The importance of Hope

From the start of Monday, the week has been frought with bad news. All sorts. Job loss. Friends losing homes. A divorce. It’s not a surprise to hear the words of despair, the temporary absence of optimism, of hope that the situation will improve.

Hope is an emotional lifeline. When I told Rog I intended to write about it, he says “No, what right do you have to pontificate to others?” It was then I reminded him it was I who’d experienced divorce, single parenting, bankruptcy, foreclosure, the freezing of my assets and an expanding arse to boot. “Who better to write on hope that me?” He krinkled his face when I recalled it was my hope we’d have children someday…a glimmer of light on the horizon that kept me going seven years after he said NO! “Ok,” he mumbled as he walked in to the office. “Write it. Just don’t be sappy.”

I make no such promise.

Hope is found when a stranger smiles at you on the walk home.
Hope is given to a foster child turns 18, and a business owner takes a chance and gives a job.
Hope is what remains inside a woman, long after her man has walked out the door.
Hope is rewarded when a new man appears, one far better and more deserving then the one who left.
Hope is felt when a mother tells her daughter her son will one day return.
Hope is rewarded when the daughter broke it off, right before saying “I do.”
Hope is rewarded when the son goes to college on his own accord.
Hope is a person wronged will forgive, and a friendship will be regained.
Hope is the crowd will cheer, not boo.
Hope is going on again the next night, no matter what happened the evening before.
Hope is the light in a newborns eye.
Hope is the enemy of despair.
Hope sees me through the tears and heartaches.
Hope is within, ever present.
Hope is life.

Unexplained hair loss

cousin_it01thumb.jpgAhh, what a topic for a Thursday morning. Yet, unavoidable. After showering, I brushed my hair with a pick, and it seemed as though an 1/8 of an inch closest to the handle was covered in a wet, black mat. Don’t gasp in horror. For me, this is not unusual. Rog’s nickname for me is “cousin it.” I suppose telling the world gives everyone the right to yelp out “Hey! Cousin It!”at the grocery, and be rewarded with a smile and a cheery hello. It’s a compliment after all, to have hair sprouting out the top of my nose (ok, not really), but close. I’m one woman who must get a full facial wax every few months, or look like Grizzly Adams without the Adam’s apple. The saving race is I’m relatively blond, which is helpful for arm hair, for I could never wax such a large part of my bod. Yet, as follicularly blessed as I am (was that a word?), even I suffer from weird bouts of hair loss. So let’s address this subject head on (sorry) and get to the root of matter (sorry again. this subject is just so ripe with funnies).

Normal, explainable hair loss…these would be age, genetics, menopause…things that have been proven to affect a person’s hair quality and quantity. I don’t look forward to dry, brittle, thinning hair as I age that won’t take color, but I think I’m doomed. What women escapes this…kind of like the imminently balding man. It seems that every article I look up on the subject of hair loss discusses to DHT, which stands for Dihydrotesterone and is a chemical that is five times more potent than testosterone and blocks the pathway of certain nutrients getting in to the hair, causing the hair to fall out. That’s all well and good, but it’s silly to think that extreme events in ones life doesn’t play a huge role.

Stress and eating
Work stress, life stress, baby stress, are all major, disruptive events that can cause hair loss. A dear friend suffered a late-stage miscarriage and her thick, auburn hair fell out in clumps. Another girlfriend went on a radical diet, and she too, lost hair, though it was in the front–around her hairline. A relative changed jobs and gained weight—she lost hair, also in clumps around her entire head, her hair thinning and her body expanded. Life changes, like moving can take a toll on the hairline, and of course, eating badly. In October, I read a piece that covered how bad eating habits lead to hair loss…processed foods take a toll on hair, as does drinking soft drinks and eating too much sugar. The short version….processed foods strip out nutrients, as does high quantities of sugar. With the system out of whack, the adrenals go in to overdrive, leaving skin and hair to show the damage.

What to do…what to do….beyond surgery for those wanting transplants, changes in diets are a no brainer. If not for the body and waistline, for the hair. It’s the first thing people see isn’t it, and the one part one can’t hide with clothes (though I have male friends who wear hats out of bed and take off as they slip the covers over–or so their wives tell me). For the rest of us…

Nature Made Super Vitamin B-Complex with Vitamin C - 300 TabletsSupplements…Omega 3 fish oils, Biotin and Vitamin B. In our stash, we also have Prenatals, which I’ve been advocating for years thanks to positive fingernail, hair and skin results. Now, in this wild and wooly search for things hidden in the cupboard, I found a few other things Rog has been sneaking in…

  • Garlicin for cardiovascular health
  • Glucoasime-highest potency for joint care
  • Cranberry tablets, for a healthy urinary tract (always important when “peepsing” as my daughter says)
  • Cholesteral Shield “proven to help reduce cholesteral’
  • Maximum Strength Resveratrol with red wine extract, a “protective antioxidant”

This was more enlightening than finding out Rog is eating a cup of nuts a night for good oils. In any case, whatever voodoo the man is injesting/doing, is working. He keeps getting younger looking I age. He’ll be glowing like a yellow flashlight in three-thousand years but no matter. At least he’ll have his hair.

Spiced Pecan Cake w/Marscapone Cream Cheese Frosting

Pecan pie is divine. Great hot or cold, for breakfast or dessert. But every so often, it’s nice to mix it up. Do so with style this year. Get a twist on pecans. The following is outstanding, and perfect for any type of party–it can be dressed up or down, dependng on how it’s served. For feeding a crew, serve in the fla sheet. For a cocktail party, chill, then cut in to bite size squares or triangles and serve on a cool platter. Using fine ingredients, the party members will adore you.

Spiced pecan Cake
4/12 cupes candied pecans (recipe at bottom)
8 oz (2 sticks) soft sweet butter
2 1/4 cups cake flour
2 1/ cups all-purpose flour
3 TBS baking powder
1 1/2 tsps salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 TBS vanilla extract
4 egg whites
Three 9-inch cake pans or 1 large sheet pan (or you can mix it up and use both)

To make the cake
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Line the bottoms of the cake pans with parchment paper
Put 3 cups of the candied pencas in a food processor and finely grind.
Reserve the remainig 1 1/2 cups of pecans for decorating the top of the cake.

  • Put the butter and 2 cups of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. With paddle attachment, cream on medium high speed until light and fluffy.
  • Sift together the cake flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • Combine the milk and vanilla. On low speed, alternately add the milk and the dry ingredients to the butter mixtur. Fold in the ground candied pecans.
  • Put the egg whites in a clean blow of the electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the whites on medium speed until frothy. Increase to high speed and whip the whites until soft peaks form. Continuing to mix, add the remaining egg whites. The batter will be quite stiff (don’t worry though. It’s supposed to be this way).
  • Spread in to prepared pans.
  • Bake the cakes for about 40 minutes, until a prick comes out clean. Cool the cake layers before unmoding them.
  • Frost the sides, tops and center with the marscapone cream cheese frosting (recipe below). Decorate with reserved pecans.

Marscapone Cream Cheese Frosting
*Note on this–do NOT overbeat. Did this once, and the entire cake slid off in layers, right in the middle of my fridge, and right before I was going to take it out to serve at a wedding shower!!! I later learned that overbeating breaks down the composition of the marscapone. Who would have known?

3/4 pound cream cheese
4 ox (1 stick) soft sweet butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 pounds marscapone

To make the frosting, put the cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat on medium until smooth. Decrease to low speed and add the marscapone. Beat JUST UNTIl incorporated, about 30 seconds, or it will separate. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Candied Pecans
These are also wonderful plain, over ice cream or in cakes.
Yield-4 1/2 cups
1/2 cup light brown sugar
3 TBS ground cinnamon
1 large egg white
2 TBS vanilla extract
14 ounces pecan halves


  • Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  • Combine brown sugare and cinnamon until frothy. Stir in vanilla extract, the pecans and then the reserved brown sugar mixture.
  • Spread the pecans evenely on a baking sheet and bake them for 30 secons until they are dry.

Sorry no photos. I really to start taking more photos as I’m making dishes, but usually what happens is I don’t think about writing the blog until the food is eaten, and a guest says–hey! write a blog on this one! Will add later (I think!)

Preventing break-ins with 9 solid home security tips

This morning Porsche ran upstairs, screaming about the deer in our yard, alerting the house to the intruder at exacty 6:34 in the AM.

“Is that all?” I yawned. Thankfully so. I needed to get up anyhow, so down I went, in to her room that once held a cougar (the previous owner had a pet cougar, and the room as a 20×20 cage. we’ve turned it in to a bedroom, and it offers great views of the surrounding wilderness). In remembrance, we lovingly call it ‘the cage.’ (though admittedly, this is in-family only. Otherwise we’d come across all S&M)

Sure enough, a wonderful buck with four points (as Rog verified) stood right outside her window, eating what was left of my 2010 garden. I took a few pictures, then put on my slippers and helped it get out of our enclosed acreage. It now has only one path of entry, up three acres of six foot high blackberry bushes. Anything that can make it through that terrain deserves to eat my food. Nonetheless, I supposed this to be the same buck that previously came on with his dearess and fawn, got confused and we had to help off before my dog got in on the act. This was done by slowly walking behind the animal, encouraging it to find the only exit.

our breakfast companion
Mission accomplished, I remembered that I’d recieved a text yesterday suggesting I blog on home security.
Sadly, we’ve been violated several times since moving in to this area. It’s not prestine mind you; more Beverly Hillbillies than Hills. Yet it’s not trailer trash central either. Without giving rise to would- be stalkers, we are within five miles of mass civilization, but the proximity to land preserves means we have bears, deers, wolves, foxes, and an occasional burglar on the property.
When we purchased this home, it was a dump. Five acres of horse poop surrounding a home with an indoor outhouse (I’ll dig up some pictures in case you don’t believe that). It was all we could afford, and figured we had to start somewhere. In any case, we had no need for a fence or gate. The house was worth less than the land, and we couldn’t give our natural compost away. It wasn’t until four years later that we had to erect a gate. I’m all for freedom of speech, and the Jehovah’s Witness marauders are really decent people (plus quite creative: they pair a man with a young girl to remove the threat). They weren’t as bad as the weird breed of Sunday drivers (aka looki-loos) who mistake Private Property signs for Come-on-In, that put us over the edge. Instead of a much-needed trip to Hawaii, I got iron bars with spokes.

That kept out visitors well enough, but not the neighbors. We were cursed with a pond dug by the previous owner. It fills on its own, thanks to being at the bottom of our property. Nonetheless, the old codgers in the neighborhood are vigilant about water usage. A few have feuds dating back decades, a modern day version of the Hatfields and McCoys. These are the same folk that stew about our pond having more water than it ought, (thereby leaving their man-made horse pond dry), then redirect run-off gulleys directly in to a down-road neighbors driveway, just to flood it water. (For no other purpose that being an evil). But I digress.

I grew tired of having my garden hose ‘mysteriously’ turned off in the middle of the day. My solution was to head to Home Depot, purchase green stakes and some fenching material, a hammer, and erect a flimsy barrier. It wouldn’t keep out a determined person, I knew, but figured it would deter a seventy-something busy body.
In truth, it deterred neither.
One winter night, I left Rog in the bedroom and descended to the bottom floor where I could turn the heat up to temperature of the sun without nary a complaint from Rog. Our home is odd, constructed by a Boeing engineer and a few logs, the thing has two internal doors, lots of open space and at its base, is surrounded by concrete. I can’t hear Rog snoring from the depths below, another reason for my choice of leaving him that particular night.
At one in the morning, I noticed the light was on, and I woke up, bleary eyed, telling Rog to turn off the light, then promptly went back to sleep. A while later, three am by my clock, the light was off, but I saw Rog standing right in front of my bed.  I asked him why he was still awake, and if I anything was wrong. He said not a word, left to go upstairs, or so I thought. That pissed me off. I yelled at him to get back and talk to me (and I’m big enough to admit this) sitting up just in time to flick on the lights and see a man dressed head to toe in black running out of our home.
My immediate reaction was a) that’s not Rog b) he’d been in our home at least two hours, c) he’d been standing over me for who knows how long.
I could barely breath I was so terrified. I tried to scream and nothing came out. It was like those horror movies and bad dreams come true. I literally had no voice eventhough I was ‘giving it all she got’ (captain) (Sulu/Star Trek). Rog finally heard me, rushed downstairs but the figured was long gone.

When the detective arrived, we asked lots of questions and we learned a few things.

1-pay attention. Sounds obvious, but it wasn’t. The light on the garage had been unscrewed, as had the lights on all the backdoors. Rog, in his infinite, money-saving wisdom, had been known to unscrew the light(s) himself during the day, (not using the switch so I wouldn’t notice). For the last few days, I’d been screwing them back in, irritated, but thought nothing of it. Turns out, the night we got hit was one where I’d not bothered.

2-check the footprints. Also, the nights prior to this event, the ground had been hard with frost. I’d noticed footsteps around the backdoor, but once again, thought it was Rog. No one was ever that close to our doors. The detective walked us around the house, showing how the intruder had clearly cased the joint.

3-check wiring. At the time, we had one string of low watt flourscent path lights. That night, they’d been cut. The detective showed us where the intruder had hidden his handywork, placing a bunch of pine needles on the cut itself.

His conclusion? “Anyone who got this close to the property was watching you for a while.”

That wasn’t the worse part. Remember I wrote I’d been lying in bed and saw the person at the baseboard? He’d taken our cookie jar, a squat, red-faced porter figure, removed the head and positioned it right in front of me.

“He’s telling you he’s watching you” said the detective with that “straight-from-CSI Miami-look.”

our beast, Penelope the pitbull,
aka, lapdog on a friends lap
Not good.

4- get a dog. That was it. Rog and I stopped fighting about whether or not to “commit” to one another and went to the dog pound. (this was pre-kids. commitment btw, didn’t mean home ownership. anyone could do that. true love meant buying a dog together).

“Even a ‘yap-dog’ is a deterent,” said the detective. I don’t recall the statistical numbers he threw ou at us, but the likelyhood of an burgler (or worse) entering a home with a dog drops over 80% when a dog is present. Here that all. GET A DOG!

We went to the animal shelter, looked at every four legged dog present, then asked for the one with the best ‘ratings.’ In King County, dog shelters are required to test a dog on 8 traits–such as obedience, interaction with cats, other animals/dogs, kids, etc. This was where we found our pitbull. She was a mush (that’s pronunced mah btw), and she went home with us that day. I’ll save my love of this dog for another time. Turns out this pure bred dog was dropped off by a warring couple w/three kids going through a divorce, and couldn’t decide who kept the dog. Thus, they opted out of Salomin’s choice to cut the beast in half and instead, donated it to the local shelter. Suffice it to say she barks at anything around our perimeter, otherwise, she considers herself an 80 lb lapdog. We didn’t set out to get any kind of dog: we just lucked out with her. 7 years later, she’s proven a defender against other attack dogs (I was attacked by 3, with a newborn/another blog), identified a would-be intruder (another blog). Sorry-can’t help myself. love this animal.

5-use your security system. Dumb us. We had one. one of the best in fact. Didn’t have it on. In fact, we’d never turned it on at night. The area hadn’t had a breakin for twenty years. Little did any of us know the largest meth lab west of the rockies had been discovered a mere five miles from our home the month earlier. Nice. Think of the property value increase if we publicized that one.

6-get a real fence and more light. The detective also informed us two second and third detractors to an intruder are lighting and fencing. The lights because they have no where to hide. He pointed out the number of trees close to our house providng plenty of room to hide. Gone. Had those removed. The fencing had to wait, but now we have six foot high fencing. It keeps the dogs in and the deer out-mostly. Of course, if someone really wants to enter and get past my dog then I’m a dead person anyway.

7-hide your passport. Once again, dumb me. I had my laptop and passport in my briefcase. I’d recently traveled and not separated one from the other. It was gone. Fortunately, the passport was found in a ditch, but my briefcase was gone (I’d rather have lost the passport frankly. I loved that hand-stitched work of art. I’m still pining…)

8-post warning signs. I’d never thought this was a deterent, but statistics once again proved me wrong. We now have signs around the property.

Sadly, I’m in the majority of the population that does nothing ‘active’ about protecting the home until after the first breakin. That said, since that time, we’ve had zero break-ins, but homes in neighboring areas haven’t been so lucky. In each case, they shared some of the above items–no dog, no security system, no lights. OH–they were also hit during the day.

IMPORTANT: The #1 time for a home to be hit is between 3-4 in the morning, when the family is dead to the world (sleeping). The trait for this type of intruder is the person that likes a thrill, but isn’t “aggressive,” or in other words, they aren’t looking to kill anyone. They tend to hit homes with two stories (or more) and only go in and out on the bottom floor. In our case, the intruder didn’t make it upstairs for whatever reason.

The second most common time for a break-in is in the morning, when the dad is gone to work and the mom is off taking the kids to school. The detective told of a recent event where the mom came home early, as she forgot an item, and surprised the burglers. They tied her up, ransacked the joint, took her car, and she wasn’t found until her husband got a call from the school her children hadn’t been picked up.

9-mix up your daily routine. Even stay at home moms get routines. If you are in the middle of suburbia, change up the times for the gym, coffee at Starbucks and visiting the neighbor. Get a dog, use the security system, and watch the lights.

In my case, the detective was worried because someone who took the time to get the cookie jar, hover over me and place the figurine by my feet has a sick agenda. We (I) consider myself extremely fortunate. I also feel the Good Lord was watching over me, woke me at that particular moment, for had I not awoken, I know for a fact I’d have been bound, gagged and Roger wouldn’t have heard my screams. The concrete walls assured that, and this intruder probably knew it.
Knock on wood, we’ll be good for a while. Investing in the small stuff is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with good security.

Award winning Brownies

With halloween festivities fast approaching, my award winning brownies are a great, easy to make dessert. It can feed an army but is equally perfect for a nice party. This basic brownie recipe is from the original Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, Ina Garten, (pg 172/173), though it took only two times for my guests to reject the brownie as overly-sweet.

I had hope however, and started playing around with the ingredients. I’ve cut back on the overall amount of chocolate, substituted sweetened, salted butter (Tillamook) for unsalted, changed the type and the amount of salt slightly (small chunk Kosher), removed the coffee altogether, and am particular about the recipe size and pan. If this ISN’T chocolate enough for you, a) you have a bigger problem and b) you need to purchase her book!

I’ve made this recipe dozens and dozens of times. It was frustrating to me that it required a lot of trial and error to understand the “why’s” behind a few of the originally recommended techniques. At the same time, it’s been fun to change the recipe, and improve the outcome based upon my modifications. (sorry Ina!) The result is a brownie recipe you can serve at a nice dinner or fancy party. See the end of the recipe for serving tips.
Tip and techniques:
Metal bottom sheet cake pans are really the only ones that work with this recipe. Ceramic and glass don’t work. The center will be raw and the sides burnt. Trust me. Not good.
The quality of vanilla is important as well. Most folks probably can’t taste the difference, but cooks and discriminating eaters can. 
A last tip on this recipe. A single batch is too much for a regular size pan. Again, it has cooking issues. I happen to have 2 professional size sheet cake pans. These can be purchased at most cooking supply stores. Increase the batch to a double, and you will have enough for a party, your family, the neighbors…..
1 lb salted butter
1 lb, plus 6 oz semisweet chocolate chips
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate
6 extra large eggs, room temperature
2 tbs pure vanilla
2 ¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tbs baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 cups chopped walnuts
Note: I leave the walnuts out, or add it to half the pan, since a lot of people are allergic or don’t like nuts.
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Melt the butter, 1 lb of chocolate chips and the unsweetened chocolate in a medium bowl over simmering water.
  3. Remove the bowl from the water, and allow to cool slightly. “Slightly” means that the mixture is warm to the touch, but not burning. (the reason? the mixture must be warm enough to melt down the sugar. If it becomes cold, the mixture won’t blend and the recipe becomes more like molten lava).
  4. In a large bowl, stir (do not beat, very important) together the eggs, vanilla and sugar. (the reason behind not beating? This is because over beating puts air in the eggs. The result is a brownie that is fluffy, more like cake, instead of a dense. 
  5. Stir the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and allow to cool to room temperature.
  6. In a medium bowl, sift together 1 cup of flour, the baking powder and salt.
  7. Add to the cooled chocolate mixture.
  8. Toss the walnuts and 6 oz of chocolate chips with ¼ cup of flour, then add to the chocolate batter. (very important—if the batter is too hot, the chips will melt and the entire recipe ruined. Make sure the batter is very cool but not hard)
  9. Pour into a baking sheet.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove, and rap the sheet against the shelf or counter. You can’t skip this step!! It forces the air to escape from between the pan and the brownie dough.
  11. Bake for 15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
  12. DO NOT OVERBAKE!! You will have hockey pucks instead of brownies.
  13. Allow to cool thoroughly. In fact, I like these warm, or better after they’ve been in the fridge.

Serving tips:

For parties, allow to cool, then put on a Saran Wrap, very very tightly, and refrigerate overnight. This hardens the brownies without drying, ensuring the brownies settle, are very dense, and easy to cut in to all types of shapes. Remove from the pan and use fun cookie cutter shapes.
Your guests will love you!!