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With the holidays on the horizon the usual tugging and twisting of arm is going on among my family as to who is going where for what. In an effort to please everybody, as is typical, ain’t nobody happy. Sometimes I feel like Gumby, my arms stretched in a rubbery imitation of my former self.

If you have read my blogs before you might note I am one of those beings who floats along on the crest of the wave. Not often do I sink down in the dark depths lurking in between each peak. Because my life has been peppered here and there with truly large crises, I seriously try to not sweat the small stuff. This way I keep from taking something appearing as a small blip on a radar screen from swelling into a national incident. Life is too short, and I am unwilling to waste a morsel of it on trivialities. This is my mantra and I shall carry my banner high.

That being said, there are times when I’d like to abandon ship around this time of year and pitch a tent on a white sandy beach somewhere tropical. Mai tai in hand I could bring in the New Year without guilt or frustration. In the end, however, my family and friends are worth the effort so I stay here and fight the good fight, turkey baster in one hand and meat thermometer in the other. Sigh.

I find there are a number of factions at play. There are those who don’t want to cook, preferring to contribute a pie or rolls to the party held at someone else’s home or share a meal at a restaurant. Then there are those people who hate to travel on the holidays, but like to cook who would love you to come to their house but don’t want to come to yours. There are always the diehard cooks in the bunch. Those who have made the same stuffing their mother, her mother and all the mothers before her made on the holidays and will refuse to eat anything anyone else prepared involving cubes of bread, butter, and typical Thanksgiving seasonings. Arguments break out over whether to fry the bird or slow cook it in oven. Do you stuff the bloody beast first or cook the stuffing separately? Fluffy whipped potatoes, or slightly lumpy for texture? Green bean casserole, candied yams, or both? Do you allow Aunt Jean to bring the Jello casserole for the third year in the row with the little crunchy things imbedded inside if analyzed by NASA would probably be determined as not of this planet or feed it to the garbage disposal as you’ve done in years past?

One year we decided on prime rib for a change. I took it over to my daughter-in-laws and dropped it off early in the morning with explicit cooking instructions. The dinner was to be in her home, but we were providing the beef. A crowd was expected. I peeled an army sized pot of potatoes and mashed them popping them in the slow cooker to keep warm. The broccoli casserole was next made with the stuffing mix. Yum. Asked to bring the cheese biscuits, and several appetizers, I got them going, running the dishwasher for the second time that day. Plates and silverware were running short on the other end apparently per a phone call from our daughter-in-law later in the day. I boxed up our extra plates, the silverware, and the napkins requested during a follow-up phone call saying they were out. Oh, and could we pick up some sparkling cider on our way over? An hour before guests were to arrive Rick and I loaded up a U-Haul van and questioned why we weren’t simply eating at our house since we seemed to be taking everything we owned with us to theirs.

There is always someone at every party who insists on filling their glass too many times or decides to air an unpopular political opinion or start a debate on religion. I keep an extra roll of holiday themed duct tape in the my drawer for such occasions.

We are staying here for Thanksgiving this year as we did last year. Air travel is weird enough on low travel days lately but on the busiest travel days of the year you won’t find me in an airport unless I’m being held for ransom. A friend of mine recently returned from Atlanta. The person sitting behind her put her rarely washed, flip-flop wearing feet in between the seats so she could stretch out. The woman fell asleep and was actually tickling my friend’s elbow with her long half painted toenail every time she moved in her sleep. That would have done it for me.

Each year we discuss what to cook on Thanksgiving. Should we have ham, prime rib, turkey? Why we do this I have no clue because in the end it’s a yard bird sitting feet up in a roasting pan in our oven. Tradition is tradition I guess, and old dogs tend to follow the same route to the butcher shop or something like that.

Yesterday I was making tomato basil soup. Had a lot of Roma tomatoes to use up and thought that would be the perfect way to put them to use. Taking a sniff while in the kitchen Rick said often things smell even more delicious than they taste. Coffee being the example he used. Brewing coffee or perhaps chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven both smell, if possible, even better than they taste.

Smell does play a big part in the decision of what to cook on the holiday I do agree. If they could make a roasting turkey spray, like the new car spray they use when you get your car washed. Perhaps then I could put a piece of cow or a leg of lamb in the oven. Until then Tom shall go in and be served with all the trimmings. My mom likes to go out to eat. I guess after years of basting she’s hung up her baster. I need the actual ritual of doing it and will cook a turkey whether I eat at home or at someone else’s house.

In anticipation of feasts to come I offer you this corn casserole. Creamy and delicious. I could eat it by itself. If I have a couple of ears of leftover cooked corn I use those, or grab a package of frozen corn from the freezer and use that.

Mexicali Corn and Bell Pepper Casserole

2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 large green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. hot chunky salsa
5 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
2 cups corn kernels (if using frozen thaw first)
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray 1 1/2 quart baking dish with cooking spray. Melt butter in large skillet. Add onions and peppers to skillet. Cook over med.-low heat for 10 mins. Add garlic to pan. Cook for 1 min.

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Add salsa, bacon, corn kernels, and parsley to skillet.

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In separate bowl whisk together eggs, cream, salt, peppers, and cumin.

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Add vegetable mixture and incorporate well with egg mixture. Mix 1 cup of cheese with 1 tsp. cornstarch. Fold into egg vegetable mixture.

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Pour into pan. Bake for 25 mins. Top with remaining cheese. Bake an additional 10 mins.

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There were two things I liked better about my old phone when comparing it to my recently acquired smart phone. Number one, I understood how it worked, and number two I never lost it. Neither of these can be said of my new phone. Agh.

Whether it was lifted from my purse or I simply set it down some place and it was picked up is left to the universe to unravel. In either case, it has disappeared from sight and I have looked everywhere but the septic tank with no sign of it thus far.

This was not news I was looking forward to sharing with Rick. I tend to be a bit absent-minded about where I put things to begin with so telling him I’ve misplaced a $300 phone isn’t going to make his day. Perhaps I’ll just move and not leave a forwarding address. After alerting our phone carrier of the loss they were happy to report our warranty had run out last week but if I would like a new phone they would be delighted to comply at the price we paid for the original one. Good news! There goes my birthday. Sigh.

Being a scorpio my birthday is coming up. If you could see me now I’m not dancing in place. On one hand I’m glad to be having another birthday, and on the other it adds yet another number, and not a lower one, to my count of years on the planet. Dirt is still older, but I am catching up.

My birthdays are either great or abysmal. They always make me a bit jumpy as they approach because I’m never sure which way the wind will blow. As it falls the day after Halloween pictures of my past parties usually show me in costume as one character or another doing something equally as stupid as I look. Perhaps my love of dressing up stems from having most of my birthday parties growing up costume parties, or simply I find it fun to parade about as Minnie Mouse or the egg half of bacon and eggs once a year. Time permitting I would dig out my old photos and share but if I dug through the cache of photos I have stored in boxes in the garage to locate my Halloween pictures it would be Christmas and no longer relevant.

In the back of my closet downstairs hangs my Halloween stash of costumes. On one hanger an angel, replete with wings and halo, on the next my cowardly lion with one paw missing, and so on. Over the years I’ve shown up as everything from the Goodyear Blimp to Dracula. Armed with an imagination and some basics you can make a costume out of almost anything.

At the various parties thrown in my honor along the way people have shown up in the most original dress. One of the engineers I worked with the 80’s used a head of cabbage to create his walking dead outfit. He peeled and par broiled the outer larger leaves. Then he placed them about his head and covered them with makeup and fake blood. It was very realistic and what a clever idea. You can dress up and eat your costume following the party. Genius.

One friend showed up with his face half white and half black. He wore a black cowled coat and had a hunchback. Contacts of a greenish-yellow covered his normally blue eyes and he carried a cane that blinked. Very effective. One problem with this costume was that whatever he used to create the black half of his face didn’t wash off well. For easily a month following he continued to look ghoulish until he finally returned to normal. Don’t try this at home.

Cossack was my choice of attire on another Halloween. I made the tall furred hat out of the lining of an old coat and lined a cape I found in a thrift store with gold fabric. Add a pair of tall boots and some leggings and there you go. It was great.

If you can avoid uncomfortable costumes, particularly ones where you can’t sit or have long attachments that are likely to sweep the cat down the back stairs when you turn around or impale somebody standing behind you. Boo Peep was an example of this for me. I realize the original was Bo Peep, but I used creative license. I created a wire hoop skirt out of coat hangers and covered it with fabric. It looked great but when I sat down it went up and covered my face. Also it necessitated keeping my bloomers in line as they were visible every time I took a seat. Being that the skirt was made of metal it also stuck me regularly during the night to the point where I removed it and went about in my knickers.

The year I was the angel was the first year we owned our restaurant. In the spirit of the holiday (if you will) we all dressed up for work. Our restaurant, as I mentioned a few blogs ago, had a history. Most of our staff felt there was a ghost or two roaming about, particularly the bar. If so, they had IMG_0837company that night. A live band had the bar moving and shaking. Pumpkins flickered and Halloween drinks were lined up on the server’s trays. I had my picture taken often that night thinking nothing of it. Several weeks later several friends who’d included me in their shots commented on the fact in the photos I appeared to be almost transparent. One photo turning out that way might have been acceptable, but all of them? Don’t know if the universe couldn’t accept me wearing an angel’s costume or the spirits resented having such a being in their midst, but there you have it. Looking at the photos I’d shot for the first time mine showed the same odd occurrence. To add to the mystery of that evening a picture I shot in the bar shown above just before we opened our doors which depicted what looked to be a ghostly spirit shooting out from the computer screen.

To give Hamlet his due, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

This soup is delicious but hearty. If you need to thin it out for a second use use a little milk.

Hearty Potato, Carrot, and Corn Chowder

1/4 cup butter
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 medium carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup flour
1 cup fat-free milk
5 cups chicken broth
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
1 can niblet corn, drained
Crumbled crisp bacon and chopped green onions for garnish

Melt butter in stockpot over med. heat. Add onion, green pepper, celery, and carrots. Cook for 6 mins. or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic. Cook for 1 min

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Add flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Stir for 2 mins. until well blended. Slowly add milk. Add broth, potatoes, and corn. Bring to boil. Simmer uncovered for 25 mins. Use an emulsion blender to blend well. Adjust seasoning as necessary.

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Serves 6

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Zombie costumes are the hot ticket item in the Halloween stores opening up around the area. Apparently half the nation tuned in The Walking Dead the other night. People in the position of analyzing this phenomenon attribute it to a twofold reasoning. First, most of us would like proof we come back from the dead and that death is not the final bend in the road. Secondly, what is airing on the news lately is all too real and terrifying, so it is easier to focus on fictional fear than the real deal. I’m there, really I am. Reality lately is a bit of a big bite. For me put me in line for some great Halloween candy, preferably not laced with anything lethal, and a little trick or treat fun and let’s forget the outside world for a moment.

I tire of the misery dished out on the news. I want a bright upbeat news hour perhaps with bunnies and small children saving a bevy of nuns from drowning. A whole hour of this would be worth turning the tv on for. It’s not that I want to bury my head in the sand, but I think a steady diet of misery tends to make for an upset stomach.

Zombies have never been my choice for horror. I prefer vampires really. Salem’s Lot was one of my all time favorite Halloween movies. I resurrect it (if you will) every year and watch between two fingers with a blanket pulled up to my chin. So many movies come to mind when thinking of Halloween. Young Frankenstein might be high up there on my list. Madeline Kahn was fabulous in the movie alongside Peter Boyle who was the perfect comedic monster. Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher was memorable as well, with the horses neighing every time her name is mentioned in their presence. Brucher is the German word for glue. Mel Brooks is classic.

I only saw one Freddy Krueger movie. The first Nightmare on Elm Street. Getting scared is one thing. Losing hair and finding yourself sleeping with a weapon is another. Not a big fan of the Halloween genre of slasher horror either. I’m more the Psycho type or perhaps Silver Bullet. One movie I will never watch again was Pumpkinhead. I slept with one eye open for days after I watched that.

Besides the terrifying horror films like Clive Barker’s Hell Raiser there are psychological type horror films like the Shining which stick to the roof of your mouth as well. “Here’s Johnny” never was the same after watching that’s movie.

Poltergeist is also at the top of my list. The original, not the ubiquitous sequels to follow. “They’re here” another catch phrase to take on an ominous meaning. Tucked away in my DVR, I’m sure I’ll be watching Elizabeth Ann sucked into the vortex once again by the end of the month. To add to the malevolent feel of Poltergeist were the strange happenings to the cast members appearing in the movie. The actress playing the oldest sister in the original film was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. The little girl playing Elizabeth Ann died at the age of twelve six years later. Other cast members met untimely ends involved in both the first and the two following movies. Reportedly the boy playing Robbie, the son in the original film, was actually unable to breathe when dragged under the bed by the clown puppet. Those filming the scene thought he was just doing incredibly good job with his role until they realized he was being nearly asphyxiated by the toy. Insert shiver here.

Amityville Horror is another film hitting close to home. Hoax or actual event? Only the demons and residents of the house itself hold the key to the answer to that question. It does titillate the imagination, however. I’ve never looked at flies the same way after that film experience.

Haunted houses with dark corners and deep cellars scare me to death. I’m a jumpy person anyhow so put me in a creaky old house on a dark and stormy night and the goose bumps will be marching up and down like militant armies across every available inch of skin on my body.

Once while living in Massachusetts I was home alone with my two toddlers. Their dad was working in Boston and was to be there overnight. A predicted fall storm moved over the lake across from our house. Dark clouds hovered above the tree line accented by an occasional flash of lightning. Inside we were warm and toasty but occasionally the lights would flicker leaving me slightly on edge.

The house, a historical monument of sorts, was a massive two-story building. The owner had sectioned it off in the center of the building creating two living spaces one facing the lake, the other facing the back yard. Ours was the former. For the first year we were there another family with a little girl occupied the back of the building. I liked knowing they were there as my husband’s job often required overnight stays out of town. Before school started that year, however, they relocated out of state. Curiosity getting the best of us we opened the connecting door once that part of the house was vacant and took a look around. Old houses, like old people, tend to creek and groan with age. This house was no exception. With no furniture or floor coverings to absorb the sound, our voices echoed in the cavernous rooms.

Rain began to spill from the sky outside that night. Wind whispered through the chimney while I built a huge fire in the fireplace and plopped my children in a hot bath before bed. Rinsing off the soap on my two pirates the lights flickered, then went out. I gathered them up in towels and went into the living room to keep them warm. Looking out the window I could see lights in the neighboring houses, so the trouble I assumed was in our electrical system and not a general blackout.

This had happened on another occasion. My husband showed me how to replace a fuse in the fuse box. Unfortunately the box was located in the basement, requiring a walk outside in the storm. Tucking my children in bed, I grabbed the flashlight. Stepping outside I fought the wind and the rain to the side of the house. The old screen flapped and fanned in the wind as I struggled to open the lock to the basement. Inside the flashlight did little to relieve the darkness. Cobwebs and God knows what else hung from the ceiling. Locating the fuse box I checked each fuse as instructed, replacing the bad one with the new one. Behind me something moved in the corner casting a shadow on the wall. Whether human, beast, or goblin I did not wait to find out. My feet have never been used for a better purpose. They propelled me at record speed across the basement floor and up the old stone stairs. That night I slept with a baseball bat on the opposite side of the bed. Never again did I go down in that basement alone at night.

I carve a pumpkin every year. In an effort not to waste the bounty a pumpkin offers up I try to do something with the seeds as well. Love this Mexican pumpkin sauce on steak or with on a hot corn tortilla. This recipe was shared by a friend one year. Yum.

Mexican Pumpkin Seed Sauce

1 1/2 cups raw pumpkin seeds
2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups rich chicken stock
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
6 Tbsp. red chili sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a heavy frying pan over high heat. Dry fry the pumpkin seeds stirring constantly to avoid burning (important to stir without stopping). Once all the seeds pop (watch out they sometimes try to escape), remove from heat.

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and in half lengthwise again. Cover cookie sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Roast in oven for 45 mins. Allow to cool and remove skins

Put the pumpkin seeds in food processor and process until smooth. Add tomatoes and process for 3 mins. Add garlic and stock and process for 2 mins. more.

Heat oil in large frying pan. Add red chili sauce and continue cooking for 2-3 mins. Add pumpkin seed mixture and bring to boil stirring constantly. Simmer uncovered for 20 mins. Stir frequently until sauce has reduced by half. Add salt and pepper as desired.

Chill and serve on top of a burger or a steak or with homemade tortilla chips. Will keep 7 days in covered dish in refrigerator.

Serves 8.

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2When the leaves begin to fall my mind often goes to my friends towards the east. During my “construction years”, as I always think of them, my feet didn’t allow much grass to grow beneath them. My saga began in California, took me first to Washington state, and brought me back full circle through Arkansas, Alabama, and twice through West Virginia. Was I to describe my time on the road in written form I believe I would capitalize my adjectives, as it was the kind of experience warranting a little extra attention.

Not a lifestyle fit for everybody I’m sure. Packing up and moving at a moment’s notice. Reaclimating at each turn in the road to a new environment and new people. We referred to ourselves as snails, carrying our homes on our backs. My ex-husband was my travel companion during those years. Born in Arkansas and raised in Texas, David was built for the life. By twenty he could be found most days working on the oil rigs lining the landscape outside of Odessa. When not drilling for Texas gold he hit the rodeo circuit riding the bucking broncos or straddling or straddling an occasional bull. Looking for all intents and purposes like the Marlboro man he suited the rough and tumble life he’d chosen. Accent his physical attributes with a smooth southern drawl and an extra ounce or two of charm, and the man cut through life like a hot knife might slide through a stick of cold butter.

While in Longview, Washington, which as I said previously was to be our first stop on our journey together, we met the Cole Family. The Coles were headed up by Oscar and Teddy. A warmer group rarely graced the planet. We were absorbed into their midst as one might be sucked into a vat of melting marshmallows. The family, a tight one on the worst of days, traveled together. Three of their four children, two girls, and one boy, all grown with families of their own moved from place to place like a caravan of gypsies changing schools and locations like most people change underwear. Parties at their house were generally food oriented and always boisterous. Women usually gathered in one or the other’s kitchens, sitting around the table chatting or preparing food at the counters. Being an only child myself, it was nice to be part of a large family unit and included in the fun.

The Cole women were generously cut, as they would tell you themselves. This I would suppose could be contributed to genetics on one hand and their absolute love of food on the other. Before long Cindy, the second oldest of the daughters, and I became the best of friends. With her mass of curly red hair and abundance of freckles Cindy looked like Rebecca of Sunnybrook farm and had a way with the soil that would have made her well suited for the role. In West Virginia our homes were situated a mile down the road from one another. Ours was a three bedroom rental, while Cindy and her husband Nicky rented a farm-house large enough to accommodate the two of them, their two children and two large hunting dogs answering to the names Dumb and Dumber. Most of the crews rented while on the road. There was no point in signing up for a mortgage as odds were you wouldn’t be there long enough to put a dent in the principal. Included with their house came five acres of fertile land which they quickly put to good use. A large patch behind the barn was cordoned off for Cindy’s vegetable garden. I love to garden. Certainly I’m not going to teach any classes on the subject, but I grew a prize worthy crop of okra once (not my favorite of the vegetable clan) and made my own pumpkins one year while living in Alabama. Cindy, however, had the touch. Walking among the huge stalks you might look down inside a leaf to find a cauliflower staring back at you, or see a bunch of broccoli protruding from curly leaves.

Along with the prolific vegetables she produced, the trees on the land were heavy with apples, plums, peaches, and apricots which I spent many a day gathering in baskets to help her put up in preparation for the cold winters in the state.

Around Halloween one year the three Cole women, Teddy the matriarch of the group, Cindy, and her younger sister Melissa, asked me to attend a Halloween potluck at their church. They all drove trucks so the obvious vehicle of choice was to be my 1979 Thunderbird having the most room. The T-Bird was built the year Ford decided to make a massive vehicle out of the formerly smaller model. Long in the front, it had bench seats and plenty of extras. It was vintage at the time. A polite word for old. Perhaps I shall take to calling myself vintage. Much nicer. David spent his time off sliding in and out from beneath the engine trying to encourage it to keep on running. We had already replaced the transmission and most of its working parts but it got me from Point A to Point B so I wasn’t complaining.

We decided to all go to the luncheon as cast members of the Wizard of Oz. I was to be the witch (a little type casting). Cindy was Dorothy. Instead of Toto lurking beneath her gingham napkin in her basket she tucked one of her delicious apple pies to share at the potluck. Teddy was the scarecrow and Melissa the Tin Man.

Outside fall had swooped down on the state with a vengeance. Brilliant leaves carpeted the area with a blanket of riotous color. The trees so beautiful they took your breath away. We took the back route that day, probably more because we looked somewhat ridiculous, than to save time. The road wound through farms with rows of corn standing at attention waiting for the last harvest.

Going up a steep hill the car began to gasp. One final breath led us to the side of the road. We had passed the last farmhouse about two miles back. Not knowing what else to do, we popped the hood and looked beneath it. Why we did this, as none of us would have recognized a problem, is beyond me.

With no cell phones at that time after much debate we sat on a rock by the side of the road, Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Wicked Witch, and the Tin Man and each ate a piece of Cindy’s delicious pie. A farmer came by in a beat up old pickup truck about an hour later. With room for only two in the cab the scarecrow and I (appropriately as the bed was filled with remnants of hay) rode in the back with an enormous dog who looked at me as if I was the daily special. At the farmers house we called for a tow. Never made the party. Not sure if we didn’t have more fun where we were.

Cindy passed away six years ago from cancer at 48. I look back at my times with her like this one and smile.

I have a long recipe and a short recipe for carnitas. These are for my friend who hates to cook who asked me for the short version. They are delicious and easy to put together.

Crockpot Carnitas 4 Layer Burritos

For the Carnitas

3 1/2 lb. boneless pork shoulder
1 onion, sliced thin
1 tsp.
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange, cut in wedges
2 containers hot chunky salsa (or less if you prefer less heat)
1/2 pkg. Lawry’s taco seasoning mix
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place sliced onion in bottom. Rub pork with salt, peppers, and garlic. Place fat side up on top of sliced onion. Place oranges on top of meat.

Mix together salsa and Lawry’s seasoning mix. Pour over top of meat. Cook on low for 10 hours. Shred meat with fork. Return to juice in pan. Add cilantro and mix well. Discard oranges.

For Burritos

1 large ripe avocado
1/2 lime
salt and pepper
8 flour tortillas (burrito size)
2 16 oz. cans Rosarita green chile and lime refried beans
1/2 cup Mexican style cheese, shredded
Mexican Rice (arroz)*
Sour cream
Salsa

Peel and core avocados. Mash with fork. Add salt and pepper and squeeze 1/2 lime.

Heat beans in microwavable dish for 3 mins. Sprinkle with cheese and return to microwave for 1 min. on high.

Wrap tortillas 2 at a time in paper towels. Heat for 1 min. in microwave on high.

Spread 1/8 of the beans on each tortilla to within 2″ of outside border. Top with shredded pork, rice, and avocado. Tuck in ends and roll to form burrito.

Top with salsa and sour cream if desired.

You will have meat leftover. Freeze for future use or use in tortas.

Serves 8

*For the rice try this link. Also, http://www.mexicoinmykitchen.com/2009/03/how-to-make-mexican-style-ricecomo.html

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Our daughter-in-law posted a video on Facebook yesterday she took in a gas station near her home. The video shows dialogue between a man pumping gas and a women probably in her early sixties in an upscale 2013 SUV. The man, clearly agitated, is loudly berating the woman. As the story unfolds it comes to light the woman, professing to be homeless, regularly stands on a street corner in the center of town with a cardboard sign asking for money. According to the man speaking he has given her money often over the past months, even on one occasion going without lunch to give her his last $5.00. Now he finds her well dressed driving a new car. Hmmm. It is not up to us to judge, although I must admit you can’t help but wonder.

I can remember giving a man outside the grocery store a $20 bill. After purchasing my groceries I came out to see him walking out of the liquor store across the street carrying a large brown paper bag. Hmmmmm, again.I suppose if the liquor helped him to get through the day (and occasionally it hasn’t hurt me) it wasn’t a total loss. I have a feeling his liver wasn’t thanking me. Another time I picked up some food for a lady and her dog while I was in the market. On the way out I handed her a sandwich, some chips, and a soda. As I was driving out I saw her deposit them in the trash can. Someone with me who lived in the neighborhood said she wanted money for drugs not food. Oh. Perhaps I should have gone to CVS. I saw a man one day outside of Wal-Mart with a sign saying “Will Work for Sex”. I found that original. At least he was honest.

Rick always says I have that face that people see and feel comfortable to come up to and ask for a handout. On a trip to San Francisco several years ago I was stopped so frequently, he threatened to hang a sign around my neck reading “I gave at the office”.From what I understand there are people begging on the street corners making a good living off the kindness of their neighbors. Some of them, like this woman, drive nice cars and live in nice neighborhoods themselves. It’s a hard call because certainly there are many people out there who really need help and it’s hard to know when to and when not to.

It’s a shame. It used to be if you saw someone changing a tire by the side of the road or standing by their car with the hood up, the natural inclination would be to stop and help. These days we pass on by, afraid of what the consequences might be should we extend a hand to a stranger. Several days ago we were coming home along the main highway leading to our house. On the side of the road stood a man looking to be in his twenties hitchhiking. He caught my eye not because his thumb was up, but because he wore shorts, no shoes or shirt, and his face was bruised and appeared to bleeding. Rather than asking Rick to pull over I reached for my phone to call 911. Just as I was to place the call a police car pulled up and we went on our way. You want to stop, but the stories in the news keep you moving along.

It seems we have to put up side mirrors by our doors to catch intruders. Cameras need to be installed to keep at eye on thieves watching your house waiting for a package to be delivered or a chance to sort through your mail. If a stranger rings the doorbell and you’re alone, it is recommended you not answer.Last week a man came by while I was in the garage. Rick was gone and I was sorting things I’d brought home from the store typically stored in the outside shelves. The man and I stood there in the garage alone and suddenly I felt very vulnerable. As it turned out he was selling meat packages at wholesale, and when I declined to purchase anything went on his way with a smile.

When I lived in Alabama I don’t believe I locked the house unless I was going out of town. Wouldn’t think of doing that now. Now you have to keep your handbag in front of you, your phone in your bag not in an outside pocket, and your house key on a different ring than your car key lest your car get stolen. The other day I saw a news cast where they suggested you keep your car keys by your bed. In the event of a home invasion this will allow you to set off the car alarm. Historically I don’t find most people react to car alarms as they’re often set off by a truck passing by or whatever, but I suppose someone might pay attention in the wee hours of the morning.

If using your ATM you may be taking a chance someone standing behind you is capturing your bank information.Even if you use your credit card at a well-established business you risk hackers swooping down and grabbing your information before you take the bags out of the car.

Certainly don’t post pictures on-line you don’t want the world to view and appreciate because what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet.

It’s a strange world, but a lovely one still. The more technologically advanced we get the less privacy we are afforded, but you cannot dam up progress. It is both necessary and inevitable.

Do guard what you can while avoiding becoming paranoid about it. In the meantime enjoy one of these graveyard delights. I had some sweet potatoes needing a place to be so I whipped these up. This recipe was given to me at a gathering recently and is really yummy.

Boot Hill Sweet Potato Cupcakes

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
15 oz. sweet potato puree
1 bag slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl mist together brown sugar, granulated sugar, and butter. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract.

Gradually add dry ingredients. Add sweet potato puree and mix well to blend.

Spray cupcake pans with cooking spray or use liners. Divide batter into 18 portions.

Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean – 20-25 mins. Cool on wire rack.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp. maple syrup
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups confectioners sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt

Beat cream cheese, butter, maple syrup and vanilla until smooth. Add confectioners sugar gradually, beating on low speed until well incorporated. Increase speed to high and beat until light and fluffy. Add salt.

Frost cupcakes. Stand almonds up pushing half way in to resemble tombstones.

Makes 18

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final

Saw a video this morning showing a reported “ghost” caught on surveillance camera at a police station. This was not the first sighting of the specter, and probably won’t be the last. Reported by police personnel, it somehow seems to carry more weight. Like an astronaut or pilot reporting a UFO sighting Earth-Universerather than the typical stories of probing incidents conducted by bubble headed aliens showing up on the front page of the Star. I don’t discount any of the possibilities. Truth is we don’t know what’s out there. In a way it’s rather self-centered of us as humans to believe this vast universe and perhaps those beyond were constructed only as our playground.

In 2006 we purchased a restaurant. The building came with a lease and a history. Built in the late 1800’s, it was originally a bawdy house sporting a poker hall and bar. Many owners later it served as both a restaurant and bar. Sometimes both, sometimes one or the other. Before us it was a barbecue joint. Our turn at bat we decided on Italian cuisine. Rick had extensive restaurant experience having owned a steakhouse in the 90’s and managing many restaurants both in Egypt in his younger years and the U.S. later on down the road. I came to the table with two credentials on my side. I liked to cook and I liked to eat. As far as running as restaurant, I was a complete virgin.

For me I held to the Field of Dreams principle, “build it and they will come”. So not true. Before ever opening our doors there was much to do. Besides the interior renovations necessary, we had to address the basic structure of the restaurant itself. Staff, menus, permits, and vendors needed to be put in place. Each presented its own set of problems.

Rick began with staff, while I stuck with a subject I knew, interior decorating. Always a passion of mine. Carpets needed to be cleaned, or better replaced. Money flying out of our bank account, we decided on the former. The ladie’s room had been painted a shade of purple I’d never seen on a color palette. Adding insult to injury it had then been bordered with an unfortunate choice of maroon and blue cabbage roses. Bad taste following suit in the men’s room, it was an equally unpalatable peacock-blue. New paint was added to my growing list. All walls in the main dining area, a rectangular room seating 85, were constructed of the original brick. This made for an interesting look but was difficult when it came to mounting decorative items. My days were filled scouring local second hand and antique emporiums, as well as merchants offering newer goods. I became a familiar figure walking the streets carrying this odd item or that.

Our vision for the interior was to transform it as closely as possible to resemble streets in Italy. To this end a mural artist was hired. The woman came highly recommended and didn’t disappoint. Along the walls stretching between the dining room and the bar, windows and rustic doors appeared. On the second floors of the buildings a line of laundry might be seen strung across a patio or a door left slightly ajar with a drape wafting out of it. Colorful window boxes lined the streets each overflowing with flowers. At one door a dog waited on the mat to get in. I loved it all. The bar, the most rustic section of the building, was transformed into a Tuscan wine cellar. Receding lines of wooden kegs were depicted on one wall, and trailing ivy across a trellis on another. When the restaurant was sold the new owners painted over the beautiful artwork opting once again for peacock-blue. Must have been a sale on that color somewhere in town. What a waste.

To disguise the bus area outside the kitchen, bright awnings were put in place. The kitchen, long out of date, was brought up to code and new equipment either purchased or leased.

Seeing as I had come from a graphics background, the menus, advertising, gift certificates, and logo development were going to be tasked to me. Along with these duties, I would learn to man the bar as a sub if needed and take over as catering manager.

The building had character certainly. According to our newly hired chef and his assistants, it had that and more. Sitings were reported at staff meetings of odd lights flickering on and off and loud unexplained sounds in the bar. We had been told by the previous owners the building held many secrets carried over from its colorful past. According to him there had been several murders in the bar in its heyday. Another interesting fact was the older portion of town was supposedly built over a labyrinth of tunnels. The tunnels were built by the Chinese during the gold rush era. The Chinese whose traditions were not understood nor well received by the community, built underground tunnels which served as a place for commerce to be conducted, not always of the legal kind, and as a meeting place for them to either escape persecution or to do business. Long deserted, many believe unsettled spirits still roamed beneath the town and after working the restaurant I’m inclined to get on board with this idea.

Each morning I would arrive early at the restaurant to gather the night’s take from the safe. Monies were then counted, tips accounted for, and a deposit slip filled out. Other than Sunday there was no day this task wasn’t performed. Often the sun had just made it’s debut when I inserted the key in the lock. It is funny how different a building can feel when you are the only one in it. At least the only live one present. The moment I would open the safe a loud sound, like a heavy object dropping, could be heard in the back of the building. In the beginning I never went back there, choosing instead to remain up front close to the door in case I needed to make a hasty exit.

If you polled the lot of us working there, my guess is nearly the full complement would recall at least one incident of strangeness while working under that roof. It was an interesting time. I always seem to recall it as Halloween approaches. Perhaps because of the eerie first All Hallowed Eve we spent there. I’ll go into more detail as the holiday draws near. For now I’ll leave you with these lemony delights to chew on. I like them better than the traditional Thanksgiving fare for a change of pace.

Southern Lemon Glazed Sweet Potatoes

2 large sweet potatoes
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
Garlic salt
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Scrub potatoes and put them in a pot covered with water with skins on. Bring to boil and cook for low boil for 15 mins. or until tender but not soft. Remove from water and allow to cool slightly until you can handle them. Peel off skins and cut in half lengthwise, then in half widthwise and into long chunks.

Rub butter on bottom and slightly up the sides of glass casserole dish. Place potatoes in dish.

Put water, sugar and salt in saucepan. Stir to mix. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Boil for 10 mins. Add lemon juice and nutmeg. Pour over potatoes.

Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are fork tender. Baste with sauce at least 5 times during cooking. Sprinkle with garlic salt, salt, and pepper as desired.

Serves 4.

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final

For a person who rarely goes to the doctor I seem to have satisfied my quota the last few months to cover me through 2016. Last week I noticed my eyes were unusually red. Like my mother and her mother my eyes are rather large and round, so when they go awry it becomes immediately obvious. By yesterday morning I had begun disturbingly to resemble a lab rat.  Once again I found myself in a doctor’s waiting room. On the plus side I’m catching up on my People magazine deficit, however it’s not my favorite way to wile away a morning.

On walking in I announced myself at the front desk.  After some searching it was determined I was there on the wrong day. What can I say? My brain seems to have a mind of its own lately.  Too much to do and not enough storage capacity. Be nice if you could turn in your brain like I recently turned in my old GPS. Simply get credit for the old one and be sent a new and updated version for a small fee.  Jeez. Fortunately after looking at my beady red orbs they decided to fit me in. Sitting in a vacant seat between two other patients, I noticed after a few minutes the people next to me had sort of spread out leaving the two seats on either side of me available. As new people came in they also sat in other seats. I must have looked like I’d recently survived a nuclear accident. Ah well, at least I had room to bend my elbows to get the most out of the People centerfold included in the Special Issue. Thirty pictures of Prince William to celebrate his thirtieth birthday.

This got me to thinking about the royal family in general. As a child growing up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, when speaking of the royals it was done in hushed tones laced with reverence as in church.  In school I sang “God Save the Queen” along with my classmates, and was much in awe of the Buckingham Palace denizens long before I was old enough to understand the definition of either pomp or circumstance.  My mother read often to me from a collection of A.A. Milne poems titled “When We Were Very Young”. One of my favorites was “They’re Changing Guards at Buckingham Palace”.  To this day I can recite the lines.

They’re changing guard at Buckingham Palace -
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard.
“A soldier’s life is terrible hard,”
Says Alice.

Fascination with the royals is certainly not new. No monarch here in the States, in a way our movie stars serve as our royalty. Every juicy tidbit of their lives is dished out to waiting fans to be gobbled up like the tastiest spoonful of exquisite caviar.

There are 725 rooms in Buckingham Palace. Imagine the PG&E (or piggy as we call it at our house) bill. No wonder the Queen runs around telling the servants to turn off the lights when they leave a room. With an estimated worth of around 450 million, I can see where electric bills might be at the top of her list of concerns. I would imagine new employees must be equipped with maps and roller skates to get about the building during the day.  There are 800 servants employed under the palace roof. We have one at our house, and she’s taking time off to write this blog. The palace itself is actually owned by the Commonwealth. Would this make the Queen a renter? Who knew? I wonder who she calls if the heater isn’t cutting the chill on those notably damp English winters, or if she just bangs on the pipes? I would assume bills for such things are absorbed by the British people.

While in Britain in 2004 along with a crowd of other tourists we showed up at the appointed time to view the changing of the guard. As depicted in the brochures the staid guards didn’t smile when provoked and the ceremony itself was filled with just the right amount of pomp and pageantry to feel as if you’d shared a momentous happening. We arrived there by double decker red bus, and enjoyed high tea immediately following the ceremony. All we needed were huge cameras hanging around our necks, a couple of fanny packs, and black socks and sandals to quality for tourists of the week.

For me, England was magical. My time there was spent in London proper. I would have loved to see more. The Euro train wound us through the charming English countryside, but there wasn’t time to hop off the train to visit the lovely villages we passed along the way. I will add this to my to-do list should I return. As with the tea bags draped over delicate English bone china cups, the city itself is steeped in history. The Tower of London was perhaps my favorite stop. The day we went was a typically gray and sodden London sort of day. Inside the Tower grounds I was interested to find the buildings far smaller than I had imagined . Perhaps people were shorter back then, or my imagination larger. The interior of the buildings provided an almost palpable feel as if the history of the place existed in an alternate dimension going on right beside you. Closing your eyes you might imagine Henry VIII sitting at a rustic table. Almost hear him scream “off with her head” while waving a greasy turkey leg in one stocky hand and a pint of ale in the other.

London without the royal family perhaps would seem somewhat less. Surely there are people sitting on both sides of the fence who live in England with opinions on whether they should remain in place or be left to the history books. Must be both amazing and intensely difficult to be born into such a family with the responsibility of ruling a country already written in your future before you can write yourself.

We had company celebrating a birthday yesterday so I wanted to do something special for the birthday boy. A huge sweet fan, I came up with this combination which he gave five stars. Yum. The cake comes from an old recipe I picked up while living in the southern states. Easy to pull together, moist and delicious. The pears, well, they taste as good as they look on the plate.

Gooey Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake with Poached Pears

Gooey Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut in 1/2″ squares
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Glaze

4 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray 9 x 13″ pan with cooking spray.

For the cake

Place sugars and vegetable in large mixing bowl. Beat for 30 seconds to blend and 2 mins. on high. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition.

Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Add gradually to mix, beating just until blended after each addition.

Fold in apples, vanilla, and walnuts. Pour into pan and spread evenly. Bake for 55-60 mins. or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven. Poke holes with skewer on top of cake. Pour glaze over top.

For the glaze

Melt butter in small saucepan over med. heat. Add sugars and salt and whisk until well blended, about 2 mins. Bring to boil. Whisk in cream and allow to boil for 2 mins. stirring constantly. Pour over cake.

Poached Pears

2 Bartlett pears
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
3 beets
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract
Whipped cream
Mint leaves

Peel pears leaving stems in tact. Place water, sugar and beets in medium pan (taller than wide if possible).

Peel beets and slice in 1/2″ slices. Add to water in pan along with beets and vanilla. Bring to boil. Add pears making sure they are covered. Reduce heat to low simmer and continue to cook for about 20 mins. or until fork tender. Remove from liquid and allow to cool for 5 mins. Strain solids from liquid reserving liquid.

With sharp knife slice pears in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife carefully slice around the core in the center. Pull the core up and the strands running along the center should pull up with it. Remove stem. Beginning at one side on flat surface with cut side of pear facing down make thin slices lengthwise starting about 1/2″ from the top so as not to cut all the way through the pear. Fan with your fingers. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sauce.

Serves 4

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