Thursday, August 28, 2014

Baking Cookies

Today I made these snickerdoodles and a new era was begun. 

When I was a little girl, I used to bake cookies with my mom. Standing on a chair so I could reach the counter, I watched in fascination as she creamed the butter and eggs into the mixing bowl, then gradually beat in the flour. I was allowed to help, if I was very, very careful. Breathlessly, I waited for permission to lick the coveted beaters, but honestly, I loved this as a special time for us girls to do something alone together. As much as my three brothers loved to eat cookies, they didn't care to help bake them, so I savored - then and now - theae rare opportunities to be one-on-one with my mom. 

Then along came my own four little girls, and cookie-baking jumped to warp speed. As the master chef, I was willing to relax my standards and give each of my apprentices a full share of participation in the process. 

Just encision the chaos of ingredients flying toward the bowl from all directions, measuring cups and spoons being passed back and forth, eager little bodies straining to get a turn to lick the spatula. 

Imagine four excited voices pleading to be assigned another job, clarifying instructions, and appraising the others' efforts. 

Picture forty little fingers cracking eggs, measuring spices, and sneaking toward the chocolate chips. 

Yes, chaos was a fact of life in those early days but I cherish the memories and wouldn't have had it any other way. 

* * * * *

Of course, those particular cookie-baking seasons of my life are over. I no longer need a chair to see I to the mixing bowl, and my daughters can each turn out a batch of cookies just like that, without a lick of help from me. 

Today, much to my surprise, a new season of cookie-baking began in my life. I'm here In Michigan, visiting with my mom, who suffers from Alzheimer's. While she still prepares her own meals, cooking has become a tedious chore for her and I'm afraid her baking days are probably over. 

But this morning, she asked me to do her a favor. "Sure," I said, "What do you need?"

"Would you like to bake me some cookies?" 

Of course, II did. After lunch, I whipped up a batch of anickerdoodles. Then we sat down at the table and each ate two, while they wre still warm from the oven. 

And this day will be a precious memory too. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Live And Let Live

Often times, on a warm summer day, I like to go out in my backyard and lounge in the sunshine. 

Of course, my faithful boy, Ranger, loyally accompanies me. When he seems me settle in to my chair, he saunters out into the sunshine and drops down into the cool grass beside me for a nap. 

But Ranger does not have the same passion for sunbathing that I do, and after a short while in the sunlit lawn, he gets up and looks for a shadier place to snooze. 

He can be quite inventive. 

I don't particularly appreciate the 80 pounds of gravity he inflicts on my poor tender plants. But I admire his creative problem-solving and his unending faithfulness to keeping me company 

So I have decided to live and let live. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

California: Free Associations

Southern California is a land of imagination. The entertainment industry centered here is known for its unique ability to captivate the world with its stories, special effects and endless innovation.

Now of course, there is much more to SoCal than Hollywood, but as I zoomed across the region not just once but twice in two back-to-back days, I noticed my own creative energies kicking in. So please allow me to share with you the free associations of my mind as I roamed through this magical, thought-provoking countryside.

^ South of Stockton

Plunked down in about the middle of the state, the city of Stockton might be considered the gateway to Southern California. Heading south from there, toward the famous and fantastical city of Los Angeles lies about the most forlorn stretch of scenery that you can imagine. 

Brown, dry, wrinkly hills. Dried scrub grasses. Rusty fence posts. And a whole lot of nothing.

I'm always amused to consider this contrast. 

 ^ Bakersfield

When I was a little girl growing up in the heartland, I fantasized about living in Southern California. 

Which is not that surprising. A lot of people do.

But I didn't dream of seeking my forturnes in Los Angeles. For some reason, I was sure that I belonged in Bakersfield.

I have no idea why. I knew nothing about the city except the name. Maybe I read about it in a book 

I just thought this hardworking city sounded like an exciting and exotic place to live, and I smile at my childish notions whenever I drive through.

^ Joshua Trees

Just beyond Bakersfield, the Mojave Desert springs up, full of these adorable Joshua trees. They remind me of U2, who named an album after them. And while this song is not on that particular album, I'm always reminded of this, my very favorite U2 song, and I sing it in my head as I pass through this quirky desert forest. 

 ^ Desert Rest Stops

When my daughters were young, we crossed the Mojave Desert and stopped at a rest stop. The air was hot and dry, the winds were surprisingly fierce. As I watched my tiny little fourth-born scampering along with her sisters on the way to our picnic shelter, a momentary but overpowering fear swept through me as I considered how quickly she might succumb to those natural forces. 

Of course, she survived the outing quite nicely, and my fears were only fleeting, but whenever I roll in to a desert rest stop, I'm reminded of how precious and fragile our lives can be.

^ Edwards Air Force Base

In the middle of the Mojave, beyond the expressway, lies the legendary place where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and the shuttles often touched down on their way home from space. My mind always drifts off to childhood memories of the Apollo flights, the day we landed on the moon, and what I was doing on the day that the Challenger exploded. 

^ Wind Turbines

Near Palm Springs is a giant collection of wind turbines. They look to me like an alien army, marching in formation across our landscape and plotting their takeover. Honestly, I can give myself the shivers with these doomsday fantasies, and thankfully, the crazy traffic in the area usually snaps me back to reality.

^ Chiriaco Summit

A hundred miles east of Los Angeles, the Colorado Desert has a landscape even bleaker than the Mojave. Though there are bits of natural greenery here and there, and plenty of irrigated farmlands, it looks like the moon to me.

^ Palm Trees

These graceful giants are iconic to Southern California, and even when I see them here in the harsh desert, I'm overcome with the same feeling when I first came to SoCal as a tenderhearted teenager: this is a strange and beautiful place with a magic all its own.

^ Colorado River

Somewhere around 900 miles after I drove into the northern border of California, I am finally driving out. The southern boundary is marked by what's left of the Colorado River, after most of its volume has been stripped away to irrigate crops, water golf courses, and fill the swimming pools of this strange and interesting land.

Farewell, Southern California! As always, you have given me a lot to think about.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Meanwhile, Back At Hone

So this is what my dog does when I am away from hone for a few days. Irish charmer that he is, he hops up on other people's beds and cuddles, using his best, "Pity me cuz I'm lonely" look. 

Dang, he is so cute. 

I can't wait to get home. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

California: Taking It From The Top

When I drive through California, I start at the  top. Mile 793 is the northern border with Oregon, deep in the heart of the Siskyous Mountains.

 The views are dramatic and sweeping at every angle, and the expressway winds and weaves between the peaks for over 100 miles. 

The layers and muted colors of the range are classically Californian yet I feel quite at home in this rugged landscape. 

Then, somewhere around Mile 690, after careening down the steep pass, Interstate 5 delivers me to central California. 

Red Bluff.

The landscape radically changes to irrigated farmlands and distant brown hills. 


We sleep tonight among the fields of plenty, somewhere around Mile 472. 

Tomorrow, we keep driving south. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Saying Goodbye

Today was the last full day of my fourth-born's summer break.

Early tomorrow morning, we begin the long drive down to Arizona to deliver her back to school.


Tonight, as has become our custom, she and I went down to the beach for one last sunset. The air was brisk and cool, wild waves raced across the water, and the colors reflected in the clouds were just about perfect.

Taken together with the handful of other evenings spent here this summer, we now have a fresh batch of happy memories to see us through till we return here together, three long months from now, at Thanksgiving.


But on this night, we went to the beach for more than just the natural beauty or the fond memories.

My daughter brought with her a small glass jar full of murky water

Carrying this treasure, she walked out to the far end of one of the docks. She knelt down, unscrewed the lid, and dumped the contents of the jar into the Sound. Pulling a scrubbing pad out of her pocket, she carefully scoured out the inside of both parts of the container. When she was satisfied with her work, my daughter sat back for a moment, looked around at sea and sky, and drew in a breath. Then, slowly and thoughtfully, she dipped the glass jar into the salty water, filling it up to the very top. While the waves rocked the dock and knocked us to and fro, she painstakingly screwed the lid back on without spilling a drop.

Just as she did last year and the year before, my daughter will take this little portion of Puget Sound to school with her. During the long year ahead in land-locked Tucson, it will sit on her desk, reminding her of home, of family, and of the beautiful place where she belongs.

As much as I hate to see her go, I love sharing this ritual with her; this special way of saying goodbye.


My Homemade Enchiladas

If you like mariachi music, oversize sombreros, and spicy comfort food, have I got a recipe for you.

Feast your eyes on this festive dish of enchiladas, a classic south-of-the-border favorite that has been in my family's rotation of tried-and-true meals for more years than I can recall.

Like any good family favorite, the ingredients are simple and the preparation technique allows for plenty of interpretation and approximation.

a package of ground beef, browned
10-12 soft tortillas
a can of refried beans
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups diced onion
half a can of red enchilada sauce
half a can of green enchilada sauce
(freeze the extra sauces for next time)

2 cups sour cream
4-6 green onions, chopped

1. Generously oil a large baking dish. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Put a tortilla on a plate, spread a spoonful of refried beans down the center. Then sprinkle on some ground beef, onions and cheese. Roll it up and place in the baking dish. Rinse and repeat.

3. Keep an eye your ingredients and balance your proportions so that you will come out even. Honestly, that's the trickiest part of this whole shindig.

4. When the baking dish is full, pour on the sauces. I like to pour the green down the center of the tortillas, and then splash the red along the ends. Sprinkle on more shredded cheese and any leftover ingredients that did not make it into an enchilada proper.

5. Cover the dish with foil; bake for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese melts. If you can stand to let them sit for 10 minutes before eating, they will be all the more delicious. Serve with sour cream and chopped green onion.  

Take note that there are countless ways to substitute or add in more ingredients to pump up the flavors. Here is a partial list of our successful experiments:

jalapeno peppers
red, green or yellow bell pepper
black beans
fresh tomatoes
sun-dried tomatoes

Clearly, the options for personalizing this crazy delicious comfort food are through the roof. 

And now, to complete the Mexican mood with the aforementioned sombreros and mariachi, here's a interesting mash-up that sure sets my toe to tapping. ¡Ay, caramba!