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Was looking at my car today and wondering how long I can keep it going before it will need to be replaced. A 2009 model with low mileage should be able to squeak by for awhile. Got me thinking about my first car, a 1960 Plymouth Valiant. My mother paid my roommate $100 for it and I feel she got taken to the cleaners…..my mother that is. What an eyesore. I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t get up a petition to prevent me from parking it on the street. Always looked to me like two cars stuck together with some Gorilla glue to create one whole vehicle.  There were buttons denoting the gears located on the side of the steering wheel. When I turned the right hand turn signal on the horn honked. It drew enough attention on it’s own without having this added draw built in. Still, it beat walking. When it was dark and I couldn’t see it parked out front I was secretly thankful at least to have wheels. My high school was two plus miles from home. On hot Southern California days it could seem more like ten when you were carrying books and on foot.

I do not form strong attachments to my vehicles. Rick, for example, affectionately called his red Corvette convertible, Lucille. Lucille was treated with the utmost respect during her tenure at our house. No greasy food entered her hallowed interior and one did not place dirty shoes or feet on anything without wiping them prior to getting in. Once I actually brought iced tea in a to-go cup in with me and was subjected to the “Lucille – Rule 14 – No Unauthorized Liquids – speech before pouring it out. Generally I refer to my car as well, my car. As long as it gets me from Point A to Point B, uses minimal gas, and comes equipped with a radio, heater, and air conditioner I’m a happy camper.

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One car, however, did capture my heart. In 1985 I got a Datsun 300ZX for my birthday. The exterior was a shimmering bronze color complimented by a luxuriously soft buttery leather interior. A five speed, my favorite, with a T-Top, she was a sleek and wonderful machine. The car was built for speed and pleasure, no work horse there. I lived in the Bay Area at the time and often took trips down to the LA area to visit friends. Driving down Highway 101 with the ocean following me to my right, the T-top open, and the wind playing in my hair was one of my life’s truly pleasurable experiences.

When I was a sophomore in high school my mother decided to purchase a new car. It was a black Ford Falcon convertible. Anyone under the age of dirt reading this is scratching their head going, Falcon?? What?

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In truth it was a huge step up from the turquoise and white Metropolitan parked in our garage up until then.  The Metropolitan, though cute, was so small it looked as though should be manned by a band of Munchkins. A two seater, it also boasted a rear seat which you had to be a contortionist to squeeze into. I attribute my great elasticity to this day to having to ride back there often when my mother had a friend up front. While in the Ford dealership mother told the salesman she had always wanted a convertible. Uh-huh. Now, to fully understand my confusion at this statement one would have to understand how important my mother’s hair was and continues to be to her. A huge pool resided in our backyard which she went in regularly. Well, she went on actually. Not a hair on her head was ever befouled by chlorine. A huge raft, which my step-brother referred to as the Queen’s Barge, was put into service when mother went swimming. Swimming was a really loose term for dangling her legs through the leg holes and kicking when she wanted to move around. The raft looked like a throne and had two cup holders in either arm to house her Manhattan should her mood be leaning in that direction. While she was in the pool other swimmers were not permitted to splash, kick or generally get her wet because after all why you want to get wet if you were floating in the water? The hair situation moves easily over to the question, then why a convertible? Obviously if you have the top down perfectly coifed hair isn’t going to remain that way.  The first time we tried it top down we hadn’t gone a block before we had to pull over and put it back up. Seeming to really want to participate in the convertible experience Mother took a drive to the local mall. While there she picked up two net “bonnets”. Both were black, tied under the neck, and equally unattractive. One had gold discs dangling from it that reflected the sun so intensely the light could probably be picked up by passing satellites. As you drove down the street a kaleidoscope of colors bounced off building walls. Russia probably had eyes on us as some kind of U.S. super weapon. Now, I was sixteen. Being seen with my parents when they weren’t embarrassing me was embarrassing enough but being seen driving about town with the top down with my mother wearing her reflective head gear was social suicide. We laugh about this now, but at the time I could only see any future beyond those days as looking lonely and bleak.

The only real knowledge I have of cars and their workings I learned in Drivers Ed when I was in high school. Amazingly some of the lectures stuck because I remember about pistons, and carburetors, and how engines are cooled. Everything is computerized these days. You don’t see boys bent over under open hoods anymore. When I was growing up that was what they did on Saturdays after mowing the lawn. Most of the kids I dated in high school showed up for a dance with a little grease under their fingernails.

Since Rick has passed I have had to learn to remind myself to get the oil changed, the car not mine, and check the tires. The last time I drove back from a trip the low tire pressure alert popped up on the dash. Not wanting to change a tire or have a flat I pulled off the freeway and found a station with an air bank in one corner. Only problem is not only did I not know how much pressure to put in but I had no idea how to do it. I know, you have my permission to feel sorry for me. Thankfully there was a man filing up his tires who was kind enough to do the same for me. I have added this to my ever growing list of things I need to learn before I forget what I’ve already learned. Sigh.

Life continues to find interesting nooks and crannies to explore. I am tackling my asthma situation head on even submitting to take medication as directed to get this cleared up. Air in the house gets checked on Monday. Not sure if I hope they find something or I hope they don’t. The former would narrow the field as to what’s making me act up.

Have a great and safe day!!

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I don’t know much about cars. Not that I’ve gone to any great lengths to improve the situation through the years, as in most cases I’ve had a male counterpart willing to explore the mysteries of the combustion engine on my behalf. In the early years it was not unusual to look out the kitchen window on a weekend and see two feet sticking out from under whatever vehicle was in need of repair. As engines got more sophisticated, and car engines computerized, other than checking fluid levels and tire pressure, the more difficult jobs were left to the dealer’s mechanics or the guy at the local repair shop. Men are funny about cars, some of them at least. To some, their children rank less important. My second husband had a convertible. Not being good with types of cars, I’ll simply describe it as sleek, imported, and gray, sort of like Omar Sharif. There was a roped off section in the garage with a license plate above it reading “baby luv”. Baby, sad to report, was his car. Baby had her own bathing utensils, including a very expensive chamois, a special ultra porous sponge, a variety of buffing and polishing tools, and her own personal vacuum with attachments. The car was better equipped than I was.

When we first met, I was given a crash course on how to properly put down the top, and advised never to bring food or beverages in the vehicle on penalty of death. In addition, should I ever find myself behind the wheel, and this would happen only during a nuclear attack or an invasion from Mars, how to properly navigate through traffic. Once I was rolling down the window manually, (uh, it was a classic car for those of you who have never seen such an activity – no power windows) and the handle came off in my hand. My first urge was to hide it and hope it went unnoticed, but I assumed once I was asked to roll it up again, the jig would be up. The look on the man’s face is imprinted on my mind. I believe for a moment he considered pulling to the curb, dropping me off, and never looking back.

Rick and I met in 2001. Lucille was with him at the time. Lucille, was a brand spanking new, red exterior, red interior, Corvette convertible with more bells and whistles than you’d find in a locomotive yard. She was my direct competition. The problem, as I see it, with having such a fine and powerful vehicle is what are you going to do with it? In the city you certainly can’t take advantage of the wide range of gears and impressive speeds because you’d end up with a ticket or in jail, and on the open road the police are still sitting behind a bush with their radar gun poised waiting patiently for a red bullet to speed by. In the end, it was just this that led to Lucille’s being traded in for the SUV now sitting in the driveway. Life can be cruel.

I’ve only had two cars I’ve actually bonded with, the others being simply a conveyance from Point A to Point B, appreciated but not loved. My third car, a sea blue VW bug, was my first love, and my 300ZX to come some years later, my second.  The VW was a stick shift, still my favorite. The only perks the car had really were a set of fuzzy dice swinging from the rear view mirror, and a decorative knob showing the gear layout atop the gear shift. A sea blue, engine in the trunk, girl toy.  It wasn’t new, so had seat belts in the back, I believe, but none in the front.  Strange to think of that. The gas gauge was frozen in time, so it was a matter of being familiar with the last fill up to know when it might be time to top it off again. Once, I used my credit card to put in $ .58 worth of gas because I forgot I’d already filled it up and didn’t have any cash on me. Despite her obvious flaws, I loved that car. I smoked back then. Sorry, but I did. Everyone did, really. If you watch movies or sitcoms from that time, cigarettes were part of the social scene as much as three martini lunches and tuna casseroles. My parents had a silver dish on the coffee table for visitors, but I digress. It was a beautiful Southern California summer day, right out of the tourist brochures.  Around that time I would have been listening to Earth Wind and Fire or the Doobie Brothers on the radio. The windows, and the sun roof were open to let in some air. I was locked in the gridlock on the freeway heading to a friends. Moving at a snail’s pace, and bored, I lit up to pass the time. In the back seat I had several pillows I was taking as gifts and some grocery items to contribute towards dinner.  Reaching for my purse in the passenger’s seat I hit my lit cigarette against the seat back propelling it into the back seat. Unable to pull over, and unable to either see or reach it, I moved one hand around, keeping at eye on the road, trying to locate it.

After a few minutes, I gave up. Nothing seemed amiss so I assumed it went out. A few miles down the road I noticed a bit of ash floating by. Next, the person in the adjacent lane honked and waved. Being a nice person, I waved back. Again, he honked. What? This time he pointed towards the back seat. Turning around I found both pillows fully engulfed. Turning on my blinker I tried to pull over, but couldn’t get into the next lane.  My grocery bag was beginning to smolder so panicking I grabbed the unlit part of the pillows and out the sun roof they went onto the asphalt. The guy next to me was scratching his head. Again with that. Looking in my rear view mirror I could see the small pile of pillows burning away in the center lane, with turn signals going on. I wonder if I could have gotten cited for littering? Fortunately the back seat suffered only a minor black spot in that area and the only visible damage to the grocery bag was a charred area the plastic fused to the loaf of bread on one end. Once again my guardian angels saved me from sure disaster.  I began to consider quitting smoking, but God I loved that car.

Eggplant has become one of my favorites. Rick loves it when I put a little Mediterranean in my meals, as he hails from Egypt, and this is one he often requests. Takes a bit of time, but worth it.

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Greek Moussaka

3 firm eggplants, sliced in 1/2″ slices
Salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. ground oregano
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lb. lamb mince (I used finely ground)
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup white wine
3 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley
2 can diced tomatoes, drained

Cheese Sauce

2 oz. butter (1/2 stick)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice eggplant. Lay on cooking sheets lined with paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with salt and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 mins.

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Rinse eggplant well. Heat 2 Tbsp. of oil in large skillet. Fry eggplant slices in batches about 3 mins. on each side until golden brown, adding oil with each batch. Drain on paper towels.

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Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in skillet. Add onion and cook for 5 mins.

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Add garlic, allspice, salt, pepper, oregano and cinnamon and cook for 5 mins. Add lamb and cook until browned, breaking up large clumps to make a fine texture.

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Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and wine. Simmer over low heat for 30 mins. or until liquid has mostly evaporated. Stir in parsley and season to taste.

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Melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook for one minute until pale and foamy. Remove from heat and gradually whisk in milk and nutmeg. Return to heat and stir constantly until mixture boils and thickens. Reduce heat and simmer for 3 mins. Stir in 1 Tbsp. of cheese and mix until well blended. Allow to cool slightly. Add 1/2 cup of milk mixture slowly to beaten eggs. Add egg mixture slowly to milk mixture in pan.

Line the bottom of a pre-sprayed 10 x 12″ pan with 1/3 of the eggplant. Spoon half the meat mixture on top. Top with 1/3 of the eggplant and top with second half of meat mixture. Top with last 1/3 of eggplant. Pour cheese sauce over the top and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 1 hr. until golden brown. Allow to sit for 10 mins. before slicing.

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