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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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