What to do With Gumbo

Tales of Gumbo

by Celia Hayes

I may be defeated in my ambitions this year to have bounteous crops of tomatoes and zucchini squash … but by way of comfort, the peppers of various sorts and the okra plants are multiplying and producing like champs. The encouraging thing about the okra plants is that I have been able to grow a fair number of plants from seeds left in the pods that I let go last year … and that the darned things do grow like weeks. However, the okra pods of the variety that I have propagated do have to be harvested before they get to be about three inches long; otherwise they are tough and woody to the point of inedibility. (But still good for gleaning seeds for the next crop.) I would actually consider planting a good-sized patch of okra in the front garden, for the flowers are actually rather attractive; they look a bit like a variety of hibiscus which has pale yellow flowers with a red spot in the center. Alas, in the eyes of non-gardeners and farmers, the leaves of okra bear an unfortunate resemblance to marijuana plants, and while I would like to hope that the average neighborhood SAPD officer has enough savvy to tell the difference at a glance … I don’t want to borrow trouble.

So – okra in quantity; what to do with it? Aside from pickles, and breading and deep-frying it, my usual method for okra is to slice up the pods as I harvest them, and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer until I have enough to make a good batch of gumbo out of it. Gumbo is one of those all-purpose dishes like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese; infinite number of recipes in infinite variations, depending on what you have on hand. It all begins with a roux, of course – oil and flour stirred together, until the flour darkens to the color of a tarnished copper coin. This is what gives the gumbo broth it’s thickening substance.

This is a recipe that I like to use, raided from the internet, but with additions from one of my Cajun cookbooks and adjusted to incorporate the accumulated okra harvest.
Combine together ½ cup peanut oil and the same of flour, and simmer until darkened – but not burnt! Add in 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped green or red pepper, and 3 stalks of celery – all very finely chopped, and stir together with the roux until the vegetables are limp. Add in 3-4 minced cloves of garlic, and 1 Tbsp of Creole seasoning, like Tony Chachere’s. In another pot, heat almost to boiling, 5 cups of fish, chicken, or vegetable stock, and blend it gently into the roux-vegetable mixture, stirring constantly. Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce and 1 to 1 ½ cups fresh or frozen okra, sliced into rounds. Cover and simmer for half an hour, and add half to 3/4ths of a pound smoked Andouille sausage, sliced into ¼ inch rounds and 1-2 lbs fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined. If the shrimp is already cooked, then just simmer the gumbo long enough to warm the sausage and shrimp through. Serve with a scoop of hot rice in the middle, and a sprinkling of sliced green onion.

Gardening March 2014

Planning for the Garden

By Celia Hayes

Once more into the breach, my friends; with the date of the last predicted frost in South Texas historically being in mid-March, it’s time to get started with vegetables. Indeed, the local HEB began putting out vegetable starts late in February, when the temperatures became so balmy and mild that I was seriously tempted in indulge – after all, $1.00-1.25 for a four-inch pot with a healthy young plant in it? Yes, I was eager to enter the fray once again, after last years’ disastrous tomato-growing debacle. It was too hot, too soon, and those plants which did manage to bear fruit … well, the rats got to them. Not just the tomatoes, but the fresh young sprigs, and the leaves of the pepper plants as well.

The very Sunday afternoon that I finished setting out the various starts from HEB – even as I was assembling the patent tomato cage, the cold front blew in. There I was, working in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt on a warm and muggy afternoon; we had even been running the AC, since it was so warm. Then, suddenly, I felt a cool breeze, as if the AC had suddenly kicked in outside, and within ten minutes it felt as it it had dropped fifteen degrees. We rushed the newly-planted tomato and pepper starts into the greenhouse, along with the tenderer of the potted plants, but to no avail. The water in the birdbaths was frozen hard the next morning, and the newly-planted lantanas by the walkway were pretty well frost-scorched. Even the new green leaves on the ash trees were hit. Curiously, the long containers of lettuce and salad greens by the new flower bed at the front door as well as the bulbs in it – all of which had just sprouted in the last week or so — survived just fine, under cover of a heavy blanket. But everything else, even the pole beans which had just put up two or three leaves … alas.

So they are not kidding when they tell you how fast a cold front can blow in. And they also were not kidding about the last frost being in mid-March. Fortunately, I still had plenty of pole and bush bean seeds, so I’ve only lost a couple of weeks as far as they are concerned. And on Friday, we bustled over to Rainbow Gardens, which offered row upon row of tomato starts, plain, fancy, heirloom, large and small, early and late. I’ve gotten half a dozen of them into the grow box, and the rest must wait for a bag of fresh potting soil to go into the topsy-turvy planters. I’m also figuring out a way to do space-saving and self-sustaining raised beds, rather than depending on the compost bin and my vast collection of large pots. There’s a kind of raised circular bed called a key-hole garden, with a working compost heap in the center, which looks very attractive and useful, but being circular would take up too large a chunk of the back yard. Another suggestion was a series of low columns about the diameter of fifty-gallon drums, made of chicken wire lined with straw or even weed barrier, with compost working in the bottom two-thirds, and a layer of potting soil on top with plants growing in it, which would be a bit more practical for me, space-wise.

And that is my week in the garden – yours?

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?

Beanz-Garden Update

Beanz! A Garden Update

for all your San Antonio Home Buying needs!

by Celia Hayes

I have to say that the occasional rain shower over the last week or so has been very, very, very welcome, and so have the cool fronts. Anything which delays the full frontal blast of wicked summer heat by a week or so is a good thing in my book. But it has been a good month in the garden; what a difference a mere four or five weeks have made.

This year, I bit the bullet – the only plant starts that I bought were tomatoes. They went into a pair of Earth Boxes, and six home-made hanging planters. So far, lots of big green tomatoes, but nothing edible yet. For just about all the other plants this year, I began with packets of seeds from Lowe’s; three or four kinds of beans, sugar peas, three kinds of squash, and five seed potatoes from Rainbow Gardens. The bell, jalapeno and cayenne pepper plants are left over from previous years, as are the eggplants. I had never really thought of them all as perennials, but they all came back very nicely from winter.

The pepper plants are thriving, and the eggplants all have fresh new foliage and are hung with star-shaped purple blossoms which herald fat little eggplants, or so I hope. The okra plants began from seeds from last years’ okra plants. I didn’t know that you have to pick the okra pods as soon as they are about four or five inches long; any bigger than that, and they are totally inedible. So, I had a boat-load of okra seeds. Until now I had never had much luck growing vegetables from seeds. Very likely, I was doing it all wrong in trying to cultivate the terrible, horrible, awful clay soil that my yard is made of. Even digging in sand and compost didn’t help much. Last year we used Scott’s Moisture Control Potting mix in the pots and Earth Boxes, and things generally did very well. This year we filled the two raised beds with it, planted squash and potatoes in one, and beans in the other, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

The squash have begun putting out blossoms; it looks like the little green patty-pan squash are going first, with the yellow squash and the zucchini lagging slightly behind. The beans – the Kentucky Wonder variety began going up the string net which I had run from the edge of the raised bed to the top of the fence as if there had been some green bean drill instructor screaming at them to climb. As of this week they are covered in little white and purple flowers. These things are supposed to bear copious quantities of beans – and harvesting them regularly encourages even more. I still have packets of other varieties of beans, and hope to start another couple of small raised beds. It seems that I have inadvertently hit on the right place in my garden to grow pole beans; partly shaded for much of the day, but growing up against a south-facing fence.

I also had a packet of lettuce seeds, and another of mixed salad greens, which just this week had enough leaves to harvest and use in salads. Oh, the taste of fresh greens is indescribably good. When the squash plants are exhausted, and I dig up the potatoes in the fall, I am planning to put up a plastic tent over the large raised bed and sow more salad greens and lettuce inside. I’d like to be able to eat out of my own garden for the rest of this year, and even have enough excess to freeze.

And that’s my week in the garden – what about yours?

Suburban Garden

The Many-Splendored Suburban Garden

by Celia Hayes

Given a nice big lot, spectacular situation, mature trees, an architect-designed mansion, and massive infusions of money, it’s practically a no-brainer that there will be a beautiful garden, or even a merely adequate or maybe just a functional one adorning it all. What is really a challenge for a hard-core gardener is to create a lovely garden on a tiny lot, in a fairly ordinary suburb of small and relatively plain houses … and on a budget. Sounds impossible, but it has been done by at least three homeowners in my very own neighborhood of Spring Creek Forrest. One of the very loveliest gardens, alas, has since declined since the original owner sold the house. At it’s best it looked like the pictures of a classical English cottage garden in one of the glossy home-and-garden magazines. Admittedly it was high-maintenance, with stone and gravel pathways, a patch of lawn and flower borders to die for; that first owner had no social life at all, outside of work. She spent all her time on the garden, and it showed.

But the second spectacular garden that I know of has been established on an even tinier lot – and the best of it isn’t even visible from the street. You’d never know, just by looking – although the fact that the front lawn and the single well-manicured flower bed in it would likely give a clue. The house is one of those very like mine; a narrow rectangular cottage built close to the property line on one side, with the garage at the front. There is a gate into the long and skinny side yard, which leads to the front door – which isn’t actually at the front, being that it is in the middle of the long side. A lot of the smaller houses in Spring Creek Forest were built like that, which means that at worst, the windows along that side offer a splendid view of the long blank wall of your next-door neighbor’s house, at a distance of about fifteen feet or so.

Not this house, though – a number of small ornamental trees planted by the original owner masked that unenticing prospect. The original owner also had a screened back porch installed at the back of the house – which was one of the main reasons that Bess and James bought the place as their retirement home about two years ago. They loved the screened porch, and the tiny yard that it overlooked. The house had one more advantage; some very tall trees in neighboring yards provide shade in the afternoon; a good thing, especially at the height of summer. And because of the slight grade present, none of the neighboring houses windows overlook that patch of pocket paradise.

One of the first things that Bess and James did was to tear out a wooden deck and gazebo along the side, and replace it with a walkway of flagstones set into decomposed granite gravel. There are several benches and chairs along that skinny side garden; it feels larger than it really is. The screened porch looks out on the back yard, and another paved area, shaded with a fig tree. Bess has many flowering plants in pots lining the walkway. They do have hopes of a small patch of healthy lawn – but near-constant shade makes it iffy. And almost the best part is that nothing planted in it is particularly exotic or high-maintenance; in fact, Beth laughs, because just about all of it came from Lowe’s.

Our Little Backyard Garden in April

April in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Ah, the rain which fell last week; glorious, bountiful rain, just when we had given up all hope of seeing such again. And just about when I had concluded that we had skipped over spring entirely and gone straight into summer. Having to run the air conditioner because it’s ninety degrees outside – freaking ninety degrees! – in March! That is just wrong … especially when most of the rest of the northern hemisphere is suffering cold, rain, snow. If I could have figured out a way to swap about twenty degrees of Fahrenheit for about ten inches of rain over a week or so, I would so do it.

On the other hand, the cycle of undue warmth and a sudden generous rain has worked out in the long run, so I ought not to complain too much. The big raised bed is filled with squash sprouts – zucchini, golden and the round greenish ones which my grandmother always called ‘patty-pan’ squash. This is a promising start, for as of yet they are only sprouts: Whether or not my ambition to have squash by the bag-full to inflict on the neighbors remains to be seen. The five seed potatoes that I planted at the far end of the bed are also sprouting vigorously. I had a thought – potatoes might make a very attractive bedding plant, if interspersed with some kind of flowering annual. And at the end of the season, you could harvest the potatoes; ornamental and edible!

Now the small raised bed, full of three kinds of beans is going to town. I thought that all three of kinds planted there were bush beans – but it seems that the middle row is sending out exploratory tendrils towards the chicken wire that I wrapped the raised bed in, so as to prevent the dogs from trampling all over them. My ambitions are to have two more small raised beds, so as to keep the bean crops going as long as possible, and now I see that a trellis of some kind will have to feature in them.

I had three ornamental wire plant towers, bought here and there, now serving as either tomato cages for the tomatoes that I planted in earth boxes, or as supports for sugar peas. I planted the sugar peas just last week, and after seven days there are tiny green slips sprouting in the earth box. The tomatoes in the home-made hanging containers are also thriving; they were started the earliest and so are already putting out embryonic tomatoes. The largest is the size of a marble. Several weeks ago I discovered Rainbow Gardens as a source for exotic tomato starts – a veritable rainbow of colors of tomatoes. I loved the little lemon-yellow tomatoes that we had last year; ‘Yellow Pear’ was the name, and so that’s one kind that we’ll try again. Last week I bought a huge, gangly variety called a ‘Black Krim’ which comes from southern Russia and is supposed to thrive in heat … which we can guarantee!

I’ve held over a number of plants from last year; notably various peppers which had been growing in the pepper topsy-turvey. They did OK in the topsy – not spectacular, but OK. I put them all in pots – much, much better. I will never have to purchase cayenne or jalapeno peppers ever again, and as for bell peppers – a single plant from last year now has nearly a dozen half-sized green bell peppers on it.

And that was my week in the garden – how was yours?

Woof Wednesdays

Woof Wednesdays at the Animal Defense League

by Celia Hayes

… At the Animal Defense League; every Wednesday until the end of this month, the adoption fees for dogs over the age of puppy are reduced … which is a very generous concession indeed, considering that the dogs available have been spayed or neutered, chipped, and up to date on things like rabies vaccinations and heartworm medication. We are not in any particular need of another dog at present, as the pair that we have are completely satisfactory, fairly young and in good health. But if we were looking for another dog, and the fates that dictate these matters didn’t present us with a suitable candidate straight off the streets of our own San Antonio neighborhood (as was the story with Connor, who was found running loose, and the charming little Pom, also found running loose) we would certainly consider adopting from the Animal Defense League. They have a sprawling compound off Nacogdoches Road, near the Wurzbach Expressway; a dozen buildings, an animal hospital facility, and a large area set up as a dog park.

So, hearing about this – and my daughter also heard that there is a thrift shop involved – we decided to stop by the place and actually go inside, and see if I could take some cute pictures of the cats and dogs and do a blog post about it. I had only been driving past the place for nearly fifteen years, so it was about time. We did explain that we weren’t interested so much in adoption, as we were encouraging other people to do so. The management in the adoption center were perfectly amenable to this, so we circled through two of the small dog buildings … but first, my daughter had to look at the kittens. There is nothing cuter than a basket of kittens, and there were some terribly appealing ones on hand in the so-called ‘Kitten Room’- including a little all-black one suitably named “Salem” who kept reaching out with his paw through the wire as I was taking pictures of the infant flame-point Siamese brother and sister in the adjacent cage. “Me!” it was as if he was commanding, “Me! Pay attention to me!”

Anyway – on to the small dogs and puppies; there were not very many puppies. The uncrowned king of the puppy area was a small poodle, who was introduced to us as “Patriot” – a special, special-needs dog. Patriot is almost nine years old, and completely blind. In spite of that, he is friendly and outgoing. He gets around all right, but absolutely hates the confinement of the cage. He is actually most content, sitting in a lap or in a basket by a chair – and appears also to be allergic to grass. He’d be a perfect pet for someone working from home in a small place; his demand for walkies would be absolutely minimal.

Then we walked around to a larger building housing a number of small to medium dogs, and the attendant suggested that if we wanted to get some good pictures, just tell her which dog took our fancy. We could go out into the dog park area, and get some good pictures. Our interest alighted on a medium-small tan-colored dog named “Piglet” mostly because of her pleading eyes, and the way her ears stuck out to the sides of her head. Piglet is half Chihuahua … and pit bull. However that worked out, the mating itself must have been comic to behold. In any case, it resulted in a sweet-tempered and appealing little dog, which came along readily on the leash. She was described as being rather shy, but we didn’t find her so. My daughter is still rather surprised that she didn’t wind up coming hope with us anyway. So – that was our Wednesday. And if you are considering adding a dog to your family, consider the Animal Defense League. On Wednesday or any other day.

My Dream Texas Garden

Now My Dream Texas Garden

by Celia Hayes

In my last post I outlined what I would like to have as my dream Texas dream retirement home; a lot about the houses and some generalities about the landscape. I’d like a slightly rolling property, oriented towards the west, and studded with a handful of oak trees and a bit of a wildflower meadow at a slight distance. I didn’t put in much about the garden around it … just that there would be one. Being that I would like this dream home in the Hill Country someplace, I’d have to take care of the tender plants during those cold winter snaps when it gets down to or below freezing. Plants that scrape through a cold snap in San Antonio would not do as well during the winter in the Hills … so I would have to have some kind of accommodation for them. A permanent small greenhouse would be a graceful addition to my notion of a compound of small cottages – especially one of those ornate Victorian style ones.

I’d actually look to having a good-sized vegetable and herb garden; what I have now but expanded at least four times. I have read good things about straw-bale gardening – that is, raised beds constructed of straw-bales. In any case, raised beds, and filled with good soil and the proper nutrients. A good-sized kitchen garden would have to be surrounded with a stout wire fence, though. It is exasperating to have a good crop of tomatoes or squash coming in, only to discover that hungry rodents have helped themselves. I’d have a good variety of kitchen herbs, too – hanging from baskets, of course. Herbs seem to do incredibly well in coconut-fiber lined baskets; this year I have one with a thyme plant spilling over the side and hanging halfway to the ground – and I’ve never before gotten thyme to thrive in a terra cotta pot. Perhaps I’d connect two of the cottages with an arbor of unpeeled cedar poles, to hang the baskets of herbs from.

I’d add a scattering of trees to the oaks on my dream property; at least a couple of almond verbenas, which start as shrubs and with any encouragement at all turn into medium sized ornamental trees. They are not much to look at, but the clusters of tiny flowers have the most amazing sweet almond smell. I’d have some redbud trees for the look of them, and finally a couple of bearing fruit trees; peaches, or plums most likely, and a good pecan tree, too. The trees would bridge the gap between the practical vegetable garden, and the ornamental garden – which would be heavily tilted towards native and native-adapted plants which look after themselves, pretty much.

There would be roses, though – I couldn’t get along without roses, although they would also be the hardy sorts, and picked out more for their scent than their appearance. There would be shrubs to attract birds, butterflies and bees, much as I have now, only spread out a little more generously. I’d have a large area close to the entertainment kitchen and the grill paved in brick or stone … and that is where the main garden ornament would be; a fountain; a good-sized tall stone one, rather like the ones that adorn the private courtyards in the old houses I used to see in Spain, with a wide enough ledge to sit on surrounding the lower pool. And when I had a party, the guests could enjoy the sound of trickling water, the scent of almond verbena, and look at the late afternoon sun setting in the distance …

and that is my dream Texas Hill Country garden – what is yours?

Okra

The Way of the Okra

Although I have only one huge okra plant, and a couple of others which have produced intermittently and spasmodically, individual okes (is that the singular of okra, like meese should be the singular of moose?) my garden just doesn’t seem to produced sufficient of them in a short period of time to make a decent batch of okra pickles on any given day. At least, not enough to be worth firing up the canning kettle. It’s really not worth heating up the kitchen in my San Antonio home unless there are at least three quarts or six pints in contention … and my okra plants just aren’t that prolific. So I cheated – I went and bought two pounds of okra at the Indian market (cunningly disguised as a gas station on the corner of 410 and Starcrest) and added into it the gleanings of the last week or so and made a batch of spicy okra pickles from a recipe that I found on the interned and amended. Oddly enough, we like okra as pickles, in gumbo and even breaded and deep-fried, in which format it is as addictive as popcorn although somewhat more fattening … but okra on it’s own … that is a vegetable that needs work.

Basically, make a pickling brine from 2 ⅔ cup cider vinegar and 1 ½ cup water, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and when it comes to a simmer, either add to it, or steep in a tea-ball, 2 Tbsp. pickling spices.

I used another net-recipe for pickling spice, which called for 2 Tbsp. mustard seeds, 2 Tbsp. whole allspice, 2 teasp coriander seeds, the same of cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and the same of dried red pepper flakes, a crumbled bay leaf and a two-inch length of cinnamon stick. This makes more than needed for a single batch, so save the remainder for the next batch.

Meanwhile, pack the raw okra into 2 hot and sterilized 1-quart jars, and tuck in among the packed oke pods in each jar, 2-3 peeled and lightly crushed garlic cloves, 2-3 dried chili pods (I used ripe red jalapeno and paprika pods from my garden) and two or three small bay leaves … I have a small bay tree in the garden, so again … from my garden. It helps to pack the first layer of okra in the jar with the wide end down, and then wedge the next layer into it pointy end down, and distribute the garlic cloves, the pepper pods and the bay leaves as they fit. Fill the jars with okra and all until just below the point on the jar where the threaded rim begins, then pour in the hot brine and process at least 20 minutes in boiling water, as per the usual canning instructions.

This week, one of our dinners included a salad – of halved fresh garden tomatoes and sliced segments of home-pickled okra, adorned with crumbles of feta cheese and fresh parsley – again from the garden – and splashed with some olive oil. Alas, the olive is not home-grown from my own tree. That will take … a good few more decades.

My Dream House

My Dream House

by Celia Hayes

I have about decided what I should like to live in, as my Texas dream house. Alas, it is not the house that I currently live in, which is a comfortable, small and relatively undistinguished tract house in a pleasant neighborhood full of other homes filled with variations on the same generic theme of brick and siding and vaguely neo-classical trimmings. Lots of tall windows, fan-lights, and fireplaces; shoot a brick at supersonic speed across those parts of San Antonio built up in the last thirty years and you’d hit two or three or four dozen pretty much like it.

No, what I would like in the way of the retirement property is pretty much what my parents got for themselves, when all of us had flown the parental nest; they built a nice house with a verandah all the way around it, on a knoll with a view out in the country. I wouldn’t go as far out as my parents did – for much of their lives together, directions to their current residence usually included the phrase, “Turn off of the pavement and onto the dirt road.” I’ve a liking for paved roads, myself – bouncing from rut to rut and dodging the gullies carved into a dirt road after a rain is not my idea of fun.

But I would like a house of a certain sort – a small one of a particular tradition. Not a single big house, but an eccentric collection of cottages, set in a rambling garden. A little house of mine – and two or three others, one for my daughter, and another one or two which would serve as guest quarters when I had company, just enough set apart that we all would have privacy. I’d love to have a well, with one of those old windmill pumps, to bring the water to an above-ground concrete or wooden cistern on legs … just as I have seen on some old properties here and there. There would be a scattering of oak trees – post oaks, live oaks, red oaks, for the shade, and to hang a wooden swing from a thick branch that parallels the ground.

The grounds around would be planted with native plants and tough adapted old roses, a tangle of jasmine somewhere, which would bring their scent in through the windows on those spring days before the summer heat sets in. There would be a wildflower meadow on the part of the property distant from the houses and I’d like a bit of a view from here and there, so my dream house and the others would probably have to be on a gentle slope. I don’t need a spectacular view, but I would like it to be mostly of countryside: Rolling hills, and all of that, maybe a glimpse of a distant creek or river. I think I would like the view to be towards the west – to catch the sunset, late in the afternoon.

As for the little houses on the property … I would love them to be Craftsman-style bungalows or small Texas farmhouses, maybe even a one or two of them might be repurposed log cabins. There are one or two lovely ones that I have noted here and there and admired extravagantly. I am thinking of the kind with a main room and a loft bedroom over, a kitchen lean-to on the back and a deep porch across the front. One or two of those would suit just fine, but even just a couple of those kit houses from Home Depot would work well, assuming that I could adorn them with vintage architectural surplus.

The final element that I would like in my dream country residence would be a separate entertainment kitchen – just one large room set up to do brewing and cheese-making, an industrial-sized stove and a deep sink, and outside of it, another deep porch with a barbeque grill and enough space to throw a good party. That’s my dream Texas dream home – what’s yours?