Gardens and Dog Parks and Market Days

Of Gardens and Dog Parks and Market Days, Oh, My!

by Celia Hayes

 

Alas, now that it was in the high 90’s on Sunday afternoon, I must yield and submit to summer. Yes, it’s here. Likely I will not see a cool night, and sleep with an open window and properly under the feather comforter until somewhere the far side of September. I just hope that the Deity doesn’t decide to turn the temperature all the way up to broil, now that the tomatoes are lavishly in bloom, and the biggest and sturdiest of them are adorned with tiny green tomatoes, the size of pearls and grapes. Daily temps in the three digits would pretty well bake what is coming on so very, very well. Darn it, I have too good a start on the vegetable garden to be completely detached about watching it all shrivel up in the scorching heat. (Reminder; Get another jug of that insecticide – once the white-fly gets ahold of the tomatoes and beans, that’s the long slow slide towards resignedly uprooting the lot and hoping to do better next year.)

The pole beans are leaping up the poles, the tomatillo plants look to be turning into shrubs, the eggplants are burgeoning, and the very expensive cornichon gherkin seeds that I ordered from Amazon at a cost of about .17 cents a seed, plus another .15 cents shipping and handling – fourteen of them have put up sprouts. Yes, I want to make proper French Cornichon pickles this year … but I will so let at least one of the cornichon gherkins go to seed so that I don’t have to order them next year. The salad greens and lettuces are doing pretty well, too – at least, the ones that I have in pots and water every day without fail. We get a nice serving of salad greens about every two days. As for beans, I hope for enough for a side dish of them every day or so. In a spirit of resignation, I planted two packets of patty-pan squash and some kind of hot-weather zucchini in one of the wire-form raised beds. Everyone says that you are supposed to be overwhelmed with squash from a back-yard garden, but so far, I am distinctly underwhelmed. Hope springs eternal in the breast of the home gardener, though.

We ventured out this weekend to the Universal City dog park; a hop, skip and a jump away, in Universal City, which is small, but choice. It is adorned with enough rocks and small trees to give Connor and Nemo a chance to empty every drop from their bladders in a heroic attempt to mark every single one. Nemo thinks that every dog he meets is his newest, bestest friend in all the world. The last time we took him to the dog park at Hardberger Park there were just too many bigger dogs interested in chasing him. Once he realized that he was basically the ‘rabbit’ – and got bowled over by the bigger dogs several times – he lost all interest. This time, Connor, the Malti-Poo, our old man of dogs and usually not interested in romping, made friends with a Min-Pin who loved to chase a thrown rubber ball. Over and over again, the Min-Pin chased the ball and brought it back, with Connor toddling gamely after. An excellent hour of a morning spent – the dogs all nicely tired out.

And finally – preparations for our participation in the Bulverde/Spring Branch Spring Market Day continue. We will have a joint booth; my books and my daughter’s origami art at the Spring market on May 10, in the parking lot of Bealls at Hwy 46 and Bulverde Crossing. Look for the shrieking pink pavilion with the zebra-striped top. We just got it this week, and set it up briefly in the driveway. You will not be able to miss it, even though there are supposed to be scores of other vendors there.

Comfort Food – Part 2

Comfort Food – Part 2

It seems, we were having winter during the week, and something like spring on the weekends. It was warm enough to get out and do a little yard work and consider all those wonderful garden plans … before the relatively icy cold drove us indoors again, and to consider hearty, warming comfort food for dinner. Nope, winter is not the time for Salad Nicoise, or for gazpacho. Those are summer dishes; winter is for fortifying soups and stews, for sturdy casseroles of macaroni and cheese … and meat loaf.

The classic meatloaf that Mom used to make was based on ground beef; back in the day, ground beef was about the cheapest meat protein out there. Mom and other frugal cooks had extensive repertoires of main dishes utilizing it; no cook with any pride needed Hamburger Helper back then. The version of meat loaf that I grew up on usually only contained 50 per cent meat, though. The rest was chopped onions and celery, maybe a can of tomatoes, filled out with bread crumbs and/or oatmeal, bound together with a couple of eggs, a splash of milk, and topped with a spritz of ketchup and a slice of bacon for flavor down the middle of the loaf. There are all kinds of variations on it, depending on the state of your pocketbook and pantry – but come out pretty much tasting the same.

Not so one of my own favorite meat loaf recipes; I think I found it in one of the cooking magazines which had a feature on wild rice. I copied the most intriguing of them into my own hand-written book of recipes, and promptly forgot the name of the magazine. The original version called for ground pork, which made it altogether too fatty and rich.

Simmer ½ cup wild rice in 1 cup boiling water for 20 minutes until barely tender. Cool (the original recipe directed the cook to drain the rice – but added ¼ water or milk. Why waste the rice liquid anyway, since it has lots of flavor in it?)

Combine the cooked rice and liquid with 1 cup soft bread crumbs, two beaten eggs, ½ cup rolled oats, one medium onion chopped very fine, 1 ½ teasp dried ground sage, ½ cup grated cheddar cheese, and a pound of ground pork or turkey – or ½ pound each ground pork and ground turkey.
Form into a 7×4 inch loaf shape, and bake in a 350 degree oven until juices run clear. (About 1 ¼ hours). Serve with a sauce of 8 ounces sour cream mixed with 2 TBsp Dijon mustard. It’s great, served with mashed garlic potatoes – which are just your average mashed potatoes, only the potatoes boiled together with 2-4 cloves of fresh garlic, finely chopped. Now – there is some comfort food for a cold winter day

Lets Rodeo San Antonio

At the Stock Show and Rodeo

by Celia Hayes

 

This wasn’t something that we had thought about for ourselves – going to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo at the AT&T Center – but a friend of ours had two tickets for Sunday, couldn’t use them, and offered them to us. In spite of having grown up riding horses, and with neighbors who kept horses and the occasional cow, and chickens, et center – we had never been to a rodeo. In spite of writing extensively about cowboys, cattle drives and livestock ranching in South Texas, I had never been to the San Antonio Stock Show, either. So – it was about time. A particularly handy bit of advice came from another neighbor; don’t drive down to the AT&T Center/Freeman Coliseum, he said; go to Randolph Park and Ride and take the shuttle bus. $5 per person round trip beats what we saw local entrepreneurs along New Braunfels Street advertising – $20 a vehicle.

The shuttle bus dropped us off right at the main gate to the carnival area – right by the big Ferris wheel, which made it easy to locate the shuttle bus stop again when we were ready to go. The fairway was pretty extensive – one of the largest that I had ever seen, with an awesome assortment of fairground rides, and by late afternoon it was jammed with families. But that wasn’t the end of it; there were extensive halls of retailers of cowboy-themed stuff, Western attire and accessories of every description, from belt-buckles all the way to those fancy trailers which haul stock in the back and have living quarters in the back. Well, I had always wanted to know what the inside of those look like, having passed or been stuck behind many on the various highways around South Texas. Talk about custom and luxurious – the bathroom was so palatial, I believe I’d almost rather live in the trailer.

We didn’t get very far into the stock exhibition barns – only as far as where a handful of horses were on display, including a black Percheron named Andy, fully 18 hands and some tall, and looking to be as large as an elephant, although exceedingly mellow about being petted. My daughter was quite taken with him. Like Crocodile Dundee said of another item, “Now, THAT’S a horse!” And as a girl next to us said in awe, “His eye is as big as my brain, practically!”

On to the AT&T center for the rodeo, where it turned out that our seats where high in the nosebleed section, about four rows from where the ceiling began. I will have to say that the view of the arena was excellent, once we climbed up there and got over the unsettling notion that if we should happen to topple over forward, we would bounce all the wa-a-a-ay down to the arena floor.

Just about all the rodeo events – that is, the ones that aren’t intended for kids, like the mutton—busting and calf-wrangling – started the real world of working cattle from horseback in the 19th century. Calves and young cattle had to be lassoed and branded, and being able to do it swiftly and efficiently meant that a cowhand was good at his job. Being able to last a good few rounds on the back of a fractious horse was also a useful skill, but I am just not all that sure that staying on the back of a bucking steer was all that useful. On the other hand, life likely got pretty boring around the ranch of a winter, before social media and all.

The stock show and rodeo lasts through the 23rd, with a full schedule of competitions, exhibitions and displays. Take my advice though – take the shuttle bus.

 

Front Porch Finale

Leaping into Spring Projects

by Celia Hayes

In between those days of bone-chilling cold, my daughter and I finished up the raised flower-bed part of the entryway to the house this week. The stump of the photinia is buried deep in garden soil, home-brewed compost, with a layer of weed barrier on top of that, and a thin layer of river rock on top of that. We visited Lowe’s over the weekend and were sorely tempted – and succumbed to several interesting varieties of day-lily and gladiola corms, and a rose-bush. I might, at a later date, put in some lavender plants, as the soil mix in the raised bed is just what they like; sandy, easily drained, full of good nutritious compost – the very opposite of the heavy clay which occurs naturally around here.

We raked in some good rose-food, planted the corms and the rose bush – and for good measure, my daughter scattered seeds from of a good handful of packets of annuals around the edge of the weed barrier, covered it all in river-rock … oh, we’ll need to go and get a few bags more of the river rock. We always under-estimate these things. The tools are cleared away, the empty sacks removed and the sand swept up – and the front entryway now looks pretty good. Not Parade of Homes quality, but still pretty good. There aren’t quite enough bricks left to continue paving over the narrow little flowerbed which runs along the side of the house between the walkway and the exterior wall of the garage. This has always been an annoyance for me; when I first bought the house it was filled with ivy. It took five or six years to eradicate the ivy. Now there are a couple of rosemary bushes, and a climbing rose that goes along the house wall – but the base of the bed always looked a mess; leaves blew in and it was a chore to rake them from underneath the rosemary. We’ll pave it with the last bricks, augmented with concrete pavers, leaving small square areas filled with more gravel around those established plants – which ought to reduce the mess-quotient by several degrees.

The cold snaps this winter have done a pretty thorough job of killing off everything that wasn’t sheltered in the greenhouse. Likely we will have to start all over again with Bell and jalapeno peppers. Among the other temptations in the garden section at Lowe’s was a good assortment of seed potatoes. I’m hoping that when the weather lets up a little I can plant them – and do better than last year. I’d like to eat more produce from my own garden than I buy at the grocery store, but so far, the only thing that flourished regularly were salad greens.

Potatoes weren’t the only temptation in the spring starts, seeds and roots – I committed to another grape vine; this one I intend to train up on wires strung between eye-bolts screwed into the back fence. My neighbors with the beautiful garden had done this; why not go vertical, in a small enclosure. My daughter bought a blackberry vine – and that will also go up on the trellis wires. Finally – among the stock at Sam’s Club last weekend; young fruit trees; apple, apricot, plum and peach, for a very reasonable price. Yeah, I bought two of them; when we lived in Utah, it seemed like every house of a certain age had at least one bearing fruit tree in the yard. With the mulberry cut back, I think there will be sunshine enough for the peach and plum saplings. So, that’s my plan for this spring in the garden…

Front Porch

The Shape of the Porch to Come

by Celia Hayes

All righty, then – last week to Lowe’s for two bags of mortar mix and an inexpensive bricklayer’s trowel, so that we could complete two segments of the porch project. For reasons known only to the original developer, the basic plan of my house (and a handful of other small garden cottages in Spring Creek Forest) were built with the front door actually about half-way along one side of a long narrow house – with a kind of square divot indented into the side. A third of a divot was made into a small, covered front porch and the rest just left open. Most people chose to make it into a flower bed, although the whole thing in concrete would have made a generous porch with wide steps going down to the walk.

The original owner planted a photinia in it, which eventually quite overwhelmed the raised flower bed that I made of that space and turning the room behind it into a cave. Finally I had the tree guys take the whole thing out, cutting the stump back to ground level. My daughter and I re-vamped the raised flower bed a couple of weekends ago, laying most of the bricks in a bed of leveled sand – but those along the edge needed to be mortared together, for stable footing, and three courses needed also to be made into a low wall to surround a smaller raised bed.

So, we split the effort; my daughter did the edge, and I began on the low wall. This is one of those things which looks so easy when the professionals do it, but it is possible to do it yourself with satisfactory results … although it will be a bit messy at first, and likely every professional bricklayer in town will be rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably at your efforts. Spraying down the bricks first with water will make the mortar stick to where it should, and a certain degree of obsession-compulsion when it comes to keeping things in a regular, tidy, symmetrical pattern will come in handy. So will a level and a mallet; the first to ensure that the bricks are indeed level, and the mallet for whamming them into place. Sprinkle with water, spread with mortar, wham the next brick into place, scrape off the excess mortar … and repeat as needed, several hundred times. Let set, sweep away the excess sand and crumbs of mortar, and there you are.

We plan to fill the raised bed with a mixture of sand, compost and garden soil, topped with gravel to keep the rainwater falling from the roof edge from splashing dirt onto the side of the house. Since it faces south and is a very sheltered space, we’ll plant it with sun-loving, flowering plants like lantana, salvia and Russian sage. There’s a concrete bird-bath to go in the middle of it – just about where the stump of the photinia will – we hope – peacefully will rot away. I also have a number of low, rectangular terracotta planters that will fit nicely at the foot of the raised bed – that’s where the mixed lettuces and salad greens will grow, as soon as it is warm enough to set out seeds. And that’s the plan – next weekend should see it all complete.

Grocery Coupons and Saving Money

Eye on the Bottom Line

by Celia Hayes

An eye on the bottom line of the receipts at the grocery store, of course. I’ve been through a good few years of this, after being well-trained by my mother and grandmothers. All of them were disposed to pinch pennies until Lincoln begged for mercy, although they took slightly different ways to go about it. Grandma Dodie did coupons and sales; when she and Grandpa finally sold their house and moved into a retirement community, there was a stash of canned goods in the garage which would have fed a family for a couple of years. Grannie Jessie, the country girl, kept chickens, did a lot of preserves and pickles, and saved Green Stamps to purchase certain useful appliances, furniture and luxury goods. My mother eschewed coupons, chickens, Green Stamps and the preserving kettle; she preferred a membership in a food coop, which offered bargains on meats, fruits, grains and vegetables, and making almost everything – even granola – from scratch. It was her opinion, which I found to be a pretty well-grounded one, that unless you used the coupon for something which you would have bought anyway, it was a waste of money and effort. We did wind up eating some very strange things from the coop, though. I recall beef hearts, and rabbit, and other odd cuts of meat.

I saved on the grocery bill myself by patronizing the street markets when living overseas; once a week, the farmers and vendors in Greece would set up tables in a two-block length of street and sell produce straight off the farm. In Spain there was a central farmer’s market downtown, in an ornate cast-iron and stone Art Nouveau style building – and besides that, there was always the military commissary. By the time I settled down in Texas, though, the commissaries were less and less of a bargain, and my default money-saving strategy was based on a Sam’s Club membership and purchasing certain stapes in bulk … and in hitting the reduced-for-quick-sale racks at the HEB. All this, let it be clear, usually meant stocks of canned goods, paper towels, oils, beans and grains, sugar and flour. Until lately, coupons on offer were for prepared foods – which, as my mother trained me well – we avoided, mostly.

Curiously, in recent months, it seems like HEB has been producing specialty coupons at the check-stand for us, based on some mysterious algorithm which reflects what we have actually bought. Suddenly, we have a number of coupons offering discounts, or even free items; milk, eggs, salad greens, and pet food. And you can bet that we have made full use of them. The last two times we hit our local HEB, the eventual bill after the coupons were tallied up and deducted was reduced by nearly a third of what it had been at the start through using them. Considering how the price of many grocery items has been creeping up – or the actual package size of the items has been creeping down while the price remained the same – this is a very good thing. I won’t be holding my breath for it to last for long, but we’ll be making the best of it while it does.

2014 In With the New

Out With The Old, In With the New

by Celia Hayes

The New Year, that is. Bye-bye to 2013, hello to 2014; this an exception to the saying about preferring a known evil to the one you know nothing of, but then it’s not like we have a choice. Here we go, on a rocket-launch into the unknown, willy-nilly – without any guidance save being certain to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.

I looked back at certain resolutions that I made at the end of 2012 – sell the relatively useless (to me) property I owned in California and buy a piece of Texas paradise, finish my next book and sell a great quantity of copies of all my books at year-end events, to switch over from a national bank to a Texas establishment for all my banking needs, pay off a major creditor, ditch cable television and switch over to a Roku box with internet video amusements for an evening, and to have an extensive vegetable garden in my back yard. Yea, verily – I wanted to have enough vegetables and greens for all our dining needs for a good part of the year, and that is one of the things that I still want to happen. I did accomplish just about all the other items, though – selling the California property, paying off the credit union, switching to Frost Bank, ditching cable TV, and the book – The Quivera Trail – was finished on time, too. Alas, I did not have quite as much in sales at various events as previous experience led me to expect; it seems that everyone was counting the pennies this year. Not that I mind, as I was counting them myself.

And there were some unexpected things which happened this last year as well; the transmission of my daughter’s car needed a rebuild, the sale of the property allowed us to afford a totally rebuild of the HVAC system in the house, one of the cats died (of old age – dear old Sammy!) but we acquired another, a kitten who promises to be as large, friendly and eccentric as Sammy … and another dog, a dump-ee in the neighborhood. This one is mostly terrier and thinks he is a cat, being nimble, insanely intelligent and totally fearless. We call him Nemo because … we found him. We also found a mountain bike – abandoned in the creek-bed which runs through the neighborhood. No one has claimed it yet, so I can see that biking the various trails along the San Antonio creek greenways is in our future.

The garden simply has to happen – that is a given. Raised beds, edible stuff grown in various patches, the folding plastic greenhouse made complete use of … and the dog poop cleared out on a more regular basis. In a few days, I will call the tree guy who works our neighborhood to come and sort out the magnificent mulberry which shades the back yard – which was butchered almost to the point of dying, first by the local utility crew clearing away errant branches from the power-lines, and then a couple of years of serious drought. It recovered, but this winter it simply has to be shaped properly into a dense and compact lollipop of a shade tree. And the pair of weed shrubs which planted themselves and grew into small saplings have to go – as well as the red-leaved photina which the first owner of my house planted too darned close to the house. That will give scope to re-doing the front entryway; those are my plans for the 2014. What are yours?

Christmas Message

Christmas Message for The Blog

There are as many kinds of Christmas observances as there are people who celebrate it – the turn of the old year to the the new one, observance of the winter solstice, a celebration of the birth of Jesus, a chance for families and friends to reconnect in person or with Christmas cards, for retail sales to have a final fling as far as profits are concerned, to celebrate the comforts of home, to share a lavish meal, to sing in Handel’s Messiah, dance in The Nutcracker, follow the progression of the Posada, be generous to the kinfolk – or those you don’t know at all.

The customs that we observe all came from different places, some of them accretions which have little or nothing to do with the miraculous birth of a baby in an inn stable in ancient Bethlehem two thousand or so years ago. But because we are human, and relish some – or all of them as our beliefs, habits or pocketbook allow. And it’s all good, because we are human beings and need our celebrations.

From all of us at the Randy Watson Team at Mission Realty – to all of you;  our neighbors, clients and military members serving here and overseas – we wish you the merriest Christmas, the happiest of holidays and the very best of New Years.

–Randy Watson, Merry Christmas 2013!

Tis the Season

Tis the Season

by Celia Hayes

I’m afraid that I have let a lot of traditional Christmas practices go, over the years. Like Christmas cards; just one of those things I got out of the habit of doing. And Christmas Eve Midnight Mass … that’s gone bye-bye as well, just like staying up until midnight to watch the New Year arrive. Decorating the Christmas tree itself is kind of hit or miss as well – what with the way that the cats have of treating it like one big feline amusement park, which is rough on the ornaments.

But there are some new rituals – and that is watching certain new classic Christmas-themed movies every year; this year we started with Christmas Vacation – yes, the Griswald family attempting to have a picture-perfect Christmas day, from an enormous tree which they cut down themselves, to the house swathed in lights and a catastrophically over-baked turkey. I did the trip out to the tree farm to cut your own tree precisely once, and that was enough for a lifetime. And practically everyone has those relatives – the ones who arrive in a battered RV. Someone in our neighborhood does, as we spotted that decrepit RV in front of the Dollar Tree last week, and my daughter swore it was the same one from Christmas Vacation.

Next up – Hogfather – which is a two-part miniseries, making it good for two nights, although I know of fans who watch it in one single epic evening. Yes, it is skewed, warmed and amazingly funny, since it is based on one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books, wherein the red-dressed guy who flies around the world depositing presents is called the HogFather, and rides a sled pulled by wild boars on Hogwatch Night.

As a natural segue from British movie absurdity, we move right into American absurdity, with Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. Again, someone completely unsuited to the role takes over from Santa Claus with predictably disastrous results. Of all the directors currently active, Tim Burton is the one with the most distinctive ‘look’ to his productions. Put up any number of stills from current or recent movies – and you can pick out which ones are his, almost at first glance.

Speaking of distinctive ‘looks’ – there is another movie in our holiday schedule which cannot be mistaken – the 1986 version of Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, with the costumes and stage design taken from Maurice Sendak’s illustrations of the original story. I brought this version to my parent’s house one year and we watched it then. Curiously, although we were all very familiar with the music – Mom had never seen a whole performance of the ballet. It’s short and lively, but almost as strange as Nightmare Before Christmas; Godfather Drosselmeyer has a distinctly stalkerish vibe about him.

And finally – the chief of all modern Christmas classics – A Christmas Story. Now and again there a discussion of what year it was set in exactly; the producer apparently intended it to be a generic American Christmas, circa 1930-1950, but if you watch very closely, you can pinpoint the exact year. There are characters in the Christmas parade from the movie The Wizard of Oz, which premiered late in the summer of 1939 – so it couldn’t have been an earlier Christmas. It couldn’t have been Christmas 1941, or another wartime Christmas; everyone would have been haunted by Pearl Harbor in 1941, and in the years afterward there would have been war toys, Victory Bond drives, rationing, blackouts and all of that. There aren’t any post-war women’s fashions and hairstyles, either – so it must be either 1939 or 1940. There is a brief glimpse of the front of the automobile when the father fixes a flat tire – the yearly auto registration sticker is for 1940.
And that’s going to be my Christmas holiday – and yours?