Sunday, December 14, 2014

Round Robin: Does travel change you?

The week after my 10th birthday, my family moved to Singapore, about as far from Southeast Texas as it is possible to go without leaving the planet. I remember being excited about it. It was no great wrench, we'd only been in Texas for two years. Two years was our average for staying in a place. We had already lived in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and a couple of army bases in Texas, but Singapore was my family's first foreign venture. 

Coconut vendor Merida, Mexico

Since then, I have been to Malaysia, Brunei, Labuan and Sarawak, Thailand, Sri Lanka and France. I've spent a few days in Luxembourg and Belgium, a week in Hungary, a week in Mexico, ten days in Spain and a short weekend in London. So when I think of travel, It's not spending a week at a resort, working on your tan and drinking rum. I think of travel as spending significant time in a place not your own: getting used to the rhythms of another culture, finding new landmarks, learning to navigate when you can't read (or find) the street signs, and figuring out what in the market you can cook.

Laughing Sal, Musee Mecanique, San Francisco
You don't have to go far for the experience. Stay with friends for the summer. Move to a new town. If your town is big enough, move to a different neighborhood. All your landmarks will change. But foreign travel is particularly useful for one thing: perspective.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving” 
– Terry Pratchett

I don't think anyone really understands where they are from until they leave. It's like stepping back from a picture, to better see the whole. Things that you never noticed will jump out at you, and issues you thought important will fade to insignificance. When you are the only person in the room with your cultural background, you suddenly realize that what you have always thought of as normal, isn't. I remember trying to explain: nerds, gingerbread houses, why Americans don't kiss each other hello (I don't know why - we just don't), and garage sales. 

Cockerel - Key West
Of course, you will learn about whatever culture you visit, but you will always see it through the lens of your own. You won't be able to help it. And you will learn how your culture is seen by outsiders. This can be enlightening, flattering, or really uncomfortable. (Sometimes all three at once.) But as long as you remain open, you will gain from the experience. 

Dancer, San Jose Tamale Festival
To read what other people are saying on this topic, check out their blogs.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spreading the holiday cheer by keeping your mouth shut

The holidays are upon us, along with a lot of well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people who want to tell you how to celebrate.
 
I'm not talking about the ones who are hawking centerpieces, lights, or useless plastic thingamabobs. Those are advertisers and salespeople, and you can safely ignore them. Just like you ignore them the rest of the year when they are trying to sell you patriotic tablecloths and Easter egg wreaths.

I'm referring to the people you actually know. The ones who grab you and rail against materialism, or the lack of Christ in Christmas, or sol in solstice, or are in some way righteously upset about people  celebrating the holiday wrong.
 
I mention this because of a humblebrag I received on my Facebook feed, about being "so happy to have opted out of all the commercialism." You're really going to start the holiday season by telling everyone you know that the holidays are a waste of time and money?  How very considerate, and bah humbug to you too.
 
I agree that there are people who go overboard, but that is their business. It is not polite to tell people how to spend their money or celebrate their holidays unless you've been asked, and even then, I'd keep it to: don't put yourself into debt, and don't make yourself crazy.
 
If lights, presents, and overspending bothers you, then don't do it. Nobody is forcing you to buy presents, hang a wreath, or decorate a tree. If you like your tree covered with homemade ornaments instead of glass, that is your decision. If you prefer to leave the trees in the ground outside, put up a Festivus pole, or ignore the holiday altogether, that is fine.  Just don't lecture the rest of us about it.
 
Think how much better people would get along, if we kept our opinions to ourselves. Even if, (perhaps especially if) we think we're being funny. Which is why when your ditzy aunt shows up in a bright orange dress, with sparkles, you say "You look so cheerful!" and not "You look like a bedazzled traffic cone." (In full disclosure, I actually did say that, and I regret it to this day.)

In the immortal words of Thumper:





Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hot and Sour!

It's cold. It's really cold. It's February out there. Usually, I have time to ease into it, but this year we skipped autumn and went directly to winter, and I am reeling from the shock. If you live in a genuinely cold climate, I don't know how you manage. I'm wearing socks to bed with two blankets a quilt and two cats. (I don't think the cats really help, but I can't convince them otherwise.)

Of course, I'm thinking about soup. There is nothing like soup when your feet feel like ice.

This is a hot and sour soup I've been considering for the past year. It's not authentic. It's a quick and dirty version of a hot and sour, but it's good.  I particularly like that it uses ingredients you can find in a regular supermarket. I'm sure it would be better if you used wood ear mushrooms instead of button mushrooms, but since it's a 45 minute drive to my closest Asian market, that makes this version just that little bit better.

It is also genuinely hot and sour. If you are used to the Americanized version of hot and sour, where they wave the vinegar bottle over it and give it a quick dash of pepper, this will be a revelation. You can, of course, reduce the amounts of vinegar and heat, and it will still be good, but the real full-bodied flavor is sinus-clearingly wonderful. 

And it only takes half an hour, start to finish. So you can start warming up even faster.

It looks almost as good as it tastes. 

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, smashed and minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 scallions, white and green parts, minced, plus more for garnish
8 ounces ground pork
4 cups store-bought or homemade chicken stock
1 pound soft or firm tofu (not silken and not extra firm), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 or 5 medium button mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced (or substitute dried, rehydrated wood ear mushrooms)
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2/3 cup rice vinegar, or to taste
3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, or to taste
2 large eggs
White or black pepper for garnish

starting with the pork
In the saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and pork and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute. You want to break up the pork into smaller pieces with a spoon, but don’t worry about breaking it down completely or cooking it through.

Add scallions, ginger and garlic
Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the tofu, mushrooms, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil, and Sriracha sauce and bring the soup back to a simmer over medium-high heat. Taste the soup. If you want it hotter, add more Sriracha sauce; if you want it more sour, add more vinegar.
pour in everything else
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. With the soup at a steady simmer, slowly whisk in the eggs so they form strands. Bring the soup back to a simmer. Divide the soup among 4 to 6 bowls and garnish each with a little sesame oil, scallion, and white or black pepper. Serve immediately. (Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. The soup may take on a slightly different appearance, but it will taste just the same.)


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Round Robin: Are pets worth it?

I have been invited to be part of a blogging round robin! Which means that a group of bloggers will all post on the same topic on the same day, so we can all see the variety of opinions and approaches. 

The other bloggers participating are: 

Joan Johnson: onefishtaco
William Pora: williampora.com
Leslie Farnsworth: lesliefarnsworth.com 
James McPherson: http://jalmcpherson.com
Jenna Sauber:  http://jennasauber.com

This month's topic: Are pets worth it?

**************************************


At left: George, sprinter, food critic, interior and landscape designer
At right: the lady Bailey, guardian of the kingdom, keeper of the toys and distributor of the fur
Note: Since the phrasing of the question implies that the owner of the pet(s) should answer, Rebecca has been told to go and play. The topic will be discussed by her owners: George and the lady Bailey.

Choosing your pet

Bailey: Rebecca is your second pet, is that right?

George: Yes. I originally chose a family with children, thinking that would be fun, since I love to play.  Then I found out they had a dog. That would not do, so I returned to the agency, determined not to make the same mistake. The second time around I took my time, did my research and looked at more adult humans.

Rebecca impressed me with her good manners. (Like not picking me up uninvited; so many humans do that.) I was particularly impressed that she paid just as much attention to me as to the big fluffy show-off in the room. For some reason, humans are impressed by long fur. As if that’s a talent and not a genetic quirk. I think it’s because they are so lacking in fur growing abilities themselves.

Bailey: I know. If they had long fur, they’d know what a fuss it is. While I was also impressed by her manners, what I really liked was her scent. When you live with a human, everything will smell like them, so you better like their scent. I let her know my decision by jumping onto her shoulder and refusing to let go. They had to peel me off of her. At first I thought I had been too aggressive, because she went away, but it turned out she had gone to get a cat carrier. Ugh! Longest ride of my life. I know you shouldn’t start a relationship by complaining, but I had to let her know that driving was not going to be something we could share.

George: Oh, I agree. Some things you have to be up front about.

Communicating with your pet

Bailey: Communication can be difficult. So often you’re stuck with mime. For example, last August I tried to get her to sell Baidu, (the stock was doing really well) so I got on top of the china cabinet and cried Sell! Sell! but she just thought I wanted attention. Humans can be so dense sometimes.

George: I don’t think she realizes that you monitor her investment portfolio.

Bailey: What does she think I do all day? Besides, it’s not her portfolio, it’s our portfolio. And I want a worry free retirement.

George: I still can’t believe the way she bathes. I’ve tried breaking her of the habit: sitting outside the shower and staring disapprovingly. Glaring at her from the edge of the tub while she takes a bath. I’ve even demonstrated by grabbing her hand and washing it properly, but she just doesn’t get it.

Bailey: I think it’s because you mix your messages. I’ve seen you playing with the pumice stone in the tub. And what about the way you drink from the tap?

George: I like fresh water. It doesn’t mean I approve of immersing oneself in it. That’s just wrong.

Bailey: I think you have to pick your battles. As long as she doesn’t leave puddles on the floor, I’m okay with it.

Advantages of having a pet

George: There are so many. I can’t believe we even have to answer the question. Pet owners have longer lives, lower blood pressure and are all around happier and more attractive. We also chose a human with great design skills, so we haven’t had to do much in the way of re-decorating the house. I particularly like the blanket on the sofa. I’ve made it very clear that she’s not allowed to move that blanket.

Bailey: I think it’s advantageous for the humans too. I can tell when she’s had a hard day, and when that happens I make a point of sitting in her lap and purring. It soothes her and I like taking proper care of my pet. And while it’s occasionally annoying when she wakes me up, it’s because she wants to share with us. She alerts us to things like the birds outside the window. She reminds us to live in the now.

George: It’s also interesting to see the world through her eyes. I like sitting on top of the refrigerator and watching her cook. It’s amazing to see how much effort she puts into a meal. Take breakfast this morning, you or I would have eaten those eggs raw, but she scrambled them with cheese, and they tasted great!

Bailey: Have we mentioned the security benefits? It’s convenient to have a nice big pet to scare away other cats, deal with dogs, and take care of strange humans. Not that I can’t do that myself, of course, but having a pet makes it much easier.

Disadvantages of having a pet

George: The hardest thing has to be keeping them on schedule. Humans don’t have efficient internal clocks, which is why they put timers on everything. All that technology and we still have to wake her up on weekends, remind her of dinner time, bed time, play time. . .

Bailey: Maybe it’s because humans don’t nap during the day? Spending all that time awake has got to affect their sleep cycles. My favorite move is to settle in on her chest and start purring, really loudly. I don’t want to be mean to her, but I do want her to wake up.

George: I prefer the direct approach. Biting her feet always works and doesn’t get confused with cuddling.

Bailey: I don’t mind a morning cuddle. Cuddling means she’s at least half awake. I found this link while surfing the web. I think it perfectly demonstrates the difficulty of getting your human up in the morning.



George: Every time I see that, I think "oh, that poor cat."

Bailey: The lengths we have to go to.

Conclusion: Are pets worth it?

George: Well, if you're an outdoor cat, the adventuring type, it's not ideal. Humans are big and incapable of being quiet, so they tend to scare prey away. They are also very sensitive to cold. That lack of fur again.

Bailey: But if you live a more settled lifestyle, humans make wonderful pets. It's true that they take a bit of training, but they're pretty smart, and you can get them settled into your ways in couple of months. They're affectionate, and since they can't talk, they make wonderful confidantes. Rebecca is my only pet, but I can honestly say she enriches my life and I wouldn't want to be without her.

George and Bailey: Are pets worth it? Yes!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Breakfast: Oeufs en Cocotte

Breakfast is often my least healthy meal of the day. I always want another 5 (20) minutes in bed, so it tends to be a rush to get out of the door on time.  Then I end up in line for an egg mcmuffin, or worse, making breakfast out of whatever is in the office vending machine. Jalapeno potato chips are not wonderful at 8 am.

spinach and bacon
Eggs are an easy, obvious answer. But one can get bored with scrambled eggs every day, So I started searching the web and I stumbled on oeufs en cocotte. Which is a fancy way of saying baked eggs.


The basic framework is you take a ramekin:
  1. Put some savory things in the bottom, veggies, ham, what have you...
  2. On top of this you put a dollop of yogurt, crème fraiche, sour cream, heavy cream. . . I once made a heavenly version using an herbed cheese spread.
  3. Top it with an egg
Put this in a bain maire (a pan with water in it) in a 350F oven for about 10 minutes. You want it the egg to be softly set, and the yolk still runny. Essentially, you are creating a savory custard.

This makes a great breakfast, and a refined break from the ubiquitous scrambled eggs. A slice of toast is a nice addition, and useful for soaking up the last of the egg.

ready to go in the oven - cheese is not traditional, but what the heck?
Researching this on the web will give you many opinions. Some purists insists it should only be eggs and cream, others like loading it up. Some make it vegetarian, some use only meat, onions, no-onions, the variations are limited only to your imagination and the extent of your pantry.

I like it because it’s tasty, easy, and a great way to use up leftover vegetables (and there are always leftover vegetables). And since you can set up the ramekins ahead of time, you can prep an entire week’s worth of breakfasts in an under an hour.

The actual cooking is easy, because you don’t have to watch it, as you do with scrambled eggs and omelettes. You can do other things while it’s cooking.  For example, this was how I made breakfast this morning.

  • Wake up, turn on the oven (bain marie is already in the oven, where I put it last night).
  • Take a shower and dress.
  • Pull a ramekin out of the fridge, drop in the yogurt and an egg and put it in the bain marie.
  • Feed and water the cats, make the bed.
  • Take the finished oeufs cocotte out of the oven, pour myself a cup of tea, sit down and eat.
  • Put the dishes in the sink, find my shoes and head to work.
Fresh out of the oven. It tastes better than it looks. 
If you really want to make it fast, you can do it in the microwave, but there you have to be very careful with your timing, since microwaves will turn eggs into rubber very quickly. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Windfall!

A few weeks ago I got a letter from the IRS. Opening it with all the trepidation one reserves for communications from Internal Revenue, I found an unexpectedly nice surprise. I'd done my math wrong on my taxes and they were going to be sending me money back.

Last week I got the check, a whopping twenty three dollars and five cents!

Overwhelmed with my new found riches, my next thought was: what to do with it? Not wanting a repeat of the lawnmower episode, I decided that this money was going to be spent on something entirely frivolous. I considered my options. Fine dining was out, too expensive. I considered going to the dollar store, where I'd definitely get the most bang for my buck, but didn't think I'd find anything sufficiently glamorous. The dollar store is great for sponges and wrapping paper, but I wanted something girly and unnecessary, preferably with sparkles.
 
So I went to Rice Village, where I hadn't been in months. If you don't live in Houston, Rice Village is a shopping complex located near Rice University. It is somewhere between hipster (all those college students) and yuppie (it's located in West U., one of the more expensive enclaves in the city), so there's a range of things available. 
 
Shopping Trip Rules
  • The item purchased cannot cost more than $23.05
  • The item cannot be practical.
  • The item must be girly in some way. 
I also happened to arrive in time for the Rice Village Flea Market, where I briefly considered a porcelain flower necklace, but decided it was too expensive ($25) and I don't really wear necklaces anyway. There was also a booth doing very pretty silver filigree, but that was far beyond my price point.
 
Urban Outfitters had peach scented hand cream, in a plastic peach. It fit all  my criteria, but it reminded me too much of middle school. I let it pass.
 
 
 
I briefly considered an infinity scarf in two shades of raspberry, but when I tried it on, it looked like I was being strangled. Besides, scarves are much too practical.
 
Since I can't pass a bookstore without going in, I visited Half Price Books. I didn't find anything sufficiently precious, but I had an amusing time listening to a young man trying to impress with tales of his travels. "I moved to Austin, where they taught me to, you know, be cool." - Actual quote. He wasn't bombing (though that line deserved it) but he wasn't really getting anywhere either. I hope he stepped up his game.
 
Those who know the Village, would think I'd go to The Chocolate Bar, purveyors of all things cacao, but honestly, I'm not that into chocolate.
 
I found the new Savory Spice Shop, which was interesting and definitely in budget; but spice blends are much too practical.  I was tempted by a nutmeg grater though.
 
I ended up at Sephora, which really, is where I should have started. If you can't find something girly and silly in Sephora, you aren't trying. The problem is staying under budget. I ended up purchasing a variety pack of facial masks.  Not as glittery a purchase as I'd been envisioning, but still brightly colored, and bound to make me feel good for at least 5 hours (the variety pack has 5 masks in it). And I got a Dior mascara sample tossed in for free! It came in at just over $20; enough left over for a celebratory diet coke.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election Day Recovery: Walnut Cake


Yesterday was election day. I left work early to vote. Afterwards, I spent about an hour and a half watching election coverage (i.e. wild speculations about the next two years based on what might or might not be happening, since the results weren't actually in). I got so annoyed that I turned off the television and went to do something productive. I baked a cake.

lovely golden egg yolks
If your candidate won, you'll want to celebrate. If s/he lost, you will need comforting. Either way, you will need cake. And this is an incredibly easy cake to make. It has 4 ingredients. It's only one layer and it doesn't need frosting. 

egg yolks, sugar and lemon zest
It's also an incredibly rich cake, so a little will go a long way. I recommend a cup of strong coffee with this. Or maybe some brandy. Elections can take a lot out of a person.

ready to go into the oven - a little streaky with egg whites
Republican or Democrat, Libertarian or Green, win or lose, we all need cake.

Post Election Walnut Cake
 - from Food 52

3/4 pound (340 grams) shelled walnuts
4 eggs, separated
1cup (225 grams) caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners' sugar for dusting
Pulverize the walnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse meal, the texture of sand.
Prepare a round 9-inch cake pan by lining it with parchment paper (or grease it with butter and lightly dust with flour or almond meal).
Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and walnut meal and stir to combine. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites bit by bit into the walnut mixture until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake at 350º F (180º C) for about 50 minutes, or until the top is firm and browned nicely. Let cool before dusting with confectioners' sugar.

Normally, I would put it on a plate before dusting it with sugar, but I couldn't get it out of the pan.
Use parchment paper!  And doesn't it look like Pac Man?


Monday, November 3, 2014

International Quilt Festival - 2014




I went to the 40th Annual International Quilt Festival this weekend.  It was one of those events that I've been hearing about for years, but never actually gone. 

Wow. I never imagined it was this big. It was huge. Half of it was devoted to booths with things for sale: sewing machines, antique fabrics, yarn, baskets, quilt kits, fat quarters, quilting templates, jewelry made out of antique buttons, etc.  This was fascinating in its own way, but the show really starts when you get to the exhibition space. 


Since this was the 40th Anniversary, there was a huge exhibit of red and white quilts (aka "red work"). None of these were in the competition, they were just there to show artistry. There was an exhibit of quilts from the Texas Quilt Museum. I have no photographs of these, because no picture were allowed, but it doesn't matter. I couldn't take enough pictures. There was an abundance of incredible artwork.  I wandered around for two and a half hours, and eventually gave up out of exhaustion. I just couldn't take any more in. If I ever do the festival again, I'll do it in stages, going over several days. 

Sometimes, you can't believe these things are fabric. 


Traditional Victorian crazy quilt
I don't know what this is, but isn't it neat?


And it wasn't just quilts, there was doll category.


Wearable art
Can't you just see this at Comic-con?
An entire table set with (quilted) regional food


I really loved this one from India. It's the colors of the rainbow, in Braille. You can read the quilt by touching it.


There was quite an international presence:

Australia
You can't see it in the picture, but the sky is all patterned with lines of the dreamtime
Japan
The artist said she created this for her 65th birthday, when it's traditional in Japan to don a red vest. 
France
This is actually a completely white quilt, with all the figures outlined in gold thread. It's spread on a light box so you can it it better. It's the story of Tristan and Iseult.
There was even a challenge from NASA. Astronaut Karen Nyberg created a square while on the ISS, and it became the start of a 28 panel quilt, with squares donated from all over the world.
 
part of one of the panels
I took so many pictures, my camera battery ran out. I can't post them all, but these are the best shots. Enjoy.

A tribute to a teacher

Mariners compass
You felt like you should be lighting candles in front of it.


Embellished
All buttons. I'm sure there's some quilting under there, but who cares?
This one was painted, then quilted.
Dreamy poppies

The inspiration for this quilt was The Book of Changes

Every one of those squares is about the size of a Chiclet. Imagine piecing that.

Samson and Delilah. Honestly, the photo does not do this one justice.


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Americanism

I don't know much about Americanism, but it's a damn good word with which to carry an election.
I was looking at Quora last week, and there was a question that intrigued me: What is most American about America?

It’s a more complicated question than you might think, because “American” is one of those things that is hard to define, and the answer often says more about the person answering the question than it does about America.

I’ve been turning the idea over in my mind for a week, and I have my own answer. Spray Cheese.

Stay with me.

The inventor of spray cheese, looked at centuries of cheese making craft and tradition, and decided he could do it differently.  That takes guts. It also takes a certain audacity to look at a product that is a solid and say “I can make an aerosol version of that.”


And not only think of it, but to actually do it, and convince other people that it’s a great idea.  There is hardly a supermarket or convenience store in the land that does not carry some form of spray cheese.

For me it is that ability to look at a crazy idea, acknowledge that it is a crazy idea, and then do it anyway, that is the most American thing I can think of.

That is the spirit that left Europe to found the new Jerusalem, that broke with England to start its own country, that invented Punkin’ Chunkin’, the Muppets, and power tool drag racing. (If you have never been to the power tool drag races in San Francisco, go. It's a hoot.)


Crazy ideas are why the we took golf balls and a six iron to the moon (sensible people wouldn’t have wasted the space - or gone to the moon, we could already see there wasn't anything there), created art cars, and have an entire museum devoted to toilet seats


America - making crazy ideas reality is our business.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Big furry monster!!

My house is being turned upside down. By him.


Don't let the cute puppy act fool you. He is a furry demon, spawned by Cerberus, and I have two cats who will corroborate my testimony. 

His name is Rocky, and fortunately, he is not permanent. I am dog sitting for my parents; soon they will reclaim him and I will once again be able to sleep.

I've tried to explain that Rocky likes cats, but George and Bailey don't believe that story for an instant. They can clearly see that he is a dog, and dogs are not to be trusted.  To their credit, it hasn't been violent. There have been some epic staring contests, and every once in a while Rocky intentionally barks at the cats to make them jump. It mostly comes down to two things, who gets petted and property rights.

Get that DOG out of my house.
First, the cats resent sharing me with Rocky. They can't quite decide if they are more upset with me, (for being a traitor and petting that DOG, not to mention letting him in the house) or with Rocky, who is stealing the petting that by rights belongs to them. Then there are the sleeping arrangements. 

After he arrived, George and Bailey took possession of the master suite (the closet has a lot of good hiding spots), and Rocky got the living room and kitchen.  But Rocky doesn't understand borders, and keeps going into the bedroom at night, wanting me to pet him. The cats are not about to share the bedroom with him, and while I have attempted to mediate, discussions have broken down. I have now spent several nights sleeping on the living room sofa. 

Why am I in exile with the dog you might ask? Because if I lock him out of the bedroom he whines so that I can't sleep at all. If I stay in the living room with him, he settles down, and I can (sort of) sleep. 

I like Rocky. I just like sleeping more.





Monday, October 27, 2014

Paleo Diet: Bacon Mayo

The weather has been so lovely that I haven’t wanted to spend more time indoors than I have to, so it has not been a week for adventurous cooking.  I’ve been subsisting on cold roast chicken and the apple/leek casserole that I’ve already covered.

But you can’t eat chicken at every meal, and I had some shrimp and veggies to use up, so I made a shrimp salad. Nothing terribly exciting, just a way of using veggies before they go bad, and I normally wouldn’t bother you with it. But shrimp salad usually has mayonnaise in it. I didn’t have any, and my paleo cookbook has a recipe for baconnaise – i.e. mayonnaise made with bacon fat.



Now, before you shudder and click away, remember that the classical version of mayonnaise is an emulsion of olive oil (fat), egg yolks, and lemon juice. Using bacon fat (which you have thriftily saved after cooking your bacon) is just replacing one fat with another.

And mayo is one of those things that is very easy to make. All it takes is one bowl and a whisk. Or in my case – a stick blender with a  whisk attachment.

I forgot to take pictures while I was making it, but it goes from being bright yellow runny goo (the egg yolks) to pale yellow and creamy. Flavor-wise, it’s not all that different from store bought mayo, the lemon is more forward, because I like lemon and added extra. The biggest difference is that when you refrigerate it, it goes hard, like butter. (That’s animal fats for you.)


Anyway, when I tried it on the shrimp salad, I made sure I added it to the shrimp when they were still hot, so the baconnaise would melt and coat the salad. 

Final verdict, not bad. But more of a science project than a recipe. Given a choice, I'd use olive oil and save the bacon fat for frying eggs. 


Baconnaise 

from the cookbook Practical Paleo

2 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
3/4 cup bacon fat, melted and cooled to room temperature

In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, lemon juice and mustard until blended and bright yellow. Add 1/4 cup of bacon fat to the yolk mixture, a few drops at a time, whisking constantly. Gradually add the remaining bacon fat in a slow stream, whisking constantly, until the mayonnaise is thick and light in color. 

Keeps for about a week.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Re-opening the Hermann Park Garden Center

If you read this blog, you know that Hermann Park is one of my favorite places in Houston. It's got the Japan Festival, the Houston Garden Center (which includes the herb garden, the rose garden, the Chinese Pavilion), the zoo, a lake, Miller Outdoor Theater, and it's within walking distance of the best museums in town. If I could live in the park, I would. 

As I reported earlier this year, Hermann Park is celebrating its 100th anniversary by making over the Garden Center. Last weekend, the public was allowed to see what has been done. It was supposed to be a grand opening, but they're not quite finished (heavy rains pushed back the schedule) so it's more of a preview. 

Not quite finished yet
The first thing you notice is the hill. It has a spiral path leading to the top, so it resembles an enormous green snail shell. The black stripes are planted with ivy, so eventually it will be completely green.

the hill, that stripe is actually a cascade.
The old garden center has been demolished and replaced with a new, modern building, with more light and room for exhibitions and displays. 

New layout, from top of the the hill. The new garden center is at the end, the rose garden will be on the right and the citrus orchard on the left. The trellises on both sides are planted with vines, so someday, there will be shade.
The rose garden has not been replanted yet. You can see where it will be, but it's empty beds right now. 

The Chinese pavilion has been placed in a grove of pine trees, with a view of the rose garden and the statue of Confucius.


On the opposite side of the garden from the roses, is a vegetable garden and citrus orchard, with rustic log benches and raised beds made of wood and galvanized metal.  This makes it completely different in feel from the formal garden, which is only a juniper hedge away. As with the rose garden, they haven't finished yet, so there are lots of little signs saying things like "Coming soon - Mint"!

Everything is ready to grow, the retaining walls on the mound are planted with ivy, the paths are planted with vines, even the parking lot has been planted with shade trees.

the parking lot, hope the trees grow quickly
I loved the new chairs, which are really comfortable. I just needed a drink for the whole thing to be perfect.


Once all the plantings settle in and have had a few seasons to grow, it should be lovely. I'm looking forward to seeing it get even better.