Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Brunch (and Chorizo Source Update)

***UPDATE***  Here is a wonderful source for Spanish Chorizo:  Aurelia's Chorizo is located in the Texas Hill Country not far from my hometown, Fredericksburg.

Quoting from their website:  "At Aurelia's Chorizo, we take the responsibility of quality very seriously. Our sausage is made with very high standards. Only beautiful full cuts of pork and beef chuck are used. No fillers or trimmings. Garlic is freshly ground for each batch. Our smoked paprika is imported from the de la Vera region of Spain. This region of denomination is very important to our sausage's depth of flavor."

Sounds good to me! 

Aurelia's Chorizo is also featured in a book called "The Texas Hill Country:  A Food and Wine Lover's Paradise".   The owner of Aurelia's Chorizo, Leslie Horne, has an amazing recipe featured on page 34: Mushrooms and Aurelia's Chorizo in Triple Sherry Cream Sauce.    Yum!  It's a party dish served with toasted baguette slices. 

Sunday brunch has become one of our family's traditions.  After we get home from church, I prepare a quick mid-morning meal (usually breakfast-y foods..anything savory has been a bit far-out for little boy tastebuds) and then we take delicious Sunday naps, or at least the boys do.  Before we had kids, brunch would be rather elaborate and take a little longer to prepare; we'd invite friends over after church and sit around the table for hours.  Nowadays, I hardly have time to kick off my high heels before I have to get something cooking and quickly to the table to avoid the post-church-I'm-so-hungry-and-tired meltdowns of small children.  Lately we've had a lot of waffles, French toast, and pancakes. 

One of my favorite cookbooks is Chocolate & Zucchini: Daily Adventures in a Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde Dusoulier (Dusoulier, C., 2007, US Edition: New York,   Broadway Books).  She a native Parisian, about my age, and has a fantastic food blog:  I adore her writing style and she does all of her own photography for her books and her blog (like yours truly, although she is light years better than me). 

I was thumbing through the pages of her first cookbook, and came across a gorgeous picture.  Being a very visual person, it is not unusual for me to study a picture, decide to make what's presented, and then read the recipe.  Before even confirming what was in it, I knew this savory "bread" would make a Sunday brunch appearance. 

There is one variation between the recipe below and Clotilde's version:  I had to use pork sausage.  Her recipe calls for Spanish air-dried chorizo.  While Clotilde has the amazing greenmarkets of Paris at her fingertips, I have Wal-Mart.  Keeping an optimistic outlook, I asked the meat clerk if he by any chance carried Spanish air-dried chorizo.   I sure wish I could have taken a picture of the utter puzzlement on his face...  Long story short (or not...)--I substituted good ole' Jimmy Dean.   

Tomato, Pistachio, and Chorizo Loaf
(Cake Tomate, Pistache and Chorizo)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sesame seeds--one for the pan, one for topping
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup plain unsweetened yogurt (preferably whole milk), Greek-style yogurt, or buttermilk
3 1/2 ounces Spanish air-dried chorizo (I substituted reduced-fat mild pork sausage)
12 sun-dried tomato halves packed in oil, drained and finely diced
3/4 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, toasted and chopped ("slice" them as best you can lengthwise...they're pretty once baked in the bread)
3/4 cup (loosely packed) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, sprinkle half of the sesame seeds onto the bottom and sides, and shake the pan to coat. 

2.  Combine the flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt and pepper.  Pour in the oil and yogurt, and whisk again.  Sift the flour mixture into the egg mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until incorporate.  Don't overmix the batter--it's okay if a few lumps remain.  Fold in the chorizo, sun-dried tomatoes, pistachios, and parsley.  Stir to combine.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan, level the surface with a spatula, and sprinkle with the remaining sesame seeds.

3.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the loaf is golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool for a few minutes on the counter, run a knife around the pan to loosen, unmold, and transfer to a rack to cool completely.  Cut in slices or cubes just before serving. 

I also added Mini Frittatas to the brunch menu.  While in Nashville, my dear friend Heather prepared a version of this beautiful and delicious recipe for us.  She baked hers in a muffin tin:  I did, too, but I used a mini muffin tin to reduce the baking time.  (Plus kids appreciate tiny portions, even if they can't articulate it.)

Mini Veggie Frittatas

4 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup zucchini, diced
1 Roma tomato, diced
1/2 cup Swiss chard, washed, cut away from the center "vein" and chopped (Substitute spinach if you haven't any chard)
1 clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
2 tbsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk eggs and milk together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

2.  Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Place zucchini, tomato, Swiss chard, and garlic in skillet and saute' until vegetables become soft, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, salt and pepper. Fold vegetables into egg mixture. Whisk in the ricotta cheese and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese.

3.  Use a small spoon to fill the muffin cups.  Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese on top.  Bake for 15-20 minutes. 

Makes 24 mini frittatas.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


I am high right now. 

Calm down...I'm not on anything illicit or illegal;  I am high on beauty. 

But my words botch the perfection of this morning; nothing I can say will do it justice.  It's 59 degrees outside.  When I breathe in, the cool air burns my nose and stings my eyes.  Wait--maybe those are tears.  It's really that pretty out--I could cry about it.

The flowerbeds are perking up.  Tentative buds, badly burned in the heat of the summer, have gathered their courage and are blooming their little hearts out.  I thought the Bachelor's Button croaked back in August, but it has surprised me by summoning some deep strength and now is picture-perfect.

Click on this image, if you will:  the dew is glittering on the chrysanthamums that are about to burst open in the front garden. 

The sunlight is illuminating the other side of the ravine in our backyard.

Chris is using the trimmer (weed-eater).  Can you smell the freshly-cut grass?

I'm about to round up the boys and head out to the Farmer's Market. I've planned a menu for the week...almost all French, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sneaky Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies

Are you intrigued?  Trust me, they're wonderful.  I've adapted a recipe from Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious cookbook (Collins, 2007).  Preparing her furtive, vegetable-laced foods for my boys has been so much fun.  Timothy asks, "Mommy, why do you keep laughing while me and Matthew are eating these brownies?"  I want to blurt, "Because they're full of spinach and have 3 grams of fiber each!  And you're just  gobbling them right up!"  But of course I don't.  Putting on my best poker face, I say something about being oh-so-happy to be their Mommy (which is very true). 

My favorite moment since I first began slipping veggies in desserts was when I put yellow squash in lemon bars.  Some friends were visiting for the weekend and, after watching their faces to make sure they were loving them, I confessed, "Those contain a cup of pureed yellow squash!"  Our friend Josh was shocked and, staring at the half-eaten lemon bar in his hand, said in utter disbelief, "I hate yellow squash more than anything.  But these are really good."  However, he was a little suspicious of my mealtime offerings for the rest of the weekend. 

Back to the cookies.

Jessica's recipe uses a whole can of chickpeas.  And margarine.  I hate margarine.  I proudly used two whole sticks of rich, creamy butter in this recipe.  I've only added a 1/2 cup of chickpeas.  But you can experiment with the amount...see how far you can get before your family detects "the enemy" in their cookies.

**There are a lot of details in the instructions below.  I'm learning that 1) it's just my personality--you should see the "book" of instructions I leave when a sitter comes to watch the kids, and 2) I don't want to assume that everyone knows everything about baking and cooking.  I've already had some comments on my other recipe posts about how some readers didn't know "x" or "y" about cooking:  that's really encouraging to me.  I love to help and teach.** 

Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter (1/2 cup), softened
1 cup brown sugar, packed into the measuring cup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1.5 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup canned chickpeas (also called Garbanzo beans)
1 12-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup rolled oats (oatmeal...but not the instant kind)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350.

If you don't already have some, please, please, please get some parchment paper.  You won't have to 1) use baking spray, or 2) scrub your cookie sheets.   But...if you don't have any right now, do grease your cookie sheets. 

If you're like most people, you will not have time to set your butter out on the counter to soften for several hours before making these cookies.  Here's a trick:  microwave the butter for about 20-30 seconds--BUT NOT ANY LONGER!  The secret to having fluffy cookies is room temperature butter - but not at all melted.  Be a sentinal posted outside your microwave door and watch as the butter softens so you can get a good idea of what happens in 20-30 seconds.  Here's what the butter should look like when it's softened.  That's a whole stick wrapped around the spoon--it's that soft.

My favorite and most-used baking tool is my stand mixer.  It's a splurge, but if you like to bake goodies and  homemade bread, consider saving up to get one.  The mixing times below coincide with the stand mixer.  You'll get a good shoulder workout in if you mix it by hand (which will work just fine, by the way.  The best tool for mixing by hand is a sturdy wooden spoon.)

In the bowl of the mixer, combine the softened sticks of butter and both sugars.  This is a very important step in cookie-making:  mix until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes (high speed) with a mixer or, bless your heart, about 5 or 6 by hand.  This will form the base of the other cookie ingredients:  if it's too runny (i.e. if the butter is too soft or melted) the cookies will instantly succumb to the heat of the oven and s-p-r-e-a-d out to become really thin and will likely burn on the bottom.  

After the butter and sugars are combined (and go on and take a snitch here!  It's utterly delightful!), add in the vanilla and the eggs.  Mix for about 30 seconds at medium speed...just until things are well-combined.

Add the chickpeas, oatmeal, and chocolate chips.  (Confession:  when I decided to prepare and post this recipe, the boys were already down for their naps.  I only had half a bag of chocolate chips, and I wasn't going to wake them to go to the store for more.  But I still had the three leftover squares of Ghirardelli chocolate from yesterday's overindulgence, so I chopped it up and added it to the rest.  My point?  Be flexible and use what you have.)

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.  Using another bowl and having something else to clean is very annoying, but it's a must.  Otherwise, it never fails that Aunt Edna will eat the one cookie that has a clump of baking soda in it and she'll never let you forget about it.  Using the whisk really mixes things up nicely, ensuring your good standing with the relatives. 

Add the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg/chickpea mixture and mix just long enough to make a dough (30 seconds to 1 minute at the most; be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times).  Don't overmix it.  Once flour intermingles with eggs and butter, incorporating too much air by stirring and mixing will make the cookies tough. 

I like to use a teaspoon to scoop out the dough and put it on the cookie sheet.  It makes everything nice and uniform.  I used a tablespoon for four of the cookies:  look at the picture below--the cookies on the left are made with a tablespoon of dough, everything else is a teaspoon--just the right size for kiddos.

Bake for 10-11 minutes.  Remember - the cookies continue to bake after they're removed from the oven, so take them out when they're golden brown around the edges and light brown in the center.

This recipe makes 45 teaspoon-sized cookies plus 4 tablespoon-sized cookies.

NOTE: If you are absolutely grossed-out by the thought of adding chickpeas to your cookies, please omit them.  This is still a great cookie recipe sans chickpeas.  

****UPDATE****  When Timothy got up from his nap, I offered him a cookie.  He took a bite.  "Yummmmm."  Then he picked a non-stealth chickpea out of the top of his cookie and ate it.  "Oh no, Mommy," he said.  "Something really bad happened to that chocolate chip."

Perhaps you should mash up the chickpeas and then add them to the butter and sugar mixture.  That would mask them completely.  (But your family will still get the protein and fiber.)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One of Those Days

9 AM -- The day is fresh and new.  And so is the chocolate bar.

7:45 PM --The ravished chocolate speaks for itself. 
Who cares if it was baking chocolate.

A nightcap for tired mommies...

Dear Mr. Ghirardelli, some days just I can't make it without you.

Reliving Early Married Life

Journey with me some more down my Memory Lane, will you?

After we left the boys with Mom and my sister, Maggie, in Fredericksburg, we went to San Antonio.  Our flight to San Francisco left San Antonio on Thursday, August 26th; we went down the night before to visit our old San Antonio "haunts" as we courted, married, and lived in San Antonio for a while before we moved to Arkansas in 2001.

We lived in houses across the street from each other in San Antonio until we got married, and then I moved into "his".  Those memories are beautiful.  Here's the house I lived in:  it was a duplex...I lived downstairs.

And here's the house Chris first lived in (upstairs).  I happily moved over there after we got married.  Those picture windows were fabulous:  the light was really great.

After visiting our houses, we drove just down the street to the church where we were married.  It was  beautiful:  a Tiffany stained-glass window.  Slate-tiled roof.  Arches.  Fountain.  Courtyard.  Incredible.

Here we are, a few more lines on our faces,
a few grey hairs here and there.
Growing old together...joyfully.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"I'm, Like, Talkin' To My Friends"

I just walked into the kitchen where Timothy was wearing my Bluetooth.

"Hi, Mommy. I'm just walking around totally, like, talking to my friends."

For the record, I have been phasing the words "like" and "totally" out of my vocabulary for the past ten years.  But he must have picked them up somewhere.  I'm the most likely culprit.

Today has been a waterfall of random blog posts.  Thanks for indulging me.

Brothers and a Jeep

For Timothy's 3rd birthday, Meme (my mom) gave him a battery-powered drive-able Jeep.  When she asked our opinion about the purchase prior to his birthday, I said my only request regarding those ride-on type vehicles would be that it had two seats.  Although Matthew was only three months old at the time, I knew the Jeep would be an important and coveted toy for years to come.

Meme came through.  Big time.

Texas Wildflowers in Nashville

After returning from Kansas City, I repacked my bags and headed to Nashville for the fourth-annual Girls' Weekend, a gathering of my darling childhood friends.  We all grew up primarily in Fredericksburg, Texas, and through life's high and low tides have stayed in touch for the past 22 years.  Heather Spriggs Thompson and I met in 1988 and were neighbors and classmates.  Her little sister, Beth, is five years our junior.  When we were 11, that age difference was a friendship barrier and I viewed her as I did my own little sister, Maggie.  But now 5 years doesn't make a bit of difference.  In 1990, Heather introduced me to her second cousin, Christy, who had just moved to town from Wyoming.  Christy's sister, Ginger, was only a year younger than us.  So that's the five of us:  Christy, Ginger, Heather, Beth, and me.

In 2007, we decided to start meeting once a year for a long weekend.  It's been so good for our souls.  And yet is it interesting, and very important, that we must re-gauge and relearn who each woman is as an adult and break away from our knowledge and assumptions of them as children and teenagers.  Beth no longer plays in the creek or straddles electric fences, and Ginger is less cheerleader but more of an encourager than ever.  In fact, we all took the Facebook personality tests to learn even more about each other this year.

Heather originally coined us the Texas Wildflowers back in 2007.  I pondered here for a long time trying to think of something else, but it's so perfect, nothing better comes to mind. 

Shall I roll the photos?  Oh, wait...what's that I hear chugging down the tracks?  **Toot, toot!**  It's the Disclaimer Train, coming right this way! 

The disclaimer: I took Bessie, my giant Canon SLR to capture the images of Girls' Weekend 2010.  My intentions were to get oodles of great pictures of the amazing culinary delights that Heather, our perfect hostess, prepared.  I also meant to get many shots of her gorgeous home, including the mural and incredible faux work she painted on her art-gallery-worthy walls.  I don't know what happened as the camera was in its case more than it was in my hands.  But Heather thought of every detail and made incredible meals and snacks (food is a VERY important part of GW!).  Her entire home will be in a magazine one day; it's beauty is a reflection of the gorgeousness of her heart.

Beth and I at the Kansas City Airport, about to board the plane for Nashville

The Texas Wildflowers
From left:  Ginger, Beth, Heather, Ginny, and Christy
(Photo courtesy of Heather)

Heather's warm and inviting living room, with the dining room peeking in from behind

That is a parasol in the corner!  Its presence lent a whimsical and delightful feel to the room.

The Gift Exchange: we save our annual gift-giving (birthdays, Christmas, etc.) for our GW gatherings.

Christy and Beth at West Elm, a cool home furnishing store.

Ginger taking a BareMinerals test drive. 

This was not staged: the girls did not know I was snapping a pic.  This is just how we are, like old ladies sitting on a bench after lunch, reapplying our lipstick and adjusting our waistbands. 

None of these shoes are meant for walkin'. 
But they sure are cute!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


My blogging comes to another halt this week.  We've experienced a family emergency of a very close and dear friend:  she suffered the loss of a precious loved one.  I went to be with her for the week, holding her hand and wiping her tears.  Writing about food or our vacation feels cheap and plastic right now.  My heart cannot go there. 

Between that and my dear friend Anjie's loss of a precious family dog (who was hit by a car; her 4 boys are heartbroken and so is she), life feels a little scary.  OK--a lot scary.  Unpredictable.  Vulnerable.  The scents of permanent loss and events that can't be changed hang in the air.  I just want to close the curtains and lock the doors and sit on my nest with all the chicks safely tucked under my wings. 

God pours out His comfort in moments like this.  I've clung to several verses this week:

You have seen me tossing and turning
through the night.
You have collected all my tears
and preserved them in your bottle.
You have recorded every one in Your book.

The very day I call for help,
the tide of battle turns.
My enemies flee.
This one thing I know:  God is for me.
Psalm 56 8:9


I weep with grief;
my heart is heavy with sorrow;
encourage and cheer me
with your words....

Revive my heart toward you.
Psalm 119: 28, 37

I really like that last verse.  It tells me that David had moments just like this where his heart was deflated and there lingered the doubts and fears regarding God's protection for us.  "Why, God?"  I just don't understand; I probably never will.  But, to quote another friend, God's grace is sufficient enough for us to beat our fists on His chest and heave and sob until we come to the end of our anger and questions.   And His love will still be there, waiting to wrap us in His great comfort and peace.  Yeah.  He is that good.

God's Word also tells me:

Though He brings grief,
He will show compassion,
so great is His unfailing love.

For he does not willingly bring
affliction or grief
to the children of men.
Lamentations 3:32-33


when doubts fill my mind,
when my heart is in turmoil,
quiet me
and give me renewed hope
and cheer.
Psalm 94:19

What God says is true.  When I praise Him in these moments, however hard it is--and it's really hard, He pours out His soothing balm on my soul, covering it like warm oil, like the feeling of having my mother gently set me on the bathroom sink and wash off the gravel and dirt from my skinned knee, placing the Band-Aid with a perfectly tender touch, sealing it with a kiss.  It's that feeling--God acknowledging my pain and my friend's inconceivable loss, and the utter scariness of life and weeping with us (which Scripture says He does).  But I have to remember that it is through the gifts He gives us of our children, spouses, friends and family (and pets!), which, when we lose present us with the greatest anguish, also give us our lives' greatest joys.  So I will praise Him.  Even when my heart is broken.

Thank you for understanding, friends.  You won't waste a prayer on either of these situations.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Musings from the Hometown

Day 3 - A Tuesday in Fredericksburg

The day after we arrived at Mom's house was so much fun.  The house is old...I mean old--like part of it was built in 1877--and is positioned on 10 acres.  The morning started out with the "farm chores" including gathering the eggs and feeding the animals.

My highest desire is for our land to provide most of what we need...self-sufficiency.  I'd love to have chickens for fresh eggs and an incredible garden to provide produce which I would can and freeze.  I admire what my mom has done with her property, as she has a bountiful garden and happy hens who provide her with 4-6 gorgeous eggs every morning.

Feeding the Hens

Sweet, long-suffering Helga.  She was the only one who would let the boys come close enough to pet her.

You would not believe how delicious these things were. 
Bright orange and so flavorful, scrambled with a bit of cream and salt.

After breakfast, we ventured out to Maggie's cabin.  She lives on a beautiful piece of property about 20 minutes east of Mom; it's a ranch with all sorts of animals including horses.  After searching around for small place of her own, God literally dropped this right in Maggie's lap.  She has the most precious landlords and one of the most divine views the hill country has to offer.

Maggie's Cabin

Her Front Gate

View from the Front Porch

   Precious Little Kitchen
(She has cranked some amazing meals out of this tiny thing
with her two-burner electric cooktop and toaster oven.)

I love this plaque. 

Artwork by a darling and uber-talented friend of ours...

While we were at the cabin, we took a tour of the property.  Maggie, Timothy and I were driving a "mule"...those four-wheel-drive golf cart thingies.  Chris was riding the dirt bike.  Oh so much fun (until we got into the bramble patch!)

This ole' girl was beautiful. 
I wish you could smell her lovely horse-y smell and touch her velvet nose.

This guy's expression: "Oh yippie.  Another kid on my back." 
Timothy was picking up on his body language and wanted OFF!

The horse's grain is kept in the back of this "mule" vehicle thing.  In old coffee cans.  I suppose that's what Mary was searching for when the can affixed itself to her mouth.   Maggie, ever the animal-rescuer, removed the can, but we all had a great laugh in the meantime.  

No Texas ranch "mule" is complete without at least two shotguns.

Me,  in my Lady Godiva moment.  Only with short hair.  And clothes on. 

And lest you think I wouldn't risk such a thing,
yes I DID ride the motorcycle! 
All the way to 3rd gear, baby!

Hometown Homesickness

There must be a psychological term for the emotional phenomenon that occurs when one returns "home."  I don't mean the home we make as adults with our own families, I mean the one where we grew up.  I suppose it doesn't happen to everyone, especially those who moved around a lot, for they do not have a concentrated lot of memories in one home.  My parents purchased the house I mostly grew up in when I was eight years old, and my mom still lives there, so it is chock-full of memories for me.  But it's not just the house that stirs up these feelings, it's the whole town.  It's the highways and farm-to-market roads and creeks leading into the town.  It's that picnic area on the south side of Highway 290 right outside of town where I used to go at lunch during high school, alone, and just sit.  My dad was sick my senior year with a brain tumor; he died the following spring.  Things were tough.  Really tough.  I would take a packed lunch to the picnic area and sit in my car.  We pass that very area every time we come into town; it seems to reach out and grab me. 

Perhaps we leave little bits of our hearts in the places where we have memories.  Maybe that's it.  And when we are heading to a place, like our hometown, where there are a lot of little heart bits scattered about, entering the area of familiarity causes those bits to consolidate and that feeling rises up.  You know, that Hometown Feeling--a quickened heartbeat, weird stomach feeling, and the turn-left-here-I-know-a-shortcut routine.  Surely this doesn't happen to those who have never left their hometown, for their whole heart still resides there and nothing is missed.  But it happens to me.  Every time. 

And why does this always seem to happen right when you're about 30 minutes from your final destination?