Area Real Estate News & Market Trends

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Aug. 25, 2014

The Culinary Frontier

Exploring the Culinary Frontier

by Celia Hayes

This last Friday, my daughter took it into her head to bake a deep-dish pizza for supper; she went rootling through the drawer under the oven, where the römertoph clay casseroles, the Spanish clay cazuelas and Dutch ovens are kept, looking for a cast-iron frying pan to bake pizza in – but she unearthed a particular small cooking implement, still in the original plastic wrap.

I had forgotten about it entirely, and can't recall when or where that I bought it; a heavy and well-made Pyrolux iron pan for doing aebleskivers, which are a nice and peculiarly Danish variant on pancakes. The little leaflet with it is in four languages, so that was no clue. I knew what it was, of course. When we were children and staying with our paternal grandparents, Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al, who lived in Camarillo, they would often take us on a drive to Solvang, which was just a hop, skip and a jump up Route 101 – a small town milking the absolute maximum touristic potential of having been founded and/or lived in by ethnic Danish. Abelskivers and sundry Scandinavian specialties were advertised everywhere. Granny Dodie and Grandpa Al never wanted to try them out – so we never ate lunch in Solvang on any of those excursions. I think they had used up their ration of daring adventure in emigrating, so there was none left over for trying out strange and interesting foods. Even in Solvang. Likely this was why I bought the aebleskiver pan – out of mild curiosity about the treats that Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al denied us in those childhood excursions. We try and have something out of the ordinary for breakfast on weekends, so my daughter said, "Hey, instead of pancakes, let's try it out."

I found a recipe on line which did not call for separately beating egg whites – something elaborate for weekend breakfast ought not to involve another bowl and getting out the electric mixer. I heated up the pan on the smallest burner, daubed half a teaspoon of butter in each well, filled each almost to the top with batter, let it bake until lightly browned, and then held my breath. This was the part I was almost certain would fall apart – when you take a small thin bamboo skewer and rotate the part-baked aebelskiver a half-turn, so that the unbaked dough runs into the bottom of the depression, and then when it has "set" you give it another half-turn. Essentially it finishes as a crisp-crusted, golf-ball shaped pancake, tender and fluffy inside, not terribly sweet, and delicately crispy outside. The pan I had must have been already non-stick coated, for they turned like a dream. And the finished product was marvelous – Grandma and Grandpa never knew what they were missing.

For the pancakes, combine 1 egg, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 cup of buttermilk, ½ teasp vanilla, 2 Tbsp. canola oil. In another bowl, combine 1 cup flour, ½ teasp baking soda, 1/8 teasp each of baking powder and salt. Whisk into the liquid, and fill each hollow in the heated aebelskiver pan a little less than full. This will make at least two pans full – remember to dab a bit of butter in each hollow before starting each new batch. It is also customary sometimes to put a teaspoon of jam in the dough as you start to bake them. The jam sinks down a little, as the dough cooks, and the aebelskiver finishes already filled with jam. They are also great just plain, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

Posted in Other
June 16, 2014

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.

Posted in Other
June 6, 2014

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.

Posted in Other
June 3, 2014

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.

May 19, 2014

2014 Garden Update

Maytime Revels in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

Having been pretty serious about watering the garden every day – and that it rained buckets for a couple of days – the back yard veggie garden is looking pretty darned good this week. The beans have pretty well covered the tipi of poles arranged for their climbing convenience, and the bush beans have so far been somewhat productive. I have several batches of them going, having started them at different times since March 1. The tomatoes go up – or hang down in fairly impenetrable thickets, and we have this very week harvested the first couple of handfuls of cherry and tiny yellow pear tomatoes. The resident rat has nibbled at one or two ... but I think that putting out the trap for him will put and end to that nonsense within a couple of days ... before the seriously large heirlooms ripen.

Even so, the tomatoes in the larger hanging planters are covered with grape-sized green fruit, and the tomato plants in the raised beds of hardware cloth or chicken wire are doubled that, so the rat will have to be the size of a cocker spaniel in order to make much of a dent in them ... but it's still the principle of the thing. I didn't spend more than $50 at Rainbow Gardens and about the same at Lowe's for a nasty furry rodent freeloader to come along and help himself. He's already helping himself to some of the pepper plant and eggplant leaves, too – biting them clean through the stems – and last week the most nearly ripe yellow banana pepper was eaten, every scrap but the stem. I had plans for that banana pepper, too. Think of the rat as a walking dead rat.

This year I took a chance on a couple of tomatillo plants – which have grown to near-shrub size, and adorned with little green balloon-like tomatillo husks ... but as of yet, no evidence of tomatillos. Likewise with the bed of squash; two sorts, the round green patty-pan sort, and some kind of Lebanese zucchini variant. The plants are huge and sprawling, with some flower buds on them, under the leaves. I did send away from some specialty seeds for French gherkins, so that I can make proper cornichon pickles. It worked out to about .17 cents per seed, for a teeny packet of about twenty seeds – but they have also burgeoned to the point of climbing energetically their own tipi-arrangement. Note to self – save one of the resulting gherkins and allow to go to seed ... for next year, of course.

The frost-killed shrubs that were planted originally to attract humming-birds have come roaring back as well. The back garden looks so very pleasant now – after the barren wasteland that it was in January and February – that I was moved to bring home some cans of pastel spray paint and re-do the café table and chairs in colors that matched the house, or trim and some of the pavers. The café set was a bargain from Big Lots, bought these many moons ago because they were attractive, sturdy and relatively cheap, but the colonial red I had painted them then had gotten faded and began to chip. Really, I think my next project will be to reclaim the back porch as a pleasant place to sit and view my garden bounty.

And did I mention the apple tree? Yes, I found an apple tree – but now I have to plant another one, so they can pollinate each other.

Posted in Gardening
May 13, 2014

Bulverde and Spring Branch Market Days

Beautiful Bulverde

by Celia Hayes

This last Saturday was spent at the Bulverde and Spring Branch Chamber of Commerce's Spring Market Day – and my daughter and I spent all of Saturday among more than sixty vendors set up among the oak trees in the Beall's parking lot, at Bulverde Crossing and Hwy 46W. Bulverde, Spring Branch, and Smithson Valley are ... well, Bulverde is not so much a well-defined township as a place like Boerne, New Braunfels or Helotes. They were once entirely separate towns or hamlets, with a defined center – perhaps even an established square – overtaken in recent years by the sprawl of San Antonio to the north and extensive developments of new houses quilt-patched here and there among the old ranch properties, cedar thickets and rolling hills sprinkled with tiny seasonal creeks, grass-meadows and stands of oak trees.

Of course this is totally changed now – the sprawl of San Antonio Hill Country real estate is stretching out into the lower levels of the Hill Country. The nearer little towns are subsumed into the larger city and the farther ones are commuter-suburbs. Bulverde is a little harder to pin down, because it is not one of those with a central identity. It is like the place in California where my parents built their retirement home – one of those sprawling rural localities where there was a significant establishment here – a school or a significant church, perhaps, and another one there – the hardware store, maybe, and a third one –the general store or the tiny industrial enterprise which provided employment, still there ... all scattered among several nexus cross-roads over several square miles. No, it doesn't look like the classical definition of a town, but it is a community.

Bulverde is one of those; dispersed hither and yon around 281 and a couple of older parallel and cross-roads, rather like the rural township where my parents set up their retirement house. A couple of crossroads the length of a long valley in the foothills, with a number of small truck farms, chicken ranches, nut groves scattered along them, and essential retail outlets clustered around various cross-road nodes. Bulverde is all that, and patched with a good few recent housing developments rejoicing in being located in the Hill Country, and yet a short drive from the outskirts of San Antonio. One of the most prominent nodes is at 281 and 46W – it's where the Super HEB and the Home Depot is, along with an elementary school and a couple of other essential retail outlets. It still has a rural feel to it, as those houses around are scattered throughout like raisons in a loaf of raisin bread. And the parking lot itself was partly shaded by oak trees left standing when the shopping center was built – which made it especially pleasant. Even so, we did get slightly sun-burned, though.

The Spring market is one of those which doesn't charge a huge table fee – we rather think that this leads to a more interesting variety of vendors. Only the semi-pros can afford a high table fee, which leads pretty much to a certain sameness at larger and more regularly-held markets, as smaller or beginning vendors can't be assured of making back the table fee and then a spot of profit. I think the most interesting and unusual items were from Natural Metals – all kinds of ornamental sculptures of animals, fish, and plants made from various metals and then painted. Next best – handcrafted wooden rolling horse toys from Soyawannabe A Cowboy, which were beautifully made and as sturdy as all get out. We lunched, by the way, on the best tamales evah! Tamale Addiction does a lot of local events, and the tamales were so good we wished we could have gone back and bought them out for future meals at the end of the day!

May 7, 2014

Sisterdale

Hill Country Venture

by Celia Hayes

So, knowing that on Saturday, May 10, that we will be tied up all day in the hot-pink-and-zebra-striped booth in the Beall's parking lot at 281 and Bulverde Crossing for the Bulverde Spring market – and that we had some projects to finish before then – my daughter and I declared Friday, May 2 to be our personal holiday, and embarked on a short road trip into the Hill Country. Yes, we love the Hill Country, especially when it appears to have been blessed with slightly more rain than we have had in San Antonio. I wanted to get some snaps that I could use for the cover of my next book, but alas – the bluebonnets were at their best last month.

We went up through the back-road between Boerne and Luckenbach, which leads through Sisterdale; home of the Sister Creek Winery, and the Sisterdale Market just across the street from it – a tiny market, eatery and weekend event venue, where Chico the Tiny Chihuahua returned miraculously on last New Years Day, after an absence of about three weeks. We had a nice chat with the owner and admiring Chico, who apparently survived by hiding out in armadillo holes and drinking from a tiny spring, where his even tinier footprints were later noted. The Sisterdale Market is a charming place, in an old house by the side of the road. During Prohibition days, there was an illicit still in operation in the cellar – whoa – a cellar, for real? The still itself was, according to the current owner, taken out and buried someplace out in back. You'd have thought that the metal parts would have been easily found ... but between Sister Creeks, the soil is rich and deep, and easily-dug.

The Sister Creek Winery is another indicator of how steadily the Hill Country is progressing to a state where it might yet be mistaken for the south of France; not only have entrepreneurs experimented with producing goat cheese, olive oil and lavender over the last twenty years or so – there are also vineyards galore. Sister Creek is one of the longer-established; even on a non-holiday Friday there were cars outside – including a massive white stretch limo.

The show-room is an old cotton-gin, built of heavy oak beams, low-ceilinged and smelling of ancient wood. The newer part, where the heavy-lifting of making wine is done, has been added at the back; rooms where the grapes are processed and aged, first in huge stainless-steel tanks, and then in wooden barrels – rank after rank, each labeled with what they are and how long they have been sitting. Some of them are rather heavily stained around the massive wooden bung on top; and that lends another wonderful odor. When I was a very small child, I remember visiting a winery with my parents and grandparents; a wonderful place, set in a garden, and one huge wooden wine-vat, which must have measured at least thirty feet across, and two or three stories tall. It had been retired from active wine-ageing duty and converted into a kind of pavilion in the garden, but the smell of it inside was positively intoxicating in itself. I don't know if any of the wineries here now age wine in huge wooden barrels like that any more – but it would be a landmark if they did. After all, everything in Texas is supposed to be bigger.

April 22, 2014

The Smell of Chili

I Love the Smell of Chili in the Morning ...

For much of the 19th century and into the early Twentieth, this was a popular San Antonio thing – various of the public squares, notably Military Plaza and Market Square were the domain of the Chili Queens who established the custom of setting up tables and benches along the edges of the square, in the early evening and selling chili-by-the-bowl to all comers. They would bring huge kettles of chili which they had made over their own home cook-fire during the day, and keep it warm through the evening and into the wee hours.

Very often the chili vendors would entice customers to their own particular stands by hiring musicians to entertain diners. There are some splendid descriptions of how marvelous this would have appeared – lantern and starlight shining down on the tables, gleaming on glass soda bottles, while the scent of the chili and the mesquite smoke from the fires which kept it warm hung on the night air. During South Texas summers before the invention of air conditioning, this likely would have been about the most comfortable dining venue for working men, for those out for an evening of gambling and drinking in the various saloons ... and in later decades, for those visiting from the North or the East, desirous of absorbing a little exotic local color.

And it was a very local delicacy in those years. Texans took readily to a venison or beef stew highly spiced with local chili peppers (with or without beans, with or without tomatoes), especially in the borderlands. But it was also a seasonal dish – generally only served in the spring and summer when the fresh peppers ripened and were available in the market. Air-dried whole chilies were available, of course – but they just didn't provide the same flavor-punch. There may have been many local gourmands who adored chili and wished to eat it year round, but only one of them did anything about it.

This was a German-American, Willie Gebhardt, who got his start in food entrepreneurship by owning a beer-garden and restaurant in New Braunfels in the 1890s. It's often said among the Irish that there was an Irishman at the start of any interesting cultural, technological or scientific effort, but in Texas in the late 19th century this most usually fell to a German. Willie Gebhardt, like many other local cooks, developed his own special recipe for chili, and served it often in season – but on the side, he began experimenting with a means of preserving the essential chili pepper flavor.

Eventually he hit upon a means of soaking ancho chili peppers, garlic, oregano and cumin in a water-alcohol mixture, then grinding it into a stiff paste, which was dried under low heat. When dried, it was ground into a powder using a coffee-grinder, and packed in air-tight glass bottles. It was immediately popular; Willie Gebhardt took out a patent, calling it Gebhardt's Eagle Brand Chili Powder. By the turn of the century, he had opened a factory – patenting a number of machines to expedite the manufacture of chili powder, which became and still is insanely popular. Eventually his factory, under the direction of a brother-in-law branched out into providing ready-made canned chili, and other staple Tex-Mex foods.

Since this cuisine was largely unknown outside of the southwest, Gebhardt's company published a cook-book instructing American cooks how to use chili powder – the first nationally-distributed cook-book on Mexican food. The original recipe for Eagle Brand Chili Powder is still available, supposedly unchanged, although the company was sold to Beatrice Foods following on the death of Willie Gebhardt in 1956. (It's available on Amazon – so is a facsimile of the original Gebhardt's Mexican cookbook.)

Posted in Other
April 16, 2014

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...

Posted in Gardening
April 7, 2014

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?