Bounty of the Season, South Texas Calendar

South Texas is on a slightly different seasonal calendar than most of the U.S. While you may be braving a wintery day, we are still taking in the fruits of summer, albeit the last ones! Here is what went into the oven from our garden last night, slow roasted and packed away in olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar so that we can stretch out the flavors of summer for a few more weeks.

I picked the tomatoes from our garden about a week ago when our first "hard" freeze was forecast. We barely dropped into the low 30s on our hill top -- it's usually about 5 degrees warmer up here than it is in the valley below. So a few fruit remain on the vines, still green along the ground! Most of these sat for a week completing the ripening until we sliced and salted them and put them to roast last night. Now three lovely jars of roasted tomatoes sit on the refrigerator shelves. I don't bother actually processing them since we eat them up so fast!

And, to boot, the temp is expected to reach 80 degrees today!

Fabulous Jalapeños


And now for something completely different. Candied Jalapeños are one of my go-to treats-- hot, sweet, pickled. A small jar will find its way into many of my family members' and friends' Christmas stockings. These treats could not be easier to make; in fact, the small jars for repackaging cost as much or more than the interior goodies!

 This recipe is originally from and I've copied it into this post.

  • 1 gallon diced jalapeno peppers
  • 5 pounds white sugar
  1. Drain off enough of the juice in the jalapeno jar so that adding the sugar won't cause a spill. Pour the 5 pound bag into the jar and seal tightly. Let jar sit for at least one week to mix flavors; flip the jar daily to blend.

My Costco sells pickles not in gallon jars but in 100 oz. jars. Doing the math, I added 7.5 cups of sugar. It only took a couple of days of turningthe jar for all the sugar to be dissolved. I waited about a week to eat them. Some possibilities. Add a slice to the top of homemade pimento cheese on a whole grain cracker. Pour a 1/2 cup including juice over the top of a block of cream cheese or a log of soft goat cheese. Serve with crisp crackers or buttered toast points.

I repack the pickles in sterilized jars. 

If you want the pickled jalapenos to be food-safe outside of the fridge (I usually just put a "keep refridged" note on the jar) but you can process the jalapenos in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (small jars) or 10 for larger pint sized jars.


Cook Like an Artist, 1

At Linda's encouragement, I'm starting a new "collection" on this blog of posts about food and how I cook "like an artist." I've had lots of requests from those visiting El Cielo Studio for recipes for the food I serve at the artist retreats -- but, hey folks, I don't measure. So its had me stymied and seemed like way too much trouble to slow down and measure. 

But, as I thought about how I do cook, it occurred to me that I cook the same  way I make art, and I could describe some ideas, some techniques that might be fun for others who want to experiment with flavors. At the very least, I'll clarify to myself, how it is I am thinking when I am playing with food, creating new dishes or variations on old ones.

First, the ground rules. No exact measurements. I'll be general, but usually, the way I cook, you can do a bit more or a bit less. Its why I am NO BAKER. You will find no cakes in this collection. Baking is as much a science as an art, and it takes exact (or more exact) measurements.

Second, think of the color wheel. I cook with a mental "flavor wheel" in mind that kind-of is the taste/smell equivalent of the color wheel. I mix, match and come up with complementary flavors and textures and "notes" that are kind of like mixing and matching and using color in a piece of visual art. I'm not sure how well this analogy will carry throughout, but it's how I'm starting out. For example, an earthy ingredient always needs a spark of the opposite spicy or sour or fruity to bring out the flavor. I always try to have something light, intense and a high-note, with something rich or heavy and meaty. That's why barbeque sauce works.

Think of the "colors" on your flavor wheel as these broad categories of taste: salty, spicy, bitter, sour/acidic, sweet/fruity, earthy, meaty, grain/carbo -- yeah. there are a few more here than the "formal" ones of salty, sweet, bitter, sour, umami. And technically, earthy and meaty are probably both dimensions of umami -- but in my brain, they operate a bit differently. And grain/carbo is as much a texture as a dimension of flavor-- but I didn't promise scientific consistency here.

Texture operates in cooking a bit like value. Intensity exists in flavors, too. Color is color, both literal and flavorful. Let's see how this analogy plays out in the sauce and ravioli I made last night:

Red Ravioli for a Rushed Wednesday

This is a monochromatic sauce with various intensities all in the RED family, with little zaps of green herbs to complement and lift the flavors. 

Sauté in about 1-2 teaspoons good quality olive oil: (Whoops-- basic cooker techniques will slow me down, so look at this link if you don't know what saute means -- and go to this wikipedia outline to find out all you'll ever need to know about cookery techniques) the following in quantities that are interesting to you -- the amounts are just what I did last night, and I'll probably never repeat the dish. I

FROM MEATY RED: 1/2 large homestyle pork/beef smoked sausage, chopped

FROM SWEET/FRUITY RED: 1 large red bell pepper, chopped

and 6 or so chopped sun-dried tomatoes, (if not packed in oil, reconstitute first by soaking in warm water for 10 minutes) IF you only have fresh tomatoes, cut into eighths and add them the last 5 minutes of cooking.

FROM SPICY NEUTRAL/INTENSE: 2 cloves or more of garlic

and SPICY RED/INTENSE a sprinkle of red pepper flakes (or use a splash of Tabasco, black pepper, cayenne)

COMPLEMENTARY FLAVOR FROM GREEN: a handful of chopped herbs, nothing too noted intense or highnoted- -- I used Italian leaf parsley, a few sprigs of thyme, 2 small sprigs of basil (also all from the garden, easy to grow!)

a couple of green onions from the garden, sliced, including tender green tops

Sauté for about 15 minutes on medium heat, stirring occassionally so it doesn't burn, but browns a bit, crisping the herbs. Meanwhile, as the sauce sautes,  cook the ravioli according to the package in boiling water.

At the last 2 minutes of so of sauce cooking, throw on one more RED flavor, smoked paprika, about a tablespoon full, adding EARTHY RED.

Toss with your ravioli and serve with a complimentary green salad including some bitter-sweet-spicy spring greens like arugula or swiss chard or endive, a citrusy vinegar olive oil dressing (more on salad dressings later) 

Grate some fresh Parmesan cheese into large flakes or curls for a garnish, along with another couple of sprigs of parsley.

The way I see it, if you stayed with the basic idea of RED, with a bit of green to complement, you could do this same recipes with lots of different RED meats, different SWEET FRUITY REDS and SPICY reds and serve it on a wide range of carbo/grains.

You can substitute other meaty flavors, or serve it with a different kind of grain/carbo flavor, but I made the sauce to toss with frozen cheese ravioli (one of the freezer staples from Costco). Other ideas -- serve the same tossed with couscous or brown rice, or any other kind of pasta. Or top a big bowl of greens and beans with it.

If you are a vegetarian, leave out  the sausage or add in a red smoked type soy version, or use chicken thighs or  red spiced chicken or turkey sausage if you don't eat pork or red meat.

For example: next week I might try the same formula but using chopped chicken thighs with fresh tomatoes, red onion, earthy brown mushrooms, red peppers and the same spices and herbs. OR it might be interesting to try with sauteed plums instead of tomatoes. Since that's a real fruity flavor, it might need a bit of cinnamon or allspice, too. On couscous or egg noodles, or maybe on spaghetti squash!






The Sun Shines on the Volcano

FInally, the rain seems to be letting up and we had a few hours of sun this afternoon driving into the city of San Miguel, a workhorse of a place with about a million population. We're here en route to another set of school visits in the northern area of Morazon, the part of El Salvador that had the worst impact of the war and is still less populated and developed than other parts of El Salvador.

On the way we visited a wonderful school and had a formal presentation by the students and faculty and an amazing lunch of fish from the lake at the bottom of the mountaintop where the school is (an hour down and 2 hours back up, we were told). Also on the menu -- a delicious chicken (yes, this was the real thing, a chicken that had never seen an industrial farm) soup, beef, rice, papusas, enchiladas (which are, in this part of the world are a thick corn tortilla topped with mild red chili sauce and fresh cheese) and more of the wonderful thick comal-toasted corn tortillas of El Salvador. And this was after a little snack that had been served to us upon arrival with fried yucca (the ultimate crunchiness treat of the world), papusas, sweet rich black coffee laced with cinnamon, sweet baked candied pumpkin and about 6 other dishes -- just a little snack. 

And now we're about ready to head for "the best fish soup in the world," according to our traveling coordination and SEED program director Jose.

For the wearable art lovers among you readers, here are some creations by third graders -- all with recycled materials. I'll get better pictures of these later for the WHAT CAN SCHOOL BE blog on posterous. 

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Directly above, a collaged skirt embellished with corn husks and glitter.

Top image, hat - and the world's ubiquitous "foamy"

Middle image, Project Runway weep, this is a third grader's dress.

I'll be posting more soon about the school, but for now -- just time for a brief siesta before heading for that famous fish soup.




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More Shameless Self-Promotion


Well, really, it's a great opportunity to find some wonderful books and to see my art in a great people-friendly setting. I've just hung a small show of mostly new work at The Twig Bookstore, San Antonio's wonderful indie bookseller. They've recently moved to The Pearl, another venue you need to explore if you haven't been there yet. The shop is one of those bookstores that is infinitely tempting. In the course of hanging the art, I found two books I had to have in my hands on the way out.

The Pearl is located just north of downtown San Antonio on the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River -- and that's another reason to visit. The riverwalk or river taxis take you past public art and make stops at the San Antonio Museum of Art, The Pearl and elsewhere. And when you get hungry, try the new La Gloria, a delightful new Mexican "street food" restaurant that is now Linda's " absolutely favorite restaurant in town." Me, too, Lupe. The ceviche (I had the Nayarit style with cucumber) is fab and my variety was one of 6 or 7 cold seafood cocktails available. Wonderful fish tacos, too. And sopes, and, and, and.

Of, course, if you want something more upscale, Weissman's Sand Bar and Il Sogno are also at The Pearl, as well as the Aveda school for discount hair and salon services.

Meanwhile, my art is on show and on sale, and I'm hoping the crowds that show up for Saturday's Farmers Market in the Parking Lot will become instant art collectors.