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1
T.G.I.F.! Even though I’m not working full-time these days, Friday still feels like a day of celebration for me. Too many years of looking forward to the clock rounding that last hour signalling the end of the work week, I would guess. Americans in general tend to clock more work hours than the rest of the world. France, for example, has a thirty-five hour work week. This both eases unemployment, and gives workers needed time off enhancing their “quality of life”.

There’s nothing wrong with hard work. I support it. In my experience people who have put little effort towards what they get often have equally little appreciation for it once they have it. However, there needs to be a line where you leave work behind, put on your party hat and get down to the business of enjoying your life.  The art of truly relaxing escapes many of us, including myself. Even if I sit down to watch a movie or read a book I’m often called away by that nagging little ass in my mind telling me I “should” be doing this or I “should” be doing that. Inevitably as soon as my foot rest is in the up position, my snack sitting on the table next to me, something calls me away. Often it is the phone. There was a time when if phone rang I felt compelled to answer it. After all if someone is kind enough to want my attention, shouldn’t I be polite enough to answer it? Yes, in theory, but unless it is an emergency perhaps not at the given moment the call comes in. I have friends who would crawl across hot coals to reach their phones. Money would be traded on dark street corners with scrupulous men to ransom the beloved devices. So attached are they the phone resides on their nightstand while they sleep to insure not missing any incoming texts or calls. Really?

One friend of mine recently left her cell phone in a restaurant. When she went back to retrieve it, it was gone. Arriving home without it, a panicked voice came in on my voicemail telling me her phone was stolen. So distraught was her voice I would have thought one of her children had been misplaced. I seriously thought she was going to have to be sedated. I heard a news story yesterday about a young guy who had a tracker on his phone. He followed the GPS to the location indicated and confronted two men in a parking lot. He was shot and killed for his efforts. Sorry, no phone for me will ever be worth that kind of sacrifice. I don’t care if it has an APP for cleaning the house. Hmmm, well I might at least attempt to find it.

Summer has officially arrived here in Northern California. Nature is celebrating the first day of summer by heading towards 100 degrees this afternoon. To keep cool I’m staying inside catching up on the projects in the house. One project is getting a “fire box” ready in case I need it. The news last night was monopolized by smoke filled stories. Fire season on the west coast can be miserable enough without adding the continuing drought to the pot. Our dry ground is the perfect fodder for any loose spark. A weed whacker or lawn mower could cause massive destruction if used carelessly. Living surrounded in the tall trees as we do fire is definitely something to concern yourself with. My mother has begun her “why did you choose to move to a wooded area” speech once again. Truthfully it doesn’t matter where you make your home, fire can seek you out. She has a valid point with regard to our area because we do have more fuel, if you will, than in more sparsely forested areas.

You can’t live your life worrying about what could happen. Wouldn’t really be living. Being prepared is smart thinking, but sitting around waiting for disaster to happen surely isn’t the formula for having a happy life. Let’s face it you can’t ever be fully prepared for what goes on day to day. Life has a way of throwing roadblocks in your way creating both pleasant as well as unpleasant surprises. A whimsical universe for sure filled with bumps and potholes along a road ablaze with fragrant wildflowers.

I was in the first year of an expected four years of college when the unexpected happened. I found out I was expecting. That’s a lot of expectations gone awry in the death of one rabbit. My second child arrived a year after the first and the rest, as they say, is history. Not that it can’t be done, but being a mother to two active toddlers, holding down a full-time job, and keeping a marriage on track was enough to fill the day, without books and homework added to the pile. Trying to keep up became a nightmare, with my two little ones being on the losing end of the program. College was postponed until later down the road, and in the end was just well, postponed. Sometimes I still go through available classes leaning towards signing myself up. Mostly art classes these days. Working in clay is an old passion of mine. I signed up to take a class once before, even buying the huge lump of clay and whatever else was needed. Life again stuck it’s nose in where it wasn’t needed and an emergency surgery had me in the hospital the day the first class convened. The clay dried and cracked ending up along with the leftover lasagna headed for the landfill. Perhaps a field mouse with a knack for capturing faces is working on it as I write.

I have neglected my art the last couple of years. My tablet sits downstairs with a pencil propped on top of it, but I haven’t picked it up in quite a while. Recently I discovered an art school in my area. Next week I’m going to to audit a couple of classes and see which one holds my interest. Perhaps there is a Georgia O’Keefe lurking beneath my skin yearning to express herself.

I believe because you start out in one direction does not mean you must continue going that way. If another road crosses your path it might be interesting to find what lurks beyond the entrance. Even it doesn’t take you where you want to go, you might enjoy the detour.

These beans are easy to put together and taste great.

Root Beer Float Beans

6 slices smoked bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
2 cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup root beer (not diet)
1/4 cup Kentucky bourbon
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp. coarse brown mustard
2 Tbsp. Frank’s hot sauce
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in large deep skillet over med. heat. Add onions and green pepper. Cook about 8 mins. or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Stir in bacon, beans and all remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer.

Spray casserole dish with cooking spray. Pour beans into casserole. Bake uncovered for 45 mins.

Serves 8

4
Rick says when I go he’s going to donate my brain to science. He feels there are things to be learned there. Several weekends ago I combed through my closet and discovered I had clothes on my hangers probably manufactured when Hot Chocolate was, well, hot. You’d have to know what a disco ball looks like to understand that reference.

There are a number of sites online available for recycling your used clothing. I picked one I’m familiar with, took my pictures, and started selling. It really is true one man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Often I buy online from people selling used “stuff”. For them it’s cleaning out a hall closet. For me, decorating an empty spot in my house or getting a “gently used” pair of jeans.

The numbers started adding up next to the ten items I’d listed. After the bidding had closed half of the items had sold for more than I listed them for so I was pleased. A while since I’ve gone through this process it was fun watching the sold items stack up in my email. Each email included the buyer’s address and suggested I ship the sooner the better. Okay. I printed mailing labels, pulled envelopes, and sealed the sold items inside. Hopping into the car I whisked them off to the post office and my part of the transaction was done. When I got back to the house there was a new email saying I had been paid for one of the items. Another note further down said naturally the seller is not to ship anything until the monies are received in his or her account. Oh-oh. I started to giggle. Sometimes it is the only thing to do other than change your name or move to Easter Island. Thankfully, today the final payment was received from the honest group who purchased my items. Two of them received their packages before I received my money. Now that’s some seriously quick service. I noticed my rating as a seller went up. No doubt. Buy from Susie. She’ll ship it paid for or not.

Probably being the C.F.O. of a Fortune 500 company isn’t in my future. Numbers, for some reason, baffle me. Always words have been my strong suit. When in my twenties I accepted a temporary job in a bank. No computers at the time, or no personal computers on desktops certainly. I was to use a calculator. The job, as it was explained, involved taking stacks of deposit slips, adding each stack up and getting a grand total per grouping. Sounded a bit like a no brainer. I was placed in an office, handed the massive pile of paperwork, shown the calculator I was to use, and left to work. For four hours I added up the huge columns of numbers for each stack twice to check for accuracy. Each time on the second run I got a different result, and on the third, etc. You get my drift. Over and over I added never coming out with the same number more than once. Unbelievable.Truly what are the odds of that? You’d think just purely by accident I might have hit the same total twice. Absolutely humiliating. This was the shortest job I ever had. Arrived at 8:00 a.m. and was unemployed by noon. May be a record. Certainly my personal best.

Another short-lived job comes to mind while on the subject of failure. Burpee Seeds hired me to be their telex operator, again while in my twenties. Prior to that I’d been a keypunch operator, a secretary, an area director for the American Cancer Society, but never had I used a telex. I keyed like a Trojan so they hired me on the strength of that assuming the quick hands would easily translate to the Telex. Wrong, so very wrong. The first night everyone left at five while I sat feeding yellow strips of paper through the Telex doing the same outgoing message over and over again. At seven I was in tears when finally I got the job done. The following morning I explained to my new supervisor that in the interest of maintaining our up until that time good will, I would be seeking employment elsewhere. She didn’t thank me then, but believe me in the long run she would have sent up balloons at my announcing my departure.

The bonus of working for a temp agency, which I have on many occasions, is it gives you the opportunity to scope out the company and the environment before hiring on permanently. Like a relationship, it doesn’t take long to determine which direction the breeze is going to blow.

Over the years I have temped in the infectious disease department of a southern hospital collecting urine samples, at the drive-thru window of a feed and grain in Alabama, and as a lab assistant for a concentrated tropical juice company. One of my favorites was working for a McDonald’s supplier. Lots of freebies in that job. While under their roof you could eat all your pants would allow, but no taking the goodies home. Fortunately my job included a gym membership so I managed not to bulk myself out of a wardrobe in the six months I was there.

I’m talking about jobs a lot lately because I’m thinking about getting myself one. I don’t mind working actually, although I’m not fond of the process of interviewing. Particularly now where they dig into every part of you life up to and including what brand of toothpaste you prefer. I’m not a big social media person so they shouldn’t find anything too damaging on there other than an occasional recipe gone south.

This chicken is so crunchy and delicious.

Grilled Banana Pepper Brined Chicken with Honey Butter Sauce for Two

2 chicken hindquarters
Brine from 1 16 oz. jar of banana peppers
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 cup chicken broth
2 Tbsp. honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup cold butter, cubed
2 Tbsp. peanut or canola oil for frying

Pour brine in large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken and mush around. Refrigerate overnight turning twice.

Mix together flour, thyme, pepper, salt, garlic powder and paprika. Remove chicken from brine and discard brine. (Save banana peppers in refrigerator for later use.) Pat chicken pieces dry with paper towel. Dredge both sides in flour mixture.

Heat oil over med.-high heat in saucepan. Add chicken and brown on both sides (about 10 mins.) Turn heat off but do not clean pan.

Transfer to preheated grill and continue cooking, turning occasionally, until internal temperature of chicken reaches 170 degrees.

Return pan to med.-high heat. Deglaze pan with broth being sure to scrape brown bits. Add garlic and honey and simmer until broth has reduced to about 1/2 cup.

Remove from heat and whisk butter into sauce in increments until all butter is melted and sauce is thick. Pour over chicken and serve.

Serves 2

final
During my travels across the U.S. and Canada I have held down an interesting variety of jobs. Each of them has taught me new things about myself, and whether using my head or my elbows to get the job done all have brought me something new to learn.

While living in Washington state my ex and I lived in a motel room for nine months. The motel catered to construction workers and was set up for month-to-month visitors. The rooms were large and each equipped with a full-size refrigerator. I commandeered two two-burner hot plates from the manager and supplied my small kitchen with silverware, pots and pans and dishes purchased at the local thrift store. Shelves were constructed out of bricks and plywood to store my canned and dry goods. Most nights I was cooking on all burners and often managed to blow the fuses on our side of the building which resulted in an angry call from the front desk. The motel staff would often follow the smell to our room to grab a pot of beans or a bowl of soup, kind of like our extended family.

My husband went to work at the lumber mill so I was left to fend for myself during the day. Not being one to sit around, I jumped on an offer from the owner of the motel to fill an opening on their housekeeping staff. Although I have an extensive resume of unusual jobs, I’d never been a motel maid before. Cleaning is something I’ve done most of my life, so figured I could hold my own.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least. I never realized what a physically demanding job housekeeping was. Fifteen rooms for each housekeeper. The rooms all had one or two beds to be stripped and remade. In addition, bathrooms, dusting and vacuuming needed to be done. A real workout by the end of the day.

For me, the biggest challenge was knocking on the door. You never knew who was going to answer, of if they didn’t answer what you might find on the other side if you used your key.  More than one embarrassing moment comes to mind, but that’s another blog.

One week we had a rock band book five rooms for a week. Not a well-known name obviously, or they wouldn’t have been staying in our establishment. A rock band nonetheless. They arrived from their gigs deep in the dark of night and partied themselves senseless until around noon at which time they either passed out or went to sleep. All five rooms were assigned to me. In one of the rooms, the gathering spot from the looks of it, the toilet would sometimes be filled to the brim with floating beer bottles. Once there was even ice in there. Maybe they were using it for a cooler. Where they went to the bathroom, I have no idea, and didn’t want to know. One afternoon I lifted up the pillow to the chair to explore something drooling down one side. Beneath the pad I found an entire bowl of Fruit Loops floating in milk alongside several soggy slices of half eaten pepperoni pizza. All the ashtrays were left overflowing with the run over deposited in the nightstand drawers. Despite what messpots they could be, the guys themselves were gregarious and funny. As colorful a group as they were, I was not totally sad to see them move on. They did give me tickets to their last concert and left me new appreciation for how hard the housekeepers work in such places for not much compensation.

One night during our stay, after a particularly long day, I laid down for a nap. My husband was in the shower, and I left the screen door open to allow some fresh air in the room. I closed my eyes and was nearly asleep when I felt someone sit on the bed. Half awake it occurred to me that the shower was still running so I opened my eyes to find a complete stranger clad only in a towel lying on the bed next to me. A present, and it wasn’t even my birthday. At this particular moment my husband emerged from the bathroom with some obvious questions on his face. I jumped up and the man rolled over and began snoring. After being roughly woken up by my husband it was easy to see he’d been enjoying his day off with numerous cocktails. A slurred explanation was he must have mistaken our room for his. He acknowledged his room didn’t come with a woman in the bed, a perk he seemed to prefer over the miniature shampoos and conditioners.

Both times I’m been on cruise ships I’ve been impressed by their housekeeping crew. How they manage to make your hand towels into bunnies and turtles amazes me. Besides all the other work involved in cleaning a stateroom, you have to be a master at origami as well.

I did this for six months and have to say it was eye-opening for me, and certainly not dull. Now when I stay in a motel or hotel I always try to leave the room in good shape because I have an appreciation for the work they do. The quote above is one I use with the children in my life who fear hard work will do them in.

This casserole takes some work, I’m not going to lie. In the end it is absolutely worth it. Tess, something went haywire with my last post and I couldn’t retrieve your comment, but thank you for making it.

Eggplant Stew

1/4 cup plus extra virgin olive oil
2 eggplants
2 potatoes, sliced thin
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 red, orange, yellow bell pepper
2 cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 6 oz. can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground tumeric
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 cups cooked rice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice eggplant into 1/4″ rounds. Place rounds in colander and generously salt. Lay on paper towels for at least 1/2 hour. Rinse well with water and pat dry with paper towels.

Thinly slice potatoes.

Heat oil (about 1/8″ up the edge of the pan) over high heat. Working in batches cook the eggplant, draining on paper towels. Add oil as needed.

Spray 9 x 13″ casserole dish with cooking spray. Place cooked eggplant on bottom.

Add more oil to the pan and brown the potato slices until golden. Drain on paper towels. Layer on top of eggplant.

If needed add oil to pan. Over medium heat cook and turn peppers and onions until tender (about 8-10 mins.) Layer on top of potatoes.

Mix together remaining ingredients. Pour over all. Gently mix so not to break up the eggplant.

Bake in preheated oven for 50 mins. or until bubbly. Serve over rice.

Serves 6

Note: You can make the vegetables ahead of time and then pour the tomato sauce over just before baking.

1
Summer vacation is here! YEA!!!! That’s the kids. yea*!$. That’s the parents. When you’re a working parent, summer vacation isn’t nearly exciting for you as for your offspring. Unless you’re fortunate enough to have family step in to watch the kids full time, this means securing reliable childcare for the summer months. Schools let out a lot earlier these days, but I believe they reconvene earlier as well. I’m a bit out of the loop as mine have theirs at this point and I’m not packing lunches anymore.

Even if you’re a stay at home mom or dad, three months of full time kid time can be a bit off-putting. The days of putting your feet up once the bus picks your little ones up in the morning are quickly replaced with “I’m bored” and “Jimmy’s bugging me”. I may not be raising them anymore, but the memory lingers on.

I don’t have much truck with boredom. As I mentioned a blog or two back if I so much as suggested I was bored my grandmother made sure she found something for me to do with my sorry bored self post haste. Being an only child, at least in my case, came with the side benefit of learning to entertain myself. “You can sleep after you die”, was my grandmother’s banner and she held it high. With no siblings to either enjoy or contend with I found ways to keep myself busy, a habit which has served me to this day.

As a teen both my parents worked. My stepfather, a middle school principle, taught summer school or worked odd jobs during the summer to keep the money flowing in. Neither of them believed teens should be left to their own devices so sleeping in until noon was never on my agenda. At 9:00 sharp the princess phone next to my bed would begin ringing until I answered it. Hanging up and going back to sleep was not an option because it would ring every ten minutes until she knew I was up.

From the time I was in grade school there was a pool in our back yard. Why my mother insisted on this I will never understand because she rarely used it. An appointment, never missed unless in the hospital, was kept every week at her hairdressers. Mother has had the same hair style since the 60’s. Each week the “do” was recreated and if she was in the pool our job was to make sure no water ever kept with the hair spray keeping the do done. On days when my mom felt like “a dip”, as she called it, we launched what my stepbrother and I referred to as “the Queen’s raft”. A huge blown up affair with an erect back and holes in the center to drop your legs through. On both sides were cup holders so one could sip and dip at the same time.

An avid swimmer, I could usually be found in the pool on hot days. As well as enjoying doing laps during the summer it was also my responsibility to make sure the pool was vacuumed and the filter cleaned. Sigh. My stepfather drew the line at having me add chemicals because with my chemistry grades he knew this would surely involve either a trip to the hospital or emptying the pool entirely and adding fresh water.

During my parents absence I was not allowed to swim. This along with the sign over the pool reading “We don’t swim in your toilet, so please don’t pee in our pool”, were cardinal rules. In teenese the no swim rule loosely translated to “You are are allowed to swim in pool as long as you don’t get caught doing it”. Much better.

Truth be known asking a young girl to clean a swimming pool full of azure blue water in the heat of the day almost provokes breaking the no swimming rule, to my mind at least. Often I accidentally fell into the water while shoving the hose back and forth. Fortunately I wore my bathing suit to clean the pool so no harm no foul, if you will. Once in, one had to swim about a bit to get to the steps in the shallow end to get out. Sometimes this procedure took me several hours to accomplish.

Friends came over to hang out most days during my time off. If one teen can find a bit of trouble, three are three times as likely to. One particularly hot Southern California day we had exhausted all options for entertainment. Lying on the living room floor watching the rippling reflections from the pool float across the ceiling the ability to resist could no longer be ignored. I suggested we could take a quick dip and then dry our bathing suits in the clothes dryer to hide the evidence. With a tight criminal mind like that it is surprising I didn’t go down in the annuls of history along with Bonnie Barrow and Lizzie Borden.

The house originally was owned by a man whose daughter aspired to being an Olympic swimmer. To this end our back yard came equipped with the oversized pool, a high and a low diving board, and a wraparound slide. Life was good. Quickly we changed into our suits and dove into the beckoning water. Glorious. One by one we went down the slide whooshing into the cool water and then up the ladder to try it again. One of us, undoubtedly me, came up with a brilliant plan. If it was fun to go down one at a time, wouldn’t it be more fun to go down in tandem like on a toboggan? Up the ladder we went. How we managed to get all three of us on before launching I have to clue. Half way down the older slide decided this was too much on a hot day and as we rounded the corner in the middle, 1.2.3, dumped us off onto the cement below. Luckily no heads were broken. My lower leg had a raspberry, one friend scraped her face and broke a nail, but the third musketeer found she couldn’t walk on her ankle. Having no choice parents were called and after a trip to the hospital with a sprained ankle the pool was off limits for a month. Sometimes being a kid sucks.

Never have I been able to get away with lying, or any sort of deceit. It’s like the lie is writing across my face while I’m spinning it or the universe conspires to catch me in its net shortly after the words leave my mouth. Good thing I didn’t decide to pursue a life of crime. I’d probably be writing list on prison paper.

This is a different, and less messy, way to make tacos. The sauce is the best! My neighbor shared it with me and I’ve been using it ever since. If you’re in the pool and need shortcuts use purchased taco seasoning mix and sauce. Have a great day!

Baked Tacos with Homemade Taco Sauce

2

Baked Tacos

8 hard taco shells
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped fine
2 Tbsp. taco seasoning mix (recipe below)
1/3 cup water
1 16 oz. can refried beans with green chili and lime
3 Tbsp. chunky salsa
1 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese

Garnish:

Chopped Lettuce
Sliced Tomatoes
Sliced red onion
Sliced Black olives
Sliced Avocado

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Spray bottom of casserole dish. Brown ground beef and onion. Drain on paper towels. Add 2 Tbsp. of taco seasoning mix and 1/3 cup water. Bring to boil. Simmer over low heat until most of the liquid is absorbed.

Mix together refried beans and salsa. Fill the bottom of each taco shell with bean mixture. Top with meat mixture. Sprinkle with cheese. Place in preheated oven for 10 mins. or until cheese is melted.

Top with desired garnishes.

Taco Seasoning Mix

1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Mix all ingredients together. Store in tightly sealed jar.

Taco Sauce

1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/3 cup water
1/4 tsp. hot chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 cup onion, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Whisk all ingredients together in saucepan. Simmer on low for 20 mins. Remove and allow to cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

1
The presidential candidates are lining up, male and female. Everyone from Bart Simpson to the Easter Bunny is jumping on the band wagon. Hilary Clinton is definitely a strong candidate for the women’s vote. However, one can’t vote simply on the basis of gender without first taking into account what the candidate brings to the table. Seeing the first female president step forward to take the oath would be exciting though. Hard to believe it is less than 100 years since those of us wearing the team colors of the fairer sex were given the vote. With our country in a state of disrepair we need someone well suited for the job manning (or womanning, as the case may be) the oars. A person with a good sense of direction and a strong feel for which way the wind is blowing across the globe.

Amazing anyone signs up of either gender considering the perks are rather limited and the liabilities somewhat daunting. At least twenty assassination attempts have been tried on presidents in office, four ending in success. The pay, $400,000 a year, though not bad by average man standards, isn’t that impressive when you consider what has to be sacrificed to earn it. Endless sleepless nights, difficult, life-changing decisions, roller coaster popularity polls, pressure from this faction and that, congressional disputes, and general graying of hair, doesn’t add up to an equal exchange, at least not in my book.

Corruption in our ranks of elected officials is in the news. Not new news by any means. A percentage of government officials have been taking more than their fair share of pie since the constitution was established, and well before. Unfortunately, there will always be someone out there willing to sell themselves and their integrity for a price. As with all things this is balanced out by those truly dedicated civil servants striving to making our nation strong and doing what is best for the people who put them in office. With great power comes great responsibility. Some handle this power well operating within the boundaries of the law, others wield it like a weapon, sucking the life of their constituents. Insert God Bless America here.

A campaign for the presidency is an expensive proposition. Most aspiring appointees throwing their hats in the ring seem to have considerable personal wealth to back their bid as well as powerful monied backers to keep the campaign moving forward. That being the case, I’ve decided not to run. With my personal wealth I’d make it to the bus station down the street to hand out flyers.

During my travels across the U.S. I missed visiting Washington D.C. The capital is now added to my bucket list right below the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, two highlighted spots I am definitely visiting somewhere in the future. Images of D.C. in my mind always include the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian, the Pentagon and, of course, the White House. Hopefully, when visiting the White House or “Presidential Palace” I would get to view the interior, a sight I missed at Buckingham Palace. I did manage to watch the changing of the guards at least, filled with much English pomp and circumstance.

There are five chefs on hand to keep the Obama’s in chili. The president and the first lady are charged for these meals, but not to worry they’re covered by his expense account so you most likely won’t find them in the drive-thru line at McDonald’s ordering a Big Mac and fries.

There are 132 rooms in the residence including a jogging track, tennis court, billiard room, swimming pool, and bowling alley. 6,000 guests pass through the doors every day to view the interior of the building so probably there aren’t too many days where there isn’t something written on the calendar.

Another thought should a woman take over the oval office, what is her husband to be called? Would he be the First Man? Possibly First Gentleman? No matter what we call him I think he would need a strong sense of self. Being in a position of lessor importance to his wife in such a public way could feel emasculating to a First Gentlemen who didn’t have his ego together.

A lot to ponder as things begin to heat up. Mud will be slinging soon and skeletons rattlings in political closets. Should make for some interesting debates, and undoubtedly great fodder for the news hounds.

This dessert is ridiculous. If you haven’t tried it, you must. If you have, it’s worth trying again. Mind you, it is rich and sinful so not an everyday delight but once in a while it’s a glorious treat.

Tres Leches

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
5 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups whole milk
1 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup rum
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Cinnamon for dusting

Preheat Oven to 350.

Spray 9 x 13″ pan with cooking spray.

Whisk flour and baking powder together and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and 1 tsp. of vanilla. Beat well between each addition.

Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture 2 Tbsp. at a time. Mix until well blended.

Spread batter into prepared pan.

Bake for 35 mins. or until toothpick comes out clean. Pierce all over cake with fork. Cool.

2

Combine whole milk, condensed milk, rum, and evaporated milk together. Pour over top of cooled cake.

Whip whipping cream, 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 tsp. vanilla together until thick. Spread on top of cake and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.

1
Saturday I popped a bowl of popcorn and sat down with Rick to watch the Belmont Stakes. For him, being of Egyptian descent, having American Pharoah as the front runner added to the excitement. Not one to disappoint, the magnificent animal ran with great heart and broke a long dry spell, becoming the first horse in 37 years to capture the Triple Crown. Horse racing is an interesting sport. The only one not taking home the spoils is the one doing all the work. Hopefully he’ll have some special oats and a rub down waiting for him when he gets back to his stall.

Twice in my life I’ve actually gone to a race track. Experiencing it first hand you can fully understand how people get caught up in the thrill of the race. In particular, if you’ve bet the rent money on IMFEELINLUCKY and the horse isn’t seeing anything but tails. Betting is such an addictive preoccupation. The possibility of stretching $20 into thousands, heady stuff. From what I’ve read it can be one of the hardest addictions to shake. To leak a bit of personal information here, I was married to a person with exactly such a problem. Sometimes he bet upwards of $2500 a hand. Finding himself quite deep in the hole, I remained blissfully ignorant of the sinkhole forming in our life, at first. Naturally, after several months the fissures opening up in our financial landscape couldn’t be ignored. Not to make light of what can be a very heavy situation, the cards were on the table (so to speak). The die was cast (I know it means a different kind of die, but you have to admit it works). At one point it became serious enough a man sounding like a cast member from Goodfellas called suggesting he was going to restructure my exes skeletal arrangement should monies not be forthcoming. Ex giving you a hint this is now far behind me. He tried many times to shake the persistent urge to splurge, but couldn’t let it go. This, naturally, is while I knew him. Hopefully things have improved for him since then. My money, if you will, is on not. You can’t quit addictive behavior for anyone but yourself and hope to be successful. It’s a personal demon requiring persistence, strength, encouragement, love, and constant vigilance. A tough, tough, road.

I’m sure many overextended hearts were pounding beneath the Belmont finery yesterday as the horses rounded that last turn. Millions of dollars were laid out with hopes dashed or dreams fulfilled as American Pharoah’s nose nudged the finish line. For the rider, the trainer, and the owner, a body of work was rewarded with the ultimate acknowledgement. For the horse, perhaps retirement to a stud farm, not a bad gig, or back to work racing again.

Horses are at the same time graceful, and massively powerful creatures. When in full run, a horse’s muscles flexing beneath you, there is a sense of freedom as a rider hard to recreate anywhere else. As a child I was pushed into equestrian lessons. I say pushed, because in the beginning I had no interest in mounting the beasts. I stood in my hat and jodhpurs, a chubby little girl gazing up at a shuffling animal looking down at me as if I was the blue plate special at the local diner. It was not, I guarantee, love at first sight. In spite my misgivings, I came to be comfortable in the saddle and gained a respect for the animal beneath me.

My two best friends as a child, Kitty and Vicky, were identical twins. Their father, owned a horse which on occasion we were permitted to ride. Around Christmas the sleigh was brought out of the shed and lap robes in place we drove through the park. At the lead the trotting horse clopping through the snow breath suspended in air.That memory has held in place while so many others have sloughed off over the years.

I wasn’t to ride again until high school. Again a friend with horses reintroduced me to riding in the summer of my sophomore year. Three horses resided in their paddocks. Two quarter horses and Futuna, half horse and half ass, with an emphasis on the ass. Futuna, a hard mouthed ornery critter, was ridden without benefit of a saddle. Hard mouthed and feisty, a heavy Indian blanket was all that separated my skin from the animal’s back. The horse, though she never actually mouthed the words, appeared to love to be ridden. Well, at least outwardly she seemed to love it. Once led into a field she would buck with pleasure nearly dumping me where we stood and then move like the wind on the short legs provided her.

Living in Southern California at the time we spent that summer exploring the foothills behind my friend’s San Dimas home. On one particularly warm day we rode high up into the hills ducking as we passed under low lying tree branches. The oldest of us, Cyd, also the owner of the horses, stopped short when
her hair caught in a limb. Turning to help her untangle she began to scream as bees circled her head. Now to say I have a phobia about bees would be diminishing the feeling I get around them. My skin is actually crawling as I write this. The horse Cyd rode, as spooked as the rest of us at the situation unfolding, bolted. The forward thrust dragged Cyd free. Down the trail they sped, us behind her, and the bees behind us. At some point, thankfully, the bees tired of the chase. It was hot and there was honey to be made, I would suppose. At the ER the doctors said we were very lucky. All of us were stung including the horses, fortunately no one seriously, but it was another memory I tucked in my “keep” file..

My riding days are behind me I fear. I can still remember the feel of it, and the smells and sensations of communing with the animals in such a way.

We had unexpected family for dinner yesterday, a nice surprise. Fortunately, I had this yummy version of pozole in the crock pot.

Crockpot Beef Pozole (Mexican Stew)

3 red potatoes, chunked
1 onion, cut in wedges
1 flank steak
4 cups rich beef broth
1/2 cup hot chunky salsa
1 15 1/2 can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 Tbsp. hot chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. Taco seasoning, hot
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can Mexican hominy, rinsed and drained
3 cups shredded cabbage
Garnish with: snipped cilantro, queso fresco, radishes, green onions, black olives, sour cream, and lime wedges

Place cut potatoes in microwavable dish. Heat on high 2 mins. Put in bottom of 6 quart slow cooker. Top with wedges of onion.

Cut flank stead widthwise into six pieces. Place on top of onions. Mix together all remaining ingredients through hominy. Pour over meat. Cook for 9 hrs. on low.

Add cabbage and increase temperature to high. Cook for 1 1/2-2 hrs. until cabbage is tender. Remove meat from sauce and shred with fork. Return to sauce. Serve with garnishes as desired.

Serves 8

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Yesterday we took a trip to the Sacramento Zoo. A small zoo by world zoo standards probably, but a nice way to wile away a rather balmy early summer afternoon. Though arriving just as the zoo was to open, the parking spaces close to the entrance were already full save one, naturally facing the opposite direction. Rick decided we could still grab it if he maneuvered around. Putting on his blinker a white mini-van pulled up close behind us. Looking in my rear view mirror I could see a woman with her mouth moving wearing a lime green visor seated behind the wheel. Purposefully she blocked our way not allowing us to back up far enough to execute a u-turn. Honking her horn as we moved back Rick uncharacteristically obliged her and moved forward parking several blocks away. Stories circulating about road rage make it not worthwhile to argue over a spot or desired lane change these days. On the way back approaching the same spot on foot we encountered the white mini-van now parked in “our spot”. The woman in the visor was barking orders at six or seven screaming out of control kids pouring out of both sides of the vehicle. A miniature platoon with their drill sargent’s orders rolling off them like melting ice off hot pavement. The only other adult evident was a well wizened woman probably hovering around ninety. The older woman appeared unnaturally short in stature due to legs so bowed a water buffalo could have easily passed through them without making contact with skin on either side. Standing in the street she was wandering about muttering as though praying for someone to come and rescue her from all the noise. Looking up at Rick who was still fanning a low burn about losing his parking spot I whispered, “give the woman a break, she’s going to have a busy day”. Thankfully we went on quietly on down the road.

At the entrance we purchased our tickets from a friendly lady behind the glass and were handed a map. Gray haired docents in safari hats and bright yellow polo shirts greeted us and asked if we had any questions. The canary shirts were to become a familiar sight as we traveled through the maze of paths1 leading to each destination. Taking the path to the right we gathered with a group watching a flock of beautiful flamingos grazing by a pond. Birds are incredible creatures, these in particular fascinate me. Their brilliant pink feathers are a result of the algae and brine shrimp which are part of their diet. I must remember to check my cheeks next time I make a pot of gumbo.

Each cage following had placards in front describing the birds living inside. Birds with oversized colorful beaks, and geometric feather patterns could be seen pecking along the ground or perched on branches. A docent explained the birds with the spotted backs were pheasants. Yum. Oh, sorry.

Moving past the bird section of the park we came on the African cages. First in line were the giraffes and it was feeding time. A line of excited children had formed up a set of wooden stairs beneath a sign reading, “Feed the Giraffes – $3.00″. Sign me up. Rick just laughs at me. Happily I took my place in line behind twenty other children and waited my turn to feed the giraffe whose long neck and 2curious face could be seen moving in and out of one side of the platform. “Grandma what big eyes you have”, I found myself thinking. And what long eyelashes. I would have killed for those in my twenties. A hungry type of beastie his long tongue extended as each person paid their money and got their two pieces of tree to offer by way of sacrifice to the long-necked god. My turn, I took my bits of trees and waited as he moved in towards me. Commenting on his appetite, the trainer explained he was the only male in the compound and considered a bit pushy by the females in residence. So, unable to do anything else with his time he’s content to eat at feeding time to the delight of the crowd. Poor guy.

Next to the giraffe compound were the zebras, and after that a lone orangutan sat on a perch looking rather miserable. When I see the animals behind bars, if you will, a twinge of guilt pinches that my pleasure on watching them there comes at the expense of their freedom. To assuage this nagging feeling, I would like to think if we are aware of what wondrous creatures are roaming our earth, we will be more careful about keeping them here. At one point the large orange creature turned and looked straight into my eyes. “Sorry”, I thought. “Wish I could help.”

As the temperature rose it got fairly warm along the trails. We stepped into a shaded corridor with a sign reading “Veterinarian – Zoo Guests Welcome”. Inside the cool open ended corridor was a line of windows with people peeking inside. A doctor in full surgery garb and one assistant were performing surgery on a snake. Who knew? A docent told us they were tagging the snake to track it in the wild. Wild? What wild? Are they going to let it go? I need to go. No really, I need to go. In spite of my dread of all things slithering and poisonous, I watched fascinated. A tube was inserted in the snake’s mouth which was, I assume, anesthesizing it. The vet worked on one side while the assistant manned the mask and whatever was in the tank keeping the Snnaaaaake, ewwwww, asleep. They’re not so bad when they’re asleep. Maybe I should carry a syringe of antesthetic when hiking?

We went from Africa to Australia and viewed kangaroos languishing in the sun, Mom and Dad from the looks of things and any manner of wild pigs with long snouts and homely faces only a mother could love, or perhaps another wild pig.

All in all it was a great day. I didn’t get my cotton candy and passed on the stuffed animal, but thoroughly enjoyed sharing space with the animals at the zoo.

This is a great side for burgers or grilled meat of any kind. It’s good hot or cold.

Southwestern Grilled Corn

3 ears sweet corn
2 Tbsp. butter, softened
Garlic salt
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 orange bell pepper, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced thin then halved
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp. hot chunky salsa
Salt and pepper to taste

Pull all the husks off the corn and remove the “silk”. Place whole cobs completely covered in cold water to soak for 30 mins. Remove from pot and pat dry with paper towels.

Rub each cob with butter and sprinkle with garlic salt. Roll each cob individually in tin foil. Place on preheated grill over medium heat for about 20 mins. Remove foil and allow to cool slightly. Using a sharp knife cut corn from cobs.

In microwave safe dish place all three peppers and red onion. Toss with olive oil. Cover and cook for 6 mins., stirring once. Transfer to bowl with corn. Add cilantro and chunky salsa. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6

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