Monday, October 29, 2012

Coughing with a chance of sneezes

I came down with a cold Friday and spent what I've been told by reliable witnesses was the most beautiful weekend of the season either asleep or in an illness induced fog. I'm better now. Not great, but better.

As previously stated, I've been mostly unconcious for the last 3 days, so in lieu of anything creative on my part I give you Eben and Smooch of Two Lumps: The Adventures of Ebenezer and Smooch.

Friday, October 26, 2012


This is what happens when you have a cold. You forget perfectly obvious things, like the Friday Feel good video. My apologies. Here it is.

Friday Feel Good Video

I found this when someone asked me to post a song that reminded me of my childhood. My parents may argue, but in reality I was raised by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

My only election post

A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently:

"If Romney wins the election, I am moving out of the country."

My reaction to that was:
  1. that's an over-reaction
  2. how incredibly selfish
I was in the minority opinion, judging by the amount of support she got in the comments. But let me explain what I mean by selfish.

Think of the government as doubles tennis. If you leave when you lose a game, you are not just exhibiting poor sportsmanship, you are ceding the title to the other side and leaving your partner in the lurch. It's a selfish reaction, because you are not doing your part to keep the game going.

Leaving the country is not an effective response. It's a pouty and privileged one, since most people can't leave the country when their side loses. "But you can vote from overseas." I hear you say. Yes, you can, but you can't change the dialogue, you can't talk with or influence other voters. If you were voting for the school board in California, would you take seriously the opinion of someone who is living in Germany?

I was impressed by the Tea Party. (Please note I did not say agree.) The Republicans were soundly beaten in 2008. These people got mad, they got organized, and they took Congress in 2010. That's an effective response. 

Democracy is not about everyone agreeing, it's about everyone being engaged and fighting for what they believe in. It's messy, loud, and uncivil, but it gives everyone a say. Leaving is giving up your turn at the microphone.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Recipe: Swiss Chard Tart

It's supposed to be Autumn. The calendar says so, the days are shorter, and the pecan trees are loaded with nuts; but the weather is still hitting 84°F (28.9°C) every day. I want to cook with the wonderful autumn vegetables that are in the market, but the traditional hearty stews, roasts and casseroles just seem heavy when you are wearing shorts and trying to stay cool.

So a compromise: an open face vegetable tart (very summer) made with autumnal veggies. 

Swiss Chard Tart
This is terrific. All of the ingredients are very ordinary things you can get almost year round, but it is more than the sum of its parts. It makes a wonderful lunch or light supper. It's also easy to put together, particularly if you cheat like I did and use a store bought pie crust. The hardest part was waiting for it to cool, because it smells fantastic!

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Ever had one of those days when you wake up with a headache? Yeah, it's that kind of day. I do have a really great recipe post planned , but it will have to wait until my head stops pounding. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Weekend update

I spent a very cultural weekend, starting with  at  Miller Outdoor Theater on Friday night. Miller is wonderful, not just because it's in the middle of one of my favorite parks, but because it's free and the programs are terrific. Case in point, Friday's program by Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernandez. If you ever get the chance to see them, go, it was fantastic.

I also saw "Life is a Dream" by Pedro Calderon de La Barca performed at the Main Street Theater. My friend Vero, who is Spanish and has actually read the original, told me that the translation was very good. A wonderful play.

But I didn't spend all my time at the theater - I was productive. I mowed the lawn, cleaned the house, cuddled the cat, did the laundry, bought groceries and went to every kitchenware store in Humble looking for a tart ring for a recipe I want to try. The other notable (stupid) thing I did was weed whack my own leg when I was edging the lawn. Ouch! 
Don't do this.
At least the lawn looks good.

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Defense of Luxury

Penfold's Block 42
I was poking around the internets the other day and found a story about a very expensive, special release bottle of vintage wine.

Of course, for that kind of money, you don't just get wine. There's a specially-commissioned bottle with precious metal detailing and that comes in a custom, handcrafted cabinet. Even empty, it's a pricey object. 
Normally, I'd see a story like this, think "Gee, the crazy stuff people will spend money on", and keep going; but my eye passed over the comments section. I avoid the comments section, as all the bile and vitriol of the world seems concentrated there. But this time I saw it, and in particular, I saw comments saying that people should not be spending money on luxuries, not when there are starving people in the world.
On the surface this seems like a compelling argument. No one needs a $168,000 bottle of wine, and the poor do need help. But if you've ever bought a pack of gum, then you've wasted money on a needless luxury that could have been used to help the poor. Any money spent on extras could be used to help the needy. The real offense here is the scale of the spending. Few people will guilt you over a chocolate bar, but buy a Lamborghini and the moral accountants appear to judge your actions. However:
  • Just because someone spends a lot of money on wine (or cars, or clothes, or whatever), doesn't mean that they don't spend money on charity.
  • Not buying hyper-expensive wine doesn't mean that the money will be spent on starving children. Maybe they'll buy diamonds, a wrought-iron dog run, or just leave it in the bank.  At least if they buy the wine, the money goes into circulation and keeps the luxury goods makers off the dole.
While I don't want to spend the price of a house on a single bottle of wine, I'm glad there's a market for it. I am in favor of luxury items. Can you imagine a world without luxury items? A life where you only get what you absolutely need and nothing more. It would be so dull and sad. Think of all the things that would be gone:
needless luxuries, all of them

toys, cake, nail polish, colored fabrics, cut glass, jewelry, perfume, art, cut flowers, lawns, theater, ornamental gardens, sports cars, fountains, candy, carpets, music, pillows, movies, upholstered furniture, alcohol, the list goes on and on.
And while I will never be among the super wealthy, I appreciate what money and vision can do. It is money and vision that produced the Eiffel Tower, glass windows, mirrors (the making of which led to the invention of telescopes and microscopes) bathrooms with hot and cold running water, the flush toilet (I am really grateful for that one), Oxford, ornamental gardens, palaces like the Hermitage and Versailles which make up the cultural heritage of the world - luxury items, each and every one, and aren't they grand?

Friday Feel Good Video
Something completely frivolous. Have a luxurious weekend.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You've been Chopped!

I like television. I know there are a lot of people who turn up their noses and say mean things about it, (stupid, mindless, valueless time-suck) but I feel that it's important to stay informed - I watch the news and try to keep up with the culture at large.

But until recently, I never had cable. I only watched broadcast television, because it was free. I haven't seen The Real Housewives of New York/Atlanta/Sheboygan/whatever. I have never seen an episode of Mad Men, The Sopranos, or Sex and the City. I am vaguely familiar with them all as cultural phenomena, but I couldn't pick the actors out of a line up (except Christina Hendricks - she was on my favorite doomed sci-fi series Firefly).  And that was okay by me. Broadcast has some excellent programs (Castle, Bones, The Big Bang Theory, Nova...) and the annual rebroadcast of How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 animated version - I have standards.) The local channels even showed reruns of Star Trek. What more can you want?

But to get any television at my new location, I have to have cable. I have now had cable for two months and it's like regular television, only more so: a whole lot of schlock and a few gems. (To put in in perspective: cable has added 50 new channels to my television line up - I watch 4 of them.) My new favorite is Chopped from the Food Network.  It's a cooking competition, where the chefs have to create dishes out of weird and wonderful ingredients that they have only just seen, and then they have 30 minutes to get it all cooked and on the plate. Oh, and presentation counts, so the plates have to look good too.

Chopped is compelling. I find myself on the edge of my seat wondering what kind of main course can you  make out of liver, strawberry pop rocks, sea beans, and ghost chilies. Will ranch dressing work with mango? Is he overcooking the fish? Will they get it all on the plates in time? It's thrilling, really. 

I am also astounded by the cooks' ability to look at a basket full of disparate ingredients and immediately come up with something. Last night the appetizer round featured pig snout, kale, and tarantula candy (candy in the shape of a tarantula, not candied spiders - just to be clear). I'd have given them all a prize just for coming up with something edible.

I used to think I was a pretty good cook, but Chopped reveals to me my true amateur status. These people are genius.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bayou City Art Festival

Floating display in the reflecting pool in front of City Hall
One of the bi-annual perks of living in Houston is the Bayou City Art Festival. Every Spring and Fall, artist from all over the United States come and show their works for two days. There's just about everything you could imagine, and quite a few things you never thought of. 

I don't know what they are but they do make you stop and look. Do you ever have the feeling that some people live in a far more interesting universe than you?

I have an abstract print from a previous show. I didn't buy anything this year, although that fox is awfully tempting.  I may have to look that artist up and see if they still have it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Accentuate the Positive

This post is a response to a blog by my friend, Leslie Farnsworth.  You can read her original post here.

I was once privileged to attend a lecture given by Maya Angelou. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, go. She is a mesmerizing speaker. She was on stage for what must have been and hour and a half, and it felt like 10 minutes. I can't remember most of it, it's been too long, but what I took away from her talk is "you make your own soundtrack".

The more you listen to petty, hateful, trashy stuff, the more it seems normal and right to you. I found this out for myself when I had a brief fling with a fashion site. It was funny, but it was catty, and I found myself being meaner as a result. Once I realized this I removed it from my bookmarks and haven't looked at it since.

But that's the easy stuff to spot. What if it's something you grew up with? We tend to spend time with people who think the way we think. It's easy, it's low stress, but it can lead to accepting things you wouldn't have if it had come from an outside source. After all, these are people you know, but  sweet old Mrs. Johnson, who leads the church choir, can't stand Jews. Maybe you have a neighbor who hasn't spoken to his son in 10 years because he married a woman of a different race or religion. I have heard appalling misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc. from all sorts of 'upstanding citizens'.  They may not be standing on the corner screaming "God hates fags" but they are still promoting hatred.

So what can you do? Be aware and listen. Really listen. Don't let jokes, or arguments with "because they're Jews/women/black/gay" slide. Say something, if you can. If confrontation isn't your thing, vote with your feet and leave.  Don't hang around and try to excuse/ignore the bad stuff. By not saying no, you may not be agreeing, but you are saying you don't mind.

But when you leave, don't match their negativity. Put out a happy soundtrack. We may never eradicate the hatemongers, but by being tolerant, welcoming and inclusive, we can make their appeal (and thus their power) significantly less.

Friday Feel Good Video
Aretha Franklin - Accentuate the Positive

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recipe: Chicken Thighs Stuffed With Chard

 Another trip to the recipe folder! This week's installment comes from Mark Bittman, courtesy of the New York Times.

I'm always on the lookout for new and healthy ways to use chicken, and I had a lot of spinach to use up. I also substituted walnuts for pine nuts, because pine nuts are expensive.  The only special equipment this calls for is a meat pounder, but I find a rolling pin works just as well.

Chicken Thighs Stuffed With Chard
Yield 4 to 8 servings
  • 1-1/2 to 2 pounds chard
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water for about 10 minutes, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 cup dry (fino) sherry or a flavorful white wine
  • Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish
Cut chard stems into 1- to 2-inch lengths, and coarsely chop leaves. Gently boil stems until almost tender. Add chopped leaves. Cook until soft, another couple of minutes. Drain well, pressing out water.
Since I was using spinach, which is very tender, I just wilted the leaves in low-fat cooking spray

Put 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-low heat and add garlic; cook until garlic begins to color, a couple of minutes. Add pine nuts and cook another minute, stirring, then add chard, raisins and salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. (Stuffing can be refrigerated for two days.)

The aroma at this stage was unbelievably yummy. I could have eaten it right then.

Put each thigh between plastic wrap and pound thin, without tearing. Sprinkle with salt. Put spoonful of stuffing on one end and roll. Skewer closed with a toothpick or two.

Looking at the picture, I probably didn't get them thin enough, but my arm was tired.

Put remaining oil in large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add thighs, browning on one side for about 5 minutes and adjusting heat if needed, then turn. Cook a minute or two, then turn heat to medium-low and add sherry. Let bubble for about 30 seconds, cover, and cook about 5 minutes, or until chicken thighs are quite firm and cooked through.

The ugliest sausages in the world.

Remove to a platter. Reduce liquid in pan over high heat, if needed, and spoon over chicken. Garnish with parsley, and serve.
Didn't have any parsley, but it didn't matter. Very good!

Results: Good! The chicken is okay, but the stuffing is terrific! Nutty, garlicky, just wonderful. I Next time, I'd make the stuffing as a side dish and just roast the chicken.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Local business: Iron Plus

This weekend my parents went to Florida and I was given custody of their dog, which put a crimp in my plans. He's a sweet dog, but old and arthritic; he doesn't travel well. So I had to stay close to home this weekend to let the dog in and out.

This means that instead of going to the Silk Road Festival as planned, I ended up catching up on a lot of housework. So next weekend watch out! I'm going to the Bayou City Art Festival and no-one's going to stop me.

I couldn't spend all day inside, so I decided to visit this place I've been driving by for years: Ironplus. It's off of FM 1960 and looks like a collection of pots and lawn stuff.  Since I now have a lawn and a patio, I thought it might be worth a look. 

It's a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I have a weakness for this brightly-colored, metal statuary. If I was English I'd probably go for garden gnomes, but as a Texan, I love a jalapeno mariachi band.

I think I need the goats. A little herd of goats, grazing my lawn. They'd be a hassle to mow around, but aren't they adorable?

The really interesting thing is that these small decorative pieces are not really what they do. Ironplus specializes in wrought iron, a rare skill in this day and age. There is a forge in the back and they will make whatever you want.  They have a catalog of thing to look at in addition to the furniture, wall pieces, etc, that they have all over the store.

The saleslady and I got talking when she saw me examining a pair of wooden doors with elaborate wrought-iron detailing. They were at least 9 ft tall and arched at the top: doors for a church. She asked me what I thought the doors were for - "A church?" "No. They're a custom order for a closet."  Can you imagine? That's a big house.

They had some beautiful fountains, which as soon as I own a plaza, I'm going back to buy, but for now I'm thinking about replacing the boring painted steel gate on my house with something more artistic. Maybe wrought-iron cattails?

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fall Favorites

It's October, and that means a lot of things to people: falling temperatures, changing leaves, getting your favorite sweaters out of storage, the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, and corn mazes.

My favorite thing about October? Pumpkins!

I know it's a little odd, but I just love them. They are so bright and cheerful.

They come in a lot of shapes

And colors

And you can cook them!

I lived in a co-op for a couple of years, and one Halloween the co-op board bought an enormous amount of pumpkins for a party.  We made a lot of jack-o-lanterns, but we still had dozens left over, and then someone had the bright idea of putting them in the pool. The bright orange balls floating in turquoise water was unexpectedly pretty and was a less literal way of saying Halloween party than witches and ghosts.

Later, some of the guys (probably a little drunk) came up with a game - pumpkin toss. You had to stand on the sundeck, and toss the pumpkin so that it hit the end of the diving board and bounce into the pool. (What can I say? It was college.)

That's when I found out how tough pumpkins are. It took many, many, tosses for the pumpkins to actually break. (Fortunately, I didn't have to clean the pool filter.) And next spring, we had pumpkin vines growing around the pool.

Friday Feel-good Video
I love the original, but the modern mash-up with the Black-Eyed Peas works. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Joy of Cooking

I went to an estate sale the other weekend and scored big. I found a mid-60's edition of Joy of Cooking.

What is so special about the Joy of Cooking? It's just another cookbook, right? It wasn't written by a celebrity chef. There are no glossy pictures of food in this book, just little black and white line drawings.

But it is a treasure. It is the only cookbook I know that quotes both Goethe and  Saki " She was a good cook, as cooks go, and as cooks go, she went." It was written by someone who actually enjoyed being in the kitchen and is wonderfully clear. It has the best recipe for chocolate mousse I've ever had. Not only does it cover basics, like baking powder biscuits and how to make gravy, it tells you how to mix a martini and field dress a squirrel.

What more could you want?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Goodbye September and a New Challenge!

September ended with disappointment.

This weekend was all about rain, lots and lots of rain. I don't usually mind rain, it's nice to sit inside and listen to it falling, but this weekend was supposed to be the Ballunar Liftoff Festival, and the rain canceled it. Rats.

The other disappointment was my car. My trusty Toyota Corolla has started to burn oil. My options are: rebuild the engine, or get a new car.  Rebuilding the engine would cost more than my 11-year old car is worth. So I'm now in the market for a new car. I don't want a new car. I'm still reeling from the amount of debt I'm in for the house. But Houston is car-centric, so I must have a car. Double rats.

Still, according to Dad I can keep the car going for 6 months or so, as long as I keep topping up the oil, so I've got some time to build up a car fund.  Oh, but I hate spending money on cars!

That's enough whining for one day, let's move on.

New month, new 30 day challenge. Starting today:

I am going to take a photograph every day for a month.

I really want to take better photographs, and the only way to do that is to practice. I've created a gallery page, available in the links to the right.  Nothing is in there yet, but I am looking forward to filling it up!