Sunday, November 29, 2009

"i've got you to thank"

the food: Rustic Pear Pie
the song: "You to Thank" Ben Folds

Is it really over? All that planning and cooking and eating. And now, here we sit, getting ready to go back to work tomorrow. We're hanging on to these last precious hours. This cloudy afternoon has been spent napping, petting cats, and eating delicious leftover pie, which I'm about to share with you.

Thanksgiving was an almost-perfect success, filled with good people and good food. Before I completely let it go, I wanted to share a few of the stand-out recipes from the dinner. After all, the season of holiday gorging is just getting started. There are still plenty of opportunities to make these special dishes. And besides, it is nice to take a moment to relish in our Thanksgiving victories.
I'm also taking time this afternoon to plan some simple, un-fussy foods for the week. Expect some healthy recipes coming soon. For now...pie.

This recipe is adapted from Epicurious, which calls it
Butterscotch Pear Pie. That name throws me off. To me, butterscotch conjures up images of a thick, very rich, sweet goo. There is nothing "butterscotch-y" about this, so I'm leaving that word out. If we need an adjective to make this pie sound more enticing, I'd like to suggest "Rustic Pear Pie." I like that word, and I think it fits. The pears are cut quite thick and seasoned with simple but delicious spices. The egg wash makes the top crust especially colorful. It is a very classic taste, which is updated by the inclusion of pears instead of apples. But if rustic doesn't do it for you, feel free to substitute whichever word you like best. If you need inspiration, here are a few synonyms for yummy.

Rustic Pear Pie
adapted from Epicurious

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I subbed about 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese 5 Spice for these last 2 ingredients. All spice would probably be fine, too.)

pinch salt

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 1/2 pounds firm-ripe Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and cut into 6 pieces (or 8 if you're using your apple corer)

juice from 1/2 orange
OR 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla OR almond extract

double recipe pastry dough (or a box of Pillsbury pie crust, if you're me)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon warm water
(for egg wash)
Put a baking sheet on middle rack of oven and preheat to 425.

Whisk together flour, spices, and salt, then whisk in brown sugar, breaking up any lumps. Gently toss pears with brown sugar mixture, orange juice, and vanilla and let stand 15 minutes so flavors can soak in.

Fit 1 piece of prepared dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Transfer filling to shell. Dot with butter, then cover with second pie crust. Trim edges, leaving 1/2 inch overhang (reserve scraps). Press edges together to seal, then fold under. Lightly brush top crust with some egg wash, then cut 3 1-inch-long vents. If you're feeling creative, roll out dough scraps and cut out leaf shapes, or turkey shapes, or reindeer. Arrange on top of pie, pressing gently to help them stick.

Bake pie on hot baking sheet for 20 minutes. Reduce oven to 375 degrees and bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 40-45 minutes more. Wait for a little while for the pie to cool so you don't burn your mouth. Serve on it's own, or with vanilla ice cream if you're feeling extra awesome.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"i want to live for a living"

the food: Thanksgiving prep
the song: "My 5 Year Plan" Listener

Well, tomorrow is the big day. We will feed 8 people for Thanksgiving dinner. Plus 3 extras for before-dinner drinks and appetizers. I've been brainstorming about the menu for weeks (not quite 5 years, but you get the point). Now the time is finally here where we get to stop thinking and start doing. But first... indulge my musings about the idea of food for a little bit longer before I get my hands dirty and actually make something to eat.

We'll see how tomorrow goes, but Thanksgiving may well become my new favorite holiday. There is so much tradition associated with the day. When we decided to invite people for dinner, my initial plan was to do a butternut squash lasagna and a big salad. The food was seasonal but not traditional. When we sent out the invitation, I quickly realized that wasn't going to fly. The first responses I received were "Awesome! I'll bring green bean casserole!" and "YES! I make the best mac and cheese!" One guest asked if he could make a turkey (my answer? an enthusiastic "yes!..just not in my oven, please.")

Since the menu has been finalized, I realize how excited I am to have a traditional meal in our home- turkey and all. Our table will be surrounded by a younger crowd, and e
ven though we're all skipping our traditional family meal for various reasons, we are influenced by foods of home as we create our own traditions. I mean, is it really Thanksgiving without the stuffing?

Not stuffing, I know. But cranberries are traditional, too.

Ok, thanks for that. I feel better. Now, without further ado- our Thanksgiving menu!
Brie Stuffed Mushrooms
Assorted Nuts

Pita Chips & Hummus

Main Dish

Shiner Brined Turkey (via our friend Joe)

Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash

Side Dishes

Green Bean Casserole
Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Mushroom Gravy

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Macaroni & Cheese

Sweet Potatoes

Cranberry Jalapeno Relish



Caramelized Pear Pie

Sweet Potato Pie


My sous chef.

Ok, enough artfully arranging my groceries. I'm ready to eat. Happy Thanksgiving! Stuff yourself silly and enjoy the heck out of everyone you spend the day with. We all have so much to be thankful for.


* We love our friend, Dan Smith (a.k.a. "Listener" a.k.a. "Man Fest arm wrestling champion.") Check out what real music folk have to say about Listener here and here. And watch that video.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"how fast is light speed?"

the food: Thanksgiving prep
the song: "Lightspeed" Matt & Kim

Busy, busy, busy! The husband and I are headed to San Antonio tonight for the opening of the new Alamo Drafthouse. Tomorrow, we have our first CD release since I joined our record label. But on Sunday I'll be able to start devoting my time to the specifics of the Thanksgiving meal
we're hosting on Thursday.

Seriously, is anyone else giddily excited about getting to spend some time in the kitchen next week? I've got 2 days to go with the wee ones, then my life becomes cleaning and scheduling and planning and cooking. It sounds crazy, but I've been dreaming about butternut squash. I'm psyched.

Some fantastic websites out there have started doing Thanksgiving posts, and I thought it might be helpful to link to some of the most useful ones I've found here.
Thanks, Boing Boing, for this LEGO turkey. I love this girl. All she needs is something brown and foamy in that glass, and we'd be set.

Today, the Kitchn posted a wonderful mediation on the meaning of Thanksgiving. They also have a great roundup that has everything from table decorations to traditional recipes to tryptophan

Our Thanksgiving dinner will prominently feature beer (surprise, surprise), and this
Beer Pairings link from Serious Eats provides some great suggestions for where to start. They are taking their cues from Garrett Oliver, afterall. We can't get all the beers mentioned in Texas, but they do an awesome job describing the subtle flavors so you can pick something similar.

This NY Times article on
Going Vegetarian for Thanksgiving makes a good argument that creative side dishes are the best part anyway.

Thanksgiving for Every-vore- another one from the Kitchn provides an amazing looking main dish to feed everyone at your table. I love the idea of one meal done in a way to accommodate everyone. How unifying! If I ever cook meat, I hope I can do it like this.

Thanksgiving recipes, both vegetarian and vegan from 101cookbooks. Not sure if she's going to do another one this year, but Heidi's recipes and photographs are so inspiring. Anytime I'm needing encouragement or ideas, this is where to start.

10 vegetarian main dishes from Chow offers lots of creative ideas that in no way attempt to resemble meat. Meat can be our friend, and it's not nice to mock it.

These are just a few of the many links I'll be referencing over the next week. The countdown has begun! Much, much more to come!


Thursday, November 19, 2009

"i thought i was gonna be sick"

the food: Mexico, part 2
the song: "That Time" Regina Spektor

Before I continue with my
volver al pasado, let me take a minute to say how much I adore Regina Spektor. I get into music by getting stuck on a particular artist and listening to them all the time. Over the summer, Regina was my broken record.

And now, the stunning conclusion of the Mexico excursion. When we last left off, the heroine was drifting happily to sleep after a beautiful wedding surrounded by friends and family...

At 4 in the morning, I awoke with a little sick feeling in my tummy. I proceeded to spend the next 8 hours or so completely emptying my stomach of all contents, drifting in and out of consciousness, and deliriously wondering if I'd caught H1N1 or inherited a parasite trying to hitch a ride back to the states. Sure, I knew I was in Mexico and that I'd probably just drank one too many drinks with ice, but this was (as my step-mom perfectly described it) a "bad sick." I'm as ok as one can be with stomach bugs...I'm guaranteed one a year from the little ones...but this one was just awful. Somehow, though, I still had my mind in the right place: my happy little blog.

I couldn't drink this entire can. But in my sweaty, cold, nauseated state I did think "I have to write about this!" and snapped a camera phone picture. Gracias, Manzanita Sol. You got me through a tough time.

In the back of my mind as I was laying there trying not to move too much, I knew that at 12 o'clock I had to get into a van with 6 other people and drive the winding hour drive back to the aeropuerto. Even on a good day, I suffer from motion sickness. I had to keep my eye on the prize, which is why when the Manzanita Sol made it's reappearance about 30 minutes later, I was ok with it. My empty stomach was as ready as it was going to be. My father-in-law kindly set up my front-seat, full-blast AC ride and wished me luck. I was going to need it.

Miraculously, we made it to the airport with very little incident. We said our goodbyes and walked into the crowded airport. And that's when the height of suck hit. Our flight had been canceled...and there were no other flights out of Mexico until the next day. I don't like to dwell in negativity, so I'm just going to slide on past the next 3 1/2 hours we spent in the line with many stressed and angry Americans...waiting. We booked the fastest flight to get us home- Cabo to Chi City, then to Austin. Our quick 4 hour trip home had just increased by many miles and several hours...not to mention a whole day.

By the time we got to our hotel, we were too tired to even take in the 2 walls of windows that overlooked the beach or the beautiful pools we passed on the way to our room. We did not partake in the free alcohol or gorge ourselves on the buffet.*
The husband had been fighting a sinus infection for a week or so, and was actually running a fever after the stressful day. I ate (white rice and vegetables), took a bath, and fell asleep watching a Lost rerun at 8:45. All inclusive, baby.

The next morning, we were both feeling much better, so we decided to take full advantage of the beautiful day with a walk on the beach and breakfast. I got in the ocean and dug my toes in the sand. I ate yogurt, then an omelet. It felt good to eat and enjoy it- aside from it being lousy to be sick, it's a very alienating to not sip or taste. It is hard to feel connected without that. But sitting, sipping, and eating breakfast on our last day of vacation, I fully felt and appreciated the sun on my face. Our Mexico trip was ending on a high note, after all.

Back in the saddle again

The story ends with us getting safely back to Austin almost exactly 24 hours later than planned. But as Regina tells us, our lives can seemingly be broken down into a series of moments. In writing this recap, I've forgotten and excluded so much, breaking it down into bullet points. But five or ten or fifty years from now when we say "Hey, remember that time...", the highs and lows of the Mexico trip will make for quite a story.


*I have to hand it to American Airlines. They've messed up two flights of ours in a 4 month period, but they are pretty liberal with the vouchers. It might not completely take away the...ahem...bad taste, but it certainly didn't hurt.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"these are the good times that you'll miss"

the food: Mexico, part 1
the song: "Sipping on the Sweet Nectar" Jens Lekman

It is hard for me to imagine that this time last week we were on a beach in Mexico. We had an amazing trip, rounded out by a few unexpected moments. There's a lot of travel food to cover over the last week, so I'm going to break this into two sections. Let's call it "The Sweet" and "The Sour" (although the sour has a very satisfying finish.)

To refresh, we left for Cabo San Lucas last Thursday morning to attend a family wedding. In reality, we were staying in the small fishing town of Los Barilles, which is about an hour drive from the airport. The bride and groom-to-be rented the Hotel Agave for their closest friends and family, and we headed there first to say hello and get our barrings.

Our resort was just a ways up the road in the "town" of Los Barilles. I put town in parenthesis because this wasn't the cheesy tourist town of high school senior trip fame. While walking the 20 blocks of Los Barrilles, we never once encountered a "One Tequilla, Two Tequilla, Three Tequilla, Floor" shirt (don't fret, there's no shortage). In fact, we didn't have the internet or phone service. But we were expecting (and looking forward) to a quiet get away. Everyone we encountered was very friendly and helpful, and although we were quite secluded we felt very relaxed and safe.

After settling in, we hiked up the beach (and I do mean hiked...the walk was at least a mile in deep sand) back to the Hotel Agave where the groom was preparing a huge Mexican meal to feed 25+ people. This should give you some idea of what a cool dude he is...and he's the one joining our family--yay! We feasted on poblano quesadillas, freshly made salsa, 20 avocado guacamole, and fresh fish tacos. My husband who swore off fish more than a year ago even ate is hard to resist fish caught the day before in the ocean you are looking at. I can't imagine a warmer welcome to Mexcio.

Friday morning after watching the sunrise on the beach, we headed over to check out the food at our hotel. I was hugely impressed with the service, the view, and the food. We both ordered Huevos Rancheros that was the most savory, oozy, spicy plate I've eaten in a long time. It was absolutely wonderful...fresh made salsa (more like Texas pico de gallo), fried eggs, and salty hash browns.
After swimming, walking on the beach, and good family time, we headed over to Tio Pablos, which was an exception to the rule in Los Barriles--the prices were in American dollars, there was a vegetarian section to the menu, and the restaurant has a website. I was excited to know what I was ordering didn't have bacon in the beans, but I was a little skeptical that we weren't getting the authentic thing. I was pleasantly surprised by our meals. I had the bean burrito, and it was amazing. Tortillas in Mexico are a whole different breed than what we're used to here (and we have some good tortillas!). I'm not sure what the difference guess was butter with higher milkfat content gives the tortillas have that flakey, crisp quality. The husband guessed lard. I like my answer better, but his is probably more likely.

What else is there to do after lunch in Mexico but a siesta? We didn't eat many appetizers at the rehearsal dinner at Smokey's bar that night, but the margaritas were free flowing, and I did try something new--smoked marlin, which had a texture and taste almost like turkey. We shut down the best bar in Los walked back to our room on the beach.

Saturday I left the husband and father-in-law at the poolside bar and went up the beach to a ladies brunch at an amazing restaurant overlooking (what else?) the ocean. After all the eggs and salsa and cheese, I was desperately seeking something green, so I ordered the house specialty salad. Organic lettuce, oranges, pecans, red onion, blue cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette. Yum. Rarely is this girl satisfied by a salad, but this one was quite good and left me feeling happy. As we were eating, my mother-in-law and I pondered an interesting question: Why can you not drink the water in Mexico, but you can eat leafy produce grown in Mexico? (spoiler can't!) I fearlessly continued chowing down on my salad.

Saturday afternoon was the main event, which was one of the most beautiful weddings I've ever attended. Much to my husband and father-in-law's delight, there was a mariachi band that serenaded us throughout the evening. Besides the unbeatable location, the bride and groom were glowy, food and drink were free flowing, and all in attendance were blissful. It was everything a wedding should be. I felt very blessed to be a part of a family made up of such neat and diverse people.

Disclaimer: Unfortunately, these mariachis are not our family members.

We went back to our that hotel and looked at stars on the beach before heading off to bed. And that, my friends, is where the 'sweet' part of this trip concludes. I'll begin the second half of the vacation at 4 a.m. when I awoke with thoughts of the greasy chile relleno I'd eaten at the wedding and a funny feeling in my tummy.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

"if you don't have a dream how you gonna have a dream come true?"

the food: Swiss Chard, Mushroom, and Quinoa Soup
the song: "Dream" Dizzee Rascal

Humble beginnings, from March

Back when I was first considering gardening, I had this image of what our house would be like once the garden was in full swing. I pictured cabinets well stocked with staples to build upon...whole wheat pastas, grains, rice, and broth. The refrigerator would house a weekly rotation of high quality cheese, organic milk, hard-to-grow vegetables purchased from the farmer's market, and seasonal beer. In my fantasy, I would stroll to the garden to see what was available and use my culinary creativity to whip up fresh and sustainable meals.

We've been traveling lately and have been eating a lot of meals on the go. This can really wear on you after a while. I was happy to have an evening at home last night with nothing but time. The husband and I were sharing a Rouge Santa's Private Reserve, eating a bit of fresh mozzarella and crackers when the topic came around to dinner. "I just don't want a meal meal, you know?" We decided on something simple, fresh, and light. And for the ingredients, I stepped right out to our front yard.

This soup is one of my favorite things to cook. I've woken up craving this soup. It is so healthy and delicious. Quinoa is such an amazing food. When paired with a big leafy green, warm broth, and the little kick of herb and spice, it is a near perfect soup. The recipe is adapted from Vegetarian Times.

Spinach and Quinoa Soup

Makes 6-8 servings

1 medium onion, diced
3 cups low-sodium veggie broth

3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, oregano*

large bunch swiss chard, ribs removed, chopped OR spinach OR kale

6-8 mushrooms, sliced OR 1 large portabella mushroom, chopped into bite size chunks

1 jalapeno, seeded and diced

3-4 garlic cloves, diced

olive oil

splash of wine or beer (optional)

Coat large saucepan with olive oil, and heat over medium heat. Add onion, mushroom and extra garlic if desired. Add a splash of the beer or wine.** Saute about 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in broth and 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in tomatoes with juice and chard leaves, Simmer 5 minutes, uncovered, until spinach and quinoa are tender. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately. A little parmesan on top is nice, but not necessary.

*Canned tomatoes are
, and I use them all the time. Last night I didn't have any, so I chopped up some tomatoes (maybe a little past their prime) and thinned out a little leftover homemade marinara with water, and threw in a good amount of chopped garden basil.
**And drink the rest! I'm a huge advocate of sipping while cooking. Very few things are more relaxing. It really enhances the cooking process. Smells are a big indicator of how your meal is coming along, and a nice beer or wine helps you appreciate them more.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"tell it to me slowly"

the food: garden bounty
the song: "Time of the Season" The Zombies

It's been so long! There are grand posts and pictures to come about Cabo, Mexican food, flight cancellations, and Montezuma's revenge (I'll keep it vague, I promise). But for today, here's a camera phone picture of a few of the lovely peppers awaiting me in our garden this afternoon.

I got about 4 times more jalapenos than pictured that are going into jalapeno cheddar biscuits tonight. But that bell pepper is just rocking my world. That is one of the prettier bell peppers I've ever seen. I would pick that out at the grocery store. Amazingly, it is my first one of the season. I planted those peppers back in May, but they didn't produce a thing during the scorching summer. But just look at that! That bad boy is 6 months in the making. Not sure what it will go into yet, but I trust it will have been worth the wait.


p.s. If you follow the link, you'll see The Zombies website is still up and running, although it appears that their 40th anniversary tour is over.

Monday, November 2, 2009

"you're bad news"

the food: MexiDips and Chips & Coke (...really)
the song: "Portions for Foxes" Rilo Kiley

Consider this the confessions of a foodie phony. My whole point in writing this blog is to talk about meals that make an impact. Well, this food made an impact. Enough that I wanted to write about it. Just bear with me and let's see how this all pans out...

Top of photo is steering wheel. My placemat is my blue jeans.

Sunday as I was driving home from a wonderful and restorative weekend with my mom, my tire blew out. I was going about 70 in the middle lane on I-35 right outside of downtown Ft. Worth. After being nearly run over and honked at by the mean guy behind me (who saw what happened but was still pissed that I was slowing down, apparently), I made it over to the side of the highway. After a while, I slowly drove the half mile to the next exit, with my tire wha-thumping steadily along. Thankfully I had just left lunch with my dad and step mom, and they heroically came to my rescue. My dad was such a champ- putting on my spare tire in his church clothes, waiting with me at Wal-Mart during the tire change. I am a lucky girl, indeed.

Walking around Wal-Mart, I had felt the beginnings of a head ache creeping up the back of my neck and sliding behind my left eye. Stress induced migraine, anyone? When I finally left Ft. Worth 3 hours later than I had planned, I was feeling extremely grateful to my dad, thankful that I didn't get hurt, and very, very lousy.

Ok, now for a side note. When I was in high school, my favorite lunch spot was Taco Bueno. It sounds gross to me now, but back in the day before I cared/understood very much about food, I would eat at a different fast food establishment 4-5 times per week. That's just what we did in high school. When I moved to Austin, I discovered that Taco Buenos aren't quite as prevalent down here. I think there is one far south, but the distance combined with my adult food morals and knowledge keeps me from it. But there is a Taco Bueno in Waco, and the second I got in the car from my tire debacle I was thinking about that place. Some deeply ingrained part of me wanted some salt and calories. And I was convinced the sugar and caffeine of a Coke would cure my stress head.

The weird thing did.

Sorry for the blurry picture. There's only so many shots you can take of yourself sitting at a gas station before you start feeling self-conscious.

By the time my meal and drink were finished, my head ache was gone. And (other than a confused stomach) I actually felt pretty good. I'm not saying this to sound snobby (need I remind you...I'm writing this post about fast food that I ate in my car), but prior to this I honestly can't remember the last time I ate fast food. The last Coke I drank was in May at our end-of-the-year school party, and I was only able to drink half of it before I tossed it. My point is that I fully realize that this is not real food. I've read a lot about fast food--it's addictive qualities, the amount of corn that goes into it, the billions that are spent making people believe that 'family time' equals buying a bucket of chicken. Six words, my friends: failure pile in a sadness bowl. Probably the fact that I hadn't eaten this stuff in so long is one of the reasons it had its intended effect.

But rather than beat myself up for a poor food choice, or chastise my body for its cravings, I'm just going to own it. For whatever reason, that meal cured my stress. When I looked into it further, though, it isn't all that surprising that consuming that many calories and fat would cause a profound change in a person's body. Behold: the nutrition facts for my MexiDip meal.

Thanks, Calorie Count, for the buzz kill.

Yikes. If this doesn't scare you, it should. I paid less than $5 for all these calories, and I ate it in under 30 minutes. People eat this every day, and they eat it under the mistaken impression that it is actual food. Eric Schlosser tells us: "Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music - combined."

The main point I took from this meal is that fast food is a drug, not something to be confused with sustenance. I'm not saying I'll never eat it again, but it will always be with a full awareness that the craving for fat and salt (that possibly still resides in me from my high school) is what drives me to it.

Anyone else feel like a salad?