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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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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

As they say in the south, “I’m busier than a cat covering it up” this week. My planner is a disaster and last time I looked I didn’t have a personal assistant except Boo the Cat, getting plump and lazy of late. Last night I woke up around two to find the perched on the pillows behind my head chewing on my hair. This morning I noticed a cow lick, or perhaps cat lick would be more appropriate, right above my bangs. Probably too lazy to get herself up and extend the energy necessary to walk to her bowl, bend forward, and eat, she chose instead to concentrate on whatever food source required the least amount of effort on her part. Laziness is not a trait I admire. Sometimes it’s glorious to laze about, but I’m talking about those of us who are perpetually lazy leaving the work to those willing to participate. I’ve spent a good deal of time of this subject with my grandchildren, who leave a trail of destruction behind them even a blind man could follow.

Perhaps the work ethic is imbedded in my lineage. I was raised by two women, namely my grandmother and mother. Neither of them ever stayed seated long enough to warm it for the next occupant. Both kept their homes in spit spot order. Often one or the other would comment “Pardon the house. It’s a mess.”. “Where”, I used to wonder? Were they referring to the one tiny missed crumb over in the corner hiding beneath the cupboard door? For me having the house perfect is not an obsession, all right maybe I’m a bit obsessive, but the truth is I function better in an environment somewhat free of clutter. I know, I know, a clean house is a sign of a wasted life, a dull woman, a broken computer….. I’ve seen the signs, both literally and figuratively. Sigh.

Neither my mother nor my grandmother tolerated idle hands. If there was work to be done and hands available to do it, they were called into use. At 6:00 a.m. my grandmother would have her crisply pressed robe in place over nylons and underclothes. Makeup would be applied by the time I reached the breakfast table and she would be fit to meet the Queen by the time I left for school. Mother had her hair done at the salon once a week, does to this day. Through some miracle of science it remains held fast in the same position from one “doing” to the next keeping her always looking immaculate even in the middle of the night. As a child my nickname was “Mutley”. This, as you might imagine, explains a lot. Much to my mother’s dismay my favorite mode of dress is comfortable jeans or shorts and a tee-shirt. Never would I be at my best in 6″ heels decorating a runway. How do women walk in these shoes? As of this writing this hasn’t proved a problem for me since the call from my agent telling me I aced an interview for runway model hasn’t shown up in my voice mail as of this writing.

I hear a lot of people complaining about their jobs lately. A friend of mine used to say, that’s why they call it work. It is, after all, a four letter word. In our present economic environment if you have a job, probably you should be tossing a handful of confetti. People who are fortunate enough to earn a living doing what they enjoy I would imagine are not in the majority. Most of us go to work so we can feed our families, have a roof over our heads, and from time to time enjoy the comforts of life. As my resume reflects, I’ve thrown my hat in the ring many times over the years and dabbled in many types of jobs.

Back in my twenties I took a job with a company selling pipe fittings and hardware. What I knew about the subject would have fit nicely in the iris of a gnat. Despite my inequities, I needed the job, they offered me one, and I showed up the following Monday morning looking my best. The building was dwarfed by a huge industrial complex in the City of Industry, California. The City of Industry is located in the San Gabriel Valley region of Los Angeles, and appropriately named for the sprawling sea of buildings and manufacturing plants located within the city limits. Finding a parking spot in front of the antiquated building, I opened the car door to be assaulted with the smell emanating from the plant located on the adjacent property. Later I was to be told it was a pork processing plant. Piggies came in through the gate squealing, and left in butcher wrap, if you catch my drift (so to speak).

Inside the “office” were banks of huge desks housing massive volumes. Each volume detailed the fittings sold by the manufacturer’s name represented on the cover. These were referred to as “the Bibles” and I was soon to find out it was to be my job to spread the word. Standing between me and immediate dismissal, was my ability to talk non-stop, because knowledge of what I was talking about was limited to how fast I could turn the pages in my books and how much the bull had consumed at his previous meal (you’ll have to think about that).

It was a grubby environment at best. From the look of the opaque windows no sweat had ever been expended cleaning them. Despite their original function, these afforded little light nor view, not that the view beyond them was particularly spectacular. Besides myself their was the son of the owner, a man in his thirties, and the owner herself, a sixty or so chain smoker who’s cough was so disturbing I was amazed she remained upright to light the next cigarette off the previous one.

Outside the door marked “employees only”, spread out a huge warehouse manned wholly by men equipped with little command of the English language mostly from Mexico or points south of the border. Thus, I learned to depend on myself for lunch company and conversation around the water cooler. For two years I sat at my grubby desk dishing the skinny about elbows, t-bars, adapters and reducers. It wasn’t rocket science, Time Magazine wasn’t shooting my picture for the cover, but I supported my kids, ate fairly well and gleaned more information than I’ll ever use on pipe fittings. I’ve learned a little about a lot from all my jobs. All in all a good day’s work.

These burgers were off the chart. Anyhow, this sauce is good on everything, but I love it on gooey cheeseburgers.

Cheeseburgers with Grilled Onions and Not So Secret Sauce

Burgers

1 tsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. ground chuck
1/2 tsp. seasoning salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. seasoned black pepper
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Garlic salt and pepper
4 slices Cheddar cheese
4 hamburger buns
Sliced Tomatoes
Lettuce
Pickles

Mix all ingredients together. Form into four patties. Heat oil in large skillet over med.-high heat. Add burgers. Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper if desired. Sear on one side and flip burger. Sear on opposite side and turn heat down to med.-low. Top with cheese. Continue cooking until cheese is melted.

Remove patties from pan and keep warm. Brown buns face down in same skillet.

Grilled Onions

1 onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. Canola oil
5 Tbsp. ice water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Heat oil in skillet over med.-high heat. Add onions, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring constantly for 5 mins. until golden brown.

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Continue cooking 5 mins., stirring constantly. Reduce heat to med. Stirring onions, add 1 Tbsp. of water. Mix well. Continue cooking until onions begin to get dry. Repeat until all 5 Tbsp. of water are depleted and onions are deep golden brown. Remove from heat. Serve over burgers.
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Not So Secret Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. chili sauce
1/4 cup catsup
1/8 cup yellow mustard
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

Whisk all ingredients together and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hr. Spread on both sides of hamburger buns.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Since I gave up nine to five for twenty-four seven, waking up in the middle of the night no longer means yawning during a morning meeting, or grabbing a nap in my car during my lunch hour. There’s a delicious kind of decadence, I find, in not having a fixed schedule to which my life must adhere.  I LIKE IT!  Last night my eyes opened wide at 2:45 a.m. and refused to be lulled back to sleep.  Once my mind shifts into gear it requires an act of congress, and you know how long that can take when you factor in recesses, sabbaticals, coffee breaks, spring breaks, summer breaks, and filibusters, to turn it off again.

Reassuring myself the plumbing still worked, I left my snoring hero in the bedroom.  Boo, the Queen of Cats, gave me a one-eyed glare from her favorite chair when I switched the light on in the kitchen. If she’d had a watch she would have pointed a furry paw at the dial. Flicking “on”, the coffee pot began its slow drip. Funny how long it takes to brew a pot, when you’re waiting for that first cup. Opening the dishwasher, I deposited the evidence of my other half’s late night snack in one of the racks.  Tuna sandwich from the looks of it.

Glorious.  The middle of night, fodder for ghost stories and things that go bump, is a nice place to find yourself on occasion. No mail, no phones, no chores or shopping to do, nothing bubbling on the stove needing your attention.  Heavenly peace and quiet, asking nothing of you but to lean back into it and savor the moment.  Outside it began to rain.  Morning or night I love the rain, so I opened the windows in the dining room to invite the smells and sounds inside for a bit, and pulled on a hoodie over my PJ’s to allow me the pleasure of its company.

Adding my usual one teaspoon of sugar and mountain of creamer to my steaming cup of coffee, I settled in my comfy recliner and hit the appropriate buttons on the remote to activate the TV.  When we first looked at this house as a possibility for a home, the TV was a bone of contention.  The house we always knew would be a fit, but would the TV fit in the house?  55″ of crisp clear LCD technology capable of retrieving 500+ channels. My other half’s youngest child. Offering up close and personal access to soccer, football, baseball and whatever else of a competitive nature claims air time. In his mind a deal breaker if the house wasn’t enough house to handle it.  The living room, about one quarter of the size of the one in our former home, was designed to allow the light and scenery in, furniture not so much.  After much deliberation we settled on how to arrange it attractively but as far as I could see the TV would either have to be suspended from the ceiling or actually adhered to it.  Moving and swearing, swearing and moving, we finally situated its at an angle in one corner and there it will remain.

I turned on TMC.  I know, I’m an old dog.  For me old movies are the best.  Outdated possibly, but some like The Awful Truth with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne which was in mid stride, still make me giggle as if viewing the footage for the first time. I could watch Cary Grant on screen forever and never tire of doing so.  They were epic often, huge and overdone, but that was their charm.  Actresses and actors back in the heyday of Hollywood were bigger than life delivering memorable performances, in an over the top way.  Judy Garland as Dorothy, Charlton Heston as Ben Hur, Audrey Hepburn as free spirit Holly Golightly and Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s masterpiece.

Squeezing the last drop out of the movie, although knowing the end by heart, I switched on the news to check the weather. Anything beats the news lately.  Every broadcast seems to include a recent multiple shooting or weather disaster.  So many shootings.  It makes me wonder if all the publicity given these incidents doesn’t provide a sort of training video for those people living on the precipice of reason.  Scary stuff.  The anchor went on to speak of an eight month pregnant woman from windowslivewriterhowtotreatyourowninsomnia-c1cbpolar-bear-insomnia-2California (naturally) who is lifting weights.  Good old Californians, if we’re not toning our bodies, tanning, or getting a face lift we’re not having a good day. Lifting weights at eight months along.  At eight months I could barely lift the donuts to my mouth.  The heaviest thing I pressed at that juncture in my pregnancy were my husband’s dress shirts.  Crazy.

From there they went on to cover all the usual uplifting subjects, rising gas prices, lack of healthcare, sagging economy, glitch in the employment checks, overseas turmoil.  In an effort to hold my middle of night mood, I switched the channel.  I decided after watching the news team, news anchor or reporter would never be my forte.  Shoving a microphone in the face of someone fully immersed in the worst day of their life and asking something totally inane like, “how does it feel to have watched your home slide down the side of a mountain and into the ocean?” would not work for me. It’s amazing any of them live past thirty.

Cops, ah yes, I like Cops.  It interests me the totally stupid things some of these criminals do. Of the police reality shows, in particular I like to watch Bait Car.  These guys or ladies hop into an expensive unlocked car abandoned with one door open and the keys in the lock and never seem to wonder at their dumb luck (dumb being the optimum word here) until the police in the unmarked cars lock the doors and shut off the engine.  I watched an episode of “World’s Dumbest Crooks” a while ago.  It showed a man attempting to break into an electronics store.  Unable to break the Plexiglas windows with a baseball bat he threw a heavy rock at it.  Being plexiglass it threw the rock right back at him knocking him cold as a wedge and setting off the alarm.  Some people need to be locked up not only for our protection but for their own.

So there’s my night in a capsule.  Hope you haven’t nodded off.  Filled the crockpot with baby back ribs and tried a recipe given to me at a pot luck back in the restaurant days. Lots of ingredients but worth the trouble.  Finger licking good for sure.

Melt in Your Mouth Crockpot Baby Back Ribs

1 rack baby back ribs
1/2 cup butter
1 Tbsp. sesame oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. Molasses
1 Tbsp. Maple Syrup
1 tsp. chili sauce
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 Tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. saki (sherry can be substituted)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Heat butter and sesame oil in medium saucepan. Add onion and cook for 5 mins. Add garlic and cook for 1 min. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 8-10 mins. until thickened. Allow to cool slightly.

Spray bottom of 6 quart crockpot. Wash ribs and pat dry. Cut into three pieces (scissors are easiest). Season with salt and pepper as desired. Place one piece in bottom of cooker. Cover with 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with other two pieces.

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Cook on low for 8 hours. Remove and finish under broiler or on barbecue if desired.

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final1

One word keeps crossing my mind like the moving billboard on Times Square.
V A C A T I O N. Of course, I can’t stop in the middle of all that is going on at the moment, pack a bag, and wave a jaunty adios. However, whether or not I ask it to stop, my subconscious insists on continuing to scout locations. Last night in my dreams I visited South Africa and Italy. Who knows where my passport will be stamped tonight?

Choosing a vacation location always becomes somewhat of a quandary for me. I’m not much of a flyer. Used to be. As a matter of fact, I was all signed up and ready to be a stewardess at one point. Somewhere along the line, I lost faith in the idea a metal cylinder loaded with jet fuel was going to stay suspended high up in the clouds where it wasn’t intended to be in the first place. Oddly enough, in my misspent youth I even considered getting my private pilot’s license. I took my first and last lesson when I was five months pregnant with my son. As planes go, it was a small one, a Cessna 150 or the like. The dashboard had two steering wheels or controls my instructor called them. One was for the pilot and the other for the student. I felt like a four-year old sitting next to her daddy in the car with a plastic steering wheel and a little ball horn that went “meep meep” when you pushed it. I resisted the urge to go “vroooom, vrooom”.

The pilot, a cheery enough man in probably his late thirties, was a little hesitant about taking me up once he realized I was “carrying”. Given a waiver releasing him from liability, I signed it without thought because I was young, and of course knew everything there was to know about the world as all young people do. Wise, wise beyond my years I was.

Closing the doors we spent about a half an hour on the ground going over pre-flight instructions and a general overview of what button, dial, gadget does what. Naturally I felt capable of soloing after 30 minutes training before the plane ever left the ground. Once airborne, I was struck by how noisy it was in the cockpit. I had the oddest sensation of being suspended in midair hanging from a propeller. Perhaps because I was, in fact, suspended in midair hanging from a propeller. I would assume, as I did then, if that annoying noise should stop any time during my lesson it would not bode well for the remainder of the flight.

I don’t remember being intimidated by the whole experience at all. Rather, I found it fascinating. As it turned out you actually steer the incredible flying machines with your feet. A concept, I was told, that could be a bit confusing at first. It was late spring, as my son made his appearance in early August. The world below us was in bloom and verdant green prevailed. Passing beneath our wings, from my angle it appeared to be a huge patchwork quilt put together by an alcoholic granny on a binge. Perspective is so altered in the air. Objects below looked as if they were part of an elaborate H.O. train setup. At times the instructor rocked the wings one direction then another, or pointed the nose up or toward the ground. I found myself fervently wishing he would not rock the boat, or plane in this case. Next he explained what a stall was. For me, this was too much information. Silently I prayed there wasn’t to be a demonstration any time soon. Then he did the most amazing thing! Pointing to my controls, he asked me to place my hands are them and take over. All previous faith I had in the man sluffed off like flour off a mirror. Are you kidding me? Somebody was smoking their shoe laces. “Mommy.”

Visions of planes plummeting out of control spinning wildly toward earth, rushed through my head like water through a fissure. Following instructions explicitly, my profusely sweating hands gripped the controls so firmly I was sure it would take the jaws of life to remove them once the lesson was done. It was a heady experience feeling the small plane respond to my commands. One I thoroughly enjoyed at the time but knew instinctively I wouldn’t need to recreate for myself any time in the near future. Suddenly getting on the ground took over as the main train of thought for me and my bladder was nearly insisting on it. Both baby and I breathed a huge sigh of relief on exiting the plane and thanking my instructor some forty minutes later.

My next near miss in the air came around twenty-five. I was working for a gold recycler in Southern California. There was an employee there about the same age as I who was a stunt flyer. Several times he asked if I’d like to go up and take a spin. I assumed at the time he was referring to the airplane. On reflection, there may have been more to the story. My earlier experience was still fresh in my memory bank, so I demurred. To encourage me to give it a try, he brought in video showing him doing rolls, stalls, and loops (in his plane, naturally). In my opinion this was a sign of a serious brain malfunction which required immediate medical help of the psychological kind.

Soooo, I am left with reviewing other option. How about a cruise ship? Ahhhhhhh, no. Cruise lines really ought to include porta-potties and emergency rations in their welcome aboard packages these days. Bike tours? Don’t have the lower body muscles for such an undertaking. For that matter, don’t have the upper body muscles. Bus trips? (I’ll tell you a story about that later, but no.) Love trains, but last I heard they don’t cross either the Pacific or the Atlantic and there aren’t plans to change this presently in the works. Maybe I’ll catch a cab to the east coast, purchase a blow up raft at the Salvation Army, and row across the Atlantic. So many things to think about.

There are two options in play in the picture above, a fabulous tarragon melting butter and the outrageous cilantro mint sauce I’m providing the recipe for below.  Both are delicious so I thought I whet your appetite and give them to you one at a time.

cilantro sauceCilantro Mint Sauce

1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. dried mint
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp. chives
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

Place parsley, cilantro, mint, chives, garlic, salt and pepper in food processor.

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Pulse until finely chopped.

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Mix together oil, red wine vinegar, lemon juice and pepper flakes. Pour slowly into herb mixture until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pan Fried Rib-eye Steaks

3 Tbsp. olive oil
4 1″ rib-eye steaks
Kosher salt, black pepper, and lemon pepper to taste

Season both sides of steaks with kosher salt, black pepper and lemon pepper. Allow to come to room temperature (about a half an hour)

Heat oil in cast iron skillet (or heavy skillet) over high heat. Sear steaks on one side for 2 mins. never touching or piercing the meat. Turn over with tongs and repeat cooking time on either side.

Serve with cilantro sauce.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

As I said in my last post, I’ve had a bout in the hospital as has my stepfather, Will, who is still there.  Located on the eastern half of the country, their side of the family sent an emissary in the form of Will’s youngest grandson, to monitor his condition.  I pick on young people from time to time.  This not because I am not fond of them, but conversely because I am so fond of them.  All that potential and enthusiasm wrapped up in young responsive bodies. No wrinkles, grey hair, or crow’s feet and a lifetime of living laid out in front of them. What’s not to like?

I do see a trend in kids pushing into adulthood over the past decade which disturbs me.  It’s a lack of motivation maybe, or a fear of growing up.  No doubt it is a scarier world out there than when I was growing up. I can understand wanting to stay close to home, but whether we like it or not at some point our parents job is to give us a gentle nudge or perhaps a swift kick in the direction of the door.  Growing up is an unfortunate side effect of reaching adulthood. Some embrace it, some fight it, some never make it.  I’ve dipped my toe in the dating pool often enough over the years to know this to be true in at least a small percentage of the men I have dated and I’m sure men could say the same.

Back in the 90’s I had a girlfriend closing in on forty.  Her biological clock, beyond ticking, was actually clanging. Her boyfriend eight years younger than her, was still reliving his frat house days and not overly enthusiastic about committing to a serious relationship. Once I was invited to dinner at his house. Over thirty, he lived with two younger roommates in an eclectic beach apartment.  Furniture was scarce, except for three bean bags strategically placed in front of the large screen TV which dominated the room.  Their days, outside of the work necessary to sustain them, were spent surfing, playing video games, and seeing who could make the most creative bodily noises. Over a dinner of stuffed pizza and bread sticks, the roomies (I affectionately referred to them as Larry, Moe and Curly Joe) mentioned casually they’d misplaced the cat. Not wanting to delve into the grim possibilities of that statement, I excused myself to use the facilities.

The shower curtain in the loo, colorfully decorated with images of the cast from the Simpsons, was closed.  On one end the handle of what appeared to be a pan was sticking out. Curiosity overwhelming me, I peeked.  Yes, I did.  Stacked high behind the curtain was a huge pile of dirty dishes, so many it surprised me there were any left for dinner. They were balanced precariously on top of what appeared to be three years worth of dirty laundry now coated with dried egg, catsup and pieces of old hamburger buns from the dishes.  Several pillows, one with a large wet spot from a dripping faucet were scattered around for good measure.  I know! Figuring anything could be lurking in the pile, I poked around a bit in case the missing cat might have inadvertently been buried alive. Nothing furry was to be found other than the bathtub itself which most probably had never been cleaned since, well, most probably had never been cleaned.

A few months later, growing weary of the chase, my girlfriend joined her Peter Pan on a visit to his mother, taking note he’d brought several bags of laundry for mom to attend to.  In the kitchen with his mother after dinner helping with the dishes, my girlfriend announced she was returning the woman’s son because he “wasn’t done yet”.  I love that line.

Will’s grandson was a refreshing change. He seems to have found the golden ticket, and for someone having lived on this planet a mere twenty-seven years,  a tremendous respect for our world coupled with a need to give back to it rather than take from in.  I like that.  Over the past few years in a national forest somewhere in Indiana this young person built his own home, started an organic farming business or permaculture homestead I believe it’s called, and is presently beginning construction on a second, larger home where he will eventually live.  His venture is totally self-sustaining. Chickens run free range, if you will, over the property sustaining themselves on bugs and tidbits they forage in their surroundings.  During the winter months his brood provides 1-2 dozen fresh eggs a day, and far more during warmer seasons.  Pens border the area where large pink piggies happily wallow and gorge until their time comes to donate to the good of the whole arrives.  All meat is cured on the property and all vegetables grown organically. He cooks on a small stove using only fresh ingredients and informed me he is almost never sick, not even so much as a cold.  Interesting.  I am including his website if you’d be interested in checking out what he’s doing.  http://www.breadandrosesgardens.com/index.html

Besides his impressive work ethic, I was equally moved by his demeanor with my mother.  Sometimes when young, it is difficult to imagine growing old or to identify with those who have already made the journey.  Once when my son was around four I took him to Nova Scotia to visit my maternal grandmother.  Most probably it was his first encounter with someone of her advanced age. Finally venturing out from behind my knee he was transfixed.  Rarely a quiet child, the relief to my eardrums I found less comforting than I did unnerving.  Children at that age tend to be painfully honest and likely to voice any thought, no matter how unpleasant that passes through their little minds. After a lengthy study of her well weathered hands he looked up at my sweet little grandmother and said, “Are you going to die soon?”.  Where’s a roll of duct tape when you need it?

At any rate, I’m on the mend here.  My voice still comes in and out, but my other half is enjoying the quiet associated with such a phenomena.  This soup was so good.  I had a couple of packages of chuck eye steak which I used and when done it was so tender it melted in your mouth.

Vegetable Beef Soup

1 1/2 lbs. chuck-eye roast, cubed (or your preference)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes
3 carrots, sliced 1/4″
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and large diced
2 ribs celery, sliced
1 onion, halved and quartered
1/2 cup frozen peas with pearl onions
2 Tbsp. parsley
3 bay leaves
8 cups water *
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1 oz. pkg. McCormick Au Jus Gravy Mix
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. seasoning salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. celery salt
2 tsp. beef bouillon

Heat oil in large skillet over med.-high heat. Brown cubed beef on all sides.

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. When meat is browned place on bottom of crockpot.

Distribute vegetables on top of meat. Pour tomatoes with juice on top of vegetables.

Mix together water, Worcestershire, au jus mix, and remaining spices. Pour over all.

Cook on low for 12 hours. Serve with croutons on top.

*Note: With all ingredients in pot the liquid line should be 3/4 full. If not, add slightly more water.

Garlic Parmesan Croutons

6 slices of Beckman’s cheese bread (or any artisan bread you prefer), cubed
2 Tbsp. plus 1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. Lawry’s garlic salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray.

Place bread and seasonings in large resealable bag or bowl with lid and toss to cover with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, garlic salt, black pepper, and grated Parmesan cheese. Distribute in single layer on prepared baking sheet. sprinkle additional 1 Tbsp. of oil over top.

Bake for 8 mins. and toss. Continue baking until light golden brown. Remove from oven and sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese.

Turn oven up to broil.

Place croutons back in oven and watch carefully until cheese has melted and is crunchy. Allow to cool. Serve with soup. Refrigerate leftovers for salads. Yum.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Well, here I am again at 3:28 a.m. precisely. Seems to be the witching hour for me of late.  This time it was my internal processes waking me up with a message from the spicy, garlic laden chili I consumed for dinner, reminding me that they’ve warned me about such doings before and cannot be responsible for the results.  A little swig of pink liquid from the plastic bottle seems to have calmed things down a bit.

Photos by Susie Nelson

According to the news coverage I was the only human not in a store on Friday.  Instead I opted to put up Christmas decorations (thought I’d share some pics) and graze contentedly on the leftovers calling to me from the refrigerator shelves.  I pulled together my signature day after Thanksgiving sandwich for breakfast, light mayonnaise on rich grain bread, turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce (jellied for this purpose), with a dash of salt and pepper. Often I eat leftovers for breakfast, and might be spotted downing a meatball or a piece of cold pizza before 8:00 a.m. My other half covers his eyes in horror when I do such a thing, but for me foods don’t have to be eaten at a specific time of the day, but rather when the mood strikes you.

Thanksgiving itself passed quietly for the two of us. Even though we were short in numbers, the phone kept me busy in between preparing vegetables and getting Tom T. ready for his last big performance.  The old boy didn’t miss a cue and in end made such a tender and meaty showing that I was moved to applaud.  Pods of family groups, all separated this year, checked in from various locations and I fielded a number of culinary questions from those hosting the meal for the first time. Having been in the trenches myself many times over the years, I know from whence I speak.

My son and his wife order their dinner from a local restaurant as did my mother and her guests.  I’m very “old school” to his thinking, for insisting on going through all the work to produce the whole meal particularly with no guests on the horizon.  I am an old dog, I would suppose, but it’s all about the mouth-watering smells emanating from the kitchen during the day. Despite the small contingency expected at the table, I made all the fixin’s including glazed carrots, creamed onions, and fresh brussel sprouts.  Once again I pulled out the coffee and made red-eye gravy which is becoming a habit around here it’s so good.

On a humorous note we had a peach pie in the freezer we purchased several months ago as a school fund-raiser for one of the kids. This seemed a perfect idea for dessert.  At a tidy price of $25.00, part going to the school, I felt it should remove itself from the freezer and pop in the oven on its own but it refused to budge when I brought the subject up.  According to the directions it was made from all fresh ingredients. 105 minutes was the designated cooking time plus 6 hours of rest once removed from the oven before enjoying.  Can do.  Once baked and plump and crusty, I left it on the rack to cool and went about the rest of my day.

Hmmmmm.

After allowing the dust to the settle on the first round of carnage we actually decided to continue watching our feet disappear from below our midsections by adding a piece of pie to the damage.  Cutting into it we got a surprise.  The $25.00 must have been the going price for crusts. Apparently we had not checked the appropriate box to pay for filling, because as you can see, we didn’t get any.  What we got was a gaping hole with a mostly empty cavity looking more like the turkey in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation than a piece of pastry. Interesting.  Not to be done out of our bit of sweet we slapped some whipped cream on the crust and carried on.

Today I will be in the kitchen most of the day as I’m preparing for a visit to my mothers for a few days.  My other half refers to this as “relocation” rather than “vacation”, because I simply move my culinary duties from my kitchen to hers, but I don’t mind. It is nice to be able to spoil her now and again and we spend time talking and chopping so that makes it more special.

In our absence friends are coming to “house sit” and enjoy the glorious weather mother nature is providing for the week and keep an eye on the furrier of the residents not going with us as well as the house itself.  It’s a win/win for both of us as we don’t have to pay a pet sitter and they don’t have to get a hotel room so yea for us.

Mouse, our adopted cat, as I’ve explained in previous posts would, if human, I believe be described as schizophrenic. Of the many cats I’ve had she has the most capricious of moods, is the most voracious of hunters, and communicates more often than any other of her ilk.  Preferring her own company, she will cuddle up next to you if snacks are on the horizon but this on her terms only and time wasted trying to get her to do your bidding will leave you in the end frustrated or just plain looking ridiculous.

Yesterday the church ladies stopped by for their weekly visit and saving of souls.  They are lovely women, so I stood with my wooden spoon and apron and shared a moment.  During the discussion Mouse the cat’s name came up as they knew of our history and that she had “adopted” us nearly two years ago.  The older of the two ladies, well retired and living in a mobile home park asked if I was looking for a home for Mouse.  What!  Oh, it was a tempting moment, fraught with the devil’s hand in it.  Packed and in the car in five minutes no questions asked.  But no, I could not face myself in the morning for doing it to either party so the Mousemeat as we call her shall remain in the folds of our small family as we have come to an understanding.

The following recipe is my first stab at this soup and it was wonderful.  It is a bit of preparation but well worth the effort.

Italian Wedding Soup

12 cups chicken stock
2 large chicken breasts
2 bunches green onions, chopped (white and green parts)
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 bay leaves
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bag baby spinach, chopped
1/4 cup freshly chopped parsley
1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, beaten
Parmesan for garnish

Meatballs

1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground chuck
1 small onion, grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup parsley flakes
1 egg, beaten

In large bowl mix all meatball ingredients together until well blended. Use fingertips rather than squeezing with hand to prevent over mixing. Make into 1″ meatballs and set aside.

Soup

Heat butter and oil in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onions, carrots, celery and garlic and saute for 8 mins. until vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Add broth and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add chicken breasts and reduce to simmer. Cook about 15-20 mins. then remove and shred chicken with forks. Return to broth.

Add spinach and parsley and continue cooking for 35-40 mins. Mix egg with 1 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese. Drizzle slowly into soup stirring with a fork to make thin strands.

Add meatballs to soup. Cook for 20 mins. longer.

Ladle into large soup bowls and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 8-10.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Well, it’s Wednesday and I’m still working my way through Sunday’s list. This is not a good thing. Today I had an appointment at my dermatologist for a quick oversee of my Canadian skin. Apparently Canadian skin was not made for exposure to the sun, or at least according to Dr. A.  Being Scandinavian and so pale he makes me look American Indian, most probably he knows from whence he speaks.

I am paying for years of being a sun worshiping water baby who as a kid was raised in an era where homes had silver cigarette holders on the coffee table and hard-working dads downed three martinis before one in the afternoon. In my teens a large pool shimmered in our back yard in the Southern California sun. Tanning was neither discouraged nor encouraged but rather discussed only in the vein of how dark a shade you planned to achieve before bikini season. Ach. Teens back then, unarmed with numbered bottles to deflect the sun of the present generation, instead poured iodine in bottles of baby lotion to do just the opposite.

My mother has very few lines, and thankfully (I’m in a thankful mood today) she passed that on to me, well, along with dental issues, eye problems, skin irritations and homely feet. Fortunately, insanity does not run in our family. In turn, I passed these on to my daughter, with my son only grabbing the brass ring on the eye issues, a situation which my daughter reminds me regularly was a bit uneven sharing on my part.

Dr. A. used his incredible freezing gun on my sun damaged areas, which numbered eight small spots. Uncomfortable, rather than painful, the procedure leaves you looking like a human version of a connect the dots puzzle for several days. Thankfully, (again with the thanks) makeup can be applied over the destruction to hide it until it heals.

Thanksgiving on the horizon tomorrow, I find myself reflective today. Ours will be quiet as families are scattered this year, but we will be festive. Tom T. will enjoy his moment in the sun (actually its more the oven light) as the guest of honor. This morning I opened the refrigerator door and spent a moment of silence with him thanking him for the sacrifice he has made. So touched, he said nothing in reply.

I read somewhere for most humans if asked what is deficient in their personalities will write volumes of descriptive narrative listing their faults. However, when asked to list their good traits, the pen hangs over the paper like a hovering aircraft. Perhaps being thankful for what we have falls beneath that umbrella as well. It is so easy to list what we feel we are missing or have been slighted in our lives while overlooking what we have or what is right in front of our faces.

For me I am thankful first and foremost for my other half, my family, and my friends. Gifts given to me when I slid into this world which have helped me find humor in the craziness and joy during the worst of times, would fall second on my list. Also, when I wake up in the morning and turn on the light my kitchen, I am thankful I have a kitchen to turn my lights on in, that there is coffee brewing in my coffee pot which I can see, smell, touch and taste. I can walk to my coffee pot on both legs and lift the pot with either arm. Outside, views of the lake are resplendent beyond the living room windows. It has been my privilege to awaken to this view every day for the last ten years with no sound of shelling nor any likelihood of an attack likely to ruin the moment.

If I don’t like what my government is doing I can open my mouth and express my views, within reason, and not be muzzled. Our country is not perfect, but in comparison to what is going on around the world it shines quite brightly.

Love is a big part of my life, and I’ve been given so much and try to give back as much and more if possible in return. This is a good thing. I do not anger easily because life is short and words and actions taken in that state of being often hang in the air for years resisting attempts to remove them.

So, there are many things to be thankful for on this day of thanks. I hope your list in long and your day finds you at peace.

On a last note I will be catching up on my awards this weekend of which there are two. I wasn’t planning on doing these any more, but these are special so I am going to show my appreciation for being included by including you as well. Viveka of My Guilty Pleasures has included me in her nominations for Blogger of the Year 2012 and thanking Cristi at Simple.Interesting for nominating me for the Super Sweet Blogger Award. Drop by and say hello if you get a moment.

I’m including the red-eye gravy recipe below because it’s timely and so easy and absolutely wonderful no matter the meat. For beef I use a hit of brandy or bourbon, and for pork and fowl a bit of cooking sherry. You will find this deceptively full bodied and flavorful, even if the coffee puts you off a bit.

This recipe has a lot of parts but they come together easily and in the end are amazingly rewarding. The seasoned flour will make more than you need so store in a resealable plastic bag and use for next time.

Filet Mignon With Mushrooms and Red Eye Gravy

Filets

2 trimmed filets (you pick the size)
1/2 Tbsp. lemon pepper
1/2 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup brandy or bourbon

Combine lemon pepper and black pepper. Rub on both sides of steaks and place in refrigerator for 1 hour before cooking.

Sauteed Mushrooms

2 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
3 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 grinds black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced

Melt butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, green onions, white wine (dry like chardonnay), soy sauce, pepper and garlic. Reduce heat to med. low and saute until mushrooms are cooked about 8 mins. Remove from heat and set aside.

Seasoned Flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. onion powder
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Mix all seasoned flour ingredients together and reserve 2 Tbsp. for recipe, reserving the rest for future use (also good for dredging pork chops or fish).

Red Eye Gravy

Pan drippings
1 cup chicken broth
3/4 cup strong coffee (I fill a measuring cup with the mornings coffee and allow it to sit during the day)
3/4 cup buttermilk (note: if out of buttermilk add 1 Tbsp. of lemon juice to 1 cup of milk and allow to sit to 10 mins.)
1/2 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation for steaks and gravy:

Heat 2 Tbsp. of butter over med./high heat until frothy but not burned. Add seasoned steaks and sear well on both sides cooking to desired doneness. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Add brandy to deglaze pan stirring to incorporate bits on bottom. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp. of seasoned flour over pan drippings and whisk briskly to incorporate flour. Whisk in chicken broth and allow to reduce by 1/3. Meanwhile bring 3/4 cup of strong coffee to boil. Whisk into pan. Slowly whisk in 1/2 cup buttermilk until thickened, add sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Add cooked mushrooms and serve over steak. Yum.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

It’s quarter to three,
There’s no one in the place cept you and me
So set em up joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know

The above is my statement on turning the clocks back.  Springing ahead works for me, but the fall change always throws me off my feed. Last night my eyelids refused to remain shut. I counted sheep, repeated the number 1 a thousand times, then counted backwards from 200 by 3’s for an hour until finally I gave up, and got up.  In doing so, Boo, the Queen of Cats, was prematurely disturbed from her “catnap” in her new bed. Mostly, I believe more out of her insatiable curiosity rather than a sense of comradery, she deigned to accompany me for a middle of the night cup of coffee and a bit of writing.  Boo is my worst critic, naturally resenting any of my time not devoted meeting her every need, including my time spent on the keyboard.  Not at all shy about showing her displeasure, she ranges from presenting her hindquarters for my inspection while I’m trying to type or taking a nip at my moving fingers if all else fails.  Cats and cockroaches, truly, rule the world.  I read somewhere that if a nuclear holocaust occurred cats would do very well and I do not doubt that for one moment.  Most certainly they would dine on those who had fed them, and if my two are evidence of the average cat’s disposition they should be found high on the pecking order of those remaining in the animal kingdom.

Although there isn’t much going on at 3 a.m., I occasionally like being up in the middle of the night.  No phones ringing, stores and banks closed, as is my kitchen, and the couch with its inviting big puffy pillows and the trio of remotes are mine, all mine.  With all this power at my fingertips you’d think I could find one thing I want to watch.  Infomercials fill the lines on the program guide, alongside reruns of Roseanne.  We’ve cut our premium channels down to the bone because;  a) they’re expensive, and b) there’s nothing on them we want to watch.  My other half is taping his usual million soccer games that populate our DVR. Click, on to something more interesting.

It’s strange to think of life without television, although truthfully I never sit down and watch it for long. For me, it’s like background noise.  I often think of the gadgets and electronics we take for granted that generations preceding us would have stared at in gape mouthed wonder.  I can recall back when the first microwaves came out.  Expensive and cumbersome, they were a miracle of modern technology.  Once the price dropped to a reasonable amount, one came to live at my house. Having not one single idea of the workings of such a device and faced with a large instruction manual, decided to start with a hot dog.  It said 40 seconds on high, but that didn’t seem like enough time.  Obviously knowing far more than the manufacturer I decided to heat the bun and the dog at the same time, and programmed the timer for 2 minutes on high.  After I removed it from the oven I was afraid to throw it in the trash lest somebody find it and use it as a bludgeoning tool in a homicide.  Bun and dog were fused and as one would mulch together in the landfill from that moment on.  Next I tried oregano chicken. This dish came out of the microwave as alabaster in color cooked as when raw, except for addition of the sickening green hue contributed by the oregano.  My children still refer to this as the “infamous green chicken debacle of ’78”.  For many years following, “reheat” and “timer” were the only buttons showing any wear.

After my mother passed the spoon to me in my thirties, Thanksgiving was hosted at my house. Three years ago was the last time.  That year, twenty people arriving expecting to be fed and my two kitchen separated by a floor between them, I decided either I don my Nike’s and marathon tee-shirt and hit the stairs running, or cook what I could ahead and utilize the microwave to reheat.  Genius.  Unfortunately, one hour before the first hit on the doorbell my old microwave raised the white flag and admitted defeat.  What!  I got so desperate I began to eye the barbecue as a tool for warming my potatoes.  God bless good old Home Depot, they were open on limited hours so my other half pulled on his cape and his shirt with the big red “S” and in the blink of an eye reappeared with a new microwave and saved the day.  Life was good.

This year we are on our own as everyone is scattering like ants on a hot grill.  In a way, the idea of kicking back and avoiding traffic and the usual mixed bag of family issues often included in holiday gatherings will make for a nice, quiet day with a small turkey and all the trimmings filling the house with delicious smells.  My heart will miss all my beloved family members, but several days after we’re heading down to my Mom’s to another turkey day with them, so in the end the calories will just keep on coming.

This meat was so delicious and so much better than stew meat. As this cut is ideal for stews or stir fry, I froze the remainder for the next time I take out my wok. My other half is not fond of brussel sprouts, but ate every one of them in this dish.

Fabulous Crockpot Beef Stew with Brussel Sprouts

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 lbs. sirloin tip roast, cubed
2 onions, cubed
1 lb. brussel sprouts, halved
3 carrots, cut in chunks
2 celery stalks, sliced in 1″ slices
3 large russet potatoes, large cubed
1 zucchini, cut in 1/2″ slices
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
12 green beans, halved
4 cups beef broth
1/4 red wine
1 1/2 cups prepared au jus
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. beef bouillon crystals
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 15 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes with juice
1/2 Tbsp. Paprika
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/3 cup chunky salsa (I used hot)
1 pkg. brown gravy mix

Mix together flour, 1/2 tsp, black pepper, and 1 tsp. salt in medium mixing bowl. Dredge meat thoroughly in flour. Heat oil to shimmering in large saucepan. Brown meat well on all sides.

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Add browned meat to bottom of pot. Top with chopped vegetables. Mix remaining ingredients together through paprika.

Cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 8 hours. Add red pepper flakes, chunky salsa and brown gravy mix. Whisk to blend. Increase heat to high and continue cooking for 1 hour.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

I haven’t had time to do much reading lately, so have missed stopping by and visiting everybody’s blogs.  Will try to catch up soon. Yesterday I spent a good portion of my day immersed in paperwork.  Perhaps spending our days buried in paper is Mother Nature’s retribution for cutting down her majestic trees.  In particular, these papers were loan pre-approval forms for purchasing a house.  It seems if you want to buy a house at least one tree must be sacrificed in the process. There was so much personal information requested in these forms that a reader should be able to locate the discretely placed mole under my right rib.  Sigh. Uncharacteristically, I have been avoiding this chore.  Usually, I heed my grandmother’s words to live by, “put the chores you like the least at the top of your to do ladder and work down to the more palatable ones”.  In this case, the loan paperwork was moved up and down the rungs of that ladder more times than a busy firefighter.

For years I worked in an office.  Paperwork was pushed down to me from above. Once processed on my desk, I pushed it on down the line to someone else who, in turn, pushed it further down the line until eventually it ended up wherever old paperwork goes to die; a shredder, a file cabinet, or gathering dust in banker’s box in the warehouse.  Every day I’d go in to work to find the empty inbox from the night before replenished in my absence and the next eight hours were spent trying to rid myself of it once again. Sort of like a secretarial version of Groundhog Day.

This year the gods have been particular prolific with their distribution of paper, at least at our house.  With the holidays approaching, merchants are sending out catalogs at an alarming rate to get those holiday bucks in the bank. I just round file one bunch and a new one appears to take its place.

With gas prices skyrocketing, particularly in California where everything has to cost more (about $.87/gallon more here), it makes good sense to order on-line. Besides rising gas prices, other incentives are the infinite variety of items available on the Web, plus avoiding the inevitable crush of holiday shoppers pushing and screaming their way through the stores. As with most things in life, ordering from the comfort of your easy chair is not seamless.  Last month was my other half’s birthday.  I ordered a pair of moccasins on-line in his usual size.  They arrived on time but once on his feet, proved to be too large. Since he loved the shoes, I filled out the exchange form, reboxed them, and headed to UPS. To return them it would seem would cost me $14.95.  Once received and exchanged I was debited $7.95 to ship the pair we exchanged them for.  Really?  Driving to the mall was starting to look better.  Three weeks later the new shoes arrived. Excited he put them on and in an imperfect world these were also too big.  Now, if I returned these for the next size down I could now have bought a second pair. After some deliberation we went to the store and bought a pair of Dr. Scholl’s inserts.  Case closed.

Last year my mother discovered catalog shopping.  A quick study when it comes to purchasing, it didn’t take her long to develop a taste for it.  For my mom, shopping is a vocation, and she’s damn good at her job.  Apparel would be her number one passion, items for the home running a close second.  In my formative years bags and boxes of new goodies were hidden by my mother in various closets, beneath beds, and in the attic to be introduced later and always described when asked if new as “this old thing”.  To this day her closet is legendary.  Tours are conducted weekly. Clothing is arranged according to color and occasion.  Evening or more dressy items are stored in huge plastic zipper containers, also color coded.  All four seasons are represented and as each season rounds the bend clothing from the last is pushed toward the back and replaced by new season appropriate.  I’m quite sure the hospital gave her the wrong baby in the nursery because in that area we share no like genes. I am very neat as a human but if my red shirt is butting up against a blue plaid I do not required immediate solutions to the problem. As a kid I used to love to explore her closet, vamping in front of the full length mirror pretending to be a movie star or a princess from an exotic land.  I would try on all the beautiful clothes hanging there, accessorizing them from the storehouse of shoes and hats stacked on the shelves above.

Mother has a computer but it’s just for show.  Back a few years she took an introductory class and after two classes total frustration resulted in a mutual decision between teacher and student to go their separate ways.  This being the case, her catalog ordering must be done via the phone lines. To preface, this is a tricky ordering venue for my mom as she is deaf as a post, and pride has found no room for hearing aids. After this last ordering fiasco, the hearing aid situation is being reassessed. As luck would have it the customer service rep answering her call had a very heavy foreign accent.  Having a deaf person on one end and a person struggling with English on the other made navigating the lines of communication like rowing a canoe in a hurricane.  Managing to place the order but deliberating between several sizes the conversation became highly frustrating for both parties. Finally, my mother, who will be the first to tell you patience isn’t in her vocabulary, decided on a size and the order was placed.  Two days ago she received an enormous box with all her items in each size available.  I can’t wait to hear how the conversation with the customer service people regarding the returns goes down.  That’s my mom.

I love meatloaf.  I’ve tried it in so many different ways, but this one was particularly flavorful and the sauce was yum.

Meatloaf with Tangy Tomato Glaze

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 green onions, finely chopped (white and smidgen of green)
3 large mushrooms, finely chopped
1/3 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. sage
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 large egg beaten
1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
Glaze(recipe follows)

Tangy Tomato Glaze

8 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
4 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 cup catsup

Mix well until sugar is dissolved. Spread half on meat loaf, reserving other half for serving.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in large skillet over med. heat. Add onions, green onions, mushrooms, green pepper, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Cook over med-low heat for 6-8 mins. until vegetables are tender and onions translucent. Remove from heat. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, broth and tomato paste. Allow to cool.

Mix together bread crumbs, sage and garlic powder. In large mixing bowl combine cooled onion mixture, ground chuck, bread crumbs and spices and beaten egg with fork. If you prefer to mix by hand use your fingertips to avoid over mixing.

Spray loaf pan with cooking spray. Form into a loaf and place in pan. Crisscross with a fork to even out top. Coat with 1/2 of glaze mixture. Reserve the rest for serving. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Warm reserved glaze and serve with meat.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Football season is here again. You can’t see me, but if you could, you would not see me dancing across the room with unbridled glee. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching a football game at a stadium from time to time but not a fan of a full Sunday afternoon spent watching the games.

I must admit, however, I breathed a sigh of relief on hearing they’d settled the dispute with the refs, because if the replacement refs were allowed to continue to hand out the calls they’d been giving out my other half would have had to increase his blood pressure dosage.

My second husband was addicted to sports. Really, he needed a 12 step program. I believe he would have opened a lawn chair and signaled for a dog and a beer if he’d seen two men with brooms sweeping a parking lot. On weekends he and his equally grid iron crazed buddies paced our family room like a band of caged tigers. Spittle flew from their mouths as they damned an errant player to the fires of all eternity and explained to the coaches how the game should be strategized correctly. I went shopping on those days, consequently, I always associate this time of year with having a well stocked closet.

Although an afficienado of all sports, his true passion was his alma mater, USC Trojans (University of Southern California). Living in the L.A. area at the time, I spent many a night with my lips turning blue sitting in the bleachers watching the Trojans play. Trojan fans and alumni were enthusiastic supporters, showing up resplendent in team colors carrying blankets, thermoses and over sized foam hands. Colorful painted faces peeked out from beneath the brims of appropriately embroidered ball caps and team spirit was palpable in the stadium goers. Not to be outdone, sweatshirts were purchased by my husband to be worn for the games and our lap robes, socks, pillows, and his boxer shorts all reflected his abiding love for his team. For me it was all about the hot dogs, they really do taste better, hot coffee, and foot warming socks.

Looking back I was really more of a draftee than a full fledged volunteer as football fans go, so it was ironic that I was present for what was arguably one of the more memorable games in college football history.

It was Saturday, November 20, 1982 and the game was between the University of California Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinals, long time college football rivals. I will quote Wikipedia on the following description as if I described it it would be virtually unrecognizable for those who love the game.

“After Stanford had taken a 20–19 lead on a field goal with four seconds left in the game, the Golden Bears used five lateral passes on the ensuing kickoff return to score the winning touchdown and earn a disputed 25–20 victory. Members of the Stanford Band had come onto the field midway through the return, believing that the game was over, which added to the ensuing confusion and folklore. There remains disagreement over the legality of two of the laterals,[1][2] adding to the passion surrounding the traditional rivalry of the annual “Big Game.”

To boil it down into Susie terms, I was holding a hot cup of coffee while watching the last breaths of the game. My husband sensing game over, went to use the facilities before they were mobbed with departing fans. Stanford was leading by 1 point and the competitive tension was running high in the stands. Watching the field with no one to ask why I found myself wondering why the Stanford band was forming on the field when the game was still in progress. Suddenly, the crowd went mad as band members and players mingled confusedly as the final play was made on the field below. So, in one of life’s great cruel jokes, I watched football history unfolding in the stands while my husband who lived for the sport was relieving himself in the stadium men’s room.

It is to be a hot and windy September day. I’m off to sew a Halloween apron. This roast melts in your mouth.

Pot Roast with Wine and Root Vegetables

1 3-4 lb. chuck roast, bone in
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 lb. turnips, chopped
1/4 cup green pepper, chopped
2 bay leaves
7 button mushrooms, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups dry red wine
1 Tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Cut roast into 6 pieces leaving some meat around bones. Mix pepper, salt, and flour. Dredge each piece of meat well in dry mix.

Heat oil over med-high heat in large skillet. Add meat and brown until well browned on all sides.

Spray 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place browned meat on bottom of slow cooker. Top with vegetables.

Mix together wine, broth, tomatoes, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, bay leaves basil, parsley, and Italian seasoning. Pour over roast. Cook on low for 9-10 hrs.

Serve over mashed potatoes or rice

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