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Three days at the coast last week turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Rick and I. “Vacation” has not been written on our calendar for six years. We were more than ready for a break. Reservations for a stay at the beach in Mendocino County were in place, bags packed, and a pet sitter hired. Life, as they say, was good. This was to be our first time staying at the Beachcomber resort in Fort Bragg.  Our room was a well-appointed lower unit towards the southern end of the building offering up a panoramic view of the ocean beyond the sliding glass doors. I would have found it an idyllic location had the staff pitched us a tent and handed us a Coleman lantern. Ideal for me at least.  Rick’s idea of camping is staying at a hotel without room service.

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The first two days were made to order for beach exploring. Temps hung in the low 70’s cooled by a light sea breeze. Spring made itself visible with hillsides decorated in colorful bursts of wildflowers. I spent a good deal of time walking along the sand. Sticking my toes in the frigid water and inhaling the glorious smells one associates with the ocean my mind kept whispering “home”. Still off-season, the beach was nearly deserted save an occasional tourist or local. Nothing like the crowds you might expect to see once Memorial Day is ticked off the calendar.

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On our second day there Rick saw whales. Naturally I missed them. I was inside showering the sand off. Really chapped my hide (missing the whales not the sand). When I came out he told me our neighbors pointed them out to him from the upper deck bar. He had just enough time to catch a glimpse of the pair before they breached and disappeared below the surface. Awwwww, darn, darn, darn.

Not as exciting, I did see a lot of ground squirrels. The comical little rodents shared space with hotel inhabitants. Not inside, no. Inside they might have been less endearing. From the patio, however, their little furry heads could be seen peering up over the hills or running along the paths behind the rooms. Funny little creatures, surprisingly unafraid of humans. Several times while walking one came right up next to me looking for a handout.

IMG_1355Taking a respite from all things household, it was great to have someone cook for me. Dining out Rick encountered his usual pitfalls. If something disastrous is going to happen to a meal it generally will happen to his. Definitely the man has bad dining karma. Typically I will be digging into a delicious entrée while Rick’s is late, they are out of whatever he selected, they brought the wrong item, or it wasn’t cooked as requested.

Our second night there we ate at a well-known seafood restaurant situated on the fishing harbor. I had the fish tacos. Though I wouldn’t you recommend pack a bag and rush right down to Fort Bragg to get some for yourselves, they were quite good. Rick ordered prime rib. Now, I see you shaking your heads. Prime rib in a seafood restaurant? Who am I to say anything? Ordered medium rare, the meat arrived at the table looking like he’d ordered off the side of the menu entitled “Our Road Kill Selections”. That meat had been rode hard and put up wet. When the waiter was alerted, he offered to get Rick a cut showing more pink. Shortly he returned from the kitchen to inform us that was as rare as that piece of beef was going to get. A rib eye was suggested as a replacement. According to Rick the rib eye was actually IMG_1411.JPGworse. He said he wouldn’t have believed this was possible but somehow the chef pulled it off. Fatty and full of gristle the steak was smothered  with gravy and canned mushrooms. The gravy, according to Rick, was put there to hide a poor cut of meat. Ewwwwww. I know. I remained mute just nodding and grimacing where appropriate. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Our last night, thankfully, we located a wonderful Italian restaurant in Fort Bragg proper. Told there was music in the main dining room we chose to sit in there over being seated in the very lively bar. An eclectic trio was playing Celtic music. The musicians were composed of a flutist, a gentleman on guitar, and a lady easily having celebrated her 80th birthday playing mini-guitar and fiddle. The waitress was friendly as well as full of information about the area succeeding in making a great meal that much better. Cucina Verona is the name of the place should you find yourself visiting Fort Bragg.

Leaving the restaurant the strong wind persisting throughout the day had intensified. But for the fact I’d consumed half a loaf of bread plus dessert I might have taken flight like Dorothy and Toto. On the bright side, pushing my way to the car against the onslaught of air I probably burned off most of the tiramisu I’d finished my meal off with. At the car we literally couldn’t get the passenger door to stay open long enough for me to hop in. I rode to the hotel in the back seat telling Rick if he wanted a nice tip he better stick to the shortest route.

Returning to the hotel room exhausted and stuffed I crawled into bed. Despite the wind whistling outside rattling the doors sleep came easily. Around 1 a.m. I woke up needing to use the facilities. Opening my eyes, total darkness swirled around me. Still half asleep, my mind couldn’t process what was happening. Not one shard of light could be detected anywhere in the room. Pitch dark closed in around me. Feeling my way blindly around the less than familiar surroundings my sleepy mind determined somewhere in the night I had been rendered totally blind. A bit of panic gripped me as I fumbled and moved my hands along the walls. Finally panic began to drive the bus rather than just occupy a seat and I called out for Rick. Rick, so it appeared, was busy fighting his own battle with his C-Pap machine. Somehow the machine had switched off making it difficult for him to breathe. “Turn on the light” I called out. Hearing him switch the nightstand light on and off and the inky blackness remaining in place a light switched on in my fuzzy brain. “The electricity was out”. Duh. No flies on us. Thank God. I had begun to imagine the worst. Those blackout curtains in hotel rooms really work I am here to say. Groping my way to the counter I turned on my cell phone……and then there was light.

Driving home we said goodbye to the ocean as we turned inland. In my mind’s eye I can still see the waves rolling in and hear the gulls calling overhead. My only regret about not winning the lottery or being born with any significant marketable talent is that I do not have the wherewithal to wake up to the sound of the sea every day of my life. Ah well, happy people do not lament what they don’t have but are grateful for what they do so I will leave it there.

I was served this soup (or a version of it) at a luncheon recently. I loved it so I thought I’d see if I could come up with one I might share with you.

(Shchi) Russian Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

1 lb. stew meat
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups beef broth
1/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
8 oz. demi-glace*
2 cups water
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 cups of water
1 Tbsp. beef bouillon
1 head cabbage cut in wedges

Heat oil over med-high heat in skillet. Generously salt and pepper meat and brown on all sides. (Note: If you want to do a quick version of the above use leftover pieces of steak or roast in place of stew meat. Reduce initial cooking time to 35 mins. Continue the remaining part of the recipe as indicated.)

When meat is browned put in stockpot. Add all remaining ingredients through cardamom. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cups water and bouillon to pot. Bring to boil. Add cabbage and reduce heat to actively simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serves 8

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Rick and I try to slip out for a “date night” every week or two. Not that we don’t see enough of each other, we do, but date night is more about quality time than quantity. Usually this involves dinner or a movie. Cats not welcome in public venues, this leaves Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, to fend for herself. Boo came by her name honestly due of her innate fear of nearly everything from artichokes to zeppelins. Being alone, looms right at the top of her extensive “things I am afraid of” list. Usually she can be found cowering under our bed when we arrive home from a night out poised for impending disaster. As mentioned in my previous blog we adopted another kitty several years ago to provide some feline companionship, but Boo definitely didn’t want to share the spotlight. After a year we were forced to lick our wounds (literally), and hoist the white flag. Each time the two “ladies” (and I use the term loosely) saw each other the claws were out and the gloves off. In the end we found a loving home for our newest addition returning the cat count in our house to a contented one.

Date night this week was the movies. I haven’t seen a really great film in a while. Unfortunately, after seeing this one that status remains in tact. This was a Star Wars sequel. The only thing I wish I’d brought to improve the viewing was a pillow and a blanket. Rick loves Star Wars and has seen every follow up effort after the original but this one meandered about like a drunk on the freeway dangerously close to falling on its face.

Recently the owners remodeled the theater where the movie was playing. The updates were well received around town so I was curious to see what improvements had been made. Rumor had it (it is a small town so any news is big news) a bar/restaurant had been added serving beer, wine and bar food such as hot pretzels and pizza. Wow cocktails and a movie. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy a cocktail now and again. However, drinking before a movie (particularly the stinker we just saw) would result in me slumped over in my chair sucking air by the time the previews were over. As an aside I remember a business when I was living in Washington state who’s sign red “Drugs and Videos”. Turned out it was a pharmacy and a movie rental combined, but the sign led you in other directions.

Going to the movies is far different now then when I was a kid. There were three theaters in the town In So Cal where I went to high school. One was a newer building on spread out over a single level, with the other two massive old-style theaters replete with red velvet curtains, balconies and ornate columned walls. Double features were included in the price of ticket back then. Sandwiched in between films cartoons were played, or in my mother’s era “newsreels”, leaving patrons time for a bathroom run or to pick up another box of Junior Mints at the snack bar.

Both of the older theaters as I said had first floor and balcony seating. Balconies were reserved for overflow seating for particularly popular movies and necking for any movie. Aside from regular theaters, drive-ins were dotted all over the area. Teenagers and families gathered around the speakers on Friday and Saturday nights to enjoy some cardboard pizza from the snack bar or to share a picnic in their car. Children played in the playground until the sun went down and teens steamed up windows in the back rows.

Personally I was forbidden from going on a date to the drive-in. To be honest what I was supposed to do and what I actually did were not always in direct alignment. Drive-ins were cheap entertainment for kids relying on part-time jobs or allowances to pay for a date. At $1.75 a carload if you crammed several kids in the trunk it proved very cost effective entertainment.

Once I got married and had my own children we often piled them in the old yellow station wagon dressed in their Dr. Denton’s and sat through a double feature at the drive-in about five miles from our house. To be honest as a young mother with two toddlers I rarely made it through the second movie but it was a cheap date for us and fun for the little ones. Now I think what drive-ins remain serve mainly to house weekend swap meets but back then they were the place to be.

Rick and I often go to a matinee these days. The last time we were there he commented on the sea of gray heads lined up in the seats in the front of us. I didn’t want to point out they were for the most part in the same generation as us but the thought crossed my mind.

Fads come and fads go. The old makes way for the new. I don’t see many young faces buying a ticket to see a movie nowadays. Perhaps they go to the later viewings? My guess is they are catching their movies on line or on their devices rather than at the theater.

An old dog at heart, I still like the smell of popcorn and the lights dimming before the feature begins to play on the big screen.

This pie is so yummy and quick to pull together. Use store bought pie crust to save time. I do like this recipe for crust if you’re in the mood. I found it in a Taste of Home cookbook years ago and for someone not adept at making crust, this one works for me. Another tip from a great baker I met along the way. Use high quality vanilla when baking. There is a difference.

Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

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1At last it is warm enough to tackle some of my outdoor projects. Over the winter months my garage tends to become a catchall for everything being far less organized than in the warmer seasons when I can get out there to work. Last weekend “clean garage” was plainly written under Saturday on my calendar. Rising early and with sufficient coffee to start my engine, I headed out the door. Grabbing my broom I brushed cobwebs out of the windows and teased leaves out of corners. Towards the back of the room stand four wall units where everything is stored from dry goods to overflow cooking utensils. Moving one unit to sweep behind it something large and furry scurried past me. Before I could identify it, it ran along the back of the garage disappearing behind a pile of logs. I went inside to tell Rick about the beastie. When I complain about the copious leaves in the yard or the deer eating our flowers Rick shoots me that look as if to say, “what do you expect, we live in the mountains”. Apparently this look covers critters in the garage as well. Yes, I get we live in the forest, thank you.  Nobody loves animals more than I do. However, I would prefer to know what type of animal I am dealing with before choosing to share space with it. There is a vast difference in experience between being in the garage with a squirrel and being in the garage with a skunk, if you get my drift. (No pun intended.)

Gingerly I began poking at the logs stacked in the corner. Newly purchased bags of potting soil were leaning against them. With a sunny weekend in the forecast, plans were in the works to begin digging in my garden. I did not want to be surprised by something unpleasant with teeth. Out of the corner of my eye I caught two beady little eyes staring up at me from behind the stacked wood. To complete the picture beyond one log the tip of a rather slinky tail protruded. As the hair began to come to attention along the base of my neck my mind began to scream, RAT, RAT, RAT. Ewwwww. Can I say it again?  Ewwwww. I’ve dealt with wasps, black widow spiders, and centipedes but never rodents. Well, for the sake of full disclosure I did have a wee gray mouse once.  His visit a brief but memorable one once our old cat honed in on his location. Mouse didn’t come by her name for nothing. Such is the circle of life. Unfortunately our cat du jour, Boo, the Queen of Cats, did not accept Mouse living in her house so we had to find Miss Mouse a new home. Boo, lazy to the very depth of her spoiled old bones, if faced with a rat would probably lie down and take a nap.

The following day after seeing the rat I called the pest control people. Conducting a thorough inspection, the service man said there was no infestation. Thank God. There was evidence of one rat, most likely a teenager. Personally I don’t care whether the rat was five or forty, I want him to find another place to hang his little rat hat. For enough money to pay for a semester at Harvard the man said he would set traps to rid us of the beast.  In addition to a substantial initial outlay a year-long contract was to be included to be paid on a monthly basis.  Hmmmm. Suddenly the rat was looking better than the service man.

I associate rats with being dirty. Not wanting to be considered as such, I prattled on about my attention to cleanliness with the pest control guy. Finally, probably tiring of hearing how my knees were raw from scrubbing the floors 24/7, he told me this rat probably just came in out of the rain and as a bonus discovered the dry goods we store in the garage. Who knew rats liked non-dairy creamer and coffee?

Searching for a less expensive option, I dialed my son’s number. Several years ago he’d had three rats in his garage. When he’d originally discussed this with me I was surprised. I keep a very clean house, but my daughter-in-law is immaculate. Dinner could be served up on her kitchen floor without fear of ingesting a single germ. For her this must have been tantamount to being told someone in the neighborhood had come down with bubonic plague. Duct work had to be torn down and replaced, x-rays taken of walls, and $5,000 later the house was rat-free. Ewwwww, once again.

Another friend of mine had rats in her walls. This can be a serious problem. Fortunately our situation is one rat, one garage. Easy peasey. In my friend’s case pest control set out a series of traps with cheese laced with poison. Rats ate the laced cheese and retreated back into the walls to go wherever rats go when they pass on. Unfortunately retrieval of the bodies was not part of the contract. After a few days and a good dose of hot air blown through the ducts from the furnace the house began to smell. More money then had to be invested to do something about odor abatement. Ach.

We often leave our garage door open during the day. My mother comments on her visits she would worry about critters getting in. In the four years we’ve been here we have only had one “critter” in the garage, a small deer who wandered in to help herself to some cat food. Perhaps we will have to rethink this strategy in the future.

So, we have purchased traps and as barbaric as I find this whole procedure it’s him or me. I am not willing to continue to go in the garage in hip boots and full haz-mat gear for the rest of my tenure in this house.

Probably not the best idea to pair a discussion of rodents with food, but what I am if not a trend setter?

These lamb burgers were our virgin run on the grill for the season. I love ground lamb and it is great for a change up from a traditional burger.

Grilled Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 lb. minced lamb
1/2 onion chopped fine
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed mint
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup Feta cheese
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 English muffins
Tomatoes and red onion
Spinach leaves

Mix all ingredients together well. Refrigerate for 1 hr. Form into patties.

Spray grill well with cooking spray. Preheat grill to med-high heat. Cook meat patties 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and top with Feta cheese.

At the same time baste each English muffin on cut side with olive oil. Place on grill until browned.

Serve patties on muffins with tomatoes, red onion (grilled are best) and fresh spinach leaves topped with Tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 cucumber, finely diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lemon juiced
1 Tbsp. dill
3 cloves garlic

Mix together and chill for 1 hr. Serve on top of lamb burgers.

Serves 4

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The time has once again moved forward an hour. When I was working full-time the “spring ahead” portion of daylight savings time was always a killer. For most of my life my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. When the time changed in spring, a precious 60 minutes of sleep disappeared over the horizon. Ironic how now, when I could sleep in until nine if the spirit moved me, I’m up staring at the ceiling at 4:15 thinking about my first cup of coffee. This morning the cat woke me up by licking my hair. What is up with that? Anyone else have a cat that displays this peculiar behavior?

I did a little research on cat licking after writing that last paragraph. Seems cats do this as a grooming ritual with those they consider peers. Nice to know she considers me part of the litter. Certainly I’m part of it once a week when I empty her box. Another hypothesis, as it must be considered such lest the article was penned from the feline’s point of view, is that some cats enjoy the taste of hair products. A suggestion offered by the writer to stop this habit was to remove your hair from the cat’s reach. Really? Now I’m not a Mensa card carrier, however, I’d like to think I’d have reached this conclusion on my own. With Boo, I suspect it would be the former rather than the latter. A very picky eater this cat. Yesterday I put a small scoop of wet cat food in her dish in lieu of her usual kibble. Wet food can be good for older cat’s digestive systems, or so I’ve read. After staring motionless at the bowl for five minutes she cast a long nasty look my direction and walked off in disgust. Sorry.

On a sadder and totally unrelated note, the world lost Stephen Hawking this week.  What an admirable human being and what amazing contributions to science he will leave behind.  Funny how some people seem so much further evolved than others. Always amazes me. Like super humans who tap into more of their brain power than we mere mortals are either capable of or choose to do. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to understand this phenomenon? Probably it will remain just another addition to the growing unanswered questions side of my life list.

Trapped by his disease for most of his adult life, he seemed to make peace with it. When asked by a reporter how he managed living with ALS,  he replied, “It gives me more time to think”.  Some people handle adversity with such grace and bravery it shames those of us busy concerning ourselves with poor cell phone reception or a pimple erupting  on our chin. Sometimes I think we can be dreadfully ungrateful as humans. Those of us fortunate enough to be able walk across the room, see where we are going while we do, and hear our children laugh should be able to find some joy in those precious gifts alone. Sounds simplistic I know. Just be happy. But, why not? With all that we have been given why is it many of us find happiness so elusive? Certainly drug manufacturers are making a fortune off of anti-anxiety medication and mood elevators. Perhaps it is because with all the beauty and joy in the world, the balance is sadness and diversity? Who knows.

Up in the middle of the night recently faced with a dismal selection on TV, I tuned in an episode of Celebrity Wife Swap. Always interesting to see how the 1% spends fills their days. One of the stars featured had a massive home along with a serious shopping addiction. There were separate rooms set aside for a massive storehouse of clothes, shoes, jewelry and an assortment of colognes suitable for setting up a kiosk at the local mall. Amazing. Buy, buy, buy. How many pairs of pants does one human need? Truth is unless I’ve missed something you can only wear one pair at a time. What is lacking that pushes us to keep trying to fill the coffer?

Yet another example of life’s inequities. Why is it some people have so much abundance while others struggle to get by? Yin and Yang I would suppose. Balance, once again, in all things. On the opposite side of the coin from our celebrity hoarder was an article about food insecurity in the Sacramento area I read recently. This is a subject that interests me deeply as I am involved with our local food bank and the great work they do. The writer cited an impressive number of adults and children suffering from food insecurity in Northern California. These staggering numbers reflected only those names on the books, leaving the unreported as an additional uncounted for demographic. Such people are dealing with where their next meal is coming from, not which cologne to spray on themselves, a far different reality. People often ask about homeless people or those going to bed hungry, “why don’t they just change their lives”? When you are concerning yourself with meeting the basic human needs there is little energy left for propelling yourself forward or making the situation better. Many people live one paycheck from the street, and that has to be a terrifying place to be.

It is so easy to dwell on what you don’t have. People say “I would be happy if I had a boat”, or “winning the lottery would make my life perfect”.  If this criteria was the key to happiness why are Ferrari owners getting divorces, and lottery winners ending up in bankruptcy court or bickering with greedy relatives? Perhaps the key to being happy is focusing more energy on what you do have. The gifts in your life. There should be found much to celebrate for many of us. Food on our plates, clothes on our backs, a healthy family, a place to call home. In my world I get great joy out of my “near perfect moments”. I have spoken to these before. Moments bringing me to the brink of tears with their bounty, reminding me how glorious a place the earth can be to make your home.  Sitting in the warm sun on a hillside ablaze with wildflowers, digging my toes in the wet sand and watching the ocean, kissing a baby’s feet when they are fresh from the tub. In my case, I also find endless enchantment with the creatures sharing our planet. Boo and all the beasts that inhabit our world bring me pleasure each and every day. There is so much beauty available by simply walking out the door and looking around you.

So I will offer up this really delicious pork loin which definitely brought a smile to our faces. Luvin my Instant Pot these days. Aside from the shorter cooking time, cleaning up is one pot in the sink.

Instant Pot Mandarin Orange Pork Loin

1 peppercorn pork loin cut in half
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained reserving liquid
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. ground allspice
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 Tbsp. Tamari
3 Tbsp. hot (use Med. or Mild for less heat) chunky salsa

Brown pork in hot oil over med. high heat until seared on all sides. Place in Instant Pot.

Put all remaining ingredients except mandarin oranges in blender and puree until smooth. Pour over pork. Cook for 50 mins. on Meat/Stew setting under high pressure. Allow pressure to release naturally. Remove pork and tent. Pour sauce into small saucepan. Simmer for 10 mins. Stir in 1/2 of the mandarin oranges (save the rest for a salad). Slice pork and pour sauce over top.

Serves 2-4

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Here I am, and here we all are, plowing through the first month of 2018. For those of us calling Northern California home, thus far there has been relatively little plowing involved in this winter. As a matter of fact, yesterday when I was pumping gas the gentlemen in the next lane over filling his Jeep was wearing cargo shorts and a short-sleeved tee-shirt. As I’ve said many times before, if Californians see sun they break out the sunscreen and assume a tanning position. Weird.

I packed up Christmas the day after and began the process of tucking a truculent and difficult 2017 away for the last time. What a year it was! However, I shall not look back only forward as that is the direction I am going.

Santa brought me an Instant Pot for Christmas. Perhaps I would not call this a romantic or even perhaps personal gift, but for one who likes to cook such as myself it is definitely exciting to have a new tool to play with. The pot has nine functions according to the manual, including pressure cooking. According to those hyping the product it does everything but birth your children for you, so I’m excited to give it a try. Up until yesterday the pot remained in the box as shipped. I haven’t really had time to stop and read the literature but from what I understand there is a “learning curve” involved in using this item. As I’ve gotten older, my learning doesn’t tend to stretch beyond opening a gum wrapper so most likely I’ll have a recipe to report by the time pumpkins are again showing up on store shelves.

A busy week looms before me. My calendar has appointments lined up like pigeons stretched along a phone line. A tool that makes cooking time more efficient could really come in handy about now.  All I need is someone to read the manual, wash the equipment, watch the helpful video, prep the food and cook it for me and I’m good to go.

A friend asked recently “how can you be so busy all the time”? Hmmmmm. Well, my mom needs quite a bit of my time, and Rick can’t drive yet. The effects of meningitis do not stop simply because he left the hospital. Often he feels off balance or unsteady on his feet. This will hopefully pass as time does but for now I man (or woman as the case may be) the wheel when we go out. Being a male animal, and being Rick, this does not sit well with him. Naturally, he considers himself a far superior driver to me. Most men I have had the pleasure of spending time with over my lifetime seem to have this opinion in common.

At fifteen and a half precisely to the nano second I was in line at the DMV under a sign reading, “learner’s permits-line starts here”.  The millenials don’t seem to share the same enthusiasm as did Baby Boomers when it comes to this rite of passage. I tried to get to the bottom of this with family members in that age group. This didn’t leave me with any definitive conclusions other than owning a car and all that entails seemed to be at the root of it from what I gathered. In the end it just didn’t seem important to them the way it was to us. For my friends and I it was our first real heady taste of freedom. No way would I have passed up the opportunity to leave the house without being under the ever watchful eye of my parents and travel the roads unsupervised. Did I do stupid things once set free? Naturally. Did I get caught? Often. Does my mother know to this day the extent of my early exploits when manning a vehicle? Not nearly.  Some, like leaving the speaker at the drive-in attached to the window before exiting the parking spot were unavoidable. Mainly due to the fact the window remained with the speaker as I drove off making an explanation unavoidable. Others such as getting the car stuck on an operating railroad track remain stored in my old and not so fond memory box for my amusement only.

Having read the manual thoroughly many times, I passed the written test with one error and was handed the cherished document. The next task was to actually seat myself behind the wheel of my mother’s Ford Falcon convertible and learn how to maneuver it. This was to prove a far more formidable task than remembering what the color painted on the curb signified on the test. During our first time on the road together, my mother divided her time between maintaining a death grip on the door handle, frantically depressing an invisible brake on the floorboard, and making incoherent muffled scream noises. This, as one might imagine, did not lead to a highly productive first outing.

After that my step-father took over. To be truthful we were not close he and I, but perhaps that is what made the pairing work. A teacher by trade (something I never understood as the man truly disliked children) he was able to get me to a point where I could drive safely and proficiently enough on public roads without being a danger to myself and others. For this I thank him. In the end, it would take three tries to get my actual license once I turned sixteen, but I persevered. Since then it has been a steady uphill grade with a good driving record for most of my years behind the wheel. Knock on wood, thank you.

The learning curve and time devoted to create these delicious lamb tacos is minimal but the end result delicious and finger licking yummy. Perfect for a quick dinner on

Savory Lamb Tacos with Crema

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. ground lamb
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. lemon pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
8 corn tortillas
Lettuce, chopped
Tomatoes
Red onion

Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 6 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add lamb and seasonings to pan. Cook, stirring frequently to break up meat until lamb in nicely browned. Drain.

Place 1/8 of lamb mixture in center of each of the warmed corn tortillas. Top with lettuce, tomatoes and red onion. Serve with crema.

Crema

3/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. chopped mint
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp. corinader
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. lemon zest

Whisk together. Refrigerate for 1 hr. before serving

Serves 4

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1

Another year is coming to a close, and an interesting year at that. You have to admit wherever your loyalties lie, it has been interesting. Perhaps others have different adjectives to cover what’s going on in our world, but for now I’ll leave it at interesting. From where I sit I could add a few more adjectives to the list. Stressful, chaotic and downright exhausting come to mind. Definitely a year full of memorable moments, some lovely and joyfully carried forward, others darker and better left in the shadowy corners. All in all, I will not shed one tear for 2017 as it makes it way off the calendar making room for 2018. God if you are listening (I realize it is your busy time of year) please concentrate your spotlight on somebody else for a while. I don’t want to be selfish and take up all your time.)

Changes are in the air for sure. Women are taking a stand moving sexual harassment to the front page, rather than where it is usually can be found swept under the mat. About time we planted our well manicured feet firmly on the floor and said enough is enough. Over the years there were many times when a man I was working with crossed the line. I handled it myself. Most women dealing with such unwanted attention back then did. You stayed out of their way, avoided being alone with them, and if all else failed talked your way out of it or threatened to tell their spouse if one was in the picture. There really wasn’t a lot you could do beyond handle it if you needed your job to put food on the table. If you told, as I once did, the response I got was “men will be men” and “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it”. Once on National Secretary’s Day I had to take a cab home from a lunch when my boss, after several martinis, put his hand on my knee under the table and suggested we crank our relationship up a notch. I didn’t like the notch we were on prior to his suggestion. Shortly thereafter I updated my resume and found a new company to draw my paycheck from.

Hopefully this won’t tip the scales too far in the other direction as many of these hot button issues tend to do. Tipping too far in the opposite direction might make it uncomfortable for men and women to say good morning to one another without ending up across the table from someone in HR or being escorted out of the building. Hard to know where to draw the line and what constitutes “inappropriate” behavior. Bigger yet, who lays out the rules of engagement? Men may have a different spin on this as is evidenced by what you read and hear on the news, than their female counterparts. Ahhhhh, men and women are always going to be like piranha and catfish. In the same family, but certainly not the same fish.

Whether you agree or disagree with those in charge of manning our government these days, people seem to be having more to say about it. Social media, customers in restaurants, friends, and strangers I meet in line at the grocery store all seem to have an opinion on what is going on. At least there is an active debate in motion and not apathy. That I can applaud.

On a lighter and brighter note, Christmas is twinkling brightly just around the bend in the road. How I love the holidays. The day after Thanksgiving, if a wall of lava is heading down the hillside toward the house, you will find me in the garage digging through the mass of boxes labeled “Xmas”. Downsizing from 4,500 square feet to 1,600 has left many items unused in the mass of boxes lest we look like we’re having a giant holiday sale and Rick has to move into the garage to avoid being blinded by the lights. The cat, Miss Boo, fully participates in holiday festivities spending her time snatching rolls of ribbon out of my wrapping supplies or relieving the lower branches of the tree of what she appears to feel are superfluous ornaments.

Spending more time with my mother has been a plus this year. Well, most days. Insert smile here. I adore my mother but like most mother’s and daughter’s there are days or weeks when we don’t see eye to eye. As the years have gone by and the roles have shifted this has eased certainly. There is no doubt we are different by design. Often I tell her I’m sure she picked up the wrong baby in nursery. My mom is like the turtle, slow wins the race. I am like the hare, wound tighter than an eight-day clock but not always the first one crossing the finish line. A task that would take me five minutes including clean up might take her nearly an hour to complete.

Mother has suffered with OCD most of her life. Why her doctors never suggested anything to help or if they did remains a mystery. The effects of this have shown themselves more severely as she has aged. As an example, last weekend I gave her a head of lettuce to clean. Once clean she was to break it up in a salad bowl, add some tomatoes and veggies, and make a salad. I went off to fold laundry and clean the cat litter (life in the fast lane) leaving her to her task. Surfacing some time later to see how the salad had progressed I found mother standing in front of a ball of lettuce on the chopping board about the size of a softball and an empty bowl. Inquiring as to where the rest of the lettuce had disappeared to, she pointed to the trash can explaining the discarded leaves had some brown on the bottom so she tossed them. Ahhhhh. Exit salad stage left.

This brought to mind the great asparagus debacle of last summer. Company was coming. Behind schedule I asked her to clean and trim a bunch of asparagus while I took a shower and got dressed. When I returned forty-five minutes later there were three stems ready for the pot. It seems she trims each little leaf off every one before cooking. Had she worked in the kitchen of our restaurant we would have open and closed on the first day of business.

Was I to attach a label to this year I would label it patience. Patience is the key when working with everything in life. Life won’t be pushed or ordered into subservience. Like a cat, even if you ask nicely it tends to still do whatever it wants to and you must comply. With my mother I take deep breaths and remind myself that each visit is precious and someday these visits will be my memories of our time together.

I hope the holidays bring you laughter and joy, time spent with family and friends, and that the new year dawns with peace in the air and tolerance on the agenda.

I’m including heartfelt thoughts to those suffering through the persistent fires here in perpetually sunny California and to those brave individuals who step up on the lines and fight them.

I served this salad on Thanksgiving and everyone went on about it. The trick is to slice the apples thin and soak them in 2 cups of water with 1/8 cup lemon juice mixed in. So pretty on a holiday table and worth a second helping.

Red and Green Apple Spinach Salad with Sesame Seed Dressing

3 cups baby spinach, stems trimmed
1 green apple, cored and sliced thin
1 red apple, cored and sliced thin
2 cups water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries, rehydrated
1/4 cup toasted pecans
salt
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Core and slice apples. Place in bowl with cold water and lemon juice and let sit for 8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and pat dry. Dry roast toasted pecans in small frying pan over med-low heat watching not to burn. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Place dried cranberries in small bowl. Pour boiling water over the cranberries to cover and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 mins. Drain.

Add apples, pecans, cranberries and remaining ingredients to salad bowl and toss with dressing.

Sesame Seed Dressing

2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. finely chopped green onion

Whisk together ingredients and refrigerate for 1 hr. prior to using.

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1

Today I decided to deep clean the house before the holidays. Rick would tell me it is clean, but I believe the level on which most male animals rate cleanliness is often below the standard we women might use. To him “clean” is there isn’t a pile of trash on the floor with rodent presence and he has fresh underwear in his drawer. For me, this is not adequate for company.

Aside from the dust that settles minutes after I spray it away, Boo, the Queen of Cats, leaves evidence of her presence everywhere she travels. White fur floats through the air, covers furniture, and generally attaches itself to anything and everything. Last week my mother got up from the cat’s chair and the back of her black pants looked as if they needed a shave. Yes, yes, the cat has her own chair. I know. Not one penny did she provide for it, but if it had her name engraved on it it couldn’t be more hers. I’m rolling my own eyes. It’s a nice chair at that. IKEA would be proud to know that one of their own has been put to work in such a fashion. On top of the chair is the queen’s pillow, which if not whisked with the tape roller every day begins to look like Santa’s beard.  When we have to put her chair into use when extra company arrives she circles whoever is seated in it like Indians might a wagon train. In a particularly feisty mood, she might even make a swipe at the occupant before retiring to a corner and fixing them with an icy feline stare. Nice.

I have tried to find a groomer in our area who caters to cats. Seems the words out cats aren’t fond of water and groomers have chosen to stick with canines who for the most part are easier to manage. Where we lived previously was on the route of a wonderful mobile groomer. The truck rolled down the driveway every three months to freshen up the cat and trim her nails. This, I have to say, was never a procedure Boo looked forward to with any enthusiasm. So much so that if the truck turned into the driveway and she wasn’t crated she could be located hiding under the bed precipitating a pursue and capture routine Laurel and Hardy would have been proud of.  For those of you too young to know who they are please find a search bar.

I’ve had a string of animals since I got my first cat when I turned thirteen. While in Home Depot last weekend I ran into a man with a “goldendoodle”. What a gorgeous creature she was and blessed with the sweetest disposition. Goldendoodles are part standard poodle and part golden retriever.  Brought to mind the 80’s at my house and a golden retriever answering to Barnaby. Barnaby was my husband at the time’s dog at heart. That being said, he didn’t listen to anyone in the household but him, and at that not him very often.  The dog was enormous even by retriever standards. From the time we brought him home from the breeder the dog was prone to eating wooden door frames or sticking his head in the trash can distributing the contents everywhere if left unsupervised. Nothing was off limits when unattended including my expensive shoes or newly purchased leather love seat. Realizing as the days passed Barnaby needed some fine tuning when it came to behavior we enrolled him in obedience school at the local junior college. After the best efforts of the staff on hand it was determined he was not going to be an honor student. I believe when the last class concluded and I loaded the rambunctious Barnaby and his “diploma” into the back of the station wagon the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief. It became obvious leaving him in the house wasn’t an option. Once when left to his own devices after a dinner party he consumed an entire coconut cake a guest had kindly brought to share for dessert. Outside being the only obvious solution a huge dog house was purchased with a lovely padded bed for him to lie on. Not the sharpest pencil in the box I can still see him sitting with rain teeming down his face next to the dog house when I came home from work.

I love all animals, but Barnaby and I had issues. Holes, in particular were number one on my list. Our lovely yard was often put to the test when Barnaby found himself with time on his paws while we were at work. Even when I was home he could be seen digging furiously behind the fruit trees by the fence hoping to tunnel beneath it to freedom. Not alone in the yard most days, our more obedient and far lazier Shih Tsu would sit patiently at his side until the tunnel took shape. No matter how many times I filled a hole, another would show up to replace it. Sigh. On returning home on many days I would find the two doggie pals seated on the front step waiting for their evening meal after roaming the neighborhood. Thankfully they were friendly dogs, and the worst thing that ever came from such behavior was fatter bellies because of extra treats handed out by well-meaning neighbors and an occasional request to pick up a deposit one or the other animal left on a neighboring lawn.  Once after consuming an entire box of crayons I got interesting calls from around the block from people finding Technicolor dog droppings in their yards. Hmmmmm. Talk about having an m.o.

When even pouring cement beneath the fence line didn’t work we had to find Barnaby a home. The people who signed up were retired from their jobs and their children grown. They devoted all their time and affection to making the rest of Barnaby’s life full of doggie smiles. I got a Christmas card with a picture of the three of them in Santa hats each year for a while and am happy to know he found a forever home.

In between changing sheets and doing the floors I whipped up this soup. Really good on a chilly night.

Tuscan Sausage Soup

16 oz. bulk Italian sausage, mild
8 slices crisply cooked bacon, cut in fourths
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
32 oz. chicken broth
2 1/2 cups water
4 russet potatoes, thinly sliced
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
Salt to taste
1 1/2″ square chub of hard Parmesan cheese
3 cups baby spinach
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Additional Parmesan for garnish

Brown sausage in stock pot. Remove with slotted spoon and drain. Discard fat in pot. Add olive oil to pot over med-low heat. Add onion and cook 6-8 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min.

Add broth, water, potatoes, red pepper flakes, black pepper, Parmesan cheese, bacon and sausage to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook 20 mins. Add spinach to pot an continue cooking 10 mins. Whisk in cream and heat through.

Serve with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Serves 4

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