Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Epicurean adventures

The fella and I went to the Epicurean Evening event at Moody Gardens in Galveston last night.  We've gone to it the past three years and always enjoy it a lot. Last night was no exception.

See that picture? That's only a quarter of the room. Or less. Now imagine that stretching in all those directions. With food and drink booths all the way around. And in the middle. There were only a few booths in the middle, but there was still plenty of room for silent auction tables, and tables for people to sit down for a minute or two to catch their breath, talk a little with friends or digest for a minute.

All the hotels had beautiful presentations. Moody Gardens has some wonderful watermelon carvers, who also make parrots out of squash and sweet potatoes. They also had fish carved out of sweet potatoes and some other things I couldn't figure out what they'd used. But I didn't post the picture of the carved vegetable fish. (The coral was carved out of potatoes. Just regular old potatoes that turned brown creatively to make them look more like coral and sponges.) When I took the picture of the fish, the waiters who were standing there ducked out of the way and made my picture look all blurry. Oh well.  (I can't figure out how to get rid of the big gap here, so you're just going to have to live with it.)

Then there was the display of fish and shrimp and crabs (with bell pepper flowers) that Fisherman's Wharf had. I thought it was gorgeous. But then anything with seafood is gorgeous, IMO.

The food was fabulous. The booths had little tiny servings, and I ate till I was filled to my eyeballs. I tried to keep up with the fella, who eats shockingly fast, which wasn't smart. We had crab cakes and shrimp with watermelon gazpacho and salad (Fisherman's Wharf had a salad with fresh lump crab, shrimp and...something else) and in all kinds of sauces.

We had shortribs with polenta and prime rib with a tiny scoop of garlic mashed potatoes. I ate a raspberry chipotle olive pizza, and a smoked chicken salad sandwich (out of this world) with a slice of pork tenderloin with a spicy apple barbecue sauce from Capital Q Barbecue.

I had an Asian chicken salad from the Mosquito Cafe, and a fruit skewer from Southern Produce. That was really good, and I should have gone back for another... The fella ate sushi from the Sky Bar, and I got gumbo from the Gumbo Bar (I think they're owned by the same people). I also got some crawfish etouffee from... Hmm. Don't remember. But it was good. And they also had red beans and rice.

There was a chicken-crawfish-shrimp in wine sauce thing from one of the Mexican restaurants, and a broccoli-rice casserole that had barbecued sausage in it from one of the barbecue places. That was really good too. We tried pretty much everything, unless the line was too long. Except all the wine. There were a LOT of wine and spirits booths, and two with beer/hard lemonade type things. I like the Smirnoff Cranberry Lime malt beverage. I also tried a taste of cherry rum. Yes, I was a two-fisted drinker (as you can see).  This was before I dropped the barbecued sausage down my shirt and got barbecue sauce on it.

They also had bibs, because it was really hard to hold a cup and a little plate, and try to eat off it. But I couldn't get the bib to stay up, so I got barbecue sauce on me. Ah well. Oh--and desserts! There were biscotti and cupcakes and pumpkin bars and cookies and this mini-volcano thing from the Rainforest Cafe that was ice cream in the middle, brownies around it (as rocks) and caramel and chocolate sauce dribbled down the sides. DEElicious.

I tried to keep up with the fella, who eats lickety-split, and I hurt myself eating too fast. I did slow down after the first or second booth. There was plenty of food, and it was all good.

I AM writing. Or revising. That's all good too. Also, I don't have to run my genre-review column by the editor before putting it in the paper any more. It's all good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Presenting the Plotting Workshop

So, my friend Belinda came to town this week, and we did a workshop at the Houston Bay Area RWA chapter on storyboard plotting with Post-It Notes.

We do our plot brainstorming this way. It's very visual, and some of the HBA members had heard about it, but couldn't figure out how to do it. So we did a joint workshop and showed how we do it.

We probably don't do it like anyone else. B is a little on the anal side (she has a whole Justin cowboy boot box full of different colors of Post-It Notes), and I'm a whole lot loosey-goosey about things, so when we're doing our brainstorming, we get a lot of "You need some more internal conflict in there," from B, and a lot of "I'll just figure it out when I get there," from me.

Don't get me wrong. I DO plot before I write. I just don't plot very deeply. I want a one-page skeleton/roadmap to hang my story on. B, on the other hand, would plot right down to the individual scenes if she could do it. (Not that she can't, but she usually doesn't, because I'm fussing at her to "Write the dang story already!")

Anyway, we had a good time doing the workshop. We plotted a paranormal story, so we could have more plot threads to keep straight, and use more colors. But as one person said, it probably would have worked better if we'd done a plot from a movie--something well known.

It rained most of the time Belinda was here, but we did get to eat some nice shrimp, and went downtown to The Witchery on Postoffice Street so she could buy a crystal for meditating. The fellas--because B always comes down with hers (he doesn't trust her driving in Houston traffic)--went fishing while we did our workshop. They caught fish too, but gave them all away. I'm glad they had fun too.

And yeah, the visit with my folks went fine. The Alzheimer's is getting worse, so I'll be talking with their doctor in the near future to see what needs to be done. But this weekend, I'm being sorta lazy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Out and about

I took this picture last week, but I'm posting it today, because I haven't uploaded the pictures I took this a.m. when I went out to walk on the beach. It was pretty windy this day. Today, it was still, not much wind at all. But still fabulous.

There was a snowy egret out fishing on the beach. I gave it a wide berth so it wouldn't fly off, but I wasn't the only one out walking...still, it seemed pretty calm with 3 or 4 people out and about.

So, the fella and I have had our birthdays. We went to Saltgrass Steakhouse for his birthday and ate steaks, and to Landry's for mine, where I had shrimp fresca (because I love that stuff) and he had fish. Tilapia, I think. The oil spill hasn't seemed to interfere with the local shrimping, but I'm wondering if it's messing with the fishing. Haven't seen as much snapper or redfish lately... We are still discussing our birthday present. (We usually get One present, because there's all of 8 days between the two events, and we might as well.) I think we're going to get a refrigerator. As in, not getting rid of the old refrigerator, but adding one. We have a 30 year old freezer we're going to retire. (It runs all the time and uses a lot of 'lectricity.)

The fella has bought himself a pistol. He is taking the class to get himself a license to carry a concealed weapon (it's legal in Texas to carry concealed, not openly) (If you take the class and get the license), and you have to have a handgun in order to take the class. He's not taking it because he intends to carry the thing. But at the state capitol, folks with a license can get into the building without having to go through all the metal detectors and searching. (There is a logic to it...) And since the lege is meeting starting in January, and he has to be there frequently during the session, he wants a license. And while he is taking his class, I'm going to visit the parents.

I was talking to them today, telling them I was coming up to visit. I mentioned my daughter by name--and Daddy couldn't quite remember who she was. He knew she was family, but couldn't place how she fit in...and was totally embarrassed when I told him. He hasn't seen her for a year--they live in Pennsylvania and don't get back to Texas often--but, well, it's breaking my heart, and I hope we do get them to the end of the year in their own house.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Shrimp salad

I mentioned before that my mother-in-law loved this shrimp salad from a now closed restaurant. Occasionally, we get a salad that's sorta similar, but usually, no. So we worked to try to recreate it, and I believe we've gotten close. It's mighty tasty, at any rate. And I've promised to share. So here it is.

I started with my leftover shrimp. I had lots. I bought 4 pounds, and we might have eaten half of them. Maybe. This was less than I had for the first salad I made, but still probably more than we really needed. Amounts may be adjusted according to your taste, and to how much shrimp you have/how big a salad you want to make. This makes a great main dish--but the fella likes to have it "on the side" as an actual salad. (I think he's silly.)

So. Shrimp. At least a pound, boiled (or steamed in the microwave--whatever).

Then, you'll want: celery (this is the majority of the salad), cucumber, green onion and green bell peppers. I peeled, seeded, chopped and salted the cucumber, (I used a whole one) then put it in this colander to drain. When I made this before, I didn't do the salt-and-drain thing, and the salad got a little watery. Draining it helped. It takes a while to do all the peeling and chopping, so if you do the cuke first, it'll have plenty of time to drain.

I used 5 celery stalks for this salad. I used more for the first one I made. The tender heart of the celery is the best in this, but I didn't use it in this salad. It was still good, and I don't even like celery, which I may have mentioned before. I like it in this, though.

I used 5 green onions--all of them, end to end. The green parts are really good. And I used about half the bell pepper. I used less in the first salad, and could taste it more in this one. I like bell pepper, so I liked the "more."

I may go for an "English" cucumber next time. Those are the really long cucumbers sold wrapped in plastic wrap. I think more would have been good, and the English ones are supposed to have fewer seeds and maybe be a little drier. But I just used one whole regular cucumber.

I chopped everything to a fairly small dice, maybe 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch. I peeled and chopped the shrimp after I did all the vegetables. It was really pretty, I thought, when I piled it on top like this.

But we are not done. This is not a layered salad. This is a scoop-it-onto-your-plate-in-a-mound salad. It needs the dressing, and then to be all stirred up.

The dressing is like for a tuna or chicken salad. Mostly mayo. (We use real mayo, because of gluten issues.) You have to judge the amount according to how big your salad is. Everything is adjustable in this salad.

I used two big spoonfuls of mayo, and then added another couple of little spoons of sour cream. (This is a big salad, people.) I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper and a good dusting of Cajun seasoning.

I could have used a ton more, and probably still have barely tasted it. I could scarcely taste any spice at all. All those vegetables, I guess. The shrimp are naturally salty, and I did cook them in the Old Bay. But this is a very mild-tasting salad.

You could probably experiment with seasoning--but the vegetables and shrimp are all so cool tasting, I don't know that you could change that very much.

At this point, I'm sure you know the rest: Stir it all up, and eat it. You might want to stick it in the refrigerator a while to let the flavors blend, but they blend pretty good from the very beginning.

I also imagine that you could do this in a food processor, if you're careful not to puree things. I think the restaurant had smaller chunks of food, and it did take me a while to chop all this stuff up. (The first time, I had the fella peel and chop the shrimp for me.)

It took us three days to eat all this salad, and there were four of us eating it. Of course, until Monday (Labor Day) lunch, we didn't eat it as a main dish for the meal.

Yeah, it looks a lot paler, not so pretty and colorful, with the white dressing stirred all into it, but take my word. This is really good stuff.

My foot is almost well. I've been out walking the dog twice this week, but I let her walk around the neighborhood with me off leash. She's been very good about staying with me and not trying to leave the street. I let her out of the backyard the other day to run while I brought the trashcan in, and she was so cute. When I had the can in the back, but the gate still open, she came and peeked around the corner of the house at me, just to double-check I was there, and maybe to see if I was going to make her come back. She saw me look at her, and dashed back to the front yard, in case I might call her. She came back to check on me again, before I got back out front to watch her. She stayed in our yard, except for running across the street to see if Tony (the owner) or Sheba (the dog) were home. Tony loves Dolly the princess pitbull. Sheba tolerates her. So she's allowed to go in Tony's yard. As long as she's a good doggie, I'll take her walking with me. We both could use the exercise. :)

Friday, September 03, 2010

Shrimp feast tonight!

So. I've been wanting to make that yummy shrimp salad again. I almost bought frozen shrimp at Kroger, but the fresh ones are so much better--and I've been in there mornings to see them opening the Exact Same bags of frozen shrimp they have in the freezers and pouring them onto the ice in the "meat market" area. Therefore, this morning, I got in my bus and drove down to the fish market.

Yes, the two markets at Galveston harbor are right next door to each other. And just to the right of Katie's (where I bought my shrimps) are the shrimp boats. Some of them anyway. More of them are farther east.

We are in Texas. The oil spill has not come this direction. We have had no oil, no dispersants, none of that mess. The seafood here is Just Fine. Excellent, in fact. Just FYI.

Today, I forgot my ice chest. It's better to take an ice chest with you to buy fish and shrimp, because then you don't have ice melting on your floorboard while you drive home. Anyway, the first job in fixing shrimp anything is to select your shrimp. In the front, you have your medium sized "head on" shrimp. They're usually a tad cheaper, but you have to pinch the heads off. (This kind of "pinch" is pronounced "peench" which is the correct Southern pronunciation for something vicious enough to take the head off a shrimp, or make your little brother squeal in church. A pinch of salt is just a "pinch.")

I hate pinching the heads off shrimp, because they have these poky spine things that stick out in front, and they stab me. Also, I don't like shrimp hairs. You get a few hairs in de-headed shrimp, but not enough to comb. So, I bought the medium-sized shrimp in the middle--30-35 shrimp per pound. The ones in the back are the extra large (11-15 per pound), but they're not as good for a shrimp boil, and would require a Lot of chopping for salad. (Also, they're about $5 more per pound.) The large shrimp didn't make the picture. They're about $1 more, and today, they were the pink Gulf shrimp, instead of the "brown" Bay shrimp. They didn't look enough bigger to make me want them. I bought four pounds, because when I mentioned making shrimp salad, the fella wanted cold boiled shrimp for supper. I mean, if I was going to the fish market anyway, I might as well buy enough for supper too, right?

The first thing you do, whether you're going to eat them plain, boiled, or make them into a salad (or into enchiladas or sundry other things), is to boil the shrimp.

For this, you need a big pot, with lots of water, some "shrimp boil" (we like Old Bay seasoning), and shrimp.

I like to rinse the shrimp before I put them in the pot to cook. You don't necessarily have to do this, but I did. You can maybe get a better idea of their size and color in the "rinse" picture. It's something to do while you wait for the water to boil, and gives you a chance to pick out any stray shrimp hairs that might have got into the bag.

Shrimp don't take very long to cook. I add the Old Bay (or other) seasoning to the water when I put it on to boil, about a tablespoon for every couple of pounds. The fella likes more, but I think that's plenty.

You'll want to get the water to a really big rolling boil, then dump the shrimp in all at once. It will stop boiling, and the shrimp will all sink to the bottom of the pot. You can sort of see them in this picture, despite all the steam. They're done when they float, and turn pink. Generally, that's about when the water comes back to a rolling boil, and boils over.

So you have boiling water, and floating shrimp, and they're pink. It's time to take them off the heat. Pour them carefully into a colander in the sink--I haven't burned myself yet in this process, but give me time. This is me. Run some cool water over them--this is problematic here, since our cold water is mostly lukewarm this time of year. Then put them in a bowl--our big one is glass, but plastic works just fine, and metal probably would too.

See how pink they are? Since these shrimp were brownish-gray to start with, they turn a more delicate pink. The Gulf shrimp start out about this pink, and get a really bright pink when they're cooked. Almost neon.

So then, you pile ice on top of the shrimps and stick them in the refrigerator until you're ready to eat them. We love to have people down to visit, because it gives us an excuse to have a shrimp boil. We do "peel-your-own" shrimp dinners. The first time the youngest boy's girlfriend came to eat with us in Galveston, she had never peeled her own shrimp. We had to teach her how.

The easiest method is to grab their legs and peel one way around the back of the shrimp, taking off as much of the shell as you can. Usually, it breaks off at that tail joint--the one restaurants leave on. Then you take hold of the tail, squeeze that tail joint shell just a bit, and gently pull, to pull all the good meat out of the shell. If that method doesn't work, just wrestle that sucker off the best way you can. Set out bowls at every place to hold the shells, and have lots of napkins handy. (You can buy bottled cocktail sauce, which I like just fine, or you can mix your own with ketchup, horseradish sauce and mayo.) Corn on the cob goes real well with a boiled shrimp meal, also cantaloupe and sliced tomatoes.

Our youngest grandboy is six. He's loved shrimp since he got his first ones at his first birthday. He is just now learning how to peel his own, but can't peel fast enough to suit him. Dad still has to help. His big brother doesn't like shrimp. (He's the picky eater in the family.) Won't touch them. We don't mind. Just means more for the rest of us.

I'll take pictures of the salad making when I get there, but this is obviously step 1. :)