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Posts Tagged ‘vegetables’

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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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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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Once again I am faced with a list of people I need to buy for at Christmas, and not one single idea what to buy. It’s not an absence of originality or generosity, I really don’t have any clue what they need.  If you asked me what I’d like from Santa, I’d answer, “a new vegetable peeler, and ramekins”. I’m quite sure if you polled my nearest and dearest neither answer would slip easily off their tongues. When asking for suggestions for gifts, people are often hesitant to suggest something lest it be too expensive, so they either respond with “I don’t need thing”, or suggest something off the top their head simply to satisfy the question. Worse yet, they might come up with something expensive you can’t provide, making it uncomfortable. Perhaps this time of year we should print out a reasonable wish list (omitting the red Lamborghini Aventador with custom leather interior or that 3 carat pink diamond you’ve been eying in the jewelry store window) and email it to those asking for ideas. Along the same lines as registering at Pottery Barn before tying the knot. Another thought, gift giving could be reserved for those still firm in the knowledge St. Nick will be arriving with a full bag on the 25th, thus recapturing the true essence of Christmas. This would keep me in the loop with regard to presents. Last year I was totally convinced I heard reindeer huffing and pawing on the roof Christmas Eve, and when I woke up in the morning the chocolate chip cookies and eggnog I left out for the old gentlemen had disappeared. Rick and the Miss Boo weren’t talking.

For several years we drew names in our family, each person only responsible for the name he or she drew. This worked for a while. Slowly, however, people began to cheat. Before long those who didn’t purchase gifts felt badly so they rushed to the store, and so it goes.

I’m sewing dog/cat beds for my friends with furry friends. For the cooking enthusiasts on my list I’m sewing small gift bags packed with interesting items for the kitchen like infused olive oils, unique little gadgets, Christmas cookie cutters, fun bottle stops, and unusual spices. Kids used to be the easiest group to cross off, but these days they’ve upped the ante on what they’d like Santa to produce in his toy shop, and some of the things suggested not only are difficult to find around this time of year but come with a hefty price tag.  We have nine of the little buggers so rather than find ourselves sitting by the side of the road with Miss Boo waving a handwritten sign once my bank account is depleted, we’re giving them all gift cards to their favorite stores and letting do as much damage as the card entitles them to in our names.  Ho, ho, ho.

I try to buy early, not being a shopper by nature. Last minute desperation buying off deserted shelves with other hollow eyed latesters doesn’t make the holidays festive for me.  What a wonderful tool the Internet is!  List fulfillment at your fingertips. I will sit down on Friday in my fuzzy boots and leggings with a steaming cup of coffee and with the wave of my Master Card complete my list leaving me time to rummage through the boxes marked “Christmas” presently stacked in my dining room. Yea.

Ideally I would do all my shopping immediately following the holidays. This is when the bargains really show themselves. Unfortunately, you’d better know your target audience when doing this, because this leaves a full year before the next Christmas tree is purchased for your recipients to buy the same thing for themselves.

I’m reminded of a Christmas when my children were small. Their dad and I both worked, as is often the case with young families. Adding the purchase of a new house to our monetary outlay that year left little wriggle room for extra indulgences. In September we received an unexpected financial windfall. Weighing our options we decided to put it towards a special Christmas. With two inquisitive youngsters around it can be difficult to hide a growing stash of toys, so we opted on the attic as the perfect place to create a Santa’s treasure trove.

As the holidays approached, the tree went up in the living room and lights flickered outside our living room window.  Little ones asleep, I would bring down a doll or a game and wrap presents in the living room, returning them to their hiding place before going to bed. Enough left over in our savings account to finance a trip to our favorite mountain resort we penciled in a week’s vacation. Neither of us avid snow skiers, we dusted off our toboggans, inner tubes and sleds and headed for the snow-capped hills.

Back in the day most people barely locked their doors much less had sophisticated alarm systems or house sitters.  If gone, a neighbor picked up your papers and your mail, or perhaps a family member drove by from time to time to turn on the lights or water your plants. Such was the case in this instance, although we did lock our doors.

Returning home from vacation the weekend before Christmas we unloaded the car. Taking the luggage into the bedroom I noticed the small jewelry box usually sitting on my dresser was missing. Mentioning this to my husband it didn’t take long to realize our microwave was not in it’s usual spot in the kitchen, our stereo was gone, and where the TV sat on the table in the spare bedroom was now only a rectangular spot marked by a ring of dust.  Oh-oh. Pulling down the cord to the attic stairs, I slowly climbed up and peeked through the opening. Other than some open boxes and strewn newspaper, nothing but a few strands of ribbons and a whole lot of empty remained. The Grinch had stolen our Christmas.

Our insurance agent was contacted, and, yes, we were covered. Unfortunately, nothing could be done before Christmas.  In the end, we bought little gifts for each other and creative gifts for the kids.  Our family showed up en masse for breakfast with games and eggnog, and it turned out to be a very special day.  Nobody noticed there was less under the tree than usual.

It does make me wonder how people like the thief I heard about on the news yesterday who stole turkeys from a church donated for parishioners in need, sleep at night, but then I guess forgiveness is as big a word this time of year as noel.

This butter is my favorite on corn.  You can increase or decrease the heat at will.

IMG_5115Corn with Sriracha Butter

6 ears of corn, husked and grilled, steamed, or boiled
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
6-10 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp. chives
1 1/2 tsp. garlic salt

Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with steaming ears of corn.

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asparagus

The chill in the air reminds me of my childhood.  With my coat and hat in place I was shooed outside on crisp fall days such as this to enjoy the sunshine before the cold swept down on the east coast and the first snow carpeted the area.  My partners in crime on most outings included two sets of twins one fraternal, Bob and Sis, and the other identical Kitty and Vicky. Together we spent our days diving into piles of freshly raked leaves, filling our pockets with acorns and chestnuts, and wandering Point Pleasant Park in search of twigs suitable for dueling. While there we often checked out the frog pond before the ice claimed the water not to release it again until the following spring.  Most days were spent outside, gathering fresh air to hold us for long wintry days coming up armed with a box of Crayons and a coloring book to keep us occupied and out from underfoot.  Using the strongest boughs as steps, we would climb high into the abundant treetops to peer out across the dark Atlantic waters in search of a band of marauding pirates, perhaps having to settle for watching a tug plow through the waves towing a huge tanker in its wake. Great battles were staged as we sat astride the cannons still in place from battles won and lost long before we were born, recalled now only by long dead scholars in dusty history volumes.  There was a great deal of freedom to be a child back in the day.  A great deal of freedom.

The world is getting smaller for our young people lately, with more rules to guide them and limits on what they can do. I read the other day a school banned recess games such as Four Square or Dodge Ball, as being dangerous for the children playing in the school yard.  Cartwheels, not yet totally banned, were also being watched as as potential sources of problems in the future.  Really?  I mean REALLY??  What on earth are we doing to our children?  Good Lord, as kids we tucked ourselves inside tires and rolled down hills, carried jagged tin cans full of worms to our local fishing holes, made go carts out of spare lumber, and rode bikes with no helmets.  Shocking as it might seen, some of us managed to survive to adulthood.  How far do we go to protect our little ones? Too far possibly?

Juvenile sports events have gotten really bizarre.  In many places they don’t keep score.  This, from my understanding, is so that no child will feel less than if they don’t have the passion for the game, don’t exert the effort needed to excel, or basically don’t have the natural talent of the guy or gal standing next to him.  In my mind, this being true, you cannot deem it a game.  Why would I sit down to a game of Scrabble or gin rummy if I knew at the end of the game even if I won, it would be a tie?  What would be the impetus to stretch yourself to do your best?  Looking up the word competition I found as definitions:

  1. The act of competing, as for profit or a prize; rivalry.
  2. A test of skill or ability; a contest.

Sport is defined as an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature such as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc.

Imagine if professional football games were reduced to this level?  Empty stadiums, rotting hot dogs, and Monday night TV gone dark, would probably be the end result.  At times I have to say fans go wayyyyyy overboard in rivalry between teams, but rivalry is the foundation of sports and without it they wouldn’t be particularly interesting to either participate in or watch.  Again, in my opinion.

Life, in many ways, is all about competition.  If you want a particular job, unless it is sweeping fish guts, most likely their will be others with like skills vying for the position you desire.  If the employer is to view all competitors as equal, who would he award the job to?  Even personal relationships are based on competition.  It is not always equal, as life in general rarely balances the scales.  Some women are overly tall, others clumsy. There will always be someone prettier, smarter, funnier, or more alluring than yourself waiting to give you a run for your money.  Men can be shorter than average, have a keg rather than a six pack, or a wart on the tip of their nose. There are those blessed humans born aesthetically perfect, talented, and rich.  I offer no explanation for them. Life, happens.  Children, in my humble opinion once again, need to be made to understand things do not always swing their way, and disappointment is part of living it.

If we protect them from everything, will it not take the edge off of being?  In truth no matter how much of a plastic bubble you surround your children with life in the end is a good deal luck, or fate or whatever you believe causes bad things to happen to good people and visa versa.  The joy of making a home run, winning a spelling bee, and baking the best apple pie at the local fair all in the spirit of healthy competition makes life fun.  Like Yin and Yang, balance in all things.  We can’t all be winners, or piano virtuoso’s.  If we all looked like Christie Brinkley or sang like Streisand, it would be a same/same dull kind of existence.  Imagine a crowd of people all wearing white shirts, grey ties, and pinstriped suits with no red or yellow to stand out in the crowd. Sort of like IBM in the 70′s. Pushing ourselves to be better for whatever reason, is what makes a good scholar a great one, a fast horse a Derby winner, and a man born in a log cabin, president of the United States.  Wave your flag here please.

If you stopped doing things because you might get hurt or fail, people would do nothing.  Ah, another deep thought for the day.

This asparagus is sooooo good with a little sticky rice and tempura shrimp.  Easy to make and delicious to eat.

Toasted Sesame Asparagus

l 1/2 lbs. asparagus, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. sesame seeds, toasted
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. Sesame seed oil
1/8 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. brown sugar

Steam asparagus until fork tender. Drain. Sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired.

Place sesame seeds in small skillet over medium heat. Cook until fragrant, about 3-4 mins. shaking pan often to keep from burning. Set aside.

Mix together remaining ingredients. Pour over asparagus and top with toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4

Place

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Is the English language, as we once knew it, doomed? Sometimes I wonder. Several days ago I watched a Judge Judy episode where a young woman repeatedly used the word “tooken” during her testimony. Having had enough and not one to hold back on her opinion, Judge Judy said, “Young woman, there is no such word as tooken. You have used it twice. Please don’t use it again.” Yea. Not long afterwards I was involved in a conversation with someone I had just been introduced to. Tooken also came up in their conversation, shortly followed by “I seen them coming”. Ach.

It seems not only are we are losing social skills by not actually attaining eye contact during a conversation or even physical contact, preferring to reach out electronically, certainly from what I observe lately basic language skills have also been thrown out with the bath water. I understand the thinking is looser on this in schools at the moment with more emphasis put on technology and less on what some might view as outdated skills such as speaking the language correctly or written language basics. It seems many school children have no idea what a colon is used for, besides when in reference to passing wind, or a comma for that matter. Paragraphs run willy nilly with no obvious beginning or end. Will future generations be left to communicate with such abbreviated speech as WYSIWYG, “what you see is what you get”? BON, “believe it or not’.

Perhaps the laziness creeping into everything we do, cars that park themselves, food microwaved in minutes, vacuums rolling across the floor without needing a push, has even slopped over into our speech. So much is done for us.  Back in the early civilizations, if one was to eat, prey had to hunted. Meat did not magically appear shrink wrapped in the grocers refrigerated section. Men, physically ran after their dinner and once catching up to it, had to slay it with crude tools or physically overcome it in some manner to convince it to join him for dinner. Once a kill was accomplished, I would assume it was shared with the community, as GE hadn’t provided a refrigerator to store leftovers and the meat would need to be consumed quickly before spoiling. Women went into the fields and forests to pick berries and fruit. Probably nomadic by nature, moving with the changes in season or perhaps due to dwindling food supplies or disagreements with neighbors or other tribes. Amtrak didn’t stop by to give them a lift to the next campsite. People were physical, as our bodies were constructed to be.  Teeth were used to chew and gnaw tough meat or shrubs, not mulch oatmeal or a container of yogurt.

In some ways we have reached the stars and in others it almost seems we’ve regressed.  Perhaps someday oral language as well will achieve obsolescence with gadgets or computers communicating for us. In the end where are we heading? I think about this so often. Is the only way to go from here up, or will be choose to step onto the down escalator?

Is our future to mimic Fahrenheit 451 where books are banned, and burned if discovered? What I find interesting is Grand Theft Auto 5 recently did a billion in sales within three days of its release. Hmmmm. This says a lot about our combined state of mind and what gets us motivated. It is rated 17 and up, but who goes home with the 17-year-old to ensure his younger brother or sister aren’t manning the controls? I have seen this played and it’s very authentic and definitely graphic.

Back in the day I saw Clockwork Orange. I remember leaving the theater with a “huh?” look on my face. Weird images, violent teens, rape and crime sprees. What was interesting looking back is that Burgess included Nadsat, a fractured adolescent slang a composition of Slavic, English, and Cockney rhyming slang. Hmmmmm, again.

It is these heavy thoughts which muddle up my mind this as I awoke this morning.  However, it was my day at the shelter and Clockwork Orange’s images on my mind or not, the kitties were waiting for me and not one of them gives a bloody damn what Susie is chewing on, as long as the woman keeps patting their furry heads and not neglecting the empty bowls.

The kitty I dubbed “wink” due to the fact one eye is missing, found a home this morning.  I was glad for him.  A cheerful single man with a big heart (or so it appeared) adopted him, renaming him Standish.  A huge cat by comparison to the other inmates, he’ll leave a big hole with his absence. You do become attached.

I’m getting to know the ones who have been there a while.  Kittens come and go quickly, as with babies in our species, the tiniest of us are definitely the most “awwww” inspiring.  After tending to my single and double adult cats, I turned my attention toward a walk-in cage with five kittens occupying space together.  Through the glass doors I could see three running and playing on the floor with the two others dispersed on different tiers of the cat tower towards the back.  Four were black, or black and white and standing out like an onion in a petunia patch was a tiny little female grey tabby named Pea.  Pea, the only female in the group, swiped and batted at her bunk mates as they tugged on her tail or swiped at the small red mouse she was guarding jealously.  Spunky for her size, I chose not to examine her too closely as she nuzzled my neck lest I fall in love in again.  My heart can’t take it.

Leaving the two on the highest tier in the cage I removed the other three and went about cleaning up after them.  Like children they make far bigger messes than the more senior of the cats.  Sweeping and sanitizing the area, I refilled the bowls and returned the three in the holding cells to their cage.  Turning to let myself out, I found the door had locked behind me.  Sigh.  Nobody was down on my end so I waited about five minutes until another volunteer happened by.  She waved and I crooked a finger towards the cage.  Coming closer she realized my predicament.  Before being released from the cage I had to answer if I was house broken and if my shots were current.  How humiliating. Funny group.

So my heavy and light thoughts for the day.  I made this last night and loved it.  You could vary the cheeses I’m sure but this made a nice blend.

finalCheesy Cauliflower Casserole

1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets.
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups whole milk, divided
2 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg
2 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp. dry mustard
1 cup gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place florets in large saucepan and cover with water and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil over med-high heat. Reduce heat to med-low and cook for 10 mins. until fork tender. Drain thoroughly.

Mix together egg, cornstarch, and 1/2 cup of milk. Set aside.

In saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and cook about 5 mins. until onion is translucent. Add milk and seasonings to pan. Whisk to blend. Whisk constantly until milk is steaming but don’t allow to reach a full boil. Slowly whisk in egg mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until mixture thickens but not boiling.

Mix cheeses together. Add all but 1/2 cup to hot milk mixture, whisking to blend and melt cheese.

Spray 2 quart pan with cooking spray. Place florets in single layer in bottom of pan. Pour milk/cheese mixture over top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.

Bake for 55 mins. Allow to cool for 8 mins. before serving.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Over the weekend we bought a new stove. For me, this is right up there with being given a diamond. Not much for jewelry really. Oh, I wear my diamond ring for its sentimental significance, two dainty bracelets, all gifts from Rick, and when I go out in the world I wear earrings. Like a freshly cut Christmas tree, other than a hint of ice I come relatively unadorned. Truth be known, I’d rather receive gifts for the kitchen any day. Book, kitchen, and bed and bath stores sit right at the top of my list of favorite haunts. Over the years I’ve whiled away many an hour roaming kitchen emporiums admiring all the colorful interesting gadgets and whatnots available for sale.

The stove was purchased out of necessity, as the one we have now, propane powered, is shot.  Our last, as the one preceding it, was electric, not my favorite either. Gas cooktop is my preference with an electric oven, but propane is the existing energy source and we’re not investing a fortune to convert to gas simply to put a smile on Susie’s face.  That was a direct quote from management.  This one is SS, with five burners, the center one also a griddle. Originally we’d planned this purchase to follow not precede the holidays. However, a strange side effect of using the current stove made it necessary to push the date forward. As the song goes, “Susie’s as high as an elephant’s eye”, or the corn is, or something to that effect. It seems when the metal in the oven ages beyond its life expectancy it can emit fumes making it dangerous to use. Already silly enough with very little prodding, the fumes were not enhancing the quality of the meals produced by our kitchen staff. Last week while preparing carrot soup needing a pinch of chopped sage, in my euphoria I tossed in the whole bunch leaves intact, unwashed and tied. Minutes later I noticed my mistake floating along atop my soup like a recent homicide victim. Rick watching this, shook his head. He often does.

Later, discussing with him a Vietnamese restaurant advertising a sandwich he likes, I kept saying Vietmanese rather than the proper pronunciation. Correcting myself, I came up with, “Vinametnese”. Hmmm. Rick commented on my odd behavior after several such occurrences. He hadn’t mentioned it previously he said because for him it is apparently difficult to differentiate between my odd behavior and my normal behavior as my normal behavior often mirrors my odd. Uh, thank you for that keen observation. Okay I make up cat songs for Boo while I’m cleaning the house and actually celebrate Clean Sheet Day, but doesn’t everybody?

Hopefully this hasn’t resulted in any permanent damage as I’m quite sure I don’t have many gray cells to spare having used up the majority during my forgettable late twenties tequila shot days. Raising my kids, husbands, and animals claimed a good portion of the rest. Wandering about the house lately trying to remember what I was looking for when I first started in the direction I was headed confirms my fears I need to hold on to as many as I have left for the years looming ahead.

In the past, I’ve had run ins with appliances. I’ve written about many, possibly including my encounter with a gas stove when in my teens. On the odd chance I did not, I will now. In ninth grade, my best friend Michaelin, Mike to her friends (her parents wanted a boy), lived directly across the ivy from me in our apartment complex. Both latchkey kids, we walked to and from school together often hanging out at one house or the other after school until our parents came home. Once free of our school clothes, a snack was usually in order. On this day it was to be mini tacos at her house.

Mike turned on the oven and opened the door, placing the tray of tacos inside. Before closing it, I commented it smelled like gas. Upon closer examination, with not enough brainpower to create an original thought in a gnat, we finally determined the pilot light was out. Always full of suggestions then as now, I said I’d seen my stepfather light ours with a long kitchen match by inserting it in one of holes on the bottom of the stove. Piece of cake. So, handing Mike the match and box I stood to her rear as she dragged it across the flint and leaned to insert the lit match in the hole. Lambs to the slaughter. KABOOM!  We were propelled across the kitchen like two Siamese twin stuntmen in a Die Hard sequel landing in an untidy pile in the corner. Aside from the ringing in my ears I seemed all right.  All my limbs were attached and other than a long gash on one hand I appeared relatively uninjured. I did smell burnt hair. Mike began concurrently screaming while beating herself on the head.  Odd. Turning towards me her blonde bangs present prior to the explosion were reduced to short, black, smoldering stubs and her face was the color of someone recently involved in French fry diving.

Without stopping to speak, I grabbed her hand and dragged her upstairs to the bathroom. Turning the shower on cold I shoved her in. With the water running full blast I couldn’t hear the fireman beating on the door downstairs. Before long, several of them stormed through the bathroom door dragging a long hose dragging behind them. Examining us, an ambulance was summoned. Downstairs looked like a case for FEMA disaster relief.  Unable to get an answer at the door, and the door locked, the firemen broke it down. It now lived in the ivy out front.  Oh boy.  No bangs, no door, no stove …..secretly I prayed the hospital was in a small village along the Amazon or possibly the Outback of Australia because no matter how you cut the bread when our parents got home they weren’t going to like the sandwich.

In the end Mike wore fake bangs until hers grew in and her face returned to a hue found on the color pallet under skintones . For me, I didn’t have to shave my legs for months. Both of us gave up our allowance until the new door was paid for, and neither of us lit the stove ever again. When I got back to school word had spread like wildfire (no pun intended) about our misadventures. Rumors ranged from our heads having blown off and landing in the swimming pool to a nuclear blast occurring only in our neighborhood.  Once again the universe got a taste of me and spit me back out. Sigh.

This was quite yummy.  Passed down several times it has altered from the original but I liked this one a lot.

Lemony Tuscan Asparagus

1 bunch asparagus trimmed (1 1/2 lbs.)
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halves
1/4 cup red onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 lemon sliced thin
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

IMG_4603Rinse pine nuts. Place in medium size dry skillet. Heat over medium heat about 5 mins. until they begin to brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray. Place asparagus, tomatoes, onions, and pine nuts in large mixing bowl. In separate bowl mix 2 Tbsp. olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables and toss to coat. Spread in single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Top with lemon slices.

2

Bake for 15 mins. or until tender. Meanwhile combine lemon juice and remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Remove asparagus from oven and pour lemon juice/olive oil mixture over top. Sprinkle with lemon zest and cheese. Serves 4.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Last night I set the alarm for 5 a.m. before turning off the light.  Today was my first day taking care of cats at the local animal shelter.  There were openings of a volunteer nature for either dog walkers or cat tenders, and after seeing me I was told the dogs would probably more likely be walking me, so cats it was.  Fine.  I love cats, or at least have great respect for their independent nature and total unwillingness to do anything but what they please twenty-three out of twenty-four hours of the day.

At the shelter I was surprised at the sheer volume of animals in attendance at kitty jail, if you will.  Why I was surprised I have no explanation for.  If equipped with original parts, with little coaxing it is not an unusual occurrence for cats to go about creating more of their own kind. I know this because I often hear them doing exactly that in the middle of the night when I ‘m trying to sleep.  Two things I knew right away, I must not look any of these sweet animals directly in the eyes lest I get caught in their spell, and I would need a clothes pin for my nose.  Definitely, I would need a clothes pin for my nose.  Whew.  One cat litter box is no walk in the park but thirty or forty are an out-and-out assault on the nostrils!

I’ve had so many felines over my lifetime. Many were strays who simply wandered in and lined up unnoticed with the rest of the crowd for a free meal and stayed. Some, like Miss Boo the Queen of Cats, were “rescues” claimed at the S.P.C.A., others I actually purchased, and many wheedled their way in the front door as kittens via my children. Whether they adopt you or you adopt them, they are definitely a commitment, and no matter what the sign reads never, ever, free. How many times while my kids were growing up I heard the words, “Please, Mommy, pleeeease, can we have a kitten! They’re free.”  These pleas are soon followed by the sound of wool being pulled over your ears.  “Mommmeeeee, I’ll feed her, and clean up after her. I’ll use my allowance to pay her vet bills.” Right.  New mothers cover your ears, hum the national anthem, or blare the horn until they stop. None of this is ever going to happen. If these promises last past the first day after they bring the animal home, you have a win.  You need to trust me on this.  In three weeks without your intervention, the cat will be standing on a mound of soiled litter reaching just short in height of where they planted the first flag on Everest.  When the cat is ill, and it will be, you will be the one sitting in a crowded lobby in what is labeled “cat section” waiting for “Whiskers” name to be called.  If you are unlucky enough to have medication prescribed for the minimum $100 visit, it will be your fingers bleeding profusely after every dose because Whiskers didn’t sign on for that program and thinks you should take the pills and insert them somewhere and lets you know it.  Pit Bulls have less jaw strength BTW, then a stubborn cat when you’re trying to pry its mouth open. I’m just sayin’.

Before Mouse, now in her new home, and Miss Boo currently in residence, their was Maggie Mae. Found on a job site where my husband was working at the time, Maggie traveled to our home via an Igloo cooler. No background information was provided regarding her pedigree or previous life beyond, “here, I found you a cat”.  “Um, thank you?” Terrified and 85% feral, Maggie’s first days with us were spent in the back of the spare room closet hovering behind a laundry basket.  Food disappeared if placed on the floor of the closet and like a good guest she politely made use of the litter box provided for her.

Each day I would lie on the floor when I came home from work and coax her closer with a morsel of kibble or an irresistible bite of tuna.  Not fully convinced she wished to know more about me, each day the gap grew a bit smaller than the one before.  After all, I did come with goodies which made me not totally undesirable.

Plans were to take her to our vet to have her checked out.  Not knowing what shots she’d had, better to err on the side of caution and begin at the beginning, so to speak.  Were I a betting person, I would have placed my dollar on the tile reading “never been fixed”, but it would take a more practiced eye to make that call.  An appointment was made for a visit the following week. During that time she slowly emerged. Other than wedging her head in the ceiling at the least noise, she began to take her meals in the kitchen with the rest of the help and a detente was achieved.

My house then, as the one now coincidentally, had the feel of living in a tree house.  In the beginning of the house’s history it had been the main dwelling for a local olive farmer and his extended family.  The main house was broken into three sections, ours being the largest.  Below us was the carriage house, also rented to two brothers in a jazz band, and a newlywed couple occupied what was originally the bunk house across the drive.  Out front was a small two room building used in the rancher’s day as a general store. Small kitchen and bathroom added, it became home to a very elderly man who made his own wine and his equally long in the tooth bloodhound, Raz, who had a taste for the stuff and could often be found sleeping it off under the porch.  All in all it was a house full of character, filled with characters, I would suppose.

Windows must have been on sale the day they designed the house, because there were plenty of them.  Our kitchen, a sunny and welcoming room often used for entertaining was where Maggie made her home.  Two huge windows were in one corner and the ledge was her place of choice for an afternoon sun.  The day before her vet visit, I came in to find a hole in the window, no cat, and a number of flies circling the kitchen. She’d gone over the fence.  For days I searched for her, leaving food outside, only to feed the raccoons and possums, and nothing.  Then, after giving up hope of seeing her furry self again, she showed up as quickly as she’d left and brought company for dinner.  A huge tabby cat, male naturally, with a very self-satisfied look on his face I must say.

Not long afterward we welcomed five kittens, and immediately afterward had Maggie fixed.  Children arrived with their parents around adoption time, leaving with their little bundles after assurances from me that it teaches character and responsibility to have a pet, and I was sure they’d clean up after them and take care of them.  I’m sorry, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Soooooooooo, I shall endeavor to avoid eye contact and not find myself writing a blog about a new acquisition.  Porsche had her eye on me, a beautiful gray long hair with sweeping eyelashes, but I resisted.  So far.

These were the best potatoes ever!  Should work for four people but we ate enough for three between the two of us.  Yum.

Red Potato and Brussel Sprout Bake

4 red potatoes
1 lb. Brussel sprouts
1 Tbsp. plus 1 Tbsp. butter
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, large chop
1/2 green pepper, sliced 1″ and cut in chunks
5 large mushrooms, sliced 1/2″ thick
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 Tbsp. Montreal Seasoning for Chicken
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Cut red potatoes into quarters and then in half again. Place the potatoes and Brussel sprouts in saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low bowl and cook for 8-10 mins. or under veggies are fork tender but not fully cooked.  Drain.  When cool enough, cut Brussel sprouts in half.

Cut each Tbsp. of butter in fourths. Spray bottom of 13 x 9 casserole dish with cooking spray. Distribute butter pieces evenly over bottom of pan. Place all vegetables on top of butter. Sprinkle with Montreal Seasoning for Chicken, pepper and garlic salt. Sprinkle with olive oil. Turn vegetables to coat. You want veggies to be coated but not saturated.

raw veggies final

Cook for 35-40 mins. turning regularly to brown. Add salt before serving if desired.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

In an effort to get involved in my new community and meet some of its inhabitants, I signed to volunteer with a local agency under whose umbrella many of the local volunteer based organizations run.  Once an application is completed, you attend a one-on-one with the volunteer coordinator where your assets as well as your interests are determined. Amazed to find I had several usable talents (who knew?), I was given an extensive list of opportunities from which to choose. As an aside when I mentioned to my mother plans were to take this on she said, “try not to do anything depressing like work in a hospital or places that are sad”.  Adore that woman. I assured her I’d only choose upbeat groups featuring clowns and soft bunnies to affiliate myself with. No point in wasting volunteer hours on people in need or not of good cheer. Truthfully though, I tease about my mom, but she is generous of herself and her time and has always given back to her community. In the past she visited shut-ins or the elderly in the evenings, always bringing a casserole or lingering to play a game of Scrabble. These days she shuttles ladies who no longer drive to the market for groceries or to run whatever errands they need to accomplish.

While reviewing my options, I checked many boxes signing up for everything from grizzly bear scat gathering to rhino tusk polishing.  Before leaving the office I was assured representatives of the agencies I’d shown interest in would contact me by the end of the week.  By the time I arrived home, the first call was on the answering machine. The need for volunteers to man these organizations is great. I have volunteered a time or two previously over the years, but most of my life I’ve worked a full-time job.  Not an excuse, well maybe an excuse.  When not at work, in my younger days at least, I was engaged as chauffeur, chief bottle washer, laundress, dog walker, cat feeder, and personal shopper for two kids, one husband and the parasitical menagerie we loosely referred to as our “pets”.  Between soccer games, school events, skating lessons, and dental appointments there wasn’t much wiggle room for other more altruistic activities. If I found time for a shower and enjoyed toilet privileges I considered myself totally spoiled.

One of the groups I was particularly interested in associating myself with this time was the local food bank.  Although small in scale in comparison to people dealing with survival every day,  I have some experience in what it feels like to be hungry or without a roof over your head.  The place in question was Longview, Washington thankfully late summer. My husband at the time and I arrived in town to begin a ten month job at one of the lumber mills. Unbeknownst to us, the job had been postponed three weeks. Traveling light, including our wallets, we brought with us personal items, the minimum necessary clothes, a case of Vienna sausage, twenty cheese and beef sticks, a box of Saltines, three gallon bottles of soda, a six-pack of Bud Light and a case of bottled water. The essentials. Young, we perceived ourselves at the time as gypsies, free and blithe of spirit. Not having enough funding or good sense to retrace our tracks or explore other options, and too much pride to call our parents, we chose instead to wait it out. Our plan was to get a hotel room once a week during the twenty-one days, leaving the rest of the nights and days either to be spent in the car or in local parks. Food would become an issue. I like a Vienna sausage with the best of them, but for every meal?

After the first week, our days fell into a routine.  Mornings we showed up at a rest stop offering showers, donuts, and coffee gratis to weary travelers.  As a belated thank you to the ranger stationed there, the woman never once made mention of how many times we seemed to be traveling past the same spot, always handing us a steaming cup of hot coffee and a fresh donut with a smile and without question.  The public shower there was not my favorite, but I availed myself of it shoes in place. Sharing a small space can quickly take the bloom off the rose if you have to keep the windows down in order to tolerate each others presence.  After several times showering at the rest stop, we chose instead to drive up into the heavily forested areas to take a dip in the prolific ponds or wade in quick-moving streams to freshen up.  The water was cold, but far less of an exchange of germs than the rest stop.  I found it somewhat glorious, actually, bathing there. Very Adam and Eve.  Afternoons were spent in the park or by the lake, and nights wherever we could park safely.

angels

Enjoying a steady diet of Vienna sausage saltine sandwiches, it was easy to see this would soon become redundant. My digestive track was loudly protesting the lack of roughage coming down the chute.  On accident during the last week I discovered our gasoline credit card also covered items purchased in the convenience store, something we never considered.  Scanning the shelves avariciously we stocked up on apples, bread, peanut butter, cans of pork and beans (might I suggest not the best choice for close surroundings), orange juice and bananas.

We dined under the stars along a side road off the interstate later in the day. Bed came early with our only source of light a flashlight. Finding it difficult to sleep with my husband’s incessant concerto tuning up in the front seat, I got out to stretch my legs. Flashlight switched on, I hiked to the crest of a nearby hill.  Aiming the light at the shadowy pasture below me, I was surprised to discover a number of soupy brown bovine eyes captured in my beam eying me back with idle curiosity . Scanning the light back and forth, mottled shapes appeared, standing or lying along the hillsides. Low moans echoed across the field.  Releasing them from inspection, I sat on the hill in the deep quiet only night can make, until sounds of gravel crunching behind me alerted me someone else was in the area. At the car, an officer of enough stature to be Smokey the Bear and appearing to be wearing his hat stepped out of his cruiser, and approached me.  Identifying himself he explained he was following up on a report made by the rancher owning the property about suspected cattle rustlers. Studying me, he requested my ID. Shifty eyes, on my father’s side. I complied, reaching across my husband nudging him awake. He repeated his request to my other half now peering out of the window looking like an unmade bed and scratching his head.  Returning to his vehicle the officer checked us out for wants and warrants or whatever they check people out for.  Apparently reassured we were not criminal masterminds or concealing a devious plan to cram all the cows in our trunk and abscond with them across the border, he returned our paperwork suggesting we mosey on down the road.  So, we moseyed. It was a long three weeks.

It is humiliating and humbling to find yourself in such a place.  For me it was over before it started and my normal existence resumed, but for some adults and children it does not. One thing is for sure, I never ate another Vienna sausage and I am rarely short on T.P.

This is Hunger Awareness Month. Check out what people are doing to help on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Interfaith-Food-Ministry/155749367813411. SNAP, originally food stamps, provides families needing subsidy for food $4.50 a day per person.  If you’ve been to the market lately that barely covers a loaf of bread.  If you have any low cost recipes you’d like to share, I’ll pass them on.

While your checking them out check out this recipe for tortellini salad, liked it a lot.

Tortellini Salad

1 pkg. frozen three cheese tortellini
8 rounds of hard salami, quartered
1 can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
3 cups baby spinach, rinsed and broken up
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup kalamata olives, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (I used yellow)

Cook tortellini according to package directions. Rinse well, drain, and allow to cool.

Add all other ingredients to large bowl. When pasta has cooled add to mixture. Toss with dressing 1/2 hour before serving.

Vinaigrette

1/3 cup cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup EV olive oil
2 Tbsp. honey
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
3/4 tsp. dill weed
1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. celery seed

Place ingredients in sealed jar and shake well to blend. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. Pour over tortellini mix, toss well and serve.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Time to think about working again.  Sigh.  My skills need some refining as I’ve held my stick out of the fire for five years or so and most probably with the leaps in technology I’m obsolete along with my software.

A new project coming across my desk, I pulled my Adobe software out of the closet and attempted to load it onto my recently purchased laptop.  Prompted by the electronic program administrator to activate it, I was given a number to call to do so.  Making my way through their labyrinth of a phone system, I discovered my $800 software was no longer supported. Purchased over seven years ago, it was out-of-date and there were no upgrade options available.  This, naturally, left the only option open buying the newest and brightest version, again.

The laptop, several months old, came with Windows 8 on it.  I know I’m an old dog, and new tricks don’t come as easily as when I was a pup, but Windows 8 makes me swear like a sailor with his hand caught in a winch.  Made to accommodate touchscreen users, not I, it has eliminated my familiar start panel on the lower left and things keep showing up uninvited on my desktop to confuse the easily confusable me.  From what I understand they’ve come up with a free upgrade for others technically challenged such as myself to make life a little easier when logging on in the morning.

Compared to others in my immediate peer group, I am the most advanced when it comes to computer skills.  That being said, I am often the one to call if something goes wrong. If technology keeps moving forward at warp speed, I may have to find someone to call myself. My mother is horrified of the computer and runs screaming from the room should I suggest she attempt an email or sit at the keyboard.  Her cell phone, used only to make outgoing calls is useless as a message receptacle because she refuses to learn how to check her voicemail which reached peak storage capacity sometime in the winter of ’02.

My daughter is struggling to bring her skills up to speed as well.  Running a day care in her home for the past decade doesn’t leave much time for playing on the computer.  Another stumbling block is the computer itself which was probably put together when Jobs and Wozniak were tinkering in their garage.  You could crochet an afghan in the time it takes to open a page or download a file.  It the sound still worked, I believe it would actually creak while performing a task.

Grocery shopping, bill paying, going to the library or purchasing tickets at the local movie theater our computers are our go-to tool for everything these days.  Yesterday I bought night stands for my mother on the Internet in fifteen minutes without ever allowing my coffee to get cold.  I speak to, electronically at least, people all over the world I wouldn’t otherwise ever have contact with and the wealth of information available with the click of the mouse is absolutely mind-boggling.

I remember, yes I do, when the Selectric typewriter was introduced.  For those of us who typed for a living this was an amazing machine.  It had no return bar and instead of individual keys striking the ribbon and the paper, it had a ball that rotated to the correct letter as you hit the keys.  Another innovation, in my field at least, was the telex machine with a keyboard similar to a typewriter rather than the original awkward keys which, when struck, punched holes in yellow telex tape as your hands moved across the keyboard.

Faxes were a painful experience as well back in the day.  Each sheet had to be inserted on the roller individually and then swirled around on the cylinder until read. Molasses moves at a faster pace.

Once I worked as a church secretary.  As I’ve said, I’ve covered the spectrum when it comes to employment, only omitting rocket scientist and lion tamer.  The church was Greek Orthodox, a religion I had little familiarity with when I accepted the position.  Having an artistic background as well as being a passable writer, they hired me on those merits without as much as one “oompa” passing my lips and a total unfamiliarity with the word tzatziki. Part of my job was to produce the weekly bulletin as well as a monthly newsletter.  Money usually a factor in the operation of a church office, they were decades behind in their equipment.  Midweek I was introduced to “Nicky”.  Nicky was the huge mimeograph machine monopolizing the majority of one of the back rooms.  Nicky was a dirty bugger, ink smears defacing his front and back.  Noisy as well, and most unforgiving for handlers having no idea how to make him purr like a kitten.  Fueled by ink, Nicky used a rotating drum to reproduce images. By the time I managed to print out the first bulletin it was difficult to tell which of us was which.  What a mess.  Great bulletin, however.

My first job requiring computer skills was in the late 1990′s.  I could key at about 100 wpm at the time, a plus for passing the typing test, but didn’t know the difference between portrait or landscape other than if hanging something on the wall.  Needing the job, I may have hinted I had some skills, a stretch of imagination even Pinocchio could boast about.  On the job I found myself seated in front of a MAC armed with nothing but a smile and a glib tongue to get me through the day.  Over the next month, I used my key to get into the office around 4:00 a.m. and literally taught myself how to use the darn thing in those stolen hours before the other employees arrived for work.  Once you get the foundation, building on it comes much easier. At least that’s what my algebra teacher always drilled in me in college but my foundation is still wobbly and don’t ask me to multiply a binomial.  Really, don’t.  I can’t even successfully balance my checkbook.  The shortest job I ever had was teller in a bank.  I lasted until lunch when for the good of the institution and my reputation, I extended my resignation.

Even though summer is still here, in our world it feels a bit early fallish. Soooooooooo, here’s my offering for the day. Hope you like it!

As I look back, we certainly have come a long way Baby.  It’s happened at such a steady grade it’s almost inconceivable to comprehend how far we have come.

BTW the grapes in the picture are cotton candy grapes.  Interesting.  My other half doesn’t like them.  He’s old school when it comes to this sort of thing.  Says if he buys a schnauzer he doesn’t want to come home with a pit bull.  I thought they were fun.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
2 Tbsp. butter
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup water
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. bail
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
3 cups fresh or frozen broccoli
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Garnish with lemon slices and bacon crumbles

Steam broccoli and drain well. Chop 1 1/2 cups coarsely, leaving the rest whole. Squeeze 1/2 lemon over top. Set aside.

Cook bacon. Drain on paper towels. Crumble.

Melt butter in stock pot or Dutch oven add carrots, celery and onions and sweat for about 5 mins. until onions are translucent. Add garlic and cook 1-2 mins. until fragrant.

Add broth, salt, white pepper, black pepper, basil cayenne pepper, and parsley. Bring to simmer. Add broccoli to pot and reduce heat to med-low. Simmer for 10 mins.

Whisk in heavy cream. Do not bring to boil. Add cheese and continue cooking on simmer until cheese is melted. Add 1/2 of the bacon to soup, reserving remainder for garnish.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

My mother is selling her bed. It’s an adjustable bed with a massage setting. Since her husband passed away the huge expanse of mattress is too much for one small individual so she wants to downsize to a full. I ran an ad for her on-line. During my last visit I took pictures of both the bed and the controls. Being the one who usually handles these things, I listed my cell phone as a reference number. As these beds are really pricey if purchased new, we got a huge response from the ad.  I now have ten people on the waiting list and my voice mail keeps filling up. I removed the ad after the fifth call figuring one of the five would take it, but people who jotted down the number when it was first published are still following up.  The last call in was from a gentleman who spoke very little English.  I explained slowly there were people in front of him waiting to see the bed but he kept yelling excitedly, “I come now!”.  Sigh.  Finally, cremating my first batch of caramelized onions trying to explain, I said I was sorry but I had to hang up. Normally I’m not a rude person, or try not to be. This reminded me of people who would call the house when my children were little.  Our housekeeper, Carmen, hailed from Guatemala and spoke little English.  “Hello, thank you, and our names”, were all I ever heard her actually say in English.  Secretly, I believed she understood far more and probably spoke much more, but this was her repertoire when we were present.

My mother is not, nor never will be a linguist.  Besides bastardizing Spanish beyond recognition, no matter how many times I explained to her Carmen did not understand a word she was saying in English no matter what speed she chose to say it, Mother would continue to speak ever so slowly into the phone if Carmen answered leaving a detailed message. Always the message was passed on to me as “Su madre llamó por teléfono“, or loosely translated, “your mother called”.

Every Friday night we drove Carmen to the bus station. Saturday and Sunday’s were spent with her son and his family in L.A. I used to admire the bravery this took on her part with no command of the language, but somehow she and her little duffel bag with the bright pink and yellow flowers returned to us in tact every Sunday night for three years.  At first it was odd having someone else living in our house, more so for the fact we couldn’t communicate.  I found my high school Spanish sadly lacking, as “Yo voy a la biblioteca”, or “I am going to the library”, really had little impact when I was trying to explain how the burners on the stove worked.

Once we climbed the first hurdle, communication, cohabiting came much easier.  It was interesting to learn about her life in Guatemala, certainly not an easy one, and her escape with her young son to the States.  From what I could glean her husband was in the military police.  Not a man of much humor, it seemed, and prone to spending many hours at the local “barra”.  Spurned on by cerveza, he often came home and took his frustrations out on his wife and child. Carmen explained there were holes for windows in her small house but no glass. Floors were raked dirt with small rugs thrown on top.  Clothing was washed out in a large metal tub and hung on a makeshift line to dry. With no way to keep them out, flies would buzz around her head while she cooked over the small stove.  Flies or not, she was an excellent cook.  Beans, or a pot of bits of this and bits of that which would become beans, were always cooking on the back burner in our house.  My daughter remembers them fondly.  Homemade tortillas were created on a small round grill, the best I’ve ever eaten.

Often she would try what I cooked.  It was fun to watch her face as new flavors were introduced to her taste buds, sometimes well received, other times not so much.  Her cooking was far afield from what you might find in a Mexican restaurant here.  Black beans,  not pintos and a delicious savory rice with vegetables.  Yum.  One she asked me if I could get yucca.  Didn’t think so, as I believe harvesting yucca in California is illegal.  In fact, I know from first hand experience, it is.  When in high school my friends and I “harvested” one from a state park.  The only way we could fit it in the back seat of my VW bug was to hang part of it out the window.  Exiting the park we were pulled over and our contraband confiscated by a park ranger.  In my defense, I did not know taking a yucca was an offense, and fortunately this guy was on his third cup of coffee and didn’t fine me.  My track record with my parents for serious offenses was already teetering on the brink.

Often I wonder where Carmen is now and hope she’s doing well.  During her stay with us I learned to appreciate how fortunate we are to live where we do and to try different foods cooked in different ways and not always settle for what is familiar. I find it interesting to explore new foods and new people.  Since meeting my other half, I’ve definitely expanded my food choices.  Being from Egypt, he definitely has different ideas about food preparation and ingredients than this Canadian.

Anyhow, I’ll leave you with this totally “white bread”, as he calls it, dish.  It is full of cheese and gooey potatoes and terrible for your waist line.  I even eat these the next day for breakfast.  Cya soon.

Bleu Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes

3 large russet potatoes, scrubbed and sliced very thin
2 onions sliced very thin
2 cups half and half
1/8 tsp. prepared mustard
1 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup asiago cheese, grated
Paprika

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over med.-high heat. Add sliced onions and cook about 5-6 mins. until beginning to brown. Reduce heat and continue cooking 12 mins. until lovely golden brown color. Set aside.

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Whisk together half and half and dry mustard.

Place sliced potatoes in bottom of deep saucepan. Pour half and half over the top. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

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Spray 2 quart shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Place 1/3 of the potatoes on the bottom of the pan using slotted spoon. Reserve half and half in pan. Top potatoes with 1/2 of the caramelized onions. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the bleu cheese and 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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Add another layer of 1/3 potatoes, 1/3 onions, and 1/3 bleu and mozzarella cheeses. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with last layer of potatoes and finally last 1/3 of bleu and mozzarella cheeses. Pour reserved half and half over all. Top with asiago cheese. Sprinkle lightly with paprika. Cover with tin foil.

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