Friday, February 6, 2015

Houston Eating Adventures

Last weekend my parents came to town to visit, celebrate our second anniversary, and join our (now annual) Super Bowl party. Of course, while they were here, we had to visit a few delicious Houston restaurants. My parents are definite foodies and we always try to explore some new places or introduce them to our old favorites when they visit.

Friday night we went to Oxheart for our official anniversary dinner. Oxheart consistently tops the Top 100 list, and I've been dying to go. However, they only have 30 seats in their tiny dining room and book up weeks in advance. Finally, I checked about a month ago and managed to get a reservation. And... it was fabulous!

I didn't take any pictures of the food, because I tried to enjoy. They do a 7-course prix fixe menu, and you can choose either regular or vegetarian (5 of the 7 dishes were the same, with the regular menu having a meat and fish course). The main course for the regular menu was wild boar (which everyone else loved) so I ordered the vegetarian. Each course was small, but every bite was delicious. Each element was composed, and the whole meal worked together. While we did not leave stuffed, we did leave satisfied. I would love to go back 1000 times, but my wallet would protest. As a note, while my family are avowed meat eaters, I think we all agreed that the best thing we ate was the smoked butternut squash that I had in place of the fish course. So... don't discount the vegetarian menu. Definitely worth it!

Saturday night we went to El Big Bad, a Mexican bar/restaurant in downtown. Dan and I had been there before with his parents, and another time at a pub crawl. I knew I had to take my tequila loving dad there for some infused tequila. We ordered a salsa trio and some tacos, and drank a couple margaritas. Yum! If you go here, my favorite is the hibiscus tequila, and whatever salsa has pumpkin seeds in it. And... there's also fried chicken skins. A-MA-ZING.

Sunday morning we had brunch at the HEB Niko Niko's. I know its a food counter in a grocery store, but its freaking delicious! And we rounded off the weekend with a big pile of meat from Killen's BBQ on Tuesday before they had to leave. All in all, a weekend of delicious eats. And I haven't even gotten to the Super Bowl party yet...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jewish Mother Guilt-- Matrilineal Descent

There are a lot of pregnant women around me lately. (Glances skeptically at the water fountain.) Some are planning to find out the sex of the baby (or in one case, babies!) as soon as it is possible, some are waiting until birth to "be surprised." (I put this in quotes because it's always a surprise when you find out, whether at 20 weeks or 40.)

This has led me to ponder whether I want to find out the sex of my (future, this is in NO WAY an announcement) child before he or she is born. A recent Time article has some thoughts on the subject that make me think... especially regarding how knowing the sex sooner can lead you down the road of gender stereotypes earlier. I don't know how much I worry about my own forcing of a gender stereotype on my kids (in fact, I am mostly preoccupied with the idea of using my poor guinea pig offspring to smash said stereotypes), but I do worry about how more traditional members of my family and friend group might head in that direction.

However, all that has gotten me thinking about what sex I want my first child to be. Some days I think that it would be exciting to raise a little feminist. Then some days I think that it would be a bigger, better challenge to raise a male feminist. I think about teaching my future child, male or female, "yes means yes" and what that would look like. I think about teaching a teenage girl about her first period (this in particular lately, since my term paper last semester was on menstruation-- more on that as soon as the semester is over). Sometimes I think about the downsides, too. That a girl would be treated as less by society, as a body for public consumption; that while I tell her "you can be anything you want to be," others will tell her "girls can't do that." That I will tell her she's beautiful on the inside, and others will tell her she's only as good as her cup size and skirt length. Then I think about how boys are never allowed to embrace their sensitive side, to cry in public; that while girls can wear blue basketball shorts, it is not socially acceptable for a boy to wear pink frilly dresses. I think, either way, about how no matter how hard I work to teach my child that gender stereotypes need not define them, the rest of the world will seek to define them by their genitalia anyways.

And then, while musing on this subject the other day, it hit me. It matters very much what sex my future children are, because of matrilineal descent.

Matrilineal descent is the Jewish law that Judaism is passed from mother to child. If your mother is Jewish, you are Jewish. Full stop. But the converse-- if your mother is not Jewish, you are not Jewish-- is also true, unless you go through a conversion process. Reform Judaism, the most liberal sect, has embraced patrilineal descent as well-- they now hold that if either of a child's parents are Jewish, then the child is considered Jewish. But the stricter sects of Judaism all use only matrilineal descent.

As I've said before, I don't know whether I'm nondenominational, or Orthodox, or Conservative, but I don't generally align with Reform Judaism. When Dan and I had the "Jewish babies" conversation, I was very clear that I did not expect or even want him to convert, but that I needed him to commit to raising our children Jewish if we stayed together. I can only speculate, but I don't think we would have gotten married had I insisted on conversion. But I didn't have to-- matrilineal descent is recognized by all varieties of Judaism. There will never be a doubt, anywhere, by anyone, that our children are Jewish.

In pondering my own potential future children, I realized the full weight of the matrilineal descent law. I considered myself free to marry a Catholic, despite my strong desire to pass Judaism to my children, because of matrilineal descent. My daughter would have the same freedom to marry for love without compromising the Jewish identity of her children, but not my son. And that leaves me with a conundrum. I want to raise my children with the same love of and commitment to Judaism that I feel, and above all the desire for continuity-- Jewish grandbabies. I also want to encourage them to find the love of their lives, in whatever form it comes. But for a son, the choice would not be that simple.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Four Semesters Down and Thanksgiving Plans

Saturday morning I submitted my final paper for "Graduate Seminar in American Literature," my fourth semester in my MA at SNHU. There's always a bit of an odd empty feeling at the end of the semester, like "what am I gonna do now?" Although not because I don't have stuff to do (believe me, the house really needs to be cleaned) but because I don't know what to do first, now that nothing has a specific due date. Alternately you can say everything has a specific due date, which is before the next class starts...

The way SNHU structures their online graduate programs (which are aimed primarily at working adults), there are roughly 5 ten-week semesters a year, with a week break in between. (If you're a nerd like me, you'd notice that that would equal 54 weeks, even before you factor in a spring break and winter break, so obviously the semesters will undergo a creeping shift as the years go on... kind of like the Jewish calendar, sans leap year.) Dan and I have been trying to use these off weeks to go on a little family vacation. Last time we went to the beach. This time we're going camping-- just a few days at a state park north of Houston. We try to choose pet friendly things (no flying) so we can take Raider with us rather than stick him in the kennel.

Next semester, starting on the 17th, is Gender and Text. I'm pretty excited about this one-- it was newly added this semester and I even put myself on the wait list at first, hoping to get in. We're reading The Handmaid's Tale (among other books) which is possibly the greatest thing ever for combining my two favorite genres: feminism and dystopian future (or maybe it's feminist dystopia, a rather specific subgenre?). On the other hand, The Handmaid's Tale is drifting from fiction to prediction at an alarming rate, so it might hurt to read. One thing I have really enjoyed in my classes is the exposure to different types of books than I would ever have picked up on my own. So while I love this one already, I'm also excited to read some of these other Gender and Text selections... maybe my next favorite book is lurking inside!

In other news, we're hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year for our local friends who aren't heading out of town for the holiday. Our friend group at JSC is mostly young, single or recently married, childless, and transplants to this area. So that means the majority of them head out of town every year for the holidays to visit family. I, of course, refuse to travel for both Thanksgiving and Christmas if at all possible. It's partially about the money, but more about the hassle of traveling on the biggest travel days of the year with all those other people (PS, can we discuss how ridiculous it is that the biggest flying holidays also come in the middle of winter and its always snowing in Chicago and gumming up the works? Yuck.). Plus there's the matter of leaving the dog, which breaks my heart each time they lead his sad sack self into the back and he cries, and he's too big to fly with so he has to stay home.

In addition to avoiding all that, it's also a little bit about the balance and boundaries between being a newly married mini-family and being part of an extended family. I want us to have holidays here, with our people, in our home. We need to get used to being away from extended family, to start our own traditions, to become established in our own city. We can't do that if we are constantly jetting off for every holiday. Already one of my favorite traditions is that we host Passover. Since I moved into my house 4 years ago, I have hosted all but one year; I have had my parents over twice for Passover and his parents once (it was Easter weekend, too) and I always invite any Jewish friends I can round up, and non-Jewish friends who might be up for a cultural experience. Sadly, we skipped it this year because I was increment lead, but that just means next year we can bring it back and better than ever!

To help set those boundaries, we have some loose rules: one large trip to visit each of our parents each year, travel Christmas or Thanksgiving but not both, and take at least one vacation just for ourselves. Earlier this year we went to North Carolina for my parents 30th anniversary reunion celebration and spent 6 days there; for Christmas we are going to Dan's parents in Virginia for 5 days. For our personal vacation, we went to the beach.

So far its been going pretty well, but not without a few bumps from the families, who are understandably sad that we don't visit as often as they'd like. I just hope they remember that they were once young and starting out,  and couldn't flit home at the drop of a hat, and had a cabinet full of new wedding china begging to be used for a holiday of their own. And I hope that they keep visiting us, too, so we can all share the travel burden.

Hope you enjoy great weather, great food, and great company this November! I'm off work tomorrow for Veterans Day and I've got some pumpkin brownies to bake!

Monday, November 3, 2014

November already?

Wow, I can't believe its November already! Feels like time is flying.

I last wrote in early September that I was starting a new diet. So far it's been working. As of today, 2 months later, I have lost 8.6 pounds, roughly on track for the 1 pound per week I was trying for. I have also managed to exercise 3x a week, mostly keeping to the swim, bike, run cycle. Although as the weather turns colder, my desire to swim decreases, but I do plan to swap that swim for another run and keep working out 3x a week.

My current grad school class is over next weekend, so I'm in the midst of writing a 15 page paper on Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies. Have you heard of it? I'm not particularly fond of it, not enough killer robots from outer space.
Dan is out of town for the weekend. I am not, because I was supposed to be on console... until this happened:
Full story. I had spent months planning for this visiting vehicle mission and was expecting to support console this weekend when it arrived at ISS. Definitely a bummer, but glad there was no loss of life and it's looking like minimal damage to the launch facility.
Unfortunately, it was not a good week for commercial spaceflight all around, as yesterday brought news that Virgin Galactic's ship crashed during test flight, killing one pilot and injuring another. Just another reminder that spaceflight is hard. My prayers go out to the injured crewmember and his family, as well as the family of the deceased. There's a quote by Gus Grissom, one of 3 astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 accident, on the wall in the Saturn V building at JSC, that I think of in times like this:
If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.
Other, better news? My little sister got engaged at the end of September. Their wedding will be next October. Last weekend I headed to Orlando to help her dress shop (she said Yes to the dress!) and got a bonus football game out of it!

The weekend before we went to a wedding in VA for a childhood friend of Dan's. I actually met the bride at the groom's brother's wedding last September and immediately asked Dan "is she Jewish?" Jew-dar I guess... Turns out that she was, and she asked for my help planning their Jewish-Catholic interfaith wedding.
Waiting for ceremony to start.

Pretty but cold ceremony. Poor bridesmaids!
I  sent her our ceremony and program, which she borrowed from liberally-- with permission of course. I spent countless hours on that stuff, and am glad it is having an extended life and helping others with their own wedding plans.

They had a beautiful (but chilly) ceremony outside on a hillside at sunset, then we went into a tent to (warm up and) party. Dancing helps you warm up quick!

I have become something of an interfaith wedding fairy-- recently 2 different readers contacted me by email (nerdsinloveblog[at], if you're curious!) with interfaith wedding conundrums of their own. If you've got one, write in...don't be shy. I can help.. and if I can't, well, I can commiserate!

Well, here's hoping for a better week in spaceflight news.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Potato Salad Recipe

Last weekend we went to a friend's house to watch the Washington Redskins play the Houston Texans. My husband grew up outside DC and has been a fan of the Redskins for many years. As luck would have it, a coworker's husband is also a Redskins fan, but for a more convoluted reason. They are from NM, where there isn't a pro football team anywhere nearby. Many people are either Broncos or Cowboys fans, owing to falling within the market where those games air, despite being hundreds of miles from either team. Some special people, though, choose to be Redskins fans since they are the Cowboy's biggest rival. 

Unfortunately, for both Dan and our friend, the games are hardly ever aired here due to some garbage with NFL licensing and markets. I refuse to shell out for NFL Sunday Ticket type cable nonsense, so he is forced to check box scores... except for the lucky few times they play teams where we do get the games. 

Anyways, they had us over at their house to watch the Redskins/Texans game and I brought some epic potato salad to share. I adapted from this recipe. Things that are awesome about this recipe:
I hate mayonnaise (mostly a texture problem... white gloopy stuff freaks me out) so I always look for mustard-based binder and this was a great one. Plus, mayo is fatty and mustard is good for you. It's kinda like a vegetable or something.
It uses 2 kinds of potatoes (pretty and flavorful) and it roasts instead of boils. I would never have thought of that, but it has a much better flavor and also the potatoes are less turned-to-mush.

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1.5 lbs red potatoes
  • 2 Russet potatoes
  • 2 Tbsp mayo
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp Apple cider vinegar
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1/4 red onion (although it depends on the size of your onion and how much you like onion... my husband isn't a fan of raw onion so I went light on it)
  • 3 green onions
  • Parsley
  • Olive Oil, salt, pepper to taste. I'm not gonna give you measurements for this. Buy a lot, keep on hand and liberally add to everything. Because food should taste good.
1) Roast your garlic and let cool. 
I always play the long game with my meal planning, so I bought a head of garlic a week in advance and roasted it on the grill one night we were already grilling other things. You can also do it in the oven along with the potatoes. Cut the top (the non-root end) off so the cloves are slightly exposed. Put in foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly, and cook 30-45 mins. You want the cloves to be tender, but keep a nose out for burning.
2) Preheat oven to 400. 
3)Prep Potatoes: Wash and dry potatoes. Cube them, lay out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Do not be afraid of the salt. Salt is a flavor enhancer. It's much better to salt things in the pre-cooked stage. 
4) Bake potatoes at 400 for about 25 mins. Let cool.
Do not overcook them, or they turn to mush-- you're making potato salad not mashed potatoes. Make sure they are nice and brown around the edges and a fork slides in cleanly. Seriously, please cool your potatoes before you mix with everything else. It keeps your sauce tasty and your veggies crispy.
5) Make the sauce: In a food processor (or by hand if you're one of those people) combine mayo, mustard, all of the roasted garlic (don't be shy!), and the cider vinegar. Mix until liquidy. Add more mustard or vinegar to get the consistency you'd like. 
6) Dice the onion, celery, and green onions. Mix potatoes, onions, celery, and sauce. 
7) Chop parsley, sprinkle over top for a pretty and tasty garnish.  Serve chilled. 

Time: An hour of active time, plus however long it takes your potatoes to cool. So probably 1.5 hours.