On Coming Home

Years ago, in my early 30’s, I took a trip to Mexico with my friend, Jenn.  (At the time, we were new-ish, met-at-work-and-now-we-are-soul-mates kind of friends, but now we are actual life-long kind of friends.)  There are so many stories from that trip that can only be told in person, or, maybe you just had to be there, but oh my goodness… that was a fun trip!   It was my first (and only?) time in Mexico, and perhaps my first actual “vacation” as an adult.  So, we got there, and headed straight to a table on the beach.  We ordered Sol beers and chips and hot sauce from Roberto.  And I sat there… on the edge of my seat, fidgeting, eyes wide, good posture, big grin — like some kid on the first day of school — and asked, “What are we gonna do now?”  And Jenn just looked at me, and laughed and said “We are already doing it.”

“Oh!”

Sometimes you just miss life if you are thinking about it too much.

This year – this last year of my 40’s – has felt a bit like a journey, dotted with these same kind of “Ah-Hah!” moments.  It’s like I’ve been on this quest of re-discovering, re-connecting, re-grounding, and re-finding where I belong in this life.  Finding HOME, if you will. The first thought I had this morning – ok, maybe not the very first, but the first one that hit me in the face and made me stop for a second – was “How fucking beautiful is this place that I now call home?”

I grew up in Houston, and so,  you look left, you look right, you look ahead, or you look behind… and you pretty much see a building.  Here, I can look, and see as far as I can see. The town is small, but the world feels so much bigger.

Sometimes, looking off into that forever, I get this feeling… a split second of almost-clarity.  It’s a bit elusive and I can’t quite grasp it — like a word that you can’t remember but you know it starts with a certain letter –- but it goes something like this:  Let’s just say I was sad. For whatever reason.  And maybe I was sad for days.  (Or, yikes, maybe I was sad for years!)  But then I think, just FEELING that sadness is good, in a “I’m alive” kind of way.  It means I feel things, and that is good. And acknowledging it means I can also see past it.  I can take that emotion, and roll it around like a marble in my hand, and just hold it, and feel it, and then I can let it go when I’m ready to.  And I put it up for safe keeping, with all the other marbles.  I may go back to it later.  Is that weird?

So, I recently moved (back) to a little town.  The town I did the last 2 years of high school in, the same town my grandfather came to as a boy from Scotland, the town my dad grew up in.  I didn’t grow up here, but it feels like home.

I’ve been coming here for as long as I can remember.  We’d start out early in the morning,   seven of us piled into the car, heading from Houston to Llano.  It would take us all day, even though it’s just under 4 hours if you don’t dawdle.  But, we dawdled.

There are landmarks that I will never forget along the way:

  • the long stretch of I-10, dotted by rice fields and Brookshire and Sealy –towns you would miss if you sneezed or looked the other way
  • that bridge in Columbus that we drove under (before they built the highway out of town)
  • the Bon Ton in La Grange, where we stopped every time and there was always chicken-fried steak
  • that stretch right before Bastrop where the highway is separated by a grass boulevard (but I don’t think that’s the right word)
  • My cousin’s house in Austin where we’d stop and climb a big oak tree (and maybe someone would fall off )
  • Houses on the hill, and the winding, hilly road heading out of Austin
  • that bridge that crosses the Pedernales,  where you can see forever, and it’s so pretty it hurts
  • the cut-off (281) to Marble Falls… so close, but still so far…
  • The lights of town if it was night or the bridge if it was still daytime.

Once we got to my Grandmother’s house, there was the big table in front of the living room, and then a little table in the kitchen.   Just  through there was a bedroom where her feather bed lived (and another bed), and the red stool next to the phone (4245…  those are the only numbers you need to know).  You had to walk through that room, and then another room to get to the bathroom, where the door locked via a hook and eye latch.  The clock in the kitchen tick-tocked all night.

My Grandma Ima would wake up early, before anyone else.  She had hands that were old and strong, and thick glasses, and she could do ANYTHING!  She would make divinity and cake out of almost nothing, and never consulted a recipe.  She would give us buckets to go gather dewberries out of the yard, and then make a cobbler that could make a grown man cry. She always had that kind of vanilla ice cream that came in the big red gallon buckets.  At Thanksgiving, so many people piled into that tiny house, the kids had to go sit on the steps outside.  It would take at least 3 plates to try everything, and that’s even before dessert.

Growing up, I always just assumed I’d live in Houston forever.  It was the place I first went to school.  The place I met my first friends.  The place I married.  The place I divorced.  The place I knew. The place where my own kids grew up. The place I finally figured out how to navigate in my car.  The place I got my first “real job.”  The place I became who I am.

Seems weird to just up and move, but that’s what I did, and it somehow doesn’t seem so weird now.  When I leave here, I can’t wait to come back.  And that is how I know that I’m HOME.  I love my  friends back “home” in Houston, and I love all of my old and new friends here at my new “Home”.

Well, I just lost my train of thought, or I didn’t have an ending in mind.  That’s all for now.  Thanks for taking this trip with me.

Awesome Sauce

Awesome Sauce

The first time I made this Awesome (habanero) Sauce, I just started throwing stuff together that I thought would be good – habaneros, pineapple, garlic, spices, and even pickled carrots.  When I took a taste, my first thought was “Oh, my damn! This needs some sausage!”  So, I grabbed my car keys and made a mad dash to the grocery store.  I’m pretty sure I looked like some sort of deranged tweaker — darting around in all directions, wild-eyed, and mumbling to myself — looking for things to eat with this sauce.   “Sausage… Shrimp… ohhhhh…. breakfast tacos… no wait, ALL the tacos!… spinach quesadilla?…  uh, yeah….. how about a really good sub sandwich? (duh!)… meatballs… pizza… mmm… ”    I’m not exactly proud to say that my meal plan that week consisted entirely of “things that go good with Awesome Sauce.”

Awesome Sauce ingredients

(The name I first came up with was “Oh My Damn Sauce”.   But, I’ve since settled on Awesome Sauce because it’s way more fun to say,  and is also annoying to some people – which is fun.)

I have also recently found that Awesome Sauce goes really well with fried catfish and boudin.  Which, coincidentally,  rank pretty high on my food pyramid these days.

My food pyramid

This sauce might look a little like mustard, and definitely could be used as such, but it packs a really nice bit of heat and way more interesting flavor.   Pineapple juice gives it just enough sweetness to tone the habanero down a tad, yet it’s not too sweet.  I like it medium hot, sort of along the lines of Sriracha sauce, but you could go way hotter (or less) if you like by adjusting the habaneros.

Continue reading “Awesome Sauce”

Quickles!

Quickles

What’s a Quickle?  A Quickle is a quick pickle for those of us who just “aint got time for that!”  These suckers are ready overnight, and that’s plenty long enough to have to wait, in my opinion.  I love having a big jar of these around.  They are fresh and a little crispy and the perfect thing to go with everything that I like to snack on.  Sometimes I just stand at the counter, gazing off into the distance and eating them one by one right out of the jar.  Or I’ll stack 3 together, and think “Hey! I made a pickle sandwich!”  But I do like them with lots of other things…. sandwiches, boudin, anything rolled up in a tortilla, fried catfish, random slices of lunch-meat… and of course on a slider, as that is the perfect ratio of pickle to burger.  Behold:

Quickle Slider

I like to put a good bit of onions in mine, because something magical happens when you pair cucumbers and onions and a bit of vinegar.  But, we are talking about pickles now, so it all starts with some cukes.  Kirby, or pickling cucumbers are great if you can find them.  Or those funny English cucumbers that are usually wrapped up in plastic work well, too.  These will have thinner skins than the regular old slicer cucumbers. Get about 10 of the Kirby ones to make a big jar, or about 6-7 English cucumbers.

Kirby Cucumbers

The process is pretty simple.  Slice them up and put in a big bowl so you can distribute the salt and spices evenly.  Add some hot pepper if you like, garlic if you like… whatever!  These are your pickles!

You’ll be surprised at first at the small amount of liquid, but trust me, the salt will pull moisture out of the cucumbers and make an amazing brine in no time.   Note that these are refrigerator pickles… they are not “canned”, and as such, you should not store them in your Doomsday Prep food dungeon.  Please.  They will stay delish in the fridge for around 2 weeks.  So, go ahead and get your fill before the zombie apocalypse starts.  (To prepare for THAT, you will need to learn some proper canning skills.  That’s for a different day. Today is all about Quickles.  Pay attention.)

quickles bowl

Use your hands to mix the cucumbers  (and onions, carrots, peppers, garlic as you see fit) and salt and spices in a large bowl.  Then put them in a big jar.  I like to let this sit for a few hours on the counter first BEFORE adding vinegar. This is to make sure the salt has maximum surface time on all the slices, and can do it’s magic and pull that brine out.  After that, you can add the vinegar and put in the fridge – and then give it a little shake whenever you think about it.  (Basically, whenever you open the fridge door to see if any new snacks have appeared since the last time you peeked inside.)  Let them sit overnight, and by the next day, they are perfection!

I hope you like!

P.S:  Just wait until you meet Awesome Sauce (that’s next!)  Because Quickles and Awesome Sauce pair so nicely with so many things!!

Quickles

Ingredients

  • 10 Kirby Cucumbers (or 6-7 English Cucumbers)
  • 1 medium Onion, sliced
  • 1 large Carrot, sliced thin
  • 1 Serrano pepper, sliced (opt)
  • 10 Garlic Cloves (opt)
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (opt)
  • 1 teaspoon Pickling Spice
  • 1 teaspoon Mustard Seed
  • 1 teaspoon Celery Seed
  • 1 teaspoon Dill Seed
  • 2/3 cup White Vinegar

Instructions

  1. Slice cucumbers, and other veggies, then place into large bowl. Add remaining dry ingredients and mix together to distribute spices evenly. Place in a large jar and let sit at room temperature for a few hours. Add vinegar, gently shake and store in the refrigerator. Give it a shake several more times over the next day. Allow to sit overnight. These will keep well in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

Lessons from Dog

It’s OK to be happy.  Let yourself.  Sit in the sunshine, hear the birds, let the wind rustle your hair. Exhale.  Just be.

Not everything needs to be mulled over and over and dissected and examined into infinity.  Not everything needs to be understood.

I think I decided to up and move in the time it took me to blink.  It was one of those “why not?” kind of moments that just came out of nowhere.  But it made so much sense.  Once that train started rolling, it all happened pretty quick, at least in retrospect.  I mean, some things felt like an eternity (waiting on the appraisal, for example) but in the end, everything just fell in place.  Like it was meant to be.  And now, here I am.  Sitting on my back porch on my own little piece of Texas.  Spring has arrived… the bluebonnets are popping up all over, and everything turned green almost overnight. (Well, except for the dust-bowl that I call a backyard… but working on that!)  There is sunshine, and birds, and plenty of space for dogs.  I call it… wait for it… the Dog Ranch!

My first foster dog arrived last week. His name is Elroy, and he is a hot mess.  You know that’s just how I like them.  He doesn’t have much hair,  he’s shy, and he’s skinny.  His face looked like concrete when he was rescued, but he looks better every day.

   

He is hella goofy and a little unsure about me, but he took right to my girls.  Novella has taken him under her wing – she’s so good like that.  She’s teaching him about Tug and Chase and about really good naps.  About feeling the wind and the warmth of the sun.  About chasing birds and scavenging for the bird seed that falls from the feeder.  About just being happy.

He didn’t know about soft beds, but he does now. He just found out that he likes squeaky toys.  It takes me 10 minutes to coax him into the house every single time I let him out, but he eventually comes to me.

I packed up my house 2 months ago, and I left Houston for the hill country.  I walked away, and I packed up the broken parts of me in a box and I taped it up so good.  I still haven’t unpacked that box, and maybe I just won’t.  That stupid box of shards and tears.  Not everything has to be dealt with.  Not right away, anyway.

For now, I am just letting myself be happy.  And it feels good.  I hope you can be happy, too.

Let yourself be happy.

Novella

Pepper Crack

Pepper Crack

If you had visited this space before, you might notice that I deleted my entire blog.  After not finding the time to post for nearly a year, I just deleted the whole thing and didn’t even keep a backup.  Of course, then I had a change of heart within just a few days.  So, here we go with a whole new start!

I was a little sad to lose some of the stories, but they aren’t really gone.  If you’ve met me or anyone in my family, you will know that one thing we never do is let a good story die.  If it was worth telling once, it’s worth re-telling a thousand times!  Just stop by any family gathering and bear witness to the 35th annual retelling of “That time Granny Gran got arrested for stealing a beer”.  Stick around a little longer, and you’ll probably catch my brother Robert re-enacting (in slow motion) “That time Granny Gran copped a squat on I-10.”  Fun times!

And so, for my inaugural post… behold Pepper Crack:  The best stuff to ever grace a pizza,  breakfast taco, sandwich, or guacamole!  It’s like Chicago Style Giardiniera, but with a shit-ton of garlic.  Make a big batch, because it takes a few days to become just right, and you wouldn’t want to accidentally run out. We’ll skip story time and get right to the recipe because some people have been asking.

You ready?  You’re gonna need a lot of peppers…

Peppers

My first rule:  Don’t cheat on the knife work.  It’s a lot of slicing, but it’s so much prettier when you don’t hack it up with a chopper.

Pepper Crack

Second rule:  You really should share. (But, the big jar in back is all for me!)

PepperCrackJars

Pepper Crack

Hot Pepper mix that goes with everything! Try on pizza, eggs, sandwiches, and in guacamole. This recipe will yeild 6 mason jars.… Continue reading →

  • Yield: About 7 jars

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Serrano Peppers
  • 6 Celery Stalks
  • 1 cup Kosher Salt
  • 6 cups Water
  • 40 Garlic Cloves
  • 12 ounces Spanish Olives (stuffed with Pimiento)
  • 1 tablespoon Oregano (dried)
  • 2 cups Canola, Avocado, or Grapeseed Oil
  • 2 cups Vinegar (white, cider or combo)

Instructions

  1. Rinse peppers and cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick. (WEAR GLOVES!) Dice celery. Dissolve 1 Cup Kosher salt into 2 cups warm water in a large (non-metal) bowl. Add the peppers and celery and additional water as necessary to cover the peppers. Refrigerate at least overnight, or up to 3 days.
  2. After the peppers have brined, rinse and drain well, and return to the bowl. (I rinse a couple of times, shaking out some of the seeds.) Chop the garlic (I like not-too-small pieces), slice the olives, and add into the bowl with the peppers. Add the Oregano and about a 1/4 cup of oil, and mix together.
  3. Transfer the pepper mix into clean jars, and then top off with vinegar and oil (approximately half and half, or more vinegar if you prefer.) Let the pepper mix sit for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, gently shaking the jars occasionally. Use within 2-3 weeks.

 

There are endless ways to use up a jar of Pepper Crack.  My mission is to find them all.  My new favorite is Pepper Crack Avo Toast.  Yummmmmm!

Pepper Crack Avo Toast