Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Bargain

Story-telling is a daily art in the Texas Hill Country.

I had breakfast at the cafe in Austin last week.  The older-middle-aged-men's table was in full swing.  I didn't recognize the speaker, an animated man, straight brown hair, pudgy features.  His story was in process as I settled on a bar stool, my back to the men.

"It was on my first trip to Libya, mid-1970's.  I'd been in the international tax unit one month."  He shook his head.  "Lowest guy on the totem.  I was the man with the least chance of getting it done." 
    " Anyway, this guy picked us up at the dirt airstrip in a rust-bucket and hauled us to the back side of nowhere.  Brown, dusty and blowing.  Nothing but rubble where he stopped."

"As we got out, he pointed at the top of the hill. 'Old hotel there.  Always need repair.  When Air Force pull out, they leave Quonset huts.'  He pointed down the hill.  'Thirty-two.  Take pick.'"

"I could see the rust from where we stood but it was that or sleep in the open," the accountant said.  "So my next question was 'Where do we eat?'"

"Used to be restaurant. Now commissary."  The driver pointed at one of the huts.  "You buy food there and cook yourself."

"After I dumped my stuff in a hut, I went over to the commissary and looked around.  The quonset was full of metal shelves.  Most of them empty.  But close to the door was a full section.  I looked at the cans.  All green beans.  Nothing else.  So I went back up and found the guy."

"Well," the driver said, "supply plane come once in six month.  Next here month after you leave.  You can have all green bean."

"I asked him, 'Well what did the people who were here before us do?'"

"Green bean."  He shook his head.  "First two, real sick.  Third die."  He paused.  "You want all green bean?  I give you good price."

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Driftwood Estate Winery

The week before Christmas, after we had our fill of BBQ heaven at  The Salt Lick, we wandered a few miles down CR170 to the Driftwood Estate Winery.  Our friends from Washington, Bob and Alison (of orgasmic raspberry jelly and honey fame), were with us.  As a winemaker and chef, Bob was interested in trying some Hill Country wines.  Me too. 
The winery perches on a hillside above fields of vineyards.  The tasting room and picnic area are simple but feel like home, if you're lucky enough to live in the eastern Hill Country between Wimberley and Dripping Springs.

After we'd petted the winery cat, tasted the wines and made purchases (even Bob, who has an overflowing wine cellar), we sat a spell looking over the valley, talking about how much fun it would be to have a party at the winery.  I'm guessing from the smoked coating on the BBQ barrel, they've seen their share of good times.

Driftwood Estate offers tastes of six wines for $5, or $10 if you want to keep the souvenir logo glass.  We only tasted red wines but I want to go back and try the viognier.  I'm in love with the floral and spice flavors of a good Viognier and am still looking for a Texas Viognier that makes my heart sing.

All of the Driftwood wines are made at the winery, but not all of the juice comes from Texas.  I know some folks might say these aren't Texas wines but I say we're lucky to have good wine-making in our state, especially wines at affordable prices.  You'll be happy to drink it once you try it.

The first four wines we tasted were made from a combination of 50% Texas juice and 50% California juice.  Gary Elliott, the owner, has a sister who raises grapes in Paso Robles, California so he has an 'in' for good juice.  The wines were nonvintage, which gives the winemaker the freedom to blend juice from different years to achieve a consistent style.

N/V Sangiovese - In-house, they call this a "Super-Texan", a Texas version of a Super Tuscan wine, 85% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot.   I liked the balance and the dark-berry fruit flavors.  Thought it would be food-friendly.  $16.00

N/V Lone Star Cab - My margin notes say, Good.  I got a grapey aroma to start, then lovely balance in the mouth, with dark fruit and a leather undertone.  Long, smooth  finish.    $20.00.

N/V Longhorn Red - 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Syrah. This was not my favorite.  I thought it more subdued, less fruit forward. But I might have liked it more with some time in the glass.  $18.00.

N/V Syrah - This was the only wine stated to include Driftwood-grown fruit.  Rated a GOOD in my margin. Deep cherry and dark chocolate flavors mingled.  Smooth finish.
        I wouldn't have liked this as much if Dana hadn't gone the extra step to aerate it for us.   Amazing how the wine opened up and the fruit came forward after that.  If you're lucky enough to have the Driftwood Estates Syrah, think about giving it some air before drinking.
   This would be an awesome complement to the Salt Lick's BBQ, or to Denny's for that matter.  We brought a few bottles home and put it away for the next time he fires up the barrel.

After the non-vintage flight, we tasted two reserve wines.  Both were made at Driftwood from 100% California juice from B & E Vineyard in Paso Robles.

2004 Cabernet Sauvignon -LOVELY, says my tasting sheet.  Rich, full, forward cherry fruit with a long dry finish. Silky tannins. One of my favorites of the tasting.   $20.00.

2005 Red Rhythm - 57% Merlot, 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Cabernet Franc.  Plummy nose, Nice rich fruit.  I thought it was a bit jammy and wondered if it would be heading over the hill soon.  That could have been a characteristic of that particular bottle.  The only way to know if the vintage is passing the peak into the downswing would be to taste across multiple bottles.  I'd say if you like deep fruit, buy some and  drink now.  $20.00.

Our foursome, all experienced tasters, were impressed with the wines we tried; with the balance and complexity and lovely expression of fruit.

To visit Driftwood Estates, head for Wimberley or Dripping Springs on the Austin side of the Hill Country.  Check Driftwood Estate's  website for directions .  
     The website also has a listing of wines for sale. Folks who live in Texas and Minnesota can order by calling  (512) 692-6229.    If you like the wine, join the wineclub and receive automatic shipments.  No membership fee and you get a 20% discount.  You might also find Driftwood wines at the Austin Spec's stores and some of the smaller wine stores around the Hill Country.

If you don't live in Texas, come visit.  You'll be glad you did.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Serendipity 1-26-10

We stand in the breath of river and sun and fly above the ripple.

Words and photo by Kathleen Scott,for her blog Hill Country Mysteries. Copyright 2009-2010.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shrimp Heaven

Cold turns my thoughts to comfort food, and shrimp is a favorite.

Denny and I enjoyed a dish called Armadillo Hunters' Shrimp, adapted from The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook.  I'm not sure about the connection between armadillo hunters and shrimp (aren't armadillo hunters otherwise known as road-kill removers?) but dinner was so good there were no leftovers. 

And it was comforting to eat (mildly) spicy, succulent shrimp in front of the fire during our recent cold snap.  As a bonus, the dish is quick and healthy.

1 tsp fennel seeds*
1 tsp coriander seeds*
*The fennel and coriander give this dish an intriguing twist that deepens the tomato and sweetens the shrimp.
2 tblsp vegetable oil
4 green onions,  coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced (if you're not fond of heat, try a poblano pepper instead)
3/4 pound grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp coarse-ground pepper
1/2 tsp kosher salt
~2 tblsp dry sherry (or more your if mixture seems dry)**see note
1 lb. medium peeled shrimp

**Note:  If you don't have sherry, use white wine. A rich Chardonnay would be good.  For sherry, use any sherry good enough to drink.  I usually pour myself a little thimble to sip as I cook, under the guise of quality-control.  Currently I'm cooking with Osborne Amontillado, a Spanish medium sherry aged four years in oak barrels.  It adds a smidgen of smoky undertone. 

Heat a big nonstick skillet, throw in the fennel seeds and coriander seeds.  Toast over medium heat until fragrant.  Remove and grind coarsely (or pulverize with a mortar and pestle).  Set aside.

Add oil to skillet and heat until very hot, almost smoking.  Add green onions and jalapeno, cook a couple of minutes until softened.  Add garlic.  Stir to mix.

Add tomatoes, oregano, pepper, sherry, fennel and coriander, and salt.  Reduce heat to medium.  Stir and cook another few minutes.  When tomatoes begin to wrinkle and split, add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink, 2-4 minutes.

Serve over yellow rice.  I stir Spanish smoked paprika and turmeric into basmati rice before adding the water.  The paprika adds toast and the turmeric earthiness.

Makes 2-4 servings depending on hunger and politeness.

Add a salad with a fresh lemon vinaigrette, a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or light Pinot Noir, and you'll enjoy a feast fit for a new decade.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott, Hill Country Mysteries.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Capitol Weirdness

You'll be glad to know that Austin finished 2009, as weird as you can see here.

From a just-after-dawn walk at Lady Bird Lake...

The litterer left a FIRE EXTINGUISHER? 

By a LAKE.

And while we're on the subject of litter,

What was the celebration for which they emptied the office hole-puncher?

Texting while least he's not taking his hands off the steering...

How many years do you think this homeowner has been bowling?  Did he/she finally give up on the perfect game?

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott, Hill Country Mysteries.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Karma Bowl

One year, so long ago my sister and I were twenty-something and thirty-something living together in an old bungalow in Houston, we had a run of bad luck.  I was on crutches off and on for a year.  Then I broke a bone in my hand. I couldn't fasten my bra, turn the key in my front door or open a bottle of champagne (the most distressing of issues) by myself.  And got my heart broken, again.

Work was more pain than pleasure.  Both of our jobs were in jeopardy as the local economy crashed.  We worried about keeping the roof over our heads.

Then a car smashed broadside into my sister's Toyota.  Her injuries put her out of work for six weeks and into rehab for much longer.

As she lay in bed, swallowing pain pills left over from my ankle operation, I knew we had to do something.  About "It".  The curse we must have acquired in the prior twelve months.  We hadn't knowingly offended anyone, but who knows where ill winds originate?  Maybe from dinner at the 'Open 23 Hours A Day' diner not far from our house, a place where neither of us would sit with our backs to the door.   Or during our week on a Central American island spent scuba-diving and drinking good rum under the stars.

The obvious solution was to fight bad karma with good.  I took down my favorite bowl, Caribbean-blue and hand-made by a local artist.  As the roses faded from my sister's accident-bouquet, I clipped the heads and placed them in the bowl.  John and Peter's good wishes come to rest.

We put out a call to friends. Donna gave us a shiny-smooth purple rock she'd found in a creek near her home the year she was nine.  Acorns came from my parent's yard, pine cones from the park, shells from our last scuba trip, a champagne cork dated and initialed at our last celebration, a downy blue jay feather from our front lawn.  Life and beauty and adventure and memory.  Love and hope in a bowl.

When we felt overwhelmed, we'd look in the bowl and remember nature and the love of friends and family.  Life had been good and would be good again. 

Several years later, my sister's life moved her to Canada and mine took me to Miami.  I found another karma bowl ($3 at a garage sale, it had the right feel and look, karma isn't a matter of dollars) and we divided the dusty icons.  Half went east, half west.  In our new homes, we added sprigs from Christmas trees and rocks from our paths.  New hopes and dreams.

It worked.  Neither of us ever had another year like the first.  It's true that amid prosperity and good times we had pain, lost jobs, divorce, cancer, heartbreak.  But in a bowl on the shelf in the living room is Good Karma.  Night passes, morning comes.

Words and photos by Kathleen Scott, Hill Country Mysteries.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Elegant Stinkhorn Mushroom (Mutinus elegans, M. caninus, & M. ravenelii)

In the Texas Hill Country, folks just walk out of the door when they want to see unbridled nature.

Like the red penises growing in my front agave bed.

Really; they're in the order Phallales.  One  fungus in the Mutinus genus is sometimes called Devil's dipstick.  Other monikers are Elegant stinkhorn and Dog stinkhorn.  The fruiting body (red penis-looking thing) grows out of a structure resembling an egg (seen mid-picture above and at right).  Where there is one, there are or will be more.  From the looks of my agave bed, MANY more. 

I am not alone in hosting a riot of red pointy things in my yard.  The fungus is often seen in bark mulch in Eastern US home landscapes. 

Some/most stinkhorns emit a foul odor from a slimy tip on the penis.  Maybe I haven't been there at the right time, but no stench wafted up as I held my delicate nostrils above the clutch in my garden as I took these pictures.

Folks who have an exotic palate might be interested to know that some species are considered a delicacy/aphrodisiac in China, eaten in the "egg" stage or fruiting stage (after removal of the slimy tip), either fresh or dried.  If this appeals to you, let me know how it was. 

Life is never boring in the Texas Hill Country.

My thanks to Sally Moon, who writes About Olive, New York, a blog about living in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, for pointing me toward the ID.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Smokin' Saturday

Denny built a splendid fire in the fireplace last night.  The wood was a little damp but he built it up nice and hot so it warmed the chairs and the cats in the chairs.  Cheery comfort for a cold windy rainy night. 

This morning when we got up, the house smelled of smoke.  Not a mild whiff, a full-fledged nose-clogging stink.  Nothing for it but to turn off the heat, open all the windows, turn on the ceiling fans and air the place out.
I dressed for the occasion, faux fur coat over my flannel jammies, tiara for accent.

Denny made coffee, I made pumpkin pancakes topped with sauteed ginger-lime-honey spiked apples.

I know you wish your house had been smoked.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Foliage Follow-Up - January 16, 2010

Yesterday flowers, today foliage.  Greens, browns and reds.

When you're through here, hop over to Digging, where Pam is collecting Foliage Follow-Up links.

Lemon Grass (Cymbopogon sp?).  Brown and crisp from the cold but I like the look of gold in winter.  I'll cut it back in spring and new shoots will come up.  Yes, this is the seasoning that makes Thai soups so good.

In the background, Flowering Senna (Senna corymbosa) hung with seed pods.

The beauty of the winter garden is variety in shapes, colors and textures.  Our recent cold turned the stems of this pointy-leaved Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) red.  Today's rain will encourage spring blooms and then berries for the birds from this native perennial.

Mid-picture, I love the flowing, fountainy look of Bamboo Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia dumosa), hiding my septic installation.  Great four-season screening plant and deer don't eat it.  Foreground, native yuccas, background, Flowering senna. 

In the backyard garden close to the house, I planted early bulbs.  Here are daffodils and narcissus on the way up (foreground), maybe these will be my February bloom day pix.  In the background, my Agapanthus laid down by the freezes.  I'll cut the mushy stems back to keep rot from creeping.  The centers are still good, I'm hoping the plants will come back in spring.

This Agave (sp. unknown) came through the freezes well, covered with a sheet.  So did the red finger-shaped fungus on the ground next to it.  Would love to know more about the fungus. Thanks, Sally Moon, for pointing me toward Dog Stinkhorn for the fungus.

We planted this Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense) in April 2009.  It hung on through the scorching summer, but wasn't happy until temperatures and rain fell.  Now the leaves are red from cold.  When it grows taller, it will hide the cable/phone box on the house.  Good four-season cover.

Pink Texas Skullcap (Scutellaria suffrutescens), one of my favorite winter plants.  Cheerful little evergreen mounds.  Come spring, it will bloom too, bringing butterflies.   Oxblood lillies at the right side of the picture.

And last, wildflowers-to-be.  The bright green foreground babies are annual Winecups (Callirhoe leiocarpa), the darker green mid-picture are a perennial variety, Callirhoe involucratal.  In the background, the green fountain is Hinckley's sedge, another native evergreen cheering my winter garden.
Hope that wherever you are, you're enjoying this time of quiet in the garden.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 15, 2010

Today is my inaugural Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post.  I've joined a group who post what's blooming in their yards on the 15th of the month.   It will be fun to see what Mother Nature brings each month.

When you've looked through my Hill Country blooms, click the link above to wander out and see what else is blooming in the garden world.

I never know what will happen when I walk out my front door.  Last week we had days of hard freezes, uncommon in our zone 9b clime.  My few blooms  frosted and dropped.  I thought.

One lone flower spray, just enough to remind us of spring.  Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), native to the eastern US as far west as Texas.  Ours is evergreen, kind-of, keeping a sprinkle of leaves through the winter before filling out in spring. 

Prostrate Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, sp. unknown).  Tiny blue blooms attract bees and butterflies.  On warm winter days, our prostrate rosemary buzzes with activity.

Miniature tea rose, (Rosa, sp. unknown).

One petal left from a bloom before the freeze.  The winter foliage is an attractive red.  It will green up again in spring.

A couple of years ago, I came home with this from the grocery store, a bitty $4 plant wrapped in foil, three buds waiting to open, to put in the guest room for my mother's visit.  Then forgot about it until I went in to change the sheets when she'd gone.  Poor little rose was dried and withered.  But you never know, so I replanted it in a larger pot with good soil, sun and water, next to the rosemary to discourage the deer.  It's a survivor.

We don't all have blooms in winter but there is beauty everywhere...color, light, form.  Hope today you look around and find the beauty blooming in your path.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I don't know about you, but my garden looks a little sad after the hard freezes last week. 

Most of the plants will come back but I found some unexpected damage, including the Blue Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus, var. unknown).  I didn't cover it. We ran out of sheets and I knew it was good down to 10F degrees on a night forecast for 20F.  Who knows?  Maybe the temp dropped below 10F or wind-chill was lower or maybe my Agapanthus is not cold-hardy that low.  Now most fronds are laying down and I can see mush. 

The agapanthus is one of my winter favorites because it's evergreen and deer-resistant. 

I love it in early summer too, when it pops up long stems of tubular blue flowers that draw in the hummingbirds. 

Can you see the female black-chin hummingbird hovering amidst the flowers?

My blog-friend Pam, who writes the great garden blog, Digging, posted a helpful what-do-we-do-now page for nurturing freeze-damaged plants.  Click on over and take a look, it's good advice and may help you save some of your plants.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Texas Betony (Stachys coccinea)

When winter cold arrives and most of our plants are down to sticks and stems, I appreciate Texas Betony, also known as Scarlet Betony and Scarlet Hedgenettle.  This native Texas perennial remains firmly evergreen, a cheerful oasis in a brown landscape. 

I like it the rest of the year too.  Texas Betony blooms tubular red flowers from March into October, sometimes later, even through the blast of last summer when a lot of plants gave up.

And the flowers attract hummingbirds.  As one of the few plants blooming during fall migration, the plants around our porch got a lot of traffic last October, giving my cats hours  of nose-to-glass entertainment.

<---See the black-chinned hummingbird amid the blooms?

Texas Betony is a perennial herb happiest growing in well-drained sand, loam or clay in dappled-shade to part-sun (morning).  Water needs are moderate.

Hardy in zones 7a-10b, established plants will handle temperatures down to -17F, although stems will redden and new leaves may burn at the colder end of the scale.

And, Ta-Da!, deer don't eat it.  The arrow-shaped leaves are strongly-scented and fuzzy, a double deer-deterrent.

Individual plants grow in a low mound 12-24" tall and wide.  In good conditions, the plants will grow into a sprawl.  And Texas Betony produces prolific seed, giving rise to seedlings in open areas.  These characteristics make this plant a good shady-area groundcover.  Gardeners who want a more compact appearance can trim back longer stems to keep the look of a mound.

Evergreen, shady-area ground cover, blooms and hummingbirds, deer-resistant.  Texas Betony has a lot to offer.  You'll thank yourself for adding it to your garden.

For more great plants, click on over to Appalachian Feet's How to Find Great Plants ezine.

Copyright 2009-2011 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Deer Night

I love it that we never know what will happen when we walk out our front door.  This non-homogenized aspect of life appeals to me, in spite of occasional inconvenience.

Our yard is a certified wildlife habitat.  Even so, Denny and I have a checkered relationship with the local deer population.  We run out clapping and yelling to scare them away whenever we see them close to the house.  Deer are beautiful animals.  But I don't want deer in my yard pulling up my plants and scaring away the birds. 

I understand the other side.  Our plot was deer turf first.  And our next-door neighbors host a professional-grade corn feeder with a rattling jingle like a church-bell calling the faithful to mass.  To a deer our place is just the prelude to dessert.

We might be losing the battle.  The same two does show up every day.  Teach their fawns to drink from our bird-baths, nap in the seasonal tall grasses.  In a few years there will be a herd milling around the front porch.

The other night, late-ish, Denny drove out to the community mailboxes.  Down the street, a left and a left and a right and a turn, several miles of quiet, unlit, two-lane road.  Time to see the moon and think thoughts. 

When he walked back into my computer room, he looked dazed.  "A deer hit me."

It usually happens the other way 'round, since cars go quite a bit faster than a deer runs. But I didn't say that out loud.  Denny wouldn't have felt better for hearing it.

After the are-you-all-rights and how-did-it-happens, we trooped out to the garage to look at the car.  Denny was right about the collision; it was obvious from the angle of the damage.  You'd be surprised at how much a deer springing out of the black night can do to a car puttering along at 25 miles an hour.  I'm glad Denny's seat belt was fastened and he wasn't hurt.  Which is surely not true of the deer, judging from the wrinkles, breakage, bendings and scrapings on our car.

The next  morning, as I pulled out of the garage on the way to the repair shop, I was a little concerned I'd find the deer laid out on the driveway, come home to die and succeeding.

Thankfully not.

We're driving a rental car now, until ours graduates from finishing school.  I'm hoping it comes out better than the one parked out front of the repair shop.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Baby It's Cold Outside

When I went out at dawn to feed the birds this morning, the air was 28F degrees with a 15 mile an hour wind.

My friends in the cold Northeast and Canada probably think 28 degrees above zero is a warm day.  But here in South-Central Texas, that's hibernating-cold.  Made worse because  last week, we gardened in t-shirts on a  70 degree day.  I'm guessing a 42 degree downswing would be something to talk about in New England too.

When Denny built our backyard waterfall for my birthday a few years ago, the best birthday present I've ever received, the pump salesperson said don't worry about the cold, just leave it running and the circulating water will keep it from freezing.   And there is still some water running...

The weatherman says we'll get some hours above freezing today.  I expect the ice will melt before the harder freeze he says is coming tonight.

I'm refusing to worry.  That doesn't mean I'm stuffing it to one side of my brain to smolder like a lit cigarette tossed by the side of the road on the way to starting a forest fire.

I'm tired of being fraught over things I can't control.  One of my non-resolutions this year, more like an aha change in attitude, is to be kinder to myself.  Quit expecting perfection.  Accept and adapt to what comes.  Do the best I can and then rest.

Worry won't make the air any warmer.  Nothing lasts forever.  The ice will melt.  Tomorrow will come.  The garden will grow back.

Garden and waterfall last September.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops

My friend Paula, who writes Birds On A Wire, asked about the lamb chops we had on New Year's Eve.  Her request made me feel good and gave me an excuse to share the recipe.

Denny and I love the richness of lamb but we usually save it for special occasions since lamb has a fair amount of fat. 

This recipe is good, easy and fast.  Just three processes (four if you make the mushrooms):  Marinate the chops, sear in an oven-going skillet, finish in a moderate oven and saute mushrooms as a topper.

On New Year's Eve, after the shopping debacle and about four hours before dinner, I put the chops into the marinade.  You can marinate shorter or longer but four hours is enough to flavor the meat without overwhelming it. 
For two people, I buy 4 lamb chops, thick ones about 3/4" - 1", about a pound total.    That sounds like a lot of meat but bones and exterior fat will be cut off.  If you're at home, you'll probably gnaw on the bones but I didn't say that.

~ 1/3 cup red wine
~ 2 Tblsp Pickapeppa Sauce (A mildly spicy Jamaican condiment based on tamarind, peppers and spices.  Use Worchestershire Sauce for less of a kick.)
2 med. cloves garlic, pressed
1 sprig rosemary, about 4 inches long, leaves stripped off the stem
Mix well and pour over lamb chops in a zipper bag.  Seal and refrigerate.
Turn bag over a couple of times during marination to distribute the sauce on both sides of the chops.


Preheat oven to 350F degrees.

Remove chops from marinade and pat dry (discard marinade).  Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt and grind on fresh pepper to taste.

Heat a cast-iron or other heavy oven-going skillet over med-high heat.  Add a thin skim of oil, I use Smart Balance.  When hot, add chops.  Leave just until browned and turn over.  Brown the other side and place skillet in the oven.  Roast for approximately 5 minutes for rare, longer if you prefer more done.

I test for doneness by pushing on the meat with my finger.  The more it gives, the more rare it is.  That's a learn-by-doing method but you'd be surprised at how well your mind associates the feel with the result.  For an instant-read thermometer, the USDA recommends an internal temperature of 140F for rare.  I think that's more done than rare.  I'd take them off earlier, between 125F-130F.

Whatever your preference, remove the chops from the skillet and put them on a plate with a loose foil tent for at least 5 minutes before serving.  

For mushrooms:  Put the pan back on a burner on medium-high heat and add 8-10 ounces of sliced mushrooms.  Stir often to bring up the crusty bits and keep the mushrooms from burning.  There is usually enough seasoning in the pan to flavor the mushrooms without added salt and pepper. 

Since I know I'll be heating the oven, I usually coordinate roasted vegetables as side dishes.

Serve with a full-bodied red wine, a cabernet sauvignon or a syrah would be good. 

Toast your family and your life and savor the flavors.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Old Resolutions

I don't make a resolution list anymore.  The grand changes don't happen; big whacks are too hard.  And the little things I can manage without a list.  Including the eight pounds I'm going to lose (again) in 2010.

I remember when, sometime in my mid-30's, I resolved to be more patient.  But I want what I want and I want it now.  In practice, there was more teeth-gritting than grace under pressure.

It's taken 57 years for me to come to the idea that patience isn't about giving up my time or my plans or my feelings, it's about finding/knowing my place.  Which is not (gasp) the center of the universe.  And it's about living now, whatever now is.

I'm allergic to crowds and lines.  So I was appalled to be trapped at HEB a few days ago, the afternoon of New Year's Eve, with a full cart, six back from the register.  Looked like the entire populace of the county, men, women, children and grand-parents in wheel-chairs, had crowded into HEB to stock their bomb shelters for the next decade and prepare for a party of 100 celebrating the well-lubricated end.

Every register was busy.  As we nudged our cart into the back of a trailing line, I figured that by the time we reached the register at the front, my ice would have melted from under the shrimp and dripped into a slippery pool on the floor.  And the guy who was thrusting his hand-carry basket in front of him to open a hole in the line would slip and hit his head, cracking it open so his brains spilled across the linoleum in a gooey slick, and the ambulance crew would run in and close down my register so they could carry the twitching corpse out on a stretcher, before they slipped too and another ambulance was called...

I borrowed a magazine from the stand and settled in to wait for the disaster.  But I barely had time to read about pumpkin pancakes before we were up to the front and unloading our cart.  And I'd had an entertaining time in line with all that action waiting to happen, which maybe says something about why I'm writing a murder mystery.

My only resolution this year is my annual renewal of one at which I've been spectacularly successful:
Make New Mistakes This Year

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Salt Lick -- Bar B Q

Every Texan knows this basic truth: The only REAL Bar B Q in the land comes from Texas; and the BBQ King of meats is slow-smoked brisket.  Other folks in other places grill meats and roast pigs.  All good, but not worthy of the title. 

Beyond that self-evident understanding, however, Texans differ on particulars:  type of wood, fat up or fat down, dry rub recipe, to sauce or not.

But no one who has ever been to The Salt Lick  in Driftwood, Texas doubts whether he or she has just tasted BBQ heaven. The fork-tender brisket is spiced just right and slow-smoked so smooth you can close your eyes and taste a smolder. We liked the meaty fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs and moist, sweet smoked turkey too.  The only one that didn't take our fancy was the sausage, which seemed more salt and fat than spice and smoke.

The Salt Lick will serve you a plate with your choice of meats and sides of cole slaw and potato salad or you can order a one-price all-you-can-eat family style meal where they'll set down platters and bowls of  meats, cole slaw, beans and potato salad and refill them as often as you want.

And the sides are good.  The cole slaw is freshly made and flavorful with a light tangy dressing.  The potato salad is distinctive for a slight smokiness and smashed potato consistency with rich potato flavor.  We ate every bite.  Then finished the meal  with homemade blackberry cobbler nuanced with a hint of allspice.

Texas is known for idiosyncracy and The Salt Lick has a few.

You can tell when you walk in that the food is the star, which is the way it should be in a BBQ temple.  Rustic picnic tables line the dining rooms and folks are downright happy to sit on the hard benches and lean their elbows on the tables so they can get a better hold of the ribs.

Cash only (there's an ATM in the lobby in case you forget).  And no alcohol served, so BYOB if you want beer or wine.  We were there at lunch and enjoyed the (unsweet) iced tea but we're speculating that a bottle of Driftwood Winery's NV Syrah might be a fine marriage (more about Driftwood in another post).

Plan to stand in line if you arrive during lunch or dinner rush.  You're welcome to enjoy your libations while you wait.  The hours are 11:00am - 10:00pm most days but call before you go, 512-858-4959, to double-check.

The Salt Lick in Driftwood is not on a wide highway.  Driftwood isn't any bigger than a sneeze and nearby Dripping Springs isn't much larger.  But a person could leave downtown Austin and follow the line of pickups into the parking lot about 40 minutes later (not counting rush hour traffic).  The drive from San Antonio is probably only an hour and a quarter from the north-east side of the city.  And it's 45 minutes or less from New Braunfels or Gruene or San Marcos or Wimberley, so you could double up on fun and spend a morning or afternoon in one of these old Hill Country towns and then scoot on over to Driftwood to satisfy your hunger.  As a bonus, there are a couple of good wineries not far away, Mandola Estate Winery and Driftwood Estate Winery where you could enjoy tasting and pick up a bottle to drink with your meal or take home for later.

Don't take my word for it, take a drive and taste for yourself.  There's no mystery to this Hill Country heaven.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Rites

I believe in rituals, the ones we live.  I believe in affirming life, whatever life is today.  Seeing, tasting, feeling, finding the good, marking our connections to each other and the universe.  

Last night we marked New Year's Eve with my favorite rituals.

As the sun tracked low in the sky, I took a glass of rose` sparkling wine out to the front porch.

To taste the sunset.

Mother Nature gifted us with the most spectacular evening sky in 2009.

Denny joined me after Duke won its basketball game (his favorite ritual) and we watched until light faded to night.

When we came in, he lit a fire. 

And I made dinner.  Garlic-rosemary lamb chops with crimini mushrooms, roasted potatoes and asparagus.  A meal more decadent than ordinary days, but fitting for the lovely red Bordeaux gifted last week by Joe.

When I'd savored every last morsel on my plate, I went outside to find the New Years' blue moon, the second full moon of December, only the second New Year's Eve blue moon in the last twenty years. Thank you Ms. Moon for sharing this.

The night was chilly but I paused on the way in.  To see our holiday...

                                                                ...and my sweet partner.
Before we sanctified the night with chocolate.

These Fudgy Brownies are delicious and easy.  I'll post the recipe if anyone is interested.

Hoping for good for 2010, for all of us.  Health, peace, vision, beauty.