Badges and Treasure

Girl Scout Badges

Self discovery takes many forms.  Assessments can be helpful to uncover your strengths, interests and abilities. You can be a tourist in your own home and examine bookshelves and spaces, music and tools.  But I found the most helpful clue hiding in my closet and discovered that my interests and passions were there all along.

My mom had kept my Girl Scout sash for safekeeping and I was a little startled when I looked more closely at the collection of badges.  It was all there.  The hobo bandana (it’s called a bindle – there’s an official term) hinted at my inner vagabond and the footsteps and tent foreshadowed my cross-country walk and many camping adventures.  There is the dutch oven and grill, different than my titanium cookware and compact camping stove, but with the same function and simple pleasure.  The sculpture, palette and brushes, tools, basket and yarn doll bring back memories of craft-making with my daughters and a forgotten love of drawing, painting and clay.  The treble and bass clef are a nod to my enjoyment of music and the ingredients are evidence of the beginning of a lifetime of cooking and culinary exploration.  I don’t experience much of the four seasons down here in Texas, but remember watching in anticipation for the first spring flowers and loving Indian summer, cool weather and autumn leaves.

What are your badges?  What activities do you enjoy?  Look closely and find the treasure of you.

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


I feel like working in silence.

Kneading bread dough,

painting walls,

pulling weeds with the sunshine on my back.


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



Richmond oaks

Beyond Ramen: Students Abroad Seeking Inspiration!


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.

From My Bookshelf: Cooking Classics

Some weeks I use a meal planning program to map out every night’s menu and develop a shopping list and life is easy.  Other times I let spontaneity take over and I’ll buy something from the farmers market and figure out how to use it later or look in my fridge, Google a few ingredients and see what recipes come up in the search.  In either case, getting to the point where I can confidently whip up something on the fly came years of knowledge stemming from a handful of cooking classics that are still on my shelf.  The following are more than books – they have guided me and shaped my cooking style over the years and their recipes have become a part of the fabric of our family memories.  Online blogs, websites and databases are definitely a great development and some may argue that books have become obsolete, but don’t forget the well-loved classics that have helped many lifetime cooks like me.  Call me old school, but inscriptions,  flour and torn pages are all part of the experience and stains are like clues on a treasure map.  The more you find, the better the recipe in most cases.

Joy of Cooking

Even Julia loved it! Well-worn copies from the library of Julia Child

Joy of Cooking (1985 edition by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker)

I am constantly surprised by the breadth and depth of this all-inclusive volume.  With hundreds of recipes, thorough and simple-to-understand instructions and many favorite basics, the Joy of Cooking is a must have.  My copy is falling apart at the seams and its pages carry the stains of many haphazardly joyful cooking experiences.  I’ve often thought that the only thing missing was nice photographs, so a recent series of JOC books that focus on a particular area (breakfast, soups, vegetarian, etc.) and feature full-color photography might be worth checking out.

American Wholefoods Cuisine (by Nikki Goldbeck and David Goldbeck)

I discovered this cookbook when working at a natural foods cooperative and authors Nikki and David taught me use new and unfamiliar ingredients to build a new repertoire of favorites.  Life has come full circle and I find myself referring to this cookbook again to support a whole foods lifestyle.

Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking (1982 edition by Janet Johnson Nix)

This book was a gift from my grandmother, and the front page bears the inscription “To my dear granddaughter, hoping this book will help a bit in your ‘domestic’ interests”.  Well, it did and this book is still a good reference for dishes such as basic bread, quiche, pancakes, crepes, apple crisp, soups, salad dressings  and many others.  The 1987 edition by Jerry Anne Di Vecchio was updated to include more low-fat recipes and this book features “how-to” photos illustrating technique for those new to a recipe or cooking in general.

Eater’s Choice (1987 edition by Dr. Ron Goor and Nancy Goor)

Unfortunately, high cholesterol seems to run in our families.  This book was helpful when I became aware of this health issue and my ability to control it to some extent and lose weight by making healthier food choices.  Good basics and simple ingredients form the basis of the Goors’ recipes and I appreciate the simple, clear directions.  I haven’t looked into the newer editions but would recommend their books for those interested in a lifetime of health.

Ode to Dodoni

One thing I really like about Houston is its abundance of international food.  Not only are there thousands of restaurants to choose from, but there are also many specialty shops, bakeries and grocers such as Hong Kong Supermarket, Viet Hoa and my favorite, Phoenicia Specialty Foods.  A trip to Phoenicia is an inspiring culinary adventure.  The smell of spices, busy aisles full of people from many countries and floor to ceiling selection make the store feel more like a bazaar.  Phoenicia has a great selection of produce, meat, deli and bakery items and specializes in European and Middle Eastern imports.

Some time ago I sampled several varieties of feta and fell in love with Dodoni.  The guy behind the counter told me that it was an excellent choice and that it was produced in the village of Dodona, which is located in an especially beautiful and sacred area of Greece.  I have no idea if it’s true, but I’m a sucker for a good story and can tell you that Dodoni feta is delicious wherever it’s made.  It has a mild but complex taste that adds flavor to salads, omelettes,  sandwiches and many other dishes.

Dodoni Feta at Phoenicia Specialty Foods

French, Bulgarian, Greek, Domestic… what’s a girl to do?

This summer we discovered a Turkish Kebab place off the main square in the university town of Ulm, Germany.  What a find!  I had an incredible flat bread vegetarian sandwich stuffed with fresh cheese and vegetables, which inspired my version below.

Feta, Etcetera

Top a Greek pita with your choice of the following:

  • Hummus
  • Cubes of feta cheese
  • Shredded lettuce
  • Chopped tomato
  • Diced bell peppers
  • Chopped onion (red or sweet yellow)
  • Cucumber (I like baby or Japanese cucumbers)
  • Pickles
  • Julienned radish
  • Grated carrots

Serve and enjoy.  You can combine the leftovers in a bowl and marinate with your favorite dressing for a nice salad for your next meal.

Feta Etcetera Pita

Hobo Eggs at the Paradise Cafe

Eggs and salsa.  Even though I’m now in the Lone Star State, for some reason those 2 simple ingredients transport me back to Lawrence, Kansas in the 1980’s.  Lawrence was, and still is, eclectic, original and fiercely independent.  A captivating crossroads, the town has a way of attracting people on their way to somewhere else and the pull is so strong that they never want to leave once they’ve felt its energy.

As I mind-travel back through time, the first stop is the then-popular (now-non-existent) Paradise Cafe.  In the beginning, I was one of the regulars that lined up on Sunday mornings and then I waited tables there (as a friend said, I always got the groovy jobs…).  Paradise was a dining destination any time of the day, but breakfast was special.  Popular favorites were Breakfast Enchiladas and Hobo Eggs – my versions below.

 Breakfast Enchiladas

serves 1

  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 tablespoon butter or oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup shredded colby-jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onion
  • Picante sauce
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream

Heat up a large skillet over medium heat.  Mix together eggs, 1/2 cup cheese, half of the green onions.  Warm each tortilla in the skillet, place on a plate, spread with half of the egg/cheese mixture and roll up.  Butter or oil the skillet and carefully place rolled tortillas in the pan.  If some of the filling runs out as it cooks, just push it back in.  When golden brown on one side, turn over and continue cooking until tortilla is golden and filling is set and cooked through.  Transfer to a plate and top with picante sauce, cheese, sour cream and remaining green onion.

 Hobo Eggs

serves 1

  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons picante sauce
  • 1/8 cup shredded colby-jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
  • 1 green onion, sliced

Heat  oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Peel and dice potatoes into small cubes.  Place carefully in the hot pan and cook until golden-brown, stirring occasionally.  One shortcut is to pre-cook the potatoes for about 2 minutes in the microwave to reduce cooking time and to make sure that the potatoes are tender.  Place cooked potatoes on a serving plate.

Fry eggs, place on the bed of potatoes, and top with salsa, cheese, sour cream and green onion.

Roll it back a few years before and I was a student looking for unique experiences on the cheap.  One Sunday morning a friend invited me to have brunch at a secret location.  This was no ordinary dining establishment – its location was known to a select few and each week a new name and theme determined the menu and decor.  The clandestine nature of the cafe enabled the artistic students running the place to avoid licensing and added to the word-of-mouth appeal.  We parked in front of an old building with apartments above a small shop and rang the doorbell to be admitted.  The sticker plastered above the bell identified the cafe as something like “St. Mary Magdalene of Sorrows Cafe” and we heard fiesta music as we climbed the wooden staircase.  We were shown to our table – a simple cardboard box – and took our seats on the floor.  Each table was topped with a cheap Mexican prayer candle and although the atmosphere was DIY it was cheerful and light.

The menu that day featured a few Tex-Mex dishes, and here’s one that’s easy and delicious and still brings a smile to my face.

 Hot Eggs

serves 1

  • 2 slices of whole wheat toast
  • 2 tablespoons of low-fat cream cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons picante sauce
  • Alfalfa sprouts

Toast bread and place on serving plate.  Spread each slice with half of the cream cheese.  Fry eggs, place on cream cheese and top with picante sauce and sprouts.

Cheap and cheerful and they’ll bring you blessings

Peas on Earth and Texas Caviar

Every Saturday morning I visit our local farmers market, and my favorite vendor is the one specializing in Asian fruits and vegetables.  Many times I’ve spotted something unfamiliar and had no idea how to prepare or cook it.  So I ask the growers for tips, do a Google search when I get home and – voila! – an instant food adventure!
This week the guy recommended purple hull peas.  Maybe because they were the most expensive thing he was selling, or maybe because they were great.  I suspected the former, hoped for the latter, and bought a bag along with my eggs, zucchini and all the rest.  I did a quick search and found a fellow blogger, cook and Texan Jill McKeever and her Simple Daily Recipes site.  “How to Cook Fresh Purple Hull Peas – SUPER FAST” seemed like just the ticket.  So I pulled out the pressure cooker, piled in the peas and a few other ingredients, cooked for 4 minutes (yes, only 4 minutes!) and let it cool.  It was super fast, super easy, and delicious!  Purple hull peas taste something like black eye peas but just a little milder and the quick cooking and slow cooling means they hold their shape and texture but are tender and have a nice gravy/sauce.  I always cook enough for leftovers and these are destined to become Texas Caviar.  Here’s a quick and easy recipe.


  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 medium-size red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • 1 cup cooked purple hull peas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn, cooked lightly and drained
  • 1/2 cup medium picante sauce
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice


Stir together all ingredients in a large bowl, cover and chill, stirring occasionally, for 8 hours. Serve with tortilla chips or as a side dish.

p.s.  If you don’t feel like Tex Mex, you can substitute Italian dressing for salsa + cilantro + lime and it’s just as good!