it’s about time the blind get a fashionable watch

Concept tactile wristwatch

Concept tactile wristwatch

I previously blogged about the Haptica Braille watch, but now there’s news of a new concept watch in the making that may give Haptica a run for their money. Jacob Rynkiewicz is designing a sleek watch with a rubber wristband that should be easy to put on and take off. Instead of numbers, there are tactile markers on the face of the watch so that a person could potentially feel with their fingers which way the dial hands are pointing, and thus, telling time. Perhaps the advantage of this watch to the Haptica is that the user doesn’t have to know Braille to know the time. As far as looks go, I obviously don’t know which one is more fashionable. What do you think? Lend me your eyes.

blind mother wins marathon

My cousin, Pauline, recently sent me an online article about Amy McDonaugh, a legally blind woman from South Carolina who won the 13th annual Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. She ran the 26.2 miles in 2:58:14, and this marks her first marathon win. Amy is a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom who has no peripheral vision, very poor vision in one eye and is blind in the other, but she ran the entire race without a guide. She can see straight-away; perhaps this helped her “focus” on the finish line.

Pauline noted that maybe next year, John and I can do the MS150 together, but with my tendency towards fatigue, I don’t quite see that happening. Instead, I’ll remain happily indoors blogging about all the great things other blind people do.

6-month urban garden update

Garden - June 2011

It’s been six months since we planted the first of our urban garden. Since then, we’ve expanded a little; the backyard is now home to all the original herbs–rosemary, parsley, thyme, cilantro, and oregano–in addition to the original broccoli heads. In February, we purchased lemon and lime trees, roma tomato plants, Italian basil, and Thai basil. We had to show up bright and early at the nursery and elbow all the old people out of the way to get to the tomatoes and basil–those things sell like hotcakes. We were happy to get our hands on some but ended up destroying so many of them anyway. So here are the lessons learned during the first six months of our brown-thumb urban gardening.

TOP 5 BROWN-THUMB LESSONS LEARNED IN THE FIRST SIX MONTHS

  • Lesson #5: Don’t plant your lemon and lime trees in terracotta pots. Terracotta clay is too hot for the heat of Houston summers and will likely burn the roots of your trees. We learned this only after we already bought the terracotta pots and planted our dwarf lemon and lime trees in them. All other pots were either ugly or too expensive so we left our trees in them with the hopes that excessive watering will keep the roots cool. (Who said trees can’t be fashionable?) Too bad we are probably not watering them as often as we should. The curse of a lazy gardener.
  • Lesson #4: Give your tomatoes plenty of room because those suckers are wild. The roma tomatoes were rampant which you think would be a good thing, but we used weak bamboo sticks to hold up the vines a la zip ties, and the result is a crazy looking mess. Better to buy tomato cages and give the tomatoes plenty of space. We planted our Thai and Italian basil too close to the tomatoes, and now the crazy tomato vines have overshadowed the basil and stunted their growth.
  • Lesson #3: Make sure you use the right ratio of soil-to-fertilizer for each plant. In other words, check the chemical levels of the soil and fertilizer used because different plants require different ratios. The Black Kow fertilizer was fine for the herbs but virtually burnt our tomatoes. The tomato plant bore scores of little tomatoes but they all had burnt black bottoms, a result of too much nitrogen in their diet, I believe. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
  • Lesson #2: Watch your dogs very carefully. My delinquent dogs have been eating all my Thai basil. I didn’t even know until I smelled it all over their breath. Why couldn’t you dogs at least eat the parsley which is better for your breath and more plentiful anyway? I haven’t even had a taste of my Thai basil because they’ve all gone in my dogs’s tummies! And to think I blamed it all on the crazy tomatoes.
  • Lesson #1: Don’t be lazy about watering. The problem with the Houston heat is it truly makes one lazy. It’s so hot and humid outside–we’ve already hit a record-breaking 100 degrees the first week of June!–that nobody ever wants to venture outside. The downside is our plants are also dying of thirst. The broccoli is probably having a heat stroke right now as I type this. To combat our weariness, my husband rigged a homemade irrigation system: he made a rain water collector out of a garbage can and some piping which he attached to a porous hose that seeps water out through its gauze-like exterior. He also bought a water timer so now promptly at 7:30 CDT every other day, the garden gets a drink.

John is already talking about building another garden bed–the Beta Bed, it would be called. This garden bed would be built from scratch (rather than from the Costco kit) so that exact dimensions are achieved at a fraction of the cost. In this Beta Bed, we will employ all of our lessons learned in the first six months of urban gardening and try our hand at bettering our brown thumbs–maybe they can become beige. We’ll use the correct dirt, give plants enough space, use an efficient crop rotation. Check back later for more updates.

penne with vodka sauce

Penne with vodka sauce

Spicy and creamy

In the recipe exchange I had participated in, I received a recipe for penne a la vodka. I pieced that recipe together with one I found on All Recipes and came up with this one. It was the third dish to the four-course Italian birthday meal, and Joy even said the sauce was her favorite part of dinner. The great thing about this dish is it’s quick and simple and delicious. This is definitely a valuable addition to the repertoire. I even got to use parsley picked fresh from our garden. If the Blind can Cook this, you definitely can.

Recipe: Penne with Vodka Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. uncooked penne pasta
  • 2 (3.5 oz.) Italian sausage
  • 3 strips of pancetta or bacon, cut into pcs.
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 med. onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 tbsp. vodka
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Cook penne al dente. Drain.
  2. In a med. saucepan, heat oil over med. heat. Remove sausage from casing and add to pot along with pancetta or bacon, breaking up the sausage and stirring until browned. Add garlic, onion, and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant.
  3. Add tomatoes and salt; bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer approx. 15 min.
  4. Add vodka and half-and-half or cream, and bring to boil. Toss with penne and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve with parmesan cheese if desired.

Variations

I used turkey Italian sausage and turkey bacon for a slightly healthier option. Taste is not compromised.

For a little green in the dish, consider adding spinach into the saucepan as you add the tomatoes. Simmer until spinach is to desired wiltedness.

Cooking time (duration): 30

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

tuscan potato soup

Tuscan potato soup

Missing the kale. Boo.

The second course of the Italian birthday dinner was this Tuscan potato soup which is very similar to Olive Garden‘s bottomless potato soup. I found the copycat recipe online years ago and have been making it since. It’s a little spicy (which you don’t expect), and the blend of vegetables, meat, and the creamyb chicken broth all make for a flavorful soup. Because it’s not too thick, it’s not super filling, and thus makes a proper second course for a four-course meal. But because it’s creamy, it’s still hearty enough to please the palate.

The kale adds a little texture and color to the soup but my husband had picked out the wrong kale at the grocery store–I needed the curly, leafy kind but he chose one that tasted like straight-up grass and dirt. Who knew there was more than one kind of kale? So sorry, but this phohto doesn’t have the green kale. And remember, if the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Recipe: Tuscan Potato Soup

Summary: A knock-off of Olive Garden’s soup

Ingredients

  • 3 (14 oz.) cans chicken broth
  • 9 c. water
  • 3 to 5 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage, loosely grounded
  • 4 lg. red potatoes, unpeeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 lg. white onion, finely chopped
  • 3 to 5 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2/3 c. half-and-half
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 c. chopped kale leaves

Instructions

  1. In a lg. stockpot, combine water, chicken broth, salt, and potatoes. Set to a low boil.
  2. In a separate pan, fry up bacon until slightly crispy. Set bacon aside, saving the grease in the pan.
  3. In the same pan used to cook the bacon, add the Italian sausage, onion, and olive oil. Simmer on low until sausage is cooked through, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add bacon and sausage mixture into the soup pot. Mix the garlic, cayenne pepper, and half-and-half into the soup pot. Cover and simmer on low for 30 min.
  5. Five min. before serving, stir in the chopped kale leaves.

Variations

I used turkey bacon and Italian turkey sausage for a slightly healthier option. (And also because my husband doesn’t eat pork.)

Cooking time (duration): 60

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

bruschetta

Bruschetta

Voila! Classico antipasto italiano.

A classic antipasto italiano–Italian Appetizer–is bruschetta, pronounced with a short “u” as in “brush” and a hard “ch” sound like a “k” as in “basket”. Many Americans incorrectly use a long “u” and a soft “shh” sound, and while this is acceptable in most English speaking countries, I like to use the authentic Italian version, complete with rolling R’s and gusto.

Now that we’ve got the pronunciation stuff out of the way, let’s move on to the dish itself. I recently hosted another birthday dinner for friends Joy, Joanna, Heari, and Teresa. Their birthdays stretched way back from February and into the future to May; everyone’s lives had just been too busy for us to coordinate dates. But finally, during a recent Saturday evening, we found ourselves seated around my farmhouse table sharing a meal together.

I decided to go with A Night in Tuscany as the theme since they all enjoy those ever-so-reputedly-bad-for-you carbs. For the first course of the four-course meal, I made this classic bruschetta dish. It turned out yummy; the red onion added a sweet yet pungent kick to each bite. I used Genovese basil fresh from our garden and a saltier, French butter on the baguette slices before baking. The creamy richness of the butter (which my dad bought for us from a Vietnamese grocery store) added an extra oomph to the bruschetta. Perfection in every bite. If the Blind can Cook it, so can you.

Recipe: Bruschetta

Summary: Original recipe courtesy of my friend Karen

Ingredients

  • 4 roma tomatoes, diced & strained
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • minced garlic (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • balsamic vinegar to taste
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 baguette, sliced into 3/4″ slices
  • melted butter
  • 1/8 c. grated parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. In a med. bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, and basil. Add olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Toss well and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, spread butter on each baguette slice. Bake at approx. 350 degrees for 3 to 5 min. or until butter is melted and bread is lightly toasted.
  3. Top with tomato onion mixture. Add parmesan cheese on top if desired.

Variations

You can add minced fresh garlic to the tomato and onion mixture if desired. Italian food is known for the garlic, after all.

Cooking time (duration): 20

Diet type: Vegetarian

Meal type: hors d’oerves

Culinary tradition: Italian

Microformatting by hRecipe.

yee haw! trader joe’s coming to texas!

Trader Joe's

If you’ve ever been out west, you’ve likely come across Trader Joe’s, a decades-old organic grocery store offering higher quality foods at lower costs than, say, Whole Foods or Central Market. While I love Whole Foods and Central Market, their prices just sometimes leave me flinching. With some new competition on the block, consumers will have wider options, and I’m super stoked to have one open in our city. According to Houston Press‘s food blog, the market will open its first Texas store in Dallas by the end of 2011 and is currently scouting sites for their Austin and Houston counterparts. For years, I have been lamenting our lack of a Trader Joe’s, so you can imagine how excited I was when this news broke some weeks ago. Now my only perturbed question is: why does Dallas get everything first? (Ahem, H&M?)

my favorite cakes in houston

Wedding cake

From Leduc Gourmet Bakery

Since today is my birthday, I decided to do a post on where to find some of the best cakes in Houston. So here is the short list in no particular order:

  • Leduc Gourmet Baker located on Bellaire Blvd. between Kirkwood and Boone just west of the Hong Kong shopping center has some of the best Vietnamese-French cakes in the business and for a reasonable price, too. Since the French colonized Indochina some centuries ago, the fine French way of cooking has definitely left its imprint on Vietnamese cuisine, and this does not exclude the pastries and cakes which Leduc does a fine job of producing. Their most popular cake (and one of my favorites is a coffee cake with mocha icing topped with fresh strawberries and lined with almond slivers. I grew up with my mother buying a similar cake from another nearby bakery, and it always sends me on a nostalgic run every time I eat the stuff. John and I also ordered our wedding cake from Leduc; at $2.25 per slice, it was one of the better deals we could find for such a delicious cake. We got two flavors: (1) coffee cake layered with chocolate truffle and mocha butter cream (for the chocolate lovers), and (2) amaretto cake with raspberry jam filling (for the fruit lovers).
  • Whole Foods, the Austin-based grocery store specializing in organic products, makes a berry chantilly cake that is also super-delish. There are fresh berries on top with cream cheese icing, and the cake is ever moist. The best part is it’s made from all organic ingredients so you know you aren’t getting overly processed stuff in your system. My friend, Joanna, ordered the berry chantilly sheet cakes for her wedding, and I’ve never heard anyone not like the cake. Thanks, Jeanette, for first feeding me this cake for my birthday many years ago.
  • Take the Cake is a bakery that I haven’t had as much experience with but I’ve heard great things about it. I’ve had one cake from there that my cousin brought for Christmas lunch last year, and I do remember it was yummy. I’ve heard many like their Hummingbird cake (a springtime dessert with banana, pineapple, and pecan cream cheese icing–I know it sounds weird), so I might order it for my mama-in-law for our Mother’s Day/my birthday dinner this weekend.

Where do you get your favorite cake?

blind culinary student gets noticed by charlie trotter

This isn’t the newest of news but I recently came across the article for the second time and realized I hadn’t blogged about it the first time because, evidently, my blog hadn’t existed back then. Of course, that just wouldn’t do considering the fact that she is like the cornerstone for the entire reason my blog even exists!

Laura Martinez, a culinary student at Chicago’s Le Cordon Bleu, expressed concern with landing a proper job in a reputable kitchen after graduation because of her visual impairment. Last year, CBS featured her story on the Chicago evening news and arranged for her to meet Charlie Trotter whose same-named restaurant is one of Chicago’s top haute cuisines. The real kicker was when Trotter invited Martinez to work the kitchen in his flagship restaurant. But will she succeed in a kitchen full of sighted cooks? I don’t know but would be interested if anyone had the follow-up story.

  • Read more about and see videos of Laura Martinez, the blind culinary student, meeting Chicago’s Charlie Trotter.
  • first ever haute wheels food truck festival in houston

    WHEN: Saturday, May 14 from noon to 7 PM and Sunday, May 15 from noon to 5 PM

    WHERE: HCC southwest campus (5601 West Loop South)


    With Houston often racing neck-to-neck with Philadelphia to be America’s fattest city, and with a plethora of diverse (and actually really delicious) cuisine, it is only fitting that Houston host a food truck festival. Food trucks have been all the rage of recent years, beginning with perhaps the stinkin’ Kogi truck of southern Cali (which I stood four hours in line for–don’t even ask) and culminating with Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race”. What is our obsession with food trucks? I can only speak for my own personal penchant for them, and it stems from a love for travel and, if you look even deeper, a love for adventure.

    I was bitten by the traveling bug as soon as I had a little money to do it. It began with my first trip to NYC my senior year of college during spring break. It was the first non-family trip I took that involved getting on a plane (and not just loading up in a car and driving down to South Padre). It was then that I realized there were so many other things in this world that I had no clue about, and I suddenly wanted to be cultured. If NYC blew me away, what would Brazil, Ireland, Turkey, Japan do to me?

    Of course, I’d always loved food as well. And when I got older, accumulated more dollar bills in my pockets, I started venturing to more places, finally able to afford the finer things in dining life. And when I began to lose my vision, my appreciation for the sense of taste grew exponentially. Traveling has obviously become more of a burden now that I cannot see, and I often couldn’t care less about sightseeing, but trying indigenous foods of other cultures? I’m on that like white on rice.

    And how else does one experience true foods of a country than by eating at street vendors? That’s where you spend the least money for the most authentic (and often, tastiest) delicacies. And thus is born my/our love for food trucks. It gives us a sense of adventure, like we are in the middle of Copenhagen instead of just plain old Houston. (Or, rather, Mumbai since that’s probably closer in climate.)

    So the point of this whole long-winded post was to inform you that Houston will host the first food truck festival on a HCC campus in mid-May. Tickets ($16 for adults and includes $5 of concession vouchers) are limited, so get yours now. You can bet I’ll be blogging about it after the fact. Bon appetit!

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