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Posts Tagged ‘fall’

A lot going on in the news of late. Very unsettling way to spend an hour first thing in the morning before consuming your allotted amount of caffeine. Sometimes I just tune it out, opting for something easier on my brain before it gets revved up to its full momentum for the day. I’ve been thinking seriously about exploring meditation or yoga as forms of relaxation. So far these remain in the thinking stage, but at least they are floating around up there with the rest of the things I’m thinking about doing probably tomorrow, maybe the next day, or perhaps this coming weekend.

Usually I am not a procrastinator. Many of the things I was taught as a child were thrown against the wall and ended up sliding back down, but some suggestions actually stuck. One, from my grandmother, was do the thing you least enjoy doing first rather than placing it at the end of the list. That way you get it over with and it doesn’t hang over your head while you’re doing whatever else came before it. I adhere to this in most things. Take bathrooms, for example. I find nothing stimulating in any way about scrubbing the toilet bowl, pulling hair out of the shower drain, or removing soap scum. Do I enjoy a clean bathroom? Certainly. That being said someone has to clean it and low these many years I’ve never noticed any hands going up when I suggested it might be someone other than myself.

At the moment I feel like I’m trying to manipulate an eight man scull with one oar in the water. To begin with, my mother is in a skilled nursing facility recovering from a broken hip. Being an only child, and with my two kids and their families scattered about and busy, this requires a heavy commitment of time on my part. I have groups and appointments that have been moved around and juggled to the point my day planner looks like a five year old scribbled the entries with a kindergarten pencil.

My house, though not large, continues to distribute dust and crumbs at an alarming pace, and though I am taking a stab at keeping up with this progression, sometimes it feels as though I’m losing the race. The thought has occurred to me to hire someone to clean the house, but this thought is generally overridden once I consult my bank account for available funds to make this happen. Miss Boo, the Queen of Cats, though a dainty eater insists on removing each kibble from her bowl and chewing it to shreds over the floor creating a pile of large and small debris suitable for keeping a cat shelter going for several months. Yesterday I stepped on a particularly large chunk and spilled coffee all over my pants trying to right myself before I ended up in a bed next to my mother.

Something I have observed when your schedule starts to blink “overload, overload”, is you begin to do really stupid things. Now, I am the first to admit I often do dumb things as a rule of thumb, but I mean really mind numbing idiocy. Yesterday I had to run to the grocery store after being unable to think of one meal I could pull together with yellow mustard and sour cream. Racing though the aisles I piled on whatever looked good, was two for one, and I remembered I was out of and went through the checkstand. It had begun to rain at a fairly heavy pace when I pushed the cart out the front door. Locating my car I pushed the “open trunk” button on my remote and attempted to do just that. Nothing. Fine, now the remote was broken. Again I pushed a button, this time for the car itself. Nothing. Stupid remote, stupid manufacturer, why is it pouring? Finally I looked inside the car to see an In n Out cup sitting in the cup holder. Hmmmm. The last time I’d had an In n Out burger was a year ago. A light blinked in an otherwise dark chamber in my mind allowing a cognizant thought to emerge. “This is not my car.” Got it.

This vein of stupidity has run through my entire week. It’s like a wicked fairy tapped me on the head casting a spell where 40 IQ points were immediately erased from my intelligence quotient, leaving me with the brain capacity of a domestic turkey. This yet another reason you shouldn’t leave me out in the rain. Duh, and more duh. I put my trash out on Thursday which would have been excellent was it not for the fact that was the trash pick up day at my old house. The new house has trash pick up scheduled for Wednesday mornings. I’m sure the gardener will be pleased to note the clippings from last weeks trimmings are still poking nearly to the top of the compost bin. Sorry. Don’t hate me because I’ve been struck stupid. Hopefully, this will pass.

To add to my prefrontal cortex malfunctions, I have a head cold. This means I either need to abstain from visiting my mother or wear a face mask. If you have ever tried to breathe with one of these masks over your nose when your nasal passages are tighter than Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s abs, you would understand why this option is not at the top of my list. That being said, I have opted to rest in place for the day, binge on old movies, and face the mask tomorrow after two or three dosings of Airborne and some rest. Check please.

On another note, I have to say it was wonderful to see the rain. Thankfully summer in the Sierra Nevadas didn’t dole out it’s usual bounty of sweltering days this year. Summer passed on a somewhat milder note keeping devastating fires off the front page as often and making for more tolerable days outside.

With the rain accompanied by the first dusting of snow in the mountains fall is dropping hints it’s just around the corner. There’s something about autumn that stirs my soul more than any other season of the year. The glorious colors bursting forth on the trees, the rich earthy smell after a good downpour, and my three favorite holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas lining up on the horizon.

Cooking begins to cross my mind this time of year as well, Delicious meaty stews, comforting soups, and the king of the birds (at least to eat) the turkey. Yum and more yum.

As the calendar rolls over to October I will begin digging in the storage shed for the Halloween decorations tucked away in their orange bin. Since I have enough bins to start a department store I have found color coding preferable to spending an afternoon opening one lid after another trying to determine what lies beneath it. Red and green for Christmas, orange for Halloween, well you get the idea.

Monday has arrived on the scene again. The week before me is jam packed so I am gearing up to prepare for it armed with the industrial pack of Airborne for my cold and a mega sized cup of coffee to get my blood moving. Have a great week. Take a chance or two, hug your kids often, say hello to a stranger, and discover something new about yourself.

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finalOn the best of days our cat, Boo, is bizarre. Some days, like today for example, she’s could be deemed certifiable. Early on I was relaxing with my first cup of piping hot coffee enjoying the Sunday paper. As is her habit the cat was canvasing the living room area in search of stray mice to toss about (the stuffed variety) or a piece of leaf to chase. Without any obvious explanation a small picture frame sitting in an easel on our glass TV stand fell over with a resounding crash. The cat, not named Boo for nothing, shot up in the air as if fired from a catapult. Every hair along her spine was at full attention as she bolted across me at rocket speed knocking the arm holding my coffee cup hard enough to spill the steaming contents all over the front of my new tee-shirt. Thank you, Boo. Thank you very much. Nothing I like better than starting off a morning with second degree burns and ruined clothing. Appreciate it. If she is lying on me, as she is prone to do off and on during the day, and a sneeze captures me, if I can’t stop it she is likely to scratch half-inch lines on my chest in an effort to escape. Even if Rick sneezes next to me, the reaction is the same. We feel she was abused in some way as a kitten or very scared. Truth is I can’t imagine my world without her disrupting it. I wish cats could live to be a hundred but unfortunately that wasn’t in the plan.

When Boo gets frightened I can generally locate her under a bed downstairs her behind pointed in my direction. For some reason when frightened she presents me with that end of her anatomy. I offer no explanation for this occurrence other than the cat is odd, very odd. This is why we clicked when first meeting I would most imagine. Both of us have unusual eyes and quirky personalities. Since the earlier strange situation with the picture frame Boo has been seen stalking the TV stand, tail wagging furiously and the well-known cat curiosity at the fore. At one point I saw her checking out the plug with her nose, a practice I discouraged lest she light up like a cartoon cat zapped by a good jolt of electricity.

Perhaps Boo’s strange behavior can be attributed to the change of seasons. Fall is definitely in the air. Leaves litter the ground and hints of others just beginning to change color are scattered about the hillsides. Summer, however, reluctant to give up center stage, keeps insinuating its hot little hands in the middle of it all. Yesterday it approached 100 degrees and today will be the same. Alternating between shorts and jeans I’m still leaning on the side of autumn. I have taken out my fall decorations in celebration of the changing of the guard. Ghosts peer out my windows and goblins huddle about bowls of candy.

Growing up in Nova Scotia the leaves would have turned dramatically by now, reflected in fiery images in many lakes and ponds scattered about (or aboot in Canadian) the province. Our family home sat at the mouth of the Halifax harbor two blocks from Point Pleasant Park, a place I explored often as a youngster. For a child the park offered so many opportunities to run and play. The frog pond inside the gate was where I sat on a rock to watch the busy insect and amphibian population visible on and just below the murky water. When winter arrived and the temperatures dropped the pond froze over and served as the perfect outdoor skating rink for local kids or a place to try out the new hockey stick Santa had placed under the tree.

Fall made it’s presence known dramatically in the heavily treed acreage. Walking along the paths the crunching pad of dead leaves beneath your boots echoed through the canopy of branches overhead. I loved it there. Funny, I don’t remember worrying about boogeymen, though I’m sure there were some lurking about over the years, nor do I remember feeling scared or alone while inside the park grounds.

Rick, coming from Egypt originally, is more of a sun worshiper. Was he a lizard, I can picture him stretched out on a rock soaking in the desert heat. For him the advent of chilly rainy days and darkened skies is embraced with far less enthusiasm than for me. Was I to draw how I feel this time of year in a picture my toes would be twirling, my lips smiling, and my eyes twinkling. Energizing my spirit the change in seasons heading into winter gets me even busier in the kitchen, eyeing my sewing machine for holiday projects, and beginning to look at store sales and seasonal recipes. This George Eliot quote says it all:

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

I do think the stores are really getting ahead of themselves this year. Each year they start a little bit earlier. Christmas trees and decorations began showing up in some stores in August. What’s next, bunnies and baskets by Christmas? I like to ease into the holidays. They’re overwhelming enough with all the shopping (I’m not an avid shopper), wrapping, and shipping of gifts to family and friends. To me it’s like being given the whole cheesecake and asked to eat in at one sitting. I enjoy a good cheesecake but prefer to savor each bite and look forward to another piece a day or so later. Well, that made my stomach growl. Going to have to make a cheesecake one of these days.

Comfort food on my mind I decided to make Rick one of his favorites, turkey stuffed pepper soup. Delicious and filling with its mini-grilled cheese. Yum and yum.

Turkey Stuffed Pepper Soup with Mini-Grilled Cheese

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground turkey
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 onion, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
5 cups beef stock
1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup cooked rice

Bring olive oil to shimmer in stock pot over med.-high heat. Add turkey and cook, breaking meat into crumbles, until no longer pink. Add garlic and continue cooking 1 min.

Add seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, onion and green peppers. Cook, stirring frequently for 6 mins. Add stock, tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 30 mins.

Place 1/4 cup of rice in bottom of four soup bowls.Pour 1/4 of soup over top of each scoop.

Grilled Cheese

4 slices French bread, sliced thin
2 Tbsp. butter softened
2 slices sliced cheddar cheese

Butter one side of each slice of bread. Place two slices butter side down in skillet. Top each with slice of cheese. Place remaining slices butter side up on cheese slices. Heat pan over high heat brown on both sides and cook until cheese has melted. Cut into small squares and serve on top of soup.

Serves 4

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2
In the morning paper, yes I still get real paper paper, there was touching story about a horse named Raphael recently relocated to an animal rescue in our area. The article detailed the 12-year-old quarter horse’s journey from Juarez, Mexico and his life prior to being rescued. There are few things that will move me to anger more quickly than the abuse of any creature, human or otherwise, who is unable to defend themselves. As the story unfolded it said the equine had lived in forced labor most of his life in Juarez under the heavy hand of a master who beat him and cared little, if at all, for the animal’s well-being. Had it not been for a well-meaning tourist intervening after seeing the horse kneeling in the street unable to go on Raphael would have ended his days with that yoke around his neck. The yoke, never removed, had to be extricated in pieces. The leather had insinuated itself in the horse’s skin over years of wear. Makes me cry.

After much red tape, several wonderful vets, and caring volunteers Raphael, purchased for $200 from his owner in Juarez, has finally found a loving home in which to spend his remaining years. According to the article he follows his new caregivers around like a puppy, happy for any attention they can spare or an apple or two. Tortilla chips and other fast food items were his diet staples until coming to the U.S. leaving the animal both unhealthy and underweight.

Sometimes we humans are sorrowful creatures. I have to rekindle the fire I have for our more admirable traits after reading such a thing. However, the random acts of kindness will have the glow going in no time and I’ll be back to singing our praises again.

On the subject of animals, we had an incredible thunder and lightning storm pass through here night before last. Boo, the Queen of Cats, needed a therapy session once it was over. She traveled the area between the bedroom and the living room meowing loudly and requiring much reassurance the world, as she knows it, was not about to end. It rolled over us leaving much debris and piles of leaves strewn in its path. I spent a good part of the morning sweeping leaves, depositing them in the already full bin out front. Living up here in the tall trees nature takes over most of the time making it futile to try to keep everything pristine. Part of the beauty of living here is that it is a natural setting, but if you let it go too long catching up the leaves will always be three steps ahead of you.

I have given some thought to the upcoming holidays. Christmas is to be at our house this year. Not to bring the subject up before we’ve even carved pumpkins. I saw my first Black Friday ad yesterday, which struck fear in my heart. Each year the holidays seem to creep up on me a little bit earlier than the year before. In our family we’ve really limited the spending we do among the adults. Little “I love you’s” serve nicely. Particularly as the younger members of our clan are growing up quickly and asking for gifts of a far more expensive nature then when they were younger. A doll or a box of Lego’s used to be the perfect choice. These days they have moved on to electronic watches and cell phones which require a far deeper reach into pockets than in years before. We’ve learned to collaborate on these pricey items, each of us tossing something in the pot. Works much better than trying to handle it alone, especially with nine photos lining our grandchildren album.

This soup is one of my favorites. I haul it out about this time each year. It is a full meal really, not needing much to accompany it but perhaps a slice of crusty bread.

Hearty Crockpot Pepper Soup

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
4 small yellow and orange bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 15 1/2 oz.can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with garlic and olive oil, with juice
1 6 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. hot paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 small chub of hard Parmesan cheese (optional)
2 bay leaves
1 cup cooked corn kernels
1 pkg. Boil in bag white rice
Croutons (optional)

In large skillet brown meat with onion, garlic, and chopped peppers. Drain.

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Spray bottom of 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Add meat.

In large bowl combine all remaining ingredients but rice and croutons. Pour sauce ingredients over meat. Mix well. Cook for 8 hrs. on low. Add corn. Cook for 1 hr.

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final
California is known for earthquakes. Several weeks ago Napa Valley was hit by the largest quake in California in twenty-five years. When one comes and no lives are lost, we who live here breath a sigh of relief. In our soul of souls, however, we know others are lurking in the wings. Perhaps larger, perhaps arriving at at a worse time of day than this one which came in the wee hours of the morning. If another one will come is not the question, rather when? People who live in areas plagued by repeated severe weather patterns either learn to adapt or move I would guess. Citizens of Kansas or Oklahoma, part of an area nicknamed tornado alley, are probably not totally surprised to see a funnel cloud forming on their horizon. Likewise, Californian citizens are not confused when the earth begins to move and shift beneath their feet. Nervous certainly, but not surprised. Even if you’ve already experienced an earthquake you are never really prepared for another one. It’s not so much the unsettling feeling of having your center of gravity rocking and rolling but the not knowing how long it will last or how much damage it will leave in it’s wake. Two minutes can feel like an hour.

Outside the window the sky is red with the smoke from the numerous fires burning around Northern California. My girlfriend in Boise called yesterday to thank us for sending choking smoke up there when the wind shifted in their direction. Boise where she lives, was so impacted with it people not understanding where it originated from thought it was the end of the world.

This lack of moisture is beginning to get to me. Endless weather reports with no precipitation in sight serve to make me edgy. I need my seasons. Like a fallen leaf, I would wither and die in a place where there were no signs in nature announcing the passing of one season into the next. Fall has always been my favorite time of year. Perhaps because I’m a November baby. There’s something comforting to me about the changing colors in the trees, the crunching of leaves under your boots, and the days blending earlier into night. Already I have pulled out the boxes marked “fall” from the garage. Vases and containers previously filled with summer flowers now display autumn colors.

September to me is the gateway to the major holidays of the year. This is both a plus and a minus. With Christmas easing towards me on the calendar comes the added stress of getting my presents purchased and wrapped. Thanksgiving used to signal huge holiday get togethers for our family but with everyone spread out these days we tend to gather in smaller groups closer to home to avoid the horrendous traffic present on holidays. In the past I have driven a straight path from the Washington border to the Bay Area to share turkey with my family, flown two-thirds of the U.S. to join my grandchildren on Christmas morning, and sat in traffic for four hours to travel the usual hour’s road time to trick or trick with my son’s children.

When you blend families there is the added factor of yours and theirs. I consider them ours but nonetheless it adds another layer or two to the pie. Do you go here or there? Where did you go last year? Do you cook or do they? Ach. I can remember holidays past where when the dust settled I could be found sitting in a corner my face splattered with gravy looking at every dish in my house sitting dirty in the sink. It’s always fun though, and well worth the effort.

Our house is much smaller now, so large gatherings would be nearly impossible. Though I don’t miss the larger digs, I do miss the ease of entertaining it provided. With so many available spaces to put up a banquet table or add a game table or two, we always had plenty of room with space to spare. Life is meant to change, and you need to be able to change along with it, so I will not whine about but was but enjoy and be thankful for what is.

Soon I’ll be looking for my copy of To Kill a Mockingbird in my DVR and watching Scout run through the woods in her pickle costume. Old familiar movies always make me feel the holidays are coming.

Sometimes I crave a hot dog. We don’t have them often as they aren’t a favorite of my other half. Hot dogs were the first meal we shared together, actually, as our first date was to a hockey game. I remember because they were $10 a dog and I thought they ought to come with papers for that price. I was the only one in the stands cheering on the Canadian team, a fact Rick reminds me often nearly ended our relationship if not our lives, before it got a chance to begin.

This hot dog chili is a favorite of my grandkids. The baguettes need to be used the day you buy them as I’m sure you know. When in France I was fascinated to see people walking down the streets carrying baguettes half wrapped in paper. Nearly every person seemed to have stopped at the boulangerie on the way home from work. The bread there was unbelievably good. The next day, however, you could use it as a weapon.

Baguette Dogs with Tangy Chili

2 baguettes, cut in half and cored
4 large dinner franks
Yellow mustard
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped red onions

Chili

1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 8 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 can water
1/4 cup tomato catsup
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. cumin

Brown ground beef, peppers, onion, and garlic over med.-high heat until meat is fully cooked. Keep breaking it down with spatula to make meat as fine as possible. Drain on paper towels and return to pan.

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Add remaining ingredients to meat mixture. Mix well. Bring to boil over med.-high heat. Reduce heat and cook for 20 mins. over med.-low heat until mixture has thickened.

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Cut baguettes in half in center and then lengthwise. Scoop out centers. Cook dinner franks covered in boiling water until full heated.

Spread insides of baguettes with yellow mustard and catsup. Place one frank in bottom of each piece. Top with chili, cheese, and red onion.

Serves 4

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In my last several blogs I’ve devoted several paragraphs to a young black and white female cat that has recently adopted us.  As we have Boo Boo, our inside cat, to deal with, we have temporarily set up bed and food in the garage for the newcomer until we can determine how to best integrate her into the house and into Boo Boo’s little black heart. 

My other half has become accustomed over the years to my taking in, or at least feeding, most of the wildlife in our immediate vicinity.  Three wild hares, yup I said it, and their offspring stop by during the summer months for an offered piece of lettuce or carrot, a flock of hummingbirds circle our feeders, and even the deer show up on occasion for a piece of apple.  It’s a zoo, literally.

After finally convincing him we needed an indoor cat, he acquiesced and we got Boo Boo six years ago, whom he adores.  Now, we have added Mouth outside, or she has added us, and he has issued a moratorium on additional adoptions for the time being.  This morning he went out to open the garage door and let Mouth out for the morning.  Returning to the kitchen, he filled his coffee cup spilling coffee on the counter.  Reaching for a paper towel and instead finding an empty roll, he grabbed his cup and trudged back out to the garage where I keep the extra rolls of towels.  On opening the door, he found himself squarely facing a small buck (well small when compared to a full-grown animal, but bigger than a breadbox) sporting a two point rack bent over the cat food dish enjoying a kibble or twelve.  Hard to tell who was more shocked, but the young deer probably won the toss.  Before my other half could react, the animal slipped on the cement, fell, rallied, and took off out of the garage like someone had ignited a roman candle under his tail.  Meanwhile, my other half was left doing the Tijuana two-step in the garage waving his coffee cup in the air spewing liquid about like he was officiating at an enthusiastic baptismal.

Hearing  the commotion, I poked my head out of the bedroom doorway to find him standing in the hall wearing most of his coffee on his tee-shirt and mumbling to himself.  “I draw the line at bucks, Susie. “I just have to draw the line at bucks”. Huh?

This soup is hot both in flavor and temperature.

South of the Border Cream of Chicken Soup

3 Tbsp. butter
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
1 poblamo chile, seeded and diced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. hot chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, divided
3 cups whole milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Mexican beer (Corona, Dos Equis)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup uncooked rice
3 cups pepper Jack cheese, shredded
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded with a fork
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Lime slices
Sour cream
Tortilla chips, coarsely crushed

Melt butter in large cooking pot. Stir in bell pepper, chili, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and coriander. Sweat mixture about 5 mins. until peppers begin to soften.

Whisk in 3 Tbsp. of flour and toss to coat vegetables. Whisk in milk, beer, and broth until smooth. Add salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Stir in rice. Simmer about 20 mins. or until rice is tender.

Combine cheese and remaining 3 Tbsp. flour in a resealable plastic bag. Shake to coat. Add flour coated cheese to vegetable/flour mixture a handful at a time, melting cheese completely between each addition. Add chicken and cilantro and heat thoroughly.

Garnish each bowl with a spoonful of tortilla chips, a dollop of sour cream, and lime slices.

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