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Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

1

In my twenties and thirties I collected bears. Not the sort of bear one might see in a stream wrestling a salmon, but the furry non-breathing variety. It began innocently enough with someone giving me an adorable teddy bear for my birthday. For those of you familiar with stuffed bears, this one came directly from the pages of the stories penned by Michael Bond about Paddington Brown, a bear of excellent manners from Peru. Paddington arrived wearing a blue velvet hat, red raincoat with wooden buttons, and blue goloshes. It was love at first sight.

Over the next few years word got out to my friends and loved ones I enjoyed teddy bears. From then on from one occasion to the next my collection took on a life of its own. First it was friends for Paddington cluttering my bed. Next came bear pillows, bear plates, bear knick knacks, bear bedecked ornaments for the tree, bear stockings for the mantle, bear place mats (who knew?) and bear cups from which to drink my morning coffee along with bear plates to set the cup on once I’d had my fill. At first this was charming and fun. I found placpaddington tube station paddington beares for each gifted item, bought a few new ones myself, and dusted each addition dutifully as my collection grew and grew. One day after another holiday filled with bears of every type and description, I found myself sitting in a corner clutching yet another bear throw hearing a voice in my head screaming “MAKE IT STOP!”. OMG.

My husband at the time just rolled his eyes as new bears arrived. Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the ever growing bear population taking over our home, he contributed to the madness by giving me three huge bears in full Victorian attire I’d admired in a luggage store window for Christmas one year. He actually talked the owner of the store out of the bears before the holidays were over.

This is the Mama Bear from the luggage store - ach

This is the Mama Bear from the luggage store – ach

Really? I mean this was an incredibly sweet, not to mention incredibly expensive gesture, but where was I to store such items when they weren’t decorating the entryway over the Christmas season? So large were they I actually considered setting them up in one of the guest rooms for the remainder of the year, at no cost to the bears naturally. Once my bear mania had passed I tried to sell them on Ebay. I’m sorry, it had to be done. The moment buyers established the published size of the bears to be accurate they ran like rats in a hammer factory. Truly they are beautiful. If anyone out there is interested send me a note. Smile.

These days you will still find a bear or two about the house. One doesn’t get the monkey off their back without an occasional relapse. For the most part they have found new homes. Don’t open the closet down stairs, however, without being prepared for three Victorian bears grinning back at you. Sigh. Since then I haven’t advertised a preference for anything in particular to avoid a repeat of the situation. Well one time I did say I liked owls and after three owl water bottles, one set of coffee cups, and by my own hand a full set of owl dinnerware showed up, I put a stop to it before the owl shower curtain with matching hand towels showed up.

While in the midst of the bear frenzy a friend of mine, a noted bear artist (naturally), asked me to help her with her business. Bear with me on this (sorry), but there is a huge bear business out there you might not be aware of. Artists create beautiful bears with outfits for purchase in stores, on-line, at bear shows, and for sale in bear magazines. I’m not lying here. For those of you interested in such goings on there is an on-line show in October. Details can be found at http://www.bearhugs4u.com/. I can’t go there. Addicts are never truly clean, only in remission.

I digress. At any rate, my friend asked if I would design outfits for her bears and sew the wee clothes. Me? Seriously? I asked first if she’d been hitting the cooking sherry, as the closest I’d come to sewing was in Home-Ec in seventh grade which hadn’t gone well, not well at all. After some convincing, and the windfall of extra cash for the upcoming holidays, I folded like a cheap tent. What can I say, apparently I do have a price.

The deal clinched, I went to the garage and located my sewing machine. I’d used it twice in ten years both times to sew a straight line for a hem on some drapes. Removing the cobwebs and general debris, I took out the instruction manual and began to read. Per our discussion a huge box of very expensive fabrics and accessories arrived via UPS at my door. A la la, what had I gotten myself into? Looking back I have to say the artist in me took over. Somehow armed with my Singer Sewing Guide for Dummies and some basic ideas on how to dress these little furry buggers, clothing materialized from the gorgeous array of fabrics at my disposal. For several years I was the couturier to the furry set and together my friend and I sold many little bears dressed in everything from diminutive sailor outfits to full on all gowns fit for a princess. What a trip. You never know what you can do until you give it a try.

These days I stick to an occasional apron or accent pillow here and there. The bear clothing led to a full on business for me for quite a few years back in the 80’s. I became a regular face at art and wine shows, and holiday extravaganzas.  Sewing is a business you put hours into and never regain your time, but it was so much fun. You never know when opportunity might knock. Be sure you open the door when you year it rapping.

Keep the Victorian bears in mind. They’d be the perfect touch for the holidays. Rick says he’ll pay for shipping. Just kidding. They’re like family at this point.

While living in the south I made many versions of jambalaya. My then mother-in-law who was not only lovely but an excellent hand in the kitchen taught me this recipe. I had leftover pork loin which worked perfectly. It’s a two helping affair but I must admit a bit of a project. The perfect roux is the key to success.

Pork and Andoulle Sausage Jambalaya

1 container of cherry tomatoes, halved
6 Roma tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 large green bell pepper
3 tablespoons butter
2 onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped with leaves
3 bay leaves
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
6 cups chicken stock
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. hot paprika
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. teaspoon cumin
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 lb. cooked pork, shredded
3 Andouille sausages, sliced thick
4 cups long grain rice
Green onions, chopped
Sour cream

Rich Stock

1 3 lb. chicken, cut up
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 stalks celery with leaves
1 onion, quartered
6 cups water

Rub the chicken pieces lightly with Kosher salt. Heat butter to foaming over med.-high heat. in Dutch oven. Add chicken to pan and stir to coat. Cook until skin of chicken is golden but not browned Reduce heat to very low. Add celery and onion and cover pan. Cook for 25 mins. stirring several times. Add water. Bring to gentle boil. Cook slowly for 30 mins. Skim fat from surface. Strain, discarding solids.

This will make about 8 cups of broth. Save the rest for soup.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray. Place tomatoes in bowl and add olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cut sides up place on prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 30 mins. Set aside.

Brown the sausage in a cast iron Dutch oven. Remove and drain on paper towels. Add the butter and then the holy trinity consisting of onion, bell pepper and celery to the same pan. Sauté on very low heat until the vegetables are tender. Add the bay leaves and tomato paste. Continue cooking until the mixture becomes slightly browned like a rich caramel color. While the tomato paste caramelizes, stir often to prevent burning.

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Add the diced tomatoes and charred tomatoes. Scrape bottom of the pan often to get stuck bits for flavor. Add stock and spices. Add pork and sausage to pan and continue simmering for about 10 minutes. Add the rice slowly, stirring constantly until the rice is nearly finished cooking and has absorbed most of the liquid. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until rice is cooked.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and green onions. I add a spoonful of hot chunky salsa for heat.

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final

Sometimes I wonder what Boo, the Queen of Cats, is thinking. What malevolent thoughts lie beneath that innocent looking white furry exterior. Boo is a creature of habit. Structure guides her days with us. When I decide to put my feet up, this is her signal to hop up on me for a look around. Once up, she makes herself comfortable, draping herself along the contours of my body. In her wake she leaves a coating of white fur to remember her by. I am probably her person, if you will, of the two of us. Often I think this is not because of my sparkling repartee but rather I offer a flatter exterior on which she can recline. Rick, as many of his gender, has the build often seen in men as they get a bit older. Two thin arms, two thin legs, and one tummy that enters the room about 5″ prior to the rest of him. Cats are funny creatures. They often chose one individual to lavish their affection on. Fickle by nature you never really know from one day to the next. Once settled on top of me, she gazes adoringly at my face as though a lovelier visage than mine has never graced the cover of Elle magazine. I have to admit it’s a nice feeling being adored. I don’t hate it. Once you pass forty you don’t see that look as often as in your salad days.

It is 2:00 a.m. Boo is lying next to me as she often does when I write in the wee hours. If she tires of having my attention directed at the screen she’ll stretch out a paw to distract me. Mostly we just quietly share space. Normally I sleep well. I do go through periods here and there where my thoughts nudge me awake before it’s time. Quiet this time of night, writing fills the gap until it’s time to get up. If not in a writing mood I’ll pick up a book. I always have several paperbacks lying around. Tongues of bookmarks stick out on end tables as if encouraging me to open them up and catch up on the story line where I left off. Always I’ve been a reader. I would suspect most writers are. It’s the love of words and putting them together urging us to want to pursue them in such a way.

Wherever I am you’ll find me reading something. Sitting in the doctor’s or dentist’s office I catch up on National Geographic or Parent’s, the latter of which has little to offer me at this juncture. Word is you shouldn’t read magazines while waiting to see a doctor. Sick people most likely held them before you pick them up. If I listened to every suggestion made about how to live my life I suppose I’d be hiding in the back of the closet waiting for my last breath to arrive.

As a kid I read Honeybunch stories, The Bobbsey Twins, and my favorite of all Winnie the Pooh. Milne stole my heart before any other man outside of my grandfather had claimed it. To this day Pooh quotes still show up in my writing. Like the following quote, he wrote lovely truths to children and adults which hold steady far beyond the 100 acre woods today.

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. “Pooh?” he whispered.
“Yes, Piglet?”
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand. “I just wanted to be sure of you.”

As the years passed I went through all the volumes of Laura Ingalls Wilder, many of the classics such as Alice in Wonderland, Moby Dick, Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations. While pregnant with my daughter I read every Earl Stanley Gardner book in print. No wonder she pokes and prods at her life these days exploring every nook and cranny of it.

Habitually, I saturate myself with one author before moving on to the next. Stephen King caught my fancy when I was in my twenties. I read every word he’d written before I hit thirty. He weaves a story with such artistry. To this day I can’t watch Pet Cemetery. The story taken from an incident in his life haunted me so long after I’d read the last page. At times I didn’t think I’d ever be shed of it (pardon the pun). Of the sci-fi or horror writers I like Koontz as well but Clive Barker I can’t read without company close by.

I so admire writers able to impact their audiences year after year. Stories which never lose their charm or become dated. My mother read Green Eggs and Ham to me. I read it to my children, and they to theirs. Tales of the Grinch and the Who’s will carry on I’m sure long after I’m gone, held dear in the minds of children not yet born.

Perhaps one day I’ll sit down and write a novel. Several half-finished volumes lurk in drawers and closets around the house threatening to be completed. Writing keeps me sane at times and provides a release for my thoughts often muddied about in a big tangled knot beneath my blond locks.

It is so good for my heart to know that people stop by for a read. It’s not paramount as I would write anyhow if only for the joy I get from doing so, but it means a lot to me that occasionally others find something in my words as well.

Fall is here and along with it my craving for sweet potatoes. These touched with a kiss of orange were delicious.

Twice Baked Orangey Sweet Potatoes

8 large sweet potatoes (equal in size)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Garlic salt
1 small can mandarin oranges
4 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 Tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub skins of potatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with garlic salt. Prick with fork. Place potatoes in shallow dish and bake for 60-70 minutes, until tender when poked with a fork.

Drain oranges reserving liquid. Place oranges in small food processor and pulse several times quickly.

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise keeping skins in tact. Scoop potato into mixing bowl. Discard 1/2 of the skins. Place four remaining skins in baking dish.

Add butter to potatoes in bowl. Mash with fork. Add 1/3 cup of pureed oranges to mix and 1/3 cup of juice. Season with nutmeg and salt and pepper.

Spoon filling back into shells. Top with a small pat of butter. Return to oven for 20 mins.

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A friend of mine is dealing with some serious dental issues. On a fixed income and no dental insurance in place, this presents her with a huge financial burden. Even with dental insurance the out-of-pocket cost can be prohibitive. The estimate she was given to get the work necessary came to just under $8,000. Suffering from severe periodontal disease even with the work they could offer no guarantee her teeth could be saved.

I understand the pain involved with dental problems. My ancestors passed on a lot of positive things along the way but strong teeth certainly wouldn’t be included on the list. Most of my life I have fought the good fight to keep my teeth under control, because when they go out of whack the pain can be unbearable.

When speaking to me about the situation she mentioned the sense of shame she felt when in the dental office. The dentist saying she had to do something about her teeth with no empathy for the situation she was in. Unwilling to allow her to make payments for the work as it went along, she was left with no choice but to take out a personal loan at a high interest rate to get the job done.

There isn’t much personalization in health care any more. I see it all the time. Last week I had an appointment scheduled three months ago. At the time of the initial visit I was handed a return appointment card and instructed to come back at the allotted time to be rechecked. Fine. I showed up and signing in sat down in the typically packed waiting room. Three magazines and a Highlights (I like the Hidden Picture Puzzles) later my name was called.

In the examination room my vital signs were checked. The nurse asked the nature of my visit and what my symptoms were. Just out of curiosity shouldn’t they know why I’m there? They asked me to come. It feels to me like inviting someone for dinner. When they arrive at the front door you answer in your pajamas and ask them why they’re there.

Once the information was entered in the computer, I was told to wait for the doctor who was running behind. Since I have been going to this physician that particular statement has never varied. Apparently when you get a 3:15 appointment, it is only a place holder. Four or five other people probably hold the same card.

After 45 minutes the doctor knocked on the door and came in. Shaking my hand she said, “How have the antibiotics been working for you, Emily?” I replied, “Fine, Dr. Hill.” She looked at me and said, “I’m Dr. Mitchell.”. I said, “Oh, I’m Susie and I’m not taking antibiotics, nice to meet you.” After that she just looked annoyed. Ah well.

Again I was asked why I was there. I was beginning to wonder myself. I wanted to say, “Emily’s here because you asked her to the party”, but I didn’t feel like looking around for another doctor. They are few and far between up here and a lot of them aren’t taking new patients. Some of them even interview their patients before accepting them. I’m sure I wouldn’t get the job.

I was discussing this situation with a retired dentist who’s an old family friend. He said when he was in practice they never turned away a patient in pain, but things have changed. Perhaps they need to reread the Hippocratic Oath which reads in part, “I will apply dietetic measures for the benefit of the sick according to my ability and judgment; I will keep them from harm and injustice.”

From what I hear there is an alarming shortage of medical personnel coming out of our colleges these days. With the increases in malpractice insurance the physicians that are graduating are opting to work for large medical conglomerates who absorb these costs on their behalf.

I don’t know what the answer to the problem is but I certainly clearly see the problem. When you consider an eight mile drive to the hospital in an ambulance was billed out at $2,200.00, it would seem things are out of control.

Anyhow, my rant for the day. Some things just urge me to get out my soap box and climb up on top.

We are smack dab in the middle of the purple circle on the weather map delineating the worst smoke in the area emanating from the King Fire. Yesterday it was nearly impossible to breathe outside. I am ready for a good rain so may begin my yearly rain dance as soon as the smoke dissipates a bit.

These little guys come out so tender and the gravy is out of this world.

Crockpot Orange Rosemary Game Hens For Two

Hens

2 Game hens, washed and dried
2 oranges, sliced
1 onion sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsps. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup vegetable broth

Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place sliced onion on bottom. Top with sliced oranges. Make a paste of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, flour and garlic. Rub on hens. Place hens on top of onion and oranges.

Sprinkle hens with dried rosemary, lemon pepper and salt and pepper as desired.

Mix together orange juice and vegetable broth. Add to slow cooker.

Cook on low for 9 hrs. If desired remove from slow cooker and brown under broiler.

Gravy

Pour pan dripping into a medium saucepan through a fine sieve. Keep solids for garnish. Mix together 3 Tbsp. of flour with 3 Tbsp. milk to make paste. Heat drippings over medium heat until boiling. Reduce heat to medium and slowly whisk in milk/flour mixture. Whisking constantly bring to a boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking over med. low heat until thickened. Season with salt and pepper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baguette Dogs with Tangy Chili

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

Chili

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crockpot Veal Stew with Root Vegetables

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

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

Brown meat in oil until golden brown on all sides.

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

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Layer remaining vegetables on top of meat.

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

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final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mini-Omelets with Tangy Sauce on a Biscuit

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

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

Sauce

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

Whisk together and spread on both sides of biscuits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6646Apple and Ripe Cheddar Pie

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

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Slice apples in piles of three apples each.

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

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

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

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