Category Archives: Local

Red Velvet Cake, Pantaloons, and Valentine's Day

Earlier this month
I got the bright idea to get some fabric to lay down on my kitchen counters
while photographing food.

It sounded good in theory.

Our granite counters are pretty busy
and one can only photograph a mise en place on a cutting board so many times.

The advantage of a cutting board is that you can easily wipe it off if you get stuff on it
and it doesn’t wrinkle.

I know that now.

Those things didn’t occur to me on a drizzly Sunday morning
while I stood in a sewing shop
running my fingertips over fabric.

I was thinking that I should call my grandmother
a woman who created countless smocked baptismal gowns for her many grandchildren
and almost every single dress I wore for Picture Day in elementary school.

I loved those dresses.
I loved all of them except for one.

It wasn’t so much the dress that I disliked
but the pantaloons she made to go with it.

My mother was over the moon about them
however she did not have to wear the pantaloons to school for Picture Day in 1991.

I wasn’t a stupid kid.
I tried to reason with my mom that
you wouldn’t even see the pantaloons in the photo
so why did I have to wear them?

“Because your grandmother made them to go with the dress. You will wear them.”

And I did.

At least I didn’t suffer alone.
She made a matching dress
and pantaloons
for my older sister.

You can bet I took comfort in the fact my sister looked like Little Bo Peep, too.

In the more recent past
I left the store with a few neatly folded stacks of fabric
and a desire to learn how to sew
(not pantaloons, I’ve had all I need of those).

I pushed thoughts of sewing out of my head
and tried to stay focused on the task at hand–
the task of making a red velvet cake.

Back to the whole great ideas in theory
white cloth
while making a lovely, calm background
also gives photos a bit of a ‘sterile’ feeling.

Like I lined things up on a hospital bed
perhaps.

Continue reading Red Velvet Cake, Pantaloons, and Valentine's Day

Lessons are Messy

Last Sunday I was baking the cake for Monday
with a speed not normally seen in my house.

I usually bake the cake on Sunday
then make the frosting and decorate on Monday night.

(I’ve also been known to procrastinate
and do everything on Monday.)

That places me at Lil’ Ol’ Bar at around 8:45 – 9:00p
despite my best intentions of getting there at 8:30p.

Oh
there’s always a missing coupler
fallen cake layer
or not enough frosting
and before you know it
I’m running behind.

(We all know the procrastination part
would never play a role in getting to the bar late.)

Continue reading Lessons are Messy

Things I Did This Year and Didn't Write About

All day long I go around writing in my head.

I construct grand entries
witty one liners
things that happened I want to remember
or I take a million photos of something to document later.

Then the kitchen needs cleaning
the dogs keep bringing me their toys to play fetch
hair needs washing
and I fall asleep, exhausted and feeling behind,
again.

At least, that’s how I feel
until December rolls around.

December holds the key to self-redemption in the Blog Universe.

I can dump everything I wanted to write about
(but was too busy throwing slobbery, dirty Kongs around for our dogs to get to)
in a grand ‘look back’ entry
and no one will think twice about it.

In fact
people may hope that January will see a turn around the bend
and that I’ll post more often.

It’s nice in my head you know.
Lots of puppies and dandelions.
No alarm clocks, either.

Without further ado/procrastination
I present to you the things I did this year and didn’t write about:

Continue reading Things I Did This Year and Didn't Write About

CSA Woes

For the past couple of months we’ve been having issues with our vegetable CSA.

We’ve received very few of our weekly deliveries lately
and the owner of the CSA (a co-op) has cited family emergencies, weather, and just plain exhaustion.

I get it.
I’m not standing there
expecting a delivery like clockwork every week from a group of farmers.

I understand that when it rains
you can’t just SLOSH ON THROUGH your fields to pick tomatoes.

Things like car repairs come up
and for someone running razor thin margins
getting the radiator fixed can’t always happen on the same day that it breaks.

What is frustrating
is that I’ve heard the same things week after week lately.

For the first half of the year
we did not have any problems
and the deliveries were amazing.

Things seemed to go downhill quickly these last few months.

More often than not
our delivery is delayed by several days
and there have been instances that when it does show up
the produce is bruised or past its prime.

My husband and I have had numerous conversations about whether or not we will renew in January
since we prepaid for the year.

The last conversation we had
we were both tired of the lack/wild variation in timeliness of deliveries, poor produce quality as of late
(a whole bag of green beans was moldy)
and exasperated by the fact that we received an email stating that we would receive a delivery that week
and nothing ever showed up.

Nice.

We were not the only ones with less than squishy lovey feelings for our CSA.

Yesterday I received a notification of a new blog post from the owner on the social networking site
(one we had to join to receive updates about deliveries and pertinent information)
and scrolled on down in the e-mail to read it
(at least that was convenient).

Below are some excepts:

In the last 2 months 22 members that were supposed to, by the agreement all members signed, did not give any notice and dropped their membership. When I got back on line this morning two more members had dropped without adequate notice. All members (on their honor) agreed to give us at LEAST 2 months notice but, these ex-members did not give us this courtesy. In addition , over the last two months we’ve only gotten a few new members~ most of which were only quarter shares. Of those remaining members due to renew this month , only one paid their renewal on time.. . . I have put $6000 of my own personal money into the CSA over the last two months , trying to keep it afloat, but now I am totally tapped out and cannot affoard to (simply don’t have it) put another dime into it. I don’t stand a chance of seeing that money again.

We need to get at least 4 shares sold in the next week or the CSA is going to go bust.. . . We must get the renewals that are owed in immediately, we must get the renewals that are due to come in over the next few weeks in on time and we must get the shares sold that were abandoned or it is the end of the only CSA in the Houston area. That is brutal but, it is the plain truth of the matter.

I am putting the future of the CSA into the members hands. We have come up with several ideas to try to regenerate interest in the CSA.. . . Two months of money going out at the rate they have been ~ with very little coming in at late at best, have put our CSA into a serious downward spiral. If you have any input that you feel may be constructive, we are very open to your suggestions.

As things stand as of right now, we have no operating capital to get deliveries out. As soon as we do we will deliver the remaining undelivered members currently due deliveries. We will then shut down for the remaining time~up to a month, if necessary~ until our membership can support the costs of deliveries again.

Well
that explains a lot.

I’m not sure why she waited so long to clue the rest of the members in
but there ya go.

I posted this response in the comments section:

“I think many members feel the same way that I do in regard to the CSA at this point. There have been MANY deliveries that were not made, even when e-mails went out that the deliveries would be made that night or that week. In addition, the deliveries are very rarely made on the day they are supposed to be made. Please do not think that I (or we) believe that you can control situations like rain or emergencies, but when something happens almost every week that prevents/delays the deliveries, it becomes very frustrating. In addition, I’ve received several deliveries with moldy fruit and vegetables or items that were obviously past their prime. The issues in getting the produce even delivered prevented me from contacting you because I did not want to add to the apparent stress that you all were undergoing. Looking back, I should have contacted you to give you a heads up on the situation if you were not aware of it.

If you want to run the CSA like a business (which I feel like we’ve received conflicting information about), I would suggest sticking to the contracts we all signed and ceasing delivery when a member does not pay. Given that it takes months to cultivate crops, perhaps consider a deposit so that if the member does not renew on time, you take the deposit and can recover some of your losses of growing the produce for those months in anticipation of a renewal. Alternately, stipulate that the member must notify you within two months of their renewal date (YOU need to be tracking this, NOT the members) if they will not be renewing. If they do not give notice to what they will be doing, then do not deliver to them until they do. People will take advantage of you, inadvertentlyor not, if you give them the opportunity.

A few other constructive ideas: move the e-mail list to something besides [weird social networking site]. I get many notifications from [site] that I don’t need to see and it would be helpful to separate the members into their respective lists and send them relevant e-mails. I’m not concerned about when other lists are being delivered, just mine (you could set up a Send To All e-mail group if you need to send something out to everyone, like this e-mail, or if you’re notifying when people will be late). People’s inboxes are already full and would rather see less e-mail than more.

Start a group on Facebook and set up a Twitter account for the CSA. Both free, free, free and I can’t tell you how many people I’ve had ask about the CSA because I am active on both of these sites and have mentioned the CSA before. The [site] is hard to navigate and not many people are on it. I had to set up an account simply to get e-mails about the CSA. Make it easy for people to access you and that will help alot. In Facebook you can set up photo albums and make postings for recipes if you wish. On Twitter, tweet (send a message out) about the produce you’re delivering that week to generate interest.

We are due for renewal in January, but given the issues that the CSA has been having, we will probably not be renewing our membership either. I hope to see things pick up for BlueStar Acres, but I think it will take action on the members’ part as well as yours.”

I tried to be fair and honest.
Farming is hard and is not something that you can force to a schedule and expect quality out of it.

I don’t expect to get my deliveries EVERY WEEK AT THE SAME TIME.
Some consistency would be nice
and I really don’t want to get an e-mail saying that our delivery is going to be late ‘because everyone is just so tired.’

That does not make me very confident in you
nor does it make me want to give you my money.

You want my business, you win me over.

Many of the commenters reiterated a line from the welcome e-mail all members were sent upon sign up
that the ‘CSA is not a business.’

Uh-huh.

Whether its a profitable business or not is a different matter
but when I get an e-mail from the owner saying they can’t continue providing a product because they don’t have enough money to pay people
doesn’t that sound like a business?

The CSA is not run like a business
but it is a business operation.

There is a lot of debate on the blog going on right now–
some people out-and-out ripping the owner a new one
others sprinkling flowers everywhere and shining love out of every orifice.

I volunteered
along with some others
to help transfer files over to Facebook to get them started there
and also to build a database for better tracking of membership and renewals.

The owner is supposed to get in touch with me today
but I’ve yet to hear from her.

I haven’t quite given up on this CSA yet.
There were quite a few months when our deliveries were beautiful;
the fruit and vegetables were ripe and heady
and the selection was enough to make Central Market jealous.

I really want to see them succeed.
I love fresh produce and have been challenged wonderfully this year to try new recipes.

It was also an eye opener as to how hard it is to identify some items without a neat little printed sign in front of them.

Husband couldn’t tell the difference between a zucchini and a cucumber
(there was much pointing and laughing at him)
but I’m proud to say he’s done been learned.

If anyone is interested in joining this CSA
please let me know.

I know that seems strange to plunk out here after all of this
but honestly
when they’re in their groove
they really impress.

Plus
I’d really like to get the rest of my deliveries.

Edit: You know what, nevermind. The ridiculous saga that has taken place in the past few days with the owner has only enabled us to settle firmly on NOT renewing our membership.

I’m sorry to say that a lot of flapping arms and incoherent posts on her behalf do nothing to make me want to help the CSA
especially coupled with the owners consistent inability to follow through on ANYTHING.

Of Cabbages and… Cabbages.

Between two jobs, two blogs, two dogs, and one husband, I just don’t get around here enough.

I’ve started Twittering
along with the rest of the world
and have been trying to document what I make for dinner ever day.

I would do lunch too
but taking a picture of a Lean Cuisine every day would be a little depressing.

So instead
I take bad iPhone pictures of my dinner
none of which want to post to my entry
so I’m going to stop trying.

Last night dinner involved white rice
something I try to eat in moderation
but I’m ashamed to admit that dinner tonight also involved white rice.

BUT
there are no photographs, not even on Twitter
so we can all pretend like it never happened.

It was red beans and rice with tomatoes and balsamic vinegar if you’re wondering.
Complete white trash cooking
but delicious.

Brown up some 80/20 ground chuck
season with garlic and good ol’ Lawry’s seasoned salt
dump in a can of red beans with a little bit of water
let reduce for a few minutes
and spoon over white rice.

Top with sliced tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and then go sit out on your front lawn with a wife beater on.

Tasty as it is
I think it could be better.

I was thinking about the tomatoes today
and how they are my favorite part of the dish.
Right now
tomatoes obviously are not at their peak
but perhaps I could elevate this dish to a slightly higher socioeconomic status by making a tomato confit and a reducing the balsamic vinegar down to a glaze.

Then
maybe replace the ground beef with braised beef
(oxtails, perhaps? I like this dish a little bit on the fattier side since it tastes like sawdust if a low fat cut of meat is used)
and use long simmered red beans instead of my salted friends out of a can.

Ideas, ideas.
I probably will just stick to my regular recipe until I finally get so ashamed of it I’m forced into making something better.
This probably won’t happen for a while.

In other news
on Friday at Restaurant Job
Chef said that we would be taking part in Outstanding In the Field.

My face nearly cracked in two because I smiled so big
and Sous Chef was ecstatic as well.

Chef said he would need our help
and we both told him we would be there in full force.

Its not until September
but I’m still so stupidly excited.

It will be fun to work at such an amazing event.
I’m trying to do my part to eat more local food
although I’ve been taking baby steps.

We did join a CSA for our fruits and vegetables though
and its been an adventure.

Our first delivery in January looked like this:

and our weekly deliveries have been some variation on that theme so far.

We’re getting greenbeans and lettuces now though
which make me happy.

I’ve meant to photograph our deliveries every week
but that hasn’t happened.

Those personal failures aside
joining the CSA was a wonderful decision.
The farm is a little bit spotty on regular delivery
but its nothing that messes with meal planning too much.

Food is fresh and unblemished/unbruised for the most part
and it averages out to about 20$ a week
a great price for the load of food that arrives at our front door every Wednesday(ish).

However
I might PAY someone to take all the cabbage we’ve been getting.

I’ve forced unwanted heads on people at Job 1, Job 2, and the next person in line is going to be the guy panhandling on the street.

Guy: “Homeless, hungry, anything will help
Me: “HERE! Take a head of cabbage!”
Guy: “What am I supposed to do with this?
Me: “I DONT KNOW. I’ve been asking myself the SAME DAMNED THING.”

Husband started looking at me with a pained expression
when week after week
he would open up our box and find one
or even TWO
heads of cabbage in it.

I finally called the farm and asked them just to leave it out of our box
not replace it with anything else
just leave the blasted cabbage in someone ELSE’S delivery.

I think I’ve done everything legal in Texas to a head of cabbage now.
Next, I think I am just going to candy it or stick it in my ice cream maker and see what happens.

I can’t imagine that would be anything good
but you never know.

Ike and Other Windfalls

Friday, September 12th found our household in a mostly normal state. A few things were out of the ordinary: I had off from work and my husband had no class or rotations to attend.

We also had the radio on in our house, and for good reason. Dire hurricane warnings were being blasted from every device capable of communication in Houston and every store in a 20 mile radius was out of ice. We know because we looked. Unlike the rest of the city of Houston, we weren’t looking for ice for our food but for our fish tank.

We have a 150 gallon salt-water fish tank and if there is no power in the house that means the chiller for the fish tank doesn’t work. Without a chiller to keep the water at a certain temperature for the fish, we could end up with 150 gallons of tropical fish soup.

I’m all about bulk cooking but that’s not usually what I have in mind.

Husband and I were not too concerned about the whole thing; we laughed at the non-event for Houston that was Rita and our lawn got a nice sprinkle from Gustav. We figured we would be without power for a few hours and then life would go on.

Since we couldn’t find ice, we filled up plastic baggies with water and put them in our outside freezer to freeze.

We crowded our patio furniture and decorations into the living room and we settled in for the storm.

With not much to do and cookbooks in my reading stack , I decided to cook a few things from our freezer lest we lose power.

I started making pork for tortas ahogadas.

Since the preparation for that dish is lengthy, my dinner that night was not any delicious pork. Instead, I grabbed something out of the freezer to eat.

That’s right, I ate a Hot Pocket.

I was just doing my part to continue emptying the freezer. Hot Pocket by Hot Pocket.

The power went out at 11:30 pm after the pork finished cooking. I still could have kept trucking with my gas stove, though.

Our house was pretty dark. See Exhibit A:

I moved the pot o’pork to the freezer for safekeeping and was happy I did not start making birote (the bread) for the tortas ahogadas. My stove is gas powered, however my oven is not.

The next morning we surveyed the damage to our house. It was not much; we lost a little tree in the back yard which almost took out the AC unit, but other than that we were still in shipshape.

Although we did not suffer any structural damage, we did not get power back for 6 days and lost almost all of our perishable food.

SIX. DAYS. Those little baggies in the freezer were sure laughing at us.

For 5 days we stayed with friends who got their power back within 24 hours. We transported as much of our frozen food over to their house as we could. Even with the food relocation, we had over $250 worth of steak in our freezer which partially thawed and was the cause for much sadness.

We did managed to save a lot of chicken, and the tasty pork was reassigned to nachos one night and carnitas another night.

I was sad that I didn’t get to finish making tortas but the grocery stores were circus-like, so I made do.

My refrigerator and freezer and still not fully stocked yet and I’ve managed to run out of non-perishables since I brought most of them over to our friends’ house.

Usually I do my fun baking and slow cooking on the weekends, along with all grocery shopping for the week, but Mr. Ike has thrown a wrench into things along with the fact that my weekends are pretty busy now.

I managed to land a part-time job at a restaurant here in Houston and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

The reviews on it are wonderful and the chefs intimidatingly creative and good. I feel like getting all Julie Andrews on you and singing ‘I must have done something gooooooood!’

It’s hard work. I worked in retail for a long time so I can deal with the standing up for long periods, but it’s keeping all of the orders straight which makes me a bit cross-eyed.

I get orders called to me without being able to see a ticket so I better be able to keep 7 orders of salads or desserts in order without missing one. It’s difficult but I enjoy it and I’m learning alot.

I’m proud that I’m in there and I already have a lot of food and technique knowledge I just need to work on my plating and balancing flavors.

I’m a slave to recipes something I’m trying to come away from but one thing at a time right?

For now I’ll worry about restocking my larders and not forgetting anyone’s orders on the weekends.