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Posts Tagged ‘art’

Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

My mother has an upper respiratory infection. As is usual treatment for such an event, her doctor prescribed a regimen of antibiotics and codeine cough syrup.  After reading the included literature on the drugs she was to take, I got a phone call. Back in the day, younger and infinitely more naive, I routinely read the enclosed literature before taking medication of any kind. It wouldn’t take long after absorbing the listed side effects before I could almost feel my throat closing or sense a rash developing on my hind quarters. For my well being when ill, I have since learned to close my eyes, pop the pill in my mouth, and swallow. To this day, however, I still question if I can manage without it, before being prescribed a medication and blindly stepping into the great drug abyss.

If you’ve seen commercials for drugs for treating say, hemorrhoids, they often include alarming disclaimers. While up front claiming you will achieve relief after taking their product, the rear of such ads might include (sorry pun alert) such side effects as stroke, incontinence, impotency, paralysis or even death. It turns out you may not need that inflatable donut any more for a myriad of reasons.  In the end, (sorry again) the cure might prove more serious than the condition. Is it only me, or do you find this disconcerting?

Weight loss products were in the news this morning, another questionable group. One product manufacturer claims you simply sprinkle their product on your twice baked potato camouflaged beneath gobs of sour cream, butter, and cheddar cheese and miraculously pounds melt off while lifting fork to mouth. Right. If I felt this had any basis in truth I’d always keep a case on hand for middle of the night emergencies such as leftover pecan pie or cold pizza. This company has made millions of dollars off people believing these claims to be backed up by studies substantiating such a statement. People who bought this must be the same people who hold tight to the belief chocolate might one day be declared a fruit, requiring at least three helpings a day to keep you healthy. I’m holding out for this one myself. After government intervention, the company will be forced to return a portion of the monies earned to their customers pending further studies to back their ads. I would have thought all the money should be returned until such time, as if they made say $240 million, and were ordered to return a third of it, this is still a fairly tidy profit margin. I’m just sayin.

Warning labels or literature about what you are buying or consuming are important in most cases certainly. Children’s clothing should be fireproof, infant seats tested and proved safe for their precious cargo, but some of them seem, at least to this consumer, well, stupid. For instance I noticed on my new blow dryer the manufacturer included a huge tag reading, “Do not immerse in water while in use.”  Really? Do people actually sit in a tub full of water and decide this to be the perfect time to plug a small appliance into a hot wall socket and blow dry their hair?  Apparently someone did it along the line to result in such labeling being deemed necessary.

Commercials showing stunt people driving cars off the side of multi-level parking structures necessitate a disclaimer saying, “don’t try this at home”. Is there some doobie fueled kid in Ft. Lauderdale fixated on his big screen tv thinking, “Dude, let’s do this”?

This prompted me to do some research on stupid disclaimers. Most amazing.

A warning on a package of peanuts, “Warning, contains nuts.”  Hmmm, I had a feeling they were trying to sneak something past me.

A frozen food package with a warning included, “Cook before eating.” Obviously dentists are losing out on some serious business if people take this seriously.

There was the can of pepper spray cautioning “May irritate eyes”. Ummmm,  correct me if I’m off base here, but isn’t that the point?

I like this one. “Do not let children play in dishwasher”. This is disappointing. I found I could wash my dinner dishes and cover bath time with the push of one button. Particularly handy on heavy dirt days.

My iron warns me not to use on clothing I am wearing. OMG, you mean I have to take them off when I’m already dressed? This seems like an unnecessary extra step.

One children’s cold medicine manufacturer took the time to warn parents not to allow their little ones to operate heavy machinery while taking their product. This is handy in case you regularly have them out on the riding lawn mower or operating a back hoe when they’re under the weather. Eliminates those pesky under age driver law suits.

Another one, “Do not hold the wrong end of the chainsaw”.  If you’re really contemplating doing such a thing, perhaps you shouldn’t be cutting wood.

I also like “Do not drive with sunshield in place”. Is this for people who didn’t notice the elephant in the room?

So, this is my dose of dumbness for the day. Either we are becoming more clueless, lawsuits for defective product use becoming more prevalent, or manufacturers consider us to be far dumber than we actually are. I would hope it is the latter.

I’m going to cook breakfast remembering my garbage disposal manufacturer’s cautionary instructions on not sticking my hand below the sink line before turning it on.

Sometimes I think products should have warning labels reading, for example, “do not allow stupid people to handle this product without supervision”.

At six my son put in a request for a BB gun. Other children’s parents in the area had allowed their kids to have them (the criteria on which all childhood bargaining is based), and significant whining time was allotted to attain his prize. Not being one of those mothers to fold under such conditions, his wheedling was directed more towards his father who I believe secretly believed a boy and his gun was how the world was originally meant to be. On his seventh birthday the BB gun arrived. The mother in The Christmas Story had nothing on me. Losing an eye, an appendage, a beloved pet were all pointed out as possible conclusions of misusing his new possession. Assuring me he had the situation under control, father and son bonded over the adult’s childhood memories on the farm and my son’s yet born in a suburban neighborhood in San Gabriel Valley. Surprisingly it took three days for the first incident report to come in.

Our neighbor, a huge man in his early forties, usually only recognizable by the soles of his feet as he spent most of his time underneath the chassis of the classic Mustang he was restoring, stood in our doorway. Red faced and pointing toward his beloved car, it became quickly obvious the passenger window was shattered. Oh-oh. When called, my son stood inspecting his feet as though they were aflame shaking his head. With Jack the Giant Killer glaring down at him he finally folded like a pup tent admitting he’d taken his new gun out unsupervised and shot the man’s window by accident. It was his first lesson on consequences having to pay to have it replaced.

So, I warn you right now. These flautas were moist and delicious. The corn salsa makes the dish and stands well on its own.

Turkey Flautas with Tomato, Avocado and Corn Salsa

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup tomato sauce
4 Tbsp. chunky salsa, drained (I used hot)
1 cup chicken broth
8 taco sized flour tortillas
Canola oil for frying
Tomato, Avocado and Corn Salsa (Recipe follows)
Chunky salsa
Sour cream

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Crumble turkey into pan, add onion and cook until no longer pink. remaining ingredients to pan and continue cooking, about 10 mins., until sauce thickens.

Place 1/8 of meat mixture down center of each tortilla.

IMG_5466Roll like a cigar and secure at seam with toothpick.

4Heat 2″ of oil in skillet over high heat. In batches of two brown flautas on each side and drain on paper towels.

Serve with salsa and dollops of sour cream.

Tomato, Avocado and Corn Salsa

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
/3 cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeno, finely chopped
1 15 oz. can whole kernel corn, drained
2 avocados, peeled and cubed
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed

Whisk together lime juice, olive oil, sugar, and salt. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate at least 1 hr. before serving.

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1

We’re bouncing around in California throwing chlorine in the pool and lighting coals on the barbie, in the midst of a faux spring of sorts. What an odd and unsettling year or so this has been in many ways. People on the eastern half of the nation are shivering under a blanket of frigid temperatures and blizzard conditions while out here on the west coast we’re dry as dust. I heard on the news this morning Chicago temperatures actually dipped below the comfort zone for the polar bears in their zoo necessitating housing the animals inside. Good Lord. Fire season out here could potentially be a nightmare, so do not envy us our warm weather. Bottom line, I’m doing a dance in the moonlight in hopes a few drops of rain might fall. Scary and weird times these.

I walked with a group of ladies today I’d never met before. Needing to walk and having no one to accompany me, even I tire of my own company from time to time, I felt the need to expand the playing field to include new players. It was cold enough starting out to require an insulated vest, but by the time we got our cardio up I could have easily have switched to shorts and a tee-shirt. It was nice to hear some new stories, and find out a little about the people I was walking with. When you don’t have children as a common denominator insinuating yourself in a new area with no job in place to expand yourself socially requires a little more effort. On-line I found a huge cache of local walkers welcoming newcomers to join the fold. Ten years ago I was in good enough shape to do an eight mile walk on an uphill trail without breaking a pant. These days vertical assents require a little added intestinal fortitude. Fortunately, it was two miles and relatively grade free.

A friend in the area has also suggested a jazzersize group downtown. Ach. Organized exercise is always a stretch for me. Sorry, puns seem to be my sickness. In my twenties I won a three-year membership to Jack Laine’s Health Club. Three days a week I met a friend after work and got myself in the best shape of my life. On the floor we squeezed and pumped our bodies into A+ condition. Following the floor exercises was a workout on the machines for an hour, then a quick swim and dip in the hot tub before calling it a day. I could balance a quarter on my abs. Ah yes, I remember it well.

People mistake being thin for being toned. I am here to report there is a vast difference. Working out, or regimented exercise other than walking daily, is on my larger New Year’s resolution list. As I mentioned in my last blog, the long list includes becoming an aerialist for Barnum and Bailey or possibly riding a bike to the moon. Exercising was on last year’s list as well. In January, typically the time one does such craziness, I signed up at a local gym. The first morning I arrived Spandex in place, fresh and brimming with resolve. As instructed, I turned on the video on the treadmill and walked the required thirty minutes to warm up. Easy peasy. My instructor, an ex-marine who I would place in his late twenties, guided me to my next group of machines, the ellipticals. These stair stepper type machines were obviously invented by someone of a deeply sadistic nature relishing watching others in pain. Ellipticals are meant to get your cardio up. True to their word, in minutes my heart rate soared to the notch reading “call the paramedics”, with “alert the coroner” lingering a racing heartbeat behind. While I labored drowning in my own body fluids, Biff, or whatever his name was, easily maneuvered the machine next to me. Toned harder than a granite counter top, he made the task look as effortless as lifting a powder puff from a plastic bag. Damn the man.

After two hours of extreme torture, I would have given up a kitten to a dobermain to make it stop. I thanked Biff for his instruction, grabbed my lovely new orange water bottle purchased especially to mark the occasion, and went home. I haven’t seen the man since. I know, I know, very poor behavior on my part. I paid thirty-five dollars a month for one year so Biff could enjoy a lovely vacation in Maui. Rick is kind enough to remind me of this should I suggest joining another establishment of this kind from time to time.

Back in the 80’s a friend from work and I signed up to take advantage of a work subsidized membership at a new health club in the area. In particular, jazzersize sounded interesting. Definitely I needed some toning up, and Sally was looking to take off a little after baby weight. Neither of us having participated in such a class before, we had no idea of the haute couture in place as far as dressing for the occasion. It seemed there were outfits required to fit in properly. Coordinated layers of Spandex one over another, sweat bands, slouchy socks and high-end brands of workout shoes were necessary not to stand out in the crowd. We didn’t get the memo. Sal showed up in gray sweats easily two sizes too large and I wore shorts and a beer tee-shirt with my gardening tennies on feet. Standing amongst the well-toned, impeccably clad ladies making up the rest of the group we stood out like two onions in a petunia patch. Always best to make a dramatic entrance if you can’t make a good one.

The instructor arrived shortly. Cut out of the same cloth as the other ladies, we gravitated toward the back of the room to garner less attention. Music flowing from a boom box, bodies began to move. Quickly it became obvious there was choreography involved here and between Sal and I we shared four left feet. We went right. They went left. We stood up. They hunched down. Humiliating doesn’t adequately cover that half hour. Without warning in unison all the women turned to face us and we found ourselves at the front of the line. At that point, I started laughing. Sometimes that’s the only thing to do. Finally, our instructor, not having broken a sweat, turned off the music. Thank God. We picked up our towels and headed toward the door when she loudly said in our direction, “Ladies”. I pointed at my chest and mouthed, “us”? “Ladies, where are you going? This was only the warm up.” That news sinking in we kept right on going and headed up to the juice bar for a stiff glass of carrot juice, toasting a great effort. Ah well.

I had a number of tomatoes and zucchini on hand and a chub of gruyere cheese. This was a delicious way to pair them up.

Tomato Zucchini Gratin

3 large tomatoes, sliced in 1/2″ slices
2 zucchini, sliced in 1/2 ” slices
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
1/4 cup dried basil
1/2 tsp. onion salt
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. flour
1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated, divided
1 Tbsp. EV olive oil
2 green onions, sliced
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Spread tomato and zucchini slices on paper towel lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt. Let stand for 20 mins.

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Spray 2 quart casserole dish with cooking spay. Sprinkle 1/4 cup bread crumbs on bottom of dish.

Mix together rictota cheese, basil, egg yolks, flour, ad onion salt in medium mixing bowl.

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Add 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese.

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Place one layer of tomatoes on top of bread crumbs. Top with a layer of zucchini.

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Spread ricotta/Gruyere mix over top of vegetables.

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Top with remaining tomatoes and top them with remaining zucchini. Brush with olive oil. Sprinkle green onions over top.

Bake for 30 mins. Remove from oven and sprinkle remaining bread crumbs and cheese on top. Bake for 20-25 mins. longer until bubbly and golden brown.

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2I’m working on writing my list of New Year’s Resolutions. I have a short list including those I might actually attempt to keep, and a long list of those I would love to fulfill but my chances of doing so are right up there with becoming an aerialist for Barnum and Bailey. I write them anyhow. Having something to attain to is important when embarking on a clean calendar year. Attacking the calendar before the pages are scribbled with activities enjoyed or appointments made or missed, holidays come and gone, and birthdays celebrated. Another year, squeezed through the tube.

I’ve decided to move publishing a book right up there to the short list. It’s been on the long list for years but I feel this year I am ready to take it out, dust it off, and really throw some energy in that direction. Also, I want to travel more. Not necessarily on a plane, as I’m not fully convinced about air travel lately. A train trip might be enjoyable, or perhaps a cruise. Oh, not so fast on a cruise. People seem to go missing on cruises, the ships stop functioning, catch on fire, or become stranded in foreign ports with no toilets. Possibly I’ll rent a horse. I’ve always considered them reliable. Well, there was that one who took me on a mad dash across the desert in Las Vegas or Blackie an Arab steed with an aversion to water who laid down in midstream giving me an unexpected pre-Saturday bath. Maybe I’ll just stay home. Home is good. However, if you allow your pool to grow stagnant for too long, algae will begin to grow and you’ll attract frogs. As I have attracted more than my fair share of frogs over my lifetime, I intend to keep the water fresh in my pool and allow room for new growth. Don’t have any idea what I’m talking about? Can’t say as I blame you. I’m not sure I’m perfectly clear where I’m going myself. I’m sure by the end of this writing I’ll ease you in the direction of what the point is I’m trying to make. If not, I’ll add it to my list. Be concise, resolution number 121.

My drawing pad is sitting on the table. It’s been a while since I faced a blank page head on armed with my No. 2 pencil. Two pages are nearly filled with sketches and I’m working on a third. Logically one would finish one completely before starting a fresh page, but no one has ever accused me of being such a being so I do it my way and in the end it all comes out in the wash. In my drawers I have three “almost stories”. They have been in transition to a complete body of work since my children were in elementary school. This could be either the worst form of procrastination or avoiding the possibility of actually having to submit my manuscripts and join the legion of other writers papering their bathroom walls with rejection letters. The jury is still out on this.

After spending the holidays with my mother in the Bay Area, I am convinced there is a whole book waiting to emerge centered around my family. Probably we would be the only ones slapping down the $6.95 for the paperback, but I’m sure it might provide a laugh, even a tear or two in the reading. Strange attracts strange it would seem as I research my family history. Interesting to uncover who wed who and whom these unions begat. Most interesting to do your own genealogy. It is amazing what crawls out from beneath the family rock pile. It turns out we’re related to Joseph Smith who founded the Latter Day Saints. Who knew? We rise from German, English, Scottish, Welch and Flemish ancestors poking out of the branches. The women in our group tend to be long-lived. More recently, two great-grandmothers and one grandmother nearly achieved the century mark. Even in the earlier generations, for their time, the women seemed to have enjoyed longevity. Perhaps we have some Ecuadorian blood running through our veins, like the people in Vilcabamba who seem to have uncovered the fountain of youth, some living to be one hundred and forty according to their birth records. One hundred and forty. Can you imagine? I’m hardly wet behind the years in their world.

At any rate, I am looking forward to exploring the next 356 days of 2014. There will probably be an increase in work coming my way, or I would like to think this to be true. The money pit keeps exacting its pound of flesh and I don’t have a lot to spare. I have been honing my graphics skills in anticipation of having to flex those muscles again. As with any business in the technology sector, use it or lose it would hold true of logo building or graphics software as well. My other half said computer manufacturers are leaning towards phasing out laptops in favor of tablets and hand-held devices. Fortunately they’re keeping the more cumbersome laptops around for graphic designers because I cannot picturing myself creating an ad campaign or media on a smart phone. These are not new eyes. I’m just sayin.

Ideally my plan for 2014 is to live fully and in the moment. As long as there are new things to learn, new people to meet, and new places to explore life certainly is never dull. I do believe I’ll scratch taking an expedition to Antarctica on a Russian ship right off my short list, however. Although making a helipad in below zero weather might prove interesting, in the end it just didn’t look like that much fun.

I wasn’t sure if peas in pasta was going to work for me, but I had some leftover and so I tossed them in. Yum.

Creamy Grass and Hay Fettucine

12 oz. spinach fettucine
12 oz. regular fettucine
3 Tbsp. EV olive oil
8 oz. sliced button mushrooms
1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
4 oz. Coppa ham, sliced in thin strips
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 cups cream
3/4 cup peas (frozen or canned)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Shredded Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic and saute for 10 mins. stirring frequently.

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Add ham and sliced tomatoes to skillet. Continue cooking about 5-7 mins. until tomatoes are slightly wilted.

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Whisk in cream, peas, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to low boil. Whisk in grated Parmesan and continue cooking until smooth and bubbly.

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Toss pastas together in large serving bowl with 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add sauce and mix well. Serve with shredded cheese.

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final

Such a strange month. It is Christmas, as evidenced by every commercial, blinking lights along the street, my own tree sitting in the dining room (well, it wouldn’t fit in the living room) and the lingering snow on the ground. Still…..it insists on not feeling like Christmas. Don’t know what it is. Such an odd year in so many ways. Moving to a new house. Meeting new people. Endings and beginnings. A lot of changes after ten years in one place. Also, the weather is so peculiar. Last week we were snowed in and yesterday I was working in my yard without a jacket. Hello?

Yesterday was another of those crazy days. December seems to be racking up more than its share of nuttiness. I left the house early to beat the last-minute shoppers to the stores. We had company on Friday and will again tomorrow so in between getting the house organized I busied myself popping cookies in the oven at 12 minute intervals to take to people where I volunteer by way of Christmas cheer. It is Christmas right? I just found the leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving hidden behind the eggs in my outside fridge. Ach. Interestingly during the cooooold weather of the last few weeks my milk froze solid out there. Had I known ahead of time I could have stuck a tongue depressor in the top and had a perfect lactate popsicle.

Before leaving the house I wrote a long list. Rick says he feels the grocery stores should give me a kickback at the end of the year, because they’d probably have to close their doors if anything happened to me. On most days I have a new list half way written before I’ve stored my recent purchases in the cupboard. Sigh. I digress. First stop was the hardware store for a bulb for the track lighting in the kitchen. The worse lighting, by the way, I have ever had. Shadows dog me everywhere I go and I have included this on a growing list of things needing to be addressed around the house in 2014. The halogen bulbs burn hot so while cooking you vacillate between wanting to confess or take a shower. They are expensive to replace as well, and at least in the case of our fixture have a lifetime equaling about half of that promised on the cover of the package. At any rate, I got a newly employed gentlemen in the lighting department. It took a lifetime to locate the correct bulb and then it seemed there was a possibility it would fit but no guarantee. Really? Does a tank of gas get included in the refund because the hardware store in nearly in the next county. Small towns are lovely to live in but not the easiest places to find what you are looking for.

Next stop was the pharmacy. Rick had two prescriptions to be picked up and I needed some cosmetics. Takes a little more paint to make a Michelangelo these days, if you get my meaning. Smile. I tossed my purchases in the back seat and headed to the grocery store. A gentlemen was waiting to park my car and hand me my cart (just kidding, but it would be justified). I passed through the doors with the already growing number of people doing the same thing. Ticking off my list with precision speed a nagging thought entered my mind. “Did I remember to put Rick’s filled prescriptions in the car with my cosmetics?” Oh-oh. The really bad thing about this would be most likely the pharmacy now wouldn’t refill them again without a doctor’s orders and the insurance company wouldn’t pay for them. Darn. Parking my cart to the right of an aisle out of the way I flew out of the store, got back in my car and turned towards the pharmacy. Now, I’m still getting used to the roads in these parts so with traffic busy I somehow ended up in the left hand turn lane rather than the lane needed to access the pharmacy parking lot. No choice but to turn left I then found myself unable to get out of the lane merging onto the freeway. Help. As it happens this on-ramp is the last one until you get to the next town so up the hill I went and on to Nevada City. It’s a nice drive, but my bread wasn’t getting any fresher in my waiting grocery cart.

I got off in Nevada City along with many others going to the Victorian Christmas Celebration being held there. Circling around I finally got back on the freeway going the right direction and off again at the street where the pharmacy was located. Rushing into the store I asked the clerk behind the counter if anyone had turned in a bag of prescriptions. Asking the other two cashiers, it was a no. Rick was going to be shaking his head again. Desperately I pushed open all the carts out front to see if I could see the bag in the top basket. No luck. Back inside the pharmacy I headed to the rear of the store where the pharmacy itself was located. You might be thinking at this juncture, “Susie, maybe you should have taken your silly ass there in the first place”. I see you nodding your heads. The pharmacist, seeing my little blonde head bobbing up and down and the sweat pouring off my brow, held up a bag asking “you looking for this”. There is a god.

Back in the car I once again headed back to the grocery store. Parking had become an issue since last I had arrived. Finally locating a spot, I believe after crossing the county line, I schlepped back to the store and headed towards the aisle where I’d abandoned my cart. In a perfect world it would have been waiting for me with all my purchases exactly where I left them. If you’ve read any of my blogs, you would know this was not to be the case. I retrieved another cart out front and searched my purse for my list. Another nagging thought popped into my mind. “Did I throw the list on the passenger’s seat of the car when panicked about the lost prescriptions”? Why yes I did. Another five-mile walk to the car and back into the store I once again commenced to shop. This is Christmas right?

Guess I shouldn’t complain about the crowds here in small town USA. It could look like this. Argh. Remind me again what Christmas is all about. It is gifts and crowded stores filled with grumpy consumers right? A thought keeps nagging at me originally it stood for something else. Good news! The lights were the wrong ones. Glad I bought the family pack. So, back to the hardware store I go. With any luck I’ll end up in Reno.

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Loosen your belts. This is too good not to finish your plate.

Greek Pastitsio

1 lb. ziti or rigatoni, cooked
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded, divided
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 lbs. ground chuck
2 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 oz. diced petite tomatoes with juice
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Bechamel Sauce

1/2 cup butter, cubed
2/3 cup all-purpose
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 3/4 cups non-fat milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Place pasta in 13 x 9″ casserole or lasagna pan sprayed with cooking oil. Mix in melted butter. Add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Mix well.

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Heat olive oil in medium skillet over med-low heat. Add onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. Saute until onion is translucent. About 5 mins. In large deep skillet brown ground beef until fully cooked. Drain on paper towels and return to skillet. Add onion/garlic mixture to pan. Pour in tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins. Pour over pasta. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

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While sauce is simmering make bechamel as follows:

Mix together flour, salt and pepper. Combine milk and cream. Melt cubed butter in large saucepan over medium heat.

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Whisk in flour until smooth.

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Whisking constantly add milk/cream mixture slowly. Bring to boil, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until thickened, about 2 mins.

In small bowl beat eggs. Add 1/4 cup of hot mixture to eggs, whisking constantly. Pour all slowly back into saucepan whisking as you do. Bring to low boil and continue cooking 2 mins.

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Pour over meat sauce. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Bake covered at 350 degrees for 20 mins. Uncover and continue cooking for 50 mins. Increase heat to 425 degrees and continue cooking 10 mins. or until golden brown.

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Allow to sit 8 mins. before serving.

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2

Went to a party last night where I recognized perhaps four faces out of the sixty or so in attendance. Not my favorite scenario. Most of these people have known each other for years and have shared experiences to discuss, but we waded into the throng and “mingled”. Rick will take up a conversation with anyone, where I have to ease into a large group of people preferring to take a look before diving in the pool. People watching is something I totally enjoy. Most of the shyness was forced out of me early, attending ten schools between fourth and twelfth grade. Being constantly referred to as “the new kid” shoves you out of your shell and into the fray fairly quickly, or you get left behind. Still, a huge group of strangers tends to quiet me down, at least initially.

I find couples interesting.  In particular, unlikely couples.  Two people who if you observed in a room with a hundred others you would never imagine finding each other in the crowd. The incessant talker married to someone who hasn’t shared more than a paragraph of an evening since graduating high school. A man likely to be courted (no pun intended) by a basketball coach married to a woman who couldn’t meet the height requirements to step onto the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

Watching strangers interact, personalities quickly rise to the surface. The social butterfly, flitting from flower to flower gathering a little pollen to take along with her to the next bloom. The gentlemen with the red nose and broken corpuscles making his third trip, trip being the operative word here, to the bar. The flirt, perhaps hiding beneath a little too much makeup, wearing a blouse one size too small cut low enough to attract a nursing baby. People come in all sizes and shapes, all personalities and dispositions. This, I would suppose, is what makes us so interesting and diverse.

In middle school I had a friend, Cathy, whose parents fell under that category. Her father was what we might have called “a string bean”, tall and spare as a human. On the other hand her mother, probably never achieved five feet in 3″ heels, measuring equally in width as she did in stature. They married out of high school, produced four children, two tall and two short, and each time I was invited to their home I was impressed by how happy her parents always seemed to be in the same room with one another.

Perfect is, after all, not always perfection. If it were true such noted beauties from Debbie Reynolds to Christie Brinkley wouldn’t have had to suffer cheating husbands. If perfection satisfied all your needs, why look elsewhere? We are bombarded with perfect faces, on the screen and in magazines. Even, balanced features are revered. No expense is too much to remove unwanted brown spots, or an eruption or two.  Noses are straightened, chests enlarged, chins sculpted in the image of our favorite celebrities and as we age things are tightened and reworked like a Rodin in progress. Women and men spend countless hours and untold dollars at spas, plastic surgeons offices, and gyms trying to achieve the perfection we are sold we should strive to achieve every day.

My perception of perfect might be the look on your little one’s face when he first sits in Santa’s lap at the mall. Perhaps the circle of love surrounding a bride and groom as they repeat their vows. The ocean early in the morning when the wet sand is pristine and the sun has barely begun to shimmer above the horizon. I am surrounded with “near perfect moments”. Turning a corner in the woods to find an entire glen of fall hued trees so vividly colored as to hold your breath captive for a  minute.  A perfectly cooked steak smothered with mushrooms sitting next to a huge baked potato dripping with melting butter and sour cream. Holding my honey’s hand while watching You’ve Got Mail for the hundredth time. Perfection, to me.

Partners, I would suppose, are chosen for a number of reasons. Perhaps he only prefers blondes, while she only like redheads. One person might like the outdoorsy type while another prefer to spend time with someone who enjoys cruising museums or traveling. Often I look at my circle of friends and wonder what drew them to each other as I’m sure they’ve done with Rick and I. One couple, “The Bickerson’s” we call them, have based a long and successful relationship on disagreeing on everything from their political affiliations to what type of eggs to have for breakfast. If he wants scrambled, she surely will ask for poached. Personally, I think if you separated them, placing each with a partner with whom they were perfectly matched, they’d be bored before lunch. Part of whatever works for them is hidden in what outwardly might not work for someone else.

When I look at relationships which have withstood the test of time, my aunt and uncles for example, I cannot say they are perfect for each other.  If I ask what their secret is they seem confused, as if they don’t question their relationship, they just do it. I’m sure there have been numerous bumps and potholes over the years, times when they were have traded the other one for a nickel and a cup of coffee, but they stuck it out celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary not too long ago.

My granddaughter asked me if I thought men and women were meant to be monogamous. I had no definitive answer for that. At times it seems as if we humans fight the idea with infidelity, not a random occurrence, and unquestionably the divorce rate is high, but it seems as if finding that one “perfect person” is often the goal.  Whether or not we achieve that goal, perhaps the enigma.

Yet another rich and truly sumptuous cauliflower recipe fit for a holiday table. I had two helpings, which is unusual for me.

Cauliflower Gratin

1 large head of cauliflower
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz. softened cream cheese
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (pepperoni or Italian sausage good too)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in skillet over med. heat Add onion and cook 5 mins. until onion is translucent.

Wash cauliflower and separate into florets. Cover with lightly salted water in large saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to low boil and cook until fork tender. Drain well.

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Mash with a potato masher until coarsely mashed.

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Add 1/2 the bacon and all the remaining ingredients except Cheddar cheese to cauliflower in mixing bowl and mix well. Turn into a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle Cheddar cheese on top and other 1/2 of crumbled bacon. Bake for 30 mins. until cheese is melted and bubbly.

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1Yesterday was a very Susie kind of day. At one point Rick threatened to lock me in the closet until the clock struck midnight and the madness had passed.

It began quietly enough. I slept in. After hitting the on button the coffee maker I piled on enough clothes to keep me from freezing to death while fetching the paper and trudged up the hill. This snow, it appears, is not planning on going anywhere any time soon.  This presents several problems for us. First, we didn’t realize we should have taken the car to the top of the driveway and parked it on the street prior to the storm. What can I say? Obviously we’re novices when it comes to having a steep driveway in a hard freeze, which occurred last night, and will again for tonight and tomorrow night. Oh-oh. Now, we bought water and flashlights, thought of candles and batteries. We did not, however, think to purchase a snow shovel or any salt to throw on the driveway. Doomed are we. Quite possibly by the time the spring thaw arrives I’ll weigh 88 pounds and be living with Rip Van Winkle.

Not bad enough we are confined to barracks, but Murphy began to toy with me. My plan for dinner was to make this delicious pasta sauce, which I put together earlier in the day without a hitch. I went downstairs to vacuum. We have two in the house, one up and one down. The ironing board was up because I am sewing for Christmas. Plugging in the vacuum I must have overloaded the circuit (Really? Two plugs in one outlet and it overloads, that can’t be good. The money pit deepens.) At any rate this meant retracing my steps, putting on my warm outer garments and back into the garage, which I did. Locating the tripped switch I flipped it back on and went back downstairs. Deciding against plugging it in in the same room, I went into the bedroom and plugged it in an empty plug in that wall. Sneaky. Unfortunately, the space heater was running for the cat. I know, I know. Once again the lights went out. Boo looked up as if to say, “I hope you’re planning on taking care of that”. Insert expletive here. Ach.

Rick settled in to watch the 49er’s, a Sunday tradition. Twenty minutes before the game was to start the cable went out. Perfect. It came back on thankfully minutes before the first play or Rick would have been inconsolable.

Saturday we had no mail delivery because several tree limbs above the mailboxes drooped down making it impossible to access the door to the mailbox. I decided to spend a few minutes removing the offending limbs while Rick watched his beloved football. I mentioned I was going out in passing, but he was busy giving the coaches a lesson on how to properly move the ball up field, so I closed the door, grabbed the clippers and back up the hill I went. The limbs, when giggled, loosened every bit of snow on the higher branches. By the time I’d cut down two large limbs I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy after an unfortunate flour incident. Sigh. Someone went by and honked and laughed. It’s always nice to have an audience when you’re making an ass of yourself.

Freezing, I headed to the house only to find the door locked. I’ve been talking about hiding a key somewhere on the property, but naturally procrastinated until it now became an issue. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again, loudly. It wasn’t getting any warmer since I was wet from head to toe. Hello? The TV announcers were yelling above the screaming crowds and looking in the window Rick was not in his seat. Swell. Finally, Rick came back from the loo and let me in asking me what I was doing outside. Never mind.

Inside, and beginning to feel my joints thaw, I put the pasta water on to boil. It takes longer at this elevation it seems. From the pantry I retrieved a large box of thin spaghetti I was planning to use with my yummy sauce. Walking towards the kitchen with nothing in my way to impede my progress, I somehow managed to squeeze the box in such a way it sprung open strewing spaghetti all over the floor. What didn’t land on the floor cascaded over the banister littering my freshly vacuumed stairs. I’m sorry, I am not vacuuming again! Rick looked over his shoulder and shook his head. That again.

Loading the nearly full dishwasher with my dinner prep items, Rick announced over the TV, “Oh, I ran the dishwasher so the dishes are clean”. Really?  Were clean would be more accurate. Never mind.

Afraid to touch anything, but getting hungry, I prepared my garlic bread and turned on the broiler. Popping my bread in the oven, my mother called and quickly I became involved searching the Internet for a nightgown for my aunt. Interrupting my searching and the cat’s nap (another of her nine lives was sacrificed in the making of this garlic bread), both smoke alarms simultaneously began screeching. By the time I opened the oven door the bodies were ready for the urns. Good news though, I found a petite medium nightie for my aunt in pink. Somehow we managed to forage together enough food for this meal. I loved this pasta sauce, thick and meaty. Yum.

Photos by Susie Nelson

Meaty Pasta Sauce with Thin Spaghetti

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage links, hot
1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 16 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
1 pkg. thin spaghetti
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese

Remove the sausage casings and slice into 1/2″ slices. Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet over med. heat. Add sausage and brown on all sides (10 mins.). Drain on paper towels.

Add ground beef, onion, and minced garlic to same skillet. Cook until meat is browned. Add next thirteen ingredients. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two hours.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup water. Add reserved water to pasta sauce and mix well. Toss pasta with olive oil. Place in pasta bowls and ladle sauce over top. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

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1

When Christmas bells are swinging above the fields of snow, we hear sweet voices ringing from lands of long ago, and etched on vacant places are half-forgotten faces of friends we used to cherish, and loves we used to know. – Ella Wheeler Wilcox – love this quote.

I watched the new version of The Sound of Music the other night and realized once again what an “old dog” I am.  Carrie Underwood is incredibly talented and certainly beautiful, but nothing can top Julie Andrews, arms flung wide, swirling on an Austrian hillside (or Hollywood sound stage) belting out “the hills are alive”……sorry.  The remake of Miracle on 34th Street was well done, but Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara simply broke the mold the first time out.  It’s like coming out with a new Twinkie. 2How can you recreate a golden fluffy cakey outside, with a gooey middle, providing all the non-essential worthless calories and yummy goodness and do it justice, now really? BTW, where are all the Christmas movies this year?  I don’t mean the Hallmark or Lifetime movies, not that they aren’t entertaining, but I mean the Christmas movie marathon group like The Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, or the Bishop’s Wife?  The movies that go perfectly with a steaming cup of hot chocolate on a cold December Sunday when you have twenty presents to wrap.  Where’d they go?

Snow is coming, tra la. I’m singing now, but I have a feeling when I have a need for something at the store over the next few days, I’ll be singing a different song. It’s frrrrreezing outside, quite literally. All our plants are covered, as are our pipes and we loaded up on bottled water, candles, flashlight batteries, and essentials along with half the town early this afternoon. The sky has discarded its usual blue attire for a dark and somber gray, and winter is about to make its footprint known on Northern California. From what they’re saying on the weather it could at least provide a dusting as low as 500 feet. Wow.  What a weather year. I really think the Mayans knew something was going to go on about this time in history. Just plain odd.

Californians, for the most part, have no idea what to do when the white stuff piles up on the ground. Generally they just roll about on the highways playing bumper cars with the other drivers. Back east or in the Midwest snow is no stranger, and what to do when a whole lot of it shows up overnight far less of a puzzle. As I’ve said many times, I lived in Massachusetts. During the winter having no garage, our early a.m hours were devoted to locating the largest bump in the front yard, unearthing the car, and praying the engine would turn over so we could get to work.

Boston could get bone chilling cold during a snow storm. Five days a week I was scheduled to show up for work at the American Cancer Society on Newberry Street whether the sun was shining or ice covered the roads. Before leaving the house I layered on coats, sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves and boots over my work clothes. On particularly frigid days longies were pulled on beneath them. It was amazing I was able to ambulate. In spite of the padding, the icy fingers of the wintry wind managed to insinuate themselves between the tight weave of my wool jacket enticing goosebumps to ripple along my skin. The first winter there I don’t think my toes thoroughly defrosted until the spring thaw.

It’s not as though I’m unfamiliar with cold weather. Growing up in Nova Scotia our winter sessions in school were often interrupted by snow days. Sitting on the tall wooden stool in my grandmother’s kitchen ear to the radio, I’d wait with anticipation to hear the announcement of school closures. In the event it was a thumbs up, my sled would be in the ready propped against the house and my snow mittens and hat piled on the table. If the snow was not blizzard conditions, I was allowed out close to home to make snow angels or erect a family of snow people (notice politically correct) to be finished off with carrots and coal purloined from the bins in the basement. As the first fluffy flakes began to drift down to the ground a while ago, I found myself nose to the glass with that same feeling of excitement I felt when I was five.

Driving in the snow, however, is an entirely different proposition. Less excitement, more fear. Slipping and sliding, often colliding with someone else doing the same. I’m not a fan of winter driving. In West Virginia I ended up sideways in a ditch. In Massachusetts I glided across an intersection close to home in Wakefield, and down an embankment barely stopping at the edge of the lake.The lake was frozen solid but somehow I wasn’t reassured the ice was strong enough to sustain a large yellow station wagon. I needed to breathe in a bag afterwards, while my two little ones in their seats behind me carried on as though I’d taken them on a ride at Disneyland. Several hours later, one tow truck, and a very late dinner, soon sucked some of the wind out of their sails.

In the early 1980’s we owned a cabin in Bass Lake, California a small town in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Yosemite. It was beautiful there at the time, relatively undiscovered. Our cabin bordered the lake, with two decks and a boat dock leading down to the water’s edge. In the summer, the children swam and water skied and during the winter we got away for weekends in the snow when possible. Occasionally we had our holiday meals up among the tall trees. One winter we packed up all the Christmas presents, strapped my mother and the tree to the luggage rack (just kidding, although my husband threatened it a time or two), gathered up the kids, two dogs, and one disgruntled cat and headed for Bass Lake for Christmas. Roads were treacherous. Towards the end of our trip it became necessary to pull on chains if we were to travel further. Standing at the side of the road , I remember being awed by the beauty of the redwoods carrying their burden of snow and the incredible beauty all around us. One of my “near perfect moments” as I call them. After four days in the woods, we packed up our opened gifts and after many attempts to get the car to move, found ourselves completely snowed in. In the end, we didn’t get back to ground level for another three days after the snow plow dug us out. We used up much of the seasoned oak under the tarp at the side of the house, played numerous games and put together jigsaw puzzles, most missing pieces. My mother and I made meals constructed of turkey this and turkey that. In the morning, we used what eggs were left to make huge stacks of pancakes dripping with syrup and melting butter. It was one of the nicer holidays I can recall with my children with no phone, TV, or friends to distract them, and totally unexpected.

I woke up this morning to find snow falling and a winter wonderland beyond my windows. Here are some pictures to share.

In the spirit of “mock” things, this was sooooo good and totally the best use of leftover pork loin I’ve found to-date. As there are only two of us I save half a loin and freeze it for later. This was really good so you could cook a whole loin and use it in this recipe or follow my lead.

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Crockpot Mock Chile Verde with Fajita Rice

41Wpv5OYg+L2 cups leftover cooked pork loin (I used chile verde)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cups chicken stock
1 jar Guy Fieri’s Green & Mean Salsa Verde (or your choice)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
0001530043935_500X5001 pkg. Rice Roni Chicken Fajita Rice, prepared
1/2 cup chunky salsa (red)
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
2 Avocados, sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Sour cream

Place onion, pork, chicken stock, salsa verde, garlic powder, cumin, marjoram,  and black pepper in crockpot.  Cook on low for 9 hours, stirring once or twice.

Just before serving slice avocados and sprinkle with lime juice.

Cook rice according to package directions.  Place 1/4 of the rice in the bottom of four bowls.  Ladle pork and sauce over the top. Top with chunky salsa, rreen onions and generous dollop of sour cream. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serves 4.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

I have my first cold of the season. Most probably directly related to my crawling around in the recesses of the chilly garage trying to locate my Christmas decorations.

Prophetically, I made turkey soup yesterday so dinner is ready for tonight as well as a natural cure for the common cold. With a fifteen pound bird to dispose of between the two of us, we’re looking forward to turkey soup, turkey shepherd’s pie, turkey Benedict and a host of other clever ways to disguise leftover yard bird. My eyelids are getting heavy already. Whether turkey makes you sleepy, from what I understand, is based in both myth and fact. There is tryptophan in turkey which can cause drowsiness when taken directly, but most likely the drowsiness following a huge holiday meal is your body trying to process appetizers, alcohol, turkey with all the trimmings, and three pieces of pie with whipped cream. Burp.

Facebook was buzzing with turkey pics, family pics, and updates on family gatherings all day. Facebook is probably a fun outlet, but personally it scares me to death. Bullying is so accessible on this type of site, and particularly attractive to young petty little minds with the destruction of another teens self-esteem at the touch of a well-painted fingertip. Yesterday I read an article about how often Facebook is showing up in the courtrooms. The site itself is not being sued, or not that I know of, but litigants on either side of cases are accusing the other side of maligning or misrepresenting them on the well-populated social media giant. I find it truly fascinating what people casually write on these updates. Often they are things I wouldn’t be comfortable saying on the phone to a person I trusted with my innermost thoughts, much less write openly to an audience of millions. It reminds me of people who adjust their body parts while standing on a street corner, whisper something offensive loud enough for Hellen Keller to hone in on, or explore their nasal cavities at a stop sign. WE CAN SEE AND HEAR YOU!

It is suggested you do not post “Leaving for a week on Maui tomorrow”, for example. Not only might your friends be celebrating your impending departure, but someone casing your house hoping to find it empty might be popping the cork on a champagne bottle as well.

Posting your personal status as “single” when you’ve tucked your wedding band in your pocket for an evening on line might not be the best strategy either. If you are tracking hundreds of people it stands to reason someone most likely is tracking your cheating behind as well.

Employers are looking potential candidates for jobs over on line. That hysterically funny selfie posted of you and your gal pals half-naked showing your latest tattoos in front of a strip club in Vegas, bottle of JD in one hand and joint drooping off one pierced lip, gets a thumbs up from your friends. Possibly, if you’re applying for a teaching position at a local parochial school, not so much.

Email can also be a dangerous tool, and voice mail. Knee jerk reactions to a situation left in either queue can come back to haunt you later. Particularly in the case of email where with no intonation on the words, the words often are left to stand alone and can be misinterpreted.

In a world where we all seem to have so much to say, possibly we need to be more discerning about what we say and where we say it.

Humblebrags, a word it seems actually included in some dictionaries, is another interesting social media offspring. It is a way of saying something seemingly self-effacing when actually patting yourself on the back or apprising people of your successes or recent high-dollar purchases. Hmmmm. Sort of like, “I never knew when I bought this enormous house with twenty-nine bathrooms we’d use so much toilet paper”.

Are we becoming a country hooked on instant gratification? The most results for the least amount of effort expended? Can’t help but wonder. Sometimes the thrill of something comes in the waiting. If you go out on a first date and before desert your date puts a ring on your finger and the waiters start singing “Today I Met the Boy I’m Going to Marry”, wouldn’t that diminish the excitement of your first kiss, your first fight, and all the things filling in the middle? Falling in love is part of the journey, not just the actual act of getting married.

Working hard to achieve a goal is extremely rewarding, at least for me. If you’ve set your sights on something in the distance and climb the hills in between and tough out the rainstorms and the hot dry days to get where you want to go, there is an exhilaration accompanying such an accomplishment that can’t be equaled by having it simply handed to you.

For me it’s “all things in moderation”. I love the Internet and use it regularly. It’s a magical wonderful tool as are all the gadgets and Space Odessy like technology coming our way, but we’re an addictive society as a whole so perhaps using these tools wisely is the key. As usual, I’m full of questions, or full of something.

This soup was a great way to gobble up the leftover turkey. Yum.

Spicy Southwestern Turkey Soup

5 cups rich turkey broth
2 cups cooked turkey, shredded
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup green pepper, chopped
1 4 oz. can chopped green chiles
1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
3/4 cup cooked corn kernels
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 pkg. Lawry’s taco seasoning mix, hot
1/2 tsp. black pepper
Salt (as needed)
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 avocados, chunked
1 1/2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Sour Cream
Lime slices

Place first 12 (through black pepper) ingredients in large stockpot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45 mins. on low.

Place 1/4 cup of cooked rice in the bottom of six large soup bowls. Ladle soup over top. Top each bowl with 1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, chopped avocado, and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and lime slices.

Turkey Broth

1 turkey carcass, meat left on if possible
5 quarts water
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 celery ribs, quartered with leaves
2 carrots, peeled and chunked
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 cups white wine (I used pinot grigio)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/3 cup parsley flakes
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Place turkey pieces in bottom of large stockpot. Add water, vegetables, garlic, wine, and bay leaves. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer over med-low heat for 2 hrs., skimming fat during cooking.

Add thyme, parsley flakes, and black pepper. Continue cooking over med-low heat for 2 hours. Strain large pieces and discard, reserving meat for future use. Cool and refrigerate or freeze.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Well, my tree is half up and my Thanksgiving dinner came off without a hitch.  I’m about to put up my feet and take the morning off. With Thanksgiving arriving long into the month I’m feeling the push to put up my Christmas decorations before it’s time to take them down.

“Ridiculous” is the word Rick uses when referring to the amount of Christmas boxes we brought in. Humbug is his mantra and he sings it loud and proud.  Actually, he loves Christmas but it’s the hectic pace of it that wears him out. Most men in my life over the years have chosen to take a back seat when it comes to decorating, so I shall hum along to Christmas music making a happy afternoon for myself bringing the holidays to life in our living room. Not long after we brought in the boxes I spotted Rick up on the hill deep in animated conversation with a male neighbor. Arms waving, both men were shaking their heads and nodding. When I asked what they were discussing, he said our neighbor’s wife had pressed the poor man into service putting up the outside lights. Flogging is too good for the woman. I feel neither of us ladies fared well in that conversation.

As much as I love all the things associated with the holiday season, the holidays come with all the little family undercurrents as well as the flickering lights and tinsel. If you take a look at the majority of the movies made on the subject, Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter, for example, or Christmas Vacation, families are not always depicted seated around the dinner table in a Currier & Ives pose.  In most families there’s Uncle Bert who is overly fond of his gin, or Cousin Gwen who tirelessly offers cooking advice, though never cooking anything herself not originating at Stouffer’s.

I love our family, with all their delightful imperfections. Dysfunction, so they say, breeds good writers and artists.  That being said, my name should be on the best sellers list any day now, or my paintings hanging in the Louvre.  My daughter says coming from an eclectic family such as ours prepared her for whatever came her way in life.  Ahhh, at last a legacy. I must say I believe, if you’ve never experienced a ripple in the water you’re probably not going to be prepared to handle a hurricane. Susie’s pearls of wisdom.

Over the years I’ve left my mark when hostessing. I’ve cooked the turkey with the giblets tucked inside. I’ve written about the year my cocker spaniel stole the turkey carcass off the bread board, dragging it in a greasy line down the hall carpet to be finished off under my son’s bed.

When living in the Bay Area in the 1980’s I had twenty plus coming for dinner on Christmas.  An hour after putting the bird in the oven I opened the door to find nothing but a lot of cold and a mighty pale bird. Quite sure family and friends were anticipating something more exciting than a tuna sandwich, my frantic phone calls to neighbors yielded an offer of an oven two blocks away from friends going out of town. It was a blustery day at best. Outside my kitchen window houses and livestock floated by in the torrential downpour. Pajamas and raincoat on, I loaded the bird in the back of the station wagon and chauffeured it to its new home. Every half an hour following I hopped in the car and drove off down the street to baste it. This scenario was repeated with the green bean casserole, my mother’s favorite, the rolls, and the pies. The microwave and the oven top were used for the rest.  By the time I sat down to enjoy the beautiful meal I looked like I’d just medalled in the breast stroke.

Another time, I had the mashed potatoes in a large stock pot to keep warm. My sister-in-law popped in to help. Tasting the potatoes she said they needed a little salt. Up to my neck in sweet potatoes, I pointed in the direction of the salt shaker. Giving it a vigorous shake the top came off depositing the entire contents of the shaker liberally atop my freshly whipped potatoes. Now, I’ve put potatoes in soup or stew to absorb the salt, but never put salt on the potatoes to absorb the potatoes. Gravy makes everything better, believe this.

In fourth grade my family was invited to dinner by a lady who I referred to as Aunt El, though there was no common blood between us. Never married, El was a rather eccentric retired lady who shared her sprawling single level home with three beagles and a talkative mynah bird. The general aroma of the dwelling reflected it’s inhabitants.  El had been a proficient legal secretary in her time and a woman not shy about offering her opinion on just about any subject. Housekeeping not her strong suit, my mother hesitated at first. El’s crusty exterior hid the huge heart beating below the skin, and as her younger brother, Al, was having his turkey that year with other inmates in state prison, and his daughter finishing off a stint in rehab, my mother finally capitulated. Our family was kind of being sent in as fifth quarter subs so El wouldn’t have to share her turkey with Winken, Blinken, Nod and Lady Chatterly (that would be the mynah bird). It was an interesting dinner to say the least. A self professed disaster in the kitchen, she didn’t make a herself out to be a liar. The inner temperature of the turkey was questionable at best, but nobody died from it thankfully. Frozen peas were the vegetable of choice, which would have been a fine choice had Eleanor managed to actually cook, or at a minimum defrost the peas before serving. Trying to capture one with with a fork was like trying to ladle soup with a slotted spoon. Dinner over, rather than placing the dinner plates in the dishwasher, she set them on the floor for the anxiously waiting beagles to lick clean, undoubtedly a practice she’d done many times before.  I can’t swear to it but I believe my mother actually sprayed her mouth with the small bottle of Lysol she’d been liberally sprinkling about.

I’ve been privy to others mistakes when responsible for dinner along with my own.  There was the time we arrived several hours early for dinner at a first time hostesses home. Women will most times grab an apron, and pitch in.  It’s the nature of the beast. A woman in distress in the kitchen sends out pheromones to those of her kind like a brave signalling another village with billows of smoke. Is that politically incorrect? Probably.  If so, I apologize. At any rate dinner lingering about an half an hour out, and growling stomachs being heard across the room the novice cook casually inquired when she should put the potatoes on. Eight hands went into motion at the utterance of that statement and somehow potatoes were peeled, boiled, and mashed as quickly as a Disney Studio special effect. In the end it was a beautiful meal.

No matter how it turns out, our families are part of us with all the angst and love that entails. So, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving wherever and whomever it finds you with!

Croissant French Toast and Ice Cream Custard Sauce

Ice Cream Custard Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 egg yolks, beaten
2 scoops ice cream (vanilla, butter pecan, almond flavors or my favorite sweet and salty caramel pecan)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Combine flour and sugar in large saucepan. Stir in cream until smooth consistency. Cook, stirring constantly, over med. heat until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat and cook for 2 mins. Remove from heat.

Whisking constantly add small amount of hot filling to egg mixture. Add the rest of egg mixture to pan, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture reaches 160 degrees on instant read thermometer. Remove from heat and fold in ice cream until melted. Cover and cool. Serve over French toast.

Blueberry Sauce

2 cups frozen blueberries
2 Tbsp. sugar

Combine blueberries and sugar in saucepan. Simmer uncovered for 2-3 mins. Allow to cool.

French Toast

2 Tbsp. butter
4 croissants (staled slightly), split
4 eggs
1/4 cup half and half
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Powdered sugar

Whisk together eggs, half and half, cinnamon and vanilla.

Heat butter in large skillet or griddle of med-high heat. Dip croissants in egg batter. Brown on both sides. Dust with powdered sugar.
IMG_5147

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Once again I am faced with a list of people I need to buy for at Christmas, and not one single idea what to buy. It’s not an absence of originality or generosity, I really don’t have any clue what they need.  If you asked me what I’d like from Santa, I’d answer, “a new vegetable peeler, and ramekins”. I’m quite sure if you polled my nearest and dearest neither answer would slip easily off their tongues. When asking for suggestions for gifts, people are often hesitant to suggest something lest it be too expensive, so they either respond with “I don’t need thing”, or suggest something off the top their head simply to satisfy the question. Worse yet, they might come up with something expensive you can’t provide, making it uncomfortable. Perhaps this time of year we should print out a reasonable wish list (omitting the red Lamborghini Aventador with custom leather interior or that 3 carat pink diamond you’ve been eying in the jewelry store window) and email it to those asking for ideas. Along the same lines as registering at Pottery Barn before tying the knot. Another thought, gift giving could be reserved for those still firm in the knowledge St. Nick will be arriving with a full bag on the 25th, thus recapturing the true essence of Christmas. This would keep me in the loop with regard to presents. Last year I was totally convinced I heard reindeer huffing and pawing on the roof Christmas Eve, and when I woke up in the morning the chocolate chip cookies and eggnog I left out for the old gentlemen had disappeared. Rick and the Miss Boo weren’t talking.

For several years we drew names in our family, each person only responsible for the name he or she drew. This worked for a while. Slowly, however, people began to cheat. Before long those who didn’t purchase gifts felt badly so they rushed to the store, and so it goes.

I’m sewing dog/cat beds for my friends with furry friends. For the cooking enthusiasts on my list I’m sewing small gift bags packed with interesting items for the kitchen like infused olive oils, unique little gadgets, Christmas cookie cutters, fun bottle stops, and unusual spices. Kids used to be the easiest group to cross off, but these days they’ve upped the ante on what they’d like Santa to produce in his toy shop, and some of the things suggested not only are difficult to find around this time of year but come with a hefty price tag.  We have nine of the little buggers so rather than find ourselves sitting by the side of the road with Miss Boo waving a handwritten sign once my bank account is depleted, we’re giving them all gift cards to their favorite stores and letting do as much damage as the card entitles them to in our names.  Ho, ho, ho.

I try to buy early, not being a shopper by nature. Last minute desperation buying off deserted shelves with other hollow eyed latesters doesn’t make the holidays festive for me.  What a wonderful tool the Internet is!  List fulfillment at your fingertips. I will sit down on Friday in my fuzzy boots and leggings with a steaming cup of coffee and with the wave of my Master Card complete my list leaving me time to rummage through the boxes marked “Christmas” presently stacked in my dining room. Yea.

Ideally I would do all my shopping immediately following the holidays. This is when the bargains really show themselves. Unfortunately, you’d better know your target audience when doing this, because this leaves a full year before the next Christmas tree is purchased for your recipients to buy the same thing for themselves.

I’m reminded of a Christmas when my children were small. Their dad and I both worked, as is often the case with young families. Adding the purchase of a new house to our monetary outlay that year left little wriggle room for extra indulgences. In September we received an unexpected financial windfall. Weighing our options we decided to put it towards a special Christmas. With two inquisitive youngsters around it can be difficult to hide a growing stash of toys, so we opted on the attic as the perfect place to create a Santa’s treasure trove.

As the holidays approached, the tree went up in the living room and lights flickered outside our living room window.  Little ones asleep, I would bring down a doll or a game and wrap presents in the living room, returning them to their hiding place before going to bed. Enough left over in our savings account to finance a trip to our favorite mountain resort we penciled in a week’s vacation. Neither of us avid snow skiers, we dusted off our toboggans, inner tubes and sleds and headed for the snow-capped hills.

Back in the day most people barely locked their doors much less had sophisticated alarm systems or house sitters.  If gone, a neighbor picked up your papers and your mail, or perhaps a family member drove by from time to time to turn on the lights or water your plants. Such was the case in this instance, although we did lock our doors.

Returning home from vacation the weekend before Christmas we unloaded the car. Taking the luggage into the bedroom I noticed the small jewelry box usually sitting on my dresser was missing. Mentioning this to my husband it didn’t take long to realize our microwave was not in it’s usual spot in the kitchen, our stereo was gone, and where the TV sat on the table in the spare bedroom was now only a rectangular spot marked by a ring of dust.  Oh-oh. Pulling down the cord to the attic stairs, I slowly climbed up and peeked through the opening. Other than some open boxes and strewn newspaper, nothing but a few strands of ribbons and a whole lot of empty remained. The Grinch had stolen our Christmas.

Our insurance agent was contacted, and, yes, we were covered. Unfortunately, nothing could be done before Christmas.  In the end, we bought little gifts for each other and creative gifts for the kids.  Our family showed up en masse for breakfast with games and eggnog, and it turned out to be a very special day.  Nobody noticed there was less under the tree than usual.

It does make me wonder how people like the thief I heard about on the news yesterday who stole turkeys from a church donated for parishioners in need, sleep at night, but then I guess forgiveness is as big a word this time of year as noel.

This butter is my favorite on corn.  You can increase or decrease the heat at will.

IMG_5115Corn with Sriracha Butter

6 ears of corn, husked and grilled, steamed, or boiled
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
6-10 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce
1 Tbsp. chives
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Mix well and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with steaming ears of corn.

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