Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Shop the flavors of Rice Village

My husband dropped me off in Houston's Rice Village so he could meet a friend for lunch. So I had to enjoy a Miss Saigon meal of caramelized lemongrass shrimp all by myself. Delicious "me" time.

Then I got to stroll around shops tempting with everything from coral beads to Tibetan singing bowls. Here’s a taste of what I hit:

Savory Spice
Aroma hits you when you open the door. I wanted to dash all the way in to the back wall and explore my to checkout, but I was distracted by a sample station for
fruity hot sauces. Another stand of peppercorns featured long pepper, which must be grated.
The sales woman told me to look for jars marked with red stickers. From those I was welcome to shake spices into my palm to lick. If I had shaken too much, I would be allowed to simply shake off the excess onto the floor. That concept seemed a bit whacky to me, but of course I had to try some Vietnamese and curry blends. I walked out with a simple cayenne and a can of peppers in adobo sauce.
What I'd like to have tried was reaper and ghost pepper concoctions. The reaper was $21 for a little bitty bottle. No tasting sticker on that one.

British Isles
Visit this shop of God Save the Queen tea sets, jams and lotions for just a few minutes and you’ll feel like you’re in the crew to a travel show. Silent observers can hear shoppers tell the managrs about living in or visiting England as they browse the wares and sample fudge.
My favorite is the tea aisle, featuring serious teas and others packaged more whimsically. There’s a tin of “Afternoon Tea” that looks like a double-decker bus.

Rice Village always features an experience no matter where you get dropped off. You could spend an  hour there without leaving the big Half Price Books store.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Feeling like a crab? Or a Pumpkin?

Sartin’s tip
The barbecued crabs at Sartin’s in Nederland are legendary, and it’s a bucket-list item for out-of-towners you are wanting to impress.
Did you know you can get just one of those guys for a couple of bucks? The timid tasters can get a little sample and try it out, just to say they did. Then, if they consider it too much “work” to get a lot of food out of these crunchy, seasoned tidbits, then they can go ahead and proceed to more filling fare, from onion rings and fried fish to shrimp and oysters.
Doing the Dew
The pot on the stove at the party had cabbage, sausage and potatoes. The cook said the recipe came into his life along with his new CanCooker pot. The secret ingredient, he revealed, was a can of Mountain Dew.
Guess what it tasted like? Exactly like cabbage, sausage and potatoes cooked in Mountain Dew. Delivered as promised.
Pumpkin update
Triscuit has a limited edition flavor of cranberry and sage. I tried it dry, and would love to try it with a shmear cream cheese and a cranberry on top. Or maybe a candied jalapeno. Now, here it comes: a pumpkin dip.
I also tried a sample of a friend’s pumpkin nut butter. Not tired of this flavor yet.
Let me know the weirdest thing you have seen in pumpkin this year.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Castillos roll in New Orleans

When my daughter heard my husband and I were spending our 26th wedding anniversary in New Orleans, she asked to come along.  
We actually loved the plan. We had been when she was a little bitty thing. Now she is an adult. That's a different NOLA experience. 
 My parents went to New Orleans on their honeymoon, and my daughter spent a night there on hers. This city is in our blood.
She acted like her first mission was to make sure we got to Deanie's in the French quarter. It was one of her honeymoon stops. I have always missed this one on Iberville. 
I got barbecue shrimp because she said it was so good one of her friends had asked her to take some home on ice for him. A skillet full of hot, huge shrimp with their feelers still attached came to my table. The sauce was buttery, dark, filled with spices and wonderful. It came with crusty French bread.
Every time I picked up a shrimp I could feel the weight of it. The server said I should take the shrimp out of the skillet so they would not continue to cook in the hot sauce. Weeks later, that meal is still in my mind.
Remember that tiny cocktail fork I wrote about after purchasing it at a 
Young Life estate sale? I took it to New Orleans, and used it at every meal I could. I always made a point of pointing this out to the server, so it wouldn't look like I was stealing their utensils. The funny thing is the servers had all already noticed. That meant that they could tell I was into food, and that seemed to make them want to offer more tastes and experiences. That tiny fork was a promotion tool. And to think I brought it to remind me to slow down and take delicate bites.
I love that New Orleans is a city that loves food food.
If you post on Facebook that you are in New Orleans, people will tell you to eat at CafĂ© Du Monde. As if I would skip that. I got to sit inside, perhaps for my first time. It was a new experience to watch the staff stand in line to pick up orders.  A hipster guy with a super long dark beard enjoyed his powdered beignet without getting white sugar all over him. I can't say the same for myself.
In the book, "The House on First Street," I read that families used to have favorites of either Acme oysters, or Felix's. I don't want to have to pick a favorite. This time I tried charbroiled oysters at Felix's and chose well. I even slightly burned the corners of my mouth from the hot shells. Should have been using that tiny fork. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A touch of India in Frisco

         This dosa is too big for its tray. But tastes of all these condiments fit on it. Photo by Darragh Doiron

 My sister has been talking about Frisco for years, because of her husband’s ties to the development, construction and opening of a temple there.
         I made it to Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple and got a quick tour. After shelving my shoes in the outer room we padded over carpet to the end with several areas with ornate carvings, oil lamps, flowers and colors. We left with bananas and a flower.
         Of course I was craving Indian food after that. My sister suggested Taj, a grocery store with a restaurant, in nearby Plano. It was a big, clean market with exotic vegetables, fragrant spices and an array of steel containers for food storage. I got two round ones for packing lunch.
         The restaurant featured dosas, those big flat pancakes that spill over the sides of the plate. Once I guaranteed that one could help oneself to the condiment bar, I was in. Now, to choose which dosa.
         I wanted to know if there was  goat or chicken, but did not want to ask. The menu boards spanned the wall. So as to appear more continental, I asked if this was a vegetarian restaurant. I understood the man to say “meat is over there” and he gestured with his hand. 
         I thought that meant on the far side of the menu, so I backed up, moved over and continued to read. There were onion and paneer concoctions, but I didn’t see any meat options and I went back to the man and told him so.
         “This is a vegetarian restaurant,” he said.
         I thought that was what I had been asking. Later my sister and I surmised together that he could have been gesturing toward the rest of the market. Taj online offers mixes for dishes such as chicken chettinad and butter chicken.
         So my dosa arrived crunchy and ready to dip into pickled lime, peanut chutney and paneer. It was just what I wanted.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Delicious mix ups

A particular friend loves a gourmet butter so much she gets bulk shipments to her home. You open that fridge and those blocks of butter look like gold at Fort Knox. Butter bricks blocked the light in there.
Once just before the holidays, a huge box arrived and instead of perishable butter, it contained dozens of packages of dark chocolate almonds. When my friend contacted the company, they told her it would be too complicated/expensive or whatever to take it back, so keep the chocolates, and butter is on the way. The chocolates were amazing, and she was making it rain like confetti with the almond handouts. I was glad to be on that list.
But I’ve always wondered if a customer somewhere ripped open a shipment to start crunching endless almonds and found enough butter to carve an Elvis sculpture at the Iowa State Fair.

More pizza?
       My mom and I were sharing a pizza at a new-to-me place. It arrived and did not seem as meat-saturated as the menu would imply. My first bite was okay. I enjoyed the sauce, but the crust was underwhelming.
       There were not the usual “yummy sounds” we make as we dine. A few bites later my mother said she thought the marinara was good. A few more bites later she said she was not impressed by the crust.
       Then the waiter came up to us with a box of pizza. He said he was sorry, he had served us a different one than we had ordered. Something about the crust being different. So we were about to take up a whole extra pizza that would be essentially the same as the one we were currently enduring.
       Guess what. Once we had a free pizza in our sight, the first one seemed to improve greatly. Our dinner out improved, just like that.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Pumpkin, flamingos still trending

       Every year we share some pumpkin spice love in Culinary Thrill Seeking. It’s still trending and my first taste of the season was from pumpkin muffins from my friend Jennie in Ohio.
       Jennie is the real story here. I met this amazing woman while working at the Beaumont Bennigan’s in the ‘80s. She brought a fresh out-of-state vibe, bright pink lipstick and a lot of fun to evening shifts.
        I can’t recall if my love of flamingos began with her, but I think of her just about every time I see a pink plastic pair of birds in a funky setting.
       Through the miracle of Facebook, she heard I’d be traveling near her and she came down to get me. There was pizza and catching up and it seems they played ‘80s music everywhere we stopped.
       Guess what gift she’d picked up for me, even before she knew she would soon run into me? A jeweled flamingo brooch.
       It seems Jennie is still the coolest thing ever, and hosts theme parties. One of her hits: Takeout and Champagne. Guests show up at her door with their favorite takeout and a little story about their dish. 
       Thanks for more memories, Jennie. And the pumpkin muffins.

       I thought I was getting pumpkin spiced nuts to share with a group, but when I opened the bag from Emerald, I realized they the glazed pecans were labeled “Pecan Pie.”
       Still addictive, the group agreed. I tried to prove to myself that there had been a bag marked “pumpkin,” but I can’t find it. No worries. I’ve enjoyed anything Emerald line does have to crunch.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Amelia Farm & Market a tasty, mini road trip

       I chose Figgy Piggy my first time, but a NutPig anything could get  me to back. My mom treated me to Amelia Farm &  Market, which boasts a farm setting at Dishman Road and North Major Drive in Beaumont.
       The pigs eat pecans that grow around the area, so there’s that flavor going on. Then there’s the outdoor setting and trees and potted herbs and the company. I spotted a very prominent Rotarian from Port Arthur among the ladies who lunch.
       The sandwiches are in the $13 range and they are whopping good. Mine had red wattle pork, homemade fig preserve, horseradish cream and baby Swiss on fresh-baked sourdough. My mom got pork on pimento cheese.
       I’ll finally mention this place is basically a food truck parked in a tree-shaded lot, and with a covered space for outdoor dining. A restaurant is being built up around it. My mother has been several times and enjoyed herself.
       There’s something about the hospitality and the “goodness” of the experience that makes you want to get to know the people cooking and serving for you. There was hammering and sawdust and a  tractor chugging around. That was all mixed in with the experience of fresh flowers, leaves rustling and flavors that made me close my eyes to concentrate on they joy of them.

Coffee grounds to the rescue
       I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, but I spent some time in an space that was not “fresh” by any means.
       I had no access to my favorite remedy, essential oils. I saw an over-the-counter air freshener, in pumpkin spice, no less. But they smell artificial to me and can sometimes give me a headache. Then I thought about coffee grounds
       I purchased a package and poured some into a container and the area became fragrant. Then later, I got to enjoy brewing the rest of the coffee to drink.