Saturday, December 22, 2012


When our son Austin joined the band in middle school, he started out on trombone. A few weeks later, the band director let a few of the kids have a go at playing one of the school's tubas, and that was all she wrote. He never touched that trombone again. He started going to tuba lessons with a private instructor every week, and when Christmas rolled around, his teacher told him about something called Tuba Christmas -- concerts which take place in cities across the country, where anyone with a tuba or euphonium can show up to play carols together. He played in these concerts every year, using a tuba borrowed from school, until he graduated.

The concerts here in Austin are always held on the steps of the Capitol building. We went together as a family a couple of years ago, but our son said being a spectator just wasn't the same as being a participant. In fact, it made him kind of depressed. Not long after that, he started searching in earnest for a decent second-hand tuba that he could purchase (tubas are very expensive), and this year, he was up on the steps, instead of in the audience!

We were a little worried that morning when we woke up to find it was only 25 F out. We feared there would be some tongues stuck to tubas! However, by the time the players marched out of their brief practice session, it had warmed up to a wonderfully sunny 60 degrees -- the best weather we've ever had for a Tuba Christmas!

Austin was able to reconnect with high school friend David, who is himself now a private tuba instructor for several schools in the Austin area.

They had all ages there, from sixth graders up through people in their sixties.

Almost all wore festive hats, and many decorated their tubas as well.

At one point they let the youngest musicians do a song or two on their own, then they sat out while the more experienced players did one of my very favorites, Carol of the Bells. Soooooo beautiful!

It was pretty much a perfect day.  The only thing that could have made it even better, would have been if Austin and David had inspired others to break into some spontaneous, synchronized tuba-dancing, the way they always did back in high school. That, my friends, would have been awesome!

Friday, December 21, 2012


I told you, didn't I, that Hubby took me adventuring on Sunday? Unbeknownst to be, we were headed to Austin's 2nd Annual Holiday Window Walk. I guess he'd heard me reminiscing about the wonderful Christmas displays of my childhood often enough to know that this would be right up my alley, but he managed to keep it all under wraps. When he parked in the garage next to the Violet Crown theater, I assumed we were going to see a neat art house flick, but then we exited onto 2nd St. (aka Willie Nelson Blvd.).

Once there, John just stood in the middle of the sidewalk, turning in slow circles, muttering "Huunnh?" When he finally told me just what we were looking for, I proceeded to do the same thing. It wasn't until we finally spotted those red Window Walk signs in a few of the windows, that we figured out which ones were actually participating in the judging.

Princess and the Pea
Apparently they had each been assigned a story book theme, and the designers had all gone for "artsy" rather than "Christmassy." Or maybe they were aiming for "inoffensive." The one thing they didn't manage to pull off was MAGICAL.  Well, I guess they didn't manage to pull off "well-merchandised" either, since not one of them even managed to lure my hubby the shopaholic into their store!

Jack and the Beanstalk
This Pinocchio window was the only one that might have held a child's attention for a minute or two.
I have to say, we were a bit disappointed, and if I had been little kids whose parents had told them they were going to see wonderful Christmas displays, I would have been a lot disappointed.

While there, we spotted this place called Taverna. It looked so much like the cafes in Europe that we adored, we couldn't resist giving it a try.

It was already packed by 11:00, probably due to the $1.00 Belinis and Mimosas. The decor was quite chic, and the food was pretty good, but John's verdict was "A bit too 'trendy', a bit too pricey, and way too noisy." My feeling was that, like the shop windows we had just seen, it was a bit too artsy -- a bit too "Disneyed-up." Like so much of downtown Austin these days, it was so sanitized and inoffensive that it had lost its magic altogether. Or maybe I'm just getting old, and the Austin I remember has the sheen of nostalgia. All I know is that if we are ever in the mood for a Euro-style brunch again, we will probably go back to the Blue Dahlia over in east Austin. Not only did it feel more "real", it didn't have a parking garage that charges a flat fee of fifteen bucks, even on Sunday!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Yesterday I shared a monologue from Seth Meyers on facebook that was humorous, yet thought provoking. It was about the second amendment, militias, and what the founding fathers would have to say if they were here now. An old buddy from our days in west Texas responded with that infamous quote, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." I wasn't the least bit surprised, as this subject came up often back in those days. Those were the good ol' days, when people could discuss stuff like this without becoming mortal enemies and slinging vicious slurs at one another, or threatening bodily harm. I welcomed her comment, and laughingly replied "Sorry Char! I'm afraid we are never going to see eye to eye on this one!"  I hope she won't object to hearing my thoughts in return.

You see, I had a group of buddies back in those days who got up before dawn everyday to go walking together. Discussing politics and religion and what we were cooking for dinner made the miles pass more quickly and, as I said, gun control was a topic that came up fairly often when you had a group that contained one gal who was a UT hippie, and another whose hubby kept cages full of huntin' dogs in their back yard.

We usually managed to keep it all quite friendly, but there may have been a time or two when I might have thrown my hands in the air and said something like "What's  it gonna take to convince you all? Losing a child?" I pray that I didn't, but I probably did. Why do I pray that? Because a couple of years later, one of them did. It was not at their own house, or with their own gun. It was at a cousin's house, with an uncle's gun -- even though the gun was locked in a gun safe, and the ammo had been "hid" elsewhere. Because, well, as you may know, young boys will go to amazing lengths in order to impress one another.

So, when you tell me that guns don't kill people, I hear what you are saying, but all I see and feel is a young boy who never made it past his eleventh birthday, and a great big, loving, close-knit family getting blown all to bits.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Summer before last, when we were in Marseilles, I had the most orgasmic meal of my life. It was at that little cafe tucked behind a butcher's shop -- the one I told you about here. What did I have? Beef Cheeks with Foie Gras. I doubt if I would have had the nerve to try something so scary-sounding, had I not read about it beforehand in a novel written by Peter Mayle -- a serious foodie whose opinion I trust.

My Most Memorable Meal
Needless to say, I have never run across beef cheeks at my local supermarket, nor on any restaurant menues hereabouts. So, imagine my surprise when they suddenly popped up as an offering from one of our local producers at The Bountiful Sprout! Well, I just had to order some, now didn't I?

This is what they looked like when I took them out of the package. Not too scary, right?

Well, except for this one little bit that looked like it had feelers on it, which I disposed of post haste.

The thing is, when I had that meal in Marseilles, I thought I was probably eating one of the most expensive cuts of meat -- something on the order of tenderloin, which is what it reminded me of, with a tenderness that almost melted in my mouth. Turns out, beef cheeks are one of the most economical cuts there is, but you have to know how to cook them -- slow and moist.

I went on-line to look for recipes, and found this one on epicurious:

Braised Beef Cheeks
Gourmet | March 2003
Adapted from Uno e Bino

When braised, these beef cheeks become meltingly tender, with a rich, deep flavor. You may want to check with your butcher when planning this dish, since it's often necessary to order beef cheeks ahead of time.

Yield: 4 main-course servings

4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 (12-oz.) beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat (another recipe I found said "but don't go crazy trimming". I think I went a little too crazy)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups red wine (preferably a dry Lambrusco or Chianti)
1 (28- to 32-oz) can whole tomatoes including juice, chopped (3 c.)
1/2 T. salt
1 tsp. black pepper

Heat 2 T. oil in an ovenproof 6-qt. wide heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot, but not smoking. While oil is heating, pat beef cheeks dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown beef, without crowding, on all sides, about 20 minutes total, and transfer with tongs to a bowl. Pour off fat from pot, then add remaining 2 T. oil and cook onion, carrot, and celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Stir cocoa powder into vegetable mixture, then add wine and scrape up any brown bits. Increase heat to high and boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

Return cheeks (with any juices) to pot and add tomatoes with juice, salt, and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then braise, covered, in middle of oven until very tender, about 3 hours.

Beef cheeks improve in flavor if made up to 2 days ahead. Cool, uncovered, then chill, surface covered with parchment paper or wax paper and pot covered with lid. Remove any solidified fat before reheating.

Back to Becky: OK, my version may not have been orgasmic, but it was pretty dang good. Probably would have been even better if I had actually followed the recipe. For one thing, I needed to cut the recipe in half, since I only had 2 beef cheeks, but I didn't have a small can of tomatoes, so I threw in a large one. As you can see, my sauce if very tomatoey. For another, if you are halving your recipe, you can probably reduce the cooking time. Or else, maybe you need to add a bit of water along the way. You know how people say something is so tender you can cut it with a fork? Well, you could have cut ours with a spoon. Plus, three hours of all that tomatoey goodness, but not enough actual liquid, really did a number on the white enamel interior of my no-longer-beautiful Le Creuset pan. Still, it was pretty tasty. Can't wait to try again!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


If you've been following my trail of hints on facebook, you're probably wondering what the heck I've been up to, knee-deep in coffee filters all week. Well I'm about to show you!

First I was tea-dying them.

Then I was adding polka dots with one of my Adirondak paint dabbers.

Then I realized that 50 of them just wasn't going to be enough, so I tea-dyed 50 more, and left them drying overnight in the kitchen -- which caused my hubby to give me that you've-really-lost-it-this-time look. I get that a lot.

Then I was scrunching them into cone shapes, pulling off millions of hot glue threads, and saying some rather naughty words over scorched fingers.

Finally, I ended up with this. I had originally planned to hang it here on the pantry door, but things seemed too pale...

 then I decided to try it on the front door, but things were too dark and exposed...

finally I tried it in the dining room, and that was just right! Well, except for one thing.


Now it's absolutely perfect.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Well, I had planned to have, not only a fun new Artsy Ornament to share with you this morning, but also photos of the fabulous dinner I was planning to prepare yesterday (one that has to cook for several hours). But then Hubby invited me to go "adventuring" with him in Austin first thing yesterday morning. What's a girl to do? I, of course, opted for adventure!

A "Fiesta" travel cup and shopping totes, all in my favorite colors!
Meanwhile, it just occurred to me that I never showed you the rest of my Christmas gift from sister Gus. You see, a few years back we finally made the decision to pare down our Thomas Family Christmas Celebration a bit, and started drawing names. The good news is that now, instead of making yourself crazy in search of 15 or 20 It'll-Do-Gifts, you have all year to concentrate your time and effort on one special Over-The-Moon-Gift. The bad news is that, we now have all year to concentrate on one special gift, and some people, it would seem, have trouble knowing when to say "enough is enough!" She says it's my fault, because everywhere she looked, she saw stuff that she was certain would make me positively giddy. She had only intended to buy a few tiny things to tuck into the pockets of that wonderful Origami Tote Bag that she made for me. Instead, I got this:

and these...

and amazing absorbing thingies that can each take the place of a whole role of paper towels...

and all of these really cool "green" food wrap alternatives...

and best of all, a kit for making my very own cheese!

Hmmm, maybe she's right. There does seem to be an awful lot of stuff that makes me giddy!

Sunday, December 16, 2012


My hubby had an appointment with his dermatologist in New Braunfels this week. While I sat in the lobby, waiting for his return, I began to ruminate on where we should eat lunch. (No surprise there!) I know of a nice place to have a very special dinner there, but when it comes to fun and casual, I'm kinda at a loss. I felt certain that such a quaint little town just had to have more to offer than Burger King and MacDonalds, but how was I to find a really good one? Then I remembered my friend High School Debbie, whose daughter happens to live there in NB, and who spends a good bit of time there herself. I sent her a quick text, and moments later we were headed to a little mom & pop place called Cravings, over on W. San Antonio.

The name says it all!

My Pesto Prosciutto Paninni...
which came with a side of Taco Soup and some Fire Crackers
John's Portabello Mushroom on Focaccia
Chalkboards filled with funny sayings -- my favorite was the one behind the tree, about Johnny Depp.

Years and years ago, when we were living down in Kingsville, a friend told me "Support your local businesses, or one day, you won't have any." So, next time you're looking for a place to eat lunch, I want you to think about that. Don't be the guy who just gulped down yet another Big Mac or Whopper without thinking, then had to slap his forehead and say "Wow! I could've had Cravings!"