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Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Like art, writing is such a personal expression of one’s self. All who choose to dive into the waters approach the murky depths differently. My voice, for instance, in written form would be as individual as my fingerprint. I find it fascinating we are all provided with the same twenty-four letters and collectively find such unique ways of putting them together. You might have gathered, if you’ve read my previous blogs, I love words and don’t use them sparingly, and I love books. Books to me are the perfect gift, as they provide an open door to new adventures and a pleasant refuge from what can sometimes be a stressful life.

Art comes in so many forms. I find a certain artistic nature to the Olympics, for example. The graceful swirls remaining on the ice from the funny_anti_valentines_dayfigure skaters blades, the fluid free fall of the ski jumpers descent from the heavens. All perfectly choreographed like a dance. Sometimes I wonder where our gifts come from. Are we handed an initiation package on the way down the chute? Check here if you’d like to be, say, a musician? Some people may have no artistic talent whatsoever, but can add a staggering number of figures without ever touching a calculator, or another create an impressive meatloaf given but a loaf of stale bread and a squirrel carcass. These too are gifts.

Often I’ll stroll through an art museum and find myself looking at a painting with questioning appreciation only to find someone standing next to me oohing and aahing about the color or composition. One set of eyes might view a Jackson Pollock painting as a tangled mass of stringy paint, while someone else see depth, richness and boldness of color. Beauty, indeed, is in the eye of the beholder.

People choose mates according to individual tastes as well. There are men who prefer well endowed women. Some males favor generously cut partners, while others might prefer a willowy body type with a nice set of legs, or fancy a turned up nose. Redheads, a passion for some, might be low on the list for someone who loves blondes, or a feisty brunette. Women, on the other hand, may want a manly man who works with his hands, with some girls leaning in the direction of a more sensitive male, or a guy who fills her day with laughter.  Ahhhh, it’s Valentine’s Day once again. Hearts are waiting to be given and broken, expectations are running high, romance is in the air.

I met Rick on line. I know, I know. At the time I was working sixty hours a week and not particularly looking for a long-term permanent companion. I’d tried on many suits up until that point, and found not one of them to be an exact fit. Being single in mid-life I found to be surprisingly exhilarating. My children were grown and out of the house by the time I’d blown out the candles on my fortieth birthday cake, my son in the Army, my daughter in college. Once I got over weeping in my empty nest, I found a world of interesting people and adventures awaiting me to begin the second phase of my life.

At the time I created the profile where Rick found me, number 267 on his list of likely matches, I had no interest other than curiosity in who would show up to say hello. In truth I created it with a friend who was seriously looking for a mate as sort of lark over a second glass of wine. Not being heavily invested in the outcome, I was honest about myself avoiding dialogues like,  “I like long walks on the beach, puppies, and sunsets” (in truth, I like all three). Amazingly, despite the honesty, my in box began to fill up. Really? It was such an interesting experience looking back. Sort of like shopping on Amazon for men. You put in your search criteria and voila, somebody popped up. I found it most amazing. Being busy already, Rick and I circled each other for some time before actually deciding to meet  face to face.  As an aside here, this is not something I did willy nilly. Along with the fun side of on-line dating is the darker side including on-line predators or worse. I picked and chose carefully who I met and never met anyone in other than a very public venue with others knowing exactly where I was going and who I was going to meet. In the end I made connections with some interesting men with whom I shared many great times and formed excellent friendships.

Rick, however, changed all that and I find myself here nearly thirteen years later surprised at how quickly the time has passed. The interesting thing about life is from one day to the next you never know where the path might lead you.

I’ve been proposed to a time or two. The first was the romantic version, on one knee, small velvet box, a bouquet of roses, and a big wedding to plan. The second was at a Halloween party while I was on a date with someone else, making it a special experience for all three parties. There was a man in between, a mormon widower with six young children, and then my third husband who proposed over a large pepperoni pizza. Not the stuff movies are made of. My last proposal came on a Saturday morning after breakfast and basically was “if you’re not doing anything next Saturday, would you like to get married”? Really? I responded saying “As Saturday is generally laundry day, I was planning on working on achieving whiter whites on that day, but let me get back to you”. In the end he did far better than that and once again I said, I do. The minister gave me the group rate.

I’m sure there are prospective grooms out there armed with roses, candy, cards, hot air balloons, sky writers, billboards and god knows what ready to pledge their love. It’s always a sort of bittersweet holiday if you happen to be in between relationships or in one not working well. I hope everyone makes it a special day for someone.

Penne Pasta with Spinach Artichoke Sauce

3 cups uncooked penne pasta
2 10 oz. pkgs. creamed spinach
6 slices prosciutto
1 14 oz. can water packed artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Romano cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place prosciutto on cookie sheet covered with tin foil sprayed with cooking spray. Bake 10 mins. until crispy. Drain on paper towels. Crumble. Cook creamed spinach according to package directions. Set aside.

Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water. Return pasta to pan. Stir in cooked spinach, 1/2 of the
crumbled prosciutto, 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese, Parmesan, Romano, salt and pepper. Mix well. Add reserved pasta water as needed to thin. Pour into prepared baking dish.

Top with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake for 20 mins. or until bubbly. Turn oven to broil and brown. Top each serving with remaining prosciutto.

Serves 4.

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1

We’re bouncing around in California throwing chlorine in the pool and lighting coals on the barbie, in the midst of a faux spring of sorts. What an odd and unsettling year or so this has been in many ways. People on the eastern half of the nation are shivering under a blanket of frigid temperatures and blizzard conditions while out here on the west coast we’re dry as dust. I heard on the news this morning Chicago temperatures actually dipped below the comfort zone for the polar bears in their zoo necessitating housing the animals inside. Good Lord. Fire season out here could potentially be a nightmare, so do not envy us our warm weather. Bottom line, I’m doing a dance in the moonlight in hopes a few drops of rain might fall. Scary and weird times these.

I walked with a group of ladies today I’d never met before. Needing to walk and having no one to accompany me, even I tire of my own company from time to time, I felt the need to expand the playing field to include new players. It was cold enough starting out to require an insulated vest, but by the time we got our cardio up I could have easily have switched to shorts and a tee-shirt. It was nice to hear some new stories, and find out a little about the people I was walking with. When you don’t have children as a common denominator insinuating yourself in a new area with no job in place to expand yourself socially requires a little more effort. On-line I found a huge cache of local walkers welcoming newcomers to join the fold. Ten years ago I was in good enough shape to do an eight mile walk on an uphill trail without breaking a pant. These days vertical assents require a little added intestinal fortitude. Fortunately, it was two miles and relatively grade free.

A friend in the area has also suggested a jazzersize group downtown. Ach. Organized exercise is always a stretch for me. Sorry, puns seem to be my sickness. In my twenties I won a three-year membership to Jack Laine’s Health Club. Three days a week I met a friend after work and got myself in the best shape of my life. On the floor we squeezed and pumped our bodies into A+ condition. Following the floor exercises was a workout on the machines for an hour, then a quick swim and dip in the hot tub before calling it a day. I could balance a quarter on my abs. Ah yes, I remember it well.

People mistake being thin for being toned. I am here to report there is a vast difference. Working out, or regimented exercise other than walking daily, is on my larger New Year’s resolution list. As I mentioned in my last blog, the long list includes becoming an aerialist for Barnum and Bailey or possibly riding a bike to the moon. Exercising was on last year’s list as well. In January, typically the time one does such craziness, I signed up at a local gym. The first morning I arrived Spandex in place, fresh and brimming with resolve. As instructed, I turned on the video on the treadmill and walked the required thirty minutes to warm up. Easy peasy. My instructor, an ex-marine who I would place in his late twenties, guided me to my next group of machines, the ellipticals. These stair stepper type machines were obviously invented by someone of a deeply sadistic nature relishing watching others in pain. Ellipticals are meant to get your cardio up. True to their word, in minutes my heart rate soared to the notch reading “call the paramedics”, with “alert the coroner” lingering a racing heartbeat behind. While I labored drowning in my own body fluids, Biff, or whatever his name was, easily maneuvered the machine next to me. Toned harder than a granite counter top, he made the task look as effortless as lifting a powder puff from a plastic bag. Damn the man.

After two hours of extreme torture, I would have given up a kitten to a dobermain to make it stop. I thanked Biff for his instruction, grabbed my lovely new orange water bottle purchased especially to mark the occasion, and went home. I haven’t seen the man since. I know, I know, very poor behavior on my part. I paid thirty-five dollars a month for one year so Biff could enjoy a lovely vacation in Maui. Rick is kind enough to remind me of this should I suggest joining another establishment of this kind from time to time.

Back in the 80’s a friend from work and I signed up to take advantage of a work subsidized membership at a new health club in the area. In particular, jazzersize sounded interesting. Definitely I needed some toning up, and Sally was looking to take off a little after baby weight. Neither of us having participated in such a class before, we had no idea of the haute couture in place as far as dressing for the occasion. It seemed there were outfits required to fit in properly. Coordinated layers of Spandex one over another, sweat bands, slouchy socks and high-end brands of workout shoes were necessary not to stand out in the crowd. We didn’t get the memo. Sal showed up in gray sweats easily two sizes too large and I wore shorts and a beer tee-shirt with my gardening tennies on feet. Standing amongst the well-toned, impeccably clad ladies making up the rest of the group we stood out like two onions in a petunia patch. Always best to make a dramatic entrance if you can’t make a good one.

The instructor arrived shortly. Cut out of the same cloth as the other ladies, we gravitated toward the back of the room to garner less attention. Music flowing from a boom box, bodies began to move. Quickly it became obvious there was choreography involved here and between Sal and I we shared four left feet. We went right. They went left. We stood up. They hunched down. Humiliating doesn’t adequately cover that half hour. Without warning in unison all the women turned to face us and we found ourselves at the front of the line. At that point, I started laughing. Sometimes that’s the only thing to do. Finally, our instructor, not having broken a sweat, turned off the music. Thank God. We picked up our towels and headed toward the door when she loudly said in our direction, “Ladies”. I pointed at my chest and mouthed, “us”? “Ladies, where are you going? This was only the warm up.” That news sinking in we kept right on going and headed up to the juice bar for a stiff glass of carrot juice, toasting a great effort. Ah well.

I had a number of tomatoes and zucchini on hand and a chub of gruyere cheese. This was a delicious way to pair them up.

Tomato Zucchini Gratin

3 large tomatoes, sliced in 1/2″ slices
2 zucchini, sliced in 1/2 ” slices
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup dried basil
1/2 tsp. onion salt
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated, divided
1 Tbsp. EV olive oil
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spread tomato and zucchini slices on paper towel lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt. Let stand for 20 mins.

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Spray 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spay. Sprinkle 1/4 cup bread crumbs on bottom of dish.

Mix together rictota cheese, basil, egg yolks, flour, ad onion salt in medium mixing bowl.

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Add 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese.

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Place one layer of tomatoes on top of bread crumbs. Top with a layer of zucchini.

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Spread ricotta/Gruyere mix over top of vegetables.

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Top with remaining tomatoes and top them with remaining zucchini. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle green onions over top.

Bake for 30 mins. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining bread crumbs and cheese on top. Bake for 20-25 mins. longer until bubbly and golden brown.

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2I’m working on writing my list of New Year’s Resolutions. I have a short list including those I might actually attempt to keep, and a long list of those I would love to fulfill but my chances of doing so are right up there with becoming an aerialist for Barnum and Bailey. I write them anyhow. Having something to attain to is important when embarking on a clean calendar year. Attacking the calendar before the pages are scribbled with activities enjoyed or appointments made or missed, holidays come and gone, and birthdays celebrated. Another year, squeezed through the tube.

I’ve decided to move publishing a book right up there to the short list. It’s been on the long list for years but I feel this year I am ready to take it out, dust it off, and really throw some energy in that direction. Also, I want to travel more. Not necessarily on a plane, as I’m not fully convinced about air travel lately. A train trip might be enjoyable, or perhaps a cruise. Oh, not so fast on a cruise. People seem to go missing on cruises, the ships stop functioning, catch on fire, or become stranded in foreign ports with no toilets. Possibly I’ll rent a horse. I’ve always considered them reliable. Well, there was that one who took me on a mad dash across the desert in Las Vegas or Blackie an Arab steed with an aversion to water who laid down in midstream giving me an unexpected pre-Saturday bath. Maybe I’ll just stay home. Home is good. However, if you allow your pool to grow stagnant for too long, algae will begin to grow and you’ll attract frogs. As I have attracted more than my fair share of frogs over my lifetime, I intend to keep the water fresh in my pool and allow room for new growth. Don’t have any idea what I’m talking about? Can’t say as I blame you. I’m not sure I’m perfectly clear where I’m going myself. I’m sure by the end of this writing I’ll ease you in the direction of what the point is I’m trying to make. If not, I’ll add it to my list. Be concise, resolution number 121.

My drawing pad is sitting on the table. It’s been a while since I faced a blank page head on armed with my No. 2 pencil. Two pages are nearly filled with sketches and I’m working on a third. Logically one would finish one completely before starting a fresh page, but no one has ever accused me of being such a being so I do it my way and in the end it all comes out in the wash. In my drawers I have three “almost stories”. They have been in transition to a complete body of work since my children were in elementary school. This could be either the worst form of procrastination or avoiding the possibility of actually having to submit my manuscripts and join the legion of other writers papering their bathroom walls with rejection letters. The jury is still out on this.

After spending the holidays with my mother in the Bay Area, I am convinced there is a whole book waiting to emerge centered around my family. Probably we would be the only ones slapping down the $6.95 for the paperback, but I’m sure it might provide a laugh, even a tear or two in the reading. Strange attracts strange it would seem as I research my family history. Interesting to uncover who wed who and whom these unions begat. Most interesting to do your own genealogy. It is amazing what crawls out from beneath the family rock pile. It turns out we’re related to Joseph Smith who founded the Latter Day Saints. Who knew? We rise from German, English, Scottish, Welch and Flemish ancestors poking out of the branches. The women in our group tend to be long-lived. More recently, two great-grandmothers and one grandmother nearly achieved the century mark. Even in the earlier generations, for their time, the women seemed to have enjoyed longevity. Perhaps we have some Ecuadorian blood running through our veins, like the people in Vilcabamba who seem to have uncovered the fountain of youth, some living to be one hundred and forty according to their birth records. One hundred and forty. Can you imagine? I’m hardly wet behind the years in their world.

At any rate, I am looking forward to exploring the next 356 days of 2014. There will probably be an increase in work coming my way, or I would like to think this to be true. The money pit keeps exacting its pound of flesh and I don’t have a lot to spare. I have been honing my graphics skills in anticipation of having to flex those muscles again. As with any business in the technology sector, use it or lose it would hold true of logo building or graphics software as well. My other half said computer manufacturers are leaning towards phasing out laptops in favor of tablets and hand-held devices. Fortunately they’re keeping the more cumbersome laptops around for graphic designers because I cannot picturing myself creating an ad campaign or media on a smart phone. These are not new eyes. I’m just sayin.

Ideally my plan for 2014 is to live fully and in the moment. As long as there are new things to learn, new people to meet, and new places to explore life certainly is never dull. I do believe I’ll scratch taking an expedition to Antarctica on a Russian ship right off my short list, however. Although making a helipad in below zero weather might prove interesting, in the end it just didn’t look like that much fun.

I wasn’t sure if peas in pasta was going to work for me, but I had some leftover and so I tossed them in. Yum.

Creamy Grass and Hay Fettucine

12 oz. spinach fettucine
12 oz. regular fettucine
3 Tbsp. EV olive oil
8 oz. sliced button mushrooms
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
4 oz. Coppa ham, sliced in thin strips
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups cream
3/4 cup peas (frozen or canned)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic and saute for 10 mins. stirring frequently.

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Add ham and sliced tomatoes to skillet. Continue cooking about 5-7 mins. until tomatoes are slightly wilted.

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Whisk in cream, peas, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to low boil. Whisk in grated Parmesan and continue cooking until smooth and bubbly.

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Toss pastas together in large serving bowl with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add sauce and mix well. Serve with shredded cheese.

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final

Such a strange month. It is Christmas, as evidenced by every commercial, blinking lights along the street, my own tree sitting in the dining room (well, it wouldn’t fit in the living room) and the lingering snow on the ground. Still…..it insists on not feeling like Christmas. Don’t know what it is. Such an odd year in so many ways. Moving to a new house. Meeting new people. Endings and beginnings. A lot of changes after ten years in one place. Also, the weather is so peculiar. Last week we were snowed in and yesterday I was working in my yard without a jacket. Hello?

Yesterday was another of those crazy days. December seems to be racking up more than its share of nuttiness. I left the house early to beat the last-minute shoppers to the stores. We had company on Friday and will again tomorrow so in between getting the house organized I busied myself popping cookies in the oven at 12 minute intervals to take to people where I volunteer by way of Christmas cheer. It is Christmas right? I just found the leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving hidden behind the eggs in my outside fridge. Ach. Interestingly during the cooooold weather of the last few weeks my milk froze solid out there. Had I known ahead of time I could have stuck a tongue depressor in the top and had a perfect lactate popsicle.

Before leaving the house I wrote a long list. Rick says he feels the grocery stores should give me a kickback at the end of the year, because they’d probably have to close their doors if anything happened to me. On most days I have a new list half way written before I’ve stored my recent purchases in the cupboard. Sigh. I digress. First stop was the hardware store for a bulb for the track lighting in the kitchen. The worse lighting, by the way, I have ever had. Shadows dog me everywhere I go and I have included this on a growing list of things needing to be addressed around the house in 2014. The halogen bulbs burn hot so while cooking you vacillate between wanting to confess or take a shower. They are expensive to replace as well, and at least in the case of our fixture have a lifetime equaling about half of that promised on the cover of the package. At any rate, I got a newly employed gentlemen in the lighting department. It took a lifetime to locate the correct bulb and then it seemed there was a possibility it would fit but no guarantee. Really? Does a tank of gas get included in the refund because the hardware store in nearly in the next county. Small towns are lovely to live in but not the easiest places to find what you are looking for.

Next stop was the pharmacy. Rick had two prescriptions to be picked up and I needed some cosmetics. Takes a little more paint to make a Michelangelo these days, if you get my meaning. Smile. I tossed my purchases in the back seat and headed to the grocery store. A gentlemen was waiting to park my car and hand me my cart (just kidding, but it would be justified). I passed through the doors with the already growing number of people doing the same thing. Ticking off my list with precision speed a nagging thought entered my mind. “Did I remember to put Rick’s filled prescriptions in the car with my cosmetics?” Oh-oh. The really bad thing about this would be most likely the pharmacy now wouldn’t refill them again without a doctor’s orders and the insurance company wouldn’t pay for them. Darn. Parking my cart to the right of an aisle out of the way I flew out of the store, got back in my car and turned towards the pharmacy. Now, I’m still getting used to the roads in these parts so with traffic busy I somehow ended up in the left hand turn lane rather than the lane needed to access the pharmacy parking lot. No choice but to turn left I then found myself unable to get out of the lane merging onto the freeway. Help. As it happens this on-ramp is the last one until you get to the next town so up the hill I went and on to Nevada City. It’s a nice drive, but my bread wasn’t getting any fresher in my waiting grocery cart.

I got off in Nevada City along with many others going to the Victorian Christmas Celebration being held there. Circling around I finally got back on the freeway going the right direction and off again at the street where the pharmacy was located. Rushing into the store I asked the clerk behind the counter if anyone had turned in a bag of prescriptions. Asking the other two cashiers, it was a no. Rick was going to be shaking his head again. Desperately I pushed open all the carts out front to see if I could see the bag in the top basket. No luck. Back inside the pharmacy I headed to the rear of the store where the pharmacy itself was located. You might be thinking at this juncture, “Susie, maybe you should have taken your silly ass there in the first place”. I see you nodding your heads. The pharmacist, seeing my little blonde head bobbing up and down and the sweat pouring off my brow, held up a bag asking “you looking for this”. There is a god.

Back in the car I once again headed back to the grocery store. Parking had become an issue since last I had arrived. Finally locating a spot, I believe after crossing the county line, I schlepped back to the store and headed towards the aisle where I’d abandoned my cart. In a perfect world it would have been waiting for me with all my purchases exactly where I left them. If you’ve read any of my blogs, you would know this was not to be the case. I retrieved another cart out front and searched my purse for my list. Another nagging thought popped into my mind. “Did I throw the list on the passenger’s seat of the car when panicked about the lost prescriptions”? Why yes I did. Another five-mile walk to the car and back into the store I once again commenced to shop. This is Christmas right?

Guess I shouldn’t complain about the crowds here in small town USA. It could look like this. Argh. Remind me again what Christmas is all about. It is gifts and crowded stores filled with grumpy consumers right? A thought keeps nagging at me originally it stood for something else. Good news! The lights were the wrong ones. Glad I bought the family pack. So, back to the hardware store I go. With any luck I’ll end up in Reno.

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Loosen your belts. This is too good not to finish your plate.

Greek Pastitsio

1 lb. ziti or rigatoni, cooked
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. ground chuck
2 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. diced petite tomatoes with juice
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Bechamel Sauce

1/2 cup butter, cubed
2/3 cup all-purpose
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 3/4 cups non-fat milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Place pasta in 13 x 9″ casserole or lasagna pan sprayed with cooking oil. Mix in melted butter. Add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well.

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Heat olive oil in medium skillet over med-low heat. Add onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Saute until onion is translucent. About 5 mins. In large deep skillet brown ground beef until fully cooked. Drain on paper towels and return to skillet. Add onion/garlic mixture to pan. Pour in tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins. Pour over pasta. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

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While sauce is simmering make bechamel as follows:

Mix together flour, salt and pepper. Combine milk and cream. Melt cubed butter in large saucepan over medium heat.

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Whisk in flour until smooth.

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Whisking constantly add milk/cream mixture slowly. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened, about 2 mins.

In small bowl beat eggs. Add 1/4 cup of hot mixture to eggs, whisking constantly. Pour all slowly back into saucepan whisking as you do. Bring to low boil and continue cooking 2 mins.

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Pour over meat sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Bake covered at 350 degrees for 20 mins. Uncover and continue cooking for 50 mins. Increase heat to 425 degrees and continue cooking 10 mins. or until golden brown.

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Allow to sit 8 mins. before serving.

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1

Are we becoming too politically correct?  Is there a point where it goes beyond reason, leaving us perpetually walking on eggshells and confused as to the what is the correct term to use for what from one week to the next?

Words, a subject of which I am fond, besides being glorious and beneficial, can also be used as arrows with poisonous tips when used with the specific intent of doing harm to another person.  Please understand I am holding my picket sign high in the midst of the group totally against that, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far?

For example, it is frowned upon to refer to the teenager who holds you at gunpoint while relieving you of your wallet as a juvenile delinquent. To stay within the lines of proper decorum you need to refer to such criminals as “children at risk”. Really? Ironically it strikes me I’d be more at risk in such a situation, and is a teenager carrying a loaded gun with the intent to do harm considered a child?

Alcohol intolerant is the polite phrase covering those of us who choose to take advantage of every last drop in that Johnny Walker bottle before placing it in the recycling bin and a person toting around extra poundage is called weight impaired rather than overweight. I do not consider my friends struggling with weight issue impaired, but rather dealing with a food addiction, overeating issues or possibly a medical condition.

Remember when you got laid off?  Wasn’t that long ago really.  Now you get downsized.  Are you then employment challenged? If I am downsized do I need to shop for clothes on a different rack?

David Frost told a gentlemen about to light up while skiing in Aspen, “I am sorry sir, this is a non-smoking mountain.”  A non-smoking mountain?  Sheesh. I am an ex-smoker and I realize there are few more vigilant human beings walking the earth than those who have quit a habit doggedly on the trail of those who have not, but come on.  In response to the article about the Frost quote a commenter said perhaps it’s due to fire danger. On a ski slope in the middle of a winter snow, I can’t help but feel fire danger is probably fairly moderate. Oh, and I’m not a non-smoker, I’m tobacco free. Had I continued smoking and succumbed to a disease caused by the addiction I would, in fact, be biologically challenged, or dead.

If you scan groceries for a living you are a customer assistant, as cashier or clerk is no longer the accepted term for such a profession. For the life of me I can’t imagine why cashier was considered a derivative term, but then I don’t understand why policemen are now law enforcement officers, and the criminals they lock up morally challenged individuals or criminally negligent rather than plain old criminals.

Why can’t we just state, without being rude, what something is without dressing it up and giving it a Sunday hat?  Children often are taught names which distinguish their body parts regulating whether they have blue or pink blankets such as twinkies or toots. Really?  What’s worse is if you do use the correct word for such distinguishable parts around grown adults they giggle. I don’t refer to my knee as my bendy or my arm as a noodle. Amazes me.

Some phrases confuse me as well, while on the subject of words. Two heads are better than one. Wouldn’t that depend on the two heads involved? In some cases two heads, if neither brain has entertained an original thought since the 70’s, when combined might not equal half a head. In Einstein’s case for example, he’d have achieved better than one before adding a second to the equation.

It’s a piece of cake is another expression I don’t wholly comprehend. To me this statement is only appropriate if looking at a confection made of flour, sugar, eggs and flavorings usually topped with icing. If faced with such a confection the need for further explanation would seem superfluous. I’m just sayin’.

First things first.…….If I did the second thing first, wouldn’t it then be the first thing and the first thing then become second? Isn’t the first thing always first? I’m confused.

At any rate, words are fun and language fascinating.  I was pleased to hear that five states are working on reinstating the teaching of cursive in schools.  I would like to think the next generation will be able to write their names.

This bread is ridiculously yummy.  Again, a recipe from my daughter. It just never fails to please.

Decadent Cheesy Bread

8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 lb. cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup green onion, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. sour cream
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 stick butter, softened
1 loaf French bread, halved

Preheat oven to broil.

Mix cheeses with green onion in medium mixing bowl. Stir in mayonnaise and sour cream. Mix butter and garlic. Add to mayonnaise and cheese mixture.

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Spread on both cut halves of bread. Place under broiler (6″). Cook until bubbly and cheese is browned. Cut and serve immediately.

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finalA friend of mine and I were discussing future goals, etc. during a phone call last week. Basically what we wanted to do when we grow up, a subject I’ve been pondering most of my adult life. She posed the question, “if you could began at A again, what direction would you follow as far as a career”?  Hmmm.  Certainly my original plan was not to find myself seated at a typewriter or keyboard all day banging out executive missives or punching telex keys. Early on, I wanted to be a nurse.  I was nine at the time I’d decided on that lofty goal. By the time I was nine and a quarter, it was a veterinarian and in my teens an Egyptologist.

Looking at it in the rear view mirror I believe I would like to have pursued a writing career in one form or another. Words hold a real fascination for me, and books truly my passion. Among my possessions, my well-loved volumes of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, my original Winnie the Pooh series, and “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, Why am I Always in the Pits”, by the eternally funny Erma Bombeck would be considered among my most treasured. Books transport me into other worlds created and unleashed by the minds ofbats their writers. Within the typed pages I can abandon my easy chair and cooling cup of coffee to fly among the clouds with Peter Pan or experience life in pre-revolution Paris in Dicken’s “A Tale of Two Cities”. For a few dollars or a library card a reader can leave behind the bills stacked on the counter, the dinner dishes yet unwashed, and the failing brakes in the old car  to stroll with Jay Gatsby in the lush gardens of his home in the exclusive community of West Egg, New York or explore the Missouri caves with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher.

According to my research there are debatably only seven plot lines available for aspiring novelists:

  1. [wo]man vs. nature
  2. [wo]man vs. man
  3. [wo]man vs. the environment
  4. [wo]man vs. machines/technology
  5. [wo]man vs. the supernatural
  6. [wo]man vs. self
  7. [wo]man vs. god/religion

That being said, it’s hard to believe new twists on these seven themes keep appearing on best seller lists year after year.  I know with my romance novelists of choice, Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, though different in style, write to plot lines running pretty much in the same vein.  Beautiful rich girl, meets extraordinarily buff and virile rich man.  Coy rebuffs ensue, with beautiful rich girl finally falling into bed with virile man who also as it happens loves her child from a former marriage, dogs, cats, cooking, cleaning the house, and fluffy bunnies.  In the end, the couple weds under an arbor of handpicked orchids from a little known island off Fiji and happily row into the sunset.  In spite of the repetitious nature of these novels, I find myself sitting on a Sunday afternoon, rain drizzling down the window, engrossed in the familiar story lines unable to put my book down long enough to fold the load of waiting laundry.

Often I will literally saturate myself with a novelist, in the end having absorbed every word available in print. In high school I shared the angst of Steinbeck’s rich but world weary characters. “Tell me about the rabbits, George”. I was ravenous for Erle Stanley Gardner while 3944692pregnant a few years later (along with triple grilled cheese sandwiches and In ‘n Out burgers). Stephen King caught my fancy soon after Erle, along with John Grisham, Ernest Hemingway, Michener, Irving Wallace and a who’s who list of other authors riding the wave of my journey for more reading material.  What an amazing contribution to the world as an author, to see people spending their hard-earned money and valuable time to immerse themselves in words you have penned.  Words that will continue to remain in the minds of people existing long after you have returned to the dust from whence you came.  It must be a heady feeling.

How many little princesses have been lulled to sleep by the Velveteen Rabbit?  Pooh and his gang of furry neer do wells have tirelessly taken guests on adventures in the 100 Aker Wood since A.A. Milne first brought the chubby bear and friends to life back in 1926. Robinson Crusoe still befriends Friday after all these years and Dracula is unalive and well and coming to a living room near you time and time again for a quick blood donation. Frankenstein’s monster pooh-and-frends-winnie-the-pooh-33183461-1024-768has been resurrected continuously on the big screen from the original with Boris Karloff to the comedic Young Frankenstein which still makes me laugh out loud. From H. G. Wells’ Time Machine to Avatar our stories are only as limited by our imagination.

Jane Austen invited us into the lives of the English landed gentry of the period, as well as defining women’s place in society and the limitations of being born female during that time in history. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights allowed us almost to almost feel the damp cold filtering through our rough woolen jackets and sense the eerie sadness of the heavy fog draping across the shadowy English moors. Such gifted story tellers were they, their books can be read with the same eagerness today as by readers in their time.

Without words Rapunzel’s long hair would never have guided the prince, Cinderella would never have caught her fella, and Captain Ahab never obsessively pursued his whale. It is our written word which differentiates us from our animal cousins, and leaves a legacy for those to follow as clearly as Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs in their wake in the woods.

This is my version of the popular dish.  It’s a nice break from the norm and always a hit.

Cheesy Baked Spaghetti

16 oz. spaghetti, halved
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 cup green bell pepper, chopped
8 mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground chuck
1/2 lb. hot Italian sausage, bulk
2 24 oz. jars tomato and basil spaghetti sauce
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
16 oz. cottage cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 1/2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
4 cups mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook spaghetti in large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions. Melt butter and pour in bottom of large bowl. Add cooked spaghetti and toss to coat. Set aside.

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Heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, green pepper, and mushrooms. Cook for 10 mins. Add garlic and cook for 1 min.

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Add beef and sausage to onion mixture. Cook until meat is no longer pink. Drain on paper towels.

IMG_5089Return to pan and add sauce to meat. Add garlic salt, onion powder, salt and pepper to pan. Stir to mix.

In small bowl mix together cottage cheese, eggs, 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, and parsley flakes.

IMG_5090Spray lasagna pan or 9 x 13″ casserole with cooking spray. Layer as follows:

1/2 cooked spaghetti
1/2 cottage cheese mixture
1/2 meat mixture
1/2 mozzarella cheese

Repeat layers ending with mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Parmesan over top. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Cook for 50 mins. covered.

IMG_5094Remove tin foil and continue cooking 15 mins. or until cheese is bubbly and golden brown. Cool for 5 mins. before serving.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

As they say in the south, “I’m busier than a cat covering it up” this week. My planner is a disaster and last time I looked I didn’t have a personal assistant except Boo the Cat, getting plump and lazy of late. Last night I woke up around two to find the perched on the pillows behind my head chewing on my hair. This morning I noticed a cow lick, or perhaps cat lick would be more appropriate, right above my bangs. Probably too lazy to get herself up and extend the energy necessary to walk to her bowl, bend forward, and eat, she chose instead to concentrate on whatever food source required the least amount of effort on her part. Laziness is not a trait I admire. Sometimes it’s glorious to laze about, but I’m talking about those of us who are perpetually lazy leaving the work to those willing to participate. I’ve spent a good deal of time of this subject with my grandchildren, who leave a trail of destruction behind them even a blind man could follow.

Perhaps the work ethic is imbedded in my lineage. I was raised by two women, namely my grandmother and mother. Neither of them ever stayed seated long enough to warm it for the next occupant. Both kept their homes in spit spot order. Often one or the other would comment “Pardon the house. It’s a mess.”. “Where”, I used to wonder? Were they referring to the one tiny missed crumb over in the corner hiding beneath the cupboard door? For me having the house perfect is not an obsession, all right maybe I’m a bit obsessive, but the truth is I function better in an environment somewhat free of clutter. I know, I know, a clean house is a sign of a wasted life, a dull woman, a broken computer….. I’ve seen the signs, both literally and figuratively. Sigh.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother tolerated idle hands. If there was work to be done and hands available to do it, they were called into use. At 6:00 a.m. my grandmother would have her crisply pressed robe in place over nylons and underclothes. Makeup would be applied by the time I reached the breakfast table and she would be fit to meet the Queen by the time I left for school. Mother had her hair done at the salon once a week, does to this day. Through some miracle of science it remains held fast in the same position from one “doing” to the next keeping her always looking immaculate even in the middle of the night. As a child my nickname was “Mutley”. This, as you might imagine, explains a lot. Much to my mother’s dismay my favorite mode of dress is comfortable jeans or shorts and a tee-shirt. Never would I be at my best in 6″ heels decorating a runway. How do women walk in these shoes? As of this writing this hasn’t proved a problem for me since the call from my agent telling me I aced an interview for runway model hasn’t shown up in my voice mail as of this writing.

I hear a lot of people complaining about their jobs lately. A friend of mine used to say, that’s why they call it work. It is, after all, a four letter word. In our present economic environment if you have a job, probably you should be tossing a handful of confetti. People who are fortunate enough to earn a living doing what they enjoy I would imagine are not in the majority. Most of us go to work so we can feed our families, have a roof over our heads, and from time to time enjoy the comforts of life. As my resume reflects, I’ve thrown my hat in the ring many times over the years and dabbled in many types of jobs.

Back in my twenties I took a job with a company selling pipe fittings and hardware. What I knew about the subject would have fit nicely in the iris of a gnat. Despite my inequities, I needed the job, they offered me one, and I showed up the following Monday morning looking my best. The building was dwarfed by a huge industrial complex in the City of Industry, California. The City of Industry is located in the San Gabriel Valley region of Los Angeles, and appropriately named for the sprawling sea of buildings and manufacturing plants located within the city limits. Finding a parking spot in front of the antiquated building, I opened the car door to be assaulted with the smell emanating from the plant located on the adjacent property. Later I was to be told it was a pork processing plant. Piggies came in through the gate squealing, and left in butcher wrap, if you catch my drift (so to speak).

Inside the “office” were banks of huge desks housing massive volumes. Each volume detailed the fittings sold by the manufacturer’s name represented on the cover. These were referred to as “the Bibles” and I was soon to find out it was to be my job to spread the word. Standing between me and immediate dismissal, was my ability to talk non-stop, because knowledge of what I was talking about was limited to how fast I could turn the pages in my books and how much the bull had consumed at his previous meal (you’ll have to think about that).

It was a grubby environment at best. From the look of the opaque windows no sweat had ever been expended cleaning them. Despite their original function, these afforded little light nor view, not that the view beyond them was particularly spectacular. Besides myself their was the son of the owner, a man in his thirties, and the owner herself, a sixty or so chain smoker who’s cough was so disturbing I was amazed she remained upright to light the next cigarette off the previous one.

Outside the door marked “employees only”, spread out a huge warehouse manned wholly by men equipped with little command of the English language mostly from Mexico or points south of the border. Thus, I learned to depend on myself for lunch company and conversation around the water cooler. For two years I sat at my grubby desk dishing the skinny about elbows, t-bars, adapters and reducers. It wasn’t rocket science, Time Magazine wasn’t shooting my picture for the cover, but I supported my kids, ate fairly well and gleaned more information than I’ll ever use on pipe fittings. I’ve learned a little about a lot from all my jobs. All in all a good day’s work.

These burgers were off the chart. Anyhow, this sauce is good on everything, but I love it on gooey cheeseburgers.

Cheeseburgers with Grilled Onions and Not So Secret Sauce

Burgers

1 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. ground chuck
1/2 tsp. seasoning salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. seasoned black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Garlic salt and pepper
4 slices Cheddar cheese
4 hamburger buns
Sliced Tomatoes
Lettuce
Pickles

Mix all ingredients together. Form into four patties. Heat oil in large skillet over med.-high heat. Add burgers. Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper if desired. Sear on one side and flip burger. Sear on opposite side and turn heat down to med.-low. Top with cheese. Continue cooking until cheese is melted.

Remove patties from pan and keep warm. Brown buns face down in same skillet.

Grilled Onions

1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. Canola oil
5 Tbsp. ice water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Heat oil in skillet over med.-high heat. Add onions, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 mins. until golden brown.

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Continue cooking 5 mins., stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med. Stirring onions, add 1 Tbsp. of water. Mix well. Continue cooking until onions begin to get dry. Repeat until all 5 Tbsp. of water are depleted and onions are deep golden brown. Remove from heat. Serve over burgers.
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Not So Secret Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. chili sauce
1/4 cup catsup
1/8 cup yellow mustard
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

Whisk all ingredients together and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hr. Spread on both sides of hamburger buns.

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