One More Time Shall We?

I swear I'll be the death of me yet. Yes, you read that right. Once again I have fallen, literally. It happened when I was out picking up after the little dog since the garbage can goes out tonight. Being that the little beast is less than a foot tall (not counting the ears) he seems to like to poop in "private" and that to him must be under things. One of his favorite haunts is under the potted sago palm on the back porch.

The sago palm is not really a palm but a cycad and having just looked it up on Wikipedia only now found out it's very poisonous to dogs! EEK! It also stated it was very tasty to dogs. Double EEK! So far, in the 20 plus years I'v had the plant, not one of my dogs has shown any interest in the plant thank goodness and knock on wood! I also found that:  "The Cycas revoluta, commonly known as the Sago Palm is one of the oldest species of plants that exist. They appeared on the earth during the Paleozoic Era from 350 to 250 million years ago, before the flowering plants appeared. They were dominant plants in the Mesozoic Era and coexisted with dinosaurs. For this reason these plants are sometimes referred to as “living fossils”,  and the Mesozoic Era is referred to as the “Age of Cycads”. "The oldest survivors of our planet is extremely poisonous for humans and animals if digested. Sago palms can cause liver damage, especially if the nut portion is consumed." (Source) This would explain why they survived the dinosaurs.
Duck inherited with the house.
Anyway, back to the story. Due to the abundance of rain this year and the fact that the silly (read:  lazy) gardener did not turn the sprinklers back, the back brick patio has turned into a slimy field of moss.

So I'm out there, as I said and had to bend down under the sago. Now if you've never experienced a sago, they are prickly little monsters, beautiful but the tips of the leaves are like daggers. So between bending, dodging and slime, my foot slid out from under me and I did a 190 degree flip, ending up on my back under the potted sago.

Blue immediately came over and sat on my chest which while dear, didn't facilitate my getting up. Did I mention that there's only 2 feet of space between the house and the plant? Also not the greatest for righting one's self and I couldn't use the pot to help since I'd be impaled by the dang plant!

Finally got myself sitting, leaning against the house, staring at the sago when Blue promptly planted himself on my thigh. I did eventually get up and finish poop patrol but the bruise on my back shoulder blade almost rivals the shiner I got in January. On the positive side, I didn't land in any poop-mines so that was a very good thing.

When I got back in the house I called the property manager, told her what happened and asked if the gardeners which were due to come could turn the watering times down. She said that she'd advise them. So they arrive and ask what to do. I tell them to set the timers so the water doesn't stay on so long. Then they proceed to argue with me that the rains were over, summer was almost here and the sprinklers were fine! So here I am, a woman with an ice pack strapped to her back and another held to her neck showing them the slime where I fell and still they argued. I turned around, said "fine"(while thinking something else) and went inside.

About 45 minutes later, after they finished this yard and the one behind me, the front door bell rang. Having just donned the ice packs again, I hobbled over and opened it. There's Tito the gardener who informs me he turned the timers back. Talk about wanting to "reach out and touch someone" as the old commercial said (only this time, not in a good way). But it would accomplish nothing so I simply said, once again, "fine" and closed the door. Sigh. Why do some people have to make it so difficult?



Gray, Gray, Go Away

The title of today's post comes from the rhyme, "Rain, rain, go away, come again another day". Today is another gloomy day. I'm really getting sick of the white, gray skies and rain. The weather forcasters are toying with us, saying that by Thursday, it'll be in the 80's F (26-27 C)! Today it's in the 50's F (10C). Not that I want summer to start already, just some nice spring weather and SUN!!

Asparagus are once again in the markets and so I bought a handful of tender thin little stems. I'm going to make them the way I did the other day. I followed this asparagus recipe from Kalyn's Kitchen. So simple, you wash them, break off the woody ends (which there's not a lot of since these are so young), dry them on tea towels and then I can toss them in a baggie with a marinade of EVOO, lots of sliced garlic and let them sit in the fridge overnight.

To cook, I put the contents of the package in a glass baking dish in a 400-450 F (204-232C) oven for 15-20 minutes. They came out so good that I know I won't be able to resist making them this way again.

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The Main Event

Did you ever have a craving for something but by the time you got it all together and cooked, you were tired of it? That's what happened with the lasagna today. I think I mentioned that I haven't made lasagna in about 4 years. I couldn't figure out why. Well, after the main event which took 4 hours to cut, cook and assemble, it was pretty clear why I hadn't made it in so long...it takes FORever!

Now I can see why the recipe used so many pots and pans. If you don't, it really drags the process out. So my abbreviated version may have used far fewer pans, but it took twice as long to cook all the elements in the recipe.
First I sauteed the onion and garlic in a sauce pan with EVOO. When onions were translucent, I set the pan aside.
Then I browned the ground beef. I have to say that the store where I purchased my 93% lean ground beef has a different picture of what that means than I do. I drained off five very large ladles of watery fat after browning. Then spooned it into a sauce pan with the onions and garlic.
I wiped the pan out with a paper towel and added spices and Prego Spaghetti sauce to heat. I haven't used Prego for quite a while and they must have changed their formula, because it was overly sweet.
Once warmed, it was added to the onions and ground beef in the saucepan. In the interim, I had cooked the lasagna noodles till al dente and rinsed in water. I then lay them on a tea towel to thoroughly drain.
Once warmed, the noodles, meat sauce, ricotta mixture and grated mozzerella where layered repeatedly and finished off with a light layer of parmesan. The dish then went into the pre-heated oven.
I decided not to rewrite the recipe here since I wasn't totally happy with the end result. You can find the recipe here if you're interested. What would I do differently the next time I make lasagna? First, I'd make the tomato sauce from scratch, skipping the Prego. The taste that you come away with was not tomato sauce but something very sugar-y, not tomato-y. I'd add more spices, not sure which ones but more, so you could taste them over the excessively sweet tomato sauce. I'd hunt down my original recipe in the 1960's Betty Crocker cookbook and use that. But above all that, I'd probably opt to try a frozen version. All assembled, just pop it in the oven! So much easier! Then, even if you don't care for one of the frozen entries, you won't have waste 4+ hours and the ingredients.

It was kind of like that with French Onion Soup from scratch. I made this many times over the years and loved it. Each time was labor intensive but the result so very good, it was worth it. That is till I tried Trader Joe's frozen version. For a very small price by comparison you get an identical soup with virtually no work!! Holy onion peel! It is utterly amazing!! The taste equals if not surpases my many hour long homemade version with ease.

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This morning was lovely, cold but lovely with big puffy white clouds floating about in the sunshine. So I think I'll make tacos or enchiladas for din-din. Yesterday was quite dark and rainy, not to mention cold too, so I was thinking that today may be the day to make lasagna. But that's not going to happen, especially since I haven't had tacos, etc. in so long! I even bought a small can of Salsa Verde. This will be a first for me since I never toy with any "hot" seasonings. I'm hoping this will be more flavor than heat.

It's just as well that I decided on Mexican, because when researching a recipe for good old-fashioned lasagne, I faced a deluge of lasagnas! So many with veggies and Italian sausages which is not what I wanted! Do you have ANY idea of how many variations there are? Zillions! You really have NO idea how hard it is to find a classic lasagna recipe! Help...I need my 1960's Betty Crocker Cookbook!!!

With so many of then all about the veggies and low fat substitutions! I don't know about you, but if I want to save calories, I'll just eat a lean piece of chicken or fish with a veggie.

Anyhow, back to the tacos or enchiladas or maybe burritos. This is not authentic Mexican cooking by the way, it's Americanized with a Midwestern streak that involves Lawry's flavoring mix. LOL! As I've said in previous posts, growing up in the Midwest, my palate was never acclimatized to hot and spicy foods that involve the pepper family. Why spicy Indian curries don't bother me, I'll never know. But with the pepper family, I show great respect and keep it mild.

The main reason I'm sharing this meandering kitchen chatter with you, is because I found a wonderful way to heat up both flour and corn tortillas so they don't dry out. Everyone probably knows this, but just in case not, I'll share. First, I get all the chopping done and put in little bowls for a build your own taco bar which is kind of silly since there's just me now, but some habits die hard.

So the tomatoes, iceberg or romaine and onions are all chopped. Then the cheese (I usually use Monterey Jack because of its nice "melty" qualities) is grated. Sour cream dished so it can come to room temperature. Meat sauteed and spice mix added per directions on the package. Last you get the tortillas ready. I tear up a bunch of individual sheets of paper towels.

Get a large microwave-able plate and spray water bottle. Sometimes I just resort to using my hand and fingers as the sprinkler of water onto the paper towels. You want them fairly damp but not wet. Put one paper towel on the plate then a tortilla, then 2 paper towels followed by a tortilla and 2 more damp paper towels (if they dry out, sprinkle with more water) and so on, until you have the number of tortillas you'll need. Top with 2 damp paper towels and put in the microwave on high for 10 seconds. Check to see if they're hot, be careful of the hot steam. If they need more warming proceed at five second intervals, always exercising care with hot items. Remove all paper towels carefully, they can sometimes stick to the tortilla if heated a little too long.  Return the ones you're not going to use immediately to the plate and place back in micro to just keep warm. Now you're set to eat. I put the cheese on first, then the meat sauce (to melt the cheese a bit), onions, sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes.

For leftovers, I take squares of plastic wrap and place tortilla in center, then cheese, then meat mixture followed by onions. I use the plastic wrap to help roll them into tight little bundles, wrap all in foil and refrigerate. To warm up, just take out of the foil, place on plate, poke holes in plastic wrap to let steam escape and give the a few quick zaps in the microwave. Use a tongs and potholder to remove the plastic wrap. Gently open and apply room temperature sour cream, lettuce and tomatoes. You're all set with another dinner on the table!

Okay, so fast forward to late afternoon and give the weather a few hours...poof! We're looking at cloudy and gloomy with rain in site, so I may have to decide on a lasagna recipe after all. Maybe I'll just make enchiladas for tonight and lasagna for tomorrow. That way I'm only using the oven once (well, other than for reheating).

I get a lot of people from all over the world viewing this little blog and I'm wondering if what I write is interesting to people. I don't get many comments from viewers, so I really wonder if what I blather about is all that interesting to people or not? What would you like to see or hear more of or about? I'd love to know. Should I monetize the blog? Sell things on it? Any ideas? Otherwise it's kind of like living in my own little vacuum. I'd welcome any constructive comments or just pop in and say "hi!"  :)



Second Try

Blogger has suddenly become a real nuisance! This is the second time I've written a post, added pictures and when I go to add a caption, blogger moves the picture. I delete the picture and it removes part of the post too! If I repeat this a few times, suddenly my day's entry is reduced from 4 paragraphs to one, regardless of how often I hit "save now"...stupid program.

So the gist of today's post was this:
The weather prognosticators were actually right...well, kind of. They predicted rain, first on Thursday, then pushed it out to Friday and finally, today, Sunday, it rained. We even had some thunder rolling along the foothills!
 As a result, Blue freaked out, running about the house barking in search of the thunderous beast. I tried to calm him down, but he was over the top and has now wedged himself between my feet as I write this. Poor little guy. I'm thinking that this is why I found him at the pound at the beginning of July last year. Fireworks probably wigged him out and somehow he got loose. But I'll never know for sure.

Between this and the many assorted helicopters that inhabit LA, he gets his share at barking at the flying sky beasts. Hopefully I can get him desensitized a bit before the next fourth of July or I may wind up spending the holiday with Blue on my lap!!

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Random Acts of Kindness

In the midst of the crisis in Japan where one can feel very ineffectual in the face of such calamity, one can sometimes find comfort in extending just a simple kindness to someone. That's the case for me. A very dear friend of mine had a knee replacement two weeks ago tomorrow. So today's project is to make chicken pot pie and take it over to her. The recipe is so easy and tasty. When I called her the day before yesterday, to ask if she'd like this, she happily said yes! Turns out the first thing she wanted after 3 days in the hospital was chicken and dumplings which her mom gladly indulged her with. Her mother is a remarkable woman; in her 80's and still getting around like some 50 or 60 year olds.

My friend has fibromyalgia and so adjusting pain medications is quite a balancing act. As a result, she's been in a lot of pain and so I think a nice dose of comfort food like chicken pot pie is just what the "doctor" ordered. What's great about this recipe is that it reheats multiple times without drying out! This works great for me, since I get about five to six meals out of it. It also freezes and thaws beautifully. I really hope she likes it!

It reminds me of the saying "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty". Love that quote!

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Taking a Breather

This post was all written with photos and links when blogger suddenly went insane, it moved pictures and deleted whole paragraphs! I've never had that happen, so I'm going to start over trying to remember what I wrote.

I looked over the last few posts and realized they were totally sans photos! Since we are currently surrounded with so much sad and serious news, I decided to talk about flowers today. Not to diminish the tragedy that Japan and the world face but rather as a little breather, a time out from it for just a bit.

The other day while visiting some of my favorite blogs, I checked in at Posie Gets Cozy, Alicia had a beautiful photo of an orchid she's "plant sitting" for a month. In the comments, one person responded, telling her it was a phalaenopsis. Another wrote:  "orchids are actually some of the easiest houseplants in my experience. usually I kill houseplants with neglect but for some reason my orchids seem to like my once-a-week watering style." 

This made me think of my very neglected cymbidiums on the back patio. Those dear plants are blooming despite my total lack of care! They haven't been fed or watered (except by rain) and haven't been repotted in at least 5 years! Shame on me.

Cymbidiums have always amazed me. I've been growing about 4-6 of them over the last 20+ years. They've lived through major house reconstructions without complaint, a situation when most other plants would have given up the ghost.

When I actually pay attention to them, feed them, water them and repot them every so often, they send up loads of flower spikes. Yet, when I do none of the above they still shine, sending up at least one spike every season! It's quite magical. I don't think they would be this determined in the house though.
I've actually seen a front yard planted with cymbidiums, not grass. They really thrive outdoors in this climate, enduring cold nights (50F/10C) and 100+F (38C) temperatures in the summer. Trader Joe's has them at this time of year for a very reasonable price vs. the garden stores. Their flowers come in an array of colors from burgundies, whites, pinks, yellows, rusts, lime greens to many colors in between. They also have phalaenopsis and dendrobiums pretty much year round at very reasonable prices. I've never grown either of those, because I'm just kind of smitten on my cymbidiums. Very tough little plants that always surprise me with their beauty and durability.
The other plants that have persevered in the face of my neglect are one rosemary which is actually blooming, a potted lily, cymbidiums (one which shares its pot with a volunteer papyrus, and a plumeria which is hanging on for dear life.
The photo above shows one of the cymbidiums sharing its pot with a papyrus on the left and the lily on the right. I read an article today projecting sharp rises in food pricing now through 2015 and it makes me want to dig a garden. However, since I'm renting this house, that's not a likely scenario. What I do have aside from the pot garden is a wee strip of soil by the back porch. Currently it's home to 2 living gardenias and a dead one. I'm going to ask the property manager if the gardeners can move the gardenias to another spot so I have a small planting area for veggies that don't do well in pots. Below is a photo of its current state. On the left of the plot is an old stump taking up space.
I hadn't given much thought to gardening till I read the article. I'm usually pretty happy with my culinary herbs and a tomato plant or two. So I'm going to start researching what I could plant in that little 1.5 foot by 4.5 foot space.
The assorted geraniums need to be trimmed and re-rooted. I planted them over 8 years ago and they really have become woody. I used to just cut them back hard in January and they'd green right up in spring, but not so much this year. The poor plumeria (seen above) really needs some dirt and re-potting. Well, this has been my garden meanderings for the day, we'll see how far I get with all this.

I hope you'll think of something of beauty today and enjoy it's gift to you.

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While the tragedy in Japan consumes us all and worries of nuclear disaster haunt our daily lives, I think we need to think of hope, of spring, of all the giving, caring individuals who are contributing to the recovery in that country (monumental as it is).

When such devastating tragedy strikes us all in such a global world, I think each of us needs to take a small break and stop, just to be grateful for what we have. So much of our everyday lives pale in comparison.

So today, smile at strangers on the street and in the market, call friends you haven't spoken with for a while, drop a letter or email letting them know you care and are thinking of them. So often our lives go rushing forward without reflection. What have we lost because of that?

There is an internal peace that comes with reflection. It's part of the reason I started this blog though I don't often talk about it. Reflection gives us a quiet peace obtained no where else. It can keep us sane in the face of calamity. It can envelope us in grace and protect our fragile spirits.

I would challenge anyone to contradict the blessing of reflection because it means they have not become aware of how much is available to us from the universe. There are healing powers all around us if we only open our eyes and observe. But  it does involve a specific step on one's part...to believe in the gift of grace. Grace is the most magical of things in this life.



Without Warning

Living in California, one learns to coexist with the knowledge that any second an earthquake may hit. It's knowledge that we tend to shove to the back of our consciousness. If we didn't, we'd all be worried wrecks. I've felt several large quakes (nothing above a 7 though) and to say the very least, they are utterly unnerving. When I lived in the Midwest, there was the threat of tornados. Tornados however, come with some warning and you can at least escape them to some degree by taking refuge in the southeast (I think that's right, it's been a while) corner of your basement.

Earthquakes have no warning signs. You can't escape them. Your whole world just shakes. Walking is impossible. I've been fortunate to ride out 2 of them while in bed, which in my opinion is the best place to be when one hits. I remember the Northridge quake; I was getting ready for work. I was applying lipstick just as it hit...you can imagine the resulting smoodge across my cheek. As the shaking continued, I realized I was in my stocking feet and my brain said "you can't be shoeless in an earthquake!" Okay, try to put on heels when the house is shaking. All this occurred within seconds. My brain wasn't registering with what was happening in that moment. Suddenly I was on the floor. It had felt like the world's largest bulldozer kept ramming the house over and over.

I cannot even fathom what the earthquake in Japan must have been like at 8.9!!! The level of shock the people must be feeling is unimaginable. Not to mention the overwhelming devastation. I can't send enough prayers and good wishes out to them for their safety and survival. How do you even begin to "dig out" of something that catastrophic?

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After re-reading yesterday's post, I'd like to clarify something. While I was complaining about the US justice system because it's totally frustrating me at the moment, I want to just say that having lived and seen much in my years on this planet, I still think democracy, with all it's flaws is probably the best system in the world. It reminded me of this quote from Winston Churchill which I'd like to share with you. "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

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Due to recent disappointments in the justice system which has caused extensive, expensive delays and many headaches, I decided to contact the respondent to see if we couldn't reach a settlement. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you know I try not to mention the hideous divorce I'm currently going through unless something reasonably important is occurring.

Well, I've been communicating with the respondent (the man I was married to for 34 years, whose name I refuse to speak) for about two to three weeks via email. This person considers himself to be a wiz at computers and is very invasive, so I set up a separate account with an email service I never use, just for this purpose. Sure enough, early last week someone tried to get into the account by posing as me and saying they forgot the password. It's amazing how well you can know someone after living with them for many years! Fortunately my "secret questions" stopped him or whoever it was. I've since reset the password every other day.

Anyway, the reason I bring the divorce up is that we may have finally reached a settlement (knock on wood). Since the respondent took all our joint funds at the beginning of this and the court did nothing, I had very little to bargain with other than to drag this out longer. Fortunately, I think he's as sick of it as I am. I don't want to jinx it by saying anything more but it's a glimmer of hope that the light at the end of the dark tunnel won't be a train. Maybe, just maybe, I can get on with my life. Maybe I'll finally be able to take a deep breath and feel free. That would be such a gift!

So today, I wish you happiness and joy no matter what's going on in your life. Take a moment and breathe in peace, if only for a second.



A Trend

In looking at my recent posts, I noticed a trend developing on this blog. Have you noticed it? It looks like it's turning into a food blog! Who'd have thought? Not me. Maybe it's just the fact that this winter has been more "wintery" than others or maybe it's because my potted plant garden is all very dead. It's a truly quizzical thing. Funny how things just sort of evolve.

It's possible that not having any interest in knitting lately may have something to do with it. Or maybe the fact that summer stayed so long last fall and was really hot at the end. When that happens I really start to miss being able to cook something in the oven...but at that point the house is an oven! One can get really sick of salads and grilled things. See, here I go, focusing on food! I must be terribly bored. I don't really get it. Hmmmm????????

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Cluck-cluck Pie

As promised, here is my finalized version of Chicken Pot Pie. It's not totally from scratch but does not involve a condensed soup either. I wanted something quick but also something that tasted fresh, not canned and I think this hits the spot. Enjoy!

Christine's Chicken Pot Pie

1 c. half and half
1 c. chicken broth
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 t. poultry seasoning
2 c. roasted, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
1 package 10 oz. frozen mixed vegetables (thawed), I tried Trader Joe’s
   but didn’t like the flavor so I used Albertson’s generic brand with
   the lima beans removed (really don’t like lima beans)
1 ear of fresh corn, remove the kernels
1/8 c. pieces very thinly sliced onion (green onions can also be used,
   including part of the green stalk)
1 t. salt
Pepper to taste
Cooking spray
1 can (approx. 7.5 oz) refrigerator buttermilk or country-style biscuits

Preheat oven to 385 F. Place thawed vegetables in colander and rinse several times to get rid of frozen taste. Drain well. Add fresh corn kernals to colander. Just before mixing into the sauce, empty colander paper towels (several layers) or a tea towel to remove more moisture.

In a medium saucepan, whisk half and half, broth, flour and poultry seasoning until combined. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer whisking frequently, 4 minutes or until thickened. Stir in chicken, mixed vegetables, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

Lightly coat a 9” x 9” or similar size pan with cooking spray. Take chicken and vegetable mixture and pour into pan. It will fill pan about 1” or so full.  Place pan in oven for 10 minutes. Remove from oven after the time is up or the top of the mixture is just starting brown and is slightly bubbly. Lower oven temperature to 370 F.
Biscuits are just starting to brown.
Time to remove from oven.
 Open biscuit tube, separate biscuits, setting each on chicken mixture so top is mostly covered. It’s not necessary to cover completely; some small openings are needed to let steam escape. Put pan in oven for 10 minutes. The biscuits should just be starting to brown. Leave pan in oven at 370 F for 5 to 8 minutes longer or until top is golden brown. Turn off oven and let pan sit in oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Having the chicken all cooked and cut up really speeds this up and it's an excellent use for left-over rotisserie chicken. As far as the refrigerator biscuits, I'm sure you could substitute homemade. Oh, and I found that if fresh corn isn't available, as it was yesterday, a good substitute is frozen white sweet corn. I tried the regular yellow frozen kind but it didn't have the freshness of the white corn. Let me know if you make this, I'd love to hear how it turned out!

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Useful Link for Cooking

While checking on my email today, I stopped by Kalyn's Kitchen and found something I hadn't noticed before, a measurement conversion site for recipes (and more). I've been using assorted measurement converters found on the internet to give readers of the metric persuasion an idea of the size of something I'm referring to in a post. This converter seems to have every form of measurement on the planet covered! For recipes it's great since it has teaspoons to cups and milliliters to liters and so on. Enjoy!

P.S. You'll recall that I've been refining (sounds better than futzing or noodling) with my Chicken Pot Pie recipe for a while now. Well, for dinner tonight, I made it and I think I have the recipe finalized! I'll post it tomorrow with some photos.

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