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Archive for the ‘weather’ Category

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Three days at the coast last week turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Rick and I. “Vacation” has not been written on our calendar for six years. We were more than ready for a break. Reservations for a stay at the beach in Mendocino County were in place, bags packed, and a pet sitter hired. Life, as they say, was good. This was to be our first time staying at the Beachcomber resort in Fort Bragg.  Our room was a well-appointed lower unit towards the southern end of the building offering up a panoramic view of the ocean beyond the sliding glass doors. I would have found it an idyllic location had the staff pitched us a tent and handed us a Coleman lantern. Ideal for me at least.  Rick’s idea of camping is staying at a hotel without room service.

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The first two days were made to order for beach exploring. Temps hung in the low 70’s cooled by a light sea breeze. Spring made itself visible with hillsides decorated in colorful bursts of wildflowers. I spent a good deal of time walking along the sand. Sticking my toes in the frigid water and inhaling the glorious smells one associates with the ocean my mind kept whispering “home”. Still off-season, the beach was nearly deserted save an occasional tourist or local. Nothing like the crowds you might expect to see once Memorial Day is ticked off the calendar.

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On our second day there Rick saw whales. Naturally I missed them. I was inside showering the sand off. Really chapped my hide (missing the whales not the sand). When I came out he told me our neighbors pointed them out to him from the upper deck bar. He had just enough time to catch a glimpse of the pair before they breached and disappeared below the surface. Awwwww, darn, darn, darn.

Not as exciting, I did see a lot of ground squirrels. The comical little rodents shared space with hotel inhabitants. Not inside, no. Inside they might have been less endearing. From the patio, however, their little furry heads could be seen peering up over the hills or running along the paths behind the rooms. Funny little creatures, surprisingly unafraid of humans. Several times while walking one came right up next to me looking for a handout.

IMG_1355Taking a respite from all things household, it was great to have someone cook for me. Dining out Rick encountered his usual pitfalls. If something disastrous is going to happen to a meal it generally will happen to his. Definitely the man has bad dining karma. Typically I will be digging into a delicious entrée while Rick’s is late, they are out of whatever he selected, they brought the wrong item, or it wasn’t cooked as requested.

Our second night there we ate at a well-known seafood restaurant situated on the fishing harbor. I had the fish tacos. Though I wouldn’t you recommend pack a bag and rush right down to Fort Bragg to get some for yourselves, they were quite good. Rick ordered prime rib. Now, I see you shaking your heads. Prime rib in a seafood restaurant? Who am I to say anything? Ordered medium rare, the meat arrived at the table looking like he’d ordered off the side of the menu entitled “Our Road Kill Selections”. That meat had been rode hard and put up wet. When the waiter was alerted, he offered to get Rick a cut showing more pink. Shortly he returned from the kitchen to inform us that was as rare as that piece of beef was going to get. A rib eye was suggested as a replacement. According to Rick the rib eye was actually IMG_1411.JPGworse. He said he wouldn’t have believed this was possible but somehow the chef pulled it off. Fatty and full of gristle the steak was smothered  with gravy and canned mushrooms. The gravy, according to Rick, was put there to hide a poor cut of meat. Ewwwwww. I know. I remained mute just nodding and grimacing where appropriate. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Our last night, thankfully, we located a wonderful Italian restaurant in Fort Bragg proper. Told there was music in the main dining room we chose to sit in there over being seated in the very lively bar. An eclectic trio was playing Celtic music. The musicians were composed of a flutist, a gentleman on guitar, and a lady easily having celebrated her 80th birthday playing mini-guitar and fiddle. The waitress was friendly as well as full of information about the area succeeding in making a great meal that much better. Cucina Verona is the name of the place should you find yourself visiting Fort Bragg.

Leaving the restaurant the strong wind persisting throughout the day had intensified. But for the fact I’d consumed half a loaf of bread plus dessert I might have taken flight like Dorothy and Toto. On the bright side, pushing my way to the car against the onslaught of air I probably burned off most of the tiramisu I’d finished my meal off with. At the car we literally couldn’t get the passenger door to stay open long enough for me to hop in. I rode to the hotel in the back seat telling Rick if he wanted a nice tip he better stick to the shortest route.

Returning to the hotel room exhausted and stuffed I crawled into bed. Despite the wind whistling outside rattling the doors sleep came easily. Around 1 a.m. I woke up needing to use the facilities. Opening my eyes, total darkness swirled around me. Still half asleep, my mind couldn’t process what was happening. Not one shard of light could be detected anywhere in the room. Pitch dark closed in around me. Feeling my way blindly around the less than familiar surroundings my sleepy mind determined somewhere in the night I had been rendered totally blind. A bit of panic gripped me as I fumbled and moved my hands along the walls. Finally panic began to drive the bus rather than just occupy a seat and I called out for Rick. Rick, so it appeared, was busy fighting his own battle with his C-Pap machine. Somehow the machine had switched off making it difficult for him to breathe. “Turn on the light” I called out. Hearing him switch the nightstand light on and off and the inky blackness remaining in place a light switched on in my fuzzy brain. “The electricity was out”. Duh. No flies on us. Thank God. I had begun to imagine the worst. Those blackout curtains in hotel rooms really work I am here to say. Groping my way to the counter I turned on my cell phone……and then there was light.

Driving home we said goodbye to the ocean as we turned inland. In my mind’s eye I can still see the waves rolling in and hear the gulls calling overhead. My only regret about not winning the lottery or being born with any significant marketable talent is that I do not have the wherewithal to wake up to the sound of the sea every day of my life. Ah well, happy people do not lament what they don’t have but are grateful for what they do so I will leave it there.

I was served this soup (or a version of it) at a luncheon recently. I loved it so I thought I’d see if I could come up with one I might share with you.

(Shchi) Russian Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

1 lb. stew meat
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
4 cups beef broth
1/4 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
8 oz. demi-glace*
2 cups water
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
2 cups of water
1 Tbsp. beef bouillon
1 head cabbage cut in wedges

Heat oil over med-high heat in skillet. Generously salt and pepper meat and brown on all sides. (Note: If you want to do a quick version of the above use leftover pieces of steak or roast in place of stew meat. Reduce initial cooking time to 35 mins. Continue the remaining part of the recipe as indicated.)

When meat is browned put in stockpot. Add all remaining ingredients through cardamom. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer on low heat for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add 2 cups water and bouillon to pot. Bring to boil. Add cabbage and reduce heat to actively simmer for 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serves 8

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Rick and I try to slip out for a “date night” every week or two. Not that we don’t see enough of each other, we do, but date night is more about quality time than quantity. Usually this involves dinner or a movie. Cats not welcome in public venues, this leaves Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, to fend for herself. Boo came by her name honestly due of her innate fear of nearly everything from artichokes to zeppelins. Being alone, looms right at the top of her extensive “things I am afraid of” list. Usually she can be found cowering under our bed when we arrive home from a night out poised for impending disaster. As mentioned in my previous blog we adopted another kitty several years ago to provide some feline companionship, but Boo definitely didn’t want to share the spotlight. After a year we were forced to lick our wounds (literally), and hoist the white flag. Each time the two “ladies” (and I use the term loosely) saw each other the claws were out and the gloves off. In the end we found a loving home for our newest addition returning the cat count in our house to a contented one.

Date night this week was the movies. I haven’t seen a really great film in a while. Unfortunately, after seeing this one that status remains in tact. This was a Star Wars sequel. The only thing I wish I’d brought to improve the viewing was a pillow and a blanket. Rick loves Star Wars and has seen every follow up effort after the original but this one meandered about like a drunk on the freeway dangerously close to falling on its face.

Recently the owners remodeled the theater where the movie was playing. The updates were well received around town so I was curious to see what improvements had been made. Rumor had it (it is a small town so any news is big news) a bar/restaurant had been added serving beer, wine and bar food such as hot pretzels and pizza. Wow cocktails and a movie. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy a cocktail now and again. However, drinking before a movie (particularly the stinker we just saw) would result in me slumped over in my chair sucking air by the time the previews were over. As an aside I remember a business when I was living in Washington state who’s sign red “Drugs and Videos”. Turned out it was a pharmacy and a movie rental combined, but the sign led you in other directions.

Going to the movies is far different now then when I was a kid. There were three theaters in the town In So Cal where I went to high school. One was a newer building on spread out over a single level, with the other two massive old-style theaters replete with red velvet curtains, balconies and ornate columned walls. Double features were included in the price of ticket back then. Sandwiched in between films cartoons were played, or in my mother’s era “newsreels”, leaving patrons time for a bathroom run or to pick up another box of Junior Mints at the snack bar.

Both of the older theaters as I said had first floor and balcony seating. Balconies were reserved for overflow seating for particularly popular movies and necking for any movie. Aside from regular theaters, drive-ins were dotted all over the area. Teenagers and families gathered around the speakers on Friday and Saturday nights to enjoy some cardboard pizza from the snack bar or to share a picnic in their car. Children played in the playground until the sun went down and teens steamed up windows in the back rows.

Personally I was forbidden from going on a date to the drive-in. To be honest what I was supposed to do and what I actually did were not always in direct alignment. Drive-ins were cheap entertainment for kids relying on part-time jobs or allowances to pay for a date. At $1.75 a carload if you crammed several kids in the trunk it proved very cost effective entertainment.

Once I got married and had my own children we often piled them in the old yellow station wagon dressed in their Dr. Denton’s and sat through a double feature at the drive-in about five miles from our house. To be honest as a young mother with two toddlers I rarely made it through the second movie but it was a cheap date for us and fun for the little ones. Now I think what drive-ins remain serve mainly to house weekend swap meets but back then they were the place to be.

Rick and I often go to a matinee these days. The last time we were there he commented on the sea of gray heads lined up in the seats in the front of us. I didn’t want to point out they were for the most part in the same generation as us but the thought crossed my mind.

Fads come and fads go. The old makes way for the new. I don’t see many young faces buying a ticket to see a movie nowadays. Perhaps they go to the later viewings? My guess is they are catching their movies on line or on their devices rather than at the theater.

An old dog at heart, I still like the smell of popcorn and the lights dimming before the feature begins to play on the big screen.

This pie is so yummy and quick to pull together. Use store bought pie crust to save time. I do like this recipe for crust if you’re in the mood. I found it in a Taste of Home cookbook years ago and for someone not adept at making crust, this one works for me. Another tip from a great baker I met along the way. Use high quality vanilla when baking. There is a difference.

Triple Berry Pie

Double Crust Pie Shell

2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 Tsp. salt
2/3 cup shortening
1 Tbsp. white vinegar
4-5 Tbsp. milk

Combine flour and salt in small bowl. Cut in shortening until mixture looks like course crumbs. Sprinkle with vinegar. Gradually add milk tossing with a fork until a ball forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 mins.

Divide pastry in half leaving one ball slightly larger than the other. Roll out the larger of the two to fit 9″-10″ pie plate. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim to rim. Brush bottom of shell with 1 Tbsp. water whisked with 1 egg white. Reserve the rest.

Roll out second shell to fit over top of the first. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Filling

2 1/2 cups blueberries, sorted and any stems removed
3/4 cup raspberries
3/4 cups blackberries
3/4 cups white sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. water

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over berries. Using your hands gently turn until well coated. Pour into prepared shell.

Lay top pastry over berry mix. Press and seal edges with bottom shell. Trim as needed. Cut four slits in center to vent. Brush top with remaining egg white/water mixture.

Bake for 50 mins. or until browned and bubbly.

Cook on wire rack.

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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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Today I decided to deep clean the house before the holidays. Rick would tell me it is clean, but I believe the level on which most male animals rate cleanliness is often below the standard we women might use. To him “clean” is there isn’t a pile of trash on the floor with rodent presence and he has fresh underwear in his drawer. For me, this is not adequate for company.

Aside from the dust that settles minutes after I spray it away, Boo, the Queen of Cats, leaves evidence of her presence everywhere she travels. White fur floats through the air, covers furniture, and generally attaches itself to anything and everything. Last week my mother got up from the cat’s chair and the back of her black pants looked as if they needed a shave. Yes, yes, the cat has her own chair. I know. Not one penny did she provide for it, but if it had her name engraved on it it couldn’t be more hers. I’m rolling my own eyes. It’s a nice chair at that. IKEA would be proud to know that one of their own has been put to work in such a fashion. On top of the chair is the queen’s pillow, which if not whisked with the tape roller every day begins to look like Santa’s beard.  When we have to put her chair into use when extra company arrives she circles whoever is seated in it like Indians might a wagon train. In a particularly feisty mood, she might even make a swipe at the occupant before retiring to a corner and fixing them with an icy feline stare. Nice.

I have tried to find a groomer in our area who caters to cats. Seems the words out cats aren’t fond of water and groomers have chosen to stick with canines who for the most part are easier to manage. Where we lived previously was on the route of a wonderful mobile groomer. The truck rolled down the driveway every three months to freshen up the cat and trim her nails. This, I have to say, was never a procedure Boo looked forward to with any enthusiasm. So much so that if the truck turned into the driveway and she wasn’t crated she could be located hiding under the bed precipitating a pursue and capture routine Laurel and Hardy would have been proud of.  For those of you too young to know who they are please find a search bar.

I’ve had a string of animals since I got my first cat when I turned thirteen. While in Home Depot last weekend I ran into a man with a “goldendoodle”. What a gorgeous creature she was and blessed with the sweetest disposition. Goldendoodles are part standard poodle and part golden retriever.  Brought to mind the 80’s at my house and a golden retriever answering to Barnaby. Barnaby was my husband at the time’s dog at heart. That being said, he didn’t listen to anyone in the household but him, and at that not him very often.  The dog was enormous even by retriever standards. From the time we brought him home from the breeder the dog was prone to eating wooden door frames or sticking his head in the trash can distributing the contents everywhere if left unsupervised. Nothing was off limits when unattended including my expensive shoes or newly purchased leather love seat. Realizing as the days passed Barnaby needed some fine tuning when it came to behavior we enrolled him in obedience school at the local junior college. After the best efforts of the staff on hand it was determined he was not going to be an honor student. I believe when the last class concluded and I loaded the rambunctious Barnaby and his “diploma” into the back of the station wagon the staff breathed a collective sigh of relief. It became obvious leaving him in the house wasn’t an option. Once when left to his own devices after a dinner party he consumed an entire coconut cake a guest had kindly brought to share for dessert. Outside being the only obvious solution a huge dog house was purchased with a lovely padded bed for him to lie on. Not the sharpest pencil in the box I can still see him sitting with rain teeming down his face next to the dog house when I came home from work.

I love all animals, but Barnaby and I had issues. Holes, in particular were number one on my list. Our lovely yard was often put to the test when Barnaby found himself with time on his paws while we were at work. Even when I was home he could be seen digging furiously behind the fruit trees by the fence hoping to tunnel beneath it to freedom. Not alone in the yard most days, our more obedient and far lazier Shih Tsu would sit patiently at his side until the tunnel took shape. No matter how many times I filled a hole, another would show up to replace it. Sigh. On returning home on many days I would find the two doggie pals seated on the front step waiting for their evening meal after roaming the neighborhood. Thankfully they were friendly dogs, and the worst thing that ever came from such behavior was fatter bellies because of extra treats handed out by well-meaning neighbors and an occasional request to pick up a deposit one or the other animal left on a neighboring lawn.  Once after consuming an entire box of crayons I got interesting calls from around the block from people finding Technicolor dog droppings in their yards. Hmmmmm. Talk about having an m.o.

When even pouring cement beneath the fence line didn’t work we had to find Barnaby a home. The people who signed up were retired from their jobs and their children grown. They devoted all their time and affection to making the rest of Barnaby’s life full of doggie smiles. I got a Christmas card with a picture of the three of them in Santa hats each year for a while and am happy to know he found a forever home.

In between changing sheets and doing the floors I whipped up this soup. Really good on a chilly night.

Tuscan Sausage Soup

16 oz. bulk Italian sausage, mild
8 slices crisply cooked bacon, cut in fourths
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves minced garlic
32 oz. chicken broth
2 1/2 cups water
4 russet potatoes, thinly sliced
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
Salt to taste
1 1/2″ square chub of hard Parmesan cheese
3 cups baby spinach
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Additional Parmesan for garnish

Brown sausage in stock pot. Remove with slotted spoon and drain. Discard fat in pot. Add olive oil to pot over med-low heat. Add onion and cook 6-8 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min.

Add broth, water, potatoes, red pepper flakes, black pepper, Parmesan cheese, bacon and sausage to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cook 20 mins. Add spinach to pot an continue cooking 10 mins. Whisk in cream and heat through.

Serve with Parmesan cheese if desired.

Serves 4

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

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

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

steps

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

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

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

point-pleasant-park-beach

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Cheese Cole Slaw

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

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

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

Serves 6

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1Halloween is lurking just around a dark and dusty corner waiting to unleash all manner of ghosts and goblins upon unsuspecting neighborhoods. Fall, as I’ve mentioned, is my favorite season and Halloween. That being said Halloween is the whipped cream on fall’s sundae. Having been born on November 1st perhaps makes the date more significant to me. However, my passion for getting dressed up in costume probably would have held true had I been born in July. Growing up nearly every birthday party was a masquerade party. Peeking in my closet today you would still find an array of wigs and costumes from years gone by. Why I keep them I can’t answer, except that one day I might be called upon once again to be Minnie Mouse or the fried egg portion of bacon and eggs and I want to be prepared when the invitation arrives in the mail.

These days birthdays come and go with little fanfare. Balloons are rarely inflated, elaborately decorated cakes have been replaced with apple crisp and parties are for the most part a thing of a past. I don’t mind adding another candle to my apple crisp. Always glad to welcome a new year with all that it holds. The two weeks prior to my birthday often finds me reflective. Perhaps it’s because the pages of the calendar seem to be turning at a more steady rate, or that I miss my family more at certain times of the year. This year in particular with all that is going on in the news and in general, it sometimes takes a little more work to keep positive and upbeat.

I’ve said before I like to be scared. Not terrified, mind you. I do not enjoy a gore fest, but prefer the kind of scared that rises bumps on your arms and causes the hair at the back of your neck to stand at full attention. Fun scared. I understand from my friends who are fans of “The Walking Dead” the season premier left them reaching for their wastebaskets or whatever receptacle was handy as the gore factor ran up over the top and oozed down the other side. Nice visceral visual, yes?

Haunted buildings really catch my attention. Finding myself in purportedly haunted locations is not new to me, including the restaurant we owned ten years ago. Ghosts peak every curious bone in my body. Humans are fascinated with the afterlife, most probably because whatever faith a person holds gives them the what little information is available. Aside from heaven there is also whatever lies in between. Do tortured souls populate some dimension just beyond our consciousness? These questions plague us in the same way we desperately want to know if somewhere in the vast expanses of the universe, a spaceship piloted by ET’s is hurtling through the dark unknown in the direction of earth. I hold to all theories until unproven. How can we say no with conviction if we have no concrete proof of yes?

As a kid I was positive crocodiles lived beneath my bed, the toothy creatures hiding only when adults leaned down to disprove their existence. Waking in the middle of the night to find my hand dangling beyond the covers precipitated a mad counting of all my fingers to make sure each one was still firmly attached.

Aside from reptiles populating the waters beneath my day bed, during electrical storms the massive trees beyond my window sprawled wild shadows across my wall. Fingers on spiny hands reached out to capture the little girl watching through the folds of her blanket. My grandmother told me on many such nights she would find me snuggled up next to her without even knowing I’d sneaked into bed.

The popularity of mediums and fortune tellers further evidence our willingness to believe there is something beyond the facts we have at hand. I have been to see seers three times in my life. I saw seers? Whatever. One lady totally freaked me out. She had a dog, a black lab as memory serves. Wherever this woman went this dog was on her tail (so to speak), never leaving her side during my “reading”. At one point she spoke of a handsome young man with dark curly hair wearing a blue uniform who watched over me. The young man, she went on to say, died at a very young age. The room, warm up until that point, became so icy cold I shivered in response. The dog lying quietly on the floor stood up abruptly and began to whimper. The woman told me there was someone in the room. All I could think of was I hoped they’d brought a toilet because I had a feeling I was going to need one. Now, this would have been less strange if it wasn’t for the fact my father died at 25. At the time he was in the Canadian Air Force and was buried in his blue uniform. Pictures on my bureau depict a handsome man with a mass of glossy black curls. The dog began to furiously pace and the woman, releasing my hand, suddenly said she couldn’t continue. Now that, my friends, was weird, very weird. When I left the house I noticed a cauldron in the middle of her yard with perky looking daffodils peeking over the top. Enough said.

Another time I was given the gift of a reading from a noted numerologist in the Bay Area. To be honest I knew little about numerology at the time. I haven’t gathered much more information since. According to Wikipedia the definition of numerology is:

Numerology is any belief in the divine, mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names and ideas. It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar divinatory arts.

To break it down into manageable parts, I would say it is a pattern of numbers derived from the time you were born, the day you were born, the year you were born and your birth name. I had to provide such information prior to meeting with the numerologist himself. On the big day I pulled up to a gorgeous restored Victorian home in the hills behind Lafayette, California. The man answering the door, a handsome gentlemen in his early fifties or so, wore an easy smile and had a welcoming demeanor. Once inside I was offered a cup of delicious tea and some shortbread biscuits. Made me wonder if my being Canadian had anything to do with the tea and biscuits.

The coffee table by the couch where we sat had a pile of neatly arranged magazines and a pile of 3 x 5 cards. The pile, I was to be told, was my life in cards. Interesting. Why was it nine feet tall? I was only in my thirties at the time. Although I’d packed quite a bit into my life up until that point I didn’t feel I had a whole volume yet. Apparently, I was wrong. As it turned out it was an interesting afternoon. I will recall the fine points in my next blog.

I found this yummy little appetizer in a magazine at the doctor’s office. Easy and delicious. Yum. I’ve made this several times, first with apricot jam and the second time with red jalapeno jelly to add a Halloween feel to it when you cut it. Too cute.

Brie Wrapped Mummy

1 pkg. puff pastry, thawed
1/4 cup jam (I used red jalapeno jelly)
1 16 oz. Brie round
1 egg
1 Tbsp. water
2 small half moons of apple
1 dried cranberry, halved
Sliced baguette
Crackers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Flour cutting board. Roll pastry into 14″ square. Round corners to make a circle. Cut milk off brie. Spread jam in center of circle. Place brie on top. Bring corners up over top and pinch to seal.

Whisk together egg and water. Brush brie with egg wash. Take remaining pastry and roll into 14″ square. Cut four 1″ strips. Cut strips in half. Place five strips across round leaving space in between. Take remaining three strips and crisscross across front to make it look like the head of the mummy. Bake for 25 mins. until done. Allow to cool slightly. Place two half moons where eyes should be. Top each with 1/2 of dried cranberry.

Serve with crackers or bread.

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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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