There is a beautiful green that covers the hills here every spring. It is a breathtakingly blinding green that looks like a bright velvet. Lush. Fresh. Green.
A favourite place is on Kiler Canyon Road where these hills play host to many lovely almond orchards. In the spring, the almonds sport soft petal pink blossoms that stand out on this verdant green colour.
The hills roll one after the other into the distance.
These hills are reminiscent of the countryside of Ireland or England. You can almost picture sheep dotting these hillsides, although here it is more likely to be deer or wild turkey.
Another thing reminiscent of those countries is yummy Shepherd's Pie. Although Shepherd's Pie is traditionally made from lamb, hence "shepherd," this version is recalled from long ago school days when there was actually a kitchen and staff at the schools to prepare the daily student lunches. It used ground beef and frozen mixed veggies with a comforting mashed potato topping.
The following version then evolved using chopped celery, frozen corn, chopped and steamed carrots and broccoli. Peas are also traditional, but somehow they were dropped out of this family recipe...don't be afraid to throw some in.
1-1 1/2 lb. ground beef
salt, pepper, garden seasonings to taste
dried chopped onion to taste
4T. butter, divided
1/4 C. flour
1 T. beef bouillon granules
2 C. water
1 C. (approx.) each of the following vegetables: broccoli, sliced celery, sliced carrots, frozen corn
4-6 C. boiled cubed potatoes
1/2 C. fat free sour cream
1 T. dried chives
1/2 C. milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brown meat in large skillet, seasoning with salt, pepper, garden seasonings (opt.) and dried chopped onion.
Remove cooked meat with a slotted spoon and spread in a large, greased baking pan.
Add cut and steamed or frozen vegetables to the browned meat.
In same skillet, melt 2 T. butter with the drippings. Add flour to skillet and brown, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Sprinkle generously with bouillon granules.
Add water and cook gravy until golden brown, thickened and bubbly.
Add gravy to the meat and vegetables in baking pan and stir to mix well.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30-35 minutes. In the meantime, prepare mashed potatoes by combining hot, boiled potatoes with remaining butter, sour cream, dried chives and milk. You will want to add to enough milk to make the mashed potatoes extra soft and spreadable. Add salt and pepper to taste. When the meat mixture comes out of the oven, mound potatoes evenly over the top of the hot filling.
Spread mashed potatoes to cover the top. You may brush the mashed potatoes with milk if desired.
Reducing oven temperature to 350 degrees, return Shepherd's Pie to the oven for an additional 20 minutes. When done, remove pie from oven and allow it to cool and set for about 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!
It is wonderful to savour this warm, comforting dish during the tempermental days of early spring. It can be enjoyed when the days are still cool while dreaming over seed catalogues or watching the mist roll out and the sun come into play. In Ireland, there can be the pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow. Here on the Central Coast, that would be found in the promise of spring and its awakening varietal beauty.
Come on, Spring! We're ready for you!