Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Vanilla: Put it in my stocking

Thinking holidays? Think giving. Here’s a really wide array of ideas:

Rethink Vanilla
The cookbook "Vanilla a Table: The essence of exquisite cooking from the world's best chefs" is Natasha MacAller's opening of the universe of vanilla. I wish I would've thought of that comment, but it is written right on the cover. It's true that she has made me think of vanilla in a completely different way. Recipes for vanilla sugar, vanilla salt, vanilla syrup and vanilla vinegar are the bases for many a recipe.
But have you thought of Vanilla Candied a Bacon Bits? Vanilla in civiche? With cocoa nib crusted foie gras? Are you hearing this? It is revolutionary.
Try vanilla and orange juice to bring out the sweetness of lobster.
I have never before constructed a fennel flan. When I do I will be reaching for vanilla oil. There are pages of savory options before even getting to desserts. We know what vanilla will do for bread pudding, roasted pineapple and butterscotch pudding. This book has opened my eyes to the pod and what it can do for meats.
This book tells vanilla's story. Give the book to someone who loves to cook. Someone who loves to cook for you.

Okay, Brio healthy ice cream, now at Central Markets across Texas, is not for leaving under the tree, but you can surely enjoy some by your tree as you relax after shopping. It comes in the flavors you want and offers 6 grams of protein per serving, a rich dose of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D as well as 24 other vitamins and minerals, the inclusion of Omega 3-6-9 and prebiotic fiber, and a powerful boost of antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E as well as selenium. The individual servings range from 160 to 170 calories and have half the fat,  75 percent  less cholesterol and 10 percent less sugar than similar flavors of super premium ice cream. I’m sweet on the coffee flavor while my husband likes Spring Strawberry. They’re smooth and do the trick without the guilt trip. Other flavors are Tropical mango, vanilla caramel and mellow dark chocolate. You can currently order Brio online at http://www.icecreamsource.com/  (MSRP $1.99) 4 oz cup.

Skin care
For the girls: Girls just want to have clear skin. Moms know this. Texas-based dermatologist Carole Aponte, M.D. and CEO Kelly Barker, developed P.R.E.P. Cosmetics (www.prepyourskin.com), the first dermatologist-founded, tested and recommended skincare line created for girls.
I’m pretty sure that if these women experience Texas weather, their products are good for these girls. I’ve been playing with the Purifying Daily Cleanser myself and it’s working for me.
The founders are encouraging young girls to take ownership of their skin and educate them on the dangers of sun exposure. See, nobody cared about that when we were young. The line includes SPF 30 Face + Body Lotion and SPF 15 Lip Gloss
For the women: Remember that old Saturday Night Live commercial for the product that is both a dessert topping and a floor wax? It came to mind when I heard about a serious, actual development from Grohen Technologies Ltd. Their line includes a blue vial of Intensive Facial Revitalizer Complex, made with seven natural oils including Evening of Primrose, Cucumber and Tea Tree. It feels good going on and I can’t get enough of it.
This line also includes a Feminine Wash that foams to clean the face and feminine areas. There’s a loofah and a microfiber sponge that comes from each use. The paperwork explains how the line’s renewal complex works in detail. Look it up. This is a gifting idea for someone who would not buy it for herself.


Friday, November 20, 2015

Garth House benefit is for the children

Garth House benefit is for the children

It’s not every day the Garth House is decked with lights, filled with music and couples in finery.
But it is always filled with love. Garth House is where children can feel support as they tell their story of abuse to professionals who can help. It’s a important service that everyone whishes was not needed. Listen to the statistics and know that dollars raised are being put to good use.
Pour Les Enfants observed a 25th anniversary of a well-run gala for good on Thursday. A tent goes up in the street and the auction items come out. Everything fro LSU and Aggie gift bags to huge Darth Vadar figures raised silent auction interest, then another tent with chandeliers set a magical mood as the live auction offered packages such as Up on the Rooftop, a Mildred Building wine party with a  presentation on antiques courtesy of Finders Fayre.
That would have been my pick, but the turkey hunt in Arkansas seemed popular, too.
The menu included a salad with dried cranberries, apples, walnuts and feta cheese; mayhaw-glazed pork loin and green beans with roasted garlic and orange zest Best meal I ever had in a tent.
Marion Tanner, executive director, said all these donations and bids are set in motion to help the all-too-many children the Garth House helps each year.
I thank those who work with the children, and those who bid generously to support this mission.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Goodwill toward a good book, good causes

The Christmas d├ęcor will come and go, but that wall of books at the back of the shiny, new Goodwill Industries should remain full.
“They seem to like every single thing we put out,” Gwendolyn Simon, the enthusiastic store manager, said.
Clothes and wares were sorted in colorful ways and employees dashed about, eager to serve, the day I dropped by. I attended the ground breaking as a Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce Ambassador and wanted to stop by to see the completed store, at 4352 FM 365.
Simon said clothes are  popular, and that back wall of books gets lots of attention.
“We have a great selection of books,” she said, and credited CEO Randy Jones for the big display, because of his love of reading.
She also mentioned Jones visits the stores and jumps in to help on the floor.
Then I called up Jones and chatted with him. Sounds like he does love a good book, and helping people in need. Everybody knows Goodwill is all about training and supporting people in our community. You can help by shopping as well as cleaning out our closets and garages to donate what can become someone else’s treasure.
“Our community supports us a great deal,” Simon said.

Give a goat, or some nice jewelry
We’re Americans. Of course we like stuff.
World Vision offers 6-year-old Chania of Burundi as a “cover girl” of their catalogue. She helps her family tend the fields and they could use a goat.
You can give that goat, or a well, for the holidays in a loved-one’s name. Or maybe, as Americans, you can browse that World Vision catalogue/website and order up some Vietnamese totes embroidered by disabled women for your bohemian niece and Capiz shell coasters made by Filipino artisans that would be just right for those pool parties your sister hosts.
Items, like the well-made and detailed bracelet I’m wearing as I type this are billed as momentos for gifts made for specific needs. It’s that word “specific” that brings additional joy to donations, because this organization looks to be getting funds to the right places. The product is weighty and classic and durable. Here’s the description:
Help where it's needed most — AND receive a gift for yourself or someone you care about! Your gift to help where most needed will address specific, urgent needs that might otherwise go unmet for a child, family, or community. As a memento of this gift, you'll receive this gorgeous, adjustable silver cuff bracelet with an intricately laced vine pattern, designed by artisans in Old Delhi, India. This stunning piece is the result of once-mistreated jewelry makers banding together to support their families through fair trade practices.”
There’s a range of very tempting goods that will make shoppers – I should say givers – very joyful this holiday season.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

McKinney is “magical” fun in North Texas

       When someone mentioned I should see the Croatian Village model while in McKinney, I was wondering if it was a tabletop LEGO model.
       I was headed to this near-Dallas area with my husband and asked a pro to point me to good times.
       Adriatica is a life-sized spread filled with beautiful homes, eateries and a lake, all designed with old-world charm. A tower and a chapel highlight the landscape. My favorite part is brick homes that have spaces for spiritual quotes built right into the outer walls. It’s beautiful.
       Here’s a funny bit. I did see a LEGO model of a church altar. Talk about detail. It was in the office of St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in McKinney. I attended morning Mass and a talk there and met some very hospitable people who loved sharing McKinney with me.
       We were treated to Spoon’s, in the town square. It was kind of crowded, so we were shown around back to the “Garage” section where coffee comes in compact and SUV sizes to go with the theme. A plate of migas later and it was time for more adventures.
       The town square is bustling with antique, clothing and gift shops. At Mom&Popcorn we tasted a Frito Pie blend. It’s hard to top the McKinney, with a sweet and spicy snap.
       Main Street Magic shop was another hot tip. We got a magic trick from David Grubbs, who offered quite a production and history talk to our party of four. Grubbs has great stories and happened to have a magic industry magazine with the store featured on the front cover.
       McKinney is a sprawling city with a long list of major employers and neighborhoods of spanking new homes spread out over the hills. Even the fast food restaurants are have designer, stony exteriors. The best part of this visit was meeting some of the people who call it home.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

'My Fat Dad' offers tasty memories, life lessons

‘My Fat Dad’ offers tasty memories, life lessons
Dawn Lerman grew up in my time frame, but in Chicago and New York, where her fat dad could visit Dr. Atkins and have him phone in dad’s lunch order at his club.
He was a successful ad exec making slogans we all know, such as  “Fly the Friendly Skies,” “Coke is It,” and “Leggo My Eggo.” He went up to 450 pounds and loved food. Her mother was happy to eat a can of tuna over the sink.
Lerman learned to cook from her grandmother, Beauty, who put love in every recipe. The book “My Fat Dad’ would have been great just hearing about Beauty, with recipes at the end of each chapter. But then readers get to head to New York city, where her new lunch buddies pull things like lobster salad out of their Partridge Family lunch boxes. Our young hero is exposed to gourmet and health food, while still hanging on to the Jewish recipes of her youth.
So Mom still likes frozen TV dinners while Lerman still likes shopping for the freshest ingredients for her carob cookie business. She loves to experiment with flavors and does not have the weight problem Dad has. He loses half his weight at a “ricer” fat farm, then struggles upon his return home.
This food journey book yields a delight on every page as we grow up with Dawn, and try some of her flavors, like the Italian Sunday Gravy story and recipe she got from a homeless angel.
I can’t stop talking about “My Fat Dad.”

‘Leading Ladies,’ The Farce is with them
Who doesn’t love a good door-slamming, mistaken identity, men-in-dresses kind of theatrical production.
Sean McBride, your favorite Port Arthur News movie critic, is directing “Leading Ladies” for Beaumont Community Players.
Saturday, Oct. 31 is the final showing if this funny show where two English actors pretend to be long-lost nieces to inherit a fortune. There’s a Shakespeare play-within-a-play and romantic get-togethers and breakups as well. You’re in for a good time. Roller skating Audrey, played by Kaasaundra Davis, just about steals the show, but every one of the cast has his or her or his-and-her moments.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tabasco peppers offer a kiss of spice

         I’m such a Tabasco fan that I’ve been to Avery Island in Louisiana three times. It looks different every time I go, and I love it. It’s where they bottle the stuff that’s been to the moon.
         Remember when everybody was sporting Tabasco ties? Now there’s a fancy souvenir shop with goodies to serve your sauce in style and adorn your kitchen. The product line is over the top with sports editions and flavors including the latest, raspberry chipotle. They had to pry me away from the tasting station.        
         The best part is the factory tour where you get mini bottles as souvenirs, get to see a film that takes you through the process of checking peppers for ripeness with the red stick, or baton rouge, method and a look at the bottling and labeling.
         My family drove through the island’s Jungle Gardens, making stops at bamboo, Buddha aviary and botanical scenes. We spotted a baby gator in a mossy swamp and spied birds from a walking trail.
         I was sorely tempted to pick a pepper from one of the bushes lining the walkways near the plant entrance. They were covered with chicken wire to protect them from birds (and tourists), so I felt that would be wrong. Then someone pointed out some tiny peppers had fallen to the ground, and it would be a shame if they were wasted. So I ate one.
         My husband saw my put that fresh, red, potent pepper in my mouth and I immediately asked if I could kiss him. For some reason he was surprised at how spicy that kiss was and wasn’t pleased at all.
         The best I could offer as a remedy was to guide him back to the tasting station where and offer him some Tabasco-flavored ice cream to help him put the fire out.
         I think I have finally been forgiven.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tiny forks could help Steven the Stomach

Just a bite
         I’m a fan of tiny forks and spoons. Vintage pickle and cocktail forks, found tucked away on antique shelves or bargain priced at estate sales are fun finds that come with a bonus. These delicate utensils make my dining experience “bigger.”
         A tiny fork inspires tiny bites and the food tastes so much better when I savor instead of “shovel.”
         Young Life manages area estate sales that I’m loving. I picked up my first “set” of four Nobility Plate forks. It’s fun to look online and try to discover a history behind a found fork. Or maybe I’ll make up a story for all the parties they must have served.
         I just may keep one in my purse to remind me to slow down at restaurants, too.

Why is Steven so upset?
         In a new children’s book, Raymond Brain is sending cake, cola, candy and  ice cream down to Steven so quickly he can’t break it all down.
He’s thinking of sending it back up.
         That reference is about it for “gross factor” in Justin Noble’s helpful book. Ann Bonin illustrates Steven as a muscled little stomach in a yellow hard hat on a line, just trying to keep up with the incoming junk food. The taste buds are happy, but even Lyle Liver has to question the brain.
         Raymond Brain later apologizes to our hero and promises to do better. I hope I can remember this sage advice to young readers next time I’m tempted to go back for thirds and raid the pantry. I don’t want my own “Steven” to have to work so hard.
         Noble and his wife, Le-Ann, created My Body Village Series. In his asthmatic youth, the author’s parents found a book that helped him understand what was happening to his body. I think this is a great idea for families. Look up “Artie’s Party Featuring the Vita-Men!” and more, at www.MyBodyVIllage.com.