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Posts Tagged ‘chicken’

Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I’ve successfully made it through another birthday and come out the other side. I must say, it’s been nothing if not eventful. According to my dear friend, Carol, we’re in the midst, or have been in the midst, of a mercury retrograde. Now, if asked the specifics of such an occurrence, I would have to defer to my astrology-guided pals to provide a deeper explanation. As I understand it, it is when the planets align at hard angles and create havoc for us humans trying to make the best of our days down here on earth.

Normally I might dismiss such thoughts as insignificant. Whether or not I choose to fully embrace the fact our fates are guided by the stars, every time I find myself caught up in a mess of delays or electronic malfunctions, it seems to correlate specifically with mercury misbehaving. Go figure.

My mother asked us to come to the Bay Area to celebrate so a plan was put in motion. Halloween, the day before we were to leave, was also a scheduled day for me to push the kitty litter around at the shelter. So as to not disappoint the kitties, we decided to take off immediately following my shift. Easy peasy.

Along with several days stay at my mom’s, an annual Halloween party was penciled in at a friends on the other side of the bay. I was tasked with making chicken salad, creating and printing the menu, and carving a pumpkin. Sitting on the bar stool the night before Halloween, I gutted my pumpkin and gave him a happy pumpkin face. To add a bit of whimsy, I used toothpicks and carved pumpkin IMG_4992pieces to make an arrow going in one side of his head, protruding out the other side. Love it. I wrapped my artwork tightly in plastic and tucked it in the refrigerator. Yea. I went down to print out the menus only to discover my desktop computer had committed suicide during my absence. Old and tired, it had uploaded its last file, recovered from its last virus, and with one last update notification pulled its own plug. Having no choice I deferred to my laptop. Quickly I recreated the menus, etc. shooting them off to my friend to print. Crisis averted.

The following morning I whizzed through the kitcat’s cages like the Energizer Bunny, arriving home at the allotted time. Packing the car the night before made last-minute things go quickly. As it is when you’re traveling, it’s the little things you must take care of before you leave that bite you in the behind. Is the light turned on? Are the doors locked, etc.?  I reminded myself the mortgage payment needed to be mailed. In a hurry, I stuck it on top of the cooler so as not to forget it.

Once in the garage, we moved the car we were taking out, putting the SUV in its place. The first call of many came in from my mother asking if we’d left yet. I ran my eyes across my list. Reasonably sure I’d done everything, I hopped in and fastened my seat belt. Piece of cake, a little birthday humor.

About a half an hour out, my other half adopted a look one might wear when smelling cauliflower cooking. Curious. “What’s up”, says I, gamely? It seemed in our hurry to get on the road he couldn’t remember if he’d closed the garage door. Halloween is not a good day to leave an open invitation for people to stop by and help themselves to the contents of your garage. At the same time it occurred to me I hadn’t mailed the mortgage payment. For the life of me I couldn’t remember what I’d done with it. Damned short-term memory. We turned the car north and retraced our steps.

Home again and, in fact, finding the garage door wide open, I placed a call to my impatient mother explaining we were now running an hour behind. Looking frantically through the house for the mortgage payment, a light when on in an otherwise dark tunnel. My brain announced loudly “cooler”. Ahhh. Inside the cooler, smelling distinctly of onions and celery, was my envelope. Into the mailbox it went and once again we were off.

Worrying our tire pressure was low my other half decided to stop and get it checked before we got on the freeway. Okay. Remember when you drove into a gas station and a man in a uniform with a greasy rag in his back pocket appeared on the scene? Popping the old hood he checked the oil and water, cleaned your windshield and put air in your tires? Sigh. We pulled into a large tire company, and looked for a familiar place to check the air. Asking, we were directed around back where we drove along an alleyway with a bank of open garage doors where cars were being worked on, also a dead end. Seeing no air tanks, asking another employee we were directed back to the front of the building. Tick, tock, tick….. Ach.

Too narrow to turn around, we backed up. At the end of the alleyway, also the only exit, a large tire truck had pulled in blocking the way. Really? Apparently a ghost was behind the wheel because there was nothing visible beyond the windshield but the steering wheel and a jacket thrown over the seat. My other half got out and went inside to inquire. Fifteen minutes later we pulled into a spot to have our air checked only to be told the air was perfect.

Headed south again, we merged onto the freeway, the guidance of the GPS lady as our beacon. Another light went on in the dark tunnel, this time blinking brightly, saying “Hey Blondie, you forgot the pumpkin”.

Hopefully, my mother’s would be a safe haven. On our arrival I ran a bath to shed the dust from my day. Staying submerged until closely resembling a sun-dried raisin, I dried off. Reaching down to release the water, I found the handle tightly stuck in the upright position. After three men and a cat took a look at it, a plumber was called.

Heading toward my girlfriend’s party two days later, there were two stops to made on her behalf. The first, a bakery for bread, the second a market for more bread. Unfamiliar with the area we depended on the GPS to guide us to the right addresses. Tiring, apparently, of getting us from Point A to Point B without incident under her direction we circled the same block six times. Locating the market with human directions, in the bakery we were told the bread was at another market in the same chain five miles further down the road.

In the end, it was a lovely party attended by twenty people with lots to offer to the conversation. Around two a.m. we called it a day, and programmed the GPS once again for the hotel. Pitch dark we passed the exit. Two exits beyond where we were supposed to we got off, doubled back, and checked in for the night. Our key was to a room on the third floor. Opening the door a blast of sub-zero area wafted over us. Pushing my way through the wind tunnel, I switched the dial to heat. Groaning, the wall unit emitted a smell so nauseating I was quite sure someone had disposed of a dead body behind the fan. OMG. We opened the windows, but the raunch hung over the room. Face washed and dressed in my fav PJ’s with the monkies on them, I sat on the bed eyes watering. Rick called the desk.

A man of some size showed up at the door. It could have been the smell or a quick critique of my monkey pj’s, but his face scrunched up. The smell, he said, could be noticed stepping out of the elevator Again the desk was contacted and our hero was sent off to get us a new room key. Gathering my possessions and padding into the hall in PJ’s and fuzzy blue socks the employee returned with a key to a room two doors down. Accepting his apologies, we bid him a goodnight. At the new room there was a Do Not Disturb sign inserted in the lock. Why would an empty room have a do not disturb sign one might wonder? I know I did. It was pushing 3:00 and I’m not sure if armed with the information Dracula was sleeping in the king size bed beyond the door could have prevented me from at least trying the key in the lock. Nothing but a red light. A gentlemen wearing a robe and a grim look made it much easier for me to open the door by simply opening it from the inside. Understandably he wasn’t all that entertained to find an older couple standing there at 3:00 a.m. the lady wearing monkey pj’s. Meanwhile the employee sprinted around the corner waving another key yelling “wrong room”. Thank you for the update.

Ok, I’m convinced.

A recipe shared by my daughter, this chicken salad flew off the plate at the party the other night. It reminds me of my day after Thanksgiving sandwich.  I’m including the low-fat mayonnaise recipe (her husband is diabetic). Don’t shy away from it because it uses Eggbeaters – it is truly delicious in this salad.  You can always substitute regular old store bought in its place.

Holiday Chicken Salad with Low-Fat Mayonnaise

2 rotisserie chickens, cubed (4 cups)
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup sweet pickles, diced
1 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup toasted pecans
Salt and additional black pepper if desired

Place pecans in skillet over med. heat. Cook, stirring often, until golden brown and fragrant. Remove from heat and remove from skillet. Allow to cool. Combine cooled nuts and all remaining ingredients in large bowl. Season as desired. Allow to sit in refrigerator for at least 1 hr. before serving.

Low-Fat Mayonnaise

1/2 cup egg beaters
5 Tbsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. dry mustard
Pinch cayenne
1 1/3 cups canola oil

Puree all ingredients but oil in food processor until smooth. Add oil and pulse until blended. Refrigerate until ready to use. Leftover mayonnaise can be kept in refrigerator for 2 weeks.

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chicken taco salad

It seems lately every time I turn on the TV I see an over forty star with enough Botox pumping up her lips to provide buoyancy for a crew of sailors lost at sea.  Either that or their skin is pulled back so tightly it gives the impression they’ve recently stepped out of a centrifuge.  Truthfully, there is no way to stop the hands of time from moving in a forward direction.  After seeing what happens when plastic surgery turns ugly, I think I’ll let nature have her way with me.   Proper exercise, healthy eating (with a little chocolate, and a glass of wine thrown in to keep the balance) and laughter and love are how I’m going to approach the aging process.  If a few wrinkles or sags are thrown in for good measure, then so be it, I say.

We have become a nation obsessed with youth. Even men are jumping on the bandwagon.  Brows are smoothed, eyelids lifted, and adipose tissue siphoned out of overripe stomachs. Behinds are realigned, tans spray painted on, cheeks enhanced (both north and south), and eyebrows and eyeliner permanently applied.  Personally, I’m still holding out for Plan 2.  I say we begin old and as we gain wisdom progressively appear younger.  I like that scenario.  By the time we are imbued with enough intelligence to appreciate our world and be comfortable in our own skins, they’ll fit tightly around our bodies. It may be a write in, but it has my vote.

Last night I was watching a program on the history channel about composers.  It struck me how young many were when they died.  Mozart, Chopin, Bellini, Schubert, Mendelssohn plus others I’m sure, were all under forty, several just past thirty.  People today are living longer and longer, with a proposed age down the road of one hundred and fifty.  Now, if I can be vital and moving around without having to be oiled regularly like the Tin Man I’m all for it.  Food could become a serious concern if more of us were hanging around longer I would think.  Eventually, world watchers are saying, we will turn to insects for sustenance. Many cultures already have.  Perhaps my posts will include delicious recipes for earthworm quiche, or la cucaracha linguine. Ewwww. The thought of eating something I would normally squish if I spied it crawling up my leg, I don’t find palatable in any way.  Once I did try an offered chocolate covered ant.  There was no ant after taste, if you will, but not being an ant gourmand, I might not have recognized if there was.

In many areas of the world foods appear at the table we would not dream of eating in the States.  In Cambodia I understand fried tarantulas are quite the delicacy. Tourists travel there specifically to sample the hairy arachnids, served complete with fangs.  Yum.  What do you serve as a side with tarantula, fried lice (sorry sometimes I can’t help myself)?  Not of the insect family, but in Sweden (Viveka will speak thto this I bet) they eat surstomminghe, or fermented Baltic herring. It is sold in cans in the markets there. Often once canned, the cans  swell as the fermentation process continues on the shelf. In Russia they have a traditional soup called Okroshka. The base of the soup is a carbonated wheat soft drink called “Kvas” which is incorporated with potatoes, cucumbers, milk sausage and eggs.  I had a friend from the Philipines when I lived in the Bay Area who told me his family ate Balot. Balot is a fertilized duck egg with a nearly developed embryo inside.  The embryo is boiled alive and eaten in the shell.  Hungry yet?

Grasshoppers are not uncommon in Japan.  Stewed, I believe is the preferred cooking method. It is also the condition I would need to be in to indulge in a meal with grasshoppers as the featured entrée.  It must take some effort to corral a group of grasshoppers.  From my observation getting just one under control takes the cat some time out in the yard.  Grasshoppers not your thing? You could increase your protein intake with some maggoty bee larvae.  Yum.

South Africa offers up Mopani worms, actually the are caterpillars.  Three times the protein value of beef, they are thankfully served buried in a mixture of onions and tomatoes.  I would prefer them simply buried. Scorpions are eaten in some regions of the globe, grubs and larvae common in others.  I even found recipes for banana worm bread and chocolate cricket chip cookies.  Delish.  So, if you’re sitting by the hearth and hear the familiar sound of a cricket rubbing its legs together don’t reach for the fly swatter or newspaper to toss him outside. Grab that mason jar, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, break out the chocolate chips and pour yourself a tall glass of cold milk.

As our population grows, the need for creative food resources will grow with it.  Boo the Cat is sitting on the chair behind me as I type this. I’ve noticed her looking over her shoulder uneasily on several occasions.  No doubt somebody has put cat in the pot with a couple of carrots out of necessity somewhere down the line. Whoops, Boo has left the building.

On my journey through the odd and mysterious foods currently popular, guinea pigs appeared unexpectedly.  Middle class foodies are apparently developing a taste for the endearing little squealers.  I’m sorry, but I used to own a guinea pig, Tilly.  I also had a hamster, Henrietta by name.  Henrietta suffered from an eating disorder, mainly she never stopped. Actually once she became wedged upside down in her Habitrail. We had to break the tube and remove her with pliers to set her free.  Very plump, she would have provided a serving for two. This brings to mind the movie “Never Cry Wolf” , one of my favorites.  A true story, based on the experiences of Farley Mowat, a government researcher sent to the Canadian tundra area to study effect of wolves in the region on the caribou population.  In his efforts to understand the thinking of the wolves, he decided to subsist on their diet, mainly field mice.  The wee rodents appeared on his plate cooked in every manner but “Mouse Wellington”.  Truly disgusting.

So, I guess we may face a change in our dietary habits somewhere in the future.  Most likely I will not be here to document it by the time you’re ready to pull those cricket chip cookies out of the oven.   Ah well.  Being a vegetarian is always a possibility, although the other day I read somewhere trees scream and plants make sounds when cut.  What’s left??

How I began with plastic surgery and ended with barbecued piggy I have no idea but here we are.

Chicken Taco Salad
4 large flour tortillas
1/4 cup water
1/8 cup of olive oil
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
1 4 oz. can green chiles with juice
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. chunky salsa, drained
1 head of lettuce, shredded
1 16 oz. can pinquitos or pinto beans, drained
1 cup Mexican cheese blend
4 campari tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/4 cup ripe olives
2 avocados, peeled, halved lengthwise and sliced
Squeeze of fresh lime
Salt and pepper

Dressing

1/2 cup Pace Picante Sauce
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
1 Tbsp. chunky salsa (med or hot)
1 Tbsp. ranch dressing
1-5 drops of hot sauce depending on heat desired or omit

Whisk together all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In large mixing bowl combine cooked chicken, chilies with juice, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and chunky salsa. Mix well. Salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Take large sheet of heavy-duty tin foil and form over the bottom of a bowl. Remove from bowl and shape as desired. Place mold on cookie sheet open side down.

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Mix water and oil together in large bowl. Quickly dip one tortilla in oil/water mixture. Allow excess liquid to drain. Fold tortilla over mold. Place in oven and allow to get golden brown, about 6-8 mins. Repeat with other three tortillas. You can make two molds and do these two at a time if desired.

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Heat beans in small saucepan over med. heat. Keep warm. Slice avocados and squeeze lime juice over top. Set aside.

Place 1/4 chopped lettuce in the bottom of each bowl. Top with 1/4 of the beans. Follow with 1/2 cup of chicken mixture. Layer on top of chicken as follows in each bowl: cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, red onions, and black olives. Garnish with avocado slices. Serve with dressing.

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IMG_3984Summer is threatening to be hot this year, not that last year was mild.  High temperatures above normal this early in the game do not bode well for what June and July have tucked away in their bag of tricks.  Perhaps it’s hailing from Nova Scotia, or just a personal fetish, but the full heat of summer is not my favorite time of year.  Fire danger living up in the mountains is always a concern, and with blackouts not uncommon on peak usage days, if you don’t have a pool to cool off in the only choice available for respite is often marinating in your own juices.

As a teen, summer was the best.  School out for three months, nothing but time on my hands. Fortunate enough to have a pool in my backyard, and the glorious span of Southern California beaches lying but an hour’s drive from my house, advertisements for heaven couldn’t have offered much more.  Tanning solutions were concocted in baby oil bottles doctored with a few shots of iodine for color.  Pool chairs appeared from sheds, and umbrellas were erected in the center of patio tables.  I loved it all.  Back then we ran our lives by the motto “ignorance is bliss”.  Nobody worried about skin cancer, because we didn’t have enough knowledge about the subject to strike fear in our hearts.  Tan faces and bodies were expected during the summer months, extolled.  Girls compared tan lines seeing who was the brownest and if you were losing the race, another layer of baby oil and another three hours uninterrupted sun exposure quickly remedied the situation.

I sought out the coast as often as my wallet could front the gas.  My best friend had the use of her brother’s restored 57′ Chevy while he finished his stint in the military. Bikinis and shades in place and friends in tow we packed the car to capacity and headed down Beach Boulevard in the direction of Hungtington, Newport, Laguna, or Seal Beaches many times during the summer break. Our salad days were spent body surfing in the waves of the azure Pacific, playing volley ball in the sand, or giggling on blankets while flirting with the male population who flocked there expressly for the purpose of flirting with us.

In the year of my 16th birthday I got a work permit.  Not one to sit around gathering wool, I quickly accepted a job at a bakery after school.  As an aside here, a perk for hawking donuts was employees were invited to partake of the sticky calorie laden inventory at will.  At first glance to a teen this was tantamount to winning the lottery. Throw in a date with Elvis and I would have been set for life. A smart move by the management, in the end it proved an excellent deterrent.  Once I’d eaten my 100th or so sticky bun, I felt the need to indulge in another most probably would never arise in my life again.  I believe this led to my virtual lack of a sweet tooth to this day and also necessitated some fairly extensive dental work before my 21st birthday.  Just before we said goodbye to school the following June, the bakery experienced a fire. The inventory along with my job went up in a huge poof of black smoke.  One of the fireman interviewed by a local newscaster commented, “although saddened by the loss of one of one of the town’s small businesses, I have to say it was one of the best smelling fires I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting out”. Words to live by.

Inspired by my need for summer funding, I jumped at a chance to work at a Christian summer camp for eight weeks as a kitchen assistant.  The camp itself was located high up in the San Bernardino mountains. Catering to high school students, according to the color brochure, camp personnel were all about the business of building “young people’s minds, bodies, and spirits”.  On the Saturday prior to the opening of the camp gates, employees met at a pre-arranged meeting point. New employees and repeat performers boarded a bus looking to have been constructed prior to Teddy Roosevelt’s storming San Juan Hill and driven by a man quite possibly old enough to have wielded a sword during the battle.  Despite my misgivings about our mode of transportation, it was a heady experience to watch my mother’s face disappear in the plumes of the substantial exhaust fumes. For many staff members, including myself, it was the first time living away from home. My duffel bag stocked with insect repellent, Johnny Mathis records, and an adequate supply of Hostess Cupcakes and Twinkies all I could think was, “Free at last! Thank God Almighty we’re free at last”.

Following a brief initiation speech by the camp leaders, the kitchen staff was dispatched to learn the rules of the kitchen and how to prep the food before campers were to arrive . The kitchen was massive in size, with two huge walk in freezers.  Burners and grill were to be manned by two head chefs we nicknamed “Mutt and Jeff” due to their considerable difference in height and personality. Once introductions were completed, the rest of us were assigned stations and familiarized with our duties. Free time was to be after prep and before meal service. Divided into two crews, on alternating days one crew stayed to help clean up the mess left behind by the campers.  This proved to be a daunting task, with food fights the norm, and the camp’s thicker than paste oatmeal being stashed in every available orifice or unsuspecting potted plant.  All in all, it was a fun summer for me.  I fell in love, then out again, and back in again with someone new.  I learned I could stray away from the nest, spread my wings and keep from plummeting to earth without my parents to guide me. I danced under the stars, got some cooking tips, slid down a fire trail with a brown bear snorting not far behind me, and donated enough blood to the local mosquitos for them to start their own blood bank.

So in celebrating summers approach I will slather myself with suntan lotion, put on enough protective gear to ward off a hive of bees and enjoy the sunny days ahead.

This dish looks so pretty on the plate and is crispy and delicious. Another quick meal leaving the impression you spent hours in the kitchen, when in fact you were sitting by the pool drinking Mai Tai’s.

Spinach Pesto Chicken Roll-Ups

2 large boneless
8 slices prosciutto
1 cup packed fresh baby spinach
1/3 cup fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup pecorino cheese, grated
1/4 cup EV olive oil
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Vitamin C tablet (to keep pesto bright green)
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat small skillet over med. heat. Add pine nuts. Stirring or swishing in pan often, cook about 5 mins. or until nicely browned. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

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Pound chicken breasts to 1/2″ thickness between two pieces of plastic wrap. Cut each breast in half.

In food processor puree spinach, sage leaves, pecorino cheese, pine nuts, garlic, lemon juice and Vitamin C tablet. Season with Kosher salt and black pepper to taste.

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Spray bottom of baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread 1/4 of pesto in down center of each piece of chicken lengthwise.

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Fold chicken like a taco. Wrap two pieces of prosciutto around each piece and secure with toothpick.Place in prepared baking dish. Bake for 20 mins. or until meat thermometer registers 165 and procuitto is crisp.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Our neighbors to the right suffered the loss of their patriach over the holidays, leaving his elderly wife and son living in the house.  Noticing the always beautiful garden lying fallow made me sad, so I was delighted to see a gardening service truck pull up to their curb.  In the vernacular of Two Men and a Truck or Three Men and a Baby, these guys had the name “Three Men and a Blower” pasted on the side of their vehicle.  I have been around a few years and never have I seen a crew of landscapers this long in the tooth.  It took them fifteen minutes to shuffle along from the curb to the front door.  I had to give them an “A” for azalea, however, for still being employed at their age, and moreover at a labor intense job such as gardening. The shortest of the trio, also appearing to be the oldest, wore a sweat stained straw hat. The man was locked  in a permanent stoop forcing his head down toward his shoes. Where his arms were exposed beneath his short sleeved shirt the skin seemed almost shiny in appearance like well tanned leather. Either the years of constant sun exposure, or perhaps life in general, had forged deep furrows along his cheeks leaving him with the appearance of a dried apple head doll a tourist might purchase in a Mazatlan tienda (store).

As I passed the window the next several hours busying myself with clearing the dishwasher and folding laundry, the three men continued to toil in the garden at a pace giving even the snails most likely hiding in the ivy beneath their feet an opportunity for escape before being crushed by their heavy work boots. If paid by the hour this was shaping up to be a real pruning, if you know what I mean.

Around mid afternoon I was expected downtown for a doctor’s appointment.  Quickly showering, I hopped in my car and backed out of the garage.  In the rear view mirror the three men were still visible.  To explain the configuration of our yard, the road is up a flight of stairs from the level of our house.  Besides ourselves, three other houses share a common driveway, the only egress to the road.  The house where the men were working is the last one in our group before reaching road level.  In the middle of the driveway blocking my exit stood the bent gentlemen precariously balancing an armful of yard clippings.  Never in my life have I seen a human being move more slowly.  His movements so imperceptible I wasn’t sure if he hadn’t frozen in the spot where he stood never to move again.  Not wanting to startle him, I leaned out the window and yelled “excuse me”.  Nothing.  Hmmmm.  One of the other two workers fired up a blower making repeating myself seem an unlikely resolution to the problem.  Getting out, I approached him from the back and gently tapped him on the shoulder.  Like someone had released his arms from being constricted by a rubber band his hands flew up in the air releasing the lawn cuttings once again on the driveway and in the cup of his hat.  Not looking up, well, because he could not, and though I couldn’t see his expression, I had a feeling this didn’t sit well with him.  He muttered something in Spanish. Fortunately, my four years in Spanish class hadn’t, I am sure, taught me this particular phrase. Waving his hat to shake out the grass, he began to walk toward one side so I could pass.  Ten minutes later he reached it. I waved an apology as I passed. I can’t say for sure but I believe he offered me the international signal of good will as I drove by.

Thinking of the three gentlemen as I drove, my mind wandered to Mexico. How long it has been since I’ve crossed the border for a visit.  As a teen going to Tijuana, T.J., as we called it, was an activity saved for warm summer days, and convertibles. At the border clad in shorts and huaraches we flowed along  with the river of tourists heading through the gates at the border and into the dusty downtown area. Touristy shops were everywhere, sustaining the lifestyle of those making their homes in the surrounding area. Before long shopping bags were filled with colorful velvet bulls, leather wallets, and huge paper flowers to take home as souvenirs. Being young and incredibly stupid, we ate juicy slices of fresh watermelon from the stands on the streets never giving a second thought to the flies landing and taking off the pieces of fruit as like planes on an aircraft carrier might be adding to our systems. Walking along the seemier side streets, smoke wafted out from beneath swinging doors and behind those doors music and laughter from bar patrons whiling away their troubles over a cool cerveza on a hot afternoon. Rumors of what went on beyond those doors remained rumors to us because no one dared venture behind the doors to confirm or deny them.

Once shopping was done and if a piece of the day was still ours, we would sometimes turn south to drive down the coast to catch a swim at one of the beautiful beaches.  It was an interesting area to visit.  Such sharp angular contrasts between the beauty of the shoreline and the evidence of extreme poverty everywhere you rested your eyes.  Rosarita Beach was one of my favorite rest stops, popular with American ex-patriots and tourists alike.  Street merchants dogged your steps while you walked through the shopping areas.  Beautiful linen tablecloths, mirrors of pounded tin, watches, and warm blankets were offered for a bit of bargaining, flung over arms or showcased on the backs of the chairs as you sat and enjoyed a bottled water or lemonade.

For me the colors were vibrant there, and the people despite their challenges, easy to smile, sing and dance.  I’ve taken two cruises to Mexico and would like to go again some day.  Another notch on my bucket list.

This chili was great.  I did it in the crockpot because it doesn’t heat up the house and it’s hands free easy.  Enjoy.  I’m taking a break for a week or two, Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Spicy Crockpot White Bean Chicken Chili

3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 7 oz. can pickled jalapeno slices, drained
1 4 oz. can chopped green chiles
3 16 oz. jars salsa verde
1 cup chicken broth
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 15 1/2 oz. can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 15 1/2 oz. can canneloni beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, minced
2 cups white rice (optional)

Garnish

Green onions
Avocados
Monterey Jack cheese
Tortillas chips, crushed

Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Place vegetables on bottom of pot. Top with chicken breasts. Sprinkle jalapenos and chiles over top. Mix together salsa verde, broth, cumin, chili powder, salt and black pepper. Pour over top. Cook on low for 8 hrs. Remove chicken from pot and shred with a fork. Return to pot.

Add beans, sour cream and cilantro to crockpot. Cover and cook on high for 1 hr. until all ingredients are heated. Serve as is with garnish or over cooked white rice.

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final final

While complaining about what a suckish day last Friday was at our house, I neglected to throw in the bright spot.  Dealing with fire drills all day both my other half and I were “put a fork in me I’m done” with the week.  Not having the combined energy to begin putting a meal together at the end of the long day, Rick suggested we go out.  My shoes were on before he’d finished the thought.  As lovely as our town is, restaurants are certainly not its long suit.  Three Mexican restaurants, two Chinese, one Thai, several coffee shops and the full roll call of fast food establishments.  There are two casinos in the area .  One five minutes from the house, the other about twelve.   At first it was a novelty having casinos so close by, but as time passed we rarely gave them a second glance unless visiting family or friends happened to have some money they didn’t have any use for and asked to be taken (this both literally and figuratively).  Aside from gambling, obviously the biggest draw, both casinos have surprisingly good restaurants with the one the furthest distance offering a very nice buffet on the weekends featuring crab and prime rib as well as a recently constructed brewery. I’m not necessarily a big fan of buffets as a rule. They remind me of a barnyard scene. It’s hard to resist the urge to “oink” while standing in line with your third clean plate waiting to pile on an assortment of tummy enhancing foods ranging from gobs of mashed potatoes and gravy, chicken fried steak, and mac n cheese to coconut cream pie and four layer chocolate cake to wash down all those high carb salads you’d piled on the first two plates.  We arrived early. Lines on weekend nights can wrap halfway around the casino.  We strapped on the old feed bucket and bellied up to the trough enough times to make Miss Piggy herself squeal with pleasure. Personally, I felt I needed to run a triathlon to relieve myself of my recent caloric intake, but instead we opted to drop a little change in the machines on our way out.   Each of us drew an allotted amount from the pool.  Rick is more of a poker type, and I prefer the themed slots, so a meeting time was agreed upon and we disappeared in the crowds going opposite directions.

The first machine I sat down at was a penny slot. High roller here.  The theme was fishing.  Alternatively taking my money then giving it back, it quickly became obvious I wasn’t going to be moving to that Malibu beach house I’ve had my eye on if I continued feeding these fishies so I hit the cash out button.  Red lights immediately went off and the machine began to make a beeping noise, which as time passed grew increasingly louder.  The beeping went virtually unnoticed in the general Friday night din, but no ticket emerged and no one came to fix the machine.  After about twenty minutes I flagged a cocktail waitress asking if she’d find someone to help.  Shortly an employee came and apologizing for the delay retrieved my ticket.  This once again goes toward confirming my sneaking suspicion with regard to my energy and machinery.  Over the years I’ve still got the gift.  I can walk by a printer, fax, washing machine, or an innocent ATM and something is going to go haywire precisely at the time of my passing.  It’s weird.  I digress.  Anyhow, I found an empty seat in front of a nickel machine.  The theme was banks or some such. I sat down, deposited my ticket and began haphazardly to push buttons.  Before long a combination on the screen caused an animated screen to appear with what looked to be a lizard wearing a cowboy hat jumping up and down next to bank deposit boxes.  Not knowing what was required of me at that juncture, I waited.  Nothing.  Hmmmm.  Apparently it expected something of me. The woman playing next to me, leaned in and in a husky cigarette and bourbon voice said, “Honey, you have to pick four numbers and push some of those boxes or you’re going to be sitting here tomorrow morning when they start serving breakfast”.  Oh.  I chose numbers and pushed four boxes as instructed.  Cycling with each number I’d picked, it just kept on, and on, and on. Every once in a while the lizard would jump up and down, fire the guns in his holsters, and holler, “wow”, or “amazing job”.  Wow.  Once finished cycling, the lizard gone, the screen informed me I had amassed 7,050 credits.  Remembering this was a nickel machine I cashed out to see the total. The ticket read $477.00.  Now these ill-gotten gains are certainly not going to propel me onto the face of Time under the title “World’s Richest Women”, but it beat the pants off the rest of the day.  It will pay to fix my lap top sitting in the shop.  Yea.

This chicken salad was a quick fix for company yesterday and disappeared like I’d waved a wand over it.  Flavorful and crunchy, it was perfect tucked inside a buttery croissant.

Crunchy Chicken Salad Sandwiches

2 large chicken breasts
salt
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1 Kosher dill pickle spear, chopped fine
1 egg, hard boiled and chopped
1/4 tsp. celery salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. dried mustard
1 1/2 tsp. Italian dressing
1/2 cup Mayonnaise (more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 croissants
Lettuce, tomato, avocado, red onion, pickles for garnish

Place chicken breasts in large saucepan. Bring to boil in salted water over med-high heat. Reduce heat and continue cooking on low boil for 35-40 mins. or until chicken is fully cooked. Remove with slotted spoon and allow to cool.

Cube chicken and place in large mixing bowl with chopped vegetables and hard boiled egg. In small bowl mix together celery salt, garlic salt, dried mustard, Italian dressing, and mayonnaise. Add to cooked chicken mixture and mix until well blended add mayonnaise as desired. Season with salt and pepper and desired. Serve on your favorite rolls or croissants. Serves 4-6

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

According to the weatherman our weekend was to be “unsettled”.  It was.  One moment the sun would appear, the next dark clouds would hover overhead. I snapped the picture below sitting on the deck just before sunrise this morning.  No wind, not a sound to be heard. Slowly I am saying my goodbyes to our lake. Soon we will be moving on to new adventures. Not that I shall ever forget my time here, I never shall. Time, however, has a way of slowly erasing the vivid details of our lives, so I am creating a scrapbook of memories to help keep my memories fresh.  Thought I’d share a few.

No touching up on this picture, simply the camera capturing a piece of the natural beauty lying beyond my wrought iron railing.

lake

My grandson last Thanksgiving, a foodie in the making, is making the most out of a chocolate on chocolate cupcake.

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Our town is seeped in history, a nice way of saying it is “old as dirt”.  The older downtown area, its original heyday long past, retains hints of old splendor in the lovely old Victorians and well-kept newer homes with resplendent gardens dominating what was once the main drag.

A walk downtown

Walk 2

Walk 8

Life here over the past decade I divide into sections.  The restaurant years, busy and productive along with stressful and relentlessly money draining.  Vino Vino, with it’s beautifully muraled walls, ghostly reminders lingering in the bar of rough and tumble days long gone, and delicious smells emanating from the small but efficient kitchen, shall have a special place in my scrapbook for taking a leap of faith and being satisfied with the results no matter what the outcome.

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vino vino

Another section might be our lake years.  We bought our ski boat prior to buying the restaurant.  Both of us were complete novices when it came to piloting the darn thing.  This was not my first boat certainly but it had been twenty years since my last, so factoring in the fact I strain to remember what I had for breakfast these days, you could technically say it was my first boat.  Launching it was a performance Abbott and Costello would have taken pride in.  After numerous failed attempts, in desperation we gathered some kids working at the marina to help us get it in the water.  I circled in the boat while Rick parked the trailer. Luckily I managed to pick him up fairly close to shore without inflicting any permanent damage to him.  Considering what came afterward, this was more like an “act of God” than luck.

At the controls already and being the only one with some knowledge of boats, I drove. Taking a brief tour of the lake, we turned toward the marina before supper time where our slip was already secured.  Not many available in early summer, ours was in the far corner of an inside group of slips, not easy to get to.  To add to this, branches protruding from the shallow water by made it necessary to hug the dock to garner passage through the maze of docks. For those of you who have owned or driven boats you will know a boat moving slowly is far more difficult to maneuver than one moving at a high speed.  It wouldn’t have been hard to determine by any onlooker the driver of our boat had no single clue what she was doing. If anything I should have been wearing a tee-shirt reading “Water Hazard – Keep a Safe Distance”.

Remarkably I made it into the marina.  Each slip was occupied except ours sitting in between two oddly placed slips on either side. The idea was to pull into the slip, drop the gear into reverse to slow us down, stop and tie up. That was the idea.  However, I forgot everything at the key moment. Drifting everywhere but where I was supposed to, I managed to clip a sailboat in the adjacent slip which propelled me back into the center area once again.  Now going forward, I rammed the dock on the opposite side.  Rick bailed at this juncture and as I was unable to reclaim control, was left standing on the dock. Circling like a loose cannon gathering an audience I finally got close enough to the dock so that he could jump back on.  People swimming not far away evacuated the area as though a dorsal fin had surfaced in the vicinty.

By the time we finally calmed down enough to dock it, only mayhem and debris ws left in our wake, so to speak.  At the time it wasn’t funny.  Well, let’s just say Rick wasn’t laughing.  Now, it seems hysterical.  Thankfully, we improved over time and spent many fun days floating around and enjoying picnics on the beach before we decided to sell it. Here’s Rick “saving himself”.

Rick "saving himself"

Just a glimpse of my world here with the glistening Feather River at my doorstep.  Hope you’re enjoying a pleasant Sunday.  Made these tacos last night and I have to say they were absolutely yummy.  Give them a try.  The cream sauce would be good on so many things.

Miss Boo expresses her opinion on the whole moving situation.

Boo, the Queen of Cats, preparing for the move

Chicken Fajita Soft Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce

juice of 2 limes
4 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped fine
1/8 cup chunky salsa
2 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2″
1 large red onion, sliced into onion rounds
1 large red pepper, cut into strips
1 large yellow or orange pepper, cut into strips

1 large coarsely chopped tomato
6 8″ flour tortillas

Garnish with sour cream, avocado, green leaf lettuce

For the marinade, whisk together lime juice, 2 Tbsp. oil, garlic, Worcestershire, brown sugar, jalapeño, cilantro, 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Remove half of the marinade and set aside.

Place chicken and 1/2 the marinade in large resealable bag.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hr. Slice onions into onion rounds and red and yellow peppers into strips. Brush both sides of onion rounds and peppers with remaining 2 Tbsp. oil and season with salt and black pepper. Set aside.

Heat grill t medium. Place chicken on it and cook for 10 mins. per side or until chicken is very firm and well browned on both sides. Remove the chicken and tent with foil while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Sprinkle veggies with salt and pepper to taste. Grill vegetables in a single layer until charred on one side.  Flip and repeat on the other side.  About 10 mins.

Slice breasts into 1/2″ strips and add to bowl of vegetables. Add the reserved marinade and tomatoes.

Heat tortillas in dry frying pan until slightly charred on both sides.  Keep hot in tin foil until ready to use.

Place fajitas, lettuce, and avocados (if desired) inside warm tortillas and top with chipotle cream sauce. Yum.

Chipotle Cream Sauce

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup Zatarains creole mustard
2 large chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, seeded
2 scallions
1 garlic clove, quartered
1 1/2 Tbsp. adobo sauce (from can of chipotles)
3/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients but cream and salt and pepper in food processor.  Pulse until well blended.  Spoon into mixing bowl and whisk in heavy cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Note: adjust the heat of the sauce by less or more peppers and adobo sauce.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Why is it when I’m forced to deal with insurance companies I end up wanting to throw myself off a bridge?  Truly they are the most frustrating entities to try to conduct business with.  As I wrote some blogs back, I spent five days in the hospital the beginning of January.  I was conveyed there in the back of an ambulance. Before the IV was inserted, and in between my making excellent use of the provided handy-dandy disposable vomit bag  (which, by the way, bills out at the price of a whole Maine lobster and a nice bottle of wine), I was asked for my insurance information.  Some weeks after I was released, the invoice for my ride arrived.  The cost of my trip with no champagne or soft music to ease the blow came to $2,200.00.  I feel I need to see a new pair of shoes, or at the very least a cigarette, out of that.

Such as it is, I have insurance for such occasions.  Once I satisfy my co-pay, which hovers on the precipice of the national debt, in a perfect world my insurance should kick in and manage the remainder of my bill.  “Should” and “perfect world” being the optimum words here.  First, I began fielding calls from various doctor’s offices involved in my treatment advising me my insurance company said I was not, in fact, covered at the time of treatment.  Fortunately, I have paper work indicating my insurance company is full of cotton swabs. It took many long phone conversations between doctor’s offices and my insurance company and much streaming elevator music to finally get that kettle of horse patoot in order.  Yea.

Once it was established I was insured, the second round of calls saying I hadn’t satisfied my co-pay began. Claims understandably could not be honored until this was done. In truth, a check had been mailed immediately on my arrival home so this news precipitated a number of calls on my part to the hospital billing department in search of answers as to its whereabouts. According to my contact at the hospital my check was never received.  Really?  Not wanting to chance mailing yet another check I paid the co-pay on a credit card.  Following that conversation I instructed the bank to put a stop on the lost check and paid $30 for the opportunity of doing business with them.  In a later conversation with the hospital billing office I was told the check arrived several days later having been routed to the wrong person in the billing office by their mail department.  The person it was delivered to was an employee on maternity leave and thus it sat in her in-box until discovered by a temporary employee covering her desk.  I do not recall at this writing the part of the conversation addressing the hospital offering to reimburse me the $30 I’d paid to cancel the check, but some days I sit on the floor and cut up my money purely for entertainment, so what the heck.

Not long after straightening out all the co-pay mess, I received a phone call from the billing office for the ambulance company saying my insurance company had informed them as well I was not insured during that time period.  Sometimes I could sit and scream without stopping. Dialing the insurance company number now on my speed dial , I listened to their phone system prompts for the twentieth time that month. This, I 10-2008-health-insurance-cartoon3might add could push you off the bridge as well.  “Please say your ID number”.  I do.  “I’m sorry I cannot understand you”, the scripted response.  Please say your ID number”. I do, again.  “Why are you calling?”  I reply, “customer service” to which the response is “I’m sorry I cannot understand you, I’ll connect you to a representative”. Now, I just recite the Pledge of Allegiance yielding the same result. Yesterday I accidentally pushed 2 instead of 1 and listened to the entire message in Spanish.  I liked it much better because I couldn’t understand one word they were saying.  This was comforting.

At last I got an insurance rep and explained my dilemma ad nauseam.  I’m thinking of making a movie out of it somewhere down the road.  After I was done the rep set up a conference call with the ambulance company and straightened out the facts first that I was insured, and secondly had satisfied my co-pay.  Life, as they say, was good.

Today I got yet another call from the billing office for the ambulance company informing me they had invoiced my insurance company and were sorry to say I was not covered during that time period.  Once again I called my insurance company opting for English this time as I wanted to be understood. Following a brief Auto-Insurance-Quotes-Can-Be-Funnydiscussion I was instructed to call the ambulance billing person back and tell her to reinvoice my insurance.  I did. She informed me that they couldn’t reinvoice because they’d already invoiced twice and their system wasn’t set up to do it a third time.  Can you feel your blood pressure rising or is that simply an illusion?

At that point I was losing my well-known sense of humor.  My voice elevating, I was handed off like a hot charcoal to someone in another division.  Actually, this woman was helpful.  I explained to her I had no intention of paying $2,200 out-of-pocket when I paid for insurance to do exactly that.  Further I could not bill on their behalf because I do not collect a paycheck from their company and don’t plan on applying for employment there in the near future.  Digging deeper I suggested if they planned to put a big “0” next to my account anytime soon they needed to deal with my insurance company or were going to find themselves seriously disappointed.  In the end they saw the wisdom of such logic.  I’m sure tomorrow I will find another call on my answering machine.

One thing I’ve noticed is if you are late on your insurance payment, or God forbid have to submit a claim, the insurance company will exact their pound of flesh with great expediency, but if they owe you money you wouldn’t want to hold your breath waiting to see their logo on an envelope in your mailbox.  Anyhow, that’s Susie’s gripe of the day.

I really liked this dish.  Light and tasty although fried.  I used grapeseed oil rather than a heavier oil and the chicken strips were moist and crunchy.

Japanese Crusted Chicken Strips with Onion Sauce and Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups water
2 scallions, sliced thin on the diagonal

Rinse rice well in a strainer until water runs clear.
IMG_3533

Place in small saucepan and cover with cold water. Allow to sit on counter for at least one hour. Rinse well again and return to pot. Add two cups of cold water. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer for 20 mins. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 mins. Add scallions and fluff rice with fork. Serve hot. Serves 4.

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Japanese Crusted Chicken Strips with Onion Sauce

Onion Sauce

2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
1 14 1/2 oz. can low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup Mirin wine
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (I used Myer)
1/2 tsp. lemon zest

Mix all ingredients together in medium saucepan. Bring to boil over med-high heat.

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Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 25 mins. Remove from heat and either refrigerate and reheat at time to serving or keep warm.

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Japanese Crunchy Chicken Strips

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise and pounded
3 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp. water
1/2 cup flour
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. lemon pepper
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups Panko bread crumbs
4 Tbsp. grapeseed oil, divided

Slice chicken breasts in half lengthwise. Pound to 1/2″ thickness.

Mix together flour, salt, black pepper, lemon pepper and kosher salt. Dredge chicken until well coated on both sides.

Beat eggs and 1 Tbsp. water together in shallow dish. Dip chicken breasts in egg mixture allowing excess to run off.

3

In third shallow dish put 1 1/2 cups of Panko bread crumbs. Place chicken in this dish last coating well.

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In large skillet heat 2 Tbsp. of grapeseed oil until shimmering. Add two cutlets to the pan and cook until golden brown on both sides until juices run clear and chicken is thoroughly cooked. Remove to warmed plate. Add last 2 Tbsp. of oil to pan and second batch and repeat the process. Slice chicken into strips.

IMG_3542

Serve over hot onion sauce with sticky rice.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

This year has blown through our house like a typhoon on a south sea island leaving destruction in its wake.  Last night was only the second time I slept in my wonderful bed with the perfect pillows since the calendar flipped from 2012 to 2013.  Where do I begin?  I returned from a week plus with my parents in the Bay Area over the Christmas holiday.  Once home, I repacked and was on the road again the following day for some time with my daughter and her family. After an activity packed time in the Sacramento area I was soooo glad to get back home the day before New Year’s Eve and finally get out my suitcase.  My cat, so tired of seeing my back going out the door, sat in my empty suitcase and refused to move.  I believe had she been human her arms would have been crossed and her feet tapping.

Having no desire or energy for a party, we had a quiet New Year’s. I cooked a rack of lamb as I mentioned in my last post and we enjoyed the blissful peace and quiet.  Deep into the nest of bizarre dreams my subconscious insists on building every night, the phone woke me around 3:00 a.m.  Now, in my history at least, when a phone rings at that time of night it’s not someone calling to sell you life insurance.  It was my mother notifying me that my stepdad had been admitted to the hospital with an extreme case of viral stomach flu.  At any age this is not good news, but taking into account his age, it was serious news.  Sluffing off her claims she didn’t need me to come, I once again dragged out my suitcase. In my lifetime my mother has never failed to have my back and I intend to always try to do the same for her. Needing someone to man the home front and with much going on on the other end, I opted to make this trip alone.  It’s not a bad drive from here.  Without stops it takes three and a half hours.

I arrived to find my stepdad in ICU and half of San Jose down with some kind of flu or virus.  Immediately I began shoving Airborne in my mouth, but my mother, thank God, hadn’t gotten ill so I put that thought aside and concentrated on what was going on in her life.  Last Saturday night as we were making dinner a wave of nausea swept over me. In twenty minutes I was showing off my best Linda Blair imitation and asking for Father Karras.  It was awful, and so fast.

Not knowing what to do with me, neighbors were called in to view the carnage, and then the paramedics.  I wouldn’t have done so but I certainly wasn’t going anywhere in a car.  After arriving at the ER and being evaluated, some time in the middle of the night I was admitted.  My poor mother now had two of us in the hospital, and neither of us in the same one.  Ach.

They gave me some wonderful medicine through my IV, nectar of the gods really, and I sort of drifted in and out of my new world. Faces hovered over me and tubes were attached here and

hospital-reception-cartoonthere.  One thing about a stay in the hospital, they put you in a bed but it’s only for show.  They don’t really want you to sleep.  The moment you drift off, a new face in a white gown carrying a kit of some sort drains more of your bodily fluids carrying them off to an unknown location.  You get probed, pinched, rolled over, and pored over.  It is not a good thing. All pride and modesty are thrown out the window once you’re handed a hospital gown, and it goes downhill from there.

It seemed I was in isolation due to the fact they weren’t sure what nasty little bug had possessed my body. One bonus to this, I found I had the room to myself.  It is an odd feeling to have people fully gowned with masked lurking about you. It felt like a hazmat unit.  I kept thinking papers were being drawn up for my impending trip to Molokai.

No food for me, but then I wasn’t interested.  A nurse showed up mid-morning to take a sample from my sinuses.  Helping me to sit up, she took out two long probes. From the length they appeared as though they could have been equally as useful in taking a sample from my lower intestine.  In my addled state I became convinced the Mother Ship was lurking just beyond the window waiting to beam me up with their atomic extracting ray.  Is their some sinister group sitting around 24/7 inventing new and unusual forms of torture for people who are sick and defenseless?

By day three life was looking a little brighter. I was informed I was to stay in as I had a fever but a full liquid diet, whatever that entailed, was reserved with my name on it.  Yea.  Around noon as promised a tray was delivered.  If I wasn’t sick enough, this presentation could have pushed me over the edge.  How, I need to know, is it possible to ruin vanilla ice cream?  How can you do that?  It tasted like flat, whipped, iced, non-fat milk, sugarless, tasteless, textureless, white goo.  Euuuww.  The soup, well there aren’t words.  They called it tomato, but I didn’t detect that in the flavor. Good taste prohibits me from describing what I did detect. It formed gelatinous clots which did not easily relinquish the spoon.  Thankfully, there was a tub of yogurt, not prepared by the kitchen staff, that went down just fine.

Over the next two days they broadened my allowable foods to what I could tolerate.  Bring it on.  It was an interesting system.  You ordered your meals from a three-fold menu featuring breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, breads, sides, beverages, condiments, etc.  You called “room service” and ordered what you wanted.  Interesting.  My first meal was breakfast.  After perusing my choices, I picked scrambled eggs, wheat toast, breakfast potatoes, sausage and coffee as though from my hotel room.  The comparison stopped there, unless you were staying in a really bad hotel.  Arriving in an hour, the food actually appeared on the surface as though it was meant for human consumption.  The eggs came in a wedge like meatloaf and had a texture similar to what they use to make foam pillows.  Actually, the potatoes were edible, but then you have to work to ruin a potato.  As to the sausages, they were such an odd anemic color I placed a napkin over them to avoid catching a glimpse of them. The toast truly was the most unusual part of the meal.  It seemed to have the tensile strength of synthetic rubber.  If you took a bite out of it it didn’t release it from the rest of the slice.  Instead it seemed to stretch and stretch until it eventually pulled off.  I could not get the crust to come off at all even with my knife.  All and all it was a culinary experience.

As the days progressed, five in total, I felt better. The nurses who tended to me, for the most part, were angels and I’m sending out a thank you to them.  I could not do their job. My stepfather is putting up a good fight on his end as well and had been moved out of ICU and steadily improving each day.

So, finally paroled, I somehow drove home yesterday and have never found myself happier to be here.  My other half and the two cats were so glad to see me they jumped in place. This partially due to my irresistible charm, and the fact that the laundry was piling up and our kibble supply running dangerously low. and I am feeling a bit better as each day moves into the next.

These sliders were so good.   They’d be great for Super Bowl Sunday.

Crockpot Pulled Chicken Sliders

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. celery salt
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup chicken broth
4 garlic cloves, minced
16 oz. chunky salsa (mild, med. or hot)
1 packet taco seasoning
1 cup Frank’s (or similiar) hot sauce, divided
20 dinner rolls halved

Combine onion powder, black pepper, and celery salt. Sprinkle evenly over chicken. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in large skillet over med-high heat. Add chicken to skillet and brown evenly.

Place in 6 quart crockpot sprayed with cooking spray. In same skillet heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Add celery and onion and sweat until tender, about 5 mins. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Place on top of chicken in crockpot. Deglaze pan with broth.

Mix together salsa, broth, taco seasoning and 1/2 cup hot sauce. Pour over chicken. Cook for 9 hrs. on low. Remove chicken from broth and shred with two forks. Remove sauce from crockpot and strain. Discard solids.

Return meat and strained sauce to crockpot. Add remaining 1/2 cup Frank’s hot sauce or your choice. Cook on low for 1 hr.

Asian Coleslaw

2 pkgs. angel hair coleslaw (w/o carrots)
6 green onions, chopped fine
3 Tbsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. Toasted sesame seed
1 tsp. sesame oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place coleslaw mix in large bowl. Add green onions. Mix together dressing ingredients and toss to mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Chill until ready to serve.

Blue Cheese Sauce

1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup blue cheese, crumbled
1 tsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard

Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

To assemble:
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Slather both sides of buns with blue cheese sauce. Place generous portion of meat on bottom and top with coleslaw. Serve with tomato/cucumber salad or slices avocados drizzled with lime juice. Yum.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I’m having a karmic payback kind of day. Heading out to cross the final holiday gifts off my list, I backed out of my garage, a task I perform most days. Pushing the button on my garage door opener, our neighbor to the left came down the driveway and waved hello. I opened the window and we exchanged a word or two about the weather, the economy, and the leaves piled high from the most recent storm making their home in our shared yard space.  Once our goodbyes were said and he was out of range I stepped on the gas.  Right pedal, wrong gear.  Sigh.  Fortunately, I didn’t give it much gas, just enough to back over my favorite designer pot reducing it to a ceramic jigsaw puzzle in the middle of the driveway.  Whoops.  Could have been worse, certainly, I could have done this in a parking lot.

Stupid, or at least unusual incidents, occur when my grey cells are agitated with too much data moving down Winter Scene 1003the information highway.  It seems in my case I can only process so much information on a given day without going south like a goose in winter.  Packing, moving, the holidays, family issues, baking, cooking for our trip, and day-to-day responsibilities have the little man in my brain who speaks to me of such things at two in the morning ready to throw the off switch and throw my thoughts into darkness.

Both cats are feeling the strain as well.  Boo our longest resident is more familiar with the hubbub surrounding our imminent departure. Sensing she may be left behind, she insists on climbing in and out of bags distributed on the floor as if checking to see if there is a spot left about her size.  Following these gymnastics, she inspects every item thoroughly with her regal pink nose, stopping occasionally to cast an accusatory glance my direction.

The work table I set up in the bedroom for the holidays has truly taken on the look of Santa’s workbench.  Rolls of colorful paper and curled lines of ribbons spill out of wicker baskets scattered around the room.  The table itself is piled high with tape, pens, gift tags, Christmas cards, material, projects in process and my sewing equipment.  Rick has been delegated a small wedge-shaped area on the left of the bed and hasn’t been seen in his allotted spot since the first box marked “xmas” made its way upstairs.  My man really knows how Winter Scene 0922to put the “ho-hum” in humbug.   I have found, in my experience at least, it usually falls to the female of the species to imbue the house with holiday spirit.  Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be seen on the outside of the house straddling ladders leaning against the side while manipulating strings of outdoor lights dangling over their shoulders.

Present wrapping is also my detail, except for those with my name on the tags. I draw the line at wrapping my own gifts. Presents are not my focus on Christmas, but I do like the opportunity to select something special for those that I love and wrapping them in colorful ways. Trying to wrap presents with two cats in the house is a thankless task, however. Particularly two incredibly spoiled felines such as ours.  Curled ribbon and crinkly paper are irresistible targets for my two marauders and more than once I’ve laid chase to try to retrieve a  piece of glittered tissue paper or a cylinder of ribbon only to end up seeing the last of it disappear down the stairs and under the bed.

Last night, however, was the end, literally.  Boo, feeling ignored my attention going to sewing the last seam on an apron, hopped up on my table.  An open box of bobbins with excess string hanging out of the ends sat to my left. (For those of you who do not sew the bobbins are small spools filled with different colored threads inserted below the threaded needle on the machine). Before I could stop her, she grabbed a piece of lime green thread attached to a bobbin and began to chew.  When the thread became taut and jiggled the metal bobbin she flew off the table bobbin in tow.  In her panic she swallowed the thread still attached to the rapidly unwinding spool bouncing wildly along behind her.  Breaking my high school best for doing the mile I mounted the stairs and gasping for breath cornering her in the kitchen standing by the stove one end of thread hanging from her mouth.  Nothing left to do, I sat down next to her and began to slowly pull it out.  I pulled, pulled and then I pulled some more. She must have swallowed half a spool.  It is important cats don’t consume thread or string as it can cause their intestines to knot, and, well, without divulging details, it isn’t pretty.  At last the end was reached and she offered me a look as close as it comes to feline gratitude and sauntered off down the hall. Surveying the damage in the bedroom, I picked up the papers strewn all over the floor and began to tear out the seam I ‘d sewed sideways when she startled me.  I love these two, but sometimes they are a royal pain in the behind, I’m just saying.

While we are gone a young friend and his fiance are house sitting.  One bonus of many about living above a lake is that it is not difficult to find volunteers to mind your house even if it does require care and feeding of two totally unbalanced puddy cats.

I haven’t made this dish in a long time.  It’s nice comfort food with a bit of a bite on biting cold nights. I would have provided a picture of the finished dish but our son stopped by and it disappeared before I could put its name in lights.

Creamy Chicken Paprikash

4 chicken breast halves, flattened to 1 1/2″
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp. Hungarian paprika, divided
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
1 large onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, chopped fine
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup white wine
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
16 oz. extra wide egg noodles or papparedele noodles prepared according to pkg. directions
2 Tbsp. liquid from noodle water

Combine flour with 2 Tbsp. of paprika, pepper, salt, and garlic salt. Place in large resealable plastic bag. Add chicken to bag and shake vigorously to coat all pieces evenly.

Heat oil in large deep sides frying pan over med. heat. Add chicken and brown on both sides (about 5-6 mins. per side. Remove from pan and set aside.

5

Add onion and saute for 5 mins. or so or until translucent adding a little extra oil if pan is dry.

Add remaining 2 Tbsp. of paprika to pan. Saute for 2 mins. Return chicken to pan.

4

Add diced tomatoes, water and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 25 mins. Add green pepper and cook 20 mins. Using slotted spoon remove chicken to warm plate.

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain, reserving 2 Tbsp. of liquid.

Add 2 Tbsp. reserved noodle water to frying pan and cook until sauce is slightly reduced. Whisk in sour cream and cayenne pepper. Cook for 5-6 mins. until thick and creamy. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Add parsley.

Serve over hot noodles dotted with several dabs of butter. Yum.

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final 2

Photo by Susie Nelson

Today is a good day for ducks. Rain is spewing forth from the clouds as though there was a break in the main line. Lower lying clouds have sneaked in beneath the darker upper ones filling the canyon floor below us obscuring the lake from view entirely. To add to the mix, heavy gusts of wind are twisting the palm tree in our yard in the way a housekeeper might wring liquid from a mop. Inside, however, we’re feeling cozy, warm, and somewhat festive. Strands of colored bulbs happily blink on and off on the tree in the living room, and the kitchen is filled with an enticing blend of aromas a combination of the ham and split pea soup cooking on the stove mingled with the pumpkin spice candle burning over the sink. Currier and Ives, eat your hearts out.

We arrived back from the Bay Area late Thursday night. Boo, the Queen of Cats, so ecstatic to see us walk in the front door, danced a feline rendition of the lambada across the kitchen by way of welcome. Since our return even when sleeping, the old cat opens one lazy eye periodically to survey the room lest we try to make a run for the door without her. As our two felines barely tolerate each other, when their human referees are absent from the premises one is sequestered in a bedroom while the other has access to the house. For fairness sake we alternate the players, and Boo, much to her dismay, lost the coin toss this trip.

Looking up the from the keyboard, I can see a metal patio chair sidling along the upper deck so quickly it appears to be constructed of balsa wood rather than wrought iron. Usually these heavy chairs are stacked when a storm is imminent, but wrestling the wind and the chairs on an open upper deck at the moment would create a dangerous proposition. So, untethered, they pace back and forth beyond the door like mesh sentinels guarding the palace gate.

Snow has begun to fall in the colder parts of the country. Pictures on the news make me both thankful to be living where it does not, and nostalgic for times I lived where it did. West Virginia was the last state I lived inWinter Scene 1005 providing me a white Christmas. During my third, and final winter there, Mother Nature went out of her way to leave me a lasting memory. Frigid blustery days, slippery, icy highways, and back roads offering endless panoramas of pristine white meadows and snow laden trees. Lovely.

After the first snowfall that year, with more than adequate materials at hand, my husband at the time and I built huge snowmen in the front yard including a snowdog to please Sushi, our Shih Tzu, sidekick, and constant companion. Cut small in stature, but generous in heart, Sushi traveled the roads with us sharing my life and my heart for seventeen years. Game for any activity despite the limitations of four short legs installed by her manufacturer, snow posed some unique problems for the little warrior. Low to the ground, her beard thworked like a snowplow in the deep drifts and she would soon ice over looking like an ice sculpture. To keep her warm, a red plaid jacket was purchased at the pet store. This was a wardrobe addition she viewed with the utmost disdain, submitting to shrug it on only to gain access outdoors, lowering her head in humiliation if the neighbor’s chihuahua appeared anywhere in the vicinity.

It was cold that year, bone chilling, ear muff wearing, feet numbing, cold. Sometimes I wondered if my frozen fingers would thaw, or simply snap off like crisp green beans inside the wooly fingers of my gloves while trying pull them off my hands. Two weeks before Christmas I woke to find the thermometer lingering around 16 below zero. Brittle icicles hung in rows like glistening sharks teeth along the eaves and rain gutters. Most days an icy wind blew across the partially frozen river cutting through your clothes like a hot knife through butter. Cold, cold.Winter Scene 0452

My husband, at the time, reported for work across the bridge at the refinery at 6:30 a.m. Those years we had one car between us. With no Christmas tree in our window and time running short, if I wanted to pick one up in town it would necessitate me driving him to work. Cold weeping under the doorway prompted me to brew a second pot of coffee. Sputtering announcement of the completion of its cycle, I filled his thermos, reserving a steaming cup for myself.

Common in our St. Albans neighborhood, our house had no garage, leaving the car to the elements on wintry nights. Crunching across the yard I chipped at the frozen door of my Chevy with an ice pick, using my free hand to gather my coat around me. My breath hung like steam in the air with the exertion until at last the car released its grasp and the door opened. Inside was no warmer, like stepping into a walk in freezer. Resisting all coaching initially, after several tries the cold Winter Scene 0944engine wheezed and coughed into submission. I cranked the heater knob to high. Window wipers lay frozen in time in the thick layer of ice on the windshield. After a minute the defroster thawed a small patch at the bottom of the window allowing a glimpse of the outside world.

Successfully dropping him off at work and returning home, I pulled the boxes of ornaments and decorations down from the attic. Later in the morning the wee dog and I arrived at the Christmas tree lot downtown, eight miles or so from the house. I mingled among other tree hunters looking for one that caught my eye. I decided on a symmetrical 6′ Douglas fir, a little pricier then I’d planned but perfect for our living room window. Money was exchanged at the counter and help offered to the car. After several attempts, the tree lot attendant determined the tree too large for the trunk. Looping heavy cord across the roof of the car and through the windows he instead secured it to the roof leaving me with instructions to drive slowly as the wind was picking up.

Sushi, rode shotgun in her usual spot eying the roof suspiciously from time to time as our burden groaned and shifted in the wind. Along the river road the wind picked up considerably and pine needles scratched and picked at the paint, the rope tightening and releasing in between gusts. One huge push of wind moved the car across the slick road and with a final scratch and whoosh the ropes went slack with a wrenching noise. Oh-oh. Winter Scene 0440Sixty dollars worth of perfect Douglas fir rolled like a tumbleweed down the embankment gathering snow and debris as it bounced. At the river bank it paused for a moment one bough raised as if to wave goodbye and then disappeared into the dark icy waters beyond the shore. Moments later it bobbed up like a meatball in soup and moved down river. Sighing, I turned my car back in the direction of the tree lot.

In the spirit of the holidays, or possibly good public relations, another tree nearly as perfect as the first was provided to me at no cost. To avoid further catastrophe it was delivered by their truck later in the afternoon. Relating the story over dinner that night my husband shook his head. Not in surprise really, more bewilderment. He always said a person needed to have their insurance premiums up to date to share space with me because you never know what acts of weirdness might occur from one day to the next.

I love these little pies, a combo of beef and lamb and a delicious blend of spices.  I make them large for us, and reduce the size for company.  They’re nice on a buffet table or for dinner. I also use this mix of meats in mini meatloaves which are absolutely delicious with a yogurt dill sauce.

Spicy Meat Pies

1/2 lb. ground lamb
1/2 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp. mint leaves
2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. coriander
2 sheets of puff pastry
1 egg plus 1 Tbsp. water for egg wash

Garnish – sour cream sprinkled with dill or mint

Thaw pastry overnight in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Mix lamb, beef and all the seasonings through egg wash in a mixing bowl with your fingers preferably. Set aside.

Lay pastry sheets on flat lightly floured surface one at a time. Roll into a square or as close as possible. Cut in 6 equal pieces per sheet.

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Place 1 generous Tbsp. of meat mixture in center of each square. Fold corner to corner to form a triangle over meat. Pinch edges together and press filling down slightly and crimp tightly. Wash each triangle with egg wash.

IMG_3204

Place on cookie sheets covered with parchment paper. Place in preheated oven immediately turning the temperature down to 375 degrees. Cook for 40 mins. or until nicely browned. Remove from oven and serve hot with sour cream dill sauce.

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