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Posts Tagged ‘best salad recipes’

final2The heated campaign for the presidential seat is in full swing. Mud is flying, insults are on the rise, and who’s standing on the right of the photo and who is on left becoming clear. As an aside, is it my imagination or does the press take the absolutely worst pictures of Hilary Clinton and use them in their articles? I’m not necessarily a Hilary camp follower, standing in line at the market and having this horrendous likeness of Mrs. Clinton staring back at me off the front page of the National Enquirer or some other trash can liner makes me want to defend her. It’s like someone taking your worst DMV picture and posting it as your profile picture on Facebook.

On Good Morning America yesterday they were saying kids today might take upwards of 1,000 pictures of themselves every day to capture the one perfect shot to post on their public media pages. Really? I’m amazed they find time to nourish themselves. Wow. I have spoken to this many times, but I can’t imagine that other people besides myself don’t find this a bit self-focused. No pun intended.

Also they were talking about school stats slipping, and teens interest in sports diminishing. The stats pointed more towards technical devices but they credited the lack of interest in sports to the over zealous parents standing on the sidelines during their kids games. You know the ones. Crimson faced, screaming at the players, the umps, their own children, with flecks of spittle foaming at the corners of their mouths. I wouldn’t want to play either.

My son was in soccer and other organized sports most of his young life. This was his choice certainly. I never pushed him to participate in anything rather encouraging his interest if he showed any. He was born with so much excess energy we actually had him tested to see if he fell within normal limits. He did. Sports turned out to be the perfect avenue to capture all this energy and use it in a constructive manner. Where he got his sports acumen from I haven’t a clue. Neither his father nor I could pass a footstool without falling over it and I actually set a school record for throwing a softball the shortest distance ever recorded. Winding up my arm the ball land approximately 3″ from where it was thrown. I could run, I have to say. Track was something I excelled at. Perhaps since running was the only thing I did really well in the sports arena it was thrown in by means of self-preservation for all the missed swings in baseball and catches on the football field.

Looking back I was an excellent runner in football as well. Had to be. I could neither catch nor throw the ball, but if one accidentally remained in my grip I could move that puppy into the end zone. In spite of my athletic challenges, I spent many a summer weekend player powder puff football at the local parks with my friends. Whether you excel, or simply enjoy playing being outside and participating in a team sport, it is energizing for the soul. Somewhat alarming lately is how many young football players are getting seriously injured. Four high school players died from head injuries sustained while participating in a game in the past month in our area. I’m not sure whether it is more players are getting injured, or we’re more informed with news coming in at our fingertips every few seconds.

Personally I admire anyone with the intestinal fortitude to get out on the field, hunch down and look into the faces of some of those massive players without emptying their bladders on the spot. I would be running for sure, but most likely in the opposite direction.

Parents perhaps need to lighten up. It is a game after all with sportsmanship meant to be taught by those older than the players. The outcome of the game does not determine the destiny of man, simply stats on a board and a trophy somewhere down the line. I have observed some parents heaving insults at their offspring, embarrassing them with poor verbal marks on their playing skills, and generally making annoying asses of themselves. You cannot live through your children for heaven’s sake. Remember you are purportedly the adult in the group. Yes? Just because you scored a goal for the other team during your senior year does not leave you the option to push your child to complete your career aspirations. It makes me mad, as you might have noticed.

We have three of our grandchildren in sports at the moment. Rick’s grandson (I call him mine as well) is in football and my son’s children. My son keeps his son and daughter well immersed in activities. To his mind this keeps them busy. “Idle hands are the devil’s playthings” and such. They excel at sports. Again, I must recheck his birth certificate to see if somehow I received the wrong baby. I have videos of them barreling down icy hills on skis, skimming across water on knee boards, snorkeling in the Caribbean and screaming as they traverse enormous water slides. No fear. As a kid I suppose I had little fear as well. I can recall diving off cliffs into rock lined waters with little thought as to how easy it would be to break my neck or cause myself bodily harm.

Once I tried hang gliding. Yes I did. Lessons were held atop a high cliff in Southern California overlooking a particularly gorgeous strand of coastline lingering far below the edge. Graceful gliders ran to the edge and floated off like lovely birds soaring over the Pacific I would assume enjoying the wind in their hair and the freedom of flying. The lessons were to last most of the morning and I was told children as young as four enjoy the sport. Fine, shaming before I’ve even made a fool of myself. Nice.

We were not to shoot off the high cliff but rather to begin with dunes. As usual I took the monumentally simple and injected my spin on it. Running down the hill with all the equipment feeling my “wings” flapping like an ungainly stork I took a direct dive into the sand ending up hanging from my harness. This brought about much laughter from my friends and anyone else observing the travesty. I completed the lessons and managed several escapes into the air but never actually went back to take the plunge over the cliff. Chicken, yes. Alive, yes. Check, and check.

This salad is as nice to look at as it is once it reaches your taste buds. The ribboning takes a bit of elbow grease, but it’s worth it.

Ribbon Salad

1 carrot, peeled and shaved
1 English cucumber (medium) shaved
1 zucchini, shaved
3 green onions, chopped
3 cups of baby spinach, torn into pieces
1 can mandarin oranges, drained
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
Salt
Pepper

Using a vegetable peeler shave slices lengthwise off the vegetables and place in mixing bowl. Rinse spinach and break into bite size pieces. Add oranges and sesame seeds and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss with red wine vinaigrette just before serving.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. honey
2 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup olive oil

Place all ingredients in the blender but the oil. Mix well. Slowly add oil with blender running. Chill for 1 hr. prior to use.

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1Rick and I watched “Woodstock” over the weekend. Live footage of the three days that rocked the world. What a time that was. Rick was there, even more amazing. For me, a bit younger and on the west coast, I only felt the good vibrations vicariously, but it definitely was the place to be that magic summer in 1969. Makeshift stages erected in a pasture gave way to some of the most incredible music, in my opinion, ever.

To say I remain connected to the music of that era would be diminishing my feelings about it. Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix all long gone, but their legacy, their music rings in the ears of all of us privileged enough to share that time with them.

Young people in 1969 were rather wild and free. Men’s hair hung down past their shoulders, facial hair was pretty much the norm, and beautiful women in tie dyed dresses wore flowers in their hair. Drugs certainly were a piece of the puzzle, but despite the communal buzz these were people committed and passionate about the world around them for the most part. Boys were returning from Viet Nam men. Many emotionally or physically scarred, if lucky enough to return at all. A time to protest and a time to love, two most unlikely bed partners.

Music shifts and changes through the decades as rapidly as the inhabitants of those decades do. You realize time is passing when you find the only songs you know the words to are only played on PBS and the people singing them now look more like your grandparents once did then freedom fighters. No matter how snowy the roof however, there’s still fire in the stove. I caught James Taylor on the tube the other night and sat down, dish towel in hand, and listened for a half an hour until he left the stage. I’ve seen him in concert, as well as Carly Simon when they were together. Seems like a long time ago, probably because it was. Funny how songs popular so many years past can dredge up memories created during that time. Old loves, crazy nights, weddings, and friends perhaps gone now or lost along the way.

I don’t know how to categorize music now exactly. It’s sort of a mixed bag. Beyonce is a force to be reckoned with. Rick thinks Shakira sparkles, but I have a feeling that’s not because of her high notes. I lean towards Pharrell Williams and Ed Sheeran.

Over the years I’ve switched teams often, going from Country to Hard Rock overnight. While married to my ex, a dyed in the wool Texan, country was the flavor of the week. Both of us shared a love of Credence Clearwater, Hank Williams Jr. and Stevie Ray Vaughn, as well as the contemporary artists showing up in the Nashville scene at the time such as Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks. While living in Alabama I believe I played “Thunder Road” so often I actually wore out the CD.

Tastes in music are so personal. For some opera moves them to tears, for others classical sets the mood. There are times when I lean towards classical music. Debussy’s Clair de lune, for example, reminds me of sitting on a sand dune overlooking the ocean immediately upon hearing the notes. Each of interprets what we hear differently as well, I believe. For some people classical pieces might seem disturbing or dark at times, for other highly emotional and stimulating.

These days my radio is tuned to a local station featuring songs from the Eagles, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, and others of their generation.

Another oldie but goodie for me is Steven Tyler. The man keeps recreating himself. Always he was colorful, but now I understand he’s even throwing his cowboy hat (I’m sure it has feathers and a scarf) in the ring and going country. Who knew?

The deck people are coming to redo our deck in a couple of hours and so I’ll end on that note, if you will. This salad is so fresh and pretty. Gather up whatever you have in your crisper and toss it in. Yum. I love edamame. Healthy and delicious, sometimes I’ll have a bowl of the wee beans for a snack.

Fresh From the Garden Salad with Edamame

2 large yellow tomatoes
2 large red tomatoes
1 English cucumber, sliced thin
2 large radishes, sliced thin
1/2 cup edamame
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

Cook endamame and allow to cool. Assemble all ingredients and toss with chilled dressing.

Basil Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate for 1 hr. at least before tossing with salad.

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1

Prices continue to rise. People are searching for ways to cut costs to keep their heads above the water line. I clip coupons and scan the paper for sales in an effort to keep food costs down. Our pharmacy sends emails with specials on coffee and cosmetics, which I try to follow up on. As it happens, I needed a few things from the pharmacy yesterday, but only had one coupon appropriate for what I was buying. Putting my items in the basket I went to the front of the store to check out. Because of the holiday weekend, all lines were busy. Being in no particular hurry, I chose a line and got behind the last shopper. The woman in front of me had an extremely full cart, but other lines were equally backed up so I stayed put. Luck being what it is, the woman turned out to be an extreme couponer. In the kiddie seat beside her purse was a bulging notebook. Standing at the register it flipped open to reveal page after page of plastic sleeves filled with coupons. Each section was tabbed and in her hand she held a stack of coupons about 3″ high. I’m not lying here. Naturally, each coupon had to scanned. Some were good. Some were not. I knit a sweater, wrote the great American novel, and took a class on Spanish as a second language while waiting for her receipt to print. In the end, she paid about $6.00 for the overflowing basket and went on her way. I bought some hair mousse and two twelve-packs of toilet paper. Handing over thirty dollars and one $.50 off coupon, I received enough change in return to purchase a pack of breath mints.

I wish I had the time, patience, and energy to collect and categorize all those coupons. Really I do. I admire the tenacity, but question the resources. My life doesn’t have the bandwidth to include the hours it must take to amass such a collection. Not only do you have to obtain the coupons in the first place, but you have to sort by like coupons, file them, and travel about to appropriate places to use them. Also, they go out of date fairly quickly. You would have to go through periodically and throw out the ones already past their use date. Ach.

Bartering though, is another concept for cutting costs I’m toying with. For example, my dear friend Louise and I barter every six weeks in a manner of speaking. While living in our previous home, Louise was the first friend I made when we moved to that area, also my hairdresser. When we moved, Louise sort of came with me. Every six weeks she travels here to touch up my hair. In exchange I make her a fabulous meal, provide her with her favorite adult beverage, and, if she has the time, offer my downstairs guest bedroom for the night cooking her breakfast in the morning before she leaves. This gives her a night away in the tall trees, provides us a chance to catch up on our lives, and leaves me root free for another six weeks. Works beautifully for us.

With this in mind I came up with an idea. I know. Please write down the date. It may not happen again for another decade or two. I had a large computer monitor I wanted out of my craft room. We defer to our laptop these days for everything so it was just gathering dust. I ran an ad to sell it on Craig’s List with no takers. I reduced the price to nearly free. Still no response. This is a very nice monitor, practically new. Hmmmmm. So, I came up with an idea. I needed a few bushes and tree limbs trimmed. I posted the monitor under free stuff at no cost with one caveat. Whoever claimed it needed to trim my trees and bushes. Having no idea how this would work I hit “publish” and went on my way. My phone and my email lit up with responses. Actually I had to remove the ad to make it stop. A student at Sac State was the first to respond.

Our student arrived about two hours later. I handed him the trimmers. In about an hour he did a nice job on the yard, piling the trimmings in my trash can. In exchange, I handed him the monitor and after mutual nods of appreciation he went on his way. This was an idea I can embrace. Sort of a win/win.

This is not the first time I have dabbled in bartering. I have swapped my artwork for services in the past, and have used my writing skills in exchange for goods a time or two. Bartering is certainly not a new concept, dating back to prehistoric days. Perhaps a warm pelt was exchanged for a willing bride, or meat for the best cave to wait out the winter in.

I will try this again. It allowed me to help out a student needing a desk, and it helped me to get rid of the tree limbs encroaching on my driveway. Yea.

This dressing leans toward the sweet. I’ve always called it sugar salad. The dressing should be made the day before for the best results. Yummy.

3Sweet and Sour Salad

2 hearts of romaine, chopped
3 green onions, sliced thin
1/3 cup green bell pepper, sliced in strips
1/3 cup orange bell pepper, sliced in strips
8 radishes, sliced thin

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 1/2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. minced onion
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/4 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 1/2 tsp. poppy seeds

Whisk together all ingredients. Refrigerate 24 hrs. for best results. Toss with salad ingredients just before serving.

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final

It’s a busy time at the animal shelter, kittens are in full bloom. Wee furry faces of the cutest variety peek out of nearly every cage in the kitten viewing room. New mother’s with their broods are sequestered in an area to the front of the building. Kittens when weaned will be put up for adoption, and the mother’s fixed to prevent further over population. Having additional inmates in the cages also requires extra hands on deck. This makes moving around in the labyrinth of rooms a bit dicey. One of the attendants voiced “it’s like my mother’s kitchen in here, with eight children all under foot”.

As volunteers we do our best to clean our charges cages with the least amount of discomfort to each animal. After a while you learn to read the individual cats before sticking your hand in, avoiding a confrontation if the cat is not too excited about receiving unexpected company. There is such a thing as cage rage, sort of like road rage in humans. These animals you approach with extreme caution or you’ll end up in the emergency room getting stiches.

There are also the escape artists. Kitties who, though not aggressive, would prefer to have a little more leg room. With these cats you have to be quick. They certainly are. Taking your attention off them for a minute while the cage door is open will result in an escapee before you can spell c.a.t. Today a young cat whose name tag read “Connie” decided to bolt when the opportunity arose making a run for it. A sort of cat lock down occurs when this happens so the cat doesn’t get out into the dog quarters and create a major “swat team”, if you will, situation.

Once we had her confined to one room another volunteer and I laid towels along the floor and began the process of crawling around on our hands and knees trying to locate the truant behind all the crates and supplies stacked about the room. A seemingly easy process if you had an animal wanting to be caught, but when they don’t they have the upper hand, or paw in this situation. Calling her name, coaxing her with treats, and putting a fresh dish of wet food out, the progress we’d made after a half an hour included two tail sitings, and a face peering out from behind a palette of cat food which I swear looked as if it was smiling.

The door opened and an employee walked in asking what we were doing. Explaining we had a runaway, she asked us to describe the cat. “Black and white with a black dot on her nose”, says I, wondering what difference it made to the woman. “A tuxedo cat I think”, I added, trying to be polite. She replied, “like this one”? Turning around still on my knees I saw Connie the cat reclining on the chair in the corner watching the whole procedure with one eye open and what I felt was a hint of amusement. Really? Makes you wonder which one of the two species is actually higher on the food chain.

I could eat this salad every night, and if I did it would be a healthy choice. I use my leftover corn bread to create the croutons and I’m good to go. Also, I’m assuming most people don’t have fig infused balsamic. A good balsamic will do fine, the fig simply adds an extra dimension.

Spinach Fruit Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette and Corn Bread Croutons

1 bag baby spinach, washed and torn into large pieces
2 large oranges, peeled and sliced 1/4″
1/2 cup green grapes, halved
1 cup watermelon, chunked
1/4 small red onion, sliced thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Corn Bread Croutons

1 pkg. corn bread baked and cooled
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Lawry’s garlic salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Take half the corn bread and cut into 1″ cubes, reserving rest for other use. Cover cookie sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Place cubes in bowl and toss with melted butter. Spread in single layer on prepared cookie sheet and sprinkle with garlic salt. Bake for 20 mins. or until golden brown, turning once. Sprinkle over salad as desired. Store remaining in plastic bag for 1 week.

Pomegranate Vinaigrette

1 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup EV olive oil
1 tsp. fig balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Bring pomegranate juice to a boil over high heat in small saucepan. Reduce heat to low boil and reduce to 1/3 cup, about 10 mins.

Whisk together with remaining ingredients and chill.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson


This period of adjustment associated with Daylight Savings Time is doing me in. I may have to move to Colorado where they don’t acknowledge the change to carry on. Perhaps I’m getting old and don’t do as well with change as I did in my younger years, or it’s as simple as having my day altered an hour throws me off my feed. Yesterday was my day to work at the food bank. Normally I’m scheduled to arrive at 8:00, a schedule I’ve been adhering to for nearly a year without any problems. Before closing my eyes I switched on the alarm. Losing an extra hour of sleep would most likely put me behind in the morning.

I woke up to my other half standing over the alarm with a sledge hammer trying to get it to stop its infernal yowling. When choosing an alarm I tried to find the most annoying of the lot, and for a pleasant change of pace I was spot on. In my dream the incessant beeping translated to a kitchen timer which I couldn’t turn off. Annoying, but apparently not enough so to wake me up. I’ve a history with alarm incidents. Once on a trip across the U.S. in a U-Haul truck the movement of the truck triggered the alarm on a clock buried somewhere deep in the contents of the fully packed truck. The alarm, a plastic boy scout with a bugle was one I’d purchased in an effort to rouse my perpetually late son. Truly the most annoying alarm clock ever created. It was so loud it permeated the truck wall and we could hear it in the cab. I can’t tell you how many miles we drove with, “da-da-de-ta-ta, da-da-de-ta-ta, WAKE UP STUPID!” blaring in the background. Thankfully, before we were forced to pull over, abandon the truck entirely, and walk the rest of the way to Arkansas, the battery went dead.

Yesterday, after the alarm clock was silenced and my other half grumbled off to sleep, coffee was definitely in order. The cat, who gets treats in the morning, was rolling about on the floor striking her most beguiling poses lest I forget this ritual quite dear to heart.  I threw her a look saying, “Really? It’s 5:00 and the pot’s not full yet”. She rolled over and put two paws together like a bunny, did a brief tap dance, and winked at me. Fine, if you’re going to do tricks. Cats are funny beings.

Last week I visited my daughter, Heather. They have a cat answering to Myluv. Even cats seem to have unintelligible names these days. Cassanova was his original name. Once neutered, it no longer seemed to apply. Cassanova is an orange tabby, huge by cat standards, and totally S.P.O.I.L.E.D. I was told to spell this word when using it in his presence. It seems he’s bilingual. There are five animals living under their roof, two cats and three dogs. The two larger canines are of generic heritage, with the smaller feisty little black dog, Jasper, being a hybrid mix such as a Pookimo or somesuch. Jasper enjoys a combative relationship with Myluv, only coming together with the cat when it’s beneficial to both parties. After a recent visit to the vet, it was determined Myluv was, for lack of a better term, fat. The extra poundage is largely attributed to the enormous amount of feline treats he consumes hourly. If not given the treats, he will source them out himself, necessitating a treat door with a lock having to be installed causing the big cat much consternation. Last week Heather stopped to pick up a sandwich as she hadn’t eaten all day. Starving, she set the sandwich on her dresser to keep it out of reach of the circling Jasper, nose on full alert sensing salami and cheese in the immediate vicinity. As usual Myluv was waiting by his treat drawer. Disappointingly, nothing was forthcoming. Leaving the two animals alone while she changed, my daughter emerged from her closet to find the angry cat shoving the sandwich off the dresser onto the floor, where the waiting Jasper grabbed his prize disappearing under the bed. Totally tag teamed by her animals. These are the times when you need a quick video.

I digress, as usual. I’ve always been the one in the family having the most difficulty with the time change. This is not a new phenomenon for sure. I can recall a day back in the 1980’s, which my family brings up to me whenever we adjust our clocks. It was a Monday. Nothing good happens on Monday. The Saturday prior we began DST and Sunday, a busy day for me when working, I cleaned house and was tired by early afternoon. Feeling loggy, I set the alarm for 2:30 as dinner wasn’t scheduled to cook itself. Sitting with a book in hand, I dozed off waking up with the alarm at the allotted time.

Work back then, had me up and on the road by 6:15. My alarm was set for 5:00. So glad I don’t have to do that anymore, although I still wake up around then out of habit I think. Anyhow, children tucked in we turned off the lights that night around 11:00. In the wee hours the alarm went off. Feeling like I’d just gone to sleep I pushed the button off and padded into the kitchen. The coffee pot, usually set for automatic, hadn’t performed as programmed so I turned it on and got prone on the couch waiting for a punch of much needed caffeine to start my engine.

Still tired even after a coffee infusion, I washed my hair, put on my makeup and chose an outfit for the day. About that time I woke my husband up and was preparing to wake the kids when I noticed the kitchen clock read 3:30. Are you kidding me? My husband, to say the least, was not amused. I was up and ready to start my day so I made a meatloaf and put in a load of laundry. Not good, not good at all.

So far this past week I’ve arrived at two appointments at the wrong time, and missed one altogether. Hopefully, the week ahead will find me back on track.

Using up the leftover corned beef from St. Patty’s Day is always a creative process. Tomorrow is Colcannon Soup, Reuben sandwiches are coming down the road, and last night we enjoyed this yummy corned beef version of Cobb Salad which was absolutely delicious.

O’Cobb Salad with Leftover Corned Beef and Russian Dressing for Two

2 hearts of rommaine, chopped
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cucumber, diced
4 slices crisp bacon, crumbled
2 eggs, sliced
1 cup cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup cooked corned beef, cubed
1 avocado, diced

Make a bed of lettuce on a plate. Line ingredients up artfully on top. Add a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Serve with Russian dressing.

Russian Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chili sauce
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
1-3 drops hot sauce (optional)

Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Whoops I missed Mardi Gras. I’ve been missing it for years actually. One of these days I’m going to get there. Well, perhaps I can make up ground with St. Patty’s Day in a few weeks. Bring on the corned beef and cabbage.

Last night was wild here. I woke up around 11:30 to a bright blast of light outside the window followed by a roll of thunder which had the whole house shaking. Boo, the Queen of Cats, was but a white blur passing my face as she went airborne. Mother Nature at her best.  Thunder storms amp me up.  My mother claims she spent most of her pregnancy with me hiding under her bed in her Montreal flat, terrified of the electric storms prone to the area. Maybe this has something to do with it. I’ve been in some truly horrific storms leaving me with an understanding of why some people feel compelled to chase tornadoes. The sheer power of nature can be magnetic.

Southern storms were intense. If you’ve read my blogs about my time in both Arkansas and Alabama I’ve often referred to the weather lightning5there, leaning in the warmer months to sticky hot days with brief drenching rains. Many times I stood watching in wonder as fingers of lightning poked down through the clouds stabbing at the ground in the fields beyond my house in Alabama. Rain would pelt down at such a pace it would actually ricochet back up against itself. Culverts became rivers before the clock had passed an hour. Trees bent nearly to the ground with the weight of the onslaught. Awesome.

Muscle Shoals, an Alabama city located at the extreme northwest corner of Alabama is known for producing music. It was my home for just under a year. Our house was in a middle class neighborhood noted for its spacious lots and hospitable inhabitants. When I think of Alabama, and certainly Arkansas, I think of green. Lush overgrowth, evidence of liberal watering, is visible everywhere you rest your eyes. The verdant fields grew quickly with the ample irrigation, and during the summer often required frequent mowing to keep the grass at bay. Our yard was no exception. At times after allowing our Shih Tzu out to do what dogs do in the grass, I’d have to look for a glimpse of black and white between the tall blades to locate her once again.

We rented. While on the road during the construction years we always rented. Home was where we were at the moment so there was little chance to spread out roots out and settle in. The house in Alabama was owned by an older couple, odd by most standards. Sug and Pat owned several rentals in the area living in the largest of their properties with their only son, Pat, Jr., J.R. to his friends. J.R. 2966350047_b580105d5b_zhad spent a good portion of his thirty-four years on earth making a profession of spending his parents considerable assets. According to Sug, the matriarch of the family, he was very good at his job. Fortunately for all concerned, Sug and Pat were highly successful real estate brokers who managed their finances well, so as quickly as J.R. spent it the coffers were replenished. When speaking of her son she often said, “that boys about as handy as a back pocket on a shirt”. On reflection, I believe this not to be an unfair description. Sug was perpetually “under construction”, as she referred to her endless series of plastic surgeries. I have no reference other than a few pictures on her wall of what the woman originally looked like but I had a feeling it was far afield from the visage she presented when I knew her.

I liked that house. It was a single story brick home with a huge kitchen sporting a bank of picture windows capturing the lovely view of the pastures beyond the borderline fence. A lovely bright place to cook with copious counter space, it was usually the gathering place for friends and family when they stopped by for a visit. Neighbors were well, neighborly, there. Before the first week had gone by the families on either side of us had stopped by to say hello and the lady across the street had presented me with a bag of freshly harvested beefsteak tomatoes, huge red and green peppers, and a bottle of home brewed beer by way of welcoming us aboard.

The back yard was huge. With the aid of the large windows facing out on it from the kitchen also quite visible. Grass grew there at an alarming rate, and inside the long flowing blades a huge community of creepies and crawlies made their home. If possible, I avoided going through the jungle, and when I did I wore long pants. Often you came out the other side with more creatures on board than when you went in. During the summer months the thermometer teetered well up over the 100 mark most days and humidity was extremely high often producing a spurt of rain midday. I couldn’t manage the upkeep of the yard by myself with our push mower, and my husband who was pulling long shifts at the refinery had little time for lawn care.

Sug, at least I think it was Sug, as she was fully bandaged from her most recent tour of the local surgical facilities, suggested J.R. was the man for the yard clean up.  To this end she threw in the use of her riding lawn mower. J.R. enjoyed a beer on occasion. From the looks of him he considered everything from making an omelet to brushing his teeth an occasion. He arrived early on a Saturday morning, a small trailer hitched to his pick up truck toting the lawn mower. I hoped he wouldn’t generate any sparks because if he ignited the alcohol he was emitting with every breath it would likely level the block.

Watching J.R. drive the lawn mower down the trailer’s ramp without mishap, I returned to what I was doing. Occasionally I could see his head go by above the tall grass. Noticing a while later it had gone quiet, and seeing no J.R. in sight, I went out to investigate. The lawn was amazing. Crop circle artists had nothing on this guy. The lawn mower sat silent on one end of the yard with J.R. prone in the grass at its side. At first I thought he was dead. On closer inspection I could see his chest rise and fall. Surveying the damage, for a moment I thought I might kill him myself.

Finally able to rouse him I asked what was going on. It seemed the mower and J.R. were both out of gas. With my lawn half mown, we contemplated how to get the mower back on the trailer with no gas to propel it. It was determined I would sit on the mower and J.R. would push me until I picked up enough speed to drive it up the ramp. Right. Laurel and Hardy have thought of more plausible schemes then that one.

At any rate, seventeen attempts later I somehow made it up the ramp and onto the trailer without flying off the other end. J.R., well he was prone again. My neighbor across the street ambled on over. Taking off his hat he scratched his head and pretty well summed it up by saying, “Girl, I believe I can die now sayin I’ve seen it all”. That weekend I hired my neighbor’s son to finish the job. Easy peasey.

My mother was not happy about my move to Arkansas. People from the north often hold onto old stereotypes about southern living which don’t hold water in present times. Sure I would be picking my teeth with a blade of hay and shooting turkeys off the back porch I sent her a picture similar to this one with the caption, “Good news, we’ve found a house to rent”. Don’t think she ever forgave me for that.

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finalTangy Vinaigrette Garden Salad

For the salad:

3 hearts of rommaine, washed and chopped
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1/2 red onion, sliced and quartered
1 hard boiled egg, sliced
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and diced
4 large mushrooms, sliced thin
6 small tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/3 cup feta cheese
1/4 cup green pepper, diced
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in salad bowl. Toss with vinaigrette just before serving.

Tangy Vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. scallions, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. dried tarragon
6 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
6 Tbsp. peanut oil
6 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place mustard, scallions, red pepper flakes, dried tarragon, and red wine vinegar in bottom of bowl. Whisk briskly until well blended. While continuing to whisk slowly add oils. Salt and pepper to taste.

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