Friday, April 18, 2008
Not long ago we bought one of those Green Egg smoker/grill contraptions. We also purchased the pizza stone to go along with it. I just adore the smokey taste of a wood-fired pizza with a thin, crisp crust. Unfortunately, the stone did not come with directions, and we haven't a clue how to use it. For instance, should you place the stone in the pit first to heat up, before adding the pizza? If so, how would you ever manage to lower the floppy dough down onto it? If you put it on a pizza pan, wouldn't that defeat the purpose of having the stone?
This week I tried making myself a small pizza for dinner, using a store-bought crust. I had purchased some yummy prosciutto and a fresh mozzarella ball when we were at Mandola Market in Austin last Saturday, so I made a pizza bianca. I chopped up fresh garlic and scattered it over the crust, layered thinly sliced mozzarella over that and put it in a 375 degree oven until the cheese was bubbling and starting to have golden patches on it. Then I pulled it out and piled on fresh arugula, drizzled a little EVOO over that, added a sprinkling of sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, then topped it all off with a thin layer of the buttery prosciutto and a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano. It would have been orgasmic, were it not for my sucky crust.
In case you are wondering if all my stories are factual, or if I am a rampant embellisher, I will have to say that I have the Dolly Parton attitude towards this. When asked whether her girls were real or enhanced, she is said to have replied "I'll never tell! But I'm the kind of girl, if I didn't have them naturally, I'd have them made." You see, I feel no compunction whatsoever when it comes to exaggerating for the sake of a good story. According to Pamela Arnosky, it's every Texan's God-given right to do so. However, with the friends and family I have been blessed with, constantly providing me with such outstanding material? Well, I just never felt the need.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
For several years now, we've been driving over to a restaurant near Canyon Lake. It's called Plooky's. If you are too tired and stressed out to make any decisions, this is the place to go, because at Plooky's, there's only one thing on the menu. They do your basic Cajun shrimp boil, and they do it well. Now you can snaz it up by throwing in some crawdads or extra sausage, but basically, they're gonna come spread some butcher paper on your table, hold it down with a basket of hot bread and squirt bottles full of cocktail sauce and melted butter, then they are going to come dump a load of boiled shrimp, red potatoes, corn on the cob and sausage, right in the middle of your table. The only choices you have to make are whether you want it spicy, medium or wussy, and how much extra horseradish you want to add to your cocktail sauce.
I forgot to take a picture of it all when they first dumped it on the table, and instead took one when we'd already eaten half of it, and there were piles of shrimp shells and gnawed on cobs everywhere. It was not an appetizing sight, so I left that photo off. I did get one of their ceiling decorations though, and one of John, standing by the entrance.
Now, every time he steps out of that screened door, he glances across the street, sees Frank's Bait Shop and Cafe, and says the exact same thing - "Some day we gotta try that place." Usually I say "Yeah, we do." However, this time I surprised him and said "Let's go take a peek inside." We stepped through the door, took one look around, then turned to each other and said "We have got to bring Paula and Tim here!" They happen to be coming this weekend, and boy, are they in for a surprise.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
John had already arrived from Houston and was busy chopping down shrubs by the time I got home from work on Thursday. I figured he was too pooped to be interested in driving over to Austin for dinner, but when I mentioned that Hugh Fadal (the guy who was "singing my life with his words") was playing at Guero's that night, he said "Sure, why not?"
We had noticed Guero's every time we were on S. Congress, and thought it looked like a fun place, but just hadn't got around to trying it yet. We were happy to find it festively rustic, with splashing fountains, strolling mariachis, and food that was pretty darned good. After eating, we walked next door to Guero's Oak Garden, which has a covered pavilion for the band, a cantina-like bar area, and lots of picnic tables beneath huge twinkle-light-wrapped oak trees.
The weather was absolutely perfect, and the audience ranged from families with children, to older couples who wanted to show off their dance moves, and we had a cross-dressing gentleman in a ruffled mini-skirt thrown in for good measure. John asked the band to play "Hill Country Hippie" just for me, which they did, then during the break I went up and introduced myself, and tried to buy the CD, but they insisted on giving it to me for free. (We left an extra nice tip in their jar by way of thanks) I don't know how the evening could have been any more fun, unless perhaps some of you had been there with us. Maybe next time!
P.S. Well, what do ya know! I couldn't figure out why the first two pictures turned out perfect, but the second two were so blurry - especially since no one was in motion at the time. Now I see that there is a special setting on my camera for taking pictures at night. Have I mentioned before that I am technologically challenged?
Monday, April 14, 2008
Until I moved here, I never used the computer voluntarily. It was strictly for checking email, balancing my bank account, or typing up papers when I had to. Gradually, all that has changed, with the most amazing result. It started when I sent a couple of emails to Pamela Arnosky at Texas Specialty Cut Flowers. I told her about Susan Branch, cookbook author from Martha's Vineyard, who has recently pulled up stakes and moved to sunny california so that she and her husband can garden year-round. They have renovated an old roadside farm-stand and are starting up an enterprise much like the one Pamela and her husband have. I told Pamela that I wished I knew how to hook the two of them up, since they could learn so much from each other. Pamela replied that she had just been daydreaming out in her garden recently, of having an ongoing dialogue with a group of strong women, who happened to be very good at what they do, and which would stretch out over the years.
Next I sent a couple of emails to Sibby Barrett, owner of Onion Creek Kitchens at Juniper Hills Farm, who as it turns out, is already familiar with Pamela because their farm-stand is one of the stops on Sibby's Hill Country foodie tours that she conducts. Then I sent a couple of emails to Susan Wittig Albert, only to find that she too is connected to Pamela. In fact, if you turn to the acknowledgment page of her book Mistletoe Man, you will read "Thanks to Pamela and Frank Arnosky, of Texas Specialty Cut Flowers, in Blanco, Texas, for their fascinating and informative articles in Lynn Byczynski's newsletter, Growing for Market. The Arnoskys' articles have given me useful information about the challenges and rewards of growing flowers for market in Central Texas."
Gradually, I became acquainted with more and more interesting women, who all seem to be connected to one another somehow. I began to refer to them as my livin' the good life hall of fame. I also came to the realization that they were all " strong women, who just happened to be very good at what they do." One day, as I was transferring a journal entry written about the lavender festival a couple of years ago, I realized that there was someone missing from my hall of fame - Jeannie Ralston, the Lavender Queen. I knew that she and her family had sold their lavender farm and moved to San Miguel de Allende, but had no idea what they had been up to since. I went online to see what I could find, and discovered that she had been writing a memoir, called "The Unlikely Lavender Queen." I was hoping she had a blog of her own somewhere, or that I could find some way to contact her. No such luck. I did find a very cool food blog about San Miguel though (see Big Sweet Tooth on my links list), and one of the comments someone had left on it said "Hey Misty, I love your blog! I need to introduce you to my good friend Jeannie Ralston, who also lives here in SMA." I left a comment myself saying "What an odd coincidence - I've been trying to track Jeannie down, and that's what brought me to this blog!"
Fast forward several months, and I have forgotten all about that comment. Suddenly, out of the blue, I receive this email:
The internet is amazing. I happened upon a food blog about San Miguel when I saw your post that you were looking for what I've been up to since leaving the Hill Country. How funny!!
Well, I've been up to a lot and a lot that has to do with the Hill Country. I've written a book--out at the end of May--about my lavender growing life in Blanco. It's called The Unlikely Lavender Queen: A Memoir of Unexpected Blossoming. Doubleday Broadway is publishing nationwide and I'm going on a national book tour, etc. It's very exciting. I'll be in Texas doing book-related stuff from June 7 through June 15 (of course I'll be at the Blanco Lavender Festival).
I would love to get you a copy of the book so that you can review it closer to the pub date. In the meantime, you can go to my website and read background on the book plus the first chapter. www.jeannieralston.com
All is well down in SMA. Having a great time, learning lots of Spanish.
Please let me know where you're based so I can get you a copy of the book.
So glad we've hooked up.
P.S. And no, we haven't gotten together with Misty yet.
So, you can add Jeannie to my hall of fame. It looks like I will be doing a review of her book for Story Circle Network, which happened to be started by Susan Albert. In all likelihood Susan herself will be the one to edit my review. Thus there will now be a connection between Susan and Jeannie. I have signed up for a "cooking with lavender" class that Sibby Barrett will be teaching at the lavender festival this year, and hope to hook up with Jeannie while I am there. Turns out she and Sibby are pals too. And to top it all off, we happened to go to a pot luck at the Arnosky's blue barn recently, where Pamela told me "Hey, I read your email about hearing from Jeannie! We just had dinner with them a couple of weeks ago." Ahhh, another connection. What a wondrous web we weave. Finally I realize that Pamela's daydream has become my reality, and I am part of an ongoing dialogue amongst strong, talented women, thanks to the internet. I pray that it stretches out over the years.
P.S. The pot luck was a blast, with musical entertainment provided by folk musicians Emily Kaitz (what a hoot!), Bruce Jones, Drew Pierce and The Monotones.