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final

Another news item to file away. First it was free-range chickens, now it is free-range kids. Yup, I said it, you heard it. According to the news anchor this morning, free-range children are those kids whose parents allow them to walk home from school unaccompanied or go to the park with their siblings or friends with no adult supervision. Some states have laws governing whether you can or cannot allow this, but in many states the laws are unclear when it comes to when and at what age this is permissible.

For those of us raised in a time where our parents regularly ushered us outside on our own to play, this seems a sad situation. Play dates were non-existent entities when I was growing up. Youngsters were released on the world early in the day to create their own adventures, returning only when they got hungry or the sun went down. From one to nine I lived with my mother in my maternal grandparents home. Their home sat on a rise on a rambling piece of property reaching out to the Atlantic ocean. As a youngster these hills were my playground.  On warm summer days the grassy knolls could be transformed into a pirate’s treasure island or become the perfect backdrop for a teddy bear picnic served on my grandfather’s favorite lap robe. I rode my bike to the park to get ice cream with my allowance, played jacks under the elm tree on the corner with my friends, and scooped tadpoles into a Mason jar at the frog pond without any supervision. Not that I was neglected, quite the opposite I was a bit spoiled, but children roamed free back in the day. Young minds found fascinating things to explore using our vivid imaginations extending far beyond the scope of a device in our laps. So glad am I to have been born when I was. To be able to be raised with such freedom of movement, racing through the door with burrs in my socks and grass stains on my knees.  Flowers flourish in the warm sunlight and gentle breezes as do small humans. Wiggling bare feet in an icy stream or throwing snow balls at the enemy were rights of passage for kids when I was losing my grip on my childhood. Times change, life goes on, but somehow it feels like something precious has been left behind.

Leaving my misspent youth for a while, I poured my second cup of coffee, returning my focus to the news. A story was airing about adding a cancer warning to coffee. Really? When it turns out in the end the only safe foods left to ingest are tofu and raw seaweed I’m throwing in the towel and getting ready to beam up. Hear me loud and clear. I have given up cigarettes (which sadly I rather enjoyed), liquor rarely crosses my lips, and I don’t do drugs of any kind other than an occasional antibiotic, but coffee will remain firmly entrenched in my morning routine period, end of conversation. I will simply have to deal with the consequences of my actions. Without my morning cup of Joe I am a far less amiable and energetic person. Admitting my bubbly personality may largely be attributed to a small brown bean is not an easy admission, but there you have it.

News is on my mind these days with so much available at my fingertips. You can’t escape it. Even while in the hairdressers yesterday, a place where I usually get my monthly dose of celebrity gossip from the current People magazine, I was caught up in a discussion about current events. My hairdresser says she no longer tunes in newscasts as they spread negative ideas and leave her depressed. I get that. However, part of me needs to know what is going on in the world. Particularly lately when the political climate fluctuates so dramatically from one day to the next. That being said, I must admit I am growing weary of the endless political discussions after dinner with friends, and  tiresome social media infighting. I don’t remember it being like this before the current administration took the reins, but I won’t go there lest I start some political maelstrom on my humble blog.

Once we’d put the discussion about world events to bed at the beauty parlor our thoughts again turned to my hair. This was my first appointment in this shop so I brought a picture to illustrate what color I was aiming for. The model smiling back in the photo sported lush hair with brownish undertones warmly highlighted with blonde. Nodding and smiling the stylist indicated she understood the concept. Two hours later I exited the shop looking as though I’d been dipped head first in a hot fudge machine. Back to the drawing board. Sigh. Thankfully, hair color is a temporary situation. If this is the worst hurdle I have to scale in my life I believe I will survive. Was I twenty years younger there would be a crisis but these days like a twig in a stream Susie sort of rolls with the ebb and flow of things. Don’t sweat the small stuff is my mantra and I have a tee shirt to prove it.

For women finding a new stylist who suits her can be very stressful. I don’t know if this pertains to our male counterparts, but I would imagine it might. Certainly I have had my share of bad hair cuts and sloppy color jobs through the years. Many times I have threatened to let my hair grow naturally to my ankles and allow starlings to nest in it before trusting anyone else to get their hands on it. This resolve usually lasts about six weeks until a line of growth becomes visible and once again I find myself draped and ready for the latest manifestation of myself hoping for the best.

Another beef, while I’m in full voice here, is even when they manage the color and cut to your satisfaction they often fall down on the style. I have left salons looking like everyone from Annie Lennox to Richard Simmons. To me when you walk in with your hair styled a certain way and indicate you like it that way it should be obvious you might like to walk out in a similar manner, yes? I keep a spare hat in my back seat in case I need to stop at the store or run an errand on the way home so as not to frighten the townspeople.

So I come to the end of my rant for the day. The rain has finally ceased outside my window and I’m preparing to head out. I made this soup yesterday out of a leftover chub of pork loin and it was amazingly delicious.

Leftover Pork and Black Bean Soup

1 large onion chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cups cubed pork loin (cooked)
1 15 oz. can black beans rinsed and drained
1 15 oz. can kernel corn, drained
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
3 oz. (1/2 can tomato paste)
7 cups water
1/2 small potato peeled and diced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Mexican blend cheese
Tortilla chips

Heat oil in stock pot over med-low heat. Add onion and cook over low heat for 6-8 mins. until translucent. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 50 minutes.

Serve with sprinkled cheese and tortilla tips.

Serves 4

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1
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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1
Neither Alexa nor Echo live at our house. Behind the times on most things electronic, these are just not additional technological toys we wish to deal with at this point. Most likely they are handy, reducing the necessity of actually rising from a seated position to turn the lights on and off, but for now we will continue our lives in the dark ages and flip the switches ourselves. Apparently users of Alexa are experiencing some disturbing side effects. Alexa’s, without prompting from their handlers, have begun laughing unexpectedly. Oh-oh. This brings to mind 2001 A Space Odyssey. Remember Hal? When I saw that movie for the first time back in the day, the idea of having robots at the controls seemed so far off. Now, however, with robots flipping burgers and computer driven vehicles the concept is right on our doorstep.

Still straddling the fence about cars driving themselves. What if the computer goes rogue or something in the wiring goes south? Not so unlikely a scenario really. My laptop regularly decides to go off on its own requiring a tweak here or a geek there. Our SUV recently staged a computer rebellion of its own. The dashboard gauges one after another went on strike. The gas gauge needle now remains fixed on full (if only this were true) and we have to rely on the mileage indicator on the dash to tell us how many miles before we run out of gas.  Thankfully this is to be repaired next week. Cars certainly were far less complicated before computers were introduced and less expensive to repair. Not cheap getting the car computer worked on BTW. Cars have to be diagnosed now, which is an initial charge. Once the problem is identified and repairs commence, the labor and parts then begin to add up. Used to be men worked on their engines themselves. On the weekend you’d see hoods open around the neighborhood with guys in groups bending over and scratching their heads. You don’t often see a guy with grease on his jeans leaning over his engine these days. Not much the lay mechanic can do with complicated codes and programming to deal with.

Devices are taking over our world for sure. Pedestrian deaths have risen at such an alarming rate due to distracted walking, some cities have been forced to enact laws fining people caught walking and texting. A video on Facebook showing the dangers of such a practice including one guy so wrapped up in his cell phone he actually ran into a bus passing in front of him. Literally crashed into the side of a bus. Really? I mean not noticing a guy on a bike is one thing, but a municipal bus? That’s like not noticing an elephant reading People in the seat next to you at the hair dresser. Another man walked into a pole with such force he broke both his glasses and his phone. Thankfully, his face was still in tact. Amazingly he looked as if his dog has just died while surveying the damage to his cell phone. I guess if I paid the going rate for a new phone, I might be looking like that myself.

More often than not I feel out of step with the world as it is. Yesterday, for example, I was cooling my heels waiting for Rick at his physical therapy appointment. Knowing I had time to kill, I grabbed my book on the way out of the house. Once Rick’s name was called, I opened my book to the bookmarked page and began reading. Peeking over the rims of my glasses, I noticed one again I was the only human in the crowded room reading an actual book. A man came in shortly after I got situated and took up the chair next to me. After surveying his phone for a while he asked me what I was reading. I began to answer, “a book”, thinking perhaps he hadn’t seen one in the flesh recently and didn’t recognize it, then I realized he meant what book.

Have to admit I did enjoy my first video chat with my cousin the other day. That was fun. Most probably the reason I’ve been resistant to participating in these prior to this is I don’t always want to put on lipstick or blow dry my hair before turning on my laptop. Usually my first jolt of technology comes along with my first jolt of caffeine when I look as if I’ve just exited a rigorous workout in a blender.

A step in the right direction, I have recently acquired an Instant Pot. It required a slight learning curve but now I plug it in often shaving cooking time off my schedule. I was concerned these ribs might be dry but to my delight they were succulent and delicious.

Instant Pot Spareribs

1 rack back ribs (membrane removed)
dry rub (recipe below)
4 cups apple juice
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. Liquid Smoke

Dry Rub

1 1/2 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1 tsp. sea salt (fine)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

Whisk rub together and rub over ribs. Wrap tightly in foil and refrigerate overnight.

Barbecue Sauce

1 cup catsup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon
2 1/2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Liquid Smoke
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. ground mustard
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp. Sriracha sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together ingredients. Simmer over low heat for 1/2 hour until slightly reduced. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pour apple juice, apple cider vinegar and Liquid Smoke in Instant Pot. wrap ribs in a circle around inside wall of pot. Cook on Meat/Stew for 20 mins. Allow to cool down. Remove ribs and discard liquid.

Brush liberally with sauce. Place until broiler for 5 mins. watching to keep from burning. Serve with extra sauce.

Serves 2-4

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final

Yesterday I went to the hair dresser to celebrate a monthly rite of passage, “the hiding of the gray”. My first gray hair made its debut before my twenty-first birthday shortly after the rather arduous birth of my son. Whether this was due to the difficult labor or my little boy’s unquenchable energy once home, remains up for debate. Several times, particularly since I am now of the appropriate age, I have considered letting the gray have its way with me. Usually, however, once the decision is made I find myself once again draped and staring in the mirror at the salon deciding to give it another birthday before sealing the deal.

Today hair dressers are often referred to as beauticians or stylists. Like physicians who branch out into neurosurgery or podiatry stylists too have specialties such as sculpturing or coloring.  There are those who are aces at long hair with others excelling at short. Not all hairdressers, despite extensive training, have a natural gift for their craft. I had my only perm at a beauty college in middle school. The hairdresser responsible for that abomination should have been charged with defacing a child.  Most of my summer between seventh and eighth grade was spent sitting in the closet with a paper bag over my head chanting “grow, grow, damn you”.

More than once over the years I have found myself on the losing end of a pair of shears. Once while living in Alabama in the 90’s I badly needed a “touch up”. New to the area with no Yelp to guide me, I allowed my finger to do the walking through the yellow pages. Finding a salon not far from the house I booked an appointment.  Arriving at the set time the following day the lobby was packed. Cooling my heels for twenty minutes the owner, Jean-Paul, a man in his mid fifties guided me to a chair. Apologizing for the wait he explained it was prom weekend and they were particularly busy.  A few minutes were devoted to discussing my color and how I liked my coffee before he again disappeared. A shop employee delivered the requested coffee with an assurance color would be quickly behind.  Fifteen minutes later an elderly woman carrying a plastic bowl and a coloring brush arrived at my station. Hmmmm. Turns out this was “Memaw”. Memaw told me later she was still going strong at eighty-eight.  Impressive. Memaw in the south is synonymous with Grandma or Nana in the northern states. The salon, Memaw explained, was a family affair. Five members of the owners family were employed in some capacity, including Memaw herself who pitched in with color and shampoos when they were overbooked. Now Memaw, who I would surmise probably didn’t manage five feet when fully erect, was bent over so far over she appeared to be perpetually studying her shoes. Please do not confuse this with a disparaging remark towards those suffering with osteoporosis. I have the beginning stages of the disease and salute the lady for working at all in such condition much less at her age. Rather I insert this sentence by way of painting an accurate picture of the woman about to slather color on my locks. A small footstool was placed behind me. Memaw gamely climbed on top. Without benefit of being able to look up to see where she was dabbing the woman somehow began the process of applying color to my hair. The end result made me wonder how the how the name Shear Genius ever came to be associated with the shop and why, unless they were the only beauty shop in town, there was standing room only in the lobby. Ach. Not only was the color so far off my normal color as to be from an alternate universe, the application was done in such a hit and miss manner I looked like a mottled Australian sheep dog. My husband on seeing me when he arrived home tried to avoid eye contact. When I inquired as to what he thought, he immediately went into that self-defense mode male animals do when cornered. You know the one when you ask loaded questions such as “do I look fat in this” or “do these pants make my behind look big”. Cautiously while studying the tile pattern on the kitchen floor he responded, “what do you think”? Ah, clever man. I began to cry. In the end I had to have a temporary fix applied and wear a hat in 110 degree weather with 98% humidity until I could safely repair the damage the following month. Not good, not good at all.

Over the years more male faces have begun to show up in the chairs next to me. Perhaps this is due to salons expanding their services to include such spa amenities as massages, facials and waxing. This doesn’t bother me much now, but when I was younger having a man seated next to me while I was wearing folded foil packets on my head or spiked with purple glop was a little off-putting. I recall an instance while getting my hair done in Southern California. The salon was quite expensive as I recall, so I only frequented it on special occasions. This particular day the goo was in place and I was only half way through my first People magazine. Suddenly I smelled smoke and the smoke alarms came to life. Stylists began rushing their customers out the door in all stages of development. The woman next to me still had shampoo in her hair, while another woman getting a frosting looked as if she was wearing an upside down colander with with cooked spaghetti poking out of the holes.

highlighting-cap

Fire trucks began to arrive packed with gloriously attractive emergency personnel. Are there any homely firemen? Question to ponder. While moving toward the building I caught several of these gorgeous men eying our motley group huddled on the lawn as if we’d just exited the mother ship. Turned out it was a small localized fire with more smoke than damage. By the time we were allowed back in the building the color had actually dyed the skin around my face giving me the look of having recently been poorly tattooed. Fortunately this faded as the days passed. I did not return to that salon again before moving from the area.

For now I will continue my monthly routine. In November when I once again add a candle to my cake, I’ll revisit going gray again.

This soup is rich deliciousness. Yum. I found red lentils at the Mediterranean market and it was the perfect choice for a rainy day.

Red Lentil Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 cups red lentils washed and sorted
1 1/2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 lemon juiced
Cilantro
Sour Cream
Crumbled bacon

Heat oil in stock pot over med. heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic and cook for 6-8 mins. Add seasonings and cook and stir for 3 mins. Add all remaining ingredients through lentils. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook uncovered for 40 mins. Cool slightly. Place 1/2 soup in blender and puree. Return to pot. Add parsley and lemon.

Serve topped with slice of lemon, cilantro, sour cream and bacon as desired.

Serves 4

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2

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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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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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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