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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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final pizza

A friend of mine living in Ashland, Oregon recently sold her home. During our last conversation she discussed considering buying a condominium in a “community living” complex.  As she explained it, the units are designed in a community friendly way so that tenants or owners would feel part of the whole rather than an isolated pod.  Families are encouraged, with interaction with others in the group a part of the selling point of the project. Interesting concept.  It seems, to this writer at least, we have strayed further and further from that way of thinking over the years becoming less affiliated with our neighbors and more involved in activities outside of the home or work.

Growing up my parents knew most of the people on our block, and many of those on the neighboring blocks. Frequently they received invites to and reciprocated with an invitation when a party was on the horizon.  People dropped by to borrow a rake or a lawn mower, share a bit of gossip over a cup of coffee, or to bring a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Our house operated on a sort of open door policy. The large built-in pool guaranteed most weekends during the summer months it was occupied with neighborhood kids and often their parents.  Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass blared on the stereo and clinking ice and laughter were familiar sounds heard drifting in through the screen door. Women exchanged a cup of flour for a tablespoon of cinnamon, men hedge trimmers for screwdrivers. Saturday afternoons in the suburbs barbecues were fired up.  Smells of grilling chicken and ribs commingled in the air. Men in Hawaiian shirts and “Kiss the Cook” aprons talked over the back fences reliving the most recent ball games puffing on a Camel unfiltered and downing a cold beer tucked in a styrofoam koozie.

On our immediate left lived the stereotypical dysfunctional family, not that weren’t well qualified to vie for the title.  The faces across the breakfast table each morning at their house included the matriarch of the group, Pat, a three-time divorcee (again I have nothing to say in this area either), four of her five children acquired between three marriages, and her brother. Pat left her second husband to marry her best friend’s husband who, in turn, married Pat’s jilted spouse. A better soap opera could not have been written by a seasoned Hollywood script writer than the day-to-day goings on at their house. Holidays, to say the least, were interesting. The brother, Vic, a man in his thirties was long on charm and short on employment history. His claim to fame, so he referred to it, was an amazing intake capacity for malted beverages.  Pat dated a Cadillac driving older man with a large bank account who sported a dreadful red toupee sitting atop largely gray undergrowth. On the side, she entertained a younger man from Greece for recreational use only. Once I actually saw the Greek gentleman stashed in the closet with the vacuum for several hours when the bad toupee showed up for an unexpected visit. Their house was a constant hang out afternoons after school. I learned much on my visits there about the nuances of life.  Under Vic’s tutelage we learned the ins and outs of playing hearts and poker and the correct English when approaching a cue ball.

So often now, I’ll hear people comment they don’t know any of their neighbors, or if they do know any it’s on a very surface level. In our last house we knew three or four of the inhabitants on our street and often stopped to talk when meeting at the mail box or working in the yard, but I can count on one hand the times I stepped over their thresholds, or shared more than an idle conversation with them.  Actually I probably wouldn’t have known them on even that level except for the fact we owned a restaurant in town or the first year we were in the house I went trick or treating.  We’d only been in the house for two months when Halloween appeared on the calendar.  Newly employed at a local newspaper, employees were asked to dress up for work.  Dragging out my Halloween costume cache, I decided to be a milkmaid, purchasing a bucket and some blond braids at the local costume store.  It was dark when I arrived home.  Halloween candy sat in a bowl by the door, but in the largely adult community I rather doubted our supply would significantly dwindle.  Looking out the window at the pumpkins flickering in the windows along the street, I grabbed a pillow case, and with Rick’s jaw dropping announced I was going trick or treating.  Scratching his head as he often does with me, he opened the door and wished me luck.  Truly it was fun.  I went into five or six houses and became acquainted, consumed a homemade cookie or two, and had a glass of wine with my neighbors directly across the street.

The last time I can remember having a sense of real community where I lived was in the 1980′s.  My second husband and I purchased a house in a beautiful garden city nestled in the foothills in the Bay Area.  On a Saturday we moved in with my two children, a stepchild on loan every other weekend, two dogs, two cats, one rabbit and two hamsters.  It was a large sprawling single level home with a bedroom for each occupant and large yard suitable for housing the menagerie.  Moving van still blocking the driveway my neighbor across the street, their house a mirror image of ours, arrived at the front door with a pot of freshly brewed coffee and some cinnamon buns still warm from the oven.  Coming right in she plugged in the pot, introduced herself as Lovebird (a nickname she explained her husband bestowed on her) and volunteered the same gentlemen, who she referred to as Uncle Bob, for any handyman jobs needed to be done.  How nice.

Before the last picture was hung, people up and down the street had stopped by to say hello or offer welcome. One lady known for her expertise in the kitchen dropped off a delicious lasagna, another couple a plant.  Weekends most garage doors were left open. Neighbors could be seen chatting on front lawns or waving to one another as they walked their dogs, others played ball in the street with their children.  It was comforting, I found, to know if you needed someone in a hurry you could knock on a door and find a welcoming and familiar face on the other side.

Here one neighbor stopped by to bring some fudge, and we’ve exchanged a couple of hello’s with the people to our left but really the only lengthy conversation I’ve had with any of them was the man across the street suggesting I rake the yard rather than use the leaf blower.  Not exactly on a par with Mr. Roger’s “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood”.

Mexican Pizza

1 1/4 lb. ground beef
1 pkg. Lawry’s Taco seasoning mix (I used hot)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 15 oz. cans pinto beans, drained liquid reserved
3 Tbsp. Rotel tomatoes, drained
1/2 tsp. dried cumin
salt and pepper
2 wrap size flour tortillas
olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
10 Campari tomatoes, sliced thin
1/2 cup Rotel tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded fine
1 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded fine
1 small can ripe olives, drained
Sour cream, salsa, guacamole

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

For the meat:

Brown meat and drain on paper towels. Add pkg. of taco seasoning mix and 2/3 cup of water. Continue cooking over med. heat until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat.

For the beans:

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in large skillet over med. heat. Add onion and garlic and cook 5-6 mins. until onion is translucent. Add beans and 1/3 cup of reserved bean liquid to pan. Add cumin. Cook beans, about 8-10 mins., mashing with potato masher or wooden spoon until desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Remove from heat.

Place one tortilla on previously sprayed pizza pan or cookie sheet. Brush top with olive oil. Spread 1/2 of the beans over the tortilla. Top with 1/2 meat mixture.

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Top meat with 1/2 of the red onion and 1/4 cup of Rotel tomatoes.

2

Mix together Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses. Distribute 1/2 of the mixed cheeses over the top of the “pizza”. Top with 1/2 of the sliced tomatoes and 1/2 can of the ripe olives.

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Repeat with second tortilla.

Place in over for 20 mins. or until tortilla is crispy and cheese is melted. Cut with pizza cutter. Serve with sour cream, salsa and guacamole if desired.

Serves 4.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

2

This time of year makes me smile for no reason.  Hints of the upcoming holidays are evident everywhere you look.  Some natural like the brilliant colors decorating the yard, some contrived like the artificial trees already blinking “buy me” in the department stores. Pumpkin flavored creamers, malts, ice cream and pies are showing up in seasonal displays, and my robe is once again hanging on the hook in the closet.  It’s the best of the holidays for me because they’re still all ahead of us on the calendar waiting patiently for their number to come up.

The thermometer on the patio is showing 83.  I have a pork loin ready to be grilled and macaroni and cheese bubbling in the crockpot.  A friend called me earlier and asked me if I wanted some of the lamb they’d recently slaughtered on their ranch in Bodega Bay.  Lamb is my meat of choice, but I prefer to distance myself from any association with big brown lamby eyes, curly fuzzy exterior, and wagging tail, convincing myself my lamb chops are something a butcher whipped up with his high school chemistry set rather than a creature once affectionately known as Veronica. Probably I would not make an excellent farmer’s wife. Undoubtedly we would be overrun with calves, lambs, and piglets and all be vegetarians.

3I have written blogs before with regard to my working on a cattle ranch in Manitoba in 1999.  It was an experience I’ll never forget leaving me with a new respect for those who work a farm every day, and a deep affection for those of the bovine persuasion.  There is little time for rest on a farm such as I worked.  Alfalfa, hay and corn were grown in the rich soil as well as other crops used both for revenue and feed. Depending on the day, crops were either being tilled, seeded, fertilized, sprayed, harvested, or dug under.  Cattle need to be fed, inoculated, branded, relocated from field to field, and watered. All that grass has to go somewhere once digested and when it does someone has to shovel it up. All this plus being at the mercy of the weather and the economy, many farms dangle by a thread from the banker’s jacket and linger one bad crop away from disaster.  Lines form easily around the eyes and mouths on the weathered faces of the men and women in the fields from squinting into the sun to survey their land, worry or just plain exhaustion.  Expensive farm equipment constantly seems to need repair or replacement, and fences either need mending or new ones put up. Observing them it appeared a labor of love. More than a full-time job, a way of life.

As a youngster I spent time on several working farms, one being my uncle’s dairy farm and the other fruit orchards in Annapolis Valley owned by friends of the family.  Sitting high atop a ladder wearing my grandmother’s apron I was allowed to pick the ripe apples from the top of the tree. Lap full, I would climb down to deposit them in barrels waiting on the ground. Once the picking was done and the apples loaded in the trunk of my grandfather’s Buick, we would gather in the warm kitchen of the farmhouse on the property. Adults would catch up on news since their last meeting while the children would play on the floor on the braided rug or outside weather permitting.  In their house as in ours, the kitchen was the hub around which the rest of the house revolved.  A long table sat at the center of the room with chairs placed all around it to accommodate the seven children living there.  Being an only child there was always a touch of envy when visiting the farm, as siblings were something I never had and even at that young age I could identify the strong bond forged between them.  Closing my eyes I can picture the long clotheslines to the back of the house, pants, shirts, towels and sheets waving back and forth in the afternoon breeze. To the left of the house was a huge barn where livestock and farm equipment were stored.  Most times during our visits there would be a litter of kittens to look over or a squealing piglet or two to cuddle until they squirmed to be let down.  It was not a rich life, if you defined rich in one sense as having wealth or great possessions, or wealthy but definitely rich if you were define it as abounding, a countryside rich in beauty; a design rich with colors.

On the drive home the fragrance of the fruit stored in the trunk would permeate the interior of the car, still triggering a visceral memory for me to this day when I get a strong whiff of apple.  In my grandmother’s busy kitchen apples would be pared, sliced and sugared. Gammy would work her magic nimbly mixing flour, butter, salt and water together then rolling the dough expertly out on a floured board for pies.  Applesauce, apple butter, and extra filling for pies to be made later along with puffy turnovers were “put up” and stored in the pantry for future use. Being a junior foodie it was a time of year I most enjoyed.

This mac and cheese was handed down to me by my  mother.  I’ve always shied away from macaroni and cheese in the crockpot and recipes using soup but in the end it was creamy and worth a second helping. The pics are trees from my yard wearing all its fall finery at the moment as well as discarding thousands of leaves for me to rake up it didn’t deem worthy of display.  Have a great Sunday!

Four Cheese Crockpot Mac n Cheese

1 onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. butter
2 1/4 cups of cooked elbow macaroni (I used large)
1 can Cheddar cheese soup, undiluted
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cubed butter
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/3 cup chunky salsa, drained
1 cup (4 oz.) Cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup (4 oz.) Provolone cheese, grated
1 cup (4 oz.) Fontina cheese grated
1/4 cup chunky salsa, drained
1 cup Mexican blend cheese, grated

Spray bottom of 2-3 quart crockpot. Cook macaroni according to package directions, drain well, and place in bottom of sprayed crockpot.  Mix in 1/3 cup of chunky salsa.

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In small skillet melt 1 Tbsp. butter over med-low heat. Add onion and cook 5-6 mins. until translucent. Remove from heat.

In large saucepan combine cooked onions, soup, milk, sour cream, butter and seasonings. Cook and stir over low heat until butter is melted and sauce is smooth.

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Add Cheddar, Provolone and Fontina cheeses and continue cooking and stirring until cheese is completely melted and sauce is smooth and thick. Add additional salt and pepper if necessary.
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Pour over macaroni in the crockpot and stir until well blended. IMG_4923

Cook on low for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Transfer macaroni and cheese into sprayed 2 quart baking dish. Spread 1/4 cup chunky salsa over top. Sprinkle with 1 cup Mexican blend cheese. Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 25 mins.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Halloween is creeping up on us. Pumpkins are popping up on porches waiting to have their features chiseled into jack o’lanterns. Nights are decidedly cooler and eating slowly into the daylight.  Fall in all it’s glory, is upon us. I really miss my little ones at this time of year and their little ones.  When mine were small the sewing machine usually reamained on the kitchen table for weeks before the 31st. Next to it a pile of costumes half sewn, waited to be finished, tried on and gathered or let out if dogw-bunny-earsthe need arose.  Over the years I’ve created many a mouse, lion, scarecrow, robot, and numerous other alter egos for my pint sized candy mongers.  Trick or treating was fun back in the day.  Neighborhoods decked themselves out in cobwebs, ghosts, pea green witches and grimacing pumpkins.  Garages were transformed into haunted houses, and sounds of creaking doors and clanking chains followed youngsters up candlelit walks perhaps to find Frankenstein or Minnie Mouse at the door waiting to fill their bags or pillow cases with candy apples or sticky popcorn balls.

Like so many things in our world, it’s not a safe practice scavenging for candy anymore.  A caramel apple would most likely be tossed eliminating the possibility someone had laced it with something toxic or inserted a harmful object inside.  No more home-baked cookies, or nut covered brownies.  Even store-bought candies not in their original wrappers often end up in the trash bag.

Often in those years after my children had fleeced our own neighbors, we headed to my parents neighborhood to finish off the pillaging for the night.  One Halloween in particular when they were quite small, my son was a gray mouse, and my daughter a diminutive ballerina.  With my sons exaggerated whiskers, and goodie bag shaped like Swiss cheese, and my tiny little girl’s hot pink tutu, leotard and tights, they got the “Awwwww Award” for the evening, at least from their parents.  My parents, being more well established and older, lived in a neighborhood reflecting this status.  Larger homes, longer walkways, and a higher standard of treats.  Once a gentlemen handed each of my two pirates a $5 as he had run out of candy.  I made them return their ill-gotten gains, and just as happy they settled for a quarter and a Triscuit topped with a piece of ripe cheddar cheese.

At one house, they asked if I would wait at the end of the walkway while they approached the door by themselves.  I had an uninterrupted view so shooed them on their way. Screaming in delight they ran up the walk, excitedly yelling “trick or treat” at the porch while ringing the doorbell.  So little they looked to me silhouetted in the door frame.  A tall woman dressed as a black cat bent down, shared a brief conversation with mouse and ballerina, and nodded. In the blink of an eye, both my children disappeared inside, door closing behind them.  What?  Hansel and Gretel suddenly popped into my mind.  I raced up the stone steps nearly bursting through the large door without stopping to knock.  Gathering myself, I knocked loudly.  A man answered this time.  Explaining quickly who I was and asked about the whereabouts of one mouse and a Pepto Bismol pink ballerina.  Smiling he assured me they were fine and asked me in.  Oh-oh.  These two could be working on a family plan.  Dark basements, chains, torture devices could lurk behind the facade of the lovely middle class home.  Once inside I found my son sitting on an enormous tapestry footstool shoving cookies in his mouth, while at the same time loading several in his Swiss cheese bag for later.  My ballerina, apparently, had asked to use the facilities and was doing just that in their guest bathroom.  Sooooo, after introductions we were invited, and stayed, for a glass of mulled cider with a cinnamon stick for stirring.  Such things don’t happen much anymore, I’d imagine, unless in neighborhoods where everyone is acquainted. Many parents opt for school or community functions. Safer.  It was so much fun.  A shame to lose that.

With my birthday falling on November 1st, a Halloween party was usually on the books for the adults in our circle as well. In my garage an entire area of the rafters stored boxes marked “Halloween”.  In one dusty corner, a full-sized wooden casket stood next to the lawn mower.  Once a year we dragged it out, whisked away the cobwebs, and lined it with plastic.  On party nights it was filled with ice and transformed into the perfect cooler for an All Hallows Eve celebration.  Charlie, a full-sized plastic skeleton,  played the part of the dear departed, sitting at the end of the coffin wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a Marlboro light. You might have found any manner of horror in my Halloween boxes running the gambit from shrunken heads, skeletal hands, to full-sized witches.  Usually we welcomed sixty-five or so people into our home. Guests arriving out of costume, as indicated on our invitations, would get a bucket of ice over their heads if they dared cross the threshold.  All in good fun, of course. People when dressed as Abraham Lincoln or Elton John let down their guards for a while and mingled comfortably with strangers dressed as Goofy and The Cat in the Hat.  All in all it’s my favorite kind of party.  One of these days I’ll do it all again, but this year I’m going to a party instead and helping the hostess rather than being one myself.

A clever idea my daughter shared to spice up your Halloween punch.  Take a plastic glove and fill it either with red punch or green liquid.  Tie it securely at the open end.  Hang it upside down in the freezer.  Before putting your punch out, remove the glove and float the hand in the liquid.

In the spirit of fall colors I am posting this amazingly delicious potato recipe.  These are truly the best.  A bit of a project, but well worth the trouble.

Mashed Potato and Mashed Sweet Potato Casserole

1 large sweet potato, peeled and large cubed
4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup shredded Mexican style cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. chives

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place each group of diced potatoes in large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and cook about 15-20 mins. or until fork tender and cooked. Drain.

For sweet potatoes:

1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper

Mash potatoes and 1 Tbsp. butter with fork in large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese and sour cream. Beat on high speed with mixer until smooth and fluffy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For russet potatoes:

1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. chives
1/4-1/3 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Mash potatoes and 1 Tbsp. butter on bottom of large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese, sour cream, onion powder, garlic salt, and chives. Beat on high until potatoes are light and fluffy. Add milk. Whip again adding extra milk to achieve desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spray 9 x 9″ pan with cooking spray. Spoon whipped sweet potatoes into bottom of pan spreading evenly to all sides.

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Spoon whipped russet potatoes on top of sweet potatoes. Spread gently to all sides.

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Dot with slices of butter. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with mixture of 1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese and shredded Parmesan cheese. Top with 1 Tbsp. chives.  Place back in oven and cook for 15 mins. more or until cheese is melted.

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