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Some outsource centers are providing language classes for their technical support people overseas. Classes designed specifically to refine their speech to sound more Americanized,. This was done in response to complaints from customers finding it difficult to communicate with support personnel with heavy foreign accents particularly on questions of a technical nature. To add another layer to the cake, the classes also provide different nuances in their speech instruction. For example, a y’all or two might be thrown in for those wanting to sound like they hail south of the Maxon Dixon line or some broad “a’s” for the east coast citizens. Could be the gentlemen with the pleasant southern drawl introducing himself as Dwayne actually may sign his checks as Muhammad Singh. At times I have found it extremely difficult myself to get my point across on these phone calls and to understand what are saying in response.

No matter how frustrating, language always fascinates me. English is my only fluent language. I’m saddened to see it fall by the wayside. “Conversing” has been replaced by “conversating”.  “I seen it” has eclipsed “I saw it”.  Ach.  I took four years of Spanish in high school. At one time I was able to speak and understand it quite well. Technical Spanish was taught where I attended school. Conversational would have proved more helpful. Standing on a street corner in Baliz “Donde ala biblioteca?” isn’t going to do you much good unless the man you’re speaking to actually knows where the library is and you are really interested in going there. French came along in college. I took one semester and found it didn’t come as easily for me as Spanish. People assume if you’re from Canada you speak French.  French is the second language of the country, and certainly would be your first if you resided in Quebec I would suspect. I’ve traveled to Quebec on several occasions. Particularly in the country areas if you speak poor French it is not well received by the locals. On several occasions while trying to communicate with a sales clerk I was sure they understood exactly what I was saying but were so appalled by how I was saying it they pretended not to.

When visiting Rick’s Mother in Paris before her passing, she commented people in “the colonies” (French Canadians) don’t speak true French. Canadian French is old French, if memory serves. I wouldn’t have argued that point with Labiba.  Born in Egypt, she was truly a French woman at heart. Paris would have been far more confusing for me without the two of each speaking the language like natives. Labiba had been an interpreter for the U.N. in her younger years, French to English.  Her English was spoken with a hint of French and Arabic as is Rick’s. At her apartment I was introduced to a young Frenchman nicknamed affectionately Ooh-la-la for his penchant for punctuating his sentences with the same. Charm oozed literally out of this boys pores. Had he told me a flock of sea gulls had deposited their lunch all over my rental car I would have been nothing less than enchanted. The French speak with their bodies as well as their mouths, moving their arms and gesturing as the words flow. This is true of the Greeks and Italians as well I believe. My girlfriend who is from a lively Italian family would be unable to communicate if I tied her hands behind her back.

If you are exposed to different types of speech for long periods of time it is likely you will adopt some of the peculiarities in your own speech patterns. After living in Arkansas and Alabama for a year or so the “you’re not from around here’s” came less often as my speech drifted into their speech zone. Looking back I always had trouble with the y’all’s. There are guidelines for saying y’all that never became completely clear to me.

When living in Massachusetts it wasn’t long before their use of the broad “A” became noticeable when I was speaking. My mother kept asking me if I had a cold. I learned that “Chuck Rivah” made reference to the Charles River where I used to stop on my way to work in the morning to watch the rowers glide seamlessly through the glassy water.  “Regulah” coffee meant you liked cream and sugar in yours. If you were going “down sellah” you were likely headed for the basement.  Rain, which came down often in buckets there, might be said to be “coming down like a bastard’. By the time we returned to California after three years on the east coast people here were asking me if I hailed from the east originally. Funny.

Canada is not immune to language differences. Arriving in Southern California I still said serviette when referring to a table napkin and toe-maatoe when asking for one in my salad. To me toe-mayto referred to a woman. Back in Nova Scotia for a wedding some years ago I ran into several men from Newfoundland. At first I thought they were speaking to me in a foreign dialect rather than English. From what I understand their particular manner of speaking is partially attributed to their Gaelic roots. When saying hello they might come up with “Whaddaya at?” “Stay where you’re at ’til I comes where you’re to,” might be translated as “Stay where you are until I arrive.” I just nodded and smiled hoping I wasn’t agreeing to anything I didn’t want to sign up for.

All in all it’s fascinating how we communicate, at least for this writer.

Totally off subject, one of the gentlemen I volunteer with at the food ministry told me in conversation last week he was diabetic. As it happens Rick is as well. However his is well controlled by diet. At any rate, during the conversation this man mentioned using okra water to manage his sugar levels. Really? I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, but it was  first for me. Researching a little further I found a number of articles on the Internet discussing the same subject. Who knew? There are as with most discussions people sitting on both sides of the fence but it is an interesting concept and natural at that. Since it certainly couldn’t hurt I will give it a shot.  According to my source he cuts the ends of an okra. Drops it in an 8 oz. glass of water and soaks it overnight. In the morning the vegetable is discarded and you drink the water. Anyhow, my unusual bits of information for the day.

 Garlic and Parmesan Oven Fries

3 large potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/2″ sticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 Tbsp. chopped chives
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Spray cookie sheet with cookie spray. Slice potatoes and drop into ice water for 1/2 hour. Remove from water and pat dry with towel.

Toss with oil, garlic, chives, and red pepper flakes. Spread in single layer on cookie sheet. Bake for 25 mins. turning once.

Remove from oven and toss with cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired.

Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 Tbsp. chives
2 Tbsp. yellow mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Whisk all ingredients together. Refrigerate until ready to use.

2
My other half has been visiting his son for a few days so Boo and I are batching it. It’s odd not to have my conversational partner in the house. Being left to my own devices I do find I’m attending to all those things I’ve been putting off since summer set in.

People are funny when they hear you’re alone. Immediately they seem to feel the need to highlight all the horrible things recently in the news about happening to people home by themselves. Even my mother related a story about a home invasion involving two women. Both women were bound, gagged, robbed, and one was raped. Thanks, Mom. When I’m gone Rick turns off the lights at night and goes to bed as he would normally. When he’s gone I leave enough lights burning to guide the Space Shuttle in after a mission. If I’m really feeling squirrely I’ll leave the TV in the living room and the one in the bedroom on for company. Not afraid to be alone, I actually enjoy solitude from time to time, it’s being alone at night. Something changes for me when the sun goes down. After my mother’s story and several others, my nightstand, usually only holding a glass of water and my book was flushed out with a large kitchen knife and my cell phone with 911 on speed dial. What possesses people to do this? When I was pregnant people told me terrible stories about women birthing huge moles (not the animal the skin condition). Before I had surgery one friend related horror stories of surgeons removing a healthy organ instead of the diseased one because the x rays were turned backwards on the viewer. Another brought up all the potential infections one could contract, such as flesh-eating virus, even if only in the hospital for a routine procedure. Shhhhhhhhhh, please.

As a child I lived on the second floor of my grandparents large home. Mine was one of two rooms hugging the back of the house facing the yard. From my window there was a view of the gazebo where I often held teas for my dolls and the enormous vegetable garden my grandmother tended when the capricious Halifax weather allowed her the luxury. Directly across the hall was my mother’s room. Down the front stairs to the right behind my grandfather’s den led to the master bedroom where my grandparents slept. Directly to the right when exiting my room was a large mahogany door which opened on to a fully enclosed back stairway. Following it to the end to the right was the kitchen, to the left the basement. The stairwell door was left closed at night with the key dangling from the keyhole. During the day I often used this stairway. It afforded immediate access to my grandmother’s spare pantry just outside the kitchen door. The pantry housed a wonderland of confections. Colorfully decorated tins each lined with waxed paper were chocked full of gooey lemon bars or perhaps the specialty of the house Gam’s wafer thin lighter than air ginger snaps. Often I perched on the high stool with the red vinyl cover and like a frog on a lily pond hopped from one tin to the next sampling the delicious goodies to be had inside. At night, however, I wouldn’t have descended the dark stairway had the house been on fire and that the only way to safety.

Each night was a ritual growing up. After dinner I was tossed in the tub to scrub off the accumulated dirt of the day. Dressed in clean pajamas, I climbed into bed. Either my grandmother or my mother sat beside reading Honeybunch or The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Story done, I was tucked in and left for the sandman to deal with. Many nights strong winds whipped in from the sea. Trees brushed against the window creating long fingers of moving shadows across my walls. In my child’s imagination they were gnarled hands reaching out to pull me into the pitch black night. Often I lay in bed covers up to my nose waiting for whatever was knocking to figure out a way in. Darkness is after all the fodder for great horror films and wild imaginings. Unspeakable beings lurk in dark dusty corners. Rarely do you see a good monster movie set in the bright sunlight, except perhaps for Jaws. Even as a teenager when asked to take out the trash after dark I can remember walking briskly to the trash bins. An unexpected sound triggering my imagination would have had me sprinting back as if a pack of hungry wolves were nipping at my ankles.

As mentioned previously I lived in Ashdown, Arkansas for a while back in the early 1990’s. Ashdown, a small sleepy town in the Tri-Corners area of the state, was a bit of a culture shock for this California girl. We drove into town, my ex-husband and I, late afternoon on a hot and sweltery Saturday. The heat laid across you like a heavy blanket. Breathing itself required effort. Spending the first week in a small motel towards the outskirts of town, our time was consumed finding housing for ourselves and the cat and dog for the nine months we were to spend in the area. My husband, a pipe foreman by trade, was to begin work at the local paper mill the following week. It was hard to imagine him working outside in that heat. From a small town in Texas he was no stranger to the climate so from what I could see it never bothered him much. He was always saying the reason I was so uncomfortable in the heat was I hadn’t learned to sweat. Oddly this was something I was eager to embrace as I spent most days making an effort not to pass out.

After much searching a house was located in town. Basically a rectangle home. Three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, two bathrooms and  generous kitchen were distributed along the length of it. One air conditioning unit hummed in the window of the living room, barely adequate for cooling the area it was given. What cold air it spewed out of it never extended far beyond the living room door. A swamp cooler dominated the kitchen ceiling, a familiar sight in the south. Conventional A/C units struggle to cool heavy humid air where swamp coolers are made for the job. When turned on the unit sounded like a 747 revving for takeoff but it was better than the alternative.

About a month into the move my husband decided to go fishing. Other than a few people from work we knew no one in the area so he set off alone around 6:00 in the evening, saying he’d be back around midnight. By myself in the house with only the drone of the swamp cooler and the steady whir of the fans, every creak and unidentified noise made the hair on my arms stand at attention. Watching the clock when three o’clock arrived and no sign of my husband, full panic set in.

Knowing no one to call, I got in the car. I headed out into the country in the direction he said he was going. With no help from street lights the back roads were inky black. Lush overgrowth, so beautiful during the day, took on a menacing appearance when highlighted by my headlights. At the end of a dirt road I found myself with nowhere to go. Stepping out of the car insects sensing fresh meat buzzed around my head. As far as I could see nothing but muddy water lay beyond the drop off in the road, or perhaps a curious alligator or a snake or two.

Across the river another set of headlights appeared. Several men spilled out of their trucks. Their voices rose and fell captured in the slight breeze. The ember from a freshly lit cigarette briefly lit up their faces. At the same time they noticed me and yelled.

I believe that to be one of the most alone and vulnerable feelings I ever experienced. Terrified, I got back in the car. Wedged tightly I maneuvered back and forth kicking up dirt until finally managing to turn the car around.  Flying down that dirt road with my foot fully on the gas I somehow found my way home. My husband, sitting on the front porch, was about to call the police. Tired from no fish and a busy week he’d fallen asleep by the river losing track of time. Looking down at my soaked tee shirt I was delighted to report I’d learned how to sweat.

Many times I visited that fishing hole in the daylight always a beautiful and welcoming place to be. I never again went there at night even when invited to tag along on a fishing trip.

This is just so yummy. I had both on hand and decided to mix them up. My other half is on his way home and I have the lights lit for him (all of them).

Garlicy Cauliflower Brussel Sprout Mash

1 large head cauliflower florets, cooked
1 lb. brussel sprouts, cooked
3 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup half and half
2 Tbsp. chives, chopped
1/2-1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Steam brussel sprouts and cauliflower over 2″ of water until well cooked (fork tender plus). Drain well. Place both in the food processor and pulse until coarsely processed. Puree for 2 mins. until well blended. Add remaining ingredients (1 1/2 Tbsp. butter only and 1/2 tsp. only) and puree 1 min. longer. Add additional salt if desired.

Pat with remaining 1/2 Tbsp. butter and sprinkle with chives.

Serves 6.

2

August is starting out on an interesting note. The temperature has risen to the point you could get breakfast going on the asphalt on your driveway by around 8:00 a.m. Yesterday I believe it hit 105. Too hot for this Canadian girl. Been dreaming of cool aqua waterways and rattan ceiling fans.

I volunteered mid-week at the food ministry. 9:00 is my scheduled arrival date. At around 8:30 I poured some ice water in my water container, put on my sunglasses and grabbed my keys. By the time I snapped my seat belt in place I realized my water was still sitting on my counter next to the apron I wear when sorting vegetables. Sigh. Turning off the car I retraced my steps only to find the lock on my front door literally sticking its tongue out at me. The center unit housing the keyhole was protruding out about 3″ from the lock itself. This was something I’ve not seen before. Not sure how to approach it, I inserted the key in the protruding mechanism at the same time pushing it in towards the door. When I turned the key to the right it immediately became securely wedged in the key slot with my car key and remote dangling from it. Insert expletive here. After ten minutes of wrangling with the key it became clear it wasn’t coming out and I wasn’t going in. On the way out I’d locked the door to the patio. A phone call to my other half would have done the trick but he was asleep and either wouldn’t hear the phone or possibly ignore it. Still this seemed the only available option. However, after searching with no luck through my cavernous bag for my phone I realized the phone was also sitting next to my apron and water on the counter. Never mind. Needing to remove the car keys in order to be on my way I found this procedure more difficult than I expected. Sitting on my porch mat I pulled and pushed, grunted and groaned, stood on my head and laid on my back, and generally worked up a sweat on my freshly cleaned self finally releasing the key and the remote. Yea for me.

My luck got better as the day progressed and I made it through my shift without incident. Afterwards I had several errands to accomplish. One, to exchange several items at Ben Franklin’s Craft store. Passing the bench directly in front of the store I noticed people passing by staring openly at a young woman sitting there. As I got closer I realized she was nursing her infant without benefit of a diaper or blanket to cover herself. She smiled and I smiled back at her and entered the store. Inside I heard two women discussing the nursing situation. The words “disgusting” and “shameless” came up in the conversation. Really? The young mother looked to be sort of an earthy type. Her blonde hair was braided. She wore a shirt made of a gauzy material worn over cut off jeans and what I call Helen of Troy sandals. In the 70’s I would have expected to find such a girl living in Santa Cruz or possibly in a brightly painted VW van parked on a piece of acreage in a small mountain community mainly known for their excellent crops of marijuana. Perhaps with the climate in our country regarding such public displays being what it is it would have behooved her to cover herself. There have been several recent incidents involving women breast feeding in public in the news. Certainly I don’t find one of the most natural things in the world to be either disgusting or shameless, but some people are offended by it.

The U.S. is a country of contradictions, I believe. Our European neighbors seem to be far less prudish then we Americans when it comes to their bodies. In the Scandinavian countries nude bodies are not a rare sight and if you hit the beaches in the south of France tops are definitely optional. In turn we seem to celebrate such shows as Dating Naked, Naked and Afraid, and even the amazing premise involving real estate agents and a nudist colony called, Buying Naked on reality TV. Personally I find Dating Naked far more strange than a young girl nursing her baby, but again that’s just me.

I’m sure when Trog was running around the world skinning his knuckles trying to pierce the tough hide of an uncooperative bison, the little woman wasn’t sitting under a tree with a palm frond over her chest nursing Trog, Jr. Clothes came into being originally as protection for our bodies, not to hide them from view.

Truth is I think we can’t decide. Strip clubs certainly abound in cities around the nation. Pornography is the number one search option on the Internet and adult bookstores and movie houses can be found in most big cities. This is not considered good form by the moral majority, but nonetheless people continue to seek it out and the industry continues to flourish.

For me, perhaps I don’t want to sit across from a woman in Starbucks before my first morning latte and look at her exposed chest, but I wouldn’t find it so much offensive as simply too early in the morning for flesh.

At any rate my bifurcated thoughts for the day. Interested in your opinion on this subject.

These lamb shanks were out of this world. Too hot to cook with the temperature soaring this week, so the crockpot was the perfect solution.

Fabulous Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks

4 lamb shanks
3 Tbsp. canola oil, divided
Salt and pepper
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 cup orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup prosciutto, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine (I used merlot)
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 1/2 oz can diced tomatoes w/peppers
1 15 1/2 oz. can cannelloni beans, drained and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 cups cooked rice

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in large skillet over med.-high heat. Sprinkle lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Brown shanks on all sides for about 10 mins.

Remove from skillet. Add 1 Tbsp. oil. Add carrots, celery, orange bell pepper, prosciutto, and onion to pan. Cook over medium heat for 8 mins. Add garlic and cook for an additional minute.

IMG_6448

Place cooked vegetables in bottom of 6 quart slow cook sprayed with cooking spray. Add beans to vegetables and mix. Top with browned shanks.

In bowl mix remaining ingredients. Pour over meat and vegetables. Cook on low for 11 hours, removing cover twice to stir and spoon juice over meat.

Serve over cooked rice.

Serves 4

2Today I am suffering with a terrible case of wanderlust. It’s nearly 100 degrees outside and not a day to go exploring, which is probably why I feel like doing exactly that. Further contributing to my tapping feet I enjoyed a conversation with my son this morning mostly devoted to his upcoming trip to Cancun. The tickets include himself, his wife, and their two children one boy and one girl, eleven and twelve respectfully. Detailing the highlights for me and directing me to a site on-line showing pictures, my skin turned a deeper shade of green the longer we spoke. By the end of the conversation you could have thrown me in the pot with the delicious soup noted below and not been able to tell me from a leaf of spinach.

The resort they’re visiting is all-inclusive, so once you lay down your money for the tickets the food and beverages are included in the overall price. Naturally, if you want to visit the nearby ruins or enjoy other side trips they come at an extra cost, but while in the resort you can order one brightly umbrella bedecked drink after another guilt free. Other than any messages your liver might be sending up. However, as an aside if visiting one of these resorts do not pillage the mini-bar in your room unless you have the cash to cover it. From what I understand the all-inclusive umbrella extends only to restaurants and lounges.

ZipCruises are structured the same way, with the exception of the ones I’ve been on at least charging for alcoholic beverages. Back in the 90’s I took a ship from Miami to Key West and then on to Cozumel. Luckily for us it was spring break and so we shared quarters with hundreds of fun crazed college students bent on consuming as much alcohol as possible on their parent’s dime. One kid who we’d seen vomiting in the potted plants in the pool area the night before was presented with a $700 bill for alcohol from the same night. If I was his mother he’d really be sick by the time he got home.

At any rate my kids are going on several side visits. My son, Steve, is a hands on dad and has provided his kids with a rich background of sports, education, and experiences to take with them into adulthood. Makes me most proud. They swim like fish and both of them snorkel skillfully and havexel-ha-park some minimal scuba training. To be honest I’ve stayed away from scuba equipment as of this writing. Being claustrophobic the ideal atmosphere for me isn’t hundreds of feet below sea level with a mask covering my face. I’d be likely to take a great white on while trying to get out of the water. Watching documentaries on the ocean floor fascinates me but the idea of going down, down, down, not so much.

xelha_011One place he mentioned specifically was Xel-Ha Park. This is a lush park devoted to water lovers with something for everybody. Mayan ruins, jungle trails, bike riding, underwater caves, and swimming with the dolphins are just some of the fabulous attractions in a park touted as being the most beautiful aquarium in the world. I’ve got one flipper on and I’m ready to roll. Swimming with the dolphins is high up on my bucket list. Also walking with the penguins on the beach in New Zealand. The list seems to be growing as my bank account is dwindling.

Bank robbery is an option, but orange washes me out and I don’t like guns. Did you see the bank robber on the news who cleverly disguised himself in a see-through plastic bag? There’s a guy who stood in the stupid line a bit too long.

As delighted as I am that my kids are living the dream, I’m not as enthused about flying these days. Aside from everything in the news I watched a movie with Liam Niessen titled Non-Stop which sealed the deal. To take my mind of of it, and since I was ironing I turned on another movie. This one titled, The Impossible. A true story about a doctor and her family swept away by a tidal wave in Thailand. It’s not beyond the scope of possibility I may never leave the house again. That’s it for me. No more disaster movies.

Company is coming and I haven’t seen any hands when I called for volunteers to peel the eggs for the deviled eggs so I’d better run. Have a safe and happy day.

Even in the heat, this soup got an A+++++ from my other half. To quote him exactly, “I could keep eating this until I throw up”. Not delicately put, but I believe there is a compliment cleverly buried in there somewhere.

Crockpot Italian Sausage, Zucchini, Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

6 plum tomatoes, halved
1/2 green pepper, seeded
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Italian sausages, hot
2 cups diced zucchini
1 ear of fresh corn or 1/2 cup canned corn
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water
8 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. basil
1 bay leaf
1 pkg. Sazon Goya (or 1 tsp. hot paprika)
1/2 bag spinach
1 cup cooked ditalini pasta
Parmesan cheese and fresh basil for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Toss tomatoes and green pepper with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place tomatoes and pepper on foil cut side down. Bake for 15-20 mins. or until charred. Place in plastic bag for 15 mins. and peel off skins. Coarsely chop.

Cook Italian sausage and slice into 3/4″ slices.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over med. heat. Add onion and celery and cook 6 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min.

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Add tomatoes and peppers, sausage, onion/garlic mixture, zucchini, corn, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water, stock, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, bay leaf and Sazon Goya. Mix well.
Cook on high for 1 hr. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 7 hrs. Add spinach (stemmed and broken into large pieces) and ditilini. Cook for an additional hr. Adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve topped with shredded Parmesan and fresh basil if desired.

1 - Copy

Good news! Grab your checkbooks. I heard this morning for $32,000 you can join the President and other influential Washintonians for lunch. If you choose to attend only the reception prior to the luncheon, make your checks out for $10,000 and grab an appetizer plate. It must be interesting to move in such circles. The fly on the wall wonders what’s on the menu, as even before the state of the union I’m generally concerned with what’s to eat. For sure you’re not likely to get a plate of deviled eggs, little wienies in barbecue sauce, or a meatball sandwich. For $32,000 I’d like to start with some goose liver pate perched atop delicate toast points. Then let’s move on to an assortment of excellent imported cheeses resting next to a glistening sliver of sticky honeycomb. Pair all the above with some equally excellent wines, and, let’s see, a Prius, and I think it’s worth the outlay. I admire the president but for that amount of money I’ll put a dent in my home mortgage and enjoy a tuna sandwich, thank you very much.

I’ve attended some fairly high brow events over the years. While working in Boston in my twenties, my job threw me into the mix with a lot of well-heeled people. Fortunately my grandparents and my mother took care of my manners early on, so I managed to get through it without suffering total humiliation. The American Cancer Society, the name on my paychecks at the time, courted a lot of influential people into their fold, both as contributors and spokespeople. Fund raising functions were often held at exclusive locations and packed with political and social movers and shakers. Boston, aside from being one of my favorite cities for many reasons, houses many of the old money gentry. The upper crust is a closely guarded somewhat cliquish community populated by incredibly wealthy individuals. Somewhat spellbound by all the grandeur, I still far preferred the wonderful diversity of the city found in the fragrant Italian delis and ethnically flavored burroughs. Toni’s in Roslindale, I was surprised to note, is still open for business. I last went there in the 70’s and would go again was I to visit the city today. Their meat compared to what you find on the market shelves, cannot be beat. Homemade sausages, imported deli meats and cheeses. My taste buds are doing a happy dance at the thought of it all.

It’s the aromas of those delis and sandwich shops I remember most. Ripe cheeses, pungent meats, and the biting pickly smells when you opened the lid to the huge jars of pickles sitting on the counter. Makes my mouth water. Smell is so much a part of our eating and cooking experience. My maternal grandmother, a fabulous baker and cook, lost her sense of taste and smell to a stroke in her eighties. After that she reported life simply wasn’t the same. She ate, naturally, as we must to exist, but her enjoyment of food ended for her on the day of her stroke.

So much of our lives are guided by our noses. Certainly our noses bring us pleasure. Breathing in the glorious fragrance of a rose, serves to enhance the beauty of the flower. The smell of brewing coffee first thing in the morning to me actually surpasses the taste of the brew itself. Along with providing us pleasure, our nostrils also serve as alarms such as in the case of gas or chemical leaks or fire. I was interested to hear about a man working at NASA who smells for a living. By this I do not mean to insinuate the man doesn’t bathe. I don’t know him well enough, or at all, to base this on any fact. Rather his actual job has been for many years spending his days while at work smelling. I cannot confirm this, but I have a feeling he has an office to himself. To add another fact to the tomes of things I did not know, astronauts need to be provided an atmosphere fragrance free in order to keep from becoming ill. This is under this gentleman’s job description. Interesting.

Another fact along these same lines is about bees. For those of you who may have read my previous blogs on the subject, not my favorite insect. I understand the need for them in the balance of nature. I’d just prefer they do their good work somewhere other than in my presence. For some reason they sense my feelings on the subject and choose to sting me more often then not, thus my animosity. At any rate, they are using bees to ferret out drugs in the same manner they employ drug dogs. Bees, as opposed to their canine counterparts, have a much shorter training curve and by nature are more compact and easier to handle. The insects are trained by being exposed to a smell and then rewarded with sugar immediately following. After a brief period the bees will stick out their bee tongues when the familiar smell is introduced in anticipation of the treat to follow. Now here’s another fact to add to my encyclopedia of little known facts, I don’t believe I realized bees had tongues and rather long ones at that for their size. Every day is a new adventure.

Soooooooo, these are my convoluted thoughts for the day.

On a lighter note, the humiliation I missed out on in my earlier experiences has come to roost as I’ve gotten older. This morning I went to fetch the newspaper. Clad in my signature sleepwear, men’s boxers and a tee-shirt (Victoria’s Secret – Intimate Rendezvous Collection – argh), I eyed the paper from the front window. Normally I would slip on a pair of shorts but since we have no neighbors to our left at the moment I took the chance. The paper is always thrown about half way up the driveway so with my Croc’s in place and looking nothing but fabulous I made a run for it. Just as I bent down to pick up my paper the trash truck drove up. Ah yes, trash day. They waved. I waved back. Sigh.

In honor of wonderful Boston memories I offer up the meatball sub. We ate ours down to the ground with forks and yums.

Italian Meatball Sandwich

1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 French rolls split and toasted
Fresh basil
Shredded Italian blend cheese

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix together all ingredients through red pepper flakes in large mixing bowl. Mix until well blended but don’t over mix.

Form into eight meatballs.

Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray. Bake meatballs for 10 mins. turning once. Drain and put in a deep frying pan.

Sauce

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic minced,
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 jar basil spaghetti sauce
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes

Heat oil over medium heat in skillet. Add bell pepper and onion and cook until translucent, about 6 mins. Add garlic. Cook for 1 min. Add sauces and heat until warm.

Pour over meatballs in pan. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over med.-low heat for 20 mins.

Toast rolls. Spread inside of all rolls with sauce. Place two meatballs on bottom of each roll. Top with desired amount of cheese and garnish with fresh basil.

Serves 4.

2

What an odd day. I woke up to a fine mist decorating the windshield of the car, the skies overcast, and the air heavy. Atypical of Northern California weather this time of year, it’s a bit unnerving. Old timers used to refer to weather patterns of this sort as “earthquake weather”. To add to the odd mix the weather’s serving up, our immediate neighbors are moving out. We are friendly with them casually, not what I’d call friends. However, I am used to waving good morning or catching up on their lives while collecting the mail. Every afternoon like clockwork their cat comes down the hill to drink out of our bird fountain and in the heat of the day he catches a siesta underneath our car. It feels odd, if you will, not to see a light on in their window.

Not to be a nosy neighbor, but our living room window faces out on their driveway, we have watched the proceedings as they unfolded. Early yesterday morning five vehicles pulled up and people poured out. Since then a U-Haul has made numerous trips and all the pickups filled and emptied many times. Reminiscent of those videos of people exiting a car that just keep filing out one after another, loads keep exiting the house. Where on earth all this stuff was stored in a house smaller than ours boggles my mind. Watching the proceedings has served to cement my resolution not to move again any time soon. Another strange occurrence is the new occupants are moving in before the old have moved out. Never tried that before.

To add to the confusion, our new cell phones arrived. Droids, ach. Compared to the technology floating around at the moment they’re like comparing a caveman’s club to a scud missile, but for us they’re a step up. The moment we deactivated the old cellular service if became quickly apparent we had no idea how to either make or receive a phone call on the new units. To be honest, I couldn’t even figure out the voice mail message. When a call did come in the caller was informed I was too stupid to know how to set up a voice mail account so they’d have to call back when I located an active brain cell. Nice, a phone with attitude. First I had to figure out how to get into the phone as it was locked. Having accomplished that, another call came in. Three phones appeared on the screen, one white, one green, and one red. If you went with the logic used at a stoplight one would think pushing on the green phone would achieve the desired effect. Apparently this would be too easy. Repeatedly pushing all three phones, the call finally went to the voice mail guardian who once again reported I was too ignorant to own the device. Trial and error proved you have to move the green phone inside a circle in order to engage a caller. A glimmer of hope.

Next, I went to the contacts. Figuring out how to access adding a new contact I began the laborious task of entering all the numbers from my old phone. Usually the contacts could be moved along in a simple transfer on a sims card. Our old phones, so old the technology probably only exists in a dusty garage somewhere, aren’t compatible with the new not allowing this to occur. Fortunately there’s an X to erase an incorrectly entered letter because you need to have fingertips the size of a pencil eraser to do this with any accuracy. I am here to report it is most amazing these little phones aren’t floating in the toilet at the moment, but I am not one to give up on a good fight.

As of this writing I still have no voice mail message in place, and have no idea what an app is or how to own one, but I will in short order. It puts me in mind of learning the computer. How confusing at first were the floppy discs, yes I said floppy discs, and files floating on a computer screen which stored your information? Just learning to maneuver the mouse was incredibly awkward. Now it seems as familiar as tying my shoes (They still do that don’t they?). In the beginning the instructor might as well have been teaching me Mandarin Chinese. To stop for a moment on tying shoes, I was interested to note while working in my daughter’s day care children aren’t taught this skill anymore. Along with telling time, done digitally these days, velcro has replaced laces eliminating the necessity of tying anything when putting on one’s shoes. I certainly hope they’re never faced with a pair of laced tennis shoes as adults. No matter how many times you try to get laces to stick to one another, as yet I’ve never owned a pair that did. Also, if confronted with a clock on the wall with hands and numerals will they have to ask someone when to go to lunch?

Another constantly fluxing media would be music. There were 8-tracks, which were huge. It was like inserting a loaf of bread in the 8-track player which took up half the dashboard. If you carried more than five in the car you had to travel alone, as there was no place for a passenger to sit. Cassettes followed, much smaller and easier to manage. With each innovation new devices were necessary to use them ensuring just as you crested the learning curve, another upgrade would swoop in to recreate the bog in your brain. CD’s came along once we’d gotten a grip on the cassettes. Naturally, a CD player, CD case, and of course the CD’s themselves were necessary to get into the swing of things. Many times over the years my garage sales have been kept afloat with leftover pieces of each bit of technology as it became outdated.

So I continue to strive to keep up with each technological jump. I fear I am trailing far behind, but like Hansel and Gretel I am leaving a trail of used devices to mark my way.

These are some of my favorite green beans. My bins are stocked with fresh vegetables and this is a great way to put them to work.

BLT (Bacon, Lemon and Tomato) Green Beans

l lb. green beans, trimmed
Garlic salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
8 button mushrooms, sliced thin
4 slices crisp bacon, crumbled

Lemon Sauce

1/4 cup butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes

Place all sauce ingredients in small saucepan over med. heat. Whisk and cook until butter is melted.

Place beans in top of steamer over 2″ water. Sprinkle with garlic salt. Steam green beans until fork tender, about 10 mins. Drain.

Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in skillet over med.-low heat. Add garlic, cherry tomatoes, and mushrooms. Saute about 6-8 mins. until tomatoes are wilted and mushrooms cooked.

Add tomato/mushroom mixture to green beans and toss with sauce. Top with crumbled bacon.

2

This week has gone by so quickly I feel like my inner clock was set on hyperspeed. Last Sunday I drove to my daughters to help her with her day care as she recently had rotator cuff surgery. Certainly I have spent days with the mini-people there before, but mostly as an art consultant (I’m excellent at coloring inside the lines) or perhaps a short order cook (sorry, my puns again). Being somewhat in charge was for me a first.

Monday was populated solely with little boys. For those of you who have such beings running about your house, you will understand when I say having six boys four and under to keep an eye on for 8-10 hours definitely provides you with a work out. What an amazing amount of energy these small beings have. If I could tap into 10% of it I could clean the house top to bottom and solve the world’s problems before my first cup of coffee. The back yard at my daughter’s home is tailored to the business at hand. Eight or so bikes are lined up in one corner and an oval track circles the play area in the center set up with all manner of slides and climbing equipment. Another corner, obviously for the young ladies or future chefs, contains a line up of plastic kid-sized kitchen appliances and a large container holding dolls, water toys, fake food items, and pots and pans.

Once breakfast is out of the way, the kids are released to the wild to work off some energy to allow them to nap later in the day. Nap time is something I quickly found was both for the benefit of the children as well as those keeping an eye on them.

They refer to me as “Nana”. Not because I bear a striking resemblance to the Darling family’s faithful companion, but because this is the name I answer to when my grandchildren are speaking to me. After hearing this name repeated 3,465,922 times, I am considering changing it to something more difficult to pronounce like Xochitl.

I found them engaging, and so willing to be entertained. On my left hand my little finger won’t straighten out, being permanently bent towards my palm. This began when I turned forty, along with so many other things. Doctor’s refer to this as Dupuytren contracture. Not uncommon, it is an ailment limited mainly to fair-skinned, blue-eyed people of English descent. More prevalent in men, I once again have chosen to break the mold. It is not so noticeable that people cross themselves when passing me, but it is annoying. Not painful in the least but rather unattractive. Let’s say I’d prefer it not to be there than to be. However, at this juncture I’m surgeried out so this will wait for another time. In the pre-school set, particularly the boys, this was a source of constant entertainment. Each day when they came in my finger was put on display for various parents or newcomers. I was waiting for a call from Barnum once I arrived home.

Boys versus girls is as much of a mystery at their age as it will be as they become older. What engages each sex and how they approach a given situation is as defined before school age as it is once we’ve graduated and become adults. The boys, in this group at least, play roughly. No hitting is allowed in the pre-school. This does not mean there is no hitting, just it is not allowed. Encouraged to use their words to deal with a situation, occasionally once the words have been stated they are reinforced by a nudge or a punch for good measure. In this event a chair in the corner or a step allow them 5 minutes to consider their behavior and issue an expected “I’m sorry” to ensure their release. The girls, younger as a group, seem to settle their disputes with less physical interaction. When it came to disputes over dolls or particularly treasured stuffed animals, hair pulling sometimes came into play. As with the boys, the steps again were used as a cooling off place.

All in all, I found them polite most of the time, energetic, and willing to embrace any information you threw their way. Young minds easily accept the existence of twelve-foot aliens with green toes and bulbous noses protruding from their knees or intellectual alligators with spectacles living underneath their bunk beds existing on dust bunnies. As we get older more and more of our inner child erodes away. Truly, this is a shame. Perhaps our most endearing trait at that age is seeing the world around us with new eyes able to see fully all the wonders our world holds. It is not practical to retain all our childhood traits. Many, such as nose picking and sticking out our tongues would be deemed socially undesirable in adult society, though some adults still practice these behaviors. However, the sense of awe on watching a butterfly lit on opening bloom, or experiencing your first electrical storm, would be nice to hold on to.

During my time there, my favorite experience was sharing time with a six-year-old answering to Noah. I was told on the first day Noah was a highly functioning autistic. This seems far more prevalent in youngsters of this generation than mine, but perhaps it is just more reported. Noah is somewhat of a savant for six, able to spell even complex words in spit spot time. School is difficult for him. Discipline problems abound, and the bit of genius with spelling doesn’t follow for all subjects. Last year he spent a good deal of time cooling his heels outside the principals office for one infraction or another. Another symptom is not wanting physical contact. Immediately we formed a friendship. Older than the other children, he stayed up during nap time. We shared several hours of conversation, books, and puzzle assembling. He sat next to me and read sitting with his elbow touching mine. Each day he told me stories and asked intelligent questions. On my last day he took his shoes lined up with the other children’s and placed them instead neatly next to mine sitting the corner. This gesture touched me greatly.

It’s funny how easily you slip back into the role of “Mom”. Would I want to do this every day? NO WAY. I’ve done my poopy diapers and snotty noses, but it was fun to have them on loan and gave me a great appreciation for the gratification teachers must get from their classrooms.

This pasta was just the ticket for my crop of mint growing on the porch. Light and satisfying without a lot of trouble.

Spinach and Leek Pasta

Pasta

8 oz. penne pasta, cooked
1 lb. asparagus, trimmed
2 tsp. olive oil, separated
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup prosciutto, diced
1 cup leeks, sliced thin
6 button mushrooms, sliced thin
1/4 cup green onions, sliced thin
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
1 9 oz. bag baby spinach, cleaned and stemmed

Sauce

3 oz. olive oil
3 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
2 oz. ricotta salata (you can use feta)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Parmesan cheese for serving

Mix all ingredients for sauce together. Add pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim asparagus and toss with 1 tsp. olive oil, salt and garlic salt. Add pepper. Spread in single layer on cookie sheet and bake for 10 mins. until fork tender.

In skillet cook prosciutto until crisp over med. heat. Drain on paper towels.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain reserving 1/2 ladle of pasta water.

In same skillet used for prosciutto sweat leaks, mushrooms, green onions and garlic in 1 tsp. olive oil over low heat until leeks begin to soften. Add spinach, cooked asparagus, and prosciutto and continue cooking until spinach is wilted.

Add to cooked penne and toss well with sauce and reserved pasta water.

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