Thursday, May 30, 2013

Granny's Chocolate Pie

I've tasted a lot of pies in my travels.  This is one of the best. 

We called my father's mother Granny. She's been gone more than 50 years now but we think about her at family dinners because Granny's Chocolate Pie is my father's favorite. It takes him back to his east Texas roots and the sweetness of his mother's love.

He's 90 and likely won't be with us much longer so we make Granny's Chocolate Pie often.  The recipe is Granny's only representation in our family book, but that one is enough.  

Granny's Chocolate Pie is like a lot of life, we each have our own version. Mine (recipe below) leans toward deep chocolate.

Granny's Chocolate Pie
Makes a 9" pie; 6 large servings or 8 smaller ones

Pie Crust:  We don't have Granny's pie crust recipe so feel free to use your own. Put the crust in the oven to bake until light golden brown while you make the filling. 

3 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3 T flour
7 T good cocoa
pinch of salt 
2 cups milk
1 T butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1) Put the yolks in a medium saucepan.  Reserve the whites for the meringue. 
2) Stir the flour, sugar, cocoa and salt into the egg yolks.
3) Turn the heat on to medium and slowly whisk in the milk, stirring to eliminate lumps.  Cook until the mixture boils and you see big bubbles on the surface. Continue cooking as it thickens until it almost holds soft peaks. This will happen quickly.  
4) Take the pan off the stove and stir in vanilla and butter until the butter blends into the filling.
5) Set filling aside while you make the meringue.

Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

3 egg whites 
1/4 tsp cream of tartar 
1 tsp cornstarch
1/3 c sugar

Tip: Letting egg whites come to room temperature before beating helps make a higher meringue.

Using a mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy.  Add cream of tartar and cornstarch (helps to stabilize meringue).  Continue beating, drizzling in sugar.  Beat until meringue forms stiff peaks.
Filling will still be warm when you pour it into the crust and may still be warm when you top with meringue, which is fine.  
Pile meringue on, taking care to seal the edges of the meringue to the crust.  
Bake for approximately 10 minutes until light golden.

Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature and then refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.  The filling will set as it cools.

If you can't wait, you can always serve it in bowls. Any way you want to do it, Granny's Chocolate Pie can cure the blues. 

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Birthday Hill Country Mysteries

398 posts ago, the first episode of Hill Country Mysteries was a mix of  hummingbirds and the nature of time. Nearing the 400th post, HCM's horizons are broader but the focus is still unique stories, sights and insights. 

Some early stories, published before many folks read this space, are too interesting to leave buried...

There are Texanisms, like this breakfast analogy of truth: "There ain't no flapjack so thin it don't have two sides."  Or the one that clinches a story about the middle-aged-men's group and Delbert McClinton.

Others are weavings of  joy and pain, real as a pair of cheesy Christmas socks. Or a bowl of perspective.

Most Texans believe reality shouldn't get in the way of a good yarn, like seeing Queen Elizabeth in a local longhorn pasture.

And exaggeration is not exaggeration if there's passion involved.

You won't find a Texan who doesn't talk about water from the sky.  Here in the Hill Country, we dance when it rains  until it rains too much.

At day's end, what is life without good wine made in the neighborhood?  From wineries such as Sister Creek Vineyards in the town of Sister Creek, population 25-63, depending on who's counting.  

We find the drama of nature in our countryside.  And the humor.

Hope you'll join me in raising a Margarita toast to another 400 posts.

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Spring Hummingbird Migration 2013

Denny says the best bird-watching in the Texas Hill Country is just outside our windows.  

He may be right.  2013 has been one of the busiest hummingbird migrations in our nearly-seven years of Hill Country living.

A couple of young Rufous hummingbirds spent the winter here. Technically they're getting a jump on migration to far north breeding grounds. Click here to watch an animated map showing Rufous migration week-by-week. 

This is our third year hosting Rufous hummers all winter.  They leave as the first Black-chinned hummingbirds appear in March.

The earliest migrants are usually male Black-chins arriving in ones and twos.

Next come the Ruby-throated males, then females of both species.  The birds are said to migrate individually but often arrive here in clumps, perhaps a result of weather events. 

During the height of migration the birds will consume about a quart of sugar-water a day from our four feeders.  

Spring flowers, plus a water source and thickets help attract the birds.  

Dependable year-round feeders are the last piece of the puzzle but an important one.  During drought years when wildflowers are scarce, or years with cold spells when the birds need fast fuel, feeders fill the gap.

Female Black-chinned

Time helps too.  Ruby-throated hummingbirds, and probably other species, return to places where they found food and shelter in prior migrations. Amazing that such a tiny brain can store geographic data for flights of hundreds of miles.

Migration flow through our part of the Hill Country is down to a trickle now. But competition for an early morning bath at the waterfall will last all summer.

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

Monday, May 20, 2013

Granbury Tornadoes, May 15, 2013

Granbury's 19th Century Courthouse

I've been thinking of writing an article about the wonderful 'G' towns of Texas, particularly Granbury, Glen Rose and Galveston.  

Nothing against Garland, Georgetown or any of the other G's, but the first three have a hold on my imagination with colorful stories and fine historical buildings, fun activities, good eateries and a special sense of place.  In fact, I like the towns so much I've written articles about all three (links above).

Granbury's historic square.  Many of the structures were built from local stone or brick.

But I hadn't planned on writing this.

Last week, tornadoes tore through Granbury, killing six, sending maybe 50 to the hospital and destroying about 100 homes.

 Photo by G. J. McCarthy for The Dallas Morning News.

Somehow the loss is more poignant in a town of only 8,000 souls, small enough that people know each other; or if they don't, they know second/ third-hand stories.  

Having the sky bury people is the stuff of nightmares.

Today I'm thankful the people I met are safe, the heart of town still stands and help has been swift.

For anyone who wants to help residents get back on their feet, donations may be made to the Red Cross.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Art of Albuquerque

Albuquerque:  A desert-dwelling community split by a river oasis, stretching to red-hued mountains.

With that geography, I shouldn't have been surprised at Albuquerque's unique energy.  "Quirky Albuquerque," or "ABQ" as the town is known to air traffic controllers and locals, is a stew of old and new.

When I visited recently, I expected history and culture, good eats and interesting sights.  And found it all.  But most astonishing was the public art. Murals and mosaics covering industrial buildings, edging parking lots and decorating shops.  Turns out, ABQ has over 700 public artworks in the municipal collection--more than most cities twice the size.

On a short downtown walk, we discovered art of philosophy,

art of color and joy,

and art with a message.

Funded by a 1% sales tax voted in by residents.  Which makes them all artists, in a way.

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

Monday, May 13, 2013

Some Mysteries Come to You

We travel to find the unexpected...sometimes it's just outside our front door.

Ernest takes his supervisory responsibilities seriously.  He monitors my work and the yard simultaneously from his post in a basket on my desk.

One morning last week he bolted up from a dead sleep, streaking toward the kitchen windows, a high thin hunting whine trailing behind.  

I followed to see this:

Fox. In full morning sun about 20 feet from the kitchen windows.  

We haven't seen him/her in ages, due to our repentance for the sin of leaving Purina dog chow out on the rocks for him/her.  

That practice brought not only five lovely foxes to the feeding rocks just after dark each evening, but a nightly cast of raccoons, possums and skunks.  Many mornings I awoke to the smell of angry skunk.

The night I opened the door to the sight of a dozen skunks jousting for position, I repented.

As I said, that was some time back.  So why was Fox in my front yard in broad daylight when he/she is a night person?

Look closely, see if you can find the answer in this picture:
Fox is on clean-up duty.  

We put peanuts-in-the-shell out for the scrubjays in the morning. By nightfall, the jays, titmice, squirrels, deer, etc. have finished them off.  

Fox is just beating the crowd to brunch. 

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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Heidi Loewen's Art

Heidi Loewen's studio full of color and light, 315 Johnson Street in Santa Fe. 

I was sorting pictures from New Mexico this morning...there are more than 2,000 from last month's two week trip.

Only a few will ever see print but pictures help me recreate an experience in words, a different kind of art. 

One of my favorite experiences was joining Heidi Loewen in her studio/gallery in Santa Fe.  Denny and I spent a morning with her learning about making porcelain vessels.  

That morning was more than just playing in clay; it was an exploration. Heidi's first rule for students is, "Speak kindly of your work."  The idea was like turning on a light bulb of possibility; freedom to create without fear of failure.

A few of our raw vessels from that morning.

In another couple of months, Heidi will ship our glazed and finished pieces, with an invisible cargo of happy memories.

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

Sunday, May 5, 2013

To the Moon and Back

Hard to believe it's been so long since I wrote about our (short-lived) bluebonnet season.   

Now Hill Country roadsides are blanket-flower red and gold.   

Since my last post, I've been researching, photographing, writing and dreaming travel articles.  Beaches, desert, art, history, massage, regional margaritas and more.  Yes it's a disparate list.  That's what I love about travel. 

My last article in print told the story of resilient people who turned hurricane destruction into statements of hope, and sometimes humor.   "Storm's trees tuned into art in Galveston."

Galveston is one of my favorite Texas towns.  After our first visit, Denny and I agreed we'd move there if we weren't allergic to hurricanes.

We've been a lot of places and I've written a bunch of articles since then. I haven't been good at juggling a Hill Country Mysteries focus with writing articles so I think I'm going to begin taking you along on my adventures.  You'll taste more than the Texas Hill Country but still get a Hill Country flavor. Might be the best of both worlds. 

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