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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crockpot Carnitas 4 Layer Burritos

For the Carnitas

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

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

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

For Burritos

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

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

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

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

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

Top with salsa and sour cream if desired.

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

Serves 8

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

final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boot Hill Sweet Potato Cupcakes

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

Cream Cheese Frosting

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

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

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

Makes 18

final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Southern Lemon Glazed Sweet Potatoes

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

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

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

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

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

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

Serves 4.

final

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gooey Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake with Poached Pears

Gooey Cinnamon Caramel Apple Cake

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

Glaze

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

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Spray 9 x 13″ pan with cooking spray.

For the cake

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

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

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

For the glaze

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

Poached Pears

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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.

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.

IMG_6704
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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