Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What’s Cooking Wednesday: “May I Have More Zucchini Please?”

zucchini When my 6th grade nephew asked for more green veggies, his mom about flipped! His dad, my brother, and I figured that it must be the bacon. The secret to any good vegetable recipe? Bacon. In case you have any finicky eaters at your house, I’m here to help. From Donald Link’s Real Cajun, comes this recipe for Smothered Okra & Tomatoes. What we can learn: 1. If your grocery store is out of okra and you don’t have a mess from your garden, use zucchini. 2. This spicy tomato sauce is so wonderful, that you might find yourself using it on just about everything (eggs, grits, rice, potatoes, pasta, green beans…. I made extra and used it with fresh spinach the next night). Enjoy!

Okra & Tomatoes
(Or forget the okra and just make the sauce! It’s a wonder of fresh herby, spicy deliciousness!)
1 T. bacon fat
1/2 medium onion, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 T. tomato paste
3 plum tomatoes, diced
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
4 bay leaves
1 t. chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 1/3 chicken broth
(3 c. okra sauteed in 2 T. olive oil)
In a medium skillet heat bacon fat over medium-high heat. Add the onion, jalapeno, and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, salt and pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, red pepper flakes and vinegar. Cook for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down and form something of a paste, then add the broth and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes longer over low heat. (Stir into the sauteed green veggies of your choice. )

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ten For Tuesday: Cookbook Connections

cookbooks This is my cookbook shelf. Actually, this is just the main cookbook shelf (I have auxiliaries). I know this is the time of year when we’re all on a mission to declutter and pare down, but here are 10 books that have earned their spot. You’ll probably notice a trend.
10. Special Mexican Dishes: Easy & Simple to Prepare by Amalia Ruiz Clark. When I was in college in Tucson, I interned at a cooking school called The Tasting Spoon. That turned into a part-time job where I was paid in free classes and leftovers. (Steve did not complain! We were probably the only UofA students eating Beef Wellington.)  Mrs. Clark  taught me how to make tamales and even gave me an autographed copy of her book.
9. Renee’s Recipes. The blue binder was a wedding gift from a family friend in Tucson and contained many of her favorite recipes. Judy left plenty of space for me to add my own and it is now overflowing. On the first page of the section marked “Sweet Stuff” she included a picture of a precious baby along with the instructions “Don’t make one of these until you finish college.” (Sorry, Judy. I never was one to follow a recipe exactly.)
8. & 7. Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julia Child & Company. We know who wrote these two! My mother-in-law Dorothy was a fabulous cook and I used to love poring over her cookbook collection.  Now these are on my shelf where they remind me of many happy dinners and conversations about recipes and cooking.
6. Cooking With Love – Recipes compiled by the Women’s Grow Group of Bear Creek Community Church. Our previous church home for over 15 years, BCCC closed its doors this past spring, which makes this book even more special.
5. (Unnamed – I call it the Brown Binder)– Compiled by longtime friends Holly & Diane, this is a collection of their favorites. It makes me smile because it brings back memories of when we were all up to our ears in sippy cups and diapers. And baby showers. We hosted a lot of baby showers!
4. The Taste of Texas Anniversary Cookbook. The owners used to go to church with us and I remember having dinner at their house once, back before the restaurant moved to its current location, and hearing Edd talk about how he always looked for ways to make everything better, even something simple like taking a great blue cheese salad dressing and then adding more cheese, or a filet that’s seasoned AND bacon-wrapped AND served with butter. (Is it any wonder this place now has a 2 hour wait?)
3. Royer’s Round Top Cafe. Also former church members (what was it about Bear Creek & restaurant owners?), Bud & Karen taught us to find a passion and pursue it, no matter where the Lord leads. Cooking is more than just filling hungry tummies, it’s about the relationships around the table.
2. Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook. I unwrapped this one the Christmas when I was 8. Thanks Mom & Dad! The Mad Hatter Meatballs and “Ham” Loaf Hawaiian were only the beginning…
1. Home is Where the Heart Is: Memories and Family Recipes by Connie Augustine. Mom wrote her own cookbook! She and Dad filled it with family history, stories, photos, and of course recipes. They printed it, published it, and presented it to each of us this year. One day little Emmie & Jack and their cousins can read about their roots and hopefully make their own 3AM Salad or Graham Cracker Pudding and know the history behind it.
Some cookbooks are on my shelf because they are the “go-to” source for the best way to do certain things. Some are there because they are guaranteed crowd pleasers. But some are there because they hold memories of people and places-- cooking connections.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Good Morning!

sunrise “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

-Lamentations 3:22-23

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve Gift!

Our family has a strange custom, kind of a game, whereby the first person to say “Christmas Eve Gift” to another is supposed to have good luck the rest of the year. I’m too much a Calvinist to believe in random “luck”, and the game is a little self-serving when you think about it, but it’s all in good fun. Really, it’s a contest to see who can outsmart the other! (12.01 phone calls, sneaky emails, our competitiveness knows no bounds.) From everything I can tell, the custom is a southern one, originating back to the days when a small person in the house could say the phrase and be given a gift by the oldest person in the house.  So to all my dear readers, may I be the first to wish you Christmas Eve Gift! And may you all enjoy a wonderful, blessed day knowing the greatest Giver of all. The Lord bless you and keep you!
PS – There are a gazillion random Christmas pictures I could post, but I’m going to leave you with two of our precious Christmas gifts this year: Emmie & Jack.
funny face jack emmie in hat

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And Merry Christmas Dad!

Dear Dad,real cajun book
What to get you for Christmas? I know you think that food gifts are for “old people” and you certainly don’t qualify on that front. You won’t be getting any jellies or candies or Hickory Farms cheeses from me. (Not that I’m opposed to giving you the odd sack of licorice when we visit. Your secret is safe with me.) I also know that you don’t need any more computer gear – at least not any that I would be able to choose! But I do know that when you emerge from your office that you and Mom can be found in the kitchen, cooking up one of your latest recipe finds.  I think you two were just waiting until all us kids were grown so you could turn into gourmet chefs!
So here’s my proposal: Mom is happy that I’m blogging again (I’m trying Mom! Three posts in one week!) and I think you and I need to start a father-daughter cooking project. To that end I’m sending you your own copy of the same book I just bought. Why this one? Because the very first recipe in there is for smoked bacon! And more follow – for sausage, boudin, cracklins, and tasso. No, the entire book isn’t about pork, and  yes, you are the best “Real Cajun” cook I know, but I thought it would be fun to keep our family “charcuterie” in business. (Plus I’m a sucker for books that speak rapturously of rice and gravy.)
And now I need to find out where to buy pork bellies!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ten for Tuesday: Why I’m Glad I Live in Texas

01209 ornament
10. Our snowfall lasted less than an hour and looked beautiful. That’s enough for me.
9. Neighbors don’t shovel your driveway, but they do share their generator during a hurricane.
8. I can look out my window and see these same neighbors boiling the head of a deer in their driveway…
7. …because their sweet little freckle-faced daughter shot her first buck!
6. And she’s a cheerleader. This is Texas and we know how to cheer. And shoot.
5. Our state capitol is so beautiful that we have an ornament from the same on our tree.
4. I can  go Christmas shopping without hauling around a winter coat.
3. Best homeschooling laws in the country.
2. Every person in our immediate family has a town with their name in it. Stephenville, Alice, Kyle, Katy, Cooper, Joy, and Kelsey. Oh, and don’t forget Mathis, Texas (pop. 5295)
1. George Strait’s “When It’s Christmas Time in Texas” (Sorry you other 49!)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas Mom!

The blog is back. In case your life has been lacking in that special something that only Add More Chocolate can supply, I’m here to help. I got a little sidetracked by reading something somewhere that says “your blog should have a niche and a purpose.” Umm…. Ok. So here’s my niche: For all you homeschooling, Christian, writing teachers who cook and are too young to be a grandmother – this blog’s for you! (And your friends, relatives, mother’s friends, etc.) Welcome aboard!
Oh, and my purpose? To post recipes, spout off observations, share family pictures and updates, and occasionally make you laugh at my foibles. Feel free to listen in. I can’t promise that I’ll be giving away Kitchenaid mixers to my thousands of readers, but even if Mom is my only reader – she’s worth it!
And here she is with her two GREAT grandbabies.
mama and babies

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How Beautiful Are the Feet…

090709 2 Actually the verse from Isaiah  reads “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace…”  Why not talk about feet for a bit?
Emmeline’s feet are now 4 months old and she is learning to laugh and roll over.
Kelsey’s feet are now shod in brand new volleyball shoes. (You can figure out where I’ve been spending most of my time lately as well.)
Mom was here for a quick visit last month and we hit the shoe sale at Macy’s. Great day!
Radley’s foot is sporting a lovely purple bandage. He managed to cut his paw open on something in the backyard (our best guess is a bolt on the gate) and now has stitches.
Kristin has a ganglion cyst on her foot – going to the dr. this week. Did you know these are also called “Bible Bumps” because treatment used to involve slamming a Bible on them to break them apart? Seeing as how we’re now back to Bibles and feet, I think I’ll just tiptoe away for now…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I have a new title

apron Today was a busy one here at the CIRCE apprenticeship retreat. All this learning, talking, planning, contemplating, and discovering can really wear one out (not to mention exhausting one’s supply of verbs!) My roommate Cindy Rollins and I are positively giddy over the fact that our presentations are DONE! She did an incredible job presenting metaphors to us this afternoon. Keats, Churchill, Wordsworth, Shakespeare…when she says words are a playground (hey! There’s a metaphor now!) she is not kidding. My lesson on comparisons was more or less a success. (Ha. Ha. Ha.) Actually, it went very well considering I was presenting two lessons at once. Jeremy, one of our first year apprentices, said I was the “perfect hostess of learning.” Wow. Can I wear an apron with that? Actually, that description describes exactly what I’m hoping to accomplish. I want to help you feel at home with new ideas and encourage you to try something you might have previously thought was “icky.” May I show you to your seat?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

It’s All About Absorbency

A little glimpse from babies in the real world. Yes she’s precious, yes she’s adorable, yes I could just eat her up with a spoon, but…  Emmie is what’s known as “a spitter.” Look carefully at the picture below and note:
A. Her mouth. Watch out, she’s gonna blow!
B. The pile of bibs on the floor next to her.
C. The extra clothes, also on the floor.
Katie and Josh’s apartment is a whir of activity, washer and dryer activity that is! One little baby can sure make a lot of laundry.
But this picture has still more to tell. Note:
A. The smile on Emmie’s face. She loves to “walk” with Katie.
B. Katie’s hands, patiently holding up her little girl.
Life may have its little mishaps, and we all need some extra tools around for mopping them up, but when you have someone around to hold your hand and walk you through, it’s a little bit easier.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

7-UP Pound Cake

I'm all recovered from VBS (and will NOT be posting pictures). Tonight for the church supper I'm bringing a 7-UP pound cake. When I mentioned this on Facebook (let's be friends!) someone asked first if someone had "passed" and second if I'd seen Jeanne Robertson on YouTube. No on both counts, but after watching the video clip, put me down as a fan. She's hilarious!

The recipe is pretty good too!

Cream together: zest from 1 large lemon, 3 sticks butter, 3 c. sugar.

Add 5 eggs, beating well after each one.

Add 1 t. salt and 3 c. flour, beating after each cup.

Add 1 c. 7-UP.

Bake in greased and floured bundt pan for 60-75 minutes (until tester comes clean).

Glaze when cooled with: 1 1/2 c. powdered sugar mixed with 1/4 c. melted butter, 3 T. cream, juice from one large lemon. Can thin with some additional 7-UP if desired.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pretty Pretty Princess

Remember this game? My girls all loved it. The board game came with lots of plastic beads, earrings, bracelets, and the all important tiara. Yesterday at work, my last day at The Homeschool Store for this summer, a sweet little 5 year old came in wearing flip-flops and a blue scrunchy around her little scraggly ponytail. But the most important piece of her attire? The princess costume! That’s right she was outfitted in net, tulle, and sequins from top to bottom. She seemed oblivious to the fact that she was the only bookstore patron in royal attire, in fact she was very comfortable with herself.
Katie tells me that Emmie loves her soft blankie, her satin lovey, and even her mommy’s silky pj’s. We probably have a princess in the making here too.
Lessons learned? Wherever you go, remember your “inner princess.”  And if wearing the outfit makes it real – go for it!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What all the latest dental extraction patients are eating…

072009 The tour through my cookbook shelves continues. Since Kevin and Kristin had their collective wisdom teeth out on Friday, my kitchen is featuring soups this week. Here is a chilled number that promises some smooth sipping without being so rich that you feel like you’re drinking cream. Yes, it’s from The Peach Tree Tea Room Cookbook but don’t let the “T-word” scare you. This soup is girly enough to serve with a chicken salad on a croissant but pretty and light enough to go with something from your grill. (You dental patients just get the soup. Sorry!)

Note: I’ve taken the liberty of cutting the recipe in half for you. Unless you are going to serve this to an army, there’s no need to make such a huge quantity.

2 large ripe avocados, peeled and pitted

1 garlic clove

2 green onions, in pieces

small handful of fresh cilantro

2 t. pickled jalapeno juice plus 3 or 4 slices of the peppers

shake Tabasco

1 1/2 c. sour cream

1/2 c. buttermilk

1 box (32 oz.) chicken broth

salt to taste, garnish (sour cream, green onion, cilantro, etc.)

Mix all ingredients, except broth, in blender. Puree, adding broth as needed for consistency. Transfer to bowl or pitcher (if saving for later) and add the rest of the broth. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate until cold. Serves 6-7.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Wonders of the Internet

Now that I have a grandchild, it’s a little easier to comprehend what my own grandparents must have been going through when Mom and Dad took me halfway around the world. They had airmail, but we have Skype! Here’s little Emmie “on the phone” at 10 weeks. (Yes, I know Katie’s head is missing, but she graciously ceded the camera to the star of the show.)

071409 Video call snapshot 1 071409 Video call snapshot 2

071409 Video call snapshot 3  071409 Video call snapshot 4

Monday, July 6, 2009

Love My Skillet

skillet Two new skillet recipes in one weekend – and both successes! I don’t remember if this was a wedding gift 27 years ago or a hand-me-down from mom, but it has achieved Legendary Kitchen Workhorse status. It’s perfectly seasoned and don’t you dare soak it in hot water!
The first recipe is great for taking to pot-luck suppers or serving up with a bowl of chili. (Who cares if it is 100+ degrees? It’s never too hot for chili! ) The second is a tropical twist on an old-fashioned favorite.

Green-Chili Cheese Cornbread

1 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. flour
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. each baking powder and salt
1/2 t. garlic powder
3 T. melted butter
1/2 c. chopped onion
3 eggs
1 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can chopped green chiles
1 can (11 oz.) Mexicorn, drained
1 c. milk
Combine dry ingredients first, then add remainder. Pour into an oiled cast-iron skillet that has been preheating at 350. Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden brown.
The second recipe is not as complicated as it seems. It’s a great twist on the traditional upside down cake and the caramel sauce is incredible! (Credit where credit is due: inspired by Stephan Pyles New Tastes from Texas)

Pineapple Macadamia Upside Down Skillet Cake with Orange Caramel Sauce

3/4 c. light brown sugar
4 T. melted butter
1 1/2 c. fresh pineapple, cut in small chunks
3/4 c. chopped macadamia nuts, plus extra for garnishing
Mix together: 1 1/2 c. flour, 2 t. baking powder, 1/4 t. cinnamon, 1/4 t. salt
Cream together: 4 T. butter, 1 c. sugar, 2 eggs, 1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. milk
Preheat oven to 350. Sprinkle brown sugar in a 9” cast-iron skillet. Top with melted butter, pineapple, and nuts. Add sifted dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture, alternating with milk. Pour into skillet and bake for 40 minutes. Rest for 5 minutes and invert onto plate. Garnish with orange slices and extra macadamia nuts. Serve with orange caramel sauce.
Orange Caramel Sauce
Melt 1 c. sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in 1/3 c. fresh orange juice and 1/4 c. water. It will sputter so be careful! Whish in 2 T. butter and juice from 1/2 a lemon.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Just Peachy!

This is one happy baby! Maybe she is wishing that she had enough teeth to enjoy this yummy summer salad? This new dressing recipe is sweet, tangy, fruity, and deserving of a spot on one of your summer menus. The dressing comes from the Loveless Cafe, but the salad is my own adaptation.
Peach Vinaigrette

1 c. frozen peaches
2 T. diced onion
1/4 c. each cider vinegar, orange juice concentrate, and honey
1 c. canola oil
Blend everything except oil in a food processor until smooth. Add oil in steady stream. Refrigerate.
Blue Ribbon Salad
Ribbons of romaine and leaf lettuce
Blue cheese crumbles
Candied pecans (I use a recipe that calls for sugar and cayenne, but anything will work fine. Just throw in some chopped nuts if that’s what you have on  hand)
Shredded carrot ribbons
Peach vinaigrette dressing

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Me! Me! I want to be a millionaire!

Since I never met a game show I didn’t like, today’s Who Wants to Be A Millionaire auditions here in Houston seemed like a fun way to spend a morning. Up at 5AM, I headed into town to get in line by 6. My fellow auditioners were friendly and fascinating (Hi Barbara and Jackie!) and made the 2 1/2 hours much more bearable.
After being herded inside (hooray for air conditioning!) we played some trivia games and I won a t-shirt! The most fun part of this story is that I wouldn’t have even known the answer if it weren’t for the fact that my facebook friend (and fellow Jeopardy! enthusiast Megan) was on Millionaire herself last month. This was one of her questions! Like I tell my students: “You don’t have to be smart; you have to pay attention!”
I guess this particular game show appearance isn’t in my future because I didn’t pass the test. They didn’t tell us what a passing grade was, but 25/30 isn’t it.
Have a great week and don’t pass by the chance to pursue your dreams – whenever it pops up!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free Chocolate!

Is this a great country or what? Just when I was thinking "Renee, this blog should have a post about chocolate every once in a while, if for no other reason than the title of the blog.." Anita to the rescue. Here, you can find out for yourself how to get a coupon from our friends at Mars Candy (home of M&Ms, Snickers, and other things that make life worth living.) You have to show up on Fridays, beginning this week to get your free coupon. Yum!
Free Chocolate

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You Don’t Even Have to Try!

Today was my first day back at The Homeschool Store, my part-time summer job where I get the chance to help homeschoolers choose curriculum and find treasures back in the used book room. The owner’s mom, going strong at (I shouldn’t give away her age) still comes in to do the books for the store. Of course I had to share the news of Emmie and show her a picture or two. Being brand new at this grandmother stuff, I love talking (ok “gushing”) with those sweet women who have gone before me in this area. “Ethel,” I said “I couldn’t believe how much I loved this little baby girl the first time I saw her.”
“Oh, I know!” she replied. “You don’t even have to try.”
I am trying to do one thing and that’s play with my new blogging software. Mind if I put up another picture or 2? Or 3?


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I don't remember ever getting this writing assignment in school, but why wait for September to roll around?

On our recent trip to Nashville we managed to fit in LOTS of cuddle time with Emmeline.

We went to the Pancake Pantry for breakfast and The Loveless Cafe for lunch. This is me and Carol Fay, aka "The Biscuit Lady." Mine are pretty good but they are no match for hers!

Steve and I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, where I took a picture of Trace Adkins' suit. Yes I did.

Did I mention Emmeline? We played "put the baby in the basket and see if you can find her". Can you?

Emmeline didn't just spring up from nowhere; a mention of her parents is in order don't you think? Here's Mommy with her sleeping angel and Daddy with his little music maker.

We visited beautiful downtown Franklin and ate cupcakes at The Curious Gourmet. Have you ever seen that much buttercream on one cupcake? Oh my!

Oh yes, the baby. Cupcakes aren't nearly as sweet as little baby arms, chubby baby thighs, fuzzy baby heads, and pudgy baby tummies. Even when they are fast asleep.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

26 Years Ago Today

Today's baby pictures aren't the ones everyone has been asking for lately, but you'll have to indulge me a little bit. June 23, 1983 saw me going from young woman and young wife to young mom (and that's why I'm a young grandmom, but that's another story!). No Steve did not "rob the cradle", I think I was just pretty determined to do things ahead of schedule. After moving to Houston and adjusting to new job (Steve at Exxon), new school (me at U of H), new church, new apartment, and new friends, we found out we were in for an even bigger surprise: new baby!

Kyle, you got parents who had no idea what they were doing but you have always been a good sport. You have blessed us with your sweet smiles, mischievous antics, accomplishments, and most of all, your heart for the Lord.

For those of you reading who don't know him that well, he graduated from our homeschool, then Hardin Simmons University with a 4.0, and is now serving the Lord full time on staff with Kaleo Church here in Houston as their Community Life Director. He married the lovely Jaimee 3 years ago and they are expecting baby Jack in October.

Happy Birthday Kyle!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Make-Ahead Summer Supper

I know these aren't pictures of my grilled chicken skewers or the orzo salad, but what would YOU rather see? :-)
This is Emmie at 3 weeks in her new outfit and also making one of her cute faces.

Now, on to the recipes. I am always on the lookout for recipes that are easy to make ahead of time, flavorful, and family friendly. I adapted these 2 and this is what I came up with. The original called for curry powder, which I can't stand, and raw white onions, which my husband can't stand. Read to the end and find out how to customize this for a whole different flavor profile.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

8 oz yogurt
1 T. Tony's Creole Seasoning (It's spicy and it's red. Who needs curry?)
1 T. minced ginger
1 t. minced garlic
1 T. cooking sherry
salt and pepper

3 - 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts. Cut in strips, place in a zip-loc bag with the marinade and refrigerate for several hours. Soak bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes before threading chicken on and grilling. (If you have stainless kebab skewers, this can be done even faster!)

Orzo Salad
8 oz. tri-colored orzo pasta, uncooked. (Plain is fine, but this is prettier)
1/2 c. chopped cucumber
1/2 c. feta cheese
1/2 c. chopped greek olives
4 green onions, chopped
salt and pepper
1/4 c. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
juice from half a lemon
1/3 c. olive oil

Cook the pasta, rinse and drain. Mix with olives, onion, cucumber, parsley, and cheese. Blend lemon juice and olive oil and toss. Refrigerate until serving time.

Ready to change things up a bit?
Southwestern Grilled Chicken and Salad-
For the chicken, substitute 2 t. chili powder and 1 t. cumin for the ginger. Substitute 2 T. lime juice for the sherry.
For the salad, substitute avocado for the cucumbers, queso fresco for the feta (a mild, crumbly Mexican cheese), and cilantro for the parsley.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Whole Lot of Motherin' Going' On

Hi Readers!
Since I last posted, as you probably know, our family has been increased by one. Welcome little Emmeline Renee! Our little odd-ball (I say this lovingly. You shall see why.) arrived at 3 on 5/7/09. Her new parents are getting used to their roles and have already survived the first bump in the road: a trip back to the hospital to have the baby treated for jaundice. I understand the Pink Princess is no longer Lady Lemon-yellow, however she does a great Kenny Chesney imitation, sacked out in her tropical green sling chair "no shoes, no shirt, no problem." For those who have asked, her name is pronounced "Emma" as in the Austen heroine, and "line" as in a set of dots traveling on forever in search of a destination. If you'd like to call her "Emmie" for short, that's just dandy as well.

Katie celebrated her first Mother's Day and I was able to join in. This last weekend was another milestone in my mothering career as I celebrated Kevin's high school graduation (3 down, 2 to go) and entrance into the ranks of Eagle Scout. My mom was able to be here for the festivities. Seems every time she comes to see me lately I put her to work preparing for a big event: weddings, Jeopardy parties, graduation parties.... I'll see if I can give her a break here in the next couple of weeks. Think she'd like an all-expense paid trip to see that precious new little great-granddaughter? Stay tuned for Grandmothers On the Road.

And last but not least, in keeping with the motherhood theme (I know this is a lot for one post, but I'm catching up. Bear with me!) I wanted to share a new favorite poem with you. I could go on about how a good poem hits you in just the right place, how it helps you remember things you didn't know you forgot, and how it manages to say in a few phrases what you can't seem to put in several paragraphs.

What I Learned From My Mother
-Julia Kasdorf
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
the deceased, to press the moist hands
of the living, to look in their eyes and offer
sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
what anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
from another’s suffering my own usefulness, and once
you know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
healing: a chocolate cake you baked yourself,
the blessing of your voice, your chaste touch.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Katie's getting closer!

A contraction here, one there, soon baby will be making her appearance. Meanwhile Katie's learning some of the other "facts of life" (if you've ever had a child, go read her new blog post. She's a fast learner!) Be sure to read the comments as well. Some precious wisdom from those who have been down that road.
Here's a poem that reminded me of Katie and Josh. Garrison Keillor's book is titled Good Poems. I couldn't agree more.

At Twenty-Three Weeks she Can No Longer See Anything South of Her Belly
Thom Ward

I'm painting my wife's toes
in Revlon Super Color Forty Nine.

I've no idea what I'm doing.
She asked me to get the bottle,

then crashed on our bed,
muscle-sore, pelvis-aching.

Lifting the brush, I skim
the excess polish across the glass,

daub a smidgen on her nail,
push it out in streaks

over the perfect surface
to the cuticle's edge.

I'm painting my wife's toes.
I've no idea what I'm doing.

The smell of fresh enamel
intoxicates. Each nail I glaze

is a tulip, a lobster,
a scarlet room where women

sit and talk, their sleek
tinctured fingers sparking the air.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Verb-al, Verbal, V-ball

Just a little glimpse into my week...
Hit the ground running on Monday with a full day of classes. I came home exhausted. Barely sat down and then Kevin called because he had locked his keys in his van. Back out, into the rain now, rescued him, and by the time I got back to my neck of the woods the streets were flooded. Circled and circled until Steve got home and gave me the best route to follow. Whew. Sat in front of the computer Monday night trying to get caught up for Tuesday and then just gave up. Well guess what? Our weather was so awful on Tuesday that classes were cancelled!

By Wednesday the water was down, papers were graded, and things were looking up! Well except for that swine flu thing. The news was getting a little scarier. Thursday night we had our Open House in Katy where we PREP teachers met new parents and had a chance to explain in person just what we do. No rest for the weary. On Thursday night the emails started about the flu. (Mom, you had your chance to manage disasters. You did a great job. I don't want to follow in your footsteps. Really!) Managed to meet with the rest of the coordinators and put together a statement. On Friday, it was time to shop and bake. I thought, hahaha ha ha ha HA, that I'd pick up some hand sanitizer to bring to class with me. Folks that stuff is as scarce as bottled water and propane during hurricane season. Came home and baked the first half of the 250 mini chocolate almond tartlets for the church dedication service on Sunday.

Today - what day is it? Oh yes, volleyball! Although some schools are closed and some clubs dropped out, the tournament went on as scheduled. Well, there were a few modifications. The scoring tables all featured Purell and Clorox Wipes. The teams didn't shake hands pre- and post-game as usual, instead they waved at each other across the court. (It did look pretty cute!)
Kelsey's team didn't have a stellar day, but they kept up their spirits. Speaking of up, it's 1:30 AM and I still am...

The last of the tartlets are cooling and I'm heading to bed. Night all!

(PS...I posted on facebook earlier that my day was full of "baking verbs: cutting, folding, grinding, rolling, pulsing, tamping, and filling." Kevin's comment? "Mom, this sounds like you're a drug dealer." 'bout a bottle of Purell?)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Top Ten Tuesday

My sweet friend Suzanne over at SouthernInspiration just gave me a blog award! My heart is grinning from ear to ear already. I'm going to let you in on 10 of my favorite blogs. Have fun checking them out. You just might find a new friend or two :-)

Cindy from DominionFamily (homeschool mom, grandma, thinker)
Chris from Finnegan Follies (loves her family, her garden, and the Lord)
Leah from Nourishing Body And Soul (writing teacher, traveler, and chef)
Lorri from ChocoJavaEuroMom (her name says it all!)
Cindy from Wrasselings (writing teacher, mentor, friend)
Mary from Teacher Person (another mom to 5, I get the best book suggestions from her!)
Holly from Holly Mathis Interiors (Nope, don't think we're related. Awesome designer)
Joan from RetroNuevo Ramblings (Cool. Joan is a cool mom. She's written a book for teens.)
Eleanor R. at AggieSoonerMom (Keeps me current on world events, economics, and cracks me up.)
Lisa at Homesick Texan (Don't know her personally, but her recipes are Texas-terrific!)

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's Good to Be Back Home Again!

So here I am in that never-never-land of "haven't posted in a while and now I can't remember what it was I wanted to say." I enjoyed my quick retreat with my fellow CIRCE apprentices in beautiful Concord, NC. Located outside of Charlotte, Concord has one of those beautiful, charming, downtown areas full of flowers, old buildings, and cobblestone sidewalks. And chocolate. How could I forget the chocolate? The highlight of the Saturday afternoon break was a visit to the Chocolatier. Yum!

CIRCE stands for Center for Integrated Research in Classical Education. In addition to teacher training, annual conferences, and curriculum, CIRCE has an apprentice program to equip teachers. What a privilege to be part of this group. Last August I think we all felt like we had been thrown into the deep end together, but by now we've become not just "colleagues" but friends.

Yesterday, Kelsey celebrated her 15th birthday and as a special surprise I asked one of my favorite bloggers if she would feature Kelsey's cake. Don't let the name fool you, "Cake Wrecks" is hilarious, but every Sunday you can see the opposite of a wreck. And yesterday that was Kelsey!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who Knows What Lurks Under Those Piles of....

Thanks to Southern Inspiration for her, ahem..., inspiration (!) to tackle some decluttering.
I think I'll start here: (Feel free to hold me accountable!)
-2 bags of cute baby girl clothes. Need to be packed up and mailed to daughter expecting Grandbaby #1.
-Cookbook shelf. I'm consolidating and trading in separate issues for bound yearly volumes. Old issues will get packed up and mailed to expectant daughter (previously mentioned.)
-Books I've already read. When expectant daughter was here last month I gave them to her and she forgot them. Guess I'll add them to her box!
-Oldest-daughter-still-at-home can hardly walk in her closet because there is a gigantic, half-finished dollhouse in there. Three guesses whom it belongs to! (How big a box can UPS deliver anyway?)

Well, fiddle-dee-dee. This decluttering stuff is easier than I thought!

Monday, April 13, 2009

He is Risen Indeed!

What a wonderful day this was! After worshiping together in our new building- (I know, I know. It is just a tool, but what a wonderful tool it is. I get excited about all the things God can do with this building!)-we headed home and welcomed Kyle & Jaimee, her parents, the W's from church, and Jonathan & Maryanna. Since 8 of the 14 of us have Twitter accounts, I think this could successully qualify as a "Tweet-up".

I'm going to post some of the recipes this week. Everything tasted yummy! Three guesses who made the cake for dessert? (Sorry. No recipe. You could go to the library and check out Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Cake Bible for yourself faster than I could type it for you!). The cake was a genoise au chocolat with Grand Marnier syrup and a strawberry cloud filling (strawberry puree with whipped cream and more Grand Marnier) encircled by a chocolate lace border.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dinner Dilemma: Solved

Your humble blogger was featured in a little article, along with her family. I'm in this month's edition of Love Bites, a Jason's Deli publication.

Almost a year later, I still get to talk about being on Jeopardy! Life is good :-)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Let Us Eat Cake!

And we enjoyed every bite! Sharing some pics from the shower last weekend.

Here are Katie, Josh, and Kelsey the baker. In the next picture you can see both expectant mommies: daughter Katie and daughter-in-law Jaimee.

Word-erful Wednesday

I like playing with words. I like the way they sound when they roll over and refuse to sit still. I like the way the letters' pudgy bellies line up with their gangly, stick-straight legs. Today I tossed some adjectives and nouns together in a syntax salad when I wrote the bulletin announcement for our next church potluck.

Then later today, I saw a definition float by in my Twitter feed. From
Cooks term - Coddle: To cook in water at just below the boiling point. Usually eggs.

I immediately thought of another use for this word and couldn't help but dashing off this version:
Parents' term - Coddle: To bathe in sweetness at just below the spoiling point. Usually children.

Jason's Deli (my new friend) is looking for a name for their committee on products and concepts. I suggested The Good Taste Buds.

When I first went to college, I majored in a combination of home-ec and journalism so that I could write about (among other things) food. Isn't it funny the way life turns out?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sneak Peak

Saturday night we had a baby shower for Katie and Josh, hosted by The Mulberrians. (explanation: Our original bible study group met on a street called "Mulberry Meadows." One night as a joke we read "The First Letter of Paul to the Mulberrians." We've welcomed our own babies, seen kids get married, and are now rejoicing in the blessings of a 3rd generation.

Kelsey baked and decorated the cake: White cake with raspberry and lemon filling. Here's the paper sketch. As soon as I have a picture, I'll post it here.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Got Biscuits?

That's the sign on my fridge magnet, straight from the Loveless Cafe in Nashville, TN. I certainly have enough things to put ON biscuits, and have spent years hunting for the best biscuit recipe.
I've tried bisquick (great for sausage cheese balls, but not biscuits), "make a mix" recipes (I can't stand powdered milk and can taste it in baked goods), and my "go to" recipe from Cooks Illustrated (uses a stick of butter). Still...biscuit bliss has eluded me. When we visited the cafe last December, I understood why so many fans clamor for the special recipe. The "biscuit lady" has been on everything from news shows to Martha Stewart, but you can't find the recipe anywhere. Hmm...wonder why that is? What is it about a biscuit recipe that wouldn't go over well with the general public but yet will keep them coming back for more?

Hmm...c'mon Renee, think like a restaurant owner. If I owned a cafe and had to use 1 stick of butter per 2 cups of flour that would be pretty pricey. Isn't there another ingredient that costs less and would work as well or better? There is, but you might not want to hear what it is.

Ok, if you've read this far, you're probably curious :-)

Lard. Sorry folks, but there it is. Know why crisco is hailed as "all-vegetable"? Because lard is "all animal."
Now before you continue with your "I would never cook with this" freak-out, let me assure you that this recipe uses half the fat of my previous recipe. Just 1/4 c. instead of 1/2 c. If you want a butter flavor, then put the real butter on your biscuits, not in them. Call these "old fashioned" or "granny's" biscuits and you'll feel nostalgic about your ingredients of choice.

Other secrets -
1. White Lily flour. You can buy it at HEB here in town. White Lily comes from TN and is a lower protein (therefore more tender) flour than general all-purpose. Sorry, but this "biscuit lady" won't let you take shortcuts. The right flour makes a difference.

2. High oven temperature. 500 degrees sounds like a lot, but you want that initial blast of heat that produces more steam and a higher rise to your biscuit.

3. Watch the hands! Don't handle these any more than necessary. Handling develops gluten and that makes for little hockey pucks, not biscuits anyone will want to eat.

Ready? Here we go

2 c. white lily flour, plus extra for rolling out biscuits
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. buttermilk
1/4 c. lard

Preheat oven to 500 degrees and spray baking sheet w/ Pam.
Mix dry ingredients. Use a pastry cutter to cut in lard until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Pour in buttermilk and use a spoon or spatula to combine. Finish kneading lightly to incorporate the flour left in the bowl. Turn out onto floured countertop and pat into a rectangle 1/2 inch or so thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut biscuits (push straight down. Twisting the cutter is a no-no.) Try to cut as many out the first time as you can. Re-roll the scraps as little as possible. Place biscuits on baking sheet with sides touching and bake for 8 minutes. Serve warm because they don't keep well. Not that you're likely to have any leftovers!