Thursday, April 29, 2010

don't mess with the texas economy

Fiscal responsibility is something we take seriously down here in the Lone Star State -- so much so that state law requires a balanced budget.

Mike Shires at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, who develops the annual "Best Cities for Jobs" survey called this year "an awful year." Chances are good if you're not a government employee, you're hurting.

One other exception might be if you're living in Texas. The economy isn't what it used to be, but Texas has managed to avoid the massive bleeding that many other states have not. Half of the top-10 cities named on the Pepperdine list hail from the Lone Star State.

So without further ado, here's the list of the best cities for jobs:

# 1 - Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX
# 2 - San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX
# 3 - Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX
# 4 - Northern Virginia, VA
# 5 - Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX
# 6 - Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
# 7 - Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
# 8 - Raleigh-Cary, NC
# 9 - Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE
# 10 - New York City, NY

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

oh, snap

My favorite garden flowers on the planet are snapdragons.

I adore this time of year when everything is in bloom and temps are steadily in the 70s and 80s -- sunshine galore.

But the best of the best is the snapdragons ... they're everywhere. Happiness on a stem.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

posh cupcakes

From MingMakesCupcakes

Vanilla with Strawberry Filling and Milk Chocolate Glaze

Vanilla with Lemon Filling and Meringue Frosting

Vanilla Almond with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Sour Cream Raspberry with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sour Cream Chocolate with Nutella Frosting

Thursday, April 22, 2010

better than frozen

Aidan has a bad cold and stayed home from school with his mama today.

We decided to add some excitement to an otherwise cloudy day by getting creative in the culinary department and making pizza for lunch.

... mine had mushrooms, Aidan's didn't. And we shared some giggles and forgot about cold medicine and kleenex for a little while.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

how to order an [old school] martini

Maybe it's the fact that I haven't had one in months, but I love this oh-so crucial, yet informative bit from bartender, Karl Kozel:

The martini in its classic form was made with gin -- make no mistake about it -- and years ago a martini meant gin, period. Vodka has usurped gin for many years now as the base of choice, so that has to be considered in this discussion. It should also be understood that a classic martini contained dry vermouth and perhaps orange bitters, but we will leave the bitters out for now.

Now I am not here to tell anyone what proportions of vermouth to have, or whether you should order it shaken or not. I simply want to enlighten those of you who were born after WWII as to how it was done then, and how easy it is to get what you want by following these simple steps:

First: Call your base, either gin or vodka or your brand of choice, e.g., Beefeater or Stoli.

Second: Dry or Extra Dry or Wet (Dry=less vermouth; Extra Dry=no vermouth; Wet=extra vermouth)

Third: Choose "Up" or "On the Rocks"

Fourth: Your garnish, olives or a lemon twist. (With a cocktail onion the drink is called a Gibson, so you don't need to say onions just substitute Gibson for martini). They used to order them "Naked" if they didn't want a garnish, but I haven't heard that in a while.

Lastly: If the bartender looks like he/she knows what they are doing, and the establishment is one of high repute, you don't need to tell them whether to shake or stir, because they should know that you only shake if a cocktail contains ingredients other than booze like juices or cream, or if the customer requests it, or if the drink is called "dirty," which means with olive brine which then could be shaken).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

class of 2033

My little girl is going to be representin' right from the start, thanks to her first Aggie gifts from Aunt B.

The only thing greater than maroon gear is maroon gear in a size newborn.


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Tejano with a side of bacon

Such a great morning. We tried a new spot for breakfast and had a blast, as well as an incredible meal. The entire experience was a feast for the senses.

El Hidalguense is one of those "hole in the wall" dives that are a dime a dozen in Houston; however, this one stands out from the crowd by serving up some damn fine Mexican grub.

We picked a booth and settled in. I immediately loved the fact that instead of providing us with a basket of chips, we were instead given fresh taquitos with a bowl of smoky salsa.

The huge glass of orange juice I ordered took a while to arrive (I could've ordered a beer ... that's what everyone else was having with their breakfast!). But all was forgiven after my first sip -- it was freshly-squeezed and amazingly sweet. So, so good.

But the show-stopper was, without a doubt, the absolute best chilaquiles I've ever eaten -- served with a generous portion of fresh avacado, queso fresco, and pico de gallo on top. Seriously divine.

And the tortillas were made to order, piping hot and perfect.

The food was the best part ... but a very close second was the atmosphere. A band of three caballeros (Aidan called them the cowboy singers, as all three were wearing straw hats) struck up authentic Mexican music for us to enjoy while we dined. It felt like memories from the past of early morning, post-hang-over breakfasts, eaten down on the border after a summer night of margaritas and music, back when the border was safe. Great times.

I can't believe I've grown up and have lived less than 5 miles from this diamond in the rough, yet never found my way in before today. Shame on me.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

cowboys and cabernet

If you're looking for a beautiful weekend get-away, The Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio offers a great escape in the majestic Texas Hill Country.

Something that recently grabbed this wine-lover's attention is the wine tasting opportunity offered at La Cantera, featuring eight Texas vintners. From resort sommelier, Steven Krueger:
The other Texas wine opportunity we offer is the afternoon Texas wine tasting; from 4:00pm to 5:00pm on Wednesday through Saturday everyone is welcome to come to our bar, Steinheimer’s, where I am pouring two ounces of three different Texas wines for a nominal charge of five dollars. We offer three different wines each day, so if a guest came all four days they would taste twelve different Texas wines from seven different wineries! I am really enjoying pouring the Texas wines and I am encouraged by all the very positive compliments the wine receive. If you are in the area, please come by and say “hello.”
The twelve wines in the Texas Wine Tasting are (in no particular order):
1. Super Texan, Sangiovese Blend, Flat Creek Estate, Texas Hill Country, 2008
2. El Guapo, Tempranillo, Alamosa Wine Cellars, Texas Hill Country, 2004
3. Viognier, McPherson Cellars, Texas, 2009
4. Viviano, Sangiovese Blend, Llano Estacado, Newsome Vineyards, Yoakum County, Texas, 2005
5. Provencal, Dry Rose, Grenache, Becker Vineyards, Texas, 2008
6. Viognier, Alamosa Wine Cellars, Texas High Valley Block, Cherokee Creek Vineyard, 2008
7. Cornelious, Tempranillo, Inwood Estates Vineyards, Newsom Vineyards, Yoakum County, 2007
8. Sangiovese, McPherson Cellars, 2008
9. Viognier, Becker Vineyards, 2009
10. Raven, 80% Malbec 20% Petite Verdot, Becker Vineyards, Tallent Vineyard, Mason County, 2007
11. Syrah, Alamosa Wine Cellars, Tio Pancho Ranch, Texas Hill Country
12. Viognier, Brennan Vineyards, Texas, 2008

La Contera Wine List information courtesy of

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

baubles, beads and light

I'm on a chandelier quest.

I have two completely different rooms in mind, as far as potential homes for my fabulous finds: one for a kitchen, and one for a little girl's nursery.

It's a fairly pricey lighting choice. But after doing some thorough eBay browsing, I've discovered that many options are available for under $200.

Here are a few lamps that particularly tickle my fancy . . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

a lotta limes

Down here in Texas, we're extremely fortunate (and spoiled!) to have access to a myriad of fresh produce at amazing prices.

I stopped by a Mexican Mercado in Houston this morning and chuckled at the price of key limes -- 25 for $1.00. How great is that?

Pie, anyone?

Monday, April 12, 2010

house in new england

After looking tirelessly over the past several months, we've finally found a place to hang our hats for the next few years in New Hampshire ... specifically, in Hampton, NH (about five miles north of the Massachusetts border). We've been told that Hampton is a small town located in a great area, and central to a bunch of really cool places. We'll be about two miles from the beach, which should also add to the fun.

New adventures await, no doubt.

Oh, and I hope that tree in the front yard changes to some marvelous colors in the fall. :)

Sunday, April 04, 2010


A Mexican tradition that, like many others, has been adopted in Texas is the crushing of cascarones, meant to be broken above the head of a friend or loved one, at Easter (...birthdays, Halloween, or Dia de los Muertos -- just about any occasion involving a good party).

Cascarones are eggs filled with confetti or small toys. Having a cascarón broken over your head is said to bring good luck.

Feliz Páscoa ... He is risen indeed!

Friday, April 02, 2010

pastries in uptown park

This morning we headed over to Uptown Park in the Houston Galleria area to buy some Easter pastries at Thierry Andre Tellier Cafe & Pastry Shop -- a touch of France in the Bayou City.

There's something about coffee and croissants under a patio umbrella on a spring morning that requires one to slow down, breathe deep and enjoy life.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

hot cross buns

A centuries-old symbol of Good Friday, hot cross buns are a delicious (and pretty!) addition to a Holy Week celebrating spring time, resurrection, and forgiveness.

A welcome diversion from the plastic Easter grass, chocolate bunnies, and marshmallow Peeps, the tradition of hot cross buns has survived generations, representing home, family, and hearth.

One of my favorite bloggers/writers/domestic goddesses, Ree Drummond (aka The Pioneer Woman) has her own take on hot cross buns:

English folklore said that Hot Cross Buns baked on Good Friday would never spoil throughout the following year. Some bakers believed that holding on to one Hot Cross Bun and hanging it in the kitchen meant that all yeast products in the coming year would rise successfully. Some sailors took Hot Cross Buns on their voyages to ensure their ships wouldn’t sink. And friends who gift one another with Hot Cross Buns every year are said to remain friends for life.
I love stories behind stories and the history of why things are done. Like so many other Christian traditions and holidays we celebrate today, hot cross buns seem to have pagan roots that were morphed into modern symbolism. Sandy Moyer of BellaOnline writes the following:

Although they have been a Lenten and Good Friday tradition for centuries, Hot Cross Buns were not always associated with Christianity. Their origins lie in pagan traditions of ancient cultures, with the cross representing the four quarters of the moon. During early missionary efforts, the Christian church adopted the buns and re-interpreted the icing cross. In 1361, a monk named Father Thomas Rockcliffe began a tradition of giving Hot Cross Buns to the poor of St Albans on Good Friday.

In years that followed, many customs, traditions, superstitions, and claims of healing and protection from evil and were associated with the buns. In the 16th century, Roman Catholicism was banned in England, but the popularity of Hot Cross buns continued. Queen Elizabeth I passed a law banning the consumption of Hot Cross Buns except during festivals such as Easter, Christmas and funerals.
So today, as we begin our long weekends at home observing the death and resurrection of Christ (as well as planting our gardens, hunting for eggs, and enjoying the spring weather), why not begin things by baking up a batch of hot cross buns and sharing with friends and loved ones, just as tradition encourages.

Here's Ree's recipe