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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

I received a wedding invitation yesterday in the mail. I love weddings. There’s something so lovely about dewy new love celebrated in a glorious setting surrounded by flowers and people drinking champagne in lovely clothes. This enthusiasm is not shared by my other half who only shows up for the cake. Being a practical being, for him it would make more sense to put that money to good use either as a down payment on a home or tucked safely away in a savings account for future use. It’s not that he’s not romantic, he is, but he feels grooms are really only arm accessories at such functions and it’s a lot of money for an escort service. A lot of men have voiced similar thoughts to me over the years. It is no secret weddings are all about the bride. The groom is only there really to add equanimity to the top of the cake.

Scanning my closet for something appropriate to wear, I discovered my wardrobe has seriously gone downhill since owning the restaurant. When you own a restaurant you are on hand any day the sign is turned to OPEN, and most days it is not. On operating days, it is necessary to show up looking like you’re somebody as a good part of your day is spent schmoozing with the customers and making a public presence at one place or another. Towards that end I put to good use all the dresses, skirts, and corporate wear I brought with me from my previous job as an executive assistant. As the work responsibilities grew for me after my other half had a heart attack, my body mass dwindled, and the corporate clothes began to hang on my frame. I found myself instead wearing size 2 clothes at middle age. At that size you’re forced to shop in the misses department desperately searching for clothes that wouldn’t cause tongues to wag about Susie trying to recapture her lost youth. Once the restaurant was sold, the cigarettes which helped me get through those stressful days were put aside, my body went back to its usual size 6 and the tee tiny clothes were donated to the Salvation Army for someone else nearly invisible to slip into to. Once the 2′s were culled out of the herd there wasn’t much left to leave the house in besides the boxer shorts I like to sleep in and an unwieldy group of tee-shirts chronicling my travels over the years.

Slowly I have rebuilt my wardrobe, admittedly mostly with shorts, jeans, and tops, but certainly if the Queen calls to invite me to dinner I am ill prepared to accept unless she’s going for thrift store chic. I like being comfortable. Most of my life I’ve rolled out of bed, put on my face (as my mother refers to doing your makeup), and panty hose in place stepped into my work persona and uncomfortable shoes. My feet of late run free in sandals and flip flops dancing into the moonlight with no calouses or blisters to slow them down. If I was still limber enough to make it happen they’d slap me a kiss.

The other half and I have long since crested that hump where we still need to dress up perfectly every day to convince one another we want to stay together. We’ve seen each other after a night of sleep, a bad bout of stomach flu, in a hospital bed, and in about every scenario involved in day to day living. Secrets have been spilled, myths debunked, and the truth is on the table. I can remember when married the first time setting the alarm in the morning so I could get out of bed and have my makeup and hair done before my husband woke up. Those days are far behind me.

It is not that I don’t put on my makeup each day, and pull on pressed, clean clothes and brush my hair. I assure you I do. Just because you’ve hauled the fish in doesn’t mean you stop trying to keep him in the boat. Conversely my crisply pressed other half has slipped his standards a bit, going from corporate clean to down home casual. He has a leg up on me in that his head wakes up already in place as the hair has long ago gone to a better place to end its days.

Men are more fortunate in the grooming department. Most men, naturally. There are those peacocks who spend hours maneuvering each hair into place and spraying it into submission. The guys who dress in a tuxedo to attend a picnic, have regular manicures and facials, and leave a party if their pleats aren’t ironed straight. The average guy, at least from my experience, mostly follows the three esses. You know what they are, so I won’t elucidate. Let’s just say it’s basically shaving (and stubble or a full beard have become the “in faces” making this less frequent), showering, and availing themselves of the facilities. As an aside here, I have begun to wonder what men do with all the toilet paper at their disposal. Over the years I have regularly supplied my bathrooms with ample rolls for passing patrons, and am astonished at the rapid diminishing of the supply. I wonder if I put up a potty-cam I would find them consuming it or tucking it in their pockets for an emergency?  If I’d saved a nickel for every roll of TP I’d seen fall by the wayside, I’d be sitting in a villa in Caan as of this writing.

There is a delightful freeing when in a good relationship that has seen some miles. I am not suggesting getting comfortable to the point of throwing banana peels on the floor and sitting around eating Cheetos in your wife beaters, but a little loosening up is a good thing and I believe a sign of trust in the person you have chosen to spend your life with. I certainly notice when my other half is dressed up and looking sharp, but I like him just as well when he’s in his shorts and tank top watering the plants. To me he looks like him, familiar and dear which is a good thing.

Anyhow, I will go out this weekend and attempt to find a dress. It’s been so long I hope I don’t have to fight my body to get one over my head. After looking in the ads at the major stores I’m not sure I like what’s trending at the moment, but surely in the sea of dresses and fabrics there’s one with a tag saying, “made just for Susie”. It will be nice, actually, to slip into a bit of femininity. No matter what I’m wearing I retain a bit of my tomboy, so a little sway and flow in my outfit might feel nice for a change.

Soup weather is moving away from us, but I reserve this one for early summer. Light and refreshing, it is great served with a tuna sandwich and a cold glass of lemonade.

Lemon Chicken and Rice Soup

8 cups rich chicken broth
1 rotisserie chicken (garlic) skinned, and cubed (about 3 cups)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
6 mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced thin
1/4 orange bell pepper, sliced thin and halved
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
3 cups spinach, coarsely shredded
2 cups cooked rice
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
3 egg yolks, beaten
4 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (or more depending on your lemon prevalence)
1/2 lemon, seeded, halved and sliced thin
2 tsp. lemon zest

Spray 6 quart crock pot. Add broth, chicken, onion, garlic, mushrooms, carrots, zucchini, orange bell pepper,
bay leaves, black pepper, salt, and cumin. Mix well. Cook on low for 5 hrs. Add spinach. Cook on low for 1 hr.

Cook rice according to pkg. directions. Add to pot with parsley.

In small bowl whisk egg yolks. Add 4 Tbsp. of lemon juice and whisk until thin.

Take a ladle of hot but not simmering soup. Add slowly to egg mixture whisking constantly. Add a second ladle and continue to whisk. Pour egg mixture back into soup slowly whisking constantly. Adjust seasonings if necessary. Add zest and slices of lemon.

Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Dress codes for school are in the news this morning. Specifically when are short shorts too short, tops too low, etc.? Hmmmm. I’ve been passing young girls on my way out in the morning. I presume they’re headed for school, some wearing shorts that would make lil ol’ Daily Mae blush. When there’s far more cheek outside of the material than what’s captured inside, perhaps the shorts are, in fact, too short?

Always I take into consideration the generations lying in between my thinking and those girls and try to adjust accordingly. I can remember wearing head bands, hot pants, mini skirts, and fringed jackets, my bra dusted off only for special occasions back in the day. Young people are going to express themselves differently as each generation mounts the hill but when is it too little considered too much for school?

Let’s face it young boys are highly motivated by young girls. This concept is not news recently uncovered by a motivated cub reporter. The original inhabitants of this planet caught on to the program pretty quickly even with no visuals or reference material to guide them. Unless someone else has noticed it going in a different direction, I believe the original man/woman thing has held our attention until now. However, when given soooooo much feminine landscape to look at I can’t imagine anything the teacher might be saying besides, “see you tomorrow” sinks into youthful male’s intellect during any given class period.

Things have changed a lot over the years. I was explaining to one of my granddaughter’s we used to have to wear dresses to school. Pants were not allowed – on girls, naturally. Dresses and skirts had to be a certain length and if they were not, you were sent to the home economics classroom to get the hem lowered. Once I explained the term “home economics”, then “hem”, she found the whole concept positively barbaric questioning whether I was playing with her or actually telling her something based on fact.

For six months several years ago we had one of our grandchildren living with us while going through some transitions with her immediate family. It was an eye-opening and interesting experience. Raising a teenager at any time in your life is like traversing a mine field without a map. Something’s going to blow up at some point, it’s just a matter of when and how much collateral damage will occur once it does.

“What’s the big deal?”, was our granddaughter’s mantra. I considered having a tee-shirt made with the words emblazoned across the front to eliminate her having to repeat it after every sentence out of my mouth involving work or school. She arrived at our house with a 33 gallon trash bag packed to the maximum expansion point with a wad of clothing looking much like a mating tangle of cottonmouths. I discovered early on folding and ironing were neither terms she was familiar with, nor wished to become familiar with at any time in the near future. The drawers I’d cleaned out in the spare room dresser were quickly crammed to capacity with clothes, makeup, jewelry and toiletries. Wash and wear, they were pulled out of a pile, wrinkles blown out with the blow dryer, and placed on the body in this order every day.

As the warmer weather moved in the jeans were tossed aside in favor of briefer apparel. The higher the thermometer pushed, the briefer the apparel got. Hmmmm. One morning I called to her to take her to school and she arrived looking more like she was headed for a shift at Hooters than a trip to ninth grade. Nope. This is, what’s the big deal for me. Insisting she put one something that at least covered the spots taped out on explicit pictures on TV, she came back up after much grousing looking much better and we got in the car. As the backpack was thrown into the backseat a light went on in my mind. This was not my first rodeo. I raised two teenagers, was one myself, and if it could be done I had already figured out how to do it. Asking for the backpack I was not surprised to find the errant shorts tucked in among the papers and her lunch. One of us is going to have to get up earlier in the morning.

My daughter and I have discussions about the newer generation often. Many things she feels are okay, I’m not so sure of. I want to remain open to new ways of thinking and behaving while remaining free to still have a voice about what I’m seeing. Several days ago I got in a discussion with my son about cell phones and tablets in the classroom. He said it’s great. No need for books, etc. and a valuable resource for facts and information. I can’t argue with that, but how do you learn to use your mind with a device who makes answers so easily ready at your fingertips?

Also, I have concerns about language. I have been told several times recently language is not important anymore, nor writing as we know it. Some day we may even communicate by text-ese, or whatever they call it. Really? Will we go back to throwing excrement at one another as well? I don’t vote for it. It is apparent this is true if you listen to young people speaking. When did “tooken” become a word? How about “I seen it”, or “I haven’t went yet”? Another one I find interesting and hear often is “conversating”. Hmmmm. Yesterday I heard someone say “I boughten it”. Well I guess that’s better than you tooken it, which often comes with extended jail time.

Keeping my mind open is a constant uphill battle I’m trying to win. I have a kind of love affair with language difficult for me to leave behind. So many glorious works of literature have been written using the beautiful language we have developed. What is to come? Wuthrng Hgts :)

Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!” Sigh.

So I write, and continue to use complete words until my audience no longer understands what I have to say.

This cake recipe I originally got from Taste of Home. Then I added the cheesecake filling  and fresh strawberries which made it truly rich and decadent.

Mocha Cake with Strawberry Cheesecake Filling

2Mocha Cake

2/3 cup butter, softened
2 cups packed brown sugar
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup brewed coffee, cooled
3/4 cups sour cream

 

Frosting

12 oz. cream cheese, softened
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 1/2 – 5 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add to creamed mixture alternately with coffee and sour cream, beating well after each addition.

Pour into two greased and floured 9″ square baking pans. Bake 30-35 mins. or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 10 mins. before removing from pans. Place on wire racks to cool completely.

In a large bowl, beat cream cheese, vanilla and butter until fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners sugar. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cheesecake Filling

2 pkg. (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Preheat oven to 325.

Spray bottom and sides of 9″ non-stick baking pan well with cooking spray or line with parchment paper.

Beat cream cheese in mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. Add sugar and vanilla. Mix on high for 3 mins.

Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each addition. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 40 mins. until fully set. Run knife around edges. Allow to completely cool in oven.

Assembly:

Place 1 layer of mocha cake on serving plate. Frost top. Place cooled cheescake on top and top with 2/3 cups strawberries. Frost bottom of 2nd layer of mocha cake. Place on top of strawberries. Frost entire cake. Top with remaining strawberries.

final salad

At the shelter this morning we were greeted by a full complement of cats. Between the felines smelling the food we were mixing, and the dogs responding to the yowling cats it was a cacophony of noise. My ears are still ringing. My heart always goes out to the old timers. Those animals logging months of time in the cages rather than the newbies only having been there a matter of weeks. It is almost comical how their faces reflect their moods. Big, sad eyes peer out of cages occupied with the older, less adoptable cats while kittens look well, kittenish, playfully tossing their toys about with or draped engagingly from cat towers. Let’s face it baby anything’s are cute. Even a newborn crocodile might be somewhat endearing. As we age, like the leaves on the trees, we tend to get a little crinkly around the edges.

There are two cats in residence at the moment each with only one eye. The older of the two is appropriately named Old One Eye, while the other one answers to Myron Cohen, for God knows what reason. Both old gentlemen have easy-going natures despite viewing their world through only a single lens. In either situation the injuries were due to human neglect rather than fighting, making their loss slightly more disheartening. There is also a small female with one ear partially missing. She sleeps in the litter box provided for her, as if the high walls offer some protection. According to the notes on her cage her owner, tiring of the cats in his charge, decided to use them for target practice wounding several before help came. Little angers me more than people deriving enjoyment from inflicting pain on animals or children who cannot fight back. Such a cowardly way to conduct your business. I am not of a vengeful nature but if there is retribution for our acts on this earth, this is one case where I believe an eye for an eye in the most literal sense would be justified.

On the way into the shelter, however, I witnessed a lovely bit of human kindness. The drive takes me along country roads winding back through the unincorporated areas of our city. It is beautiful in these rural neighborhoods, mostly populated by small farms or white fenced horse ranches. Crops line up along neat rows of furrowed chocolate-colored soil, and cows and goats roam across the pastures stopping to graze at the ground or nudge a fly off their rumps. Rounding a curve I found cars stopped in both directions, a line forming. As I slowed I realized there was a parade in progress, led by a mallard and his rather large duck family. Waddling slowly across the asphalt, the male duck looked to the right and left as if to check for oncoming traffic. Mom followed closely behind, quacking responses to the dialog coming from her mate most likely regarding the 8-10 fuzzy little youngsters excitedly hopping about in a haphazard formation behind their parents. Drivers waited patiently in their cars, while one little duckling, obviously not the sharpest pencil in the box, weaved in and out of line finally turning and heading in the completely opposite direction. Mother duck, sensing a flock member out of control flapped her wings and quacked angrily until the errant youngster made his way back to the group. Finally the small family reached the safety of the opposite side of the road and traffic once again commenced to move. It was a nice way to start my day.

Cats are funny creatures, prone to do what they want to do at any given moment, rather than follow the path you’ve chosen for them. If I want Boo to right, it is assured she will go left. She has shared quarters with us since 2006 and up until this point, I haven’t seen her vary this behavior one iota unless there’s something coming her way should she capitulate.

My mother, who as I wrote in my previous blog suffers from OCD, owns a cat. The cat, unfortunately also named Susie, has not read the pertinent books on the subject so has no idea what the rules are when living with a person suffering from the disease. At first I thought the pairing was going to go about as well as downing a glass of Zinfandel with a Twinkie, but amazingly they have survived the initial rough spots and have now been together three years. Who would have thought?

Mother’s kitchen is antithetically clean. You could easily plop on the floor and make a sandwich on the tile and remain untouched by any bacterial invasion. While there the coffee pot is ritually cleaned by my other half on each visit, a chore Mother has deemed his. Mine would be making the coffee once the pot is cleaned. As I am usually the first head out from under the covers this serves us all well. Making my way to the kitchen on our first morning there, I switched on the light to find Susie perched on the counter, eyes wider than the Cumberland Gap, licking the butter dish. Derision in the ranks. Seeing it was me and not her mistress, she cast one last eyebrow lifted look in my direction and went back to the task at hand. I gently put her on the floor, tossed the butter, and kept her secret safe when Mother arrived on the scene. We all have to break the rules from time to time. I did suggest she either put the butter in the refrigerator or keep the lid tightly sealed. I love kitties, but prefer my toast without fur, thank you very much.

They have an excellent working arrangement. Mother chases Susie around the house saying, “Noooo, Noooo, Noooo, Noooo, Noooo, Kitty”, glad I passed the baton on that one, and Susie continues on doing exactly what she was doing lending a deaf ear to the conversation. Blankets have been laid over the furniture for the cat to sleep on. That being said you will find her curled up on any number of uncovered spots, taking an afternoon “cat nap”, if you will, leaving a spot of hair here and there to mark her passing.

We’re never going to fully train them, and would we want to? We have taken them into our homes and domesticated them, but in the end they are cats not human beings, and should be treated as thus. If I put Boo in a lion costume on Halloween, I assure you she would pack her Kitty Treats and her favorite mouse and be out of here before you could say “trick or treat”.

This salad was lapped at a party over the weekend. It was pretty and colorful in the dish and crunchy and delicious in your mouth. I found containers of baby heirloom tomatoes which made the perfect blend of flavors.

Heirloom Tomato and Pepper Salad with Tarragon Dressing

2 lbs. of small heirloom tomatoes, halved
8 large mushrooms, sliced thin
1/2 yellow bell pepper, halved and sliced thin
1/2 orange bell pepper, halved and sliced thin
1/2 green bell pepper, halved and sliced thin
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and sliced thin
Feta cheese for garnish

Place all ingredients in bowl. Toss with dressing. Serve with a sprinkle of feta cheese on top.

Tarragon Dressing

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. fresh basil
1 Tbsp. fresh tarragon
1/2 Tbsp. parsley
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Whisk together all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use. Toss well with vegetables.

Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Had a fun and busy five days with my Mother. Truly the woman amazes me, never stops. It is generally known in my family Mother has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Probably this is something that should have been addressed years ago as it is undoubtedly equally as frustrating for the sufferer as it is for those around them. Some of this naturally slopped over on me, and I, in turn, passed it on to my daughter. She always says I’m a “giver”. I passed on asthma, allergies, lactose intolerance and several other itis’s to her, somehow leaving my son unscathed. This is something she reminds me of often and with extreme prejudice.

OCD manifests itself in some people with extreme symptoms such as rituals they are compelled to perform before leaving the house, when eating, or performing any manner of life’s day-to-day endeavors for most of us non-threatening. In my earlier years I knew a woman who had to schedule at least a half an hour extra in the morning to get herself to work, just to get out the front door. Each lock, and there were many, had to be tried and retried before she could push herself to leave the house and go to her car. It was agonizing for her, and took a long bout of therapy to help her learn to manage it.

A friend of mine has an adult child who counts food. If potato chips are the choice for a snack, six will be laid out. Not seven, not five, nor twelve, but always six. As a child this same person couldn’t have her food touching. The potatoes stayed on one side of the plate, the meat on another and the vegetable in a third corner. She ate them in a sequence, following the same sequence each time she took a forkful. Potatoes, meat, veggie, potatoes, meat veggie. This, would put me in a padded room. Fortunately, she outgrew the sequential eating but to this day will lay six chips, crackers, or candies on the table and recount them carefully before they go in her mouth.

With my mother it is order. If I set the newspaper on the counter, she will walk by, look at it, and feel moved to have to adjust it one inch in either direction apparently until it’s perfectly centered to her mind’s eye. I tend to mess up this scenario for her preferring actually to read my newspaper rather than admire it from a distance in its perfectly symmetrical environment. Each morning the newspaper is taken apart, folded, and placed in exactly the same spot in exactly the same order it was the day before. The other morning the newspaper delivery person had the effrontery to deliver a paper missing Section C which nearly threw of the entire day. I make fun, but for people dealing with this disorder I’m sure it is less than that.

As she’s gotten older, this has become far more pronounced than when I lived under the same roof. Cans are lined up with like cans, labels facing forward, towels hang on the stove reading “Dishes” and “Hands” and by God you better not dry a dish with the “hands” towel or dry your hands on the “dishes” towel or there will be hell to pay. There is a specific fork or utensil designated for everything. If you’re eating grapefruit you will be handed a grapefruit fork. It would unthinkable to spread butter with anything other than the designated butter spreader, even though she has probably seven drawers of silverware available each stocked with butter knives, ahem, suitable of spreading the soft stuff across the bread.

To add to the mix, an old family friend moved in after my stepfather passed away and now rents her spare room. A retired dentist, and a lovely easy-going spirit on the best of days, the man is the exact opposite of my mother in every way. To begin with he’s a mess pot. You don’t need a forensic scientist to determine what his last meal consisted of, because there are usually remnants of it evident on his shirt and/or pants. Having a laissez-faire attitude in the kitchen, what drops on the counter, stays on the counter. What falls to the floor, remains as it has landed. If living alone this chaos would go totally unnoticed by him but at Mother’s, thanks to her diligent kitchen patrol, it will immediately be brought to his attention. Watching the two of them interact could keep me entertained for hours.

From what I’ve read OCD can be inherited. This is good news. It is triggered sometimes by physical ailments, or possibly emotional trauma or stress. Our brains are such amazing organs, it is impossible to know the full extent of the reasons behind why we humans do the strange things we do. I would imagine this will be a question mark poised in the dialog bubble of scientists and researchers for many years to come. It begs the question, do some chimpanzees eat only three bananas at a time, or feel the need to keep a tidy tree while others are content to languish in filth and disarray? Is this only a human specific ailment?

Another common behavior associate with OCD is hand washing or fear of contamination. I cannot count on all my digits how many times I was asked if something was still good in the refrigerator or if it should be thrown out while visiting my mother. A package of bacon which had been in the refrigerator for 4-5 days with a sell by date of two weeks down the road was questioned simply because it had been in the refrigerator for that length of time. For me having to worry about all that 24/7 must be extremely exhausting. I prefer to opt on the side of safety, but not hang my hat on every sell by or use by date as if at midnight on the night indicated I have to rouse myself out of bed and take inventory of my refrigerator discarding anything on the way out.

For someone not going through this every day, it seems silly, but then I have an irrational issue with bees and their kin, that some people might view the same way. As I’ve mentioned I’ve bailed off a moving boat with one buzzing about my head, and gotten out of a car making a right hand turn when finding one sharing my space in the front seat. We all have our little quirks and nuances making up the whole of our being. The quest is to love someone with all their dings and notches, rather than only when they’re picture perfect.

At any rate, I’m home again. Boo, the Queen of Cats, was most delighted to find her treat provider and partner in crime occupying the right side of the bed. I adore my mom and miss her but it was a relief to use any old spoon out of the drawer for my cereal this morning without having to locate a “cereal spoon”. Ach.

These are truly my go to potatoes when I have a nice piece of meat fired on the grill. Yum.

Crispy Broasted Potatoes

8 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp. butter, cubed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. Montreal Chicken Seasoning Mix
1/2 tsp. Lawry’s Garlic Salt
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spray bottom of 13 x 9″ casserole dish.

Cover potatoes with water in large saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low boil and continue cooking about 8 mins. just to take the raw off, not to cook fully. Drain.

Spread potatoes in single layer on bottom of pan. Distribute butter around the pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with seasonings. Toss to coat well.

Place in oven for 1 hr. or until crispy and brown, stirring every 10 mins.

Serves 6

Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Went for a walk behind Nevada City early this morning with a friend. Along the heavily wooded trails are periodic distance hirschman-pond-nevada-city-california-nikon-dslr-april-2014c2a9-sally-w-donatello-and-lens-and-pens-by-sally-2014markers and boards with maps indicating with an X “you are here”. Along with your location the boards provide interesting information about the flora and fauna in the area, as well as things to beware of. Coyotes are pictured on each board with warnings if one approaches you along the trail make yourself seem larger, wave, and make a lot of noise. Both of us being small of build, after reading the third of such notices with the size of the coyote increasing each time, we decided to bring a larger companion for diversion next time or possibly a revolver.

There are two ponds along the three miles of trails, both leftover from the days when working mines existed here. According to the boards turtles, beavers, and frogs make their homes there, though we never saw any of the three along our way.

This was the first long walk totally in the woods I’ve taken since spring arrived. Predicted to be hot, I loaded up on sunscreen, pulled a ball cap on my head, and put on shorts and a tee-shirt. As Edwards-typical-trailwe got deeper into the woods the umbrella of trees obscured the sun except for occasional spots of light bleaching through where the overgrowth thinned. About a mile and a half down the trail the first sensation, not unlike a pinprick, made me stop and slap my arm. The next one followed very quickly. The two of us began this unchoreographed dance in the dirt looking either as if we were summoning rain or waiting for the orderlies to show up from the local sanitarium. Hearing them before seeing them, the air suddenly seemed filled with mosquitos. Looking down they were perched on my arms and legs. Damn. My can of Off was sitting on the counter by the sink.

We put into practice the same advice given us for spotting a coyote except we added an additional instruction, “RUN”. Do not stop, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Not even in high school could I have run a mile and a half with such amazing alacrity. My lungs were doing the samba against the wall of my chest. Truly I didn’t know I had it in me. Piling into the car we immediately began scratching like two blue tick hounds with a bad case of fleas. All that diligence about avoiding sitting on the deck early in the morning when they’re buzzing around really paid off. Sigh.

The last time I dealt with mosquitos in such numbers was on a beach in New Hampshire. The group of twenty-somethings we called friends at the time their offspring and ours had gathered for an end of summer blue crab boil. The plan was a weekend on the beach with a crab feed on Saturday night. If memory serves it was Indian Summer that year. Not only hot, but incredibly sultry and still. Two fires were built and wood stacked in sort of teepee fashion. Pots of water were hung over the fires. The ladies were tasked with shucking the corn and cleaning the crabs while the men busied themselves popping open cans of cold beverages and throwing frisbies. Right. Where is it in the handbook where it says this sort of job is “woman’s work”? Men have been trying to convince me for years this is how it was originally written. I have reached a juncture where I need to see this in black and white.

A boom box was turned on for a little background atmosphere, and picnic tables provided by the state park served as a place to lay down newspaper to toss the crabs and ears of corn once cooked. A Coleman stove was used to melt butter and heat crusty loaves of garlicy bread which smelled wonderful drifting in the air. Just enough of a sea breeze kicked up to rustle the sides of the newspaper and cool us off, but not strong enough to require anything pulled over our shorts and tee shirts.

That night we feasted in the glow of the dwindling fire, drank brain freezing lemon-lime daiquiris out of the thermos and when the children exhausted from a day in the sun fell fast asleep, danced into the brim of the following day.

Thankfully the black fly population, present on our last trip to the New Hampshire shore, had abated. However, with the humidity high mosquitos buzzed in circles around our heads all night. People flicked and batted at them like horses will their tails as they flew past their ears or lighted on their skin.

Sand provided a rather soft cushion beneath our sleeping bags, but the flannel interiors of the bags meant for cooler climates proved hot. Even in the wee hours with the sea breeze, the land refused to give up the heat gathered during the day and most of us tossed off the tops of our bags allowing the breeze to cool our bodies.

I woke up the following morning to the sound of laughter, and the smell of bacon (my favorite smell outdoors) both close by. The laughter I was to find was at my expense. During the night, with a daiquiri or two under my belt, I’d slept uninterrupted as the mosquitos made a meal out of me. Fortunately I’d sprayed my body, but left my face totally vulnerable. Word must have gotten around that seating was available in that area because they had their way with me above the neck. When I spoke I sounded like I had a terrible cold because they’d bitten my nose so often it had literally swollen shut. I looked like a female version of Karl Malden. My husband reassured me no one would notice but since every time someone looked at me they laughed I found that highly unlikely.

The following day getting ready for work the swelling was down but still very evident. I boarded the subway with my hands over my nose with people eying me curiously as they often did the people dancing in Boston Commons talking to themselves. Finally after several days I returned to myself, certainly a vast improvement over Karl. On him the look was distinctive. On a woman, I assure you far less so.

I’m taking off for a couple of days to see my mom. The other half and the cat will be batching it. Cya when I get back.

Grape Nutty Cole Slaw

2 pkg. angel hair cole slaw
1/2 large red onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups halved red seedless grapes
1/2 cup blueberries
1/3 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together in large bowl.

Dressing

2/3 cup sugar
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup 2% milk
5 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. Pour over cabbage mixture 1 hour prior to serving.

Serves 8-10

2
People are getting creative when it comes to housing these days. Home loans are harder to come since the plug was pulled on badly written loans letting the air out of the housing boom. Rental owners sensing blood have sent home rental costs soaring NOV2712_Image_02making alternative options more interesting. Homes fit for one, maybe two if you really like each other, offer affordable options if providing somewhat cramped quarters. 400 square feet of living with everything tailored to “living small”. Some models come with hookups to your pickup or SUV allowing the owner the flexibility of moving at a moment’s notice without packing a box. This has all the earmarks of something turtle inspired, but I can’t say I hate the idea. Continue Reading »

Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

This week has been devoted to projects. My desk is piled high with prints of half-finished Adobe Illustrator projects which I’ve been struggling with since Monday. It has been a while since I actually put on my “thinking cap”, to drag Tom Terrific out of the closet and dust him off, and actually put my brain on overdrive. I find it has given me a headache.

a3be7eb244d9cc07As with all software manufacturers, Adobe has messed which what was excellent in the first place, and now made it harder to understand. When I worked full-time I used the software every day and as things changed and morphed I had other illustrators to discuss the updates with making it easier to grasp. These days I can only defer to my other half still struggling with the difference between portrait and landscape when saving a file, and Boo, the Queen of Cats, who views the computer as a device taking my time away from her multitude of needs. As I’ve said before I believe when buying a laptop, or whatever, an IT person and software guru should be included in the cost of the unit. I have a spare room. We could make it work.

Thinking of Tom Terrific took my mind to the Der Weinerschnitzel commercials currently airing on TV. Very retro by design, they take me back to days when television offered up far less sophisticated fare and I kind of liked it. “Retro” is loosely considered the period of time falling between the 1940′s and 1980′s. Certainly a far different time than today. Music changed dramatically over the years starting out in the 40′s with such memorable artists as Billy Holiday delivering her singular sound in a bluesy offering of God Bless the Child and working its way right through to Disco “hustling” its way out of popularity early in the 80′s with hip hop jumping into its spot. I have to admit I wasn’t entirely disappointed when huge hair, disco balls, and white leisure suits fell by the wayside. Not my favorite time to hit the dance floor.

Disco was propelled into the spotlight when John Travolta hit the big screen in Saturday Night Fever, soundtrack provided by the Bee Gees. White three-piece suits were suddenly the fad, shirts laid open to the waist, and bling, lots of bling. Actually Travolta moved us to imitation in both dress and music twice in his movie career. Urban Cowboy compelled the every man to buy carved leather belts with big travolta_disco-saturday-night-feverbuckles portraying bucking broncos or longhorn cattle. Bankers and investment brokers squeezed themselves into designer jeans, and cowboy hats and boots. Country western bars shot up around the country quicker than black-eyed peas in a spring garden. Mechanical bulls threw boozy customers onto sawdust covered floors, and ladies and men bellied up to rustic bars for shots of J.D. or boiler makers. Dance studios began offering line dancing and two step lessons for novices. Even my boss, an engineer by trade, began showing up to work looking as though he was working on a cattle ranch. The closest that man ever got to a horse or cattle were the ones depicted on his cowboy jammies when he was four.

During that time my ex and I spent a year living in Washington state. God, as I like to say, spent a little extra time creating that part of the world. Absolutely gorgeous tree covered countryside everywhere you look, and not much of it wasted by lack of use. Because of the heavy rain prevalent in the area, everything grew with little encouragement making green the color of the day everywhere you traveled. On this stay we made our home in Longview, a lumber supported town just north of the Oregon border. Smells predominate memories of my time there, because where there’s an active paper mill the smell of sulphur isn’t going to be far behind.

During our nine month stay both of us worked in the mill.  For me it was in the office, while he worked in the mill itself. Work often chewed up the good part of a week. When we got a sunny day to ourselves as tired as we were it seemed a sin not to take cover_ucb1advantage of the weather and the time and explore the area. One Sunday we found ourselves in Tootle, a small unincorporated community not far from Mt. St. Helen’s. Short on population but long on welcome, we lingered there for a while in a local bar and pool hall. People were friendly, beer cheap, and talk encouraged. Outside several horses were tied up on a post and once your eyes adapted to the dark interior it became obvious who had ridden on them.

After a game of pool with these two gentlemen, they told us they were working cowboys on a ranch not to far from town. Being the friendly sort they asked if we’d like to join them and their families and the rest of the hands for a cookout later in the day. Sounding like fun, we accepted.  Directions in hand we found our way through back roads as the directions they’d given us indicated finally arriving at a huge gate decorated with a rusty O with a W inside. Driving in through the open side of the gate we made our way along a windy dirt road until we came to a group of houses. The main house seemed to be the gathering spot, and to the right a ranch sized outside grill was being manned by one of the two men we’d met earlier. It was a great evening, filled with steaks grilled to perfection, a campfire, real cowboys singing real cowboy songs, and a real bull which I chose not to find out if I could stay on. My husband, being an ex-rodeo rider himself, actually got a chance to show off his riding skills which were excellent. For me it was all about the sky filled with stars, the delicious ranch style beans, creamy potato salad, homemade biscuits, and lightly laced coffee that made the night a hit. Their blue jeans were worn in the seats with faded outlines on the pocket where they kept their tobacco. There wasn’t a disco ball, but it was a night with the cowboys I’ll always remember.

This recipe has nothing to do with cowpokes or campfires, but it was delicious paired with a nice cut of beef and some red-eye gravy. You can mix and match the mushrooms in this as desired.

1Mushroom Bread Pudding

8 cups artisan bread, cubed
3 cups 2% milk, divided
2 Tbsp. butter
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup onion, chopped
4 oz. portobello mushrooms
6 cups quartered button mushrooms
1 Tbsp. sherry
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 large eggs
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups Gruyère cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spray.

Combine 2 cups of milk and bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins., stirring occasionally.

Remove brown gills from portobello mushrooms and discard. Cut mushrooms in half, and cut halves crosswise into 1/4″ slices.

Heat butter in large skillet over med.-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sweat for 1 min. Add mushrooms and onions to pan. Saute for 5 mins. Stir in sherry, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper. Saute 1 min. Remove from heat.

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Combine remaining 1 cup of milk, eggs, and egg white. Whisk well. Spoon 2 cups of bread in bottom of casserole dish. Top with mushroom mixture and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of cheese.

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Top with remaining bread and finish with 1 cup of cheese. Pour egg mixture over top. Bake for 45 mins. or until set.

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Serves 6

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