Sunday, November 30, 2014

LardQuest 2014!

For about ten years, I've made tamales with my friend Jo, and she has been in charge of the masa--the freshly ground corn and fat mixture critical to a good fluffy tamale. See, the butcher at her local Fiesta grocery store had this beautiful freshly rendered lard.

But Jo moved this year, and while the Fiesta near her new house had the freshly ground masa and the corn husks and the spices, they didn't have the lard.

No problem, I said. I would go to the Fiesta near me!  I put a cooler in my car and headed over.

Guess what? They didn't have it either. They had processed stuff in tubs and in boxes, and the stuff they used for frying chicharrones. NOT what we were looking for.

Over the next few days I stopped at nearly a dozen grocers, meat markets, and specialty places, plus calling a few more. Not only could I not find what I was looking for, but the butchers had NO IDEA what I was talking about. Jo sent her husband to the trusty old location and they, too, claimed ignorance. 

When we were searching concurrently, we were texting updates to one another. My favorite? Jo sent "DO NOT BUY COMPROMISE LARD."

We began to doubt our sanity, or at least our memories. We wondered if there was some sort of Lard Conspiracy, where we'd gotten underground lard in years past, and now we were too much a risk to get access to the precious goods? We checked the FDA and USDA websites to see if there were new regulations for the production and marketing of lard, but nothing obvious popped up.*

When we finally met up, we tried a few more places, and when a nice lady at the meat market suggested a grocery store on the south side of town, we made our way there late that night, hoping it was still open. It was, and yet again, they did not have the fresh stuff. 

We were out of time--the tamalada was the next morning. With heavy sighs we grabbed the tubbed processed lard. The compromise lard.

In the end, it worked fine. The texture was a bit different, so we made some adjustments. And heck, we had two brand new folks working with us--this was all they knew.  

We try hard for perfection. Especially when it involves our beloved traditions, and the things we know we do well. Taking a short cut or settling for something less? It seems unthinkable. And yet sometimes it is the sensible choice--saving us hours (and gas money) and some peace of mind.  
And as I say every year, even an ugly tamale is a delicious tamale. 

*Don't think I'm done trying to figure out this mystery.

Saturday, November 29, 2014


I submitted my 2014 National Novel Writing Month project this evening, so woot, that's done. 

Most years I have an elaborate strategy of front-loading the month so I have plenty of cushion for those days when life happens and words are the last of my possibilities.
This year I determined to just stick to the minimal 1667 words per day, every day.

And it worked for about five days. Then, you know, life.

The good news is, it's quite possible to do ginormous catching up at the end of the month, especially once the Thanksgiving meal is cooked and there are leftovers available. I recommend a token economy of a small piece of pie for every two thousand words.

Now I can get back to blog posts of more than twenty words, more than five minutes.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Small Triumphs

After the full day of Thanksgiving prep and hours and hours of people in the house, I'm afraid that my body said FULL STOP today.

Nearly ten hours of sleep, followed by some lazy time, then finally showering and getting dressed... only to get tired before I made it to socks.

Put another way--I had to rest to gather the strength for SOCKS.

Time to put myself to bed, and hopefully tomorrow will be less of a challenge. Or maybe I just won't bother with socks.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Making It Work

If you're going to be on a webcam, it's important to have the camera at an appropriate level. I like to put it just above my line of sight.

On days when I am going to be on my webcam while say, making the caramelized onions for Thanksgiving green beans, I need to set up the computer rig in the kitchen. Cookbooks help elevate things.

And then the onions make me cry. Oops--should have seen that one coming.

And then the connection isn't strong enough to get things running smoothly...

So I end up across the house where there's a direct plug to the interwebs...dashing back and forth to stir the onions occasionally.

(They were delicious.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving..

The pies are baked.

The inlaws are here.

Charlie Brown has been watched.
Chairs have been counted (and folding chairs recruited.)

My sons have fallen asleep on the couch, on either side of me.

And I'm too tired to fit this into a poetic meter.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Storing Up Sunshine and Colors and Memories...

Leo Lionni wrote oodles of illustrated classics, and a favorite for many is Frederick, the story of a mouse who rather than store food for the long winter, instead lingered lazily in a meadow, storing up the images and ideas of a meadow. The other mice could not understand... until he used these memories to give them entertainment and hope in the dark of winter.

I've taken a couple of days to just be with good friends, to store up. It is not always comfortable for me to be idle*, especially when much is left undone.

It feels very strange right now, to be away and to be taking the time out--with the Ferguson decision heavy in my mind, with all the hurt and the gaping holes so open right now.

And I've left behind a house full of family and the preparations for a major Thanksgiving production. Picking that all back up Wednesday evening will be a challenge.

But my soul cellar is recharging back to full. I know this will be necessary in the days and weeks and months to come.

*OK, idle is probably the wrong word, as we spent today making dozens upon dozens of tamales. Definitely storing food for the winter.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Praying for Ferguson, for justice, for every single one of us, and all of us.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Simple Joys

Telling jokes with my goddaughters.

They have figured out gross jokes...

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Why I Take Pictures

I keep my camera and my camera phone nearby most of the time. 

Not because I am an award-winning photographer.

Not because I am much for selfies.

But because I want to remember the sweet crazy wonderful chaotic bits of the universe. 

This picture here? A whimsical table at Sam's Burgers, Fries, and Pies, where we had lunch with the extended family today.

I also took a picture of a giant truck carrying propane canisters. And of my son sleeping with his feet against my shoulder. And of weird things I found at various markets around time.

Our lives are so much richer and wider than any set of headlines flashing across a screen. 

And when we're lucky, there's pie.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A strange compulsion

Today I briefly considered rendering lard from pork fat. 

Maybe I am getting a little too obsessed with next week's tamalada...

Thursday, November 20, 2014


I'm taking a couple of days next week to hang out with a couple of friends. Packing has started, in my own special way.

#1. Presents
#2. Books I might have time to read
#3. Groceries for a cooking adventure

At some point I'll throw some clothes and toiletries in the bag. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two Inches

I wore heels today. Small ones, to be certain, but I'm generally a flats sort of person. Gravity and I have a special relationship.

I'm sixty-four inches tall. So two-inch heels increase my height by... two inches. Five and a half feet is nothing. Being just two inches taller, though, is a noticeable shift in perspective. It's especially noticeable in my kitchen, where my barefoot self knows where every shelf and counter should be.

Tiny changes happen all the time, and sometimes something that seems insignificant can have a much larger impact--sometimes a blessing, sometimes a curse. Often uncomfortable.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Experi-fail, Thanksgiving Edition

I posted the other day about deciding to grill/smoke a turkey. Today I did the trial run.

The turkey was edible, and there was a certain novelty, but all in all, it was not a triumph.

  • It was rather a lot of work, including some butchery that was more than my kitchen shears and small hands could take on easily.
  • The smoke flavor was mild in the dark meat, and completely absent from the breast meat.
  • There were next to no drippings in the water pan I set up for that purpose, so I had to use the 'gravy bag' that comes with the turkey*. Meh.
As far as experiments go, I'm calling this one a fail, as it did not give me a viable option for Thanksgiving Day. I have many ideas of how it might be improved upon, if I have another low-risk opportunity to do the experiment again (work with turkey parts, adjust temps, start with boiling water in the drip pan to increase moisture in the system...) - but for the big day, I will stick with the tried and true.

*It turns out that my sons love that over-processed stuff the gravy bag makes. They claim it tastes like a pot pie. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Enemy Territory

It's football season and I'm a Packers fan.

I wanted to watch the Packers-Eagles game at a sports bar, so we headed to a new-to-us place... and realized that it was a place where all the Eagles fans hang out.


It was probably a good thing that I didn't wear my jersey or a hat or my cheesehead, but the first time the Packers scored, I let out a WOOOOT and my allegiance was obvious.

It was not an especially loving crowd, and a few guys would shout about the Packers sucking every time my team scored or made an especially effective play.  I kept from responding (this word suck--I do not think it means what you think it means...), but oy.

We closed our tab at halftime and headed to more neutral territory. Probably a very wise mood, as the Packers ended up with a thirty-three point advantage.

It seems a bit ridiculous to use such war words as "enemy territory" and "neutral territory." Fans 1400 miles from a stadium cannot control the course of the game. Whatever will be will be.

And yet, we feel the need to compete, even when it involves outcomes we absolutely cannot control.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Pre-Thanksgiving Experiment

I make a really tasty roasted turkey, and this year I'm considering ALSO doing a grilled/smoked turkey. 

Monday I will do a test run of something about like this:

It's a good thing I know taste-testers.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Before I came to Houston, I knew Tabasco. That was about it.

It turned out that there were all sorts of hot sauces, and I wanted to try them all.

Lately Cholula is my favorite--I get the original at restaurants, and use the chipotle at home. 

Imagine my surprise when I found FIVE varieties of Cholula at the store today!

I might need a bigger pantry.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Gumbo - things in their proper order

Step One: Cold Front
Step Two: Roast some chicken.
    Step Two- A: Let folks eat some, but not all, of the chicken.
Step Three: Make a good rich stock.
Step Four: Make gumbo.
    Step Four-A: Let folks eat the gumbo. 

We have a freeze warning tonight, which is pretty unreal for mid-November in Houston. We turned on the heat for the first time since...February?

Steps 1-3 have been handled. Tomorrow the gumbo magic happens. Making the roux, which takes half of forever but is totally worth it. Sauteing the holy trinity of celery, onion, and green bell pepper. Some garlic. Spices, and that delicious stock. Okra and file (sassafras) to give it a little more body and a vegetal bouquet. Add some of that chicken you kept folks from devouring.

Serve with rice and cornbread expect everyone to go back for seconds. Maybe thirds. There may be licking of bowls, or at least licking of the fingers used to clean the bowls. It's totally acceptable when the magic is this good.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When Help Is Offered

Food Network has an article up with 'hacks' to get through your Thanksgiving responsibilities.

One of the hints is "Corkscrew as Guest Deflector"- now, what they mean by this is having a few tasks already in mind for when guests ask "How can I help?"

But deflector? Ouch. I will admit that sometimes I *do* need people to get out of my kitchen. And I usually just say, "OK, I'm about to do something complicated and I will need my concentration." Sometimes they stay to cheer me on, and sometimes they scoot and give me a moment. (Especially if I start cursing. If I were to curse. Obviously, no one ever curses on Thanksgiving Day. Unless their beloved Packers are playing and having certain difficulties...)

What's on your list for when people want to help?
Do you have tasks in mind for when you're hosting events over the holidays?

When life isn't going well, and well-meaning folks want to share some burden of yours?
How about in the day by day interactions of a life? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Monday, November 10, 2014


My mother taught me to make paper chains as a physical countdown to events I was looking forward to. Each night before bed, I could remove a link and find myself closer to the special day.

I don't always make a chain, but I find it helpful to have a mental list of things I'm anticipating.

What TODAY are you looking forward to?

What this week?

What this month?

What's the big thing further out?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Just Take The Nap!

Sundays I earn a nap. 

Sunday mornings, while wonderful, take  a lot out of me, and I look forward to zonking for an hour or so.

On days when I have afternoon meetings, it is tempting to skip the nap and just go to bed early.

This doesn't work. I fall asleep in the middle of something, wake up at 10 PM, and then have a hard time getting back to sleep. It's a dangerous path toward watching really bad movies at 2 AM.

I'm not certain if I'm as whiny as a toddler who missed nap, but I wouldn't doubt it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Why Do We Do Hard Things?

Seriously- I'm wondering?

What drives us to do hard things, particularly when there's no particular reward for doing them?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Wild Party Night

My sons and I are staying in this evening.

Firstborn's plan? "Play video games until my eyes bleed."

Secondborn's? "I'm going to become one with the couch."


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Getting Past A Name

I'm binge-watching "Selfie" right now. I hadn't watched it because oy, who wants to watch a show about selfies?

It turns out, it's a really cute show, AND it has John Cho. I love this guy!

Thank goodness for friends who paid attention to something I so easily overlooked.

(You 'Unitarian Universalist'...)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"I gave her my heart. She gave me a pen."

Lloyd Dobler of Say Anything set the bar pretty high for romance in my teen years--so attentive and funny and sweet! And just edgy enough to be interesting and quotable!

Fictional characters, be they in film, books, or oral storytelling, can be so easy. Even when they're complicated, they're engineered to be compelling.

Who was that character who set your heart aflame?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Night Despair

Election day has a certain tendency to send people to either exuberance or the deepest pit of despair. 

Here in Texas, many progressives had hoped for a big change- making Texas blue. And it really did not happen. Margins came up wider than polls suggested. The status quo and the money men remain firmly in place.

The story in my home state of Wisconsin was similar. Oof.

Lots of folks I know are down down down in election night despair right now. But maybe it's time to pull out pickaxes and start mining?

My friend Jo wrote recently about the benefits of hopelessness, reflecting on Henry Cloud's Necessary Endings.  

What if this is the disappointment that makes folks really shift their strategies, step up their passion, and make the changes they want in their towns and states and country?

Change is hard.
Shrugging and cynicism would definitely be easier.
I close with these wise words from Texas hero Molly Ivins-

So keep fighting for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't forget to have fun doin' it. Be outrageous... rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through celebrating the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Things Pile Up

Can you see my pillow pet bear Tundra down there? He'd gotten trapped in the layers of my life. 

Like most mere mortals, I do not always do things in the most efficient and orderly way. 

When I walk in the door I tend to drop things wherever I stop.
When I need to clear the table, I tend to pile up all the little odds and ends... 

It has been a busy few weeks, to the point where my accumulations were drifts throughout my home. Today was the day to rescue my bear and restore some semblance of order to things.

Not done yet, but progress has happened. S'alright.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Scream Point

You can plan all you want.
Research all the possibilities.

Have a clear idea of your goals and boundaries.
And yet, there will come a moment when you just need to scream-that this just isn't going to work, that no one will come, that there's no reason for this heart's blood...

Perhaps projects just need to include a Scream Point as a recognized step in the process. Sort of like when childbirth educators teach us about transition--knowing the stage is coming makes us fear it a little less. 

The baby may be metaphorical here, but there's still likely to be angst, sweat, and probably some cussing. Expect it. Don't let it shut you down.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

With apologies to Andy Williams*

It's the most wonderful time of the year...
With that hour for sleeping
You won't catch me weeping -I'll be shouting clear-
Turn back your clocks at this time of the year!

For my US friends celebrating the reset from Daylight Saving Time, tonight's the night!

*Apologies also to songwriters Edward Pola and George Wyle