Sunday, May 30, 2010

Gruene Time

I'm starting back on the book next week.  I've been away long enough.  From this distance I can see that some of the characters need more history.  Some events are skinny and need fattening up.  And some of the characters entered out of sequence.  I'm glad for the feedback of good friends, good readers.  It's like getting new glasses, I don't have to hold the pages so far away to see them now.  I'm excited.

In the time since I sent out the first draft for reading, I started thinking about the next book, where and who and how and why.  I'm about settled on Gruene, in the southern Hill Country not far from New Braunfels, as the primary site.  It's got everything. Characters and crowds.  Idiosyncrasy, history, activity.  And the breath of music drifting from Gruene Hall.

So Denny and I jaunted to Gruene on Thursday for wine tasting and music under the oaks. Research.  I'm looking forward to doing more of it.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Biltmore Estate

Most visitors come to the Estate for the House.   Soaring Gothic design, artisan workmanship, 250+ rooms including 34 family and guest bedrooms and almost as many servant quarters.  43 bathrooms with indoor plumbing, built at a time when a flush was still a novelty in the mountains. 

A glass-roofed Winter Garden room where family and guests sat amid greenery in the cold of winter.  

They exercised in a well-equipped gym, a bowling alley and a 70,000 gallon indoor swimming pool.  

It took 3 kitchens to feed the household and 2 laundries to do the wash when the Vanderbilts were in residence.

This was one of my favorite views. A hint of life's coil. 

But the Estate's lands took my heart.  Frederick Law Olmsted, father of American landscape architecture, started with 125,000 acres of overgrazed farmland.  Then he applied principles of natural landscaping to restore forests, create productive farms and preserve waterways.

Law designed formal gardens near the House, using hardscape, trees and perennial shrubs and seasonal plantings. 

The day we visited, a hundred thousand tulips rioted within the Walled Garden.

Grape-candy clusters of wisteria drooped from vines as thick as tree trunks.  

Beyond the Walled Garden, azaleas and rhododendrons white, pink and purple bloomed in a room carpeted by lawn, roofed by sky and bounded by the fresh leaves of spring.

It's not Texas, but it's still close to heaven.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Texan in Spirit

I've been writing an article about Asheville, North Carolina and the Biltmore Estate and haven't been able to think about anything else; which is why I haven't posted for days, this being a blog about the Texas Hill Country with occasional diversions into the wider world of Texas.  

We all know Texas is more a Country than a State.  The most interesting, geographically diverse, eclectic, close-to-heaven body on the continent.  And during the time I've been immersed in writing about Asheville, I've come to realize that Asheville is really a Texas town.  The North Carolina location is just an unfortunate geographic malfunction; Asheville's nature is pure Texas.  Where else would proud public art include bronze pigs parading in the Art Deco eye of the historical district?

With that understanding, I'm sharing a bit of Asheville here with my Hill Country Mystery friends.

Asheville's reputation for the arts doesn't do it justice.  We found every kind of art-- architecture, fine art, literary art, music, culinary art, gardens, healing arts, decorative arts, wearable art and antiques.  And public art dots the historic downtown landscape.

I loved it all...but the architecture held me captive.  
 1928 Art Deco style City Hall, built in shape and color reminiscent of the mountains surrounding the town.

Downtown is designed for walking and contains one of the largest collections of Art Deco era buildings in the US, kept intact because city fathers declined to forfeit on bonds during the Depression.  Repaying the debt meant no money available for the next half-century for urban renewal.   

Instead, old buildings stayed in use, kept up and re-purposed.  Today, the historical district's two-laned, tree-lined streets thrive with unique galleries, shops and restaurants.
1929 Gothic-style Grove Arcade Building, a corner of which is home to Carmel's, renowned for pomegranate martinis and lick-the-plate, when-can-I-go-back dining. See the stone faces looking down on passersby?

A 1930's F. W. Woolworth Co. building is today Woolworth Walk, a gallery showcasing more than 150 local artists.  And serving old-fashioned banana splits at the soda fountain.

Thomas Wolfe's novel Look Homeward, Angel echoes Asheville.  Literary tourists walk through his boyhood home and think about seeing the town from his eyes.

The air in Ashville feels different.  I think it's the vibe.

The colors...

Alternate perspectives...

Augmented on occasion by a sip or two.

I can't wait to go back.

Yes, we did go to the Biltmore Estate while 100,000+ blooming tulips danced.  And I'll share those pictures in my next post.
Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Guadalupe River Days

 Summer is coming to the Texas Hill Country.  

And hot days demand cool pleasure. 

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Morning Neighbors

I love spring in the Texas Hill Country, before the summer air sears bloom and fruit.

I was a little late getting the bird seed out one morning this week.  We were a little late the night before too...forgetting to bring in the hanging feeders.  Removal is our raccoon defense.  They sneak up at night like party crashers to a buffet, leaving the feeders  empty on the ground.

So I was happy to look out back in the morning and see the feeders still hanging.  I hummed as I walked across the porch and turned on the faucet to run water for the bird-bath.  Until a movement across the path caught my eye.

Fox, frozen in the wild area amid the dewberry vines, staring into my eyes.  

He glanced down, a nod almost, at the sweet ripe fruit.  Then back up at me.  Breakfast or safety?

My watering can overflowed on my feet, my hand jumped to the faucet, Fox leaped to the path. Around the corner and out of sight.

Drama before coffee.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Herbed Spring Goat Cheese Quiche

I had a request for the recipe of our Mother's Day quiche and I'm happy to share it.  It's easy and good and we all need something different on occasion. 

I'll confess, I got Mom to make the crust.  I gave her a bottle of Chateau St. Michele from the wine cooler to use as a rolling pin.  Her crust was beautiful.  I'm going to conquer my fear of pie crusts, some day.  

As to the filling, who ever heard of beating goat cheese into the egg mixture?  And usually I'd do all the herbing by fresh-mince. So I'm a little embarrassed to say that herb and garlic goat cheese adds just the right flavor and the odd mixing method works.  Even our non-quiche eater asked for seconds. 

Mother’s Day May 10, 2010

1 – 9” lightly baked pie crust
2 tsp butter
5 spring onions, whites and tender greens chopped
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 – 4oz log herb and garlic goat cheese
½ cup milk (I used 1%)
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh-ground pepper
4 large eggs
1 cup Canadian bacon, chopped
¼ cup coarse-grated Parmesan cheese (or to taste)

Preheat over to 350°.
Recipe cooking time ~ 35 minutes.

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and red bell pepper.  Sauté until tender.  Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, add salt and pepper to eggs and beat until fluffy.  Cut up goat cheese into eggs.  Add milk and beat until goat cheese is broken into small bits.  Don't worry about beating it smooth. 

Layer Canadian bacon, onion-pepper mixture and parmesan evenly in crust.  Pour egg mixture over the top, spreading evenly.

Bake in the center of the oven.  Check at 20 minutes to see if crust is getting too brown.  If so,  cover with strips of foil.  At 30 minutes, check for doneness.  Bake until center is firm.

Enjoy with people you love.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries

I can say without prejudice that the Hill Country is a good place for celebration.  And every day is a good day to celebrate the people we love.

<--Mom making the crust for the Spring Onion Goat Cheese Quiche.  Yes, it was as good as it sounds.

Which is what we did when my parents came for Mother's Day.  Stories, flowers, and food. 

Including luscious chocolate dipped strawberries.  Mom couldn't fit all the leftover berries in her cooler to take home  so I have about a pound left in the fridge.  Darn.

Before you ask, here are the secrets:  Use quality berries and chocolate, dip fast, laugh a lot.  Don't lick your fingers until you've dipped the last one.

Chocolate-dipped Strawberries 
  Makes ~ 2 pounds berries

Line 2 large sheet pans with parchment or waxed paper.

Wash and dry 2 pounds beautiful strawberries.

Break up 2 bars (3.5oz each) dark chocolate into a glass bowl. (I used Lindt Excellence 70% Cacao.) Cut up & add ~ 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or 2 tablespoons cream.  Add a small pinch cinnamon.

Cover and microwave for 15-30 second intervals, stirring between until only a few small lumps remain.  Take out and stir in 1/2 tsp. good vanilla. Quick-stir smooth.

As fast as you can, dip and twirl the berries, holding by the leaves.  Place dipped berries a little apart on the pans.  Refrigerate dipped berries until needed, at least an hour. 

Some people eat all the 'mistakes' as they go. I must be blind, all chocolate dipped berries look good to me.

A last note, some people find that dipping speed increases if you drink champagne cocktails. Sweet drinks, which won't conflict with the flavor from berries that accidentally find your mouth instead of the pan. 

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

There and Back

I love the Texas Hill Country.  I love traveling too.  We're just back from a few weeks in Tennessee.  Family and friends, great food and music, hiking and history, with a chaser of epic rain.  Love, beauty, excitement, anxiety.  

And home at the end, to gardens that grew a season in weeks and cats asserting possession of people.

I see the same moon from my Texas porch, but when it rises over the Great Smoky Mountains, the night feels wild.

The world stretches from this porch to infinity.

Going brings wide views.  

Returning, comfort.

Copyright 2009-2010 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bellville, Texas -- Sweet Retreat

Lately I've been writing travel articles for the San Antonio Express-News, a good regional newspaper.  I think up some place I want to see, find the color, and talk to the travel editor for blessing.  

I get paid a little for expanding my horizons and sharing the view, as I do for fun on Hill Country Mysteries, which is how the editor found me in the first place.

A few weeks ago, we went east on I-10 until we were about 70 miles west of Houston, then turned south and drove about fifteen miles to tiny Wallis to see the Guardian Angel Catholic Church, an intricate flower of a building constructed in 1913 by Czech immigrants; testimony to resilience, community and faith. 

Fifteen miles north of I-10, we found bustling Bellville, population 3,947 according to the sign at the edge of town.  History, art, food, fun.

Holland St. Gallery represents 160 artists.  Owned by watercolor painter Kathleen Bernard, seen here with one of her color-themed cow paintings (don't you love the look on that Brahma's face?).  Kathleen's gallery could hold its own in Dallas or Houston.  

Don't miss the Bellville Cafe with made-from-scratch pie, unique shops, businesses, and an interesting local history museum in the old jail.

For more on Bellville's shops and unique B&B see my article, which ran a few weeks later.  

I loved the Buffalo Creek Winery, located a couple of miles from the center of Bellville.  It's currently a winebar, but the owners plan to make their own wine someday.  Open Thursdays through Saturdays. Sometimes there's live music and dinner.  Always buffalo out front.

The only hard thing in writing about Texas is figuring out what to leave out.

Copyright 2009-2013 Kathleen Scott ,for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.