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2Well the Oscars are in the bag, a Gucci bag I’m sure. Last night was as usual a star filled performance. So many awards shows fill the air this time of year by the time the Oscars show up I am somewhat award show weary. Weary or not, however, I still tune in as I do every year. Not only to see which movie, song, director, etc. gets the nod, but to see the impeccably made up faces, perfectly styled hair and lovely fashions that make the show a much watched event. Sometimes the outfits that show up on the red carpet have me wondering if the wearer is devoid of mirrors in their home. Best dressed or worst they’re always interesting to be on the sidelines for. Surely I have missed my chance to ever wear a $60,000 dress accessorized by $1,000,000 worth of jewelry. Looking back I don’t think I missed my chance, rather it never presented itself.

Many of the movies nominated I have yet to see. Arrival is the only one I can check off the list. Interesting movie. Though the story line kept me involved beginning to end, as the credits ran I was scratching my head wondering what it was I’d just seen. Apparently I’m not alone. A movie reviewer during a critique of the movie said he had to see it several times to get the jist of the film, and still wasn’t sure he’d gotten it right.

I rather enjoy alien movies and I don’t mind a little horror now and again. There are so many gruesome horror films in the theaters of late. Not my favorite. Too much gore or weirdness such as films like Hellraiser, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Pumpkinhead leave me checking my door locks for weeks and silently screaming in my sleep. I prefer a gentler scare, if you will, along the lines of Alien, Contact, Poltergeist or Silver Bullet. Still scary, but not life altering.

La La Land is one film I am looking forward to purchasing a ticket for. Rick, most probably, will not be my date. Rick is more of an action movie or science fiction kind of guy. Guns, detectives, fast-moving cars and cyborgs are right up his alley. Thankfully, I enjoy those types of movies as well (though you can leave the cyborgs at home) or we’d always end up sitting in two separate theaters on date night. Action movies rank among my favorite fare. I remember seeing Bullitt for the first time. According to many critics the footage of Bullitt contains one of the best chase scenes ever filmed. The movie started out running and kept up the frantic pace until the final scene was over. Being young and stupid we choose the movie’s debut week to go and see it. By the time our group of six arrived at the theater long lines had already formed beyond the ticket booth. Wanting to sit together, we were told the front row of the theater was to be our only choice. Fine. To say it was slightly loud would be like saying the Pope is slightly Catholic. As it turned out the volume was not to be our main problem, viewing a movie of that type from that angle was going to be the main problem. Literally during that chase scene through San Francisco it felt as if we were going to exit the theater with tire prints stretched across our faces. Sometimes I had to close my eyes to keep myself rooted in my seat.

My favorite movie genre truly is comedy. Not many great ones are being produced these days. I miss the  older comedies with great comedic men such as Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor, John Candy, Chevy Chase, Dan Ackaroyd and Robin Williams. The women back then were standouts as well as far as I’m concerned. Doris Day got things kick started in the 60’s and Goldie Hawn, Gilda Radner, Julia Roberts and a host (or hostess) of others carried the baton down through the decades to follow. The last “laugh out loud” movie I saw was Heat with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock. I keep hoping to see a new crop of gifted comic actors showing up but as yet a good split your gut comedy seems to remain out of my reach.

Jimmy Kimmel stepped into the host shoes easily I thought. My favorite part of the night was when he brought a group of unsuspecting tourists into room. Imagine finding yourself in the middle of the Oscars after getting off your bus for a scheduled stop. Hilarious.

As usual there were unexpected moments. Perhaps the most notable was when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway inadvertently called out La La Land as Best Picture when actually Moonlight had taken home the gold. No small boo-boo that. Someone’s head will be lying across the chopping block I would imagine. Not the stars fault. A case of the wrong card in the wrong envelope at the wrong moment . I’m sure for the La La Land group felt like being thrown in ice water after a warm bath but with live television anything can happen and often does.

All in all another great Hollywood moment put to bed. Thank heavens for movies to take our minds off the unsettling world swirling about us. I was so sorry to hear that Bill Paxton unexpectedly passed at 61. So many fine actors lost last year.

I couldn’t take a picture that seemed to do this flavorful sandwich justice. Pretty or not it delivers on taste. Yum.

Shredded Beef with Horseradish Cheese and Cole Slaw

1 onion sliced
1 4 lb. chuck roast
1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2-1 tsp. red pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves minced
1 1/2 cups beef broth
4 slices Horseradish cheese
4 Kaiser rolls, halved

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Place onion slices on bottom of cooker. Whisk together salt, pepper, basil, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and red pepper flakes. Rub into all sides of roast. Place roast on top of onion and sprinkle with garlic cloves. Pour broth in pot. Cook on low for 10 hours. Shred pork with forks removing any fatty sections. Return to liquid in pot and continue cooking for 1 hour.

Preheat broiler. Place Kaiser rolls cut side up under broiler and cook until deep golden brown. Take tops out and keep warm. Place 1 slice of cheese on each of the bottom halves and return to broiler until cheese is bubbly and light brown.

Remove meat with slotted spoon from crockpot reserving liquid. Pile meat on the bottom of each roll. Take roll tops and dip face down in liquid. Serve with cole slaw either on top or on the side.

Cole Slaw

1/3 Cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 Cup milk
1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/4 Cup buttermilk
1 1/2 T white vinegar
2 1/2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 Pkg finely shredded cole slaw mix

Whisk the dressing ingredients together and refrigerate. About an hour before serving toss dressing with chopped onion and coleslaw mix. Serve chilled.

Serves 4

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Rick came into the downstairs bedroom yesterday to find me seated on the floor among a sea of clean laundry watching “Long Island Madam”. Rick is not a believer of such sorcery as he refers to the supernatural, but I keep an open mind about such things. To quote a little Shakespeare, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

This episode had her speaking to audience members who had lost loved ones. As she spoke she discussed contacting people who have passed not being as simple as picking up your phone and placing a really long distance call. Talk about using up your minutes. Rather, she said, noticing them around you in flickering lights or objects moved without explanation would be the more likely form of communication from beyond the grave. Rick rolled his eyes, mumbled something under his breath, and left me to my folding. Turning off the TV when I was done, the woman’s words jostled around in my brain. I thought of my paternal grandmother, Muriel (Gammy to me). Gone since 1988 I write about my grandmother often. Rarely a day passes where I don’t picture her face or remember a time I spent as a child in her company. I was living in California and she in her home in Halifax, Nova Scotia when she died. Though word of her passing hadn’t reached us as yet, I experienced waking up in the middle of that particular night feeling as if someone was giving me a hug. The golden retriever snoring at the base of the bed was an affectionate old sot, but never in our history together had the dog attempted to hug me. Odd.

Lately, as I’ve said in previous blogs, I have been in the process of getting my mother moved and settled in her new surroundings. The move (thank heavens) is behind us but the settling in is still a work in progress. Thinking of my grandmother, I whispered, “Gammy, wish you were around to help right now. I’m having a bit of trouble with your daughter.” Smiling , I went about the rest of my day.

Rick is the go to person in our house for getting the coffee ready each night for the following morning. Every day he washes out the pot and filter unit and returns them to the coffee maker where it rests against the wall t0 the right of our kitchen. Hearing him working in the kitchen last night I spoke to him but got no answer. As I turned to see why he was ignoring me the toilet flushed in the back bedroom. Really? When he walked into the living room I asked him if he’d heard me talking to him. Looking quizzical he explained he’d been cleaning up in the bathroom and hadn’t been in the area for at least ten minutes. Curious. A few minutes later he asked me why I’d moved the coffee pot to the center of counter. Me? I don’t think so. Coming into the kitchen sure enough the small appliance was now placed directly in the center of my tile counter. Gammy? Perhaps. Mentioning this possibility, Rick once again rolled his eyes toward the ceiling but I did catch him casting a curious glance or two in the direction of the coffee maker before returning it to its rightful spot.

As fascinated as I am by the secrets the world holds,  equally am I fascinated by the knowledge civilizations have amassed over the centuries. How far we have come since first discovering rubbing two stones together could generate fire. One has to wonder at the first guy squatting in that fire circle who came up with the idea of tossing a piece of raw meat in to see how that might taste. If there were MVP’s back in those days, I’ll bet his name went to the top of the list.

Forward thinkers have expanded our range of exploration to include standing on the surface of the moon all the way to glimpses of mars sent back by means of a robotic vehicle. As far as I can see we are leaps and bounds ahead of the pack (if you will) when it comes to the other animals populating the planet. Not that I view us as superior mind you. Animals are far more noble and loyal to my mind. Still, with all we have gleaned through the years as yet we have only scratched the surface when it comes to answering the big questions such as where the universe ends or begins or what happens when our souls leave our bodies. These are surfaces I love to pick at with my thoughts. Such mysteries whose answers remain so tantalizingly just beyond our reach. If we knew the answers would that be our end? Another thought to ponder on a day of reflection.

Today I find myself also thinking about those clever people along the way who keep nudging us forward. I would like to take a moment to salute those highly overlooked creative geniuses such as the 14th century Italian chefs who thought to combine cheese and pasta to create macaroni and cheese or whoever realized that the delectable little grape though tasty when eaten, when fermented, could be both delicious and intoxicating. If not for those individuals willing to think outside of the box like the Renaissance athletes who developed the game we now call football or whoever discovered when you planted a small seed in the ground the rain and soil would create vegetables and fruits from that small seed to sustain them. These people were definitely thinking on their feet.

Now for you animal enthusiasts I’m certainly not dissing the animals. I’m just saying that until I see a labradoodle come up with a way to cure the common cold I’m thinking we’re still on top of the pile when it comes to the food chain.

This soup is simply the best on a chilly winter night. Heats you up from the inside out. It leans toward very spicy so if that’s not your thing omit the salsa and half the green chiles to calm things down a bit. I tend to lean in the direction of my Alabama neighbor when it comes to Mexican food, “if it don’t make you sweat, it ain’t worth eatin'”. No comments please about the vernacular. He was a very sharp guy who was fond of his southern expressions that is all.

I would highly recommend an icy margarita to wash this down with.

Rotisserie Chicken Taco Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 each orange, red, and green bell peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 rotisserie chicken cut up (about 2 cups)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 4 oz. can diced green chiles
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa (I use hot)
1 pkg. taco seasoning mix (I use Lawry’s)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
Mexican blend cheese
Doritos with a hint of lime

Heat olive oil in stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and peppers and cook for 6-8 mins. until peppers are tender. Add remaining ingredients through coriander. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 45 mins. stirring occasionally.

Serve topped with cheese and garnished with tortilla chips.

Serves 4

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Valentine’s Day has already eluded me this month. For the first time since starting this blog I had no contribution. What a busy time these past few months have been. My beloved recipes and wonderful new pans from Santa have spent their time gathering dust in the cupboard. Mr. Rick, admittedly somewhat spoiled, has had a rare steady diet of take-out and hastily prepared meals. If a minute did come my way, I couldn’t seem to summon the energy to do much with it but take a deep breath and press forward. A friend told me recently “you need to slow down, girl”. Really? Believe me I would love nothing better than to hand the yoke to someone else and see the rows continue to form in the field. Unfortunately, most of my friends are involved in managing their own lives and don’t have a strong interest in taking on the responsibilities in mine as well. Shame that.

When a break shows up, I often turn on the television for a little diversion. Switching channels there is the political lunacy pervading the airways lately or an update on who’s been given the latest rose on The Bachelor. Sometimes while watching the news I feel like the Cheshire Cat peering down from a tree limb observing the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in full maniacal swing.

Since this is the month of l’amour, toujours, l’amour let’s pause for a moment to ponder The Bachelor as well as its female counterpart. What can it be, I can’t help asking, people find so riveting about these shows? Explain this phenomenon to me if you will. The few times I have tuned in, all the hoopla accompanying each episode’s conclusion continues to elude me. For the most part, once the cameras are turned off it doesn’t appear many of these couples continue forward together.Should they actually make it to the altar they don’t seem to last long after arriving there. Six couples remain intact after 30 seasons of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Not great odds to my mind. Poor odds aside, everyone seems to be lapping up each season like a litter of thirsty kittens hovering over a bowl of warm milk. Amazing.

Truly we humans are besotted by the idea of true love. Beloved fairy tales such as Snow White and Cinderella fuel the desire for finding Prince Charming in fledgling princesses before they even enter elementary school.  Even I (long past the princess phase) tuned in to watch the most recent version of Cinderella over the weekend only to find myself as captivated by the story line as when sporting Mary Jane’s.

Love, perhaps, is the last great embodiment of optimism. Statistics indicating the likelihood nearly half the couples coming together will not remain so, human beings continue to engage in the avid pursuit of the perfect mate. Once a desirable partner has been culled from the herd they stand before an officiate and exchange vows often including “til death do us part”.  Perhaps the vows should be amended to read “til do us part”?  All this effort is expended in the hope of sharing a life with one’s soul mate through the end of  time.

Yet, when you watch an affectionate elderly couple sitting comfortably side by side on a park bench exchanging a word or sharing a laugh it makes your heart hopeful. Living alone was perhaps not the original plan, though many do so successfully either by choice or happenstance. Those of us in the animal kingdom seem to be instinctively paired. Birds such as swans, turtle doves and the bald eagles choose one mate to create a nest with one other for life. A friend of mine had a lovebird by the name of Wilbur. Wilbur was a happy little soul who sang prettily from his cage each day to his lovely bride. Rarely did you see him without his mate at his side. They preened and groomed one another and occasionally produced an egg as a symbol of their union. One day the lady bird was found lying still on the floor of the cage with her faithful Wilbur standing at her side. Wilbur stopped singing, choosing instead to sit sadly on his perch. In an effort to console him a new mate was purchased and placed in the cage. Wilbur eventually began to sing again but never with the same exuberance. The mate, though accepted, was never given the attention the original female enjoyed nor did she ever produce an egg. Even birds can suffer a broken heart it would appear.

Often I ponder whether we are meant to be coupled as a means to perpetuate life, but are not naturally wired to be monogamous beings. This is a deep subject fraught with potholes so for today I will enjoy the lovely relationship I share and be happy to have it. No one can predict what is to come around the corner so it wise to enjoy fully day you find yourself in. Hope it’s a happy one.

This dish will definitely put a smile on your face. I will say if you’re looking for something to “throw together” this is not the recipe for you.  That being said, it makes a lot so I freeze what’s left over for another day when I don’t have the time to devote to it.

Rishta bi Betingan (Pasta and Eggplant)

2 eggplants sliced 1/2″ thick
Salt
Vegetable oil for frying
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles with juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. rigitoni cooked and drained
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice eggplant and place in large deep dish. Cover with water for 30 minutes turning once. (You may have to do this in batches). Rinse well in colander and pat dry.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil until hot in large skillet. Working in batches cook until deep golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook 6 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min. until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices to pan. Bring to boil. Add eggplant breaking up slightly as you stir it into sauce. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 10 mins.

Spray bottom of 9 x 13″ pan. Spread small amount on sauce on bottom. Top with one half of the rigitoni. Top with 2/3 of the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Top with another layer of noodles and finish with remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese on top. Seal tightly with tin foil.

Bake for 45 mins. or until bubbly. Yum.

Serves 6-8

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1Heinz catsup is asking people interested to sign a petition to have the Monday following the Super Bowl declared a national holiday. Certainly football is a sport revered by many Americans. Personally, I feel it doesn’t carry the weight of say a President’s Day or Veteran’s Day. However, several men I have dated along the way might strongly disagree with this statement. For some fans Super Bowl ranks among the great achievements in history such as inventing the wheel and the ancient brewer who thought to mix grains with hops to get beer. One argument for a Super Bowl Monday would be many of those rooting their teams on to victory will most likely be hung over and hoarse the day following. Having spent a day or two in the office in my earlier years jockeying position between my desk and the toilet I know I would probably have served my employer far better had I remained at home in bed with an ice pack and a bottle of aspirin.

Our team was notably absent in both the playoff standouts as well as the big game. Not that they made a good showing at any point. Generally, they blew the season tripping over their embarrassed protruding lower lip showing up second in the league. Second from  the bottom that would be, not the top. Rick and I faithfully tuned in the 49er’s all season in spite of the fact they haven’t done much to get us out of our chairs.  Don’t misunderstand me. No stones are being cast here. Athletic talent isn’t in my genes. The point here might be, however, no one is paying me millions of dollars to carry a football over the goal line.

High school P.E. was a misery for me. Track and field in particular. Most events I managed without the involvement of any emergency medical personnel, but tumbling, baseball and track and field got the best of me. The worst grade came for, of all things, throwing a softball. Why this was part of track and field still has me scratching my head, but nonetheless. With half my class watching after a dramatic windup the ball landed  approximately two inches beyond the toe of my tennis shoes. A nearsighted gibbon could have done better. This was to be a feat I continued to live down until the day I received my diploma. I set a new record that day for shortest distance a ball had been thrown since the athletic department purchased its first piece of chalk. Swell.

Water sports were mostly where I shined. Also, to be immodest, I was an excellent tennis in player my younger years. For the most part though, even with a group populated by friends, my name was rarely the first one yelled out when picking teams. Hold your pity please. I may not be a talented athlete but I like to think as the years progressed I have developed  other talents equally as noteworthy, thank you very much. Sorry.

Constantly I remain amazed at the salaries these highly gifted athletes command. Someone explained this huge amount of money is needed to stretch over the lean years after the athlete’s bodies no longer can produce or should they sustain an injury. I’ve managed to stretch far less over my lean years and still had food in the cupboard. I rather doubt many of the retired athletes with these lucrative contracts are sweating their next burger, but possibly I am wrong. According to Mr. Rick some have lost their fortunes due to poor management or excessive spending habits. In general, however, most probably move seamlessly into retirement picking up a gig here and there touting insurance or the blessings of aluminum siding.

Most of the pictures of me taken between ninth and twelfth grade reflect a smiling young face with either a black eye, skinned knee or a limb carefully encased in casting material. Had social services been more observant my parents might have had some ‘splaining to do. Let me be clear, my parents never abused me. Rather, when coordination was handed out I must have been out getting a bag of Cheetos from the vending machine. If there was an elephant in the room, I would manage to trip over it or spill coffee on it. My mother actually used modeling clay to glue her valuables to tables and armoires lest Hurricane Susie accidentally sent them crashing to the floor with an errant flick of a sleeve or a poorly placed wave of a hand. Kindly, she said this was in the case of an earthquake, but I knew  with my casualty count rivaling that of WWII, the body count would be diminished somewhat by her efforts.

So, I have my wings in the wings (if you will) awaiting their entrance stage right this afternoon accompanied by ranch dressing. Ripe avocados in the basket to be gloriously paired with lemon juice, onions, and seasonings for my delicious guacamole, and my system is preparing for the unhealthy onrush coming down the chute as the game commences.

I look forward to spending the day manning my armchair and enjoying the best of the best go head to head for the ultimate prize. Why is it I wonder some individuals are culled from the herd for greatness while the rest of us muck around in relative obscurity? Guess that’s another question to be left unanswered. For me, I’m happy to be who I am with all my blemishes and scars and that will do nicely for today.

These delightful little bites of flavor will happily blend in with whatever else you’re serving for your Super Bowl party.

Lamb Koftas

1 lb. lamb mince
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. crushed mint leaves
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (desired heat)

Oil for frying

Mix all ingredients with hands in large bowl until well blended. Form into small balls.

Heat oil over medium heat in large saucepan. Brown in two batches, turning often to keep from burning. Continue to cook until browned on all sides and cooked through.

Makes 24

Cucumber Yogurt Dip

1/2 English cucumber, peeled and chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup plain yogurt

Mix together and place in refrigerator for 1 hr.

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Hello blog. I have missed you. Life has whisked me along and I have had no time to sit at my computer and write. The beginning of 2017 hopefully is not indicative of where the rest of the year is heading. A whirlwind of activity has swallowed us up like a large sinkhole at our house, and it’s not over yet. Yesterday was the first day I found time to sit in my favorite chair, and draw a long breath. Whew.

The majority of this month has been devoted to relocating my mother from the Bay Area to  Sacramento. Trying to do this from a vantage point three plus hours away turned out to be somewhat of a logistic nightmare. The route becoming so familiar commuting back and forth our car automatically turned on the left turn signal when approaching the stop light at the top of the hill heading south. Rick and I tired of viewing the same scenery to the point several times we opted for slightly longer routes simply to relieve the monotony. One thing I’ve definitely crossed off my list should I return for a second shot at a career, would be trucking. No way could I travel back and forth along the same route incessantly unless there was a gun pointed at my temple.

Next week we travel back once again to San Jose to sell the remaining items in the house and do a general cleanup. That accomplished, life should return to normal, or as normal as our lives seem to get.

Last Sunday was a total dog and pony show. Purposely, we looked for a location approximately dead center between my daughter and I when thinking of living quarters for my Mother. This way one or the other of us would be able to help get her settled and make regular visits. Sunday was to be Rick and my first day of quiet in quite awhile after moving her in on Saturday. Unpacking most of the day on Saturday we arrived home well after dark stopping only to pick up something to eat. Driving up the hill we were so exhausted we resorted to hand gestures to communicate. The act of forming words seemed too much of an effort.  Sunday I slept in (for me at least) until after 6:00. Ahhhhhhh, I thought as I gathered my newspaper from the porch and picked up a throw from the back of my chair. A message came in as I was about to sit down from that nagging little voice in my head. “Not so fast Blondie, the universe has other plans for you.” What an annoying little being I thought unfolding my paper. The plan for the next few days was my daughter was to go over to mother’s and unpack boxes and get her acclimated while I took a much needed break. Yea. Settled in my chair my daughter called. While moving something she had dislocated her right shoulder and it was in a sling. This would leave her immobile for several weeks. Naturally, through no fault of her own, no unpacking boxes for her. “Murphy, are you hiding underneath all the newspaper in one of those boxes? I’ll find you you little bugger and when I do there’s a dumpster with your name written all over it.” Fine. “Breathe”, I heard my little voice chant.

The phone took on a life of its own ringing off the hook for the next hour. Tucking the phone in a drawer in a last ditch effort to stifle it, I sat down next to Rick with a hot cup of coffee and picked up my newspaper where I’d left it on the side table. Dry when I’d set it down, oddly now my paper was sopping wet. A drop fell from above splashing onto my hand. Oh-oh. Had it not been pouring outside I would have run screaming from the house and boogied on down the hill. Sure enough, on closer inspection water was visibly drooling in from a spot at the top of the window forming rivulets down our blinds. Oh goodie. Naturally, it was the weekend. Undoubtedly the expensive person we would have to call to fix this situation would be on double time. I rolled my eyes and began looking up the appropriate number to call.

Arriving on the scene in between showers, the roofer inspected the affected area from the outside. Climbing down the ladder he reported the former tenants had somehow glued the shingles onto the roof to effect a patch of sorts with a polyurethane type compound. This would make the job more difficult and naturally more expensive. Naturally. I’m going to have a tee-shirt made with just that word emblazoned across the front. Handing over a large check we thanked him and settled in for the evening. Another wave of rain began to pound on the deck and once again our blinds began to weep. Someone hand me my tee-shirt please.

At that point, not a drinker myself, I went to the garage and retrieved an unopened bottle of Gray Goose vodka brought with us from our restaurant days. I entertained the thought of inserting a straw in the top and going for but instead poured a vodka and orange juice and sipped on it for a while. Didn’t help much but didn’t hurt either.

So, looking forward to February. With a new face in the oval office I also have my fingers crossed our country is in good hands because I need to step on some solid ground here.

This soup is absolutely the best on a stormy night or any night.

Hearty Hamburger Soup

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. ground chuck
2 15 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
6 cups beef broth
2 cups water
1 tsp. beef bouillon
2 cups water
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 cup canned corn
1 cup cooked elbow macaroni

In large stockpot heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion, green pepper, celery, carrots and garlic. Cook and stir for 8 mins. or until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile cook ground beef in large skillet until no longer pink. Drain on paper towels. Add cooked beef to vegetables in stockpot. Add remaining ingredients except macaroni and bring to boil.

Reduce heat and simmer for 50 mins. Add macaroni and serve.

Serves 4-6

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It is nice to be writing my blog this morning. The first blog of a brand new year. A year laid out before like a clean sheet of paper before a writer waiting to add his first word to his story.

A good deal of my time over the holiday season was devoted to getting my mother ready to relocate. Shopping took the back burner to more pressing issues, making the holidays truly about family and friends and not about what was under the tree. I have to say it was rather freeing not spending hours searching for just the right gift. A gift which most likely would find itself on top a pile of other unwanted items in the return bin at the store the day after Christmas. Though not Catholic, I have to get on board with the Pope when he said Christmas is being held hostage by materialism. Certainly the true meaning of the day has been lost somewhere among reams of wrapping paper and blinking lights as the years have passed.

Once the Christmas decorations are back in their boxes we quickly lay siege to the next holiday on the calendar, New Year’s. I’ve never been a big fan of New Year’s Eve parties to be honest. Not that I haven’t participated in them over the years, I have. More often in my misspent youth than as I’ve gotten older. Drinking is usually an integral part of such parties. Being of small frame it doesn’t take much alcohol for me to feel the effects that I’m quite sure many revelers were experiencing yesterday after a night of New Year’s Eve imbibing.

Years have gone by since I’ve had a hangover, yet I can remember it well. Once you’ve endured a really significant one, your mind doesn’t easily put the memory aside. The following morning life can seem substantially less sunny when viewed from the backside of bloodshot eyes. Nausea often leads to finding oneself assuming the position over a porcelain bowl either taking the pledge as you relieve the contents of your churning stomach or finding religion.  When you’re drinking champagne with all it’s bubbly goodness you’re not really reflecting on what the experience might be like should the golden deliciousness decide to come back in the opposite direction. Like many bad ideas, it may appear a stellar road to take at the time you are going down it. We humans are always looking for something to make our experience while on earth a little bit easier to bear I believe. A little something to enhance our situation, to dress the windows of our lives, if you will. Sometimes a little libation can help to temporarily ease the pain of a recent breakup, the loss of a loved one, or make you forget for the moment the stack of overdue bills waiting for you on the counter when you return home. Never will it provide a permanent fix for anything, most likely the opposite.

As usual I’ve digressed so far from the subject as to make it nearly invisible unless viewed under a microscope. I began this blog by speaking to helping my mother pack up and relocate. Years of accumulated “stuff” mounts up, making sorting through it and deciding what to keep and what to let go a most formidable job. Last week was my fourth trip down to the Bay Area in two months and will not be my last before the move is done. Mum is downsizing considerably. Many family treasures have been dispersed among family members for safe keeping. Boxes are stacked on walls in each room with directions to movers. I’m exhausted and find myself wondering if the move will actually ever happen without divine intervention. I have to say my mother is far more grown up than I might be about parting with much-loved items. “Here take this” is her most frequent response when I ask what to do with something. “Me”, says I? I can barely fit the cat and Rick and I in our house as we downsized to move to our new digs. I see a garage sale in my future even after the huge moving sale anticipated at the end of the month. Sigh. Anyone need twenty matching spatulas? Just give me a heads up.

For some reason the end to 2016 feels more like a relief than a celebration. Even the television stations seem to have given only a passing nod to the occasion. So many famous people laid to rest, political strangeness, and just a general unease about what’s around the next corner.

For us we ate manicotti and watched movies to welcome the incoming year. Life on the edge. Probably the most amazing thing about New Year’s Eve was I made it to midnight with Rick. Well, I made it in stages. I went to sleep before the witching hour, but was up again precisely at the stroke of midnight. Our neighbors commenced a half an hour display of rather impressive fireworks as 2017 made it’s entrance accompanied by a chorus from the neighborhood canines.

2017 is calling and we must answer. With so many changes in our world it should at the very least be interesting to watch as it unfolds.

In closing I would like to acknowledge the passing of two screen ladies I most admire. Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher have gone on to a higher stage and I for one will miss their attendance at roll call.

Here’s yet another manicotti recipe, but a good one. I’ve decided to forgo my New Year’s weigh in until next week after admitting to a second helping of the richly filled tubes.

Spinach Manicotti

1 8 oz. pkg. manicotti shells
1 10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, cooked and drained well
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 lb. bulk Italian sausage, mild
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
3 cups tomato basil pasta sauce
3 cups ricotta cheese
3 Tbsp. chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. chicken bouillon granules
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups half and half
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta one-half the time indicated in box cooking directions. Place in cold water to stop cooking process. Drain and pat with paper towel.

Heat olive oil over med. heat in large skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add ground beef, sausage and basil Cook until browned and fully cooked. Add salt and pepper. Drain on paper towels. Return to pan and add tomato basil pasta sauce.

Mix together together ricotta cheese, parsley and cooked, drained spinach (cooled). Add eggs, and salt and pepper to taste.

Grease 9 x 13″ pan. Spread 1/4 cup sauce over bottom of prepared pan. Stuff each shell gently with ricotta cheese mixture. Layer in single layer in pan.

White Sauce

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in saucepan over med. heat. Whisk in flour and chicken bouillon. Cook, stirring constantly for 2 mins. until. Slowly add half and half. Bring to boil and continue cooking 1-2 mins. until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour oven manicotti. Ladle remaining tomato basil sauce over top. Cover. Bake for 50 mins. Remove cover and top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 15 mins. longer. Allow to cool 5 mins. before serving.

Serves 4-6

final

I have been so bad about posting lately. This is to say I picture any one of you reading this have been seated in your recliners tapping your fingers thinking if Susie doesn’t post another blog soon I’m going to throw myself out the window. However, part of having a blog about cooking is actually filling it with colorful stories and interesting recipes on a regular basis. This past few months life simply keeps getting in the way. Recipes and stories keep piling up with no voice to move them off the shelf. Today is the day.

My daughter shared a funny story with me I thought I’d pass on. Over the weekend she and her best friend went to see the production of The Lion King currently on stage in San Francisco. Yesterday I got a phone call with an update of her experience including a critique of the show, what she wore, and the situations they got into while traveling to and from the city. San Francisco, from their location north of Sacramento, is 104 miles as the crow flies. On a weekend, or any day really, you have to factor in weather (it was raining), traffic (a given), and on this particular Saturday, Santa Con. Who knew?

After hearing her out I couldn’t help thinking the acorn doesn’t fall from the tree. She seems to have inherited my penchant for going directly from the frying pan into the fire. The story began with what she wore. As the description unfolded it appeared she was going for a look not unlike a colorful bird. The outfit began with a canary yellow dress with a feathery hem, topped by a cardinal red flowing jacket (I’m sensing a theme here), and to complete the ensemble a pair of over the knee peacock blue suede boots. So different are we when it comes to dress. Since my girl was small, clothes held a fascination for her her mother never shared. In first grade the child would scan her closet the night before a school day choosing a perfectly coordinated outfit for the following morning from hair band right down to shoes. Amazing. For me give me a pair of gloriously faded jeans molded to my contours over years of use and a wooly boyfriend sweater and I’m good to go. Perhaps the love of clothing skipped a generation, as her maternal grandmother has been a clotheshorse since she exited the womb. I believe she slid down the birth canal reading the latest copy of Vogue. Ideally Mother’s home should have an additional room to house the copious shoe boxes stacked ceiling to floor in her many closets.

The original plan had been to drive into the city and park in a parking garage close to the venue. The weather being weepy, my daughter’s friend who was doing the driving came up with Plan B. Plan B was to drive to Walnut Creek and take BART under the bay to their destination. My daughter in heels and with a bad shoulder was still voting for Plan A as they boarded the train. For those of you having ridden BART or any form of public transportation you know if you are left standing the only option is to cling to either a rope overhead or a pole if you are lucky enough to be standing next to one. On Saturday the train was jam packed with all manner of pumped up Santa’s, and holiday shoppers headed for a big spending day in the City. Hanging precariously to the end of the rope my daughter told her friend should her shoulder dislocate during the trip she would be responsible for manipulating it back into the socket. This news sinking in the friend announced to those nearby her friend had a bad shoulder. The news resulted in a lot of eyes of the people seated to begin surveying the floor or peering more closely at the devices in their hands. Believe me, for three years I commuted in the belly of Boston along the subway lines. Had you begun to deliver a baby on the floor of the train no one would have offered you a piece of newspaper to swaddle the baby in. A tough crowd those commuters. During many trips I was inappropriately rubbed up on, and I mean seriously inappropriately, had a man whisper sweet nothings in my ear, and had my pocket picked on several occasions. You learn to stand up for yourself fairly quickly and keep your possessions close if you find yourself hanging off a loop routinely. With all those occurrences happening not once did any gentlemen (and I use this term loosely here) ever say “here take my seat”. I believe if I’d tried they might have fought me for it.

I digress…..

They finally arrived at their stop in San Francisco arriving at the theater with only ten minutes to spare. No time for beverages or a pit stop they were ushered to their seats before curtain call which if missed means you also miss the first half of the show. The seats according to my girl were higher up in the theater allowing them only a view of the tops of the actors heads. Just before intermission, the two lattes she’d consumed prior to arriving at the BART station necessitated leaving before the act had ended. In the end she enjoyed the show and spending time with her best friend but didn’t have any immediate plans for getting on BART again.

To me all days provide an opportunity for adventure. It may not turn out exactly as originally planned but if there had been no Santa’s on the train would the story have been as colorful?

This dish is so flavorful and delicious and not difficult to pull together. I serve it in burritos, tacos, and even in taquitos. As pictured I served the meat in soft flour tacos with avocado, lime wedges, sour cream, and Mexican rice mixed with black beans and red onion. Yum and yum. Adjust the heat as desired by the number of chiles you toss in.

Crockpot Barbacoa

1/2 cup apple cider
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
4 Tbsp. lime juice
3 chipotle chiles in adobo
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 lb. chuck roast
1 large onion, sliced thin
1 cup chicken broth
3 bay leaves

In blender puree all ingredients up to chuck roast. Set aside. Trim roast and cut into large chunks (about 6-8). Heat oil over high heat. Brown meat on all sides.

Line bottom of 6 quart crockpot with onion. Top with browned meat. Spoon adobo sauce over meat. Pour in chicken broth and add bay leaves. Cook on low for 10-11 hours. Shred meat.

Serves 4-6

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