So many meals to celebrate 30 years

My friends have long teased me about “Ruth’s birthday month.” Honestly, the ribbing is well-deserved because over the years I have managed to celebrate my birthday which falls in the first week of November over the remaining weeks of the month; a couple of lunches one week, dinner and shopping the next week, brunch with family and cocktails with friends, sometimes a long weekend trip to a food destination too. The streak continued for quite a number of years and I basked in all the attention. Until finally my three adult children decided to sabotage my birthday month by each finding mates whose birthdays also fell in November! Can you believe the audacity? That they would dare to horn in on my birthday month so that we now must celebrate their spouses in the midst of my once-dominant four weeks of celebration?! LOL, I am so completely kidding. It was a very nice trade-off to gain three wonderful family members and give up my 30 days of celebrations.

But I rocked it for 2018, in commemorating our 30th anniversary with meal, after glorious meal. For this grand milestone, we managed to stretch the celebration for six months! Beginning in May, at a lovely Michelin starred restaurant in Barcelona, and ending last week in a long weekend trip in southern California, we’ve celebrated over some memorable meals along the way. The following are a couple of the highlights enjoyed most recently.

Anniversary Party at Venue Forty⎜50, Addison, Texas

Yes, we threw ourselves a party and my only culinary contributions were apple pie and a chocolate cake. It was such a fun evening with all of our children, parents, siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews. The food was excellent and the venue staff could not have been more professional, helpful, or pleasant. We will definitely host another party here and I cannot more highly recommend the venue, owned and operated by Macklin’s Catering to all of you.

Uchi, Dallas, Texas

October 18 was our actual anniversary and after a long day of cooking a special menu for my customers, I was thrilled to be taken out to dine for the first time at the much-talked about sushi restaurant. Our server began the evening on a perfect tone when learning our newbie status, by asking if we would allow him to construct a meal for us of his favorite menu items. As he had served there since their opening in 2015, and because he thoughtfully inquired about allergies and budget, we appreciated his offer and accepted. The evening was perfect and his selections flawless; we highly anticipate returning for another fabulous meal.

Fig + Olive, Newport Beach, California

Although this restaurant is owned and operated by a corporation, we quite enjoyed a delicious dinner beginning with 6 different crostini and ending with an anniversary flourless chocolate cake. The Fashion Island location boasts beautiful decor, impeccable staff and tasty meals. Added bonus: it was within walking distance from our hotel on a beautiful California evening, the perfect setting in which to end six months of celebrations.

Of course, the most remarkable thing about all of these parties, dinners and experiences is that I’ve been walking this life with my very best friend for over thirty years. I am so blessed. So very blessed and in awe that God could be so good. The travel is fun, the meals are pleasurable but it’s the relationship with this amazing man for which I am most grateful. I love you, JB; you’re my one and only forever. ❤️

Do you #partnerscard?

I first became aware of the Partners Card 20 years ago when my children were young. At the time, I understood it to be a great shopping perk, using the 20% discount at many popular retailers as an excuse to kick off the holiday gift-buying season. My friend that introduced me to the Partners Card also invited me to the first Chi Omega Christmas market that I ever attended. Shopping with girlfriends became a new, fun pastime, one I hadn’t really ever enjoyed.

It wasn’t until a couple years later that I really read the literature and learned that Partners Card is the signature fundraiser for The Family Place, the largest family violence agency in Texas. And that 100% of each Partners Card purchase goes directly to supporting survivors of family violence. Over 100 women are killed by their domestic partners each year in North Texas.

The Family Place provides tremendous support for women who cannot escape the violence brought on by those they trust, and that’s why I buy a card every year. It seems like a small contribution but $70 pays for 1 night in a shelter for a woman to hide from her attacker. My hope is that the number of domestic violence deaths can reduce to zero thanks to the work that this organization is doing in the community.

This week, to coincide with Partners Card sales, Butterfield Gourmet will donate 10% of all sales to The Family Place. If you are interested in purchasing a Partners Card to help end domestic violence, visit their website for the available retail locations.

domestic violence.jpeg

What makes a hero?

Our society places a lot of stock in celebrity status. Star in a movie (or even appear on screen), you're adored. Make it to the majors in any sport, instantly an icon. Sell a few thousand albums, gain a million followers. Or, appear sans clothing in self-made videos (a la Kardashian) and you might even get your own reality TV show. Many people consider these individuals to be heroes and idolize their every move.

I'm not much of a groupie person myself (other than revering Super Chef status, natch) because I feel that celebrities are just people like you and me. They get dressed every morning and brush their teeth. They have highs and lows. They love, lose, cry, mourn, rejoice, live, and die. And sometimes, the way in which celebrities live their lives is not only undeserving of hero-worship but downright shameful.  

Today I want to briefly mention a superstar who made a point of using his celebrity status to make someone special to me feel like she was the brightest star in the universe. My niece, Faith Elizabeth Kuhn, suffers from spina bifida. She is 12 years old, has been through 15+ surgeries since birth and she has a huge, pre-adolescent crush on Chicago Cubs third baseman, Kris Bryant. Through a friend of the family in Albuquerque, Kris learned of her "feelings for him" (i.e. "He's hot!") and made arrangements to bring Faith, her two siblings, and parents to Chicago to watch a home game. It was a surreal experience for the entire family, of which Faith shared "was a like a dream come true." I am so grateful to Kris Bryant and his lovely wife for showing real love to my extended family. The very successful athlete was heroic in his compassion and generosity.

However, if you’re with me on this…you’ll agree that the spunky 12-year-old is the real hero in this story. My sister and her husband, from the time she was in the womb and learned that she would be born with this very limiting disability, knew there was a reason this child should share their life and appropriately christened her Faith. And with each year and new surgery, all of the pain and discomfort, missing out on school and time with friends, none of the trials seem to dim her thousand-watt smile. Faith has a strength of will and determination that many children and even adults lack, despite perfect health.

In two weeks, Faith will undergo her most trying surgical experience to date. Due to a major growth spurt, she needs a rod removed from her spine because it is threatening to twist her little body into a most unnatural shape. She will be in traction for two weeks to stretch her spine and spinal chord. After this painful stint in the hospital, she will possibly endure another surgery involving rib removal. And then another for final fusion in two places along her spine. Through it all, Faith and the entire Kuhn family will remain, well, faithful. Won’t you join me in praying for this little warrior who heroically trudges on through the trials of her young life?

Chile Relleno you didn't...

While away on vacation, I missed one of my favorite culinary seasons...those short two weeks when Hatch green chiles are in abundance and being roasted at North Texas grocery stores. I grew up in New Mexico and have learned to love that time in August when the smell of blistered peppers saturates the air with a burnt pungency. To clarify, we did not eat New Mexican cuisine in my Kansas-white-boy-meets-Taiwan-girl influenced home on Clancy Street. Simply because my mother could not stomach anything spicy so although I lived in Albuquerque I did not partake of Hatch chiles until I left my childhood home.

And once I tried a specific Hatch dish...Chiles Rellenos...there was no going back. I'm not referring to the soggy ‘deep fried poblano stuffed with meat and cheese’ that Tex-Mex restaurants offer here in Texas. Oh no. (head wags vehemently) The dish that calls to me late at night and causes me to whisper in my mate’s ear that "we should visit our parents soon" is very different. 

Imagine a smoky, roasted Hatch chile that has been skinned, stuffed with gooey cheese, coated in a fluffy-eggy batter, deep fried until crispy then smothered in your choice of red or green chile sauce, and finally topped with shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes. Oh my goodness. It's heartburn on a platter, sometimes so spicy that your nose runs, your eyes tear and your throat burns, and yet you can't stop, won’t stop, shoveling bite after bite into your gaping mouth. And don't forget to wash it down with a Mexican cerveza con limón or maybe a Margarita on the rocks. 

On one visit to the Land of Enchantment, I endeavored to eat Chiles Rellenos as many times as possible. I will share two of these experiences with you. The first was at Sadie's, that famous 60-year old institution, known for big plates and hot, hot spicy salsa. Lunch is the best time to eat a heavy meal like Chiles Rellenos; a midday serving ensures time for an afternoon siesta before heading into evening cocktails and your supper. So we visited the Fourth Street location in the Rio Grande Valley where the lunch entree featured a single relleno served with beans and potatoes. It was a huge portion, spicy and cheesy but the chile flavor was a bit bland. I don't regret my lunch at Sadie's but I don't need to go back anytime soon.

Our second research lunch was at a relatively new restaurant, Cocina Azul. Not a member of the roster of famous New Mexican restaurants, but the online reviews were compelling so we gave it a try. It's a weird space, where chips and salsa must be ordered (most eateries, as here in Texas, automatically bring C & S to the table for your complimentary enjoyment) and the floors were sticky with decor that features tables & chairs reminiscent of those found in a Furr’s cafeteria. The bartender was also unprepared…”what? you don’t know how to make a simple margarita concocted of lime juice, tequila and cointreau?” But the rellenos. Oh the rellenos. At lunch service the chiles are a la carte, no platters offered. So I stepped out of the norm and ordered one brisket filled relleno with green sauce and one regular, cheese only, again green sauce. (I’m strictly a green-only girl, no red or Christmas style for me!) The brisket was meltingly tender and generously portioned; the sauce earthy and spicy. All of the rellenos brought to our table were A++.

We dined on the same dish at two restaurants and have not even begun to scratch the surface of the Chiles Rellenos summit. So I’ll just have to make time to go back and maybe we’ll swing up to Santa Fe to see if the offerings will differ up north? And maybe next trip we will endeavor to also sample as many fluffy sopapillas as will fit in my tummy….:)) Please share in the comments below where you have enjoyed delicious chiles rellenos on your travels!

 

Read any good books lately?

I am a self-proclaimed bookworm. No, correction: I WAS a self-proclaimed bookworm. Although I enjoy reading as much as I ever did, I don't commit the hours to the pastime as I did in childhood. My annual book average has begun to climb again, thanks to time on the elliptical machine, but truthfully, some years I am lucky to ready 6-7 books with the bulk of the reading done on a beach. I am guilty of devoting too many minutes to the internet, social media sites, and cooking magazines to claim loyalty to the written words of authors. So the rest of the year, outside of vacation, can be barren of my former favorite hobby.

This past August, I was able to get through just one book while on vacation and it was a doozy. Weighing in at 842 pages, this paperback was a commitment--to travel with and haul down to the beach every day. But I experienced immense satisfaction when I finished the tome--a hefty book will do that--and I am happy to recommend it to you. Stephen King's 11/22/63 is not exactly a thriller but it is a fascinating, easy read that makes the reader wonder at the possibility of time travel. 

Currently I have my nose tucked into two books: the first is a charming, sweet little fiction by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows titled The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, recommended to me by my daughter. It's composed of a series of letters and I read a little each day and the sweet little notes contained therein take me back to a time when I loved writing to pen pals. A good book will always inspire you to try something new, take up an old hobby, or reflect on a strong belief. 

I am also currently reading my favorite book ever. I've downloaded Little Women to my Kindle app to read while I'm exercising. And even though I am not turning the pages as I did on the first occasion that I devoured this book (I was probably 8 years old), I'm still tearing up and feeling the varied emotions I experienced as a child reading the novel under my covers after my parents told me to go to bed. 

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is the first novel that I read multiple times. But thoughts of my favorite book have been drifting in my subconscious, untouched for quite some time. While on vacation in August, I spied a review for a new book titled Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of Little Women and Why it Still Matters by Anne Boyd Rioux. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Alcott's original publication and reading some of the English professor's thoughts on the classic stirred my desire to read it again. 

Why is Little Women preserved on my mind's shelf of all time best reads? I cannot point exactly to the reason...I remember that I strongly identified with Jo, the primary protagonist and her love, no, need to write. And as Rioux points out, apparently I am not not alone in this character identification.

The timeless novel about four sisters who are the best of friends has been named by numerous female authors as their literary inspiration and Rioux credits Alcott's cultural influence to include many pop-culture characters of whom our daughters and sons have read and watched voraciously. (Hermione Grainger, Katniss Everdeen, the Gilmore Girls, etc.) And although the influence is there, I worry that today's generation will not experience Little Women anymore--as it seldom appears on their required reading. 

Can you do me this favor? Will you buy a copy of Little Women and give it as a gift to a young person in your life? Encourage them to read it? If you've never read the novel, will you give it a try on my recommendation? I hope this lovely novel, that has inspired my personal writing journey will live on and be loved by many in the future. It would be such a shame if Little Women drifted into obscurity. It is a precious American work that deserves a place on every bookshelf in every home.

“I like good strong words that mean something.” — Jo March
lw 2.jpg

To the Best Guy

It's Father's Day, another made-up Hallmark holiday that actually has turned into a worthy occasion. After all, without a card company to tell us that we need to celebrate the special someones in our lives, would we ever get around to telling them how much they mean to us? Maybe we would, maybe not. But I'm going to use this excuse to share with you about not a father figure in my life, but my husband, the father of my children.

In case I've never really said it, JB's kind of great. He is patient, sweet, funny, generous, intelligent, and ambitious. He has adored his children from the first moment he held them in his arms as infants. He also imparted his Faith to our children, raising them to seek God and follow His ways. JB preaches tough love to his kids but then worries about them incessantly. He loves to laugh with them, and to make them crack up. He looks forward to golf outings with his sons more than any other humans. He enjoys sharing what he knows about life, travel and business with his family, teaching them as much as he is able. All of these things make him a really great Dad.

But there is one thing that JB especially does well that makes him an all-star father:  He loves his kids' mom. In our house, we believe that the Marriage is the foundation on which the family is built. So we have always tried to put our relationship as the top priority. Not to say that the children are excluded from the inner circle, but that they are outer rings that form the family with parents that love each other at the core. So on Father's Day, I am so grateful to this man that has adored, protected and loved me like I never knew was possible. His commitment to "Us" is steadfast and true, and there would be no family without his dedication to all of us. Life is not perfect. But I am blessed beyond measure to be walking this imperfect life with the man that is The One for me.

On the lighter side...when our children were young, my husband was highly skilled at playing what came to be known as the "daddy game." It's a very simple game--someone starts to tell a story about their day and invariably, Dad repeats a part of the story back to the teller, but mispronounces one of the names as though he misheard. The storyteller corrects his mistake and he acknowledges but then continues to repeat the incorrect usage until finally, the child wises up and realizes that Dad is doing it on PURPOSE. It is a father's right to tease and torment his children, don't you agree? BTW, JB answers to many names in our circle: there's Dad, Pops, and Daddy; also JB, Loverboy, Butterman, Master of the Universe, Captain Obvious and lastly, Johnny B, when he speaks of himself in 3rd person, usually after performing a signature dive into the pool. 

Hope you all have a wonderful Father's Day filled with laughter and good food. Be sure to hug your daddy or your children's daddy or someone who likes to be called daddy. Hugging is always a good thing.

Partie Trois: Paris, Pain au chocolat et Escargot

Partie Trois: Paris, Pain au chocolat et Escargot

Three beautiful days…eating our way through the city of lights…

Seconda Parte: Varenna i Venezia, pasta i Gnocchi, mamma mia!

Part Two: Varenna and Venice, i.e., Italy, where pasta and gnocchi reign supreme! From Barcelona we headed to northern Italy, landing in Milan and taking a train directly to Varenna, a lovely town situated on Lake Como. (Well, to rephrase...the Milan airport is NOT close to the city but after a couple of trial and error attempts with a finicky train ticket machine, we managed to take a train to the city center of Milan and THEN navigate our way through the confusion of finding the correct train to Varenna.) Needless to say, no time for lunch!

Happily, our hotel in a tiny little haven in the hills was a five-minute taxi ride from the train station. We were deposited at the Hotel du Lac, just 8 minutes after arriving, checked in within 5 and out on the cobblestone path to find sustenance within 20 minutes of landing in Varenna. The weather was a little drizzly so searched no further than il Nilus Bar, where we sat on the covered patio directly at water's edge to have our first meal in Italy. Starvation had no bearing on the deliciousness of our roasted sopressata-potato-gorgonzola pizza, which we immediately scarfed down with a glass of wine. Oh my. Superb. 

Did I mention that within the 20 minutes from train stop to seated for lunch, we managed to ask our hotel receptionist/concierge/girl Friday to find a reservation for dinner? She found us a table at La Vista, a terraced restaurant atop the Albergo Milano. It's a tiny town but we experienced some trouble finding which little alleyway to climb. But so worth the search, steep hill, and confusion. Sitting outside, wrapped in a fleece blanket provided with each and every table, we watched as the lights twinkled on in Menaggio, the town directly across Lake Como from Varenna. After the hustle and bustle of the big city Barcelona, we were drawn into the calm, quiet beauty of the water and the Alps that towered above.

And our dinner! What a fabulous meal we had that evening. The menu offered a la carte and either a 3 course or 4 course fixed price option which included the entire menu. If you tell me I can have a starter, first course, second course and dessert for 45 euro...it's a no brainer! After all, this is RESEARCH! I definitely researched my way to satiation in the most delicious fashion.

  • Starter-  RB: charcuterie platter, JB: velvety potato soup
  • Primi-    RB: ravioli with seafood, JB: risotto with scallops
  • Secondi-   RB: baked lake fish with creamed potatoes, JB: lamb shank osso bucco
  • Dessert-   RB: cheese plate, JB: chocolate cake with raspberry sauce

Oof. It was too much food. But so enjoyable. 

On the dawn of our 5th day in Europe, we had a light breakfast in the hotel cafe and went out to explore Varenna. At 10am, we were picked up by van to take us to Ristorante il Caminetto (in the hills of Perledo), for a day-long cooking class. Our driver was also the chef, owner and instructor, Moreno Maglia. It was a delightful six hours...Moreno is charming, humorous and well-versed in American culture. The class was made up of two other couples from the US, a couple from Manchester, England, two young girls from Poland and a lady from the Netherlands. We watched our host prep a veal roast, form pasta dough entirely with his hands, and we learned to shape gnocchi. Then he rolled and cut the pasta, adding a dollop of ricotta filling to each square and allowed us to shape the packets into tortelloni. He demonstrated one porcini mushroom sauce for the gnocchi and then a fresh tomato topping for the tortelloni. And finally, we lunched on all of these amazing dishes, helping ourselves to refills of wine and laughing at his references to American rock and roll and movie stars. If you are ever in the Lake Como area for a few days, I highly recommend this cooking class--such an insight into meal prep at a small local restaurant. I loved it.

Following the class and being dropped back in our little town square, we had just enough time to walk to the train station and meet our son, who arrived from Rome after a semester at John Cabot University. What a happy sight to see him step off that train! He looked taller, wiser, and tired; it was so wonderful to put our arms around him after 4 months apart.

That evening, we had a very late supper at Osteria Quatro Pass, another tiny restaurant. Sometimes it is a challenge to order food coherently when trying to soak up each moment with a child you haven't seen in some time. But we managed to have a delightful meal which we shared family style: salumi board, cheese plate, seafood spaghettoni, fish fillets in an almond sauce, and a cheese ravioli before consuming a sweet apple tart to finish. Note: you can never order too much food when you have a 21-year-old at the table.

The next morning, the three of us hiked to Castello de Vezio, a wonderful castle ruin with beautiful views overlooking the lake and town below. It was a gorgeous morning and the hike was a perfect bit of exercise after the previous day spent wining and dining.

That afternoon we headed to Venice which also provided some physical exertion in the manner of hauling our luggage through tiny little streets, inaccessible to any other form of traffic. We spent a quick 24 hours touring with just one real sit-down meal. A carafe of wine, a little bourbon, some lasagna, gnocchi, and fried calamari was consumed and delighted in while sitting at a small table on a cobblestone street, 15 steps from our hotel. The next morning when we walked through that same street, any evidence of the quaint little eatery with a gregarious host had been shuttered away, only to be discovered again later in the day by other lucky wanderers.

Next week: follow along as we wrap up our trip in the City of Lights. ❤️ Ruth

 

Primera Part: Barcelona, ciutat de tapes i paelle

Three countries. Five cities. Ten days. It was an ambitious trip but we managed to accomplish two end goals: bring our son home from his semester abroad and eat our way across several different regions. We were also able to celebrate 30 years of marriage with every glass of champagne or prosecco, beginning on the flight over! So the journey was a success and I am excited to share so many delicious memories with my readers.

Our flight touched down in Barcelona in the early morning and we hit the ground running. After a quick Cafe Americano at the charming Cotton House hotel, we hopped on a bus to drive by popular sites and get our bearings. Ignoring the chilly weather and any tinges of jet-lag, we capped off our first evening with a walking Tapas Tour. If you know me at all, you know that I L-O-V-E nibble food, so I was more than ready to check out this very Spanish style of noshing. 

Our guide led us and two other couples through the Mercat de la Boqueria where we sampled Serrano Jamon and Manchego cheese from little paper cones, nibbled on cocoa covered hazelnuts and gaped at the butcher stands where EVERY part of the animal was available for purchase. We also visited two different style Tapas Bars--the first served popular tapas family style at the table: Patatas Bravas, fresh tomato bread, marinated peppers and veggies, croquetas, and Tortilla Española all came out in little dishes to be shared by the group. The second establishment offered a pinchos buffet. In this style of bar, you help yourself to any number of tapas varieties, all skewered on toothpicks, and the server simply counts the number of empty picks on your plate to calculate your bill. Seafood figured heavily into these offerings.

My takeaways from casual food in Barcelona:

  • Amazing slices of bread on which you spread fresh tomatoes that are so tender, they burst open when you rub the fruit on the crispy surface
  • Spanish extra-virgin olive oil which I loved drizzling over the above mentioned bread
  • Paper thin slices of jamon (spanish ham)
  • Salty, delicious manchego, a sheep's milk cheese that makes my heart sing

You could serve me the above items any night of the week and I would call it dinner! So first day/night done, and we were able to see a little of the city, taste some of it's flavors, partake of some wine and we were off to a great start.

The next day dawned cold and rainy in the city so we headed out on an hour train ride to visit Montserrat and the monastery set in the mountain. Our lunch at the Restaurant Montserrat was surprisingly lovely--surprising because most of the patrons are tourists and we've all experienced mediocrity of touristy establishments--lovely due to the inexpensive bottle of wine we shared (thought we were ordering a couple of glasses, got the entire bottle!), the fresh tomato bread, and the seafood we consumed.

That evening marked another culinary milestone for us...we dined at a Three-Star Michelin restaurant: Lasarte was elegant, subdued, and pleasantly meticulous. The service was perfection, casually friendly but at the same time, oh so professional. After we made our course decisions, a parade of amuse bouche found its way to the table. My favorite: a jalapeño ice cream that melted into a foam with a single salty clam. And of course, I loved the array of flavored butters presented in tiny little logs to accompany our bread selections. There were five flavors to choose from and I couldn't eat enough bread to sample them all! Our main courses of Chargrilled Pigeon (him) and Sea Bass (me) were stunning. It was a gastronomically excellent night and a wonderful way to celebrate our anniversary.

Our final day in Barcelona was spent self-touring the cathedral and Ramblas area and a quick stop at the beach. For a mid-morning snack, we stumbled upon a pastry shop, Caelum, where we sipped cappuccino and agonized over which nun-produced pastries we wanted to try. No lie: the shop specializes in "heavenly" sweets baked by nuns from all over the country! For lunch we sat in sunny Plaça Reial and shared yet another board of tomato bread and serrano ham as well as a bottle of wine. (What?! I was on vacation!) Our only disappointing meal: the paella at Vez Pella, (which came highly recommended) which was served with little shrimp instead of the promised ubiquitous prawns. 

And we were on to the next city...

*The above title translates to "Part One: Barcelona, city of tapas and paella."

 

A Taste of Paris

Ten years ago, my husband took me to Paris to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. It was an amazing trip, the adventure of a lifetime, a triumph on so many levels. Paris is truly a magical city and we ate, drank, toured, laughed, sat, strolled, and explored as much as possible. Since that year, we have taken other trips, exotic and foreign, but Paris still holds the power of unshakeable memories over us, always drawing us back into the "remember that time..."

One such remembrance is our actual anniversary dinner at the Michelin starred restaurant, Guy Savoy. The ambiance: elegant and reserved. The service: witty, attentive, and intelligent. The fare: delicious, rich, and artistic. The bill: exorbitant. That meal, that night, remains to this day in our top five food experiences of all time.

We were in love with each other, fell in love with the city and in turn, in love with all things France. Fast forward to this year when I have undertaken this crazy goal to cook my way through Fine Cooking magazine. I opened the April/May issue to find the "Moveable Feast" article highlighted a visit with none other than Guy Savoy (the chef and namesake of our beloved restaurant) and cookbook author, Patricia Wells, who resides in Paris! So I was quite excited to prepare the recipes from this particular issue. 

On a cold and windy evening in April, I invited friends to join us and they graciously agreed to suffer through this menu:

Spring Greens Salad with Fruit, Roquefort & Balsamic Dressing

Asparagus with Paprika Sabayon

Rib-eye Steak with Tarragon Chimichurri

Frites

Strawberry-Rhubarb Blitz Torte

The conversation was lively, the wine poured and though the steak was a bit underdone, I think the meal was a success. I'm definitely not Guy Savoy, but when I was crafting his sabayon (a cooked egg yolk sauce), I felt a renewed appreciation for the art that is Fine Dining. 

My experiment or goal or resolution, whatever you want to call it --to step out of my comfort zone and create recipes that I would not otherwise attempt--is succeeding. For the "numbers" people out there, I stand at 55 completed recipes out of 114 from 3 issues. Still a ways to go...hoping the June/July issue does not arrive for several more weeks!

 

a brunchin' we will go

 a beautiful day at the Dallas Arboretum

a beautiful day at the Dallas Arboretum

Spring has been an absolute whirlwind. Maybe because I have been sleep deprived beginning with Daylight Savings or perhaps it's due to trying to schedule FaceTime sessions with a son on the other side of the world. Whatever the reason, I feel constantly behind, always running to catch up. 

Long weekends spent with family are usually a great way to slow things down. In that spirit, our Easter week began on Palm Sunday with church services alongside our son and his pregnant wife. Oh wait. Haven't I told you? Our family is being blessed in 2018 with new babies. My eldest daughter (residing in Arkansas) is expecting her fourth child, due in May and our eldest son (lives here!) is expecting his first....TWINS! SO. EXCITING. I. MAY. JUST. WRITE. LIKE. THIS. UNTIL. SUMMER. Jk. But we are indeed overjoyed by all of these tiny blessings headed our way. 

Back to Palm Sunday. After mass, the four of us came home for brunch because a leisurely meal accompanied by mimosas is a surefire way to slow time. The menu was Eggs Benedict as requested by my DH. It's a timeless breakfast entree, isn't it? Crisp english muffins topped with canadian bacon, a pillowy poached egg and rich, decadent hollandaise sauce. In the Butterfield house, we like to change things up and sometimes replace the muffin with hash brown potatoes, or even stack the potatoes on top of the toasted bread. Also, we seldom serve the traditional skinny slices of canadian bacon and opt for slabs of smoked ham. Or, maybe a crab cake for ultimate, sinful gluttony. Whatever version, the crowning glory remains the same--bright, lemony hollandaise, and I'm sharing my recipe at the end of this post. 

Dinner that evening was also a feast. Expertly grilled New York Strip steaks, baked potatoes, sautéed spinach, roasted eggplant, a lovely crisp green salad with balsamic dressing. And there was chocolate cake for dessert. That was just for 4 of us! But our celebratory week was off to a good start.

Happily on Thursday, my in-laws arrived from Albuquerque without incident. They have not been in Dallas since 2015, the year of two weddings, a graduation, and a family reunion. We scheduled a number of outings for their visit and tried not to wear out their 80+year-old bodies too much. They were able to see our son's new home and hear the glad news that the twins are GIRLS! (see how I keep sneaking those announcements in..?!) On Friday, our youngest daughter, husband and canine child, Frank, were here with us from Round Rock. We enjoyed a margarita lunch, strolling around the Arboretum and a fabulous meal at 20-Feet Seafood Joint in Lakewood. 

Side Review: If you haven't heard of this little hole-in-the-wall seafood restaurant, I am here to endorse the establishment and send you as soon as your little feet can carry you that direction for the following reasons:

  1. It's BYOB. We brought 3 bottles of wine with us: rosé, sauvignon blanc, and a red blend. Also a premixed shaker of Manhattans (the in-laws go-to cocktail.) (we did NOT consume it all!) And they will uncork your bottles as well as provide stemware in which to enjoy your beverage of choice!
  2. The Lobster Roll. It's amazing. Also, the Green Room Mussels, Fried Oyster Po Boy, Fish & Chips, and any special they're offering that day.
  3. Service is better than any I've encountered in a casual setting. You place your order at the counter, but the servers are patient, pleasant and helpful. The table bussers are young and sweet, also helpful. There's just nothing to complain about. Tables are first come, first served, but they'll help put tables together and find an area, outside or inside for you. 

The weather was ideal Thursday-Saturday so we sat out on the patio and enjoyed our mussels, french fries, Lobster Rolls (3), Fish & Chips (2) and Shrimp Po boy (1). Afterwards we indulged in a little custard from Wild About Harry's and came home to play cards.

Saturday breakfast was 2 casseroles I pulled from the fridge making my life so easy. The kids returned to Round Rock and we prepared for the next round of guests--my brother-in-law, wife and canine arrived from Houston. We supped on homemade lasagna and caesar salad and dined al fresco while watching the NCAA Final Four.

Easter Sunday dawned cool and cloudy and the mass was just beautiful, uplifting and joyful. And then we headed to another brunch, this time at The Mercury, where although our server is the best (Medy?) the food was honestly, just ok. Not that they didn't have variety: prime rib, fried chicken, sushi, salads galore and waffles. But it's really hard to do Eggs Benedict for a crowd because it's always cold and a little congealed, don't you think? So that brunch was a bit disappointing. 

I know right now you're thinking, all those Butterfields do is EAT! And sometimes, it feels that way to us too. I have omitted the boring details of walking pups, gardening, and any exercise that made it's way on to the schedule.

Sunday dinner was a bit of a masterpiece, if I'm allowed to say so. Beef Tenderloin roast, perfectly seared on the grill by my hubby and accompanied by au gratin potatoes, maple-bacon roasted brussels sprouts, spring salad with asparagus, fruit and citrus vinaigrette (on the menu this week!) and finally a luscious Chocolate-Espresso Cream Pie for dessert was shared with my dear friend, Rosemarie and her three girls, making our number 10 for dinner. What a fun evening! After our meal we watched the live production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" and digested slowly.

Monday was so nice and quiet, with just the four of us. The weather turned cold, giving us an excuse to read the paper by the fire and only venture out for a little chinese bistro lunch. They departed on Tuesday morning and it was back to work for my husband and me. Thanks to their visit, we were able to extend those five days and truly experience five days rather than the rapid, whirlwind, collapsed time that I've been feeling is my life. In three weeks we head to Europe to meet my son--can you believe the semester is at a close?

Ruth's No-Cook Hollandaise Sauce

 

Growing up a Billy Graham Groupie

It's funny how many young people I speak with whom love the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. Sure, it's classic rock-n-roll but it's not like their songs are played over the radio waves or in restaurants these days and therefore in their every day consciousness. More than likely, their parents are/were huge fans back in their youth. Often these young people grew up hearing stories of amazing concerts or have listened to their parents' collection of vinyls or cds and their testament that the band was "the greatest of all time!"

In my young missionary-kid existence, things were a little different. My parents went to "The Jesus People" concerts (not kidding! they were a quartet of two young women and two young men who sang under that moniker). And they also attended the Billy Graham Crusade when the reverend came to Taipei, Taiwan in 1975. 

There's no denying the man's impact on the world. He was an evangelist that never forgot his vocation, taking his mission--to spread the word and love of God--to every corner of the globe. And in his 5 decades+ ministry, he managed to reach 185 countries and 215 million people. He had personal relationships with every president from Truman to Obama. And yet he was the evangelist who never tried to profit from followers, nor build a megachurch, nor run for president. He was not a womanizer but was married to his wife, Ruth, for 63 years until she passed in 2007. 

No man is perfect, but I feel the Reverend Billy Graham was an amazing role model for us today. And that's why I'm okay with admitting I was kind of groupie for that humble, non-self-serving man of God. And as a member of the Billy Graham fan club, let me share a few fun facts about the man of which you may or may not be aware:

  1. His birthday is November 7. And so is mine!
  2. His wife's name is Ruth. And so is mine!
  3. Ruth was raised a child of missionaries in Asia. Me too!
  4. Billy was a southern boy, born in North Carolina. I was born in Kentucky!
  5. He loved McDonald's. Oops, not me, but maybe when I was a child?

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16 (Rev. Billy Graham's favorite Bible verse)

 Dad is center, shaking the Reverend's hand and my cute, chic mother is on the left of Dad.

Dad is center, shaking the Reverend's hand and my cute, chic mother is on the left of Dad.

Cooking Outside the Lines

Guest post by Lara Slabisak

Salty. Sour. Sweet. Spicy. The four components of nearly every Thai dish, and the underlying structure behind what allows Thai food to strike that delicate balance between brightness and warmth. Think: yin and yang – seemingly contradictory forces working together to create complex flavor profiles worthy of lending Thai food the epithet “French Fare of the East.” It’s one of those cuisines that has an answer to every occasion and craving.

This January, my family and I were able to spend three incredible (delectable) weeks in Thailand, where my father was born. I had not been back to visit my family there for a few years, but felt instantly at home as I was greeted with plates of coconut sticky rice and mango, mounds of pomelos, and bowls filled with green and yellow curry. I was inspired this trip to taste each food with a discerning tongue and the intention of bringing back some Thai culinary know-how and dishes to add to my arsenal. I tried not to shy from anything, even the street carts boasting unidentifiable seafoods and congealed pigs blood soup…but don’t worry, I left everything I ever wanted to know about pig’s blood there.

What I learned: Cooking Thai food can be deceptively difficult. If you look at a list of ingredients in a recipe, they are seemingly simple and few. The tricky part lies in achieving that delicate balance of flavor I spoke about before. You don’t want to overpower the subtle hints of lemongrass and galangal in Tom Kha with too much salt, or assault your Pad Thai with an overabundance of lime juice. To master this, the structure-loving, rule follower in me wanted to know exactly how much of each component is required to attain that intricate balance so I can reproduce each dish perfectly and consistently every time. However, this trip I learned that to authentically create harmony and complexity in a dish, I had to throw my measuring spoons and desire to strictly follow a recipe to the wind and instead “cook with my tongue”…as my aunt would say.

I can’t help but think that this is great life advice too. It’s okay to deviate from the script in the name of exploration. Maybe you’ll happen upon a new favorite flavor combo! Don’t shy from trying new ingredients or methods. If there’s a better way, find it. Allow space for your palette to grow! Maybe you can only stand one Thai chili pepper per dish before scurrying to grab the closest glass of water (me), but eventually your tastes will mature and change.

Life certainly doesn’t give us the perfect recipe to follow. This can sometimes be scary, but it’s also exhilarating! That means we have the chance to discover, even if through our mistakes, something new and exciting each time we have the audacity to step out and take a risk. So here is my charge…As we approach this week, may we be adventurous, make mistakes, and cook outside the lines!

 

Just a southern girl at heart

IMG_0560.jpg

I am the first to admit that I have an unusual background. Born in Kentucky, childhood in the mission field in the Far East, adolescence and college in the American Southwest, and finally adulthood in the great state of Texas. To say my culinary influences are wide and varied is a vast understatement! If you’ve read my blog, you know that I draw heavily from my Asian influences (Chinese New Year) and my time in New Mexico (love me some Hatch green chiles). But I most often return to the South where my mother first learned to cook American classics.

During my infant & toddlerhood in Wilmore, Kentucky, Mom was blessed by neighbors and friends who shared recipes and techniques with her that she was able to prepare for her young family. The biggest takeaway: Fried Chicken shaken in a paper sack. (original blog post here) Because I love fried chicken, I am repeatedly tweaking new recipes not to necessarily improve on the original, but to add another option to my arsenal.

Last summer I became quite obsessed with making a perfect fried chicken sandwich. Not gonna lie: I have loved Chick-fil-A in my life…I remember being a teenager in Albuquerque, working at Orange Julius in Coronado Mall and trying their sandwich for the first time. It was a revelation! Best mall food ever! (Oh, and Hotdog on a Stick, but that’s another story.) Even these days, if the only option available is fast food when we are on the road, we head for the red and white sign. 

Back to the perfect fried chicken sandwich. I made the first batch for the hubby and me to take to the Memorial Day concert at Flagpole hill. I am all about those picnics and the bubbly that usually accompanies the lawn food! They were good, but the breading was a little thick for my liking, the slaw too spicy, the roll too much. For my second try, another picnic, a wider audience: my two sons, daughter-in-law and us for the July 4th concert at Heritage Park in Farmers Branch. The sandwich received 5 thumbs up. 

James loved them so much that the recipe made his “last meals” request before heading to his semester abroad in January. We invited a few of his friends over for a send-off meal and this time, the chicken breasts got a special pickle juice bath and I cut them in half and served them on slider buns. 3 dozen sandwiches and 7 college boys later, I knew I’d found the winning combination. 

So what’s next? I need a new favorite southern recipe to try out and make my own. Any suggestions?

 

 

Happy New Year! Woof!

               2018 is the year of the Dog

              2018 is the year of the Dog

Confession: I am quite proud of my Asian heritage. I love being a "halfie" -- Dad is Anglo (white boy) and Mom is of Asian descent. My brother, sister and I grew up very aware of our "difference," teased by our American cousins, treated as a novelty by Taiwanese relatives, adored by members of our father's church. Our mother, too, was so proud of her halfie children. She grew up poor in Taiwan, of mixed race herself (Japanese/Chinese), and adored anything Western (American). She wore poodle skirts in the 50s, and watched every Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable and Grace Kelly film that made it to the screens in Taipei. It was purely chance (an act of God) that brought she and my father together and she immediately swooned over his movie star good looks - tall and thin, with hazel eyes and shiny white teeth. He was so good looking, she thought he would never find her attractive. But he adored her petite, exotic beauty, and then gave her the best gift ever -- three halfie children!

I grew up hearing pride in my mother's voice as she declared mixed-race children to be the most beautiful of all offspring and lacking in flat feet, flat noses, and possessing superior intelligence. Lol. Ring familiar? Every mother swells with delight over their progeny. For me, her pride led to a fascination and appreciation for my heritage, and especially the cuisine. We did not live in Taiwan long but I do remember fondly some of my favorite foods from that short time.

Jiaozi, or Chinese dumplings. My mother and grandmother would make hundreds at a time, using triple stack bamboo steamers. After steaming, my father could wolf down dozens in one sitting, dipped in a simple sesame oil-soy sauce-ginger mixture. I preferred them pan-fried after steaming, with a crispy bottom. Spicy Diced Chicken with Green Peppers. In my mind, this was my mother's signature dish. A lot of preparation went into each of her courses;  dicing the chicken into exactly the same size cubes, ditto with the bell peppers, hot peppers and slices of fresh ginger, marinating, double wok-frying and finally, sauced and brought to the table. Spring Rolls, not the Vietnamese version with rice paper but not Egg Rolls either with a thick doughy wrap. My mother's spring rolls had thin, crispy skins and were stuffed with lots of hand-shredded cabbage, shiitake mushrooms, strips of lean cooked pork and tender baby shrimp (if she felt like splurging). We didn't ever dip them in Sweet & Sour Sauce and only in simple soy sauce.

So with the advent of Chinese New Year, I have occasion to celebrate my heritage! Although I no longer have children in the house on which to bestow red envelopes as I received from aunts and uncles in Taiwan, I am able to stuff myself with Chinese cuisine. Chopsticks up!!

 

Side Note: Our family is obviously Christian so we don't really follow or believe in the Chinese Zodiac calendar as a true indicator of personality and one's future. But just for grins and giggles, my family has 2 Rats, 2 Dragons, a Horse and a Snake. You can find out which sign pertains to your year at this site, and feel free to try and guess which is my sign! 

 

Super Bowl LII: It's all about the food

Let me begin by saying that I hope this is the least watched Super Bowl of all time. I dislike both teams, the commercials in past years have been lame and I'm all around down on the NFL these days. That being said, yes, we ARE having people over for a Super Bowl "party." LOL

Because I hate to break it to you, Tom Brady, but there are more chicken wing fans than individuals who want to see you win another title! According to the National Chicken Council, Americans will consume 1.25 billion chicken wings this weekend. Also on America's menu: 11 million pounds of chips, 4 million pounds of pretzels, 2.5 million pounds of nuts, 8 million pounds of guacamole, and 50 million cases of beer. Additionally, Super Bowl Sunday is the 2nd biggest grilling day of the year. (What's number 1? Think fireworks and patriotism.)

So it's only natural that I enjoy taking advantage of the occasion to try out some new dishes on a captive audience. From the FCI (Fine Cooking Initiative), I'm serving up 

Mashed Cauliflower with garlic & anchovy Crostini

Ricotta & Goat Cheese Tart with Fresh Figs

Pancetta & Parmesan Tartlets

Kale & Caramelized Onion Turnovers

Pasta with Crab & Bacon

Haven't decided on a sweet yet...any suggestions? And I'm not serving wings but I think I'll do a twist on the Buffalo classic with the following recipe from a famous NYC restaurant. 

The Meatball Shop Buffalo Chicken Balls

What's your plan for Super Bowl Sunday? Will you order take-out like 48 million other Americans on game day? Whatever you do, have fun, eat well and maybe pick up some Tums when you're at the store (antacid sales rise 20% the day after!) 

 

369170_buffalo-chicken_1x1.jpg

Oh, the places you'll go!

We all know and love the Dr. Seuss classic with that title. The book usually appears on a prominent table at a bookstore near the end of the school year because it is a popular gift for graduates. Our home has two or three copies floating around that were given on such an occasion.

But maybe the giver should have explained to our son, James, that Dr. Seuss' immortal push

“You're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So... get on your way!”

was not an immediate call to action! As I write this blog, our youngest child is strolling the beaches of Barcelona and sampling paella. Last weekend, he soaked his tired feet in the natural hot springs of Budapest. And the week prior, he logged 15 miles in one day exploring the streets of Rome. James is taking his semester abroad very seriously...

All kidding aside, we are thrilled that he is having the experiences of a lifetime. Of course, it was not easy for Momma to let him go halfway around the world. It's a scary thing for me (as you can see by my not-so-excited face in the first image.) Thankfully, technology allows us to stay in touch to ease my fears and he has been very communicative. Also, TCU sent 35 students to the Rome program so he is not alone; his week days feel much like his time on campus in Ft. Worth...with the exception that he walks past centuries old monuments and on ancient streets to get to class!

Being his mother's son, he loves to eat good food and guess what? He writes. If you would like to read some of the musings from his trip, check out his blog. His photography skills exceed any in the family and his voice is young but detailed. Our family is really enjoying keeping up with his travels in this way. 

His father and I truly feel an immense amount of joy that we can send him on this journey. From our meager beginnings in a little apartment to having a son in Europe for 4 months is a huge leap and we are humbled by God's blessings.

Keepin' it Fresh

I always have big plans to change habits and alter my behavior at the beginning of each new year. Most of these resolutions relate to behaviors, bad habits, weight loss, health, self care, etc. 2018 is my year to take it to a much simpler level. With regard to relationships, it's all about Cherish for me (see last week's blog). 

And for self improvement, I want to Grow. Specifically, I cook every day of the year. It's easy for me to get into a plan, execute, serve mode. I spend so much time forming menus, shopping for ingredients and then cooking that I feel I don't spend enough time experimenting in the kitchen. But I truly desire to explore new cuisines, cutting edge techniques and recipes outside of my comfort zone. 

For 2018 I am challenging myself to cook every recipe in Fine Cooking magazine, a publication that produces 6 issues annually. I subscribed in December and I love the format of the periodical. It has always been one of my favorite food magazines but it will take tremendous effort to accomplish this goal. I will have to commit to trying out unusual ingredients and new recipes every single week. But how fun!!?? The December/January issue has a section dedicated to Phyllo...with 5 completely different dishes! There are also recipes for 3 holiday roasts, a vegetarian Tikka Masala, 4 bar cookies, and a seafood pasta. Yummy....food coma induced now. There are 34 unique recipes in this edition and as it appeared in my mailbox mid-January, I'd better get busy before the new edition shows up with a whole new set of deliciousness to experiment with in the kitchen.

Follow my Instagram story to see the results...I'll post pictures of each new recipe as well as reviews from my qualified and unbiased official taste testers. 2018 is hereby declared the year of YUM.

IMG_0483.jpg

Cherish is my word for 2018

In December I attended a breakfast where the guest speaker encouraged each of us to find our "mission statement" and to try to keep it to 6 words or less. We could then refer to our self-created statement to help make decisions for the new year. Initially, I decided my 6 word sentence would be "I will do what benefits my family." Therefore, when an opportunity would arise in the coming year to travel somewhere, participate in an event, etc., I could ask myself "will this benefit my family?" and with a yes or no, discern how to act.

However, after the events of the past few weeks, I feel the need to make it simpler than the 6-word mission statement. We lost a dear friend in December and in mourning his passing, we have felt a deep loss that is tinged with regret for missed opportunities. So my desire moving into 2018 is to Cherish. I will

  • Cherish my sweet, sweet husband. We will celebrate our 30th anniversary in 2018. What a blessing he is to me every. single. day.
  • Cherish my family. For the first time in four years, I had everyone home for Christmas. My daughter and her family were here from Atlanta and three littles ones, aged 5 years and under, will make any event exciting! They also brought the joyful news that they are expecting their fourth in May! We had a full house and full hearts.
  • Cherish my parents and in-laws. We are very fortunate to have all four alive and kicking. But time is passing and as the priest said at my friend's funeral mass, we are all terminal. I want to cherish every bit of time I have remaining with these wise people who have shaped my life and that of my mate.
  • Cherish my friendships. I don't always think about my friends every day but now I see how every interaction is so precious; life is unpredictable so I need to cherish the moments I have with my friends and not waste any time or energy on negative or petty feelings.
  • Cherish my health. Yes, this body of mine creaks and aches more than in my youth. Yes, I have to watch what I eat and exercise just to maintain my daily stamina. But it's the only body I have and it hasn't failed me yet. 
  • Cherish the downtime. The quiet moments when I can pray, reflect and meditate are also a sweet part of life and I will not take them for granted. 
  • Cherish the everyday. While working, writing, going to the grocery store, interacting with customers, rolling out pie crust, stirring over the stove, each moment that I am simply able to do these tasks + touch other's lives does not repeat and I will see the joy in each one.

So enough about me...what's your word for 2018?

IMG_2DF7A8AAEFDA-1.jpeg