Old Town Helotes

Raising Heck in Helotes

by Celia Hayes

We ventured on a weekend outing to Helotes this last August for an art showing at a very pleasant little country venue, The Gardens in Old Town… which to our relief, turned out to be an indoors event. Frankly, mid-August in South Texas is just not one of those good times to be roaming around in the outdoors for very long. We prowled the art show, admired many of the paintings exhibited – a good few of which I would have bought for my own pleasure. I think that we were early enough in the day and the impromptu gallery was not so crowed that many of the artists had leisure and enthusiasm enough to talk to us as well. Ah, how well we know this routine; sitting by the table o’ stuff, waiting to strike up a conversation with anyone slowing by, in their drift through the room! I think most people visiting Helotes that weekend must have been at the art show, for the other little shops in old downtown Helotes were pretty empty.

We hadn’t been to Helotes in a while, and so when we had made a leisurely circuit, and the place became too crowded for my daughter’s taste, we roamed around the little bit that there is of Historic Old Helotes; mostly antique shops set up on old homes, barns and what we were told had been a grocery store at about the turn of the last century. Yes, time was when Helotes, twenty miles and a good day’s journey on horseback from San Antonio, was a separate and lively little town on the main road to Bandera. It was farming country, at first – the name comes from ‘elote’ – Spanish for corn on the cob. The eastern Apache tribe farmed along the waterways in that part of the Hill Country in the earliest times, growing corn for themselves until the Comanche roared down from the north and made it too dangerous. Like much of the Hill Country, Helotes was settled by German and European immigrants, and in the days after the Civil War, served as an assembly point for herds of cattle heading north to the railheads in Kansas, a feeder route to the great Chisholm Trail. It was a rather lively little town back then; there are two books about historical Helotes by local author Cynthia Leal Massey.

Now, of course, having turned into a suburban bedroom slipper of San Antonio, it is a much more sedate place, but still a very pleasant one, barely four or five miles outside the 1604 Loop. A clue as to how very quietly upscale Helotes has become is that the flagship HEB-Plus store – the largest store in the HEB chain was opened last year on Bandera Road, just inside the Loop. The store parking lot has nearly 1,200 parking spaces – and the store itself seems as large as a gargantuan aircraft hangar. 183,000 square feet of grocery and retail space; we walked in and my daughter said, “Wow!” Even though the parking lot was nearly full, the store itself didn’t feel crowded at all. We only came in for three things – which did seem rather a waste, considering the sheer variety of items in stock.

Summer Vegetarian Supper

Sizzling Summer Vegetarian Supper with Tomatoes from Our San Antonio Garden

by Celia Hayes

The first of the tomatoes from the garden are coming along slowly – but this week we had a good double-handful of small cherry tomatoes, in all colors; the usual red, but some lemon-yellow ones, and some of them so-called ‘black’ which were actually a kind of pale purple. Having a couple of ears of fresh corn in the refrigerator, I decided to make a summer corn and tomato relish out of them. This recipe was pulled from Cuisine at Home, issue #52, August 2005.

Whisk together ¼ cup cider vinegar and 1 TBsp sugar, until sugar is dissolved. Combine with 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, 1 cup of fresh corn kernels, (From two ears of corn), ½ cup thinly sliced red onion, 2 TBsp. chopped fresh flat-leafed parsley, and 1 TBsp. each chopped fresh chives and thinly-sliced fresh basil, with a sprinkle of freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Cover and chill until serve. This recipe can be reduced by half, for a smaller number of people.

With the corn and tomato salad, we duplicated the cheese and spinach stuffed Portabella mushrooms that our local HEB has on hand, only using sorrel leaves instead of spinach. My daughter says that the sorrel, cooked, has more substance and flavor than spinach.

Take two (or as many as you need, allowing one per person) Portabella mushrooms, at least five inches across. Slice off the stem, level with the underside of the mushroom, and gently wipe the mushroom cap clean. Lightly brush the cap with olive oil, and place in a baking dish, stem side up. Sprinkle the mushroom underside with a light dusting of adobo seasoning, and layer each mushroom with fresh spinach leaves, or sorrel leaves, torn in half to fit and making two or three layers of leaves. Pile each with about 1/3 to ½ cup grated mozzarella cheese, and a little crumbled dry thyme. Bake at 350° for twenty minutes or so, until the cheese is deliciously melted and runny, and the mushrooms are done.

We topped off this supper with a focaccia bread loaf, made from dough left over from a recipe in a book called Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine. The recipe is a speedy one, French Baguettes For a Crowd – we use about two-thirds of the dough to make a thin-crust pizza, and the rest for a small pan of focaccia.

Combine in the bread machine pan: 2 ½ teasp bread machine yeast, 1 ½ cups water (we use whey left from cheese-making, which we store in a jug in the refrigerator) 3 ½ cups bread flour (or the same of regular flour and 1 TBsp vital wheat gluten) and 2 teasp salt. Run through the dough cycle, and allowed to rise at least once or twice. This dough can also be stashed in the refrigerator for a couple of days, until required. Just let it rise again, once removed from the refrigerator. Take that third, and press it out in an 8 x 8 pan greased with olive oil – although I did this loaf in a Japanese enamel pan which measures about 8 x 6. Once risen, then make deep indentations in it with your finger, about every two inches. Slather with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, 1 teasp of thyme and about 2 TBsp of grated Parmesan. (We used dour own home-made Parmesan.) Bake in a 350° oven – if you are doing the mushrooms, you can bake them together. Dinner delight – guaranteed.

Time in our San Antonio Vegetable Garden

Time in the Vegetable Garden

by Celia Hayes

I look at the pictures that I took in the early spring, and I can hardly recognize my yard. A bitter winter freeze and various large and small animal depredations had pretty much laid waste to it for the last year or so … but what a difference five months have made! And a half-truckload of free mulch. And $65 dollars worth of timber and hardware from Lowe’s, and approximately $200 spent here and there, at the Antique Rose Emporium, HEB, and Sam’s Club for vegetable starts and premium potting soil and one or two other essential items. Considering that these expenses were spread over four months and between two of us, it’s not very much at all. The back yard garden looks good enough that I can invite people to see it, without suffering acute embarrassment.

The squash plants are spreading near and far, blooming luxuriantly – but so far, only a handful of tiny, inch-long squash. Note to self: Self, plant the squashes against the fence and give them plenty of space, as they seem to want to sprawl all over. The eggplants have fat purple and white blooms on them, but as yet, no embryonic eggplants, but the okra … a couple of incipient okras. Or is the singular of okra ‘oke’? Curiously, the pepper plants from last year are doing rather well, especially the one jalapeno planted in a separate pot

The most important item is – the tomatoes. We have three topsy-turvy planters, each with two plants in them, hanging from the top tier of a home-designed and built frame, suspended from two branches of the mulberry tree in the back yard. The plants have grown down, and the eight tomato plants in earth-boxes and self-watering pots below have grown up, supported on tomato cages … into one productive tangle. There are clusters of jade-green tomatoes everywhere, but it turned out that the tomatoes were irresistible to something with sharp and indiscriminant teeth. I suspected that the same critters were the same who raided throughout last year. They nibbled half of my hanging airplane/spider plants to death, digging up and digging up and eating the lush, juicy tubers that made the root network of the plants. The same hungry critters also ravaged the hanging turvey-planter full of peppers. We finally had to hang the pepper turvey from a hook in the center of the back porch roof, where the rats would have needed rappelling ropes and one of those hook-shooting thingys beloved of espionage thrillers to climb vertically from the edge of the roof to the pepper-plants.

And they did it in the last week or so, but this year we were out of patience with seeing our potential crop from this garden reduced by freeloading anything … birds, caterpillars, rodents, freeloaders of any phyla. We hates them, so we do my precious, we hates them! This year we set out baited rat-traps, and the first couple of rats caught in them were so big that they were … just maimed, which we did feel a little guilty about, but not much. The rats caught since then have been increasingly smaller and stone-cold instantly dead … and the tomatoes, peppers and hanging plants have since been unmolested. Still – the traps go out, every evening for another week or so. And that was my week in the garden; what was yours?

Home Canning

Adventures in Home Canning

by Celia Hayes

This latest adventure in home food preparation was my daughter’s notion, upon noting that the aisle in our local HEB set aside for housewares and appliances had a new section for home canning supplies; including a sort of starter kit for novices; a large light-weight enamel lidded kettle, with a rack and some implements to shift around the jars … of which there were also a nice assortment in various sizes. I was certain that we had a huge canning kettle in the garage – a gift from a military friend who was moving to another state – but we couldn’t readily find it, as the garage is stuffed with items that my daughter has bought for that residence of her own which she hopes to have one day. But we might have sold the darned thing at the big clearing-out-of-useless-possessions yard sale that we had last year, anyway.

So, following her last big payday, she purchased the kit, a Ball recipe book and some flats of jars, and ever since, we have been experimenting with certain of the fruit and vegetable recipes. We are anticipating a bounty from our garden, in any case – already some of the cucumbers are monstrous in size, and if all the green tomatoes on the plants that we have come ripe at the same time … send the search party to look for us buried underneath a couple of bushels of tomatoes.

Her part-time job for Edible Arrangements is a source of certain kinds of fruit or fruit scraps … waste not, want not, you know. Anyway I’ve always loved the descriptions in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House Books of how our pioneer ancestors went through a frenzy of canning, smoking, curing, and otherwise preserving the bounty of their scratched-out gardens, to last through winter and other hard times. I am an epicure when it comes to food, but I am also a tight-wad. I have elevated tastes, but a need to pinch the pennies until a booger comes out from Lincoln’s nose. I think the historical person himself would sympathize. After all, he grew up relatively impoverished and in a milieu where people did for themselves…

Anyway, it was a natural progression from home brewing, to home cheese-making, to home canning – although I don’t think we’ll go as far as getting a high-pressure canning thingy. But if high-end gourmet ready-prepared food items get any more expensive relative to the raw materials for them remaining relatively inexpensive, we might be tempted… even if I am not any more enthused about the joys of botulism than a normally intelligent human being would be…

This is a recipe for a pepper and corn relish which I copied out of a Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet Magazine, lo these many years ago. This relish which can be eaten fresh, or processed in the canning kettle for fifteen minutes. It makes about 5 pint jars.

Combine and simmer for half an hour: 5 ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 finely chopped red bell pepper, 1 finely chopped green bell pepper, one medium onion, 2 carrots, also finely chopped, 1 ½ cup sugar, 1 teasp dry mustard, ½ teasp celery, ¼ teasp turmeric and 1 ½ cup vinegar.

Next weekend, we may be going to Buda for the Annual Wiener Dog Races … and we’re starting another garden project; a raised bed in a relatively unused corner of the yard. Enjoy!

Time for Golf?
Call The Randy Watson Team of Mission Realty at 210-319-4960

San Antonio PGA Golf Event History

Short History of the Valero Texas Open

by Randy Watson

The Valero Texas Open is an official tournament on the PGA Tour and this year (2012) is the 90th anniversary. This year’s Valero Open begins with Round 1 on April 19, 2012 at the JW Marriot Golf Resort and Spa on the ATT Oaks Course, in the affluent Cibolo Canyons community. The 2012 90th Anniversary Valero Texas Open Schedule.

The Valero Open started in 1922 and was first called the Texas Open. With the exception of 2 years 1927-28, The Texas Open was played until 1940 at the Old Brack (Brackenridge Park Golf Course.) During 1927-28 and beginning in 1941 until 1949, the Texas Open was played at the Willow Springs Golf Course. When in 1950 and 1951, it was played at both the Brackenridge Park Golf Course and Ft. Sam Houston Golf Course. In 1952 thru 1959, it was again played at the Brackenridge Park Golf Club, except 1956 and 1960 when it was played at the Ft. Sam Houston Golf Course.

Oak Hills Country Club hosted the event from 1961 till 1966 and again from 1977 thru 1994. It was played at the Pecan Valley Golf Club from 1967-1970. From 1972-1976 it was played at Woodlake Golf Course. The Resort Course at La Cantera Golf Club hosted the event from 1995 to 2009. In 2010, the Valero Open began being played at TPC San Antonio. TPC San Antonio, with 36 holes of golf is located next to JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. The AT&T Canyons Course by Pete Dye and AT&T Oaks Course by Greg Norman. The Valero Texas Open is played at the Oaks Course.

The first Texas Open was won by Robert MacDonald and his winnings were $1500 in 1922. In 1931 the $1500 winnings went to Abe Espinosa, whom is best known as the first Hispanic golfer to win significant golf championships. In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, the winner took home $600. Many greats and golf legends have played and won, Ben Hogan in 1946 won $1500, Sam Snead in 1950 winning $2000, Arnold Palmer’s first win in 1960 won $2800, Chi-Chi Rodriguez in 1967 won $20k, Lee Trevino in 1980 won $45k, just to name a few. The winner has continued to claim higher and higher rewards with the 2011 winner, Brendan Steele taking home a whopping $1,116,000.

Over the years the name has changed as well. Beginning as the Texas Open, it has gone thru some name changes most notably to recognize major sponsorships. It has been named the Vantage Championship, Westin Texas Open, HEB Texas Open, La Cantera Texas Open and currently the Valero Texas Open.

Nine players have won this tournament more than once.

3 wins
Arnold Palmer: 1960, 1961, 1962
Justin Leonard: 2000, 2001, 2007
2 wins
Bill Mehlhorn: 1928, 1929
Sam Snead: 1948, 1950
E.J. “Dutch” Harrison: 1939, 1951
Ben Crenshaw: 1973, 1986
Jay Haas: 1982, 1993
Duffy Waldorf: 1995, 1999
Zach Johnson: 2008, 2009

Water in the Creek

Water in the Creek, Progress in the Garden

by Celia Hayes

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Well, it’s been another quiet week in Spring Creek Forest, the little suburb that time forgot… I am improving my little patch of it as fast as I can and as the growing season allows. We were assisted last week by rain… lots and lots of rain. There actually was running water in Salado Creek. And since it was running over the path, we needed to wade through it – up to our shins, and with a perceptible current, too. Yes, we like to walk on the wild side, what with the mad risk-taking and all. The Weevil thoroughly enjoyed a romp through the water, and when she flushed a couple of ducks from the wetlands by the Morningstar boardwalk, her doggy heart overflowed with pure contentment. She didn’t come anywhere near actually catching a duck, though – that would have been a miracle of practically biblical dimensions.

The garden is doing very well, what with the rain, and the unseasonable warmth. The citrus in pots are blooming, and so is the wisteria – which only blooms for one week out of the year, and then sulks for the other fifty-one. The pot that my daughter thought to plant with an assortment of specially flavored mint plants has – as expected – thrived so thoroughly that there is very little of the pot itself actually visible. The artichoke, burdock and cardoons that I planted in pots some weeks ago are also thriving … There is a bare patch in the yard, where I’d love to have a patch of artichokes. I love artichokes, and to be able to pop out to the garden and pick them fresh would be fantastic. All they are is big, edible thistles, after all. We started this last weekend with some small artichoke plants, along with a blue-flowered salvia for variety, and some lambs’ ears for luck and hopefully to spread along the edge of the bed. Should they all grow and thrive, the bigger ones in pots will join them.

This week, we ventured out to the Antique Rose Emporium to see what they had for vegetable starts. It’s almost too late now for the lettuces and such, too early for beans and eggplant … but the right time for the exotic heirloom tomatoes, of which they had plenty and an amazing variety. I knew that tomatoes came in yellow, but brown, and purple? Oh my. Now to get some more topsy-turvys … we have space on the hanging frame for at least another three or four. The dozen tomato plants that we started some weeks ago are just now shyly putting out blooms. They are the ordinary sort of early tomatoes, and this time we got them in better condition than last year’s … which were priced half-off and nearly dead when we put them in the topys-turvys, but still did well.

Last week, HEB had cucumber and zucchini starts for $1.00 each – so here we go with starting six of them in the last earth-box. Zucchini plants are supposed to produce in overwhelming quantities, which has never been my personal experience, but I’m an optimist. I live in hope of bulging bags of zucchini that I will be able to leave on neighbors’ doorsteps, after ringing the doorbell and running away. And this morning … we had an idea to build a raised bed from treated timbers, and expand the vegetable-growing area. There is a place around the back of the house where the soil is so full of little chunks of rock and concrete rubble from when the house was built that a raised bed full of good soil is the only hope. Next year, maybe…


Spring has Come Early to this Part of Texas

Spring and Tiger Pop

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by Celia Hayes

Having a couple of dogs and a garden works very well at getting one out from behind a desk and a computer … in that one of them – well, both of them – need to be watered frequently. The dogs must be walked, and the garden needs to be weeded and mulched. All these things must be performed often enough that anyone who has either or both is no danger of becoming fused to the task chair…

So – anyway, it’s clear that spring has come early to the San Antonio metropolitan area: we started early vegetables in pots and planters a month ago … and by the last week in February, the mountain laurel trees were in full bloom. Mountain laurels – those are the mid-sized shrubs and small trees with dark green leaves and clusters of purple flowers that smell like grape soda. In the fall, the flowers produce long seed-pods full of hard bright orange seeds about the size of peas. In the old days, I am told that people used to drill them through and string them on heavy thread to make bright Christmas garlands.

The leggy kerria japonica shrub by the side gate has been blooming frantically this week, and around our neighborhood, the iris and roses are in fine fettle. The rain has been good for the lawns – even the most neglected of them is now lush and green … with ragweed and dandelions. There are maybe four or five lawns in the neighborhood whose owners nailed their banner to the mast and kept green, all last year; now, they look even better than ever, and the best of them look like something on the front cover of Country Living.

On another note, what a wondrous thing is the internationalization of taste: things like sushi and tapas and quiche are now such common fare as the ordinary neighborhood HEB now stocks them. Things that one used to read about in accounts of exotic foreign travel can be sampled every day.

This weekend, we were hungry for a small bite of lunch – nothing too heavy, more of a snack, really – and my daughter spotted a place called “Tiger Pop”, out near the Emerald Forest Subdivision by the Starbucks at 1604 and Bulverde Road – the sign on the side of the building also said “Korean Roll” so I logically assumed that they must be doing something like Korean-style fast food, as there is a Korean version of a sushi roll called ‘kimbap’ – which has rice in a nori wrapping. You’re only middle-aged once, so we went in. The place is very new, squeaky-clean and set up like your average chain fast-food place, and the food is indeed very fast, but it’s nothing like the McDonalds (which is just across the parking lot.) The main difference seems to be that the Korean version features cooked meats and veg; my daughter said that her roll was very good. I had the Asian bowl, rice and greens topped with a piping-hot chicken cutlet.There are more authentic Korean restaurants in town, I am sure – but Tiger Pop just has that happy sense of adventure – enough that one of the items on the menu is a Korean beef taco.

Only in San Antonio, eh?

Chili and Cornbread Recipes for Texas

Cold-Weather Supper – Chili and Cornbread

On those few days in South Texas when the weather is cold, dank and rainy, our thoughts for what to have for supper turn to something solid and warming: chili, which goes with cornbread like chocolate and peanut butter, like popcorn with the movies, and like salsa and corn chips. Over the years, we’ve experimented with various chili recipes – there was one from the Sunset Favorite Recipe books which called for angostura bitters and beer, another rather good but strictly vegetarian one which featured kidney beans, fresh corn and zucchini squash – but the absolute best chili recipe we have discovered was taken from Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman, which was showcased on the Food Network a few weeks ago, and which we experimented with by adding some of the alternate ingredients. It makes a good, meaty and flavorful chili, without much fuss.

Basic Winter Evening Chili

Brown in a large skillet or Dutch oven: 1-2 lbs ground lean beef and 2 cloves chopped garlic. When the meat is done, drain off any excess fat, and add: 1 tsp dried or ground oregano, 1 Tbsp ground cumin, ¼ tsp cayenne pepper, and 1-2 Tbsp chili powder, and an 8 or 14 oz can tomato sauce. Stir together, cover the pot and simmer for an hour or so. If the mixture gets too dry, add ½ cup water – but we used beer instead. While the meat mixture summers, mix in a separate bowl ¼ cup masa (corn flour) with ½ cup water. At the end of the hour, add the masa/water mixture to the chili, along with two cans drained red kidney beans, and a medium-sized can of Rotel diced tomatoes and chilies. Simmer together for ten or fifteen minutes, and serve with grated cheddar cheese and chopped green onions and cornmeal muffins on the side.

Cornmeal Muffins

This recipe comes from my ever-faithful Joy of Cooking 1975 edition, and we used real butter and Lamb’s Stone Ground Yellow Cornmeal, (which is manufactured locally, just up the road in Converse) and baked it in a cast-iron muffin pan.

Pre-heat oven to 425, and lightly brush muffin pan surfaces with oil or melted butter. Put pan into the oven to heat also.

Combine together: 1 cup all-purpose flour, ½ tsp baking soda, 1 ½ baking powder, 1 tsp salt, and 1 Tbsp sugar. Yes, I know that hard-core Southerners consider sugar in cornbread to be an apostasy

In another small bowl or glass measuring cup: 1 ½ cups buttermilk or ¾ each cup water and yoghurt, 1 egg, and 3-4 Tbsp melted butter. Combine, and pour into pre-heated, sizzling-hot pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Made with Lamb’s Cornmeal, the muffins came out with a crispy crust and a very tender center, and hardly needed anything else spread on them. The only cornmeal that made better was some stuff that I bought at Wimberley Market Days from a vendor who had a little portable grist-mill and ground corn and wheat flour on the spot – but hasn’t been seen there for a year or so. HEB stores have Lamb’s Corn Meal now; it costs a bit more than the usual, but it’s worth it. Bon Appetite!

Plain Sandwich Loaf Recipe for a Bread Machine

A Simple Bread Recipe for a Bread Machine

Written by Randy Watson

It is not really winter here in San Antonio, yet. We have not really had any days that have stayed below 50 yet for the whole day. Yea, we did have some really cold days the other day when it got down to 31 overnight. It is 51 degrees at 4:00 this cloudy Sunday afternoon. It was less than a month ago, we were still hitting the century mark on the thermometer, so no, my blood has not thickened up yet.

Although, we are not always known for arctic cold winter snaps in South Texas, sometimes we do get into the twenties or rarely into the teens overnight. Anyway, ever since I was a kid, one of the things my mom started us doing to keep us out of trouble was bake bread when we could not go outdoors to play. I have been baking bread ever since. I have tried baking many different styles and flavors of breads.

Nowadays, most of the breads I make are just the typical sandwich loaf or dinner bread. But, I have experimented with French and Italian rolls, cinnamon and raisin breads and even some gluten free breads. I have made breads with mesquite flour, rice flour, bean flour, wheat flour and even regular bleached white flour. You name any kind of bread, I have probably tried to make it. At home I usually bake a loaf or 2 every week. I may have given up on the cinnamon swirl, buns. rolls and croissant breads. But I still make a pretty darn good plain sandwich loaf, once or twice a week.

Over the years, I have learned what works for me and what does not when it comes to baking bread. Sometimes, I am lazier than other times, so for the lazy times, I use a bread machine. I can mix up a dough batch and have it in the bread machine in less than 5 minutes. (Here is a hint. If you want a loaf of bread in the summer and you are not already using the oven, just use the bread machine. It will help keep the kitchen cooler in the summer time.)

For my bread machine, I use a really simple recipe that works and does not fail me too often. The recipe is just a plain and simple white or white/whole wheat loaf. When baking bread I usually use bread flour, instead of general purpose flour. Bread flour has more gluten in it to keep the dough from collapsing. The bread flour will also cause the bread to look a little bit yellower than if you use just the general purpose flour.

My bread machine makes a 2lb loaf. Adjust to 3 cups of flour if you have a 1 ½ lb loaf bread machine.

Here is my bread machine recipe:

  • 1 ½ cups of room temp to warm water (75-100 degrees)
  • 4 generous cups of bread flour (may use 3 cups white bread flour and 1 cup of red wheat flour)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of dry yeast (do not proof yeast)

Pour the water in first, then flour, sprinkle in the salt and dry yeast. Set the machine for a plain white loaf or wheat loaf. (Wheat flour takes longer to rise.) I like to set my crust to dark, turn it on and let it run. Check the machine after about 5 minutes. If the dough is too watery, add a tablespoon of flour, if too dry, add a tablespoon of water and start the machine again. Once the consistency balls up and is not soggy or gooey, close the lid and let it do its thing. In about 1 ½ hours the house will be smelling really good. In about 3 hours, (3 hrs 40 min for a wheat loaf) you will have a hot loaf of bread.



Lifting the Tomato Growing Curse

Reviving the Garden – Lifting the Tomato-growing Curse

By Celia Hayes

I think, by any measurement, that the enduring tomato-growing curse laid upon my poor innocent back-yard has been lifted. Never mind that we did everything wrong in planting three Topsy-turvy planters: we planted them two a planter with barely-alive generic tomato plants from off the severely-marked-down, one-day-from-being-pitched-into-the-dumpster shelf at Walmart, which we stuffed in the wrong way, forgot to add fertilizer to the plants until we had already filled the container with potting soil (which was the cheap stuff anyway) and didn’t have enough of it to fill all three nearly to the top as directed. And they were leggy and top-heavy plants: we should have kept much of the stem inside the soil. About the only thing we did right was to hang them in a place where they would get plenty of sun for most of the afternoon . . . and since then, to water them without fail, each and every day. After some weeks, the poor half-dead tomato plants began to leaf out vigorously, to produce branches that went first went down, and then up, and put out ever more leaves, and finally scatterings of tiny yellow blossoms. With the San Antonio summer heat being at and over 100, I had begun to wonder as summer wore on, if any of those blooms would actually produce tomatoes. The first year that I had a garden, San Antonio neighbors told me it was too hot for the blooms to ‘set’ . . . so, I had basically what amounted to be an ornamental tomato plant.

About two or three weeks ago, – my daughter spotted a tiny green tomato, about the size of a pea. And then another, and a handful more, to the number of about fifteen, in varying sizes from seed-pearl to the biggest being about the size of a Bing cherry. And there are even more blooms coming out still, so it might be that we will have an avalanche of tomatoes after all, although my fingers are crossed for the safety and continuing ripening of those tiny embryo tomatoes. I would so like that. Fresh tomatoes in salads, mixed with cooked pasta and toasted pine nuts, sliced and dried in the dehydrator, frozen whole – so that one can skin them easily with a vegetable peeler. I can deal happily with a flood of tomatoes, as they have an infinite number of uses. It’s not like zucchini – which, let’s face it – has a comparatively a small number of ways to dish it up: Zucchini pickles, steamed fresh, grated to make a frittata and in zucchini bread. And speak as one who basically likes zucchini, too.

The Topsy-turvy of peppers is doing well, after having been severely pruned by something with very sharp teeth and an appetite for green pepper plant leaves. I moved it to hang from a beam at the very center of the back porch roof, which seems to have made it too much trouble to get at for the predator.

And finally, my daughter found another two Topsy-turvy containers on the marked-down shelf at our local HEB – containers to plant humming-bird attractive plants. So now our back yard is transformed into the fabled Hanging Gardens of Spring Creek Forest, since they two are full of salvias, jasmine and other humming-bird and butterfly delights. And we have already spotted a hummingbird visiting, almost as soon as they were planted, and this morning a Monarch butterfly, doodling around from flower to flower.