Is Winter Ever Going to Get Here

Winter Coming – Really?

by Celia Hayes

Well, one brief brush with overnight temperatures in the thirties – we even let the ‘H’ part of the new HVAC system out for a romp for a couple of nights running – and everyone was convinced that winter in South Texas had well and truly arrived. We’ve gone off Daylight Savings Time, Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and there is just about a months worth of shopping days until Christmas – and still the afternoon highs are in the 80s? All I can think to do at this point is to ask if someone couldn’t invite Al Gore to come to town to make a speech about global warming, for unseasonable blizzards, rain and cold temperatures invariably follow him as a cloud of dirt follows the Peanuts character of Pigpen.

In an attempt to make winter really happen, I fixed one of my favorite soup recipes, which I found years ago in Nava Atlas’ Vegetariana. Adding sliced kielbasa sausage to it takes off some of the onus of being vegetarian – and anyway, it is purely delicious. One time I settled down to make it and discovered that I was out of brown rice – but not to fear, I had wheat-berries instead. So wheat berries instead of rice – and it was all good. It might also have been just as good using wild rice instead. Another time I only had Rotel tomatoes with chilies – and that substitution worked so well I have used Rote with chilies ever since when I make it at home.

Winter Lentil & Brown Rice Soup

  • Combine in a large pot:
1/2 Cup dried lentils, washed and picked over
1/3-1/2 Cup brown rice (or wheat-berries, which is just as good)
2 TBSp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBSp soy sauce
2 Bay leaves
3 Cups water, or which is much better, 3 Cups vegetable broth
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer over low heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Then add:
2 additional cups water or broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
Handful of finely chopped celery leaves
1 14-oz can chopped tomatoes with liquid (Or Rotel tomatoes with chili peppers, which is even better!)
1/2 Cup tomato sauce or tomato juice
1/4 cup dry red wine or sherry
1 Teasp dried basil
1 Teasp paprika
1/2 Teasp dried marjoram
1/2 Teasp dried thyme
Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils and rice are done.

(It is especially splendid when made with the Ro-Tel tomatoes & chilis, and a rich home-made vegetable broth…. plus you can take the onus of being vegetarian off it by adding about half a pound of kielbasa or other smoked sausage, sliced into rounds, towards the end of the cooking time, and serving it with a little grated cheddar cheese on top.)

This last time, my daughter made up a batch of Red Lobster cheddar biscuits to go with – absolutely sublime, especially made with extra-sharp cheddar cheese. She bought the box of cheddar biscuit mix at Sams’ Club, but it’s available on Amazon. Is winter here yet? Anyone seen any snowflakes?

Gypsy Market Vendor

The Moveable Market

by Celia Hayes

My daughter and I are moving a little deeper into the world of the gypsy entrepreneur market these days. I mean, I have been dabbling around the edges for good few years as an independent author, once I realized that there was more to be made – and a lot less ego-death involved – by taking a table at a craft fair, like the New Braunfels Christmas Market, or in Miss Ruby’s Author Corral at Goliad’s Christmas on the Square. But this – like strictly book events, like the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene – involved only a table and a chair. I usually had to bring along some tablecloths, some informational flyers, postcards and my business card, and maybe something eye-catching to adorn the table.

Going hard-core and getting a whole booth at something like the Boerne Market Days meant going much, much farther. My daughter has started a little business making various origami ornaments, flowers and jewelry, and this year we decided to partner together. It helps to have two people doing this kind of event, by the way – you can spell each other, make jaunts to other venders, go to the bathroom – and setting up and breaking down the booth or table is much, much easier. Many vendors, like us, have a day job, or several day jobs. They create on their own time, and bring it to the local market circuit on the weekends.

If we keep it up, we will have to purchase our own folding tables, and pop-up canopy – the nice kind, with the zip-up panel walls which can be attached for shelter, shade and some degree of security. This time, we rented from the management of the Boerne Market Days – but the people who regularly have a spot at the various markets own their own, which will make some more things to stuff into the Montero. A couple of good-sized banners to advertise our two little enterprises are also in our future. I don’t think we’ll go as far as a friend did, when she was selling at faraway craft shows. She and her husband went in their travel trailer; where they slept and cooked their own meals rather than lay out for motel rooms and restaurant meals. The name of the game is to break rather more than even; if the costs of participating in a market; table fee, gas, lodgings, food and your stock – all come up to more than you’ll make from sales, then you are doing it wrong.

We already have a lot of other necessary impedimenta – like a collection of sturdy covered plastic tubs in various sizes to store and transport our stock in, which can be fitted into the back of the Montero in a kind of three-dimensional game of Tetris. We saw quite a few venders with varied collections of tubs. We already have some necessary display hardware; metal and wooden stands for propping up books to display them, a rack for showing off pairs of earrings, some baskets and a magnetic board to show off the origami in. Many of the gypsy venders also have tall mesh stands, panels or folding screens to hang items on, or to attach narrow shelves for a wall display.

We already had a cash box, and receipt books – but for this time out we obtained a handy little gadget which only became available in the last year or so; a card reader which attaches to my daughter’s cell phone so that we could process credit card payments. This is enormously helpful to us and many other gypsy entrepreneurs, who previously could only handle check or cash payments. It’s the new old game again – small businesses run from a home or a farm, and selling at temporary markets.

Old Town Helotes

Raising Heck in Helotes

by Celia Hayes

We ventured on a weekend outing to Helotes this last August for an art showing at a very pleasant little country venue, The Gardens in Old Town… which to our relief, turned out to be an indoors event. Frankly, mid-August in South Texas is just not one of those good times to be roaming around in the outdoors for very long. We prowled the art show, admired many of the paintings exhibited – a good few of which I would have bought for my own pleasure. I think that we were early enough in the day and the impromptu gallery was not so crowed that many of the artists had leisure and enthusiasm enough to talk to us as well. Ah, how well we know this routine; sitting by the table o’ stuff, waiting to strike up a conversation with anyone slowing by, in their drift through the room! I think most people visiting Helotes that weekend must have been at the art show, for the other little shops in old downtown Helotes were pretty empty.

We hadn’t been to Helotes in a while, and so when we had made a leisurely circuit, and the place became too crowded for my daughter’s taste, we roamed around the little bit that there is of Historic Old Helotes; mostly antique shops set up on old homes, barns and what we were told had been a grocery store at about the turn of the last century. Yes, time was when Helotes, twenty miles and a good day’s journey on horseback from San Antonio, was a separate and lively little town on the main road to Bandera. It was farming country, at first – the name comes from ‘elote’ – Spanish for corn on the cob. The eastern Apache tribe farmed along the waterways in that part of the Hill Country in the earliest times, growing corn for themselves until the Comanche roared down from the north and made it too dangerous. Like much of the Hill Country, Helotes was settled by German and European immigrants, and in the days after the Civil War, served as an assembly point for herds of cattle heading north to the railheads in Kansas, a feeder route to the great Chisholm Trail. It was a rather lively little town back then; there are two books about historical Helotes by local author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Now, of course, having turned into a suburban bedroom slipper of San Antonio, it is a much more sedate place, but still a very pleasant one, barely four or five miles outside the 1604 Loop. A clue as to how very quietly upscale Helotes has become is that the flagship HEB-Plus store – the largest store in the HEB chain was opened last year on Bandera Road, just inside the Loop. The store parking lot has nearly 1,200 parking spaces – and the store itself seems as large as a gargantuan aircraft hangar. 183,000 square feet of grocery and retail space; we walked in and my daughter said, “Wow!” Even though the parking lot was nearly full, the store itself didn’t feel crowded at all. We only came in for three things – which did seem rather a waste, considering the sheer variety of items in stock.

Sauerkraut

Good Stuff Preserved – Sauerkraut

by Celia Hayes

I swear, I had never really eaten sauerkraut in any form when I was growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it herself is a bit of a mystery, since the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process pretty simple and the results quite tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish, and it’s just not one of those things. Cabbage being a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres, it’s a mainstay in peasant cooking from Germany, through Eastern Europe and Russia – and even into Korea, where they make a high-octane variety spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. But the ordinary sauerkraut is the simplest to make at home; basically, it’s thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

At some point a couple of years ago, we were buying a brand of pickles or marinated artichoke hearts at Sam’s Club which came packaged in massive glass jars, which hold 6-quarts to two gallons. I saved out two of them to store bulk foods in, although they had to go through the dishwasher several times to entirely remove the smell of pickle brine. They’re perfect for fermenting the shredded cabbage in the first step.

Trim of the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. It was customary back when to make massive quantities of kraut at a time – a friend of mine in Fredericksburg recently an old-fashioned 5-gallon crock which would ferment enough to feed a small army. I have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so the shreds of cabbage from four heads fill it rather nicely, but you may have to process it one or two heads at a time. Mix the shreds of cabbage with ¾ cup of pickling salt, kneading it gently, as the salt dissolves and the cabbage begins to give up liquid. Let sit for a few minutes and then pack it tightly into the jars until just to within an inch of the top. One of the cabbages I used this week was rather large – so the cabbage shreds filled both big jars and then a quart canning jar. One of the big jars also had two teaspoons of caraway seed added, for extra flavor.

There should be enough brine from the salted cabbage to cover – if not, mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine. Another recipe I saw for this recommended cutting a cabbage leaf to size, and using it as a topper, to keep the cabbage shreds underneath – or just use a smaller jar filled with weights to keep the cabbage submerged. Cover the tops of the jars with cheesecloth held on with a rubber band, and let sit and ferment in a sheltered cupboard for 3-6 weeks, removing the scum which forms every day or so. When it’s ready, either refrigerate it and eat fresh, or empty the sauerkraut into a big pan and bring to a gentle simmer – not a boil. Pack it into clean hot canning jars, leaving about half an inch of head-space, seal and process in boiling water; 15 minutes for pint jars, 20 for quarts. We have finally finished off the sauerkraut that I did last summer – so time to pickle again!

The Grandest Villa

Downtown San Antonio the Villa Finale in King Willaim

by Celia Hayes

We walked through the part of the Riverwalk which runs from the Blue Star Art Complex up through King William last weekend, marveling at all the lovely period houses lining quiet, tree-lined streets. Although right next door to each other and very nearly of the same vintage, King William and Southtown have completely different sensibilities. The old Southtown houses are smaller, closer together, and many of them are more given over to commercial and artistic enterprises. While King William neighborhood does have a number of smaller bungalows and cottages lining the streets, it is the mansions and extensive gardens which set it apart; and one of the most splendid (after the Steves Homestead) is the Villa Finale – the home of the conservationist who put King William on the map as far as historical districts go.

The area was San Antonio’s first extensive up-scale suburb, beginning around the mid-19th century, when well-to-do German merchants and industrialists like C.H. Guenther, of the Pioneer Flour Mill began building stately mansions on what had been the outlaying farmlands attached to Mission San Antonio de Valero and Mission Conception. That first glorious heyday lasted until well into the 1920s, when the well-to-do began being drawn into newer developments in Alamo Heights and Terrell Hills, on rising land to the north of downtown. Many of the stately mansions became boarding houses, or broken up into apartments, and the area gently – or precipitously –decayed.

The credit for reviving the neighborhood and kick-starting restoration of many of the historic mansions and residences is usually given to Walter Mathis; a descendent of several local notables, including John W. Smith, last messenger from the Alamo and later Mayor of San Antonio. After service as an Army Air Corps combat pilot during WWII, he turned to investment banking, civic good works and collecting art and memorabilia. Late in the 1960s, he bought the house presently known as the Villa Finale and spent several years in research and meticulous repair; a splendid Italianate pile with a three-story square tower at one side. He filled the house with fine furniture, art and the results of his own enthusiastic collecting, lovingly landscaped the grounds … and then turned to other houses in the neighborhood, purchasing at least fourteen other houses and either restoring them entirely or in part, before re-selling – often on very favorable terms – to friends and acquaintances who could carry on the restoration. His efforts kick-started establishment of King William area as a National Historical District – and since then, of course, much are envied those homeowners who were either lucky enough to inherit property in the area, or who were perspicuous enough to acquire it for a song, way back then.

The Villa sits on King William Street and backs on the leg of the Riverwalk which runs through King William. The garden features a gazebo and a long wall separating it from the mansion next door – adorned with inset relief carvings. At this time of year the plantings are plain but serviceable; nothing spectacular or elaborate; just well-tended native plants or native-adapted plants and trees. There is a charge for visiting the house itself, but none for visiting the grounds and garden.