Friday, June 12, 2015


Years ago my sisters told me about a mystery series, by Susan Wittig Albert, which they thought I might like. I was not a mystery addict like them, but since this China Bayles series was about a Houston defense attorney who got fed up with her life and packed it all in to move to the Texas Hill Country and open a little herb shop, I figured I'd give it a try. After all, that is pretty much what I'd dreamed of doing myself, ever since I graduated from UT! I thought I would probably get two or three books into the series, then get bored with their formulaic stagnancy and give up on them, as I have with other mystery series. That never happened. In fact, I think her most recent book has probably been one of my favorites yet.

Here is what I love most about her books. First of all, the books are anything but stagnant. The characters grow and evolve, and deal with real life issues such as breast cancer, infidelity, and step-parenting. Which is why I suggest starting at the beginning of the series.

Second, not only do the stories take place mostly in the Hill Country, the fictional little college town of Pecan Springs was patterned after San Marcos -- where our daughter went to school and where the author herself used to teach and eventually became their first female VP -- which is less than 30 minutes from here. I love it that she often talks about people and places I'm familiar with.

Third, she always manages to work a specific issue into the plot -- something that is actually going on here in the Hill Country and has people concerned -- like drought and water issues and "canned hunting" on ranches that have been "high fenced" so hunters can pay to sit in air conditioned blinds and pick off game when it comes to feed. She doesn't tell you something is right or wrong. She just does all the research for you and lays out the facts on both sides, and really makes you think about this stuff.

The author is just an amazing person, and a chance encounter with her on-line, when I first moved up here ahead of John, well, it altered the course of my life.

Last, but not least, Susan is a veggie-growing-foodie-herbalist, so, of course, the books include recipes! Need I say more?

Thursday, June 11, 2015


When I posted my recipe for Hi-Fi Veggies last week, I mentioned something about the importance of having a well-stocked pantry. Afterwards, I got a message from my friend Nurse Nellie, saying "I need a list! What should be in a well-stocked pantry?" Well, I was pretty sure I had posted about that very thing not long ago, so I went back in search of it. It took me a while. Turns out, it was three and a half years ago! My, my. How time flies. So, yeah. Maybe it's time to revisit the subject again. Here is the original post, if you want to check it out. Now, the best thing about going back through my blog searching for something, is that I almost always stumble across other posts about events in our lives that I'd totally forgotten about, such as this one. Oh my gosh, what a hysterically bad day that was! How could I have forgotten all about it? Of course, the downside of doing a search is that it's like being sucked into a black hole you might never find your way out of -- but now I'm back!

Instead of just going over that pantry list again, I want to talk about larders in general -- including what's in your refrigerator and growing in your yard -- explaining why I keep some of the things I do, and what I use them for.

Now, I don't mind going to the grocery store if I'm already in town doing other things, but I really, really hate making a special trip in, just to pick up one or two things I need for a particular recipe. Then there are those days when I'm caught up in one of my projects, and I just don't feel like going to town at all.  Luckily, I have several things that I can make using what is usually right here in my "larder", so I thought we'd talk about those.

One of my favorites is that recipe for Chickpea Ragout, which was featured in the original post -- one of several reasons that I like to have an variety of beans on hand. I used to keep an assortment of dried beans and grains, arrayed in beautiful vintage jars. Absolutely gorgeous! But, I finally had to admit that I just wasn't using them often enough to devote that much space to them. To be honest, I'm much more likely to make meatless meals if I can grab a convenient can of nice organic beans, already boiled for me. So I always keep cans of chickpeas, black beans, white/cannellini beans, and pintos on hand.

The black beans, along with one of the little packets of yellow rice mix that I keep on hand, are great for making this:


1 (10 oz.) package yellow rice mix
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14 1/2 oz.) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
1 (4 1/2 oz.) can chopped green chiles
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese with peppers

Prepare rice mix according to package directions.  Heat beans, tomatoes, and chiles in a large skillet over medium heat. I usually spice things up with a dash or two of cayenne, about a 1/4 tsp. of chili powder, a half tsp. of cumin/comino, and some S & P. Add the rice and cheese to the skillet, stirring until cheese melts. Easy Peasy!

The white beans, along with some chicken tenders I usually have in the freezer, are great for making this:


2 tsps. ground cumin
2 tsps. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 pound chicken tenders
3 tsp. canola oil, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, chopped (hubby has these growing on the porch)
2 15-oz cans white beans, rinsed
3/4 cup canned diced tomatoes with green chiles, or your favorite jarred salsa
1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese

Combine cumin, coriander, pepper and salt in a medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat.

Heat 2 tsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sauté until golden brown and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Reduce heat to medium and add the remaining 1 tsp. oil to the pan. Add onion and jalapeño and cook until beginning to soften, 1 to 2 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes (or salsa) and any accumulated juices from the chicken; cook, stirring often, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bean mixture to a medium bowl and mash with a potato masher until creamy but still slightly chunky. Stir in cheese. Serve with the chicken.

I use those cans of tuna in sandwiches occasionally, but mostly they go into my version of the French Salade Nicoise, or Provencal Salad. The cans of boneless salmon are for making this:


1 (6 oz.) can boneless salmon
12 saltine crackers
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup milk
1 T. minced dried onion flakes
1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
freshly ground pepper
1 tsp. butter or oil

Crumble the crackers and combine everything except the butter/oil. Shape into 6 patties. Heat the butter in a non-stick skillet on medium, or slightly above, until hot and bubbly. Add the patties and cook, turning once, until brown.

To me, the most important things in my larder are good oils and vinegars. I gave up buying bottled salad dressing years ago, the minute I discovered how easy and delicious a homemade vinaigrette was. Now, whenever I get some fresh greens in my market basket, I'll whisk up a dressing right in my teak salad bowl, using a wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, or balsamic vinegar, according to my mood, a dab of dijon mustard, a tiny drizzle of honey, some minced shallot if I have it, good salt and pepper, and a really, really good olive oil. Fortunately, we have someone right here in Wimberley who grows his own olives and turns them into a delicious oil, which I can usually get at Kiss The Cook in town. I then toss the greens until coated, and throw in some toasted nuts, a bit of dried fruit, and a smidge of crumbled feta, goat cheese, or Parmesan shavings.

Two other recipes, which both utilize the farm fresh eggs I always have in the fridge, are the Italian Egg Sandwich and Shakshuka I already posted about. The egg sandwich utilizes the sliced artisinal bread that I usually have in the freezer. Since it's just the two of us here now, and we don't need to finish off a whole loaf of fresh bread in one sitting, we eat it with one meal while it's fresh, then I slice the rest up, spread it out on a cookie sheet, stick it in the freezer for 30 or 45 minutes, then put the slices in a big zip lock freezer bag to be stashed in the freezer for occasions such as this, or toasted with a bit of olive oil brushed on it, rubbed with a clove of garlic, and topped with a light sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. The egg sandwich also uses one of the little bags of pizza sauce you see in that red box on the right, above, while the Shakshuka calls for canned tomatoes and an onion, which I also keep on hand in the pantry. One recipe uses freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and the other calls for feta cheese -- both of which I keep in the fridge, along with a good melting cheese, to use on pasta, in salads, in sandwiches, etc.

Of course, I always have some rice and dried pasta, as well as a jar or two of marinara sauce around, but having the same old spaghetti with red sauce every week can get old, right? So sometimes I switch things up by grabbing some ravioli out of the freezer and topping it with this:

BROWN BUTTER SAUCE WITH HERBS (4 servings or more)

1/2 c. unsalted butter
6 fresh sage leaves (torn into pieces if large) or 1/4 c. fresh basil or other herb of your choice
1/2 tsp. good salt + 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (one jar of whole nutmeg will last you forever)
1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan

In a large heavy frying pan, melt the butter on med-hi until pale golden. Add herbs and cook until crisp. (I usually grab some pine nuts or chopped walnuts from the freezer, and toss those in as well.) Stir in the salt, pepper and nutmeg, adding more to taste. Coat drained pasta in the sauce, sprinkle with grated parmesan and serve.

Last but certainly not least is the really good stuff, like this!

When there's a jug of milk to be used up, I can pull out my handy-dandy cheese kit and stir up a batch of fresh mozzarella to layer between thick slices of heirloom tomatoes for a Caprese salad, or make some fresh ricotta to served warm with sliced pears and a drizzle of honey.

This Mexican chocolate makes a delicious hot beverage in the winter time, or, combined with one of the packets of brownie mix from this giant box I found at Costco...

can be turned into a yummy batch of my Mexican Chocolate Streusal Brownies, to take to a pot luck or bake sale.

Well, this subject is one I could talk about forever, but I think I'd better go get dressed and get busy. Just promise me you'll eat something simply scrumptious this week!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


I sometimes think I visited the Wimberley shops a lot more before I lived here than I do now. The thing is, the longer you've been livin' the good life, the less often you feel the need to go shopping. Lately, just about the only time I go shopping is when I'm showing house guests around town. However, all that is about to change.

You see, the Wimberley shops and restaurants are hurting. They depend on income from our hordes of summer tourists to keep them in business the rest of the year. As I'm sure you can imagine, after our recent epic flood and the media barrage that kept replaying the same horrific images over and over, the hordes have dwindled considerably. So, I decided it was my duty to get out and about more -- not only to check and report, but also to spend a little moolah (hence the recent basket purchase). You will be happy to know that 90% of Wimberley is just a beautiful as ever, and almost all the shops and restaurants are open for business! There was one small strip of shops --  the ones closest to the water near the bridge -- which got flooded, but all of those seem to have found new spaces to move to or are sharing space temporarily with others around the square. Guess what else I discovered while there? There are a bunch of awesome new shops that I didn't even know about! The one above went in where the toy shop used to be, and a peek through the door compelled me to go in.

Have any of you ever been to a shop called Sir Wigglesworth, that used to be in Salado? If you loved that one, you'll love this too!

My new favorite is this one below, called French Market (Mais Oui!), which took the place of Vintage Girl (when did that go out of business?!!).

I was waiting in line at the ATM, a few days after the flood, when I met the owners. They had still been in California, loading up the van to come here and open their new shop, when little Wimberley made national news. Can you imagine their horror? On the plus side, at least there was no merchandise in there to be damaged, when flood waters came lapping at its door. And now? Trés Magnifique!

Another new shop carries my favorite kind of color-mad Mexican clothes. In fact, when I walked in wearing one of my own embroidered cotton blouses, the manager said "Great Blouse!" just as I was saying "Great shop!" Obviously, we are a match made in heaven. Yet another fabulous new shop, right next to French Market, has sort of a Junk Gypsy vibe, and is called Farm Loft. Unfortunately, I was so busy admiring all the yumminess in there, I forgot to take a single photo!

Needless to say, there is still much to enjoy here in Wimberley. And, although the Blanco River area does look very sad, the Blue Hole and Jacobs Well both look better than they have since before the drought. So come on down! Wimberley misses you!

Monday, June 8, 2015


Several years ago I bought a bunch of these Fair Trade market baskets, handwoven in Ghana, to give as Christmas gifts -- and an extra for myself, of course. But then there came an occasion when I needed a gift for one reason or another, and I gave my basket away.  I could always get another one, right?

Well, fast-forward four years to this weekend. Hubby and I are strolling around the square to check out some new shops that went in (more about that tomorrow) and we spot a bunch of big round Bolga Baskets through a shop window. I then say, probably for the umpteenth time, "I really need to get one of those for myself someday." I can only surmise that Hubby was tired of hearing me say that, for he grabbed my elbow, propelled me into the store, and said "Pick one!"

Easier said than done. You see, my house is mostly decorated in brick reds and grass greens, and there were no baskets in that combination. Plus, something kept pulling me over to this one basket they were using as a doorstop. 

Not my colors at all, really, but the universe kept telling me otherwise. Finally I acquiesced, though I had no idea where I would put it.

When I got home I bent to place it on the hearth, until I could come up with someplace better. As I straightened up and turned around, I found myself staring at this picture of the San Antonio Riverwalk -- another impulse purchase from a couple of years back, that really hadn't gone with my color scheme!

 Sometimes ya just gotta hand it to good ol' Synchronicity!