every girl needs a greek chorus

a blog about hope


¡Vaya con díos!

1 SunriseWhat did you do today?  The Daughter and I returned Atlantic green sea turtle hatchlings to the sea from the beach of our hotel in Cancún, México.  Known in Spanish as tortugas blancas, the adult females return to the same beach every year to lay their eggs in the soft, white sand.  Under the supervision of the Mexican government’s Ecology Department, trained members of the hotel staff remove and rebury the eggs in a fenced enclosure until they are ready to hatch.  They are then brought down to the water and volunteers, mostly hotel guests, are instructed on how to pick up the hatchlings and set them in the waves.

At sunrise this morning, I happened to see several sites on the beach that looked like turtles had made the trek onto the sand and laid eggs while I slept.  Indeed, the hotel staff came and excavated one right in front of our balcony.  The eggs appeared to be at a depth of about two feet.  Overhead, frigate birds circled, waiting for the chance to snatch the leathery-shelled eggs.


At sunset, we lined up to release approximately 500 hatchlings.  It was poignant to watch them hustle their way into the sea and disappear, knowing that the odds of their survival to adulthood is slim.  I released about half a dozen, ensuring that they swam strongly into the darkening water.  

  ¡Vaya con díos!

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Fly with Me, if you Dare

I have a love-hate relationship with air travel.  I used to love it.  Now, I hate it.

Remember when families used to go for a Sunday drive?  Sometimes we went to Grandma’s house.   Sometimes we drove down to the Detroit River to watch the iron ore freighters glide past.  Sometimes we drove into the country to look at the stars.  (Can you imagine taking our children or grandchildren to sit and enjoy nothing as a family?  These days, we could probably be arrested for abusing them.)

Sometimes we just drove to the airport to watch planes land and take off.  Cars would park at the end of the runway and just watch them fly over our heads.

Air travel in those days was unreachable to average American families, so there was something glamorous about flying into the unknown.  It beat the hell out of riding in a hot car for 9 hours to visit relatives.  I wanted to wear a stylish outfit and fly the friendly skies, so when I was 13 (1965), I called Delta Airlines to research the fare for a round-trip ticket to Atlanta to visit relatives.  The round-trip fare was $104.  I asked my parents if I could make the trip if I could save up the money.  They smiled benignly and said, “Sure, if you can save the money.”

From then on, I saved my meager allowance and modest gifts, and, in about 10 months, I had $104.  The fare had remained unchanged, so I approached my parents.  My, my, my, weren’t they surprised?  Being smart parents, they agreed, but they said they would pay for me and my sister to fly to Atlanta with a return trip in the family car.  Not my original plan, what with the sister cramping my style, but I would still have my $104.  I readily agreed to the compromise.

We dressed in our best Sunday dresses and shoes, waved good-bye to our parents at the gate, and boarded the plane.  We were served filet mignon wrapped in bacon, a common practice when flying coach in those days.  And that was the last uneventful trip I’ve ever had.

50% of every trip I take by air involves some sort of snafu in one direction or the other.  The only exceptions were when I flew the Concorde and when my sister and I flew to Italy two years ago, both trips on British Airways, now that I think about it.

Here are some highlights of airline angst and how I’ve survived them:

In 1977, my brother-in-law lived on Eleuthera, one of the “out-islands” of the Bahamas.  At the time, it had two airports, one on the north end and one in the main town, our destination.  Unfortunately, the only airline that served the island was Bahamasair, whose motto, according to the locals, was “If you have time to spare, fly Bahamasair.”  We were booked to fly from Miami in the early afternoon.  We flew Eastern Airlines  to Miami and re-checked in at Bahamasair

Now, it’s always nerve-wracking when you have to step on a scale with your luggage to determine the flight’s total weight.  We were assigned seats according to our individual weight, which put me way in the tail and The Veterinarian behind the pilot, about five rows away.  Okay.  I understand aerodynamics and small airplanes.  We sat in the waiting area.  And waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally, an announcement was made that the flight hadn’t left the Bahamas because “a front was passing through.”  Okay.  I understand the effect of wind.  When the plane arrived, we immediately were hustled out to the tarmac.

“Board quickly, please!”  There was confusion about which luggage was carry-on and which had to be stowed, about who sat where.  “Quickly, please!”  The agents and pilots kept saying to us.

Once loaded, the small plane rolled onto the huge taxiway at Miami International, interspersed with the usual DC-9s and 747s.  The Veterinarian turned around and looked at me and rolled his eyes.

“I love you,” I mouthed.  He winked.  His family was in the air cargo and charter business, and we were well-familiar with the safety requirements of flying.  We were behind a 727 and turned onto the runway immediately as it took off.  We looked at our watches and each other as the small plane accelerated.  It clearly was taking off too soon after the big jet.  I shrugged and put myself in God’s hands.  We bounced and jostled as we sped down the runway.

Once in the air and over the Atlantic Gulfstream (about 2 minutes after take-off), the co-pilot announced that we had left Miami too late to make our final destination.  We would all deplane and clear customs at the north end of the island and arrange our own transportation to our final destination. As it turned out, there were no landing lights at either airport, and while it would be light when we landed in the north, it would be dark before we could land at our actual destination.  If you have time to spare, fly Bahamasair.

In August, 1980, The Veterinarian and I were booked on Republic Airlines to fly from Baltimore’s BWI airport to Detroit on a Friday afternoon for our high school reunion, which was being held the next day.  We had to fly home on Sunday because he had appointments to see on Monday.  We arrived at the airport, checked in without baggage and proceeded to the gate.  Again, we had a long wait.  Eventually, an announcement was made that there was “turbulent weather” in Detroit and that the flight was delayed.

Okay.  I don’t want people endangered for my convenience.  Then, we waited another hour.  And another hour.  At least, we were travelling between major airports, fully-equipped with things like lights, so we weren’t especially concerned.  Finally, the flight arrived, and an announcement was made that it was overbooked, and about 20 passengers were being rescheduled to Monday morning.  We were told to go back to the main counter to have our tickets reissued.

WHAT???!!!!  We had boarding passes.  We had seat assignments.  The reunion was the next day.  There was no point in going on Monday.  I stomped to the counter.  The Veterinarian settled back and watched me work.  I explained our dilemma to the agent and demanded to either be booked on another flight by noon the next day or issued a refund.

“These are non-refundable tickets, and we are not responsible for the weather,” she snapped.

“I get the weather issue, but how is it that we had seats and boarding passes for the other flight, and now we don’t?  How are you deciding who gets to fly and who doesn’t?”  Passengers behind me in line chimed in, “Yeah.  Explain that one.”

“All flights are overbooked, which is a risk.”

“No, no, no,” I replied.  “We had seat assignments.  Who got those seats?”  Just then, another agent pulled her aside and whispered to her, “They sent a smaller aircraft from Detroit, so we don’t have enough room for all the passengers with seat assignments.”

“WHAT??!!”  I seized my opportunity.  “You screwed up?  The problem isn’t the weather, after all.”

I guess I could have been arrested for inciting a riot, because the people behind me went nuts.  Suddenly, the counter agent was smiling and accommodating.  Long story short, the airline was forced to find seats on the flights of other airlines.  We were re-booked for the following morning.  We got to the reunion on time, but why should I need to have a confrontation to get a seat?

In the mid-1990s, we were bounced from two Delta flights due to overbooking.  When we boarded the third flight, we discovered that another couple had been given the same seat assignments, and the flight was full.

“You’ll have to deplane,” said one of the flight attendants.

“Here, hold my carry-on and don’t move,” The Veterinarian ordered.  I dropped our bags in the middle of the aisle in coach and started explaining our nightmare with Delta Airlines to my fellow passengers in a really loud voice.

In first class, The Veterinarian was having an argument with the gate agent and a flight attendant when the captain of the flight came out of the cockpit and asked, “Why aren’t we finished boarding?”

“Well,” said the gate agent, “These people have been issued duplicate seat assignments.”

“Sir, this is the third flight we’ve been booked on that has been screwed up,” The Veterinarian explained.

“Who’s sitting in these empty seats in first class?” the pilot’s voice boomed throughout the plane.

“Well, they aren’t booked.”

“Put these people in these seats then, or we’re going to lose our slot for take-off,” the captain ordered.

“But we don’t have any meals for them,” said a flight attendant.

“We don’t need food.  We just want to get home to Baltimore.”  We were hustled into first class, where they did have Champagne for our troubles.

Another time, we were travelling with The Daughter when our American flight was cancelled due to “maintenance” issues from Miami, so we were told that they couldn’t get us on a flight to Baltimore until the next morning.  They told us to sleep in the airport.  Again, we stomped to the counter with a woman flying alone.

“So,” I began, “this is a cancellation due to a maintenance issue.  Don’t you have to provide lodging for us?”

“Well,” the counter agent hesitated.

“Look, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo.  Are you putting us up or not?”

“Ok.  We’re giving you a room at the Mississoukee Casino.”

“Isn’t that way out in the Everglades?”

“Uh, yes.”

“Uh. No.  What about the hotel right over there in the airport?”  (We’d been put up there twice before on other cancelled flights—geez, I hate Miami).

“Well, they’re having plumbing issues and don’t have hot water.”

“Do the toilets work?”

“I believe so.  But there’s no hot water.”

“We don’t need hot water.  We need a toilet and a bed.”

“All right.”  He made the arrangements, as a single woman from our cancelled flight stepped up to the other agent.  I heard him try to send her out into the Everglades.

“Ma’am, no,” I interrupted.  “Don’t let them send you out to the Everglades.  Make them put you up here in the airport.  There’s no hot water, but you’ll be safer.”  I glared at the agent as he booked her into the airport hotel.

Now, we also deal with the Transportation Security Administration (aka TSA).  In March, 2002, we were flying with our 10-year old, blond, blue-eyed daughter, on US Airways from Philadelphia to Orlando for spring break.    Vigilant parents, we always boarded with her between us.  I showed my boarding pass for scanning, stepped aside, and The Daughter showed hers.

“Security!” The agent called out.  We all three jumped.  “You, board the plane.”  The agent moved me toward the door.

“No, I don’t think so,” I stopped, “What are you doing with my daughter?”  A security agent appeared and took hold of her arm.  The Veterinarian put his hands on The Daughter’s shoulders and said, “Get your hands off my daughter.”

“She’s been randomly chosen for a security pat-down according to a code on her boarding pass,” the security agent tried to pull her away.  She started to cry.

The boarding agent continued to shoo me toward the jetway.

“You are not touching my daughter,” my husband protested and turned to me, “Go on.  I got this one.” I walked down the jetway to just outside the aircraft door but refused to board.  A flight attendant asked me what the commotion was about.  She shook her head sadly when I explained the problem.  I stood there envisioning myself in a federal jail in Philadelphia.  Within five minutes, they appeared, my daughter still in tears.

“I told him to pat me down for his ‘random check,’” The Veterinarian explained.  “Assholes.”

I could go on and on and on, but it’s just more of the same, including when I flew this past January and in March, when I had to insist that I be flown to Baltimore, where I had parked my car, instead of Washington, DC, when my US Airways flight was cancelled due to a “maintenance issue.”

There have been wonderful moments, two of which I would be remiss if I didn’t share.

When we adopted our daughter, she was living in Denver.  We were able to use frequent flyer miles to bring her home.  Because no cheaper seats were available on our last minute booking, we had to fly first class, which is never a good way to introduce a child to air travel, by the way.  As we boarded, she cheerily told the flight attendants that she was being adopted and was moving to her new home in Maryland.  Unbeknownst to us, the flight attendant told the captain, who came and took her for a cockpit tour.  This was 1999, pre-9/11.

We were invited to take photos of her sitting in the pilot’s seat, and, the pilot placed his cap on her head.  It was one of those magic moments that a parent never forgets.  I still get teary thinking about it.

14 years later, she and her girlfriend and I boarded a flight home.  About 10 passengers had boarded, when boarding was stopped due to a “maintenance issue.”  We sat in the stuffy plane chatting with the flight attendants when the captain came out and introduced himself to us.  We told him about the Daughter’s first flight experience, and the captain said, “Let’s do it again!  We could be sitting here for a while.”  He took her up to the cockpit, sat her down, put his hat on her, and took her photo.  There’s probably some regulation against it now, so don’t tell anyone!

The Daughter and I are about to fly.  I booked the flight in April, flying out of DC, instead of Baltimore, but the departure time of 11 am didn’t seem too extreme.  She was scheduled to work the night before, so I’d pick her up at 8am and drive us, thinking she could sleep on the flight.

Or so I planned.

At the end of June, I got a notice from the airline that the schedule had changed.  Now, our flight leaves at 6:45 am, which is before The Daughter gets off work.  I understand changing schedules, but I expect that you re-book me on a flight at a similar time.  Now, she has to rearrange her work schedule, and this becomes one of those driving-to-the-airport-in-the-middle-of-the-night deals, arriving before the counter has even opened.  I would call and go into irate customer mode, but I’m saving the energy for the actual flying experience.

And I haven’t even gotten to lost or damaged luggage.  Maybe I’ll have more energy after my vacation.  After I lay on the beach and drink Margaritas for a week.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is (or will be) good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

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Reluctant Omnivore

A big old steak for a little old girl and just the right asparagus.

A big old steak for a little old girl and just the right asparagus.

I’m an omnivore.  There.  I’ve said it.  It’s true.  Gasp!  Shock!  Horror!  In whatever is left of my lifetime, it is unlikely that I will become a vegan.  Or a vegetarian.  Or a lacto-vegetarian.  Or an ovo-vegetarian.  Or a pesca-vegetarian.  Dairy gives me gas.  Eggs give me gas.  Fish gives me — well, I love fish, but even a seared Bluefin tuna steak can’t hold a candle to a veal chop.  (And is there any Bluefin tuna left for the average person?)

I’m sorry.  I would, if I could, but I can’t, so I shan’t.  I love animals.  Some of my best friends are animals.  I feel really bad about eating them, and I am ever so grateful for them, but I am so weak, and I just love red meat.  It’s the way I’m genetically wired.  I’m an addict, but, I hope, not an abuser.  If I buy meat, I make sure that I eat it fresh or freeze it.  “If I buy meat?”  Who am I kidding?  I eat meat almost every day, except when I realize that I haven’t had meat at lunch and turn it into a “meatless” day. [In that case, I eat popcorn for dinner.]

Long before the Paleo Diet became all the rage, I was a kid who ate a very limited diet of meat, potatoes, corn, and canned green beans.  That was it.  And grape jelly.  (But not together.  That would be gross, although I have had cocktail meatballs in a sauce made with grape jelly, which was weird but not gross.)  I drank milk and ate carbs, but that was it.  My Mother made sure that I had a multi-vitamin every day, because she was so concerned about me.  Our family doctor asked her, “Is Suzanne sick very often?”

“She’s never sick.”

“Well, let’s not worry about her, then.”

I eat beef in all forms, hamburgers, meat loaf, pot roast, tartare, short ribs, stew, Stroganoff, steaks real and “Swiss.”  Or stuffed in peppers or in chili or spaghetti sauce.  Trying to recreate my childhood memory of succulent Midwestern beef, I once dragged the Veterinarian to a Famous Chicago Steakhouse, when we were visiting the Windy City.  My dinner was ruined before it started, when the waiter rolled up a trolley of raw meat as we ordered.  As much as I love meat, I don’t want to smell it raw, under my nose, at the dinner table.  The portions were at least a pound or two each.  The restaurant’s motto must have been “The Bigger, the Better,” because the potatoes were the size of footballs and the asparagus as big as tree limbs.

“How do you prepare the asparagus?”  I asked warily.

“We steam it,” the waiter beamed.

“Do you peel it first?”

“Oh, no, ma’am.  We steam it and serve it just as it is.”

“I’ll have the broccoli,” I replied.  I can eat broccoli raw, if I must.

I love pork chops, especially fried.  Fried pork chops are like eating fried chicken.  You can pick it up, but My Mother taught us to cut off the fat first (always trim the fat).  I love pork roast and ribs (you should try my dry rub recipe) and whole roasted pig and all manner of smoked and cooked pork products, bacon, ham, Vienna sausages, hot dogs, baloney (or bologna, if you want to be picky about it).  I’ll even eat Spam, and I’m not Hawaiian.  There is still no vegetable that can’t be improved by a smoked pork product.  Beans and wienies?  Green beans with salt pork?  Greens and ham hocks?  Sauerkraut and kielbasa?  Brussels sprouts or spinach sautéed with bacon?  Fresh corn chowder with ham?  Canned deviled ham?  A favorite on crackers, which are not a vegetable — technically, even if they’re herbed.

Worst of all, I eat veal.  I’ve eaten veal in Europe, God help me.  I feel really, really bad about the European veal, but I rationalize it because I don’t get to Europe that often, so I can’t be part of the problem, can I?  Plus, I’m 50% Italian with a French great-grandmother thrown in.  Osso bucco?  But, of course.  City chicken?  I’m from Detroit.  Grilled veal chop?  Marinated in olive oil, lemon, and rosemary?  Oh, my!

I do not eat lamb, unless you serve me those cute little lamb chops, and my wine glass is full of a fine red wine to wash the flavor away.  An appreciation for lamb seems to be acquired, or, maybe, it’s genetic.  I’ve never acquired it. You can’t mask the flavor with mint jelly, which I also can’t stand.  And little sheep are so cute!

Like most of my vices, I blame it on The Veterinarian (and he can’t talk back, so, why not?).  He ate everything.  We were enjoying Chick-fil-a sandwiches and discussing the company’s trademarked cows encouraging us to “Eat more chikin.”  I said I shouldn’t eat anything with big brown eyes.

“Get over it.  How old do you think that chicken was that you’re eating?”  He asked me.  I didn’t know.  He told me.  I was surprised.  (Google it.  You may be surprised, too.)  “This is how we humans are designed.  This is what we eat.”  I could tell you more about meat production, but you probably don’t want to hear about it any more than I did.

You can argue with me and send me hate mail, but please don’t recommend tofu, which has the texture of mushrooms, which I won’t eat, either.  I am happy to share my only recipe for tofu:


This summer, I’ve been eating a lot of skewered steak, because I really don’t ever eat an entire steak by myself. I’ve also skewered chicken, shrimp, scallops, lobster, and fish, and I feel so virtuous when adding veggies like peppers, sugar snap or snow peas, or corn.  I’ve even added cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, and squash, for those who like their food tasteless.  [Really?  What is the point of squash?  To make zucchini bread?]

Lately, I’ve been grilling tenderloin chunks, which were a great buy, because they’re what’s left when you butcher a whole tenderloin into steaks or a nice roast like a Châteaubriand.  [Sudden thought:  I have to tell you about my disastrous honeymoon that was almost saved by a Châteaubriand and Captain Kangaroo.]

I have no recipe to share this week.  I marinate the meat for about an hour, longer if it’s a tougher cut, and about 30 minutes for chicken, fish, and shellfish.  Sometimes I make a little teriyaki (soy, brown sugar, garlic, ginger) or the aforementioned lemon, olive oil, and rosemary (great with chicken) or even just a little white wine, garlic, and thyme (for the seafood).

KabobI love these skewers.  They are short, with two prongs to securely hold the food and keep it from spinning when you rotate them.  They are easy to grill on all four sides.  There is also a “slider-thing-y” that pushes the cooked food off the skewer.

As with all grilling, make sure you preheat the grill and wipe it with a paper towel dampened with cooking oil (hold it with barbecue tongs), so the food won’t stick.  I also saw a tv chef wipe the grill with an onion dipped in oil, which eliminates the risk of flaming paper towel, but I’d be wasting an onion.

My secret technique for grilling with skewers is to place a disposable aluminum cookie sheet under the handles, which keeps them from burning, even if you use bambo skewers that have been soaked in water.

Enjoy this last gasp of summer!


Walking in My Shoes

As a woman who highly values her feet, I am delighted to hear that “ugly” shoes returned to fashion this summer.

I’m an equal opportunity shoe lover.  Expensive.  Cheap.  Practical.  Foolish.  My shoe fetish has nothing to do with sex.  It’s genetic.  Like my high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I inherited a proclivity for splurging on shoes from My Mother.  I am short, but My Mother is Tiny.  At 4’ 10”, she wears a size 4-1/2 shoe.  Actually, she wears a size 5-1/2 shoe, because she can’t find her real size.  In the 1950s, size 4-1/2 was used as the “sample” size.  She bought her shoes at a “sample shoe” store in an office building in downtown Detroit.

In early spring and early fall, she received postcards announcing that the sample shoes for the coming season were ready for sale.  We took the bus downtown and walked to the building, got into one of those funky old-fashioned elevators with a gate and a lever to drive the car up and down the shaft.  We would walk into an office crammed, floor to ceiling, with boxes of shoes and boots; pumps, flats, sandals, slingbacks, and mules, in spectacular colors and buttery soft Italian leather.

Mom didn’t skimp on our shoes, either.  Although she made our clothes, she insisted that shoes of quality were a good health investment.  We got new patent leather shoes at Christmas and white shoes for summer, along with a pair of sandals, and, eventually, a pair of sneakers.  When we started school, we got school shoes.  Being the 1950s, I wore saddle shoes in the primary grades with my fluffy dresses or shoes with a perforated design in the toes and an ankle strap.  I always envied the girls who had shoes whose ankle straps could be swiveled behind the heel so that the strap didn’t cross the top of their foot, the same reason that I hated t-strap shoes.  My Mother didn’t like that, so I used to trade shoes with my girlfriends for a few hours each day.

More than anything, I think that good shoes were a good mental health investment.

When I remember holidays and special events, I think of shoes.  For Christmas 1966, I had a pair of gold suede flats with a little gold buckle that I wore with a long-sleeved Kelly green cotton velveteen dress with ecru lace trim.  So mod.  My junior year in high school, I wore “baby doll” shoes, black leather Mary Janes, to go with my “baby doll” dresses.  In college, where tramping between classes in 0° temperatures required long underwear, I started collecting boots.  I remember having a pair of brown lace-up boots that I wore with a camel-colored maxi coat.  Even my wedding shoes weren’t just plain white; they were peau de soie (silk) with embroidered flowers on the toes.

If you keep shoes long enough, they come back in style.  Square toes and chunky heels from 1968 have returned at least twice in my lifetime. I saw that flare-legged pants are making a comeback.  They, of course, require a chunkier shoe.  How do I know this?  Remember, I’m 63 years old and have seen this trend like a revolving door.  The designers get you to buy their wide-legged pants and longer skirts and chunky shoes and sweaters for a few years, and, just when you get to feeling good about yourself, hiding beneath layers of bulk, they bring back capri pants and leggings and crop tops and stilettos and send you running to the gym — or running for dessert in despair.

See these two vastly different shoes?  Comfortable classics, yet a decade apart in age, they are still my favorites. The black suede Stuart Weitzman with the square toe and chunky heel was purchased c. 1992 and was worn in two different plays, masquerading as shoes from the 1930s and 1950s.  The pointy-toed Ferragamo was purchased c. 2002.  It’s been busy the past few years with pencil skirts and peg-legged pants.

I read that Queen Elizabeth II expressed her displeasure at the navy wedge-heeled shoes (also Stuart Weitzman) favored by her granddaughter-in-law, Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.  Kate, of course, also popularized the ridiculous trend of nude platform stilettos a few years ago, an easy trend for a woman surrounded by bodyguards and her own prince to keep her on her feet.  Someone should send a memo to Lady Gaga’s bodyguards, because her platforms are unbelievable and trip her up all the time when dodging the papa-paparazzi.

The Daughter had a pair of the nude patent leather platforms, which she wobbled in, like Bambi on the frozen pond, all the way across a stage for her college honors convocation.  I was torn between admiring her fashion sense and trembling in fear that she would fall.  Of course, every other coed was wobbling in a similar pair, so I was not the only parent having palpitations.

I, myself, have more beige shoes and sandals than any other color for two reasons; supposedly, nude pumps make your legs look longer (eg., ballet shoes usually match tights) and neutrals go with everything in every season.  My short legs need all the lengthening they can get, but I’ve already fallen off shoes once in my life and don’t want to ever again spend two months in a leg brace.  And, yes, I own my own share of restaurant shoes.  You know.  Those shoes that make your legs look fabulous but that you can only stand to wear from the house to the car to the restaurant to the car to your house with, maybe, a nerve-wracking side-trip to the ladies’ room?

Today, I’m more likely to wear a plain dress and an interesting shoe to set it off, like jewelry; an Eileen Fisher sweater and skirt with a suede boot with wedge heel.  “Don’t look at me; look at my shoes.”  Of course, one man I dated found my boring, tent-shaped Eileen Fisher dress alluring, so I’d probably better go easy on the combination.  Too much excitement could probably kill a guy so old that he finds sedate clothing and ugly shoes a turn-on.  I need a guy who appreciates me so much that he’ll take me to a restaurant worthy of restaurant shoes. Now, THAT’S a turn-on to me!

photo (4)Keeping in the spirit of “ugly” shoes, described as Birkenstocks (which never went out of style in some Baltimore neighborhoods, which tells you everything you need to know about Charm City), I bought these Dansko sandals.  You may recall that I fell off a ridiculous pair of platform sandals and fractured my right patella, three years ago.  These are designed by the folks who know how to make shoes that doctors and nurses wear on their long, grueling shifts, so I hope they know what they’re doing with shoes for aging and fragile fashionistas who can’t afford another fall.  They cost about as much as some of the chic designer styles.

While my deteriorating knees and pocketbook have slowed my shoe “investing,” thanks to a now-defunct local outlet store, I’ve stocked up on enough diverse designer rejects from Saks and Neiman Marcus to keep me rotating styles at the whim of designers until one of my pretty little feet is in the grave, so, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

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S’More’s the Pity

S'mores cakeLike everyone who likes to cook and peruses Facebook or Pinterest, I screenshot photos of food regularly.  I don’t always screenshot the recipe, especially if I can see the major ingredient is cheese or tinned dough or some kind of canned soup, but the photos give me ideas to play with.  I found one recently whose design was rather pretty and thought it would be perfect to adapt for the Daughter’s birthday cake.

Every year for her birthday, the Daughter requests an unusual cake.  She comes up with a lot of crazy ideas, all requiring a lot of chocolate.  I decided to make her a S’Mores Cheesecake, which is really a no-brainer adaptation of my regular Chocolate Cheesecake.  Instead of using a chocolate cookie crumb crust, I used graham cracker crumbs.  The filling was made with my favorite dark chocolate and one-and-a-half pounds of cream cheese.  I used eight ounces of low-fat cream cheese to relieve the guilt, but, considering that I used another pound of regular cream cheese, it was a pointless effort; pure chocolate-cream-cheese-overload.



Instead of the cheesecake’s traditional sour cream topping, I decided to arrange marshmallows over the chilled cheesecake and toast them under the broiler, just before presenting to the Birthday Girl.  You know those joke photos that people post on Facebook, “What the dish is supposed to look like,”  and it’s worthy of Bon Appétit?  But next to it is “How it turned out,” and it looks like it was made in a sandbox by a four-year old?  That’s sort of what happened with this cheesecake.

I forgot that the center of the cheesecake falls when it cools. Normally, I pile berries in the cake’s center, which is rather pretty, but in order to arrange the marshmallows levelly, I had to cut off the top edges.  Fortunately, the marshmallows hid the mess that I made.  After the marshmallows were toasted, they melted and stuck to the ring of the springform pan.  I had to shove escaping marshmallows back onto the cake.

Once the candles were lit, it was still pretty, but not worthy of Bon Appétit.  The Daughter was delighted with her decadent birthday cake, and I have all those edges in my refrigerator, just crying out for a big old glass of milk, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Trial and error:  A little messy, but lessons learned.

Trial and error: A little messy, but lessons learned.

S’Mores Cheesecake


1½ cups crushed graham cracker crumbs

3 Tablespoons sugar

½ cup butter, melted

In a 9” springform pan, combine the graham cracker crumbs and sugar.  Stir in the melted butter; press into the bottom and ½” up the sides of the pan.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  The colder the better.


1½ pounds (3-eight ounce packages) cream cheese, softened

1¾ cups sugar

3 eggs

4 ounces of good quality semi-sweet chocolate, melted

3 Tablespoons heavy cream

¼ cup dark rum

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat, scraping the bowl and beater, until well-combined.  With the mixer running, add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.  Beat in the melted chocolate and heavy cream until thoroughly combined.  Scrape the bowl and beaters so that there are no light-colored streaks left.  Stir in dark rum.

Pour batter into chilled graham cracker crust and bake for 60 minutes.  A toothpick inserted to ¼” in the center should come out clean, although it may jiggle a little.

[Note:  If making plain chocolate cheesecake, skip to the directions below for the Sour Cream topping.]

Cool on rack completely to room temperature;  cover; refrigerate until well-chilled.  To make the S’mores dessert, cut the top edges off to make a level surface for the marshmallows.  Save the excess and serve with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Just before serving, preheat broiler.

Without unmolding, run a spatula around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the sides of the cake.  Arrange marshmallows on the top, covering it completely. Set under preheated broiler and toast marshmallows.  If I ever make this again, I will let the marshmallows cool and run the knife around the edge again before unmolding and serving.

Optional Sour cream topping for regular chocolate cheesecake:

2 cups (1 pint) sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon almond extract

Stir together all ingredients.  When cheesecake is baked, remove from oven and increase heat to 500°.  Spread sour cream mixture evenly over top.  Bake in hot oven for five minutes.  Remove to cooling rack and cool thoroughly to room temperature.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.  Garnish with strawberries in center of cake.


Cooking fresco

Prodotti freschi

Prodotti freschi

Tomatoes are everywhere, stacked in beautiful piles at farm stands.

I always knew that we were in the dog days of summer when My Mother picked tomatoes from our suburban garden and lined them up on a windowsill to ripen.  She made BLT sandwiches, tomato sandwiches, and a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions dressed with red wine vinegar, oil, a pinch of sugar, and salt and pepper.

Too bad I don’t like tomatoes.  I should clarify.  I don’t eat raw tomatoes.  I don’t like the acid or the texture.  I don’t eat soups or sauces made with tomatoes that haven’t been seeded or peeled.  When dining out, I even inspect marinara sauce and pizza for seeds and skins.  Actually, I never order marinara sauce in a restaurant.

Today, I want to talk about what I do with fresh tomatoes in tomato season.  Oh, I know what people like with their tomatoes.  Just because I’m plagued with Picky-Eater Syndrome doesn’t mean that I can’t figure out how food should taste (as usual, I realize that I’m not making sense to most of you).  For our church cook-out this Sunday, I’ll make a platter of sliced tomatoes drizzled with a best-quality olive oil and garnished with sliced or fresh mozzarella, salt and pepper, and fresh basil.   The Veterinarian liked his tomato salad with Vidalia onion, but raw onions are a fellowship-killer, if you know what I mean.

Blessed with wonderful friends and clients in our veterinary practice, we never had a shortage of seasonal produce.  Once I learned to peel and seed tomatoes efficiently, I turned them into soups (Julia Child’s “Potage Magali,” a Mediterranean tomato and rice) or salsa or jambalaya or traditional tomato sauce, which I froze in baggies.

photo 3 (1)Then, I discovered this wonderful pasta sauce which not only uses fresh tomatoes but also that other bounty of late summer, fresh basil.  Many, many years ago, I watched someone make this on television and scribbled down the recipe, and, like most everything that I cook, I adapted it to suit my picky taste.  I do remember that the tomatoes were to be seeded and peeled, so I’m not adapting that.  I call it “Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and maybe Mushrooms.”

In researching this recipe, articles repeatedly mentioned that it was an “American” pasta dish, not authentically Italian.  Curious, I pulled out my American edition of the Italian classic cookbook “The Silver Spoon” (“Il cucchiaio d’argento”), and there it is on page 298.  Now, this was advertised by Phaidon, the publisher, as “The bible of authentic Italian cooking.“  If the online authorities are correct, the Italians have borrowed an Americanized Italian dish; the great Melting Pot is flowing east, across the Atlantic to the Old World. However, “The Silver Spoon” contains no recipe for that known New World creation, Fettucine al Fredo, so I question the online authorities.  But, really, who cares?

Each online recipe is different (some include bacon or oregano, almost none have fresh basil), so which is the “authentic American penne alla vodka”?  In the culinary world, where the word “fusion” gets attached to traditional cuisine to indicate a blending of cultural influences, perhaps this is “Italian Fusion.”  Cooking is all about improvisation, using what’s available, using your own preferences or dietary requirements, creating something out of nothing, like art.  As a picky eater, I’ve been creating culinary art as long as I have been cooking.  That’s why I always recommend that you start with recipes and adjust them until they taste right to you.  Yes, it’s trial and error, and you’re going to err — a lot, in the beginning, but cooking with a fresh eye is an art and incredibly satisfying.   I have so little control over the rest of my life, but, when I’m in my kitchen, or even cooking in someone else’s, I am the Mistress of my Domain, so who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and no mushrooms

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and no mushrooms

Penne Rigate alla Vodka with Basil and maybe Mushrooms

I should explain the name.  When I saw this made on television, the chef included mushrooms, which aren’t on this picky eater’s palate.  Thankfully, the Veterinarian and the Daughter weren’t even remotely as picky, so adding sautéed mushrooms gave the delicate sauce a little heft.  I imagine that you could also blend some of the cooked mushrooms into the sauce, but I wouldn’t eat that.

It isn’t difficult to peel tomatoes, but it’s a little trickier to seed them.  Bring a pan of water to boil and put in your washed tomatoes.  Return to a boil and simmer for three minutes.  Remove and plunge tomatoes into a bowl of icy water.  When cool, skins should slip off easily.  Cut the tomatoes in half and remove seeds and the stem end.  Measure tomatoes after peeling and seeding.

One last caveat:  Be sure to heat the sauce carefully after the vodka is added.  I once was gabbing with a friend on a flight and writing this recipe and my recipe for tortellini with prosciutto, peas, and fresh basil for her from memory.  Not paying attention, I wrote the ingredient “vodka” at the end and forgot to write “heat the vodka until the alcohol evaporates” in the directions.  My friend and her husband were overcome by the sauce in more ways than one.  By the way, this is the same veterinary spouse who ate my splintery cheesecake.  It’s a wonder she trusts any recipe that I give her!

2 Tablespoons butter

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup chopped onions

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2½  cups peeled, seeded, and chopped meaty tomatoes (such as Roma/Plum, about 8-10)

1 cup packed fresh whole basil leaves (dried won’t do), reserving little sprigs for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ vodka

½ cup heavy cream

Parmesan, freshly grated

One pound of penne rigate (ridged), cooked


½ pound sliced mushrooms, sautéed

Red pepper flakes


In a 2-quart saucepan, heat butter and oil over medium-low heat until butter melts.  Add onion and garlic and sauté until soft.  Stir in tomatoes, cook for one minute; stir in whole basil leaves, salt, and pepper, and simmer for five minutes.

Remove from heat and add vodka.  Return to heat and simmer for two minutes or until alcohol evaporates.

with The Daughter as my sous chef

with The Daughter as my sous chef

Remove from heat and carefully spoon mixture into food processor or blender.  [Or use an immersion blender right in the pan.]  Add heavy cream and process just until blended but still chunky.  Return to pan over low heat.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste or add in optional red pepper flakes to taste.  Stir in optional mushrooms.  Heat through.

Spoon sauce over hot penne rigate in individual dishes, garnish with freshly grated Parmesan and with fresh basil sprigs.

Makes four servings, without the mushrooms; six with the mushrooms.

[Note:  If you don’t sauce all of the cooked pasta, let it cool and freeze in zippered bags.  When ready to use, bring 1-1/2 quarts of water to a boil and drop in the frozen pasta.  It will reheat in 3-5 minutes, and any freezer dehydration will reconstitute.]


Resting Place

Resting place

His clan tartan and a wee dram.

Greetings from the Twilight Zone!  Rod Serling is lurking behind a tree waiting to step out and sum my life up for you in a few pithy, ironic remarks.  I wish he’d sum it up for me.  This story is so weird that you may think that I’m making it up, but I have witnesses.

Yesterday, I was cleaning out a storage room in the basement of our veterinary clinic.  I was sorting old records for shredding and reordering and stacking boxes.  A large box of holiday decorations (plastic pumpkins and black cats, a wreath of Easter eggs, and a revolving ceramic Christmas display of dogs and cats) was sitting about 3” from the wall on a shelf.  I tried to shove it up against the wall to make room for more boxes, but it was hitting something.  I slid the box about 6” to the right and saw a plastic zippered bag stuffed in the back corner.  In the dim light, I couldn’t tell what it was, so I pulled it out.  It appeared to be full of gray, unmixed cement.  I pulled it out farther and saw what appeared to be small white stones in it.

“Wuh-oh!”  I held the bag by one corner and made sure that the zipper was secure.  I was pretty sure that I was holding a plastic baggie of the Veterinarian.  Not a bag that belonged to the Veterinarian, mind you, but a bag containing what is left of his earthly incarnation.

Had I found this bag within a year of his death, I instantly would have been hysterical.  Instead, I smiled and started laughing.  No, I wasn’t delusional (I don’t think).  Absolutely nothing surprises me anymore.  I was pretty annoyed with the person who had hidden him there, but, just for a moment, it struck me that I was holding the love of my life in my hands for the first time in almost four years, so I smiled (and then cursed him in my next breath, before smiling again).

I told you — my life is sooooo weird!

I suppose I should tell you how the Veterinarian came to be resting in the basement of his business.  It’s not like he’s a vampire, and I keep his coffin in the clinic crypt (sorry, you know me; I couldn’t resist the alliteration).

In the summer of 2011, as fans of the British television series “Doc Martin,” starring Martin Clunes, we decided to watch an earlier series starring Clunes as an undertaker, “William and Mary.”  As we binge-watched the series on dvd, we talked about death and dying.  We agreed that we wanted to be cremated, his ashes strewn at sea or at his favorite dive sites, mine at my church.

Life may be weird, but you can learn a lot, if you’re paying attention.  When he died suddenly, three months later, I knew exactly what he wanted.  I asked his friends for just one favor, to take his ashes to his favorite dive sites.  They looked at one another and smiled.  That’s exactly what they had already promised each other.  One of them put himself in charge of making water-tight, weighted, non-floating (!) containers for the ashes, and those certified in the deepest dives, decided where they should lay him to rest.  I turned the plastic container of his remains over to them, and, when the Veterinarian’s Little Dog died six months later, I suggested that they commingle their ashes, so they could be together for eternity.

Within a year, his friends told me all about the dives and where they left him and how much that site meant to him.  One of the places was a spot he had planned to explore but had not visited.  Another was a place where he loved to dive.  A third was the place where he died.  A fourth was the place where he dived more often than any other.  I was content.

Until today.

Yeah, I could be angrier with the jerk in charge of the ashes than I already was, but I won’t waste my breath on him.  Once a jerk, always a jerk.  Nothing new there.  My immediate concern is that I have this baggie of the Veterinarian and the Little Dog that needs a final resting place.  I might put them into an empty wooden box that once contained a bottle of Macallan single malt whisky, and then I’ll toast him with the little bit of vintage 1965 whisky that’s left in the bottle.  He must have left it for just that purpose.  I’ll pull out my Book of Common Prayer and pray the graveside service that wasn’t said at his memorial service.  This time, the BFF can attend.

When do I send him off, yet again?  On August 18, which would have been our 43rd wedding anniversary?  On October 13, the fourth anniversary of his death?  On June 3, 2016, which would have been his 64th birthday?  I’ll figure it out.  Right now, I like having him around the house.  We’re both resting in peace.


My online dating days are drawing to an end when my subscription expires on August 25, unless they give me free months.  I’ve run through all the interesting men, who weren’t interested in me, and endured the ones who were interested in me.  I have found it enlightening and sometimes harrowing.  And pretty depressing.

Just last week, I met a lovely, younger married couple who met online and encouraged me not to give up.  Of course, the odds are better for them than for me because there are more men in their 40s and 50s still alive and in “marriageable” condition.  Everyone that I know who met their significant other through online dating was under the age of 60.  What does that say for the eligible over 60 seeking companionship?

After spending time with 15 men in 12 months, I have concluded that men over 60:

  1. Are delusional and looking for the impossible. (Have your mid-life crisis elsewhere.)
  2. Are angry at their exes. (You know, I’d have left you, too.)
  3. Are looking for sex. (What was it about me that said I wanted you to grope me between my neck and my knees on our second date?)
  4. Are looking for a financial lifeboat after decades of living recklessly. (Sorry, I’ve been careful with my life.)
  5. Are looking for a housekeeper, cook, and playmate. (I’m a lousy housekeeper, reluctant cook, and tired of games.)
  6. Are on ego trips.  (You’ve dated how many women?!)
  7. Are clueless about what women want.  (See #s 1-6, above.)

Fifteen  dates and not one serious prospect among them.  Some had possibilities on the first date but blew it on the second date, when their true selves showed up, the bigots, the misogynists, the misanthropes.  I’ve been told that finding a mate is like getting pregnant; sometimes you just have to relax, and it will happen when you least expect it.  As a 63-year old woman who had a hysterectomy at the age of 24 and didn’t adopt until age 47, I don’t have any time left to invest in this theory.

I have learned a lot about myself.  I’ve learned what I’m willing to tolerate for companionship; being lied to, groped, insulted, and stood-up are not among them.  I’ve learned that the company of good friends is preferable to trying to figure out confirmed bachelors (look up the word “compromise,” guys).  As the Daughter said to me not long ago, “I’m really starting to like where I am in my life.”

Me, too.  I’m starting to find some peace and comfort.  It just may be time to kick back and relax, to put all kinds of things and people to rest.  So, who am I to complain?  Life is good (mostly).  Soli Deo Gloria!