When I first heard of people hunting hogs by helicopter, I grimaced. It seems rather unseemly, right? After all, it’s not very sporting.
The problem with hogs are they are not simply game, like deer or duck. Wild hogs are an invasive species that damage the environment and well, hog the resources that actual game eat. Living in Texas, we have seen first-hand the extensive damage hogs beat into the landscape, along roads, in fields and on other land.
Sadly, we are now seeing their handiwork on land owned by my boyfriend’s Dad in North Georgia. These are deep, mountainous woods. Hardwoods stretching high to the sky, gripping steep glens and protecting creeks. The trees are full of squirrels and birds and shed carpets of acorns, which we tend to think are intended for deer, not the ravenous hogs.
At Thanksgiving, we returned to these woods to deer hunt. Our first outing, we quietly entered a clearing with a high perch and heard movement. We stood still and surprisingly, two hogs walked toward us, oblivious. Byron raised his rifle. As he was between me and the hogs, I kept my muzzle skyward.
The two hogs were in a tall grass and amazingly did not see us, even at about 15 yards. At that point, Byron had a shot and dispatched one. The other took off down the mountain. We went to the large sow on the ground.
What can one sow mean to an area? A friend with a family ranch in Texas has noted that the gestation period is three months, three weeks and three days. That’s one way of thinking about it, though I have read a wild sow typically has one to two litters a year. Now, in a given area, there will be more than one sow and the population can really take off.
The first time I saw a herd in action was at Peach Point, a wildlife preserve near Freeport, Texas. The wildlife managers were hosting a public hog hunt and due to high demand, held a lottery for the hunters. Once selected, we were assigned blinds. Each parcel was small enough that they did not want people walking around with rifles shooting into the wild.
We sat in our blind within an electric transmission right of way and watched hogs from a distance of more than 300 yards. In short, we didn’t have a shot. We did get in some wonderful bird watching, in particular. a male Cardinal and two females who seemed to be vying for his attention.
Then, on the way back from lunch while driving in the truck, we saw a huge herd running across an expanse of Gulf Prairie. There were scores of them, including many piglets running alongside big mama sows and scary looking boars. My jaw was swinging in the wind. Without a legal shot under the management practices at hand for that hunt, we were left to gaze in wonderment and horror.
Flash forward back to North Georgia. Our deer hunt was now a hog hunt, for all intents and purposes. The next afternoon, I sat in a dell between a mountainside and a creek, waiting. This was directly below the clearing at the mountaintop where we saw the first two.
Suddenly, I heard something that sounded like a swift, heavy rain. The sky was gray, not wet. There was no wind, although it sounded like wind. It was the sound of multitudes of hog hooves schussing through the dry leaves covering the ground.
The train of hogs was coming my way. I had been sitting in wait for a deer. Now, I stood and drew my rifle upon a shooting stick. I aimed for a space the hogs would pass en route to the creek. There was some grass between me and the space. Suddenly, my line of vision through the scope was engulfed with hogs. They rushed past in a grouping.
Rather than blast away, I vainly attempted to focus on one hog to get a clean shot. But it was gone and then another. And another.
I tried to retrain my rifle, to no avail. In short, I whiffed. I resolved I had the wrong gun for the job. Granted, blaming your equipment is the lamest excuse in the book. If I had the chance to do it again, I might not go for that perfect shot.
But, why do hunters go for the optimal shot? For starters, it is humane to cleanly take the animal. Also, if you are planning to eat the meat, you want a clean shot. Of equal importance, is safety. You don’t want to get into the habit of wantonly shooting. You want to aim and take out that particular hog, deer, bird, whichever.
I was simply overwhelmed. I had stayed true to the moral that you must be 100% certain you have a clean kill shot before pulling the trigger. I had that with my first buck. I most certainly did not have that as a dozen large, medium and small hogs raced through tall grass.
Could I have succeeded in hitting one or two? Yes, but they would not have likely dropped liked stones. The ethic being do not kill if the animal would extensively linger or run off with an injury. Have I taken another buck and a doe on other occasions where they ran? Yes, but they only moved briefly and then dropped. One buck took a lung shot and an apparent adrenaline rush. A doe bolted about 20 feet and went down.
When it came to these hogs, I was stunned by their speed. It also reminded me of duck hunting when you wait and wait and suddenly a couple dozen scream overhead. I had trouble focusing on one to take in the moment as milliseconds elapse and then the moment was gone.
I admit I was jealous of Byron’s hog in the clearing. When they came upon us, they were lumbering. One was so big, for a moment, we thought it was a bear. Once they got close, they were obviously hog. I had hoped to stalk the one that ran, but he disappeared into the thick woods. That next day, I missed my chance.
So what to do? We are planning to return in April. If I see another train of hogs, I will plan to shoot one at a time.
We never fancied ourselves to be the type of people to post a crazy-looking, hand-scrawled sign on our front-door warning looters they could be shot. To avoid any misunderstanding in our disaster zone with law enforcement, a companion sign asks police to call the homeowner. This became critically important, as documented on our front-porch security video (more on that later).
Hurricane Harvey’s devastating aftermath unfurled a new normal that includes such lifestyle changes as having a “slow no wake” navigation sign on the back of your vehicle, using a gasoline-powered generator to keep on the fridge, fans, WIFI and satellite TV, and washing coffee pots and cooking pans in the backyard.
The good thing coming out of our mostly submerged subdivision next to the overflowed Addicks Reservoir in Northwest Harris County is a new fellowship in the neighborhood. We have 144 single-family dwellings that are usually well-kempt. Historically, people here give friendly waves and tend to socialize with their immediate next-door neighbors.
Some of the neighbors had flooded before, with Hurricane Ike in 2008 and with the Tax Day Flood of 2016. This is by far the worst. But something funny happened when evacuees started clomping back in with waders and boats. A friendly spirit buoyed people. A Facebook group started filling up with neighbors who had not yet met, and while their homes were still flooded, they asked when we could have a neighborhood cookout to get to know each other. Our waste treatment plant is damaged, so we don’t have sewer service, but people are ready to party.
Who is Houston
That is Houston. If you’ve never been here before, allow me to explain. When I moved here in 2006 from Washington, D.C., I was amazed how Houston is so friendly. You have the best conversations in office building elevator rides or at the grocery store. Houston is like a funky, sophisticated hybrid of the congeniality of a small Southern town and the cosmopolitan amenities of the multi-cultural megapolis that it is. It does not matter if you are from a small Texas town or the other side of the world, the only constant is friendliness.
In prior months, I saw an article suggesting that while the Houston region is extraordinarily diverse, it is fractured socially among demographics, even geographically. That gave me pause as I wondered what the author is talking about. Our neighborhood looks like the United Nations, just like this region as a whole. Think of a ginormous set of contiguous suburbs that are primarily diverse.
Basically, if you are not friendly or helpful, you won’t fit in here. Texans are also very resourceful; suddenly flooded streets in this region were filled with john boats, kayaks and lifted-up pickup trucks. My boyfriend and I are in one of the only houses in our neighborhood that did not flood (water came up to the caulked doors and into the garage). We watched on TV and Facebook what we called the Redneck Nation coming out to save people. No one is going to make fun of a monster truck again.
A Tale of O. Harvey
We were not able to get out in our own boat for a few key reasons. Just before the storm, Byron had bought a john boat for a gator hunt. The Friday morning before Harvey’s landfall near Rockport/Port A/Corpus, a delivery truck driver brought me the 210-lb. engine in a crate. The outer bands were already bringing rain and I saluted him to drive carefully to get home to deal with his own affairs ahead of Harvey.
We then nosed our vehicles up the sloped driveway to the garage doors with the hope of keeping them dry. When the street became laden with rainwater, we moved a vehicle to angle out the boat. We realized we might have to employ the boat well ahead of the gator hunt. The water began to rise and our immediate neighbors started communicating at each others’ doors. Byron and I realized we needed to get the big engine on the boat. Once secured, we turned our attention to our gasoline supply. We patted ourselves on the shoulders for having filled tanks ahead of time.
Then, it hit me. I asked Byron where the motor oil was for the boat motor. We did not have any. We asked a neighbor, but no luck. Soon we were surrounded by shockingly and frighteningly high floodwaters. To borrow from Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” water, water everywhere, but no operable boat engine. Forgive another literary allusion, but I realized we were in a modern-day scenario befitting an O. Henry short story.
Think of the O. Henry story, “The Gift of the Magi,” in which the wife wants to buy her husband a fob for his watch for Christmas and he wants to buy her combs for her long hair. She cuts her hair to sell to pay for the fob, and he sells the watch to buy the combs. Well, at least they had each other! We wish to commend the armada of volunteers from Texas and beyond. We owe you one.
Hello, Men with Guns
I have Byron, who I first met in an outdoors club. We have had hunting and camping trips together, including roughing it for a week in the Arizona desert, which prepared me for camping at home. Byron spent formative years in Lagos, Nigeria, moving in after a civil war there, before his family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, only to see its civil war break out. The man is cool as a cucumber, no matter what is happening. Which brings me to the gunmen at our front door at a time where the only way into the subdivision was by boat (unless you knew we could open a backyard gate into a backroad that had become an ad hoc public boat ramp area).
Upon waking, we saw a security notification on our phones and checked the video: at 4:46 a.m., two men came to our front door with AR-15s, and one of them actually swung his leveled rifle at the front door. If you are not a gun owner, let me tell you some gun safety basics: consider every gun to be loaded (#1) and do not point a gun at someone. In this scenario, don’t ring someone’s door at 4 in the morning and point your semi-automatic weapon at the door.
We then reviewed the footage in a video editing program on my computer and could zoom in for some stills. I called the Harris County Sheriff’s Office non-emergency number (we live in unincorporated Harris County) and the dispatcher sounded shocked. An officer called me right away and within minutes, two deputies were standing on our patio reviewing the video. Two more deputies arrived and then the supervisor in charge of all patrols in this area. Officer Smith was outstanding!
He looked closely and said they were not his men and did not appear to be any other Harris County law enforcement (we have constables too). He asked me to give him the images so he could circulate it. The officer also related there is a volunteer group of law enforcement officers who had come in from other jurisdictions to provide patrols.
There had been a call to our sheriff’s department around the time of our porch visitors from someone reporting four men with flashlights. We don’t know if these were those men or if they had been looking for those men. Later that day, Byron reconnected by phone with our State Representative, Dwayne Bohac, who came right away prior to this incident when I reached out to him to discuss the neighborhood’s devastation.
Byron is HOA president and concerned for the welfare of all the homeowners, especially as the preponderance of them flooded. Representative Bohac came out in waders to see firsthand the scope of the damage. He also has followed up to see how it is going. When you are in a widespread disaster, you need to communicate.
The Facebook group has helped a lot, but visiting face-to-face with neighbors has been the most informative. We met a multi-generational family that lives on the opposite side of the subdivision, closer to the creek that enters Addicks Reservoir. One of the sisters related that as the water rose around them, they had opened some windows and heard people screaming from the house next to our retention pond. The people inside were inundated, could smell natural gas and could not get through to 9-1-1, she related. She got through.
The neighbors were saved and soon enough, strangers in a boat showed up for her family. They loaded her grandparents, both in their 90s, onto the family couch to float them to the rescue boat. Once out on the road behind our house, she said the family collected and then her dad had a funny question: “Is that my couch?” Those rescuers must have had a really big boat!
We have been incredibly lucky to hold down the fort with our dogs, but there rarely seems to be a moment’s peace in a crisis. I was looking forward to Saturday Night Live for much needed comic relief, but instead local newscasters announced they were going to keep on with continuing coverage, which turned out to be footage of people cutting out drywall. There have been deaths and near deaths across dozens of counties, a brand-new mandatory evacuation had been announced earlier and a chemical plant was controlling a fire, so I get the point of breaking news. (I am a former journalist.) Wet drywall isn’t news. Just as I was bemoaning the lack of laughs, someone rang our door.
Our hearts pounded as we scrambled to look at the live video on one phone and answer the phone call on another device (our sign to law enforcement). They called. They were real law enforcement. I saw the guy in charge holding his hands over his waders to show he posed no threat.
I felt bad for scaring them! While Byron spoke to this officer (from the San Antonio area), I peered out the window by the door. His face was so nice! He looked earnestly at me as he signaled all was cool. I wished I could have thanked him, but they were gone. They were checking on people. God Bless.
Natural Disaster Etiquette
If you have friends or family in the zone of a colossal disaster and you wish to express concern, be aware that calling them at 7 a.m. might not be so considerate, as intended, if they were up all night in a sleeping bag wondering if their house would flood in the manner of a scene from “O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?” or recovering from the adrenaline rush of late-night doorbells.
Basically, don’t ask for details about to what extent people are naked and/or afraid, or what they are eating, etc.
Similarly, expressing political outrage on Facebook about Melania’s stiletto heels for her hurricane wreckage tour is stating the obvious to people who are using camping toilets with specially designed plastic baggies and showering on their patio with a garden hose. Besides, if she had shown up looking like someone outfitted her by Cabela’s for an early teal duck hunt, people would have mocked her for that. The clothing is irrelevant.
In the same vein, do not tag your hurricane victim friends with articles by national magazines or news organizations written to argue how stupid their region’s existence is. Or, criticizing their elected officials as hypocrites or some such. As Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said, we can criticize each other in our community because we are a family. Think about how you would feel if people outside your family said something bad about your mama, during a crisis, no less.
Mayor Turner also had advice for anyone getting ornery around here: “Check Yourself! Check yourself.” We are getting through this together as the amazing, strong and beautiful region, and Texas strong family, we are.
Biscuit recipes vary their ratios of fat and flour to milk, but they all aspire to fluffy perfection. Too moist and they won’t rise well, let alone sop up gravy. Too dry and they won’t taste good.
My boyfriend contends the best biscuits are made with lard. His grandmother kept her flour in one of those pull-down bins in the kitchen cabinet.
Byron relates her biscuits were really flaky and full of flavor. They were fairly big and nicely browned. She would take them to sell in her son’s drugstore in their small town in North Georgia. The town is still there, his uncle is still a pharmacist on the square, but Byron doesn’t have the recipe.
“She just did it. There’s no written recipe,” Byron said. “We’d open up the cupboard and there’d be tubs of lard.”
Look for biscuit recipes and you may find boastful claims. A lot of this comes down to personal taste. By comparison, I think I’ve heard it said that there are as many recipes for Pad Thai as there are Thai families.
Despite what I’ve read about the supposedly ultimate Southern biscuits, you gotta allow for some variety. I am going to embark on a biscuit recipe exploration.
To start this journey, I consulted a classic cookbook: Charleston Receipts. My copy was my paternal grandmother’s and she dated it 1964. On that front page, she also marked certain recipes and their page numbers. From this, I deduce she is recommending the Chicken Tetrazzini casserole recipe. So, turns out Italian-inspired food has long been appreciated in the South.
Charleston Receipts has a couple of pages of biscuit recipes and I started with the first one. They baked at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. In the meantime, I started the country ham, which we picked up on our last trip to Georgia. The local supermarket sells $1 vacuum packs of sliced country ham, which means it is easy to bring home and so affordable!
To fry the slices, I heated a cast-iron skillet to medium high. Then I mixed equal parts water and Dr Pepper in a glass. Once the skillet is hot, pour the liquid in to just cover the bottom. Place the ham slices in and cook for about two-and-a-half minutes on each side. The liquid will burn off and the sugar from the soda will caramelize.
Finally, I cooked eggs over easy so the yolk was runny enough to be picked up by the biscuits. This was great. Next time, I plan to make a tomato gravy to go with the ham and biscuits. This is lieu of the sausage gravy that usually pairs with biscuits. For a tomato gravy, you cook up tomatoes and onions while you work on a roux. More on that later!
This is not an advice column for people looking to eat organic legumes, protein shakes and what-not during a vacation with family. This holiday weekend we are seeking some semblance of balance.
To be sure, that’s hard when family brings along a chef. Todd, a.k.a. Chef T., took a break from cooking at his restaurant to cook for us on his vacation. The first evening was Wild Game Night, the first dish being fried alligator bites with Buffalo sauce. When I say fried, I don’t mean excessively battered, crunchy food. These were lightly floured for a fluffy, dare I saw ethereal, sensation to the bite. The flavors danced in perfect syncopation.
Next, we enjoyed grill quail over a salad of greens and red pepper with a light olive oil-based dressing. There was some vinegar, but not too much.
But, wait, there’s more: Todd made rabbit sausage that was quite delicate and flavorful. (The next night it was served like a pate on a cheese plate.) The sausage did not have a casing. Instead, Todd poached the sausage wrapped in Saran wrap.
Oh, were we finished yet? Not at all! The final course was elk chops, grilled to perfection. OK, folks, we held off on dessert.
Thank goodness I did not eat too much because, after dinner, Mr. Higgins, a.k.a. The Sage Leopard, escaped and took off across the countryside on his own personal steeplechase, with me racing after him. Higgins is a cross between a Foxhound and Catahoula Leopard Dog and can run like the wind.
Remember that scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when the main character is running through backyards while the soundtrack plays a frenetic ska track from the English Beat? It was like that, except with a crazy hound zigzagging, followed by a crazed woman calling his name. We went from yard to yard in this small North Georgia town for what seemed like nearly a mile until he was stymied by a chain link fence.
I grabbed him and cradled his 40-pound frame against my torso with his paws over my shoulder. We made it to the highway (a two-lane road) and started back to the house. Did I mention it was hot and humid, and I that had consumed a lot of meat with red wine earlier in the night? This is not a good time for a jog.
A pickup truck was coming along and I heard it let up on the gas. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Byron behind the wheel coming to our rescue. Higgins was delighted to get in the truck. I sat down in relief and Byron remarked, had we been home in Texas, I might have gotten shot running into someone’s backyard. Let’s just say that was a sobering thought! Anyhoo.
The next morning Leroy prepared his classic breakfast: grits, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and cantaloupe. We met up with Byron’s sister, brother-in-law and Chef T for lunch. Three people at the table opted for a salmon special and I ate a perfect Greek salad, bearing in mind so other major dinner was in the offing.
We browsed the shops around the square in Dahlonega. Then we opted to have a drink. I ordered a Moscow Mule, figuring this is healthiest version of a drink: ginger beer, vodka and lime over ice. Very refreshing.
The ride back to Cleveland was scenic and we took the dogs out for a long walk. Then, I fell asleep in a chair, no doubt a side effect of the vodka. Next thing I knew, it was time for another meal by Todd and Craig. They grilled beautifully marbled ribs eyes, served with lobster tail. The plated were filled out with twice-baked potatoes and green beans.
The lobster was dressed with Champagne butter. That certainly was perfect and were beyond sated. But, dessert was served: a Bourbon milkshake and Oreo bread pudding. The key is to share these desserts.
For breakfast on day three, we enjoyed oatmeal with fresh fruit: banana, pineapple, strawberries and blueberries. Back on track? Not quite. It’s the Fourth of July! It’s time for hot dogs and hamburgers! The key is to make sure you do eat fiber and fruit when you can and to get some exercise.
If you really want a good workout, The Sage Leopard would love to take you on a run!
My boyfriend endured a stressful work week so I wanted to make a perfect sandwich for him on Friday. The bakery-fresh English toasting bread held ham, turkey and cheese with sliced lettuce and tomato.
I placed the mayo and mustard on just right. I evenly layered the meats and cheese. I adorned each quarter with a half a jalapeno olive, affixed with toothpicks. The plate also had green grapes and pretzel sticks. I placed this work of art up on the bar-height counter.
Byron walked in and I went to present this masterpiece, only to realize Buster the Catahoula Leopard Dog ate one of the quarters, toothpick and all. The vet said to keep an eye on him. We prayed it would pass without injuring him.
The dog seemed unfazed and he enthusiastically ate a big bowl of kibble for dinner, per usual.
We settled in to watch Dateline and the puppy became uncharacteristically quiet. We praise him for calmly laying down. But, it was an upset stomach that brought him down. Suddenly, he stood to the barf position. I guided him to his crate and gave him a bowl of fresh water. Within minutes, the poor doggie barfed up dinner along with other things.
Mercifully, Buster rejected the toothpick and there was no apparent blood. I felt like the Richard Dreyfuss character in the autopsy scene in Jaws when he pulled a license plate and other random items from a shark’s belly; when the puppy coughed up his dinner, we found the toothpick, the olive, tomato, turkey, a rubber band and a dryer sheet.
He felt good enough for a little second dinner. We encouraged him to drink extra water. He went to bed at his normal time and woke us up for his breakfast.
We updated the vet’s office with his condition. I am very relieved he did not eat the green grapes, which are harmful to dogs.
For breakfast this morning, I opted to prepare a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. Buster watched and sniffed as I cooked the bacon, which at no time was left unattended. While I fried the egg, the bacon dish was secured in the microwave for storage. Buster himself was secured. It is a good idea in this house to place a wayward or begging dog in a crate or the bedroom to prevent counter surfing.
The next time you make a sandwich that won’t be immediately eaten by a human, be sure to lock it a way. The microwave is a great spot to stash food to keep it away from the doggies!
It’s hard to imagine life without a smart phone. Now, thanks to Amazon’s plan to take over Whole Foods, we can imagine a world in which arugula is delivered to our doorstep by drone.
The question is do I want to be a part of that grocery world? Grocery delivery has taken off and the demand is attributed to millennials who want to stay home for dinner but hate to go to the supermarket. Grocers are competing with farm-to-table dinner in box services.
Funny thing is I actually like grocery shopping. Actually, I absolutely love going to supermarkets. I always have, all the way back to the days of S&H green stamps you’d get at checkout. My mom shopped at King’s, which was a family owned grocery chain in North Jersey. I loved our outings to the store as Mommy and Daughter bonding time.
I associate finding wonderful things in the grocery aisle with making a lovely home. Creature comforts, including tea, chocolate, cookies, crackers, etc., are the hallmarks of a great home. We cannot control what goes on in the world outside, but if we want hibiscus ice tea in our fridge, by jove, we got it.
But the market is telling me I should abandon one of my favorite leisures, grocery shopping, in favor of ordering online. I just ran into CVS to buy a particular hair conditioner and a sign on the door welcomed me to have ordered online for curbside pickup. Once home, I emptied the bag of hair products and found a flyer with my things, a flyer for Blue Apron.
For crying out loud – I like supermarkets, produce markets and farmers markets. Here in Houston, we have amazing and really old farmers markets on Airline, including Canino’s. Walking the aisles and checking off my list is therapeutic. I delight in finding new items and snagging great deals on close-outs.
Picking out my own produce, I don’t need to worry about paying for bruised or rotten things. And, you can always buy a lot of almost over-ripe or bruised produce for 99 cents at Kroger!
Another fun thing to do when traveling abroad is to visit a market and see what the locals eat. You will see a lot of familiar items and truly foreign ones.
You can also find a surprise or two at your local supermarket. Check it out and enjoy the experience.
The only way to get something done is by starting it. Last week, I ordered 50 periwinkle plants. They arrived and I left the box on the counter a few hours, thinking it was full of seeds. This was no time to procrastinate! The box was full of juvenile plants with their roots all neatly tucked together and rolled into a giant bouquet of vines.
Honestly, I did procrastinate for a day or two, buying myself some time by leaving the plants in a container on the front porch and watering the roots. When it came down to it, most of the work had already been done by my boyfriend when he had transferred some quality top soil to the area under a magnolia tree where I envision a tiny field of periwinkles.
All I needed was a dowel, my garden gloves and a half hour to dig holes and place in the plants. In about a year, I should have a blanket of ground cover. It would not come to pass if I had not gotten off my duff and done the basic work.
Standing back to admire the rows of plants, I looked over at my slightly larger lily patch. Growing up, a neighbor had an amazing patch of tiger lilies that had to be at least 30 feet in diameter. Everytime I came down our stairs, I would see these burning orange flowers across the street through frame of the front door.
Eventually, I became committed to the dream of my own lily garden. I bought and planted day lilies in the area where the periwinkle is now. They didn’t seem happy, so I moved them to a sunnier spot. Last fall, I dug them all up and divided them to cover a little more ground. Hence, the patch is a little bit bigger. We’ll see what next year brings after I divide them in the fall again.
Sometimes, after you lay the groundwork, literally and figuratively, amazing growth can occur. When we went to the animal shelter to see about rescuing Buster (then known as Mr. Trembles), he was tiny and sickly. He weighed five pounds and was estimated to be about six weeks old. A volunteer handed me this poor little Catahoula Leopard Dog puppy and I could see how terrible distended his belly was from worms. He was weak and undernourished. He could barely look up. I held his precious body and worried he might not make it.
I said I was nervous about taking him home, but I committed. You can’t worry when you need to act. We took him in, fed him, got him medicine, cuddled him and nurtured him. And now, just shy of his first birthday, he is a big boy. He’s about 60 pounds and appears to be growing. He is incredibly sweet and apparently will be by my side for years to come.
Don’t wait for a future that won’t come just from wishing. Plant your future now.
Byron stumbled upon the 99 cents bin at Kroger and this discovery is opening up a new direction in my cooking and baking.
The bargain bin is a transfer station of sorts for produce that isn’t quite good enough anymore for top billing in the main displays but isn’t yet relegated to be tossed. Byron picked up the bag o’ jalapenos in wonderment and an idea sprang to mind: grilled jalapeno poppers.
We even have a grill rack specially designed for jalapenos that came with a jalapeno corer. This way, you can bore into a jalapeno after slicing of the top and neatly draw out the seeds and core. No fuss, no muss. The jalapenos are ready to be stuffed.
For a ham and cheese take on the poppers, we bought a thick slab of baked ham in the deli. Rather than dice it, I opted to slice it into spears to be vertically inserted in the middle of the peppers. First, though, I combined room temperature cream cheese (a brick) and 1/3 cup crumbled feta in a bowl. I added freshly chopped parsley as well as garlic salt and a little Cajun seasoning. Using a teaspoon, I charged up the peppers with the cheese mixture. Then, I inserted the ham spears. That’s it. They hit the grill for about 20-30 minutes on medium heat.
Driving Me Bananas
Next thing I know, Byron brought home a huge bag of bananas. There is only one solution. Banana bread and muffins. I used a banana oatmeal muffin recipe I love and quadrupled it. I opted to use agave instead of brown sugar and added chocolate chips and peanut butter chips.
Here’s the crazy part: after perfectly measuring all the dry ingredients, including the baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and cinnamon, I actually omitted eggs. The recipe X four would have called for 8 eggs. Ooops, they taste great anyway. Let’s call them low-cholesterol egg-less muffins. I sprinkled shredded coconut on top. A dozen went into the fridge, a Bundt cake is being given to friends and the rest of the muffin are in the freezer.
Bag O’ Mixed Peppers
The bargain bin is quickly becoming a way of life around here. Byron pointed to a big bag of peppers. Perfect! After all, we were grilling steaks so grilled veggies always pair well with grilled meat. I simply seeded the peppers, which appeared to be orange bell pepper, poblanos and wax peppers, and quartered them. I drizzled them with a generous amount of olive oil and tossed with salt and pepper. They went into a grilling basket.
I had mistaken the light yellow peppers for banana peppers, but after handling them, I realized, whoa, these are yellow wax peppers, which are hot! The spiciest came down a bit after they were grilled. And, yes, they were very nice with the steak, potatoes and grilled corn. Good news: leftovers!
A bag of more than a dozen limes with a ruby red grapefruit for 99 cents? Amazing. The limes were still ripe and in their juiciest prime. I happened to be getting chicken breasts to grill and the limes would be perfect for a marinade. I bought a pack of chicken breasts with rib meat with for $1.99 a pound.
First things first: I juiced 10 limes and the grapefruit into a one gallon bag held up in a large mixing bowl. Then I trimmed the meat and placed the chicken pieces in the citrus juice. Once all the trimmed chicken breasts were in the bag, I added about a quarter of a cup of olive oil and generous shakes of chicken seasoning, plus a little cayenne. I made sure the bag’s zip top was locked and placed the chicken in the meat drawer of the fridge for about an hour before it was grilled.
So, we obtained a lot of bananas, peppers and limes in big bags that only cost 99 cents each. That’s very cool and a great way to cook with basic ingredients
Spaghetti and meatballs might need a trial separation. Traditionally, pasta is served as a first course and meat as a second course.
Our Sunday dinners with Grandma always observed this practice: cook the meat in the tomato “gravy” (sauce) and ladle the meat-flavored tomato sauce over the pasta. Then, serve the meat on a platter accompanied by a salad, as I’ve recalled before.
My father and I recreated this last night. In a saucepan, he started the tomato sauce with garlic in oil and diced tomatoes (imported from Italy). While he browned the sausages in a large saute pan, I prepared the meatballs, according to Grandma’s instructions:
1 egg per pound of meat, in this case lean ground beef
handful of parsley (clench hand on a bunch, grabbing leaves within fist, then twist to rip off bottom part of stems. Then remove leaves from stems and finely dice with French chef nice)
Italian breadcrumbs (around 1/3 of a cup per pound of meat, this is really to preference)
Rinse your hands in cold water before kneading the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Re-rinse hands occasionally in cold water to keep the meat from getting warm from friction as you evenly combine and then shape the meatballs. To shape, pinch together a golf-ball sized amount and roll in one palm with pressed fingers of opposite hands. The meatballs should be smoothed by the wet hands.
While I shaped the meatballs, Dad moved the browned sausages to tomato sauce. I then used the same saute pan to brown the meatballs in canola oil. No need to cook them through – just brown them mostly all the way around and pick them up one by one with tongs to place in the tomato gravy. Add a little water to the gravy to smooth it out. Simmer on very low for at least 45 minutes.
Select the pasta of your choice, either short tubular or long, such as spaghetti or even bucatini, which is rather thick.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, move the meat out of the gravy and onto a platter. Drain the pasta in a colander in the sink. Place pasta in a large bowl and ladle on the gravy. Serve in pasta bowls. Enjoy.
Now, for the second course, toss a salad of greens with sliced tomatoes and sweet onion. Dress with olive oil and a little vinegar. Serve the meat and salad together. Again, enjoy!
Asparagus always heralds spring and a wonderful way to eat your veggies is to pile them into a big bowl of pasta. This dish is similar to the Italian recipe for “straw and hay,” which combines spinach and semolina pasta in a creamy sauce with pancetta and peas.
Straw and Hay is a favorite of mine and one of the best renditions I had of it was in Murano, the island in Venice where all the beautiful glass is made. This dish I made lacks spinach pasta and instead of heavy cream, it gains creaminess from feta cheese stirred into the sauce.
Asparagus (1 bundle, trim by gently snapping off the weak part by gently pushing down in the middle with an index finger , then chop)
Peas (I bag frozen)
¾ lb. ham (sliced at the deli at 1 and diced at home)
yellow bell pepper (3)
feta (1 package low-fat feta)
carrot (1 large)
artichoke (1 can quarters)
sweet onion (half cup diced)
garlic cloves (3 peeled, smashed and sliced)
dried fettuccini (1 lb.)
Directions: Prep veggies and ham ahead of time and set aside. To get it started, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven on low heat.
Dice carrot and toss in. Add chopped garlic and onion. Once the onion turns golden, fold in the chopped ham. Saute at medium heat until ham edges start to curl and brown, stirring from time to time.
Meanwhile, start a big pasta pot of water on the stove’s biggest burner on high heat. Then to the saucepan, add chopped asparagus and yellow pepper. Cover the pot. Take bag of frozen peas out and cook in microwave, according to bag directions.
Once these two veggies soften, add can of artichoke, including the juice. Heat through at medium-high heat. Pour in peas. Then stir in feta crumbles. Cover and heat through on low heat while you wait on the pasta water to boil. Once it reaches a roaring boil, throw in a dash of salt. Add a couple of drops of oil to the water. Then, place fettuccini in the water. Cook according to box directions. Drain cooked pasta and place in a huge pasta bowl and pour veggies and ham sauce over the top. Gently toss until mixed. Place servings in bowls and add to taste the following: salt, pepper and red pepper flakes.
The most important part: enjoy. And enjoy the leftovers too!