Red Dirt Girl Goes to Bastrop

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Bastrop

Bastrop State Park that is. Just on the outskirts of Bastrop, Texas, near a busy crossroads with a Buc-ee’s located just outside the park entrance.  It is about 3.5 hours by car from Fort Worth,  It wasn’t exactly like living the country life but we did stay in a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) cabin situated in a cluster of old cabins inside the park built back in 1934.  Most recently these cabins survived fire and flood so expect they will be around for another eighty years or more. The loblolly pines or what Texans call the lost pines didn’t fare so well but they are slowly coming back after seven years of steady growth.

Our cabin was originally built of reddish colored boulders and the inside surprised us with a wood-burning fireplace with a hand carved mantel.  The rest of the cabin was sparse but we were able to cook several meals and there was a bed with linens along with fresh towels and an indoor bathroom so we didn’t rough it much.  There is a photograph of the men who built the cabins hanging on the wall inside the cabin.  RM said the crew looked hungry as all of them in the photograph were pencil thin by today’s standards. We really need to do something about this high fructose corn syrup diet that is literally killing us.

We explored the town of Bastrop before checking into the cabin and enjoyed walking the downtown street full of tiny shops and cafes as well as a leisurely stroll along the Colorado River.  We stopped for a craft beer and free popcorn at the Bastrop Beer Company grand opening.  That night, back at the ol’ campgrounds,  we built a fire outside in the pit as well as inside in the CCC built fireplace.   RM likes to burn crap, a lot of crap.  It was a bit smokey in the cabin but the ambiance was nice and my leather purse still carries that aroma one week after the trip.

The next morning we headed into Bastrop for their regular Saturday morning farmer’s market.  It is held next to the town’s art center so after buying up some fresh fennel, spring onions and greens, we checked out the local art gallery.  We noticed lots of scenes of the area including a painting of the cool bridge that crosses over the Colorado River in Bastrop.  There is a walking path on the bridge so you can walk over if you have time.

After that, we were hungry so we headed to Smithville to check out the town where Hope Floats was filmed.  We ate at the Comfort Cafe,a donation based restaurant, that supports people who are recovering from addiction.  Whoever runs the kitchen knows how to cook high quality locally sourced food and their coffee is better than any Starbucks.  Don’t miss looking into the dessert case.

We walked around Smithville but it started to rain.  We did discover many of the buildings and the gazebo from the film but then headed back to the park for a nap and couple of hours of reading.  The weather cleared a bit so we drove inside the park to find the trail head that leads to the CCC built outlook over the park, about a 2-mile-trek up and back.

The humidity was high so it was a little sweaty but nothing like how that hike would be in the middle of summer.  Don’t do the trail when the sun is out as there is not a lot of shade but in April there were so many wildflowers everywhere we walked and nice cloud cover.  Thank you Lady Bird Johnson for the gift of wildflowers in Texas.  We made it to the top of the outlook for a pretty view out over the park and then quickly we trekked back down as a thunderstorm was headed our way.  We returned  back to the car just in time to not get drenched.  We thought about going out to dinner but the sound of the rain on the roof of the old cabin was so peaceful and we had plenty of food on hand to prepare dinner so we just stayed in by the fire.  Nice.

Just the kind of birthday week-end a Red Dirt Girl likes.

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Products I Love

Products I Love

Dill pollen, hand collected and AMAZING when sprinkled on green beans, eggs or tuna salad or on the end of your finger. Pollen Ranch Spices This is not just some substitute for dried dill leaves. Rather, it’s a subtler, more nuanced version of the familiar dill, milder than the fresh herb but equally suited for many of its uses. It’s a great finishing spice for lots of dishes and reduces the call for salt.

pollen

Vanilla pure bean paste – so much more concentrated and vanilla flavor than extract and half the cost of vanilla beans without the hassle of scraping out the pod. Vanilla paste

Grab the Gold Energy bar – gluten and dairy free.  These bars are expensive so if you can’t afford the price tag or you pride yourself on being thrifty, try making your own by following this link Copy Cat Gold Bars

The smell of pinon pine incense takes me to New Mexico every time. When I smell it, my shoulders immediately relax.  The very smoky aroma upgrades your daily yoga practice Cones of Pinon

Black flats.  I live in black flats and love these from Clarks.  Almost all the shoes in my closet are Clarks Black Flats to Live in

For my clothes, I let Stitch Fix take care of me and love getting the little aqua box every month full of 4-5 items of clothing and accessories selected just for me to try on and decide either to add to my wardrobe or simply return in the postage paid mailer.  So easy, so fun, at stitchfix.com

Johnny’s Selected Seeds is a great way to buy healthy seeds for your spring garden.  I learned about them when I took a gardening class at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT for short). Johnny’s Seeds  The seeds come in resealable packages with a plastic bag within the outside paper wrapper.  Great for storing in your refrigerator.  Order their free catalog. It is a beauty.  If you want to learn about soil biology and urban gardens check out their classes at BRIT.  They’re legit! BRIT

seeds

Happy Spring from the Red Dirt Girl.

Fried Bologna Sandwich

Fried Bologna Sandwich

After reading a Rick Bragg short story in Southern Living magazine in which he describes in salivating detail the assembly and devouring of fresh garden tomato sandwiches, my memory returned to lazy summer days eating fried bologna sandwiches with my brothers.  My mother worked as a county social worker so when we were home alone on summer vacation, she left lunches up to us to prepare.

Sandwiches were our specialty including:  tuna melts, peanut butter and jelly, and margarine, brown sugar and cinnamon — all slathered on soft Wonder white classic bread.  Later, mom learned about the importance of fiber and switched us to whole wheat.

One of my favorite combos in those days was a fried bologna sandwich with mustard and catsup (my mom always spelled it catsup, not ketchup). We didn’t toast the bread, it was better soft so it could absorb the grease.  We took pre-sliced bologna, usually Oscar Meyer (those ads even got to our frugal Mom), melted margarine (no real butter existed in our home in those days) in a frying pan, placed the bologna slices carefully in the grease to fry gently on both sides.  We made tiny slits on the edges of the bologna with a knife so it would lay flat in the pan and not curl.  I liked my bologna very crispy (SPAM too but that is for another blog).  We put one or two slices of fried bologna between slices of bread, spread liberally with mustard and catsup, and enjoy.  I liked mine with a side of baked beans or fruit cocktail (always wanted the single cherry in the can) if we had any in the pantry and always a dill pickle spear.  It is not a prize sandwich without a pickle on the plate.

bologna
Delicious, yes?

I don’t eat bologna sandwiches anymore in fact I don’t remember the last time I ate one.  Most likely, I last consumed one in my youth or maybe in desperation during my college days when I lived off bad dorm food and free happy hour tacos.

I doubt if I made a fried bologna sandwich today it would taste as good as I remember.  Like in Rick’s experience, when he described his tomato sandwiches to kids today, they say “yuck”.  They would rather slather avocado on multi-grain toast, top it with flaxseed and microgreens and call it a meal or go by Starbucks and order a latte with a tomato basil panini.  We couldn’t even purchase avocados in Kansas in those days, they were not part of the produce section, neither was kale, flax seeds or microgreens. And we made our own coffee, on the stove, in a percolator.  What the hell is a panini?

Back in the day, bologna was so cheap, lasted forever in the fridge, and filled the bottomless pit of my brothers’ tummies with salty, fatty, cured meat parts. The catsup added sweetness and mustard that spicy, tart compliment. It was all we had at the time. Which explains why we learned to love bologna sandwiches

If you want to read more by Rick Bragg, check out some of his stories and books at Rick Bragg Southern Stories

Plenty More

Plenty More

Trying to work more vegetables and grains into your diet?  Me too.  But feeling less than inspired at the start of 2018?  Me too.  Seeking ideas, I stumbled upon a new cookbook by Yotom Ottolenghi titled Plenty More.  The recipes are all vegetarian as Ottolenghi does a weekly food column for the Guardian that is strictly plant-based although the chef himself is not a vegetarian.

The British/Israeli cook opened a deli in Notting Hill that quickly gained a cult following due to its inventive dishes, characterized by loads of vegetables, unorthodox flavor combinations, and the abundance of  unusual Middle Eastern inspired ingredients such as rose water and pomegranate molasses.  When asked to explain his cooking philosophy, Ottolenghi said, “I want drama in the mouth.” Well, I do too, Ottolenghi!

Here are two recipes that I tried yesterday for lunch and dinner which turned out to be spectacular even when I made some slight modifications based on what I had in the cupboard.  And due to the fact that I have a few micro greens on my hands.  One recipe  is simply carrots and the other one is a new way to prepare rice.

Rice under waxed paper
after 40 minutes in the oven, so fluffy

 

Carrots – are they really good for the eyes? I don’t know but they are good for my belly
Honey-Roasted Carrots with Tahini
Serves 2
2 tbsp honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin
3 sprigs of rosemary
6 large carrots, peeled and each cut crosswise into two 2 1/2-inch batons 
1 1/2 tablespoons micro greens (chef used cilantro)
Salt and black pepper
For the Tahini Yogurt Sauce
1 tablespoons tahini paste
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
Place all the ingredients for the tahini sauce in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Whisk together and set aside.
Place the honey, oil, coriander, cumin and rosemary in a large bowl with dash of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Add the carrots and mix well until coated, then spread them out on a large baking sheet and roast in the oven for 40 minutes.  Stir at least once.
Serve warm  with a spoonful of sauce on top, scattered with the micro greens.
Baked (yes, baked) Rice
  • 5 short cinnamon sticks (I get mine at Fiesta)
  • 5 star Anise (or cloves)
  • A few Kaffir lime leaves (chef uses curry leaves but I didn’t have any).  You can keep the leaves frozen until you need them.
  • 2 cups basmati rice, rinsed, soaked in water for 15 minutes, and drained well – don’t skip this step
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • salt and white pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF
Put the cinnamon sticks, star anise, lime leaves, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a saucepan. Cover with 2 3/4 cups water and place over high heat. As soon as the water boils, remove the pan from the heat.
Spread the rice out in a baking dish or roasting pan approximately 9 1/2 by 12 inches, cover with the boiled water and aromatics, and stir well. Lay a piece of waxed paper over the surface of the water and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Cook in the oven for 25 minutes, then remove and leave to sit, covered, for 8 to 10 minutes.
Just before serving sprinkle with sesame oil (chef recommended butter and lemon juice) and fluff up the rice with a fork. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve at once (you can remove the stems and cinnamon sticks or keep for the look).
Showing Up

Showing Up

Eighty percent of life is showing up. I am not sure who said that first but I am a big believer in the statement.  Just doing the work, is its greatest feat. Even on the days you don’t feel like it, showing up can make all the difference. Intention is great, and inspiration is great, but if you’re not there for it, not doing the work for it, you have nothing to show but ideas and aspirations.

In the past, my daughters would come to me with an opportunity for a scholarship or an internship and doubt themselves if they should apply.  They would ask, “aren’t there  better qualified people than me for the opportunity?”  The answer is probably “yes” but you won’t know until you try.  And who knows, maybe you will be the only one to put in your application or one of just a few who took the time and the effort.  So try they have over the years to mostly successful results. And when not, at least they knew they tried.

expectations
C3 setting expectations to show up in her math class

Recently a friend was excited about her daughter’s news that she was selected for a school option by a competitive lottery.  She was told at an open house that she shouldn’t bother to select this school because it was so popular with a growing wait list and her daughter wouldn’t get in.  My friend shared these comments with me and we both agreed that was bad advice to follow.  My friend worked with her daughter to complete the rather challenging paperwork including an essay and submitted it by the deadline (always make the deadline). Guess what?  Her daughter was accepted to the school.  And if she hadn’t at least tried to apply, the experience of completing the paperwork, participating in interviews and opening the acceptance letter are ones that this young lady would never have the both the discipline and the joy of experiencing.

My number one rule for living my life well?  Show up.  And if you don’t meet all your new year’s resolutions or you have already messed up on a few, start again tomorrow. I guess my other rule for a happy life is to just start over.  We all deserve a few do-overs.

Showing up also means supporting others in your community. Attend the performances of others, purchase the handmade goods of people you respect, and read articles by people who write the way you want to write. If you expect people to show up for you, you need to show up for them.

sunrise
We showed up for the total eclipse
Gluhwein or Glow Wine

Gluhwein or Glow Wine

I learned about Gluhwein from my daughters who traveled to Germany and surrounding countries over the holidays but this December was my first chance to sip the potion first-hand.

We visited the Christmas market in the museum district on our recent trip to Amsterdam.  Amsterdam’s Museumplein transforms into a charming little Christmas village, complete with an ice rink, market stalls and plenty of festive food and drink to keep us warm. The I Amsterdam letters, the city slogan, are located here too but for some reason we could never time a group picture in front of the letters either due to crowds, lack of organizational will or sore feet.

But we did sample the Gluhwein directly from the cast iron pot hanging over an open wood-burning fire in the middle of the very crowded holiday market.  Upon ordering, the attendant dipped in and filled a cup for me directly from the simmering pot. It had a glowing effect for sure.  This set-up would not pass code compliance in Fort Worth but for me it was so charming.  And alcohol burns off a multitude of sins including bacteria, right?

wine

So if you are hankering to make your own Gluhwein, combine the following in a pot and warm to just below boiling.  Serves 4-6.  You will glow!  And warm your toes on these chilly nights in Texas.

German Gluhwein

1/2 medium orange – juice and zest
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup turbinado or granulated sugar
20 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 whole star anise
1 (750-milliliter) bottle dry red wine

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

Red Dirt Girl Goes to Antwerp

On holiday recently, while based in Amsterdam, we took a day trip by high-speed train, via the Thalys route, to Antwerp, Belgium.  It’s a little over a 100 miles distance between the two cities.  We purchased 8 tickets in advance of leaving the states to be sure we had seats on the train during the busy Christmas season.  We were a group of 8 which required we have advanced reservations to nearly all of our activities including dining out. Yes, you must plan ahead.

The best cities in the world are founded with a myth, and Antwerp is no exception. The legend has it that, to cross the river Scheldt, you first had to pay a toll to a fearsome giant Statue of Brabo — Antigoon by name – or risk invoking his wrath and losing your hand. Of course a hero was needed, and he arrived in the form of a Roman soldier named Silvius Brabo. Brabo slayed the giant, cut off its hand, and tossed it into the River Scheldt. And given that the Dutch for ‘hand thrown’ is ‘hand werpen’, a city’s name was born. The story has led to a white hand becoming a symbol to be found on many a crest in the city.

The day trip worked out well as we departed on time from Amsterdam Centraal a couple of days past Christmas, around 8:30 a.m., and arrived in a little over an hour at the venerable Antwerp Station. We had the whole day ahead of us to explore the city.  But first, we took time to admire the architectural wonder of the Antwerp train station itself. The Antwerp Central Station, also known as Middenstatie (Middle station), was first used in 1905. The structure is made from a steel platform covering and a stone station building in an eclectic style. In 2009, the American magazine Newsweek chose the Antwerp Central Station as the fourth most beautiful train station in the world.

cathedral
Our Lady’s Cathedral

After arriving and getting our bearings, we walked toward the central plaza of the city but first stopped off for a visit to the artist’s Ruben’s home who painted around the same time as Rembrandt.  The house contains many of his masterpieces along with artwork from artists that he trained in his studio also located here.  Ruben favored religious figures, some landscapes, a few self portraits, as well as hunting scenes and animals.  Lots of grays, blues and greens — too dark for my taste.  You could still smell the oil paint in the house or at least I imagined I smelled it — the paint was so thick on the paintings and so many oil paintings in such a small space.  Many famous artists passed within these old walls over the years.  If walls could talk, eh?

ruben
Ruben’s Home

Afterwards, we devoured Belgium waffles from a local street vendor (if you could only smell the warm waffles, sweet chocolate and winter air) and then, partially sated, we traveled on toward the popular plaza area where the Christmas market is located at the base of Our Lady’s Cathedral of Antwerp.  The north church spire towers into the blue sky above us and we put on our sunglasses for the first time since arriving in the Netherlands.  We welcomed the sun.  Inside the cathedral, the spiritual space is impressive with its grizzly crypt, artwork by Rubin and other baroque masterpieces and architecture.

waffles
Waffles!

Outside the cathedral there are ample chocolate, diamonds and lace shops surrounding us on all sides just enough to satisfy the tourist shopper in all of us.  Needing a break, we found an old tavern, squeezed up a narrow, spiraling staircase to a small second floor overhang to sample some of the famous Belgium beers with the locals.  Our favorite was De Koninck bolleke.  We even found the local brewery later in the afternoon, took an interactive, quirky tour and sampled even more of their beer offerings.  The tour ended with purchases from their gift shop for friends back home.

antwerp
Let’s go home, Brr

The day was so full of festivities for locals as well as tourists.  The trains and sidewalks were packed with families enjoying a day off, eating and drinking samples from the Christmas market stalls and enjoying carnival rides.  Many in our gang, bravely went up on an old Ferris wheel to get a better view of Antwerp even in the cold and windy, late afternoon winter weather.  I tried the famous Belgium fries with curry catsup and mayo dipping sauce and found them top-notch especially eating them from the classic paper cone.

old bar
Antwerp Tavern

After walking miles on cobblestones exploring the city, we headed back to the station for the last train back to Amsterdam.  Sore feet and tired legs but a great day exploring a little bit of Flanders with my sweet family.

beer
De Koninck Blond Beer