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final

Insurance is an interesting commodity. A business where you purchase something you’re not supposed to use. In particular, car insurance irritates the life out of me. You might go along for years with no accidents or dings on your record, then someone slams into you. Once the damage is reported and repaired you are rewarded by an increase in your monthly premium or could lose your insurance entirely. The same is true of homeowner’s insurance. It’s nice to know you have it but you really don’t want to put a claim in unless you want to pay more for the privilege of doing so. What a convoluted business practice. Yes?

Another thing that I find a bit confusing are time shares. You pay to own something technically you own but can only use for two weeks out of the year. Hmmmm. These are things on ponder on lazy days like today when the only thing moving are the white puffy clouds passing by the window.

I enjoy these marketing strategies. Perhaps I’ll open a car lot. You pick out a car you like. In turn, I will sell to you with the stipulation you can only drive it two weeks out of any given year. The rest of the time the other “shareholders” will be using it. Naturally, I will receive a nice commission for setting you up with such a juicy deal.

While on the griping dais, I’m incredibly tired of getting all these robo calls. Kudos for the woman who actually sued and was awarded $1,500 per call for each annoying interruption in her life. Taking all the right steps initially she first asked not to be called again, then reported them, even filed suit, and yet the calls continued to roll in. Ours come in at the same time every day, usually as we take our seats for dinner. Blocking doesn’t work because they switch numbers and the game is on again. There should be better regulation, and hopefully will be, now that someone has slammed her foot down and said “NO MORE”. One voice really does make a difference. My mother gets a ridiculous volume of these calls asking for money. She called the other day to tell me a man she could barely understand called to tell her she’d won two and a half million dollars. That is good news. Now my deck can get done and I can sit on the beach sucking on straws. Fortunately, she’s savvy enough to know these are not real. They prey on the elderly or vulnerable people among us like sharks in a heavy swimming area. Actually the sharks are doing what’s expected of sharks, it’s the people I find disgusting.

To add to the mix of my busy week my computer seems to be feeling the tension as well. Several times I’ve had to reinstall programs to get them to kick back into action. Apparently I’m in good company as I heard both the stock exchange and United Airlines suffered computer incidents resulting in complete shutdown of their functionality and angry customers asking what the hell happened. It is scary to realize how dependent we are on our computer systems to keep us moving forward. Our Achilles heel, if you will, in a way. Such a vulnerable spot for people intent on causing mischief or worse.

Another interesting piece of news surfaced this morning. An airline seat manufacturer has actually come up with a way to cram more passengers in coach, or steerage as I’ve come to affectionately think of it. Amazing. Already you’re practically perched in your neighbor’s lap! The new suggestion verges on disturbing. The drawing shows a seat facing forward with a seat directly next to it facing backward. This would mean sitting facing a stranger possibly for five hours or much longer. How uncomfortable. Why not just stack us like plastic lawn chairs on the patio? It’s not like we needs our hands free to eat.  Also it’s come to light the airlines are in collusion with one another to keep the price for a seat on the rise. For all the extra cost to fly there is no money left over apparently to pay anyone to guard our luggage. They’ve laid off luggage “guards” to save money so they can add to that huge profit margin they keep racking up. Crooks are now waiting at the baggage kiosks to help themselves to whatever unchaperoned bags happen to rotate by. Suggestions from the airlines regarding this are that passengers not stop to use the restroom on the way to their way to the baggage area. This also may not be a viable plan. Somewhere I read they’re thinking of downsizing the restrooms on planes as well. Should this be the case since you cannot turn around in the ones in use presently, using the downsized restrooms may well only be an option for anyone under eighty pounds. I swear I’m taking the train from now on.

I’ve got the vacation blues. Really want to head out to a warm beach and a couple of days of floating in the ocean followed by margaritas at a busy beach bistro. Instead, we’re having our deck refinished. Sigh. It’s good, but not nearly as good as feeling the sand squishing through my toes, not nearly as good. Making the deck decision really wasn’t ours, nature had taken its toll and either we refurbished our deck or walked of our front door into thin air. As we basically live on the second story of our house the thought of either repelling to the driveway or installing a zip line didn’t seem doable.

So, having relieved myself of my frustrations I know feel light and refreshed while you probably are wondering why you read this darn blog.

I do a lot of spinach variations but this is my favorite. My family loves the fried cake on the side. I use this fried cake idea for dessert with berries and ice cream or any fresh fruit and whipped cream. Yum, and yum.

Fruit and Spinach Salad with Fried Cake

Fruit and Spinach Salad

l 5 oz. pkg. baby spinach
10 ripe strawberries, sliced
1/3 cup fresh blueberries
1 6 oz. pkg. fresh raspberries
1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 small red onion, sliced thin

Honey Dressing

5 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. water
3 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. beef boullion granules
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing ingredients and toss with salad.

Fried Cake

6 pieces golden loaf cake (purchased or homemade)
2 Tbsp. butter

In large skillet melt butter over med.-high heat. Add cake to pan and brown on both sides.

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3

As a kid I loved fly, actually looking forward to the hustle and bustle of the airport and soaring high above the clouds in the friendly skies. That was back when airlines spent time wooing potential customers with acceptable food choices, free drinks, blankets and pillows, and even pleasant flight attendants walking through the aisles with offers of magazines or newspapers to pass the time. Anymore you’re lucky if you have enough room to squeeze into your seat if in coach, and will find not so much as a peanut tossed in your direction while in flight.

Aside from the amenities virtually disappearing of the map, it seems every time I turn on the news there’s another airline related disaster or near miss to report. This morning was really the kicker. A pilot en route to Las Vegas found himself locked out of the cockpit after taking a bathroom break. Really? I can’t think of anything that would get my sweat glands operational more quickly than finding the pilot seated next to me fastening his seat belt on a commercial flight. Las Vegas is often a rough place to land prone to desert crosswinds, but without the pilot at the controls, I believe I’d be looking around for a parachute and revisiting my connection with my maker.

Even prior to all the recent airline incidents I had become a white knuckle flyer as the years passed. As a twenty-something I applied, and was accepted for a position as a flight attendant. Unfortunately my husband wasn’t as enthusiastic as I about the prospect of me flying about without him so in the end I settled down and raised a family instead. Although not a fan of my aviation career, he eventually chose one of his own in a way. After joining a friend in his private plane on a trip from L.A. to San Diego he was severely bitten by the flying bug. Small planes are not my thing. Hanging precariously from a propeller high above the ground, placing my life in the hands of someone who may or may not know what they are doing does not bode well for my lunch passing pleasantly through my digestive system.

Before I knew it flying school brochures were turning up on the coffee table, discussions about saving for a plane were initiated, and after several months a deal was in place for flying lessons to obtain his private pilot’s license. Ach. Before the ink was dry I made it clear I did not share his enthusiasm about this venture. Not that I didn’t support his choice to learn to fly, I did. I did want it clear I did not have any intention of making such a lofty goal for myself, if you will. Love, I know means never having to say “I’m sorry”. However, in this case, “I’m sorry”.

Secretly I hoped this new found passion was but a passing fancy. Similar to his loss of luster for the Harley Davidson with the for sale sign in our garage, the flat-bottomed metal boat in our back yard yet to be repaired, and the in-line skates gathering dust in the back of the closet. He surprised me, however, persisting in his lessons. Each Saturday I dropped him off at the local airport and watched as he climbed into the cockpit of the small Cessna with dual steering used for lessons. When I picked him he would excitedly relate his lesson for the day and enthusiasm for the solo flight coming up once he’d completed his hours. I smiled, then I prayed. Then I prayed, and I smiled, wondering if it was against the law to duct tape your spouse to a dining room chair for his own protection.

As the day of the solo flight approached an idea took form in his boyish mind. What if I went with him? “Wouldn’t that somewhat diminish the solo portion of the program”, I would argue? As the idea grew and mushed around under his skull it gained momentum. Young people do ridiculously stupid things, and looking back we were no exception. Insisting we had toddlers who needed at least one parent he persisted. Let me preface this paragraph by saying my first husband was a very charming man. Irish by descent as well as temperament, he was blessed with dark curly hair, twinkly brown eyes, a well chiseled face, and truly the man could have sold a flat of blow driers in an Alopecia ward. Also, he convinced me he’d had a premonition if I didn’t accompany him on th<span e flight from the L.A. area to Santa Barbara things wouldn’t end well. As I said, I was young.

How could we do this, you ask? Dropping him off as usual at the appointed spot, I parked far down the runway and waited. I couldn’t help but wonder if his instructor wouldn’t notice him taxiing to another location before taking off but somehow he accomplished gathering me up and preparing for takeoff. To say I was questioning my decision as the runway sped by outside my window, would be a gross understatement.

In the air we hung on the whirring propeller and turned our nose north. I was hoping all my affairs were in order as we headed up the pass. Wind had picked up. The wings dipped from one side to the other in the currents. Jokingly he asked if I’d like him to show me how the plane reacted to a stall. Really? Why did I marry this man, my mind inquired? He was far less charming hundreds of feet above sea level. My fingers gripped tighter on the door handle and I reassured myself there were parachutes on board if the need arose.

Amazingly we made it along the pass and leaving the turbulence behind us headed in towards Santa Barbara. A bank of fog moved in making visibility difficult. My husband picked up the radio and carried on a dialog with the flight tower. According to the man in the control tower the airport was pretty well socked in so they were going to talk us in. “Mama”. Flying virtually blind, the voice on the radio issued instructions. Suddenly the voice became agitated telling us to abort the landing. We were coming in sideways it appeared. A suspicion I had already entertained as I was basically hanging from my seat belt.

My guardian angel must have been sitting on my shoulder that day as somehow that small plane’s wheels located the ground below and held the landing. Never was I so glad to step out onto the earth. Nursing a cup of coffee in the small cafe on the grounds I informed my pilot to be I would be taking the bus home. I suggested he do the same, but he insisted on going back and finishing his “solo” flight. As I said before, “I’m sorry”.

In the end he was a good pilot. Unfortunately, he passed away not long after his thirty-third birthday before ever buying his plane, but he enjoyed soaring up there in the clouds and I even joined him on occasion white knuckles in place.

Arroz (Mexican Rice)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup chopped onion
2 green onions, sliced
1 14 1/2 oz. can chicken broth
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa (I use hot)
1/3 cup tomato sauce
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced thin
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat oil over medium heat in deep skillet. Add rice. Stir and cook until rice turns golden brown. Add garlic and continue cooking for 1 min.

Add broth, salsa, tomato sauce and all remaining ingredients to pan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 20-25 mins. covered until rice is tender. Allow to sit for 5 min. Fluff with fork.

Serves 6

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Let me preface this story by saying that I love my mother dearly.  That said, she is not the most organized human being.  Very methodical as a human, it takes her hours to prepare a bunch of asparagus because she individually snips all the little leaves off each stem.  This is true, I’m not making it up.  We are as different as two human beings can be, but adore each other.  I’m always saying that I’m sure she got the wrong baby in the nursery, but she tells me she has the papers to prove me wrong. 

Every two years or so when my grandmother was alive, she and I would plan a trip together to visit her in Halifax.  There are no direct flights to Nova Scotia, so this involved a five-hour flight, usually to Boston first, this followed by a commuter flight to the Halifax airport.  I was in charge of making the travel plans for the most part, but the last trip we made before my grandmother passed away, this was left to my mother.

The tickets arrived, the bags were packed, and we arrived at the San Francisco airport to catch a very early morning flight.  Being extremely busy at the time with children and a full-time job, I hadn’t taken the time to actually examine anything on the schedule except the initial flight information.  After checking in and waiting to board I looked at the schedule more closely.  It seemed that there was an eight-hour layover in Logan airport before we caught the commuter flight for the final leg of our trip.  Whew.

Arriving in Boston, we deplaned and there we were.  Eight hours ahead of us,  a snow packed day outside of the airport, and nothing much to do.  At one point she and I were stretched out on the benches in the airport looking like two Cornish game hens on a spit.  I suggested when we woke up we get something to eat.  This was around two hours before the endless day was going to be over and we’d board our next flight.  Mother, thinking ahead, said let’s wait until we get on the plane because we’ll have food service.  Not being the sharpest pencil in the box, I agreed.  I did, thank God, buy a package of peanut butter and cheese crackers to keep me going.

Finally, we boarded the plane for Halifax.  I was about ready to gnaw off my right foot at this point.  Settled in our seats far towards the back of the plane, we took off.  Once the fasten seat belts signs were turned off the flight attendants announced they were going to begin food service.  None to soon, because I’d been eyeing the plump little baby in the next aisle for about twenty minutes.

The carts moved down the aisle from the front.  The smell of something edible wafted through the cabin and my taste buds were on full alert.  Knowing the airlines and their penchant for serving unidentified meat in unidentified sauce, I was sure it wasn’t going to be fabulous, but would have settled for a tongue sandwich with a side of liver and kidneys at that juncture.  One row exactly in front of us things changed. The attendants arriving at our row handed us a small tray with a bunch of grapes, two crackers and a piece of, what I believed to be ham, wrapped around what I believed to be cheese, and a packet of mayonnaise.  What?

I had to inquire why, my stomach just wouldn’t allow me to do otherwise.  It appeared that when booking the flight my mother had chosen the economy-or extra economy seats to save money.  Consequently, the steerage group, as we were not referred to but assumed to be, were only entitled to dream about what the people in the aisles before them were consuming and settle for a grape and a Triscuit.  I would have paid $50.00 for a tray of what they were having, but was told that wasn’t possible because that wasn’t their policy.

Arriving in Halifax in rather a grumpy mood, we were met by our relatives and hurried off to the baggage claim and then to the car for the hour plus drive into Halifax. 

My grandmother was waiting at the door to her apartment when we got there.  After much hugging and greeting we sat down to get reacquainted.  They had assumed we’d eaten on the plane so no dinner was on the horizon.  On the table in her living room was a wooden pod bowl filled with peanuts.  Trying to look inconspicuous, I ate the entire bowl down to the dust in two minutes. My cousin, noticing this, took me aside and advised me that my grandmother probably hadn’t refilled that bowl in eight years and hopefully the peanuts wouldn’t return one way or another in any unpleasant way.

Desperate now for food, we left to visit my aunt who lived one floor down.  Not able to silence my stomach anymore, after the hello’s were done, I asked if she might have something I could nibble on.  My aunt was a lovely women, but watched her weight at all times.  I was holding out for at least a bran muffin, or maybe a sandwich with a bit of tuna.  In the kitchen she went and returned shortly with a lovely plate of grapes, a few slices of cheese, and some crackers.  Some days it just doesn’t pay to get up.

In desperation, I slipped out and ran across the street to a deli I’d noticed on the way in.  I picked up a loaf of bread and ate half of it on my way to place an order for something more substantial.  The owner introduced himself as Tony. I told him I was starving and would be willing to eat dried Bison jerky on a pasture patty if he had it handy. He, being an excellent Italian, was distressed to hear about my day and offered me a one of the best slices of pizza I ever put in my mouth, which I ate on the spot before even bothering to pull out my wallet, which I did when I caught my breath. Who knew, Nova Scotia had great pizza?

The rest of the trip was great, good memories, but I never let my mother book another flight for me after that time.  This recipe comes to me from my daughter’s mother-in-law. 

Cold Stuffed Grape Leaves (Dolma)

8 oz. fresh grape leaves
1 1/4 cups Basmati rice
2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. dried mint leaves
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, sliced
4 cloves garlic
2/3 cup EV olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Place Basmati rice in colander and rinse thoroughly. Put rice in bowl and cover with water for 1 hour. Place back in colander and rinse thoroughly one more time. This removes the starch from the rice.

Place grape leaves in boiling water for a couple of seconds until just limp. Take out and set aside.

Mix rice with chopped tomatoes, onion, parsley, mint, cinnamon, allspice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place grape leaves on cutting board or flat surface vein side facing towards you. Put 1 1/2 Tbsp. of rice mixture in the center of each leaf. Fod the stem end over the filling an then both sides towards the center, and roll up in the shape of a small cigar. Squeeze gently in the palm of your hand.

Pack the leaves close together in a large deep skillet lined with tomato slices.

Mix olive oil with 2/3 cup water. Add sugar and lemon juice and pour over leaves. Place a small plate on top to keep the rolls from unwinding. Simmer uncovered for 1 hour until cooked through. Add water from time to time as needed as liquid boils down. Cool and place on serving dish.

I serve these with a cucumber, yogurt and fresh dill dip on the side.

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