Thursday, October 15, 2009

- LOL: Meg channels Steven Wright

We may have had miserable weather this past weekend, but we made some great memories. Chief among them was Meg’s tale of her foray into the world of car maintenance.

First, for those who are not familiar with my older daughter, it is important to set the scene. Meghan is a human resources generalist at an Austin hospital, which is a very serious job. She drives a Volvo S40, purchased six years ago after she and our faithful Volvo 850 parted ways following a nasty accident. Since the 850 had pretty much saved her life, Meg became a serious Volvo fan.

But Volvos do have a reputation for electrical problems. In the past, Meg has regaled us with tales of her turning signal, which has an on-again-off-again habit refusing to work on demand. Her solution, arrived at by watching a mechanic test her car’s blinking capacity, involved turning on the emergency flashers whenever the turn signal didn’t work, then turning them off which, for whatever reason, usually resulted in a functioning turn signal … for a while.

Volvos also eat brake lights for breakfast, so our family is accustomed to keeping a good supply of spare bulbs on hand (we got our S70 at the same time Meg got her S40). As we sat around the table talking this past weekend Meg confessed that she had wearied of asking Paul to help her with replacing the bulbs, which has to be done in a timely manner as Meg’s brake lights have an uncanny ability to attract the attention of law enforcement personnel.

Meg decided she would respond to her latest dashboard warning herself. Step one involved single-handedly determining which bulb was burned out. Placing a can of paint on the brake pedal seemed like a good idea, until Meg realized the can was leaking onto the floorboard. Her second attempt involved placing one end of the hedge trimming shears against the brake pedal while moving the front seat forward until the shears depressed the pedal. Having thus activated the brake light, Meg determined which bulb was burned out and then liberated the hedge shears.

Continuing the story with dead-pan delivery, Meg proceeded to demonstrate what it took to remove the burned out bulb from its recalcitrant housing, replace it with a new bulb, and then test the new bulb with the aforementioned hedge shears. Fans of comedian Steven Wright will understand what I mean when I say that Meg kept a perfectly straight face while the rest of us laughed until we were gasping for air. For those who haven’t experienced Steven Wright’s style of delivery, get thee to youtube for a sample.

And so, with thanks for the memory, I dedicate the following recipe from Sunday brunch to Meghan, storyteller par excellence and darned good light bulb changer.

Bacon Potato Omelet (with a tip of the hat to the Frugal Gourmet)

2 slices of bacon (preferably dry cured)
2 small new potatoes, nuked and cut into small cubes
1 scallion, sliced into thin rounds (I found purple scallions at the Wimberley Farmers’ Market)
1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed
1/3 cup coarse grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (yes, it’s worth $12 per pound)
1/3 cup diced tomato (the ripest you can find)
3-4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbs. butter

Fry the bacon until crisp, then chop coarsely. Nuke the potatoes until tender and cut into small cubes. Fry the potatoes in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Stir in the bacon, garlic and scallion, then turn off the heat.

Heat butter in a separate omelet pan, cook omelet until eggs just begin to set. Top with potato mixture, cheese and tomato. Fold omelet over the toppings and serve immediately, with toast and extra bacon if desired (and when is it not?)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

- Better late than never: Banana cake

When we went to Meg and Paul’s this past weekend we were shocked (shocked!) to find no butter in the fridge. Meliss had no problem since she was making asparagus roasted in olive oil, but since my plans included candied carrots, only butter would do. Fortunately, Jake and Don made a detour to Central Market and rescued the meal, but …

Confronted with our dismay over the state of her refrigerator, Meg fessed up. Having an overabundance of overripe bananas the week before, she had made not one, but two batches of banana bread, thereby using up all the butter in the house. Sadly, neither recipe had yielded a decent result.

“Why didn’t you use my recipe?” I asked.

“Because you never gave it to me,” Meg replied.

Until now …

Banana Cake

2 bananas
1 cup sugar (1/3 to mash bananas, 2/3 for the batter)
½ cup Land O’ Lakes butter with canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract (the good stuff, no artificial flavoring please)
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts (or both)
½ cup cinnamon sugar (to taste … I like a fair bit of cinnamon)

Mash the bananas in 1/3 cup sugar. Cream the remaining sugar with the butter and vanilla. Beat in eggs one at a time. Fold in 1 cup of flour along with the baking soda, nutmeg and cinnamon, followed by the mashed bananas. Fold in the remaining flour, followed by the sour cream.

Mix the chopped nuts and cinnamon sugar together. Sprinkle ¼ of the nut mixture into a greased tube pan, then spread ¼ of the batter on top. Sprinkle another ¼ of the nut mixture evenly into the pan and then spread on ½ of the remaining batter. Sprinkle the third ¼ of the nut mixture and spread on the rest of the batter.  Sprinkle the remaining ¼ of the nut mixture on top.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or just until the cake sets. Be careful not to over bake, as the cake will continue to set after it is removed from the oven.

Note: If you only have one banana or not much appetite, cut the recipe in half to make two mini-loaves (as pictured above). Bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

- Chicken Soup

Meliss and Jake flew in from St. Louis this past weekend; their first time seeing our new digs in Wimberley. Undeterred by the rainy grey weather, we took everyone on a sightseeing drive through the Texas Hill Country. Perhaps we should have realized that the backseat request for more air conditioning was a cry for help, but no … we drove on, and on, and on through Mountain Crest, Big Sky Ranch, Skyline Ridge, and Flite Acres.

It was only when we returned home that the truth came out: we had turned everyone a not-so-lovely shade of green. Don’s “Who wants a margarita?” was met with groans and Meliss quipped that some chicken soup would be more appropriate.

Not a problem! I pulled a container of Rotisserie Chicken Stock out of the freezer, whisked up a roux, and asked if anyone was interested in having a cup of chicken soup. Everyone was interested indeed. And all recovered sufficiently to head out to Trattoria Lisina a few hours later, where we feasted on fedelini al pachino (no relation to the actor), cannelloni, spaghetti carbonara, seafood linguine, and spicy sausage pizza. The evening ended better than fine as we shared chocolate mousse cake with Nutella and hazelnuts.   

So all's well that ends well.  I'll just be sure to have plenty of stock on hand for their next visit, when we plan to drive up Devil's Backbone and then head down to Gruene on Purgatory Road.

Chicken Soup

3-4 cups Rotisserie Chicken Stock (see recipe index to the right)
2-3 Tbs. butter
2-3 Tbs. flour

Melt butter over medium heat, whisk in flour and cook gently for a few minutes. Whisk in warm stock. Heat until thickened to a creamy consistency. Season to taste.

Monday, October 5, 2009

- The Dancing Bear: A Love Song in Two Parts

When I was growing up, family drives were pretty much limited to the 80 mile stretch from East Williston to Shelter Island, with the exception of one vacation to Mystic and Sturbridge which covered 350 miles. So it was significant that my folks drove 400 miles to deposit me at the College of William and Mary in 1974, and then returned six weeks later with my brother Art in tow for Parents’ Day.

October 5, 1974 was a classic Williamsburg fall day. The sun was strong, as it had been the year before when I first visited the campus with my dad, but even so the first leaves were starting to drift onto the brick walks around the Sunken Gardens. We went to watch the Indians beat the Citadel in football (no, I don’t actually remember that … I just looked it up in the Flat Hat). Then we headed out to dinner at the King’s Arms, notable only for my first, and last, bowl of peanut soup.

Heading back to my room in DuPont, I passed by the hall telephone (yes, back in the day there was only one phone for a hall of 30 women). Robin was on the phone and called out as I walked by, “What are you doing tonight? Theta Delt is having a band and Andy’s friend needs a date.”

Being a young woman who truly valued the essential goodness in people, I asked, “What does he look like?”  And finally agreed to go only after determining that “Don” was “tall and not bad looking.” An hour later, Andy, Don, and a bottle of Gallo Hearty Burgundy showed up and we were off to Theta Delta Chi to dance the night away. Don, wearing a stylish wide-wale couduroy jacket, had a signature dance move he called the “Dancing Bear. That was all it took; we continued to see each other for weeks, then months, then years ... thirty-five years as of today.

* * * *

When Don suggested we go back to Gruene to listen to music this past weekend, I said yes, since I had an ulterior motive: I wanted to get a picture of the Dancing Bear sign I had spotted a couple of weeks before. We went to the Gristmill for lunch, entering just as Brown Eyed Girl began to play. I asked if Don could remember when Brown Eyed Girl was first recorded, and he replied that it must have been in the early 70s since it was a standard at fraternity parties.  Of course.

Turning to the menus, I settled on tortilla soup (much better than peanut soup at the Kings Arms) and Don opted for grilled trout, washed down with Shiner Bock and Dos Equis respectively. The rains came as we ate, and continued as we walked over to Gruene Hall to hear the McKay Brothers. The rain picked up, drumming a tattoo on the roof of Gruene Hall as it ran down the corrugated tin and and splashed to the ground in beaded-curtain streams. The McKays played on while I danced in my seat to the Beatitudes of Heat, Disappearing Texas and The Pawnee Waltz.

Every so often the weather would let up and we’d debate whether or not to leave. Then the thunder would rumble and we’d reconsider. When the show ended, we were finally forced to brave the rain and found ourselves shin-deep in running water as we crossed the street to the car. After twenty months of drought, it wouldn’t do for the Texas Hill Country to ease into the rainy season I guess.

As we pulled onto Hunter Road I reminded Don that I needed a picture of the Dancing Bears. “Not really,” he said. Yes, really. I rolled down the window as he angled for a shot, then we continued on to I-35, figuring that the low-water crossings on Purgatory Road would surely be flooded, blocking the shorter way home. As we turned onto the interstate, the sun broke through behind us, painting a rainbow onto the clouds and then, with the water flying off the cars ahead of us, the end of the rainbow bent down right in front of us, until we were the end of the rainbow.

Magic happens … (head over the 3/17/2018 post to see how it still does)

Tortilla Soup (revised 1/2015)

2-4 cups rotisserie chicken stock
1 sweet yellow onion, diced
2-3 ears of fresh corn sliced off the cob (or a cup of frozen white corn)
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup or more of fresh tomatoes, diced
2 cups leftover chicken meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt, black pepper, and Chipotle chile powder to taste

Corn tortilla chips (I’m partial to On the Border)
Grated cheese (Monterey Jack and a bit of Cotilla)
Fresh cilantro leaves
Avocado slices
Lime wedges

Heat the chicken stock over medium heat, add the diced onion and corn, simmer for 10 minutes or so while you chop the peppers and dice the chicken. Add the peppers, chicken and roux (optional, add if you want the soup to be more stew-like), then cook gently while you chop and then add the tomatoes. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve once everything is well heated through, being careful not to overcook.

Prep bowls with cheese and crushed corn chips, ladle on the soup, then top with cilantro leaves and avocado slices. Serve with wedges of lime and extra toppings, which can be added to taste.  Ice cold beer is also highly recommended ... Negra Modelo or Shiner Bock come to mind.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

- On Pictures

For those of you who are less familiar with blogs, please note that you can enlarge pictures to see more detail by clicking on them (one click will do, but two won't hurt).

Also, belated credit to Don, who has been taking a lot of the photos for I'm Going to Texas.  You can see more of his work at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

- The Mother of Invention: Making paper

I know, I know … it’s been ten days, but I’ve been busy working on a recipe. And just to put the delay into perspective, when Cory and Paul recently wagered a $100 bottle of wine, they gave Meghan, Danielle and Kristen six weeks to come up with four bagel recipes. That’s a week-and-a-half per recipe by my reckoning. So ten days for one recipe sounds about right.

Although the truth is the recipe that I’ve been working on has actually been in the making a lot longer than that. Back when I graduated from Catholic University with my Masters in Library Science I put a papermaking book on my Christmas wish list. I’m sure I thought I’d have lots of free time having completed four years of graduate study. Always faithful wish-granters, my folks inscribed “Christmas 1992 … Looks like fun!” into a copy of Making your own Paper. But 1992 was also the year I got promoted, and found I had to do the work of two people when my former position went unfilled. Work took more and more creative effort as planning to build a new library at Colonial Williamsburg was added to my job description. The book was relegated to a shelf, left to gather dust with my needlework books.

Time remained elusive, even after I left Colonial Williamsburg. Becoming a school librarian in 1997 promised to open up some free time in the summer, but between moving to Windsor Forest, chauffeuring teenage daughters, and hosting Friday night suppers, creative time got short shrift. Likewise, the summer of 2003 looked like it had potential, with both girls finally graduated from high school and relatively independent, but the Eastern Virginia Writing Project got the nod and the time. And the independence proved illusory, as Meghan ended up spending the summer recovering from two broken wrists.

Fast forward to 2009 and early retirement from teaching in Virginia … 17 years after first getting the notion, I finally found the time to try out papermaking. Not content to follow one recipe (why start now?), I checked out every book I could find in the Wimberley Village Library and the San Marcos Public Library, then gave myself the challenge of making paper using only those materials I had on hand … no purchases allowed.

Rummaging through boxes in the garage, I eventually found the food processor that my cousin Glad had given me at Robin Acre last year. A repurposed hamper stuffed with needlework supplies for the move to Texas yielded screens from a children’s papermaking set (probably of 1992 vintage), thick cotton yarns, and old threadbare table linens. The office produced an array of paper, including linen envelopes purchased for mailing resumes some time back. Containers and placemats from the pantry filled out the list, and I was ready to go.

My first attempt at making paper resulted in a fuzzy white cloud of linen, more notable for its holes than any resemblance to paper. I did a little better with combining blue cotton yarn and torn up envelopes, but the resulting paper was paler and thinner than I had hoped. I went back to the drawing board.

The second attempt was a distinct improvement. Using a combination of torn fabric, cotton yarn and water-soaked cover-stock, I managed to produce sheets of paper embossed with a quilted pattern from the placemats I used as “felts.” And a planned progression of colors, from white to yellow, then beige, red, blue, and finally green, was more successful than I had dared hope. But this time the paper was too thick. So, like Goldilocks, I gave it one more try.

Dedicating a full day to making red paper, I hunted through the house for supplies. An old red flannel shirt was reduced to shredded rags, red cotton yarn was cut into quarter inch lengths, and red cover stock was sliced and diced on the paper cutter. After soaking in distilled water, they were pureed in the food processor, one pinch at a time, then swirled into a tub of water.

Time and time again, I slid the five-by-five screens beneath the surface of the fiber-clotted water, then lifted them straight up, trapping a mass of red fibers. Having no deckle, I improvised by pouring fiber-rich water over the thin spots ...

... then turned each new sheet of paper onto placemats, carefully peeling back the screens and leaving the paper in the sun to dry. Six hours later, I had two dozen sheets of paper, and this time they were just right.

I’ve got a plan now: a white paper day, followed by blue, purple, yellow, and green days. And then what? A great reveal … on Christmas Day.