Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who Killed Flapjack?

I was walking down the mean streets of Louisville. Actually, it was Frankfort Avenue, which is more of an artsy-fartsy street, but "walking down the artsy-fartsy streets" doesn't sound very hard-boiled noir, does it? Again:

I was walking down the mean streets of Louisville. Operation Brightside, the Mayor-for-Life's beautification program, obviously let these sidewalks fall through the cracks. Hope his mother's hospitalization insurance was paid up.

A form in the general detritus caught my eye. I froze, then whipped out my camera and snapped a picture. Crime victim, or just some poor unlucky so-and-so, caught up in the deadly irony of life in the big city?

I called 911. The cop who responded knows me--knew I trip over corpses all the time and knew I was always innocent. "Save the city some money," he said. "Get lost, so we don't have to do that tap-dance where I try to beat a confession out of you and you crack wise."

So I ducked out of sight behind the ambulance and showed up at forensics to get an inside lead on what happened to the poor sap.

"Can't tell," the coroner, a gorgeous brunette with silver streaks--initials MA--said. "Might have been thrown from a moving vehicle, might have been a hit and run...might even have been life with a dog or a baby."

We both shuddered.

"At any rate, there's a hole in the top of his head big enough for a pulp thriller's plot. Some of his brains came out on the table."

"Too bad," I said. "Say, how's about breakfast?"

"Sure thing," MA said, snapping off her gloves. "How about flapjacks and maple syrup? Your treat."

Strange woman. A mean street, all by herself.


Saturday, June 27, 2009


Our  unusually cool June in Phoenix is over.  It’s hot.  Yesterday I bought a small seedless watermelon, and Don and I sat in the kitchen scarfing it down while reminiscing about our watermelon-eating pasts.

The small melon we were eating was the perfect size for the two of us.  I don’t remember exactly when the “icebox” sized melons became available.  Years ago, all one could find were 15-pound giants, with or without stripes, which were best cooled in a tin tub filled with water and placed in the shade.  Forget seedless, too.  Until recently, all watermelons were rife with big old black seeds.  Of course, when you’re younger, those multitudinous black seeds are less a nuisance and more an irresistible invitation to a spitting contest.  We ate a lot of melons in the summer.  My grandfather raised them commercially, and we kids would follow him down the rows of enormous fruits as he checked to see if the crop was ready to harvest.  Sometimes, in order to check for ripeness, he’d “plug” one with a knife, which was good, since we would then get to eat the now-unsalable melon . But mostly he’d thump on them with his knuckles, and judge their readiness by the sound.  I never quite learned the knack of thumping, but he never failed to get it right.

I love to make melon salads in summer.  I don’t do anything fancy.  I’ll ball one or two varieties of melon, whatever I have on hand - watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, Persian - and toss the balls with a dressing made of flavored yogurt thinned with water, and throw in a handful or two of granola. I never have exactly the same ingredients twice in a row, but the result is always delicious.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Create A Wildlife Habitat in Your Backyard

Today, I'm a host on Mindy Friddle's W.O.W!-Women on Writing blog tour. Mindy is the author of Secret Keepers. In the novel, aging housewife Emma Hanley lives in Palmetto, S.C., but dreams of traveling the world; unfortunately, her long-planned European vacation must be postponed when her erstwhile husband up and dies after his regular Saturday coffee klatch with a gaggle of female admirers. Left alone, Emma must learn to deal one-on-one with her mentally troubled son Bobby, born-again daughter Dora and the ghost of son Will, who was killed in Vietnam. While her family goes to pieces, Emma lets her yard go to seed; enter gardener Jake Cary, Dora's old flame, whose efforts to cultivate Emma's garden soon spill into her family life.

In this post, Mindy tells us how to create a wildlife habitat in our own backyards.

Going Wild & Green: Establishing a Wildlife Habitat

There's been a sign posted in my front yard for three years. It's no "Keep off the Grass" warning--I haven't had a lawn in years. It's an official "Certified Wildlife Habitat™." sign, one of the easiest, green, fun and transforming things you can do to your yard-- and for the earth.

The National Wildlife Federation, which runs the Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program, describes it this way: "Whether you have an apartment balcony or a 20-acre farm, you can create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore habitat in commercial and residential areas. By providing food, water, cover and a place for wildlife to raise their young--and by incorporating sustainable gardening practices--you not only help wildlife, but you also qualify to become an official Certified Wildlife Habitat™.

Here are the basic steps in creating a wildlife habitat in your yard:

1. Provide Food for Wildlife. Berries, seeds, nuts, pollen, fruit-- you may already have one of these sources growing. I had a dogwood and an old pecan tree. I added native plants that provide nectar and food-- in my case, this meant gradually planting favorites such as Joe-Pye Weed, Narrow-leaf Sunflower, Bee Balm, black-eyed Susan, cone flower, and cardinal flower. Native plants are hardy, need little maintenance, are plentiful food sources for butterflies and birds, and just happen to be gorgeous, too. [You can find a list of native plants for your region here.] I added birdfeeders--with sunflower seeds and suet, which attract just about every kind of bird around--including red-bellied woodpeckers. This spring I began putting out mealworms for the blue birds--beautiful cobalt blue!-- and a pair of them are nesting in the front yard.

2. Supply Water for Wildlife. You may already be near a pond, lake, river, creek, ocean, or wetland. But if you're not, you can add human-made features such as bird baths, puddling areas for butterflies, installed ponds or rain gardens. I have a bird bath I made out of flower pots and an enamel pan. In the shade garden I have a small burbling fountain.

3. Create Cover for Wildlife. Wildlife need places to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. [Don't we all!] This is a good excuse to stop trimming so often those prickly shrubs, bushes and thickets. Bring on the brush piles! Rock piles, too. Trees, even dead ones, are perfect. And don't forget to attract other helpful pollinators, such as bats or bees.

4. Give Wildlife a Place to Raise Their Young. I supplemented with birdhouses-- adding a new one every spring. Needless to say, we have plenty of little ones around here--feathered and furred, some of them greeting us at the window. Two years ago, after learning about how bats are endangered and in need of habitats, I added a bat house. Bats are fabulous creatures, and voracious mosquito eaters by the way. And cuddly? Oh, yes. Have you ever read the children's book Stellaluna?

5. Garden in an Environmentally Friendly Way. Your eyes don't have to glaze over at "sustainable gardening practices." For me, this meant doing things like

1) starting a compost pile--with coffee and tea grounds, kitchen scraps, leaf and grass trimmings. I spread it in the garden to enrich the soil.

2) Eliminating the lawn--or at least trimming back. Lawns are high-maintenance, demand a lot of water and labor--and worse, chemicals. I mulched over most of my front yard with a layer of newspaper and pine needles, and replaced most of the lawn with a raised-bed vegetable garden and native flowers. No more lawn service, chemicals, and mowing!

3) Mulch, as I mentioned, saves water and your back!

4) Use organic fertilizers, and stop using expensive [and harmful] pesticides and chemical fertilizers. I've gone totally organic--using compost and fish emulsion for fertilizer. I never use pesticides (kills the good insects like ladybugs, butterflies, mantises, too). My tomatoes--and all the other veggies-- in my garden are thriving, maybe because the birds are happy to devour the pests.

5) Conserve water. After last summer's drought, I added a rain barrel under one of my gutters.This spring, my barrel runneth over.

6.Register Your Yard as a Wildlife Habitat. Congratulate yourself on creating a "haven" on earth...and being a good example to your neighbors. Sit back in your favorite lawn chair and enjoy. The butterflies, bees, and birds put on quite a show!
Bio: Mindy Friddle's first novel, The Garden Angel (St. Martin’s Press/Picador) was selected for Barnes and Noble's Discover Great New Writers program in 2004, and was a National Public Radio (NPR) Morning Edition summer reading pick. Secret Keepers, her second novel, was published by St. Martin's Press in May.She lives, writes, and gardens in Greenville, South Carolina where she directs the Writing Room, a community-based nonprofit program she founded in 2006. She often posts photographs of her garden on her blog Novel Thoughts: Musings on Reading, Writing & the Earth. Visit Mindy online at http://www.mindyfriddle.com/.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Petite Woman Tackles Giant Cabbage

Monday evening, as I stepped outside my back door, I tripped over what seemed to have been a large boulder that had somehow rolled upon my doorstep. I looked down to see that the object I had tripped over was not a giant boulder, but an Amazonian head of cabbage.

My brother-in-law had come by and left it for me. He plants a garden every summer. It is this year's garden that has produced the massive cabbage that is now mine.

By Tuesday morning I had moved the cabbage to my kitchen counter. After my coffee, I began attacking the smelly beast.

The first knife I grabbed was not big enough. I went for my largest kitchen knife, which is really more akin to a machete. I hacked away, taking the cabbage down to a tiny nub.

All-in-all I filled five gallon-sized food storag bags. If I were the pickling type, I would be making some big jars of kraut right now. Instead, I am thinking about egg rolls, slaw, braised cabbage and Asian salads. Please send your best cabbage recipes ASAP!!!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Blast of Fresh Air

I went to the farmers' market the other day, and I'm going again today. We only have them three times a week during parts of those days. And I got to thinking.... (Always dangerous.)

What if you had a villain who was stalking somebody? The target could be a pro chef who insists on fresh and local food or could be a domestic god/goddess. The perp would know exactly where to find her/him any of three days.

Or--I know! Here's the story, for anybody who uses it. The target is one of those ROTTEN HOARDERS who get to the market BEFORE I DO and BUY UP ALL OF THE PRODUCE I'm looking for so they can can or freeze it. MAN, that frosts my seat cushion. The stalker (in this case, the hero) goes to their houses and turns on the gas so that when they light the stove to blanch their ill-gotten goods the whole place explodes.


Ha! I feel much better now.

a sweet little old lady

Monday, June 22, 2009

Twilight Tour and Hamburgers

Whoops! Late to post this morning! I have a partial excuse; I drove to Los Angeles Saturday morning and then back Sunday morning (up at 5:30 on Sunday to make the drive up the coast) because it was Twilight Tour time at EFBC/FCC (Exotic Feline Breeding Facility/Feline Conservation Center) and I emceed the event. Dave handled the raffle ticket sales while I dispensed information and activity updates over the microphone, wheedled the attendees to consider memberships, adoptions, and yes, buy more raffle tickets! I also urged people to volunteer, telling them quite truthfully that working at EFBC changed my life. Where else can you exchange kisses with a tiger or cuddle a baby leopard? After you've paid your dues and learned the ropes, of course!

I used to volunteer at least once a week, sometimes twice before I moved up to San Francisco. Seven years of remarkable experiences and lots of hard work. To read more about that, go here. Now, sadly, I only get down to EFBC for the Twilight Tours and even that's pushing it with my writing schedule. But it's worth the drive and the time out from writing. I hope my life will eventually accommodate a renewal of some sort of regular schedule there for me. I miss it so much that when it's time to leave at the end of each tour, it hurts my heart to walk away.

What does this have to do with food, you ask? Well, at each Twilight Tour, the Lancaster Rotary Club sets up a grill and, for five bucks, you can get a burger (or two hot dogs), bag of chips and a drink. These are literally the best burgers I have ever had - I always get mine 'carnivore style' (no bun) with cheese and a lettuce wrap and the meat is so succulent, the flavor reminiscent of the perfect summer barbecues of childhood, where everything tastes that much better because you've spent the day running around and working up an appetite... I love these burgers. And the proceeds are donated to EFBC.

EFBC's chapter of AAZK (American Zoological Association) holds a bake sale each Tour, with a mouth-watering assortment of fresh-baked cookies, brownies, breads, and cakes, as well as fresh fruit for those looking for a healthful option. To which I say "give me a cookie!" Again, the proceeds are donated to EFBC. Talk about blowing your diet for a great cause!

Sigh. I'm still on a high from the weekend. And I'm still craving more time at the cathouse and a couple more of those burgers!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Popsicle Summers

Since he’s been ill, my husband likes to go sit on the back porch and soak up some healing rays for as long as he can take the heat.  This has been possible lately because we’ve been having a record cool June here in the Phoenix area - 15 days in a row, thus far, under 100 degrees.  Believe me, this is unheard of around here for June.  In fact, just this morning an article in the newspaper said that this is the coolest June in Phoenix since 1913.  It’s been wonderful, but the forecasters say it’s coming to an end, and the temperatures should return to the seasonal norms by the middle of next week.  That means daytime highs of around 105.  And lucky if that’s as high as it goes.

Of course, in order to make up for our outrageously cool June, Mother Nature gave us an unusually hot May, with 17 days OVER 100 degrees.  Don would sit on the porch until his face began to look like a tomato, then come inside and eat three or four Popsicles, which would fortify him enough to go back outside for another half-hour or so.  The sight of him slurping down those Popsicles took me back to my 1950s era Oklahoma little-girlhood, chasing down the street with a hundred other little kids, dressed in my Bermuda shorts and flip-flops (we called them ‘thongs’, then), after the ice cream man and his white truck that played “Popeye the Sailor Man” or “Casey Would Waltz With the Strawberry Blond”.

It was a hallowed ritual of summer, the ice cream man (we never said ‘good humor man’).  He drove up our suburban street in Tulsa every single day from the end of May until the beginning of September.  We Baby Boomers were really babies, then, so every street was lousy with kids.  If he sold as many Popsicles as I think he did,  even at 5 cents a pop, the ice cream man must have been able to winter in Tahiti every year.

Of course, he didn’t only sell Popsicles.  I was particularly fond of Eskimo Pies, myself.  The only problem with Eskimo Pies was that in the hot Oklahoma summer, you had to eat them fast before the chocolate shell melted and ran down your arm, quickly followed by the vanilla ice cream.  I liked Fudgesicles, too, and Orange Push-ups. I only bought Popsicles when he had blue or green ones, which he didn’t, often.  My very favorite ice cream treat was a Nutty Buddy.  You can still buy a Nutty Buddy these days, but it no longer resembles the cone the ice cream man sold in the 1950s.  In those days, Whippersnappers, the chocolate topping encased the entire top of the cone and half-way down the side.  There were so many nuts embedded in the topping that it was hard to see that it WAS chocolate.  I didn’t buy a Nutty Buddy too often, since it cost 15 cents, and finally went all the way up to a quarter by the early 60s.

I don’t know what could be better than sitting on the curb with your pals and your annoying little sister, all dirty and sweaty with your hair sticking up every which way, eating a frozen treat that’s dripping all over your bare feet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In Case You Haven't Bought a Father's Day Gift

I love to give books as gifts for various occasions, including Father's Day. Since my dad loves to read, he's pretty easy. My husband likes a whole lotta things better than reading, which makes him more of a challange. Still, when he gets ahold of the right book for him, he is engrossed, often finishing a book in one or two sittings. I have included images of some of the books that my husband and father have loved. Most I have ordered off the Barnes&Noble site:
Hint: Most items qualify for free shipping if you spend $25 or more. Also, I always Google "Barnes&Noble coupons". Usually I find one for at least a 10% discount.
The site also has a great selection of movies.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lazy is a Four-Letter Word

And I'm all about lazy.

I posted this on my own web site the day before yesterday. Since nobody reads my blog--and rightly so...it's the most boring blog in the universe--I decided to cut a corner and repost.

Okay, so I was at the department store, and I got some elastic straps with fasteners on each end. The purpose is to fasten them onto loose fitted bedsheets and pass them under the mattress, so the sheet fits snugly. The woman working the register had never seen any before, so she asked me, “What are those?”

“Sheet garters,” I said.

The woman behind me choked. I looked at her. Eyes wide, she said, “Excuse me.”

“SHEET garters,” I said. “SHEET-uhTuh.”

“Oh,” she said, looking both relieved and somewhat…sheepish.

I shook my head. “I don’t live nearly as interesting a life as you thought I did.”

We now return to our regularly scheduled rambling.

Some friends of mine have been raving about this “toddy maker” or cold brew coffee device. It costs about thirty (30) smackers. Anyone who knows me, knows I prefer to keep as many of my smackers to myself as I can possibly manage.

Interwebs to the rescue! I found several DIY methods. I tried just putting the grounds and water in a glass container, then straining it through a mesh sieve. Messy, and used: sieve, glass container, jar for strained concentrate. Another site gave instructions for making a device out of nesting plastic cups, one with holes drilled in the bottom. Cheap and compact, but I would have had to DO something. Then I had a brainstorm.

I have a seed sprouter that I seldom use. I totally adore sprouts, but I would have to know I wanted some several days before I wanted them. You can’t just say, “Gee, some sprouts would go good on this sammich,” and sprout some. Meh. But it’s PERFECT for this cold brew wheeze.


  • 1 part coffee grounds
  • 4 parts cold water

Put the seed-holding cup inside the water-holding cup. If there’s an insert to accommodate tiny seeds, put it in. Add coffee grounds and water. Stir not at all or very little, just get all the grounds wet. Put on the top and refrigerate the whole shebang for 8-12 hours. Take off the top and lift the inner cup enough for the concentrate to drain out. You can jiggle it a little now and then to encourage drainage. Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Pour out about 1 part concentrate to 4 parts water, depending on the strength you like. Put the lid back on the unused portion and refrigerate between uses. Smooooth.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Giving New Meaning to Sushi

Dave and I went for our morning walk Saturday, planning on a brisk hour or two down the beach and back. Instead, 20 minutes from our starting point, we ended up sitting with a starving sea lion pup, waiting for the Marine Mammal Center to send a team to pick the little guy/gal up and take it to the Center. Our pup was one of several on this morning, so the MMC folks were busy. It would be a while before they could get to us.

I knew protocol for rescuing kitties and dogs, but not seal pups, but I thought touching it was a bad idea unless absolutely necessary. Our biggest fear, however, was that it would be pulled back out to sea by the incoming tide - Ocean Beach has very strong currents, even on a mild day - so we sat/stood next to and behind the pup, fully prepared to risk being bitten if we needed to lift it further up the beach. We were delighted when the pup lifted its head and pulled itself up the beach out of the tide's reach, at least for the moment. This was repeated several times over the next three hours.

We finally settled next to the pup on either side. It sniffed our arms and hands, much like a dog does when meeting a new person. It didn't have nearly as much fat on it as the pups I've seen at the Children's Cove in La Jolla, nor did it exhibit happy seal sunning on the beach behavior. It shivered constantly and seemed lost. It was a baby mammal in need of comfort...so we stroked its head and back very gently and talked to it in low, soothing tones. During one of the moves out of the encroaching tide, it followed Dave and leaned against him, nuzzled and then tried to nurse on his arm.

As time passed and the sun got hotter, I developed some serious pink on my arms, shoulders and back. A sunbathing couple gave me their blanket to wrap around my upper body. Another passerby offered a fisherman $10 for some of his bait to try and tempt the pup, who was looking increasingly dull-eyed and fragile. We ended up with a large freshly caught fish (free of charge) , which the fisherman set in front of the pup, who ignored it. At first. A few minutes later, it opened its eyes and sniffed the air, then grabbed the fish in its mouth, more alert than it'd been since we found it.

The fish, however, was WAY too big for the little guy/gal to eat; I worried that it would choke. So Dave bravely grabbed the fish by the tail. A tug of war ensued, much like one you'd see from a dog with a chew-toy. Dave won. Another fisherman came over with a knife and cut it into several smaller portions, then went back to his fishing poles. Nice, but the pieces were still too big for our baby seal to manage, especially in its current weakened condition. Once again Dave went above and beyond the call of duty and ripped pieces of fish off with his teeth, tossing them to the pup, who had no problem getting them down. It would finish one piece, then stare fixedly at the sand and then up at Dave, who'd toss him another piece. I was torn between wanting to kiss Dave for his heroic act and to never kiss him again...at least until he spent some time with a toothbrush, toothpaste, and Listerine. I mean...euuwww!!!

The MMC people showed up shortly after that, two very nice women who gently maneuvered the pup into a large carrier, told us we could follow its progress on their website, and thanked us profusely for looking after it until they could get there.

After the fact I read the protocol on the MMC homepage of what to do if you find an orphaned/injured/obviously in distress pup and we basically did everything wrong. No touching, no feeding. Next time we'll know better. That being said, it's not always possible to have all the facts on hand when you need them and sometime you just have to make the best judgments you can given the circumstances. One of the women from MMC told Dave while they discourage people from doing what we did, that it was okay that we did it. So I guess our instincts didn't entirely suck.

Regarding the fish, Dave says it tasted just like sushi. OkAY then!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hospital Food

I was AWOL last Saturday, for which I apologize heartily.  My husband was in the hospital again, this time for a scheduled surgery.  He spent six days recuperating, and I brought him home last Saturday afternoon.  He’s recovering nicely.

So, I spent week before last doing nothing but sitting around a hospital room, punctuated by going down to the cafeteria at regular intervals and eating like a horse.  The reason I spent so much of that week eating was not that I was particularly hungry, or certainly not that the hospital menu was so delicious and healthful.  In fact, I ate  more fatty, salty, sugary food that week than I do in two months at home.  But did I care? No, I did not, because I needed comfort, dammit.

Since we’ve been home, I’ve been desperately trying to make up for all my unhealthful eating, as well as cooking as nutritiously as possible for Don’s sake.  But I ponder why I, who am so health-foodie as a rule, allowed myself to collapse so completely last week.  I can’t blame it entirely on stress. I’ve endured several periods of worse stress than this over the past year, and not gone so far off the rails.

I wonder if it doesn’t have to do with how long this has been going on.  One can only be strong for so long, apparently.  I read once that will-power is a finite commodity, and that if you use up your supply of will on one area of your life, you have much less to spare for others.  For example, it’s very difficult to quit smoking and go on a diet at the same time. 

So, there’s no use to rue my temporary weakness.  In fact, sometimes I think back on those doughnuts with great fondness.  But the heady days of French fries and cake are over - at least until the next crisis.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yikes! I just remembered it's Friday!

I'm seriously having one of those weeks. Yesterday was the last day of school, I'm getting a website overhaul, and I'm getting schooled in the importance of continuity with regard to websites and social networking sites. But I won't bore you with that.

What I will bore you with is how to feed unexpected guests in a hurry. Earlier this week, Nicholas was playing ball outside with some of his friends. He came inside for a drink of water and I told him dinner was almost ready. "Ask the boys if they'd like to join us," I said. "We're having breakfast."

They wanted to join us, so thank goodness, we were having breakfast. I generally try portion things out to where there will be little waste. So if I have something in the crockpot and an unexpected guest drops in, I have to do some creative plate-filling. In this case, we just had to add more eggs, pancakes, biscuits and sausage to what we already had.

The best part was that Tim and I got to sit down and converse with these boys. And we discovered they're terrific boys. The next day we went and stocked up on snacks. We're expecting lots of drop-ins over the summer.

So, when company arrives hungry and unexpectedly, get out your frying pan and start scrambling eggs. :-)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Selling Books Cafeteria Style

On the first Saturdays of May and June, I had a couple of really good book signings at Piccadilly cafeterias. At first, I was skeptical that this would be a good place for a book signing, but many local authors had reported very good sales doing the same thing.

If you are from the Southeast, you are probably familiar Piccadilly. There also some restaurants in the Southwest and Midwest.

The pastor of a church we attended when I was younger delivered curiously brief sermons. It was rumored that he did this because he wanted to be first in line at Piccadilly.

It is good "Sunday food". When I was a kid, I loved their fried chicken, rice and jello. Now that I appreciate a "meat and three" meal, I love it just as much as I did when I was a kid.

A bonus of signing at Piccadilly was that I got to go through the line and get a free dinner. Also, I could have free refills on drinks all day long. I had mango tea, water with lemon and coffee. Yes, I was seated not too far from the ladies restroom!

If you live near a Piccadilly, I suggest contacting the manager to see if you can do a signing. If you don't, but are traveling in the Southest this summer, come on in!

Hint: Piccadilly restaurants tend to be housed in shopping malls.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Do The Right Thing, Charlie

Anybody see that Spike Lee movie, DO THE RIGHT THING, where the character does a bad thing to keep a worse thing from happening?


Our dog, Joe, ought to be named Ferdinand, after the bull in the children's book who loved flowers. That dog isn't happy unless he's wallowing down a flower bed. He scratches out a nice soft patch of dirt, then lies down in it and wiggles until he's comfortable. He isn't a small dog, either. Doesn't matter if they're hostas or lilies of the valley or ferns, If my husband plants it or tends it, the dog does his best to spoil it. It's a kind of love.

Charlie isn't charmed. He stomps around glowering like a thunderstorm, and who can blame him? I mean, Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama wouldn't fume at the dog, but they weren't/aren't much into blame, either, so they wouldn't BLAME Charlie for fuming.

Anyway, in an attempt to save the dog's life and my husband's immortal soul, I went online and found this formula: 1 part Cayenne pepper to 10 parts water. Put into a spray bottle and let sit for a while, then spray on the ground or plant you want the animal to avoid. That ratio is supposed to be strong enough to discourage the animal but not strong enough to hurt it.

Charlie has been outside spraying his flower/foliage/fern gardens, and we shall see what transpires.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Trader Joe's Wine Alert - Repeat!

Okay, this is a repeat post from last year, but the latest vintage of the wine in question just appeared at TJ's (2007) and it is, if anything, even more scrumptious than the one described below! And STILL the same price of $4.99! Ah, Jim, you are a winemaker extraordinaire!

If you’re a wine lover, you’ll know that the more you taste, especially as you taste better wines, the more difficult it is to find a truly satisfying wine for a bargain price. By ‘bargain’ I’m talking under 10 bucks, although it’s easier to find a nine dollar wine with some complexity than, say, a five dollar wine. I miss the days when a bottle of Black Mountain Fat Cat Cabernet from TJ’s was all I needed to make my tastebuds happy. I still have a deep sentimental attachment to that particular wine…but it doesn’t quite do it for me the way it used to. So when I find a really good wine for under 10 bucks these days, let alone five bucks, it’s a gift from the gods…specifically Bacchus. And I found one today. Dave and I were doing a quick TJ’s run before the monthly Sisters in Crime Nor Cal meeting and…

Hmmm. I shouldn’t be sharing this information. I should be hoarding it like Smaug horded his gold before those nasty little hobbits (we hates them, we do, yessssss, preciousssss) showed up and ruined his mellow dragon lifestyle. I should keep my mouth shut and insure that the supply of my new grapey love will be at my local TJs for a few months.

And yet…

I find an unsuspected spark of nobility within my dragonish soul and even a bit of guilt at the thought of NOT sharing this new wine find. So…here it goes.

2005 Chariot Gypsy. The label shows a woman in a red head scarf astride a chariot, very much in the vein of a Major Arcana tarot card. The back only says it was bottled by Jim Neal wines in St. Helena, California. Nothing about varietals. I have no idea what grapes were used in the making of this wine (although its rich, spicy characteristics lead me to suspect a zinfandel or syrah in the blend). The price tag? $4.99. The placard in the store said One Time Buy. When it’s gone, it’s gone. So I had to try it. We took it to the SinC meeting and cracked it open aong with an inexpensive Spanish cava. The cava was okay. The Chariot?


This is a winner, folks. As mentioned, it’s rich and spicy, almost like a Sangiovese (hmmm…maybe…) and goes REALLY well with pizza. It’s got a lot more complexity than most 4.99 wines and the bottle was quickly emptied by the attending Sisters who are into red wine. We stopped at TJ’s on our way home and bought some more of it to make sure the one bottle hadn’t been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

So if you’re a wino and have a Trader Joe’s in your neighborhood — or know someone who willl ship it to you — hie yourself hence and get some of this wine! You will not be sorry.

I will, though. Because when it’s gone…it’s gone.

Now excuse me while I curl up on top of the remaining bottles


Friday, June 5, 2009

Elizabeth Fournier - Author of "All Men Are Cremated Equal"

I'm happy to host Elizabeth at Fatal Foodies' stop along her WOW! Women on Writing Blog Tour. Elizabeth, a mortician, has penned an autobiographical account of her quest to find "the One" by going on 77 blind dates. Visit her online to learn more about her and her delightful book. Below is Elizabeth's account of her date with Skip.


I recently went on a blind dating jag. This jag lasted a full year and included no less than 77 blind dates. A jag? Really? Who am I kidding. It was a lugubrious part-time job that I intentionally signed up for.

I was just looking for a guy who could make me laugh, wanted to get to know my family and friends, and didn't lick his fingers while eating. And maybe one who didn't think a noisy Starbucks was a suitable venue for a first date.

But if you're living in the California Bay Area, you bet your RAM (Silicon Valley computer speak which stands for random access memory) it is!

I never expected anything as extravagant as dinner on a first date, even though that was the choice of some of my suitors. I believe a drink or a cup of coffee is perfectly fine for talking and seeing if there's an initial attraction. After all, it is a blind date. If there's a mutual desire to see each other again, then a longer and more expensive date would be a probable next step.

But a Starbucks? Yes, it is a familiar location, a casual setting, and a convenient locale since practically every block has one. I get it. But it equally lacks creativity and is a generic choice. I often wondered why men who worked so hard to be "somebody" in their career life didn't seem to care about making a valuable impression in their personal life.

And then there was always their significant other to deal with: the cell phone. It was always on the table and ogled frequently. It was always present and intrusive, and I felt a tinge of jealously over how much it held sway over my 77 potential husbands.

So what was dating really like in Silicon Valley during the post-dot-com boom era? Let's take Skip. I like to refer to Skip as the "triple date:" it was me, him, and his cell phone.

Look, we all have cell phones. I'm in a profession where I am always on call or at least I need to be reachable, so I understand it and accept it. My beef was that he was checking the caller ID each time the phone rang, and had no issue picking it up to talk even when it was just a social call. These conversations weren't prefaced with "Oh, sorry, I really need to take this one." It was, "Hey, dude!" every time to whomever was calling. And then Silicon Valley babble that would go a little something like this:

"Yeah, we reviewed his skill set, looked at the variables, and decided to link our people. He lives in the five and dime but can BART it down and sit in the pod. He just might be the curry we need since we'll back forty production soon, and the new nomenclature is on the critical path. I don't want to sunset that project and would like to throw it over the wall soon. So let's see if we can get him into the loop and pencil him in since Doug was officially uninstalled last week. Let's discuss this later off line."

Even the woman next to us turned around and glared at him. And, yeah, who can blame her? Did Skip really have no clue how obnoxious it was to those around him, and that his huge vocab of industry lingo wasn't that riveting?

Just writing that conversation was annoying! But that was how homo Siliconis spoke during (and after) the dot-com boom in San Jose, self-proclaimed "Capital of Silicon Valley," and high-tech Mecca.

Let me break it down for the rest of the country: "Five and dime" refers to area code 510, which covers the east San Francisco Bay Area. This guy can ride the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train, and sit in the "pod," or sea of cubicles. "Curry" would be the spice or new person added to the mix. Something is "back-fortied" when it's temporarily set aside, and a project is on the "critical path" when it absolutely needs to be completed. Ideas are "sunseted" when they are finished. You "throw it over the wall" to have the other departments take a look. And poor Doug was fired or laid off.

Skip's self-important ring tone went off again and I gave him a look that clearly said I was losing my patience. He decided that phone call number four was more important than my blind date #13, so I got up and waved buh-bye. He placed the phone on his shoulder and said, "Hold on. Just hang for a few minutes." Let's spin it this way: the buzzword is "no."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


This post includes a recipe made with catfood. It is a recipe that we are making everyday to try and feed a new little friend.
He (or she) is a pitiful little creature. He is frail, cannot open his eyes and probably will not make it another day. My little girl has named him "Sweetheart".
Sweetheart is the baby bird that we are trying to save. After living in the woods almost my whole life, and attempting to save several baby animals, I know that he is not likely to survive. It goes against the laws of nature for a human to sustain a baby animal that has been abandoned.
Sweetheart's mom built a nest in an old canoe hull that we have on our patio. The hull has been made into a set of shelves that houses our sunscreens and other outdoor essentials. It was easy to look into the top shelf of the canoe and see the tiny eggs in the nest. Nearly everyday, the momma bird would fly out at me as I walked by the canoe, or would reach for something on one of the shelves.
Then, one day, I went to the canoe, and she did not come out. I looked up to her perch to find that she was not there. When I peeped at the nest, I saw that the baby birds had hatched. I assumed the mom had gone to find food.
For a couple of more days, I never saw or heard the mom. What I did hear were the constant little chirps of the babys. I looked in the nest to see the little birds with their mouths wide open, wanting something to eat.
My husband got on the internet to find out what to do. He found a recipe for a food that the bird could eat:
put dry catfood in water to soften
pull off small pieces with tweezers and drop into birds' mouths

The birds ate like crazy and they ate often. It was a very sweet scene when I came home with the kids one evening to find my six-foot tall husband feeding birds with a pair of tweezers and tweeting at them as their mom might have.
One stood out as the most energetic and hungry of the five birds. He is our Sweetheart, the only one that is still alive. We will continue to feed this little guy to see if he can make it!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More Sick Food

Yesterday, Dana posted about foods she ate when she was ill. GLAD YOU'RE FEELING BETTER, DANA!

In my comment replying to her post, I said one of the foods I eat when I don't feel well is milk soup. I used to think that milk soup was peculiar to my family, but I've since learned that it's quite common among people in and from Germany. The basic ingredients are milk and pasta. Some people use macaroni, some flat noodles, some curly noodles. My family uses broken spaghetti noodles.

Cook the noodles and drain them. Add milk, butter, salt and pepper and heat. Eat with soda crackers.

In my case, I like my soup thick with noodles and then a crush up so many soda crackers in it, all the liquid is absorbed, so I end up with no soup and just a big bowl of salty, buttery, limp carbohydrates. Sounds sick, doesn't it? Maybe it's a counter-irritant, because it always makes me feel better. Makes me sleepy, too, which is usually a good thing when you're unwell.

I'm not certain, but I think my Uncle Johnny Schroeder may have brought that into the family when he married my Aunt Ruth Leister. At any rate, milk soup is cheap and filling, and we ate it not just when we were ill. But never, never if we needed to be awake and alert.

Come to think of it, suppose a character in a story or book needed to throw a bad guy off his game? Just make him a big bowl of delicious milk soup and tackle him when he nodded off. ha!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sick Foods

I have been ill for the past two weeks, hence my absence from posting - the thought of most foods in the midst of whatever nasty grunge I undoubtedly caught off the Muni was just not palatable. I had a lot of chicken broth, tomato soup, toast and water during the worst of it, breaking up the tedium with frozen berry and pomegranate smoothies 'cause they felt so soothing to my sore throat. I'm feeling almost human again, other than the remnants of the cough (the kind that sounds like a dry little bark and hurts much more than it sounds like it should) and over-active sinuses. I went through a day or two of totally muted taste buds due to the congestion; thank goodness it only lasted a short time 'cause that takes ALL the joy out of eating. My interest in food has definitely revived as well, but I still find myself craving comfort foods like soups, pasta, and toast.

Tomato soup with a hint of dill and black pepper, for instance. My brown rice toast with avocado mixed with lemon juice, pepper and buttered crab meat. Brown rice pasta with a thick tomato sauce with chicken-apple sausage and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Salads haven't been doing it for me since I got sick; I'm hoping my love of leafy green things comes back soon or I'll gain back the weight I lost, which would be a bummer. If one is going to get sick, it seems some weight loss is fair compensation, doncha think?

What are your comfort foods whether you're feeling under the weather or just need the security of a favorite dish? And what do you do when you lose your sense of taste and smell during the recovery period and nothing tastes good, no matter how much your stomach growls?