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finalOn the best of days our cat, Boo, is bizarre. Some days, like today for example, she’s could be deemed certifiable. Early on I was relaxing with my first cup of piping hot coffee enjoying the Sunday paper. As is her habit the cat was canvasing the living room area in search of stray mice to toss about (the stuffed variety) or a piece of leaf to chase. Without any obvious explanation a small picture frame sitting in an easel on our glass TV stand fell over with a resounding crash. The cat, not named Boo for nothing, shot up in the air as if fired from a catapult. Every hair along her spine was at full attention as she bolted across me at rocket speed knocking the arm holding my coffee cup hard enough to spill the steaming contents all over the front of my new tee-shirt. Thank you, Boo. Thank you very much. Nothing I like better than starting off a morning with second degree burns and ruined clothing. Appreciate it. If she is lying on me, as she is prone to do off and on during the day, and a sneeze captures me, if I can’t stop it she is likely to scratch half-inch lines on my chest in an effort to escape. Even if Rick sneezes next to me, the reaction is the same. We feel she was abused in some way as a kitten or very scared. Truth is I can’t imagine my world without her disrupting it. I wish cats could live to be a hundred but unfortunately that wasn’t in the plan.

When Boo gets frightened I can generally locate her under a bed downstairs her behind pointed in my direction. For some reason when frightened she presents me with that end of her anatomy. I offer no explanation for this occurrence other than the cat is odd, very odd. This is why we clicked when first meeting I would most imagine. Both of us have unusual eyes and quirky personalities. Since the earlier strange situation with the picture frame Boo has been seen stalking the TV stand, tail wagging furiously and the well-known cat curiosity at the fore. At one point I saw her checking out the plug with her nose, a practice I discouraged lest she light up like a cartoon cat zapped by a good jolt of electricity.

Perhaps Boo’s strange behavior can be attributed to the change of seasons. Fall is definitely in the air. Leaves litter the ground and hints of others just beginning to change color are scattered about the hillsides. Summer, however, reluctant to give up center stage, keeps insinuating its hot little hands in the middle of it all. Yesterday it approached 100 degrees and today will be the same. Alternating between shorts and jeans I’m still leaning on the side of autumn. I have taken out my fall decorations in celebration of the changing of the guard. Ghosts peer out my windows and goblins huddle about bowls of candy.

Growing up in Nova Scotia the leaves would have turned dramatically by now, reflected in fiery images in many lakes and ponds scattered about (or aboot in Canadian) the province. Our family home sat at the mouth of the Halifax harbor two blocks from Point Pleasant Park, a place I explored often as a youngster. For a child the park offered so many opportunities to run and play. The frog pond inside the gate was where I sat on a rock to watch the busy insect and amphibian population visible on and just below the murky water. When winter arrived and the temperatures dropped the pond froze over and served as the perfect outdoor skating rink for local kids or a place to try out the new hockey stick Santa had placed under the tree.

Fall made it’s presence known dramatically in the heavily treed acreage. Walking along the paths the crunching pad of dead leaves beneath your boots echoed through the canopy of branches overhead. I loved it there. Funny, I don’t remember worrying about boogeymen, though I’m sure there were some lurking about over the years, nor do I remember feeling scared or alone while inside the park grounds.

Rick, coming from Egypt originally, is more of a sun worshiper. Was he a lizard, I can picture him stretched out on a rock soaking in the desert heat. For him the advent of chilly rainy days and darkened skies is embraced with far less enthusiasm than for me. Was I to draw how I feel this time of year in a picture my toes would be twirling, my lips smiling, and my eyes twinkling. Energizing my spirit the change in seasons heading into winter gets me even busier in the kitchen, eyeing my sewing machine for holiday projects, and beginning to look at store sales and seasonal recipes. This George Eliot quote says it all:

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

I do think the stores are really getting ahead of themselves this year. Each year they start a little bit earlier. Christmas trees and decorations began showing up in some stores in August. What’s next, bunnies and baskets by Christmas? I like to ease into the holidays. They’re overwhelming enough with all the shopping (I’m not an avid shopper), wrapping, and shipping of gifts to family and friends. To me it’s like being given the whole cheesecake and asked to eat in at one sitting. I enjoy a good cheesecake but prefer to savor each bite and look forward to another piece a day or so later. Well, that made my stomach growl. Going to have to make a cheesecake one of these days.

Comfort food on my mind I decided to make Rick one of his favorites, turkey stuffed pepper soup. Delicious and filling with its mini-grilled cheese. Yum and yum.

Turkey Stuffed Pepper Soup with Mini-Grilled Cheese

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
5 cups beef stock
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup cooked rice

Bring olive oil to shimmer in stock pot over med.-high heat. Add turkey and cook, breaking meat into crumbles, until no longer pink. Add garlic and continue cooking 1 min.

Add seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, onion and green peppers. Cook, stirring frequently for 6 mins. Add stock, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 30 mins.

Place 1/4 cup of rice in bottom of four soup bowls.Pour 1/4 of soup over top of each scoop.

Grilled Cheese

4 slices French bread, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. butter softened
2 slices sliced cheddar cheese

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place two slices butter side down in skillet. Top each with slice of cheese. Place remaining slices butter side up on cheese slices. Heat pan over high heat brown on both sides and cook until cheese has melted. Cut into small squares and serve on top of soup.

Serves 4

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We had our carpets cleaned yesterday so I was holed up in my kitchen with the cat. I’ve been avoiding having them done because it means pulling everything up off the floor, moving the small furniture, and hanging around for a day watching the carpet dry. Being somewhat of an “A” personality hanging around waiting is not a the top of my list of fun activities as you might imagine.

The bill was just under $200 for the three bedrooms, hall and stairway. All in all around three hours work. While writing the check, we were talking about how expensive it is to live these days. Believe it or not there was a time where you could buy a loaf of bread for less than the sticker price of a Lexus. To really date myself I can remember getting a loaf of bread for around thirty-eight cents. I know!

People seem to be hunting out bargains, flooding on-line sales, cutting corners, and looking for ways to stretch what money they have. I stood in line at CVS yesterday behind a woman with a bulging three-ring binder taking up most of what I call “the baby seat” portion of her shopping cart. Reaching the front of the line she began madly flipping back and forth between pages in the massive volume pulling out coupons from here and coupons from there. Mission complete, she handed the man at the cash register a pile of coupons equal to the size of a small phone book. Why is it I always end up in the line behind someone like this? It’s a gift really. I don’t begrudge anyone their fair time with the checker, but really? There can be ten lines open and I will end up in the only one with the customer waiting for a recently hired bagger to locate an item somewhere in an unfamiliar store. Last week I stood behind a man with broken eggs. The bagger dispatched to replace the eggs came back with the wrong carton and so had to go back to retrieve another. The week before the machine ran out of tape just as they were going to print my receipt. If there’s a customer who either has a complaint or simply enjoys the sound of their own voice, I seem to seek them out and step obediently in line behind them.

As expensive as grocery shopping has gotten I certainly applaud people straining to squeeze their money’s worth out of their purchases. While in one of the major grocery stores recently I got in line in the only lane with a light on. People quickly began to line up behind me and the usual muttering began about the lack of available cashiers. I try to avoid this store for this very reason. However, their store brand bottled water happens to be Rick’s favorite so I sacrifice myself for the cause whenever he runs out. As I moved into the number two slot and placed all my groceries on the conveyor belt two lanes opened up on either side. Sigh. Waiting patiently the woman ahead of me began to complain to the cashier. From the gist of the conversation, a number of her store coupons didn’t match up with the in-store price on the items in question. Fine. I finished the afghan I began knitting when I first got in line and moved on to a sweater for my Mother for Christmas. Just kidding, but it wasn’t far from the truth. After the slip was reviewed and corrected, the lady then had a return. Naturally. Also, it appeared the store had moved things around during their recent renovation and she couldn’t locate the aisle with the denture cream for her husband. The bagger was dispatched, and I completed the sweater for my mother and went on to a hat for Rick which was finished by the time she returned. Now there were four people behind me. The rather bored looking store manager watched the goings on from behind the customer service desk. Finally, my eyes boring through his head, he sauntered over and removed all my items already on the belt to a check out area two aisles down and checked me out himself. They need to consider renaming the customer service department something more appropriate, say….. the “We Really Don’t Care, We’re Getting Paid Whether You Are Happy or Not Department”. As I was leaving the manager offered me a free coupon for a cup of coffee at the Starbuck’s on the way out. Coffee in hand I noticed the woman was still at the check stand mouth moving as I left the store.

This is the same store where on my last visit the lady in the deli department gave me trouble with my lunch meat. Lunch meat need not be a difficult order. Rick likes his lunch meat cut thin for sandwiches. I asked the rather put out looking lady behind the counter if I could please have a half a pound of peppered turkey sliced thin. Reaching under the counter to the pile of turkey already sliced, I stopped her saying that the precut meat was too thick and she would have to cut it fresh. From the look on her face one might have deduced I’d ask the woman to go out in the back, chase down a nice bird, wring the poor thing’s neck, cook it and slice it in thin slices. Next I was told it would shred. I suggested we dial one up from shred and give that a try. Leaving it on shred she held up a piece of mangled meat nodding her head as if to say I told you so. I said, once again, “One up from that should work”. Seriously?  Now I’ve gone from being in a delightful mood to somewhat less sunny over a piece of processed fowl. She repeated it would probably still shred to which I responded, “go ahead, I feel lucky”. Good Lord. Give me the slicer and I’ll do it my damn self.

I try to be nice. I really do. If I want me turkey sliced thin at $8.99 a pound, PLEASE CUT IT THIN!!!!!! Sorry.

This is the perfect comfort food to soothe my ruffled feathers. I had a lb. of ground lamb, a lb. of ground beef, and some leftover mashed potatoes. Hmmmmm. Why not? I found I really liked the mix of the lamb and beef. As a note I usually precook my carrots slightly in the microwave to ensure they are cooked through.

Lamb-Beef Shepherd’s Pie

Mashed Red Potatoes

4 red potatoes, skin on, large cubed
2-3 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. chopped chives
1 Tbsp. butter cut in pieces
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Place potatoes in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and continue on low boil until potatoes are cooked. Mash with potato masher. Add butter 1 Tbsp. at a time. Using hand mixer whip on high speed until potatoes are fine. Add sour cream, milk and seasonings. Whip until smooth. Stir in chives Set aside.

Meat Mixture

1 carrot, chopped fine
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced.
1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. ground beef
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/4 cup beef broth
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. ground oregano
1/4 tsp. ground thyme
1/4 tsp. ground rosemary
1/8 tsp. mint leaves

Preheat oven to 375

Place carrot in microwave for 2 mins. on high.

Add carrot, pepper, onion, garlic lamb, beef, salt and pepper to large skillet. Cook until meat is no longer pink. Drain. Return to pan. Add flour. Cook and stir over medium heat for 1 min. Add remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce heat and continue on simmer for 10 mins. stirring occasionally.

Spray 2 quart casserole with cooking spray. Spread meat mixture on bottom of casserole. “Ice” with mashed potatoes sealing all edges. Place butter pieces around top of potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake for 50 mins. Cool for 5 mins. before serving.

Serves 4-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Fig Balsamic for Two

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

Vinaigrette

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

Whisk together and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To plate:

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

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

futurehouse_entrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baked Chicken with Vegetables and Fruit

For the chicken

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

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

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

For the vegetables and fruit

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crockpot Pork Tacos with Grilled Pineapple

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

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

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

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

Black Beans

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

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

To make the tacos

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

To assemble

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crockpot Tagliatelle with Wine Short Rib Sauce

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

Spray bottom of six quart crockpot with cooking spray.

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Napa Cabbage and Pork Soup

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

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

Serves 4

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