Random Awesomeness in Photos

I had plans for a different post tonight … a recipe post. Unfortunately I’m still working on it. I even got up at 5 a.m. today to get all my stuff done and, well it’s after 10 p.m. Just out of gas.

Recently I installed PhotoShop, so I’m learning to use it. One of the exercises is to go through all your photos and organize, categorize and tag everything. So here are a few of the ones I looked through yesterday. Some you’ve seen, some maybe not.

Haboob in January 2012
There is something so witty and whimsical about this photo that makes me chuckle every time I see it.
This sums up my cat's attitude.
The joy on Jdub's face is priceless.
Screwy Squirrel on top of Fort Williams. Fat little effer has been stealing the bird feed.
Jdubs + Taos + blue door + Instagram=photo awesomeness.
Instagram awesomeness
This is what The Arcadian Experience is all about: my dad and my son feeding cattle with the dogs. Jdubs is in his undies.
Passion Vine blossom -- Awesomeness
The loveable Ruby. Also known as the "obnoxious shepherd"
Frost in the morning
Lucky: that's what this photo is. It was simply being in the right place at the right time with a handy iPhone.
Homemade pizza -- this is what I made for dinner tonight! It was Awesome!
Another shot that says it all about The Arcadian Experience ... my son playing guitar with his daddy. (A photo of my husband is as rare as catching a snipe.) (The clothes line and witch's cauldron make it especially nice, don't you think?)
Jdubs and me.

Victual Files: Another Hole in the Wall

If you weren’t going to Newcastle, Texas, you probably wouldn’t have much of a reason to be there. It’s up on the tip of the rolling plains where the hill country turns into dusty west Texas. Around 1950, the town had about 1,500 people living in it, and was a thriving coal mining community. However, they long-ago closed the coal mine, and since there’s not a railroad anywhere close the town’s citizens are mainly those who either are from Newcastle or whose parents and grandparents are from Newcastle. They sit below 500 these days on total population, however something very magical happens in the Fall in that part of the world.

The deer hunters converge.

You see, along with sparse population comes wide open range, and it just so happens that the nearby Brazos River makes for some of the best deer hunting in all of north Texas. At one point in the last century, the area was also known for its incredible dove and quail hunting. However, due to environmental changes, the dove population tends to wain from year to year, and the Bobwhite quail population is close to 25% of what it was just 50 years ago.

Nonetheless, on weekends in the Fall (aside from some of the best 6-man football in the region), you’ll find the town almost doubled in size with four wheel drive trucks, ATV’s, feed corn, and camoflauge from head to toe. You can buy beer and liquor from the stores, and the gas at the gas station is some of the cheapest around. If you venture into Jerry’s Meat Market on the corner of 380 and 380, you can get incredible cuts of beef ribeye steaks, marbled to perfection and cut in the butcher room in the back.

However, across the road there sits a red building that locals know as the local eatin’ joint, and visitors know as the home of the best damn hamburger on Earth. This is: Another Hole in the Wall.

Oh, sure…there’s a drive thru if you are picking up groceries for the family after church on Sunday, but you’ll want to go in to experience what AHitW is all about. In addition to their hamburgers, they have a yearly Big Buck competition and a longest turkey beard competition. Adorning the walls are pictures from previous years; a “yearbook” of sorts showing trophys pre-mount of all the harvested deer and turkeys from the local hunts.

Understand that this isn’t the place to go for a prom date. It’s good food, good company, and all within the close confines of your friendly Newcastle neighbors.

You want coffee? Serve yourself. Cups are on the wall.

You want tea or cokes? The owner, Bob, offers that, too. He will refill your tea glass for you, but it’s all unsweet so you have to spice it up yourself. Cokes are charged by the can, and they have three or four different types of “cokes” here. (In Texas, any type of soda is a “coke”. We often ask, “What sorta coke you want? Dr. Pepper?” )

Bob will even sit with you to discuss OU football or the Cowboys, but if you don’t like cigarette smoke, I suggest you sit along the edges or even the front area. This is his restaurant, and by gawd he’s going to have a cigarette while he’s working.  You can always get your order to go if the smoke bothers you that much, but it’s worth the pain to have this food served right off the grill.

Another Hole in the Wall is named as such because it was the 2nd location of a restaurant in nearby Graham called Hole in the Wall. The owner opened this location in Newcastle, however the original Hole in the Wall is long gone and all that’s left is the sequel. The be frank, the Newcastle location was always the better of the two. When you walk in, you get a menu with an angry looking character on it. Now, AHitW is world famous for its Hog Burger. The Hog is the unofficial mascot, which you’ll find on both the menu and t-shirts available behind the counter.

There’s a daily special along with a list of different regular menu items. Breakfast is served early, and lunch and dinner menus are the same. You can even get a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, but as the menu warns, it’s $21.49 and takes up to 30 minutes to prepare. I’m sure it’s good.

Above the front desk, you’ll see Bob’s wedding photo and his prized Sooner gear. He lets Aggies, Raiders, and Longhorns eat there, but he’ll make sure you remember who won the most recent game.

Aside from the charm and décor, we are here for the food. I mentioned earlier that the burgers are the best on the planet. That’s no hyperbole…they are the best. They are all made to order per your specification, and aren’t stuck on the grill until you order them. In addition, you can get fries, but what you want are the “house chips”: thinly sliced potatoes, fried to a crisp. They are incredible. I think I could eat an entire bucket of these things before I gave up.

If you are hungry, get the mini-cheeseburger. If you are really hungry, get the regular cheeseburger. If you think you are a man, get the Piglet (which is what we are having today). You think you are a badass? Get the Hog. The Piglet is the mini version of the Hog, but you’ll feel your cholesterol and blood sugar spike after eating either one.

This is the Piglet with house chips:

It’s a regular hamburger with bacon, cheese, and a thick slice of grilled ham. A true “ham burger”. Those delicious chips:

I take my Piglet with mayo and all the vege.

This thing is massive, and it’s the smaller version of their famous burger. If you can get your hands around it, you may have to give it a squeeze to get it into your mouth.

I like to take some of the ketchup on the table and squirt it on to my chips, then dab a little of the ketchup onto the burger.

I’m telling you…this is the best burger you can find. There is no better burger than this thing.

For the little guy, he gets the mini with fries:

…and shows his appreciation with a hearty single Gigger. You’ll notice Bob in the background having a smoke and watching TV:

That, my friends and fellow Arcadians, is what small town is all about. Good food, good company, and an experience you won’t soon forget.

Another Hole in the Wall Café

510 Houston St

Newcastle, Texas

The Garden is Calling

The Garden is calling me … I received two new seed catalogs. Yea!

All kinds of organic, heirloom and hybrid varieties.

Other cool garden accessories and products…

For tonight … that’s all I got. Been burning the candle from both ends this week, but  I’ll be dreaming about the garden tonight. [Also I am having terrible writer’s block. Sometimes this is as good as it gets.]

Random Awesomeness in Pictures

Sometimes things don’t quite come together. Tonight was one of those nights… I had plans for this blog post, but Jdubs is not cooperating so I had to redirect. But now maybe it’s going to be something more awesome than I had originally planned.

I looked through my random photographs and there are several I haven’t been able to use elsewhere. So I decided to write this post as random awesomeness in pictures.

A few days ago United Supermarkets had a sale on berries. I LOVE berries, and since it was cold, I made oatmeal and berry awesome in a bowl. And I have serious coffee every day. This is pressed coffee. The French version of Cowboy Coffee; it’s not for sissies.

French Press Coffee. Old fashioned oats, fresh berries, walnuts and a splash of cream.

Supper tonight. I made vegetable soup and chicken salad from a leftover roast chicken. The bread is the awesome country French bread we got at Central Market on Sunday. Oh and those are the little garden tomatoes I picked when they were still green, just before the killing frost. If you leave them out, they will ripen.

Soup and sandwich supper.

I almost peed my pants when I saw this (at Central Market on Sunday). You know how I love Scharffen Berger chocolate. Well here is a giant block of San Francisco chocolaty awesomeness!

OMG. I've died and gone to chocolate heaven.

The UPS man left a great big cat playhouse on the front porch. (That’s what I told the cat, anyway). Awesomeness in a cat toy.

This is awesome until the cat tries to play at 2 a.m., then not so awesome.

Who doesn’t love Sock Monkey? This hat is random awesomeness!

This Sock Monkey hat was a big hit at the supermarket tonight.

Perspective and Practice

I’ve been thinking about this post for 30 days and there was no way to write this in advance. On November 1st I decided to write a blog a day. Tonight marks the 30th post for the month of November. And I’m proud that I completed the goal. It’s been a struggle, I couldn’t’ have done it without the help of my husband in the evenings. November is a very busy month in general for our family and especially since the end of the month leads up to two of the busiest days in my annual calendar, not counting Thanksgiving.

In order to accomplish a blog a day, I had to really think and plan ahead. There were days when I would sit down at 8 or 9 p.m. wondering what I was going to write about that day. Some days the blog seemed to write itself, especially when I could recognize the gift of that day.

My favorite post was when my son got my camera and secretly took photos (A Photographer in the Making). That also happened to be one of the most viewed posts of the month.

The hardest post to write was about the Penn State child abuse scandal. (Little Lost Boys)

My favorite photo project and title of the month was When Frost Happens. This was one of those that wrote itself.

Writing daily has made me buckle down and be disciplined. The rigor of daily reflection brings perspective. This exercise has literally made me stop and “smell the roses.” Blogging consistently makes me re-frame everyday moments. It also makes me consider things more thoroughly and thoughtfully.

For me, writing is probably my single best skill. I majored in communications with an emphasis on journalism. I’ve been in PR and marketing communications jobs for the whole of my professional career. I’ve been in jobs before where my main function was to write whatever needed to be captured. Since my professional career began technology has gone from typing into a word processing typewriter to micro-blogging on Twitter with my mobile phone. Who could have imagined that?

Writing is a skill; it’s a job; and it’s a gift. Anyone can learn to write well but not everyone is a gifted writer.

Writing is cathartic for me. I’ve kept some form of a journal since I was 12 years old. I’ve been working out my emotional tribulations by writing about it almost since I was able form words into sentences. No matter if writing is a necessary skill in today’s information age or if you are a gifted writer, practice makes you better.

The awesomeness of blogging means that you get “published” every day that you decide to write. With the tools available you become a content generator. The downside is that there is a lot more content out there to sort through. But the main thing is to continue to do it regularly. Consistently producing new content is like major league at-bats. The more you’re up at the plate the more opportunities you have to hit a home run.

Happy blogging, Y’all.

Working Weekend Garden Plans

Last night in the dark I made one final, final harvest from the garden. It was 28 degrees this morning 6:30 a.m.—a pretty hard frost. So everything should either be dead or cease to produce at this point, which is right on schedule for this part of the world.

I went a little crazy planting the night shade varieties.

My peppers have flourished in these warm days/cool nights. This stuff is lucky to be alive considering the hot, dry summer we had. I have water bills to prove how precious this produce is!

This is what my garden looks like right now.

Sad garden.
Dead, dried leaves soon will be fodder for the compost bin.

Everywhere I look there are leaves… so this weekend will be all about clearing the refuse for the compost bin and pulling up all the remnants of night shade varieties hanging on.

After all I have pansies, lettuce and broccoli to plant! This will be the first venture for me to try to grow cole crops (and cold crops) over the winter. (Want to know the difference between cole and cold? Read more …)

I’ll be back tomorrow with something more.

Falling in Love with the Fall Garden Center

I had to be in Wichita Falls today for an appointment. So before coming home, I made a stop at Smith Gardentown. What a treat! I love to visit garden centers, farms and nurseries at all times of the year. This time I was just looking and trying to get ideas for Christmas for the various horticulturalists and ornithologists in my life.

I drove up and instantly loved the place because there were ducks on the pond, Canada geese grazing and little garden statues of pigs.

Canada geese!
A little concrete piggy for the Kentucky Pig!

I love to visit farms and nurseries in the fall because it shows me what plants look like in the fall – whether the foliage is colorful, evergreen or if a deciduous plant has pretty bark.

Little Henry will be a definite addition to my garden. Beautiful spring blooms, beautiful fall foliage!
Opuntia Prickly Pear-- Thornless!

In the hustle bustle of the spring some plants get overlooked, like this really cool cacti! A prickly pear without the prickles.

Then there are the perennial favorites … a Shumard Oak. I have one just like this in my front yard and this photo reminds me why … It’s beautiful and well adapted for our area.

Shumard oak tree -- excellent tree for North Texas.

A place with a friendly cat that comes meowing for affection is always a good sign. Two cats who are friendly and want attention and are neutered means that the people here care for lots of living things – not just plants.

This cat chased me down so that I could pet it.
Kitty #2 sleuthed across the patio to get a scratch.
Swiss Chard-- excellent for the fall kitchen garden. I think this is the "neon lights" seed mix.
Mixed pansies ... happy pansy faces.
Some of the greatest rose gifts are the blooms in the fall.

The garden center is always a good place to get gift ideas for the gardener. Look at these beautiful garden globes. We can just file that under the “pretty-stuff-momma-can-never-have-because-she-has-a-boy-and-a-dog-that-is-OCD-with-spheres.”

I can never have pretties like this ...
Cloche terrarium ... nice coffee table gift for the gardener.
A flag for everyone (at least in my divided house).
Bird feeders and houses for all the little finches in your life.
Happy pansy face, y'all!

Fall Color in North Texas

We spent Saturday night in Fort Worth this weekend. We had a blast with good friends, sampling wine, eating delicious food. But on our way to and from the big city we got to see a lot of beautiful fall colors.

Rock Creek Bridge.

I lived in Michigan for 6 fall seasons, with some of the most beautiful fall colors you can see anywhere. But it’s got nothing on Young County.

One-eyed barn.

This old barn looks like it’s winking at you. Not a lot of fall color around it but the picture was taken in the fall.  And it’s one of my favorites so I thought I’d add it in here.

In the Rock Creek area. Love the contrast of colors.

Now all we need is a strong, gusty wind to blow all the leaves off the trees.

Oak leaves.
I have no idea what kind of tree/shrub this is, but it's bright red. Awesome.
The hydro-electric plant. AKA "the Fairy Castle"

Of course the day couldn’t be complete without a beautiful sunset over the “fairy castle.” Thanking the trusty iPhone photography capabilities.

Aquarium Gone. Now What?

Aquarium, part deaux.

The aquarium in its glory days:

And the photo doesn't do it justice.

Over the weekend my husband started the process of taking down our 120 gallon saltwater aquarium. Three days later, and a whole lot of elbow grease, the tank and contents have been broken down and moved into the garage. The garage smells like Galveston, Texas. Amazing how smelly saltwater can get when it’s not moving.

It’s also quiet in the house – really quiet. There is no more pitter-pat of running water. No more whirl and hum of filters and pumps. No more fizzy bubble sounds.

Saltwater is seriously corrosive. It peeled the paint off the baseboard and discolored the the wall. We’ll be going to get a gallon of primer and matching paint so we can touch up [repaint] the wall. No wonder classic car enthusiasts don’t want cars from the coast or northern states where they use salt on the roads.

But now we have this huge, blank space in our main living room – a little more than 8 ft. of wall space. Everything is off balance. Before we had this nice balance – the fireplace on one end and aquarium on the opposite end.

Before/After

The initial set up
After the aquarium ... (the photo isn't great, but you can see the space).

I have a some ideas …

  1. Bookcases, you can never have enough
IKEA totally Rocks!

2. Kid space, with toys and games and stuff (all organized)

Yeah, right. Our crap never gets put back up and our kid is spoiled.

 

3. Art! (I’m not an art-y person but can appreciate a nice original, professional or amateur.)

Starry Night, Y'all.

 

4. A collage photo gallery — I take lots of photos of flowers. Maybe a good place for a collection of framed originals.

Zinnia blossom a few days before the "killer" frost.
Passion vine. Hearty vine that even the grasshoppers don't bother.
A Taos Mountain flower with a moth. Maybe a entomogy major can identify it.

 

5.  A wine rack (with wine, of course)

Williams Sonoma Rocks!

 

 

Nanny …  all I want for Christmas is a gift card to IKEA!

French Onion Soup

I remember the first time I had French Onion Soup. Actually, I don’t, but if you allow me to totally make up a story, it goes like this: I was hitchhiking across provincial France one summer when I was in college. After stopping in a small town for some bread and cheese, I noticed a wafting smell emanating from a cottage close to the marketplace area of the town. It was heavenly. It smelled like perfume…the perfect blend of peasantry and precision in food that carried me through the air like a Bugs Bunny cartoon where he gets the perfumed inner thigh smell of a carrot in his nostrils, which renders him helpless and catatonic as he slowly drifts thru the air towards the source of the smell.

I approached the cottage, knocked on the door, and was greeted by the most beautiful French woman you could imagine. She was fetching in the most humble ways…naturally beautiful, however she was reticent in seeing a stranger at her door who was sniffing the air like a bloodhound. In my broken French asked, “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

Looking perplexed and glancing down at her feet, she said, “Ils sont mes chaussures.”

Actually, I think the first time I had French Onion Soup was at a Jason’s Deli or a La Madeleine or something like that. Either way, it left an impression on me.

Since I can’t recreate pastoral France nor is there a deli anywhere around me, I have to create my own FOS if I want some. Fortunately for me, my FOS is world’s beyond what you can normally find in a chain restaurant. Every young onion dreams of someday being the main ingredient in this powerhouse soup. So, without further adieu…he we goes.

Mise en place:

-two large yellow onion

-one large red onion

-one large white onion

-3/4c of cabernet sauvignon

-1/4c of port

-6 strips of bacon

-4-5 cloves of garlic

-carton of beef broth

-carton of beef stock

-provolone cheese

-a nice french loaf

Boil some water in a large pot and add a bit of salt to soften the water.

Add the onions:

Blanche them for 2-3 minutes.

Then dump into an ice bath to stop the cooking.

This will make the skins easier to remove. You want to remove the outside layers that are papery. They’ll be quite toothsome in the soup, and you don’t want that.

While they are cooling off, get your big stock pot out and render 6 strips of good bacon. Don’t cook on high…you need to be able to crisp the bacon up but not burn.

Remove the skins of the cooled onions.

Half the onions, then julienne into strips. You want nice bite-sized strips. If you cut them too thin, they’ll disappear in the cooking. Make them too big, and they aren’t very fun to eat.

Do this will all the onions.

The red onions make a beautiful addition to the soup. They’ll leach that red color out into the soup.

Once the bacon is crispy and the fat is all cooked out, remove the bacon. Save it for a BLT or something. Don’t throw away good bacon.

Add all of the onion to the bacon fat.

Stir them so they are good and coated with the fat. Add some salt to make them start to cook down to translucent.

Five cloves of garlic, smashed and diced. I like to leave the garlic in small chunks so it has some texture to it in the soup.

Curl your fingers in and let the blade of the knife hit your knuckles. That way, you don’t get cut.

Add the garlic. More salt if you need.

Fresh ground pepper.

While the onions and garlic are cooking, measure out ¾c of red wine. I like using a tasty table wine that is good enough to drink along with the meal. The combo of the wine plus the soup is a great complement.

Plus 1/4c of your favorite port. I had an open bottle of vintage in my bar and needed to use it.

After a few minutes, the onion will start to become translucent so that you can see thru the edges.

Gorgeous.

Add the wines to the onions. The wine will immediately lose its deep ruby color and turn kinda brown. We need it to mellow a bit before we add the stock/broth.

And a bit more salt. Taste this along the way. The salt helps drive the moisture out of the onion and make them soft.

After a bit, the wine will mix with the moisture rendered from the onion and turn all of the onion a nice pink color.

Now, since we are going to be serving red wine with this meal, I like to mix in beef stock and beef broth. Beef stock will have fat where the broth should be just about fat free. When you drink a red wine with big tannins, serve it with a fatty dish. The fat will coat the mouth and calm the tannins so that you can experience the fruit w/o drawing your mouth up.

Stock. In.

Broth. In.

Bring it up to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

That needs to simmer on low for an hour and a half. At this point, salt and pepper to taste, but be careful. Over the next hour, the flavor is going to change drastically as all the flavors meld together. Now, notice that all we’ve added so far is salt and pepper for flavor. No herbs, no spices. That’s by design. The beef stock should be prepared with a bouquet garni for flavor. The natural flavor of the wine, the bacon, and the onion/garlic is going to be complex enough for us.

Taste it along the way. You’ll use more salt than you’d think, but be careful not to oversalt it. It’s best to get it to the point where you think it still needs just a bit more, then after the rest you’ll find that it’s perfect.

After an hour (notice the fat glistening on top):

After the hour and a half long simmer, turn off the heat and let it rest uncovered. While it’s resting, cut a french loaf into 1″ slices.

Olive oil.

Brush the olive oil onto both sides of each slice of bread, then salt and pepper for each side.

Into a 425deg oven until nice and brown.

The crispy bread is integral to a FOS.

When the soup is finished, ladle portions into a high-sided bowl or a crock.

Put a crouton right in the middle of the bowl just on top of the soup. Don’t push it down…just float it right on top.

Take a slice or two of provolone cheese and lay it over the crouton.

Now, some people like to turn their broiler on, slide the crock into the oven, and melt the cheese under the searing heat of the broiler. That’s a great way to do it. However, I like to use my kitchen torch to do it. I can be a bit more precise and get the cheese cooked to the perfect sear up close.

Seared:

Served with a bit of that tasty wine, and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal.

Here it is in its full glory. Bust thru the crouton that’s been soaking up that soup and spoon up the cheese with those onions.

And there you have it. French Onion Soup that will change your life.