Celebrate Your Pride By Taking a Look and Listen to Music from a Couple of New Artists from Down South, Like Way Down South (America)

It’s June.  That’s Pride Month.  Not to mention the U.S. Supreme Court is merely days away from making a momentous decision on same-sex marriage.  Here in Houston LGBT Pride activities are in full swing, culminating with the daytime festival and evening (into night) parade this Saturday, June 27th.  For the first time, these two events will be held in downtown Houston instead of the Montrose area, where the first Houston Gay Pride Parade took place in 1979.  (Find all the details about Houston Pride here.)

To celebrate LGBT pride here on the blog, I decided to introduce a couple of talented artists who have no fear of showing their true selves in their videos.  I found out about these two young Latin American performers thanks to remezcla.com and since my first listen to one video each, their tunes have been stuck in my head.  They are from neighboring South American countries.  Namuel, from Chile, has just put out this catchy single “Babycakes,” and the accompanying video can only be described as “cute and sweet.”  The video here from Jaloo, out of Brazil, also with an LGBT theme, goes with his “Bai Bai.”  This is a cover from a very popular song of a couple of years ago.  I’ll keep you guessing and not spoil it so you’ll listen.  I don’t understand much Portuguese, so I can’t say if the lyrics are the same, but the music in what I’d say is brega-style (I’m just learning about this genre of music, but I might compare it in a way to reggaeton. No matter the style, this tune keeps playing in my head much more than the original, which I really like.

Check out more great work from Namuel and Jaloo on YouTube and SoundCloud, where you’ll find a lot more by these terrific artists.

Happy Pride, y’all!

Home-canning Tomatoes Brings on the Nostalgia: Here’s a Recipe To Start Your Own Memories

Just made home-canned jars of tomatoes fresh from the garden--mostly Purple Cherokees, filled in with plump grape tomatoes.

Just made home-canned jars of tomatoes fresh from the garden–mostly Purple Cherokees, filled in with plump grape tomatoes.

I thought I probably wouldn’t can tomatoes this year. Last year, I hadn’t.  Because of the still dry conditions, except for the grape tomato, the plants didn’t produce much at all.  Also, this year I only set in seven plants: three Purple Cherokees, three hybrids that bear pretty large fruit, and another grape tomato.

If you want a plant that continues bearing for a long time and lets you almost daily grab enough tomatoes for your salads, I recommend planting grape tomatoes.  With just a couple of plants, you can harvest daily the same amount of tomatoes that you will pay $2.50 per container (or more) at the super market.  Of course, if you want the big, beefy slicing tomatoes that go great in a sandwich, there is none better than the heirloom Purple Cherokee; though even the hybrids picked fresh from the garden are nightly tasty.

Nothing better than a juicy tomato straight from the patch behind the garage.

Nothing better than a juicy tomato straight from the patch behind the garage.

With the rain this year, my tomatoes have been doing well, but with the onset of higher temperatures, the big tomatoes are no longer setting on.  I’ve already shared with friends, so more of the tomatoes getting ripe at the same time, I decided to look to see (Don’t you just love this redundancy!) if I had all the necessities for canning tomatoes.  It doesn’t take much: jars, lids, rings, and several pots for water.  I also have real canning tongs; something we didn’t have out on the farm.  Some say you have to have a pressure cooker for canning, but I do it the way my mom did, just using a big kettle with a lid and have always had good results.

The recipe is pretty simple, but I dug out the recipe card, one of many that I have in my mom’s handwriting.  Her distinctive writing and the whole process itself brings back a lot of good memories of helping with the canning when I was a kid out there on the farm in Kansas.

So the process (it’s really more of a process than a recipe):

Fill 3 pots with water and put them on the stove to simmer.  You’ll need 2 smaller pots, one to scald the jars and one to blanch the tomatoes.  You’ll need another pot big enough to hold the filled jars for the actually canning.  I have one that will hold 6 pints or 4 quarts.

I sanitize the jars by dipping them in one pot of boiling water.  You can also do this in the dishwasher or by pouring scalding water into and over them in the sink drainer.  Let them drain on a towel on the counter.  Then put sealing lids in the water to sanitize and heat up.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water and put it in the sink.  Turn the jars right-side up and put them near the sink in order to have them ready for the tomatoes, once peeled.

Start dipping clean, washed tomatoes into the hot water in the other smaller pot, one or two at a time.  Leave them for about 20-30 seconds.  Use a big slotted spoon to dip them out of the pot and plunge them into the ice water for just a few seconds.  The skins should peel off easily.  Use a paring knife to cut out the stem areas and any blemishes.  Now fill the jars with the peeled tomatoes.  Smaller tomatoes can go in whole; larger ones should be cut into halves or quarters.  As you fill the jars, gently push down the tomatoes with your fingers to eliminate air pockets.  Fill the jars to approximately 3/4 inch from the top.  Make sure that no tomatoes will be sticking up against the lid.

Now add salt to each jar:  1/2 teaspoon for pints, 1 teaspoon for quarts. (Some recipes also suggest adding a spoonful of lemon juice.)  Next, wipe all around the rim of the jar with a clean, damp cloth to remove any tomato bits, salt, or liquid.

Now remove the lids from the simmering water with a spoon or tongs.  Be careful; the lids will be hot!  Put the lids on the jars and screw on the jar rings.  The rings should be tight, but not necessarily muscle-man tight.  I twist the lids on as tightly as I can and then loosen them back just a tad.  Remember that the rings are there to hold the lids on during the canning; they really aren’t what is actually sealing the jar.

You’re ready to put the filled jars into the big pot of simmering water.  How much water to start with is always a guess, but you want the water to cover the jars by about an inch once you have them all in the pot, so don’t overfill.  If I need more water, I just pour some from the pot that I used for sanitizing the jars.  Use the canning tongs to carefully stand the jars in the pot.  My mom always placed a dishcloth on the bottom of the pot for cushion, but I don’t do that.  Cover the pot with its lid.  The jars of tomatoes will cool down the water a bit, so turn up the heat until the water gets boiling again and then you can let the jars simmer.  Mom’s recipe says 20 minutes for pints and 30 minutes for quarts.

Don’t mess with the jars in the pot.  The first year I canned tomatoes, I got worried seeing air bubbles coming out of the jars, but that’s just part of the process and what makes the vacuum to help the jars seal.

When the cooking time is up, lift the jars out of the pot with the canning tongs, and place them on a cloth on the counter to cool.  Once again, don’t mess with them.  Just let them sit until cool.  As the jars begin to cool down, you will hear a “ping”.  This is the final sealing of the jars.  After the jars are completely cool, test the seal by gently pushing down on the center of each jar lid.  If there is no “give”, that means the jar is sealed.

In the rare case that the lid easily moves up and down, that means the jar isn’t sealed.  At this point, you have two choices, start the canning process over with a new lid and 20 more minutes of cooking time, or put the jar in the refrigerator and use the tomatoes within a few days.

Making home-canned tomatoes is one of the least involved canning processes.  Whether you can just a couple of jars or a couple dozen, there will be a lot of satisfaction in preserving some fresh produce from your own garden.  Then some cold day in the fall or winter, you’ll have the special treat of opening a jar to make your favorite spaghetti sauce or chili with tomatoes that still have that home-grown flavor, something that the store-bought just doesn’t give.

Old Music and New Car

After a random discovery of a CD I had been thinking about for awhile, this morning’s commute was tempered by the 10 tracks from “Super-nova” from the Mexican synth-pop group, La Siguiente Pagina.  I don’t know much about the group, but I always loved the space-themed electronic euro-dance songs on this disc from 1997.  (If I had been looking hard, I would have found the entire album online; check it out.).  

As I drove in to work, listening to track after track, I wasn’t really taken back 18 years, because for the most part, the songs have stayed surprisingly fresh, though after listening to a lot that’s being played on the SiriusXM dance channels, there were definitely a lot more BPMs going on in dance music back about 20 years. It’s too bad they only came out with this one album and a remix disc from one of songs, “Outer-space.”  That disc is tucked away, just waiting to be found, somewhere around the house or maybe out in the garage.

Speaking of the garage: parked inside is the new ride–a white CR-V Touring.  I had been thinking “new car” for quite some time, since Christmas really, when there was absolutely no more room in the Fiesta hatchback after loading it with presents, goodies, belongs, and dog.  It was a bit more than four years old and almost 65,000 miles.  I had had virtually no problems with it, and it squeezed great miles out of every gallon, but besides the lack of space for trips, I often felt vulnerable out on the road.  Larger vehicles gave no respect.

And respect the CR-V gets.  Maybe because it’s bigger; maybe because I drive it differently because it has more power.  I didn’t choose it for either the respect or the power.  Besides the added space, I liked the safety features that come with the    new-this=year Touring, that the other levels of the CR-V don’t have, like the LaneWatch, and the Collision Mitigation.  Also, I thought the Fiesta had really good side vision, but the mirrors on the CR-V just seem to give a wider angle of vision; the one on the driver’s side has a sort of split mirrors, so all-in-all the blind spots are really minimized.  Along with just sitting up higher, the better visibility makes my entering and exiting so much less chancy.

The car has a lot of other features that come in handy, like the automatic tailgate, but what I notice most is the space.  My Saturday groceries, which about filled up the hatchback of the Fiesta, now seem kinda dinky in the back of the CR-V.  It’s a different drive too, more solid, and I can’t just scoot into parking spaces.  However, considering the size of the vehicle, the gas mileage isn’t bad.  Each week, I’m putting in about two more gallons into the tank for my 50 mile-a-day commute plus whatever chore and fun miles are put on.  That doesn’t seem bad for the difference in the vehicles.

So I guess now I’ll have to dig around and see what other CDs I can scrounge up.  If I find enough good ones, it might be time for a road trip.

All spic-n-span after being freshly washed; yep, and still waiting for the real license plates.

All spic-n-span after being freshly washed; yep, and still waiting for the real license plates.

The back of the 2015 CR-V looks pretty similar to other years, but I hate to say it, but what makes it look different might seem to be a longhorn.

The back of the 2015 CR-V looks pretty similar to other years, but I hate to say it, but what makes it look different might seem to be a longhorn.

Wintery Day Is Just Right To Stay Inside and “Chill”

Morning greetings of winter white out the door--Lyons, Kansas.

Morning greetings of winter white out the door–Lyons, Kansas.

Just like family get-togethers and exchanging presents, snowstorms seem to be a tradition of every Christmas holiday visit I make back to my home state of Kansas.  This morning we woke up to a couple inches of the white stuff on the ground, with even more swirling around in the air.  The snow itself made for a pretty scene outside, but the cold blast of 7 degrees when I opened the door was more than what I’d call “brisk.”

The first thing I had to do was sweep a path on my sister’s patio and then out on the grass for Annie to take a “go.” Finally, she did, at lightning speed.

With the snow still coming down most of the day and the cold wind zipping at the skin, other than re-sweeping the doggy paths, I haven’t wanted to venture out.  It was just the kind of day to keep the house cozy by using the oven to cook up the pork roast and sauerkraut we got yesterday in preparation of a cold day.

Tonight the forecast is for 5 degrees, but I’m sure that the blankets and quilts on the bed will keep me–and Annie–warm.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Swept paths for a little dog to make a quick run outside.

Annie stays near--or on--a warm lap on these cold days.

Annie stays near–or on–a warm lap on these cold days.

New Chilean Singer Neven Jogs a Mind Trip Back to the Land of “Tren al Sur”

There was a day when the few things I knew about Chile came from 80s-90s band Los Prisioneros, and their hit Tren al Sur and its accompanying video were perhaps the spark that drew me to travel to that  South American country for the first time only a few years after the dictator Pinochet was out of power.  Meeting Chilean friends via the internet really made it all happen in 1995, and then again 5 years later.  Once there, I was intrigued by the beauty of the Pacific coastline paralleled by the snaking range of the Andes mountains and volcanos, which runs the length of the country, and even more so by the kind, soft-spoken people (though I was, and still am, perplexed by the obvious political riff among these same people).

In Chile, I made it as far south to the city of Puerto Montt and the nearby gaelic-feeling island of Chiloe.  I took the bus, not the tren al sur, but it was very much one of the best tourist adventures of my life.  In more ways than one, this video and music still take me there.

I have such a place in my heart for Chile that I’m still ready to have a visit with anyone from there whom I might meet who has made his way up here to Houston.  Likewise, I keep myself informed about what’s happening there, at least that of significant importance.  I don’t hear much music out of Chile these days, maybe because most of my music listening time comes via  SiriusXM radio during my daily commutes.  Somehow, though, by clicking here and there on Twitter, I came across Neven (@Nevenilic).  His style of music might not be exactly the type I hear on my radio most of the time–it’s sort of Justin Timberlake-esque.  What’s more he’s not bad on the eyes.  There’s a brand new video of his most recent outing After Party, but I like even better una que salio´ last year called Bad.  Neven, not to mention the videos, is still a little raw, but he’s got the voice and talent.  Maybe we’ll be hearing more of him here in the U.S.

Take a look and listen. First, comes Bad: 

And now After Party: 

Another Year and More Reflection–But Anyway, Happy Pride 2014, Houston!

 

OK, so even out here in the suburbs, we can show our pride.

OK, so even out here in the suburbs, we can show our pride.

It’s that time of year again–LGBT pride month.  Really, it’s all about the parade, which is going to happen today in Houston–8:15 down on what we used to call lower Westheimer (well, maybe lower Westheimer is really beyond Montrose Avenue).  The festival is today also and starts at 11:00 AM.  Get any info about these events and all other Houston Pride activities here.)

I seem to always get reflective this time of year.  It’s hard not to.  It’s the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, which in a way was the start of the concept of “Gay Pride” and the point (at least in the U.S.) in time when some gay people decided to “stop taking shit” from the cops and others for just being who they were.

I only know about this from reading about it a number of years later.  At the time, I had just finished my sophomore year at Fort Hays State University out in western Kansas and had a summer job working for the Union Pacific Railroad (other posts about that here).  I might have heard something about Stonewall on the TV news, but if I did it just got mixed together with all the anti-Vietnam War protests that were happening in other places in the country, and were a rarity (I do remember at least a couple that happened near campus) in rural areas.  In fact, for me, at that time, isolated as I was, I had no idea about me, or anyone else, being gay; it was a totally unknown concept. (But all of that has to be left for another post.)

I attended my first gay pride after I had returned to college.  Some friends and I from Kansas State University drove to Kansas City and marched in the parade there.  I say “marched” but groups were not all that organized, so it was more like we “snaked” through the downtown streets of KCMO.  The year was either 1979 or 1980, but my memory leans toward the earlier year.

I’m pretty sure that the first pride parade that I attended in Houston was in 1984.  I’ve missed some–but not very many along the way.  After moving out to the suburbs, it’s always a decision whether it’s worth the drive back into the city and the struggle to find a parking place.  However, that decision has already been made.  And like last year, I’m picking up a friend and we’ll go down to Montrose to enjoy the pre-parade people-watching and then the actual event itself.

There is something new though this year: lawn chairs.  It’s time.  It is just too much to go early to find a not-too-far-in-the-boondocks parking place, walk to find a good spot on the parade route, and stand waiting and then stand watching.  So into the car trunk the folding chairs will go.

Even Without Much Rain, Delicious Veggies Coming from the Garden

Another evening's garden pickings: lettuce, peas, turnips, and a few green onions.

Another evening’s garden pickings: lettuce, peas, turnips, and a few green onions.

On this last day of the month, another front came through this afternoon bringing in a cool spring wind from the north, but March is hardly “going out like a lion.”  Though we’ve had other storms come through, not much precipitation has come with the wind.

Despite the lack of much rain, the little garden behind the garage has been producing fresh vegetables for supper.  The turnips, especially, have been delicious, whether raw or cooked.

The beans I’ve planted haven’t come in very well, and i don’t know whether I will fill in with more.  In reality, fresh, store-bought beans taste pretty good, and there’s no bending over to pick them.

Green peas and turnips sautéed with some bits of green onion, all fresh from the garden, make for a delicious veggie dish for supper.

Green peas and turnips sautéed with some bits of green onion, all fresh from the garden, make for a delicious veggie dish for supper.

On the Road Home: You Know You’re Getting Old When . . .

I can hardly wait till March 10th when Daylight Savings Time returns.  I live for evenings when there’s still enough daylight that I don’t feel like bedtime comes right after I arrive home.

These days when I leave the parking garage at work, it’s still sunny, but on days like today when I have extra things to do and don’t get out there on the freeway like usual, the sun has gotten beyond the horizon by the time I’m slogging my way those last miles home.  Thus, I generally flick on the headlights before I head out on my evening commute.

Since it was about a half hour later than usual when I looped off 290 to W. Little York, dusk had already settled in, but I noticed that a number of cars had yet to turn on their headlights.  Just to be sure, I reached to the dashboard to check.  Yep, I had already flicked my little Fiesta’s lights on.

With my mind still on tomorrow’s work, I accelerated and braked almost in sync with all the other drivers just trying to get home.  After only a few more stop signs and turns, I pulled my car into the garage and grabbed the back door key out of my pocket.

Once in the house, as always, I flipped on the light switch over the cooktop.  What ‘s up with that florescent light?  Dim.  I guess I  need to head to Lowe’s for a replacement.  Oh, well.  And so I reached for the switch at the back hallway.  What?  Dim too.  What happened to the electricity today?

Then.  Ahaa.   

I was still wearing my sunglasses.

A Couple of Tricks Help Make for a Delicious Sunday Breakfast

Here's Sunday Breakfast!  An easy omelet made with leftover Mexican rice and crunchy wheat tortillas.

Here’s Sunday Breakfast! An easy omelet made with leftover Mexican rice and crunchy wheat tortillas.

Heloise I ain’t.  But along the way, I’ve learned a number of tricks that help make cooking faster and easier.

The weekend is the only time I can make a real breakfast.  On most weekdays, the first meal of the day is a couple of toaster waffles snarfed down on the main road between my neighborhood streets and the freeway.

On Saturday and Sunday, when I finally rouse myself enough to want something to eat, I’ve already drowsily completed a few other tasks such as pulling out chunks of chickweed from the garden, or like this morning, repotting a couple of African violets.

I rarely disappoint myself with home-cooked breakfast; this morning it was an omelet made with bacon and Mexican rice left over from yesterday’s takeout.  Alongside came a couple of wheat tortillas.

If you re-package bacon and store in the freezer, it won't spoil and go to waste.

If you re-package bacon and store in the freezer, it won’t spoil and go to waste.

Trick 1:  I used to never be able to finish a package of bacon before it began to spoil in the refrigerator, but from my sister, I learned how to keep ready-to-cook bacon on hand.  Just freeze it!  After you get the bacon home from the store, open the package.  Separate the slices of bacon and lay the individual slices on sheets of non-stick aluminum foil (or wax paper).  Layer the foil sheets, being sure to cover the bacon on the top with another sheet of foil.  Put the foil layers of bacon in a freezer bag, folding the foil to fit into the bag, if necessary.  Then whenever you want bacon, just take the bag out of the freezer and easily pull off as many slices as you want.  No more spoiled bacon!

Trick 2:  Heat up wheat tortillas in a regular toaster.  Just fold the tortilla in half and ease one end into the bread slot of the toaster.  Gently  push it down while you push the toaster lever down.  Set it for about medium time.  When it pops up, turn the folded tortilla around and do the same to the other end.  To me, the resulting crunchy tortilla tastes much better than one heated in the microwave.  It’s just perfect for filling with scrambled eggs!

Starting Off with Some Jamaica Tea Can Make for a Good Day

The cup says "Coffee" but inside is filled with freshly brewed jamaica tea, made from hibiscus flowers.

The side of the cup says “Coffee” but the inside is filled with freshly brewed jamaica tea, made from hibiscus flowers.

Having been ambulanced to the emergency room due to severe pain from kidney stones a couple of years ago, I now have a greater sense of what’s going on inside my body even though I can’t see in there.  I have not experienced such a bout of pain since then, but I do know when some small piece of calcium (or whatever the makeup of those miniscule stones is) wants to work its way out through my internal plumbing.  I’ve found that adding extra vinegar to my salad after the first sensation of a stone beginning its journey usually does the trick.  My guess is that the acidic vinegar gets to the stone and breaks it up.

However, since the first of the year. I’ve been drinking jamaica tea, which one of my colleagues had recommended as a way to lower high blood pressure.  Based on my personal experience (and what a Fiesta sales clerk told me), it’s good for the kidneys as well.  I usually drink a large cup of the hot jamaica tea in the morning and another with my supper, and for about this past month and a half, I haven’t felt even a tinge of the sensation of a kidney stone starting its trek.

Jamaica (pronounced huh-mIcah in Spanish) actually is dried hibiscus flower petals and is often sold as one of several traditional cold beverages in taquerias.  After my co-worker recommended it, I tried to make an iced tea with it but wasn’t crazy about the taste, so the bag I had bought stayed stuffed into one of the canister jars on the counter.  When I returned to a cold house from a Christmas trip, I thought hot tea would hit the spot and decided to give the jamaica another shot.  Some people describe the taste as akin to cranberry juice.  There’s a tartness to the drink, but I don’t use sugar in any tea, hot or cold.  Now I prefer it to orange pekoe, a “regular” tea I like.  Some people add sugar or honey, but I drink any tea “plain”.

I find my cup of jamaica tea really gets my day started, without the caffeine jolt of coffee.  I’ve already used up the batch I bought last fall.  I can’t find it in bulk at my neighborhood store, so the pre-bagged version will have to do.  I’ve also seen it sold in boxes of individual tea bags.  However, I’ve got an adapter for my Keurig one-cup, and that works great to make any loose leaf tea.

Whether for its health benefits or a good way to start off the day, jamaica tea (hibiscus tea) might be something that you want to try.