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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

No matter your beliefs spring is of itself a time of rebirth. Shoots are pushing up through the soil with the encouragement of the recent rains, and pollen drifts down from the budding trees depositing a fine coat of yellow on everything below. This morning I took a walk in the woods following a trail behind the old mine outside of town. Such a beautiful morning, hardly another soul in the area save an occasional pet owner giving his best friend a walk before breakfast. We moved here for the beauty and peace of the area and I never tire of it. The city, for many comforting with its mass of humanity, easy access to shopping and public transportation, myriad of available restaurants and social activities, long ago lost its luster for me. Somewhere deep in my heart lives a country girl, preferring instead to watch the tall grass bend and sway in the delta breeze on a lazy summer afternoon, see the squirrels scurrying along the telephone lines, or lose myself in the introspection of a deserted beach on a foggy day.

This time of year our thoughts often turn to others and what we can do to benefit those around us rather than ourselves. Family is at the forefront as bowls of eggs are transformed into works of art by small hands and hot crossed buns and clove bedecked hams prepared for an Easter meal. In particular I miss my little ones on Easter, their delighted screams as they discover a brightly dyed egg under a bush or a chocolate bunny wrapped in decorated foil in their Easter basket.

Growing up it always meant shopping for a new dress, hat and shoes to be displayed at church on Sunday. Afterwards there was an egg hunt in the park and then home for one of my grandmother’s incredibly delicious meals served on the lovely bone china plates with the delicate pink roses circling the rim. Being of English heritage, on the center of the table one of the many tea pots in her china cabinet would be perched on a metal rack, kept warm by a colorful tea cozy. Light, flaky biscuits melting on your tongue were served with homemade marmalade and fresh creamy butter. In one of the two pantry’s a rich lineup of desserts were displayed. As a youngster having surveyed what was to come, it was difficult not to wolf down the main meal in order to get to the finale. On Easter each of us was asked to say something by way of thanks for the meal we were to eat. Mine was usually a short statement as being a chubby little girl my growling stomach encouraged brevity.

Closing my eyes I can picture the huge expanse of yard beyond the bank of windows in the formal dining room of the house I grew up on on Ogilvie Street. Beyond the copse of trees to the left the lush green banks swept downward stretching to the Atlantic lapping at the edges below. In the spring bright spots of color decorated the view everywhere you rested your eyes. Plump tulips, welcoming daffodils, purple irises and baby roses gave the yard the look of an English garden.

It was a time to be grateful for your blessings and to remember to give thanks for the faces surrounding the table and the food gracing it. A lot was taught to me as a child about appreciating a cup half full rather than lamenting on not having it filled to the brim. Life lately seems rife with conflict and between the weather and seemingly unrelenting news coverage skipping from one disaster to the next it is sometimes difficult to concentrate on the beauty in our world and still find way to be amazed by what lurks right outside our front door.

When I visit Nova Scotia in the springtime if I see a field of freshly tilled ground I pull over and taking a handful breathe in the familiar smell of rich chocolate earth.

I am missing my family this weekend, but glad I have Rick and Boo, the Queen of Cats, to share space with. My apron is lying over the back of the chair and I plan to put it to good use making a dinner worthy of celebration.

Have a safe and joyous holiday!

2Ham, Turkey and Cheese Brunch Torte

2 8 oz. tubes crescent rolls, divided
1 large red pepper, roasted and sliced into strips
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 6 oz. pkg. baby spinach
6 slices of bacon, crumbled
1/2 lb. deli ham, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. deli turkey, thinly sliced
1/2 lb. Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
7 eggs, divided
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Seed red pepper and cut in half lengthwise. Cover cookie sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray. Place pepper halves cut side down on prepared cookie sheet. Brush with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Bake for 35-40 minutes, turning once until skin is charred. Remove from oven and place immediately in resealable plastic bag for 15 mins. Remove skin and slice.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.

In bottom of springform pan make a circle of 1 can of crescent triangles pressing seams together. Cover bottom and sides of pan tightly with two layers of tin foil.

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Bake crust 15 mins. Remove and allow to cool.

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In large skillet heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over med. heat. Add onion and mushrooms to pan. Continue cooking for 6 mins. Add spinach. Stir and cook until mushrooms are tender. Drain on paper towels, patting to removed moisture.

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Whisk together 6 eggs, Parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, and pepper.

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Layer 1/2 of cheese, ham, turkey, bacon, spinach mixture, and red peppers.

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Pour 1/2 of egg mixture over top. Repeat layers ending with last half of egg mixture.

Place remaining can of crescent rolls on work surface to form a circle. Press seams together. Place on top of layers in pan. Whisk remaining egg and brush top.

Bake for 1 hr. and 15 mins. or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Cool for 15 mins. Slice and serve.

Serves 8.

 

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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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It is so pleasantly quiet in the house at the moment I’m hesitant to break the silence even ever so slightly by placing my hands on the keyboard.  I think better in the quiet.  Perhaps that’s why I like mornings. It’s warm, and going to get much more so later in the day.  This, according to our weatherman, a man I imbue with equally as much faith as Charles Ponzi. Earlier he forecasted a day in the high eighties which probably means we’ll either have a freak snow storm or low-lying flood conditions by late afternoon.  I want that job.  Really I do.  It’s one of the few jobs where you get paid not based on whether (or weather in this case – arg) or not the information you provide is accurate, simply that you provide it with unbridled enthusiasm while displaying a great set of teeth and wearing extremely expensive suits.  I’m all over it.

This morning I read an article about the Jetstar pilots who had to abort a landing a mere 492 feet above ground because the captain had forgotten to lower the landing gear.  Had he forgotten because he had the first signs of dementia, suffered a stroke at the controls, or suddenly developed amnesia and couldn’t remember how the mechanism worked? No, I say. It seems he forgot to lower the landing gear because he was texting his girlfriend on his cellphone.  Really?  Good Lord.  I swear I’m starting to dread the thought of flying, certainly apprehensive about getting on a cruise ship after all they’ve been in the news lately, and buses aren’t looking good either.  Recently a bus driver in our area got roaring drunk and in the middle of his route parked the bus by the side of the road, got off and left the passengers sitting in the middle of nowhere.  Truthfully, they were probably better off.

It’s a crazy world out there these days.  Somewhere I heard that you should not tune in to the news,  whether in the paper, on-line, TV, or wherever it is you get it, for more than 10-15 minutes a day.  More than that can actually result in signs of depression.  Even if I try to avoid immersing myself in it, friends and family members will call and bring me up-to-date on any horrific happenings I might have chosen to omit from my selective reading.  One friend, I swear this is true, I believe scans all the available news sources looking specifically for the most horrifically awful bits of this and that to share, and usually will choose to share these with me when I’ve just made lunch.  No matter how many times I politely tell her this is “too much information”, she surges forward with the gory details like a forensic scientist hot on the trail of a clue in a steaming pile of lower intestines.  I do not, repeat, do not, want to hear about body fluids or visceral anything when I am in the middle of throwing together a nice pot of rich red pasta sauce to pour over my spaghetti.

Some people seem to immerse themselves in the gloom and doom, almost to a point of drawing it to them.  For me I’m sort of a glass half full girl, and prefer to steer clear of that type of personality.  You know the ones who no matter what subject you are discussing, no matter how sunny it might be, can locate one negative item and create a dialogue around it.  One friend in particular with some of these traits, I call Eeyore. Eeyore, if you recall if having the occasion to read Winnie the Pooh, was the gloomy old donkey whose tail was pinned on, and was always managing to have a rainy day.  Milne gave him a wonderful voice in the stories and he is one of my favorite literary characters from childhood.  To quote:

Eeyore, the old grey Donkey, stood by the side of the stream, and looked at himself in the water.
“Pathetic,” he said. “That’s what it is. Pathetic.”
He turned and walked slowly down the stream for twenty yards, splashed across it, and walked slowly back on the other side. Then he looked at himself in the water again.
“As I thought,” he said. “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.” – Winnie the Pooh

We’re having company this weekend, and one member of the group invited is somewhat of a nay sayer.  This person is guaranteed to pick through a dish you’ve cooked asking what the green things are, or if there’s gluten in it (even though she’s not allergic to it or avoiding it). Once she asked where I purchased my meat and if I washed my produce.

On the last occasion I prepared dinner for her and her husband she thoughtfully brought me catalogs so I could search for new dinner dishes, with the unspoken assumption being that surely I was in the market.  That person.

I’m serving hamburger so she will point out the recent “pink slime” issue.  The temperature in the house will either too warm or too cold depending on the season, and if the music is playing it will be a song she doesn’t like belted out by her least favorite group and the volume will be too loud, or not loud enough.  In a restaurant she has to be reseated repeatedly and in the end will wish she’d sat where we were first located.  If the food is excellent, the prices will certainly be outrageous.  Her family is perpetually wrong, and she is miraculously always right, and her husband has “yes dear” printed on his undershorts with permanent marker.  There are times when I wonder why, oh why I continue our friendship and then in the middle of it I’ll be reminded of what s good heart she has and that if I can’t accept her en total than I shouldn’t be associating with her at all.  I then remind Susie, that being me, that I am significantly below perfect on the human scale myself and rather chose to find things to like about her.  At least for today.  I’ll let you know after dinner tonight.

So that’s my news, none of it bad.  Have a happy and upbeat day!  This would be a great Mother’s Day brunch recipe.  Not only does it look beautiful but it is positively addictive.

Breakfast Stromboli

1 pkg. refrigerated Pillsbury Crusty French Bread
8 large eggs
1/4 cup chunky salsa (mild, medium or hot)
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 slices bacon, cooked crisp
6 breakfast sausages, cooked and halved lengthwise
1/2-3/4 cup Mexican style cheese (or your choice), shredded
2 Tbsp. butter, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg plus 1 Tbsp. water for egg wash

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray with cooking spray. Open container of dough and carefully unroll on covered cookie sheet.

In large skillet melt 1 Tbsp. butter. Add onions and peppers and cook about 3 mins. until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, whisk eggs and salsa together. When vegetables are tender add egg/salsa mixture to pan and salt and pepper as desired. Scramble eggs until just set but slightly undercooked. Just slightly. Remove from heat.

In center of dough, leaving room on all sides for folding place 4 pieces of crisp bacon, two on top and two directly below. Place half of the egg mixture on top of bacon and cover with cheese. Top with remaining egg mixture. Arrange sausage over top.

Fold both ends in burrito style and then pull one side over the top and then the other. Like an envelope. Cut four 1/2″ slits in top to vent.

Place in oven and back for 25 mins. Remove from oven and brush with egg wash. Cook another 8 mins. or until golden brown.

Let cool slightly and then slice into six pieces. Serve with fresh fruit and extra salsa.

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