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.

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!