The Texas State Capital Building

The People’s House and Senate

by Celia Hayes

So – after a two-hour long stint in the Texas Author’s Association booth at the Texas Book Festival this last weekend, my daughter and I decided that we should explore the grounds of the state capitol building, which reared up at the top of the hill just outside the tent where the booth was. No kidding – the tent was at the intersection of North Congress and 11th, just in front of the gate to the grounds … which looked cool, green and inviting, after two hours in the hubble-bubble of commerce.

We put the two tubs of books in the car, and walked back from the public parking structure on San Jacinto, past the state archives and the statue-topped obelisk monument to Hood’s brigade … that unit which was slaughtered almost wholesale at Gettysburg. In my Adelsverein Trilogy, one of the characters, Peter Vining, is a survivor of that, the only one of four brothers. Most Texans who joined up to serve the Confederate military actually never went east of the Mississippi, but Hood’s brigade and Terry’s Rangers did, and paid a very high price in blood for the privilege.

I had always assumed that the capitol building was white, of that pale limestone that weathers to ivory – and every time I had seen it from a distance, it certainly looked white or ivory, but it seems that the whole thing is faced with salmon-pink granite. At a distance it looks beige. It is the fourth capitol building to stand on this particular site.

The capitol of independent Texas was a peripatetic matter for some years, being lodged in Washington on the Brazos, Columbia and Houston, among others. This one had the good fortune to be built in the last quarter of the 19th century – which to my mind was one of the best-ever for constructing grand public buildings which imposed and impressed with the importance of the work done in them, yet delighted the eye with detailed adornment … and yet have managed (with sensitively-done updates, including a huge below-ground-level element at the back so as not to interfere with the view) to be functional and perhaps even uplifting to work in.

Certainly better than some featureless slab of concrete, I-beams and glass, fitted out on the inside in endless offices and cubicles painted institutional beige or pale green. The Capitol building in Austin has class, panache, and a sense of history about it, what with the huge painting of Sam Houston accepting Santa Anna’s surrender on the field of San Jacinto, with everyone who was there at the time (and apparently a few who were not) in the audience. The names of the great battles of the war for independence, the war with Mexico and the Civil Ware are inlaid into the floor in granite terrazzo – and the floor under the great soaring dome features the inlaid seals of every country which laid claims to Texas. Away up under the very roof of the dome is a tiny spiral staircase, almost hidden against the wall; I suppose it goes to the very top of the dome, but as interesting as it looked – I would not like to venture up to it. It’s not heights that I dislike, particularly – just the prospect of possibly falling from them.

The terrazzo on all the floors of the old Capital was done at the time of the Texas Centennial in and about the mid-1930s. For a couple of the motifs, especially one on a particular second-floor stair mezzanine, we really did wonder exactly how innocent a time that was … and how many people had noticed immediately what we did about one of them. We did ask one of the DPS agents about it, as we left the building. She said that it wasn’t anything of the sort – just an artistic design. But we do have certain doubts.

 

Kitchen Pantry Shelf Redo

A Spot of Home Reorganization

By Celia Hayes

The kitchen pantry in my house is a misnomer. It a small kitchen closet, 25 ¼ inches wide by 27 ½ deep, extending all the way up to the ceiling-level. The builders installed shelves roughly fifteen inches apart. When I first moved in, I attached a pair of narrow wire shelf units to the inside of the door, seven shelves, each one just deep enough to hold a single can, small box or bottle. Later, I put in three wire shelves above the existing shelves. These needed a step-ladder to access. I put the little-used items on them … and then pretty much dropped doing anything more, except for when it was necessary to go spelunking to the back of the deep shelves looking for a box of lasagna noodles. A couple of years ago, my daughter put various appliances that we didn’t keep on the countertop, and a collection of French porcelain cooking dishes into the pantry, and put the foodstuffs into the little butcher-block topped kitchen island. Not much better; we still had crammed and disorganized shelves. We had often discussed the means of making the pantry more usable, but hesitated because of the hassle.

We reached Peak Exasperation this week; when the chore of doing something overcomes the continued hassle of existing with it. I told my daughter to get some boxes from the garage, and empty out of the lower shelves, then get a hammer and knock out the shelves and their supports. Done and done – and then off to Lowe’s for certain necessary materials, including a patching kit to repair dings in the wall, and a sample pot of paint to cover over the places where the shelves had come away. My daughter originally didn’t want to take the trouble. She wanted it done all in a day – but I wanted to go a thorough job, and knew that it would look awful if we didn’t.

Lengths of wire shelving and the clips and brackets to attach them didn’t cost that much. Eight sets of narrow two-shelf units to go along the sides were a little pricy, but the small dimensions of the pantry meant that nothing standard would fit, being either too large or two small. I had them cut seven 25-inch lengths, and we loaded it all in the car and went home. It took a few hours to patch and paint the walls, which interested the cats very much. When the paint was dry, I went to work with a pencil and a carpenter’s level. My daughter had wanted to do adjustable shelves on tracks attached to the back wall, but I vetoed that as being just too expensive. Besides, I had no clear idea of where the studs were in the walls and no interest in searching. I measured the various containers and appliances that we would store on the shelves and tailored the spacing to suit; two shelves 12 inches apart, two at 10 inches, and the rest at 9. I drew a level line across the back wall and out the sides to exactly 12 inches, and went to work with a power drill set with a ¼ inch bit. This took the rest of the day, drilling the holes, and pounding in the clips to support the shelves.

The next day, we made a trip to the Container Store for … well, containers, especially four plastic tubs with airtight tops to store bulk staples in. Those I intended to go on the lower shelves. I had an eye on a short rack to hold mops and brooms, and another wire rack to hold upright boxes and rolls of tinfoil, wax paper and rolls of vacuum-seal bags. That last we had to go back to Lowe’s for. Instead of four narrow shelves on each side, I put five on one side, two on the other, with the mop holder and the roll rack underneath them.

Wonder of wonders, we can now close the pantry door. And it all looks … very much more organized. No need to hunt for lasagna noodles, or anything else now – it’s all right there.

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

Tomato Ketchup Chronicles

by Celia Hayes

I was inspired by an old blog and Facebook friend, Katie Barry, to have a go at making home-made ketchup this weekend. I had often intended to try it before, as this condiment is one that we (as Katie points out in her own housekeeping blog) all have in our condiment collection. I was put off some of the recipes for it in my own collection of canning books, because they called for simply awesome quantities of fresh tomatoes, and unless and until my garden starts producing tomatoes by the ton … well, I like fresh home-grown tomatoes too much to condiment them. But Katie’s recipe started with canned diced tomatoes, and I thought … oh, that is doable. One six-pound can of diced tomatoes from Sam’s Club, and I am in business. I took a recipe from one of the canning books, since I do want to can the resulting ketchup for later use … and I would also like to duplicate the splendid spicy Whataburger ketchup, too. Excellent stuff that is, but home-made might be even better. On consulting the listing of contents on the label of Whataburger Spicy Ketchup it seems that the secret ingredient is red jalapeno pepper puree … and red jalapenos were not available in my local HEB … although I may have my own from the garden in a month or so, by allowing the jalapeno pepper plants to ripen all the way. But I had it in mind to make ketchup this very weekend, and I thought that adding a smidgeon of smoked chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would certainly amp up this batch to an exciding degree of spicyness.

So – amend the recipe in Sunset Home Canning for spicy ketchup, by using canned diced instead and pureed the entire six-pound can of diced tomatoes with a whole onion and one peeled and seeded red bell pepper … which had been peeled, sealed in Foodsaver bag and frozen.

Simmer and reduce the resulting puree over medium heat for about an hour or until reduced by half. Tie into a piece of clean cheesecloth 1 ½ teaspoon each of mustard seeds, black peppercorns and dry basil, 1 teaspoon whole allspice, one dried cayenne chili pepper, a large dried bay leaf and a 2-3 inch length of cinnamon stick. Add the spice bag to the reduced tomato puree with ¾ cup packed brown sugar and ½-2 teasp. Paprika. Continue to simmer, lowering heat gradually and stirring frequently as it reduces to approximately 1 quart. In the last fifteen minutes, I stirred in ½ cup cider vinegar, which had been pureed with 1 3-oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. Salt to taste – and we agreed that it did have a rather pleasant chipotle smokiness. If it had been just for myself, I would have put in another 3-oz. can. It came out to three pints and a bit – the recipe said it would yield two pints. Likely I could have reduced it a bit more, but it did seem quite thick enough already. Katie’s recipe called for powdered herbs and spices, rather than the whole version steeped in a cheesecloth bag. I’ll experiment with this in the next batch, and see if it makes a difference in flavor.

I poured it all into three sterilized pint jars and processed in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. The extra bit went into a plastic freezer container – waste not, want not. It came out a very nice red color, and a bit grainer than the commercial version – but well-worth the effort and the Number 10-can.

The Big Fight-Sisterdale

Jack Hays’ Big Fight at Walker’s Creek

In Sisterdale, on Sunday June 8th, historical enthusiasts from across Kendall County and beyond are observing the 170th anniversary of the battle of Walker’s Creek – Jack Hays’ Big fight at the Sisterdale Dance Hall.

Jack Hays came to Texas late in 1836, worked as a surveyor, and commanded a roving Ranger company based in San Antonio in the 1840s. The Big Fight on Walker Creek made his name; one of the many brush-fire fights between Hays’ Rangers and Comanche raiders, who came down from the Southern Plains to make free with any horses, captives and portable loot they could carry away. In the summer of 1844, Captain Hays took a patrol of fourteen volunteers into the hills, looking for Indian raiding parties. One of his men was a Yankee from Maryland – Sam Walker, who had survived the Texian raid on Mier, the Black Bean Draw and an escapee from a stint in a Mexican prison. They were returning along an old trail between San Antonio and the deserted San Saba presidio. Near Sisterdale, a little short of where the trail crossed the Guadalupe River, they were about to set up camp for the night, when one of the Rangers spotted a honey-bee hive. The temptation of something sweet couldn’t be resisted, but when he shinnied up the tree, he looked back along the trail and saw they were followed by a dozen Comanche warriors.

The Rangers saddled up; seeing they had been spotted, the Indians turned away, heading off towards a timber-lined ravine nearby … obviously hoping to draw the Ranger troop into an ambush. Jack Hays held fast, and within minutes more than seventy impatient Comanche boiled out of the tree-line and the Rangers advanced. Likely the Comanche were surprised and unnerved; they fell back across the ravine and gathered on the summit of a low hill, where they dismounted and taunted the Rangers in Spanish – a language that Comanche and Texian had in common.

They had the high ground but the Rangers had a secret weapon – the newly-invented patent Colt Paterson 5-shot repeating pistols. Most had two, and Jack Hays had drilled them well. He led his troop around the knoll, and up another ravine, announcing themselves with a shout and a volley of rifle-fire. The Comanche rallied around their leader; Yellow Wolf, experienced in the customary way of war, in which they waited to draw fire from single-shot weapons, and counter-attacked in a flurry of arrows as the Texians reloaded. This process could take as long as a minute. But the Rangers threw aside their single-shot long guns and charged with their pistols. It turned into a bitter running fight at such close quarters that many participants were branded with powder burns. Jack Hays had trained and drilled tirelessly. It was a rout for the Comanche, faced with a weapon where the attacker had as many bullets to command as fingers on a hand. At the moment when the Rangers were about out of time and gunpowder, a fortunate shot by the only Ranger with a loaded rifle dropped Yellow Wolf. The survivors of his war party turned and ran.

Two years later, that skirmish was immortalized in the annals of American invention. At the start of the American war with Mexico, Sam Walker was back east, consulting with his fellow Yankee inventor Sam Colt about a redesign of the revolving pistol. Sam Walker wanted a heavier, sturdier, and less-complicated version – it would eventually be called the Walker Colt. At the urging of Sam Colt, Walker did a sketch of skirmish on the hills above Sisterdale and eventually it was embossed on the barrel of the improved revolver. And that’s the way it was, in the summer of 1844.

Gotta Have Heart

You Gotta Have Heart!

Ah, yes – Fiesta Time is here once again; San Antonio’s very own Mardi Gras but with more couth. Or at least we like to think so. Around here, when the floats with the Fiesta female nobility pass, the crowd shouts, “Show us your shoes!” and not anything more revealing than that. Of all the scheduled events during a nearly-two-week-long city-wide block party, one of the most well-attended (to judge by the crowds every evening) is NIOSA, or Night In Old San Antonio, which features every kind of food booth imaginable in the little squares and streets of La Villita. One of the long-time favorites of NIOSA is a South American version of meat-onna-stick called ‘antichucios’, which a long-ago volunteer discovered while on an assignment in South America.

The recipe that I found calls for a marinade made by whirling 4 chopped jalapeno peppers in a blender with a little water and adding the resulting pepper slurry to 1 ½ cups red wine vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp each cumin, paprika, and oregano with 2 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Cut one large beef tenderloin or sirloin or top round into 1-inch cubes and marinate in the pepper/vinegar spice concoction overnight. Thread onto skewers and roast over hot coals, basting with marinade. The original version called for beef hearts – which since they are a muscle – are rather tough and need a powerful marinade. Otherwise – it’s like chewing steak-flavored rubber bands.

And I know this because – back in the day, when my parents were raising four children on a single salary, my mother joined a food co-op which offered serious bang for the food dollar. One of those bargains was beef hearts. Mom would bake it, thinly slivered in a casserole with rice, and my father would inevitably break out in song – from the musical Damn Yankees:

Damn Yankees

“You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart First you’ve gotta have heart!”

The casserole was an oblong enameled cast-iron number and very heavy; they loved each other very much, since Mom never hauled off and brained Dad with it.

Speaking of food, and saving money on it and all – the last couple of weeks of mild weather have done wonderfully for my little patch of back yard paradise. The first embryo tomatoes were spotted this morning, and the plants are simply covered in blossoms. This might be the year that I actually have enough tomatoes to think about canning and preserving them. I followed a suggestion on another blog for making raised beds – a circular construction of chicken wire, lined with weed barrier, and filled to within ten inches of the top with leaves, which gently compost as you grow stuff in the top ten inches or so of soil. It’s working pretty well so far – even better than topsy-turvey hanging planters. The raised bed full of potatoes is also thriving, and the pole beans are launching themselves up the poles with energy and enthusiasm. What a difference just over two weeks!

Oh – and if the thought of downtown Fiesta traffic gives you the willies – check out the Running of the Wiener-Dogs in Buda. This year’s poster is a wee bit of a change from the usual movie-theme. This year it’s a TV show: Yes, it’s Dog Dynasty…

San Antonio Book Festival

In the Shade of the Big Enchilada

By Celia Hayes

Well, that is the fond nickname given to the Central Library building in downtown San Antonio – a hulking cube with geometric cut-outs, painted in a shade of dark orange which always reminded me of paprika. This last weekend, the Central Library and the campus of the Southwest School for Art and Craft across the street from it was the site for the second annual San Antonio Book Festival. This is the kind of book bash which is a small brother of the Texas Book Festival, which is huge, as far as local writers are concerned. Alas, the Texas Book Festival is so huge, that I couldn’t even begin to afford an exhibitor table there, either as a writer for my own books, or as the owner of Watercress Press and for the benefit of the authors that we do publish. But I could afford a single table at the San Antonio Book Festival, so off we went, very early Saturday morning, with two tubs of books, a tub of table accoutrements, some nicely-printed flyers enlarging on what Watercress Press could do for you, and a tall standing vase filled with origami flowers and leaves which had the company name and website printed on the origami leaves.

by Celia HayesThe rows of exhibitor tables were already set up in the parking lot of the Southwest School – three or four rows of neat white pop-up canopies, and white-topped tables with blue skirts, each neatly numbered and the exhibitor’s name in larger letters. We were supposed to have help from volunteers in orange tee-shirts standing by, ready to assist, but the ones which we saw on the way in seemed mostly uncertain of what they should be doing for us; in any case, what materiel we had could be easily moved on the folding dolly. I wound up dragging it all myself, and locating our table; easily enough, since I had been sent a map of the exhibitor layout.
It was overcast the entire day, and early on there was an occasional gust of breeze which sent flyers and business cards and other papers all over the place. If the sun had come out, it might have been quite pleasant – but in any case, it was better than our last outdoor venue – Christmas on the Square at Goliad, this last December, which event was utterly wrecked by bitter cold. Perhaps there would have been more foot traffic through the exhibitor area, but I can’t complain.

Of the three Watercress authors who took a stint at the table, the first was pleased because he sold two books, the second because we made contact with a woman collecting author information with an eye to setting up events on base at Randolph AFB, and the third because I sent her over to speak to the people in the Texas Association of Authors booth. That is a relatively new Austin-based group for independently-published Texas authors. I have met some of the members before, and better yet, thumbed through their books. Better yet, I had even bought one of them, a reference book on early Austin history. They are set up to do events with an organization table, with all of their members’ books – including the aforementioned Texas Book Festival, which happens every year in late October, on the grounds of the state capitol building in Austin. That basis alone would be an excellent reason for joining them.

Home again, at the end of a long day, exhausted and ready for a glass or two of wine, a frozen pizza baking in the oven and an episode or two of the old TV series Upstairs, Downstairs. And that was my weekend – yours?

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.

 

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?