Oh, grow a pear!

Many years ago, I was up to my ears in it–work, college, and an impending wedding. I had a lot going on. The groom was away a lot, and it was my birthday in the middle of the week. I didn’t get around to a birthday cake, but I did have something special: a big, ripe, green avocado, sprinkled with sea salt. That’s all it needed.

I waited a couple of days to eat it, to make sure it was ready. It was. At my little dining table, all by myself, with my felines wondering what I was doing and what that smell was.

It was SOOOOOO good. Soft. Creamy. Tasty. Full of fresh, green flavor. With salt.

I only looked up the calorie count a couple of days later. I would have consumed less calories with a slice of cake, but that’s OK. Worked for me!

I had a similar, albeit lower-calorie, experience this week.

Pears are a nice, lesser-loved second cousin to apples. Some folks like them, some don’t. Pears are available in pear brandy and pear balsamic vinegar.  But apples and oranges are more popular. But if you ask most folks what their favorite fruit is, you likely won’t hear “pear” out of too many of them.

Pears deserve respect.

On Sunday, while stocking up on some economy-size supplies at Central Market, I prowled through the produce section last, because I knew what I wanted and I got it first. Now, sometimes they have non-standard things, like truffle mushrooms (at about $250 a pound, no kidding), Italian cipollini onions and Meyer lemons. Central Market is a Texas haven for unusual and hard-to-find ingredients. But of course they have those right next to the regular onions, sweet potatoes, lemons, limes and grapefruit.

This is nirvana for a foodie like me.

Pears are in season, and while you can get them all year long (fresh or in cans), when pear- based desserts show up, it’s usually fall and the holidays. I like pears, but I don’t buy them often, I guess because I don’t want them to go to waste. They’re a bit like strawberries, you can’t keep them fresh or in the fridge too long.

But this particular beautiful Sunday, after an encouraging religious activity, I found this baby in Central Market:

First view of big pear

Look how beautiful. . .a burnished red and twice the size you normally see.

Is that not the most beautiful pear ever? Check out its closeup:

A closer shot of the big pear

Perfection on a stem.

I couldn’t get a good shot of the ruler, but off the stem, it’s about 6″ long. I took my tape measure and also got the girth, which was 11.5″. That’s right, it was just under one foot around the middle and just under 6″ in length.

That’s a big, honkin’ Texas-sized pear. Nearly twice the size of your standard grocery store pears. (Grown in the USA, of course.)

Never having seen one that big before, I got one. JUST one. They were $1.99 a pound, and, well, it was just over $2. A little splurge.

I put it out to ripen a little, and, well, yesterday I couldn’t wait. I got a big knife and diced it all up in large chunks after cutting out the central seed and stem. I ate this beautiful creation as is, raw, with nothing on it–no sugar, sweetener, or spices. I consumed it as Mother Nature intended.

I should have waited a couple more days.

Not quite softened, and not as sweet as it could have been, but it was still pretty darn tasty.

Now, if pears are your thing, and you want a nice little dessert for pears, here’s one called Chocolate Pear Pudding that’s easy to make and uses canned pears and other pantry ingredients. I’ve made it a few times and folks love it; it always disappears.

Yes, at Bootcamp I had amazing, beautiful, and delicious postage-stamp sized desserts–tiramisu, passionfruit creme brulee, apple walnut tarts and chocolate ganache tarts, all the size of a tablespoon. And then the artfully decorated cupcakes at the end of the conference. I’ve had cheesecakes of many kinds, a myriad of birthday and wedding cakes, bad fruitcake, good fruitcake (my mother used to make enviously delectable ones, so I never understood the bad fruitcake jokes) and the occasional Hubig’s pies (though not in many years.) Nevermind the cookies, the biscottis I’ve baked, or bought and dunked in coffee at Starbucks, tea cakes, and of course, muffins that someone brought to the office with blueberries from the farm (yes, you, Aunt Ruth.)

But sometimes, all it takes is something simple like a small container of sweet berries, a fresh pineapple, a crisp, striped apple, or a big, ripe pear to really hit the spot.

Happy Dining!

Au Revoir, Everyday Food

Imagine my surprise when I saw this on Facebook this week:

As some of you may have heard, the December issue will be the last stand-alone print edition of Everyday Food. All EDF subscribers will receive our beautiful, inspiring sister magazine Martha Stewart Living instead. (Oh, and five of those Living issues will come with an Everyday Food supplement—no shortage of fast, fresh meal ideas here in the Martha Stewart test kitchens, that’s for sure!)

We’re sorry to say goodbye to our magazine subscriptions, but SO excited for what’s next. We’ll have big news to share here shortly! (Hint: It involves the same great recipes, clever tips, and delicious ideas, but this time online and updated every day.)

Another sign of the economic downturn, I suppose. I love Everyday Food, and I guess I’ll just hang onto my copies and buy the compendium books. I have the “Light” book that came out on December 28th, and the food is great; I’ve made a number of them.

I’m sure this means another app, which means if you don’t have an iPad, you’re out of the loop. I actually had an iPad for a while until I was laid off, and had to return it. You can have apps all you want, but it’s not a complete computer. Be aware of this before you plunk down $600 to buy one.

Everyday Food magazine is, or was, the companion to Martha Stewart Living for, well, everyday cooking. While flagship magazine MSL was great for entertaining and special occasions, readers longed for more, well, everyday food. Martha and her staff paid attention to online comments and emails.  Readers wanted more easy to cook stuff that didn’t require a trip to a specialty grocery store or mail order, like the cranberry preserves I ordered for a fantastic Thanksgiving dessert on the front cover of MSL a few years ago.

When I called the New England Cranberry Company to order the cranberry preserves, the gent on the phone had no idea why there was a sudden uptick in orders for that one thing. I explained it to him, and then he understood. It was a good product, and boy, what a dessert. But that’s for Thanksgiving. Every day is not Thanksgiving.

When Martha speaks. . . .

My favorite recipe for leftover turkey was found in a Glad advert in the November 2006 issue. I still have it; maybe I’ll scan it and put it here soon. It was the most delicious thing, and I ate it throughout the holidays. Seriously. Always a great time to have another bowl of it, so it definitely qualified as Oddball Eating.

The other night I decided to make something unusual from this month’s Everyday Food, called Lamb-and-Apricot Stew. It’s not on their website, so I can’t give you the link. But what I can tell you is that it’s pretty good. They also say it’s good with beef or chicken thighs, but I wanted to try the lamb, just once.

Everday Food November issue
It’s a “one pot” recipe, but it takes a while to cook, and in the oven. Guess I should have used a casserole dish to bake it in the counter top oven, but it was cool enough to turn the big oven on.

I can’t say it’s super-duper, but it’s pretty good and worth the trouble. Adding dried apricots to the stew is a nice touch. If you decide to make it, this is what it looks like:

Lamb-and-apricot stew

This is what it looked like when I took out of the oven

Not quite as nice as the magazine picture, but not too far off.
And this is what happens when I make something that has six servings:
Lunch for a few days

Six meals, all tidied up for the week.

I make some quinoa and put the stew over the quinoa although that’s not suggested in the recipe. I prefer quinoa to rice for a number of reasons, but you could certainly use rice or any kind of pasta if you like. Recipe is highly recommended for it’s interesting taste, ease of preparation and unique addition of fruit.

Let’s see what’s in the last edition of Everyday Foodand be glad it happened.

Happy Dining!

Cupcakes and Capitalism

Oh, aren’t cupcakes a wonderful thing? Your very own CAKE. And if you have one of those smaller cupcakes (“minis”) you can have more than one. Especially if it’s got a foot of icing on top. Don’t you love those?

I recently attended the annual “Bootcamp” for copywriters writers put on by American Writers & Artists, Inc. in Delray Beach, FL. AWAI does a fantastic job with the entire conference (this was my third attendance), but the end is always a great one. This time, it was over the top.

After the awards banquet on Saturday (10/27) there was a dessert reception. And in addition to a beautiful tiered cake celebrating their 15th year in business, we were treated to these amazing and incredibly beautiful. . .cupcakes.

Delicious. . .just pick one!

Ahhh. . .I picked this one, with peanut butter icing:

This delicious item has lots of creamy peanut butter icing on top.

It was a tough choice, believe me. One of my fellow attendees got one that was white cake and a creamy top that was dipped in the chocolate that hardens. I had a tiny bite of that from a spoon. And THEN I had a small slice of that cake. . .making sure I had a healthy dinner with lots of green stuff that night.

I don’t do this every day. I knew I’d regret it if I passed. I call this sort of thing “The Bootcamp Bulge.”

Cupcakes, after years of being the bane of school bake sales and church socials, have become “hot” in the last few years. Martha Stewart published an entire book of cupcakes, including a picture of cupcake tier that can stand in as a wedding cake, or be served instead of sliced cake. I also attended a wedding a couple of years ago that was done rather quickly, and my suggestion of cupcakes was heeded. They didn’t even stack them, they were served right out of the huge boxes. The happy couple didn’t care about that part, they just wanted to be married–and everyone had a cupcake, no cutting and less mess than a whole cake.

I was sort of “engaged” at one point recently, and decided that my “wedding cake” would consist of cupcakes and we would have a giant one for the cake-cutting. However, since there is no longer a groom, there was no wedding. (That’s OK–I’ve had enough of them, and better things to do.)

Why do we in America suddenly elevate something ordinary to an elite status? Who picks the idea and runs with it? Something as lowly as the cupcake, long considered lowbrow and below the standards of elegant dining, now finds itself in exclusive shops and perfectly chic and elegantly dressed for any occasion. How did this happen?

Simple. Capitalism.

Say what?

Yes, Capitalism, the thing we studied in high school that is now under fire. It’s not my intent to start a debate on it, but only to point out that cupcakes are what they are because someone had an idea. And it worked. And it took off. Now everyone loves cupcakes and bakers are happy and making money.

Last year, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s book Of Thee I Zing  took on current American culture, and what’s wrong with it. The byline is “America’s Cultural Decline from Muffin Tops to Body Shots.”

Mostly, I agreed with the book, and I consider myself a fan, but on page 104, she took on. . .cupcakes.

What’s wrong with cupcakes, for heaven’s sake?

Ms. Ingraham’s beef (pardon the pun) is that the cupcakes you get from Georgetown Cupcakes, Sprinkles, and other high-end places is that they’re roughly the same thing you get at home with a box of Duncan Hines, and that it’s ridiculous standing in line outside a shop for over an hour to get a cupcake–at $3 to $5 each. Well, that’s technically true, but with a “boutique” cupcake, you’re buying a) the cupcake already made, b) fancier than the average person would make at home, c), the artistry of the person who made it, i.e., labor, and d) only one, which is likely what you wanted anyway.

Someone realized that maybe one cupcake would be a good idea. Make it fancier than a Duncan Hines cupcake made with frosting from a can. Make it bigger, make it better, see what happens, and they started a business. And it grew. The idea spread. And now there are cupcake shops all over the country. Like the one in Delray Beach, FL, Cupcake Couture, who made the fabulous beauties pictured above.

Disclosure: although I have had the occasional high-end cupcake, if I’m going to make them for an activity, I make them from scratch. Frosting included. It’s just the way I am. Butter is always better than hydrogenated anything.

Capitalism is simply this: I make a cupcake, and you want to buy it. If you don’t, maybe your friend wants a cupcake. I sell your friend a cupcake. Your friend is happy, because he or she got a cupcake that is as amazing to look at as it is to eat. (That peanut butter number sure was.) I have made a profit from my work, including labor as well as parts/supplies (ingredients, in this case.) Why is this a bad thing?

Most of what we complain and hear about is what gets called “corporatism,” or the misbehavior of folks in companies. Enron is a big deal here in Houston, and well, they messed it up for everyone else.

Capitalism is the same whether it’s me baking a cupcake and selling it to someone individually, or a car company building and selling cars. Capitalism is what allows Sophie and Katherine to start their own business and do well enough to be given a TV show. (Disclosure: I have never seen this TV show, but I am not knocking it.) The TV show increases their business, and they do well enough to make a bigger profit.

Why is that bad?

A lady here in Houston many years ago found herself gluten intolerant, when there were limited options for folks with that problem. She founded a company called Gluten Free Houston.  She started off small, and now stocks not only local grocery and health food stores, but her gluten-free buns are sold at Astros games, and gluten free pizza crusts are available at local California Pizza Kitchens. She now ships nationwide.

That’s capitalism. She found a niche and started a business to help other gluten intolerant folks.

Here’s another example: Erin McKenna, owner of BabycakesNYC, found herself having issues with food allergies after scarfing down baked goods of all kinds as a teenager. Over time, she began experimenting and working with nonstandard ingredients to create allergy-free vegan baked goods and treats. The result is nothing short of amazing: she now has four locations, the NYC flagship store, two in the Los Angeles area, and one at Walt Disney World in Florida. Additionally, two books add to the number of fans, including me. I’ve not been to any of the bakeries, but if ever I am able to visit them, I will. I’ll have to be happy with using the cookbooks until then. From the site:

BabyCakes offers all-natural, organic and delicious alternatives free from the common allergens: wheat, gluten, dairy, casein and eggs. Rest assured, all sweeteners have been chosen responsibly and used sparingly. White sugar will never be found in our bakery, nor will we ever use toxic chemical sweeteners. Instead, most products are sweetened with agave nectar—a natural syrup from a cactus which is low on the glycemia index and often a safe alternative to most non-insulin dependant diabetics. Occasionally, unprocessed and unrefined sugar is used in certain goods, although sparingly.

Erin McKenna found a different niche–people who have allergies and can’t have the usual cupcakes, muffins and cakes, and turned it into a business that provides her and her employees a good living. Make no mistake–not everyone who is a fan of Babycakes has gluten or other allergies, me included. Babycakes treats are a healthier option than something from a “regular” bakery, and that’s why I love baking from those books. The waffles and maple-flavored agave syrup from her second book are FANTASTIC, and will hold up against anything out of a yellow box and a plastic bottle.

That’s capitalism, folks, and a lot of gluten-free vegan cupcakes. There is NOTHING wrong with Ms. McKenna doing something she loves and making a living–not to mention a profit–with it. She makes a lot of people happy, too.

Look at it this way: I am babysitting a cat named Jezebel. She prowls around, sharpens her claws on a little thingy I bought at Petsmart, eats a meat-based diet, has whiskers, paws, sharp senses, and a tail that’s an extension of her spine, used to keep her balance.

A mighty tiger (my favorite animal) prowls around, sharpens his claws on a tree trunk, eats a meat based diet, has whiskers, paws, sharp senses, and a tail that’s an extension of his spine, used to keep his balance.

Size doesn’t matter. They are essentially the same animal. One is just bigger than the other. Both are equally fierce when confronted.

Same thing with capitalism: whether it’s a guy with a taco van, a cupcake shop, or a company selling cars, an oil company, or whatever. . .it’s the same animal. It’s ALL capitalism, no matter how you, um, slice it. Whether it’s a guy fixing computers out of his garage for extra money or Apple Computers, it’s all capitalism, too. Some folks don’t seem to get this.

Cupcakes are just one delicious part of it.

Sure, you can do what Laura Ingraham says and buy a boxed mix. You can do what Martha Stewart & Co. do, bake them from scratch. That’s your choice under the free-market, or “Laissez Faire” system. This is not a bad idea. It’s worked well all this time, even with the problems that have come with it. Best part: anybody can do it!

Be a capitalist, that is, not just bake cupcakes.

Now I’ll leave y’all with some pictures of delicious cupcakes from Central Market, taken just this afternoon, who started making them this way after they became popular. Enjoy some tasty capitalism!

Central Market always has a variety of delicious cupcakes.

Ahhhh. . .such deliciousness.

Orange Cranberry cupcake. Very seasonal

A Cranberry-Orange cupcake. Very seasonal.

Love the raspberry!

Oh, yeah. . .more tasty cupcakes. Ifi the raspberry ones had chocolate cake, I would move someone out of my way to get to it!

Isn't he cute?

How about this cross-eyed cutie?

And here's his brother! And here's the whole family.

His brother and the rest of the family.

One more gratuitous cupcake picture

Yum. Take your pick, or two and split each with someone else.

I love capitalism. Don’t you?

Happy Dining!

The Pioneer Woman in Houston, 11/2/2012

On Friday, November 2nd, I was lucky enough to meet the beautiful Ree Drummond, host of the Food Network show  “The Pioneer Woman,” the author of several books and writes the popular blog “The Pioneer Woman.” She was at a Sam’s Club in nearby Pearland, TX.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend many book signings with well-known authors, and this was no exception; just never in Sam’s Club. You meet the nicest people in line, too!

I have to admit to being late to knowing The Pioneer Woman. You see, while I’d seen her first cookbook, I never paid too much attention. Then after a bad breakup (they usually are if they involve me), I received an email offering for sale her autobiography in my inbox. (I used to belong to The Good Cook book club.) I wandered into Borders one Saturday afternoon and bought it.

I explained to the clerk that I’d just broken up with someone and needed something good to read. He wrote his phone number on my receipt. I was flattered, but no, I never called Brian.

Fast forward 18 months, and I discover that Ree Drummond will be nearby–tomorrow! Having time on my hands as I have, I made plans to go and get there about 3. I made it just before 3 and got in line. Outside. Out here.

This was after 3:00 pm, waiting to see The Pioneer Woman

What happened next surprised us. We saw a big, black Lincoln Town Car drive by, and we figured Ree was “In Da House.” Indeed she was. The driver, an older black gentleman in a suit and tie with a starched white shirt drove by. He rolled down the window to ask, “Are you waiting to see Miss Drummond?” Several of us said, “Yes!” He was amazed, and kept driving down to see the end of the line. (Wish I’d taken his picture now–he was so nice!)

When we made it inside, I asked him if he knew who Ree Drummond was. He said, “Oh, yes, I’ve driven her many times in Texas. But when I take her to the Galleria and Rice Village, there’s never this many people.” Note that I called him a “gentleman.” He really was. And he likes Ree, too!

I got to talk to Ree just before 6, and one of the ladies in the party standing behind me took my picture with her. I actually had a couple of handmade gifts for her–a felt travel tray that I have made for many folks before, and a little pouch that not only uses up scraps but also is convenient for whatever you want to carry in it–business cards, Larabars (it fits 4), or whatever you need. Forgot to take pictures of them, though, darnit.

I told her about meeting her husband, Ladd (aka “Marlboro Man”, who actually doesn’t smoke) and her two young sons, Bryce and Todd, in Phoenix Sky Harbor airport in late April. They were getting off the plane, and I was getting ready to go through TSA. I was so excited, I couldn’t get the words out! She said with a smile, “he mentioned that to me when I got there. I’ll tell him Hi from his buddy.”

I also told her about making some of her Orange Marmalade Muffins for a religious activity a few months ago. Everyone went bonkers for them! And of course, took them home. (Ree says, “one will give you a sugar rush.”)

Ree signed every book, and took pictures of all the kids with her own big, honking Nikon. I had my puny little Canon, which takes pretty good shots, BTW. And many thanks to the nice lady behind me, who took my picture with Ree.

I got to meet Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman!!

She’s as gorgeous and as nice in person as she is on TV, as is her husband, Ladd. (He’s nice, and yes, handsome! The boys are adorable, too.)

Ree’s new book, Charlie and the Christmas Kitten, is out now, as are her cookbooks and cool autobiography.
Happy Dining!

Oddball eating

Sometimes, things don’t work the way they normally do. Today was no exception. This happens sometimes when you have all the time in the world.

Weekends are perfect for the oddball eating. Since there is only one cat now, the step-kitty, and no offspring, there is not always a reason for getting up at a certain time. So, maybe I’m not hungry right away, especially if I’ve been lucky enough to sleep for 9 hours or more. These days, not so much, but I’m trying. Sometimes it’s lunch at 10:30 and dinner at 4, maybe a snack before bed. Sometimes I just nibble all day–nuts, berries, grapes, leftovers, hummus on a spoon, whatever.

That’s oddball eating. And I just made up that term when I started writing this.

Anyway. . .

I survived the starving blood test by packing three boiled eggs and a flask of hot coffee, just the way I like it. IKEA has a great little vacuum flask that keeps coffee hot for a long time if you fill it with hot water for a few minutes and use the little button on the top of the cap to pour the coffee into your little cup. I should use mine more often.

Since I was in a fabulous place today, Market Street in The Woodlands, I sat on a park bench and had the eggs and coffee. The weather was nice, it was just starting to warm a little, and the sun was shining. Shortly thereafter, I was no longer REALLY hungry. But I couldn’t stop there.

There is a supermarket in the same area, so I stopped in for a couple of Larabars. I love the Chocolate Chip Brownie and CC Cherry Torte, but they didn’t have any, so I went with Tropical Fruit. Two, of course, they are too good to eat just one . Had them sitting behind the wheel of the vehicle with some more of the coffee, not driving. Because traffic in Houston is beyond belief, and I did not want to sit in a parking lot for another 90 minutes, I thought out my return route. After figuring out a non-toll route, I headed home.

Because I was up so early, I was pretty tired. Despite a second cup of strong tea, I was still tired and ended up taking a two hour nap. And there was some delicious Halloween candy in my day, too.

I do have a difficult time passing up Mounds and Almond Joy. Mounds especially, since it’s  the much-ballyhooed “healthier” chocolate. It may have health benefits, but the sugar cancels it all out. Resistance is futile. . .but I’m working on it.

To start getting rid of all that, I went walking for a while. About 90 minutes, I think. Plus some pushups and ab work.

And it happened again. I’m hungry, darnit! I hate that.

I didn’t want to have a full meal, so I went after the rest of the white bean mash in the fridge. Then some black eyed peas in the pantry, since I’m out of cannellini beans again (as usual.) Gonna have some more ice water and wash up the dishes. I think I’m good.

No more Halloween candy, darnit. Make my own sweets without sugar again. Darnit. (I like Suzanne Somers’ SomerSweet, it works great.) Lay off the cakes and such, which I normally do anyway. These last couple of weeks have been exceptions.

Also, after not exercising for a couple of weeks, I’m going to get back to it. Maybe not the long walking I enjoy the most, but it must happen. I don’t feel right when I don’t, and never mind wearing a larger size.  (My fault.)

Found out today that there are two upcoming cookbook signings, and I plan to make both of them, if nothing stops me.

This Friday, Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman, will be in Sam’s in Pearland; I’ll bring my cookbooks to be signed, and maybe the biography. I met her husband, Marlboro Man, and their two sons in the Phoenix airport earlier this year; they were arriving, I was going back to Houston on the red-eye. I got to talk to them for a few minutes before going through TSA. I love the show, it’s like visiting your cousins once a week.

Monday, November 12, Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, will be at the River Oaks Sur la Table at 12:00 pm. Yes, I’m going, if I’m not otherwise busy. I have waited years to meet Ina Garten, and I can’t wait. Her cookbooks are also fantastic, whether you’re entertaining or making a week’s worth of lunch and dinner. When I had to learn to make a Thanksgiving turkey, it was her Barefoot Contessa books that made it easy. Hint: it’s a big chicken.

Well, I’m off for the night, and plan to do another restaurant review from Delray Beach this week. Maybe two, if I remember the other one.

But oddball eating is here to stay.

Happy Dining!

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