Cooking with Myra: Surprised by joy

Oct. 11, 2011 at 5:11 a.m.

Black Jack Grilled Lamb Chops with Mary's Tomato Pie

Black Jack Grilled Lamb Chops with Mary's Tomato Pie

By Myra StarkeyFor the past two years, my friend, Mary Ann, has invited a few friends to go to her house in the mountains of New Mexico and just hang out for a few days. None of us expect her to entertain us because we all go with one purpose, and that is to simply enjoy being with each other. It is a communion of "stitchers." I use that term loosely to encompass those who needlepoint, knit, crochet and weave. At one time in our lives, many of us, or perhaps I should say that many of us females, have picked up a needle and thread, crochet hook or knitting needles and have made something we still treasure. Guys generally lean to more manly pursuits, such as woodworking. We have all learned there is great joy in making something with your own hands. The greater joy is in giving it away to someone who appreciates it.

This year's stitching retreat was a pleasure. Most of the time, Mary Ann, Kim, Kathleen, Barbara and I sat around the kitchen table and talked, but of course, our hands were busy creating. I was the lone knitter while the others needlepointed Christmas stockings. Their detailed creations would be treasured gifts to children or grandchildren. I started a new shawl project with beautiful wools of pastel gray and blue, all with different textures.

One day, we ventured into Taos to attend their annual wool festival. I was the most interested in the vendors selling wool, which had come from their own flocks of sheep or long-haired goats. The festival was a feast for the eyes and hands. I loved touching the wool in various stages, from its raw form to yarn to woven garment. They had sheep shearing demonstrations, and I watched in awe as the expert shearer removed the wool from the animal while it seemed mesmerized by the machine. As he sheared, the wool fell off like the beast was wearing a coat. Amazing. I also saw baby alpacas and pygora goats (a mix of pygmy and angora). These goats would nuzzle your hands in hope of a treat. I left with hand dyed yarn and visions of the wool sweaters I would make. We toured through a few art galleries before leaving Taos with one last stop at Baskin Robbins for Kathleen's favorite "Jamoca almond fudge" ice cream.

Our remaining days were spent waking to a view more beautiful than most I have seen. The surrounding mountains were covered by thousands of spruce, pines and aspens. The aspens were beginning their fall display of color change from green to orange to bright yellow which contrasted against their stark white bark and the deep green of the surrounding evergreens and the deep blue of the mountain skies. The meadows were lush green with tall grasses swaying in the breezes. It was already well below freezing at night with daytime highs in the mid-60s. After nightfall, we would sit on the back porch and listen to coyotes mournfully howl to one another under the moonlit skies.

Another day, we hiked to a creek in hopes of spotting beavers, which had been building a dam. This was a remote spot and involved a long uphill hike which was really testing the lung capacity of all of us middle-aged, sea-level residing flat-landers. We finally made it to the secluded valley. The tell-tale signs of chewed yearling trees were all around us as we neared the creek. The beavers' wooden dam was clear to see and resulted in a small, scenic pond. The beavers themselves were hiding, either away from us in the woods, or perhaps in their den. We all helped with the meals. One night, Mary Ann and her husband, Robert, cooked lamb chops basted with a Black Jack sauce, green beans with pecans, and tomato pie. I prepared chocolate pots de creme for dessert. We sat around the table with flickering candles reflecting off the adobe walls of the dining room.

Our plates sat on twig mats and the meal was magical. We told stories of our youth, which bound us together and allowed us to know one another through the threads of our life experiences. I sat quietly thinking how blessed it is to be in such a beautiful place among friends. I often found myself contentedly smiling for no specific reason. It perhaps was partially because of the fact that I was off work, traipsing around beautiful country seeing nature at its best. I was soaking up every moment of this grandeur.

It was an amazing few days, and I was surprised by the joy I experienced. I think that I usually have so much to do at work and home that I fail to see the beauty outside my own window. I vow to spend more time sitting and looking at all God's handiwork.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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