Now You Know: a Poem for My Brother

Today would have been my brother’s 49th birthday.

This is a quiet little poem for him.  I’ve written others that may be shared sometime.  And I will probably write more.

Now You Know

Now you know the secrets of sunsets and sand dollars

Now you know the recipe for rainy days and rainbows

Now you know the why of the wind and its whispers

And now you know how much love I had for you in my heart


A longer reminiscence about my brother and our magical childhood at the beach in Southeast Texas can be found here.

Kim and Steve Christmas Card

Setting a Beautiful Table – Whimsical Christmas

Our 1920 cottage in Old Sugar Land.
Our cottage in Old Sugar Land was built in 1920.

A decade ago, I lived in a tiny wood frame house in a charming old neighborhood where time seemed to stand still: neighbors all knew each other, children rode their bikes in the street, and the baseball and football fields, elementary school and three churches were within a 5-minute walk.  My house was built in 1920 on a pier-and-beam frame and had hardwood floors and other charming old-house features.  It was really fun to dress the old girl up for the holidays, with Christmas being the uber-holiday.

Some of the table-setting tricks I’ve learned over the years are illustrated by the photos below.  They were taken before a special holiday dinner in 2006 when my parents met my inlaws-to-be for the first time.

  • Mix your glassware and china – different sizes, styles and colors can look great together.  Below I have a set of white china Christmas dishes, Waterford champagne glasses, magenta Italian crystal water glasses, and inexpensive crystal wine glasses, and somehow, it all works.
  • Dress up your table with inexpensive chargers.
  • Use place cards to design the optimum seating arrangements; they also make people feel special.
  • These little place card holders help set the stage for a fun evening
    These little place card holders help set the stage for a fun evening

    Embrace whimsy – the place card holders on this holiday table are a mix of tiny characters, and there’s a variety of Christmas-themed salt and pepper shakers, including a pair of dogs wearing Christmas wreaths.

  • Make things – the centerpiece was assembled from handmade bows, pine cones from my yard, faux greenery, and a few silk flowers and decorative berries from Hobby Lobby.
  • Use ribbons in place of napkin rings for a soft, elegant-yet-fun look.
Tie decorative holiday ribbons around your napkins to create a bright, festive look.
Tie decorative holiday ribbons around your napkins to create a bright, festive look.
Somehow, the mix of different glassware and china works.
Somehow, the mix of different glassware and china works.
Decorating not just the table, but the whole dining room, increases the holiday mood.
Decorating not just the table, but the whole dining room, increases the holiday mood.
Setting a Beautiful Christmas Table2
The Christmas dogs salt-and-pepper shakers and holiday toy-themed place cards add just the right amount of whimsy. The wreath centerpiece was less than $15 to make and includes pine cones and pecans from our yard.  I still have it almost a decade later. Nestled inside the wreath are inexpensive red glass candle holders.
Almost every surface in the little cottage was bedecked with Christmas finery
Almost every surface in the little cottage was bedecked with Christmas finery.  The larger Santa mug missing almost all its paint is a relic from my early childhood.

It’s Small Business Saturday!

“Black Friday” for me means steering clear of the crowds and limiting my shopping to finding the perfect Christmas tree.

But I’m a huge fan of “Small Business Saturday“, which takes place today for the 6th time.  Even though it was started by a huge business, American Express, Small Business Saturday is a great way to remind us that when we “buy local”, we support our own communities and neighbors.  Click here for a short video about Small Business Saturday from Amex.

I’m headed out to the local Farmer’s Market to find fresh produce, flowers and hand-crafted gifts.  And then I’ll pop into the resale shop run by Tomball Emergency Assistance Ministries (T.E.A.M.) to see what goodies they have in store.

The best thing about frequenting the local Mom-and-Pop stores is the relationships that develop with the proprietors.

The lady who sells homemade pet treats at the Farmer’s Market pulls out the cat treats for me as soon as she sees me approaching.  My cat demands the dried whitefish that K-9 Campus Cafe makes especially for her.

K9 Campus Cafe
Photo courtesy of Tomball Farmer’s Market

The great folks at Jane and John Dough Bakery know my son *needs* one of their fresh-baked pretzels and a Mexican Coke.  And they always ask about his Eagle Scout project and upcoming concerts.

Jane and John Dough
Photo courtesy of Jane and John Dough

The owner of Smitty’s Meat Market genuinely wants to know if you like their in-house smoked sausage, and what other products they should carry to complement the variety of smoked meats they offer.

The farmer’s market vendors are all super-friendly and love to talk with customers.  My son and I visit almost every Saturday, enjoying the experience as much as the goods that we buy.

A farmer’s market evokes that old-time, small-town, we’re-all-in-this-together feeling.

Shopping at the charity resale shop is a great way to use your retail dollars to help your own community.  The money they raise goes directly to assisting local families in need.

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My son’s Eagle Scout project benefitted this excellent local charity, T.E.A.M. It was a wonderful experience for him to support the community and people in need.

Countdown to Thanksgiving

For me, decorating the Thanksgiving table is a real pleasure.  I like starting from a blank slate and creating a sense of bountiful harvest and plenty in my dining room.  I think about Thanksgivings past, going way back to childhood holidays spent at my grandmother’s house in Sweetwater, Texas.

Sneaking bits of mahogany-roasted turkey skin, sitting overlong at the table telling stories that have been told before but deserve the retelling, playing touch football in the back yard to work off the third piece of pie…Thanksgiving is redolent with tradition and memories.

I love Thanksgiving and that feeling of connectedness to others while sharing a meal and reflecting on our blessings. Another blogger described the special feeling of setting the Thanksgiving table perfectly in her post, Setting the Holiday Table.

About table-setting – I’ve learned over the years (the hard way) not to wait until Turkey Day to figure out the seating, set the table and do the decorating.  The first step is to get the table(s) and chairs figured out.  This year’s tally is only 11, so we can squeeze in at one table, dragging in chairs from the breakfast room and adding a card table at the end.  This was done on Monday.

Thanksgiving Table, Pre-Decoration
The blank slate of the Thanksgiving table, pre-decoration, supplemented with chairs from around the house and a card table.

 

Now it’s Wednesday morning, and the table-setting is well underway, minus the glasses and silverware.

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The chargers, plates and napkins are out, and the place cards indicate who sites where.  Next step:  glassware and silverware.

Don’t be shocked – I’m using paper plates (again) this year.  They look just fine atop gold chargers and paired with cloth napkins – and the clean-up process is accelerated exponentially. I love my china sets but using paper plates some years makes it more about the meal and less about the aftermath.  I like to think of the mix of paper plates with cloth napkins and crystal candlesticks as the “business casual” of table settings.

The turkey is brining, the assignments for side dishes have been distributed, and the next step is to make the dressing. Did I say I love Thanksgiving?

 

Thankful for…Bay Leaves and Family

We have a bay tree at Glover Gardens that’s growing like gangbusters and provides a plethora of bay leaves – way-way-way more than we need.  So many that we can use them as table decorations or place cards.

I saw an article in Good Housekeeping a few years ago which gave me another idea for using our excess bay leaves. Paper leaves were adorned with “thankful for” messages and attached to pears with florists’ wire to create a beautiful, unique and inexpensive centerpiece.

The pears in this centerpiece have paper "thankful for" leaves (photo from Good Housekeeping).
The pears in this centerpiece have paper “Thankful For” leaves (photo from Good Housekeeping).

We tried it out using sharpies to convey our gratitude on bay leaves and found that it not only looked great, but was a fun and even meaningful activity.  Teen-aged cousins crowded around the kitchen island having a great time talking about what they were grateful for while they got to work attaching their bay leaves to pears.  It was a wonderful Night Before Thanksgiving family bonding experience.

Grateful For Pears
The Thankful For pears, mid-assembly in the kitchen on the Night Before Thanksgiving in 2013. There was gratitude for Support, Laughter, Aunts, Grandparents, Brothers, Love and much more.

When they’re done, you can arrange the “Thankful For” pears in a bowl or platter, or simply scatter them down your Thanksgiving table.

Thankful Pears

We had a bigger Thanksgiving last year with the arrival of numerous relatives from New Mexico, and everyone really enjoyed making their “Thankful For” leaves.  We did it on Thanksgiving Day as family members arrived.

My grandmother was thankful for grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
My grandmother was thankful for grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We ended up with so many that we added a new step, the creation of a “Thankful For” / Happy Thanksgiving tree.  This turned out to be a great group activity during the appetizer hour, when the turkeys were resting and then being carved.

Family members arranging gratitude-covered bay leaves during the appetizer hour.
Family members arranging gratitude-covered bay leaves during the appetizer hour.

We found ourselves gathered around the tree throughout the afternoon and evening, reading about each other’s gratitude and having meaningful conversations.

We’re going to do the “Thankful For” tree again this year.  What are you thankful for?

Empty Nest Easy: Sausage and Pepper Dogs for Two

Returning home from a business trip on a weekday in time for dinner presents a dilemma:  I don’t want to cook, and don’t want to eat out again after days and days of it.

Last Friday was just such a day; I was returning home from 4 days of meetings in San Antonio and 4 nights of (very good) restaurant dinners.  Our remaining millennial in the household was out with a friend, so the Grill-Meister and I were empty-nesters.  Here’s our solution:  quick Sausage and Pepper Dogs for Two.  With a gas grill that heats quickly and no prep except for slicing the peppers and onions, we had dinner put together in less than a half hour.

Is it bad that I considered the grilled onions and peppers as the vegetable side dish and didn’t make anything else?

Simple Ingredients for Sausage and Peppers
There are only a few ingredients in this dish.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 large, 2 medium or several small bell peppers, sliced
  • 1 tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp of fresh basil, parsley or oregano, chopped, or 1 tsp of dried
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 or more sausage links of your choice (we love jalapeño sausage)
  • 4 or more hotdog-sized buns or rolls (we like bollilo rolls from our local grocery store)
  • Condiments (optional)

Cooking Instructions

Heat the grill on high.  Spray a grilling basket with cooking spray and put it on the grill to get hot.  In a medium bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, red pepper flakes, fresh or dried herb of your choice, and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.  Wrap the rolls or buns in foil.

Grill the onions and peppers in the grilling basket and the sausages directly on the grill.  Add the foil package with the buns in the last few minutes of grilling time.  The vegetables are done when they are soft and slightly blackened; remove them from the grill and add them to the bowl with the vinegar and olive oil, tossing to coat.

Serve each grilled sausage topped with the grilled vegetables on a bun.

Vinegar and Oil for Vegetables
You’re basically making a vinaigrette for the grilled vegetables.
Grilled Peppers and Onions
Tossing the peppers and onions with the balsamic vinegar, oil and herbs dresses them up.
Bollilo Rolls
Bollilo rolls from the grocery store make a great delivery device for the sausage and peppers.
Sausage and Pepper Dog
One of these dogs is enough for dinner, but it’s great to have one left over for lunch the next day; you can prepare it, wrap it in foil, and warm the whole thing in a toaster oven.

You may or may not want condiments with the Sausage and Pepper Dogs.  The Grill-Meister forgoes them, but I like the extra kick from a little horseradish mustard.  Yum!

Copyright 2015 Glover Gardens Cookbook

Make It Special, But Keep It Easy

This time of year brings welcome visits from far-away family, but we don’t always have time to make a big production out of special dinners.

We recently had a visiting relative, Uncle Jerry from Seattle, and wanted to serve him a simple but elegant meal.

We settled on filet mignon, baked potatoes and salad for the menu, classic and simple dishes that are easy to make but still make you feel like you’re getting a treat.  Dessert was scones and slices of a marvelous pear tart from a local bakery.  Easy-peasy.

Spending a half hour decorating the table made all the difference, along with the cloth napkins and bay leaf place cards.  Uncle Jerry validated the strategy when he arrived:  “Wow, this is fancy!”  (We didn’t tell him that it was quick ‘n easy.)

It was really nice to host Uncle Jerry and make him feel special without spending hours in the kitchen on what was an absolutely gorgeous fall day (see my recently posted ePostcard for the visuals). It’s amazing how setting a beautiful table creates a festive mood.

Found Recipe: Alton Brown’s Deep-Fried Turkey

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Photo from Alton Brown’s recipe on the Food Network site

We like to try new things here at Glover Gardens (sometimes really new, and sometimes just new to us).  A few years ago, the Grill-Meister set out to master deep-fried turkey.  After some intense Google research, he settled on Alton Brown’s version, complete with its Turkey Trestle. The recipe is great, the instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the method for all of it is illustrated in a short video.  It was a rousing success.  Here’s a link to the recipe:  Alton Brown’s Deep-Fried Turkey.

The Turkey Trestle method that Alton Brown described in his video worked very well and ensured that the bird could be safely and easily removed from the bubbling hot oil.  You’ll find the video on the page with the recipe.  I highly recommend watching the video if you’re just learning how to deep-fry a turkey.

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The Turkey Trestle method in action at Glover Gardens

Kitchen RAP: Read, Assemble, Prep

Cooking How-TosThese simple RAP steps – Read, Assemble, Prep – will save you tons of time and frustration.  These are some of the kitchen home truths that I learned from my 10th grade Home Economics teacher years ago, but didn’t take them seriously until about my 100th recipe disaster.  Now RAP gets me ready to make magic in the kitchen and the disasters don’t happen.  I should have paid more attention to Miss West back in high school.

Don’t skip anything.  Not even if you’re in a hurry.  Especially not if you’re in a hurry.  

Read It First

This time-saving step applies to any recipe:  Read it first.  All the way through. It is so frustrating to get halfway through a recipe and then realize you should have melted something 20 minutes ago and let it cool before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.  The temptation is to add it anyway – damn the torpedoes – and the results can be disastrous (at least in my kitchen confessions).

Assemble Everything

Salmon Spread Ingredients2
Gathering ingredients before you get started saves time and frustration; these are the ingredients for Smoked Salmon Spread

After you read the recipe – all the way through, remember? – Assemble all of the equipment and ingredients.  You don’t want to be scrambling to find the whisk after your butter is already melted for the hollandaise sauce, right?  Curdling does happen (at least to me).

Prep All Ingredients

Finally, before you get started actually cooking:  Prep all of your ingredients.  If the recipe tells you to use a half cup of onions, finely chopped, chop ’em before you get started.  Again, you don’t want your olive oil to start smoking because you waited until it was hot to mince the onions.

Simple Ingredients for Sausage and Peppers
There are only a few ingredients for the Sausage and Pepper Dogs for Two, but it is still a time-saver to collect them all before starting to cook.

Glover Gardens Cookbook Recipes are Based on RAP

The recipes in this blog and in the cookbook I’m working on are all written with RAP in mind.  The ingredients lists read like this: “1/2 cup of onions, finely chopped” instead of the cooking instructions telling you to chop the onions.  I really believe in the RAP approach.

More tips and tricks can be found here, where I’m assembling the how-to instructions that have helped me make kitchen magic.

Copyright 2015 Glover Gardens Cookbook

Celebrating Ruth’s 95 Years

IMG_0228There was a large gathering for my grandmother’s 90th birthday five years ago, and I wrote a poem at that time to celebrate her life.

A smaller group of us joined her this year for her 95th, and we read the poem once again. Here it is, with its introduction from 5 years ago.


Grandma,

As we gather to celebrate the 90th anniversary of your birth, the momentous changes that have transpired since the beginning of the 20th century to the current day bear reflection. You arrived in 1920 in one world, and have lived to see it become yet another.

  • From the jazz age to the digital age
  • From flapper to rappers
  • From Betty Crocker to Martha Stewart
  • From the Victrola to the iPod
  • From Encyclopedia Brittanica to Wikipedia
  • From the Model T to smart cars
  • From the WPA highway project to the information superhighway
  • From biplanes to the space shuttle
  • From Halley’s comet to the Hubble
  • From Jim Crow to Barack O

You have successfully navigated many changes. And so, Grandma Ruth, we honor you with this poem.


Celebrating Ruth

You have seen, you have done, you have sought

You have learned, you have shared, you have taught

From the God we can’t see to the world we can – using microscope and telescope, encyclopedia and concordance – seeking knowledge has been your boon

Words and ideas spilling out of you like so much light from a harvest moon

Poems, plays, songs and stories, lesson plans and Sunday school lessons

Always hopeful, always learned, always in tune

You have seen, you have done, you have sought

You have learned, you have shared, you have taught

From Calgary to Midland to Colorado and the Texas Coast – with letters, pre-dawn calls and visits that were sometimes surprises – keeping family ties strong is the goal you harbor

Love and advice spilling out of you like so much color from an April arbor

As daughter, sister and wife, mother, aunt, friend and teacher

With an open heart, open house, and open larder

You have seen, you have done, you have sought

You have learned, you have shared, you have taught

From homemaker to career woman to volunteer – cooking, singing, sewing, teaching, researching or worshipping – doing things right is the result that you bring

Finished products, energy and analysis spilling out of you like so many songbirds welcoming spring

Spirited, lively and fun, uncompromising and curious,

Always inspired, always tenacious, doing the right thing

You have seen, you have done, you have sought

You have learned, you have shared, you have taught

From childhood through adulthood to your 90th year – with songs, lessons and plays, and as leader, follower and disciple – spreading the Gospel is your amazing grace

The message “We are saved!” spilling out of you like so many smiles from a grandchild’s face

The Lord is your Shepherd and leads you beside still waters

Always reverent, looking to His higher place

You have seen, you have done, you have sought

You have learned, you have shared, you have taught

We thank you.

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