Thursday, February 4, 2016

Rancho Winslow New Year’s Day and the Quest for Pies

HEB pies....note the pen marks on cherry pie label

I wanted to get some pies for dessert from Texas Pie in Kyle, but they had closed down between Xmas and the day after New Year’s Day, as did Wimberley Pie Co, so I was forced to go to HEB. I wasn’t about to fight my way through traffic north to try to get to the Austin pie outlets. In retrospect it might have been easier, because I foolishly decided to go to the mega HEB in Kyle early on the morning of New Year’s Day, thinking I could beat the rush. The parking lot was a madhouse; perhaps as bad as I’ve ever seen it. I thought I’d make a quick exploratory probe into the fringes of the parking lot and see if I could easily find a parking spot. If I did, I’d stop, and if I couldn’t find one, I’d figure out another easy dessert option for Rancho Winslow. Amazingly, there was a parking place opening up just as I got to it. Even more incredible, no one was perched there, waiting for it, so I zipped right in. 

I exited my truck and hadn’t traveled five feet before some bedraggled, beat-down looking man heading away from the store locked eyes with me and said,” Don’t do it. You’ll really regret it if you do.”  A few feet further, and some lady with a cartful of goodies mumbled, “It’s bad. Really bad.” Everyone I saw going back towards their cars looked pissed, exhausted, totally freaked out, or all three. I got to the entrance, and if there hadn’t been a battle worn employee returning at that very moment, pushing a long row of carts from the parking lot, there would have been no carts available, where there are usually hundreds stacked up. None. I quickly snatched one, and knew that I only had to penetrate the store for a few dozen yards or so to get to the outskirts of the bakery and pieland to grab some pies, and could then make a tactical strike to the 20 Items or Less checkout lines with my three items. Easy in and out. Stealthy and fast.

Edam, fancypants crackers, artichoke dip

I grabbed three pies, pecan, peach, and cherry, and rolled with haste and singularity of purpose towards the east, cruising for the 20 Items or Less rows on the far end. I came upon lines backed up to the middle of the store at every register (and every single register was open). Keep in mind that this HEB at Kyle Crossing is the largest HEB in the entire state. The biggest in a big state full of big stores. I’ve never seen any grocery store this congested, or one this big. When I finally fought my way to the farthest end, cutting through an endless stream of register row queues, I was the tenth person in line. It was so crowded and frantic that there was a small herd of HEB management types anxiously taking digital pictures down the length of the checkout area. I don’t know if it was for posterity, to document a never-before-seen occurrence, or so they could do a post mortem, to try to figure out how to never let this happen again. 

Joolz, glazing the ham

Surprisingly, my line of less-than 20 items moved fairly quickly, and within 10 minutes or so, I was at the checkout counter. I put my three pies down, and as the gal is scanning them, she looks up and says, “You know this cherry pie is sugar-free, right? If it has red ink, it means that it’s sugar-free.” Well, of course I didn’t know. How would I, since there was no signage telling me that a label with red ink meant no sugar. And then, with a straight face and the complete disregard for logic and reality that only a teenaged, high school grocery checker can have, she asks me, “Do you wanna go back and get one with sugar?” I looked her square in the eye, and with as much incredulity in my voice as I could muster, said, “Uh, no.......It’ll be our little secret.”

When I got the pies to Rancho Winslow, we took a pen and marked through the no-sugar part on the label, so that Robert “Empty Leg” Abraham wouldn’t find out. He has a delicate sensibility for such a gluttonous eater.

Kale stuffed pastry doodads with dip

The Rancho Winslow group for New Year’s Day is normally much smaller than the Xmas or Thanksgiving crowds, and it’s all about establishing good luck for the coming year, based on something as simple as food consumption. There was a big chunk of Edam cheese, eaten with fancypants crackers and artichoke dip. The cheese is symbolic of gold. Princess Di had found these excellent frozen pastry straw doodads stuffed with kale (and maybe some cheese?), which came with a green chile ranch dressing dip. The things are addictively tasty. Hard to stop eating them, and the kale is symbolic of folding money, since it is green.

Boudin-stuffed chiles wrapped in bacon, broiled and sliced

Grover and Jill brought over some big jalapeños that had been stuffed with some of the Cajun Boudin sausage which they make at the butcher shop, and then the chiles were wrapped in bacon, before they got broiled in the oven. Dang, those little puppies were delicious. Rice, in the boudin sausage, is symbolic of prosperity, since it swells as it cooks. The chiles are green (money), and they get wrapped in bacon. Pork is considered lucky, since a pig always feeds facing or moving forward. 

Jill (L), Robert (C), and Princess Di (R)...
Contrary to appearance, Robert is not trying to stab Diane in the head

We baked a bone-in ham, with a glaze made from habanero jelly, garlic, brown sugar, mustard, and balsamic vinegar. Again, pork is considered lucky. With that bone inside, the meat cooked up moist and porkalicious. Excellent, really. Joolz made two pans of Mick’s Milehigh skillet cornbread, with corn, garlic, monty jack, and jalapenos. The yellow of the cornmeal, buttermilk, and corn kernels ae all symbolic of golden riches. I whipped up a pot of collards greens (green for cash folding money, and green for the color of spring). Di had cooked a pot of black eyed peas, which is the ultimate good luck food on New Year’s Day for Southerners.

Skillet cornbread

Collards  with bacon and balsamic

Back eyed peas!

The theory is that they swell as the cook, symbolic of abundance. They resemble little coins (frankly, that one has always seemed a stretch for me). But most importantly, when the Yankees came through and pillaged all of the food, they thought that black eyed peas were cattle feed (they are called cowpeas up North), and left them be. Those field peas kept quite a few Southerners from starving to death during and after the Civil War. The pies you know about already, and the tartness of the sugar free cherry pie was just the right amount of sweet. For grocery store pies, they were pretty dammed good. The wine selection was all bottles that we never cracked open for Xmas, and I brought back the bottle of bourbon to go with CBoy’s brewskis.

We all ate to the point of popping, knowing that CBoy, Princess Di, Robert, Joolz, Grover, Jill, and I were just about as filled up for good luck in the coming year as we could possibly be. The food has done all that it can do, and the rest is up to us. 

Mick Vann ©

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