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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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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 powder

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

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Stick a fork in me, I’m done. One who prides herself on seamlessly multi-tasking, even I couldn’t make this week wrinkle-free. I traveled from one activity to another like a frog hopping along a path of lily pads trying to reach the safety of the bank. “Rivet.” Where are the weeks going? Santa is out there shaking his naughty or nice finger at me and I haven’t added so much as a notch on my credit card balance to acknowledge his arrival. Ach.

I’m using my creative side for the holidays in 2013, like I have in Christmas’s long past. My sewing machine is sitting at the ready on the work table with piles of fabric in a bag next to it on the floor. There is no possible way my face will show up on any in-store security camera on Black Friday this year or any other year. One time I was coerced by a friend to go with her while living in Boston. Filene’s basement at the best of times was a zoo, but on the day after thThanksgiving you’re lucky to make it out of the store with all body parts in tact. Insanity prevails, with pushing, shoving, swearing and shoplifting all occurring concurrently in the same confined space. Activities all geared to make you want to sing, “Tra, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la”. Trying to make the best of it, I held up a scarf I was admiring to get a better look at it. A lady with bright crimson hair and what appeared to be an entire of tube of red lipstick slathered across her lips walked up to me. Without a word, she whisked the scarf from my hands. Raising one well-defined raised eyebrow she shot me a look I took to mean if I had any issues with this behavior I could take it up with my undertaker. Turning, she flounced off amidst a noxious cloud of Charlie perfume undoubtedly also lifted another part of the store. One last look to ensure a clean escape, she tucked my scarf in her massive bag I’m sure with other items already purchased at a five finger discount. Who am I to argue with success? Besides she looked like she could take me.

I have to admit it creates an atmosphere not unlike a feeding frenzy with people grabbing items they don’t need, or really want, then arguing about who saw it first. From what I understand Filene’s has since closed their doors. Looking back I’m glad I got to add it to my many memorable Boston experiences. The store also hosted an annual “running of the brides”. The bulls at Pamploma pale in comparison to a thousand plus bride to be’s stampeding through the store in search of the perfect designer dress at a drastically reduced price. Sales clerks took their lives in their hands working a shift that day.

The carrot my friend used to get me to accompany her was ice skating at the Frog Pond at the Boston Commons after Filene’s, followed by frog-pond-skatinglunch at the English Tea Room on Newberry Street. Yum. I would even have put up with the rampaging brides if she’d thrown in a dish of spicy Indian Pudding from Durgin Park. If I close my eyes I can still smell the delicious aroma of that pudding.

Truth be known, I’m less than a gifted ice skater. Canadians are supposed to take to skates like ducks to water, but somehow my ankles never got that memo. Most of my time on ice was spent actually on ice. Amazingly I sacrificed no bones in the making of those memories, and other than frostbite came out of the whole experience no worse for wear.

My daughter and her family are heading out to Phoenix on Wednesday night for Thanksgiving with my oldest granddaughter, also their oldest. It worries me to think of them flying. Stories are floating about of pilots inadvertently landing at the wrong airports, passengers losing their sanity mid-flight and announcing a bomb on board, escape chutes inflating inside the cabin, and even on one flight a pilot not realizing the P.A. could be heard in the cabin alarmingly announced “we’re going down”. Passengers began leaving last messages for their loved ones and praying when he realized the switch was in the on position and apologized saying he simply meant they were dropping to a lower level to avoid turbulence. Good Lord. I bet the bathroom line was lengthy after that.

It was also alarming to hear about two pilots on the chubby side who actually went to sleep at the wheel, so to speak, and nearly missed the landing. It seems due to their weight they suffer from sleep apnea and hadn’t been sleeping well. In flight is possibly not the ideal time to catch up, but that’s my opinion. Also airlines are toying with the idea of allowing passengers to use their cell phones during flights. That’s the nail in the coffin for me. In restaurants people talk on the phone, in movies people text…..big sigh.

Over the years I’ve prepared turkey dinner for thirty plus, and this year for two plus one cat. One year I decided to cook dinner on the lower level of our last house which we’d converted to a pool room, both for shooting pool as well as use after swimming in the above ground pool on that level. It was originally tagged for a mother-in-law I think, but as the owners prior to us divorced, it remained unfinished at the time we purchased the house. Built on the side of a steep hill there were two accesses to the lower level, a steep cement ramp to one side or out the sliding glass door on the second floor patio and down a spiral exterior staircase. Neither were optimum for serving guests. There was a smaller kitchen on that level and lots of open room. I set up tables, chairs, a TV for those so inspired, and decorated for the occasion. Not having enough matching plates for thirty, and not a fan of paper plates for special occasions, I purchased six sets of inexpensive dinnerware which would work perfectly.

Unloading the dishes at the house I realized I had to get them to the third floor. Still boxed I decided to stack the boxes on the dolly and take them down the ramp. No flies on me. I’m not blond for nothing, you know. Three boxes loaded, I weighed whether to let them go down before me or pull them down after. I decided after was the ticket. I know. This really confirms all rumors about being dropped on my head before my first birthday.

Slowly I inched down the first third of the steep hill the dolly behind me. Getting heavier it began to push on my arms and pretty soon it pulled over to the left and passed me completely. Oh-oh. Once in front of me I was turned around digging in my heels and the dolly picked up speed. At about the two-thirds point I lost control of it completely and unpiloted it flew down to the end of the ramp, over the ledge and on down the hill onto the empty lot below. By the time I reached the boxes I was sure there were nothing but pieces left to unpack. Not one broke.

In the end it was the most exhausting Thanksgiving I ever lived through. Every time I sat down somebody needed something on the first floor. Only Thanksgiving I actually lost weight after the meal.

This is the best sauce ever! I use it as a base for my peppercorn sauce as well.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed

Steak de Burgo with Mushrooms

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper
Garlic salt
2 4 oz. filet mignons, trimmed

Mushroom Sauce

1 pkg. sliced mushrooms (1 cup)
2 large cloves garlic, minced
14 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup vermouth
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp. parsley, chopped

Heat oil and butter in saute pan over med.-high heat until butter is melted and beginning to froth. Season steaks well with salt, pepper, and garlic pan. Add to pan and sear on both sides (about 2 mins. per side for rare). Remove from pan and tent.

Add mushrooms to pan. Saute 3-5 mins. until nicely browned. Add garlic, basil, oregano, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. black pepper to pan. Cook 1 minute.

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Whisk together vermouth and cream. Whisk into pan. Reduce by one half.

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Add filets with juices on plate. Heat through. Serve with sauce and garnish with parsley.

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1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decadent Cheesy Bread

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

Preheat oven to broil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheesy Baked Spaghetti

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

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Going to a restaurant where the food, ambiance, staff and location are over the top creates a memorable experience. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of eating at some excellent restaurants. When you find one satisfying most of the above mentioned criteria it is a gift.  There are always those free thinkers among the restaurant set who color totally outside the lines. Recently I read in China they have a _42237888_ap_toilet_416creditrestaurant themed entirely around toilets. I have to admit this might put me off my food. I do not want my chocolate mousse served in a porcelain bowl. Just do not. It is my understanding dishes are titled in keeping with the potty theme making the experience, if possible, even more revolting. People are literally flocking to fill the seats (lid’s down, naturally), so obviously its number 1 on some foodie’s lists. I wonder if you can order “to go”?

Themed restaurants can be fun.  Back in the early 80’s my family and I used to frequent a Bay Area restaurant, Bobby McGee’s, where the servers not only dressed in character, but adopted the persona of the character they were playing while waiting on your table. Mostly college kids, hired for their acting skills or comedic talents, it made dining there a bit more fun, and having your entrée delivered by Elvis or Zorro the Gay Blade provided a much-needed distraction from their run of the mill family style food. However, if you were looking for a romantic or quiet meal out, this was not the place for you. Well, not totally accurate, I did see Prince Charming propose to an unsuspecting Cinderella during dessert there once.

In the late 70’s there was a restaurant in Orange County called Baxter’s Street. Over and above their excellent menu, the price of a meal in the Louisiana style motiff entitled you to enjoy a dinner show which I would have paid to see if there hadn’t been a plate of mouth-watering scampi thrown in.

Around the same time I attended a luau at a Polynesian restaurant in Southern California.  Roasted pig and poi were presented in a get to know your neighbor, family style seating arrangement. Served el fresco, a huge stage replete with a smoking volcano dominated the outside eating area. Colorful drinks accessorized with umbrellas and tropical fruits littered the tables and nubile young men and women swayed in grass skirts moving to Hawaiian music.  If you could still get to your feet after a well-loaded Zombie or Mai Tai, underground dancing in five different caves each featuring a different type of music was the place to be.

In the 90’s I received an invitation to a “Great Gatsby Party”. The venue was a party boat launching out of a San Francisco marina. Besides a great band, and a menu featuring cracked crab and crusty San Francisco sourdough bread, as well as oyster shots and calamari for the more adventurous partygoers, a night cruise on the beautiful San Francisco Bay was included.  Had our hosts ordered the weather right along with the appetizers, they couldn’t have made a more perfect choice. Overhead a harvest moon cast a golden glow across unusually calm waters. Alcatraz stood in the center of the Bay. Beyond the shadowed structures inhabited now only by ghosts and memories, the impressive spans of the Golden Gate Bridge. Truly a postcard of an evening. A cool breeze replaced the usual body numbing wind often present in October on the water, allowing guests to linger on deck rather than seek shelter inside.  I was Myrtle that night, in my splashy red dress and matching glitzy headband. Champagne flowed from the mouth of a an ice sculpture fish, the focal point of the main table, and a cigarette glowed at the end of my elaborate pearlized holder.  It was the 30’s, after all, over indulgence and decadence took precedence over good sense and moderation.

Another time I joined several friends in unraveling a murder mystery over a fabulous four-course dinner in San Francisco.  This was really fun. Each course, all delicious, paired with the perfect wine. All the while, the diners interacted with the actors on the stage in a corny, but entertaining search when_photofor the killer in our midst. It was the upstairs maid.  I knew it all the time.

Beach Blanket Babylon is another fun thing to see when visiting the city by the bay.  Outrageous headpieces being the main attraction at this show, from a huge ritz cracker perched atop a man singing “Putting on the Ritz” to a fully lit landscape of the city balanced precariously atop the head of another outrageous performer.

joustingFor my birthday when living in Southern California I was treated to dinner and jousting at Medieval Times. Knights and wenches drank ale, gnawed on turkey legs, and mounted armored steeds to do battle in the arena.  It was actually quite fun, and certainly not the average dinner out with the kids.

There was a restaurant I often went to when my children were small, long gone now, with a Polynesian theme. They had the single best shrimp puffs I’ve ever eaten. The interior fascinated me.  Aside from the palm trees, occasional bursts of tropical rain in the artificial rain forest, and boats scattered here and there it was a sea of fish, if you will.  Beautiful fish tanks were everywhere, filled with vibrantly colored saltwater fish and swaying greenery.  Treasure chests opened and closed and diminutive divers released bubbles of air from the bottom of the tank. The bar was one long tank. While sipping a Blue Hawaii or Tequila Sunrise, fish floated by beneath your hands sometimes stopping to suck at the surface for air bubbles.  As little as they were, my children still remember going there in much detail.1499666683_521cf28dcf_z

If left to my own devices, I would have made our restaurant a monastery. The menu would have been fun, monk fish, for example,  comes to mind, or Soul Dore.  Servers in cowl hooded gowns, waists cinched with rope. Another good idea that never made it out of the can (so to speak).  Ah well.

These green beans were really yummy.  I bought huge grapes at the store and they just begged to be thrown in so I did and the result was delicious.

2Green Beans with Sautéed Mushrooms and Grapes

1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
garlic salt
2 Tbsp. butter
1 pkg. thick sliced mushrooms (1/2 lb.)
4 green onions, sliced thin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Noir)
1/8 cup soy sauce
10 large green seedless grapes halved
1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce
salt and pepper

Place trimmed beans in large deep skillet. Cover with water sprinkled with garlic salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and continue to cook 15-20 mins. until beans are fork tender. Drain.

In separate skillet, melt butter. Add mushrooms, green onions, pepper, wine, and 1/8 cup soy sauce to pan. Bring to boil over med.-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 8 mins., stirring frequently. Add grapes. Increase heat to med-low. Cook another 8 mins. until grapes are lightly browned and tender. Pour mixture over drained green beans. Add 1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serves 4

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