Time To Try Some New Cookware Just Right for the Cool Weather

These bright Cocinaware pots purchased at HEB should be fun and easier to use than covering baking dishes with aluminum foil.

These bright Cocinaware pots purchased at HEB should be fun and easier to use than covering baking dishes with aluminum foil.

The cold weather just doesn’t want to give up this year, even here in southeast Texas, where the winter temperatures usually bounce around, chilling us to don our jackets and sweaters for a few days, then soon after, heating back up enough to coax us back into shorts.  Since sometime around Thanksgiving many of the days have been grey and bleak with the highs just into the 50s, if that, and here we are.  Tomorrow starts March, and my winter coat lays over the back of the rocking chair, just waiting to be grabbed as I head to work or out to walk  a little black and white papillon.

With all this cold, almost every weekend, I’ve put together a pot of soup or popped a roast with vegetables into the oven, making enough to divide into lunches to carry to work or for some quick leftover suppers.

I’ve been making the roasts in glass baking dishes with aluminum foil as a cover.  This works OK, but every time I start the cooking process, I’ve been longing for a dutch oven with a proper lid.  I have two cast-iron pots, both of the famous French name, bought second-hand many years ago.  The large oval one has a lid and served me well to bake chickens and cook stews on the stovetop.  With so much use, it’s become so pitted up and rusty that it’s now found a resting spot out in the garage, waiting to be put out for the next yard sale or maybe or to be an interesting planter.  The other, a smaller yellow round pot, doesn’t have a lid, and none that I have seem to fit well.

I haven’t been willing to put out the money for name-brand dutch ovens that I’ve seen at the department stores and the discount stores really didn’t have anything that really fit the bill.  Today, I stopped off to do my weekend grocery shopping at an HEB, which is larger than the ones where I usually go.  This store has a large kitchenware department, and right as I was passing by, my eyes lit upon some colorful dutch ovens and other cookware.  The brand of HEB’s cookware is Cocinaware.  The enamel-covered dutch ovens come in two sizes, 2.8 quarts and 5.2 quarts.  I soon decided on a turquoise green, but was unsure of the size to buy.  I wanted one that wasn’t so big; the smaller would be good for a roast and some veggies, but probably wouldn’t be big enough for pot of chili.  In the end, just put both into my shopping cart.  The price was right: $19 and some change for the small pot and just ten dollars more for the 5.2 quart pot.  Together, the $50 for both was less than I had seen for any other single pot that I had seen in the store or online.

With my other groceries, I picked up a pork roast and a couple of cans of sauerkraut, so that’s what’s in store for the trial run tomorrow.

These dutch ovens are pretty and seem well-made. I don’t know if they’ll near as long as the  second-hand ones that they are replacing.  But I reckon they might.

Bright, Sunshiny Days Warm Up the Weekend

A view from one of those "roads less traveled"in Bear Creek Park--backgrounded by an amazingly blue sky. Those green shrubs are the fan palms that grow in many of the woods of southeast Texas.

If by yesterday afternoon, Friday’s icy weather, along with the resulting bad roadways, was hardly worth remembering, today’s 71° was a complete turnaround.  The bright sunlighted warmed the air, and soft, fluffy clouds floated in an amazing blue sky.

Annie and I headed for the dog park on Highway 6 and found many other small dogs and owners were out to enjoy the day.  Usually the large dog side is busier, but today there were so many people and dogs on “our” side that I didn’t pay attention to how many were on the other side.

Going home, I took the “long way” through Bear Creek Park, and just like the dog park, there were many out enjoying the area, especially the golf course.  Bear Creek Park has a lot of picnic areas and the large golf course, but I really like the natural, forested part of the park, which is thick with live oak, pine, and other kinds of trees and brush. 

For those who don’t know, the live oak is one variety of oak tree that grows in abundance here.  In some older parts of Houston, the large live oaks have branches that grow out, paralleling the grown.  The one in my back yard has had its branches trimmed off the bottom part of the trunk as it has grown, but up higher there is a nice canopy of branches that help shade my house from summer of the summer heat.

Another tree that can be found in the wooded area of Bear Creek Park is a type of fan palm, which I believe is a native Texas palm.  On hikes through other parts of southeast Texas, I’ve seen this palm growing down under the tall pines, in both dry and wet terrain.

It’s good to get out after a cold spell and enjoy what nature has to offer.  Unfortunately, the potted plants that have been stashed in the garage still must endure some more days of darkness because the forecast is predicting lows in the lower 20s again mid-weeki.

Winter Weather Puts a Skid on Friday in Houston; Highways Dangerous and Most Public Services Iced Out

Ice still lays on this agave plant after the temperature rose above freezing.

Nothing significant has changed weather-wise since my previous post earlier this morning.  The sun tried to peek through for a bit, but the temperature only rose to 35 for about an hour, and now it’s grey again, and the temper here in northwest Harris County is back to just at freezing 32. 

About every school and university announced closures already yesterday, and now most of the city and county offices are closed.  Local television reports dangerous ice on a lot of the overpasses and bridges, with many accidents as a result.  Houston Transtar shows the location of the bad road spots, and locations of the many accidents across the city can be found here.

Amarylis frozen and covered with ice.

Even though the service roads should be OK because the ground still is warm, I haven’t ventured out further than the front yard even though, I suppose the stores out my way are open, and with the chance to watch some “judge” shows on weekday TV, cabin fever hasn’t been a problem.

If the ice and water out in my yard are any indication, the icy

Icicycles form on the edge of the roof of the garage, but the car is staying nice and dry inside.

freeways won’t get better today.  There is still ice on the agave which is not that far off the warmer yard, so those high ramps and overpasses on the freeways still probably haven’t melted much.  The slick layer on the roof of the garage has melted a bit and forming icicles, a bit of a rarity here in Houston.

Winter Weather Brings Ice to Houston But No Snow

The agave leaves are slick with ice from the sleet and rain that came during the pre-dawn hours.

The predicted snow didn’t come to Houston.  Having gone to bed even earlier than most work nights.  I woke up around 5, and the light from the streetlight outside showed no snow on the ground, nor even any white flakes coming down, so I jumped back into bed until it would be time to take Annie out.  Even by 7:30, she was somewhat hesitant to go out.  When I checked the outside temp of 26, I could understand her lack of enthusiasm.  (Still 26 is a bit better than the 21 that hit us early Wednesday morning, and the daytime high was just 35 yesterday.)

But we did go out, still no snow.  There were, however, small puddles on the patio.  Then when I looked up there was a sheen of ice covering the garage.  As I stepped out onto the grass, the ice-covered leaves crackled underfoot.

I felt a little guilty for not having to go into work on a Friday, but aside from my crunching the frosty leaves, it was still outside, no usual hum of the commuter traffic coming from 529.  “No need to feel guilty,” I thought.  I was no different than the so many others who had been told on Thursday not to come in on Friday.

Once I started nosing around the yard, I found that the bricks on the front fence were coated with ice.  From this, I knew that any bridges and overpasses would be covered too.  As I’ve now gotten back inside, I’ve found according to the Houston Chronicle, that is the case, and that there have been many accidents because of the icy roads.  I’m glad that I don’t have to get out there and make my way to work.

I know those from the more northern climes might think us somewhat wimpy when we get a bit of actual winter weather.  However, with the hundreds of thousands of vehicles out there crowding the freeways on a regular workday morning, ice-covered roads could create complete havoc.  Even with the much lighter traffic,  the Chronicle says there have been more than 100 accidents already, one of them a 10-car pileup on 290, which is one leg of my normal morning drive.

I do feel a bit like I’m playing hookie.  No matter,  I’m going to grind some beans to make coffee and make a real breakfast, then enjoy the rest of a leisurely morning.

Winter Is Here: Time To Bring in the Plants and Pour That Cup of Hot Tea

The first, and maybe only, pickings from the winter garden. Perhaps fried green tomatoes will be on the menu soon.

The temperature was right at 70 when I got home from work last evening, but after I let Annie out, I started carting all the potted plants that I could into the garage, knowing that the temperature was supposed to drop dramatically.   I tried to hurry, then walk Annie and put together something for supper, because Monday night is 90210 night.  It was a new episode; sadly without any of Teddy’s coming out adventures, mostly just a show focusing on the girls, in which they went on a yoga/sweat lodge retreat and dug their nails into each other in various ways.

This morning before six, I awoke to mean drops of rain pelting the windows and by the time I headed out it was around 40.  I don’t think it got much higher than that, and the car ourside temp went from 40 down to 34 by the time I reached home, where the thermometer on the back fence already was saying 31.  I dragged a few more plants, which I hadn’t felt so sorry for the previous evening, into the jungle inside the garage, and started to cover the one too big and my precious two tomato plants that I had put in last November. 

With it already getting so cold, I pulled off three of the green tomatoes, realizing that with a night of probably more than 12 hours straight below freezing and several similar days coming, even wrapped in a couple of layers of sheets, dropped cloths, and plastic, it’s doubtful that the plants are going to make it.

Even though I was somewhat bundled up (I know for you people who have real winters my being “bundled up” is relative), I was ready to get inside.  And Annie, having spent the time in the yard, while I was trying to cover the plants and wrap the outside faucets in the blustery north wind, didn’t seem in the mood for any walk either.

Tonight was a night for soup–a duke’s mixture of leftover homemade with a can of Progresso something-or-other tossed in and hot tea.  I rarely drink hot tea these days.  When I was kid on the farm, there were two evening meal drinks:  iced tea, which started its season somewhere in May, and hot tea, which, came along during the cooler football days of the fall.

So after all the outside puttering, and with downstairs being on the cool side with all its windows, tonight was night for hot tea.  

Soup and tea were ready just before seven–just in time to see my Tuesday evening standby, but, alas, no new Glee episodes yet.  They were trying to string us along with the re-run of the “Rocky Horror” episode.  And as good as that one is, I had been primed for something new, so I just switched over to ESPN and had my soup and hot tea along with some NCAA basketball.

Yeah, this is winter in Houston, Texas, and enough winter for me.  Even though hot tea is a nice change now and again, it’s nothing I want on a long-term basis.

February Blues–Not on the Agenda for 2010

Annie posing, the schefflera plant I've raised from a $1 store twig, the old Singer that I rescued and have dragged around for years--all at my front door.

Over the years I’ve experienced what I called (and I see that others call it the same)–the February Blues, a kind of down time after the holidays before spring comes out in full force.  (It’s also known as S.A. D., or Seasonal Affective Disorder).  I have to admit that living here in Texas it never has overcome me nearly as much or even for as long as it did when I lived in Kansas.  I’m sure the warmer, brighter winter days have a lot to do with that.  Warmth, for sure, might be the real reason because I remember some years in Kansas when it seemed like my feet froze in November and didn’t thaw out until mid April.  I really just do not cold weather all that much.

For me, the February Blues never have been something really depressive, because overall, I’m generally a pretty easy-going guy.  I usually felt a kind of cloudy, blah feeling, sometimes triggered by something that had happened, like getting an unexpected bill or having a squabble with someone.  And even though I say “February Blues”, the onset usually came sometime in January.

That’s why I doubt any late winter gloominess will overtake me this year.  I’m still “up” from moving into my house.  There are so many new experiences, and even when the bills do arrive, they aren’t so unexpected that I can’t deal with them.  I can’t walk into my living room with all it’s light and red accents and not feel good.

Anyone who reads here might notice that I haven’t been on a rant lately either.  I do have some thoughts about a few recent events, but not enough on any to let my thoughts and typing fingers get too involved.  Here are a few, though, just to show that I’m not brain-dead:

John Edwards: he was my candidate almost up to the primaries.  It seems like most of these big time politicians have to keep proving how great they are.  I just don’t understand, though, why these politicians that get into all this trouble with women other than their wives don’t have more sense.  Look at Ensign of Nevada and Sanford of South Carolina, even Clinton when he was in the White House.  We’re not talking about guys in their teens or twenties who can only think with their hormones.  I guess even Eisenhower had his mistress when he was the head honcho during World War II.

Ted Haggard: It seems he no longer has homosexual compulsions.  “Homosexual compulsions”–now what is that exactly?   I’m trying to imagine it the other way.  Craving meth and hookers has never been one of my urges.  But now he’s cured.  Right.  How old is he anyway?  Fifty-three going on fifty-four.   People are pretty much who they are by that time.  And don’t tell me his thing with Mike Jones was a rarity.

Whether it’s Haggard getting it on with male prostitutes or politicians having affairs, they didn’t just start cheating on their wives when they were in their 40s or 50s.  Guys just aren’t like that.  Guys are creatures of habit.  Guys like the routine.  If they weren’t cheating in their 20s or 30s, they probably won’t be cheating later, no matter if they are straight or gay.

Frankly, I don’t care what happens to any of them, but I do have more compassion for someone like Edwards than people like Haggard, Ensign, and Sanford, who have made such an issue about morality and preached, or in the cases of Ensign and Sanford, voted against gay people.

But even these guys won’t bring me into any February funk, because I just found out that the expected freeze isn’t going to happen here, and I won’t have to drag my potted plants back into the garage from the patio for a third time this winter.

And here are some cool suggestions for getting rid of the February Blues, besides getting a new house, that is.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow–Wintery Weather Comes to Houston, Rare Event for the Bayou City

As predicted, snow and colder temperatures started out the day in Houston.  The outside temp in my car on the way to work was in the high 30s this morning.  Small bits of icy drops started hitting the windshield as I left the neighborhood, but near downtown,  the heavy wet flakes started coming down.  Some kind of precipitation–from rain to sleet to the more frequent snowflakes–kept coming down throughout the morning and afternoon.  Many schools and businesses let students and employees go home early in anticipation of wet, and perhaps icy roads, as the temperature was predicted to keep dropping.

I was able to start for home at 3 PM, and by that time, the outside temp reading was 32 degrees.  Traffic was slow as drivers cautiously maneuvered the streets and freeways.  However, when I got back to my neighborhood, the sun started peeking out from behind the clouds.  With the sky now almost clear and dry and the sun setting, the air felt significantly colder this evening when Annie and I started for outr walk to the mailboxes around the corner from our cul-de-sac.  Even dolled up in her pink pea coat, she resisted the short trip and was not game for our usual walk that we take after getting the mail.

After lows in the mid to upper 20s tonight, the temperatures are expected to bounce back into the fifties tomorrow, and this little jolt of cold will have passed.  But snow and cold in early December is unusual for Houston.  Is this an indicator of a colder than usual winter?  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Here’s what NWS says for us in the next few days:

Tonight (Dec. 15th): A 30 percent chance of rain, mainly after midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 43. North wind between 15 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Wednesday: A 30 percent chance of rain. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 53. Northeast wind between 10 and 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Wednesday Night: A 50 percent chance of rain. Cloudy, with a low around 42. North wind around 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Thursday: A 30 percent chance of rain, mainly before noon. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 54. Northeast wind between 10 and 15 mph.

Thursday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 39.

Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 61.