Friday, 31 December 2010

Happiness in the new year

A Happy New Year to all! Those for whom 2011 has already started, and those who are still waiting to celebrate :)

I've been looking for an excuse to post this video - both the song and the visuals just make me happy. I hope they make you happy too.

May all of us, in this coming year, end up with our own spiritual equivalent of a cool platform (with a piano and sofas), and good friends, dancing, music and laughter, in the middle of a lake!!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Great and small

Pippin will sing along to almost any noise - conversations at the table below him, a boiling kettle, a running tap, crackling plastic or foil... I greatly enjoy the backdrop of twitterings and funny sounds that make up almost every morning and evening. He also loves music, and joined in with particular gusto during a recent playing of Handel's Messiah.

I love how he always stops as soon as the music finishes.

Happy Christmas to all!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Houston-style Kolaches

Kolaches are originally from Czechoslovakia (and I believe they have variants in Poland as well), but have been adopted by Texas in general and Houston in particular. The Czech-style ones are sweet, with a fruit filling, but the sort you get here are almost all savoury, with breakfast-type fillings - scrambled egg, cheese, bacon, sausage... and because it's Texas, some element of fireyness - jalapenos or salsa or some other hot sauce.

We really like kolaches, and used to buy them occasionally as a treat, but then we started wondering how difficult they would be to make at home - as with most things, not only is it significantly cheaper to make them yourself, but of course you also get to control the amount and quality of your ingredients. Kolaches will never be health food, but making them ourselves produces an end result that is significantly less oily and significantly more tasty. If you've never tried kolaches before (and it seems it's almost impossible to track down the breakfast-style ones anywhere much outside of Houston), here is the recipe - it's really very easy!

The dough recipe below makes at least 15 - enough for 5 or 6 - so reduce amounts or freeze extra as needed. I find the dough is fine after being frozen for a short time, but is better fresh.

Houston-style Kolaches
Ingredients - Dough
4 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 cup water
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
2 - 4 tablespoons sugar, to taste (dough here is very sweet; I like it a little less so, so reduce the sugar)
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose/plain flour
2 cups bread flour

Heat water to 100F/38C; add yeast and a pinch of sugar; mix and set aside
Mix softened butter and shortening; add sugar and stir until well mixed
Add egg yolks, milk (also warmed to at least room temperature) and salt; mix
Add yeast and water mixture; stir; add flour
Mix, then remove from bowl and knead for 10 minutes
Place back in bowl, cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size (45 min - 1 hour)

While dough is rising, prepare and cook filling ingredients, as it's best if they're room temperature before you use them. It's really up to you what you use for filling, but some ideas are:
- scrambled egg (four eggs usually makes enough for 6 - 8 kolaches, depending on size)
- chopped bacon (four rashers is usually enough for 6 - 8 kolaches)
- chopped breakfast sausage
- grated or diced cheese
- fresh or pickled jalapenos
- salsa (reduce over heat before adding to take some of the liquid out)
- anything else you like the idea of!

When dough is doubled, gently punch down and press out the air. You can leave it to rest for a short time, or begin to use immediately; if dough is resistant to pressing out, cover it with a cloth and let it rest for 5 - 10 minutes and it will usually become much more pliable.

Pre-heat oven to 425F/220C.

Pinch off pieces of dough that are about the size of a golf ball, or very slightly larger. Press out into a circle - it can be slightly thinner on the edges than in the middle as the edges will form the base, which will be thicker than the rest.

Place filling ingredients in the middle of the dough rounds.

Gather edges together by pulling opposite sides together and pinching edges closed; it doesn't have to be pretty (though it should be sealed!) as you are going to turn them over and place the sealed side down.

Bake for 12 - 18 minutes, until golden brown. Brush freshly-baked kolaches with melted butter (salted is better, though you can easily add a shake of salt to unsalted melted butter for the same effect).

Serve immediately, eat as soon as they're cool enough, with hot sauce, barbecue sauce, tomato sauce, or no sauce at all!

If anyone tries this let me know - I'd love to hear how they turn out :)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

An Absurdity of Gagas

If you decided, one random Friday night, to try the new 'Imperia Bar and Grill', located in a just-like-all-the-others strip mall and advertised at the roadside as 'Russian Cuisine', what would you expect?

Well, probably not this:

Eight waitresses, for four customers (including the two of us), all dressed as Lady Gaga. They had her music and videos playing too, and pictures up all over the walls and windows... it was clearly not their usual practice, either, as they spent most of the evening scurrying around admiring themselves in the mirrors, taking photos of each other, and otherwise being amused by themselves... when, upon leaving, we asked what the occasion was, we were told, 'Nothing; we just decided to do this tonight.'

(Dave and I discussed what the proper collective noun for a group of Gagas should be... we came up with, and rejected, 'an excess' and 'a banality' before deciding on 'an absurdity'. Do you agree?)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Ghost Boy

At least a year ago, Dave and I spotted this sad little figure sitting eternally on the bench outside a house on the way to my work. Rain, snow or Hurricane Ike, he sits there, with his dejected little lichened face and his concrete ball which never rolls and can never bounce... early on, we dubbed him Ghost Boy, as it looks like he's haunting the site of some former unhappiness. Or, as Dave says, in perpetual time-out.

We find it incredible that anyone would willingly display such a morose little person in their front garden; we have hatched some wild plans to give him a Santa hat at Christmas, or a basket of eggs at Easter... but when a For Sale sign appeared in front of the house recently, we thought the least we could do was to immortalise him with a photo, before he possibly goes to his eternal rest.

Vale, Ghost Boy. We hope your next life is happier than this one.