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1At last it is warm enough to tackle some of my outdoor projects. Over the winter months my garage tends to become a catchall for everything being far less organized than in the warmer seasons when I can get out there to work. Last weekend “clean garage” was plainly written under Saturday on my calendar. Rising early and with sufficient coffee to start my engine, I headed out the door. Grabbing my broom I brushed cobwebs out of the windows and teased leaves out of corners. Towards the back of the room stand four wall units where everything is stored from dry goods to overflow cooking utensils. Moving one unit to sweep behind it something large and furry scurried past me. Before I could identify it, it ran along the back of the garage disappearing behind a pile of logs. I went inside to tell Rick about the beastie. When I complain about the copious leaves in the yard or the deer eating our flowers Rick shoots me that look as if to say, “what do you expect, we live in the mountains”. Apparently this look covers critters in the garage as well. Yes, I get we live in the forest, thank you.  Nobody loves animals more than I do. However, I would prefer to know what type of animal I am dealing with before choosing to share space with it. There is a vast difference in experience between being in the garage with a squirrel and being in the garage with a skunk, if you get my drift. (No pun intended.)

Gingerly I began poking at the logs stacked in the corner. Newly purchased bags of potting soil were leaning against them. With a sunny weekend in the forecast, plans were in the works to begin digging in my garden. I did not want to be surprised by something unpleasant with teeth. Out of the corner of my eye I caught two beady little eyes staring up at me from behind the stacked wood. To complete the picture beyond one log the tip of a rather slinky tail protruded. As the hair began to come to attention along the base of my neck my mind began to scream, RAT, RAT, RAT. Ewwwww. Can I say it again?  Ewwwww. I’ve dealt with wasps, black widow spiders, and centipedes but never rodents. Well, for the sake of full disclosure I did have a wee gray mouse once.  His visit a brief but memorable one once our old cat honed in on his location. Mouse didn’t come by her name for nothing. Such is the circle of life. Unfortunately our cat du jour, Boo, the Queen of Cats, did not accept Mouse living in her house so we had to find Miss Mouse a new home. Boo, lazy to the very depth of her spoiled old bones, if faced with a rat would probably lie down and take a nap.

The following day after seeing the rat I called the pest control people. Conducting a thorough inspection, the service man said there was no infestation. Thank God. There was evidence of one rat, most likely a teenager. Personally I don’t care whether the rat was five or forty, I want him to find another place to hang his little rat hat. For enough money to pay for a semester at Harvard the man said he would set traps to rid us of the beast.  In addition to a substantial initial outlay a year-long contract was to be included to be paid on a monthly basis.  Hmmmm. Suddenly the rat was looking better than the service man.

I associate rats with being dirty. Not wanting to be considered as such, I prattled on about my attention to cleanliness with the pest control guy. Finally, probably tiring of hearing how my knees were raw from scrubbing the floors 24/7, he told me this rat probably just came in out of the rain and as a bonus discovered the dry goods we store in the garage. Who knew rats liked non-dairy creamer and coffee?

Searching for a less expensive option, I dialed my son’s number. Several years ago he’d had three rats in his garage. When he’d originally discussed this with me I was surprised. I keep a very clean house, but my daughter-in-law is immaculate. Dinner could be served up on her kitchen floor without fear of ingesting a single germ. For her this must have been tantamount to being told someone in the neighborhood had come down with bubonic plague. Duct work had to be torn down and replaced, x-rays taken of walls, and $5,000 later the house was rat-free. Ewwwww, once again.

Another friend of mine had rats in her walls. This can be a serious problem. Fortunately our situation is one rat, one garage. Easy peasey. In my friend’s case pest control set out a series of traps with cheese laced with poison. Rats ate the laced cheese and retreated back into the walls to go wherever rats go when they pass on. Unfortunately retrieval of the bodies was not part of the contract. After a few days and a good dose of hot air blown through the ducts from the furnace the house began to smell. More money then had to be invested to do something about odor abatement. Ach.

We often leave our garage door open during the day. My mother comments on her visits she would worry about critters getting in. In the four years we’ve been here we have only had one “critter” in the garage, a small deer who wandered in to help herself to some cat food. Perhaps we will have to rethink this strategy in the future.

So, we have purchased traps and as barbaric as I find this whole procedure it’s him or me. I am not willing to continue to go in the garage in hip boots and full haz-mat gear for the rest of my tenure in this house.

Probably not the best idea to pair a discussion of rodents with food, but what I am if not a trend setter?

These lamb burgers were our virgin run on the grill for the season. I love ground lamb and it is great for a change up from a traditional burger.

Grilled Lamb Burgers with Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 lb. minced lamb
1/2 onion chopped fine
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. crushed mint
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup Feta cheese
3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 English muffins
Tomatoes and red onion
Spinach leaves

Mix all ingredients together well. Refrigerate for 1 hr. Form into patties.

Spray grill well with cooking spray. Preheat grill to med-high heat. Cook meat patties 3-4 minutes per side. Remove and top with Feta cheese.

At the same time baste each English muffin on cut side with olive oil. Place on grill until browned.

Serve patties on muffins with tomatoes, red onion (grilled are best) and fresh spinach leaves topped with Tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki Sauce

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 cucumber, finely diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 lemon juiced
1 Tbsp. dill
3 cloves garlic

Mix together and chill for 1 hr. Serve on top of lamb burgers.

Serves 4

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final

There’s a phenomenon in the medical profession which truly concerns me. On many occasions women visiting a physician’s office with a complaint are dismissed by such platitudes as “you’re just getting older” or “it’s probably an emotional issue”.

This is particularly personal in my case because my daughter’s mother-in-law, Judy, had a similar experience several years ago. Over a two year period Judy visited her physician regularly complaining of chronic nausea and a general feeling of malaise. The doctor, a female herself, kept placating her prescribing antacids for the stomach issues and suggesting she was “over thinking” her symptoms. In the end when the situation reached a critical state requiring a visit to the E.R., she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

This really isn’t new.  At twenty-five I went to the GYN complaining of having heavy cramping with my monthly periods. My doctor looked at me as though I was being a hysterical baby and totally overreacting so I didn’t mention it again. Several months later our family had planned a camping trip on the beach in Baja.  While there the bleeding became so alarming it became necessary to come back early. Returning to work on Monday the pain intensified quickly ending in a trip to the emergency room. An initial examination and x-ray had hospital staff rushing around me. Before you could say hemorrhage, I was whisked off to have emergency surgery resulting in the removal of an ovarian cyst. Afterwards the surgeon said had I waited another twenty-four hours this would have turned into a life or death situation.

This dismissal doesn’t limit itself to women. Elderly patients often encounter similar problems when seeking treatment. Because you are “old” does not mean you are dispensable. The fact that your ninety year old grandmother has lived a good long life does not mean she does not wish to continue to do so. Recently I had a situation with my mother. An irritated red spot with a scab developed on her face. Twice she has undergone Mohz procedures for skin cancer so to me it looked suspicious. Texting her doctor I asked if she had noticed it. Her reply indicated indeed she had, and her conclusion was it was a pre-cancerous growth. Inquiring what the course of action was to be seemeed to surprise her.  What? There is no course of action when you reach a certain age? My mother is fully functional and viable human being and I suggested politely she do whatever needs to be done without delay.

Even friends in my age group are reporting a difference in their care.  Everything is not associated with aging. Perhaps physician’s need to stop staring at their computer screens and take a moment to look at the person seated before them.

My rant for a Saturday. These short ribs were absolutely a three yum situation. I had seconds which is rare in our house.

Slow Cooker Short Ribs for Two

2 Tbsp. peanut oil
4-5 short ribs bone in
1 onion, slice thin
1 bay leaf
12 oz. beer (I used Corona)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp. beef bouillon
1 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 pkg. brown gravy mix, prepared

Heat oil over high heat in frying pan. Sprinkle ribs generously with salt and pepper and brown on all sides. Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Line bottom with onion. Top with browned short ribs.

Mix together all remaining ingredients except gravy mix. Pour over meat. Cook on low for 10-11 hours. Remove ribs from sauce and whisk in prepared gravy. Return ribs to sauce and continue cooking on high for 1/2 hour.

Serve over mashed potatoes or noodles.

Serves 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant Pot Spareribs

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

Dry Rub

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

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

Barbecue Sauce

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

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

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

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

Serves 2-4

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final

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

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

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

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

highlighting-cap

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

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

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

Red Lentil Soup

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

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

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

Serves 4

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1

Another year is coming to a close, and an interesting year at that. You have to admit wherever your loyalties lie, it has been interesting. Perhaps others have different adjectives to cover what’s going on in our world, but for now I’ll leave it at interesting. From where I sit I could add a few more adjectives to the list. Stressful, chaotic and downright exhausting come to mind. Definitely a year full of memorable moments, some lovely and joyfully carried forward, others darker and better left in the shadowy corners. All in all, I will not shed one tear for 2017 as it makes it way off the calendar making room for 2018. God if you are listening (I realize it is your busy time of year) please concentrate your spotlight on somebody else for a while. I don’t want to be selfish and take up all your time.)

Changes are in the air for sure. Women are taking a stand moving sexual harassment to the front page, rather than where it is usually can be found swept under the mat. About time we planted our well manicured feet firmly on the floor and said enough is enough. Over the years there were many times when a man I was working with crossed the line. I handled it myself. Most women dealing with such unwanted attention back then did. You stayed out of their way, avoided being alone with them, and if all else failed talked your way out of it or threatened to tell their spouse if one was in the picture. There really wasn’t a lot you could do beyond handle it if you needed your job to put food on the table. If you told, as I once did, the response I got was “men will be men” and “I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it”. Once on National Secretary’s Day I had to take a cab home from a lunch when my boss, after several martinis, put his hand on my knee under the table and suggested we crank our relationship up a notch. I didn’t like the notch we were on prior to his suggestion. Shortly thereafter I updated my resume and found a new company to draw my paycheck from.

Hopefully this won’t tip the scales too far in the other direction as many of these hot button issues tend to do. Tipping too far in the opposite direction might make it uncomfortable for men and women to say good morning to one another without ending up across the table from someone in HR or being escorted out of the building. Hard to know where to draw the line and what constitutes “inappropriate” behavior. Bigger yet, who lays out the rules of engagement? Men may have a different spin on this as is evidenced by what you read and hear on the news, than their female counterparts. Ahhhhh, men and women are always going to be like piranha and catfish. In the same family, but certainly not the same fish.

Whether you agree or disagree with those in charge of manning our government these days, people seem to be having more to say about it. Social media, customers in restaurants, friends, and strangers I meet in line at the grocery store all seem to have an opinion on what is going on. At least there is an active debate in motion and not apathy. That I can applaud.

On a lighter and brighter note, Christmas is twinkling brightly just around the bend in the road. How I love the holidays. The day after Thanksgiving, if a wall of lava is heading down the hillside toward the house, you will find me in the garage digging through the mass of boxes labeled “Xmas”. Downsizing from 4,500 square feet to 1,600 has left many items unused in the mass of boxes lest we look like we’re having a giant holiday sale and Rick has to move into the garage to avoid being blinded by the lights. The cat, Miss Boo, fully participates in holiday festivities spending her time snatching rolls of ribbon out of my wrapping supplies or relieving the lower branches of the tree of what she appears to feel are superfluous ornaments.

Spending more time with my mother has been a plus this year. Well, most days. Insert smile here. I adore my mother but like most mother’s and daughter’s there are days or weeks when we don’t see eye to eye. As the years have gone by and the roles have shifted this has eased certainly. There is no doubt we are different by design. Often I tell her I’m sure she picked up the wrong baby in nursery. My mom is like the turtle, slow wins the race. I am like the hare, wound tighter than an eight-day clock but not always the first one crossing the finish line. A task that would take me five minutes including clean up might take her nearly an hour to complete.

Mother has suffered with OCD most of her life. Why her doctors never suggested anything to help or if they did remains a mystery. The effects of this have shown themselves more severely as she has aged. As an example, last weekend I gave her a head of lettuce to clean. Once clean she was to break it up in a salad bowl, add some tomatoes and veggies, and make a salad. I went off to fold laundry and clean the cat litter (life in the fast lane) leaving her to her task. Surfacing some time later to see how the salad had progressed I found mother standing in front of a ball of lettuce on the chopping board about the size of a softball and an empty bowl. Inquiring as to where the rest of the lettuce had disappeared to, she pointed to the trash can explaining the discarded leaves had some brown on the bottom so she tossed them. Ahhhhh. Exit salad stage left.

This brought to mind the great asparagus debacle of last summer. Company was coming. Behind schedule I asked her to clean and trim a bunch of asparagus while I took a shower and got dressed. When I returned forty-five minutes later there were three stems ready for the pot. It seems she trims each little leaf off every one before cooking. Had she worked in the kitchen of our restaurant we would have open and closed on the first day of business.

Was I to attach a label to this year I would label it patience. Patience is the key when working with everything in life. Life won’t be pushed or ordered into subservience. Like a cat, even if you ask nicely it tends to still do whatever it wants to and you must comply. With my mother I take deep breaths and remind myself that each visit is precious and someday these visits will be my memories of our time together.

I hope the holidays bring you laughter and joy, time spent with family and friends, and that the new year dawns with peace in the air and tolerance on the agenda.

I’m including heartfelt thoughts to those suffering through the persistent fires here in perpetually sunny California and to those brave individuals who step up on the lines and fight them.

I served this salad on Thanksgiving and everyone went on about it. The trick is to slice the apples thin and soak them in 2 cups of water with 1/8 cup lemon juice mixed in. So pretty on a holiday table and worth a second helping.

Red and Green Apple Spinach Salad with Sesame Seed Dressing

3 cups baby spinach, stems trimmed
1 green apple, cored and sliced thin
1 red apple, cored and sliced thin
2 cups water
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries, rehydrated
1/4 cup toasted pecans
salt
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

Core and slice apples. Place in bowl with cold water and lemon juice and let sit for 8 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and pat dry. Dry roast toasted pecans in small frying pan over med-low heat watching not to burn. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Place dried cranberries in small bowl. Pour boiling water over the cranberries to cover and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let sit for 10 mins. Drain.

Add apples, pecans, cranberries and remaining ingredients to salad bowl and toss with dressing.

Sesame Seed Dressing

2 Tbsp. sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. poppy seeds
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. finely chopped green onion

Whisk together ingredients and refrigerate for 1 hr. prior to using.

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Had to have an MRI this week for a neck injury I’ve been dealing with. Apparently getting on the rowing machine at the gym before I got my shape in shape wasn’t a stellar idea. Would have been nice if someone actually employed by the gym had brought this to my attention. Guess they were too busy walking around looking perfect to think of mentioning it. Funny, I would have thought many of the other machines of torture would have taken me down before rowing. Perhaps it’s because of all of the miserable contraptions available at my local gym I found rowing the most comforting and did it more often. There you go. Exercise can be bad for you. Secretly I’ve always believed this to be true.

With all the advances made in technology over the past few decades you’d think someone would have come up with an MRI technique that does not sound like you’re standing next to a jet preparing for take off. First they put your head in a vice. Next they push you inside a tube. Once you are in there, for twenty minutes they bombard your senses with a variety of noises equal to or at times surpassing a jack hammer tearing at a block of cement. Before I went in they asked me if I was claustrophobic. I pointed to the “x” I’d placed next to yes to that question on the form I’d filled out. Satisfied with my answer, I disappeared into the great abyss with the question remaining on my mind, “why did they ask me that in the first place, if I still find myself in here?”. Picture yourself as a bullet being chambered, then pull the trigger and you can virtually experience this with me as I write.

I did not open my eyes. Should you have to have this procedure and suffer from any form of claustrophobia or panic attacks might I encourage you take them up on the offer of a Valium prior to the procedure or at the very least accept the sleep mask when suggested. Being of a “tough it out” nature myself, both ideas were something I regretted passing on about half way through the imaging. When feeling a bit panicky, I revisited my trip to Paris with Rick in 2002. For ten minutes we strolled through the glorious gardens near Rick’s mother’s home inhaling the intoxicating mingling of aromas from the prolific flowers planted everywhere  you rested your eyes. Done with my walk in the park, I revisited Versailles recalling clearly in my mind’s eye the huge expanse of grass and water leading up towards the ornate castle resting atop the hill. Leaving France regretfully, I then sat alone on a deserted beach. Digging my toes into the damp sand the soft rush of waves washing close to my feet brought calm and peace to my tortured mind. Overhead gulls circled calling loudly to one another as they searched for a meal. Salt air and rotting seaweed smells filled my nostrils. Lovely how the mind can take you on a journey you’ve taken before with so little effort and no long lines or endless plane rides. Abruptly the session along with the incessant banging ended and I was ejected like a clown shooting out of a circus cannon back into the real world.

Rick, bless his heart, got up with the chickens to go with me to my very early appointment. Being a creature of the night, he finds the early morning  hours a brutal place to spend any amount of time in with your eyes open. I left him in the waiting room while I took my test and returned to find him doing a jigsaw puzzle with another man waiting for somebody or other. We couldn’t leave until Rick finished the tail on the cat. Really? Standing up he nearly collapsed on the floor. Seated in an awkward position for a half an hour his legs had decided to take a siesta and were as useless as a wooden spoon at a bonfire. Again we sat, and Rick completed the body of the cat before we got up and went out the door. Another challenge met and answered. Life is good.

To continue along the hospital vein (sorry for the pun), I got news from my prescription coverage my inhaler was now going to cost me $164.00 a month after the insurance company’s contribution. Good Lord. If my asthma wasn’t already in place that would be enough to keep me from taking a breath. I asked if there was an equitable substitution that was less money. The women I was speaking to suggested I get a recommendation from my doctor. Being obedient, I placed a call to my primary care doctor. While on the phone with her she informed me she is retiring at sixty-two. Frustrated with insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession in general she feels she can no longer provide needed health care for her patients. Hello? Wishing her well I asked if she might have a solution to my inhaler situation. She suggested I call my insurance company and ask them for a suitable replacement. Thank you for that sageiant advice. Sigh.

My days, to say least are always interesting. It’s not that I’m doing anything wildly interesting in particular, but whatever I’m doing always seem to take on a life of its own. Perhaps its the writer in me that I tend to observe all the nuances of my day, but somehow I find something to write about as evident by this blog several times a week. You’re probably shaking your heads and thinking, “Susie this really is not that interesting.” Thanks anyway for continuing to show up and sign on. Writing and cooking are my passions so it is nice to have a venue to share them with other people with like passions or interests.

Before we owned the restaurant I worked for a newspaper. During the three years I worked there my job was not writing. Ironically, however, when in the restaurant business I wrote a weekly column in the same newspaper with recipes and stories that continued on three years after I no longer worked in the office. I guess I’ll always write. If you’re reading this I’m glad to see you here. Thanks for continuing to show up and sign on as I meander about this and that. I hope you enjoy the recipes I post. For me being in the kitchen is therapy for my soul.

I love pears. Bags have them are disappearing from our fruit bowl as we get deeper into fall. This salad so beautiful on the table is refreshingly delicious.

Pear and Golden Beet Salad with Pear Vinaigrette

Spring mix
2 pears, halved and sliced thin
2 golden beets, cooked and sliced
3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
4 large mushrooms, sliced thin
Red onion
Goat cheese (optional)
Candied pecans

Beginning with your greens plate salad attractively. Serve with vinaigrette.

Serves 4

For the Beets

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash beets well. Trim off ends. Wrap loosely in tin foil. Place on cookie sheet and bake until tender, about 60 mins. Allow to cool slightly and use knife to remove skin. Slice and serve.

For the candied pecans

1 3/4 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp. butter
salt (to taste)
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper or to taste
1 tsp garlic powder

To caramelize pecans:

Melt butter in non-stick skillet. Add sugar, pecans, cayenne, and garlic powder. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, on med-low until sugar begins to melt and stick to bottom of the pan (4-5 mins).

Lower heat to low and continue stirring constantly until sugar liquifies and pecans are fully coated – 3-4 mins.

Remove immediately from heat and spread on foil lined cookie sheet to cool. Sprinkle with salt as desired.

Pear Vinaigrette

1 large ripe pear, peeled and cored and cut in chunks
Juice of one small lemon
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/8 cup pear vinegar
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place pear and lemon juice in blender and puree until smooth. Add sugar, salt and pepper. Add vinegar and blend well. With the blender running, drizzle in the oils until you have a nice, thick well blended dressing.

Shake well before using.

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Boy this election really blindsided me. Normally I steer clear of highly controversial subjects such as politics but this was such an unusual event with such an unlikely conclusion I feel I have to speak to it. To me it’s similar to the sensation you get when you take a big spoonful of what you believe to be mashed potatoes only to find out it is creamed horseradish. I use this particular analogy because I did this at a holiday party once leaving me both with a bad taste in my mouth and the urge to drink and drink. Same feelings today.

I live in California. By our overwhelming endorsement of one candidate over the other it is obvious where many in the state, including myself, stood on the issue of who was to sit in the oval office. People were calling and texting me struggling, like trying to find my footing atop a bowlful of Jello. People obviously want change, I only hope this in the end they find this to be the change they want.

Good news, however, California has legalized marijuana. Those of us left feeling at loose ends now have a legal solution to the problem. There are a lot of growers up in our area as is common in many less populated mountain communities. Logically it is the ideal place to plant a crop, as there is less exposure and a lower percentage of law enforcement personnel. Where Rick goes to the dentist is back in the hills. The office happens to be the only one offering a particular specialist he needs for his dental problems. Driving through the area the smell of pot is sooooo prevalent by the time we pull into a parking spot at the dentist’s office I’m craving a stuffed crust pizza. I have no issues with this particular. As it happens I’m weird enough without the help of a controlled substance so don’t use it. However, much like alcohol, people are using it legal or not so the state might as well generate revenue from its sale. I do hope they’ll figure out how to iron out the regulation wrinkles so we don’t struggle like Colorado dealing with how to manage impaired drivers and generally keep on top of it. Also, I hope they target our school system with the revenue gained. I watched a man on the street interview of college students the other night and it was truly frightening how little they knew about our government or even what the capital of the state they live in might be.

The reality is, I am afraid, other than moving to Canada (Really not a viable option. Shhhh, they don’t want us.), democracy is still the name of the game here in the U.S. so we move on with what we have voted for. I hope for all our sakes Donald John Trump turns out to be good for our country, but that remains to be written as it doe with any newly elected official.

When I am in a wad about something you’ll usually find me in the kitchen throwing flour and eggs together. Cooking helps me to sort my mind and feel relaxed. I’ve been attempting to add some meditation to my daily schedule but have found completely clearing my mind a more difficult task then those who know me might have anticipated.

I can tell I’m feeling a bit wobbly about the world as my mind, preoccupied with bigger issues, wouldn’t allow me to pull breakfast together this morning. Not that it was a difficult task. Open package of instant oatmeal, add water, push “2” on the microwave and stir. Doesn’t take a brain trust to get this accomplished.  While my oatmeal was transforming I went downstairs to feed the cat circling my feet. Returning to the kitchen I opened the microwave to find a hot coffee cup sitting there. Now it’s not odd to find a hot coffee cup in the microwave. Many times I reheat my coffee just that way during the day. However, it is helpful if you actually have poured coffee inside, and the larger question, where was my oatmeal? I opened the refrigerator, but found nothing there other than what you might expect. Hmmmmm. After searching every cupboard I located my bowl of water and uncooked oats in the cupboard next to the coffee. Even the drug dogs wouldn’t have found it there with the grounds masking the aroma. What a clever girl.

I have a busy day ahead of me. Lately I rarely find myself twiddling my fingers looking for something to do. On my to do list is baking some cookies to appease Rick’s sweet tooth and running errands. Is is just me or have you noticed that every time you think you’re caught up when it comes to groceries you find you are out of the one thing you really need to complete a recipe? Happens to me all the time. Today its fresh spinach I’m missing. Unless I can grow a hearty crop by mid-morning it’s going to mean getting in the car and going to where they have a steady supply, namely Raley’s.

Lately I’ve been availing myself of all the coupons showing up in the newspaper or on-line for groceries. Rarely do you find a coupon for the produce department but since I cook a lot if it’s something I use anyway why not cash in on a little savings here and there?

As the holiday season approaches everywhere you go there are extra donations open to you for helping others perhaps having a hard time. I do my best to keep up with them but if I gave to every one there might end up being one with my name on it by the time I reached Christmas.

Ebay and Craigs List are contributing to our Christmas this year. I keep gently used items I don’t use, or new items I don’t want, flowing through my sites on both on a steady basis. Very helpful when it comes to bringing in extra cash. Also, I purposely make change even if I have it in my wallet and deposit it in a large glass container on my window sill. Every two months that pulls in well over a hundred dollars which goes in our vacation fund. Sort of a self-imposed savings fund.

At any rate, whether this election turned out the way you wanted to or left you disappointed, or perhaps you have just realized Christmas is just around the corner and you haven’t even bought a candy cane, this potato dish will help make your day a little bit better.

Fingerling, Brussels Sprouts. and Sweet Potato Bake

1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes, cut in half
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in large chunks
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp. fresh chives, chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 tsp. crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 13″ x 9″ casserole dish with cooking spray.

Place potatoes and Brussels sprouts in microwave save dish. Cover cook on high for 4 mins. Combine remaining ingredients. Pour over vegetables and toss well.

Pour into prepared baking dish. Bake for 1 hr. turning and stirring every 15 mins.

Serves 4

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