Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grilled Flatbread



Last year it was grilled pizza that we loved.

This year we're loving grilled flatbread.

Not to split hairs (especially around food) but there is a difference.

When we grilled pizza, we would grill one side of the dough, flip it and madly add our toppings as we stood over the hot grill.

When we grill flatbread, we grill both sides of the dough, remove the flatbread from the grill and THEN add the toppings. Much more conducive to family harmony around the barbecue. And to getting the dough cooked through....

So I was still working on the leftover ricotta I had purchased to make my Easter Cannoli. I added some garlic to the ricotta, caramelized some onions and mushrooms, grated some parmesan and then layered the toppings on the grilled flatbread: A nice thick shmear (is that a word?) of garlic ricotta, the onions and mushrooms, some parmesan and a layer of chopped arugula.

And let me tell you it was fantastic. Much credit goes to my Honey, the Grill Master, who got the flatbread nice and crispy.

Sorry I don't have the ingredients measured out for you...I'm not a measuring sort of cook, more like some of this and some of that, but this is not really an exact type of recipe. In fact, you can even think of it as a "clean out the fridge" sort of recipe!

All you need is some bread dough from your local pizza place (they will have it at your market too - I like to buy mine from a nearby Italian bakery). Let it sit out on your counter to rise; punch down and divide into two pieces. Roll or throw (for you professionals) until the dough is nice and thin. The shape is not important; I actually prefer it to be rather misshapen and rustic. In fact, this is soooo easy that my stroke-impaired-one-handed Honey does this step....so step back and let your kids get involved!

Choose any toppings that you like. It can be as simple as ricotta topped with sliced tomatoes and basil or as complex as a horseradish cream topped with slices of rare roast beef and argula or cream cheese topped with smoked salmon, capers, dill and a squeeze of lemon juice. Or how about hummus topped with chopped kalamata olives, tomato and parsley?

I think we'll be eating grilled flatbread a lot this summer......

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What is DHS TRIP?

My Honey was feeling under the weather this weekend so we didn't make our trek over the border to go to church.

No chest pains, always good.

No fever, always good.

No stomach upset, so it's not the flu.

But he is very tired. Even walking around the block was difficult for him. He has a regular doctor's checkup tomorrow and that's another good thing.

But back to the DHS TRIP.

Last week, when we finally got to speak with a CBP (Customs and Border Protection) supervisor, he recommended that I submit a DHS TRIP Inquiry and he provided a handout about the size of a dry cleaning claim ticket with the information I would need. So I went to the website: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Travel Redress Inquiry Program or DHS TRIP.

Seemed simple enough: I was prompted to describe my particular concerns and experience, provide contact information and assigned a case number. I also had to scan my passport, print the final page of the form, sign it, scan it and email both back to the DHS TRIP. Which I did. I also included a scan of my husband's passport since this was our shared experience at each encounter with the CBP.

I received a confirmation of the inquiry and then was asked, "What was your intent in sending a passport for ALW?"

Apparently that was a no-no. Apparently "we" did not have the experience. "We" could not file. I had the experience, duly filed. And my husband had "his" experience which had to be filed separately under his name.

I emailed back to explain that my husband is a stroke survivor and would not be able to complete the requisite form. A veritable can of worms that turned out to be. Powers of attorney, append this, attach that. My computer skills were stretched to the max copying and scanning and attaching everything to an email. Could they not consider my inquiry as our inquiry? No, that would be illegal. Couldn't I just please do the computer work and my husband sign his name acknowledging that these were the circumstances he experienced? I waited for 48 hours and in the absence of a reply, did just that.

So now we each have our own Redress Control Numbers, which we will carry with us over the border. We are advised that it will take a minimum of 30 days to address our inquiries so that means a few more secondary inspections can be expected. Looks like a long wait at the border this Spring.

to be continued......

Monday, April 27, 2009

Breakfast in bed...



My day starts early, usually by 6:00. I have one of the roosters that you see on commercials that sits at the end of my bed and crows when it is still dark out.

My Honey's day starts later, much later. He usually surfaces around 10:00 or so.

But just to keep his meds on schedule, I take him breakfast in bed very morning around 8:00. And it's the same every day, just cause he loves it that way.

Old fashioned raw oats with raisins, banana and milk with some orange juice to wash down the pills.

Then he disappears under the covers and goes right back to sleep!

Now just so you don't think he is spoiled, you should know that unless we were eating in the car on the way to the office (that would ba a lifetime ago, or so it seems) we usually enjoyed our breakfast in bed. I brought breakfast in during the week and my Honey would serve me breakfast in bed on the weekends. He's sweet that way.

Post stroke, that simply isn't possible. But that's OK. I love taking him his breakfast and hearing him say, "mmmmmm, I love oats!" every morning.

Sometimes even the ordinary can be special.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring cleaning....



It's a job that I really hate to do.

I don't like heights.

My arms ache afterward.

I put it off for as long as I can.

But sooner or later, I must face the task.

Those leaves....every single one of them....must be washed.

After a year (or more, I confess) the ficus leaves had a coating of dust that could no longer be ignored. So I brought in the step ladder, armed myself with soapy water and a sponge, and attacked the tree.

I didn't even stop to take "before" pictures....I didn't want to lose my momentum.

So this is the "after" picture.

Clean, shiny, fresh, healthy leaves on a tree that started out no taller than I am, but now has grown to touch the ceiling, secured by wire to the beam in order to stand upright.

Happy dance! Done! For another year!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

WW: Baby Luc is One!

Baby Luc, April 2008



Happy Birthday, Baby Luc!









Check out 5 Minutes for Mom and the WW Headquarters for more....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

We're 3 for 3....

Well, you just know we crossed the border into Canada on Sunday to attend church and see our granddaughters.

We were hopeful but not surprised when the officer at the inspection booth on our return into the US tore off the orange page from his pad and wrapped it around our passports. He didn't even need to tell me to turn off the ignition and hand him the car keys.

I even offered to walk into the offices without an escort since we knew the drill, but he insisted on accompanying us. He even asked if my husband needed assistance. He was politeness personified.

In fact, every officer on this, our third go-round of secondary inspection in two weeks, was helpful, respectful, professional and even sympathetic to our predicament.

Our passports were taken directly to a supervisor. And while we waited, a second officer approached the counter to let us know that the supervisor was already reviewing our case without us even having to ask and he would come to speak with us just as soon as he could.

Which he did. The officers today restored my faith in the CBP. They felt our distress and our frustration and wanted to help.

Of course, there will never be an explanation for why we have been selected for secondary inspection 3 times in 2 weeks. But at least the supervisor has submitted a report at his end and provided me with an avenue to have the repeated inspections addressed and resolved.

Which I did this morning. Whatever did we do without the internet? I logged onto the DHS TRIP web site (Department of Homeland Security Travel Redress Inquiry Program) filled out the form, told my story, scanned copies of our passports and emailed it all to them.

And just so you know, there are multiple supervisors at a border crossing...just in case you are ever denied access to one....

So we don't know how long this will take to be resolved, but we are feeling hopeful.

And a big "thank you" to the CBP officer who commented last week. Your support meant a lot at a time when we felt totally powerless and frustrated. As we discovered this week, and just as you said, the officer last week was the exception.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A tale of two springs

A month ago, this is what I enjoyed on my morning walks....







Back home, this is what I now enjoy. Well, I think there's a promise of spring!






Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easy Cannoli



One of the desserts (along with birthday cake and fresh fruit) we had this past Easter was this cannoli. It's super easy to make, the hardest part being where to find the cannoli shells. After checking out local Italian bakeries, I actually found them at our local supermarket in the bulk food section. I used the small size for this recipe.

I adapted this recipe from Michael Chiarello's recipe for Chocolate Cannoli. The recipe originally called for pistachios but since they have been pulled from the shelves due to a salmonella scare, I substituted almonds.

1 c slivered almonds
1 c heavy cream
2 T sugar
1 c semi-sweet chocolate bits
1 c whole milk ricotta
16 cannoli shells

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Toast the almonds for approx 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven, cool and chop.

Whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form. Add 1/3 of the chopped nuts, 1/3 of the chocolate and then fold the cream mixture into the ricotta.

Spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a fat round tip that is approximately the size of the cannoli or use a zip lock bag and cut off one corner to the size of the opening of the cannoli shell. Fill the cannoli from each end.

Combine the remaining nuts and chocolate on a plate and dip each end of the cannoli into the mixture.

The recipe suggests that the cannoli should be filled no more than 1 hour before serving but I found that it will keep nicely for hours. It still looked presentable the next morning and the leftovers make a sweet breakfast, I'm just saying for those of you who like something sweet in the morning!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

WW: Easter start and finish



Starters: Our antipasto buffet with St Andres cheese and Rainforest crackers, Abruzzi dry salami, provolone cheese and mixed olives, deviled eggs, marinated artichoke hearts, marinated mushrooms, smoked oysters, sardines in hot sauce, marinated red peppers, and prosciutto wrapped asparagus spears with a basket of crostini.



The aftermath

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Oops, they did it again

I posted last week on my encounter with the officers of the Department of Homeland Security at a U.S. Canadian border crossing

Well, it happened again. As we returned from Good Friday services we were once again asked to surrender our car keys.

What is going on? We just went through this last Sunday!

Our vehicle was quickly surrounded by Customs agents.

MAM, JUST EXIT THE VEHICLE.

The agent who was IN MY FACE AND YELLING at me was Officer Walter, according to his uniform badge.

Officer Walter, can you tell me what is happening?

GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE... NOW!

We were escorted into the Customs building.

This time I was a little more upset. Once was possibly a random search. Why was this happening again? Why were we suspected of something so horrendous that we were removed from our vehicle twice in one week?

Our wait was shorter this time and our passports were quickly returned to us by Officer Walter. He also provided a brochure which would explain the "U.S. Custons and Border Protection Process." We were seated against a wall and Officer Walter was standing over us.

Can you tell us what is going on?

NO. YOU ARE FREE TO GO.

I would like to speak to someone. Is there someone I can speak to?

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, THERE IS CONTACT INFORMATION IN THIS BROCHURE.

But I would like to speak to someone now. Is there a supervisor here I can speak to?

NO. USE THE INFORMATION IN THE BROCHURE.

My husband is getting agitated. Because of his aphasia he tends to gesture a lot with his "good" hand in his effort to speak.

Officer Walter leans over my husband. SIR! DO NOT POINT AT ME! PUT YOUR HAND DOWN SIR!

Officer, my husband is a stroke survivor. He's just trying to speak to you!

Now I am getting agitated. Kinda like a Mama Bear. Do you have a number, Officer Walter?

A NUMBER?

You know, like an employee number?

NO

Well, do you have a first name? I mean, there might be other officers with your surname...

Officer Walter turns on his heel and walks away from me to exit the lobby.

I stand up to exit the other direction and comment, And you're rude.

Officer Walter returns and yells to me across the room: USE THE INFORMATION IN THE BROCHURE. YOU HAVE A GOOD DAY.

And you have a good day too.

I read the brochure. This is what it says:

You should be treated in a courteous, professional and dignified manner.

You will receive an explanation of the examination process as it occurs.

If you feel that the examination was not conducted in a professional manner, ask to speak with a CBP suipervisor immediately. A CBP supervisor is always available at the facility or by telephone.


So I still don't have any answers. But, thanks to Officer Walter, I can show the brochure the next time I ask to speak to a supervisor. And chances are, there will be a next time....

Monday, April 13, 2009

Who promised us "balance" anyway?

In her Monday Musings post today, Octamom wrote on the subject of balance in our lives. Can we attain it? Is it feasible?

"Is that ideal of 'balance' just a 21st century dream...did our ancestors ponder on such things?"

I think just the fact that we spend so much time pondering the notion of balance is a statement on how far we have strayed from the reality of our ancestor's lives.

With the exception of the wealthy who had a staff to negotiate the duties of running a home and family, I doubt that most of our ancestors even had the time to spare to consider the notion of balance. Whether agrarian or post industrial, there was simply too much to do in the course of a day.

People worked their entire lives

....without days off, without timesaving equipment and comforts that we often take for granted

....without the notion that someday their "work" responsibility would cease and they would retire and do nothing

....without the guilt associated with trying to do it or have it all, and failing to feel comfortable with the outcome.

Well, maybe they did feel guilty.

It's probably fair to assume that whenever and wherever one has lived, it would be impossible to get it all done. Some days would be easier, some fraught with challenges. Some days would be full of joy, some filled with worry and anguish. We, as they surely did, just have to go to bed at the end of the day knowing we did the best we could with what we had.

Let's stop torturing ourselves with the notion that we can balance on that high wire. Everyone who tries to walk that high wire falls...EVERYONE. Life should be more like riding a swing: you'll have highs and lows put if you keep pumping you'll have the breeze in your face and you'll get a pretty good view at the top!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Sunday Afternoon with the Office of Homeland Security

I wasn't sure about posting this. I suppose "they" could tap my phone lines or put a GPS chip on my car...maybe they did. My husband was furious but given his speech disabilities as a result of his stroke and the fact that anger exacerbates the problem, I should be glad that all he did was gnash his teeth, shake his one good fist and slam some doors.

This is our story.

We live only minutes from the Canadian border and cross evey Sunday to attend church in Canada. Yes, it is unusual but we have grandchildren living there and this gives us the opportunity to pick them up and spend some time with them. We weren't able to see them last Sunday so our trip was even shorter than usual.

Border crossings are usually uneventful. Sometimes there is a delay; sometimes vehicles are pulled over for further inspection. We have always been very respectful of the border agents because they do bear an awesome responsibility. We have never had a problem in the many years we have been crossing. Until this past Sunday. I do the driving and speaking because my husband's aphasia can make the question/answer process difficult.

GOOD AFTERNOON, IDENTIFICATION PLEASE

Good Afternoon. (we hand over our passports)

WHERE DO YOU LIVE?

Grand Island

CITIZENSHIP?

U.S.

WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF YOUR TRIP TO CANADA?

We went to church

DID YOU PURCHASE OR ACQUIRE ANYTHING?

No

(We wait while he disappears into his booth and processes our documentation)

(We wait for an unusually long time)

WHOSE CAR IS THIS?

It's my husband's car

HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR WALLET?

I guess I have about $20. My husband has about $100 I think.

ARE YOU CERTAIN YOU DIDN'T ACQUIRE ANYTHING WHILE YOU WERE OUT OF THE COUNTRY?

No we didn't. Absolutely nothing.

ARE YOU SURE YOU AREN'T CARRYING $50,000 WITH YOU?

(I almost laugh...I wish!) No, absolutely not!

WOULD YOU PLEASE TURN OFF THE IGNITION AND HAND ME YOUR CAR KEYS.

Silently, I do what he asks. He disappears again into the booth. He returns momentarily to slide a red and white striped bar under the car. Maybe with spikes in case I try to make an escape???

PLEASE EXIT THE CAR AND MOVE TO THE FRONT OF THE CAR.

We do what he asks. My husband is getting annoyed. We are totally perplexed and the agent does not provide any information as to what is happening. We have never even witnessed anyone being asked to leave their car!

ANOTHER AGENT WILL COME TO ESCORT YOU INSIDE.

May I get my purse out of the car?

NO, AN AGENT WILL HAVE TO GET IT.

The agent arrives to escort us to the Border Station, across 7 lanes of border traffic. Only slightly humiliating. Another agent is summoned to drive our car wherever it is to be taken. I hold my husband's arm to help him navigate the curbs. The agent observes that he has difficulty walking and at least alters our route to avoid so many curbs.

We enter the station and are seated on a wooden bench.

No one speaks to us. There is no explanation offered. After about 20 minutes my husband approaches the counter and says, "Well? What's happening?" He is told that someone will be with us soon.

45 Minutes after we first handed over our passports, an agent appears and returns them to us.

YOU'RE FREE TO GO. YOUR CAR IS IN THE GARAGE OVER THERE. I'LL OPEN THE GARAGE DOOR FOR YOU SO YOU CAN DRIVE OUT.

This is where my husband gets huffy. We weren't mistreated. The officers were never disrespectful. But we were subjected to questioning and our car to inspection without cause. If they had cause, should we not have been entitled to hear what prompted the suspicion and search? If not before, at the very least after all was said and done...and perhaps even an apology for the inconvenience.

So rest assured that the Office of Homeland Security is doing a thorough job protecting our northern border. Especially from 60-something folks returning from church.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's been 5 years

Today we celebrate our 5th anniversary.

Five years ago yesterday we had a normal day at the office. A went to the aquatic center and swam 35 laps. We went out for dinner and spent a quiet night at home. A totally unremarkable day.

But all that was about to change.

And our life would never be the same.

Around 2:00 AM on April 7th, I awoke to my husband thrashing around in bed. My first thought was that he was just trying to get comfortable.

But the thrashing continued.

I asked, "Are you ok?"

No response

I asked again.

Still no response.

I turned on the bedside light. A looked at me but would not speak. This was all very confusing. Was he having a dream? Was he disoriented? Was he teasing me?

"A, stop it! What's wrong?"

No response

"Speak to me or I'm calling 911!"

He didn't.

I did.

Within minutes the bedroom was filled with EMT's, police and local volunteer firemen. The room was hardly big enough to hold everyone who responded. The preliminary diagnosis was "cerebral accident" better known as stroke.

We were taken to the nearest hospital at their recommendation even though there is a stroke center within a 45 minute drive. If this were ever to happen again, I would insist that he be taken to the stroke center. However, when in shock one tends to accept what the official protocol. Once at the ER, a CT scan was taken to determine if the stroke was caused by bleeding or a blockage. The test results did not show any bleeding in his brain but because the stroke happened while A slept, we had no idea when it actually occurred. The miracle clot busting drugs, which have a very limited window of opportunity to be administered, could not be used.

After all the testing it was determined that A had an occluded carotid artery which was blocking blood flow to his brain. The medical protocol for someonw with A's medical history is to have a carotid doppler every 5 years. A was only 4 years into that span; had he been given the test, the occlusion would have been discovered, treated and the stroke prevented. Although the artery was later cleared, the damage was done, much of it irreversible.

A spent a week in the hospital and then transferred to a rehab center where he spent another 6 weeks in physical, occupational and speech therapy, followed by continued therapy at home and then outpatient speech therapy at a local college for 2 years. Today A can walk and has become quite adept at using only his left hand. He can speak although he continues to suffer from both apraxia and aphasia, speech disabilities which can make verbal communication chaallenging at best, difficult most of the time and impossible on occasion.

To say our life has changed is an understatement. Nothing is the same. Absolutely nothing, from work to finances to mobility to safety...it just affects everything.

But today we are 5 years post stroke. That is a good thing, a very good thing in light of his medical history.

And we have each other, our family and our faith. Although the future is uncertain, as it is for so many families right now, we do not dwell on what has been lost or what might have been. We choose to focus on what we do have and are thankful for these past 5 years that we have been able to share together.

Monday, April 6, 2009

a new use for a spatula

Our end-of-March timeshare on Hilton Head is a two story townhouse....three bedrooms so it's great when the kids come to visit.

The only problem is that it has open stairs. Very attractive to a one year old and a challenge to keep him from climbing at every opportunity. Maybe next year I should bring a baby gate?

So either his Mama or Daddy or Grandma would supervise the climb.




So much fun to peek through the railing...




And fun to reach out and wave...




But then Grandma got the bright idea that she could just guard the stairs by sitting on them! Worked well for Baby Luc to say I was "stuck" and couldn't move but Big Brother Tai (aka Tai the Science Guy) needed to solve my predicament.

Solution: Use a kitchen spatula (great idea, Mom!)

Of course it worked. Such ingenuity has to be rewarded!