Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

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Big Bend with The Nephew 4

Posted on June 30, 2015 by Sahar

To begin with, the Big Bend Region of Texas and New York City are two places I’ll use just about any excuse whatsoever to visit. In both places, I’ll think “I want to live here”,  “How can I convince Husband Steve to agree to move here”, and “Damn. The food is great”.  Then, I come home, get off the vacation high, and come to the realization that both of these places are escapes for me; if I lived there, I would look to escape them as well.

Of the two, of course, the escape to Big Bend is much more easily attained. For you first-timers, to go from Austin to Alpine (our first & third nights’ destination) is a roughly 400-mile jaunt via US290 to IH10 to US67 to TX118.  To get to Terlingua/Study Butte (our second night’s stay), an 83-mile drive, just take TX118 south. Well, you can take TX118 as a direct route to Terlingua/Study Butte, but we took the long way through Marathon and drove through, and explored, Big Bend National Park.

Or, as I heard someone say once, “Drive 6 hours west, turn left and drive another hour and a half south”.

By the way, for the uninitiated, Marathon is pronounced “Marath’n” and Study “Stoody”. You don’t want to sound like a rube or anything like that.

 

The reason Husband Steve & I decided on this trip was to have, quite possibly, the last summer with our Older Nephew.  He graduated from high school this year and is starting college in the fall.  Husband & I were trying to decide on a graduation gift and landed on a trip to Big Bend. When we told Nephew, he seemed as pleased as his 17-year-old self would let him get. In fact, he almost smiled.

Nephew has been to the Big Bend region before  – Marfa and Ft. Davis. He’s been to the lights, stayed at El Paisano, and explored the fort. He’s just not been to the park. Well, now, here was his chance. Honestly, I think the promised trip to Mexico sealed the deal.

 

Day 1 – Thursday, June 11.

The trip started off rather inauspiciously.

I asked Nephew when I picked him up at the airport on Wednesday if he remembered his passport so he could go to Mexico. He said he remembered the extra paperwork his mother (my sister) gave him – a letter stating Steve & I were in charge of him and her passport information – but failed to bring his passport. His quote was “Everything I told myself to remember, I forgot” (this included a book of Big Bend trails and a map I loaned him). One unplanned phone call to his no doubt exasperated mom secured an overnight delivery of Nephew’s passport.

The passport arrived before 10am on Thursday. Victory.

However, as things go with Steve & I, even though we planned on being on the road by 10, it didn’t happen until 11. We basically needed the extra time to load the SUV I rented.

The behemoth we rented. It was like driving a bus.

The behemoth we rented. It was like driving a bus.

With a quick stop in Fredericksburg for gas, restrooms, and snacks, we were really, finally, on our way.

Nephew

Nephew. For someone, like his aunt, who loathes having his picture taken, we got quite a few photos. Though not always willingly on his part.

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You tend to forget about those promises you made to yourself when you travel.

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Nice to see the Llano River with water.

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Husband Steve. Who did all of the driving out to Alpine. Whatta guy.

As we drove along IH10, I saw the opening where I could finally feel like I could breathe a little:

Whew.

Whew.

Starting to see mountains

Starting to see mountains

Fluffy clouds with a little sun

Fluffy clouds with a little sun.

 

Rain to the south.

Rain to the south.

Clear to the north

Clear to the north

I think I saw this when we stopped for gas near Ft. Stockton. Nephew really started to get excited - in his own way - at this point.

I think I saw this when we stopped for gas near Ft. Stockton. I’m not sure if this was for the state or national park. No matter; Nephew really started to get excited – in his own way – at this point.

We did run into some rain going into Alpine. It seems as if the rain has taken up permanent residence in Texas this year.

We finally made it to Alpine. It was a joyous time. And not only because we’d been driving for 7 hours.

We stayed for nights one and three at the Antelope Lodge. We’ve stayed at this old motor court before and rather enjoyed its rustic, slightly quirky charm. Plus, it’s cheap.

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The blooming prickly pear at Antelope Lodge.

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The blooms on whatever tree this is smelled heavenly. Remember, I’d been stuck in a car with two men for almost 7 hours. It was most certainly welcome.

Our home for nights #1 & #3: Antelope Lodge, rooms 11 & 12.

Our home for nights #1 & #3: Antelope Lodge, rooms 11 & 12. I was digging the way they had a 2×4 holding up the crossbeam.

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Prickly Pear fruit – meh. Prickly Pear flowers – always beautiful.

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Antelope’s courtyard.

 

Before we left Austin, Steve made reservations at Reata in Alpine for our one “fancy” meal while we were in this part of the country. For whatever strange reason I made up in my head, I’ve avoided eating there whenever we’ve been in Alpine. I have this thing against steak houses, I guess.

Even after this meal, I still have a thing against steakhouses. Just not this steakhouse. Or, rather, a Texas Cowboy Cuisine establishment.

I guess I was skeptical about the food overall. I tend to avoid “buzz” restaurants, and this one still has a bit of a legend buzz around it even after having been open for 20 years. I don’t consider myself overly picky or a “foodie”, but I just always had a mental block.

I suppose ANY restaurant being open for 20 years deserves some buzz. I mean, the restaurant business is a cruel one.

I was happy to be proven wrong. Our food was plentiful – as one would expect – but was also very enjoyable.  The decor was a simple, pared-down, but slightly upscale rustic. (I happened to notice bottles of Silver Creek wine in the alcove above us. I couldn’t quite see what vintage they were; but considering the cheapest bottle is $70 retail, this place is no hole-in-the-wall.) Our server, whose name I unfortunately can’t remember, was a young man studying at Sul Ross. He was a wonderful server. Attentive without hovering. That counts for a lot.

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I included the highway marker just to prove I was there.

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Nephew’s & Steve’s choice: Chile Relleno with Crab-Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Jalapenos.

I’m guessing it was good, because they both finished their plates. I believe the Chile Relleno one of Reata’s signature dishes.

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My dinner: Chicken Fried Steak.

My dinner was excellent. There wasn’t more breading than meat, the gravy wasn’t pasty, everything was well seasoned, and the green beans weren’t overcooked.

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These Jalapeño-Cheese Grits.  That’s a dinner plate, by the way.

So… When I see grits on a dinner menu, I’m generally compelled to try them. The grits were really good. Plenty of cheese and spice. The one drawback – too salty. If the kitchen backed down a little on the salt, these would’ve been excellent. There was a lot so the guys helped me eat them.

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Part of the studied upscale rustic charm. A saddle in front of a window facing onto a mural of cattle on the range.

Would I go back? Sure. It’s definitely on the list.

Alpine at night.

A little of Alpine at night.

 

We did a quick walk around Alpine just to work off some of dinner. Nephew told us he’d been through Alpine before but ever really got to see the town. Because it was already dark when we left the restaurant, he didn’t see too much, but we did walk up and down Holland and some of the side streets before deciding to call it a night. We wanted to get an early start on Friday.

Day one at the Park. And the trip into Mexico.

 

Day 2 – June 12, Friday

The day started early. 6am. Steve wanted to be on the road to the park by 7. We somehow managed to accomplish this.

While he was getting ready and loading the behemoth again, I went to get Nephew. I opened the door and saw him doing push-ups on the patio. I had to give him credit for already being far more active than I care to be that time of the morning.

And, so, off we went.

 

Good Morning, Alpine.

Good Morning, Alpine.

Steve & I remembered a coffee shop we rather liked the last time we stayed in Marathon.  Since it was only about 30 miles, we decided to hold off on breakfast until then.

Marathon (or Nancy’s) Coffee Shop is right there on US90 in Marathon as you’re on your way to the park.

Again, as I’ve discovered for Big Bend, the food is plentiful, very good, and reasonable. The strong coffee is a plus.

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Good Morning, Marathon.

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Nephew’s Breakfast: Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit. This ain’t McDonald’s.

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Husband’s Breakfast: Migas. His personal favorite.

I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast because I was so focused on getting the guys’ breakfasts before they started eating. I had Pancakes with Bacon. I needed the carb and protein loading.

After a (perhaps too) leisurely breakfast and a discussion of what we were going to do that day, we finally hit the road to the park.

One of these visits I’m going to get a picture of those turkey buzzards sunning themselves.

After about an hour and a half, we finally made it to the second stop of the day, Panther Junction. Since the Persimmon Gap checkpoint was closed, we had to buy our permit there. It’s also a convenient excuse to get out of the car, stretch, and buy stuff.  I like it, too, because it is actually very well landscaped, and the restrooms are reasonably clean.

Panther Junction

Panther Junction

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Panther Junction.

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Panther Junction.

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Panther Junction

After we finished at Panther Junction, we headed back on the main park road towards Boquillas Canyon.

Boquillas Canyon is rated a “moderate” trail. It’s not very long, but it is steep. And, on a hot day for a barely in-shape middle-aged woman like me, it was, shall we say, more on the moderate-to-difficult scale. I definitely had my moments. I used my breathlessness and knees as excuses to constantly stop and take photographs while Steve & Nephew trotted way ahead of me.

Boquillas

Boquillas

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About halfway up the trail and looking into Mexico.

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At the top for breath stop #2 and looking into the canyon.

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Turning around to see the Rio Grande and the US side.

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Steve & Nephew on the trail to the canyon. They grew impatient with me and wandered on. Can’t say I blamed them, really.

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Grinding holes of the indigenous people. Seeds, roots, and likely bone were ground in these holes as an ancient mortar-and-pestle.

Slightly differernt view of Boquillas Canyon.

Slightly different view of Boquillas Canyon. A little more green.

Still slowly going down the trail.

Still slowly going down the trail.

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You have to really work hard to take a bad photo here.

Once one leaves the trail and gets down to the canyon and the River, the shade is such a welcome relief and reward for hiking the trail at mid-morning.

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Steve and Nephew contemplating their next moves.

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Nephew’s next move? Crossing the river. It was a subversive thing for him.

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I was oddly proud.

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In my wanderings while the guys were doing their own thing, I managed to capture this dragonfly. It’s almost like it wanted me to take its picture.

We ended up staying in the canyon, by my estimation, for well over an hour. Nephew, Steve, and I all had our different reasons. Mine? It was out of the sun. If you’ve ever been to Big Bend, or even just in a higher elevation, you know the sun can be brutal. Especially in a west Texas summer.  Any shade is welcome. Plus, it was just so peaceful, even after another family arrived.

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A place like this makes you realize how artificial borders are. US on the left, Mexico on the right, the Rio Grande as the barrier between two countries.

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I wonder how many hundreds, or even thousands, of years it’s taken these silt layers to build up. Just a little more time and pressure, it’d all be shale.

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Looking back at the trail we knew we’d eventually have to climb again.

Here was their reason for staying in the canyon: rock throwing contest.

The menfolk throwing rocks into the river

The menfolk throwing rocks into the river trying to hit pieces of driftwood

This fascinated me. Not sure why.

This fascinated me. Not sure why.

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Looking up

With no small amount of resignation, we decided it was time to go.

With no small amount of resignation, we decided it was time to go.

Now, for the highlight of Friday’s part of the trip – going to Boquillas del Carmen.

I can still remember when there was a time where one could go freely between Texas and Mexico without worrying about needing a passport. Your driver’s license would do fine when you wanted to cross back. I myself did this numerous times – mostly for the super cheap Margaritas, booze, and tchotchkes. Plus, it was fun to go down with a bunch of friends for a road trip.

However, as we are all painfully aware, this all changed after 2001.  Now, to simply cross the river and travel essentially one mile into Mexico, you must to have a passport. The days of cheap anything are gone, too.

Steve & I went across the river about 2 months after the crossing opened in 2013. Then, the recovery had just started and it was still almost ghost-town like. We had heard that there had been some great progress in Boquillas del Carmen since then, so we were anxious to see what had happened.

Now, Nephew’s major in college is going to be Spanish. He’s already pretty fluent so we pressed him into service as our interpreter.  I don’t think he really enjoyed it – especially when we called him out for claiming that he really didn’t know any. We told him it would be a good thing if at least one of us (my Spanish is mediocre at best, Steve’s is pretty much non-existent) could speak to the locals in their native tongue rather than make them try to understand us.

It’s called cultural respect.

Boquillas Crossing

Boquillas Crossing

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Welcoming one and all to Boquillas. Providing you have the right documents.

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Heading to the River.

The Rio Grande. Rio Grande del Norte. Rio Bravo.

The Rio Grande. Rio Grande del Norte.

The river wasn’t as high as it was in 2013. I was fine with that. I remember the last time, the river was so high and fast, I honestly thought we’d capsize.

The method and means of crossing was the same as before. A canoe came over to take us across while Victor the Singing Man serenaded us.

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Our captain. I didn’t get his name. This was his job. Rowing Gringos back and forth across the river all day. Be sure to tip your captain.

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Looking down the river from the canoe.

We told Nephew that there are 4 ways of getting to town – walking, truck, horse, donkey. He said he wanted a horse because he had an image to maintain.

O… K…

Well. Guess what. No horses that day. Just donkeys. Or, in keeping with the spirit of things – burros.  Since it’s hard for me to climb on a horse, I was fine with a burro since that was what I was going to request anyway.

After paying Victor for the river crossing and tipping him for his singing (be sure to bring lots of small bills), Jesus was assigned to us as our guide for our visit. Sweet man.

So, after helping the gringa & gringos up on the burros, we were off.

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The back of my burro’s head. I didn’t get its name. It followed directions well, though.

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Steve.

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Nephew. Looking happy despite having his image blown.

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Steve on his noble steed. Like the horse he rode the last time, it didn’t like following directions.

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The road to Boquillas.

At the hitching post

At the hitching post

Once we got into town, we had to go through the ritual of the Mexican passport office (which was crowded) and then sought out lunch. We decided on Jose Falcon’s. When Steve & I went to Boquillas in 2013, we ate lunch at Boquillas Restaurant.

If I had to compare between the two, I’d’ve chosen to go back to Boquillas Restaurant. This isn’t to say that the food Jose Falcon’s wasn’t good (and, yes; I know the difference between Mexican and Tex-Mex), it just felt very touristy and a little dumbed-down to me. But, with a touristy town, I guess that’s to be expected. They even have a souvenir shop attached. I didn’t patronize it.

So, after settling in and buying a Jesus a Coca (he didn’t want anything to eat), we ordered lunch.

Jose Falcon's.

Jose Falcon’s.

Steve's drink of choice - the Michelada

Steve’s drink of choice – the Michelada

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I was grateful to get this.

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Nephew and his Coca.

The chips & salsa course

The chips & salsa course. I found the salsa a little bland, but the pickled jalapenos and guacamole were outstanding. Steve ate most of the guacamole in about 5 minutes.

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Mine & Steve’s lunch: Red Cheese Enchiladas. They were very good, but nothing unforgettable.

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Nephew’s lunch: Quesadilla. He actually did get more than one on the plate. I was slow with the camera.

After a lazy lunch, Jesus took us on a tour of the town. There were definitely more buildings than the last time. The town has also been electrified since March of this year. It was an international effort that is beginning to take the town out of the past and bring it into the present. Hopefully, there will be more improvements that will make the Boquillas’ residents lives better and not just give tourists another place to exploit.

As we walked around, we noticed electrical wiring, satellite dishes, more construction (including a new primary school), and a generally more optimistic atmosphere. Of course, the tourist-based economy is back in full swing. Steve bought me a small bag with a cut-out burro design from Jesus’ grandfather and I bought a little bead Ocotillo from a little boy who came up to us. The children are, admittedly, almost impossible to resist.

The main street in Boquillas

Boquillas main street. A few more buildings.

The legendary Park Bar. They painted it again. Last time I was here, it was blue.

The legendary Park Bar. They painted it again. Last time I was here, it was blue. Since we had Nephew, we didn’t go in. Next time.

Admittedly, I'm into what is now called "ruin porn". There's generally a dignity in these old buildings. I'm sure that they'll be repaired and repurposed at some point.

Admittedly, I’m into what is now called “ruin porn”. There’s generally a dignity in these old buildings. I’m sure that they’ll be repaired and repurposed at some point. Plus, I like taking pictures of doorways.

This one has at least been repainted.

This one has at least been repainted.

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I know this is a tough existence, but imagine waking up to that view every day. Perhaps I’m being a entitled romantic.

The church has been rebuilt. Something the town is very proud of, and rightly so.

The church has been rebuilt. Something the town is very proud of, and rightly so.

Steve left some money in the collection box.

Steve left some money in the collection box.

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I’m not very religious, but I believe sacred spaces are just that, sacred.

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I can’t really describe this, except that I love it. Another abandoned building that will either be repurposed or recycled.

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More homes. I didn’t get any photos, but some of the homes had bright blue satellite dishes. Creeping technology.

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The solar panels Boquillas is so rightly proud of. My first thought was, why can’t the US do this on a larger scale?

After taking care of our exit paperwork back at the passport office, it was time for us to cross back to America.

We’ll be back and I can’t wait to see what’s next for Boquillas.

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So, yeah. Steve snuck this one of me & Nephew. So, now I can really prove I was there. I also had one hell of a sunburn at this point.

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On the way back to the river.

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Nephew basically asking “why are you taking my picture? Again.” Me: “I’m trying to make memories, Dude.”

Steve with Jesus back at the corral.

Steve with Jesus back at the corral.

We landed back in Big Bend, went through passport control (a strange experience in and of itself), and decided to head to the Basin.

I think this is a Century Plant. I've never seen one quite so high.

Harvard Agave. I’ve never seen one quite so high. At least not one that was alive.

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There’s that 50% chance of rain we read about.

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West Texas version of Jack’s Beanstalk.

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One of the things I love the most about Big Bend. The emptiness and occasional isolation. The beauty is a plus, too.

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Heading to the Basin

Because we were gluttons for punishment that day, we thought we’d try the Basin Loop Trail. It’s less than 2 miles round trip and not too difficult. At least, it wouldn’t be if you hadn’t had all your strength sapped by the afternoon sun.

Starting the Basin Trail

Starting the Basin Loop Trail

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Casa Grande

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Looking into the Basin.

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Once again, the men left me to my own devices.

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I like to get a bit of sun rays or even a slight glare in the photographs. Makes things more dramatic.

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Scenery like this makes me forget the tired, the bugs, and the sunburn.

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It was so green. For Big Bend.

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The Window. The first time I came to the park, a ranger told me this was one of the most popular spots. Every time I see it, it still strikes me with a certain amount of awe.

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Indulge me. I was playing with a camera app on my phone and filtered the photograph.

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Ditto.

It was about this time that we all three decided to turn back. We could hear thunder, the sun was beginning to get low, and we were being eaten alive by bugs. At least I was. Steve & Nephew seemed immune to them. Plus, we were really tired, filthy, and hungry.

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Plants growing out of seemingly solid rock always amaze me. It’s the simple things, ya know?

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Casa Grande and the incoming rain.

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Nolina.

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Ward Mountain.

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it seemed like there were literal forests of Sotol all over the park this time.

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Goldeneyes.

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Sotol at the Window.

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Looking towards Casa Grande through a seeming forest of Sotol.

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With the wide-angle lens.

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I think this is Toll Mountain.

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One last photograph of the Basin.

I could swear as we walked past one patch of rocks and underbrush, I distinctly heard a rattle. I may have been mistaken as to the source of the rattle, but I thought it best to move on. As I got further away, it stopped. If it was a rattlesnake, it did its job well.

For night #2, we decided to stay in Terlingua/Study Butte. The logic was this – after driving for 7 hours, we didn’t want to go any further than Alpine the first night. For the second night, we didn’t want to drive back to Alpine after spending all day at the southern end of the park.

So, Chisos Mining Company Motel it was.

After unpacking, resting a little, and scraping off the day, we headed to the Terlingua Trading Company for a little shopping (t-shirts, always t-shirts) and to the Starlight Theater for dinner.

When we got to the theater for dinner, we were told it would be an unknown amount of time before they had a table ready for us. So, while Steve & Nephew waited, I wandered.

Every time I see the Ghost Town there’s a little less of it, it seems. Weather, age, and, no doubt, human intervention keep the town in constant flux. Perhaps if I had on proper footwear and wasn’t so afraid of critters or cactus as it was getting slowly darker, I would’ve delved deeper into the brush and found more evidence of the dwellings. As it was, I stayed on the outskirts for the most part.

I don't know if the rusted machinery or impliments were simply left after the mine closed or have been artfully placed by the locals, but they are interesting artifacts to Terlingua's past.

I don’t know if the rusted machinery or implements were simply left after the mine closed or have been artfully placed by the locals, but they are interesting artifacts to Terlingua’s past.

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Poking around the Ghost Town.

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Ocotillo and a what I think is a cultivator.

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Ghost Town. Looks like what would’ve been one of the larger homes.

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Looking down into the brush I didn’t dare wander into in sandals.

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I have to honestly say, I’ve never seen the Big Bend region so green.

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Another doorway picture.

I ran out of the brush positive I saw a tarantula. (Although, now, I think it was just a figment of my imagination.)

I spied Steve and Nephew still waiting for the table, so I took a few more photos of the rusted equipment.

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I’m guessing this is a grader of some sort.

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Gears.

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Thos Ocotillo just looked like a huge spider coming out of this mass of Candelilla.

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Candelilla.

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A Ford V8 that’s been sitting outside the theater for as long as I can remember.

I decided I’d better join the men. Just as I looked up, Steve was waving for me to come in. Perfect timing.

I like the Starlight Theater. It has a nice atmosphere, cold beer, and good food. Nothing spectacular, just solid, good food. Perfect after a day of tromping around the park. Sometimes, of you’re lucky, there will even be a show going on.

A slightly more artsy view of the Starlight Theater's facade.

A slightly more artsy view of the Starlight Theater’s facade.

Nephew, even though he’s a growing 17-year-old, put Steve and me to shame with his restraint when it came to eating. During the entire trip, he ate (mostly) reasonably and knew when to stop. Me and Steve? Let’s just say we like to eat. The two of us are just barely in shape (we do gym it), middle-aged, and sometimes let our appetites get the better of us. My own rationalization of the eating thing is that I’m a professional and I really need to do all the research I can. Steve goes along for support.

Very gentlemanly of him.

My Dinner: Chicken Fried Wild Boar with beer-based gravy.

My Dinner: Chicken Fried Wild Boar with beer-based gravy.

I’ve had this dish before. It’s very good. Not too much breading in comparison to the meat, excellent mashed potatoes, and the vegetables weren’t overcooked.  If memory serves, the last time I had this, it was closer to a cream gravy on top. This time, the gravy was a beer base using a beer from Big Bend Brewery. I’m not sure which one it was and I forgot to ask. But, it was just a little too much. I don’t know if this is the recipe or the cook got a little too liberal with the beer, but it was almost too strong a taste. And I like beer. I ate all of my meal because I was really hungry, but I had to mitigate the beer flavor with the potatoes and bread a lot more than I would’ve liked.

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Nephew’s very reasonable dinner choice: Turkey Club.

I managed to catch this before Nephew drowned his fried in ketchup. He asked for no mayonnaise, so I think he was brought a dry sandwich. It may have had some mustard, but I don’t remember. He said, except for the dryness, it was very good.

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Steve’s dinner: Filet Mignon with salad (not pictured)

Personally, I have no use for Filet Mignon. There’s a reason it’s usually wrapped in bacon. Because it doesn’t have any flavor. It’s expensive because there’s only 2 tenderloins on any given animal. But, Steve was happy, so who am I to judge. He said it was cooked just the way he liked it and he ate everything on the plate.

Just as we were tucking into dinner, the entertainment started. We literally had a front row seat.  The singer was someone who works in the kitchen at the theater who I guess they let sing for a little extra cash. He was pretty good at improvising and came up with a verse talking about Nephew’s awesome hat and the fact that he was a gentleman and took it off when he was inside.  Steve tipped him. The singer, I mean.

The rest of the trip, Nephew referred to his hat as “My Awesome Hat”.

Our entertinament for the evening.

Our entertainment for the evening.

After dinner, I asked Steve to stop at the Cemetery so we could take a look. I like to poke around cemeteries (just for historical curiosity, mind you) and Nephew had never been there, so we stopped.

There’s just something about being in a cemetery at night that helps take on a different feel and significance.

This particular cemetery is a little more haunting to me than most because of the sheer number of unknowns and young ones that are buried here. Some of the newer graves, though, helped to mitigate the feeling, though. They simply looked like some real parties going on.

Terlingua Sunset over the Cemetery

Terlingua Sunset over the Cemetery

One of the unknowns

One of the unknowns. At least to most.

One of the younger ones.

One of the younger ones. At least we know her name.

Par-Tay!

Par-Tay!

Some solid construction and loving tributes here.

Some solid construction and loving tributes here.

More graves of no doubt the mine workers.

More graves of no doubt the mine workers.

Silhouettes

Silhouettes

Leaving some coins in the alcove.

Leaving some coins in the alcove.

Once it became too dark to see well, we headed back to the hotel.

Nephew was a couple of buildings away from us. I wasn’t too happy about that. After some eye-rolling as I lectured him about locking up, etc., we dropped him off and said good night. And be ready to go at 7am.

Them to our room.

For what it is, The Chisos Mining Co. Hotel is pretty good. The rooms are pretty bare-bone, but if all you’re using them for is sleeping and showering, they’ll do.

Just to let you know.

Just to let you know.

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Our accommodations

After we unpacked, Steve & I sat on the porch for a while and just talked, watched the lightning in the park, and looked up at the stars. A good way to end the day.

And, off to sleep.

 

Day 3 – Saturday, June 13

Another early morning. Steve wanted to get an earlier start than we had on Friday. At least we didn’t have as far to go to get to the park. While he packed up, I went to fetch Nephew. There he was, doing his push-ups. I was barely awake and suddenly felt old.

We saw a place the night before called Big Bend Resort & Adventures Cafe and so decided to go there for breakfast.

It was certainly what I expected. Nothing fancy, just basic breakfast. Not that I’m complaining. It was really good.

Again, Nephew put Steve & me to shame with his restraint.

Nephew's breakfast: the humble Breakfast Sandwich.

Nephew’s breakfast: the humble Breakfast Sandwich.

Nephew opted for the simple. And, he finished in 3 minutes.

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My breakfast: Biscuits & Gravy.

I honestly had no idea it would be so much. It was delicious, though. The gravy was just the right consistency, not at all greasy or pasty, and had just the right amount of salt. I should’ve asked for crispier hash browns, though. I did end up giving Nephew some of my bacon.

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Steve’s Breakfast: The Basic Breakfast

Compared to me, Steve had a child’s plate. He was happy. He even had some of my breakfast.

After looking over the map and showing Nephew where we were going, we headed back to the park. Our goal: Santa Elena Canyon.

Steve and I have tried twice before to go. Both times, flash floods stopped us. After the storms we saw the night before, we wondered if we’d miss out again. We listened to the in-park radio feed and didn’t hear anything about the canyon being closed, so we forged ahead.

But not before making Steve stop so I could take more photographs. I’m lucky he’s a patient man. Usually.

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Ocotillo at sunrise

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The green dot is a reflection of the sun off the lens.

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I think this is Rattlesnake Mountain

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I really don’t want to see what crawls out of this.

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Good Morning, Big Bend.

After turning onto Old Maverick Road to Santa Elena Canyon, we had another 30 miles of dodging road runners, rabbits, and jack rabbits as they headed back into the grass and brush.

When we arrived, it was already crowded (for Big Bend). In fact, the only times I’ve seen so many people in the park in one place was either at Panther Junction or the Basin.

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Facing Mexico at Santa Elena Canyon.

Paw prints in the sand.

Paw prints in the sand.

As walked towards the canyon, a gentleman told me that if I wanted to go into the canyon, I’d have to get my feet wet. I knew I’d have to, I just didn’t know how much.

My first glimpse of the canyon.

My first glimpse of the canyon.

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In the water. Steve is just ahead, Nephew is nowhere to be seen.

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I always find it amazing to think about how many millions of years it took the water to cut this canyon out.

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Just before stepping onto dry land.

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Indulgence filtering.

On shore.

On shore.

Now, for the climb. At least part of it has stairs.

The climb begins

The climb begins

After staying with me through the first set of photos, Steve decided to try to catch up to Nephew and leave me to my pokey self.

Climbing...

Climbing…

Turning back and realizing I've gone further than I thought.

Turning back and realizing I haven’t gone as far as I thought.

Yup.

Yup.

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Over the hump.

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I caught up with the men. Nephew was once again throwing rocks into the river.

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They scootched on ahead to an outcropping and found a better rock-throwing vantage point. No. There wasn’t anyone in the river.

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Looking at Mexico.

Looking back into the park

Looking back into the park

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There he is.

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Fossils. Reminding us that this whole area used to be under water.

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Candelilla on the trail.

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Ocotillo in the canyon.

Steve and I came across a group who looked familiar. It turned out it was the same family who shared Boquillas Canyon with us the day before. We had a lovely chat. We asked if they had gone to Boquillas, but they said no one had brought their passports so that was out. We told them what to expect when they do get a chance to go. I can’t recall what else they were doing on the trip. Lovely people.

We eventually made it to the end of the trail. It basically ends at the edge of the river as you head back down into the canyon.

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Nephew resting in the shade at the end of the trail.

There were several other people resting at the end of the trail.  We all heard echoes coming from further down the canyon. We were wondering how they got down there and came to the conclusion they either walked down the river hugging the cliff face or rowed down in canoes or kayaks.

Me being me, I decided to take a dip into the water and see how far I could go. Not very without it getting very slippery and the mud trying to suck the boots off my feet. I got back on shore just long enough to grab my camera and very carefully wade back in.

Steve dipped a toe in but elected to stay on shore. I think he was waiting to see if I’d fall in. Nephew waded into the water with me briefly.

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At the end of the trail.

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The American cliff face.

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Looking at Mexico.

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Looking back down the canyon.

Nephew started back almost as soon as we stepped back on shore and completely ignoring me when I told him to stay where I could see him. Steve stayed with me while I reorganized and we walked back together.

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Starting back.

As we walked and chatted, Steve & I decided this was our favorite trail so far. Third time was really the charm.

In the meantime, we lost Nephew. We called for him; no answer. I kept thinking that if anything happened to him that my sister would kill me. Steve calmly told me that he was fine, there was only one trail so he couldn’t get lost; basically, there was only one way for him to go. Instinctively, I knew he was right. Emotionally, I was concerned. I mean, if he’d fallen off the cliff, we definitely would’ve heard something.

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Heading back. This is also about the time I realized we lost Nephew.

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Lovely view. Still looking for Nephew.

We came across two men coming the opposite direction. We asked if they’d seen a teenager in a lime green shirt. They said yes; they’d passed him on the trail. I was relived but still aggravated. At least I knew he hadn’t fallen into the river off the cliff. Aggravated that he was so far ahead.

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So, we get to what is essentially the highest point on the trail and look down. We see Nephew crossing the river.

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Again, this brings to mind the artificiality of borders.

We finally get to the beginning of the trail again and dip back into the water and join Nephew on his next Mexico excursion. I will say here that walking around in the water felt really great.

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Nephew in Mexico. Again.

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In the middle of the river

Nephew wanted me to help him with an experiment. He pulled out the plastic cover for his Awesome Hat and put it on. Then, he wanted me to walk up a little ways on the mini-rapids, place the hat, brim up, in the water and see of the cover would do its job. I did; it flipped over. The experiment was partially successful. The covered part of Awesome Hat stayed dry; when it flipped over, it, of course, got wet.

I was just glad he caught the damn thing. He would’ve been upset if he lost Awesome Hat.

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Where the experiment was performed.

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Husband Steve. Fearless Explorer.

We finished at Santa Elena. I was glad we did because a large party of bros were about to paddle down the canyon.

Steve & I had toyed with the idea of taking Nephew to Burro Mesa. However, by the time we were done at Santa Elena combined with Friday, we were whipped and Steve was feeling a little overheated. We decided to just slowly make our way out of the park, stop occasionally to take photographs, and head back to Alpine for our final night.

Since I was the one doing the driving, I got to stop the behemoth any time I wanted.

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I had to get my Ocotillo fix.

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I’m not sure why, but I love Ocotillo. Especially when they’ve bloomed out. We were a little late for the blooms, sadly.

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Spiny Fruited Prickly Pear.

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Strawberry Pitaya

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Trap Mountain

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Looking over the desert

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Mule Ear Peaks via telephoto lens

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Mule Ear Peaks via standard lens.

Driving down Ross Maxwell Scenic Road, we came across Sam Nail Ranch. We’d never seen it before, so we stopped. It was a short, flat, easy trail with a lot more to see than any of us anticipated.

I’ve never seen so much prickly pear in one place. Ever.

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This is just inside the entrance to the trail.

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Sam Nail owned this ranch from 1909-1946. Since then, it’s been taken back over by nature. In a really huge way.

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I wish I’d seen this when it was in bloom.

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Walking the trail.

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The Chisos in the distance.

One of these days, a really good wind is going to blow this over.

One of these days, a really good wind is going to blow this over.

I was honestly fascinated at the type of person who would try to ranch in a place known for frequent droughts, isolation, and rough terrain. One would have to be a tough, hearty soul.

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Walking down the trail towards the back of the ranch, it suddenly became almost forest-like. I don’t know if some of these trees are native to Big Bend, but they seem to have done well.

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I read somewhere this windmill still pumps water. I didn’t check.

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More quite possibly non-native trees mixed in with the Mesquite.

I'm not sure if this was the old ranch house or a barn. Looking at the foundation, such as it was, it was very small.

I’m not sure if this was the old ranch house or a barn. Looking at the foundation, such as it was, it was very small.

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Final look around the ranch as we went on our way.

And, after this final stop, I starting driving back to Alpine.

Goodbye, Big Bend. Until next time.

Goodbye, Big Bend. Until next time.

Going back up the road to Marathon, as anyone who’s driven 385 knows, there’s a Boarder Patrol Inspection Station about 30 miles in. I know he was joking, but Nephew said we should just speed on through, flash our high beams, or just act suspiciously so we can see what happens.

I had two thoughts on this: 1. None of those suggestions were going to fly; 2. Pretty interesting talk from someone who wants to go into law enforcement.

After the inspection, we discussed lunch options. Nephew said he wasn’t hungry, but Steve & I wanted something. Nothing big, just something. Since, seemingly, the only restaurant in town that was open was at the Gage (and we weren’t going there), we stopped at the French Grocer.

The French Grocer. A good, solid general store.

The French Grocer. A good, solid general store.

Steve & I weren’t that hungry. We were in the mood for more of a snack and drinks. We split a Turkey & Cheese Sandwich (made on premises) and chips. Nephew, for someone claiming he wasn’t hungry, ate about half the bag of chips himself.

They were very generous with the iceberg.

They were very generous with the iceberg.

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There always seem to be birds nesting in the eaves.

We again came through some rain on our way back to Alpine. Very heavy rain. As I was driving through it, I thought, wow, I’ve always wanted to see a storm in Big Bend; I’m an idiot.

We checked back into the Antelope Lodge for our final night in the same rooms we had on night one. We had just managed to unpack the behemoth and get into our rooms before the rain followed us into Alpine. This time, hail was included. Plus, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees within 15 minutes.

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Here it comes

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Hail. At this point, Steve made me close the door.

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I stepped out anyway and took another look.

While we were waiting for things to clear up, Steve heard from our friend Stewart Ramser. Stewart is the tourism director for Alpine as well as publisher of Texas Music magazine, among other things. He was in town getting ready for the Big Bend Music Festival in July and who knows what else. Stewart’s a busy man.

We had planned to meet Stewart at the Alpine Cowboys baseball game Saturday night, but the rain cancelled those plans. So, it was decided we would have dinner at one of Stewart’s favorite places in town – La Casita. A locals joint.

We were all disappointed about the game, but dinner sounded promising.

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La Casita

We met Stewart at the restaurant. He had posters in hand that he wanted to post on the wall. After ordering dinner, he tried with scotch tape. They all stayed up for about 5 minutes. I think he finally managed to hang the posters after borrowing some pins from the restaurant management.

Dinner was excellent, by the way. As it usually is when you find a place off the beaten path.  In my experience, locals places are, as a rule, better than anything where tourists generally congregate.

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Nephew’s Dinner: Beef Enchiladas

The beef enchiladas had ground beef. I don’t know why I was surprised. It’s certainly less expensive and easy to prepare. I’m also guessing Nephew enjoyed it; he finished his plate.

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Stewart and I ordered the same thing: Chicken Enchiladas with double rice

I really liked these. The chicken was well seasoned and the verde sauce was different from anything else I’d had before.  It was almost creamy as opposed to salsa-like. It was also a milder flavor than I’m used to; not so tart or spicy.

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Steve’s dinner: Deluxe Campechanas

Steve was all set to order the beef enchiladas until he saw this dish float by. The guacamole intrigued him. To me, it looked basically like a huge plate of glorified nachos.  I tried a couple of bites; it was very good. But, it was one of those meals you eat where it never seems like you make any sort of headway. He didn’t finish it. But he did give it the old college try.

After parting company with Stewart (it was great to see him), it was still relatively early. Since the ball game was out, the three of us took a drive to Marfa.

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Looking down the main street at the Presidio County courthouse. The belfry would’ve been a cool place to go if the courthouse had been open.

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The Chinati Foundation grounds. I like the landscaping, but minimalist art simply bores me.

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Steve wanted a photo of this. Pointless. Simply pointless.

We wandered around the center of town for a while and wondering what the hell happened to the radio station, book store and the covered space by the railroad tracks. Eventually, we made it down to Planet Marfa to listen to some music and have a beer (or, a Coke in Nephew’s case).

Planet Marfa is a nice, tree-lined partially open-air space where you can just hang out and listen to some music. They have a fairly neat teepee set up with a sitting area sunk down into the floor (you have to take some stairs to go down). They have an “upstairs” up one of the trees and tables to sit around. They also have a fairly limited bar food menu.

At Planet Marfa

At Planet Marfa.  We left not long after they put the lamps on the table. The petroleum smell gave me a headache.

Marfa Sunset

Marfa Sunset

Steve, Nephew, and I chatted for a while about our plans for Sunday and just hung out. After the rain came through, it cooled everything down and cleared the air, so it was a very pleasant night.  We didn’t stay out late, though. We were all tired and knew we had a long day ahead of travel back to Austin.

So, back to Alpine and bed.

 

Day 4 – June 14, Sunday

 

None of us were in any hurry to get up and moving. But, we finally managed to conjure ourselves up, shower, and pack the behemoth. Then, I knocked on Nephew’s door. No answer. Again. No answer. After the third knock, I heard a snarky “I heard you the first time.” I answered with an equally snarky “Then you need to say something”.  Turned out he was up several hours before and fell back to sleep. So, I was apparently waking him up again.

We headed to Magoo’s Place for Breakfast. Steve & I ate there last year with my parents when they met us in Alpine. Honestly, I thought the restaurant had been open for decades. It’s been open 9 years. It’s certainly popular with locals and, I’m sure, tourists alike.

The Huevos Rancheros are some of the best I’ve ever had. Beans, excellent; eggs, cooked perfectly. Ranchero Sauce, just the right amount of spice. One drawback – they never seem to give you enough tortillas.

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Steve & Nephew’s Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros with scrambled eggs

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My breakfast: Huevos Rancheros with sunny-side up eggs. And, yes. I know what this looks like.

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Magoos!

After leaving Alpine, we drove the long way home via Del Rio. We had a crazy idea that we’d cross into Cuidad Acuña for a couple of hours.

But first, a quick stop in Langtry to get out of the car and go see the Judge Roy Bean Visitors Center.  Steve & I had been here before, but we wanted to take Nephew; Roy Bean being a “lawman” and all.

For a place so remote, the visitors center is really nice.  The buildings have been lovingly restored and maintained and the story of Roy Bean, while no doubt sanitized for your protection, has been preserved via electronic diorama.  There is also an amazing cactus garden, if you are so inclined to visit. I had seen enough cactus, so I opted out this trip.

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Sunflowers outside Sanderson

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The original Jersey Lilly Saloon.

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It certainly doesn’t look like saloons in the movies.

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Indulgence filtering. Making it look old-timey.

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The old billiard room.

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One of the table legs.

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The Jersey Lilly. Bean would hold trials of the front porch.

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Looking through Judge Bean’s House.

A long view of the Langtry Opera House. Roy Bean's home.

A long view of the Langtry Opera House. Roy Bean’s home.

After we finished at the visitors center, we decided to take Nephew to the over look above the Pecos River. Steve & I stumbled on to it last year and were floored by the sheer size.

Nephew seemed impressed.

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The river is 900 miles long and has been described as being up to 100 feet wide in some places. Crossing was a dicey prospect at best. This bridge wasn’t completed until the 1950’s.

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Nephew taking it all in.

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Looking over the Trans-Pecos.

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The river wasn’t as high as I’d thought it would be. We could definitely see vegetation.

After saving a couple of centipedes from the asphalt and the possibility of being run over by the behemoth, we drove to Del Rio. Our plan was to cross into Cuidad Acuña, walk around, have lunch, shop, cross back, and drive home.

Now, I remember when there was a place to park on the American side and walk across the bridge into Acuña, just like in Laredo. However, that is no longer an option. If you don’t want to take your car, you have to park at a taxi service and they will take you across. Otherwise, you’ll have to take your car over. Since we had a rental, we couldn’t take it over even if we wanted to; we didn’t. Steve didn’t want to use a taxi service, either. So, the trip to Acuña was off.

At least there was a convenient sign stating “Final Turnaround. This is your last chance before you are in Mexico.” Or, something like that.

So, we turned around. Steve stopped at a gas station and, while he was filling up, I scouted Yelp for restaurants. We ended up at El Patio Mexican Buffet.

I haven’t been to a buffet restaurant in years. It was fun. The food was average, but it was fun.  I honestly can’t remember what Steve or I ate. Nephew, on the other hand, made himself a huge taco-burrito hybrid with beans, meat, rice, queso, and a lot of sour cream.

Nephew contemplating his buffet options.

Nephew contemplating his buffet options.

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There was definitely variety

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I liked the fact they had Menudo on the buffet line. I didn’t try any.

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Salsa and Queso Bar.

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I really should’ve eaten a salad.

As I was paying, I asked the lady behind the counter about the mystery pedestrian bridge to Acuña. She told me what I already knew, there was no longer a pedestrian bridge. I was hoping she’d give me a different answer.

So, the three of us decided it was simply time to drive back to Austin. After driving through more rain, San Antonio, and the clogged arteries of the Austin freeway system, we made it home around 6:30pm. My sister was waiting for us when we arrived. She was taking Nephew to his college orientation early the next morning, so she decided to come the night before.

 

It was a great trip. I’ll miss those summers with Nephew.

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Luckily, we have Younger Nephew for 3 more years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berry-Mint Lemonade 0

Posted on June 22, 2015 by Sahar

I love a good glass of lemonade.  Real lemonade. Not the powdered stuff.

And, with summer lasting about 8 months in Texas, it’s almost a necessary staple, along with water, iced tea, and beer, to power through the heat.

The basic lemonade recipe consists of three things: lemon juice, water, sugar.  The flavor all depends on how you personally prefer it – sweet or tart.  Personally, I like it more on the tart side.

Of course, since it is such a basic recipe, it leaves lots of room for interpretation and experimentation.  You can add just about any herb or spice that goes well with lemon – mint, basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, ginger, pepper – for example; or, even add other fruits or juices to the mix – the list on that is pretty much endless.

My personal favorite is probably one of the more obvious ones – mint and berries. I think it’s because during the summer, when berries are truly in season, I like to find as many ways possible as I can to use them.  And, mint is a natural affinity flavor for lemons and berries.  It’s a win-win.

So, here is my recipe for Berry-Mint Lemonade.

A few notes:

1.  Yes. I have used lemon juice from the green plastic bottle. I know fresh squeezed is better, but I don’t always have a bottle of the fresh-squeezed juice around.  If you really want fresh squeezed and don’t have any or can’t find it, you can either squeeze it yourself (a pricy and time consuming prospect), or just go for the green bottle. It’s fine and most people won’t know the difference. I will say the one distinct added plus to the green bottle lemon juice is that the flavor is consistent.  Fresh lemons can vary in tartness and yield.

2.  You can use all of one berry in this if you like.  I just always happen to have a large container of cut berries in my fridge during the summer as Husband Steve’s & my go-to fruit.  Bear in mind, however, that the color and overall flavors will definitely change.  As it is with anything completely natural, there are always going to be differences in flavor – either more sweet or tart.

3.  You can use either white or raw sugar in this.  I prefer the raw because it’s a little less sweet than the white.

4.  If you don’t like or don’t have mint, you can use another herb in this.  Most herbs & spices that go with lemon work well with berries, too. You may want to experiment on the amount you want to use. Some are definitely stronger than others (i.e. rosemary, ginger, oregano), so you want to be sure what you’re using won’t overpower the other flavors.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 c. sugar (either raw or white)

1 c. water

1/4 c. lightly packed mint leaves

2 heaping cups mixed berries

1 1/4 c. lemon juice

3 c. water

 

1.  In a small saucepan, combine the water and sugar over high heat.  Stir frequently to make sure the sugar is dissolved.

The simple syrup.  Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar.  A simple syrup made with white sugar will be clear.

The simple syrup. Since I made this with raw sugar, it is obviously going to be darker than with white sugar. A simple syrup made with white sugar will be completely clear.

Bring the syrup just to a boil, take the saucepan off the heat, and add the mint leaves.  Allow the mint to steep in the syrup until it has cooled, about 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours.

Adding the mint.

Adding the mint to steep.

2.  Meanwhile, puree the berries.  With a food processor running, drop the berries either through the feed tube. (Adding the berries in while the machine is running guarantees that all of the berries will be pureed.  You won’t be left with any large pieces.)

Adding the berries to the food processor.  I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.

Adding the berries to the food processor. I like to wear gloves to keep the berries from staining my hands.

 

Let the berries process until they are pureed.

The pureeing the berries.

The pureeing the berries.

Place a small strainer over a large measuring cup (at least a 4-cup), large bowl, or a pitcher.  Pour half of the pureed berries through the strainer and, with a rubber spatula, work as much of the liquid out of the pulp through the strainer as possible, leaving behind the seeds and pulp. Be sure to scrape the outside bottom and sides of the strainer. Dump the leftover seeds and pulp into a small bowl and repeat with the other half.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don't confuse the two.

On the left, a strainer; the right, a colander. They do a lot of the same things, but a strainer is used for finer work (i.e. sifting, straining purees, etc.). Don’t confuse the two.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

Pressing the pureed berries though the strainer.

If you like, take the remaining seeds and pulp, put them back into the blender or food processor and puree again.  You’ll be surprised how much more liquid you can get out of them. (If you are fine with a more “country style” lemonade, you can skip this step and simply pour the pureed fruit into the pitcher without straining.)

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries.  I generally just put this in the compost.

The final leftovers after two sessions in the food processor and straining. You want to get as much of the juice as possible out of the berries. I generally just put this in the compost.

3.  Once the syrup is cooled, pour the syrup through the strainer so it can catch the mint.

Straining the syrup.

Straining the syrup.

I like to leave the strainer on so I can pour the lemon juice and water over the mint as well. This way, you can get as much flavor out of the mint as possible. Mix thoroughly.

Lemon juice.

Lemon juice.

Water.

Water.

4.  Place the lemonade in the refrigerator and let chill.  Mix it again before checking for flavor.

Lemonade.

Lemonade.  This also makes a great mixer, by the way.

 

Enjoy!

 

Eating Locally Project 2015: May 0

Posted on June 09, 2015 by Sahar

In case you haven’t heard, May was wet in Texas.  Very wet.  Here in Austin, we had a combined rainfall of almost 18 inches – about 14 inches more than normal.

After almost 5 years of drought, we’re all, no doubt, grateful for the rain. However, if you’ve seen the news, some places south and west of Austin got the brunt of what can happen when too much rain falls in too short a time.

Around here, it’s pretty much feast or famine rain-wise.

I know the local farmers are happy for the rain. Up to a point, anyway.  Some crops, like potatoes, have rotted and the crop yields are lower than they normally would be.  Tomatoes are taking longer than usual to ripen.  In short, the farmers are ready for a respite and for the fields to dry a bit.

But, now, the summer high-pressure system is beginning to move to its usual summer home, so we should be in a dry spell for a while.

Just as a side note, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m now volunteering at Boggy Creek Farm.  I help out once a week in the fields.  I’ve done this because I want to learn first-hand about growing my own food organically. I can read books about it all day long, but there’s nothing like hands-on experience.  Reason #2 – I need the exercise.

 

Wednesday, May 5:

My first stop, as per my usual, was Boggy Creek Farm.  I like to get there early so I can get to the salad mixes and baby greens before they’re all gone.

Baby Lamb's Quarter.  It has a slight peppery flavor to it.

Baby Lamb’s Quarter. To me, it tastes like a cross between spinach and arugula. When it’s young like this, raw is the best way to eat it.  If it’s grown to full maturity, the leaves are better cooked.

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Dandelion Greens. I think they’re my new favorite.

As always, I've got to have some arugula.

As always, I’ve got to have some arugula.

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Parsnips. I didn’t buy any, but I’m thinking of the possibilities later this summer.

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New Potatoes. Because of all the rain, Carol Ann & Larry weren’t sure what kind of crop they would have since, sadly, so many rotted in the fields. The potatoes they are bringing in are constantly under fans to help them to stay dry.

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Just so you know, carrot tops are delicious in salads.

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Baby Beets. I’m guessing these were pulled early to keep them from drowning in the field.

After talking with Carol Ann about volunteering, I did a quick wander around the farm.

I have no idea what this flower is. But I'm starting to see it everywhere.

I have no idea what this flower is. But I’m starting to see it everywhere.

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A better view of said unknown flower.

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CORN!!!

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Ladybug on corn.

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Shallots drying.

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The view from the back of the farmstand. It relaxes me.

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I can’t wait until the figs are ready. Carol Ann’s trees are thick with them.

A pecan tree that didn't survive the storms in early spring.

A pecan tree that didn’t survive the storms in early spring.

Playing with the camera filter app. This photo just begged to be antiqued

Playing with the camera filter app. This photo just begged to be antiqued.

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Wednesday night’s dinner. This ended up being essentially a small pork rib roast. It was amazing.

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My other Boggy Creek Purchases: New Potatoes, Beets, Dandelion Greens, Arugula, Baby Lambs Quarters

 

Stop #2: Springdale Farm

By the time I finally made my way to Springdale, the farmstand was pretty picked over. Good for Paula & Glenn. Bad for me.

I still managed to pick up a few things, though.

The tomatoes and roses at Springdale.

The tomatoes and roses at Springdale.

I really need to learn my flowers.

I really need to learn my flowers.

I got there kind of late, so there weren't too many tomatoes left.

I got there a little late, so there weren’t too many tomatoes left.

Not my favorite vegetable, but I bought some artichokes anyway. I thought, what the hell.

Not my favorite vegetable, but I bought some artichokes anyway. I thought, what the hell.

More beets. I didn't buy any; I just like the way they were all laid out.

More beets. I didn’t buy any; I just like the way they were all laid out.

After my shopping, I took advantage of the continuing break in the rain to walk around the farm. Like Boggy Creek, it’s such a lovely space to go and just get away from the concrete for a few minutes.

Springdale's chickens. Happily scratching away .

Springdale’s chickens. Happily scratching away.

It's like she actually wanted me to take her picture.

It’s like she actually wanted me to take her picture.

The ducks were having none of me.

The ducks were having none of me.

The Ghost Peppers are in the ground.

The Ghost Peppers are in the ground.

Sage.

Sage.

Juliet tomatoes.

Juliet tomatoes.

The Prudens Purple tomatoes ripening.

The Prudens Purple tomatoes ripening.

Looking over the tops of the tomato field.

Looking over the tops of the tomato field.

I'm guessing this caterpillar was up to no good, but it sure was cute.

I’m guessing this caterpillar was up to no good, but it sure was cute.

The farm house.

The farm house.

Larkspur

Larkspur

I want to say this is a sunflower...

I want to say this is a sunflower…

Looking forward from the back of the farm.

Looking forward from the back of the farm.

Springdale purchases: Tomatoes, Parsley, Artichokes.

Springdale purchases: Tomatoes, Parsley, Artichokes.

 

Saturday, May 9:

Back to Boggy Creek first thing. I wanted to get there early so I could finally get my hands on one specific item: Squash Blossoms.  I learned if one arrives much after the first 30 minutes, one is out of luck.

I was successful. Joy.

The reason I came here first thing - squash blossoms.

The reason I came here first thing – squash blossoms.

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The glorious salad table.

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The summer squash is making its first appearance.

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Luckily, despite the weather and the loss of a lot of the potato crop, they were still coming in.

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Dewberries. Awesome.

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Curly mustard greens. After the dandelion greens, these are another new favorite.

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The kale is still hanging in.

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Kohlrabi. I’d like to figure out what else to do with it before I buy more.

My Boggy Creek Purchases: squash blossoms, new potatoes, Maria's Mix, curly mustard greens, cucumbers, dewberries

My Boggy Creek Purchases: squash blossoms, new potatoes, Maria’s Mix, curly mustard greens, cucumbers, dewberries

Whole chicken from Taylor Farm

Whole chicken from Taylor Farm

I didn’t really hang around that day since I’d been at the farm just a few days before. Plus, it looked like more rain was coming.

 

Next, I decided to try a new (to me) farmers market, Barton Creek.  It’s located in the parking lot at Barton Creek Mall in south Austin. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect.

I will say, I like it.  Very much. It’s a much less formal vibe than the downtown market. In addition to the usual farm stands, they have artist booths selling clothing, jewelry, and other accessories, as well as a gentleman who’ll sharpen your knives while you shop.

They have a market on Sundays, too, that I still need to check out. Maybe I could even drag Husband Steve along.

As soon as I walked in, a lovely gentleman, David,  walked right up to me and asked if I wanted to try his blackberries.  He said he’d picked them the day before and still had some of the small thorns in his hands (he did).

I have to honestly say, those were some of the best blackberries I ever tasted. Just sweet enough and very juicy.  I think I ended up buying 5 baskets.

Some of the best blackberries I've ever eaten. Picked just the day before.

Some of the best blackberries I’ve ever eaten. Picked just the day before.

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And here is the gentleman who picked them. The irresistible and effervescent David.

One of the stands I stopped at was Engel Farms.  They are a third generation, family-run farm based in Fredericksburg, Texas.

When I got to the stand, they had already sold out of a few things. However, I did to buy a couple of strawberry baskets.

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Beautiful strawberries from Engel Farms.

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The peaches were lovely, too. However, I decided to pass on them this time around.

A quick pass by Baguette et Chocolat for some chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat) and sourdough for Husband Steve & I. I’ve been to their storefront many times for their breads, sandwiches, pastries, and their “Special Hot Chocolate”. If you ever get a chance, go. Depending on where you’re coming from, it can be a trek. But, the reward is worth it.

I took my mom there for breakfast one morning when she came down for a visit.  It is now “our place” for breakfast.

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c’est bon.

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Quite honestly, some of the absolute best European-style bread I’ve ever eaten. Just the right amount of texture in both the crust and the crumb. You can just taste the sourdough without it being overwhelming.

A long view of the market. It was much more populated than this suggests.

A long view of the market. It was much more populated than this suggests.

In my quest to shop for seafood (hopefully) more responsibly, I like to seek out smaller seafood vendors who (again, hopefully) harvest seafood in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way.

I stopped by a small stand called  The Shrimp Connection.  According to their Facebook page, they sell chemical-free, wild-caught Texas Gulf Shrimp.

I bought 2 pounds of the large. It was fat, fresh, great-looking shrimp.

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Price board from The Shrimp Connection.

Winfield Farms made it into the grocery bag this time around. It’s a small, family-run farm in Bastrop County which is wonderful in and of itself. For me? They had sprouts.

Finally, I find sprouts.

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Artichokes at Winfield Farms. I didn’t buy any, but they are a great photographic opportunity.

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Beautiful scallions.

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Sage. Always excellent to have on hand.

My final stop was at Johnson’s Backyard Garden. I didn’t really see too much that moved me there this time around, but I did buy a few items.

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Green tomatoes. No, I didn’t ultimately end up frying them.

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Lovely grapefruit. These eventually went in to salad.

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Red onions.

Finally, after another walk-through, I decided I was ready to go.  But first, lunch.

Heidi Garbo started the food truck (and, later, her restaurant) in 2013.  she grew up in Key West Florida, by way of Connecticut, where her father and uncle were in the seafood business. After she moved to Austin with her husband, she missed the lobster rolls back home. Hence, Garbo’s.

Garbo’s food truck has a much smaller menu than the restaurant and is just as good.  However, the price may shock some people. But, that should be somewhat mitigated by the fact that Garbo’s doesn’t scrimp on the lobster.

 

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Basically, Garbo’s entire menu at the market.

Another view of the market. Well, the other row, anyway.

While waiting for lunch, another view of the market. Well, the other row, anyway.

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So, yeah, this was lunch. Pricy. But really, really good. They certainly don’t skimp on the lobster, as you can see.

Back home. And on to the purchases. I did pretty well, I thought.

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Chocolate Croissants from Baguette et Chocolat

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Sourdough Bread from Baguette et Chocolat; Blackberries from David; Sage and Alfalfa Sprouts from Winfield Farms; Mint, Green Tomatoes, and Grapefruit from Johnson’s Backyard Garden; Strawberries from Engel Farms

Dinner that night:

Artichoke Hearts and Squash Blossoms fried in an egg white batter

Artichoke Hearts and Squash Blossoms fried in an egg white batter

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The artichokes and squash blossoms with the sourdough bread, a selection of cheeses, salami, extra virgin olive oil, local honey, and 50 year old balsamic.

 

Thursday, May 21

My first day of volunteering at Boggy Creek Farm. Not sure what to say other than it was hard and rewarding work. I can say that it was overcast, a little drizzly, and cool. So, at least that helped make the weed pulling a little easier.

My first day, I met Dana (the lead volunteer), Siri (who’s been volunteering for about 8 months), and Sarah (who started the week before I did), along with Finnegan and Aden, two of the full-time employees of the farm.  I also formally met Tina, who works part-time at the stand.

The volunteers were tasked with pulling up the romaine lettuce stalks that had flowered out along with the weeds that seemed to be growing before our eyes.  Since the ground has had so much rain, the weeds and romaine were fairly easy to pull up. The Johnson Grass, however – ugh. The best part of all this is the chickens got to feast out on the romaine stalks. We all took turns tossing them into the coop and watching the chickens do their chicken thing.

After the pulling, we moved on to composting. While Dana and Siri spread the compost (made up of old vegetation, leaves, and chicken droppings), Sarah and I cut it into the soil with hoes and smoothed it out. I’ll tell you, that’s a great upper body workout.

After the break, we finished composting and then moved on to planting Purslane. Carol Ann had grown it from seed in her greenhouse and now it was ready to put in the ground.

I honestly can’t wait until it’s ready for harvesting. I’ve never eaten purslane before, at least not knowingly, so I’m excited to try it.

It was a tough on me, being out of shape and middle-aged. But, I’m going to keep going.

The planted purslane.

The planted purslane.

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A sunflower on a cloudy day

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Again, I really need to educate myself on flowers.

As part of our “pay” for volunteering, we get $30 worth of free produce. Fair offer, I would say. Done judiciously, $30 can go a long way at the stand.

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Luckily, the potato crop wasn’t totally wiped out. But, the fans were still running.

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Some beautiful “flying saucer” and pattypan squash. I’ve always called them sunburst, myself.

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I’m going out on a limb and saying this is a variety of hibiscus.

During the course of my day at the farm, I happened to notice an old hen in the tool shed not really moving much, even for a roosting hen.  I saw her later in the same spot and she didn’t look well at all.  In fact, she looked like she’d shuffled off her mortal coil. I mentioned this to Carol Ann.  She said that she had quite a few old hens and this one was probably just sleeping. But, she’d check it out.

Later, after I’d finished my shopping, Carol Ann walked up to me and basically said I was right. The old hen was no more. So, I helped her bury the hen. Well, Carol Ann buried the hen. I just talked. As Carol Ann put the old hen into her hole and was ready to cover her with dirt, Carol Ann simply said, “Thank you for your service.”

Kinda says it all.

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Carol Ann burying the old hen. “She stopped laying years ago. But, she gave good poop”.

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My after work shopping: Tenderized steak from Dear Run Longhorns; Whole chicken from Taylor Farms

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My vegetable shopping: Maria’s Zesty Mix; Kennebunk Potatoes; Summer Squash

 

Thursday, May 28:

Back at Boggy Creek and volunteering. It was another day of weeding the rows. This time, it was the peppers and tomatoes. By the end of the day, my knees were rebelling.

I didn’t take too many photos that day after I was finished. I had a class to teach that evening and I simply wanted to go home, clean up, eat, and rest before I had to leave again.

Weeding to tomato plants

Weeding to tomato plants

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Honestly, I hated pulling weeds as a kid. Now, I find a strange sort of satisfaction in it.

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My Pay for the day: cucumbers, dandelion greens, carrots, Maria’s Zesty Mix, and eggs. I paid for the squash blossoms because I bought the entire day’s haul for my cooking class that evening.

 

Saturday, May 30:

I  headed to Springdale Farm on the first non-rainy day in what seemed recent memory. I thought I had arrived pretty early and before the crowds. But, as per usual with me, I was mistaken. It was like as soon as the skies cleared up, people decided to relieve their cabin fever and rejoin society.

Spingdale's tomato plants are about my height now. I feel short.

Springdale’s tomato plants are about my height now. I feel short.

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Rose on the fence.

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Beets, carrots, and celery

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Tomatoes!

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White and red potatoes.

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Duck eggs. I was so excited that I finally managed to buy some. I’ve never (knowingly) had a duck egg, so I’m anxious to try them.

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Leeks.

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A cacophony of tomatoes. The photo really doesn’t do the table justice.

After braving the crowd, I headed out to the relative peace of the farm.

Off to visit the chickens.

Off to visit the chickens.

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Some ducklings in the warm room.

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The social hour.

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I think these are a type of marigold.

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Again, the ducks will have nothing to do with me.

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Color.

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King of the hill.

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A Pruden’s Purple tomato on the vine.

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Looking down to tomato rows. I felt very short.

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Dill flowers.

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Eden East getting ready for the evening.

My purchases from Springdale: blackberries, baby Romas (or Juliettes), and leeks.

My purchases from Springdale: blackberries, baby Romas (or Juliettes), and leeks.

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My duck eggs. So happy.

 

After finishing up at Springdale, I headed once again to Barton Creek.  The sun was out and people were smiling.

I stopped at a stand I’d not noticed before, Two Happy Children Farm.  They had lettuces, squash peppers, and, best of all, corn. I bought 4 ears.

One thing hit me the wrong way as I was standing there. The lady running the stand was Asian and (I think) related to the young boy who was also manning the stand. A couple nearby was asking the lady some questions, which she was cheerfully answering. Then, the man piped up and said, “Was that corn grown by an American?”. I was personally disgusted by the question. The lady simply said with a smile, “And American and an Asian”.

I paid for my corn and walked away.

This was a new stand for me: Two Happy Children Farm.

This was a new stand for me: Two Happy Children Farm.

I wandered over to Engel Farms a few stands down. I had bought produce from them the last time I was at the market and really enjoyed the produce I bought.

This time, not so much. The fruit was beautiful, but that was all.  It may have been the rain, but who knows.

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The peaches. They were rock-hard when I bought them. Once they ripened, they had no flavor.

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The strawberries were packed so the pretty ones were on top, bad on the bottom. I was really disappointed. I think I composted away 2/3 of what I bought.

After this, I decided it was time to buy some protein and starch to round out my day.

I stopped at a vendor I’ve bought from before, K & S Seafood. I had bought some Black Drum from them back in March at Mueller Farmers Market. Through no fault of their own, I didn’t like it.

However, the lobster tails and salmon I bought were both delicious.

The price board for K & S Seafood.

The price board for K & S Seafood.

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Finally. Blue skies.

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It’s not the prettiest of pictures, but you can at least see where the chickens come from. Smith and Smith Farms

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And, now, for the starch.

After my stop at Baguette et Chocolat, I decided it was time to go home. I was shopping on an empty stomach. And we all know what kind of trouble one can get into doing that.

I think I showed remarkable restraint under the circumstances, though.

My purchases #1: Baguette et Chocolat - chocolate croissants, 6-grain sourdough.

My purchases: Baguette et Chocolat – chocolate croissants, 6-grain sourdough.

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Engel Farms: strawberries and peaches

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2 Happy Children Farm: Corn.

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K & S Seafood: King Salmon Filets, Lobster Tails

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Smith and Smith Farms: whole chicken

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That evening’s dinner: Pan seared scallops and lobster tail with mixed green salad and tomatoes and fried corn with bacon.

 

Another month down. 7 more to go.

This has been fun so far.

 

 

 

Arlene’s Chicken Salad 0

Posted on May 19, 2015 by Sahar

My late, great, Great Aunt Arlene Becker Peoples (“Auntie”) was a force of nature. She was born in Georgetown, Texas on July 11, 1930.  She grew up in Kyle, married a man who founded his own meat packing company, raised two girls (my cousins Phyllis & Stacy), divorced, and then proceeded to live life by her own set of rules. She flirted with the men, traveled extensively (Bali was her favorite), played Bridge, gave a helping hand to anyone who asked for it, and made Backgammon a contact sport.  I really looked up to her in many ways.

She was a huge part of my life growing up.  And, when I moved to Austin, she took me under her wing and made sure I was properly fed and clothed (she was a free laundromat).  We also had epic Yahtzee battles that would go on for hours.  I still use the microwave she gave Husband Steve & I as a housewarming gift.

She passed away December 24, 1999.  Too soon.  Way too soon.  I still miss her every day. I could never thank her enough for all she did for me.

Above all, to me, she was a great home cook.  Nothing too fancy, but wonderful, honest cooking.  It wasn’t unusual for us to share a ham steak with German potato salad or buttered cabbage. And, of course, she always had Blue Bell Vanilla Bean in the freezer.

She did have three specialties that always stood out:  Angel Biscuits (basically, a cross between a biscuit and a roll), Seafood Crepes, and Chicken Salad.  She would always fix Angel Biscuits for special occasions and breakfasts when my family would visit when my sisters & I were kids.  Her crepes were amazing.  So amazing in fact that they became all anyone wanted her to bring to the bridge club luncheons.  Needless to say, she got tired of them.  My favorite was her Chicken Salad.

I’ve always called this dish Arlene’s Chicken Salad.  It’s in the great tradition of Southern chicken salads in that it contains dressing, a sweet component, and a lot of chicken.  Unlike most traditional Southern recipes, however, she never added eggs.  She felt, as my mom does, and I do, there is egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad; they are all meant to be separate entities standing on their own never to mix.  In other words, as great as eggs are, they don’t need to go in chicken salad.

Also, I’ve always loved her secret ingredient – Cool Whip®.  I never knew if she came up with it on her own or learned it from someone or somewhere.  But, it really doesn’t matter. It’s pretty awesome.

I have deviated from her original recipe in one major way – I use dark meat.  In a true Southern chicken salad, you never use dark meat.  Always poached chicken breast meat only.  It’s more refined, I guess.

She was also very precise in how she chopped her pecans.  She would cut it into 1/3rd’s lengthwise along the grooves, then tun it and cut it into 1/3rd’s again, making exactly 9 pieces. I asked her once why she did it that way.  I can’t remember exactly what she said, but I’m sure it was something about appearances.  It was all very German Efficient of her.  While I am half German, I don’t have the efficiency or the patience genes, I guess.

Auntie would cut these into precisely 9 pieces. I don't.

Auntie would cut these into precisely 9 pieces. I don’t.

 

This dish, of course, comes together pretty fast.  Just pick up a rotisserie chicken at the store, cut up a few ingredients, mix, and voila!, dinner.  And, you didn’t even need to turn on the stove.

A few notes:

1.  I’ve never had this with anything other than red grapes.  You can substitute another fruit such as apples, pears, or dried fruit if you like.  Experiment.

2.  If you don’t toast the pecans, it’s fine.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.  If you do, place the pecans on a baking sheet and place in a 350F oven for 5 – 7 minutes. Then, take the baking sheet out of the oven, spread the pecans out on a cool surface and allow them to cool before you chop them and add to the salad.

3.  Speaking of #2 – pecans.  Only pecans.

4.  If you don’t have or don’t want to use Cool Whip®, you can use all mayonnaise.  It just won’t be the same. DO NOT use Miracle Whip®. Gross.

 

Oh, and by the way.  Auntie would never use low-fat or fat-free versions of anything.  Her mantra in the kitchen was always “I don’t cook skinny”.

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

1 whole cooked chicken, skinned, boned, and meat chopped

-or-

3-4 cooked whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, chopped

2 c. seedless red grapes, cut into 1/4’s

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2 stalks celery, finely diced

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1 c. toasted pecans, chopped

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1 c. mayonnaise, more if needed

1 c. Cool Whip ®, more if needed

Salt & Pepper to taste

 

Salad greens, optional

 

1.  In a large bowl, toss together the chicken, grapes, celery, and pecans until well mixed.

Stuff in a bowl ready to mix.

Stuff in a bowl ready to mix.

2.  Stir in the mayonnaise and Cool Whip ®.  Mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add more mayonnaise and/or Cool Whip® if needed.

3.  If you are using salad greens, place them on a serving plate and spread out slightly. Then, place a serving of the chicken on top.  Serve with bread or crackers.

In memory of Auntie.

In memory of Auntie.

 

Enjoy!

Simple All-Purpose Marinara Sauce 0

Posted on May 12, 2015 by Sahar

When I was younger – much younger – I was an avid Nancy Drew Mysteries reader.  I think I had 20 or so of the books.  My goal at the time was to read through all of them (I think there were 55 at the time).  I never made that goal, but I did get one thing so much cooler – The Nancy Drew Cookbook.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

One of my first and most treasured cookbooks.

It’s one of three cookbooks I received from my mom that I absolutely treasure.  The other two are The Little House Cookbook (based on recipes from the Little House books) and Mom’s first cookbook, Wendy’s Kitchen Debut. I may give away or sell my other cookbooks, but I’ll be buried with these.

There was a recipe in Nancy Drew that I really wanted to try. In Chapter 6 –  Album of International Recipes – I came across a recipe called “Italian Salsa di Pomodoro”.  Not knowing what the Italian meant, I read the recipe anyway and figured out it was spaghetti sauce. It was so different from the sauce that Mom made (hers is a wonderful amalgamation of sauce and lots of vegetables; sometimes, she would make meatballs, too). This was just a simple unadorned sauce.

The first time I made it, I think I burned the onions.  I still finished the sauce and the family gamely ate it.  I’ve since gotten better.

This book was also responsible for the infamous “A Keene Soup”, or, as my family called it, Peanut Butter Soup.  It was not a success. In fact, it was really gross. They’ve never let me live it down. I don’t blame them.

However, the “Old Attic Stuffed Tomato” and “Flag Cake Symbol” from Chapter 5 – “Nancy Tells Her Holiday Secrets” were pretty successful. I liked the stuffing so much that I was nibbling on it while I was making the recipe. That’s when Mom had to point out to me that eating raw sausage wasn’t a good idea.

Back to the sauce: as I progressed as a cook, I set aside this little book, but I always remembered the base of this recipe – onion, tomato, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar – and decided to make my own sauce recipe that would be simple, quick, and versatile.  I think this sauce is it.  I’ve used it as a base for Red Clam Sauce, added Italian Sausage, added shrimp, made Chicken Parmesan, Lasagna, as a pizza sauce, etc. The list is extensive.

 

A few notes:

1.  If you can’t find or don’t want to use fresh basil, you can use any other fresh herb you prefer.  Just be judicious with the amount. For example, if you use too much oregano, your sauce will taste like soap.  Always begin with less than you think you need.  You can always add, but you can’t take out.

2.  You can also use dried herbs in this recipe.  Begin with 1 teaspoon and add it when you add the red pepper flakes to the onion & garlic.

3.  You can add any protein to this sauce.  Just add it when you add the fresh basil at the end.  If it’s something like sausage, be sure to cook it before adding to the sauce.  If it’s fish or shellfish, you can add it raw, but just make sure it’s cut into small enough pieces that the heat of the sauce will cook it through.

4.  This recipe makes a lot of sauce.  It freezes well and can be frozen for 3-4 months.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left:

From top left: red pepper flakes, kosher salt, ground black pepper, sugar, garlic cloves

 

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small onion, minced

4 cl. garlic, minced

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1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 6-oz. can tomato paste

1 15-oz. can tomato sauce

1 28-oz. can whole or chopped tomatoes, with their juice

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Sugar to taste

Water or vegetable broth, as needed

1 bunch fresh basil, torn into small pieces or cut into julienne

1 lb. pasta of your choice, cooked according to the package directions

 

1.  Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onion begins to soften, about 3 – 5 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic

Sautéing the onion and garlic

2.  Add the red pepper flakes (and dried herbs, if using) and saute for another 1 – 2 minutes.

Adding the pepper flakes

Adding the pepper flakes

Lower heat to medium and add the tomato paste and cook, stirring frequently, until the paste begins to take on a burnt-orange color. (If the paste begins to stick to the bottom or becomes too brown, add a little water or broth.)

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you're cooking the sugars in to tomato.

The tomato paste turns burnt orange as you cook it because you’re cooking the sugars in the tomato.  It adds a little sweetness to the sauce and helps smooth out some of the heavy flavor of the paste.

3.  Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes (with their juice), 1/2 teaspoon each salt, pepper, and sugar.  If the sauce is very thick, add some water or broth to thin it a bit. (Be careful, there will be some spatter as the sauce begins to bubble.)

Adding everything else.

Adding everything else.

Lower the heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook for 30 minutes.  Stir frequently.

Cooking the sauce.

Cooking the sauce. I know I said partially cover. So, do as I say, not as I do.

4.  Meanwhile, make the pasta.  Cook until al dente, drain, and set aside.

5.  After the first 30 minutes, take the sauce off the heat. If you like, mash down any whole tomatoes left with a potato masher and taste for seasoning.

After 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I'll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

I like to use whole tomatoes in my sauce, so I’ll take the potato masher when the sauce has cooked and break them down.

Stir in the basil and let it simply infuse into the sauce for at least 15 minutes.  If you are adding any protein, add it when you stir in the basil.  Taste for seasoning again.

The basil stirred in and infusing.  Now is also the time you would add any additional protein.  The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

The basil stirred in and infusing. Now is also the time you would add any additional protein. The residual heat from the sauce will cook most small shellfish and heat through any already cooked meat.

In general, you can serve this with any cheese you prefer (unless you’re making this into a seafood sauce; in that case, cheese is verboten), but I usually just use Parmesan.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve's request.

Without Parmesan. In this example, I added meatballs to the sauce at Husband Steve’s request.

Dressed with Parmesan.

Dressed with Parmesan.

 

Buon Appetito!

 

Addendum: A quick julienne primer

In this recipe, you can most certainly simply tear the basil leaves and add them to the sauce.  However, I like to cut them into a julienne.  Basically cutting the basil into very thin strips.

You can use this technique for many different herbs and vegetables.

First, stack some basil leaves together

First: Stack some basil leaves together

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Second: Roll the basil into a tight roll.

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Third: With a very sharp knife, cut the roll lengthwise into very this strips.

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Forth: Separate the strips by basically working the roll apart with your fingers.

Now, it’s ready to add to your recipe.

 

 

My Eating Locally Project 2015: April 0

Posted on May 05, 2015 by Sahar
Eggs at Springdale Farm

Eggs at Springdale Farm

 

April was another kinda weird month for me.  Revolving door visitors (whom I thoroughly enjoyed) and the ‘flu both played major roles in last month’s shopping.  I still managed three shopping trips, had some lovely conversations, learned some things, and began to truly enjoy the start of the spring and summer produce seasons.

 

Wednesday, April 15: Springdale Farm & Boggy Creek Farm

As most of us do, I try to do things to distract myself from Tax Day.  I mean, my taxes were filed a month prior, but it’s still the visceral reaction to the day that gives me shudders. At least internally.

My first stop that day was Springdale Farm.  I felt like I’d hit the jackpot with the fava beans for sale.  I’m guessing I bought 3 pounds. There was lots of fennel for sale, too. But, since fennel is part of my torture meal, I skipped it.

Fennel seed? Fine. A few Fennel fronds? Excellent with shellfish.

Fennel Bulb? Licorice. Yuk.

Seemingly the most prolific of spring vegetables, fennel.

Seemingly the most prolific of spring vegetables, fennel.

My purchases at Springdale this time around were: carrots, garlic chives, green garlic, escarole, and fava beans.

Carrots

Carrots, Cabbage, Spring Onions, Beets

oranges and grapefruit

oranges and grapefruit

Springdale Farm

Springdale Farm

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My purchases: Carrots, Garlic Chives, Green Garlic, Escarole, Fava Beans

My purchases: Carrots, Garlic Chives, Green Garlic, Escarole, Fava Beans

I didn’t really wander around the farm as I usually do. The gate to the chicken coops and the fields were closed, so I didn’t want to be presumptuous and just walk in. But, I did have a lovely conversation with Glenn Foore about the role of fava beans in Middle Eastern cuisine.

 

Boggy Creek Farm was my next stop.  In fact, the two farms are less than a mile apart from each other. Very convenient.

Larkspur and Poppies. Boggy Creek.

Larkspur and Poppies. Boggy Creek.

Bee in a poppy.

Bee in a poppy.

I was talking with Carol Ann about the strawberries.  She said that if she got any more rain, her plants would die out. (I think a day or two after we talked, it happened.)  Her husband, Larry Butler, has a second farm about 80 miles outside of town, she said, where the soil is sandier.  Because strawberries like sandier soil, any future strawberries would come from his farm instead of the one in town.

Makes sense.

I just got the last of the strawberries for the day.

I just got the last of the strawberries for the day.

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Yup. More fennel.

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So excited about the dandelion greens.

Arugula and Curly Mustard Greens. Peppery, bitter delights.

Arugula and Curly Mustard Greens. Peppery, bitter delights.

After I made my purchases (eggs, strawberries, dandelion greens, arugula, curly mustard greens, pork chops), as is my wont, I wandered around the farm for a few minutes.

Chickens on the loose again.

Chickens on the loose again.

I have no idea what these flowers are, but I'm starting to see them everywhere.

I have no idea what these flowers are, but I’m starting to see them everywhere.

Call me weird, but I like a little sun glare in my photos from time to time.

Call me weird, but I like a little sun glare in my photos from time to time.

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Pink roses

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Down the primrose path

My purchases: eggs, strawberries, dandelion greens, arugula, curly mustard greens

My purchases: eggs, strawberries, dandelion greens, arugula, curly mustard greens

My purchases, part 2: pork chops. These were sliced thin, so they fried up really well in the skillet. They were unctuous.

My purchases, part 2: pork chops. These were sliced thin, so they fried up quite well in the skillet. They were unctuous.

Wednesday Night's Dinner: Salad with curly mustard greens and pine nuts; pork chops.

Wednesday Night’s Dinner: Salad with curly mustard greens, escarole, dandelion greens, and arugula with pine nuts; pork chops. Simple, but delicious.

 

Friday, April 24:  Boggy Creek Farm

This was the day that I learned what breeds of chickens laid what color of eggs.

I was having a lengthy conversation with Carol Ann Sayle about the farm, getting advice on the best way to start a garden (clean the area, cover with soil & compost, let sit for a couple of months, then begin planting in the fall), talking flowers, and, finally, the chickens.

With all the rain we’ve had here in Austin (few are complaining about this), she lets the chickens run loose so that they can scratch and roost in drier areas.  By doing this, the coop can dry out and be cleaned. When the chickens are out, they’re extremely entertaining to watch do their chicken thing in their chicken way.

When I showed her the eggs I bought, she explained to me that different breeds laid different colored eggs.  Well, the shells, anyway.  It makes sense. I honestly thought the color of the shell always depended on the diet.

So, here are the breeds:

Leghorn: white eggs

Leghorn: white eggs

Ameraucana: Green

Ameraucana: green eggs

Black Australorp: Brown

Black Australorp: brown eggs

A rainbow of eggs.

A rainbow of eggs.

I've called you all here...

I’ve called you all here…

soon... tomatoes. Many, many tomatoes.

soon… Tomatoes. Many, many tomatoes.

Butter lettuce in the field

Butter lettuce in the field

During my shopping, I saw that the artichokes are starting to come out in profusion, too.  It’s not a vegetable that I use much because of the time it takes to prep them, but, I figure if I go all Italian and give them a good fry-up, they just might be worth the trouble.

Quite possibly the last of one of my favorite salad mixes for the season - Maria's Brassica.

Quite possibly the last of one of my favorite salad mixes for the season – Maria’s Brassica.

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Beautiful purple artichokes and dill.

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Frisee and a full head of radicchio. All you usually see of radicchio in the stores is the red core.

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A few winter greens still hanging in there.

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Beautiful oyster mushrooms from Cedar Creek Farms.

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Glorious cut flowers from the farm.

The path out

The path out

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Carol Ann’s tea roses. The smell exactly like roses should smell.

My purchases: radicchio, frisee, oyster mushrooms, brassica salad, eggs

My purchases: radicchio, frisee, oyster mushrooms, brassica salad, eggs

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My purchases, part 2: tenderized round steak. I see Chicken Fried Steak in the near future. Very near future.

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Friday night dinner: New York Strip, Mixed Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette, sauteed Oyster Mushrooms.

 

Saturday, April 25: SFC Farmers Market Downtown

Once again, I found myself downtown. This time, I decided that because of all of the construction, I was going to make this my last time at this market for now.  Too bad, really.  I enjoy this market.

But, it will be good for me to check out other markets, too.  Silver linings and all.

However, once I finally arrived, I was quite happy with what I saw.  The spring and early summer produce is coming into its own for the year. Plus, breakfast.

Glimpse of the Downtown Farmers Market

Glimpse of the Downtown Farmers Market

I came across a stand I’ve never noticed before: Animal Farm Organic Market Garden.

They had the most lovely cut flowers and something I’ve never tried before: kohlrabi.  I bought 2 bunches along with a large bag of arugula.

Cut flowers at Animal Farm Organic Market Garden

Cut flowers at Animal Farm Organic Market Garden

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More cut flowers. I wish I knew their names.

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Not a huge stand, but what he had was great.

IMG_5562_2

Something I’ve never used before: Kohlrabi. I bought 2 bunches. The outer rind is tough, so you have to peel them. And, the leaves are edible.

I read up on how to prepare kohlrabi and saw that most of the preparations use it raw.  So, I just grated it with some carrots, tossed them both some thinly sliced red onion and a lemon vinaigrette, let everything sit for about an hour and came up with slaw. Delicious.

 

My next stop was at one of my favorites: Johnson’s Backyard Garden.

I only bought 3 things this time: elephant garlic, mint, and romaine.  They still have quite a bit of winter produce, but I just couldn’t.  As much as I love my beets and kale, I’m done until the fall.

IMG_5564_2

Last of the purple cauliflower.

IMG_5565_2

Elephant garlic.

Generally, with elephant garlic, it’s best to roast the cloves.  It generally has a milder flavor than other types of garlic; so, while you can use it raw, you’ll have to use more to get the same flavor in the dish.  I like to take the peeled cloves and slowly poach/roast them over low heat on the stove in a combination of grapeseed and olive oils.  This way, not only are the cloves roasted, you also get garlic-flavored oil.

IMG_5567_2

Mint, cilantro, two types of parsley, and red leaf lettuce.

IMG_5568_2

Artichokes. I opted out this week.

IMG_5571_2

Spring onions.

IMG_5572_2

The beets are still hanging in there.

IMG_5595_2

Garlic. Maybe next time.

The next stand to catch my eye was B5 Farms.

For me, here were the first heirloom tomatoes of the summer. They had three varieties available: Valencia, Cherokee Purple, and German Johnson. I love heirlooms because they all have their own very distinct flavor, are in general drier (fewer seeds), and while they are a bit pricier, they have more yield than the usual grocery store tomato. They’re not perfectly round, blemish-free specimens, but, heirloom tomatoes have their own knobbly beauty.

IMG_5576_2

Valencia Tomatoes.

IMG_5580_2

German Johnson Tomatoes.

IMG_5584_2

Purple Cherokee Tomatoes.

B5 had a few peppers, too. I didn’t buy any because I didn’t have a need for them, but they looked bright and fresh. It looked like they had a variety of bell, jalapeno, and poblano peppers.

IMG_5585_2

Peppers at B5 Farms.

After buying the produce, I headed to Tamale Addiction to buy breakfast for Husband Steve & I. Their tamales are very good and hefty.  Two will set you up for quite a while.

Breakfast: Chicken Mole and Pork al Pastor tamales

Breakfast: Chicken Mole and Pork al Pastor tamales

From JBG: elephant garlic, mint, romaine

From JBG: elephant garlic, mint, romaine

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From B5 Farms: Heirloom Tomatoes

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From Animal Farm Organic: kohlrabi and arugula

 

So… On to May. I hope to be visiting some new places and seeing some new vendors.

 

Now, for a quick recipe:

“Tossed” Caprese Salad

As we all know, traditional Caprese Salad is a layered salad of sliced of tomato, fresh mozzarella, and basil leaves drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.  Occasionally, a little salt may be sprinkled over the top.

I like to use heirlooms for this salad because they are at their best here. It’s a simple salad that’s perfect for summer.

Now, my version is more of a tossed salad. So, purists beware.

 

1 1/2  – 2 lbs. tomatoes (heirloom, if you can), cut into roughly 1″ pieces

1 – 1 1/2 lbs. fresh mozzarella (I used perla size in this example), cut into roughly 1″ pieces depending on the size you buy

1 small bunch basil, torn or cut into julienne (thin strips)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, as needed

Flaked Sea Salt (i.e. Maldon), to taste

 

Basically, toss the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil together.  Add as much olive oil as you like (I just eyeball it).  Add a little of the salt, mix the salad, and taste.  A lot of mozzarellas available have salt already, so you want to be judicious when adding it.

I like to serve this with some crusty bread.

"Tossed" Caprese Salad.

“Tossed” Caprese Salad.

 

See you in May!

 

 

 

 

 

Black Beans (Frijoles Negros) 0

Posted on April 15, 2015 by Sahar

Years ago, as I was rifling through my pantry trying to figure out what to make for dinner because I didn’t feel like going to the grocery store, I came across 2 cans of black beans and a jar of pickled jalapeños (that I figured I needed do something else with besides make nachos).  Of course, these are pantry staples every Texan should have.

Hmm… I thought. What can I do with these?  After looking through my fridge and finding some cilantro, I stumbled upon it.  “Tart these beans up, Sahar”, I said to myself.

A no brainer, really.

At the time I came up with this recipe, Husband Steve was a vegetarian. And, honestly, me being a dedicated omnivore, there were times I struggled with figuring out what to feed him other than the same old dozen or so meals.  Thankfully, he liked this new concoction so much it became a semi-regular in the rotation.  I liked it because I was working a full-time job at the time and this was a quick & easy meal to make for dinner.  Cheap, too.  And, let’s not forget the most important part here – delicious.

I’m not even going to call this anything remotely like authentic Mexican cuisine.  I mean, I honestly don’t know of any interior Mexican recipe that uses pickled jalapeños.  However, I like to think I’ve at least kept to the flavor profile somewhat and honored the spirit, if not the authenticity.

 

A few notes:

1.  I really designed this recipe around black beans.  However, if you don’t like or can’t find them, pinto will do in a pinch.

2.  If you don’t have a jar of pickled jalapeños, you can use fresh. Use one, and, depending on the heat level you want, remove the seeds or not.  Also, in place of the jalapeño brine, use lime juice.

3.  I generally serve this dish with brown rice. It just seems to work.  However, white rice or even your favorite Spanish or Mexican rice recipe will be fine, too.

4.  Occasionally, I’ll dice up a tomato (after I remove the seeds) and add it to the beans when I add the second half of the cilantro.  I’ll let the tomatoes sit in the beans just long enough to warm through before serving.

5.  When I serve the beans with cheese, I’ll use Jack cheese or Queso Fresco as a general rule.  The rule being that I usually have one or both of those in my fridge pretty much all the time.  Honestly, they just seem to work.  However, if you decide to go the pinto bean route, cheddar will work, too.

6.  To make this dish vegan, use vegetable broth and omit the cheese.

7. If you’re feeling decadent and carnivorous, a small piece or two of salt pork or bacon cooking with the beans wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just watch the amount of additional salt you put into the beans.

 

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

2 cans black beans (frijoles negros), drained

2 tbsp. oil

1/2 c. onion, fine dice

4 cloves garlic, minced

From top going clockwise: garlic, Mexican oregano, pickled jalapeño, cumin, black pepper, salt, jalapeño brine

From top going clockwise: garlic, Mexican oregano, pickled jalapeño, cumin, black pepper, salt, jalapeño brine

1 tbsp. pickled jalapeño, chopped

2 tsp. jalapeño brine

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

3/4 tsp. ground cumin

3/4 tsp. dried Mexican Oregano

1 bunch cilantro, chopped and divided

IMG_3104

1/2 c. vegetable or chicken broth, or water; more as needed

Rice, cheese, lime wedges, and tortillas or cornbread

 

 

1.  Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the oil and let heat up.

2.  Sauté the garlic and onion until the onion is soft, about 2 – 3 minutes.

Sauteeing the onion and garlic. It's important to allow the saucepan to become hot before adding the oil. This helps even a non-stick saucepan or skillet to become more non-stick. Plus, this helps to cook the food more evenly and efficiently.

Sautéing the onion and garlic. It’s important to allow the saucepan to heat up before adding the oil. This helps the surface to become more non-stick than it otherwise would be (especially in a non-teflon pan or saucepan).  Plus, this helps to cook the food more evenly and efficiently.

Add the jalapeños and sauté for another minute.

Adding the jalapeños.

Adding the jalapeños.

3.  Add the salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano and sauté another minute or just until the spices begin to have a fragrance. Be sure not to let them burn.

Adding the spices.

Adding the spices.

4.  Add the beans, jalapeño brine, half of the cilantro, and the broth or water.

Adding the beans, half of the cilantro, and the jalapeno brine.

Adding the beans, half of the cilantro, and the jalapeño brine.

 

Lower the heat to medium-low, cover the saucepan, and let the beans simmer for 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally.  Be sure to taste for seasoning.  Add more broth or water if the beans become too dry.

After 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes.

5.  When the beans are soft and the broth has thickened, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the remaining cilantro and taste for seasoning.

Adding the other half of the cilantro. If you're using tomato, add it now.

Adding the other half of the cilantro. If you’re using tomato, add it now.

6.  Serve the beans with rice, cheese, a lime wedge, and cornbread or tortillas on the side.

Without cheese.

Without cheese.

With cheese.

With cheese.

¡Buen Apetito!

My Eating Locally Project 2015: March 0

Posted on April 01, 2015 by Sahar

Like the old saying goes, “March came in like a lion but left like a lamb”.  The beginning of the month was still in the grip of Old Man Winter, but the weather, especially this last weekend, was what Spring is all about: Sunny, warm, breezy, and not a little colorful.

Here in Austin, the middle of March is taken up with the annual craziness that is SXSW.  While I normally don’t participate (I remember the good old days when it was just about the local music), this year was different.  I participated in a panel on food & heritage long with Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat, Kay Marley-Dilworth of ATX Food News, and Annette Priest, founder of Revel Insight. (Here is the Storify link).

As well as doing the SXSW panel, I also recorded a podcast with Cecilia Nasti of Field & Feast on Croissants.

After my SXSW was over, however, Husband Steve’s was just beginning; he’s the music guy.  So, since he wasn’t home much during most of the festival, I didn’t do too much cooking this month.  Hence, I didn’t do my usual amount of shopping.

So, sadly, I have no new recipes to share this month.  Just some really lovely photos.

 

Sunday, March 1.  Mueller Farmers Market

It was cold. Very cold. Also cloudy and damp.

As my friend Kelly Ann and I watched the ducks swim on the pond at Mueller, I wondered how they could stand it.

Ducks on the pond on a very cold day.

Ducks on the pond on a very cold day.

We had to park a ways out from the market stands because not only was the market open, but the Thinkery (the new Austin Children’s Museum) was in full swing.

The dragon at The Thinkery. His eyes glowed.

The dragon at The Thinkery. His eyes glowed.

While I normally enjoy the walk from the further lots (it is very pretty), that day was an exception.

A tiny bit of Spring peeking through the gray.

A tiny bit of Spring peeking through the gray.

Normally, the market is outside in the open. This day, it was under the dome. It helped a little.

Normally, the market is outside in the open. This day, it was under the dome. It helped a little.

The crowd was lighter than I've seen at previous market days. Of course, the cold no doubt kept many away. Others were huddled closer into the stands near the space heaters.

The crowd was lighter than I’ve seen at previous market days. Of course, the cold no doubt kept many away. Others were huddled closer into the stands near the space heaters.

As is my usual routine, I sought out my favorite produce vendor, Johnson’s Backyard Garden.  I may not always buy the bulk, or any, of my produce from them on a given visit (I like to try others, too), I simply like to go and take a look anyway. Their displays are beautiful and their produce, most of the time, is fantastic.

Parsnips at Johnson's Backyard Garden

Parsnips at Johnson’s Backyard Garden

Turnips at JBG.

Turnips at JBG.

First sign of Spring. Artichokes. JBG.

First sign of Spring produce. Artichokes. JBG.

Cabbage and rainbow chard. JBG.

Cabbage and rainbow chard. JBG.

Had to stop by the Austin institution that is Texas French Bread for some sourdough wheat. If you’ve never had it, you’re missing out on something great.

Texas French Bread's stand. Simplicity.

Texas French Bread’s stand. Simplicity.

Even though I set myself a limit on how much I’ll spend on any given visit, if I impulsively decide to visit Countryside Farms, I know the limit will be crossed.

Their meats and charcuterie are excellent and unique.  And, one of these days, I’m really going to indulge in some of their rillettes, pates, and mousses. But for now, I’m going to stick with the old stand-bys: chicken, sausage, and bacon. And, occasionally, lard and marrow.

Countryside Farms. European-style, unique, and slightly pricy, meats and charcuterie.

Countryside Farms. European-style, unique, and slightly pricy, meats and charcuterie.

K & S Seafood was a vendor that hadn’t seen before.  They generally sell at Cedar Park and Barton Creek Farmers Markets according to their Facebook Page.

I decided to try some Black Drum, a fish neither Steve nor I had ever tried before (at least not knowingly). The fish that I bought had been caught the previous Thursday, cleaned, filleted, and kept on ice. So, even though by this point it was 3 days old, it still had a nice oceany smell to it.  However, the lady working the stand did tell me that I needed to cook it within the next 24-48 hours.

I’m not sure if it’s the way I cooked the fish (simple pan searing) or what, but we decided we didn’t care for it.  There was really no flavor and the texture was almost plastic-like.

I can see using the drum bones to make stock, though. The flavor would be mild enough to take seasonings well and not overpower.

K & S Seafood. I felt bad for the girl working the stand. She had a space heater, but having to constantly plunger her hands into ice to pull out the seafood had to have been torture on a day where the wind chill was in the 30's.

K & S Seafood. I felt bad for the lady working the stand. She had a space heater, but having to constantly plunge her hands into ice to pull out the seafood had to have been torture on a day where the wind chill was in the 30’s.

Now, I know that all sorts of studies have warned against drinking alcohol to keep warm. But, when you’re confronted with a cold, damp, and windy day, and you’re presented with a table full of mead that you’re encouraged to sample for free, I’d like to see you say “no” and walk away.

Meridian Hive Meadery‘s samplings were the highlight of the trip. I tried 4 excellent samples and finally landed on the Huajilla as my choice. Not too sweet and a little dry, I think it will be lovely in the late spring, early summer, or mid autumn.

The meadery opened in Austin in 2012 and is open for tours and tastings (check the website for details).

Mead tasting? Yes, please.

Mead tasting? Yes, please.

From the lovely folks at Meridian Hive Meadery.

From the lovely folks at Meridian Hive Meadery.

Now, on to my purchases for the day:

Huajilla Mead from Meridian Hive Meadery. Slightly sweet and dry. It's going to excellent in the summer.

Huajilla Mead from Meridian Hive Meadery. Slightly sweet and dry. It’s going to excellent in the summer.

My haul:

Sourdough Wheat from Texas French Bread; Black Drum from K & S Seafood; Turnips from JBG; Chicken and Bacon from Countryside Farms

 

Thursday, March 12:  Boggy Creek Farm

With Steve’s SXSW already starting and me getting ready for a crazy few days that included a much-anticipated visit from my oldest (long-term) friend Michelle, I took it easy at my monthly visit to Boggy Creek Farm.

Compared to my visit to Mueller, the day at Boggy Creek was almost balmy. By that I mean, the sun was actually out. At least a little. It had been raining for several days prior to my visit, so things were a little messy at the farm.  Nothing terrible – just puddles and mud.

Spring again trying to peek through.

Spring again trying to peek through.

Peeking around the corner at the farmhouse.

Peeking around the corner at the farmhouse.

 

Larry Butler's creations. As I've said before, his Smoked Dried Tomatoes are legendary.

Larry Butler’s creations. As I’ve said before, his Smoked Dried Tomatoes are legendary.

Farm eggs, and wares from other local producers.

Farm eggs, and wares from other local producers.

Lovely eggs from Boggy Creek's resident chickens.

Lovely eggs from Boggy Creek’s resident chickens.

The big wood box of sweet potatoes.

The big wood box of sweet potatoes.

First of the Spring head lettuces: Frisee.

First of the Spring head lettuces: Frisee.

Baby celery. I bought it mostly for the leaves.

Baby celery. I bought it mostly for the leaves.

After I bought my produce and sausage, I did what I always do, take a little stroll around the farm.

I think this is cabbage. I really need to ask next time.

I think this is cabbage. I really need to ask next time.

Looking over the last of the winter produce. Carol Ann told me the early spring produce was starting to come in, too.

Looking over the last of the winter produce. Carol Ann told me the early spring produce was starting to come in, too.

And, of course, there were the grande dames and lords of the farm, the chickens and roosters.

I noticed that they were all running around loose and I wondered what was going on.  Carol Ann told me that because of the rains, the coop was muddy, so they let the chickens and roosters out so the coop could be cleaned and dried.  She said that they all normally get to run loose after the farmstand is closed for the day, but and exception was made and they were let out early.

Needless to say, I stayed longer than I had originally planned.

The nesting boxes were dry, so the chickens could at least escape from prying eyes there.

The nesting boxes were dry, so the chickens could at least escape from prying eyes there.

This one was very determined to get into that pecan.

This one was very determined to get into the pecan she was pecking at.

Looks like the king and his court.

Looks like the king and his court.

Struttin'.

Struttin’.

So, my purchases for the day:

Pork Chorizo from Peaceful Pork

Pork Chorizo from Peaceful Pork

Frisee; Baby Celery; Brassica Salad; Sweet Potatoes

Frisee; Baby Celery; Brassica Salad; Sweet Potatoes

 

Sunday, March 22: Hope Farmer’s Market.

 

This was the best day yet. Spring warm, sunny, and SXSW was finally over.

 

A lovely day to be at the market.

A lovely day to be at the market.

The wisteria starting to bloom.

The wisteria starting to bloom.

The fountain at Plaza Saltillo. Hopefully, the city will get it working again.

The fountain at Plaza Saltillo. Hopefully, the city will get it working again.

A little sidewalk art.

A little sidewalk art.

Hope isn’t a large market, so I generally see a lot of the same vendors I see at other markets. Some seem to be exclusive to this one.

Of course, Johnson’s Backyard Garden was there. And, as usual, their stand was glorious. The only sour note was their romaine lettuce. While I did end up buying a bag, I really had to search for one that wasn’t already beginning to brown.

Dandelion Greens at JBG.

Dandelion Greens at JBG.

Rainbow Chard at JBG.

Rainbow Chard at JBG.

Early harvest Romain Lettuce. JBG.

Early harvest Romaine Lettuce. JBG.

Herbs. JBG.

Herbs. JBG.

Beets. I didn't buy any; I just like the way they look in photographs. JBG.

Beets. I didn’t buy any; I just like the way they look in photographs. JBG.

Oranges. So much better than grocery-store bought. JBG.

Oranges. So much better than grocery-store bought. JBG.

Yard to Market Co-Op was a vendor I’ve not seen or noticed before. I just took a quick look at their website and it looks like Hope is the only farmers market they attend.

I will say their produce looked amazing (especially the dino-sized rutabaga) and the eggs were so fresh they looked like they came out of the hens that morning.

I’ll most definitely need to seek them out first next time I head to Hope Market.

Yard to Market Co-Op. This is the first time I've seen them.

Yard to Market Co-Op. This is the first time I’ve seen them.

The largest rutabaga I'd ever seen. I bought it.

The largest rutabaga I’d ever seen. I bought it.

The greens at the Co-Op stand.

The greens at the Co-Op stand.

Collards. Co-Op.

Collards. Co-Op.

More kale. Co-Op.

More kale. Co-Op.

And, yes. I stopped by Countryside Farms again. I was hoping for another chicken. They were sold out; so, I settled for some Merguez.

Charcuterie at Countryside Farms.

Charcuterie at Countryside Farms.

As I was leaving, I decided to take the long way back to the car and admire some of the East Austin mural art. It seems to be one of the few signs left that this area was a thriving Hispanic & African American community.  Sadly, like most other medium-to-large cities, people from the older neighborhoods are being priced out in the name of progress.

Zoot Suiter immortalized.

Zoot Suiter immortalized.

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I’m not sure if the name on the gas tank is the rider or the artist. Or both.

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Mary’s face here kinda reminds me of the “restoration” of the Ecce Homo Fresco in Spain.

Once again, I headed home with my purchases.

Purchases, Part 1: Eggs and Rutabaga from Yard to Market Co-Op; Merguez from Countryside Farms

Purchases, Part 1: Eggs and Rutabaga from Yard to Market Co-Op; Merguez from Countryside Farms

Purchases, Part 2: Rainbow Chard; Dandelion Greens; Flat Leaf Parsley; Romaine Lettuce; Oranges. JBG.

Purchases, Part 2: Rainbow Chard; Dandelion Greens; Flat Leaf Parsley; Romaine Lettuce; Oranges. JBG.

 

Since I don’t have any recipes this month, I thought I’d give you a tutorial on how to wash and store your fresh greens. This can apply whether you buy your greens organic at the farmers market, farmstands, or the conventional produce from the grocery store.

All produce has the same thing: dirt. Dirt you have to wash off. Whether it comes from the ground or other people, it has to be washed off.  This is especially true with leafy greens.  Dirt tends to get into the nooks and crannys of the stems and leaves, and, if you don’t wash them properly, at best, you’ll end up with grit in your food.

And sometimes, bugs.  Yes, bugs happen.

So, here is the tutorial in pictorial form:

Begin by trimming the greens. I just generally cut off the woody parts of the stems. You can eat, compost, or toss these out. It's up to you.

Begin by trimming the greens. I just generally cut off the woody parts of the stems. You can eat, compost, or toss these out. It’s up to you.

The trimmed greens, Rainbow Chard in this instance, in a (clean) sink full of cold water. It needs to be cold. If you want to refresh older greens, you can fill the sink with cold water and ice.

The trimmed greens, Rainbow Chard in this instance, in a (clean) sink full of cold water. It needs to be cold. Gently agitate the greens to wash off the dirt. If necessary, pick up the leaves individually and rub off the dirt, pick our bad leaves or tear out bad spots on the leaves. If you want to refresh older greens, you can fill the sink with cold water and ice.

After taking the greens out of the water, shake off some of the excess and place it the basket of a salad spinner.

After taking the greens out of the water, shake off some of the excess and place it the basket of a salad spinner. As you take the greens out of the water, try not to stir up any of the dirt that sinks to the bottom.

Now, spin.

Now, spin.

After the excess water has been removed, lay the greens in a single layer (a little overlap is OK) on paper towels. (I buy the thicker "shop towels" from the hardware store).

After the excess water has been removed, lay the greens in a single layer (a little overlap is OK) on paper towels. (I buy the thicker “shop towels” from the hardware store). Now, carefully roll the leaves up in the towel and place the roll in a large zip bag, squeezing out as much of the air as possible. This will help keep the greens simultaneously dry yet still keep them from drying out.

I hope this was useful.

See you in April.

Well, at the end of the month.

 

 

 

 

Thom Yum Gai 0

Posted on March 27, 2015 by Sahar

It’s hard to believe even 15 – 20 years ago most Americans had never even heard of Thai food outside of cities that had a large Asian population.  Now, Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Massaman Curry, Green Papaya Salad, and Green Chicken Curry seem to be everywhere.

As much as I like those dishes, and many others, one stands out for me: Thom Yum Gai – Chicken Coconut Soup.  The words “thom yum” basically mean “hot and sour soup”. “Gai” is the chicken version of this soup. Other styles of thom yum include – “Pla”: a fish soup eaten with rice; “Kha Mu”: a slower cooked soup made with pork knuckles.  There are several other variations of this soup.

This is not only a refreshing soup to eat any time of year, but it’s one on my go-to’s when Husband Steve and I aren’t feeling well.  Something about the alchemy of Asian soups in general that just make us feel better.

I like to make my Thom Yum Gai heavily seasoned.  So, my soup has a pronounced, but not overbearing flavor, of ginger, lime, and chiles.  I wanted to keep the flavor in line with what I’ve eaten at some of my favorite Thai restaurants. Of course, if you want to go lighter, adjust the seasonings as you like.

Besides the taste, the next best thing about this soup is the quickness and ease in which it comes together.  From start to finish, less than an hour.

I will say that my inspiration for this recipe comes from James Peterson. His award-nominated book, Splendid Soups, is arguably the best book on soups ever published. While this is my recipe, he was definitely an influence on the direction I took.

 

A few notes:

1.  Kaffir lime leaves are an authentic ingredient in this recipe.  However, even with the plethora of Asian markets now in Austin, I still have a very difficult time finding them. So, I now use lime peel.  However, if you can find Kaffir leaves, by all means, use them.  4 – 6 leaves, cut into julienne (thin) strips will work well.

2.  If you can’t find lemongrass, you can use the peel of 1 lemon.  Alternately, if can find it, there is a lemongrass paste that is available in some supermarkets; however, once you open the tube, it must be used within a finite amount of time.  If you decide to use the paste, check the measurements on the container to see how much you need.  DO NOT use dried lemongrass; all of the oils that give it its flavor will have dissolved leaving you with basically grass clippings.

3.  You can peel the ginger or not.  I generally don’t. If you do prefer to leave the skin on, be sure to wash the ginger thoroughly.

4.  Shiitake mushrooms are really best for this dish.  However, if you don’t like or can’t find them, you can use straw mushrooms (you can usually find them canned. Be sure to drain them first).  In a pinch, criminis will do.

5.  Chicken is the most common way to make this soup.  However, you can also make it with shrimp, mixed fish and/or shellfish, pork, or tofu.  Just use the same amount as you would the chicken.  Be sure to use the corresponding broth as well.  I’ve seen some restaurants serve thom yum with beef, but I don’t know how authentic that is or if it’s just to satisfy American palates.

6.  By the way, fish sauce is essential to making this dish. There’s really no omitting it.

7.  If you are making this dish with tofu and want to make it vegan, here is a recipe for vegan fish sauce.

8.  If you can’t find Thai (also known as bird) chiles, you can substitute 3 – 4 serrano chiles. If you don’t want that much heat, be sure to remove the seeds and membranes. You can also cut back on the number of chiles.

9.  To help stretch the soup and/or help mitigate the heat, you can serve some Jasmin rice alongside the soup.  Alternately, have some cooked rice noodles in the bottom of the serving bowl and pour the soup on top.  Just have the noodles or rice on the side, not in the actual soup pot.

10.  Even though leaving all of the seasonings in the soup is more authentic, if you want to, after the soup has cooked, you can strain the broth, pick the chicken and mushrooms out of the seasonings. and place them back into the broth before serving. This is especially helpful if all you really want to do is drink the broth from a mug.

(I know you’re asking the question – “Why not strain the broth before you add the mushrooms and chicken?” Because, the longer the seasonings cook in the broth, the more flavor you will have. Besides, it’s not really that much extra work.)

11.  If you do decide to go full authentic, serve the soup with a pair of chopsticks and a small bowl on the side so your guests can place their pieces of lemongrass, ginger, etc., aside as they eat.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

 

3 c. chicken broth

peel of 1 lime, cut into 1″ pieces

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2 ea. 4-inch stalks lemongrass, either sliced or minced (depending on your preference and patience)

IMG_3099

1/2 c. ginger, cleaned and cut into 1/8″ slices (estimating is fine)

IMG_3098

4 Thai chiles, thinly sliced

IMG_3096

1/3 c. Thai fish sauce

1/2 c. lime juice

4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and sliced 1/4″ thick

IMG_3102

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and sliced thin (approx. 1 lb. to 1-1/4 lbs.)

IMG_3105

1 can (15-1/2 oz.) coconut milk

1/4 c. cilantro, chopped

IMG_3104

 

 

 

1.  In a large saucepan, add the chicken broth, lime peel, lemongrass, ginger, chiles, fish sauce, and lime juice.  Bring to a boil over high heat.

The broth, lime juice, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, and chiles in the saucepan.

The broth, lime juice, lime peel, ginger, lemongrass, fish sauce, and chiles in the saucepan.

2.  Add the shiitakes, lower the heat to medium, and cook for 5 minutes.

Adding the shiitakes. I like to use this mushroom because it adds a wonderful flavor and stands up to the cooking.

Adding the shiitakes. I like to use this mushroom because it adds a wonderful flavor and stands up to the cooking.

 

3.  Add the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro.  Continue cooking until the chicken is just done; about 3 – 5 minutes.

Adding the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro. Cook just until the chicken is done.

Adding the chicken, coconut milk, and cilantro. Cook just until the chicken is done. You want to be sure not to overcook it.

4.  When the chicken is done, remove the saucepan from the heat and taste for seasoning.

I like to serve this with either fried won ton skins or crispy noodles (Remember those? The ones in the bag?)

I like to serve this with either fried won ton skins or crispy noodles (Remember those? La Choy?)

 

Enjoy!

Pasta alla Puttanesca 0

Posted on March 25, 2015 by Sahar

 

I have to admit, sometimes, in this wanna-be low-carb world, I just want to enjoy a big bowl of pasta. It’s quick, easy, satisfying, and filling. But, of course, as always and most importantly, delicious.

So, I’m going to introduce you to one of my & Husband Steve’s favorite pasta dishes. Pasta alla Puttanesca.

 

Pasta alla Puttanesca literally translates into “Whores’ Pasta”.  Its origin myths are a bit murky, but by most accounts, it’s a dish that dates back only about 50 – 60 years and was most likely created in southern Italy.

Some say the dish was invented by an Italian restaurateur who had an influx of customers near closing time one evening and threw together what he had left over – some olives, tomatoes, and peppers. Another origin story is that is was named “puttanesca” because it was easy and everything went into it. A third story is “decent” Italian housewives made this sauce with whatever they had laying around and threw it at ladies of the night while screaming “puttana!”.

I’m not so sure about the third one. But, who knows?

 

This is an easy dish.  From prep to eating, it takes no more than 45 minutes.

A few notes:

1.  Since there are no true hard and fast rules for this dish – except that it must have the tomatoes, olives, and peppers – you can add or remove ingredients as you like.  That being said, I like to think I’ve at least stayed with the spirit of the original recipe.

2.  Some recipes have anchovies, some don’t. If you want to make this dish vegetarian/vegan, certainly omit the anchovies.

3.  It’s also very important to at least roughly chop the olives.  Even if you do buy olives that say “pitted”, pits will happen.  The chopping will help you find any before your guests or family do.

4.  Be sure to taste the finished sauce before adding any additional salt. The olives are in brine, the anchovies are salted, and the capers are either in brine or salt.  While you can rinse the excess saltiness off the olives and capers, some salt will still be there.

5.  Occasionally, I like to use some of the oil from the anchovy jar with the olive oil. I really like anchovies.

 

 

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

From top left: red pepper flakes, salt-cured capers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies

From top left: red pepper flakes, salt-cured capers, olive oil, garlic, anchovies

It's important to at least roughly chop the olives, even if they're pitted. Sometimes, pits will still happen. It's better you find them during prep than your family or guests to find them during dinner.

It’s important to at least roughly chop the olives, even if they’re pitted. Sometimes, pits will still happen. It’s better you find them during prep than your family or guests to find them during dinner.

 

 

1 lb. spaghetti

2 tbsp. olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

8 – 10 anchovy filets, minced

1 tsp. red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes (with their juice)

1 1/2 c. pitted black or mixed black and green olives, roughly chopped

2 tbsp. capers, rinsed

Salt to taste

 

Parmesan, fresh grated

 

 

1.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and set aside.

2.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic, pepper flakes, and anchovies.  Saute for 1 – 2 minutes.

Sauteing the garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. The anchovies will melt right down. Lovely.

Sauteing the garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies. The anchovies will melt right down. Lovely.

3.  Add the tomatoes, capers, and olives.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  You want some of the liquid from the tomatoes to evaporate and the sauce to thicken slightly.

Adding the tomatoes, capers, and olives.

Adding the tomatoes, capers, and olives.

 

4.  Take the skillet off the heat and toss the spaghetti in the sauce.  Taste for salt (you’ll very likely not need it).

Tossing the pasta with the sauce. Take your time with this step. You want to be sure to coat the pasta and mix in everything as thoroughly as possible.

Tossing the pasta with the sauce. Take your time with this step. You want to be sure to coat the pasta and mix in everything as thoroughly as possible.

 

Serve with a generous helping of Parmesan.

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Buon Appetito!

 



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