Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Go Asian with your New Year’s spread
Eric Akis thinks like I do: He thinks of Asian food for New Year’s Day. But believe me, he thinks of way more amazing things than I have experienced. Akis can convince readers they can do amazing things for themselves and their guests in “Everyone Can Cook For Celebrations: Seasonal Recipes for Festive Occasions.” If you want something new for the new year, try The Emperor’s Fried Rice, Mandarin Cranberry Tarts with Ganache, No-Fuss Yorkshire Puddings or this easy one I aim to try:
Emerald and White Jade Soup
7 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
To taste, freshly ground black pepper
2 10-ounce packages soft tofu, cut into _- inch squares
4 cups baby spinach, stems removes, leaves thickly sliced
Place the stock, ginger, garlic, soy sauce and pepper in a pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Divide the tofu among eight heated, shallow soup bowls. Swirl the spinach into the simmering stock and cook for 1 minute, until just wilted but still vibrant green. Ladle the soup into the bowls; serve immediately.

Beer parings
Beer and cheese is the new wine and cheese, according to Del Papa Distributing Company. They have a Beer Gourmet Program and make these suggestions:
• Bud Light with Triple-Cream Brie Cheese
• Budweiser with Aged Cheddar Cheese
• Budweiser with Aged Gouda Cheese
• Michelob ULTRA Amber with Smoked Baby Swiss and Lavasch Crackers
• Michelob AmberBock with Gorgonzola Bruschetta
• Michelob Lager with Red and Yellow Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella and anchovies drizzled with balsamic vinegar
• Michelob ULTRA with fresh melon wrapped in prosciutto ham
• Michelob Light with cheddar and jalapeno summer sausage and red grapes
Limited edition chips
I hope that folks who live far away from the South get a chance to taste Zapp’s Potato Chips of Grammercy, La. Folks in these parts love their thick, crispy flavors. VooDoo Gumbo is a limited edition kettle recipe that makers claim was an accident born when a pallet of spices dropped and made a new mix.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Plan ahead, and take time to yourself this new year
I’m always planning, even when I’m relaxing. This final week of 2009 I’m sharing ideas for a few goodies to pamper/organize yourself (to me it’s the same thing) and a few book ideas to stimulate the mind.
News fans, thanks for reading!

Wonder Hanger
While I loooovvveee hand-me-downs, I have something of a wonder going on in my closet. Almost all of the clothes in there are those I picked myself. I thank Weight Watchers for helping me slim down and I’ve been thrilled to donate my larger sizes to Missions’ Attic.
Imagine the extra closet space I have. But I’m not stopping there. My nerd, OCD obsession with order has brought me to Wonder Hanger, as seen on TV, that promises to triple closet space. Plastic spacers enable you to loop five coat hangers onto a rack that swings out when you need it. It really, really works. I love it. Now all my T-shirts and button downs can live together in color-coded harmony.
You can get 20 pounds of jackets, purses, etc. on Wonder Hanger, no matter if you use plastic or wire hangers. No matter what Joan Crawford says, my mother is sticking to wire hangers.
I’m also checking out Twin Draft Guard, a strip of the same foam used to insulate pipes in Northern Canada, that can insulate a door or window and also block fumes and noise. You’ll love this: it’s machine washable. The hanger and guard should cost you about $9.99 each at major retailers including Walmart, Target, Bed Bath & Beyond and Walgreens.

The Paraguay bath
I was thrilled to get a big block of chocolate that is actually a soap bar. The square chunk of Snow Cleansing Blend made me sing the “White Christmas” song about washing my hair and face with snow. Wembè Amazon Soul is named for the “monster fruit” of the Southern Atlantic rain forest and was born from a mother’s fascination with soap making developed through a trip to Europe. She went home and cooked up bars from local products, including mango, yerba mate, black clay, avocado, passionfruit, seaweed and coconut. She and her son expanded the business to America so we can bathe Paraguay style with exotic scents and textures. Give yourself a New Year’s treat by sampling the 16 varieties in the 2010 collection of soap bars so interesting, even your kids will beg to take a bath.

Yak Pak
Just because the Yak Pak catalogue shows hip college students dashing about town with their cool messenger, bowler and cross body bags doesn’t mean all ages can’t move their goodies around in one. In fact, the Megu is all about the Mardi Gras, even if the designers didn’t know it. It’s a Japanese word meaning blessing, and this cotton twill hobo has enough purple and green to say “let the good times roll” to Southeast Texans. Tote your throws in this hobo or go with pop florals sure to take you back to the ‘70s. I think there’s a lot of good pocket, zipper and snap detail inside.

“Fly-Fishing Secrets of the Ancients: A Celebration of Five Centuries of Lore and Wisdom”
By Paul Schullery
I sit by Mary Meaux, reporter/fisherwoman. I’ve never even been fishing, but I’ve come to recognize a “good fishing day” by the weather. This University of New Mexico Press book shares “provocative theories” and such he dug up and “current angling dogma.”
 The book shows an illustration from a German publication in the ‘20s of women soaking and washing small fleece sheets upon which cultivated silkworms had laid their eggs. Eggs would then be “awakened,” warmed and hatched so new silkworms could be raised and harvested.

“Celebrating 100 Years of the Texas Folklore Society”
Organized history buffs know where to look for the stories. Get them all together and they get to talking … or writing. In this new University of North Texas release, fans send up their famous group in collections of anecdotes and columns.
“Do we brag? You bet,” Scott Hill Bumgardner. “The stories of our diverse peoples have been derived from Vietnamese boat people, Mexican peons, healers, oilmen and more. But for me, the addition began with the society’s editor, J. Frank Dobie. Dobie brought the history and lore of Texas to life.”

“Grace” and “Roseborough”
By Jane Roberts Wood
I haven’t yet read these, but I can’t wait to tell you about them. The author lives in Argyle and set “Grace” in the east Texas town of Cold Spring in 1944, a the community waits for war to end. The other novel features a recent widow whose teen takes off and who finds her job at the Dairy Queen “grounding.” Sounds like Texas to me. The University of North Texas Press books are No. 3 and 4 in the Evelyn Oppenheimer Series.
I saved my Ten Fidy Imperial Stout for a good rye bread and deli meat sandwich and was not disappointed. Oskar Blues Brewery of Lyons, Colorado, is part of the new trend of making you laugh. The can marks itself as half-baked, fully-roasted ale that is cross-eyed, cyclopean and canupiscent. I looked up that last word and found concupiscent, meaning lustful or sensual. So I laughed and learned a new word indicating that maybe beer does make you smarter (It made Bud weiser). But I do want to share that it was rich and fragrant and satisfying, too. All the Ten Fidy products are thought-provoking.

Give to Caesar
I usually feel bad for folks who routinely dine from cardboard boxes. I tried a very satisfying line of gluten and wheat free Italian meals from Caesar’s, but I still urge consumers to put it on a plate, please. Seriously, you can imagine you’re in a restaurant with manicotti or stuffed shells with cheese in marinara sauce, or various lasagnas. Creamy ricotta cheese and rice flour noodles are in spicy sauces. It felt very filling on a cold winter’s day. May I suggest, you also use your good silver and a crystal goblet for a change.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Got $10 bucks? Make “caviar.”
Being a budget gourmet is sort of my hobby. It’s a challenge that brings poached orange scallops with mint, peppered sirloin with cranberry reduction and wasabi burgers with green pepper and parmesan into your life.
In “The $10 Gourmet: Restaurant-Quality Meals That Won’t Break Your Budget,” Canadian celebrity chef Ken Kostick offers chicken gumbo with white wine and sun-dried tomato that looks like a bowl of jambalaya, with no liquid in sight. His jambalaya with chorizo and mussels acknowledges rice is the dish’s constant and as for flavors, anything goes.
They may not be traditional, but they do look amazing. I’ve long tried to convince co-workers that being broke doesn’t mean overpriced frozen food, instant noodles and unhealthy fast food. Photos in this book could convince them. Kostic starts with a $50 pantry and inspires diners to shop fresh and seek sales for basics and accents such as this:

Mushrooms & Apple Caviar
2 cups chopped button mushrooms
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup apple juice
1 cup vegetable stock
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
_ teaspoon dried basil
_ teaspoon oregano
Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook the mixture on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve over pasta, rice or grilled foods.

Log on
My coworkers still remember the mushroom log I had at my desk in the old building. For one memorable week, the dark, damp log produced mushrooms you could snap off and eat.
I got the second log of my life from Gourmet & Mushroom Products of Graton, Calif, the people making fungus fun. This log produced some big ol’ shrooms that flavored a satisfying rice dish, but the best part is just watching them grow. It’s a conversation starter. Just keep your log wet and watch the little guys form. You can chop up the log for composting. Gotta love nature.

Go barefoot
While slinky silver sandals are holiday standards, revelers can go informal with Barefoot Wine’s moscato for about $8. It’s sweet with pear and lemon flavors that makers suggest can aide in your holiday cooking. Try two tablespoons in your pumpkin pie recipe. The wine, paired with fruit and cheese, could be one of the lower calorie meals of the season that feels like a splurge. Here’s a colorful one designed to brighten the holiday.

4 ounces (1/2 cup) Barefoot Moscato
2 ounces (1/4 cup) cranberry juice
2 ounces (1/4 cup) orange liquor
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) fresh lime juice
2 slices lime
Shake all ingredients with ice.
Strain into a chilled martini glass.
Garnish with lime peel.  Serves 2.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The stars at night are big and bright
Dark December nights make for the best star viewing deep in the heart of Texas. I finally understood constellations in just one night, thanks to “The Night Sky,” a glow-in-the-dark guide you take outside to help you find the sparkle in the sky. Power it up with your flashlight, then head out to view Orion, Canis Major and Andromeda. I’ve had lots of overworked guides that have just confused me, but this one is simple and just right. I’ll be flipping it over in no time for the summer sky view. Waterford Pocket Guides open a new world of science, nature, travel and language.

“Firsts: Origins of Everyday Things That Changed the World”
By Wilson Casey
Instant coffee may have been around since 1771, but Nestle produced Coffee-Mate, the first nondairy instant creamer, in 1961. Have a cup while you ponder other tidbits from this conversation-starter of a book:
• Leonardo da Vinci described and sketched the first ideas for contact lenses in 1508.
• Ancient Egyptians used henna to darken gray hair, nails and lips.
• A Chinese treatment of gum disease in 2700 B.C.E. suggested rinsing the mouth with urine.

“Personal Finance for Dummies”
By Eric Tyson
Overdrawn from the holidays?
“This book has some great tips,” my test reader told me. “There’s tips throughout the book, which make it easy to read.”
Icons point out issues of concern. Here’s some quick tips:
Use your credit card only for convenience, not for carrying debt.
Don’t buy consumer items with credit — like cars, clothes, vacations — that lose value over time.
Invest at least 5 to 10 percent of your income for retirement.
Research before you buy, especially when it comes to investments.

Libations for a toast
This New Year’s, pair potatoes with Maine blueberries. You get Cold River Vodka in flavors your guests will remember. It’s got a cool 3-D bottle that you could transform into some sort of snow globe if you were crafty, like people tend to get after New Year’s parties. Please drink responsibly.
Sobieski Truth Serum is a festive-looking drink made with Poland’s No. 1 premium vodka and cranberry tea. Cytron and vanilla are the company’s two new flavors, made with Dankowski Rye with natural vanilla and citrus flavor, which I recently tried all by themselves. It was as refreshing as our recent snow. Sobieski makers are proud of a brand that’s authentic and affordable and I’d have never thought of this recipe using the “original” flavor:
Green Concept
Sobieski Vodka
Triple Sec (Marie Brizard)
Cucumber wheels
Fresh lime juice
Lemon-lime soda
Muddle cucumber slices with lime juice in an old-fashioned glass. Add ice, vodka, triple sec and top with soda.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Work pomegranate into your Indian holiday fantasy

Photo spreads of silver dishes, elephant trinkets, golden fried and curried foods, wines and candlelit tables, I think the image of the well-stocked pantry, with rows of neatly-labeled bins and jars, is my favorite in “Entertaining from an Ethnic Indian Kitchen.” Some call Komali Nunna the Indian Martha Stewart for her attention to detail and a clear love of putting on a show. Readers will want to stage, or be invited to, every scenario in this thick picture book. Recipes include far-from standard takes on classics. Inspired by these exotic flavors, I am to soon fry banana in coconut oil and explore a range of curries. Here is one extremely easy project for your holiday table:
Pomegranate Glaze
1 cup pomegranate syrup
1 tablespoon ginger juice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir everything together in a small sauce pan. Heat over medium-low heat until heated thoroughly.
There are no further directions, but in context from the book, I’d try this on rice, meat, fruit or in a drink.

Icing on the anything
I have great tips that I never even plan to use. I know you can snip the corner from a sandwich bag of icing and improvise a piping tool, but it still sounds tedious. Betty Crocker presents cans of flavorful cupcake icing with drawing, ribbon, leaf and star tips built into the lid. You can instantly personalize cookies, cakes, etc., (even if they came from the supermarket). Picture this innovation amid children creating holiday cookie masterpieces. I know we’re not supposed to mind the mess, but hey, this product will unleash your genius and help you clean up. Go Betty.

Power to the chocolate
A decade ago I thought my friend was downright snooty with her dark chocolate ways. She liked this European style and I was fine with my American milk chocolate. Oh, how times have changed. I’m all about the dark stuff, and it’s a challenge to get that cocoa content up, up, up. Sometimes it tastes like bitter motor oil, but I love it. The dark is supposed to be better for you, in moderation, so it’s no surprise Navitas Naturals sells a brick of raw chocolate paste, packaged by the pound in a beautiful gold wrapper that looks like a gift to be placed at the manger. Suggested uses are to include it in truffles, for magnesium; desserts for dietary fiber; and energy bars for iron. I’ve been stabbing it with a knife to splinter off dark dust to eat by the spoonful. I imagine it would be good as a garnish over something with whipped cream. I have a lot of brick left. The company has sweet cacao nibs that are crunchy, dark and sexy. I want to use them as “croutons” on a spinach salad with mandarin oranges and olive oil vinaigrette.
Shaman update: Your love of chocolate can help the Huichol Indians in Western Mexico and the Sierra Madre Mountains. Shaman Chocolates supports educational and other efforts for these people who have made chocolate a part of their culture. Blend their world with your love of dark chocolate with green tea and ginger, acai, raspberries, coconut or pink sea salt. I’m just getting started with their list. Golden boxes of chocolate bits of heaven, shaped like flowers, are stocking stuffers with a cause.

Crystallized ginger is the new sugarplum fairy
It can be a candy alone or a sweet addition to cookie, breads and cake. Crystallized ginger can make your rice and fish dish go Asian or fill a baked pear or apple. Frieda’s packages a soft version of sugar-coated ginger that can take the taste back to a Victorian Christmas setting. It’s crazy good out of the bag. This flavor is as old as the emperors or as fusion forward as a drink garnish. The company has other amazing ideas. I’d love to see chocolate-dipped ginger on a New Year’s party spread or snip some into cranberry sauce. Remember holiday travelers, sailors used ginger to settle the stomach.

A good cheese
A chunk of cheese can be your meal. You’re supposed to eat dairy every day, why not make it a treat? I just tried some that tasted like candy to me. Knowledge is power. I read that cows grazing on grasses of the famous Dutch Beemster Polder in North Holland, which is 20 feet below sea level, make milk “sweeter and softer.” Pay attention Nederland cheese lovers. The blue sea clay helps cows give Beemster Premium Gourmet Dutch Cheese a butterscotch, whiskey and pecan flavor. I knew I was right. It’s cheese candy. I tried classic and X.O. alone, but I’m willing to try suggestions of pairing it with rich, red wine; pasta; salads; and sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rauschenberg mentioned in ‘Meaningful Living’ book
Port Arthur native Robert Rauschenberg gets a nod for inspiration in a new coffee table book, “The Art of Meaningful Living,” by Christopher Brown and John Palmer
The late Rauschenberg, the internationally-famous artist, apparently said that he works with things until he is bored or understands, words which he uses interchangeably. Authors say he transcended monotony of everyday things by finding beauty in them.
The mind doesn’t have a delete button, so you can’t just empty the trash of negative self talk. Listen for programmed thoughts, but not to them, this book reads. Brown has a private psychotherapy practice in Houston and Palmer, of Houston, has contributed abstract artwork for a useful and attractive coffee table book. Thoughts on listening to your reasonable “wise mind” and quotes from great thinkers, including Obi Wan Kenobi fill the book. If you actually leave it on the coffee table, I wonder if guests can get some insight by perusing it while a hostess readies the appetizers.

Here’s some other finds to make you holiday sparkle for you and others:
Pretty as a picture
A dollar cake mix and a new poinsettia cake pan from Nordic Ware could be the hit of your holiday spread. The non-stick cast aluminum pan turns your cake, bread or mold into a big, 3-D sculpture. I can’t turn out enough creations and everyone who has seen it wants to try it. Clever and Christmassy. There’s a wreath version, too.
Walmart is advertising gifts that won’t break the bank, including:
• Paula Deen bakeware and accessories like a 3-Piece Mixing Bowl set, pie plate or measuring cup set.
• New appliances like the GE Digital Hand Mixer for $29 to make mixing easier.
• Bake for the season with seasonal cookie cutters starting at $2.50.
• Transport your goodies with Mainstays Covered Cake Pans.
Sparkle season
It’s time to pop corks, or at least unscrew caps, to lift a glass. My mother, a fan of anything that sparkles, enjoyed R. W. Knudsen’s Sparkling Pomegranate drink that turned an ordinary meal into a bit of a celebration. This fruit is showing up in everything and this one’s a keeper. It has more flavor than Champaign, though I suppose a blend of the two could keep the party going. Try it in your own recipe.

“The Sweethearts’ Knitting Club” By Lori Wilde
Here’s a spicy stocking stuffer:
I know some knitters, so I couldn’t resist a paperback romance set in north Texas about a girl’s decision to finally marry the sheriff she’s been dating for 10 years and going back to the bad boy just released from prison. The “good guy” was her public high school sweetie and the bad boy was her secret one in a town that has a tourism economy based on reuniting former lovers. Flynn is working on her mother’s dying dream, to open the Yarn Barn, but her own secret is that she can’t even knit herself. Wilde spins a yarn of racy fun in Twilight. I forgot just how racy romances are these days. Put down your needles and pick up this book.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bake a gift or try a heart-attack sandwich
Take a cake walk with Marcy Goldman, or try her Weekend in New England Cranberry Scones or Dueling-Dough Apple Pie. Whatever you choose from “The New Best of Better,” offering more than 200 classic recipes from the “beloved baker’s website,” will make your holidays brighter. They had me at bread pudding muffins (dessert or breakfast?).
This season, we may consider baking all about the chocolate and nuts, but this book covers you with everything from your own Cuban sandwich bread to pretzels and bagels, and even the sauces to go with. Try the following on pizza:
Sun-dried tomato pesto
1 28-ounce jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
10 cloves garlic
1/2 to 1 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Put the tomatoes in a medium bowl and add very hot water to cover. Stir for a few minutes, then drain. This softens the tomatoes and gets rid of some of the packing oil. In a food processor, combine the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Puree until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

The funny guy can cook
Pierre A. Lamielle looks like he’s being punished … forced to eat a rutabaga … on the back of his book “Kitchen Scraps.” His acknowledgment is an apology to his parents and his goals include illustrating a children’s cookbook with his longtime man-crush, chef Jamie Oliver. If you like stories with your food consider the tale of Vinnie “Vicious Fishes” DiMare’s risotto with the fishes or the blessed eggs of St. Ben “Benny” Benedictus, a chicken herder who dreamed of a creamy sauce for his poached eggs. Amazingly funny drawings accompany this book like no other. This guy can really cook, with offerings such as Babushka Grannies’ Battle of the Borscht and Puttanesca Prostitute, but I imagine a party at his house includes way more than just culinary fun. Here’s just a wee sample to get a flavor of his style:

Heart attack sandwich
6 slices thick-cut bacon
3 eggs
4 thick slices of gleaming white fiberless bread
3 1-ounce slabs of cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Potato chips
In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Place the bacon directly onto a plate, and not on paper towels — we want all the excess grease.
Now, the bacon has left behind a pan full of bacon drippings. Fry the eggs in it, cooking the yolks hard to keep them from spilling out in the sandwich later. Transfer the eggs to the same plate as the bacon.
Layer the sandwich like so … bread, cheese, egg, bacon, mayonnaise, potato chips, bread … and so on, until you have three layers of filling smooshed between four pieces of bread. Using what is left of the bacon fat, fry the sandwich until it is golden brown on both sides.
Makes 1 memorable last meal.

Ice cream makers have done the math
Math and ice cream don’t mix for me, but Dryers/Edy’s Slow Churned Ice Cream has mixed up a new flavor for the holidays. Hot Cocoa has marshmallows swirled in to the blend. My plan is to go down the list and try eggnog, peppermint and pumpkin pie, as well. Makers say they’ve done the math to calculate your waistline concerns because these flavors are still “light.” It’s a good thing, because you’ll want more. I do. Portion control is the key, so you still have to read the label, but get this: A serving of Slow Churned Hot Cocoa Ice Cream has 280 fewer calories and 12 fewer grams of fat than a 16 ounce serving of traditional hot chocolate. Try it through January.

At some point, you’re going to actually crave healthy foods after this holiday season. Get FrutziO ready. The freeze-dried fruits do seem, as the space-age silver bag reads, “sinfully indulgent,” but the 100 calories offer forgiveness. Crispy Green's new Apples & Strawberries FruitziO is a suitable stocking stuffer for children and adults.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Get in the spirit: It’s OK to shop now
As promised, here is Stocking Stuffer Report Part II, offering goodies to lift your spirits this holiday season:

Organize your shopping strategy
I may be weird to think the gift of organization is cool, but I’m excited about what’s up with Expo, the dry erase board leaders. Our staff is currently writing inspirational quotes on our board and some go through the trouble to draw a little image. I’ve stumbled into Expo click, a retractable version of the popular pen with low odor. I confess, I kind of liked the odor, but sensitive people should really be able to tell the difference. I like the starter kit with markers, a bottle of cleaner and an eraser. Think teacher gifts. With a pack like this, you’re ready to get the word out.

Pop fun
My current calorie-counting strategy for the holidays is to eat anything offered to me at parties, and eat popcorn every night. I could do that a long time, really. Walmart is offering $15 appliances designed to be hostess gifts, buy you may want to check out the slider grill, George Forman Quesadilla Maker or Mr. Coffee Cocomotion hot chocolate machine for yourself. I’m in love with the Presto Air Popper that is so powerful you must be warned to keep children away and avoid metal bowls that could burn you from the piping hot corn. I’d been making do with an ancient air popper, and find this one has a butter melter on top (oh, joy!). My variations have included olive oil, coconut oil and palm sugar and Chick Magnet Southwest Chicken Rub from Denny Mike’s BahBQue Made in Maine line. DennyMike also has a pungent slatherin’ sauce that comes in a flask-shaped bottle, which actually does fit in a stocking.

Cup double take
Seeing is not believing when it comes to the new Eco Cup. DCI makes I am Not a Paper Cup, an earth-friendly insulated travel mug that looks like what it proclaims not to be. The white porcelain cup with a silicone lid looks like a coffee house paper disposable. When you go to pick it up, it’s heavy. This makes people smile. It reminds me of a movie I saw about a bagel paperweight. I have the new DCI Eco Cup that has a brown band around the mug. It looks even more real, but you can help the earth using it again and again, while you get curious inquiries.

Reindeer udder?
A cow is on Dr. Hess Udder Ointment labels, but perhaps Santa’s reindeer could also get relief from chapped skin with this product that has been around about 100 years. When the company discontinued it, they found farmers and fans, who used the balm on their hands, wouldn’t let them stop, so now Dr. Hess has released a Baby Butts label for diaper rash. This past year Udder Sticks became available for on-the-go healing. Soldiers in Iraq are using it for dry skin and chapped lips and it’s also good for winter cuticle protection. Chemotherapy patients are also getting Dr. Hess’ relief. Over the years makers have added vitamin E and jojoba oil. This product goes on thick and has a bit of a grandma smell, but that’s comfort balm like you want working on you this winter.

“Return to Sawyerton Springs”
By Andy Andrews
I do seem to recall hearing Andy Andrews as a comic. Now I associate him with good, old-fashioned Americana, and that is a compliment in these troubled times. This book features tales from his Alabama childhood, with anecdotes about the time he asked his pastor father to borrow the car. Dad said he could, when he got a haircut. Andy reminded him that Jesus had long hair, and pops reminded his son that Jesus walked everywhere.
Andrews also as authored “The Traveler’s Gift” and “The Noticer,” which remind readers to shift perspective on what’s important in life.

Juan and the Jackalope
By Rudolfo Anaya, illustrated by Amy Cordova
What would a hero do to get rhubarb pie with frijoles and ice cream? The author based his race tale on stories from his uncle Juan in New Mexico, but the story takes a Texas turn. If you’ve heard any Mexican folklore, you’ll love this modern take on La Llorona, Kookooee and others. It starts off with a gathering of the children: “I’ll tell you a tale. You can read it now or check your e-mail.”

Senior yoga
I’m in awe of the fit senior citizens at the Port Arthur YMCA and admire their willingness to work to stay flexible and fit.
Seniors just starting out an exercise plan at home can use chairs for stability in Peggy Cappy’s CD “Yoga for the Rest of Us.”
It’s not that I ever did laugh at yoga, but I sure won’t now that I’ve tried “Yoga for the Rest of Us: Heart Healthy Yoga.” Sure it’s slow and steady, but if you do it right you can even feel a good, deep breath. She goes through the poses real slow like, so you can keep the pace. I’m not bendy enough for some of them, but I can tell that I could be, with just a tad of Cappy’s motivation. It’s simple stuff, and I enjoyed interviews at the end with students sharing the good energy and mobility they gained from yoga.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving flavors part of a trend

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers. I hope you are eating well.
I shared McCormick’s Flavor Forecast pairing predictions earlier. There’s still time to incorporate them into your holiday meal. Here’s how I’ve been enjoying some of them, including vanilla and red food coloring:
Warm spices & pumpkin: I’ve taken tips to stir canned pumpkin into oatmeal and smoothies and add McCormick’s Pumpkin Pie spice right in. It gives you the holiday flavor without so many calories.
Ginger & molasses, baked into Amish Friendship bread. I substituted sugar for the rich, gooey molasses and it smelled so good a neighbor came and got a bite.
Nutmeg & Rum: Think eggnog truffles, or again, I’m trying McCormick imitation rum for a breakfast smoothie with banana.
Peppermint & chocolate: My grandmother always said peppermint soothes the stomach. I felt much better after mixing mint extract into Ghirardelli chocolate chips. I didn’t have a plan on what to put this mixture on, so I just enjoyed it from the spoon.

A timely gift:
My family quizzed me with culinary flash cards. Ghigo Press has three amazing calendars on coffee, spices and wine grapes and extremely helpful cards with artful photography on one side and history, tips and pairings on the other. I aced the spices test, but got tripped up by the beautiful photos. I’d never considered lemongrass from the extreme root close up or worked with such a well-lighted expanse of wasabi in green powder form. I love the spices best, but had most to learn from the grape shots. From Aglianico to Zinfandel, they all look different. I learned that my fave, merlot, is named from “merle,” French for “blackbird.” Foodies will love the calendars all year long and the cards for even longer.
An idea from the coffee cards is to make layered ice pops to stick into a martinia glass of crushed ice. A presentation like that will show a guest you care.

Juiced up
Next time, I may try a mint, purple onion and pomegranate salsa.
I’ve been looking forward to daily “shots” of Naturally Pomegranate drink from Agrolabs. We’ve been hearing for years how good this antioxidant is for you and this blend is a particularly delicious one that’s good in tea, straight up or in a cocktail. It comes in a 16-ounce bottle and it’s a good thing I’ve learned to read labels: the bottle is 16 servings.

Chicken soup season
Spoonful of Comfort is “made and sent with love to warm your heart.” This company is sending a pickle-jar sized package of soup, rolls and cookies to your door, which could be especially valuable as the nation focuses on flu. My mother, who has been making soup for decades, found the soup especially flavorful and appreciated the “chewy” wide noodles. I have to say, the yellow and white polkadot ribbons around the packages sure did perk up the delivery. The Florida company doesn’t use additives or preservatives.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Silver soap, crystal-charge polish remover among seasonal beauty finds
Don’t be jealous of the French. America has just started selling L’Oréal Paris Elnett Satin, what the company calls “a legendary hairspray used by hairstylists around the world.” When I saw the gold can and the stylized woman drawn on the label, it reminded me of products my mother used in the ‘70s. It smelled and felt that way, too. My daughter actually asked if the can was “vintage.” I agreed it looked old school, but it’s L’Oréal, so I trust it. I agree that the micro-diffusion allows for even application and appreciate its “humidity protection.” Makers say it has an “ultra-fine formula that provides exceptional hold and disappears at the stroke of a brush, leaving hair clean and shiny with a satin touch. “ I just wish I’d tried it before my walk along the Port Arthur sea wall.
Read on for more seasonal beauty finds:

Silver in the soap
I’ve tasted silver in Indian candies, now it’s in Cor’s high-end facial cleansers with a patented formula of nano-silver with silica. Silver is in the beauty news as an antibacterial agent. Who knew? I tried a tiny sample bar that looks clear and foams up a storm. The nano means tiny, so it doesn’t look silver, but I like it. The expensive soap is designed to last a long time, but save money on multiple products, because you massage in the foam and it “revives, plumps, tones, balances, deep cleans and heals surface skin.

Organic and charged
The tinkle you hear from the green burlap bag sounds like fairies. It’s Reiki charged quartz crystals inside the G2 Organics Nail Polish Remover. It’s non-toxic and odorless and 95 percent organic. To me this means a tad more elbow grease in the removal process, but it’s worth it. To the Japanese, reiki is a technique for stress reduction and relaxation that promotes healing, and a sense of well being. Aloe vera extract and Vitamin E, butyl diglycol (derived from corn), an embittering agent, and ethyl alcohol (derived from grain) get the color off your nails and the bottle look alone is a mood booster and conversation piece.

In-your-face caviar
Caviar is my must-have indulgence for New Year’s Eve. I can start early with what Pevonia Botanica calls Ligne Myoxy-Caviar offering “timeless rejuvenation.” Little sample tubes of balm cleanser, repair cream and hand and foot cream smell great and make my skin feel “expensive.”

Oh, baby
I don’t know who decided what baby products should smell like, but they all seem the same. Jenerations Baby has a slightly different take of freshness with a line of organic body and hair care products for babies and children labeled “for good boys and girls.” That’s me, too. Salon owner Jennifer Reilly developed it to perform to salon standards, and babies are getting more choosy all the time. Parents choose to offer their precious cargo no sulfates, parabens or tea tree oil and lavender which scientists say could disrupt a child’s hormone levels, I’ve heard. Reilly’s eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, to create a safer product. A percentage of proceeds go to Asperger’s education and research. I’ve tried the sensitive shampoo and no-tangles shine-enhancing conditioner with success on myself. I reckon babies will like it, too.

Sweet scrub
I reiterate my theory that there’s a sugar scrub treatment on your first night in heaven. The scented scratch from the sugar and scented oil is surely something Cleopatra coveted in her beauty ritual. Tree Hut Certified Organic Shea Sugar Body Scrubs. There’s always a catch. It’s recommended you use this simply two to three times a week to smooth sun-damaged skin and even the skin tone. I’ll try not to take several baths a day just to get to the scrub, accented with safflower, evening primrose and avocado oil. Walmart is a supplier of the line, which has scents ranging from Almond and Honey, Brazilian Nut and Coconut Lime to Hawaiian Kukui, Original Shea and Tahitian Grass. I’m keeping Tree Hut’s new shea hydrating Brazilian nut body splash at my desk to change my mood. It smells like a brown sugar drink with a dark liquor and quickly transports my mind to a vacation spot. Shea is the stuff for winter’s chapped skin. Tree Hut’s ingredients also include Hawaiian Kukui nut oil and coconut shells imported from the Polynesian Islands.

Drink to your skin
I tried little samples of Sibu Beauty, featuring antioxidant-rich sea buckthorn. These superfruits remind me of the fruits in local palms. There was a tiny soap, little packets of cleanser and something unexpected. A shot. That’s right, you drink it. I put it one of my tiny curved glasses and pretended I was at a spa. Good stuff. To learn more, visit

Power bath
Joyful Bath Co. has a chief bath mixologist and her instructions on her daily 5-minute power bath include slipping in as the tub fills to half way, and letting your exposed skin breath. Salt is a natural anti-bacterial, so don’t shower afterwards, she says, if using something like the company’s ‘Nilla Buttermilk or Citrus Buzz. My faves are Green Tea Glee and Ginger Snap, but please, consider having Asian food on hand, because this could cause cravings. For these, I suggest scrubbing the power bath for a much longer version.
From this joyful experience I also learned some packing peanuts are made from cornstarch, and can also go in your bath.

Cleanliness is beautiful
The multi-taskers at Vermont Soap Organics put a cool trigger on their Liquid Sunshine Spray & Wipe all-purpose cleaner that cleans people as well as my favorite leather bag, cars and pets, and everything will smell amazing, too. The company has released Lemongrass Zen foaming hand soap that makes my day and Produce Magic, a spray designed to make all the oranges in your Christmas stocking taste better with a wash of coconut, olive, aloe vera, rosemary and more. I’m enjoying being green.
Silver soap, crystal-charge polish remover among seasonal beauty finds
Don’t be jealous of the French. America has just started selling L’Oréal Paris Elnett Satin, what the company calls “a legendary hairspray used by hairstylists around the world.” When I saw the gold can and the stylized woman drawn on the label, it reminded me of products my mother used in the ‘70s. It smelled and felt that way, too. My daughter actually asked if the can was “vintage.” I agreed it looked old school, but it’s L’Oréal, so I trust it. I agree that the micro-diffusion allows for even application and appreciate its “humidity protection.” Makers say it has an “ultra-fine formula that provides exceptional hold and disappears at the stroke of a brush, leaving hair clean and shiny with a satin touch. “ I just wish I’d tried it before my walk along the Port Arthur sea wall.
Read on for more seasonal beauty finds:

Silver in the soap
I’ve tasted silver in Indian candies, now it’s in Cor’s high-end facial cleansers with a patented formula of nano-silver with silica. Silver is in the beauty news as an antibacterial agent. Who knew? I tried a tiny sample bar that looks clear and foams up a storm. The nano means tiny, so it doesn’t look silver, but I like it. The expensive soap is designed to last a long time, but save money on multiple products, because you massage in the foam and it “revives, plumps, tones, balances, deep cleans and heals surface skin.

Organic and charged
The tinkle you hear from the green burlap bag sounds like fairies. It’s Reiki charged quartz crystals inside the G2 Organics Nail Polish Remover. It’s non-toxic and odorless and 95 percent organic. To me this means a tad more elbow grease in the removal process, but it’s worth it. To the Japanese, reiki is a technique for stress reduction and relaxation that promotes healing, and a sense of well being. Aloe vera extract and Vitamin E, butyl diglycol (derived from corn), an embittering agent, and ethyl alcohol (derived from grain) get the color off your nails and the bottle look alone is a mood booster and conversation piece.

In-your-face caviar
Caviar is my must-have indulgence for New Year’s Eve. I can start early with what Pevonia Botanica calls Ligne Myoxy-Caviar offering “timeless rejuvenation.” Little sample tubes of balm cleanser, repair cream and hand and foot cream smell great and make my skin feel “expensive.”

Oh, baby
I don’t know who decided what baby products should smell like, but they all seem the same. Jenerations Baby has a slightly different take of freshness with a line of organic body and hair care products for babies and children labeled “for good boys and girls.” That’s me, too. Salon owner Jennifer Reilly developed it to perform to salon standards, and babies are getting more choosy all the time. Parents choose to offer their precious cargo no sulfates, parabens or tea tree oil and lavender which scientists say could disrupt a child’s hormone levels, I’ve heard. Reilly’s eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, to create a safer product. A percentage of proceeds go to Asperger’s education and research. I’ve tried the sensitive shampoo and no-tangles shine-enhancing conditioner with success on myself. I reckon babies will like it, too.

Sweet scrub
I reiterate my theory that there’s a sugar scrub treatment on your first night in heaven. The scented scratch from the sugar and scented oil is surely something Cleopatra coveted in her beauty ritual. Tree Hut Certified Organic Shea Sugar Body Scrubs. There’s always a catch. It’s recommended you use this simply two to three times a week to smooth sun-damaged skin and even the skin tone. I’ll try not to take several baths a day just to get to the scrub, accented with safflower, evening primrose and avocado oil. Walmart is a supplier of the line, which has scents ranging from Almond and Honey, Brazilian Nut and Coconut Lime to Hawaiian Kukui, Original Shea and Tahitian Grass. I’m keeping Tree Hut’s new shea hydrating Brazilian nut body splash at my desk to change my mood. It smells like a brown sugar drink with a dark liquor and quickly transports my mind to a vacation spot. Shea is the stuff for winter’s chapped skin. Tree Hut’s ingredients also include Hawaiian Kukui nut oil and coconut shells imported from the Polynesian Islands.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gawad Kalinga
Singer Stephanie Reese has an impressive resume, but you’ve got to see her in person to fall in love with her. An enthusiastic local crowd wanting to help Typhoon Ondoy victims did that Sunday at the Julie Rogers Theatre. As a writer, I don’t usually speak for others, but yeah, I could tell, everyone was in love with this skilled, personable singer who shared her life in song.
Dr. Erlinda and Philip Punsalan were among dozens of people supporting the concert to help those recovering from the Septemer typhoon that destroyed so many homes in The Philippines.
Answering the Call of the Poor Foundation USA, supports the Gawad Kalinga (to give care) program. The local group plans to name the village in honor of the Rev. Dan Malain, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.
Aside from the great concert, it was amazing to feel the love of so many people who are making the world a better place. For information, call Shirley Agustin at 722-6748.

TJ grads, football lovers on tap for post Thanksgiving reunion
Jule Joffrion, Johnny Elton, Barry Robbins and the TJ Class of 1975 are once again hosting TJ Reunion Fest. Joffrion says this celebration began two years ago when members of the ‘75 football team reunited one Thanksgiving.
“Old TJ football films had been digitized from the 1975 football season, and we had a great time watching our team. Films from 1973 and 1974 fall football season will be shown,” Joffrion said about the upcoming fest. The gang is looking for more football films.
The group will meet at 8 p.m. Nov. 27, at Cash’s, 8484 Central Mall Drive. Mid-Life Crisis will play. Joffrion says alumni from all classes, and their guests, are welcome.

Cajuns on the radio
The Cajun Express show with Dana Melancon and Gloria Roy is now on is on the air at KAYD-FM 101.7 or via internet at Listen at 7 a.m. Sundays.

YMCA news
In November, the Port Arthur YMCA is celebrating 107 years in Port Arthur. The YMCA was charted in Port Arthur in 1902, with its first building on built on Lakeshore Drive in 1937 it was destroyed by fire in 1959. Then the Y presented programs in rented space. The YMCA dedicated the 7th Street site in 1956 at a cost of $35,000. A deed for land was acquired for the 9th Avenue branch in 1961 and it was dedicated in 1966.
In 1983 a capital campaign was initiated for a new YMCA on 6760 9th Ave. and the dedication came in 1986. Now, in 2009, it’s getting a $1.4 million renovation.

Gizzard Wizards
Chicken Express has been ruffling feathers for a few weeks at its new Nall Street restaurant in Port Neches. The Port Neches Chamber of Commerce helped management cut the ribbon on Tuesday.
Gary L. McCarty told guests the building should always look as clean as it does in all its newness and the stainless steel should be just as shiny and customers should always see a “sea of red shirts” on the numerous employees.
McCarty said that gizzards just about sold out in the days after a feature on the new business ran in Port Arthur News. A diner who calls herself a gizzard fanatic said they were good at Chicken Express, and apparently everyone else wanted to try them for themselves.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Quickie cranberries destined to become holiday favorite

Here’s how to read “500 Best Sauces, Salad Dressings, Marinades & More:”
On a full stomach, with a grocery list at the ready and with a full stock of sticky notes to mark just about every page of things you’ll want to try.
A figgy cream pasta sauce with anchovies sounds crazy enough to work, and I’m certain the 30 or so vinaigrettes will improve my salad intake commitment. If I eat that well, I should treat myself to the mocha, minty, hazlenutty and liqueur-doused dessert toppings … maybe just over a banana instead of cake or ice cream.
George Geary will be helping several cooks through the holidays, with amazingly-easy recipes like these:

Cranberry Relish
Author’s note: This relish is made in a flash and is destined to be a holiday favorite.
2 cups water
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
1 1/2 pounds cranberries
In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine water, sugar and orange zest and juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in cranberries and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Espresso Rub
Author’s note: This rub adds an attractive dark look to the meat without a burnt taste.
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons espresso powder
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon hot pepper flakes
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
In a bowl, blend together brown sugar, espresso powder, salt, hot pepper flakes, black pepper and allspice.

Pickle trays and beyond
The kids who used to stick black olives on their fingers from the mandatory holiday relish tray are grown. But the tray is still popular at my mother-in-law’s house. Vlasic Pickles for recipes like this one:
Dirty Pickle Vodka Martin1/2
Whether at a holiday work party or in the comfort of your own home, this tasty drink will bring the party to life
8 ounces Vodka
1/2 teaspoon dry Vermouth
2 Vlasic Kosher Dill Pickle Spears
1 tablespoon pickle juice from the jar
Add ice about halfway up a cocktail shaker. Add vodka, vermouth and pickle juice. Shake well, pour into 2 Martini glasses and garnish with a pickle spear in each glass.

Tim Tam triumph
With a name that sounds like it wants an accompanying dance, Tim Tam cookies are an Australian favorite that has Internet fan clubs. Pepperidge Farm brings them to American through March, and I suggest you grab some of these chocolate fudge biscuits. Here’s how PF spokespeople describe it: “Beneath a smooth layer of heavenly chocolate fudge, between two layers of crispy biscuits, a mouthwatering layer of chocolate crème awaits.”
The biscuits were like two continental shelves shifting to allow the cream to melt in my mouth. They are apparently named for a racehorse. Here’s the specs: Tim Tam Chocolate Crème and Caramel cookies are sold at major supermarkets, grocery stores and mass merchandisers nationwide. New Tim Tam Classic Dark cookies are sold exclusively in Target stores nationwide.

Funky Monkey has outdone itself with three new flavors of fruit that crunches. The freeze-dried fruits come in lunch-box packets sure to garner attention. Pink Pineapple, with guava, is my personal fave of the three with MangOJ (mango and orange juice) right behind. Applemon is apple and organic cinnamon. These things make your tongue tingle and they’re a healthy choice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Socks in the mail? It’s something to think about

Readers, consider this your first Stocking Stuffer Report.
When I’m out covering events, I love how y’all come up and tell me that you’ve tried something I’ve shared in this column. Several new area shops will be offering holiday bling and here’s a sample of more goodies you may want to consider while boosting the economy:

Who gets socks in the mail?
My daughter is telling friends about Sock Grams’ sushi sock, adorned with tails and rolls, and, sight unseen, they’re a hit. A sushi-loving guy she knows even wants some. Sock Grams in seasonal whimsy come to your home, with Dead Sea Mineral foot scrub if you like. Funky socks were part of my daily wardrobe in high school. It’s time to put my best foot forward again with the company that wishes you warm hearts and happy feet.
Blacksocks delivers socks to your door with a sockscription. What man couldn’t use this? The goods in their sock drawer will always be fresh, clean and without holes. “If time really is money, Blacksocks is worth a look,” makers say. Make your man one of 40,000 Blacksocks customers in 74 countries. A man I know inspecting the product said “Men need this. These are high quality.” Won’t this service derail spousal disagreements? 

Bamboo underwear
I can’t definitively tell if Play bamboo underwear is designed for men or women to purchase. The box shows a healthy male specimen stretching a bare torso and clearly enjoying the way jock, low-rise and brief cuts look on him (ladies will love the box) and the A in Play is designed to look like the arrow on video equipment, such as “push play.”
I actually had male and female testers step up to try these bamboo skivvies and all were amazed by the smooth feel of the cloth “It’s a great product. The cloth is nice and comfortable,” one said. I’m thinking the low-rise trunk will be underpant enough to please most men. The revealing jock cut is a bit thong-like, suitable for daring fellows, but I wonder about pantyline for those into tight skinny jeans.

Fight wrap rage
Zibra has created Open It!, a tool that opens everything from super-sharp clamshell plastic cases to your beer. A hidden blade in the handle slices and a screwdriver in the other side of the handle can open battery cases. Precision ground steel blades in short, nubby scissors are my favorite use. The blade can be used to pry and the slicer can open CDs and DVDs. Because Women Know is the tagline for this product that will aid both sexes. It sure will open all your holiday gifts. I’m on board.

Sounds good
Our stuff gets as worn out as we do. I couldn’t hear well out of my ear buds and I sure wanted some good ones for the new TVs attached to all the new YMCA of Port Arthur equipment. My daughter pointed out that big is the new small for headphones, so I thought I could flashback (or Flashdance) all the way back to the ‘80s with neon colors accentuating the totally modern DJ Sport Headphones from chicBuds. Swarovski Crystals are all over retractable buds and PinkTooth amazingness from this woman-owned company. I say “go girl” to the fold ups that look so cool and carry the sound so great and let me keep up with the History Channel and “Golden Girls.” These are the best headphones I’ve ever used, and I love the cushy padding.

You’ll like to Muve it, Muve it
Dance like no one is watching, encourage Muve makers. This “spontaneous dance workout” shows a mixed bag of dancers, from children to young adults to grandparents, moving and shaking some easy, loose stops to music just as varied as they are. Mellow MUVE and Family MUVE lets you follow a lead dancer, or muse, and kind of create your own thing with Hawaiian music, a zombie song and some sounds the teens would love on the dance floor. It’s a fun way to get grandparents moving for better health and little kids into the habit of regular exercise. I enjoyed learning new “muves” and did it fast enough to work up a sweat. It’s fun stuff that doesn’t feel like a workout. Joy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Give thanks for Indian-style fig chutney; spread the love of peanut butter month

My daughter and I want to live down the street from Bal Arneson and her family in Vancouver, B.C. She looks fun, wise and friendly in her book, “Everyday Indian” and I love the little anecdotes she shares about growing up in India.
One story tells how new brides head to the kitchen with elder women to attempt creating perfect roti for their new father-in-law. It looks like our tortillas and would be amazing with her curried scallop salad, zucchini paneer or Indian-Thai fusion prawns.
My brother-in-law is from India and has exposed us to the cuisine. Arneson has some very easy methods for achieving great flavor, even with the simple lentil. We want to live near her to sample some of her cooking. That spicy food must taste even better in the cool Vancouver clime. Here’s an easy one that sounds good on a Thanksgiving table:

Apple and Fig Chutney
Arneson writes that as a girl, she suffered consequences when caught sneaking a bite of apple chutney that was reserved for men in the family.
1 cup chopped apples
1 cup dried figs
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup raisins
1 teaspoon chat masala (recipe follows)
1 teaspoon grated ginger
1 cup water
Mix everything in a pot and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool, then place in a food processor and process to a paste. Store in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Chat masala (mild)
1 tablespoon mango powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
1 teaspoon pomegranate powder
1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to three months. For more of an enhanced flavor, add 1 teaspoon fennel seeds and 1/4 teaspoon mint powder.

November is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month
Venders are touting new back-to-basics products such as Natural Jiff Creamy Peanut Butter Spread with 90 percent peanuts. There’s no need to stir, and it should make any pb lover happy. There’s also a new organic version.
Smucker’s Natural selections includes: Creamy, Chunky, Peanut Butter with Honey, No Salt Added, Natural Style Reduced Fat Creamy, Organic Creamy and Organic Chunky. A few ideas from the makers:
• Warm a small amount of natural peanut butter in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl until soft and then swirl into yogurt.
• Stir natural peanut butter into hot oatmeal and sprinkle with raisins or other dried fruits.
• Drizzle warmed natural peanut butter into hot cocoa.
• Spread natural peanut butter on a rice cake and top with sliced apples or mini-chocolate chips.

Water’s the new wine
That’s what Hawaiian Springs says. A water “sommelier” recognizes the smooth, clear, slightly sweet drink as one of the world’s finest waters. I’ve never been to Hawaii and this could be as close as I , or many others get, so I wouldn’t mind having a case of this water under my stocking (with or without an airplane ticket attached). It comes from the Arctic rains that fall over the Big Island and travels through a volcanic rock filter. The U.S. Geological Survey names the source aquifer on Mauna Loa one of the purest in the world.

The bitter end
I’d have never believed I could get hooked on bitters. It must be the chic spray pumps you can slip into your evening bag. You can spritz Urban Moonshine Organic Bitters into your cocktail, or use as an aperitif or digestive. It’s like making people take a dare to try them, but there have been an array of reactions.
“I feel like an orange peel just kicked me in the face,” was Cody-on-the-desk’s proclaimation after trying the citrus version.
Original is not for the faint of taste buds; there’s a maple I haven’t tried. I consider it a palate cleanser (that’s what they do in Europe), but others felt they needed to cleanse their palate of the spray. Proclaimed bitter benefits: support liver function and detoxification; tone and repair the digestive tract; regulate the secretion of hormones involved in blood sugar balance; and reduce cholesterol by increasing its elimination from the body. 
The Urban Moonshine Cocktail
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3 ounce Reeds Ginger Brew
3 ounce organic vodka
5 dashes Urban Moonshine Citrus Bitters
Muddled fresh ginger to taste

Bottle art
The lure of bottle art is tempting to both sexes. I work with a guy itchy to get his hands on one of those vodka skulls. I know a woman who has ridden her motorcycle to Sturgis, but she’s not getting my “Open Road” Lee DeVito-designed bottle of 1800 Tequila. No way. This is art, and it’s one of 12 in the second annual collection of limited-edition Essential Artists bottles from up-and-coming artists. There’s kind of a snow globe effect as you peer into the bottle to view the image of a rider with a guitar slung over her back as she heads down a mountain highway. More than 15,000 submissions were considered for the designs and this fine tequila’s price has been reduced to $24.99 to support “affordable art.”
With this collection, you can have an art show in your living room with refreshments built right in.

Amazing Grass powders are my new go-to breakfast on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when I have drop my daughter off at Lamar. I drop a powder and a banana into the Magic Bullet for a power-packed drink. The company has launched a new Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar that I can choose when I’m feeling “chewzy.” It’s soft and satisfying, with your taste buds processing organic dates, peanut butter peanuts, rice crisps, and agave nectar and Amazing Grass Green SuperFood. That’s a sneaky organic blend of wheat and barley grass, alfalfa, spinach, broccoli, acai, carrot, beet, rose hips and other stuff you’d never guess you were eating.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall season can be a time for harvest, new growth

Now that it’s dark so early, consider curling up with a stack of new self-improvement books that can help you deal with everything from offensive coworkers to the pushy relatives you’re about to see at Thanksgiving dinner. Get cozy with these:

“Ordinary Greatness”
By Pamela Bilbrey and Brian Jones
When an internationally-recognized violinist dressed down and set up a concert in a Washington, D.C. metro station, virtually no one noticed. Rushing people weren’t expecting greatness in their busy day. Anecdotes, including how ordinary Mother Teresa seemed to a woman in line to meet her and how Steven Spielberg sneaked of a studio tour tram to meet movie makers, authors share how business leaders can make small changes to help employees unite and grow. It seems too few people realize how much praise is worth.

“Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat”
By Michelle May, M.D.
Doc May says the latest trend in diets is not being on a diet, and eating healthy food when … drumroll … you are hungry. There’s a lot about determining when you are hungry, as opposed to just bored, and how to truly enjoy your food. Minimize distractions and concentrate on ambiance, flavors and textures are some tips. You will thank her for including recipes such as cinnamon apple pockets and basil pesto. Here’s an easy one for fruit kabobs:
Ginger Yogurt Dip
1 cup nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons honey
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Stir ingredients together and chill or serve immediately.

“The Upward Spiral: Breakthroughs to Joy”
By Janet Cunningham
You may feel like you’ve been on retreat — speakers, snack table and after-presentation chatter included — when you finish this book. The meet-up, attendance and follow-up is told from three perspectives. Overweight Sally is a please-all mom with an unsupportive husband who gets fired up about making her craft hobby into a business. Pat and Nora get their say in three-separate stories that involve everything from tarot cards to cheating spouses. It’s part novel and part inspiration.

“Fulfillment Using Real Conscience: Practical Guide for Psychological and Spiritual Wellness”
By N.S. Xavier, M.D.
Jesus enjoyed several feasts and avoided arguments, and some good humor alleviates stress, the author points out. Anecdotes from the Bible, Zen masters and other cultures put life into perspective in this book. I like the one about an overflowing tea cup. It seems you have to let some (knowledge) out before you can allow more in.

“Make it Rain 101: How to Grow Your Client Base & Maximize Your Income”
By Patrick D. Kelly
It’s not all about the networking, but if you’re good at it, it pays off. Kelly explains how in easy, digestible short chapters that suit workers of any age range.

“Yes You Can”
By Stacey Hanke and Mary Steinberg
“What’s wrong?” When I get this, it’s a clue I could be sending a different body language message than I’m feeling. It’s a friendly reminder in this book, subtitled “Everything You Need From A to Z to Influence Others and Take Action.” Don’t fear, try little humor and remember to make eye contact are other reminders in this handy guide to speaking and presentation.

“The Power of Thinking Differently”
By Javy W. Galindo
Edgar Allan Poe paired words from a dictionary into ideas for stories and choreographer Twyla Tharp tossed coins into the air to imagine how dancers could interact. These anecdotes, along with the saga of an island where people had only pickles and doughnuts to eat and use as building materials, are designed to help readers get a new perspective on just about anything. Readers should be warned to be ready for change.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Interactive parties call for bold personalities, flavors

I’m a little shy. It’s true! But I was part of two interactive productions in one week. I knew I’d get picked on at Port Arthur Little Theatre’s production of “The Altos: Like the Sopranos, Only Lower.” I was dubbed Sally Somersault, a dancer who got out of the business. The audience truly becomes part of this show, so check your weapons, and wallflower ways, at the door. Remember to dress as your favorite gangster and save room for “just desserts” at the Courtyard Café. The production has two more weeks in Groves.
I “played” an Aztec medicine woman in a mystery game at a wonderful hostess’ party. With an amulet and basket of herbs, I shook my gourd for emphasis. Between breaks, guests headed for an elaborate fiesta designed to match the game’s Mexican theme.
Ironically, chips, the hit dish of the party, seemed to frustrate generious hostess K.G., who claimed it was so easy to make. She wanted everyone to try the food she’d spent hours preparing. Don’t worry, we got to it all.
It was the crazy kettle chips that drove everyone to distraction. It’s easy as this: spread kettle chips in a casserole dish, sprinkle on bleu cheese and brown sugar. Bake. Serve and watch guests go crazy.

Snickers salad
If you were good enough to save any Snickers from Halloween, try a snicker’s salad. The general directions are to mix cut up candy bars and apples with Cool Whip and cream cheese.
How could you go wrong?

Noodle time
I was flipping through a book thinking there were enough noodle dishes to eat every day for weeks, then I remembered, the book is called “Noodles Every Day.” Corinne Trang guides noodle lovers (there are many in my family) through egg, buckwheat, wheat, rice and cellophane noodle intricacies with mouth-watering recipes. I want some of everything. Here’s a very easy starter:

Japanese Kelp Stock
2 ounces dried kelp, wiped clean
5 quarts spring or filtered water
To make kombu dashi put the package of kelp in a large glass bowl and add the spring or filtered water. Let steep for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature. The longer the kelp steeps in the water, the more concentrated the stock. Strain the stock and discard the solids.

Bio bags
I am the customer Belief Beyond Bags is appealing to on the label, “today’s environmentally conscious shopper.” Denver area women started the company, tenderly known as 3B, that makes, among other things, fine mesh nylon bags with drawstrings you take to the store for your produce. Use your bag and not the store’s plastic bag and help preserve the environment. Visit to see the line’s shopping bags, and these clever mesh bags that can even hold bulk bin buys like beans. Thank you, 3B ladies.
Fashion is still important to the earth conscience, and EnV Bags has an amazing line of fold-into-a-pouch recyclable bags with eye-popping designs. The Road to Hana series of City Shoppers is the latest, with flowers, ferns, dots and stripes. The Eifel Tower model looks as good as an overnight bag as it does toting apples home from the grocer. Americans apparently use and average of 800 bags a year, so this is one handy way to look good and keep the volume down. Go green with EnV.

Brew for the kids
Natural Brew is hand crafted and the pleasure of consuming goes way beyond old-fashioned brown bottles. Ginseng Cola could be my favorite for the bubble and snap but Outrageous Ginger Ale is a close tie. My daughter has tried her share of root beer and this company’s draft version is different from the typical carbonated can. It simply tastes more sweet and natural and I can’t help drinking it without imagining little boys playing with marbles and slingshots. They use good stuff like Panax (all-healing) ginsing and bourbon vanilla. The Vanilla Crème should be reserved for dessert so that nothing else will compete for your culinary attention.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Ray’s is scary good in Houston
Artistic cakes heavy with buttercream frosting and plump, spicy tamales are typical fare for my brother-in-law, Jose Sainz. We always hoped he’d open a restaurant and he has. With all his authentic Mexican recipes and flair for the exotic, we just never expected it to be called Ray’s Franks & More.
The “more” is this: The family has put their horror movie-lovin’ brains together to come up with a scary good menu. The Mummy is an all-beef weiner wrapped with bacon and the American Werewolf is a burger with American cheese. Visit yourself to try The Blob, Leatherface, The Birds, and the ChupaCabra.
The brick building, abundant with personality, is at 1302 Nance St. is in downtown Houston. Office workers have been giving the goods great reviews; there was a flash mob. It apparently was a Chinese restaurant and a bank at one time. Red accents the counter and the menu has old movie poster themes.
My family went over to help out one day and assembled terror-misu desserts after serving a lunch rush with The Blob, The Freddy Krueger and The Dracula. Regulars love a curry ketchup and guana-mole.
Ray is what Jose’s family calls him. His wife and children are often on site and cooking for the masses. I hear there’s a party going on for Halloween. For info, call (713) 224-6441 or go to

Go granola
Just a sprinkle of GrandyOats organic Goji Agave granola will crunch up your yogurt, banana, ice cream, etc. I tried it as it was probably intended, in dairy, but I’m loyal to the crunchy sprinkle. Now that the company uses non-BPA recyclable cups, you can keep it fresh in the pantry for a long time. I’m betting it won’t last through Thanksgiving, because I’m topping dessert dishes of canned pumpkin with it for a healthy evening bite. The Main company uses walnuts, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, and other amazing healthy items in Cranberry Chew, Classic Granola and Mainely Maple. Seek it out and crunch.

What KIND do you want?
I liked the Almond & Cashew plus Omega-3, but the KIND PLUS Mango and Macadamia won the best new product award at the Natural Product Expo. What to pick? KIND Fruit + Nut bars were touted as a healthy treat for the kids, but I’m thinking grownups may have trouble sharing. They boast an ingredient list you can pronounce, with highlights such as premium almonds, Brazilian nuts, walnuts, peanuts, and chunks of all-natural dried fruits held together with honey. Made in Australia, it’s from PeaceWorks, and it’s the KIND of snack I’ve been craving.

Campbell’s adds Mediterranean-inspired soups
Just because my Aunt Anne went to Tuscany, my family clamors to try foods with that label. Chicken Tuscany, Chicken with Egg Noodles and Minestrone are three varieties of Campbell’s Select Harvest soups my family tried and loved on the same night. I served one bowl to each of us and we all tasted from the range and we all argued that the one in front of us was the best.
Campbell is introducing 12 new 100 percent natural varieties of Select Harvest soups. Five boast ingredients key to the Mediterranean diet with vegetables, whole grains and extra virgin olive oil. They include two additional Select Harvest Light soups, with 80 calories or less per serving: Light Minestrone with Whole grain Pasta and Light Roasted Chicken with Italian Herbs. The have sea salt. Others in the line include: Mexican-Style Chicken Tortilla, Italian-Style Wedding, Roasted Chicken with Rotini and Penne Pasta and Light Roasted Chicken with Italian Herbs.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the Oktoberfests I have attended, but the snap of cool fall air, the scent of amazing German food and the lure of The Chicken Dance had me at oom-pah.
I was way, way too young to enjoy the dark beer, and I still have fun with my parents at tables under huge, colorful sycamore trees.
Several reasons merge to make October one of my top 12 favorite months (I confess, I love them all). The family moved the chiminea to the front walkway and burned our yard clippings while enjoying a festive glass of wine that’s apparently designed for the season. Clean Slate Riesling makes a pairing for German cheese, breads and ham, with its “ripe peach flavors, mineral notes and vibrant acidity all hallmarks of Riesling from Mosel.” It’s a supermarket find at $10.99 and feels crisp like an October apple in your mouth.
Seattle-area chef Tony Ruegg has created a recipe for eight using the wine.
Buy 8-10 Bratwursts from a German butcher. If not available purchase bratwurst from grocery. Make 2-3 small cuts with a sharp knife across the sausage. Put on medium hot grill, cut side up and grill until golden brown. Turn over and finish grilling. 
Onion Sauce
2 medium onions finely sliced
1 package Knorr demi glace or brown sauce mix
1/2 cup Clean Slate Riesling
1 teaspoon cumin powder
Salt and black pepper
Sauté onions in small amount of olive oil until carmelized. Add Clean Slate Riesling and cumin and bring to a slow boil. Dissolve brown sauce mix in 1 1/2 to 2 cups of cold water and add to onions.  Simmer for a few minutes (2-5 minutes).  Season with salt and pepper. 
Serve bratwurst with onion sauce.

I know secrets
Messages of love lost, childhood beatings, crossword puzzle fantasies and queries on faith make up the world’s artful messages to If you haven’t heard, people mail anonymous postcards to Frank Warren and many go on the internet. I’ve shown Frank Warren’s new book to several people since I met him at the Lamar State College-Port Arthur Distinguished Lecture Series. Most everybody is immediately hooked and says the project is “different” than how they thought it would be. See what you think about “POSTSECRET: Confessions on Life, Death, and God.

Skull or sweetpeas?
Kaycee Binns is a varied artist. A shiny skull or mud flap girl pick may tempt the Halloween shopper while her tiny sweet pea spoon is the ideal baby gift. The Metal Morphosis Inc. brainchild says there’s a childhood story behind every piece, so if you’re in Atlanta, you may want to meet the pewter worker. There’s some silver in her works, to give it shine. You would in no way call me a spoon collector, but I somehow have amassed an impressive set of tiny, baby spoons that I love to use for dessert (to make it last longer). My grandma called me sweet pea, so I love Binns’ vine-covered spoon by the same name. Visit to learn more.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail
Antioxidants don’t have to be anti-fun, say some mixologists who jazz up cocktails with fruit and fruit juices like pomegranate, blueberries, cranberries, pears and kiwis for brain-boosting and disease-fighting antioxidants.
Make enough Vampire Kisses, and you can have a set of stylish black Freixenet sparkling wine bottles to make a set of candle holders for your Halloween party.
I tried what makers call the “black bottle bubbly” in the recipe below and loved the colorful presentation and sparkling taste. It’s a looker and a taster:
Vampire’s Kiss Cocktail
3 parts Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut
1 part pomegranate blueberry juice blend
Sliced strawberries and pineapple chunks
Orange peel twists (optional)
Starting with all ingredients well chilled, mix 1 part pomegranate and blueberry juice blend with 3 parts Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut sparkling wine. Stir in ice, sliced strawberries and pineapple chunks. Garnish with dangling orange twist.
Presentation: To add some mystery to your ghoulish concoction, use ice-blocks in Halloween shapes – try jack-o-lantern, ghosts or bats!
For more antioxidant cocktails and other great cocktail recipes, visit

Spice forecast calls for ginger and molasses
Every day of my life is filled with herbs and spices, but the cool weather seems to increase the cravings. I’ve noticed the McCormick Flavor Forecast is always accurate. Reading their 2009 Holiday Edition should put you ahead of what everyone will be talking about this season:
• Ginger & Molasses - The duo behind timeless gingerbread is cleverly reinvented from a childhood classic into contemporary goodies for all ages.
• Warm Spices & Pumpkin – The aromatic blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice unites with creamy pumpkin to inspire remakes of its namesake pie.
• Peppermint & Chocolate – This refreshing yet sweet combination comes together in everything from a festive martini to a chocolate tart.
• Vanilla & Red Food Color – The lush, alluring flavor of vanilla and the joyous hue of red transform the show-stopping qualities of red velvet cake into updated indulgences.
• Nutmeg & Rum – The unforgettable essence of eggnog comes out of the punch bowl as inspired treats from breakfast to the dessert table.
McCormick has additional tips:
• Convert a traditional sugar cookie to a nutmeg spice cookie by adding ground nutmeg to the dough before baking. Top baked cookies with cream cheese frosting enhanced with a few drops of rum extract.
• Crush peppermint candies in a small bowl or food processor. Melt semi-sweet Chocolate in a sauce pan, cool slightly and flavor with a few drops of peppermint extract. Dip one half of a large marshmallow into the melted mint chocolate and then in the peppermint pieces. Place on parchment to dry. Serve on a festive candy platter or float in a cup of hot cocoa.
• Transform vanilla milkshakes into a taste of the season. Add a generous spoonful of pumpkin puree and a dash of pumpkin pie spice to vanilla ice cream and milk to create a smooth ice cream treat.

Measure Up Bowl
I remember my mother used to pack portions into a measuring bowl and dump them onto her plate, leaving food in a perfectly round cylinder. Now I’m a Weight Watchers lifetimer who supports measuring, so I can actually eat more of what I want. I’m loving the Measure Up Bowl in the snack size, a chic white number with discreet measuring lines on the inside, so you know just how much of that mocha ice cream you have served yourself. No cheating or innocent mistakes. It’s just in time for holiday indulgences. The “classic” is for soups, cereals, fruits, pasta, etc. My smaller one is designed for “foods that are calorie dense, high fat (my fave).
Visit for a peek. I know for a fact that this bowl can help you keep your weight down in a very satisfactory way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sabine Pass lighthouse lovers get their tasty read

The mere mention that the Sabine Pass lighhouse would be mentioned in a book drew lots of reader attention. We love our lighthouse.
“The American Lighthouse Cookbook: The Best Recipes and Stories from America’s Shorelines” is ready for your purchase from Sourcebooks. Look online for your copy, or maybe a better plan would be to visit the 47 lighthouses included and perhaps many have the book at a giftshop. Becky Sue Epstein and Ed Jackson remind readers that house keepers were isolated, had to work around the clock and cooked with bulk supplies. There were supermarket runs for a missing ingredient.
Try a peanut soup representing St. Simmons Lighthouse in Georgia or Thai fried rice representing Lahaina Lighthouse in Maui, Hawaii.
As for Sabine Pass, writers say keepers could augment their meager pay by living off the land, and the menu created to represent this area is grilled oysters in the shell, smothered okra, crab bake, alligator gumbo and pralines that authors “could not stop eating.”

“Death Lore”
A new book on death is anything but creepy. A tombstone cover sets the mood for October reading of “Death Lore: Texas Rituals, Superstitions and Legends of the Hereafter.”
Kenneth L. Untiedt edits the University of North Texas book full of the kind of stuff that could happen only to Texans. Cowboys want to be buried with their guns and rich women with their sports cars. Cats can get the last word from their graves and ministers can embellish the good deeds of a dead man so much that the widow could question if that’s really her own husband in the box. Writers tell of spiritual connections, growing up in funeral homes and funeral humor.
Death happens to all of us, so we might as well try to have a good time with it, seems to be the message.

“Inherited Sins”
This novel by Paula Paul, with a puckered apple on the cover, sat on my shelf too long. A modern woman finds herself with a metal box belonging to her dying mother. Inside she finds ‘40s-era journals of a West Texas preacher and his battle against sin with church member Johnnie Marie, the mother in question. Then the reader gets Johnnie Marie’s journals, which offer a different perspective. There are lots of juicy surprises, but I also like the details, like the fuss over the church youth seeing “Gone With the Wind,” which had been released years earlier but just got to the Muleshoe area.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

‘Strange But True’ a freaky October read
George Washington’s deathly bloodletting, war stories, whacky state borders and creepy tales of death and deception headline “Strange But True America: Weird tales from All 50 States.”
I didn’t know that Washington was home to the world’s largest waterfall or about New Mexico’s leaning tower, threatening rock. The fact that these tales are true makes them even more powerful. Chapters include Rogue Camels Haunt the Southwest, Feminine Touch is the Kiss of Death and Hanging Judge Dispensed Swift Justice. Texas gets a headless horseman recount. John Hafnor tells the stories and Dale Crawford illustrates them. Together they make riveting reading.

“Inherited Sins”
By Paula Paul
This novel with a puckered apple on the cover sat on my shelf too long. A modern woman finds herself with a metal box belonging to her dying mother. Inside she finds ‘40s-era journals of a West Texas preacher and his battle against sin with church member Johnnie Marie, the mother in question. Then the reader gets Johnnie Marie’s journals, which offer a different perspective. There are lots of juicy surprises, but I also like the details, like the fuss over the church youth seeing “Gone With the Wind,” which had been released years earlier but just got to the Muleshoe area.

Going anywhere?
My dad is a constant safety lecture. Even when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s more, this time from Intromark Inc. A slender, bent and forked piece of metal that can keep you more secure in a hotel room without damage to the door. The directions explain the SLO, Inc. better than I can. I reckon this ought to work in the kind of New York apartment I see on TV. Look it up on

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Creamer yields surprise dessert options
I think this could be a secret I’m revealing, or maybe you’ve already had this idea.
I drink coffee black, so I never really noticed those little plastic creamers until they started coming in flavors, like vanilla, hazelnut and Irish cream. I still like the fact that my coffee has zero calories, so I’ve come up with other uses for the cream.
A little package goes a long way in drenching a cake, fruit or making a liquor drink into a memorable dessert.
Culinary thrill seekers, play with this and share your ideas.

Thanks, Clint
Clint, of Clint’s Texas Salsa, has done a fine job with a collection of mild, medium and hot sauces. The twist is Serrano pepper, which everyone who tried it with me noticed. I wonder if northern folk would notice this addition to the jalapeno. Clint’s Picante Inc. works out of San Antonio.

The new virgin oil
Centrifuge extracted virgin coconut oil is what Navitas Naturals call a Polynesian Superfood. I call this cold-pressed raw coconut oil a dreamy flavoring for rice salads and toast. It’s clear in the jar and clearly aromatic and delicious. Read the label for all the reasons it’s good for ya.

Republic of Tea
The Republic always has something good for fans this time of year. Take your respite with Coconut Cocoa or Double Dark Chocolate Mate tea, both in trademark tins with roasted carob. Most of my “tasters” were satisfied simply by inhaling from the open tin. This is a low-cal way to get in an afternoon treat.

Who’s that sweet thing?
Earlier I mentioned a guessing contest for Mrs. Butterworth, of syrup fame, to get a first name.
Shayla Doty, an Indiana teen and Cynthia Harmon of Illinois won $500 and a year’s supply of syrup by guessing her name.

It is Joy
Here’s what the company reports her parents debated on the newborn’s name: “The father-to-be, Mr. Butterworth, was in favor of the name Yvonne, while the mother-to-be felt she was more deserving of a name that would remind them of what a precious jewel she would be — Opal. Having not settled on a decision the day their giggling baby girl arrived, the doctor suggested "Jocelyn," meaning "the merry one." A light bulb lit above Daddy Butterworth's head, and he suggested combining the first letter from all three names, J-O-Y. Little did they know that years later, 'joy' was exactly what their daughter and her delicious syrup would bring to children at their breakfast tables.”

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Do you have Dr Pepper in a bottle? Better let him out
My daughter and I know people who are crazy for Dr Pepper, so we simply made silent eye contact when we found a reduced priced, damaged squeeze bottle of something we’d never spied before. Dr Pepper cherry dessert topper is like a thick, sweet sludge of what might be left at the bottom of a soda fountain syrup canister. I didn’t have ice cream, so I tried it on a frozen banana. This is the perfect gift for all those addicted to the doc.

Ready broth
I made a reduced-priced box of barley into the star of a meal with new Ready to Serve Broth from Manischewitz. I popped a top on the can of beef flavor, which features a recipe for beef short ribs and balsamic turnips, and dinner was ready in a snap. I know broth is essential for many cooks, but I’m not a frequent user. This line could change all that. Chicken and reduced-sodium chicken comes in cans or reusable cartons. It’s kosher good.

Jug Sliders
Northerners couldn’t guess how unusual it sounds to us Texans to call tiny sandwiches “sliders.” It doesn’t stop use from enjoying them. And while Texans are expert at flavoring meat, Carlo Rossi offers a game-day blend for mini-burgers that I’ve played with and enjoyed. The recipe calls for a big ol’ jug of Carlo Rossi merlot, but you don’t have to use it all in the burgers. It’s very nice to have some left over.

Carlo Rossi Jug Sliders
1 pound ground beef
1 package mini buns
2 tablespoons of butter or margarine
4 ounces of button mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 large scallions, sliced
1 shallot, minced
1 cup of Carlo Rossi Merlot
Green leaf lettuce
Salt, pepper to taste
Shape about 3 tablespoons of ground beef into a 1" thick pattie, sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Repeat with remaining mixture. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.  Melt butter in a skillet and add mushrooms, scallions and shallot. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally; add Carlo Rossi Merlot and simmer.  Grill burgers to preferred degree of temperature.  Place each burger on miniature bun with lettuce and top with mushroom mixture.  Makes 16.

Some may argue, with great success, that any chocolate chip cookie is already just about the best it can be. Pillsbury took it up a notch with Simply, a new line of refrigerated cookie dough boasting 0 grams trans fat, no high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. The packaginge can convince you it’s a health food, but it doesn’t say zero calories. I will say that every calorie was worth it.

Pink picking in October
Will grabbing a pink O-Cedar broom make you look forward to cleaning?
Maybe, but it will for sure remind you of breast cancer awareness, and October is the official month for that. Breast Cancer Network of Strength and O-Cedar pinked up several signature products including the Angler Broom, Power Corner Broom and Pro-Wring Self-Twisting Mop. It’s a while-they-last sort of deal you’ll want to get in on. These are stylish and important.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Go ahead: Irritate the birds
Seasonally in October, I took to hanging dozens of unwanted freebie CDs in a magnolia tree. From the window, I could see children on the sidewalk mesmerized at the shiny disks caught the sun and danced in the wind. I got lots of good feedback about the CD tree.
The Bird Irritator works on the same concept, but the birds aren’t likely to let you know what they thought. They shouldn’t even be around. Your feedback is trees that let you, instead of hungry birds, have their fruit.
Mirrored disks joined by split hooks and hangers reflect and dance even better than my design. I though the task of peeling protective film from the sharp little mirrored circles and lining them with a soft plastic ring, then joining them with rings would be a difficult chore, but I finished the job before my TV show was over and I’m loving the results. Visit for details.

Simple Human
While I’m learning to master the perfect egg breakfast, my least favorite part is washing my hands from breaking the egg while it cooks without my supervision. My family got into the unspoken habit of pumping soap into my palm so I wouldn’t have to touch and contaminate the dispenser. I’m passionate about this. Simple Human (don’t you love that name) has freed me with a touch-free sensor soap pump that looks like it came from a futuristic doctor’s office. It’s currently drawing more attention in my kitchen than my cooking. Four AA batteries keep liquid soap or lotion coming in four different volumes. I naturally keep it low, to conserve the soap, but people keep washing their hands just to get the little guy to work. You can also set it to blink a blue LED light that indicates you’ve been lathering up a recommended 20 seconds. Don’t you know this could be a lure into getting small children to keep it clean?

You can’t look at chicBuds new PinkTooth wireless headset without thinking the word “bling.” Rows of pink or clear Swarovski crystals are designed to look elegant, not gaudy, but makers this hands-free headset for cell phones is all about functionality.
My tester reports students at the Newman Catholic Student Center gave it thumbs-up as they tested its clear sound and up to six hours of talk time. It goes for up to 200 hours in standby mode.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Banana coffee smoothie is good, I promise
I was just playing around with the idea of using up some cold coffee and decided to blend a banana in with it.
I’ve told several people who either made a curious “I’d try it” face or a “what were you thinking” face.
If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be telling you about it.

New from Aunt Jemima
I almost felt guilty enjoying Aunt Jemima’s new blueberry pancakes so much. They’re easy and made with real blueberries and came out just right in the toaster. I served mine with Log Cabin syrup, recently reformulated without high fructose corn syrup, and a grilled orange. Here are some ideas from Auntie J:
Microwave 3 Aunt Jemima Frozen Blueberry Pancakes (250 calories)
• Top with half of a sliced banana (54 calories)
• Drizzle 1 tablespoon light maple syrup (50 calories)

Salba update
I have been snacking for you, readers. Salba Smart makes it easy to enjoy the tiny salba grain in someting new: Original, Bar-B-Que, or Cheddar & Sour Cream Baked Potato Crisps from Salba Smart. I tried the sour cream version and found it exotic looking and great tasting.
Here are some of salba’s claims to fame: high levels of Omega-3 essential fatty acids (300mg per serving), antioxidants, fiber, protein, calcium and iron. Ounce for ounce, salba grain provides three times more iron than spinach, 15 times more magnesium than broccoli, and six times more calcium than whole milk.
I’ve been adding it to salads, eggs and smoothes. The company adds it to yellow corn and whole wheat potato chips, pretzles and salsa, and every one of the products meets with hearty Darragh approval. Visit for the scoop.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hi honey
I got a jar of homemade honey the week I saw “The Secret Life of Bees” and got the book “Honey for Health & Beauty: Over 75 Recipes, Remedies and Natural Treatments.” Every bite of the honey is comforting, reminding me how my mother solved my allergy problems by spooning me honey from local bees.
Recipes in this book are easy and tempting, from the National Honey Board. There are also simple formulas for pampering, like Green Honey Glow Mask and Cucumber Eye Nourisher. Here’s some sweet stuff to enjoy:

Honey Citrus Soother
3 tea bags, green or black
1 cinnamon stick
3 cups boiling water
1/4 cup honey
1 cup grapefruit juice
Place tea bags and cinnamon stick in a 1-quart tea pot. Add boiling water, steep 3 to 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and tea bags; discard. Stir in grapefruit juice and honey.

Warm Nutmeg Cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until mixture thickens slightly.

Honey Cream
1 cup dairy sour cream
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl stir all ingredients. Refrigerate until serving.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Toast to life after Ike; Family constitution

If you’re in a position to toast Hurricane Ike survival, consider raising a glass to the spirit of Mid-County. This one-year anniversary is a milestone.
Vya is promoting vermouth aperitif in a sweet blend makers say inspires a “warm tingling sensation” with a spicy aroma. I couldn’t imagine what would make me more tingly than getting back to my own bed after flooded homes and trailers. The extra dry label reads that a forest after the rain is the idea behind this blend with lavender, sage, orris and linden. It’s very earthy and I tried it on the rocks, as suggested, and would love to try it enhanced (or maybe thinned) with vodka or gin for the suggested martini. Andrew Quady of California is the maker of this wine that’s a step above what I’m used to.

Star power fuels DVD on Bethlehem’s brightest
A study of the stars is always interesting. Lawyer Rick Larson tells how a young man’s offer to install holiday decorations lead to his Biblical study. “The Star of Bethlehem: Unlock the Mystery of the World’s Most Famous Star” is a DVD that’s a little bit History Channel and a little bit like the TV drama “Numbers.” Math is a big part of how ancients worked to follow this star and Larson bring a new passion to the study. “The Passion of the Christ” producer Stephen McEveety helps bring this story to the public.

What a great play on words. The Gatlin Brothers have released “The Pilgrimage,” singing their respect for Johnny Cash. It’s all based on a Gatlin family member said that the music business would never be the same after Johnny Cash died and his house burned down. Larry Gatlin flipped over his placemat and began writing. If you like country music, this album is kind of a two-for-one.

Draft it and sign it
Scott Gale details the highs and lows of his family getting on track with their written plan in “Your Family Constitution: A Modern Approach to Family Values and Household Structure.” It’s a simple reminder for families to treat each other with respect. Here’s a quick list of “valued behaviors” from the book: Academic performance, chores and allowance, clean-up, listening and communication, politeness, sharing and taking turns and telling the truth the first time. Even households with only adults could benefit from these tips.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Carry a smile with your bag, try black garlic and sweet stuff
Sunny side up
In a closet clean up, my daughter inherited a bag that has not failed to bring a smile. It looks like a red and white checked tablecloth, putting one in the mind of a barbecue. Turn it over and there’s a “face” of two eggs with a bacon mouth made of vinyl. Smiles break out whenever the bag goes out on the town. I want to decorate a whole ‘40s style kitchen around this bag, but it’s currently making appearances with Jasmine at Lamar University.
Sunshine to the donor, Michelle Sheppard. Her mother reports she is enjoying her first semester at Lamar just fine.

Black garlic
I admire everyone who tried black garlic at my desk. The name alone arouses the senses. Is it a Halloween dish? A savory status symbol?
Besides a conversation starter, I think aged black garlic is a sweet, spicy nugget of bliss. Cloves of gooey garlic are distributed by Frieda’s Specialty Produce in bags. The company’s serving suggestions include black garlic with noodles, pizza, potatoes and even ice cream. I’m seeing it as a stand-alone star, with bread and wine. I don’t want much to distract me from the flavor, which a co-worker likened to a garlic smoothie, or kissing an Italian woman. We get excited about our food here. Once you peel the papery clove, the inside is the consistency of a date. Tasters have also compared the flavor to molasses, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and licorice.
Whole garlic heads are aged a month in a special high-heat fermentation process, naturally turning the cloves a deep, obsidian black. Go for it.

Sports (or chocolate) fan
I’ve never liked Nolan Ryan as much as I do now. I can be mercilessly teased on my lack of sports knowledge, but Chew-ets Peanut Chew’ collectible edition could change that. Amazing what you can pick up when enjoying a nice chocolate bar. But these mini bars bundled with images of famous ball players Ryan, Lou Brock and Cole Hamels really weren’t designed for me. Fans will appreciate the cool pictures and people like me will love the flavor. Texas stores will get the Ryan edition. All three will also be available online at  

Superfood kit
Make your own superfood chocolate in an ice tray with Navitas Naturals’ new Organic Superfood Chocolate Kits in Goji Berry, Cacao Nib and Goldenberry. My daughter made these and I thumbed through the super-informative catalogue of the company’s tempting health foods. It would take all my space to report how healthy these chocolate kits could be, so I’ll just sum it up with a “yum.” This is hearty chocolate for gourmets, not the super-sweet stuff in Easter baskets.

Fudge folks
Wisconsin DairlyLand Fudge wants Texans to know they can mail you some caramel apples, cookie ‘n’ cream or pumpkin fudge for the holidays. Don’t think you’ll want to stop after the Christmas tree is put away. Go for the sample box with peanut butter and cashew varieties. I haven’t tried cranberry nut, but it’s available September through November and remember, local reader Seabourne Stokes says cranberries are going to be popular this season. Visit to get your order in.