Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Playing to My Strengths

I have to admit something to you. Getting a CSA basket every week has stretched my comfort zone. That arbitrarily appearing selection of seasonally available, organic, locally grown food has thrown me any number of ingredient curve balls. I knew that would happen. That was a big part of the appeal of getting the baskets in the first place. Realistically though, having my comfort zone stretched is just not playing to my strengths.

Putting whatever I have on hand in reasonable quantities together in a pleasing way that uses ingredients up before they pass their prime, and at the same time, delights our palates with a meal we both enjoy? That is when I am at my best.

Case in point today, was our lunch.

We had leftover grocery store smoked chicken sitting in the refrigerator as a potential lunch component today. I'd already bought that chicken in quantity to have some on hand for the evening when I helped my daughter with a CostCo run to procure supplies for the bridal party/shower she is hostessing and staging out of town this weekend, in New Orlean's French Quarter.

It turns out my daughter is a whiz at organizing. Her attention to detail and her ability to predict what will be needed to pull an event off, make this weekend in New Orleans a case of playing to her strengths.My daughter and I headed south to the megastore just after rush hour one day last week, and earlier that day, looking ahead to the potential timing of our trip including how long it would take to prepare the things we'd bought for transport, I saw I was not going to have time for on the spot dinner prep.

I had to plan/work ahead, so I decided to have some cooked protein my husband would like, one that would be flexible for several different preparation techniques, already on hand. When I got to my local grocery store they had some freshly smoked chicken pieces available. If there would not have been smoked chicken breasts and thighs out for sale I would probably have gone for a rotisserie chicken. Having cooked chicken meat around is always easy to parlay into several reasonable meals for us.

By the buy, I don't purchase store cooked protein often. I typically stick with a locally produced natural organic, pampered type chicken supplier from Gonzales, Texas. Some nights get ahead of me. I try to cut myself some slack. Doing the best I can is the point of this, not beating myself up for the times I get caught short.

My daughter's friend, the bride to be, had always spoken of marrying in New Orleans, her family is from there, but one hurricane led to another thing, and she is actually tying the nuptial knot in Raleigh-Durham at the Duke University chapel. Both the bride and groom are undergraduates of Duke. Hurricane devastated New Orleans didn't quite match up.

So my daughter figured, since at least half the bride's maids were going to have to fly somewhere for their pre-ceremony gathering, that New Orleans would be just the place.And they are all there this weekend, 8 gorgeous twenty somethings, holed up at the "W" Hotel, contributing to the economic revival of one of America's great cities. Hopefully they are enjoying good service and that remarkable sense of place and history New Orleans embodies that no storm or overbooked hotel could ever erase.

Which means today, I still had this smoked chicken left over. And pesto covered potatoes from last night's traditionally Italian preparation of Romano beans, new potatoes and yes, you guessed it, pesto.

I also had some dill flowers, some basil leaves, a new onion from the garden that was accidentally harvested while I was weeding, newly roasted pecans and aleph beit cucumbers.

Leftover from the CostCo run was a bottle of organic mango strawberry juice, and left over from a hospitality event for an organization I volunteer with we hosted at Church Assembly the weekend prior to that, was some inexpensive Chardonnay. I purchased a small container of ripe berries, mixed a ginger ale with the juice and chardonnay, added some tawny port, and came up with a really delightful White Sangria.

I chopped some of the leftover smoked chicken, made a dressing of mayonnaise, chiffonade basil and chopped dill from the back garden, added toasted pecans, the cucumber, onion, and salt/pepper to taste, and ended up with a great fresh chicken salad. I served that with a wonderfully chewy mixed whole grain bread I get at my store daubed with some awesome Irish butter. I presented the salad on freezer chilled plates atop a bed of micro arugula greens I bought today. I bordered the plate with pieces of our last ripe tomato.It was gorgeous, delicious, and that is my strength. Taking a few things on hand, adding in what looked good at the store, and coming up with an amazing meal to share with my husband.

Have a lovely weekend everybody. Y'all in New Orleans, have fun getting better acquainted. A gal getting married can't ask for a better send off than a trip to the French Quarter with her bridesmaids to celebrate the milestone. Because back here at home in Austin? We are enjoying the heat, the pool, some sangria and a delicious cold chicken salad that resulted from playing to my strengths.

I love a story with a great ending, don't you?

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