Wisdom and Trust


Let yourself be silently drawn
by the strange pull of what you really love.
It will not lead you astray.

 ~ Rumi ~

So many times when I’m in transition, I push and pull and thrash about – only to find I’m on the wrong road or forcing something that’s not meant to be.

Then it’s time to be still, pay attention.

What makes your heart sing?  What is your path?

Regional Cooking: Cincinnati Chili

Cincinnati Chili

Not long before he died, my grandfather sent me his recipe for his famous Cincinnati Chili.  I was thinking of him over the holidays and reminiscing about his chili and cheese grits with my brother.  In the spirit of family and regional cooking, I’ll share his “secret” recipe that he was careful to pass along to me.

Cincinnati Chili is a regional style of chili con carne which is believed to originated with immigrants from Macedonia and has been served for almost a century in hot dog stands, diners and “chili parlors” throughout Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.  Cincinnati Chili has a thin consistency and is made with seasonings such as cinnamon, cloves, chocolate or allspice.  It is usually served over spaghetti or hot dogs and often topped with shredded cheddar cheese and diced onions.

I did a little research and found that there is an art to ordering this chili, something like ordering a coffee at Starbucks.  Here’s an example:

  • Bowl:  chili in a bowl (may be served with oyster crackers)
  • Two-way:  chili and spaghetti
  • Three-way:  chili, spaghetti and cheese
  • Four-way:  chili, spaghetti, cheese and onions
  • Five-way:  chili, spaghetti, cheese, onions and beans
  • Four-way bean:  chili, spaghetti, cheese and kidney beans

Cincinnati chili can also top a “coney dog,” which usually also includes mustard, cheddar and onion.

Cincinnati Chili

makes 2 quarts

Combine the contents of 1 package of chili mix (any brand) with 1 – 6 ounce can of tomato paste in a large saucepan and add 6 cups of cold water.  Add 1½ lbs. of lean ground beef – RAW (do not brown).  Stir with a fork until the beef is completely broken into small pieces.

Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring vigorously.  Sprinkle in 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 4 bay leaves and 2 dried chilies.

Reduce to a simmer and DO NOT COVER.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 3 hours until desired consistence – not too watery and not too thick.

Serve over spaghetti and add grated cheddar cheese.  Makes good conies, too.

Add salt, pepper and hot sauce to individual taste.

Sounds crazy, but it works.  And only one dirty pan.


Around the World in 50 Plates: The Christmas Edition


The day began with a brisk walk and a trip to revolutionary France (we saw Les Miserables at the local cinema).  This evening I spoke with my brother, we journeyed to Madrid via Skype and enjoyed paella with a glass of Rioja.

Simple.  Bliss.

Gifts from the Heart

giving hands

Are these hands giving, or are they receiving?

This holiday season, and every day for any reason, share these gifts and enjoy many happy returns.

  • Attention – take the time to put other things aside and to truly focus and listen.
  • Laughter – appreciate humor and laugh until you’re in tears (I do it regularly).
  • Sharing – most of us have more than we need – keep resources of all kinds in circulation and share your time if you have nothing else.
  • Growth – keep learning, exchange knowledge and invest in yourself and others.  Recognize and nurture potential, mentor and encourage others.
  • Warmth – Stop for a moment to see those around you and share a smile, a kind greeting or a hug.  Become a bright spot in someone’s day  or a radiant beacon.
  • Patience – Take a deep breath.  Instead of impatience and anger, offer assistance.
  • Forgiveness – This is the most difficult, but the best gift to yourself.  Let the anger go, or use the energy to help others through your experiences, wisdom and understanding.

These gifts cost nothing but time and intention, are easily shared and make a lasting impression.  Share freely and watch the results!

New Year’s Revolution


Every year about this time we start thinking about January and how this year will be different than all the years before.  We bring out the same old resolutions, dust them off, maybe add or subtract.  My annual list usually looks something like this:

  • Exercise more
  • Lose weight
  • Learn Spanish

A resolution is nothing but a “firm decision to do or not to do something,” and a decision is ineffective without motivation, meaning or a plan.  Lacking specific tasks and tactics and operating without clear vision, we quickly lose steam.

Sometimes it’s not necessary or desirable to make a change, and sometimes a complete overhaul is needed.  There is a spectrum ranging from reflection and resolution to renovation and reinvention.

I choose renovation.


Renovation is defined as the act of improving by renewing and restoring.  It is a good refresher, a new perspective, some polishing and cleaning up what is no longer useful.  It’s starting with a good base and seeing the potential.  And renovation suits me right now.

Dates, years and calendars really have nothing to do with our personal cycles of growth but we make the list each January nonetheless.  In my case, change this time has less to do with the new year than a different set of personal circumstances.

So I accept the challenge and embrace the opportunity for renewal.  I’ll make it up and make it happen.

Where are you on the spectrum?  Resolution or revolution?

No Plain Jane – She’s the Mother of Texas

Jane Long Morton Cemetery

Maybe it was the rainy weather, or it might have been the recent events in the news, but I was in a somber mood.  You’d think that a walk in a cemetery on a dreary day would just add to the sense of gloom, but I found inspiration in this resting place of many early Texas pioneers.

Next to the monument for Mirabeau Lamar, second President of the Republic of Texas, I found a gravestone inscribed, “Mrs. Jane H. Long, The Mother of Texas.”  It’s not often that you find tributes to women, or mothers in particular, so I wanted to learn more.

I returned home and did some research about this remarkable woman who was orphaned at 14, married at 16, a mother at 18 and widowed by the time she was 23.  When her husband James left on an expedition and her neighbors fled because of diminishing supplies, Long braved bitter cold and near-starvation while pregnant and accompanied by only her maid and her daughter at Bolivar Point.  She also kept tribal neighbors away by hoisting her petticoat as a makeshift flag and firing a cannon on occasion to make it seem that the fort was still fully occupied and well-defended.  Before her death in 1880, Jane went on to become a successful business woman and plantation manager and a central figure in this new frontier that became its own republic.  As I read about the pioneering woman who would earn the title “Mother of Texas” through her courage, tenacity and independent spirit, I wondered what she would think about the issues that face us today.

So I decided to ask.

Interviewer:  Mrs. Long, how do you feel about the Internet?

Jane:  To be honest, Facebook or Skype would have been handy when I was pregnant and literally holding down the fort on my own.  And GPS would have helped – but I’m not sure I would trust Apple maps.

I:  I hear you’ve had quite a few famous “leading men.”  Pray tell.

J:  It’s true – Ben Milam, Sam Houston, and Mirabeau Lamar have all tried to court me without success.  Sometimes I feel like Diane Keaton.

I:  Are you concerned about the fiscal cliff?

J:  I came all the way to Texas from Maryland – I’m sure one more cliff won’t be the end of the world.  As for the fiscal part – no one, including the government, should spend more than they bring in.

I:  Speaking of the end of the world – did you stock up?

J:  I wish I had.  James went off on one of his expeditions and my neighbors all left when the supplies ran out.  I was left pregnant and alone, save my young maid and small daughter, and we were desperate for food.  We were even hacking frozen fish and ducks out of the bay.  Talk about inconvenient.  Now I say, “be prepared.”

I:  Do you feel that women can be as successful as men in the business world?

J:  After I was widowed, I owned and operated two inns, bought and sold land, managed a staff and more than 2000 acres, raised cattle and sheep and grown cotton.  So what was the question again?

I:  Ok, point taken.  What management philosophy do you follow?

J:  It’s simple.  If you don’t work, you don’t eat.

I:  What do you think about the women’s healthcare issue in Texas?

J:  I think all women should have access to good healthcare.  I gave birth to one daughter in an ice-covered tent in the dead of winter and lost two children when they were small.  No one should have to go through what I have endured.  We’ve got to take care of each other.

I:  How do you feel about the “buy local” movement?

J:  I wholeheartedly agree – in fact, I take it a step further.  I refuse to buy anything that the Yankees up north have for sale and will only wear clothes made from cotton grown on my plantation.  And it’s organic cotton as well.

I:  About the recent election – would you have voted for President Obama?

J:  As I am a dyed-in-the-wool Confederate, I believe you know the answer to that question.

I:  How do you feel about pirating?

J:  I dined with that smuggler Jean Lafitte in Galveston and my husband tried to gain his cooperation, but I don’t trust the man.

Jane Long

While Jane and I wouldn’t see eye to eye about the Confederacy and slavery, I do admire her determination and think she earned the right to be called the Mother of Texas even if she wasn’t really the first Anglo woman to give birth in the state.  And as I look around and see all of us floundering through difficult times, I think the world could use a few more Janes.  And I wonder what she would think of us.

Fire and Ice


The Winter Solstice, shortest day of the year, and end of all eternity.  Yet we’re still here.

Fire and Ice

by Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

I’m Dreaming of a Skype Christmas

I'm Listening

I’m Listening

When I was growing up, my dad’s family lived in a small town where relatives lived within a couple of square miles of each other.  Mother lived next door to daughter, separated by an alleyway.  Aunt lived next to nephew and down the street from her sister.  The family whose house was just beyond the tiny bridge that defined the city limit was considered “out of town.”

Those days are gone.  Or, should I say, they never existed in a real way for the family beyond that small, geographically limited cluster.  Now, family members are dispersed across the U.S., North Africa and Europe and tiny factions of our extended clan will be dining together.  But we will take a few moments to reach out and Skype someone this holiday.  The image may be less than optimal and the connection and quality may waver.  The computer may even crash, as it does on occasion.  But thank goodness for Skype, Google Hangout or whatever the means to see and hear our loved ones far away.

Around the World #6: Tunisia, Shakshuka and Salad


House on the Mediterranean (photo credit:  Valerie Montes)

The smallest country in North Africa, Tunisia is bordered by Algeria, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea.  Tunisian culture is mixed due to a long established history of conquerors such as Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Spaniards, and the French who all left their mark on the country.  In January, 2011, Tunisia made headlines around the world when a campaign of civil resistance led to the removal of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and eventually to protests throughout the Middle East known as the Arab Spring.

This post is dedicated to my eldest daughter, a courageous world traveler who spent some time in Tunisia and came to love its beauty, food and blend of French, Berber and Arab culture.  Her stories have made me want to visit this little-known place so full of natural beauty and history.

Tunisian Market

Tunisian Market (photo credit:  Valerie Montes)

Shakshuka is a flavorful egg dish that can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Perfect meal with a salad and bread.  I accompanied this with a cheap and cheerful German Gewürztraminer – the fruity sweetness of the wine was a nice contrast to the spicy salad.


¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 onion peeled and chopped

1 clove garlic, pressed
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 tsp brown sugar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, minced
3 ripe roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon saffron strands (optional)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
¾  cup water
4 eggs

2 green onions, sliced

In a skillet, dry-roast the cumin on medium-high heat for about two minutes, until fragrant and golden brown.  Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes.  Add the garlic, peppers, sugar, bay leaf, thyme, parsley and coriander, and cook on medium-high heat until vegetables are tender. Add the tomatoes, saffron, cayenne, salt and pepper. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes, adding just enough water to keep it the consistency of a pasta sauce.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  You can prepare the sauce in advance.

Make 4 wells in the tomato mixture and break one egg into each well.  Cover the skillet and cook gently for about 8 minutes, until the eggs are set.  Top with green onion and serve with pita bread or French baguette.

Tunisian Shakshuka

Tunisian Salad
3 large roma tomatoes, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, choppedPeppers and Tomatoes
2 small serrano peppers
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
3 eggs, hard-boiled and quartered lengthwise
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small can light chunk tuna or albacore, drained
10 olives (black or green)
Romaine lettuce leaves

Place eggs in cold water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Drain hot water and fill with ice water.  Peel and quarter hard-boiled eggs.

Preheat oven broiler and place serrano peppers on a broiler pan.  Broil peppers for 4 minutes, turn over and broil another 4 minutes until skin is charred.  When cool, peel charred skin off carefully. ( **Use latex gloves or similar when handling peppers, if possible and be sure not to touch your eyes).  Once peeled, cut in half lengthwise, remove seeds with a knife or small spoon, and chop peppers finely.
In medium bowl, combine tomatoes, bell peppers, roasted serrano peppers, onion and garlic.  Sprinkle lightly with salt and allow to sit for 15 minutes.   In a small bowl, mix coriander, red pepper flakes, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Pour over vegetables and toss.  Chill for 30 minutes.  On a serving platter, arrange romaine lettuce leaves.  Mound vegetable mixture on the leaves, then top with tuna chunks.  Arrange eggs and olives around edges.  Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with paprika if desired.  Serve with a French baguette or loaf of sourdough bread.  Serves 3 – 4.

Tunisian Salad

Tunisian Salad

Winter in Texas

It’s December in Texas and you’d never know that the end of the world and fiscal cliffs were looming just ahead.  No dark days or doom and gloom here – it’s actually pretty bearable.  However, if you haven’t experienced winter in Texas, be prepared for hardship. Tea is good for those days when the temps plunge below 70 and always be ready to dig out the long pants.  Brrrrr….

Cup of tea?

winter footwear

changing leaves

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