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.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalypse, Not

I'm not entirely clear on all the details (having not paid sufficient attention to the doomsayers, again, which surely will lead to my eventual demise...), but I am quite certain we have escaped at least the literal "end of the world".   For today.

Even though it was reported that 1 in 8 Americans believed today was to be our Big Finish?  I did not note a crush buying batteries recently or stocking up on water, both of which I recall clearly from the disasterism hullaboo arising around the turn of the last century.

Perhaps because there is no way to prepare for no longer existing, though many seemed to believe they'd intuited a safe spot to hide out while the world ended while others worked to devise various survival assistant devices.  There is one man in China, for instance, who apparently stuffed his life savings into the building of a modern ark, having decided that the sky jaguar vomiting blue in the Dresden Codex pages depicts a world-ending flood.
See that blue stuff to the left of the far right panel?  Et voila, your flood.
Not to trivialize flooding this soon past Hurricane Sandy, but, huh.  A flood?  Many Texans still suffering from a protracted drought secretly wish we did have "too much water!" as our current problem to solve.

At any rate, here's to the continuation of our world!  Here's to all the ways people have been celebrating and hoping to stave off the short colder days over the centuries!  Saturnalians, Christians, Christmas celebrators of every stripe?  This next week or so is all yours, so show us what you've got.  I mean, since we are all still here to see it...

In the meantime, from our home and gardens to yours - no matter what you celebrate or how - very warmest wishes for the season, and yes, joyfully! seasons, yet to come.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Already I am dealing with

what I think of as my "count down" nerves.  To distract myself I keep pushing away from my computer screen and making myself go outside.

Once out of doors it becomes easy to momentarily forget anything weighing in any balance other than the bounty that is expressed in a back yard in November in Austin, Texas.  

I thought I would share photos here as randomly inspired.  As a something-or-other, I don't know, gesture perhaps?  Serving as punctuation for the slow fraying of my nerves.

First up?  This is a shot of what is called a hummingbird moth.  When I saw photos of these on other people's blogs I wondered at how uniformly the reported response to seeing one of these was "I thought I had some new or different kind of small hummingbird working in my garden".  

Because when you look at a static photo of a hummingbird moth, especially up close, it really looks like a moth that only kind of looks like a hummingbird.
It is only when you first see it working the blossoms that you come to appreciate how hummingbird-like the motions of this nectar feeding moth really are.  

It became obvious to me that anybody accustomed to seeing a certain nectar loving tiny bird work a patch of blossoms, upon seeing that characteristic darting about followed by diving in and then darting about again?  Any such person used to seeing hummingbirds feeding will see that activity and automatically register "hummingbird".  

It is only once you get closer that you realize two things.  

1)  That hummingbird sure is working the flowers a lot more consistently than you are used to seeing.  Most hummingbird sightings are fairly brief, especially when camera wielding humans are closing in.  

2) Then you also realize: oh, it's got antennae.  Ta da!  Moth.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Nearly all over (but the shouting)

and it seems the shouting never ends.

The only variable when it comes to the shouting (and by the "shouting" I mean whatever is passing for the daily hullabaloo in the MSM) is the amount of attention I feel obligated to pay.

Recently, that amount of attention has been high, very very high, mostly because (I am admitting it here first) I am obsessively checking the political polls.  Specifically the polls predicting the presidential election outcome.

I can't help it.  Win lose or draw, I simply want, no, NEED to know.  NOW!

I suck at waiting.  I have no skill sets to bring to bear.  I am not patient.  I am not willing to sit by and watch idly as something plays out.  Sitting by is not a strength for me.  Meddling is more my milieu.  I do have some idly watching chops to be sure, but those only kick in as I am viewing the results AFTER I have meddled.  Because have I mentioned this before?  I suck at waiting and doing nothing.

Unless the waiting and doing nothing is my idea first.  Theoretically.  I've never had that idea first, much less ever yet in my life, frankly, and now I've gotten this far along in the game I am not holding out hopes for those prospects.  But, back to polls and the election prediction biz.

Polls are only as good as their methodology, in every case the source of the data must be considered, the size of the poll, the framing of the question, the ways data are interpreted, and the leanings of the polling service must all be clearly taken into account.  Then after each poll has been analyzed, a gaggle of polls must be taken into account and their results averaged, and exceptions posited.

That is a lot of work and me being generally intellectually lazy means I naturally rely upon somebody to do all that sorting and sussing out on my behalf.  That somebody this election go round has been Nate Silver, statistician and poll watcher extraordinaire of The FiveThirtyEight Blog on the NYTimes website.  (538, in case it was not immediately apparent to you, being the total number of electoral votes available).

Apparently I'm not the only one out there obsessively checking in for updates.  Today from the xkcd blog site comes this image that pretty much sums it up:

The xkcd hover text for this?  "The choices we make Tuesday could have MASSIVE and PERMANENT effects on the charts on Nate Silver's blog!"

Fingers crossed the polling I am choosing to heed proves to be rock solid.  I want to take a long long nap, wake up with Tuesday on the books, and then?  Let the shouting begin.  I'll be yelling either way.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Lessons everywhere...

There are two types of people in this world.

Some, who believe that nearly everything can be reduced to the trope of there being two types of people in the world, and some, who do not.  Want some examples?

For the two-types school of thought, everybody can be broken down into groups as to preferences, such as Coke or Pepsi, City or Country, Mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, Paper or Plastic, White or Wheat, Dog or Cat, Christmas Eve or Christmas, Stuffing or Dressing.

Then there are the people who have already clicked off to read a more interesting page, elsewhere.

I fall into the first category, the two-types buy-in group, believing I can simplify my world view by sorting folks out according to their behaviors as expressed in a preference for this versus that.  

A prime example: recently I was sampling posts on The Happiness Project site where I came across an article that asked if I was an abstainer or a moderator?

One group contains all the folks who are good at moderating their behaviors (the not-me group), and the other group contains the rest of us - the types who have more success abstaining entirely from temptation rather than trying to moderate behaviors. 

There are days I run across a sorting question and I slightly dither.  Not this time.  No sir, when it comes to this I immediately knew my answer.  I am absolutely, positively, an abstainer.

That is, I run on one of two speeds.  One hundred percent, or zero.

If I am in for a penny, I'm in for a pound.  I am either all the way SOLD on an activity or it leaves me cold.  I am either exercising every single day, or going through a phase (like currently) when I am not exercising at all.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Bupkis.  Not even a little bitty teeny tiny bit.

I am either eating quite healthily, or variously indulging every one of my bingeing impulses (again, like right now.   Halloween candy, thy name is anathema to me, thine effects are evil and thou art to be banished, forever!  And/or thou art eaten all up so we are clear until next year.  Onward.)  

The brief HP article does not attempt to examine the whys or wherefores, but rather simply postulates that we all tend to sort out into one of these particular groups of expressed behaviors.  Once we understand this about ourselves (so the thinking goes) we will be much more successful at doing what we want to do, and thusly, we will be happier.

I'm not sure about that happier part, but I'll readily admit that working with rather than fighting my own nature makes for a better day.  

I knew about this particular tendency of mine well before I read the article.  If I had to pinpoint it,  I'd say I spotted my abstinent patterning about the same time I recognized my perfectionism.

It might surprise you to think a relatively insightful adult could go about her daily routines for years without recognizing the role perfectionism was playing in every waking moment but I assure you - it can happen.

Once I did recognize my perfectionism it was a short hop to sussing out the ways it might work to advantage or disadvantage and trying to moderate those behaviors.  Which it turns out I stink at, so, in order not to be a perfectionist?  Apparently I must abstain from perfectionism (or in other words, keep completely away from being expressing my perfectionist behaviors........ perfectly).

Yeah I know.  Years (and years) of therapy.........

How about your-own-self?  Are you an abstainer or are you a moderator?

Do you have success following some sort of 85/15 rule when it comes to indulging in otherwise verboten behaviors?

Or are you somebody who functions best when completely avoiding opportunities to indulge?

If you aren't sure, then feel free to weigh in on which side you land in for any of the other dichotomies listed or simply add your own.   Because there are two types of blog post readers.  Those who will comment, and.....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Weather or not I am ready

It happens every year, though the timing varies.

Eventually, after we've survived another long hot summer, past when I've asked the "is it warmer this year than it was last year this time?"regulation query of fall, and finally, just as we were about to give it all up and dig out that action plan for the oft-threatened move northward........it happens.

I open our front door and whump!  It hits me right smack in the face. Cool, crisp air.

Chilliness that is suddenly on the OUTSIDE of our house, instead of on the inside.  The inside of our house being that place where we are thoroughly trained to retreat back into to avoid the ill effects of what happened as recently as yesterday afternoon, in matter of actual fact, a sunny bright 90 degree afternoon.  In late October.

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I'm feeling a little flustered by the huge shift.

It feels a little bit like this:


Me:  Hello?

Breathless Voice:  Good morning!  How are you this morning!?

Me:  (trying but not quite avoiding a suspicious tone) I'm fine.  Who is this?

Breathless Voice: I'm fine too!  I'm a paid representative calling on behalf of Mother-Knows-Best, a fully owned subsidiary of Mother Nature Enterprises™. I'm checking in with you today to inquire as to how you are liking the 40 degree temperature drop I show that we just had delivered to your address?

Me:  I didn't order any weather.

Breathless Voice:  Your "change of weather"® has been delivered free of charge and additionally I have been asked to tell you is part of a special offer - absolutely free of any shipping or handling charges.  This weather is all yours, totally free!  We were wondering how you like it?

Me:  It is kind of a shock, honestly.  It must be 40 degrees cooler than it was this time yesterday.

Breathless Voice:  You are totally welcome!

Me:  I'm not thanking you!  It would have been nice for a bit more of a gradual change.  Plus will we get any rain out of this?  We really, really need some rain.

BV:  You're welcome!  I must advise you that while there is no charge for your weather delivery we do have a policy of No Returns once a front has arrived and been unboxed.

Me:  I didn't unbox anything.  I just opened the door and...

BV:  Once you have checked the weather it is yours.  No returns.  You're welcome!

Me:  Please quit saying I am welcome.  I just opened my door, I didn't mean to.....

BV:  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today!  Portions of this conversation may have been recorded for quality control purposes.  Enjoy your weather and remember, "if it is a little change in the weather you need, Mother Nature is the one to call!" ™

When cooler temperatures arrive, it is best to make chicken stock rather than complain.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Have you learned anything new online lately?

I can honestly say I have.

When I recently read an article in the New York Times singing a song of peanut butter sandwiches featuring a novel (to me anyway) addition to the "and" list of filling ingredient options?  I couldn't wait to finish the article before I rushed to the pantry to assemble my own version.

No doubt you are already well acquainted with peanut butter and jelly.  You likely have your own favored go-to jam or jelly choice as well as "your" brand of peanut butter.  Unless you have a personal taste taboo, I'd be surprised to hear that you'd never sampled peanut butter and honey, or perhaps even some version of the semi-mythic Elvis sanctioned peanut butter and banana combos.

But this particular peanut butter add-on, this alliterative addition to the pantheon of Peanut Butter And _____s? This ingredient represented, for me at least, a bold new direction for the entire peanut butter and sandwich franchise.

Dwight Garner's "Peanut Butter Takes on an Unlikely Best Friend" extols the virtues, the relatively unsung siren song of a slightly offbeat combination: that of the Peanut Butter and Pickle sandwich.

Before I even hit the halfway mark of the article I simply had to try one for myself.  I stopped reading, headed into the kitchen and promptly assembled this:
A Creamy Peanut Butter and Hamburger Dill Chip Pickle Sandwich

And I gotta tell you - it was good, really, truly good.  I enjoyed it thoroughly although as I finished the article I discovered most people vastly prefer a bread-and-butter variety pickle to add a more expected element of sweetness to their peanut butter and pickle sammies.  Harrumph.

I had thrown together a peanut butter and dill pickle chip sandwich, reportedly off-putting to many, but not to me.  It took just the right approach to get my "everything we have around here for lunch is sooo boring" taste buds to sit up and pay close attention.  In that good way, I mean.

I suppose I'll try a sandwich with the more widely favored bread-and-butter pickles eventually. But for now?  I appreciate how the snappy crispness of a ripple cut dill pickle chip plays against the smooth texture of peanut butter spread on soft but grainy sandwich bread.  I am especially enjoying how the salty pickle brine works in concert with the creamy taste of peanuts, reminiscent of savory dishes I've prepared and enjoyed that include a peanut sauce as part of the flavor profile.

And let's face facts.  Once that bread-and-butter style pickle on peanut butter barrier is broken, there will be no reason not to try out bread-and-butter style pickled jalapeño slices with peanut butter as the natural nest step.  

I'm not in the predicting or the promising business when it comes to cultivating new tastes.  I realize that you like what you and I like what I like, no judgement, no possibility of error.  It is all and will always be a matter of personal preference, no more, no less.

Peanut butter and pickle sandwiches will never overtake the popularity of the more familiar combinations, but they do have a growing fan base, myself currently included.  You may decide you don't like the idea without ever tasting one, but I'm betting you don't have to guess.  I'm betting you have all the ingredients needed in your pantry right now.

Come on, admit it - aren't you the least little bit curious to try for yourself how the two tastes work out?  I highly advise you to be a little adventurous.  Step away from your computer, go into your kitchen right this minute, take out a piece of bread, cut it in half and make yourself a trial balloon of a peanut butter and pickle half-sandwich.  Take a bite, let the flavors dance around in your mouth a bit, and if you are so inclined, share your reactions in the comments section.  Good, bad or indifferent, I'm curious to hear what you think.  


Monday, October 22, 2012

Be afraid...

be very afraid....

This little sticker may mean I won't watch the final debate this evening, because I've already cast my vote, and because I get so weary at the persistent and immediate insistence upon declaring a winner and a loser between the debate participants (and at times even including the moderators).

Aside:  Is there a more thankless job than moderating a presidential debate?  The only guarantee if you do a great job is that both sides will be peeved at best and furious at worst with the idea that you actually actively moderated the discussion.  The nerve!

At any rate "my" presidential election is all over and it feels great so far.  Whether or not other voters agreed with my stance remains to be seen naturally, but I am relieved to have my participation on the books.  At the very least it will add authority to my hounding of family members to cast their ballots, which I so will be doing.  That's the price of keeping my company, frankly.  Folks I hang with don't have to agree with me but they darn well better participate.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Real creativity transcends time. 

If you are not producing work, then chances are you have fallen into the infinite space between the ticks of the clock where reality is created. 

Don’t let some capitalist taskmaster tell you otherwise — even if he happens to be in your own head. 

Douglas Rushkoff

Excerpted from Brain Pickings
How to Break Through Your Creative Block

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Grab Bag

October is one of my favorite months here.
The highs aren't so gruesome when interspersed with two inch rains and cool fronts dropping overnight lows into the 50s and 60s.  I think of this as "Hawaii" weather time.

Even though I can't  don't keep close enough track of the forecast to coordinate dinner dishes with the weather, it is soup and stew time at long last.

Tonight we'll try out a corn chowder recipe from America's Test Kitchen.

When we watched the episode and it came time to sample the results of their recipe tweaks, both Test Kitchen regulars involuntarily closed their eyes and murmured their approval.  You can't fake that kind of spontaneous appreciation of goodness (or if you can I don't want to think about why you would).

The only tricky part of the dish was getting kernels of corn off of eight cobs without gluing every part of one corner of my kitchen to every other part.  The spattering of the corn juice was monumentally messy.  At one point I had to take my glasses off because I couldn't see past the starchy stuff sluicing off my lenses.  Now, that's cooking!
Meanwhile, everything outside is expressing appreciation of a kinder gentler version of Texas weather in its own way.

Life is good.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Happy Second Day of Autumn!

Sure, sure.  Most people would indeed be wishing you a happy first day of Autumn.

Do we really want to waste time quibbling about whether it is more important to celebrate a first than a second day? All while cooler morning air evaporates into another stark reminder that Autumn in Central Texas is more a suggestion than seasonal change?

I thought not.

There will certainly be no shortage of internet foliage shots available if borrowed imagery is your deal.

And yet?  I find the color we get around these parts, the show that begins after a couple of welcomed rains in combination with cooled overnight air, though mostly of the Last Gasp Flowering variety? It is soothing and inspiring in its own way.

So if it is colored leaves you desire, please feel free to look elsewhere.  To follow is everything I've got to ease your summer weary eyes...

I listened, straining.
Shook my head
and listened once more.

It was then I heard her.

"I too, 
am Autumn's offering"
the Pomegranate was whispering
in my garden.

"Do I not embrace cooler mornings, 
eased afternoons,
respite from summer's braggadocio of heat?"

"I flower and fruit,
offering tribute to 
all that is,
has been,
or can be."

"You callously 
worship leaves
as they lose their life stream."

I heard her sigh.

"But I too,
I too am Autumn."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Why I left Facebook

I've always felt participating on Facebook is way too evocative of Junior High School days.  And not in any good way.

[A note of explanation to all readers under the age of, oh hell, just for you young ones, OK? Let's not get into the numbers.  What I endured as Jr. High is now called Middle School. Onwards.]

In my public Jr. High school there were all sorts of activities built into the school year that seemed designed chiefly to underscore how popular you were (or were not).  Student Council elections, cheerleader elections, student dances, movie days.

The most egregious offender was a series of fund raisers where for a contribution, groups of student council members (aka the popular kids) went around from one classroom to the next delivering carnations with a knowing flourish to...you guessed it....all the other popular kids.

If you couldn't figure out for yourself how popular you were (or were not) the evidence was there at the end of each class period.  Clear as the flowers not on your desk.  Not that most of us needed the visual. Most of us were all too aware of our status.  Trying to find a way to live with, or in spite of that, was the emotional burden we carried along with our textbooks day to day.

On Facebook the "friend"counts and incessant thumbs uping and downing were taking a similar toll. It felt so much, too much like an online lunch room with the attendant strain of figuring out where it would be safe to sit.  The constant rankings and ratings, the cookie cutter thumbnail indicators of "we are FOR this" or "we are NOT FOR that" began to feel like a very unspecial episode of Glee, minus redeeming musical interludes.
I resented how every online shop and brick and mortar store now insisted I like them on facebook.  I was supposed to share my purchase information, offer product reviews. Suddenly every social or political action taken carried along with it an expectation I would next-step: use my wall to re-publicize the cause.

I clicked and posted, filling my page with videos, petitions and updates on my every waking thought and mood, yet I was never sharing anything particularly special or unique.  It was all so packaged.  So contrived.  So... commercial.  There was not much about myself or my life on Facebook that a quick rummage through our trash cans, recycling bins or worse yet, a quick scan of my credit card receipts wouldn't similarly reveal.

Was there anything of the real me on Facebook or was it all simply manufactured simulacrum?  Did it matter?  Did I care?

There were boundary issues.  On Facebook there is a pile of permanently preserved detritus unearthed by the less than judicious post. For me it all began to take on creepy overtones. Pulling up certain people's pages on Facebook felt way too much like driving  s-o   v-e-r-y    s-l-o-w-l-y  around a neighborhood to spy on other people's front porches or into their garages.

Sure I could see what was posted there.  But should I?  Who's fault was it if when I looked?

I was becoming way too comfortable alternating between indulging other people's inner flasher and/or my peeping tom.

It all came to a head the day I got the email informing me my account had been hacked.  I was advised to change all my passwords and email links.  Everywhere.  The vulnerability of trying to be so very accessible to everybody meant that in my case, the site had become a Trojan horse.

I kicked myself as I reset log-ins for all bazillionty sites I frequent.  I had met the enemy and she was me.  I thought about what I stood to gain and what I stood to lose, then simply took my page down.

I let a few people know, but mostly I just quietly bugged out.  Within the span of a few key strokes I willingly, knowingly, relinquished the capability to effortlessly view relationship status updates and uniformly adorable baby photos of my friend's kids and grandkids. I accepted I would no longer be able to send messages to or be virtually reminded of other people's birthdays, anniversaries or travel plans.  

So far, so good.  I realize my absence makes it a little more time consuming for other people to keep in touch.  It will take more to get caught up with Actual Me than simply scrolling down a page to check for breathless updates on the weather or my latest purchase.
I'm OK with that.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One Good Thing

deserves another...

Even though it is currently 95 degrees outside (wherefore art thou, Autumn?) we are slated for cool(er) temperatures and the real possibility of rain going into the weekend.

To my mind that sort of shift in the weather begs for the first batch of chili.  I like each pot of chili to hang around in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors have a chance to move past howdy-do all the way to being smitten with each other's company.

That means I'm getting a head start on Batch-The-First today.  Granted, my timing might be a leetle optimistic.  The forecast can change (just ask the DNC planners), my willpower might not hold past dinnertime tomorrow.  Modern life can be tricky.  Fortunately, chili is not.

How about you?  What is the first thing you think about making when it Fall hits your neck of the woods?

UPDATED Friday:  Folks I'm happy to report the cooler weather and rain arrived right on schedule.  Today I made a batch of our favorite cornbread and tonight?  Chili's on, y'all!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

House Fatigue

Especially during the harsh sunlight of summer months when I look around our house I see, on a bad day, only the areas that need work.  Popcorn ceilings.  Tiled counters.  Faltering appliances.  Tired blinds that are older than my now grown children.

Charm and character?  Nope.  The backdrop of our fond family memories?  That's what photo albums are for.

I walk from room to room and all I see are dollar signs, projects never started, days to weeks of living with construction noise, mess and chaos.  It feels like tackling any one small thing will only serve to highlight the many other big things yet undone.  It gets to be overwhelming in a hurry.

Ugh and oof and pass me another drink.  Not one of those "here's an inch" restaurant drinks, either.  I'm talking a glass filled with something.  Stat!

The cherry garnish in this cocktail of my discontent was a recent nighttime mis-adventure.

The Hub and I are old enough to have joined company with Paul Simon. We don't expect to be treated like a fool no more and we sure enough don't expect to sleep through the night.

Recently when The Hub flung the covers off in an especially vigorous gesture that had his arm slamming up against my right-up-until-that-moment totally somnolent body, I was initially and immediately angered.  I have enough trouble falling asleep at night. Waking the other person up thoroughly violates well established getting up to pee etiquette.

"Hey!" (I thought but did not speak. Silence is baseline strategy in the maybe I won't wake ALL the way up game.) "You don't have to throw the blanket off to get up to pee!".

Judging by the way the Hub hopped up out of the bed and then began to brush himself off vigorously I knew before even reaching full-alert status that this was not your regulation bladder-call.

I resigned myself to wakefulness.

"Did something bite you?" I asked wearily and somewhat unsympathetically, without making a move.

"Yeah" he said.  "I think so..".

At this point he was lifting up the light quilt we use during hot weather months to get a good look at the presumed malefactor and I realized I was still recumbent merely inches away from whatever it might-have-been that may-have-bitten.

Suddenly I was fully awake, adrenalized. I performed my own ungraceful leap up out of bed.

Lifting my side of the cover, we both spotted what first looked like a little round spot, about the size of a pencil eraser.

I pointed.

"Is that IT?"

He nodded.

"It's a scorpion." he said.

"No it's not!" I replied emphatically because I really really wanted that to be true.

The little dark dot unfurled and...yeah.  Of course it was.

A scorpion.

In our bed.

With us.

While we were asleep.

Fast forward eight and a half minutes. After arming myself with the usual plastic food container and spatula scorpion-wrangling combo, said scorpion had been stunned, contained, and transported to take the wild water slide into city sewers that is the preferential exit point for all conquered scorps.

I don't want them dead.  I want them dead and gone.

I was standing there, panting, spatula still in hand as I realized I was alone.  The Hub was back in bed, and by the sound of his breathing, already nearly asleep.

Fully adrenalized, I sat at bedside, shakily petting our cat, scolding her for not being a typical hunter-protector when I needed her.  I waited for the pounding in my ears to subside.

I worked to convince myself not only were the chances of there being two scorpions in our bed on the same night way past astronomical, but we had thoroughly investigated said sleep platform and visually confirmed: a la Zelda Rubenstein's famous line in Poltergeist, this bed was clean.

It took me several full minutes of interior encouragement dialogue ("you can do this", "you saw for yourself, nothing else is in there" "it'll be fine") before I could get back under the quilt.  Time crept by as I timidly approached the concept of closing my eyes. Ever. Again.

I'm fairly sure it was another good half hour beyond that before I gingerly,  s-l-o-w-l-y and fully extended my legs back towards prime scorpion real estate - the bottom third of the bed.

I surprised myself by falling back asleep fairly promptly.  But before I did, my last thoughts ran something like this: "I am so over this house.".

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Show and Tell

When I was a young girl, a song hit the charts written by Herb Newman called "The Birds and The Bees".  The lyrics ran (in part)

Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees
And the flowers and the trees
And the moon up above
And a thing called "Love"...

The tune is quite catchy, and before long we were all singing the chorus on the playground at school despite the fact our relative youth meant we had little real idea of what it was we were singing about.

Lately that song has been running nonstop through my head whenever I am out and about.

Does that ever happen to you?  Do you have ever have a soundtrack superimposed over your days?  It happens to me all the time.  I see beauty around me and the music is simply and suddenly there as well.

Today, rather than sing the song (you can thank me later) I thought I'd illustrate it for you. So, without further ado:
This young Eastern Screech Owl roosted temporarily on our front bench 
Ongoing stand off between competing male hummingbirds
Bees often get blown into the pool.  The lucky ones I fish out and they fly off apparently unharmed 
Polygonia interrogationis Question Mark Butterfly
Eumorpha vitis - Vine Sphinx moth
Garlic chive blooms dancing in August's heat over the Verbena
Oak leaf galls - the jewel tones are surprisingly pretty
July's second full moon for 2012

I love to watch the sky reflected on the water.  I think of this as the China cloud.
Here's hoping you and yours are having a lovely Labor Day Weekend.  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Something Blue

Fingers crossed everybody has a smooth return to school this week.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Out of the Pickle Juice (and into the Fryer)

You know how it goes.  You hear about something for the first time and suddenly you are seeing it and hearing about it everywhere you turn?

It was that way the first time I was pregnant.  I've been told it was a shift in my focus that made the difference but I promise you there had never been quite so many disposable diaper commercials on television until shortly after we discovered we'd be entering the realm of parenthood.

Suddenly diaper commercials were on every five minutes, punctuating every genre on every channel.

It has been that same way more recently with brining.  The technique, once garnering the rare mention each year when it became time to Talk about Turkey, is now being suggested to bring an extra punch of flavor to all sorts of proteins allowing them to be cooked without drying out.
I'm a convert already, nobody has to convince me further that this technique may represent the only good reason to buy certain cuts, including the ubiquitous skinless boneless (tasteless) chicken breast.

What got my attention, really made me sit up and take notice, was when folks started talking about using the juice leftover from jars of commercially sold dill pickles as brine.  I'd always poured that pickle brine down the drain, rinsed and tossed the jar into the "Glass" bin and that was that.

But saving the brine from the pickles to use with chicken?  Talk about recycling!
We are major dill pickle eaters around here.  I often have two different types of dill pickles on hand because while I am a huge fan of the more garlicky pickles offered up as "Polish" style, the rest of my family is sold on the more conventional "Kosher" dill.   We managed to empty out a jar of each style recently so I thought I'd give pickle brined chicken a whirl.

I combined the juices from both jars to assure I'd have quantity.  I was planning on making fried chicken strips, a long time family favorite.

I put two whole skinless boneless chicken breasts, split into halves (so four pieces total) in a container, covered them with pickle brine, and let that sit in the refrigerator overnight.   After an overnight soaking  the surface of the chicken picked up the slightest tinge of green from the brine. Hoping that meant it had picked up flavor as well, I cut the chicken into strips and proceeded with my regular recipe.

Ooh la la!  The differences are subtle but oh so positive.  There is a hint of dill, a vinegary brightness that doesn't permeate any one bite but is rather a background boost to the overall flavor of the dish.  The chicken itself was moist inside and crispy outside - a deliciously perfect one-two punch of fried chicken goodness.

I don't plan on using pickle juice for every brine from this day forward (not that that would be so horrible), but I will never again empty a jar of pickles without knowing there is still significant play left in that game.  Substituting commercial pickle brine for home prepped brine is a ridiculously easy way to add an extra punch of flavor to your dishes.  Try it and see!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Something Blue

A note on Something Blue can be found right here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


You recent arrivals may not realize Austin Agrodolce had its starting point as a food blog.  Previously all things gardening and outdoors were covered over at my old Gardenista digs.  In fact there has been such a dearth of food or eating related posts here lately you'd be forgiven even if you knew that and simply forgot.  I practically did and I am at least periodically obsessive.  On top of that, I may not garden every single day but I sure enough do eat.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Rather than provide a recipe here today I thought I'd share a technique I've developed to use up leftover proteins.  Dire economic times or no, I hate throwing out food of any sort but especially animal protein. It is wasteful, children are starving, animals gave up their lives, there are all sorts of good reasons to make sure every bite of animal protein you've purchased and/or prepared is consumed and hopefully enjoyed.

But what to do when you are left with bits and pieces that do not in themselves constitute a meal sized portion?  Recently I had roasted pork loin, poached and grilled chicken pieces left from the week's dinnertime efforts.  Sure you can throw them atop salad or into soup but, BOR-ING.

Enter the chimichanga.
According to tradition, a chimichanga is a meat filling in a tortilla wrapping that is deep fried.  Sort of like a burrito only a bit tidier.

When I make chimichangas, however, I finish them off in a hot oven.  There's still plenty of fat calories along for the ride, these are not any sort of restrictive diet type items, but the baked version simply and reliably re-heats better.  The way we eat around here that ability to reheat and serve on demand is essential.

You may be wondering, how much is enough?  I rarely have predictable amounts of leftover meats at any given time.  If what is on hand looks like it won't have enough to feed everybody, I'll put together a few chimichangas using seasoned refried beans in lieu of the animal protein mixture.  (Be sure to check the end of the post if you are planning on using beans, the technique varies slightly.)

What I had on hand today yielded about a cup and a half of meat once pulsed, and that is just about enough to fill the 10 tortillas that come in the packaging of our favorite locally made variety.

Soooo - let's make Chimichangas! Ready?  Wheee!  Here we go!

The cast of characters is as follows:
Cooked Animal Protein (or seasoned refried beans - see end of post for additional notes)
Grated cheese
Flavored mayonnaise** (see below)
Flour Tortillas (6-8 inchers - not those behemoths sold as "burrito" sized)

Assemble your proteins.  Making sure to remove skin and bones as applicable (these can go into your next batch of broth or stock) cut the meat into chunks about an inch in diameter.  As previously mentioned here I am using leftover roasted pork loin, some poached, and some grilled chicken.
You are now going to pulse the meat in a food processor. If you are using more than one protein, you want to sort out what is densest and put that into the processor first, adding the other protein about halfway through. When combining pork and chicken as I am today I pulsed the pork 6 times, then added the chicken and pulsed 6 more times until the mixture looked like this:
Now we'll add a moistening agent to help hold the meat mixture together and keep it from drying out. I've used all sorts of sauces and gravies throughout the years.  Barbeque sauce, green salsa, even mashed avocado have served ably in their turn, but most recently I've settled on using a bit of flavored mayonnaise.

In this case I took a 1/4 cup of Hellman's, added in about 1/16 teaspoon of chipotle powder and smoked pimenton each (to taste) and let that sit in the refrigerator for an hour to let the flavors speed date. You'll want to watch adding salt if your cooked meat is already seasoned.  Plain mayo works fine in a hurry.  You don't want a wet mess, just add enough to barely hold it together, like so.
Prepare your flour tortillas by softening them in melted butter in a skillet over medium high heat.  Flip each tortilla over after a couple of seconds, until it is buttery on both sides, soft and quite pliable. You want to work with warm tortillas so they will fold easily.  Until you get the hang of how many tortillas your filling will require, you can heat and fill a few tortillas at a time.
While not absolutely necessary, I began adding grated Monterey Jack cheese to our chimichangas a couple of years ago.  I often have odds and ends of grated cheese hanging around and any will do, but Jack cheese is our favorite.  The meat mixture will work fine solo, again, this is about using up what you've got on hand rather than running out to the store to buy ingredients.

Put a tablespoon or so of grated cheese into the middle of each softened tortilla.  You are putting the cheese in first because you'll flip the tortilla over prior to baking and you want the cheese on top of the meat.  If the cheese ends up on the bottom it often leaks out while baking thus undoing your work. Sneaky, work-undoing cheese!  When the heat is on you just can't trust it to stay put.  

Now add about two tablespoons of meat filling on top of the cheese.  Fold in two opposing sides towards the middle and then the other two sides in as well to make a neat little package, thusly.

Why do my fingers look so weird?  Ugh.  Please ignore and continue!  Flip each bundle over seam sides down and...

prick the tops with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking.  See?  Easy peasy.

If I am making bean and meat chimichangas at the same time and need to tell them apart I will poke a different pattern into each type.  Also, as you can see, the tortilla flaps stick out on the bottom on two sides. You could orient your chimichangas in varying directions to differentiate types if that is how you roll.  

Continue filling (and obsessively arranging on your baking sheet) until you've used up all your meat mixture.  I had about 1 and 1/2 cups of meat mixture today and that fills 10 tortillas neatly.

I am not above tinkering with the amounts I use per tortilla to stretch or to use up extra filling as required.  If you had extra, could you eat the pulsed meat mixture in a sandwich?  Absolutely.  Might you stand at the counter and eat that last little bit of moistened meat mixture left in the bowl?  Not if you are watching your waistline you won't.  Do as I say, not as I....lalala LOOK!  A squirrel!
At this point the chimichangas can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 24 hours before baking.  If baking from the refrigerator, do allow a few minutes for the bundles to warm slightly first. When you are ready to heat and eat, place the desired number of chimichangas on a foil covered pan (for easier clean up in case you accidentally bought aforementioned sneaky type cheese).
Slide onto the middle rack of a moderately hot oven and bake until golden, about 15 minutes (depending on your oven).  Serve warm.

Depending on appetites, two to three chimichangas is a serving.  You can put out crema (or sour cream) and salsa verde to be used as a bit of a dip with these if you like, but that is definitely gilding the lily.   Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Some of my favorite lilies are gilded.

As mentioned, unbaked chimichangas will hold in a covered container in the refrigerator to be baked to order.  On the off chance you have uneaten baked chimichangas (do we need a term for leftover leftovers? leftovers squared? leftoveragains?), they may be kept refrigerated and then reheated again easily in a warm oven for a few minutes.

I've tried microwaving these for just a few seconds to take the chill off and they are OK that way but to my mind the tortilla gets too soft for my liking.  Once baked these will keep a week tightly covered in the refrigerator but I've never had them last that long.

Are you tired of all this talk about chimichangas?  Me too.  I like eating them a hell of a lot more than typing.

Here's a recap with some suggested amounts.  SUGGESTED....for the love of all that is easy do not get too hung up on amounts.  These are guidelines, not restrictions.


1 1/2 cups Cooked Protein (meat pulsed to a coarse grind or well seasoned refried beans)
1/2 cups Grated Cheese
1/4 cup Moistening agent - Not needed if using refried beans.
10 Soft taco or fajita size flour tortillas
1-2 tablespoons Unsalted butter

Heat tortillas one at a time in a hot skillet on both sides in a half pat melted butter until pliable.  Repeat and reserve.
On foil lined baking sheet, place 1 tablespoon grated cheese in center of each heated tortilla
Add 2 tablespoons meat or bean mixture on top of cheese
Fold 2 opposing tortilla sides in towards the middle, then fold remaining 2 sides in to make a square bundle
Carefully flip bundles over seam side down
Pierce tops with fork
Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes (until lightly golden brown)
Serve warm

Once you've tried these a few times you will doubtless hit upon combinations all your own that will become family favorites.  You could top the meat mixture with pickled onions, a slice or two of jalapeño, chopped olives - be creative.  But by all means do give baked chimichangas a whirl.  You won't be disappointed.

My daughter is a confirmed carnivore and actually enjoys the bean versions best.  Here are a couple of notes for using beans rather than meat as a filling.

For my vegetarian friends:  These are fabulous made with well seasoned refried beans.  If using beans, you will not need a moistening agent as you will with cooked meats.  I've had good luck finding cheese made with non-animal rennet.  If you are not using butter, soften your tortillas in a little flavorless oil.  If you are eating vegan, then adjust further as needed.

Beans should be well seasoned.  I have the best results making the chimichangas with refrigerated refried beans because they hold their position better on the tortillas while assembling.  Again, start with your grated cheese.  Then if you like, put 1-2 pickled jalapeño slices on next, then 2 tablespoons of your beans.  Fold, flip and bake as directed.  Enjoy!