Saturday, November 29, 2008


In between Thanksgiving with Mom & Dad (dry-brined smoked turkey) and Thanksgiving with Matt's folks (steak and potatoes), we had a little bitty Thanksgiving with Cathy. I didn't want it to be any huge production, and I definitely didn't want the formality (or size) of a turkey, so I decided to do quail instead: like turkey, only much, much smaller. Individual nano-turkeys, if you will.

And I've never done quail before, so that was quite exciting. They're so cute! If we have to live off the land after the final, cataclysmic economic meltdown, I'm definitely raising quail. Matt says no, chickens are more practical (he has a soft spot for chickens), but I say it's important to diversify your poultry portfolio.

For all of our Thanksgivings the weather has been almost comically appropriate: chilly, grey, and moist (no substantial amount of rain, of course, but some light drizzles just to tease the plants). And the leaves are turning nicely. The nurseryman we met at Medina Gardens, the native plant nursery in Medina, said that you generally get better color in a droughty year and worse color in a wet year. Something about the sugers in the leaves being really condensed. Since then, I've been noticing a lot of color, but I'm never sure if it's because he pointed it out, or if it really is more than usual. Matt, who is less suggestible than I am, says it is indeed much better color this year. Interestingly, even the pecans are looking unusually bright and showy--an appealing clear gold color. Below is a yellow Chinese tallow in a neighbor's yard.

A neighbor's Chinese tallow puts on a bright gold on a dull November day.

But I digress from the quail.

I have fond memories of eating delicious bacon-wrapped grilled quail at various restaurants (Royer's Round Top Cafe, the Liberty Bar in San Antonio), so that's what I hoped to reproduce (turns out my memory's faulty--Mom & Dad say Royer's famous quail is bacon-less. Oh well.)

However. There were very few recipes on the internet for quail that were wrapped in bacon, cooked on a grill, and served whole. Consequently, I had to cobble mine together from several other recipes. For the benefit of Webland, I'm including my recipe below.

Marinating quail. So cute!

Grilled, Bacon-Wrapped Quail

8 semi-boneless quail (backbone & ribcages removed)
1 container of Italian salad dressing
1 long log or 2 small logs of soft goat cheese
1 bunch of fresh sage (with at least 16 leaves)
16 pieces of bacon (I used applewood & cinnamon smoked bacon)

Special supplies: Charcoal, wood chips, grill

(1) Cut the tips of the wings off of the quail (from the tip to the first joint).

(2) Marinate the birds in Italian dressing 6+ hours or overnight.

(3) Start the charcoal in a charcoal starter. We (inadvertently) bought charcoal made of actual pieces of mesquite—not little briquettes. Chi-chi!

(4) Put the wood chips in some water to soak.

(5) Cut the goat cheese into disks approximately ½” thick. Put 1 sage leaf on either side of each goat cheese disk. Stuff 1 disk with sage into the body cavity of each quail.

(6) Fold the wings across the quails’ breasts: To fix the wings in place, cut a slit in the last section of one of the quail’s wings. The cut should run parallel to the wingbones and should be a little longer than ¼”. Thread the end of the opposite wing through the slit. This should make the quail look like little bitty decapitated vampires, with their arms crossed on their chests.

(7) Use the same technique to cross the birds’ legs: Cut a small slit in the meat of one leg parallel to the leg bone and thread the other leg through the slit.

(8) Wrap the birds in 2 pieces of bacon each: wrap one piece around the bird laterally. The ends of the bacon should over lap on the bird’s breast. Wrap the second piece dorsally, going between the folded legs and wings. The end pieces of this piece of bacon should meet under the folded wings, which will help hold them in place.

(9) Now the bacon should make the birds look like Sumo wrestlers. Decapitated vampire Sumo wrestlers.

(10) The internet, at this point, recommends searing the bacon in a hot pan. This will pull off a little of the extraneous fat, which will help to reduce flare-ups in the grill (a little). Also, the theory is that it will seal the edges of the bacon so they won’t curl away from each other in the cooking. Well, I guess maybe I didn’t do this part long enough, because the bacon went ahead and curled right in the pan, and I had to stab my little vampires through the heart with a wooden stake to hold the bacon in place. If it were to do this again, I’d probably use a spatula to apply pressure to the birds as they cook and sear them for a little longer than the 30 seconds or so that I attempted this go round. Be sure to sear both front and back of the birds.

(11) Spread the charcoal, sprinkle some wood chips on top of the hot coals, and place your birds on the grill. Close the lid of the grill to trap the smoke.

(12) Grill for 15 minutes.

(13) Flip the birds and cook for 15 more minutes or till the juices run clear/the legs wobble in their sockets.

Decapitated vampire Sumo wrestlers. With sage.

Some of the recipes I used were:
They were deliciously moist, tender, and smoky, if I do say so myself. We also had Brussels Sprouts with browned butter and pecans, creamed spinach, rolls, and butterscotch pots du creme for dessert. The Brussels sprouts were really almost tasty--a little sweet, a little buttery, a little nutty, barely cabbagey at all. They were a combination of two Eating Well recipes (BS with Hazelnut Brown Butter and BS with Pecans) plus about a tablespoon of bacon drippings left over from the quail.

And now that we have done Thanksgiving, it's time to start in on the Christmas season. Tomorrow: hang the lights outside and a buy a tree.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Goo on the Roof and a Smidge of Fall Color

I like having multiple projects going at once. If you get bored with one, you can switch to another. If you run out of supplies/funding/ideas for one, do something else that requires less material/money/vision.

So it is that this weekend found Matt monkeying around on the garage/shack roof, applying roofing goo. We currenly have 2 other major projects in hand (removing the last traces of paint from the antique doors Mom & Dad gave us last year and installing new gutters), but we needed a third to round things out.

The garage is a vexatious pile that causes me all kinds of indecision. Here's the thing. It's rickety, has an ugly leaky roof, and is too short. Because it's so short, there isn't really room for normal garage doors with a normal garage door opener. I haven't spoken with any garage door specialists (in fact, I don't even know what the proper name for a garage door specialist is--some sort of carpenter? A gates-and-large-doors contractor? Some dude sub-contracted out by Sears?), but I'm hoping that we could someday install non-corrugated metal doors that open horizontally on the kind of hydraulic arms that the special people in gated communities use to operate the gates that keep out the peasantry and other such undesireables.

And then, too, maybe we could replace the corrugated metal walls with actually siding. And maybe someday we'll re-do the roofline to eradicate the stupid valley where the water collects on the rare occasions that it rains. Instead of having two separate roofs that just happen to be joined, we could just have one, whole, unified roof.

The garage/shack with the Mr. Marek's rather nice Chinese tallow behind it. The garage/shack is a composite of two shacks, unconvincingly joined in the middle. The valley is right over the Studio-to-be.

But then I think, is it really worth it? We're talking about an excessively short ramshackle tin shack with antediluvian wiring, rotten timbers, and a rusty roof.

So maybe the thing to do would be to tear it down and build a new structure on the cement pad. It would be normal height, it would have new wiring, it would have a rational roof, and we could design the floorplan ourselves.

But then that would cost tens of thousands of dollars wouldn't it? Which we don't have. And then again, would it be worth it? I mean, as a structure that houses our spare crap, it currently does (most of) what we need it to do: stand up and hold stuff.

So I go round and round. In the interim, we're trying to enhance the garage/shack's functionality by enabling it to stand up, hold stuff, and keep the stuff dry, which will be a nice upgrade. Thus the roof goo. It's this weird tarry stuff that comes in a paint can that you smear into the crevices of your roof's metal sheets using some variant of a wooden spatula.

If we decide (as I expect we will) to just make the most of the structure we've got, then the roof goo is the necessary prerequisite for gutting and refitting the craft room/studio/call-it-what-you-will.

See, although short, rusty, and rickety, our garage/shack (oh, hell, let's just call it a shackrage) actually has some nifty features. It's got a spare fridge that holds our Costco provisions. It's got a two-car garage with wooden bins lining two of the walls. It's got a separate 1-car garage with a wall of pegboard. And in between, it has a third room with actual sheetrock walls and a linoleum floor. So while we don't actually use the shackrage for storing vehicles, we are able to get a lot of use out of the rest of it.

Unfortunately, thanks to a seive-like roof, that nice central room is currently a foul and pestilential fungus fest. There are holes in the ceiling where the wallboard disintegrated, there are puddles and streaks of black and green and purple mildew all over the walls and ceiling. If I have to go in there, I take a big lungful of fresh air at the door, dart in, grab whatever I need, and dart back out while doing as little breathing as possible.

All of which is too bad, because I really need a place to set up a stained-glass making workshop, and Matt needs a space (other than the kitchen countertop) to practice Gourd Art in all its dremeling, supergluing, gourd-innard-shredding glory.

So we need to tear down all the sheetrock, maybe rip up the linoleum, douse everything that remains with 100% bleach solution, and start over. But we can't do that until the roof is hermetic. So. Step 1: goo the roof. Step 2: get some rain so we can test the integrity of the roof goo.

("...get some rain..." Oh, I crack me up.)

...And that's why we've got two other major projects going on at the same time.

Grasping at Straws
Someday, when our landscape is more mature, we're going to have glorious fall color all over the place. For now, we just have tiny little smidgens of glorious fall color: one red leaf on the red oak, a bit of orangey tint on the margins of the Lacey oak leaves, one yellow bur oak leaf.

Bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

The interesting red petioles on our pomegranate

'Tuscarora' crape myrtle

One of our pecans

Lacey oak (Quercus laceyi)

...and the grand climax, our Texas red oak (Quercus buckleyi)

Friday, November 21, 2008

"Too Many Roses?" I'm Sorry, You're Not Making Sense.

Ordinarily, one would think that autumn is the ideal time to plant things because the heat and drought break and we get some nice, hospitable, cool, moist weather to ease the strain on a root system until the long sleep of winter. Or the short snoozes of winter, as is more often the case.

Needless to say, only one of those conditions holds this year.

Nonetheless, we keep buying plants because (a) that's what we do, and (b) I keep assuming that--any minute now--the autumn rains will be on their way. There's only a month of autumn left, so those rains better get hopping.

Our latest exercise in optimism was the purchase of a couple of '4th of July' roses to go on the trellis we just erected in the rose bed. They are the richest, most gorgeous shade of vermillion, with pale pinky-white streaks--very decadent. But at the same time, they're only semi-double, so they have an informal, breezy, cheery quality to them. So they're on the edge. They either remind you of the silk lining of a vampire's cloak or they remind you of a picnic blanket, depending on your mood and which particular blossom you're looking at.

Giant picture of '4th of July,' pinched from

In addition to the roses we picked up at ARE the weekend of Pete's wedding, the new 4th of Julys make 6 new roses this fall. Plus Matt brought home a 'Mademoiselle Franziska Krueger' that we put in the Pole Bed. So, 7. Which means that we currently have a total of 43 roses in our yard. It ain't Josephine's garden at Malmaison, but even so, that's a lot of roses.

The elusive Mlle. Franziska K. This is the only picture of her I could find, and it's not very representative. (

And we're not done yet. One of these days, we'll be adding a 'Ballerina,' a green monster rose, a 'Fortune's Double Yellow,' and dear 'Madame Joseph Schwartz' (a long-time favorite of mine), as well as a short hedge of 'Archduke Charles.' (Okay, and also 'Kaiserin Freidrich', 'Kronprinzessin Viktoria,' 'La Reine Victoria,' 'Mme Hardy' and 'Mme Plantier.') And then we may be done, but I doubt it.

So what is it about roses, anyway? Why do we have nearly one rose for every hundredth of an acre in our yard? I think it's a combination of variability, intensity of color, availability, personal history with the genus, and adaptability. There aren't many genera that have so many named cultivars that are so readily available. There are hundreds of rhododendrons and lilacs and peonies, but we can't grow them here. There are probably hundreds of hibiscus, but a only relatively small subset of them is reliably available. There are hundreds of crinum, but they are hard to find and expensive. There are thousands of orchids, but they are much too prissy.

It's actually really easy to be a rose fancier--there are lots of nurseries that sell moderns and a good number propagating antiques. And antiques do very well here--they're a great choice for lazy and/or xeriscapic gardeners. And of course, Matt & I used to work at, and in fact, met at ARE, so we've got a personal connection that way. And because there is so much variability, the roses have their own personalities--different habits, susceptibility to diseases, thorniness, glossiness, darkness, floriferousness, &c. The longer you grow them, the more you get to know their personalities, the more of a relationship you have with them. You don't have a relationship with, say, Indian hawthornes or crape myrtles, however nice your crape myrtles may be. Roses, you start calling by nicknames: "Madame Jo," and "Graham," and "the Duchesse," and "Miz RM." Probably because there is a relative unchangeability to Indian hawthornes (they either have scale or are about to get it) and even to crape myrtles, which bloom, change color, and drop their leaves fairly reliabily.

Roses, on the other hand, keep you guessing, especially the "remontant" roses, which tend to bloom in the spring and fall. Sometimes they seem to have two flushes of bloom in the spring. Sometimes their fall bloom is really early. Sometimes it's late. Sometimes they throw out a flower or two between bloom times just to tease. Some roses are more intensely pink in early spring or in cooler weather in the fall. In August, some of them bleach to nearly white. Sometimes their blooms are large; in stress, they'll be smaller. Sometimes the petals are smooth and regular; in drought, they'll ruch up; in humidity, some of them ball up (I'm looking at you, Clotilde Soupert). So your garden is full of surprise pleasures--plants reaching their peak or suddenly outdoing themselves, plants retiring due to cold or heat or season, plants putting on an unusally perfect bloom, plants putting on a freakishly misshapen one, plants reaching a new intensity of color or introducing an unexpected variation. There is always something to discover.

And then, too, roses are kind of like Shakespeare. So many people have loved them for so long that all those generations of affection and endeavor and stories embue the plants with extra layers of meaning. How many stories do you know about particular cultivars of pansies or boxwood or redtip? I don't know any. But there are any number of stories about the origins or discoveries of different cultivars and classes of roses. So I suppose roses are a logical plant of choice for a bookworm--they're plants with character development, rising action, climax, and denoument. (And maybe this is the core reason Matt & I dislike 'Knockout' so much. They never change--there's no story.)

In other, lesser plant news, we're also looking for a Cordia boissieri for the SE corner of the house, where we currently have an aged and rather crapped-out ligustrum, a chitalpa for the SW corner of the house, and a bay laurel for the front corner of the rose bed.

Because any day now it's going to rain, and then it'll be perfect weather for transplants.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Weathermen Are Idiots.

Yesterday, the wunderground gave us an 80% chance of rain in the afternoon and a 70% chance of rain in the evening.

How much rain do you think we actually got? Go on, guess.


Stupid weatherpeople.

They've been doing this to us all year--promising us thunderstorms and heavy showers with blithe confidence: 60%, 70%, 80%. And we get a big, fat nothing.

You may think, Sheesh woman, so they made a mistake or two. Let it go. Allow me to show you why I'm so hung up on this issue.

This is a chart of average annual rainfalls around the world and of Elgin's rainfall for this year as of 11 Nov. Note the usual rainfalls of our nearest sister cities. Houston gets a lush 50 inches. Dallas, "the City that Works: Diverse, Vibrant and Progressive," (they paid someone for that slogan? Why not just say "the city of pin-headed corporate drones" and be done with it?) gets a comfortable 33.7 inches. San Antonio, to the southwest, gets 28.

So far, Elgin has 17.4 inches of rain this year. And that's measured at a weather station on the other--wetter--side of Elgin (I kid you not. They get rain when we have blaring sunshine. Austin has had just over 10 inches this year, and I suspect our little patch of Elgin is more in line with them.)

But let's be conservative. Let's go with 17.4". How bad is 17.4"? Look a little to the left on the chart. That's less rain than Casablanca. Casablanca--town of which Claude Rains remarked "The waters? What waters? Casablanca is in the desert"--gets 18 inches per year.

Our next closest rain buddy in my unscientific study is Windhoek, Namibia. Windhoek gets a paltry 14.7 inches of rain per year, "which," the internet helpfully tells us, "is too low to support crops or gardens."

Park outside of Windhoek, Namibia

To be fair, the ultimate winner of this depressing game of Our Weather Sucks Worse Than Yours is Cairo, a city whose annual rainfall is so low, it couldn't be represented on the chart above. Poor Cairo gets a thirst-mocking 1 inch of water per year. Which is why there's no landscaping around those pyramids.

Undeterred, gives us a 70% chance of rain today and a 60% chance tonight.

As I write, the sky is blue with some fluffy, white clouds.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trellis Completely Done!

We were out of town last weekend, taking a long weekend in Comfort, Texas. However, now we're back, and the tide of home renovation rolls on.

This week Matt finished the trellis. Here he is, wielding a post-hole digger with typical self-assurance and efficacy (I did a little, too, but Matt's definitely better at this sort of thing than me).

Matt digs holes for planting the trellis

Then we jimmied with it to get it level.

Matt jimmies with the trellis

And there you are. In this picture, it's just leaning in the holes; this evening, though, Matt cemented it in, so it's all nice and straight. But this is the best picture we've got. Sorry about that.

Ta da! Our mighty trellis

I think it turned out really, really well. We're going to grow 4th of July roses on it and hopefully get a little privacy for the west side of the house. A woman should be able to eat breakfast in her PJs in her own yard. That's what I think. Hopefully, now I can do so without shocking the neighbors.

We also need to plant a bay laurel and a Magnolia x soulangiana to finish the bones of the rose garden--they will both mitigate the lumpishness of the rose garden (which is sort of shapeless and lost looking) and provide a some screening.
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