Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The blue trees: Dr. Seuss and Brothers Grimm mash-up

This is a blue tree. Rather, this tree is blue. I painted this with biologically-safe, water-based ultramarine mineral pigments. I wouldn't normally go around slapping pigments on trees, but this was a special installation from performance artist and sculptor Konstantin Dimopoulos and I was a volunteer. 
The Blue Trees is part of an ongoing series he's creating, and in the case of Houston it's meant to draw attention to the millions of lovely trees we lost to Hurricane Ike and the drought. On a grander scale, it's also meant to call attention to the perils of deforestation. 

They said they had more than 100 volunteers over the three days of painting, but if I were guessing I'd say closer to 200 folks showed up to be part of this social installation. This is the scene upon arrival. Note the (blurry) bluebonnet in the foreground - our national - er, state - flower. 

Dimopoulos himself was overseeing the painting. He's an interesting character. Born in Egypt, he has a Greek name, spent many years in New Zealand and now lives in Australia. And his accent is all Aussie. He's charming, well-spoken and visionary. And wears a lot of blue.

Here is Konstantin, being interviewed by one of the affiliates. No, they didn't plan out that kneeling choreography...

The horseshoe of crepe myrtles stands stoically, peaceful and unmoving in the center of a hub of traffic. The blue adds a layer of odd tranquility, with the final effect feeling like a collaboration between Dr. Seuss and the Brothers Grimm. 

Houston loves art, and I love Houston for supporting projects like this one!

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Macarons: the French Texan craze continues

The cupcake craze has lasted way longer than I ever thought. Like 5 years longer. Finally, though, the sugary dessert tide is shifting. 

Move over, sweet little cakey ones. Make way for macarons. And for specialty shops that painstakingly create and sell them, like Houston's Macaron by Patisse.

I remember seeing macarons all over Europe, even on my first trip to the UK back in (gasp) 1984. They were virtually unknown here in the States, save for a few bakeries in large cities. Macarons are mostly a French confection, but the macaron's origin remains debated. So, either they were created in 1791 in a convent near Cormery or maybe the nuns were beaten to the punch by Catherine de Medici's Italian pastry chefs in the 1500s. 

Macarons are made from two lovely flavored meringue discs that sandwich buttercream, ganache or jam. I must say these little treasures were appealing to the eye and the palate. See the Baileys ones above? They were only around for a week before St. Patty's Day. One of the macarons in this tray became Capri's first ever macaron. She gave it the official 'oishii' seal of approval.

We left with four macarons: blueberry vanilla, tiramisu, mint chocolate and lemon. I tried the last two, and both were perfectly textured and well-flavored. Since I'm not overly crazy about sweets, two of these little things were enough! 

The decor of this little shop truly transports you right across the pond, with touches from France and Italy, and a custom-designed chandelier.


The empty plate says it all...

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ladies who lunch

These pictures are of zucchini. Yep, that's  right. Veg. Coated in lovely tempura goodness with garlic chips, mint and citrus aioli. And boy, was this ever so good. This fritte was part of a recent lunch Corey and I enjoyed at Coppa Ristorante Italiano in Houston, where Chef Brandi Key is at the helm and turning out thoughtfully composed modern Italian fare.

That fritte was more than just a run-of-the-mill small plate. I'm thinking it began with  super-fresh zucchini that went in for a quick blanch before being plunged into an ice bath, then patted dry. It was then coated with just the right amount of batter and fried for just the right amount of time, resulting in coyly translucent, delicately crunchy batons of lovely deliciousness. 

Piled campfire style on the plate, they were sprinkled with frizzled mint leaves and garlic chips. Finally, to bring it all together, a citrus aioli made with fresh oranges couldn't have been more of an unexpected, yet welcome contrast. I only wished for more garlic chips, which I didn't get to try as Miss Corey ate them all!

The pizza was a blend of different mushrooms, accompanied by melted leeks, tallegio cheese and topped with Arugula. It was a lovely texture with a fairly sturdy though chewy crust, and the mushrooms leeks were particularly enjoyable. While respectable by all pizza measures, it would be even better with a slightly thinner crust, and more of a cheese feel which we thought was strangely absent. But oh my, was it ever gorgeous to look at ...  

Did I mention that zucchini fritte? Here's another shot in case you missed it.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Taste testing at Sysco

I love watching chefs work. It's like catnip for a foodie like me. So, of course I was in heaven when I had an opportunity to learn about offerings from Sysco, the country's largest food distributor with headquarters here in Houston. Let's see ... observing the cooking, learning about the food and sampling non-stop for two hours in a pristine commercial kitchen - yes please!

This is Chef Ojan Bagher, corporate executive chef at Sysco. He's highly professional, creative and a pleasure to watch. He put together some pretty outstanding dishes for us, most of which he made up that morning to suit the kind of catering my friend is doing. I'm going to give him an A plus!

Here is a little sampling of what we tried:

Grilled andouille, goat cheese mousse and baby arugula with a gorgeous texture and just small enough ...

Seared diver scallops on a bed of red onion jam, with caramelized grape tomatoes ...

A teres major filet, my first time trying this cut of meat and I must say it was a pleasant surprise. This is with simply done fingerling potatoes, and with a highbrow salsa which tasted like the Mexican response to Romesco ...

Grilled mahi mahi and colossal shrimp with andouille cream sauce - decadence ...

... and I must include this pic from a recent visit from Chef Robert Irvine, second from left (Dinner Impossible, Restaurant Impossible), who is the new spokesperson for Sysco. How cool is that?

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