Sunday, November 29, 2015

The right fork at the right moment

“Which Fork Do I Use?” is like a “formal” spiral on thick paper that is your pictorial guidebook to throwing fabulous parties.
Of course you know the fork goes on the left of the table setting, unless it’s a cocktail or dessert fork. Then there are other rules. But isn’t it worth it to enjoy your cocktail and dessert?
Setting a proper table is not the same thing as setting a formal table. You can still follow etiquette at an informal little fondue gathering, or a ‘70s party to which guests are given their own catchphrase upon arrival (groovy, far out, you’re the Man!).
Rosemarie Burns and Linda Reed make learning all this fun, not a cause for stress. A hostess is all about making her guests feel welcome. And as a guest, don’t you love all that attention?
Other tips from the book:
Don’t be that guest who gets toasted and takes the first sip. It’s like applauding one self.
If the hostess says don’t bring anything, don’t. She should be enjoying guests, not rushing around for extra dishes and vases.
Have a backup plan. Sometimes the dog makes off with the meat course.

Coconut products are trending and Coco Joy makes it easy to get in on it. First, just drink it.
A chilled can pure coconut water is a flavorful replenishing treat that can motivate you through a workout. A jar of beautiful, creamy cold-pressed virgin coconut oil made my over-easy egg taste so good. While you’ve got the jar open, go ahead and rub a little oil on your skin. It’s like taking a spa vacation.
Now, here’s my hard sell. There are bottles of Coco Joy drinks that are pure coconut milk flavored like coffee, chocolate and banana.
My mom and I loved the coffee, especially and I think the banana tasted like a candy of my youth.
What makes this a possible hard sell is preconceived notions. I offered some for my aunt to try and she says she has a thing about anything called milk. Even if it did not come from an animal. She would not try it. Drinking something like this should put one in the mind of a peaceful tropic view, and not promote the bickering my husband and I engaged in whilst I tried to convince him that coconut water and milk are different things. The water comes from young green coconuts. I had to use the internet to convince him.
But there’s another level of consumers are know all about this coconut thing. There are health benefits that go beyond the great flavor. Coco Joy will tell you all about it.

Tia Juanita’s
So you don’t get to wear your beautiful winter coat very often in Southeast Texas. Look what you do get. My day-after –turkey treat was getting treated to lunch at Tia Juanita’s Fish Camp in Beaumont, and sitting on the patio in shorts. My party of four had fish and shrimp tacos and talked all afternoon while a gentle breeze wafted through the screens.

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.