The _____________-est ___________ in St. John’s

So I’ve been in Canada for one day, and already I’m loving the climate and the general pleasantness of the Canadians. And the French signage is fun, too. (Bonjour, bonhomme de niege! Quelle temps fait-il? Il pleut!) But the weather…OH, the change in weather:

Suck it, H-town!

I woke up fairly early and we walked about 157 miles (kilometres, whatever), looked at the unusual artwork on the walking paths…


the local warnings…

Wharf speed, Mr. Sulu!

the local graffiti…

and local interesting factoids…

before sitting down to lunch at a lovely little brewery/bistro named Yellow Belly. Where we ordered fish and chips. And got this:

Black bean burger…

and this:

Panko-breaded cod and chips. Oh, my.

and THIS:

Citrus aioli, it’s called. Roasted-garlicky, mayonnaise-y, lemon zest-y, dill-y wonderfulness. We dipped our chips in it. Chugged it. Did shots of it. Begged the waitress for more of it. Called it loving names and made promises to it that we could never keep. Just heaven, that stuff. I asked for the recipe and our lovely and personable (and polite!) waitress laughed me off. Politely. Seriously, y’all. I think this is the land where courtesy came to retire. You can walk blindly across a road and cars will screech to a halt for you. The 2012 version of Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth. (Look it up.) Politeness and courtesy should be Canada’s #1 export. Send some to your noisy, obnoxious neighbors to the south, please, Canada…

Then, full of delicious foods and a great local and insensitively-named beers (Fightin’ Irish Red), we napped. Seriously, is there anything better than a nap? We woke up and read the paper and found out that this town likes to brag. There’s the oldest street in North America. The oldest music store on the oldest street in North America. The favorite Irish pub in St. John’s. The oldest Irish pub in St. John’s. The blankest blank in ALL THE LAND.

Then a “haunted hike” around the town with this dude:

and his stentorian voice…look it up, I said!

and back to Yellow Belly for another pint.


I may have to move here.


The tiredest tourist in all St. John’s


Garbage Day Mung Bean Noodles

Since Dr. Nancy magnanimously bestowed upon me a ticket to Newfoundland, I’ll be winging my way to a magical land where the high temps make Houston lows seem hellish. To be fair, Houston temps don’t need help to feel diabolically hot, but then I’d be sans metaphor, as they say.

I’ve been in a frenzy of buying things and making lists and generally relishing all the anticipation because, well, that’s the best part of visiting a place you’ve never seen before. A place that has icebergs and puffins and whales and lobster sandwiches at Subway.

Let me repeat that last part.


Courtesy of Dr. Nancy

I’ll give you a second to *ahem* digest that.

It just so happens that today is the Day Before Garbage Day (the last garbage day before the vaycay), so I started cleaning out the fridge. All too many things in there had started fuzzing over or evolving into sentient lifeforms since I’ve pretty much been living on yogurt (ever so tasty with a dollop of CrackJam!) and Jell-o pudding cups while waiting for my wisdom tooth-shaped hole to heal over. As usual here in the home of all things ironical, the split second the fridge was empty, I got hungry. But what to do? I didn’t want to buy groceries with the trip a-loomin’, so I took stock of my supplies. Some passable vegetables. One good lime out of seven. (And what’s up with that? Seven limes? What was the thinking there?) A sort-of-desiccated knuckle of ginger and a bulb of garlic seconds away from sprouting roots and flowering. A pack of tofu.

At this point in the list, I’ll pause to mention that the tofu is an anomaly. It is not a typical citizen of Fridge, but a hopeful purchase meant to inspire me to cook and eat more healthful foods. But it was there and within the expiry date. So up on the chopping block with it!

In the pantry, I usually have some noodles of random shapes, sizes, and ethnicity. Right on top of the stack lay a big bag of mung bean noodles, purchased on a whim during a visit to the local Asian supermarket with ChrisTina, La Donna, and Madame JoJo.

So. Stir fry it was.

Drain the tofu. I left mine on a few paper towels to soak up more of the bean curdy juices. Don’t think about that. Tofu is like eggs. If you think too hard about where it comes from and what it is, you’ll probably end up at the drive-thru.

Hello. I’m tofu.

Start soaking the noodles in hot (not boiling) water. I weighted mine down to ensure sufficient toothsome texture and yumminess.

Make the sauce: the leavings of the brown sugar bag (ran out of oatmeal before sugar) – about two tablespoons, the rest of the soy sauce – about three and a half tablespoons, half the ginger knuckle – about 1” – crushed and minced, and one clove of garlic – crushed and minced. To be fair, the garlic clove I picked out was gi-normous. HUGE. Squeeze the lime in there and stir it up.

Sauce fixins

Cut up the vegetables into one inch pieces. I ended up with celery and green onions but no carrots because the carrots had a white, gross, fuzzy texture. They looked like mummy fingers.

Peace out, sez Carrot Mummy Hand

Julienne the tofu. Strip it. I like it that way. Tofu has this tendency to lie there appearing for all the world to be the bastard child of a Dobie scrubber and cottage cheese, and thus it needs help. Toss it into a hot pan with some veggie oil – I opted not to dig in the cabinet for my wok due to the final throes of a screaming migraine that set up camp behind my left eyeball AND because of extreme, hot-summer-day-induced laziness. Let the excess water cook off, then scoop out a bit of the sauce you made. I scraped out the ginger and the garlic to cook up with the tofu. It also tastes a bit like a Dobie scrubber/cottage cheese mutant by itself, so once again, help it!

Help us!

Cook it up until it has some color and is heated through.


Throw in the usable veggies and the rest of the sauce. Stir it up and cook it a bit.

Tasty greens; grotesque carrots

Put in the noodles.

Aren’t they just gorgeous?

Stir it up, put a lid on, and let it cook until everything is heated through.

Then eat it.

Oh, yeah!

I’ve got about four servings left for the next few days…just enough to tide me over until the trip…

Now to heat up the oven so I can bake up a batch of shortbread with the dough I found in the freezer.

Don’t judge me.



Hannibal Lecter and the Supremes

More rain. More people complaining about the rain. Hello, people? Must I force you to revisit Facebook posts from this time last year in which we were all whining about how hot it was and where was all the rain?

I like the rain. Gives me a calm day to put stuff in jars.

You know, a calm day after I had to drive into rainy-weather traffic to fetch the lids and pectin that I was lacking. After yelling my way through the rain-slicked streets filled with inconsiderate, aggressive, or just plain ignorant drivers (including one who repeatedly swerved and blocked intersections but who sported a “Namaste” bumper sticker – in his case, I believe that would translate into “the douchebag in me bows to the douchebag in you”), I made my way back home and let RouBarb’s gentle old lady dog out to “tinkle,” subdued my Little and Big dogs with chewies, unloaded an online rant so as not to cook angry, and started sterilizing jars…and let the jamming begin. Again.

Om…many jars to fill…

I already have three new half-pints in the fridge from a spur of the moment attempt at lavender-rose jelly. The poncy antique roses bushing up on either side of my kitchen window were flowering lovely dark red blooms with a spicy scent. Cramoisi superieur, they’re named. I picked them and steeped them with some lavender, then cooked that up with sugar and pectin and threw that in a few jars:

Lovely, herbal, green-tasting jelly.

So I’m flush with sweet, fruity jams and these herbal jellies…but out of marmalade. Food in Jars has a fabulous recipe, which earns her a shameless plug. Love her recipes. And like she says, you can’t feel like Maggie Smith while drinking a lovely cup of Earl Grey without some homemade marmalade.

But here’s the thing about making this marmalade. I feel a bit like Jame Gumm. Remember him? The serial killer from The Silence of the Lambs? Read on. You’ll see.

First, God bless Texas for so many things, but right now for abundant fruits and vegetables. And being able to drive to the store in the middle of winter. And for very cool Tervis tumblers filled with icy cold Diet Coke.

Yee haw!

Here are my lovely citrus fruits. Two grapefruit, four oranges, and three lemons. See them shudder? They know what’s coming.

“It puts the lotion on its skin”

And here they are, skinned. By me. “Buffalo Bill.”

(Chill. I really only shaved off the zest with a vegetable peeler.)

Only I’m not making a suit out of them. I’m going to julienne those skins, carve up the citrus, throw fruit flesh and skins in a pot with sugar, boil them up, and stick them in jars.

Out of their skins, they move to the supreming stage. Isn’t that a great verb?

To supreme.

I supreme, you supreme, we all supreme. In foodology, “to supreme” means to separate fruit from its membranes. Food in Jars kindly provides a great link to a how-to, as well as a great pic of it on her blog. This gives me a reason not to painstakingly take and post pics of the supreming process, and instead to skip to the already supremed fruits.

The carnage!

(Incidentally, this stage reminded me of a line I heard while watching A Lion in Winter this morning while having coffee. Queen Elenor lectures Prince Richard on killing for survival, not being an assassin. Richard responds with, “I never heard a corpse ask why it suddenly got cold.” Great stuff. Love this movie.)

And (also skipping the boiling, bubbling waiting) isn’t the result gorgeous?

Tower of tastiness

Now to treat myself like a titled lady: Gosford Park on the telly, a cup of Earl Grey, lovely homemade marmalade, and buttermilk biscuits instead of scones…because I am, after all, a Southern lady.

Cheery bye, y’all!

So which of my peeps want some? Be warned that I may ask for something in return…

Quid pro quo, little Starlings.



Cheer Up, Charlie…or else

Does anyone hate that “Cheer Up, Charlie” song in the middle of the otherwise fabulous Willy Wonka? Smack dab in the middle of this awesome flick, Charlie’s mom sings about how depressed her kid is while you see her dismal job in the background. Major bummer there. Seriously. Veruca, Wonka, even Granpa Joe all get fun, vibrant, memorable songs.  And then there’s “Cheer Up, Charlie,” which is the most depressing movie song EVAR.

I was going to add an “except maybe,” but I just can’t think of another one.

And what’s up with people blocking the intersection when waiting at a red light? I just want to slam the car into park, get out, beat on their windows, and ask them what exactly is up.

And that stupid Snuggle bear. How horrible is he? But not as bad at the ASPCA ads. Anyone else turn the channel? If I were in charge of selling spots, I’d give them a big ol’ red stamp on the grounds that viewership would plummet as fast as your mood the second the first bars of that Sarah MacLaughlin tune started up in the middle of Malcolm in the Middle or A Haunting or whatever trash mid-afternoon TV you choose to soften your grey matter with.

Oh. And I still don’t think Tyler Perry is funny. Tell Medea to hang up the muumuu already.

So ends the rant. Ahh. I feel like a new woman. Now to jam, angst-free, so that only happiness and light enter the glorious goodness that is preserves.



The Shortbread Trials

I’m a sick, sick girl

I just analyzed a gazillion different shortbread recipes that I harvested off the internet to figure out the average ratio of ingredients and the average time/temp combo.


All this because of a conversation with Nikki T regarding the quaint custom of the Cookie Table. Apparently, at Pennsylvanian weddings, one comes across tables full of multitudes of cookies and cookies and cookies. And cookies. Such glories!

I mean, in the South, we’ve got the groom’s cake, which is usually some sort of chocolate or Devil’s food…go figure. I’ve come across candy tables on Pinterest, but they seem more child-centered. Nothing like a table full of cookies. A veritable cookie banquet. (hee. very-TABLE.) I felt like Veruca Salt just pondering it – except I wanted that cookie feast, not the stupid bean feast she sang about. What’s up with a bean feast, Veruca, you freak?

So I felt compelled to contribute to the aforementioned Cookie Table. The percolation began. And ended quite quickly. Since declaring myself the Jammy Genius of our little group and Queen of all Canning (except the realm of blackberries, in which even mediocrity eludes me) and being flush with the CrackJam and the lovely nectar that is my Ginger-Lemon-Fig concoction, of course logic dictated that I should craft up some cookies with jam! On shortbread! Mixed with orange zest!

Yes. And there my search began for the optimum shortbread ingredient ratio. On a spreadsheet. On my computer. With actual calculations and removing recipes with anomalous ingredients. In the words of the Great Kate, Golly Moses!

Turns out the ingredient ratios for shortbread are within normal ranges across the board. The times and temps, however? Geez. Anywhere from 300˚ to 375˚* for anywhere from eight to 25 minutes. Which would yield me the perfect buttery soft cookie that was crisp enough to hold that lovely jam? How could I tell without tedious trial and error? So began the Shortbread Time Trials (with lime zest, since that was the only citrus in the house):


Like an OCD Goldilocks, I kept searching for the best combination. Too soft but oily? No. Good texture, but too soft to hold its shape? No. Crispy? No. Just…no. Until I found the JUST RIGHT combo.

Best temp/time for making shortbread for plain old munching accompanied by a glass of cold milk or a cuppa Earl Grey? 325˚ for 12-14 minutes. Best temp/time for making jammy windows? 325˚ for 18-20 minutes. In my opinion, the 350˚ trials proved too crispy-crunchy for me. Not a fan. If you’re all about the crispity cookie though, 14-18 minutes at 350˚ seems to be the optimum cook time.

I’ll post some pics actual Jammy Windows when I make them for reals…



*BTW, that’s Fahrenheit, y’all. I figured you’d understand that without me saying because I’m located in Texas and, well, baking cookies at 325˚ CELSIUS would be cray-cray fer totes. We want cookies, not charcoal.

Nikki T and the Spagery Man

Too tired to can today. Made some quinoa salad (that is superb enough for me to post the recipe), but my thoughts ranged nostalgic today. Working summer school this year has made me appreciate anew the support I have at my new school and district and caused me to remember the handful of people who have proved good enough friends in my life that they can no longer just be considered support, but scaffolding.

I give you the story of Nikki T and the Spagery Man.

Once upon a time, I worked next door to and across from two people I’m happy to call friends. We acted up, sang, goofed off, and made school our playground.

In-between classes, I mean.

We never goofed off while teaching.

Fer totes.

Except sometimes…

If you teach, you know what a mind-numbing, soul-sucking, bureaucratic piece of evil the phrase ACTIVE MONITORING is, especially when talking about STANDARDIZED TESTS. You walk around and watch the kids. Watch for cheating. Watch for instruction-following. Watch to make sure they’re not bubbling in wrong. Watch to make sure they’re not doodling on the side of scan-tron. Watch and walk. Watch and walk. If you have a typically active mind and the thought processes of a hummingbird on a full tank of Starbucks, this is torture. I hated the ACTIVE MONITORING almost as much as the kids dreaded taking the TESTS.

I couldn’t chat with the kids about what they read. I couldn’t offer suggestions or tell them if they were even on the right track. Heck, I couldn’t even read the story or the questions or the answers. And all I could say  in response to any heart-breakingly desperate request was, “I’m sorry. I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.”

Once again, if you’re a teacher, you know.

We used to have four days of this for the state test. Four days straight. Two days for a different one: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Hours of ACTIVE MONITORING and stifled brain activity.

And so we found an outlet. Nikki T composed a poem one day. A poem that stemmed from a Honduran student who was learning English for the first time. A student who decided that Benry looked like “spagery.”

For this, if you’re a teacher of English learners, you’re trying to sound it out as if it’s in Spanish.

And you’re realizing that the student was reaching for “spagedy”…spaghetti. Tall, lean Benry. Our Spagery Man.

Nikki T draws inspiration from many things obscure and bizarre, but for this brilliant piece of writing, she mimicked the great Maya Angelou. The poem itself is genius. Nikki T, as usual, gets it and runs with it.

What was the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top, the sprinkles and whipped cream and glitter and fireworks was what happened during our break after the days of ACTIVE MONITORING. We were venting (as teachers are wont to do…if you’re one, you know), when Nikki T busted out her masterpiece…and performed it. As Maya Angelou. Perfect pitch. Perfect cadence.

I remember my eyes blurring with tears. I remember getting that stitch in your side that only comes from the best, deepest, purest laughter. I remember choking down the laughs when other teachers came in to complain about the noise…then laughing all the harder when they left. I’m glad that even at the time I recognized this moment as a big one. A powerful, heart-filling, magical sharing of silliness and camaraderie of such magnitude that it called out to be recorded and shared.

So, dear friends, I have shared that memory, and now I give you…Spagery Man in its entirety:


Spagery Man, you stand, a beacon, in the marinara-soaked night.


A pillar of starchy perfection.


Not a hollow, Manicotti Man,

Not a crooked, Macaroni Man,

And not a Ravioli Man, ever-full of himself.


No, Spagery Man.  You are tall—a big boy.


A sculpted carbohydrate of inspiration.


You are brave, Spagery.

Do you mock boiling water, knowing that it will bend—not break—you?

Do you laugh at the Wall in China, dubbing it “Not-So-Great?”

For you, Spagery, have the courage to stick to your conquests.

You encourage us to stick together when at 212 degrees.  (210 at higher altitudes.)


And you are a saucy chameleon of flavor combinations.


Linguini, Tortellini, Rotini, Bow Tie—they will never match your glory.

Angel Hair?  Spagery wants not hair; Spagery needs no hair.

His head is filled with gems and pearls.

Wise shall you ever be—requiring a special spoon to collect your wisdom.


It is not the Tower of Pisa that leans, but we who lean on you.


Spagery Man—pontificating pasta pilot in the journey we call…life.


Spagery Man.

Lessons Learned

As Madame JoJo commented to me yesterday, the creativity is steadily seeping from my bones. So I spent another rainy morning perusing a favorite foodie blog, CakeWalk, to hunt for inspiration on how best to showcase the rest of the figgies picked yesterday. The BROWN ones.

Unfortunately, any responsibly constructive tendencies I muster up are tempered (as always) with a slight touch of attention deficit that cannot be remedied, even by scoring one of RouBarb’s Ritalins. Instead of settling on how best to use the rest of the lovely figs, I stumbled upon a recipe for Violet Jelly. The flavor of flowers – especially violets and roses – bring back fond memories of sharing scented pastilles with my old (hee) friend Patio, and I longed to have the luxury of a field of violets just ready for the pickin. But this is Houston. In July. Scorched lawns? Yes. Fields of violets? No.

Dried lavender, however, can be found here readily. (What? They’re flowers.) Pictures danced in my mind of a cup of Lady Grey tea served with gorgeous scones blanketed in homemade lavender jelly. CakeWalk had no lavender recipes, and Food in Jars only had one with pears. Delicious sounding, but I was determined to make a flowery, subtly scented jelly. Not pears.

Off to Google!

This is where the plan fell apart. I forgot the cardinal rule of Googling: specificity. I typed “lavender jelly” and expectantly clicked the search icon…to see this:

Way to go, Google.

In the MIDDLE of the page. Sandwiched between actual recipes. Ew, Google. Just…ew.

Lesson #1 learned, though my thoughts of lovely floral jelly with scones and afternoon tea were tainted by Google’s dirty-minded little trick.

Still needing an outlet for my seeping creativity, I decided to fall back on an old standby: Three-Pepper-Lime Jelly.

Once upon a time I was tired of the too-sweet, too-food-colory-green pepper jellies out there, and I asked around for a better recipe. So Oklahoma Me gave me her great recipe for jalapeño jelly (which she found on the internet somewhere – no link, though). My pantry lacked some basic ingredients needed, so I made a few substitutions with great results. Instead of using only jalapeños – Oklahoma Me grows her own in abundance – I decided that a red bell pepper would give lots of color and just a bit of sweetness and a habañero would lend a lovely, short-lasting burn of strong heat.

Don’t be askeered of the mighty habañero.

Do not fear me!

I chopped up all the fragrant peppers and inhaled too deeply while chopping Mr. Habañero. An immediate dry burn hit my sinuses and I sneezed and sneezed and sneezed and sneezed until Little Dog wandered in and asked me WTF?

Fer totes, WTF with all the sneezing?

Lesson #2: Don’t breathe while dealing with monstrously hot peppers (AND Lesson #3: don’t rub your nose vigorously when they’re covered with capsaicin).

Since I was chopping and grating and boiling anyway, I decided to finish off the rest of the brown figgies – some preserved whole (NO idea what to do with whole preserved figs, but they look so pretty) and some into a fig-lemon-ginger jam.

Lesson #4: a canner in motion stays in motion.

The *ahem* fruits of my labors…

So endeth the lessons.