Wednesday, November 11, 2015

If This Were Your Last Day on Earth . . . .

I've been watching "Grey's Anatomy" on Netflix for the last week, or so.  I'd never seen it when I was settled in my house in Roseville.  After having worked so many years in the OR, I mistakenly believed that a TV show just couldn't do the experience justice.  So, currently I'm working on Season 2, Episode 18.
    The medical drama series focuses on a group of doctors at a hospital in Seattle, including several who began their careers at the facility as interns. One of the doctors and the show's namesake, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), is the daughter of a famous surgeon. She struggles to maintain relationships with her colleagues, particularly the hospital's one-time chief of surgery, Richard Webber, due to a pre-existing relationship between them -- Webber and Meredith's mother had a personal relationship when Meredith was young.
I've never been a seasoned  / addicted TV watcher, except for Food Network in the recent 10 years.  Way back in the 60s and 70s it was Julia Child, from "mastering the Art of French Cooking."  Then beginning in the 90s it's been Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa.

Anyway, during my travels around the US and my forays into  foreign countries in the last few years, I've begun watching lots of different types of movies and TV series on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, all on my computer.  I love them all.  It's interesting here in Guatemala because if I go on the Internet to the Netflix website, I get some American, Canadian, British, and Australian programs; but, I also get lots of movies, etc. from Spain and Latin America.  Mostly they're in Spanish, and, if I'm lucky, there'll be English subtitles - I still have lots of problems catching the gist of movie conversations if I don't have a little help from subtitles!  Then, I can open an application, called Hotspot Shield, that somehow 'tricks' the service providing carriers into thinking that I'm accessing Netflix from the USA; and, presto, I get all the Netflix programs that are currently being offered to US subscribers but not to Latin American subscribers!  Pretty nifty, I'd say.

So, back to "Grey's Anatomy." First of all, the name of the TV show is really catchy to those among us who have labored away in the reference book, "Gray's Anatomy," the epitome of anatomy textbooks.  I'd be willing to bet there aren't more than three doctors in the US who do NOT own a copy of "Gray's Anatomy."  Even after ridding myself of 99% of my personal library in the last several weeks, I still have a copy, as it never goes out of style - human anatomy doesn't change.  Maybe in the next thousand years, or so, there'll be some modification to human anatomy, but not now!

In the episode of "Grey's Anatomy" I watched earlier today, Season 2, episode 17,  Meredith is tasked with maintaining her cool in the OR with a patient who has an unexploded bomb in his chest.  She's actually 'holding' her hand on the bomb until it can be safely removed and handed to the bomb squad who's standing opposite her with the operating table and patient between them.  I won't spoil it if you haven't yet seen it - go to Netflix and take a look at the whole series if you're interested.  But, the episode concludes with Meredith asking the question:  IF THIS WERE YOUR LAST DAY ON EARTH,  HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SPEND IT AND WITH WHOM?

I'm meditating on my answer right now.  What's yours?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Notes From Travel Day, Sacramento to Guatemala City

American Airlines SMF (Sacramento) to LAX ( Los Angeles) to Dallas / Fort Worth to GUA (Guatemala City). Eldin, my friend and driver, will be outside La Aurora Airport waiting to take me to Antigua. If all goes well I should be home at about 10:30 tonight. I paid to take extra luggage to Guatemala - no extra clothes - I actually left several pieces of clothing in my little storage unit  in California so I'll have some for next time I visit. No, three bags are filled with kitchen supplies and lots of craft materials for my Amigos del Arte group that meets every Wednesday morning. 

After this VERY busy five weeks I'm so looking forward to some relaxation time and time to digest all the changes taking place in my life with this elimination of so much STUFF.  Even though I'm not terrifically attached to houses, I have enjoyed my little 1250 square foot abode in Roseville. I took one last walk through this morning to make sure everything was out, and to say one last "goodbye" before flying off to continue my Guatemala adventure. 

I'll miss all my kids and grandkids; their lives all change almost from  minute to minute. It's still strange to say that my youngest grandkids, the twins and triplets, are all going to be 16-years old soon!  Wow!  All five of them are studying Spanish in high school so I'd love to have them visit me in Antigua. 

I say a little prayer for my dear Quinn, who is still suffering the effects of her cancelled wedding. She's strong and resilient and will, I'm sure, find happiness once again and go on bravely to live a successful life in whatever and with whom ever she chooses. 

Addison (23) and Holland (21) are sharing an apartment in downtown Sacramento, Addison teaching sixth grade and Holland pursuing her studies at Sac State University. Those two are going places and I love them mucho. 

Already landing in Los Angeles so I'll close for now. 

Part II:
On American Airlines flight from LAX to Dallas Fort Worth. Smooth flight.

Part III:
Landed in Dallas Fort Worth after a nice flight.  Took the sky shuttle to the international terminal for my flight from Texas to Guatemala City.  When I arrived at the gate I found that the flight departure was delayed - we finally took off almost two hours later than planned.   I had a chance to email Eldín, my Guatemalan friend and driver, to tell him not to go to Aurora Airport until a little later.  We finally got in almost two hours late.  Immigration and Customs were a breeze.  I'd smuggled 3 large rutabagas into the country for my cousin, Linda, to make her famous rutabaga pudding for Thanksgiving and was a little concerned that they may open my bags - but no such worry occurred.

And, speaking of recipes . . . 

I have a recipe request from Quinn:

Mimi's Chicken Wing Hors D'oeuvres

*1 pound chicken wings (about 14 wings), wing tips removed (save for making chicken broth). Then, separate into wingets by slicing through the connecting joint. So, for 14 chicken wings, you'll now have 28 wingets 

*½ cup regular Kikkoman soy sauce

*Garlic powder (not garlic salt) -I don't measure it - I guess it would be about 1 teaspoon in total if I did measure


*Turn oven on to Broil. Set an oven rack about four inches below the broiler heating flame or element. 

*Line an aluminum / metal baking pan (with at least one-inch sides) with heavy-duty aluminum foil, using enough foil to completely cover the bottom and all sides of the pan. Tuck the foil in over the lip of the pan on all sides. This prevents burned soy, sugar, garlic powder and chicken fat and juices from making the pan difficult to clean. 

*Arrange the wingets in the pan, trying not to overlap pieces

*Sprinkle the wingets with a little soy sauce, a generous sprinkle of garlic powder, and about a teaspoon of sugar. 

*Place the pan under the broiler and broil  the first side of the wingets for about 5 - 8 minutes, checking often to avoid burning the skin.

*Using tongs, turn wingets over, season the uncooked side with soy, garlic powder, and sugar, and broil second side for approximately the same amount of time. 

*Using tongs, turn wingets to expose first side again. At this time you can add more of the three sauce ingredients, or, if there's sufficient sauce collected in the pan you can collect it to spoon over wingets and broil for a couple of minutes, until the wingets are nicely browned on this side. Turn again and broil the second side until browned and the sauce in the pan has thickened.

Arrange wingets on a serving platter, lined with large lettuce leaves if you'd like, and spoon the syrupy sauce over them. Serve wingets hot or at room temperature to be eaten by hand with an available cocktail napkin to keep fingers clean. 

Enjoy 28 cocktail servings; but, beware, people usually eat four or five each!!!

So, it's 12:57am; I'm sitting up in bed with Lacy and Eleanor by my side.  Aaahh, it's good to be home.  I plan to do a lot of relaxing for the next few days.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Getting Out of Dodge!

I'm finishing up a myriad of minute issues, readying myself for departure tomorrow morning from Sacramento to Guatemala City.  I'll be back in Antigua tomorrow night, where Lacy and Eleanor are waiting for my return.  This has been a most productive five weeks in California.

I have:
  • Put my Roseville house on the market to be sold - and it's supposed to be a good sellers' market
  • Sold my Smart Car to my son's family- Jeff will use it as a commute car
  • Put both the Toyota Dolphin and the Fleetwood Flair on the market to be sold by my nephew and grand nephew - I'm going to miss them both, but now is not the time to have them sitting
  • Had two estate / garage sales - Profits of over $4000!!! Lots of help from Sharan
  • Sold multiple belongings on Craigslist
    • furniture
    • refrigerator
    • freezer
    • washer and dryer
    • Oriental carpet
    • enough yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks, knitting books, and equipment and supplies to open a yarn shop!
    • hundreds of cook- and other books
    • dinnerware
    • silverware
    • cooking implements and supplies
    • pots, pans, bake ware
    • microwave
    • All Clad slow cooker
    • counter top oven
    • dishes - China and everyday
    • more
    • more
    • more
I invited a relatively new Canadian friend, Sharan, who lives in Guatemala, to come up to California to help me with, upon arrival October 1st, what seemed like an overwhelming and impossible job to complete in the two weeks Sharan was to be here.  Well, folks, she's a human dynamo!  I can't say how much I appreciated her help and unrelenting encouragement.  I could not have done it without her.  And, my daughter-in-law, Alice, continues to be so gracious with her time and effort.  She'll arrive later this afternoon and will drive me to the airport early tomorrow morning.  Kari, David, Jeff, Alice, and even world-traveling son, Spencer, have all been so supportive.  Thank you all!

I haven't been able to spend the time I would have liked visiting with many relatives and friends.  I'm especially sad that I didn't see my brother, Jim; but, it just wasn't in the cards that I could drive down to Santa Cruz to see him; and, he wasn't able to come up here.  It's one long drive through the San Francisco Bay Area and then also through the San Jose area - both difficult to navigate through commute traffic spots.  Jim and I try to stay in touch through email; so we'll continue that when I return to Antigua.

I've just emailed my Orthopedic Surgeon here in Sacramento to start arranging my second total knee surgery, hopefully for January 2016.  This knee is not as severely damaged by arthritis as my right knee was last year; but, it is ready for the replacement and I'm so looking forward to being pain every day.  Fortunately, this knee only hurts severely when I walk!  But, I like to walk a lot, which has been impossible for almost a year.
Kari and David's home in El Dorado Hills
L to R:  Samantha and Malia, son Jeff's twins - almost 16
I'm going to be very busy as soon as I get to Antigua.  I've been asked to write a syllabus for an English teaching program, then develop a teaching plan, and 'hire' volunteer teachers for a foundation I volunteer for CasaSito, Antigua, Guatemala.  I also have four English students, each of whom I tutor four hours each week .  One is 18, two are 19, and one is 20 .  They're all excited to learn and very conscientious about homework, etc.  I can't wait to see them all again.  I've also collected all kinds of arts and crafts supplies to share with a group I belong to called Los Amigos del Arte; we get together for about 4-5 hours each week and do crafts projects that we then sell to raise money for CasaSito.

Check out the website for CasaSito - a scholarship program for underprivileged Guatemalan kids from primary school through university - ages about 8 - 25.  It's a wonderful organization and I'm happy to be a part of it.

I'll also be involved with my Guatemalan family:  Carlos (my current Spanish teacher), his wife Nancy, daughter Shirley (my Guatemalan granddaughter), and daughter Heisell and her husband and baby.  I have some gifts for them that I know they'll appreciate; it's rewarding to be able to help them out; they are wonderful people, as are most of the Guatemalans I know.
Heisell and Fernando on wedding day
Spring 2015

L to R:  Fernando, Nancy, Heisell, Carlos, Shirley
Wedding Day Spring 2015

Of course it will be wonderful to see Cousin Linda - remember, we met in Antigua almost four years ago and found out we're actually related - her grandfather and my grandmother were cousins in Plattsburgh, New York.  Small world - Linda was born in Rhode Island and has lived most of her life in Chicago.  I'm essentially a west coast girl - and we met in Antigua!!!
Cousin Linda Champagne with baby
Danna Sofia Fernanda Lopez 1 week old
Going to miss Quinn, with whom I shared
a great grandmother / granddaughter lunch
last Saturday.  She's doing so well after her
sad cancellation of her wedding last month.
I so love this young lady!

Rear: old photo of Addison, Quinn, Avery
Front:  Holland, Spencer, Tate
They're all so grown up.
M-P's Antigua casita - my own slice of paradise.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Hollandase Sauce . . . Another of the Mother Sauces of French Cooking

So, you might ask, what's the story of Hollandaise Sauce?  There's some debate about who originally invented this delectable addition to any meal - breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Some food historians think it was developed in the Netherlands, hence the name, and taken to France by the Huguenots.  Others believe that Hollandaise was developed and served to the King of the Netherlands by a French chef in French King's court sometime in the 17th century.  Who knows for sure?  Not I.

This is what it looks like when it's ready to eat!
It's probable that the original sauce may not have had egg yolks involved at all - simply sweet butter and a touch of acid, in the form of vinegar or lemon juice.  And, certainly many gourmet cooks and restaurants today serve a sweet butter and lemon sauce on such dishes as "Sole Meuniere," one of my favorite dinners to order in San Francisco, where the fish is so fresh and the Meyer lemons and sweet butter from our California countryside make Sole Meuniere so fabulous.  Mmmmm, my mouth is watering for some right now!

Okay, back to the story:  Hollandaise is an emulsion of egg yolks and butter, usually seasoned with lemon juice or vinegar.  The tang of the acidic lemon juice should provide a definite tang, but shouldn't overpower the velvety smooth sauce.

Once again the recipe is simple - only three main ingredients:  egg yolks, butter, and lemon.  Ah, but then there is the preparation and that requires some practice and patience.  As many of you know, cooking egg yolks can be challenging - cook them over too low a heat and they don't thicken, cook them over too high a heat and they curdle.  So, read the recipe carefully and when you make it for the first time, do it when there's not any stress associated with company coming!

My first lessons in the preparation of Hollandaise were from Julia Child on "The French Chef" TV series beginning in 1963.  However, through the years I've modified and personalized the sauce so that now I can say the following is truly my recipe.

Mimi's Hollandaise Sauce

2 large fresh eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
¼ pound (one cube of a one-pound package) of salted butter, cut in half

1)  Separate each of two fresh eggs over a small bowl using the egg shell halves technique of cracking the egg carefully and pouring the contents back and forth between the egg shell halves until all of the egg white has fallen into the bowl.  Then holding the yolk in one of the half shells, drop the yolk into a small room temperature saucepan.  Do the same for the second egg.  Now you have a bowl with 2 egg whites that can be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for up to a month.  And, you have two egg yolks in the saucepan.

2)  Add 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice  to the saucepan - bottled if you don't have fresh, but  fresh is always preferable.  Add ½  of the cube of butter.  This is probably the only time I really prefer to use salted butter.  I'm a sweet unsalted butter fan.; but, I find that salted butter is all you need for seasoning in this sauce; sometimes I also add a little white pepper, but not often and not much.

3)  So you have your 3 ingredients in the saucepan.  Move it over a very low heat to begin the process of melting the butter.  Using a whisk or a wooden spoon, stir the ingredients constantly for the entire time the pan is on the heat, first to blend the ingredients and then to make sure they heat slowly and evenly - to avoid curdling the egg yolks.  (More about curdling cures later).

4)  Maintaining a low heat, stir the ingredients until they are mixed and hot to the touch.  Add the second ½ of the cube of butter and continue to heat and stir for several minutes until the emulsion of ingredients is complete and the sauce has thickened to a medium-thick consistency.

Although most recipes say you must make Hollandaise at the last minute, right before serving, I've found that it's perfectly acceptable to make it up to several hours before it's needed.  You can pour the sauce into a bowl or you can leave it in the saucepan.  The important thing to remember is that it needs to has a sheet of plastic wrap placed right on the surface of the sauce itself to prevent a film from forming.  It's not good enough to just stretch foil or plastic over the bowl / pan.  Refrigerate the sauce for up to several hours, even overnight if it's to be used for something like Eggs Benedict for the next day's brunch.  Remove it from the refrigerator an let it come up to room temperature before serving.  Sometimes I simply serve the sauce at room temperature; it's 'heated' by the vegetable or dish it's embellishing.  And, sometimes I choose to reheat it on the stove being VERY CAREFUL to use the lowest heat possible to prevent curdling.

Ideas for serving this delectable sauce:

Eggs Benedict - spooned over the toasted English muffin, Canadian bacon, and poached egg

Omelettes - just about any flavor, except maybe Mexican or Asian

Asparagus / broccoli / cauliflower / green beans / spinach Hollandaise

Any broiled, grilled, or sautéed fish - Sole Meuniere is just an example

Variations of Hollandaise - sometimes referred to as "mayonnaise sauces" - here are a few:

Meuniere Sauce - mentioned earlier

Béarnaise Sauce - it's considered to be a "child" of Hollandaise.  It's a traditional sauce for steak.
       It uses vinegar in place of lemon and is flavored with shallots, fresh tarragon / chervil, and
       fresh peppercorns

Sauce au Vin Blanc - adding a reduction of white wine and sometimes fish stock to Hollandaise sauce

Sauce Choron - a variation of Béarnaise without the tarragon or chervil, plus added tomato paste

Sauce Valois - a version of Béarnaise flavored with a meat glaze from what meat's being roasted
Café de Paris sauce - a version of Béarnaise with curry powder added
Sauce Paloise - has mint substituting for the tarragon in Béarnaise

These are just a few - the list of variations is almost endless.

Jeff, Kari, and Spencer were raised on Hollandaise; it was to "go to" addition sauce  for so many meals.  I'd hazard to guess that almost any food can be made more special with Hollandaise!

Happy Cooking!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Béchamel Sauce . . . A Mother Sauce of French Cooking

This is one of the new posts I'm writing that I hope will be of interest to my grandchildren, and maybe even great-grandchildren, one day.

Béchamel, also known as "White Sauce" is made from a roux (butter and flour) an milk.  It is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine.  It is used as a base for innumerable other sauces (such as Mornay Sauce - which is Béchamel with cheese).

Origin:  According to Wikipedia, "Béchamel" was a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to King Louis XIV.  The sauce under its familiar name first appeared in Le Cuisinier Francois, published in 1651.

Recipe for a medium-thickness white sauce:

2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour
1 Cup heated milk.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat
Add the flour to the butter in the pan, stirring with a whisk for a minute or two, being careful not to
      brown the roux, as this is going to be a white sauce
Gradually add the previously heated milk (heated in another saucepan or in a microwave - just until
     it's warm to the touch
Continue to stir until the sauce has thickened and is smooth.

The proportion of roux and milk determines the thickness of the sauce, typically the ratio is 1-3 tablespoons of butter and flour to one cup of milk.  One tablespoon butter and flour to one cup of milk makes a thin white sauce, three tablespoons of butter and flour to one cup of milk makes an extra thick sauce (used for soufflé base, for example).

With a little practice this white sauce becomes the sauce base for any number of recipes.  The ingredients can be flexible; for example, using the same ratio of fat, flour and liquid, you could use two tablespoons of turkey fat drippings from your roast turkey with two tablespoons of flour to make the roux.  Then you could use homemade turkey broth (from simmering the turkey neck, wingtips, and giblets).   The ratio is not variable, though.  It's always a ratio of equal amounts of butter and flour to a cup of liquid.

Béchamel Sauce
Mimi July 2015
Antigua, Guatemala

Monday, October 26, 2015

Redding, California

I've spent today with my sister-in-law, Barb, helping her prepare for colon surgery tomorrow.  The pre-op prep is rather arduous.  Barb is 79 years old and has a little problem with 'recent memory' loss.  Her surgery was originally scheduled for last week, but had to be cancelled because she had forgotten to do the day-before prep.  So, along comes nurse Mary-Pat!  I accompanied her and her husband,
Fred, to her family doctor last Friday.  Dr. Dillon asked that I spend today with Barb to make sure that the pre-op preparation is done properly.

I arrived here at 7:45 this morning, and have been badgering Barb ever since to make sure that all steps of the prep are carried out per the doctor's orders.  It's safe to say that I'm not very popular with Barb right now; she may even think I'm a sadist!!!  We have about 2 more hours of Barb drinking a nasty-tasting large volume of fluids; then, she can try to get some sleep before her early-morning wake up alarm.

Barb is the widow of my ex-husband's brother, who died many years ago at a very young age.  It was Barb and Fred who first introduced me to RV-ing.  They've been long-time RV-ers, beginning with a Eurovan, a Chalet, and now a Jayco Grayhawk.  Most of their RV-ing has been in the western states and Mexico; even though they aren't any longer taking long trips, they still head from Redding to the California coast several times a year, often to escape the heat of this area in the hot months, which can be from late March into November!  Thankfully, today was mild, the thermometer not even reaching 80F.  Yippee!

Just dug out this photo of Barb (right) with her best
friend, Ann, at a Halloween party we went to last
Great-grandson, Daniel, giving G.G.
(great grandma) a kiss this afternoon
Great Granddaughter, Dakota, 11 ½ months - absolutely
adorable and such a happy little girl.  Mom Kristi and
dad, Doug (my grand-nephew) are
expecting baby #3 in about 3 weeks.  It's another
girl; her name will be Shay.

And finally, I dug out this old photo of my daughter,
Kari and her first three kids with Mimi (that's me!).
The photo was taken about 20 years ago.  Quinn was
about 8, Addison 3 ½ and Holland about 11
months.  Quinn is close to 28, Addison almost 24, and
will be 22 in April.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Tehama County, California

Spending time with my son, Jeff, and his beautiful family in Cottonwood, California, about 150 miles north of Sacramento.  Although the main reasons for my trip to California were to attend the wedding of my oldest granddaughter, Quinn, and divest myself of the majority of my worldly possessions in order to become a truly "free spirit," I'm currently spending a lot of time with my sister-in-law, Barb, and her partner, Fred.

Barbara has been diagnosed with a colon mass and will have surgery this coming Tuesday.  I'm helping both of them with this immediate preoperative period and will stay with them for a few days when she's discharged from the hospital.  I happy to be able to use my nursing skills to help them through this difficult and confusing time.  I've known Barb since I was 16-years old; she more like the sister I never had than a sister-in-law; now, as a 79-year old, she can use some help with her medical care as it's very confusing to her - and Fred.

I'm sure I've mentioned before in this blog about the extreme heat in this, the uppermost part of California's San Joaquin Valley.  Summers are becoming just way too long and unbearable for me; thank goodness, the temperature is now in the upper 70s and low 80s, and dry - very comfortable without having to use air conditioning with all doors and windows closed!

A few photos to share . . .
Quinn "enjoying" her honeymoon with Mom in Belize
More on that later!  God has a great design for her.
Ours is to find out what it is!  She is just as beautiful on
the inside as on the outside.
Lovely daughter, Kari, enjoying some shade on the beach
in Belize.  She's a Rock of Gibraltar for her family.

Sunset yesterday after a wonderfully mild 78F in Cottonwood.
Jeff and family have a small "ranch" so no nearby neighbors to interrupt
the quiet and serenity.

This may be the last photo I'll have of my adventuring RVs and Smart Car.
I've loved traveling and meeting all my RV-adventuring friends; but, now
it's time to go on to other types of adventures.