Saturday, January 22, 2011


These days, my criteria for choosing a recipe is way different from what it used to be. For starters, after 30 years of feeding one's family, one is bound to get better at recognizing those recipes they are most likely to enjoy. My own personal preference is for something that is not necessarily fast to prepare, but it should be simple - not requiring me to do three things at once. I should be able to make it using the staples from my larder and a few fresh ingredients obtained from local growers and producers. It should be flexible, adaptable. For instance, it should work for a variety of stone fruits or for assorted root vegetables, not just one in particular, and if it can help me use up my dribs and drabs, and keep me from wasting food, so much the better. It should feed me more than once, and, above all else, it must be delicious. I am no longer willing to settle for "ok". This recipe was all those things and more. Best of all, it helped me use up some of the turnips I got from Bountiful Sprout this week, and a lone sweet potato I found lurking in the pantry.

Riff-Raff Stew
from The Real Food Revival, by Sherri Brooks Vinton and Ann Clark Espuelas
(serves four or more, depending on what you throw in)

  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 bunch greens such as kale, collard, chard, or spinach, roughly chopped (optional)
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme, or 1 T. fresh, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • One 28-oz can peeled whole tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 qt. chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 cups assorted root vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, or turnips, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
  • Rind from a wedge of Parmesan cheese (at least 2 - 3 inches long)
  • 2 to 3 cups assorted vegetable drawer riff-raff (such as a handful of green beans, a sweet pepper, a wedge of cabbage, corn from the cob), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups white beans or garbanzo beans, preferably slow-cooked, or 2 cups leftover cooked small pasta (optional)
  • 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, along with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper, and saute' until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute' until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the greens, if using, and saute' until wilted. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf, then add the tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chicken stock, root vegetables, and cheese rind and simmer until the vegetables are almost tender, about 15 minutes. Add the riff-raff and simmer another 10 minutes, or until the root veggies are very tender. Add the beans or pasta, if using, and heat through. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into serving bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

Friday, January 21, 2011


My husband's a hoarder...a PEZ hoarder. They're everywhere! We frequently find them in our stockings and Easter baskets, and the kids always begin popping them immediately. But not so John, it would seem. Santa should have been more observant. Guess he'd be better off bringing a cigar next year.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Movers should be arriving at the townhouse momentarily. I just made an emergency run down to Houston yesterday because we had some papers that needed to be signed and notarized, but I'll be heading back to Wimbo just as soon as I get one last load of stuff dropped off at The Guild (a great charity-run consignment store). They only accept 5 items at a time, so John and I have worn a path from their door to ours lately. Tomorrow's when the fun really begins. That's when this big ol' truck is gonna show up at my door, and I start tryin' to figure out where to put it all. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I feel kind of sorry for my hubby. At first he was pretty excited about his soon-to-be-semi-retired status, but I think his feet are starting to feel a wee bit frigid. For the last month or so, hardly a day goes by that someone doesn't ask him questions like "Are you sure you are ready for this? What are you going to do with yourself all day? How will you and Beck stand being together in that little house, after all this time apart? Won't you be bored to tears if you don't have somewhere to go every day?" If you hear that kind of stuff often enough, you're bound to start wondering!

On top of all that, ever since having his quadruple bypass a couple of months ago, John's big brother has become something of a Born Again fitness guru, so he calls John every weekend to give him pep talks on what he needs to be doing to get his life under control. I tried to gently remind him about John's little quirk regarding well-intentioned advice -- that the more times you tell John to do something, the less likely he is to do it --but so far, my hint hasn't taken hold.

I think what John really needs is just time -- time to noodle. Time to be left alone to ponder about what makes him happy, and what doesn't. Time to figure out what HE likes, wants, and needs, after 40 years of worrying about what everyone else needs. That's the gift I most fervently wish for him, because that's the gift he gave to me three years ago, when he said "Go ahead and quit your job in Houston. You need to be in Wimberley."

Monday, January 17, 2011


Ya know that thing for color I'm always yammering about? I should probably clarify that. Just pulling a few objects together in coordinating colors doesn't really do it for me. For one thing, whenever I try to do it on purpose, it usually ends up way too matchy-matchy. No, what really quivers my liver is when it happens by chance. Like the other day when I went for a haircut on a really grey, frigid day, and found their normally green nandina shrubs had taken on the most amazing blaze of winter color. It ran the gamut from soft peachy golds and ambers, through all shades of coral and terra cotta, with some brick red and burgundy thrown in for good measure. What really caused my breath to catch though, was the fact that when they repainted the salon a while back, they had chosen unusual shades of amber and brick that now echoed perfectly the colors in those shrubs. Perfectly!

Then there's my little tin butterfly. Buffalo Woman brought these back to the Muses from one of her journeys, and I just propped it up on a bookshelf temporarily until I could decide how best to use it. Just by chance, however, it turned out to be the perfect spot for it, 'cause every time I round the corner to grab a cookbook off the shelf below it, something about the way the wing colors look against that old McCoy flowerpot causes an honest-to-goodness physical reaction in me -- caught breath, quickened pulse, fluttery feeling deep in my gut...crazy, I know, but there you have it!

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Fall in the Cantina Garden was pretty much a total bust. The few lettuces I planted from 4" pots did ok, there just weren't enough of them. The ones I planted from seed came up right on time, got to thinning size just fine, and then just sorta pooped out on me. They're still alive, they just never got to eatin' size. Not sure if it was all the dips down into the 20's, or if it's because that bed closest to the house just doesn't get enough sun in the winter. Too bad, if that's the case, seeing as how it's the only bed the deer don't usually mess with! They tromped all over my beets and carrots in the middle bed, as they leaned down to pop each of my Chinese cabbages out of the front bed, then they used the strawberry patch as a runway for take-off when I caught them in the act and bellowed "You woodchucks quit chuckin' my wood!"

So, for all the time, effort and money I invested this season, what did I get? One dinner salad, a scrawny leek to go in my mac & cheese last night, and the possibility of a few shallots and some asparagus come spring. What am I going to do about it? Try, try again!