Posts Tagged ‘fun’

Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

After the football game Sunday afternoon, they aired a spot about a Redskins player who is still driving his first car. The car was originally purchased from his pastor for $2 for at the beginning of his career. The car continues to be his drive of choice eschewing the shiny luxury models symbolizing success often chosen by high paid sports figures.  According to the player the car, with just under 200,000 miles logged, reminds him of how many miles he’s traveled to get to where he is in his career.  I like that.

Many cars have come and gone during my lifetime with my name on the title.  The first was a graduation gift from my parents as a display of their unbridled joy that between my avid interest in boys and social activities and total lack of interest in education, I had nonetheless somehow managed to graduate from high school.  As a vehicle it was a junker really, even by the lowest standards.  A 1960 Plymouth Valiant, quite likely a high contender for taking the ribbon in The Ugliest Car Contest for cars thmanufactured in that decade.  White exterior with a flat roof and plump midsection, it was reminiscent in appearance of a pregnant Carmen Ghia.  Included in the $100 asking price, was an interior smelling strongly of old stale tobacco and a right hand turn signal which when turned on honked the horn rather than notifying the driver behind you of an impending turn.   If it wasn’t for the fact it was a modicum of an improvement over my own two feet I would have driven it off a cliff and put the poor thing out of its misery.

The following year I became engaged. Returning from our honeymoon we invested in a brand new car, a Toyota stick shift.  Up until that juncture I was only experienced driving an automatic transmission. The Valiant was to be kept in service until I learned the ins and outs of a stick, a job my new husband had signed up for. This is an endeavor I do not recommend most newlyweds tackle, as it does a great deal to put the “ewwww” in newlywed.  Seated in the driver’s seat in an empty parking lot, I was given explicit instructions on the workings of the internal combustion engine, where each of the gears was located and how to get there, the function of the additional pedal known as the clutch, and how to balance clutch and accelerator to move the car forward.  Easy peasey.  Uh-huh.

Pressing my foot on the accelerator while slowly releasing the clutch, or holding down on the clutch while stepping on the brake.  What did you say again?  The jerking became so pronounced as the car moved forward my right knee bone ended up under my left ear.  My husband, not widely known for patience, was shouting most unflattering things while gesturing frantically for me to stop.  Sensing this was not the smooth ride he’d anticipated, I did as I was told removing both feet from the pedals. One last bone relocating heave and the car came to rest. Silence hung over the car for a few minutes while his Lordship gathered his composure.

We continued the lesson with the engine in the off position.  I nodded my head to everything and hoped the following lesson would go better.  First gear escaped me for some reason.  I think the fact the frustration in the car was palpable wasn’t helping my concentration. The following day tiring of the parking lot, we jerkily made our way out into the flow of traffic.  Between the “air braking”, clutching of door handles, and sucking of air going on on his side, it’s amazing I made it to the first stop light.  In first gear, I chug, chugged us through the intersection horns blaring and my teacher screaming commands like a rabid drill sergeant.  Three quarters of the way through the intersection when I’d killed the car for the third time, my mentor opened the door and got out leaving me alone with my humiliation. Through the open window he said tight lipped he was walking home.  What?  Now?  Somehow I got it in gear again and continued through the intersection with my husband’s back disappearing down a side street. Fine.

After a couple of blocks without nagging I found I was actually able to traverse all the gears somewhat smoothly and caught up with my husband now nearly jogging down the sidewalk in the hot sun.  Waving for me to pull over and pick him up I cheerily waved back as I passed him deciding to meet him at home instead.  Payback is a, well you know.

Several weeks later I was ready for my maiden voyage. Handed the car keys, I set off solo for work. Southern California was home at the time.  L.A. freeways are the worst, but L.A. freeways in rush hour traffic are just painful. Cars back then were sometimes equipped with a manual choke.  It provides a rich mix of fuel when the engine is first started.  I pulled it as instructed.  Managing the gears like a pro I pulled onto the first of three freeways I was to take to work.  Turning on my right hand signal I merged with other commuters onto the single lane connection to the second freeway along my route.  Without warning the car shuddered, then died.  Several attempts to start to no avail, horns began to honk.  Again?  Stuck, the line behind me grew quickly.  Finally, a man several cars back came to the window and asked if he could help. Traffic helicopters began to circle overhead. I had created a traffic alert.  Sitting in the driver’s seat the good samaritan discovered I’d left the choke on, causing the engine to, well, choke.  Whoops.  My husband, meanwhile, stuck impatiently far behind me said he’d entertained a fleeting thought, “I bet that’s Susie”, and then scolded himself for thinking such a thing.

Now driving a stick is second nature to me, although I haven’t owned one since the 1980’s.  It was my dream car, a brand spanking new 1985 300 ZX with all the bells and whistles.  I don’t have a big love affair with cars like many do, preferring a vehicle that will get me from Point A to Point B without requiring a tow truck to heated seats and in-flight movies. However I would have changed my name for this car.  Long gone now, there was an exhilaration driving that sleek powerful machine on the open road, shifting into fifth gear with the t-top open, hair blowing in the wind, and a tape in the tape drive, definitely special.

Garlicy Potato Fans

Olive oil
3 cloves garlic, roasted and squeezed
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 large russet potatoes
1/3 cup Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/3 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. chives
1 Tbsp. dried crushed rosemary
1/2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
Sour cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove skin from garlic and coat well with olive oil. Allow to sit for 5 mins. Cover each clove with tin foil and bake in oven for 35 mins. or until soft. Squeeze garlic into melted butter. Add salt and pepper.

Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.

Slice potatoes in 1/8″ slices making sure not to cut all the way through. Slightly fan and pour butter/garlic mixture over the top of each potato. Bake for 1 hr. and 10 mins. basting with pan drippings every 10 mins.


Mix together cheeses and seasonings. Sprinkle over tops of potatoes. Return to oven for 10 mins. or until cheese is melted. Serve with sour cream.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

I raked leaves this morning. Mother Nature was definitely not cooperating, continually dropping new ones while I scooped the old ones up with my rake. Chilly in the mornings and warm after lunch, it is hard to decide what to wear. Cold, I slipped on jeans and a hoodie to work in the yard, and by two in the afternoon I was back in shorts and a tee-shirt. A good part of this weekend was eaten up with moving our summer clothes downstairs, and bringing the winter clothes up. By the time I was done relocating everything I believe I lost a dress size.

Company is arriving tomorrow from several fronts, so I have a full afternoon of cooking ahead of me. This in mind, I coerced Rick into taking me to breakfast before his beloved forty niners absorb the rest of his day. Still new to the area, he suggested a familiar chain restaurant we’d seen on the end of town. Having errands to run in that general vicinity, it seemed the perfect choice. There were quite a few cars in the parking lot, usually a good sign. Once inside the door, we realized the cars must have belonged to staff because there were only eight or so tables occupied, this on a Sunday morning. Starving, we sat where instructed and opened the Bible sized menu. I always look at everything, change my mind fifteen times, and order Eggs Benedict. It’s a ritual I cherish.

Our waitress ignored us for at least five minutes, seeming not to notice our existence in her station. I am an only child and not good at being ignored. Doing cartwheels in the center aisle and pulling my cheeks aside with my fingers while sticking out my tongue, she finally nodded disinterestedly in our direction. Recognition at all cost. No coffee pot in hand she asked for our drink order. I notice these things. It’s the ex-restaurant owner in me. If you bring the pot with you, the customer will have the coffee in their cup immediately. We indicated coffee for two, and placed our breakfast order. Rick, like myself, looks at everything and orders either French toast or pancakes. Life on the edge. Today French toast was on the ticket.

It became quickly obvious this was the girl’s first day. The line manager was shooting instructions her way in machine gun fashion, and she had that deer in the headlights look often found on new employees faces the first week on the job. In truth, I don’t believe she had majored in motivation prior to accepting this position as I’ve seen snails working their way towards the safety of the ivy moving at a more aggressive pace. People suffering through the first days of a new job need support, however, and I try my best to exercise patience and be understanding. This girl really pushed the envelope.

There were three line cooks, for eight tables. If all of them were in motion, plates should have been flying out of the kitchen. One chef was leaning against the counter studying his fingernails while a second was giving him a full account of last night’s best pick up lines at the local country western bar. I kept running the lyrics to David Allen Coes, “I was drunk the night my mom got out of prison…”, through my mind. In rhythm, my stomach was doing the two-step and my coffee cup was feeling mighty low, mighty low. Oh-oh, I sense a bit of irritation sneaking in.

A half an hour came and went. Rick, also known as the restaurant Nazi, was beginning to act a little squirrely. I suggested he back away from the coffee cup before things got ugly. I could see his French toast pop up under the warming lights so with food on the way, he relaxed a bit. A large plate of French toast was delivered in front of Rick, no maple syrup or butter on board. Oh-oh. My plate came next. It looked delicious. Starving at this point, I would have dived right in, but unfortunately it was an order of corned beef hash, biscuits and gravy and two eggs over easy. Hmmmm. Pointing out (politely) the missing butter and syrup, I said I appreciated the food but it wasn’t mine. Slightly pinking in the cheeks, she grabbed Rick’s plate and mine and headed back to the kitchen. After some discussion with the line manager she returned with the butter and the syrup but no French toast. Apologizing, it seemed she’d forgotten to order my Eggs Benedict, but had put in a new ticket, and would I like some more coffee? Making mention Rick no longer had anything to put the syrup and butter on she returned to the work station to find the French toast had been tossed by the line manager thinking it returned by the customer. Okay, I am an easy-going person, but REALLY?

In desperation and trying to keep the mood light, I asked for a refill on my coffee. Leaving to retrieve the pot, I never saw her again until our breakfasts were delivered fifteen minutes later. Rick had begun to eat the seat cushion and was eying the catsup. Two undercooked poached eggs sat astride several slices of thin deli ham on an English muffin. Covering all was a huge glob of yellow paste I believe was Hollandaise sauce. This could be a secret formula possibly replacing any future need for mixing cement on construction sites. In their defense, the hash browns weren’t bad. When asked if we wanted to-go boxes, I said yes but please don’t put my food in it. I might need to use it later for a receptacle if things don’t go well in my digestive system. Not really, but I was thinking it.

So, we now have eliminated two restaurants from our list and are forging positively onward. For the first time in years I left a small tip. I’m a big proponent of tipping well for good service. Servers work hard for their money, good ones, and deserve a little recognition. Sometimes, you just have to make a statement.

This soup was perfect with a tuna sandwich after a disappointing breakfast.

Potato, Leek and Brussels Sprout Soup

3 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup celery, chopped
3 leeks, white and green, chopped (leaves removed)
6 mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
7 Brussels sprouts, halved
3 russet potatoes, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
2 tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cream
Sour cream and chives

Cut off ends of top of leeks. Remove leaves.


Cut leeks in half lengthwise and run under water, rinsing between layers to remove dirt.


Chop and set aside.

Melt butter in large pot on low heat.

Add chopped onion, celery and mushrooms. Simmer 5-6 mins. until tender.


Add leeks and garlic. Stir and cover; simmer 8 mins. until leeks are softened.


Add Brussels sprouts and simmer covered an additional 8 mins.


Add potatoes, broth, parsley, Italian seasoning, bay leaves, pepper, salt and white pepper to pot. Bring to a boil.


Reduce heat to simmer and cook covered for 45 mins.

Remove from heat. Remove bay leaves. Using an emulsion blender, beat until smooth. Adjust seasoning as necessary.


Whisk in buttermilk and cream.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Halloween is creeping up on us. Pumpkins are popping up on porches waiting to have their features chiseled into jack o’lanterns. Nights are decidedly cooler and eating slowly into the daylight.  Fall in all it’s glory, is upon us. I really miss my little ones at this time of year and their little ones.  When mine were small the sewing machine usually reamained on the kitchen table for weeks before the 31st. Next to it a pile of costumes half sewn, waited to be finished, tried on and gathered or let out if dogw-bunny-earsthe need arose.  Over the years I’ve created many a mouse, lion, scarecrow, robot, and numerous other alter egos for my pint sized candy mongers.  Trick or treating was fun back in the day.  Neighborhoods decked themselves out in cobwebs, ghosts, pea green witches and grimacing pumpkins.  Garages were transformed into haunted houses, and sounds of creaking doors and clanking chains followed youngsters up candlelit walks perhaps to find Frankenstein or Minnie Mouse at the door waiting to fill their bags or pillow cases with candy apples or sticky popcorn balls.

Like so many things in our world, it’s not a safe practice scavenging for candy anymore.  A caramel apple would most likely be tossed eliminating the possibility someone had laced it with something toxic or inserted a harmful object inside.  No more home-baked cookies, or nut covered brownies.  Even store-bought candies not in their original wrappers often end up in the trash bag.

Often in those years after my children had fleeced our own neighbors, we headed to my parents neighborhood to finish off the pillaging for the night.  One Halloween in particular when they were quite small, my son was a gray mouse, and my daughter a diminutive ballerina.  With my sons exaggerated whiskers, and goodie bag shaped like Swiss cheese, and my tiny little girl’s hot pink tutu, leotard and tights, they got the “Awwwww Award” for the evening, at least from their parents.  My parents, being more well established and older, lived in a neighborhood reflecting this status.  Larger homes, longer walkways, and a higher standard of treats.  Once a gentlemen handed each of my two pirates a $5 as he had run out of candy.  I made them return their ill-gotten gains, and just as happy they settled for a quarter and a Triscuit topped with a piece of ripe cheddar cheese.

At one house, they asked if I would wait at the end of the walkway while they approached the door by themselves.  I had an uninterrupted view so shooed them on their way. Screaming in delight they ran up the walk, excitedly yelling “trick or treat” at the porch while ringing the doorbell.  So little they looked to me silhouetted in the door frame.  A tall woman dressed as a black cat bent down, shared a brief conversation with mouse and ballerina, and nodded. In the blink of an eye, both my children disappeared inside, door closing behind them.  What?  Hansel and Gretel suddenly popped into my mind.  I raced up the stone steps nearly bursting through the large door without stopping to knock.  Gathering myself, I knocked loudly.  A man answered this time.  Explaining quickly who I was and asked about the whereabouts of one mouse and a Pepto Bismol pink ballerina.  Smiling he assured me they were fine and asked me in.  Oh-oh.  These two could be working on a family plan.  Dark basements, chains, torture devices could lurk behind the facade of the lovely middle class home.  Once inside I found my son sitting on an enormous tapestry footstool shoving cookies in his mouth, while at the same time loading several in his Swiss cheese bag for later.  My ballerina, apparently, had asked to use the facilities and was doing just that in their guest bathroom.  Sooooo, after introductions we were invited, and stayed, for a glass of mulled cider with a cinnamon stick for stirring.  Such things don’t happen much anymore, I’d imagine, unless in neighborhoods where everyone is acquainted. Many parents opt for school or community functions. Safer.  It was so much fun.  A shame to lose that.

With my birthday falling on November 1st, a Halloween party was usually on the books for the adults in our circle as well. In my garage an entire area of the rafters stored boxes marked “Halloween”.  In one dusty corner, a full-sized wooden casket stood next to the lawn mower.  Once a year we dragged it out, whisked away the cobwebs, and lined it with plastic.  On party nights it was filled with ice and transformed into the perfect cooler for an All Hallows Eve celebration.  Charlie, a full-sized plastic skeleton,  played the part of the dear departed, sitting at the end of the coffin wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a Marlboro light. You might have found any manner of horror in my Halloween boxes running the gambit from shrunken heads, skeletal hands, to full-sized witches.  Usually we welcomed sixty-five or so people into our home. Guests arriving out of costume, as indicated on our invitations, would get a bucket of ice over their heads if they dared cross the threshold.  All in good fun, of course. People when dressed as Abraham Lincoln or Elton John let down their guards for a while and mingled comfortably with strangers dressed as Goofy and The Cat in the Hat.  All in all it’s my favorite kind of party.  One of these days I’ll do it all again, but this year I’m going to a party instead and helping the hostess rather than being one myself.

A clever idea my daughter shared to spice up your Halloween punch.  Take a plastic glove and fill it either with red punch or green liquid.  Tie it securely at the open end.  Hang it upside down in the freezer.  Before putting your punch out, remove the glove and float the hand in the liquid.

In the spirit of fall colors I am posting this amazingly delicious potato recipe.  These are truly the best.  A bit of a project, but well worth the trouble.

One Potato, Two Potato Casserole

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and large cubed
4 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 Tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup shredded Mexican style cheese
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp. chives

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place each group of diced potatoes in large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and cook about 15-20 mins. or until fork tender and cooked. Drain.

For sweet potatoes:

1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
Salt and pepper

Mash potatoes and 1 Tbsp. butter with fork in large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese and sour cream. Beat on high speed with mixer until smooth and fluffy. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

For russet potatoes:

1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup softened cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/8 tsp. onion powder
1/8 tsp. garlic salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. chives
1/4-1/3 cup milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Mash potatoes and 1 Tbsp. butter on bottom of large mixing bowl. Add cream cheese, sour cream, onion powder, garlic salt, and chives. Beat on high until potatoes are light and fluffy. Add milk. Whip again adding extra milk to achieve desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spray 9 x 9″ pan with cooking spray. Spoon whipped sweet potatoes into bottom of pan spreading evenly to all sides.


Spoon whipped russet potatoes on top of sweet potatoes. Spread gently to all sides.


Dot with slices of butter. Place in oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with mixture of 1/2 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese and shredded Parmesan cheese. Top with 1 Tbsp. chives.  Place back in oven and cook for 15 mins. more or until cheese is melted.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Sunday night was a long one. I shared the bed with either stomach flu or food poisoning. Whichever came to visit it was less than a pleasant guest. I hate that “ah ha moment”, when you open your eyes, your stomach cramps, and you know immediately you are in for a fun couple of hours. Rick came in numerous times dressed in full hazmat gear to check on me. I’ve noticed your popularity quotient drops considerably when you’re hanging over the toilet praying for your intestines to put up the good fight. Even Boo the Cat bailed on me, choosing the more hospitable environment of one the living room chair cushions. Fine.

This is our second bout with stomach ailments in the same amount of weeks, both after eating chicken.  I’m hoping the Foster Farm tainted chicken isn’t the culprit.  I’ve always called this type of illness, the Weight Watcher Instant Program. No weighing of food, counting of calories, or exchanges. Well, there is the exchange between you and the toilet bowl, but other than that. Not my favorite type of bug for sure. It certainly brings your relationship down to the basics. Do you love me? If you can hold my head and wipe my face through a night of stomach flu and still find me attractive, I need not ask that question again.

Flu season is approaching, so this week I’m all about locating a flu shot. Apparently you have to search for a particular type covering four strains, three being the standard, if you want the best protection. It was suggested I call each of the local pharmacies when I get up in the morning to determine if they have any of the four virus shots, as supplies are short. When I locate the vaccine, I’m to grab my keys, make numerous unsafe lane changes on the freeway, put blinders on while passing Starbucks, and get to the pharmacy holding the goods before their limited supplies are gone. Really? It may not seem like it to the lay observer, but I actually do have a life.

It is also time for us to locate a physician in our area, since winter is often the time of year where people are in need their services. This is not a prospect I relish. I’m looking for a plain old G.P. My body has already donated most of its organs to several stressful relationships, so a specialist at this point might be perceived as overkill.  Oddly, GP’s are not easy to find anymore. Many physicians have gone into specialties, where the big money is. If you have an in-grown toe nail, you have to look under toe nail in the yellow pages, and further define it by in-grown to actually find a doctor who specializes in diseases of the toe, specifically toe nail. When your general practitioner or family doctor finds something requiring further exploration, a referral to a physician specializing in the effected part of the body usually far more expensive than he, is likely on the horizon. Several doctors I contacted here charge $250 for the first visit. The high cost is attributed to necessary paper work to process new patients. I don’t know where they’re purchasing their office supplies, but I’d be happy to provide my own file folder, label, paper and stapler if this would help out.

I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a medical family. With three doctors and one R.N. hovering about, if I so much as twitched my nose I was poked and prodded like a cantaloupe in the produce department. My grandmother, a retired R.N., felt a dosing of cod liver oil was in order to cure everything from the hiccups to brain tumors. When ill, regardless of the symptoms, I was instructed to hold my nose and swallow. Chinese torture couldn’t have produced better results. I would have sold out the pastor at our church to get out of a dose of the deadly tasting liquid. I don’t know if the gelatinous goo actually had any healing advantages, but it certainly did encourage me to remain in the best of health.

I had all the prescribed childhood diseases as did my children. All their inoculations were given at the appropriate times and we still welcomed measles, mumps, whooping-cough, and chicken pox with my son going the extra mile and actually getting the only case of scarlet fever the doctor on call at the ER had ever treated. Once diagnosed, we were quarantined. Like lepers our food was left on the porch and a big yellow sign warning people of our contagious nature was posted boldly on our front door. I didn’t get any mail for a week. Thankfully with the medicines available a successful treatment plan had us back among the healthy in no time.

My daughter who runs a day care was telling me a lot of parents are opting out of vaccinating their children of late. Some parents believe the shots have links to the epidemic of autism or even the highly publicized cases of peanut allergies, and the vaccinations are actually doing their children more harm than good. Medical experts feel unimmunized children open the door to epidemics of childhood diseases and that they are a danger to others. I must admit I cannot remember one single incident up until a few years ago where I heard of a child dying from a peanut allergy. Now, it seems a new case pops up regularly. Maybe it’s all the added “goodies” in our processed foods, or the pesticides they spray on food prior to processing. Hard to tell.

When raising my children parents got them their shots when advised, unless you had a religious objection or lived in a country where they weren’t available or beyond your reach financially. As I remember you had to provide proof of immunization prior to them stepping foot in a classroom. I don’t have any answers as usual, but I’m loaded with questions this week. Maybe we should all hold our nose and swallow and be done with it. Smile.

Last week when visiting my daughter we had Cajun food for lunch.  Perfectly cooked shrimp arrived on a bed of mouth watering butter beans.  I decided I had to have them again, as I’ve cooked and eaten them many times while living in the south.  Either with shrimp, over rice or standing on their own, they’re yummy.

Slow Cooker Cajun Butter Beans

1 pkg. dried northern beans
4 cups chicken stock
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 large stalk celery, diced
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. parsley flakes
1 14 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
1 Andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut in 1/2″ slices

Sort and rinse beans. Put in large pot and cover with water adding enough to cover beans plus another 3″. Cover pot and refrigerate overnight.

Spray a 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Rinse soaked beans and discard water. Place beans in crockpot. Add all the following ingredients. Cook on high for 2 hours. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking for 9 hours, opening once to stir.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Well, it’s official, the government has pulled down the blinds, closed up shop, and gone home for the day. How does that work exactly? Sort of like putting the plane on auto pilot, handing the pilot a parachute, and hoping the plane will land itself. Personally, I think paychecks for both houses of congress should be withheld. My guess is this tomato slinging standoff would be over about five seconds once that announcement was made. In the words of Jay Leno, “I’m not so worried about the government shutting down. I’m more worried about it starting up again.”, or something to that effect.

Watching these men circle each other reminds me of a group of parochial boys playing dodge ball on a playground. “If you won’t play the game my way, I’m taking my ball and going home.” Then there’s Senator Cruz who gives the world a glimpse of the level of sophistication our government operates on here in the U.S. by reading Green Eggs and Ham during a filibuster against Obamacare. Really? I’m a huge supporter of Dr. Seuss, and after viewing that particular performance, I think he has distinctly more to say than either the reader or, in this particular case, his viewing audience.

If you put your bifocals on and take a closer look at what our lawmakers are spending money on, you could do an entire stand-up comedy routine and still have material left over. Over $300,000 spent in Florida studying the mating habits of cactus bugs. I don’t know about you, but what cactus bugs do in the privacy of their own bedrooms once the lights are out is really no business of mine. I hate to admit my ignorance, but I have no idea what a cactus bug is. How about the $4.2 million spent in Oregon to raise railroad tracks 18″ so local residents didn’t have to detour around them? Is there nothing else more pressing in the world to spend money on like say, hunger, to invest these dollars in? Another grant for $1.5 million sent three researchers to Alaska to study how grandparents impart their knowledge to younger generations. I have some knowledge to impart on this particular subject I also deem noteworthy. To sum up, “take good care of your grandmother, you may be in her will someday”. Where do I submit my grant application?

On further researching this subject, I found $175,000 was spent to determine the link between cocaine and the mating habits of the quail. I hope the researchers dug deep enough to discover who’s responsible for selling the quails the stuff, because I have my eye on a sneaky woodpecker who frequents the same tree in our yard every day and seems to attract a lot of squirrels.

California is currently in a mess in another area of government, EDD. A computer glitch has caused a large group of unemployment check recipients to not receive their checks. If, as the word unemployment may in itself imply, you have no job this could be perceived by the parties involved on some level as a financial crisis. One burglar, or possibly several, broke into a Northern California EDD office and made their displeasure known by apparently using the office as a sort of toilet. Citizens, if you will, are pissed off.

Lots of things cooking in Washington D.C. these days. Big doin’s on the hill. In all my travels, one place I missed along the trail was our capitol. Several times I’ve had it pinpointed on my map, and something always happened to prevent me from going. I would be fascinated to see the White House up close and personal, explore the Washington Monument, which I believe is closed for repairs at the moment, or have my picture taken next to Mr. Lincoln seated in his chair. Now, definitely wouldn’t be the time for me to choose to immerse myself in the Washington scene, as from what I understand a lot of the famous attractions are closed during the government hiatus. Even Lady Liberty’s light has dimmed for the time being. Yosemite has gone dark, Social Security offices aren’t issuing any new cards, and people with disabilities are out of luck until the two sides come to agreement.

While exploring DC on-line, I discovered it is not a cheap place to hang your hat. It’s high on the list of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Perhaps this is because they can afford it. Certainly Congress rarely denies themselves a salary increase or refuses a paycheck even if they vote against someone else getting one. Sorry. I read a home recently went on the market there for $26 million, not bad for government work. If that’s a bit of a squeeze on your pocketbook you can move into a nice two bedroom apartment downtown for about $3,500/month. Like the old saying, “It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there”, applies for me in this instance.

As the impact of this enforced shutdown continues to make itself known, I would imagine anger will build in the effected groups and the cost to taxpayers continue to climb. It will be interesting to see how long both sides will hold out and how much damage will be incurred before they throw the ball back in the game.

My political rant for the day. This is my first slow cooker cake, and I admit I was skeptical.  I had quite a few pears, so I took a recipe given to me and added my own twist and it was delicious.

Pear and Apple Slow Cooker Upside Down Cake

3 Tbsp. butter, cut in small pieces
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 pears, halved lengthwise and cored
3 1″ slices of apple, cut across and cored
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 Tbsp. brandy
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. whole milk, room temperature
Whipping cream if desired

Spray the inside of 6 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. Place a large sheet of tin foil in bottom and form along the sides. Spray well with cooking spray.


Sprinkle the cut pieces of butter along the bottom of the pan on top of the foil. Distribute brown sugar over top.


Place two pears on either end of pot cut side down and line apple pieces across the center. Sprinkle with 1 Tbsp. of brandy and toss almond slivers around on top.


In large mixing bowl combine flour, corn meal, baking powder, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.


In the large bowl of your mixer blend 4 Tbsp. of softened butter and granulated sugar at low speed to combine. Turn to high speed and continue mixing about 4-5 mins. until fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla and continue mixing 1 min.


Reduce to low speed. Add 1/2 of the dry ingredients and 1 Tbsp. milk and mix until well blended. Add other 1/2 of dry ingredients and 1 Tbsp. of milk. Increase speed to medium and continue beating until smooth.

Spread evenly over top of apples and pears.


Place a paper towel over the top of the slow cooker before placing lid on.


Cook for 3 hours on low until sides are browned and cake is set. Allow to sit turned off for 20 mins.

Using tin foil lift from slow cooker and set on rack to cool. Invert onto platter and peel off foil. Serve with whipped cream if desired.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

My daughter’s husband had a business trip this week, so I went to keep her company overnight and to catch up on a little “girl time”.  Like we did often when she was small, we sat up and watched a movie, ate things not on the healthy food list, and slept in until after the sun came up.  Both my oldest granddaughters stopped by to say hello, and with three dogs and two cats in attendance we weren’t exactly alone.  The largest of the two cats has mad love for me.  What can I say, It’s a curse.  Immediately when I form a lap, he arrives on scene to stake claim to the territory.  A creature of the heart, he is aptly named Cassanova.  Huge by feline standards, weighing in at eighteen pounds, when he hops on board it’s like having a well fattened Thanksgiving turkey perched on your legs.

I arrived early afternoon.  Day care was still in session.  My daughter, or Miss Heather to her charges, was seated at the long table with seven little boys doing art.  How sweet they are at that age. Of course, I can throw out that adjective lightly as I only see them for short bursts of time.  One can imagine nine hours a day could stretch that perception, but for me it is a treat to spend a few hours with them.  Once the last toddler was packed up and sent home for the weekend we relaxed.  Aside from catching up, plans were in place to “smudge” her house with sage.  For those of you unfamiliar with this behavior, it is rooted in Native American culture and is basically a cleansing with fresh sage to clear the house of negative energy and refresh the atmosphere.  Houses seem to absorb the energy of those dwelling inside them, or passing through.  Haven’t you noticed that some houses seem to have a pall or heaviness about them, while others feel airy, light and almost happy when you enter?  A house untenanted for long periods of time seems almost lonely or stale, and a house filled with anger appears to have sharp edges and deep shadows.

Over the years I’ve stayed at my daughter and son-in-law’s on many occasions.  This house is the second they owned and seemed, as the children, to come with its own personality.  Usually left downstairs on my own once the lights were out, I often would wake up and turn HauntedHouseGhostsFloating-1on a light in hall because I felt uneasy, or not alone, if you will.  Flickering lights have been seen traveling through the air and strange bumping sounds interrupt the night with no explained origin.  My son-in-law woke up one night to find what looked like hands pressing the covers over my daughter’s feet while she slept, and items frequently fall off shelves for no apparent reason.   To quote Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

Sage, sweet grass and cedar are the preferred smudging tools. Having never “smudged” a house before, we carefully read the directions.  A ceramic bowl for burning the sage, a feather or branch of cedar to distribute the smoke, a container of water, and the tied sage are the items required to perform the ceremony.  Sage is lit in the bottom of the bowl.  Once the sage is smoking, you waft the feather over the bowl dispersing the fumes between the furniture and in the corners of the rooms.  The water container is in the event you actually create a fire in the bowl. Knowing me, I filled a two liter bottle.  While exorcising the negative energy you want to protect and maintain the positive energy existing within the walls.

For those of you shaking you heads, I have to say this is not the first house I have visited with odd energy.  It’s not that it’s malicious, just palpable.  Wouldn’t know how to explain it.  I dated a man who lived in a house where the former tenant, a woman in her late eighties, died at the bottom of the basement steps.  He bought the house from her son who at the time had three college students renting the three bedrooms while he maintained residence in another state.  While moving their belongings out when the sale became final they regaled us with stories of lights going on and rooms that wouldn’t heat.  Assuming these were just college boy antics, we never gave them another thought until he actually took possession, the operative word here, of the house.

The house was lovely at first glance.  Huge garden areas surrounded it on all sides with beds of yellow and red nasturtiums, happy sprays of daisies, and all manner of tulips and daffodils. On the side patio several massive built-in pots overflowed with purple and blue hydrangea.  An arbor covered with fragrant honeysuckle led to a path winding around the back of the house where there was another, larger patio laid with Italian tile. In the center there sat a large fish pond in need of some repair.  A young cherub caught in marble replenished the water in the bowl with his natural faucet adding a bit of whimsy to the yard. It was reminiscent of the thirties in architectural style.  A detached garage with two doors sat at the end of a long driveway.  On opening the doors we found an old bicycle propped up against one wall nearly completely consumed by cobwebs.

Inside the rooms were large with excellent ventilation.  Fly fans lazily moved the air in the living room keeping the house comfortable despite the heat building outside.  The first night, exhausted from moving and unpacking, I went home giving house and owner a chance to get acquainted.  As a house-warming gift I’d given him a golden retriever pup, who was left behind to keep him company.  Around three in the morning an excited call came in recounting strange happenings in the house.  Half asleep I nodded and promised to call in the morning for a full report.

After hearing a bizarre story about lights going on and off and the dog barking at nothing, I agreed to come and spend the night the following weekend.  Some time after midnight, my friend asleep, I tossed and turned with the puppy nipping at my feet playfully every time I moved.  Suddenly the dog began to bark and growl.  I sat up as the light in the living room switched on.  Looking at the other side of the bed my hero slept on undaunted.  Distinct creaks moved across the floor and the hair on my neck went on full alert.  Unable to speak I poked at my bunk mate waking him up.  Both of us sat like two teenagers watching a scary movie covers under our chins as the light switched off and it got quiet.  My heart-felt as though it would beat its way through my chest and run on out the door, but eventually my breathing resumed a normal rate.

I stayed there very rarely after that and preferred never to be in the house unaccompanied.  He said he got used to it after a while, even the frigid back room which never got warm even if you lit a healthy fire in the grate.

So much we know little about.  Volumes have been written, and will most likely be to come, about the things we cannot explain.  We are titillated by the undead and the hereafter because it remains a mystery shrouded in myth and legend.

Having been smudged, I present this magnificent moist cake.  I could truly sit in the back of the closet and eat the whole thing myself.

Banana, Carrot, and Mandarin Orange Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 cup sugar (I used Splenda)
3 bananas, mashed
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup carrot, shredded
1/2 cup mandarin oranges, chopped fine
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine sugar, mashed bananas and vegetable oil. Add eggs, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla.

In large mixing bowl combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Add dry mixture to banana mixture 1/3 at a time, mixing well after each addition.


Stir in carrots, mandarin oranges, quick-cooking oats, and nuts. Mix well.


Great 9 x 9″ baking dish. Pour batter in pan and spread to all corners.


Bake for 45-50 mins. or until toothpick comes out clean when stuck in the middle.

Allow to cool for 5 mins. and then invert onto cooling rack.

When completely cool, spread with frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8 oz. pkg. soft cream cheese
1/2 cup butter, softened
2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Whip together cream cheese and butter. Add vanilla. Slowly incorporate powdered sugar, mixing well.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Every now and again I get an overwhelming urge to visit Las Vegas.  It’s the sort of destination you have to be in the mood for. Over the years I’ve seen some amazing acts there including sitting practically on-stage beneath an erupting volcano, and less than an arm’s length from one of Siegfried and Roy’s famed white tigers.  From the glitz of the strip itself to the big name performers and extravagant shows, it provides a lot of cluck for your buck.

Years ago you had to pack a dress to visit, but these days like most places, if you’re wearing shoes and a shirt you’re in.  Still there is no place quite like it. Sometimes it’s fun to throw caution to the wind and hop on board the fantasy train for a few days if you have a little money to burn and an itch to burn it.

My first visit was in my teens with my mother. Not so exciting at that age. Other than being allowed to walk through the casinos on your way out of the hotels, the gaming rooms were off limits to those less than legal age and the thrill rides, now part of the Vegas scene, still lingered in the minds of their creators. Vegas, after all, is a playground for adults not pimply faced youngsters with no money to leave on the tables.  Mother accepted an invitation to share a weekend at the Hacienda, part of a prize package won by a female friend with a daughter, Binkie by name, close to my age.  Binkie’s unusual nickname, I believe, came from the fact she carried her baby blanket in her purse until she married in her early twenties.  Not pertinent to story really, but an interesting note for her psychiatrist’s note pad nonetheless.

Binkie was one of those gawky young girls whose height arrived before she’d had a chance to gracefully grow into it.  To complete the picture, when she smiled she displayed a full set of metal trim and wore unflattering skin colored glasses to correct an astigmatism.  Teased in those early years, in the end braces removed and contacts replacing glasses, she would enjoy her day in the sun.  A strikingly lovely butterfly emerged from the cocoon who went on to be a noted attorney as well as marry one. But this was then.

So, we were in Las Vegas with our mothers. As if this wasn’t punishment enough, there was nothing to do but tan. Looking like over crisped raisins, desperation drove us to the brochures available at the concierge desk, Inside one, displaying pictures of riders making their way along a dusty trail on the cover, was information regarding stables outside of the city renting horses by the hour.  Back home I rode at a friend’s regularly. Not ready to be a stunt double for an upcoming western, I could handle myself fairly well in the saddle and had some experience with how to steer the beast once seated on one.  Binkie’s experience was limited to a rocking horse her grandmother had given her on her third birthday, but was game to give it a try and I promised to show her the ropes (no pun intended).

Our  mothers, most likely as delighted to get shed of us for a few hours as we were of them, drove us to the stables early that afternoon. Ensuring there were horses available, we synchronized our watches for a pick up in three hours when our bums would most likely be chapped.  It wasn’t particularly warm by Las Vegas standards, and high clouds intermittently cast long shadows across the desert floor.  Asked by the stable hand what our riding expertise was, I answered “experienced” while Binkie played it safe with “none”.  Looking back, most likely I should have followed her lead.

Two horses were led from the stables, one black and the other a pinto. A stable hand secured Binkie’s foot in the stirrup and hoisted her aboard the latter.  The black, cleverly named Blackie, was to be mine.  I was okay with the choice, but Blackie didn’t appear as enthusiastic, shying and huffing every time I tried to seat myself.  They say animals can sense you have no idea what you’re doing or smell your fear. Probably I was sending clear signals through my sweat glands in both directions.  Not wanting to lose face by requesting a less spirited ride, I was finally literally placed on the high-strung Blackie and handed the reins.  Oh-oh.

Stable horses are often complacent.  Used to being stuck with inept riders with no consistency behind the wheel, if you will, their mouths get “hard”, or resistant to the bit.  This is caused, so I understand, by inexperience or poor riding habits over using hands to guide the animal rather than steering with legs and derriere.  You would find me somewhere in that explanation.  Usually stable horses show the most interest when you turn their heads back towards the stables. Encouraging them to make any great effort along the trail often requires some work on the riders part.

Binkie sucked on her lower lip looking as if she might cry.  Bravado taking the place of good sense I told her to “buck up, it is only a horse, for God’s sake”.  Heading out into the desert I looked over my shoulder frequently keeping an eye on the dwindling stables. Why, I don’t know. In the endless expanse of flat terrain the building stood out like a boil on a skinny behind.  At first we walked the horses. Our instructions were “if you sweat a horse, you will walk it until it cools off”.  Got it.  There is no way kids hear anything close to what an adult is saying. Shortly we broke into an ungainly trot, the worst of the gaits, that had poor Binkie bouncing up and down in the saddle like popcorn in a hot pan.

An hour or so out, wind came up out of nowhere and the sky darkened.  Grumblings of an approaching storm could be heard off in the distance.  Blackie, snorting and shaking his head didn’t seem happy to receive the news. Lightning flashed near the mountains to our left.  Assessing the situation, Blackie must have decided if we weren’t smart enough to get out of the storm, he was going to make the decision for us.  Rearing, but not dumping me as I believe was his intent, he succeeded in wrenching the reins from my hand.  Reins dangling on the ground, there was little for me to do but to hold on.  For a horse totally reluctant to break a sweat on the way out, Blackie tore past the terrified Binkie at the speed of light. Hands clenching his mane, my feet fanning in the stirrups rider and horse retraced the ground it had taken us over an hour to cover on the way out in what seemed like less than five minutes. Sensing a meal and some warm hay, Blackie turned right at the gate towards the stables coming to an abrupt halt before we reached the stalls.  Slung like a jai-alai ball, I flew over his brow landing soundly in the dirt on my already saddle worn backside.  Stable hands rushed to me, dusting me off and checking for breakage. Binkie arrived some time later none the worse for wear.

Miraculously I walked away unscathed, except for my pride, which was sorely bruised.  Our mothers gathered us at the appointed time with no comments made about my disheveled appearance other than it looked like we had a good time.  I wasn’t talking.  If I’d told my mother the truth, she wouldn’t have allowed me out of her sight again until I was thirty.

Anyhow, my silliness for today.  Need to book a flight one of these days for a revisit.

This was a nice change from regular noodles, crunchy with lots of cheese. The tomato sauce is addictive. I make a big pot and use it for a variety of dishes.

Noodle Nests with Meaty Tomato Sauce

Noodle Nests

8 oz. fettucine, cooked and chilled
3 eggs, well beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 Tbsp. parsley flakes
Salt and black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

In large mixing bowl combine chilled fettucine, eggs, garlic Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat oil in large skillet until shimmering. Add fettucine/egg mixture and carefully shove to edge of pan to form a pancake. Cook until crisp and golden and flip over to other side (about 5 mins. per side). Remove from pan and drain on paper towel lined pan. Quarter and serve with tomato sauce.

Meaty Tomato Sauce

1/2 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
12 oz. tomato paste
2 6 1/2 oz. cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
3/4 tsp.salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Cook sausage, beef, onion, and garlic until well browned in large pot or Dutch oven until browned. Drain fat. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water. Mix in sugar and add bay leaves, basil, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

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Photo by Susie Nelson

Photo by Susie Nelson

Every once in a while, I get the urge to go out to breakfast. I’d probably prefer that to going out to dinner, being my favorite meal of the day. Today was such a day. Rick suggested a likely looking spot up the road we spotted on our last trip to the store. If new to an area or passing through, I look for a restaurant with a packed parking lot as a likely place to stop.

On the prowl for eggs Benedict, I found it on the bottom of the second page of menu selections. Throwing caution to the wind I ordered hash browns, fruit and a stomach pump as sides. Eggs Benedict was my grandmother’s dish of choice at breakfast and she passed it right on down the line. For some reason even excellent chef’s seem to fight with hollandaise sauce, often making it bland or watery. I like mine rich, thick and lemony, and this was all three. Yea for me. It arrived on a 1huge plate with a grin of orange rind on top, as if to say “if you manage all this, you will surely explode”. I did, and I did not. Thank you. For a little person I can eat. I haven’t missed a meal since Eisenhower was in office.

In the morning paper I was reading 72% of baby boomers in our area are either overweight or obese. Most probably the only thing keeping me from being lumped in that percentage is my inability to nest in one place for more than a minute, and my huge passion for fruit and most things good for me. I eat brown bread as a rule, have a bowl of Cheerios for lunch piled with blueberries and a banana (unless going out).  Another plus is my relatively minimal sweet tooth.

As usual doing everything against the current, I was a chubby child who morphed into a thin adult. According to my doctor this usually occurs in the reverse, or the childhood weight follows you to adulthood. Although both excellent eaters, my grandmother and my mother are small women. I believe I inherited their genes. Before her time, my grandmother was a healthy eater  She introduced me to fresh vegetables from the garden, fish right off the boat, fruit, fluffy omelets, and whole grains. On the opposite side of the board the woman baked decadent desserts including unbelievably flaky pie crusts oozing with sticky fruit fillings, and prize-winning biscuits and breads. Potatoes were served in every form at our dinner table, and dessert didn’t appear immediately following a meal my grandfather would have staged a revolt. As I think of the familiar smells from her kitchen I am drooling on my socks.

This posed the question in my mind are we predisposed to like certain types of food? According to some studies we have evolved as our food has evolved our systems adapting in order to be able to absorb certain foods like meat and milk. Certainly if you subscribe to Darwin’s theory we once dragged our knuckles along the ground, had a penchant for bananas and enjoyed healthy hair growth, we were undoubtedly vegetarians. Chimps are mainly vegetarians, although known from time to time to indulge in a little monkey, say, over the holidays.

On some levels predisposition seems obvious.  Our ethnicity, for example, obviously heavily influences our food choices and how we prepare our food.  The region of the country you come from, such as Southern or Northern Italy defines this even further. Growing up in Nova Scotia lamb stews, rich seafood soups, clove studded hams and shepherd’s pie were common sights at meal time.  Seasoning ran to the lighter side, and heat, other than referring to temperature, rarely factored into a recipe.  South of the border heat nearly always factors into a recipe, with the wonderful array of spicy peppers and seasonings readily at hand, and rice and beans are more likely to be the starch of choice than potatoes.

The article I was reading went on to say a large majority of boomers don’t meet the healthy exercise limits suggested by fitness experts of thirty minutes a day.  Some people, according to this article, are less likely to want to exercise than others. Duh. Further, the author suggested couch potatoes may be pre-programmed to be so, genetically.  Sitting in your recliner, feet up, TV on, patty melt and potato skins half eaten, stomach threatening to eclipse your belt, could be an inherited trait. Ah, another thing to blame our parents for.  The list is endless.

Other studies suggest some children might be predisposed to dislike bitter foods, or certain vegetables.  Also, how early we introduce new foods to children seems to influence how “picky” they might be during their formative years.  In my generation babies were given lumpy solids like mashed potatoes, peas, oatmeal etc. far earlier than they are now.   Hard to say which method is right and which is wrong.  I will say, however, my kids other than a few exceptions, had widely varied palettes as youngsters and ate most anything unless there was a dog or cat on the can.  Wonder what the cavemen did along these lines without any ready literature at hand?  I’m sure next year there will be a new study confirming both ways to be wrong and actually children either shouldn’t be allowed to eat until pre-teens or should be fed intravenously in the womb.  Opinions change from minute to minute about what is and what is not good for us. To me, life should be based more on common sense than what whoever “they” are tell us the right path to follow. I’m just sayin.

I’m the first to throw my hand up if the question is posed, “who in the room doesn’t like to exercise?”  In my twenties and thirties I belonged to a gym.  Particularly n my twenties I went dutifully three times a week and was is excellent shape for the shape I was in.  I’m over the gym these days. Now, I walk at least thirty minutes a day.  Another trick to make exercise less painful,  I will pass on.  Walk while you talk.  Since my phone insists on ringing most of the day, while talking I walk rather than sit, logging a few extra miles in for my heart each week.   Also, it makes me feel like I’m doing something, so I’m a more attentive listener rather than watching the clock.  My daughter uses the treadmill in her spare bedroom to get her thirty minutes in. To keep her pain to a minimum, her husband installed a small TV in the room like many gyms have, to pass the time while walking in place.

How deep these predispositions run is hard to tell.  I’m a bit OCD like my mother and grandmother before me.  I like most foods but will hesitate when something particularly exotic arrives on my plate, where someone used to finding a fried scorpion or tripe soup would find this commonplace.  I don’t know the answers, but I like to ponder.  Keeps the gears churning upstairs.

This soup gets an “A” in my grade book.  I’ve morphed it many times but like baby bear’s porridge, this was “just right”.

Savory Hamburger Soup with Ditalini

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. ground chuck
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. seasoning salt
1 2 oz. pkg. Lipton’s onion soup mix
6 cups hot water
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with jalapenos
4 cups beef broth
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 stalks of celery leaves
2 carrots, sliced
2 potatoes, cubed
1 cup Ditalini
Parmesan Cheese, shredded

Heat oil in large stock pot. Crumble meat in oil. Add onion and green pepper and cook until beef is browned.

Add seasonings, onion soup mix, hot water, tomato sauce, tomatoes, broth and soy sauce. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 mins.

Add vegetables, recover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 40 mins.

Add pasta (ditalini) to simmering pot. Cook for 40 mins. Top with shredded Parmesan cheese. Serves 8-10.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Yesterday I bought my first gourds for the center of the table.  IT’S FALL!  Well, almost.  I celebrate a lot of things in my life, getting up in the morning, clean sheet day, cream sauce with no lumps, and FALL, fabulous fall, my favorite season of the year.  A cool down is on its way, at least according to our weather man who couldn’t predict rain if he was standing in a downpour.  Over the coming weekend he suggests we tuck in, light a fire, and enjoy the first heavy breath of autumn.  I need no convincing.  My projects are lining up.  Cool, brisk weather urges me to retrieve the sewing machine from the closet, dust off my paints, get out my drawing tablets and create, create, create.  There are pumpkins to be painted, leaves to be dried, and thick savory soups to be discovered.  Yea.

Rick, as per the usual for us, is the polar opposite of me.  Like a lizard on a rock, he craves the heat.  Undoubtedly being raised in Egypt and Kuwait strongly influenced this preference, but more than that he finds overcast weather ominous and depressing.  It must be highly annoying to have overly pumped me flying through the house dancing on tiptoes singing, “I love fall, tra la” a hundred times a day.

Today is my morning at the shelter with the cats.  I am wearing my tee-shirt with felines strewn across the front so I can blend in.  Surprisingly, it’s hard work tending to the needs of these felines.  Cages are all sanitized by volunteers, inside and out.  Dishes are washed and refilled, new blankets or beds provided, toys exchanged and litter boxes cleaned and replenished.  In order to properly clean inside each cage, the residents are moved to “holding cells”, if you will. The cats, not overly enthusiastic about being at the shelter in the first place, are sometimes resistant to this procedure.

Older cats, like many older people, are bit more world wise and somewhat more receptive to this intrusion, unless ill, of course. Kittens, with their boundless supply of energy, busy themselves attacking their roommates, chasing their tails, or snagging a piece of your pant leg as you pass their cages, but the “teens” or younger cats are the ones apt to take a quick swipe at you when being retrieved or actually attempt to take a nip at your hand.  The general rule is “keep your eye on your cats”.  Okay.

The dogs are loud.  L O U D.  Ear plugs are provided if you are particularly sensitive.  A lot of pit bull or pit bull mixes can be seen peering out from their cages.  I say hello but don’t offer a pat on the head.  Sorry, too many stories circulating about those clenching jaws.

As the weather begins to change, I worry a bit about traveling to all these new outside activities.  It has been many years since I lived in a place where snow fell, and remained on the ground.  Now, I’m not a baby about weather.  Californians in general seem to have issues with it, mostly because they don’t know what REAL weather looks like.  When it rains here it is like destruction derby, cars crashing and ricocheting off one another at an alarming rate.  Residents of heavy snow belt states, or deep southern states where rain stops by every day for a good soak, are used to maneuvering under the influence of inclement weather.

The last state I lived in with heavy snowfall was West Virginia. My ex-husband and I moved there for the second time, one week before Thanksgiving.  Locating a place to live was a challenge that time of year. Looking for several days, we finally rented a place in Hurricane, a beautiful little town nestled between Huntington to the west and Charleston to the east.  Once the issue of housing was settled, we planned our trip back to Ashdown, Arkansas the following weekend to retrieve our household goods. Traveling with us was Kitty, my cat of fourteen years, and Sushi, our Shih Hsu, a spryer six.  Both were seasoned travelers, having crossed the country with us many times during those construction years.  Kitty generally rode in the rear view window on her bed, while Sushi preferred my lap, if available, and if not curled up on a fluffy pillow in the back seat.

If we hadn’t already enough demanding beasts in the car, waiting for us in Ashdown was a large, totally untrained retriever mix my husband adopted from the animal shelter, answering to Alice. Well, I say answering to Alice. In truth, Alice never answered to anything but the opening of a can. Alice was a wriggling brown ball of fur with paws the size of Rhode Island that were constantly in motion. Aside from her unbridled enthusiasm for life, Alice had little going for her beyond her overwhelming affection for my ex. Their brown eyes met across a crowded kennel, and it was love at first sight. The rest of us were chump change in comparison. I was loved only at meal times and when she needed to go for a walk. Alice viewed Kitty as prey. Kitty, used to being above eye level with the complacent Sushi, viewed Alice as the devil incarnate, learning quickly to take to higher ground. Often she could be found roosting like a fat pullet on the top of the refrigerator, or observing life from the safety of the top shelf of the entertainment center. Sushi was on Kitty’s team. Alice ate her food, hoisted her off the ground relentlessly with her ever probing snout, and generally took the lazy out of the Shih Hsu by refusing to allow the poor little dog to take a nap without dropping a bone on her or encouraging her to play.

The instant my husband pulled out of the driveway in the morning, Alice went mental. Sitting in the middle of the living room she would toss her silly head back and howl inconsolably for hours. It was pitiful. If you put her in the yard, within minutes she would dig a hole deep enough to comfortably house a Sherman tank, and be off down the alley sampling a bit out of this trash can and a bit out of that. Many a day I spent following the trail of debris trying to corral her once again. Momma wasn’t happy, the neighbor’s weren’t happy, and Kitty and Sushi were packing a bag. Not a good situation.

I should have thought of this.

I should have thought of this.

After two stints in obedience training, sending one instructor back to AA meetings, and numerous complaints from the neighbors, the consensus was Alice could not be tamed. Unwilling to return her to the shelter, we posted ads searching for a good home in several of the local papers with no response. Several weeks passed and Alice, it appeared, could not be given away. Word was out.

At the eleventh hour a rancher with a huge property outside of Huntington came to our rescue, and Alice’s, offering her a home with acres of freedom to run and herds of cows to chase. I purchased her a goodbye breakfast of Egg McMuffins and double cheeseburgers, her favorite. With a backward glance goodbye, she hopped into the back seat of his enormous pickup and went off to her new digs. To say I missed her would be both the truth and a lie. I missed her silly sweet face when she was sleeping but once those eyes were open, I was happy to know she had a good place to be. For several years the rancher sent us Christmas cards with Alice’s face on the front, one wearing a halo. Now there’s a misnomer. Argh.

These veggies are good anytime.  The potatoes get a lovely crunchy golden brown on the bottom. They’re easy to put together and pretty to serve.  During the holidays you can do root veggies in individual packages and serve them on each plate.

Parchment Steamed Herbed Red Potatoes and Summer Squash (Serves 4)

Summer Squash

4 summer squash cut in 1/2″ slices
1 onion thinly sliced
4 thin slices lemon
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. Fines Herbs
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Kosher salt to taste
1/8 tsp. black pepper
1/8 tsp. lemon pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place all ingredients in mixing bowl and toss to coat. Spread out a large piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.


Place vegetable mixture in the center. Roll top together to seal and both ends to make a package, making sure all edges are sealed together for proper steaming. Set aside.


Red Potatoes

3 large red potatoes, halved and sliced in 1/2″ slices
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. fines herbs
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Kosher salt to taste
1/4 tsp. black pepper (more if desired)

Place all ingredients in mixing bowl and toss to coat. Spread out a large piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.

Place vegetable mixture in the center. Roll top together to seal and both ends to make a package, making sure all edges are sealed together for proper steaming.

Place package of potatoes in preheated oven and cook for 20 mins. Add package of squash and continue cooking 40 mins.

Remove from oven and allow to rest 5 mins.  Carefully open packages and serve immediately either family style in paper or plate.


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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

To continue the Perils of Susie, I painted yesterday.  Once settled in a new home you begin to notice both its highlights and shortcomings.  Somewhat like being in a new relationship, caught in the throes of infatuation little things often get overlooked at first observation.  With this house there were several thumbs down on a list with many, many thumbs up.  One slight negative is the washer and dryer are situated on the lower floor.  I don’t mind, it’s good exercise climbing up and down the stairs, but they are in the hall between the two spare bedrooms with no place to fold the clothes.  Surveying the area, I came up with an idea.  Like Lucy, my ideas do not always go as planned, but this one was a keeper. Passing the idea on to a contractor helping us with some things needing to be fixed, he took it and ran with it.  A rectangular piece of wood with a hinged leg that would fold up against the wall and secure when not in use.  Voila.  $40 later it was up and running, however remained unpainted.As you can see by my cave drawing below, Frank Lloyd Wright is not turning over in his grave at being bested in design, but it works and I don’t have to fold clothes on the bed or on top of the drawer, so I’m happy.

Sooooo, Susie took herself to Home Depot and purchased a small pot of paint, a wee roller and trough, and a brush.  Rick in his favorite easy chair was lost in an afternoon of dreams of his niners going to the Super Bowl. I taped the painter’s tarp to cover the surrounding areas.  It certainly would have been easier to paint if still apart, but it was a small project after all, so should come together quickly.

FOLDING TABLEAt any rate, I threw on an old tee shirt with bees all over the front (my nemesis as you might know) and an old pair of shorts.  Down into the belly of the house I went, armed with my brush and roller.  After surveying the project, I decided to start with the underside first, or when the table is in the “up” position.  Easy peasy.  I pulled up the table and secured the pin, and poured some paint in the trough.  Finding the roller smoother than the brush and easier, I went with that.  Working around the leg in the middle was a pain and soon I had paint on my hands.  Unaware the rolling motion was jiggling the pin in the hinge securing the table, I continued down the board bending to reach the bottom. One last roll shook the board free from the hinge slamming it soundly down on my head fresh paint and all. The cat lying on the floor next to me, definitely cashed in a life on this one.  Not only did a lovely circle of stars form in front of my face, but because I was facing down, thankfully, wet paint was slathered all over the back of my hair. Damn the concussion, my hair was painted. Oh-oh.

Panicked, I headed towards the bathroom leaving a trail of clothes in my wake.  Rick, awakened by the noise and seeing the splotched project and line of discarded clothing, sprinted in the bathroom at a pace I haven’t seen him attain since the last time I served liver and onions. Offering the Reader’s Digest explanation, I stuck my head under the tap. He shook his head. Sigh, that again. Under the hot water I shampooed and rinsed twice praying I wasn’t going to still be Ivory Bisque when I got out.  A goose egg any mother goose would be proud of sprouted across my crown.  Toweled off and clothed, Rick checked my head for damage.  He suggested we call in a phrenologist to read my bump and determine why I do such incredibly stupid things.

In the middle of the night I woke up to giggling on the other side of the bed.  Yes, I said giggling, a grown man.  It seems the more he thought about what I’d done the sillier it got.  At least I contribute some comic relief to the relationship.

He checked me several times during the night to see if I was speaking in tongues or unresponsive.  Since I’m sitting here typing this undeniably stupid story about myself and sharing it with you, the jury is still out on whether or not my head suffered permanent damage.  To loosely quote Kelly Lebrock, “don’t hate me because I’m stupid”.

Today I will repair my mess, but I’m one step ahead of the game because I’m going in in full military gear, pith helmet in place.

I have to tell you this was great “jam”.  I hesitated to make it because I wasn’t sure it sounded like I’d like it.  Bacon, however, can make even liver taste good, so I gave it a shot.  Yum, I say.  I intended to make the sandwich, take the picture, and give it to Rick but after one bite I ate the whole thing and had to create another.

Breakfast Sandwich with Bacon Jam

l lb. bacon, chopped
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup ale
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp. pure maple syrup (I used pure Canadian)
4 Tbsp. chili sauce
salt and pepper
4 English muffins
4 fried eggs
Salt and pepper

In large skillet cook bacon until crisp. Set aside.


Drain on paper towels, reserving 1 Tbsp. of grease in pan.


Add onion and garlic to grease in pan. Cook over med. heat about 10 mins. until onion is translucent.


Add ale, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup and chili sauce to pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 35-40 mins. until thick and bubbly. Add bacon and season with salt and pepper.


Spread a spoonful on bottom of toasted and buttered English muffin. Top with fried egg and another spoonful of “jam” on top. Place top of English muffin over all.

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