Thursday, November 28, 2013

We went to Shreveport

Just for two days.

We have done this before, many times.  Two days in a casino in Shreveport is like a week's vacation for us, though the drive is tough, my husband doesn't seem to mind it.  Of course, we really would prefer to be able to stay in Texas, and spend out money to help bolster the Texas economy, but until gambling is legalized here, we do what so many other Texans do and make the trip to Louisiana, El Dorado has long been our casino of choice.  It helps that we get regular offers of free rooms and free meals, so the cost of the trip is our gas and our gambling - we always set a limit for gambling and never go above that.

Late November in the northern states is bleak, cold and, this year for sure, wintery.  In Texas we still have a touch of Autumn, and we even have some beautiful fall colors.


The drive is approximately five and half hours, we head off at 6 a.m. and stop in Temple for breakfast, then we will probably have two stops between Temple and Shreveport for gas and bathroom, and to stretch our legs arriving at the Casino before 1 p.m.




the river boat from our hotel window
Of course, like any other hotel, the rooms were not going to be available until mid afternoon, so we whiled away the time touring the various decks of the boat - all casinos in Shreveport are required by law to be on the water.  El Dorado's is the biggest of the river boats between Shreveport and Bossier City, on the other side of the Red River.




While we were waiting to check in I paid a visit to the ladies room where I was amazed to see a 'hazardous waste disposal' unit fixed to the wall beside the hand dryer.  The only place I had ever see these units before was in the doctor's office.  My husband assured me there was fairly usual and were intended for diabetics needle disposal - I suppose casinos really do not want you to leave the premises for any reason for fear you will not return.

During the two hours waiting for our rooms, I managed to double my allotted gambling money, my husband halved his, and, as is our habit we split my winnings.  So long as we manage to have enough money to last for the two days, who cares who won it?

Since my mother in law moved in with us, we have always taken her with us and, when possible, we get adjoining rooms.  As soon as we got settled in our rooms it was back down to the casino where we continued to be reasonably lucky.  Because we are not high rollers, our winnings are never huge and we only play the slots, but like I said, so long as we can keep playing we are happy.

After our free dinner in the buffet we did some more gambling and then called it a night in order to ensure we had sufficient funds for the following day.

Breakfast was another free meal at the grill, followed by a not so lucky few hours on the slots, we still had enough cash left for the evening, so settled for another free lunch at the buffet followed by a long nap for my husband and a few quiet hours reading for me - the weather was dreadful, it had been pouring rain all night and it continued to do so all day, the sky remained a dark miserable grey.

that is the Horseshoe Casino across the river

Then it time for our last free buffet dinner and our last few hours feeding the hungry slot machines, as our cash dwindled we moved to the video poker machines where a small amount of money can last quite some time, with my last bet I won $200 which we split and had a hour of fun hitting the dollar slots just for the hell of it.

Sportsman grill
Tuesday morning was our last free meal before heading home, we headed to the 24 hour grill, situated across from the hotel reception, as we walked past the huge cake display we could see the restaurant was almost empty.  We were seated but the hostess told us they were currently changing shift so it would be a while before we got coffee as they were making fresh.  Fresh coffee is always worth waiting for.

When it eventually arrived, mine was neither hot nor fresh, in fact it was stone cold.  It took a few minutes to catch the attention of a wait person, and a lot longer before she returned with a cup of hot coffee - she apologized for the delay which she explained, was due to having to put the cups in the microwave!  Horror! now it was scalding hot and tasted absolutely disgusting.The food arrived and while it was bearable, it was not great, but I guess it was free.  Another long wait before we could pay and leave and soon we were back on the road to Austin.

yes, this is a cake
We drove through steady rain until well past Corsicana.  We stopped in Waco for a quick lunch and were home by 2.30 p.m.  We decided that on our next visit we would stay at the Horseshoe Casino - free is nice, but the El Dorado has definitely see better days.






Turkey Day

In the US, Turkey Day is Thanksgiving, the last Thursday in November.  When I was growing up, Christmas Day was Turkey Day, though we often had turkey for Easter dinner.  There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Ireland and, after 19 years here, I still can't really get into the spirit of the holiday.  I am definitely thankful, but I suppose not having grown up with the tradition, and not having family here means it is just one of those rare long weekends and I am most thankful for that.

I have always wanted to volunteer to help my friend Richard's charity, Operation Turkey at Thanksgiving. Most years I take advantage of the extra few days off work and head to Ireland or France, or both, to visit family but as I get older, traveling in the winter months is less attractive so this year was one of the first I had decided to spend at home in Texas so I signed up.
Waiting at PF Changs to get started

My wonderful mother in law agreed to come along which was pretty impressive considering she has two artificial knees.


We were up early on Thanksgiving morning and headed off in very chilly morning, unusually cold for Austin, it was 36 degrees F.  Operation Turkey feeds the homeless in Austin, Houston, Dallas and San Marcos and has a number of locations in Austin.  Some incredible people give up their time and both Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill and PF Changs Restaurant open up their premises for this amazing effort. We were heading to PF Changs Restaurant, North West Austin, being our nearest location.

We thought we were early, but there was already quite a crowd waiting to get started.  Getting started took some time, but eventually things began moving and boxes were steadily making their way along a human conveyor belt, picking up turkey, dressing, veggies, cranberry jelly, gravy, bread roll, pumpkin pie and plastic utensils, then they were closed and loaded into waiting cars and whisked off to various locations where they were distributed to the homeless and needy.




It was most definitely not a well oiled machine, but it was a very cheerful, well meaning machine and it got the job done.  There were a few minor hiccups, such as a table full of large cans of cranberry jelly and no can openers.  A couple of the men quickly improvised and started opening cans with large, sharp, kitchen knives.  Amazingly it worked and even more amazing no one was injured, but it was a slow process, finally someone came across a bag full of can openers and things speeded up quite a bit.



When all the food was all packed into boxes and off the premises it was time for the cleanup.  That task took almost as long.

I can remember when I first met Richard he told me about how he started Operation Turkey - I guess that was about 13 years ago, and not only has he continued to feed the homeless every year since then, he has grown and spread way beyond Austin.  Showing amazing dedication and incredible energy.

'Like' Operation Turkey on Facebook.  And do consider either volunteering next year if you live in central Texas, or donating to the cause - better yet, why not do both!


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Embroidery

I started doing hand embroidery about a year ago, mainly to give me something to do while sitting in front of the TV, so I wouldn't fall asleep from boredom.  I never did like television much.  I do like watching movies sometimes, but my taste is action thriller or good ol' John Wayne cowboy movies, not a taste shared by everyone.

I started out with t-shirts, being of a practical nature, the finished product was something useful., here are the shirts I have done so far.  You will notice a strong Western theme, part of the reason I came to Texas is my love of Western folklore - see all about that here.

As I mentioned in my Introduction (see tab above) I was toying with the idea of buying myself an embroidery sewing machine.  Well, I did it.  It has been sitting on a table in our office (actually our bonus room but we use it as an office) patiently waiting for me to get acquainted with it.

Unfortunately, no sooner was it delivered than we got very busy at work, and three weekends in a row I had to work.  I am hoping that over the holidays I can make time to play with it and see how it (and I) performs.  It is by no means an expensive, bells and whistles, machine.  If I like it, maybe I will work my way up to one of those.

As I educate myself on how to use the machine, and hopefully produce some more t-shirts worth displaying, I will detail my progress here.













Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Odell

We do miss him.

Wednesday 20th November 2013,  he would have been 80 years old.  It is hard to believe that it is over a year since he died, there is still an empty place at the table and there probably always will be.

View his obituary here




Monday, November 18, 2013

Not just a language difference

After a few unseasonably cold days in central Texas I was yearning for the thick beef stew that was an integral part of winter as a child, in Ireland.  So I thought I would introduce my husband and his mother to one of the stable dishes I grew up with.  For some reason I thought it would be down home enough for them to enjoy.

It is a stew, made from beef and a mixture of winter vegetables, including leeks, potatoes and turnips (click here for recipe if you want it), onions and, because of the influence of my French mother, red wine. Hell, it is good for your heart right?

The finished dish is supposed to be deep brown, filled with the flavor of beef and vegetables and covered in a gravy almost thick enough to eat with a fork.

Add too much beer, as my husband did, and it becomes a soup that is no longer the dish I envisioned and have enjoyed in the past, don't add beer and apart from the turnip making it sweet, it is too thick in consistency for people whose preference in food is battered and fried, or soup.

Having served this to my husband and his mother, both from Kentucky, though my husband grew up in Texas, after my husband added beer while he was reheating it, I was greeted with a stony silence and realized this was something I won't be cooking again - except perhaps on my next visit to Ireland or France where my family will probably enjoy it as the comfort food of our childhood.  How different the world is. And what is sad is that I will never know if they would have enjoyed what I intended to cook. My guess is no.

But after almost 20 years in this country I realize I am still learning that there is more than just an almost invisible, but very significant, language barrier, (click here if you don't believe me) there is so much more that divides us.  I have to add, almost all of my experience of the differences has been in the state of Texas, with people either from Texas, or from Kentucky and I know that they have totally different tastes and cultural differences to the northern states. I have some experience cooking for people in Norther California and have to say that my mixture of Irish and French cuisine did go down well there.

I don't think I could ever get used to the high fat, somewhat bland, food of the Southern States, but I will have to save my yearnings for Irish and French cooking for my visits home to Europe while I continue to find compromise, as with my Panko Chicken and Fish.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Children, Grandchildren and other random thoughts

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to have children.  I wanted to have children of my own, but I also wanted to adopt. Of course, when I was very young I thought six boys would be perfect.  I was one of six, three boys and three girls, so six was an obvious number.  I was not a happy child, and I blamed that on the fact that I was not male, hence six boys.  Don't worry, I figured it out eventually - read how here (if you are interested - and you should be).

I was lucky enough to have children, two boys and one girl.  If I have one regret it is that I didn't adopt at least one.  I wanted to.  And it would have been the perfect answer to balancing out my litter - two of each, after all, sisters are special.  However, my husband at that time did not want to adopt.

Aside:  That is, the man I was married to at that time did not want to adopt, NOT- at that time, the man I was married to didn't want to adopt. How strange the English language is!

I am not sure why I was so keen on adoption.  Considering that I had a less than happy childhood, yet I still considered as part of a family was the best way to grow up.  I am guessing that was almost entirely due to my siblings.  Perhaps also, the enormous amount of reading I did as a child, all too many dealing with orphans and step parents and miserable lonely children. Or maybe it was because I was not a happy child, I wanted to compensate by making other children happy.

Like any mother, I love my children more than words can possibly describe.  So when my daughter, the first of my children to reproduce, was pregnant I was very worried that I would not love my grandchildren as much as I love my children.  I need not have worried.  For all of you out there who are not yet grandmother's, trust me.  It is so different.  I love my grandchildren, each and every one of them, every bit as much as I love my children and they are all so very different - as people are.  But it is a different kind of love.

There is the same unadulterated pride in everything they do, but not quite the same pain in things that they do not achieve.  Probably a much more balanced love.  And of course the grandparental right to spoil them. My children are lucky that I live so far away or their children would not just be spoilt, they would be ruined!

Although I didn't have the six boys I originally planned, I compensated and have now got 6 grandsons, and just one granddaughter.

Update: As of June 2014 I have one more granddaughter!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stacking the Dishwasher

This is a subject on which a surprising number of people have strong views, most of them differing on some if not all, of the headings below. My husband in particular feels very strongly on the subject, and I tend to disagree with him on most of the topics, my mother in law agrees with him on some, and with me on others.

So, I did some research and this is what I came up with.

Stacking:


Every one knows, at least I hope they do, that you do not put crystal glass in a dishwasher, excessively hot water, and dishwasher soaps, will very quickly cause them to be cloudy and lose their sparkle.

All of the experts emphasize do not overstack the dishwasher, it is less efficient and more likely to cause damage to tableware.  Plus, it has been established by a study at the University of Bonn in Germany, that a modern dishwasher uses up to two thirds less water and less than half the electricity, than washing by hand, so even if you run the dishwasher twice a day, you are still saving a whole lot of water.

Lighter items, such as plastic containers, which might turn over during a wash and fill with water will not only make unloading more difficult, it will cause higher humidity during the drying period and reduce the efficiency of this cycle.

Unloading:


This is something I didn't know, wait till the dishes are cool before unloading as they are more likely to chip if removed when still hot.  Not to mention, if they are too hot you risk dropping them and burning your fingers.


To rinse or not to rinse...


I never owned a dishwasher in the early days when it really was necessary to pre rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. My grandmother had a 1940s dishwasher. She did rinse them carefully before stacking them.

All my research suggests that this is no longer required, particularly if you use a pre-rinse cycle. But, it also indicates that you either have a noisy dishwasher due to the built in grinder for food particles, or you have a filter that needs constant cleaning. As I have neither, I think I will continue to do as my husband prefers and rinse the dishes, at least making sure there are no food particles to block the drain, or build up and cause smell or worse, inside the dishwasher.  However, it seriously reduces the amount of water saved.


Knives, up or down?


This is a sticky subject.  Personally I hate being sliced or stabbed by a sharp knife when loading or unloading a dishwasher. And, for households with small children, it is definitely not a good idea to have sharp knives within reach, and pointing upwards. I always put knives in blade down, my husband is very firmly on the side of blade up.

The general rule for cutlery is to place it handle down, for better cleaning, but everything I have read adds with the 'exception of knives'. To avoid injury some suggest handle up for sharp knives, but another recommends sharp knives should be laid horizontally on the top shelf. I actually do that with large knives, but never thought of it for the smaller sharp ones. I will definitely try that in the future, it seems like a good compromise.


Bowls, top or bottom shelf?


My theory was that if they are above the sprayer on the top shelf, and tilted forward, they will get clean, but won't have standing water when the wash finishes.  My husband prefers bowls to be placed on the lower shelf and standing upright.  He is adamant that they will not hold water, I still reserve judgement on this as I have frequently had to rinse bowls by hand to remove the water stains.  He also insists that all dishes should face towards the sprayer.  I am guessing with earlier dishwashers this was probably the best way to ensure they were properly cleaned, the newer dishwashers are a lot more efficient and most of what I read indicates it is no longer important, however I see no argument against it either.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Not Shepherd's Pie - yet.

I'm not saying this to be mean but...

That is how my husband opened the conversation at dinner.

There, is the difference between men and women.  He really meant it, he was not intending to be mean, and in the 2-stroke male mind, he thought all he had do was utter the disclaimer, say what was on his mind and all would be well, no feelings would be hurt.

Oh dear, I thought, he is going to tell me I am short and fat.  No. And I know he didn't intend to be mean, but ... " you did remove that shepherd's pie recipe from your blog, right?  because it really isn't good" .. he hastened to add that every other shepherd's pie I had made was wonderful, but, as I feared, stopping the creative flow to weigh and measure had ruined the finished product.  Ok, I had to agree with him, it was not at all like any other Shepherds pie I had ever made, and I had already taken down the recipe.  And, I couldn't dispute what he said, it was not good.

I will try to reproduce the one that I normally make so you can see how nice it can be.  Having said that, I actually don't much like shepherd's pie - never really liked it when I was a child, but I knew that my husband and his mother would like it because it is similar to the comfort food of the south that they grew up on.

After giving it some thought, the mistakes I made were - apart from stopping to weigh and measure - that I used all bison instead of half bison and half more fatty beef, this made the end produce too dry, and of course, less resembling the southern food with its high fat content.  Secondly I used yellow potatoes, I know better, white potatoes are so much prettier to look at and are fluffier and I do believe they taste better.  I will return to this recipe when I have given my husband time to get over the unpleasant dinner he tried to like.

While making the shepherd's pie I, as always, made double the amount.  Now I have a less than satisfactory chuck of something in the freezer, and I have been mulling over in my mind how to make it acceptable. Finally I have decided - turn it into a curry! That should be interesting.

Meanwhile, do try the panko chicken.  This is another attempt on my part to make a more healthy version of the fried chicken so popular in the south and it seems to work.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Here we go again...

I am getting boring on the subject of my right foot, not nearly as interesting, nor as impressive, as Christy Brown's left foot.

Last March I had what might be considered by some (especially me) as major surgery on my right foot - it was totally messed up due, I believe, to genetics.  Bunion, Hammer Toe, two claw toes, all I needed was wings!  But I have to say, I was happy with the results, until I noticed one of the former claw toes had decided to become a hammer toe when it grew up, and it was growing up fast!


First of all, the reason I had the surgey on my foot was because my knee was causing me some considerable discomfort, even pain, and worse, it was preventing me from running.  Now, I have to tell you I don't really love running.  But I need to do some serious exercise to stop my bones from crumbling - as they fully intend to do - and running is the best of a bad lot, the exercise I dislike the least.  So I went to my doctor, who sent me to a knee surgeon, who told me my knee was fine, the problem was my foot, so I went to a foot surgeon.. and the result is documented under the Gross Foot Photos tab.

It took 6 months before I was passed fit to run - fat to run more like - in those 6 months of sitting around with my foot up, I had gained more weight than I care to admit to.  I started back slowly, running a quarter of a mile, walking a quarter of a mile, till I built up to 3 miles.  Then I started stretching the running to half a mile.  At this stage my lungs were my biggest enemy, they had decided they were retired and it was sole destroying to find my legs could continue but my lungs wimped out.

Then we had our annual boot camp at work, I really enjoy that!  I need a trainer to keep me motivated, and early in the morning, outdoors with five or six colleagues, great way to really get moving.  It was an 8 session boot camp over 4 weeks - I completed exactly half of the sessions, the fourth being a really tough but enjoyable workout.  However, next morning I could scarcely move.  My foot was sore, but it was doing ok, my knee on the other hand was totally not ok.

As my newly erupting hammer toe was beginning to cause me discomfort I decided to return to my foot surgeon and see what he thought about it and at the same time get his opinion on what I should do with my knee.

So, I took my right foot, my knee, and the rest of me to TxOrtho in Cedar Park.  The verdict was, yes, my toe is hammering and sooner or later it would need surgery, when was up to me to decide.

My decision will be based on how long I can tolerate the discomfort .. ok pain .. from the deformity, and also, when my dear husband will be off work long enough to take care of me after surgery - looks like early March is a good time for surgery, that is spring break and I think I can survive as it is till then.  The second issue, my knee, resulted in a recommendation to try physical therapy to see if I can strengthen supporting muscles and minimize the knee effect.  TxOrtho have a physical therapy department and so I wandered over there to make an appointment.  The Universe, always my friend, took charge and I was informed they just had a cancellation and next thing I knew I was working my way through series of exercises designed to strengthen the thigh and hip muscles.  I left an hour later with wobbly thigh muscles, a sheaf of papers containing detailed descriptions, fully illustrated, of the exercises I need to do every day and an appointment for two weeks hence to follow up.

The recommendation was interval training, as I had been doing, .25 mile run, .25 mile walk and 20 minutes on a stationary bike, plus the sheaf of exercises.  Ready, set, go!

Maybe I can get my knee sorted before the next surgery for my cursed right foot.