Posted in Culture, Family, Food, Relationships

Chicken (Tortilla) Soup For the Soul

I was an adult before I had ever heard of or tried Chicken Tortilla Soup. The only time my mother ever served me soup was when I was sick. Even then she would usually warm up a can of Campbell’s Chicken & Stars. (Chili and stew don’t count – Momma rocked those!)

I once got food poisoning from old broccoli and cheese soup at a Black Eyed Pea Restaurant and I refused to eat it again for thirteen years. True story. Ever since, I always choose salad over soup at a restaurant. But Chicken Tortilla Soup is good – I mean really good. So about eight years ago, I decided to make it for the first time. My kids loved it! In fact, my oldest loved it so much, she wouldn’t stop eating it. I think she had nine large servings before she finally threw up un-digested chicken tortilla soup all over my kitchen floor. She begged me to never make it again and after the great broccoli and cheese incident of ’91, I was happy to oblige. We were kindred. Soup had scarred us both.

Now that it’s November in Texas, the temperature has dropped below 100 degrees. ‘Round these parts, that means soup! (Or chili – whatever.) Last night I decided to make it again. I also made a very small pot of vegan tortilla soup for Parker (recipe below.) My house smelled of garlic, cumin, and lime. The cilantro, avocado, and sour cream were fresh. I couldn’t find the cheese grater so I used dental floss to finely slice the block of cheddar. I still don’t know where that grater is.

Our front door was open, letting in the cool autumn breeze (and possibly airing out the kitchen after I burned the first round of tortilla strips in oil.) I was just about to scald my tongue when I heard a woman’s voice saying, “knock, knock” from the open door. It was our friend, Ally! She stopped by to drop off gifts for Olive. We exchanged pleasantries, chatted about her parents, and she was on her way. I finally took my first bite and it was awesome.

After some silence, I asked my husband if his mom made Chicken Tortilla Soup when he was growing up. He gave me “the look” which means, “Are you serious?” (Some people that know him interpret it as, “Are you fucking stupid?” There’s a fine line.

“Chicken Tortilla Soup isn’t a real thing, baby.”

Not real? It looked real. It smelled real. It tasted real. The jalapenos and green chilis were really making my forehead sweat. It took a really long time to make and real dollars to pay for the real ingredients. Was this somehow the Emperor’s New Soup?

“It’s just a made up thing,” he explained.

Well, of course it is made up. At some point, some person threw all the ingredients (whatever they had in the fridge, most likely) in a big pot, added some spices, and called it Chicken Tortilla Soup. It’s not like there is some natural body of soup out there that we can just take soup from…
Split Pea Springs
– River of Creamy Potato
– The Egg Drop Ocean
– Lake Lentil

I understood what he was trying to say, though. He meant that it wasn’t a traditional Mexican dish. His mother made caldo; trendy restaurants made Chicken Tortilla Soup. I didn’t know that. My mother’s dinners were mostly spaghetti, tacos, meatloaf, BBQ, burgers, and her signature dish – pork chops, ranch style beans, and mac & cheese. It’s not like I grew up eating diverse foods, unless we were at a restaurant. (My first experience with curry was revolting.)

My Vegan Tortilla Soup is, in fact, made up. By me. Last night. Hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:
3 cups vegetable broth
olive oil
1/3 can of green chiles & tomatoes (I used Ro-tel)
1/3 can of sweet kernel corn (rinsed and drained)
1/3 can whole black beans (also rinsed and drained)
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced onion
cilantro, avocado, lime, garlic, cumin, and cayenne pepper to taste

optional: tofu

Directions:
Pour vegetable broth, Ro-tel, corn, and black beans in a small pot over medium heat. Add tofu chunks (optional.) Sprinkle cumin and cayenne pepper to your preferences. In a separate pan heat olive oil until it simmers. Add celery, onion, and garlic and saute until tender. Add contents of pan to pot. Voila!

Serve with fresh avocado chunks, chopped cilantro, fried tortilla strips, and a squeeze of lime!

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Posted in Crafts, Family, Food, Home, Personal, Relationships

Doubly Blessed Baby Shower

As many of you know, my two oldest daughters are expecting babies in September! I was honored when they allowed me to host their baby shower. I am huge fan of DIY, Pinterest, and of course, saving money! I decided to do the food, decorations, and favors by hand.

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I made tissue paper tassles (instructions here) coffee filter pom poms (instructions here) tissue paper peonies (instructions here)

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For the favors I used Olive’s vintage wooden high chair to house the basket of tea lights. The card reads, “Burn this tea light on the night once the stork has made its flight. With a flicker of the flame, please say a prayer in Baby’s name.” (idea here)

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This one was my favorite addition to the decor! I knew a needed place for cards to go and it hit me I could use Olive’s vintage cradle. I knew I had to add the spoons when I revised the song in my head to “The cards in the cradle and the silver spoons.”

I am so very excited for Dallas and Mikayla. I would like to thank everyone for coming to the baby shower. My only regret is that we didn’t get more photos. If you were there, please send me any you have. Please enjoy the slideshow below of the few photos I remembered to take!

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Posted in Community, Culture, Family, Food, Home, Music, Personal, Relationships

Great Expectations

I was sitting in front of the mirror in my bedroom, carefully applying my make-up when Penelope walked in.

“Where are you going?”
“Your Dad and I are going dancing.”
She groaned. “I haaaaaate it when Parker babysits us!”
I always thought of Parker as being the cool big sister and that the kids would love to hang out with her all night. “How come?” I asked.
“Because,” she said in the whiniest voice an 8 year old could make, “Pixie is a whiny-baby. She whines and whines and whines and keeps whining until she finally gets her way. And she ALWAYS gets her way. It’s not fair!”
“Hmmmmm,” I said, “Pixie isn’t the only one we know who whines…”
“I know,” Penelope said matter-of-factually.
“Who else do we know that whines?” I asked while peering at her through the corner of my eye.
“YOU!” Penelope exclaimed.
“Me?”
“Yes, you whine ALL THE TIME!”
“I do? When?”
“Like on Easter… if everything isn’t perfect, you’re going to whine,” she said flatly.
“That’s an example of when I *might* whine. Give me an example of when I *have* whined.”
“Well, there’s just so many to choose from.”
“If there’s so many, name just one,” I said, wondering when I had ever whined.
“Let me think of the best one,” she said as she left the room.

I sat there looking at myself in the mirror wondering if I was a whiner. I was sure I wasn’t and couldn’t think of a single time in my adult life that I had been. That’s when Parker wandered in and saw my expression.

“Am I whiner?” I asked her seriously.
“What? No. You are NOT a whiner.”
“Penelope just told me I whine like Pixie.”
“Oh my God, don’t listen to her. She’s the whiner.”

I told Parker about the conversation I just had with Penelope. After a second, I asked her about the other thing Penelope said… about Easter. If everything wasn’t perfect and all.

“Well, Liz,” I could tell she was choosing her words carefully, which isn’t common with a 13 year old. They came out staggered and slowly. “You do tend to have impossibly high hopes of perfection,” she said apologetically.

‘Impossibly high hopes of perfection.’ Her words stung, though I knew it wasn’t intentional. Just then, Jose walked through the door and asked if I was ready. I was ready. After my conversations with the girls, I needed to let loose and get my dance on. We kissed the kids good-bye and headed to Gruene Hall to see the Old 97’s. I was excited, but still, Parker’s words lingered in my head.
“Do you think I whine?” I asked Jose in the car as we headed downtown. Without hesitation, he said “no,” and I could tell he meant it truthfully. I was relieved. “Do you think I have ‘impossibly high hopes of perfection?'” He drew a breath and looked away. That was the only answer I needed.
Apparently in my circle I’m known for a few key phrases (In no particular order):
– “I support this.”
– “I need a beer.”
– “I just want everything to be perfect.” and
– “Fuck it.”

We arrived at Gruene Hall to a sold out show. The gal at the door checked the guest list, signed us in and stamped our hands. We went to the bar, got a couple of Lone Stars and headed towards the stage. The place was packed and I knew there would be no dancing. Bummer. Following his lead, Jose wove through the crowd so we could get closer to the stage. The gal behind me grabbed my hips and moved my whole body to the left, telling me the flower in my hair obstructed her line of vision. Wow. I may or may not have “accidentally” crushed her toes with my 5″ black patent leather stilettos. Jose wrangled his way backstage and we got some awesome pics. It was a GREAT show!
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The next morning my daughter Dallas and I carpooled to work. I was dying to talk to her, she’s always been honest with me. I filled her in on what the girls said to me and asked if she agreed.
“You don’t whine, Mom. I whine. I was whining this morning about getting out of bed and Brandon yelled at me from his room to quit whining.”
“What about having ‘impossibly high hopes of perfection?” I asked.
“Well…” her voice trailed off.
I hung my head and inspected me feet.
“You’re not always like that. Sometimes you just say, “fuck it” and go with the flow. You do both.”
That’s the truth I was after.

Why does ‘perfection’ seem like a dirty word in this context? What is so wrong with striving for perfection anyway? Didn’t we spend our childhood trying to get 100’s on spelling tests? Weren’t we told “practice makes perfect,” “aim high,” “do your best?’ yada yada yada. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world and if you’re going to make it, you have to be better than the rest.” Us Generation Xers weren’t raised with the “everybody is a winner” attitude. We didn’t get ribbons and trophies just for participating. If we lost a soccer tournament we went home with a speech from Coach telling us what we did wrong so we could be perfect at the next game. Oh yeah, and an orange. We always got oranges after playing soccer.

I did have big plans for Easter and yes, I did want everything to be perfect. This would be the first year I was hosting and cooking. I was looking forward to having all of kids there at once. That had never happened before. We invited our nearest and dearest friends, too. I had lists, I had plans. I had the whole menu picked out, bought token gifts for the big kids, color coordinated the baskets and eggs for the little kids and hit up Hobby Lobby for all the materials I needed to make everyone an Easter basket. This was going to be perfect. Yes, I have visions in my head. I knew how I wanted everything to go. I chose gifts that I knew everyone would appreciate and picked their favorite colors just for them. I used scrapbook paper, Modge Podge, and matching ribbons for the baskets. They came out perfect.
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I bought all the groceries for my perfect meal and knew just what I wanted. My friend Angie (an amazing photographer) was coming over to take perfect pictures of my perfect family. This Easter would go down in the books. All 10 kids would remember this forever and my first attempt at hosting an Easter party for the family would be stress-free, problem-free, and care-free. It would be perfect.

Except it wasn’t.

I had told all the guest to arrive at 1pm. We began cooking the night before and I thought I would get off work at 10am on Easter Sunday. I didn’t. By noon I called my daughter Dallas and asked her to go to my house to finish the food. I was already in tears. Nothing was going as planned. My other daughter Mikayla said she was going to be late. I still hadn’t showered or done my make-up and the family pictures were on my mind. Parker had helped me make the baskets and Brandon helped stuff the eggs. When you have tons of kids, you have tons of help. My boss let me leave at 12:30pm and I sped home. I raced in the door, put Dallas to work on the deviled eggs, put Parker to work on the green beans, kissed Jose and said, “I need a beer.” After cracking a Lone Star, I changed into my yellow Easter dress, put a flower in my hair, slapped on some make-up and hurried to the kitchen. Things were in full swing with kids running around everywhere. My grandson Lyric was already jumping on the trampoline, neighborhood kids, my kids, my step-kids, and my friends kids were on bikes, skateboards, scooters, and my heels. I made a proclamation that you had to be at least 16 years old to be in the kitchen. I heard someone say, “I support this,” and I smiled. I’m rubbing off on them. Perfect.

We were *supposed* to have friend chicken, mashed potatoes, fried okra, green beans, spinach & strawberry salad, deviled eggs, pasta salad, baked beans, dinner rolls, and apple pie. I forgot to make the spinach salad and okra. Dallas and I destroyed the eggs while we were peeling them so our deviled eggs looked especially devilish. Jose fried the chicken to perfection. Naturally. While the younger kids were eating, I sent the older kids out to hide the eggs. I had begun to relax. Few things were going as planned, but everybody was there and enjoying themselves. That’s what mattered. When we were all done eating, Angie grabbed her camera and we all headed outside for the coup de gras! Starting with the cascarones, (confetti eggs for you Yankees) the kids chased each other around the backyard as it rained brightly colored tissue paper everywhere. The adults kept a safe distance at the patio table while the teenagers watched from the trampoline. I watched everybody else and there were smiles all around. Perfect. When the cascarones were gone, we let them hunt for their colors. Dallas and Ray helped Lyric “find” his orange eggs. He picked up the first one and tried to crush it on Ray’s head. Lesson learned. Egg hunt first, then cascarones. Not perfect, but seriously funny. Once all the eggs were found, Angie set us up for some family photos under the tree. I had ‘impossibly high hopes of perfection.’ Lyric began to cry. Trying to get that many people to sit still and smile at the same time was a daunting task, but you know what? I think the photo came out pretty perfect, don’t you?
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Maybe everything didn’t jive with the visions in my head. Maybe the food didn’t come out just as I expected it, and maybe things didn’t go the perfect way I envisioned them to, but we had a wonderful time. We were surrounded by the people we love and the people that love us back. My Great Expectations were realized. Maybe perfect doesn’t mean that things go exactly the way you planned. Maybe the idea of perfect in my head wasn’t perfect at all. While we were celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus, I was praising Him for showing me that Perfect Love is what it’s all about.

Posted in Food, Personal

The Pet Shop Boys

When we first moved to New Braunfels over 5 years ago, one of our favorite local places to go (other than the rivers, of course) was Polly’s Pet Shop. Being an animal friendly family, the kids loved to go check it out. They had the coolest set-ups and displays… it was like a miniature zoo. Plus, it wasn’t one of the big box pet stores, those places suck. Polly’s was a local mom and pop shop and that’s where we like to spend our money. (Go local, people!) After a couple of years, they decided to expand and moved into the Marketplace Plaza. For the record, the new place is pretty awesome and we still haven’t spent a dime at the Petsmart that opened in the new Target shopping center. Once they moved, the old place sat empty for several years. One day, while taking the kids to CiCis Pizza, we noticed a banner in the window…

“Opening Soon
Guadalajara Meat Market”

What the what?! The very last thing we expected to see in an old pet shop was a meat market! We laughed about it and I vowed to never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever shop there. I don’t have anything against meat markets, I love to stop at Granzin’s! (If you’re local, you agree; if you ever visit New Braunfels, it’s imperative that you stop there, even if it’s just for a sandwich made at the deli!) It just felt dirty and unhygenic. I mean, I knew that it would be cleaned, painted, and remodeled, but that can’t erase the memory of snakes, mice, fish, insects, and other animals previously living in the same space as carnitas and lengua. I don’t have anything against Mexican meat markets, either. When I lived in Houston, I was always going to a La Michoacana Meat Market (a Houston based, state-wide chain) for pre-seasoned fajitas. (If you’re from Texas, you understand.)
Without advertising and fanfare, I don’t think the Chamber even held a ribbon cutting ceremony, the Guadalajara Meat Market opened. I drove past it daily and never considered going inside… until one day on my way home from work. I got a text from my daughter asking one of the most dreaded questions a mom can hear. I get asked this question daily and rarely have an immediate answer:

“Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Ugh. I try to come up with ideas that are quick, cheap, easy, and creative, but all the Pinterest recipes in the world aren’t going to actually stock my pantry with groceries. This day, I knew there was nothing in there and the mere idea of hitting up HEB or Wal-Mart at 5:00 pm made me want to vomit. Out of ideas and out of options, I decided to break my vows and stop in. I pushed open the door, full of disdain and bias, expecting to see, well, I don’t know what I expected. I guess I just thought it would suck. But it didn’t. There was no sign that this place was ever a pet shop or anything other than a cute little grocery store with a meat market in the back. It has a nice tile floor, a small but well stocked produce department, a great selection of “ethnic foods,” (that’s the politically correct way of saying “Imported from Mexico”) light groceries, beer, toiletries, and the best bakery ever! The guy working in back was young, either still in high school or just graduated. He is always polite, friendly, and talkative. He remembers me and asks about Lyric every day. Yes, every day. Once swearing to never shop there, I now stop in daily to pick up what I need. The bakery is amazing and so inexpensive! The bolillos are fresh and those apple turnovers I’m always talking about are only 69 cents!
Fast forward to yesterday:
Mikayla was having her best friend, Faythe spend the night, so I decided to make fettucini alfredo for dinner. I already had everything I needed except the chicken, so naturally, I went to Guadalajara on my way home.  It was a hot day and I was wearing a cute maxi dress in a halter style with flops. Smiling at my young friend behind the counter, (and without thinking) I said,

“I’ll have 2 large breasts, please.”

He had an immediate smirk on his face (oh, juveniles!) stammered a moment, tried to regain his composure while trying to maintain eye contact, and finally stuttered out,
“(Clearing throat) Yes, ma’am. Need anything else?”
Um, no. I didn’t need anything else except to maybe think before I speak. Next time I’m ordering by the pound.


*Related story: Just because I left Houston in 2007, I can’t stay away. I make it a point to visit every 6 weeks or so, usually to hang out with friends, see a show, and end the night with drinks at Catbird’s. (When you are in Houston, make sure you go to The Bird! The staff is great, the patio is great, and the patrons are sensational! You’ll meet some of the best folks in your entire life at this little place on Westheimer.) We had a routine. I’d head east on I-10, stop in Katy at my best gals house, (she lived on Delta Queen, but I always called it Delta Dawn) get dressed to paint the town red, hit up Chapultepec (on Richmond near Montrose) for Gran Gala Margaritas, see a show, head to Etro (next to Catbird’s) for some dancing, (they have the best 80’s new wave-ish DJ’s – just like Fame City) and finish off the night at Lola’s Depot or back at The Bird. If we were lucky and up for it, we could go upstairs at Notsuoh (that’s “Houston” backwards if you’re not in the know) for some after hours partying. We’d make it back to Katy just before sunrise, sometimes after, get some rest, and wake up with the terrible hangovers. What better way to cure a hangover than with a delicious breakfast taco? We would stop at the Sac N Pac for ICEE’s to rehydrate and head over to La Michoacana for picadillo tacos with fresh cilantro and chopped onion. We always thought it ironic that it was a “Meat Market” because everytime we walked in the old men sitting at tables sipping coffee and licking their chops (that’s so punny!) would stare us down as if we were a piece of meat.

Posted in Family, Food, Home, Personal

From River Goddess to Domestic Goddess

It was last Tuesday and I had to stay home from work to be with my grandson who was sick. My daughter couldn’t get out of her shift at work and he couldn’t go to daycare so I got to play hooky from my job! Seeing as how I’m usually a “river goddess” it had been a long time since I was a “domestic goddess,” but I was up for the task.

I woke up on a mission. I had big plans. I was going to show those stay-at-home-moms that working-moms could do it, too. First things first, I thawed the venison and began prepping for the pot of chili I was making for dinner. My can opener wouldn’t work. I had to open the tomato sauce, ro-tel, and chili beans by hand. That totally sucked. Moving on… I got all the ingredients in the crock pot, cooked the venison, added my spices, turned it on low, and felt pretty good about myself. Dinner would be ready by 7pm. I decided to wait to make the cornbread so it would be warm and fresh when I served it. In the midst of getting everything ready for the chili, I realized my pantry was a total disaster. I decided to go ahead and clean it out. That meant taking everything out of there, placing it on my kitchen table, dumping the expired stuff, and putting it all back in an organized manner. By now, my grandson had woken up from his morning nap and was a wee bit on the cranky side. After a diaper change and snot-wiping, I decided he was hungry and set him up in his high chair for some juice and a snack. Bear in mind I had the entire contents of my pantry piled on the kitchen table. I kid you not, I turned my back for 3 tiny seconds to fill his sippy cup and BAM! I heard it. It sounded like a rain stick or a kaleidoscope. I turned around to see that he had poured an entire 16 oz package of brown rice all over the kitchen floor. And the table. And his lap. And his high chair. And I’m pretty sure there was rice in my chandelier. Do you know how difficult it is to get every piece of rice up from the kitchen and a toddler? Neither do I because I’m still finding rice over a week later. That shit multiplies when you’re not looking. Meanwhile, what felt like an hour later, the floor is swept, my grandson is relatively clean, the chili is smelling good, and I’m ready to tackle the pantry. As I put things away (like items go together) I notice a can of evaporated milk, a can of pumpkin (when did I buy that?) and a box of graham crackers. That’s when I decided to make a dessert to go with my bad ass home cooked meal. That’s also when my grandson decided that he needed to play with every single toy he owned in the middle of the kitchen floor. (Dang, that little dude is fast! How did he get all that stuff in there so quick?!)

Now that the pantry is complete and Lyric is watching the Disney Channel, I sit down with my goodies to see if I can put together some sort of dessert. The back of the graham cracker box has a recipe for a crust. The back of the pumpkin has a recipe for pie. I decide to wing it and make pumpkin squares. I remembered a recipe for cream cheese frosting that only had 3 ingredients. Things were coming along nicely. I used the manual can opener (again, ugh) for the pumpkin and Pet milk, whipped it all up, placed it in the oven, went to set the timer, glanced at the clock, and… HOLY FUCK! it was already 1:30 in the afternoon! Where did my day go? We didn’t even stop for lunch! My daughter was due home from work in two hours and I felt like I had accomplished so little. I kicked it into high gear, cleaned up my mess, washed all the dishes, put Lyric down for a nap, made my frosting, took the pumpkin bars out of the oven to cool, made 2 dozen corn muffins, and plopped my butt down on the sofa to relax. Two minutes later, my daughter walked in the house…

Looking around at all the toys strewn about the living room and giving me a hard once-over, she says, “Dang Mom, I thought you had big plans today! Have you just been sitting on the couch all day doing nothing?”

I look down at myself and realize I am still in my pajamas, my hair hasn’t been brushed, my teeth haven’t been brushed, and yesterdays make-up looked a lot better yesterday. I was a hot mess and so was the rest of the house. (except the kitchen) So, props to you June Cleavers out there. I may be able to manage multimillion dollar businesses, wildlife creeping into the campground, drunks, sunburns, medical emergencies, hungover and late staff, and most any computer-related disaster handed my way, but managing to put myself together while caring for a sick toddler, preparing meals, and keeping up with the housework seems to be outside my realm of capabilities. Hats off to you stay-at-home-moms! Your job is HARD.

We did enjoy a nice chili and corn muffin dinner at the clean table, followed by delicious pumpkin bars. It’s highly probable those dirty dishes are still sitting in my kitchen sink one week later. Dallas was exhausted from her day at work, I was exhausted from my day not at work, and Lyric was exhausted from being sick and playing. We cuddled on the couch and watched ‘The Godfather.’ (Don’t judge me. It was ‘Mob Week’ on AMC and they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.) Actually, the point of this blog was to share with you the recipe for my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants pumpkin bars that I threw together and came out fabulously! So, here ya go:

Miss Liz Pumpkin Bars

Crust
1 1/2 cups ground graham crackers
1/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter
Mix it all together and press into the bottom of  8 X 11 pan

Follow the directions on the back of the pumpkin can and add 2 cups flour. Pour entire mixture over the graham cracker crust and bake at suggested temperature for suggested time.

Cream Cheese Icing
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
Mix it all together, store in fridge, spread on cooled bars and top with sprinkled nuts!

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NOW GET YOUR GRUB ON!