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Posts Tagged ‘recipes’

spinach quicheThe market was a total zoo this morning. Chips, salsa, huge packages of wings and liquor were flying off the shelves at a mind-boggling rate. Rick says soon the aisle the store is naming after me thanks to my continued patronage will be having a ribbon cutting. It is true. I spend a lot of time at the market. Not a high maintenance female in most areas, I have a meltdown if my staples in the pantry are looking poorly or I’m out of toilet paper. I will go to the store in a snow storm if I’m getting low on paper towels or there’s only one egg left in the carton, but wouldn’t bother warming up the car if there was a sale on pink diamonds at the local jeweler. It’s a matter of preferences and good eating is high on my list.

I have an old friend whose husband does all the cooking. Fran’s idea of bringing dinner to the table is actually transporting the dish from the kitchen to the dining room. In her eyes I’m a curiosity, something she studies from afar but has no understanding of how it works. When we met she was a young widow like myself. Alone with three small children on a limited income she was forced to face her fear of the stove. I was invited over often. Looking back I would like to think it was for my charm and sparkling wit, but deep down I know it was in the hopes I’d put on an apron and produce a meal. This I deduced from being handed an apron before setting down my purse, and pointed in the direction of the cooking utensils. I did this without prejudice lest I look forward to something inedible paired with something unrecognizable on the plate. Once she made a chicken dish At least claimed it was chicken…I’m still not convinced. The law suit pressed by the chicken industry for abuse of their product is still pending in civil court. The glutenous sauce was so thick it actually married with the non-stick pan and refused to be removed even with coaxing from an S.O.S. pad. Awful. In the end the pan had to be sacrificed. I’m not lyin here.

Beyond having no talent in this area, Frannie had no interest. If you aren’t humming in the kitchen most likely no one else is going to be, but her children survived with a little help from Kraft and Ronald McDonald.

As good friends do, we grabbed each others collars and took turns keeping each other afloat over those first few years. Learning to be happy again after losing a loved one is an individual quest. The amount of grieving time needed as varied as a fingerprint from one human to another. To my mind, you never really get over losing someone you love, you simply move on as the world is designed for the person left behind to do. After a while we tentatively began to dip our toes back into dating pool, discussing our exploits as we went. Being the first time for both us dating with children in the picture, it was an interesting time indeed.

Dating is an entirely different program when you have children. To begin with, not all men or women are equipped to or have a desire to raise children from a love interest’s prior relationship. It is a subject I did not wait until the third date to discuss trying to pass them off as short housekeepers or my sister’s kids. No point in baking a cake if you’re on a diet. To add to the mix the children aren’t always receptive to mom having a new man in her life. Introductions, in my case, were only initiated after a long period of dating. Perhaps beginning by catching a movie or enjoying an afternoon at the zoo to see how things ran up the flagpole. If fur didn’t fly, and I’m not speaking of the monkey cage, then things progressed slowly from there.

Sometimes there are children on both sides, as was the case in my second marriage. This really muddies the waters. At this point you pour a tall glass of chardonnay (don’t skimp, open the good stuff) and batten down the hatches. Not only does your man need to mesh with your children, and them with him, you have to adapt to a new child in your life and he or she to you. Once you have somehow accomplished this miraculous feat then the children from both sides need to be introduced, smell one another, and decide whether or not they’re going to make your life miserable or take at easy on the old people. To add to this murky bowl the stepchild child has a natural mother or your children a natural father who somehow has to be handed a puzzle piece and fit in somewhere on the board. It can, if you don’t have a natural bent for children and a good sense of humor, quickly become a nightmare.

My stepdaughter, Sara, was not yet four when she came into my life. Her father, a USC graduate and faithful fan, decided a day in the bleachers watching his favorite team was the perfect way to get our little band acquainted. Uh-huh. A glorious Southern California fall day, we loaded up the VW van with my children and headed south to pick up Sara at her mother’s house. I was nervous. This was my first encounter with the opposite team, and I’d heard through the grapevine the players weren’t all that enthusiastic about the upcoming match. Oh-oh.

Although shirt sleeve weather outside, once in the opposition’s house I found myself wishing I’d checked my anti-freeze before arriving. Sara, hiding behind her mother’s legs was not nearly as excited about the game or me as I’d hoped she might be.

Sitting in the red and gold dominated bleachers Sara’s crying for Mom commenced about half way through the first quarter. One fan actually threw a bag popcorn at us when it continued. There is nothing worse than having a screaming child who will not be quieted when you’re in a public arena, or in this case an actual arena. Not only did Sara cry for one full hour while we walked and cajoled before pulling up stakes, she cried the hour and half drive home. Her mother wasn’t happy, my children had taken a thumbs down vote in the back seat on the drive home, and I had decided total celibacy was the only answer by the time we reached our doorstep.

Somehow we stuck it out, ironing out the wrinkles as we went. Slowly, with lots of love, Sara became a part of our family and we hers blurring the dividing lines. Was it ever perfect? Never, would be the honest answer, but it was filled with lots of happy shared times mixed with some elbow grease. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Nothing worth having ever comes without some work. Blended families are rarely a piece of cake, but with the right mix of ingredients can bring you so much joy.

This quiche was delicious, a little work, but also worth the effort.

Three Cheese Spinach Mushroom Quiche

1 9″ deep dish pie shell
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cups Swiss or Gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pie shell for 12 mins. until lightly browned. Cool.

Lower oven to 375 degrees.

In large skillet heat oil over med. heat. Saute mushrooms and onions for 5-7 mins. until soft. Add garlic. Cook 1 min. longer.

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Add spinach to pan and mix well. Remove from heat. Cool.

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Crumble bacon in bottom of pie shell.

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In large mixing bowl beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over bacon in pie shell.

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Bake for 50-60 mins. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 mins. before serving.

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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

This morning I woke up motivated. I prep my food for dinner early in the day as quite often I run out of time later or energy. Always I have been a morning person. My favorite time being just before the sun crests the hill. An unfolded day in front of me, no phones ringing, no chores to be accomplished, nothing but blessed peace and quiet and a steaming cup of fresh coffee. Mmmmm.

I digress. Remembering something I needed in the garage refrigerator, I slipped on a coat and well, slippers, and unlocked the outside door. Opening the refrigerator I stared into the gaping maw realizing quickly whatever it was I felt I couldn’t live without five minutes prior had been eliminated by my receptors on the way out to the garage. Straining to see if I could revive the thought, I gave up, closed the door and went back inside. The minute I’d removed my arm from the second sleeve, eggplant popped into my head as clear as “an azure sky of deepest summer” to quote Alex De Large. Sigh. When brains have been around for a few years they seem to develop quirks like refusing to remember that blond guy who was in Rich Man Poor Man or whatever that city was you lived in when you were nine. Most annoying. Rick has taken to using “whatchamacallit or whatshisname” as standard phrases for everything or everyone he’s searching for in his memory but cannot find.

While visiting my mother I noticed she was doing this fairly often. Not enough to be alarming, but enough. What amused me was she commented on a friend saying he repeated himself regularly. This was the third time since I’d arrived she’d told me the same thing.

On the second day of our visit there was a scheduled weekly hair appointment. As I’ve mentioned before my mother has her hair done once and week, has for years, and she will make this appointment if she has to be transported by ambulance. I offered to go with her. It is an old salon reminiscent of the 1970’s. Most of the ladies seated in the chairs are older and the “do’s” pretty much of the assembly line variety, curlers, dryer, and tease, followed by a good coat of shellac.

Deciding to have our nails done while there. Mother said her manicure was set for 10:30 so we should get there a few minutes early because of the holiday. Okay. Getting my mother out the door is a process but somehow we got ourselves there and parked within minutes of the scheduled time.

Approaching the reception desk we were told her stylist, Henry, had gone missing. Apparently there had been a company Christmas party the night before and Henry had disappeared with one of the elves. To add to the mix, it turned out my mother’s appointment wasn’t until 1:00 for her nails with mine following at 2:00. It would seem we had a little time to kill until her hair appointment at 11:30, provided Henry rallied and arrived on the scene. Mother suggested we walk next door and get some lunch. This killed a half an hour.

Henry showed up looking a bit peeked around 11:45. His earlier appointments were backed up at that point so Mother was placed in the queue. The manicurist arriving early and unbooked asked if I’d like to fill the gap. For an hour the manicurist, a lovely Vietnamese woman who at forty-six looked like she was barely old enough to drive, regaled me with stories of her twenty year old son who refuses to go to work and doesn’t respect his parents. Hmmmm. Doesn’t matter where you come from, the story seems to follow the same theme.

I opted for a festive red with a bit of sparkle for my nail color. I have little patience for sitting so squirming usually commences about a half an hour in. Several times she looked up over her glasses as if to say, “really?”. Sorry. Once all coats had been applied, beauty is a process, a small heater was placed in front of me and I was instructed to place my hands inside. I did, both at the same time hitting one hand against the other. Now the glasses were perched at the end of her nose and the look was much intensified. Whoops. “One at a time, Susie”, she said. The “duh” was omitted in case a tip was imminent. Damage repaired, my nails were dried and I was done. I must write that down for next time, “one at a time, one at a time”. Duh.

Mother had progressed to sitting under the dryer, People magazine in hand, and a cup of Henry’s “special coffee” sitting next to her. Asked if I’d like the same, I nodded yes and was shortly handed a latte and offered a hair style magazine to peruse. Since I wasn’t getting my hair done I wondered if this was a hint, but chose another gossip rag instead and settled in the particularly uncomfortable dryer chair to pass the time.

Ladies around me were in all stages of being done. One, whose head was completely covered with tin foil squares looked as if she might be preparing to make a moon landing at any moment. Another had purple dye on red hair, eight earrings crawling up the side of one ear, and 10″ orange nails. She could have explored Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose with ease. Less colorful floats have appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Gossip was flowing like champagne on New Year’s Eve. Bits of it floated my direction allowing me to gather that Janice’s husband was painting outside the lines with a lady at work, and Rene’s son was in rehab again and his mother was supporting his pregnant girlfriend. Some things never change.

Finally at 2:30 with my behind having completely lost feeling and unsure I could stand without assistance, we made our way out the back door and into the Bay Area holiday traffic. Half way home my mother announced she’d forgotten her reading glasses. Back to the salon we went. At home, my other half had unleashed the dogs and alerted the media, but in the end we had a great dinner and a rousing game of trivia which with four people who can’t remember what they ate for breakfast, was memorable. Another day in the life of.

These were just plain finger licking good. I could have eaten four.

Tilapia Baja Tacos with Tangy Slaw

Tilapia Baja Tacos

1 1/2 lbs. tilapia filets, cut in half
1/3 cup prepared yellow mustard
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp. dried coriander
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Freshly squeezed lime juice
Canola or Grapeseed Oil
Tangy Slaw (recipe below)
8 corn tortillas
Chunky salsa

Slather filets with yellow mustard. In shallow dish whisk together flour, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt. Dredge filets in flour mixture covering all sides. Drizzle lime juice over all. Cover and place in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap tortillas in tin foil, four to a package. Place in oven for 20 mins.

Heat 3″ of oil on high heat in deep heavy skillet. Cook fish in batches until golden brown and floating on top of oil draining each batch on paper towels. Keep batches warm in oven.

Place two pieces of fish on top of warm tortilla. Top with tangy slaw. Serve with salsa.

Tangy Slaw

1 14 oz. bag angel hair coleslaw mix
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Place coleslaw mix and red onion in medium mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients. Add to coleslaw mix. Mix well and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hr. Serve on top of fish.

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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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2

Went to a party last night where I recognized perhaps four faces out of the sixty or so in attendance. Not my favorite scenario. Most of these people have known each other for years and have shared experiences to discuss, but we waded into the throng and “mingled”. Rick will take up a conversation with anyone, where I have to ease into a large group of people preferring to take a look before diving in the pool. People watching is something I totally enjoy. Most of the shyness was forced out of me early, attending ten schools between fourth and twelfth grade. Being constantly referred to as “the new kid” shoves you out of your shell and into the fray fairly quickly, or you get left behind. Still, a huge group of strangers tends to quiet me down, at least initially.

I find couples interesting.  In particular, unlikely couples.  Two people who if you observed in a room with a hundred others you would never imagine finding each other in the crowd. The incessant talker married to someone who hasn’t shared more than a paragraph of an evening since graduating high school. A man likely to be courted (no pun intended) by a basketball coach married to a woman who couldn’t meet the height requirements to step onto the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

Watching strangers interact, personalities quickly rise to the surface. The social butterfly, flitting from flower to flower gathering a little pollen to take along with her to the next bloom. The gentlemen with the red nose and broken corpuscles making his third trip, trip being the operative word here, to the bar. The flirt, perhaps hiding beneath a little too much makeup, wearing a blouse one size too small cut low enough to attract a nursing baby. People come in all sizes and shapes, all personalities and dispositions. This, I would suppose, is what makes us so interesting and diverse.

In middle school I had a friend, Cathy, whose parents fell under that category. Her father was what we might have called “a string bean”, tall and spare as a human. On the other hand her mother, probably never achieved five feet in 3″ heels, measuring equally in width as she did in stature. They married out of high school, produced four children, two tall and two short, and each time I was invited to their home I was impressed by how happy her parents always seemed to be in the same room with one another.

Perfect is, after all, not always perfection. If it were true such noted beauties from Debbie Reynolds to Christie Brinkley wouldn’t have had to suffer cheating husbands. If perfection satisfied all your needs, why look elsewhere? We are bombarded with perfect faces, on the screen and in magazines. Even, balanced features are revered. No expense is too much to remove unwanted brown spots, or an eruption or two.  Noses are straightened, chests enlarged, chins sculpted in the image of our favorite celebrities and as we age things are tightened and reworked like a Rodin in progress. Women and men spend countless hours and untold dollars at spas, plastic surgeons offices, and gyms trying to achieve the perfection we are sold we should strive to achieve every day.

My perception of perfect might be the look on your little one’s face when he first sits in Santa’s lap at the mall. Perhaps the circle of love surrounding a bride and groom as they repeat their vows. The ocean early in the morning when the wet sand is pristine and the sun has barely begun to shimmer above the horizon. I am surrounded with “near perfect moments”. Turning a corner in the woods to find an entire glen of fall hued trees so vividly colored as to hold your breath captive for a  minute.  A perfectly cooked steak smothered with mushrooms sitting next to a huge baked potato dripping with melting butter and sour cream. Holding my honey’s hand while watching You’ve Got Mail for the hundredth time. Perfection, to me.

Partners, I would suppose, are chosen for a number of reasons. Perhaps he only prefers blondes, while she only like redheads. One person might like the outdoorsy type while another prefer to spend time with someone who enjoys cruising museums or traveling. Often I look at my circle of friends and wonder what drew them to each other as I’m sure they’ve done with Rick and I. One couple, “The Bickerson’s” we call them, have based a long and successful relationship on disagreeing on everything from their political affiliations to what type of eggs to have for breakfast. If he wants scrambled, she surely will ask for poached. Personally, I think if you separated them, placing each with a partner with whom they were perfectly matched, they’d be bored before lunch. Part of whatever works for them is hidden in what outwardly might not work for someone else.

When I look at relationships which have withstood the test of time, my aunt and uncles for example, I cannot say they are perfect for each other.  If I ask what their secret is they seem confused, as if they don’t question their relationship, they just do it. I’m sure there have been numerous bumps and potholes over the years, times when they were have traded the other one for a nickel and a cup of coffee, but they stuck it out celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary not too long ago.

My granddaughter asked me if I thought men and women were meant to be monogamous. I had no definitive answer for that. At times it seems as if we humans fight the idea with infidelity, not a random occurrence, and unquestionably the divorce rate is high, but it seems as if finding that one “perfect person” is often the goal.  Whether or not we achieve that goal, perhaps the enigma.

Yet another rich and truly sumptuous cauliflower recipe fit for a holiday table. I had two helpings, which is unusual for me.

Cauliflower Gratin

1 large head of cauliflower
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz. softened cream cheese
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (pepperoni or Italian sausage good too)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in skillet over med. heat Add onion and cook 5 mins. until onion is translucent.

Wash cauliflower and separate into florets. Cover with lightly salted water in large saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to low boil and cook until fork tender. Drain well.

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Mash with a potato masher until coarsely mashed.

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Add 1/2 the bacon and all the remaining ingredients except Cheddar cheese to cauliflower in mixing bowl and mix well. Turn into a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle Cheddar cheese on top and other 1/2 of crumbled bacon. Bake for 30 mins. until cheese is melted and bubbly.

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1Yesterday was a very Susie kind of day. At one point Rick threatened to lock me in the closet until the clock struck midnight and the madness had passed.

It began quietly enough. I slept in. After hitting the on button the coffee maker I piled on enough clothes to keep me from freezing to death while fetching the paper and trudged up the hill. This snow, it appears, is not planning on going anywhere any time soon.  This presents several problems for us. First, we didn’t realize we should have taken the car to the top of the driveway and parked it on the street prior to the storm. What can I say? Obviously we’re novices when it comes to having a steep driveway in a hard freeze, which occurred last night, and will again for tonight and tomorrow night. Oh-oh. Now, we bought water and flashlights, thought of candles and batteries. We did not, however, think to purchase a snow shovel or any salt to throw on the driveway. Doomed are we. Quite possibly by the time the spring thaw arrives I’ll weigh 88 pounds and be living with Rip Van Winkle.

Not bad enough we are confined to barracks, but Murphy began to toy with me. My plan for dinner was to make this delicious pasta sauce, which I put together earlier in the day without a hitch. I went downstairs to vacuum. We have two in the house, one up and one down. The ironing board was up because I am sewing for Christmas. Plugging in the vacuum I must have overloaded the circuit (Really? Two plugs in one outlet and it overloads, that can’t be good. The money pit deepens.) At any rate this meant retracing my steps, putting on my warm outer garments and back into the garage, which I did. Locating the tripped switch I flipped it back on and went back downstairs. Deciding against plugging it in in the same room, I went into the bedroom and plugged it in an empty plug in that wall. Sneaky. Unfortunately, the space heater was running for the cat. I know, I know. Once again the lights went out. Boo looked up as if to say, “I hope you’re planning on taking care of that”. Insert expletive here. Ach.

Rick settled in to watch the 49er’s, a Sunday tradition. Twenty minutes before the game was to start the cable went out. Perfect. It came back on thankfully minutes before the first play or Rick would have been inconsolable.

Saturday we had no mail delivery because several tree limbs above the mailboxes drooped down making it impossible to access the door to the mailbox. I decided to spend a few minutes removing the offending limbs while Rick watched his beloved football. I mentioned I was going out in passing, but he was busy giving the coaches a lesson on how to properly move the ball up field, so I closed the door, grabbed the clippers and back up the hill I went. The limbs, when giggled, loosened every bit of snow on the higher branches. By the time I’d cut down two large limbs I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy after an unfortunate flour incident. Sigh. Someone went by and honked and laughed. It’s always nice to have an audience when you’re making an ass of yourself.

Freezing, I headed to the house only to find the door locked. I’ve been talking about hiding a key somewhere on the property, but naturally procrastinated until it now became an issue. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again, loudly. It wasn’t getting any warmer since I was wet from head to toe. Hello? The TV announcers were yelling above the screaming crowds and looking in the window Rick was not in his seat. Swell. Finally, Rick came back from the loo and let me in asking me what I was doing outside. Never mind.

Inside, and beginning to feel my joints thaw, I put the pasta water on to boil. It takes longer at this elevation it seems. From the pantry I retrieved a large box of thin spaghetti I was planning to use with my yummy sauce. Walking towards the kitchen with nothing in my way to impede my progress, I somehow managed to squeeze the box in such a way it sprung open strewing spaghetti all over the floor. What didn’t land on the floor cascaded over the banister littering my freshly vacuumed stairs. I’m sorry, I am not vacuuming again! Rick looked over his shoulder and shook his head. That again.

Loading the nearly full dishwasher with my dinner prep items, Rick announced over the TV, “Oh, I ran the dishwasher so the dishes are clean”. Really?  Were clean would be more accurate. Never mind.

Afraid to touch anything, but getting hungry, I prepared my garlic bread and turned on the broiler. Popping my bread in the oven, my mother called and quickly I became involved searching the Internet for a nightgown for my aunt. Interrupting my searching and the cat’s nap (another of her nine lives was sacrificed in the making of this garlic bread), both smoke alarms simultaneously began screeching. By the time I opened the oven door the bodies were ready for the urns. Good news though, I found a petite medium nightie for my aunt in pink. Somehow we managed to forage together enough food for this meal. I loved this pasta sauce, thick and meaty. Yum.

Photos by Susie Nelson

Meaty Pasta Sauce with Thin Spaghetti

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage links, hot
1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 16 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
1 pkg. thin spaghetti
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese

Remove the sausage casings and slice into 1/2″ slices. Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet over med. heat. Add sausage and brown on all sides (10 mins.). Drain on paper towels.

Add ground beef, onion, and minced garlic to same skillet. Cook until meat is browned. Add next thirteen ingredients. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two hours.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup water. Add reserved water to pasta sauce and mix well. Toss pasta with olive oil. Place in pasta bowls and ladle sauce over top. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

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1

When Christmas bells are swinging above the fields of snow, we hear sweet voices ringing from lands of long ago, and etched on vacant places are half-forgotten faces of friends we used to cherish, and loves we used to know. – Ella Wheeler Wilcox – love this quote.

I watched the new version of The Sound of Music the other night and realized once again what an “old dog” I am.  Carrie Underwood is incredibly talented and certainly beautiful, but nothing can top Julie Andrews, arms flung wide, swirling on an Austrian hillside (or Hollywood sound stage) belting out “the hills are alive”……sorry.  The remake of Miracle on 34th Street was well done, but Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara simply broke the mold the first time out.  It’s like coming out with a new Twinkie. 2How can you recreate a golden fluffy cakey outside, with a gooey middle, providing all the non-essential worthless calories and yummy goodness and do it justice, now really? BTW, where are all the Christmas movies this year?  I don’t mean the Hallmark or Lifetime movies, not that they aren’t entertaining, but I mean the Christmas movie marathon group like The Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, or the Bishop’s Wife?  The movies that go perfectly with a steaming cup of hot chocolate on a cold December Sunday when you have twenty presents to wrap.  Where’d they go?

Snow is coming, tra la. I’m singing now, but I have a feeling when I have a need for something at the store over the next few days, I’ll be singing a different song. It’s frrrrreezing outside, quite literally. All our plants are covered, as are our pipes and we loaded up on bottled water, candles, flashlight batteries, and essentials along with half the town early this afternoon. The sky has discarded its usual blue attire for a dark and somber gray, and winter is about to make its footprint known on Northern California. From what they’re saying on the weather it could at least provide a dusting as low as 500 feet. Wow.  What a weather year. I really think the Mayans knew something was going to go on about this time in history. Just plain odd.

Californians, for the most part, have no idea what to do when the white stuff piles up on the ground. Generally they just roll about on the highways playing bumper cars with the other drivers. Back east or in the Midwest snow is no stranger, and what to do when a whole lot of it shows up overnight far less of a puzzle. As I’ve said many times, I lived in Massachusetts. During the winter having no garage, our early a.m hours were devoted to locating the largest bump in the front yard, unearthing the car, and praying the engine would turn over so we could get to work.

Boston could get bone chilling cold during a snow storm. Five days a week I was scheduled to show up for work at the American Cancer Society on Newberry Street whether the sun was shining or ice covered the roads. Before leaving the house I layered on coats, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves and boots over my work clothes. On particularly frigid days longies were pulled on beneath them. It was amazing I was able to ambulate. In spite of the padding, the icy fingers of the wintry wind managed to insinuate themselves between the tight weave of my wool jacket enticing goosebumps to ripple along my skin. The first winter there I don’t think my toes thoroughly defrosted until the spring thaw.

It’s not as though I’m unfamiliar with cold weather. Growing up in Nova Scotia our winter sessions in school were often interrupted by snow days. Sitting on the tall wooden stool in my grandmother’s kitchen ear to the radio, I’d wait with anticipation to hear the announcement of school closures. In the event it was a thumbs up, my sled would be in the ready propped against the house and my snow mittens and hat piled on the table. If the snow was not blizzard conditions, I was allowed out close to home to make snow angels or erect a family of snow people (notice politically correct) to be finished off with carrots and coal purloined from the bins in the basement. As the first fluffy flakes began to drift down to the ground a while ago, I found myself nose to the glass with that same feeling of excitement I felt when I was five.

Driving in the snow, however, is an entirely different proposition. Less excitement, more fear. Slipping and sliding, often colliding with someone else doing the same. I’m not a fan of winter driving. In West Virginia I ended up sideways in a ditch. In Massachusetts I glided across an intersection close to home in Wakefield, and down an embankment barely stopping at the edge of the lake.The lake was frozen solid but somehow I wasn’t reassured the ice was strong enough to sustain a large yellow station wagon. I needed to breathe in a bag afterwards, while my two little ones in their seats behind me carried on as though I’d taken them on a ride at Disneyland. Several hours later, one tow truck, and a very late dinner, soon sucked some of the wind out of their sails.

In the early 1980’s we owned a cabin in Bass Lake, California a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Yosemite. It was beautiful there at the time, relatively undiscovered. Our cabin bordered the lake, with two decks and a boat dock leading down to the water’s edge. In the summer, the children swam and water skied and during the winter we got away for weekends in the snow when possible. Occasionally we had our holiday meals up among the tall trees. One winter we packed up all the Christmas presents, strapped my mother and the tree to the luggage rack (just kidding, although my husband threatened it a time or two), gathered up the kids, two dogs, and one disgruntled cat and headed for Bass Lake for Christmas. Roads were treacherous. Towards the end of our trip it became necessary to pull on chains if we were to travel further. Standing at the side of the road , I remember being awed by the beauty of the redwoods carrying their burden of snow and the incredible beauty all around us. One of my “near perfect moments” as I call them. After four days in the woods, we packed up our opened gifts and after many attempts to get the car to move, found ourselves completely snowed in. In the end, we didn’t get back to ground level for another three days after the snow plow dug us out. We used up much of the seasoned oak under the tarp at the side of the house, played numerous games and put together jigsaw puzzles, most missing pieces. My mother and I made meals constructed of turkey this and turkey that. In the morning, we used what eggs were left to make huge stacks of pancakes dripping with syrup and melting butter. It was one of the nicer holidays I can recall with my children with no phone, TV, or friends to distract them, and totally unexpected.

I woke up this morning to find snow falling and a winter wonderland beyond my windows. Here are some pictures to share.

In the spirit of “mock” things, this was sooooo good and totally the best use of leftover pork loin I’ve found to-date. As there are only two of us I save half a loin and freeze it for later. This was really good so you could cook a whole loin and use it in this recipe or follow my lead.

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Crockpot Mock Chile Verde with Fajita Rice

41Wpv5OYg+L2 cups leftover cooked pork loin (I used chile verde)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 jar Guy Fieri’s Green & Mean Salsa Verde (or your choice)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
0001530043935_500X5001 pkg. Rice Roni Chicken Fajita Rice, prepared
1/2 cup chunky salsa (red)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
2 Avocados, sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Sour cream

Place onion, pork, chicken stock, salsa verde, garlic powder, cumin, marjoram,  and black pepper in crockpot.  Cook on low for 9 hours, stirring once or twice.

Just before serving slice avocados and sprinkle with lime juice.

Cook rice according to package directions.  Place 1/4 of the rice in the bottom of four bowls.  Ladle pork and sauce over the top. Top with chunky salsa, rreen onions and generous dollop of sour cream. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serves 4.

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