Holiday Evening With Tapas

Christmas Eve With Tapas

by Celia Hayes

Our family was long in the habit of having pizza on Christmas Eve; it’s easy to organize for a crazy, mixed-up and chaotic evening, with about three generations present. Either take-out or deliverer – even a selection of frozen or ready-made grocery store pizza would do. There’s a variety to suit every taste, everyone can have as much or as little as they like, eat it off paper plates, and clean-up is a snap.

This year, we varied the program, mostly because my mother sent us a massive gift basket from La Tienda, which specializes in the classic foods of Spain, where my daughter and I lived for six years. We fell upon it with cries of happy delight, reminded of certain foods that we loved. There was a box of turron: a slab of almond nougat that was ubiquitous in Spain at this time of year, a box of marzipan, even some dried figs dipped in dark chocolate; dried fruit in dark chocolate was a specialty in Aragon.

There were three kinds of Spanish chorizo – spicy cured salami, not raw sausage – a bag of Spanish-style potato chips (not any different from the usual that we could see), and four little pottery serving dishes called cazuelas. I had the idea to serve a tapas dinner on Christmas Eve, with some of our favorite tapas that we remembered, with a loaf of fresh-baked European-style bread and some roasted garlic on the side. Which is what we did – I loaded up a tray with all kinds of goodies served up in cazuelas; little chunks of chorizo, and a dish of tuna-stuffed red peppers in tomato sauce from the gift basket, some fresh cantaloupe melon – and a fresh-made tortilla. Which is actually a frittata made with potatoes and garlic. I would have liked to make ensalata del pulpo, but ran out of time.

The tortilla is simple enough: one large potato, cooked, peeled and cut into chunks, 4-6 eggs beaten together, one clove garlic, finely chopped. Heat about 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter in an 8 inch omelet or frying pan. When the pan is sizzling hot, pour in enough of the egg to cover the bottom of the pan, and cook just long enough to solidify. Then quickly scatter the potato chunks and the garlic on top, and add the rest of the beaten egg. Turn down the heat so the bottom layer will not toughen but the remainder is cooked until the top is just beginning to set around the edges. Put a plate on top of the pan, and holding them together, quickly flip the pan and plate, so that the omelet/frittata is on the plate, bottom-side up. Add a little more oil and butter to the pan, and slide the omelet/frittata back into the hot pan, so that the other side may cook. When done, cut into bite-sized wedges to serve.

Ensalata del pulpo, or octopus salad is just about as simple. This is bar food, not haute cuisine. The recipe is from Cooking in Spain

Dice cooked meat from 2 medium octopi (or 2-3 cups cooked frozen octopus rings) and combine with 2 small green peppers, 1 small onion, 1 small tomato all chopped finely, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and two cloves minced garlic, ¼ cup olive oil and the juice of half a lemon, with salt to taste.

Bon appetite – and happy new year!

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Here is a Healthy New Years Resolution

Take a Hike

Forty-Plus Texas State Parks to Offer Hikes on New Year’s Day as Part of National Program

Written by: Bryan Frazier, Texas State Parks Media Contact (512) 826-8703, [email protected]

Committing to a healthier lifestyle continues to be one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for millions of Americans. And this year, Texas State Parks are providing more than 40 places where folks can do just that—many of which are located close to major metro areas.

 As part of the national umbrella First Day Hikes program set forth by the National Association of State Parks Directors (NASPD), 48 state parks across Texas are scheduled to offer a wide variety of hikes and nature walks this New Year’s Day.

“Hiking outdoors is great to do any time, and a novel way to ring in 2012, especially with a group or as a family,” said Chris Holmes, director of interpretation for Texas State Parks. “Hiking not only gets people outdoors to experience nature, but it’s also healthy. Participating in a First Day hike is a good opportunity to begin a New Year’s resolution for healthier living right off the bat.”

The concept of having an official “First Day Hike” in a park on New Year’s Day originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Massachusetts, with the intent to promote both wellness and year-round recreation at parks. Since then, other states have offered similar New Year’s programs; however, this is the first time all 50 state park systems have joined together to officially sponsor First Day Hikes.

 “What better way to kick off the New Year than with a hike at a state park?” said Ruth Coleman, President of NASPD. “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle for the whole family. Whether folks are staying close to home or traveling, they can join us at one of America’s State Parks on New Year’s Day, just about anywhere in the country.”

First Day Hikes vary in difficulty and fitness levels, and range from short, leisurely nature walks through forested trails and along boardwalks, to special bird watching hikes, to climbs into the mountains of the Chihuahuan Desert. Most all hikes will be guided by state park staff and volunteers and feature an interpretive message about native plants, animals or park history. The walks average one to two miles in length, but many also offer shorter or longer trek options as well.

Participants will want to make some modest advance preparations. Some hikes warrant call-ahead reservations, and in most instances, folks will want to wear sturdy shoes, and bring drinking water and a hiking stick. Park entrance fees apply in most places, and many parks are leading the First Day Hike at no extra cost.

Recent on-site visitor surveys in Texas parks revealed that hiking and trails were the No. 1 most sought-after amenity by park visitors. And according to State Parks Director Brent Leisure, hikers in the Lone Star State have even more incentives to be outside come year’s end.

 “Outdoor recreation during the holidays has been a popular activity for a long time, and here in Texas, it makes even more sense because the weather is often mild enough to do most anything. And many of our parks have either just completed or are in the process of renovating and improving their hike and bike trails. We’re proud to offer folks a lot of choices with an organized network of First Day Hikes, and proud that we have so many wonderful places in our state park system for people to enjoy them. ”

For more information about First Day Hikes in Texas State Parks, visit the Web site athttp://www.texasstateparks.org/firstdayhikes, where you’ll find detailed hike locations, descriptions, and park contact information. Or, visit the NASPD Web site at http://www.americasstateparks.org for nationwide information on First Day Hikes.

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Tis the Season of Giving

Tis The Season…

By Celia Hayes

To consider the 153,000th way in which I do not resemble Martha Stewart. Today, I am running a medium-warm iron over sheets of tissue paper, to take out the wrinkles and fold marks. Yes, indeedy, I reuse Christmas tissue paper, which was only slightly crushed and added to the top of a gift bag which we received last year. It’s only slightly used! It’s perfectly good.

I also re-use the heavy paper gift bags, as is our family custom. Some particularly sturdy ones have been circulating for a decade or so, and there are cardboard cartons and a large bag of Styrofoam popcorn in the garage. With a little forethought a sensible person with sufficient storage space need never be caught short of packing materials. Have you seen how much they charge for packing materials at the post office, the Container Store, or your friendly neighborhood accommodation address/UPS Drop/ Kinko-Klone? Why pay for things that your spendthrift friends and retail outlets are sending you, gratis? Most people will never notice, and those that do and hold it against you, those are people whom you are best off without. If you are related to them by marriage or economic bonds, my sympathies; unfortunately, I do not think Amazon.com offers “A Life” as a mail-order gift option, but at the rate things are going, this may be possible in the near future.

Number 1 or 2 in the ways in which I do resemble Martha Stewart? I am organized, and do my Christmas shopping early and all during the year; ever since I bought a Japanese porcelain tea set for my sister and stashed it under my bed in the barracks in Japan for six months until it came time in October to mail it home. This became a habit which sustains me yet.

We all know that gifts are obligatory for those we are bound to by ties of affection or duty. We know we will have to buy gifts; why not be sensible and organized, and purchase suitable somethings throughout the year, as we see them by chance and opportunity. Why be bludgeoned into buying any old thing at the last minute, or even… gasp (the last resort of a person who has no clue at all) dashing off a check dated December 25th. Even a gift certificate is better than for, in that it shows a grasp of which retail outlets the giftee prefers. It’s Christmas, which comes every year about this time; not like it’s a big surprise. But if you enjoy being packed into a mall or big-box store, jammed in cheek-by-jowl with a million other shoppers, attended by exhausted retail associates … whatever floats your boat. I shall think of you as I leisurely wrap my own Christmas presents in slightly used tissue paper.

You probably don’t want to hear about how the thrift store is the best place for baskets and picture frames… or that Half Price Books is the best place for books to build pretty Christmas baskets around. (Buy a basket at the local thrift store, and a cook book at an off-price outlet. Mark a nice recipe, and fill the basket with all the ingredients to make it. Package and ornament as your budget allows. When all else fails, buy people on your list something to eat. This does not fail. Number 3 in the way that I do resemble Martha Stewart.)

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to All!

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Land Lotsa Land

Land, Lotsa Land

by Celia Hayes

So – thinking about land in the here-and-now, after having spent so many months and years considering it, owning a couple of parcels of it – the tiny residential lot where I live now, the scenic and slightly larger bits of it that I hope to purchase someday, once I become the Margaret Mitchell** of the Hill Country, looking wistfully at bits of it that other people have to sell, the acres that I own of it in California and hope eventually to sell to anyone who appreciates pine woods and inaccessible hilltops, and writing deep and meaningful paragraphs about what possession of it meant to all sorts of people … people who came here because they had a hunger for it, for acres that they could call theirs, that they weren’t just borrowing from a lord or a land-lord for a time, land that they could walk across and think ‘this is mine, and no one can ever forbid me to do what I want to do with it – hunt the animals on it, pasture my own cows on it – and that no one shall ever take it away and if they try, the reason had better be really, really good.


I know – it’s a complicated business, land and the rights to it. When we went down to Goliad for Christmas on the Square, we noticed so many more oil wells, yards full of equipment and trucks, and man-camps full of residential trailers which hadn’t been there the first time we drove that way. Someone in the Author Corral that we mentioned this observation to, said that the DeWitt County Courthouse had been absolutely full of people for months, researching the various mineral rights titles – and landowners who had scraped along for years were now getting regular payments in quite astonishing amounts: Mine and my daughter’s cars both run on gasoline. I’d rather see a portion of what I pay for the stuff at the pump to go back to Texas, rather than some middle-east hell-hole, but that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.

Oil and mineral leases, hunting leases, permits to park a couple of dozen cows upon it – well, that’s all the happy outcome of having title to your personal patch of paradise, isn’t it? An acquaintance once told me of how she and her husband had sold a piece of land that had come to them through their family; a little patch that really held no actual sentimental value for them, so they had no hang-up about selling it – but they kept a copy of the deed and all the attachments to it, because it read almost like a novel. That land had started as a Spanish grant, moved through four nations, three centuries, two languages, and so many owners, who had used it for so many purposes, had it surveyed, surveyed again, sold off little bits, or gave them as dowers to married daughters, split it between sons, lost it for taxes, regained it again – and every possession of it meant a bit of a dream.

Land; I suppose it matters to Texans, and those of us lately come to Texans, because it was the only thing that Texas was rich in, back in the early day – and as my father once pointed out, real estate is the one thing that nothing is being made more of, except at great expense and a lot of labor in reclaiming it from the sea, or draining a swamp, or whatever. Having clear title to a patch of it – why, then there is a place to set your feet and anchor your lever … and accomplish amazing things. Or, if not amazing – at least, to one’s personal satisfaction.

**Margaret Munnerlyn Mitchell (November 8, 1900 – August 16, 1949) was an American author and journalist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937 for her epic American Civil War era novel, Gone with the Wind, the only novel by Mitchell published during her lifetime..

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Spurs Set to Tip Off 2011-2012 NBA Season

Spurs Set to Tip Off NBA Season. . .Finally

by Randy Watson

With the NBA lockout finally over, the NBA will hold an abbreviated pre-season before embarking on an abbreviated season that will get underway on Christmas day. The last time we left the San Antonio Spurs, they had just finished up a successful regular season (division champs) with a most unsuccessful post-season (1st round exit to the Grizzlies). How successful was last year’s regular season? The team won just under 75% of their games, 74.4 to be exact, making it the most successful season in terms of winning percentage since 2005-6. Unfortunately, the 4-2 series loss to the upstart Grizzlies erased most of the good memories of the regular season.

Looking forward to this year, most of the major parts of the team are back for another go-around. One missing cog is Antonio McDyess, who was put on waivers and then retired. The major pieces, however, are still in silver and black. Ginobili, Duncan, and Parker will be joined by a new face in rookie Kawhi Leonard, a long, raw defensive specialist that looks to battle with Richard Jefferson for minutes throughout the season.

What does the season portend for the Spurs? Well, the Big Three aren’t getting any younger, and with the league deciding to squeeze in as many games as possible, the demands of the schedule may take a toll on the Spurs’ veteran players. On the bright side, the Spurs do have more promising young stars that can take some of the burden off. If Tiago Splitter can continue to develop along with DeJuan Blair, then Tim Duncan might be able to play fewer minutes and get a night off every once in a while.

This year will be an interesting year for the NBA with the shortened season, but could work out well for veteran teams like the Spurs. Will those teams who return their core players have an advantage over younger, more inexperience teams that might take longer to come together? Or will the grind of the season wear down the older teams? Only time will tell, and with the season set to kick off in just a few days, we won’t have long to wait.

 

Call for all your San Antonio Real Estate needs. Visit my website for the best San Antonio Online Homesearch.

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Hurray for Walmart Associates

Walmart Hero Shout OUT!

Written by Randy Watson

As much as I hate to admit it, I was shopping at my San Antonio neighborhood Walmart this afternoon along with hundreds of others. Christmas rush at Walmart isn’t full on yet, but Walmart was full none the less. Fortunately, my shoping excursion didn’t include buying any Christmas gifts or toys. I was only in getting some groceries and toiletry items.

While in the toothepaste aisle looking for my favorite toothepaste, a little boy perhaps 4 or 5 walked past a number of people. I thought it strange as he didn’t look attached to any of the nearby adults he walked past. I thought he looked kind of like he might be lost. He was holding it together until I bent over and asked if he was okay. (How could someone loose their child? But, that’s another story for another day…)

His little face turned red as a beet and he said he couldn’t find his mother. As soon as he got those words out, he broke into tears. I asked him his name and told him everything would be ok and that I would help him find his mother. I quickly looked around and found the two nearest ladies and told them to stay right here with the little boy and that I would get a Walmart employee.

I took a quick look for a store employee, but didn’t see any. So I went to the druggist counter, cut in front of everyone in line and she just kind of gave me a “what do you want me to do about it” look… so, I headed back to the aisle where the little boy was. On the way back, I saw another Walmart employee merchandising her shelves and told her about the boy that was missing his mother. This employee dropped what she was doing and came over to help. A manager was called and the boy walked away with the manager to be reunited his mom and be on their way back to their San Antonio home.

I want to thank the nameless ladies that helped watch and comfort the lost little boy as well as the Walmart Associate and manager. I also want to remind everyone to stay aware of your surroundings and keep your eyes open for anyone in need of help, especially the little children and even the elderly. Please help if and when you can.

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November 2011 San Antonio Real Estate Sales Statistics

Written by Randy Watson

November 2011Off-Season Buying Trends Affect Housing Sales and Prices

The San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR) released their monthly housing report for the month. 1239 Single family residential homes closed, a 2% decrease from November 2010. The average price declined 8% for a single family home compared to November 2010.

“This month, we saw a sales decrease for homes priced between $200,000 and $500,000, as well as homes priced above the halfmillion dollar mark,” said Scott Caballero, SABOR’s 2011 Chairman of the Board.

  • 1,239 single-family residential homes sold in November 2011.
  • $174,861 is the average price of a single-family home, a 8% decrease from November 2010.
  • $145,500 is the Median price of a single-family home, a 5% decrease from November 2010.
  • Approximately 7 Months – Months of inventory in November 2011.
SABOR is preparing for its January 5th Housing Forecast. The event features real estate experts who will provide insight on market trends and will offer predictions on how the market will fare in 2012.
Market data is compiled by the San Antonio Board of Realtors Press Release from the Multiple Listing Service report.
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Holiday Decorating Tips for New Home Buyers

Holiday Decorating Tips for New Home-Buyers

By Michelle Hille

You are a first time home-buyer and you’ve just closed on the house that you have always dreamed of. You walk inside and breathe a sigh of happiness knowing that it’s finally yours. And then the sudden gasp of realization that its 10 days before Christmas and you have no decorations in place!

Not to worry, here are 5 fast and easy ways to spruce up the Holiday spirit in your brand new home.Nothing makes a home more inviting and festive than one filled with holiday smelling candles scattered sporadically throughout the house.

* Besides there is a chance that your new home will still smell like paint, so the candles will be a nice cover up for this little problem.

* Decorate several Dwarf Alberta Spruces and watch these little plants transform into an adorable set of mini-Christmas trees!

* Start a new family tradition and get the kids to make strands of cranberries or popcorn to embellish the look.To make an easy dining room table centerpiece take a bowl and arrange a pyramid of brightly colored ornaments and fill in the extra spaces with loose evergreens to get the more natural look.

* String ribbon bows along the banister of your staircase. Pick your favorite holiday color for the bows or mix and match colors to get a more eclectic Christmas feel!To give your home a final Texas touch, top your tree with a lone star.

* Your Northerner in-laws may not get it, but your true Texas friends will admire your pride for the Lone Star State.

Hopefully these quick and easy holiday decorating tips will relieve some of your holiday stress and get your brand new home in shape for the holiday season. To find out more information about new homes visit New Home Source! Wishing you and yours Happy Holidays!


 

For your San Antonio Real Estate needs contact Randy Watson of Mission Realty

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Texas Sales Tax Revenues Up

 Sales Tax Revenues Continue Recent Trend

by Randy Watson

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs reports total sales tax collections for November jumped 12.2 percent compared with November 2010, marking the 20th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. The gains are attributed to improvement in all major economic sectors including oil and natural gas production, retail trade and restaurants.

Local Sales Tax Allocations

  • Cities – $315.8 million — up 8.6 percent from December 2010.
  • Counties    – $31.3 million — up 13.7 percent from December 2010.
  • Transit Systems – $108.7 million — up 10.2 percent from December 2010.
  • Special Purpose Taxing Districts – $22.2 million — up 19.5 percent from December 2010.

Read more: Tracking the Texas Economy

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Christmas Baskets for the Neighbors

Sing We Now of Christmas

by Celia Hayes

And of Christmas presents, and decorations on the tree and mailing out the cards and all … we really don’t have to go shopping actually, since we do that throughout the year. What we do at this time of the year is to turn out the contents of the ‘gift closet’ – where we had stashed all the things purchased throughout the year with an eye towards this season, wrap them suitably and send them on their merry way. That done, we turn to the entrancing question of ‘what to give the neighbors’ for Christmas, or more particularly, those neighbors who are also friends. Something to eat is the standard, but fruitcake is … well, does anyone actually eat fruitcake? Cookies are … well, everybody does cookies, and I am beginning to suspect that no one actually eats them either. I am pretty certain that no one ate them that year I did gingerbread cookies from an old Joy of Cooking recipe and they came tasting something like ginger and looking like what we have to pick up after the dog.

Fortunately for our neighbors, there’s a whole world of home-made edible possibilities out there, and this year, we’ve been exploring them. We decided upon gift-baskets of flavored olive oil and spiced vinegar, with a mini-wheel of home-made cheddar cheese, and a small loaf of home-baked fresh bread. (I, in a moment of backing frenzy some years ago, bought a number of mini-loaf pans.)

The recipe for the flavored oil is fairly straight-forward: three or four fresh springs of rosemary (picked from the bounteous rosemary bushes growing in the front yard) washed and carefully dried, and ¼ to ½ teaspoon of dried and crushed red pepper flakes. Place in a bottle, and fill to near the top with good quality olive oil, heated until just barely warm. Cork the bottle, and store in a cool dark place for at least a week. (Refrigerate after opening.)

We did garlic and chili pepper vinegar, also. This recipe came from Sunset’s Home Canning recipe book. We used dried red cayenne peppers from the pepper plants which grew so lavishly in the topsy-turvy: four to six dried peppers, three to four dried bay leaves, and three fresh cloves of garlic per bottle, filled to the top with white wine vinegar. As with the oil, store in a dark, cool place before use, and refrigerate afterwards. The very best deal on the small bottles that we chose for the vinegar and oil was at Home Brew Party, on Nacogdoches and Judson.

The homeade cheeses were made from a recipe for farmhouse cheddar, in Ricki Carroll’s Home Cheesemaking, but instead of making one large wheel, I made three little ones. But if you don’t want to venture that far into D-I-Y territory, any small flavorful cheese would do. My daughter, the Queen of All Thrift-Shopping found inexpensive baskets to hold it all at the Dollar Tree, but really, any attractive container will do – even just a plain brown bag with a checkered napkin. So, our gift baskets will look pretty much like this – don’t you wish you were our neighbors?

 

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