Sunday, July 10, 2011

comfort food

I had the great pleasure of heading to what is perhaps my favorite place on earth this past weekend, Mo Ranch. Mo is a Presbyterian conference center nestled in the gorgeous hill country of Texas with the cooling Guadalupe river running through it. Sigh, the's so relaxing to sit in the swirling waters with cliffs surrounding you and a blue sky overhead...okay, food blog, right. Back to the food.

The great thing about the hill country is that it's full of charming little towns with names like "Welfare" and "Comfort." Comfort is just the cutest little town with a historic downtown district full of local restaurants. I gave myself ample time for a wee bit o' antiquing and indulging in Comfort on the way, but when I arrived, I discovered that my favorite restaurant, The High Cafe that makes homemade jalapeno pimento cheese sandwiches that laugh in the face of ham sandwiches, was closed. Dang it, y'all. So I went across the street to a little deli and because it was 105 degrees outside (no exaggeration), I ordered their large house salad that promised bacon (note what I list first), baby greens, tomatoes, parmesan and an exciting-sounding hazelnut vinaigrette. Here's a pic of my first bite:

Looks amazing, no? The problem: no flavor (except the peppered bacon, which was nice). I wasn't thrilled. So I figured I'd take a little what-not-to-do lesson from my lackluster salad.
1. Hazelnut vinaigrette dressing that is clear and made from hazelnut oil, with no actual hazelnuts chopped up in it = strange. Like pouring flavored water on your salad. But, I am excited about the idea of hazelnut dressing, so I'll be playing with adding toasted hazelnuts to my vinaigrettes.

2. Second mistake: tomatoes that had clearly been kept in a fridge for ages and thus had no flavor left. Tomatoes are not friends with your fridge. I know, they keep longer there. But a tomato that you've had for 2 weeks perfectly preserved in your fridge has no flavor. They're like Texans: warmer is better, y'all.

3. Powdered parmesan dust in the green shake canister that lasts forever = blah. Pre-grated parmesan like the thin slivers on my salad = moving in the right direction. Buying a real block of parmesan and just shaving off generous pieces with a vegetable peeler = way better. Do this.

4. Final salad lesson: salt & pepper are your friends. Don't be afraid of them. I know, you're thinking "salt is the enemy" but seriously, it's a salad. Get over it. Season that baby.

After my thrilling-as-a-waiting-room salad, I was delighted to see that there was an ice cream parlor (from the early 1900s!) nearby.

After some vigorous and enjoyable antiquing where I acquired a quirky book from 1930 called "A Modern Lady" I sauntered across the hot, hot, hot street into the bliss of Sweet Comfort, the ice cream parlor. They had delectable-looking homemade chocolates which I eschewed to make a beeline to the ice cream counter. While debating what type I should get, the woman next to me ordered MANGO Bluebell ice cream. Whoa. Mango. Yes. I ordered a single (Texas-sized, y'all) cone and entered into cold mango sugar Bluebell bliss.


Such a charming place. I loved this sign. It might just be my motto for this blog. :)

After my ice cream miracle, I headed to Mo Ranch and had an amazing time with young people from many backgrounds as we celebrated the gift of God that is diversity. And what's the best way to celebrate God's gift of diversity? Well, food, of course. Part of the conference involved each culture represented cooking food common to their culture and sharing it with the rest of us. So you entered the room all of our large group gatherings were in and found yourself delighted by the sights and smells of food from the familiar to the unexpected. I made my way around and ended up with this:

Mmm. Let me give you a little tour of my plate-o-cultural-awesomeness. There was Korean kimchi and fried zucchini. There was a cup of charro beans fragrant with rich tomatoes, cilantro, pinto beans and broth. There was English trifle where fluffy whipped cream was folded around sweet pineapples and decadent morsels of cake, served with Earl Grey tea (that should've had milk, but no worries) and biscuits. There was fried chicken and collard greens. Yeah, you're going to want to see these close up...

It might come from living in the Atlanta area for a while, but I l.o.v.e. collard greens. Salty from the pork, a bit of a kick from something (cayenne perhaps?), comforting greens. I'm going to have to ask my new friend Dawn who made these (and yes, I was her friend before she gave me food...the food just, um, solidified our friendship!) for this recipe.

And now we have the most amazing tasty delight of all that comes from our Native American brothers and sisters: what they call an "Indian taco." It's made with fluffy fry bread (which I assume is fried) and then they top it with a delectable combination of beans and ground beef with perhaps a good bit of cumin. A bit of cheese, some crunchy refreshing lettuce and some (non-refrigerated) tomatoes and there you have it. The best version of a taco you'll ever meet. Now in the chaos of packing up, doing post-conference review and saying goodbyes, I managed to give Allie my roomie for the weekend, also known as the Queen of the Indian Taco, my email address requesting her recipe for this amazing fry bread. I'll be sure and give it a try when I get the recipe and share the results with y'all. And if you're a vegetarian person, fear not, you won't be deprived of the amazing fry bread. They gave vegetarians fry bread as a dessert with a generous side of golden honey to dip it in. Sounds pretty awesome, too.

What are y'all cooking these days? Thanks for stopping by this new lil' blog o' mine. I'm having fun indulging my foodie tendencies with y'all.

Bon appetit!



  1. A client gave me an armload of basil the other day when I visited her home and I made pesto with it and added some of that to a pasta salad (bowtie pasta, grape tomatoes, chicken, english peas - so good with the pesto mixed in.)

    Salt is not my friend these days - I am having trouble with ankle swelling so am supposed to lay off it as much as possible. When I protested and asked about sea salt, my doctor said, "salt is salt." Sigh.

  2. Your pasta salad sounds delicious! What did you put in your pesto? Pine nuts or walnuts?

    Sorry to hear that your dr. says "salt it salt." Bummer. But in talking about salad (or a lot of other things), lemon juice actually wakes up your taste buds in the same way that salt does, so that would be a good option.