Overcoming fear of the water

I’ve always loved the water, as long as I was on top of it, as in, on a boat, a water ski or a jetski. But get me in anything other than a pool or a foot of water in a stream so clear I could see the sandy bottom and I’d start hyperventilating.

This will surprise my mother greatly, for I grew up swimming in a lake with a sandy shore and murky bottom, going to and from the dock (or walking when the water was low). Once on the dock, I’d wait until I felt like a lick of heat on the surface of the sun before I’d jump in. Far be it from me to avoid participation in the ‘night swim’ where’d we take the boat out at eleven pm, turn off all the lights and test our courage by jumping in the frigid water, all for the reward of enjoying a hot shower and hot chocolate afterward.

It was all a front. The water freaked me out. Yes, I know, this coming from the dare-devil she, but it’s true. Here’s the backstory.

As a child, I knew that the Loch Ness monster was fiction and I’d never seen a freshwater lake-dwelling shark. Still. Anything below two feet was the great unknown, and it freaked me out. As in, beyond freaked out. I’d close my eyes, swim as fast as humanly possible and spend as little time in the water as I could manage so no one was the wiser. When I jumped off the end of the boat, my ski boot already on and strapped tightly, I’d gather the rope up as quickly as possible, scream ‘hit it’ and start to relax the moment I rose out of the water. I’m sure the reason I learned after 2 tries was because I didn’t want that ever-elusive man-eating trout to snap off my leg. I’d also swim around on the surface, fins on, because I simply felt better knowing I had a bit of extra speed.

It was irrational, and I knew it at the time. Didn’t matter. I wasn’t about to let on that it scared me to go underwater. Then fate intervened.

The Accidental, Glorious Cure

“Please will you come???” My younger brother was fourteen, I was 17, and he was begging me to accompany him to scuba diving lessons.  My father had signed them both up for a scuba diving class, and to this day, I still have no idea how or why it came about. Dad had bailed and the class was…that night. As he gnawed his inner cheek, I was wondering how to get out of it without breaking the rose-colored glasses he wore about my love for adventure.

“Where is it at?” No, ocean, no way. Not in a lake. I couldn’t even handle looking at the mushy bottom.

He scrunched his eyebrows and cocked his head. “A pool, of course.”

Oh. Two hours later, we were learning the basics of scuba diving. The course was an accelerated two week course, the first five lessons all in the classroom (sooo boring until I started to appreciate the value of gauges that regulated oxygen flow whilst underwater), and then the last five in the pool. We started in the shallow end, and seriously, couldn’t go under more than a foot of water–for hours. That was so inconceivably boring for a 17 year old, but it served a purpose. The steps of checking out the gear, testing and retesting, then staring at a little bit of water made me want more. We graduated to moving around in our little circle, and then were finally allowed to go in the deep end. All six feet of it. A 20×30 pool is awfully small when that’s all you have to explore.

Yet here again, it served a purpose. My fear of the unknown dissipated as I gained confidence in my equipment, and the power and confidence that came with knowing I controlled my time underneath the water. By the time we went on our certification dive, out in the Sound as it is known, I was ready.

The dive itself would be considered awful by the scuba-purist. The Sound is a body of water that is very cold (we wore wetsuits but the smart divers wore dry suits), it was cloudy (visibility 10 feet) and not full of exotic life. Rather, it was rocks and a few shellfish, except for….

The wall of death. But before I get to that, I’ll say that the first dive removed any and all fear of the water I’d ever had. There we were, diving along at 20 feet, and I was so comfortable the instructor was worried. “Aren’t you breathing?” he asked, worry clear on his face.

“Of course I’m breathing,” I said in my 17 year old trying-to-be-nice sort of way.

He lifted up my gauges to make sure they worked. “This shows you are hardly breathing. Are you stressed? Having anxiety?”

It was then I tried my best to explain to him I felt like I was floating on air, flying underneath with a quiet world all around me. The murky, freezing grey didn’t bother me at all. I was completely and utterly free. Diving was the most wonderful sensation I’d ever experienced.

He nodded and put my gauge down. “You must be relaxed. I’ve never seen a diver with such low figures for a gauge before.” I took that as a compliment, a sign that I’d overcome my issues.

“Time to get you to the wall,” he said, his eyes glinting. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told us that a wall of rock had a sheer drop off down several hundred feet. It would be the “underwater equivalent of looking over a 50 story building, straight down, and then stepping off.” It sounded freaky, and I figured this was going to be my make or break, poop in my pants moment.

The reality was nearly what I expected. We swam along at 30 feet and then came to the edge. Sure enough, we peered over it and look down in to the Abyss. Unfortunately, I’d actually seen “The Abyss,” and those of you who have as well, understand the nature of a huge drop off like the one in the movie (over a mile of straight down). In any case, my heart caught in my throat and I thought I was going to get dizzy. Yet, he swam out over it (and didn’t fall or get sucked in to the great vortex), my brother didn’t hesitate and swam over, so I had to follow. Then….we started to swim down the wall. That too, was altogether like the Matrix, running down the Empire State Building.

Then it happened. We stopped, and the instructor pointed to a dark crevice within the surface of the wall.  I gave him a look like “over my dead body.” I could just image an eel taking a chunk of my hand. He saw my fear and inserted his own hand. Out came a tentacle. It cautiously wrapped it’s limb around my instructors hand, reaching, retracting then extending again. I definitely wanted to try that, so I did. It was the first time I’d ever touched a sea animal. I was hooked.

I went on to dive all over the place, Australia and Oregon, California and Mexico. These aren’t places that the ‘real’ divers I know even bother to mention. They go cave diving, ship diving (all require different certifications), night diving etc. I went off to college and haven’t gotten that advanced. I’m just happy to get under the water, and absolutely adore the it now. In fact, being underneath the surface is the most relaxing place for me.

It’s not often that someone will voice a fear of the water, and I know why. It’s embarrassing and, speaking for myself, I never wanted to admit to a fear I considered completely irrational. I’m glad I got the opportunity to dive, and for the few hundred dollars it is to learn, it’s definitely worth the price of picking a new hobby (and probably a lot cheaper than a therapist).

Don’t be the Butt Buster- tips for flatulence control

My son may cringe, my husband roll his eyes, my mother gag on her tongue. Seriously. Yet, my daughter will laugh hysterically, my good friend Janel will chortel that I have no sense of shame, while She, the ever-present litmus test of all things in this blog will inevitably announce “If you don’t do it, who will??”

Indeed. Let’s talk flatulence, or all things evil that come from, as my husband says, ‘being bloaty and farty.’

First of all, one must be clinical and pretend unwanted air escaping from a place other than our mouth happens to other people. Second, visualize that the only other folks that address this are on Dr. Oz, and have been paid good money to stand in front of the entire country and talk about…gas. Boy, do I hate that word. I prefer to consider a human’s version of anal nuclear warfare, it’s slightly less offensive.

What causes gas? Lots of things. For some, it’s bread (yeast does it to most women), alcohol, particularly beer (yeast again), pasta (yeast), pizza (yeast),….do you see a trend? Yeast, its essence of wheat, gets in our systems, and depending on the level of the product being processed, the yield of gas is like the buildup of fermented grains inside a farming silo. First the stomach extends like a hot air balloon trapped behind the belly button and then watch out. One match and ‘thare she blows!’

A blog on a topic like this deserves a good story, and as my readers know, my life is nothing but a series of tragic events. I’d like to pretend I don’t have a fart story, but I have many. Let me share one that is 20 years old, but was my first and most memorable. (I’ll keep a tissue handy in case I shed a tear in remembrance).

My personal road of mortification

There I was, in the back seat of a sedan, going from one press meeting to another with my boss, the VP of marketing, in the passenger seat and the chief technology office who was driving. My job, as the communications director, was to handle the media for the company. We were on a bi-coastal press tour, and that meant meeting with all the major press up and down the east and west coasts. I’ll skip the illustrious degrees of both men, their long list of titles at major corporations and how I was in awe I was with them. Suffice it to say I was the female, the underdog (in both degrees & career experience), yet I’d nailed mtgs with the Wall Street Journal, NYTimes, Fortune and many others. I was 24. I felt good. In fact, I was feeling pretty much all that

Until….all that started making it’s presence known in my belly. As the grumbling began, and my butt started to pucker, I felt nauseous in a “I-know-what’s-coming-and-I-can’t-believe-I’m-living-this-B-movie” moment. It was cold. Very. 20 degrees. The windows were up and the heat was on. I was in pain. I couldn’t contain it. (at this point, you can start shreeking…’no, she didn’t, no…she couldn’t’).

Well, yes I could and yes I did. First a little whiff, and then, just like the book Walter the Farting Dog, after the first one seeped out, my poor little bumm couldn’t hold back. I might as well hit the booster in my rocket ship of pain.

“Who did that?” said the chief tech officer. “Oh, not me!” rebuffed the VP of marketing.

A moment of silence. And in that long, horrid, mortifyingly-humiliating moment of truth, I did what any 24 year old female would do in such a situation. I went in to strong denial. Of course, they looked at one another, said not-a-thing, and rolled down the windows. Do I still sound mortified? Yes, it’s because I still am, lo, nearly two decades later.

Here’s the skinny on simple, bloaty-farty preventative measures. The obvious, don’t eat the foods that will do you in. Barring that, you need to get some acidopholus, and this will help kill the yeast (or yeast infection). Take 1-2 pills per meal (before or after) up to 6 alkadopholous by Best Process a day. After a few days, you will be entirely rid of you craving for anything with yeast (and all these carbs that are so bad for the waistline). One other helpful remedy is grapefruit seed extract. I have a friend who swears by these. I’ve tried it while at her house, and yes it works. But I’ll be honest and blunt, I’d rather eat dog food than have two drops of this stuff, it is that vile. (more power to the willpower of those that use it, I say).

PS. I never did bring up this little ‘incident’ with the men, though we worked together for 4 more years. I console myself with the reality they’ve probably been laughing about it (and me) for the last 19.

The art of the trash can…yes, you can be stylish about it

Stuck in the snow, 7 inches plus another 3 feet expected. As the trash piles high, I can little but consider how much I miss my many, hidden trash cans in my home kitchen. Lucky for me, I anticipated that at some point, I’d get around to writing a blog on such a sexy topic, and happen to have photos on my system. Lucky you.

This would be blog #2 on my kitchen section, the first being on hidden spice racks. Since we are talking trash, we a) want them hidden as well, but b) in obvious, useful places. BTW, whoever thought under the sink was useful, for its where one is washing the dishes. Painful. Plus it’s stinky.

The drawers shut

My hidden garbage drawer for trash
(see the rubber band on left, that’s my version of how to
keep a two year old out of the drawers. who said I wasn’t
cheap and pragmatic??)

Consideration #1. Where you shed trash.
I don’t know about you, but the first thing I do when I walk in from the door, my arms loaded up with grocery sacks (for I am yet to be in the class of people who have people to this for me, & as long as I’m w/Mr watchful, never will happen), and drop the lot on the counter. as I’m unpacking, I’m then opening, discarding trash. Once done, I start to actually cook. This means more trash. I want a drawer that is convenient and large to hold a good amount of stuff. That it’s close to the fridge was planned as well (think all that good food gone bad).

As a side note, for purists out here (and there and everywhere), I get asked about composting. I love composting. That kind of stink is good. But you know what’s bad? Bears. Bears are cute. In pictures. When a mama bear is ripping open a wooden and metal fencing (as two itty-bitty bear cubs look on), it’s not so cute. Thus, in my little area of the world, composting ain’t happenin’.

Consideration #2. Bins for recycling.
In this day and age, there really is no excuse not to recycle. It’s more challenging when you have only one trash can, and a no brainer with 3. In my design, I decided to put in 2, one for plastics and the other for paper. The design is different that the single. Note that the drawer is wider, so the standard size plastic trash cans are horizontal instead of vertical.

Note the 2nd cabinet to the right of the dishwasher.
This is another counter where I do a lot of cooking.

Extra space.
On this particular drawer design (that I came up with myself), I added an extra space behind the trash. This holds my ziplock bags, but I also used it to hold the trash bags themselves (I happened to be out when I took this shot).

Extra reinforcement.
See how the wood is solid, the hinging strong. This is what you need  on the wood frame so it won’t bend over time.

Two bins for recycling, includes
the storage space behind for sacks

The key for placing your bins is dependent on your work areas. When you envision your kitchen and the day to day efforts, place the bins accordingly. If you are considering a remodel (or something a little less grand, just rip out a few drawers and replace it with a bin. You will have a lot less trash about, speeding up the entire cooking process (not to mention dramatically improving the happy factor).

Author’s working with a movie studio– A Producer’s Notes

It’s not all fun and games when working with a movie studio. In truth it’s about 90% fun and 10 % seriously hard work. I wake up every day, pinch myself and think how utterly blessed and completely awesome (not to mention other worldy) that I get to have more than a passive role in the book-to-movie process. As such, I feel its my job to pull back the covers on what very few authors have heretofore talked about. What’s it like to get feedback from a producer, what happens to the manuscript and how it impacts the way I write.

First–check out the note to the right. This was given to me by Lucas at a sushi joint in early Feb of 2010. Upon reading the Chambers manuscript (all 550 pages of it), he invited me to LA for a 3 day session. I had no idea what was going to happen during those three days, but I figured he did. I went.

I’m mid-bite of a unagi, and he whips this out and says “I have a few thoughts to share.” I stop chewing when I see the list. Upside down across the table, it looked very messy. I had chopsticks in my hands, not a pen or paper in sight to take notes. “Keep eating,” he advises, “I’ll talk.”

As an author, my role is to create content, provide it for review, have discussions, talk about scenarios (plot and other story elements as it relates to creating a movie), make the changes, have those approved, and then write the next book.

The ‘fun’ part is getting my masters degree in movie making under the tutelage of a brilliant man who has churned out box office hits. Would he call his productions life-changers in the dramatic sense of the word? Nope. Nor would he even hint his films are much more than larger-than-life action-packed blow-em up escapes. However, many of the films have a human element that intrigues Foster, (Man on Fire for instance), where choices are made and the consequences of said choices impact the character. In other words, he’s the perfect product for my Chambers series.

So let’s go through the notes shall we?

Foster’s writing is in black, beside the numbers. His seven points were major changes, all with making a movie in mind. I added my comments in purple, after he was done (and what I could remember when we made it back to the studio).

1. more info about the orb. The orb is a time travel object– an ancient artifact. He didn’t think I’d described it well enough. Backstory– as an author, a major dilemna is when to reveal how much. Too much too soon removes the sense of discovery, while not enough irritates the reader. He wasn’t irritated, but he wasn’t ‘fulfilled.’

2. more of a sense of wonder. (not my scratch/this was after I’d done it, then decided I shouldn’t scratch up the original notes). Foster meant that both lead characters should display much more shock and awe (wonder) about their amazing trip/adventure and not be so pragmatic or immediately believing. It was interesting listening to a grown man (49ish) talk as though HE were one of the characters, living the story and being transported through time. (it’s not just me, a crazy author!)

3. concern for dad/checking in on him. the lead characters, Cage and Mia, have different emotions about their father. Cage blames him for the death of their mother while Mia is her father’s staunchest defender. Foster’s point is that children, particularly teens, invariably have emotional struggles with their parents, often times still caring for a parent if when said parent isn’t all that great. He wanted to see more of this struggle of emotions that are typical for teenagers (e.g. even tho one is anger at him, still not wanting him to die. I was a bit more one-dimensional in the first few passes).

4. more curiosity about history/cause and effect. This is a huge one that required me to go back in multiple sections throughout the book. The first part was more inquisitiveness on the part of Cage, looking, absorbing and engaging with history. For a reader, Foster pointed out more detail on location, scenes, clothing was required. For an eventual movie, I needed to paint a picture for the director so he/she could get it right. I went back, hit the history books (lots of pictures) and did an entire re-write with this in mind. The second part– cause and effect, became a huge theme. In short, we all make decisions, every day, that have consequences in our lives. I agreed with Foster that this should be true in the book…once a choice is made, there is no going back. As such, I had to include the notion that Cage and Mia’s very presence could/would impact history, therefore they had to be careful to leave as little of a footprint on society as possible. Fortunately, this was great for the plot twists, since the real outcomes of the lead characters from China are not even known by historians.

5. More romance or close calls. Foster pointed out that the true ‘romantic’ interaction was page 80. Not good for movies. To address this, I added a few glimpses and heart palpitating situations in the first 20 pages, then a few longer scenes in the 30’s and @page fifty. After that, the romantic line was all set. Lucas told me he had to capture the romantic part in the first five minutes of the movie or it wasn’t going to work. (As a side note, the first 50 pages gets condensed to about the first 5 min of film).

6. More secret admiration from the Emperor (how different he is from Cage and Mia).  Because this book (and all books in the Chambers series) is historical fiction, the Emperor in book one was actually 14 when ruled as the second Ming Emperor. Before Lucas brought it up, I’d never thought about including more information from the Emperor’s point of view. Since the book is first person, this had to be done from Cage’s point of view. The way to address it then, was through the Emperor’s comments and questions, as well as Cage’s interpretation of the Emperor’s mannerisms and actions.

7. Zheng He is famous and beloved in China. Let’s discuss a better set up for him. Years ago, when I was researching volcanoes, and where they resided, I created an entire list of countries/cities. China rose to the top when I found the 14 year old Ming Emperor. While researching the incredible list of historical figures (including the treacherous Minister of War and General Li, who let the invading army in to the Imperial Palace) I came across Zheng He. He is considered by many historians to be the greatest navy admiral to have ever lived (just see the cover story on him that National Geographic did a few years ago). In any case, Zheng He appears in the middle of the book and plays a large role, yet Lucas wanted him introduced much earlier (he is, in fact, one of my favorite characters). I had to create a massive scene for him (e.g. about 20 pages) and then insert him in several other areas. This was a huge rewrite.

**Verbally, Lucas told me I “needed a better balance of good characters.” Apparently, I subconsciously focused so much on creating awesome characters, I didn’t have a good balance. Lucas was concerned the book would be a bit depressing, and not representative of all the great people in China. The thought had never occurred to me, since lots of characters did good things. “But they aren’t main characters,” he pointed out. Ahh. He was right. This meant creating 3 new characters, writing entire sections from scratch and integrating each in to the plot line.

This process is similar to what an editor will provide…general comments that impact the entire book. In order to address each area of feedback, I went in sequential order, going through the entire manuscript, line by line, page by page, adding and changing throughout. It took me three months, and added 150 pages (approximately) to the book. It was about 625 pages when I was done with it. When I handed it off to the editor, she stripped out about 175 pages or so, but interestingly, not the 150 pages I’d added. She cut out dead weight, dialogue that didn’t keep the pace of the story and non-essential descriptions. That’s the job of an editor. When Lucas read the final, edited version, he pronounced it acceptable and ready to go to final proofreading.

Now that I’m on book 2, and recently got the first 150 pages approved, I’m writing away, and fully expect to go through this same cycle for book 2 (and every one thereafter). The difference is this:

1. I think about the ‘seedlings of ideas’ that need to be included in the first 50 pages
2. the cadence/rhythm of characters (how often they appear)
3. the descriptions (too much/not enough)
4. the balance of good/evil characters
5. when I reveal what. (in the movie world, it’s called ‘the reveal’ or ‘the big reveal’ This is now much more top of mind than it was before book one.

Sunday dinner– Roast and Pecan pie

During my childhood, mom had a routine on Sunday’s that included making easy yet impressive all-in-one meals that provided a great lunch but also lots of left-overs. Prepping for the afternoon meal meant she put a roast in the oven before we left for church, allowing it to cook to perfection as we sang to the heaven’s above. When we arrived home, the roast was ready, along with the vegies. All she had to do was make the buttermilk biscuits and gravy as we set the table (as we aged, she allowed us to take over the biscuits). Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting down to dine like we were at King Arthur’s Court.

Meal in one: The Perfect Roast

Mix of fingerling potatoes (my fav), carrots and onions

My favorite is my clay pot meat roaster. It’s divine for keeping the juices in the meat, capturing the gravy and circulating the air for the vegies. That said, I’ve made 2-sponge breads in it as well, because it turns out a perfectly formed loaf that is brown on the sides and spongy in the middle. The food is restaurant quality (serious).


  • Roast
  • Vegetables: sweet onion(s), carrots, potatoes (your preference) and any other vegies you’d like
  • Broth-your choice
  • Salt and pepper

Prior to the onions and additional vegies

1. Heat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Brown all four sides of the roast, on all four sides. Salt and pepper to your hearts desire.
3. Cut one onion, lining the bottom of the roaster.
4. Place the meat in the roaster, covering with the onions.
5. Cut and place carrots and potatoes around the meat.
6. Add about 3/4-1 cp of vegetable, meat or chicken broth.

Once you have loaded up the claypot, place it in the oven and cook away.

Now I completely spaced to get the ‘after’ photos, so I’ll have to do it when I made the next one. Trust me, it comes out perfect. The serve..

6. Remove the vegies, place in a serving dish and keep warm (covered is best, in the warming oven).
7. Make the buttermilk biscuits (will add link).
8. Top off with pecan pie or chocolate mousse.

I recommend a lid with a handle that fits tightly.
This is enough to feed a family of four or 6, depending
on the ages of the kids.

7. Place in the oven at the appropriate temperature and timeframe based on the size of the meat. (6 min/pound at 500 degrees).

Perfect Pecan Pie

It’s a fallacy to think that pecan pie is only suitable for the holidays. Many restaurants in the states serve it year around, warmed, with a huge dollop of vanilla ice cream. It’s no wonder. It’s very inexpensive, requires only a handful of ingredients and is practically idiot proof.

The essentials. Use good ingredients. Don’t skimp on the butter. Use a quality brand, and make sure its salted and sweetened. Using unsweetened, unsalted butter results in a bland pie.


Another essential is the corn syrup. I’ll admit, I avoid corn syrup like the plague. The impact on my health is just not worth the stuff. My lone exception to this (and of course, my justification) is that it’s worth it for the pie. Why corn syrup? It is a good thickener, and recipes without it have a different texture (and tend to be runnier). The tip? If you want a slightly thicker pie, use more corn syrup–not much though. A little goes a long way (e.g. if you increase the amount from a 1/2 cup to a 1 cup, it will almost turn to candy. You’d have to cut it with a bit of butter).

Make my tried and true perfect pie crust ahead of time

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup corn syrup
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 to 1 1/5 cup pecans

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
2. On the stove top and low heat, melt the butter, add the sugar and the corn syrup. Heat until melted, stirring constantly.
3. Remove from the stove. Let cool (this means you can insert your finger w/out getting burned).
4. Mix the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl.
5. Add egg mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. (hint: if your mixture is too warm, the eggs will cook, ruining it, and you will have to discard and start over).
6. Add pecans
7. Pour in to uncooked pie crust. Cook for 50-55 minutes.

The make or break aspect of pecan pie is not to overcook. The top should “bounce-back” to the touch (place your index finger on the top, in the center). If it’s hard, it’s overcooked and will be unedible. If it’s mushy, you need to cook it a bit longer.

When you remove the pie, place it on a cooling rack for at least 20 minutes. This will ensure it sets and doesn’t run. Serve warm with ice cream.

This is the butter, corn syrup and sugar.. ..nicely melted

As it’s melting (and in between stirring, chop the nuts)

Test the mixture for “done-ness” (my Don-kingism). The mixture should drop easily from the spoon

Take off the stove and cool slightly. Add the nuts
Now, you might exclaim “why nuts! those belong at the end”. I’ll tell you why.
you must wait for the mixture to cool, or else you will curdle and cook your eggs
(in other words, they will scramble). Since you have nothing better to do,
you might as well get busy and add the nuts, stirring it around.

When the mixture is sufficiently cooled, add the eggs

This is the final mixture–slightly brownish. NOW you may add to the empty sheel


No-Fail Pie Crust

With nearly 70 cookbooks, you’d think I’d reuse the same pie recipe over and over. Until recently, the problem was I was making pies so infrequently that I’d forget the one I liked most. Then I’d buy a new cookbook, feel compelled to try a new recipe and start all over again.

Starting with the dry ingredients

Fortunately, Southern Living is a mainstay in my cookbook library, and it was what I reached for over the holidays. I made five pie crusts, each one turning out perfectly. The sixth one–not so much– I didn’t put in the exact amount of shortening. The entire batch had to be discarded. The lesson learned? Do not mess with a perfect pie crust recipe.

Perfect, no fail pie crust recipe

For a 9 inch pie crust
1 1/4 cup flour (unsifted)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar (this is my add. I like sweeter crusts)

Mix by hand

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening (also my add. 2 tbs vs 1 makes the dough just perfect to hold together and roll)
3-4 tablespoons chilled water (put water in a glass of ice)

1. Place flour, sugar, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl
2. Cut in the shortening
3. Hand-mix (I prefer this. It’s much better than a Cuisinart mixer as the dough is softer/flakier)
4. Add in the water. The dough will slightly moist and should hold together well.
5. Roll in to a flat ball, wrap with Saran wrap and chill for 1-3 hours or overnight. It will hold for several days.
6. Roll out when ready to use (follow directions for the pie you are making)

The dough should resemble peas in size

I doubled the batch, enough for a pie and a few mini-pies

Roll and fold in preparation for placing in the pie
Place crust in the pie dish

This is the mini-pies

Mold the edges of the crust
Add the filling–pecan

Pie filling-pumpkin

Get spicy — the cook’s ultimate spice rack

Making good on my promise to cover all things kitchen and kitchen remodeling, I’m starting with the most important section of the kitchen– the spice cabinet, for one cannot properly cook without spices.

This is the outside of my spice cabinet
(excluding the top cabinets)

Let’s all bond on one simple thing: the stand-alone spice racks are inferior. Too short or tall, circular or standing, wrong color, plastic, rotating or not. Trust me. If it’s out there, I have bought it. A cook needs counter space and a spice rack takes up valuable real estate (for grins, I should calculate money spent on my kitchen, divide by counter space and…wait. I do not want to do that. I’ll make myself sick). In any case, I couldn’t find a price listing of just the spice cabinet portion of a kitchen, just the entire remodel.
I’ve also gone the other direction, placing my spices in drawers when I was living in various condos and 

didn’t have the space to spare. My spices have also done their time in a pantry, which was the ultimate in inconvenience. So when it came time to create the kitchen of my dreams (and given the size constraints of the house we were remodeling), the first thing I designed was the spice rack.

Consideration #1. Your height.
Sounds strange, but you don’t want your life spent bending over. We do that enough, picking up, putting down, bending over. Ideally, you reach straight across, eye or chest level to get what you need.

Consideration #2. Your space constraints.

Each shelf holds 7 spices (you can
see I have a blend of brands–they are
all pretty much the same size).
5 shelves per cabinet = 35
6 cabinets = 210 spices

It’s all about priorities. You can always put extra plates in the storage area or move the food to the pantry. You use spices every day, multiple times. You need to prioritize the spice rack is first and foremost (not all kitchen designers will understand this, particularly if they are non-cooks).

Consideration #3. Volume of spices.
I’d never actually counted my spices, until we were preparing to leave the condo I’d purchased prior to Rog (great location, nice kitchen, but not lots of counter space. I used the drawer technique). “What are you going to do with allll those spices?” he asked me, as though I were going to ditch some. I thought about it a bit longer. “Cooking without spices will make your food taste like dirt.” They resided in boxes during the remodel (2 yrs). In the end, though, I had to throw them out and start anew. (the moist nw air ruined most).
1- count the spices
2- measure the size of the spices. Bottles, boxes and tins are all different in height.
2.a- measure dry spices first. You may use these most often
2.b- measure the tins second. Tall tins/short tins as well as widths (think my Hungarian paprika tins).
2.c.- measure your cooking oil bottles/containers, shortening/lard size etc.

All these impact the height of the shelves (which should be adjustable) with the exception of the number and size of the dry bottles (the ones used most frequently).

Once you have this down, then you can start understanding the possibilities.
1.  Fold out drawers. I’ve seen this in a variety of kitchens. The labels are on the top. It’s convenient if you have more drawer space than you do shelves. My challenge is that I’m nearly 5’11” and bending over is something I hate to do. Plus, I like to see the spices (I’m weird, I know) and I realize one of my deficiencies is not alphabetizing a drawer. I want to see everything at once.

The right swinging cabinet opened,
revealing the backside (where I keep
all of our hot sauces-we are hot sauce freaks)

2.  Standing cabinet. That’s what I chose. Other than the bending-over-seeing-the-spices-thing, I had/have very specific requirements for every single drawer/cabinet under the counter. It was by default. (Future blogs will cover drawers designed with baking in mind, pan, slide and in racks etc).

Going with the standing cabinet, you now can create the style that fits for you.
1. Clear or wood fronts. I prefer see-through plexi-glass. This ensures I can identify small tins that are not as tall.
1.a. Height of the fronts. As this like a retaining wall, keeping the spices from falling out, the height should keep them in w/out being burdesome to put in and out. Mine are 2.5 inches.
2. Fixed or flexible. You need to determine if you want to be able to adjust the spaces or not. I was pretty firm on not adjusting my spices, but Rog told me to be flexible just in case. I did so. In eight years, I’ve not moved the spices once (I guess this shoes how anal I was in the first place)!

Now that have got that down, count your spices and all other baking items. I realized pretty fast that I was going to need a non-traditional cabinet. Specifically, one that rotated out, giving me a double-sized shelf. This dramatically increased the number of spices it could hold.

This is the left side-more spices

In our case, I have all of our “American” cousine spices in this standing spice cabinet. The dust wasn’t even off the kitchen when I loaded it up, and to my dismay, I realized my spices of Indian and oriental cooking were nearly as many as the American ones. Thus, they are relegated to my pantry. In my next life, I’m going to have cabinets for each type of food I like.

**sorry I didn’t get a close up of the plexi-glass. It’s there, in front of the spices.

You see my wood is solid cherry. You don’t have to go that expensive if you don’t want. In fact, a good friend of ours recently remodeled her home and saved thousands by doing a few things. It all started when she gave her husband the estimated price tag (He said he about swallowed his tongue). Aside from the appliances, the cabinets are the #1 expense (typically). He found an on-line service that allowed him to take his wife’s specifications, inserted his requirements to the software (free), and then a customer service person helped him pick colors. It was sent to his home (the company was in North Carolina, on the other end of the country), nary a person at his house, and to his delight “I saved fifty thousand dollars!”) Yes, he received a semi-hardwood, yes, it wasn’t quite the quality of a custom manufactured kitchen, nor did it have all the little details (such as metal shelf holders–his were plastic) etc. Still, it looks awesome, and for a savings that large (his version was $12K), the results more than matched the aesthetic and utilitarian requirements.

I hope you take this cheat sheet in to the cabinet design center, or the one of the many on-line design centers near you.

Letting go of friendships

I-5 south is a freeway that connects the northern tip of Washington, slices through the center of Oregon and California, finally ending at the borders of Mexico under the metal arches of the barbed wire laced boarder crossing. Two and a half hours north and I’m in Canada, joy in my heart, knowing my final destination is a ski resort in Whistler. Traveling the other direction for an hour, through little town called Centralia, conjurs a different emotion. It’s not the town that does it, for Centrailia is neither a tourist destination or recreational hotspot. It’s the five minutes it takes to drive from one end to the other at the regulated fifty-five miles a hour that used to depress me. It’s the home of my former friend.

File:Centralia Downtown Historic District.jpg
City of Centralia….home of…the cute mainstreet

We were grade school buddies, she and I, our mother’s inseparable due to their occupations and five-mile daily walks. From the six grade through junior high, most weekends were spent together — overnighters allowed since we attended the same church on Sunday. My friend even came with me on multi-week vacations, the true sign of a lasting friendship. Though middle school and high school found us with different friends during the week, (she was a year older, had completely different classes and was an introverted book worm, whereas I was an athlete-cheerleader who never heard of an event I didn’t want to attend) we sought one another out week after week, year after year.

In college, she was in another stage and I drove to see her on weekends, staying in her dorm, listening to great music and laughing non-stop until we collapsed from exhaustion. I started working, she went on a service mission in a foreign country. I got married, pregnant and divorced in the time she got pregnant and then completed her degree in nursing. Strange, the old addage that different paths lead to the same destination was true. By the time we were both 23, each of us were single and with a child in tow.

We moved to different states and did our best to keep the connection. Well, at least one of us did. I sent letters, I called. I drove to see her, to and through my trips to see family in Oregon and California. As the correspondence became more one-directional, I sought for the positive. The excuses of her life, living as a single mom, the challenges of working the graveyard shift. Even when she was promoted to swing shift, I empathized with the struggle she faced, always willing to see her, since my schedule had a bit more flexibility. When we turned thirty, twelve years post high school graduation, I realized she’d come to my house once, though the highway is only ten minutes off the beaten path from our road, and as far as I can tell, it still goes both directions, north and south.

The last ten plus three years (13), have been more of the same…well, a little less. Fewer return phone calls. Fewer emails. No visits. I was invited to her wedding, attending with with my husband and daughter, and though we looked at one another with the fondest, a separation existed that hadn’t been present before. It was as if the unique trait of instantaneously coming together in a moment after a long period of separation had, like a rubberband, finally lost its ability to snap back.

It was a few years later that I learned she’d had several unplanned pregnancies prior to her marriage, and given both up for adoption. The cause was ironic. She’d been smoking pot, and this, according to the nursing staff, dramatically reduces the effectively of the birth control bill. My ignorance disheartened me. The decision to not confide in me was  another step my friend had taken in the growing distance in the gap of our relationship.

Still, I held out hope. Never saying a word of doubt to spouse or mother, unwilling to admit that the people we were in high school and early twenties no longer existed, at least not in a way that connected to one another. That realization was the hardest. I continued to believe that life intrusions, ups and downs, were speed bumps and curves on the relationship instead of a toll bridge, where each pause took a little bit more from my emotional piggybank. Eventually, my wallet ran dry. I had no more money to give, even though the road was still there and always will be, just like I-5.

The last time I went through Centralia, I felt the nothingness of the great abyss (I know that’s from a movie, but can’t recall which one). As I reached the other end of town, heading back home, I realized that I’d finally let go of the hope we were going to be as we once were. I made the decision to keep her a place for her in my memory, one without association to a unhappy feeling. To ensure I’d not feel the bitterness of abandonment, I decided to remember her as a friend of my youth, the image bordered with fond memories. There she will stay, like a picture on my internal wall that is not often looked upon. When I round the corner to my everyday life, I know she’s no longer there, and that I’ve finally let my friend go.

Food as medicine

Finally getting rid of the ick that’s been lodged in my lungs and throat for the last ten days. It’s akin to the white clumps of flour on a gravy recipe gone awry (and pretty much the same color), the associated hacking and burning is not condusive to working out.

Nonetheless, it is Wednesday, the posting of the week I focus on getting in shape, and one can’t get back to shape without eating the right foods. Thus, I’ve pulled the title of this blog from a line in the Jobs bio. Long after Jobs is diagnosed with cancer, he insists on continuing dietary peculiarities: rituals of eating one food only for extensive periods of time (carrots for weeks, then another food), or various cleanses (liquid or other). The doctor gets to the point of irritation and Jobs must stop looking at food as food. Instead, view “food as medicine.” (apparently, his doctor isn’t the only one to think this way. conference as books abound).

That has been a great visual and concept for me to get my arms around. I take medicine that tastes awful but works, sometimes downing horse-sized pills in the name of eradicting an evil inside my body (and no, that would not be a pill for ’emotional sickness,’ thank you very much). Now that I’m healing, I don’t need my Swami to advise me on how to eat a parallel diet of health.

I like this one

My culinary medicinal routine started like this…I need greens every day. I hate greens, unless they are loaded with a thick, rich or highly fattening substance. (think caesar salads).
Instead, I have been telling myself “it’s the doctors orders, and I did in fact, look up the phrase “food as medicine” and found many recipes “that heal.”(going with the whole, food-as-medicine concept). Sadly, my energy is entirely back and I am still on deadline for my next manuscript. I’ve gone old-school, falling back in to my pregnancy-eating rut. It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s healthy, yet I won’t have to deal with a child popping out at the end.

  • Breakfast: steamed spinach (three massive handfuls) steams down to a cup, give or take. salt + lemon juice
  • An hr later: 2 eggs+2 egg whites. First sautee 3 green onions then 1 chopped tomato. Add eggs. Scramble.
  • Snack: apple and some sesame seeds (or other nut if I can handle it).
  • Lunch: vegie soup: sautee onions, carrots, add celery and homemade chicken or veg broth. Add meat if kids and spouse are going to revolt.
    (pause…) At this point, I’m sick if making food and eating food. It’s hard the rest of the day.
  • Mid afternoon: whatever isn’t going to make me feel bloated and tired. I like frozen grapes, but honestly, it’s so not satisfying. I want sweets or carbs (same thing really). Protien drinks are normall great, but sound too sweet in this post-sickness state. Instead, I’ve been having a bit mor soup.
  • Dinner: spinach again, with either a bit of meat (fish) but actually, more soup. I’ve been making my lentil, split pea, beef with barely, turkey noodle…you name it. soups are great, warm and keep the weight off.
    • I just went to the Food and Recipe section of this blog and was chagrined to find that I don’t have a single one of my soup recipes posted. How lame am I??? I’m Swedish for heavens sakes. I just bought sardines, black truffle oil and skiens last night at the deli. I’m going to put all good Swedes to shame if I don’t get my act together.

Throughout, loads and loads of water, chamomile tea.No dairy at all. No breads (both stuff up my sinuses). I was reminded of Jennifer Aniston’s oft-quoted mantra: “I eat clean foods.”  I like the notion of a clean food (organic, no oils, fats, sugars etc) as much as the next idealic, global-piece-will-happen-in-my-lifetime-dreamer sort of a way. But really, I call this medicine. And like a good patient, I want to get well.

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