Monday, October 29, 2012

Wrath of the storm

Next exit: boats only, please
Sandy has arrived, and she's mad as a hornet. Our thoughts and prayers are with our family and friends in the Northeast (after all, I'm from up there) and we hope the damage from this massive storm is not what the pundits are predicting. 

When Hurricane Ike hit Houston in September 2008, Greg was just a few days post-surgery. We rode out the storm in our home with our trusty dog at our side, then lost electricity for 11 days. It sucked. The damage to our home was minor, but we had to rely on the kindness of friends for shelter.

Gross stuff bubbling up: Allen Parkway
It's not good to be where a hurricane passes, as I learned what it meant to be on the leading side of the storm, in the eye, and on the dirty side. The leading side is scary because it's dramatic and it sounds like a freight train is rushing by. You think your windows will bust right in. The eye is almost worse, because an eerie calm takes over with the air of inevitability, as if you're attached to a bungee cord over Victoria Falls and are about to be pushed over. Then the dirty side comes. All the junk swept up by crazy winds and rain goes everywhere, often causing the worst damage. Oh, and the real flooding. 

We're sincerely hoping that the parts of the country affected will get back to normal soon, and that Sandy will decide that she's easily bored and head back out to sea. 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Monet to the left of me, Weiwei to the right

art. is.

I can't think of anyone who would take exception to the statement that Houston, Texas is a huge city for the arts. Both visual and performing. Even after five years of calling Houston home, what I can't get over is the accessibility and rich abundance of art from all ages. In the past few days, I have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of my favorite specimens from art history at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and also current work from more than 60 galleries at the second annual Texas Contemporary Art Fair

The MFAH has it all - nearly 60,000 pieces in its collection - and admission is free on Thursdays. Parking is free, to boot. All you need is the desire to experience a world-class museum, and even a tiny bit of appreciation for priceless art and artefacts. 

My neighbor and I went together, and since she studied art as well, we had an awesome time checking out and discussing paintings from different periods in time. It was like being in school again, but without the pressure. By the time we were leaving there, I found myself agreeing to dig out my paints and canvases and do some painting sessions at her place. 

Just a few of the highlights: Botticelli, Van Rijn, Gainsborough, Monet, Van Gogh, Courbet, Cezanne, Picasso, Rodin and of course Matisse.

Contrast these classics to the contemporary art on display at the Contemporary Art Fair, and you've moved to creative use of media, often disturbing imagery, a representation of artists who are clearly going through a lot of anguish, and a little experimentation with substances other than paint (I guess they did that back then, too). 

I didn't know most of the artists' names (except Weiwei), but the art was startling and wonderful. 

This is what makes Houston so interesting - having the historic context, as well as a vibrant practicing art scene. Everywhere we go, we run into at least one artist. Sometimes dozens. And we love it. 

If life is indeed a canvas, let's throw a lot of paint on it - with love and purpose. And keep creating. 

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dessert delivered with a straw

Couldn't be bothered to garnish it
I was craving something sweet. I don't really do desserts, but after some scrounging around, I created a grown-up goodie in a glass, rated M for Mmm, yummy. It's amazing what you can create with stuff in your freezer and fridge. 

When any kind of fruit is getting pretty ripe, freeze it on a tray with parchment or silicone sheet in non-touching pieces for a few hours, then add to your large Ziploc bag of handy fruit pieces. I freeze every kind of berry, grape, mango, pear - nothing is safe from my freezer drawer. Oh, and bananas - at any given time I usually have about 12 of them ready to be pressed into service. 

Let's call this Grown-up Go-to Dessert in a Glass

Put in a blender:
1 1/2 frozen bananas
3/4 cup or so of frozen pineapple chunks
1/3 cup of coconut water
1/3 cup of coconut rum
2 tablespoons of half and half
1 liberal dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Blend, and add more coconut water if needed to thin it out. 

Pour into a glass of your choice, throw in a straw and go to town. Nighty night. 

Bonus Tip: always have straws on hand, even if you're not a straw household. You never know when you or a guest will need them for drinks or crafts or during hurricane season.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

5 stars for food's powers of connection: cookbook links history, culture, adventure and cooking

Eat It! Food Adventures with Marco Polo
I've finally posted a short review on GoodReads. It's for a book written by Gracie Cavnar, founder of the Recipe for Success Foundation in support of its mission to help change the way our children eat. 

Having read this marvelous book, I'm already hungry for more. Eat It! artfully weaves together history, sociology, cookery and an intriguing story of adventure. Those who appreciate excellent illustration will love paging through the colorful plates.

Grown-ups and younger people can learn together over this series while reconnecting in the kitchen, and the go-to nature of these time-tested recipes will make this a treasured piece of one's personal book collection. I hope this can also become part of school curricula. 

I wouldn't be surprised if this series inspired more than a few young folks to dedicate their lives to the art of sourcing, preparing and eating real food.

Recipe for Success Foundation is changing the way children eat by changing how they understand, appreciate and eat their food, and by educating and mobilizing the community to provide healthier diets for children.
Gracie Cavnar in the White House garden
I encourage you to order your copy online today, gift it to your favorite young person and enjoy it together now, for holiday family cooking and well into the future. 100% of the proceeds go to RFS programming.

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

North meets South slow cooker chili

North Meets South Chili
Between the cooler days in Houston and our powerhouse Texans, I was inspired to celebrate with - what else? - a batch of chili, of course. 

Since the number of available chili recipes probably exceed the number of mosquitoes in the Buffalo Bayou, I decided to forage in the freezer, fridge and pantry to create my own version of North meets South chili. The northern part is the tomato focus, ground turkey and beans. The southern part is the vinegar and brown sugar. There's also a Southwest flavor from the hatch chiles. 

The result?  Different tasting but really, really addictive. Greg asked me to blog this one so other folks who want to break out of the usual can give this a try. Oh, and the cornbread muffins are just a basic recipe with very little sugar. I like thinner batter, as you bake these at a screaming hot 450 degrees and they look like popovers when they bake. They're slightly crisp on the outside.
Feel free to increase quantities of spices or herbs - just be careful with oregano as too much of it will make everything bitter. If you don't want to make this in a slow cooker, no problem - just reverse the recipe by cooking the turkey first, and just throw in everything else and let it simmer for as long as you can stand it.

North Meets South Slow Cooker Chili
...8+ servings

Use the freshest ingredients you can find
What you need:

  • About 1.5 pounds of ground turkey or TVP, browned 
  • 2 large stalks of celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped in the food processor
  • 1/2 a large Vidalia or Bermuda onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp Van Roehling Sizzlin' Oak Steak seasoning (order here) or 1-2 tbsp of 'Better than Bullion' beef base or 3 beef bullion cubes
  • 2 bay leaves (dried)
  • 3 hatch chiles, chopped (we roast our own but canned will work)
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste 
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (or fresh if possible)
  • 2 tsp chili powder, divided
  • 2 tsp cumin, divided
  • 2-3 tbsp vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of your favorite beer (any type except a sour or weissen is fine)
  • 1/3 cup water (or more)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 to 1 1/4 lb ground turkey 
  • Salt and pepper as desired

How to make:

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker from the above except brown sugar, turkey, salt and pepper, using one teaspoon of cumin and one teaspoon of chili powder and reserving the rest. 

In a large pan on the stove top, gently cook and break apart turkey. Add remaining cumin, chili powder and brown sugar. Cook until no pink remains, but don't allow turkey to brown. Add to slow cooker.

Cook on low for 5 hours or more, turning to warm once the flavors have combined. 

Top with your favorite garnishes and enjoy!

Van Roehling seasonings rock

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Good design goes to heaven; bad design goes everywhere

Good design goes to heaven; bad design goes everywhere.
— Mieke Gerritzen

I'm a sucker for good design.

The above box of matches, which is about 3.5 inches long, was coyly tucked into a goodie bag at an event. The classic flamingo illustration comes from a reference book (plate 45, Phoenicopterus Ruber). A simple, clear sticker brands it for Laura U, an exceptional interior design boutique in Houston. 

Why is this box of matches so great? 
1. You always can use matches (admit it, you swipe a few matchbooks when you leave that restaurant!)
2. These matches are long enough to light about 20 candles at a time
3. If you're lighting all those candles, you're probably hosting a dinner party so your cool matches reflect your cool personality
4. This matchbox design truly reflects the distinctive Laura U style: elegant, classy, proportioned

Candlelight changes everything.

In an era of the visualization of the web (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest et al), it sure is a truism that bad design goes everywhere. Great brands understand what it means to be true to their design roots and not just slapping on a virtual coat of paint. Glad to see that this fine Houston company has nailed design on the head.

What everyday item impresses you with its awesome design?

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