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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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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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final

Yesterday truly was the most ridiculous day. Sometimes I look at my life and wonder whether to laugh or cry.  After several months of recovery from his meningitis ordeal, Rick is beginning to venture out into the world again even reintroducing driving into his daily routine. Indian summer is lingering here in Northern California leaving temperatures in the eighties making it nice for getting out and about.

The SUV has been taking up space in our yard plagued with a dead battery since Rick’s illness.  Once back on his feet, he got the battery charged and we took the vehicle in for a much-needed bath and fluid check. The mechanic said the diagnostics indicated there was an impending spark plug issue but he felt this should hold for a couple of months. Deciding it might be fun to take the car for a run in the country on such a lovely day we made a plan. Colfax, a historical little mining town about a forty minute drive from us, was where we chose for a late lunch and to take a look around.

Unfamiliar with the restaurants in that area, I keyed in “best restaurants in Colfax, CA” and located four with excellent ratings programming the addresses into the GPS. Yea. In particular I was hoping to try the Mexican restaurant. The reviews were excellent and the menu intriguing. There are three Mexican themed restaurants in our area, none of which stand out over the other, so the idea of a great plate of enchiladas and an icy margarita made the trip all the more enticing.

The drive through the hills provided us with a preview of the fall foliage beginning to emerge in the prolific trees in our area.  Heeding the instructions from our GPS we turned off at our exit and quickly located the Mexican restaurant which was our destination. Having eaten a light breakfast early in the day my taste buds were on high alert. Yum. Parking the car we got our first good glimpse of the historic downtown area. The weathered buildings and rustic sidewalks still retained a hint of its original gold rush glory. If you closed your eyes and used your imagination you could picture miners driving horse draw buggies through town and hear laughter emanating from the saloon still standing several doors down from the restaurant.

Approaching the doors to the restaurant, we found them locked. Hmmmm. Looking at the signs posted in the glass display box out front lunch was served until 2:00, and it was now almost 3:00. Dinner, it appeared, was reserved for Thursday’s and Friday’s only. As it was Tuesday, my cheesy gooey enchilada bubble with the salt rimmed glass of limey goodness burst before the first hint of tequila touched my lips. Not to be discouraged, we headed to the number two restaurant on my list. At the second location the building gave the immediate impression of being closed. No lights were on and nobody was home. My stomach was beginning to protest. Ach. Reading the notice on the door, dinner service began at 5:00 and there was no lunch service.  Finding the same situation at the last two addresses Rick gently pointed out that perhaps I should have gathered this information prior to leaving the house.  A look from me indicated perhaps he should hold his suggestions until I’d eaten. I’m not at my best when hungry.

Deciding to head back down the hill and eat in Auburn, we reprogrammed out trusty GPS and headed south. The car, apparently over the whole program, turned on it’s “check engine” light and began to shudder and creak as we drove along. Great. Meanwhile the GPS was guiding us deeper into a heavily wooded area. Winding around a dirt road we came upon a sign reading “one lane bridge”.  The other option at this fork was marked “PRIVATE ROAD” in capital letters with an exclamation point. Whoever put it there didn’t seem receptive to unwanted company. Hmmmm. The problem with the bridge was a sign leading into it with a large arrow pointing in the direction from which we had just come. Feeling this was some sort of omen,  we turned around and headed back to civilization. The idea of getting stuck out in the middle of nowhere with nothing to eat surrounded by unwelcoming homeowners wasn’t sitting well with either of us.

Limping into Auburn we ended up at Panera Bread ordering soup and a sandwich. Still hungry after my meal, I got back in line to pick up a pumpkin cookie I’d seen on the way in. Thinking a cookie wouldn’t be more than the $1.50 I’d grabbed from my wallet I was surprised when the cashier rang up $2.89 on her register. What? It’s a cookie. I said I’d only brought $1.50 with me and put the cookie back. Going back and sitting down next to Rick he asked where my cookie was. Explaining what had happened, we got up to leave. A lady who had been behind me in line stopped by our table and rested a conciliatory hand on my shoulder. Extending her hand she handed me the pumpkin cookie smiling gently at me.  Huh? Realizing by her behavior she was under the impression I hadn’t purchased the cookie because I didn’t have enough money to pay for it I reached in my purse to get her $3.00. Remembering I only had a $100 bill and some change I asked if she could wait while I got change for the large bill. She smiled knowingly and said “pay it forward”. Good God. Ah well, my humiliation was now complete.

Accepting this as a kind act from a stranger, I decided to simply say thank you and indeed pay it forward at the next opportunity. In the end the thoughtful gesture made my day and reminded me there are lovely people out there hiding just at the tips of our elbows.

Another ridiculous day put to rest. Ach. HAPPY HALLOWEEN! One of my favorite holidays. No costume or party this year unless you include a red, red nose from my first cold of the year. Thus I am living vicariously through those brave people I see manning the cash registers in stores wearing lime green clown wigs or those serving burgers in Wonder Woman outfits. Yea for them for keeping the kid alive beyond graduation.

These beans are really easy and incredibly yummy. Rick says he could eat them for dinner without a main course.

Blue Cheese Green Beans with Baked Mushrooms

1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
1/2 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper
1/4 cup crumbled buttermilk blue cheese
1/3 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cover a cookie sheet with tin toil. Spray well with cooking spray. Toss mushrooms and garlic with olive oil. Spread in single layer on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 15-20 mins. turning several times until golden brown.

Meanwhile place green beans in deep frying pan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat. Cook on high simmer for 15-20 mins. or until tender but not mushy. Remove from heat. Add butter and salt and pepper and stir until melted. Sprinkle blue cheese over top and place lid on. Add mushrooms and stir

Serves 4

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1

Where to begin, where to begin. Such a year. When the holidays are done and the final day of December has been put to bed I am going to tear the last page off the 2017 calendar and feed it into the paper shredder never to be seen again. OMG.

The last few months have been jam-packed with a whole lot of crazy. Rick, the love of my life and my BFF, contracted meningitis the beginning of August. Leave it to Mr. Rick to have to be a showman when it comes to getting sick. The doctor in charge of his care said he had only seen six such cases in all his years in medicine. Thankfully, we caught it immediately. Not doing so might have resulted in less positive reporting. Once diagnosed the seriousness of the situation dropped over me like a trawler’s net over the catch of the day. The future appeared blurred, the road ahead uncertain.

Funny how one day can alter the course of your life. In the blink of an eye we went from our daily routine to Rick fighting to reach the surface and me praying to find a familiar piece of him in the fiery hot being lying in the bed before me. Awful simply doesn’t describe the feeling when someone you love is threatened in such a way. Helplessness washes over you. Strength is drawn from places you had no idea you had stored it for such an occasion.

While he was in ICU I was at the hospital more than I was home. Once in the house I fed the cat, took a shower and found the bed to attempt to catch an elusive couple of hours of sleep. Each time I laid my shoes out to slip them on the neglected Boo, Queen of Cats, offered me the feline version of the stink eye turning her back as I exited the house. Life, she has discovered over the last sixty days, does not always revolve around her ever spreading white furry behind.

At first the progress was disheartening. Meningitis is an inflammation of the brain and a serious thing to contract. The inflammation causes error messages to be sent out to other parts of the body much like pistons misfiring in the cylinder of a car. For the first two days when asked who I was by the attending physician, Rick would answer “the lady who sits in the chair by the window”. For me the response elicited immediate tears, to Rick is his addled condition it seemed logical indeed. As staff moved in and out he asked me several times why they kept changing their faces. These hallucinations were attributed to both the infection curdling his nerve centers and the heavy drugs being administered to keep the intense pain at bay. All this I’m sure was terrifying for him, and for me immobilizing.

On the third day when I walked in his room I was greeted with “Hi Baby”. Wow. I was so glad to hear those two words.

His daughter flew out for several days and was here with me easing that feeling of total isolation rapidly creeping over me. I was reminded of when I was infected with the norovirus six years ago. Visiting my mother when I fell ill I was admitted to a hospital with unrelenting diarrhea and vomiting. Tucked in a hospital bed in a room marked “isolation” in an unfamiliar hospital I was too sick to be afraid. Hospital personnel dressed in full contagious disease garb cruised in and out of my room checking vitals and seeing to my needs. “ET phone home kept coming to mind.” I had no visitors during that week lest they either get the virus from me or carry it out to others. At the time it was epidemic in the Bay Area and health authorities were beating the drum to slow down the spread.

Thankfully I came up out of that mess a size or two smaller but in tact much as Rick will out of meningitis. He is home now after 21 days in the hospital. Yesterday he insisted that though the virus hadn’t done him in he was fully convinced the kitchen staff at the rehabilitation hospital were doing their best to finish the job.  Ah sarcasm, Rick’s back.

This is such a delicious substitute for potatoes and looks so “fallish” on the plate. Yum.

Cauliflower and Carrot Puree

1 head of cauliflower florets
3 carrots, cut in chunks
2 Tbsp. butter, plus 1 Tbsp. divided
2 celery stalks, diced
1/2 of a large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup whole milk (more or less as desired)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook vegetables until tender. Drain well.

Heat butter in medium saucepan over med-low heat. Add celery and onion. Cook for 6 mins. or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic. Cook for 1 min. Add white pepper, chicken bouillon and wine. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 min. Toss with vegetables. Allow to cool slightly.

Place in food processor or blender and pulse until roughly pureed. Add milk gradually (use more or less to achieve desired consistency of mashed potatoes). Add salt and pepper as desired. Top with additional pat of butter.

Serves 4

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1

It’s official……my brain has given notice. Like so many political figures these days, my gray matter is longer in line with official policy and has decided to move on. This morning I found the leftover watermelon salad from last night’s dinner on the front seat of the car and the GPS in the fridge. Surprisingly I wasn’t shocked. This year hasn’t stopped for a stress break since the calendar turned the page on January 1, 2017. Never have I needed a vacation more and found myself less likely in a position to take one.

Next week is the planned move for my mother, the second since the beginning of the year. Although we downsized her cache considerably with the first move, still there are china cabinets packed with family treasures and endless boxes of shoes, miscellaneous household goods, and general household items needing to be wrapped and boxed. Last week was scheduled as the first of several packing days. I drove down in our SUV to get things rolling and bring her up here afterward for a few days. On the way down the car began to pull awkwardly. At first I thought it was the well rutted road but by the time I reached her place I knew definitely it was the vehicle behaving badly. The temperature was moving up. After several hours of filling boxes I decided to wrap things up (no pun intended) and get on the road early in case we encountered trouble.  Normally I might have taken this in stride. Certainly this is not the first car I’ve had that developed a problem. However, our second car, a Ford Fusion, had begun making a noise the day before and was scheduled to go into the shop the following day to be repaired. Should this vehicle need the same that would leave us without wheels.

Murphy’s Law, in my case at least, would be that things malfunction at the time you most need them to work. Murphy was alive and well, seated on my right shoulder getting a real charge out of himself. About thirty-five minutes into the drive with another twenty minutes to go, I began to wonder if we were going to make it. My mother chattered on happily in the passenger seat blissfully unaware of the fact there was a strong possibility we were going to be stranded on the side of the road at any moment thumbs pointed toward the sky.

Murphy or not, we finally reached the safety of our driveway. Once unloaded and inside, Rick and I formulated a plan to get both vehicles to the shop as well as return my mother to her home. Hmmm. Plan A was to get a rental car the following morning. Next to take the car under warranty, the Fusion, in first and get that one running. Then we would use the rental to get around and get my mother home. As an aside on my last trip down to gather my mother a rock hit the window on the Fusion. First a tiny hole, now had spread to a long line stretching across the windshield. Included in Plan A was calling our insurance company to get the windshield replaced. For those familiar with Munch’s oil, The Scream, you get some idea of how I was feeling.

Plan B, should Plan A fall by the wayside, was I would marry a wealthy sultan with a fleet of cars and keep Rick on the side as my driver and confidante. This, might I add, was beginning to work for me.

I scheduled a pick up from the rental car company. The driver arrived early the next day and I signed a contract for three days. Originally I’d ordered an economy car which was all I needed. A sudden surge of renters left the dealer out of economy cars so they offered me an upgrade to a Ford Explorer at no extra cost.  Yea for me. The Explorer is a much larger SUV than ours. Equipped with every bell and whistle from cooled seats to in dash GPS and video capabilities it was quite a technologically sophisticated ride. I used up half the first day trying to figure out how to adjust the side rear view mirrors and use the radio. When you back up there is an excellent in-dash camera system equipped with an alarm when you get too close to an object. John Glenn had less equipment to train on before departing for the moon. Ach.

Yesterday we returned the rental car. It was a sad farewell fraught with shed tears and wrenching of keys from unyielding fingers. Sigh. Despite clever negotiation tactics on our side the Enterprise representatives were in the end unwilling to make an even exchange of our failing SUV for their shiny new Explorer. Such is life.

On our final trip I dropped Rick off at the auto shop and continued home by myself. Pulling into the garage I opened the car door and stepped out. A flash of movement caught my eye. Heart pounding I turned to find a pit bull inside the car. Rick often says you just can’t make up stories such as those that happen to me and I believe there is some merit to this. The large brown and white animal sat panting and drooling in the seat I’d just vacated. Hello? Stepping back I suggested to the animal (politely as I have respect for the breed) he vacate the vehicle. Amazingly he did. Following me to the front door he appeared hot and thin. Pouring him a cold drink of water I went in the house to decide how to proceed. Rick came home shortly after followed by a neighbor curious about the dog. With Boo the Queen of Cats peeking out the window holding a sign “No Canine’s Allowed” after some deliberation our neighbor took him home to post a notice on the Internet looking for his owner. Bless the woman. I could have kissed her direct on the lips. What a day!

Finally having a minute or two to relax, I dropped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster with the intention of using some tomatoes freshly picked from my garden along with some crisp bacon to make us a couple of BLT’s. Our toaster, barely three months old, popped the yet untoasted bread right back up when I depressed the lever and refused to do anything else. Really? Never mind. I’d have a turkey sandwich instead. Opening the refrigerator I found the package of turkey afloat in a sticky pool of pickle juice. On further inspection pickle juice had also leaked into the vegetable bin out of a baggie of pickles I’d placed in there after burgers cooked over the weekend.

At that point I went into the closet, shut off the light and stuck my thumb in my mouth. I’m considering having my mail forwarded there.

This is an easy weeknight throw together meal that shows up on the plate looking like a star. The light lemony sauce makes it especially refreshing during the summer months.

Pan Seared Scallops with Fettuccine with Lemon Sauce

10 large sea scallops
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Remove “foot” from each scallop and pat dry. Heat butter and oil over high heat. Place scallops in pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook around 4 mins. per side until golden and crunchy on bottoms.

Fettuccine with Lemon Sauce

8 oz. cooked Fettuccine
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic
Zest of one lemon
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp. chopped chives
1/2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions.

For the sauce

Heat 3 Tbsp, butter in medium saute pan over medium heat until foamy. Add garlic and continue cooking 2-3 mins. or until garlic is fragrant (be careful not to burn. Add lemon zest and juice and continue cooking for one minute. Remove from heat and mix in chives and parsley. Toss with pasta and top with scallops and Parmesan cheese.

Serves 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer has arrived with a vengeance here in Northern California, giving barely a nod to spring. One weekend we had snow, the next the asphalt was melting. With all the strange weather going on all over the world it is hard to deny global warming is progressing, though some persist in insisting this is so. Our glaciers are melting, our oceans temperatures are rising. I cannot for the life of me understand how sticking our heads in the sand and pretending it is not happening will make it go away. My rant for the day.

As a kid summer was at time of year highly anticipated. School doors shut for the season, warm sunny days, a glistening pool in the back yard. Life was good. Most of my life I’ve been a sun bunny. Spending my middle school and high school years in Southern California, the majority of my summer vacation was spent at one of the many beaches within driving distance from my house. Those were glorious days looking back. Blissfully innocent about the effects of the sun on our skin, we slathered ourselves with a lethal concoction of baby oil and iodine and spent hours coaxing the sun to turn our bodies a lovely shade of golden brown.

Though I’m sure not much has changed, the beaches somehow seemed safer back then. Other than an occasional incident of a swimmer caught in a riptide or someone getting a serious sunburn, I don’t remember hearing about many incidents of shark sightings or attacks, though I’m sure there were many such events. With no social media to propel stories along the information highway was much slower relying on word of mouth, nightly news, or newspapers to provide information. Southern California beaches lured sunbathers with warm water, miles of sun-kissed sand and, particularly in the Laguna Beach area, plentiful caves and tide pools to explore.

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My first child began her descent into the world in Laguna Beach. The first labor pain made itself known half way up a sheer staircase at a beach aptly named “1,000 Steps”. One pain following another I willed my overripe body to continue the uphill climb. By the time I reached street level I found myself praying for a helicopter to whisk me off to the nearest hospital. An hour and a half after I arrived at the hospital by our house my daughter arrived, leaving me to wonder if that last great effort up the endless steps hadn’t helped to hasten the delivery.

No matter whether on the east coast or the west the ocean is where I find peace. The only real regret I have about not finding wealth and fame (not that I looked very hard) is not having the wherewithal to buy a house with a panoramic view of the sea. How glorious it would be to open the door each morning to a salty sea breeze. To sit on the deck with your fingers wrapped around a hot cup of morning coffee and take in the sounds of waves crashing against the shore. Ahhhhhh.

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As a child the ocean was my backdrop. At the first sign of spring I would head down the hill towards the thin strand of rocky beach stretching behind our house. Sitting on a rock I would unlace my shoes and dip my toes into the icy water.

point-pleasant-park-beach

I have had the opportunity to live on the water since, but never again on the ocean. When my children were in high school, my daughter entering her senior year and my son his junior, I rented a beautiful home in a man-made water community in Northern California on the Sacramento Delta called Discovery Bay. The house was second in on the first water cul-de-sac in a series of the same winding about the community. Our boat had been sold several years before so we used the dock mainly for fishing or launching the variety of floats and water toys stored in a massive bin on the middle deck. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mornings I would seat myself in my lawn chair to watch the horizon for the first hint of the sun making an entrance for the day. Usually Barnaby the golden retriever padded down to join me keeping a watchful eye out for a duck in the vicinity or a stray cat sleeping under a deck.

There’s something so calming and soul soothing about being close to water. If responsibilities and family didn’t hold me where I am, I would find a houseboat along a waterway somewhere and drop a line over the rail.On a day such as today where the thermometer is projected to reach record highs, the idea floats around in my brain like a bingo ball bouncing in a cage.

Should reincarnation be an option, I am definitely going to rethink being rich and famous just to allow me to live somewhere with salt in the air.

This cole slaw is positively decadent. I served it with tuna croquettes and a nicoise salad and it disappeared quickly.

Blue Cheese Cole Slaw

6 cups finely chopped shredded cabbage
2 oz. crumbled blue cheese
1/3 cup red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. Sriracha sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. celery salt

Mix together the cabbage, blue cheese, and onion in large mixing bowl.

Whisk together remaining ingredients to make dressing. Pour over cabbage 1 hour prior to serving and refrigerate.

Serves 6

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