Paladini Potpie

Adventures within The Crust!


The Hope Diamond

There were umbrellas, books, jackets, gloves and sweaters. And there was a Tupperware box to hold smaller things. Today it contained at least 50 items. Besides photos, scraps of notes and bookmarks, there were keys, watches, sunglasses and pieces of broken jewelry.

I was working at the lost and found counter at church. Most of the things were tagged with a date, and if they weren’t claimed in three months they were donated to a local non-profit thrift store. The trash, broken bits of jewelry, and torn clothing were tossed.

I picked up a key ring and stared at it in wonder. It had been in the box three weeks. These electronic car keys cost about $100 to replace. Don’t people realize when they’ve lost their keys? How do they get home? I hated to think of all the lost things that would never be returned to their owner.

“Excuse me…?” I looked up into the worried face of a woman who looked like she was ready to break into tears. She said, “I know this is impossible, but I lost the diamond out of my ring.” She extended her hand to show me the empty setting. “Did anyone turn in a diamond?”

I looked in all the corners of the plastic container, but sadly, there was no diamond. “When did you notice it was missing?” I asked her, “Where were you sitting?”

She told me as much as she could remember.

“Well,” I suggested, “They’re cleaning up the auditorium. Let’s say a prayer together right now, and then I’ll go tell the men to keep their eyes open for it.” Actually, they were more than “cleaning up” the auditorium. About 30 men were feverishly dismantling the huge room.  They were taking down the neat rows of chairs and setting the room up with dozens tables and chairs for a special ladies’ dinner that night. It was chaos!

I had very little hope that a diamond could be found, but we held hands and prayed; and the lady gave me her phone number and left. John happened to walk by just then, so I asked him if he would spread the word.

Less than three minutes later he walked back to the counter grinning. “You are not going to believe this!” He held out his hand and the diamond lay sparkling on his palm! “I told Chuck about it,” John explained, “because he was getting ready to vacuum before they set up the tables. There were gum wrappers and all kinds of little bits of trash on the floor. And then a minute later I walked into the auditorium he came up to me holding it in his hand!” John shook his head in disbelief.

As fast as I could, I called the lady who had lost her diamond. She had not even reached her house yet.

There was great rejoicing that day! Everyone was talking about the lost and found diamond. So many people were encouraged by the story. When something that amazing and nearly impossible happens, it gives you hope for just about anything!

A week later I was once again at my lost and found “station”. I decided to go through the plastic box and get rid of some of the odd bits of paper and pens and useless broken things. There was so much junk in the box that we could easily miss small valuable things. (Like a diamond!)

I began to make a little trash pile…a couple of torn book marks, a lipstick, a lego man, a some hair barrettes…I picked up a broken bracelet and started to put it in the pile, but then I reconsidered. The clasp was broken but maybe it was still important to someone. It was very pretty – with rhinestones all around like a diamond tennis bracelet. I put it back in the box.

“Excuse me, Andee?” I looked up to see Chuck. Yes, the same Chuck who had found the lost diamond the previous week. He stood there with his wife, Vickie, and they looked stricken. “Has anyone turned in a diamond bracelet?”

Hardly daring to hope, I fished through the stuff in the Tupperware container. “Is this it?” I held up what I had thought was rhinestone costume jewelry, and watched relief and delight wash over Vickie’s face! It was a real diamond bracelet Chuck had just given his wife for their anniversary.

To this day I am thankful for what I see as an example of the Lord’s interest in the details of our lives. Chuck’s faithfulness and honesty had brought hope to so many of us when we heard the story of a single diamond actually being found in the huge auditorium. And a week later the blessing was returned to him twenty times over!


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D.C. Diatribe

I stood at the Lincoln Memorial, rooted in place.  The reason I was rooted in place is because my feet were stuck to the marble floor by about four layers of spilled soda, and who-knows-what-else. 

It was a far cry from the shining monument Mr. Smith visited when he went to Washington. It was even a far cry from the Lincoln Memorial our family visited on Monica’s eighth grade school trip.

As I stood there facing President Lincoln I had to struggle not to cry. I was overcome by a wave of desolation and hopelessness.

I don’t base my hope on the government or Washington D.C. — Of course I don’t! But I had been looking forward to a patriotic “shot in the arm”.   All my life, my heart has lifted at the sight of our flag waving, or the sound of our national anthem being well sung or played. 

I had told Monica and Dan that I didn’t really care what kind of “touristy” things we did while we were in Maryland– it would all be fun! But the one thing I really did want to do was go to Washington D.C.  I didn’t want to tour the Smithsonian Museums because I knew there wouldn’t be time to do them justice.  I just wanted to walk around D.C and bask in the greatness of our heritage.

We did walk around D.C.  Oh yes we did!  Dan retraced our steps later on Google Maps and we walked more than seven miles around the city that afternoon. 

And speaking of walking, as we walked along I kept sort of tripping on the brick pavement.  After I had stumbled three or four times my family began to look at me askance.  Then John tripped. Then Monica.  Then we saw a man prying up bricks.  He might have been hiding a geocache, but he looked more as though he was searching for spare change.  At any rate, we finally understood that we were tripping, not so much because we’re clumsy, but because the bricks get pulled up, and then they are  not set precisely back in place.

For the most part, it was a fun day. There were great high points like the well-maintained Viet Nam Memorial and the beautiful new World War II Memorial. But the National Mall, and surrounding areas, felt like an inner city slum.  It broke my heart. 

As I looked at all the tourists from other countries I wondered what they must be thinking. 

The grass was brown and dying.  We had visited Gettysburg National Park a few days earlier and the grass was luscious and green. We went to several neighborhood parks in Maryland and the grass was rich and beautiful. The Spilmans’ own yard had a lovely lawn. But the grass on our National Mall was sparse and brown.

We stopped at a public restroom, and – not to get too graphic – it was dirtier than the worst gas station restroom I have ever been in. There was no toilet paper in any of the stalls and no paper towels, except those littering the floor. (This was the case in both the men’s and women’s rest rooms.)

Now desolation vied in my heart with anger. If there is any place in our country that should be well-cared-for, it should be our Nation’s Capitol.

Perspective returned to me as we crossed the river to the Jefferson Memorial. The grass was greener and the memorial cleaner.  My heart rose as I looked up at the statue of the man who penned so many of the great words of our American heritage. 

On the wall of The Jefferson Monument I read “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever.” 

America was founded on great and godly principles, and I’ve come home determined to pray for our country and our leaders; and to do what I can to work toward a return to those principles.


The Lady With The Dog

“Hello there!” The woman patted Simon on the head and chatted with him while I stood off to the side, curious. We were at the counter of my vet’s office. Simon and I had just paid for his shots and were getting ready to leave, when this smiling woman came in with a cat carrier on her arm. “Hello!” She finally turned to me. “I recognized your dog. You walk by my house every morning. I live in the house on such and such a street…”

We introduced ourselves and had a few moments of small talk. I’ve never read Chekhov’s “The Lady With The Dog” but that’s how I feel. The lady with the dog.
People may or may not recognize me, but they always know my dog. 

Simon and I walk three miles almost every morning. I mapped out a one-mile-loop and we do it three times. Fortunately I live within a mile of the only hills in Modesto, so it’s a great workout.

The mile includes some lovely, expensive homes; some rather run-down homes; and a stretch along the river that feels almost like countryside. I love to watch the changing seasons as we walk the same route every day.

It’s completely residential, but I hardly ever speak to anyone because I hardly ever see anyone. A couple of times a week I see someone pulling out of their driveway and I always get a cheerful wave and a smile. On the rare times I see someone in their yard they smile and seem to know me. And they always greet my dog. One lady actually came out of her house one day to take a closer look, and comment about Simon’s new very short haircut. She said, “I almost didn’t recognize him.” (We had never before had a conversation.)

A few years ago there was a woman who walked by our house every single morning at 6:45. If I was in the yard, we said hello and exchanged pleasantries.  She was so faithful. I think she walked by our house every morning for three years. I didn’t know her at all, but I felt a warm feeling toward her because of her faithfulness.

Faithful. It occurs to me that that’s how people see me: “The lady with the dog – they walk by every morning.”

I like to think that my faithfulness in this small thing is making a tiny impact on the lives of people who see us walk by every day.

And it makes me long to be faithful in even bigger things.


Mrs. Spilman’s Crab Cakes

The T-shirt had a picture of the cutest little crab in the world, but it said “I’m crabby. Leave me alone!”  I usually don’t like to see kids wearing shirts that say things like that. I never, in all my born days, thought I’d be buying such a T-shirt. But there I was – the quintessential grandma – at the counter of the Baltimore gift shop buying, not one, but three of them!

One was for baby, Nathan, and a couple for Ethan and Angelina, who will hopefully be my grandchildren someday. (Their beautiful mommy is dating Matthew.)

I promised myself that I would tell the kids the shirts are not a license to be crabby. But they seemed like the perfect souvenir of our trip.

Marylanders love crab!

I think every restaurant in the Baltimore area serves crab in one form or another. Crab chowder, crab salad, or just plain crab. I didn’t actually see “crab legs and eggs”, but I’m pretty sure it must be served somewhere!

The Chesapeake Burger, or some other version of a crab cake on a bun, was on every hamburger menu right there along with the grilled chicken burger.
I was in heaven!

One high point of our visit was when Dan went to the drive-up seafood store and bought a half  bushel of deliciously cooked, whole crabs.

We piled them on newspaper down the length of the picnic table…What a feast!

But the crabby delight didn’t end with that! All week there was a little undercurrent of anticipation because Mrs. Spilman had promised to make crab cakes on her day off. I was really excited about that, since I’d been wanting a good recipe for those delectable crustacean creations!

And I wasn’t disappointed. Mrs. Spilman’s crab cakes were the best I have ever eaten. I appreciate her sharing the recipe with me, and thanks to Robin for taking all the great pictures of the preparation.

Mrs. Spilman’s Crab Cakes

3 cups (1 lb) cooked crab (canned crab works fine.)

1/3 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 Tbsp. mayonaise

1/4 cup diced green pepper

1 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce

2 Tbsp. snipped fresh parsley

1/2 tsp. dry mustard

3/4 tsp. salt

1 egg

ground black pepper to taste

about 3 Tbsp. butter

Mrs. Spilman had planned to use any leftover crab from our crab feed, but since there was not so much as a scrap or claw left, she used the canned variety.

Shred the crab meat into fine pieces

(You may notice that the large bowl Mrs. Spilman uses to mix her crab cakes is the very same bowl we used for the game of  celebrities.)

Add all the other ingredients except butter.

Mix well.

Divide mixture into eight portions, and shape into patties. (Mrs. Spilman made a double recipe on this occasion)

Melt the butter in frying pan and begin to fry the cakes when the butter is hot.

Flatten the cakes with the back of the spatula as they cook. Fry until nicely browned and crisp.

Mrs. Spilman served her crab cakes with delicious fresh summer vegetables.

The recipe for Mrs. Spilman’s Crab Cakes is featured in our new Paper Cookbook. You may order yours with the link at the bottom of this page.

Buy yours Today. $7.95


Scrabble Anyone? – Part 5 of Our Love Story

I was startled to hear the doorbell late one afternoon.  I wasn’t expecting anyone…at least not for a couple of hours.

 “Surprise!”  My mom stood on the front porch.  She had decided to drive up from Southern California for a vist, taking the chance that I’d be home if she drove 300 miles and knocked on my door. (Obviously she knew I didn’t have much of a social life!)

 Well, I was home, but this evening I was actually getting ready for a date.

 “Hi mom!”  I was glad to see her, but as I explained, it was too late to break my date with Steve. I told her I would cancel my babysitter, and come home as early as I could.  Mom and six-year-old Matthew could play games keep each other company.  They were both happy with that plan.

 As I got dressed that evening, I had no idea that I was dressing for the last date of my life as an “unattached single woman”.

I thought about the previous weekend – my afternoon with John Paladini.  This dinner with Steve had already been planned, but now my heart wasn’t really in it. I had liked John more than I had expected last Sunday.  He had enjoyed it too, I guess. He sent me a thank you note.  (Who in the world sends a thank you note “for sharing your day with me”?)

 I think was a little smitten, but John hadn’t called again…

 And now, here it was, Friday night.  I was taking hot rollers out of my hair when the phone rang.

 It was John! He said he had enjoyed our date on Sunday and wondered if I was free to do something the following evening, Saturday.

 My mind was racing. Mom had just driven all this way up to see me, and I was heading out the door on a date I was less than excited about.  I couldn’t very well ask her to stay home a second night and watch Matthew while I went out again. Even if it was with John. Rats!

 “Do you like to play Scrabble?” I asked him tentatively.

 I told him about my mom’s surprise visit, and asked if he’d like to come over and play Scrabble with us.

 He immediately said yes!

 You may remember that I had somewhat frivolously put Scrabble on my list, but of course John knew nothing of that. He had played a dozen times or so in his life, while I was a bit of a fanatic.

 John, my mom and I played two games of Scrabble the following night, and then mom went to bed. John and I played a third game.  That’s about six hours of words, on and off the board.

 Long after midnight we said goodnight.  It would be many weeks before we held hands or kissed, but that was the night we began to fall in love.

 As an epilogue – we have continued to play Scrabble since we’ve been married.  We have kept a cumulative score all these years and we’re well matched. On our ninth anniversary our score was tied. As of today John has 53, 890 and I have 54,144.

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The Edible Canoe

We thought the Goodyear Blimp had landed in our backyard when we stepped outside after we got home from our trip to Maryland. But it was only an overgrown zucchini.  Always the subject of much joking – what do you do with huge overgrown zucchini?  It has been suggested that one can be hollowed out and used as a canoe…But I have a better idea.Zucchini can easily be frozen and made into delicious creamy soup in November when it costs about three dollars a pound in the produce department.


                                                                 Cut the zucchini in half

                                                                     and scoop out the seeds.


                                                                                Peel it.

                                                                              Dice it.

Measure the diced zucchini into four-cup batches…

… in order to freeze it in quart bags.  This will be a perfect amount of zucchini for a pot of my delicious, easy, cream of zucchini soup. 

I’ll post my recipe around the time of the first frost… Right now I’m going to go eat a fresh drippy tomato! 

Did I mention that we also found more ripe tomatoes than we knew what to do with, as we explored the wild overgrown tangle of our garden?  Salsa, salads, tomato sandwiches, sharing with the neighbors…and there were still some left.

My mom would have pulled out her canning jars, and at certain times of my life I’ve done that too.  But guess what?  Freezing tomatoes is as easy as pie! (Much easier, in fact.) 

You don’t have to blanch them or peel them. You don’t have a dozen jars to wash. Just wash the tomatoes and freeze them on a tray.

After they are frozen solid you can dump them into a bag and be pretty rough with them, but be gentle with them before they are frozen.

And then in a few months – say November or December – when tomatoes cost about three dollars each (and taste completely bland!) you can pull out your bag of tasty frozen tomatoes.  

Dip the frozen tomato in boiling water for about 15 seconds and the skin will slide off easily.  Then let them defrost, and chop them up for your own delicious fresh, tasty salsa, or soup or marinara sauce!

PS – You can save summer strawberries and grapes this way too. Wash and core the berries.  Pull the grapes off the cluster and wash them.  Freeze the fruit in a  single layer on a tray and then dump it into a regular plastic bag or tupperward container.