About the blog

Welcome to my blog. This is a place where, as time allows, I will post comments, inspirational words, favorite things and short essays about daily life. I get to meet and interview interesting people through my job, so why not share some of it with all of you? If you like what you see, please forward a link to your friends and family.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cake or Pie?

     2012 is going to be my year. I know this because James Oseland, editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine (http://www.saveur.com/), was on the Today show today and said so.

     Oseland declared that, among other things, 2012 will be the year of the cake. I have always believed that you're either a cake person or a pie person. Sure, you might like both, but when it comes down to it, you really prefer one over the other. I come from a family of cake people.

     Wouldn't you know, I married into a family of pie people. In the world of fundamental food choices, we're polar opposites on many other dishes: he likes mashed potatoes, I like au gratin. He likes chicken and noodles; I like mine with beef. He likes French toast; I like pancakes. He likes sweet pickles; I like dill. You get where I'm going?

     So after years of sweet food trends focusing on pies, empanadas and other treats encased in pastry, cake will finally get its due. One of my favorite cakes to bake is Carrot Cake. Here's the recipe I use: from Southern Living. (My husband Steve, the pie guy, love, love, loves this cake!)

     So what are you: a cake person or a pie person?

Best Carrot Cake
From Southern Living
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated carrot
  • 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
  • 1 (3 1/2-ounce) can flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • Buttermilk Glaze
  • Cream Cheese Frosting


  1. Line 3 (9-inch) round cakepans with wax paper; lightly grease and flour wax paper. Set pans aside.
  2. Stir together first 4 ingredients.
  3. Beat eggs and next 4 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth. Add flour mixture, beating at low speed until blended. Fold in carrot and next 3 ingredients. Pour batter into prepared cakepans.
  4. Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Drizzle Buttermilk Glaze evenly over layers; cool in pans on wire racks 15 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks. Spread Cream Cheese Frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake.
Buttermilk Glaze
1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine $ 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Bring first 5 ingredients to a boil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Boil, stirring often, 4 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla.

Cream Cheese Frosting
         1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (3-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1 (16-oz.) box powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


  1. 1. Beat all ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until fluffy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's new with you?

In 2011, my friend Suzy in Florida ran two half-marathons on back-to-back weekends. My sister-in-law Stacia in Indiana got a new job. My friend Liz in California downsized and moved into a condo. Two of my newest friends, Mike and Jeannie Glenn in Brentwood, Tenn., saw their son and daughter-in-law move to South Carolina. (Mike also finished his second book, "The Gospel of Yes" check it out ... he's awesome!)

I know all of this because they told me so in their Christmas letters. OK, so I already knew that Suzy had become a running maniac and that Stacia made a job change ... I use my phone and email pretty regularly. But I love the sum-it-up nature of holiday letters that provide a synopsis of the year that's ending and hope for the one to come.

When I was younger I got zero Christmas letters and probably would have rolled my eyes at any that did arrive in the mail. Now that I'm a little older I get more -- probably half a dozen this year -- and am anxious to see the embedded photos, pet pawprints, inspirational quotes and personal news -- both good and, sometimes, not so good.

They're reminders of the fleeting nature of time. It's hard to believe that another year has passed. When my older sister Cindy became a grandmother for the first time, it was hard for me to believe that I was old enough to have a sister who was old enough to be a grandmother. But they're also reminders of the many loving people in my life, and as my friends children marry and start their families I read the letters with excitement, knowing that my friends and their children and grandchildren are moving forward in life.

I didn't send out a Christmas letter this year. I was so busy at work and managing the Houston Chronicle's United Way corporate campaign that I barely had time to send out Christmas cards. (Confession: if you got a card from Steve and me, Steve did all the work.)

So here's my year, super-condensed to one paragraph: I had foot surgery in May (both feet); my 15-year-old black Lab Gulliver died in July; I still work at the Houston Chronicle; I'm three-quarters done with my book now; Steve and I are both healthy, happy and still employed (me at the Houston Chronicle; Steve at Lone Star RV.)

Next year, you'll get a beautiful letter with photos and details. I promise. So if you didn't get a letter out this year, do me a favor and condense your year to one paragraph and post it in the comments box below.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and the happiest of New Years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Eloise's cookies

After my post about a Christmas cooking-baking day with three of my girlfriends, I feel compelled to write a post about another dear friend, Eloise Lloyd. She and her husband John moved from the Houston suburbs into the city to be nearer to their son and their doctors.
Eloise is kind and caring -- and bakes incredible cookies. She came to one party with these cookies and everyone gobbled them up.
You have to try them now, because the cranberry bread mix you make them with is seasonal and can be hard to find.

Cranberry Crispies
1 box Pillsbury Quick Bread Cranberry Mix
1/2 cup margarine, melted
1 egg
1/2 cup craisins (dried, sweetened cranberries)

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine bread mix, margarine and egg and mix well
Stir in craisins.
Form dough into 1 1/4-inch balls and place 3 inches apart on a nonstick cookie sheet. Flatten each ball with the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar.
Bake 10-12 minutes or until cookies are a light golden color. (Be careful not to overbake.)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Texas family

For most of my life I could draw a clear line between family and friends. Family consisted of my parents, sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins. Friends were the people I met through college, jobs and social gatherings.
But my parents have passed away, as have most of my aunts and uncles. I live 1,000 miles from my sisters and their families. The cousins are scattered across the country.
Those people are all part of my life, of course, but the people I see every day or every week have become what my husband and I call our Texas family. They're close friends who share many life experiences, both of joy and sorrow, and at this time of year we share holidays as well.
Some years we've hosted a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner for friends at our home. Other years we've been guests in someone else's home. We're grateful that our friends here have opened their homes and their hearts.
Among my close circle of friends we call ourselves the 10-pack, because there are 10 of us. In the five couples, no two people have the same profession. One of the couples has grown children, the rest are childless. Three are Texas natives, the rest are from different parts of the country. We met because we go to the same gym, but became friends because of our common interests and values.
On Saturday, four of the five women in the group -- the fifth had out-of-town family visiting -- got together for a massive cookie-baking effort. We made spritz cookies with a semi-cooperative cookie press, peppermint bark, rum balls, cranberry-orange cookies and roll-out sugar cookies. We had a great time doing it, and we all left with an assortment of sweets.
That night we all got dressed up and went out for our annual swanky dinner. We call it our family Christmas dinner.
We all have biological family elsewhere, but we can't help but smile when we talk about who's bringing what dish to Thanksgiving or Christmas and find new ways to add value to our friendship.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Politics, religion and sports

There are people who say that when you get together with friends or family, you shouldn't talk about politics, religion or sports. I'm glad those folks don't invite me over.

I grew up in Indiana, a state crazy for high school and college basketball and lived in the football-crazy city of South Bend, Ind., - home of the University of Notre Dame - for several years. For the past dozen years I've lived in Texas, where they're crazy for sports of all sorts.

So it's hard to imagine a very long conversation with anyone that doesn't touch on at least one of those three topics. Lately, plenty of people are talking about all three, wrapped up in Tim Tebow. His haters say he's not a good football player; that he's just not pro material. His Florida Gators were national champions, and he won the Heismann trophy. Now he's playing for the Denver Broncos - where fans have dubbed him the "Mile-High Messiah" - and people are scratching their heads over the team's six consecutive wins.

After Sunday's overtime stunner, the Associated Press quoted Tebow saying: " If you believe, then unbelievable things can sometimes be possible."

Do all of those armchair quarterbacks really think he's not a good football player or do they just not want him to be a good? And why? Could it be because this young man not only is Christian, but talks openly about it?
Society can't get enough of bad boys who lie, steal and cheat. Bad boys with baby mamas and children they don't support.

Then along comes Tim Tebow, son of a missionary, who isn't shy about bending down on one knee or of saying that he asks God to help him play his best. For that people hate him?

I'd say that just makes me want to keep watching him win. My team, the Houston Texans, just clinched the AFC South Division title, so we're playoff bound. But that won't stop me from keeping an eye on the Broncos and watching No. 15 pull off another win.

And with every W, Tebow gets another conversation going and, perhaps, creates another believer.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

... Just a few of my favorite people

Today I'd like to tell you about a few of my favorite people. They're pastors I've interviewed for my book, "Sunday Dinners: America's Tradition of Grace and Good Food."

The concept of my book is to capture where food and faith intersect because they're two significant traditions in American culture. The first chapter is a well-reported one, filled with family dinner traditions from people of faith. It also introduces what's to come in my book.

After that, each chapter is a narrative-style story about one family's Sunday dinner tradition, followed by a handful of their favorite recipes.

I'm fortunate to be BOTH the food editor and the religion editor at the Houston Chronicle, the 7th largest newspaper in the country. We're the largest paper to still have a stand-alone religion section. My jobs have me thinking about food and faith most of the time and they also give me the opportunity to meet and/or interview people from all over the country.

I'm three-fourths of the way into what I hope will be a 16-chapter book and two of the chapters are about people I'll tell you about now and will write about more later: Joel and Victoria Osteen and Bishop T.D. Jakes and his wife Serita.

The Osteens are just as kind and down-to-earth as you see on TV. If you live in Houston, like I do, you can see them in person at their Lakewood Church. You've never seen anything like their church: it's a ginormous facility where the Houston Rockets pro basketball used to play, renovated to seat thousands of people for Sunday morning and evening services as well as Wednesday evening services.

Victoria and Joel, food-wise, are yin and yang. Victoria was raised in a food-loving family, where meals were elaborate and flavors were intense. Their mother's dinner table was often filled with tradtional Southern foods, but she didn't stop there. Joel, on the other hand, was raised by a mother (father, too!) who didn't care much about cooking. Dodie Osteen cooked to feed her family, but without much flourish. If Victoria's family lived to eat, Joel's simply ate to live.

When she brought Joel home for his first Thanksgiving dinner with her family, he couldn't believe how many dishes they had. The one that stuck out most in his mind were their sweet potatoes, which he described as more like a dessert (think brown sugar and pecans) than a side dish.

The Jakes are pastors at The Potter's House in Dallas, Texas, and are two of the nicest people I've ever met. They are funny and charming, and their kids are, too. When I interviewed them for my book I flew to Dallas and met them at their home. Their two daughters, Cora (Coleman) and Sarah (Henson) were part of the interview and you could tell immediately that they were a close-knit family, each anxious to finish the other's sentences. They were super-fun to meet because they were so open and friendly. Activities in their kitchen are almost like an episode on a Food Network TV show: they all compete to have the best pasta or banana pudding or any other dish.

So the next time you see the Osteens or Jakes giving their sermons on TV, know that they're not only good pastors, but they're good cooks too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Texas-size, Baptist-style Christmas party

On Sunday I went to a holiday party unlike anything I've ever attended. It was hosted by Houston super-lawyer Mark Lanier and his wife Becky at their home in the Champion Forest area of Houston. It was "at" their home, but wasn't "in" their home because who could host 6,000 people INSIDE their home in one afternoon?

Lanier is a lawyer of Texas proportions: big cases, big news and, of course, big dollars. But he's not just some rich guy who lives a life of excess. His home is set on several acres, and on his land he's built a giant personal library (www.laniertheologicallibrary.org/) built to look like the ruins of a real Byzantine chapel, surrounded by an Olde English village. For this party, which the Laniers have hosted every year for 19 years, he imports a food court, amusement park and concert venue.

This year's concert was by Rascal Flatts and it wasn't some hit-and-run 20-minute show. The band sang their hits, a few Christmas tunes and even a couple of covers for more than 90 minutes. Their warmup act was Clutch, the mascot of the Houston Rockets, who was hilarious. (In fact, my secret dream is to be Clutch for one game; who wouldn't want to have all those fans on their feet, screaming and waving their arms to get you to aim the Tshirt launcher at them.)

The Laniers are devout Baptists, so this party is an alcohol-free, family-friendly affair for, literally, 6,000 of their friends, clients and church members. Now, about the church connection. Lanier is one of those guys who lives on about 3 hours of sleep a night, so he has time to teach Sunday School, in a addition to what seems like a million other things. His Sunday School is no ordinary gathering of Texas Baptists. He can easily have 600 people at one of his lessons. He hands out 20-page annotated notes so people can follow along and continue their studies later. And he often takes ancient artifacts from his library to bring his lessons to life.

Want to watch from afar? Check out the videos of his lessons here. He's a fascinating guy ... worth a watch. http://www.biblical-literacy.com/

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Christmas songs

Black Friday aside, the weekend after Thanksgiving signals to me that the Christmas season has officially begun. The first thing I do is move my Spode Christmas Tree dishes from my a china cabinet in my dining room into my kitchen cabinets for every-day use. (They'll go back into the china cabinet on New Year's Day.)

But aside from enjoying dishes, holiday lights and Christmas decorations, I love, love, love Christmas music. It doesn't matter whether it's secular or non-secular - but, please, no "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" or carols sung with a stutter by a Porky the Pig imitator - I love it all. This time of year my favorite radio station is 89.3 KSBJ (http://www.ksbj.org/), where they play all Christmas music the entire holiday season. 

A few years ago a Chronicle colleague, Andrew Dansby, and I got into a conversation about Christmas music. He's a young hipster and I'm, well, not. But we still found that we both love the old traditional songs. He's more tech-savvy than I am, so he burned a CD for me with a bunch of great Christmas songs, song by the perfect artist for each. Here's my list of some of my holiday favorites.

1. The Christmas Song, by Nat King Cole (either the 1946 or the 1961 version)
2. White Christmas, by Bing Crosby
3. Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow, by Ella Fitzgerald
4. Jingle Bells, by Frank Sinatra
5. Frosty the Snowman, by Harry Connick Jr.
6. Feliz Navidad, by Jose Feliciano
7.O Little Town of Bethlehem, by Emmylou Harris
8. Away in a Manger, Johnny Mathis
9. Little Drummer Boy, by David Bowie
10. Winter Wonderland, by Tony Bennett

What songs do you like?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Me

Even if you don’t know a thing about boxing you’ve heard of its legendary figures, Joe Frazier and George Foreman.

Frazier was the man who was built like a bull and had a famous left hook that he himself referred to as a “heat-seeking missile.’ In 1971, in what was called “The Fight of the Century” he won the heavyweight title from the flambouyant and charismatic Muhammad Ali. Frazier, who in September announced that he had liver cancer, died this month. Among the people called on to talk about Frazier was George Foreman, the Houston boxer who took that heavyweight belt from Frazier in 1973.

Their stories have many parallels: Both men were born to poor families and found themselves on their own as teens. Both men were born to box, big men with powerful arms and ferocious focus.  Both won gold medals in boxing in the Olympics (Frazier in 1964, Foreman in 1968) and both were heavyweight champions.

I never met Frazier, though by all accounts he was a decent man, an underdog who captured America’s heart. He was a good friend of Foreman – a man I have gotten to know a little through interviews for the Houston Chronicle – and Foreman has volunteered to pay for at least part of Frazier’s funeral.

Frazier left boxing bitter about losses to Muhammad Ali and badly managed whatever money he won.

Foreman went a different route after becoming a Christian and forming his own church – the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ – across the street from a community center and boxing ring he created for young men in Houston, the city where grew up and where he still lives.

The photos I’ve seen of Foreman in his boxing days hardly resemble the grandfatherly man I know today. He’s one of the kindest and most sincere men I’ve met as a journalist. When he meets children, he wants to know if they’ve had enough to eat. He spent his own childhood hungry for food and a place to call home. He doesn’t want children today to suffer as he did.

“Joe Frazier was comfortable in his own skin. A regular guy and a great champion. All heart,” Foreman told my colleague Jerome Solomon for a tribute column on the boxing legend. “I wanted to be like him. This guy was so kind.”

Foreman said that Frazier changed his life when he agreed to that title bout in 1973. Until then, Foreman had been a formidable boxer. After, he was a champion.

If George Foreman wanted to be the kind, considerate man that Frazier was, he achieved that and more. He brings love to everything he touches. He inspires and gives hope to everyone he meets, including me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


     When I think of the Sundays of my childhood I think of Sunday School, oatmeal cookies and home-canned peaches.
     Early in the morning we’d pile into the car and head to the Christ United Methodist Church where my parents were members and where my two sisters and I were baptized. After church we’d head to a nearby restaurant where I almost always got a plate of spaghetti and, if my sweet tooth was acting up, fresh strawberry pie.
     Then we’d head to the small town – literally a one-stoplight farming community – a couple of counties away. It’s where my parents were raised and where much of my extended family still lives.
     The drive seemed like forever, but it was actually an hour or less from the paved state highways to the dusty gravel roads that took us to either of my grandmothers’ homes or the home of my aunt and uncle. At my paternal grandmother’s home we’d head for her old-fashioned cookie jar, almost always filled with oatmeal cookies.
     My maternal grandmother lived just down the street and we loved going there because her home was more interesting. She had a big, fluffy cat named Snipper that we loved to play with. On a good day she’d pull out a big Mason jar of peaches she had canned.
     Sometimes we’d visit my dad’s sister, other times we’d visit my mom’s brother. They were the aunts and uncles who had kids the ages of me and my sisters, so there was more for us to do.
     We rarely had meals on our visits, but something was always offered, whether cookies or peaches or something else someone had just made or bought.
     I still think of Sunday as a day for rejuvenation. But I’ve moved from the Midwest to Texas so instead of driving to see family, we get on Skype and see each other on computer screens. Visits are more along the lines of brunch with friends or an afternoon outing on a friend’s houseboat. Always we all bring something to eat and we can’t wait to see what shape the buffet will take.
     Wherever we are, whomever we’re with, we’re grateful for God’s many blessings.