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Valentine’s Day has already eluded me this month. For the first time since starting this blog I had no contribution. What a busy time these past few months have been. My beloved recipes and wonderful new pans from Santa have spent their time gathering dust in the cupboard. Mr. Rick, admittedly somewhat spoiled, has had a rare steady diet of take-out and hastily prepared meals. If a minute did come my way, I couldn’t seem to summon the energy to do much with it but take a deep breath and press forward. A friend told me recently “you need to slow down, girl”. Really? Believe me I would love nothing better than to hand the yoke to someone else and see the rows continue to form in the field. Unfortunately, most of my friends are involved in managing their own lives and don’t have a strong interest in taking on the responsibilities in mine as well. Shame that.

When a break shows up, I often turn on the television for a little diversion. Switching channels there is the political lunacy pervading the airways lately or an update on who’s been given the latest rose on The Bachelor. Sometimes while watching the news I feel like the Cheshire Cat peering down from a tree limb observing the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in full maniacal swing.

Since this is the month of l’amour, toujours, l’amour let’s pause for a moment to ponder The Bachelor as well as its female counterpart. What can it be, I can’t help asking, people find so riveting about these shows? Explain this phenomenon to me if you will. The few times I have tuned in, all the hoopla accompanying each episode’s conclusion continues to elude me. For the most part, once the cameras are turned off it doesn’t appear many of these couples continue forward together.Should they actually make it to the altar they don’t seem to last long after arriving there. Six couples remain intact after 30 seasons of both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Not great odds to my mind. Poor odds aside, everyone seems to be lapping up each season like a litter of thirsty kittens hovering over a bowl of warm milk. Amazing.

Truly we humans are besotted by the idea of true love. Beloved fairy tales such as Snow White and Cinderella fuel the desire for finding Prince Charming in fledgling princesses before they even enter elementary school.  Even I (long past the princess phase) tuned in to watch the most recent version of Cinderella over the weekend only to find myself as captivated by the story line as when sporting Mary Jane’s.

Love, perhaps, is the last great embodiment of optimism. Statistics indicating the likelihood nearly half the couples coming together will not remain so, human beings continue to engage in the avid pursuit of the perfect mate. Once a desirable partner has been culled from the herd they stand before an officiate and exchange vows often including “til death do us part”.  Perhaps the vows should be amended to read “til do us part”?  All this effort is expended in the hope of sharing a life with one’s soul mate through the end of  time.

Yet, when you watch an affectionate elderly couple sitting comfortably side by side on a park bench exchanging a word or sharing a laugh it makes your heart hopeful. Living alone was perhaps not the original plan, though many do so successfully either by choice or happenstance. Those of us in the animal kingdom seem to be instinctively paired. Birds such as swans, turtle doves and the bald eagles choose one mate to create a nest with one other for life. A friend of mine had a lovebird by the name of Wilbur. Wilbur was a happy little soul who sang prettily from his cage each day to his lovely bride. Rarely did you see him without his mate at his side. They preened and groomed one another and occasionally produced an egg as a symbol of their union. One day the lady bird was found lying still on the floor of the cage with her faithful Wilbur standing at her side. Wilbur stopped singing, choosing instead to sit sadly on his perch. In an effort to console him a new mate was purchased and placed in the cage. Wilbur eventually began to sing again but never with the same exuberance. The mate, though accepted, was never given the attention the original female enjoyed nor did she ever produce an egg. Even birds can suffer a broken heart it would appear.

Often I ponder whether we are meant to be coupled as a means to perpetuate life, but are not naturally wired to be monogamous beings. This is a deep subject fraught with potholes so for today I will enjoy the lovely relationship I share and be happy to have it. No one can predict what is to come around the corner so it wise to enjoy fully day you find yourself in. Hope it’s a happy one.

This dish will definitely put a smile on your face. I will say if you’re looking for something to “throw together” this is not the recipe for you.  That being said, it makes a lot so I freeze what’s left over for another day when I don’t have the time to devote to it.

Rishta bi Betingan (Pasta and Eggplant)

2 eggplants sliced 1/2″ thick
Salt
Vegetable oil for frying
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
1 15 1/2 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chiles with juice
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 to 1 1/2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 lb. rigitoni cooked and drained
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Slice eggplant and place in large deep dish. Cover with water for 30 minutes turning once. (You may have to do this in batches). Rinse well in colander and pat dry.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil until hot in large skillet. Working in batches cook until deep golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook 6 mins. until translucent. Add garlic and cook 1 min. until fragrant. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices to pan. Bring to boil. Add eggplant breaking up slightly as you stir it into sauce. Reduce heat to simmer and continue cooking for 10 mins.

Spray bottom of 9 x 13″ pan. Spread small amount on sauce on bottom. Top with one half of the rigitoni. Top with 2/3 of the sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Top with another layer of noodles and finish with remaining sauce. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese on top. Seal tightly with tin foil.

Bake for 45 mins. or until bubbly. Yum.

Serves 6-8

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2

My oldest granddaughter is old enough now to explore dating seriously. I know! When did that happen? It seems I was just holding her for the first time and introducing myself. Now she’s up and moved to Phoenix as an independent woman. Whoa. Pause the movie. I didn’t even have time to finish my popcorn.

Dating, in particular first dates, can be an arduous process. For me, whether I wished to pursue getting to know someone further usually became fairly clear by the end of spending that first evening in their company. Not always true, certainly, because we’re all showing our best sides in the early stages of a relationship. Let’s face it none of us arrives for that first dinner date in sweats and a “I Have Mixed Drinks About Feelings” tee shirt. We save these little surprises for somewhere down the line. If we posted profile pictures of our mouths gaping open with a hint of drool sliding down the side of our faces probably our mail boxes wouldn’t lighting up. I’m just sayin.

My granddaughter was asking probing questions during our last conversation about how you know if someone is “the one”, and what the difference is between infatuation and real love. You are asking me these questions? If I knew the answers to those questions I’d have written a best seller and won a car on Oprah. Speaking for myself describing love is such a personal thing. What I might deem as being in love with someone, another person might consider chemistry or simply attraction. Love, like most of our senses, is unique to the ones experiencing it. For instance, I might get positively euphoric when smelling coffee brewing in the morning (which I do), while someone else might find the smell of Starbuck’s obnoxious or off-putting. These people need to be put down, but anyhow.

Individual tastes certainly vary dramatically. The old adage tells us, “there’s someone for everyone”. True or not, finding this person in a world overflowing with people seems to be the dilemma. I think we should be tattooed with a number with an opposite number suiting us perfectly issued to another human. This would narrow the search significantly, particularly with social media and the advent of the Internet. Like all things I feel, if we were sure of our perfect match wouldn’t it take some of the excitement out of looking for him or her? Kind of like knowing you’re going to win at a game before you play it. What would be the point of setting up the board?

Caught in the tenuous grasp of attraction and excitement, it is easy to overlook differences in lifestyle, perspective, money habits, goals, and whether the person wants children or not.  No one wants to waste time while lost in another’s eyes dissecting whether they like hot climates while you like cold, or they are morning people where you like to bring in the dawn. However, if these questions are shelved until the wedding cake is in the freezer, there might be trouble down the road.

For example, I was married to someone whose job required relocating frequently and often without much notice. In such a situation you have to leave your family behind, and find your life in a state of upheaval most of the time. For some people this would be disruptive or unsettling. In my case, I found it interesting and exciting seeing new parts of the U.S. and meeting the people living there. Had I not, this definitely could have created a problem in our relationship.

Married at First Sight, a television reality show where couples agree to get married without meeting each other prior to the ceremony. The cameras then follow their journey once they’ve said “I do”. Interesting concept. I suppose it’s not a far reach from arranged marriages, which though less common, are still a practice in many cultures. In the 90’s I worked with a lovely young woman from India. Her biggest fear was that her parents, holding to very traditional values, would marry her off in such a way to someone she did not love. Having watched her parents struggle with a somewhat loveless marriage, she did not want suffer the same fate. Several prospective men were brought over from India for Pooja to be introduced to.  Rejecting each as they arrived, in the end she married a man of her cultural background of her choice in a beautiful ceremony. Happily a mother of two now, things worked out for her as they should have in the end.

Love is capricious. For some of us it eludes us completely, for others it comes later in life, and in some cases, like a friend of mine with nine children, it arrives in high school and remains in tact throughout a lifetime. Perhaps it’s how our cards read, Kismet, or fate, however one believes. Some of us destined to explore life alone, other with partners. As with most things in life love remains a mystery. An intangible emotion, with no rhyme or reason, yet as lusted after as the most perfect of diamonds.

This hamburger is a sum of the whole. Each part of it adds to the enjoyment of the next. I make the bruschetta topping and the buns ahead of time and then the onions, keeping them warm. All that’s left is the burger and you’re good to go. Gooey and delicious on their own they don’t require any condiments at all to be absolutely mouth watering.

1Mushroom Bruschetta Burger

Mushroom Bruschetta

1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz. cubed mushrooms
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
3 green onions, white and green parts sliced
Pinch pepper and salt

Heat butter and oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic. Cook 2 mins. or until garlic just starts to brown. Add mushrooms. Stir and cook for about 5 mins. Add thyme. Deglaze pan with white wine and continue cooking until most of the wine has disappeared.

Add cherry tomatoes and green onions to pan. Reduce heat to med. low and continue cooking about 6 mins. until tomatoes have slightly wilted. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Buns

2 Tbsp. softened butter
4 hamburger buns, halved
2 tsp. garlic powder
4 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat broiler.

Butter both sides of buns. Sprinkle each with 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Sprinkle each with 1/2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese. Place under broiler until browned and bubbly. Keep Warm

Fried Red Onion Rings

4 3/4″ thick slices red onion
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Oil for cooking

Beat egg in one shallow dish. Mix together remaining ingredients in second shallow dish. Keeping rings together dip each slice in egg and then dredge both sides in breadcrumb mixture.

Heat 1 1/2″ of oil in deep heavy skillet over high heat. Add onion rings to hot oil and cook until golden brown on both sides (about 3-4 mins. per side). Drain on paper towels. Keep warm.

Hamburgers

1 1/2 lbs. ground chuck
3/4 pkg. of Lipton onion soup mix
1/3 cup water
4 slices Meunster cheese

Mix meat, onion soup mix, and water together well with fingertips. Form into four patties. Cook over high heat on grill or stove until fully cooked and brown on both sides.

Top with cheese and continue cooking over medium heat until cheese has fully melted.

To serve

Place burger on bottom of bun and top with bruschetta and fried red onion. Serves 4

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1

Dating sites are really fine tuning their viewing audiences these days. If you are a lactose intolerant, Trekkie, with a house full of cats there’s probably a site dedicated to people who are perfect matches for you. Refining your likes and dislikes narrows the playing field when it comes to dating. Preferring men with hair to those without, would make signing up at a site promoting mostly bald men a waste of time, for example. Having religious or ethnic preferences certainly would be something you’d want to make clear before entering into a first date. Children in the house a really big check mark. There are men and women who simply are not interested in dating partners who have already started their families without them. There are sites targeting certain age groups, sexual preferences, even those honing in on occupations such as farmers, or chefs seeking fellow foodies. Researching this writing I was surprised to find there were sites specifically targeting people who have like diseases, or those having a preference for a particular breed of dog. Pug lovers have a site targeting other pug enthusasts. Who knew?

Lactose intolerant? No worries. Go to Gluten Free Singles to find your soul mate. Perhaps you want a financially secure man, or are married but like to leave the barn door open? Literally, there is something for everybody. Was I in the market for a mate I believe it would be like showing a starving man the door to the all-you-can-eat buffet at the Bellagio.

Before dating sites, your choice of mates was limited to your surroundings or your capability of attracting one I would suppose. People you worked with were an option. Not always a good choice, however. Should you break up, unless you quit or work in a different building, you’re going to run into your ex every day at work. This left those potential love interests outside of the workplace doing whatever activities or lifestyle you pursued outside of work. These were pretty much the pools we laid our lines in back in the day. Nowadays the world is a dating playground. Many sites fill their photo albums with people from all walks of life hailing from all parts of the planet.

We are funny when it comes to romance. Often we do more research when purchasing a few shares of stock then we do when choosing a mate for life. I’m not one to talk. I’ve said “I do” four times. My mother suggested after the last I do laundry on Saturdays or find a suitable hobby. Pheromones, I would suppose, have a lot to do with why we jump into relationships perhaps not the best for us with both eyes wide open.

Often I look at couples and wonder what brought them together in the first place. People have said this about Rick and I, very different people. We met on a dating site. I was number 241 on his list of suitable partners. The only thing we shared in common was being on the same site. Other than that if his favorite color was blue, mine would be purple. Chinese food number one on his list, would be found on the bottom of mine. Looking back I would have had ten children if life would have worked out that way, Rick sometimes questions in decision to have two. Yet, we cohabit beautifully, having few disagreements and finding each other endlessly interesting. Perhaps it is our very differences that imbue the life into our relationship? As usual I have no answers, only questions.

Looking for love seems to continue to present challenges for us humans. Keeping it once we’ve found it, the enigma. Perhaps we should take our lead from other members of the animal kingdom who mate for life. Swans, for one, are known for their lasting bonds as couples, sometimes swimming next to one mate for life. Wolves, belying the use of their name to identify philanderers, are very family oriented creatures. Family units, or packs, usually consist of mom, dad, their offspring, and their offspring’s offspring. Bald eagles, our national symbol, are known for choosing one mate and remaining with that bird until either its death or theirs. I had a friend who had lovebirds. Aptly named, Wilbur, the male of the duo, lost Ruby, his one true love, after the birth of their first eggs. Inconsolable, the bird stopped singing, lost his feathers, and no matter how many potential mates were introduced to him following Ruby’s passing never formed an attachment again. Awwwww. Poor old Wilbur.

With Hallmark gearing up for Valentine’s Day coming up next month love will be in the air. I know Valentine’s Day is around the corner because while in the drug store I noticed hearts filled with chocolate commingled with the discounted Christmas decorations on the shelves. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find Easter bunnies commingled with the hearts before the end of the month.

Yesterday we cooked together making moussaka. One of our favorite dishes, but a bit of a production, it was fun to share the stove for the afternoon and enjoy our yummy creation in the evening.

Greek Moussaka

3 large eggplants, sliced 1/2″ thick
salt
1/3 cup olive oil (plus or minus)
1/2 lb. ground lamb
3/4 lb. ground beef
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp fines herbs
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
8 oz. tomato sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Bechamel

1/2 cup butter
4 cups whole milk
6 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. white pepper
Salt to taste

Preheat oven t 350 degrees.

Brown lamb and beef in large frying pan with onions and garlic over med-high heat. Drain on paper towels. Return to pan. Sprinkle wit cinnamon, fine herbes, nutmeg, and parsley. Add tomato sauce and red wine. Mix well. Simmer for 20 mins.

Remove stems from eggplant and slice in 1/2″ slices. Toss ends. Sprinkle salt over both sides and allow to sit for 1/2 hour. Rinse well under cold water. Pat dry.

Add 2 Tbsp. of oil to large frying pan. Heat over high heat. Add eggplant in batches cooking each bath until browned on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Spray bottom of 9×13 casserole dish with cooking spray.

Layer 1/2 of cooked eggplant on bottom of pan. Top with all the meat mixture. Top with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add remaining layer of eggplant and top with 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.

Bring milk to scalding temperature (do not boil). Melt butter in large deep frying pan. Whisk in flour. Keep whisking and cook for 3 mins. on low. Gradually pour scalded milk into flour/milk whisking continuously. Allow to cook, whisking all the time, until mixture becomes thick. Add white pepper and salt.

Pour evenly over the top of the eggplant/meat in pan. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and 1/4 tsp. nutmeg. Bake uncovered for 1 hour until bechamel is lovely golden brown. Allow to rest for 5 mins. before serving.

Serves 6

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