Friday, October 14, 2016

All Hail the Queen

Life is mysterious and unexpected and sometimes it gives you wonderful things that you probably don't deserve.  In my life, one of my wonderful things was my dog Brownie.  Sainted would be the word that I would use to describe this mild mannered, tolerant, patient and sweet, breed-confused pup. The gumbo of dogs, she was a here-to-fore unheard of genetic combination of German Shepherd, Basset Hound and Labrador Retriever.  The physics of that union do not compute.  But that whacked out alchemy yielded one amazing canine.

She came to us 11 years ago, right after Hurricane Katrina.  Our intent was to adopt a Katrina dog, so we started combing the online adoption services for a rescue.  Though we could not find a suitable Katrina adoption, what we did find was a discarded lab puppy from Tennessee.  Brownie came from an area in Tennessee where purity of breed in your hunting dog mattered and if a wandering mutt got in your yard and knocked up your prized bitch, it was likely that the results of that one nighter would be left off at the night deposit of a local kill shelter, or worse.

Such was the fate of Brownie, or "Vanessa" as she had been named by the rescuers that got her out of the shelter and on to the adoption circuit.  By the time she shuttled up to NY in the back of an 18 wheeler stacked from floor to ceiling with cages and met us at the pickup point (a Target parking lot on an off ramp of the NY Thruway), she was 4 months old, covered in fleas and easily the most adorable thing I had ever seen.

There's no easy way to describe the way Brownie looked.  It was like someone had randomly screwed on parts, like a Mr. Potato Head assembled in the dark.  She had the soulful face of a lab, complete with expressive eyes, triangle shaped, flapped over ears and a black rubber ball of a nose.  From got weird.  Her body was contoured like a Shepherd's but elongated like a Basset's and with a medium length but plush and velvety coat.  At the rear end, she had these long, blonde tufts of undercoat that shot out from behind her like flames from a rocket, giving way to a long, fluffy, flared tail.  All of that sat on top of stubby, stout, Basset Hound legs. In short, she was a freak, but the cutest freak.

And so she came to live with us, where she proved that she had a temperament of gold.  How else could you explain her ability to tolerate a curmudgeonly cat, a couple of kids, an endless revolving door of friends and family and eventually, a neurotic and needy Great Dane/Hound mix named Buzz.  To say that she tolerated us is not a fair assessment at all.  She loved this ridiculous, rag-tag mix of species beyond what we probably deserved and in return, we loved her back.  And though it is cliche to say, it is so very true to say to know her was to love her.

So, sometimes life gives you wonderful things that you probably don't deserve and sometimes it gives you a festering shit-pile that you also don't deserve.  Life gave Brownie cancer and she most certainly did not deserve that.  The best that we can hope for is that the 11 years that we gave her since she came up on that doggie transport from Tennessee were as precious to her as they were to us and that the crazy mixed up life we brought her into gave her the same joy we got as we watched her crazy, mixed up body jump in the pool, run up the hill in the back yard and sleep on the couch like it was her job.

All hail the queen...

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Where Food and Love Intertwine

I put up a post at my sister-blog, The Pedestrian Palate.  This one is not a recipe, but a story of how food and love can intersect.  Not my usual snarky fare...

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sicily. Your Mother Just Won't Understand

When I told my mom that we were going back to Italy for another visit, she gave an exasperated sigh, said okay and basically hung up the phone on me. I get it, she doesn't get it.  However, she does not have to get it.  She stopped paying for my vacations somewhere south of my 18th birthday.

In spite of my protestations to my mother about the fact that this trip was going to be different, that we were going to Sicily first for a few days to see the country that my maternal grandmother and my husband's paternal grandparents all came from, my mother still assumed that it was a re-do of trips gone by.  But to suggest that Sicily is the same as the rest of Italy is not accurate. Not even close.

Siclily, like all regions of Italy, is very much a place unto itself.  A place with its own jumbled up culture, language and wonderful people. It is a place that has been conquered more frequently than (insert the name of your loosest friend here), and as a result has influences in the food, architecure and culture from the Greeks, Romans, Arabians, Northern Afticans and Spanish (to name a few). Funny, I just realized that the previous sentence reads like my husband's 23 and me results...a topic for another day.

After 5 days in Sicly, we returned to our favorite place in the world - Rome.  Rome fits like an old leather glove, but as broken in and worn as it may be, it never loses its beauty.  Upon review of our pictures from both places, the stark contrast is clear.  Sicily is earthy and the people are expressive and there seem to be few rules.  I have selected some of my favorite pictures from the Sicily portion of the trip that most clearly illustrate the immense beauty and quirky nature of the Sicilian island.

There is so much more to see, so sorry mom, I have every intention of going back.

Walking the dog, Ortigia-style.

Everyone was getting married while we were in Ortigia. Brides a-pelnty. This one arrived in style.

Burrata in a cold tomato soup with croutons. Pure genius.

This was a fish called Spatula.  If we had seen it in its natural state prior to the artful presentation below, we might have thought twice.  What this chef did to that ugly creature was nothing short of magical. ( image of the toothy fellow here, if you dare - )

Grape hauling cart from the old days.  One side had scenes of drunks enjoying the fruits of their labor, the other had saints blessing the harvest.  I related more to the side shown.

It was about 2 weeks from harvest when we visited the Benanti Winery just outside of Catania and the grapes looked ready to burst. 
he winery sits on the slopes of Mt Etna and the volcanic soil produces the most amazing grapes.

Amazing meats and cheeses prepared for our tasting at Benanti.
The cheese with a dark rind on the end? Oven baked fresh ricotta. No words.

 We spent afternoons drinking wine here. Relaxing and beautiful.


We found this guy at 3400 ft elevation on a winding mountain road. He mean mugged us, but we didn't sweat him. We kept on truckin'.

The fountain of Diana in Piazza Archemide at night.

View from the streets of Chiaramonte Gulfi, high in the hills of Sicily.

The sea urchin is so plentiful in Ortigia that there are huge baskets of them hauled into the market every day. I couldn't help but think about the street value of these things in NY. 

Vespas and cats everywhere and usually together, for some reason.

Persimmon.  Never ate one, but it looks pretty.

Greek ruins all over the joint.

Anybody spot Uncle Jun?  He clocked us the entire time we were at that cafe. Must have thought we were there to steal his cornetto.

***These quirky pictures of Sicily are mine all mine and not to be re-published or used for any purpose without permission.***

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Remembering Spike

I was scrolling through my facebook page today.  I do this because sometimes I post things and forget, so like any self-regulating human being, I make sure that I did not drunk-post anything that I would regret.  Luckily, most of my drunk posts weigh in on the side of silly/stupid vs. embarrasing.  I am too hung up as a human being to go the embarrassing route. Both a blessing and a curse.
In any case, in this self-policing moment, I came across some pictures of our cat, who passed away two and a half years ago.  These days, we have two dogs, but back in the day, we had two dogs and a grey striped bundle of cattitude named Spike. There are times when, in my weakness, I consider getting another cat, but I just can't do it.  I feel like I have had perfection and that any other animal would be a let down.  Let me explain.

What you probably don't know about me is that I am what has been described by my sister-in-laws as a "laissez faire" parent.  Which in their lexicon, probably means I don't apply the proper level of Martial Law in the household. However, I feel that it is best that I choose my battles and trust my kids enough to give them just enough freedom to learn from their experiences, yet remain safe.  You say tomato, I say stuff a watermelon up your bum.  Same difference.

The same trust but verify parenting style came into play when parenting my cat Spike.  He was hipper and smarter than the room about 100% of the time.  A child of the streets, he was born outside, chose his owner and exercised a high degree of autonomy at an early age.  He was not about to be micro-managed by some fascist human trying to impose order on him. Who was I to tell him that he couldn't be an indoor/outdoor cat? He and I shared the same impression of litter boxes; uncouth and a hotbed of disease.  And of course, he's gotta be free to survey the flora and the fauna and occasionally make a kill.  When you don't have your testicles, you have to find other ways to assert your manliness...or so I'm told.

Spike was not a snuggler with his humans, but he cuddled with the dogs like nobody's business. If I got to apply a few lightly appreciated scratches behind the ears, I was over the moon. He forged an astonishingly affectionate relationship with his unhinged brother-dog Buzz, who really was the punishment that none of us ever deserved. Yet there was genuine sweetness and love between Spike and this lizard-brained dodo, in spite of his natural tendencies to chase and erradicate the smaller woodland creatures of the world.  And like all of us, Spike adored Brownie the Wonderdog, because only a half-crazed sociopath on crack and off his behavioral meds would dislike Brownie.

So, I stand by my no new cat rule because how many, cool, smart, independent yet loving, outdoor pooping, indoor sleeping, toast stealing, ukulele playing, dog snuggling, look both ways before crossing the street, cats are there in the universe?  I think one, and I had him.  For this laissez fair cat parent, the is no other but Spike the Hotness Monster.  Behold and appreciate...the cat, the myth, the legend - SPIKE!

This is Spike's badass look. It always reminded me of when Snoopy perched on top of a tree or is doghouse and looked like a vulture.

We call this pose "the roast". It's a more effective name when both feet are tucked under him, but he was not one to conform.

Buttered toast stealing a specialty.

Yes, he played the ukulele. You wanna make something of it?

Sharing nap space.  It was always a coup for the kids if they had multiple animals sleeping on their bed.

Yes, he is judging you. You're just going to have to deal with it.

Clearly, he feels that he can take a better photo. "Gimme that thing."

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sharing a Super Deal To Italy

Let me say at the top, this is not a sponsored post.  I don't know anyone at Gate 1 Travel and they don't know me.  What I do know and what you probably know about me, is that I love Italy.  I always have my eye out for reasonable airfares and deals to get my American tucas on Italian soil.

So, the other day I was scrolling through the emense dumpheap of email that I get every day and a Gate 1 Email caught my eye.  I am too lazy to opt out of anything, so the quantity of promotional email that I get, fills my mailbox to the top about every week or so.

I have a friend at work who told me about the great rates that this Gate l had to Italy, so I have been monitoring it.  What I saw on this most recent email seemed too good to be true.  It had an offer for 8 days in Tuscany with hotel, airfare and rental car for $699 a person.  I re-read it half a dozen times because I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Airfare to Italy from NY is generally around $1200.  That's airfare alone. With a lot of homework and shopping, you can get a flight for around $1000, and that takes a lot of work. $699 from soup to nuts? It just seems unbelievable.

So, this company had a trip to Tuscany that costs less than a trip to Florida.  The problem is, I can't go due to work and it is burning me up. It seems almost like a crime to miss out, so I am doing the best thing I can think of as an alternative and passing the information on to you.

Below, you will find both the link to the offer.
Link:The Deal

I hope that this helps someone discover Italy and fall in love with it like I did.  Ciao, bella!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Bullets Over Long Island

I have an Uncle.  His name is Ronnie.  Ronnie is fabulously eccentric, but in the most endearing way. When I was a little girl, Ronnie was my constant companion.  Whenever he came over to visit the family, I thought he was there just for me.  I would run out the door before he could even reach the walkway, grab his hand, drag him back to his car and start barking orders at him.  Take me for ice cream!  Take me to the park!  Most adults would try to talk sense into a child and tell them "Maybe later, I want to see everyone" but not Ronnie.  He would just shake his head and laugh all the way back to the car and we would take off.

Some of my best childhood memories are centered around my adventures with Uncle Ronnie.  Ronnie taught me some important life lessons in extremely inappropriate ways.  For instance, Ronnie taught me how to drive.  He was a very patient and thorough teacher, explaining how to ease the gas and brake and not to take a bend in the road too sharply. Of course he taught me all of this when I was 7.  I would be tooling down the road, barely able to see over the wheel and people would catch a glimpse of the top of my pony tailed head and double-take, some even swerved off the road.

The same thing went for shooting.  He taught me many critical lessons about gun safety...while I was firing guns at the gun range.  I fired pistols and rifles so powerful that they knocked me back and bruised my shoulder.  I never did develop a love for guns, but I can can handle one if necessary.  I am the big winner when a carnival rolls into town. No really, you should see me go.  I win all the crappy stuffed animals. Life skills, man.

A lifelong gun collector, Ronnie amassed a stockpile of guns that would rival the average military base.  So when he became unable to live alone anymore, the issue of what to do about Ronnie's guns and the closet full of ammo that went along with them became a very real concern.  Ronnie was also a coin collector.  He had containers full of silver dollars and half dollars stacked in the closets in his house.  So here we were with the conundrum of what to do with all the coins and all the weaponry.

The first order of business was to get rid of the handguns while Ronnie's pistol license was still in force.  This should have been simple, except Ronnie's house was a certifiable disaster and his once laser sharp memory had started to haze over a bit and he could not recall exactly where the license was.  The fact that Ronnie's house was 45 miles away from where he currently lived compounded the problem of the missing license.   It took three separate 90 mile round trips to finally find the paperwork necessary to initiate the sale. On the third trip, the license was finally found.  On each of these trips, we started taking the coins out of the house.

In true Ronnie fashion, the coins were stashed all over the house in two pound Polly-O Ricotta containers and Breyer's Sherbet containers, so they were heavy and not exactly the most discreet thing to remove from the house.  At no point were we interested in having the neighbors come out to see us hauling weapons and money out of the house.  It took countless early morning and evening trips to empty the house of all his coins and guns.  We then we had to sort out the valuable ones and haul the remainder to the Coinstar machine to cash them in.  There were marathon sessions at the Coinstar machine with angry people in line behind us cursing us under their breath.  It was much easier to get rid of the guns.

I suppose that you could say that all went well with the process, except for the time that we discovered that one container of coins was actually a container of 44 Magnum bullets.  I opened the sherbet container expecting to see half dollars, instead it and it was loaded to the top with shiny copper and brass bullets.  My heart leaped out of my chest in a state of intense panic. I was already home. This meant I had to store them until I could make another 90 mile round trip to his house to return them.  I was in even more panic when I finally actually drove them back to his house, fearing that my car would get rear ended and the impact would engage all the primers and I would end up going out in a hail of bullets.  I have rejected a life of crime just to avoid that exact scenario.  Not sure how your obit would read in this situation - "Here lies DG, she didn't used to look like Swiss cheese".   Lucky for me we returned the ammo safely, no hail of bullets, no Swiss cheese.

Now a days, it's me that picks Ronnie up to go on adventures, and he's the one who shouts the orders at me - "Turn down the air-conditioning!" "Take me to my house to get my coins !" "Turn off the radio!" .  I just shake my head and laugh all the way to the car and we take off.  Just like the good old days.

Monday, July 11, 2016