You and Your Dog

(originally printed in the Graham Community Profile)

I was raised in Young County and have a history in this community. My ancestors settled here in the mid 1800s and homesteaded a cattle ranch that is still operated today by my father.  My great-great-great grandfather was one of the original founders of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, which was formed in Young County. My roots run deep in this place.

After graduating from Graham High School in 1990, I left home that fall for college. I could hardly wait to leave and start the next chapter of life. For 17 years I followed my marketing and public relations career.  And it took me places … I frequently traveled abroad for business. I lived and worked in Chicago, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Dallas. But just as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, “there is no place like home.”     

After Michael and I married we wanted to live a more authentic life.  We wanted to know our neighbors, their children and the names of their dogs.  Graham is that kind of place and that’s why we decided to move and raise our family here. 

I can’t fully express the feeling of waking up that first morning after moving knowing, that I am no longer a rat in the middle of the rat race.

I am thrilled to come home and to have the opportunity to put my skills and experience to use for the betterment of the Graham Chamber of Commerce. But most of all I’m glad to be living in this community raising our child knowing his grandparents, neighbors and their dogs.

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Smoking a Pork Tenderloin

I had a pork tenderloin I needed to cook, so I fired up the smoker this afternoon for a quick smoke. I didn’t take pictures, so you guys will just have to use your imaginations.

Porkloin is really fun to cook because it will take on flavor really well. The natural flavor of lean pork is really mild anyway, but especially with a cut of the pig that’s this lean. Even moreso is the fact that we are using tenderloin vs. the loin. What’s the difference? Glad you asked.

The pork loin is the porcine “backstrap”…the muscles that run along the back connected to the spine. That’s where filet mignon on a beef comes from and where the most edible non-chickenfried parts of the deer comes from. If you picture a pork loin:

You can see that there two parts to the loin separated by a thin layer of fat. The top part has a nice layer of fat on it, and if you take the entire loin and cut it against the grain you have “pork loin chops”, which are really tasty but lean pork chops. It’s the most tender part of the pig and extremely lean.

To cook this thing, we are going to need to add fat to make sure it doesn’t dry out. Fire up your smoker to maintain about 300deg. While it’s rolling, remove the porkloin from the package (there will be two pieces of meat in the package) and rinse them off with cold water. Coat them in olive oil, then add ks&p. Mince a few cloves of garlic and rub down the meat. Then chop up some fresh rosemary and rub that in as well.

You know that cheap bacon at the grocery store? It’s called “Bar S”. It’s not the best bacon, but it’s perfect for what we need here. Take three strips of bacon per tenderloin and wrap the tenderloin like a candycane. You don’t have to pin the bacon with a toothpick or anything…just wrap it and it should stay. Sprinkle the top with cayenne pepper and just a little bit of cumin, then throw it on the smoker. An hour unwrapped and then an hour wrapped at 275deg is perfect. The meat will have a great pussylip-pink ring of smoke and will be really moist, hopefully tender enough to cut with the side of your fork. When you take it out, let it sit for 10-15 minutes or so to rest. Standard fare for meat.

But wait…do you have any apples at the house? Peel and cut the apples into slices. In a pan, melt a couple of tbspn of butter and add a tblspn of sugar. When it starts to bubble, throw in the apples and some cinnamon. Cook that, stirring constantly, over medium heat until it makes a thick compote. You can even throw in a handful of golden raisins if you want. Cut the tenderloin against the grain in 1″ slices and top with the apples.

But wait even more…Take a french hoagie roll and cut it in half. Spread on some delicious Inglehoffer mustard:

…some sliced pickles and swiss cheese, then run the sandwich thru a sandwich press and you’ve got a Cubano, which is one of the greatest sandwiches alive. Do the same thing as the apples, but go with 1/2 the ingredients and use plantains instead of apples and serve it on the side.

Whah-POW, baby.

Who do you know?

A funny thing about living in a small town is that no matter where you go you run into someone you know … EVERYWHERE.  Living in larger metropolitan areas for so many years, I had become used to the anonymity of my environment.  My first experience with this was in the summer of 1994, when I left Texas and moved to Chicago for my first real job out of college.  It never really occurred to me that I knew no one— not one soul. I had no one to call if I got into a bind.  It didn’t bother me but it bothered my mom, a lot. And it wasn’t long before I made friends. But the idea of knowing no one, it’s a little frightening to me now.

Since moving back to small-town America, I’ve once again become accustom to seeing someone I know everywhere I go. At the grocery store, post office, bank, hardware store, every restaurant, etc. Sometimes I miss the anonymity of the big city, especially when I don’t want to do my hair and makeup, or if I’m in a crabby mood and don’t want to talk to anyone.  However it’s a good trade when you are short on cash and the restaurant owner says you can pay me later; or when your kid wakes up on Saturday with pink eye and you can call your doctor at home (and he’s listed) and ask for him to call in a prescription. My favorite recent incident: our lawnmower croaked in the middle of mowing my front yard.  Our neighbor watched us struggle, and then offered to mow the rest for us. We took him up on it. It’s those little acts of kindness and the belief that it all works out in the end that is part of the Arcadian Experience.

Pizzagaina – My Most Favorite Dish in the Whole World

(Originally posted on AggieYell.com)

I’ve hesitated to post this because it’s a bit of a personal recipe plus it can be difficult to make. However, I made it recently and remembered how delicious it is, so I wanted to share it with my Aggie brethren.

This is an Italian dish called “Pizzagaina”. If you are paisan, then you’d pronounce it just like it looks…peets-uh-JAIN-uh, or peets-uh-CHAIN-uh. However, up in the northeast US where this is popular, they swallow their vowels and soften their consonants, so it sounds like “beach-uh-GAIN”. When I was a kid, when we had pizza, this is what we had. It’s also called “Easter Pie” and is served a bit differently than my recipe as it has a crust on top like a pie. However, the Arcadian version is loaded up with all kinds of stuff, so there’s no room or reason to have the top. I’ve been told by the few people that I’ve cooked this for that it’s the best food they’ve ever had, especially when it’s a day old. That might be up for debate, but it’s definitely my favorite dish to cook and probably to eat when I get right down to it.

I love Italian food…the process is slow and you don’t have to rush or balance like you do in asian cooking. If you mess up, you can always add more of something else to fix it. Plus, for some reason most Italian dishes are better as leftovers after the noodles or bread has time to soak up all the flavors. If I ever own a restaurant, one of the menu items will be “Yesterday’s Spaghetti”. Please don’t steal my idea, though…that’s not Aggie-like.

The ingredients are plentiful and the method is long, so if you have any questions let me know.

You’ll start out with one of those Chef Boyardee Pizza in a box mixes. I know it sounds crazy, but after all the years of doing this I like that crust the best of all the others I’ve tried. The contents include two bags of crust mix, a sack of cheap-ass parm cheese, and a can of pizza sauce. Step one: throw away the can of pizza sauce. It’s awful stuff. Make the dough just like the box says and put the parm over to the side for later. It will actually come in handy in a bit.


Cover that with plastic wrap and set it aside. The longer it sits the better.

Now, let’s make the ragu. That’s the sauce we’ll use for the pizza, but it’s actually stewed for a bit with all sorts of good stuff. Dice a yellow onion (I like the sweetness of the yellow over the white). There’s an easy way to do this, by the way. Cut the onion in half and then cut it almost all the way thru the end four or five times horizontally.

Then cut it vertically.

Then against the grain to make the dice cuts.

In a pot, get some olive oil going and dump the diced onion in. Add some ks and stir. You want to be on med heat for this. Then get a shallot and do the same thing.

Then some garlic. I go with 4-5 cloves, but then again I like garlic. This needs to cook for a few minutes. We need the onions to be translucent, but you have to watch the garlic or it will burn. While that’s going, open up a package of sweet italian sausage links.

The “sweet” part just means that it has basil in the sausage mixture. Cut each casing down the middle and remove, then with your fingers pull chunks of the meat apart and drop it into the ragu.

Do that will all the links (five is good). You are looking for the sausage to be cooked so stir it regularly. When it’s close to being cooked, add three tomatoes, diced.

I used romas here, only because tomatoes are out of season right now and they were the only ones that looked good. Add a bit more salt and stir.

We need the tomatoes to cook down quite a bit, but we can go ahead and add some seasoning to this. Since we already have basil in the sausage, go easy on that. However, you can go with the usual suspects of italian herbs…oregano, thyme, parsley, and add some freshly cracked black pepper. Taste it…it should have a nice, savory italian flavor.

After the toms have reduced, it’s time to add the sauce. I like Del Monte spaghetti sauce…it’s cheap and easy, and it tastes prety good. You pick the flavor…I just so happened to have this one in my cabinet.

Pour in about half the can to start out and stir. Go ahead and crank the heat up a bit…we need this to stew and reduce down some of the moisture. We won’t use the whole can, and we need to add a little at a time. This is what we are looking at:
Before tomatoes:

After tomatoes:

At this stage, throw in all the goodies that you like on your pizza that need to be stewed, i.e. olives (I like black olives, but you can use green if you like them better on your pizza), mushrooms (canned or fresh, I like canned in this dish b/c of the texture). Make sure you drain the cans. As well, I like to add some sugar to add a bit more sweetness and cut the acidity. Stir it up and let it stew with the cover OFF (we need to reduce moisture).

We are looking for a moist, thick ragu. Not soupy, but enough sauce to cover the dough. I go with just about the entire can except for just a bit in the bottom. Add the rest of the sauce (to your desired amount) and let it cook. You can see how much it’s reduced by looking at the side of the pan.


Back to the dough…it should be nice and fluffy by now in the bowl.

In a 13X9 or a 14X10 UNGREASED pyrex casserole dish (there’s enough oil on the dough already) plop the dough out and spread it evenly on the bottom.

Then, with your thumbs using quick strokes, pull the dough up the sides of the pan all the way around to seal up the bottom.

Pour out the hot ragu onto the dough and spread it evenly.


The rest of our ingredient list looks like this:

16oz of shredded mozz, 8oz of sliced swiss (aged if possible), a package of sliced pepperoni, and a packaged of sliced canadian bacon. We’re going to layer these starting with the pepperoni, then the swiss, then the candian bacon, then the mozz.



Make sure you get every layer even.

Now is a good time to put down anchovies if you like them on your pizza. My dad won’t eat a pizza w/o them.

Last but not least, take that cheap ass parm cheese packet that was in the pizza dough and spread it all around.

In a preheated oven at 425deg it goes for 20 minutes. Keep your eye on the cheese, though…we don’t want it to burn. However, what we are looking for is the crust to turn a blondish-brown color. That’s when it will be done.

After 20 minutes, check it to see how it’s doing. It will probably need another 15-25 minutes to finish, however if your cheese starts to brown…

…then you need to LOOSELY put foil on the top of the pizza to keep it from burning.

When it’s finished, it should look like this:

And look at this greasy goodness creeping down into the crust…Mama Lucien, that’s good stuff:

It needs to cool for at least 15 minutes before you cut it. When you go to cutting, use a coarse serated knife to cut thru the top, then go right over the same cut to slice thru the bottom crust. The crust may stick a little and the first piece is hard to get out, but I like to cut a small piece in the middle and take it out. It helps that I have a three year old to feed.

Served it on a plate and sprinkle it with freshly grated parm-reg.

With the ingredients laid out…

Ladies and Gentlemen…Pizzagaina, my favorite dish in the world.