Urban Critters

Critters in the City

by Celia Hayes

A good few years ago I had a project for a college class in ecology, a topic that I already knew a good bit about, thanks to Dad. Yea, my bretheren and sisteren, at that time, the whole concept of ecology was a brand new and shiny one, with that nice fresh concept smell to it. Dad, being the working research biologist, had introduced us it ages before – when we were in grade school, as a matter of fact. My class project involved finding out about nominally wild animals living in the city. In that pre-internet and search-engine day this involved a daisy chain of phone calls, beginning with the city animal control office, until I wound up talking to (IIRC) a gentlemen at the Bureau of Land Management, who kept saying that really, he didn’t know all that much about it, but talked for nearly an hour telling me of all kinds of examples and incidents involving wild animals settling down rather happily in suburbia, and even deep in city high-rises.

At the time, we lived in the hills, on the far fringes of a suburb nestled against a national forest; miles and miles of chaparral-covered hills and semi-dry creeks, so that we were already acquainted with coyotes and foxes, and once we had even found the tracks of a mountain lion, deep in the canyon on the muddy bank of a creek. I thought that I had left that kind of untrammeled wild-life far behind upon moving into a fairly built-up suburb in San Antonio, but no… there is plenty of wildlife, happily roaming in or flying over the neighborhoods.

There are enough fingers of woodland along the creeks and parks connecting them to support quantities of deer. In Hollywood Park the resident deer herd is seen as sort of community pet and the main campus of USAA also supports their own herd. The only surprising thing is that there are no apex predators preying on the deer save automobiles … yet, anyway. A couple of years ago one of my neighbors nailed a deer with his car, on Nacogdoches between Judson and O’Connor. The deer was killed – so was his radiator. I presume that there are coyotes and foxes prowling some of the denser thickets, although I have not seen or heard any – and believe me, although coyotes may be shy, they are not quiet.

The suburban critters that I have seen – and sometimes up close and personal are possums and raccoons. Just this very week I have had a young raccoon removed from where it had been making a messy nest under the eaves of the back porch. One morning when I came out to get the newspaper, I surprised some skunk kittens on my front porch. A neighbor had just demolished the deck at the back of her house, evicting them. I had a family of opossum kittens living in my garden for a while; four of them, who seemed to like the cat food that I put out for the timid semi-feral cat that I was trying to tame. I was eventually successful with the cat, but not the opossums.

Birds now – egrets in the creek bottomlands, rails and ducks in plenty, and wherever squirrels are in plenty, there will be hawks. There are several nesting pairs in my neighborhood alone, performing the office of chlorine in the squirrel gene pool – in two instances, sitting in the mulberry tree in the back yard, chowing down a nice bit of tender squirrel al la plein air. The wild kingdom is all around us, even in the middle of the city.

Return to Hardberger Park

Return to Hardberger Park

by Celia Hayes

So it has been a good many months since last we ventured into Hardberger Park, on Blanco just a titch north of where the Wurzbach Parkway runs between Blanco and IH-10. Our hopes are high, incidentally, that soon, very soon indeed, the link in the parkway between Wetmore and Blanco will be completed and we will be able to waft swiftly and without traffic lights halfway across the north side of town.

Our first clue that the main part of the park is finished and consequently enormously popular is that we had to circle the parking lot three times before finding a parking place. Yes, the park – the dog park, the play-ground and the hiking and biking trails are very, very popular on weekend mornings, especially as the weather has turned coolish, and it is smack in the middle of a number of upscale neighborhoods of condos, townhouses and apartments, along with the usual single-family houses. We snagged a parking place as my exasperated daughter was about to give up and drive back to McAllister Park, and the dogs were about to turn themselves inside out with impatience. Well, that, and the urge to pee. This was Nemo’s first trip to a dog park, now that he has been neutered, vaccinated and more or less socialized. He is an odd but appealing little dog, intelligent and fearless, barely fifteen-pound mix of wirehaired terrier, possibly Chihuahua and who knows what else. We called him Nemo because we found him. We think someone moved out of the neighborhood and left him behind. He followed us home one day, and has stayed ever since. The vet said he is about a year old – still very much a puppy and inclined to be playful. He will try and get the cats to play with him, which they will do, up to a point.

We turned the dogs loose inside the enclosure, and let the two little ones romp in the big-dog section, which Nemo enjoyed very much at first, until he realized that in the resulting multi-dog grand chase which developed, he was the rabbit – that is, the chasee, not the chaser. So, off to the small-dog area, which I think he enjoyed rather more, since there were dogs even smaller than him. When they all had run off some of their energy, we went for a walk as far as the old Voelcker Farm, where the path crosses the Salado and meanders north for a good few miles. The pavilion at the park, with bathrooms and water fountains and some kind of office in it – is now entirely finished, and the trail-head for that section of the Salado Creek Greenway goes straight through it.

We did not much farther than the old farm, noting that another parking lot is under construction adjacent to it. The scenic overlook, jutting out from the steep bank a good way over the dry creek-bed, is also finished. The margins of the concrete trails are lined with heavy timber benches. We did not spot any cows, out behind the old farm – but we did see some deer at a relatively close distance. Yes, deer are well-adapted to the tangle of the light woods and rather hard to spot. If they hadn’t been moving, I don’t think that anyone on the path would have seen them at all.

And that was my weekend – the first day of autumn. And yours?

Home Renovation Time

Home Renewal

by Celia Hayes

With the sale of the acreage in California coming down the home stretch in escrow, we have been considering what to do with the money from the sale of the land. Oh, a certain amount will be plowed back into the purchase of a Hill County Lot of half acre to an acre, but the immediate need is to spend about half of it on the current house. It was originally built by Centex around 1985, but all the components in it were construction grade and purchased by the warehouse-load. The light fixtures and fittings, the carpeting, linoleum, cabinets and countertops, sinks and toilets, the doors and windows, the installed appliances, the HVAC systems … all were pretty much uniform. Over the years, many of our neighbors have replaced certain elements, which we have recognized as they were put out for the bulk trash pick-up or to be taken away by the renovators.

I ripped out the carpeting in our house myself, long since, and replaced just about all of the light fixtures, but other more serious replacements and upgrades have had to wait until now. While waiting for escrow to close, we were not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. We were auditioning contractors to replace the HVAC system, and the windows. Those two were the most critical needs; critical because the CPS bill has been climbing insidiously upwards over the last few years. The original system was – as the maintenance company told me for many years – the wrong size, badly situated, and indifferently-installed. When extremely cold in the winter and hot in the summer, my daughter preferred to sleep in the den, since her bedroom was so uncomfortable. As for the windows – aluminum-framed double-paned and screens with frames so flimsy they bent if you looked at them cross-eyed – any trace of argon gas between the glass panes was a distant memory.

The HVAC contractor was an easy choice; we really only considered one, which had done such a bang-up job for a neighbor that he has been singing their praises ever since. He got a rebate on his CPS bill which has been good for months – that was the kind of thing that we are passionately interested in. What I would have paid to CPS will go into replacing the windows, which should cut down that bill even more. As for other projects – countertops, cabinets and floors, that may have to be done piecemeal, although we have a darned good chance of picking out some bargains at the Habitat for Humanity Home Center on Walzem.

We were there last weekend, scoping out cabinets and front doors, mostly. The Home Center is stocked with donations – both builder/construction surplus and donations from homeowners doing remodels. They even offer a tear-out service; they will come and take out old cabinets and countertops, without damaging them – and well, we approve of recycling, especially if it is good quality to start with. The one project we considered tackling ourselves, or with the help of a friend who does minor construction, is replacing the front door. The sealing around the door has degraded about as much as the windows. We spotted some exterior doors at the Home Center which would work very, very well … and even with paying the friend to help install the darned thing, it still would be less than the cost of doing it at Lowe’s. Hmm … calk, nails, a level, screwdriver, tape-measure. Doable, definitely.

Urban Living

The Geography of Urban Life

 by Celia Hayes

I suppose that moving to a new location every two or three years as an adult sharpened my antennae with regard to house-hunting, just as a childhood spent with parents who were extremely energetic about all kinds of D-I-Y home and garden improvement projects instilled a certain degree of optimism in me about tackling them. Just as we never bought a brand new car, we also never bought a brand new home, up until my parents’ retirement house, and true to character, they oversaw the building of that, as well as doing much of the work themselves. Otherwise, we made do and made the best with what already existed. Which, I will point out – my parents were very, very good at.

I had already decided that I would buy a house, at whatever location turned out to be my last active-duty assignment. Halfway through the next-to-the-last assignment at Yongsan, ROK, I learned that I would be assigned to a base in San Antonio for my last active-duty assignment; I procured a city map, contacted a local realtor and appealed to a number of friends at Yongsan who knew San Antonio well for advice. One of them was an Air Force security policeman who went at it from the law-enforcement perspective. Each time I had a thick envelope of printouts from the MLS, I would give them to him, and he would scribble a brief note on each one: notes like, Very Good, Good, OK, Eh, Bad ‘Hood, Very Bad ‘Hood. The listings for Bad ‘Hood and Very Bad ‘Hood were discarded immediately, although it later was a curiosity for me to discover that many very good neighborhoods were merely blocks away from the Bad ‘Hoods, and that many charming and historic neighborhoods of well-kept late 19th and early 20th century house were embedded right in the middle of tracts of Bad ‘Hood and or light industrial districts. This was an interesting experience for me, since in Los Angeles the extremes were usually separated by miles, rather than mere blocks.

I eventually finished up in an established suburb on the northeast side of San Antonio, almost to the outside 1604 ring road, although I did keep looking wistfully at some of the old neighborhoods inside the 410 Loop. Alas, I could never afford a house in the nicest – such as Alamo Heights and Olmos Park – and the ones which I could have afforded were either in need of extensive rebuilding, or located in – as my security policeman friend said, Bad ‘Hood, or at best, an Eh. Still, it is interesting to note the progression of gentrification along the margins, like along North New Braunfels near Fort Sam. There were many houses and old duplex units along that route which once looked as if they were about to fall down – and now they have been propped up, painted, and renewed. I used to look wistfully at the 1920s era Spanish Colonial style houses along Mahncke Park, and think of how I would love one of those. Back then, a lot of them looked to be sadly run-down, but not any more. Government Hill, on the other side of Fort Sam also looked pretty slummy, but now many of those Victorian cottages have been rehabbed and renewed for another good few decades. I guess that the genius of gentrification is to figure out where it would be a good bet to buy and renovate – and have the wherewithal to do it. Just as a pie in the sky wild guess, I would say that the stretch of neighborhood along Blanco between Funston and Woodlawn might the next trendy focus for renewal, since it is in between a pair of very nice old neighborhoods, but is itself a little seedy at present.

Draw of Downtown San Antonio

The Draw of Downtown

By Celia Hayes

Now and again we are drawn downtown – usually not when there is a mass event involving crowds of people, expensive parking and temperatures of 90 degrees and above – but for purposes of our own, often involving visiting friends and relations, book research, or just plain curiosity. On these occasions we are reminded again of what a lovely civic jewel the Riverwalk is, even though I am certain that the noise and congestion would become tiresome for those living or working in one of the buildings overlooking it … but still. Green water, fringed with immensely tall feather-leaved cypress trees and narrow gardens, stone walkways, little bridges and ornaments of civic art in tile, metal and stone. It is a marvel and I do not grudge a penny of my taxes which helps to maintain, support and enlarges it, yea even to the north as far as Breckenridge Park and to the south as far as Mission Espada. Let all be adorned and improved, let the gardens and fountains be extended, ancient and not-so-ancient structures be repaired and repurposed, to the greater glory of our fair city. It brings in tourists and conventions, after all – as well as the creative, the enterprising, the trendy and artistic – and as the Riverwalk is extended, brings even more of it to those of us who live here.

But this last Labor Day, I had a curiosity about the arts and crafts show which was supposed to be arrayed along the banks of the Riverwalk adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce. Of course, by the time that we drifted in from parking around the corner from Main Plaza and walking from there, a fair number of the arts and crafts vendors had departed. It was y, it was hot, the crowds were thin and the next day was a regular work and school day, so I wasn’t the least surprised.

We parked near Main Plaza and walked through it on the way to the stair down to the Riverwalk. This was a project of a former mayor to make the Main Plaza a more park-like and pedestrian-friendly place than it was when I moved here in 1995. Then, if I recall correctly from calls for jury duty, it was a mean and isolated little patch of discouraged grass, a statue of St. Anthony, and a stand of oak trees, isolated by four very busy streets – Soledad, Main, Commerce and Dolorosa on each of it’s four sides. Hizzhonor’s original plan was to cut off all four streets and divert local downtown traffic who-knows-elsewhere. He was discouraged in this by the screams of local businesses and commuters, although it just may have been a bargaining chip. In the end, only Soledad and Main were pinched off. Now the sweep of the old square in front of San Fernando is adorned by ornamental paving, fountains, trees, a couple of kiosks, moveable chairs and tables in the European style, and very few aggressive homeless.

We wandered briskly along, stopping to admire a number of dogs downtown with their persons in tow, and wondered if we should bring our own next time. Eh – maybe. Of the artists remaining, one which drew our rapt attention was one featuring silver and larimar stone jewelry. Larimar is, according to the vendor behind the table, a unique volcanic stone, rather glasslike and several shades lighter blue than turquoise. It only comes from one little mine in the Dominican Republic. Then there was an artist whom my daughter had been looking for, ever since spotting the art at a First Friday several months ago, and never seen since. So – all to the best was this trip downtown. We emerged back into Main Plaza somewhat dehydrated but triumphant. That was my weekend – yours?

Jams and Preserves A Specialty Shop in Fredericksburg

A Little Local Home Grown Company

by Celia Hayes

So, I came to San Antonio for my final tour of Air Force duty in 1995 – but I think it took a little while for me to discover Fredericksburg, and the lovely, tasty specialty food products put out by Fischer and Wieser, of Fredericksburg in the Hill Country. It is in my mind that for the first couple of years, Fredericksburg was the only place that you could buy them anyway. Certainly all the little gourmet food outlets along Main Street had a good selection of Fischer & Wieser jams and preserves. There was an annex to Das Peach Haus in a teeny former residence near to the Nimitz Museum, which is where we usually bought those items which took our fancy.

Looking at the company website, it appears that was about the time that Case Fischer developed the Roasted Raspberry Chipotle sauce, which in movie parlance, was a tiny little local biasness’s First Big Break. Roasted Raspberry Chipotle is magnificent, by the way, but at first it must have seemed to be one of the weirdest concoctions ever proposed. Smoked Mexican chipotle peppers … and runny raspberry jam? Together? Hoooo-kay… But it put Fischer & Wieser – and chipotle peppers on the map. (For my money, the best thing on grilled shrimp is the ginger-habanero sauce, though. After driving past Das Peach Haus every time we came in to Fredericksburg by the road from Comfort – we finally stopped and went inside, and realized that – oh, my, it is bigger than it looks! There are little patches of landscaped garden all around, shaded by a grove of pine trees. And there are resident cats, too – always a good indication of quality, no matter if the product is books, garden stuff … or gourmet foods.

But the peach orchard which was the genesis of the company has been around since the Wieser family bought the property in the 1920s, and their son Mark opened a roadside fruit stand in 1969. There are a lot of seasonal roadside fruit stands on the main roads leading to Fredericksburg, and the Peach Haus was just one of them. The family sold fresh peaches, of course, and home-made peach preserves. Mark Wieser also taught school – and one of his students often helped out at peach harvesting time. Case Fischer was so keen on the possibilities of a specialty-food, development, marketing and entrepreneurship, that he went off to college and studied all that … and when he came home to Fredericksburg, he teamed up with his old teacher, and set about innovating, creating and producing quality foods; sauces for meats and pastas, mustards, jams and preserves, pie filling, salad dressing and dips.

And instead of just keeping it a local thing, Fischer & Wieser went national. Within a couple of years, I didn’t have to make the long drive up to Fredericksburg for some Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce – it and other products were on the shelves at the local HEB – even my own local, which usually is a little light on the gourmet goods. Even better – they are available in military commissaries and on Amazon.com. Not bad for a tiny local enterprise which started as a roadside fruit stand. Yes, indeedy – they did build that business.

But look out for the Ghost Pepper BBQ sauce … more than a quarter of a teaspoon can be lethal. I think it’s made for people who think straight Tabasco is just too darned bland.

Texas Barbeque…The Food of the Gods

Texas BBQ

It’s just one of those things – Texas should be so large a state as to have not one, but several different regional variants in barbeque stylings. Yes, in less-blessed climes, barbeque is done by just throwing your choice of animal flesh on the grill on the back porch and allowing it to char slowly over the coals or (byte ones tongue) propane flame. I have even run across *shudder* recipes for marinated and grilled slabs of tofu.

Sorry – barbeque here means mainly beef, although pork, turkey, chicken, sausages, and even cabrito – or goat and mutton – makes an appearance in the borderland Hispanic variant of barbecoa. There is the east Texas variant; marinated beef cooked slowly over hickory wood until the meat falls from the bone and served with a thick, tomato-based sauce, the central Texas option; beef or other meats rubbed with spices and cooked slowly over pecan or oak wood, and the south Texas style which features cooking over mesquite – an acquired taste. South Texas style preference is for a thick sauce and moist meat. A great many of the old established independent barbeque places began as meat markets, where the butcher – in the days before deep-freeze refrigeration – thriftily began to smoke and slow-cook all those leftover or unsellable bits at the end of the day, providing them as ready-to-eat morsels the next day. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes.

Frankly, to me, it’s all good, no matter what variant and the selection of commercial sauces available at the local HEB will prove that we love it here, either D-I-Y or from the local maestro of the pit. In the main, people here have high standards when it comes to making barbeque themselves, and adamant concerning the virtues of all those places which provide it; from chains like Bill Miller with outlets everywhere, through enormous single-standing locations like the Kreus Market in Lockhart, and then there are tiny and often locally famous places – like the Riverside Meat Market in Boerne (cunningly disguised as a meat market in the back of a corner Shell gas station) – and even the peripatetic Smoke Shack, a food truck which is usually, but not always to be found just inside the 410 Loop at Nacogdoches, parked in what used to be a gas station. Aficionados will drive any number of miles to sample the glories of an independent barbeque outlet … and many other aficionados will also pay interestingly substantial amounts for grills and smokers of every description, although I will note that to the hard-core, propane is frowned upon. It’s all in the wood and cooking it long and slow, in the flavored smoke. For a while, I had one of those inexpensive barrel-shaped cylindrical smoker-griller things, which did an amazing job for the price – save that I had to cook a huge lot at a time, which was only cost-effective if I was expecting to feed a small army on hickory-smoked chicken.

These days, I have to cheat, with my daughter’s propane grill from Lowe’s – which does the job – and I suspect that if I tinkered with it a bit, and figured out a way to put in a pan of soggy wood-chips and keep the heat really, really low – I might have some decently-flavored barbeque.

A couple of years ago, we had a celebration supper at our place, using a recipe for chicken, from the Barefoot Contessa cookbook. The sauce is sublime and hereby passed on.

Sauté until translucent in ½ cup oil: 1 ½ cups chopped onions and 1 Tbsp minced garlic. Add: 1 cup tomato paste, 1 cup cider vinegar, 1 cup honey, ½ cup Worcestershire sauce, 1 cup Dijon mustard, ½ cup soy sauce, 1 cup Hoisin sauce, 2 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, and ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes. Simmer uncovered, over low heat for half an hour.

Cut up 2 2½ -3 lb chickens, and marinate them overnight in 2/3rds of the sauce. Roast them over low heat for about 45 minutes, basting them with marinade. Serve with the reserved sauce on the side.

When the Railway Came to Town

Choo choo ch’boogie

by Celia Hayes

From the earliest days, San Antonio was strategically located at the meeting of two major roads – the Camino Real, the roughly east-west road between Monclova and Mexico City and Natchitoches in Louisiana, and the Camino Del Norte, roughly a north/south route with many variations, but generally running between San Antonio and Laredo and points south. Strategic indeed, in the days of mule trains, ox-drawn freight wagons, horse-drawn stages and messengers on horseback, with goods and settlers arriving by sail and steam in coastal ports in Mexico, along the Texas and Louisiana gulf coast.

It took more than a decade after the end of the Civil War for San Antonio to be connected by steel rails to the rest of the country. The railway arrived in early 1877, much longed-for and received with much civic rejoicing. San Antonio was the very last major American city left un-served by a railway. The upper mid-west, east of the Mississippi-Missouri rivers had been thickly interconnected, even before the Civil War, the south less well so. Within four years after the war, the steel rails connected east and west, with the driving of the last spike at Promontory Point, Utah. From that year to the end of the century the railways ruled. Travel to far places in the west was made easier, faster, safer and cheaper. Goods and people flowed west – and the change which the railway brought to San Antonio is made clear to me in comparing a pair of city views of San Antonio in a style very popular at that time birds-eye views, half panorama and half city map. The Amon Carter museum has a good collection of such views of Texas cities. Artist and map-maker Agustus Koch made the first map of San Antonio in 1873; I have a copy of it hanging over my desk at this moment. In that year, the River City was what it had been for the previous two decades or so: a tight-packed cluster of Monopoly-shaped houses around Military and Main Plaza, lining a few blocks of Soledad and Flores, much of the length of Commerce street down to Alamo Plaza, where the Long Barracks and the old Alamo chapel are clearly identifiable. All the rest of town is a scattering of more small houses along straight-ruled avenues and open squares, rectangular and triangular plazas, all of them surrounded with gardens, orchards and open meadows. King William is marked out, to the south and east, and the first glimmerings of Southtown are clear; but the town unravels into rural within six or eight blocks in any direction from Commerce.

After the railroad arrived, Agustus Koch returned in 1886 to create an updated map. Those spaces which were gardens and relatively open fields were filled in; the streets presented an aspect of side-by side urban businesses and residences, taller and more imposing than the old single-story or two story structures that once had lined the city streets. A mule-drawn streetcar system connected the railway station on one side of town to the pleasure-grounds around the original San Pedro Springs on the other, shifted the business district north to Houston Street, and allowed residential neighborhoods to spread in every direction. The Army, finding that what remained of the historic presidio and the plaza before it was just too small for their needs, had decamped to a new establishment, Fort Sam Houston, on the low hills north of the city. The 1886 map shows the Quadrangle, and the parade grounds – and most clearly of all, the rail lines which had made all the difference between being a small and rather remote town, and a city of local and national significance.

Texas Tea

South Texas Oil

I can’t say that I was very surprised to find out from various online sources last week that Texas is pumping so much oil from the Eagle Ford Shale formation in South Texas (among other oil-rich shale formations, some of which are not quite as well-along as far as drilling goes) that if it were an independent country, it would be one of the top fifteen oil producers. I am not one who follows this kind of thing, religiously – although where I grew up in Southern California, I remember seeing many a small rocking-horse pumpjacks scattered here and there, nodding busily away in the bean-fields and citrus orchards in Camarillo, or along the highways and back roads. It was just one of those things in the background. I don’t know if there are many pumpjacks left in So-Cal now. Probably not, although they are at least as unlovely as wind turbines and probably don’t kill nearly as many birds. I lament the loss of the place where I grew up, by the way; a place of citrus groves, and lonely hills, a rural, blue-collar and working-class kind of place, where you could drive in a single afternoon from a palm-tree desert to a pine tree covered mountain-top frosted in snow. Alas, it seems that the wealthy coastal enclaves drive California now, to the ruination of the places which I remember so fondly.

But I like to think of Texas as a massive producer of oil and gasoline, especially when the stuff gets to be north of $3.00 a gallon. And I should have so known that the boom was big, and doing good for South Texas, just by simple observation over the time that I have lived here, especially since I began to write historical fiction and taking long road trips – towards Beeville and Goliad and Port Lavaca and all – especially to Goliad, which we have done for a good few years now. It once was, going down 181, through Poth and Karnes City and Kenedy, or by other routes through Smiley or Stockdale and Nixon to other destinations. Four or five years ago, many of the little towns along the way appeared as if they were dying on the vine. There were so many crumbling storefronts – and the ones open for some kind of business presented a more forlorn aspect than the ones which had given up the ghost and boarded up entirely. Weekday or weekend – such towns were deserted by mid-afternoon. Even the parking lot of the Walmart in Kenedy was all but deserted the first couple of times we drove past.

We first began noticing the changes along about Christmas 2010, driving down to Goliad to take part in Christmas on the Square. Suddenly – there were oilfield developments, truck parks and wells, dotted here and there among the pastures and brushlands; newly paved and graveled, lit up boldly at night. There was a little more traffic on the roads and the small towns didn’t look nearly so forlorn. The crumbling motel suddenly was rehabbed, and a number of new cabin-style units added to the row of existing roomettes. There were lights in the café, new vehicles parked out front, and on the edge of town there were several new RV parks – which, since there were no golf-courses, lakes or riverfront amusements – were obviously for workers rather than vacationers. New housing developments were going in, outside of Karnes City and Poth – and the Walmart parking lot was full. We remarked on this, to some old friends in Goliad – long-time residents, who confirmed our observations. There were neighbors and residents who owned country acreage who had been scraping by on a shoestring for decades – and now they had regular and generous checks for leasing their land.

On the whole, this is a good thing – and a good thing to know that this new oil boom has bought some prosperity to places that hadn’t seen much of it lately. I’d much rather that some of what I pay at the pump for unleaded is going right back here to Texas.

A Vegetable Medley

Vegetariana

 

by Celia Hayes

Alack and alas, the squashes which I planted in the spring, which came up, leafed out and flowered bountifully never actually produced any squash plants before they gracefully sank to the ground, withered and gave up the ghost. This has been to my complete mystification – they were provided plenty of sun, water and fertilizer, and I did not see that any of the plants were afflicted with vine borers. Well, next spring is another chance for a San Antonio home backyard garden; meanwhile I have pulled up the dead plants and harvested the small crop of red potatoes … which did thrive, although most of the resulting potatoes were the size of marbles and radishes. We have already eaten the largest of them – and tasty indeed they were, although I mourn they are not zucchini and patty-pan squash … I would have made ratatouille from the zucchini, the eggplant and the garden tomatoes. And no – ratatouille does not normally involve rats. This is a recipe that my mother loved, from Sunset’s French Cookbook 1976 edition. Just think of it as a vegetable medley – sometimes I have made it with fresh tomatoes, too.

Combine in an 3-quart ovenproof casserole:

3 TBsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1 1-lb eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 medium zucchini, cut in 1-inch slices
1 1-lb can whole tomatoes and their juice, chopping tomatoes roughly with a spoon
1 tsp basil leaves
1/2 tsp salt

Cover and bake in a 400 deg. oven for about two hours, or cover and simmer gently on the stove-top, until vegetables are very soft, uncovering and stirring once or twice. Garnish with parsley and serve.

The tomatoes didn’t do well this year, either. Again, I am not certain why – except that perhaps my personal tomato curse has returned, or that it was, like previous years, just too darned hot for them by mid-spring.

However, and on the bright side – we had beans, lots of lovely green beans, and now that the first planting has given up the ghost, I have planted another round. Eggplants we have – not very many, but it’s not one of my absolute faves as a vegetable, either. But as for peppers … cayenne and bell peppers and jalapenos – all of those plants are thriving, many of them on their second or third year. Very likely I can grind up my own chili powder or cayenne pepper from that I have.

Another vegetable delight that I hope someday to make from home-grown vegetables is vegetable chili – this from Nava Atlas’s Vegeteriana

Sautee in 2 Tbsp olive oil: 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped bell pepper until the onion is limp. Then add 1 zucchini, sliced, 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 14-oz can whole tomatoes with their liquid, 1 6-oz tomato paste, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp chili powder (more or less to taste), 1 teasp ground cumin, ½ teasp each ground coriander and oregano, ¼ teasp dried thyme, dash cayenne pepper, and 2 ½ cups cooked or canned kidney beans. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Serve garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream, pickled green chilis and warm tortillas on the side; food of the gods, vegetarian division.