Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not that we hadn't guessed as much...

I was cleaning up my bookmarks and came across this handy link to NOAA's US Seasonal Drought Outlook.

See that big patch of brown? That's where we live. Needless to say, brown isn't good.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Making Stuff

Hideous Objects
Now that all the lucky recipients of this Christmas's arts-n-crafts projects have been given their dubious gifts, I can finally blog about them. They're picture frames (I later put a photo of Matt & me inside a giant, lightning-struck baldcypress trunk in each one).

I think I earlier characterized them as hideous objects. You can see why.

Ours, Ladonna's, Mom & Dad's

Aunt Pauline's, my brother & sister-in-law's

The responses were the most fun. I made a prototype for the K's (not a frame, but a star--not gonna try that again--too many edges), and when Kate opened it, she said "Oh! Did--you--make--this?" In the sort of strangled tone a non-smoker would use with a five-year-old who had just presented her with a particularly hideous hand-made ash tray.

Mom's response was along those same lines. Ladonna cleverly skirted the issue of the frame by commenting lavishly on the photo.

My brother, on the other hand, took one look at the object and said, "Oh my god the sofa!"

You'll remember the hideous old family sofa that we replaced earlier this year. Well, it had been a member of the family for so long (since before my birth), that I thought maybe some of my loved ones would like to have a keepsake. So I made little picture frame ornaments, using foamboard, hot glue, Swavarski crystals, and ribbons. I tried to dress them up as much as possible--that upholstery is really overwhelming--but to make them attractive was beyond my skills. Aunt Pauline's turned out best because it is the most thoroughly covered in ribbon. And Ladonna's wasn't too awful. The others, well, they have sentimental value. I hope.

Victory Garden
In other artsy-craftsy-homemakery news, I got a jump on a veggie garden for next spring. It's been a while since I've attempted such a thing, but in the current economic environment... Hell, it beats learning how to darn socks. Plus, I want access to those stripy eggplants and to our favorite Aji Limon chiles, which are so hard to find. I ended up ordering from The Pepper Gal, the only source that had poblanos, pasillas, chile pequin (for the wildlife, not for us--we're nowhere near that badass), and Aji Limon. In the past, I've preferred to buy seedlings from nurseries--it can be hard to match nursery-grown stoutness and vigor--but now that I have a greenhouse at my disposal, growing plants from seed seemed like the obvious choice--much cheaper, much more variety.

In addition to the Pepper Gal seeds, I also ordered from Harris and dark horse Swallowtail Gardens.

Here's what I should be receiving in the mail:

  • Poppy, Oriental--Beauty Of Livermore
  • Larkspur, Giant Imperial-Blue Spire (to go around the gazebo--I positively adore blue larkspur against a white fence)

  • Basil, Lemon--Mrs. Burns (my favorite basil)
  • Lemon Grass, East Indian

  • Artichoke, Violetto (See artichoke advice from Natural Gardener)
  • Lettuce, Loose-Leaf--Lollo Rossa
  • Radishes, D'avignon (Do radishes grow in Texas? Especially ones with Frenchy names? We'll find out.)
  • Tomatoes, Cherry--Super Sweet 100
  • Tomatoes, Cherry--Yellow Pear
  • Tomatoes, Heirloom--Black Plum
  • Tomatoes, Heirloom--Brandywine, Pink (I know these heirloom tomatoes aren't going to grow here, yet I'm compelled to try)
  • Watermelons, Charleston Grey (really, really pretty. see pic)
  • Watermelons, Sugar Baby
  • Eggplant Ophelia
  • Eggplant Twinkle
  • Eggplant Classic (Seriously? Three eggplant varieties? Damn those seed catalogs with their irresistable veggie porn!)
  • Lettuce Harmony
  • Okra Cajun Delight (which Matt doesn't eat, but we both feel that it's a necessary nod to our southern roots)
  • Pepper Sweetheart
  • Guajillo Peppers
  • Aji Limon peppers
  • Peru Yellow (Hopefully, a synonym for Aji Limon)
  • Ancho Mulato (Poblano)
  • Peter Hot (a very naughty pepper that Matt loves, yet refuses to eat. I don't suppose I can blame him--I expect I'd feel the same way if it were a girly-part pepper.)
  • Chile Pequin pepper
  • Holy Mole Pasilla pepper
  • Aji Cristal pepper

For Fun:
  • Gourd Baby Bottle
  • Pumpkin Fairytale
  • Pumpkin Lumina
So far, I've only received the pepper seeds. Today I planted a few seeds of the most practical varieties, hoping for an early harvest: Aji Limon, Ancho Mulato, and Guajillo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

We Finally Got That Pony for Christmas

Matt & I bought our main Christmas present this year, a riding lawn mower. To my intense amusement, we ended up with a model named "Pony." Since we only have half an acre, we chose a model that's on the small side. Which makes it (...wait for it...) Our Little Pony (TM).

For some time now, we've been getting by using an old push mower that came from goodness knows where. Half the time, it's out of order. And even when running, it takes half a day to mow the entire yard. And if we let the grass get too thick, the mower actually dies on us as it wrestles with the grass. So this will be a huge improvement.

It's a zippy little thing, as Matt demonstrates in this dramatic reenactment.

You put it into gear and the rocket thrusters kick on.

So that's our second major purchase of the year. (1) the sofa and (2) the lawn mower. Exciting stuff. A few years ago, we wouldn't have been able to afford either. It's nice not being completely impoverished.

In other nice(ish) things, our garden is trying valiantly to stay in bloom. 'Ducher,' '4th of July,' 'Souvenir de la Malmaison,' 'Green Ice,' 'Burgundy Iceberg,' 'New Dawn,' 'Comtesse du Cayla,' and our camellia, 'Yuletide,' are all (sort of) in bloom. I'm not sure why, really; we haven't had any rain. But perhaps they're celebrating the end of the miserable heat of summer.

Sadly, the weather gods have not favored them with the kind of benevolent conditions that their efforts deserve.

We've already had one or two hard freezes, and we're in the middle of a third. The poor plants get a flower half open, it gets nipped by the frost, and what's left is this balled-up, asymmetrical, brown wilty thing.

Our 'Yuletide' camellia. Look, it's doing the best it can.

I'm particularly impressed with 'Yuletide's efforts. This is a camellia that supposedly grows well in Austin and blooms around Christmas. You can see what a sad twig ours is. It can't handle the ongoing drought at all. Nevertheless, it is gamely attempting to live up to its name by giving us several big, vibrant pink flowers the week before Christmas.

The interesting colors of cold-stressed 'Burgundy Iceberg'

'Burgundy Iceberg,' the infelicitously named Floribunda, seems to have almost profited from the freezes. Its half-spent flowers have turned this really interesting crushed-raspberry shade, and if you look very closely, you can see tiny darker purple/pink streaks.

Ever-blooming, ever adorable 'Green Ice'

And, that outstanding trooper 'Green Ice' is still blooming like mad. Freezes manifest on this one as splashes of pink at the tops of the petals. I feel, by the bye, that GI is an under-appreciated wonder. I love the old-fashioned shape of the flowers and the sparky green eye, but its most valuable quality is that it blooms all the time. It outperforms 'Cramoisi Superieur,' 'Duchesse de Brabant,' and even the odious but prolific 'Knockout.' While those other roses will have a scattering of blossoms during the really tough seasons, like August and January, GI has great big heads full of flowers. It isn't just that it blooms all the time; it's so enthusiastic about blooming. Yet no one ever raves about this rose. I just don't understand it. It came out in the 70s, so perhaps it's too modern to be noticed by the antique rose crowd and too old to be cherished by modern rose lovers. But there it was, getting western exposure in one of central Texas's dryest and hottest summers, seemingly having a perfectly fine time. And here it is now, facing down multiple freezes in the 20s with cheerful aplomb.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Whaddaya know? The weather outside IS frightful!

We had a really lovely weekend, temperature-wise. In the sixties and seventies, with a lively, brisk wind blowing. Last I checked the wunderground, they were predicting more of the same, if slightly cooler, all week. Imagine my feelings when I stepped outside this morning in capris and a short-sleeved shirt to discover it was below freezing, with a wind chill at something like 12 degrees. 12 degrees Fahrenheit, I might add.

And I'm afraid I didn't even enjoy the weekend weather like I should have. I got caught up in a round of indoor activities. I've been stripping the paint out of the corners of some of our antique doors (we finally got an estimate from carpenter Javier for resizing and installing all 6 doors--ouchie! Will have to save up for that project). You may recall that we had all 6 dipped and stripped at the local antique refinishers in downtown Elgin. However, the three skinnier doors had very persistent coats of paint, and extra hand stripping is required to clean out the trim. This takes much, much longer than you would have ever thought, and apparently requires 2 coats. Bother, bother, bother. So far, I've worked on one side of one door. I'm using a paste that turns blue and dry when it's ready to be scraped off, which at least minimizes the mess somewhat.

I also worked on a special craft project for Christmas (in addition to proper store-bought presents--I'm not Laura Ingalls Wilder--I don't expect my recipients to be satisified with the equivalent of an orange and a rug made out of rags.) I can't go into details, but I found myself in the scrapbooking supply section of Hobby Lobby for the first time. My, there were lots of flower-shaped decals! However, I flatter myself that my offerings are sufficiently Horrid as to subvert any overweening cuteness from the scrapbook aisle. Horrid, but fabulous.

And I worked on Christmas cookies. I made macarons for the first time (first time eating them, too. Not sure what possessed me. A sort of gastronomic keeping up with the Joneses, I think. Macarons are apparently all the rage this season.) Fidgetty little blighters. One batch turned out picture perfect. The second batch, baked on parchment instead of silplat, and having sat for about 15 minutes before baking, were wrong in apparently all the ways a macaron can go wrong. No "feet," cracked surface, too lumpy and rounded, and chewy inside. Then, per the recipe, I made a disasterous filling called Italian buttercream , which is prone to separating and melting and is also too sweet. So out of the whole fiasco, I got about 8 cookies that are gift-worthy: 4 for my boss and 4 for my cleaning lady. Fortunately, the pralines I made with pecans given us by Mr. Marek turned out just dandy.



Finished product. Only the ones with the chocolate ganache filling are giftable. Chocolate never lets me down.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Most Twinkliest Time of the Year

As is our wont, Matt & I bought our tree and put up the Christmas decorations the weekend after Thanksgiving. My official, prudential, mature reason for this is that if we're going to shell out the ooftish for a tree, we obviously want to get our full money's worth for it--from Thanksgiving weekend through 12th Night.

The true (somewhat embarrassing) reason is that I really, really like the twinkliness and want to get out the sparkle as early as possible every year. And Matt, who endures these rituals with stoic forbearance, lets me.

We've expanded our efforts this year. Matt's work threw out a bunch of strings of C9 lights. Some were quite crapped out; others were still in their boxes, oddly enough. So this year, we were able to wrap some trees in lights in addition to our garland, wreaths, and faux-luminaries. These C9s, though. I'd never used them before. My people were always strictly mini-lights people. Restrained. Modest. Understated. Consequently, these huge, oversized lights look either naive or ironic to me. They're so big and kitschy and jovial and 1950s-ish. Cartoonish, if you will.

C9 string lights

They are also really, exceedingly, startlingly bright.

Whoa. Massive pillars of light. You could read a book by the light from our pecan tree.

In other news, we went to Janice's wedding in Houston on Saturday. Janice is an old friend from Hort Club back at A&M. She had a lovely ceremony, the highlight of which, for me, was the diminuative usher who must have been all of 7 years old asking us with perfect solemnity and gentlemanliness if he could take us to our seats. It was great to see Janice again, whom I haven't seen in years, and who is exactly as I remember her, and also very nice to get to meet her charming new husband, Michael.

I was also reminded, as I always am when I drive down to Houston or Louisiana, of how much I miss the Gulf Coast. Even by Sealy or Columbus, neither of which are especially close to the Gulf, you can start to see the landscape taking on a more coastal look. I'm very fond of Austin in so many ways, but at heart I'm still a girl of the coastal plains--flat, green, wet, alluvial lands with thick, sinewy live oaks and towering cumulus clouds. Although I'm nowhere near them on that stretch of I-10, that geography always calls to mind marshes and shrimp boats and egrets and briny air.

...Which is what always makes it such a surprise to find myself suddenly whisked away to the immortal glades of Arcadia.

Sealy's astonishing golden god/dess

Somewhere near Sealy, the owner of what I think is a cement yard art store has set up this... phenomenon, which defies categorization. Those are larger-than-life golden unicorns, pulling a chariot containing a heroic winged personage of indeterminate gender--muscular, yet more curvaciously endowed in the chest region than your average man. Sort of a hybrid of Athena and Helios. We exited and looped around in order to study this work in greater detail, and to snap the picture (on a cameraphone--sorry for the quality). I think of it as Manthena, the Hermaphrodite God(dess) of Wise and Just War in the Sunshine. Every time I ponder the time, cost, and effort of this project, my mind boggles. Even assuming that it's just tin covered in gold paint, this is still an undertaking so monumental yet preposterous yet somehow perversely admirable that it beggars all attempts to contain it in language.

And finally, because it's a good time of year for excess, we are currently prepping for a holiday dinner with the Ks. They're making a "Flaming Feast" (consisting entirely of food on fire--even including the salad), and we're to bring the dessert. From various recipes online, I've cobbled together something I'm calling "Ragnarok: a Meditation in Four Elements." (It's actually a tarted up Bombe Alaska, but I like my name better.) It's made of genoise cake, dark chocolate ice cream, coffee parfait, and meringue. Earth will be represented by the chocolate ice cream and by the cake, which didn't rise properly. Air will be provided by the many forms of whipped egg whites and whipped cream in the dish. Water will be present (sort of) in the form of rum, and for the fire, we're using, well, fire. Matt, who is amused but doubtful, will be standing by with a fire extinguisher.
Related Posts with Thumbnails