Panettone, Plants, and Politics: Enough Alliteration for a Drizzly Day

It’s one of those luxurious Sunday mornings, luxurious but lazy.  Outside it’s a grey, drizzly day, but because tomorrow is a holiday, I’m not feeling the pressure to get things done for the work week ahead.

Two airy loaves of panettone, ready to go into the oven.

Even so, I’ve gotten a lot accomplished already.  I’ve put together panettone dough and have the oven getting heated up so that by the time I get this written, I can go down to the kitchen and put the dough in the pans.  I haven’t made panettone since about this time last year, but I know no one else who makes it, and I’ve made enough adjustments to the recipe (check out my recipe) I originally got from the Joy of Cooking to make this one mine.  I think there will be enough for two loaves:  a big one that I can take to work to share in the break room and a smaller one that I can grab a slice for breakfast on the road or make super-delish French toast next weekend.

Unharmed by the low temperatures earlier in the week, this tomato plant seems to be enjoying the Sunday drizzle.

I’ve also brought in all the sheets that I used to cover potted plants and my tomatoes in the garden.  Though the thermometer read 25° F. one morning when I got up with Annie, most of my plants came out unscathed.  Apparently, the low temperatures didn’t stay long enough to do much damage.  The tomatoes that I set in in

Tiny, new lettuce sprouts peeking through the cool January soil.

January (Can you deal with two prepositions in a row?) seem none the worse for wear, and by the looks, there may be a tomato or two for the plate in a few weeks.  I didn’t cover the pepper plants, so they look somewhat peaked from the cold, but I want to replace them with different varieties in the spring anyway.

It was also a good morning to grind the beans for fresh coffee.  I don’t drink coffee on an every-day basis, but I like a cup from Starbuck’s or freshly brewed at home for a treat.  I’m on my second cup now, and I definitely feel the caffeine.  I doubt whether I’ll take a Sunday afternoon nap today.  In addition to the coffee, I made a nice two-egg omelette filled with fresh pico de gallo–store-bought, but still full of fresh veggie taste.  (I noticed that when I was back home for the holidays that I am not the only one in my family that says “store-boughten” as opposed to the grammatically-correct “store-bought”.  I love the sound of colloquial English and think that “computer-ese” with all its LOLs and other abbreviation is making language much less expressive and more robotic.)

On a different note this pre-MLK Day Sunday, I can’t help but mention (I have to say “mention” or someone may think I’m being vitriolic) how these supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans who got elected in November are really having problems and don’t really seem all that fiscally conservative, let alone, fiscally adept. 

Here in Texas, Rick Perry, who has been governor for 10 years and campaigned on his financial expertise at balancing the budget before last November’s elections, now finds himself facing a $27 billion shortfall for the state.  In my old home state of Kansas, another supposedly fiscal conservative, newly-elected Governor Sam Brownback’s budget is bigger than that of the current one, which was created while Democrats were in the governor’s seat.  According to the Wichita newspaper,  Brownback “proposal increased spending from the state general fund to $6.1 billion in fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, from $5.7 billion in the current budget.”   In Perry’s case, he has been in the governor’s office since 2000, coming into the position after George W. Bush was elected President.  The problems in the state budget can’t be blamed on Democrats because the legislature is also heavily Republican.  In Kansas, while the previous governor was a Democrat, the legislature has been controlled by Republicans for decades, perhaps since the founding of the state in 1861 (I’ll have to check my history books.)  In both states, the legislatures must approve the states’ budgets. 

Whether Republican or Democrat, these days we really need some people in office in our state that have some business sense, and are fiscally adept.  Just saying you are fiscally conservative doesn’t really make a state more fiscally sound.

Mmmm.  Now the smell of baking panettone is wafting up my stairway.  I’d better go check on those goodies!

And here they are! Don't they look tempting right out of the oven?

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Taking a Drive Out 529: Leaving Suburbia for the Open Road, a Bit of History, and Adam Lambert

F.M. 529 in Waller County, the cars are far and few between.

When I was a kid, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, my dad would say,  “Do you want to go for a drive?”  We’d all pile into the car (the “we” that I recall most was just Dad, Mom, and me, because I was the youngest and the last one left at home) and head in some direction from the farm.  I suppose there were times when Dad had a particular destination in mind, but often we’d just take out and go wherever the car, and our whims, decided, driving for a couple of hours, looking at the  “sights”.  On some drives, we’d drop by a relative’s house or get an ice cream cone, but usually, we just drove, finally arriving back home.

I still like taking drives.  Wherever I’ve lived, I’ve often gotten into the car and just headed out without a clear destination, just enjoying the countryside and small towns I pass through.  Even though I now live in the suburbs, I still enjoy driving where the houses disappear and in their place are lines of trees, open pastures full of grass, and cool streams snaking through the countryside.

Since I’m on vacation right now, but still enthralled with having my own house and not wanting to take a real vacation, today I headed west on S.H. 529, the highway that is about a half mile from my home.

From Highway 290 to near where I live, F.M. 529 (F.M. = Farm to Market.  F.M. highways in Texas are usually shorter than S.H. roads (S.H. = State Highway) is 3 lanes each way, but as I drove west a few miles, it became 2 lanes each way, and once out of suburbia, it’s only a 2-lane road.

When you reach Stockdick School Road, you've definitely left suburbia. I took a detour down that road just because of the sort of provocative name. I didn't find any school, or anything else either.

In Bellville, you find one of the strangest courthouse-highway arrangements; Highway 36 divides to go on either side of the courthouse. There is a quaint shopping area on the courthouse square, but maneuvering this "roundabout" might prove difficult for a driver passing through this town for the first time.

I took some detours here and there, just to check out the “sights”, but finally ended up in Bellville, a cute county seat town about 30-35 miles from my house.  (Bellville is the county seat of Austin County, named for Stephen F. Austin and is steeped in Texas history.)

Despite the heat, the drive was just what I needed to get a taste of the country air and do some thinking.

The bridge passing over the Brazos River between Hockley and Bellville. This spot doesn't make the river look very impressive, but it does appear that this dead end river road is a favorite place for making out and drinking beer.

With the radio playing the whole drive, I  started  remembering about when driving between cities, the only stations that you could tune in were local AM stations playing country western music or the drone of fire and brimstone preaching.  As I was on a stretch of road between Hockley and Bellville (not on 529 then), Mix 96.5 started playing Adam Lambert’s new song, “If I Had You.”  I thought how much things have changed; even a gay kid stuck out in the middle of nowhere at least can listen to Adam Lambert and know somebody gay who is successful.  And that’s a good thing.

This little road trip today was also a good thing.  I didn’t or couldn’t stop every place that I wanted to take a photo; some places there just wasn’t anywhere to pull over and as it got after noontime, the heat made me just want to stay in with the cool AC.

Off of 529 east of Bellville, after driving through a tree-covered country lane, you'll find Pilgrims Rest Cemetery. Many of the stones in this cemetery, which is marked as a Texas historical site, have German and Czech names, some of the inscriptions in the original language. Down 529, there's a smaller, older-looking cemetery of the same name.

A stop to take a look at a historical marker proved to be the discovery of a Texan I had never heard about. Norris Wright Cuney was the son of a plantation owner and one of his slaves. He later became important in Republican politics in the latter part of the 19th Century.

You can read the inscription on this historical marker here.  This certainly gives a glimpse into what was once part of Texas history and politics, and perhaps the remnants still exist.

This old country church in Austin County doesn't appear to have services anymore, but its condition shows that its still being taken care of. You'll also find for-sale mega-mansions located on ranchettes as well as a couple of rural meat markets along this quiet strip of road.

Scattered alongside 529 in western Harris and eastern Waller Counties are any number of small- and medium-sized plants.

Houston Newspaper “Chronicles” the Life and Times of Annise Parker, the City’s New Mayor-elect

From the front page of today's Houston Chronicle

Now that initial surprise is wearing off that the fourth-largest city in the U.S. will soon have a top official who is gay, more in-depth stories about mayor-elect Annise Parker and those close around her are appearing in the media.  Today’s Sunday Houston Chronicle included articles by Joe Holley on Parker as well  as her partner Kathy Hubbard.  While the article on Kathy appeared both in the print and online editions (read it here), the article “Not So Shy Now” about the mayor-to-be appeared only in the print version as the lead photo story on page one that jumped to page eight, which it filled completely.  The Chronicle‘s sister paper, The Dallas Morning News, carried a shorter, redacted version of the Holley article online.

By reading news media and blogs from all over the world, it is evident that Annise Parker’s recent election here in Houston has grabbed the attention of those far afield from the Bayou City.  As of yet, no archives of the longer version seem to be available.  I have saved mine to pdf files (because I think it’s a piece of history work keeping).

Annise Parker Will Hold City of Houston’s Highest Political Office; It’s Official! Nation’s 4th Largest City Elects Openly Gay Mayor

Annise Parker--Mayor-Elect of Houston

According to Harrisvotes.org with 733 out of 734 precincts reporting Annise Parker with 81,652 votes is defeating Gene Locke who has 70,631 votes, in other words, by about 54% to 46%.

This was a run-off election for this office as well as other local positions.  Turn-out for run-off elections in Houston has been traditionally low. (That’s for you complainers who on other sites have been commenting that only a small percentage of Houston’s population voted for Annise.  That’s been the way it has been for a long time.  City elections in Houston just don’t coincide with national and state elections, so the voters who do go to the polls really have an interest in voting.) Only a bit more than 150,000 ballots were cast, or about 15% of the registered voters in the fourth largest city of the U.S.  Houston has approximately 2.2 million people living within its city limits, but there around 6 million living in the Houston metro area.

Just to put things in perspective, Annise Parker has been selected to oversee a city that is larger than 15 states in the U.S. (including Nebraska, New Mexico, Hawaii, and Sarah Palin’s Alaska (which has about 600,000) and even quite a few countries in the world.

In commenting about Annise’s sexuality, some news sites have noted that Locke would have been only Houston’s second African-American mayor.  I haven’t seen anyone mention that Annise is just the second female mayor in its history.  Kathy Whitmire was Houston’s mayor from 1982 to 1991 during some of the city’s worst economic days–the oil “bust” of the mid-80s.  She was a popular mayor despite getting a lot of flack from the “good ol’ boys”.

Maybe Annise’s election will  shine new light on our city and show people in other parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world what a fresh, diverse city Houston has become.

I met Annise for the first time more than 20 years ago and have always found her personable and most of all real.  She is a person, whom I think, will be a mayor whom all Houstonians can be proud and will make the naysayers change their minds.

Congratulations, Annise!

(Read this Houston Chronicle article for more about Annise’s victory and the mayoral election.)