Saturday, February 23, 2013


A few weeks ago a friend told me there would be a big dance down at the Stillwell Ranch.  On a Monday night.  Almost an hour and a half from our home in Alpine.

I immediately jumped at the idea! N. and her girls, and I and Rose and Nora rounded up picnic supplies, put on our jeans and boots and hopped in our vehicles after school.  The drive in itself was spectacular as we headed east, flanked on the north by the Glass Mountains, shining in the late afternoon sun.  Nora was a bit bored on our drive and decided to see how many creatures she could find in the huge banks of clouds.

We made it to the Stillwell Ranch before sunset.  Had a fabulous picnic supper, then we were drawn to the dance area by sound of music, guitars, classic country music, performed by a local guy, Craig Carter and the Spur of the Moment Band, a fellow whose music drew us out to the dance floor back twenty five years ago, when we were all young, carefree, and full of energy!

Christmas lights were strung on old adobe building and agave.  The Hallie Stillwell Museum wall was one border of the dance floor.  A big pile of boulders was another.  The starry, moonlit sky was most adequate for the ceiling.  Slightly cool temperature was welcome and we jumped out there to swing, polka, two-step and schottische.  I danced with Raymond and Mark and mostly Nora and Rose.  Which felt like the best gift I had received in a very long time.

I started this post a couple of weeks ago, and wanted to write to you all about Hallie Stillwell, an amazing pioneer woman, a strong woman, who came out to this remote land and survived and thrived, and has been written about in the NY Times, and many other publications.

But I got distracted.

So I suppose what I really want to write about is the gift of the dance.  Live music.  Fresh air.  Cowboy hats (not on any of us, but on many of the other dancers!), smiles, laughter as we would occasionally swing the wrong way and once I accidently bumped Rose on the face with my elbow and thank goodness didn't leave a black eye!

As many of you long-time blog friends know, this is not my favorite time of year.  Well, actually, a better thing to say is that this time of year is very painful for me.  Sometimes it feels so painful I think I can't go on, it hurts so badly.  Everything is a reminder to me of our deep loss, on Feb. 25th, three years ago, when Philip died.  It makes my body hurt, my heart hurt, and what I would prefer to do is go hide under my pillow for a few weeks.

But thankfully, the children and the bills and the mortgage all give me more than adequate reason to keep getting up, milling the grains, baking the breads.  Don't get me wrong.  I love my job.  I give thanks to God daily for my customers, for the mill, for the livelihood I make via the bakery.

But there are times when it is done by rote instead of happy, creative energy.  Done because I have to, not because I want to.  Which is okay, because that's life, right?

But when the opportunity came up awhile back, to go down to Stillwell for that dance, I jumped on it.  Not because I felt a light happy spirit, but because I was desperately hungry for good medicine.

You know what?

It was very good medicine.  The drive down, the big sky, the mountains that border the Rio Grande and Mexico all filled me up as with an elixir.  And dancing around the moonlit dancefloor with my dear man, and my dear children was about the best thing ever.  To familiar music that swung us around over twenty years ago.  I felt a lovely sense of full circle.  Of completeness.

On the drive, Nora mentioned Philip, and wondered what he would think of our life now.  I told her that I know in my heart that he would be so very proud of us, and glad for us, and thankful for R, who is so good to us.  Who brings delight and joy into our life.  When we met, Philip tried to learn the two-step, and did pretty well for a Jersey boy, but most of our dancing over the years took place in the dining room, after dinner, with lots of laughs and not so much at a real dance floor.

I still feel pretty sad, deep down inside.  Grief hurts more than you can imagine.  But the sun shines, we get up and bit by bit, we continue to live.  This weekend we have a dear dear friend visiting us from Virginia, and   several of us are hoping to take him to a southwest Texas dance tonight.  Same group, Craig Carter and the Spur of the Moment Band, this time here in Alpine, playing at the Civic Center.  For a good cause.  All the proceeds go to the Family Crisis Center.  This time I think I will try to get Maggie and Patrick to go with us. They need a safe place to be silly and learn and to see how important it is to learn how to dance.  Its a part of their heritage!  

It May be early February, but I Feel Springtime

Robin's egg blue sky,
peachy suppertime clouds turn into
pink cotton candy.

Written a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to post!

Sure is good to feel warm sun a'shinin'.

We have daffodils blooming!  I saw one yesterday.  Spring is in the air.  Birds are singing.  Crisp morning air grows warm.  A vicious wind blew cold air and dirt through our town the other day, but now the skies are blue and calm.

Track season has begun for the big kids.  Girl scout cookie sales are in full swing.  February is drawing to a close.

I was wondering why I hadn't been blogging, but then I calculated the different things going on, and realized I have had a free time deficit.  Getting all the accounting taken care of and mailed to the accountant, bakery business, plus a nice weekend down in Big Bend National Park with R., my mom, sister and Nora filled up the days.  We hiked along Long Mountain in the late afternoon, watching the Del Carmens glow pink and fuschia and blue.  We ate yummy farmer's market food.  We hiked the Basin Loop and had a picnic.  R and I hiked from Rio Grande Village to the Hot Springs, delighting in the canyon views, the desert plants, the warm sun.  Nora, Mom and Christine drove over there and we all met and watched Nora swim in the Rio Grande.

Any trip to the Big Bend is special to me, but this one was especially special.  My mom had an ankle replacement three months ago.  She was in a terrible auto accident 15 years ago and was told she would never walk again.  I remember the trip she and I made to the Big Bend one February 13 years ago or so.  We set out on a half mile hike.  She cried in pain and determination every step of the way.  I cried too. She did manage to surprise the doctors, and worked and worked to adjust to her physical circumstances and limitations.  And doing some of the hard work in the place where we had always gone to find our healing.  For decades!  Bit by bit my mom would hike a bit farther than she really should have.  She would need to get to a spot to take a picture for a painting.  To refresh her memory of the colors.

It finally became evident that it was time for an ankle replacement and the recuperation would be hard, but imagine my joy to be able to see my mom hike an over 2 mile hike, up in the mountains, all of us delighting in the delicate seed heads of different varieties of grasses, the smell of the sun on the pines, the little patches of blooming verbena, the glowing cactus.

I am very proud of you mom.  You are an inspiration to so many of us.  A picture of determination, as you make the effort to include beauty in your life, often at great cost.  I know it hurts a lot of the time, but you have been my inspiration, as there are many different kinds of pain and loss.  You have helped me remember that physical tests, that beauty in rugged nature, those things help us to get better.  Sharing those lovely hard moments with people who love us is a real gift.

Oh, and by the way, one of my mom's paintings, one of Santa Elena Canyon, has been selected to be a part of a terrific competition this spring, the Oil Painters of America.  I don't need anyone else to tell me what a fantastic artist my mom is!  But it is pretty wonderful when important, educated people happen to agree with us on something we have known for a very long time.

So, welcome spring time.  Another season, pretty subtle here in southwest Texas in the arid Chihuahuan high desert.  But full of delightful treats, like a surprise daffodil, or tall bluebonnets on the road to our favorite park.  Swelling buds and a new angle of the sun.  

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Verdict is In-Spelt Wins, by Popular Vote, but I Think Buckwheat is More Authentic

Patrick went to the Farmer's Market for me to pick up our two gallons of raw milk and big bag of produce from Mark and Deb.

I put the milk in the fridge and sorted through the produce, giving everything a quick rinse, hungry, trying to decide what to fix for our meal.

In the bag I found some cauliflour, parsnips, a bundle of carrots, bright and orange, some ruby red beets, a giant chioggia beet, green onions, two bunches of swiss chard, with colorful stems, a bundle of deep green spinach, a lovely head of tender lettuce, a pac choi, and seems like something else I am forgetting.

The root veggies were cut up and put on a cookie sheet with a sprinkle of salt and olive oil and went into the 500 degree oven until the beets were puffed, and the carrots and parsnips caramelized.  Don't tell anyone, but I put the cauliflour in also, and ate pretty much every single bite all by myself, because it was too delicious and I couldn't wait.

I sauteed the chard and garlic and green onions, set it aside.  Sauteed some mushrooms and a couple of pieces of bacon.  Also sauteed the spinach, all by itself, well, barely wilted the dark green deliciousness.

The buckwheat milled, put into the blender with eggs, milk, water and a bit of butter, I let it rest for a couple of hours, then made a giant stack of crepes.  FYI, the buckwheat had a completely different fragrance compared to the spelt.  Earthy.  Redolent of fields and grass.  Grey in color.  More tender a batter than spelt.  Held onto the pan in a completely different way.  Very fragile.  Maggie and i thought the buckwheat was the definite crepe of choice for savory, but I think the average palate in the American household would probably prefer the spelt, or a combination.

While Patrick and I made a mornay sauce, with spelt flour, butter, milk, bit of salt, pepper, nutmeg and then grated swiss cheese, Maggie made a lemon dijon vinigarette for the salad.

We assembled stacks of crepes, one with the spinach, one with the chard, onion and mushrooms.  A bit of sauce between layers of crepes and veggies, then more sauce on top, and then we popped them into the hot oven.

Patrick sliced apples paper thin and roasted them on a pan with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sucanat.  I made a homemade caramel sauce, then we made a stack of crepes with apples, cinnamon, spelt crepes and caramel sauce.  Patrick also toasted some pecans and made a stack with nutella and pecans.  The dessert crepes heated up while Raymond and Maggie set a pretty table in the sunshine in the backyard and I chopped the roasted veggies and threw them in the salad with the dressing.

A glass of wine for the grownups, a tablecloth, and we said a prayer of thanksgiving for the many hands that were a part of our meal.

Judy popped over and ate some of the leftovers and we basked in sunshine.  Coach came over and he and Raymond helped Maggie with her bike.  J. and I tried to work out a few problems of the world as we lingered at table with little girls.

I don't think we solved any big problems, but the bike tires are now in good shape.  I completely neglected paperwork and ignored the dust and the closet that needed some organization.

It was wonderful spending time on that delicious meal, made solely to delight in the great ingredients we had on hand.

PS The spelt crepe with apple and homemade caramel was perhaps the most delicious thing I have eaten in a very long time.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Spelt Crepes

I raced to get all the bread baked by a certain time.  Cookie dough made, spelt cupcakes made.  Before hitting the midday gigantic pile of doughy giant bowls, I pulled out the Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, turned to the crepe recipe, grabbed the blender and the freshly milled spelt, some milk, some eggs, some melted butter and water, a pinch of salt.

I figured the batter could rest while I scrubbed pots and pans.

There wasn't time to mill buckwheat to try a side by side experiment.

After the dough bowls were washed and the many dozens of cookies baked, I pulled out the 9 inch stainless steel fry pan, turned on the pretty much defective electric stovetop, waited the several minutes for it to heat up, and then got to making crepes.

We have made crepes before, it really isn't terribly novel, but nevertheless, the kids and I were excited to see how spelt worked.

I swirled the VERY liquidy batter around in the lightly buttered skillet, watched the edges crisp, and then, trying hard to replicate Julia's two handed method, VERY gently grasped the edge of the crepe with my fingertips, flipped, and voila.  Within seconds we had a perfectly executed crepe.

I can't imagine why anyone would want a white flour crepe when the spelt one had such a rich flavor.

Maggie grabbed on, filled it with raw honey, rolled it up and pronounced it good.  The other girls had theirs with jam.  I sold a stack to a customer, and saved the rest for us, because I want to make myself a stack filled with greens I will procure from the farmer's market this morning.  Cooked in a white sauce.  Perhaps we will treat ourselves to some mushrooms.

If inclined, I will mill some buckwheat and try the same recipe with the buckwheat flour, since that is the traditional flour used in savory crepes in Brittany.  I can still remember the lunch we had twenty something years ago in Bretagne, a tiny little shop, twisty street little village, the rustic tables, cider, and hearty crepes with ham and cheese and delectable little mushrooms.

Will let you know how the buckwheat turns out.  I have a sneaking suspicion that a combination of spelt and buckwheat are going to prove my favorite.  I guess that the two flours together will make a great dual purpose crepe for this big family of mine, half of us with sweet tooth, wanting apples and nutella, the other half wanting salty, cheesy, bitter greens.

PS  I used the recipe for savory crepes.  The stainless steel pan worked perfectly.  I did not have to butter it between crepes.  I don't own a nonstick the right size for a crepe.  The omelet pan would probably have worked, but the 9 inch turned out lovely crepes that will serve well as an entree.  I placed the hot crepe on a rack for a few minutes to cool, then stacked them all up.  Swirling the batter properly wasn't as effortless as I imagined.  I did have a few weird shapes when I didn't swirl quickly as I should have.  There is a knack to the execution.  And I did pinch off the edge of the crepe occasionally, if I didn't pull the crepe over with both fingers with precision.  But as Julia suggests in her show, just flip that part onto the bottom, cover it up with something good and no one will know the difference!

I had better end this post, get to the market to procure my veggies and milk.  I am hungry.  Crepes for lunch?