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. 


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.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Paleo diet: Zucchini pancakes

Last weekend, I made a decision I'd been putting off for about a year. It took all day, but I finally did it. I bought a car. Isn't it pretty?

And the wonderful thing is, I won't have to do this again for at least 10 years!  Car shopping is unpleasant, long, and expensive. I'd gotten used to not having a car payment, and now I've just added another payment plan into my life. Ouch.

shredded zucchini - ready to go
So in the spirit of economy, I offer zucchini pancakes. They are tasty, extremely easy, and quite cheap. They are also paleo approved. 

zucchini batter
Because there is very little flour in these, the batter (mostly beaten egg) tends to run all over. In the end, I got frustrated trying to cope with little pancakes and just dumped all the batter in the pan, making one big pancake, and then cutting it into wedges with the kitchen shears.

Originally I thought it looked like a sun, but now I think it's more of an amoeba
Either way, it makes a pleasant meal. Serve plain or with salsa. 

Zucchini Pancakes 
from Practical Paleo - serves two

3 large eggs
2 cups shredded zucchini 
1 tablespoon coconut flour
Coconut oil or bacon grease for frying
salt and pepper to taste

Beat the eggs with the coconut flour, salt and black pepper. Mix in the shredded zucchini until well combined.

Add about 1/8" of coconut oil to a large skillet over medium-low heat. Spoon the mixture into the mixture into the skillet in "cakes" that are approximately 4-6 inches in diameter.

Cook until they hold together, flipping as you would a standard pancake.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What am I doing here?

Weekend before last I had an invitation to meet a bunch of people at a local tavern.  I only knew two of the group, (slightly) so it would involve meeting a lot of new people. New restaurant, new people, a mildly stressful situation. 

I argued with myself for an hour, about the benefits of leaving the house vs staying home and reading until I finally came up with the ultimate argument: "if I don’t go out and meet people, I am going to turn into a crazy cat lady.” 

And that is how I found myself in a karaoke bar, listening to an incredibly flat (but very enthusiastic) rendition of Bon Jovi’s "It's My Life".

I tried. I really did. I got up and sang. I had a couple beers. I bounced around on the dance floor. I chatted about the benefits of vodka soaked gummi bears over jello shots. (Both are gross, but gummi bears are less messy) But I always felt like I was watching the whole evening from the outside. Everyone else seemed to be having a really good time, and I don't know why, but I just couldn’t get into it. 

I wasn’t miserable, but I really wanted to go somewhere where the music was softer, where I could talk to the person next to me without shouting, and the drinks weren’t bizarre concoctions designed to get you drunk as quickly as possible.

Speaking of which, have you ever heard of a Birthday Cake Shot?  I'd never heard of such a thing before. So I learned something from the evening, which means it wasn't a total loss. 

I also have an invitation to a Halloween party, where they will be serving the aforementioned vodka soaked gummi bears.  Should I go?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Roasted Radicchio and Shrimp

Isn't it odd that nobody admits to liking bitter things? Obviously, people must, because otherwise no-one would drink coffee or IPA. Bitterness is important. It adds depth and contrast. It tempers things that are overly sweet. It's why dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate.

Ready to go in the oven
And if you want a list of boring health reasons, look here:
Reasons to eat bitter greens

The recipe below uses radicchio, a famously bitter vegetable that I had never used before. The bitterness is supposed to be tempered by the salad dressing, and the salad dressing is a thing of beauty, I highly recommend it.

roasted radicchio
But the radicchio itself turned out to be too bitter for me. Maybe if you added some wedges of red cabbage into it, or used it only as a relish. I can see where (minus the shrimp) this might be great with a nice thick steak. But on its own, I just couldn't take it.

For those of you with stouter taste buds, the recipe is below.

Roasted Radicchio and Shrimp

2 small heads radicchio
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, divided
Kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and de-veined
3 strips of bacon (about 3 ounces), cut into lardons
1 small shallot, minced (about 2 to 3 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons maple syrup (or to taste; see note in step 5)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley or chives

Heat the oven to 425°F.
To prep radicchio: Remove any wilted or bruised outer leaves, then cut the radicchio in half lengthwise through the core. Place the halves cut side down, then cut each half into four wedges, leaving the root end intact. In a large bowl, gently toss the wedges with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and pepper. Place the wedges cut side down in a casserole dish—you want them to fit snugly in the pan. Let the radicchio marinate at room temperature while your oven is preheating.
To prep shrimp: Toss the shrimp with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and pepper; then arrange on a baking sheet or casserole. (Note: Use separate pans for roasting the shrimp and radicchio because they’ll have different cooking times.)
To roast radicchio and shrimp: Roast the radicchio about 15 to 18 minutes, turning once, or until tender and the leaves are starting to caramelize and slightly wilt and crisp around the edges. When the radicchio is close to done, put in the shrimp. Cook the shrimp just until they’re pink and firm, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove both from the oven, and place the radicchio wedges on a cutting board. Chop them into bite-size pieces, and combine with shrimp in a large bowl.
To prepare warm bacon vinaigrette: In a large skillet cook the bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over moderately high heat until it's rendered its fat and is starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the shallots and cook another minute, just to warm through and soften. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, mustard, maple syrup and cherry tomatoes. 
Add the vinaigrette to the radicchio and shrimp, and toss to combine. Place salad on large serving platter. Scatter the parsley or chives over the top and serve warm or at room temperature.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dealing with compliments

Construction in the neighborhood has finished, and the new houses are filling up with new neighbors. I spent a pleasant evening chatting with one of them, with one minor quibble. She praised me to the skies: really, over the top, fulsome, praise.  I thanked her, but was incredibly embarrassed and uncomfortable about it. This woman had known me for all of an hour.  I like her, she's very sweet, but all I could think of is there some way to get her to stop?

Praise at work I can deal with. Work praise is specific and to the point. "You did a good job getting the tender together in such a short span of time." "We put the right person on the project." I'm not embarrassed by it. It is gratifying because I feel I've earned it.

"I can live for two months on a good compliment"
                                                  - Mark Twain

But praise for things I have no control over, particularly if I don't agree, tends to bother me. I had an argument with a boyfriend because he said I was beautiful, and I responded with "thank you." Apparently, that was the wrong answer, because he shot back with "Don't thank me." but what was I supposed to say? 

I was always taught to smile and say thank you when someone complimented me. Is there something else I should be doing?

I'm not saying that people shouldn't praise each other, we should probably do it more, but responding to compliments graciously is difficult, and I'll take any pointers that people want to share.

Friday, October 3, 2014


I saw the first episode of Gracepoint last night. Gracepoint is a remake of the English show Broadchurch, which I also saw. It's almost line for line the same show, but with different accents.
But why remake it at all?
Why not just show the original? It's not that Americans can't cope with accents. The popularity of Downton Abbey and John Oliver (not to mention the sad sideshow that is Honey Boo Boo) prove that. 
I understand why they are copying. TV is expensive, so if you can prove this story has been a success already, you've got a better chance of getting funding. But because they are so risk averse, there is a tendency to sanitize, to soften, to make characters more likeable. Rake and Absolutely Fabulous were sharper, harder, dirtier and a whole lot funnier in their original versions.  The American remakes sanded the edges, and by doing so, ruined the shows.
The remakes that really work use the original show as a jumping off point; they save the main characters, but then take it from there. The Office, Ugly Betty, and House of Cards are as good as the originals, but they are not the same shows.
And sometimes you get a cast that just gels. One that can take average material and make it shine. Coupling was that. The American cast tried, but lightning did not strike twice. Steven's dinner party speech, about the need for privacy in the toilet, will live in my memory forever. (And I totally agree with him about potpourri.)
But back to my original point. Why not just show the original show? Surely it would be a cheaper way to fill out the TV schedule, and we wouldn't have to suffer through re-castings of old formulas: like NCIS: New Orleans or Real Housewives of Atlanta. Why should the only place to see foreign programming on American television be late-night PBS? There is literally a world full of creative people out there, why not take advantage of it?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Paleo Diet: Citrus Roasted Carrot Salad

My brother, who until recently had been living overseas, has moved back into town, and with him he's brought the paleo diet.

prepped carrots
My brother, who doesn't cook. My brother, who had the staff at his local Chipotle making his order as opened the door to the restaurant and kept loan paperwork in his kitchen cupboards. That brother has purchased two slow cookers and three (three!) cookbooks. He is serious.
He has even talked my parents into trying it, and though I've been skeptical, I can't hold out anymore. I'm going to give it a 30 day trial. October is officially Paleo Month.

carrots with marinade
One of the reasons for my skepticism, is that with my brother, taste takes second place to performance. If the food is good for you, it's okay if it's bland, boring, or borderline unpleasant.  I refuse to eat that way. Food is one of the pleasures of living, and I will not have it reduced to celery juice and chicken breasts. (This may be the reason he's skinny and I'm not - but I like to think I have a better time.)
I've been looking through several paleo cookbooks, and come to the conclusion that it's not that bad. In it's most simplified form, it means no grains, no sugar, and no processed foods. This is not a big wrench for me, though I will miss bread. I like bread. They are also not in favor of cheese, which is going to hurt, but I'm determined to give this a fair trial.
ready for the oven
The salad below is a recipe I found in an article about eating for beautiful skin. I'm all for having beautiful skin, and I've checked it against my paleo books, and it meets all the requirements.

It also tastes good, the carrots are spicy, the dressing is a little sweet (orange juice) but not too sweet (lemon juice), the avocado adds some cool creaminess and the nuts give crunch.  All that and beautiful skin, too. What more can you ask for in a salad?

Isn't it lovely?
Citrus Roasted Carrot Salad with Avocado Spicy Greens and Toasted Pine Nuts
serves 4

1 orange, halved
1 lemon, halved
3 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (I used white)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound medium sized carrots, peeled
1 avocado, sliced
2 cups of spicy greens like arugula
¼ cup pine nuts (I used walnuts)
Salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a small food processor, pulse garlic, cumin, thyme, chili flakes, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and ¾ teaspoons black pepper. Then add vinegar and oil and mix until combined.

3. Put carrots on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour spice mixture on top. Place lemon and orange cut side down on top of carrots. Roast carrots until they are tender, about 45 minutes.

4. Pull out of oven and arrange carrots on a platter or divide on to serving plates. Carefully squeeze roasted lemon and orange wedge into a measuring cup. (This should yield ½ cup of juice.)

5. Whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

6. Drizzle some of the sauce on top of carrots.

7. In a medium bowl place the arugula. Season with a touch of salt and pepper and drizzle one or two tablespoons of dressing on top. Mix gently.

8. Place arugula on top of carrots, and carefully tuck avocado slices in salad.

9. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. Serve.