November 25, 2009

Give Thanks To The Lord...

On this day before Thanksgiving a few things I'm thankful for...

God's never ending love.

The Senor - he amazes me daily with his love, support, kind heart and sense of humor.  With him I have learned it is possible to fall deeper in love each and every day.

The tradition of making cornbread dressing with Dede which has now been passed along to Mom, Sandra, McKae and me.

Family - the one I was born to and the one I married.

The Armed Forces of the United States of America.

Taylor, McKae and Cate have never had to go without health care and have never been truly hungry or thirsty.

Friends from Mrs. Curry's Kindergarten, Elementary school, Intermediate school, Junior high school, High school, the twenty-somethings, the thirty-somethings, the forty-somethings and those who have spanned some or all of those times.  What blessings they are.

Eating raw cornbread dressing with Mom, Sandra and McKae.

The honor of being a Mimi and a Step-Monster.

Health care, health insurance and access to the medication needed to treat my illness.

I was born in to a family who lives in a country where there is freedom of religion, freedom of speech and where human injustice is against the law.

I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and not a terminal illness.

My parents.  They love me unconditionally.  Through example they taught me the value of work ethic, respect for self, respect for God and respect for others.   

And of course, let's not forget the cornbread dressing with gravy!

Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 107:1

November 20, 2009

I Will Play (Or Work!) For Gumbo...

Boy, I do love me some gumbo!  

And it hit me from out of the blue yesterday that I had to HAVE some gumbo before the day had ended!

Well, those of you who know the Senor and me know that he is the gumbo cook in this house.

You see, I can follow a recipe with the best of 'em.  But to create something from scratch is a whole 'notha story!

But, for some reason yesterday I was feeling a bit brave so I did a little reading...

consulted with the Senor via telephone...

dropped in on grocery store heaven - aka Central Market...

and here's what happened next...

Step 1

Poach Chicken

To a large pot add:

3 cups water
1 chicken breast (with skin and bones)
5 chicken thighs (with skin and bones)
1 onion, quartered
1 celery stalk, quartered
1 small carrot, quartered
1 teaspoon salt
2 springs of parsley

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  When chicken is done remove the chicken pieces from the pot and place the on a plate to cool.

Step 2:

Strain the broth through a sieve and discard the vegetable/herb mixture.

Step 3: 

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove skin and bone from the meat, shred or chop the meat in large pieces and set to the side if using soon or store in airtight container in the refrigerator for later use.

(This recipe can also be done using a whole chicken.  It is my favorite way to poach chicken and can be used a million ways!)

But, back the gumbo!

Step 4:

Measure the broth and place it, along with enough canned broth, to equal 4 1/2 quarts in a large stock pot.  Bring to a boil.

Step 5:

In a skillet melt a pat or two of butter and add:
1 green Bell pepper (chopped)
1 onion (chopped)
3 stalks of celery (chopped)
(Known by those amazing chefs, the Cajuns, as "the trinity")
Saute over medium heat (do not allow to brown) until very soft.

Step 6:

Add 1/3 cup of jarred roux (I used Kary's Roux which is available in most grocery stores) to the boiling chicken broth and stir constantly for 10 minutes or until it is completely dissolved in the broth.

Step 7:

Chop 1 link of Andouille sausage (don't use regular smoked sausage.  Andouille is a Cajun sausage and can be purchased in specialty meat shops or from the Internet) in small pieces and brown in a skillet over medium heat in order to cook off as much fat as possible.  Remove sausage from skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.

Step 8:

To broth/roux mixure add:
Softened combination of onion, celery and Bell pepper (trinity)
Shredded chicken
Browned Andouille sausage
1 Bay leaf
20 turns of black pepper grinder
Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 2 - 3 hour or until broth has reduced some and gumbo is of a thickened consistency.

Serve over cooked white rice and with crusty French bread.  Garnish with green onions if desired.

And if I do say so myself...

Laissez les bons temps rouler


Let The Good Times Roll

November 18, 2009

If Only...

I came across these two quotes by Algernon Black...

Both are very thought provoking...

"The religions of humanity should be a unifying force, for all the great religions reveal a basic unity in ethics. Whether it be Judaism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism or Confucianism, all grow out of a sense of the sacredness of human life."

"This moral sensitivity to the sacredness of human personality -- the Commandments not to kill, not to hurt, not to put a stumbling block in the path of the blind, not to neglect the widow or the fatherless, not to exploit the servant or the worker -- all this can be found in the Bibles of humanity, in all the sacred books."

If only those who murder innocent people in the name of religion could read those words and comprehend them...

If only those individuals who believe violence, destruction and instilling fear in the innocent could just read those words...

and open their hearts...

to the true meaning of religion...

which is love...

If only...  

November 16, 2009

Deck The Halls For Fall....

I LOVE the Bellagio Hotel.   

I LOVE the atrium at the Bellagio Hotel.  

You never know how the atrium at the Bellagio Hotel will be dressed.  

She is truly a fashionista.  

We visited her while in Vegas and wow, oh wow, she was decked out for fall.  

Check the 'ole girl out...

November 14, 2009

Water For Christmas

I recently learned about an amazing organization called charity: water and would like to tell you a little about them. 

One billion people on the planet don't have access to clean drinking water.  That's one in six of us.  charity: water is a non-profit organization bringing clean and safe drinking water to people in developing nations.  100% of public donations directly fund water projects.

It’s hard not to think about water today. In the western world, we face growing concerns about our stewardship of the world’s most precious resource. There’s talk of shortages, evidence of reservoirs and aquifers drying up, and of course, plenty of people who simply don’t care.

But forget about us.

Most of us have never really been thirsty. We’ve never had to leave our houses and walk 5 miles to fetch water. We simply turn on the tap, and water comes out. Clean. Yet more than 1.1 billion people on the planet don’t have clean water.

It’s hard to imagine what a billion people looks like really, but one in six might be easier. One in six people in our world don’t have access to the most basic of human needs. Something we can’t imagine going 12 hours without.

Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of all sickness and disease and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. 

Water for Christmas is a grass roots movement bringing both awareness and real "on the ground" change to Africa's water crisis.

Stated simply, they see no reason for 4500 mothers to bury children every day for lack of clean water. And in most places, clean water flows just below the surface. With a little help, local African communities can tap into safe, clean water. Helping provide clean water and basic sanitation is thus one of the first and simplest steps to ending water-borne diseases and their accompanying cycle of poverty in the world. 

So, what I ask of you today is to click on either the charity:water or waterforchristmas links here and check out these great organizations and, if you're able, make a $10.00 donation.  Think about it, you'll probably never miss that $10.00 but it will make a huge difference in the life of a child.

"There are two primary choices in life; to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them." (Denis Waitley)

**All donations are tax-deductible.

November 13, 2009

Celebrate - Vegas Style!

The last leg of our trip was a quick stop in Vegas to celebrate our son's 21st birthday.

When I met the Senor Bryan had just turned 11 and suddenly, within the blink of an eye, he's 21. I am so proud of the man he has become and even more proud and thankful that I was able to be a part of those growing-up years. He is such a joy and I have no doubt his life will be filled with integrity, achievement and happiness. That's just who he is.

**Celebration lunch at Maggiano's with Bryan's Mom Kathy, step-dad David, Dennis, Bryan, Jessica, Cory, Kim, The Senor and Cate.

November 12, 2009

Wine Country Days 3 and 4

The morning of day three I was moving a bit slow.  While I laid around and enjoyed the peaceful quiet of the vineyard the Senor and brother-in-law went with our friend Bob to "punch down" the wine for a wine-maker friend of Bob's.

(Brother-in-law observing Bob punch down the wine.)

(The Senor punching down the wine.)

"Punching down" is done to keep the fermenting wine and skins mixed up during red wine fermentation.  As the wine ferments, the skins rise to the top of the tank and form a thick "cap."  It is important to break up the cap a few times a day to increase the extraction of color and flavor and to prevent the cap from drying out and/or developing bacterial problems.  A punch down means the cap was manually pushed back into the fermenting wine using an instrument that looks like a huge potato masher!

Our first stop on Day Three was Michel Schlumberger Winery.  This is a beautiful winery set back in the hills of Dry Creek Valley.  Our host, Francesco, was charming, knowledgeable and down-right funny.  The facility is not only gorgeous but is completely organic and is home to sheep, chickens and bees.  They also have an organic garden on the property.  According to Francesco it is not surprising to see mountain lion, bobcat, deer and many other wild animals roaming there.  On top of all this they produce first class wines that I love!

When we finished at Michele Schlumberger it was lunchtime and we had just enough time to pop in to The Ravenous for bite to eat.  The Ravenous is located in a funky old house in Healdsburg and the food was, well let's just say I was once again in "foodie heaven"!

Next, Sandy had arranged for a taste and pairing at Jordan Winery.  The Jordan facility sits high on a hilltop and is absolutely stunning.  Jordan is known for their "tradition of fine wines" and the tastings did not disappoint.

The remainder of the afternoon we tasted wines from the Longboard, Seghesio, Mauritson and Dutcher Crossing Wineries.

While at Mauritson we had the opportunity to meet the wine maker, Clay Mauritson.  Despite this being the busiest time of his year he was generous enough to take time to talk with us and share his passion for wine making.  It was so refreshing to speak with someone who holds such a love for what they do every day.  The Mauritson zinfandels were fabulous and, again, a case or two will be showing up on our door step any day now.

Our last night in Sonoma county we all convened on Willi's Seafood and Raw Bar.  I can't tell you what a pleasure it was to spend the evening visiting with these dear people.  Bob and Sandy and Bob and Cathy are truly some of my favorite folks and to have the opportunity to spend time with them in this amazing place was priceless.  As we shared small plates and glorious wine it occurred to me that our visit was drawing to an end and I was overcome with emotion.

Bob and Sandy are the ultimate host and hostess.  Bob met us on the deck Friday morning with mimosas.  The Senor, brother-in-law and I enjoyed our last morning on the vineyard deck while he and Sandy were busy in the kitchen whipping up breakfast.  After breakfast it was time to load our things and drop by one last winery before heading to the airport.  Bob had shared a bottle of Limerick Lane with us the night before and wanted us to see their facility before we left.  Limerick Lane's 1023 is a blend of Syrah and Zinfandel and is totally lush and fabulous and, yes, three magnums have already shown up on our door step.

Bob and Sandy escorted us to the airport.  Once again, I was overcome with emotion.  I'm terrible with good-byes and there simply were no words to adequately express our gratitude.  So we said our goodbyes, not knowing when we will see one another again, but knowing when we do it will be just like it was yesterday.

November 11, 2009

November 9, 2009

Wine Country - Day Two

Three walls of the guesthouse are windows - I awoke on day two to a view of the most beautiful hillside draped in grapevines. The sunshine danced over the hills creating the most gorgeous array of colors imaginable. The scene changed quickly and dramatically with the rising of the sun. I would love to have been able to freeze each moment in time and replay them over and over again.

We slept with the windows open. The temperature dipped down in to the 40's overnight and it was lovely to slowly wake up under the warm blankets surrounded by so much beauty. It was like an instant shot of energy! The air was crisp and cool and we were definitely ready for another day.

Our first stop was the Robert Young Winery. Sandy had arranged for a private tasting and tour at 10:00 AM. Our host at the winery was Bill and we couldn't have asked for a nicer or more knowledgeable gentleman to discuss the wines with us. The Robert Young wines were delicious (the Senor believes them to be the best he sampled during the trip) and a case is scheduled to arrive at our home any day now. Bill also graciously took us on a tour of the Robert Young caves while we were there which was quiet a treat.

Next we met up with some more dear friends, Bob and Cathy, at the Sausel Winery. There we paid a visit to Bob and Cathy's good friend Dave Demostene. Dave showed us around his winery and even allowed us the opportunity to partake in two barrel tastings one of which was from their Century Vines - some of those vines were planted over 130 years ago!

We stopped and had a quick bite of lunch with Sandy, Bob and Cathy and then were on to more wine tasting adventures. Thank goodness for Sandy who was deemed our "designated driver"!

The remainder of the afternoon we visted the Simi, Ridge and Mazzacco wineries. Each had its own distinct character, the folks pouring were fun and informative and, again, several cases will be showing up on our front steps in the next few days. (Yes, you'll notice a pattern here!)

The lovely Cathy joined Sandy, the Senor, brother-in-law and I for dinner that night. We dined at the fabulous Bistro Ralph in Healdsburg. The food and wine were flawless. The friends and family I shared it with are more special than any of them will ever know.

As I drifted off to sleep that night all I could think of was that perhaps I had died and gone to foodie heaven!

November 4, 2009

Wine Country - Day One

Our time in the wine country was spectacular. We were given the opportunity to visit many beautiful wineries, taste scrumptious wines and dine on fabulous food created by local chefs.

We arrived in the wine country about a week after the final grapes of the season had been picked. The wine makers were busy at work; their grapes picked, cleaned and on to the initial stages of their life-cycle, one day to become wine.

The only grapes left on the vines when we arrived are known as "second growth". They are small and will not produce the plump, juicy grape the growers need for making wine. However, the grapevines that covered the rolling hills were beautiful. I was amazed by the brilliant shades of green, gold and purple leaves that covered the vines although I later learned that even though the colors are beautiful they are indicative of late season leaf curl and not something desired by the growers. Still, through my eyes, they were beautiful!

The Senor, brother-in-law and I left Muir Woods and made our way up through Napa Valley. While passing through Napa we stopped by Artesa Winery, Darioush Winery and Merryvale for tastings. Each of them had wonderful offerings. We decided a bite to eat was in order before continuing on our adventure so we stopped in at the Silverado Brewing Company for a quick bite and cold beer to cleanse the palate.

We took the very scenic Hwy 128 from St Helena to Geyserville. Fantastic little windy road for we awe-struck tourists to meander through! After loads of meandering and basically being very lost (and late) we made it to our destination.

Our host and hostess during our visit to Sonoma were our dear friends Bob and Sandy. Sandy is a grower in Sonoma and lives on her farm there. Her place is simply charming with not a detail missing.

The night of our arrival we had dinner in Geyserville at a fabulous little Italian restaurant, Scopa. The food and wine were spectacular. Standouts of the meal were an appetizer of flash-fried Padrone peppers, bruschetta with goat cheese, eggplant and roasted tomato and the most delicate ravioli I have ever put in my mouth.

The next two days were comprised of complete sensory overload. There are simply no words to describe the food, wine, scenery or kindness we encountered everywhere we went.

Day Two To Come...

November 3, 2009

A Holy Place...

"This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world." ~John Muir

Since I was a little girl I have fantasized about living in the know, in a hallow tree, much like the one in Ashdown Forest with Pooh and Christopher Robin. For me, there has always been something fairytale-like about towering trees, trickling brooks and crisp forest air.

Seven years ago the Senor surprised me by taking me to Muir Woods. We had just become engaged and had gone to San Francisco for a few days. He told me he had a surprise for me, loaded me up in a rental car and off we went.

During the 12 mile trip through the woods I began to ask a lot of questions. You know, fair questions such as, "where are you taking me?", "have you ever been there?" "do you know where you're going?", "are you trying to get rid of me?"

I mean come on, if he regretted the engagement and wanted rid of me surely we could talk about it!

And then, we were there.

He knew of my love for trees and he took me to see the greatest trees of all.

Could there be a sweeter or more romantic gesture?

Muir Woods, with her towering redwoods stood before us.

As we walked the trails of Muir Woods I was overcome with emotion. The splendor of God's wonder surrounded me. Without realizing it I whispered when I spoke. The Senor asked me why I was whispering and I said, "this is a holy place".

Last week we visited Muir Woods again. It still contains all the wonder of our original visit.

My brother in law made the trip with us and as we walked the trails he turned to me and said something along the line of, I feel like any minute I'll run in to God in here.

I tell you, it's a holy place.

I've been to church
I've read the book
I know he's here
But I don't look
Near as often as I should
Yeah, I know I should
His fingerprints are everywhere
I just slowed down to stop and stare
Opened my eyes and man I swear
I saw God today

R Clawson
M Criswell
W Kirby


The Streets of San Francisco

A few images from the streets of San Francisco...

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My photos could never do the wonder of this city justice.

The diversity of the many cultures represented there; as well as, the history of the city are seen everywhere one looks.

The neighborhoods of San Francisco are a cultural marvel. I love listening to the various dialects and taking in the smell of fresh baked goods and spices.

There are corner grocers and bakeries and flower shops. Not to mention, some very interesting butcher shops in China Town!

And then there's the shopping in Union Square...shoppers PARADISE!

One could try to eat their way through San Francisco but, of course, that would mean they would never leave. The Wharf has the freshest seafood and North Beach is a pasta lover's dream. Oh, and let's not forget Dottie's Cafe - aka Breakfast Heaven in my book.

It's easy to see why many a heart has been left in San Francisco.