Jane and I spent last week-end at a culinary school in the Hill Country of Texas, a little west of Austin, the state capital. The weather was the pits, for the most part, with lots of rain, wind, and cold temperatures. So, I will leave it to you to guess if a good time was had by all! A few observations (or, perhaps, facts) may assist in your evaluation.
First, the website listed the location as Dripping Springs, Texas! Well, that is not exactly true. You drive through Dripping Springs to Henly, then proceed to the end of the earth, and, finally, take a right at the unmarked entry with the pink ribbons! The gravel road onto the property winds through the scrub junipers common to the Hill Country, past the donkey pasture (more to follow on the donkeys) up to the crest of the hill to an attractive home and 3 cabins nestled in the trees. The main house has a stunning infinity pool, outdoor fireplace, pavilion, and grills for customer use. Altogether, a beautiful setting……once you finally get there.
Upon checking into our little cabin, I noticed all the little plastic-embossed notes reminding guests of certain expectations. For example, we were to turn off all lights when not in the cabin. Also, please separate the trash into various recycling bins! And, be sparing with the use of water as it is a rare commodity in the Hill Country. Later, we found that the owner/head chef, let’s be original and call her “Julia,” is into “noise pollution” as well, since there were no speakers at the pool for crazy stuff….like, say, dancing!!! And, Julia is against “night-light pollution”….whatever that is! I’m betting she voted for Obama, too!
Back to the water situation for a minute…..the farm has its own internal water system with a “ozonation” process in which all water (rain, toilet, etc.) is trapped in tanks on the property, treated with “natural” chemicals, ultra violet light, micron filtration, and re-used! Actually, a good idea and, obviously, embraced by the extremely environmentally friendly owner! I’m guessing that she must have lived in California at some point in her past life!
Jane discovered (from one of the little plastic cards) that open-toed shoes are not advised on the farm since snakes, scorpions, and “other critters” abound! Guess what type of shoes Jane brought with her? You’ve got it…..ALL open-toed! Now we are off to find a pair of tennis shoes for Jane. Remember, I said go to the end of the earth and turn right…..well if you turn left and drive 15 miles you will come to a Dollar General store. Note that I did not say a Dollar Store….I said a Dollar General store. And, they did not carry tennis shoes (or, for that matter, any shoe acceptable to Jane), so we headed back to the end of the earth looking for the little pink ribbons at the gate!
Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we bought a small bag of carrots, so Jane could feed the cute, but smelly, donkeys on the way back into the farm. We stopped at the fence and the fat, fuzzy little burrows came running as fast as their stumpy little legs would let them. They enjoyed the carrots and rewarded Jane with a “hee-yaw-yaw” or two. According to the booklet in the room, the donkeys have names! While I could not figure out which one was actually “Midnight”, I could read the capitalized letters that said: DO NOT FEED THE DONKEYS!……unless it is a “donkey approved snack!” Oops! No wonder those guys were so fat!!
As night fell on Friday, a certain kind of eeriness overtook the darkness. There is something very different about being at the end of the earth surrounded by vast areas of nothingness. The quiet was overwhelming. Jane began to conjure visions of Freddy Krueger and all sort of horror movie scripts where the innocent tourist is attacked in their sleep by the creepy voyeur in the night. Well, that didn’t happen, but it was hard to sleep because the couple above us wore combat boots like the invasion of Big Foot and, wait for it, the sheets were noisy! The sheets seemed to be starched and whenever I turned in bed (which, I must admit, is frequently), it made a scraping sound! In addition, the pillows were goose-down that could be shaped into a ball small enough to fit in a golf bag……it was a challenge getting to sleep!
Hold it…..back up a minute! I forgot to tell you about the shower in the cabin! These “casitas” are designed for 2 people and have a beautiful glassed-in shower….no tub!! The water pressure from the “internal water system” was almost non-existent. In fact, the water falls straight down on you like a dozen Tinkerbells were peeing a fine mist on you. There was an outdoor shower, but it was so cold, I did not dare try it. Besides, Freddy was out there waiting for me!
We awoke to muffins left for us by Julia to start our day! They came in a little John Wayne lunch box like the one your parents carried as kids! Cute! And the muffins were delicious! The coffee was strong and we were ready for a tour of the area before the class officially started at 4 PM on Saturday!
We did a short tour of the “end of the earth” and made it back in time for a short nap before class started! The weather was too dreary to enjoy the hammock, bocce ball, swimming pool, or walking in the orchard (which consisted of 6 small fruit trees)!
Finally, 4 PM arrived and it was time to meet the other participants in the class. There were 10 people with name tags which were promptly covered by the aprons that Julia gave us to wear. There were three couples: Jane and I, Dan and Portia, and Will and Dave! Add three women friends that made the trip as a week-end getaway from their husbands, another lady who lived in Austin, and the gang is all here! The lady from Austin was a quiet as a church mouse….just did her assigned job and kept to herself. The gay guys toiled making fish tacos and bumped into each other a lot. The leader of the threesome on their getaway was a rode-hard, “put-up-wet gal” we will call Ruth. She and her buddies are hard drinking, loud laughing, chain-smoking, good timers that are going to find fun no matter where they go! All they need is a little social lubrication in the form of anything alcoholic and they are ready to rock and roll. To say that we had a broad spectrum is putting it mildly! But the whole group were all good people; fun to be around and all ready for a new experience.
As each of us finished our tasks, the meal began to take shape. The scrapes from the ingredients we used to prepare three Mexican entres were carefully segregated into their respective recycling baskets; and the conversation strayed. Ruth was lamenting on the federal budget and the out-of-control spending of what she called the “liberals.” Julia overheard Ruth and retorted, “Being liberal is not a birth defect!” As Julia turned away, Ruth whispered one of her friends, “For her, it is!”
Around the dinner table, the conversation was all over the place. Ruth, seated between the gay couple, told the guys that she read that Greg Louganis wanted to be on Dancing With The Stars and that, for her, he brought a whole new meaning to the term, “gay!” Everyone chuckled, but I don’t think everyone thought it was funny.
Dave told us all about his “roux” experiment in which he spend the entire day trying to prepare the roux as a base for jambalaya. His description was hilarious. Will, the quieter of the pair, simply said that the roux could have been purchased at the market for $8 and that Dave’s experiment had cost them $500.
One of Ruth’s friends, who sat beside Jane, leaned in closely to Jane announcing that she had been fighting stomach flu for three days and was not going to eat much of the meal. Of course, Jane was thrilled to be sharing space with a sick person who may barf on her at any moment!
But the real kick in the ass for the evening was supplied by Dan and Portia…a very nice, up-beat couple. As we finished dessert, Portia explained, lovingly, how the whole week-end had been a total surprise to her and that Dan had planned the event on his own. All the girls (including Dave and Will) gushed with admiration for Dan and his romantic flair. Jane must have been thinking, “Now why can’t Bob be like that?” I, on the other hand, wanted to kill Dan! I got points from Jane just for showing up; and now this ding-dong is upstaging me! I told Dan, “You’re killing me!” He just smiled. Then it occurred to Jane and me almost simultaniously….Dan is either in the dog house trying to get out OR he is feeling guilty about something. It seemed to good to be true! At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
When dinner was finally over, the threesome of good-time ladies were joined by two of their friends; and the five of them drank dozens of beers in front of the outdoor fireplace at the pool. When one of the ladies fell off the hearth almost breaking her butt, Jane and I left, escaping into the night with Freddy. The skies finally partially cleared and we could see bright stars to the west , contrasted with violent lightening to the east! Awesome!
The following morning as we drank coffee and prepared to leave, the girls came out for a smoke (looking like warmed over death), Will took their cute, little Dashounds for a morning walk, and Dan packed their car.
The week-end was over; time to get back into the real world! But, I was reluctant to leave. I cannot remember when I have had more laughs and met a more interesting group of people. And, we learned a few new recipes.
Jane’s choice was a good one! As we passed the donkeys for the last time and left the end of the earth behind, I was happy that we made the trip! It was a very enjoyable week-end!
P.S. If any of you guys want to impress your lady, take her to a cooking school for the week-end! You won’t be sorry! And, if it is her idea, remember the three magic words: “I like it!”