New Year’s Eve 2012

New Year’s Eve, and absolutely zero time requirements. We are visiting with my in-laws, who have a great appreciation for quiet reading and conversations about the reading. I’m enmeshed in Guy Kawasaki’s _Enchantment_ and a special edition of Yoga Journal magazine, entitled _Yoga for Beginners_.

The feeling is one of a metronome slowing … there is still movement, but it is a slow movement, with time for deep breaths between the beats.

Although I know that conversations about “Balance” are for people who don’t enjoy their work; I also know that rejuvenation is necessary for the big pushes connected to big projects.

Here’s to more successful big projects in 2013.

Be Well,

There is Magic in Momentum

I’m not a person who looks for the next catastrophe. In fact, a friend referred to me (lovingly, I hope) as Pollyannic just the other day. But I’m sitting in a great place, wondering what the next project should be.

It’s not a great time to have such a drive. Our work season is in upswing, and we’ll spend the next 5 months making a year’s income … so we’re kinda busy. But there is wisdom in that phrase “You want to get something done? Ask a busy person.” There is magic in momentum.

There is a little voice in my head saying I’m not busy enough … that there is currently not enough momentum. Consequently I am seriously cooking on my next great thing, and allowing this personal blog to be just that, a personal blog by a successful woman with a really wacky business. Funny how once the pressure is off for the blog to “be” something … I want to spend more time with it.

Maybe not so funny.

Not Quite Luxury

I’ve mentioned before that I live in four places every year. Part of this wacky and wonderful life I live allows me to seasonally relocate. I’m in the same places every year, mostly during the same dates, with some slight shifts due to construction projects or meetings. However, key to my living a great life, and doing what I love for a living, is the fact that I’m actually pretty low-maintenance. Three of the four places are playhouses, attached economically if not also physically to our businesses in those locations. The fourth is our dream house, but that is another story. (I should say here that there is also a fifth location, currently for sale, and you should buy it from me.)
But these playhouses are not without their issues. We leave them locked up and winterized for 8 to 10 months, and hope that whatever folklore we’ve heard about Bounce dryer sheets or moth balls as rodent repellent has proved to be true. Then upon arrival, deep cleaning, and the search for leaks or wire repairs commences. I reacquaint myself with the contents of that closet and those kitchen cabinets, bring in the tubs of office and pantry, and then settle in for the season.

In my experience the key to having enough to meet your needs is to seriously analyze your needs.
I need a clean, dry, pest-free space in which to sleep, office, and cook a healthy meal. I want to walk to work as often as possible. My space for entertaining can be a picnic table outside, as our schedule keeps us in extremely temperate areas all year long. I need to have months at a time when I do not work on “work” but on my pet projects and other personal interests. I have all of these things. My schedule is not so tight that I cannot attend to repairs and upgrades myself. Today I was in a crawl space under our NY place trying to track down a freshwater leak. I was being very thankful that I was only dealing with mosquitoes and spider webs, rather than in TX where just about everything is poisonous, and dark spaces are coveted by scorpions and snakes. I still haven’t located the elusive water leak, but I’ve eliminated a couple of possibilities. ::sigh:: Until I find it, I’ll simply turn on water as needed for showers and dishes. That may sound like a hardship, but one of my favorite playhouses actually has no running water, and the kitchen is in a remote building off my deck. But that place is *adorable*, with tons of personality, just like that blind date you didn’t think you’d like, but really might propose later because … well … you know … *adorable*.

The adorable apartment


So my own definition of luxury is expressed with a calendar rather than a catalog. We make our living in half of the calendar year serving food at theme parks and other outdoor events. We spend the rest of the year researching the best way to do what we do, attending art shows and other festivals, tradeshows and workshops. Our niche is so specific there are no single trade organizations or publications that apply. We’re piecing together the expertise as we go along, now 23 years into this career. We enjoy Spring in the Southeast, Summer 40 miles from Manhattan, Fall in horse country, and Winter at the beach. Seasons will probably always be proper nouns in my world. That is luxury.

Roasted Root Veggie Goodness

We shared our garden space this year. This meant that I was harvesting foods that I normally wouldn’t have planted.

the creepy stage of roasting beets

What to do with beets and turnips? The hubby swears he doesn’t like beets. He thinks they taste like mud. I think that he might be right in regards to soup, so I didn’t make any bright red soup. I was pretty sure I could make him enjoy a beet if I could get him to try it oven roasted. The trick would be to disguise it or at least make it a more minor player in the dish. I thought parsnips might be the answer; so I bought parsnips to roast with the turnips, beets, and carrots that came from the garden. The only thing left to decide was how complex the coating should be. For the first attempt I went with olive oil and Spike. It was a home run. No, really. A home run to the extent that every time we head to town we are buying parsnips.

Ready for the oven

There seems to be an assumption that for a food to be delicious, the recipe must be complex. This is a lie. I should have remembered. After all, one of my most favorite foods is a bowl of hot millet served with salted butter and molasses. So, it’s no surprise that this year’s favorite winter recipe happens to be dead simple. I may even forgive myself for a food rut. I know we are supposed to maintain a wide variety of foods in our diets, but that doesn’t play well with the fact that when something comes due in the garden, you eat a bunch of it, over and over until the harvest is done, or you become tired of it. Well we haven’t become tired of this yet. I make a full tray every time, and every time I wish I made twice as much. Today I think I’ll double it.

Roasted Root Veggie Goodness:
Preheat oven to 425*, you will need 1 large bowl, and a cookie sheet that is coated lightly with oil.
Peel and chunk the following four veggies to about the size of your thumb after the knuckle. The weights should be after cutting.
1 lb beets
1 lb turnips
1 lb carrots
1 lb parsnips
Olive oil (enough to coat)
Spike seasoning

Place all the veggies in the bowl, toss to coat with olive oil, sprinkle Spike so as to be evenly distributed.
Place on the cookie sheet, and bake at 425* for 45 minutes, stirring at 30 minutes. If the veggie size is fairly uniform, and the size described, it will be done in 45. Depending on the day’s humidity, how fresh from harvest the roots are, etc, this time can vary. You are looking for a bit of brown at the edges, and a sweet smell, which lets you know that the sugars in the veggies have caramelized. (In fact the only reason the pan is oiled, is because those sugars sometimes bake onto the pan and are difficult to clean away.)

Grits for Breakfast

The following information in this post is no longer true. The mere threat of this post was enough to influence behavior; thus involving instructions being read, and recipes being followed. It is however, slightly humorous, so I’m posting it anyway.

My husband, an incredibly handy and useful individual, is utterly incapable of cooking grits. He means well when he tries to make us breakfast. He’s using “breakfast making” as a distraction when he tries to let me get the 2 or 3 more hours of sleep than he needs for himself. He gets out of bed and reads at least a dozen newspapers online, and he tries to make breakfast while I sleep the sleep of the deserving. Sometimes Often, he’ll come in to the bedroom and tell me “It’s morning!” to which I reply “In Guam!” as I turn over, covering my head with an additional pillow.

When I do get out of bed (as the sun is just cresting the eastern horizon), there is hot water ready for my tea, sometimes there is oatmeal, and sometimes there is a solid concrete-like substance made from hominy grits.

He’s getting closer, I think. I’ve said things like, “If you salt the water, you won’t feel you need as much butter.” <–that worked! But the cooking of grits is still apparently too complex a feat in the early morning. Reading instructions or measuring is apparently too similar to “asking directions when lost” … it just isn’t going to happen.

It is unfortunately, his impatience that causes the process to slip a gear. He’s impatient for me to wake up when he distracts himself with the project. He explains the process like this: He boils the salted water, adds the grits, and then brings it to a boil again. At this point it looks far too thin … so he adds more grits, thus creating the concrete-like mass once the concoction has actually cooked for the 5 minutes required … and then he shrugs, as if planetary alignment has somehow caused this situation, and there is nothing else that can be done.

So the morning I’m writing this post, I have taken photos of the solidity of the savory breakfast substance, and laughed aloud about the post I’m going to write. I had to promise to admit that I *did* eat the grits, and the *were* tasty. My promise received a smugly satisfied smile.

Thanks Honey!

Apple Pie Porridge

I’ve been serving my Apple Pie Porridge to visiting friends and family for over a decade. It resolves all of the dilemmas about the plebeian oat as a menu offering.  I mean, lots of us eat oats for breakfast, but it is rarely something served with pride to a guest. 

Steel cut oats, cooked overnight is my answer.  Oats in this shape cook up with more texture than the slippery instant oats we associate with busy morning breakfasts. I can make my oatmeal taste and smell just like apple pie without having to make a crust, and without the caloric guilt. Prepping a crock pot before bed gives me the option of making a breakfast far beyond what we would normally enjoy on a busy morning. I’m not usually thinking about breakfast the night before unless I already know my morning schedule will be slammed, or I have people to feed other than myself. Both of these qualifiers are true in regards to my fall gig, where I’m running the breakfast shop for all of that theme park’s vendors and workers.  A few years ago, I added the dish to the offerings at my fall bakery. (Just for the record, I was selling Apple Pie Porridge to the public before either Starbucks or McDonald’s added oats to their menus … The Hubby points it out every time we drive past an advert “Look, Honey, they’re copying your good ideas.”)

This is an overnight recipe for a variety of reasons.

  1. Steel cut oats usually need an hour of cooking time on a stovetop. (Really, who has an extra hour in the morning?)
  2. I sweeten with fruit whenever possible, and the hours of slow cooking provide enough time for all of the sweetness to come out of the raisins and apples, into the porridge.
  3. No potpourri or smelly candle can compare to the genuine smell of hot apples and cinnamon coming from your own kitchen.
  4. I’m impatient.

I received two calls about oats this week. One from my friend Kelly, who wanted to know if I had this recipe posted anywhere; and another from The Hubby, who confessed to trying McDonald’s oatmeal. In his own defense, he reminded me that we are currently working in two different cities; so he did not have access to ‘real’ porridge.  I asked him for a review. He said, “I don’t know how many sugars are in the thing, but it was A LOT more than I expected, supposedly 290 calories, and the apples were weird. Maybe they had been dried and then reconstituted.” (Or maybe he’s more accustomed to slow-cooked apples.) My curiosity took me to the McDonald’s online nutritional profile, where I got this list:
Whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, food starch-modified, salt, natural flavor (plant source), barley malt extract, caramel color.
Diced Apples
Apples, calcium ascorbate (a blend of calcium and vitamin C to maintain freshness and color).
Cranberry Raisin Blend
Dried sweetened cranberries (sugar, cranberries), California raisins, golden raisins, sunflower oil, sulfur dioxide (preservative).
Light Cream
Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, datem, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium citrate, carrageenan.

McDonald’s has 21 ingredients in their oatmeal. I’d never counted the ingredients in mine before today, but mine contains 9 ingredients, and that’s when you count cinnamon and nutmeg separately, rather than lumping them together as “natural flavor”. I also offer brown sugar when selling this to the public and about 75% of the festival-attending folks choose that option. Still, mine has less than half the number of ingredients of McDonald’s. However, my product doesn’t have to store for the same period of time, and I don’t have to fake a slow-cooked texture with a food starch. McDonald’s and Starbucks are still providing a service by offering a healthier option in the drive-thru breakfast market. I approve.  Although Mark Bittman’s article today points out that “healthier” may be a misnomer in regards to McDonald’s oatmeal.

Healthier items allow us all the opportunity to choose a better life for ourselves.  I’ll admit, the decision to add Apple Pie Porridge to my own commercial menu had selfish origins. I work to make exceptional food selections for myself in the midst of offering what the public craves at my work venues. Hot, scratch-made buttermilk biscuits would call my name every morning in my bakery. White flour is seductive. We’ve had a long and tumultuous, on-again / off-again relationship, and I’m just tired of the hurt. I had to strengthen my resolve by having another, more nurturing option available. I’m not anti white flour. I just have better personal health when I don’t consume it myself. My selfishness has paid off, and Apple Pie Porridge is an oft-requested item at our counter.

A note of thanks again to Kelly, who reminded me that there was a need for this post, and then graciously took these photos for me when she made the dish last night.

I’ll still make this often for myself and friends:
Apple Pie Porridge
This will make 4 hearty servings. It fits easily in a standard crock pot.

1 cup Steel Cut Oats
1/4 cup Flax Seed
2 small Apples
1/4 cup Raisins
1 Tbsp Full Flavored Molasses (Barbados, or first pressing. It has more sugar than Blackstrap)
1 1/2 tsp ground Cinnamon
4 cups Water
1/4 tsp Salt
10 grinds Nutmeg

Core and chop apples, place everything in crock-pot, turn on low before going to bed.
Remember, the apples float, so the contents of the crock-pot are stratified in the morning until you stir it. Also, if there are crunchy bits that have stuck to hot-spots … turn the pot off, stir well, and they’ll soften and release as it cools a bit.



Dried cherries can be a nice replacement for the raisins occasionally. I’d love to hear about your own variations on this!

Buying our new home

We’re moving.
It seems a weird statement, as our lives are always in motion, with 4 separate residences scattered about. But for the past 10 years I’ve considered our orchard “Home” and the other 3 places as “Playhouses” that are attached to specific job locations. Now we’re ready to relocate our home. Our 3 acre grove here in La Feria, TX has been surrounded with suburbia, and the road in front of our house has more than doubled in size. Couple that with the fact we have so very little in common with the local community and very little time annually to begin making connections … and we get to our current place … dissatisfaction. Now, a certain amount of dissatisfaction is necessary in order to create any change for the better. I often struggle with “How can I strive to make my life better when it is so utterly awesome right now?”

My desire for a super-insulated house has percolated since high school, when I read an article by Hunter and Amory Lovins on future energy costs, and measuring true wealth, defining it as “the ease with which one meets his or her needs”. I never let go of the idea, although I’ve worked a few different angles on how I’d achieve it. Sometimes by simply focusing on work, so that I could afford any kind of house.  As recently as a year ago, I’d designed plans for super-insulating this little bungalow in the orchard.  It was built in the 40s, and is a lovely, funky little home with thick plaster interior walls and solid pecan floors. It was not specifically designed for efficiency, although the walls do a great job of holding onto cooler temps, which is important here on the TX-MX border. It would take a lot of input to shift the house into super-efficiency, and that still wouldn’t address the noise issues.  It may never be as efficient as I want it to be. Still, I hold as a truth that I am going to retire in a super-insulated house. In fact it’s part of my monetary plan for a secure retirement. I’m now certain that my super-insulated house is not this house.

So ‘The Hubby’ and I started imagining our new perfect place. A minimum of 3 acres, although the changes that occurred around this 3 acres over the past 9 years has us agreeing we’d prefer more space. Our work has changed some too. We have creative and compelling work in the Houston area that draws us there more often than the 3 months of that festival run. We’d like to get close enough that we could easily make a day trip to our office there. We like the beach. We want to garden all winter. We want Live Oak trees that we don’t have to plant as tiny babies. We want to sleep without hearing neighbors. We want a retreat … someplace that rests us and warms us, and rejuvenates us before we have to get back on the road to experience our whirlwind work season.

It was May 7th 2010, and we were spending 2 days at the orchard as a mini-vacation. It was no longer relaxing to be at the orchard, as we looked at all of our unfinished and not-even-started projects.  “Rockport” the hubby said … “Have you ever considered living in Rockport? We could stop there again as we drive to Houston tomorrow.”  “Sure. Sounds like a plan. Let’s see if Craigslist has our dream home.” and with my first search, I found the home I’d sketched for myself for years.  It was built of ICF (Insulating Concrete Forms) with a wrap-around porch. The porch is vital to energy efficiency in southern climates, as one wants to utilize daylight for light, but eliminate direct light into the structure. Also, it was on 3 acres, but the owner owns the 50 acres surrounding it, and would sell more. In addition, it was surrounded with Live Oak trees, and only a 2 mile bike ride to a quiet beach. A week later I called the owner and told him I was pretty sure I was going to buy his house, but I wasn’t buying a house in 2010. I’m sure he blew me off.

In December of 2010 we toured the place, and in January we started the paperwork part of the process.  I suppose that is still where we are now.  Here at my desk, I’m sitting next to a giant folder of paperwork from the bank, which is not worth anything until they finish looking at all of the financial documentation I provided for the underwriters there. *Today I got a call asking for yet another document. I think I’m going to call this process the “Mortgage Dance”; in that I seem to be learning the steps as I go along, so I’m sometimes worried about stumbling.
This bungalow with its’ organic citrus and avocado orchard is on the market, and I’ve begun the packing process. Oddly, while we’ve owned this house for about 10 years, we haven’t lived in it more than 4 months at any one time. I don’t feel emotionally attached to any of the furniture, and other than 3 filing cabinets of paperwork, I could probably complete the move in The Hubby’s Ford van.  By the time the bank calls, I’ll have everything packed and ready to relocate. Hmmm, maybe that will be my motivation for finishing those last few boxes …

Olive Oil in Cupcakes?

Jennifer Perillo may just be my new hero. She and I are on the same page about what to do when one cannot use butter … and the fact that even the fake buttery type things from the health food store creep us out.

Jennie says this: “Using artificial substitutes was not an option. Honestly, even if it’s from the healthfood store, all that stuff scares me and feels a little too frankenfood-like. Butter I know. Olive oil isn’t foreign. Dairy-free soybean margarine just conjures up factory-food images I’d rather not put into anything I’m cooking for people I love.”
So today, when she posted this Chocolate Olive Oil Cupcake recipe on her blog … and included the link to the earlier Lemon version which was uber-yummy … I might have fallen in love a little more. I was already on the road to fangirl status after her Recipe Writing 101 class at TECHmunchNYC (was that only 2 weeks ago?). So I thought I’d share the love and the link here.


Moving in to the Summer Place

It’s move-in week at my NY place. It sits empty for eight months of the year, including a sometimes hard winter. Consequently it can be interesting to open up the windows, turn on the lights, and figure out what critters moved into the cabin in my absence. It’s not actually a cabin. It’s a 40’ fifth-wheel trailer around which we’ve built a roof and porch. Still, the vernacular for summer places leans toward cabin, and that is the terminology I’ve found easiest when dealing with DSL providers, etc.

I’m about 40 miles north of Manhattan, on the west side of the Hudson River. I can be in The City in an hour or less on the train, yet the temperatures here stay much cooler than in any of the five boroughs. In fact, this area is probably the closest edge of the summer escape communities that allowed New Yorkers to maintain their sanity in the time before air conditioning. I love it here. I’ve spent 21 (or is it 22?) summers here, and cannot imagine anything better. I have established relationships with friends and neighbors, and I try not to gloat to my Texan friends if they make the mistake of asking about the weather.

So I’m cleaning (and avoiding cleaning by typing), and tracking down a stray electrical repair or two before I can really feel that I’ve settled in. A curly willow tree fell onto the back corner of the roof … that will have to be dealt with. I haven’t even turned on the water yet to see what plumbing repairs I’ll have to make. One step at a time, the nesting continues.

It may seem an odd thing to be enjoying, but this time of unfolding my home, and the emotional fluffing of pillows, is really a great part of what I enjoy about the life I’ve crafted for myself. I have four places I call home. I do the nesting thing four times per year, often with great helpers, but sometimes alone. This time I’ve got some great helpers, who are also part of our kitchen crew (which means they know what clean is … this is always a bonus). Later today I’ll unload my car into the clean space and discover which little black dress is stored in this closet, familiarizing myself with another wardrobe.

Potluck Pics: South of the Border

Near Atlanta, Georgia, on May 21st, the Competition Potluck Theme was South of the Border. The unplanned but well-balanced menu consisted of Green Chile w/ Shredded Pork (which does *not* photograph well), Cheese Enchiladas, Tofu Tacos which pleased even the meatiest eaters, Mango Black Bean Stew, and Organic Guacamole.

Kelly's Contribution
Mango & Black Bean Stew
Organic Guacamole from my orchard in TX.

Oh and Mara-gritas, er, Margo-litas, er … Limeade w/ good stuff and some salt.