A Hurricane Rita Story: No One Understands a Mom Like Another Mom

It has been ten years since the stark horrors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans influenced thousands of Southeast Texas residents to flee the oncoming Hurricane Rita just a few weeks later.  This is a true story, a quiet little reminiscence, of two moms who evacuated together with young sons.  It was written several years ago and is now dedicated to the memory of Theresa Crespo.  She is one of my inspirations for writing a cookbook, and I sometimes channel her in the kitchen.  But that’s another story.


No One Understands a Mom Like Another Mom

It Started with Sippy Cups and Toddler Parks

Theresa and I have been friends since we both had baby boys around the same time in the late ‘90’s, my Thomas a first (and only) child, her Andre a little brother for 5-year old Nick. We discovered together that “Mommy” – a word and role we both love and ardently sought – could be a plea, an argument, a jailer’s key, a tardy bell, a sob, or a love song, sometimes all at once. We instinctively knew that no one understands a mother like another mother with a child of the same age, and this knowledge was very comforting. We first bonded over sippy cups and toddler parks, Duplo Legos and potty training, wine and weariness. We moved on to dinosaurs, Star Wars obsessions, backyard baseball, trading cards and the competitive world of Little League, and quickly learned that no one understands a Team Mom like another Team Mom. (One of these days we’ll write a book about that experience; our working title is: If Moms Ran Little League. We expect it to be a best-seller with the mommy demographic.)

Everyday Life in Small-Town USA

Shiner used to come looking for Theresa at my house if she wasn't home.
Shiner used to come looking for Theresa at my house if she wasn’t home.

From the beginning, our friendship was wallpapered with the everyday exchanges of any working mom’s life: picking up each other’s kids, trading off Saturday afternoons so that one of us could shop for groceries in peace, alternating sleepovers, having our windows broken by backyard home runs and bandaging a variety of knees, elbows and wounded adolescent pride. We were each other’s backup: she kept my son when I had to travel for work; I was Mom on Duty when her new catering business occasionally required her time at night. Both of our husbands worked nights – mine as a professional jazz musician, hers as managing partner of a popular Houston restaurant – so we spent a lot of evenings together, always with the kids, who loved each other and fought like brothers, and Theresa’s dog, Shiner.

Theresa and I shared weekend trips, meals, recipes, triumphs and setbacks. Like all moms, we occasionally doubted our maternal instincts and parenting skills, and our long, probing conversations at the kitchen table while the kids were building gargantuan Thomas the Tank Engine tracks close by were more valuable than expensive therapy sessions. No one can reassure a mom like another mom and a glass of Pinot Grigio.

We lived in a Leave It to Beaver kind of neighborhood where everyone looks out for each other
We lived in a Leave It to Beaver kind of neighborhood where everyone looks out for each other and kids ride their bikes in the street

We lived on the same street in Old Sugar Land, just outside of Houston, a Mayberry-like neighborhood where Wally and “The Beav” would have felt at home. Pastel-painted wood frame cottages from the 1920’s stand proud under stately old oak and pecan trees, and kids play baseball and hopscotch in the streets and dart through the alleys to each other’s houses, even after dark.

The 80-year old elementary school was at the end of our street, and Theresa and I walked the boys to school together each morning, accompanied by Shiner.  The Little League fields were just a few blocks’ walk and we spent many evenings and weekends cheering, sweating, keeping score and serving cookies, both of us playing the role of team mom during season after season of baseball.

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The boys enjoying 2005 Little League Opening Day festivities, just a few blocks from our houses.

Dealing with Real-World News: Hurricane Katrina

It was an idyllic setting for raising a family, and yet of course the real world was ever-present. We struggled with how to explain the violence and hatred of 9/11 to our toddlers. We struggled again in 2005 when we watched CNN in shock as Hurricane Katrina drove flooded New Orleans residents to their roofs, desperate for rescue. Like everyone else, we couldn’t stop watching. Our children couldn’t understand the chaos and devastation, and we couldn’t either. For the first time, America seemed like a third-world country, and it was difficult to translate this new world view for our wide-eyed and horrified children. “Mommy” had changed to “Mom” by then, but they still looked to us to interpret the world for them.

Desperate to help, Theresa led a local clothing drive for the Katrina victims who came to Houston after the mayor’s “Sanctuary City” declaration. A mountainous pile of castoffs and new items grew on her front porch overnight after her email to our neighborhood asking for donations. The boys helped pack up the boxes and it comforted them to know that they were actively involved in the recovery and helping the victims.

Hurricane Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome (NBC News photo).
Hurricane Katrina refugees in the Houston Astrodome (NBC News photo).

Food and clothing collections were being staged at the Houston Astrodome, where the buses of New Orleans refugees were also arriving. Theresa called me from the drop-off at the ‘Dome, sobbing, completely overcome with empathy for people who had lost everything and seething with frustration at the pandemonium. She was particularly upset by the plight of the mothers with small children, who for days had had very little food, no permanent shelter, no basic necessities, no toys to soothe their children. No one can empathize with a mom in trouble like another mom.

We felt a collective survivor’s guilt as we continued to watch the aftermath of Katrina and the clumsy recovery efforts, and our kitchen table talks were now dominated by the tragedy. Relocated children from Louisiana began attending the elementary school with our sons less than two weeks after the hurricane, and the stories our kids brought home were horrific.

Hurricane Rita Threatens

Less than a month after Katrina exploded permanently into our nation’s consciousness, Hurricane Rita came along and threatened the Gulf Coast again. Our little town was 50 miles inland (north of Galveston) and located in one of the projected paths for the storm; our mayor, like many others, was cautious and recommended voluntary evacuation. (No one wanted to repeat the confusion of the preparation for Hurricane Katrina, and no mayor wanted to be compared New Orleans’ Ray Nagin. That sentiment remains true today.) Automated phone messages went out from the city telling citizens to evacuate about 48 hours in advance of the storm, and schools were dismissed at midday that Thursday. Mandatory evacuation orders had already been issued in Galveston, and Houston’s mayor was urging residents to leave, as well. The local news stations were broadcasting warnings and updates about Rita’s path alongside news about the continuing problems from Katrina’s devastation of New Orleans, heightening the tensions and fear in our community.

What to do? Theresa’s husband was obligated to stay behind to prepare his restaurant for Hurricane Rita, and to keep it open if the storm’s path changed. I was amicably divorced by then, living alone with my now 7-year old son. So Theresa and I were moms on our own, and decided that we’d either both stay, or both go. Mulling over scenarios, we finally made the decision to evacuate after envisioning our 100-year old trees felling power lines, the potential of a week or more without A/C in the 90-degree September weather, and the kicker: trying to keep three high-energy boys entertained and happy through it all.

One of our frequent kitchen table discussions centered on the notion that our kids feed on and absorb our attitudes, and we were both determined to exude calmness, efficiency and confidence during this situation: we wanted their Hurricane Rita experience to somehow be a positive life lesson rather than a bad memory of fear, anxiety and tension. We faced an uphill battle considering what they had seen the month before with Katrina.

Theresa and I work well together. She gathered and packed provisions, the most important being things that would make us all comfortable and happy, and I searched for accommodations. Hotels and motels for hundreds of miles were booked, but a back-door online Hilton Honors points-retrieval system secured us one room for one night at the Doubletree in Austin, just 3 hours north. (That was a personal victory – Hilton points earned from all that business travel I was doing paid off when we really needed it.) The Doubletree didn’t accept pets and Shiner was coming with us, but we decided to worry about that later. Agreeing to frame our trip as a little unexpected holiday for the boys, we found a place for the second and third nights along the Frio River in Concan, where we had just spent a wonderful week’s vacation with the boys and several other families earlier in the summer. It was a few hours further, so staying in Austin on the first night would be a good way to break up the trip. It was only one room but had two double beds, so each 7-year old could share with his mom, and Nick and Shiner would get a pallet on the floor. We had a plan.

On the Road

Taking two cars to keep our return options open, we packed the kids and Shiner into Theresa’s car for the first leg of the trip and I led the way in my car. The boys were excited about leaving school early, worried about the hurricane, and antsy. We left at 4:00, planning to stop at the halfway point for dinner, imagining we’d arrive in Austin by around 9:00. We took a back road that leads to Interstate 10, and so did everyone else in Texas. (We later learned that we were part of the largest evacuation in U.S. history – click here to read all about it in Wikipedia.)

The roads were jam-packed full of evacuees who had left Galveston and other coastal cities earlier in the day. We crawled along at less than five miles an hour, conferring a few times by cell phone (“can you believe this???”) and eventually came to a complete stop less than 20 miles out of town. There was almost a party atmosphere among the evacuees as people got out of their cars and talked to each other, especially as night began to fall. Theresa left the boys playing video games in her car and we chatted in mine for more than an hour until traffic started to move again, slowly.

Questioning our decision to evacuate as we saw car after car give up and turn around to head home, we kept going, and eventually made it to Sealy, only 45 miles from home, at 8:00 p.m. We stopped at a forgettable and mediocre roadside restaurant that hadn’t seen so much business since they opened 45 years ago, and yet it was somehow one of the best meals we ever had. The boys were beginning to adopt the attitude that we were on an adventure, and collected savory leftovers in their pockets to feed Shiner, giggling about how they were sneaking it out. It was hard to face more seemingly endless bumper-to-bumper gridlock, but Theresa knew of an obscure back road based on her experience as catering manager for a country inn and convention center – if we could just get to it. Now with me, the boys dozed off as we crawled along in the darkness, then suddenly Theresa zoomed off to the right onto a tiny, curvy two-lane road. We were in business!

“We Brought Our Dog, Too”

Sound asleep in the back seat
Sound asleep in the back seat

An hour later, at 2:00 a.m., we arrived in Austin and awakened our groggy boys, strategizing about how to get Shiner into the hotel without being caught. Nick did some recon for us and located a side entrance that could be opened with a key card.   There was a long line of very tired evacuees from the Houston/Galveston area waiting to check in, but we celebrated another perk of my business travel: my Hilton Honors card put us in a members-only line and we checked in right away. It really mattered to me that night; it’s amazing how a tiny little victory can improve your outlook on a stressful day.

Theresa swaddled Shiner in a blanket like a sleeping toddler (a really big one – Shiner was at least 60 pounds, and I think she lied about her weight). We nervously entered through the side door and thought we were home free because no one got on the elevator with us, but then it stopped on the 2nd floor and a tired-looking man in business clothes with a full ice bucket and no shoes got on. Argh! Shiner was still enveloped, but she wagged her tail, dislodging that part of the blanket. Did he notice?! We chatted nervously about being hurricane evacuees to distract him – and then he got off on our floor with us! He headed down the hallway in the opposite direction, then turned, smiled, and said, “I brought my dog, too. So did everyone else here.” This was comic relief after so much tension throughout the day, and we laughed with the boys for a long time afterward before going to sleep. The next morning, we heard lots of barking from other rooms on our floor while we were tracking the storm on the hotel TV and knew we wouldn’t have to hide Shiner on the way out.

It wasn’t clear when we awoke if Rita was headed straight for Houston Galveston, or would move to the east or west. There was an undercurrent of anxiety: Where will it go? When will it hit? Will it be like Katrina? Will our Dads and our houses be OK? Reminding the kids that we were on an adventure, we left for Concan with thoughts of swimming in the cool river, and enjoyed a beautiful drive through the Texas Hill Country. The last town we passed through before reaching Concan had a portable sign out front that said “Welcome Rita Evacuees”. This was an omen: we were heading to the place where we were meant to be.

A Hill Country Haven from the Storm

Rio Frio Rope Swing - Thomas Rio Frio Rope Swing - Andre'Our little riverside cabin was a perfect respite after spending 12 of the last 20 hours in the car. There was a long, knotted rope swing for the boys to take Tarzan-like leaps into the river and a jungle gym with swings; inside, there were two bedrooms, a decent kitchen, and a living room – with no TV, which was both a blessing and a curse. We spent the afternoon enjoying the outdoors: swimming, exploring, playing, watching Shiner romp – and trying not to think about Hurricane Rita coming for an unwelcome visit back home.Rio Frio Rope Swing - Nick

Our cell phones didn’t work (which we later learned was from cell tower overload because of all the hurricane-related calls), so we went into town for news and dinner at the local café and used the pay phone to catch up with our loved ones back home. Rita was still moving toward the Texas and Louisiana coasts, and we still didn’t know where it would hit. Theresa’s husband reported that our neighbors who had decided to “shelter in place” were having hurricane parties. We weren’t sure that was such a good idea.

Repeated visits over the next 24 hours to the pay phone and the café with the TV revealed that Rita missed Galveston and Houston completely, and had delivered a devastating blow to the coastal cities at the Texas / Louisiana border at around 2 p.m. on Saturday. The boys continued to enjoy the river that day, but Theresa and I finally allowed ourselves to feel the stress we’d been denying. We had one of our kitchen-table talks at the picnic table by the river and shared a tremendous sense of relief coupled with the same survivor’s guilt we had felt after Katrina. We worried and wondered if we had done the right thing: uprooting our kids, traveling all that way, and now facing the same traffic snarls to somehow get back home. Did we teach our kids the lesson we wanted to teach, or did we teach them to overreact? No one can feed a mom’s self-doubt like another mom.

Theresa is a wise woman, though, and she knew that what we need was time off, to benefit from the same support that kept us both sane in our everyday lives and gave us breathing room. “Let’s take turns being Mom on duty. I’ll take tonight and entertain the boys, play cards with them or something, and you can have time to yourself. You can take the morning and I’ll sleep in.” No one understands a mom’s needs like another mom.

I spent a few very pleasant hours that night reading alone in my room, loving the feeling of not being responsible for anyone but myself. I woke up the boys early the next morning and gave them juice boxes and breakfast bars at our picnic table by the river. Watching them splash and play, I knew we had done the right thing. Staying at home, we’d have been bombarded with constant images of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction and during those 3 days our children would have worried constantly. We were role models for that tired but effective cliché, taking the lemons that life gives you and making lemonade. We were great moms together! I couldn’t wait to share these thoughts with Theresa. No one shares a mom’s joy like another mom.

I was planning to give her another half hour to sleep when Theresa suddenly appeared, glowing, carrying a picnic basket filled with the most delicious breakfast tacos I’ve ever tasted, each one wrapped individually in foil and piping hot. She had used her “me time” while I was Mom on Duty to enjoy herself in the kitchen, alone with her thoughts. There was homemade pico de gallo and assorted fruit, all from the provisions she had packed before we left. Then she did the most remarkable thing: she pulled out a thermos with a breakfast cocktail, some kind of rum and fruit juice concoction that she had just made up and could probably never be recreated, which should be named the Hurricane Rita. It was delightful, and decadent, and just what we needed. I shared my epiphany about our evacuation decision being right and we laughed a lot and even cried a little. It remains one of the best moments we have ever shared, because we truly understood each other and were exactly in the same place emotionally.

Our kids were exuberant about the breakfast tacos and ate them together at water’s edge, laughing, talking, just being carefree like boys are supposed to be.  When we told them it was time to go inside and start packing, they squawked about leaving a little bit, and my son said, “I really like Evacuation Vacations!!  When can we go on another?”

Evacuation Vacation!!??  Out of the mouths of babes – what a marvelous way to describe our three days together! Theresa and I looked at each other, knowing we were both thinking, “Yup, we did the right thing.”

No one understands a mom like another mom.

**********************

Afterward

With Theresa in my kitchen in 2011, two moms bonding over food
With Theresa in my kitchen in 2011, two moms bonding over food

Ten years have passed since that memorable Evacuation Vacation; Theresa and I continued for much of that time to bond, support each other and alternately fret and rejoice over our sons. I documented our Rita adventure story a few years ago as part of a get-well package for Theresa when she learned she had cancer and threw herself into the cycle of chemo and prayers, interspersed with normal everyday mom/wife life. She wrestled with that wicked illness for two years before it robbed us last May of her remarkable and unique presence. But while she had cancer, Theresa remained her amped-up self, and did many things: 

We met Governor Rick Perry after our memorable showing at the Round Top Chili Cookoff in 2013
Theresa, Nick and I met Texas Governor Rick Perry after our memorable showing at the Round Top Chili Cookoff in 2013
        • Entered a chili Cookoff in Round Top, Texas with me (we met the governor of Texas that day after spilling most of our chili on the way – that is another story).
        • Took meals to shut-ins.
        • Started writing a book and had several ideas for new businesses.
        • Was an active and busy wife and Mom, sending one son off to college and attending baseball games (she was the one cheering the loudest), sports banquets and other high school events for the other.  She was the epitome of “Mother Bear” and loved her boys ferociously.
        • Kept her catering business going strong with her husband, providing wonderful food made with love for countless weddings, parties and special events.
        • Spent time with friends and family (it was always a party if Theresa was there, and she always brought something yummy).
        • Refused to let her life be about her illness.  It was easy to forget she was sick, and many people may not have even known she had cancer.

Theresa, you were always seeking and it was a joy to join you for different parts of your journey, including the Evacuation Vacation.  Miss you, we will.  Forget you, we will not.

Tom’s Smoked Salmon

This salmon makes a welcome appearance for parties and holiday meals at Glover Gardens.
This salmon makes a welcome appearance for parties and holiday meals at Glover Gardens.

The Grill-Meister is also a Smoke-Meister.  His wood-smoked salmon is truly awesome.  He started making it years ago with a recipe that came with his first electric smoker and then experimented with different variations.  The White Zinfandel in the brine is a must, he says, having been disappointed when he used other wines or liquids.  (I think he may have found the world’s only good use for White Zinfandel, but that’s another story.)  Tom’s Smoked Salmon is a holiday and party appetizer staple at Glover Gardens, year-round.

Even people who don’t like fish think Tom’s Smoked Salmon is awesome.  It’s just that good.

This recipe is based on the use of an electric smoker that uses wood chips.

Tom’s Wood-Smoked Salmon

Start with 1-2 skinless and boneless fillets this size
Start with 1-2 skinless and boneless fillets this size

1-2 long boneless and skinless salmon fillets; about 3 lbs.

Note:  have the fishmonger remove the skin for you; it’s much easier than doing it yourself and makes for a cleaner and more attractive finished product

Brine:

⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup salt
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 cup white zinfandel wine
1 cup water
1 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. Tabasco

Note: Tom’s spice mixture is amped up from the recipe he started with, and we like it that way.  Dial it back a bit if you want a milder flavor, or increase the amounts for an even zestier kick.

Cut salmon horizontally across the fillet into chunks that are about 2-3 inches wide. Combine all of the brine ingredients in a large bowl, then add the salmon, ensuring that all of the pieces are immersed in the brine by putting plastic wrap directly on top and then placing a plate on the wrap to push the salmon into the brine and keep it there.

Refrigerate the bowl of salmon in brine for eight or more hours or overnight.

Prepare the smoker and set it to 180-185°F, following the instructions to add wood chips (preferably hickory, alder or cherry) during the pre-heat.  Remove the salmon from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.  Lightly spray the wire racks with non-stick spray.  Arrange the salmon pieces on the racks, ensuring that the pieces on each rack are similar in size and thickness.  When the smoker is ready, place the thickest salmon pieces on the bottom rack and the thinnest ones on top.

Smoke for 2-3 hours, depending on the thickness of the salmon, until it is firm (but not stiff) to touch. Thinner pieces may be removed first, then you can reduce the temperature to ~150-160°F and smoke thicker pieces an additional 1-2 hours. Times and temps may vary depending on smoker, salmon thickness and individual preference.

Tip: If the chips stop producing smoke, crank the temp back to 180+, and then lower it again after the smoke re-starts. Keeping the temp as low as possible creates smokier salmon without drying it out.

IMG_0516
Tom’s Smoked Salmon is a marvelous appetizer in any season.

The Little Chief is a great first foray into wood-smoking.
The Little Chief is a great first foray into wood-smoking (their photo).
This is the current smoker the Glover Garden Grill-Meister uses to create smoky goodness.
This MasterBuilt is the current smoker the Glover Garden Grill-Meister uses to create smoky goodness (Amazon photo).

Tom started his wood-smoking journey with a Little Chief electric smoker.  It’s a little workhorse and is still going strong 20 years later at our cabin in the Rockies. The current smoker at Glover Gardens is a MasterBuilt version with a window and electronic controls (click here to see the exact model; he recommends it).  Another blogger shared some good information about electric smokers:  click here.

There probably won’t be any leftovers, but if there are, you could make our Smoked Salmon Spread (or dip) or try this recipe for a next-day salad.  Or you might want to make a double batch, so that you can use a pound of the salmon to create Bon Appetit’s Smoked Salmon 7-Layer Dip.

Glover Gardens Comfort Cookies

Jumbo Comfort Cookies are a family favorite
Jumbo Comfort Cookies are a family favorite

Who doesn’t love a big, soft, goodie-packed cookie?  I found a great basic oatmeal cookie recipe on the Quaker Oats lid, and have been “doctoring it” for years with yummy additions like dried cranberries and chocolate chips.  It’s one of those recipes that changes almost every time I make it, but I’ve captured the essence of it here.

The Grill-Meister and I decided to call them “Comfort Cookies,” because they  evoke a feeling of home and hearth.

Comfort Cookies are sturdy and travel well.  In our family, they’ve been a staple on road trips, are a great Welcome Home! offering and have delighted many a Little Leaguer as the post-game snack. Friends of Glover Gardens have been the happy recipients of these cookies for many, many years.

No one can stop at just one Comfort Cookie
No one can stop at just one Comfort Cookie

Comfort Cookies

Makes 3 dozen jumbo cookies or 5 dozen regular.

Ingredients

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
¾ tsp. salt
2 sticks of butter, softened
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla
3 cups of dried oats/oatmeal (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
½ cup regular or golden raisins (I prefer golden)
1 cup dried cranberries or cherries
1¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
12 oz. package of semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ 12 oz. package of white chocolate chips (about ¾ cup)
½ 12 oz. package of peanut butter chips (about ¾ cup)

Assemble everything, and mix the dry ingredients first
Assemble everything, and mix the dry ingredients first

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl and stir to mix well. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugars on medium speed of electric mixer until light and fluffy (or use a stand mixer). Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt, mix well. Add oats, raisins, dried cranberries or cherries, nuts and chocolate and peanut butter chips. Stir until just blended.

Drop dough onto ungreased cookie sheets in your desired size: a rounded tablespoon will make cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter; about ¼ cup of dough will make a jumbo cookie. Bake 8 – 10 minutes for the smaller cookies or until light golden brown; jumbo cookies will require 12-14 minutes. Cool slightly on cookie sheets before removing to a wire rack.


These cookies are cousins of both Cowboy Cookies and Everything Cookies, but I like them just a bit better. They’ve got something for everyone and enough healthy ingredients and fiber that you don’t have to feel super-guilty about eating them. When my son was small, he would sometimes twist my arm to have them for breakfast, and with coffee, they make a nice breakfast treat for grownups. Good with milk, they also make a wonderful snack with a nightcap: try them with Frangelico or Kahlua.

Have a Comfort Cookie with a nightcap of Frangelico
Have a Comfort Cookie with a nightcap of Frangelico

 

Note: if you’re interested in the original recipe from the Quaker Oats box (before they changed it to make it healthier – and less yummy), another blogger has done a public service by posting it: click here.

Copyright 2015, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Grilled Asparagus Our Way

Asparagus is a gift from God
Asparagus is a gift from God

A side dish we love-love-love here at Glover Gardens is grilled asparagus.  Not just any grilled asparagus, grilled asparagus our way.  That means lots of lemon, lots of garlic, and lots of olive oil to coat those delightful, al denté spears of love.

The Grill-Meister didn’t love vegetables growing up; in fact, he hated them.  With a passion. Something about them being cooked to mush…

The Grill-Meister loves grilled asparagus so much that he grows it now. You'd never know he's a vegetable-hater.
First Asparagus Harvest. The Grill-Meister loves grilled asparagus so much that he grows it now. You’d never know he’s a vegetable-hater.

It’s alway a victory for me if I can get the Grill-Meister and the Bio Son to eat vegetables.  The Bonus Son understands the importance of vegetables and needs no prompting.  It’s the garlic and lemon that push this dish into the win category for the vegetable-haters. We even started growing our own asparagus to keep up with the demand. Here’s a nice little post about what you need to do to grow asparagus:  click here.

The Grill-Meister at work. He does the asparagus last and lets the meat rest.
The Grill-Meister at work. He does the asparagus last and lets the meat rest.

The recipe is Grilled Asparagus Our Way; it’s simple and you can throw the asparagus on after you grill the main course.

There’s some debate about how many servings this recipe makes.  My (humble) opinion is that it serves 4.  Four normal people, that is. When there’s a Reformed Vegetable Hater, it may only serve two.  Be warned.

Ingredients

Prep for Grilling
1 lb. bunch of asparagus, washed, with ends cut off (thicker asparagus stalks work better, but this is ok if that’s the only asparagus available
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
generous pinch of red pepper flakes

The After-Grilling Treatment
grated rind of 2 lemons
juice of two lemons
3 cloves of garlic, pressed (mince finely if you don’t have a garlic press)
another generous pinch of red pepper flakes
more coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1/8 – 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

Gather all of the ingredients.  Put the washed and trimmed asparagus into a serving dish and drizzle it with the 2 tbsp olive oil, then top with the first red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Be generous.  Use tongs to toss and make sure that all of the asparagus spears are covered with the oil and yummy spices.

Then put the grated lemon rind, lemon juice, pressed garlic, additional red pepper flakes, salt and pepper in a small dish, adding the rest of the olive oil.  Use the smaller measure if you are watching calories, and the 1/4 cup measure if you just want those beautiful green asparagus spears to swim in yummy goodness.  If you go for the larger pour of olive oil, there will be some of the juices left after all of the asparagus is gone, and you will dutifully save it to use in a marinade or salad dressing.

Grill the asparagus for a few minutes on a gas or charcoal grill, turning at least once.  Get a little char for more flavor and character.  Remove from the grill, adding back to the original serving dish, and douse immediately with the lemon/garlic/olive oil mixture.  The hot asparagus will soak up those lovely flavors and become your best friend.

Serve hot.

Ready to Assemble
First you assemble everything; then you get the asparagus ready to grill
Add only some olive oil and spices before grilling
Add only some olive oil and spices before grilling
Ready for the Grill
Get the rest of the flavors ready for the asparagus to absorb while it’s hot after coming off the grill
The Grillmeister turns the flames up and sears the spears
The Grillmeister turns the flames up and sears the spears
This salmon pairs beautifully with grilled asparagus.
The grilled asparagus pairs beautifully with any grilled meat, and especially with grilled salmon.

Copyright 2015, Glover Gardens Cookbook

Found Recipe: (Marvelous) Planked Salmon with (Marvelous) Spice Rub

If you’ve read my About page, you know that I really like to play with recipes. Add this, increase that, amp up the spices a bit…you know the drill.  Well, once in a while, I find a recipe that simply can’t be improved.  I try, but…the recipe is already perfect.

Cedar Planks
Click here to order the cedar planks from Amazon.

This is one of those recipes.

The Planked Salmon with Spice Rub recipe is on the back of the Fire & Flavor cedar planks label. You can find the planks at home improvement stores and grocery stores in the outdoor cooking and grilling sections, but the Fire & Flavor web site doesn’t include this recipe.

It is my civic duty to post it for you.

This recipe serves four as an appetizer course or two as a main course.

The spice rub assembles quickly and is just the right balance of sweet and spicy
The spice rub assembles quickly and is just the right balance of sweet and spicy

Rub
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp coarse salt
2 tsp ancho chilé powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper

Salmon
4 6 oz. salmon filets (skin on)
1 Fire & Flavor cedar grilling plank, soaked
honey for drizzling

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. In a small mixing bowl, combine the spice rub ingredients. Rub salmon with all of the spice rub and set aside.

I add a few sliced red onions and poblano peppers if there is room left on the cedar plank.
I add a few sliced red onions and poblano peppers if there is room left on the cedar plank.

Place soaked plank on preheated grill, close the lid, and heat for 3 minutes. Using tongs, turn the plank over and place the salmon on the heated side of the plank, skin side down. Close the lid and grill for about 12-15 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove from the grill and drizzle generously with honey. Serve immediately.

Note: don’t skimp on the honey; it’s part of the perfection of this recipe. The honey bonds with the spices on the hot salmon and almost makes a crust. It is indescribably good.  The salmon doesn’t need a sauce but we often serve my Pico de Gallo or Salsa as a condiment.  It’s also good with an avocado sauce.

This salmon pairs beautifully with grilled asparagus.
This salmon pairs beautifully with grilled asparagus and a crisp white wine like Pinot Gris or Sauvignon Blanc.

The Grill-Meister and I absolutely love this grilled salmon and we could eat it every week.  We never have leftovers unless we double the recipe. The salmon is great the next day flaked over a simple spinach and red onion salad that has been tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Crab Quesadillas

OK, who doesn’t love quesadillas? They’re like a tiny, warm little sandwich your mother made for you to eat after school. Yum. Portable, finger-food, dip-able, easy to make.

Did I say yum? Did I say easy?

I’ve got a dozen quesadilla approaches, maybe more.  Today I’m sharing with you the crab version. It’s easy, classy and a great appetizer for guests.  It can also be a main course for family dinner on Sunday night, served with something clean and fresh on the side like cucumber salad. The delicate taste of the crab is beautifully balanced by the warm crunch of the tortilla and the spice of the condiments.  And for all you seafood haters, just substitute chopped or shredded chicken for the crab.

Delicate and yet spicy, these quesadillas are finger-food heaven
Delicate and yet spicy, these quesadillas are finger-food heaven; serve them with condiments for dipping.

This recipe serves four as a main course or 8-10 as an appetizer.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups cooked lump crabmeat, or two 6 oz. cans, drained
3 green onions, chopped
1 can of green chiles, hot or mild, depending on your taste
2 cups of shredded Monterrey jack cheese, divided
1/3 cup of mayonnaise (I use light mayo)
1/4 cup of cilantro, chopped
1 tsp Zippy Southwest or other southwest spice mix
2 tbsp olive oil
12 flour tortillas

Cooking Instructions
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together the crabmeat, green onions, green chiles, 1 cup of the shredded jack cheese, mayonnaise, cilantro and seasoning until completely mixed.

Put olive oil in a small bowl and arrange six tortillas on one or two baking sheets.  Using a pastry brush, spread olive oil on one side of the tortillas, then turn them over and top with the crab mixture, dividing it evenly between the six tortillas. Distribute the remaining 1 cup of shredded jack cheese evenly over the crab mixture, then top with another tortilla.  Spread olive oil on the top tortillas, then put the quesadillas in the oven and set the timer for 7 minutes.  Turn over the quesadillas after 7 minutes and check after an additional 3 minutes.  The tortillas should be lightly browned.

Cut into quarters and serve hot with sides of your choice:  sour cream, Pico de Gallo, guacamole and salsa.

Assemble the filling ingredients first
Assemble the filling ingredients first
This is what it looks like after you mix it
This is what it looks like after you mix it
Spread the filling evenly on the tortillas
Spread the filling evenly on the tortillas
After you top the quesadilla with the second tortillas, spread the tops with olive oil
After you top the quesadilla with the second tortillas, spread the tops with olive oil
The finished product is a delightful and appealing finger food
The finished product is a delightful and appealing finger food

Glover Gardens Salsa

Published in 1994, this cookbook still rocks.
Published in 1994, this cookbook still rocks.  Find her recipes online.

I might be a Condiment-aholic.  I love-love-love condiments. Especially those with southwest flavors.  One of the simplest, oldest and best of the southwest condiments is salsa. I found a wonderful fresh salsa recipe years ago in a cookbook called Jane Butel’s Southwestern Kitchen, her Garden Fresh Salsa (click here).  Over the years, I added a little of this and subtracted a little of that, and pretty soon it was my own recipe.

The pepper harvest during the summer is bright and colorful and SPICY.
The pepper harvest during the summer is bright and colorful and SPICY.

I love to make it in the summer when the garden is overflowing with peppers.

Salsa goes with just about everything!

Here are some of the ways you can use this salsa, in addition to the comfort-food snack of tortilla chips and salsa:

  • As a quick sauce for a flat-iron steak
  • On grilled meats, grilled fish or grilled vegetables
  • Mixed with olive oil and Zippy Southwest (or your favorite spice mix) to make a marinade
  • Mixed with cream cheese for a quick spread
  • Poured over a goat cheese log for an easy but elegant appetizer
  • Atop poached eggs, toast and bacon for a variation of Eggs Benedict
  • As a dollop on top of hot tomato soup
  • Added to ground beef before you shape it into burgers
  • As a spread for a southwestern turkey panini or in a grilled cheese sandwich
  • And the obvious – as a required condiment for all sorts of yummy Tex-Mex or Mex-Mex dishes, like quesadillas, tacos, burritos, taquitos, etc.
This garden-fresh salsa has beautiful colors and a bold spicy taste

There’s a long list of ingredients in this recipe, but this salsa comes together quickly.

Ingredients
1 bunch of cilantro, washed, ends removed
Leaves from 4-5 sprigs of fresh oregano
Leaves from 1 bunch fresh basil (10-15 leaves)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2 whole pickled jalapenos or 2 tbsp sliced pickled jalapenos (choose your desired level of heat)
2-6 fresh chile peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
1 bell pepper, any color, roughly chopped
½ Spanish onion, roughly chopped
28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained (reserve the juice)
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp of honey
2 tsp of coarse sea salt
¼ tsp cumin
1 cup of fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, roughly chopped

Cooking Instructions
Assemble cilantro, oregano, basil, garlic and pickled jalapenos in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely chopped.

Add the chile peppers, bell pepper and onion and pulse 8-10 times until the additional ingredients are about a medium dice. Add drained tomatoes and pulse about 4 times.

Add lime juice, vinegar, honey, salt, cumin and ½ cup of the reserved juice from the canned tomatoes, then pulse several times. Pour into a medium bowl and then add the chopped fresh tomatoes.

Stir, taste and adjust seasonings, adding more of the reserved juice from the tomatoes if you’d like the consistency to be thinner.

Makes about 5 cups, but doesn’t last long!

Herbs, garlic and pickled jalapeños are processed first.
Herbs, garlic and pickled jalapeños are processed first.
Peppers and onions are added next.
Peppers and onions are added next.
This is how it looks after the peppers and onions are added.
This is how it looks after the peppers and onions are added.
The fresh tomatoes are added at the end.
The fresh tomatoes are added at the end.
The result is a yummy, spicy salsa that can be enjoyed right away.
The result is a yummy, spicy salsa that can be enjoyed right away.

You can play with this salsa in all kinds of ways.  Substitute cider vinegar for more of an acidic kick, or double the lime juice and leave out the vinegar altogether for a super-fresh citrus taste. Adding a chipotle pepper instead of the pickled jalapeños will give the salsa a sultry smokiness. Leave in the seeds and ribs of the peppers  if you want to increase the heat, or toss in a pinch or two of red pepper flakes at the end.  

You can serve the salsa immediately, but it’s amazing if you let it rest in the refrigerator for an hour or two and the let it come to room temperature before serving.

Copyright 2015, Glover Gardens Cookbook