Motherhood

Handsome Ben 1My Sweet Son, Ben

This is my wonderful, sweet, loving, smart, and handsome boy…and I love him with all my heart!

I remember the day the doctor told me I was pregnant…just a few weeks along but it was official. I had only been married about 6 weeks and I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t believe how blessed we were. It was the best thing that had ever happened to me and my husband (of course, aside from finding each other and getting married!). We were both thrilled…and when I gave birth at the “advancing” age of 40 (my OB/GYN called it a geriatric pregnancy!), we welcomed our son, Benjamin, into the world. He’s been a real joy to raise and has developed into quite the charming gentleman…just like his Dad!

Ben…always the adventurer

Ben at age 12

Love,
Mary

Finding Forever Homes for Loving Dogs

“K-9 Kids” of Austin Dog Alliance and the Humane Society of Williamson County teamed up last summer to find forever homes for loving dogs.

Hi Sweet Friends,

Those of you who know me well, also know about my passion for dogs.  I love them unconditionally and simply can’t live without  them.  As I’m fond of saying, “Every outfit looks better with a little dog hair on it!” ;-)

When I was about five years old, my parents let me pick out my first dog, a Boston Terrier named Bridget.  She was a homeless dog from our community’s  SPCA animal shelter.  It was love at first site and I have been in love with dogs ever since.

Over the course of my life, all my dogs have been rescued dogs.  Certainly all dogs are wonderful, but I have a very special place in my heart for the homeless dogs of the world.

Homeless dogs have a little something special about them.  You can see it in their eyes when you first  meet them.  It starts with just a little bit of a twinkle.  But as anyone who has ever rescued a dog knows, it’s that look that begs, “Are you the ONE?” Will you take me home?”

Oh those eyes!

When you respond with that smile, that hug, that “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, their eyes burst forth with unconditional love and gratitude for providing them with a forever home.  A look that they give you every day of their life, until their life on this earth ends and they return home to be nurtured in the loving arms of St. Francis, patiently waiting until they will be reunited with you in heaven.

So if you ever have the chance to provide a loving forever home to a homeless dog, I hope you will.  You will be so glad you did! :-)

So in that vein, I wanted to share the adorable video from last summer which is at the top of this post.  It’s of the “K-9 Kids” of Austin Dog Alliance filming Public Service Announcements to help find homes for dogs who were living at the Humane Society of Williamson County.

At about the 23 second mark of the video, you might have recognized a familiar face…it was my sweet son, Ben. :-)

And for those of you who know Ben well, you know that he has inherited my gene for a passion for dogs!  He loves them unconditionally and can’t live without them.  His favorite saying is, “Every boy needs a dog…and a mom who will let him have one!”  Good thing that God paired the two of us together. ;-)

Over the years, Ben has participated in many fantastic summer programs at Austin Dog Alliance and has also attended a number of dog training classes with our sweet dog Obi-Wan.

Ben and Obi-Wan

If you’re not familiar with Austin Dog Alliance, it’s a wonderful organization.   They offer a myriad of services including all sorts of dog training classes covering both basic and pet therapy training, summer camps for kids and their dogs, (Yes, our dog Obi-Wan has gone to camp there, too!) and their world-class program “Special Dogs for Special Needs.”

Our own sweet “rescued” girl, “Obi-Wan”

So if you live in Austin or the surrounding area, be sure to check out Austin Dog Alliance.  It’s a great place!

Well, I’m off to start my day…to hug my son and our dog :-) but before I go, I want to share this with you.  It’s an inspiring story about second chances for man and dog alike…

Have a wonderful day! :-)

Love,
Mary
Wife, Mother & Defender of Dogs

Tuscany in the Texas Hill Country

Trattoria Lisina – Tuscany in the Texas Hill Country
“Le selle la notte sono grandi e luminose nel cuone profodo del Texas.”*

Good Morning Sweet Friends,

I wanted to share with you today about a lovely restaurant  we have here in the Texas Hill Country … Trattoria Lisina.  My family and I recently celebrated my birthday here enjoying a delicious Sunday dinner in a most delightful setting.

Over the last ten years or so, many new restaurants and wineries  have popped all over the Hill Country and Trattoria Lisina and the adjacent Duchman Winery standout as real stars.

Costolette di Agnello alla Griglia
Texas grass fed lamb chops grilled over oak & pecan, with a reduced balsamic glaze, peperonata & Parmigiano garlic mashed potatoes.  Absolutely delicious!

My Handsome Husband

“Thank you for the wonderful birthday celebration, Honey!  I love you soooooooooo much!!”

Ben with his Grandparents (My Folks)

My Beautiful and Sweet Mom (she’s 87!…shhhh don’t tell anyone) along with my Dad…you’d never guess that dapper cowboy is a former New Yorker!

Grandma and Ben heading over a lovely little bridge that leads to the winery.  I love to see how sweetly Ben walks with his grandmother arm in arm.  Hard to believe he is already close to a head taller than her!

The Vineyard

If you have the chance to visit the Texas Hill Country someday…and I hope you will…be sure to put this restaurant on your list as a must visit.  You’ll be glad you did. :-)

Enjoy!

Love,
Mary
*And if you haven’t already guessed … “Le selle la notte sono grandi e luminose nel cuone profodo del Texas” translates…”The stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas.” ;-)   This sweet verse from the famous song – extolling the beauty of the Texas night sky – is written on the placemats at Trattoria Lisina.

Chilly Nights Cozy Suppers – The Art of Braising

Chicken with Carrots, Celery & Cauliflower braised in a slow oven.

The miracle of braising lies in the fact that the process demands so little form the cook yet what actually occurs is quite complex and wonderful.

Molly Stevens
All About Braising

Good morning sweet friends,

On Saturday, here in the Hill Country, it was wet and cold so we spent the whole day inside.  I have no complaints.  On the contrary…it was delightful.  And since we are trying to dig our way out of a terrible drought here in central Texas, we all rejoice when it rains.  And boy did it rain.  And it was chilly too.

The winter weather here can be very unpredictable but one things is certain, rain or sun, January and February can bring chilly days and colder nights.  When the thermometer dips below 50 (I know you East coasters are howling with laughter right now…I used to be one of you!) it’s time for me to pull out the dutch oven and create a cozy supper.  So on Saturday, between the rain and a high temperature of about 47 degrees, my family was looking forward to a hot meal.

Creating suppers for chilly nights usually finds me braising meats or chicken.  I love the ease of braising.  Once filled, my dutch oven does the work sitting on the stove top or in the oven with no need for a babysitter.  I could use a crock-pot and have on occasion, but, if I know I’ll be home, I prefer the Dutch oven.  There’s just something about a Dutch oven that creates such luscious tenderness in the meat, which I never seem to quite catch hold of with a crock-pot. And when it’s cold outside, I love how the stove top or oven warms up the kitchen!

At its most basic, braising refers to tucking a few ingredients into a heavy pot with a bit of liquid, covering the pot tightly, and letting everything simmer peacefully until tender and intensely flavored.

Molly Stevens
All About Braising

Beef Shanks

To me, braising is a lot like making soup.  I peek into my freezer and see what meats I have on hand – maybe a bone-in chuck or rump roast, beef shanks, or a whole chicken – choose one, then let it defrost. Next, I fish through my vegetable bin to see what I may have forgotten about that needs to be cooked now. ;-)  And I often add in my usual suspects as well…carrots, celery, and onions just as a matter of course.

And, I’d like to add here that sometimes I’ll just braise vegetables if I don’t have time to defrost a cut of meat or a chicken.  Braising vegetables can turn usual and ordinary kitchen fair into something that is both sublime and hearty.

***

A slight digression here  ;-)

I tend to buy all my meat on the bone, or, in the case of chickens, whole chickens.  I have multiple reasons.  First, bone-in meats and whole chickens tend to cost less.  This is a good thing for me since I tend to buy grass-fed beef and pastured chickens which can be a little more costly to begin with. (I can be a bit of a food fanatic!)

But the main reason I like my meats – bone-in – is because they are more flavorful and nutritious when cooked.  Dr. Catherine Shanahan, MD, in her book Deep Nutrition shares the following:

Cooking meat on the bone does two great things.

1) It enables the bone nutrients to infuse into the meat, imparting wonderful flavors.

2) Heat, water, and acid break down the collagen. When making bone stock (by boiling bones in water with an acid source, for instance tomato sauce) you fill the water with molecules called glycosaminoglycans. These molecules act as joint growth factors, keeping the collagen in your joints healthy and facilitating the repair of damaged joints.

***

Getting back to braising…

Next I sear my meat of choice in the dutch oven (usually in a little extra fat…I like bacon grease) till it’s nice and brown. Then I deglaze the bottom of the pot with a wine or other spirit of my choosing, throw in the veggies along with a bit of more liquid – maybe some water, broth, or stock – put the lid on, and turn the stove to low or pop the whole thing in a slow oven.

In about 3 hours, I have a delicious meal ready to be served up in bowls alongside some thick sliced bread for soppin’ up all the wonderful braising liquid which, in my humble opinion, is truly gold!

Simple vegetables braising in red wine and crushed tomatoes ready to be covered to simmer slowly on the stove top.

A cookbook I have enjoyed reading tremendously is titled All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking by Molly Stevens.

All About Braising by Molly Stevens

I love simple and uncomplicated cooking – what I like to think of as intuitive or improvisational cooking – so the subtitle had me hooked.  I’d like to share the following passage from a section of this book  titled “Why I Cook”…

Knowing how to cook gives you the means to bring people together.

I’ve learned that the technique of braising produces food that draws people together like no other.  Sharing a meal from one pot, as you often do with a braise, creates a feeling of community that leads to sharing a congenial meal.  The warmth of the pot from the oven, the concentrated aromas of slow cooked meat (or poultry  or fish or vegetables), the tender textures, and the deep favors all contribute to set people at ease.  

Plus, the uncomplicated nature of braising is easy on the cook.  Once you master a few basic techniques, there’s little that can go wrong.  Everyone feels more at home than they would if you were to fuss with a fancy, individually plated meal.  It’s the kind of food that makes us remember the comfort of childhood, whether we ate braised food or not.

And that’s why I love braising! :-)

Have a wonderful day…and if it’s chilly where you are, I hope you’ll get to enjoy a cozy supper tonight.

Love,
Mary

And So It Continues … Getting the Garden Ready for Spring

Ben planting onions

Good Morning Friends,

As I shared with you previously, my son, Ben, and I continue to work in our garden getting it ready for spring.

We planted some basil, lettuce, onions, and leeks.  Unfortunately, right after we got everything in, a cold snap came through central Texas dropping temperatures below freezing and even sending a bit of sleet!

We figured the onions would be fine, but we covered the basil, lettuce, and leeks with large pickle buckets.  Everything survived the night. :-)

Basil

We started placing our stepping stones in the garden to create a walking path

Our beloved, albeit cracked, “Welcome” sign

In a bad storm, St. Francis fell over and cracked the sign but he’s steady on his feet today! :-)

Overall, we’ve had a mild winter and one of the pepper plants survived and is still producing!

A gift from my parents

Flocked by Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

Obi enjoys lying in the fresh mulch and getting a good scratch behind the ears from her boy.

Next up, we’ll be putting in our tomatoes and also trying our hand at some potatoes that we’ve been sprouting in our kitchen.  We’ll keep you posted on our progress!

Love,
Mary

Happy Valentine’s Day

Dear Sweet Friends and Readers,

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Now that’s a smile!

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.  Be the living expression of God’s kindness:  Kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.  We shall never  know all the good that a simple smile can do.”

Blessed Mother Teresa

I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I opened a letter  – a Valentine – that came in the mail to me.  On the card inside, were the beautiful words above.  They were sent to me from a sweet friend who truly lives by them…always with a smile on her face…and her heart and home open to others.

Happy Valentine’s Day to my Sweet Husband…
I Love You, Honey!

Have a wonderful day!

Love,
Mary

Come Visit with Me Today at Reluctant Entertainer

Good Morning Sweet Friends & Readers,

Come join me today at Reluctant Entertainer!

I have wonderful news to share with you.  Today, I am guest posting at the delightful blog Reluctant Entertainer written by Sandy Coughlin – one of the nicest women I know.  Sandy’s blog – as the name implies – guides all us “reluctant entertainers” to become more comfortable about opening our homes – and our hearts – to family and friends.

Once you start reading Sandy’s blog – as well as her book by the same name – you will be delighted by her encouraging and gentle tone.  It’s like a warm and loving hug from a sister.  And that’s just how I feel about her!  I’m confident that as you get to know Sandy, you will grow to love her just as I have!

“From Fussy Washington Attorney to Hill Country Hostess”…Come read my guest post at Reluctant Entertainer

Enjoy!

Love,
Mary

What a Difference a Day Makes … The Texas Sky

Good Morning Friends,

We have a busy day ahead of us but I wanted to share two pictures with you of a glimpse of the sky outside my kitchen doors.

The other day I caught a glimpse of this as I was cleaning up the dinner dishes.

Come morning, things were quite different…

A cool, foggy morning

Last winter was unusually cold for us in the Hill Country with some nights dipping below the zero mark!  This year has been mix of cold days and warm days creating some interesting foggy mornings.

This week is quite cool…about 42 degrees as I type this, but it’s been great weather for getting our planting done.  I’ll share more pictures tomorrow of our gardening progress.

Have a great day.

Love,
Mary

And So It Begins … Getting the Garden Ready for Spring

My herb garden as it looks today…needs lots of work.

Last week, I started the winter clean-up around our property to prepare for our early spring plantings.  Here in central Texas, the weather is fairly mild in the winter  – with a few cold snaps here and there (just enough to kill lots of plants) – and the summers are scorchers – topping over 100 degrees -  so our “spring” planting comes fairly early in the season.

The Italian Oregano which is along the “barn” garage wall has survived fairly well through our winter but everything else isn’t looking so great. The weather wasn’t the only factor…more about that later…

The flowering trees have been pruned back and the beds mulched.

St. Francis greets us along the garden path.

Obi investigates the yucca branches intruding upon her newly mulched “bed”!

As you can see from the pictures above, everything needs to be fenced or walled off if we have any hope of growing things to be harvested.  The reason?…We certainly must have more deer in our town than people!

I’ve also been saving egg shells to fill with dirt and use for seed plantings.  Once we get a sprout of a seedling, we can put the whole thing in the ground, shell and all.

I have hopes of planting some squash this year along with my usual cherry tomatoes and Italian plum tomatoes.  I’d also like to try a few other things, just haven’t decided on what yet – - – plus I need to do some research as to what will do well in our climate.  I’m thinking, too, of planting a peach tree.  They grow beautifully in the Hill Country.  The Fredericksburg area is famous for them.

In addition to my veggies, I’d like to grow lots of my usual herbs…oregano, basil, thyme, chives, sage, and more.  I love growing a wide variety of basils for making pesto, basil mayonnaise…and just using it in all sorts of dishes.  Yum!


Basil picked from our garden last year.

Basil we picked last year at Sweet Berry Farm in Marble Falls which was later turned into…

Basil Pesto Spread…I added a little less oil to make it thicker to use as a spread on slices of baguette. Out of this world delicious!

After a hard days work in our herb garden! ;-)

My son, Ben, and I have been working on making some garden stepping stones to add to others we’ve made in previous years.  We’re hoping to make enough to complete and entire path for the herb garden.

The stone in the middle was made when Ben was younger…the one to the left when he was older.  I just love seeing the changes.  So sweet!  (The one on the right was made by his obsessive-compulsive mother…who has an extreme need for symmetry! ;-) )

“Talk” with you again soon, my sweet friends.

Love,
Mary