Sunday, October 4

Dallas and a Dinner Party

We spent a week in Dallas visiting our new best friends we met on the South Pacific cruise this April. And, three days after we returned, we threw a dinner party for 8.

I was feeling the pressure.

The cool thing about the internet is that if you decide not to take your big, heavy camera, or its batteries are dead, you can “borrow” images from the internet for purposes of illustration. Which is what I did here. I still have not learned how to get images from my phone onto my laptop, however I can put images from the laptop onto my cell phone, which take up more space on that device than I want to dedicate to pictures, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to figure it out. Posting photos to Facebook is so much easier than blogging nowadays, but I’m steadfastly refusing to go that route. The images I do show here are spot-on to what it was.

We had glorious weather in Dallas. Our hosts, Bill & Sarah, took us to the JFK Museum in downtown Dallas. One recognizes the building immediately. 512ee6149ee0e.image
They have a terrific multimedia museum of events about the assassination of JFK. You can look out the window that Oswald did when he shot the President.

You can’t see it in this photo, but there is a big X on the street where the fatal shot was fired. Most of my readers lived through that awful time and the museum brought back sad memories, but it was heartwarming to see many younger people and soldiers in uniform.348s

Then we drove out to Bill & Sarah’s Lake house in East Texas. It’s two hours ENE of Dallas. This is where we spent most of our time, playing bridge in the afternoons and drinking wine in the evening. So relaxing.vfiles37705

When we got home we had exactly two and a half days to unpack, do laundry, shop and prep for a dinner party Saturday night. I had put the leaf in the table and set it before we went to Dallas.

I am a firm believer in doing everything in advance. By Saturday afternoon I was sitting with my feet up, reading The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure. An excellent read, I highly recommend it.

I made all the food Friday. All I had to do Saturday was get a pedicure, make the salad and arrange the flowers.

Here is my recipe for Make-Ahead Scalloped Potatoes for 8 to 10 people. These are crazy good and everybody loves them.
  • 6 - 8 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 3/4 pint heavy cream (not half & half, not milk)
  • 1 can Campbell’s chicken broth (small red/white can)
  • Salt, white pepper to taste
  • Chives, parsley (optional but recommended)
  • 1/2 – 1 stick butter
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Put the cream in a large saucepan and heat over low heat. Keep your eye on it and don’t let it boil over. Remove from heat.

Add the chicken broth, a little at a time, until the sauce is light and creamy. Add the salt, white pepper, and chives/parsley to taste.

Melt the butter. Use some of the butter to grease a large glass/ceramic baking dish. Yes you can use Pam but the butter gives it a crispy edge like in the above picture.
Peel and thinly slice the potatoes (I use a mandoline). Drop the potato slices in water as you work. Drain the potatoes in a colander.

Working in layers, arrange potato slices followed by a drizzle of melted butter. You could add cheddar or jack cheese between the layers if you want.
After the potatoes are in the baking dish, pour the cream/broth over top, until  the liquid comes up over the potatoes. If you need more liquid, you still have some cream left.

Heat the oven to 350°.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, sprinkle Parmesan, and put it back in the oven uncovered for 10—15 minutes or until lightly browned.

To make ahead: Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let come to room temperature. Refrigerate for up to 2 days. When you’re ready, take the dish out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature for an hour or longer. Heat the oven to 350° and bake the potatoes until they are heated through, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle grated Parmesan over top and return to oven, uncovered, for about 10—15 minutes or until lightly browned.

The other players were Chicken Dijon with Shallots and Grainy mustard,creamy-dijon-mustard-chicken-horiz-640-600x428

and Fabulous Spinach Salad. Maple syrup and balsamic vinegar dressing: Killer.IMG_7630

The hot appetizer was melted brie with Onion-Garlic Jam. Outstanding.670px-Bake-Brie-Step-6

What could be easier—two ingredients, cheese and jam.

Oh, and we had these. Terra Chips. Have you ever had them? So unusual.

I had planned to make an apple cobbler for dessert, but then we went to Costco and I saw this huge apple pie and it pulled me in like I was hypnotized. We served it warm with vanilla ice cream. This lit up my brain like a drug. Remember, I rarely eat this stuff. Outrageous! I swooned.

On the gluten-free front, I am finding I can have a little bit of wheat products now and then without incident, like a couple crackers or, in this case, a bit of pie crust. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It’s still best to avoid wheat altogether, but it’s easier to resist when you know it’s going to get you.

Now we are gearing up to go to Barcelona in a couple weeks. We are hosting a pinot party next week and I’ll try to remember to take photos.

Tuesday, September 15


We are decorating. I think this is the last item on the wish list, but it’s a big one. Window treatments.

We have been auditioning fabrics and I think we are getting close. I kind of like this for the living area but JJ thinks it’s too gray. It is that.IMG_2413

But at night, with the lights on, it doesn’t look as dark—it has a really pretty silvery sheen.

It’s still a contender; I like it a lot, but I’m afraid I’ll get “sheened out” really quick.

It has a companion fabric that is even “sheenier,” and we both like it for the bathroom.

Yes I know, not much color, but I like it and I live here. (JJ likes it too.) It picks up the colors of the fixtures, mirror frames, and the floor. Tres elegante.

I chose this tiger print for the powder room. Fun.IMG_2419

Which will be known as the “Africa Room.” (Sorry about the blur.)

I now have a project: To make an Africa-inspired quilt (but not an elephant, at least not a gray one anyway) for the wall on the left.

In other news, it is raining!! We got a good soaking, which we so desperately need.

The plants are happy, happy. My car got a bath,too. IMG_2411

Saturday, September 12

Small Worlds

My friend Linda, who I play golf with, told me that about the time she moved here from Pittsburgh her mother went into a nursing facility. Linda had siblings still in PA, so they went ahead with their decades-long plan to move to California when CB retired.

I asked her if she felt guilt about that. She said no, not at all. She said she talks to her mom every week and her world is shrinking. I asked what she meant by that and she said her mother doesn’t think much beyond the four walls she lives in these days, and it doesn’t make a lot of difference [to her] if I’m across the country or across the street.

I pondered that for a long time. Actually I thought it pretty profound. When we’re little tykes our world ends at the front door, and then it expands when we go to school and make friends, and then after school we take on the world. As we get on in years (if we’re lucky) our boundaries shrink again.

Anyway, I thought it interesting, and there was a segue there, but I’ve forgotten what it was. Here’s a couple photos from my “little world” this week.

Some monsoon-stuff blew over from the east. These clouds spell one thing: Humidity. It was really hot this week. It’s usually either all-blue or all gray around here.IMG_2406

A bunch of us bailed out after nine holes Wednesday. It was 99 degrees and 70% humidity out there. Not fun at all—and potentially dangerous. If I was playing brilliantly I might have considered it, but my game is less than stellar lately (understatement).

I was sitting in the AC reading my book for book club next week—we are reading Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons—when I heard what sounded like the house falling apart. I opened the shades and a big storm had blown in, obliterating everything. The flags we had put out for Labor Day were blowing down the street. The big trash barrels lay on their sides, their contents heading west. It was lucky I was home to close the umbrellas or they would have flown to who knows where.


This poor young tree would have snapped off if it weren’t for the posts holding it up.


Well, I guess that’s it for my little world. All is well in Smallville.

Saturday, September 5

Saturday on the Rancho

Not a whole lot going on, but we are “getting around” to making some improvements to our nest. Actually, the truth is our budget has gotten caught up. I saw this piece in a catalog and it caught my eye. The catalog had been sitting on my desk for a couple of months and I finally was able to order it. I love it and it is perfect for the space.


Originally I was going to make a quilt for over the fireplace but I struggled with the thought that it would fight with the other art pieces in the room. I just love this!

Here’s another look at the lamps we got for over the island.

We had a heck of a time finding something we liked that didn’t cost a fortune because everything we like *does* cost a fortune. I guess we have expensive tastes. These looked better online than they do in person—they aren’t my favorite but they get the job done.

We went out for Indian food for our anniversary, which was a month ago but we were serious about our diets at the time. We haven’t been so serious lately because we didn’t lose much weight being serious (we lost some), and Thursday was the day. We both love Indian, actually we like pretty much any ethnic cuisine.

I had to have the Naan. I’m sure you understand.

And I needed the onion bhajis. I really did.

I only had a 3” square of the naan and two bhaji, but I knew there’d be hell to pay (gluten), and I was right. It has taken two days (so far) to get it out of my system. Even with ibuprofen my hip joints hurt real bad and I needed to use nose spray so I could breathe through my nose. Was it worth it? I said yes at the time, but the next day not so much.

I never know where gluten is going to get me. Could be my lungs, my brain, or my joints. It’s always a surprise.

Aren’t you impressed that I can turn a story about delicious Indian food into a tirade against wheat?

Here’s what Dr. David Perlmutter says about gluten in his book, Grain Brain.

It helps to understand that food sensitivities in general are usually a response from the immune system. When the body reacts negatively to food, it attempts to control the damage by sending out inflammatory messenger molecules to label the food particles as enemies, in a bid to wipe out the enemies.


When antibodies of the immune system come into contact with a protein or antigen, the inflammatory cascade is provoked, releasing a whole host of damaging chemicals known as cytokines.

Cytokines are highly antagonistic to the brain, damaging tissue and leaving the brain vulnerable to dysfunction and disease—especially if the assault continues. Cytokines are pivotal players in neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

[Can you say chronic migraines? I used to have them 2-3 times a month. I have had ONE in 18 months since I quit eating gluten.]

The problem with gluten is far more serious than anyone ever imagined and gluten sensitivity is far more prevalent than we realize—99% of people whose immune systems react negatively to gluten don’t even know it.

JUST EAT REAL FOOD! And bread is not real food. It is processed food.

Thursday, September 3

Meandering into September

Have you noticed the sun moving south and the days getting shorter? I have. Fall is definitely in the air…or at least it’s around the corner. September-October can bring some of the hottest days in So Cal, but I’m hoping maybe because it has been a cool summer it will be a crisp Autumn. But cool is relative; I have come from the desert, remember.

I have solved 90% of my computer problems. The only thing I could not accomplish is getting my router/extender to work because the WiFi name is different since we moved and the passkey won’t work with it. I only want the router because the signal is low in the studio where I prefer to be. It’s far away from the WiFi portal, which resides in the wall in our closet on the other side of the house. But it’s a tiny inconvenience, and I can get another one if I can’t manage without it.

But—here’s the thing—in a last-ditch effort to find the passkey I plugged in the dead laptop and…it fired up! I even said to myself aloud, “This is ridiculous. It won’t work.” But it came alive like nothing was wrong. So I grabbed some CDROM disks and copied my photos and documents/data to disk. But the passkey was the same as the one I was trying (I had written it down), so no help there. And then it died again. Can you believe it? I still can’t. I got it all!!!

So, what else is new. We had our second block party Sunday and it was a blast—even better than the first one in June. The weather cooled down just in time and we were dancing in the streets as the beautiful full moon rose over the hills. We love living here—everyone does—and everyone is so nice and, well we just love ‘em all.

JJ is really getting into bridge. He plays twice a week at the bridge center in Dana Point, and is going to play in the Orange County Regional tournament next week. He’s got pals he talks about conventions with, I just love to see it. We were so isolated in the desert…and also the central coast, where we lived in a golf-centric community and JJ doesn’t play golf.

But I do, and I love my golf club. It’s a great group of folks, men and women, who play at about the same level (more or less) as me, and it’s for fun. It’s not serious like club golf, where it’s competitive and rules are strict and the women are bitches. Who needs that! And the courses we play are wonderful.

Let’s see how the new laptop does pictures. Not too good, but I think it’s operator error, I don’t have auto focus on this lens…it’s the one I broke.

We finally changed out the lights over the island. We looked and looked, and what we ended up doing is buying dimmable fluorescents (those screw-y looking ones), which I don’t think existed 18 months ago for this kind of fixture, and we only changed out the glass globes instead of re-building the whole fixture and hiring an electrician to do it. We saved hundreds…which ended up going to replace the computer, but still a good thing.

This afternoon we are having a decorator come to help us with valances. I can’t wait to see what fabrics she brings.

Sunday, August 30

I’m BACK!!

I think. I hope. I never actually went anywhere, my laptop died, and I mean DIED. I got the blue screen of death. I took it to Best Buy to see what could be done with it and they couldn’t even get it to turn on.

All my photos and writings are on that computer. Fortunately I saved all the travel photos to disc, but I hadn’t backed up the everyday photos, or writings, in a while. The geek at Best Buy says they can try to get the data, money back guaranteed if they are unsuccessful.

Meanwhile I bought a new laptop. I waited a week for it to arrive, and I was literally doing a happy dance (more like a shimmy) when I answered the door for the FedEx guy.

I knew it would take some time to get it loaded with my favorite programs, customized and all that, but I had no idea how involved and problematic this process was going to be. My troubles started straight-out the box with a malware virus. I don’t know how it got there or where it came from, but it was blocking me and intercepting me every time I went online. It was one of those ones that comes with a scary red screen and you have to pay someone to take it off. I knew about these and I was not going to fork over my credit card to these shysters. No way. But still, it had control of my computer.

I learned a lot about malware and scareware Friday. This is a multimillion dollar business. I finally learned that if all else failed I could wipe the entire disk clean and start over. Well, I had nothing to lose and there was no data to be lost, so I went for it. Five hours later it was done. And the virus was gone. But some of the programs I had bought (they don’t send discs anymore, it’s all download-driven) didn’t want to let me have them a second time.

Just try to reach a live person at Microsoft. On a Saturday. Pretty impossible, but I got through in two hours. The first guy, whom I could not understand, couldn’t help me. He transferred me to Jorge, who spoke perfect English. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then I inadvertently touched the 1 button on the phone and lost the call. I wanted to cry. Everything I touched went south. It was like I was snake-bit. I even managed to take the desktop computer offline from the internet (it’s hardwired) for a while.

There’s more, but you know what? I finally got it. I got it and I am up and funning. Well maybe not Funning yet, there’s still a learning curve with the keyboard—I meant to type “running.” The keys are harder to push and in a different position than the old laptop, which served me very well for ten years.

A lot has changed in ten years how computers operate. They’re mostly app-driven today.

I just wonder how people who have never had a computer manage these startup issues. And what would one do without a second computer to look up how to troubleshoot the myriad problems? One piece of advice I’d give them is to get a Mac.

No pictures today because, well, there ain’t any on this machine yet.

Thursday, August 20

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

We really do live on a ranch, Rancho Santa Margarita de los Flores. At one time this rancho encompassed about hundreds of thousands of acres from Oceanside to Santa Ana. The freeway came in 1951 (I-5), and then the government came in and took a huge chunk (Camp Pendleton Marine Corps). There was nothing between Oceanside and Santa Ana except for Mission San Juan Capistrano in the late 1800s. Over time they have parceled out the land and built residential communities like Mission Viejo, Santa Margarita, and San Clemente. Many of our streets are named for it's founders and ranchers.

The rodeo is in town and it's a big deal. There have been many ancillary events leading up to the rodeo this weekend (we are not going this year). We got to go to the working area of the ranch, Rancho Mission Viejo, which is just a couple miles from our community. Over yonder, ya might say.

We learned how to rope cattle. These little steers are bred just for this sport and it's all they know. 

See em lined up in the chute? They can't wait for their turn. They are not skeert at all. Those black vans in the background are our rides. They take us all kinds of places. 

Some cowboys, just shootin the shit. I made a video to share but my laptop died and I can't get my desktop computer to upload it. Maybe I'll figure it out, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll get a new laptop.

They raise bucking bulls, too. That's all they do, too. Nothing else. They have been selectively bred to be the best buckers. Rodeo is a serious sport. Each bull is numbered and there is a catalog of each one and its particular characteristics. They cut down their horns so they won't gore a horse or rider.

Meanwhile around home, it's business as usual. JJ is playing tournament bridge regularly now, we play social bridge on Mondays, and I have golf on Wednesdays. I have not been playing well lately. In fact, I suck. Seriously. 

I found this picture in my camera. I wish I could remember how I made this, because I remember it was really really good. Mediterranean Chicken, I think it was called. I remember it had sun dried tomatoes and olives. 

Other'n that, it's just retirement as usual. The way it's supposed to be.