Wednesday, September 23, 2009

- Some Gruene/Green Things

We went to the Gruene (pronounced “green”) Market Days for the first time last Sunday, drawn by the promise one hundred vendors selling their creative wares. Then wandered through the downtown area, the shops welcome oases in the hot Texas sun.

As we got closer to the water tower, Don spotted Gruene Hall.  It was packed with people and obviously not air conditioned, which made it somewhat less than attractive with the late-afternoon temperature stuck in the 90s. Fortunately, Don prevailed and we entered to find a bluegrass band playing to beat all, led by a young fiddler named Ruby Jane.

After settling onto a bench in the back, we took in the screened open-air hall, which was lined with tables liberally carved with names and dates like old-time school desks. The band played under a bank of neon beer signs, seemingly unaffected by the heat, which was only partly relieved by the overhead fans hanging from unadorned rafters. Folks were mostly drinking beer, but as we tapped our toes some braved the dance floor, unable to resist the music’s call.

Over to one side, kids barely taller than the sides of the pool tables played an impromptu game, trying to roll cue balls into corner pockets past the outstretched hands of their watchful opponents. Parents looked on from nearby benches, happy to have found a momentary diversion. In the shade of the hall, the heat finally lifted … or maybe it was the music that carried it away.

All too soon The Ruby Jane Show wrapped up with a final number, the applause faded, and the crowd trailed slowly out into the street. Later we learned that Gruene Hall is the oldest dance hall in Texas. And that Ruby Jane is only fifteen years old. Fitting factual bookends to nestle around a great Texas memory.

* * * *

As I write this three days later, the heat has broken and the temperature is an unseasonably low 60-something degrees. The promise of fall has arrived, if only briefly, and I’m thinking onion soup would be just about right for lunch. But not the standard-issue, chewy-cheese, watery-thin-beef-bullion-based onion soup of restaurant visits past. Rather, a velvety rich concoction, with gruyere softly strung on tender shreds of sweet onion in a golden rich broth. I told you the chicken stock would come in handy some day.

Onion Soup (for two)

3 cups rotisserie chicken stock (give or take)
1 or 2 Vidalia onions, coarse grated (or whatever sweet yellow onion you might have)
2 Tbs butter (1 Tbs for sauteeing, 1 Tbs for roux)
1 Tbs flour
¼ cup Marsala (You have no Marsala? Well then, a light red wine if you must ... or Vin Santo)
½ to 1 cup coarse grated gruyere cheese (I tend to go heavy on the cheese)
Toasted bread or croutons

Sauté the onions in butter until tender in a medium-sized saucepan.
In a separate saucepan, melt the butter and make a light roux with the flour.
Whisk 1 cup of chicken stock into the roux and cook until thickened.
Pour the remaining chicken stock into the onions; add the roux and a healthy splash of Marsala.
Season with salt to taste and bring to a rolling boil.
Put toasted bread or croutons in the bottom of two soup bowls and top with grated Gruyere.
Pour boiling soup over bread and cheese ... stir gently to melt the cheese and serve immediately.
Best with cold ale and a nap afterward.