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The 'Burbs and the Bees

First off, I have to give thanks to my very nice neighbor, who brought me some delicious food last night from a work function. The cookies went first, so she couldn’t bring any. The spinach-artichoke dip (which became breakfast) was just addictive–I told her it should be Schedule 2 illegal. The meatballs were perfect for lunch, too. She promises next week that there will be lemon bars on the menu, which she promises to bring, as well as chicken poblano dip. YUM. I loved the lemon bars last year. She remembered. That’s why I’ll walk her doggie anytime.

Oh, and she gave me some home-grown oranges when she came back after Christmas. I saved some of the seeds to sprout and plant. Love oranges.

My last blog post about Suzy Homemaker appliances now has me looking on eBay for that stuff and wondering a) where I will put it, b) when can I buy it, and c) when can I buy a house so that I can have my Suzy Homemaker room to put them in. Sorry, you think about a lot of stuff when you’re unemployed and working on other opportunities.

And, you can actually buy an original Amana Radarange on eBay, right now. My dad bought one in 1976, when they were VERY expensive–a lot more than the $100 or less at Target. Oh, no, we went to a special appliance store in Metairie and got one. This was a big deal for us, and he figured with four kids it would make life a little easier on Mom. (I never asked, though.) They only parted with it because it stopped working (like, maybe 1997?) and they couldn’t get it repaired anymore (or maybe they didn’t care.) Still, it was a great appliance, and if it didn’t weigh 50 pounds and take up half my little kitchen, I might consider bidding on it.

So in my Wall Street Journal this morning,”Personal Journal” section, there was this article about the new Agrarian Collection at Williams-Sonoma. I get emails and catalogs from both Williams-Sonoma and from Sur la Table, but this was new to me. Had no idea they had this whole new collection. It’s for a specific niche market that’s been around for a long time, but let me give you a little background, first.

Lately the press has thrown around the word “prepper” like it was a negative thing, since it was attached to a negative news story. They always tell you that it’s people getting ready for the end of the world or something. Not always. I’m not venturing into that fray of course, but being a “prepper,” or having emergency plans for disasters, is not really a bad thing. Living in Houston as I have since 1998, and in New Orleans for most of my younger years, we do “prepping” frequently, because hurricanes have an affinity for the south. You keep stuff around for emergencies. Extra water. Batteries for the radio and flashlights. Canned food. Stuff like that. Lots of books are dedicated to the subject; I have a few of them as well.

I’ve also noticed that when people start doing their own thing, which is as American as apple pie, the media REALLY likes to ridicule the people doing it. Homesteading and having some preparations, is one of those things to be ridiculed. Until the day you are prepared, and then you’re not so nuts.

As technology has gotten more sophisticated, more people have things like generators and solar chargers for phones and computing devices. You can go all out for stuff like this, if you want, and be ready for just about anything. Yes, even the end of the world that didn’t quite happen in December.

And, you can bet that the New York/New Jersey part of the country will become preppers after Sandy gave them a taste of what we go through in the south periodically. Hurricane Ike didn’t have snow attached to it. In about six months the New York Times will pick up that story, and the Los Angeles Times may decide to run it so Californians can read about the new east coast preppers. Maybe they’ll get the idea they should be more ready for earthquakes, too. . .just sayin’.

I don’t wish that kind of thing on anybody, of course, but, you know earthquakes, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornadoes, and droughts happen, so keep reading.

A few years ago I was involved with a bloke who, among other things, wanted us to a) get married and b) live in the country. (My “townie” friends were horrified when we actually looked at properties.) The second part appealed to me, since I’ve long had this idea of moving out of the city and raising veggies and maybe even chickens for eggs and, well, chicken. At the time, I had a good job in IT, and he didn’t. He lived 50 miles to the north, meaning that I would be driving 100 miles a day to go to work. I’d be dead in six months after I bought the new car I’d need to commute, but that didn’t deter him. Eventually, I realized he was a control freak, and it took quite a lot of prayer to get rid of him (because “I don’t want to marry you, please go away” didn’t seem to do the trick.)

It’s called “Homesteading,” and folks from all walks of life, and in all kinds of places, are doing it. Growing vegetables has caught on in urban and suburban areas partly because of the economy, but also because of a “back to the land” mentality. There is nothing wrong with this.

But you know when something goes mainstream, gets “popular,” it’s not “cool” anymore. Oh, well.

I have a small plot of land , measuring 8’x5′, and I’ve been trying to make it a full-blown garden. So far I’ve got mint, scallions (green onions), rosemary, and a surprise bamboo shoot from a plant I thought was long dead. And weeds, which I’ll be digging up one of these days to plant lettuce, tomato, cucumbers and basil. (I like salads and making pesto.) I’m also trying to sprout and grow a pineapple top. My container garden is a little simpler than one you’d see elsewhere. Paint buckets from Home Depot are cheap.

With the “wedding” off, I got back to a normal life, and the idea of buying property and doing some of my own farming stuck with me. I haven’t done it yet, being unemployed and all, but I love reading magazines like Urban Farm, Hobby Farms and Hobby Farm Home (kind of like Martha Stewart Living for the farm set, with good recipes, ideas and advice for the modern-day farm household.) Guess I should subscribe, so I can keep them coming. I mean, what’s not to like about growing nuts for food and profit?

But now, Williams-Sonoma has a line of products for the homesteading backyard farmer, including a $1,300 chicken coop, a $29.95 butter making kit, a $598 vintage copper cricket weather vane, as well as an $11.95 herb garden kit. Not to mention raised bed planters, a fungi log for growing your own mushrooms, vertical planters for small spaces like mine, beekeeping equipment, canning and preserving, food dehydrators, sprouters. .. crikey, just go look at it if you don’t believe me.

Oh, here’s something  I’ll be all over: the Asian Tofu Cookbook. NOT!

The Wall Street Journal article says that they will be publishing a standalone catalog for this line, too. Urban Outfitters is also getting into the act, with Terrain gardening centers, targeted to women. I haven’t looked at that one yet, but I should see if we have one here in Houston.

I wonder if they have their own version of the Topsy Turvy planters? I have one but it didn’t go well last year. I put it away, and will try it again soon. Heck, maybe more than one.

Back in WWII, people did this kind of thing as a matter of course. Henry Fonda–yes, the movie star–was famous for his Victory Garden. People raised chickens, veggies, canned, all that stuff, even in the city, however they could. Over time, we got away from doing these things for ourselves.City folks tend to look down on farming types, but suddenly it’s “fashionable” to be a homesteader.

I have a replica poster from WWII that says “Sew For Victory.” Well, sewing is my favorite thing to do, and I thought it was appropriate decor. But that’s what people did. Now, we’re getting back to doing for ourselves, bit by bit.  I’m glad to see that, but I don’t think I’m gonna be buying a $1,300 chicken coup.

While Williams-Sonoma is just branching out into a new market, and they call it a “lifestyle,” I have to say that taking care of yourself can’t be a bad thing. Can it? I mean, my paint bucket garden isn’t something you’ll see in River Oaks or Beverly Hills. Unless that’s a big dirty secret.

Confession: two years ago, we had a drought here in Texas. Bad one. I planted zucchini (from a small potted plant) and cantelope (from seed) back there, and they took over half the plot! I watered it carefully, but over time, the heat and dry conditions were too much, and they shriveled up and died. What survived is what I still have, except the rosemary, but that’s another story.

Here in Texas, it’s getting on digging-up and planting season, and I need to get back there and get busy with it. I should have planted sugar snap peas back in November, but have been otherwise occupied. I love them, but they’re expensive, so why not grow them? Ditto for celeriac, fennel, and some other pricey veg. This year I hope to successfully grow grape tomatoes, finally, as well as bell peppers and cucumbers along with lettuce and the aforementioned things I haven’t killed yet. Oh, and I want to grow lots of strawberries. I love strawberries. Louisiana’s are the best, Texas comes in second. I think the birds got the few that made it last year. Maybe a Topsy Turvy strawberry planter will work better.

I’m not producing ALL my food yet, heck not much of it at all, but I’ll make the effort. Maybe even some cantelope this year. (Love that too.)

You can see the short WSJ video here. And if you have any growing tips, or ideas for stuff, pass it along in the comments.

If you’re interested in homesteading, I can also recommend Backwoods Home magazine, which has a free newsletter and a few free Kindle issues on Amazon.com; you’d just have to search for them. There are also a lot of free articles on their website; just search for what you need. Keep in mind that these are folks that really do live in the backwoods, not in a wooded suburb. This is the real thing.

I also came across this book, Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich, after reading about it by a newspaper colunmnist for the Houston Chronicle.  It’s an interesting read with good advice and even a few good recipes. She talks about what it was like to have her attitude changed towards a lot of things–you’d have to read it to understand. She talks about sewing, too, although not the kind of sewing I like to do, just stuff to get you started on your way to self-reliance.

Another good book for the “prepper” is Just In Case by Kathy Harrison. Geared toward emergency preparedness, it’s a good basic manual for being ready for emergencies. June will be here before you know it, so I guess I should re-read it again soon before hurricane season.

Of course, these are just books I have in my possession–a trip to Amazon.com or a bookstore and a little searching will yield lots of titles on both homesteading and preparedness (not to mention cooking and sewing.)

Let me say here and now that if you suddenly decide to do a little homesteading and a little preparedness, you are not nuts. You are taking care of business and getting ahead of a problem. There is nothing wrong with that. Think about the pictures and the stories of folks who lived through Sandy just a few weeks ago, and you’ll see it’s not a bad idea.

You can also buy freeze-dried food online, similar to the MREs that the military uses, and seeds stored in sealed cans for long-term storage. Many are non-GMO and will last many years. Ditto for the freeze-dried food. I have never tried this stuff, but if ever I do, I’ll let you know. I haven’t even taught myself canning yet, although I do have the Ball book for it.

See why I need a house?

Happy Dining!

The return of Suzy Homemaker

Greetings, Dear Readers:

Once again, I have been OBE (overcome by events) and not had much to write about. I think winter may be over here in Houston, darnit. But earlier this evening, I was prowling on Amazon, Half.com and eBay looking for something (never found it.) I also was on Suzanne Somers’ website, because I need to get more Somersweet. I glanced at her section on Cooks Tools, and when I looked at the hand mixer and ice shaver, two words came to mind.

Suzy Homemaker.

For those who are not old enough to remember Suzy Homemaker, it was a line of toys produced back in the 1960s and early 1970s, back when women were still considered primarily homemakers. (There was eventually a doll with the same name, second in popularity only to Barbie. Source: Wikipedia.)  These were working appliances–mixers, blenders, irons, and other everyday domestic appliances–adapted for a kid’s use with adult supervision. I myself had both these items:

SuzyHomemakerMixBlend

And, yes, I used them, along with the iron, when I started sewing. It was the early 70’s. We hadn’t yet been told to take off those aprons (and get splattered with tomato sauce) and be free from our domesticity.

OK, I’ve benefitted in some ways from said “liberation,” as we all have. But bear with me on this one.

Eventually it happened, and women began to shun the finer points of homemaking. Toys of this sort fell out of favor, although were still produced in different forms.

I also had one of these in yellow, which I used with great joy to make itty-bitty cakes (until Mom stopped buying the itty-bitty mix boxes; we didn’t have Amazon.com back then):

EasyBakeOven

Light bulb technology. Worked like a charm. Just make sure you watch it, because there was no timer on these.

Remember, domesticity, we were told, was bad for us girls. REALLY? Guess what? The Easy-Bake Oven is still made by Hasbro, and marketed as the Easy Bake Oven For Girls. That’s what it says on the home page. You can also buy the mixes and accessories on their site as well as Amazon.com.

What I really wanted (but never got) was this one:

SuzyHomemakerStove

Oh, the things I could have whipped up with this bad boy! I was the oldest of four, with two bruiser brothers and a fussy baby sister–I could have cooked for all four of us! But no, I had to stick with what I had. Still, I did OK. Kept me out of Mom’s hair for a while. And, eventually, I started cooking on the regular stove in the kitchen, much to Mom’s chagrin.

I dreamed of one day having the entire collection of Suzy Homemaker appliances. A fully functional kitchen. In my room. Basically, I wanted my own apartment.

These images are from current sales on eBay. If you look on some of the listings, you’ll see how much these now-antique items are going for–YEOW. A lot more than they sold for new. Many of them also work–but it won’t replace your KitchenAid stand mixer, OK?

In addition to what I’ve shown here, there was also a dishwasher. If I remember correctly, there was an entire kitchen assembly, similar to what you might see as a freestanding kitchen in IKEA. (IKEA actually carries three kid versions, too–you can see one here.)

Are you starting to get where I’m going with this? Keep reading. . . .

The term “Suzy Homemaker” eventually became a feminist insult to be thrown at women who did the domestic/child raising thing, but women still did it despite all that. So how did all those “Suzy Homemaker” generation women and girls turn out?

Take a look at the great mixing bowl you can get from the Martha Stewart Collection at Macy’s. That color is, reportedly, Martha’s favorite, and figures into quite a lot of her collection (as well as packaging and labels) at Macy’s, Kmart, Staples, Michael’s and other stores that carry the Martha name. Heck, it even backs up her website.

It’s the same color as the Easy-Bake Oven and the Suzy Homemaker stove. Are you still wondering?

Today we not only have the Food Network, and it’s digital cable child, Cooking Channel, we have a million websites devoted, in one way or another, to cooking. In addition to very modern home diva Martha Stewart, there is the gorgeous Nigella Lawson, whose book How to be a Domestic Goddess was a best seller, as were others–with good food in them. There’s the movie-star-lookalike Giada de Laurentiis, who also writes cookbooks with easy Italian food. The Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten, whose cookbooks have tried-and-true recipes that really are foolproof. There are many others, like Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence, as well as others you may not have heard of, like Rose Levy Berenbaum and Barbara Kafka.

And then there’s me, who cooks out of every one of them and loves to eat, as well as write about all this stuff.

Sure, men cook too, and very well–but after all that fuss about cutting the apron strings, we’ve come around again. Fifty years after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was published, launching the second wave of feminism, more women love to hang out in the kitchen again, want the best appliances and cooking tools, buy cookbooks and use them (as well as apps for recipes and videos for technique) and enjoy cooking delicious and healthy meals for their families, as well as have fabulous meals for holidays.

I really can cook, despite what my brother says. Honest.

We’re more sophisticated now–we buy sugar snap peas, free-range chickens and eggs, grass-fed beef, almond milk, agave syrup, and other things our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have. Stores like Target, Wal-Mart, Bed, Bath and Beyond (never mind the myriad of websites) are filled to the rafters with not only sophisticated cooking tools, but endless amounts of home decor for discriminating decorators.

I myself own five French press coffee pots of varying sizes. Long story.

Homemaking is still an art, however you enjoy it, whether you’re a man or a woman, wherever you live.

And hey–men join them in the kitchen to cook, help out or do the washing up. They have their own decorating styles, from the minimalist to the sophisticated “man-cave.” There is now equality in the kitchen, with like-minded spouses. We are again getting suited up, booted up, and into that kitchen to cook–with aprons, people!

There are also a number of blogs called “Suzy Homemaker,” too. Take your pick.

For your entertainment, I found an original Suzy Homemaker video on YouTube. Check it out for some antique marketing. Here’s another, and another. (I really wanted that ice maker thing, too, so I could make snowballs at home for the fam.) Here is a longer one introducing new colors. . .circa 1971.

OMG–I was just a little bitty kitty!

Suzy Homemaker is still around. She never really left. She’s just been waiting to make a comeback. And, she has, finally.

Long live Suzy Homemaker!

Enjoy!

MarthaMixingBowl

COLD!! (Hot chocolate made with almond milk)

Good heavens, it’s been two weeks since I blogged!! My apologies. I’ve been busy, and had obstacles I never thought I’d have. On the up side, I know how to get Microsoft to fix your computer for free, when it’s their fault. You just need a LOT of time on your hands, and more patience than I usually have. (Thank heavens I have the “unlimited airtime” plan on my cell phone.)

Have you started your diet yet? Yeah, me too. No, I’m not on an actual “diet,” just trying to stick with the low-carb thing, not eat late at night, and a little fruit here and there. And a salad when I can swing it. Hey–Jack In The Box and Chick fil A both make great salads. I just don’t partake of their packaged dressing, and sometimes just take the salad home and make some fresh. MUCH better than the soybean oil/sugar stuff.

So, while I’ve been thinking about my next post, I’ve come across two news articles that are actually ON the topic, but I need to do some research elsewhere on it. Seriously. Soon.

Now, let’s talk about what’s on everyone’s mind in the northern hemisphere–it’s cold!! I know this because a) I need more than a t-shirt when I go outside, b) my hands get cold, and c) everybody’s talking about it on Facebook. Like a redhead I know in Los Angeles who CANNOT believe it’s that cold in LA. Poor thing. She has to put on an extra bathing suit to keep warm.

So for the redhead, and anyone else reading this blog, I am putting up a recipe for hot chocolate that was given to me by the nutritionist in my doctor’s office (http://www.woodlandswellness.com.) It’s intended for folks on the yeast-free diet who can’t have milk products, but that doesn’t stop me. I’ve been drinking it for more than 3 years, and I mean EVERY DAY. On days like this, when it *might* get to 50 degrees, twice.

I’ve done the yeast-free diet a few times, and the first time I thought I was gonna starve, since fruit and dairy products are verboten the first month. No cheese? No cream? No butter? AAAHH!!!

One day while on a date in Central Market (we were getting some food after a visit to a museum) one of the deli guys told me about almond milk. I’m allergic to soy, and rice is, well, not yeast-free. Almond milk fit the bill, they recommend it, and I never went back to buying milk or cream (until I started buying goat’s milk for Catmandu, but that didn’t last too long.) You can get it in the fridge case, but it’s also sold in shelf-stable boxes–no need for refrigeration until you open it. I buy it for the long haul most of the time–and I don’t run out like I did with regular milk. I was good on coffee and tea after that.

If you ever stop by for a coffee, be aware that I do not have cow’s milk around, except once in a great while when I’m in the mood for cappuccino. I haven’t tried frothing the almond milk yet. Maybe that’ll be next week.

Hmmm. . .maybe my next post will wait until I talk about almond milk a little more. Great stuff, healthy, allergy free, and perfect for coffee and tea. And hot chocolate.

So I was astonished when they told me about this recipe, and I have not yet stopped making and drinking it. Not even when it’s 100F outside. When I was working, it took the chill off during the summer when the AC is turned to “light freeze/frostbite.”

Oh, look–it’s now 52 degrees, feels like 50. Get out the suntan lotion. . . .

So here goes: into a microwave safe-container (I use the 2-c Pyrex measuring cup) add 1.5 cups unsweetened chocolate almond milk, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 drop mint extract (I started using a clean medicine dropper, it works) and sweeten to taste.

Heat between 3 and 4 minutes, depending on your microwave.

Amy’s trick is to heat up the actual CUP with boiling water that you will be using to drink it from. I have a couple of latte mugs that work perfectly. Keeps it warmer longer, of course.

Oh, and if you put too much mint in it, it tastes like toothpaste. I have gone as far as to make a second batch without the mint, mix it with the first, and put half in the fridge of it  it to dilute the mint extract that went in. Seriously, get a clean medicine dropper for this kind of thing. Works like a charm.

I sweeten mine with 4 packets of Sweet N’ Low, but you can use stevia, erythrytol, or whatever natural sweetener you like. I have not tried agave syrup in it, so you’re on your own there.

DO NOT use Equal/Nutrasweet/Aspartame, for two reasons: a) it’s toxic, and b) it doesn’t stand up to heat at all. Do not use Splenda for the same reason–it’s chlorinated sugar, and a toxin. If you do, you’re on your own.

This actually makes two servings, but if you think I’m sharing MINE, you’re wrong. Make your own. GRRRRRrrrrrr. . . .

Once you try this, you’ll see why I won’t share. It really is good, and is a much better alternative to the powdered stuff. Sure, I’ve had it, but not in a long time. And until I was given this recipe, I figured I’d never have it again except at the holidays. I haven’t tried to change this recipe, because I’m thoroughly enamored with it.

Try it soon, and you will be too. Stay warm, everyone.

Happy Dining!

Meeting an old friend again

Hello, Dear Readers:

Well, it’s the holiday season and, honestly, I haven’t had much foodie adventure since The Tuscan Turkey got turned into soup a few weeks ago. But it’s OK, everyone loved it, and I just have some cut up Tuscan turkey meat left in the freezer. Well, OK, enough to keep me happy for a while, and make The Soup of Enlightenment if I really want to, but I don’t, since I had it at Thanksgiving, skipping over the big meal to that part.

I will tell you that I was just in Cost Plus World Market, using a $10 coupon to get stocked up on the fantastic Typhoo Decaf Tea from the UK and got me some microwavable steamed puddings–the real British stuff, produced in New Zealand. Really. I guess the Brits like it, but I never asked–but I’m having steamed pudding for Christmas!! (I’ll let you know.) Convenient, and just a little bit, enough to try it once. If I wanted to, I could use Nigella Lawson’s recipes out of her Christmas book, but really, I’m giving myself the gift of peace and quiet this year, and lots of sewing. Not to mention the Doctor Who Christmas Special on Tuesday thanks to a very nice neighbor who is out of town. I did offer to do a carpet cleaning for her while she was out, but she declined. Maybe I’ll just clean her windows before she gets home.

BTW, if you join their World Market Explorer program, you get those $10 off $30 purchase coupons regularly, including one for your birthday.

Oh, and while I was there, nibbling on the sample cookies, I talked to a lady who was going to get ingredients for a cranberry sauce. One of Paula Deen’s recipes from FoodNetwork.com. I love you, Paula, but fifteen ingredients, including Grand Marnier! I was shocked when I read that. She didn’t know what Grand Marnier was, either. I told her that she would have to get it at a liquor store, which are closed on Sunday in Texas, and that it would probably run $35 or $40 a bottle. She had no idea. . .so I told her to forget this one and go look up the recipe for my favorite Cranberry Ginger Relish and make that. Four ingredients, fifteen minutes, and make it three days in advance. Easy, and it’s sweet and warm at the same time.  “Can I get all the ingredients at Kroger?” she asked. Absolutely, including sherry vinegar. It sidles up to you all nice and sweet, then POW! Hits you right in the kisser. Everybody loves it, including me, and I always get requests for the recipe when I make it.

Now I want some, too.

Rest assured that some kind of diet will commence after January 1, and I will ease my way into it over the next week. Might go to a potluck next Saturday, we’ll see, and I’ll bring something good, if I go. Exercise too, Pilates is my preference, with some yoga thrown in for good measure, since walking will be impossible soon. More on that later.

So anyway. . . .

Last week I had my third interview in a different department at a major medical center here in Houston. I’m not going to say which one, but it’s big, well known, and they have great benefits. The interview started about 3:20 pm, and I left the facility at 5:30 pm, escorted by a Texas Medical Center (TMC) police officer. (I rode in the FRONT seat, OK?)  I was lost, and he offered. . .hey, I can trust a guy with a pistol on his hip!  Especially since I had on my suit and a crisp white collared shirt, not to mention sky-high heels. No t-shirt and jeans on this day–I needed to look sharp, and I did.

I believe I will be hired on soon, which means bus rides and walking around a lot. No way I’m driving to work every day.

My TMC copper got me back to the building where my vehicle was, and I checked out–at nearly 6:00 pm! I was very HUNGRY at this point, and decided to get a bite in town since it was high traffic and driving home was a bit of a nightmare. It was also the Friday before Christmas, and everyone is not only getting off work but heading to shop. (Bay Area Boulevard was a parking lot at 1:30 pm.)

As I drove up Holcombe towards Buffalo Speedway, I was trying to remember where I could find a good dinner around there. Hmmm. . .Burger King. No. Some kind of wing shop–no. Taco Bell (which required a left U-turn in heavy traffic)–bookmark for later. Spec’s Liquor Warehouse–no. Some little sushi place–absolutely not. I knew I could get to Rice Village if I turned right on Kirby, but having been there a week before and had much trouble parking, I kept driving.

Then I remembered a little place that used to be there when I worked for Baylor all those years ago. Would it still be there? I started thinking. . .it was by a grocery store, but which one? I knew it was on the left. . .I saw Rice Epicurean Market, but no little place. I kept going, and saw the Randall’s Flagship about a mile or so up the road, along with a Barnes & Noble in the same strip mall. Then my eyes saw what I was seeking–their name on the marquee. It was still there, after all these years, in a city where permanence is fleeting. It was a sight for sore eyes that day.

Prayers get answered one at a time. Gifts do not always come in a box wrapped in paper and ribbon. Trust me on that.

This little place is called Yapa Kitchen-Fresh Take Away. When I worked at Baylor, we used Yapa’s catering for our activities, and everyone loved the sandwiches and lunch boxes they brought us. There was one occasion that for some reason, we had to use a different catering company. (I think someone higher up told us to.) We were very disappointed and made sure we called Yapa after that.

Once in a while I’d go get a sandwich over there if I was driving around or running office errands. Their sandwiches were delicious, unbelievable cookies, and great chef-prepared food in the case. The store is actually quite small, and hasn’t changed since the last time I was there–maybe 2001?  I held the wheel tightly and kept thinking about what I could vagely remember from my days working in the VA Hospital (as a Baylor employee.)

It came flooding back when I walked in the front door. It was pretty much the same as I remember it. Some of the cookbooks look old now.

I gazed in the case and saw all kinds of delicious things. I was thinking about a crab cake, since it wasn’t too expensive (not ready for $25 a pound pepper crusted tenderloin yet, but will celebrate when I get my new job.) I asked if there was anything else to look at. “Well,” the young bloke said, “we have a few sandwiches over here.”  There were four. I saw two chicken salad sandwiches, one turkey with cranberry, and a roast beef.

THAT’S WHAT I WANT.

I grabbed the last roast beef, and asked about dessert. They still had that little case on the side, and I remembered having their delicious creme brulee once. But their cookies were in big jars on the counter, and I got a chocolate chip and a white chocolate/macadamia nut cookie. He asked me if I’d like some horseradish sauce; I declined. There was some already on the sandwich, and it was just enough and just perfect.

That, dear readers, is what hit the spot and scratched the itch on Friday, December 21st at about 6:15 in the evening.

The sandwich, on a really great whole-grain bread, was just as good as I remembered it. Ditto the cookies. Next time I get two of those slightly soft and chunky white chocolate/macadamia nut cookies. Both were good, but I liked that one better.

To the observer (or the guys working the counter that night), it was just a sandwich and cookies to have while I sat at a table and flipped through my magazine. To me, it was like finding an old friend again. No, I didn’t go in all the time when I was there, just once in a while, and it was a nice little refuge, even though they were quite busy during the day. The food was good, the people were nice, and it was just up the street. You can get a delicious lunch or dinner to eat in or take home with you.  I once bought three of their cookies and brought them to someone in the hospital, because I knew they were the best to be had that day, plus they were on the way to the hospital.

And it’s still like that. For this, I was, and am, very grateful.

Yapa is quite a distance for me to go now, since I’ve been in the suburbs since 2002, I’m in town about once or twice a month, and to be honest, I don’t go into TMC unless I have to, as I have for the past 3 Fridays. Should I find myself working back at TMC, I might have the opportunity to visit more often; we’ll see.

If you’re in Houston and find yourself in the Medical Center area for whatever reason, consider having lunch at Yapa; their menus are online, so see what they have and find what you like before you get there. They are located at the corner of Holcombe and Buffalo Speedway in the little building close to the corner. The address is 3173 W Holcombe Boulevard (77025) and you can call them at 713-664-9272.

Warning: While Yapa is a little place worth visiting, it’s not in the big building with Randall’s. Yapa is in the small one-off building in the parking lot. You know the type of building I mean, an auxiliary building. You can see it here–Yapa is in that building on the right, close to the big building.

Thanks for still being there, and feeding this hungry feline when she really needed it.

Happy dining!

Quinoa–have you tried it?

First, a little blog news: I’ve started, but not yet working much on, another blog, but this one on sewing. Yes, yet another sewing blog on the web. Let’s see how many stories about cutting my fingers with scissors, sticking needles and other sharp items in my fingers and hands and pins in my feet I dare to publish on the web for your amusement. Yes, I’ve bled on many, many textiles. But not the fabulous 1996 wedding dress, thank heavens (blood is a bear to get out of raw silk.)

I’ve bled in the kitchen, too, never in food and have never stuck a knife through my metacarpals. There *is* the matter of the air conditioner motor mount through the bottom of one of my feet, barely missing my metatarsals, but I was about 8 or 9, I think. I can still find the little scar on the bottom of my foot. (Never mind which one.)

I’ve had a LOT of tetanus shots in my life. But I’ve never broken a bone. Yet.

Back to the food discussion while I nibble on the leftover dried cherries from the delicious sausage and acorn squash thing last week. . .I need to get more, I want to make it again. Dried cherries. . .YUM. . . .

One of those things I absolutely love is quinoa. It’s a pebbly grain-like stuff that’s cooked like rice and has long been a staple of health food stores and the veggie crowd. But why would Amy like it?  It’s healthy! It’s gluten free! It’s complete protein! It’s a cure for cancer and high blood pressure!

I’m kidding about that last part. BUT–it really is healthy and a complete protein. I love this stuff, and I don’t even care if it’s healthy. I’d put it up there with chocolate for deliciousness.

Well, almost.

There are a number of jokes about being a native New Orlenian; one of them goes, “you know you’re from New Orleans when you start a pot of rice and you have no idea what’s for dinner.” I quit eating rice, especially white rice, many years ago. If you are looking for something to substitute for rice, keep reading.

I discovered quinoa when I made a fancy stuffed poblano pepper dinner for my “new husband” in 1996 or 1997 when it appeared in a Martha Stewart Living issue. (I had to hunt it down at one of the small, far-flung health food stores in New Orleans–they were few and far between.) It had quinoa and walnuts and goat cheese and I can’t remember what else. I’d never bought poblanos in my life, so it was a big deal for me to make it. It was SO fancy, and I when I served it to King of the Road and went to explain it, he said, “don’t tell me what’s in it. Just let me eat it.” I never made it again, and after four years, I stopped cooking for him (we split), but I did remember the quinoa.

A few years ago a couple of recipes showed up in Suzanne Somers cookbook Slim & Sexy Forever. And that’s how I started eating the stuff again (and no husband around to complain about it, either.)

I tell people about quinoa frequently, but a lot of folks have never heard of it or have no idea what it is, even if they are “into healthy things.” Shame–it’s really tasty when prepared properly, and it’s as easy as that boil-in-the-bag white rice stuff,  not to mention healthier.

So, what is it and why should you consider buying some to try? Well, it’s not actually a grain, it’s the SEED of the grain, but it’s sold that way, both in boxes and in some grocery stores in their bulk sections (like my local HEB.)  Let’s let Purdue explain it a bit better than I can:

Quinoa or quinua (Chenopodium quinoa Willd.) is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. This crop (pronounced KEEN-WAH), has been called 41 vegetable caviar” or Inca rice, and has been eaten continuously for 5,000 years by people who live on the mountain plateaus and in the valleys of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. Quinua means “mother grain” in the Inca language. This crop was a staple food of the Inca people and remains an important food crop for their descendants, the Quechua and Aymara peoples who live in rural regions.

This annual species is in the goosefoot family and is related to the weed, common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.), canahua (C. pallidicaule Aellen), and wormseed (C. ambrosiodes L. anthelminticum). Possible hybrids between quinoa and common lambsquarters have been observed in Colorado. Quinoa is also in the same botanical family as sugarbeet, table beet, and spinach, and it is susceptible to many of the same insect and disease problems as these crops. Quinoa is sometimes referred to as a “pseudocereal” because it is a broadleaf non-legume that is grown for grain unlike most cereal grains which are grassy plants. It is similar in this respect to the pseudocereals buckwheat and amaranth.

Have you got that? Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Now what?

It’s like this: quinoa is lower on the glycemic index than white rice, and takes a lot less time to cook than the more flavorful brown rice. Watch out, though–if you turn your back on it, the stuff *will* burn on the bottom of the pot, and you’ll have to a) soak it and b) use a liberal amount of Brillo to get the pot clean again. (Never mind how I know that. Brillo is my friend.)

If you have someone in your household who is on any number of diets we have in the US, quinoa may be a part of it (check the diet’s guidelines and, if necessary, your physician to be sure.) Since it’s gluten free, folks with sensitivities may be able to have it. It’s plant-based, so vegetarians and vegans love it. Ancient Harvest has a page with more nutritional information on quinoa.

No, I am not a vegan, vegetarian, or lacto-ovo anything. If you ask me what I like about the holidays, expect me to say TURKEY. Don’t even think of suggesting that other fake-me-out stuff.

Warning: quinoa is, as you might imagine, more expensive than rice, since it’s more of a specialty item. At my local HEB, and on occasions when I go to Central Market, a bulk pound of it is about $3.99; that’s also for organic. (I’ve never bought it boxed.)  I don’t eat it every day, but when I buy it, I’m in the bulk section buying huge bags of it. Since it’s dried, it keeps for quite a while. I have a big glass jar that I use *just* for storing my quinoa supply. I also try to keep it full, so I can have it whenever I want some.

Yes, I want it all the time–but I don’t eat it all the time, honest. Even though I could.

There is also a red quinoa, and I bought a small amount of it at Central Market just to try it. Red quinoa is something like $7 or $8 a pound, and not knowing how I’d like it, I just bought about a half cup or so of it. British cookbook author Nigella Lawson posted on Facebook a picture of something she had in LA with fresh spinach, red quinoa and an egg on top, and boasted how she thought the red tasted better. OK, Nigella says it’s good, I gotta try it, so I did. But I can’t say I share the same sentiment. Maybe I didn’t cook it long enough, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try it again one day after doing a little more research.

Now I’m going to tell you what to do with it. The basic cooking directions are here, but what I’ve been doing is one part quinoa, two parts water, and a chicken bullion cube for ever cup of water used. Oh, YEAH! Boil the water, rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve, toss the cube(s) in the boiling water, then add the quinoa. Cover, turn down the heat to medium, and cook until the water is absorbed.

Do NOT walk away from it, or you will have a mess–and no tasty quinoa to eat.

Giada de Laurentiis’ new book, Weeknights with Giada, has a couple of recipes for quinoa, including one for, no kidding, canned salmon. I can make that one anytime, because. . .I keep buying cans of salmon for emergencies. No garlic, believe it or not, and it’s a bit unusual and quite good.

I also made this Quinoa Pie with Butternut Squash last year for Thanksgiving. And for the office luncheon. And for myself. It’s REALLY good, but does fall apart a little when you cut it into slices.

The original Suzanne Somers’ recipe that got me started eating it is called Sauteed Herb Quinoa, and it goes like this:

1 cup dry quinoa

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leave parsley

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions (or see directions above.)

While the quinoa is cooking, place a saute pan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and shallots; saute for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer. Add the cooked quinoa and the parsley and stir to combine. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve immediately.

If you’re feeling adventurous this weekend, get a small bag of quinoa, or a small box, and give it a try (just don’t BURN it.) You’ll be in for a nice surprise, because it really is tasty and good for you, as well as pretty easy to make.

Happy Dining!

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