Meditative meals in the Hill Country

Our writer discovers Thoughtful Travel at Fredericksburg’s Natural Palate

Hoffman Haus Bed and Breakfast and The Natural Palate Cooking School

608 East Creek Street
Fredericksburg, TX  78624
(800) 899-1672

Also recommended to those curious and hungry in Fredericksburg:

Cuvee Wine Market
and Bistro
342 W. Main Street
(830) 990-1600
Chef Jaime Pacheco hand-picks ingredients for his
seasonal menu at this sophisticated dinner spot. For an extra-special night, reserve the impressive Cellar Room.

Brewing Company
245 E. Main Street
(830) 997-1646
Award-winning house-brewed beers. Restaurant in front and biergarten out back with big screen for sports fans.

Der Kuchen Laden (the Kitchen Shop)
258 E. Main Street
(830) 997-4937
Well-appointed and fascinating to browse, this little shop has a tremendous selection of kitchen basics, advanced tools, German specialties, pottery, and books.
Our afternoon at the Natural Palate Cooking School in Fredericksburg is still vivid in my memory. It seems like yesterday that my husband and I drove down a dirt road, watching the hundred-year-old farmhouse grow smaller out the back window of the car, our bellies full following an afternoon of learning and eating. Thinking back, my mouth begins to water for the flaky artichoke phyllo packets with creamy tahini sauce, giant seared sea scallops, and delightfully bitter, grilled baby bok choy that were the fruits of our labor. For a few hours, my husband and I became the cooks that we always knew we could be, using professional techniques to turn seasonal produce and the freshest seafood into beautiful, gourmet dishes.

The Natural Palate was created by chef Leslie Washburne, who became a full-time resident of Fredericksburg just three years ago. Washburne and her husband Hugh had been regular visitors for 20 years when they decided to pull up their Dallas roots and settle in this picturesque Hill Country town located just 70 miles northwest of San Antonio. In addition to the cooking school, Washburne is also proprietress of the Hoffman Haus Bed and Breakfast, just off the main drag in downtown Fredericksburg. Both ventures showcase Washburne’s impeccable taste and minimalist style.

The school is almost entirely hidden from the road by a large stand of Hackberry trees that also conceals a four-square garden overflowing with lush kitchen herbs. On a break during our midday class, Washburne gives us a tour of the grounds, clicking off the names and characteristics of the herbs in her garden and encouraging us to pluck, rub, and smell. Washburne, a mother of two nearly grown children, has developed a way of teaching that feels more like conversation than instruction. Before you know it, you’re getting smarter, and that’s just the way she likes it. Her teaching philosophy could also apply to life in general. She calls it Thoughtful Travel: “It’s the ability to discover new things about yourself — passions, talents — that you wouldn’t have noticed during your normal routine,” she explains.

Washburne, a former Whole Foods cooking instructor, has honed her unique version of the culinary craft for years. For classes of one to eight, she designs a hands-on cooking and dining experience in the farmhouse’s retrofitted professional kitchen, complete with generous work stations, top-notch appliances, and vaulted ceilings. For larger groups, she demonstrates techniques while the class samples and sips a glass or two of wine. Using only natural ingredients, sometimes those which are unfamiliar to her students — white miso, tahini — she expands experienced cooks’ knowledge.

During my afternoon at the school, I acquainted myself with the aforementioned ingredients, as well as several others which, until then, were on my “intimidating” list. My husband, a novice in the kitchen, appreciated the simple, accessible aspect of her recipes. They’re gourmet, without a doubt, but certainly not fussy. Most of all, Washburne believes that “time in the kitchen should be enjoyable, healthy, and lighthearted.”

Just a short drive from the cooking school, Hoffman Haus Bed and Breakfast comprises small cottages surrounding a generous main house on a sprawling, beautifully landscaped property. Paths shaded by lazy trees weave in between guest houses with names like “Indian Paintbrush” and “Morning Star.” Washburne and a small staff attend to guests’ every need, without any of the hovering so often associated with B&Bs. Indeed, everything about HH (as the staff and many repeat visitors call it), is atypical. You won’t find rooms cluttered with knick-knacks, or plaid, doilie-covered sofas. Instead, Hoffman Haus embodies simple elegance — dark woods, crisp linen window coverings, and plenty of negative space perfectly complement rest and relaxation. After a blissful night’s sleep listening to rain patter on the tin roof of our cottage, my husband and I concluded our gourmet getaway with a sumptuous breakfast of Eggs Benedict in the inn’s airy main dining room. We headed back home refreshed and inspired to incorporate the concept of Thoughtful Travel in future itineraries.

Artichoke Phyllo Packets with Creamy Lemon Tahini Sauce

From Leslie Washburne, The Natural Palate Cooking School

Artichoke Filling
1/2 c raw almond slivers
2 T pine nuts
1 c frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1/4 c vegenaise (vegan mayo)
2 t lemon juice
2 t minced garlic
1/4 t sea salt

Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until combined and mixture is the consistency of a coarse paste. Yield: 1 1/4 cups.

To make packets:
Frozen phyllo dough
Canola, olive, or other vegetable oil

Thaw phyllo dough overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the stack of sheets lengthwise down the center, along the fold. Depending on the brand, you may need to make two cuts. Sheets should be approximately 12-by-4 inches. Use three of the cut sheets per packet, with a light brush of oil in between each layer. Place two to three rounded teaspoons of filling toward one end of stack and fold up triangularly, like a flag, trimming any excess phyllo after the last fold. Brush top of packet lightly with oil. Bake packets on a cookie sheet for 12-15 minutes until golden brown. Serve with Creamy Lemon Tahini Sauce.

*Note: Filling can also be spooned into frozen, thawed phyllo cups and baked for approximately half the time for a faster preparation.

Creamy Lemon Tahini Sauce
2 T tahini
2 T mellow white miso
1 t lemon juice
1/4 c water

Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until smooth. For a thinner sauce, use 1/3 cup water. For thicker sauce, use a little more tahini.

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