Mucking about

I spent a good deal of time this afternoon sitting around in the waiting room of yet another medical office, waiting to see the surgeon who had thoughtfully extracted my gallbladder and freed me from constant worry about doubling over in agonizing pain after eating something. Followup visits have been the story of my life this past year.

Luckily, I had a book with me. In the 40-odd minutes I waited, I read 140 pages and engaged in some side discussion with the woman sitting next to me, who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and who was there to schedule her procedures. My discussion and visit with the very kind surgeon lasted less than ten.

Which is fine, really. After all, the surgery went well, I’ve had no complications, and the worst I feel of it now is when I try to lift something heavier than I should be lifting, or try to push or pull something at waist level. The cement used to patch the incisions is starting to flake and peel off, and underneath one patch is a very thin, light scar. The other three will probably not be quite as thin or as light. But as I am not a belly dancer, I imagine this will not cause me any sleepless nights.

After I finished up at the surgeon and came home, thunder started rumbling in the distance, and the clouds swept in, blown by a quickly-moving cold front that promises us temperatures only in the upper 80s instead of the lower 90s. I wasn’t expecting any rain, but suddenly the wind shifted, the chimes out back started tinkling as they rocked back and forth, and the clouds opened up, draining themselves as they scurried along.

That made it a good time to go take a look at the property that has been keeping me up nights.

The reason for the look during torrential downpours is because – as our realtors keep reminding us – the front half of the property is in a flood plain, or so it says on the city’s maps. The owners say the land has never flooded, something I believe but our realtors don’t, but the best way to find out is to go look during a storm in progress – especially down here, where we can go a long time without significant rains, which makes the soil hard, which in turn can lead to minor flash flooding when a good storm rolls through (or major flash flooding, if the conditions are right).

So, I gathered up my mom and we rolled out another eight miles or so and turned down the road to what I hope will be my new abode. What we found was absolutely nothing: no water pooled anywhere except in the parking lot of a dead convenience store on the corner and in the ruts of a couple of unimproved gravel or sandy driveways leading back to other homes. Other than that, there was no standing water anywhere. That’s rather heartening.

Besides, I’ve pretty much decided I don’t care what our realtors say: that property is calling to me unlike any of the other places we’ve seen in the past two and a half months of looking at house after house. Must be the inner farmgirl coming out, or maybe it’s the anticipation of building the house I really want instead of settling for something already built but without all the pieces falling into place.

I’d like to walk the property before I leave for San Antonio for a week. I’d like to see if what’s in my head for planning matches what’s available on the land. I’d like to be able to continue my planning of putting in tomatoes with basil and mint around them; strawberries and borage nestling together, with squashes coming in after the strawberries for the high summer months; nasturtiums and marigolds all around. I’d like to continue my recovery and rehabilitation in a place where I can make things grow, where I can touch new life.

A cyclical feast

Food, food, food. At times, I believe that’s all I think about. There was food to be had for the people cycling in and out of the house today. Alas, two of our guests could not stay, as one was sick (and the other nursing him along), and one of my sisters never showed up at all and wouldn’t answer her phone. Too bad for all of them, because the food we had was quite good – and I finally took a taste of ribs that I smoked. Boy, are they tasty.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and since I could easily go well over a thousand waxing lyrical about the food, I’ll just proceed with some of my less-than-fabulous photos.

I made pitas and hummus on Saturday in advance of the feeding of the masses. The hummus is simple enough. Toss some chickpeas, tahini, salt, pepper, roasted garlic, and lemon juice in the food processor.

Pulse it a bit to get it going, then start with the olive oil.

Adjust the seasonings and the consistency, and in the end you have a great spread that cries out for fresh pitas.

To make pitas, though, of course you need dough. Put the ingredients together, scrape the dough into an oiled bowl, and let it rise awhile, dimpling it down every so often if it threatens to crawl out of the bowl.

Divide and conquer – I mean, divide, roll into a ball, and flatten out slightly. Let the dough rest for about 20 minutes.

Roll out each dough portion and let them rest for about 10 minutes.

Bake on a stone for a few minutes, and you have UFOs in the kitchen. Or at least nicely puffed pitas.

The pitas turned out very nicely indeed, complete with a great pocket into which hummus (or anything, really) could be stuffed. Next experiment for pitas: whole wheat pitas. My sister also wants me to make some regular flatbread wraps.

Sunday I was up at 0730 after a few hours of sleep, ready to get the ribs out of the brine, rubbed, and ready to go on the smoker. With that prep out of the way, I dashed off some guacamole and made some barbeque sauce while mom made some deviled eggs.

And some lemon bars. Start with the mix.

Prepare the bottom for the bars.

Put it together, bake it off, and sprinkle with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

These are great. Chewy, light, lemony. Perfect.

The ribs went on the smoker just after 1100 and came off around 1530 or so – about 4.5 hours on the smoker in total, and tender to the point that a couple of the bones slid out of the slabs as I was pulling them off the grates.

The smell in the house with all this cooking going on was fantastic. While the ribs were smoking, I had made the dough for my mushroom, caramelized onion, and feta tart, rolled it out, and pressed it into the tart pan.

The mushrooms were sauteed, the onions nice and soft from their stint on the stove, and the feta was mixed with an egg and bit of heavy cream. The tart shell was blind baked with my favorite kind of pie weights – beans.

After about 15 minutes, the weights were pulled, the shell was docked, and it was put back in for another 10 minutes or so. It was then time for assembly: the mushrooms, onions, and feta mixture was poured into the tart shell and the pan put back in the oven to cook for about 30-40 minutes.

This was my experiment for this dinner: I’ve never made a tart shell from scratch before, and have never made a savory tart before at all. It turned out incredibly well.

Nicely done inside, and tasty.

I had some dough left over after rolling off the excess, so I freeformed a smaller tart with some of the onions, a sliced tomato, some more feta, and a sprinkling of basil. This also turned out very well.

The ribs, meanwhile, had rested and I cut them into individual portions.

Together with the Italian bread, the roasted red peper-sweet potato soup (which is gone now), and some brownies and biscotti (courtesy of a guest who couldn’t stay), it was a full and satisfying meal all around. We sent doggie bags home with people as well.

In other news, I am seriously leaning toward buying some land – a large enough plot to do some light farming (gardening, perhaps a dairy cow and a few chickens for eggs) and build a house. We have seen a lovely, cleared piece of property with a few buildings on it, including a couple of manufactured homes, which would do quite nicely to let us get started, have someplace to live, and do some appropriate planning for a house raising. For a long time, I’ve considered living on a farm, or at least in a farm environment, and ever since I saw the property, I’ve been thinking of all the things I could do with such a property. We’re planning to go and actually look at this particular property (4.77 acres) this week sometime, before we head out to San Antonio for a week.

The more I think about it, though, the more I’m convinced that I would absolutely love to be able to grow my own vegetables, fruits, and herbs to feed the family and put some away, if only to know exactly what is going on them and how they are being grown and harvested. My sister is adamantly opposed to raising stock for slaughter – she would get too attached to whatever animals there were, and couldn’t bear the thought of killing them for food – so any stock we would have would be for their other benefits only, like milk and eggs. Personally, I think people should know where their food is coming from, and they should see it at least once, but for now and for some time into the future, the nicely packaged meat from the grocery (or Costco) will be that view of where food originates. Still, I could easily live with buying meat from elsewhere if I could grow most of the rest of what I need. It would be quite nice to grow my own red peppers for roasting, for instance, instead of having to pay exorbitant prices for peppers from Mexico. Having other vegetables year-round, via greenhouse and hydroponic growing would be quite nice, too.

I can’t wait to see the property and walk around on it a bit. I wonder if the current owners would object to any photos…