We had some weather excitement here in Houston last week.  It got cold.  Real cold, as in hard freeze cold.  We had snow (for the third time this winter!) and ice, and it stuck for 2 days.  The snow was really just a dusting–exciting for us, nevertheless–but the ice that formed on our highway overpasses forced our city to essentially shut down.


It’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a “snow day.”  Growing up in New York, we could expect a few snow days every winter, and they usually involved cooking and baking, which not only made the house smell great, but kept the kitchen warm and inviting.  I loved hanging out in the kitchen on those days.

It was a given, then, that I would spend my snow day cooking.  I made chili, Italian wedding soup, and short ribs.  This recipe for Tangy Glazed Short Ribs is one of our special occasion dishes — in fact, we had it for Christmas Eve dinner.  The recipe, which we make in the slow cooker, is adapted from a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe that my husband ran across in the Wine Spectator several years ago.  He handed me the recipe, saying “this looks good.”  And it is.  It’s a little involved, but not difficult, and worth every minute spent making it.  I like to make it at least a day in advance because like most soups and stews, it improves with age, and it also allows me to skim off the considerable amount of fat when it’s cool.  It’s best served over mashed potatoes, although no one will complain if you serve it over polenta or buttered noodles.

Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
  • 8 large short ribs
  • 4 star anise, finely ground
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided use
  • 1-1/2 cups ketchup
  • ½ cup pomegranate molasses
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced onion
  • 1 ancho chile, seeded, lightly toasted, and finely chopped
  • 1 chipotle pepper from canned chile in adobo
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
  1. Place the ribs in a single layer on a platter. Sprinkle the ribs with star anise and 1 teaspoon salt, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
  2. In a blender, combine the ketchup, pomegranate molasses, vinegar, fish sauce, molasses, garlic powder, onion, ancho chile, chipotle, sesame oil, and ½ teaspoon salt. Blend on high speed until smooth. Add the water, and blend again until smooth.
  3. Preheat grill to high. Brush the ribs with grapeseed oil and place on the grill. Sear on all sides except the bony rib.
  4. Transfer ribs to slow cooker and cover with the sauce. Cook for approximately 6 hours on high, or until completely tender (they will fall off the bone). Transfer ribs to a baking dish. Strain the sauce and set aside.
  5. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. To finish the ribs, add 1 to 1-1/2 cups of the strained sauce to the ribs and place them in the oven. Cook, basting frequently, until the sauce is thick, and the ribs are glazed, approximately 15 minutes. (Note: If you're pressed for time, you can omit this step and they will still be delicious, but do strain the sauce before serving.) Serve hot over mashed potatoes, polenta, or buttered noodles.

IMG_3173Season the ribs with star anise and salt and let them sit for an hour

My husband likes to sear them in a cast iron skillet on the grill

Ready for the slow cooker

In they go

006 (7)

Covered with sauce — see ya in 6 hours



Salad season is upon us.  I’m happy any time I can make a main dish salad and avoid heating up the kitchen.  Heating up the grill, however, is a not a problem.  My husband grilled a beef tenderloin the other night, and with the leftovers we made Thai Beef Salad (flank steak works well too).

If you don’t have lemongrass for the dressing, you can omit it.  I usually have some growing in a pot, and it’s very easy to propagate (I’ve done this before with lemongrass purchased at the grocery store).  My biggest problem is keeping my dogs away from it — they chew it, I think, to help with digestion.  I keep moving it higher, and they keep seeking it out:


Jasper munching on some lemongrass

But don’t omit the fish sauce!  I keep a bottle of Three Crab fish sauce on hand.  It’s available in asian markets and most large grocery stores, and was recommended to me by a Vietnamese chef:

fish sauce

Adjust the heat of the dressing to your liking by altering the amount of crushed red pepper. The vegetables for the salad are suggestions — use whatever you like in whatever quantity you desire (I like the cool crunch that cucumbers provide, but didn’t have any on hand when I made it this time).

Recipe type: Salad, Beef
  • For the dressing:
  • 4 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced lemongrass stalk*
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • For the salad:
  • Thinly sliced grilled beef
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Thinly sliced shallot
  • Thinly sliced serrano peppers or thai chiles
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish
  1. Place all dressing ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix together until brown sugar is dissolved and ingredients are well combined. Add the sliced beef and allow to sit in dressing while preparing the rest of the salad.
  2. Place chopped lettuce in a large shallow bowl or platter. Using tongs, remove beef from dressing and mound in center of lettuce. Pour dressing over lettuce around beef. Arrange tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers (or whatever vegetables you are using) decoratively around beef. Scatter shallots and chiles over salad. Garnish with mint. Serve at room temperature.
  3. *To mince the lemongrass, use the woody stalk, peeling off the outer layer. Mash the stalk by whacking it with the flat side of a knife, then finely mince.

thai beef salad

A great warm weather meal

salad closeup

Grilled tenderloin is the star of this salad

Special thanks to my friend Tori for the exotic wood salad servers she brought me as a souvenir from her recent trip to Thailand:

salad servers


Tamales are a holiday tradition in Texas and elsewhere.  Traditional tamales begin with a dough called masa, made from nixtamalized corn (soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and then hulled) or a masa mix, such as Maseca, and lard (gasp!) or vegetable shortening, or even butter.  The masa is spread on corn husks or plantain leaves, with a few tablespoons of sweet or savory filling, folded up into a neat little packet, and then steamed until the masa is firm.

Tamales are eaten year-round, but during the holidays, they are extremely popular. Perhaps this is because making tamales is usually done in large batches — tens, if not hundreds, at a time — and is a nice way to bring generations together to assemble them.

There are several ways to get your tamale holiday fix.  Most Mexican restaurants sell them this time of year — some even set up tamale stands:

tamale stand

If you’re lucky, someone in your office has a grandmother or aunt that sells homemade tamales this time of year (if so, do yourself a favor and get a dozen or two).  You can also order them online — Texas Tamale Company has some nice sets that make welcome gifts, especially for out-of-state friends.  Or . . . you can make your own.

A while back I signed up for a Tamales 101 class with Sylvia Casares, owner of Sylvia’s Enchiladas and Houston’s unofficial Enchilada Queen.  The first part of the class was instructional, where we watched Sylvia prepare the several ingredients necessary to make the tamales.  Sylvia chatted while preparing chile sauce, pork filling, and masa, sharing bits about her life, Mexican food, and the antiques that decorate her attractive restaurant.

Once all the components were ready, Sylvia showed us how to spread the masa on the pre-soaked corn husk, and how much filling to add:


At this point, the class moved to the dining room, where each person had their own tamale-making station:

And away we rolled!  One of the staff admired my tamales and declared them perfect (not that I’m competitive or anything):


We packed up our tamales for steaming at home (which, I must say, were quite tasty, with a perfect masa-to-filling ratio).

Will I ever make tamales at home?  I’d like to think so, although on a smaller scale, and probably without lard.  I am also intrigued by the idea of sweet tamales, which Sylvia described to us, and which take significantly less preparation.  Perhaps this will become a new holiday tradition for my family.

In the event you might like to try your hand at tamales, or are interested in seeing what’s involved, I’m including the recipes from the class (there’s a separate recipe for each component). These recipes will make approximately 5 dozen tamales.  If making tamales seems involved, it’s because it is — that’s why it’s fun to do it with several people.  The fillings below (Pork Guisado and/or Pollo Guisado) can be prepared a day or two in advance.  Note that Sylvia’s masa is different than that used in most tamales (and also tastier), because it’s flavored with a chile sauce — most consist of only masa and lard or vegetable shortening.

Recipe type: Sauce
  • 5 guajillo chiles (stems and seeds removed)
  • 2-1/4 cups water
  1. Place water and chiles in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for approximately 15 minutes,
  2. Using a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour through a strainer to remove any solids.
  3. Set aside to add to masa.

Recipe type: Sauce
  • 15 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 5 chile de arbol, stems removed
  • ½ of a large onion, quartered
  • 5 cups water
  • 4 cloves garlic
  1. Place chiles, onion, and water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool for approximately 15 minutes.
  2. Using a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour through a strainer to remove any solids.
  3. Blend garlic with ¼ cup water and add to pureed chiles.
  4. Set aside for use in Pork Guisado.

Recipe type: Poultry
  • 1 whole chicken, approximately 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  1. Place the chicken, water, and salt in a large stockpot and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot and shred the chicken into small pieces. Reserve the broth.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, peppercorns, and cumin seeds.
  3. Combine the shredded chicken with the ground garlic and spices and add to the reserved broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Add onion, bay leaf, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool
  4. When cool, drain most of the liquid and discard bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate chicken until ready to use.

Recipe type: Porl
  • 7-1/2 pounds pork butt (approximate yield after trimming fat is 4-1/2 pounds)
  • 5 cups water
  • ½ large onion, quartered
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/-12 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  1. Trim excess fat from pork. Dice pork into ½-inch pieces.
  2. Place pork, water, onion, garlic, and salt in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until very tender, approximately 1-1/2 hours.
  3. Remove pork from pot and set aside in a large saute pan. Reserve pork stock for use in preparing masa.
  4. Add vegetable oil to pan and saute pork over medium heat until edges begin to brown.
  5. Cover and set aside to cool.
  6. To prepare Pork Guisado:
  7. Add Sauce for Pork Guisado to browned pork pieces. Add cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt to the mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
  8. Optional: When cool enough to handle, shred pork by hand, which will make it easier to use for tamale filling.

  • 14 cups Maseca Instant Corn Masa Flour
  • 2-1/2 pounds lard (or vegetable shortening or softened butter)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 cups Chili Sauce for Masa
  • 3-1/2 cups water
  • 3-1/4 cups reserved pork stock
  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Combine lard (or vegetable shortening or butter), pork stock, Chile Sauce for Masa, and water in a large sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat to melt the lard, using a whisk to combine all ingredients.
  3. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in 2-3 batches.
  4. Mix all ingredients and knead (with your hands or using an electric mixer) until dough is well-blended and light. This will take 15-20 minutes of kneading.
  5. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

Recipe type: Main Course, Pork, Chicken
  • 1 bag corn husks that have been soaked for at least one hour (soak in 1 gallon warm water, and weight them down so that they are submerged)
  • Prepared masa
  • Pork Guisado or Pollo Guisado (or other desired filling)
  1. Using a spackle tool or small spatula, place a lump of masa in the center of a corn husk (a little larger than a walnut, smaller than a golf ball).
  2. With the spackle tool, spread the masa evenly almost to the edges of the husk. The husk is triangular (i.e., wide on one end, narrow on the other) -- the masa should be spread on the wide end, approximately 4 inches toward the narrow end.
  3. Place a few tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa.
  4. Fold the sides of the husk, one at a time, toward the center. They will overlap. Fold the pointed end of the husk up over the filled part. Place tamale in a container with the tail side down (to help keep it from opening up).
  5. Repeat with remaining husks.
  6. To cook the tamales, place them in a pot with a steamer rack. Add enough water to cover the rack. Tamales need to be steamed standing up, with the open end facing up. (You can place a small bowl in the center of the rack and arrange the tamales around it.)
  7. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 1-1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and leave pot on burner for another 30 minutes.
  8. When tamales are cooked completely, the husk will peel easily from the masa.





IMG_6141I found this colorful hand-embroidered runner at an estate sale.  The handiwork was quite neatly done:IMG_6142I used to love to do needlepoint and crewel, but this is a perfect example of why I don’t do it anymore.  I see TONS of needlepoint, cross-stitch, crochet, and crewel items at estate sales.  They seem to have very little sentimental or other value.  It’s one thing to do it to while away the hours, but I can assure you that anyone that thinks their handiwork will become a treasured heirloom is deluding themselves.

Runners like these, and their cousins doilies, are a thing from days gone by.   I picture this runner gracing a table or dresser in an elderly woman’s home.  Maybe there’s a few small glasses for sherry sitting on it.  There would probably be a little bell nearby, for summoning staff or family  (like Hector Salamanca in Breaking Bad).  Can’t you hear it — that faint little “ting-a-ling, ting-a-ling?”

With “ting-a-ling” on my brain, I was inspired to make Beef Tinga Tacos.  Well, that and the fact that Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner.  As the haters are quick to point out, it is a common misconception that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the day Mexico won its independence from Spain (that day is celebrated on September 16 — mark your calendars).  Cinco de Mayo commemorates the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, a relatively small battle that resulted in Mexico’s victory over France in 1862.  In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not widely celebrated outside of Puebla.

So if Mexico doesn’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo, why do we?  According to several sources, Cinco de Mayo was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1967, when some students from California State University decided to commemorate the battle as a way to celebrate Mexican culture. Yet another step closer to being Cliff Clavin

So Cinco de Mayo is kind of a made up holiday.  To which I say SO WHAT?  I live in Texas — we don’t need much of an excuse to eat tacos.  These Beef Tinga Tacos are effortless, which leaves that much more time for drinking margaritas and busting piñatas.  And I promise, you will not have to ring a bell to get your family to come running for these.

Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
  • 2 pounds brisket, trimmed of fat
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 14-ounce can beef broth
  • 15-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Minced onion
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  1. Cut brisket into 3 pieces and place in slow cooker. Add onions and garlic. In a medium bowl, mix together cumin, oregano, coriander, broth, tomato sauce, adobo sauce, and honey, and pour over brisket. Cook on high until meat is tender and shreds easily with a fork, 7-8 hours. When cool enough to handle, shred meat using two forks. Transfer shredded meat and cooking liquid to a large stockpot, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until liquid is reduced and meat is still moist but not soupy, approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  2. To serve, spoon filling into flour or corn tortillas, and top with minced onion and chopped fresh cilantro.



 Cut the brisket into three pieces


Add onions and garlic


 Pour the liquids and spices over the brisket


Set on high and go do something else for 7-8 hours 006Tinga-ling!


IMG_5731Back when I first started this blog, I did a post for Divine Lemon Bars that was inspired by a poster made in 1911 by James Lee in Chicago, Illinois, which had the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments on it.  At the same estate sale at which I bought the Lord’s Prayer poster, I also bought this James Lee poster with “The Lord Is My Shepherd” printed on it, from Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

He leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul;

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

Yea, though  I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Though preparest a table before me

in the presence of mine enemies:

thou anointest  my head with oil;

my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life:

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever

When I was young, I thought I might want to be a shepherd.  It’s easy, I herd.  Turns out I couldn’t get the staff (cue collective groan).  But I did meet a man once dressed as a shepherd, who told me he was a spy.  I asked him why he was dressed as a shepherd, and he told it me it was because . . . wait for it . . . he was a shepherd spy.

I know what you’re thinking right about now, something like “get the flock out of here.” So without further punnery, I bring you this recipe, inspired by the Lord Is My Shepherd poster, for Shepherd’s Pie, a dish the whole family will enjoy.  I think that because it’s made with ground beef it is technically, according to some sources, a cottage pie — the conventional wisdom being that shepherds are concerned with sheep, and therefore, shepherd’s pie is made with lamb.  Other sources say that cottage pie and shepherd’s pie are synonymous terms.  Don’t lose sleep over it.  To prepare the mashed potatoes, I usually add a few garlic cloves to the boiling water, and mash them up right along with the potatoes (a ricer works best for me), and add just enough butter and half and half to make them smooth and creamy (not gummy), then season with salt and pepper.  You, of course, can make them any way you want — even instant mashed potatoes will work fine.

Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen peas and carrots*
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 beef bouillon cube**
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups seasoned mashed potatoes (from approximately 3 large potatoes)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • *Note: Can substitute 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables for corn and peas and carrots
  • **Note: Can substitute ½ cup beef broth for bouillon and water
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until golden. Add beef and saute until lightly browned, breaking up with a spoon as necessary. Stir in frozen vegetables and mushrooms. Dissolve bouillon cube in water, add to corn starch mixture, then stir into beef along with Worcestershire sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, until mixture begins to thicken.
  3. Spoon beef mixture into an ungreased 9x13 baking dish (alternatively, can use 4 individual casserole dishes). Spread potatoes evenly over top. Brush lightly with melted butter. Bake for 25-30 minutes. If desired, broil for 2-3 minutes until potatoes are very lightly browned.

 IMG_5239Preparing the filling


 Mashed potatoes go on top


 Spread them over the filling




You too, can be a shepherd spy



I found this cheery birthday postcard on ebay.  What a thoughtful person the sender must have been.  It was sent 99 years ago!


I don’t know when birthday postcards fell out of favor, but I vote to bring them back.  Today the sender would probably go on Facebook and write “Happy Birthday!  Hope it’s a great one!  <3 <3 <3.”  Or maybe send a text message, like “HAPPY B-DAY 2U, HOPE UR DAY IS GR8T! :)”  Although I appreciate the electronic sentiments, I’m still touched when someone goes to the trouble to send me a birthday card.  (The same is true for invitations, birth announcements, etc. — the electronic versions aren’t nearly as nice.)

Following the trench warfare during WWI that took place in the poppy fields of Flanders in Belgium, poppies became a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died in war.  Wearing a poppy on Memorial Day has been a tradition in the U.S. since 1924.  Remember the crepe paper poppies that the American Legion used to sell?


The opium poppy, papaver somniferum, is the plant from which opium is derived.  The Latin name means “sleep-bringing properties,” and thus, poppies are often associated with sleep.  Remember Dorothy snoozing in the field of poppies?


So maybe the poppies on the birthday postcard symbolized that someone was being remembered on their birthday.  Or maybe it was just to wish the person a sleep-filled day.  Speaking of birthdays, mine was this week.  I look forward to this day all year, because after all, I get a bunch of presents, and I get to go out to eat at my favorite restaurant, and I get a new party outfit, and several hundred people wish me happy birthday on Facebook, and I get a party with a petting zoo and a themed-cake, and, oh yeah, that’s my kids’ birthdays, not mine.  Over the years, as we got busier with work and kids and life in general, and our calendars overflowed with commitments of all sorts, I grew to expect less and less each year on my birthday.

Two years ago, I discovered that although the birthday bar is low for me, it does exist.  My husband had been in California for four months working day and night on a trial.  It was the longest he’d ever been away from us.  I didn’t expect much, given how hard he’d been working, but I thought for sure he’d call on my birthday.  I didn’t hear from him before I left for work, but didn’t think too much about it.  He’d sent flowers for our anniversary the month before, and I thought maybe there would be flowers waiting for me at the office (we almost never send flowers).  Nope.  Around noon I called him, and he answered the phone with “WHAT?”  I said, “I thought you might want to wish me Happy Birthday,” and he said, “Your birthday is tomorrow.”  I corrected him, and then listened to him curse himself for a few minutes before telling him not to worry about it and hanging up.

So the burden of celebrating my birthday fell on my teenagers, who failed to rise to the occasion.  Maybe they muttered “happy birthday,” I’m not sure.  They quit making cards years ago.  We had a scout meeting that night that we couldn’t skip, which meant no birthday dinner with the kids.  We got home around 9 p.m. and settled in to watch a little TV before bed.  I woke up on the couch around 1 a.m. — the kids had gone up to bed and just left me there asleep on the couch.  Thank heavens for the dog that kept me company.  Like I said, I don’t expect much, but it has to be something more than nothing.

This year I didn’t want another sleep-filled birthday, so I didn’t leave anything to chance.  I arranged lunch with friends at a new restaurant, and had dinner with other friends at another new restaurant.  My daughter was babysitting that night, and my husband and son were camping all weekend, so we agreed in advance that we would celebrate later.  I brought my own birthday cake to work, because I’ve only been there 6 months and wasn’t sure if they knew or cared it was my birthday.  It turned out they did know and were planning to order a cake.  🙂  I signed up for an herb symposium, which I really enjoyed (more on that later).  There was an unexpected surprise from the Texas Supreme Court in a case I’ve been working on, and that made the day extra special.  I had a great birthday, and am looking forward to wrapping it up with dinner with my family tonight.

One final note about poppies.  When my son was in grade school, he came home one day and told us that he had “sloppy poppies” for lunch.  Of course, he meant Sloppy Joes, but as his parents, it cracked us up, much like everyone thinks “sketti” is hilarious the first time their kid blurts that out.  Inspired by the cheery poppy birthday postcard, I made homemade Sloppy Poppies Sloppy Joes.  They are so good and easy, and I have sent them many times as part of a compassion meal (with big hamburger buns, chips, cookies, and fruit salad), to let the recipient know that they are in our thoughts.  The recipe is adapted from The New Basics by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.

Recipe type: Beef, Main Course
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, minced
  • ½ green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 4 hamburger buns, split
  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, celery, bell pepper, and oregano, and saute until vegetables are tender. Add ground beef and cook until meat is browned, breaking the meat up with a spoon as necessary. Stir in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 10 minutes. Spoon over split hamburger buns and serve hot.


sloppy joes

 My love upon your Birthday, dear

A happy day, a happy year,

And think of me this morning, too

Because I always think of you.

<3 <3 <3


I found these Italian fashion sketches on ebay, and they hang in my daughter’s room. According to the seller, Paolo, also known as ebay seller ranger335, his aunt owned a fashion house in the 1960s.  Eva’s Fashion House employed six agents, who traveled throughout Italy and the south of France showing sketches of his aunt’s collections to dressmakers.  The dressmakers would order designs, and Eva’s Fashion House would provide them with whatever was necessary to make each garment.

Each sketch is a handmade original, using watercolors and airbrushing.  Paolo inherited his aunt’s design sketches, and I believe he must have thousands of drawings.  You can still find them on ebay from time to time.  The colors are bright, and the drawings are detailed and whimsical.  If you’re looking for something fun for a young girl’s room or a powder room, these are perfect.


A stunning outfit to wear to the next PTO meeting

I confess, I am not a fashionista.  When it comes to my wardrobe, “Italian style” means a blouse with spaghetti sauce splattered on it.  And if you’re a woman who wears anything larger than an A-cup bra, you know exactly where those spaghetti sauce splatters are.  Yep, sitting right there on the old Continental Shelf.

Even though I lack Italian fashion sense, I have a great appreciation for Italian food.  I grew up in New York, in a town that had a lot of Italian families.  My friends’ moms were incredible Italian home cooks.  I used to love walking into their homes and smelling gravy simmering on the stove.  If we were lucky, we’d be invited to roll meatballs to add to the gravy.

There was one Italian mom I remember particularly well, not for her style or cooking, but for her vocal chords.  This was back in the days before cell phones (back before pretty much everything, now that I think about it), when it was much more challenging to pin down your kid’s whereabouts.  When dinnertime rolled around, if her son hadn’t made it home, instead of phoning all over the neighborhood, she’d just fling the door open, and at the top of her lungs would yell, “ANT-NY, DINNER!”  To this day, every Anthony I meet is secretly an Ant-ny to me.

One of my family’s current favorite Italian foods is carpaccio, a dish from the Piedmont region of Italy, invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice.  The original dish was comprised of thin slices of raw beef with a dijon mustard sauce.  Today, carpaccio is used more generically, to mean thinly sliced raw meat, fish, or even vegetables.  It took me a long time to come around to carpaccio, as I’m not a fan of raw beef.  I think I can trace it back to my time working in New York.  The law firm I worked at in Manhattan was in the Pan Am (now the MetLife) Building.  We occasionally had receptions at the Sky Club at the top of the building, and steak tartare was one of the club’s signature dishes.  It was my running joke — a waiter would stick the tray in front of me and ask, “Steak tartare?” and I’d ask him if he wouldn’t mind running it under the broiler for a minute or two.  Yeah, I know, the waiters hated me.

Inspired by the vintage Italian fashion sketches, I tried my hand at making carpaccio, using rare roast beef from the deli counter, instead of raw beef.  Maybe it wasn’t authentic, but there wasn’t a caper, arugula stem, or sliver of parmesan cheese left on the plate when my family got through with it.  The next day, I still had carpaccio “fixins,” so I surprised my daughter with a carpaccio sandwich on pretzel bread for her school lunch.  I got a text from her in the middle of the day — “My sandwich was awesome!!!”  My husband and I laughed that she was probably the only kid in her school, in Houston, maybe even in the U.S., that brought a carpaccio sandwich to school for lunch that day.  Lucky girl!

Serves: 2
  • 2 pretzel rolls, split horizontally
  • 6 ounces thinly-sliced rare deli roast beef
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • ½ ounce shaved parmesan cheese
  1. For each sandwich, arrange roast beef slices on cut side of pretzel roll bottom. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and lemon juice. Add arugula and toss to combine. Season arugula with salt and pepper, to taste. Mound arugula on top of roast beef, and top with capers and parmesan shavings. Add pretzel roll top, slice in half, and serve.


 A plate of carpaccio, using rare deli roast beef.

“Awesome” carpaccio sandwich in the making.