Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Everyone has their quirks. Two of mine are that I am compulsive and that I’m a hypochondriac. What I mean by compulsive is that any time I develop a new interest; I obsessively oversaturate myself with this subject until I’m satisfied. For instance, I can’t just watch a regular season of TV. I have to wait until the season is available on DVD so that I can watch it all at once, and sometimes over and over again. What I mean by hypochondriac is that I immediately begin to display symptoms of whatever illness is being described to me. This is extremely unfortunate due to my recent compulsion involving historical novels.

We have a trip to Maui planned for January 2012 so I am compulsively learning everything I can about Hawaii. Recently, my neuroses combined to form the perfect storm while reading Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, a historical novel about a 20th century leper colony housed on the Hawaiian Island. Due to other recent historical reads, I’ve experienced/imagined symptoms of scurvy, stomach ulcers and lice but leprosy was a whole new experience for me. In fact, just reflecting on it, my whole body is starting to itch (even though the book taught me that the sores don’t actually itch due to severe nerve damage).

Despite my side effects, it was a good read, one that has given me some lesser known insight into Hawaii. I’m sure that Jonathan is glad that I’ve resolved to read 2 novels a month, meaning my leprosy complaints only lasted for two weeks this time.

Bad news for him- my current read involves a woman going through early menopause.

Admitting your faults is the first step on the road to recovery. More bad news for Jonathan: I’ve added this novel to my que.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Not your Mama's Chicken and Dumplings

No one makes Chicken and Dumplings like my Mama. Of course, Jonathan would say the same about his mama. It’s only natural that I want my future kids to say the same about me. So I decided to stop being intimidated and attempt chicken and dumplings for myself.

Problem is, everyone seems to have a different version of how to make dumplings. Also, nobody writes this recipe down. I’m a rule follower. I’m a measurer. I need hard and concrete facts when trying a new recipe. My mama and mama-in-law were little help in this department. I transcribed their oral dictation of their recipes and realized I had no concept of what their instructions meant. So I googled it, of course.

Do you know the Pioneer Woman? I just love her recipes. Mainly because she couples her step by step instructions with step by step pictures. Now, for someone who just loves to follow instructions, I’m not so good at actually reading through them. If I had, maybe my attempt at chicken and dumplings wouldn’t have been such a complete failure.

My problems began at the grocery store. Now anytime before I try a new recipe, I scan the ingredients. If I don’t know where to locate it in the grocery store- I throw the recipe out. I usually have some concept of all the ingredients Pioneer Woman uses in her recipes, which is another reason why I love her blog. This particular recipe had me slightly confused on two ingredients 1) whole chicken, 2) turmeric.

Turmeric is a spice, for those of you who like me had never heard of it before. And typically, spices are listed in alphabetical order in the grocery store. Jonathan let me in on this little secret and it is blowing my mind. No longer will it take my 15 minutes to spot my desired spice on the baking aisle. Now it will only take the length of the alphabet song- does anyone else do that? Anyway…

As for the whole chicken, if I had read ahead into the instructions I would have heeded PW’s advice to buy a pre-cut-up chicken. Since I did not, that task was up to me. Now during a game of “I’ve never”, I can no longer say that I haven’t pulled out a chicken’s innards with my own bare hands.

That was the first step.

Then I was struck with the question of- how does a 110 lb woman cut through chicken bone? Answer: she doesn’t. Instead, I had to break the bones at the joints and then pull them apart. It’s sickening, take my word for it. Both of these tragedies could have been avoided by buying a pre-cut chicken. Noted.

It was about this point that I put away my pride and enlisted my husband to help me. This is where the recipe really turned disastrous. I told him to brown the chicken and veggies in a little bit of oil and butter. Apparently he could of used more specific instruction because a “little bit” turned into 1 cup of olive oil and a stick of butter, 4 Xs the recommended amount. Once the chicken is browned, you are then supposed to mix the chicken and juice in with the chicken broth. Oh yea, mix it right in with 1 cup olive oil and 1 stick of butter. Healthy. But at least I could blame that one the hubby. And really, we weren’t gonna recover from that one .

The worst part was, that if I had just read the instructions- the ‘browning with a little bit of olive oil and butter’ step can be completely skipped if you are going to shred the chicken. Which I was.

The rest of the experience went smoothly enough. The dumplings, which I was most intimidated by, was super easy and delicious. However, the final product was so buttery and rich that I could hardly eat it. Jonathan went for seconds, because he loves me.

But you know it’s an unsuccessful cooking attempt when you’re cleaning the kitchen and see that your husband has thrown the recipe away. True story. I pulled it out of the trash though, because I feel like I can learn from my mistakes. The recipe really has potential and I made it so much harder than it had to be.

If you would like to see Pioneer Woman’s professional Chicken and Dumpling how-to, you can find it here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/12/chicken-and-dumplings/

When making a new recipe, I always jot down personal notes as I go. The margin notations on this recipe read: “No butter. Pre-cut chicken. Don’t brown.”

And the moral of the story is: read the instructions all the way through before you begin. Noted.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Year's Resolutions in August

I’ve been feeling the urge to make resolutions recently. I think it’s because I spent 20 years of my life in school and then almost immediately went to work for a University. So for me, my new year always starts in August. It’s a time to start fresh, get organized, de-clutter, and be inspired. Two of my “New Year’s Resolutions” this year are to cook one new recipe a week (ideally more vegetarian ones) and to read two books a month.

However, promptly after declaring my new recipe resolution, I discovered it was Houston Restaurant Week. Good thing I’m not one of those people who gives up their resolutions that easily…Okay, maybe I postponed it a week. But for the past two weeks I have stuck to it and am now researching which recipe to try this next week. And I’ve finished one book for August and still have one week to finish the second. I’d say that’s a successful start.

Anyhoo, this week has been chaos with the beginning of the Fall semester so I have fallen behind with my writing. Add that to my resolution list. I’m slowly working on my Chicken and Dumpling Saga (oh yea, it’s a saga) and hope to have it finished this week.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One Rooster

Have you heard of Pintrest? It’s my newest obsession. Basically it’s a website that allows you to link back anything eye catching onto one page, organized by category. For us visual people, it is pure heaven. Brainstorming ideas for what to wear when I meet the Queen of England has never been easier.

Since about the 3rd grade I have been clipping pictures from magazines and keeping sentimental objects in shoeboxes. Pintrest is much more sophisticated. It kind of makes my shoebox days seem equivalent to the old Zach Morris cell phones. Anyway...

I was mindlessly blog hopping earlier and came across a picture of a hand full of garden picked blackberries. Instantly I was struck with an overwhelming sense of warmth and comfort. As a child, I remember picking blackberries on the side of the road with my best friend, Simone. This is one of those “wow, I really had a great childhood” sort of memories and so the idea of walking into my backyard and picking blackberries kind of makes me giddy. Instead of having to print this picture out like I did in the old days, I was able to “pin it” to my inspiration board. Heaven, I tell you.

But travel back with me to a time before pintrest as I tell you a story about a special box in my closest...

When Jonathan and I married, we instantly moved into a 3 bedroom house without furniture. We pretty quickly had to agree on what our “style” was and got to work decorating our new home.

He obliged me French country furniture and plenty of floral prints. He let me paint the bathroom purple. He allowed me to decorate each room with no less than 5 Fleur di lis. Inevitably, he had to draw the line somewhere. And he drew that line at rooster decor in the kitchen. No Roosters.

“No roosters?" I whined, "But Jonathan…..I grew up with roosters (and cows, and ducks) in my Mom’s French country kitchen and I have always dreamed of having my own kitchen full of roosters. You CANNOT move me to West Texas and then break my heart by banning roosters from the kitchen.” (By the way, the “moving me to West Texas” guilt-trip worked like a charm all the time).

Graciously, he allowed me one rooster in the kitchen. One rooster? Talk about a tough decision! I landed on a lovely rooster clock that went perfectly with my giant floral art piece I had already picked out.

The next week, we went to Marshall's and I was in French-country-rooster heaven! But sadly, despite my best West-Texas guilt trip, my new husband was sticking with his one rooster rule. But then I found the cutest rooster box and I had to have it. Had to.Why did I need a rooster box? No clue. But I needed it. (This is what I like to call ‘Target’ syndrome).

After some discussion, we amended the one-rooster rule to state only ‘one rooster’ was allowed on display in the kitchen. Due to this loophole, my new rooster box would be permitted to live in the privacy of my closet. Suddenly, I knew exactly what I would use it for. This would be my new grown-up 'shoebox'. Anytime I came across a picture of something I wanted but didn’t or couldn’t have for whatever circumstance I found myself in, I would place the picture in my rooster box. You know, for a rainy day, or whatever. (Seriously, why didn’t I think of Pintrest first?)

The first item into the box was a picture of a Brittany spaniel in the snow. I wanted my Louisiana-bred Bailey to one day have the joy of playing in the snow. The dream was realized later that winter, and let me tell you, she was jubilant.

Also in the rooster box was a picture of a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. In April of 2009, I brought this dream home in the form of my rescue dog Samson. (West-Texas guilt in full effect for this one.)

There are some dreams that have yet to be realized. A picture of a sunroom. A travel brochure for Portugal. A nail polish named Fiona for the smiling daughter we see in our future.

With Jonathan’s job, it’s likely that we will bounce around (the world) every two years. While it’s exciting and an adventure we can’t wait to embark upon, it’s undeniably scary. My mother in law gave me some of the best advice I could ever hear:
Grow where you’re planted.

I may not put down roots for several years. My children may not ride their bikes to school. I may never be in a house long enough to add on a sunroom. Or a swimming pool. Or hand scraped wood floors.

But I probably will travel to Portugal one day, and there’s even a chance that a little Fiona may be in tow for the trip.I take comfort in opening up my pintrest page (or my rooster box if I'm feeling nostalgic) to contemplate my fantasy life. I also enjoy adding new dreams to the mix, and placing reminders of realized dreams there as well.

In the past three years, I’ve been able to add such beautiful memories. Yes, I can get comfort from imagining sunning myself on a beach in Turkey, but I can also remember getting blasted with wind and rain on the beach in Ireland.

And Scotland, for that matter.

Seriously, what is it with me and cold, windy beaches?

The point is, while I take comfort in imagining the great things in my future, I am awestruck to realize that the dreams I’ve lived in the past 3 years are starting to outnumber the ones I have only lived in my fantasy life.

For that, I am oh so grateful. I'm especially grateful for my husband who has just agreed to plant me my blackberry bush (no West Texas guilt needed). Too bad we may not be around next summer to enjoy the fruits of our labor….

(Pun absolutely intended.)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The many faces of Samson Elijah

Bright and early Monday morning I was at the vet’s office with Samson who was suffering from a nasty infected spider bite on his belly. Caution spiders in the Heights: You bit the wrong dog. I am coming after each and every one of you. You have been warned.

Sorry, the mama bear in me had to get that off of my chest.

Anyhoo, while in the waiting area, I struck up a conversation with Vizsla owner concerning the personalities of our afflicted pups. He said that Sam looked like he had a scowl on his face. I responded with the euphemism: “He has very expressive eyes”.

Poor Sam. Hands down he is the sweetest, most gentle, and happiest puppy in the world, but he gets such a bad rap because of his eyebrows. Even at the vet’s office, he was wagging his tail and greeting every pet and human in the place like he was the office welcoming committee. The only time he stopped wagging his tail was when a thermometer was so rudely shoved into his bottom, but even then he didn’t hold a grudge. As soon as his temperature was taken, his tail started wagging away once again.

But his tail and his face tell two totally different stories. Yes, my baby has very expressive eyes. For example:

"Life is rough."

"I am so humiliated"

"Sounds like a personal problem to me"

"Do I look like I care?"

I love you, little Sam. And don't you worry, Mama will avenge you for your pain and suffering. Spiders, beware.