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Archive for the ‘fun’ Category

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I spent a pre-Easter weekend with my daughter and her family, a lively bunch. Between my daughter, myself, her two daughters and their friends drifting in and out of the house my son-in-law only found peace and quiet once the lights went out. It was a fun and frenetic few days. My oldest granddaughter flew in from Phoenix while I was there to gather up her incredibly neurotic hybrid Yorktese (Yorkie/Maltese blend), Jasper, who’s been boarding with my daughter until my granddaughter got settled.

Jasper lost his mind on seeing his beloved owner for the first time in months. In the thrill of the moment he left a trail of urine from the front door to the kitchen worthy of a St. Bernard. Bladder empty, the dog rolled over on his back passing out cold as a wedge from the excitement. I’ve never seen a dog do that behavior before. Fainting goats, yes, but small dogs not so much. Maybe we humans should quit splicing dog breeds. The results seem to be somewhat left of perfect. Jasper suffers from acute separation anxiety if left alone. Viewed on the nanny cam he looks like a furry pogo stick jumping up and down behind the closed front door until his owners return. The dog seems unable to stand his own company for more than a minute. To be honest, his disposition could use some fine tuning, having felt his teeth at the back of my leg a time or two. He trails along after my daughter as though tied to her ankle by an invisible string. Perhaps the inbreeding makes them odd or high-strung, particularly when you blend two breeds both already known for that particular trait.

My odd sleeping habits, mainly falling asleep early and waking up in the middle of the night, make it difficult for me to spend the night away from home. To add to this, with a full house at my daughters I was assigned the couch on the first floor as my sleeping arrangements. It became obvious later in the night the twenty pound cat received the same notice. I awoke with his furry tail in my face to find my lungs deflated and unable to catch air. The huge tabby circled five times then made quite himself comfortable on my chest. Unable to take a hint with gentle nudging he didn’t seem inclined to move to the other couch anytime soon. Sleep not being an option, I reached my book on the coffee table and rested it on the cat’s back clapping my hands to turn on the lights. The Clapper. Remember that? Probably not. It is an invention whereby clapping of the hands causes the lights to turn on or off. My son-in-law found it at a garage sale. I’m amazed it ever made it beyond the light bulb stage, no pun intended. At one time, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, The Clapper ranked right up there with Pet Rocks, lava lamps, and Silly Putty. My mother gave my stepfather one for Christmas when I was a kid. For days afterward like two pre-schoolers with a new bike they delightedly illuminated and darkened our living room to such an extent it prompted a neighbor to stop by and inquire if everything was all right. Parents, go figure.

There are inventions on the market for everything. The “As Seen on TV” aisle is alive and well in most pharmacies and large discount stores. I have to admit I’ve been caught in the net a few times. Our garage sale featured a few must have items like the Veggetti and Perfect Polly. Not that they’re not great products (ahem). Perfect Polly was a gift for Boo, the Queen of Cats, from my Mother. Our Perfect Polly (a plastic parrot whose head and tail move as it tweets) never quite found her pitch. Polly met an untidy end when the poor bird’s head fell off while Rick was trying to make it work. Boo, the Queen of Cats, was not impressed.

So many inventions over the past decades have made life easier for most of us starved for a moment of free time. Still, with all the peelers on the market I defer to my hand-held potato peeler when the need arises. Once I purchased a tomato slicer, which produced pureed tomatoes seamlessly, but never actually made a thin slice of tomato while in my possession. In the end, I took out my razor sharp knife and it got the job done.

I have noticed with some of these new conveniences the cleanup is far more laborious than with the original item it is replacing. In the example of the tomato slicer by the time I took the machine apart and cleaned it after I used it, I could have washed one knife and been done. As much as I use my food processor, when it comes to grating cheese, which it does very efficiency, cleaning up the processor after you’re done might have made pulling the hand grater out a more expedient option.

Over the weekend I was explaining to my granddaughter and her friends that when I was their age there was a cord attached to the phone, and the phone was often attached to the wall. While using the phone the speaker was limited by the length of the cord attached. Back in the day the phone was well, a phone. I know! The receiver was only that a receiver. A phone contained no visuals, no Internet, no camera, and no keyboard. What! This was too much information apparently for one sitting. If I had told them I’d just run over a baby chick they couldn’t have been more horrified. Further I went on to explain there were no phones in cars. If one needed to speak to someone while on the road you pulled into a gas station and used the pay phone. I caught several of them eying me suspiciously after that revelation as though I was of an alien species. I half expected them to hang a sign on me and call the Smithsonian.

We’re having guests for dinner. Allergies are dogging me this week and keeping me from my usual high energy level. Millions of webs are descending from the trees in the yard draping barely visible filament all over everything. Earlier I got outside to tackle the situation but it became obvious armed with a broom wasn’t going to be enough. As soon as I swiped twenty down, thirty string along behind them. Our first spring here, this is a new phenomenon for us. Webs drape across car windows and paint. This is probably not good. Fortunately, our garage will allow two cars parked inside at once. Unfortunately, if one is an SUV once parked you cannot exit the vehicle. This could be a problem. I like our garage, don’t misunderstand me, but not on a permanent basis. Little snags in an otherwise glorious spring day.

This is such a pretty salad on the table without much effort from the cook. Perfect for a day warm enough to allow for open windows permitting a hint of a breeze to move through the house. Lovin it. I took the picture before I placed a line of hard boiled egg slices along the top.

Shrimp and Fresh Asparagus Salad with Simple Caesar Dressing

1 lb. asparagus, cooked, drained and chilled
1/2 lb. small cooked shrimp, tails on
1 container of cherry tomatoes, halved
4 button mushrooms, sliced thin
1/4 large red onion, thinly sliced and quartered
1/3 cup yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper

Line plate with a single layer of asparagus. Top with remaining ingredients. Line one sliced hard boil egg on top. Grind freshly ground black pepper over top. Drizzle liberally with dressing.

Caeser Dressing

1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp. dried mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. anchovy paste
2 cloves garlic, minced

Place in food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate preferably overnight. Shake before pouring.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson


Last night I had an In-N-Out burger “animal style”. Yum. In high school I contributed a good deal of my allowance money to In-N-Out and never lost the taste for their delicious burgers over the years. To give them all the credit they deserve, they’ve never lowered their standards using fresh ingredients and delivering a terrific product every time. The original stand I frequented was just that, a stand. Basically it was set up for drive through customers, although there was a small window at the front of the small boxlike building, where customers could order if on foot. Music blaring from our stereos, tuck and roll freshly installed from Tijuana, we cruised through after catching a movie at the drive-in or roller skating for a late night cheeseburger with grilled onions and a large fry, washed down with a soda or a suicide (a deadly concoction of coca cola, root beer, 7-up and anything else with a spigot attached to it). No wonder Clearasil did a big business back in the day.

Unbelievably, I can remember getting a McDonald’s cheeseburger and fries for about $.30. When I babysat, which I did often during my high school years, parents paid me $.50 an hour for the privilege of watching their little ones. Married not long after I graduated, I could feed my new husband and myself on a budget of about $15 a week, barely covering a loaf of bread and a jug of milk at today’s prices.

I mention this because I went to the grocery store yesterday. This is not unusual as is obvious by this blog, but it certainly is getting more expensive. Handing over $65.82 I got in return two bags, neither containing meat other than a half a pound of deli peppered turkey. Amazing. I wanted turmeric for a recipe I was working on. I found it appropriately in the spice aisle on sale for $7.99. Really? I hope it comes with a steak. Waving a fond farewell to the turmeric I decided instead to do something different with my chicken with the impressive array of spices already found in my cupboard.

It used to be I went to the store and purchased what was written on my list. With the drought pumping up the prices on nearly everything I need, I’ve turned to grocery outlet stores and double coupon days to help bring the cost of food down to a manageable place. Mentioning the soaring prices to the checker as I placed my two bags in the cart he said, “don’t forget the price of gas”. Thanks for reminding me.

Our middle class is fading into the background with jobs flourishing for low-income employees as well a higher paid executive positions. Advancing technology is phasing out many jobs formerly done my middle-income employees with a high school education, or high school plus a few years of college. Many middle-income jobs are being rerouted overseas where products can be produced at a fraction of the price by employees happy to work for pennies on the dollar. It is not unlikely the grocery clerk reminding me about the rising gas prices may someday be replaced by a computerized system at the checkout stand.

Lately there is a lot of buzz about reeling in some of the technology we’ve come to know and love. It is deemed unhealthy for little ones easily addicted to tablets with colorful pictures and animation before pulling on a pair of Dora the Explorer training pants. How do you reel in a revolution so warmly embraced by everyone from the diaper set to their great-grandfather Skypeing his grandchildren from the nursing home? It would be like taking away a pacifier from a crying baby. It wouldn’t be pretty.

Apps are popping up quicker than spring flowers. They range from helping police officers locate the closest donut establishment to capturing a picture of the food on your plate and determining your caloric intake taking into account what you’ve already put away for the day. We’re on the line, the hook is set and we’ve been reeled in. People are tiring of the constant clicking and chattering cluttering up their daily lives, unable to capture a moment of their children’s attention away from the glittering screen in front of them. Technology companies are amassing huge fortunes in their coffers riding on the surge of technology flooding the market devoured by consumers hungry for newer and more advanced products finding the ones just purchased obsolete before reading the user’s manual.

Where will we go from here? It boggles the mind. I watched a story on the news about a device implanted in several spinal injury cases which actually sends pulses to the brain allowing them to walk again and feel their previously inanimate limbs. Wow. Had we seen it in a movie in the 70′s we would have considered this all merely a work of Hollywood fiction. Hal, for me, in 2001 a Space Odyssey, was a bit unnerving but perhaps not so far fetched. What if we create machines so smart they outsmart their inventors? Cue Rod Serling now.

It is becoming an interesting, frustrating, often dangerous, and unpredictable world we live in. Always filled with incredible beauty and mother nature in the background toying with us playing her incessant games. Hopefully, the prices will level out as I’d like to try that recipe with turmeric down the road I’ve been eying. For today, it is to be in the 80′s, the tulips are blooming in the yard, and I’m headed out for a walk.

Panko Crusted Tilapia with Spinach Salad

Tilapia

4 tilapia filets
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
2 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Canola oil
Tartar sauce

Pat tilapia dry. Mix together Cajun seasoning, black pepper, garlic salt and salt. Sprinkle evenly over filets. Whisk together egg whites and Dijon mustard in shallow dish. Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish.

Coat each filets with egg white mixture then thoroughly dredge in bread crumbs.

Heat 1/2″ of Canola oil over high heat until shimmering. Add fish to pan and cook until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve with tartar sauce.

Serves 4

Spinach Salad with Mustard Dressing

1 pkg. baby spinach
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
6 large button mushrooms, sliced thin

Toss all ingredients with dressing or plate decoratively and pour dressing on top.

Mustard Dressing

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tsp. prepared mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

Add all ingredients to food processor. Process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson


Today I am behind on my original plans to clean. A friend going through a bad patch in her life needed some time with me on the phone. It is not a new rough spot for her, actually having been in place for several years due to a situation or several situations at home. In my estimation, not being a psychiatrist, though sometimes I feel as if people think I have hung out my shingle, she is stuck. By this I do not mean her feet are cemented to the living room carpet, rather stuck figuratively or emotionally.  This has happened to me a time or two in my life, usually after something traumatic having occurred.  Sometimes it’s difficult to get pointed in the right direction again when you’re thrown completely off course. I always suggest baby steps. If you put a long list of to-do’s in front of someone already overwhelmed with their lives the effect most likely will be self-defeating. As I said, I do not presume to know what is or what is good for someone else, but I do know what works for me.

People often ask me how I maintain a relatively “sunny” outlook on the world. Truthfully, I have no idea. I feel sunny most of the time, and wake up generally looking forward to the 24 hours stretched out before me with unbridled enthusiasm. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not one of those perpetually chirpy humans who only sees rainbows in torrential downpours, but I do try to concentrate of what is going well in my life if possible rather than what is not.

Sometimes when my mind wanders, an event happening about every three seconds, I wonder if we evolve as we move along on our journeys.  Trials and tribulations, tests of our mettle and stamina, seem to fill in the gaps between happy and blissful times we live through. As the years pass I ponder more often if this is our only visit on earth, or if we do, in fact, evolve through a series of life experiences coming back in a new and better version of ourselves each time until we are complete.  This is a lot to chew on on this lovely day, so I shall move on to lighter subjects but the unanswered questions will linger with me for a while as I haven’t had my second cup of coffee which usually makes moving rather than thinking a more likely choice for the day.

I spent most of yesterday doing spring cleaning. Basically, I lugged all the heavier clothes and jackets to the closets downstairs, replacing them with more springlike attire in the upstairs master bedroom closet.  At least I was able to combine my cardio for the day with moving my closet. Second on my list was installing the new box from our satellite provider. My other half, a lovely man by all accounts, hasn’t got a technical bone in his entire body. There’s someone out there running around with extra hardware savvy programmed into his brain having used up the savvy originally targeted for Rick. In other areas he’s genius but give him an unfamiliar computer screen or some software to load and his mind goes to pudding before your very eyes. I’ve often reminded him should anything ever happen to me he’d better rush out and find a computer motivated female who likes to cook or he’s doomed to sit alone staring at a blue screen while the microwave runs through the minutes until his chicken pot pie is ready. I consider it sort of a tenure clause, keeping me around til the end of the run.

Unpacking the new unit to be installed, I set up a stool at the back of the mammoth TV in our family room. Setting the new unit atop the old, I began unplugging the old cords from the back of the malfunctioning unit and transferring them to the back of the new.  Once done, I followed the instructions on the card provided and worked my way to the final screen where it indicated I was to call the service provider to activate the receiver. Yea for me. I got a lovely woman on the phone who began at the beginning. Stopping her, I explained I’d already gotten to the last screen and all I needed was for her to activate it. She asked who was here with me. I said, “the cat” . For some reason this amazed her and she asked if I had technical background. She went on to say most people call her as soon as they exchange the plugs. Really?  Maybe this stems from my single mom days when I could fix everything from the garbage disposal to the Hubble Telescope with a kitchen knife and electrical tape. We went on to hook up the wireless setup and she said she was going to send me a gold star for excellent “techie” performance. Even I was impressed with me at that point.

It does suck, however, even as far as they’ve come technically all the programs you’ve taped up until the receiver starts to fail are all lost when it is replaced.  I don’t have time to watch that much TV but when I do sit down to watch a program it’s nice to find a movie in the DVR I’ve saved for just such an occasion. Having hooked up the wireless connection allows for a lot more choices available so perhaps this will be a great change! Ahhh, the rainbow in the torrential downpour.

My mother called as I was typing with one of many daily “culinary questions”. I never mind the interruption. Some day I will not be able to pick up a phone and hear her voice on the other end, so consider a pleasure (most days anyway) to speak to her when I’m available.  Aside from how long her tortellini soup would last once prepared, she shared with me her cat, Susie, had left the remainder of her lunch on Mother’s pillow. This was something I could easily have finished my day without knowing. I’m just sayin. Once the descriptive phase of the conversation was over Mother concluded by saying, “I don’t like it when she does that.” I pointed out most likely the cat didn’t wake up from her nap and come up with a devious plan to ruin Mother’s afternoon. More likely all the treats my mom insists on giving her when she begs upset the animal’s stomach. Ah well, those treats are not a problem any more.

This garlic cheese bread is the best. Someone gave me a similar recipe a while back at a get together and I took it and ran with it. It’s easy, impressive, and absolutely addictive!

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Easy Cheesy Garlic Bread

1 loaf sliced sourdough cheese bread

1 cup Italian blend cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1/2 cup chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place bread on piece of tin foil large enough to fold up around the sides leaving the top of the loaf exposed.

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Mix cheeses together in small mixing bowl. Sprinkle cheese over top of bread, opening each slice and sprinkling cheese in between each piece.

Melt butter together with garlic and chives in microwave for 1 min. or until completely melted. Pour over the top of the bread. Cover top with tin foil. Bake for 15 mins. Remove cover and continue baking 20 mins.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I have a friend with an adult child going through some legal problems. After speaking to her at some length last week, I was reminded of an experience I had about fifteen years ago with another friend going through a similar situation. Her son, just legal age, was in jail for possession of drug paraphernalia. Struggling through high school with his addiction, this was not a new situation for the family. Actually his arrest was by way of a relief because at least if he was behind bars he wouldn’t be using. At least, I believe that’s how our penal system is supposed to function. As with many government agencies and officials, what they’re supposed to be doing and what they’re actually doing are often totally different programs. From what I was told later he managed to locate a supplier inside the jail eliminating the need to shop elsewhere for his drugs. How terribly convenient.

At any rate my friend needing moral support her husband washing his hands of the whole matter, asked if I would accompany her to her first jail visit with her son. Let me preface this by saying being “locked up”, if you will, would be the worst imaginable punishment for me. Besides being totally claustrophobic, from what I’ve heard the people you’d be cohabiting with most possibly wouldn’t have your best interests in mind. I’m a lover not a fighter and I’m sure they’d see powder puff scribbled across my forehead before I’d changed into my orange jumpsuit. Much against my better judgment, I signed up to go with her. You don’t let a friend face a crisis alone simply because you have feathers and a beak. The following Friday she picked me up an hour prior to visiting hours. On the trip she explained what would happen when we got there so we’d have some idea of what to expect. Words like hoosegow, club fed, big house, slammer, and the joint kept floating through my mind. Palms sweating I could picture a warden with a southern drawl telling me “what we have here a failure to communicate”, while shooting a perfect bullseye of chewing tobacco into the spittoon next to his desk.

The jail itself was composed of a number of drab buildings made ominous by being surrounded on all sides by a peripheral gate with barbed wire strung along the top. Guard towers rose above the roofs of the buildings and armed guards could be seen moving behind the glass. Oh-oh. We followed the arrows towards the main lobby. Inside we found four uniformed officers and about twenty people either seated along the wall or standing talking to one another. Some of the women, to reference an old southern quote, looked to have been “rode hard and put up wet”. Life had obviously weighed hard on them and I had a feeling this wasn’t the first time they’d found themselves sitting on the hard lobby benches. Heavy makeup, low cut tee’s and full body tattoos seemed to be the dress of the day. Obviously we hadn’t gotten the memo. We stood out like a red dress in a convent. At the counter we had to fill out some paperwork and show identification. At the visiting time we were instructed to put our belongings in a tray and walk through the metal detector before entering the interior room. Perhaps this was in case we were “carrying”. How exciting. The only thing I was carrying was a tin of Altoids, my wallet, a lipstick and my hair brush. I suppose I could have used the hair brush as a weapon, or perhaps threatened to make them eat the entire box of Altoids at one sitting temporarily reducing their air flow. At any rate, we waited with the others trying not to establish eye contact with anyone. Silently I was wishing I’d worn my “Born to Be Bad” sweatshirt I’d gotten at the Runaways concert. Who knew?

A guard announced it was visiting time and we lined up as told. My friend and I lingered towards the back trying to go unnoticed. One by one people were scanned and passed through the waiting room. I placed my items in the tray and walked under the frame of the metal detector. Lights blinked and buzzers sounded. Everybody turned to look at me. What? It’s a hair brush I swear. Next they pulled me to one side and the wand was waved over me so many times I thought perhaps the pumpkin had turned into a carriage and my prince was waiting outside the palace for me. Removing everything but my clothing and skin, still the buzzers went off.

Finally, unable to proceed a matron, easily over six feet with a pony tail so tight she appeared to be wearing a perpetual grin, escorted me to a side room and closed the door. I was asked to remove my shirt. At this juncture I began looking for an available escape route. One more scan of my upper torso confirmed the suspicion, not voiced to me, the under wire in my bra was setting off the machine. Really? Just as a thought, perhaps you could have asked me if I was wearing such an item prior to asking me to disrobe. Aside from that I couldn’t believe I was the only female in the entire group with an under wire? Leave it to me. I should have read up on prison chic. When I came out with the woman buttoning my shirt I couldn’t have gotten more attention if I’d been wearing a pig on my head. All eyes turned in my direction. Explaining the situation to my friend she started laughing and continued to laugh through the entire visit with her son. Very un-friendlike behavior if you ask me.

Determining I wasn’t the criminal mastermind they’d originally suspected me to be, I was let in with the others to the meeting room. Shortly the prisoners arrived making their way towards familiar faces, with my friends son waving at us. At one table a man and woman were making out on such a level that a guard came over and separated them with his baton. For the most part though the conversation was low, occasionally accented with laughter and once an argument broke out between a man and his lady necessitating her removal from the area. I kept my head low and listened to the exchange between my friend and her son. He needed money, she said she would leave some for him. Much the same conversation that landed him there in the first place I would guess.

So, that was my close call with incarceration. I was so glad to get outside and in the car. For sure, I’m not destined for a life of crime, aside from the fact I seem to have the look for it.

My other half asked me to experiment with Kataifi, basically shredded filo dough. Having never used it before it was indeed an experiment. It wasn’t as beautiful perhaps as it could have been but the end result was gooey and delicious and how interesting it looked on the plate. Going to try it again to make birds nests on Easter. Yum. I couldn’t find the dough locally but as with most things, I found it on Amazon.

IMG_5941Kataifi me Amigthala

1 lb. Kataifi dough (thawed for 2 hours on counter)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup ground walnuts
2 cups ground almonds
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 Tbsp. brandy
1 egg white
2 cups water
2 cups caster sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
2″ lemon rind strip
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. honey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Mix nuts with 1/2 cup caster sugar, 1 tsp. ground cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. ground in medium mixing bowl. Note: If you can’t find caster sugar, place sugar in food processor and pulse until fine consistency. Add brandy and lightly mixed egg white to nut mixture. Mix well to form a paste.

IMG_5937

Separate into eight portions. Roll each portion into cigar shapes about 7″ long.

IMG_5938

Spray a cookie sheet generously with cooking spray.

Lay out pastry strands lengthwise. Taking 1/8 of the strands at a time lay them out in front of you close together facing away from you lengthwise. Brush with melted butter. Place 1 cigar shaped nut piece on the end closest to you and roll up as tightly a possible. Place on cooking sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces.

IMG_5939

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Once all rolls are on baking sheet brush again with melted butter. Place in oven and bake until golden brown, about 55 mins.

IMG_5942

While rolls are baking place 2 cups water in medium saucepan. Add 2 cups caster sugar and mix well. Stirring constantly over low heat cook until sugar is dissolved. Add lemon juice, lemon rind, 1/8 tsp. ground cloves, and 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon to mixture. Bring to boil over med. heat and continue boiling for 10 mins. Remove from heat and add 1 Tbsp. honey. Allow to cool completely.

Immediately on taking browned rolls out of oven pour cooled mixture over top. Allow to cool completely then cut each roll into four pieces.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

I’ve been quiet for a week, at least on my blog, to help my mother celebrate her birthday. An impressive number of candles were lit on her behalf to mark the occasion. The exact count, when all was said and done, I cannot reveal as she had me sign a non-disclosure form the day I could write my name. Mum has lied about her age for so many years I believe for a period of time in the 80′s I was actually older than she was. Twenty-nine cards arrived from friends and family. Each year she counts her haul and saves every one. I’m thinking of submitting her name to Hoarders, the Greeting Card Episode. One party after another was hosted on her behalf. If she milks this right she could still be celebrating when the next one rolls around.

As usual my mother continues to amaze me. The woman drives like a teenager, not necessarily a good thing, recently resulting in a speeding ticket. Although not a feat worthy of a pat on the back, if you factor in her time on the earth it’s somewhat impressive. As a family we keep an eye on her driving skills from visit to visit. Nothing significant indicating slowing of her reflexes or any glaring reason for considering alternate means of transportation has shown up as yet. There isn’t a day that passes I’m not thankful for her apparent tapping into the Fountain of Youth. I have many friends in less enviable situations with their aging parents and can imagine it can be extremely difficult for both sides involved.

On her birthday day we gathered at her favorite Mexican restaurant for a celebratory Cadillac margarita or two and some fabulous flour tortilla crab enchiladas, a specialty of the house. Presents in the center of the table tipped off the waitress to a birthday in our midst so once the dishes were cleared a group circled the table presenting my mother with a dessert with a candle in it. One waiter predominated, obviously of Italian descent once he began to sing. He belted out “”Happy Ada Berday, toa youa” in such a rich, and incredibly loud baritone my mother had to take her hearing aids out.

Outside my window snow is falling. I know. I pulled out the calendar to reassure myself we were, in fact, on the page marked April with 1the colorful picture of all the lovely spring flowers on top. Hmmmm. Today they predict more snow flurries, thunderstorms, and possibly a tornado or two just to keep it interesting. With the lower half of the state returning items to their shelves after the large quake and myriad of aftershocks, California is a rockin place to be at the moment. All we need are some flying monkeys for effect.

Scientists are saying we should get used to extreme bouts of weather or strange weather patterns. I’d say if this year and last are any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for some interesting years ahead. Today I am tucked inside with the windows between me and the beautiful snow falling but tomorrow is a volunteer day for me so I’ll be aiming the car up the steep driveway and crossing my fingers I’ll go up and not come back down. Life is nothing if not interesting.

Being shut in for the day will give me a chance to tackle my backed up pile of paperwork before it spreads it’s ever growing roots along the countertops until it consumes all life below. For me the perfect horror film scenario would be to be trapped in a huge warehouse filled to the brim with nothing but old mail, magazines and catalogs with a huge mail slot continually feeding in new envelopes. Now that would be terrifying. We shred, shred, shred and yet the pile continues to grow. I’ve signed up on line for automatic bill pay and yet still the number of envelopes I find in the mailbox every day don’t seem to be dwindling significantly. With the price of stamps increasing before the ink has dried on the latest edition, pretty soon it will be cheaper to drive mail to its destination rather than placing it in the mailbox.

Speaking of horror films, or mail, or whatever I was speaking about. Help me out here. Were you listening? Horror films, that was it. The first scary movie I saw was Frankenstein when I was nine. Unable to look away from the screen but needing to lest I wet my pants, I peeked through slightly open fingers as the monster terrorized the village. After that I was hooked. To this day, however, when watching a particularly terrifying scene I still view it through my fingers just in case. For myself, I’m not a fan of slasher movies or anything involving a chain saw. Nightmare on Elm Street gave me, well, nightmares, so I never watched any of the sequels nor did I continue on with the guy in the goalie mask after the first movie came out. All the Hitchcock films captured my full attention, and still seeing a line of birds perched on a telephone wire gives me pause for thought. Stephen King, one of my favorite writers of his genre, provided me with several sleepness nights being pursued by demonic clowns after watching It, and Pet Cemetary, to be literal, scared me to death. I’ve seen every Alien movie and will still sit chewing on the edge of my throw if one appears on the TV schedule over the weekend. The words “Here’s Johnny”, bring to mind Jack Nicholson’s maniacal grin at the bathroom door, and snow on the TV, not possible these days, would remind me of Carol Anne saying “They’re here”, in Poltergeist. The worst of the lot for me were the really gruesome variety such as Pumpkinhead, the 13th Floor, and Hellraisers which I thought I’d have to have erased from my memory banks via electric shock therapy.

I do love to scared, it’s true. Much like life, in a good horror flick you never know what’s going to turn up around the next corner. Smile.

This is great recipe if you have leftover crepes from Sunday brunch. I often make the crepes ahead of time and store in the refrigerator with wax paper in between to eliminate that step the day I make the dish.

Crespelle Ripiene (Stuffed Crepes) with Zucchini Pepperoni Sauce

Crepes

1 1/2 cups 2% milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 large eggs
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

Place all ingredients but 3 Tbsp. of butter in food processor. Blend until smooth.

Heat large non-stick skillet over high heat. Use additional 3 Tbsp. melted butter to brush skillet between each crepe. Pour 1/2 cup of batter in center of skillet and swirl quickly and turn to spread a thin layer on bottom of pan.

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Cook until golden brown, about 1 min. on each side until you have 6 crepes. Stack until ready to use.

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Filling

13 oz. Ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Mozzarella cheese, grated
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley

Mix all ingredients together and set aside.

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Zucchini Pepperoni Sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium zucchini, small cubed
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 15 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
10 slices pepperoni
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat olive oil in large deep skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 mins. Add garlic and cook for 1 min.

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Add zucchini and cook for 5 mins.

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Add tomatoes, basil, marjoram, salt, pepper, bay leaves, sugar and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 40 mins. or until sauce has reduced and thickened.

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Meanwhile line baking sheet with tin foil. Spread out pepperoni and place in oven for 6 mins. Cut in quarters.

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Add to sauce at end with 2 Tbsp. parsley and cook an additional 5 mins.

To assemble:

Place 1 1/2 Tbsp. on top of each crepe. Fold in half.

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Then fold in quarters.

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Line crepes in shallow baking dish. Top with sauce. Sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 mins.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

My mother is having a birthday. As she puts it she’s not fond of birthdays, but prefers them to the alternative. Each year I try to come up with something creative for someone who has covered most of the bases over the years already. Being the “only chick”, the onus is on me to make her birthday special and hopefully memorable. One year, waaaaaaay back, living out of state I forgot. What living out of state has to do with it I’m not sure, but I threw it in by way of a defense. This has never been forgotten, or repeated, especially since it’s never been forgotten.

With our clan continuing to expand, remembering all the birthdays requires a “birthday calendar”, and making sure no one feels slighted a financial consultant. With groceries, gas, and general living expenses on the rise I have had to lower their expectations when they find a card with my handwriting in the mail, because finances simply can’t handle the traffic anymore. At one time everyone got a piece of the pie, but between Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, not to mention the heavy hitters like birthdays and Christmas, it can get out of hand pretty quickly. Aside from the cost involved in keeping up, picking out the perfect gift isn’t easy anymore. It used to be a doll or a game would suffice but now it has to be interactive and most likely expensive.

I consider myself so fortunate to have had my mother with me throughout my journey. Certainly she has stuck with me through the worst and best of it. Being my biggest fan she’s watched me walk down the aisle four times each time holding out equal optimism for the results. Go team Mom! Somehow we struggled through my teenage years without inflicting personal injury one another, a feat looking back I consider short of a miracle. Being an only child can be a bit daunting at times. It falls on you to pull the wagon, and if it goes off the road there is no one else to point a finger at. Certainly on the plus side all the attention comes in your direction without other siblings involved. The spotlight steadily shining on you can be both good and bad, especially if you’re trying to get away with something. A side effect might be a selfish bent if spoiled, as sharing is not a word you learn much about until you reach adulthood with the full share of your parents love and devotion piled solely upon your person. I was given lots of love, but was taught responsibility and had to earn my way to things my heart desired. Being an only encourages an independent nature, often making it easier to entertain oneself when the need arises. I have many friends with multiple siblings, who simply don’t know what to do with themselves when left to their own devices. Conversely, I find alone time a happy place on many occasions, giving rise to deep thought and creativity.

At fourteen, when my mother remarried, I was handed a stepfather with my piece of white cake with raspberry cream filling, and a stepbrother. I would have preferred a scoop of ice cream. Adjusting to the new men in my life was a process fraught with ripples, and I certainly didn’t calm the waters. Up until then I’d been doing just fine on my own, and suddenly every other weekend, holidays, and summers I had a tussle headed shadow at my heels I hadn’t signed up for.

Mike was two years younger than I, and for some unknown reason thought the sun rose and set on my sorry behind. To me, he was like an annoying bee circling my piece of watermelon. I was a teenager with lots of friends, and having a little brother tagging along wasn’t number one on my list. “Take Mike with you, Honey”, became the mantra around our house.

The first year as a new family was a rocky one. Slowly but surely I came to accept the annoying little bee around my watermelon, and came to find a certain protective feeling rising in me. Mike was a latchkey kid, much like myself, from a broken family, much like myself. His mother was a lady with a huge head of unnaturally bright red hair and a penchant for Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink Wine. I remember this only because when visiting their house to pick up my stepbrother, the empty bottles were displayed all over the living room having been put into use as flower vases, candle holders, and herb gardens. Amazing. In comparison to my stepfather who stood well over six feet, his ex was a short woman as wide as she was tall. Professing to have an hour glass figure, she was prone to wearing waist pinching belts moving what was gathered there either flowing up and over the top or oozing out below. A non-stop talker, her bright crimson lips entertained a perpetual wagging cigarette, and she smelled, as I remember, quite strongly of Evening in Paris perfume. The house itself was hippie chic. Love beads dangled from the doors and incense burned in a pot by a stereo usually blaring the latest Stone’s hit. Laundry hung everywhere. In order to sit it was necessary to remove something covering the furniture to locate a spot. In comparison to the chaos in the rest of the house, the kitchen was pristine, as it was rarely used. According to Mike his mother had never used a pot, at least in the conventional sense. I think he enjoyed coming to our house because my mother loved to cook, our cupboards were always full, and immaculate, you could eat off her floor on any given day.

As the years passed we became the best of friends, siblings really. We fought like brothers and sisters will, and made up. Schemes were plotted and sentences enforced when things went wrong. I got used to having him around and came to like having a brother. At eighteen with the war in full swing in Viet Nam, my stepfather bought him a food truck. Mike threw himself enthusiastically into his new business, having a knack for cooking and natural head for numbers and promoting himself. With his name moving up the list to be called to service always lingering in the back of his mind, he was easy prey for the disciples of a religious cult building strength in numbers in the area. Before long they wrapped their beliefs around him as tightly as a boa constrictor might a gazelle. The food truck was found abandoned by the side of the street in Los Angeles one night. Searching for months we found him in a building outside of San Francisco. Our only contact was to speak to him from the sidewalk while he leaned out of a window on the third floor. The next time I heard from him I had two children and he was farming in New Zealand. After that the trail went cold. I often wonder where he is today. I’ve tried searching from time to time but without much luck. His name is in my birthday book, perhaps someday I’ll know where to send his card.

This burger was too juicy and yummy. I ate it right down to the ground.

Torta Burger with Picante Sauce

2 lbs. ground chuck
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
6 slices cheddar cheese
1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped
1 large tomato, sliced
6 Bolillo Buns
Red onion
Guacamole

Crumble meat in large bowl. Add Worcestershire sauce. Mix seasonings together and sprinkle over meat. Mix together with fingertips until well blended. Make into 6 oblong patties. Barbecue, broil or cook meat on stove top to desired cooking level. Add cheese at end to melt.

Slice buns in half and slather both cut sides with sauce. Top with meat, lettuce and tomato. Add garnishes as desired.

Picante Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream
2 tsp. key lime juice
2 Tbsp. chopped green chiles
2/3 cup Pace Picante Sauce (I used hot)
Salt and pepper

Mix together all ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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Yesterday while in the doctor’s office the doctor, who I had never met before, asked me what I preferred to be called. Let’s see, intelligent, funny, perhaps attractive would be nice. Oh, if you mean my name, Susie works well. Looking up over the thick black rims of his reading glasses he said, “really?”, as though I’d asked him to call me Desdemona Lemongrass. What’s wrong with Susie? It’s a perfectly good name. It originally belonged to my great-grandmother and she did very well with it, thank you. If Susie is the strangest name he’s heard lately he hasn’t been watching the news. Kate Winslet recently dubbed her new baby boy Bear Blaze. Now that deserves a “really?” Bear Blaze? Moon Unit and Dweezil weren’t punishment enough? Jessica Simpson called her son Ace Knute with Gwyneth Paltrow naming her little angel Apple. Beyonce chose Blue Ivy as the perfect name for her daughter. At least she could have gotten the color right.

Names, I believe, are important. They follow us throughout our lives and often help shape who we are. Once I read about a women in a maternity ward naming her infant daughter, Private (pronounced pre-vaah-tee). This, because she couldn’t think of a name so used the word on the sign over the door across the hall from her in the hospital as a guide. PRIVATE. Nice. What’s next, Cafeteria or Radiology?

In high school I learned history (or at least attended the class) in the seat behind Robin Hood (a girl), and briefly dated John Johann Johnson, who we simply referred to as J.J. Thinking back it should have been, J.J.J. Charlie Chaplain was the drum major in my Junior year, and if being in the band wasn’t enough of a social gaffe, his name was an endless source of ridicule. Fortunately Charlie went on to graduate from medical school and a successful career in gynecology. Sometimes names hinder a person in business. I was once referred to a surgeon with the last name of Hamburger. Most likely this was linked to German heritage, but in his profession I can imagine it’s not a plus.

When I was a dental assistant, there was a dentist listed on the local roster of dentists by the name of Dr. Sugar. Hmmm. This could be a good or a bad thing depending on your point of view. Once in his office to deliver some films I noticed there were bowls of candy strategically placed in the office. Obviously drumming up new business.

I babysat as a kid for Harry Orange and his wife Ann Orange. He fit the description to a tee, being a rotund man blessed with his and someone elses share of body hair all the color of a ripe persimmon. Someone was thinking ahead when he came into the world. At fifteen I painted a local bakery’s windows for Halloween, appropriately given a check for the job from Mr. Baker, the appropriate owner of the establishment.

Pregnant with my daughter, we searched, argued, debated, and changed our mind about names right up until I entered the delivery room. Muriel, my grandmother’s name, was suggested by my parents. I adored my grandmother, a wonderful woman by anyones standards, but wasn’t it enough she had to go through he life with that moniker, did we have to repeat the mistake? Being Susan, which was shortened to Sue, Susie, Suzy, Sus or lengthened to Suzanne, Susie-Q, and God knows what else, I wanted a name which couldn’t be cut off at the knees. In the end, Heather came to live at our house, shortly known at Heath. Sigh.

All this came to mind because of a young lady working behind the counter at Target the other day wearing a name tag reading, Shy-low. I couldn’t help but inquire about the origin of the name. She explained it was a version of Shiloh. I didn’t have the heart to explain I’d gotten that far in the riddle prior to asking the questions. Her mother, it seemed, wanted to add some originality to the original. Success was definitely achieved.

There are some odd ones circulating at the moment, Crispian, for example. Sounds like a snack cracker. Breezy, for a girl’s name brings to mind fabric softener or perhaps a light-headed girl, and I do not mean hair color. Names come and go, I would suppose. You don’t see many Ethyl’s or Gladys’ these days, and I can’t remember the last time a man introduced himself to me as Harvey or Stanley.

It’s good to infuse some new names into the mix for a little variety perhaps. I do wish they’d at least spell them so we could pronounce them, however. My second husband’s last name was Smallwood, which became mine once I said I do. For the years we were married I was constantly asked to spell it. Our realtor’s name was spelled Rene, but pronounced Rainey. I had to write it phonetically on a piece of paper before I went in the office. When living in the southern states, I met many people with two first names like Billy Bob, Mary Lou, etc. Our insurance agent was Bobby Ray something or other, and never went by Bobby that I knew off. Once a month Ina Mae performed wonders on my hair, and our neighbor Patsy Jane, in Alabama, stopped by often for coffee and a bit of gossip.

So it remains a quandary what to name our offspring. Not for me, of course, I’ve done my damage. If I was to do it again, I’d believe I’d go for something original like Rhino or Topaz. Perhaps if I come around again, I’ll spend some time writing some ideas down so I don’t end up with Private or something as plebian as John.

Anyhow, food for thought on this glorious spring day. This is my last salute to my leftover corned beef. It was really good with the bit of hot in the topping.

Corned Beef Colcannon Soup

3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dry pearled barley
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
4 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
8 cups beef stock
3 cups cooked corned beef, diced
3 slices cooked crisp bacon, crumbled
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 bay leaves
1 sprig fresh thyme
4 cups packed fresh spinach

Topping

1/2 mayonnaise
1/2 sour cream
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper

In large saucepan boil water over high heat. Stir in barley and mushrooms. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 45 mins. Drain reserving all liquid. Set aside.

Place onion, carrots, and celery, and garlic cut in chunks in food processor.

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Pulse until chopped.

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Melt butter in stockpot over high heat. Add minced vegetables and tomato paste to pan.

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Cook until liquid disappears. Deglaze with wine an continue cooking until wine is nearly evaporated.

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Add reserved stock, corned beef, potatoes, bay leaves, and sprig of thyme. Lower heat to simmer and cook for 15 mins. or until potatoes are fork tender. Stir in barley and spinach. Continue cooking for 10 mins. Remove bay leaves and thyme sprig. Adjust seasonings if needed.

For topping combine all ingredients. Serve in dollops on top of soup.

Serves 8-10

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson


This period of adjustment associated with Daylight Savings Time is doing me in. I may have to move to Colorado where they don’t acknowledge the change to carry on. Perhaps I’m getting old and don’t do as well with change as I did in my younger years, or it’s as simple as having my day altered an hour throws me off my feed. Yesterday was my day to work at the food bank. Normally I’m scheduled to arrive at 8:00, a schedule I’ve been adhering to for nearly a year without any problems. Before closing my eyes I switched on the alarm. Losing an extra hour of sleep would most likely put me behind in the morning.

I woke up to my other half standing over the alarm with a sledge hammer trying to get it to stop its infernal yowling. When choosing an alarm I tried to find the most annoying of the lot, and for a pleasant change of pace I was spot on. In my dream the incessant beeping translated to a kitchen timer which I couldn’t turn off. Annoying, but apparently not enough so to wake me up. I’ve a history with alarm incidents. Once on a trip across the U.S. in a U-Haul truck the movement of the truck triggered the alarm on a clock buried somewhere deep in the contents of the fully packed truck. The alarm, a plastic boy scout with a bugle was one I’d purchased in an effort to rouse my perpetually late son. Truly the most annoying alarm clock ever created. It was so loud it permeated the truck wall and we could hear it in the cab. I can’t tell you how many miles we drove with, “da-da-de-ta-ta, da-da-de-ta-ta, WAKE UP STUPID!” blaring in the background. Thankfully, before we were forced to pull over, abandon the truck entirely, and walk the rest of the way to Arkansas, the battery went dead.

Yesterday, after the alarm clock was silenced and my other half grumbled off to sleep, coffee was definitely in order. The cat, who gets treats in the morning, was rolling about on the floor striking her most beguiling poses lest I forget this ritual quite dear to heart.  I threw her a look saying, “Really? It’s 5:00 and the pot’s not full yet”. She rolled over and put two paws together like a bunny, did a brief tap dance, and winked at me. Fine, if you’re going to do tricks. Cats are funny beings.

Last week I visited my daughter, Heather. They have a cat answering to Myluv. Even cats seem to have unintelligible names these days. Cassanova was his original name. Once neutered, it no longer seemed to apply. Cassanova is an orange tabby, huge by cat standards, and totally S.P.O.I.L.E.D. I was told to spell this word when using it in his presence. It seems he’s bilingual. There are five animals living under their roof, two cats and three dogs. The two larger canines are of generic heritage, with the smaller feisty little black dog, Jasper, being a hybrid mix such as a Pookimo or somesuch. Jasper enjoys a combative relationship with Myluv, only coming together with the cat when it’s beneficial to both parties. After a recent visit to the vet, it was determined Myluv was, for lack of a better term, fat. The extra poundage is largely attributed to the enormous amount of feline treats he consumes hourly. If not given the treats, he will source them out himself, necessitating a treat door with a lock having to be installed causing the big cat much consternation. Last week Heather stopped to pick up a sandwich as she hadn’t eaten all day. Starving, she set the sandwich on her dresser to keep it out of reach of the circling Jasper, nose on full alert sensing salami and cheese in the immediate vicinity. As usual Myluv was waiting by his treat drawer. Disappointingly, nothing was forthcoming. Leaving the two animals alone while she changed, my daughter emerged from her closet to find the angry cat shoving the sandwich off the dresser onto the floor, where the waiting Jasper grabbed his prize disappearing under the bed. Totally tag teamed by her animals. These are the times when you need a quick video.

I digress, as usual. I’ve always been the one in the family having the most difficulty with the time change. This is not a new phenomenon for sure. I can recall a day back in the 1980′s, which my family brings up to me whenever we adjust our clocks. It was a Monday. Nothing good happens on Monday. The Saturday prior we began DST and Sunday, a busy day for me when working, I cleaned house and was tired by early afternoon. Feeling loggy, I set the alarm for 2:30 as dinner wasn’t scheduled to cook itself. Sitting with a book in hand, I dozed off waking up with the alarm at the allotted time.

Work back then, had me up and on the road by 6:15. My alarm was set for 5:00. So glad I don’t have to do that anymore, although I still wake up around then out of habit I think. Anyhow, children tucked in we turned off the lights that night around 11:00. In the wee hours the alarm went off. Feeling like I’d just gone to sleep I pushed the button off and padded into the kitchen. The coffee pot, usually set for automatic, hadn’t performed as programmed so I turned it on and got prone on the couch waiting for a punch of much needed caffeine to start my engine.

Still tired even after a coffee infusion, I washed my hair, put on my makeup and chose an outfit for the day. About that time I woke my husband up and was preparing to wake the kids when I noticed the kitchen clock read 3:30. Are you kidding me? My husband, to say the least, was not amused. I was up and ready to start my day so I made a meatloaf and put in a load of laundry. Not good, not good at all.

So far this past week I’ve arrived at two appointments at the wrong time, and missed one altogether. Hopefully, the week ahead will find me back on track.

Using up the leftover corned beef from St. Patty’s Day is always a creative process. Tomorrow is Colcannon Soup, Reuben sandwiches are coming down the road, and last night we enjoyed this yummy corned beef version of Cobb Salad which was absolutely delicious.

O’Cobb Salad with Leftover Corned Beef and Russian Dressing for Two

2 hearts of rommaine, chopped
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cucumber, diced
4 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
2 eggs, sliced
1 cup cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup cooked corned beef, cubed
1 avocado, diced

Make a bed of lettuce on a plate. Line ingredients up artfully on top. Add a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Serve with Russian dressing.

Russian Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chili sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
1-3 drops hot sauce (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Setting boundaries in our relationships isn’t always an easy task. Nobody wants to say “no” to a friend or a loved one, but sometimes it is necessary. Let me begin by saying, historically I have not been good at this. If my phone rang, I answered. I answered it whether I was elbow deep in a chicken, washing my hair, or hanging from a trapeze in my living room. It was my belief if someone cared enough to take the time to call me, I should reciprocate by caring enough to pick up the phone. These days I can give myself a hall pass on a ringing phone if I am too tired, not in the mood to talk, in the middle of my favorite movie, or simply not inclined to answer it. There is still a twinge of residual guilt associated with such behavior, but I manage to finish the chapter in my book, dry my hair, or simply keep my feet in an upright position and work my way through it. Another step forward is when I do call back I don’t spend two hours explaining why I didn’t answer the phone in the first place.

Taught early in life by the females molding my young character one puts others needs before your own, it was a difficult concept for me to 4wrap my mind around the difference between acting in a “selfish” manner and taking care of oneself. Once I grasped the idea, at least to the level I have achieved, I found it a most freeing concept indeed. In a world where contact comes in so many forms, it is nice to turn it off, if you will, for a while and find a quiet place for your thoughts and body to rejuvenate and refresh themselves. Cue yoga master, Celtic music, and waterfall here.

It used to be I found riding in the car extremely relaxing. Driving along with the radio playing my favorite tunes, was for me very soul soothing. Even when my son had colic as a baby, taking him for a car ride if he was fussy quickly lulled him to sleep. When cell phones arrived on the scene, prior to laws prohibiting their use while driving, my idyllic drive home after work or when headed for a day off at the beach or perhaps a picnic in the park was often interrupted by friends having issues, someone needing a recipe, requests to pick up dry cleaning, or to settle a disagreement or problem arising at home. My world became a little bit smaller the more connected I became.

In the 80′s my family adopted a “Susie will do it” attitude. If there was a button needed sewing, a game hen needed stuffing, a ride to be given, or a favor to be asked my name was the first one tossed in the hat. My son would announce five minutes before bedtime he had a project due the following day, and often I would find myself up long after everyone else was spooning with the Sandman building volcanoes out of paper mache or making flour and salt maps of the United States. If cupcakes were3 needed for a Friday school party and notice given Thursday night just before my favorite program was to begin, ten minutes later I would be running around the market in my fuzzy slippers gathering cupcake liners, and ingredients to get the job done.  It got so bad on my thirty-third birthday Superwoman showed up on my cake, and one of the gag gifts was a tee-shirt with a big red “S” on the front. Really? Looking back I think I felt if I could do absolutely everything for absolutely everybody somehow the world would sit better on its axis and life would progress wrinkle free into the good night. Not so, my friends. Definitely not so.

Being a working mother I entertained a certain amount of buried need to make up for not being there apron in place taking the Baked Alaska out of the oven for dinner when my children got off the bus in the afternoon.  In an effort to fill the gap, I signed on for Soccer Team Mother, Girl Scout Leader, Art Docent, Cookie Monitor, and Ruler of the Free World. if there was a sign up sheet pinned to a wall or attached to a clipboard somewhere, my name was on it. Trying to please everybody and keep them happy can not only be a thankless job often, but rarely is successful on any level. You’re not happy, they’re not happy, ain’t nobody happy.

1A side effect of all this doing was rather than being buried in appreciative hugs and copious thanks, the doing became expected behavior by my loved ones going unnoticed until not performed, then becoming a source of contention in the ranks. So, after many years of finding “no” a difficult word to say, I find as I’m getting older it slides as easily off my lips as a pat of cold butter off a hot pancake. Certainly because you are empowered by being able to say no, I am not encouraging you to go about saying no to everything, but it does not mean you always have to say yes either. The world will continue to turn, birds will sing, seasons will pass, and others will find a way to take care of things they need to take care of themselves, if you’re not there to do it for them. Trust me on this.

This does not mean we should not help one another, it just allows for time to take care of oneself as well. When my children reached the high school level I mastered no so effectively I could have taught a class on the word and all the different nuances and intonations involved in saying it to achieve the desired results. Such a little word, containing so much power. It is wonderful nurture others, but also paramount to nurture ourselves in the doing of it.

So, kick back, put your feet up, ignore the pinging of electronic device to your left and breathe.

This recipe falls slightly outside my comfort zone. My other half loves liver in many forms. I do not. As a child my grandmother often made liver buried in sautéed onions and bacon. It was my worst nightmare other than beef steak and kidney pie, often ending up in the folds of my napkin or in the open mouth of the grateful cat waiting under the dining room table. As the years passed I could manage liver if it showed up in holiday stuffing or gravy, and I love a good pate, but just sautéed livers presented on a plate will take me back to the napkin scenario for disposal in the blink of an eye. Saying this, I love this rich meaty sauce with the subtle tastes the livers impart to it. Go figure. Anyhow, I’ll present to you for your opinion.

Three Meat Pasta Sauce with Chicken Livers

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. Italian bulk sausage, hot
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground chuck
3 chicken livers, trimmed and fat removed
1/2 cup red wine (I used Merlot)
2 16 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup water
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried fennel
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

In large pot heat butter and oil over med. heat. Add vegetables and cook 8-10 mins. until tender. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Crumble and add all meats including liver to pan. Cook until meat is browned.

Add wine to pan and cook until it is mostly evaporated. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, water, sugar and all seasonings. Stir well and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook covered for 1 hr. and 15 mins. stirring often. Serve over your favorite pasta or in lasagna.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Spring is definitely in the air. My nose is running, and the garden is in full bloom. For us our garden is a bit of a wonderment, with everything planted there done so by the former owner. We didn’t move in the house until early in the summer months last year, so each day brings with it a lovely surprise. On the far hill, beds of sunny daffodils are waking up alongside purple irises and dark pink tulips. Directly to the front of the house the terrain is covered by a lovely pale lilac ground cover , and sprouting green leaves are popping up everywhere not having revealed themselves yet. The yard directly below the deck is resplendent in baby pink roses, and buttercups and the Japanese maples have begun to show off their lovely magenta leaves. Achoo. Excuse me.

Bears are waking up from their long winter’s sleep and rubbing their eyes. The earth is reawakening after a long hibernation and celebrating. Personally I would have been happy if nature had completed the picture with spring and fall, but I would suppose we have to have their two harsher playmates to fully appreciate their beauty. Today it’s supposed to hit eighty. Usually I would be out sitting among bags of potting soil about this time, digging holes in the earth and planting seeds for my garden. With the water situation in our area being so dire, I can’t see a point in starting something growing I can’t nurture along the way.

While in the market the other day, the checker was telling me grocery prices are going to go up. That’s a surprise. When was the last time someone said they were going down? Put your thinking caps on. I can’t remember either. In particular she targeted milk, eggs, and meat, and I believe avocados are to be scarce this season as well. Guacamole will be a black market item by the time Cinco de Mayo rolls around.

Sometimes I think a move outside of California is once again in order. Hold on, hold on, for you Californians I’m not saying California isn’t a glorious place to live but you have to admit it’s getting expensive to live here. Come on now, you know it is. My other half suggested such a move while we were looking at houses in this area, but with my mother getting up in years I felt it wasn’t the best time to put a lot of mileage between us.

If I was to move outside of California again, I believe I would head north. Can’t go too far up the coast as my other half finds rain and gloomy weather oppressive and you can’t live in Northern Oregon or Washington if you’re not fond of galoshes. If I had my druthers, I would buy a houseboat right by the ocean, on it preferably, and wile away the rest of my days watching the sun dance across the waves by day, and lulled to sleep by the gentle swells at night. Ahhhhh.

We’re headed south to the Bay Area for my mother’s birthday in the next month or so. On the calendar while there is a trip to the beach, in particular a favorite Mexican restaurant in the Moss Beach area, El Gran Amigo. Beach real estate has always been my first choice. Growing up on the coast leaves a firm imprint on your soul, and a yearning only sated by gulls circling overhead, warm sand squeezing between your toes, and the gentle reassurance of waves rushing and ebbing along the shoreline somehow adding a rare bit of certainty to an unsettled world.

Butterflies dancing outside my window brings to mind cleaning house. Not that my house isn’t clean during the rest of the year, it is, but I mean getting rid of clutter and unused items. I was amazed to find about one-third of my possessions can be lived without when they sat in boxes over the year prior to our finding this house. It’s amazing what you accumulate over time that ends up spending most of its existence gathering dust in the back of a closet somewhere on a shelf.

My mother called early today to announce she was embarking on the same voyage of discovery at her house. In her words, “so you won’t have to sort through all my things when I’m gone”. I wish she’d concentrate on sticking around and quit preparing for her untimely demise. It is most unsettling. Those of us who love her dearly would prefer to have her stay among us for many years to come. I would suppose as time passes you can’t help but get around the inevitable thoughts with regards to the end of your time on earth, but on this beautiful spring day I would prefer to address the butterflies and dust bunnies and leave deeper subjects for a rainy day down the road a piece.

1Took a four mile hike by the covered bridge, a historical area in these parts. I have not done so before and found it incredibly beautiful walking along the trail looking down at the river rushing by. Wildflowers were blooming everywhere and we encountered numerous red colored newts along the path. Interesting little creatures, slow moving and slick. The river itself was full of fish. Made me wish I had a line to drop in. Thought I’d share some pics.

This soup is a really nice starter before your corned beef shows up at the table. Cool and refreshing anytime.

1011In the pic above can you see the sleeping crocodile in the middle? Below, if you look closely you can see the fish milling about in the water.8

The bridge itself is being renovated.

166Minty Chilled Pea Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
2 16 oz. bags frozen peas
2 1/2 Tbsp. dried mint
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Sour cream or plain yogurt to garnish

Heat oil in large pot over med. heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, 3-5 mins. Add garlic and cook for 1 min.

Pour in chicken broth and add peas. Increase heat to med.-high and bring to boil. Boil for 5 mins. Add mint and parsley. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice, salt, white and black peppers.

Cool slightly. Pour into food processor and pulse until smooth. Chill at least 2 hrs. prior to serving.

Add dollop of sour cream, or pipe shamrock on top.

Serves 6-8

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