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.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Cranberry adds color, flavor, holiday spirit to tuna

                             My mom’s cranberry relish with walnuts, citrus and vanilla is so good, people get territorial about it.
                             Her friend, not using names here, saw a prized batch on her counter and wrangled some to take to a party. She told the hostess it was coming, but instead the allotted portion did not make it out of her house. She and her husband consumed it all.
                             After Thanksgiving I’d stashed some away from even my own husband. After eyeing all the tuna cans that came into my life after Harvey, I thought I’d mix some cranberry relish into the tuna. My husband said he was not interested and chastised me for using up the precious cranberries. And yet, he ended up sampling right from my plate and then serving his own portion.
                             The completed dish looked even better than the photo I took, as someone must have sneaked many of the cranberries out first.

                             Get to know “divorced eggs”
                             Hueveos Divorciados are “divorced eggs,” separated by beans, and marry two salsas. Carne Asada Vampiros are tacos wih garlic aioli to ward off the vampires at the taco stand. Try Crab Huarache on a cactus paddle our sides of payapa soup and cilantro soups, dished half orange and half green into the same bowl.
                             The photos will catch your eye and the well-written profiles of cooks and chefs will catch your heart. Bill Esparza has written L.A. Mexicano: Recipes, People & Places as a bit of a guide, modern history and recipe book. There’s a Tex-Mex recognition, but this book centers on styles and dishes we don’t see often in Southeast Texas.  The author shares stories of how dishes developed from family traditions and evolved for today’s customs. I want to try them all, but here’s one.

                             Salsa Borracha, Drunken Salsa
                  Author’s note: If you can’t find pulque, make use beer and make a day or two ahead for best flavor. Makes about 2 cups.
                  8 pasilla chles, stems removed
                  5 cloves garlic
                  1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
                  1 cup pulque or beer, like Mondelo or Tecate
                  one half medium orange
                  Put chiles in a medium pot, add enough water to cover, and boil until chiles are tender, abou 20 minutes. Transfer chiles to a blender, add garlic and salt and pulse until you have a very thick paste, adding a tablespoon or two of cooking water only if needed. Add pulue or beer and blend until the salsa has consistency of a milkshake; if needed, add a little more cooking water. Finish by squeezing orange juice into salsa and seasoning with additional salt to taste. Transfer to a boil if serving immediately or cover and refrigerate.


Friday, December 1, 2017

It's dark early and time to curl up with a book. So what if these books make you want to dash to the kitchen or grab a guitar. They're fun. Here are some new ones to help round out your holiday lists:
                     “Simple Real Food” – Amanda Cushman should convince non-believers that “delicious clean food prepared simply” will work. Gazpacho, Chicken and Apple Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette, and White Bean and Vegetable Soup with Pesto are some recipes to tempt, and their titles are often longer to read than the effort of whipping a dish out from a well-stocked kitchen. These books go well with New Year’s Resolutions for healthy eating. Take note. Here’s an easy sauce from the book. Making the rolls is easy, too.

                  Lime Dipping Sauce for Thai Summer Rolls
                  1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
                  Juice of three limes
                  One fourth cup fish sauce
                  3 tablespoons sugar
                  1 tablespoon minced garlic

                             “Beautiful Bundts: 100 Recipes for Delicious Cakes & More” - Maple Bacon Monkey Bread would be a good breakfast for when you rise to fashion Pepperoni Pizza Pull-Apart Bundt. Wash out the pan and serve Sticky Toffee Pudding Bundt for dessert. There’s a year’s worth of desserts and ideas in Julie Anne Hession’s Robert Rose book. Fill them, glaze them sprinkle them and wait for the compliments.

                             “They Were Going to Change the World” – Were you wild in the ‘70s and ‘80s? Maybe you headed west with pink hair. Maybe you rocked. D.D. Wood is another artist who says she was listing to Janis Joplin before she was 5. And now she has her own stories to tell. Stacy Russo gives us “Interviews with women from the 1970s ad 1980s Southern California Punk Rock Scene. Kick off your combat books and read up. Do you know Texacala Jones, now of Austin? Tex & The Horseheads and Texorcist. She says punk rock made it possible for people with her kind of style to go out in the daylight.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Relish the Holidays

                             While I did not grow up sticking black olives on my fingers as a child, I have seen enough children from several families get into the holiday relish tray in this fashion. Maybe it’s not the best of manners, but it’s fun, and it makes me smile to see them do it.
                             My grandma had a glass serving tray for such relishes and I have a divided on I received as a wedding gift. It has four spaces plus a round center that could hold a dip or spread. It’s always fun to consider what goes in the spaces. I go for color and flavor. Or maybe just what I have on hand.
                             This Thanksgiving spaces went to fire and ice pickles with a hot and sweet crunch. Because the the jar of pickled ginger had such bright orange contents, I went for it, making a space for ginger and chopped fresh green jalapenos. I thought it was pretty, and maybe a little offbeat, but my guests appreciated the flavor, paired with rich turkey and rice dressing. Mom’s must-have cranberry relish with, with pecans this time, starred in the middle.
                             What’s on your relish tray?

                             Not missing the gluten here
                             If you’re a gluten-free person, would you be spending your kitchen time whipping up Irish Soda Bread,  buttermilk scones and cheese biscuits two ways?
                             Two authors will help you with their book “100 Classic Gluden-Free Comfort Food Recipes,” and show you some of what Canadians enjoy as well.        
                             Donna Washburn and Heather Butt are friends who cover it all, so if you’re a southerner and crave some GF cornbread, it’s in the book. But I’m just gonna say, all this baking of bread, pies and cookies looks tempting, but I’m even more excited about entrees and sides such as oven-fried chicken, chicken pot pie and fish and chips. Get going GF folks. Here’s a few tips from Wahsburn & Butt:
                             * Shiny baking sheets produce soft-bottomed cookies, while darker pans result in crisper cookies.
                             * When baking two sheets at once, place themin the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Switch their positions halfway through the suggested baking time.
                             * When baking with only one baking sheet, let it cool for 2 to 3 minutes between batches.

                             Ready for vegans, or anybody
                             Pavolavas, cream cheese frosting for a carrot-orange cake and caviar in the “Vegan Holiday Cookbook?” It’s like a detective story, with beautiful photos, what Marie Laforet shows readers and food lovers in this book covering what appetizers to desserts.
                             The “caviar” is created by molecular cooking and seaweed seasoning, mushrooms act like pate. Other foods behave like what we may be more familiar with and some foods are happy never needed animal products in the first place. More people are coming out as vegan and I’m all for learning about new things. This book has inspired me to even seek out appetizer breads I was not familiar with, such as Paris toasts and Swedish polarbread.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Duck egg and NPR wine club are culinary adventures

                             Port Arthur’s Vietnamese groceries offer finds from fresh vegetables, savory spices and attractive dishes from which to serve it all.
                             I stopped by one for a cucumber and spotted large, blue-tinted eggs. I supposed they were duck eggs, but thought I’d ask. Turns out they were the kind of duck eggs with a little duck, instead of a yolk, inside.
                             I’d heard on National Public Radio (see below) that these sold cooked at Asian markets and small children who behave themselves while shopping consider them a treat. You crack it open and eat the duck what’s inside, bones and all.
                             For about $1.50, I figured I’d try that experience, but I was told to boil the egg for about 40 minutes. And give it a “shot” of salt and maybe pepper.
                             I love culinary thrill seeking, but I was getting nervous as I cracked the tough shell and then pierced through a tough skin on the inside to reveal just what was supposed to be in there. I hesitated, but tried it.
                             It’s certainly the final time I’ll do that again, but won’t rule out trying one boiled and seasoned by someone who knows what he or she is doing.
                             The spread included sticky rice, pickled ginger, cucumber, carrots and persimmon, so I considered myself very well fed in the end.

                  NPR wine club
                             I’m a big fan of KVLU, 91.3, Lamar University’s public radio station. I grew up with it because my mom played it. The All Things Considered theme music has a Pavlov’s dog effect on me because it meant dinner was cooking.
                             When I had the chance to save items from recent flood waters, I nabbed my National Public Radio coffee mugs that I’d collected from fund drives.
                        Imagine my excitement about the new NPR Wine Club, dubbed an  innovative way to support public radio. How about a serving of “Weekend Edition,” which was like savoring a sweet grape jam at brunch. Hmm, maybe the experienced and comical label writers describe the notes better, but I loved it.
            "All Grapes Considered" Malbec,"Weekend Edition" Cabernet Sauvignon and an "Uncorked" Merlot, are some combos as clever as what you’d expect from the vineyards and NPR creative minds that got this deal together. Of course, some of my favorite public radio programs and interviews are about sharing stories of  travel, cultures and the foods that tell the stories of the world. That’s big news.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fall flavors and looks from pecans to popcorn, hot syrup to high brow

If D or     If D is for Dr Pepper and A is for Alamo, “This is Texas, Y’all!” is the book for all of us. Misha Mayerick Blaise offers the Lone Star State from A to Z in a fun book that’s fun for all ages. She’s got our flavors, cultures and holidays down. This week, let’s flip to P for Pecan in honor of the Groves Pecan Festival.
                             We learn that there are more than 1,000 varieties of pecans, which is Algonquian for ‘hard-shelled nut.” Many are named for Native American tribes such as the Apache, Chayenne, Shawnee and Mohawk. Hardly like a true Texan, a pecan tree canlive to be more than 1,000 years old and grow more than 100 feet tall. Of  course, y’all knew the pecan tree is the state tree of Texas.
                            Hot news in syrup
What do you know about Merquén chili peppers? Perhaps not much if  you’re in Texas, the land of jalapenos. Here’s a quick lesson about  Runamok Maple’s experiment, which I say is a success.  These folks in Vermpont barrel age syrups with exotic flavors and this, as predicted, has been my favorite of those I tried. Smoked Merquén Chili Pepper Infused maple syrup is available from
  The syrup, in a beautiful bottle, uses a spice blend centered on chili peppers from the Mapuche region of Chile, which are first ripened to a dark red color in order to develop a rich flavor, then slowly smoked over a fire., is what makers say.
“We trialed many different chili peppers to find one that would result in a unique, superior product,” said Eric Sorkin, Co-Founder of Runamok Maple. “When we infuse the Merquén into our maple syrup it adds a balanced amount of richness, heat and smokiness that is enhanced by the natural caramel tones of the maple. I recommend using this new variety over cheddar cheese, on BBQ, roasted vegetables and meats, and even eggs. It also lends an exotic and sweet element to cocktails.”
Now, here’s how I first tired it. I toasted oatmeal bread, fried an egg and heated a banana. I dipped banana and toast into this lovely colored syrup and the experience was something that people would pay big money for in a restaurant. I was relaxed in my own house, making yummy sounds.

Popcornopolis!       There comes a time in October where I’m ready to eat popcorn for dinner a couple of times a week. It could be with butter, or olive oil and curry, or white chocolate bark or something akin to Chex mix. I’m all about it.
                             Popcornopolis is a place, on the web at least, where someone else will pop for you, and you will thank them.        
                             The Red Snowflake gift basket is something that will get you in the door of parties, or create a party right where you are. Look for this 5-cone gift basket with Caramel Corn, Kettle Corn, Cheddar Cheese, Cinnamon Toast and Zebra. Thee are listed in no particular order of yumminess, but come on, the Zebra is black and white drizzles of chocolate.
                             I was actually able to share a sample with two taste testers and one proclaimed joy through the fluffiness. The other one just kept his mouth full of popcorn. It’s five kinds of good for $41.99 in an eye-popping package.
                             Visit this magical pop place at

                            Sounds Good: High Brow
                              It’s amusing to see Halloween makeup featured when cobalt mascara and neon purple lips are the fashion year-round.
                              I grew up in an era where thick eyebrows were downplayed and now “bold” brows are the thing. Remember “The Good Wife” TV series? Everyone wanted the look those actresses carried and Dermelect Cosmeceuticals has the tools to make it easy. You may be surprised that there are multiple steps, but they’re all easy.
                             Brow Transformer & Revitalite Brow Lift are attractively-packaged double-ended tools to enhance sparse or thinning brows. The lift is a defining and highlighting crayon. One side gets swept, dabbed and blended above the brow arch and the other tip goes below. I love the feel of the Transformer with an angled tip to fill in Oak Brown or Ashe Blonde colors, you order your preference. The brush of the “spooley” to sculpture your work feels soft and feathery. Now you’re good to go for the office, dinner, the Groves Pecan Festival or even Halloween. Be “The Good Wife!”

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Do you have to hide the cottage cheese?


                             Hidden Cottage Cheese
                             My husband says he won’t eat lumpy cottage cheese, so I sneaked some into a blender and creamed it to perfection. I’d tell you his reaction, but I ate it all myself. I blended a fresh jalapeno into one batch, and this light green spread was cool and spicy and just the right dip for chips and crackers.

                             It was much, much lower in calories than sour cream and a very good substitute.
                                         Pretzel Pieces
                             Are Synyder’s of Hanover Pretzel Pieces simply packaged crumbles of the whole? I don’t care. I’m all into the little bag of Hot Buffalo Wing Sourdough Hard Pretzel, “bursting with flavor” bag my sister introduced me to.
                             They’re artificially flavored, but again, I don’t care. There’s a health food nut next to me and between the two of us we may be about to finish the 3.5 servings that this bag contains.
                             They’re crunchy and the flavor pops.
            Halo Top
            I avoid keeping ice cream in the house but who could resist a coupon for a free pint? Halo Top all-natural light ice cream features a low calorie count featured into the label design.
            A coupon came on the back of my check-out receipt so I returned to the store to nab the pistachio. In a conversational way, I asked the checker if she had tried it.
            “Yep,” was her strongly-delivered, succinct, no-follow-up reply. It made me laugh.
            “Is that your review?” I asked.
            She had tried another flavor and for her money, she’d prefer her favorite Blue Bell.
            I get how she feels, but as a Weight Watcher, I truly appreciated Halo’s flavor, texture, “mouth feel’ and even appearance. I found it refreshing and the low calorie component was a welcome bonus. Here’s a tip: tasters are confirming its best to let it soften on the counter as opposed to gobbling it up straight from the freezer. Give it a minute, folks. Check out a label for other more-healthy aspects to this brand.

                             Hummus overload?
                             So this happened before Harvey and I’m still amused. A pool-party hostess specifically requested ‘finger foods” be brought. I asked about a curry rice salad I make and still got the vibe of “more fingery.”
                        I had all the ingredients for hummus and decided it would hit the spot. Then I started thinking about the people invited to this party tended to be healthy-minded people who gravitated toward natural foods. I began thinking “what if everyone brings hummus?” Turns out, nearly everyone did. They were all different and all enjoyed.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Is your dog in on the pumpkin spice trend?

            The pumpkin spice trend is hotter than ever. After  shopping at gourmet grocers in Houston and snapping photos of pumpkin biscotti, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin spice seeds, pumpkin granola bark, pumpkin soup crackers and actual pumpkins, I put the camera away. 
      I brought home pumpkin spice coffee and a wee pumpkin for decor.   
    Did you realize that to be totally on trend, you will be feeding  pumpkin to your dog this season?
     I spotted a box of pumpkin dog treats. That was the day after I saw a Rachel Ray magazine spread on feeding fresh or canned pumpkin to your dogs.
    It's a thing. 
    What else to dogs get? In Houston's Central Market I was near the grind-your-own nut butter station. As I was considering whether to splurge on the calories and money for almond butter for my breakfast toast, a couple was discussing what sort of specially nut butters they would get to trick their dog into taking his pills. 
    As usual for the past several years, I invite readers to send me pumpkin updates this fall.
            Here’s my tip: Keep a shaker full of pumpkin spice to sprinkle on toast, into coffee and swirl into oatmeal. Keep it handy just for a whiff of fall flavor.
            Also, you can still send me your  contact if you would like to be in the pot for a 2018 Farmer's Almanac. Email me by Oct. 13 and I will share the issues that the makers sent to me, while supplies last.
            Happy harvest!

Friday, September 29, 2017

Boots and Bulls with the Cajun Army

                             Diana LaBorde called from the Nederland Chamber of Commerce and invited me to be a celebrity Boots and Bulls waiter. Finally, a chance to brush off my old Bennigan’s skills!
                             This packed event at Sevenne Hall drew out some fancy folk willing to socialize and bid on tempting silent auction items and eat barbecue. What we won’t do to support our chambers. . . . Serving was bunches of fun.
                             I noticed some guests wearing Cajun Army t-shirts. These are Louisiana people who have come to “muck out homes” after Harvey. They were heartily welcomed. Sandra Keuhn was checking to see if there were more Rao’s sugar cookies. They had been served to tables in upturned cowboy hats. There were no more cookies in the back, but I told her no one would deny a woman wearing the Cajun Army shirt. We went from table to table asking for an extra cookie or two. What happened was, tables gave her whole hats full of cookies to share with the rest of the Army.
                             I asked Revonda Kirby, also with the Army, how I could get her a copy of this column. She said the group expected to be in our area for about six months to help Southeast Texans.
                             “We help others. That’s what we do,” she said.

                      Farmers, your almanac is ready
                             Your grandfather’s copy of “The Old Farmer’s Almanac” may not have had mention of yoga huts, but those culinary, weather, planting and general interest tidbits fill the pages of the 2018 edition, and the makers have sent me a few to share with readers.
                             Are you familiar with walking stick kale that grows up to 10 feet high? Did you know mushrooms, not sugar, may be added to reduce the bitterness of cacao beans in chocolate? Small-scale out buildings are being used for yoga and other spaces in some urban backyards. Slow cooker chicken tacos sound good on your fall table. The recipe is on page 256.
                   has more details. Readers, about those few copies I’ve been given the opportunity to distribute, e-mail me at and I’ll put your name in a hat and draw out the winners until the copies run out. Don’t worry. The stores will have more.