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final

Well, the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos are warming up to make some Super Bowl history. Tickets are going for as much as $7,000 for the choice seats, and as low (if you consider it low) as $3,000 for the nosebleed seats. At that price guaranteed my face will not be captured on the stadium camera. Whoa. Up until the last few years the Super Bowl passed without much fanfare for me other than enjoying the delicious food available at the myriad of Super Bowl parties I’ve attended. For some reason, perhaps self defense, several years ago I found myself sitting in front of the TV with Rick on a Sunday afternoon watching whoever was on the field. Being a curious being by nature, before long I was asking why this was happening, or what that penalty meant. Over time I began to notice without asking I knew what was going on and actually had begun to be familiar with players names and nuances of the game. Oh-oh. Now I have not gone so far as getting a paint roller and decorating my body or dying my hair to support my team (the 49ers) but I do look forward to Sunday afternoons to see what they’re going to do once they’re suited up. Along with Rick I suffer their defeats and cheer their successes. This year proving to be more the former than the latter for our Bay Area team.

Rick of course could coach the team far better than those actually paid to do the job. I know this because he says so about fifty times whenever they’re screwing up. Sometimes I become involved in appreciating the color combinations of the uniforms (for example I like the lime and blue of the Seahawks). When I admire such things out loud he throws me a look like “you are such a girl”. Why yes, I am, thank you. One day I got to commenting on the various sizes of behinds facing the screen and he simply threw up his hands and rolled his eyes. What?

The amazing salaries these athletes command blows my mind. I can see the logic, however, in gathering all the goodies while they can. The tremendous beating applied to their bodies during every game cumulatively amassed over the years must be painful when it catches up with them. Also, they live with the knowledge that one bad tackle or fall could result in the end of their career leaving them to fall back on hawking insurance or staring dreamily at the model most likely decorating the other side of their bed. As they probably net more in one year than most of us do in a lifetime I am not going to worry about where their next hamburger is coming from any time soon.

It’s not a game for lightweights. I heard a commentator say the other day they are taking the edge off of the game with all the restrictions imposed to prevent or at least diminish player’s chances for head injuries. At one time players hit the field with leather helmets and far less protection so I would suppose it might feel that way to those longer in the tooth. No matter how protected these players are the chance remains for injury or long-standing health problems. I would assume players signing up are either intensely passionate about the game or what it will bring to them financially to play it.

Sometimes when I watch how the players behave on the field it is reminiscent of boys in elementary school. Football seems to bring out the child in the man with all the posturing and dancing going on when a touchdown is made missing only the “neener neener” to make the picture complete. All the testosterone and team rivalry mingling on the artificial turf makes it not surprising fights break out and an extra elbow or unnecessary kick is thrown in on occasion once a player is down. The exchanges going on between the players when in formation waiting for the play to begin might be an interesting share. Somehow I don’t think they’re exchanging recipes or asking one another how the wife and kids are doing.

The fans are fascinating as well. Rain, snow, heat, or hail the sit in the stands faces painted, team colors displayed, beer in one hand rubber hands covering the other. If their teams is doing well they’re fully engaged and if they suck they’ll let them know that as well.

Since our team will not be represented we will be on hand to watch those who are stuffing ourselves with chile con queso at half time and cheering loudly along with the rest of the nation. When life seems to be full of chaos it is nice to see one thing still on track.

This soup is an easy meal to make, and truly is a meal in itself only needing a nice hunk of crusty French bread to round it out. Note: You want your veggies fully cooked but not mushy.

Tuscan Cauliflower and Potato Soup

1 lb. bulk Italian sausage, hot
1 cup onion, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 cloves garlic minced
3 medium red potatoes cut into large chunks
8 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup grated Asiago Medium cheese
2 cups baby spinach, stems removed and broken into pieces
1/2-1 tsp. black pepper depending on taste
Salt as desired

In large skillet cook sausage, onion, mushrooms, and garlic until sausage is no longer pink. Drain on paper towels.

Place potatoes in microwave and cook on high for 4 mins.

In large pot cover cauliflower and potatoes with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue cooking until vegetables are cooked but still slightly firm.

Add sausage mixture and continue cooking for 6 mins. Whisk in cream and then add cheese. Cook and stir until blended. Add spinach and pepper (I add more pepper if needed) and cook until spinach has just wilted. Taste before you salt as cheese will add salt to pot.

Serve with additional cheese if desired.

Serves 4

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1

Yesterday Rick and I had a date night. We try to fit one in every few weeks sort of like hitting “refresh” on the computer. This time we went to see The Revenant (literally “a person who returns”). Touted as a powerful movie I wanted to see it on the big screen . Whoa. Old Leo really did himself proud in this film. It was long, pushing three hours, but I was never bored for even a moment. Quietest group of theater goers I’ve ever seen. Like ice sculptures we sat heads directed at the screen. No one seemed to move even to visit the snack bar or use the loo. As a caution, however, if realistic violence bothers you, this is not the movie for you. Lots of raw scenes.

On another note, I was sad to hear Glenn Frey of the Eagles passed away yesterday. Sixty-seven. The Eagles had me at “Take it Easy”.  Sad these gifted beings only stay with us for whatever time they are allotted, but how wonderful to leave behind such a legacy of work. When I go I will leave as my legacy a cook somewhere saying, “where did I get this yummy recipe for stuffed mushrooms anyhow”? Well hopefully they will be saying that. Sigh.

I like most types of music to some extent, except perhaps rap, though I can appreciate it. Classical music is something I have to be in the right place to enjoy. There is a concert on Mozart’s music coming up in Sacramento. I don’t imagine he could have conceived his music would have been played and enjoyed centuries after he first sat at his piano to compose it. When the mood strikes I can get lost in classical pieces. Some seem to me to be dark and angry. Clair de Lune by Debussy on the other hand brings to mind a restless spirit and an endless sea. Always I find the music moving me greatly in one direction or another.

Last night I had a dream I was selected to play the lead in a stage production of “Mary Poppins”.  This not happening any time soon in my life I feel unless the intended audience is a bus load of people who are severely hearing impaired. I do love the theater. Lately I’ve been missing live productions rather than movies. There is something exhilarating about the low buzz in the theater before the lights dim and the actors actually before you on the lit stage. I have seen many such performances in my life time, although most prior to the past decade sadly. Not because there is any lack of local theater, rather our paths have taken us in other directions for the past ten years.

The Phantom would rank among my favorites along with Equus and Elephant Man.  Both had either music or stories or both I found compelling. There have been disappointments as well. I saw Camelot in L.A. at the beautiful Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in the 70’s. Ticket holders used to dress back in the day, gathering to clink glasses around the bar in all their regalia during intermission. These days unless it’s a state dinner about anything goes from flip flops to beach attire at most events. This production was truly a mess largely due to the big named lead actor playing the lead. The man was so intoxicated he nearly took a fall down the castle steps in mid song.  The Pirates of Penzance was another one that didn’t strike a chord with me (if you will). Gilbert & Sullivan are a little too wordy (this coming from a very wordy being) for my taste. I liked Cats, but wasn’t in love with it as were many of my friends. Memory was a beautiful song, but for me the only true high high point of the evening.

Looking back I wish I had taken theater in college. I have enough ham in me to perform a long run and have enough left over to make an excellent showing on an Easter buffet. Opportunities to explore this facet of my being never seemed to present themselves nor did I pursue making it happen. College is something I would have done a lot differently had I any intelligence at that age. Back then I toyed with my education and still landed good jobs. Today college is really a necessity if students moving into adulthood are to survive in our present economy. That being said I found it disturbing news that when asked, 10% of college students polled in a recent survey thought Judy Judy presently sits on the Supreme Court. Also it appears millennials are displaying little interest in how our government was conceived or runs, or U.S. history in general.  I will hope that is not the case, as that would make me question where our future will take us, but that is another blog.

When I graduated from high school I was served college on a platter as part of my grandfather’s estate. Though I enrolled taking enough classes to have a two-year degree at least in sight, sadly I did not finish. Hindsight being twenty-twenty I wish I had gone to a four year college and experienced living on a college campus before creating a family. But one must look forward with enthusiasm not backwards with regret.

Sooooooooo, in spite of my lack of degree I am pleased to state that I did, in fact, know that Judge Judy was not a supreme court justice. This, for today, will have to do.

I like this recipe for creamy broccoli soup. Still butter but no cream but you don’t miss it. My daughter shared this – and I loved it.

Broccoli Soup with Blue Cheese & Garlic Toast

1 large bunch of broccoli
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
4 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup freshly cut parsley
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt as desired
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
Crumbled blue cheese
Crisp bacon (optional)

Cut off florets from stems of broccoli and break into bite sized pieces. Remove outer hard shell from stems and chop insides. Set aside.

In large saucepan bring broth and water to a boil. Add florets, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking for 3 mins. until tender but crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.

Melt butter in large pot. Add onions, celery, garlic and broccoli stems. Cover and cook until softened about 5-6 mins.

Whisk in flour and cook for 3 mins. Whisk in broth/water mixture. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 mins. until thickened. Add parsley, scallions, 1/2 of the florets and simmer for 3 mins.

Also to cool slightly. Puree in food processor in two batches. Return to pot and mix in remaining 1/2 florets. Season with black pepper, lemon juice, nutmeg and salt as desired.

Serve topped with a piece of garlic toast sprinkled with blue cheese and crumbled bacon.

Garlic Toast

4 slices of rustic French bread
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler. Spread butter on one side of bread. Sprinkle with garlic powder. Top with Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler butter side up under golden brown. Turn over
and toast the unbuttered side.

Serves 4

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final

The first few weeks of a new year always leave me a little depressed. Not weepy, or anything, but rather with a letdown feeling such as might set in after going to a much-anticipated party or event once it is over. Perhaps it’s not having the Christmas lights twinkling on the tree, or the anticipation of family and friends coming and going, or simply a new year opening up before me and not knowing all that it might entail. People seem to hibernate a bit during January. The weather, usually on the blustery side during the earlier months, encourages inside activities with people holing up with a good book or a project. Unless, of course, you have snow on the ground and a pair of skis strapped to your feet. As much as I enjoy seeing snow falling in our yard, the idea of heading up our steep driveway and onto the slippery streets keeps me closer to home during winter months.

I was soooo sad to hear that David Bowie passed over the weekend. Always it amazes me that with so many like beings on this planet there continue to be those individuals whose lights shine a little brighter than the rest of the bulbs. It puts me to wondering why some come into the world armed with such natural musical talent while others, like myself, can’t read a note. Even if I could read it, guaranteed I’d empty a room if I attempted to sing it. If someone had a gun to my cat’s head saying “write the notes on the scale on this piece of paper or the cat gets it”, Boo, sadly, would be a goner. Sorry Boo.

Speaking of Boo, the old cat is starting to show signs of wear, sleeping more and playing less. I try not to notice because the thought of not seeing that silly kitty face over my coffee cup in the morning is too much for me to bear. 2006 was the first time Boo and I shared space. I had been looking for a furry adoptee for months scouring the rescue centers in our area. For some reason, as many sweet scared 7f74ae549237ce937e6fd124aaf3e35f_180faces as I’d looked into I hadn’t found exactly what I was looking for in a companion. On the prowl again (if you will), I visited the SPCA in my town. As luck would have it (for me not the feline population) business was booming in the kitty room. All the available cages were occupied and extra cages had been set up towards the back of the building for the overload. I peered into each cage as I passed. Curious faces stared back at me as if to say “pick me, pick me”. Deciding to take a peek out back before making a decision, I walked along a dark bank of cages. Standing beside the last group a white paw reached out and touched me on the arm. The cage was in the center of a stack of three. Leaning down I found inside the prettiest white cat with muted gray and tan calico markings. One huge slightly crossed blue eye winked at me. Without another thought I signaled the attendant I would be taking “Snowball” home with me.

After filling out the appropriate paperwork and posting bail for Snowball, I loaded her in my cat carrier and put her in the passenger seat. All the way home she howled, telling me her sad story and expressing her doubts about going to a new home. Once released in the house she disappeared to the lower floors. It took me nearly a day to locate her. Such a scaredy cat. I knew she was around because the dish of food I left out would diminish from one day to the next and the food eaten recycled in the litter box nearby. Tentatively she began to show herself to us, venturing out a little longer on each visit. Snowball morphed into Boo Boo as her easily spooked personality emerged. Soon she was eating on the upstairs floor where we spent 90% of our time. At the end of the first month she had claimed the comfortable chair by the window as her own and if not curled up there spent much of her time on the sill behind it watching the hummingbirds swarming around the feeder on the deck.

Since then we have become fast friends, and I use friend exactly as it was meant. She finds my lap when I’m sick, and wakes me up in the morning with a friendly lick to have coffee with her while she enjoys her first treat of the day. After that I sit in my chair reading the paper while she takes up her place in Rick’s chair right next me. A creature of habit she never varies from her behavior unless something external causes a change in plans.

Of all the cats I’ve owned, and there have been a few, she is the only one who actively engages in hide and go seek. Also, the only one who participates in what we call “clean sheet day”, getting under the new sheet while I’m making the bed and while tented generally making a nuisance of herself.

I worked for several years at our local shelter in the “cat house”. Sad to read the stories posted on their cages, often chronicling poor treatment by the humans tasked with their care. I could have adopted them all. In Boo’s case her owner gave her up because she had white hair and shed on her furniture. Ummmmm, she’s a cat. To avoid this problem in the future adopt a Sphynx, or hairless cat. Problem solved. Of course, you have to look at the cat every day without hair. A bit unnerving on the best of days. Cats are likely going to scratch, Sphynx_Catoccasionally bite, definitely shed, and if male probably spray. If you’re looking for one expecting it not to exhibit any of these qualities I suggest you head for the stuffed animal section at Toys R Us. Like humans their personalities range from lovable to ornery, but certainly when you get a good one they bring far more to the table then they take away. So many are waiting for “forever homes”. If you find you have room for one more, be sure to take a look.

This curried cauliflower is a lovely change of pace. A little heat or a lot, it’s up to you. I like a dollop of plain yogurt on top or a squeeze of lime as well.

Curried Cauliflower with Red Potatoes

6 small red potatoes, sliced in 1/2″ slices
1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup scallions, sliced
2 cloves, garlic minced
2 Tbsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. coriander
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
8 oz. fresh spinach, trimmed
Plain yogurt and lime wedges

Boil potatoes in salted water for 5 minutes until soft. Add cauliflower and continue cooking 6 mins. Drain and set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet. Add onion, scallions, and garlic and cook for 8 mins. on med. low heat. Add curry powder and corinader and cook for 1 min. Add chickpeas, coconut milk and vegetable broth. Cover and simmer for 15 mins. or until tender. Add spinach in batches until wilted. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and lime wedges.

Serves 4

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1

After the past few weeks I believe there should be a Guide to Surviving the holidays lining Barnes and Noble shelves. A simple “how-to” book offering the reader helpful tips to manage their time, their relatives, their kitchen, without leaving hair in the sink and turning to the wine rack for solace. As I don’t drink, or rarely imbibe, I might more likely look to the white box on the entry way table marked “See’s”. Ah yes, the dark chocolate nibble with the sprinkles on top does much my friends to ease a tired mind.

All the little wrinkles and imperfections in a family seem to rise to the surface during the holidays. Perhaps it is because we spend more time together in an excitement fueled party like atmosphere, or just memories of holidays good and bad are revisited, or old wounds or the love we share come to mind. I have no answers as usual, only questions about why this seems to be true.

My mother has determined I should write a book about our family. She feels it would fly off the shelves. Truly, looking back there is definitely some material for a volume or two, but I would have to write it under a pseudonym if I wish to continue living my life in my space.

We made it down to the Bay Area just before Christmas accompanied by many other travelers, and back again with my mother and her roommate in tow. As we age it seems the roles reverse in a way with our parents. Where they once watched over us, we are now tasked with keeping an eye on them. I adore my mother so this is a job I try to approach with much patience and joy. I know some day the memories I make with her now will be what I have to keep moving forward when she is no longer with me.

Getting everyone packed and ready to go was a project. I reminded my mom to grab the garage door opener as they were being picked up at the train station by a shuttle service on the way back and she would need it to get in. Five minutes later I found her standing in front of the open garage trying to close the door with her car keys. Okay. I find myself doing odd things these days myself, so I simply explained that pushing the little button marked “trunk” was never going to achieve the desired result of closing the door to the garage.

People have told me I am a fairly patient being. This is not entirely true. There are times when I want to throw my hands up in the air and run screaming down the street. For the most part I try to remain calm. Losing your temper or getting frustrated doesn’t feed the screaming baby, if you get my drift.

Once everyone was loaded in the car and my mother had gone back in the house her usual two to three times to retrieve items already in the car or check the stove I assured her was off, we got the sideshow on the road. I know it is show on the road, but in our case sideshow just seems more appropriate. The plan was to meet my son and his family on the way north for lunch. They would be coming south on the same freeway returning from a from a pre-holiday ski trip to Lake Tahoe. The idea was that if we left at approximately the same time of day, at some juncture we would pass one another. Wherever that location might be we were to stop and meet for a bite to eat. Now what could possibly go wrong with such a seamless plan as that? It might had been helpful if we’d named a general location. Yes, that definitely would have given us a leg up. At least we planned on leaving on approximately the same time of day. However, we hadn’t factored in the huge snow storm blanketing the Tahoe area, nor my mother checking the house fifty times, nor the road construction and holiday traffic. Nooooo, we didn’t figure that in. Soooooo, where we passed in the middle turned out to be along a line of highway undergoing road construction where you couldn’t exit the freeway. Swell. Thankfully we had cell phone communication so as they flew by us going south, we flew by them going north. None of us familiar with the area it took ten phone conversations and three near misses to finally hook up at Applebee’s for a bit of holiday cheer.

Two of my pre-teen grandchildren were present, both what I would call “picky eaters”. One, as I recall, existed on hot dogs for an entire year, wieners being the only thing the child would consume. I have to admit parenting now as compared to parenting in the Paleozoic area when I was doing it, I would find most confusing. I never asked my children what they would they would like to eat. Rather I presented a meal worth eating and said “eat”. It seemed to work. Not that they liked everything. I would be overstating my amazing parenting skills was I to try to fly that past you. They did, however, have to at least try what was given them and if they loaded their plates were expected to eat what they took. Mom’s Rules. My son loathed peas. It was not that he hadn’t tried them, rather he had tried them often and found them revolting. There was no rhyme or reason to it, the child simply hated the little buggers. My husband decided that he was going to insist my son finish the peas on his plate. I suggested this was a bad idea but my husband persisted with the pea persecution anyhow. This, I felt, was not going to end well. The peas went down finally, but his body apparently had gotten the word from his taste buds that these little green intruders were not welcome. As quickly as they went down they reappeared, this time on my linen tablecloth. Insert “I told you so”, here. Thank you. I handed my husband a wash cloth and excused myself. My work there was done. I think kids should have the option of turning down a food they really cannot tolerate. If I found okra on my plate every night for dinner you would have to get in a large supply of linen tablecloths to handle the traffic. However, I also believe kids need to be exposed to new and different tastes and not limited to canned corn as a vegetable. Just my thoughts for the day.

These oatmeal cookies are crispy on the outside with a chewy yummy middle. They disappear like free money when I make them for visitors.

Hope your year has started out with a roar. Everybody’s in line for the Power Ball drawing as no one won again last night. I’m sure my little ticket has winner written all over it. I understand the odds of winning are as likely as me having identical quintuplets. Hmmm.

Brandy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

12 Tbsp. of butter, softened
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. brandy
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup raisins
2 cups old fashioned oats
1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375

Cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla extract, and brandy. Mix until well blended.

In a separate mixing bowl whisk together cinnamon, flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add to butter mixture in increments, mixing well with each addition. Add oats, raisins and walnuts and mix well.

Use two spoons to form balls and Place 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Press down slightly with fork.

Bake for 15 mins. until golden brown.

Allow to rest on cookie sheet for 5 mins. before removing to rack to cool.

Makes a little over two dozen

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6

Heading toward the downhill slope I have my gifts mostly purchased, partially wrapped, and feel the weight of holiday shopping slowly oozing off my shoulders. As our family has grown, choosing gifts for everyone has become a process. I try to be creative, tucking little hints passed on from loved ones over the year in the storage center in my brain. My mother always proves the most difficult. A woman who is self-described as devoid of patience, if she suggests any items she might want quite often it will already have been purchased before you can retrieve a credit card from your wallet.

Mother and her roommate will be our guests for the holidays this year. I have decorated accordingly, bringing out the extra boxes I often leave untouched when just Rick and I are in attendance.  Turkey is on the menu, as I imagine is the case in a large percentage of American households. We had prime rib for Thanksgiving to satisfy Rick’s need for steed, and now it is on to moist stuffing, fluffy mashed potatoes topped with yummy gravy, and creamed onions. My taste buds are throwing a party as I write this. I will be baking my oft requested apple and cheddar pie, as well as a pumpkin pie for my mother. The apple pie is for Rick, not a fan of pumpkin going so far as to tell me my pumpkin pie candle when burning gives him indigestion. Really?

At last our parched hillsides are being treated to a welcome dose of water. Storms have been passing over with enthusiastically received regularity. Our yard looks like a leaf depository, with not a square inch left uncovered. I’ve given it the good fight but have finally conceded defeat running out of places to tuck the darn things once the “yard refuse” bin has reached it’s capacity. Neighbors have their own healthy supply so there’s no relief there so I accept the leaves as a part of living in the tall trees and move on to more pressing problems to concern myself with.

I have allowed the house to go to ruin until this week busy with a thousand other things. As I’ve aged my need for perfection 24/7 has blurred into the need for a clean house but not always a pristine one. My reasoning with this is that if I spent all last weekend cleaning the house to a sparkling shine, this upcoming weekend would be spent in the same pursuit as dust waits for no man. That being said, I will haul my pile of cleaning products out from under the sink on Thursday and begin the task of making the house suitable for guests (in particular my white-gloved mother). After a thorough cleaning Rick always says he finds himself left with a craving for salad. This probably attributed to the large bottle marked “Vinegar and Water” I carry around with me. Vinegar really is the most amazing substance. It works on windows, grease, certainly helps out oil on lettuce, excellent for cleaning blinds, and a myriad of other handy cleanup uses. I even use it to clean my floors. When you compare the cost of a jug of vinegar to the cost of window cleaner there is no way I’m not going to go for a more natural cleaner achieving the same desired result. Insert end of vinegar infomercial here.

I still have presents sitting downstairs in need of wrapping. Back in the day I was a proficient wrapper. Seriously, I could have been hired at a local department store on their holiday wrapping team. Always I made perfect corners, chose just the right paper and accessorized my gifts with little extras or extravagant bows. These days if the paper is on, secured with tape, and you can’t read what’s written on the box I’m good to go. There just isn’t enough time in the day for all the extras. Whatever did I do when I worked full-time? I’m surprised I found time to sleep. Maybe it is that I don’t move as quickly these days, or perhaps the folds in my brain require a little more effort to release information, I’m not sure. Whatever the case I don’t seem to find the hours for the minute details the way I used to. There was a woman on the news who shared a picture of her tree obscured by three hundred wrapped gifts sitting around it. OMG. My hat is off to her. Number one no way did my children open three hundred gifts but never would I have had the patience to wrap them if they had.

Women, so studies reveal, are the multi taskers of the two sexes. Men, it seems, are more likely to focus on one thing and do that well, while we ladies are able to watch the soup on the stove, do a load of dishes, talk on the phone, and let the cat out while balancing the checking account. Makes me celebrate my femaleness. In a world where I’m assigned numerous tasks, was a left to study them one at a time undoubtedly a meal would only show up once a week.

Sometimes I find myself standing at the stove wondering what I want to create there. So many meals have I prepared over the years it can prove daunting some days to keep it fresh (if you will) and interesting. To this end I read a lot, watch cooking shows, and experiment on an unsuspecting Rick to keep us well nourished and not yawning over our plates. I would like to suggest that while creating puppies in a petri dish perhaps they could come up with something new in the area of edibles. I am running out of surprises with the present assortment of foods and would find it interesting to have a new vegetable or meat source to work with. Where is the suggestion box for that lab? I need to drop them a quick note.

So, I carry on with my quest and offer up my version of an old favorite comfort food. When I was young i often had tomatoey little nuggets show up on my plate. My grandmother served them with a steaming pile of mashed potatoes and a vegetable. I always thought that odd, two starches but in truth can you have too many starches on your plate?

Oven Baked Porcupine Meatballs

1 1/4 lbs. ground chuck
1/2 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 cup water
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1 tsp. salt
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together ground chuck, rice, onion, 1/2 cup water, egg, pepper, garlic powder, celery salt, and salt. Form into 1 1/2″ meatballs. Brown meatballs in large skillet over med.-high heat. Drain on paper towels.

Put in casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Mix together tomato sauce, sugar, water, and parsley. Pour even over meatballs turning them to coat well. Cover with tin foil. Bake for 45 minutes covered. Remove foil and continue cooking for 15 mins.

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1

Well we’ve survived another holiday. Friends and relatives or you yourself are home preparing for Christmas. Tummies are full, memories stored away, and turkey refrozen to reappear in soup or in creamed this or that somewhere down the road. Snow fell outside our windows the day before Thanksgiving. Lovely fluffy clumps gathered on our lawn furniture and along the gnarly ridges of the tree boughs. We enjoyed the beauty of it for an hour or two until the sun replaced the clouds reducing it to puddles as quickly as it arrived.

Black Friday passed uneventfully as well. I dropped a few dollars here and there on line and spent some time putting up my Christmas decorations. Our family tradition is the Christmas decorations go up the day after Thanksgiving and are put back in their respective containers the day after Christmas. Always when my children were still under my roof we made a yearly trip to a local tree lot to pick out a fresh tree. Either that or we went to a Christmas tree farm and cut one down ourselves. These days I have a “tree-in-a-box” which suits our needs perfectly. Though I do miss the piney smell and the act of acquiring a fresh one. For me I liked my trees flocked. This was not always an easy sell to my husband at the time. Preferring the clumpy flocking that looks as though you came across the tree in a snowy meadow to simply spraying the whole tree white it could create a flocking disaster getting it through the door. As somehow by default I had been assigned the title “Mess Monitor” I never understood what the problem was as most likely I would be the one cleaning it up once the tree was secured in the base.

Over the years I have added at least one new decoration each holiday season to my growing assortment. As the children progressed into adulthood I have given away some here or there to their families but still have boxes of old friends who adorn my tree as each year passes. When they were in high school we used to drive into San Francisco over the holidays, specifically targeting Ghiradelli Square. Inside the shopping area there was a store, I don’t know if it still exists, run by and for the handicapped. Each year all of us would pick out one ornament made by people who were physically or mentally challenged. They still hang on my tree. How beautifully crafted these ornaments are is a testament to looking beyond what we see when looking at a person and digging a little deeper to find what lies beneath. I can remember a young woman with Down’s Syndrome in particular. When we came in the door she would run up and wrap her arms around me. Such a sweet and loving girl, easy with offering a show of affection to a stranger. I have a small stuffed bear which she made, intricate stitches and a perfectly set bear face. He sits on the front of my tree each year and reminds me of her.

Traditions, to my mind, are a lovely part of the holidays. Aunt Barbie’s shortbread, the recipe for my grandmother’s magnificent stuffing written in her hand splattered with dots of gravy. For some people, it’s dinner out at a favorite restaurant, for others it’s the smells emanating from the kitchen on Christmas morning or the screams of the children as they tear through the gifts under the tree. Part of our “holiday rules” if you will, was no tearing through the gifts. We had a “gift fairy” (When young this was a much coveted position. As they got older the mere mention of it resulted in much rolling of eyes and muttering under breaths.). The gift fairy handed out a gift to each person. One by one we opened our gifts and admired the contents, being sure to include a thank you, before placin them back under the tree.

Once I attended a holiday party where the kids were set free to open at will. It was like a school of sharks invited to a sea lion party. Good Lord. Never have I witnessed so much carnage in such a short period of time. John was opening a present marked Matthew, and Michael was examining his new Barbie actually meant for Meagan who was trying to figure out how to open a box of plastic army men. One little boy whose name escapes me, opened a package containing a dump truck. Apparently finding the truck wanting he screamed and threw the toy on the ground breaking off the cab. His mother said, “Jacob (for the sake of the story), now that wasn’t nice.” At this strong admonishment Jacob pointed a fat little finger in his mother’s direction and said, “shut up”. Really? I hope Santa was on the ball the following year with his lump of coal. For me I poured a second glass of nicely laced punch. I will say this for my two pirates, they weren’t perfect (nor was I but don’t let the cat out of the bag), however they never disrespected me (at least not to my face). Certainly never acted in such an ungrateful way. They wouldn’t have had to wait for Santa’s short list to come out to hear about it I guarantee you, had they ever decided to.

So, we’re headed down the last lap of our holiday season. The push is on toward the finish line and I’m lagging behind. I find myself wishing Christmas less about presents and more about our time together, but without voicing it aloud, I sense this would be a sentiment not met with many supporters.

As my grandchildren insist on getting older no matter how many times I’ve suggested Nana would like them to freeze in place, the cost of Christmas increases in kind. Digital goodies arrive first on the list coming in with pricey tags to go with. I leave these to their parents to sort out. We concentrate on pj’s or socks for the bigger kids and toys for the younger of the group. I have a friend who goes totally wild during the holidays lavishing extravagant gifts on her clan. Last years Christmas, she told me was not paid off until August. WHAT? That’s nuts. Not that I wouldn’t love to give my offspring and theirs whatever their little hearts desire, but I believe there is so much more I have to offer them than a video game. The finite details of what these gifts are I have to give I have not isolated as of this writing.

This lasagna requires a bit of work, but in the end is well worth the trouble. I make the sauce the day before. I usually have about 1 1/2 cups of sauce left over which I freeze to use on another pasta dish down the road.

Two-Helping Spinach Lasagna

Rich Meat Sauce

2 lbs. ground beef
3/4 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
2 large onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, minceed
3 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
4 6 oz. cans tomato paste)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced parsley
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
4 bay leaves
1 tsp. rubbed sage
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. pepper

In large saucepan or dutch oven brown beef, sausage, onions and garlic over medium heat until browned. Drain fat.

Transfer to 5-quart slow cooker. Stir in remaining ingredients mixing well. Cook on low for 10 hours. Remove bay leaves.

Spinach Lasagna

1 10 oz. pkg. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and squeezed dry
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 pint low-fat cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. garlic powder
Salt and black pepper
9 lasagna noodles, cooked and patted dry
1 lb. shredded Mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together spinach, parsley, cottage cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, eggs, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Cook 9 lasagna noodles according to package directions.

Spray bottom and sides of 9 x 13″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Spread 1/4 cup of sauce on bottom of prepared dish. Line three cooked noodles on top. Spread 1/2 of cottage cheese mixture evenly on top of noodles and top with 1/2 of the mozzarella cheese. Top with about 2/3 cup of sauce. Spread carefully over all the noodles. Repeat layers once.

Place last three noodles on top and cover with sauce, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.

Bake uncovered for 45-50 mins. until bubbly and brown. Allow to sit for 6 mins. before cutting. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8

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The end of last week I took my trusty leaf blower down from its hook in the garage. Goggles in place I went after the leaves in my yard. By the time I was done I had filled four large leaf bags. I heard on a newscast leaves are actually better left untouched. A bed of 2leaves, so it seems, provides an excellent habitat for a large variety of insects. This being true, our backyard is literally Mother Nature’s playground. There isn’t one square inch of it not topped with a cover of leaves. This year has proved particularly prolific with the dry conditions created by our seemingly never-ending drought. Surrounded by trees on all sides, aside from the abundant leaf population, we worry about the trees toppling over due to dry roots, etc.

Over the weekend a winter storm moved into our area bringing with it much-needed moisture accompanied by some pretty impressive winds. In one area a tornado touched down doing some fairly significant damage to several houses. Outside I watched as a whole new crop of leaves twirled and swirled to the ground erasing any clues of a recent cleanup. Sigh.

On the plus side, fall colors are resplendent this year. The trees in our yard, not to be outdone by their neighbors, have put on a gorgeous display. 3Our maple turning up the heat with bright reds, and the Chinese maples showing a gorgeous second.

When I lived on the east coast I lived in Wakefield, Massachusetts. A sleepy little town surrounding a beautiful lake. Autumn there was the fodder of many a painting with colors so brilliant when reflected in the calm water of the lake the visage could bring tears to your eyes. My children, toddlers then, tucked in their woolen coats and hats loved to walk along the paths by the lake. A canvas bag accompanied us on our fall walks. Particularly lovely leaves were tucked inside. Once home we would press them into books or make designs with them to decorate the walls of their bedroom.

Our house there was of some historical significance. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, a plaque with a brief synopsis of the house’s history was affixed to the front. Built in the 1800’s. Owned by a prominent family. Often I would step outside to find strangers armed with maps of the area, reading the text written there. On meeting they occasionally asked me questions. Even after research at the library, I knew little beyond what the plaque offered. Some of the house’s secrets the owner imparted to us, like the young wife who died there giving birth to her first child. The rest of the old buildings secrets remained hidden in the dusty corners leaving only what was noted on the plaque as a source of information.

Old houses intrigue me. Details prevalent in the older buildings, are left out in the structures you see today. The Wakefield house had window seats in both the master bedroom as well as the living room. To the right of the window seat in the master bedroom was a large porthole style window with a latch that, when open in the summer, invited a lovely breeze into the upstairs area. The closet in the upstairs hall was constructed solely of cedar. It was the perfect place to store coats and sweaters as moths are not fond of the scent of cedar so are likely to stay away.

Downstairs a large hearth dominated the living area. In the 1800’s, the owner told me, the people living there had cooked their meals in pots hanging over a fire in the hearth. The metal grooves where the bars hung were still visible on either side. Wow, are we spoiled these days, huh? Cooking over a fire, no microwaves, no fast food, frozen food, processed food. Back in the day, if you wanted a chicken for dinner you picked up the axe, chased it around the yard, and thanked it for its service to your table. Most probably I would have been a vegetarian.

My grandmother grew up on a farm. Her attitude was very mater-of-fact about such things. Cats roamed the property to keep rodents and other small critters at bay. Cats earned their keep on the farm. They did not reside on their owners lap waiting lazily for a treat before getting down to preen themselves. The treat, as she would have told me, was my great-grandmother hadn’t deposited the cat as a kitten in a burlap bag and lowered it into the river. With no vets readily available to neuter cats back then nor money to pay them, the litters had to be culled. One feline could turn to two and two to a hundred in the blink of an eye.

Pets among the livestock weren’t encouraged either, I was told. Tom the lovable turkey, or Fred the affectionate piglet might show up surrounded with potatoes and carrots on a platter come the holidays. I would have been a petless vegetarian apparently.

I always pictured myself on a farm. Well, without the getting up at 3:00 in the morning, the endless hard work, the bad crop years, insect infestations and the lack of amenities. Never mind. Let’s leave it at I admire people who choose farming as a way of life. Indeed it is just that. You own the land the land owns you. My experience working on a farm in Manitoba about fifteen years back gave me a brief but memorable glimpse into the life of people who grow the food we find on our supermarket shelves. For one week I woke at midnight to fertilize crops. Bouncing along the uneven furrows in a tractor I believe my kidneys actually relocated to behind my right ankle. I rode one of the farms three wheelers to feed the cows. At one point I helped load cows on a trailer (a procedure they are not in favor of) looking up at the business end of the beasts hoping to avoid being kicked or trampled or worse. The worse being cows when frightened tend to release all their bodily functions (I’m trying to be delicate here). One does not want to get in the way of this natural process if at all possible.

So with Thanksgiving approaching I will be thankful for these hard working humans who plant small seeds in the ground and care for them until they harvested and sent to be part of our feast whether it be turkey, tofurkey, ham, or whatever your traditions are. Oh, and a special shout out to the fine vineyards here in California. What would Thanksgiving be without a glistening glass of wine!

This soup is full of creamy deliciousness. It is rich, so I serve it in cups rather than bowls topped with shredded Parmesan.

Spinach and Artichoke Soup

4 Tbsp. butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used chardonnay)
5 cups chicken broth
1 8 oz. pkg. cream cheese
1 14 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained
6 oz. spinach, washed and broken into pieces
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper taste
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Melt butter in large deep skillet over med. heat. Add onions and cook 5-6 mins. until soft. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, for 3 mins.

Deglaze pan with wine. Reduce heat and continue cooking until liquid nearly evaporates. Whisk in broth. Bring to a boil. Cook for 1 min.

Add cream cheese. Cook and stir until cheese has completely melted. Add artichoke hearts and spinach. Cook 6 mins. until spinach has wilted. Add lemon juice cheese, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with shredded Parmesan sprinkled on top if desired.

Serves 4-6

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