Saturday, September 5, 2009


Things were hoppin' today at the River Pub - a favorite spot over in San Marcos, for sitting out on the porch, eating a fish taco or delicious burger on a homemade bun, and enjoying the non-stop entertainment down below.

P.S. Don't forget to leave a comment between now and Monday evening if you wish to be entered into this week's drawing.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Following is one of many recent missives from my oldest sister. She has been to the nursing home most every day since my mother moved in, making sure that everyone stays on their toes.

"I have been on their case all week as to why Mom had not had a shower since she moved into the home. They go in this morning to give her one and she refuses! Maurice called me to see if I could talk her into it. I called four times and she wouldn't answer. Finally Tere got there and picked up the phone. Mom said she felt too bad to take a shower today. What are you going to do but laugh. I tried talking her into it and she hung up on me. I give up."


Although Marlena de Blasi tells a compelling love story in her book A Thousand Days in Venice, that is not why I have included it in our Year of Reading Dangerously. I have chosen it for two reasons: first, because it reminded me of the risks I took when I married a guy I hadn't even seen for the thirteen months prior to our wedding, and who whisked me off the next day to go live in a country that I had to look up on my globe, and which was as far away from Texas as you could possibly get, without leaving the planet; second, and most importantly, I chose it for its amazing sense of place.

What does that mean, to have a sense of place? I didn't even know myself, until one day a while back, when I got an e-mail message from author Susan Wittig Albert, saying that she was going to link to Seasonality from her blog Lifescapes, under her list of "Place Blogs." I figured I'd better find out what it meant! To start with, it's that thing you don't have when you move from one suburb to the next, where everything is so homogenized that you sometimes forget which town you are in, and one shopping center looks just like every other, containing the same chain shops, and the same chain restaurants. People tease John and I about our love of eating in "dives", but in truth, I think we are just searching for experiences that feel authentic... that have a sense of place.

When I first opened this book, I wasn't sure if I could take it. As I explained in my review of de Blasi's most recent book, That Summer in Sicily, I have never had much patience for writers who use a lot of flowery prose. As you have surely figured out by now, I write pretty much the way I speak, which is fine for describing this sparse terrain. Venice, however, is much too sensuous for my vocabulary. She needs a more voluptuous language to describe her. She needs someone with the heart of an adventurer, who is willing to explore the back streets where tourists never go, and taste the things a tourist never tastes; a chef who is willing to shop for food as the natives do, and cook the things the natives eat (and share the recipes with us!); an experienced food writer who knows how to describe every nuance of the flavors she is tasting; someone with the heart of an artist, who cries when she sees or hears a thing of beauty; someone who can pull together an outfit from a trunk of tattered draperies, and carry off a slash of vivid red lipstick. It would appear, in fact, that no one but Marlena de Blasi, could do the job of describing a city such as this... a city with such an exquisite sense of place.

So, don't forget! Leave a comment between now and Monday night, and your name will go into the hat for a chance to win this lovely book, a journal, and a pound of the renowned Monkey Roast coffee (the one Willy likes!) from one of our own micro-roasters here in the Hill Country.

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


It's 1993, and a middle-aged American woman - a chef and food-writer - is in Venice with friends, lunching in a cafe near their hotel. The waiter calls her to the phone, where a deep-voiced stranger tells her that it is imperative that they meet. She realizes it must be the gentleman she caught staring at her earlier, there in the cafe. She politely says thank you, but no. Four days in a row she says no thank you. Finally, on the fifth - her last day in Venice - she agrees to meet with him.

They spend a few hours walking the city together, barely able to converse in a mixture of broken English and Italian. He asks her if she believes in destiny. It seems he had spotted her in a piazza, on one of her previous visits to Venice. He had wanted to follow her, to talk to her, but she was with another man. He lost his nerve, let her go. And now, a year later, he glances up from his lunch, and there she is! She tells him this is coincidence, not destiny. And yet, a few hours later, they have exchanged addresses, and a kiss. Eighteen days later, he arrives in America for a visit, by the end of which, she has agreed to close up her life in America, sell her home and cafe, and return to Italy to marry this blue-eyed Venetian.

If I have piqued your curiosity, and you wish to know more of this stranger-than-fiction, true-life tale, you know what to do! Just leave a comment here, any time between now and Monday night, and you will be entered in a drawing for Marlena de Blasi's amazing memoir, A Thousand Days In Venice: An Unexpected Romance, as well as a journal and a pound of locally roasted coffee.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Now that the weather is beginning to cool a bit, I think it is the perfect time for us to take a little journey together - to Venice! It's also the perfect time for another give-away, second to last in our Year of Reading Dangerously. In addition to this wonderful book, which I will say more about later, the lucky winner will receive a journal for the trip, and a pound of Barrett's micro-roast coffee from The Bountiful Sprout. They drink a lot of coffee in Venice.

As usual, all you have to do, to be entered in this drawing, is leave a comment here on the blog anytime between now and Monday night. Good luck!


Man-oh-man! I do so love writing the word "September" at the top of my journal pages each day now. Even better, it's dipped down to a hair below 70 F. (21 C.?) the last couple of nights, and I've been able to throw my windows and doors open in the mornings, however briefly. That's something to celebrate!

I guess you'd have to experience one of our summers, to understand why something so minor could have us all walking around in a state of euphoria. We feel about fall the way you northerners (or southerners, to my Ozzie friends) feel about spring - it's like an exquisite release from torture. And that very first day when it's actually chilly enough to pull out a long-sleeved shirt, or even a sweater? Why, it's pert near orgasmic! But that's a ways off yet. We're still in the flirting stage of this relationship.

Oops! Better refill the hummingbird feeder out there on the porch. We've got a passel of those cuties coming through here as they head south for the winter.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I've been sitting here this morning, "musing" over what Musing Egret said in the comments yesterday - about me being "in on the secret." It got me to thinking... about when and how the secret was revealed to me. As I've mentioned before, my evolution as a cook and a locavore was a fairly long and drawn out process, which took me from Louisiana to Denmark and back again. I think the real turning point, though, was probably that one Christmas when I came up here ahead of everyone else, and accidentally stumbled upon Giada de Laurentiis' show Everyday Italian, on the Food Network. Isn't it odd, that the very things that drew me to that show in the first place, are the same things that caused me to drift away from it eventually?

Let me explain. The cooking that most native Italians do on a daily basis, in their own homes, for their own families, is above all else, simple. It may be a bit different in each section of the country, because each area has spent centuries developing a local ingredient-based cuisine, but what I eventually learned was that Giada was only using a few basic staples from her pantry, a few basic spices from her cabinet, a few fresh herbs, a few basic cooking techniques passed down from generation to generation, and applying these to whatever fresh, seasonal ingredients happened to be on hand. Once I had absorbed all that, the show may have seemed a bit repetitive, but my cooking, on the other hand, had finally come alive!

One of the first revelations I picked up from watching this show, was how utterly simple it is to make your own salad dressing. I had never seen anyone do it before, and assumed it must be something difficult than only a professional chef would mess with. When I saw the ease with which Giada whisked up a vinaigrette, I sat there with my mouth open, thinking "You've got to be kidding! That's all there is to it?" Now there isn't a single bottle of commercial dressing in our fridge. You'd be amazed at how much extra space that gives you.


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (a good one!)
1-1/2 tablespoons vinegar of choice
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard (opt.)
1/2 teaspoon minced shallot (opt.)
pinch of coarse salt and some freshly ground pepper

Just stir the vinegar together with the mustard and seasonings. I love either red or white wine vinegar, or a white balsamic. I use shallot if I have it, or maybe a touch of garlic. Sometimes I add a bit of honey, or maybe even a dab of peach or pear preserves - whatever suits your fancy. Then all you do is add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking all the while, et voila!

You won't believe how versatile this is. Don't just use it to dress salad greens. Try it on lightly steamed green beans and toss in a bit of feta, chopped green onion, and snipped fresh thyme. Or add a bit of sweetness to it, then use it on finely chopped broccoli with some green onion, crunchy noodles, sliced almonds and sunflower kernels. Make an entire meal out of fresh corn on the cob, new potatoes, broccoli, red onion, and chopped pecans that is then tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. Or, use it to make a fabulous pasta salad, or a delicious whole grain salad such as the quinoa salad I had here recently, with bits of dried fruit and pistachios in it. Yum! I promise, once you've tried a homemade vinaigrette made with a good, fresh tasting olive oil that has that bit of peppery glow when it hits the back of your throat, you will never look at bottled dressings the same way again!

P.S. Many thanks to for the above image.

Monday, August 31, 2009


I came this close - this close I tell you! - to missing out on one of the best meals ever to come out of my kitchen. Oh, I had plenty of excuses not to cook tonight: I was too tired after driving back from Houston; I hadn't had a chance to go to the store yet; why go to all that trouble just for me? On the other hand, did I really want to go back into town to eat? Wasn't that just as much trouble as cooking?

Upon inspection, I discovered that the cupboard wasn't completely bare after all. I did have a few small red potatoes, and there was always my garlic braid. I had planned to make a Provencal Salad with the potatoes originally - the kind where you boil some slender green beans and some new potatoes, toss them in a nice Dijon vinaigrette dressing, then add some tuna, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, capers, and wedges of hard-cooked egg. Unfortunately, I was missing the green beans, cherry tomatoes, and eggs. I did, however, have some sun-dried tomatoes, a jar of roasted red peppers and a little feta cheese. Hmm, I wonder? What would happen if, instead of just boiling the potatoes, I tossed them and some garlic cloves in a little olive oil and sea salt, and roasted them in the oven until they got tender on the inside, but brown and crispy on the outside, then tossed them in a homemade vinaigrette along with a bit of canned tuna, the Greek olives, roasted peppers, and feta... OMG! Heaven, that's what! And oh so easy. When I think of all the years I wasted, being chained to following recipes and never having the nerve to improvise, it just makes me want to cry.

You see, this is exactly what I was talking about here when I said that all of my favorite books about living the good life had a common thread running through them. Everyone from Ina Garten to Barbara Damrosch and Mereille Guiliano had told me that the key to cooking - and therefore living - well, is to cook with Seasonality (even if they didn't actually call it that). We must learn to cook from ingredients, rather than recipes, and the trick to pulling that off is to know just a handful of simple, basic recipes, that adapt easily to whatever ingredients are in season, fresh, or at hand. By jove, I think I've got it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009


I hear there is a website where one can go, to see scientific predictions as to the effects that climate change will have on your own neck of the woods. I'm girding my loins, trying to gather the nerve to go look. After the summer we've just experienced - are still experiencing, for that matter - it would be easy to believe that this particular neck of the woods could at some point become part of an arid wasteland.

Do I even want to know, if that is the case? Wouldn't it be easier to just keep my blinders on? To play Scarlett O'hara and tell myself "I refuse to think about that right now. I'll worry about it later." Probably. Alas, that has always been difficult for me to do. In all liklihood, I will choose to face my demons. I think it is better to make choices, no matter how difficult, than to be left with no choice at all. Even if it means having to choose between leaving this place we love and are just getting settled into, ahead of the mass exodus, to find a more temperate climate, or sticking it out to the bitter end and dealing with continual drought, the expense of having water hauled in, and the risk of ending up with no one to sell the house to and no water left to buy.