Five Reasons to Read Rainy Autumn Afternoons over Labor Day Weekend

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Rainy Autumn Afternoons by Juniper Robertson

1. Because it’s a great read.

2. To begin mentally transitioning from summer to fall and letting yourself think about cool rain and good books.

3. It has a great love scene.

4. Reading is good for the heart and mind.

5. It’s on sale for .99 cents.

 

Scalloped Oysters

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Scalloped Oyster Prep

It’s tough to keep up with my mom; some won’t want to.  I’ve been trying my whole life.  My mother does things like when we are in Michigan for the summers, she wakes up and goes swimming every morning.  No big deal, except sometimes the water is forty degrees and don’t think rain will deter her because it won’t.  Oh yeah, no coffee until after the swim.  My siblings and I all roll out of bed around 9am and because we feel guilty if we don’t, we go for a swim before coffee.  But we might skip it if it’s raining or the water is almost at freezing.

Mom’s breakfast

This was my mother’s breakfast one morning in Michigan: coffee, Diet Coke, and lox.  I always think of lox as a dish served at summer parties with mimosas or champagne; in fact, I’ve been trying to like lox my whole life because I love the idea of them, but, honestly, I’m not a big fan.  My mother, on the other hand, loves lox and not because it’s fashionable.  She loves it so much that she doesn’t need the salmon cut in thin slices; she will just eat it as is (see above photo).

I’m writing all of this because I think of this recipe for scalloped oysters of my mother’s as a bit of an acquired taste.  My mother used to go make it with her grandmother, Nana, when she was little.  In early December, Nana would order the oysters specially and pick them up at the pharmacy.  Then, before Christmas, my mother and her brothers would go over to Nana’s and make bread (more on that in a later post).  Afterward, they were allowed to have some scalloped oysters.  To me, the generations before mine understood a bit better that one has to work in order to get something in return.  Well, even at a young age, my mother loved oysters and other acquired tastes, and so she serves scalloped oysters every Thanksgiving.  It’s delicious, but it took me half my life to realize that.

Layer of Saltines

Photo showing about how oysters should be spaced. This photo was taken after a few layers had been completed.

Layer of mixture of milk and half-and-half.

Layer of butter

Scalloped Oysters

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Ingredients

  • 32 oz of oysters
  • crushed saltines (about ¾ lb)
  • ¼ cup shallots chopped very small
  • butter (about ½ lb)
  • 1 to 2 pints of ½ and ½ mixed with milk

Preparation

  1. Spray pan (like a brownie  pan – 8” by 12 ½ “) with olive or canola oil.
  2. Crush a bag of saltines and layer bottom of pan with them.
  3. Then add a layer of oysters spaced an inch or so away from one another. Pour about 1/4 cup of milk and half-and-half mixture over oysters.
  4. Add another layer of saltines.
  5. Add a layer of about 7 to 8 large pats of butter (you should use about 2 sticks of butter) and shallots.
  6. Repeat process until you have gone through the ingredients.
  7. Cover.
  8. Put in oven for ½ hour until brown on top.

Polenta Pie with Cheese and Tomato Sauce

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Polenta with Cheese and Tomato Sauce

Happy Election Day to everyone in the US!  I waited over an hour to vote last Friday (no complaints, glad to have the opportunity), and when I came home, B had an awesome new Italian recipe waiting for me to try.  He got it from Gourmet Live, which I usually think of as having wonderful recipes but ones that take awhile to prepare. This is a super quick recipe that tastes amazing.  B used low-fat mozzarella, and it still tasted great.  Enjoy!

Polenta Pie with Cheese and Tomato Sauce (from Gourmet Live)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (16 to 18 ounce) ready made plain polenta roll (sold in plastic wrap)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 (25 to 26 ounces) jar chunky tomato sauce
  • ¼ pound mozzarella, coarsely shredded (1 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

 Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.   Oil a 9-inch pie plate or 4-cup gratin dish with 1 teaspoon oil.
  2. Cut polenta roll crosswise into ¼ inch thick slices and line pie plate with half of the slices, overlapping slices slightly to completely cover the bottom of pie plate.
  3. Stir 1 tablespoon basil into 1 ½ cups past sauce and spread over polenta, then sprinkle with half of mozzarella.
  4. Top with remaining half of polenta slices, then sprinkle with Parmigiano-Regggiano and remaining half of mozzarella.
  5. Bake until bubbling and golden, about 20 minutes.  Heat extra sauce while pie cools.  Serve with heated sauce for dipping. Yum!

Halloween Cupcakes

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My sister was in town this weekend for the Texas Book Festival, which was great, by the way, and we made Halloween cupcakes.  Before going to the festival Sunday, we both had a lot of work to do, so Saturday evening we were sitting in the living room, and both of us were surrounded by papers.  My legs were cramping, so naturally, after about one hour (that’s all I could take) of this torture, we decided to make Halloween cupcakes.  We turned on Pandora and listened to The Lumineers and David Grey (not really Halloween music) and got out the Easy Frost by Pillsbury, great for people like me who want to make really pretty flowers on their cupcakes but lack the hand eye coordination.  We also used a sparkly squeeze icing for the black strips.

To make the spider webs, I used the black glitter icing to make a spiral circle.  Then I used a toothpick and kinda dragged it from the center to the edge of the cupcake to create the lines.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

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When I first started taking photos, I loved silhouettes, so I took so many that I got tired of them.  This weekly photo challenge has reminded me how fun it can be to take silhouettes; however, I didn’t have many silhouette photos.  This photo is from a trip to Chicago my husband and I took for one of my best friend’s weddings.

Chicago’s skyline

Weekly Photo Challenge: Big

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July 1990ish, in a maroon mini-van with the windows down the whole way, my mother drove three crying teenage girls and one crying seven year old young man across the Texas state line.  Over one thousand miles from upstate New York to Central Texas, and we went kicking and screaming the whole way.  When we arrived in Texas, the heat felt suffocating and even living in a hotel didn’t mitigate the emotional wounds of an overly emotional adolescent girl who missed her friends and the familiarity of upstate New York (okay, the pool and going out to eat every night did help a little bit).  Texas’ expansive land looked dry and brittle compared to the lush green gardens we’d had in our backyard in Rochester.  Plus, the first day I went to school there were crickets jumping all across the floor of the girls’ locker room; nobody else seemed to really notice.

 

 It took a while, but Texas is a large part of my identity now.  On that note, so is moving seven times as a young child; it may not have been easy, but with each move, I was exposed to a new corner and way of thinking of our wonderful country. Pretty soon I started to notice how blue and huge the Texas’ sky was.   Pretty soon the friendliness of people stopped seeming insincere to me and just seemed nice.  Now I love Texas.  I love the crickets jumping around at night at gas stations and the sometimes austere landscape, but I also now know and love how truly varied Texas’ landscape is.

RIP Big Tex.

So that is my post for this week’s photo challenge.  It was a big moment in my life, and as they say, “Everything is bigger in Texas.”  It definitely is at the State Fair of Texas.  These photos are from last year, but I’ll be returning there next weekend for some more fried food and photos, can’t wait.

Grocery Store Fiasco, A Saveur Weekend, and Cream of Tomato Soup

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We’re having a Saveur weekend, meaning B’s making recipes from this month’s issue of Saveur.  To me, it also means everything should be elegant and lovely.  We should eat our food listening to jazz and sipping on wine.  Okay, maybe not all of that.  Anyway, mostly it has been elegant and lovely (or at least comfortable accompanied by lovely rain and misty skies), but we did have a not so elegant moment before B made the tomato soup this evening.

Saveur weekend setup

The scene was that I had been running around most of the afternoon trying to find the ingredients for the two Saveur recipes we decided to try this weekend.  First, I went to the small grocery store: rookie mistake, I know.  I should know better.  I’ve been in this situation many times.  B writes something on the grocery list, and I have no idea what it is, and it turns out it can’t be found at many of the smaller grocery stores.  I got everything on the list except the darn first item, fava beans.  B had even warned me of this, but I still dared to hope and went to the smaller HEB (our local grocery store) so that I could avoid the larger crowd at the larger grocery store.

I looked in the canned vegetables isle and in the frozen foods, but they were nowhere.  Finally, I buckled and decided to ask someone.  Being who I am, I decided to ask the kind employee in the nail polish isle if she knew if they had fava beans.  My reason for asking her instead of someone in the produce or food section was simply that she was in the least crowded area of the store on a Saturday afternoon.  I liked that; it was like a bubble of silence and peace where she was.  Needless to say, she did not know.  Hence, began the calling on the walkie talkie she was carrying, followed by me running after her (she was literally running through the store and she was fast; she definitely earned my respect ) to someone at the register who tried to help for a moment but then pointed us elsewhere the moment I had finally caught up to her.  We began running again.  However, this time I got stuck behind a couple seemingly content to stroll through the store on a busy Saturday afternoon.  Really people?  I become unnecessarily critical on my Saturday afternoon shopping sprees, forgive me.  So, I just craned my neck and tried to keep up with one of the nicest, most devoted employees I’ve come across as she ran straight to the produce section.  Ugh, right back to the busiest section of the store.

If I had photos of me running through the grocery store, I would post them here, but I don’t. This is a photo of the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich after my jog through the grocery store.

At produce, I was passed on to another employee after I thanked the first employee who had assisted me.  This man turned out to be as devoted an employee as the first.  We went from the produce to the dried beans (duh, I hadn’t even thought of that) until finally I convinced him it was okay.  As a last resort he said to me sheepishly, “I really hate to recommend this, but you might try the HEB plus up the road.”  I took his advice and dared to go to the HEB plus only because I knew I would not have to walk around the crazy Saturday afternoon crowd with a cart.  I had no better luck there, but if I wrote all about that and the hours I debated buying a cupcake book for the blog (I finally decided against it), I would lose all the readers who might still be reading at this point.  Anyway, I ended up buying some baby lima beans, which are not the same, and this is where the inelegant part of the day that I began the blog with happened.

I walked in the apartment tired and worn out.  B was sitting at the table studying for his exams this week.  I put the groceries up and asked him, “So how are we making the tomato soup tonight?”  Not that I was really going to have much of a part in making the tomato soup; I just like to say “we,” so it feels like we’re doing an equal amount of work, which, with my grocery store fiasco, I would say we did equal amounts of work today.  “I’m going to open a can, pour it in pot, and heat it up,” he said and smiled at me.  Well, that was about all I could take, so I stomped into the bedroom, got my headphones, came back to the living room, gave him my best glare, turned on my computer, gave him my best glare again, and started listening to Pandora (that would show him!).  He only let me glare for minute before he started pulling flour, garlic, carrots, onion, and other ingredients out for the soup.  We smiled at each other and laughed (mostly it went like that), and he made a delicious dinner as usual.  Our Saveur weekend was back on, and tomorrow for brunch he’ll be substituting in baby lima beans for fava beans in a brunch recipe neither of us has ever tried.

To indulge in a Saveur type weekend, here is one really great recipe to try.

Cream of Tomato Soup (recipe from Saveur, October 2012)

Ingredients

  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 4 slices thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 15oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. flour
  • 1 small bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf (Um, I also forgot this at the store, so we did not include this, but it still tasted wonderful.)

Preparation

  1. First heat the bacon in a saucepan over medium heat until its fat renders and it is crisp.
  2. While cooking the bacon,  B chopped up two carrots, the onion, and garlic and combined them in a medium size bowl.
  3. When the bacon is crisp, take it out of the saucepan, chop it up, and mix it in a bowl with the chopped vegetables.  Add butter to bacon fat and increase temperature to medium high.
  4. Add bacon and chopped vegetable to bacon fat and butter.  Cook and stir for about 10 minutes.
  5. Add tomato paste and cook for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add flour and cook until mixture is smooth.
  7. Add stock, thyme, bay leaf, and canned tomatoes, and bring to a boil.
  8. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 30 minutes.
  9. Remove from heat and purée.  B did this with a hand held blender (he uses a lot and claims it’s a great investment)
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Dollop with crème fraîche (we used light sour cream) and sprinkle with green onions and croutons (B cuts up a bread loaf and heats it in the oven; the croutons are lovely).

Very Inspiring Blogger Award

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Rachel of All Food, All Drinks, All Love nominated me and my blog for the Inspiring Blogger Award!  After a long work week, this was so nice to receive.  Her blog is wonderful with great recipes and great photos that really demonstrate how to prepare the food.  Thanks so much!

Rules for this award:

  • Link back to the person who nominated you.
  • Nominate 15 bloggers.
  • Share 7 facts about yourself.

The 15 bloggers I nominated (*Note: I tend to overdo things.  Well, things I enjoy doing, so I nominated 15 people but I also mentioned what I like about their blog.  This is not a requirement if you decide to participate.)

  1. Uni Homemaker for her great recipes and photos
  2. tuesdaynightboyfriend because she’s a great writer
  3. Kaylee’s World love the photos on her site
  4. Happiness Stan Lives Here because I want to try the delicious chocolate marshmallow teacups they posted along with great photos.
  5. iflunch I love New Orleans so does B.  I also love the photos these ladies posted on their site of New Orleans and the Louisiana Bayou.
  6. We Call Him Yes! Chef! Funny writing, amazing photos. This blog has it all.  I’ve been following it regularly, love it.
  7. Cacao, put down the shovel! literally inspiring.  Inspiring me to finally do November’s write a book in a month.
  8. Frugal Feeding one of those blogs that makes you jealous and inspired at the same time.  This author does everything well: photos, writing, and a great theme!
  9. mypenandme I love blogs with people’s writing and blogs about writing.  This one inspires me to start writing poetry again.
  10. Leanne Cole’s Photography Field Trips some great photos and tips on taking photos
  11. Sybaritica some great recipes and preparation instructions.  Plus, this author writes from Nunavut, which is admirable and interesting by itself.
  12. Dieu on the Grass some great photos and writing on this site.
  13. Rebecca I love reading even though I don’t do enough of it lately, so I love sites with recommended book lists.  This site also has some great photos.
  14. janna hill love the photos and writing on this site; plus, she’s from Texas:)
  15. The Illustrious Peacock love the photos on this site.

Seven Things About Me

  1. I love to read, take photos, travel, and write.
  2. I have a husband who makes me laugh everyday, even if I’m in a bad mood.
  3. I love to drive at night, and I love road trips, especially in the summer with the windows down and the radio turned up.
  4. Family and friends mean the world to me.
  5. One of my favorite possessions is my blue feather Christmas tree upon which I hang Dr. Seus ornaments every year.
  6.  My favorite seasons are summer in Texas and winter up north. I think the extreme temperatures make good life and writing material.
  7. I love detective shows: Law and Order; Cold Case etc.