Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas in San Antonio

The awesome Tree of Tillandsia with a neat statue at the SA Botanical Gardens

Jingle BELL time / Is a SWELL time...
Matt and I just got back from our annual(ish) Christmas trip to San Antonio to see the lights on the Riverwalk. Every year SA hangs these big C9-style lights in Mexicanish colors (red AND fuchsia, plus gold, blue and green) in the giant old baldcypresses on the Riverwalk. There are luminaries (real ones, with candles--take that, Santa Fe!) and the bridges are outlined in lights and everything reflects in swirly patterns in the water. It's a totally artificial environment (the "river" closely resembles the water rides at Epcot), but that doesn't really matter because it's so sparkly and otherworldly.

This year we decided to spend the night. We paid for a room a couple months in advance through Expedia (the only way to handle the expense at this already pricey time of year) at the fanciest hotel I've ever stayed at: the toiletries were by Aveda! I came away with about $30 in travel products after just a single night's stay. It was called the Hotel Contessa and is directly on the river, which was our principle criterion. We had big windows looking right down on the Riverwalk, which was a neat, if somewhat underutilized, feature. This was our sitting room (yeah, that's right: a sitting room. It's where we entertained visiting business tycoons and foreign dignitaries).

Well, where would YOU entertain the ambassador from Lesotho?

The Windcrest Light Up
First we drove through the Windcrest lights display. Windcrest is a town/neighborhood in SA that's famous for its lights. We didn't have good directions and drove around for a while in this rather lame neighborhood near Windcrest thinking, "Wow, this place is really overrated." Then we found the right spot and it took about 30 minutes in line to get in. Tip #1 for Windcrest visitors: get a reliable map and go in one of the side ways--the front way (by the Presbyterian church on Midcrown) is a mad, homicidal crush.

Some of the displays were pretty impressive, but it was spotty--there were definitely some unspirited backwaters. Tip #2: download Windcrest's map of their winning homes and draw out a route to follow--otherwise you'll wander aimlessly like Rapunzel's boyfriend in the wilderness.

The best--in my opinion--was the massive light display choreographed to this Michael Bay-esque rendering of Christmas carols--full orchestra, fast paced, lots of percussion, and gratuitous explosions (just kidding about that last). It sounded like the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, but it was actually "The Little Drummer Boy." There was a tree made of several layers of lights that lit in independent spirals going in opposite directions, there was a waterwall effect of lights draped over the front of the house, there were stars on the roof that each came on independently, and there were copious tree and bush wrappings. And it was all linked to the music. We've got a choreographed display here in Elgin, but I gotta tell you, the Michael Bay Christmas was all that, squared, with fudge sauce and a cherry.

San Antonio Botanical Gardens
And then we went to the SA Botanical Gardens this morning, which was fun. Even though many of the plants were frost-nipped, the weather was so crisp and blue and cool that this was easily my favorite visit to the SABOT ever (all previous visits involved buckets of sweat).

They had a new (to us) series of entomological sculptures made of wood. Here, Matt shakes his fist defiantly at one of three giant invading ants. I'm sorry to say that the ant looked completely unfazed.

Man vs. Nature: Matt and the giant invader ants.

The conservatory complex had some of the most interesting displays, I thought. Here's a sculpture/fountain by the conservatory pond.

"Cupid's Fountain" by Susan Budge in a shady nook at the conservatory pond

And here's an absolutely ass-kicking Tillandsia sp. [?] from the main conservatory, seen from below. (Unmarked. Naturally. It's always the ones you're most interested in that are unlabeled.)

A Tillandsia [?] from below

The Tillandsia was from this fantastic tree full of them (and other bromeliads) in the conservatory. I thought the statue was pretty darn cool, too, though she has a bunch of upsetting spiky things inside the aperture in her head. The sculptor, Susan Budge, seems very interested in the idea of the vagina dentata (a meme that pops up in different time periods around the globe, positing the notion that some women's special equipment comes enhanced with teeth. That's right--teeth. I'm not making this up--see Wikipedia for details. Men can be so weird sometimes.) I kinda get wanting to play with this particular phobia (as the bad fairy in Shrek II maliciously says, "Let's explore that, shall we?"), but the upshot is a little more disruptive than I usually like my bromediad experiences--although those also tend to involve toothed apertures (Mother Nature--so kinky!) In any event: pretty neat statue from the outside. Just don't peer too closely into its face.

The Tree of Tillandsia, which looks absolutely gorgeous with the grey-aqua of this kinky statue

SABOT has a number of Crinum in their "Old-Fashioned Garden" (naturally, but sadly, not in bloom now), but they also had this blooming apparition veiled in mist in the Fern house.

Crinum in the mist

Other items of interest
I am so fond of this shrimp plant. It's not as awesome as my favorite, 'Fruit Cocktail,' but it's a pretty strong contender, with its luminous ivory bracts, lightly tinted with green.

Ivory shrimp plant

Also, Matt and I were impressed with someone's inventiveness in applying plant materials from around the gardens to a wreath. The brown comes from the trunk of palm trees, the blue is from Arizona Cypress, the green is (presumably) some other kind of cypress, and the palm fronds are, well, palm fronds. All embellished with ball moss--not as pretty as Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides), but much more authentic to the area.

Wreath from garden materials

We also enjoyed the demonstration gardens with the tiny, tiny houses. They're meant to showcase different waterwise landscaping styles (our landscape--by happenstance, not intention--is largely cottage, with a pinch of wildlife-friendly).

As sometime plant snobs, we were particularly amused by the unspoken commentary on the conventional, suburban landscape--the lot representing this "style" had the dullest house, painted the dullest color, with a big flat stretch of St Augustine, capped off with a row of boxwoods and another row of redtips (two of the dullest foundation shrubs available).

Message: you can be funky-cool like the xeriscapic house, innovative and integrated into nature like the wildlife and Hill Country houses, soulful like the Mexican courtyard house, or drearily conformist and white bread, like the dead-eyed automata at the traditional house.

The tiny, tiny houselets of "Watersaver Lane" Patio Man and the Sprawl People live in the beige house behind the Photinia. The Hill Country and Wildlife houses are beyond.

...And then home again this afternoon in time to upload some pix and blog about it.

Giant philodendron in the Fern house

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Catch Up

Half-frozen 'Cramoisi Superieur' buds

Garden Update
It's been a rough several weeks from a blogly perspective. I had to work late a lot, it's dark all the damn time as far as I can tell, and on the few occasions that I'm out during the daylight, it's dull and washy, through a dense curtain of frigid mist (that's "frigid" as defined in the South--low 40s to low 30s--not Minnesota frigid, which I gather makes the ice planet of Hoth look like the Garden of Eden).

Needless to say, we have not spent a lot of time in the garden lately. And the news from the garden is not particularly fun, anyway. We got our first hard freeze a week or so ago, and it caught 'Cramoisi Superieur' and 'Duchesse de Brabant' with bushes heavy with buds, all now dangling dully from their stems. 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' had several big, fat, petally blossoms and buds, which froze into solid wilted blobs that are now rotting on the ground.

A couple of hopeless 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' buds

But now that heavy-hitting bloomers like Cramoisi and the Duchesse have been in the ground for over 2 years, I think they'll probably rebound and bloom again if we have a long enough period above freezing. After all, they're finally getting rain, a fact that is probably making the sap rush deleriously through their half-dessicated xylem and phloem.

'Green Ice,' that miniature paragon, is chugging along, undaunted. As usual, it is completely outblooming the tiresome parvenu 'Knockout.'

In House News
We finally replaced the tap in the guest bath. It look a long time because there is no such thing as a cheap faucet for pedestal or claw-footed tubs. They're all painfully expensive. I finally found the model I wanted (Barclay Products Limited 4025PL Wall Mounted Tub Filler w/Hand Shower) on eBay for $125--over $100 dollars cheaper than the nearest competitor.

Handsome new "tub filler" (what's up with that name, anyway? Is "faucet" insufficiently smarmy?)

And we also got some cellular shades for the window, so now our guests can be both clean and private. The room's not done (needs a new mirror, a new bath shelf, some sort of stool or small stand, a small antique dresser or bachelor chest, and the A/C vent needs to be moved about 7 feet toward the door so it doesn't blow on people's faces at night.

Nevertheless. Good progress. Rome wasn't built in a day. From little acorns mighty oak trees grow. Slow and steady wins the race. Or, as Jon Stewart puts it, "Keep fuckin' that chicken."

The other big house new is that we're planning to install a ventless gas fireplace in the living room as our Christmas present to each other. This is going to be a many-stage process because we want a custom surround and, ultimately, a pair of built-in bookshelves on either side. This is all going to take a very long time, so we're just going to start with a wooden platform and the firebox. Below is a composite of fireplaces I found online that looks more or less like what we're going for.

The long-term goal, more or less. Brought to you by the magic of Photoshop.

We've already bought 6 vintage Helman Art Nouveau tiles to go above the fireplace--we'll find some (cheaper) coordinating modern tiles to go around that. Shout-out to the folks who sold us the tiles, by the way: we love the tiles--they're even prettier in real life than they were on the web; they're in terrific condition; and when the shipping came out to more than they had estimated, they reduced the cost of the tiles so that the total remained the same. They company's called Recycling the Past, and they have a great selection and really good prices. Love them.

Our lovely period tile from Recycling the Past

In Culinary News

After Thanksgiving our local HEB had pork loin half off, at which point I fell off the local meat wagon and bought one. Because look at that thing--it's longer than my arm!

I brined it and then we grilled it per the directions at the Grilling Companion, and it turned out completely delectable--juicy, smoky, fork-tender, and flavorful. I think pork is in the process of becoming my Second Meat: first chicken, then pork, then beef or lamb. (Lamb would be my Second Meat, if it weren't so darn expensive.) Must go back to buying it locally, though.

And Finally, the Big News
I bought a car! I've been saving up for ages, and I finally bought a replacement for my late lamented 1995 Accord: a 2010 Honda Insight (hybrid). It's lovely and complex, and I think it's even rather sporty. I'm still amazed that I'm sufficiently adult and responsible that financing companies want to give me cars, but hey, I'm not gonna complain.

My new baby. It was rather cold out, as you may have inferred.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mlle. Franziska Outdoes Herself

Happy Roses
Such good weather for roses and taking rose pictures. They--like all living things in the area, in fact--have been loving the moderate temperatures we've had for a solid month now (highs in the upper 70s, lows in the 50s and 60s). They have great, fat, happy plentiful blossoms at their peak of shapeliness and color.

And today's overcast, Novemberish sky was a bright grey that was gentle on the colors.

A most triumphant--if unusually muted--Mademoiselle Franziska Krüger bloom

I'm especially pleased with 'Mademoiselle Franziska Krüger,' who is revealing unexpected depths of infinite variety. Her buds are larger and fatter now than they were in the summer, and their color is more gently shaded-less aggressively pink. They've also taken on a more autumnal mellowness of form--not the pointy, jagged shapes of summer. And the shrub is covered in copious large, peachy-gold balls that look as pretty from the street as they do up close.

A nice, fat Mademoiselle Franziska Krüger bud

The weather particularly favored 'Mutabilis', often a difficult rose for me to capture--its mottled pinky-apricots often look washed out in photos.

A really particularly nice picture of 'Mutabilis,' though I say it who shouldn't

This is the first time I've paid any special attention to Mutabilis's buds, which, intriguingly, are striped.

A striped 'Mutabilis' bud

The matchless 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' is also making unusually large, abundant flowers this autumn. Here's one of her dense, heavy blossoms in front of an orange bulbine. Her fully blown flowers are so hefty, they weigh their stems to the ground.

'Souvenir de la Malmaison'

I still struggle to capture the deep crimson of '4th of July,' but this may be as close as I've come to getting the color right. In real life, it's darker and richer than this.

'4th of July' climbing rose--coming out of its summer slump

And trusty 'Green Ice,' that gem among miniatures, is covered in diminutive greeny-white blooms. It often is covered in flowers--just right now, it's more covered.

Throng of deceptively delicate 'Green Ice' flowers

Plants Around Town
While biking around Elgin, I found this marvelous malvavaceous treat. We're not sure what it is--some sort of super-charged althea? But it's one of the few persuasive peony replacements we can grow in central Texas--it has those large, frilly, peony-like blooms. And, as you can see, it's got plenty of them.

Unknown tree hibiscus down an alley in Elgin

And, interestingly, even its spent flowers are kind of nifty--like pink, ruffly hockey pucks.

Spent hibiscus flower

Meanwhile, Mother Nature is signalling with increasing conviction that it really is autumn. Our neighbors across the street have an unidentified tree that is completely undistinguished all year long except in the fall, when it suddenly goes yellow from top to toe.

Unknown tree with fall color

And further down the street, there's a maple that's turned flame orange (wish I knew what kind--I don't think of this as being a maple-friendly area, so I'd like to know what exceptions there are to the rule. All I can say for sure is that it isn't a big-tooth, even though it does, in fact, have big teeth.)

Mystery maple changes color--in real life, it's much brighter than it appears here

Despite these signs and despite the droughty summer, Matt & I don't think it looks like the trees will be putting on a show like they did last year. The pecans, instead of wearing last year's exceptional clear gold, seem now to be turning their usual muddy yellow, for example. Still, there's time yet. The Chinese tallows have just barely begun to change, so more color may be on the way.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CSA: What Do I Do with All These...What Are These Things, Anyway?
Last week kind of threw me for a loop, veggie-wise--for complicated reasons, I didn't get their regular box, which comes with an explanation. Instead, I got a special box, which contained some perfectly standard veggies plus a mysterious bunch of dark green things with crinkly leaf margins, some attractive white globes with bushy leaves, and some romano beans, which I was at least able to identify, even if I'd never had them before.

I figure (a) all leafy greens are various degrees of unpleasant, and (b) they all improve considerably when exposed to bacon and sauteed onions. So, devoutly hoping that they weren't poke salad, I dropped them in a pan with bacon and chopped leeks and let them cook down. They tasted fine, although it turns out that I should have done some more aggressive pre-rinsing and removed the midribs. Otherwise, not a problem. As we're still alive to tell the tale, they obviously weren't poke salad. (Turns out they were mustard greens.)

Then there were these nice white root veggies--very smooth and unblemished. Could they be a very large white radish? In addition to the regular red ones also in the box? This seemed like a lot of radish to dispose of in one week, so I decided to sliced up the whites and eat them for breakfast, as they purportedly do in France. They had a surprisingly tangy, horseradishy smell to them, but they were quite pleasant with a sour cream+sea salt+green onion dressing--not too overwhelming or harsh, but zesty, and with a pleasing al dente consistency--a little softer than your average radish. But I liked it well enough to do it for breakfast two days in a row.

I finally emailed the CSA to ask what the heck I'd been eating. Turnips. I'd been eating raw Japanese white turnips (AKA "kabu") for breakfast.

Never would have seen that one coming, especially since I thought I hated turnips. Maybe these little white Japanese ones are different from the big, clumsy-looking pinky ones we usually eat?

But after all, this is one of the reasons I joined a CSA. It would have never occurred to me to buy either turnips or mustard greens under ordinary circumstances. And now I've discovered a new breakfast food! (I'm pleased about the Japanese turnips; the mustard greens--they're okay, but the chard/turnip greens/kale niche in my diet--never a very large niche to begin with--was already adequately filled and then some. So not what I would call a major epiphany.)

Japanese white turnips ("Kabu") from The Omnivore's Solution So cute!

Mel's Surprising Breakfast Turnips
2 Japanese white turnips, in 1/16" slices
1/4-1/3 c sour cream
2 Tbs green onions
sea salt - to taste
freshly ground pepper - to taste

Combine & eat, preferably with a side of crusty, chewy, peasant-style buttered toast.

I braised the romano beans per this popular Italian recipe from the NY Times. The tomato sauce was really good and rich (could use some red pepper flakes, though), but next time I would chop all the beans in half horizontally--they're so big that they can be rather overwhelming and discouraging in their full size--they need to look a little more user-friendly.) I'm not now a passionate fan of RBs, but they make for some interesting variety in the ol' veggie diet every now and again.

Big, burly romano beans--pic from Stacy Snacks Online

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween from Elgin, TX

Happy Halloween on this idyllic autumn day.

At the last possible minute, I threw together a sort of decoration, since we'll be home tonight and distributing candy. Last night buying candy at Walgreen's (on sale! Procrastinators rule!), I found these two sets of these rather endearing ghost lights (half off), and I thought, "Why the heck not?" So I hung them, dug out our modest collection of Halloween doo-dads, and added a little All-Hallows flair to the front porch.

Pumpkin-Girl. Maybe it's time to scrape the excess paint from 2-1/2 years ago off the window?

Halloween doo-dads

Meanwhile, there a lots of nice blooms going on. 'Ducher,' the only white China rose, is flourishing. Appropriate to the season, this blossom is housing a leggy little arachnid.

'Ducher' rose with seasonally appropriate spider

Matt's pink Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus) is in bloom. It's a rather unusual cultivar, but these shell pink flowers, I think, are at least as charismatic as the common red. Less brilliant, but more graceful. The color of a 1940s synchronized swimmer's cap. Neither the shady picture nor the sunny picture came out exactly right, so I included both to help you get a better feel for the plant.

Pink Turk's Cap (#1)

Pink Turk's Cap (#2)

And 'Mademoiselle Franziska Krüger' is sporting some especially nice blooms right now. This delicate bud shows her more demure side...

'Mademoiselle Franziska Krüger' bud

...while the wadded tissue look of this fully open blossom is her more characteristic style. Note the color variation--buff with an irregular pink splodge down the middle--that's typical of Franziska, who has a distinctly eccentric streak.

Fully open 'Mlle. Franziska' blossom

The purple Dyckia that I bought a couple weeks ago at Peckerwood's fall open house seems to be settling in.

Purple Dyckia

And the watering system has given the 'Kimberly Queen' ferns from Mom a whole new perspective on life. The front porch looks very lush and much more private now.

A happy 'Kimberly Queen' fern

'Fairy Tale' pumpkins

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's BEAUTIFUL Outside!

What a lovely day! The temperature's in the low 70s, there's a constant cool breeze blowing, the sky is both blue and cloudy, and everything is bright and green. The roses are blooming, the grass is mown--it's just lovely.

I'm trying to grow Oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) from seeds again. It was (again) quite difficult to find the seeds I was looking for (single red poppies, fer cryin' out loud! Like in all those Georgia O'Keefe paintings! Why is this so hard?), especially since I wanted to buy dark blue larkspur from the same place--no point paying shipping twice for a mere two packs of seeds. Dark blue larkspur are also harder to locate than you would ever believe--everyone wants to sell mixes of larkspur. But it's that dark, deep indigo blue that I want--why mess around with washy-looking, pallid, bleached blues?

This is the kind of blue I'm talking about. Who wants baby blue when they could have this? Taken at the Landmark Inn in Castroville, TX, 2005.

So I ended up buying from the same supplier as last year, which calls to mind that annoying quotation attributed to Einstein about insanity consisting of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. But as the weather is friendlier this year, perhaps I'll get more than two 3-inch larkspur sprouts for my pains.

Poppies and larkspur at the Landmark Inn in Castroville. I loved this combination so much that I've been wanting to replicate it ever since.

The varieties I'm trying are 'Scarlet' for the poppies and 'Galilee Blue' for the larkspurs. I was also seduced by a attractive off-pink poppy called 'Coral Reef.' The pink is going to complicate my color scheme (red poppies and blue larkspur against the white gazebo--so bright and pretty), but the likelihood of either of them germinating doesn't seem to be very high, in which case I won't need to worry about the color scheme at all.

I also picked up a few packets at Peckerwood last week--I got 1 packet of single red Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) and two of Herbertia lahue ("prairie nymph"). I feel pretty good about the P. somniferum, since I know they thrive around here and re-seed generously. So even if the P. orientales let me down, I should have some sort of red poppy come next May.

I'm expecting the single red Papaver somniferums to look more or less like this picture from "Ned30's" photostream on Flickr. As an aside, I don't know where Ned30 hangs out, but he's been snapping some lovely poppies. I especially like the "Single Black" P. somniferum--so decadent!

I'm not so sure about the Herbertia, which I've never tried before, but I'm tickled to pieces to finally have the chance to grow this dainty native member of the iris family (Iridaceae), which is quite rare in the nursery industry.

Herbertia lahue (prairie nymph) from a page from A&M's Botany Dept. (scroll down--same page also has a picture of Sysirinchium, recently purchased from LdyBJ Wildflower Ctr)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Meat Report

Oh, what a glorious day to be a yuppie!

Temperature: in the 60s. Sky: a deep, cloudless blue. Landscape: green and thriving. And I--I am buying a package of duck bacon. That's right: duck bacon.

We've been trying to eat more local meat lately and less factory meat, what with the cruelty and the filth and all the weird chemicals. We haven't gone cold-factory-turkey, but I am buying the majority of my meats from local producers and farmer's markets. This entails eating somewhat less of it, given the expense and hassle of the thing. Thank goodness for my CSA, with its eleventy-hundred pounds of Swiss chard to make up the difference.

Anyway, that's how I happened to be buying duck bacon. I was looking for packs of chicken thighs (much harder to find than you might suppose), but wound up at the charcuterie booth along the way. It wasn't a very practical or economical purchase, but when you stumble on duck bacon, I think you have an obligation to buy some. I did this latest round of research at the Sunset Valley Farmers Market, so I'm writing up my findings before I forgot.

One of the difficulties of eating local meat (other than the fact that it's frickin' expensive and not exactly available at your neighborhood HEB) is that you don't always have the choices you're used to. For example, I have yet to find a supplier for veal (correction: I found a farmer who was willing to sell me an entire baby cow worth of veal. I'm all for purchasing in bulk, but since a single packet of veal cutlets is a bit of a special occasion for us, I can't conceive of how special an occasion would have to be to merit a whole calf worth of veal), I haven't been able to find a truly local lamb producer, and the vast majority of the pasture-fed local chickens are sold whole.

So for the benefit of anyone in the Elgin-Manor-Austin area who's looking into this kind of thing themselves, here's what I've turned up so far by asking around, going to farmer's markets, and searching online. These are farmers from whom I've at least bought something and who are readily available to... people who live where I live.

Local Meat Report
Dewberry Hills Farms ( Sells packs of thighs! The holy grail! They're located in Lexington, which isn't too terribly far away for Elginites, McDaders(?), or Paigeans(?). It's a bit of a slog for Austinites, but they sell at Sunset Valley Farmer's Market (which is where I was today) and some other markets. Judging from their website, they are very much influenced by that hard-core, libertarian, right-wing, organic, pasture-feeding farmer from Omnivore's Dilemma. (I know--seriously implausible string of adjectives. True, nevertheless.)

Shades of Green ( sells whole chickens as well as chicken and duck eggs. Used their chicken to make broth for a gumbo, and, as promised, the broth was astonishingly clear and flavorful. Sells at Bastrop Farmer's Market, but can also make other accommodations for buyers.

Arroyo Kimbro ( sells whole chickens, ducks, and eggs of both. And also massages (for all your poultry/massage needs...). I made a successful stewed duck with cherry sauce from his duck, but I roasted a chicken that was meant for stewing, and the results were not good. User error obviously the culprit on that one, so the jury's still out. Used to sell his eggs at Whole Foods--not sure if that's still on or not. Otherwise, drive out to his place in Manor.

White Egret Farm ( actually sells quite a lot of animals--chickens, pigs, goats, beef, and possibly some other poultry I'm forgetting. We've only tried the pork. We were very happy with the pork loin chops, each of which is the size of Greenland, and came out quite flavorful and (mercifully) tender. The bacon was good, and the sausage was okay, but not phenomenal. On the negative side, they've been hit hard by the drought, and their place looked a bit worse for the wear; also, We found a couple of complaints online about them failing to deliver what they promised. Not sure if those were valid issues, but as I say, the pork chops were really good, so I'm giving them a cautious thumbs up. The sell by delivery.

Peach Creek Farm ( sells some really delectable bacon. Definitely worth the extra money on gustatory grounds, nevermind the ethics of the thing. Haven't tried any of their other products yet. They sell at Bastrop Farmer's Market, or you can pick up orders from their farm in String Prairie, TX, south of Bastrop ("String Prairie"? Really? That's almost as good as "Old Dimebox" or "Oatmeal." Not as good as "North Zulch," though. Nothing is as good as "North Zulch.")

Bastrop Cattle Company ( Bought some ribeyes from them--flavor good, but a lot chewier than I like my beef. These were the folks who offered to sell me a whole (butchered) baby cow. Now if only I could find about 15 friends with whom to split the cost...

Ingel Creek Natural Foods ( sells beef and also various health supplements (they used to run a small health food and grocery in Elgin, but that apparently didn't work out, unfortunately). I should be receiving a bunch of different cuts of beef from them tomorrow, so I'll let you know how they taste.

Ah, lamb. Not many farmers are into the mutton, for some reason. The closest pasture-fed, organic lamb I could find comes from Corpus Christi: Loncito's Lamb (no website, but you can find contact info here: They sell at Sunset Valley, fortunately.

Thunderheart bison ( sells many different cuts of bison, as well as an extremely tasty jerky. I bought some ground bison, too--I'll let you know how that turns out. Previous bison experiences were a bit gamey, so I'm hoping this will be a little less feral.

I think there are a number of local goat producers. Based on my experiences with my CSA, I suspect that after the revolution/apocalypse/cataclysm, those of us in central Texas will be subsisting exclusively on chard, chili peppers, and goat. White Egret Farm sells goat, but I know there are others that do, as well.

Texas is bursting at the seams with local sausages (our favorite: Opa's beef sausage, from Fredricksburg), but other kinds of preserved meats, like prosciuttos, hams, pates, and confits are harder to come by. So I was tickled to stumble upon Kocurek Family Charcuterie and their duck bacon, which I sampled and found quite scrumptious. Their website, unfortunately, isn't up yet, but they do have a twitter... whatever you call it--feed? account? site? Whatever. It's at

Groups of Farmers
Sunset Valley Farmer's Market
Bastrop Farmer's Market
Bastrop Producer's Market
Greenling Organic Delivery--doesn't deliver to Elgin, but those who work in Austin might be able to get deliveries at work. They seem to be universally adored.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Sale

Aquiduct/water garden at the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center

We went to the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center's fall plant sale today. I had actually never heard of their plant sale till this year, but I'm delighted to have discovered it. While they had a lot of the obvious things (beautyberry, Mexican feather grass, scarlet sage...), they also had some surprises.

They were selling blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium), which I've admired in the wild but have never seen for sale (check out its ineluctable adorableness), and which I'll be putting in the blue-and-purple bed.

The vibrant, trampy red of the heartleaf rosemallow (Hibiscus martianis)

They had a particularly brilliant red hibiscus that loves shade, heartleaf rosemallow (H. martianis), which I will plant at the foot of the cottonwood.

The funky green flowers of the wild shrimp plant (Yeatsia platystegia). Do click to see the picture at maximum bigness--these flowers are best appreciated close up.

And, perhaps niftiest of all, they had a "wild shrimp plant," which looks very much like a tame shrimp plant, but is green and belongs to a different genus, Yeatsia platystegia (formerly Tetramerium platystegium). This one is so obscure that Google can only find two pages mentioning the plant! The newsletter of the Native Plant Project says that it is the host plant to the rare elf butterfly. (Had you been looking for a host plant for the elf butterfly? You're in luck, if you hurry down to the LBJ Wildflower Center tomorrow.) Would make a nice, perverse pairing with the Green Rose.

They also had a wealth of seed mixes for different, highly specific kinds of meadows. One of the grass seed displays read, "Escape from the Bermuda Triangle." Ah, if only I could believe it! But it's going to take more than some blue fescue and buffalograss to drive the bermudagrass population off our property. Climate change on the scale of The Day After the Day before Tomorrow (or whatever it was called) might do it, but probably only temporarily. Generations from now, Mexican anthropologists excavating pre-cataclysm Texas will find dormant rhizomes of the stuff and be thrilled and amazed at its ability to spring back to life once pulled from the permafrost. Poor fools.

The graceful, delicate flowerheads of the (unimaginatively named) "giant muhly" (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri)

The display gardens had a several more interesting specimens. This one, giant muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), is all over their grounds, but was unfortunately not for sale. I love its lacey gracefulness. We don't really have any established gardens that go with ornamental grasses, but if I could find one of these, I'd make a garden for it.

I also quite liked this weird, spiky little beauty. They look like tiny purple pineapples. It's an eryngo of some kind or other. (Here is an exponentially better picture.)

Interesting mystery gold spike*

And there was this neat gold spike. I have no idea what it is (naturally it was unlabeled--there is a special subsection of Murphy's Law dictating that the plant you are most interested in at any given botanical garden will inevitably be the one without a label or the tree, herb, or water plant ludicrously claiming to be a Berberis trifoliata.) Although it the flowers don't look at all lily-like to me, the strappy foliage looked like classic liliaceae.

CSA: What Do I Do with All This... Chard and Peppers?

My CSA in Burnet, Hairston Creek Farm, finally got some rain, which means our boxes are fatter than before. This is not an unmixed blessing. You would not believe the quantities of peppers I've been receiving every week, and guess what started up again? That's right, everyone's favorite quasi-edible stringy, bitter leafy green that leaves a weird residue on your teeth! CHARD! I thought that perhaps this stuff might be more endurable since the weather is cooler (cooler weather = less bitter leafy greens). Besides, I don't like being defeated by some upstart Swiss, for crying out loud--the country that couldn't pick a side even in one of the most morally unambiguous wars in modern history.

Long story short, I tried again, and this time, I threw everything I had at the stuff. The result was actually not horrible. I call it "Chardage" (chard + sausage). It's not for the faint of heart.

1 bunch rainbow chard, freshly washed, ribs and leaves separated
1 Tbs butter
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 small onion (~1.5" diameter), finely chopped
~1 Tbs brown sugar (I used demerara)
1/2 lb bulk sausage
2 roasted sweet peppers (rec: cubanelles or banana peppers) coarsely chopped
garlic salt to taste
1/3 c heavy cream
1/4 c grated parmesan

(1) Finely chop a small handful of chard midribs; discard remainder. Coarsely chop chard leaves.

(2) Heat butter in skillet. Add chopped chard stems, carrots, onion, and brown sugar. Saute until lightly caramelized and tender.

(3) Add sausage to skillet and break up. When crumbled, stir in chard leaves. Cover skillet and cook on medium low until wilted (~10 min.).

(4) Stir in garlic salt, roasted peppers, and cream. Cover skillet and cook on medium low until cream is completely absorbed, peppers and carrots are barely distinguishable, and chard is reduced to a mushy tenderness (~15-20 min.) Stir in parmesan and serve.

Nutritional value: can't be much left by the time I'm done with it. Still, probably contains a week's worth of stringy fiber.

I roasted enough peppers for two chile-based soups, and I still have heaps of the stuff left over. Every salad is topped with peppers. Every sandwich contains peppers. When I make eggs, I stir in or top with peppers. What do I do with all these peppers? The answer is I don't know.

Here, at least, is one recipe that made a tiny, tiny, barely perceptible dent in the mountain: Cheddar and Roasted Pepper Soup. Note that I endorse all of the recommendations make by reviewers in terms of cranking up the flavor.

What do I do with all these leeks? Wait a minute--what leeks? For some reason, my CSA never gives me leeks. In my opinion, the most useful vegetable there is after onions, potatoes, and lettuce. Perhaps we're out of season? But the chard (which no sane person would use in staple Chez M recipes like bubble-and-squeak or vichyssoise) keeps coming, mocking me, while I look in vain for leeks. Very frustrating.
* Update 16 Oct 09: I was browsing the inventory at Yucca Do when I happened upon this exact same plant. It IS a member of the lily family: Echeandia texensis, the Texas craglily. So now you know.
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