The Weekend Dish

I’m going to Des Moines!

There’s only one thing that could lure me from California to Iowa in August during a record-breakingly hot summer and that’s my sister.

We’re two sets of girls one year apart, nearly to the day, with a five year span separating the oldest from the youngest.  Sue and I are the middle sisters.  T and I shared a room, a closet, baby dolls and disco balls, See’s candy binges, cigarettes when we thought we were cool, and alibis when we got found out. She is, without a doubt, my greatest advocate, cheerleader, and confidant and it’s the Backyard Sisters way to never let too much time or distance come between in-person conversation and hugs.

You too can give the last hurrah of summer over to your sister.

Call her. Visit. Send a funny card.

Go backyard camping with your sister.
Write your sister. Write about your sister. Take a really pretty picture of your sister. Ask about her favorite recipe.
Praise your sister.  Pray for your sister.  Offer to babysit for her, or work in her garden, or do her back taxes. Take her to lunch, or brunch, or tea, or out for mojitos. Dance with your sister. Whatever language you speak, be sure to tell her how much she means to you.

If you enjoy photos of sisters, you might love to see how photographer Wilma Hurskainen captured the passing of time with her three sisters.  Wilma, who lives and works in Helsinki, gathered her three sisters to reenact childhood photos in a collection called “Growth.” View it here. You can click on the thumbnails on the artist’s website to see full size images.

We’d love to hear how you enjoy spending time with your sister this weekend. As for T and I, we’ll probably giggle helplessly over nothing and realize that having one person in all the world that you never need to explain yourself to is absolutely one of life’s greatest gifts.

With glee and corn,


What are you doing in my dream?

Dear One,
Sometimes, when the writing is precarious, I feel like Maria Spelterini, the only woman to traverse Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

Even though I sit in at my pine desk in a black pleather chair from Staples, I may as well be alone on a high wire, miles above the earth, walking a strand thin as gossamer strung between invisible moons.  From this dizzying height, the din dims. Wind whistles through silver hoops at my ears.

I. Am. Trying. So. Hard. To. Put. Into. Words. This. Thing. This. Thing!

For far too many months I’ve been polishing a poetry manuscript.  It’s good – the process and the work.  But from the great height in the clouds it’s easy to feel lost.

This week I stood firmly on solid ground in front of four university classes filled with new students, faces all turned expectantly toward me.  Some even had pens poised above empty notebooks ready to capture writing secrets.

“Why are you here?” I asked.

I want to be a good writer.
I want to be a better writer.
I’m a terrible writer; I think there’s no hope for me.

I tell them there’s no such thing as a good writer, a better writer, a bad or even a worst writer.  Rather there are people who effectively transmit their ideas and dreams and made-up universes, or even their all-too-real stories, with the kind of language that stops others long enough to read what they have to say.  Some are more effective at this language game than others and no matter the style or voice, writers who ultimately stand apart are the ones who find the truth and write it pure, pure enough that a reader discovers a breath more about this thing called humanity.

As Dinty Moore notes in his new little gem, The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life:

 What we have is ourselves, and that is all we can really write about.”

Moore’s book is fill with all kinds of sage wisdom, dished out thoughtfully in 1-2 page bit, organized around a writer’s quote.  The segment about being ourselves is under a quote by Barbara Kingsolver:

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

After Maria Spelterini completed her first crossing in July, 1876, within a matter of weeks she repeated the feat with peach baskets strapped to her feet, then once again blindfolded, and yet again with her hands and feet bound in iron cuffs.

Sometimes I think I make the writing process more difficult than it needs to be, especially when I begin to circle too closely toward self-doubt, or some other truth I’d rather ignore.  I’m tempted to throw up peach baskets, a blindfold, shackles, or in the case of my poetry book, obscure references to ancient Greek myths and long forgotten gods.

It isn’t just writers who do this. We all at some time face a startling self-discovery with distractions.  We try to affirm that we’re still good enough, daring enough, special enough.  I suppose it’s easy to receive acclaim if you’ve got a high wire and an audience.  There’s far less fanfare for walking the wire of one true self.

One night, I dream I’m Maria Spelterini.  I pause midway in my crossing, the thunder of Niagara Falls all around. I leap, a scissor kick. For one brief second I hang in flight.

Oh—              the view!

With balance and daring,

p.s. Dinty Moore will be a presenter at League of Utah Writers Roundup, September 14-15, 2012.  Click here for more information.


One of the fascinating things about photography is the ability to capture a split second occurrence that the eye would normally not be able to catch. This power has its pluses and minuses. Sometimes, the camera is able to catch us with facial expressions we didn’t even know we could make, or want to make for that matter. On the positive side,freezing the action of the flight of a bird, an animal running and a drop of water hitting a surface can create some beautiful images. This week, I focused on capturing a drop of water. water drop
Water is precious and necessary for sustenance. It can also be beautiful when frozen in time.

water drop fallingIt creates such interesting shapes.

water drop below surfaceBoth above and below the surface.

water drop fallingTo capture the drop in motion can be difficult. First, you must guess where the drop will land and focus on something in that area. I used a pencil point. Then, the shutter speed must be high enough to be able to freeze the action.

water dropI used from 640 to 2500. You may need to adjust your ISO and aperture to achieve the correct exposure. If you want to take the aperture out of the equation you can shoot in shutter priority mode.

I like the variety of the results – no two shots are alike. Sometimes we take water for granted, but, especially during this time of drought, it can be beneficial to contemplate every little drop.

water drop and statue~ Sue

The Weekend Dish – Marinara Sauce

While pondering the tomato table this week, I decided to look at things from a different angle. . . tomatoes, a view from under the table

This prompted me to try something. Catherine planted the seed when she asked if I had ever made marinara from our tomatoes. I had looked for recipes for fresh tomato sauces before and I must admit the thought of the work involved peeling and seeding the tomatoes didn’t seem worth it to me. But a couple of days ago, I wanted to make something which used a LOT of tomatoes. We already have a large bowl of salsa fresca and I wanted to use a LOT MORE tomatoes. So, I dove in, with no recipe. The result was a fresh, deliciously sumptuous sauce.

marinara sauceThe list of ingredients is short but the flavor- long.
Marinara Sauce

About 10 lbs of tomatoes, peeled and seeded
1 lg. onion chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1/4 cup olive oil

Peel tomatoes by submersing in boiling water for about 3 minutes then remove and immediately plunge into a bowl of ice water. This makes the skins easy to remove, they practically slide right off. Puree the peeled tomatoes in a blender about 30 seconds or until smooth ( I like mine a little chunkier so I didn’t blend too long.)  Next, put through a strainer to remove seeds. Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and saute until translucent then add the garlic and stir together and cook about 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, salt, sugar and basil. Let it simmer for at least an hour or more until it turns a darker, richer red and reaches the consistency you like. You can serve immediately or refrigerate and save it for the next night and let the flavors marry. Serve with your favorite pasta.

spaghetti with marinara May I suggest a theme night for a dinner and a movie. While you are enjoying your scrumptious fresh marinara sauce, check out or re-acquaint yourself with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday. It is the story of a bored and sheltered princess who escapes her guardians and heads into Rome for adventure where she meets an American newsman. You will be transported to Rome for an evening – the film was actually filmed there.

Piazza Navona

Piazza Navona, Rome

Enjoy and Ciao!

~ Sue

Dancing as fast as I can

My life has been the poem I would have writ
But I could not both live and utter it.

Henry David Thoreau said perfectly what I would have said if it hadn’t been the kind of week it’s been.

Apparently “they” were right when “they” told me, “If you switch to full time teaching, your writing time will suffer.”

A bow to you, almighty “they.”

A vow to me to dance faster, faster.

In praise of brevity and wisdom,

The Dog Days are Upon Us

With summer winding down but heating up here in California, one’s thoughts may turn to cooling off. Around here, the place to beat the heat is at the shore.  Manhattan Beach was the destination this day, for me and a few others.

summer day Manhattan BeachMy wide angle lens will often create a vignette effect when at its widest and sometimes I choose to just go with it. I like the feeling of being the observer through a telescope it imparts.

summer day Manhattan Beach pierAt the end of the Manhattan Beach pier is a small aquarium and cafe, which are worth the trip out; if the prospect of the view isn’t enough to entice you on its own. This day, there was an interview being filmed alongside  the usual sunbathers and swimmers.

summer day Manhattan Beach

The view looking back at the beach from the pier.

Manhattan Beach, CA

The evening at the beach is a lovely time to enjoy the cool breezes and sunsets.

Hermosa Beach pierThe Hermosa Beach pier is often frequented by fishermen.

Hermosa Beach pier sunset

Piers are intriguing subjects in my opinion. The symmetry of the pilings and the silhouettes of the figures capture my imagination. Whether viewed from close up or further away I am drawn to these structures suspended over water.

Hermoa Beach pier sunset

The perfect ending to a summer day. . .

sunset Hermosa Beach, CAEnjoy these last few days of summer and try to keep cool out there.

~ Sue

The Weekend Dish – Promenade Pasta

What’s the best compliment you ever got in the kitchen?

One night J sat at the kitchen table watching me try to invent a pasta dish from the random pickings of a quick farmer’s market trip.  When I’m in creation mode he knows better than to ask how he can help, but he stays nearby in case I forget he’s home and starving.  I figured he must be wondering what he’d gotten himself into, marrying this oddball who doesn’t cook like normal people do by reading from a cookbook or recipe box.

My process is more, hmmm, shall we say, kinetic?  I open the pantry door, retrieve ingredients, stare, return a bag of dried cherries in exchange for a tin of pine nuts. Maybe my hand swirls in the air as I waft imaginary aromas toward my nose. I close my eyes and air chew, trying to imagine exactly what I want. I twirl to the refrigerator for a lemon maybe, or a vegetable. My hip bumps the fridge door closed as I pivot to the island countertop, hands full of spinach.

“You cook like you’re dancing,” he said and I melted. I pulled him up off the chair for a quick waltz around the table before returning to the skillet heating up on the stove.

I was pretty happy with how that night turned out, yes for the dancing, but also for the pasta.

The surprise of the dish is squash blossoms.

I’ve eaten squash blossoms in salads where I find them beautiful, but a little out of place. Squash blossoms overpower gentle lettuces like butter and get lost in hearty greens like kale.  But heat these babies up – and yes technically the stork doesn’t bring zucchini to your garden, it begins life as a seed and then a squash blossom – and something symphonic happens, sort of like how the drudgery of an ordinary weekday meal prep can turn into a kitchen waltz.

I call this dish Promenade Penne with a nod toward how the pasta pot and squash blossom skillet waltz together toward the grand finale of a meal culled from a stroll through the farmer’s market. Also, there’s a little sweet kiss of honey in it, and all good proms end with a kiss.

Promenade Penne
3 large sweet potatoes
One bunch fresh squash blossoms
olive oil
3 T pine nuts
3 T honey
1 lb. penne
4 C washed baby spinach leaves
Freshly ground parmesan and fresh ground pepper to taste

– Peel sweet potatoes and slice into 1/2 inch circles.
– Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame.  Add enough olive oil to coat skillet.  Let it warm up, then sauté pototoes until slightly browned and soft. Stir now and then to prevent burning.
– Meanwhile, in a separate pot, heat water for pasta. (This is a fine time to dance.)
– Right about the time the water begins to boil, the potatoes should be tender.  Toss pine nuts into skillet with potatoes and allow to brown just a bit.
– Add pasta to boiling water and cook according to package directions.
– Turn potatoes down to low. Add squash blossoms and stir.  If necessary, add a dash more olive oil.
– When the pasta is al dente, drizzle the honey over potatoes and squash blossoms.  Stir to coat and heat evenly.
– Drain pasta in a colander.  Place spinach in empty pasta pot and after pasta is finished draining add back to the pot so the pasta heat slightly wilts the spinach.  You may toss with a little more olive oil.
– Place pasta and spinach in a large bowl. Spoon sweet potato and squash blossoms on top. Garnish with fresh parmesan and pepper if you like.Light the candles.  Good night.

With heels kicked up,
~ Catherine


Is it short in here, or is it just me?

I’m standing in the cereal aisle of my corner Albertsons when I notice a little woman stretching on her toes, clenched white teeth tensed between lips puckered in a scowl.  She asks me to grab a box of Grape Nuts just out of reach.

“Why do they put all the good cereal up so high? I’ll tell you why,” she says without waiting for my guess. “It’s a conspiracy against short people!”

She tells me this as if I plotted the whole thing to shame her into a grocery aisle conversation.  She shakes her head and those tight little lips melt down into a frown.

“Or,” I say, leaning in close, like a collaborator.  “It’s to get strangers to speak to one another.”

I hand her the box, raise my left eyebrow and give her a beaming smile.  Then I sashay away on my long, long legs and hurry home to tell you all about it.  And in the telling, I begin to laugh and laugh.  What a gift these things are that create conversation among strangers!  How, how, how very large!

I am large, or huge, monstrous or leggy. Elevated.  Tall. Whatever adjective you choose, the fact is I’m six feet tall; the average American woman stands around five feet four.  People count on a tall woman to be strong, fearless, accustomed to the staring and the Amazonian expectations based on nothing more than a 36 inch inseam.  Truth is, I’m afraid of rattlesnakes, big surf, and even though I’m not hungry, I’ll eat a giant stack of graham crackers smeared with homemade vanilla frosting before I face an empty page and wonder what the heck to tell you about on a Thursday because I fear sounding stupid, provincial, or, forgive me, small.

Is this just a lesson in how contrasts create tension to drive a narrative forward? Maybe.  Is it true?  Definitely.  Is it metaphor?

I’m in the middle of preparing my syllabi for the new semester and I read an interview in which author Nicole Walker wonders if by creating metaphor we might be mowing over small precious things. “Is the problem with comparing the large to the small that the world becomes reduced?” You can read the interview here if you like.

I think metaphor unites us in more of a knitted together sort of way rather than a shark gobbling a guppy process. Sometimes a writer, or any other human being, needs to cast a shadow when the real thing is either unavailable or inaccessible.

But we need to realize that one person’s reality or perception isn’t automatically universal, nor accurate, as I’ve learned from a lifetime of tall comments.

I’ve only met you sitting down, I had no idea you were so tall.
A colleague said this to me when our paths crossed at a restaurant.  Usually she’s sitting behind her desk when we converse.

You’re so big, you must be really, really old.
I laughed when the cutest little preschooler in a pink ruffle dress said this to me because it made so much sense and also because of the mortified look on her mother’s face.

You don’t look that tall.
I get this response a lot when strangers ask how tall I am and I tell them the truth. I wonder: What does “that tall” look like to you?  Must we constrain ourselves to an audience’s expectations?

It’s a great time to be tall.
Well I guess so.  But it’s been a pretty great time to be tall ever since the seventh grade when I wrote in my diary, “Dear God. Please let me shrink. Not too much, just a little every day. And please let my clothes and shoes shrink too.”

I don’t want to shrink anymore. One of my favorite ways to expand my mind is to read literature in translation.  If you’d like to grow too, check out “Words Without Borders”, the Online Magazine for International Literature.  It’s a conspiracy against small minds and way less fattening than graham crackers with frosting.

Here’s wishing you a million chances to grow today.

Evening Enjoyment

Recently, with an evening free of commitments presenting opportunities galore, I chose to sit a spell in the backyard and light the chiminea. Sometimes, I like to put my Girl Scout acquired fire-building skills to practice and sit outside and enjoy the fresh evening air watching the sky turn from a dusky blue to black as the stars begin to appear. I can usually count on my youngest daughter to join in and occasionally we will partake in another time- honored Girl Scout tradition, the s’more. But this night, I was alone, at first, and brought my camera out. There were a few clouds in the sky and the sun was setting turning the clouds a beautiful shade of pink.

I decided to try something for boosting the colors in the images in Photoshop. I made a copy of the background layer and then used the overlay effect at about 50% opacity. It definitely boosts the colors.  I will show before and after the overlay so you can see for yourself.


It was mesmerizing watching the swift-moving and ever-changing clouds.



Then some birds crossed the lens.


evening cloudsAfter

As darkness set in, my attentions turned towards the fire. The flames captivated as I watched them dance around in the chiminea.


chiminea flamesAfter

I can sit for quite a while enthralled by the flames’ movement while enjoying the warmth.


Chiminea flames

Hopefully the differences are obvious to you. I like the overlay copy effect for enhancing colors on many images. I think it adds a richness to the color without distorting it which, in my opinion, boosting the saturation can do.

My daughter joined me, by this time, and we both sat entranced while sharing an occasional tidbit of conversation as the fire slowly died down.  Sometimes, a good campfire can’t be beat.

Here’s to time well spent!




The Weekend Dish – Fresh-Tomato Dishes

I have a bit of a problem. Though many, myself included, might say it is a good problem. We all should be so lucky to have “problems” like this. It has its roots in the spring. In April, when it began warming up here in southern California, the eco-warrior turned his thoughts to planting the vegetable garden. The past few years or so, he decided to focus on tomatoes. We love tomatoes and the ones sold in supermarkets just don’t hold a candle to homegrown ones. The entire garden is dedicated to tomatoes. First, he came home with about 30 plants, then, a few days later, about 20 more. For a while there, it seemed like every time I turned around he would be walking across the yard carrying a six or eight pack of tomato plants. Our garden is fairly large, but it was filling up fast.

I inquired if all these plants would fit and was constantly reassured there would be room and we would be so glad in the summer. The first tomatoes began ripening in mid-June and since then, we have had a patio table full of tomatoes and a few more on the counter in the kitchen. 

We have shared with family and friends and scoured cookbooks and the internet for recipes as well as trying to create a few of my own. We have been eating so many  tomatoes every day, I’m surprised we aren’t turning red!  It has been a never ending cycle of using the ripest and then, just as the table top is starting to be visible again, it fills up from another harvest. Like I said, we love tomatoes and  I do enjoy the challenge of trying to incorporate them in as many dishes as possible and creating some new ones as well, but I feel guilty if we fall behind and some get overripe. These tomatoes are delicious, sweet and flavorful. However, I feel like I am bailing the Titanic with a pail. I recently came across this article on some of the surprising benefits of tomatoes and felt  re-invigorated by the thoughts of all those vitamins and “good for me” nutrients just waiting to be devoured in our backyard.  One of our favorite ways to use the tomatoes is in a salsa fresca.

Salsa Fresca

15 tomatoes
½ sweet onion
1 clove garlic
½ bunch of cilantro
1 jalapeno seeds and membrane removed
juice of 2 limes
½-1 tsp salt

Chop the tomatoes and onion and add to a large bowl. Finely mince the garlic,cilantro and jalapeno and add to bowl. Add the lime juice and salt. Stir, then taste. Ingredients can be adjusted to taste preference. Add more or less jalapeno for spiciness preference, etc. Serve with tortilla chips or put in tacos, burritos, refried beans or anywhere you want a little spicy tomato sauce.
Makes enough for a party!

For breakfast, I have been making Salsa Fresca Poached Eggs. Add a splash of olive oil to a pan, heat over medium high heat, then add about 2 cups of salsa. I let that simmer and thicken for about 10-15 minutes, sometimes shorter,  (depending on how hungry I am). Then, add 3 or 4 eggs put a lid on the pan and let them poach for about 4-5 minutes; time can be adjusted to how done you like your eggs.  I serve it with warm corn tortillas.

For the Italian version of the above dish, Tomato Italiano Poached Eggs: add chopped sweet onion and a clove of chopped garlic to the pan with the olive oil and cook until softened then add about 1 tsp sage and 1/2 tsp rosemary, this can also be adjusted to your taste preference. Next, add  6-8 tomatoes chopped and simmer until thickened a bit 10-15 minutes. Salt and pepper to your taste, then add about 6 oil-cured olives, halved, and 3-4 eggs. Put the lid on the pan and cook 4-5 minutes, or to your liking. Serve with a good Italian bread toasted.

I think next year I will suggest staggering our plantings but for this year,  here’s to lycopene, and salsa, and bruschetta, and oven-roasted garlic and basil tomatoes, and …

I know I’ll miss you in the winter.