Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hook 'Em Horns Curried Carrot Soup

October is Soup Month at our house. Football is in full swing by now and I appreciate the ease of having soup made ahead for weekend football watching.  I can reheat the soup slowly, keeping a close eye on the game, and have my meal ready to roll at halftime.

I also like having soup on hand for Halloween.  I am chief doorbell answerer and candy hander outer, so I want something easy for dinner that night plus something I can reheat if the traffic on the front porch keeps me away from my meal for very long at a time.

I have two or three reliably delicious soup recipes already in my repertoire but I wanted to branch out this year.

I had most of a bunch of organic carrots already on hand, and being a lifetime UT Longhorn fan figured I couldn't go wrong with a basic orange color scheme.  Enter this simple recipe I found on the Food Network site for  Curried Carrot Soup.

I liked the looks of this for all sorts of reasons besides the potential for a gorgeously Hook'Em Horns orange hue.  The prep looked easy and there weren't 426 ingredients to wrangle.  Turns out it was every bit as flavorful as it was colorful, so let's get down to work and make some soup together.  I'm going to walk you through the recipe as written, but read ahead to get some seasoning notes, deal?

Peel and thinly slice 8 medium carrots, 4 medium celery stalks, and rough chop a medium onion.

In a large pot put 3 tablespoons of olive oil adding in 2 teaspoons of curry powder. Stir over medium heat for one or two minutes until the mixture is fragrant.

Add the sliced vegetables to the oil and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes.  Be prepared to spend most of the last 7 of those minutes fighting the impulse to get a spoon and eat everything in the pan at that point, the mix of vegetables and spices smells that good.

Stir in 5 cups of chicken broth and let that come to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and let it cook about 10-12 minutes until the vegetables are very tender.

If you don't trust the timing or your eyes, the tenderness is easy to determine by putting a couple of the thickest carrot slices you can find on a plate and seeing if they are easy to cut with a fork.  Or you could use a spoon against the side of the pot.  I was curious about what seemed to me the teensy amount of curry called for in this recipe so I wanted an early taste.

Once your veggies are tender remove the pot from the heat and let it stand 10 or so minutes.  Then you'll want to remove the oil from the top of the soup by laying a paper towel on top to blot it off.  Carefully discard the oily towel.  No, I didn't take a photo of the oily paper towel.  You're welcome.
Please be careful blending hot stuff - you know the drill and if you don't refer to your owner's manual before trying this the first time.  You want to enjoy eating all of this soup, not end up wearing it.
Working in 2 cup batches transfer the soup to a blender and puree.

Once the soup is pureed, return it to a pan over medium heat and reheat through.  Season with a tablespoon of lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

Folks, here is where I parted company with the recipe in a big way.  I felt this soup was headed in a good direction but to me to it still needed a big seasoning boost. I'd already started out with one more teaspoon of curry powder than was called for.  My soup so far still tasted too carroty I thought.  Not enough depth of flavor for me though I realized a hiatus overnight in the refrigerator might fix some of that.  I decided to add more curry powder along with some cayenne pepper after  getting the lemon juice, salt and white pepper added in to taste.  By the time I finished sprinkling and stirring and tasting and sprinkling again, I'd added in another tablespoon of curry powder and about 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne.

Next time I make this, and oh yes, there will definitely be a next time, I plan on starting out with two tablespoons of curry powder in the oil.  I will try a half and half blend of hot Madras curry and regular and see if it still needs a boost from cayenne at the end.  I could certainly see playing with other toasted spice mixtures just to see a few of the different places this soup can go.  To me that is in great part the beauty of a simple soup base like this one.  You can absolutely customize the seasoning to suit your needs.

But what you really need is some curried carrot soup for starters.

This soup has great mouth feel.  It is super creamy tasting without an ounce of dairy fat other than the topping I chose for my first bowl.  I will take this batch all sorts of different directions with garnishes to keep from getting bored. I also predict this soup is going to provide fun color play served as an entree while watching UT football later this month.  Yeah, that's right - I am one of those people who would absolutely take my color cues for a meal to coordinate with my home team uniforms.  And yeah, I'm not blind - carrots may not result in burnt orange soup - but they come close enough.

Today I used a chipotle crema topping on the bowl I had for lunch.  Before I licked the bowl clean I tried the soup with a bit of smoked cheddar flavor popcorn on top just for fun. It was awesome.  I plan on crumbling bacon and a little grated sharp cheese on top to get the Hub to enthusiastically try some later this week for dinner.  If I decide I want to dress it up, say for a Thanksgiving appetizer, brown butter sautéed sage leaves would be an elegant finishing touch.

Organic onions, celery and carrots are available in practically every grocery store these days.  Hie thee to your favorite, buy yourself some and in about 40 minutes you can have your own batch of delicious Curried Carrot Soup.  Healthy, delicious, easy.  Hook 'Em horns orange.  Looks like all winners from here.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Little boxes in the Hill Country

Wow, I took my eyes off the calendar for just a minute or two and suddenly, WHAM!  It is October, one third of the way into the month already, and I am sitting here with windows opened wide to welcome cool morning air, listening to the strains of music drifting over from ACL Music Fest.

What with it feeling like all the world converging upon nearby Zilker Park for a kinder gentler version of Fest this year, it made perfect sense to the Hub and I to pile into the car and head the other direction this weekend.

On the advice of Kathleen Scott of Hill Country Mysteries, we set our sights for Blanco generally, and the Redbud Cafe specifically.

It was a lovely day, a reasonable hour long drive, and the cafe certainly did not disappoint.  In fact, there were only two letdowns for the day, one small and one slightly larger.

A tree grows in Blanco..
The small disappointment for the day was that by the time we wandered in after lunch the highly recommended Deutsch Apple bakery had sold out of nearly every portable potable.  I'd been warned this could happen which made it a little easier to be philosophical at the sight of shelves quite emptied of apple cakes and muffins. I still made do handsomely, bringing home a jar of Texas made apple butter and some of their delicious cookies.

The Deutsch Apple Bakery
The Big Nasty?   I'll get around to that in just a moment.  First the fun stuff....

We'd decided not to check out the Real Ale brewery this go round, saving that as incentive for a return trip on a Friday afternoon when their tasting room is open.

Instead we headed straight for the Square to check out the Redbud Cafe Market and Pub.  It was everything it was promised to be and more.....
I appreciated the many thoughtful design touches evident throughout the Cafe.  Here, a reflected portrait.
Wandering in, my eye was first captured by a series of large wall displays featuring stenciled rainfall records for Blanco broken down by month and year.
After dutifully checking to see what the accumulations were for the months/years the Hub and I were born,  I turned my attention towards how we'd get our lunch.

Here's the general drill.  You walk in, adjust your eyes, try to ignore the siren song of the pottery and gift shop beckoning through an open door to your right, and wander over to a bakery style counter filled with goodies.

You wrench your eyes up off the bakery items displayed and check out the menu for the day.  A friendly face at the counter will answer whatever questions you have, take the order for your lunch, and then if you are so inclined, guide you around the corner of the counter to your left where the Real Ale beers on tap are located.  The routine repeats, you ask any questions you have, get a sample taste as needed and then hopefully order the perfect cold brew to imbibe while you wait for your food.

We consoled ourselves for bypassing the brewery itself by each choosing a glass of a different one of the four types of Real Ale sold on tap at the Cafe.   The Hub thoroughly enjoyed their Oktoberfest with the Reuben sandwich he ordered that arrived nestled between slices of the most gorgeous marble rye bread I've ever seen.  I blissed out sipping a glass of Full Moon Pale Rye Ale in between bites of the amazing seasonal Pear and Bleu Cheese salad.
There we sat, settled in at one of several dozen oilcloth covered tables, munching and sipping to our heart's content while we soaked in our well appointed surroundings and people watched through windows looking out onto Blanco's town square.

I gotta admit up front I never expected to see so many gray haired pony tailed men in one place, especially not any place so far out into the Texas Hill Country.  It would appear from superficial inspection that bikers and old hippies have all but colonized the area.  I found that heartening for some reason I couldn't quite put my finger on.  
Old Blanco Courthouse - now their Visitor Center.
In retrospect, the crunchier than expected nature of Blanco was probably just what I needed to buffer me from the Large Letdown that came as part of our ride back home.
The Blanco River
Said letdown being the nasty shock that unfolded before our weary eyes as we took a series of exploratory turns onto smaller and smaller roads on the way back into Austin.  Every twist and turn of the selected county and/or ranch roads we explored made it painfully clear the blight of suburbia has spread in malignant rings far far outwards from Austin.  Developments jammed with houses have become about as ubiquitous (and to my eye as unattractive) as oak wilt.

I've watched the exploding census counts for our area and I guess I knew in my head those developments had to be out there somewhere, but passing through one huge subdivision after another gave made me a little heartsick as I realized how much territory has already been converted from more open spaces.  

Yeah, I know, I am beginning to sound super duper geezery here and maybe now you're wondering how long it can be before I start nattering on about how great it was when sliced bread was 40 cents a loaf or moaning about my childhood trials walking barefoot to school through the snow, uphill both ways.  I promise I get it.  Growth inevitably happens and it isn't always awful.   

I'll even admit to you the Hub and I both kept having our eyes and imaginations captured by For Sale signs offering acreage all along the road between here and there.   We pretend it wouldn't be any different for us to move out to the country.  That the house we might build or renovate would be greener and lovelier.  That our wanting to live away from the hubbub is an impulse totally removed from whatever brought all those other folks into their houses crammed into the hills surrounding Austin.

Maybe what we want is something different, maybe it isn't.  Nevertheless, knowing there are a bunch of folks out around Blanco letting their freak flags fly?  It is just about the perfect antidote to offset the impact of all those little boxes marching up and down the hills outside of town.

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.

There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,

And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,

And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

There's a pink one and a green one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Words and music by Malvina Reynolds; copyright 1962 Schroder Music Company, renewed 1990. Malvina and her husband were on their way from where they lived in Berkeley, through San Francisco and down the peninsula to La Honda where she was to sing at a meeting of the Friends’ Committee on Legislation.  As she drove through Daly City, she said “Bud, take the wheel. I feel a song coming on.”

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happiness on Hand

If you could look through your computer to see me at mine you'd see me smiling and, let me rush to add, while fully dressed!  No blogging while in pajamas going on over here - no sirree!  Lately I'm smiling a lot because I'm happy for several good reasons.

One large helping of happiness is being served up by our wonderful Fall weather.  We've woken up to temperatures in the high 50s two mornings running. Though that may seem like nothing to you folks living in necks of the woods with four seasons per year, around here we have "Way Too Hot", "Just Right" and "Pretty Chilly" for our weather options.

The weeks of late September - mid November are typically "Just Right" weather and that makes them a local treasure.  For the small subset of us not allergic to anything floating in the air on this side of the calendar wheel, the pleasures of open windows for the few weeks of cooler Fall weather leads to outright giddiness nonTexans might not fully appreciate.  Although California, I am guessing with your current weirdly hot weather you are feeling us a little bit more today, am I right?  I thought so.

Cooler weather here means finally firing up the oven without needing to turn up the air conditioner.  It means appreciating oven hot foods as opposed to sticking with pepper hot foods and their contradictory tendency to cool a body off.

Cooler weather also means football, naturally.  You do remember I am writing this from Texas, yes? Football is an obsession here on every level.  High School, College, Pro teams - it matters not.  If you play it we will watch.  And watching football calls for special comfort foods, especially when the home team sputters.  While I can't recall how it got started, for several years now any list of football season comfort foods pretty much begins and ends with Muffaleta sandwiches.

Muffaleta sandwiches need one crucial ingredient - one I am always happy to have on hand.  Whenever olive spread (or olive salad - it's called different things different places) is in the house, or rather in the refrigerator, I am smiling.  I throw mine together from a combination of recipes - you can find dozens online.
I typically use two parts green olives to one part black olives and then throw in any of a number of pickled pepper pieces, some chopped celery or carrots, roasted red peppers, olive oil, red vinegar, salt and freshly ground black pepper.  I process it in pulses until it looks just right.

I make olive spread ahead to keep on hand because it always tastes best after it sits around a while. The flavors stick to themselves for starters, sort of like boys and girls at a middle school party, lined up against opposing gymnasium walls.  But you give them some time in the refrigerator, the tastes introduce themselves, get started swapping stories, and before you know it they are all old backslapping friends and the sum is much much greater than the total of the individual parts.

It is that great summed up olive salad more than any other single ingredient that makes a great Muffaleta sandwich.  And it is that great Muffaleta sandwich that transforms watching any football game into a good time no matter how my team is playing.

For non-football dinnertimes, and tonight is one instance of such, I am always happy to have a batch of Pioneer Woman's Buttered Rosemary Rolls cooling on the counter.

This is a do-over. The first time I made these a couple of weeks ago, I botched the rise by waiting too long afterwards to bake them. The poor babies fell and never quite got back up on their yeasty feet.  They were tasty, sure, but not gorgeous like they were meant to be.

This time I baked them promptly with gorgeousness as promised.  I left them in the cast iron skillet and will simply reheat them in the residual heat left over after I finish roasting a chicken.  Er, I will if I can keep from hiding in the coat closet and eating them all by myself that is.  They smell soooooo good.

I used a mixture of mostly rosemary with a little fresh thyme thrown in to echo the herbs I will sprinkle on that aforementioned chicken I plan to roast for dinner tonight.Because as I write this, I have  a wonderfully fresh Dewberry Farms whole chicken air drying in the refrigerator.  Isn't it happy looking?  Looking at it is making me smile, anyway.

I've read air drying encourages the crispest possible skin after roasting.  Friends, I'll be honest.  It's that crispy skin I'm after.  The rest of the chicken will be delicious but mostly it represents what I'll use to fill up on after I've eaten my portion of skin.  The prospect of roasted chicken skin - ohhh baby yes, I am grinning at that.
Finally I am airing out the ivories due to the handful of jalapeño peppers fresh from our garden sitting on the counter.  I'm pretty sure I have enough to put together a new batch of Homesick Texan Lisa Fain's Bread and Butter Jalapeño pickles featured towards the bottom of her post on what constitutes "Texan" potato salad.

This miniature harvest is coming just in the nick of time.  Besides potato salad, I've added pickles from the first batch I made on to every sort of sandwich or burger imaginable.  You can color me S O L D.  I need me some more.  Life is way too short to even try and get by without their sweet heat.

Having all this yumminess on hand is a lot like having money in the bank.  Money in the bank makes you happy, doesn't it?  I say to you "Here!  Here is money for you to put in the bank!" and you smile, right?  Right?

What about you?  Is there an ingredient or the prospect of a particular dish that reliably puts a smile on your face?   What's money in the bank yummy in your book?  Feel free to share in the comments section.  Who knows... your comment may be just the ticket to put a big grin on somebody else's face.  It'll definitely make me smile.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Rosemary Vinaigrette Grilled Chicken Cutlets and Rustic Apple Tart

Between a banged up ankle keeping me off my feet (read:no cooking for me which means no cooking at all around here) and the energy required to support moving my daughter's stuff back in and getting her unpacked, we have found ourselves eating take out food as often as not.   

So lately whenever I actually put together dinner all on my own, it feels something like a victory.  Not so much "din-ner!" but more "taaa DAAAA!".

Recently I put together a few very simple elements that in combination were very fanfare worthy.  Grilled marinated chicken cutlets, heirloom tomatoes, cheese mashed potatoes followed by a rustic apple tart for dessert.

What gave cause for hooraw was that the fruits, veggies and protein were all certified organic.  Securing organic ingredients lavishes a bit of extra love on family or guests.  When that kind of food love is available, I mostly just try not to do anything to get too much in the way of the flavors.

I'd spotted this recipe for a rosemary vinaigrette on the Simply Recipes site.  It was featured with grilled fish, but since we'd just been to Perla's Seafood and Oyster Bar for a birthday celebration, I figured to use it to grill some chicken.

Sidebar: I often hesitate when trying out recipes calling for much rosemary.  As much as I enjoy the aroma and flavor, I know from experience it can quickly overpower.  That said, I have tons of rosemary growing in beds around our house.  It loves the heat here and as long as it is provided good drainage, will even tolerate the occasional 8-10 inch tropical storm rain (hello Hermine!) without suffering unduly.

The resulting vinaigrette was fragrant and fresh, speaking its name softly on the palate.  I used grapeseed oil since I wanted to grill the meat and the olive oil called for can break down unfortunately over high heat.  If I were going to use this only as a fresh dressing, and it was quite delicious drizzled lightly over purple cherokee tomato slices, I'd go with a lovely light and fruity olive oil quite happily.

I took my rosemary vinaigrette, combined it with a bit of mayonnaise and slathered it all over a whole skinless boneless chicken breast that I'd sliced and pounded into cutlets.   This process accomplishes three things.  Boneless skinless chicken breast meat doesn't really taste.  As something of a blank culinary page it is up to you the cook to add flavor to keep it from being the bore at the table.  Chicken breast is also a very lean protein. Without added fat and a quick cooking time it can easily become dried out and tough.
To give you an idea of the serving size, all these and two more pieces besides came from one whole breast.  I am guessing each piece was 2-3 ounces.  With pieces this small you can pile them artfully on the plate should you want to show off a bit.  Your call.
My solution is to slice and pound the breast meat into cutlets, sometimes referred to as scallopine.   Rather than flouring and frying as is standard with cutlets,  I marinate mine at room temperature for 30-45 minutes then throw them on the grill.

Using this technique I get a good ratio of surface area to marinade.   My habitual addition of a bit of mayo to the marinade means the meat is quite well protected from drying out. The thinness of a cutlet allows me to get a good sear on the outside and after about 3 minutes per side my chicken is just cooked all the way through while staying wonderfully tender and moist.

You can make a marinade from any of your favorite vinaigrettes.  The basil vinaigrette I made recently would easily would work in this application as would any of a number of bottled offerings if you are pressed for time.

The final special touch was a quick rustic apple tart technique snagged from an article I found decades ago about cooking with your children.  That is to say, cooking with your children there in the kitchen, helping out.  If you are wanting to cook your children, well, please move along, nothing to see like that here!

You take 2-3 apples, varieties that are slightly tart and able to withstand baking work best. Peel and slice them into 1/2 inch pieces. In a bowl combine your apples with a generous splash of lemon juice (to prevent browning and add brightness), then toss well with a tablespoon of AP flour, a 1/4 cup of sugar, a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg.

Pile your apples on a pie crust that has been laid out on a baking sheet on top of foil.   I used the kind you can buy in the refrigerated section of the grocery store because, well just because I always use those.  One of these days I'll get good at making pie crust but that is not me, not now.  If you are a whiz in the pie crust making category then I honor your prowess - use your own recipe, rolled out to the size of a 9 inch pie crust.

After piling your coated apples in the center of the crust, gently fold the edges up around the apple pieces leaving 3-4 inches exposed in the center.  Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes depending on your oven.  You want the apples tender and the pastry just golden brown.  A tart yields 4-5 servings.

There you have it.  The rosemary vinaigrette marinade for the grilled chicken cutlets and rustic apple tart were two easy touches elevating dinner to something with a little more ooomph to mark the end of a very long day coming at the end of a very long week.

Home cooking doesn't have to be  difficult or complicated.  When all is said and done, whatever you get on the plate will be saying "I love you".

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A moving experience

You know how allergic reactions can develop some of the time?  You are exposed to something, nothing much happens, you get a false sense of "this doesn't bother me" and so you get a little cavalier, don't worry about it the next time you are in contact.

The second go round things are just a little different though, and maybe you think, "Wow, I am glad this is not too big a problem for me because I can see how if this was worse it could be real trouble.".

Then that third exposure rolls around and you are realizing, "Whoa, OK, maybe I am reactive to this.  I am going to need to be careful here and limit my exposure.".

Well folks, that is how it is with me and moves.

The Hub paid for medical school, residency and a post-training fellowship by joining a branch of the military.  They took care of his tuition and books and provided a stipend during his schooling and he paid them back year for year with military service after.   It should come as no surprise then to hear that required us to move around fairly regularly as a young family.

Houston for medical school.  San Antonio for internship.  Salt Lake City for a residency and fellowship and then California for the "paying you back for school" years of service at a regional military medical center.

Admittedly, the first few moves, while exciting in their own way, were entry level.  We didn't own much, so packing it up and hauling it someplace new to unpack again was not much of a big deal.  And when you are in the military, they may ask you to move but by golly in those years they also handled the logistics very supportively.

Eventually however, debts paid, we gratefully resumed civilian status.  Along the way we'd accumulated a house full of stuff.  And two (amazing, wonderful - I love you so so much kids!) children.

All our moves past that point were just about as complicated and frazzling as anything I am ever supposed to be wrangling needs to be.

Along the way I discovered three things about myself and the process of moving.  

First I learned to prepare and have on hand a bag loaded with rolls of toilet paper, a couple of light bulbs, a box of trash bags, extra rolls of tape, a box cutter, a marking pen, bottles of water, Advil and a music source.  That combination has gotten me through many a long day.

A second major lesson has been the wisdom of access to loads of high carb sugary treats along with caffeinated drinks to get through the initial push.  I am not advocating this as a healthy life style believe me, but then again I don't see moving in or out of a place as healthy per se.  Moving is hard physically and emotionally, even when it represents an exciting new stage of life.  For me the combination of hard physical labor and emotional stress cries out for those two major food groups: sugar and caffeine.

Third truth is that moves make me crazy.  Correction.  At this point in my life, any move, large or small, ramps me up to Psycho Plus.  My family knows this about me and depending on how fun they are finding the move themselves, they give me a little extra head space to accommodate.  I do my best each and every time but I gotta tell you with each subsequent exposure, my reaction to even the idea of moving, escalates.

With that in mind, understanding there is a truck of stuff coming from Michigan to Austin to re-feather our nest for the short term (our daughter relocating back home for a stint), I wanted to make some sort of sweet loaf.  I knew it would come in handy to help fuel the upcoming extra trips up and down stairs to get her stuff unloaded and sorted into place.  And I knew I would rely on that sweet treat to feed the monster caloric requirements of my impending Move Psycho-Meltdown.

I put together a tried and true banana bread, bumped up a level with some chopped nuts as additional  energy source.  I've used this recipe for years.  I keep a stash of overripe bananas in the freezer so I can whip up a batch when the impulse strikes, and I've taken to swapping out Splenda for half the sugar called for.  It holds the calorie count down a bit and doesn't have any noticeable effect on the taste or as importantly, the texture.

See what I mean?  Hellooo gorgeous.  It may have been too long since the last time I made banana bread however because this loaf just about disappeared in two days. That meant I had movers arriving a half hour after the birds get up tomorrow and precious little sweetness left to gobble down with my coffee as fuel.  No can do, folks.

I turned to a recipe for a sour cream pound cake  The recipe stated it could be halved and baked in a loaf pan (the original calling for a tube or bundt pan). Congratulating myself smugly in advance, I thought it would be just the ticket.  A loaf of pound cake would be just enough to get us (read:me) through the high energy requirements of the move without leaving us with a lot of leftovers to fatten up on after the last flattened boxes were hauled to the curb.

Remember a really long time ago when you started reading this post how I was talking about reactions escalating in severity due to repeated exposure?  Well here is where we discover what it looks like when I say how [Oprah voice] cuhRAYzee even a small move now leaves me.

I said I wanted to have this cake on hand for the energy boost it could provide.  That would come chiefly from the sugar in the recipe, right?

And even if I was trying to be a bit careful with that sugar intake, I routinely make and had just made a loaf of banana bread with a half and half Splenda and sugar mixture and it turned out great. So why then, WHY is it that I purposefully made this pound cake with all Spenda and no sugar?

Oof.  What was I thinking?  Just look at this.  The top is caved in and those gaping holes simply do not say "delicious cake".  I swear when I leaned in for a close shot I heard them whispering "be afraid, be very afraid...".

Lesson learned.  Using half Splenda in a recipe is hunky dory if you are OK with using Splenda at all.  Even in my pre-move nutso-ness I realize some of you are just not cool with sugar substitutes.  A few of you may even be writhing around out there sensing our Splenda use is singularly responsible for polar melting and oil spills, not to mention China's rising economic domination.

I get that, truly I do and as odd as it may sound, every other ingredient I used for the recipe was organic.  Some of the ingredients were both organic and local.  So there, let that sink in for a moment, ye lovers of Mother Earth.  My sad deflated little loaf cake may just be its own punishment for my transgressions......

The taste is what I am looking for, regulation pound cake mid-level sweetness (as opposed to the frozen at the store super sweet monsters that nobody-doesn't-like) but that texture is just really really wrong.  An aberration I suppose I ought to have expected from the combination of FrankenSugar and organics.
Who am I kidding?  What with the movers on the way, texture issues or no, I'll be eating every crumb of this.

Once the dust settles, I'll try the pound cake recipe out again with half sugar and half Splenda as I wish I would have yesterday.  If that works out well, I'll share the recipe.  Until then, hold a good thought for me as we face what look to be Indiana Jones Nazi-face meltingly high temperatures and humidity tomorrow for hours with our doors standing wide open.

There may not be enough pound cake in the universe for that.

Move-savvy as I fantasize I am, there is always wisdom out there to be shared.  If you have any sure-fire-can't-miss Move Smarts to share feel free to post 'em in the comments section.  Certainly any excuse to space out in front of my computer as I sit here NOT STRESSING ABOUT TOMORROW will be a welcome treat.

Meanwhile, pass me another slice of that pound cake please?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001 - Hope

It has been nine years.  

I remember very clearly - my daughter was still in high school on 9/11/01.  She had left for school early that day and was in the newspaper room.  As usual they had the television on.

I was at home, sitting at my computer reading on the internet, oblivious.  

The telephone rang.  It was my daughter.

"Mom, something bad is happening," she said.  "Turn on your TV.".  Then she had to go.

I turned on the television and I don't even remember what channel we were on - it wouldn't have mattered by then -pretty much every channel had switched to live coverage.

And thus began one of those days when I spent almost all of my time standing, sitting, pacing, and staring in horror.  Most of it with the sound off - the images saying what needed to be said.

Nine years and the impact remains.  Physically.  Emotionally.  Spiritually.

The world is both different and is yet the same place. I am both a different person and yet the same.  

Life, death, pain, joy, hate, love.  They are and always have been part of this troubled world.  

Hope is part of our world, too.   I hold hope in my heart.  Hope for my children, and for yours.  Hope for our future, hope for our healing, hope we can keep from repeating past mistakes and learn to live together in peace.   

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

One of these things

We watched a lot of Sesame Street on PBS around these parts way back when.  Some of the regular features shaped the way people in our family categorize and refer to the observed world to this day.  

Only in this case, one of these things,

is a lot like the other.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The wages of cooking are

a full load of clean dishes in the dishwasher waiting to be unloaded, flanked by both sides of the sink filled with dirty dishes waiting to go in.
However, to counterbalance.... redemption just might take the form of basil and tomatoes in the windowsill
in combination with temperatures in the low 70's throughout the morning hours.  What bliss.  Happy Labor Day Weekend everybody.  Hope yours is everything you want it to be.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


I have Basil planted in amongst the flowers.
Every once in a while I get it right garden wise and end up with enough something or other to actually feature it in a dish.  In a good year, I end up with a whole LOT of something or other.  In this case, Basil.  When that happens, after doing the totally predictable preparations, I yearn to take some side road a bit less traveled.

Unlike my tomatoes, the basil is doing well.
This recipe for Basil Vinaigrette from Elise at SImply Recipes represents just that.

Dijon, shallot, vinegar, oil, salt, sugar and basil.  Just like that.
It is so fresh and delicious and versatile on its own that it might just light up your pesto jaded taste buds.  It certainly did mine.

Last night we had the vinaigrette on a simple salad.  It totally stole the show.

I am the ghost of lunch today.
Today I am going to combine some of the rest with cooked chilled pasta and use that base to spin a series of lunch salads.  
I love chopping things.  It makes me feel so cheffy.
The closest thing to work in this recipe was the chopping and if I hadn't been stopping to take photos the whole process would have taken maybe 10 minutes.  Maybe.  

Hello, gorgeous!
I can't imagine a better way to celebrate basil.  Drop in on Elise and get the full recipe here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

At times



what progress looks like.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ready, set....

Truth be told, the culling process around here has only just gotten past the early stages.  For the most part until late yesterday afternoon, no matter how hard I worked, it still felt a lot like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

However, with six bags of books already taken to Goodwill, two bags dropped off at our community library, and two more topically relevant books bagged up for a friend who has just been ordained, at least the shelf space is opening up.

There are boxes waiting for another trip to Goodwill.  There are two closets that will be ruthlessly (finally!) cleared out today or tomorrow and the clothes will all be donated to a charity slated to be in my neighborhood Friday.  We have a young couple planning to come pick up an old couch that will be new-to-them and as far as short term goals, that battle is won.

This process has changed my seeing.  I am now eyeing a closet that historically stored arts and crafts supplies (along with tennis balls, a vacuum cleaner, ironing board, iron, winter coats, a small file cabinet) and knowing this editing process can't stop until everything in there has been taken out, sorted, and at the very least reorganized, if not relocated.  Not to mention the laundry room.  Etcetera, etcetera.

It is all quite gratifying, if a little exhausting.

Realistically I will not get every clearing out project accomplished before the end of the calendar year.  But that doesn't matter.  I am happy to celebrate the spaces we have made, content to know the other projects will still be there whenever the impulse to lighten our material load next grabs me.

Meanwhile, back at the blog, all this sorting and stacking and bagging and boxing is not leaving much time, much less energy, for posting.  Fear not however, while I am lugging and hauling I am also busily planning.  I have a series of ideas cooking up to be shared with you right here, hopefully sooner rather than later.
While you are waiting, I invite you to visit Ree at The Pioneer Woman to pick up the full recipe for these amazingly delicious Apple Dumplings.  The recipe calls for an ingredient that may surprise you but gives you results that won't disappoint on any front.

Next up, Lisa at Homesick Texan has a recipe for Bread and Butter Jalapeño pickles buried deep in this post about what constitutes Texas Potato Salad that is a great way to use up a jalapeño pepper bounty if you've got them growing in your garden.

These pickle versions of late summer fireworks are a snap to make even if you have to stop at the store to buy your own peppers.  I've had them plain and in potato salad both and now can't wait to try them rough chopped atop brats to munch on while we celebrate the start of UT football season in a few weeks.

Speaking of football, for those of you still in the mix, Happy First Week of School!  I may not be packing lunches or waving kids off to the bus any longer but I remember what that was like as if it was only yesterday.

I'm getting ahead of myself.  Right this minute, I've got the car to load up.  I'll be back with more fun before too long. Bye for now!