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final

It is nice to be writing my blog this morning. The first blog of a brand new year. A year laid out before like a clean sheet of paper before a writer waiting to add his first word to his story.

A good deal of my time over the holiday season was devoted to getting my mother ready to relocate. Shopping took the back burner to more pressing issues, making the holidays truly about family and friends and not about what was under the tree. I have to say it was rather freeing not spending hours searching for just the right gift. A gift which most likely would find itself on top a pile of other unwanted items in the return bin at the store the day after Christmas. Though not Catholic, I have to get on board with the Pope when he said Christmas is being held hostage by materialism. Certainly the true meaning of the day has been lost somewhere among reams of wrapping paper and blinking lights as the years have passed.

Once the Christmas decorations are back in their boxes we quickly lay siege to the next holiday on the calendar, New Year’s. I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve parties to be honest. Not that I haven’t participated in them over the years, I have. More often in my misspent youth than as I’ve gotten older. Drinking is usually an integral part of such parties. Being of small frame it doesn’t take much alcohol for me to feel the effects that I’m quite sure many revelers were experiencing yesterday after a night of New Year’s Eve imbibing.

Years have gone by since I’ve had a hangover, yet I can remember it well. Once you’ve endured a really significant one, your mind doesn’t easily put the memory aside. The following morning life can seem substantially less sunny when viewed from the backside of bloodshot eyes. Nausea often leads to finding oneself assuming the position over a porcelain bowl either taking the pledge as you relieve the contents of your churning stomach or finding religion.  When you’re drinking champagne with all it’s bubbly goodness you’re not really reflecting on what the experience might be like should the golden deliciousness decide to come back in the opposite direction. Like many bad ideas, it may appear a stellar road to take at the time you are going down it. We humans are always looking for something to make our experience while on earth a little bit easier to bear I believe. A little something to enhance our situation, to dress the windows of our lives, if you will. Sometimes a little libation can help to temporarily ease the pain of a recent breakup, the loss of a loved one, or make you forget for the moment the stack of overdue bills waiting for you on the counter when you return home. Never will it provide a permanent fix for anything, most likely the opposite.

As usual I’ve digressed so far from the subject as to make it nearly invisible unless viewed under a microscope. I began this blog by speaking to helping my mother pack up and relocate. Years of accumulated “stuff” mounts up, making sorting through it and deciding what to keep and what to let go a most formidable job. Last week was my fourth trip down to the Bay Area in two months and will not be my last before the move is done. Mum is downsizing considerably. Many family treasures have been dispersed among family members for safe keeping. Boxes are stacked on walls in each room with directions to movers. I’m exhausted and find myself wondering if the move will actually ever happen without divine intervention. I have to say my mother is far more grown up than I might be about parting with much-loved items. “Here take this” is her most frequent response when I ask what to do with something. “Me”, says I? I can barely fit the cat and Rick and I in our house as we downsized to move to our new digs. I see a garage sale in my future even after the huge moving sale anticipated at the end of the month. Sigh. Anyone need twenty matching spatulas? Just give me a heads up.

For some reason the end to 2016 feels more like a relief than a celebration. Even the television stations seem to have given only a passing nod to the occasion. So many famous people laid to rest, political strangeness, and just a general unease about what’s around the next corner.

For us we ate manicotti and watched movies to welcome the incoming year. Life on the edge. Probably the most amazing thing about New Year’s Eve was I made it to midnight with Rick. Well, I made it in stages. I went to sleep before the witching hour, but was up again precisely at the stroke of midnight. Our neighbors commenced a half an hour display of rather impressive fireworks as 2017 made it’s entrance accompanied by a chorus from the neighborhood canines.

2017 is calling and we must answer. With so many changes in our world it should at the very least be interesting to watch as it unfolds.

In closing I would like to acknowledge the passing of two screen ladies I most admire. Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher have gone on to a higher stage and I for one will miss their attendance at roll call.

Here’s yet another manicotti recipe, but a good one. I’ve decided to forgo my New Year’s weigh in until next week after admitting to a second helping of the richly filled tubes.

Spinach Manicotti

1 8 oz. pkg. manicotti shells
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, cooked and drained well
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage, mild
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
3 cups tomato basil pasta sauce
3 cups ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. chicken bouillon granules
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups half and half
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta one-half the time indicated in box cooking directions. Place in cold water to stop cooking process. Drain and pat with paper towel.

Heat olive oil over med. heat in large skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add ground beef, sausage and basil Cook until browned and fully cooked. Add salt and pepper. Drain on paper towels. Return to pan and add tomato basil pasta sauce.

Mix together together ricotta cheese, parsley and cooked, drained spinach (cooled). Add eggs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Grease 9 x 13″ pan. Spread 1/4 cup sauce over bottom of prepared pan. Stuff each shell gently with ricotta cheese mixture. Layer in single layer in pan.

White Sauce

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in saucepan over med. heat. Whisk in flour and chicken bouillon. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 mins. until. Slowly add half and half. Bring to boil and continue cooking 1-2 mins. until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour oven manicotti. Ladle remaining tomato basil sauce over top. Cover. Bake for 50 mins. Remove cover and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 15 mins. longer. Allow to cool 5 mins. before serving.

Serves 4-6

final

I have been so bad about posting lately. This is to say I picture any one of you reading this have been seated in your recliners tapping your fingers thinking if Susie doesn’t post another blog soon I’m going to throw myself out the window. However, part of having a blog about cooking is actually filling it with colorful stories and interesting recipes on a regular basis. This past few months life simply keeps getting in the way. Recipes and stories keep piling up with no voice to move them off the shelf. Today is the day.

My daughter shared a funny story with me I thought I’d pass on. Over the weekend she and her best friend went to see the production of The Lion King currently on stage in San Francisco. Yesterday I got a phone call with an update of her experience including a critique of the show, what she wore, and the situations they got into while traveling to and from the city. San Francisco, from their location north of Sacramento, is 104 miles as the crow flies. On a weekend, or any day really, you have to factor in weather (it was raining), traffic (a given), and on this particular Saturday, Santa Con. Who knew?

After hearing her out I couldn’t help thinking the acorn doesn’t fall from the tree. She seems to have inherited my penchant for going directly from the frying pan into the fire. The story began with what she wore. As the description unfolded it appeared she was going for a look not unlike a colorful bird. The outfit began with a canary yellow dress with a feathery hem, topped by a cardinal red flowing jacket (I’m sensing a theme here), and to complete the ensemble a pair of over the knee peacock blue suede boots. So different are we when it comes to dress. Since my girl was small, clothes held a fascination for her her mother never shared. In first grade the child would scan her closet the night before a school day choosing a perfectly coordinated outfit for the following morning from hair band right down to shoes. Amazing. For me give me a pair of gloriously faded jeans molded to my contours over years of use and a wooly boyfriend sweater and I’m good to go. Perhaps the love of clothing skipped a generation, as her maternal grandmother has been a clotheshorse since she exited the womb. I believe she slid down the birth canal reading the latest copy of Vogue. Ideally Mother’s home should have an additional room to house the copious shoe boxes stacked ceiling to floor in her many closets.

The original plan had been to drive into the city and park in a parking garage close to the venue. The weather being weepy, my daughter’s friend who was doing the driving came up with Plan B. Plan B was to drive to Walnut Creek and take BART under the bay to their destination. My daughter in heels and with a bad shoulder was still voting for Plan A as they boarded the train. For those of you having ridden BART or any form of public transportation you know if you are left standing the only option is to cling to either a rope overhead or a pole if you are lucky enough to be standing next to one. On Saturday the train was jam packed with all manner of pumped up Santa’s, and holiday shoppers headed for a big spending day in the City. Hanging precariously to the end of the rope my daughter told her friend should her shoulder dislocate during the trip she would be responsible for manipulating it back into the socket. This news sinking in the friend announced to those nearby her friend had a bad shoulder. The news resulted in a lot of eyes of the people seated to begin surveying the floor or peering more closely at the devices in their hands. Believe me, for three years I commuted in the belly of Boston along the subway lines. Had you begun to deliver a baby on the floor of the train no one would have offered you a piece of newspaper to swaddle the baby in. A tough crowd those commuters. During many trips I was inappropriately rubbed up on, and I mean seriously inappropriately, had a man whisper sweet nothings in my ear, and had my pocket picked on several occasions. You learn to stand up for yourself fairly quickly and keep your possessions close if you find yourself hanging off a loop routinely. With all those occurrences happening not once did any gentlemen (and I use this term loosely here) ever say “here take my seat”. I believe if I’d tried they might have fought me for it.

I digress…..

They finally arrived at their stop in San Francisco arriving at the theater with only ten minutes to spare. No time for beverages or a pit stop they were ushered to their seats before curtain call which if missed means you also miss the first half of the show. The seats according to my girl were higher up in the theater allowing them only a view of the tops of the actors heads. Just before intermission, the two lattes she’d consumed prior to arriving at the BART station necessitated leaving before the act had ended. In the end she enjoyed the show and spending time with her best friend but didn’t have any immediate plans for getting on BART again.

To me all days provide an opportunity for adventure. It may not turn out exactly as originally planned but if there had been no Santa’s on the train would the story have been as colorful?

This dish is so flavorful and delicious and not difficult to pull together. I serve it in burritos, tacos, and even in taquitos. As pictured I served the meat in soft flour tacos with avocado, lime wedges, sour cream, and Mexican rice mixed with black beans and red onion. Yum and yum. Adjust the heat as desired by the number of chiles you toss in.

Crockpot Barbacoa

1/2 cup apple cider
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
4 Tbsp. lime juice
3 chipotle chiles in adobo
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 lb. chuck roast
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 cup chicken broth
3 bay leaves

In blender puree all ingredients up to chuck roast. Set aside. Trim roast and cut into large chunks (about 6-8). Heat oil over high heat. Brown meat on all sides.

Line bottom of 6 quart crockpot with onion. Top with browned meat. Spoon adobo sauce over meat. Pour in chicken broth and add bay leaves. Cook on low for 10-11 hours. Shred meat.

Serves 4-6

1

When I first moved to this area four years ago I signed up to lend a hand at the local animal shelter. Meeting the staff in person, the manager suggested since I was small in stature I might do better handling the cats than walking the dogs as was the original plan. After seeing some of the huge heads and large paws protruding from the dog cages, I breathed a sigh of relief to find myself tasked with the kitties. For two years I came once a week to clean litter boxes (not my favorite), wash pet food dishes, and generally lend support to the often frightened but mostly sweet furry residents at the shelter.

There were always those animals, not unlike humans, who preferred their own company and didn’t want a helping hand, or paw as the case may be. During my first weeks there I was instructed to watch the behavior of each animal I was dealing with. Cats will give “tells” when they are provoked or upset such as low growling sounds or hair raised along their necks and spines. Since nature saw fit to equip felines with claws for protection and teeth for chewing or to defend themselves, it was better to be out of the line of fire when either tool was about to be put into play. Stories told during my stay there, several volunteers had spent uncomfortable afternoons at the local ER having the result of not paying attention to their charges being sewn up by the doctor on call.

Unfortunately, during my two years there I was witness to the darker side of human behavior. One group of six very frightened puddy cats came to the shelter as a result of their owner tiring of taking care of them and deciding to end their collaboration by using the animals for target practice. Nine animals were on site when the man began his rampage, only six traumatized and injured animals were left by the time the police arrived on the scene. One guy, “ol’ one eye” lost an eye in the process. What a gentle animal. In spite of the abuse suffered on him by his owner, each Wednesday morning he was there at the front of his cage leaning his large black head in for a friendly pat. Always he submitted without argument to being removed to a holding cage to allow me to clean his bedding and clean and refill his dishes and cat litter box. What a sweet boy he was. Was it not for the fact that part of the roommate agreement with Boo, the Queen of Cats, was that she be the only resident other than Rick and I with fur and a tail, I would have adopted the one-eyed cat and made him part of our family. Luckily someone else found him as irresistible as I did and one Wednesday I arrived to find a new face peering out of his cage.

Many animal shelters are offering deals on pet adoption over the holidays. We got Boo from a shelter originally and couldn’t have asked for a better companion over the past ten years. Once we made it through the first few weeks of getting acquainted and she picked up on what I would and would not smile about as far as behavior, we have been the best of friends. I highly recommend adopting a lost and lonely animal and giving them a forever home. Being in the shelters is better than being on the street, but in spite of all efforts by employees in these animal rescues it can never replace having their own homes and families to give them the attention they deserve.

After the lights are repacked in the boxes marked “xmas” remember that you have taken an animal into your home not a toy that can be set on a shelf. Animals need attention, vet visits, food, and walking in the case of dogs (and some cats). I dated a man in the 80’s who was an engineer. Divorced, he had maintained custody of a lovely home in San Fernando valley. As lovely as the interior was, the backyard looked like no one had mowed the lawn since Roosevelt had taken office. I visited the house once for a holiday party. People milling inside, I stepped out back to get some air. Bright moonlight highlighted the tall grass-covering most of the yard. Rustling towards the back along the grass line alerted me perhaps I was not alone. Like the wave of a magician’s wand, a small furry face appeared above the grass, disappearing as quickly as it had come. Hmmmm. Over and over again this happened as the little white face moved closer to where I was standing. Out of the maze emerged a tiny white dog with burrs in his fur. So glad was he to see a human face he showed his appreciation by relieving himself on my shoes. His excitement was both comical and profoundly sad at the same time. It was obvious he got little to no attention of any kind.

Filling his water dish I stayed with him for quite a while, reluctantly having to finally abandon the little guy in the backyard and rejoin the party. Getting my date alone, I inquired about the dog. The ex-wife had left it, he told me. Not a dog fancier, he fed him daily but didn’t have the time or the inclination to give him much attention. After that conversation I decided I didn’t have time to give the engineer any further attention either. End of date, end of relationship. Before making an exit as it was obvious the man didn’t want the animal, I asked if it would it be all right if I tried to find the dog a home. Enthusiastically he agreed. After several weeks of selling people I knew on “Max”, a co-worker picked up the excited terrier and took him home to his new family. After a trip to the groomers the next time I was to see Max the transformation would have made Henry Higgins proud.

There are a lot of “tells” to be found in how people treat their pets. I didn’t want to find myself out in the backyard jumping up above the grass for a pat on my head.

Baked Ziti

1 lb. ground chuck
1/2 lb. Italian sausage (bulk, mild)
1 onion chopped
1/2 large green pepper chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
8 oz. ziti, cooked according to package directions
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

In large saucepan cook ground chuck, sausage, onion, green pepper and garlic until meat is cooked. Drain on plate covered with paper towels. Return to pan and add tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, water, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir well and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes.

Cook ziti according to package directions. Drain well and add to meat sauce along with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Stir to mix well. Pour into casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Top with remaining mozzarella cheese and sprinkle with parmesan.

Bake for 35 mins. or until bubbly.

Serves 6

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Had to have an MRI this week for a neck injury I’ve been dealing with. Apparently getting on the rowing machine at the gym before I got my shape in shape wasn’t a stellar idea. Would have been nice if someone actually employed by the gym had brought this to my attention. Guess they were too busy walking around looking perfect to think of mentioning it. Funny, I would have thought many of the other machines of torture would have taken me down before rowing. Perhaps it’s because of all of the miserable contraptions available at my local gym I found rowing the most comforting and did it more often. There you go. Exercise can be bad for you. Secretly I’ve always believed this to be true.

With all the advances made in technology over the past few decades you’d think someone would have come up with an MRI technique that does not sound like you’re standing next to a jet preparing for take off. First they put your head in a vice. Next they push you inside a tube. Once you are in there, for twenty minutes they bombard your senses with a variety of noises equal to or at times surpassing a jack hammer tearing at a block of cement. Before I went in they asked me if I was claustrophobic. I pointed to the “x” I’d placed next to yes to that question on the form I’d filled out. Satisfied with my answer, I disappeared into the great abyss with the question remaining on my mind, “why did they ask me that in the first place, if I still find myself in here?”. Picture yourself as a bullet being chambered, then pull the trigger and you can virtually experience this with me as I write.

I did not open my eyes. Should you have to have this procedure and suffer from any form of claustrophobia or panic attacks might I encourage you take them up on the offer of a Valium prior to the procedure or at the very least accept the sleep mask when suggested. Being of a “tough it out” nature myself, both ideas were something I regretted passing on about half way through the imaging. When feeling a bit panicky, I revisited my trip to Paris with Rick in 2002. For ten minutes we strolled through the glorious gardens near Rick’s mother’s home inhaling the intoxicating mingling of aromas from the prolific flowers planted everywhere  you rested your eyes. Done with my walk in the park, I revisited Versailles recalling clearly in my mind’s eye the huge expanse of grass and water leading up towards the ornate castle resting atop the hill. Leaving France regretfully, I then sat alone on a deserted beach. Digging my toes into the damp sand the soft rush of waves washing close to my feet brought calm and peace to my tortured mind. Overhead gulls circled calling loudly to one another as they searched for a meal. Salt air and rotting seaweed smells filled my nostrils. Lovely how the mind can take you on a journey you’ve taken before with so little effort and no long lines or endless plane rides. Abruptly the session along with the incessant banging ended and I was ejected like a clown shooting out of a circus cannon back into the real world.

Rick, bless his heart, got up with the chickens to go with me to my very early appointment. Being a creature of the night, he finds the early morning  hours a brutal place to spend any amount of time in with your eyes open. I left him in the waiting room while I took my test and returned to find him doing a jigsaw puzzle with another man waiting for somebody or other. We couldn’t leave until Rick finished the tail on the cat. Really? Standing up he nearly collapsed on the floor. Seated in an awkward position for a half an hour his legs had decided to take a siesta and were as useless as a wooden spoon at a bonfire. Again we sat, and Rick completed the body of the cat before we got up and went out the door. Another challenge met and answered. Life is good.

To continue along the hospital vein (sorry for the pun), I got news from my prescription coverage my inhaler was now going to cost me $164.00 a month after the insurance company’s contribution. Good Lord. If my asthma wasn’t already in place that would be enough to keep me from taking a breath. I asked if there was an equitable substitution that was less money. The women I was speaking to suggested I get a recommendation from my doctor. Being obedient, I placed a call to my primary care doctor. While on the phone with her she informed me she is retiring at sixty-two. Frustrated with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession in general she feels she can no longer provide needed health care for her patients. Hello? Wishing her well I asked if she might have a solution to my inhaler situation. She suggested I call my insurance company and ask them for a suitable replacement. Thank you for that sageiant advice. Sigh.

My days, to say least are always interesting. It’s not that I’m doing anything wildly interesting in particular, but whatever I’m doing always seem to take on a life of its own. Perhaps its the writer in me that I tend to observe all the nuances of my day, but somehow I find something to write about as evident by this blog several times a week. You’re probably shaking your heads and thinking, “Susie this really is not that interesting.” Thanks anyway for continuing to show up and sign on. Writing and cooking are my passions so it is nice to have a venue to share them with other people with like passions or interests.

Before we owned the restaurant I worked for a newspaper. During the three years I worked there my job was not writing. Ironically, however, when in the restaurant business I wrote a weekly column in the same newspaper with recipes and stories that continued on three years after I no longer worked in the office. I guess I’ll always write. If you’re reading this I’m glad to see you here. Thanks for continuing to show up and sign on as I meander about this and that. I hope you enjoy the recipes I post. For me being in the kitchen is therapy for my soul.

I love pears. Bags have them are disappearing from our fruit bowl as we get deeper into fall. This salad so beautiful on the table is refreshingly delicious.

Pear and Golden Beet Salad with Pear Vinaigrette

Spring mix
2 pears, halved and sliced thin
2 golden beets, cooked and sliced
3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
4 large mushrooms, sliced thin
Red onion
Goat cheese (optional)
Candied pecans

Beginning with your greens plate salad attractively. Serve with vinaigrette.

Serves 4

For the Beets

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash beets well. Trim off ends. Wrap loosely in tin foil. Place on cookie sheet and bake until tender, about 60 mins. Allow to cool slightly and use knife to remove skin. Slice and serve.

For the candied pecans

1 3/4 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
salt (to taste)
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
1 tsp garlic powder

To caramelize pecans:

Melt butter in non-stick skillet. Add sugar, pecans, cayenne, and garlic powder. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, on med-low until sugar begins to melt and stick to bottom of the pan (4-5 mins).

Lower heat to low and continue stirring constantly until sugar liquifies and pecans are fully coated – 3-4 mins.

Remove immediately from heat and spread on foil lined cookie sheet to cool. Sprinkle with salt as desired.

Pear Vinaigrette

1 large ripe pear, peeled and cored and cut in chunks
Juice of one small lemon
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup pear vinegar
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place pear and lemon juice in blender and puree until smooth. Add sugar, salt and pepper. Add vinegar and blend well. With the blender running, drizzle in the oils until you have a nice, thick well blended dressing.

Shake well before using.

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Boy this election really blindsided me. Normally I steer clear of highly controversial subjects such as politics but this was such an unusual event with such an unlikely conclusion I feel I have to speak to it. To me it’s similar to the sensation you get when you take a big spoonful of what you believe to be mashed potatoes only to find out it is creamed horseradish. I use this particular analogy because I did this at a holiday party once leaving me both with a bad taste in my mouth and the urge to drink and drink. Same feelings today.

I live in California. By our overwhelming endorsement of one candidate over the other it is obvious where many in the state, including myself, stood on the issue of who was to sit in the oval office. People were calling and texting me struggling, like trying to find my footing atop a bowlful of Jello. People obviously want change, I only hope this in the end they find this to be the change they want.

Good news, however, California has legalized marijuana. Those of us left feeling at loose ends now have a legal solution to the problem. There are a lot of growers up in our area as is common in many less populated mountain communities. Logically it is the ideal place to plant a crop, as there is less exposure and a lower percentage of law enforcement personnel. Where Rick goes to the dentist is back in the hills. The office happens to be the only one offering a particular specialist he needs for his dental problems. Driving through the area the smell of pot is sooooo prevalent by the time we pull into a parking spot at the dentist’s office I’m craving a stuffed crust pizza. I have no issues with this particular. As it happens I’m weird enough without the help of a controlled substance so don’t use it. However, much like alcohol, people are using it legal or not so the state might as well generate revenue from its sale. I do hope they’ll figure out how to iron out the regulation wrinkles so we don’t struggle like Colorado dealing with how to manage impaired drivers and generally keep on top of it. Also, I hope they target our school system with the revenue gained. I watched a man on the street interview of college students the other night and it was truly frightening how little they knew about our government or even what the capital of the state they live in might be.

The reality is, I am afraid, other than moving to Canada (Really not a viable option. Shhhh, they don’t want us.), democracy is still the name of the game here in the U.S. so we move on with what we have voted for. I hope for all our sakes Donald John Trump turns out to be good for our country, but that remains to be written as it doe with any newly elected official.

When I am in a wad about something you’ll usually find me in the kitchen throwing flour and eggs together. Cooking helps me to sort my mind and feel relaxed. I’ve been attempting to add some meditation to my daily schedule but have found completely clearing my mind a more difficult task then those who know me might have anticipated.

I can tell I’m feeling a bit wobbly about the world as my mind, preoccupied with bigger issues, wouldn’t allow me to pull breakfast together this morning. Not that it was a difficult task. Open package of instant oatmeal, add water, push “2” on the microwave and stir. Doesn’t take a brain trust to get this accomplished.  While my oatmeal was transforming I went downstairs to feed the cat circling my feet. Returning to the kitchen I opened the microwave to find a hot coffee cup sitting there. Now it’s not odd to find a hot coffee cup in the microwave. Many times I reheat my coffee just that way during the day. However, it is helpful if you actually have poured coffee inside, and the larger question, where was my oatmeal? I opened the refrigerator, but found nothing there other than what you might expect. Hmmmmm. After searching every cupboard I located my bowl of water and uncooked oats in the cupboard next to the coffee. Even the drug dogs wouldn’t have found it there with the grounds masking the aroma. What a clever girl.

I have a busy day ahead of me. Lately I rarely find myself twiddling my fingers looking for something to do. On my to do list is baking some cookies to appease Rick’s sweet tooth and running errands. Is is just me or have you noticed that every time you think you’re caught up when it comes to groceries you find you are out of the one thing you really need to complete a recipe? Happens to me all the time. Today its fresh spinach I’m missing. Unless I can grow a hearty crop by mid-morning it’s going to mean getting in the car and going to where they have a steady supply, namely Raley’s.

Lately I’ve been availing myself of all the coupons showing up in the newspaper or on-line for groceries. Rarely do you find a coupon for the produce department but since I cook a lot if it’s something I use anyway why not cash in on a little savings here and there?

As the holiday season approaches everywhere you go there are extra donations open to you for helping others perhaps having a hard time. I do my best to keep up with them but if I gave to every one there might end up being one with my name on it by the time I reached Christmas.

Ebay and Craigs List are contributing to our Christmas this year. I keep gently used items I don’t use, or new items I don’t want, flowing through my sites on both on a steady basis. Very helpful when it comes to bringing in extra cash. Also, I purposely make change even if I have it in my wallet and deposit it in a large glass container on my window sill. Every two months that pulls in well over a hundred dollars which goes in our vacation fund. Sort of a self-imposed savings fund.

At any rate, whether this election turned out the way you wanted to or left you disappointed, or perhaps you have just realized Christmas is just around the corner and you haven’t even bought a candy cane, this potato dish will help make your day a little bit better.

Fingerling, Brussels Sprouts. and Sweet Potato Bake

1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes, cut in half
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp. crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 13″ x 9″ casserole dish with cooking spray.

Place potatoes and Brussels sprouts in microwave save dish. Cover cook on high for 4 mins. Combine remaining ingredients. Pour over vegetables and toss well.

Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 1 hr. turning and stirring every 15 mins.

Serves 4

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finalCurrently I am engaged in fighting an uphill battle with the leaves in my yard. They are one of the downsides to living among the gorgeous trees prolific in our area. In autumn dry leaves blanket the ground, stop up the gutters, litter the roofs and decorate the vehicles if parked outside. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy walking along the road hearing them crunch beneath my boots. However, when they gang up on me I pick up my rake and prepare to do battle.

The backyard simply goes to mulch. I got an estimate once on what it would cost to clear it. Several times I caught the man giving me the estimate glancing at me as if to say “You want me to clear all the leaves?”. What? After handing me a quote of nearly $1,000, he suggested it might be better simply to let nature take its course and allow the downed leaves to remain where they fall. For $1,000 I’ll let them stay there and serve them dinner.,

Rick finds it amusing, so he tells it, to watch me outside with my weapons of choice, a rake and blower, cleaning up one huge pile of leaves as more fall all around me.

I am by nature a neat person. I prefer things to be in order and tidy. Working in a chaotic environment, say the kitchen, for me leads to experiments gone bad and take-out bags in my trash can. My grandmother began my habit of cleaning up as I go I think. Her kitchen, though well used, was never a disaster. A place for everything and everything in its place.

Nature does not conform to such rules, instead adhering to its own way of doing things. Thus, no matter how many times I fill up the yard waste bin with nature’s castoffs it will continue to toy with me by sending down a new lot to be picked up.

An upside of living in the high foothills, one of many really, was the sight outside my window yesterday. A six point buck stood majestically beneath my blazing red Chinese maple sniffing at the air. Close by, a doe was helping herself to the last of the purple flowers blooming on my hanging vines. I tried to get a picture of the buck out the front door. Every time I lined up a shot he lowered his ears and moved aggressively in my direction. I ended up with several unclear pictures taken from behind my window and one blurry one as I ducked back in the front door.

Not that I’m chicken really. Well, perhaps it is exactly I am chicken. When we lived in the Bay Area we had deer in our yard every day. Not just one or two, but whole families showed up to pick at the grass or enjoy an occasional apple thrown their way. My stepson was working in the yard one afternoon in close proximity to a buck, several does, and some younger deer still sporting their spots. Pointing out the buck to Rick and I standing on the deck, the animal decided this was enough familiarity. Laying it’s head down it began to run in my stepson’s direction. Throwing the rake, my stepson began a mad dash towards the house. Looking back it made for quite a picture. Reaching the house he vaulted up the steps. Amazingly the animal ran up after him. Rick got the door closed just before we had an uninvited guest for lunch. The animal remained guarding the door for some time before deciding he’d made his point (no pun intended). After that I choose to keep a respectful distance from our animal visitors.

Rick went out in the garage in our last house to retrieve something. Opening the door he startled a large buck helping himself to a snack from the cat food bag. Hard to tell which of them was more scared. Rick nearly beat himself to death trying to retreat. Meanwhile, the deer, in a frenzied effort to escape, slipped on the cement floor and fell. Struggling to right itself, it managed to squeeze between the two cars parked there without harming itself or the paint jobs. He did leave a mess by the cat food leaving me to locate a new storage place for Boo’s food.

When I was living in the Bay Area, Martinez to be exact, my washer and dryer were located in the garage. I went out to put a load in the washer one weekend only to be confronted by a baby possum. For a little creature he was equipped with a large set of teeth, and wasn’t afraid to display them. Deserting my clothes I bolted back inside to alert my husband of the intruder. Grabbing my favorite throw from the back of the couch my hero went into the garage to confront the wee beast. I was instructed to open the garage door so he could shoo the little guy out. The possum apparently hadn’t read the definitive book on how to behave when in someone else home and decided not to cooperate. It ran up a large wrapped vent pipe leading to the ceiling. Possum’s are very near-sighted so when cornered as a defense mechanism it made snarling sounds and barred its spiky teeth. A ladder was employed to reach the critter. Once my husband had him wrapped in the throw the possum began to fight vigorously wriggling and squirming while being carried to the driveway totaling my blanket. Last we saw of him he was hightailing it towards the border a piece of fabric still dangling from one paw.

To digress here before closing, yesterday they were speaking on the news about the new birth control for men. The side effects are being found intolerable by many of the men opting to take the medication.  Women are up in arms on social media declaring they have been enduring birth control side effects for years and men should “man up”. One woman made a comment telling women to lighten up on the guys as who are they going to call when they find a spider in the bathroom. I felt this didn’t serve either sex, but that is just my humble opinion. I have to admit I get Rick immediately if there is a bug in the house, or an unexplained smell, noise, or happening.  Most certainly this is not the only reason I keep him around. However I do appreciate him answering the call to arms when I need him.

Today is at last election day. Hopefully we can enjoy an end to all the mud-slinging and accept the results graciously. Go out and vote. You can’t complain if you don’t participate. Have a great day.

Lemon Chicken Pepper Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 chicken breasts, cubed
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. scallion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3/4 cup orange bell pepper, sliced 1/8″ thick and halved
3/4 cup red bell pepper, sliced 1/8″ and halved
1/4 cup frozen peas
1 cup cooked angel hair pasta (drained and cut in half)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

In small skillet heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over med-high heat. Sprinkle cubed chicken with salt and pepper. Add chicken to skillet and turn and toss for 3 mins. or until chicken is browned.

In stockpot heat remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, scallions, and garlic. Cook and stir for 6 mins. until onion is translucent.

Add all remaining ingredients through frozen peas including browned chicken. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 30 mins. Remove from heat and add pasta and lemon juice.

Serves 4
 
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What a long week. So busy. When I visit my mother aside from throwing in a little shopping we spend a good deal of time clearing her desk and organizing whatever paperwork she’s amassed since my last visit. The woman gets requests for donations from every organization from Haitian Relief Fund to Flying Fur Rescue. I keep suggesting perhaps she choose one or two to target because most of them sound to me like someone sitting in their BVD’s in an apartment somewhere sending out a mailing. Ralph’s Childrens College Fund, or Gail’s 25th Anniversary Fiji Holiday Fund. Thanks to her generous heart she has more address labels than Santa. If she used fifty a day for the remainder of her life there would be no danger of running out. At one point as I was instructing her to toss an envelope in the trash, she pointed out that if she sent a donation they would return the favor by sending her a tote bag. Hmmmmm. Let’s do the math.$50/donation = $.75 tote bag. Not.

Aside from the mail she accumulates, the phone calls come in on a regular basis from this organization and that asking for money. I have finally convinced her not to answer any calls with unfamiliar names, though not fully convinced once I’m back home she doesn’t begin again.

While there her credit card bill came in the mail. After noting the high amount, she brought it to me indicating she had never had a bill of that size. Mother lives on a small trust fund created for her by her late husband as well as her retirement. Most of her expenses are handled via several credit cards which are paid off at the end of each month. This particular bill was $4,800. WHAT! That isn’t loud enough, but it’s the best I can do with the bold at hand. They really should have a Bolder Bold. This credit card slotted for household expenses usually runs around $1,500. Putting my glasses on I went through the items one by one finding fifteen items not charged by my mom. Whoever insinuated themselves into her account enjoyed several flings at Amazon, did some business on the Universal Web, and opened an account on several different APPS. They even stopped by Harry & David’s to order a lovely gift basket of seasonal pears. Thoughtful criminals really are the best. I have power of attorney so I called the credit card company and we spent some time sorting the good from the bad. The bill would be forwarded on to their investigators for further attention and a new card was issued for my mother to use.

I can’t tell you how disgusting I find people who prey on others vulnerable like my mom. I hear about it all the time and it’s right up there at the top of my list with poor customer service, and you know how testy I get about that.

I found a version of this soup in a magazine and put my own spin on it. Perfect for a fall table.

Lentil Pumpkin Bean Soup

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
2/3 cups dried lentils, rinsed and sorted
1 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 pkg. Sazon Goya Seasoning (optional)
1 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed
1 15 oz. can solid pak pumpkin
2/3 of a 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
4 cups spinach

Heat oil in stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5-6 mins. until translucent. Add garlic. Cook an additional minute. Add broth water, lentils, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover. Cook for 30-35 mins. or until lentils are tender. Add remaining ingredients up to spinach. Bring once again to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking uncovered for 30 mins. Add spinach. Cook 3-5 mins. until wilted.

Serves 4-6

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