Crumbs in our Pages: Slow Cooking for Two

Slow Cookers, usually relegated to the back of the cabinet, are enjoying a return to the limelight.  As families find themselves a bit too over extended, the slow cooker has been pressed into service and is only too happy to once again be asked to put a tasty dinner on the table.

Slow Cooking for Two Cookbook

In “Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes,” Cynthia Graubart devises a genius way to double the dinners in half the time by cooking two separate dinners simultaneously.  The brilliant use of slow cooker bags, originally designed for easy clean up, allows two different meals in two separate bags to be cooked at the same time – one to enjoy that night and the other to be saved (or even frozen) for another. An added bonus is that two smaller dinners are prepared, thus eliminating nights and nights of leftovers.


Complementary recipes are paired and detailed instructions are included taking all the guesswork out of the preparation.  Both meals were prepared in less than twenty minutes!

For tonight’s dinner we tried the Vinegar-Braised Pot Roast and the Lime-Lemon Pot Roast with Tomato Sauce (to which Cynthia quips: “I owe Natalie Dupree a debt of gratitude for this recipe, now a classic, from her book, New Southern Cooking.  It’s simply the best dish to ever come out of a slow cooker)”.

So let’s get started:

First halve a two pound chuck roast.

preparing the roast

Salt and pepper generously.

For the Vinegar-Braised pot roast, top with sliced onion, strong coffee, balsamic vinegar, and a couple of sprigs of rosemary.

vinegar braised pot roast

For the Lime-Lemon Pot Roast, sprinkle with lime and lemon zest, and a mixture of lime juice, garlic, beef broth, dried Italian seasoning, and one can of crushed tomatoes.

Place each roast in its separate bag, set the timer on low and walk away.

prepped and sealed

After eight hours of gardening, reading, carpooling, playing, napping, golfing, skiing, relaxing, working, walk back into a house redolent with the most mouth-watering aromas; you will not have to call people to the table twice!

ready to serve

The second best part of these recipes is that because of the slow cooker liners, there is absolutely no cleanup.  The first best part is, of course, the most succulent, melt in your mouth pot roast you will ever enjoy.  We had to sample both and would be hard pressed to pick a favorite – both were equally tasty.  Slow Cooking for Two is a must for everyone who wants terrific, crowd-pleasing meals but doesn’t want to be tied up in the kitchen all day.  Martha

The Storied Life of Blue Willow Bookshop

We just got off the phone with our Hachette rep, the wonderful Ken Graham, and he says it’s snowing in Amarillo-and here the temperature just dropped 20 degrees. I’m sure this will all be over in time for the egg hunts on Sunday. I remember wearing footie pajamas and running around my grandparents’ backyard in Dallas with all of my siblings, vying for the chocolate eggs. We have lots Easter books and precious little plush rabbits just waiting for you.

I want to thank all of our friends who emailed and called after last weekend’s break in. We are all fine and the little trolls did not take anything as far as we can tell. Sadly, we lost the beautiful etched glass window in our antique door. I was often asked why there was an “M” on the door. The “M” stood for Musabelle Naut, the previous owner’s name, and the name of her shop, Musabelle’s Books. I thought of her every morning when I came in the door. Now we are looking forward to putting our own name on the new window.

These next few weeks will bring World Book Night (I have a few boxes left if you want to join the giving,) and TeenBookCon-29 incredible teen authors, a platoon of volunteer librarians and teachers, and a plan to beat last year’s attendance of 1,200. You do not want to miss either opportunity!

Our friends at the American Heart Association are offering a special local promotion for retailers in Houston. Buy a SHOP WITH HEART card, which we are selling, and receive discounts and complimentary eats at many retailers and restaurants.  Here are the details.

I just finished The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price Purveyor of Superior Funerals (for Coffee Cake BookClub) and Steal The North (a powerhouse of a debut novel!).

What are you reading?



Rating system

I was intrigued by Barbara Vey’s blog several weeks ago in Publisher’s Weekly.

Her dilemma is one we face here at the shop.

We help readers find good books in all genres.  And everyone’s definition of a “good book” is different. What one person thinks is appropriate for children of a certain age may be different from what another person thinks is appropriate.

As an example We offer a  book-of-the-month club.  Each one is tailored specifically to the request of the giver.  One such customer wants only books that are clean, as in content, no sex, foul language, etc.  We have been working hard to make sure our selections fit this criteria.  Mind you we had never met the recipient of our hard work.  Until the day I spoke to a book club at her retirement community.  She came in the room with three very familiar books in her walker bag.  I commented on the books and she told me about her monthly gift.

She allowed that the last three books had been dirty-so dirty she gave them away immediately without finishing.  I raced back to see what those awful books were!  They were really, really “clean” in our minds.  We’ve started ordering specifically with her in mind from the tamest catalogs I can find.

There is a lot of censorship talk that goes on in both libraries and bookstores.  Are we to tell people what they can and cannot read?  Our store policy is to give guidance through 8th grade.  Once they dance their last middle school dance, they are ready to tackle required summer reading for high school.  For years, the incoming 9th graders were required to read Tale of Two Cities, which is quite a leap from Where The Red Fern Grows.  These past few years the required reading has been The Glass Castle.  If you are reading adult fiction, there is nothing in a teen book that you have not been exposed to already.

I think the best bet is to get yourself to your favorite indie bookstore and start asking questions.  Knowledgeable booksellers who have read a lot can guide you to whatever you are looking for in fiction and nonfiction.  If I personally have not read it, then I defer to our staff reviews which are required writing by all staff members.  I also look at publisher’s imprints.  Certain imprints are known for certain styles and tones of writing.  Knopf has been known for its literary fiction (except for their foray into the money making Fifty Shades trilogy!).

Here’s a few new adult titles that would definitely appeal to teen readers:

My Mother's Secret

My Mother’s Secret


The Other Wes Moore



Brain On Fire

When you want opinionated book discussion, join us for our weekly Bibliotherapy on Fridays at 5 p.m.  We want to talk books!

Crumbs in our Pages – Homesick Texan’s Family Table

Blue Willow Bookshop’s favorite Homesick Texan returns with another fabulous collection of all the foods that make us so very happy to call the Lone Star State home – crazy nachos from Herrera’s in Dallas, potato-chorizo breakfast tacos, jalapeno pigs in blankets, ancho chile shrimp quesadillas from Kingsville; they are all there!

Homesick Texan Family Table

A seventh generation Texan herself, Lisa Fain is happiest when a crowd of family and friends gathers around her table.  The Homesick Texan’s Family Table cookbook entices with hundreds of recipes to help us gather our own brood and ensure that they will be so glad they did.

Lisa Fain at Blue Willow

When our own family gathered last weekend to welcome our niece’s Utah native in-laws-to-be into the family, we agreed that Tex-Mex had to be on the menu.  Knowing that we would feast on Sylvia’s fajitas and enchiladas with white queso from Escalante’s, I chose Homesick Texan’s Caballero Cookies and Grapefruit & Pecan Sheet Cake to satisfy our sweet tooth.

golden goodness roasted pecans

Lisa wanted to jazz up the classic chocolate sheet cake and make it a little more Texan.  What could be better than our state fruit, the grapefruit and our state nut, the pecan?  Our neighbor has the most magnificent Ruby Red grapefruit tree and brings us bushels of golden goodness every year allowing me an ample supply for both the cake and icing.  We wholeheartedly agreed with Lisa that Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pecan Sheet Cake is over the top decadent (the inch of cream cheese frosting doesn’t hurt) and was enthusiastically enjoyed by our bride and groom to be!

bride and groom enjoying some cake

Cowboy Cookies are always a crowd pleaser and Lisa’s spicy addition of a generous pinch of cayenne pepper made the Caballero Cookies a perfect blend of spicy sweet; this appreciative crowd left not a single crumb.

caballero cookies mise en place

Lisa writes, “It’s been said that if you ask a Texan about their most memorable meal, they won’t tell you about a coveted reservation at a five-star temple of dining, or an exotic feast served after an airplane flight halfway across the world. Nope, most Texans will say that their most memorable meal was home-cooked, shared at the family table.”  With The Homesick Texas’s Family Table cookbook, you can rest assured that that table will be yours!  Martha

P. S. Be sure to keep an eye on our website so you won’t miss Lisa’s visit to Blue Willow later on this spring.

Reading in The West

Reading The West

This past weekend arrived and I was a little bit sad that I had no more required reading to do. Last Fall, Valerie asked me to serve on a Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association committee to select a short list for the Reading the West Award for 2013, and I’ve been tearing through books about the West for the past two and a half months, wondering if I’d be able to read them all. Our committee came up with five non-fiction and five fiction titles for adults; the short lists will be announced March 31st and the winners selected by the end of May. Here are some of the books I read all or most of:

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I didn’t set foot west of the Mississippi until well into my adulthood, and it took me until two years ago to visit all the states in the mountains and plains region. And what a fascinating and diverse region it is! More than 50 books later, I feel that I’m only beginning to understand all the cultures, sub-cultures and issues that comprise “westness.” Here are some of the things I’ve learned about the west:

1. There’s an old west and there’s a modern west. There are, actually, two old wests when you take into consideration the land and people that existed here before Europeans “discovered” the area and it became the “Old West” of John Wayne movies and t.v. cowboy serials. This was the west of George Catlin’s American Buffalo.


2. Characteristics of the Old West: everyone had a gun, vigilante justice was as common as rule of law, we made heroes of outlaws, rugged individuality was admired, and there were just as many good, upstanding wives as there were barmaids and loose women. This time period is rich with material for some excellent story telling, both fictional and factual. It turns out that Wyatt Earp was a gambler, brothel bouncer and horse thief before he and his brothers ganged their way into law enforcement. The myths are untangled from the facts in Wyatt Earp: A Vigilante Life by Andrew C. Isenberg and The Lady at The O.K. Corral by Ann Kirschner.. One of my favorite novels on this list was Son, by Philipp Meyer, a saga that covers the period from 1840 to the 1970s in Texas.

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3. Characteristics of the Modern West: the population in the mountains and plains states is a mix of people from around the globe who are ranchers, oil men, migrant workers, and descendants of those who lived in the Old West. Many people have guns, there is still a strong sense of conflict between the individual and the government, and we still have our outlaws, only now they run drugs and assist illegal aliens instead of robbing stage coaches and trains. Urban Waite’s Carrion Birds is a tale of one man’s losing battle with the drug cartels, its darkness offset by Rilla Askew’s Kind of Kin, a warm-hearted, funny and poignant story of a family’s standing up against what they see as unfair immigration laws, and by Loteria, by Mario Alberto Zambrano, a compelling tale of a young immigrant girl in the Houston area.

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4. Finally, in the west as in other parts of the country, we continue to question the relationship between nature and what modern man has introduced to the area, hoping to find a balance that we can live with. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read this year is Kevin Fedarko’s Emerald Mile, a suspenseful tale of a record breaking boat trip through the Grand Canyon, with a thoroughly explained history and geography of the Colorado River and its dams. And I was touched by the ethereal quality of Ken Nerburn’s The Girl Who Sang to The Buffalo, a look at present-day Native American life on and off the reservation.

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If you’re still looking for ideas for summer vacations, please consider taking a trip to some place in the west – the canyonlands of Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the state parks of Montana and Wyoming. Before you go, come talk to me, and I’ll recommend some books to read!


My Reading List

We enjoyed the fine weather outside this weekend, didn’t we? Since Spring is finally here, I’ve replaced all the herb pots that didn’t survive the winter. Hopefully my basil will be overflowing soon and I can get back to making pesto straight from the garden. My lenten roses have finally bloomed since I put them in four years ago. I had forgotten what color they were to be–they are pink!

Costa Rica was wonderful. I read more than one book. I’d say how many, but Alice says it sounds like bragging. And what fun to run into good customers Sue Warren, Jo Ballard, and Sue Shelfer with husbands in tow at a little restaurant in Manuel Antonio. Blue Willow fans are everywhere!

We had a whirlwind visit from Chelsea Handler on Saturday afternoon. It brought up a question from a customer. There are times the publisher and author mandate how a signing will proceed. We try to make it a great experience for everyone while still adhering to their rules. If you ever have a question about our signings, please let me know.

This week we welcome Jason Mott, the author of The Returned, which has inspired the ABC show Resurrection. I couldn’t help but think while reading it about the desire to talk just one more time to our loved ones who have gone before us. There are a thousand questions I have for my maternal grandmother who lived an incredible life but always turned the conversation to me when we visited. Join me in conversation with Jason Mott this Wednesday.

Our conversation has turned to Easter celebrations and what we plan to put on the table. Stop in and talk with Martha about her latest favorite cookbook. Or follow our blog. If you plan to dye eggs, give your Wimpy Kid fan a chance to win awimpified” picture drawn by Jeff Kinney. It’s such a fun series for those reluctant readers. And don’t despair, studies show it’s quantity over quality. They’ll be readingWar and Peace before long.

Here’s another benefit of our trip to Costa Rica. We had our tile floor refinished while we were gone. I did not know they were going to move the four stacks of books beside my favorite reading chair. Upon return, I’ve found two wonderful books that must have been at the bottom. Releasing in two weeks, a powerhouse of a debut novel Steal the North will rivet you. And now I’m reading a moving memoir that is now out in paperback: After Visiting Friends. Michael Hainey’s newpaperman father died when he was very young. In his quest to uncover the secret surrounding his death, He writes beautifully about searching for identity and family. I promise you will love it like I do.

What are you reading?


“Mom, are we almost there yet?”

     Yes, it’s that time of year when people start taking trips for Spring Break and are busy planning summer vacations.  My daughter, who just graduated from college, got hired as a nanny to help with three young kids on a Spring Break trip.  She got anxious about finding ways to keep them occupied, and so my co-workers at the store helped me with ideas.  There are so many things to choose from!

For the little girl, a Fancy Nancy book was a must.

It’s a small paperback, so it’s no big deal to fit it in a bag.  Plus, it isn’t too big of an investment if it gets messed up.
We also got a sticker/activity book.  Who doesn’t love stickers, after all?
Princess Sticker

For the boys, we got some playing cards that have a shark hologram on them.

 SharkCards You wiggle the cards, and it looks like the shark is moving.  My daughters always loved shark week. I might need to get them a set for our next family outing…even though they’re in their twenties.

And finally, for the whole group, we picked out the game Spot It because it’s a matching game that everybody can play.

Another recommendation was Tenzi, a dice-rolling game.  I’ll think I’ll get it next time.

Happy trails,

Crumbs in our Pages: Backstreet Kitchen

Hugo and Tracy

Don’t you agree that there are two types of restaurants: the ones where you order the same favorite dish over and over again and the others where you can’t ever decide what to order because you want it all. (Remember that episode from I Love Lucy when Ricky and Lucy are out to dinner with Ethel and Fred and Lucy keeps changing her order to what everyone else orders? Hysterical!) For me, Backstreet Café falls into the second group – everything calls my name and says “order me, I’m the best”!

Backstreet Cafe

Though you can never replace their fabulous back courtyard (if we can’t eat outside, then why bother going) or their amazing wait staff at home, now, thanks to their new cookbook, Backstreet Kitchen by Tracy Vaught and Hugo Ortega (what a culinary power couple they must be!), you can at least recreate their most memorable dishes. Pecan Crusted Chicken (a signature dish) – it’s in there! Slow Braised Short Ribs? You got it! Garlic Mashed Potatoes? Oh yeah, page 152. Backstreet Benedict, Gingerbread Waffles, Migas, Rhubarb Strawberry Crumble? Oh my, the list goes on and on…

Backstreet Kitchen cookbook

Feeling a need for a little Tex-Mex, we decided to make the Red Corn Chicken Enchiladas with Tomatillo Salsa – they were absolutely to. die. for.

First of all, we whipped up the tomatillo salsa – this is so incredibly easy and magnificent on absolutely everything from enchiladas to eggs to salads to fish, I don’t know why there’s not a jar of this in everyone’s refrigerator (including my own). Five tomatillos, handful of cilantro, a clove of garlic, dash of salt, ½ of a serrano pepper, two tablespoons chopped onions and ½ of an avocado in the blender or food processor and two minutes later you are in salsa heaven. I dare you to not lick the spoon as you’re scooping it into the bowl.

tomatilla salsa

For Backstreet Café’s Enchiladas, red corn tortillas gently wrap themselves around a tantalizing mixture of sautéed, cubed potatoes, shredded roasted chicken (already roasted chickens found in any grocery store are your best friend here), a lovely blend of chopped onions, garlic, and serrano peppers (the other half left over from the tomatillo salsa plus one more, if you’re brave). Roll these babies up, tuck them in nicely under a blanket of a parmesan cream sauce, slide them into a hot oven and wait impatiently for the longest fifteen minutes of your life. I promise, no one will have to be called twice to the table. As you have already discovered in the photos, red corn tortillas were not to be found, but white corn was just as delicious even if not as colorful. Don’t forget the generous dollop of tomatillo salsa!

chicken enchiladasenchiladas for you(1)

Gorgeous, full color photos, complete recipes on one page (not spilling over onto the next page keeps your book somewhat cleaner than if you always have to flip back and forth with those sticky, gooey fingers), and a wonderful history of one of Houston’s favorite restaurants makes Backstreet Kitchen a must for everyone who wants to prepare amazing celebrations around the dinner table. Martha

Delicious Gifts, both sweet and savory

Delicious Gifts cover

Jess McCloskey has provided a great variety of both sweet and savory food items in her book “Delicious Gifts: Edible Creations to Make and Give“. First, I tried the zucchini chips because I love salty/crunchy things, and these sounded so darn healthy! You slice the zucchini, toss into a Ziploc bag with salt, and then let it “sweat” for 24 hours, draining occasionally. After the first two hours, it was amazing how much water I poured out, and then it slowed down after that. And, no, I didn’t wake up in the middle of the night to drain more. The next day, I tossed the zucchini pieces with oregano and basil and then roasted on a low temperature for a couple of hours. Voila!

Zucchini chips

Next, I tried the Triple Chocolate Brownies because who wouldn’t love those? I just used what I had and added semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate pieces. The recipe calls for white chocolate too, and those would add a little extra flavor. Next time. They were very yummy and gooey inside. Only bad part is eating them after the molten chocolate pots I made for Valentine’s. But all that dark chocolate is full of antioxidants that a woman my age just can’t get enough of. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.



Crumbs in Our Pages: Comfort Food Without Borders

Two Saints was a great drop-in-for-a-bite neighborhood restaurant we often frequented before it closed a year or so ago. We often found ourselves appreciating a quiet, cozy place where you could relax after a hectic week with your BYOB wine and a fabulous meal featuring dishes from around the world.

Comfort Food Without Borders

Though the doors are now closed, Chef Sia Ayrom has graciously compiled a collection of his most popular recipes in Comfort Food Without Borders, Volume One: From Appetizers to Pastas. Sia promises that volumes 2: Main Courses (June 2014) and 3: Happy Endings (December 2014) will provide an abundance of easy-to-follow recipes and tips to complement volume 1 which includes appetizers, brunch recipes, sandwiches and burgers, soups and salads, dumplings, noodles and pasta – plenty of choices for creating your own just-a-bite meal.

Thinking a salad for lunch with friends would please everyone, I found plenty of choices: Baby Arugula & Frisée Salad with Grapefruit Supremes, Marcona Almonds, Blood Orange Vinaigrette, Panzanella, and New Potato Salad with Bacon and Gorgonzola Cheese before Salade Niçoise caught my eye.

ingredients prepped

Salade Niçoise is a great do ahead salad because each of the ingredients can be prepped the night before and then beautifully arranged just before lunch is ready. Sia’s recipe called for marinating the tuna in soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger and garlic before pan grilling it – a real improvement over the usual option of canned tuna.

pan grilled ahi tuna

His vinaigrette with dried tarragon was a real crowd favorite. Hard-boiled eggs, sliced sweet tomatoes, vibrant haricots verts, salty Niçoise olives, creamy boiled new potatoes on a bed of butter crunch lettuce rounded out the rest of the market fresh ingredients. Crusty bread and a crisp glass of wine are all that was needed to make this a five star lunch or dinner.

lunch is ready

Join us Saturday, March 22nd at 2:00 as we welcome Chef Sia Ayrom to Blue Willow Bookshop to discuss and sign Comfort Food Without Borders. Chef Sia promises Truffled Ham and Cheese on a Stick – you won’t want to miss! Martha