Cooking with Myra: Light salad, vinaigrettes for new year
Jan. 8, 2013 at midnight
Updated Jan. 8, 2013 at 7:09 p.m.
By Myra Starkey
Our Christmas holiday was spent at my sister's house in Livingston. She bought the house on Lake Livingston about a year ago and has spent the last few months remodeling.
Susie is the second child in birth order in my family. I am the oldest and Cindy the youngest.
That would make Susie the middle child, and although people attribute certain behaviors to "middle child syndrome," I don't try to analyze or categorize my sister. She is single, employed as a drug representative for a large drug company and has two dogs that she treats like children.
Susie loves dogs and insists that any of our family gatherings include all our pets, which this year totaled seven and felt like 14.
Her house is a two-story ranch-style set on the edge of the lake. Although the house has four bedrooms, there were too many relatives, so most of the Starkey clan stayed at the area La Quinta.
One representative from our family had to stay at the house and sleep on the couch in order to take care of the dogs.
I drove to Livingston with three dogs in the back seat of the pick-up. Taylor was riding with our oldest son, Miles, in his car, and I volunteered for dog duty.
I had Lola and Hazel, our two black standard poodles and their dog nephew, Quimby, who is our daughter Hannah's dog.
Quimby is a Rhodesian Ridgeback. He is quite large and likes the back seat to himself. That being the case, there was quite a bit of poodle seat jumping and deep throated growling during the trip.
When I arrived at the LaQuinta late on Sunday, I cracked the windows of the truck so the dogs could have fresh air and went in to get our room keys. At this point, all three dogs managed to stick their noses out of the windows and start barking which might not have been noticed by the desk clerk if the sliding front doors of the lobby had not been opening and shutting due to small children playing in the motel lobby. Small children seem attracted to automatic doors.
Although the motel is pet friendly, the clerk decided this was a bit much and mentioned it in a polite way, but I assured her it would only be adults occupying the rooms because the dogs were going to my sister's house.
She smiled and then looked back at a display screen of hallways in the motel as if to say, "sure. I'll be watching."
I was eager to get to my destination and was trying to follow the route guidance on my car computer when my phone started ringing. By this time I was deep in east Texas woods leaving the lights of Livingston behind.
Susie asked me to stop for baking powder since she was making cornbread to go with our turkey chili.
I headed to Wal-Mart for baking powder. The parking lot was packed, forcing all newly arriving shoppers to park on the grass.
I was determined to park on pavement and continued to circle like a buzzard until I finally spied a family toting two carts headed for a car near me, stalked them and bagged their spot.
I joined the hordes of shoppers as I went in search of the baking products. My sisters continued to call, adding a few more items until at last my arms were full, and I gave in and went in search of a basket.
I finally got through the checkout line, exited the store and found my vehicle by clicking the panic button. This sent all three dogs into a barking frenzy.
Susie's house is in a small neighborhood off the main highway. The area is sparsely populated, and the pine trees tower on each side of the narrow road, effectively blocking out lights from houses or the night sky. My onboard guidance system lady continued to tell me there was no guidance available in this region, and I was on my own.
Scenes from the movie "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" kept popping into my head, and I made sure my truck doors were securely locked.
After 30 minutes and at least three phone calls to Susie, I found her house. The driveway was full of cars, and the house lit up with lights, laughter and barking.
Everyone had already arrived and had found their spots in the den watching football or stirring pots on the stove in the kitchen.
The dogs ran around each other sniffing, barking, growling and then settled in like they were cousins at an overnight party.
Susie had made turkey chili and cornbread for our evening meal. The chili was really spicy, and I had to refill my sweet tea several times.
Perhaps having my family, sisters, nieces, dogs, husband and dad all together in one place made it feel like Christmas.
Despite the fact that I enjoyed the family present, there remained a melancholy part of me throughout the weekend because of the absence of my mom.
On Christmas morning, we left the motel and returned to Susie's house. It had been transformed into party central. The garland outside had been laced with crepe paper and a happy birthday sign.
Inside the house, my sisters and nieces wore party hats and called out, "Happy Birthday" as I arrived, throwing balloons in the air.
My birthday is Christmas Day. I was touched that they had gone to so much trouble and once again felt tears filling my eyes.
We sat down at the table and had cranberry scones and banana bread prepared earlier that morning. Susie and Cindy stayed busy in the kitchen preparing cornbread stuffing, while I stuffed the turkey and rubbed it down with Cajun spices. I popped it in the oven at 9 that morning, and by 10, the wind had begun to howl, the sky darkened and the trees were swaying wildly.
Our kids Googled the weather websites, looking for tornado warnings.
The water on the lake was forming into bay size whitecaps. We heard a clap of thunder and lost power. The guys in front of the television and the women in the kitchen all groaned.
It was apparent that the electricity would not soon return, and, even if it had, it would take at least several hours to bake the turkey.
We all began to pack up for our return trips home.
I know Susie was disappointed since she had gone to so much trouble. Spencer sent a phone text from the Chevron station titled, "Christmas lunch" and a picture of Hot Pockets and Gardetto's. I was horrified.
This will be a holiday that we will remember: the first Christmas without mom, the first family gathering at Susie's lake house and the first Frito/cheese dip Christmas dinner, but all the same, it was Christmas with family, and that makes it special.
Regardless of the calories we have all consumed, it is now time to slim down in the new year.
I am including a delicious salad and several dressing recipes to motivate you to eat lighter.
Throw away those Fritos, cheese dip and candy bars.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.