Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Harried Holiday

ornament on the oak tree in my front yard

Sorry, for the short post, but I'm hosting Christmas dinner tomorrow and I'm going crazy trying to get things baked, sliced, swept, polished, vacuumed, and all around straightened up. I'll let you know how it went on Thursday. 

 In the meantime, I give you "Santa and his old lady" - a holiday classic from Cheech and Chong.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Marking time at the office

I have no idea why I'm at work today. Nothing productive is happening. Everyone is passing around Christmas cookies and emailing each other YouTube videos.

I need more vacation time.

Friday Fun Video
Since everyone's probably a little tired of Christmas carols by now, I offer a bracing shot of the Muppets. This clip features Rita Moreno, the only guest star to get the best of Animal.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thinking about New Year's Eve

Christmas dinner (menu and location) has been decided.
Cards have been sent.
Shopping is done.
Decorating is done.
Wrapping will be done when the last present gets here (Thursday, according to the USPS website)

Time to think about New Year's Eve. Ugh.

I don't like New Years Eve. (Which is probably why it seems to sneak up on me every year, I ignore it.)

If I had my way, New Year's would be celebrated with lunch on the day itself. Everyone would make extravagant predictions for the coming year, which would then be recorded and read out at the following New Year's Eve lunch. (The key word is extravagant - no predicting that you will buy a new car. More along the lines of  "I will have lunch with Bono and discuss why rainbows are such a popular motif on clothing for little girls.") 

I've had friends go to see the ball drop at Times Square in New York, and the stories they tell (pickpockets, standing for hours on end packed into an enormous crowd, wearing a Stadium Buddy, because you can't leave) all fill me with horror. And they actually go back. I can't imagine any concert being worth that.

Really, you can't even see the stage

I've always wanted to do the dinner and dancing all night, but the men I've dated have all been the kind for whom dancing is a punishment, with formal wear a close second. And New Year's, like Valentine's Day, does not seem to be a good night to go solo. 

Sleeping through it is not an option. My neighbors are going to explode enough fireworks to light up the ship channel. (I may have to sedate the cat.)

So I'm throwing it open. Any ideas?

So far I have:

  • movie night (which leads to another problem - what is an appropriate New Year's eve movie?)
  • buy some fireworks of my own and join the freezing people outside.
  • bottle of champagne and popcorn.
  • leave the country

Monday, December 16, 2013

Building with Gingerbread

I know I didn't post on Friday. I'm sorry. As an apology, I'm bringing you gingerbread.

Saturday was the 5th Annual Gingerbread Build Off, held in downtown Houston in front of City Hall. 

I had never heard of it before, but it sounded too cool to pass up. The rules are very strict. Everything must be edible, so no toothpicks or straws or other means of support, and the structure must be built on site. Nothing can be pre-cut or pre-assembled. It's tough.

Plus, because it's outdoors, you have Houston's weather to contend with. Everyone was cold, but very happy because that meant the frosting would set up. A warm day would have been disastrous. As it was, the humidity made the cotton candy a little clumpy.

There were all sorts of Houston landmarks: the George R. Brown, the now demolished Foleys, the Astrodome.  There were the storybook buildings: Rapunzel's tower, Hogwarts, the Land of Oz, and because most of the contestants were either architects or architecture students, the Parthenon, Falling Water, and some very famous bridge that I can't remember the name of.  

I couldn't post them all, but here are some highlights. Have a happy Monday y'all!

Hard at work

Eiffel Tower with parsley flake trees

Dorothy and the Emerald City - most innovative use of cucumbers
Breaking Bad - see all the blue (candy) crystals?
Falling Water - for all you Frank Lloyd Wright fans out there
The Burj Khalifa - I had to look that one up
Hogwarts Castle - complete with dragon
My favorite - the 8 story pagoda

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Orange Harvest

Just a quick post today.

This weekend I harvested my orange tree. I got seven little oranges. Score!

But the best thing? Because they are blood oranges, the insides are pink!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

The Thanksgiving classic "sweet potato casserole with marshmallow topping" was a dish so reviled by my parents that I never saw it.  It was spoken of, occasionally, as something to avoid at all costs; a culinary urban legend.  When I was 30, I finally had it at a friend's house and after one bite I understood why my parents hated it. It was bland and sweet. REALLY sweet. I could see it as pie filling, but not as a side dish.  

So it was a surprise when, while cleaning up my parent's yard, I pulled up a (dead) vine and discovered that they have been growing sweet potatoes. Not to eat, but as ground cover, because they liked the leaves. Since they had no intention of eating them, so I took some home as a challenge.
What to do with these things?
I searched the internets and found a lot of recipes emphasizing sweetness; many variations on the marshmallow casserole. Even the so-called savory dishes used cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar. But after some digging, I found some more interesting flavors. A thai-inspired soup that I will have to try out later, and several takes on sweet potato gnocchi. 

I chose this recipe because I wanted dinner, not dessert, and instead of playing up the sweetness of the sweet potatoes, it had garlic and vinegar. And it had mushrooms. I love mushrooms.

Doesn't that look great? Not my picture, but my gnocchi really did 
look this good. I swear. I just couldn't find my camera.
  • This is really rich. It says it serves four to six, but I only cooked half of the gnocchi and none of us could finish our plates. 
  • Be careful when adding flour. You may not need all of it. My sweet potatoes were on the dry side, so I only used two cups of flour, but if yours are wetter, you may need more.
  • The mushroom sauce is amazing. I may skip the gnocchi next time and just make the mushrooms. They were terrific.

Crispy Brown Butter Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Balsamic Caramelized Mushrooms + Goat Cheese

Recipe from: Half Baked Harvest

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Serving Size: 4-6

·         1 cup of mashed sweet potato
·         1 cup pureed burrata cheese or ricotta (use whole milk for best results, I used burrata chese)
·         2 large eggs
·         1 teaspoon kosher salt
·         1/4 cup fresh parmesan, grated
·         3-4 cups all-purpose flour

Brown Butter Balsamic Sauce + Mushrooms

·         1 1/2 pounds cremini mushrooms, sliced
·         6 tablespoons butter
·         2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
·         2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
·         2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
·         1 teaspoon crushed red peper
·         1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
·         1/2 teaspoon pepper
·         1/4 teaspoon salt
·         4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled


1.  Make the gnocchi. Mix the mashed sweet potato, pureed burrata or ricotta, eggs, salt and parmesan together in a large bowl. Add 2 cups of the flour and mix well with your hands. The dough should be very sticky. Add another half cup of flour and mix in. You want the dough to still be pretty sticky, but sturdy enough to shape into a ball. If it's not, keep adding a little flour at a time until you can get a soft dough that will be rollable.

2.  Spread some flour on a large work surface. Cut the dough log into four equal pieces. Take one piece and cut it in half. Roll the piece of dough into a snake about 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into pieces about the width of a fork. Dust the gnocchi with a little flour, then use one finger to push the gnocchi up onto the tines of a fork. Let the gnocchi drop back to the work surface. Doing this helps create ridges for the sauce to stick to, but you can skip it if you would like. Repeat this process with the other piece of dough and place the gnocchi on a large plate, cover and set aside.

3.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

4.  To make the mushroom and brown butter sauce. In a medium skillet over high heat, add 2 tablespoons butter. When the butter is melted, sprinkle in the mushrooms in a single layer. Don't stir them! Let them sizzle until they have caramelized on the bottom, about 2 minutes. When the bottoms are caramelized, toss them once and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Continue to cook without stirring for about 5 minutes. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Add the remaining butter and cook until it begins to brown. Once the butter is browned reduce the heat and add the garlic, thyme and rosemary and cook for about 10 seconds. Add the balsamic vinegar, and simmer until the mushrooms are glazed with the sauce. Then stir and remove the pan from the heat and slide the mushrooms and sauce off to the side.

5.  Now grab your gnocchi and add it to the salted boiling water. Boil the gnocchi until they float, then remove them with a slotted spoon and add them right into the skillet with the mushrooms/sauce. Return the skillet (with the mushrooms and gnocchi in it) back to medium heat. Let the gnocchi get crisp on one side for 2 minutes and then two minutes on the other, then stir gnocchi into the mushrooms. Remove from the heat and serve immediately with crumbled goat cheese on top.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Black Friday, Cyber Monday etc.

I don't shop during Thanksgiving. I might make a run to the grocery store for a forgotten ingredient, but my goal is to stay out of retail settings for the week. 

This is not bragging. I'm not saying that "I've bought all my Christmas presents already." It's not a statement of philosophical superiority: "You mindless sheeple can go spend money, I will stay here and listen to Mozart." If camping out in front of your chosen store is something you want to do, go for it. BCP does not judge. I happily cede my place in line.

The post-Thanksgiving shopping bug (like sports fandom, and the appeal of Twilight) has just never bitten me.  And apparently, I'm not alone.

I'm not anti-capitalism. I don't celebrate Buy Nothing Day. I shop. But I really hate the crowds on the big shopping days and it's unlikely that something I really want will never be available, or on sale, again. My tastes are not that unique. (I'm more boring than people realize.) I wonder how much of "Black Friday" is just hype. What are the average sales on a three day weekend? Are they that different post Thanksgiving?

And the stories of brawls, stabbings, etc. are horrifying. True, I've never seen it personally (and in the entire US the total is under 5 people - hardly endemic) but it doesn't make me want to go to the mall. 
So what do non-shoppers do? Personally,  I watched movies, read books, injured myself getting Christmas ornaments out of the attic, cooked, ate, visited with relatives, restrained myself from arguing with said relatives, played with the cat, and edged my lawn. I was even given a new vegetable to play with. (Results will be posted later in the week.)

Now to get ready for Christmas.