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.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Change of seasons

This was my birthday weekend and it might have been my best ever. I had recently decided that I need to make more of an effort to live in the moment. I find that I'm so rushed all of the time, always thinking about all the work ahead of me or everything that isn't getting done that I just don't savor what I have.

Lakewood Pastor Joel Osteen recently told me in an interview -- about his book "Break Out!" -- that you need to wake up each day reminding yourself of all the good things in your life. So that's what I'm doing. Today I am thankful for my husband Steve; we had a nice dinner out Friday night on my birthday. I am also thankful for my friends who had a nice birthday party for me Saturday night.

Then a cold front came through so the temperature dropped quite a bit and it was as close to what, in Indiana, we call Indian summer. This is what my birthdays used to feel like: a special day in my favorite season of the year, fall. So I am thankful for this nice little break in the weather.

On top of that I was interviewed on a radio show (thank you, Cleverly Stone) and later had a book signing at Barnes and Noble (thank you, Brian) to promote my book, "Sunday Dinners." Now it's Sunday night but I'm going to savor what I have left of this beautiful weekend.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

From my garden to ... a jar

I suppose it just doesn't sound right to say that I picked fresh jalapeño and bell peppers to turn them into a pepper jelly I can enjoy later. Fresh garden produce is meant to be enjoyed right now, full of nutrition and free of chemicals ... right?

Well, I had some peppers ready to be picked and I've been wanting to try my hand at pepper jelly. When I lived in Indiana I never would have thought of making pepper jelly. For one thing, I wouldn't have known what to do with it! But since moving to Texas 13 years ago I've developed an appreciation for much spicier food and last year I discovered this spicy-sweet treat. I'm sure there are endless possibilities for it, but so far my favorite ways to enjoy it are on cream cheese and a cracker or on baked chicken. I need to find more ways to use it because I'm getting tired of cheese and crackers.

What sounds good?
This pepper jelly was made with jalapeño and bell peppers, cider vinegar, pectin and, of course, sugar.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

New friends and new recipes

When you make new friends there's always a chance you'll get new recipes. I have the good fortune of meeting new people all of the time in my job at the Houston Chronicle. I edit our food, religion and health coverage, so I meet a variety of people.

Recently I met two very dynamic women in Houston -- Loring Goldberg and Marci Weinstein -- because the women's group at their temple, Congregation Emanu El, recently produced a new cookbook. Certainly it has some dishes appropriate for their important religious holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Hanukkah or Passover. And you won't find pork or shellfish recipes either. But there are more than 400 recipes in this darling cookbook "The Incredible Edibles of the Congregation Emanu El Sisterhood," so there are plenty of recipes that would appeal to anyone anywhere.

When I interviewed the women about the book, they were also prepared for a photo shoot and had several dishes, including my new favorite salad: Kale Salad with Ginger and Pepitos and Citrus Vinaigrette. Kale is hearty and nutritious but can be a little tough, so this salad is best if you make it and let it sit in the fridge a day or two. In fact, it can last several days in the fridge -- if you don't gobble it all up too quickly.

So I'm going to share the recipe.

Kale Salad with Ginger and Pepitos and Citrus Vinaigrette

2 bunches kale (12-14 ounces), washed and dried
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
A few twists of freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons honey
2 teaspoons sesame oil
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3-4 tablespoons canola oil

Add in, to taste:
Dried cranberries
Crystallized ginger, minced
Roasted pepitos (pumpkin seeds)
Roasted slivered almonds

1. Strip the kale leaves from the stems and discard stems. Finely shred the leaves. Place in a serving bowl.
2. To make the dressing, whisk the shallots, salt, pepper, lemon juice, vinegar, orange juice, honey and oils in a small bowl until emulsified or place all dressing ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake until emulsified.
3. Add enough dressing to coat the kale llightly. Massage the dressing into the kale leaves with your hands to soften the leaves. Add in cranberries, ginger, pepitos and almonds and toss. Store in the refrigerator and serve cold.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I can't stop talking about ...

As soon as my first book signing was over I turned to my husband and asked: "Did I ramble too much?" Like many people, I get a little nervous when I do public speaking and last night I had my first book signing at the fantastic, west Houston Blue Willow Bookshop. (They sell online and they ship, too, click here for the link.)

It's a small-ish independent bookstore in a strip mall with a big grocery store and they deliver the kind of service that small-ish independent bookstores still can do. They know what's on their shelves. They've looked at all of the books and they can honestly tell you that they've met most of the authors whose books sit on their shelves. Blue Willow is known for hosting big-name authors and I got a lucky turn at being a not-so-big-name author who met some of their customers last night.

I talked about the genesis of my book, "Sunday Dinners," and how the concept came to me in a single drive home from work when I was brainstorming how I could use the topics I handle at the Houston Chronicle -- religion and food -- for a book. They asked lots of questions about the pastors I interviewed for the book and about the reaction I've gotten so far.

The thing I love most about talking about "Sunday Dinners" is that every time I tell someone about it, I get almost the same reaction: they start telling me about their Sunday dinner traditions and favorite meals their mothers and grandmothers -- and, yes, sometimes their fathers and grandfathers -- used to make. Just a mention of strawberry cake and you have no idea the number of people who tell me about how it was their brother's favorite birthday cake or how their mom used to make it for the perfect ending to a family dinner.

So, hat's off to Blue Willow Bookshop owner Valerie Koehler and her staff. You guys rock!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fall gardening, fresher food

When we say it's starting to get cooler in Houston, Texas, take those words with a grain of salt. I grew up in Indiana and this time of year was always much cooler than summer. Now I live in Texas and "fall" means temps in the low 90s instead of the mid to upper 90s.

But still, the temperature is heading down and those of us who like to garden are getting out our seed packets, trowels and planting away. This fall I'm going to put out tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, onions and some gourds.

Some I'm growing from seed and some I'm starting with plants purchased at a local nursery. This (above) is a bell pepper plant and it's already sprouting small peppers. Sure, they're a long way from being ready for harvest, but I've got plenty of jalapeno peppers (below) to eat now. What I really need to do is get out the jalapeno pepper jelly recipe I have (courtesy of the sister of my good friend Shane Richolson) and make some jelly.

Yeah, I know, I need to pull some weeds.

What I'm really waiting for is for the temperature to drop just a little more so I can put out my lettuce seeds. Most of summer is just too hot for the cool-weather vegetables, so I don't even try. But I planted some back in February and we ate fresh lettuce all spring from two small-ish pots filled with lettuce. It was so great to come home from work, grab some shears and a bowl and head to the garden. I can't wait to put out more so that we can eat super-fresh salads all winter.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Houston Chronicle: Grace and Good Food

"Sunday Dinners" is now officially in print and my first story coverage came from, of course, the newspaper where I work, the Houston Chronicle. Read the story here.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting closer to launch day

I recently spent much of a day busy with a chore that was hardly a chore: I packaged up copies of my new book, "Sunday Dinners: Food, Family, and Faith from Our Favorite Pastors," to send to many of my sources for the book as well as to a handful of friends and family.

My laptop recently caught a cold -- the kind of virus that wipes out every single thing on it -- so I lost every address I had for the people I interviewed for the book. I combed through paper files, filled out mailing labels, bundled up books in standard-issue bubble-wrap envelopes and headed to the post office with two boxes heavy with books.

It was exciting to see them off, hoping that when they land in the hands of the people who are in them, those folks will smile as broadly as I am.

The book finally goes on sale Tuesday, Sept. 10. The countdown is on!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Jam, in 21 minutes (no kidding)

When I was a little girl we'd drive to my grandmother's after church on Sundays. She lived a county away, but it seemed like a very long drive to me. One of my fondest memories of visiting my maternal grandmother, Mable Smith Harris, was when she'd pull out a Mason jar full of canned peaches.

My grandmother, like many of our grandmothers, had a huge garden every summer and in the fall she'd can all kinds of fruits and vegetables that she grew. He'd go to her cool, earthy cellar and come up with a jar of peach halves swimming in sweet syrup.

She didn't teach me to can -- my husband's grandmother did -- but my friend Elizabeth hooked me up with with this great kitchen gadget by Ball Co. You put fruit, pectin and sugar into it, push the button that says "jam" and in 21 minutes you have really terrific, warm jam.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's fig season

I'm pretty sure that my mother and grandmother never ate a fresh fig in their entire lives. They loved Fig Newtons, though, so I did too. It never occurred to me to look for fresh figs at the supermarket. I can't say that I ever stumbled across them either.

But then, I grew up in the North -- in Indiana -- and figs weren't something that grew well there, like they do in the South. I've lived in Texas more than 13 years now and a while back I bought a potted fig tree when I saw it at Sam's Club. It was small, but I knew it would grow and someday give me bowls of beautiful figs I could pop into my mouth, pile onto a tart or drown in sugar for a jar or two of jam.

Last summer I lost all of my figs to some pesky raccoons. This year I managed to grab a few. And my fall crop has already popped out.
Already this year I've made a terrific fig tart, borrowed from a Giada de Laurentiis recipe. She uses puff pastry, but I substituted butter-brushed phyllo dough because I had a package of it in my freezer. I pulled it out of the oven all puffed up and bubbly and it smelled so good. I texted a photo of it to my niece and she thought it was a pizza! That's a 17-year-old for you!

Here's the recipe.
Blend together 1 tablespoon sugar, 3 1/2 ounces almond paste, 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 tablespoons honey until well smooth and well blended. 

Roll out your puff pastry or butter-brushed phyllo dough sheets and turn up the edges so the filling won't run out. Then spoon the filling onto your pastry and top with figs. Brush the top of the jams with apricot jam, then bake about 40 minutes in an oven preheated to 400 degrees.

The great thing about this tart is that you could use different fruit toppings: fresh cherries, peaches or even apples. Sprinkle on nuts if you want, or maybe even a few extras like coconut or chocolate shavings.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Georgia girls

I'm sitting in my living room doing something that's a little hard to explain: I am watching the new season of "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo." If you've missed this pop-culture phenomenon, it's a reality show about a small-town Georgia family with what people could only kindly describe as "country ways."

Headed by matriarch June and her live-in boyfriend Mike "Sugar Bear," the show focuses largely on their daughter Alana "Honey Boo Boo," who caught the attention of reality-show producers when she was a tots' beauty pageant contestant in a different reality show.

I discovered the show last summer during an interview with Food Network star Paula Deen. I was with Deen at her Savannah home and she was telling me about her summer and all the fun things she'd been doing -- painting, shell crafts, chasing chickens in her yard -- and she mentioned that she and her husband, Michael Groover, were hooked on reality shows. Among them, "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo." I have to admit, I hadn't seen the show and had only vaguely heard of it.

After Deen's vivid description -- and encouragement -- I knew I had to watch it. I don't know anyone quite like June and her brood and I honestly find them to be messy, gassy, ill-mannered people. But I do like that whoever they are, whatever they are ... they are comfortable in their own skin.  They don't clean themselves up for the camera, they just are who they are and that's what you see on the show. You don't see this kind of honesty with too many people these days, in my opinion.

So tonight June's gone blond and they're all getting ready for Halloween and trying to face their fears (June's afraid of mayonnaise.) I didn't need to know that Alana thinks mayo tastes like vanilla ice cream or that June urinated in the town's fall corn maze. Yet here I am, 30 minutes into a one-hour show, and I have no intention of turning the channel.