Saturday, February 25, 2012

Garden 2012

I can't believe it's February.  The temps are in the 70s and 80s.  And today was such a gorgeous day I just couldn't help myself.  I planted the culinary garden.   I picked up seeds and starters at The Farm Patch in Bryan, then brought 'em all home and stuck them in the ground.

It might not look like much right now.  But hopefully in a few weeks green shoots will start popping up and the starters I planted today will all have new growth.

In years past we've had a heck of a time with the garden. Much of the stuff I'm used to planting up North doesn't do so well in the heat here.  They'll start nicely in the early Spring then melt as soon as the temps get over 90 F. Last year's extreme heat and drought didn't help.  But the truth is we're still figuring this stuff out.

So this year I'm experimenting yet again.  I planted salad greens: lettuce and mescalin greens.  I planted one lone tomato just because I'm not ready to give up on trying to grow them.  I also planted some herbs: fennel, dill, peppermint, and "mojito" mint. Not sure what makes a mint mojito but I'm not overly concerned as long as it grows. And I planted some packets of seeds: okra, carrots, parsnips and beets.  I plant okra every year because it grows very well here, even in hot dry conditions.  And The Lovely Spouse wanted to experiment with root veggies.  Neither of us has ever grown them.

A few things survived the Winter: fennel, Greek oregano, rosemary (grows like Christmas trees here), arugula (rocket), and cabbage (now forming heads).

Gardening really is the ultimate exercise in optimism. We wouldn't plant things if we didn't at least hope they would grow.  Here's hoping for a wonderful growing season.  And no frost. 

[This post was created in Google Chrome.  Blogger works much better on my laptop from Chrome than it does with Explorer.  Just an FYI if you're also using blogspot.]

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras!

I realize I'm posting this on Fat Tuesday, but these pictures are actually from Saturday.  I think I'm just getting too old to party all the time.  :-)  Enjoy!

As you can see there were lots of extra places to eat and drink brought in just for the occasion. And, of course, Galveston is a cruise ship terminal. They even had a special balcony party for cruise patrons.

Z Krewe balcony party getting people on the street to negotiate for beads. FYI, during the day there were no bare breasts (I didn't see any at night this time around either, but there were creepers waiting around to take pictures of them - ick).  However some people negotiated to exchange beads.

There was some incredible street food there.  It smelled awesome here.

RIBBON FRIES!!!! I love ribbon fries. Think of one long, continuous, fresh-made potato chip.
Yea, it's like that.  Nom!

If you don't see the beads you want being thrown from the balconies you can always purchase them from the street vendors and shops along The Strand.

I just liked this picture.  :-)

Jaggermeister had a whole bunch of promotional stuff out there.  Including this stage and a pretty darned good DJ.  No, they didn't give out any samples.

And, of course, there were parades.  Complete with floats and marching bands.  And The Mummers came all the way from Philadelphia:


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Yaga's and Sky Bar

The Lovely Spouse and I went to Galveston for Mardi Gras festivities yesterday. Because the laptop has trouble posting picts, and I know these posts are so much better with picts, I'll post in sections. This first one focuses on two of the restaurants in Galveston, Yaga's and Sky Bar. We ate at both yesterday.
Starting with lunch at Yaga's. Yaga's is a casual dining restaurant on The Strand in Galveston. I ate there a number of years ago before Hurricane Rita destroyed their exterior brick wall and before Hurricane Ike flooded them. They feature casual fair, mostly sandwiches and snacking types of meals. Their special for yesterday was a crab cake sandwich, which is why I chose to eat there. The Lovely Spouse wasn't overly hungry so he joined me for an appetizer and a drink.
The decor at Yaga's is funky and casual, but inviting. It's family friendly in addition being appropriate for enjoying a drink. For Mardi Gras they also had a shot bar outside. The beer selection is nothing to write home about but they have the average beers most people get (Bud, Bud Lite, Miller, etc) on draft and a few domestics and Mexican beers in bottles. Of course they had Shiner.
The crab cake sandwich would not be well received in Maryland, but since moving to Texas I've come to expect that everyone makes their own version of crabcakes and that's OK. Just don't expect anyone to follow any specific pattern. The ones at Yaga's were flavorful and were accompanied by bacon, pesto, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions. I obviously got mine without the onions. And I had a choice of sides so I chose the cajun potatoes, which I just couldn't finish. The Lovely Spouse got the spinach dip which was for the most part what you would expect from any restaurant's spinach dip. I liked that it wasn't too garlicy, but he stated there was an unusual chemical flavor to it. It came with a huge bowl of chips, which were fine, and salsa.
In all I still like Yaga's. It's a good place for an inexpensive, no fuss, casual meal and a beer.
We had dinner at the Sky Bar on Post Office. Sky Bar is located almost across the street from the Galveston Opera house about 2-3 blocks away from The Strand. It's a close enough walk that you don't have to move your car if you found a good spot for walking around The Strand entertainment district. This was my second time eating here and The Lovely Spouse's third time. This time, in order to avoid a wait to be seated, we sat at the sushi bar.
The menu at the Sky Bar is ecclectic Japanese-Asian-American fusion. They feature fresh sushi, sashimi, very orginal rolls, classic rolls and a host of interesting savory dishes. They also have a creative drink menu, where we first tried a ginger martini...on our previous trip. It was quite tasty. On this trip The Lovely Spouse got a Japanese beer, Asahi, and I sampled the Hana Lychee wine. Delicious. It was sweet but also refreshing.
We settled on appetizers and a roll each. He got the beef skewers (I missed the name of the dish) for his appetizer. It was two skewers of grilled beef cubes with onions and peppers on a bed of crunchy noodles and carrots. I got the seaweed salad, which was pretty much the same as seaweed salad anywhere. It was fresh and exactly what I was in the mood for at the time.
The Dragonfly Roll
For our rolls, The Lovely Spouse got the dragonfly roll and I got the Sky Bar roll. Unless a roll is truly unique, most of them taste the same to me. The dragonfly roll, in my opinion, was just a roll. It reminded me of a california roll with different sauces and a topping of fish eggs and avacado. Again, it was alright. The Sky Bar roll was quite original; three kinds of fish and rice wrapped in cucumber and swimming in a ponzu sauce. The taste was delicious and fresh but a bit unbalenced on the acid side, kind of the way certain oranges taste just a wee bit too acidic. But, again, it was delicious and highly original.
The Sky Bar Roll
We'll definitely be back to The Sky Bar. It's a convenient place to get sushi near The Strand and the quality is always good. The service is always good and the decor is not at all stuffy. The prices are what you would expect for sushi in the entertainment district and across from the opera house. Not really cheap, but not outragiously expensive.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Edible Balloon

I That's impressive. I would never have thought of this. Probably why I'm writing about this stuff and not creating it. Link in case the embed doesn't work.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Yemista, or Greek Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers

One of my favorite foods while on Crete was the stuffed tomatoes. Here is an excellent recipe I found via, with my modifications.

* 5-7 medium sized tomatoes
* 5-6 medium to large bell peppers
* 3/4 cup olive oil
* 3/4 - 1 lb medium grain white rice
* 1/2 large sweet onion [original recipe calls for one onion, finely chopped]
[* optional: 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine]
* 1/4 cup fresh spearmint, mint or sweet basil
* 1/2 cup fresh parsley
* 1/2 - 1 cup pine nuts (or slivered almonds)
* 1/2 cup hard cheese, such as parmesan, mizithra or kefalograviera
[* optional: 1/2 cup sultana raisins]
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1 1/2 cups water
* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
Preheat oven to 375 F (180 C).
1. Cut off and retain tops of the tomatoes and peppers.
2. Scoop out the flesh and seeds of the tomatoes into a food processor.
3. Scoop out membranes and seeds of the peppers and discard.
4. Place tomatoes and peppers in a 3 x 19 inch baking pan. I use glass. Must be large enough to hold all of them with some space for cooking fluid.
5. Sprinkle the tops of the tomatoes and peppers with granulated sugar.
6. Add the onion, basil, garlic, and parsley to the tomato flesh and pulse the food processor until everything is incorporated and finely chopped. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.
7. Add olive oil, nuts, cheese, sultanas, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper to the tomato puree, and mix to incorporate. Add enough rice to form an evenly distributed mixture. Mix well.
8. Spoon the mixture into the tomatoes and peppers.
9. Place the tops back ontop the peppers and tomatoes.
10. Whisk together 1 cup water with 1/2 cup olive oil, and the tomato paste. Pour in the pan along side the tomatoes and peppers.
11. Bake 1 3/4 hours. Then turn off the oven and allow to mellow 1 hour or until service is ready.
12. Most places say to serve this slightly warm or at room temperature. I like mine warm, because it's a weird contrast to serve hot and cold food on the same plate.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Laissez les bon temps rouler, y'all!

It's that time of year again. Mardi Gras. One last hurrah before having to behave for an entire 40 days during Lent. Or just another excuse to party.

Most people think of Mardi Gras as a New Orleans thing. The reputation is well-earned. However many other towns across the Gulf Coast also celebrate Mardi Gras and the season leading up to it. Including Galveston, Texas.

The celebrations in Galveston aren't nearly the scale of New Orleans, but Galveston's proximity to us, only 2.5 hours drive away, makes it a more inviting annual tradition. We can drive down, have a good time, then drive home and sleep in our own beds.

One other thing that differentiates Galveston Mardi Gras from the one in New Orleans is that the events are mostly confined to the last two weekends before Ash Wednesday. That means the first weekend of major festivities is coming up this weekend. There will be parades the seawall and The Strand on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of both weekends.

For the most part the celebrations while the sun is up are G to PG rated. The events on Sundays are kid-oriented, including a cat and dog parade and a children's parade. So if you think your kids might like some beads but you don't want to hide them from drunken revelry, get there early or go on Sundays.

The Strand entertainment district will be fenced off so you have to purchase tickets to get into the balcony areas, as it were. Tickets are available at the gates or online. But you don't have to purchase tickets to have fun or enjoy the parades or the carnival on the seawall. They travel along the seawall and through the downtown area on the way to The Strand.

General admission is $15, with an additional fee to attend the various balcony parties (something I've never done ). Parking is $8 or $10, depending on where you go. There will be food and drink vendors available inside the fenced area. Additionally all the restaurants and bars in district will be open.

For a full schedule of events and to purchase tickets, go here.

(This must have been an amazingly timed photo. Usually that balcony in the background is packed with people throwing beads.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


Yup, it's two posts in one day. I promised you all picts from Crete so here they are. Most will focus on the food. I left the picts of people from work/school out because I didn't ask them if I could put their images up here and don't want them mad at me. :-) Enjoy!
Perhaps one of the most famous archeological finds on Crete. If memory serves (it's been a few months) this fresco came from the Palace of Knossos and features acrobats jumping a bull. Supposedly two of these figures are female and one is male.
The trip started with me meeting up with a dear friend at the airport in Iraklio then renting a car and driving to Rethymno. Above is a bread plate, typical of those served with every meal. Unlike Italy the bread is meant to be eaten and is served fresh and usually warm. Nom!
Moussaka is not supposed to have a tomato sauce. The one served at Restaurant Alanna was actually light and enjoyable - vastly different from what American restaurants have led me to believe is normal for the dish. This was ridiculously delicious.
This was called lamb with egg sauce. Who cares? It was delicious. Very herbal and the sauce was incredibly light. I'm told this is a dish that is native to Crete.
The restaurant in Rethymno was outdoors, but it was on average 70 degrees F with a constant seabreeze. Lovely.
A bakery in the middle of Old Town Rethymno. This one featured traditional Crete baked goods in addition to all the modern stuff you'd expect to find in Europe. Traditional pastries feature dates, almond paste and sometimes figs and are sweetened with honey.
The next day we visited the breathtakingly beautiful Monestary of Arkadi and had lunch at this nondescript snack bar. Doesn't look like much but it produced this awesome food:
That's a skewer of grilled lamb in with those french fries. And wonderfully sweet fresh-made real Greek yogurt with local honey. In addition to the fresh bread. Check out that view! From the snack bar!
Just demonstrating how incredibly beautiful this place is. The grounds are covered with all kinds of fragrant flowers.
The next day we drove back to Iraklio to check in for our conference. We had dinner at a restuarant down the street where I got to sample Raki for the first time. Raki is the national drink of both Turkey and Crete. Makes sense due to their shared history. The spouse refers to Raki as Crete moonshine. The title mostly fits. Each restaurant either purchases a favorite brand or makes their own. Hard to believe but the best Raki I had on the island came from the Monestary of Arkadi. It was smooth. Everywhere else it had a significant bite. It was served almost everywhere before an evening meal.
Most meals on Crete start with a salad. I read somewhere before going that dinner salad actually originated on Crete. I'm not sure about that but noticed that most salads were tomato heavy. Not that I minded. The tomatoes were delicious.
This is traditional Creten BBQ. The meat, usually lamb, mutton and goat, are cooked low and slow over hot coals and wood. There is also chicken on this plate. All are spiced with local herbs and spices and served bone-in. The results are true caveman type of food. Some are moist, some are dry but all are delicious.
European breakfast! With a Greek twist. I love that Greek yogurt with honey. :-) And, of course, my old standby: oatmeal (aka, porridge).
During a break in the conference my work group headed over to the historic part of Iraklio and did the whole tourist thing. While we were there we grabbed dinner at the waterfront. Above you can see mackerel with steamed greens and homemade potato crisps.
We also took a trip to the Palace of Knossos. After traipsing across the rebuilt ruins we had lunch at the restuarant pictured above. Here I had my first taste of stuffed tomatoes:
Here the stuffed tomatoes are served with stuffed peppers and stuffed grape leaves. Drool! The stuffing is pine nuts with rice in an herbal sauce. These are prepped in advance (it takes 3 hours to roast these) and reheated for service.
On our last night on the island we found another restaurant down the street from our hotel. Here I got the Greek Sampler. It contains a slightly different version of everything I had elsewhere.
This place looked like a movie version of a taverna. But it really was the real thing. We were there early in the evening during the off season. I'm sure this place gets packed during tourist season.
In summary, Crete is very beautiful. And the food is fantastic. Just to leave you with a few lasting images....