CHAPPELL HILL RANCH WEEKEND


We spent the Memorial Day weekend in Chappell Hill, a small rural community about 70 miles from Houston.  We almost didn’t make it due to heavy rains and flooding in the days prior to our arrival — the area received nearly 18 inches of rain in 24 hours, and the Brazos River was overflowing in areas.  Where we were staying wasn’t affected, but our prayers are with others in the area who lost their homes, property, livestock, and in a few cases, their lives.  Just outside of Chappell Hill we passed this completely submerged farmland:

IMG_3288

I cannot get this image of a cow that drowned out of my mind, and seeing it (and another one), was heartbreaking:

cow flood

We rented Rockstar Ranch last fall, and were excited about returning.

ranch logo

The spacious and comfortable house, guest house, and property make for a great place for “city folks” like us to unwind.

There was a large porch with lots of rockers — perfect for watching the sun rise and set:

IMG_3342

I especially enjoyed the beautiful flora around the property:

IMG_3338

Mariesii variegated lacecap hydrangea

IMG_3340

Trumpet vine

flower

??? — anyone — ???

IMG_1805

Knock-out roses

blue flower

Commelina erecta (white mouth dayflower or slender dayflower)

IMG_3357

Buddleia (butterfly bush)

And we all got a kick out of the fauna in the area:

green frog

Little green frog on the kitchen window

Up close and personal with the neighbor’s cows:

two cows

Watching you

stalker cow

Stalker cow

white cow

Does this weed make my butt look big?

Rocking on the porch while watching the deer was a favorite activity:

And then there was this little fella that was in the pool — we think it must have washed out of the pond with the heavy rains:

IMG_3312

There were lots of insects too, most of which we weren’t too thrilled about — except for the fireflies.  Yes — fireflies have returned to the Texas hill country!  I’ve been in Texas since 1981 and have never once seen a firefly.  Each time one lit up, someone would squeal with excitement.  Well, maybe not squeal, but at least one of the kids would say “cool.”

Much of the weekend was spent just hanging around the ranch — swimming, cooking, rocking, reading.  But we did venture out to a few local places.  Our first stop was for barbecue lunch at the Chappell Hill Bakery & Deli.

There was the usual assortment of smoked meats, and a wide variety of sides to choose from:

IMG_3289

The barbecue was OK, and none of us liked the barbecue sauce, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the sides, including the creamy mac ‘n cheese, the tangy pepper cole slaw, and the loaded mashed potatoes:

chappell hill bbq

On the retail side of the store, there were shelves full of pickled things, salsas, condiments, jerky, and refrigerated cases of meats, sausages, and cheeses.

But what makes this place worthy of a visit, in my opinion, is the bakery.  Treat yourself to some pillowy kolaches and giant pralines loaded with pecans (there’s also cookies, cinnamon rolls, breads, and cakes).

 And whatever you do, don’t leave without a pie!

pies

I don’t know how many different types of pies they bake, but the one that we flipped over (and made a second visit to pick up one to take home) was the pecan pie–not too sweet, and brimming with pecans.  With a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it had us all swooning.

pecanpie

We also had lunch at the Southern Flyer Diner in nearby Brenham.  The restaurant is located at the Brenham Municipal Airport, and is open every day from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m.

IMG_7080

The diner’s 1950s decor, complete with waitresses in poodle skirts, cherry-red vinyl clad chairs and booths, and a jukebox is cute and kitschy.

diner seats

 

Part of the fun is watching the small planes fly in and out.

As I stood there watching the planes, one landed and parked right in front of the diner.  Two older women got out and went inside the restaurant for lunch.

IMG_3456

As a family that thinks twice about having to drive more than 10 minutes to go out to eat, I was fascinated by the idea that people would actually fly there for lunch.  But according to the owners, pilots are always looking for a reason to fly, and a burger is as good a reason as any.  The burgers are jokingly referred to as $100 Hamburgers — pilots call them that because they burn about that much in gas to fly there for a burger.  (In fact, there’s a subscription website called the 100 Dollar Hamburger, where pilots can find places to eat  at or near an airport.)

The food was classic diner food, all freshly prepared.  The portions were generous and the food was very good.  Highlights of our meal included chili with cornbread (onions, cheese, and jalapeños available):

 Boneless Buffalo wings (all white meat):

buffalo tenders

Fajita beef quesadilla:

quesadilla

And a juicy 1/2 pound burger topped with sautéed mushrooms and swiss cheese.

burger

There were also root beer floats and milkshakes made with Blue Bell ice cream (this is Brenham, after all, home of Blue Bell Creameries):

IMG_7101

We also took a stroll down Main Street in Chappell Hill.  There’s just a handful of establishments, all with an old-timey feel, and many of which are on the National Register of Historic Places:

IMG_1839

My favorite was the Post Office on Main Street, with its charming garden maintained by the Chappell Hill Garden Club:

IMG_3404

I long ago gave up on my fantasy of owning a ranch.  Being able to rent one as lovely as this is the next best thing to owning one.  I’m already looking forward to our next weekend at the ranch, whenever that may be.

 

 

COMFORTING POTATO SOUP

Remember life before smartphones?

IMG_3281

IMG_3285

Like the folks in these vintage photos that I found on ebay, I spent the better part of the last couple of weeks laying around.  We had plans to go out for my husband’s birthday in the middle of April, but earlier in the day I experienced sudden, severe abdominal pain, that lasted for the next few days, and had me confined to my bed.  It let up for a few days, but after a week, it seemed to only be getting worse, and so on my birthday (which is a week after my husband’s), I spent the day in urgent care, where I discovered I had diverticulitis with complications.  I was sent to the hospital via ambulance, where I spent 6 miserable days.  Worst birthday ever.

I am surprised at how long it has taken me to get back to my old self.  The first week back at home I barely moved off the sofa.  Apart from the fact that I was still recovering, I had no energy.  The antibiotics — for which I am grateful — wreaked their own special kind of havoc.

For about 3 weeks, I either had no appetite, or was so overwhelmed by nausea that I couldn’t eat.  Even the smell of food made me sick.  When I did start feeling well enough to eat, I craved bland, comfort foods — things like macaroni and cheese, baked potatoes with butter, pasta with butter, anything with butter.  I’m back to eating normally, but I might have to have just one more bowl of pasta with butter (don’t judge).

On one of my son’s visits to me in the hospital, he hugged me as he was leaving and whispered in my ear, “I need you to come home, Mom.”  So touching.  “Why?” I asked.  He whispered, “I need you to go to the grocery store and to cook.”  Oh well, at least he missed me — have to count your blessings where you find them.

Inspired by the photos of the couch potatoes, when I finally felt sort of well enough to venture back into the kitchen, I made a big pot of potato soup, which my son requested and which sounded pretty good to me.  Making the soup in my debilitated state, however, about killed me.  My mise en place was more like mise en plotz.  I fried up the chopped bacon, then had to go sit down for 10 minutes.  Chopped the carrots and celery, and had to lay down for 15 minutes.  Peeling and dicing the potatoes was almost a deal-breaker, but a cold soda and a half-hour of laying on the couch and watching TV recharged me.  Eventually I was able to finish the soup.  It was comforting and delicious, and marked the beginning of a return to normalcy, for which I am very thankful.

You should find the soup considerably easier to make.  Have everything chopped in advance, and it will come together in no time.  It’s slightly adapted from the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Perfect Potato Soup.  My whole family loves it, and I have no doubt yours will too.

COMFORTING POTATO SOUP
Print
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 slices bacon, cut into ½" pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk (low-fat is OK)
  • ½ cup half and half
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated cheddar, optional topping
  • Chopped chives or green onions, optional topping
Instructions
  1. Place bacon in a large stockpot over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until bacon is crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with a paper towel, and reserve for sprinkling on top of soup. Pour off all but approximately 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat.
  2. Add the carrots and the celery to the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, then add the potatoes. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-6 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are very tender, approximately 15 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together milk and flour, and add to soup. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add onion powder and garlic powder, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion (stick) blender (preferred) or blender. (If using a blender, puree soup in batches, filling blender no more than half full, to avoid having hot soup explode out of the blender.)
  4. Return pureed soup to pot. Stir in half and half. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot garnished with bacon pieces, grated cheddar, and chives or green onions, as desired.

IMG_3275

Potato soup — it’s good for what ails you

potato heart

I <3 potatoes

GOODBYE TO LILO

Last week we said goodbye to Lilo, our sweet shar pei:

beautifulgirl

Lilo was just shy of 11 years old, and lived longer than any of our other three shar peis, which was incredible given all of her health problems.  You may have heard that shar peis are prone to a host of health issues, and Lilo had, I believe, all of them, including chronic ear infections, swollen hock syndrome, and entropion.

wrinkles

Lilo joined our family when she was 10 months old.  We had owned two shar peis — Dexter and Har Gow — who were best friends.  When Har Gow died unexpectedly, we needed a new companion for Dexter on an urgent basis.  We contacted Har Gow’s breeder, and the only dog she had available was Lilo.  She told us that Lilo had been with two other families, but it didn’t work out (including a vague story about an elderly owner that couldn’t care for her).  The breeder assured us that Lilo was a great dog without any problems.  She sent us these photos:

In hindsight, nothing the breeder told us really added up.  As soon as Lilo arrived, we knew she was not as the breeder represented.  She was, for lack of a better word, dull. We subsequently learned that her mother had died during childbirth, which the breeder neglected to mention, which explained a lot.  She had a cherry eye, which the breeder also neglected to mention.  She also forgot to mention that she had tacked Lilo’s eyelids twice, but that it had failed to correct the drooping eyelids (we never really did see Lilo’s eyes).  Lilo was timid, and cowered every time my husband came near her (for at least six or seven years), which led us to believe that she had been abused at some point, although the breeder denied it.  She wasn’t cuddly or playful, and fought with Dexter.  After a few months we contacted the breeder about sending her back.  But then, as if Lilo understood our conversations, she suddenly quit fighting with Dexter and settled in, as though she realized staying with us was maybe not so terrible.

best friends

Dexter and Lilo

So if Lilo wasn’t smart or cuddly or playful, what was she?

She was ours.

We all grew on each other, and Lilo became an integral part of our family.  She was a fierce watchdog, with a menacing bark.  She stayed close to us, and was always right there begging for table scraps.  She slept in our room and snored loudly — we used to joke that it was our white noise, kind of like falling asleep to the sound of the ocean.  If you put your face up to her muzzle, she would reward you with wet sloppy kisses.  She loved to lay in the driveway and soak up the sunshine.  She hated thunderstorms and loved marrow bones.  No matter where she was in the house, and no matter how swollen and painful her hocks were, if she heard the treat drawer open, she came running.  She was our Lilo.

chair

My Facebook followers knew Lilo as “stalker dog,” and I loved to photograph her poking around corners:

Dexter died in 2010, and we now have two duck tolling retrievers — Jasper and Maisy — wiith whom Lilo got along just fine.

We noticed a few weeks ago that Lilo had suddenly lost a lot of weight and was becoming disoriented, and we knew that our time with her was drawing to a close.  We agreed that as long as she didn’t appear to be in pain, we wouldn’t put her down.  And so we provided Lilo with the best hospice care we were capable of, and hoped that she wouldn’t suffer.  I don’t know if that was the right decision, but it was our decision.  It was hard watching her go.  It was like watching a shopkeeper close up for the night — first he hangs the closed sign, then he sweeps up, empties the cash register, closes the lights, and finally, he locks the door.  A few days before she died, Lilo hung up the closed sign and stopped eating and drinking.  Then she became bedridden.  She was not really alert in the day or two prior to her death.  And then, finally, she closed the lights and locked the door.  My employers, who are decent people, were understanding, and I was able to be with Lilo in those final few days, staying by her, comforting her.

comfort

Jasper kept the vigil too, watching over her.

vigil

In a final act of love and compassion, after Lilo passed away my husband cleaned her up before we took her body to the vet for cremation, bathing and blow-drying her.  He swaddled her in a fluffy clean blanket, and cradled her as we sat in the vet’s lobby waiting for assistance.

She was ours.

Rest in peace, sweet Lilo.  We love you.

sunbathing

IMG_2919

TEXAS ROADWAYS IN SPRING AND GRAYZE RESTAURANT

This weekend we took a short road trip to San Antonio.

IMG_2685

There was a ton of traffic as folks headed home from Spring Break, but I honestly didn’t mind, because the wildflowers were in full bloom and were incredible.  They were everywhere along Interstate 10 and U.S. Highway 90.  Among the highlights were the plentiful pink patches of Texas Buttercups, also known as Showy Primroses:

IMG_2710

Brilliant red Drummond Phlox:

And loads of Texas Bluebonnets (of course):

Usually bluebonnets are the star of the Texas spring wildflower show, but this year I believe they were outshone by the Indian Paintbrushes:

IMG_2682

IMG_2678

IMG_2684

We got to San Antonio in time for brunch, and after 3 hours of internet research in the car (Carsick?  Who me?) we decided on Grayze, near the Pearl District.  It’s only been open since January, but seems to have attracted attention with its “modern take on classic dishes at affordable prices.”

IMG_7537

IMG_7533

We were surprised to discover that the only option for Sunday brunch was a buffet, which was not on the online menu.  If we’d known that, we probably would have picked another restaurant — self-control is an issue at buffets, and I always feel like maybe I should make sure my affairs are in order before partaking.  As it turned out, it was a good thing we didn’t know about the buffet, and had no choice once we got there, because it was a delicious surprise, and at $16, a great value — it would have been a shame to skip it.

This was not your ordinary breakfast buffet, with sad pans of burnt bacon, watery eggs, and rubbery pancakes.  Oh no, this one was full of tempting dishes, including mustard-maple glazed salmon:

IMG_2652

French onion macaroni and cheese:

IMG_2651

An outstanding roasted mushroom medley:

IMG_2668

Addictive candied bacon (yep, that’s right):

IMG_2653

Bison chili scrambled eggs, with tomatillo salsa:

IMG_2656

And a great barley salad and pile of fresh fruit:

Each week the buffet features a French toast creation.  Last week it was crème brulee French toast, and the week before that it was Fruity Pebbles French toast.  This week it was S’mores French toast, with peanut butter in the middle, topped with marshmallow Fluff and a chocolate drizzle.  I’m pretty sure you could hear my pants pop open at this point:

IMG_2655

There was also smoked brisket hash, heirloom tomato salad with ricotta cheese, cold roasted pork shoulder with chimichurri, chicken sausage, thick slices of toast with apricot butter, and strawberry crumble with whipped cream.

Diners at a nearby table were enjoying the “mimosa kit,’ which I think is a wonderful idea.  $26 gets you a bottle of Prosecco and a carafe of orange or grapefruit juice, and everyone gets to make their own, in whatever proportions they are up for.

The space had an ice house feel, very casual.  Lots of families, dogs, good times.  We’ll be back!

BEEF AND BARLEY SOUP


IMG_7523

I found this boomerang at an estate sale.  This is not just any boomerang, it is a piece of hand-painted aboriginal art:

One definition of boomerang offered by Urban Dictionary is a “frisbee for a kid with no friends.”  I had a boomerang once, but forgot how to throw it — then it came back to me (groan).  Fortunately, this boomerang came with directions:

IMG_7526

Too much math for me

The boomerang is loosely based on the concept that what goes around comes around (no kidding, right?).  This is also the concept on which leftovers are based, and which has inspired this recipe for Beef and Barley Soup.

Recently, the New York Times ran an article about a dish known as Mississippi Roast “one of the most popular recipes on the web.”  The recipe calls for a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch Mix and a packet of McCormick Au Jus Gravy Mix, which you sprinkle over the chuck roast you have placed in your slow cooker, and top with a stick of butter and a few peperoncini.

Roast 1

Cook on low for 8 hours, and voila:

roast 2

The roast was just fine, and could not have been easier, but the packets are a deal-breaker for a lot of folks — you know, chemicals, sodium, etc. — the whole “factory-to-table” thing.  I’d have to admit that I prefer my own recipe for pot roast, with seared meat, tomato paste, red wine, herbs, and veggies.  Anyway, we had a lot of leftovers, and there’s only so many nights in a row you can eat the same meal (our limit being two), so I had to repurpose the leftover roast.  Beef and Barley Soup has become one of our favorite hearty soups.  Whenever we have a roast or steak, we always make sure to save a piece in order to make the soup, so having leftover Mississippi Roast was actually something we were quite happy about.

BEEF AND BARLEY SOUP
Print
Recipe type: Soup
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup chopped leftover beef (roast beef, pot roast, etc.)
  • ½ cup pearled barley
  • 4 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced or quartered
  • Pinch of dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots, and celery, and saute until vegetables are tender and onion is translucent. Add beef, barley, broth, water, mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for approximately 1 hour, until barley is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  2. If necessary, thin soup with additional beef broth.

 

Soup’s on!

boomerang

BAKED CARDOONS WITH BREADCRUMBS AND PARMESAN

We’ve been enjoying glorious spring weather here in Houston.  Cultivated bluebonnets are appearing in neighboring yards:

IMG_7490

Frilly azaleas are in full bloom (on the heels of the redbuds, lorapetalum, and Japanese magnolias).  It’s almost as if the city were spray painted with big splotches of pink, purple, and white:

Those are what I call azaleas!

These huge azaleas tend to be found on older homes.  Landscapers today tend to favor Encore azaleas, which grow in tidier formations not much more than about 16 inches tall, and promise to bloom year round.  (The “bloom year round” thing, unfortunately, is kind of a joke.  They manage to choke out a few blossoms in the warmer weather, but they are decidedly not spectacular.)

IMG_7508

  Encore azaleas

I came across a tree that was filled with birds that I didn’t instantly recognize.  There must have been 30 of them, flitting about, eating the berries on the tree.  I sat and watched them for a while, completely mesmerized.  I later learned that they were Cedar Waxwings.

 

IMG_7484

Cedar Waxwings

The farmers market was packed this weekend, with people coming from all over to enjoy the great weather.  I came home with some beautiful produce, including tender broccoli side shoots (we love these):

IMG_2517

Green onions in bud (I think these look like baby leeks, but am always told they are green onions):

And never-cease-to-delight-me candy-striped Chioggia beets:

IMG_2495 Don’t be fooled by their plain exterior

The beauty within

Most of the produce came from Atkinson Farms, one of my favorite vendors.  As I completed my purchase and started to walk away, I noticed something on a back table, a sort of Land of Misfit Vegetables.  Beep, beep, beep — I backed up to get a better look.  Wait.  Was that . . . .   Could it be . . . ?  Cardoons?

Mr. Atkinson confirmed that they were, in fact, cardoons.  Up until then, I had only read about cardoons, and at this point, my nose was probably twitching with excitement.  I asked him what do you do with them, and he answered with the same answer I get whenever I ask him about any vegetable he sells — “eat them.”  I told him I figured that out, and he kind of smiled and very patiently explained to me how to prepare them.  Turns out, they are a bit of work, which is why, he said, people don’t like to buy them.  Silly people.  He handed me a bunch, told me they were on him, and to let him know what I thought of them.  Oh, Joy is my new middle name!

Cardoons, like artichokes, are thistle-like members of the sunflower family.   Mr. Atkinson was right, they are a bit of work.  You first have to strip the leaves, which are bitter, and trim the outside layer, which is stringy.  I’m not sure how to describe the inside of the stalk — it looks like a series of tubes.  As the stalks mature, they become hollow and more stringy.

Next, the prepared cardoons need to be simmered in salted water for about 30 minutes until they’re tender.  Then they’re ready to be used in any number of ways — sliced and added to pasta, breaded and fried, gratineed, etc.

IMG_2567

I topped my cardoons with a mixture of 1/2 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, then dotted it with about a tablespoon of butter and baked at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the topping was browned.

IMG_2574Looking at cardoons, you might expect them to taste like celery.  You would be wrong, and really, why would you want to go to all that trouble for something that tastes like celery, when you could just eat celery?  You may have heard that they taste like artichokes.  More accurately, they taste EXACTLY like artichoke hearts.  And for that, the hassle is worth it.

EASTER-Y DEVILED EGGS

Every year around this time I get lots of visitors to the blog looking for cute deviled egg ideas for Easter.  Apparently deviled eggs are not just popular in the South!  So for those of you hunting for a fun appetizer for an Easter meal, here’s the updated 2016 annual roundup of Easter-y deviled eggs.

Your family will cluck with approval at these cute little chicks from swellkid:

chickie eggs

Use a small ice cream scoop to make these stand-up stand-out Easter chicks from delish:

chickeggs

 A plateful of cute Easter critters from saveonfoods.com:

bunny_deviled_eggs

These colorful ones from Real Mom Kitchen are sure to wow:

Easter-Deviled-Eggs[1]

Little hens and chicks from eye candy (not sure which one she made first, the hen or the chicks):

eggchicks[1]

Keep ’em guessing with deviled egg bunnies/mice from MyFudo:

0404-bunny-eggs_vg[1]

T’was the night before Easter and all through the house . . . .

Everyone will ooh and aah at this pretty springtime presentation from Hungry Happenings:

Making deviled eggs into daisies [1]

What kid could possibly resist these adorable bunny eggs from Paas?

bunny_deviled_eggs_Lg

Another cute bunny idea (although I might leave the whiskers off) comes from PapaWow:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And adorable bunny feet eggs from Hungry Happenings:

bunnyfeeteggs

A basket of deviled egg cuteness (soak celery in water to make it pliable for the handle):

deviled egg baskets

Here’s another adorable Easter basket deviled egg from Taste of Home with candy-coated sunflower seed eggs:

exps150356_SD2401785A12_05_1b_WEB

If you’d prefer something a little more reverent for Easter, you might try these carrot crosses from Happier than a Pig in Mud:

carrot crosses 063[1]

Not deviled eggs, but here’s a few fun ways to serve hard-boiled eggs for Easter and use up those leftover dyed eggs:

Hard-Boiled-Egg-Chicks-and-Bunnies-Made-From-Dyed-Easter-Eggs_700pxTitle2

fivehearthome.com

eastereggs1

servingupsouthern.com

Gather a few giggles with these hatching eggs from Hungry Happenings:

hatchingeggs

Here’s my own recipe for Easter Lily Deviled Eggs! Feel free to use your favorite recipe for deviled eggs, or try a new one — like this great-sounding one for Chipotle Cilantro Deviled Eggs from Savoury Table.

photo

EASTER LILY DEVILED EGGS
Print
Recipe type: Appetizers
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 mini fillo shells (recipe developed with Athens brand)
  • Paprika (sweet or smoked), to garnish
Instructions
  1. Slice eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks and place in a small bowl; set whites aside. Add mayonnaise and mustard to bowl, and using a fork, mash together with yolks until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon or pipe yolk mixture into fillo shells. Cut triangular petals from reserved egg whites with a sharp paring knife. For each deviled egg cup, arrange 5 petals decoratively around filling, sprinkle paprika lightly over filling, and serve.

 

easter-lily[1] Happy Easter!