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final
Lunch boxes are being packed, new clothes pressed and ready, kids are headed back to school. Parents, exhausted from a summer filled with activities, are putting their feet up on the coffee table, switching on the morning news, enjoying their first cup of hot coffee and breathing a collective sigh of relief. Not that they don’t love their offspring but most parents by the end of the summer find themselves much in need of a little “me time” to recharge their batteries.

I was a working mother. There would have been nothing I would have enjoyed more than spending time with my little ones but as we all liked to eat, it was necessary someone provide the wherewithal to do so.

Always as a kid it was exciting and a little daunting preparing for a new school year. My mother took me “school shopping” which included new clothes, new shoes, new underwear and school supplies. Now from what I understand there are lists supplied to parents for them to fill. According to my son he buys whatever is on the list for his two children plus they contribute about $30 per student in additional supplies which go into sort of a public pot for the school. Tennis shoes apparently now cost nearly $100 per child if they’re to be accepted by their peers and then there are laptops, notebooks, and backpacks. Lockers in the lower grades mostly do not exist anymore. When you reach high school they reappear and there are “locker supplies”, optional of course, to be purchased. Someone, terribly clever to my mind, came up with the idea of locker decorations ranging from wallpaper to stick on mirrors, etc. Wow, that has to have been a windfall for whoever came up with that idea.

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We had books, books, and more books. Not only did I walk ten miles in the snow to school but I carried a sack full of books. Actually I caught a ride to school, but I did walk home with friends more like two miles then ten and I can’t remember the last time it snowed in Southern California.

The summer between third and fourth grade my mother married my first stepfather and we moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Santa Ana, California. More than simply a big jump on the map, for me this was a huge cultural adjustment. Climatically it was major change for sure but more than that it was a totally different vibe on the west coast. Between fourth grade and twelfth grade I was to go to eight different schools. Being the “new kid” every time I changed my underwear gave me a leg up for the rest of my life where I was to move as of this date thirty-seven times. Some of us are rolling stones, I would guess, where others plant roots and remain firmly entrenched where they began.

That first day of a new school year was always filled with anticipation. In my day we had Peechee folders which by the end of the year would have doodles covering their covers and bent corners, but on that first day they were pristine and filled with lined paper for notes. Notes were taken in pen or pencil, I have no idea how they are taken these days, and there were no devices of any kind other than the teacher’s pointer or possibly a phone on the wall in the classroom to distract the kids seated there. I know!

Color+Talk+Peechee+FolderWe had homework in each class on most days in high school. My mother worked so I was expected to come home and so whatever work was assigned to me before she arrived home around dinner time. There were late summer days where the pool in the backyard summoned me and I didn’t get this accomplished, but most days I stuck my nose in my books and did what was needed to be done. I understand a teacher in Texas has decided to experiment this year by not assigning any homework to her second grade class. Rather she encourages them to go home and spend this extra time allotted them with their families. First there is no P.E. so our children are alarmingly out of shape. Now we’re eliminating homework so their minds can be out of shape as well. When did we become so afraid of a little work? I don’t know that I endorse hours and hours of homework but I certainly don’t think an hour a day is asking too much.

My hairdresser was saying her two young children are enrolled in a local charter school. As a parent you are expected to put in a mandatory number of hours of volunteer time if your children attend such school. I believe she is finding this difficult as her husband is disabled and she works a full work week. I remember juggling work and home so many times while my children were young. There is guilt when you have to work leaving small children at home and much regret at missing milestones that occur while they aren’t in your charge. I volunteered as often as I could. Working with children has always been fun for me. They’re so willing to accept the unacceptable and open to world’s we as adults have long put behind us. When my daughter entered kindergarten a flyer was sent home asking parents to come up with creative fall ideas to entertain the classroom. Putting my creative beanie on I thought the kids might get kick out of making caramel apples. Let’s see thirty five year old’s and hot caramel, what could go wrong? Exactly. After the debacle the harassed teacher said she was picking sticky wads of caramel of everything including Laurel and Hardy the two pet rats the classroom adopted. Sorry.

I miss those little people these days and my grandchildren are shooting up so there aren’t any little, little ones anymore. I guess the next thing will be their children coming along one day. Good Lord. Someone is getting old.

At any rate, this sauce is absolutely to die for. I give it five nom’s. If you’re having four hungry people seated at the table I would double the sauce.

Crockpot Tagliatelle with Wine Short Rib Sauce

5 slices pancetta, chopped
2 1/2 lbs. short ribs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles and juice
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce plus 1 can water
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. tagliatelle
1 Tbsp. butter
Parmesan cheese

Spray bottom of six quart crockpot with cooking spray.

Brown pancetta in large skillet over med-high heat until crispy. Place in bottom of crockpot.

Mix together flour, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Dredge meat on all sides in flour mixture.

Heat olive oil in same skillet. Brown meat on all sides. Place in crockpot. Add onion to pan. Cook 6 mins. until tender. Add garlic. Cook 1 min. Carefully add wine to pan and cook for 1 min.

In large bowl mix all remaining ingredients up to but not including tagliatelle also adding onion and wine mixture. Pour over meat. Cook on low for 9 hours stirring twice. Remove bones.

Cook tagliatelle according to pkg. directions. Toss with butter. Serve with sauce and top with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

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3
I attended high school in Southern California. During the summer months teens piled in cars and headed towards the border in search of entertainment. Tijuana,  T.J. to those of us who frequented it, was a popular hang out once school let out.

Things were much different then. Parents were far less custodial either due to the fact there were less bad things happening or people were less informed. Surely all the predators and rapists didn’t show up in the last three decades, but somehow we weren’t as afraid and certainly teens not chaperoned in the manner they are today. Honestly had my mother known half of what I was up to at that age her hair would have grayed long before it did.

For example I had a friend who’s older sister had a hard top convertible. What adventures we had the summer her dad bought her that car. There were no seat belts back then, we all rode commando, if you will. I rode in the back usually, as my friend always called “shotgun”. Tucking the roof in the trunk we often headed up to the swimming areas in Mt. Baldy on a hot summer afternoon. There was a stretch of road leading up to the mountains featuring a series of sea serpent like bumps. People with any sense approached this area with caution, but at that age we didn’t fall under that umbrella. Flooring the car we headed into the bumps full throttle. The first few bumps we flew over and maintained control but on the third bump the car landed hard and I found myself airborne, catapulted from my seat in the back into a pile on top of my friend in the front now on the floor. The only thing I remember clearly about that moment was seeing Marie, still in a seated position, floating above the steering wheel. Good Lord, it’s amazing I ever made it past sixteen. Both shaken and stirred we pulled to the side of the road and sat there for a while until Marie regained her composure. Marie had to explain to her dad how the axle got bent and all our allowances went toward its repair. After that we used extreme caution when traversing that area of highway having gained a new respect for the road.

During those summers between tenth grade and graduation we visited San Diego and Tijuana often. The first time I ever entered Mexico and walked into the dusty border town I was impacted by the poverty evident everywhere you rested your eyes. Blocks of cardboard box homes are the first thing visible as you approach the downtown area. Initially I thought this was a dump but was told people were living in these makeshift shelters without benefit of electricity or plumbing. Children, barely out of baby shoes, were hawking Chicklets and other small items to the tourists on street corners to make money to take home to their families. I don’t believe I ever left T.J. without leaving a little money behind to help boost the economy. Usually a bouquet of huge paper flowers, a sombrero or a felt bull came back across the border with me. Our boyfriends drove down to Tijuana to get their cars tuck and rolled at any of the myriad of body shops lining the back city’s back streets. It was cheaper down there to get the job done. More than one story floated around about someone coming back with upholstery stuffed with cow patties, but I never confirmed any of them were true. Adults flocked to the touristy stores to scoop up deals on leather and silver items. While seated at a table enjoying a taco at an outside stand, street vendors would stroll by encouraging tourists to purchase a lovely lace tablecloth or hand crafted bags. The taco was likely to turn on you at some point, I know many times they did for me. Once I ate a piece of watermelon from a corner stand and it revisited me for two days.

The furthest south I ever ventured in Mexico was Ensenada while on a three-day cruise party cruise. Ensenada has a well lived in look to it. Graffiti decorated most of the walls in the area we were docked . A group from the ship went into town in search of a little adventure. Dancing at a local club until it closed we ended up around 4:00 a.m. (I was young then – now that would be when I was getting up not going to bed) in a rather rowdy establishment serving food and drink what appeared to be 24 hours a day. Mostly populated by residents, people spoke in rapid Spanish, though our waitress spoke to us in fairly decent English. Being the only “gringos” in the place when the word came up in the conversations in adjacent booths we assumed they were probably about us.  In due course we were served surprisingly delicious steaming plates piled with beans, rice and various entrees which we washed down with Mexican beer. Revisiting that statement there should be nothing particularly surprising about getting good Mexican food in Mexico. Latkes maybe, tamales not so much. Our dishes remained on the table long after we were done, allowing the copious flies circling them a chance to grab a quick meal. A loud fight broke out towards the back of the room with one drunk participant thrown across the bar. From the looks of things we deduced it was time to say “adios”. God, as they say, watches over drunks and fools so with his help we somehow managed to get back to the ship  before it sailed without being robbed or worse. I think of this because of the recent Olympics in Rio. Rio is a far cry from Tijuana and many more dangers lurk in the dark corners. There’s a movie called “City of God” which really highlights the seriousness of the situation with child gangs in Rio. Might have been better for a couple of them if they’d stayed closer to home. It is easy for me to say this now, I realize, but most probably at their age I would have ventured out myself.

Well, it’s over now. Medals have been won and athletes are scattering around the world returning to their homes victorious or at least satisfied they had been included among such an elite group of competitors.

This soup is just the best. Rick says he could have it every night. I used a leftover pork loin that had been basted with a soy based marinade. I’m sure most pork loins would work equally as well.

Napa Cabbage and Pork Soup

1/2 of a Napa cabbage, chopped
2 onion, quartered
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
3 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ginger
9 cups chicken broth
1 cup green beans, halved
2 carrots, sliced thin
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 cup thickly sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups leftover thinly sliced pork loin
Cooked white rice

Place all ingredients in large stock pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking for 1 hour. Serve over rice if desired.

Serves 4

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finalI try to keep positive about things even when life simply refuses to cooperate. Sometimes I have to give in to a day of feeling blue or “off”, if you will, in order to gather strength to find my happy place again. Because I’ve had a life filled with up ups and down downs, there are times when feeling particularly positive about the world I find myself looking over my shoulder as if waiting for the wolf to appear from behind the tree. I have learned that becoming too set or comfortable where you are can often encourage the universe to send you a friendly reminder that life isn’t always predictable and happiness shares a face with sadness in the ying and yang of things.

The human spirit really is amazingly resilient when you think of it. People overcome pain, loss, hardship, hunger and illness and push forward with optimism in spite of it. In my journeys I have gathered many moments of joy. As they’ve come and passed I’ve tucked each away in the cobwebbed corners of my mind like one would store lightning bugs in a jar. These bright lights of happiness keep me going in difficult times, and help to keep the shadows at bay.

I have been thinking about meditation lately. Always I have been fascinated with the Buddhist principles. To bring the Buddhist way of thinking down to the head of a pin I would say the goal is to relieve suffering and maintain control of your life, or lives as they believe.

Many people believe we are given one life, others believe there are many, and still others hold to the belief there is an afterlife where we go when our body is no longer a useful vessel for our soul. It is a debate that has raged on over the centuries. Some say the need for an afterlife is to fill the void of the unknown, others say the afterlife is earned by how we live our lives, and there are those who believe there is nothing when we are done but, well, nothing. A touchy subject at best fraught with human frailties and dotted with drops of fear. As with many things in life the not knowing is the rub.

I remember back in 2005 I had my yearly mammogram. Having had one each year since my fortieth birthday I was used to the procedure. This is not to say I liked the procedure, but I did know what to expect. With all the advances in technology I hope someone is working on improving the process currently in place. For those of us so equipped the procedure can be a somewhat uncomfortable few moments. Men who might reading could liken the experience to a Sumo wrestler mashing a ball of ground round into a hamburger press. A day later I received a call from the radiologist saying they had found something suspicious on the films. In order to rule out anything serious I would have to have further tests. Not news you really want to hear. What does suspicious mean exactly? If at all informed, such a call might mean a myriad of things, most of them not desirable. I waited two weeks for the biopsy procedure. In retrospect it felt more like two months. Thankfully, it was nothing serious and I went on without any further tests or procedures. I do think when they tell you something as potentially life altering such as this they could follow it up by a quick appointment rather than leaving you teetering on the edge gazing into the great abyss for fourteen days.

An experience where your health is in question makes you think about time and how much of it you have left. Your vulnerability as a human becomes more clear when illness arises. This is not to suggest a person is advised to sit and wait to go, spending each waking minute pondering their upcoming demise. Rather I am saying for me it served as a reminder life can be whimsical. As yet the only confirmed hypothesis from those mentioned above is each of us is given one life. For me this was a signal not to miss the opportunities that arise every day to remind those around me of how important they are and how very loved.

This brings to mind my paternal grandmother. A widow at a young age with four children, my dad’s mum was a tough lady. After many years of teaching children with handicaps, she retired to spend the rest of her days in Pakenham, a picturesque town in Northern Ontario, Canada. I last saw her when my children were toddlers. After that a letter written with her familiar hand would often show up in my mailbox. Always I sat and read about her life, my family in Canada who I barely knew, and the questions she had about me and mine. I wrote, but not as often as I could have. When you’re young time seems like an endlessly plentiful commodity. One day I got news that she had passed away. A month prior I had promised myself I would write, but didn’t get to it. I hope she knew how important she was to me but always regret having missed the window to write when I could have.

Take time to stop texting and hug your kid. Mother’s and Father’s (for the most part) love to be included in your lives even after you have moved on to a family of your own. Each day is precious and time is a gift that should never be wasted.

On that note, I will give you a quick danish that takes very little time to pop in the oven.

Sorry I had to repost this for those of you who were asking where it went. There’s a problem with my blog lately. Getting help in WordPress isn’t always as easy as I’d like.

Quick Cream Cheese & Blueberry Danish

2 containers of crescent rolls
2 8 oz. pkgs. softened cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 egg, plus 1 egg white
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 egg white (for crust)

Glaze

1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. 2% milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Mix together all glaze ingredients until no lumps are visible.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Spray 13 x 9″ pan with cooking spray. Spread one pkg. of crescent rolls on bottom pressing seams to close.

Mix together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, 1 egg and one egg white on medium-high setting on mixer until smooth.

Spread cheese mixture over rolls on bottom of pan. Sprinkle blueberries across top of cream cheese. Top with remaining flat of rolls. Brush with egg white.

Bake for 35 mins.

Cool for 10 mins. and spread glaze on top.

Serves 6

 

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final

Several times during my relationships it has been suggested by a partner a move to Florida might be a great idea. For me, that would be a negatory. There are a number of reasons why I won’t live in Florida. Not that it isn’t beautiful or doesn’t have a lot to offer. Warm weather, long strands of sun bleached beaches, gorgeous waterfront homes, endless golf courses. What’s not to like? Hmmm let’s see, alligators, bugs the size of migs, energy sapping humidity, hurricanes, and Zika. Need I go on? My only visit there was in early spring. The man I was dating at the time had parents who retired in the Miami area. The plan was to stay with them in Ft. Lauderdale for a few days before boarding our cruise ship on to Key West and then to Cozumel. Our days were spent on whatever beach struck our fancy, taking time out to mill through the myriad of tourist luring shops along the boardwalks. Nights we ate at local restaurants and sat outside in the cooler evening air enjoying a cocktail or just looking at the stars.

On our second day there I noticed something crawling along the wall I first mistook for an animal. Upon closer inspection I realized it had wings and a plethora of legs. My fascination with the insect turned to horror when I realized it was no longer on the wall, but now seated on the rim of my glasses. I’m not a bug person. Never would I have signed up for any science course involving catching insects and pinning them on boards to study them. The very thought has goose bumps parading up and down my limbs.

When I lived in Arkansas, unused to the heavy humidity prevalent there in the summer months, I spent the first few weeks concentrating on getting oxygen to my body. For those of you who saw the movie “The Abyss” picture the scene where they have to breathe in oxygenated liquid. Though Ed Harris didn’t actually breathe in the pink liquid, live rats were actually subjected to such an ordeal during filming and lived to gnaw through another hole in the wall afterwards. I know just how they felt.

High humidity along with encouraging lush foliage and steamy weather, also promotes a healthy insect population. While in Arkansas I became familiar with tics and chiggers for the first time, and welcomed a flea population in my back yard so resistant to spraying it necessitated wearing cowboy boots to mow the lawn.

Wasps and alike, as I’ve mentioned before are number one on my list of insects I could do without. As a child I recall going to Mill Village, Nova Scotia to visit my grandmother’s relatives. Mill Village is a quaint little town originally sustained by logging and lumber. Aunt Olive, as I called her, though in truth she was my grandmother’s cousin, lived in a beautiful old family home overlooking the Medway River. Aside from running a small ice cream parlor towards the front of the property, Olive manned the switchboard for the local residents. Often when we enjoyed a meal at her enormous mahogany dining table she would leave to connect neighbor to neighbor and catch on the local gossip.

Olive, a widow of some years, was a magnificent cook. Pastries came out her kitchen as delicate as angel’s wings, and her breads and biscuits were without fault. Standing in her brightly lit country kitchen you were surrounded by wire baskets of fresh eggs, lines of canisters, and brimming bowls of fruit and vegetables picked from the massive garden lying beyond the gate leading to the pasture. Twice while visiting she asked me to accompany her to get honey for the biscuits. The first time I accepted. Being a kid and not the sharpest pencil in the box, I didn’t connect the dots, honey…..bees. Aha. Hand in hand we stepped through the tall grass in the pasture. Olive, a woman rarely short on words, kept the conversation flowing as we moved closer to a line of stacked white boxes. As we approached the boxes Olive stretched her arm across my chest and instructed me to remain where we stood. Reaching in her apron she pulled out a white hood and pulled it over her head.  Securing the hood and draping it over her shoulder she approached the boxes. In one hand she had a sprayer of some sort. Holding it up she depressed a nozzle dispensing steam around the boxes as she stepped forward. “Bees are quieted by the steam”, she told me while reaching inside the nearest box to bring out a long board dripping with sweet honey. Wow. I saw the bee before it stung me but there was little time to react. The steam may have calmed the majority of the hive but I’m here to say there were a few deserters that were absolutely pissed off. A second sting quickly followed the first and my fat little legs were on the move. As delicious as that honey tasted on Olive’s flakey biscuits I never accompanied her again to gather more and would happily have done without the first batch and the two itchy welts I paid for the privilege of eating it.

It would be an odd world without insects so I have found a way to coexist with them enjoying them from a distance. Our yard is a haven for butterflies, an insect I have made total peace with along with the ladybug. However, I could do without all the aphids who insist on attacking my plants. There you go, balance in all things.

If made as written this soup will make you sweat. For the faint of heart substitute regular diced tomatoes for the tomatoes with chiles.

Spicy Mexican Zucchini and Sausage Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can of kernel corn, drained
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 large zucchini, sliced thin and quartered
1/2 cup smoked sausage sliced thin and halved
2 Tbsp. taco seasoning mix
2 Tbsp. salsa verde
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coriander
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
Lime slices for garnish

Heat oil in stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and yellow and cook 6 mins. until soft. Add garlic and continue to cook for 1 min. Add remaining ingredients through chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Cook partially covered for 50 mins. Serve topped with cheese and sliced limes.

Serves 6

1
Quite often after I’ve shared stories of my life with someone they’ll say, “you should write a book”. I can’t imagine all the crazy paths my life has led me down would contribute to a best seller, but perhaps I could tap into the rich vein romance novelists have unearthed for themselves. The problem with romance novels, in this humble writer’s opinion, is that many of them follow a similar plot premise.  However, voracious readers seem to be plucking them off the shelves or on-line as quickly as they are published so apparently whatever formula these writers are using is working, and working well. As they say in the south, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

In romance novels the heroine and her prince are often perfect beings devoid of any physical imperfections. Each main character is impeccably named, perhaps Marcus for him or Rachel for her. Their hair never falls out, their knees don’t sag, and their breath, even after a meal of 40 garlic chicken, remains as fresh as a spring breeze. Endlessly alluring and mysterious, the leading lady doesn’t seem to suffer mood swings every twenty-eight days, bloat (or worse god forbid) after consuming gassy foods, or ever prepare a bad meal. From the moment her male counterpart lays eyes on her she is never out of his mind. Towards the end of each story after much unwillingness on our heroine’s part to capitulate she gives in to the hero’s rresistible brand of masculinity and vulnerability and they are one. Did I miss anything? Feel free to step in and fill in the gaps.

The man is generally wealthy beyond means. Either he holds down a job most of us average working drones only dream of, or hales from a royal family or a family so wealthy as to considered obscenely so. Perhaps that’s the draw, I’m thinking. Who would want to pick up a novel about Fred, a slightly paunchy middle-aged man working at the local convenience store in Poughkeepsie or his wife, Edna, with tired eyes and seven unruly kids? How would that be an escape? Not that there aren’t wonderful classics out there filled with angst and sadness. Les Miserables wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for the lead character Jean Valjean and the beautiful Scarlett O’Hara in the end lost both her child and her man.

I’m thinking I need to write that novel about the guy in Poughkeepsie. Probably Rick and my mother would purchase the only copies sold. The pages could be rife with everyday life’s gut wrenching decisions. Should Edna use the laundry detergent with the “lemony fresh” scent or will Fred leave her for a younger woman who’s jogging outfit smells like “sport-wash”? Winding the reader through the housewives harrowing day filled with solving such cliff hangers as where the missing socks actually go once they’ve entered the washing machine? Do they exit through a secret door at the rear? Could there possibly be an alternate universe populated solely by argyles and athletic ankle socks laughing at us as we turn the clean laundry upside down looking for them to no avail. Please do not think in any manner I am denigrating the role of the stay at home mom by any means. I think most of them should receive the Medal of Honor and in some cases even the Purple Heart, but I do not believe most us want to escape by reading about the perils of diaper rash or which market has corned beef on sale. I’m just sayin.

I could also tackle the mystifying case of why Fred can only see his feet when seated, having them disappear completely from view once he assumes a standing position. Could the clues point in the direction of that extra helping of Cheesecake Factory white chocolate raspberry truffle cheesecake he ate at midnight when supposedly going to the refrigerator for bottled water? One has to wonder.

Books are a glorious world limited only by the imagination. Reader and writers come together in a shared experience, sometimes good and sometimes not so much. I’m thinking of taking a class to help me with that extra push to actually commit to doing some research, coming up with a story line, and getting on with it. I’m not getting any riper, as my children are kind enough to remind me.

Storytelling should never become a lost art, or I pray if it does I am not here for its demise. I tell stories to my grandchildren my grandmother told to me. If the wind is right they will continue to be passed down over the dinner table or at bedtime from one generation to the next. A hand-held device can never, or perhaps rather should never, replace a book. Being an old dog I still like to hold my literature in my hand and engage in the age old practice of turning the pages as I delve into the story. When it is time to set it down, I tuck a well worn bookmark in between the last page I was reading so when I pick it up again I can turn to where I left off. There is something gently reassuring about reading. Like finding a friend at your bedside to sit with you until your eyes begin to close.

At any rate I wanted to share this delicious cobbler before the summer fruit begins to be replaced by crisp apples and fall fare.

Peach and Blueberry Cobbler

Fruit Filling

2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
5 peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup blueberries

Combine all ingredients but fruit in saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and stir constantly until thickened. Mix in fruit.

Crust

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, softened

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in butter and add buttermilk.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spray bottom of 2 quart baking dish. Place fruit mixture on bottom. Spread crust mixture over top.

Bake for 50 mins. or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Serves 6

1
Went for an early walk this morning. Our neighborhood is situated in a well-forested area perched atop a series of grades and dips. Whew. That first hill nearly required a visit from the paramedics but I persevered. The fitness types say it is important to get your cardio up. My problem is differentiating between cardio and critical. Definitely our hill fits the bill for raising your heartbeat. Straight up without a flat stretch. By two-thirds of the way up the steepest part I began to look like a guppy gasping at the surface of the water for air. Hot out already at 6:30, I passed others hoping to beat the heat on my way up. Many were taking their dogs out for a morning stretch. Most with animals were carrying plastic bags to pick up anything their furry friends might leave by way of a deposit in their neighbor’s yards. This is one thing I enjoy about cat ownership. Boo, the Queen of cats, never wants to go for a walk. As a matter of fact, the animal would be highly offended by the very suggestion. Also, she has a bathroom prepared for her in her litter box on the lower level and uses it every day, no plastic bags required. At one point a young woman dressed in miniscule spandex shorts and a tank top sped by a cluster of older walkers as if they were standing still. I got a friction burn from the accelerated air currents. Right. I watched in admiration as she turned the the corner on those muscled legs her perky ponytail bobbing out of sight.

There is one older man who shames us all. Each day rain or shine, heat wave or snow on the ground, this gentlemen walks down the huge hill to the bus stop carrying an enormous backpack. I see him on his way down early in the morning and on his way back up in the early evening hours. Beneath his floppy fishing hat he sports white hair nearly to his waist and a full beard that practically eclipses his facial features. Always I wonder what this man’s story is. Routinely during a particularly hot day I’ll notice him resting beneath our large tree by the mailbox. I’ve entertained the thought of running up my driveway and asking if he needs a ride up the hill. I don’t because I have no idea how he would respond to a strange woman offering such a thing. Neither do I want to embarrass him nor embarrass myself should he decline my invitation, or worse yet be offended by it. Also, as Rick reminds me when I go off on a tangent, I do not know anything about this human being or what I would be getting myself into should I invite him into the car with me.

What a distrusting world we have created for ourselves. Time back we used to stop and pick up people hitchhiking along the side of the highway without giving it another thought. I can remember leaving the house and never checking to see if the door was locked, or leaving the windows down in my car before going into a store. Now this is not to say there weren’t scary things afoot when I was younger. A friend of mine got married around the same age I first did, nineteen. As is typical, the family published the young couple’s wedding announcement in the local newspaper along  with their plans for an extended honeymoon in Hawaii. Not published was their address, naturally. However, armed with the city they lived in and probably a phone book, someone took the time to find out. A moving van pulled up to their home in their absence. Neighbors knowing the house was to be occupied, weren’t alarmed. So, while the newlyweds enjoyed a glorious vacation in the islands, thieves emptied everything out of the home from the furniture gifted by the grooms parents to all the beautiful wedding presents, most of them still unwrapped. According to the bride they even stole the toilet paper off the holders in her bathroom. Now that really is hitting below the belt, if you will. I’m joking about this, but I remember how devastated they were at the time. Imagine expecting to come home to a beautifully decorated first home to find only a phone sitting on the carpet with a note reading “thanks and congratulations”. Really? Criminals with a sense of humor. You don’t find that everyday.

Today most of us would never think of picking up someone thumbs up on the roadside. News stories of a violent nature have become an everyday occurrence. TV shows and movies show the darker side of human nature on the big screen. Kids play video games with guns firing and body parts flying north and south and are taught early on to fear strangers above all else. Teachers reinforce if you see someone you don’t know, “run, scream, call for help”. Fear truly is more contagious than measles, spreading from one person to another like sparks on a dry hillside. You would think as we all look basically the same once the skin covering our skeletal system has returned to the earth, it would be the natural way of things to move towards one another not away. This, of course, is not the case. Rather than recognizing and celebrating our similarities we choose to focus on our differences. Human nature, I would suppose.

With the presidential race in full swing I’m sure the candidates will come out with even bigger rocks to sling across the party lines. They call it a party, but I have to admit I’m not having all that much fun. Perhaps it’s the hosts. Of all the political campaigns I have lived through this one is the oddest. For me it’s like being asked if I would prefer cows brains or pickled pigs feet for dinner. I believe I’d pass on either. You can’t pass on such an important election as this, however, so one must pick the best of the two to their mind and move forward. Personally I’d stick with a tossed salad, but there isn’t one on the menu. If you don’t vote you really can’t complain about what you end up with. Apathy never gets the barn painted, or something like that.

Soooo, I shall end my tirade for the day with this quick and delicious recipe for stuffed tomatoes. This is a great dish for summer as it looks fresh and pretty on the plate and takes little time in the oven.

Creamed Spinach Stuffed Tomatoes

2 large beefsteak tomatoes, halved
2 pkgs. Stouffers Creamed Spinach cooked (9 oz.)
2/3 cup crushed Texas Toast Garlic & Butter Croutons
1/2 cup plus 4 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sprinkle cut side of each tomato slightly with salt. Invert on paper towel for 20 mins. to release liquids. Place cut side up on baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Cook creamed spinach according to pkg. directions. Allow to cool slightly. Mix in croutons and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Divide equally on top of each tomato. Sprinkle additional 1 Tbsp. of Parmesan on top of each pile of spinach.

Bake for 25 mins. or until golden brown and crunchy.

Serves 4

1
Watching glimpses of Melania Trump’s speech on the morning news, I can’t help but wonder if her poised and calm appearance secretly housed an inside full of fear and dancing butterflies. Beautiful enough certainly to exude confidence in most any arena, still the woman surely had never been asked to give a politically motivated speech viewed by millions prior to stepping up to the podium this week. This would make a mouse out of many a lion.

Public speaking, so experts say, ranks higher than death among people’s fears. I know it’s right up there on my list. However, faced with choosing between standing before a firing squad or delivering a speech, I believe I would spit shine my writing skills and get on with whatever topic was at hand.

So terrified was I in high school of speaking before my peers, I would read whatever book was assigned for an oral book report, write the paper, and when called on to give my report claim I hadn’t done it. I know. I was a shy kid in those days. For people who know me now I realize this concept seems a stretch, but it was an accurate description of the younger version of myself. Miss Payne, my sophomore English teacher, was an unmarried lady of some years. At the age of fourteen I viewed anyone over twenty-five as having one foot in the grave, but her nickname was “the purple lady” due to her bluish gray hairdo so I would guess her to have been in her late fifties. Miss Payne brooked little resistance from her charges, and due to her iron rule received little. Many times we watched in horror as some poor kid caught breaking a Payne rule of behavior got their knuckles whacked soundly with her ruler for whatever transgression they had perpetrated. The second time I’d admitted not having a book report ready she had me stand in front of the class. For the allotted ten minutes I stood before them reading clumsily from a massive book of Shakespeare. King Lear has never been so sorely abused. I’m sure my words were drowned out by the loud knocking of my bony knees and the incessant drop, drop, drop of sweat beads on the wooden floor. Not good, not good at all.

Ten minutes can be eternity when you’re snared by fear. Once I took a ten minute typing test and my elbows were literally locked in place when on the downhill stretch. There was a boy in our class blessed with a nasty stutter. Talking to him required extreme patience. Each word he uttered struggled to be born and when it emerged was often accompanied by spitting and bizarre facial contortions. The wait between statements often became uncomfortable for both the speaker and the listener. As if this wasn’t enough of a social disaster for a teen, he had also been blessed with a terminal case of acne making the circle of his awkwardness complete. I was talking to my daughter the other day about the fact life is rarely fair. Recalling this kid would have been a great example to use. Hopefully like many social pariahs in high school, he went on to run a huge technology firm or try cases in superior court. High school kids can be a cruel lot, pouncing like pack animals on their weakest members culling them from the herd for ridicule and shame. I can only imagine what goes on with social media at their fingertips these days. Back then they were at least limited to their own turf.

Miss Payne trucked no rebellion in her English class. Everyone participated reluctantly or not. This boy, I wish I could remember his name, sat in the back row. His chin seemed to perpetually to be pointed in the direction of his feet, while his nervous hands worked ceaselessly at the craters on his face. When his name was called to do his report, several cooler kids groaned and snickered making his walk toward the front of room probably as long as an inmate taking his last walk along death row. Standing in front of his taunters wrinkled paper twisted in his fingers he began a report which was to eat up an entire class period. The boy sitting behind me began snoring as this boy worked to get through the torture. Looking back I’m sure Mrs. Payne thought she was doing what was best for him, but to me it felt like some kind of retribution aimed at all the men who had passed her by during her life. Poor guy.

After that day it became somewhat easier for me to appear in front of people. Let’s face it if a kid with a humiliating speech impediment and a face full of pimples could get through it, what had I to fear? These days I rather enjoy basking in the soft glow of the spotlight. Never would I be interested in public speaking, however, or appearing on TV or the stage. That light would be a little too strong for my tastes. People poking their cameras in every facet of your life would have no interest for me on any level. No amount of money or fame is worth losing my privacy.

One of the recent mega lottery winners in California recently stepped forward to claim their prize. The first thing coming to my mind was how life as they knew it was about to change drastically. Media attention, family members crawling out from under the rug, charities pursuing them, and changes in living, working and family situations. Whew. Lottery god if you’re tuning in it is not that I’m adverse to dealing with all this (my ticket is in my wallet if you’re waving your wand), however, I do acknowledge it might be a bit daunting. I’m just sayin.

I do have to say going back to my original thought that Melania Trump’s speech certainly had a familiar echo to it. No matter how much back pedaling their campaign managers do they cannot take away from the startling similarities to Michelle Obama’s speech. Ah well, kudos to her for doing it. This by no means is a political affirmation or nod to the Trump campaign, simply a casual observation about the speech itself.

This is my version of something I saw on a cooking show. Rick gave it an A. I prefer to let the bread rest a day or two so it’s not too fresh and soft.

Brie French Toast with Raspberry Sauce

4 slices Artisan bread, sliced thick
3 eggs
3 Tbsp. 2% milk
1 1/2 tsp. brandy
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. French Brie cheese
Confectioner’s sugar

Whisk together eggs, milk, brandy, vanilla, and cinnamon. One at a time soak bread in egg mixture. Melt butter in skillet over high heat. Place soaked bread in skillet and cook until golden brown. Turn over. Place two slices of Brie on top of two slices of bread. When bread is brown on the bottom side place the two slices without cheese on top of the bread with cheese and reduce heat to medium low. Turn over once until Brie is melted. (Like a grilled cheese sandwich). Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Raspberry Sauce

2 cups fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon juice

Place 1 cup raspberries in food processor with sugar. Puree. Push through fine sieve and discard solids. Add remaining raspberries, brandy and lemon juice. Serve over toast.

Serves 4

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