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final1
A friend of mine recently confided she is having panic attacks. To allow a secret to drift out from beneath my private pillow, I used to suffer from them as well. For anyone dealing with this affliction, you will understand fully how debilitating it can be. Thankfully, in my case the attacks came during a stressful period and packed their bags once the stress was eliminated. The first attack occurred shortly after my ex-husband and I moved to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. During that ten-year span of my life we traveled as construction sub-contractors for a major engineering company. The nature of such work necessitated employees move as one job was completed and another opened up. Relocating to Alabama was to be our third such move in as many years. Truth is I found it interesting living in so many different parts of this fine country. Certainly it opens your mind to new cultures and scenery also allowing you a brief glimpse into how people live outside of your usual stomping grounds. At times, however, coming into an area and knowing nobody can be a bit off-putting. Such was the case in Alabama. Construction families we knew were due to arrive eventually but we were the first on the scene and settled in for several months before we would welcome a familiar face.

For those first few months I struggled to adapt to my new surroundings. The full blast of summer heat and oppressive humidity had moved into the area. Outside activities were limited to early mornings or after the sun was tucked in for the night. As per usual during that time of my life I applied at a local temp agency. There was no point in taking on a full-time job when I knew I would be leaving somewhere down the road. My first, and as it turned out only, assignment was to be in the contagious disease department of a local hospital. Looking back I was a bit leery of this particular job description as it included supervising urine tests for incoming employees and working directly with the head of the department on getting out the news about preventing the spread of infectious disease. Great work and a good cause but also one could only imagine all the little germs floating about in such an arena looking for a host to set up housekeeping in. Deciding to accept the position in spite of my trepidations, I submitted my arm for the series of injections required to prevent me from becoming a patient in the hospital rather than an employee. Had I gone to the deepest darkest jungles of Africa I believe I would have emerged disease free.

Needing some new clothes for my job I headed to the closest mall. Our car air conditioning labored to overcome the heat outside and I began to feel claustrophobic with the windows closed. Inside a store with some likely clothing choices I was led to a small changing room and once inside began to get undressed. My pants hit the chair just before all the lights went out. I could hear people talking loudly outside and suddenly my heart began to pound and my ears were ringing like church bells on Sunday morning. Feeling about for my pants I heard someone outside say the generators would kick in and shortly a dim light came on in the fitting room. Dragging on my pants, zipping them as I walked, I emerged from the small room like a horse straining at the bit when released at the starting gate. Literally running through the mall I was certain I was either having a heart attack or a stroke and must have looked to those I passed like a guppy gasping for air at the top of the tank. Outside, heat or not, I could feel my heartbeat slow and my body calming down. Driving home I remember shaking and thinking I had surely developed some disease with a three syllable name and likely only had days to live.

Setting up an appointment with a doctor, I related my experience to him and was assured I probably was good for a few more years. Anxiety attack was the diagnosis and therapy was the suggested course of action. Really? An alternate suggestion was what they might call these days “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is basically the art of using your mind to control your reactions. The first part of getting a grip on these paralyzing moments is realizing the reaction you are having to your surroundings is far more accelerated than the situation dictates. This overreaction might be described like a person calling the fire department because someone has lit a match. Too much response for too little reason. At first I simply dealt with it the best I could. When in Costco towards the back of the store I would have to migrate towards the front so I could see the exit doors. For some reason knowing I could get out allowed me to remain inside.

During that time my daughter was in California expecting her first child, my first grandchild. A momentous occasion for both of us, I was on baby alert hoping to get out to the west coast before the baby decided to show herself. The thought of being inside a plane with these claustrophobic panic issues did not occur to me at the time. The due date coming close I booked my ticket and two days later boarded my plane. Hot inside the cabin, I stored my coat and situated myself in my least favorite spot on any flight in between two strangers. Since it was a quick booking the plane was nearly full and the only seats available were in the middle. Fine. I was doing fairly well until the flight attendants closed the exit doors. “WHAT”, my mind began screaming inside my head? “OPEN THE DOORS, I NEED TO GET OUT. NOWWWWW!!!!!” Sitting there wedged in between two total strangers I entertained the thought of tearing off my hot clothes and running naked screaming down the aisle and banging on the door to the cockpit. Next I thought about grabbing one of the incessantly smiling insipid flight attendants and telling him or her to get the exit chute ready because they were going to be one passenger short on their headcount. In the end I chose door number three and began to breathe slowly and chant to my inner self “you are not dying, you are having a panic attack”. Shortly I became calm enough to pull my book from my handbag and open it to the folded page and begin reading. Thankfully at some point an adult beverage was offered and I made through the end of the flight. I am not recommending you use alcohol to soothe yourself, but a body has to do what a body has to do

As with all things one day at a time. As human  beings we all suffer from frailties and imperfections over our lifetimes. The human mind holds so many secrets yet to be uncovered. Happy endings for me were leaving this behind. For those of you still dealing with them Google “mindfulness” and check out some of the beliefs associated with it.

Martha Stewart hit the nail on the head with the title pie quote. If you pile everything bothering you on the plate it will appear overwhelming. However, if you break it up and tackle each item in order of importance it will be much easier to manage. Just breathe, breathe, or drink whichever works.

This salad is so beautiful on the plate it’s a shame to eat. It is fresh and delicious with a light vinaigrette dressing and a dab of fig balsamic.

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Fig Balsamic for Two

1 cup of fresh spinach, stems removed and torn into pieces
2 heirloom tomatoes (preferably different colors) sliced thin
4 thin slices red onion
1 large mushroom, sliced thin
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 plum cut in wedges
4 grapes, halved
Feta cheese
2 Tbsp. fig balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic can be substituted)

Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (use good quality for best results)
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. pear vinegar
1/4 tsp. basil
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper

Whisk together and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To plate:

Divide the spinach between two salad plates. Arrange remaining salad ingredients on top. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Put 1/2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar on either side of each plate. Serve with vinaigrette.

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100
I was down visiting family in the Bay Area over Labor Day weekend. When I drive down I camp with my Mother and get righteously spoiled and then we spread the joy among my son and his family and friends. Recently my son sold his house. While deciding what their next move is to be they are renting. Buying or renting is a pricey proposition these days with the San Jose housing market one of the costliest in the nation. Amazing. I can recall when the San Jose airport was one building. Ach. For my mother and I this was to be our first look at their new digs. Wow. My son said the owner, presently on extended leave in China, is a total techni nerd. As you walk in the front door the house announces your arrival and what door you entered through. The system doesn’t identify you by name, naturally, though it wouldn’t have surprised me, but indicates someone has come in the house and where. This feature can become annoying, I was told over dinner, when the dog lets herself out to pee around 2:00 a.m. I would disconnect this voice. Every time I looked out a periphery door the house told on me. What a kiss up.  Shortly after we got there my grandson rounded the corner on a hovercraft. Suddenly I was reminded of “The House of the Future” displayed in Disneyland back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Located in Yesterland (I know!) the kitchen featured a revolutionary microwave oven. Microwaves were not yet on the market if you younger people can imagine.

futurehouse_entrance

I’m not a big fan of such digitalized voices. I had a 300 ZX back in the day that came equipped such a voice. Looking back on my times with my Z makes me melancholy. Cars for me up until the ZX arrived were mainly a way to get from Point A to Point B.  What a gorgeous car that was. Bronze on the outside with an interior swathed in rich creamy leather. The T-top, always open during the warmer days, allowed the sun in and the impressive dashboard display signaled the driver’s every move as they were cruising along. If you can truly love an inanimate object, this car would have been my first. Driving down the coast to L.A. in fifth gear with the wind tossing through my hair, glorious, truly glorious. The one drawback to the car was the resident android living in the computer system. We called her “Regina”. I don’t know why. Put there to guide the driver away from mishaps such as running out of gas or leaving a door open, for me she simply served to drive me crazy. When low on fuel, the computer would signal Regina to announce in her syrupy electronic voice “Fuel Level Is Low” every five minutes until the situation was rectified. After about ten miles of this I’d find myself yelling “FINE” or worse into the air with people passing me shooting odd looks in my direction as if fearing I was a danger to myself and others. My mother was less annoying when trying to get me up for school.

On one occasion my roommate and I were taking Regina for an evening out in San Francisco. Buckled in and on our way to the city Regina began to interrupt our conversation signalling “Right door is open”. Really? At the next convenient opportunity I pulled off the freeway and checked the doors. A quick process as there were only two. Finding nothing I hopped back into the driver’s seat and looked for the on ramp headed in the direction we wanted to go. Shortly after pulling on the freeway once again Regina began her “right door is open” at intervals and would not stop. Had I had a gun, well that’s another story. Again we pulled over and inspected both doors to no avail. Figuring the computer had gone rogue I turned up the radio and for the 45 minute drive into San Francisco and the return trip we listened to eardrum rupturing tunes trying to drown the woman out.

The following day I took the car still making the annoying announcement to the gas station. I asked one of the guys working in the bays what could be wrong. After inspecting both the passenger and the driver’s door and finding nothing he walked around to the tailgate door. Feeling around the bottom he found it barely open. Looking up he tossed me a condescending “aren’t we blonde” smile. What? The woman never uttered “tailgate”, she specifically said “right door”. He just looked at me. FINE. The following week I went to the Nissan dealer and had Regina permanently silenced. I have no regrets.

I digress as usual. Back at my son’s house I continued to be fascinated by all the gadgets at hand. The high-end electric stove top has more bells and whistles than the North Coast Limited. Pans must be set on the designated burner areas, for example, before the burners will become operational. For the first three days they were in the house my son said they stood and screamed at the burners because they would turn them on and no heat would arrive. Finally he located a manual and a light went on both in his brain and on top of the counter. Yea. Also, you can’t use square pans on this stove top. Seems it only recognizes round bottoms. Hmmmm. I think I was married to its cousin in the 80’s. Again, that’s another blog.

The downstairs bathroom has an interesting feature, several actually. The huge shower stall is equipped with three shower heads. A large round one dominates the center of the stall and the other two protrude one from either end. Interesting. Either they were attempting to get at their bodies at all angles or company was coming.

The toilet, I left the best for last, was my favorite. The toilet, unlike the television, has a remote. There is User 1 and User 2. I will refrain from commenting on the obvious pottie humor lingering in that statement. The toilet has a bidet which you can program to be body specific as to where you wish the water to go (if you will). It also self cleans and has a bum heater for those cold winter nights. I tried to get it out the front door but the damn house ratted me out.

This baked chicken came out of the oven moist and delicious. The addition of the fruit to the vegetable mix really made it stand out in the crowd. I made gravy out of the pan drippings which was the perfect addition.

Baked Chicken with Vegetables and Fruit

For the chicken

1 roasting chicken 3 1/2 lbs.
2 Tbsp. butter
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 large onion

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash chicken inside and out. Pat dry. Sprinkle cavity with salt and pepper. Place peeled onion in cavity. Spray large roasting pan with cooking spray. Place chicken in center. Rub butter over chicken and sprinkle with kosher salt and dust liberally with pepper.

For the vegetables and fruit

6 carrots, peeled and cut in large chunks
2 red potatoes, cut in chunks
10 Brussels sprouts, halved
1 onion, quartered
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut in chunks
2 peaches, cored and cut in chunks
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
pinch garlic
1 Tbsp. olive oil

Place the prepared carrots, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and onions in microwave dish. Microwave on high for 3 mins. Place in large bowl and add remaining ingredients. Toss well to mix. Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer.

Bake chicken for 1/2 hr. at 400 degrees. Add vegetable/fruit mix to pan distributing all around chicken. Sprinkle vegetables with olive oil. Continue baking 1 hr. and 15 mins. tossing vegetables once until internal temperature of chicken reaches 165 degrees. Slice and serve with vegetables and fruit.

Serves 4

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final
Another garage sale is in the bag, literally. I am done for this year and quite possibly for next year. This was a community wide sale. Well advertised by our H.O.A., the early birds arrived as the rooster crowed on Friday. By noon the big items (outdoor furniture, chairs, quilt sets, etc.) were packed in the backs of buyer’s cars making their way on down the line to pick up more bargains. Thankfully I did Friday because Saturday we had four people for the entire day, all men. I have nothing against men. Mind you I quite enjoy them, but not at garage sales. They are the perfect customers if you have electronics, cameras, tools, sports collectibles, or sports anything. You know, manly stuff.  When they see my collection of teddy bears, rocking chairs, kids clothes and household goodies the blood literally drains from their faces. I can’t be sure but I believe I saw one man actually cross himself before hightailing it up my hill. SORRY. I’m a girl. Well, actually I most probably haven’t been a girl since the Beatles “Hard Day Night” hit the streets, but I like being female and I’m not afraid to show my girl muscle when the situation arises. I did have one tool (a small electric drill).  One man asked to see it and when I held the small pink power drill out in my palm he looked up at me over the rim of his glasses as if to say “Are you kidding me. I am looking for tools not something to fix the Barbie Dream House.” It was a gift, but whatever, fine.

We don’t have a lot of tools these days. Well, we have the basics, screwdrivers (Phillips and flat head), a hammer, a level, an assortment of wrenches and a very rusty drill that only turns on when coached with platitudes. Hey, I made it through the 80’s armed only a butter knife and my guardian angel to keep me one step away from electrocution. Rick looked at the cord to my upstairs vacuum the other day with disgust. Asking me what was up with the electrical tape wrapped tightly around several worn spots I explained that I’d run over the cord a time or two and thought the electrical tape would keep me from harm. He walked away mumbling something about being amazed I’d made it past thirty. Well, here I am, Cookie.

In the 80’s I participated in a circuit of art and wine festivals and craft shows in Northern California. When in the midst of this endeavor I had an entire booth which broke down into easily stored parts, a huge canopy, and a garage full of top-line tools to help my partner and I create a lot of wood crafts (mostly garden variety) which we hawked at these fairs. I was the creative brains of the outfit, coming up with ideas for planters and window pots and painting the art on each as they came off the work bench. Once the idea was on paper he took my ideas and with his magic with tools turned them into actual items to sell. Along with the wood crafts I also fashioned aprons, pillows, dolls on my sewing machine, and sold printed tee-shirts and cards featuring my artwork. To keep things interesting, I also worked a full-time job allowing little extra time for anything else during that two-year span. Those were busy, busy days.

Burned out after my second season and in my personal life, my partner and I parted ways leaving me with a garage full of tools to get rid of. The tools, new when purchased, were well maintained and of excellent quality. Initially being my investment, they were also mine to sell so I ran an ad for a one-day sale tool sale in the local paper. The sky was dark the Saturday of the sale. Drinking my coffee in the kitchen I remember thinking as the rain began to fall nobody was going to show up. The gods proved me wrong and within a half an hour cars and trucks began to arrive. One after another they formed long lines on either side of the street. So thick was the testosterone hovering in the air I could feel the hair on my legs begin to grow. By 8:00 my driveway was teeming with men. It’s raining men, comes to mind here.  Seems I’d hit the mother lode. Who knew?  Note to self: “Run an ad for power tools next time you’re short of masculine attention.” At precisely 8:00 I opened the door. The men stood in hushed silence absorbing the vast treasure lying before them. Agra couldn’t have encouraged more awe. The smell of sawdust and oil was like a new catnip toy for a playful feline. Beyond the entrance they beheld an entire room filled with jigsaws, band saws, table saws, routers, drills, and assorted hand-held equipment.  Life was good. Life was very good. Men in faded jeans with facial hair and ball caps swarmed over the tools like army ants over an unsuspecting cow. Fights broke out over drill bits, the table saw discussions got ugly, and several disagreements required a coin toss to settle who was to take the item home. Two hours later the only reminder of the tools originally housed there were dusty outlines on the floor. The men were happy, I was happy, and my kids had a great Christmas that year thanks to those tools.

Since then I’ve reverted to my original ten tool philosophy. In truth I’m the only one digging in the tool chest. Rick is not one to slap on a tool belt, being more of a Ferragamo man when it comes to belts,  and I’m just as happy. We all have gifts and he has many, but tinkering isn’t among them. My stepfather was a tinkerer and this always led us down a slippery slope usually involving an unnatural disaster and an expensive visit from a professional to clean up the mess. The only thing I remember about his buckling his leather belt with the tools dangling from it is that it directly correlated with cocktail time at our house even if lunch hadn’t been served yet.

So today I loaded up bags of household items left on the table and went to Goodwill to pass them on. I feel thirty pounds lighter.

This is my version of tacos al Pastor without the hassle. I have gone through the whole process before including making my own tortillas but since I’m getting ready to head out of town and had a craving, this was a delicious and far easier option. Rick can have leftovers while I’m gone.

Crockpot Pork Tacos with Grilled Pineapple

1 onion, sliced thin
3 lbs. peppercorn pork loin
1 Tbsp. Hot McCormick Taco Mix
1 cup orange juice
3 cloves garlic
1 Chipotle chile in Adobo sauce (chopped)
2 tsp. Adobo sauce
Pinch of cinnamon
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 fresh pineapple sliced in 1/2″ slices
8 flour tortillas
Queso Fresco
Sour cream
Avocado Slices
Lime slices
Mexican Rice (optional)

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Slice onion and line bottom with it.

Rub pork with taco mix. Place pork on top of onion. Mix together remaining ingredients except pineapple and add to pot. Cook on low for 6 hrs. Shred with two forks. Squeeze lime juice over top and mix.

Brush pineapple slices on both sides with olive oil. Heat grill on high. Grill 3 mins. on each side until grill marks appear. Core and slice into strips.

Black Beans

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup water
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa (I used hot)
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped

Heat olive oil in skillet over med-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent (about 6 mins.). Add garlic. Cook 1 min. Add cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring constantly for 1 min. Add beans, water, and salsa and cook stirring frequently 8 mins. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cilantro.

To make the tacos

Preheat grill to high heat. Quickly heat tortillas turning once. (1-2 mins. per side). Roll in tin foil and place inside plastic bag to keep warm.

To assemble

Place a generous portion of pork on tortilla. Top with portion of beans. Top beans with crumbled Queso Fresco and a sprinkling of chopped cilantro. Serve with lime wedges, sour cream, salsa, and sliced avocado as desired.

Serves 4

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final
Lunch boxes are being packed, new clothes pressed and ready, kids are headed back to school. Parents, exhausted from a summer filled with activities, are putting their feet up on the coffee table, switching on the morning news, enjoying their first cup of hot coffee and breathing a collective sigh of relief. Not that they don’t love their offspring but most parents by the end of the summer find themselves much in need of a little “me time” to recharge their batteries.

I was a working mother. There would have been nothing I would have enjoyed more than spending time with my little ones but as we all liked to eat, it was necessary someone provide the wherewithal to do so.

Always as a kid it was exciting and a little daunting preparing for a new school year. My mother took me “school shopping” which included new clothes, new shoes, new underwear and school supplies. Now from what I understand there are lists supplied to parents for them to fill. According to my son he buys whatever is on the list for his two children plus they contribute about $30 per student in additional supplies which go into sort of a public pot for the school. Tennis shoes apparently now cost nearly $100 per child if they’re to be accepted by their peers and then there are laptops, notebooks, and backpacks. Lockers in the lower grades mostly do not exist anymore. When you reach high school they reappear and there are “locker supplies”, optional of course, to be purchased. Someone, terribly clever to my mind, came up with the idea of locker decorations ranging from wallpaper to stick on mirrors, etc. Wow, that has to have been a windfall for whoever came up with that idea.

joyful-girls-decorating-ideas-mX4RC-600x450

We had books, books, and more books. Not only did I walk ten miles in the snow to school but I carried a sack full of books. Actually I caught a ride to school, but I did walk home with friends more like two miles then ten and I can’t remember the last time it snowed in Southern California.

The summer between third and fourth grade my mother married my first stepfather and we moved from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Santa Ana, California. More than simply a big jump on the map, for me this was a huge cultural adjustment. Climatically it was major change for sure but more than that it was a totally different vibe on the west coast. Between fourth grade and twelfth grade I was to go to eight different schools. Being the “new kid” every time I changed my underwear gave me a leg up for the rest of my life where I was to move as of this date thirty-seven times. Some of us are rolling stones, I would guess, where others plant roots and remain firmly entrenched where they began.

That first day of a new school year was always filled with anticipation. In my day we had Peechee folders which by the end of the year would have doodles covering their covers and bent corners, but on that first day they were pristine and filled with lined paper for notes. Notes were taken in pen or pencil, I have no idea how they are taken these days, and there were no devices of any kind other than the teacher’s pointer or possibly a phone on the wall in the classroom to distract the kids seated there. I know!

Color+Talk+Peechee+FolderWe had homework in each class on most days in high school. My mother worked so I was expected to come home and so whatever work was assigned to me before she arrived home around dinner time. There were late summer days where the pool in the backyard summoned me and I didn’t get this accomplished, but most days I stuck my nose in my books and did what was needed to be done. I understand a teacher in Texas has decided to experiment this year by not assigning any homework to her second grade class. Rather she encourages them to go home and spend this extra time allotted them with their families. First there is no P.E. so our children are alarmingly out of shape. Now we’re eliminating homework so their minds can be out of shape as well. When did we become so afraid of a little work? I don’t know that I endorse hours and hours of homework but I certainly don’t think an hour a day is asking too much.

My hairdresser was saying her two young children are enrolled in a local charter school. As a parent you are expected to put in a mandatory number of hours of volunteer time if your children attend such school. I believe she is finding this difficult as her husband is disabled and she works a full work week. I remember juggling work and home so many times while my children were young. There is guilt when you have to work leaving small children at home and much regret at missing milestones that occur while they aren’t in your charge. I volunteered as often as I could. Working with children has always been fun for me. They’re so willing to accept the unacceptable and open to world’s we as adults have long put behind us. When my daughter entered kindergarten a flyer was sent home asking parents to come up with creative fall ideas to entertain the classroom. Putting my creative beanie on I thought the kids might get kick out of making caramel apples. Let’s see thirty five year old’s and hot caramel, what could go wrong? Exactly. After the debacle the harassed teacher said she was picking sticky wads of caramel of everything including Laurel and Hardy the two pet rats the classroom adopted. Sorry.

I miss those little people these days and my grandchildren are shooting up so there aren’t any little, little ones anymore. I guess the next thing will be their children coming along one day. Good Lord. Someone is getting old.

At any rate, this sauce is absolutely to die for. I give it five nom’s. If you’re having four hungry people seated at the table I would double the sauce.

Crockpot Tagliatelle with Wine Short Rib Sauce

5 slices pancetta, chopped
2 1/2 lbs. short ribs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles and juice
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1 12 oz. can tomato sauce plus 1 can water
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. tagliatelle
1 Tbsp. butter
Parmesan cheese

Spray bottom of six quart crockpot with cooking spray.

Brown pancetta in large skillet over med-high heat until crispy. Place in bottom of crockpot.

Mix together flour, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Dredge meat on all sides in flour mixture.

Heat olive oil in same skillet. Brown meat on all sides. Place in crockpot. Add onion to pan. Cook 6 mins. until tender. Add garlic. Cook 1 min. Carefully add wine to pan and cook for 1 min.

In large bowl mix all remaining ingredients up to but not including tagliatelle also adding onion and wine mixture. Pour over meat. Cook on low for 9 hours stirring twice. Remove bones.

Cook tagliatelle according to pkg. directions. Toss with butter. Serve with sauce and top with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4

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3
I attended high school in Southern California. During the summer months teens piled in cars and headed towards the border in search of entertainment. Tijuana,  T.J. to those of us who frequented it, was a popular hang out once school let out.

Things were much different then. Parents were far less custodial either due to the fact there were less bad things happening or people were less informed. Surely all the predators and rapists didn’t show up in the last three decades, but somehow we weren’t as afraid and certainly teens not chaperoned in the manner they are today. Honestly had my mother known half of what I was up to at that age her hair would have grayed long before it did.

For example I had a friend who’s older sister had a hard top convertible. What adventures we had the summer her dad bought her that car. There were no seat belts back then, we all rode commando, if you will. I rode in the back usually, as my friend always called “shotgun”. Tucking the roof in the trunk we often headed up to the swimming areas in Mt. Baldy on a hot summer afternoon. There was a stretch of road leading up to the mountains featuring a series of sea serpent like bumps. People with any sense approached this area with caution, but at that age we didn’t fall under that umbrella. Flooring the car we headed into the bumps full throttle. The first few bumps we flew over and maintained control but on the third bump the car landed hard and I found myself airborne, catapulted from my seat in the back into a pile on top of my friend in the front now on the floor. The only thing I remember clearly about that moment was seeing Marie, still in a seated position, floating above the steering wheel. Good Lord, it’s amazing I ever made it past sixteen. Both shaken and stirred we pulled to the side of the road and sat there for a while until Marie regained her composure. Marie had to explain to her dad how the axle got bent and all our allowances went toward its repair. After that we used extreme caution when traversing that area of highway having gained a new respect for the road.

During those summers between tenth grade and graduation we visited San Diego and Tijuana often. The first time I ever entered Mexico and walked into the dusty border town I was impacted by the poverty evident everywhere you rested your eyes. Blocks of cardboard box homes are the first thing visible as you approach the downtown area. Initially I thought this was a dump but was told people were living in these makeshift shelters without benefit of electricity or plumbing. Children, barely out of baby shoes, were hawking Chicklets and other small items to the tourists on street corners to make money to take home to their families. I don’t believe I ever left T.J. without leaving a little money behind to help boost the economy. Usually a bouquet of huge paper flowers, a sombrero or a felt bull came back across the border with me. Our boyfriends drove down to Tijuana to get their cars tuck and rolled at any of the myriad of body shops lining the back city’s back streets. It was cheaper down there to get the job done. More than one story floated around about someone coming back with upholstery stuffed with cow patties, but I never confirmed any of them were true. Adults flocked to the touristy stores to scoop up deals on leather and silver items. While seated at a table enjoying a taco at an outside stand, street vendors would stroll by encouraging tourists to purchase a lovely lace tablecloth or hand crafted bags. The taco was likely to turn on you at some point, I know many times they did for me. Once I ate a piece of watermelon from a corner stand and it revisited me for two days.

The furthest south I ever ventured in Mexico was Ensenada while on a three-day cruise party cruise. Ensenada has a well lived in look to it. Graffiti decorated most of the walls in the area we were docked . A group from the ship went into town in search of a little adventure. Dancing at a local club until it closed we ended up around 4:00 a.m. (I was young then – now that would be when I was getting up not going to bed) in a rather rowdy establishment serving food and drink what appeared to be 24 hours a day. Mostly populated by residents, people spoke in rapid Spanish, though our waitress spoke to us in fairly decent English. Being the only “gringos” in the place when the word came up in the conversations in adjacent booths we assumed they were probably about us.  In due course we were served surprisingly delicious steaming plates piled with beans, rice and various entrees which we washed down with Mexican beer. Revisiting that statement there should be nothing particularly surprising about getting good Mexican food in Mexico. Latkes maybe, tamales not so much. Our dishes remained on the table long after we were done, allowing the copious flies circling them a chance to grab a quick meal. A loud fight broke out towards the back of the room with one drunk participant thrown across the bar. From the looks of things we deduced it was time to say “adios”. God, as they say, watches over drunks and fools so with his help we somehow managed to get back to the ship  before it sailed without being robbed or worse. I think of this because of the recent Olympics in Rio. Rio is a far cry from Tijuana and many more dangers lurk in the dark corners. There’s a movie called “City of God” which really highlights the seriousness of the situation with child gangs in Rio. Might have been better for a couple of them if they’d stayed closer to home. It is easy for me to say this now, I realize, but most probably at their age I would have ventured out myself.

Well, it’s over now. Medals have been won and athletes are scattering around the world returning to their homes victorious or at least satisfied they had been included among such an elite group of competitors.

This soup is just the best. Rick says he could have it every night. I used a leftover pork loin that had been basted with a soy based marinade. I’m sure most pork loins would work equally as well.

Napa Cabbage and Pork Soup

1/2 of a Napa cabbage, chopped
2 onion, quartered
1 Tbsp. garlic, minced
3 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ginger
9 cups chicken broth
1 cup green beans, halved
2 carrots, sliced thin
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 cup thickly sliced mushrooms
1 1/2 cups leftover thinly sliced pork loin
Cooked white rice

Place all ingredients in large stock pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and continue cooking for 1 hour. Serve over rice if desired.

Serves 4

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finalI try to keep positive about things even when life simply refuses to cooperate. Sometimes I have to give in to a day of feeling blue or “off”, if you will, in order to gather strength to find my happy place again. Because I’ve had a life filled with up ups and down downs, there are times when feeling particularly positive about the world I find myself looking over my shoulder as if waiting for the wolf to appear from behind the tree. I have learned that becoming too set or comfortable where you are can often encourage the universe to send you a friendly reminder that life isn’t always predictable and happiness shares a face with sadness in the ying and yang of things.

The human spirit really is amazingly resilient when you think of it. People overcome pain, loss, hardship, hunger and illness and push forward with optimism in spite of it. In my journeys I have gathered many moments of joy. As they’ve come and passed I’ve tucked each away in the cobwebbed corners of my mind like one would store lightning bugs in a jar. These bright lights of happiness keep me going in difficult times, and help to keep the shadows at bay.

I have been thinking about meditation lately. Always I have been fascinated with the Buddhist principles. To bring the Buddhist way of thinking down to the head of a pin I would say the goal is to relieve suffering and maintain control of your life, or lives as they believe.

Many people believe we are given one life, others believe there are many, and still others hold to the belief there is an afterlife where we go when our body is no longer a useful vessel for our soul. It is a debate that has raged on over the centuries. Some say the need for an afterlife is to fill the void of the unknown, others say the afterlife is earned by how we live our lives, and there are those who believe there is nothing when we are done but, well, nothing. A touchy subject at best fraught with human frailties and dotted with drops of fear. As with many things in life the not knowing is the rub.

I remember back in 2005 I had my yearly mammogram. Having had one each year since my fortieth birthday I was used to the procedure. This is not to say I liked the procedure, but I did know what to expect. With all the advances in technology I hope someone is working on improving the process currently in place. For those of us so equipped the procedure can be a somewhat uncomfortable few moments. Men who might reading could liken the experience to a Sumo wrestler mashing a ball of ground round into a hamburger press. A day later I received a call from the radiologist saying they had found something suspicious on the films. In order to rule out anything serious I would have to have further tests. Not news you really want to hear. What does suspicious mean exactly? If at all informed, such a call might mean a myriad of things, most of them not desirable. I waited two weeks for the biopsy procedure. In retrospect it felt more like two months. Thankfully, it was nothing serious and I went on without any further tests or procedures. I do think when they tell you something as potentially life altering such as this they could follow it up by a quick appointment rather than leaving you teetering on the edge gazing into the great abyss for fourteen days.

An experience where your health is in question makes you think about time and how much of it you have left. Your vulnerability as a human becomes more clear when illness arises. This is not to suggest a person is advised to sit and wait to go, spending each waking minute pondering their upcoming demise. Rather I am saying for me it served as a reminder life can be whimsical. As yet the only confirmed hypothesis from those mentioned above is each of us is given one life. For me this was a signal not to miss the opportunities that arise every day to remind those around me of how important they are and how very loved.

This brings to mind my paternal grandmother. A widow at a young age with four children, my dad’s mum was a tough lady. After many years of teaching children with handicaps, she retired to spend the rest of her days in Pakenham, a picturesque town in Northern Ontario, Canada. I last saw her when my children were toddlers. After that a letter written with her familiar hand would often show up in my mailbox. Always I sat and read about her life, my family in Canada who I barely knew, and the questions she had about me and mine. I wrote, but not as often as I could have. When you’re young time seems like an endlessly plentiful commodity. One day I got news that she had passed away. A month prior I had promised myself I would write, but didn’t get to it. I hope she knew how important she was to me but always regret having missed the window to write when I could have.

Take time to stop texting and hug your kid. Mother’s and Father’s (for the most part) love to be included in your lives even after you have moved on to a family of your own. Each day is precious and time is a gift that should never be wasted.

On that note, I will give you a quick danish that takes very little time to pop in the oven.

Sorry I had to repost this for those of you who were asking where it went. There’s a problem with my blog lately. Getting help in WordPress isn’t always as easy as I’d like.

Quick Cream Cheese & Blueberry Danish

2 containers of crescent rolls
2 8 oz. pkgs. softened cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 egg, plus 1 egg white
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 egg white (for crust)

Glaze

1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. 2% milk
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Mix together all glaze ingredients until no lumps are visible.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Spray 13 x 9″ pan with cooking spray. Spread one pkg. of crescent rolls on bottom pressing seams to close.

Mix together cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, 1 egg and one egg white on medium-high setting on mixer until smooth.

Spread cheese mixture over rolls on bottom of pan. Sprinkle blueberries across top of cream cheese. Top with remaining flat of rolls. Brush with egg white.

Bake for 35 mins.

Cool for 10 mins. and spread glaze on top.

Serves 6

 

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final

Several times during my relationships it has been suggested by a partner a move to Florida might be a great idea. For me, that would be a negatory. There are a number of reasons why I won’t live in Florida. Not that it isn’t beautiful or doesn’t have a lot to offer. Warm weather, long strands of sun bleached beaches, gorgeous waterfront homes, endless golf courses. What’s not to like? Hmmm let’s see, alligators, bugs the size of migs, energy sapping humidity, hurricanes, and Zika. Need I go on? My only visit there was in early spring. The man I was dating at the time had parents who retired in the Miami area. The plan was to stay with them in Ft. Lauderdale for a few days before boarding our cruise ship on to Key West and then to Cozumel. Our days were spent on whatever beach struck our fancy, taking time out to mill through the myriad of tourist luring shops along the boardwalks. Nights we ate at local restaurants and sat outside in the cooler evening air enjoying a cocktail or just looking at the stars.

On our second day there I noticed something crawling along the wall I first mistook for an animal. Upon closer inspection I realized it had wings and a plethora of legs. My fascination with the insect turned to horror when I realized it was no longer on the wall, but now seated on the rim of my glasses. I’m not a bug person. Never would I have signed up for any science course involving catching insects and pinning them on boards to study them. The very thought has goose bumps parading up and down my limbs.

When I lived in Arkansas, unused to the heavy humidity prevalent there in the summer months, I spent the first few weeks concentrating on getting oxygen to my body. For those of you who saw the movie “The Abyss” picture the scene where they have to breathe in oxygenated liquid. Though Ed Harris didn’t actually breathe in the pink liquid, live rats were actually subjected to such an ordeal during filming and lived to gnaw through another hole in the wall afterwards. I know just how they felt.

High humidity along with encouraging lush foliage and steamy weather, also promotes a healthy insect population. While in Arkansas I became familiar with tics and chiggers for the first time, and welcomed a flea population in my back yard so resistant to spraying it necessitated wearing cowboy boots to mow the lawn.

Wasps and alike, as I’ve mentioned before are number one on my list of insects I could do without. As a child I recall going to Mill Village, Nova Scotia to visit my grandmother’s relatives. Mill Village is a quaint little town originally sustained by logging and lumber. Aunt Olive, as I called her, though in truth she was my grandmother’s cousin, lived in a beautiful old family home overlooking the Medway River. Aside from running a small ice cream parlor towards the front of the property, Olive manned the switchboard for the local residents. Often when we enjoyed a meal at her enormous mahogany dining table she would leave to connect neighbor to neighbor and catch on the local gossip.

Olive, a widow of some years, was a magnificent cook. Pastries came out her kitchen as delicate as angel’s wings, and her breads and biscuits were without fault. Standing in her brightly lit country kitchen you were surrounded by wire baskets of fresh eggs, lines of canisters, and brimming bowls of fruit and vegetables picked from the massive garden lying beyond the gate leading to the pasture. Twice while visiting she asked me to accompany her to get honey for the biscuits. The first time I accepted. Being a kid and not the sharpest pencil in the box, I didn’t connect the dots, honey…..bees. Aha. Hand in hand we stepped through the tall grass in the pasture. Olive, a woman rarely short on words, kept the conversation flowing as we moved closer to a line of stacked white boxes. As we approached the boxes Olive stretched her arm across my chest and instructed me to remain where we stood. Reaching in her apron she pulled out a white hood and pulled it over her head.  Securing the hood and draping it over her shoulder she approached the boxes. In one hand she had a sprayer of some sort. Holding it up she depressed a nozzle dispensing steam around the boxes as she stepped forward. “Bees are quieted by the steam”, she told me while reaching inside the nearest box to bring out a long board dripping with sweet honey. Wow. I saw the bee before it stung me but there was little time to react. The steam may have calmed the majority of the hive but I’m here to say there were a few deserters that were absolutely pissed off. A second sting quickly followed the first and my fat little legs were on the move. As delicious as that honey tasted on Olive’s flakey biscuits I never accompanied her again to gather more and would happily have done without the first batch and the two itchy welts I paid for the privilege of eating it.

It would be an odd world without insects so I have found a way to coexist with them enjoying them from a distance. Our yard is a haven for butterflies, an insect I have made total peace with along with the ladybug. However, I could do without all the aphids who insist on attacking my plants. There you go, balance in all things.

If made as written this soup will make you sweat. For the faint of heart substitute regular diced tomatoes for the tomatoes with chiles.

Spicy Mexican Zucchini and Sausage Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can of kernel corn, drained
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 large zucchini, sliced thin and quartered
1/2 cup smoked sausage sliced thin and halved
2 Tbsp. taco seasoning mix
2 Tbsp. salsa verde
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. coriander
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese
Lime slices for garnish

Heat oil in stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and yellow and cook 6 mins. until soft. Add garlic and continue to cook for 1 min. Add remaining ingredients through chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Cook partially covered for 50 mins. Serve topped with cheese and sliced limes.

Serves 6

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