Sunday, January 21, 2018

Flavor combos popping up, oiled to energize

                             If  you keep in the news, you know it was recently National Popcorn Day. Okay, it was the lavish popcorn bar that greeted me at my credit union that filled me in. At Neches Federal Credit Union, they filled a table with an array of usual suspects in the toppings department. A buttery spray, a shaker of cheese flavoring and little chocolate-coated candies were popular choices. I was intrigued with the crushed Oreos. I chose that and a shake of red pepper. A head-turner at first, my conversation about it inspired others to investigate the combination.

                             Oiled up to energize
                             Pure essentials are an investment, and Karin Parramore’s book helps explain the labor and costs behind the gathering. I already enjoy using oils for calming and energizing fragrances that keep headaches away and elevate the mood.
                             “Aromatherapy with Essential Oil Diffusers: For Everyday Health & Wellness” is a guide for using oils to combat everything from sinus pain and coughs to wrinkles and pests. Everyone’s looking for more natural remedies and these oils are much more available than the were just a short time ago. The author will help you choose diffuser methods and blend up a little something for what’s bothering you. I enjoyed background about fragrance history from around the world. Imagine dipping your pen in scented ink to inscribe on floral-infused papers. Here are a few tips from the book:
                             To reduce the urge to eat, blend sweet orange, vanilla and cinnamon oils and sniff it when you are full, for about a week. After a week of training, sniff it when you think you want to eat, to help reduce cravings.
                             To curb coffee or sugar cravings, blend three drops back spruce or fir essential oil with 1 drop cacao or Peru blossom and 1 drop vetiver. Diffuse onto a terra cotta disc and place it in a sunny window to get the scent throughout the day.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Another cocktail (sauce) please

                            Sometimes dinner inspiration evolves from what I’m trying to “move” from the fridge. When I spied the jar of horseradish in the fridge, I thought it was time for seafood, so I started with cocktail sauce and went from there.
                            It was also a good way to use up some ketchup packets. I added lime juice and enjoyed with a packaged tray of boiled shrimp. I don’t know why I didn’t notice the tray came with a portion of sauce already.
                             So I saved the sauce and had to get more seafood for another meal. I came home with a bag of mixed seafood to boil and mentioned to my mother I would serve it with cocktail sauce. She offered me a bottle of ketchup she was eager to move from her pantry. I took it, even though I would have rather used up more packets. Then on the way out the door, she offered me her jar of horseradish. I was still trying to use up my jar.
                             So now we’re looking for more seafood and have enough stock for at least three more batches of sauce.
                             Here are some things I add when mixing and matching:
                             Horseradish, liberally     
                             Lime or lemon juice                                                                                                          Worchestershire sauce   
                             Vinegar slash. I promise, a crawfish vendor taught me this trick.
                             Any readers have more ideas? Send them this way and we can share.

                  Easy cooking, compared with 1800s
                             When history books come my way, I go looking for a food reference. I just got reminded how laborious it was to preserve your butchered hog, cook bent over to fuel your fire and keep ash out of your food that offered little variety. Then along came cast iron stoves, recipe books with actual measurements, appliances and methods that opened up the cook’s world, but still involved countless hours that we avoid today with coffee makers and microwaves.
                              “Cooking with Gas: The Quiet Revolution,” is Charles Williams’ contribution to “Legends and Life in Texas: Folklore from the Lone Star State in Stories and Song.” History lovers, get your copy from University of North Texas Press.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Get your soup on in January

                             The concept of a steaming bowl of hot soup is interchangeable with a bowl of “hot gumbo” around these parts. At Christmas Eve church services a number of families noted they were headed home for their traditional holiday gumbo.
                             January as National Soup Month should be celebrated by more than retailers. It’s a time to branch out into creamy delicacies, hearty stews and fortifying broths.
                             I’ve dropped some boullion cubes into a carafe of bean mix to serve as decorating until I have time to soak and simmer those beans into a soup to last all week.
                             Something I love about soup is that it revives leftovers, transforming those little containers of this and that into something new.
                             Some add-in or topping tips:
                             * Greek yogurt
                             * Cheese
                             * Chopped onions
                            * Sprig of oregano
                             * Nuts
                             Readers, feel free to share your favorite soups, recipes or tips with us via the e mail below. We love talking soup.
                             Celebrate the soup this month by trying a flavor from a different culture. It seems we all have a soup to identify ourselves.

                  Zatarain’s gets you seasoned for Mardi Gras
                              Zatarain’s has a box of Cinaltro Lime rice mix that’s a quick fix and history lesson, with the label noting that the Spanish introduced this crop to the Mexican culture centuries ago. The box notes this rice dish is an ideal complment to fajitas, tacos, enchiladas and burritos. I will add tamales. That’s what I serve another January birthday girl. This quiet meal turned into “the birthday that ended in a frantic search for Allen wrenches," but that is another story.
                             Zatarain’s jambalaya mix boxes suggest you add meat for a one-pot dinner. That’s the sort of  thing you need for Mardi Gras season when you’re headed to ball fittings, krewe meetings, etc. Mardi Gras of Southeast Texas is Feb. 8-11 this year. See you on the grounds in downtown Port Arthur.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Asian flavors get the qi flowing

                             Our Vietnamese community will celebrate Tet, the new year, on Feb. 16 to welcome the year of the dog. This is a good time to explore Port Arthur’s markets brimming with spices, noodles and vegetables to enjoy.
                             My Mexican-American mother-in-law became known for New Year’s egg rolls and we enjoyed those flavors this year in her memory. This season always gets me in the mood to organize my pantry and I brought pickled ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce and canned seafood front and center to combine with rice and vegetables over the next few weeks.
                             Ellen Goldsmith’s Robert Rose book, “Nutritional Healing with Chinese Medicine” is aiding me on this culinary adventure.  I’m reading up on foods that are considered warming, drying, etc. and how they have been used over centuries to treat ailments and get your qi, something like your life force, in balance.
                             For instance, heartburn can be treated with cooling foods such as mushrooms and avocado, and fortunately for us southerners, okra.
                             If your digestion is poor, go to ginger tea and carrots and slow down your eating.
                             The winter foods recipe section includes Brothy Salmon and Ginger Soup, as salmon nourishes the nervous system; Trout Steamed with Green Peas and Lemony Herbed Rice, for people who often have cold hands and feet; and creamy cabbage salad. Tofu helps make that salad creamy and the cabbage is good for the stomach and spleen.
                             Cabbage is something we southerners have on hand now because of our New Year’s Day tradition that eating more cabbage means more money in the next year. Here’s something new to do with your greens.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Ready for 2018?

            Hopefully you had some joy in your 2017 and are either rebuilding or helping others proceed. Our area is pulling together and ready for a new year of  promise and progress. Let’s get ready to welcome 2018.
            I’m on record as craving caviar for New Year’s Eve and have my little jar ready. A simple spread of a can of smoked oysters mashed into cream cheese hits the spot every time. My friend brought back an old favorite, baking brown sugar and bleu cheese on to kettle chips for a sweet and savory batch of delicious that is also a conversation piece.
            Zatarain’s can help you get your cornbread to the table for New Year’s Day. New baking mixes include Honey Butter Cornbread and Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread Mix. I made a quick batch of Buttermilk Biscuit Mix the day before Christmas Eve, which is called Christmas Zha Zha in my family. It was so good I got the request for more, but I ripped open the package to realize the honey butter was actually corn bread. Still quick and good. Cheddar Garlic Biscuit Mix is waiting for the right moment. We Southerners need our cornbread and cabbage. If you didn’t think you can make cornbread yourself, Zatarain’s will show you otherwise.
            Farm Rich snacks from the frozen food section mean you’re always ready to go. I got a text asking if I was home and within the hour I’d baked up little rounds of breading filled with cheese, (Mozzarella Bites), Mozzarella Sticks and Buffalo Chicken. The loaded potato skins put me in the mind of my days as a Bennigan’s server. Back then, we called it being a waitress, and I loved it. The company has announced some special edition snacks to look for but I don’t want to whet your appetite until I find them locally.

                             Losing someone
                             Writing down cherished family recipes, and the stories that go with them, is a crucial part of history. Preparing for a loved one’s death calls for stamina, so it’s better to get as many things in order as possible. Check lists for what you’ll need are featured in “Rest in Peace: A Planning Guide for the Inevitable.” Charles Walts and Tommye White are authors making a team with background, experience and Texas ties. Just having this book on hand is a major step. Then read it, then begin getting things in order. Sometimes you have to talk about what you don’t want to talk about. The gathering recipes is my idea; the document gathering plans in the book may seem daunting at first, but prepping will help everyone rest in peace.


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Addicted to Americana?

                             Ever want to drive the Wienermobile, pose dwarfed by a giant bowling pin or make a bacon and fruit face on your pancakes? Love Googie architecture?
                             We could be friends, if you did. And we could take a road trip and ask Charles Phoenix, the Ambassador of Americana, to guide us across the classic, kitchy world of American life and style. Don’t think you’re too cool to get excited over neon signs, Big Boy statues, drive ins and pink vintage cars. It’s America and it’s us. And it’s big fun. His book is “Addicted to Americana.”
                             Mr. Phoenix takes us on a journey where the photos are spectacular – he’s posing with glorious, childlike wonder on nearly every page – and his back stories are fascinating. He’s hunted down fair curiosities, rescued signs and just about got tossed out of a car by the actor who gave us Pee Wee Herman. His writing and story-telling is entertaining and his love is genuine as he appreciates diners shaped like hot dogs, recalls theme park monorails and visits motels and restaurants that countless of Americans experienced as well.
                            I read this book very slowly, to savor the journey. There are funky little finds all over our great land. I’d love to visit with this guy.
                             What did I learn? Googie architecture is the term for futuristic stylings that I loved in the ‘80s, and still do. I just used to call it “old ‘50s stuff.” It’s cool. Like I imagine Phoenix would respond, “I know!.”
                             Ginger brew mixes it up
                             Brooklyn Crafted is proud of new mini bottles of ginger beer that have bits of ginger you can see, and no alcohol. Sure you can go with the traditional variety. But I’m suggesting you try some crazy combos they’ve created including lemon lime and mango. Fruit and ginger are winners together and this is a fresh, light taste for the holidays. Now this Earl Gray ginger beer is another sort of different with a memorable fragrance. It’s good for cocktail hour and beyond and makers say ginger is trending. So get on board.
                             I’m going to imagine that author Charles Phoenix would love this all-American flavor in the cute little green bottles. So grab one and read his book (see above.)


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Missions Attic's trees, toasting and why we're phenomenal

The Missions Attic has holiday flair covered. If you buy Christmas décor, assorted vintage dishware for serving guests or perhaps a trinket to gift to another, you are helping further causes of United Board of Missions.
                             The last time I stopped at the resale store on Twin City Highway, I saw several decorated trees for sale. The Astros tree was the first to go, I heard. This is a great option for those who lost décor in the flood. Mae Terro was decorating anything holding still. She was sticking stalks of greenery and poinsettias into a metal spring bedframe. It became a festive rectangle of holiday spirit.
                            A toast 

 T                        Southeast Texans are so ready for 2018. When the Champaign flows with loved ones this season, consider a sample of what I tried from Taittinger.  Brut La Française, is dubbed “perfect for stocking stuffers” by promoters and I was pleasantly surprised by bubbles that you could hear all the way from palate. This is the flavor and sensation for those who aren’t sure if they care for the sparkle. Perhaps they’ve kept trying. They may have been waiting for this one, which I paired with fish for a celebratory Advent meal. I believe it was the most bubbly bubbly I’ve ever experienced. I certainly pretended I was in France.
                                         If your budget allows, kick it up with Taittinger’s Comtes Blancs 2006 and 2012 vintage of Brut Millésimé, from “selected Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown in vineyards in several of the finest microclimates of the Champaign region.” I have not yet tried these, but who knows what luxuries await in 2018.

                             Ways we’re phenomenal
                             Do you know why your’e closely related to your houseplant? It’s related to hemoglobin and chlorophyll. Sound like an attractive artists’ rendering? Leave it to Misha Maynerick Blaise, currently of Austin. She’s made the microbiota (your gut flora), the mycrobacterium vaccae that makes playing in the dirt (maybe growing our herbs and vegetables) activate seratonin-releasing neurons, and the waggle dance of bees into colorful and attractive thought-proviking art. It’s in a book called “This Phenomenal Life: The Amazing Ways We are Connected with Our Universe.” Don’t consider it simply a “youth” book. We were never taught these things. You’ll want to flip through this cook book again and again and discuss your findings with others. Go be phenomenal.