Archive for June, 2013

The Fancy Feast
June 27, 2013

Italian-Haute-Cuisine

I can’t stand people who do not take food seriously. ~ Oscar Wilde 

Sorry, Oscar.

Let me be very clear that I am not a “foodie” (one who has an avid interest in the latest food fads). As a rule, I like good old, plain and simple fare. But there are times when I find myself at some restaurant, gazing at my plate and thinking “what the heck is that?”

Mostly this happens when we attend special wine dinners, where you are served various courses of very fancy and oh, so precious servings of stuff like “raw brassicas leaves and pickled stems, goat’s whey, chrysanthemum, and herb oils,” for example.

(note: This is an actual item on the Tasting Menu of a really hot spot on the Houston restaurant scene.)

Would I ever order it? Actually, I’d rather have a shrimp cocktail, thank you very much. Or a freshly sliced avocado piled with lump crab meat Louis. Or a bowl of really great gumbo.

So the other night, we attended such a wine dinner, where we were presented with a set menu. It started out well, with Bacon Wrapped Quail Bites. I wish I could have just eaten them all night! They were really good.

Next course: Hebi Sashimi, Salad of Green Papaya, Yuzu Ponzu. It was sushi, of course, which gives me the “hebi jeebies”. So I pushed it around my plate and ate the two bites of the salad with whatever yuzu ponzu (a sauce) was. My friend Dennis looked up Hebi on his smart phone, and discovered that it was a shortbilled spearfish.

And then: Roasted Hawaiian Walu, Taro Root Puree, Fried Plantains, Blueberry Mango Salsita. This dish featured two smallish portions of a roasted fish atop a puree. No fried plaintains on my plate, alas, but a sprinkling of blueberries and mango was there in the middle. Just a sprinkle of them.

This time Joel looked up what a Walu was, and discovered a lovely bit of information about this particular fish (also called Escolar): “while tasty and buttery, it can sometimes cause gastric distress, similar to diarrhea, only the body will expel yellowish-orange drops of oil instead of liquid bowel movements. Some individuals suffering from escolar-induced keriorrhea also report other digestive issues, including stomach cramps, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and anal leakage; onset may occur between 30 minutes and 36 hours following consumption.”

PASS. We both did, especially Joel, who had an early morning flight the next day, and didn’t need to worry about expelling yellowish-orange drops of oil at 10,000 feet. I did eat the puree and all two bites of the blueberry mango salsita.

Thank goodness for the bread on the table. I think I ate four pieces of that.

Next up: Braised Pork Empanada, Borrata Cheese, Caramelized Onions, Chimichuri. While I wouldn’t have ordered this particular item if I’d had a choice, I ate some, mostly because I was so hungry . It was ok, nothing to write home about.

The grand entree: Charred Bison, Pappas Brabas, Cilantro Pesto, Baby Zucchini, Queso Fresco. Again, I ate. The bison serving was maybe a little over an inch square and very rare. The potatoes were identifiable, and appreciated, but those were the babiest zucchini pieces I’ve ever seen!

dessert1

Finally, hooray for dessert! Double Chocolate Capirotada, Cinnamon Ice Cream. I ate the whole thing. YUM. (funny, usually, I’m not a dessert person…)

So the evening began and ended well, and in the middle, although I didn’t eat much, we sure had lots of fun and laughter at our table. Friend Susan confessed that she normally doesn’t drink six glasses of wine at night, which made us all laugh some more. Oh well, spread out over the span of four hours, with much water drunk between glasses, it didn’t seem quite so scandalous.

Will I ever go back to this lovely restaurant? Yes, likely so. The service was wonderful, and I enjoyed myself, despite my not being a foodie. As long as I can order what I want from the regular menu, I’ll be fine.

All this talk about food is making me hungry. I think I’ll go cook me up some vittles!

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Adventures in Houston (ˈhjuːstən)
June 20, 2013

1955_houston_humble_highres

Happy Motoring! ~ Humble Oil slogan (map courtesy of Humble Oil, circa 1955)

Really, Wikipedia? “Hjusten”? How about “Hyu:sten”? I can just see people in other countries thinking that our city’s name is pronounced HuhJOOSTEN.

I just checked out the latest stats of our fair city. According to Wiki, it comprises of a land area of 599.6 square miles. Houston is the seat of Harris County, and the economic center of Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the U.S. with over 6 million people.

Needless to say, I have never visited some of the far flung parts of Houston, and when I do have the pleasure to explore a new neighborhood, I always think of it as an adventure.

So when I recently had an occasion to venture north to pick up some new paintings for our church’s permanent art collection, I had to study the map to figure out where I was going.

In the olden days of yore, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I would have gotten out my paper street map (from either a gas station or AAA), unfolded it and looked up the street name written in that tiny little font on the back side of the map. That cite would indicate the quadrant of the map in which to find the street. For instance, L6 meant to find the L section on the vertical grid and 6 on the horizontal one.

Then I would figure out how to get there from wherever I was.

But of course, in this day and age, I went to Google Maps. The street name was called “Wagon Gap Trail”, and although it was pretty far away, I figured out what I thought was the best route: I-10 west to Beltway 8 north, to Ella and then north past “Cypress Creek Parkway”, then look for Wagon Gap Trail and turn left.

Well, in hindsight, I should have gone a quicker way (via I-45), but that’s ok, because I enjoyed the scenery of the “slow boat” route, which included fields with cattle grazing, wooded plots, new neighborhoods and schools, as well as the ubiquitous strip shopping centers. All that plus I discovered where the National Museum of Funeral History was!

What I didn’t realize was that on the Google Map, Cypress Creek Parkway = Highway 6. So when I passed 6 and entered the “Ponderosa Forest” neighborhood, I wasn’t paying much attention, because I thought I wouldn’t encounter Wagon Gap Trail until I passed Cypress Creek Parkway.

ponderosa forest

This was a whole new part of town to me. I was very surprised at how heavily treed and quiet it was. Then I noticed a street called “Pine Gap Trail”, and I thought… hmmm, that sounds pretty close to “Wagon Gap Trail”, and sure enough, there it was, soon thereafter!

Thank goodness I didn’t continue north up to the Woodlands! I wonder why the Highway 6 signs aren’t also called Cypress Creek Parkway? Maybe someone who lives up that way can enlighten me…

My impression of Ponderosa Forest was that the streets and homes reminded me of some of the far west Memorial neighborhoods, beyond Beltway 8, which of course, this one also was, albeit in a northerly direction.

Who knew that such a neighborhood was there in a spot that I thought would be barren land, scraped bare of trees and filled with cookie cutter homes, hastily built by developers with visions of profits dancing in their heads? Apparently, back in the 1960’s and 70’s, the PF developers carefully saved the mature trees and built the houses in pockets created within the forest. Hip hip hooray for them!

I need to be less provincial about my own city, explore its vast and varied neighborhoods and get to know it better. Once they finish the eastern metro rail line, that area is next on my list. Stay tuned for another adventure…

Random Choices
June 6, 2013

doors

We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.~ Randy Pausch (1960-2008)

How did you get to the place where you are today? If you unravel your life all the way back to its beginning and beyond, through prior generations, you will discover how easily any of us might not be here except for the random decisions made by others, or forces beyond our control, such as accidents, terminal illnesses, a missed airplane flight or the winds of war.

First and foremost, of course, was the heavenly decision to send you to the family into which you were born. Then the earthly decisions made by your parents placed you in a neighborhood, a school, a church (or other house of worship), and offered you a range of experiences that introduced you to an ever widening circle of friends, whom you might not otherwise have known if your parents hadn’t chosen to live where they did.

In my own situation, my dad’s job (with Exxon) took him around the world. He actually got transferred to Australia once when I was in the 6th grade, but he opted not to go, so that we six kids wouldn’t be uprooted so drastically. What would have happened, had we gone? Interesting to think about.

Instead we moved back to Houston, where a debate ensued between Mom and Dad as to which house to buy. Dad wanted to live out in Memorial, and Mom in Southampton (her old stomping grounds). Mom won. Had she not, I would have likely gone to Memorial HS and probably Chapelwood UMC, and I would have never met Joel. What would have happened,  had that been the case? Who would I have become? And of course, our Shannon would have never been born. Her beautiful soul would have been sent to inhabit another earthly body.

In Shannon’s case, her opting to go to Bard College set in motion the path towards marrying Kat, as did his choice to attend there, as well. But after that, the Admissions Office decision to place them in the same dorm and into the same orientation group, helped things along. Had either decided on an alternate college, or if they had been assigned to different dorms, what then?

While at Bard, they made friends with another guy named Mike, who hailed from Boston. Mike lived next door to Kat. Years later, when Shannon and Kat were planning their wedding, they asked Mike to be one of the groom’s attendants, which he gladly agreed to be.

Among Shannon’s attendants was Carrie, a friend of longstanding, dating back to pre-school days. Make note that our decision to send Shannon to that particular school, and Carrie’s parents’ decision to send her there, also had a major effect on this storyline.

So Carrie and Mike met for the first time during the wedding weekend festivities two years ago. And now, two years later, they are engaged to be married!

Think of all the random threads that pulled them to this place and time. I think God’s hand is behind the scenes, somehow invisibly guiding all of us to our ultimate destinations.

And for that I am very grateful.

 

(Note: pewperson will return on June 14)