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Posts Tagged ‘families’

spinach quicheThe market was a total zoo this morning. Chips, salsa, huge packages of wings and liquor were flying off the shelves at a mind-boggling rate. Rick says soon the aisle the store is naming after me thanks to my continued patronage will be having a ribbon cutting. It is true. I spend a lot of time at the market. Not a high maintenance female in most areas, I have a meltdown if my staples in the pantry are looking poorly or I’m out of toilet paper. I will go to the store in a snow storm if I’m getting low on paper towels or there’s only one egg left in the carton, but wouldn’t bother warming up the car if there was a sale on pink diamonds at the local jeweler. It’s a matter of preferences and good eating is high on my list.

I have an old friend whose husband does all the cooking. Fran’s idea of bringing dinner to the table is actually transporting the dish from the kitchen to the dining room. In her eyes I’m a curiosity, something she studies from afar but has no understanding of how it works. When we met she was a young widow like myself. Alone with three small children on a limited income she was forced to face her fear of the stove. I was invited over often. Looking back I would like to think it was for my charm and sparkling wit, but deep down I know it was in the hopes I’d put on an apron and produce a meal. This I deduced from being handed an apron before setting down my purse, and pointed in the direction of the cooking utensils. I did this without prejudice lest I look forward to something inedible paired with something unrecognizable on the plate. Once she made a chicken dish At least claimed it was chicken…I’m still not convinced. The law suit pressed by the chicken industry for abuse of their product is still pending in civil court. The glutenous sauce was so thick it actually married with the non-stick pan and refused to be removed even with coaxing from an S.O.S. pad. Awful. In the end the pan had to be sacrificed. I’m not lyin here.

Beyond having no talent in this area, Frannie had no interest. If you aren’t humming in the kitchen most likely no one else is going to be, but her children survived with a little help from Kraft and Ronald McDonald.

As good friends do, we grabbed each others collars and took turns keeping each other afloat over those first few years. Learning to be happy again after losing a loved one is an individual quest. The amount of grieving time needed as varied as a fingerprint from one human to another. To my mind, you never really get over losing someone you love, you simply move on as the world is designed for the person left behind to do. After a while we tentatively began to dip our toes back into dating pool, discussing our exploits as we went. Being the first time for both us dating with children in the picture, it was an interesting time indeed.

Dating is an entirely different program when you have children. To begin with, not all men or women are equipped to or have a desire to raise children from a love interest’s prior relationship. It is a subject I did not wait until the third date to discuss trying to pass them off as short housekeepers or my sister’s kids. No point in baking a cake if you’re on a diet. To add to the mix the children aren’t always receptive to mom having a new man in her life. Introductions, in my case, were only initiated after a long period of dating. Perhaps beginning by catching a movie or enjoying an afternoon at the zoo to see how things ran up the flagpole. If fur didn’t fly, and I’m not speaking of the monkey cage, then things progressed slowly from there.

Sometimes there are children on both sides, as was the case in my second marriage. This really muddies the waters. At this point you pour a tall glass of chardonnay (don’t skimp, open the good stuff) and batten down the hatches. Not only does your man need to mesh with your children, and them with him, you have to adapt to a new child in your life and he or she to you. Once you have somehow accomplished this miraculous feat then the children from both sides need to be introduced, smell one another, and decide whether or not they’re going to make your life miserable or take at easy on the old people. To add to this murky bowl the stepchild child has a natural mother or your children a natural father who somehow has to be handed a puzzle piece and fit in somewhere on the board. It can, if you don’t have a natural bent for children and a good sense of humor, quickly become a nightmare.

My stepdaughter, Sara, was not yet four when she came into my life. Her father, a USC graduate and faithful fan, decided a day in the bleachers watching his favorite team was the perfect way to get our little band acquainted. Uh-huh. A glorious Southern California fall day, we loaded up the VW van with my children and headed south to pick up Sara at her mother’s house. I was nervous. This was my first encounter with the opposite team, and I’d heard through the grapevine the players weren’t all that enthusiastic about the upcoming match. Oh-oh.

Although shirt sleeve weather outside, once in the opposition’s house I found myself wishing I’d checked my anti-freeze before arriving. Sara, hiding behind her mother’s legs was not nearly as excited about the game or me as I’d hoped she might be.

Sitting in the red and gold dominated bleachers Sara’s crying for Mom commenced about half way through the first quarter. One fan actually threw a bag popcorn at us when it continued. There is nothing worse than having a screaming child who will not be quieted when you’re in a public arena, or in this case an actual arena. Not only did Sara cry for one full hour while we walked and cajoled before pulling up stakes, she cried the hour and half drive home. Her mother wasn’t happy, my children had taken a thumbs down vote in the back seat on the drive home, and I had decided total celibacy was the only answer by the time we reached our doorstep.

Somehow we stuck it out, ironing out the wrinkles as we went. Slowly, with lots of love, Sara became a part of our family and we hers blurring the dividing lines. Was it ever perfect? Never, would be the honest answer, but it was filled with lots of happy shared times mixed with some elbow grease. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Nothing worth having ever comes without some work. Blended families are rarely a piece of cake, but with the right mix of ingredients can bring you so much joy.

This quiche was delicious, a little work, but also worth the effort.

Three Cheese Spinach Mushroom Quiche

1 9″ deep dish pie shell
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pkg. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups half and half
1 Tbsp. cooking sherry
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 cups Swiss or Gruyere cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake pie shell for 12 mins. until lightly browned. Cool.

Lower oven to 375 degrees.

In large skillet heat oil over med. heat. Saute mushrooms and onions for 5-7 mins. until soft. Add garlic. Cook 1 min. longer.

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Add spinach to pan and mix well. Remove from heat. Cool.

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Crumble bacon in bottom of pie shell.

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In large mixing bowl beat eggs. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over bacon in pie shell.

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Bake for 50-60 mins. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 mins. before serving.

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final

This morning I woke up motivated. I prep my food for dinner early in the day as quite often I run out of time later or energy. Always I have been a morning person. My favorite time being just before the sun crests the hill. An unfolded day in front of me, no phones ringing, no chores to be accomplished, nothing but blessed peace and quiet and a steaming cup of fresh coffee. Mmmmm.

I digress. Remembering something I needed in the garage refrigerator, I slipped on a coat and well, slippers, and unlocked the outside door. Opening the refrigerator I stared into the gaping maw realizing quickly whatever it was I felt I couldn’t live without five minutes prior had been eliminated by my receptors on the way out to the garage. Straining to see if I could revive the thought, I gave up, closed the door and went back inside. The minute I’d removed my arm from the second sleeve, eggplant popped into my head as clear as “an azure sky of deepest summer” to quote Alex De Large. Sigh. When brains have been around for a few years they seem to develop quirks like refusing to remember that blond guy who was in Rich Man Poor Man or whatever that city was you lived in when you were nine. Most annoying. Rick has taken to using “whatchamacallit or whatshisname” as standard phrases for everything or everyone he’s searching for in his memory but cannot find.

While visiting my mother I noticed she was doing this fairly often. Not enough to be alarming, but enough. What amused me was she commented on a friend saying he repeated himself regularly. This was the third time since I’d arrived she’d told me the same thing.

On the second day of our visit there was a scheduled weekly hair appointment. As I’ve mentioned before my mother has her hair done once and week, has for years, and she will make this appointment if she has to be transported by ambulance. I offered to go with her. It is an old salon reminiscent of the 1970’s. Most of the ladies seated in the chairs are older and the “do’s” pretty much of the assembly line variety, curlers, dryer, and tease, followed by a good coat of shellac.

Deciding to have our nails done while there. Mother said her manicure was set for 10:30 so we should get there a few minutes early because of the holiday. Okay. Getting my mother out the door is a process but somehow we got ourselves there and parked within minutes of the scheduled time.

Approaching the reception desk we were told her stylist, Henry, had gone missing. Apparently there had been a company Christmas party the night before and Henry had disappeared with one of the elves. To add to the mix, it turned out my mother’s appointment wasn’t until 1:00 for her nails with mine following at 2:00. It would seem we had a little time to kill until her hair appointment at 11:30, provided Henry rallied and arrived on the scene. Mother suggested we walk next door and get some lunch. This killed a half an hour.

Henry showed up looking a bit peeked around 11:45. His earlier appointments were backed up at that point so Mother was placed in the queue. The manicurist arriving early and unbooked asked if I’d like to fill the gap. For an hour the manicurist, a lovely Vietnamese woman who at forty-six looked like she was barely old enough to drive, regaled me with stories of her twenty year old son who refuses to go to work and doesn’t respect his parents. Hmmmm. Doesn’t matter where you come from, the story seems to follow the same theme.

I opted for a festive red with a bit of sparkle for my nail color. I have little patience for sitting so squirming usually commences about a half an hour in. Several times she looked up over her glasses as if to say, “really?”. Sorry. Once all coats had been applied, beauty is a process, a small heater was placed in front of me and I was instructed to place my hands inside. I did, both at the same time hitting one hand against the other. Now the glasses were perched at the end of her nose and the look was much intensified. Whoops. “One at a time, Susie”, she said. The “duh” was omitted in case a tip was imminent. Damage repaired, my nails were dried and I was done. I must write that down for next time, “one at a time, one at a time”. Duh.

Mother had progressed to sitting under the dryer, People magazine in hand, and a cup of Henry’s “special coffee” sitting next to her. Asked if I’d like the same, I nodded yes and was shortly handed a latte and offered a hair style magazine to peruse. Since I wasn’t getting my hair done I wondered if this was a hint, but chose another gossip rag instead and settled in the particularly uncomfortable dryer chair to pass the time.

Ladies around me were in all stages of being done. One, whose head was completely covered with tin foil squares looked as if she might be preparing to make a moon landing at any moment. Another had purple dye on red hair, eight earrings crawling up the side of one ear, and 10″ orange nails. She could have explored Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose with ease. Less colorful floats have appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Gossip was flowing like champagne on New Year’s Eve. Bits of it floated my direction allowing me to gather that Janice’s husband was painting outside the lines with a lady at work, and Rene’s son was in rehab again and his mother was supporting his pregnant girlfriend. Some things never change.

Finally at 2:30 with my behind having completely lost feeling and unsure I could stand without assistance, we made our way out the back door and into the Bay Area holiday traffic. Half way home my mother announced she’d forgotten her reading glasses. Back to the salon we went. At home, my other half had unleashed the dogs and alerted the media, but in the end we had a great dinner and a rousing game of trivia which with four people who can’t remember what they ate for breakfast, was memorable. Another day in the life of.

These were just plain finger licking good. I could have eaten four.

Tilapia Baja Tacos with Tangy Slaw

Tilapia Baja Tacos

1 1/2 lbs. tilapia filets, cut in half
1/3 cup prepared yellow mustard
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp. dried coriander
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. Freshly squeezed lime juice
Canola or Grapeseed Oil
Tangy Slaw (recipe below)
8 corn tortillas
Chunky salsa

Slather filets with yellow mustard. In shallow dish whisk together flour, cumin, chili powder, coriander, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and salt. Dredge filets in flour mixture covering all sides. Drizzle lime juice over all. Cover and place in refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap tortillas in tin foil, four to a package. Place in oven for 20 mins.

Heat 3″ of oil on high heat in deep heavy skillet. Cook fish in batches until golden brown and floating on top of oil draining each batch on paper towels. Keep batches warm in oven.

Place two pieces of fish on top of warm tortilla. Top with tangy slaw. Serve with salsa.

Tangy Slaw

1 14 oz. bag angel hair coleslaw mix
1/3 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Place coleslaw mix and red onion in medium mixing bowl. Whisk together remaining ingredients. Add to coleslaw mix. Mix well and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hr. Serve on top of fish.

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2

Went to a party last night where I recognized perhaps four faces out of the sixty or so in attendance. Not my favorite scenario. Most of these people have known each other for years and have shared experiences to discuss, but we waded into the throng and “mingled”. Rick will take up a conversation with anyone, where I have to ease into a large group of people preferring to take a look before diving in the pool. People watching is something I totally enjoy. Most of the shyness was forced out of me early, attending ten schools between fourth and twelfth grade. Being constantly referred to as “the new kid” shoves you out of your shell and into the fray fairly quickly, or you get left behind. Still, a huge group of strangers tends to quiet me down, at least initially.

I find couples interesting.  In particular, unlikely couples.  Two people who if you observed in a room with a hundred others you would never imagine finding each other in the crowd. The incessant talker married to someone who hasn’t shared more than a paragraph of an evening since graduating high school. A man likely to be courted (no pun intended) by a basketball coach married to a woman who couldn’t meet the height requirements to step onto the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

Watching strangers interact, personalities quickly rise to the surface. The social butterfly, flitting from flower to flower gathering a little pollen to take along with her to the next bloom. The gentlemen with the red nose and broken corpuscles making his third trip, trip being the operative word here, to the bar. The flirt, perhaps hiding beneath a little too much makeup, wearing a blouse one size too small cut low enough to attract a nursing baby. People come in all sizes and shapes, all personalities and dispositions. This, I would suppose, is what makes us so interesting and diverse.

In middle school I had a friend, Cathy, whose parents fell under that category. Her father was what we might have called “a string bean”, tall and spare as a human. On the other hand her mother, probably never achieved five feet in 3″ heels, measuring equally in width as she did in stature. They married out of high school, produced four children, two tall and two short, and each time I was invited to their home I was impressed by how happy her parents always seemed to be in the same room with one another.

Perfect is, after all, not always perfection. If it were true such noted beauties from Debbie Reynolds to Christie Brinkley wouldn’t have had to suffer cheating husbands. If perfection satisfied all your needs, why look elsewhere? We are bombarded with perfect faces, on the screen and in magazines. Even, balanced features are revered. No expense is too much to remove unwanted brown spots, or an eruption or two.  Noses are straightened, chests enlarged, chins sculpted in the image of our favorite celebrities and as we age things are tightened and reworked like a Rodin in progress. Women and men spend countless hours and untold dollars at spas, plastic surgeons offices, and gyms trying to achieve the perfection we are sold we should strive to achieve every day.

My perception of perfect might be the look on your little one’s face when he first sits in Santa’s lap at the mall. Perhaps the circle of love surrounding a bride and groom as they repeat their vows. The ocean early in the morning when the wet sand is pristine and the sun has barely begun to shimmer above the horizon. I am surrounded with “near perfect moments”. Turning a corner in the woods to find an entire glen of fall hued trees so vividly colored as to hold your breath captive for a  minute.  A perfectly cooked steak smothered with mushrooms sitting next to a huge baked potato dripping with melting butter and sour cream. Holding my honey’s hand while watching You’ve Got Mail for the hundredth time. Perfection, to me.

Partners, I would suppose, are chosen for a number of reasons. Perhaps he only prefers blondes, while she only like redheads. One person might like the outdoorsy type while another prefer to spend time with someone who enjoys cruising museums or traveling. Often I look at my circle of friends and wonder what drew them to each other as I’m sure they’ve done with Rick and I. One couple, “The Bickerson’s” we call them, have based a long and successful relationship on disagreeing on everything from their political affiliations to what type of eggs to have for breakfast. If he wants scrambled, she surely will ask for poached. Personally, I think if you separated them, placing each with a partner with whom they were perfectly matched, they’d be bored before lunch. Part of whatever works for them is hidden in what outwardly might not work for someone else.

When I look at relationships which have withstood the test of time, my aunt and uncles for example, I cannot say they are perfect for each other.  If I ask what their secret is they seem confused, as if they don’t question their relationship, they just do it. I’m sure there have been numerous bumps and potholes over the years, times when they were have traded the other one for a nickel and a cup of coffee, but they stuck it out celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary not too long ago.

My granddaughter asked me if I thought men and women were meant to be monogamous. I had no definitive answer for that. At times it seems as if we humans fight the idea with infidelity, not a random occurrence, and unquestionably the divorce rate is high, but it seems as if finding that one “perfect person” is often the goal.  Whether or not we achieve that goal, perhaps the enigma.

Yet another rich and truly sumptuous cauliflower recipe fit for a holiday table. I had two helpings, which is unusual for me.

Cauliflower Gratin

1 large head of cauliflower
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz. softened cream cheese
3 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled (pepperoni or Italian sausage good too)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Melt butter in skillet over med. heat Add onion and cook 5 mins. until onion is translucent.

Wash cauliflower and separate into florets. Cover with lightly salted water in large saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower heat to low boil and cook until fork tender. Drain well.

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Mash with a potato masher until coarsely mashed.

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Add 1/2 the bacon and all the remaining ingredients except Cheddar cheese to cauliflower in mixing bowl and mix well. Turn into a casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray. Sprinkle Cheddar cheese on top and other 1/2 of crumbled bacon. Bake for 30 mins. until cheese is melted and bubbly.

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1Yesterday was a very Susie kind of day. At one point Rick threatened to lock me in the closet until the clock struck midnight and the madness had passed.

It began quietly enough. I slept in. After hitting the on button the coffee maker I piled on enough clothes to keep me from freezing to death while fetching the paper and trudged up the hill. This snow, it appears, is not planning on going anywhere any time soon.  This presents several problems for us. First, we didn’t realize we should have taken the car to the top of the driveway and parked it on the street prior to the storm. What can I say? Obviously we’re novices when it comes to having a steep driveway in a hard freeze, which occurred last night, and will again for tonight and tomorrow night. Oh-oh. Now, we bought water and flashlights, thought of candles and batteries. We did not, however, think to purchase a snow shovel or any salt to throw on the driveway. Doomed are we. Quite possibly by the time the spring thaw arrives I’ll weigh 88 pounds and be living with Rip Van Winkle.

Not bad enough we are confined to barracks, but Murphy began to toy with me. My plan for dinner was to make this delicious pasta sauce, which I put together earlier in the day without a hitch. I went downstairs to vacuum. We have two in the house, one up and one down. The ironing board was up because I am sewing for Christmas. Plugging in the vacuum I must have overloaded the circuit (Really? Two plugs in one outlet and it overloads, that can’t be good. The money pit deepens.) At any rate this meant retracing my steps, putting on my warm outer garments and back into the garage, which I did. Locating the tripped switch I flipped it back on and went back downstairs. Deciding against plugging it in in the same room, I went into the bedroom and plugged it in an empty plug in that wall. Sneaky. Unfortunately, the space heater was running for the cat. I know, I know. Once again the lights went out. Boo looked up as if to say, “I hope you’re planning on taking care of that”. Insert expletive here. Ach.

Rick settled in to watch the 49er’s, a Sunday tradition. Twenty minutes before the game was to start the cable went out. Perfect. It came back on thankfully minutes before the first play or Rick would have been inconsolable.

Saturday we had no mail delivery because several tree limbs above the mailboxes drooped down making it impossible to access the door to the mailbox. I decided to spend a few minutes removing the offending limbs while Rick watched his beloved football. I mentioned I was going out in passing, but he was busy giving the coaches a lesson on how to properly move the ball up field, so I closed the door, grabbed the clippers and back up the hill I went. The limbs, when giggled, loosened every bit of snow on the higher branches. By the time I’d cut down two large limbs I looked like the Pillsbury Doughboy after an unfortunate flour incident. Sigh. Someone went by and honked and laughed. It’s always nice to have an audience when you’re making an ass of yourself.

Freezing, I headed to the house only to find the door locked. I’ve been talking about hiding a key somewhere on the property, but naturally procrastinated until it now became an issue. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again, loudly. It wasn’t getting any warmer since I was wet from head to toe. Hello? The TV announcers were yelling above the screaming crowds and looking in the window Rick was not in his seat. Swell. Finally, Rick came back from the loo and let me in asking me what I was doing outside. Never mind.

Inside, and beginning to feel my joints thaw, I put the pasta water on to boil. It takes longer at this elevation it seems. From the pantry I retrieved a large box of thin spaghetti I was planning to use with my yummy sauce. Walking towards the kitchen with nothing in my way to impede my progress, I somehow managed to squeeze the box in such a way it sprung open strewing spaghetti all over the floor. What didn’t land on the floor cascaded over the banister littering my freshly vacuumed stairs. I’m sorry, I am not vacuuming again! Rick looked over his shoulder and shook his head. That again.

Loading the nearly full dishwasher with my dinner prep items, Rick announced over the TV, “Oh, I ran the dishwasher so the dishes are clean”. Really?  Were clean would be more accurate. Never mind.

Afraid to touch anything, but getting hungry, I prepared my garlic bread and turned on the broiler. Popping my bread in the oven, my mother called and quickly I became involved searching the Internet for a nightgown for my aunt. Interrupting my searching and the cat’s nap (another of her nine lives was sacrificed in the making of this garlic bread), both smoke alarms simultaneously began screeching. By the time I opened the oven door the bodies were ready for the urns. Good news though, I found a petite medium nightie for my aunt in pink. Somehow we managed to forage together enough food for this meal. I loved this pasta sauce, thick and meaty. Yum.

Photos by Susie Nelson

Meaty Pasta Sauce with Thin Spaghetti

1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage links, hot
1 1/4 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 16 oz. cans petite diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
2 6 oz. cans tomato paste
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
1 pkg. thin spaghetti
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Grated Parmesan cheese

Remove the sausage casings and slice into 1/2″ slices. Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet over med. heat. Add sausage and brown on all sides (10 mins.). Drain on paper towels.

Add ground beef, onion, and minced garlic to same skillet. Cook until meat is browned. Add next thirteen ingredients. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two hours.

Bring large pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup water. Add reserved water to pasta sauce and mix well. Toss pasta with olive oil. Place in pasta bowls and ladle sauce over top. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Well, my tree is half up and my Thanksgiving dinner came off without a hitch.  I’m about to put up my feet and take the morning off. With Thanksgiving arriving long into the month I’m feeling the push to put up my Christmas decorations before it’s time to take them down.

“Ridiculous” is the word Rick uses when referring to the amount of Christmas boxes we brought in. Humbug is his mantra and he sings it loud and proud.  Actually, he loves Christmas but it’s the hectic pace of it that wears him out. Most men in my life over the years have chosen to take a back seat when it comes to decorating, so I shall hum along to Christmas music making a happy afternoon for myself bringing the holidays to life in our living room. Not long after we brought in the boxes I spotted Rick up on the hill deep in animated conversation with a male neighbor. Arms waving, both men were shaking their heads and nodding. When I asked what they were discussing, he said our neighbor’s wife had pressed the poor man into service putting up the outside lights. Flogging is too good for the woman. I feel neither of us ladies fared well in that conversation.

As much as I love all the things associated with the holiday season, the holidays come with all the little family undercurrents as well as the flickering lights and tinsel. If you take a look at the majority of the movies made on the subject, Home for the Holidays with Holly Hunter, for example, or Christmas Vacation, families are not always depicted seated around the dinner table in a Currier & Ives pose.  In most families there’s Uncle Bert who is overly fond of his gin, or Cousin Gwen who tirelessly offers cooking advice, though never cooking anything herself not originating at Stouffer’s.

I love our family, with all their delightful imperfections. Dysfunction, so they say, breeds good writers and artists.  That being said, my name should be on the best sellers list any day now, or my paintings hanging in the Louvre.  My daughter says coming from an eclectic family such as ours prepared her for whatever came her way in life.  Ahhh, at last a legacy. I must say I believe, if you’ve never experienced a ripple in the water you’re probably not going to be prepared to handle a hurricane. Susie’s pearls of wisdom.

Over the years I’ve left my mark when hostessing. I’ve cooked the turkey with the giblets tucked inside. I’ve written about the year my cocker spaniel stole the turkey carcass off the bread board, dragging it in a greasy line down the hall carpet to be finished off under my son’s bed.

When living in the Bay Area in the 1980’s I had twenty plus coming for dinner on Christmas.  An hour after putting the bird in the oven I opened the door to find nothing but a lot of cold and a mighty pale bird. Quite sure family and friends were anticipating something more exciting than a tuna sandwich, my frantic phone calls to neighbors yielded an offer of an oven two blocks away from friends going out of town. It was a blustery day at best. Outside my kitchen window houses and livestock floated by in the torrential downpour. Pajamas and raincoat on, I loaded the bird in the back of the station wagon and chauffeured it to its new home. Every half an hour following I hopped in the car and drove off down the street to baste it. This scenario was repeated with the green bean casserole, my mother’s favorite, the rolls, and the pies. The microwave and the oven top were used for the rest.  By the time I sat down to enjoy the beautiful meal I looked like I’d just medalled in the breast stroke.

Another time, I had the mashed potatoes in a large stock pot to keep warm. My sister-in-law popped in to help. Tasting the potatoes she said they needed a little salt. Up to my neck in sweet potatoes, I pointed in the direction of the salt shaker. Giving it a vigorous shake the top came off depositing the entire contents of the shaker liberally atop my freshly whipped potatoes. Now, I’ve put potatoes in soup or stew to absorb the salt, but never put salt on the potatoes to absorb the potatoes. Gravy makes everything better, believe this.

In fourth grade my family was invited to dinner by a lady who I referred to as Aunt El, though there was no common blood between us. Never married, El was a rather eccentric retired lady who shared her sprawling single level home with three beagles and a talkative mynah bird. The general aroma of the dwelling reflected it’s inhabitants.  El had been a proficient legal secretary in her time and a woman not shy about offering her opinion on just about any subject. Housekeeping not her strong suit, my mother hesitated at first. El’s crusty exterior hid the huge heart beating below the skin, and as her younger brother, Al, was having his turkey that year with other inmates in state prison, and his daughter finishing off a stint in rehab, my mother finally capitulated. Our family was kind of being sent in as fifth quarter subs so El wouldn’t have to share her turkey with Winken, Blinken, Nod and Lady Chatterly (that would be the mynah bird). It was an interesting dinner to say the least. A self professed disaster in the kitchen, she didn’t make a herself out to be a liar. The inner temperature of the turkey was questionable at best, but nobody died from it thankfully. Frozen peas were the vegetable of choice, which would have been a fine choice had Eleanor managed to actually cook, or at a minimum defrost the peas before serving. Trying to capture one with with a fork was like trying to ladle soup with a slotted spoon. Dinner over, rather than placing the dinner plates in the dishwasher, she set them on the floor for the anxiously waiting beagles to lick clean, undoubtedly a practice she’d done many times before.  I can’t swear to it but I believe my mother actually sprayed her mouth with the small bottle of Lysol she’d been liberally sprinkling about.

I’ve been privy to others mistakes when responsible for dinner along with my own.  There was the time we arrived several hours early for dinner at a first time hostesses home. Women will most times grab an apron, and pitch in.  It’s the nature of the beast. A woman in distress in the kitchen sends out pheromones to those of her kind like a brave signalling another village with billows of smoke. Is that politically incorrect? Probably.  If so, I apologize. At any rate dinner lingering about an half an hour out, and growling stomachs being heard across the room the novice cook casually inquired when she should put the potatoes on. Eight hands went into motion at the utterance of that statement and somehow potatoes were peeled, boiled, and mashed as quickly as a Disney Studio special effect. In the end it was a beautiful meal.

No matter how it turns out, our families are part of us with all the angst and love that entails. So, I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving wherever and whomever it finds you with!

Croissant French Toast and Ice Cream Custard Sauce

Ice Cream Custard Sauce

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 egg yolks, beaten
2 scoops ice cream (vanilla, butter pecan, almond flavors or my favorite sweet and salty caramel pecan)
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Combine flour and sugar in large saucepan. Stir in cream until smooth consistency. Cook, stirring constantly, over med. heat until thick and bubbly. Reduce heat and cook for 2 mins. Remove from heat.

Whisking constantly add small amount of hot filling to egg mixture. Add the rest of egg mixture to pan, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until mixture reaches 160 degrees on instant read thermometer. Remove from heat and fold in ice cream until melted. Cover and cool. Serve over French toast.

Blueberry Sauce

2 cups frozen blueberries
2 Tbsp. sugar

Combine blueberries and sugar in saucepan. Simmer uncovered for 2-3 mins. Allow to cool.

French Toast

2 Tbsp. butter
4 croissants (staled slightly), split
4 eggs
1/4 cup half and half
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Powdered sugar

Whisk together eggs, half and half, cinnamon and vanilla.

Heat butter in large skillet or griddle of med-high heat. Dip croissants in egg batter. Brown on both sides. Dust with powdered sugar.
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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Going to a restaurant where the food, ambiance, staff and location are over the top creates a memorable experience. Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of eating at some excellent restaurants. When you find one satisfying most of the above mentioned criteria it is a gift.  There are always those free thinkers among the restaurant set who color totally outside the lines. Recently I read in China they have a _42237888_ap_toilet_416creditrestaurant themed entirely around toilets. I have to admit this might put me off my food. I do not want my chocolate mousse served in a porcelain bowl. Just do not. It is my understanding dishes are titled in keeping with the potty theme making the experience, if possible, even more revolting. People are literally flocking to fill the seats (lid’s down, naturally), so obviously its number 1 on some foodie’s lists. I wonder if you can order “to go”?

Themed restaurants can be fun.  Back in the early 80’s my family and I used to frequent a Bay Area restaurant, Bobby McGee’s, where the servers not only dressed in character, but adopted the persona of the character they were playing while waiting on your table. Mostly college kids, hired for their acting skills or comedic talents, it made dining there a bit more fun, and having your entrée delivered by Elvis or Zorro the Gay Blade provided a much-needed distraction from their run of the mill family style food. However, if you were looking for a romantic or quiet meal out, this was not the place for you. Well, not totally accurate, I did see Prince Charming propose to an unsuspecting Cinderella during dessert there once.

In the late 70’s there was a restaurant in Orange County called Baxter’s Street. Over and above their excellent menu, the price of a meal in the Louisiana style motiff entitled you to enjoy a dinner show which I would have paid to see if there hadn’t been a plate of mouth-watering scampi thrown in.

Around the same time I attended a luau at a Polynesian restaurant in Southern California.  Roasted pig and poi were presented in a get to know your neighbor, family style seating arrangement. Served el fresco, a huge stage replete with a smoking volcano dominated the outside eating area. Colorful drinks accessorized with umbrellas and tropical fruits littered the tables and nubile young men and women swayed in grass skirts moving to Hawaiian music.  If you could still get to your feet after a well-loaded Zombie or Mai Tai, underground dancing in five different caves each featuring a different type of music was the place to be.

In the 90’s I received an invitation to a “Great Gatsby Party”. The venue was a party boat launching out of a San Francisco marina. Besides a great band, and a menu featuring cracked crab and crusty San Francisco sourdough bread, as well as oyster shots and calamari for the more adventurous partygoers, a night cruise on the beautiful San Francisco Bay was included.  Had our hosts ordered the weather right along with the appetizers, they couldn’t have made a more perfect choice. Overhead a harvest moon cast a golden glow across unusually calm waters. Alcatraz stood in the center of the Bay. Beyond the shadowed structures inhabited now only by ghosts and memories, the impressive spans of the Golden Gate Bridge. Truly a postcard of an evening. A cool breeze replaced the usual body numbing wind often present in October on the water, allowing guests to linger on deck rather than seek shelter inside.  I was Myrtle that night, in my splashy red dress and matching glitzy headband. Champagne flowed from the mouth of a an ice sculpture fish, the focal point of the main table, and a cigarette glowed at the end of my elaborate pearlized holder.  It was the 30’s, after all, over indulgence and decadence took precedence over good sense and moderation.

Another time I joined several friends in unraveling a murder mystery over a fabulous four-course dinner in San Francisco.  This was really fun. Each course, all delicious, paired with the perfect wine. All the while, the diners interacted with the actors on the stage in a corny, but entertaining search when_photofor the killer in our midst. It was the upstairs maid.  I knew it all the time.

Beach Blanket Babylon is another fun thing to see when visiting the city by the bay.  Outrageous headpieces being the main attraction at this show, from a huge ritz cracker perched atop a man singing “Putting on the Ritz” to a fully lit landscape of the city balanced precariously atop the head of another outrageous performer.

joustingFor my birthday when living in Southern California I was treated to dinner and jousting at Medieval Times. Knights and wenches drank ale, gnawed on turkey legs, and mounted armored steeds to do battle in the arena.  It was actually quite fun, and certainly not the average dinner out with the kids.

There was a restaurant I often went to when my children were small, long gone now, with a Polynesian theme. They had the single best shrimp puffs I’ve ever eaten. The interior fascinated me.  Aside from the palm trees, occasional bursts of tropical rain in the artificial rain forest, and boats scattered here and there it was a sea of fish, if you will.  Beautiful fish tanks were everywhere, filled with vibrantly colored saltwater fish and swaying greenery.  Treasure chests opened and closed and diminutive divers released bubbles of air from the bottom of the tank. The bar was one long tank. While sipping a Blue Hawaii or Tequila Sunrise, fish floated by beneath your hands sometimes stopping to suck at the surface for air bubbles.  As little as they were, my children still remember going there in much detail.1499666683_521cf28dcf_z

If left to my own devices, I would have made our restaurant a monastery. The menu would have been fun, monk fish, for example,  comes to mind, or Soul Dore.  Servers in cowl hooded gowns, waists cinched with rope. Another good idea that never made it out of the can (so to speak).  Ah well.

These green beans were really yummy.  I bought huge grapes at the store and they just begged to be thrown in so I did and the result was delicious.

2Green Beans with Sautéed Mushrooms and Grapes

1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
garlic salt
2 Tbsp. butter
1 pkg. thick sliced mushrooms (1/2 lb.)
4 green onions, sliced thin
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine (I used Pinot Noir)
1/8 cup soy sauce
10 large green seedless grapes halved
1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce
salt and pepper

Place trimmed beans in large deep skillet. Cover with water sprinkled with garlic salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and continue to cook 15-20 mins. until beans are fork tender. Drain.

In separate skillet, melt butter. Add mushrooms, green onions, pepper, wine, and 1/8 cup soy sauce to pan. Bring to boil over med.-high heat. Reduce heat to simmer and cook 8 mins., stirring frequently. Add grapes. Increase heat to med-low. Cook another 8 mins. until grapes are lightly browned and tender. Pour mixture over drained green beans. Add 1/8 cup low-sodium soy sauce and toss to mix. Season with salt and pepper as desired.

Serves 4

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

While watching the news this morning a commercial came on detailing a chain’s countdown to Christmas. Yesterday I stored my pumpkins, witches, and vampires in their boxes marked “Halloween” and took out my turkeys and cornucopias for Thanksgiving. Could I please be served one holiday at a time? I’m getting full. This is to be an odd Thanksgiving. Rick and I are spending it together in our new home with Boo the Queen of cats and Tom, the bird of the day. The rest of the family is basically doing the same in theirs with the exception of my daughter and her family, who are flying to Arizona to be with their recently flown nestling and her boyfriend.

Over the years I’ve done my share of traveling over the holidays. One memorable Thanksgiving my ex-husband and I drove from Longview, Washington to San Jose, California, eleven hours not including pit stops, and back, over the course of four days in order to break bread with my family. It was a long trip after a full day at work, and by the time we arrived they had to duct tape us to the chairs to prevent us from falling over and drowning in our delicious mashed potatoes and gravy.

Another time it took us four and a half hours to travel the distance between my mother’s house and my son’s, normally a one and a half hour commute. We’ve seriously considered celebrating on another date, to ease the pain of getting to each other on the highlighted days on the calendar.

For sure I am not purchasing an airline ticket for Thanksgiving. I’ve only done that once, traveling from West Virginia to San Francisco. Never again! Even leaving early for the airport, traffic was backed up for miles. Parking was nearly non-existent at the airport itself, trams being used to ferry people back and forth from their overflow parking lots. Snow was falling that day and the roads crowded-airportwere slushy. Entering the airport felt like going from the freezer to the sauna. People were shedding their heavy outer garments like a nest of snakes during molting season. Inside the airport it was hard to breathe. People pushed and shoved in endless lines carrying screaming babies, and lugging heavy bags and carry-ons. To purchase a much-needed cup of coffee might have taken minimum a half an hour, as coffee shops and food kiosks were mobbed offering standing room only in the designated seating areas.

At the time I was dealing with a bout of panic attacks, an ailment I haven’t had before that six month period in my life, nor afterward. For those of you who have ever experienced a panic attack, being closed in or overly warm contributes to accelerating the rising feeling of anxiety. The first time I had a full on attack I was in a dressing room at a mall with a pair of pants half on and half off. Storming outside, the power went out. Dark swallowing me, I shot out of that small enclosure partially clothed like a bull released from the chute at a rodeo. In a panic I headed for the exit gasping at the sky for air.

Trying to shake that same feeling that day before Thanksgiving in West Virginia, I gazed out onto the tarmac. Through the snowfall, the plane we were to board was lit up. Flight attendants could be seen preparing the compartment for impending passengers. The airport felt close and stuffy. The first time I’d flown while experiencing these attacks, I was fairly certain being cocooned inside a metal tube was going to feel even closer. While fully involved in an attack I wouldn’t have put it beyond myself to; a) try to wrest the controls from the pilot’s hands and land the plane myself, b) grab a parachute and pop out a side door over Kansas, or c) begin giggling uncontrollably until someone actually got up, helped me get into a parachute and opened the side door for me giving me a little nudge goodbye. None of the three were attractive choices.

Boarding commenced. Passengers squeezed through the small glass opening into the snow like toothpaste through the end of a tube. Once on the plane, I found my assigned seat in steerage situated towards the back on the right hand side by the window. As usual the airline had provided enough legroom for an anorexic spider. I began to perspire, a bodily function I rarely participate in. While living in the south, finding the summer cocktail of heat and humidity extremely uncomfortable, a local told me the reason I was hot was “northerners didn’t know how to sweat”. I found I was okay with that. In this instance, however, he would have been more than a little pleased with my performance. In retrospect I’m pretty sure I was hot because at midday in Ashdown, Arkansas you could have cooked a ham in fifteen minutes in the center of the street, but who am I to argue.

Storing my carry on in the overhead bin as instructed, I sat in my seat. Peering out the small window, I eyed it for size in comparison to my behind in case I needed it as an escape route. An older woman, well comparatively as I hadn’t seen the down side of my thirties yet, made her way down the center aisle. From the looks of it she’d brought the entire contents of her house with her on the plane. My mind told me with my luck she’d sit in the seat next to me. Murphy rarely failing in his vigilance on my behalf, stopped her precisely at my row. Sigh. Offering me a warm smile and obviously over burdened, I undid my seat belt and stood up to give her a hand. Filling two overhead bins (this was the good old days) with her bags, she situated herself in the aisle seat. Before buckling herself in, she retrieved a ball of yarn and two knitting needles, with what appeared to be a half a sock dangling from them, from her Mary Poppinsish tapestry bag. Not one, I was to find, to allow a lot of dead air to flow in between one sentence and the next, she immediately initiated a conversation. Sensing I was a bit tense, probably from the fact my fingernails were imbedded in the backs of my hands, she talked me through the takeoff. Airborne, she talked me through the beverage service, the meal service, and about sixty percent of the in-flight movie. In the end, I had more background information on her family then they themselves were privy to. In the blink of an eye flight attendants announced landing in SFO.

Before deplaning, she hugged me and I hugged her right back. I thought of her often during those anxiety filled months to follow. Somehow it made me feel better. To this day, she comes to mind on Thanksgiving, knitting needles furiously adding one row after another to the growing sock, stories flowing out of her like water to the Colorado River during spring melt. Truly she saved me from myself on that trip, and I missed her on the return flight. Sometimes angels are sent in strange countenances to guide us through rough waters.

These onions are sharing space with Tom on the table on turkey day.  They are a delicious change from the pearl onions and a lot easier on the eyes and my time.  I have to do something about the lighting in my new home.  Hard to capture how good they were in my track lighting.

Braised Creamed Onions

2 Tbsp. butter
6 yellow onions, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup rich chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes

In Dutch oven melt butter over med. heat. Add onions, garlic, chicken broth, and seasonings. Bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 18-20 mins. until onions are tender, stirring occasionally.

Remove cover and continue cooking 18-20 mins. until liquid is nearly evaporated, stirring occasionally. Add cream and parsley flakes. Increase heat to med.-low and continue cooking, stirring frequently until sauce is thick. Remove from heat. Serves 6.

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