Remember life before smartphones?



Like the folks in these vintage photos that I found on ebay, I spent the better part of the last couple of weeks laying around.  We had plans to go out for my husband’s birthday in the middle of April, but earlier in the day I experienced sudden, severe abdominal pain, that lasted for the next few days, and had me confined to my bed.  It let up for a few days, but after a week, it seemed to only be getting worse, and so on my birthday (which is a week after my husband’s), I spent the day in urgent care, where I discovered I had diverticulitis with complications.  I was sent to the hospital via ambulance, where I spent 6 miserable days.  Worst birthday ever.

I am surprised at how long it has taken me to get back to my old self.  The first week back at home I barely moved off the sofa.  Apart from the fact that I was still recovering, I had no energy.  The antibiotics — for which I am grateful — wreaked their own special kind of havoc.

For about 3 weeks, I either had no appetite, or was so overwhelmed by nausea that I couldn’t eat.  Even the smell of food made me sick.  When I did start feeling well enough to eat, I craved bland, comfort foods — things like macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes with butter, pasta with butter, anything with butter.  I’m back to eating normally, but I might have to have just one more bowl of pasta with butter (don’t judge).

On one of my son’s visits to me in the hospital, he hugged me as he was leaving and whispered in my ear, “I need you to come home, Mom.”  So touching.  “Why?” I asked.  He whispered, “I need you to go to the grocery store and to cook.”  Oh well, at least he missed me — have to count your blessings where you find them.

Inspired by the photos of the couch potatoes, when I finally felt sort of well enough to venture back into the kitchen, I made a big pot of potato soup, which my son requested and which sounded pretty good to me.  Making the soup in my debilitated state, however, about killed me.  My mise en place was more like mise en plotz.  I fried up the chopped bacon, then had to go sit down for 10 minutes.  Chopped the carrots and celery, and had to lay down for 15 minutes.  Peeling and dicing the potatoes was almost a deal-breaker, but a cold soda and a half-hour of laying on the couch and watching TV recharged me.  Eventually I was able to finish the soup.  It was comforting and delicious, and marked the beginning of a return to normalcy, for which I am very thankful.

You should find the soup considerably easier to make.  Have everything chopped in advance, and it will come together in no time.  It’s slightly adapted from the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Perfect Potato Soup.  My whole family loves it, and I have no doubt yours will too.

  • 4 slices bacon, cut into ½" pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk (low-fat is OK)
  • ½ cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated cheddar, optional topping
  • Chopped chives or green onions, optional topping
  1. Place bacon in a large stockpot over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel, and reserve for sprinkling on top of soup. Pour off all but approximately 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Add the carrots and the celery to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, then add the potatoes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender, approximately 15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together milk and flour, and add to soup. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add onion powder and garlic powder, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion (stick) blender (preferred) or blender. (If using a blender, puree soup in batches, filling blender no more than half full, to avoid having hot soup explode out of the blender.)
  4. Return pureed soup to pot. Stir in half and half. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot garnished with bacon pieces, grated cheddar, and chives or green onions, as desired.


Potato soup — it’s good for what ails you

potato heart

I <3 potatoes



I found this boomerang at an estate sale.  This is not just any boomerang, it is a piece of hand-painted aboriginal art:

One definition of boomerang offered by Urban Dictionary is a “frisbee for a kid with no friends.”  I had a boomerang once, but forgot how to throw it — then it came back to me (groan).  Fortunately, this boomerang came with directions:


Too much math for me

The boomerang is loosely based on the concept that what goes around comes around (no kidding, right?).  This is also the concept on which leftovers are based, and which has inspired this recipe for Beef and Barley Soup.

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about a dish known as Mississippi Roast “one of the most popular recipes on the web.”  The recipe calls for a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Mix and a packet of McCormick Au Jus Gravy Mix, which you sprinkle over the chuck roast you have placed in your slow cooker, and top with a stick of butter and a few peperoncini.

Roast 1

Cook on low for 8 hours, and voila:

roast 2

The roast was just fine, and could not have been easier, but the packets are a deal-breaker for a lot of folks — you know, chemicals, sodium, etc. — the whole “factory-to-table” thing.  I’d have to admit that I prefer my own recipe for pot roast, with seared meat, tomato paste, red wine, herbs, and veggies.  Anyway, we had a lot of leftovers, and there’s only so many nights in a row you can eat the same meal (our limit being two), so I had to repurpose the leftover roast.  Beef and Barley Soup has become one of our favorite hearty soups.  Whenever we have a roast or steak, we always make sure to save a piece in order to make the soup, so having leftover Mississippi Roast was actually something we were quite happy about.

Recipe type: Soup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup chopped leftover beef (roast beef, pot roast, etc.)
  • ½ cup pearled barley
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent. Add beef, barley, broth, water, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 hour, until barley is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. If necessary, thin soup with additional beef broth.


Soup’s on!



I found this lace collar made by Teena Brown at an estate sale, in a pile of vintage linens:


My research didn’t turn up anything about Teena Brown, but I did find several other styles of lace collars made by the company on ebay and etsy.

There doesn’t appear to be much demand for this frillery today.  Nevertheless, I did find one willing wearer.  When our puppy Maisy was spayed a few months ago, her incision took forever to heal, and she had to wear the dreaded Elizabethan collar of shame to keep her from licking the wound.  It turned out she didn’t mind wearing it — we think she enjoyed the attention:


What’s your story, morning glory?

So naturally, I asked her to model the fancy lace collar.


What’s up, buttercup?

I think I’ve discovered a new market for these vintage collars!

Happily, lace still rules at weddings, and last weekend we saw a display of beautiful lace.  It was my husband’s niece’s wedding — very exciting, especially seeing as she is the first grandchild (or cousin, as my kids see it) on either side to get married.  Her lace gown was stunning:


And her lacy wedding cake was beautiful:


Inspired by the lace collar and the beautiful lace gown, I made Italian Wedding Soup, which is really great on the cold nights we’ve been having lately.  If you’re not going to serve the whole pot in one sitting, I suggest not adding the pasta to the pot.  Instead, add pasta to individual soup bowls just before serving to help keep it from getting mushy.

Recipe type: Soup
  • For the meatballs:
  • ½ pound ground veal
  • ½ pound ground beef
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup plain bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 1 medium head escarole, chopped
  • ½ cup small pasta, uncooked
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. For the meatballs: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the veal, beef, egg, bread crumbs, parsley, grated cheese, and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Form into 1-inch meatballs. Place on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 30 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove meatballs to a paper-towel lined plate to drain. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions , drain, and set aside.
  2. For the soup: Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion and carrot and saute until onion is golden. Add the garlic and saute one minute more. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the escarole, and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer for a few minutes more, until meatballs are heated through. Just before serving, stir in the pasta. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese, if desired.

IMG_3520These pasta circles are a fun shape



The meatballs brown nicely in the oven, no frying necessary


Escarole and its many shades of green


A satisfying soup, worthy of a special occasion



I found this giant hammered copper ladle at an estate sale.  It’s 17 inches long, and the bowl holds a whopping 24 ounces.  I can’t wait to buy a cauldron so I can use it.


Have you heard the joke about the missing ladle?  A college student invites his mother over to eat dinner with him and his new roommate. When his mother arrives, she can’t help but notice how beautiful his new female roommate is.  The son assures her that they’re just roommates and their relationship is strictly platonic.  The mother enjoys a nice dinner, and later goes home.  Two weeks later, the girl tells her roommate that ever since his mother visited, she can’t find her silver gravy ladle.  So the son writes his mother a letter saying, “Mom, I’m not saying that you ‘did’ take the silver gravy ladle, and I’m not saying that you ‘did not’ take the silver gravy ladle, but the fact remains that it has been missing since you came over for dinner.”  The mother wrote back saying, “Son, I’m not saying that you ‘do’ sleep with your roommate, and I’m not saying that you ‘do not’ sleep with your roommate, but the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the ladle by now.”

According to information on Snopes, versions of this joke have been around since 1840.  Variations on who is sleeping together include a housekeeper and an employer/pastor/Bill Clinton.  You, of course, can substitute whoever you want when you tell the joke.  🙂

The ladle, of course, inspires me to make soup.  Even though the temperatures are rising here, we still enjoy soup for an occasional meal.  If, by chance, you have a leftover ham bone, you have the beginnings of a great, hearty soup.  The soup is not particularly pretty, although you could put some lipstick on it with chopped herbs. Rather, its beauty lies beneath the surface in its smoky flavor and chewy bits of ham, and the fact that a hearty pot of bean soup is one of the highest and best uses of a ham bone.  The soup reminds me of the little camellia bush in my backyard.  It was diseased, and its curled yellowing leaves made it anything but pretty.  We were going to rip it out, but instead treated the infestation and left it to see what would happen.  Just when I was ready to give up on it, I noticed something peeking out from the leaves, and discovered one perfect white camellia flower.  Despite the fact that it was not, at this time, a beautiful glossy green bush, it nevertheless delighted me with what was hiding beneath the surface.

IMG_3685 IMG_3686

For this batch, I used Jacob’s Cattle Beans, also known as Trout or Dalmatian beans, which is an heirloom bean originally from Germany.  According to Slow Food, “legend has it that it was a gift from Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.”  These are fat, kidney-shaped, white and maroon splashed beans that are great in soup and slow-cooker dishes because they hold their shape, even when cooked for hours, resulting in a meaty, not mushy, bean.

Recipe type: Soup
  • 1 lb. dried beans
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large meaty ham bone
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 dried cayenne chiles
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Rinse beans in a colander. Place beans in a large stockpot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. (Or, skip boiling water and soak beans overnight in a covered pan.) Drain and rinse beans.
  2. In the same pan combine beans, celery, onion, ham bone, garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, water, thyme, and chiles. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 1-3/4 hours. Remove ham bone and set aside to cool. Stir in carrots. Return to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 15 minutes or until carrots are tender.
  3. Meanwhile, cut meat off bone and coarsely chop. Discard bone. Stir meat into soup, along with parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.



This week my friend Tracy and I headed over to Canino Produce, often referred to as “the Mexican farmers market,” located at 2520 Airline Drive.


Canino’s has been around since 1958.  Unlike the local farmers markets around town offering local — often organic — produce and locally-produced products, Canino’s carries a wide variety of produce and other items not only from Texas, but “all over the United States and the world.”  In the fall, shoppers are greeted by mountains of fresh “new crop” pecans, most of which come from the Austin area, which their 15 nut-cracking machines will crack for you for 35 cents per pound.

Walking around the market, it is quite possible to briefly forget you’re in Houston.  And in August, that’s a good thing.  Because if you’re going to be walking around with rivers of sweat running down your face, you may as well pretend you’re somewhere more exotic.

Inside, Canino’s has neatly arranged tables displaying the fresh produce, as well as beans, rice, stone-ground flour and cornmeal, and dried fruit.



You’ll probably want to grab a bottle of Mexican vanilla while you’re there:


If you’re one of those folks who believes that size matters (thanks, Tracy), these baseball bat-sized cucuzza squashes might interest you:


But the real fun of the Mexican farmers market is the open-air market located behind Canino’s.  There are several rows of stalls, where the rainbow of produce is buffed to a shine and decoratively arranged.  There’s always a thing or two I’ve never seen before.  To make shopping in this section easier, bring a wallet full of small bills, because most of the baskets of produce are $2.


 Prettiest produce around


 Can you say “salsa”?

In addition to produce, you can also find cooking utensils, spices, strings of dried chiles, and bins of herb blends.


Look close — there’s an herb blend for pretty much anything that ails you.  Got cramps? Got asthma?  There’s a blend for that!


A popular snack sold at the open air market is fruit — slices of papaya, mango, coconut, melon — sprinkled with a chile/lime mixture.  At the market, the spice mix is sometimes referred to as “chile for fruit,” but Fiesta sells a mix called “Pico de Gallo con Limon”:


Fiesta brand Pico de Gallo con Limon

Several of the vendors had these clever peeled mangos, cut to look like flowers, and sprinkled with the chile mixture:


We left, hot and happy, loaded down with several sacks of goodies each.

But wait — there’s more!

Just a few blocks down the street, at 2201 Airline, is the Houston Dairymaids’ warehouse, which is open to the public every day except Monday for cheese sampling and retail purchases.  Seeing as it wasn’t Monday, we popped in.


The Houston Dairymaids was started by owner Lindsey Schechter in 2006.  Every article I’ve found describes Lindsey as a “seasoned cheese professional,” which makes her a pretty cheesy person, I guess.  I used to buy cheese from the Houston Dairymaids at the local farmers market, but their wholesale operation became so successful that they stopped selling there.  If you have ever had a cheese plate at a Houston restaurant, chances are good the cheese came from the Houston Dairymaids.

They carry approximately 150 handmade cheeses — unpasteurized when possible — from around the United States (with an occasional imported cheese), with seven currently coming from Texas.  Every day they offer a sampling of 5 or 6 selected cheeses, progressing from mild to more pungent.


Owner Lindsey Schechter and a cheese sampling tray

In addition to cheese, the retail storefront also has a small but interesting selection of wines, breads from Slow Dough Bread Company, outrageously good cookies from Wackym’s Kitchen, olives, crackers, and other cheese accompaniments.   It was really hard (almost impossible, actually) to narrow down our cheese choices, but we finally settled on two each to bring home, along with some bread and cookies.

There’s also a Mexican bakery, El Bolillo, at 2517 Airline, and a spice market, Lone Star Culinary, at 2520 Airline, but we were too pooped from the heat to party any longer, so those will have to wait for a future visit.

Back home, I noticed on Canino’s website that there was a link to recipes.  The recipe for “Not So” Spicy Sweet Potato Soup intrigued me with its peanut butter and lime juice.  Coincidentally, I had just purchased two large sweet potatoes at Canino’s, so I just HAD to make the soup.  I adapted it slightly, using almond butter instead of peanut butter, and half the amount of ginger called for.   It only takes about 30 minutes to make, and is very good and quite satisfying.

Recipe type: Soup
  • 1 large sweet onion (such as Vidalia, 1015), peeled and chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • ¼ cup almond butter or peanut butter
  • Juice of 1 small lime
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sour cream for optional garnish
  • Cilantro for optional garnish
  1. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic, and saute until soft and onions are translucent. Add sweet potatoes, chicken stock, cumin, red pepper, and ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer covered until sweet potatoes are tender, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
  2. Remove soup from heat, and puree in 3 batches using a blender or food processor (being careful not to overfill blender with hot liquid so as to prevent top from blowing off). Return soup to stockpot over medium heat and whisk in almond butter and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If soup is too thick, thin with additional chicken stock to desired consistency). Serve hot, garnished with sour cream and cilantro, if using.

015 Simmer until sweet potatoes are soft


Spicy enough for me!


005 (3)

I found these vintage seed labels at simplyfrenchvintage several years ago.  I bought some, thinking I might use them for . . .  I have no idea.  Craft fail.

You won’t find many of these vegetables at our local farmers markets this time of year. Last week’s “seasonal selections” at the farmers market were eggplant, peas, cucumbers, peppers, basil, okra, melons, and onions.  Even Justin Yu, of the nationally-renowned Oxheart, conceded that it can be quite a challenge to create a seasonal menu with local produce this time of year in Houston.

This week it’s been over 100 degrees here.  It’s hot.  We haven’t had much rain, but Houston has a faint yellow haze these days from a sand storm in the Sahara Desert.  It’s definitely too hot to cook.  Maybe even too hot to chew.

It’s days like this when a cold spicy gazpacho is splendid.  What’s more, with the exception of the tomatoes, the key  ingredients can still be found at the farmers market:

006 (5)

 Tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, red bell peppers

Inspired by the pretty vintage labels and the dog days of summer, I hunted around for a long time for a gazpacho recipe.  I don’t care for the ones that rely on tomato juice as a base.  The liquid in this recipe, adapted from one by Lynette Hawkins of Giacomo’s that appeared in the Houston Chronicle a few years ago, uses the liquid that comes from macerating the vegetables.  It is worth it to hunt down sherry vinegar, and it really adds to the flavor of the soup.  It’s icy cold and spicy and smooth and so good on a hot summer evening.  If you can’t stand the heat . . . make gazpacho!

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into small pieces
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell peppers, onion, garlic, and serrano chile in a 4-quart container. Add 2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt and toss to combine. Add the bread pieces and toss again. Allow ingredients to macerate at least 30 minutes.
  2. Puree the tomato mixture in a blender in two batches. For each batch, blend for 30 seconds, then drizzle in ¼ cup olive oil with motor running. Blend until completely smooth, then transfer each batch to a 4-quart container. Stir in vinegar, black pepper, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if necessary, to taste. Chill completely in refrigerator, and serve cold.

001 (12)
Tomatoes and cucumbers and onions, oh my!
004Sherry vinegar adds great flavor
002 (2)
Keeping cool with icy cold gazpacho


Most of the estate sales I go to are pretty predictable — a Duncan Phyfe dining room table, some midcentury furniture, cut glass, silverplate, bad artwork, needlepoint, rooms full of Christmas ornaments and decorations, piles of linens, abandoned toys, and unfinished crafts.  But occasionally I run across something truly bizarre, like say, a backyard full of dismembered mannequins.

mannequins2 mannequins4

I’m not talking just one or two mannequins, but dozens of naked, maimed mannequins:

mannequins3As I stood there surveying the mannequin massacre, trying to wrap my head around it, all I could think was that I had to take a picture to show my husband.  As I was snapping the pictures, however, I saw people looking at me, and started to worry that they might think I was weird.  And then I thought, “I’m surrounded by piles of mutilated mannequins, and I’m worried that someone might think I forgot to take my meds?”  Reality check!

I have no idea how those mannequins met their demise or why they were cavalierly tossed in the backyard.  Isn’t that what dumpsters are for?  The scene brought to mind an old Saturday Night Live skit with Dennis Hopper, involving a party with inflatable dolls, and he had a fit because someone “popped his girl.”  Or the Jonestown mass suicide.  Anyway, I’ve since revised my will to include instructions that any dismembered mannequins of mine be discarded before my children expose the contents of my home to complete strangers in the hopes of making a few dollars.

The mannequins weren’t the only disturbing thing in this backyard.  Check out the pool:


See it back there, in all its brilliant pea green glory?  I’m guessing the pool guy took one look at the mannequins, realized life was too short to mess with it, and hightailed it out of there.



Looking at the pool (1) makes me want to take antibiotics, and (2) makes me think of split pea soup (sorry — can’t help it).  I’ve been feeling crummy this past week with the flu or allergies or both, and we’re about to get yet another cold front, so inspired by the discarded mannequins lounging around the pea green pool, I made a big pot of Split Pea and Ham Soup.  The recipe is adapted from the one in The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (my Silver Palate heroines).  It is a comforting, familiar soup, with an interesting twist from the sherry and tarragon.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Recipe type: Soup
  • 1 pound dried green split peas
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 5 cups water
  • ½ cup diced smoked ham
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided use
  • ½ teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 cup diced peeled carrots
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 leek, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Rinse the split peas in a strainer, then combine them with the stock and water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat, and add the ham, celery, 1 tablespoon parsley, and tarragon. Reduce heat, and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the carrots, onion, and leek, and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. Add the sherry and remaining 2 tablespoons parsley, season to taste with salt and pepper, and heat through. Serve hot.



 Not for dummies!