Thursday, February 26, 2009

"Wisting" Wisteria

Ever had one of those mornings when you wake up and everything is definitely well with your world? happened to me this morning. Woke to a perfect desert morning; temperature around 59F, sky cloudless and a soft breeze in the air. Took my tea out onto the patio and noticed two things: the wisteria that has played dead for the past four months had sent out delicate, green leaf shoots overnight; the Black Chinned hummingbirds that disappeared in December were back. What a glorious morning! And then, on our walk, dog and I came within 30 feet of the resident neighborhood javelina gang....we backtracked out of their way but what a gift to see wild animals out on a cactus hunt so close up.

Several years ago I worked with a woman who rejoiced everyday at the beauty of ordinary things - needed parts were late coming in and she took that as an opportunity to relabel shelves! On one morning when I was definitely grouchy I called out to her asking she was so permanently perky and positive. She came into my office and sat across from me. "I'm an alcoholic" she stated. I've been clean and sober for more than 15 years but to this day I remember waking to a hazy view of the world, I moved slowly, I kept my head down. I was functional and very few people knew I had an addiction. The day I was finally free of alcohol was a miserable, gray, slushy morning in Detroit but to me everything was clear and bright. That's how I see the world now."

Her description of a slow shuffle into each day reminded me of the need to rejoice and be grateful for what small gifts just being in the moment presents. Those who know me well will testify that I am anything but a Pollyanna type and quite capable of the odd snarl! But this morning, something was different in my perception of the world, my senses were heightened and my vision clear. Oh for everyday to be like this.

Jim Duzak
writes this month of the way in which women in particular burden themselves with the problems of others. There's a genetic button somewhere that has us believe that we have to fix every ones problems. I'm sure it happened when we lived in caves..."honey, that club looks heavy, here, sit on the rock and chip in the crossword puzzle while I go thump this week's mammoth". And off we went, skins flapping and muttering "men, I have to do everything", while he poor cave man sits bemused thinking "but I like hunting and bringing home the mammoth". I don't know about you but I fall so quickly into the "I'll do it, you just sit" mode on everything from making coffee to catching the blasted packrats. It is so typical of women to resist help and to be incapable of saying no. I spent years on being on charity boards, was remarkably efficient and was, now that I look back, frequently a sucker! The "I'll take care of it" mode made me feel good, gave me a sense of worth and I honestly think a great deal of it stemmed from being fearful of not being needed. It was a fear that I let shape much of my early adulthood. Check out the article in March Connectionsforwomen on letting so of stress. You can do it if you want to.

Genny and I met with Roxie Garcia this week , founder of Farmers Markets Tucson. We're delighted that Connections For Women is going to work with Roxie to bring awareness to women emerging as entrepreneurs, small scale business start-ups and sustainable living that gives back to community. As we chatted the conversation turned serious and Roxie commented how we often let other peoples fears dictate what we do. Geez, between our self-imposed fears and the fears of others, I'm amazed that women still manage to run the world!

That's it....need to get outside and celebrate this day free from worry, free from burdens and senses fully on the alert. There's a Buddhist belief that teaches it's the steps along the journey, not the final destination, that we should be aware of.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Life Without Sam

It has been just over a year since Sam crossed the Rainbow Bridge and still too short a time for traces of her to fade in the house, and definitely too short a time to get used to life without a cat. An incredibly quiet cat, she never had a proper meow - more of a rather horrid screech when she wanted something; her preferred method for getting you to do something for her was to wind around legs, head off in the direction of litter box or food bowl and look back to see if you were following. For the past few years she was unable to jump to get her food out of the reach of dogs, so Hamish became somewhat portly on his diet of what ever the cat left. I always knew when he'd raided her sanctuary and cleaned her out - she had a certain accusing way of getting my attention and very pointedly identifying the dog as being in trouble. Must admit to still seeing her in the shadows and looking for her at bed time.

Dog and I plus a "cousin" dog to keep him company , went up the the cabin for a few days. It was strange arriving there with no Sam to settle and see to immediately upon arrival - she was a great traveler, no trouble. I know Hamish misses her. He still wanders into the huge walk in closet that was her lair, sticks his head around the door and looks at me quizzically. When I was getting ready to go up to the cabin, he recognized the routine of packing a cooler and promptly went into the storage room and sat next to Sam's travel carrier as if to say, "OK, I know we're going to get her now".

How is it that animals wind, purr, snuffle and drool their way into our lives? I think it's their total trust and non judgmental acceptance of whatever feast or famine of love we throw their way. They are never stingy in return. Rana, the dog who joined us on our trip, belongs to my son and his wife. They are on assignment Ethiopa and my youngest son is looking after her. Quite honestly, she's not beautiful but she is the happiest and most loving of dogs. Her owners went to the HSSA looking for a fuzzy, big, potential hiking mate. They came home with this rather fearsome looking gal who is primarily Catahoula Hound and then lord knows what the rest is - one thing is for sure- the mouth is cavernous. Their rationale for adopting her over the cute lab puppy was that her chances were minimal of getting out alive. Three years ago Rana was suddenly paralyzed in her hind quarters, we were were at a family 4th. of July party when we noticed she was not moving. Long story short but her young owners found a canine neurologist and at not a small cost arranged for the surgery that gave back her ability to walk. She has a funny wiggle in the rear end now and occasionally, when over exuberant, her back legs give way. She absolutely loves snow and to see her tearing though the wood, leaping obstacles. literally a grin on her face, ears flapping, is a joy. Meanwhile Hamish, built low to the ground, lumbers around a bit like an obsolete tank!

Several years ago I worked at the Humane Society of Tucson (now the Humane Society of Southern Arizona) and although my position of fundraiser and public relations was removed from the daily shelter activity, the director encouraged all of us to be acutely aware of our mission. Both heartbreaking and rewarding, there were days when I couldn't go into the kennels or cat rooms and see all those beseeching faces, little paws and noses pressed to bars just looking. We went through a lot of foster animals at the house during those days, a couple became permanent residents and others, loved out of their fears and cajoled out of anti-social behaviors were eventually adopted into loving families. Perhaps our most neurotic guest was Daniel, a huge and elegant Gordon Setter who had abandonment issues. He attached himself to me like a wet rag, shadowed me, wouldn't leave my side . Eventually I had to sleep on a couch because my husband, tolerant and loving of animals as he was, could not sleep with Daniel in the bed and despite every effort, where ever I was, there was Daniel.

I know during these tough economic times that shelters around the country are experiencing an upswing in received animals. Heartbreaking for both the families who have no choice and the animal who is an innocent victim. I can understand this turn of events but I could never understand nor accept the excuses that people made when I was at the shelter. "My new husband doesn't like him" as a 9 year old dog was turned in. I think I would have turned in the new husband before the dog! "We got all new dark furniture and can't cope with the shedding" , as a 14 year old cat was pushed over the counter. And one that had me lose it and kept away from receiving for a while - two young college girls, each turning in "designer" dogs at the end of a semester because they wanted to go have fun for the summer; they commented as they left, "Oh, we'll be back in September and find something else cute."

Animals, short of hell and high water (and even then think twice!) are for life. They live and love and we are responsible for their well being. I can think of no more worthy cause than supporting your local shelter and preaching the spay and neuter message.

We've run three rescue group stories in Connections for Women to date and I for one am up for more. Don't hesitate to let me know if you a good cause or story to share.
Check out the work of volunteers in South America with Cat Cafe ; the Milwaukee based group that gives shelter to animals caught in domestic violence situations and, not the least, The Ironwood Pig Sanctuary that provides hope for abandoned Pot Bellied Pigs. All stories that brought me to tears...tears of gratitude for human kindness and despair for the indifference of some.

And this is a salute to my friend Sylvia Edwards - a busy woman, she owns Skin Care at Civano on Tucson's far east side - she also takes in former race-track greyhounds, loves and nurtures them along with her dog, Hera, until they find a new home. A huge hug to all of you who walk the talk in animal welfare.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Preserving Lemons, Nesting and, a Good Book

My cabin is in a high alpine type valley that was first settled some 140 years ago. The ditch that brings water the three miles from the mountain to fill the ponds was hand dug right around that time period and is still fully functional today. I think often, when I'm up here, of the women who first eked out a living with sparse shelter in this beautiful spot. I think of how difficult their lives were; no running water, no propane gas delivery to fill up a tank, no electricity to power a fridge and oven, no car warm in the garage to take them to the nearest store. Perhaps it's those memories that bring out the nesting instinct in me whenever I'm here. The urge to create a sanctuary; to make things safe. Were I not alone I would happily forgo life in Tucson and move up here year round. As it is, I fill the place as often as possible with family and friends and, as is the case this week, my dog and a borrowed buddy for him - he misses his cat.

I brought up from the Tucson garden Meyer lemons, kumqauts, limequats and grapefruit and had fun preserving my little harvest. The lemons I've preserved in salt for later use in Moroccan dishes and to spice up sauteed spinach and kale; the kumqauts and limequats are in a syrup to be used over ice cream or poundcake in the summer months; the grapefruit are still sitting in a pottery bowl looking lovely but the work involved in making marmalade has been a bit off putting so I might just find myself drinking a lot of grapefruit juice.

For me, this preserving of a harvest held no risk. For the women who settled this valley, their lives depended on a good harvest and preserving what they could for the winter months when nothing would grow. I think of root cellars and jars filled with vegetables; I think of how welcome the one or two old apple trees still to be found around here must have been and what treasure there was to be found in the solitary black walnut tree. Life was so difficult for those women and men who pioneered a way of life in these mountains that has now become one of luxury for weekend visitors. With their indomitable spirit and resourcefulness I wonder what they would make of the current economic mess we are in.

Strong women feature in a book I finished last night - A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - you may know his first book, The Kite Runner. Miriam and Laila live a life so removed from anything I have ever known that the images in the book are haunting me. They struggle to make a life in Taliban occupied Kabul; women are nothing. The mother bear instinct of protecting children and the extraordinarily strong bond that develops between these two women leads to tragedy for one and a chance of life for the other. Only yesterday I read of the Pakistani government brokering a deal with the Taliban that allows them to impose the rule of Shariah on the region of Swat that borders Pakistan and Afghanistan - can any god help those women living there?

In we shared a story about refugees a month ago and I was most moved by a spirit that endures in people who have suffered unspeakable hardship and yet they see hope in the smallest thing and keep going. When you have nothing, there is nothing more to lose and going forward is the only choice. The human spirit is amazing; the cruelty that still abounds in this world is appalling.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Cornish Pasties ~ $1.25 each

Tiddly Oggy- Cornish Pasties Fresh from the Oven

Cornish Pasties are a meal in a crust. These 6" ones are perfect lunch or buffet sized. For a dinner serving most adults would probably eat two! Serve with a green salad, sliced tomatoes, pickled onion and a chunk of sharp Cheddar cheese for authentic "Pub Grub".

My pricing is based on the following shopping.
8 oz NY Strip steak $5.60
2 packs of puff pastry at $5.49 each*
Potatoes $1.33
Onion $0.78
Turnip $0.59
Parsley from the garden

Cornish Pasties
Prep time close to an hour. Cooking time 35 minutes.

8 oz of lean beef fillet mignon, NY Strip, sirloin suggested or substitute lean ground beef.
1 large onion (sweet preferred))
1 lb total of potatoes and turnip an oz or 2 more is not a problem (ratio of more potato to turnip preferred)
1 tsp. Dijon or preferred mustard (up to 1 TBS if you love mustard)
2 TBS of ketchup or brown sauce such as A1 or HP
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 Cup chopped parsley Italian or domestic
Black pepper
Sea salt
1 tsp. dried thyme

2 package Sarah Lee frozen puff pastry (4 sheets) or 2.2 lbs of puff pastry
Will make 16 6” circumference pasties.

Let the pastry thaw out of the package for a few minutes or until you can unfold the sheets without breaking them.(If they do tear or break…use a little water to re seal the cracks) On a well floured surface roll into a square approximately 13” x 13”. Any thinner and it will not have the body to support the filling.

Use a pan lid or plate to cut out about 6” circles. Bigger if you want fewer /bigger pasties. If it is at all humid or hot take steps to keep the pastry cold - as you cut out each circle, place it on a plate and refrigerate until all pastry is used. Take all the odd pieces and stack them on top of one another and roll out so you can cut out more circles. You can make “runt” pasties with the scraps! Or stack the pastry and freeze for some other use. (Don’t roll the pastry into a ball…it will toughen)

Keep the pastry chilled while you slice the potatoes turnip and onion into similar size pieces.
Slice the beef into thin slices roughly same size as the vegetable slices. If the meat is slightly frozen it will be easier to slice.

In a large bowl mix the meat and vegetables. Season with the salt, pepper, thyme, mustard , sauce. Mixture should NOT be sloppy.

Spoon 1/3 cup of filling down the centre of the pastry circles. With your finger, run a line of water around the circumference of the pastry; bring both sides up over the filling and crimp the seam. Make sure that it is sealed. For a really golden crust, brush with milk or water immediately before baking.**

At this stage you can freeze the pasties unwrapped and when frozen wrap and label.

Pre heat oven to 450.
Brush pasties with milk or cold water. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake a further 35 minutes. This time is for the 6” pasties. For larger pasties increase the time baked at 350 by 10 minutes.


Pre-heat oven to 450F
Brush pasties with milk or cold water. Bake at 450F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F. and bake 25 more minutes.

*Obviously the most expensive ingredient. I've found the Pepperidge Farm brand ranging from $3.95 to $6.25. A lot of the organic type grocery stores and ethnic stores sell puff pastry packs for as little as $2.19 a pound. Or of course you can make your own. It really isn't difficult, just time consuming.
** Two schools of thought on how the pasties should be crimped - folded over or pulled up on top. Those who thnk they know say the side crimp is Devonshire and the top crimp Cornish. I haven't a clue and vary how I fold and crimp. Top one probably looks prettier.

Baked pasties can be cooled , well wrapped and frozen. Do not thaw before re heating. Put them in a 450F oven for 10 minutes to re-crisp the pastry or simply thaw and eat cold.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Fancy Tiddly Oggy for Dinner?

Don't blame you if you decline. I certainly had my doubts the first time it was offered to me. I was at university and made a weekend trip to Devon with a then boyfriend to meet his parents. On the train he regaled me with stories of his family's subsistence life style putting out crab pots, fishing for herring and growing turnips; so when we got to the station and he phoned home to let his mother know what bus we were catching to the village, I was more than alarmed to hear him say , "and Mum, since this is Gerry's first visit to Devon, will you make Tiddly Oggy for super". Visions of another English local specialty harvested from the sea, Norfolk Star Gazey Pie, danced through my head and my stomach churned! believe me there is nothing appetizing about a pie presented with little herring heads, eyes to the sky, poking through the pastry crust.
The 17th, Century farmhouse his family lived in did not smell of fish cooking and, far from close to the land people, his parents were urbane Rhodesians who had returned to their Devon roots just a few years earlier and ran an export business providing nostalgic British ex patriots with things like Marmite and Crunchie Bars.
To my relief, Tiddly Oggy was the local name for a Cornish Pasty. That boyfriend didn't last long and, coincidentally, my first husband, whose family hailed from a Finnish enclave in the UP of Michigan, also had a connection with pasties -he lasted longer.
The Cornish Pasty - loved by some and hideously mutilated by others - is an iconic dish. Simple in ingredients, beautiful in form and heavenly to the taste buds; in its purest form it is comfort food at its best.
I'm a true believer in the most told history of this humble dish - namely that it sprang from the needs of the Cornish tin miners to have a hot lunch that they could eat with filthy and perhaps arsenic tainted hands. Wives packed meat, potato, onion and turnip into a sturdy pastry casing and kept in the overall pockets the interior retained heat and the pastry could be grasped in dirty hands and discarded as the filling was devoured. As the Cornish tin miners migrated to the silver mines of Mexico and Idaho, the copper mines of the UP of Michigan and other parts of the mid west, the pasty came along with them. In Michigan, the Fins were the miners and the pasty became touted as a Finnish Pasty; truth is it's Finnish roots were all of the New World but the Fins did put their own spin on things and substitute carrot for the turnip and ground beef for the traditional thinly sliced top round, sirloin or skirt steak. And for the record, my former Finnish mother-in-law said my pasties were much better than hers and her son had the nerve to call me several months after he re-married to ask for my pasty recipe....oh, yes, I wrote one up just for him... in case you ever get hold of it, bicarbonate soda and minced dill pickles do not figure in the original recipe!
Over the years and, I guess, as hand washing became the norm, the pastry on the traditional pasty, far from being discarded, has become a thing of delight. For years I made my own pastry but confess that the ease of using store bought puff pastry has had an allure I couldn't resist and unless I'm especially motivated, I no longer make my own pastry. I did a quick survey of pantry and freezer this morning and have on hand all the necessary ingredients to make pasties and in the spirit of economical and good food, my version, very true to the original, will follow. This recipe and other recipes can be found at as well as here. With a Salute to Percy Grainger playing , a fire in the hearth, two dogs asleep and a cloudy sky, I'm off to the kitchen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Henry likes it! Dinner for 8 under $24.00

For the recipe open Blog titled Smokey Paprika Stew with Orange Gremolata. The recipe will also appear in Connections for Women later this month and is the first in a series of easy, low cost comfort food stories.
This is a mouthwatering tender, intensely flavored stew with the smokiness of the paprika a perfect foil for the sweetness of the parsnips and butternut squash. Included in the $3.93 per person tab was an array of olives and almonds for a pre-dinner nibble and store bought sorbet for dessert.

Following my earlier post about the value of low cost meals that entice and have people asking for seconds, I dusted off the slow cooker this week and re-worked a favorite stew. I made a couple of variations and the winner- my panel consisted of my son, son-in-law and two grandsons, 7 and 11 -is the following recipe. I have nightmarish memories from boarding school days of mutton stew- gross, I can still taste and smell it! I think stews have often been synonymous with low cost cuts of tough meat 'stewed' until they break down, beaten into submission, fat gelling on the surface. No more. The only non pantry staple ingredient in this stew is smoked, sweet Spanish paprika. It has a smoky, sweet flavor that is very "moreish". Do not substitute a hot paprika or an un-smoked one. You can usually find the sweet , smoked version in the grocery store but often in a tiny, exorbitantly expensive jar. I buy mine online from The Spice House in Chicago. and this recent batch cost $4.69 for 4 oz ...that's a lot of paprika! I usually share with family and friends.

The prep time on this recipe took me 30 minutes from start to finish and my stew simmered for six hours. It's the kind of dish that you put together the night before and leave to cook while you are at work.
Lorie Marerro from Clutter Diet will agree with me when I say that preparation involves organization and getting mis en place, everything out and lined up, saves minutes of prep time to say nothing of floury hands on cupboard doors and so on. It's also a fail safe way of minimizing 'oopsies' and forgetting a vital ingredient. When my children were small I used to make cooking a part reading and math lesson having them read the recipe and measure ingredients. Check with March for an article on pantry organisation and making sense of labels.

I normally shop farmers markets and local stores but to get the best idea of costs for a shopper in general, I did my shopping at a local Safeway, taking advantage of my member card discounts. Significant on the meat...$2.98 as opposed to $5.98 a pound. I also asked the meat counter server to cut it into chunks for me and trim the fat which he was more than willing to do.

The recipe serves 8 and total cost for the stew and mashed potatoes was less than $3.75 per person. I put out olives and almonds for pre-dinner nibblies and served sorbet and preserved kumqats for a light dessert. Can't break down the cost of the kumquats because they came from the garden but adding the nibblies and sorbet brought the meal to just under $4.00 per person. The opinion of my guests was that it could be served at a fancy dinner party and get rave reviews. I served the stew with a mash of Yukon Gold Potatoes and Yams. To same time you can add potatoes for the last hour of cooking to the stew but knowing I'd have leftovers and not liking re-heated potatoes, I prefer to serve the mash. It's sweetness offsets the smokey sweetness of the stew. The gremolata garnish is the finishing touch that adds not just color but an intense burst of flavor.

Smokey Paprika Stew with Orange Gremolata - dinner for 8 under $4 a person.

Smokey Paprika Stew with Orange Gremolata
Based on shopping at Safeway Feb. 10 2009, this entire menu cost less than $4.00 per person. We served a pre-dinner assortment of olives and almonds and a store bought sorbet for dessert.

Ingredients in order of use
Slow Cooker or heavy duty casserole. Skillet, mesh sieve.
  1. 3 slices of thick cut applewood smoked bacon cut into 1" pieces
  2. 1/2 llb parsnips peeled and cut into small dice - about 1/4 inch
  3. 2 medium sweet onions cut into small dice
  4. 1 cup flour in either a large bowl or plastic bag, seasoned with sea salt and coarsely cracked black pepper
  5. 3 lbs boneless chuck cut into 2" chunks
  6. 1 TBS sweet smoked Spanish paprika
  7. 1 bottle red wine (I used a Beringer Merlot $4.89)
  8. 1/2 lb baby carrots
  9. 2 Cups diced butternut squash (bought it already cut)
  10. 2 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes peeled and quartered
  11. 2 yams (about 1/2 llb.) peeled and cut into chunks
  12. Butter, additional sea salt and pepper for the mash.
For the Gremolata

  1. A handful of Italian parsley, off the stem
  2. 1 scallion
  3. 2 cloves garlic
  4. zest of an orange
Note: If you are using a casserole instead of a slow cooker and it is stove top proof, use it for the slow 'frying'. Same goes if your slow cooker insert can go on the stove top. Mine can't so I use the skillet.

  1. Place the bacon in the skillet on medium heat and fry slowly letting it release fat. meanwhile prep the parsnips and add them to the skillet. As the parsnips cook, prep the onion and add it to the mix. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring occasionally. The parsnips will take on a lovely golden color and brown little on the edges. You do NOT want the onion to brown. This stage will take about 20 minutes total cooking time.
  2. As the base ingredients cook, dredge the meat in the seasoned flour, shaking off excess and put the seasoned, floured meat in the slow cooker. You are NOT going to brown the meat.
  3. Once the parsnips have taken on color, add the paprika to the skillet, mix thoroughly, turn up the heat until the entire mix is deep red in color and you can smell the paprika cooking.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of wine to the skillet and let it absorb into the mix.
  5. Scrape the parsnip, bacon, onion mix into the slow cooker with the meat. Return the skillet to the stove top, pour in about a cup of wine and swirl to gather up any remaining vegetables. Pour into the slow cooker. Add the rest of the wine. Cook on high for 1 hour. Turn to low and set the timer for 6 hours. Alternately, cook on low for 8 hours. *
  6. 5 hours into cooking, or one hour before serving, add the carrots to the slow cooker.
  7. 30 minutes before serving add the butternut squash to the slow cooker.
  8. Meanwhile prep, cook and mash the potato yam mix.
To Prep the gremolata
  1. Use a zester or sharp knife to pare thin zest strips from the orange - you don't want any white pith.
  2. Coarsely chop the scallion.
  3. Peel garlic
  4. Pull leaves from parsley.
  5. Pulse all of the above in a mini processor or chop by hand to a fine mince. Do NOT over pulse. You want to identify leaves and zest.
Serve with the mashed root vegetables and sprinkle with gremolata.

*If using an oven and casserole. Cook at 325 for an hour and then turn down to 300 for 4 hours.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Farewell to a Warrior Woman

Samantha, my cat, died peacefully today. She was part of my life since Oct. 23rd. 1990 when my daughter and youngest son brought her home from the Humane Society. She was a handful as a kitten, shredding drapes, pantyhose, furniture and, on more than one occasion, bringing down the Christmas tree. A gorgeous domestic long-haired tortoise, she had immaculate white feet. Apart from regular shots, she had only one vet visit and that was to lance a infection on her chin…she had a thorn embedded there. Sam was 99.9% an indoor cat although she loved to follow me around the garden and expose her fluffy white tum to the Sun.
She lived with me in several houses over those years; one of which had a basement where she chose to disappear and show up only for meals. I think it was because her nose was out of joint by the introduction of George, another rescue cat, this time an elegant, marmalade male. When we moved to a ranch in the Chiricahuas, Sam had no basement in which to skulk and plot assaults on George and the dogs so once again became a denizen of daylight. This time her chosen “best friends” were any number of the young fawns that would wander into the great room through the huge, open French doors. I’d hear a tip, tap of tiny hoofs on tile and find Sam and a fawn nose to nose.
There wasn’t a dog that didn’t fear her! And we had a parade of rescue ones through the house. Dougal, a Scotty, was one of them. His tag at the Humane Society read, “hates cats”. He made one attempt to chase Sam and she reared back, slapped him full on the face and a truce was formed. They were devoted one to another. Cash, a very large black and white dog of uncertain ancestry, rescued when he was around a year old, belongs to my youngest son. There’s some kind of latent herding gene in Cash. Whenever Sam ventured into the garden, Cash tried to herd her back into the house. She pretty soon got fed up with this interference to her routine and in her own way, made clear to him that enough was enough. My other son engaged Sam to train Rana, his Humane Society mutt, to be civil and respectful of these small, furry creatures called cats. My daughter’s gang of three Standard Poodles is terrified of her. Oliver, the oldest wandered into my bedroom one day where Sam was napping on the bed. She heard him and fluffed herself to full size. Poor dog was so startled by this apparition that he fell in a dead faint.
Her latest dog, Hamish, a wonderful, furry “ewok” came home 6 years ago. A streetwise kid, he too made the mistake of thinking Sam could be messed with. He learned fast and their devotion to one another was comical. She was his official food taster. He wouldn’t take a bite until she had sniffed his bowl and approved of the meal. “Let’s go to bed, kids”, I’d say before turning off the lights and they’d hustle to the bedroom and curl up together on Hamish’s’ bed . A few months ago Hamish began to snore very loudly at night and I had to get up, wake him and turn him over much like you’d poke any snoring roommate. After about three nights in a row of this Sam had had enough. As I turned on the light and headed for him she stepped back and whacked him across the nose. “Cut it out, buster” was her clear message. He hasn’t snored since.
Back in my early computer days, Sam would drape herself on top of the monitor and occasionally reach out and bat at the screen. Watching my fingers she figured out that touching the keys made something appear and move. We finally had to ban her from the office…she spent far too much time typing!
Apart from when in her basement period, she never caught a mouse. In fact just 10 months ago she actively invited a pack rat in and encouraged it to eat the dog’s food and chew the fringe off a carpet. She did bestow upon me gifts of lizard tails – most often leaving them in my shoes. I learned to check before slipping bare feet into shoes and alerted houseguests to do the same.

In the early days of my business I had to spend a year in Europe and Sam went to live with an elderly, recent, widower who had also just lost his cat. When I returned to the US I made clear to this kind man that if he and Sam had become an item, I would not insist on having her back. “My dear”, he told me. “I considered her my floozy for the year, we’ve had a great fling but now I need a more committed relationship”. Sam moved back home without missing a beat.

We had a committed relationship for 18 years and five months. I will be forever grateful.

On behalf of Samantha, I applaud all of you who have made shelter animals part of your life.

Leave the eyes in - they'll see you through the week!

It was a joke when I was growing up. "Leave the eyes in, they'll see you through the week", referring to the 'eye' in a potato where a sprout was starting. It was a joke based on the reality of leading a frugal life. My mother did not shop with a recipe in mind; she shopped with thrift. Going to the greengrocer, the butcher, the baker was not a journey of delighting in the senses, random choices and impulse buying; it was a serious journey to stretch the weekly budget and still feed the family well. And yet despite budget limitations, she was a superb cook and a genius at 'stretching' a meal.
The Sunday roast, be it pork, lamb (or more likely mutton) or beef was often the only meat purchased for the week and yet we had meat three or four times during that week. The roast was stretched on a Sunday with the addition of Yorkshire pudding and root vegetables. Monday we often had cold sliced beef, mashed potatoes and gravy for supper and, by Thursday the leftover beef was back on the table as a shepherds pie. Oh, I know a lot of this management of the weekly food budget was dictated by war time limitations and following the war (WW11 that is) with rationing still in effect, the limitations remained but at the same time, the generation of women who learned to cook and manage during those years, never lost a sense of prudence in shopping and meal planning.
A recent study in England where increasing obesity among young people is a concern, revealed that well over 70% of the under forty generation said that they rarely turned on an oven and that they wouldn't know how to make a full meal from raw ingredients. Jaime Oliver, darling of the cooking shows, has been spearheading a battle to introduce seasonal foods and balanced menus into school lunches by developing recipes for meals that do not rely heavily on processed foods. It's an uphill battle with parents slipping contraband potato chips and candies into school back packs to help kids through the day.
Not only are kids refusing to eat fresh vegetables but they can't identify much beyond a carrot! We had a recent incident up at our cabin with a visiting 14 year old. He flat out refused to eat any of the meals my daughter, a terrific cook , prepared - and there was nothing weird - chili, lasagna, mac and cheese, were all on the menu. This kid refused to even try anything and whinged for frozen pizza balls or something equally noxious. (Early on I deflated any interest my kids had in "mystery" pre-packaged foods by reeling off ingredients such as giraffe toes, toad lips and pig snouts - was probably correct on that last one - as we shopped. Must say I got a lot of funny looks). There being none in the cabin and nothing even vaguely related to fast food within 40 mile round trip, his father drove that 40 miles to buy him chicken nuggets! I'm happy to say that my grandsons (8 and 11) recognize and enjoy home cooked meals.
At Connections for Women we are acutely conscious of the number of job losses in our community; of fewer cars in the parking lots; of once popular restaurants close to empty. We know that more thought is going into how, when and where we shop. For some people budgets simply don't exist. Don't have enough in the bank...stick it on the credit card. We're also conscious of how few people really know how to cook. In my north end of Tucson there are many MacMansions with fabulous kitchens that get very little use. Take out, pre-made meals are the norm. We're not advocating a return to the old days of kitchen slavery for women but we are making a stand for home cooked meals.
As a society now, instant is more than pudding! We want everything instant and yet there is nothing more tantalizing than the smell of a soup simmering, a chicken roasting or onions on the griddle. Tightening belts, closing wallets and re thinking spending is becoming a reality. In the next month, Connections for Women will feature some suggestions for 'stretching' the budget and recipes for comfort food . We're going to talk about buying locally; supporting local business and being creative in the kitchen. Get your apron on and join us...and if time is the issue, check out Microwave Gourmet by Barbara Kafka. No time to make polenta or rissottos? Try the recipes in this book for these and other low cost, time-saving, nutritious and delicious recipes.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Raising Connections

When it came to selling my previous company, one I had nurtured from a seed of an idea into an internationally known and respected entity, I was anxious, almost like a mother watching her youngest leave home. I remembered some advice give by a mentor many years ago about entrepreneurship and letting go. He told me that the biggest mistake made by entrepreneurs is failure to realize when they have grown the business all they can; recognize when it is time to bow out and let someone else take over. Tough, though - that letting go. What if the new owner rejects some of your ideas; what if, what if...the list goes on. And it's the same with an idea - if you attach yourself fiercely to something and resist change, your great idea most likely will languish. Growing a business, watching the germ of an idea poke through the earth takes humility, flexibility and stashing the ego in a back closet, pushing it back and slamming the door shut when it threatens to escape.
Last week at Connections For Women, we had two plus days of intensive meetings with Peltier Effects, the team that guides us through the maze of statistics behind the site. Terms like spiders and spambots were Greek to me a few months ago. Now I am acutely aware of what the "spiders" like ; what words drive traffic to Connections For Women; how long people stay. We analyzed what visitors are reading; what they skip and, both Genny and I had to accept that some of our personal favorite topics were not necessarily big hits. Suck it in, I told myself, be a big girl, scrap what the readers don't like, listen, learn and grow. Hurts a little bit though because despite a business sensibility, an element of self goes into creating something you love. Taking ego out of a product is not easy and neither is working in a partnership unless all involved have the ability to do the same.
Fortunately Genny and I have a shared vision and goal with Connections for Women and slowly and surely we are snail-pacing our way to that dream realization line - but not without some hardheaded pragmatism lighting the way. Womens' health issues ; realistic and topical legal subjects ; matters of relationships, Jim Duzak in particular, Lorie Marrero's Clutter Diet - all are hits and, so are many more of the regular columns by generous, bright, creative men and women.
Our next bold move is to open the bulletin board pages and to grow the Your Voice section. A fun, oft times difficult and expensive journey but I'm delighting in seeing this new baby grow up.

As for my e mail frustrations - almost resolved but sad to say with no assistance from Comcast (and I wonder how many other people out there are having the same migration issues). I took Big Mac and Baby Mac to the "Genius Bar" at our local, swank, Apple store...genius of the hour was all of 16, or so it seemed. No joy. I resorted then to the secret weapon. I dragged everything along to the MAC retail source in Tucson owned by Simutek. The genius' there prefer to be called 'all round good guys' and they are certainly not under 20! Outcome was close to two hours of patient sleuthing by General Manager Rich Meindl and EUREKA! I'm up and running again. Still a few annoying bugs courtesy of Comcast but I'm connected and I have my address list back. For the record, I bought my first ever computer, a Vernon, from Simutek in 1982. Wonder if the customer service I received this week is what has kept them in business for so long.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Really Will Count My Blessings-Smartzone not included.

I've spent a few days huffing and moaning about a move made by Comcast. Without warning, Friday night, my e mail was switched to a web based "smartzone" - I have reservations about the validity of that name! I lost all my folders, archived mail and address book - one gathered over eleven years and from around the world. Customer service has given me varying non-reassuring promises that my mail etc. is not "lost", it is merely "migrating". Yesterday I was told that they will issue a repair ticket presumably to see if engineers can head for the savannah, Indian Jones style hats on head and herd my migrating folders back home. Right now my confidence level is at an all-time low.
Starting with my former business and, now Connections for Women and far flung friends, I depend on e-mail as a means of instant communication and connection to the world. Baby Mac comes with me wherever I travel and as long as I can check in, I remain connected. I feel lost right now, as though packs of old love letters, tied with ribbon, perfumed with memories, have been stolen from me. I've saved emails that remind me of great trips; of poignant moments; notes to and from friends as my husband was so very ill; later, of budding romance; of daily trials. I didn't print out everything on a daily basis- wanted to save paper and clutter.
My bemoaning the loss of tangible access to cherished memories seemed incredibly shallow yesterday evening. I have a neighbors who most nights around seven appear on the hillside above my garden with their dog. My dog waits by a window to glimpse them and lets me know they have arrived. I throw on lights and go down the steps, open the gate and the dogs romp for about ten minutes. It's become something of a ritual and in the eight months or so since this pattern emerged, I've become aware of Jan's (name changed) increasing confusion and, quite honestly, strange behavior. Three weeks ago her husband casually made a statement that included "since Jan's Alzheimer set in" and, what I had suspected was confirmed. This couple are in their late seventies and physically very fit. He is exceptionally sharp and I imagine she to was that way until not so very long ago. They've just returned from a trip to visit children in another part of the country. I asked asked how it went...he gave me a sad look. "We won't take more trips..." he began, "Why not?" she shot back. "Because my dear," he said "it's too hard on me." I knew what he meant. Even on these evening walks he guides her gently in the right direction, patiently answers when she point to their dog and demands "whose dog is that" and reminds her that "this is Gerry; she lives here" when she comes up very close to me and says "who are you, why are you here?".
I think of all the bundled love letters of memory that must sustain him now and of her desperate search for understanding in a world grown unfamiliar. My loss of email is paltry.