Musings about Food & the Politics of Food.

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Archive for September, 2014

Hill Country Weekend 1

Posted on September 30, 2014 by Sahar

Several years ago, Husband Steve & I decided that on our birthdays, if we could help it, we’d not give gifts, but go somewhere the birthday kid wanted to go.  Since, this year, he had been out of town just before his birthday, I gifted him with power tools.

As for me, we decided a long weekend in the Texas Hill Country would be a nice, and affordable, idea.  We occasionally go to Fredericksburg for a few quick hours but rarely move off of the Hauptstrasse (Main Street) where most of the touristy shops and restaurants are.

This time, we decided to remedy that.


We arrived in Fredericksburg, as is our routine, about 2 hours later than we originally planned. Steve & I decided we didn’t want to stay in a hotel, so I booked a room through Gästehouse Schmidt, a company in Fredericksburg that acts as a reservation service for bed & breakfasts, private home rental, and vacation homes throughout the Hill Country.  I found a lovely room in a private home, Casa Mariposa.  The house was a beautiful stucco with wonderful design and landscaping (we guessed the owners are artists, or, at least artistic).  The room itself was around the side of the house with a private entrance.

At Casa Mariposa.

At Casa Mariposa.

Since it was Labor Day weekend, we guessed the owners were out of town since we never saw them or their dogs.  No matter.

Three of the things I loved about the space were the fact that it was in a very quiet & lovely residential neighborhood, it was within walking distance of the north (less touristy end) of Main Street, and it was across the street from the local radio station.

The radio station.

The radio station. I didn’t get the call letters.

Since we didn’t arrive until almost 6pm, we basically had just enough time to drop off our things and rush off to Kerrville to the fall music festival.  We were going to enjoy an evening of music, and, especially one of our favorites, Nora Jane Struthers and the Party Line.

Lovely skies above Kerrville.

Lovely skies above Kerrville.  The evening was surprisingly cool for late August.

People camping out at the festival. I'm a four-walls girl myself.

People camping out at the festival. I’m a four-walls girl myself.

First glimpse of the stage.

First glimpse of the stage. The group playing was rather forgetful.

Since we arrived so late, we decided to eat dinner at the festival.

Some of the food stalls.

Some of the food stalls.

As with many festivals these days, there is always an effort to have at least one stall with healthier food options; Kerrville was no different.  However, like most festival goers, we opted for less healthy.

My dinner. Nachos and Dr Pepper.

My dinner. Nachos and Dr Pepper.

Steve's Dinner: Barbecue Plate

Steve’s Dinner: Barbecue Plate

The food was about what we expected.  Basically, my nachos tasted like something you’d get at any ballpark in America.  Steve’s average barbecue was covered with an almost too-sweet sauce (I suspect KC Masterpiece) and quite possibly HEB brand cole slaw and potato salad. The bar was set low and we weren’t disappointed.

I was then regaled with what I believed was some of the most defiantly mediocre folk music I’ve ever heard.  There was one performer (whose name I blissfully can’t recall) who included a little TMI to his act. To keep myself sane during this period, I walked around and took a few pictures of the green.

Kerrville evening.

Kerrville evening.

Walking around the festival.

Walking around the festival.

This photo was a happy accident.

This photo was a happy accident.

Moon over Kerrville.

Moon over Kerrville.

After the picture taking was over, I decided to get some dessert.  I went to the stand that was selling ice cream sandwiches.  I was given my choice of cookies, so I chose chocolate chip. They were the size of hubcaps.

Dessert. We shared. Still didn't finish it.

Dessert. We shared. Still didn’t finish it.

The cookies were just OK.  They had been frozen, and, while there’s nothing wrong with that, they were too hard and thick.  They should have been just a little chewier and thinner.  Plus, the taste was flat.  It was probably due to the freezing.  The ice cream was Blue Bell. Can’t go wrong there.

Finally, Nora Jane came on stage. Sanity restored.

We drove back to Fredericksburg and sleep.



We really had no concrete plan for Saturday other than to drive. We knew that we did want to go back to Kerrville and see the town, maybe head to Bandera. (Both of which we ended up doing.)

But, first, breakfast.

We really had no idea where we wanted to go.  A Yelp search came up with the Sunset Grill. It did not disappoint. (Yelp turns out to be helpful on occasion.) It is a pleasant room heavy on yellow and green with a leafy patio space.  They were busy but the room didn’t feel overcrowded.

The breakfast menu is very egg-heavy. To me, a mark of quality.

My Omelet: The Neptune

My Breakfast: The Neptune

My breakfast was the Neptune Omelet.  As the name implies, it’s seafood.  Cocktail shrimp, scallops, and real crab (a nice surprise) with a bit of cream cheese mixed in.  It was delicious. Honestly, one of the best omelets I’ve ever eaten.  I even liked the home fries. The whole grain toast was a nice touch.

Steve's Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros

Steve’s Breakfast: Huevos Rancheros

Steve was quite happy with his Huevos Rancheros.  His egg was cooked over easy – perfect for mixing with the sauce.  The sauce itself had a bit of kick without being too overwhelming. I had a small bite and almost wished I’d ordered that instead.  Almost.

After breakfast, we were off to Kerrville and Bandera.

Kerrville Theater

Arcadia Theater. Kerrville.  I like these older facades.

While walking around Kerrville, Steve had one basic thing on his mind: albums. Since albums have come back into vogue, he’s been adding to his already extensive collection. For our anniversary, I bought him a 1917 Victrola, so now he includes 78’s in his hunts along with his constant pursuit of 33’s and 45’s.

I suppose he could have worse habits or hobbies.

So, while he ducked into the first of many antique malls we would patronize over the weekend, I just took a few photos of flowers.

Flowers on the square

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

Flowers on the Square. Kerrville.

We walked around a bit more and came across the Schreiner Mansion and the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center.

We didn’t go into Schreiner Mansion (it was closed).  It was built by Charles Schreiner in 1879 and, after his death in 1927, was used as a Masonic Lodge.  In 1972, it was sold to a private owner.  In 1974, it was purchased by the Hill Country Preservation Society.  By 2009, the mansion was donated to Schreiner University.  The Mansion is now used for tours, as an event space, and educational programs.

Schreiner Mansion

Schreiner Mansion

Next door is the Kerr Arts and Community Center.  It is in a refurbished post office and is an open, flowing space.  As you walk in, there is an exhibit of Kerr County’s geological history with fossils, rocks, petrified wood, and petrified dung included. On one wall, there is a large-screen TV with a continual loop of tectonic plate shifts (with Kerrville’s future position marked) beginning at 4 billion years BCE through present day. If you ask, one of the docents will show you the effect of acid on limestone. It was a well done and fascinating exhibit. Science! (I don’t recall why I didn’t take photos. I don’t believe photos were allowed.)

AS we walked through the KACC, we saw a rather nice (and expensive) gift shop and a wonderful exhibition of winning photographs by members of the Hill Country Camera Club.  There were some beautiful photographs displayed.  Sadly, no photos of the entries were allowed.

We then came across this gem.  A completely handmade working miniature Ferris Wheel.  I think I stared at it for 20 minutes.  A gentleman at the center said that there was a recent exhibit of works by members of a woodworkers club in town.

All wood carousel at Kerr Arts & Cultural Center

Working all wood carousel at Kerr Arts & Cultural Center

All handmade

All the figures were handmade. It was beautiful.

Soon, we were off to Bandera.  The Cowboy Capital of the World.  Little did we know we were visiting during Celebrate Bandera.  The population of 856 seemed to explode 10-fold.  There is a sizable craft fair on the courthouse grounds, busy shops and restaurants, a parade, and a whole lot of cowboy pride.

Bandera Courthouse

Bandera Courthouse

Festooned horses

Festooned horses

To get away from some of the crowds, Steve & I walked around a bit.  Bandera is a lovely little town.  I think we’ll try to go back when it’s not so crazy.

We just liked this sign.

We just liked this sign.  I can certainly relate.

Flowers in Bandera

Flowers in Bandera

Flowers in Bandera

Flowers in Bandera

We made our way back to the courthouse to find some refreshments.

Texas Hurricane.  40 ounces of citrus and sugar water. Refreshing on a 99F day.

Texas Hurricane. 40 ounces of citrus and sugar water. Refreshing on a 101F day.

After we cooled off a bit and did a little shopping, we decided it was time for lunch.  We had walked by this bar called the Chikin’ Coop earlier and decided we needed beers and burgers.

It was dark and cool when we stepped inside.  In fact, I managed to find a table right next to the air conditioner.  I went to the bar to order beers and get menus.  They were busy, so it took some time to get the food; beers, no problem.

When we finally did get our lunch, it was great.  Some of the better burgers we’ve had in quite a while.  They weren’t overly huge, were still juicy, and the ingredients fresh.

My Lunch: Mushroom Burger with Onion Rings

Steve’s Lunch: Cheeseburger with Onion Rings

My Lunch: Mushroom Burger with Fries and Shiner.

My Lunch: Mushroom Burger with Fries and Shiner.

Chikin' Coop's Kitchen door. I want this.

Chikin’ Coop’s Kitchen door. I want this.

I would have to say my only complaint would be about the volume.  There were a couple of bands on stage while we were there that were far too loud for the size of the room.  They weren’t bad, just loud. I’m not just saying this because I’m middle-aged.  There was one young lady who seemed to think that sheer volume could make up for the fact she still had a rather untrained voice.  It was painful.

We made our way down Hwy 173 to Hondo because, well, we’d never been there.  There wasn’t a whole lot going on when we arrived.  It was almost the epitome of the sleepy small town.  We, admittedly, get there late (almost 5pm) for a Saturday, so a lot of places were already closed or closing.  Plus, we were pretty worn out from being out in the heat most of the afternoon, so we didn’t explore the town as much as we might have otherwise.

Raye Theater. Blanco, TX

Raye Theater. Hondo, TX

Old Blanco Courthouse

Medina County Courthouse, Hondo, TX

After about an hour in Hondo, we made our way back to Fredericksburg.  I spotted a couple of signs as we drove back through Bandera and just had to stop.

Spotted this sign driving back through Bandera on our way to Fredericksburg.

Come for the balls. Stay for the festival.

I just love these cool old signs.

I wonder how fun this place might have been.

After making  it back to Fredericksburg, showers and naps, we decided on a restaurant that was within walking distance of our room, Catfish Haven.  Now, Steve’s all about the fried catfish.  I rarely cook it at home because of the mess, and, because, well, it’s not terribly healthy.  But, if we make an every-once-in-a-while treat, we somehow justify the occasional lapse to ourselves.

We made it in about 7pm and the restaurant was about 3/4 full.  We were seated right next to the side dish (euphamistically, but I suppose somewhat accurately, called the vegetable bar) and salad bars.  Fried Okra, green beans with bacon, and pinto beans were on tap.  In just the short time we had been there, I noticed the kitchen changing out the fried okra pan twice.  The salad bar had the usual lettuce and toppings available along with all the mayonnaise-based dressings you could ask for.  Everything looked and tasted fresh.

Catfish Haven

Catfish Haven’s sides bar.

Catfish Haven

Catfish Haven’s salad bar.  It was fresh, clean, and varied.

Catfish Haven

Steve’s salad and fried okra (one of his all-time favorites).

Catfish Haven

I just opted for a fairly simple salad knowing what was coming from the kitchen.

The menu was, of course, seafood-heavy, but did offer burgers, chicken, and steaks of various preparations.  We opted for fried fish and seafood, because, what the hell.

Frying is, admittedly, not personally my favorite way to prepare or eat fish and seafood, but this was excellent.  Nothing was overcooked or greasy.  The hushpuppies had a peppery taste to them and didn’t appear to have been sitting around under a heat lamp.

Overall, a very good meal. Especially when washed down with a beer.

Steve's Dinner: Captain's Catch

Steve’s Dinner: Captain’s Catch.  Catfish, shrimp, oysters. He was happy.

My Dinner: Fried Oyster & Shrimp Plate

My Dinner: Fried Oyster & Shrimp Plate.  The oysters weren’t overcooked and the shrimp were huge. I can’t remember if I finished or not.

After dinner, we walked around our end of Main Street and wandered around a shop that was heavy on tin sculptures and Talavera pottery.  Some of it was lovely, but we debated whether a) we could fit it in the car, and b) do we really need it.  In the end, we didn’t buy anything.

We kept trying to walk off some of dinner when we saw quite a storm coming our way.  The temperature dropped at least 10 degrees in 20 minutes and there was a spectacular light show happening.  Steve & I decided it would be for the best to make our way back to our room.

Storm a'comin'

Storm a’comin’

It turned out to be a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  At least in Fredericksburg.  I went to sleep long before Steve.



Going home day and we decided to take our time getting there.

After a snail’s pace early morning, we finally packed up and headed out.  There was one more place we wanted to visit before we left Fredericksburg.  But first, brunch.

I was all for going back to the Sunset Grill, but Steve wanted to try somewhere else in town.  We spotted the City Cafe and pulled in.

It was a small space with no more than 10 tables. Brunch was good, but average.

City Cafe Steve's Breakfast: Migas

Steve’s Breakfast: Migas. He said they were good.

City Cafe My breakfast: Pancakes

My breakfast: Pancakes with over-easy egg and bacon. Meh.

After brunch, we walked across the street to Red Baron Antique Mall.  Steve, of course, was on the lookout for albums.  I was just wandering.  I did end up buying a Brownie camera.  Now, to clean it and use it.

Every antique store I go into now seems to have large numbers of rolling pins.

Every antique store I go into now seems to have large numbers of rolling pins.

Wall o' Gadgets

Wall o’ Gadgets


Vereins Kirche, Fredericksburg

The Vierens Kirche (Vierens Church) in Fredericksburg was originally built not long after the first German settlers came to the area as a meeting house. The original building was demolished in 1896.  The current Vierens Kirche was built and dedicated in 1935.  It is now a small museum chronicling the history of the town. The museum is free but there is a suggested donation box.

About 10 miles east of Fredericksburg is RR1376.  Follow that road and you will come to the storied town of Luckenbach, Texas.  Population 3.

There’s truly not much to the place.  It was named after Jacob Luckenbach (1817-1911) whose family was one of the first to settle in and around Fredericksburg.  It has a bit of a disputed history, but is generally accepted to have been established as a town in 1846.  It was a thriving town until 1970, when the post office officially closed.  Hondo Crouch and some friends purchase “downtown” Luckenbach soon after and turned it into a place for musicians (Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker, etc.) to hang out and jam.

And a legend was born.

Any given weekend, you can head to Luckenbach and find people enjoying music, drinking beer under the oaks and elms, pitching washers, and buying souvenirs.

We took one look in the post office, saw the crowd, and decided we really didn’t need any more t-shirts.

Luckenbach, TX

Post Office. Luckenbach, TX

Washer Pitchin'

Washer Pitchin’ Pits. The Central Texas equivalent of pitching horseshoes.

Luchenbach rooster

Luckenbach rooster. He must be used to the people and noise. He was just strutting around.

Luchenbach Dance Hall

Luckenbach Dance Hall

After we left Luckenbach, we decided to head towards New Braunfels.  But first, RM1888 took us through Blanco.

We didn’t really spend a whole lot of time there.  Just a quick stop at the Old Blanco Courthouse.  The courthouse was originally built in 1886 and was only used for four years, until 1890, when the county seat of Blanco was moved to Johnson City.  The building has since been used for offices, a school, bank, community meeting hall, and theater/opera house.  By 1937, it was in use as a hospital.  When the hospital was closed in 1961, the building eventually fell into disrepair.  It was bought in 1986 by an admirer who wanted to restore the building to its former grandeur.  When the new owner wanted to move the building from its original place, the Blanco County Preservation Society was formed to oppose the plan.

Today, the building is beautifully restored with a small museum and is used occasionally as a movie location.

Old Blanco County Courthouse

Old Blanco County Courthouse

Old courtroom upstairs where they filmed part of the 2010 version of "True Grit"

Old courtroom upstairs where they filmed scenes for the 2010 version of “True Grit”

We headed to New Braunfels.  I haven’t been to there since I was a child, so I was looking forward to seeing the town.  It was much larger than I remembered.

New Braunfels, TX

Brauntex Theater. New Braunfels, TX. Marty Stewart was on the marquis.

New Braunfels, TX

Birthplace of Gebhardt Chili Powder. New Braunfels, TX

New Braunfels, TX

San Antonio Street, New Braunfels, TX

New Braunfels, TX

Train Depot, New Braunfels, TX

I really wasn’t in the mood to go into any more antique malls. Steve was.  We finally agreed on a time limit and walked into the Downtown Antique Mall.  I made the mistake of pointing out to Steve two booths full of nothing but albums and the time limit soon went out the window.

So, I wandered.  I found some real treasures.  It was a nice store.  And huge. So many antique malls allow their stall holders to put any old junk up for sale (I’ve seen plastic pill boxes you can buy at HEB for sale more than once).  This place seems to be a little more selective.

The things you find in antique stores these days. I now officially feel old.

The things you find in antique stores these days. I now officially feel old.

Found this Revere Stereo camera while wandering around the antique store while Steve was pawing through piles of records.

Found this Revere Stereo camera while wandering around the antique store while Steve was pawing through piles of records. I bought it. Now to clean it and figure out how to use it.

New Braunfels is a lovely town and I would like to go back, perhaps during the week when it’s not quite so busy.  Explore it more in depth.  Stay out of the antique mall.

Our final destination was a place that I think has the best barbecue anywhere, Cooper’s Pit Barbecue. The original restaurant is in Llano, but they’ve opened restaurants in New Braunfels, Fort Worth, and, soon Austin (yea!).

You choose your meat from the pit, hand it to the cutters who break it down for you.  They have corn, macaroni & cheese (plain and jalapeño-bacon), potato salad, cole slaw, and cobbler (peach, blackberry, apple, and pecan). It’s all good.

I’m wrong. The meat is ethereal.

You get butcher paper to eat on and white bread on the table.  There are self-serve beans, sauce, pickle slices, and sliced onions.

As usual, we overbought to take the extra home.

Barbecue porn. Cooper's. New Braunfels.

Barbecue porn. So happy. Cooper’s. New Braunfels.

And, home to Austin.




Lentil Soup شوربة دس and Artichokes with Coriander اضيوكي مع الكزبرة 2

Posted on September 28, 2014 by Sahar

I am now going to introduce you to two more dishes from the Middle East – one from my childhood and one I discovered more recently.  Lentil Soup and Artichokes with Coriander.

Lentil Soup (Shorbat Adas) is a very popular dish during Ramadan. Soup is a traditional way to break the fast and the heartiness of this soup is perfect for that.  Some people will put cooked ground beef or lamb in the soup, others balls of Kefta (basically, ground meat with onion, parsley, and spices).  Some will also use dried bread and puree it into the soup to thicken it. Sliced radishes are also a popular addition.

The Artichokes with Coriander (Ard al-shokeh ma’kuzbara) is a more recent discovery for me. It’s a dish popular in Jericho in the early summer when artichokes are in season.  Here, I’ve used frozen artichokes.  This way, I can eat this dish at any time of year.  Mainly, though, because I really don’t like to clean artichokes.


A few notes:

1.  The soup is really best with the red lentils.  They have a lighter, slightly sweeter flavor that’s best for the soup.  They’re much more readily available than they used to be.

2.  Be sure to wash the lentils.  They’re generally dusty when they’re packed.  While processing methods have become better, sometimes, especially if they’re from a bulk bin, they may also have small rocks or dirt. So, be sure to check them carefully.

3.  As with most soups, this is even better the next day and freezes well.  When you reheat the soup, be sure to add a little broth or water because it thickens up as it sits.

4.  If you want a smoother soup, then you can puree it.  However, I prefer a little texture in the soup.

5.  You can easily make the soup vegan by using either vegetable broth or water.

6.  Don’t use marinated artichokes packed in olive oil.  Be sure, especially with canned or jarred ones, that they are packed in water.  Or, if you’re using frozen, they’re unseasoned.

7.  If you don’t like cilantro (coriander), you can use parsley.  It obviously won’t taste the same, but it will work.


The ingredients

The ingredients

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They're much more readily available than in the past.

The lentils. Red lentils work best in this soup. They’re much more readily available than in the past.

From the top:

From the top: salt, pepper, olive oil, flour, cumin

Lentil Soup

1 1/2 c. red lentils, washed and drained

4 c. broth (chicken, beef, lamb, vegetable) or water

1 med. onion, minced

3 cl. garlic, minced

1 tbsp. flour

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1 tsp. cumin

2 tbsp. olive oil

Juice of one lemon, or to taste


1.  In a large saucepan, place the onion, garlic, lentils, and broth or water.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Lentils, onion, and garlic in the saucepan awaiting the broth.

Cover and bring to a boil.  Keep the saucepan covered, turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Stir occasionally.

The boiling pot.

The boiling pot.

2.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together the flour, salt, pepper, cumin, and olive oil.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

The oil, flour, and spices mixed together. It smells lovely.

Add the mixture to the lentils after the first 45 minutes of cooking.


The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time.  Sorry, the lentils don't stay red.  They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

The soup after the first 45 minutes of cooking time. Sorry, the lentils don’t stay red. They turn to a dull gold-yellow.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After adding the oil-spice mixture.

After you add the oil & spices, cook for another 15 minutes, uncovered.  Stir occasionally.

3.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 5 minutes.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

My old-style lemon reamer. One of my favorite things I received from my mother-in-law.

Taste for seasoning.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil over the top and some extra lemon on the side.

The finished soup.

The finished soup.  Perfect.




The ingredients

The ingredients

Salt, pepper, olive oil

Salt, pepper, olive oil

The artichokes.  I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, bue sure they aren't marinated ones.

The artichokes. I used frozen ones in this recipe. If you do get jarred or canned, be sure they aren’t marinated & flavored  ones.

Artichokes with Coriander

2 lb. artichoke hearts (2 bags frozen-thawed or 6 cans drained)

4 tbsp. olive oil

3 cl. garlic, minced

1/2 c. coriander (cilantro), chopped

1 tsp. salt, or to taste

1 tsp. black pepper, or to taste

1/4 c. lemon juice, or to taste


1.  In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 – 2 minutes.

Cooking the garlic.

Cooking the garlic.

Add the artichokes hearts and cook another 5 minutes.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Adding the artichokes. Be sure to continue stirring frequently to keep the garlic from burning.

Add the coriander (cilantro), salt, and pepper.  Cook another 5 minutes. Stir frequently.

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

Adding the coriander (cilantro).

2.  Add the lemon juice and cook another 2 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and taste for seasoning.

The finished artichokes.

The finished artichokes.

3.  You can serve this either warm or room temperature.  This dish can also be made a day in advance.  Warm it slightly or let it come to room temperature before serving.

Sahtein! صحتين

Sahtein! صحتين

In this post, I served the soup with toasted split pita bread to make a sort of cracker.  You can also serve with warm pita or a cracker of your choice.  The plainer the better.



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