Giving Thanks

There’s a lot to be said for the traditional trappings at Thanksgiving: the goopy sweet potato casserole with tiny, burnt marshmallows on top; the sodium-soaked green bean casserole topped with tinny-tasting fried onions; gelatinous slices of canned cranberry “sauce”; boxed-broth flavored stuffing with the consistency of packing peanuts.

Wait, no… There isn’t.

Happy Turkey Day
Image courtesy of Flickr user jeffbalke.

Sure, everyone looks forward to the traditions at Thanksgiving each year — gathering with your close family or friends, stuffing your face, coming down off your food high in front of the Cowboys game or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, making turkey and cranberry sandwiches for breakfast the next morning, and eventually deciding that you don’t want to see another turkey until, well, next Thanksgiving — but no one said the food had to be traditional, i.e., boring and flavorless.

Why not start a new tradition for Thanksgiving? Why not prepare some easy yet amazing, simple yet delicious dishes that inspired by the season, not by the collective subconsious? Below are some of my favorite recipes; hopefully they’ll inspire you as much as they’ve inspired me.

Instead of bland, flavorless cornbread stuffing, give one of these phenomenal stuffings from Bon Appetit a try: Wild Mushroom & Spinach Stuffing or Bacon, Apple and Fennel Stuffing. The latter is particularly fitting for the season, with succulent little fennel bulbs and crisp apples. And the former can easily be adapted for vegetarian or vegan friends and family.

Instead of dumping out a can of cranberry sauce and listening to it slide sickeningly out of the tin with little belches before landing on the plate with a sound that can best be described as “giving up,” why not just make some cranberry sauce from scratch? It’s easier than it sounds, trust me. Try this: Cranberry, Pear and Ginger Chutney. Apple cider vinegar, ginger and onions give this sauce a tangy bite that gives way to the sweetness of the pear, cinnamon and orange zest. An extremely well-balanced recipe if I’ve ever seen one.

Instead of that godawful sweet potato casserole that only the folks sitting at the kids’ table enjoy, try this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers: Molasses Glazed Acorn Squash. My love for acorn squash is exceeded by very few other foods, and for good reason. It’s gorgeous to present, naturally sweet (even better when roasted), and extremely good for you. No tiny marshmallows needed here.

Instead of serving your family and friends a week’s worth of salt in one fell swoop with that soupy green bean casserole, give this amazing Brussels sprouts recipe a shot: Pan-Fried Brussels Sprouts with Red Onion, Chili and Cumin Seeds. Unlike most Brussels sprouts recipes which call for heavy cream, bacon, butter or pork fat, this recipe calls only for olive oil and allows the sprouts to shine while allowing you to have a healthy yet hearty dish.

Of course, there are some Thanksgiving food traditions that aren’t to be meddled with: sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie, the triumverate of Thanksgiving desserts that should grace every sideboard or kitchen counter. But that’s just me.

What about you, sweet potatoes? What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Would Thanksgiving be meaningless and empty without a certain dish or two?

The Weekend In Food


8:00am: Up early, getting ready for breakfast with Mom and then farmers’ market. Need coffee after late night playing pool (read: lamely chasing balls around table with cue stick while getting laughed at) with Kymberlie and Jeff at The Big Easy.

9:00am: Coffee acquired, heading to El Rey Taqueria with Mom for breakfast.

9:30am: Ranchero Egg Plate, get in mah belleh.

9:45am: Am I a jerk for drinking coffee from some other establishment while eating breakfast at El Rey?

10:15am: Hmm. Canino’s still appears to be closed. And we don’t feel like fighting the throngs in the stalls behind the store. Let’s go do something completely different!

10:45am: At The Guild Shop, buying “junque” we don’t need. Proceeds, uh…go to charity. Yeah, we’re being…uh…charitable!

11:45am: At the gigantic Marshall’s on West Gray, buying more stuff we don’t need. God, I love Saturdays. Come here, pretty scarf! I can think up a reason to need you!

12:15pm: Mom has dropped me off back at home, where I discover that I’m locked out of the house. Where is Richard? Where are my keys? FAIL.

12:45pm: Richard eventually comes home, where he finds me sprawled out on a reclining deck chair in the sun like an angry lizard. Grab my keys and jet; supposed to meet up for lunch on the other side of town at exactly…right now.

1:15pm: At Lupe Tortilla’s with Kymberlie, having a much-needed strawberry margarita and queso.

2:30pm: We’ve migrated over to Rice Village and are trying on every shade of everything inside Sephora. We see Dr. Miggy as she exits the store. Hi, Dr. Miggy!

3:30pm: Meet up with Jeff at Via Colori. Want to take pictures, but feel like an idiot with my semi-broken point-and-shoot next to Jeff’s $2,000 fancy-schmancy camera. Will settle for oohing and ahhing instead.


6:00pm: Hungry again. Head over to Katz’s for a quick bite.

6:30pm: Order a Fat Tire and a cup of borscht. Yeah, I know…

6:35pm: My $4.00 Fat Tire comes in a sippy-cup sized glass. Strike one.

6:45pm: My cup of borscht equals about three tablespoons of borscht when you remove the baseball-sized scoop of sour cream that came in the bowl. Strike two.

6:47pm: And the borscht tastes like metallic water with red food coloring in it. Strike three. Katz’s, you’re out for a while.

8:00pm: Heading home. Tired feet. Still hungry.

8:30pm: At home, making a quick supplemental dinner of pasta with fresh marinara sauce. Much better than Katz’s “borscht.”

9:30pm: Fall asleep on couch watching Ronin.


8:00am: Up early again for no reason. Doing my Sunday morning ritual of watching CBS Sunday Morning and Meet The Press with a cup of coffee.

10:00am: Cleaning house. Boring but necessary.

1:00pm: Heading out to Jenny‘s house to help prep for the second Flavor Tripping party this afternoon.

1:30pm: Chopping and bagging fruits and veggies. We have habanero peppers, folks! And rhubarb and tomatillos and Greek yogurt… But, HABANEROS!!!

1:45pm: Joanne and Shannon bravely try some habaneros while on the tablet and report that they taste surprisingly sweet, but not hot. Yeah, but they’ll still tear up your insides later, ladies.

3:30pm: Transporting food and serving plates and utensils and guest list and…everything…over to The Social.

4:15pm: Almost finished setting up. Line of people waiting to get into the party is snaking around the block already. The villagers are getting restless…

4:30pm: Katie, un-bar the door. We open the floodgates and the party-goers come rushing in.

5:15pm: After a frenzy of taking names, handing out berries and wristbands, and explaining the flavor tripping process, we’ve checked about 200 people into the party.

5:45pm: Imelda and Brittanie are here. Hi, girls!

6:00pm: The food and beer are holding up surprisingly well, considering how many people (about 250 now) are here. The Greek yogurt appears to be a favorite, along with the traditional favorites: lemons and limes.

6:30pm: Duck out early to head home; feet are aching from stupid boots, once again. Really need to invest in shoes without heels that will somehow still make me taller than 5’0″. Will take suggestions below.

How was your weekend, campers?

Thursday Answers

Gosh, you clever little things! I don’t know what I’m going to do with y’all. All I know is that it’s a good thing I wasn’t offering a tangible prize this week, or else I’d be sending folks some hacked up cookbook or something, cause guess what — there was a tie! But first things first: the answers

  1. Twinkies originally contained banana-flavored filling.  Yes, I cannot think of anything more awful, either.  Thankfully, we had a World War that corrected this disgusting lapse in taste through a banana shortage and we now have artificial-vanilla-flavored Twinkies instead.  Ah, progress!
  2. In addition to saving the famous Lansdowne portrait from advancing British troops who torched the White House during the War of 1812, Dolley Madison served ice cream at state functions, leading to its acceptance and popularity in America.  Ice cream has been around — in some way, shape or form — since Roman times, but wasn’t popular in America until Ms. Madison began serving it.
  3. Tapioca is made from cassava (a.k.a. manioc) root, which is toxic until processed correctly.  Processing cassava is a time-consuming ordeal that involves peeling the roots, griding them into flour, soaking the flour in water, squeezing the flour dry several times, and then toasting the flour.  You’ve gained a bit more respect for your tapioca pudding now, haven’t you?
  4. Bubblegum is a bizarre, slightly disgusting concoction of wintergreen, peppermint, vanilla and cinnamon flavorings.  This mixture probably explains why I find bubblegum flavored anything mildly offensive (although bubblegum itself is acceptable, if only for its bubble-blowing properties).
  5. Southern Culture on the Skids (you really should just check them out for yourself) are known for throwing fried chicken and banana pudding to their audiences at shows.  That’s true Southern hospitality for ya.
  6. BONUS:  Mars, Inc. produces the world-famous Snickers Bar, which inexplicably tops the best-selling candy bar list year after year despite the presence of the far superior Baby Ruth.

And there you have it, folks!

This week’s tied winners — with all six answers correct! — were two newcomers, so give them a nice, warm, welcoming round of [virtual] applause.  Let’s hear it for Erin and Healthy Houston Foodie.  Congratulations, ladies!

Stay tuned for next week’s round of trivia, where we’ll be mixing it up a bit.  Till then, sugarplums!

Ashford Pub

I remain convinced that Ashford Pub is one of the great undiscovered gems in Houston. And I like it that way. So why am I writing about it, telling the world of its greatness? Well, it is OTL after all (that’s “outside of Loop 610” for us mouthbreathing knuckledraggers who live in the suburbs). And more than just OTL, it’s OTSL (outside the second Loop — Beltway 8), so I don’t expect it to be rushed by roving gangs of hipsters any time soon, review or not.

Ashford Pub is in a grotty old strip mall off Dairy Ashford, between Memorial Drive and Interstate 10. For being in a relatively wealthy area of town, both Ashford and its host strip mall are incongrously seedy looking, as are most businesses along this stretch of Dairy Ashford. Maybe that’s why I like it.

Inside, low ceilings and dark carpet give the pub an almost den-like feeling. Non-functioning brick fireplaces with wooden mantels at either end of the pool table/darts area and chairs with well-worn cushions only add to that sense. The bar is small but well-stocked, with friendly bartenders and your average assortment of regulars, and the entire place feels like you’ve stepped into your neighbor’s basement. It’s a welcoming feeling.

Every Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m., Ashford hosts a trivia night. This isn’t your fancy, hand-held, television-screen, compete-with-random-people-in-Buffalo trivia, though. This is old-school trivia, called out over a scratchy microphone and written down on sheets of paper that are turned in at the end of the game. Twenty questions, three bonus questions, all deceptively difficult.

Wes Mantooth

Teams competing range from white collar types who just got off work at Technip or BP America or Chevron, blue collar types who play pool in between questions, retirees with walkers and portable oxygen tanks (who comprise a particularly tough team to beat: Van’s Vandals), your run-of-the-mill stoners and burnouts, and neighborhood regulars young and old. Each team speaks in hushed whispers as they consult one another over the trickier questions, no one wanting to reveal a possible answer to the other tables, and then pens begin scribbling furiously as an answer is expelled onto the paper, which is — in turn — quickly and pointedly turned over. People here take their trivia seriously.

But that’s not the only charm of Ashford. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing about it on a food blog. Every Tuesday night when you walk in, you’re greeted by the smell of homemade food. You never know what it’s going to be, but you can count on it being good. Ashford doesn’t have a permit to serve food — or, rather, to charge you for the food they serve — so the food is always free. This could possibly cloud my judgment on how good it truly is, but I like to think that I’m not that easy.

Week after week, the owner hauls in crock pots and chafing dishes and wicker baskets filled with the kind of food you only ever find at church potluck suppers: beef stroganoff with egg noodles, meatloaf with deliriously creamy mashed potatoes, meatballs in gravy with fresh bread for making sandwiches, salisbury steak with a dark mushroom sauce, fried chicken, King Ranch casserole, garden salads with iceberg lettuce and Ranch dressing, red velvet cake, apple pie and — this past week — pumpkin pie with whipped cream. This isn’t Textile or *17. This is the basement at the Columbus Avenue Church of Christ on a Sunday afternoon, intimate and comfortable and redolent of home.

It’s certainly a strange thing to have in a bar — especially one that looks as seedy as Ashford does from the outside — but the thing I love about Ashford is that it isn’t truly a bar. It’s a pub, in the most British sense of the word we Americans can muster. It’s a gathering place for the community, for friends, for families. People don’t come here to drink and party. They come to reconnect. Tuesday Trivia and home-cooked meals are just one example of how Ashford helps to forge and strengthen those bonds.

In our crazy lives, it’s such a relief to walk into a place and just…relax. To be with friends who know me by my real name, not the fancy, trumped-up professional name I’ve used since college. To know which chair I want by sight, since it’s the one that has the softest green cushion because it’s slightly broken. To tease the little Irish bartender about the accent that we still swear is fake after all these years. To see the same smiling faces, week after week and year after year, keeping you grounded. To tell the same old stories, which somehow grow funnier and more grandiose with time.

I hope everyone has a place like Ashford. But if not, come by some time on a Tuesday night. We’ll even let you join our team — we could use the help.

“And I will be that green.”

Food poetry Wednesday is upon us, fair readers.  And I’ve got a feast for you today.

Today’s poem is from Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer prize winner and noted feminist.  And although today’s poem is tinged throughout with her particularly cutting brand of feminism, it still manages to retain a raw yet fragile beauty.  Hope you enjoy…

Food of Love

“Eating is touch carried to the bitter end” — Samuel Butler II

I’m going to murder you with love;
I’m going to suffocate you with embraces;
I’m going to hug you, bone by bone,
Till you’re dead all over.
Then I will dine on your delectable marrow.

You will become my personal Sahara;
I’ll sun myself in you, the with one swallow
Drain your remaining brackish well.
With my female blade I’ll carve my name
In your most aspiring palm
Before I chop it down
Then I’ll inhale your last oasis whole.

But in the total desert you become
You’ll see me stretch, horizon to horizon,
Opulent mirage!
Wisteria balconies, dripping cyclamen.
Vistas ablaze with crystal, laced in gold.

So you will summon each dry grain of sand.
And move towards me in undulating dunes
Till you arrive at sudden ultramarine:
A Mediterranean to stroke your dusty shores;
Obstinate verdure, creeping inland, fast renudes
Your barrens; succulents spring up everywhere,
Surprising life! And I will be that green.

When you are fed and watered, flourishing
With shoots entwining trellis, dome and spire,
Till you are resurrected field in bloom,
I will devour you, my natural food,
My host, my final supper on the earth,
And you’ll begin to die again.

Tuesday Trivia: Junk Food Edition

ZOMG!  Tuesday Trivia has returned from hiatus!  I’m not sure what it was doing on hiatus; it just left me a note one morning saying it needed some “personal space” and returned just as suddenly last night, staggering up to the sliding glass door on the patio and falling into the garden hose, stinking of cheap gin and Drakkar Noir.  I think it’s been holed up at Marfreless.

So today’s Tuesday Trivia is gorging itself on junk food, I think in a dual effort to enrage me in the early, stabby stages of my diet, as well as to quell its raging hangover.  Hope you’re in the mood for a sugar rush, folks…

  1. What was the flavor of the original filling in Twinkies and what prompted the change to its current flavor, vanilla?
  2. In addition to lending her (misspelled) name to the eponymous snack cake company, the wife of the fourth U.S. President, Dolley Madison, is also credited with popularizing what treat in America?
  3. What snack enjoyed by children worldwide is made from the root of a plant that’s not only bitter but also poisonous, containing concentrated cyanide?
  4. The flavor that we call “bubblegum” is actually a combination of four different flavors.  Name three of them.
  5. The North Carolina-based rockabilly band Southern Culture on the Skids has been known to throw what treats to their audiences at shows?
  6. BONUS:  What famously secretive and reclusive, privately-owned candy company is responsible for producing the world’s most popular candy bar?  And what is that candy bar?

And there you have it, folks!  I’m going to drag Tuesday Trivia into a cold shower and sober it up while y’all make with the answers.  We’ll see you back here on Thursday!

Bread and Tulips

I ostensibly started my diet today, although it may not look like it from the pictures below.


I am not a carbohydrate-phobe, as you can tell. No Dr. Atkins books in my stable. Instead, when I’m on a “diet,” I tend to eat roughly the same things as I always do…but in moderation. Certain things are off the list, of course, since — even in moderation — they are still terrible for you. That means no chicarrones and the like for this little piglet. At least not right now.


Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to deprive myself.  Especially not if there’s fresh, homemade pâté (courtesy of my awesome mother) going to waste.  Perhaps this doesn’t count as diet food in other households…  But — again — all things in moderation.

Tonight I had only a few delicate spreads of the creamy pâté, but also enjoyed quite a few cornichons and beets as well.  I know that beets don’t traditionally accompany pâté, but I love them.  Plus, they make for a damn fine dessert when you’re on a “diet.”  So onto the plate they went.

But (wo)man cannot live on bread and pâté alone.


We can, however, live quite nicely on a healthy, low-fat, high-protein white bean and rosemary soup with carrots and chicken.

Not a bad way to start a diet, I’d say.

“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.”

I’m thinking of roasting some beets today.

Unroasted Beets

Nothing fancy.  Just some roasted root vegetables in some olive oil and kosher salt.  Perhaps I’ll also do some parsnips and onions and fennel bulbs and sweet potatoes in a separate pan.  A good cool weather dish.

I miss cooking.  I haven’t cooked much lately, for a lot of reasons.  A food blogger that doesn’t cook?  Almost heretical.  But I can cook.  I promise.  Don’t believe me?

Blue Cheese Pork with Wilted Spinach Salad

Here’s a dish I made a while back. Pork cutlets with blue cheese on a wilted spinach salad with apples. Want the recipe? Here you go. I mostly made it up, but it was damn good.

Lamb Chops with Swiss Chard and White Potatoes

Here’s another one for you: lamb chops over Swiss chard in a rosemary-balsamic reduction. I made this one up, too, but didn’t even bother writing down the recipe. Then again, I’m sure it’s not that hard to recreate.

Scone Closeup

I bake, too. Much better than I cook. I used to make fresh scones in the morning, every weekend.

Ready to Eat

We would have delicious breakfasts with things like fried green tomatoes, eggs, thick strips of bacon and — of course — scones.

Roasted Asparagus & Spaghetti Squash

All of that probably sounded fairly unhealthy. The truth is that most things I used to cook were extremely healthy, like the roasted asparagus and spaghetti squash with homemade marinara sauce. I love cooking vegetables. I love roasting them, particularly. I love the intensified flavors and — with certain vegetables — the caramelization process that lends a subtle sweetness to their earthiness.

Bubbling Away

Trust me when I say that my marinara sauce is awesome. It’s also awesomely good for you, and my boss requests jars from me because it’s one of the only ways her little boys will eat vegetables (the sauce is chock full of carrots, celery, onions and — obviously — tomatoes). She pours the sauce onto broccoli and they go nuts for it.

Vegetable Soup and Bread

And it’s getting to be that time of year again — vegetable soup and beer-cheese bread time. There’s nothing better on a cold day than coming home to a homemade vegetable soup that’s been gently simmering all afternoon. Add in the fresh, yeasty smell of the beer bread and you’ve got yourself a fairly good imitation of heaven.

Pots and Pans

Yes, it’s time. It’s that time of year again. And it’s time to get back to the things I love, no matter what may stand in my way.

For Your Consideration

Two more food articles from today’s Houstonist:

Houstonist Bites: BB’s Cajun Kitchen

Houstonist Was There: McCormick & Schmick’s Grand Opening

I can’t recommend BB’s Cajun Cafe highly enough.

Mc&Schmick, on the other hand, is just another Mc&Schmick.  As you can probably tell from the article, I couldn’t think of anything else to say about it other than that.  I felt it uncharitable to mention that they charged for cokes at a grand opening when the wine and champagne was free, or that their appetizers were extremely pedestrian and boring.

Oh, wait.  I did just mention that.  Oops.