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.