Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This short video soothes me and puts everything into perspective.  As James Taylor sang, "The secret to life is enjoying the passage of time..."

One year in two minutes from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Isn't This Fun?

Isn't this cool?  Our son-in-law Keith made it for Ren Faire this year!  He said his pic was up on the internet before he even made it in the gate.  He and Molly are incredibly creative!  Here is a necklace Molly made me:

  In the bottom capsule are pink peppercorns, on the right are whole buckwheat (kasha) and black sesame seeds and on the left are flaxseed and saffron. She makes these with all sorts of herbs and spices.  She makes earrings, too!
I don't think Molly and Keith are ever bored!!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Whole Hog Class in Austin

I took a hog butchering class Nov. 14th in Austin with Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due fame (  Jesse puts out amazing spreads with the Dai Due Supper Club on a regular basis and has a whole line of tantalizing food products.  You can find him most every Saturday at one of Austins' many Farmers Markets.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I walked in the door of the Spirited Food Company, but was greeted with a small, very clean kitchen and lots of activity.  Having worked in commercial kitchens most of my adult life, it felt warm and comfortable.  Some of the students had already arrived and I sat in a small break room with them to fill out my paperwork (a disclaimer so if I cut off a finger Jesse wouldn't be responsible) and visit a bit.  Soon we were ushered into the far side of the kitchen and lined up against a wall in front of a stainless table.  Over the next 5 1/2 hours we would experience the alchemy that is butchering.  Just to start I want to say that the hog that was brought to the table was already killed, gutted and skinned.  In fact, it was only HALF a hog.  And it was HUGE!  It took two folks to carry this half hog out of the cooler to the table.

This is Jesse removing the first piece of leaf lard from the hog. This fat from around the kidneys was snowy white and soft like butter. This is the lard that is prized for making the very best pastry crusts.  The lard (all the fat including the leaf lard and backfat) from one hog could probably supply a family with fat (for what one would generally use in cooking oil) for an entire year.  You can read about lard here:

Here Jesse is cutting the pork loin away from the ribs. The loin was huge-much bigger than any I've seen. I generally buy a whole loin, cut it into some chops, some medallions and a few roasts and have pork for Scott and I for 6 months.  This loin would have lasted us much more than a year.  Much of the fat was trimmed away and thrown in a pot on the stove for rendering.  Look at how clean and beautiful the lard is!

Getting ready to butterfly the loin and stuff it with fresh herbs before roasting:

I wish I had taken better this picture you can see what is known as "Baby Back Ribs", "Spare Ribs" and "St. Louis Style Ribs"; but I can't remember which is which. 

The trotter:

It looks so pristine.  It makes me recall my love of the chicken feet when we butchered our chickens-read about it here:

Sausage!  Yes, this was made on the spot.  The pork was chilled, ground up-a mix of 30% fat to 70% lean-seasoned very well and then it was stuffed into the casing.  It was so much magic.  We made boudin blanc, kielbasa and chorizo.   Being a resident of Texas for over 30 years, I have had my share of chorizo.  Some of it has been pretty darn good, but an almost equal amount has been overly greasy and not very tasty.  I ate the best chorizo of my life at the Whole Hog class.  I really want to make some chorizo with the recipe Jesse gave out.  It was as close to perfect as I could imagine.  We also made blood sausage.  It was a fascinating process, but not something I would make at home, unlike all the other sausages.  It's a texture thing and not at all related to the fact that it is essentially blood, seasoned and poured into a casing (it greatly resembled a red water balloon) and simmered until it turns black and firm.  I did try a bite, but it did nothing for me-really it was the texture that threw me.  Here's the process of making blood sausage:

A bowl of blood...really. 
Jesse added bread crumbs, spices, diced lard, chopped onion and cream to the blood.

And then it was ladled into the casing:

The finished product...

We also made head cheese, which I have always thought was pretty gross, but this was really good.  And yes, Jesse brought the entire hog head to the table and it was completely picked over for the cheese (which isn't cheese at all, but almost a pate of sorts).  There was lots of meat on the head and he even diced up the ears. 
I've covered maybe 15% of the class was so much information it made my head spin!  But it really inspired me-I can't wait to make some sausage!
Jesse offers these classes once or twice a year I believe. 
I have a whole new appreciation of pork and even more, of butchering.  My uncle was a butcher most all his life and he told me stories that were chilling and probably resulted in me being a vegetarian for almost 15 years!  After the Whole Hog class, I feel good about the meat we eat and more determined than ever to find clean, humanely raised pork.  Jesse made it easy with an entire page of sources in Texas, including the one where "our" hog came from-Richardson Farm just outside Austin.  They sell at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market and can be reached at 512.446.2306.  They also sell grass and grain fed beef and chicken.
The bottom line for me is that I know the source of all the meat we now eat at home.  It has been a process of almost a year to get to this point, but it has been worth it.  And I feel like it is getting easier and easier to find good, clean sources.
From beef to pork, chicken to lamb, even rabbit-ALL is available locally and at reasonable prices.  And it is infinitely better tasting than what I have purchased for years from the market. 
Meat eating has become a joy again.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A New Roof & Many Changes

Well, roof repairs are complete and I have to say that we are so glad there were no surprises. Scott, "Jack the Carpenter" and I all held our breath as the tin and sheathing came off to expose the rafters.  We didn't know what to expect, but in reality, expected the worst.  When you expect the worst, not too bad seems like a gift.  Only 3 rafters were beyond repair.  In spite of this, we replaced every single one because we went from 2x6's to 2x8's.  But now we have about 9 - 2x6 rafters all ready for a new project and one is bound to show up sooner or later. The kitchen from the inside looking up at the sky with Jack balancing on the rafters:

I pretty much removed everything from the open shelves in the kitchen, but it was still a huge mess.  I covered the big Hobart mixer with a sheet; but in spite of the guys sweeping and shop vacuuming the ceiling from above, when they removed the ceiling inside it rained leaves and dirt everywhere.

It is great to have the roof fixed!  We had 3 1/2 inches of rain the other night and we didn't put out one bucket and woke up to a completely dry floor in the kitchen.  We still have to insulate and put up the new beadboard ceiling (it is painted a lovely, pale yellow) and we have decided to paint the whole kitchen an off white.  But all that will have to wait until December as the remainder of November will be spent cooking for our annual Thanksgiving gig out in Camp Verde.  Fifty-five folks on Thanksgiving Day and varying numbers on the days before and after.  The first group arrives Wednesday and the last leave on Sunday.  It is like a family reunion for me though none are MY family.  But over the years they have become as precious to me as my own.  I feel blessed to know these fine people and I enjoy feeding them all! 

On a different note, I finally started my new website,
After having 2 blogs over the past 2 years (this one and ), I thought I knew how to make a website work.  I figured (erroneously as it turns out) that the template would be much the same as it is here.  Boy, was I wrong!  Over the course of 4 evenings, I started the entire site over 8 or 10 times.  Tech support got many e-mails from me, but for the most part it is now up and working.  The home page has a link to my blog here, but you have to chase the blog link around the's pretty funny and I don't know how to fix it, so I am leaving it as is...just a quirky little addition to, what seems to me at this point, an overly serious website.  I need to work on that...
So if you want to learn how to make yogurt at home, that is the first tutorial, complete with step by step photos and a few great recipes for the yogurt you make.
After Thanksgiving the second tutorial will go up- Making Pesto and then I'll post one on how to make a great pasta dish I learned in Italy.  It has become my go-to recipe for special dinners.  Here is the finished dish:

I took a hog butchering class in Austin with Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due fame.  It was fascinating and I am all excited about making some sausage in December.  I will write a post here about it, complete with pictures, as soon as Thanksgiving week is over.  Have a great Thanksgiving and remember to count your blessings.
We all have so much to be grateful for!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Life Gets In The Way

It's been almost 2 months since I've written here.  So much has been going on and I've been wanting to write about it, but life kept getting in the way. One thing seemed to pile onto the next thing and then more piled on top of that and I am just now finding the wherewithal to dig myself out the teeniest bit and get some of it down here.  I find that I use this blog as a kind of e-mail site where, when my life (the backed up e-mails) gets too full, I can download it here and feel better about my lightened load. 
The ranch was the big focus the end of September and the beginning of October.  Mostly because the house almost fell down.  Okay, okay, that's a bit dramatic, but it could've happened.  We have known for about a year that we had a problem with the floor joists in the living room.  There are a pair of French doors that open to a semi circular set of rock stairs that go out into the yard.  Well, there WAS a set of rock stairs...we spent 2 days with rock hammers and sledge hammers and destroyed them.  I had always liked these stairs.  I liked the semi circle, I liked the wide bottom stair, I liked that I could sit here in the summer shaded by the big oak and gaze out to the hills in the south.  And now they are no more. 

The stairs were built right against the house and the bottom sill was never flashed, so whenever it rained, all the water rolled off the steps (which over the years had sunk slightly TOWARDS the house) and onto the bottom sill and then traveled along the joists.  The bottom sill, a double 2x6 sandwiched with a piece of plywood between, was so rotted that only about an inch remained and the joists, also terribly rotted, were not even sitting on the sill anymore.  When we took up the floor by the French doors and peered down, our blood ran cold.  I was afraid to move for fear that any pressure on the sill would snap the last remaining bit.  This sill holds up 2 stories of the house. Lily was warned NOT to do calesthenics in her room or jump on the bed.  Not that she ever did, but now was not the time to start.  Scott called on our friend and neighbor Jack to come help with the repair.  We knew it would involve jacking up the house and replacing the sill and scabbing the joist, but we were unsure what else we would find when we removed all the siding on that part of the house.  Jack told me later that when he saw the damage he was real concerned and awoke in the middle of the night fearing it was a bigger job than he and Scott could fix.  I was awake that same night worrying that Sophie, our big dog, would chase a possum or raccoon under the house and break the sill causing the house to tumble down.  Not very probable, but things always seem bigger and scarier in the middle of the night.  Amazingly enough, in 4 days the repair was complete, the floor put back in and the floor no longer shook when we walked on that part of the floor.  I often feel that this house is more of a piece of work than we are up to taking on.  It was put together in pieces- first one room, then years later a few more, then yet another section a decade later.  It is a 2 story house built on 3 levels.  Even the second floor is odd-at the landing of the stairs you step down into one bedroom and up into the other.  It feels like lately things have gotten more and more out of control with the house.  The kitchen roof has always leaked a little, but lately it has become a sieve.  We cannot put enough buckets out to catch all the drips and some drips have become deluges...rain pouring down the wall or a steady stream from the ceiling.  So next on the agenda is putting a new roof on the kitchen.  Jack will be here Monday to start ripping off the old.  Who knows what we will find?

At the end of October, Scott and I always help with the Harvest Classic, a motorcycle show held at Luckenbach that benefits Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation (  In the 6 years of the show, the Harvest has donated over $145,000 to this worthwhile organization.  Scott runs around doing whatever needs to be done and I am on the food crew.  It is a fun and long weekend.  I usually bake about 500-700 cookies for the Saturday night bar-b-que dinner-this year, I ran out of time and only made 480.  We ran out early.  Bah!
Our wonderful friend Claudio rode his bike out from Houston and met us at the Harvest on Saturday.  We hadn't seen him since the beginning of August, so we invited him to spend the night.  We finished at the Harvest at around 10 that night and Scott and Claudio started home on their bikes.  I followed about 5 minutes behind in the car.  I rounded a corner on the narrow, winding back road we take to get home when I saw headlights up ahead facing towards me on my side of the road.  As Scott was riding down the road with Claudio following, a huge deer ran out directly into his path.  He had no where to go and he hit the deer, which ran to the side of the road before collapsing.  Scott flew over the handlebars and the bike fell on its side and slid 85 feet.  When I got there, Scott had already picked up the bike and was standing there a bit dazed (to say the least).  Claudio was quite shook up and we decided he would stay with the bike while we went back to the Harvest to get the trailer and truck and come back and load the bike.  The first thing Scott said when he got in the truck was he thought he broke his collarbone.  By the time we returned to Luckenbach, Scott was very pale and somewhat confused.  I ran to get help and by the time we all got back he was out of the car, slumped over the hood of the truck.  It was decided a trip to the Emergency Room was in order.  Well, he did indeed break his collarbone and had quite an array of bruises and we finally made it home around 2 the next morning.  The guys at the show went and loaded the bike and hauled it back to the Harvest.  The next day they proceeded to pack up all our stuff (we had 3 bikes out there) and bring truck and loaded trailer back to our place.  What a group!!  Scott is doing much better now, almost 2 weeks after the accident.  Thank goodness for helmets!

I have been feeling quite overwhelmed and just today, on the verge of a freak out, headed out to the garden.  I hadn't been out there with my fingers in the soil for almost 2 weeks.  It is an odd thing that now, the beginning of November, I have tomatoes, eggplants, basil and peppers growing but also cauliflower, cabbage, fennel and broccoli!  The arugula and the cilantro are fighting it out as groundcover and the pomegranite tree has begun blooming all over again!  Days are warm and sunny and nights are quite cool...sometimes hitting the upper 30's.
My strange and wonderful bean plant has grown so big that the beans look unreal.

I picked eggplants, tomatoes, basil and baby leeks and put them on a pizza for lunch today.  It was so good and summery.

The eggplants haven't put on all summer and now, on the cusp of cold weather, they are full of fruit and blooms.  I have to figure out SOMETHING to do with all the arugula. It is so thick that when I pick you can't tell-it all just fills in.  Brussels sprouts have tiny sprouts along the stem and the cabbages are forming nice, firm heads.  I think we will have a nice bounty in a few months.
In anticipation of tearing down the greenhouse (the plastic greenhouse sheathing with the 4 year guarantee barely lasted 2), I repotted the papaya trees we grew from seed 2 years ago.  They are as tall as I am.  They started in the compost from a papaya Scott ate.  They must really like it here.

So, now with the garden therapy back on track, I feel better.  Still overwhelmed, still feeling like I need someone to come into the house and clear it all out for us-have an auction, a garage sale or a bonfire-anything to unclutter it all.  There should be a law against two pack rats living in the same house.  But I suppose cold weather will come eventually and I will be sequestered inside with nothing to do (yeah, right...) and I can start filling boxes for the thrift store.  In the meantime, if anyone needs anything, really...anything at all, I'm sure I can find it here and donate it to you.  I'm sure you need it (whatever it is) more than me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

...and then it rained...and rained

I was discussing this devastating drought we've been experiencing with my friend Julie recently. Always philosophical, she remarked that it would end, as they almost always do, with a flood. I remember saying, "That'd be nice..." Indeed this summer has been so harsh-not only from the lack of rain, but with record breaking temperatures day after day-that I know a few people who have decided to move from just did them in. In reality, Scott and I have discussed it ourselves. The garden, which we pretty much let die while away on vacation (kudos to Lily for keeping the few things alive that were still providing-mainly tomatoes), seemed like it would never come back to life. Walking across the ranch was a "crunchy" experience, with the dry, brown grass breaking with every step. Cracks developed in the bare ground and every living thing felt like it was struggling. And then this week blows in and all of a sudden I soften and remember why I love this place.
This is the rain gauge from the last week. It was just below 1" 36 hours ago. I have been watching the radar online for days and it kept upping our rain chances and the weather would show lots of storms all around us. I added greensand to the garden and planted the garden and mulched the garden and I watched the storms avoid Mount Alamo day after day. When the radar would quit working, which seemed more often than normal, I grew frustrated. Lily commented on my addiction to the weather map and I'd see her and Scott roll their eyes when I would check it once again. And then, Wednesday night it began sprinkling. Nothing hard, but a nice, steady drizzle. The weather map had refused to update for hours so I finally went to bed. It drizzled most of the night. Yesterday it was still drizzling when I awoke. And it soon turned into a downpour that continued most all day. I had expected to be exhilarated, but it made me sad. I just couldn't get motivated and moped around most all the day. I made a big pot of split pea soup and a pan of cornbread. Scott and I tried to manage the water pouring into our rain barrels. It took persistance, but we have lots of water stored now and nowhere to put more. And more rain is on the way. I walked the garden this morning and loved how my feet smushed into the wet ground. Spider webs laden with raindrops were visible everywhere and new growth was pushing up from ground that I had yet to plant. I believe this is broccoli raab that reseeded last Spring. How can any seed sit in the ground over the punishing summer we've had only to sprout in the first good rain in 5 months? Patience and surety of purpose. I wish I was so endowed...
The mysterious pink fava plant I bought from the equally mysterious young man at the Farmer's Market has flourished in the summer heat. It was planted not far from the tomatoes Lily watered while we were gone, so it did get some water. It has climbed up into the oak trees overhead and is now blooming. I am looking forward to what it produces as I have only a vague description of the beauty and unusual color of the beans.
I am hoping it is of the variety of beans we saw in the market in Venice. I brought home some seed of these in case it is something completely different.
Planting the garden means, of course, cleaning up debris from the last season. I have avoided doing it because the garden was so depressing. But cooler temps and the promise of rain got me motivated and I began pulling up dried stalks of fennel along with old stems of poppies with the heads still full of seed. Upon disengaging a few fennel stalks, I noticed they had new buds sprouting out the bottom. I immediately replanted them. They are coming up nicely now, but I still planted a whole new bed of this bulbing fennel, one of my favorite vegetables.
Sophie is glad for the change in weather also because it means daily walks for her again. Sometimes Scott and I go, but more often it is just me. I love to walk in the drizzle or right before dusk and so does she.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I have lots of pictures up now from our trip, but the first one is the BEST!

Welcome our new grandson, Luke Allen Kinchen, born on August 4th, weighing in at 8 lbs. 8 oz. Sage and Justin are doing great and Luke's big brother Micah is FASCINATED!

These pics are all put in from the end of our trip backwards...I still have jet lag brain obviously. This is the couple from the U.K. that shared our apartment, Lesley and David Foster. We had such great evenings with them, emptying wine bottles and exploring each others lives. Great folks!
Scott and I on the deck of our apartment in Vicenza. This was our last day in Vicenza and it was a frenzy of packing and feeling wistful. I was still in my bathrobe in this picture! Thanks to Lesley for sending us the photo. She loved Scott's "halo"! The garden is in the backround...great tomatoes!!Our last lunch in Vicenza-trying to clean out the fridge. Tomatoes from the garden outside our door (Bob, the man who owns the apartment, kept us supplied with these luscious tomatoes!), fresh bread from the bakery down the road, a log of Capri cheese on a bed of arugula, a small chunk of Parmesan cheese, some Tapenade and a bowl of Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar. YUM!
We took the train to Parma on one of our last days to buy salami, cheese and proscuitto. We ate in a restaurant we went to last year. This is a pic of their beautiful meat slicer. We ordered proscuitto wrapped melon as an appetizer and they sliced the ham directly after we ordered it.

Parma Hams hanging at the salumeria. We gave these people lots of Euros. They really liked us.

The Night Train. These have sleeping berths. We have never used one, but someday...Scott saw this train and said, "Hey, this one goes all the way to Comfort! Maybe we should take it!"

A building in Venice. Shutters are closed during the day to keep in the cool.

Look at that water! Venice is remarkable and, even though it was incredibly crowded in July, we managed to find little back alleys to wander through.

I took this picture in a cool mirror hanging in a shop window.

Scott and I in a mirrored door in an alleyway.

A chef ouside a restaurant visiting with two gondoliers. Classic Venice.

A glass sculpture. This thing was HUGE...about six feet across!

The shops and archway down one side of St. Marks Square.

St. Mark's Cathedral. Just plain magnificent. They don't let you feed the pigeons anymore, so there's not near as many as there was last year.

The Market in Venice. So much cool stuff and VERY busy.

The fish market, which is on one end of the vegetable market. It was amazing!

Eels at the Market. Scott had eel for lunch that day at our favorite restaurant in Venice, Ristorante San Trovaso.


Taken from a bridge over a canal.

The kitchen of our apartment. That mokka (stove top espresso maker) was used numerous times a day.


Most every house in Germany was some variation on this theme.

Incredibly impressive!

Cujo, one of Tom and Cynthia's cats.

The Four Laverda 100's in the front of Tom's shop. Four guys rode these bikes from London to Northern Italy. These bikes do not go fast. These bikes are as old as me (I don't go fast either). These bikes had to go over the Alps and they obviously took back roads and not the Autostrada. It was quite an accomplishment. When they finally arrived in Breganze it made the local news! They said the hardest part of the trip was how uncomfortable the seats were for such long periods of time.

Cynthia took me to a hill overlooking the village of Simmerberg so I could take pictures. When I got out of the car, there was a tractor baling hay. The tractor stopped after a bit and an elderly gentleman got out of the cab and walked around to the back of the baler. He was wearing a Speedo!!! Now you would NEVER see a farmer round these parts wearing a Speedo while baling hay, so I had to snap a photo. Those Germans!

Lake Alpsee. Cynthia and I went swimming in this very deep lake full of snow melt from the Alps. It was the coldest water I have ever felt. It's a beautiful park like setting and TONS of people enjoying the sunshine. Lots of guys of all ages wearing Speedos. What is it with Germans and Speedos?

Moon Unit. Tom and Cynthia's other cat. She slept with us most every night.Flowers in the park on the island of Lindau.

Downtown on the island of Lindau. Cynthia is walking in front of me with the TEL purse over her shoulder.

A building in Lindau. They all looked like cake decorations!

A monument on Lake Constance, the largest lake in Europe. This shows the dates and the heights of the floods that occured on the lake.

The view from my morning walk in Simmerberg.

We were in Annecy, France a few days before the Tour de France came through town.

Scott on the lake in Annecy, France.