Saturday Morning Market

Sun-ripened tomatoes, yellow squash, swiss chard with wet mud still clinging to the roots…  I love visiting the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings.  Today’s top find was fresh peaches and last week we discovered homemade apple pie and new potatoes.  I can still smell the beeswax candles that I tucked into a package for Mom.  And my family can tell you about my somewhat irrational love affair with Berryhill grilled (really – grilled)  “fish tacos of the gods” (according to the Houston Chronicle).  Berryhill’s cooks must sign a non-disclosure agreement and the recipe for their secret sauce is closely guarded.  The tacos are that good.  And they’re available for only $2.00 at my local market.

I appreciate the seasonal variety, just-picked produce, handmade goods and regional specialties.  What I enjoy most is the energy and the human interaction.  It’s nice to place money in the hands of the person who baked your pie and to see the regulars that line up to buy kettle corn, Texas BBQ sauce or Philly water ice.  I like getting tips from the shopper standing next to me and to learn how to cook the vegetables available this week from the people who planted and picked them.  There are musicians playing, food cooking, talking and laughter.  It’s a sunny Saturday morning and it feels like community, celebration and home.

Sugar Land Farmer's Market

Sugar Land Farmer’s Market

Squash & Carrots

As delicious as it looks...

As delicious as it looks…

Water Ice with a Philly Accent

Water Ice with a Philly Accent

Grower & Buyers

Berryhill Baja Grill

Berryhill Baja Grill

Swiss Chard & Carrots Haul of the Day

An Easter To Remember

Lovely Gnomys from Annekebouke

Lovely gifts: Gnomys by Annekebouke

Today I remember an unusual Easter, 21 years ago, in a Dutch village far away.

We were young and living the grad student family life in Lawrence, Kansas, with a 2-year-old daughter and another baby on the way.  My husband’s studies were nearing an end and he accepted a job offer – in the Netherlands.  I had traveled out of the country only once, and the thought of an international move was daunting.

We were heading to the unknown and this was pre-internet, so my resources consisted of a few books about Holland at the local library.  A Dutch acquaintance offered to introduce me to a “relative of a relative” who happened to live near the town where my husband’s office was located.  I wrote a letter introducing myself and asked questions about midwives, housing and a few other concerns and sent it air mail to Holland.

A few weeks later, the phone rang.

It was Els.

She had located a midwife and made an appointment, found all of the information I needed regarding housing and answered my other questions.  “I noticed that you arrive the day before Easter.  I always have a brunch and will come by to pick you up at 9:00.  Ok?”

At 9:00 on Easter morning, Els arrived in her van and transported us to her home.  The entire day was a bit of a blur, with an Easter egg hunt in the garden, a wonderful breakfast with extended family (and very welcome strong Dutch coffee) followed in the afternoon by a boat tour around the canals of Leiden.  We didn’t leave until bed time and by the end of the day, we were exhausted.  But Els understood jet lag and although I could barely keep my eyes open I thanked her later!

She also understood moving to another country, and we discovered that we lived not so far away from each other in the U.S. for a few years.  She understood raising a family with lots of creativity and limited means and donated furniture when she realized we had left almost everything behind.  Els adopted us like her own family from the moment we met.

This morning we had a quiet brunch with just the three of us at home.  Els had a houseful of visitors, decorating with her usual creative flair and hiding the eggs carefully in the garden for the little ones to discover.  We’re far apart but I was there in spirit, remembering a wonderful Easter so long ago.

Festive Weekend: Lunar New Year and Mardi Gras!

Lunar New Year

You may remember my pitiful post last month about my non-existent social life.  I’m happy to say that with some initiative and a positive attitude, life has improved and this weekend I enjoyed two celebrations in one day!

Saturday started with the Lunar New Year at the Chinese Community Center, an annual celebration featuring dance, music, food and cultural traditions from the many Asian communities in Houston.  This year is the Year of the Snake, and in addition to the familiar booths and activities we sampled tea and admired the bikes that the Chinese Motorcycle Club had on display.

Lunar New YearLater I spent a wonderful Mardi Gras evening eating crawfish etouffee and spending quality “girl time” with my fun-loving friend and two new friends.  It was great to listen to music, tell stories, laugh hysterically and just have fun.

Mardi Gras Festivities

In another city on another continent, my daughter donned costume and mask and she and friends joined crowds in the streets for Carnival festivities.  Today I saw the photos (love Facebook and digital photography) and could imagine the excitement she felt as she took part in this celebration for the first time.

New Year, new moon and spring is in the air.  Join the celebration!

Austin Food Trucks: On the Road and À la Mode

Food Truck Austin

Food trucks are just one of many things to love about Austin (more about my love affair with the city in a separate post…).  We’re not talking “roach coaches” or the standard taco trucks that cruise construction sites – although I hear you can get some pretty mean Tex Mex.  I’m talking about the early-morning, late-night, humble, vegan, kitschy, original, ethnic, delicious cafes, barbecues, dessert wagons and more.  No matter your taste, they’re a culinary adventure on wheels.  It turns out that, in addition to being the Live Music Capital of the world, home of the UT Austin, Whole Foods and the hipper-every-year South by Southwest festival (SXSW), Austin is a street food lover’s paradise.  Appearances range from unassuming to artistic, clever and sometimes downright odd.  Some go it alone, rolling with abandon from one spot to the next and you have to track the location via Twitter.  Others cluster together in cozy two’s or three’s and feature shaded tables by day and a festive, sparkling ambiance at night.  One establishment – Torchy’s Tacos –  even grew from one trailer to 14 locations in 4 cities, and others have been featured on The Food Network and Cooking Channel.  These aren’t dives or greasy spoons – often food trucks offer some of the best and freshest food served by some of Austin’s most talented chefs.  There are several websites such as Austin Food Carts, Best Austin Food Trucks, Food Trailers Austin and Roaming Hunger that feature maps, menus, reviews and more.

Although the Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival is taking a sabbatical, that combination of words stirs the imagination and makes me want to pack a basket and hit the road.  The good news is that every day is a festival and you can have the pleasure of sampling good food at decent prices when you visit these local eateries on wheels.

Gordoughs_Roaming Hunger

Gordoughs (Roaming Hunger)

Korean Truck

Korean BBQ Tacos

Words Escape Me

laundry line

Sometimes,

I feel like working in silence.

Kneading bread dough,

painting walls,

pulling weeds with the sunshine on my back.

fence

Here are some images from a walk around the block in historic Richmond on a quiet afternoon.

 

wringer

Richmond oaks

Beyond Ramen: Students Abroad Seeking Inspiration!

Ramen

You’re far from home, renting a room and dealing with limited resources and unfamiliar ingredients.  It’s the middle of winter and the schedule is busy but you’ve got to eat and stay healthy.  You can’t eat out every day but don’t want to eat leftovers all week.  What’s a student to do?

Here’s the challenge!  Find a few recipes that are:

  • quick and fairly easy – prep shortcuts welcome
  • nutritious, including several food groups and some variety
  • inexpensive, with limited ingredients and waste
  • made with readily-available ingredients (anywhere in the world)
  • vegetarian or fish
  • made on the stove (no oven available)

I’ve been cooking for the multitudes since I was 15 and have a walk-in pantry and more than enough gear – so cooking for one on a hotplate is a distant memory.  Daughter and I are both doing some research, but I know that all of you are a great resource!  Please comment with your best tips.

Around the World #7: Moroccan-Inspired Vegetable Stew & Couscous

Moroccan Market

Creative Commons: Adam Greig

I dream of someday exploring the markets or souks of Marrakesh.  I see a clash of colors, with slippers of every hue piled high, stacks of pottery, piles of beads and textiles draped across the ceilings.  The sounds of music playing, vendors shouting and people talking are overwhelming and spicy scents fill the air…

Wait – that is just the lingering aroma of our Moroccan-inspired dinner!

This post is dedicated to my father-in-law, a Spaniard born in Morocco, and my daughter, a student and explorer of North African cultures.

Moroccan Vegetables

Moroccan-Spiced Sweet Potato Medley

Serves 6

(this recipe was borrowed and adapated from Good Housekeeping’s Simply Vegan!)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped fine

3 garlic cloves, pressed

1½ teaspoons curry powder

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 can (14½ oz.) diced or crushed tomatoes

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 large sweet potato, cut into ¾” cubes

2 small zucchini, cut into ¾” pieces

¼ cup frozen peas

1 cup couscous (prepare as directed)

Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add onion and cook until tender and golden, 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in garlic and spices and cook 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, garbanzos and sweet potato; cover and heat to boiling over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in zucchini and peas, cover and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to package directions.

Serve stew over couscous.

Good with warm naan or pita bread and a salad.

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