I have no explanation for.  If equipped with original parts, with little coaxing it is not an unusual occurrence for cats to go about creating more of their own kind. I know this because I often hear them doing exactly that in the middle of the night when I ‘m trying to sleep.  Two things I knew right away, I must not look any of these sweet animals directly in the eyes lest I get caught in their spell, and I would need a clothes pin for my nose.  Definitely, I would need a clothes pin for my nose.  Whew.  One cat litter box is no walk in the park but thirty or forty are an out-and-out assault on the nostrils!

I’ve had so many felines over my lifetime. Many were strays who simply wandered in and lined up unnoticed with the rest of the crowd for a free meal and stayed. Some, like Miss Boo the Queen of Cats, were “rescues” claimed at the S.P.C.A., others I actually purchased, and many wheedled their way in the front door as kittens via my children. Whether they adopt you or you adopt them, they are definitely a commitment, and no matter what the sign reads never, ever, free. How many times while my kids were growing up I heard the words, “Please, Mommy, pleeeease, can we have a kitten! They’re free.”  These pleas are soon followed by the sound of wool being pulled over your ears.  “Mommmeeeee, I’ll feed her, and clean up after her. I’ll use my allowance to pay her vet bills.” Right.  New mothers cover your ears, hum the national anthem, or blare the horn until they stop. None of this is ever going to happen. If these promises last past the first day after they bring the animal home, you have a win.  You need to trust me on this.  In three weeks without your intervention, the cat will be standing on a mound of soiled litter reaching just short in height of where they planted the first flag on Everest.  When the cat is ill, and it will be, you will be the one sitting in a crowded lobby in what is labeled “cat section” waiting for “Whiskers” name to be called.  If you are unlucky enough to have medication prescribed for the minimum $100 visit, it will be your fingers bleeding profusely after every dose because Whiskers didn’t sign on for that program and thinks you should take the pills and insert them somewhere and lets you know it.  Pit Bulls have less jaw strength BTW, then a stubborn cat when you’re trying to pry its mouth open. I’m just sayin’.

Before Mouse, now in her new home, and Miss Boo currently in residence, their was Maggie Mae. Found on a job site where my husband was working at the time, Maggie traveled to our home via an Igloo cooler. No background information was provided regarding her pedigree or previous life beyond, “here, I found you a cat”.  “Um, thank you?” Terrified and 85% feral, Maggie’s first days with us were spent in the back of the spare room closet hovering behind a laundry basket.  Food disappeared if placed on the floor of the closet and like a good guest she politely made use of the litter box provided for her.

Each day I would lie on the floor when I came home from work and coax her closer with a morsel of kibble or an irresistible bite of tuna.  Not fully convinced she wished to know more about me, each day the gap grew a bit smaller than the one before.  After all, I did come with goodies which made me not totally undesirable.

Plans were to take her to our vet to have her checked out.  Not knowing what shots she’d had, better to err on the side of caution and begin at the beginning, so to speak.  Were I a betting person, I would have placed my dollar on the tile reading “never been fixed”, but it would take a more practiced eye to make that call.  An appointment was made for a visit the following week. During that time she slowly emerged. Other than wedging her head in the ceiling at the least noise, she began to take her meals in the kitchen with the rest of the help and a detente was achieved.

My house then, as the one now coincidentally, had the feel of living in a tree house.  In the beginning of the house’s history it had been the main dwelling for a local olive farmer and his extended family.  The main house was broken into three sections, ours being the largest.  Below us was the carriage house, also rented to two brothers in a jazz band, and a newlywed couple occupied what was originally the bunk house across the drive.  Out front was a small two room building used in the rancher’s day as a general store. Small kitchen and bathroom added, it became home to a very elderly man who made his own wine and his equally long in the tooth bloodhound, Raz, who had a taste for the stuff and could often be found sleeping it off under the porch.  All in all it was a house full of character, filled with characters, I would suppose.

Windows must have been on sale the day they designed the house, because there were plenty of them.  Our kitchen, a sunny and welcoming room often used for entertaining was where Maggie made her home.  Two huge windows were in one corner and the ledge was her place of choice for an afternoon sun.  The day before her vet visit, I came in to find a hole in the window, no cat, and a number of flies circling the kitchen. She’d gone over the fence.  For days I searched for her, leaving food outside, only to feed the raccoons and possums, and nothing.  Then, after giving up hope of seeing her furry self again, she showed up as quickly as she’d left and brought company for dinner.  A huge tabby cat, male naturally, with a very self-satisfied look on his face I must say.

Not long afterward we welcomed five kittens, and immediately afterward had Maggie fixed.  Children arrived with their parents around adoption time, leaving with their little bundles after assurances from me that it teaches character and responsibility to have a pet, and I was sure they’d clean up after them and take care of them.  I’m sorry, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Soooooooooo, I shall endeavor to avoid eye contact and not find myself writing a blog about a new acquisition.  Porsche had her eye on me, a beautiful gray long hair with sweeping eyelashes, but I resisted.  So far.

These were the best potatoes ever!  Should work for four people but we ate enough for three between the two of us.  Yum.

Red Potato and Brussel Sprout Bake

4 red potatoes
1 lb. Brussel sprouts
1 Tbsp. plus 1 Tbsp. butter
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, large chop
1/2 green pepper, sliced 1″ and cut in chunks
5 large mushrooms, sliced 1/2″ thick
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 Tbsp. Montreal Seasoning for Chicken
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut red potatoes into quarters and then in half again. Place the potatoes and Brussel sprouts in saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low bowl and cook for 8-10 mins. or under veggies are fork tender but not fully cooked.  Drain.  When cool enough, cut Brussel sprouts in half.

Cut each Tbsp. of butter in fourths. Spray bottom of 13 x 9 casserole dish with cooking spray. Distribute butter pieces evenly over bottom of pan. Place all vegetables on top of butter. Sprinkle with Montreal Seasoning for Chicken, pepper and garlic salt. Sprinkle with olive oil. Turn vegetables to coat. You want veggies to be coated but not saturated.

raw veggies final

Cook for 35-40 mins. turning regularly to brown. Add salt before serving if desired.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

In an effort to get involved in my new community and meet some of its inhabitants, I signed to volunteer with a local agency under whose umbrella many of the local volunteer based organizations run.  Once an application is completed, you attend a one-on-one with the volunteer coordinator where your assets as well as your interests are determined. Amazed to find I had several usable talents (who knew?), I was given an extensive list of opportunities from which to choose. As an aside when I mentioned to my mother plans were to take this on she said, “try not to do anything depressing like work in a hospital or places that are sad”.  Adore that woman. I assured her I’d only choose upbeat groups featuring clowns and soft bunnies to affiliate myself with. No point in wasting volunteer hours on people in need or not of good cheer. Truthfully though, I tease about my mom, but she is generous of herself and her time and has always given back to her community. In the past she visited shut-ins or the elderly in the evenings, always bringing a casserole or lingering to play a game of Scrabble. These days she shuttles ladies who no longer drive to the market for groceries or to run whatever errands they need to accomplish.

While reviewing my options, I checked many boxes signing up for everything from grizzly bear scat gathering to rhino tusk polishing.  Before leaving the office I was assured representatives of the agencies I’d shown interest in would contact me by the end of the week.  By the time I arrived home, the first call was on the answering machine. The need for volunteers to man these organizations is great. I have volunteered a time or two previously over the years, but most of my life I’ve worked a full-time job.  Not an excuse, well maybe an excuse.  When not at work, in my younger days at least, I was engaged as chauffeur, chief bottle washer, laundress, dog walker, cat feeder, and personal shopper for two kids, one husband and the parasitical menagerie we loosely referred to as our “pets”.  Between soccer games, school events, skating lessons, and dental appointments there wasn’t much wiggle room for other more altruistic activities. If I found time for a shower and enjoyed toilet privileges I considered myself totally spoiled.

One of the groups I was particularly interested in associating myself with this time was the local food bank.  Although small in scale in comparison to people dealing with survival every day,  I have some experience in what it feels like to be hungry or without a roof over your head.  The place in question was Longview, Washington thankfully late summer. My husband at the time and I arrived in town to begin a ten month job at one of the lumber mills. Unbeknownst to us, the job had been postponed three weeks. Traveling light, including our wallets, we brought with us personal items, the minimum necessary clothes, a case of Vienna sausage, twenty cheese and beef sticks, a box of Saltines, three gallon bottles of soda, a six-pack of Bud Light and a case of bottled water. The essentials. Young, we perceived ourselves at the time as gypsies, free and blithe of spirit. Not having enough funding or good sense to retrace our tracks or explore other options, and too much pride to call our parents, we chose instead to wait it out. Our plan was to get a hotel room once a week during the twenty-one days, leaving the rest of the nights and days either to be spent in the car or in local parks. Food would become an issue. I like a Vienna sausage with the best of them, but for every meal?

After the first week, our days fell into a routine.  Mornings we showed up at a rest stop offering showers, donuts, and coffee gratis to weary travelers.  As a belated thank you to the ranger stationed there, the woman never once made mention of how many times we seemed to be traveling past the same spot, always handing us a steaming cup of hot coffee and a fresh donut with a smile and without question.  The public shower there was not my favorite, but I availed myself of it shoes in place. Sharing a small space can quickly take the bloom off the rose if you have to keep the windows down in order to tolerate each others presence.  After several times showering at the rest stop, we chose instead to drive up into the heavily forested areas to take a dip in the prolific ponds or wade in quick-moving streams to freshen up.  The water was cold, but far less of an exchange of germs than the rest stop.  I found it somewhat glorious, actually, bathing there. Very Adam and Eve.  Afternoons were spent in the park or by the lake, and nights wherever we could park safely.

angels

Enjoying a steady diet of Vienna sausage saltine sandwiches, it was easy to see this would soon become redundant. My digestive track was loudly protesting the lack of roughage coming down the chute.  On accident during the last week I discovered our gasoline credit card also covered items purchased in the convenience store, something we never considered.  Scanning the shelves avariciously we stocked up on apples, bread, peanut butter, cans of pork and beans (might I suggest not the best choice for close surroundings), orange juice and bananas.

We dined under the stars along a side road off the interstate later in the day. Bed came early with our only source of light a flashlight. Finding it difficult to sleep with my husband’s incessant concerto tuning up in the front seat, I got out to stretch my legs. Flashlight switched on, I hiked to the crest of a nearby hill.  Aiming the light at the shadowy pasture below me, I was surprised to discover a number of soupy brown bovine eyes captured in my beam eying me back with idle curiosity . Scanning the light back and forth, mottled shapes appeared, standing or lying along the hillsides. Low moans echoed across the field.  Releasing them from inspection, I sat on the hill in the deep quiet only night can make, until sounds of gravel crunching behind me alerted me someone else was in the area. At the car, an officer of enough stature to be Smokey the Bear and appearing to be wearing his hat stepped out of his cruiser, and approached me.  Identifying himself he explained he was following up on a report made by the rancher owning the property about suspected cattle rustlers. Studying me, he requested my ID. Shifty eyes, on my father’s side. I complied, reaching across my husband nudging him awake. He repeated his request to my other half now peering out of the window looking like an unmade bed and scratching his head.  Returning to his vehicle the officer checked us out for wants and warrants or whatever they check people out for.  Apparently reassured we were not criminal masterminds or concealing a devious plan to cram all the cows in our trunk and abscond with them across the border, he returned our paperwork suggesting we mosey on down the road.  So, we moseyed. It was a long three weeks.

It is humiliating and humbling to find yourself in such a place.  For me it was over before it started and my normal existence resumed, but for some adults and children it does not. One thing is for sure, I never ate another Vienna sausage and I am rarely short on T.P.

This is Hunger Awareness Month. Check out what people are doing to help on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Interfaith-Food-Ministry/155749367813411. SNAP, originally food stamps, provides families needing subsidy for food $4.50 a day per person.  If you’ve been to the market lately that barely covers a loaf of bread.  If you have any low cost recipes you’d like to share, I’ll pass them on.

While your checking them out check out this recipe for tortellini salad, liked it a lot.

Tortellini Salad

1 pkg. frozen three cheese tortellini
8 rounds of hard salami, quartered
1 can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
3 cups baby spinach, rinsed and broken up
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I used yellow)

Cook tortellini according to package directions. Rinse well, drain, and allow to cool.

Add all other ingredients to large bowl. When pasta has cooled add to mixture. Toss with dressing 1/2 hour before serving.

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup EV olive oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. dill weed
1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. celery seed

Place ingredients in sealed jar and shake well to blend. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Pour over tortellini mix, toss well and serve.

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