Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Childhood Christmas Memories

When I was a child, my Daddy always brought our Christmas tree home on December 15th, my birthday. He cut the tree while he was out hunting for quail in the woods of Alabama. Usually he brought back a good mess of quail (a mess is what you would call a bunch of - like a mess of turnip greens.) Anyway, back to those quail my Daddy brought home: my Mother would coat the quail breasts in flour and fry them until they were golden brown. She served them with hot home-made biscuits and gravy - and maybe a sliced tomato or two.

I'll bet you have never eaten a quail, have you? Most people now-a-days haven't. Today, quail are considered gourmet, and cost big bucks. Back then, we had them often in the fall and winter, during hunting season. My Daddy loved to hunt. He raised hunting dogs, too. German Short-haired Pointers. They are called "pointers" because when they smell or sense a quail, they will stand perfectly still on 3 legs, raise one front leg, and point their nose and tail.

My Daddy's goal was to have a hunting dog that had the DNA, or genes - we had never heard of DNA back then - of every American Field Trial Champion dog from 1954 onward, in it. After 40 years of working on it, shipping and receiving dogs from all over the country, he almost did it. He raised a dog, which at the time had the genes of every American Field Trial winner except one. He never treated his dogs like pets. They were serious working dogs. Because of my Daddy's work, hunters all over the USA have excellent hunting dogs today.

But, I digress: The evening of my December 15th birthday was spent decorating the cedar tree Daddy had brought home. Unless my birthday fell on a weekend, my Sister and I were the tree decorators. My Mother worked from 2 PM to 10 PM Monday through Friday. How would you feel if you did not get to see your Mom except on weekends? You can imagine how my Sister and I felt. My Mother went to work before we got home from school; and we went to bed before she got home from work. When we were young and in elementary school, she would get up in the morning to make our breakfasts, but when we got older, she would continue to sleep. My Daddy, who worked from 6 AM to 2 PM Monday through Friday, was our major caretaker. When he went hunting, we stayed with our grandparents. They didn't even have a TV! And they listened to the radio only 1 hour a day. The rest of the day they spent reading the Bible (Grandpa) and crocheting (Granny). So, my Sister and I did a lot of reading while we were at their house. There was nothing else to do.

Decorating the tree was a small compensation to me for my birthday being so close to the gift-giving holiday. "Back in the day" parents either did not have the money to, or did not feel obligated to, satisfy all gift yearnings of their children. If your birthday was close to Christmas, you just had to suck it up and make do with a cake and a token gift until the big man came down the chimney. At least that is how it worked in my family. In fact, it was rare to receive any type of toy other than on your birthday and at Christmas. So Christmas was a really big deal.

The other thing that irked me about my birthday gift was that my little Sister got a gift on my birthday, too. Since I never got a gift on her birthday in May, I thought this was quite unfair. "She might cry," my Mother said, "if you get a gift and she doesn't." I thought to myself: "I might cry in May, but no one seems to think about that aspect of the gift-giving spectrum."

Though it was put up on December 15th, our Christmas tree always was taken down before January 1st. This was a must, or bad luck would nip at our heels all through the coming New Year, Mother said. I think she did not like having HER living room looking less than her ideal, which definitely did not include a big (though never big enough for my taste) cedar tree. Having our Christmas tree up for such a short time made it seem even more special. All lit and glittery with thousands of silver icicles, it encouraged worship, if not for its beauty alone, but for the promise of presents to come. While the rest of the family watched TV in another room, I would make my own pretend TV production. All lights off in the living room, only the tree lit, I would sing carols, play the piano, and dance and twirl in front of the tree, pretending I was part of the Perry Como or Andy Williams Christmas Special.

Today, I hate the commercial aspects of Christmas. That, and the fact that cedar fever makes central Texas a rotten place to be during December, has helped me create a tradition of being out of town during the joyous time of year. In 2003, we spent Christmas Eve as the only passengers in the first class car of a Swiss train riding all over the snowy wonderland of Switzerland, with a stop in Interlaken. Christmas Day, we holed up in the La Scala Hotel in Frankfurt, eating from the hotel breakfast buffet and from the nuts and crackers we had squirreled away for emergencies; in 2004, we were in Alabama for my Dad's funeral (NOT part of the tradition); in 2005, 2006, and 2007 we were in Hawaii. This year we will be in Austin: the grand kids are in San Antonio now, not Hawaii; and even if we wanted to travel, darling husband can't right now.

I don't decorate for Christmas anymore, except for putting out a little lighted ceramic tree that one of my co-workers at Abbott Labs made, and that I won in some kind of raffle for charity. I try not to cook. Been there, done that, washed those dishes. Thank goodness for daughters and a daughter-in-law who like to cook; and for restaurants that stay open on Christmas Day (unlike in Frankfurt.)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Christmas Questions and a Recipe

My girlfriend sent me some "Christmas Questions" today. Without getting into the political-correctness of talking about "Christmas," instead of "Holiday," I sent her this reply:

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot chocolate.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree? She puts them in envelopes.***

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? No.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No.

5. When do you put your decorations up? The last time was 2002.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Sweet potato casserole, made by my daughter-in-law.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? Waking up to find a Posey Doll under the tree. I still have her, in her original box.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I was about 11, I think. My sister and I heard the delivery men putting the toys on the front porch. She peeked, I didn't. Back in "the day," the store would hold the toys for you until Christmas, then deliver them after dark on Christmas Eve. In Alabama, it got dark at 4 pm in December.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes. After the children were teens, we used to open all presents on Christmas Eve, and then sleep late on Christmas Day. But the Granddaughters have created a new tradition: open one gift at night, then the remaining gifts in the morning.

10. What kind of cookies does Santa get set out for him? Are you kidding? She's too fat as it is!

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? Love it! 'Course I live in Texas, where a light dusting of snow means a day off work and lots of work for auto repair shops!

12. Can you ice skate? NO! But, I can watch other people ice skate.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Anytime I get a gift, it is my favorite. However, in 1972, my then-husband gave me a bicycle and a monogrammed piece of luggage. I asked him if he was giving me a hint.

14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? Not getting too depressed, and getting someone else to do the cooking.

15. Candy canes! Yum or yuck? "Back in the day," before high-fructose corn syrup, there was a melt in your mouth brand I used to like. Now that I am older and wiser, I realize I could be one candy cane away from diabetes. So, I will pass on the candy canes.

16. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? When I was a child, my brother, sister and I received a metal see-saw from Santa. Imagine a semi-circle with the circular-side facing down, and the halved-side facing up with a seat on each side. My fat cousin and my brother tried it out first, and bent the metal so that it did not rock any more. I never even got to try it.

17. What tops your tree? We'd like to think it is a hawk's nest; but we really think it is a squirrel's nest up there. We can't be sure, because the tree is too tall and we haven't seen anything going and coming.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? I like to give, but I don't like to shop. ***If you are on my gift list, expect a gift certificate or money. I hope you like to shop.

19. What is your favorite Christmas carol? Silver Bells

20. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Tutti-Fruiti cake. I can no longer eat it, but I can think about it.

Tutti-Fruiti Cake - A Christmas cake

1/2 cup butter at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1 TBSP wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups sifted self-rising flour
4 TBSP powdered cocoa
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup chopped dates

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Prepare 2 round cake- baking pans: grease and flour.

Dust pecans and dates with small amount of the sifted flour. Doing this will keep the nuts and dates from settling to the bottom of the cake layers. Set aside

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until light, add sugar and egg and cream until well blended and fluffy.
Stir soda into 1 cup of buttermilk. Set aside.
Mix cocoa and sifted flour.
Add buttermilk mixture, alternating with flour mixture, to the creamed butter/sugar mixture. Do not over beat.
Fold in nuts, dates and vinegar.

Pour into prepared pans. Bake until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean (about 20-25 minutes.)
Remove from oven, cool about 10 minutes, and turn out onto cooling rack. Cool thoroughly before frosting.

Pineapple Icing

2 1/2 cups sugar
1 TBSP butter
1 large can crushed pineapple in heavy syrup

Cook together until thick, then cool and set aside while you make the...

Chocolate Frosting

2 TBSP butter
4 TBSP cream
4 TBSP powdered cocoa
Sifted powdered sugar (about a pound)

Combine butter, cream and cocoa in large saucepan. Heat, stirring, until melted and well blended. Remove from heat.
Add sifted powdered sugar, incorporating a small amount at a time until frosting is thick and of a spreadable consistency. If too thick, add a drop of cream to soften.

To assemble cake:

Place one layer on cake plate. Place 1/2 of the pineapple filling of the top (only) of the cake layer. Frost the layer, top and sides, with chocolate frosting.
Place the second layer on top of the first layer. Place remaining pineapple filling on the top (only) of the second cake layer. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining chocolate frosting.

Garnish with lightly toasted pecan halves.

Note: the longer this cake sits, the better it gets. Problem is, it never lasts very long, so we don't know just how good it can be!

Merry Christmas. Oh, wait, we haven't celebrated Thanksgiving yet!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

My Favorite Austin Restaurants

I am a vegetable lover who is allergic to wheat, gluten, soy, corn and dairy. We try to find restaurants that offer a good selection of veggies, rice and fish. My darling husband is the meat-eater in the family, so we try to find restaurants that we both like, that accommodate my allergies and that are reasonably priced. We also like to support local, rather than chain restaurants. Here are some of our favorite Austin restaurants:

Our favorite restaurant, for food, service, and Austin weirdness is Magnolia Cafe at 1920 South Congress, which we frequent 3 or more times a month. Sometimes 3 or more times a week! We can have breakfast or lunch there for under $10. I have never had a bad meal at Magnolia.

Cherry Creek Catfish at 5712 Manchaca Road is another moderately priced favorite of ours.

My darling hubby loves Taco Cabana at 211 S. Lamar. He says this is the closest food he has found to his Mama's cooking. Taco Cabana is his comfort food.

Logan's Roadhouse behind Krispy Kreme Donuts at 701 E. Stassney at I35. I dream about their steamed broccoli and baked sweet potatoes. Because Logan's IS a chain restaurant, and because we like to support local restaurants, we never would have tried Logan's on our own. However, our grown daughter had her birthday dinner for about 30 people there several years ago. We were so impressed with the food and service, that we have gone back several times. I usually order the grilled salmon to accompany my steamed broccoli and baked sweet potato, but, actually, that is too much food, so a take-away box is always needed.

The last time we were there, Logan's was unusually busy - just after the election - and it took about 30 minutes for our food to arrive. Darling husband and I didn't really care because we were talking, enjoying our Zinfandel and not paying attention to the time. The manager came over and said because they had not lived up to their standard of having the food served to the customer within 20 minutes of ordering, that he was not charging us for our dinner. What a treat. However, we were so pleased with the service from our hard-working, friendly waiter, that we left him a tip equal to the price of our meals. Seeing the grin on his face as we walked past the windows on our way to our car, was worth every penny.

A moderately-priced "mini-chain" restaurant that we recently tried, and put on our favorites list, is Fish City Grill in the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center at 4200 S. Lamar. The food was excellent and the service very friendly and casual. The ambiance at Fish City really is like a little neighborhood bistro.

An excellent Chinese restaurant is Tien Jin
at 4601 S Lamar Blvd # 105 (from Lamar, turn onto Westgate, then turn right between Madam Mam's and the China Buffet) the address as 4534 Westgate Blvd, #105. Ask for the Chinese menu when you go. One dish will serve 2 people. I consider myself somewhat of an expert on Chinese food, having eaten my way from HongKong through central China and up to Harbin, and from Beijing down the east coast, then over to Wuhan during 3, month-long trips to China during the 70's; and having been taught Shandong style cooking by chef Ray Jiing, who, after his UT and UCLA days, became Dean and Professor of the Graduate Institute of the Studies of Image and Sound of Documentary at Tainan National College of Arts, Taiwan. I then taught Chinese cooking for Austin Community Schools back in the 80's. Tien Jin is as authentic as I have found in Austin. If you are a meat-eater, the pork with eggplant is excellent. Ask your waiter for suggestions. The decor is a dated, but the food is great.

We tried Olivia, the new restaurant at 2043 S. Lamar near Oltorf. The food was divine and the service was good. Pity that Olivia is just too darn expensive for our budget. It is the kind of restaurant at which we would like to eat often. I could not find a website for Olivia; however, here is a review site:

Another fairly expensive, but romantic, restaurant that we like for special times is The Treehouse at 2201 College Ave (South Congress at Live Oak.)

The last recommended restaurant I will mention today is the wheat-free, gluten-free bakery and cafe: Wild Wood Bakery and Cafe at 3663 Bee Caves Rd, West Lake Hills, behind Breed & Company. If you have any friends/family who can't eat wheat/gluten, this cafe is for them. Cakes, pies, loaf bread, buns, focaccia, lasagna, brownies, blondies, cookies, muffins, Italian Cream Cake, Carrot Cake, Twinkies, onion-cheese biscuits, enchiladas, sandwiches, salads, etc., etc. Their service is a little spacey, but the food is excellent, especially for those of us who can't eat wheat.

Now for a thumbs down. We had been wanting to try Hill's Cafe at 4700 South Congress With 6 San Antonio family members, who also had been wanting to try Hill's, we recently ate there on a Sunday. The two family members who ordered burgers were the only ones who thought the food was good. I had the turkey plate, which was barely edible. The service was dismal. We waited over an hour after ordering for our food to arrive. We never saw our waiter between ordering and food delivery. That they seated us next to the smelly bathroom did not help. Hill's seems to excel in memorabilia and music, not in food.

Thank goodness there are plenty of other good places to enjoy food in Austin. I would like to hear about yours.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Flying used to be something my travel-loving family looked forward to, to savor and enjoy. Now, flying is something we ENDURE.

I, and I am sure millions of others, are tired of paying to be mistreated, from the time we arrive at the luggage kiosk; to the "TSA strip search," to being crumpled into too small seats, to not being allowed out of those seats "while the seat belt light is on (always!), to losing our luggage, to being herded like cattle to slaughter on returning home to the USA - to more lost luggage.

In Sept, 2003, my family flew United Airlines to Europe. Because of the lack of care and downright rudeness by United staff, on the ground and by flight attendants in the air, we swore never to fly United Airlines again, and we haven't.

However, since 2003, my family of 4 has flown to Hawaii 8 times, and to Europe 7 times, plus about 40 flights within the USA. That's at least 100 round trips. None of those were on United Airlines.

As for the current trend to charge for everything, I am not planning to pay extra to any airline for luggage handling, for food, for pillows and blankets or for any other formerly free items/services. Airlines are making what is already abominable treatment of travelers, into intolerable treatment.

Short-term thinking may create short-term cuts in airline costs, but will negatively affect airline revenues long into the future.

Airlines need to be giving us travelers a reason TO FLY; not a reason NOT TO FLY.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Allergies: What to Do

I have had terrible allergies all my life, done the shots thing, and all the Rx and OTC meds. I spent a week in the hospital once with Asthma. After that, I knew something had to be done, so I tried homeopathic drops, which work for me.

Homeopathics (homeo means "the same") are tiny, tiny, tiny amounts of whatever you are allergic to, distilled down 6, 8 or 12 times. It is kind of like allergy shots, meaning they get your body set up to fight off the allergens you respond to. The homeopathic drops work best if you start taking them about a month ahead of the allergy season.

You usually won't find these drops in the pharmacy, so go to your local health food store, such as Whole Foods, Central Market, Oat Willie's, etc.

I use the homeopathic allergy drops made by BioAllers.

BioAllers makes drops ( which I prefer) for:
Pollen and Hayfever
Mold, Yeast and Dust (I used this year round here in Texas)
Tree Pollen (I use in the winter for Cedar Pollen)
Grass Pollen ( use this in the spring and fall)
Animal Hair and Dander
Dairy Allergies
Grain and Wheat Allergies
Children's Allergies (does not contain alcohol)

BioAllers makes tablets (dissolve under tongue) for:
Indoor Allergies
Outdoor Allergies
Pet Allergies

BioAllers makes Nasal Sprays for:
Sinus and Allergy (great for sinus infections - opens the sinuses to drain all that crap out)
Indoor Allergy
Outdoor Allergy

I keep a bottle of the Mold, Yeast and Dust plus a bottle of whatever else is in the air at the time, by my bed. I take a 1/2 dropper full of each under my tongue morning and evening. When allergens are really bad, I take a 1/2 dropper full several times a day.

I used to be able to buy homeopathic drops from a Nevada company called DOLISOS, which worked excellently for me, but I cannot find their products here since they were bought out by a French company, Groupe Limagrain. Homeopathics are big in Europe and are often prescribed by M.D.s there.

There is a good discussion of what homeopathics are, and what they do at

Homeopathics take a while to build up your immunity, so do not give up on them until you have tried them for at least 2 weeks. Most of the many people to whom I have recommended the homeopathic drops now swear by them. A bottle costs between $8 - $12 and usually last me a month or more.