March 28, 2011

Weekend in the Back Yard

There is a lot of work in backyards during the Spring. Actually, there is a lot of work in our backyard for the entirety of the year - there may be more expectation associated with late Winter and early Spring chores. The rewards are sometimes abundant without a long wait. Sometimes the anticipation is not the result of work - some of our plants voluntarily show up year after year (not always in the spot we might have chosen).

There is a lot of promise and a lot of early delivery from some of the cooler weather plants.





Some of my early favorites include the pink Oxalis and yellow mustard flowers - and these are volunteers! We also have some Louisiana Iris!


March 26, 2011

Spring Garden Update

The garden is growing apace with new plantings every weekend and only minor harvesting for soups and salads. We've been stalling on adding the warmer weather crops but the temperature has been rising as if it were the latter half of April rather than March. This weekend, A planted a couple of tomato plants - I mostly left that to her because my own skill in growing tomatoes has been less than stellar. A tells me that the major problem in Houston area for folks trying to grow good tomatoes is that they over-water their plants. Alas, it may be true - I may have loved them into oblivion.

Getting a good tomato has been difficult not only in my garden but in all the grocery stores that I've visited in our area - the reddish globes are mostly tasteless. Though many of them are quite pretty, with their attached green stems and, sometimes, perky leaves, they are also quite without taste. A single exception has been some "sweet" cherry tomatoes in our local HEB. Wow! some real tomato taste (sweetness with a tart bite) and they work so well cut in half and added to a stir-fry or to a marinara sauce.

While they are good, I am reminded, that they are not quite to the quality of a Jersey tomato (that should probably be capitalized - Jersey Tomato). (A's memories of her New Jersey tomatoes may exceed the possibilities of the tomato plant - but my lack of experience in eating Jersey tomatoes may have crippled my judgment.)

Today we visited my favorite nursery (Arbor Gate in Tomball) for new plants and besides the tomato plants, additional basil, lemon grass, eggplant, nasturtium, and leeks, we also purchased 3 seedling Malabar Spinach climbers (green variety). I'll report later on our success with these heat-loving vines from India.

The primary problem with visiting nurseries in the Springtime are the chores that suddenly await one upon returning home! Ah, well, Spring is bursting out everywhere.

I am reminded of the ending of Williams' Spring and All:

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

Today, the fields brown with dried weeds and tomorrow, the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf.

March 24, 2011

March 17, 2011

Baked Kataifi-Wrapped Goat Cheese



I must tell you that this was an enormous hit! And really not so difficult to make. I first made this as an appetizer at Thanksgiving but have followed up with other less formal meals.

Ingredients
1 pound goat cheese
1 cup mixture of finely diced carrot, celery and onion
1 package frozen kataifi dough, defrosted
unsalted butter, melted (quarter pound)

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a bowl, mix the cheese and vegetables together. Set aside.
3. Pull off a piece of kataifi, and spread it out to measure about 1x4 inches. Brush it with melted butter. Roll some of the cheese mixture into a 1x1/2-inch cylinder, and wrap it up in the dough. Repeat with the remaining filling and kataifi.
4. Bake on a baking sheet for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm.

About 35 canapes

March 16, 2011

Dogs Keep Me Running

I don't exactly walk my dogs (or walk with my dogs). I actually go out for a jog and let them follow me down the trail if they want or they can just mull around smelling clumps of weeds, etc. My dogs like to sniff at everything!

But I know that the reason I faithfully go out for my pre-dawn romp each morning is because we have two dogs living with us and they need to go out. The dogs keep me fit (or at least, they keep me running).
The Impact of Dog Walking on Leisure-Time Physical Activity

Yesterday (near Everman, Texas)

I like family pictures.

From to left to right: Carrie Belle, Dora Fannie, Elva Pearl, John Thomas (Papa), Harl Herbert, Sarah Eliza Alvora Fleming (Mama), William Ralph (Bunk), Berry Burton, and John Chester. After Bunk's birth, the Boydstun family moved to this old Texas box-house, with a lean-to kitchen and attic which was set on eighty-three acres of farmland. There the family raised cotton, corn, and pecans. Two more children were born here, Ira in 1895 and Hattie Alvora in 1897.
Bunk is the baby in the picture and was my Dad's father. Bunk's father (John Thomas), sitting on the chair in the center of photo, was to live in reasonably good health to his 84th year before dying in Archer City, Texas where he is buried.

March 12, 2011

Cinema Cowboys

As a kid, my favorite cinema cowboy, by a long shot, was Hopalong Cassidy. Hoppy and Topper were Saturday morning trail buddies every Saturday morning during the mid 1950s at one of the movie theaters in downtown Plainview, Texas. Oh I knew about Gene and Roy and thought they were mostly okay but I spent my nickels to go see William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy (and I still have my Clover Lake cup with a picture of Hopalong Cassidy on it). I thought Gene Autry spent too much time singing and not enough time chasing the bad guys. I knew all three of these guys, Hoppy, Roy and Gene, from the picture shows and not from television.

Our family didn't own a television set until I was a senior in high school in Odessa, Texas and by then I was mostly too busy to watch television shows - of course, I had also outgrown most of the saddle buddy movies.



I did like some of the television cowboys that came later - I paid attention to the Bonanza crowd (mostly because I worked the light boards and had a couple of bit parts in the production of Green Pastures at Odessa College when Edna Powell talked her former Sul Ross pupil Dan Blocker into reprising his role as De Lawd from Green Pastures.

I always had a soft spot for Pernell Roberts because he wrote some nice liner notes on an album I had of Gale Garnett's. And though I wasn't initially a big fan of Michael Landon's, the work he did after Bonanza was most worthwhile and appreciated.

March 06, 2011

Bill's Pasta Sauce

I like to make sauce.

Sometime well before we've used the last container from the freezer (sometimes used to add lusty earthiness to a soup or sometimes heated and served over the available pasta) I'm planning and talking about making sauce. We always make a big pot. I go from "I" to "we" because A helps me make the sauce - always has. Her help has moved from looking over my shoulder to crushing the whole tomatoes, chopping the parsley, preparing the bell pepper, etc. She pretty much leaves me alone at the stove now just doing the little chores to help facilitate the coming feast. She's a fine helper (and much appreciated). I learned to make sauce watching her make it. And then later, watching her Mom E make sauce. But I make it a little different - not much, but enough different that it is usually very clearly apparent that it is a Bill's Pasta Sauce.

A learned to make sauce when she was growing up in Trenton. In the earlier years it was her Dad who made the sauce. Later, it was E making the sauce that must have served as her guide. A makes a great, delicious sauce. She used to make sauces that included chicken breasts or rolled steak flank, of Italian sausage or meatballs or a combination of two or more. They were good. No one on our green earth makes sauce and meatballs like A and/or E, in combination, could make sauce and meatballs. At least no one up to the time that we quit eating red meat - we have a couple of sons who carry on the homemade meatball tradition and their families seem to thrive on it. But I no longer use meat in my sauce.

I made sauce yesterday. Here's what I had on hand and what I did with it:

102 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed (either by hand or sparingly in blender)
virgin olive oil (to saute onions and mushrooms - add tbsp when adding tomatoes)
1 lg. yellow onion, chopped
1/4 piece medium/large bell pepper, chopped
2 8 0z. packages of sliced mushrooms, broken into pieces by hand
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt, added immediately after mushrooms to facilitate juice release
1/3 medium carrot (small end) finely chopped
1 bouillon cube (I used "not-beef" vegan cube made by Edward & Sons)
1 bunch parsley (I use scissors and finely cut the bunch into the pot stems and all)
fresh thyme leaves (I use enough leaves to cover palm of my hand)
fresh oregano leaves (good fistful straight from the herb garden)
fresh ground black pepper (generous tbsp)
crushed red pepper flakes to taste (I usually put only a little and then add more at the table)
1/2 tsp paprika (first time I've used this - not sure why I did - but it works okay)

Saute the chopped onions, bell pepper and chopped carrots gently so as not to brown. Continue cooking onion is translucent but not starting to candy. Add broken mushroom pieces along with kosher salt stirring as needed to allow mushrooms some contact with bottom of pot. Keep heat low (or medium low) to allow mushrooms to slowly release their brothy juices. Once the mushrooms have released a generous amount of juice, add the crushed tomatoes (if using a blender to crush tomatoes, make sure that a good portion of the tomatoes are only lightly blended so that there are actual tomato chunks in the sauce. We do not want a tomato puree at all!

Bring the sauce to a light simmer, turn heat down to maintain simmer (but not boiling). Add bouillon cube, parsley, thyme and oregano (in no particular order). Add freshly ground pepper and a little more olive oil (and, if you insist, additional salt, but you really shouldn't need additional salt). You can also add the crushed red pepper flakes and paprika (if you use them).

Gently simmer about 45 minutes to an hour. The key here is "gently" - please do not boil the sauce.

Now you just need your favorite pasta, a chunk of hard Italian cheese and a cheese grinder.

Enjoy!

March 02, 2011

First Azaleas of 2011

Azaleas are in bloom in our yard in Houston - I suppose I should treat that partly as a reminder that it is time to begin planting the herbs and veggies I want to harvest this year. As always, lots of basil and mint - mainstays for our salads and appetizers. And of course, A's wonderful pesto (we often prefer a cilantro pesto over the more traditional basil pesto; however, our weather doesn't stay cool long enough to make raising cilantro in the abundance necessary so we shop for the fresh cilantro outside our backyard).

Once the azaleas have been in bloom for a week or so, I become a little overcome by all the monotonous color (not my favorite red) but at this time of the season, it is special. Welcome azaleas!

March 01, 2011

3 examples of when less is more

Indian Caves in the Dry Country

These are some canyons
we might use again
sometime.

-William Stafford

...

In a Station of the Metro

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

-Ezra Pound

...

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

-William Carlos Williams