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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brie French Toast with Raspberry Sauce

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

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

Raspberry Sauce

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

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

Serves 4

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2
Since first hearing about it from friends I’ve wanted to watch Downton Abbey. For whatever reason, I’ve never tuned it in.  TV serving up its usual plate of boring summer offerings, I thought it the perfect time to give it a try. With the myriad of cable channels available you would think I could find something to watch in the middle of the night besides programs about growing hair, juicing, or the endless stream of reality shows featuring people I have never heard of. Seriously I keep threatening to start a reality show of my own. God knows I have some good material for it and the players are already in place.

At any rate I went into Netflix and did a search for the series. What came up was Call The Midwife. Knowing only Downton Abbey was a British import and little about the story line, I assumed this to be the title of the first episode. Curling up in my chair with the cat and a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee I pushed start. I have heard of people binge watching a series, but I have never done it myself. Until now, that is. The Brits really know how to build rich strong characters and I was drawn into the story within the first half hour.

I walked with a friend after viewing several episodes, and asked her if she’d seen the series. Saying she had, I went on excitedly about the episode centering around a pregnant woman with twenty-four children who spoke only Spanish while the father of her children only English. To my friend’s credit, she kept nodding her head as if she had any clue what I was talking about. After I came home I noticed something on the Internet about Downton Abbey. Curious, I clicked on it. Along with an article about the show the author included a picture of the cast. Hmmmmm. Didn’t recognize a one of the cast members, and it appeared there was nothing about midwives and delivering babies. Interesting. Could it be I have been watching the wrong series? Why, yes it could. Nonetheless, the series I have been watching is captivating. Every morning with my first cup of coffee I allow myself a new episode before I start my day. Tune in if you get a chance. Mainly for women, I think, with men possibly finding endless scenes of babies squeezing out of the birth canal a bit tedious, possibly putting single men off marriage or certainly fatherhood for a few more years.

On a totally unrelated subject the other half and I took a day off and drove up to Lake Tahoe over the weekend. The weather, totally cooperating, was sunny with temperatures only reaching the low eighties. We booked a room at one of the larger casinos with a view of the lake. The desk clerk amended that description to partial view. Partial view apparently means if you stand on your tiptoes at the very corner of the window you could detect some hint of blue just beyond the treeline.  Rick had told the desk clerk he didn’t mind if we didn’t have a full view of the lake as long as we weren’t looking out at the parking lot. To her credit we didn’t overlook the parking lot. Rather we were treated to a view of the roof and all the vents, but as promised there was not one car in sight. Right. A resort fee is charged for the room. This used to be around $10 but along with everything else has gone up to $25. With people busily depositing their paychecks in the machines on the first floor you would think this might be considered excessive. Also, there is an envelope for the housekeeping staff and the bell captain and the valet area all waiting for a tip. Reminds me of taking a cruise. There were so many envelopes requiring tip money on my last cruise I believe one was labeled The Captain’s Children’s College Fund.

When we inquired about a place to eat the bell boy (actually he was around fifty, so really bell man) suggested the buffet across the street as a great place to have dinner. In retrospect as the hotel we stayed in owned both buildings, it would seem he may  have been coached to provide that suggestion. Squeezed into an elevator filled to capacity, we arrived around 6:30 along with what appeared to be half the town. A man took our phone number and said we would be paged in about thirty minutes. Locating two seats at the bar, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the lake. Rick explained the 19th floor room used to be an upscale restaurant where the rich and famous gathered. Hard to picture such opulence as flip-flops and cargo shorts were the attire of choice on the night we were there. Everything had a faded glory look to it. The main room, probably elegant back in the day, was now crammed with huge banks of banquet serving tables. Chefs carved prime rib and turkey at the central table and people milled around rows of salad choices, a long row of sushi and Asian food, and the pizza bar. I decided prime rib might be good. The cut seems to be hard to find these days in our area for some reason. The chef sliced a piece off the fatty end resting on the cutting board. I asked if I could have another piece as that one looked as if it had been rode hard and put up wet. The second piece looked pretty good but even with a sharp knife defied cutting. I entertained the thought of keeping it and using it to make a strong pair of winter boots. I went back for a baked potato which was both cold and uncooked. Hmmmmm. Do I detect a pattern here? In the end I had a feast of bread pudding and carrot cake and waddled back to the room.

The next morning we walked down to the beach. Sitting in the warm sun we people watched for a couple of hours. I made my usual turtle sculpture in the sand for posterity afterwards walking down barefoot to wash my feet in the water. Toe numbing cold gave me great admiration for the kids actually swimming further out as I’ve had ice water that was warmer. Tahoe holds fond memories for me. I got my first real kiss in Lake Tahoe, and water skied for the first time there.

All in all it was glorious to get away and nice to get back. Boo, the Queen of Cats, was most glad to see our faces.

This recipe is easier than it looks and really delicious.

Grilled Corn and Margarita Chicken Tostada

Corn

2 ears of corn
1/4 cup melted butter
1/8 cup lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove husks and silk. Soak corn in cold water for 1/2 hour. Pat dry and spray with vegetable cooking spray. Preheat grill to med. high. Place corn on grill. Cook for 30 mins. turning often or until lightly charred and tender. Brush with lime butter and use a knife to remove kernels. Salt and pepper as desired.

Corn Relish

2 ears grilled corn, kernels removed
8 oz. drained black beans
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
4 Tbsp. chunky salsa
2 tsp. Sriracha (more or less according to taste)
1/2 red onion sliced thin and quartered
1/8 cup freshly chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill while marinating chicken.

Margarita Chicken

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed
juice of 2 limes
1 cup Margarita mix
2 Tbsp. tequila (optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
Pepper to taste
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 bunch fresh cilantro

If using wooden skewers soak in cold water for at least 30 mins. before sliding on meat.

Mix together all marinade ingredients. Add chicken and allow to marinade turning once for 6-8 hrs. Place meat on skewers. Preheat grill to medium. Cook meat for 3-4 mins. per side or until done.

To Assemble Tostada

Layer in order in two heated tostada shells (heat purchased shells as directed or make your own)

2 cups chopped lettuce
Corn Salsa
Chicken
1 avocado, sliced
Sour Cream
Salsa
Black olives

Serve with extra salsa and ranch dressing if desired.

Serves 2

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1
After watching all the clips of people enjoying the beaches and boating over the holiday weekend I am left pining for our boat. In the midst of the chaos of owning the restaurant we sold our power boat. Twenty-four seven devoted to keeping our heads above water with the business left little free time to to do so out on the water itself. Also, there is far more to boat ownership than signing the paperwork at the dealer. Monies need to be set aside for mooring, maintenance, accessories and gasoline.

The day you purchase a boat your list of friends increases simultaneously, peaking at the onset of the first hot day of the year. Acquaintances never really finding time for you before suddenly can’t wait to share your space. Add a pool to the mix and you could run for state office.

When my kids were in high school we had a boat as well as a cabin at Bass Lake at our disposal. The kids friendship pool swelled as this news got around and often when packing up for a vacation at the lake we had three or four bonus children and several extra adults to account for when purchasing food and supplies. I have been known to say a week at the lake was “relocation” rather than “vacation”, at least for me such was the case. All the tasks I did at home simply relocated themselves to a different venue. Admittedly it was more fun doing them because of the “vacation feel” of the trip, but in truth I still cooked and cleaned much as at home only in a more beautiful setting. After several years of doing for my brood on such getaways, Susie’s chore lists came into being. This after a particularly boisterous morning where I’d fed ten people five different breakfast entrée requests, cleaned up the ensuing mess, and prepped for the lunch crowd while everyone else had lathered up with suntan lotion and gone off on their first ski run of the day. Really? I didn’t think so either. On their return new rules were in place which remained as thus until both the cabin and the boat had been sold.

I’m a big fan of “you make the mess, you clean it up”. I explained to my children when they were old enough to understand though I purchased the dishes they ate from, once they took possession of a plate with food on it it was by way of a rental agreement. Use of Mom’s plate in exchange for being responsible for getting it from the table to the dishwasher once they were done. Children, contrary to modern thinking, will not be harmed by the act of actually doing physical labor. By this I do not mean lifting their tablet or other device from the table to their laps. My kids participated around the house. When old enough they washed, dried, folded and ironed the clothes they wore and yet still grew up to be relatively undamaged human beings. I was a working mother, at times a single parent, and for me their participation in our upkeep was not only helpful but necessary. I don’t harbor one ounce of guilt about this as both my kids grew up to be responsible hard working adults.

Owning a boat was a group effort as well. You didn’t just hop into it, throw on a pair of skis and enjoy. There is a responsibility in owning a boat the same as owning a car. If the plan is to use your boat for more than a season, you must help clean it up, store the gear when you’re done, and help load it on the trailer when it’s time to go home. All hands on deck, so to speak.

There have been some boating disaster stories along the way. Wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have one or two. I have watched a newly purchased boat I was in sink to the bottom of the Colorado River, become becalmed on the way to Catalina in the middle of a shark feeding frenzy. Oh yes, my friends, there are stories. The one below always make me laugh ….. well, now it makes me laugh.

Twenty years would pass between my first boat and the second. That’s a long time to forget everything you ever learned the first time afloat. Rick and I bought our boat in 2004. I assured him I knew how to load the boat on the trailer and drive it once on the lake and would be happy to teach him. Words to live by, or die by as was possibly more true in this situation.

We picked the boat up and drove the two hours home to our lake where we’d rented a slip. Backing the boat up to the water I quickly realized I had no idea what the boat salesman had said about launching it. After an hour in the sun wrestling with it we hired two kids from the marina to help us get it off the trailer. Sigh. As humiliating as this was it was only a slight ripple compared to what was about to roll over the horizon.

The trailer parked and both of us finally in the boat, the second realization I had was that I’d forgotten how to drive a boat and certainly had not one single clue on how to get it docked once at the marina. Somehow we managed to maneuver ourselves into the back of the marina where our slip was located. As luck would have it our slip was in a tight right angled corner between two huge sailboats. Swell. First I hit the right side of the dock, then the left, then ricocheted from one to the other several times. We backed out nearly sideways nicking the edge of the extended propeller on the sailboat next to us. Rick, at this point had both hands on his head and was beginning to totally panic. I was long past that point. I pushed free of the propeller and noticed two parents pulling their children out of the water on the opposite side of the marina as I continued to be a loose cannon. Coming dangerously close to the ramp, Rick climbed out onto it leaving me circling alone. Chicken. On my next pass he hopped back in and with onlookers watching in amazement we got the boat into the slip without further incident. Someone on the other side clapped but my face was hung too low in embarrassment to acknowledge them. My humiliation was complete.

Fortunately there was no serious damage done to our boat or the sailboat. I did ding our boat slightly but as we took the boat out more often we improved greatly on handling it and had lots of fabulous days on the lake before buying the restaurant.

This is so pretty on the plate and absolutely yummy on the taste buds.

Baked Peaches with Orange Sauce and Caramelized Walnuts

For the peaches

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

4 large ripe peaches, halved and pitted
2 Tbsp. butter, quartered
1/2-3/4 tsp. cinnamon

Place pieces cut side up on baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Place 1/4 pat of butter in center of each peach. Sprinkle cinnamon on top of each piece (add more as desired). Bake in a single layer for 30 mins. Brush melted butter across tops of peaches and continue cooking 10 mins.

Orange Sauce

2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tsp. flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups orange juice (no pulp)

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook for 2 min. Whisk in orange juice and brown sugar and continue cooking until thickened stirring constantly.

Caramelized Walnuts

2 cups walnut halves
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup maple syrup

Heat dry skillet over medium high heat. Add all ingredients and cook stirring constantly until nuts are browned and caramelized

Place 1 baked peach on each place. Ladle sauce on top and place nuts around the plate.

Serves 8

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5The weather has definitely been delivering some one-two punches lately between the extreme flooding in West Virginia and the heat and wildfires in California. No matter where you live there is something to watch out for when nature gets on rampage. A woman walking along a beach in Florida with clouds far off in the distance was struck and killed by lightning over the weekend. The rule according to experts is if you hear thunder, lightning is most likely lingering behind the curtain. I’ve read of people being struck through a window while washing dishes. Some people have been distinguished for being hit multiple times, with one park ranger holding the record for being struck by lightning seven times during his lifetime. Whew. Wonder if is friends enjoyed his company from a safe distance?

While living in the south and on several long stays in West Virginia I have been treated to some spectacular light shows when extreme storms passed my way. I can remember one in St. Albans, West Virgina. The lightning was forking all around us and the clouds moved along overhead as if Mother Nature had adjusted the speed to fast forward. Being young and basically clueless a group of us enjoying a summer party stood beneath an overhang watching the display. All we needed was an arrow directed at our pointy heads saying “we are here”. What is the expression, “God takes care of drunks and fools”? Being covered on both points was probably the only thing keeping us safe during that situation.

Undoubtedly the most spectacular storm I’ve ever seen was in the midst of a move to Arkansas. Our route had taken us across Nevada on Highway 50 (the loneliest road in the U.S. – aptly named BTW). The general lack of scenery across 50 was superceeded by the total desolation of the area surrounding the Utah Salt Flats. Our second blowout of the trip occurred on our approach to the bleached landscape. The dessert floor temperature we were told later by a local probably hit around 130 midday. I don’t ever remember being that hot. At one point I became so disoriented I was flagging down the occasional passing car. My husband at the time kept one hand hooked on my belt loop to keep me from getting into any air-conditioned interior and escaping. We had two cars with us, well one car plus a fully loaded pickup truck. Being from Texas he reminded me regularly a man’s truck is never reduced to being called a car unless you had your fighting face on or a bullet in the chamber. In the car, which I drove, I was accompanied by a rather ornery old cat answering to the name Kitty, and my Shih Tzu, Sushi. As the car got warmer they began to pant and I worried about their well being. After giving them water, I took one of the several bags of ice out of the cooler and covered it with wet towels making them an ice bed. Normally adversarial, both animals climbed on board and laid next to one another in a temporary heat induced de tante. Had there been room I would have gotten up there with them. Instead, I tucked a handful of ice under my hat. So hot was it, rivulets of water immediately began to run down my face and shirt giving me a look as if I was melting onto the road. The Wicked Witch of the East comes to mind. Looking back it would have been a fairly accurate description.

Finally back on the road the blessed cool air blowing across my red face, I found myself thanking the mother of Willis Carrier, inventor of air conditioning, for conceiving him undoubtedly on a sweltering hot day. According to what I’ve read the original concept of cooling air came from the Egyptians who hung reeds in the windows moistened with water. From what Rick has told me about the temperatures achieved in that area I am not surprised they came up with something first.

Passing the stark white desolation of the salt flats I viewed them with a mixture of fascination combined with a hint of fear. After our ordeal, being surrounded by humans and stores with humming air conditioners was comforting once we arrived at the nearest city. Gassing up both vehicles and washing our faces in the restroom, we ate at a truck stop late in the afternoon. Over dinner we discussed a plan to drive for two hours more across the valley floor indicated on the map and then stop for the night. Pulling onto the highway my my eyes caught a sign reading “no services for the next 125 miles”. Clouds moved in as we descended onto the valley floor. A row of lightning hung in the distance like an electrified curtain beneath the increasingly menacing looking sky. Sushi cuddled close to me on the seat, with Kitty choosing to retreat under a blanket on the floor. “Into the Valley of Death rode the 600” kept repeating in my mind as I turned the car in the direction of the storm. “Mommy”.

Rain, beginning slowly, soon taxed the rapidly moving wipers. Visibility was reduced to a small window. Lightning was all around me and it became nearly impossible to see my husband’s truck in front of me. A huge splash of mud thrown by a passing truck had me pulling to the side of the road. The wipers smeared the goo across my windshield. No choice but to get out and wipe the glass, I grabbed a pair of shorts from a pile of clothes on the seat and stepped out into the storm. Ozone assaulted my nostrils. As I wiped the window a huge flash to my right had me literally richocheting back into my car. Both animals were now under the blanket probably holding paws. Adjusting the rear view mirror I realized my hair was standing straight on end and a slight burning smell filled the car. Swell, fried brain.

My husband backtracked to find me. Never was I so glad to see that old beater truck in my headlights, except when we saw a road exit two hours later with a hotel and food sign attached. Never underestimate the weather. Nature will always have the home field advantage.

The heat being what it is we’re cooking on the grill more often than not. This eggplant sandwich was a treat and easy to pull together.

Grilled Eggplant and Roma Tomato Pocket Sandwich

Marinade

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
12 slices eggplant
12 slices mozzarella cheese

Mix together marinade ingredients. Place eggplant in single layer in shallow dish. Cover with marinade for 4 hours, turning once. Place on preheated hot grill sprayed with cooking spray for 3-4 mins. per side adding cheese for the last 2 mins. of cooking.

Tomatoes and Onions

4 Roma tomatoes
4 1/2″ thick slices of red onion
2 Tbps. olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground basil

Halve tomatoes and place in resealable bag with olive oil and basil. Toss to coat. Allow to marinate for 1 hour. Add onions just before cooking and turn to coat. Place directly on hot grill or in vegetable grill pan (spray with cooking spray) for about 4 mins. per side or until tomatoes are slightly charred and onions tender. Keep warm.

For the sandwich

4 slices Pita bread
1 cup fresh spinach washed and trimmed
1 container prepared pesto
4 1/2″ slices fresh mozzarella

Place pita bread on grill until heated. Cut in half and open pockets. Spread pesto on inside of each pocket. Add spinach, tomato, onion and eggplant.

Serves 4

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1Relationships truly are a series of compromises. Rick wants to go go see futuristic flicks or horror while I lean towards sappy romance movies. To accommodate one another, one time he will suffer through my three hankie movie so on our next visit to the theater I can do a silent scream peeking through my fingers while watching lifeless zombies drag their remaining body parts through two hours of gore.

Rick and I are as different as ice cream and beets. Oddly enough for us this works. Our opinions run on the opposite end of the stick on almost everything and when it comes to food where he will happily lap up a plate of sauteed liver, I would sooner crawl on my knees through a field of cow patties than be asked to dredge a piece of the organ meat in flour.

It’s not that I was not exposed to exotic flavors growing up. I can remember standing on the kitchen stool next to my grandfather watching in fascination as frog legs danced in a sea of butter in a pan on the stove. This, in the end, served to inspire me to cook them rather them actually introduce them to the interior of my mouth. As I’ve been told he enjoyed a variety of organ meats from sweetbreads (please) to tripe. I can recall beef steak and kidney pie being served at my grandmother’s table. I can also recall picking out all the pieces of meat (whether steak or kidney – didn’t want to take a chance) and storing them in my napkin for disposal after the meal.

Coming from Egypt, Rick has introduced me to a lot of interesting new flavors, so far none of which I’ve added to my “eeeeeuuw” list. Before I met him I had never tried falafels, for example, and now I serve them at least once a month. When my mother and her roommate visited recently he commented she was resistant to any new flavors he attempted to convince her to try. Perhaps it is that she was a housewife and mother (not that she isn’t now, but full-time) during a time when aproned housewives served standard American fare to their families at dinner time. During my teenage years I could predict our meal selections from a group of popular favorites such as tuna casserole, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf (luv meatloaf), spaghetti, chicken pot pie, and other artery clogging delights. At mother’s parties accompanied by background music compliments of the Tijiuana Brass (really?), you might have found party mix, deviled eggs, cheese balls, and creamy spinach dip. I never understood party mix but it was hugely popular at that time. Basically, cereal, nuts, seasonings and Worcestershire sauce.

Mother always enjoyed entertaining. Probably she inherited it from my grandmother who, when hosting a party, went all out to make a showing. I can remember sitting in her large kitchen with it’s window overlooking the Halifax harbor and watching as she put together intricate finger sandwiches with multicolored breads. The delicate bites were stuffed with delightful fillings such as lobster, egg, or tuna salad as well as lighter versions packed with watercress and butter. Always my fat little fingers were searching for a sample here or a nibble there. No wonder I was a wide as I was tall at a child. Who could resist?

It is told that when our neighbor’s housekeeper baked her amazing bread I was the first one to pull up my chair to the table to give her a review. Looking at pictures of me at that age, I can’t help but believe the rumors are true. As much as I love fiddling in the kitchen, bread escapes me. The last time I attempted yeast rolls I used two six-packs of yeast and never saw one bubble, I believe yeast sees me coming in the store and immediately goes dormant, sort of like those goats that faint when frightened. Once I actually got a package to rise sufficiently to use in a yeast roll recipe I wanted to try. According to the recipe the yield was two dozen light and fluffy rolls. Hmmmm. I managed to get ten rolls, each tensile strength. Rick, after bravely taking a bite, said I should immediately contact the War Department because he felt I had developed a recipe for a new secret weapon. The perfect tool, no fallout but plenty of clout. It took two of us to carry the bag with the casualties to the trash, lest someone got a hernia. Often I have considered taking a class in bread making, but my ego works hard enough to keep me above the surface without adding extra weight to the load.

Thankfully, I have had the opportunity in my life to travel across the U.S. on several occasions and live outside of California. Not that California isn’t a lovely place to live (if you remove the cost of living from the equation, it is heavenly). However, like all locations around the country, restaurants tend to cater to the tastes of the local clientele. Moving to the southern states, or to the east coast gave me the opportunity to expand my food choices and try a variety of new foods and even new ways of preparing food I was familiar with. Cajun food has become a staple at our house, and I remember fondly the rich chowders and mouth watering seafood I consumed while living in New England.

I remember when “California Cuisine” was all the rage back in the day. The first time I ate in a restaurant featuring this style of cooking, essentially healthy food beautifully presented, was in the 80’s. I was at a loss when presented with an enormous white plate with the only food to be found on it’s surface in the center. Basically, a haystack of greens atop a minute piece of fish with some veggies placed like a piece of art around it. This, I should mention, was not an inexpensive piece of art at that. The only other thing on the plate was a squiggly line of seafood sauce. Truthfully, it looked too pretty to eat. I assumed the entrée was to follow, but was told this was the entrée. Oh. Had I existed on that much food on a daily basis I could have hit the runway in Paris in a month. We stopped for a burger on the way home.

The difference between my Mum and I when it comes to food is that I will ask her if she likes something. She will shake her head no. I will ask her if she’s ever tried it and she again will shake her head no. I will try everything, well most everything, once or twice. If I just don’t enjoy it, then I won’t choose it a third time.

This is a great way to enjoy shrimp during the summer, and lighter than the traditional fried shrimp found in a Po Boy.

Shrimp Salad Sandwiches with Zesty Remoulade

2 sweet French baguettes
1 1/2 lbs. large cooked shrimp
1 stalk celery, finely diced
3 scallions, sliced thin
1/4-1/3 cup of remoulade (recipe below)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, sliced thin
Cucumber slices, sliced thin
Red onion slices, sliced thin
Lettuce

Zesty Remoulade

1 medium stalk celery
1/2 large onion
1/3 green bell pepper
1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1 1/2 Tbsp. Tabasco sauce
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup ketchup
1 cup mayonnaise

Place the onion, celery and bell pepper in food processor and chop finely. Slightly wring out veggies in paper towels to strain. Whisk until well blended in a medium mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

For sandwiches:

Mix together shrimp, desired amount of remoulade, celery, scallions, and salt and pepper to taste.

Slice both baguettes in half widthwise, then each half lengthwise. Heat dry skillet over high heat. Place bread halves face down on hot skillet and cook until golden brown. Spread each toasted side with a generous amount of remoulade. Top bottom half of each with shrimp mixture. Place tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and lettuce on top.

Serves 4

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1

Hot, hot, hot, hot! That’s what I’m about today. For the next 10 days we living here in sunny California are being treated to 100 degree temps or upward. Palm Springs, so the weather gurus tell us, is in the 122 range. Are you kidding me! If someone gave me a palatial mansion in that area you would never find me living in it during the summer months. Phoenix is another area I couldn’t make home. The news showed a video of a man cooking a pizza on his dashboard in that area. Not for this Canadian I guarantee. Over the past eight years or so I have come to find I could eliminate summer entirely. Every time it shows up with it’s tirelessly smiling face it brings with it relentless fires and glorious sun I’m told I can’t sit in unless I wear body armor. Winter could take a vacation as well, after Christmas, naturally. Instead I would settle for balmy spring and glorious fall as my seasons of choice.

We had our A/C unit checked under our home warranty. Good news. For being twenty-three years old it’s in good shape. Kind of like me, if you add a number of years to the equation. Of course if everyone is pumping out air, whether the unit is functional or not matters little once the electric company’s grid shuts down. At that point, we will either go downstairs where you could hang meat on most days or check into a hotel that takes cats. Right now blessedly the overhead fans are churning out a nice steady breeze, Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, is lying in cool comfort across from me, and cold sandwiches and a crunchy veggie salad have been put on my menu by the cook (that would be moi).

The last few weeks have been a solid blur of activity. This is the first chance I have had to sit down and even think about gathering my thoughts. For several months I’ve been helping a dear friend organize a fundraiser for her daughter who is ill. A project of love, but a project. The fundraiser itself was the weekend before last and a great success. As much as I enjoy putting together gift baskets and doing artsy activities, it is nice to have reclaimed my guest rooms which my mother and her roommate occupied for a week immediately after the baskets went to the event. Whew.

I planned the week with my mum so that we would be busy. I love our house but whoever built it originally did not intend on having company. Thankfully a dining room was added on by the second owner allowing for more space for entertaining. Having owned a restaurant I’m fairly good at using the available space so with a card table here and there plus the deck area we made do as company rolled in and out. I spent most of my time with my hands in something, either chopping or tossing or cooking. All in all it was really fun and a great memory to press into my scrapbook of my mother and I.

In the middle of the week I booked us four tickets on the Hornblower to take an hour cruise on the Sacramento River. According to the weather report the day before it was going to be overcast and possibly rain. In June? Great. I want to be a weather caster. They’re rarely on the money and they get paid well to be wrong on a regular basis. I would excel under such a job description. As it turned out we woke up to a day that was gorgeously warm, but not hot, with high puffy clouds floating by in a brilliantly 2blue sky. Yea for our team. We boarded the two-tiered ferry at a dock adjacent to Old Town Sacramento. For an hour we cruised lazily up and back along the river watching people floating by on inner tubes and boats moving in and out of the marinas. Glorious. Back on solid ground we tied on some plastic bibs and dug into a delicious meal at Joe’s Crab Shack under an umbrella on the deck. It was a helluva day at sea sir.

As per the usual in my life the week was not without mishap. Having trouble finding a place to blow my hair dry in the morning with both guest rooms occupied and Rick snoring within earshot of the upstairs bathroom, I finally found an available plug in the bathroom my mother was using. First I blew my hair dry and then planned to use the curling iron as usual. To say my mother travels with enough facial products to open her own store would be an understatement. Nearly the entire surface area around the sink was occupied with one jar or another. I left the iron to heat up and returned shortly to add a few curls. Not looking before I rolled the front of my hair around the rod I detected a burning plastic smell. Looking in the mirror I could see melted black goo on the iron now stuck in my hair. Fortunately, I worked the iron out before I was missing an entire row. Is there a black cloud that circles me every day, or is it just the universe getting a huge kick out of toying with me? Unplugging the iron, I pried the stuck hair apart and slowly worked the black stuff off the ends. Probably I left a quarter of the hair in front in the sink. I wonder if they sell just bangs for women? After the iron cooled off I got whatever was stuck on the metal off with an SOS but for two days black specks of plastic kept dropping out of my hair like parachutists on D-Day. A day in the life of Susie I would suppose.

Monday was their last day here. Nice to get to know my mother’s new roommate a little better and know she is in good hands at home. I will miss them but I must admit it is delightful to put my feet up and retire my apron for a day or two.

On that note, I will end for now and share this delicious take on summer squash. A friend gave it to me. To air her dirty little secret, she is a closet recipe tearer. You know the person who keeps clearing their throat in the doctor’s office or while under the dryer at the beauty salon all the while slowly tearing recipes out of magazines. I’m glad she copped this one. It is a whole new idea for summer squash and quite refreshing. Yum and yum.

Lemony Creamed Summer Squash

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 onion, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 yellow summer squash, shredded
2 large zucchini, shredded
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tsp. dried dill
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp. lemon zest
Salt and black pepper
Hungarian paprika

Melt butter over med.-high heat. Add onion and cook 2-3 mins. until tender. Add garlic cook for 1 min. Add squash and cook for 8-10 mins. or until all the excess water is released. Stir in flour and cook for additional minute. Remove from heat.

Stir in sour cream, dill, lemon juice and zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with paprika.

Serves 4

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2

As the newscasters continue to recount the last moments of Harambe, the silver backed male gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, my heart just feels desperately sad. As anyone with a device receiving news would be aware by now a small boy fell into the enclosure and the gorilla was toying with him. Whether the massive animal was protecting him or going to do him harm is for the gods to know because in order to protect the child the gorilla was shot by a zoo employee. What a shame. So few of these glorious creatures still populate our world. Really, we are so careless with our precious commodities. Humans are the caretakers of the earth. If I was the boss, I’d fire us. Continuing in this wasteful abandon one day our descendants will be living in a world devoid of the majestic elephant, the amazing great apes, and so many other precious animal species fallen in the wake of our confusing apathy at their passing. Like the voracious piranha we swim in, pick the bones clean, and leave nothing for those to follow. Our incredible rain forests are dwindling, the atmosphere becoming contaminated, and the waste piling up. Truly I am glad I was born in the generation I was as I’m not sure what awaits those still in the wings preparing to arrive. Interesting Thoreau was credited with the subject quote so many years ago. I guess each generation views the ones rising up behind them with a jaundiced eye.

Enough lecture for today. It is to be a hot one in the Sierra Nevada so no extra hot air is needed. They are predicting a sizzling summer. I am yearning to move to the sea and sit on the warm sand languishing in the glorious ocean breezes. Sigh. Rick and I would like to buy or rent a floating home. Sort of like the one in Sleepless in Seattle only cheaper, much cheaper. Most probably with our present spending bandwidth anything over $1.50 would be a stretch. Prices continue to go up and up. I leave the store with 12 rolls of toilet paper and a tube of toothpaste and I’ve left a picture of Andrew Jackson behind. Small homes and other means of sheltering oneself are being turned to as alternatives to the high cost of living. Rentals are on the rise in California as people locked out of the high-priced housing market or those simply not interested in assuming all the headaches associated with having your name on a deed, search for adequate housing.

I don’t mind renting actually, if you are lucky enough to get a good landlord or landlords as the case may be. The bonus in renting is that if the roof leaks, the toilet gets plugged, or the A/C decides to go south in mid-summer you simply pick up the phone and pass the problem on to someone else. When you own there is no one to turn to but your own pallid reflection in the bathroom mirror as the water level rises on your newly laid luxury plush carpet. We have chosen to pay for a home warranty to help with such emergencies. The warranty covers most of the large appliances in the house as well as major repairs. Ours only covered the septic tank for the first year so I’m sure on day 366 the thing will blow like Old Faithful. My fingers are crossed this will not be the case.

This is the fourth house my name has appeared on. With 37 moves notched on my belt that would leave 33 rentals left behind me in the dust. Luckily for me I never had the “bad landlord experience” as many of my friends have, nor have I ever found myself in the position of collecting rent from someone living in one of my homes. After deciding to sell my third home after my husband passed away, it was suggested I rent rather than sell. Recently I looked up what that home is selling for today. Perhaps I should have listened more closely to that advice. There’s no point in crying about it. I am of the belief there’s little value to be gotten from sweating the stuff you cannot change. Rather than shining a light on past mistakes, I prefer to look forward to the myriad of potholes I’m sure are lurking just beyond the next bend in the road waiting for me to fall into. Life is rarely without ruts in the asphalt else how would we appreciate a smooth stretch of road?

The truth be known I probably wouldn’t have been a good landlord. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt often to the point of questioning my own sanity. If the story is sad enough I’d probably have bitten and would have ended up paying my tenants for the privilege of having them in my house. As I’ve aged and had life experiences my edge has gotten a bit sharper, but still I’m a sucker for a baby, an animal, a tear rolling down a cheek. Sigh. Better I sold than rented taking my sappy side into account.

My son and his family recently sold the home they’ve lived in for the last twelve years. Doing the usual “prettying up” and staging necessary to attract hungry buyers, eighty people showed up the first weekend it was on the market. The price kept going up as three buyers vied for the prize. Really? That house I sold is looking better and better as I write.

Even though stories of our sagging economy continue to surface, when visiting the San Jose area I’m amazed at all the housing developments going up. When you consider the value of the much coveted real estate in that area, somebody must be bringing home a healthy paycheck. They appear to be selling as quickly as they are erected. I heard recently in order to rent a two bedroom apartment in San Francisco proper one must be making a minimum of $44/hour and that most Bay Area residents cough up at least 30% of their incomes to sustain a roof over their heads. Wow.

My parents bought the home I spent my high school years enjoying for $28,000 and change. The house was in a lovely bedroom community and boasted 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a den, large living room and huge Olympic sized pool in it’s fully landscaped yard. Now the hourly wage was much lower at the time but I bet if you compared what you got for your money the yield was far higher than what we’re seeing today. Today you couldn’t get a garage for that price or even a vacant lot in a seedy neighborhood.

It will be interesting to see what the unusual crop of presidential candidates have in mind to improve the economic situation. As I watch the dog and pony show (or donkey and elephant in this case) I keep thinking someone is going to say “just kidding” and the actual candidates are going to appear from behind the curtain. Either that or someone running is going to say something reassuring besides calling the other side a schoolyard name. Sigh.

This salad seems on the face to be an unlikely pairing but is surprisingly a delicious combination.

Watermelon and Heirloom Tomato Salad

Salad

4 slices grilled watermelon, large dice
4 diced yellow heirloom tomatoes, seeded
1/4 cup Kalamata olives
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
1/4 large red onion, sliced thin and halved
2 Tbsp. freshly chopped cilantro
Feta cheese

Grill watermelon over med-high heat on grill until grill marks appear. Cube and mix with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate for 1 hr. before tossing with dressing.

Dressing

1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing ingredients Refrigerate 1 hr. to marry flavors. Mix together Salad ingredients and toss with as much dressing as desired. Refrigerate extra dressing (makes a nice marinate for chicken).

Serves 4-6

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