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finalAs mentioned in my previous blog, last weekend we flew to Arizona to attend Rick’s daughter’s (I consider her one of mine as well). The accommodations were amazing. The hotel itself, oddly called the Valley Ho, was originally built in the 1950’s. Investors, obviously seeing potential there, painstakingly renovated the hotel holding firm to the original retro style. The attention to detail evident everywhere was mind-blowing. Seated outside poolside, Johnny’s Angel could be heard playing the background, or perhaps The Beach Boys cooing Little Surfer Girl.

Two pools as well as a hot tub decorated the beautifully landscaped grounds. The larger of the two pools mainly attracted the younger group also prevalent in the outside bar areas at night. Afternoons this pool was well populated Photo_RmSpa_04with well tanned abs. Umbrella bedecked drinks passed by on round trays and a band, playing mostly country rock, helped set the party like mood. Towards the back of the property was a large lap pool where families with children and the older crowd slathered on suntan lotion and reclined in the luxurious chairs provided for guests.

It’s been a long time since I’ve said something excellent about customer service, but if asked to grade this hotel I’d give them an A+. Whatever you needed seemed almost to appear in a Disneylike fashion at your fingertips.

Small touches in the rooms such as a silver tray of high-end liquors available at a price naturally, chrome racks with rolled fluffy towels in the bathroom, a spa robe for your use while there, and brightly colored walls with complimentary accents on the bed made staying there fun. A large private patio overlooking the pool was a great place to open up a book or enjoy a quick nap. Room service, if you wanted it, arrived quickly and the food was excellent and the coffee hot. Truly not one complaint from this guest, who would stay again in a hot minute.

On the day of our arrival we were instructed to meet downstairs at 3:00 for the wedding rehearsal. The weather, for Phoenix, was ideal. Hovering in the mid to high eighties with a slight breeze, it was desert living at it’s best. Phoenix at this time of year lures you to relocate. However, go there in a few months when the asphalt is so hot midday your shoes stick to the surface, and at least I will rethink any such thoughts and shelve them for another day.

At three we hopped on the elevator with other wedding party members and took it to the 8th floor. Doors opened onto a beautiful deck with a panoramic view of the city. The wedding, scheduled for 6:15 the following evening, promised to be Photo_Mtg_01spectacular. The minister, also the stepfather of the bride, put the wedding party through their paces. I sat with a glass of ice water enjoying the breeze against my skin and taking in the interesting rock formations all around me and the general hustle and bustle of the city traffic below us. Gorgeous.

Rehearsal over, we were told to meet once again in the lobby to carpool to the groom’s mother’s home for the rehearsal dinner. I have to say I was totally looking forward to the “dinner” part of this statement as nothing had passed my lips since breakfast and my stomach was starting to complain. The home where the event was held was incredible. A rambling ranch style home in Scottsdale, Arizona, reminiscent of homes you see displayed across glossy pages in magazines such as Sunset or House Beautiful. Each room was perfectly attired, walls lined with fabulous artwork, huge vases overflowing with unusual floral arrangements. Happily I would have settled in in the massive kitchen and made myself at home. Asking if there was anything I could help with, I was told the hostess was a little stressed because her housekeepers were off for the day. Hmmmmm. That must be stressful. Since they’re off perhaps they could head to my house. There’s work to be done.

Outside through French doors leading off the kitchen a massive covered patio made way for a huge expanse of well manicured lawn. To the left a fire pit flickered and off to the right a bartender stood behind a fully stocked bar waiting to fill your glass. Music coming from two incredibly small, but powerful, speakers helped to set the mood.

As the clock pushed forward and appetizers dwindled guests began politely inquiring about dinner. News came out the caterers had experienced plumbing problems and dinner was not, as originally thought, on it’s way to the table. Ach. I should have accepted that second prawn when asked. People gathered around the appetizer table as though the earth was on twenty-four hour alert and there was no more food to be had.

The hostess, now looking a bit the worse for wear, announced pizzas would be arriving in 30 minutes. There is a God. Crowds dispersed, weapons were holstered, and peace ruled the land once again.

In the end it was a glorious night. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who sends out signals to mosquitos in the area that the dining room is open and seating is available. Like a bear I kept rubbing up against whatever was handy trying to stop the infernal itching. By the next morning my skin looked like a relief map, but after a quick trip to the pharmacy calmed down a bit.

After lunch we grabbed ride from Uber to the Scottsdale Fashion Square. First time on Uber. Other than the driver getting lost coming to get us it was a good cheap way to get around town I have to say. The mall was impressive. OMG. I could have stayed there for hours, possibly days. I’m not a born shopper, but even I was enticed by the heady aromas of expensive soaps and perfumes and gorgeous window displays. Every elegant store yet created was represented. The trip, however, was to get Rick a shirt. The one we’d brought with us was cutting off his air. At Macy’s we located the right neck size but couldn’t pair it with the proper sleeve length. In the end we grabbed the one that allowed him to breathe and decided he’d hike up the sleeves the ceremony. If you’ve heard the expression, what a dog and pony show, please insert it here.

On to the wedding.

Yesterday Rick requested a homeland dish for him. Koshari is a traditional Egyptian dish. A bit of work but in the end proves to be an excellent meal with layers of flavors. This can be made ahead of time and pulled together at the last minute for serving. Yum.

Koshari

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Pita bread

For the rice

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup medium grain rice
2 cups vegetable broth

Heat olive oil in large skillet over med-high heat. Add rice and cook and stir until rice is a light golden brown (about 4-5 mins.) Add vegetable broth to skillet. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover. Cook for 15-20 mins. or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat. Let sit for 5 mins. Fluff with fork. Keep warm.

For the lentils

1 cup brown lentils
4 cups water
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

Rinse and sort lentils. Place in medium saucepan and add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and partially cover. Cook for 25-30 mins. until lentils are tender. Drain. Keep warm.

For the macaroni

2 cups dry small elbow macaroni
1 Tbsp. butter

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain. Add butter and mix. Keep warm.

For the sauce

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 15 1/2 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 6 oz. can tomato sauce
2 tsp. Baharat spice blend (see recipe below)
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion. Cook 6 mins. or until onion is translucent. Add garlic. Cook until lightly browned.

Using food processor emulsion blender puree tomatoes with juice and 2 Tbsp. tomato paste. Add to skillet. Add tomato sauce, Baharat spices, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook on simmer for 20 mins. Salt and pepper to taste.

Fried Onions

2 onions sliced thin
oil for frying

Heat oil in skillet over high heat. Add onions in batches and fry until crispy. Drain on paper towels.

Baharat Seasoning Blend

1 Tbsp. black pepper
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 Tbsp. paprika
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
4 cardamon pods ground

Whisk together in small bowl. You will have seasoning left over. Keep for later use in sealed plastic bag.

Directions

Mix together rice, lentils and macaroni. Top with generous dollop of sauce, a sprinkling of chickpeas and the crunchy fried onions.

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1Our plans to attend Rick’s daughter’s wedding went just about as expected for my life. We had to rent him a suit because his went out of style about ten years ago. All this being a bit last minute for us, we found a place downtown renting formal wear and had Rick measured. The suit arrived at the store the two days before we were to leave. Stopping by for a fitting the pants were perfect, but that last late night donut stood in the way of the button meeting the buttonhole on the jacket. Oh-oh. A pinch of panic nipped at my spine. Not sure which size to move on to we called the people supplying the suit, or the saleslady did. Rick was measured again and a debate ensued about where to go from here. I asked if they could send the next two sizes in case the one up doesn’t work, or another glazed twist comes into view. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible I was told. Prom season in full swing all their suits are in high demand. One size would have to be picked and fingers crossed. Naturally. So, we closed our eyes, pointed a finger at one size on the page, and made a decision.

After that experience we came home and I started packing. This was to be such a quick trip you would think a pair of clean underwear and a tube of toothpaste would suffice. Since there’s a wedding and rehearsal dinner packed in the middle, it required appropriate clothes for each so took a little planning. Literally I threw together an outfit for the wedding. I found a pretty skirt and located a top that went perfectly. At another store I picked up a feminine lacy shawl. A necklace and earrings were added, a pair of shoes purchased and I was good to go. At least as good as I get. Noticing my blouse needed ironing I wiped the cobwebs off my ironing board and set it up. Laying my blouse across the board I pressed one shoulder. Immediately a dark blue stain became noticeable draped across the top of the sleeve. Really? Now there was no time for me to run about finding something else to match so I flew downstairs and applied everything from carpet stain removal to Easy Off to the stain and tossed it in the wash. “PLEASE”, I thought, “let this come out”. My ulcer was working itself up to a frenzy in my nether regions. Ach. After an hour I heard the machine click off. Closing my eyes I retrieved my blouse and prayers answered the stain had disappeared. Yea for my team.

This brought to mind my prom days. I went to three proms during high school. My own and two at other schools. Two in my junior and one in my senior year. I was majoring in boys my junior and senior year and got an A for effort both years. All this promming required only one dress as each dance was at a different school saving my mother considerable outlay. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth girls had their shoes died to match their dresses. I know. Peau de soie, I believe, was the fabric the shoes were made of. Apparently it lent itself well to dying.

At the last of the three, my date and I went out to dinner with two other couples prior to going to the dance. By this time I was a year older, two inches taller, and probably slightly filled out from the twelve-year-old boy physique I’d been rocking the year before. The dress was a rich shade of peacock-blue. Fitted just to the waist, with a long flowing skirt, it had been snug to begin with. Add a fully loaded baked potato, a steak, a couple of yeast rolls and butter, plus dessert, and there wouldn’t have been room for a skinny gnat to take refuge inside. What? I was a teen. Feeling as though exhaling was my only option I managed to fold my body into the back of the car before I heard the sound of tearing fabric. Truthfully, that lovely blue fabric never had a prayer pitted against the slabs of cheese sauce the restaurant loaded on the once healthy broccoli they served on the side. Like lava squeezing forth from an erupting volcano my back let itself out of confinement and was laid bare for all to see. Not good. Not good at all. Dropping the two other couples at the dance we made a quick trip to his parent’s house, the closest one to us. Surveying the damage his mother took out the sewing box and in a half an hour literally sewed me into my dress. Back in the car and breathing wee breaths of air we went to the prom. A made it through the night without passing out or vomiting, which was amazing because I spent most of my time thinking I was on the brink of both. This gave me compassion for all the women going before me whose bodies were pinched, strapped, and corsetted into submission all for the sake of beauty.

cute-shar-pei-puppiesAll wrinkles seem to iron themselves out if you wait long enough. My life has contained enough wrinkles to put together a litter of Shar-peis but I keep rolling along.

I will write of the wedding when I catch a breath and pull my apron out of the drawer.

This eggy spinach salad is delicious. We ate the whole bowl between the two of us.

Spinach and Egg Salad with Sesame Seed Dressing

1 bag baby spinach
2 avocados
5 radishes, sliced thin
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
3 hard boiled eggs, cut in wedges
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds

Place all salad ingredients in salad bowl. Toss with dressing just before serving. Serves 4

Sesame Seed Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp. lemon infused olive oil
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. sesame seed oil
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together ingredients. Chill for 1 hour.

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The royal wedding looming on the horizon, has brought my mind to weddings in general. I was just a few months short of nineteen when I first took the plunge.  My fiance proposed eleven days after we met.  As I was my mother’s “only chick” she was duly traumatized, and, probably if I hadn’t been of age, would have handed me over to the nuns at a local convent. However, my mind was set so we began to plan a wedding. 

I often think of those times.  It seemed all my friends were getting engaged (we got married younger back in the day) and I found myself either hosting a shower for one of them or going to one hosted for me.  A good deal of my free time was spent making wedding dresses out of toilet paper and ladling punch into a cup. Being incredibly young and idealistic, I don’t think I allowed a thought to enter my head about whether or not I was making a wise decision.  For the brides-to-be in my little group it was all about finding the perfect dress, chosing the flowers, selecting the attendants, wedding invitations, guest lists, and, oh yes, the grooms, in that order.  Smile.  Poor guys, you had to feel bad for them, basically they were there to create balance at the altar and provide a dance partner to their new wives at the reception. In their defense, I would hazard a guess that the majority of men could care less whether a dinner plate has fleur-de-lis or caterpillars doing the two-step on the edge as long as dinner was to be found somewhere in the middle of it. Most men I’ve associated would indeed prefer paper plates because that eliminates the additional “washing step”.

There’s a difference, I believe, in getting married at a tender age and moving directly from your parent’s home to one of your own as opposed to getting married later down the road when you’ve already tasted some independence.  Perhaps the latter of the two groups might find themselves more prepared  for what married life brings to the table after the “I do’s” have been exchanged and the rice has been swept up.  I don’t know.  What I do know, is that I had no idea.

Up until the time I got married, and only a year prior, my mother ironed my gym clothes and made all my meals, the meals which continued until the night of the rehearsal dinner.  Nowhere in the program did I factor in laundry, dishes, cooking, or paying bills.  Sometimes I wonder if this has changed much over the years.  Young couples with more hormones in play that the crew of a submarine, and blinded by love’s glow, sometimes forget to ask pertinent questions, like if your partner to be in life wants children, likes animals, prefers pineapple and ham on their pizza to the meatlovers special, or what their dreams and goals are.  The important things.  I had a job, which paid a whopping $300.00 a month, and a small checking account, really, really, small.  Living at home my bills consisted mainly of gas, lunches, clothes, and nylons. I had never paid rent, or made a car payment.  My car was an embarrassing white 1961 Plymouth Valiant that my parents had purchased for $100.00 when I graduated.  When something broke down on it, which was often daily, my step-father fixed it.  Whoa.  Was I prepared or what?  My money’s on the what.

If asked at the time what I’d accomplished in my eighteen years on the earth I would have said, “made the tennis team, went to most of the dances during my four years in school, and managed to graduate with a good enough GPA as to not totally humiliate my parents”. Not exactly a flushed out resume.  I was like a partially completed portrait of a person with only the cheeks and the forehead painted in.  The rest of me was still be determined as strokes were added along the way.

Following the ceremony we celebrated at the reception, then spent seven days of glorious freedom in Carmel, California, where we sealed the deal.  All good.  On our return home we continued the honeymoon to the point that three months later I discovered we were to add a new member to our little family.  Whoops.  This was definitely not in our five-year program which included work and finishing school, and most certainly not in our budget which had about as much wiggle room as a girdle on a well padded behind.

Now, if I had no idea about what married life was to be like, I had, if possible, even less information on what being a parent might entail.  Exit, stage right.  Jeez.  During those months, between trying to come to grips with what being an adult meant, working a full-time job, being a newlywed, and anticipating the birth of my first child all simultaneously was a challenge. In retrospect, I spent most of my time sitting at the drive-thru window at In ‘n Out, placing an order.  A woman has her cravings.

It’s funny how being thrown in the deep end of the pool when you can’t swim, instinctively makes your arms and legs move.  I survived.  I found that having a small baby in my care was far more challenging than caring for the man who helped to place her there.  I learned to cook, not without a series of burnt offerings and what appeared to be experimental lab projects gone horribly wrong, but I managed to keep my head above the water line.  Still, I learn every day, and continue to make mistakes in the kitchen and elsewhere in my life, it’s just that I have a little more meat in my resume these days.

I think with all the mess going on in the world we should be thankful to have food in the cupboard and a pot to cook it in. Life is a dance, sometimes we’re in step, and other times we just listen to the music.

Spicy Crockpot Short Ribs

4 lbs. beef short ribs
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 Tbsp, red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. light-brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
Egg noodles

In large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Brown short ribs on both sides. Place in bottom of 6 quart crockpot.

In bowl combine onion, green pepper, garlic, cinnamon, tomato sauce, tomatoes, 1 Tbsp. of brown sugar, 1 Tbsp. vinegar, and salt and pepper. Pour over short ribs. Cover and cook on low heat for 9 hours.

Transfer ribs to serving plate. Skim fat from sauce. Stir in remaining vinegar and brown sugar. Pour sauce over meat.

Good served over cooked egg noodles or white rice.

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I thought of this time in my life during an unfortunate episode of Bridezilla that I turned on while pushing the iron across the board yesterday.  Never having seen the show before, I originally thought I was tuning in to a nature documentary, which, after observing the behavior of these brides to be, you could call more of a “human nature” documentary.  What I found amazing after watching them verbally mistreat their husband’s to be, their families, their wedding attendants, their wedding planners, hair dressers, bridal consultants, make-up artists, even their dogs, that there was at the end of it all still a willing groom waiting at the end of the beautifully appointed aisles.

My first wedding was the full monty.  High Catholic mass, flowers, flowing white dress, attendants, three hundred guests, and a wonderful honeymoon.  The months leading up to the big date were filled with the usual frenzy of choosing flowers, type of cake, the usual hideous bridesmaid’s dresses you always told them, “you can wear again”, knowing they never would , venue for the reception, and food to be served.  A guest list was assembled, argued over, and settled on, wedding invitations selected, addressed and mailed. Let the games begin.  I was thrown four bridal showers, which required me to wear hats made out of bows from the gifts, create toilet paper wedding dresses, scoop cotton balls out of a bowl with a spoon while blindfolded, and countless other mind numbing games.  The best one was a surprise shower held in a restaurant.  A hen party with twenty young women can get fairly loud, so we were placed in a back room.  Nonetheless, the din was substantial.  The door opened and a police officer came in saying that he’d been called to quiet us down.  Music began to play at that point, and he began shucking his clothes.  The crowd went wild.  This was much more fun than trying to get those damn cotton balls in the spoon.

The date was set for September the 7th, which ironically turned out to be the hottest day of the summer.  To add to the mix we’d planned an outdoor reception in my parent’s backyard around the pool.  Fortunately, it was a large yard with a very large thatched patio cover that provided some shade.  However, the beautiful pastel butter mints melted into a lovely rainbow pool within fifteen minutes in the heat, as did many of the guests.  Appetizers were passed for the first hour, followed by a buffet which included turkey, prime rib, mashed potatoes, and a choice of vegetables, as well as an assortment of breads and salads.  Perfect for a day where you felt like you were crawling across Death Valley.  Ah well, people ate well, and nobody ended up in the emergency room, so I guess that’s a win-win.

As it seems there are always more people at the reception than the wedding the air conditioning in the house, as guests milled in and out, was fighting a losing battle.  Finally, I had to take my wedding dress off and opt for a summer shift to keep from melting into the cement. 

I married into an Irish clan, whose members at the reception lived up to their reputation for never passing a bar without hoisting a pint.  The best man, my new husband’s brother, in a moment of well lubricated thinking decided it would be an excellent idea to go down the slide into the pool in his rented tuxedo, as well as his rented shoes.  Between the heat and the champagne several others went in after him and the tone was set for the beginning of my new life. We later found him in the bushes on the side of the house taking a wee nap. I believe I heard he ended up purchasing that tuxedo.

All in all it was a wedding planner’s nightmare, but it was fun.  My mother, losing her only chick, as she always referred to me, got well into her champagne and lost her mind when it was time for us to leave on our honeymoon, grabbing my leg like a love crazed hound and refusing to let go.  After throwing the bouquet and managing to hit the ceiling fan where it shredded like wood in a chipper we were on our way. Ah yes, I remember it well.  I’ve included a picture of that day.  Check out the hats.  Smile. 

Recently a friend of mine asked me to stand up for her.  Having walked down the aisle four times in my life, she indicated that she felt I might be able to offer great input.  Actually, I do plan a great wedding, reception, and honeymoon, it seems the marriage portion of the program is where I fall down.  I’ll give it a shot though, what the heck.  At least I get to pick out my own dress.

This is a different approach to prime rib that I like for a change.

Charcoal Grilled Prime Rib

7 lb. standing rib roast
1 1/2 cups olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. onion powder
1/4 cup lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sprinkle roast with freshly ground black pepper and salt. Cook for 1 1/2 hours or until rare on a meat thermometer. Remove and allow to rest.

Slice meat into 1″ slices. Marinate in oil, garlic, onion powder and lemon juice for four hours.

Drain meat and grill over charcoal grill. Sear both sides first. Cook to order. Serve with a flavorful au jus and fresh horseradish sauce.

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