Happy New Year's Eve!

Spending the evening at home tonight. Channel 7 has a movie on tonight that I wanted to see (it looked funny from the trailers) called "Wild Hogs" so we'll see if I was right about not blowing money to see it. If it's good, great, if not, I have several DVDs to re-watch. I have a bunch of nibbles for today and tomorrow. Tonight I'm having steak tartare for dinner.

I won't be mixing the beef with any other ingredients though, just ground sirloin on caraway seeded rye bread, covered with finely sliced red onions, Celtic sea salt and a dash of pepper. Yum! It's funny, but occasionally when I've mentioned it to someone, I get this horrified look...raw? I've learned it's not worth the breath to comment on the fact that I know they like sushi. Somehow that's "different", no idea why.

It's something I only eat once a year, except for the occasional carpaccio in a restaurant, which has become a rare treat in this economic climate. On a positive note, Von's had ground sirloin on sale, so the dinner will be cheaper than the rotisserie chicken I originally planned on buying. Such a nice surprise to find the unexpected sale. What's funny is that as a child, I didn't like this at all. My dad really looked forward to it during the holidays but mixed in the traditional way and with tabasco sauce.

Edited later in the evening:  the steak tartare was totally delicious and now I'm very glad to say that I guessed right about "Wild Hogs", the trailer was the best part. So I watched Out of Africa which I know by heart but still enjoy every single time! The soundtrack and photography are so breathtaking. Meryl Streep, as always, an amazing chameleon of an actress!

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Lazy Day #2

I have no idea why, but for some reason, this week I've been hit with the laziness bug. I don't want to do a thing. Maybe it's because it's the phantom sort of week between Christmas and New Years...no idea.

Actually, just as I wrote that, I realized, that it's because I have to do "divorce stuff/work". I can't believe how it still can attack and freeze me even before I'm conscious of it. I start working on it with gusto and typing like a madwoman I don't see what is happening in the background of my psyche. My consciousness just says "pooh" to any effect that working on this may have on me. My subconsciousness just slides down into numbness without me seeing it. Then, I'm surprised when I feel exhausted, lazy or drained.

Any wishes, prayers, hopes and twinkles for my mental survival and recovery would be most appreciated! I've not mastered that yet obviously.

Today and tonight have brought freezing temperatures and raging winds. I hate it. Huge tumbleweeds attacking cars on the freeways and big wind everywhere were the news of the day. I grew up with thunderstorms, rain, snow, black ice and tornadoes. I moved here to get away from all that. I don't want freezing cold, wild, wind storms with crazy ninja tumbleweeds!

So Cal is a "non-weather-event" area. So all the "weather" lately is a bit unsettling for most living here. Yes, we are a delicate bunch aren't we?

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The Day After

Has anyone else noticed this or am I just imagining things? In the last few years I've noticed that on the first working day after any holiday (like today) I receive no mail, not even the usual junk flyers. This has been very consistent and I can't figure out why. Is there so much to sort that no one gets out to deliver it or (this is the sarcastic side of me coming out) did they just forget how momentarily?

Now, I'm not knocking the USPS which is a remarkable system. In fact, when I look back on all my years of correspondence and card-sending, it amazes me that postage for a basic letter is only $0.44. Thinking back, I rember when I was in Italy at the age of 19, hearing horror stories about the Italian mail system where whole trainloads of mail would be lost.

I'm just baffled with the day after the holiday delivery question. Anyone else? Any ideas?

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Lazy Day

Today was just a super lazy day. Didn't even get around to taking any pictures, sorry. In my defense, it was over cast and very dark. So maybe tomorrow since it's "supposed" to be sunny.

My Christmas dinner of smoked ham shanks on a bed of rice and beans (I used basmati rice with white great Northerns and black beans) turned out to be delicious! I'll be having left-overs tonight. It's a super inexpensive meal to make too! I was so excited when I found the ham shanks that I got carried away and purchased two. I had the butcher cut each in half which turned out to be a good thing, because an uncut one would barely fit. For a six quart Dutch oven, I have to say that the diameter is quite narrow. Anyway, back to the shanks. They were $1.99/pound (.45 kg) and so the two weighed 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg). And as often happens, when you open the package up at home you see just how much you bought. In the store, it didn't seem like quite so much so I used only one shank and froze the other. Below is a photo of 2 ham shanks cut in half. And you wonder why I don't take more food pictures....

I did try to take some pictures of the final plated dish, but let's face it, photographing food at night in my house just doesn't work. As I noted in an earlier post, I really need to get the manual and figure out the white balance thing in relation to incandescent and florescent lighting. The kitchen has both.

Totally off topic, the other day on the radio, I heard that sometime in 2012, incandescent bulbs will not be made or available for sale any more in the U.S.! Have you heard this? It was news to me. I can just see it, someone, somewhere is stockpiling bulbs in anticipation of the "incandescent bulb black market" that will likely arise because of this. Some people just don't like fluorescents, it's too cold of a light. For example, the LED Christmas lights currently available have utterly no visual warmth to them at all! In fact, they look downright blue. In the future, if you go on a trip out of the country, customs won't be searching your luggage for drugs but rather light bulbs!! LOL! Yeah I'm a real comedian....

Yesterday, I opened the box of presents from my brother in the afternoon before dinner. He included two very old-fashioned stockings for Blue and me. Blue's was stuffed with little bags of assorted "treats" which of course sent him in to a wiggling little pile of anticipation. He also received a black and white checked scarf that I put around his neck and he promptly proceeded to try and eat it. There was also a stunning Christmas pillow made of felt, plus candles, a cinnabar box, a necklace of "virgin" turquoise in a wonderful red and black lacquer box and a book he wrote and illustrated himself. He had it hard-bound by a company called "Mixbook.com". It was wonderful fun!!! He even made a sign for each of us. The background is ornaments with our names and framed in garland! So festive! Oh, and a blank journal from his company. The cover is a champagne colored leather. So, all in all, a lovely Christmas followed by a sinfully lazy Sunday. 

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Merry Christmas 2010!

My landlord gave me a great present yesterday...a brand new water heater!! He's out of town, visiting family. After four different repairmen tried over three days to fix the other heater (which was only 4 to 5 years old), I think he decided to cut his losses. As soon as the water was heated, I was in the shower. You really don't appreciate things until you loose them. Something so simple, hot water and yet I'm sure that's the least of many people's worries on the earth this Christmas. Hoping the season finds you graced with good fortune, peace and happiness!!

P.S. Will have some photos tomorrow I hope!

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Our Drama Queen

I'd originally been quite thankful for the even tempo of the rain we were receiving. But it's gone just crazy overboard. The ground, as I said, is totally saturated and can take no more. This is when I think of California as a "drama queen". I don't mean to be irreverent, but for every bit of "ordinariness" there is always a major drama somewhere here.

Having a blog is really quite interesting, especially when you see what countries are viewing it. I currently have about 20 people in Slovenia and about the same number in Russia. Individuals from the Netherlands, Brazil, Germany, Australia, Malaysia, United Kingdom and Canada too! This appeals to the "pen-pal-ness" in me. When I was 10 I received the name and address of my first pen pal, by the time I was 12 I had 4 pen pals around the world.  As I've said before, I still remain in touch with one. Unfortunately, the ones in Denmark and Greece forgot English and the Australian was "reborn" in her 20's and I never heard from her again. It's amazing how small the world has become with the internet and email. It used to take weeks for an aerogram to reach someone in another country. Now, it takes longer to type than to send.

Went off on a little tangent there, didn't I? Going back to the topic of what a drama queen LA can be, today is a perfect example. Brilliant sunshine. Everything bright and sparkling clean. Not just a pleasant day but an extravagantly, stunningly, gorgeous day. In a blink of an eye we've gone from torrential rains, mudslides and flooding to an "All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close up" photo op of a perfect winter day in California. Still a little soggy, but never the less undaunted. 



The Eve of Christmas Eve

With Christmas upon me, I was experiencing a dilemma as you know from this post. I refused to spend $25 on a turkey just for me. While I believe, I'm worth it, that's just gouging-at-the-grocery. Supermarket highway robbery. Remember this post about smoked ham shanks? After all my whining and searching and finally giving up, today, I stumbled upon "smoked ham shanks"...the "real" thing, not just some Von's Grocery/West coast idea of them. I almost fell over. I bought two. So this is going to be my Christmas dinner. I'm totally amazed that I ran across them out of the blue! I bought a bag of black beans and a can of garbanzos while shopping, so I'm all set. No, it's not a Christmas memory type of meal, but how can one not just say "mmmm...mmm...mmmm" to this?

(Once again, picture courtesy of Jerry at Cooking by the seat of my Pants blog.) As a kid, my mom always made appetizers to munch on for Christmas day. If we were flush at the time, it might be shrimp or a dip made with crabmeat, if not, it was cheese and crackers and cream cheese mixed with chopped chives on celery. While I was out at Costco last week, I was lucky enough to sample the Kirkland brand of smoked salmon. Holy cow! It was divine! Yes, divine! I broke down and bought a package of it. So for Christmas day I'll have a little platter made up of crackers topped with a bit of cream cheese and smoked salmon on top. I also splurged and bought a wedge of Brie (I can hear my arteries slamming shut as I type this). I'd hoped to get pate at Trader Joe's. Apparently I haven't bought that in quite a while because they no longer carry it. How sad. It was the best! Oh well. I did get egg nog, so it'll be quite a festive little day while the ham shanks are braising away.

This is exactly what I was talking about in this post. Picking one or two small, special things to focus on to avoid the alone-by-the-phone-holiday-blues. I'm creating what will be a happy little holiday afternoon and a long anticipated dinner. I figure since I stumbled on the shanks from out of nowhere that they count as the universe's Christmas present to me, as well as solution to my holiday dinner. It should be noted however, that with my track record of trying brand spanking new recipes out on a holiday, I took the precaution of getting the makings of spaghetti and meatballs...just in case.

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Shredding Six

Six straight days of rain. Six straight days of super-24-hour-bladder-and-poop-control on  Mr. Blue's part. Six straight days of having to pick him up and shove him outside to do his business. Six straight days of him refusing to budge from the door unless he really is almost bursting! The garage is flooded. The hot water heater is out again tonight, so no hot water. This is my week so far and compared to a lot of other people, a good one, considering. But "cabin fever" is starting to set in for everyone.

Luckily, in a weekend email, my friend suggested we go out for coffee today. She picked me up (in the rain) and we went (in the rain) to the Starbucks with the comfy chairs for coffee and knitting. Stayed for three hours. It was so relaxing. While we were there the store's lights went out twice. 

I've found that when I have to leave the house but can't put Blue in his outside run, I can put him in the bathroom and close the door. This is not something I would ever do to a dog but have concluded that he really had to have been crate trained. He's quite happy with his little den...until today. I made the mistake of leaving my favorite nightgown hanging on an over the door hook. I really thought it was totally out of his reach. It wasn't. First, he somehow got hold of the hem and made long fabric strips for me. Then (and I can't picture how) got both straps to break so it fell on the floor where the real shredding ensued. He then wadded up what was left and made a nest of it to lay on.

Somewhere in all this, he attacked the toilet paper on its roll. I must have left half a wisp of it hanging and he did the classic pull, unroll, shred until half the roll was decimated and the other half remained reasonably intact though unusable. 

This was so much fun!!
The floor was covered in a menagerie of shredded TP and nightgown!!! Problem was, that I still had to run out and do two short errands. After cleaning up, I closed the bathroom door and attempted to leave. I heard clawing at the door, something he hadn't done before. Fortunately, I'd purchased a rawhide bone when I first brought him home. At the time he showed no interest in it.  I figured it might be worth a try to keep him occupied. 

The clawing immediately stopped. When I got back, he was happily gnawing away on it. Now he's carrying it everywhere he goes! It's so funny to see such a "miniature" since I'm used to dogs and bones three times the size! Very comical!

My second errand was supposed to be Trader Joe's. The parking lot looked really crowded but I didn't think anything of it till I got closer. The entire side of the mall where Trader Joe's sits was black. Even the parking lot lights were out. So I began to exit. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea. To top it off, the main thoroughfare that the parking lot empties into was packed. Thankfully I remembered a frontage road and was out of the lot in no time, taking side streets home.

The rain seems to have increased the seasonal desperation and hysteria in people and it's most visible in their driving. While at Trader Joe's, in the process of getting out of the parking lot, the lines of traffic weren't moving fast enough for one individual who blithely pulled out into the oncoming traffic lane. Since everyone was leaving and no one coming in, he sailed right out and topped it off by going through a red light. No one moved because it was so blatantly jaw-dropping! I'll be happy once the holidays are over just to have a modicum of sanity (at least as much as one can expect here) return.

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The Wonders We Take for Granted

Things have (knock on wood) been fairly copacetic lately if you don't count the two divorce court disappointments. This rental house which was built in the 1950's, has been holding it's own more or less for quite a while now so I guess it's time for a problem to surface. I thought for sure it would be the growing "almost" leak in the bedroom ceiling. Water is filling up behind the "skin" of paint so I'm just crossing my fingers that it holds through this storm (more knocking on wood).

Yesterday morning, I heated some leftovers for breakfast/lunch (can't really call reheated leftovers brunch). Afterwards I turned on the hot water to soak the saucepan till I did the dishes in the evening. Later in the day, I noticed that it took longer and longer to get any hot tap water. Then about 9 p.m. when I tried to fill the sink with hot water and it seemed to get warm and then it started to cool.

After a few more attempts to get the faucet to yield hot water, I went outside to look at the water heater in its closet. Of course that's like me taking a look inside the engine of a race car to figure out why it's making a pinging noise...pretty much useless. So I called the property manager at 10 p.m. and told her. I'm so glad I'm not a property manager, can you imagine getting calls at all hours of the day and night about problems?

When I first moved in, the water heater was not cooperating. It took over two months and two new hot water heaters before the problem was stabilized. At least it was still pretty hot weather-wise back then, so a cold shower wasn't totally breath-taking. At this time of year, it's another story. Brrrrrr! I hope the guys  show up early because it's going to take a while for the water to heat up, especially since the water heater is outside and not in the garage as in most houses.

Written a bit later:  Eric the owner showed up at 10:30 a.m., because he couldn't get hold of any of his handymen. The pilot light was definitely out. He played around with the switch and finally got it going. About 15 minutes later there were signs of hot water! So here I sit finishing my early morning post while I wait for the tank of water to heat up. It's really amazing how much we take for granted in this life. Hot water out of the faucet is just a given. That is, until it's taken away and then you realize just how magically wonderful it is to be able to reach in the shower and turn on the hot water, knowing that in a minute or so, you'll enjoy the luxury of a warm, cleansing shower. It's a modern miracle!



So Far...Birdless & Pictureless

I woke up this a.m. to the shocking realization that this is Christmas week! I don't have one more week to go! Eek! Once again I'm going to invoke my magic powers that extend any holiday or birthday 30 days out before and after the actual date. It will make life much saner for all concerned! Trust me on this.

Remember my post of 11/5 where I was commenting on the number of cheap turkeys available two weeks before Thanksgiving? Well, here we are and there's nothing in the food ads about any turkey savings to be had. Go figure. I don't understand. Where did they all go? Were they all sold at Thanksgiving and now we have a deficiet of turkeys for Christmas? I know a lot of people have ham for the holidays. So far, other than a Honey Baked ham (which is way too pricey for my pocket), most hams I've ever purchased are too salty for my tastes. It's not worth the trade-off for the spike in blood pressure that accompanies them.

And so, I hunt for the elusive bird. I can't recall a Christmas when turkeys were so scarce! I should clarify that statement, "turkeys on sale were so scarce". I can find a turkey but I don't want to pay $1.49/lb. and up! I thought of going back to the roaster chicken I'd planned on for Thanksgiving but they've gone up to $1.69/lb.

As far as our weather goes, it's STILL raining. The ground has stopped soaking up the water and now it sits in pools on the lawns and walkways. Why didn't I buy those rain boots at Marshall's? Probably because I believed what I read about this supposedly being a La Nina winter which are dry winters for the Southwest. Well, that and the fact they cost $30.

The nearby ski resorts in the upper mountains received over 60 feet of snow! Here is a quote about just how record setting this rain has been:  "Rainfall records weren't just broken, they were obliterated. The weather service said 3.45 inches of rain fell in Pasadena on Sunday, shattering the old mark of 1.5 inches on the same date in 1987." 

So far this is looking far more like an El Nino winter. With the ground so saturated now is about the time when mudslides begin in the hills that were hit earlier in the year with fires. It makes me so glad I live in a flat area with a bit of elevation so, other than the puddles here and there, all the water just runs by us.

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Wild Fires/Rain and Cooking

Well, I made the Wine Country Chicken Salad following the recipe exactly (almost). I also stopped and bought a container of it at Trader Joe's to compare it with. At first taste, it didn't seem to be that close of a replica, so I let it sit overnight so the flavors could meld. Couldn't find any poppy seeds in the house so left those out. While putting the ingredients away, I noticed I'd used orange flavored dried cranberries not the plain kind. This would explain the lack of a match, but I thought "cranberries and oranges go together". In fact, I have a bag of fresh cranberries waiting to become Cranberry-Orange Bread.

So the salad sat in the fridge overnight. I had some for lunch. I have to say that letting the flavors blend overnight helped. I also picked out the orange-flavored dried cranberries which helped the flavor a great deal. It tasted pretty darn good even if still a little off in the flavor match. I think the next time I make this I'll included poppy seeds, more chopped celery and plain dried cranberries vs. flavored. I'll have to try the current test version a few more times before I finalize the recipe and post it.

I don't have pics of my salad because 1.) they came out less than appetizing looking and 2.) I wound up eating it for two lunches and one dinner. Even though it wasn't a spot on match to TJ's version, it was still awfully good!

It's still raining which means it's dark and gloomy. I keep reminding myself that we need the water to avoid drought. This "storm" has been the slow, gentle kind that allows the water to soak into the soil and not cause further erosion of burned hillsides from the wild fires of previous years. Nature has it's own pace despite what humans would like and it takes more than one season for soil holding root growth to develop and make the hills resilient to floods.
Sierra Madre hills fire.

One fire view from my back porch. The Station Fire.

This is not a cloud. It's a wild fire just beginning.
Still, a spot of sunshine or two wouldn't disappoint me. Here are a few photos from recent local wild fires.

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The Best Laid Plans...

Yesterday I posted that I'd be out in the garden today if the nice weather held. It didn't. It's in the low 60's (15.5 C or less) and drizzling. A "storm" front moved in faster than predicted on Monday, so no pictures. You have to love those weather predictors; I swear it's a total guessing game on their part. The rain (drizzle) is supposed to continue for the next week. Ick. Whilst surfing the internet, I ran across this site which had this entry called Overcast Skies, Color Inspiration. I love it. It totally changes the gloominess of a gray day!

Since the garden's sat like it is for quite a few months, having to sit like that a little longer really won't matter. Meanwhile, the holidays may come and go and the gifts won't make themselves.

Also in an effort to simplify my life and reduce excess "stuff" I've been going through my knitting/crochet  book collection and decided I don't need every book ever written on knitting/crochet, so I'll be putting the items up for sale here once I photograph them.

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Sunny Days

As I mentioned earlier, after Frost died I let my potted garden take care of itself and as a result, most things died, rotted or fell apart. Since the temperatures are supposedly going to stay in the low 80's F (26.7C), I'm going to do a bit of clean up. I really miss having fresh herbs right outside my back door for cooking as well as a few flowers.

The area where I planted nasturtiums in the past, which was amongst the tomatoes, must have a bug living in the soil or something because the last two times I planted nasturtiums, they were doing really well and suddenly the leaves were covered with black specs and the plants stopped flowering. Pulling them up was a very sticky task.
Just after a light rain and before the bugs hit.
As a result, I have to find something else to plant in my tiny plot. Same thing for the tomatoes next spring. Green horned tomato worms hibernate in the soil and come up just in time for the tomatoes to start fruiting. So I have to find some plants not related to the tomato and nasturtium families. Not sure what it'll be.

If the weather holds, I'll snap some "before" pics so you can see just how pitiful the potted plant area looks. It's really sad. Luckily spring comes in just a few months (as in March) so once all the dead stuff is cleared out, pots cleaned and holding new potting soil, it'll just be a matter of a few months.



Your Cheatin' Heart

I can't even bring myself to count the days till Christmas! I know I said something to this effect earlier but I feel the need to repeat it. I am soooo not ready! That's one of my beefs with living in So Cal. It takes forever to get cool autumn weather so you can get in the holiday mood. When I lived in the Midwest, fall usually hit by the end of September with the potential for a week of Indian Summer which could pop up anytime in October. By Halloween though, it was definitely fall.

Only in the last two weeks has it really seemed like a full-fledged fall. Well, until today that is, when it's supposed to hit 80F (26C) and higher in the next few days. That's just not inspirational weather for Christmas preparations such as gift making especially when it's knitting.

I don't plan to decorate for the holidays. When I was married, the other half hated going out and getting a tree and putting up lights so I slowly succumbed to an undecorated Christmas. He further squelched decorating by wanting to go on a vacation over Christmas. Not that I minded a vacation to Hawaii, but Christmas just sort of vanished for me. It was also a way to get out of going back to the freezing Midwest to visit our parents. What's ironic is that once he started cheating, he suddenly was putting up lights and getting a tree...out of the blue...no prompting on my part since I expected nothing.

But then this would fall into the category of how to tell when a spouse is cheating. During this time, he bought an MP3 player while having shown no interest in music in the past. He also bought the trendiest sunglasses available at the time and started chewing gum non-stop. Things he never had interest in previously. On a flight home from where he worked and lived part-time (in another state) he immediately went on a diet that a "woman" who he sat next to him on the plane had raved about. He told me I should go on it because the woman really looked great. It got to the point where he was almost evangelistic about it.

I think this surfaced to consciousness since I'm still not divorced and I'm looking at another holiday alone. I don't care how much your friends care for you, as years go by, you discover that no one invites you over anymore. I think part of it is the fact that virtually all my friends are married and I've become the odd man out. A potential reminder, a stigma.

I find this so different than the life in the Midwest. As kids we always had an "adopted grandmother" over for almost every holiday. It's just sort of customary in the Midwest. California is another story.

I guess the point of this post is that one should immediately pick up on such warning signs of cheating. This was the time of year is when I started noticing such behavior on his part. I misread it for male mid-life crisis. I was so very wrong. 

Oh well, life goes on.

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December Update

Remember my post here about planning to plant sweet pea seeds? Well, I still haven't accomplished that and now it's not October or November, it's (dare I say it?) December. Between that and my lack of holiday-ready gifts, I'm not doing so hot. And if you count today, there's only 15 days till Christmas!

The weather is accomodating the feeling of fall into winter with overcast skies and temperatures in the 50's F (10C) or lower at night and 60's (15.5C) to low 70's F (21.5C) during the day. The sky leaks (drizzles) about once every week or so which adds to the winter effect. In fact, it's just cold enough to make me not want to do any fall/winter garden prep (or in my case potted plant garden prep) which I really need to do. All the pots with dead plants need to be dumped in the side garden (the dirt that is) so I can clean and bleach the pots for storage until spring. The pots of geraniums need to be cut way back because they're all long and leggy sticks...not attractive. And actually all the geranium pots which I planted over 7 years ago need to be dumped out, roots trimmed as well as tops cut back and put in new potting soil; something I should have done in October. It's too late for that kind of treatment now, the plants wouldn't make it, so they'll have to wait for late February for the full "spa" treatment. At that time too, I'll take cuttings and root them to refresh some of the super woody geraniums.

Today, I cleaned out the fridge. As a result, I now have the urge to make a quiche with the broccoli that I forgot about before it spoils. I've found several recipes I like, here and here and here and here and here. I'm pretty sure I'll go with quiche and not a frittata. For the crust I'll use my super easy pie dough recipe. There's also a few boneless chicken breasts that I need to use up. Those I'll probably bake with some of my LA/LA seasoning. They may then be used when replicating Trader Joe's Wine Country Chicken salad that I previously posted about here. You know, for someone who cooks for only one, I really do get carried away in the kitchen.

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Leftovers and Cooking by the seat of my Pants!

Forgot to mention that I used up all the Thanksgiving leftovers either in sandwiches, turkey stock or this casserole which I have to say was delish!! I didn't have any brown rice so I used basmati rice which has a lovely nutty flavor and cut back on the liquids just a bit. It made a huge casserole so I froze two squares of it.

Checking in on "Cooking by the seat of my Pants!" blog, Jerry has a recipe he'd whipped up to deal with the large amount of leftover stuffing that he had. Now, frankly, I never, ever, ever have leftover stuffing because I love it so much. But it sounded like an inexpensive way to use it up while making a nice presentation and including healthy greens for the family.
This is Jerry's photo of the recipe I linked to above. 
I really enjoy "Cooking by the seat of my Pants!". He's a wonderfully inventive cook, and an engaging writer who posts great pics on his blog. His wife serves in our military and recently was serving in Turkey for 15 months. I can't even imagine that. So much for the whole family to deal with, I have to thank her here (and her family and all the other military families) for the sacrifices they're making for each and every one of us and our country. Regardless of one's political leanings, I really don't think we can ever thank them enough!

I've posted about Jerry's blog before. I'm still trying to find smoked ham shanks and am beginning to think the kind he used doesn't exist in Southern California. Von's recently advertised them but they bore no resemblance to Jerry's photos. They looked like a whole leg of pork! Huge.

Recently, Jerry posted his experience at the most recent FoodBuzz blogger festival in San Francisco. Makes me wish I could attend but then this isn't really a food blog. Regardless, do give his post a read because it sounds like tons of fun and his blog has a load of easy and creative recipes!

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Wine Country Chicken Salad

I don't know if there's a Trader Joe's near you, but if there is, definitely try their Wine Country Chicken Salad...it is to die for (at least in my book). As a child, my mom made Waldorf salad every now and then which I hated. So I've grown up with this belief that fruits, nuts and vegetables do not belong in the same dish. I also don't care for sweet and sour things.

A few years ago, I was invited to lunch at a friend's and she served a turkey salad with lettuce, walnuts and dried cranberries topped with a raspberry vinaigrette. I tried it and to my astonishment, it was really good! Since then I've gotten over my dislike of mixing fruits with vegetables, nuts and meat (sweet and sour is still on my "no thank you, I'll pass" list). Amazing how one experience can prejudice someone so completely.

But back to this chicken salad. It's made with chicken, pecans, dried cranberries, celery, poppy seeds and mayo. Being on a budget, I just can't justify spending $3.99 on a small container of the salad, no matter how much I think (on certain days) that it will "just hit the spot". It really, REALLY is difficult to pass it by in the store and not grab a tub.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks this is a delectable treat. When I Googled it, I found the recipe on many sites as well as references as to how tasty it is. After looking at them, I realized they're almost all the same recipe. I picked this link because it also has a recipe for  Chicken Apricot Salad. 

This weekend, I'm going to make a batch following the recipe exactly. The next time I make it, I'll try to cut it in half because I really don't need 5 to 6 cups just for me. Not that I couldn't eat it all quite easily if it was there in front of me, I just don't want to gain a ton over the winter. 

Oh, and to make it really simple, I'll use TJ's "Just Chicken". It's a pound of pre-cooked, cut up chicken breast all ready to go and you can't beat the taste. I'll let you know how it turns out.

(No affiliation, just in love with this salad!)

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Avocado Rain by Blue

This is way more fun than my tennis ball!
And so it begins, the first two avocados knocked from the tree by a squirrel (or something else that I don't want to know about). I found the first half-eaten one and tossed it. Mr. Blue found the second one and tried to pick it up. I let him play with it a while just to see what would happen. It was hysterical, because the pear shape made it a real challenge. He couldn't fit his mouth around the big, heavy, rounded lower half so he had to pick it up at the small stem end.
If I could just figure out how to pick this up....
This meant he dragged the avocado because it's not a well balanced load in his mouth. We played his version of "catch" where I throw the avocado (which is way more fun than a round ball). Its pear-like shape makes it bounce hither and yon across the lawn so a lot of maneuvering is needed to finally get it.

Then he runs and gets it and then runs away with it or in this case, drags it and since he can't move as fast, I can catch him.
It's MINE!
We did this for a while until he started to nip at it like he does when he peels the fuzz off his tennis ball.

He really isn't quite sure what to do with it because I don't think he knows it's food.

I've mentioned these avocados in past posts as being larger and heavier than the Hass type found in the store. Well I weighed the one Blue found and it weighted 1.1 pounds (.5 kgs.) even after he started "peeling" it. Now if it's tough for a 24 pound (10.91 kgs.) dog to drag the avocado on the ground, imagine the squirrel, most likely hanging upside down from a branch, trying to acquire an avocado. No wonder so many avocados with little nibble marks land in the yard.

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Helicopters & Rain & Still Lifes

Last night it rained. More than a drizzle but close to almost a thunderstorm because I heard thunder in the distance which of course, caused Mr. Blue to bark. The other day we were in the backyard and a helicopter was flying overhead at a low altitude. Suddenly Blue was bouncing up and down, looking up and barking. There was a lot of eye-rolling on my part at seeing this silly behavior. I don't know if he was "protecting" us from the copter or trying to chase it away, but it was quite funny to see.

The pecan tree is shedding its leaves everywhere and the rain knocked even more off the tree. It did create a number of nice photos:
Doesn't this look rather like Koi swimming about?

The gardeners appear every other Monday to "mow and blow". They're nice gentlemen but since I don't speak Spanish, communication occurs via charades which I'm sure they find quite amusing. Now that's all well and good but there are several flaws in this system, specifically, about half of what I occasionally ask for actually gets done. Today I requested that they toss a water soaked shoe rack from Target in the garbage because rain soaked particle board is super heavy, which they kindly did. I also asked if they could weed the small patch where I want to plant the sweet peas, and they kindly obliged...sort of. They pulled out the volunteer tomatoes and other larger weeds but left all the smaller ones. Note:  the tomato cages were in another part of the yard. The gardeners put them here maybe so I wouldn't notice the weeds they missed? Still, I really can't complain. The hand hoe will make quick work of the tiny weeds.

This has happened in the past at other houses with other gardeners. When I inquired why they left the small weeds they told me that the small ones where too little to weed-whack or hand pick. Maybe I'm just overly critical, but I don't think so. Oh well, the worst is done and now I'll just take my hand hoe and turn the baby weeds and grasses under several times to get rid of them. Then I'll have to put up a sign warning not to weed the incoming sweet peas. Experience has taught me this.

Twice I've planted a small herb garden with thyme, oregano, dill, savory, tarragon and cilantro. When I got home after work I went to see how the plants were doing. All the herbs except the cilantro had been "weeded". I was beside myself but I learned a valuable lesson and now always leave a sign in English and Spanish so the guys know what not to touch. Just have to find someone to translate for me.

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Eye Candy for the Holidays

Looking for a wonderful holiday gift? May I suggest you visit Little Brown Pen's Etsy shop? She has great photos of Paris and other places based on a color(s). Really lovely framable pieces. She also has a wonderful 2011 calendar set that is only $12 USD that anyone (male/female) would enjoy.

Nichole lived in Paris for sometime and now resides in the States. She's a freelance writer/copywriter and travels often to France with her camera where she captures gorgeous photos. I've been enjoying her blog called for quite a while now and thought it the perfect time to share since the holidays are almost upon us and her shop would fill quite a few gift giving challenges!

Be sure to take a look at both her blog and shop, if only for eye candy enjoyment. But I warn you, you may not be able to resist giving in and buying some of her beautiful works.
P.S. No affiliation, just like her blog and her photography.

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While trying to figure out CSS language in this blog to make it change colors, I apparently upset the "blogger gods" and this blog vanished. Now I have no idea what I did to make that happen or how I fixed it but now it's back. Whew!

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Fruitcake Anyone?

Can you believe that Thanksgiving has come and gone already? Only 22 days till Christmas! Eeek! I am in no way prepared! Luckily, I don't have a large family but two individuals also have birthdays within four days of December 25! Double Eeeek! Plus a friend has a holiday birthday! Triple Eeeeek! I was so prepared last year that I can't figure out what I was thinking not starting on presents sooner! I may be visiting Etsy sooner than later. Plus the bulk of the gifts have to be sent across the country.

I can't believe I actually thought of this, but suddenly I remembered how, for some strange reason, as a child we received an inordinate amount of fruitcakes around the holidays. I have never understood the brain of the fruitcake sender...what were they thinking? Were fruit cakes that cheap? Did the sender really "like" fruitcakes? Sometimes I seriously wondered if they were just re-gifting them from the year before. I mean, who would know? The things have a shelf life of eternity! I can honestly say I have never tasted a good fruit cake. I actually just toyed with the idea of sending my brother a fruitcake as a joke; a little toddle down memory lane. I won't though, but the idea of it gave me a nice chuckle. Heh, heh, heh.

But as usual, I digress. Back to gift-making-denial and thinking about what can be fashioned in the next 15 or so days. Tell me that hearing how many days are left until the holidays doesn't just bring the slightest chill to your spine. Perhaps there's time for one or two knit items plus the current one I'm working on. It's designed by Teva Durham. I'm knitting it in a deep burgundy.
Photo by Vogue Knitting Winter 2009 (I think...)
But I also have 3 men to make something for! I need a magic wand. It's extra hard because I don't know what on earth they might like. Well, it's not your worry. But if anyone reading this has any ideas they'd be welcome!

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Tracey B, a Fav

There are a handful of blogs I regularly visit because I really like their authors and feel a kindred spirit in them. One of them is Notes From A Cottage Industry. Tracey Buxton is a remarkable woman who has way more energy than me! She works part-time in a bank and has an antiques business currently housed at Camus Antiques in Oregon. She haunts flea markets unearthing amazing furniture and accessories which she refinishes and displays for sale there. Like me, she's gone through a divorce. She's found a new life in Oregon with her dog, Moose and shares her experiences in words and pictures.

Her style of writing makes me feel like I'm just dropping in to see how things are going with her and what new designs she's come up with. She has some great seasonal design kits and banners available for sale on line. You have to see them, I can't do them justice in describing them.

She has a talent and eye for design that inspires me to get the lead out and make this house a home. Her blog is a great resource for seasonal design without going over the top cute. She also is an amazing cupcake designer...envy this 'cause even though I can do a lot of things, making frosting behave and "bend to your will" is not in my bag of tricks. I mean look at her nest cupcakes with little blue eggs!

Anyhow, do give her blog a look. There's a lot there and she posts regularly. Enjoy!

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