Thursday, July 21, 2011

Frog Rain

The post I wrote on July 6th, CRUNCHY!, prompted my friend Dick Prosapio (who is married to my dear old friend Elizabeth) to send me an email that I have to admit I have read over and over. For some reason, even in the midst of this terrible drought, it made me feel better. I asked his permission to post it here. As a side note, on July 19th, the day after I wrote the Summertime Dinner post which ended with, "Maybe tomorrow it will pour...", it did, indeed. We had a wonderful downpour that lasted over an hour and blessed us with one and a half inches of rain. Scott and I played in it joyously for the first 20 minutes. Most all our rain barrels are full and the garden partied so raucously it kept me awake all night.

The Frog Rain
When a big rain shows up around here it’s not something that takes place over days, it’s an all-at-once downpour that dumps inches in minutes. This last one just a few days ago, the first rain of any consequence we’ve had in months, did the job, it produced the gift of frogs.

South of our place is an old cattle “tank” a piece of land dug out by dozer decades ago to catch rain run off for cattle and wildlife. These ad hoc would be ponds dot the New Mexico, Texas, Arizona landscape and now and then, rarely for sure, provide a serendipitous opportunity for moisture in monsoon season….which is supposed to be right now, late June through early September. We haven’t had enough moisture in the past three years to feed any of these little basins….until this last “blessing” when in the space of forty five minutes to an hour we got an inch plus along with pea to marble sized hail all followed by the beautiful and mysterious sound of the frogs having their once-in-a-lifetime party opportunity down in our neighborhood tank. A really big rain season, one where we get a dumper like this every day or every other day, we can hear frogs every night for a week or two. This one only lasted for two nights, but there is a forecast for more to come this week or next so both we, and the frogs, may take heart.

The little piece I wrote about “Starving Spiders”, as you can see, was set down in the midst of despair, not a place I go to often if at all. I am a desert rat so I know about the feast and famine cycle of drought and rain in the southwest. I know it and can accommodate. But I am in relationship with a person who is not so “forgiving” of this reality and when things get really tough, as they will in this part of the country, as she begins to spiral down into hopelessness and I try to reassure her, I can find her desperation to be catching. Usually my bottom is a lot higher than hers but this year has set dry records and, along with two gigantic forest fires, one of them the largest in New Mexico history and relentless winds blowing out of the west far longer then they ever have in all my time living here, both of us became bottom dwellers for a time and I was hard pressed to maintain a demeanor of reassurance…until the “frog rain” came…and then we BOTH came fully alive to hope again. That’s all it takes you see. A bit of water falling from the sky and we can be moved into celebration. We can do Gene Kelly and splash in gutters in full song.

We Southwestern people are easily pleased. We just need frogs now and then.
~Dick Prosapio
New Mexico

Monday, July 18, 2011

Summertime Dinner

We've been eating light lately. When it is 100 degrees at 6:30 in the evening, one is not inspired to heat up the house cooking an elaborate meal, nor to try to digest something heavy. But when I arrived home from the Bandera Farmers Market this afternoon I was hot, tired and hungry. I was real glad I'd brined a few pork chops last night-yes, Kevin made an appearance at our dinner table tonight.
I receive an e-newsletter from Fine Cooking with a daily recipe. Some are terrific and I file them away, some I just know I'll never make and I delete them. But others I leave in my IN box to keep reminding me that I want to play around with the concept a bit. The brined pork chops were one such recipe. As soon as I read the title, "Bourbon-and-Vanilla-Brined Pork Chops", I was drawn in. We've been very stringent with our Garrisons Bros. Texas Bourbon , enjoying a bit every now and then. But we've still not found a use for our half empty bottle of Knob Creek...until now.
I have an inability to follow a recipe. I most always look at a recipe and think, "That would be great if I added this or swapped this out for that...". I've been cooking so long that tinkering with a recipe just doesn't result in a disaster. Or at least I can't recall the last time one didn't work. Such was the case with the Bourbon and Vanilla Brined Pork Chops. After reading over the recipe, I found it incredibly fussy-first a brine and then a rub (with 11 ingredients no less!). Summer in Texas is no time for fussy, at least not at our house. So I pared the brine down a little bit and Scott and I both agreed they were the best pork chops we've ever eaten. Here's what I did:
I had 2 boneless loin chops...bone in would be great also, I'm sure. In a jar, I mixed about 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 Tablespoon kosher salt, 2 Tablespoons Knob Creek Bourbon, 2 teaspoons vanilla and about 2 teaspoons molasses. I put a lid on this and shook until it was all mixed well and the salt had dissolved. Then I poured it over the chops, covered the bowl and refrigerated it overnight. When I got home tonight, I heated up my grill pan (we are under a serious burn ban, so no outside grilling here), doused it with a bit of olive oil and put the chops on the grill pan. They were pretty thick, so I grilled them for about 6 minutes on the first side then turned them and grilled another 5 on the other. Then I turned the heat off under the pan and let them sit while I prepared the remainder of the meal. I've been trading bread for the most wonderful baby Japanese eggplant at the Comfort Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. Thin skinned with tiny seeds, these sweeties don't need to be peeled and are never bitter. We love them halved lengthwise, brushed with olive oil and grilled. Since the grill pan was on anyway, I filled up the other side with eggplant (the grill pan fits over 2 burners, so I could cook lots of eggplant). I'd picked up some beautiful tomatoes at the Bandera Market and I sliced these up. Went out to the garden and picked some basil and got some fresh mozzarella out of the fridge. The last batch of mozzarella I made a few days ago turned out particularly "toothsome"...quite chewy...and I LOVE it! I heated the milk too high in the initial heating (it was supposed to be no more than 95 degrees and I let it jump up to 110!) and it changed the texture pretty dramatically. But it melts terrific and gets real stringy...perfect for a broiled veggie concoction. I layered the now slightly charred and soft eggplant with the sliced tomatoes, lots of torn basil leaves, a drizzle of balsamic syrup and topped it all with some mozzarella. I popped this in the toaster oven/broiler while I made the salad. We've been on a Caesar Salad kick for over a month now. Probably three nights a week, we'll have a huge Caesar salad for dinner. Sometimes I'll add kalamata olives and Feta or Parmesan cheese and avocado, but always crunchy cucumbers because the garden is full of them-indeed the ONLY thing the garden is full of. Not traditional, I know, but I make this great dressing that pulls it all together. I could eat this dressing like soup-no kidding! Here's the recipe:
In a blender, place 3 peeled hard boiled eggs, 1/2 cup oil (NOT olive oil-I'll explain why later), 1/2 can of anchovies, 1/3 cup champagne, rice or apple cider vinegar, 2-3 teaspoons Dijon mustard, about 4 or 5 garlic cloves and a generous grind or 2 of pepper. Put the lid on the blender and whirl away. If it seems too thick add a bit more vinegar. It should be pale yellow, thick and creamy. Taste for salt and add if needed. That's it! Store it in a jar in the fridge. This makes a pint, which lasts us a week or about 4 heads worth of Romaine lettuce! You don't want to use olive oil because it solidifies under refrigeration. Your dressing will be the consistency of custard when you take it from the fridge. I've used sunflower and grapeseed and both worked great. I know it seems rather arbitrary when I say, 1/2 can of anchovies, but the only anchovies I find in the grocery store are these:
If you think you don't like anchovies, don't let that keep you from making this dressing. I think Anchovies are know-the 5th taste after sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Used in sauces, (try them in a short rib braise...elusive!), dressings, sautes...they add an incredible flavor-not fishy!!!- and my pantry is always stocked with lots of cans of them.
I didn't take a picture of dinner tonight although my brain kept nagging me to do so. I was hungry and tired and my toe hurt (I broke my pinkie toe this morning). I am sorry now because it looked almost as good as it tasted.
While I was writing this post, I heard a noise on the skylight above my head. I walked outside and stood in the dark and let the raindrops fall on my shoulders. It lasted maybe 3 minutes. I wanted to cry. Maybe tomorrow it will pour...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Crunchy. That's the word that keeps popping up in my mind when I am outside. I walk around the yard and -sob!- the garden and it is crunchy. The first day of summer was a mere 2 weeks ago yet it feels like we've been in summer for months already. I saw a post my friend Fred wrote the other morning that said, "Good Morning! We are one day closer to rain...". I thought on those words ALL DAY. I find it really difficult to stay positive when it is...well...crunchy outside. I have let most of the garden go. I keep 2 beds watered. Every 2 or 3 days I saturate those beds and catch all the runoff to water the few plantings left alive in other beds. But even then, I question the effort I am putting into it. The tomato plants look big and bushy, but can't even muster the energy to set blooms. The squash plants are sprawling everywhere, but only one-an heirloom Italian squash-puts off any fruit to speak of. ONE slender, but oh so tasty, squash a week.
The only thing that seems to be thriving in this day after day 100 degree heat is the cucumbers. They are happy indeed, full of blooms and fruit and subsequently, bees.
We are eating lots of cucumbers!
We have been adding some new fowl to the farm. Picked up 4 minorcas from my farm and garden mentor, Bernadette. Small chickens, not as frenetic as bantys (thank goodness!), but not a whole bunch bigger. And last weekend a white leghorn and 2 Araucanas from my inspiring friends April and Hal. I used to have lots of white leghorns. They are a small bodied chicken that lay HUGE white eggs. Oh! And also these guys...well, one guy, one gal and an as of yet undetermined:
The two white ducks are Pekin and the black is a Black Swedish. I am quite taken with them. Really calm and entertaining and their quack is quite endearing. They get their own swimming pool today.
So many projects going on around here. We are living in a construction zone, but for the first time since all this change started, I am seeing glimmers of what it will all become and that cheers me. Progress moves slowly, but at least it moves, marching to its own beat as much as I would like to speed it along. The heat seems to stall things out and we find ourselves most afternoons from about 4-6 sitting on the bed in front of the fan reading or writing. I go back and forth about air conditioning. Sometimes I wish central air was a reality for us. But most times, I can't imagine being that cut off from the sounds of the outside-especially now with the quacking that has been added to the cacophony.
I hope, in the next month, to transfer all the recipes on this blog to my neglected website, They will still be here with the nifty link list on the left hand side of the page, but they will also be on the website, which I hope to make easier to navigate. Stay tuned!
And, of course, stay cool!