Tea and tomato juice

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I am all about free attractions, and I love tea, so when I was in Boulder, Colo., I just had to check out the Celestial Seasonings plant.

The Sleepytime Bear - isn't he cute?

The plant is a few miles out of Boulder, appropriately on Sleepytime Drive. As you’re driving there, it feels like you’re turning into a subdivision. Drive past all the homes, and there it is: the tea plant. I’ve been drinking Celestial Seasonings for years, and like most people, I love their unique packaging. We saw plenty of those original pieces in the plant.

As I said, the tour is free, which is cool when you’re doing the budget vacation. You walk in and are handed tickets for the next tour. The “”ticket” is a three-pack of tea bags you get to keep; in our case, Cherry Berry. We arrived about 2:45 p.m. and looked at the lobby displays and sampled free teas  – hot and iced.  At 3 p.m., holders of Cherry Berry tickets were instructed to come into a small auditorium for the start of the tour.

The tour started with an interesting film on the history of Celestial Seasonings, but reporter that I am, I was bugged by a mistake in the narrative. Mo Seigel started the company in Boulder in 1969, which they referred to as the “Summer of Love.” Pop culturists everywhere know that 1967 was the “Summer of Love.” Nevertheless, the film was short and interesting and once it was over, we donned lovely hair nets and took off for the tour.

Being a quiet Tuesday, there wasn’t much production going on, but we did learn how herbs are cleaned (with air, not water) and that Celestial Seasonings makes a billion bags a year. Probably the highlight of the tour is a stop in the Mint Room. This room reminded me of a garage with a pull-down door, and that door stays shut all the time. Our guide opened it for just a few minutes and explained that all the mint used by Celestial Seasonings is stored in this room. It’s strong, to put it mildly. Sinus-clearing strong. She said that if the door stayed open for 24 hours, you would be able to smell the mint four miles away. They know this because they didn’t build the walls thick enough when the plant opened, and the surrounding area had a minty-fresh scent. It was like having a toothpaste high.

After the tour ended, we went to the gift shop. Unlike many gift shops, this one had great prices. On the shelves are every kind of tea Celestial Seasonings makes, all right there in Boulder. There are more than 100 varieties. My local grocery stores carry maybe one-third of that. And the prices are about a dollar less per box on every kind!

We walked back to the tasting area, tried a few kinds (they will let you sample as many as you want) , then walked back over to the store and bought a lot of tea. A lot of tea.

Also in the store you find a lot of souvenirs with my favorite, the Sleepytime Bear, on them. He’s a crowd pleaser. All the Celestial Seasonings box art is commissioned work and the originals are hanging around corporate headquarters.

The next day, I called my sister and told her about the tour. When I mentioned the exotic, hard-to-find teas I’d bought, she asked if I’d go back and get her a few boxes. Like a good sister, I agreed.

A few of my favorites: English Toffee, Fast Lane (a rarity of Celestial Seasonings; it actually has more caffeine than regular coffee), Tummy Mint (it works; it’s the peppermint), Throat Tamer and Honey Vanilla Chamomile.

And while you’re in the Boulder area, I highly recommend a great place for brunch, Lucile’s Creole Cafe. Lucile’s calls itself “Colorado’s Finest Creole Cafe.” I can’t imagine they have a lot of competition for the title, but they do serve some mighty fine food. 

Lucile's, home of killer tomato juice

We were ready for a wait, but there wasn’t one. Lucile’s is in an old house on 14th Street, fairly loud and a bit crowded with tables, but the food makes up for all that. Come hungry and order light.

My two brunch companions went for he-man style breakfast plates, with biscuits as big as a cat’s head. They also had coffee, a strong Louisiana-style brew. I chose the homemade tomato juice. It was heaven in a glass.  It tasted like someone had squeezed just-from-the-garden tomatoes right into a tumbler. I loved it. I also ordered iced tea, which I didn’t like so much … it was a cinnamon-spice flavor, too overwhelming for a cold beverage.

I also decided to get the special waffle with fruit. I started laughing when it was put in front of me. The waffle was dinner-plate size, with TWO bananas sliced on top and about two cups of berries sprinkled over it. All that was covered with whipped cream. (It took me a while to find the bananas.) All in all, a delicious and totally filling brunch.

The Rodney Dangerfield of Christmas confection

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Doorstop, paperweight, boat anchor.

The gift nobody wants. You’ve heard the joke – there’s only one fruitcake in the world and people just keep passing it around.

Poor maligned fruitcake. Most of us can’t think of anyone who actually likes it, yet the fruitcake business thrives, year after year. Somebody out there is eating those fruitcakes.

When I was a kid, my father always got a lot of holiday gifts from companies he did business with. And without fail, every year some company sent a fruitcake. There it was, in that red-striped rectangular box: the Claxton Fruitcake. Now, when he came home with the huge assortment of deluxe mixed nuts or the giant Whitman’s Sampler, we all dug in with gusto. But when the fruitcake arrived … there it sat, under the tree until the last ornament was boxed and the tinsel was vacuumed away. Even the dog wouldn’t touch it.

What is it about fruitcake? It’s cake, it’s fruit … we like cake and fruit. But we seem to loathe that little loaf.

For me, it’s the fruit, the unnaturally bright green and red cherries. I am pretty sure cherries shouldn’t be green. I do like pecans, though, and sometimes I would pick those out. And you know what, nobody seemed to mind.

Years later, I found myself living in Texas, near a fruitcake company called Mary of Puddin Hall. What a magical place! Mary was a real person, a woman named Mary Horton Lauderdale. As a young married student at the University of Texas in the late 1940s, Mary made and sold fruitcake to make extra money. Her recipe was one handed down from her great-grandmother. Instant success! Later, Mary and husband Sam moved the business to her hometown of Greenville, Texas, and it’s there to this day, just off Interstate 30, about an hour away from Dallas.

Mary’s fruitcake is different. It has cherries, pineapple and dates, but no citron, spices or preservatives. It also contains more pecans than any fruitcake I’ve seen. (They also make a walnut version.)  At the store, they always had lots of samples, so I got to taste the fruitcake. They also made a product called Little Puds, which were individual-sized fruitcakes. And for more calories than you ever dreamed possible, they made chocolate-covered Little Puds. A check of the website (www.puddinhill.com) tells me that either they don’t make those anymore or the fruitcake section of my brain isn’t functioning anymore.

I once toured the kitchens at Puddin Hill and watched the workers mix the fruitcake by hand. They still use that same recipe that was passed down by Mary’s great-grandmother. To this day, it hasn’t changed.

To be fair, we never actually bought a Puddin Hill fruitcake for ourselves. We sampled quite a bit, but when it came to making a purchase, we’d opt for one of the other fabulous treats churned out by the Puddin Hill kitchens. But we purchased a couple as gifts for a friend who actually ‘fesses up to fruitcake fandom.

If I got a fruitcake for Christmas, I might just save it until January and then venture out to Manitou Springs, Colo., where on Jan. 8, the annual Fruitcake Toss will be held. Each year, hundreds gather in this town south of Denver to throw or catapult their unwanted fruitcakes. It’s all in good humor, and for a good cause too – admission to the toss is a canned good, which is donated to local food banks.

Poor, unwanted fruitcake. 

If you find yourself with untouched fruitcake, I have a recipe to share. It comes from one of my very favorite cookbooks of all time, The Puddin Hill Cookbook. Published in 1988 and written by Mary’s daughter, Pud Kearns (yes, that’s what everyone calls her). my copy is ragged, dog-eared, stained and much loved. 

Fruitcake Ice Cream

Half gallon good quality vanilla ice cream
2 cups crumbled fruitcake
1/2 cup bourbon, cognac or rum
Chocolate sauce and toasted fruitcake crumbles (optional)

Soften ice cream until it can be stirred. Blend in fruitcake and bourbon. Refreeze until serving time. Top with chocolate sauce thinned with a bit of bourbon, rum or cognac, if desired, nad garnish with toasted fruitcake crumbles.

Toasted fruitcake crumbles: Spread crumbled fruitcake on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees until lightly toasted – about 8 minutes. Sprinkle over ice cream instead of nuts.

Warning: If you like this recipe, you’ll have to find a new doorstop.

The Nationalization of Pimento Cheese

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Recently I had lunch with a group of colleagues at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor, Mich. We were looking over the menu and one exclaimed,”Oh, pimento cheese! They have pimento cheese! Have you ever had it?”

I was surrounded by non-Southerners. Some had tried it; most had never heard of it.

Pimento cheese reared its Southern head twice on that menu. Once, as an appetizer (at $5.75) and in a main dish pasta, called Pimento Cheese and Peppered Bacon Macaroni, for $18.50. Someone at the table ordered the macaroni dish, and when it arrived, my fellow diners viewed it as scientists pondering a microscope slide.

“This is pimento cheese?”

Isn’t this interesting? What kind of cheese is this?”

“So I guess you just make the pimento cheese sauce and mix it in with the macaroni and bacon.”

Being the well-brought-up Southern girl I am, I smiled, nodded and took the taste that was offered.

But, just between you and me, here are my answers:

No, this is not pimento cheese.

No, it is not interesting. It is weird. Pimento cheese is made with sharp orange cheddar. It is NOT made with white cheese.

You do not make “pimento cheese sauce.” It’s not a sauce, it’s a spread.

Can you tell I’m a pimento cheese purist?

Well, by golly, I’ve got a right to be. Like most Southerners my age, I grew up eating pimento cheese. My mom made it in a big bowl, covered it and kept it in the refrigerator. Summer lunches were either sandwiches of pimento cheese or tomato, both served on Bunny Bread white. For a special treat, my mother might toast that pimento cheese sandwich until the filling got all melty.

Who could have predicted that our little pimento cheese would grow up to be a trendy food?

Well, it’s happened. Pimento cheese is popping up everywhere. Food blogs all over the country are extolling the virtues of this Southern classic. In Texas, they’re serving it with Fritos. One food columnist called it the “South’s answer to queso dip.” Restaurants are serving it with BLTs, in a spread with pineapple and pita points. New York magazine called it “the country bumpkin of hamburger toppings.”

Nation’s Restaurant News, a magazine for the food-service industry predicts pimento cheese will be the fourth biggest restaurant trend in 2011 (behind neckmeats, whey and kumquats). I promise I am not making this up.

When my non-Southern dining companions found out that I’d been eating pimento cheese since I was a tadpole, they peppered me with questions about how to make it at home. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and I’m going to tell you how to do it, so you can impress all your friends and be trendy.

(If you want to serve this with neckbones and kumquats, you’re on your own.)

Pimento Cheese

All you need to make pimento cheese

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
That’s right. It really is this simple. You need sharp cheddar, a little jar of diced pimento, mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s Light, always. Use what you like, but in the name of Paula Deen, do not use Miracle Whip. Because you know what? It isn’t mayonnaise!), salt, pepper and cayenne pepper.
 
You also need a bowl and a grater. I’ve had that box grater from Williams Sonoma for more than 20 years and I love it. (A note here about cheese: Notice that you don’t see packages of grated cheese in this picture? There’s a reason for that. First, it just doesn’t taste good. It’s coated with powdered cellulose to keep it from sticking together. That’s a sawdust derivative. It won’t kill you, but it will make your cheese taste icky. And really, how hard is it to grate cheese??)
 
So let’s start by grating that cheese
 

Cheddar cheese, grated

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Admit it. Doesn’t that look so much better than the pre-shredded stuff? You know it does.
 
To that beautiful mound of shredded sharp cheese, add the little jar of pimento and about 3/4 cup of mayo. Add salt, pepper and a dash of cayenne. Mix it up. As you mix, the cheese shreds will get mashy I used 24 ounces of cheese, and I ended up adding just a little more mayo. You want it just held together, not mayonnaise-y. When you’re finished, it will look like this:
The finished product

 

 
 
 
 
 
How easy was that? Make a sandwich, slather it on a celery stick, spread it on a cracker. I just hope that pimento cheese will keep its Southern humility with all this trendy attention. I’d hate to see our old friend get above its raisings.

Beauty everywhere

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Growing up amid the pines and rolling foothills of North Carolina formed my concept of beauty in nature. I loved what I knew. My family had a cabin in Ashe County, North Carolina, so the New River and the mountains surrounding it were also benchmarks of beauty.

As I got a little older, trips to Myrtle Beach and the North Carolina coast allowed me to appreciate the white sand meeting the vast ocean, the shimmer of water in the sun and the sensation of standing perfectly still on the sand as water rushed around my feet, leaving me balancing on a tiny patch of wet sand.

Traveling the world has broadened my concept of beauty in nature. I think that’s the reason I’ve never been homesick. Beauty is everywhere, in a million forms. That revelation came to me not long after I moved to Texas. There wasn’t a pine tree or rolling hill in sight, just flat land everywhere I looked and the widest sky. Driving in rural Grimes County, Texas, on a late afternoon, I was struck by how beautiful it truly was. And I realized that a place didn’t have to be home to be beautiful.

I fell in love with the desert more than 20 years ago. Before I went to Las Vegas for the first time (in June yet!), friends warned me about extreme heat and barren landscape. But when I got there, all I saw was amazing craggy mountains, expansive desert and the most beautiful, blazing sunsets.

I was lucky enough to get to the desert in winter, too. In December 2007, I spent about a week in Phoenix. It was a lovely time to be there; the days were warm and sunny, the nights were clear and cool. Back in the 1920s, Phoenix was recognized as an alternative to winters in Florida. After being there in December, I understand why.

The Arizona Biltmore

Charles and Warren McArthur, scions of a wealthy Chicago family, arrived in the Arizona desert in the second decade of the 20th century with big ideas. The territory had just become the 48th state and the brothers were ahead of the boom, opening a string of Dodge dealerships, the first car lots in Arizona.

But the McArthur brothers wanted to do more than just sell cars. They had escaped the brutal Chicago winter, and they felt that warm, dry Phoenix had a climate other Northerners could appreciate.

The McArthurs set out to create a desert resort that would become a magnet for the wealthy Jazz Age social set.  With help from their architect brother, Albert McArthur, they started building the fabulous Arizona Biltmore, a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired destination in the Sonoran Desert at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Great idea. Bad timing.

The dazzling hotel opened in February 1929, just eight months before the stock market crash. The McArthurs tried to hold on, but within a year, they gave control of the Arizona Biltmore to an investor, William Wrigley, the chewing gum and baseball magnate.

Wrigley died in 1932, but the Arizona Biltmore stayed in family hands until the 1970s. The resort has long been a playground for the rich and famous – Ronald and Nancy Reagan honeymooned there; Sandra Day O’Connor was married in the Aztec Room and John McCain held his wedding reception in the same elegant room with the gold-leaf paint. Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” by one of the resort’s many swimming pools, and every sitting president since 1929 (except Obama)has vacationed there.

Eightysome years later, the prescience of the McArthur brothers is astounding. Where others saw a rough-and-tumble western town, the McArthurs saw luxury and glamour. Indeed they were correct – the Phoenix area offers 19 AAA Four Diamond lodgings and six Five Diamond lodgings. Few metropolitan areas can match that total.

The Biltmore is a sprawling property, with 740 rooms, 78 villas, eight swimming pools and seven tennis courts. It’s said that Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” sitting by a pool at the Biltmore. Marilyn Monroe called the pool at the Biltmore her favorite.

When you go to the Biltmore, it’s easy to imagine it in his glory days.

And being there in winter is perfect because you can enjoy the day and night. When visitors come in the summer, I was told, they often sleep the day away to escape the punishing sun. So going to Phoenix in winter or spring makes great sense.

Whether your interest is hiking, cultural enrichment, sightseeing, golf, shopping, sports or just cooling off by the pool, there’s a resort in the Phoenix area that’s just right for you.

We crossed the sprawling Valley of the Sun to settle into another resort, the 248-room Radisson Fort McDowell Resort and Casino, on the far edge of Scottsdale, near Fountain Hills. The hotel, which opened in 2005, is on the desert  land of the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. It’s charming and warm with a light-filled, two-story rock-walled lobby that has a welcoming lodge-y feel. Outdoor pools and hot tubs are open 24 hours. Sitting in a chaise lounge watching the sunset in a blazing palette of purple, pink, orange and blue is an unforgettable experience. Grab a jacket, though – when the sun goes down, the temperature drops and a chill sets in quickly.

Step outside the hotel lobby, walk a curving path and down a staircase, and you’ll see the Fort McDowell Casino, run by the Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation. Open 24 hours a day, the casino features blackjack, poker and 775 slot machines. Each hotel guest gets a $10 casino credit; we used ours after 11 p.m. one weeknight and turned it into $158 cash within 30 minutes.

The lights of Noches de las Luminarias

But what I loved most in Phoenix may have been a night at the Desert Botanical Gardens, a 50-acre showcase for more than 50,000 plants and flowers, including 139 rare and endangered species. If you’re visiting Phoenix around the holidays, don’t miss the Botanical Garden’s annual Las Noches de las Luminarias. More than 7,000 tiny white lights are placed on plants and along trails in the gardens; another 8,000 are in bags placed along the winding sidewalks. Entertainers ranging from swing groups to jazz bands perform throughout the park.  Visitors gather, sip wine and cider and enjoy the music from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. This year, the event starts Dec. 9.

In the spring, the Garden’s Marshall Butterfly Pavilion sponsors an exhibit celebrating the diversity of the North American butterfly.

For a taste of Southwestern culture, a trip to the Heard Museum is a must. The Heard houses an amazing collection of Native American art, including handmade pottery, jewelry, baskets and kachina figurines carved by Hopi Indians.

Frank Lloyd Wright's "desert camp"

Architectural icon Frank Lloyd Wright’s work inspired the Arizona Biltmore, and Wright’s consulting work on the hotel drew him to the Phoenix area. He decided to stay, constructing a winter home in the foothills of the McDowell Mountains in Scottsdale. Visitors can tour the property, but don’t expect a traditional museum setting. The tour is about 90 minutes in length, and there’s not a velvet rope in sight to keep people off the furniture and carpets. Instead, visitors are encouraged to sit on the Wright-designed furniture and get a feel for the complex that was Wright’s home in the final years of his life. Taliesin West now is home to an architecture school that bears Wright’s name and about 70 people live on the 600-acre “desert camp.” If you’re a Wright fan, as I am, you will love seeing his work and experiencing how he lived.

Look at me, I’m flying

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The world at 2,000 feet

My colleague Gary and me, just before our hang gliding adventure

I’m a card-carrying member of the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.

All because I went wacky one day this summer and went hang gliding at Lookout Mountain on a visit to Chattanooga. I’ve always been a person who hates riding glass elevators, doesn’t get close to the edge of anything and who never looks out the plane window.

But I had a chance to hang glide. And in a moment of crazy weakness, I decided to face my fears and go flying.

They say that hang gliding is the closest a human can come to soaring like a bird. I have always imagined what it would be like to fly. How joyous to be whizzing around in the sky, not encased in metal, but flying free, above the treeline, wind in my face, at one with the nature.

Of course, I immediately Googled “hang gliding danger” and “hang gliding deaths.” I found out that it’s a safe endeavour; in fact, one site said that it’s far more dangerous to drive. After reading all the safe stats, my fears were pushed away. Grounded, you might say.

So I signed up for a tandem glide. This means I was sharing the glider with an instructor. For most of the glide, he did everything, but he did let me steer around a bit, which was scary and exhilarating at the same time. Exhilarating for me, scary for him.

I started off by strapping myself into a harness. Check out my photo here to see my lovely (and safe) attire. There was a hook on my back; that hook connected to the glider so I wouldn’t go free-falling. Unless, of course, the glider did!

While waiting for my number to be called, I watched the other gliders. It looked easy: Your number is called, you walk over, meet your instructor and are hooked to the glider. You’re lying flat, suspended in air by your harness, a foot or so off the ground. Your glider is attached to a light plane, which pulls it along the ground, then lifts. Woo-hoo! You’re flying!

Some hang-gliders jump off the side of a mountain. That’s not recommended on your first flight. But before coming to the landing zone where tandem gliders take off and land, I stopped at Lookout Mountain Flight Park to nervously sign papers and pay for the tandem flight ($149). I’m a card-carrying member of the US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association because the fee covers it, and you have to be a member to take the flight. While there, I watched a number of brave souls get a running start before leaping off the side of Lookout Mountain to float away. I was cheered by the fact that no one plummeted toward Earth and there was no screaming.

Back at the landing zone, my number was called. I walked over and shook hands with my instructor, Dan Zink. Dan’s an experienced glider with hundreds of hours of flight time. He showed me how it all works: The glider itself is an aluminum frame and you steer it by shifting your weight and gripping the bar. Pull it in to go faster, away to slow down. Move to the left to go left, and to the right to go right. It sounded simple enough. No motors, no steering wheel. Just me and an aluminum bar. And Dan.

Dan explained that the ultra-light plane would take us up, and at 2,000 feet, we’d unhook. At that point, we would be on our own. The flight would last about 15 minutes, he said.

Lying in that prone position, watching them attach that tiny line from plane to glider, I had to wonder what I was getting into. Then we started moving, and in seconds we were aloft, tagging along behind the ultra-light plane. I felt like a kite, whipping around in the wind.

Dan had said that when the plane unhooked us, we’d drop a little. The line jerked and we started to fall . It was a scary feeling, if only for a second. Then Dan pulled the bar closer to us and we were soaring.

The first thing I noticed was the silence. Absolute, utter silence. No hum of a motor, no whir of a propeller. Just Dan and me and the glider. The view was outstanding, but it was that silence that stays with me. I could see the tops of trees and the landing zone was only a speck. And we were just flying slowly, in a circle. Two big birds.

But Dan was all for a big finish. My friends on the ground told me that when we came in for the landing, he buzzed the deck where everyone was sitting. “I could have grabbed your sneaker,” one person told me. “You daredevil!”

I didn’t see the landing.He told me the big finish was coming, and my chicken nature came out: I closed my eyes.

But I was brave for a while. For about 10 peaceful minutes, I didn’t fear heights. I could hear heights, and I loved it.

Gratitude – and Waldorf Salad

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Last Thanksgiving I read a quote that resonated with me. It was: “If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”

It’s really as simple as that, isn’t it? I’ve tried to keep those words in my mind for the past 365 days. In a year that’s been tough in many, many ways, those words have given me strength. Because as hard as things can be and sometimes are, it’s important to remember that there is always much to give thanks for.

Today, most of us will spend time with people we love. We’ll eat too much. We’ll take a tryptophan-induced nap, enjoy the crispness of the fall air, listen to “Alice’s Restaurant” or watch “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” the greatest Thanksgiving movie ever.

I’ll do all those things, because it’s just tradition. And in the midst of it all, I’ll be thankful that I’m here for another round; that on most days, my compassionate heart trumps my cynical brain; and that I love a lot of people in this world and a few of them love me back.

I love to cook, but today, I’m just an eater. My sister is the Thanksgiving Czar in our family. I am usually asked to bring Waldorf Salad. I really should call it Apple Surprise because every year, I make a slightly different version. There are always apples, and there’s always celery. After that, I get a little crazy. This year, I have three kinds of apples, pecans, grapes, tart cherries and celery. Here’s the recipe.

This year's Waldorf Salad

Waldorf Salad, v2010

  • 2/3 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (I always use Hellman’s Light. It’s a compulsion)
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream (light, not fat-free. Fat-free is just scary)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (I use Splenda)
  • 3 large apples, cored and cut into cubes. (I used a Granny Smith, a Red Delicious and a Gala)
  • 1 1/3 cups very thinly sliced celery
  • 1 1/3 cups red seedless grapes, halved
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted (ALWAYS toast nuts. It brings out incredible flavor)

Soak cherries in 1 cup boiling water until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Whisk mayonnaise and next 3 ingredients in large bowl. Add apples, celery, grapes, pecans and cherries; toss. Season with salt and pepper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If you won’t scan, you’ll get the hand

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Tomorrow’s the day for giving thanks,
But today, travelers swell up in their ranks.
They’re saying, by protest, there just ain’t no way
That they should submit to invasive x-ray.
These days, air travel is a colossal pain.
You practically strip to get on the plane.
They’ve taken our tweezers and all sharp surprises,
We have to buy inconvenient small sizes.
Our shoes must come off, our bracelet, our belt
And if you don’t pass … well, you’ll be deeply felt.
Yes, fellow travelers, it looks like we’re hexed.
We’re all left to wonder what on Earth could be next.

Remember the good old days? Back when you could take your full-size hair spray on the plane in your carry-on bag? When you could tuck a jar of your aunt’s blackberry jam in your purse? When you could have a drink with a friend who had a few hours to kill at the airport?

We’re coming up on 10 years since air travel changed forever in this country. And that’s a story this week, because passengers all over the country are threatening to protest the Transportation Safety Administration’s new body scanner.

You don’t have to go through the scanner. It’s a choice. If you refuse, though, you’ll be subjected to a thorough pat-down. No wand-waving, no flat-palmed random pats.

I’m an old-school civil libertarian on most issues, but on this one, well, I’ll be scanned. I have a choice in the matter. I’m not required to fly. No one is. You can drive, walk, take a train, skateboard or pogo stick. But, these days, if you fly, this is what you get.  

My dangerous scissors

I’m no million-miler but I do fly eight or 10 times a year. I boarded a plane just weeks after 9-11. My suitcase was searched, I was patted and wanded, and my cute, couldn’t-cut-butter stork embroidery scissors were confiscated. I didn’t protest. I didn’t want the terrorists to win, as the catch-phrase of day went.

My problem with our security measures is that they’re always reactionary. We’re not ahead of anything; we just roll out new rules when something happens. In 2010, this country will spend more than $80 billion on intelligence. With all that money spent, why are we always reacting? Shouldn’t we have procedures in place that anticipate, not react?

I don’t think today’s airport protests, if they happen at all, mean a thing. We’ve played along for 10 years as security checks have become more invasive. If you’ve spent any time in an airport security line, you know that passengers can be touchy. Now the TSA is reacting by being touchy-feely.

No one, it seems, is immune. In this country, we’re all about equal opportunity. They’re searching handbags and backpacks, white-haired grandmas and pre-teens too. Where does it stop? If you fly, it doesn’t – and it probably won’t.

We’ve learned that there is a lot of evil in the world and there are a lot of people who wish to harm us. And they’re going to keep trying to do that, and we’re going to keep reacting. And it’s never going to stop, because evil resides in the soul and there’s no scan to detect that.

It seems to me that it’s less about what’s carried onto the plane and more about who’s getting on the plane. Maybe there are no bad objects, just bad people. With all the money we spend on intelligence, why don’t we get a bead on those Most-Likely-To-Obliterate?

To do that, we have to be pre-emptive, not reactionary. When avowed haters who learn to fly, but not land, planes jump on a jet, might those be the people who get the invasive scan? Like or not, there’s all kinds of information out there on people who are getting on planes. Why don’t we have the intelligence to use the intelligence?

For those of us who are out here living our lives, it’s hard to comprehend the absolute evil that is terrorism. It’s hard to anticipate what might happen, because it’s just beyond the way we think.

I wish that scans weren’t necessary. I wish we’d think of another way to detect shoe bombs, cartridge bombs, underwear bombs and whatever other evil lurks among us. I wish flying was easy again.

But the fact is that we make it harder all the time. We’re just reacting. And airport protests won’t change a thing.

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