Well, we had an eventful weekend around the Pants household, what with lavender farming, attending a tribute to a comedian taken before his time, and getting into a high-speed highway crash from which nobody even contracted a case of the whiplash. (Yet. And maybe more on these later.) Plus, we rented and watched Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (HORRIBLE!!!! HATE GWYNETH!! HATE!) and Troy (Pretty good!).
As you are probably unaware (we definitely were until recently), the Hill Country plays host to a bunch of lavender farms. There was a festival this past weekend in Blanco, a town of about 1500 west of Austin. We decided to head out, and had a great time.
Mr. Pants Pickin'
Moi in action
We first went to Blanco's Market Days, which was basically a bunch of vendors sitting around the courthouse, and poked around some. It was mostly cheap jewelry -- a couple of neat vendors, but nothing much. We did buy for-real kettle corn, which was being prepared in a giant hot black kettle (in 97-degree heat!), and we bought some fig preserves and apricot/jalapeno jelly from a nice lady who was pretty hard of hearing. As we were paying, some guy all in khaki, with a long ponytail, came up and began questioning the lady as to what ingredients she put in her preserves. So not the point, when you're buying hand-labeled preserves from a woman sitting behind a folding card table! He asked what was in the peach and cranberry jam (sounds yummy) and she looked at him and said "You want to know what jam is?" "No, what's in it?" Eventually (and it did take a while) she told him "Peaches, cranberries, and sugar." (DUH.) He looked at her, said "Sugar... hmmmm" and turned around and left. Meanie. What does he think goes in a jam, anyway? Must be from Austin.
After Market Days, we went to a very packed lavender farm where they sold products shipped in from out of state (huh?) like lavender pillows, cooking lavender, lavender soap, and so on. Then we went to a newer farm where we were given a pair of scissors and a basket and sent out into the fields to cut little bunches of the sweet purple flowers, so now we have a little bunch of lavender buds drying in our guest bathroom.
Unfortunately for the organizers of the first annual lavender festival, our spring has been unusually cool (coulda fooled me) and humid, and those conditions coupled with our annual spring smoke from Mexico have made for a late blooming cycle this year. So, there were almost no blooming lavender plants for the lavender festival. Oops! At least it was 97 degrees outside. With the clear skies and heat we've been enjoying the last few days, we should have lovely fields of purple sometime soon.
We'll definitely have to go back.
Pizza. Pizzapizzapizzapizzapizza. It’s the bee’s pajamas or whatever the saying is. Love for it is practically compulsory. Like most people (ones that don’t suck), I need a steady supply. I like to eat it, roll in it, rub it all over myself, wear it as shoes, fashion it into forts and form it into the besieging armies and then save the people who are trapped inside by feeding them with even tinier pizzas. Yeah, it’s real good.
The problem is that in America we have this Little Debbie pizza culture where, for the most part, we have traded flavor and texture for consistency and convenience. Not that there isn’t something to be said for the extra greasy mega-cheese-chains; they’re perfect after a few beers and a sapping of motivation.
Regardless, there is plenty of good pizza to be found, but the really tasty stuff around Madam Pants’ and my place is hidden in fancy-shmantzy restaurants which is by no means pizzas’ natural habitat. So whatever is a boy to do? Apparently the solution is to make it ourselves.
Unfortunately, I have seen many earnest home pizza attempts thwarted by ovens that aren’t hot enough and retain heat about as well as Michael Jackson retains his skin tone. But I figured if this was the biggest challenge, it was worth a try. So with the help of my local Habitat Re-Store, I lined my home bakery hole (don’t be nasty) with eight or so large, foil wrapped paving tiles. Voila, instant pizza oven.
I used a standard Napoletana dough recipe (this particular one provided by Peter Reinhart) with just AP flour, water, salt, and yeast. I let it rise over night in the fridge and got six lovely starter balls.
Three I froze for later, one I indiscriminately mangled with my sausage-fingered man paws, and two I actually turned into some surprisingly delicious pizza.
and one with mushrooms, red onions, and arugula or rocket for you dirty Brits out there.
You could put toenail clippings and your neighbor’s underwear on this pizza and it would still be awesome.
So despite my trepidation the work was well worth it. Sure I’ll still buy pizza, but now when I really need a hardcore fix, I’m going homemade all the way. Oh yeah.
Sorry, folks. I know I haven't posted in a while -- I've been leaving that up to the multi-talented Sr. Pants to take care of, while he's unemployed (briefly) and knocking about the house in his boxers. Just know that I've been lurking.
Yesterday, Sunday, we actually dragged ourselves out of bed and packed ourselves into the car at 9 AM (not a typo). We did this because we wanted pie. Not just any pie, but the pie to be had at the Bluebonnet cafe, in Marble Falls, TX. This seemed like a terrific idea (and it was, by gum -- their banana and peanut butter cream pies were totally awesome), but, being children of the digital age, it simply didn't occur to us that since we were visiting a small-town diner, mayhaps we should fill our wallets with some cash. It came time to pay for our meal & pie, and Mr. Pants goes up to the register. I see the helpful ladybehindthecounter point behind her, and the Mr. goes back and starts fiddling with something behind the cash register area. I wait for him to come back to the table... nothing doing. I poke at the leftover bits of pie for a minute, and look up, and he's motioning for me to come join him at the fiddly thing.
Turns out, the Bluebonnet cafe doesn't take cards. They have an ATM of sorts, which looks like one of those little card scanners they use at the mall... it had no slots for money to come out of. Unfortunately, we never figured out how the thing dispensed cash, because it wouldn't take either of our cards.
I've never been in that position before. We'd just enjoyed a lovely meal, coffee, eggs, biscuits, and pie, and now we had no means of paying for it! How freakin' embarassing!
The lovely owner gave us his business card and told us to write our name and address on the check... he said we could mail in a check or some cash when we got home. I guess we were in a small town... in Austin, I'm pretty sure we'd still be washing dishes, no matter that the check's only $20.
We left and walked through the town until we found an ATM, which luckily accepted our cards so we could pay for our meal.
I'm so glad that worked out... what a nice guy for letting us pay like that!
211 Highway 281
Marble Falls, TX
A few months ago my dad got a new job and one of the first things they did was send him to Malaysia. This is a man who likes to travel about as much as I like to moisten stamps with my eyes.
I tried to think of any possible reason to cajole my way into tagging along – you know corporate espionage decoy, emergency marrow donor, nightlight- but nothing quite panned out. (Apparently if you don’t work for the company you have to pay for yourself and make your own travel arrangements. Like that’s going to happen.)
I love my dad and all but he’s not what you might call an adventurous eater. He’ll pretty much try anything once, but if left to his own devices he tends to gravitate toward bologna and white bread. So I kept having these horrible visions of him. A stranger in a new world of taste, texture and smell; set afloat in an ocean of foreign delicacies and delectables- watching it all pass by from behind the plate glass window of the Bennigan’s in the lobby of the Anglo Express Hotel.
Luckily for both of us this was not the case. He actually had a wonderful time and didn’t recognize what he was eating for the vast majority of it. And being the thoughtful man that he is, he brought me home a great Malaysian cookbook since char kway teow tends to stain if left in one’s pockets for too long.
Most of the ingredients are exotic to a lot of America, but through the blessings of the gods, I live in a town with multiple gour-mega groceries and a plethora of thriving ethnic markets. So it wasn’t that difficult to track down the goods for one of the simpler recipes. I’m a big tempeh fan, so I started with a spicy-sweet, fried tempeh dish.
Cubed tempeh, kecap manis, palm sugar, oyster sauce, tamarind juice, minced shallots, garlic, hot peppers, and ginger. I also added some choy sum because I thought it would be good. I gather that traditionally it would be served on the side. I’m such a jerk. Geez.