Friday, July 23, 2010

A Walk on the Wild Side


I have come to accept over the 3 1/2 years that we've lived in Texas that everything is bigger here. Last weekend, I came practically face-to-face with an example of that belief--a Megaphasma dentricus was hanging out by our garden hose reel.

Silly me was reaching over to unwind the hose when I noticed something not quite right on the wall in front of me. A six-inch bug was hanging out, just enjoying the shade in the summer heat. After a squeal or two, I hollered for Jerry to come over to take a photo of the unbelievably big bug with his IPhone. I have seen walking stick bugs before, but nothing like this baby.

It was HUGE. Okay, not Godzilla-type huge, but big enough to freak me out. I am not afraid of bugs; I just don't appreciate them the way they probably want to be appreciated. I know they don't bite. They aren't poisonous and probably don’t want to deal with me as much as I don't want to deal with him. Or her. I wasn't quite sure how to tell the sex of a Megaphasma dentricus or otherwise known as a Walking Stick.

This particular bug is a Texas version that gets up to seven inches long. Ours was pretty darn close. I wasn't going to get a tape measure to find out for sure. I respectfully left it alone to continue on its journey.

I've mentioned before about the bugs here--the freaky big centipedes here are disgusting. Sorry, but those really freak me out. The ones we saw were Texas Redheaded Centipedes. I kid you not.

Texas redheaded centipedes, or Scolopendra heros castaneiceps, are a subspecies of Scolopendra heros. They are one of the world's largest centipede species and can grow to be as long as 12 inches. Their heads are red, with segmented dark blue, purple or black bodies. Each segment bears a pair of yellow legs.

The Texas redheaded centipede can be found throughout much of the Southwestern United States, as well as in Northern Mexico. Texas redheaded centipedes prefer dark, moist environments and will take cover during the day. Rock crevices, leaf litter and rocks provide shelter, although the Texas redheaded centipede can also burrow into the ground. After dark, Texas redheaded centipedes hunt for prey; insects are their chief food source.

The tails of these centipedes resemble their heads. This characteristic serves to confuse predators. In addition, they are equipped with a painful, venomous bite, which can incapacitate and kill small prey and predators.

While the Texas redheaded centipede's bite will not kill humans, it may be extremely painful for up to two days. Individuals with known insect allergies may experience more severe reactions and should contact a medical professional.


My son Jared said he saw a huge centipede when he was working at a Home Depot here in San Antonio. He said he heard it before he saw it. If it made him nervous, I can't imagine what I'd do.

I have a healthy respect. And a weekend doesn't go by when I see a critter I've never seen before. Creeping, crawling, slithering and scuttling around my yard--it's rarely dull.

I always wear shoes when outside. I learned my lesson the past Halloween when I stepped on a scorpion out on the driveway. Not an episode I'd like to repeat anytime soon.

Texas is only for the brave--bug wussies need not apply.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Real Stew


Over the years, I have spent hours and hours calmly sitting by myself reading cookbooks. For those of us who are foodies, this is not uncommon. A cookbook to me is like a fashion catalog to a girlie-girl. As you can tell, I'm not a girlie-girl. Not that there's anything wrong with that--but it's not me.

I'm a nurturer. I love to feed people (especially on the weekends when I have more time to cook from scratch). I also love history and when the two loves come together I am ecstatic. It comes together in a cookbook entitled, "Real Stew," by Clifford A. Wright. I am big into soups and stews. I could easily eat soup every day of my life and be happy about it.

I bought this book a handful of years ago at first for the stew/soup recipes. But as I sat down to read it, I fell in love with the history Wright throws in with the recipes. It's a combination of travelogue, history and really good food. I loved it.

Ever wonder how to make Waterzooi? It's a snap. This Flemish stew is a delicious chicken stew filled with vegetables, eggs and a rich broth.

Instead of making Hamburger Helper for your family, how about whipping up a pot of Córdoban Farmer's Wife's Stew? This mélange is a cabbage and chickpea stew that has the taste and smell of cumin. Wright shares that this "is from the hilly farmlands around Cordoba, in Andalusia. It is called an olla cortijera de Cordoba, meaning 'the way the farmer's wife makes it.' and is an example of the simplest of preparations from cocina pobre, the 'cuisine of the poor.' " You can make it on the weekend when you have more time, freeze it and thaw it later in the week and it's still delicious. Toss in some buttered French bread and you are set.

The Córdoban Farmer's Wife's Stew

5 quarts water
2 cups dried chickpeas (about 1 pound), picked over and rinsed, soaked overnight in cold water to cover, and drained
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin seeds
1/2 pound Irish or Canadian bacon, diced
1 small head green cabbage (about 1 1/4 pounds), cored and chopped

Bring the water to a boil in a stew pot. Add the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, and cumin. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 2 hours.

Add the bacon. Cook until the chickpeas are soft, about 1 hour more.

Add the cabbage and cook for 1 hour. Taste and correct the seasonings, and serve.

Makes 8 servings.

(Recipe from Real Stew, by Clifford A. Wright)

If you are really daring you can try making Cacciucco. This recipe is on page 235. It's a fish stew from the Tuscan port of Leghorn. According to Wright, "traditional cooks add a stone taken from the sea to the stew so it can reach its true height of earthly perfection." The stew is full of bits and pieces of fish and shellfish. The ingredient list is a bit intimidating. For those who are brave, check it out. Me, I'm not that brave.

You could also try the Octopus Stew from the Island of Djerba. This recipe is from the Island of Djerba, off of the Sahel, the desert region of southern Tunisia, which was thought to be the land of the lotus eaters made famous by Homer.

I can't quite see myself walking into my local supermarket and asking the butcher for one pound of octopus and by the way, can you please clean it for me, too. Ummm....nope.

Don't let me scare you; there are plenty of normal sounding/ingredient recipes. You can make some wonderful Beef Burgundy, Irish Stew, Hungarian Goulash and Old Fashioned American Stew.

The world of stews and soups are at your fingertips with this cookbook.

Check it out. It's well worth the journey.

Real Stew: 300 Recipes for Authentic Home-Cooked Cassoulet, Gumbo, Chili, Curry, Minestrone, Bouillabaisse, Stroganoff, Goulash, Chowder and Much More

by Clifford A. Wright

Publisher: Harvard Common Press, 388 pgs.

ISBN: 978-1-55832-199-1

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Top Chef

top chef Pictures, Images and Photos

I'm not a top chef in real life, but I play one on TV. Not really. Okay, I dream about being a top chef on television. I've watched every episode, every season of Top Chef. I cheered when quiet Harold won season one. I shook my head when Ilan won in season two. I booed when Hung won season three. I danced around the room when Stephanie won season four. I didn't want Hosea to win season five--he just rubbed me the wrong way. And winner of season six, Michael Voltaggio, ranked right next to Hung for a chef I didn't want to win. (I wanted red-headed Kevin to win. He rocked)

I don't like or appreciate arrogance in the kitchen. And many of the top chefs competing in this competition are arrogant. Maybe they use it as a defensive mechanism in coping with the challenges and critiques they face on a daily basis? I just don't like it. Confidence with compassion is more of my mantra. Confidence with arrogance is just out and out rude.

I am nowhere near the level of the chefs competing. I am so far from their level that I can barely see the bottom of their shoes. Seriously. But in my heart, I cook with the best of them.

I grew up watching PBS cooking shows--Julia, Embassy Chefs (I loved the announcer's sexy smooth voice), Martin Yan Can Cook, Jeff Smith, and the "I Guaranteeeeee" Cajun chef Justin Wilson. He used to crack me up. I swear he got drunk making his recipes.

Top Chef now gives me my culinary fix. I don't know how they do it. No cookbooks, no cheat sheets, all from your brains create gourmet food in 30 minutes or you are out of there. Ughh. I'd crack faster than eggs sliding loose in the back of my SUV.

I love to see the faces of the chefs when they are asked to do a dessert challenge. Most of those chefs can't cook desserts. There is a difference between making meals without recipes and winging it and making desserts. You really can't wing a dessert.

When you cook a dessert from scratch you need to be precise in your measurements. You can't guess how much baking powder to use, or how much butter is in your mix. It gets really bad, really fast.

I hear the heads at Bravo are coming up with a Top Chef Just Desserts competition. I can't wait. That will be quite interesting to see how these chefs do what they do best and still win.

Yes, I'm a foodie. Deal with it or get out of the kitchen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

IPhone Has A Place


I became a member kicking and squirming all the way. I didn't want an IPhone. I didn't need an IPhone. I had a perfectly good phone. I could talk to anyone I needed. I didn't need all the bells and whistles. But from all directions I had immediate family members harping on me to get one. I finally broke down at Christmas time and let an IPhone be bought as my present.

I'm still not as into the phone as my husband is, but I am finding it does fit a niche in my life. Yes, I use it to telephone those who I want and need to stay in contact with--family and friends alike.

What I do finding myself using it for besides calling is checking the weather outlook, being kept up to date on breaking news and improving my vocabulary by playing Scrabble on my lunch hours.

I also read books on my IPhone, but it isn't my favorite way to read. I might find myself getting an IPad. That is something I would maximize considering how much I do read. An IPhone comes in handy when I am stuck somewhere waiting (doctor's appointment and the such). I have to read on a daily basis or I'd go crazy. So an IPhone does come in handy when a book isn't nearby.

I like being able to keep in touch with family and friends via Facebook. On my IPhone I can check in and see how they are all doing. I love communicating with people. Facebook is almost like the old fashioned way of writing letters by letting people know what's going on in your life--only its real time.

I have lots of applications or "Apps" as they are often called on my IPhone. They are personalized to me and my husband. We have some similar apps as we will share ones we find. But I have some he doesn't have and he has some I don't have. I have cookbooks on mine, which is great when I go shopping. A couple of taps and I not only have an idea for dinner, but I have the ingredients all ready to read and no writing by me. I love it.

I also have a program that helps me keep track of my blood pressure. I log it in when I take it and when I visited my heart doctor I just pulled out my IPhone and show her the app. It displayed all the times I took my blood pressure, what it was, when I took it, and graphed it all out. My heart doctor was quite impressed.

My husband has sports apps. I'm not into those, but he likes them.

We are planning a trip to Boston in September so we've downloaded apps about Boston. They have wonderful walking podcasts about Boston so we've already had a taste of what Boston has to offer.

We have a GPS on our phone which we usually use once a week. We also use the restaurant app that gives us new ideas of local places to eat at--some we never even knew existed.

So I've become a believer. I believe in being moderate in whatever it is I do. I use my phone as I need it, without overdoing it. It does have a place in a person's life. I admit it.