Greetings from Boston, MASS!

20131012_164144_resizedSo finally it’s our vacation…first stop is Boston.  Rain and 56 outside, but much better than Austin at 85 and 1,000 percent humidity.

Staying at the Four Seasons, across the street from Boston Common.  Got some great photos – hoping I can post them here.

Last night we ate at Masa Boston.  It was fantastic! I started with the Autumn Chopped Salad and had the short ribs for my entree (if short ribs are on the menu, that’s what I’m having.)  Brian started with the brisket empanadas (probably the best thing we had the entire evening) and had the pork loin with chorizo.  Wine-wise, we started with a pino gris (so-so…I can’t even remember the name).  I had a Bodegas Nieto Senetiner Malbec Reservas 2010 with my entree; a great pairing.  All-in-all a fantastic meal.  If you’re in Boston, definitely try Masa.

Today was genealogy – cemetery hopping in Hingham, Hull, Roxbury, and Haverhill.  That odyssey deserves it’s own posting, but here’s one from Hingham.

20131013_104330_resizedTonight is German food at Jacob Wirth (…really looking forward to that.

Greetings from Rapid City, South Dakota – Land of Snow

So I’m at a conference in Rapid City, South Dakota, the day after the worst October blizzard on record.  These poor, poor people – 30 inches of snow, drifting to eight feet in places and power out for days.


Despite this, Rapid City seems to be a nice little town.  The downtown area has some quirky shops and some decent little bistro-type restaurants.  If you’re here, I highly recommend Wine Cellar Restaurant.  As the name implies, a really impressive wine list.  I enjoyed several – ok four…my hotel was one block away and I was walking – glasses of various reds.  Standouts included the Three Saints 2009 Syrah from the Santa Ynez Valley and the 2008 Hendry HRW Zinfandel from Napa.

The Syrah was great with the bread and garlic-golden raisin puree.  The Zinfandel was perfectly paired with what was one of the best beef fillets I’ve ever had.  It was topped with thick-cut, smoky, perfectly prepared bacon and an outstanding béarnaise sauce.  Dessert was a cold fudge pie with caramel and sea salt.

I generally don’t like going out by myself when I travel, but they seated me at the bar and I met some locals who really made the evening enjoyable.  I’d definitely come back.


So I recently had some really great wines that I wanted to share.  I’ve always been a firm believer that some of the best wines out there are under $15 dollars.  (Now don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t turn down a Chateau Margaux 1937, but at $920 a bottle, it seems unlikely I’ll ever get that opportunity.)

Anyroad, the shear number to wines to choose from today can be overwhelming, but I’ve realized that I’m really drawn to unusual labels.  Give these a try –


freak show

Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi California

Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Lodi California, Michael David Winery

This cab is wonderful – very dark colour, rich stone fruit taste.  I had this with a grilled cheeseburger (new find – chipotle cheddar – outstanding) and okra fritters, but I can see this being a great pairing with short ribs.


Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi, California

Plungerhead Old Vine Zinfandel, 2011, Lodi California, The Other Guys Winery

Zinfandels are my favourite and this is one of the better ones out there.  Dark, luscious, and substantial, I had this with barbequed sausage and sweet potato latkes.  That sounds heavy, but it worked perfectly.  (If you can get your hands on it, I definitely recommend V & V sausage, from Cistern, Texas.  It’s exactly what sausage is supposed to be!)

toasted head

Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon, Yolo County, California

Toasted Head Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Yolo County, California, Toasted Head Winery

I’ve had this before and it never disappoints.  Not has dark as other cabs, but it certainly holds its own.  I had this with Cashew Pork and Edamame over Udon noodles – a great pairing.




I am a camera.

I’ve been pretty busy lately so haven’t had much time to post anything.  Brian’s parents are on their grand tour of Europe; six weeks and more countries than I can keep count of.  Each afternoon we look forward to his mother’s recap of the day.  They make me want to pack my bags.  She’s an excellent observer and I hope she takes up blogging when they return – she’s a natural.

beer can chicken

Am still playing around with the camera – hopefully I’m getting better.  So this is just a lazy-man’s post…throwing up some recent photos.  These are mostly of the yard, but some odds-and-ends as well.


A couple of weeks ago, we made beer-can chicken.  I’ve always wanted to do that.  It came out great, but the rub was ‘blow-your-head-off’ hot; not for the faint of heart!

Beer-Can Chicken


  • 1   can light lager
  • 1   3 1/2–4-lb. chicken
    2   tablespoons  4-3-2-1 Spice Rub  (4 tablespoons kosher salt, 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, 2  tablespoons paprika, and 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper)

Special equipment

  • A foil baking pan (for drip  pan)


  • Pour out (or drink) half of beer.
  • Prepare grill for high, indirect heat and fit with grill pan  (for a charcoal grill, bank coals on 1 side of grill and put drip pan on empty  side; for a gas grill, leave 1 burner turned off and place drip pan over unlit  burner). Add water to pan to a depth of 1/2 inch.
  • Season chicken with 4-3-2-1 Spice Rub. Place cavity of  chicken, legs pointing down, onto open can so that it supports chicken upright.  Place can, with chicken, on grill over indirect heat (and above drip pan). Grill  chicken, 

    covered, until cooked through and an instant-read thermometer inserted  into the thickest part of thigh registers 165°, 45–60 minutes. (If using  charcoal, you may need to add more to maintain heat.) Let chicken rest 10  minutes before carving. Serve with pan drippings.

  • * Wing tip *

    Use a can opener to remove the entire top of the beer can  (pour out half). It’ll maximize the boozy vapors that make it to the  chicken.

My Evergreen Wisteria (Millettia reticulate) is blooming again.  I love this flower – it’s almost purple-black.

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Evergreen Wisteria

My Mexican Firebush (Hamelia patens); plumbago (Plumbaginaceae); lantana (verbenaceae); and shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana) are all doing very well.  Shrimp plant is another great garden workhorse I highly recommend.  It does very well in shade and blooms a dark strawberry colour during December.

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Mexican Firebush

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Plumbago and Daisy Bush

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Shrimp Plant


This was one of my inspiration pieces for the garden design – the “Provence meets  Austin backyard” theme.  Just a simple fleur de lis garden hose guard, but it really is one of my favourite things.

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My inspiration – fleur de lis hose guard


Out front, this is one of my other inspirations…apparently it’s called an armillary sphere – before Google, I suppose these were just thing-a-ma-bobs or doohickeys.

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Armillary Sphere


I really liked these photos of my meditating Buddha and one of my Indian stone wall lamps.

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Buddha in a meadow. I don’t think Bodhi trees grow in Central Texas.

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Indian wall stone lantern

I can never, ever remember the name of this shrub.  I’ve taken heaps of pictures of the label when I see it at ‘The Natural Gardener,’ but somehow, the name just doesn’t stick.  The blue glass is a shade from the old kitchen light fixtures we had; I love this colour combination.

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Shrub whose name I cannot remember.

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Just an artsy photo.

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Blue glass LED light shade from the kitchen


Yesterday, I hung a newly acquired suet feeder.  This one has a copper roof.  I’ve gone to great lengths to squirrel-proof it.  So far, so good.  A few days ago I saw a woodpecker in the tree; I hope this feeder keeps it around.

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My new suet feeder – bring on the woodpeckers!


And to conclude… A few days ago, my mother and I went on a driving tour through Fayette County.  In Flatonia, I finally found the house my grandmother was born in.  The fascinating thing about this house is that the chimney has a rock from each of the states (at that time).

flatonia house

The house in Flatonia, Texas where my grandmother was born – been looking for this for ages.


Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie…

SL Pink Suit

Empty Pink Suit – St. Louis Citygarden

SL Arch 1

St. Louis Arch and Old Courthouse

So I had a meeting in St. Louis last week.  The meeting was tedious, but my first time in town.  There was an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times about a month ago (Loving the Midwest) about how slow St. Louis is, e.g. nothing going on downtown.  I certainly found that to be true.  It was a beautiful, if warm and humid, summer evening when I walked from my hotel to the restaurant I was going to try – Gio’s Ristaurante & Bar (more about Gio’s later).  It was like a ghost town.  I wondered whether the Zombie Apocalypse had started and the concierge had failed to inform me.  Anyroad, I walked up to the Citygarden.  If you’re in downtown St. Louis, I recommend wandering around in there.  Great water features for kids to play in; very interesting sculpture; and beautiful plants.   This piece caught my attention – an empty pink suit.  I think we all know a couple of these.

Next to the Citygarden was Gio’s.  If you’re looking for good eats in St. Louie, I highly recommend this place.  It’s got great reviews, so I reserved a table for 7:15, thinking it would be extremely busy.  They must have thought I was a complete nutter when I walked in and said I had a reservation – I was the only person in the place.  Matt – my server and the bar tender – assured me that they were in fact open.  It’d been a long day of travel, so I started out with a Manhattan – bourbon, bitters, garnish, rocks…the usual.   (Matt got an extra-generous tip – best Manhattan I’ve had in a very long time.  Surprisingly enough, the best Manhattan I’ve ever had was at the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney World. But I digress.)

I started with the tomato and baked goat cheese salad with fresh herb, balsamic syrup, and olive oil – uh-MAY-zing.  For my entrée I got the Risotto del Giorno – risotto with grilled chicken, tomatoes, and spinach.  Probably some of the best risotto I’ve ever had.  It still had a little broth in it; I’m definitely going to try that technique the next time we make risotto.  I finished with one of the best tiramisus I’ve ever had.  With my meal, I had a couple of glasses of the 2010 Woop Woop Shiraz.  If you’ve never had this wine, you should really try it.  Great notes of dark fruit, with a full, clean finish.  It paired well with everything.  Apart from some German tourist who wandered in for a coke and a couple sitting at the bar, I had the place practically to myself.  Matt assured me though that it’s totally hopping when the Cardinals are in town.  There was a home game on the day I left.  I’m very sorry I missed it; maybe next time.busch stadium



Gourds and Goat

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So this is what we got in our weekly shipment of produce from Farmhouse Delivery.   Mostly recognizable, but I have no idea how I’m going to use that squash.  It looks more like what I decorate the house with in the Fall.  I wonder if it’s shellacable…  One of the purple potatoes is not much bigger than a lima bean.  I’m definitely not peeling that thing.

I believe these are Armenian cucumbers.  We’ve been told to expect a variety of heirloom cucumbers this summer.  Last week it was Suyo Japanese cucumbers; very interesting, those were.  They were doughnut shaped, so a challenge to peel but they were quite good.

You can also order other things from Farmhouse Delivery like meats and cheeses.  This week we ordered a pork shoulder, beef summer sausage, skirt steak, and ground goat meat.  I’ve had cabrito before but never ground goat meat.   (If they’re still on the menu, you must try the cabrito tacos at Mi Tierra in San Antonio – they’re wonderful!).  I know this is a real stretch, but we have a recipe that calls for boar, but we couldn’t find that.  Since this is probably from Boer goats, we figured eh, close enough.   Anywho, we’re going to be using it for Wild Boar (Boer) Pot Stickers courtesy of Renee Studebaker and the Austin American-Statesman.  I’ll report on how they turn out.

Update:  These turned out very nicely.  There was a sweetish “I-can’t-quite-tell-what-that-is” flavor, but I’ll give them a thumbs up.  The goat meat mixture is extremely loose; great for pot stickers.goat dumplings1

Wild Boar Pot Stickers

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts

1 tsp. salt

2 lbs. finely ground wild boar

3 Tbsp. thin (light) soy sauce

2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

2 Tbsp. sugar

5 eggs

1 package pot sticker wrappers (62 count)

2-3 cups water (for steaming batches of dumplings)

1 cup water (for sealing dumplings)

Using a wooden spoon and a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients (except the water and the wrappers) into the ground meat. Place about 1 tsp. of filling in the middle of a wrapper. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, moisten the outer edges of the wrapper with water. Fold the wrapper loosely to form a half circle. Cradle the dumpling in one hand while using the other hand to make 3 or 4 small folds in the top half. Then pinch the top and bottom edges together and set the dumplings on a platter, flat side down. D.J. calls this a “sitting dumpling.” If the pleating seems too tricky, simply fold the dumpling into a half circle and pinch the top and bottom edges together, which produces a flatter pot sticker, which D.J. says her mom calls “sleeping dumplings.”

Coat a saute pan with oil and, working in batches, place about 10 pot stickers flat side down in the pan and cook over medium high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the dumpling bottoms are nicely browned. With a tight fitting pan lid in one hand, reduce heat to medium, add 1/2 cup of water to the hot pan, and cover immediately. (Step back a bit and beware of hot splatters as you add the water.) Check the dumplings in 5 minutes; if the pan is dry, add a little more water. Continue cooking a minute or two more or until dumplings are firm, the meat is fully cooked and the water has evaporated. As the water evaporates, the dumpling bottoms will begin to dry out and re-crisp, so be sure to remove pot stickers before they stick or burn. (Rinsing and drying the pan between batches will help reduce sticking problems). Serve pot stickers on a platter with a small bowl of dipping sauce on the side.

Notes: This recipe makes enough filling for 62 pot stickers. For a smaller gathering, cook half the dumplings and freeze the rest. Arrange raw dumplings in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 2 to 3 hours; then transfer dumplings to a freezer safe bag or box. If using a fattier pork than wild boar, reduce number of eggs to 2 or 3.

Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup thin (light) soy sauce

3 Tbsp. soy paste

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. chopped scallions

1 Tbsp. finely minced fresh garlic

1 fresh hot red chili, seeded and sliced in thin rings (serrano or jalapeno)

2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

1 Tbsp. Sambal chili paste

Combine all ingredients and serve in a small bowl.

— Der Jane Ho. Recipe written by Renee Studebaker, after watching and taking notes as Der Jane made the dumplings.

Name that Vegetable

So we get a weekly shipment of produce from Farmhouse Delivery.  It’s great!  You never know what you’re going to have waiting for you in the little plastic bin.  Generally, there are a couple of items that leave one speculating ‘what the heck is this?’    This is particularly true with the greens. Who knew there were so many different kinds?

Anyroad, this is today’s mystery vegetable.

 mystery vegetable

(Yeah, I know they’re parsnips, but they look a bit like the ‘intellectual carrots’ from The Thing From Another World!)