Monday, May 6, 2019

Wild Foraging

One of my favorite times of year is Spring. As Brad is an Organic Farmer and me, a Master Chef, we are always looking for unique and lovely foods to enhance and highlight the meals we prepare for guests. Mother Nature is the best artist in the world and is very creative; growing unique, strange and wonderful things that are delicious and edible. These little gems are able to be found through “Wild Foraging”. Foraging for wild food is a great way to experience the natural world and connect with something ancient and primal within ourselves. Each spring and summer you can find us out foraging for amazing foods such as our coveted Morel Mushrooms, Curley dock, Lady Fern Fiddleheads, Ramps/wild leek, Dandelion Flowers, Chickweed, Clover, Wildbriar Shoots and

I have included some photos to see how pretty 
and fresh these wild things can be.

Prickly Pear

Several Rules apply to wild foraging.  

1)Never consume wild food unless you are 100% sure of its identification. 

2)Know the look-alike plants (some look alike are poisonous).

3)Know the season to pick each plant,  

4) Don't harvest all the plants, leave some to grow wild, so they go to seed and replenish for next year, prepare your wild things correctly.  

5)Never pick in places subjected to pollution

6) Go slowly try a new plant in small bits.

7) Avoid all plants with white berries

8) Try to avoid plants with white sap (some exceptions- Dandelion, Fig,  Thistle

Wild Mustang Grape
Foraging is a wonderful thing to learn for oneself and to teach others to respect nature and learn about the environment.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Night Belongs to the Mud Bug!

 Crawfish boil night is one of our local annual fundraisers that I love, the Sacred Heart School Crawfish Boil.  I'll be honest... I'm a convert.  I never liked crawfish. I have become a tail cracking, corn eating, full fan, lover of the mudbug!

3rd Annual Crawfish BoilMy kids went to school at Sacred Heart, so I went to the first of these annual events to support the school, but I had a blast!  I caught up with old friends and made new ones. The first year I would not go near the crawfish, I just enjoyed the company and the band.  They always bring in a great act.

Image may contain: one or more people and people on stage The next year I was there and found myself in a showdown , at a table with a group of friends, I sat and sipped my chardonnay as they wolfed down tail after tail of the red tiny lobsters.  Then it happened... the gauntlet was laid down by a beer fueled challenge from a friend of ours. 
They offered me a twenty dollar bill to try one crawfish. I scoffed at the idea.  Then through the laughter, the pot was raised.  "Fifty Dollars!" another friend shouted and threw another twenty and a ten into the pot. No, my pride and taste could not be bought! Then another friend tossed in a hundred dollar bill on top! Now... I'm not a woman who escapes her convictions by any means... but I am an accountant and the numbers were crunching in my head. About 10 seconds of chewing for $150 does come out to an hourly rate of $900. 
Before I could let that sink in another friend piped up and threw in another hundred and before I could say anything, my right hand grabbed the money and my left grabbed a crawfish off of my husband's plate! 
Image may contain: food
Apparently I did have a price! 
I looked at the thing.  I wasn't sure what to do with it, but everyone else was. So encouragement and directions came from all sides as I stared down the thing... literally... it had eyes.
I broke the tail off and cracked the thing open.  I pulled the meat out and cringed as I could smell it.  I slowly moved my hand to my mouth,  wincing at the thought.
Then I opened my mouth.
I took the bite.IT. WAS. DELICIOUS.
I savored the flavor.  It was like a guilty pleasure.  A dirty little shrimp. I had no clue what I had been missing out on!
The peanut gallery erupted at the obvious pleasure on my face!  They cheered and laughed.
I? I went to the crawfish bar and got myself a plate of mudbugs with the easriest $250 I ever earned in my pocket!
I also won a mani-pedi at the silent auction, for oddly enough... $250.

Should Auld Acquaintances Be Forgotten....

This is one of my favorite times of the year. New Year's Eve is the culmination of a month of good times that starts on Thanksgiving. I get to see my family, as all of our kids come home at one time or another throughout the season. This year my son who lives in Denver came for Thanksgiving and Christmas! But NYE is the cap to the season. Every year, at the end of the season, we do a special celebration for our past guests. Our annual New Year's Eve Murder Mystery Dinner is a blast!
We sell out as soon as we announce the theme, usually in June or July, and the event is only open to guests who have stayed with us before. It's our own little way to say thank you to our guests and a fun exciting way to get to know everyone on a more personal level.  
We always get to meet new people and love making friends with our guests when the occasion arises. Some of our closest friendships we have forged over the years have come from the insanity that comes on this night!
We go all out to decorate the manor for the occasion and spend the whole day preparing the food for the event.
All of the guests dress up in costume to match their character, and we offer prizes for different contests, the favorite one being the best costume prize. Some of our guests have truly gone all out, with one year that had an American Revolution period theme included a gentleman that stayed in his powdered wig the entire weekend!
The food is always fun with a 6-course dinner on the agenda, I love stretching my chef's muscles!  
We have the dining room decked out to set the stage for the event of the season. It was so well done that when my son came by to drop off a late-arriving Christmas gift (thank you Amazon!), he thought there was an actual crime that had happened!
We start at 6:30pm after all the guests have had the day to relax, get massages,  play with the goats while relaxing with a handcrafted charcuterie delivered to guests, with house-made chevre, asiago, gouda, and Brads smoked meats to set the mood. The evening has gone along with all participating in the Murder Mystery as our staff brings both food and clues along the way. Things always get exciting as the free-flowing wine works it's magic and the night progresses.  
At the culmination of the evening, we all go outside to ring in the New Year with our great fireworks display, a champagne toast, and singing of Auld Lang Syne!

Come stay with us for a getaway soon, and then be eligible to join our Murder Mystery, with raucous fun next year! 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Chef Marcia’s Awesome Drunken Turkey Brine Recipe

Turkey Day is almost here and I use this every year!!

In a large pot

Warm over the stove just till salt and brown sugar dissolved:
1 cup water
4 cups of apple cider
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sea salt
1T smoked cinnamon 
1T grated ginger
1T pink peppercorns
2-3 Springs of, Basil, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme
2 star anise 
Once dissolved :
6 sliced carrot-
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 lemon cut in quarters 
3 bay leaf
2 grated garlic Cloves
2 chopped apples
4 cups beer
3 chopped shallots

I chill this Brine 12-24 hours before adding Turkey. 

In a large pot that will hold your turkey ( I have been known to use a large bucket - that has a tight-fitting lid).

Stir the brine well before adding Turkey.   I like to brine 24-48 hours.

The flavor becomes deeper and richer at 24+hrs. Don’t forget about the Turkey!!! Stir the contents around the Turkey every 

12 hours so flavors remain integrated with each other. 

Enjoy- Bon Appetite! 

Have an amazing Thanksgiving from

Elm Creek Manor

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Up Up and Away!

At dinner with some friends the other night, I was offered a chance to go flying.  I've been in airplanes of all types before, but not this one, and not here.  I leapt at the opportunity.  
Early afternoon the next day I received a message that my friend was going to be free all day.  My husband had made plans with his brother for that afternoon, but my son was free, so we jumped in the car and pointed towards the Gainesville airport.

We pulled up to the airport and met my friend for a preflight prep.  He explained what kind of airplane we were going to be flying in, a 1960's Piper Comanche.  A plane that was designed as a personal executive flier has held up amazingly!  This beautiful machine looked like it was moving as it sat in the hangar waiting to take us to it's playground.

We got in and put on the headphones so we could speak to each other as the plane hummed along, and waited as our pilot did his checks.  We maneuvered to the runway and he gunned the throttle.  We launched forward and quickly climbed into the sky.

It was a clear day and quickly we could see for miles as the runway behind us became a band-aid.
As we climbed he told us that we would be flying all over Muenster and the Red River.

In minutes we were on top of the inn! we flew some circles over our house and I snagged a few pictures from above.  Feeling like a bird looking down was really fun.  Though it was a bit hot and as we flew over the house the blue pool looked very inviting... had a brief thought of a very high dive.

We turned and came over the town a moment later.  It was bustling and our friends were working and eating and going about their lives as we looked down from above and had a lark.

We headed north and flew along the river.  It zoomed past us quicker than any boat had ever gone on those waters, and zoomed over a group of kids riding dirt bikes, trying so hard to grab just a taste of the air we were playing in.

After a while we headed back to the Gainesville airport.  We lined up and came to a smooth landing for a clean end to a fun trip.  

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Star Spangled 1st 4th

We have a lot of fun each year with our annual New Year's Eve party, so this year we decided to start a new tradition.  Usually, we are slow around the 4th of July, so we have not tried to do anything with the inn. Modus Operandi has usually meant closing and going out to the lake.  But we had a thought that maybe people would like a break from the crowds for the holiday, so we decided to put together our type of party!

Our invitation was well received, and we were sold out quickly.  What we came up with was our take on traditional Americana celebration of our nation's independence.  Guests were excited to be a part of the fun and the staff was too. 

The day's events began at 3pm with the opening of the bar at the pool.  My second oldest son has almost as vast a knowledge of craft cocktails as I do food... so he says.  He was free and volunteered to serve as our master mixer for the day.  He was pretty excited because he loved his time "behind bars"... he was not in prison, but did bartend for a long time and also owned a music venue that was craft cocktail focused. 

The adult offerings included beer, ciders, wine, and tipsy watermelon squares to go along with his Margarita Bar.  Each of these was made with a secret blend of spiced salt rim and hand squeezed juice upon order with options including jalapeno, watermelon, sangria as well as tradicional margarita.  Admittedly, they were as good as they were potent.  So I was told.  By me. 

With libations firmly in hand, we started the day off with an intermittent schedule of games, events, refreshments and pool time for everyone to participate in as they chose.  The games included pretty decent prizes, so everyone was even happier to join in the fun.

The first of these was a water balloon toss that one couple was surprisingly good at and won with ease... they clearly had the youngest children.  The victors took home some beautiful German style art pieces depicting some local attractions along with a gift bag from shops in our town.

The next game was a more challenging one.  It was a foot race up the hill in front of the manor house.  But... not just a footrace, it was a 6 legged race.  To win, you had to bring one of our tiny donkeys up the hill and back with you.  As you can imagine, this was more of a challenge, as donkeys can be kind of an ass.  This one was won by a crafty gentleman who snuck a handful of feed out of the donkey's bucket! He won some custom made aluminum reusable insulated water bottles for himself and his date.

Next came Dinner.  This included smoked home ground sausage, smoked chicken, reverse seared, smoked steaks, and sides were smoked cream corn in husk boats, a fresh dill potato salad, bbq ratatouille, rosemary and pork ranch style beans. As we had all worked up an appetite we all devoured the meal before festivities carried on.

The last game of the day was a challenge game.  There was a board of red white and blue balloons in the shape of a flag that each contained dares.  Players picked and popped a balloon and read the challenge aloud.  This was a last man standing game, as players could choose to attempt the challenge, or drop out, and still had to complete it to advance to the next round.  I will say, that I wasn't expecting the tequila to factor in so much as it did as a performance enhancing drug. 

Players inhibitions were low and courage was high... this lead to some very memorable challenge acceptances.  We saw mustard, ketchup, cholula, and a raw egg all taken as shots, an arm shaved, feet smelt, and peanut butter both used as a face rejuvenator and eaten off another competitor among many other things!  In the end, the winner took home a 2 night stay at the manor for future use, and it was well earned.

This ate up the time for the sun to finally make it's way down the sky, so we made our way to the rear of the property for our own fireworks display.  My husband, son and our groundskeeper donned lighters and punks and set the night ablaze with morters and the like so that we could have a taste of the rockets red glare, bombs bursting in air, and all the proof in the night that our flag was still there.

As a nightcap, the bar made it's last drinks as we all made s'mores with homemade marshmallows and chocolate bars atop traditional graham crackers. It made for a perfect parking break to our First Annual Elm Creek Manor 4th of July Celebration.  Hope to see you all next year! ...or sooner.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Where a Kid Can Be a Kid

We don't get a lot of tiny visitors around here, being an adults only hideaway, but, recently my grandson, Jack, from San Antonio, came to visit while we were closed for some remodeling.  I thought I would take the chance to get in some Grammy time!  With the first couple of days spent exploring around the property and getting dirty as boys so readily do, I made plans for that Saturday afternoon to take a fun country day trip. What I didn't know was how much fun I would have on a trip geared towards being a kid, but hey grown people still love s'mores, right?!

Now, Jack is incredibly smart, but a quiet boy.  He loves museums and history, with a mild obsession with the Titanic, so I had an idea to draw him out of his shell.  I knew we had a some local places, a few of which I have written about before, that he would really enjoy, and so we set out on our adventure.

To add a little ambiance, I made a call to my son, who lives up here.  He loves projects, and is restoring an old Ford 4x4 pickup.  At this point, it's running great, so I asked if we could borrow it for the day.  As Jack got in the big truck, he asked where we were going, and I told him we were going to get lost and find our way back... by which he was thoroughly confused, and said can't you just push the map button?  I explained that this was an old truck and there was no button for navigation.

As Jack peppered me with questions about where and why we were going and looked at wonder at the old truck with no A/C or TV screens anywhere.  You could easily see he was definitely not sure about the old beast.  But with the windows down and the radio up, we rolled down the highway.  After a few minutes, his wand was out the window surfing in the wind, and I knew he was coming around.

As we rolled deeper into the country outside of St. Jo, to the East, we stopped at a road side driveway.  There was a little gate leading into a pasture that had a number of installments placed where they could easily be seen from the road.  A man's retirement art project, these curiosities loom large on the scene.  As long as you are respectful, it's ok to step through and get a closer look at the pieces on display.  We weaved through them, Jack wide eyed as we walked.  The pieces incorporate a lot of interesting media, spanning from telephone poles to Volkswagens and airplane engines. 

Getting back in the truck, we pointed towards Nocona and Horton's Classic Car Museum.  Jack said he wasn't all that into sports cars, but I know little boys, of all ages, a bit better than that.  As we walked into the building housing 120 classic and modern muscle cars, he was slack jawed.  Strolling through the large bulding with so many cool and odd machines we were both taken aback.  The one that stood out the most was the spce ship looking "Mach 5", from the movie Speed Racer, which had a few props included in the display.

As we left Nocona and headed back to St. Jo for our next stop, the heat of the day had come on pretty heavily.  It is only about a 15 mile drive down a country highway, but as we pulled up to the town square, we were both ready for some A/C and a cold one.

We stepped into "Lonely Hearts Grill" next door to our next stop and grabbed a cool spot inside to relax for a moment.  When the server came to the table to take our order, Jack exclaimed "root beer!"  he said that they in fact had the "best root beer on the planet", Sioux City Root Beer.  I could see the look on his face said "I'll be the judge of that".  Alongside the slice of homemade pie we split, he seemed content with that description.

Refreshed, we made our way to the International Ordinance Museum.  This was an easy slam dunk, taking a boy to a tank and cannon museum, but I actually really found it interesting!  They had all sorts of old memorabilia and even a Japanese anti-aircraft prop cannon from the movie Pearl Harbor.  The owners were onsite and had lots of interesting anecdotes and stories that left jack wide eyed and me surprisingly intrigued.

With the day dragging on and time to start cooking dinner looming, we headed back to the manor.  When we gave the truck back to my son, Jack was going on and on about the root beer he had found and the tank that got blown up by a trick shot through a viewing window into the ammo stock inside.  I felt warm knowing I had found a way to melt his quiet exterior for a bit.  he also said he like the old truck because the A/C was broken and we got to drive with the windows down.  Then the phone rang and the radio on the truck shut off so it could be answered, to which Jack, perplexed, retorted "how did the truck get Bluetooth, it was made before they invented phones?!"