Tuesday, March 29, 2011


What a week! Our friends Cal & Leslie arrived for a visit last Tuesday...they drop in a couple times a year and it's always such a pleasure to spend time with them. We never really know how long they are going to stay and that's fine. Now you know what kind of folks they are because I can think of MANY acquaintances with whom that WOULD NOT be fine.
They spirited Scott away to North Texas to the races where they all worked for the weekend. I was supposed to go with them, but stayed home to tend to animals and the garden. They had a great time with Friday and Saturday being sunny and warm and terrific race weather. Then the wind changed late Saturday afternoon and Sunday was a different story. Cold and windy and just this side of miserable. They were supposed to stay Sunday night also, but decided to head home to sleep in a warm bed. Scott on Sunday at the races. Brrrr
They left on Scott's birthday, so we postponed his celebration until last night. I roasted up a pork loin (as I put it on the table I said, "Here is Kevin for dinner!") and Skip brought some incredibly good fish fillets with roasted peppers/onions/garlic and an equally incredible yogurt sauce (plain yogurt, horseradish, lime juice and chopped cilantro).
I roasted some broccoli, baked up some sweet potatoes and made Parmesan Gougeres (savory cream puffs). For dessert we had a 3 layer Carrot Cake that my grand daughter Natalie (Chef Andre) helped me make over the weekend.
Oh! The weekend! With an empty house on Thursday I got busy. Had a load of compost delivered (not long after Scott, Cal and Leslie drove away) and I shoveled compost all afternoon and into the evening until I couldn't see anymore. Stayed up really late that night finishing up my taxes (hello 3 a.m.) and then worked in the garden again most of the day Friday. Got a huge bed all seeded with a variety of greens and watered the orchard.
Scott and I potted up 12 cherry trees and 7 peach trees a few weeks ago which will go into the orchard next Spring. Friends Hal and April in Comfort told me about these cherry trees (which are really cherry shrubs) and gave me a jar of jam April had made from the cherries. These are not sweet, pick and eat cherries, but really sour cooking cherries. So tasty and prolific and they grow really well in our area.
I had a watercolor painting class with Jeannette MacDougall Saturday in Boerne and then picked up my dear sweet Natalie for an overnight visit. We had lots of fun Saturday afternoon running around outside-she found a rope and tied my hands together and then tied the other end of the rope to various things. I was a "cattle wrestler" (that's her interpretation of "cattle rustler") and she was the sheriff and, with her trusty sidekick, Depity (deputy) Sophie, they were trying to keep me in line. While I was tied to the front door (would I kid about something like this? really?) I could hear thunder in the distance and admit to being a bit puzzled...there was no rain in the forecast. When I finally convinced her to untie me (not an easy task, vigilant sheriff that she was), I went inside and checked the weather and there was a weather warning-severe thunderstorms with up to 1/2" hail.  What?! I headed outside and with Nat's help covered up the cars with special attention to windshields and sunroofs. The thunder got louder and then it started raining. We sat on the porch and watched...all 4 1/2 minutes of it. Okay...
At this point I decided I would uncover the cars in the morning and, after putting up chickens we went inside to watch a movie. As we sat eating popcorn and watching the movie I started to observe lightening all around. Then the rain started again-heavy this time-and the electricity went out. Within seconds the hail started-what a cacophony! It scared Natalie and she started to cry. We grabbed a flashlight and went to the front door and I showed her the hail. She said, "Gramma, ice balls falling from the sky?" I had to go outside and retrieve some before she would believe me. She was amazed. I told her she'd have to tell her class about the "ice balls" Monday at school. She said, "I can't tell them because they won't believe me..." It is moments like this that make being a grandparent (or a parent for that matter) so very cool. We lit candles and sat talking until the lights came back on and we could finish watching the movie. The hail piled up outside. Sophie came in and hid in the closet, curled up in a tight, little ball (which Natalie found hilarious). I kept thinking about my garden and the dozen cherry trees in pots outside. The hail finally stopped and Nat fell asleep. I turned everything off and went to bed and the hail started up again. It rained all night. 1 3/4" total in precipitation. Most rain we've had so far this year. Everything survived with very little damage. Just short of a miracle in my opinion. The next morning Nat woke up and told me, "That was quite a night..." Yes, dear Natalie, it certainly was.
Today is our anniversary. Eight years and it has been (and continues to be) a wonderful adventure. I know it is not easy being married to me. Last year I read of an exercise a marriage counselor uses. It consisted of imagining being your spouse and describing what it is like being married to you. I CANNOT do this exercise. I have tried a few times and I break out in a sweat. Understand, I am not doing this with Scott, just by myself, for myself. It is unnerving-still, every few months I try again. So I am grateful that we have as much fun as we have and as few disagreements as we do.
For a special anniversary lunch this afternoon I made Laurel's Asparagus Benedict: http://unamericanaincucina.com/ 
I made a few changes..I roasted the asparagus, my preferred way of eating it. I roast it on a grill pan.
I used my homemade whole wheat bread because it was what I had (she uses rye which sounds really good for this recipe). I also used white wine instead of water in the Hollandaise. Nice...
This Hollandaise recipe is quick and foolproof. Just watch out when you are whisking the egg yolks over the double boiler to keep the heat low-or you will end up with scrambled eggs as she warns in the recipe!
The finished dish...it went over REALLY well...smile...
We are going out for dinner with Leslie & Cal this evening at Navajo Grill. This is one of our favorite places to eat in Fredericksburg. We split their Artisan Cheese Plate and order a House Salad each and we are comfortably full and very satisfied. Everything fresh and elegant and it makes for an inexpensive treat in beautiful (but not stuffy) surroundings. A good place for a celebratory meal or to take clients. Mike (the owner) is a gem and his son is the chef!
Life is good-my husband is a year older (and my milestone is right around the corner), we have another year of marriage under our belts and good energy going for the next one. I am in constant surprise at our good fortune.
On another note-I've been asked by a few folks when I was going to post about butchering our pig, Kevin. I just don't think I am. It was a bittersweet experience...a days worth (and beyond) of really hard physical work and now, a freezer full of high quality pork. Scott sent out this email after the main butchering was completed and we had moved the process into the kitchen to start on the secondary processes:

diane and i spent 6 hours today butchering our pig, kevin

having killed and butchered plenty of wild game the mechanics were
pretty straightforward
killing an animal we came to know, one that came when you called
was a bit harder.
i didn't think there would be an emotional attachment
but there was some sadness
the death was quick and painless

with wild game there is no emotional attachment
killing is done at a distance
this was quite different
while we have joked about kevin bacon and naming future pigs hamlet, etc
i don't think we will name any more
we gave kevin thanks for providing our sustenance
and look forward to sharing our bounty with family and friends
we have peace of mind knowing the diet and raising conditions
have been healthy for kevin
it has been a couple years or more since we bought meat at a store
not knowing how it was raised or processed
kevin dressed out at roughly 180# and is currently on ice
much work still to do to trim the meat, wrap and freeze portions
sort scraps for a variety of sausage, render the lard, make bacon, etc
and begin the long dry curing process to make the hams into prosciutto

Monday, March 7, 2011

Texas Bourbon? You bet!

Scott and I had the pleasure of volunteering for two days last week at Garrison Brothers in Hye, Texas. I still feel a bit guilty calling it volunteering, cuz it was more fun than any volunteering I usually do (hey Juanita-I LOVE volunteering for the food bank, but I don't get a signed bottle of bourbon for it...just sayin'...)!
For two days we helped bottle the Spring 2011 release of Garrison Brothers extraordinary Texas Bourbon.
Four or five years ago, Scott and I took a road trip to Ohio for a weekend at the races. We left a few days early, so we could meander through a part of the country we hadn't seen before. Part of our vacation was visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We toured 4 or 5 distilleries and we were struck by how often we heard that Kentucky Bourbon was so good because of the clean, limestone water. Scott kept saying, "Our Hill Country water is limestone water and real tasty. Why isn't someone making Texas Hill Country Bourbon?" Well, someone else was thinking the same way and Garrison Brothers was born. If you get a chance to tour the distillery, do it. It is an incredible set up on a beautiful rolling hilled ranch just off Hwy. 290 about halfway between Stonewall and Johnson City. There is lots of expansion going on about now, so pardon their dust-just realize it will make more of this phenomenal product available. Here's the scoop: Dan Garrison uses #1 food grade organic grain. The corn is grown in Hereford County in Texas, the barley is from the Pacific Northwest and the winter wheat is grown on site. They use rainwater they harvest off the roof of the distillery and they filter it several times until it is incredibly pure. Garrison Brothers is the first new Bourbon distillery opened in America since before Prohibition AND the first legal (I guess LEGAL is the operative word here) whiskey distillery in Texas history AND the first Bourbon anywhere made entirely from organic grain. That's a lot of firsts! We weren't sure what to expect when we volunteered. We dressed in work clothes and comfortable shoes. As we drove onto the ranch, we were met just inside the gate by a man with a broad smile driving a pick-up truck. He rolled down his window and said, "You two look like professional Bourbon bottlers..." He gave us directions to the bottling facility and drove on to meet the other volunteer coming through the gate behind us. We walked into the distillery and were met by a room full of smiling employees. These folks LOVE their work. They understand the importance of what they are accomplishing and the superior quality of their product. The pride is palpable. Up to this point, they have been using a 100 gallon still (named "Cowgirl"). She's a beauty.
    Now Cowgirl shares the room with 2-500 gallon stills. Just as beautiful, but really big! She looks positively petite compared to the big fellas.
See the sombrero in the foreground of the pic above? As a celebration of Texas Independence Day, Dan gave that hat as a prize to the best bottler of the day. Guess who won?
Scott and I didn't actually bottle the bourbon. The machine that dispenses the bourbon into the bottles was run by an employee. Then each bottle was corked and Scott and I (and Tyler, the other volunteer) sealed each bottle by hand. Bottles waiting for our handiwork.
Here was the process: first the pigtail-deer hide cut in strips, dipped in hot wax and applied where the cork meets the bottle. It was wrapped around until it forms a seal of sorts. A small piece is left hanging to open the bottle after it is waxed.
Now the waxing. It wasn't until the second day that I felt I had the knack. And boy, the pride at this place was contageous! The second day I wanted to crow about my waxing (or maybe I wanted to wax poetic about my waxing!). I think I had the best teacher in the place, Laurel Hoekstra. She gave me a few tips that made all the difference in the quality of my work. I wasn't as proficient at doing the pigtails...so I had Scott do the pigtails and I waxed. His pigtails were perfect. Since I wax my balsamic syrup bottles, I thought I'd have waxing down, but this was way different. All the pigtailed bottles waiting to be waxed:
Letting the excess wax drip off.
And the finishing touch...the Texas star on top!
The bottle in the foreground is ready for the star stamp.
That's one beautiful waxing job!
Laurel Hoekstra and the famous Dan Garrison cleaning and packing finished bottles of the best bourbon you'll ever taste. Honest! Dan personally signs EVERY SINGLE BOTTLE! He is crazy Amazing!! We were involved in the tail end of the bottling-finishing up the 2011 release on March 3rd. They had been bottling for weeks. I am glad we were the last volunteer group...just seemed significant somehow.
Yeah, I know the quality of this picture isn't good...sorry!
We worked for two days and driving home each afternoon, Scott and I talked about how fortunate we felt that they let us be a part of their endeavor. (Kinda' rings of Huck Finn, huh?) These folks are so earnest and sincere, you can't help but admire them.
The bottling we did will be released to stores in Central Texas around March 16th. They are distributed by Republic National Distributing Co. You can call your local liquor store and see if they will be carrying it. Or call Republic to reserve a bottle-210-224-7531 (San Antonio) or 512-834-9742 (Austin).
If you like Bourbon-or even if you don't like it, but want to-try Texas made Garrison Brothers Bourbon.
Taste the magnificence!
I'm going to have a sip right now...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Orange Date Cake

I made this cake for a small party at Marta's house about a month ago. It is so incredibly fragrant of oranges that Marta told me she could not walk past it without taking a bite. She's been after me to post the recipe ever since. The interesting thing is that it uses whole clementines...no peeling necessary! I remember a cake I made years ago from the Horn of the Moon Cookbook that used whole seedless navel oranges and was made entirely in a blender. This one is made in the food processor and is just as easy. I found the original recipe in the Jan/Feb issue of Cooking Light but have changed it considerably in the many times I have made it. I've made my share of fussy cakes (and some of my most requested recipes are multi step concoctions), but I prefer cakes I can put together in a flash whenever we have a craving for something sweet. Another reason I really like this recipe is that it doesn't suffer from using whole wheat flour instead of all purpose, which the original recipe called for. The rustic nature of the ground walnuts, dates and oranges really benefits from the equally rustic quality of whole wheat pastry flour. This is a cake you can eat sans glaze, but the confectioners sugar glaze perfumed with freshly grated clementine zest takes it over the top. The same batter also makes great muffins! One recipe makes one dozen muffins-see below.
Start with preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" cake pan with pan spray and line the bottom with a piece of parchment cut to fit. Grab 2 clementines and quarter them. Although these are thought to be seedless, I have found a seed from time to time. So pick out any seeds. Measure out 1/2 cup walnuts. Pit 3 dates and 4 prunes-you can use 6 dates if you want, but the first time I made this cake I only had 3 dates so I replaced the remainder with prunes and I really liked it. Use what you have.
Place all this in a food processor.
And grind away! You'll probably have to scrape down the sides a time or two to get it all ground finely.
Measure out 1/2 cup dark brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 5 Tablespoons soft butter. Grab one large egg. Love the speckled egg! We have doubled our flock size in the last 2 months and are swimming in eggs!
 Throw all that in the food processor and process until well mixed.
Measure out 9 ounces (about 2 cups) whole wheat pastry flour. Add 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Measure out 1/2 cup buttermilk. I generally weigh out any whole grain flours instead of measuring them because I feel I get better results that way.
Add this to the mixture in the food processor and pulse until blended.
You will have to scrape down the sides once or twice to get it all mixed in.
The batter is quite thick. Spoon it into the prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack to cool.
Now make the glaze. Mix 1 cup confectioners sugar (powdered sugar) with the zest of one clementine. I have to say that my microplane is indispensable! I find myself using it almost daily.
 Add 1 Tablespoon water and mix to make a runny glaze.
Now pour that glaze over the middle of the cake and spread it out to the edges. I like how it looks when it partially runs over the sides. Here are a half dozen muffins and a 6" cake I made this morning.
A perfect treat with a cup of coffee or tea. Not too sweet and really moist.
Here's the recipe for you to copy and print out.
Orange Date Cake
1/2 cup walnuts
6 dates, pitted OR 3 dates and 4 prunes
2 clementines, quartered -NOT PEELED!
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
5 Tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
9 ounces (about 2 cups) whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup buttermilk

1 cup powdered sugar
zest of one clementine
1 Tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9" cake pan with pan spray and line the bottom with a piece of parchment cut to fit. Put clementines, walnuts and dates (or dates and prunes) in the food processor. Process until finely ground. You may have to scrape down the sides a time or two. Add brown sugar, butter, egg and vanilla and process until smooth. Add flour, soda, salt and buttermilk and pulse until mixed. You may have to scrape down the sides. Spoon into prepared pan and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Turn out onto a rack. In a small bowl, mix all glaze ingredients and pour over the middle of the still warm cake. Spread the glaze out to the edges. Garnish with whole walnuts if desired.
For one dozen muffins, reduce baking time to 25-30 minutes. Dip tops of muffins in glaze while still warm.