Friday, November 30, 2012


This Friday, I find myself with nothing to say. It happens. So instead, I give you this very sweet little video.  It's about as girly as it gets; you have been warned.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Soup Season

Summer lasts a long time in southeast Texas (about 6 months) so a lot of the time, my cooking is ingredient assembly, like salad. It's just too hot to do much else. But it's finally cool enough for one of my favorite things: soup.

Is that an anti-climax? It shouldn't be. Soup has a lot to recommend it. It's a wonderful way to use lots of vegetables, it's an economical use of leftovers, and (as long as you aren't loading it up with cheese and cream) it's low in calories. It tastes good. Plus there's nothing quite as soul satisfying as sitting inside on a cold day with a hot bowl of soup.

In the words of Lewis Carroll:

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau - ootiful Soo - oop!
Beau - ootiful Soo - oop!
Soo - oop of the e - e - evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!


Chipotle Pumpkin Soup
or what to do with that pumpkin you bought in October

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1-2 chipotle peppers (canned in adobo, 1 for mild, 2 for spicy), chopped
  • 8 cups chopped, cooked pumpkin* (1 7-8 pound cooking pumpkin to yield 8 cups cooked pumpkin, or 3 15-ounce cans of canned pumpkin)
  • 4 to 6 cups chicken stock, depending on desired thickness and how thick your pumpkin purée is (use vegetable stock for vegetarian option, can sub water for some of the stock)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 2 teaspoons salt, more to taste
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • Toasted, shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • Cilantro
  • Creme fresca, creme fraiche, sour cream or yogurt
 *To cook fresh pumpkin, use a good cooking pumpkin (i.e. sugar pumpkin, fairytale pumpkin, hubbard, or kabocha pumpkin), cut in half, scoop out the seeds, place the pumpkin cut side down on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for about an hour, or until soft. Scoop out the pumpkin flesh or cut away the skin.

cooked pumpkin - look at all the liquid that's come out!
 1. Heat oil in a large pot (8-quart) on medium high heat. Add the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic, cumin, and chipotle, cook for 1 minute more.

Onion and chipotle pepper

2. Add the pumpkin, chicken stock, oregano, and salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, partially covered.

oven roasted pumpkin
3. If you are working with raw pumpkin seeds, now would be a good time to toast them. (If your pumpkin seeds are already toasted, skip this step.) Just spread them out in an even layer in a frying pan on medium high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon while toasting, until the pumpkin seeds are fragrant and are lightly browned. Remove to a bowl.

4. Remove the soup from heat. Working in batches of 2 cups each, purée the soup in batches, holding down the lid the your blender tightly while puréeing, and starting on a slow speed. Return the puréed soup to the pot. If you have an immersion blender (surely the best kitchen invention since the electric toaster) you can purée it right in the pot.

5. Add lime juice. Adjust seasonings to taste, adding more salt, cumin, oregano, or chipotle to taste. If the soup is too thick, add more stock or water to desired consistency.

Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), crema fresca drizzled over the top, and chopped cilantro.
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Texas Renaissance Festival - Final Weekend 2012

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, or just a good weekend. I was lucky enough to have both. Thanksgiving was a potluck at my friend Vero's house. I brought dessert and she very kindly kept all the pie, whipped cream and chocolate mousse I made (actually insisted on keeping) so I didn't have any leftovers to worry about. Yay!

This weekend was also the last weekend of the Texas Renaissance Festival. I haven't been in years and it was too lovely a day to stay indoors - so off I went.

The Green Man
Everyone has their favorite thing about the festival. For some it's the performers:

Sholo, the Nubian -  barbarian love poetry
(Kipling's "The Female of the Species" among other things. Great voice.)

Stick juggler

Pirate magician

For others, it's the games
Test your strength

Target practice - with oh-so historically accurate paintball guns
Some people even like the food

and don't forget the turkey legs!

I did it all. It's my kind of fun: I love jugglers and magicians and really corny jokes. I got my tarot cards read (the cards say I think too much), tried my hand at the longbow (I should stick to typing) and had meat on a stick. But all in all, my favorite thing is the people watching. RenFest brings out every type of costume imaginable, even those that don't really go with the theme. Darth Maul was there, as was a lady in an 18th century powdered wig, and even a ancient Greek warrior. It's weird and mixed up, but it's a lot of fun.

Texas woodland Greek
You can't see it too well, but he's wearing mistletoe on his codpiece - oh, for a telephoto lens!

None shall pass

The Cthulu Choristers - They sang a rousing rendition of "Oh Come Let Us Abhor Him."

The Blue Faerie

What? You've never seen a man walk down the street with a drink?
One of the wedding chapels (they have four, but this is the prettiest)
She looked so sad - I gave her a dollar

Friday, November 23, 2012

When do you start Christmas?

When do you start Christmas? Not the holiday itself, but decorating the house, putting up lights, and digging out the Christmas music? I ask because all the Christmas decorations are up in the stores (they started putting them up around Halloween) a few of my neighbors have wreaths on their doors, and when I was driving through River Oaks two days ago, I saw a lighting team working on the holiday lawn display. There's still a week of November left!
Don't mistake me, I love decorating for Christmas, but having all the decorations up by Thanksgiving makes it less special for me.  If you do it too early it gets caught up in Thanksgiving, and I think each holiday is deserving its own time. Part of the fun is pulling out the decorations, remembering when you got that silver pincone or seashell Santa, and deciding where they go. It's part of the build up to the big day, and you can't have that if it's all done by the last week of November.
Also, I'm not through with Autumn yet. I haven't made any pumpkin soup, or taken pictures of the turning leaves. I haven't even made it to RenFest. Christmas can wait, I'm going to enjoy Autumn a little while longer.

persimmon tree in Montrose

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Weight loss update, and leeks!

Before we get to today's recipe, a diet update. I now weigh (drum roll please)
270 lbs ( 5.4 lbs lost 105 lbs to go)
It's a start. Now on to the fun stuff.
In honor of Thanksgiving, I give you a casserole that I have taken to potlucks with great success. This is adapted from a stuffed apple appetizer from Susan Hermann Loomis' book: On Rue Tatin: Living and Cooking in a French Town. The original is wonderful and elegant, but a little difficult to share. This is a more homespun version.

Leek, apple and goat cheese casserole
A warm and hearty side dish. Serves about 6 people. (200 calories per serving)


  • 4 apples (about 2 lbs)
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 8 oz fresh goat cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • salt to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
2. Clean and chop the leeks (white and light green parts only). Put the leeks and butter into a frying pan over medium heat and cook until the leeks are soft, but not brown.

3. Put the goat cheese in a mixing bowl with the nutmeg. Add the leeks to the goat cheese and combine well. Salt to taste. Put aside.

4. Roughly chunk and core the apples. Peeling is optional.
5. Put the apples in a casserole and cover with the leek and goat cheese mixture.

6. Put into the oven and bake until brown, about 45 minutes.

Bon appetit!

Monday, November 19, 2012


I'm not a coffee drinker. I don't know why. Everyone else in my family drinks coffee, my friends drink coffee, practically everyone in my office drinks coffee, but I've never liked it. I just find it intensely bitter, no matter how it's brewed, so I live my life sans coffee.

But that doesn't mean I live a caffeine-free life, no indeed.  For most of the year, I keep a large pitcher of tea in the refrigerator. If I were truly Southern, it would be sweet tea, but I like my tea straight up, no sugar, no ice.

I started drinking tea around my eleventh birthday, when my family was on a trip to Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon). Sri Lanka is a major exporter of tea, and I remember hills covered with tea; the countryside looked had been upholstered in green corduroy. It's also a country where the water is unsafe to drink unless it's boiled, so the best option is tea.

Fairlawn tea estate - Sri Lanka
I read a book about a year ago about how the British East India Company stole the secret of tea making from the Chinese. And I do mean stole. They paid an enterprising Scot, with the wonderful name of Robert Fortune, to go to China, learn how tea was made and bring back as many seeds or plants as he could. China was the only source of tea at the time, so this was the Victorian equivalent of industrial espionage. It was also a dangerous trip, because Europeans were not allowed in mainland China at the time. If he was caught, he could reasonably expect to be executed just for being there.

Happily, Fortune was well named. He managed to get out of China alive, with a lot of tea plants. He had also found out that the Chinese had been dying the green tea for Western markets. Europeans, not knowing what tea was, thought that if it was called green tea, it should actually be green, and would pay more for it if it was. Unfortunately, the chemicals the Chinese were using were poisonous. To this day, the English prefer black tea.
green tea
This past week the weather has turned cold, so I will be putting my ice tea pitcher into retirement, and getting out the teapot. Cheers!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why I like Pitbull

The Latin Grammys were last night, and one of my favorite performers, Pitbull, opened (and closed) the show. Yes, I like Pitbull. Pitbull's music is raunchy, randy, overtly sexual, with a great beat and very hum-able, (because you don't want to be heard singing those lyrics in public.)

I know, I know. I'm totally not his demographic. I tell people I like Pitbull and they either think I'm insane (what self-respecting feminst likes Pitbull?) or making a lame attempt at being cool. To which I say: I'm a Trekkie, I gave up on cool a long time ago.

But I was thinking about why I like Pitbull, particularly when I recoil from other artists whose lyrics towards women are similarly suggestive/dirty. Leaving aside the rythym and the fact that he has a great voice,  in large part I think it's because Pitbull isn't of the "get over here b***" school of lyrics. He's suggestive, but he's not bossy. He never refers to women rudely, and he's openly appreciative of their charms. Appreciation makes a girl feel good. 

Unlike a lot of rappers, he doesn't do songs about showering her with material posessions, which I appreciate, because I've been on the receiving end of that and it's not flattering. It's like they think they can buy you.

Mostly, the songs are about female beauty and what he'd like to do.  Also, and this is key, he makes it sound like fun, not a transaction, not an end-of-the-world, all-consuming passion, just fun. Essentially, he's making an extremely naughty offer but it's her choice about whether or not to accept. That's called seduction, and seduction is very attractive.

Friday Feel Good Video
Obviously it's a Pitbull video, and while this one is fairly tame, it's probably not safe for work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

I knew this day was coming

Usually, I devote Wednesday to recipes or something food-related. I like to cook, I like to eat, but that has come at a price.  Today, I got on the scale and it read 275.4 lbs.


I wish I could say I was surprised, but I'm not exactly unaware that I'm overweight. However, it's one thing to be curvy, and another to be flirting with diabetes.

So, as of today, I am on a diet. I will still be cooking and posting recipes. I have a long way to go, and if I try to do it on diet shakes and salad, I'll give up. This is less a diet than a re-working of my lifestyle into something more healthy. This is going to take a while.

My goal weight : 165 lbs.

My immediate goal: 265 lbs by December 1st.
Today's Recipe: Salad!
I've never been one of the stereotypical fat people you see in the media. I don't live on fast food. I think Twinkies are evil (why waste time on bad pastry when there are croissants?) and I like vegetables.

So I'm putting up a favorite salad of mine, which yes, is a little high on the fat content, but remember, this serves two to four people. I calculated the calories and the entire recipe comes to approximately 900. (I can't be super exact because calorie counters vary). Half of this would be a very acceptable dinner, with lots of crunch and flavor.

Red-Cabbage Salad (recipe from L.V. Anderson of Slate)
  •  ¼ large head red cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 to 2 ounces gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts
  • ⅓ cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and black pepper
Put the cabbage, cheese, walnuts, raisins, oil, and vinegar in a medium bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Toss, taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve immediately.

Yield: 1 or 2 main-course servings or 4 side-dish servings  

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rocks & Walks

I have a thing for unusual rocks: interesting veins, deep colors, sparkly, embedded with fossils, I love them all.  So when I saw that the Houston Gem and Mineral Society was doing a show at the Humble Civic Center, there was no way I was going to miss it.  I was not disappointed.

Fossilized sand dollars
Fossilized ferns
In addition to the fossils, there were a lot of mineral samples. I had to keep myself from buying a polished labrodorite the size of a grapefruit. It was so pretty, but the grown-up that lives somewhere in my head reminded me that I have priorities other than shiny chunks of rock. Sigh.

Combination of malachite and azurite
They even set up a tent with black light to show off minerals that fluoresce. Wouldn't it be cool to have a garden edged with rocks that glow in the dark? (I must have been a set designer for Star Trek in a past life.)

Later, I went to the Light the Night walk for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It was the first time anyone on my team had done the walk, and we had been expecting a 5k. It turned out to be a lot shorter than we thought, barely a mile. We spent more time standing around waiting for the walk to start than actually walking. Still, my team raised 1,100 for Leukemia and that's the real point.

Friday, November 9, 2012

It's over!

 I looked for one of Romney, but he doesn't seem to inspire knitters - and this was too good not to share.

If you are like me, your reaction to the presidential election was one of relief - not so much about who won, but that I don't have to hear campaign news anymore. Listening to the press go on and on the significance (or insignificance) of a 1% dip in the polls was driving me crazy.

My recycling bin is full of election mailers. I hung up on at least one automated phone message a week, and the emails! Thank goodness for spam filters. And I don't live in a swing state - it must be absolutely brutal for the people in Ohio.

Could we shorten it? Pass a rule saying that they are only allowed to campaign for say, 6 months before election day - 6 months is an ample amount of time. They can do all the fundraising, coming up with the platform, candidate selection, etc. beforehand, but they are only allowed to importune the public for 6 months. Anyone who can't make up their mind in 6 months, isn't going to.

And while we're at it, the press would only be allowed to come on the air and speculate (i.e. say "I don't know" at length) for 1 hour a day.  It would be called "Opinion Hour" and be scheduled for the same time, every day. That way the press could stop trying to fill air time with guesswork, and concentrate on something of substance. They might even notice that there are countries out there that aren't the US and give them some real coverage.

Okay. Rant over. I feel better now.

Friday Feel Good Video
A classic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cleaning out the refrigerator

During my week long bout of whatever-it-was (cold, flu, creeping ick) I didn't really eat, I just wasn't interested.  But my wonderful mother came over to insist I eat something and brought enough groceries to fully stock my refrigerator, which  included three kinds of chicken soup. (We can see where the family weight problem begins.)

Two of them were regular old canned soup, but the third was the HEB Chicken Tortilla Soup Kit. If you don't have an HEB grocery store nearby, you have my sympathy. Really, they're wonderful. Our local store has created a series of soup kits, which are a godsend if you want something healthy with very little effort. All you have to do is saute the veggies and add water.  I think they are a touch salty, but you can reduce it by not using as much of the spice mixture included in the kit.
Anyway, it was going to go bad if I didn't cook it, and since I've had a lot of chicken soup in the last week, I decided to try the other option listed on the packet: making it into a chicken and rice casserole.                                                         You start out the same way by sauteing the veggies until the onions go translucent.
Then instead of adding water, you put everything into a casserole dish. The kit comes with veggies, chicken, some Monterey Jack and tortilla chips. I left out the tortilla chips and added a dollop of sour cream and a cup of uncooked brown rice.

The casserole before the liquid spice mixture and after
Then I mixed the spice mixture with 2 cups of water. I had some wine leftover , so I used some of that instead of water. 

Stir it all up, cover it with foil and throw it in the oven (350 degrees F for approx. 2 hours).

This is the slow way to do it. I had other leftovers available for dinner and I wanted to watch the election returns.

If you want to have dinner quickly, follow the kit instructions. They have you simmer the rice on the stove for 20 minutes, essentially pre-cooking it before you put it in the casserole with the veggies and chicken.  Then you can crumble more cheese on top and put it in the oven to brown.

Either way works, and you end up with a tasty, tomatoey, casserole; suitable for dinner or reheating for lunch in the office microwave.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Music for Election Day

We, the people, are selecting a president today. We may not like our current choices, but have we ever?

A classic from the 50's: the local chapter of the Republican party meets to choose a candidate and play a little poker.  My favorite verse: "nobody likes a candidate whose name they can't spell."

And for a little less cynicism: Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" - because the election is about all of us.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Movie Culture

I just finished an excellent biography of Audrey Hepburn, and conicidentally, two of her films were on television yesterday: The Nun's Story and Charade.  Charade is a caper film with multiple identities, missing money, witty banter, and a fabulous Givenchy wardroble.  It's a lot of fun and how can you not love Cary Grant? But The Nun's Story suprised me.

I knew it was based on the story of a real woman, Marie Louise Habets, and that is is considered one of Audrey Hepburn's best films. What I didn't know was that it was a box office smash, a blockbuster that had people lining up down the street and around the corner to see it. Can you imagine, in this day and age, a movie about a single woman, that has no sex, no explosions, no special effects, and is completely concerned with the internal struggle of concience being a hit?  

I can't either.

But people have not changed all that much since 1959. We are still concerned with living a 'good' life, and trying to define what that means. What is due to others? What do we owe ourselves? If we live for others, are we shortchanging ourselves? Is our help actually helpful, or a way of imposing what we think is right?

These are questions for which everyone has to find their own answers, but I think our popular culture is short-changing us. I love action movies as much as anybody else, but I've noticed lately the action sequences getting longer and longer at the expense of the most interesting part of the movie, the story. I remember sitting through a movie just waiting for a character to die, because until he died, the fight scene wouldn't end. If all I wanted to do was see things blow up, I could watch Mythbusters, (which is a great show) and get a decent practical physics lesson thrown in for free.

I have no patience for sermons, but a compelling story about something other than sex, money or killer alien robots would be an interesting change of pace. Or am I just being naive?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Wellness Update

Sorry to "go dark" on you, particularly on Halloween, but I've been ill. Not only confined to bed but actually voiceless - which led to the conundrum of trying to call in sick with laryngitis. Thank goodness I have email.

I wasn't even up to reading. I've spent the last two days lying in bed covered with blankets and a cat. At least the cat was happy, even though she didn't understand why I didn't want to play.

My mother came over with 3 kinds of chicken soup, spinach-stuffed crepes, a fruit plate, grapefruit juice, and sushi. I love my mom, she even brought flowers. Whatever happens, I'm not going to starve to death.

It looks like it's going to be a beautiful weekend. If you are in the Houston area and not recovering from a massive cold, this weekend is:

Friday Feel Good Video
Humor me, I've been sick.