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What to Plant In December

December 10, 2015
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Although we haven’t even started the Twelve Days of Christmas, I’m already thinking about Valentines Day…I mean, when it comes to gardening, that is. The things you plant around here* in December mostly remind me of pinks and fragrants. Roses for clipping, strawberries for dipping, you get the gist. Throw in some onions and spinach for a Mardi Gras salad, and you’re good to go. So let’s get going.

What to Plant Decemberber

 

Roses.  This is a new one for me. I’ve never actually been tempted to plant roses before because before they look amazing, they look pretty bleak. Also, borderline ugly. But there’s a whole metaphor in there somewhere, and if 2016 is going to be coming up roses, now’s the time to make that happen. Here’s an overview on how to plant roses.  And here are the top ten roses for a Texas garden.

Onions. These are really easy to plant and grow…and you always need them. Just get your starters at your favorite seed/bulb supply or big box hardware store’s nursery department. They can help you. Or read more here. Basically you just put the starters/bulbs in the ground and get out of the way. You’ll have a ton ready to go before Easter.

Lavender. I think this is most decadent herb. And it grows really well in Central Texas, home of the Blanco Lavender Festival in Blanco, Texas, and a Lavender Festival at Becker Vineyards in Stonewall, Texas.  It does okay in North Texas and not so great the Gulf Coast region. But if you can get it going, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.  Here’s how to plant lavender.

Strawberries. Early next month the Queso gang is headed to strawberry central. And I am inspired. I’ve tried strawberries a few times and it’s never really worked out, but I’ve never tried them this early. I hear that is the key. Let’s see.

Spinach. Spinach is a great companion plant for strawberries. And it’s the green staple that likes to be transplanted a little bit later than all its green cousins. You’ll need it all spring. To be big and strong. 

So skip ahead a few holidays, stop thinking about fudge and start thinking about chocolate…to cover all your strawberries. Merry Valentines!

*This is written for zones 7-9

A Framework for Gratitude.

November 11, 2015
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It’s a curious thing to live in a space where you are related to almost everyone who has haunted the halls, or the walls, before you. On some days, you feel like if you are quiet enough, reverent enough, or maybe just aware at all, that you can in some way get a sense of the souls who inhabited the space before. It’s the blessing of an old house. Besides non-existent closets, this is something that only comes with pre-war construction. Unfortunately (to me), this house isn’t haunted, but it definitely has a presence. As you walk into this space, it feels like babies were born here. Like dinners were served over laughter here. That something good before you came together. Here.

It also holds a lot of potential. It’s mostly untapped potential of lives lived before the opportunities we have now, but it’s also in its simple layout, its small frame and its considerable age. As I look around, I mostly just see everything that it could be, everything that needs to be done. But in reality, there’s beauty in where it is and what is has withstood.  This home has a lot of stories, euphoric and tragic, there’s no doubt. I just don’t know many of them. But sometimes, if I’m quiet enough, reverent enough, or maybe just aware at all, I think that’s why this house drew me here.

But let me back up. More than five years ago, we moved from the center of giant Houston to the outside of small Austin and into my great grandparents’ house. My mother’s, mother’s, mother and father were the second residents of the home in the 1920s, followed by my grandmother’s brother (my great uncle) from the 1960s through the early 2000s.

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That’s my great uncle on the right. He was a dancer on Broadway in the 1940s, and that is his official headshot. He was born Phillip Jefferson Allen, but always went by P.J.  Except, in New York he went by Leigh Allen (his stage name), and lived on Christopher Street, and danced at the Roxy Theater with Ethel Merman in Something for the Boys and Annie Get Your Gun. He also allegedly ran with Cole Porter, amongst other West Village heroes of the day… and I would give almost anything to know his stories. The sad reality is, I don’t know them, because he never told them. I’m not a hundred percent sure why he didn’t open up, but I’d speculate that we weren’t ready. He was a man born too soon, I guess. I can only guess. But now, instead of his tales, I have barns full of his memories and artifacts of his later profession, designing and building parade floats. But that’s another story.

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And these were his parents. This is a closer shot of the photo on the upper left, a photo of my great grandparents, George and Arnie Bell Allen. I love the way she is smirking into the air…and I really love the way he is looking at her. George was a Texas Ranger, she was kind, loved children more than anyone could understand, and baked bread every day. What I know about them is not enough, but I love this line that was in my great uncle PJ’s obituary:

“His parents loved to dance, and the children were taught to waltz as they learned to walk. In the Allen family, honesty, kindness and manners were of utmost importance. P.J. said his most valued possession was his friendship with his parents.”

Whoa. His most valued possession was his friendship with his parents. As someone who is raising a son, that feels like a lot of good to live up to, and I live in their home.

When we first moved in, probably for the first year or two, we were working on the bones and structure of the house, and I was too intimidated, confused, or overwhelmed to do anything with the decor.  So it sat undone, an open space of drab, incompletely existing in between neglected decay and what’s next. It was odd and sort of depressing.

I wanted to honor its former residents, but I wasn’t sure how. Because a Texas Ranger and a dancer-turned-parade-float-maker have very different styles and sensibilities, and I had no idea how to recognize any of that while incorporating my own thing, especially since I wasn’t sure what my own thing would be.

But then I saw a photo in a magazine of a wall of photos and it made sense. I would fill the walls with those who had lived here, visited here, spent holidays here. I thought if I featured a collection of those who had been here before, it would unlock how I should arrange things now. So I did it. I found a bunch of photos.

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Like this one. This photo was taken on Christmas 1947 in the room I am currently sitting in as I type this. On the left, the third woman back from the front is my grandmother, who was then, in this photo, the age that I am now. Today, there is only one person in this photo who is still with us. The front baby on the right side, that baby is my mother.  Everyone else is gone.

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Or this photo from 1951. This photo was taken in the next room, the room where this photo hangs now. And man, I would love to hear what they are laughing about. Well some are laughing, some are very serious. My great grandparents are sitting in the middle, surrounded by their seven children and their families. Almost half of the seven took their own lives. There are some stories there, trapped in a time where people didn’t tell their stories or have any words to name depression, much less to understand it. And yet in the midst of it, there is joy. That’s what I wanted to frame.

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I have about 50 of these photos collected. Black and white photos taken at, near, or connected to the house. So I spray painted 50 frames blue and began to hang them up on the wall. Most of them hint at stories I don’t know.

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Like, my great uncle, the “old bachelor” as they say around here, well, he was married once. To a lady. There’s a story there.

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Or my great grandfather, who was not only a Texas Ranger, he was the Sheriff of this county. He is standing tall, back row, middle at the Capitol in Austin where he served as Secret Service. But check out the little dude in front with the giant hat, posing with the cigar and the gun. There is definitely a story there.

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Or this guy. Who is this guy? I have no idea. But he also has a gun (Texas) and he is not messing around with trespassers. As they have trespassed against us.

I began to put these around the house, paying tribute, and slowly (very slowly), quietly, the patterns started coming together. The house, as it currently exists and stands, is starting to look connected.  It sounds completely woo-woo, but it worked.

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Here’s a bit of the collection. Only, a ten-year-old human lives here, a growing human boy child who jumps and runs around and bounces balls on the regular. So as a result and after a while, it is truly impossible to keep the frames hung straight up on the wall, and it starts to look like a janky hodge podge hanging in the Weasley’s house … and not in a good way. (Those of you who are really undone by the uneven crookedness of the photos above, you are my people and I feel your pain.)

It was clear that collected together, the snapshots of the past began to look like clutter.

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So I took them down today.

It now looks different. A bit stark, a bit blank, but also clean and fresh.

The symbolism here is obvious.

Those who came before us may have established the scene that we entered, but it’s clear we are here to create what’s next.

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And for all of that, I am thankful.

What To Plant In November

November 5, 2015
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It is finally starting to feel a little bit like fall around here* in the smallest of ways. It seems the plants sense this before I do because the tomato trees that just wouldn’t quit are finally checking their Roth IRAs and thinking about retirement. Ever since I remembered that my grandfather would always plant pumpkins on the 4th of July, I’ve tried to set up traditions around holidays…mostly so I can remember to do them. And the last few years I’ve started picking the last of the tomatoes on Halloween. So right now I have a ton of tomatoes (and even more that I’ve freezed along the way) so it’s definitely time to can them in some capacity. I’ll start doing that next week.

But for now, I pulled out the last of the summer garden and I’m planting for winter. Here’s what that looks like for me.

What-to-Plant-in-November

Cilantro! You love it. Or you hate it. But really you should love it. And now’s the time to plant it. If you cover it on the rare day that it may freeze (in February), this should last you into the spring. Or plant it in pots (fairly big ones) and move them inside when it gets colder. If it gets colder.

Collard Greens. Kale and Spinach. I only really eat collard greens on New Years day and the first few weeks of January when I’m still attempting to keep “eat more greens” resolutions.  But now’s the time to plant collards for that. (Halloween seeds = New Year’s greens). Kale grows really well and it’s a nice thing to plant, as we all tolerate it in our lives because it’s good for us, yes? So right now we are stuck with kale until something more trendily awesome comes along, which, honestly couldn’t be that hard to do or that far off. And of course, spinach is everyone’s green go-to Popeyed friend. You should for sure plant that.

Onions and garlic. These are super easy to plant and grow. Just get your starters at your favorite seed/bulb supply or big box hardware store’s nursery department. They can help you. Or read more here. Basically you just put the starters/bulbs in the ground and get out of the way. Which brings me to…

Bulbs. I am not an expert on these at all, but my grandmother was, and I’m attempting to learn this year. I do know that Fall is the time to plant Spring bulbs. I like the symbolism behind this, so I’m working now for things to grow in the Spring. That’s a nice thought. Here’s a handy bulb planting guide that I’m using and you might like it too. And speaking of planting for the spring…

Fruit Trees. November is the month to plant fruit trees for the future, and here’s a list of fruit trees that grow well in zones 7-9. This house is planting a kumquat tree so we will have one and a Satsuma Orange Frost tree because the Aggies say they are the best.

Whatever you put in the ground this November, I wish it lots of sunshine and water to grow strong into the fake winter. And we plant with hope that we once again have a fake winter. Because we probably will. Enjoy the greens!

*This is written for zones 7-9

Three Tips for Getting Back-To-Schedule Organized + A Gin & Tonic Recipe. To Celebrate Getting Back-To-Schedule Organized.

October 6, 2015
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This photo has nothing to do with being organized. But it is salt water taffy…and that’s fun, plus it’s organized into nice little bins. And this post was written by Kristin Paull. And she’s fun and organized. And it’s her birthday. Happy Birthday Kristin! We would like to give you a cake made out of salt-water taffy. And a gin and tonic. 

We have one more Back To School Night to go, and then we are officially back in the swing.  It doesn’t always feel that way though.  I have to say that each year I feel like the year starts faster- like I am jumping on the treadmill that is already going at top speed.  Sundays are the nights I get organized for the week and use the tricks that help me feel like I am taming some of the chaos.  Maybe these can help you manage your circus.  Our current circus involves an ongoing leak repair from a bathroom remodel combined with the arrival of a puppy.  We officially live in Crazy Town right now, and I am the mayor.  Here is what is keeping me from losing it.

Every year I have  a monthly calendar where I enter all of the big things- school holidays, late starts and early dismissals, practices and games, tests and quizzes.  Now, I don’t use this to helicopter my kids, though I know that can be tempting sometimes.  I do use this to know what they have coming up that week.  I want to see if my 10th grader is really prepping for that Chem test, my 8th grader is studying for a few days leading up to the Geometry test or my 4th grader is preparing for that History project.  I check in with them after it is done- “How was your test today?  Did you feel prepared?  How did you prepare?”  I grew tired of feeling surprised that they had tests and quizzes, because they never talked about it or stressed over it.  This makes me feel more connected to what they are doing rather than just relying on watching for the grades as they roll in.  If I am more concerned about the work ethic and effort going into school, then I need to put my money where my mouth is.  This helps me focus on the process and not just the result.

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I also sit down to go over my calendar for the week.  I break it up into AM and PM sections for each day, and I write down all of the appointments or practices that have a start time.  Then, I work in all of the other things I am hoping to tackle- exercise, working in the yard, organizing projects, etc. It’s a lot. But it helps.

This leads me to my next big help- my menu board.  This is a chalkboard sticker I found at a shop in Austin, but I have seen them on Amazon as well.  I love to cook, but I don’t always have the time.  And, my kids don’t always want to try new things.  The Sunday night discussion of what we will eat for the week allows them to put any requests out there, and usually leaves me with a couple of nights where I can cook something new and fun.  

My kids complain far less now that they feel like they are heard or at least had the chance to be heard.  Also, I know can make my grocery list, and grab ingredients for two nights at a time.  I waste so much less this way, and I only have ingredients for two nights in case we have to pick up dinner unexpectedly.  I can always just push it to the next night.  If it is going to be a truly tight night, then I can do a slow cooker meal or a dinner like nachos or breakfast for dinner that I know I can execute in 20 minutes (the time it takes for them to run through the shower- two birds one 20 minute block).  This has been a huge game changer for us all!

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We have a few responsibilities that the kids assume at certain ages.  By 3rd grade, we are packing our own backpack.  In 4th grade, we are managing our own workload, signing of papers or assignments, remembering to get our stuff ready for activities the night before, etc.  In 7th grade, the kids take over making their own lunches and managing their lunch accounts.  I deposit a certain amount in their lunch accounts, enough to cover two lunches a week, at the beginning of the month.  They can blow it all in the first week passing cookies out to friends in the lunchroom, or they can use those days when they are just over making lunches.  I do prepare four vegetables and four fruits in containers that we can all use to make the process so much faster.  Bonus- I can use the left overs to pack as snacks for my 4th grader!  

I HATE making lunches, and this has made it all so very tolerable and lightning fast.  Making the same lunches day in and day out (as my kids won’t eat leftovers) makes me want to poke a fork in my eye.  Instead, I prep on Sunday nights while I am having a glass of wine or gin and tonic.  Everything is better with a cocktail!

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Oh yes, Cocktails!!!  Speaking of cocktails, my family spent six fabulous weeks in Spain this summer.  There will be more on that later (specifics on Spain as well as traveling with kids).  One of the most interesting and delicious discoveries was the Gin and Tonic.  

To say they have taken this drink to a new level does not even come close to the reality.  It would often take at least 10 minutes to order!  You start by either picking a garnish or a gin, and then they have some sort of complex algorithm that they follow to craft your perfect drink.  Certain gins call for certain tonics which lead to specific garnishes.  

I am going to share my very favorite combo with you- fast, easy and so refreshing.  It is the perfect Sunday drink while I look at the week ahead.  I love Hendrick’s Gin- if you want refreshing cucumber taste then this is the gin they would always bring me.  Turns out, I already loved it and had a bottle at home.  You will also need tonic water.  I love Fever Tree Light (less sugar), but you can also do any of the other flavors or Schweppes.  Lastly you need ice cubes and garnishes.  I have a great little silicone ice tray- they don’t melt too fast, but help to mellow it all together nicely.  The garnishes I love are two slices of cucumber, a twist of lemon and half of a dried cinnamon stick.  Here we go!  

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Kristin’s Favorite Gin & Tonic from Spain

Here’s What You’ll Need:

Gin (Hendrick’s recommended)

Tonic water (Fever Tree Light recommended)

A small cucumber

A lemon

Half of a dried cinnamon stick

Here’s What You’ll Do:

Grab a big balloon wine glass if you have one or at least a glass that is big enough to accommodate the ice cubes.  Place the cucumber slices, lemon and cinnamon stick in the bottom of the glass.  Add about 2oz of the gin, and stir with a spoon.  Add the ice, and stir again.  Lastly, you will add the tonic.  If you have a gin spoon (I hunted high and low for one), you are supposed to pour the tonic down the swizzle of the gin spoon.  Allegedly, this adds more bubbles to the drink.  I doubt it, but it is fun anyway!  You should have a 2:1 ratio of tonic to gin.  I usually have enough for two drinks from each small bottle of Fever Tree.  In Texas, where we are still enduring the 95 plus degree heat, we will be enjoying this cocktail for many weeks to come.  

Enjoy! 

Kristin Paull is one of the most thoughtful, fun (and organized!) people that we know. Plus today is her birthday! And she gave us a gin & tonic recipe (how thoughtful and fun of her on her own birthday!) You can read more about Kristin here. 

What to Plant in September

September 23, 2015
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Well, Friends, we survived August. Someway. Somehow, we were able to slog through the heat waves of summer’s last-ditch efforts to show us who’s boss. (Conclusion: The sun. The sun is the boss.)

Related: Your garden is possibly tired. Mine is exhausted and totally over dying of thirst. If August kicked your and your garden’s butts, do not feel bad or sad. That is normal around here. In fact if you live anywhere south of the middle, don’t even try and worry about it. Instead, spend all your energy keeping yourself cool and drinking cold things in the shade. Because when it comes to growing things, August is the new December. Which means September is the new New Year. Just go with it.

Mostly, just know that September is not only a nice time to start fresh with crispy, shiny, new school supplies, it’s also a great time to green up your garden. Because this is the month you can plant lots of green things…or things that will produce green things…or really, both.

Here’s what you should plant in September:

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You can start any of these from seed…or you can do what we do and find your favorite green starts supplier and go to town. The most important thing to remember: do not stress about it. With a little sun and water, it’s hard to mess things up to badly. Just experiment. Most of these can be started well into October, so if you need to push it off, that’s fine too. Just start moving in these directions. You won’t be disappointed.

Basil: Easy to Grow, Easy to Harvest, Plus There’s Basil Ice Cream

September 4, 2015
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One of our “to grow” items this month is Basil (What to plant in August). It’s easy. It smells good. And, as our new contributor Kristen notes, it transforms into an impressive ice cream. Trust us. You won’t be disappointed.

Check it out.

(Kristin is our newest Contributor con Queso. Read more about Kristin here)

A few years ago a friend asked if I wanted to help start a school garden. At the time I knew less than nothing about gardening, but in a few short weeks, I learned all about amending the soil, fertilizing, drip irrigation, shade structures, organic pest control and on and on and on.  The best part though was working with the kids.  They always came to the garden excited to be outside and getting dirty.  As we would talk about planting this vegetable or that herb, I would ask if they liked to eat these foods.  Often we were met with blank stares or lots of heads shaking “nope.”  

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The interesting thing about kids and gardening, I came to learn, was that when they plant it, feed it and water it they are so much more likely to eat it!  So at the end of each season, we would celebrate with a harvest feast.  It was always fun coming up with our menu.  We had so many successful dishes, but none was even close to the Basil Ice Cream.

What?!!!

Yes, basil ice cream. Kid crowd pleaser.

The kids would never believe me that ice cream made with herbs could taste good.  Truthfully, I think teachers had their doubts as well.  I felt like a magician pulling that rabbit out of the hat!  Every single time, the ice cream was a huge hit.  They always asked for seconds!  Kids still stop me to ask about that ice cream.  I hope they think of it every time they see some basil, and wonder what else they think they might not like but should try anyway.

This ice cream recipe came to me via my sister from “The Sweet Life” by Kate Zuckerman.  You can make it with all kinds of good herbs- thyme, mint, lemon verbena, etc.  I have also served this ice cream with her Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp- so good!

Enjoy!

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Basil Ice Cream

1 1/2 oz basil leaves (about 30 leaves)

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

1 cup sugar

8 egg yolks

1 whole egg

pinch of salt

1/4 cup skim milk powder

special tools (fine mesh strainer, ice bath, ice cream machine)

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Wash and dry basil leaves.  In a saucepan, heat cream, milk and 1/2 cup of sugar.  Once this mixture boils, add basil leaves and remove from heat.  Let infuse for 10 minutes.

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In mixing bowl, combine egg yolks, egg, salt, skim milk powder and remaining sugar.  Whisk for one minute.  Use a ladle to slowly mix some of the hot cream into the yolk mixture to temper.  Gradually add egg mixture to the hot cream, whisking constantly.  Cook custard over medium heat until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon.

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Strain the custard through the fine mesh strainer, pushing it through with a spatula or spoon.  The basil leaves and any solids will remain in the strainer. Cool the custard immediately in an ice bath, and whisk until cool.

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Remove, and cover the custard with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard. Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours.

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Churn the custard in your ice cream maker according to instructions until the ice cream holds the lines of the stirrer.  It will be soft.  Remove to a freezer container, and allow to freeze overnight.

And enjoy!

Oh yeah, and also, we just found this recipe for Basil Mascarpone Buttercream Frosted Chocolate Cake. What?! Are you kidding me. This would go well with basil ice cream. And if you think that’s too much basil, you should probably reconsider. Because there’s never too much basil. Never.

This post was written by Kristin Paull, your new best friend and all-around swell human. Read more about Kristin right here.  And you can read even more about Kristin right here. 

And this post is written with love for good people at Garden Collage, a new lifestyle and gardening publication, which features stories on the new role that gardening takes in our modern lifestyle.  Be sure to check them out. And share your garden shots on Instagram and Twitter with #GardenCollage. We will! Because we love them. Join us!

What To Plant In August

August 5, 2015
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August is the least productive season in Central Texas … in almost every single way. And this is for sure true when it comes to gardening. There are a few vegetables that you can get going, but for the most part, ’tis the season to ride out the last of the tomatoes and peppers and just give the soil a freaking break.

It’s also a good month to plant seeds for the fall. I’m cleaning out beds and the garden, cutting back all the overgrown and now frying plants and getting ready for what’s next.

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Seeds I’m planting this weekend in seed starter pots: broccoli, cauliflower, winter squash, kale, collards and varied greens. Find a place for them to grow that’s not too hot, but has bright sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon.

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Beyond seeds, there just aren’t a ton of great things to start in August (September is a banner month, so save up for that.) But you can still start Sweet Potatoes for a few more weeks and Celery as well. Corn is good to start this month (from seed, directly into the ground) and it’s so pretty when it grows in the fall. Throw a scarecrow in it and you are full on for Fall for sure.

I mainly save August for herb freshen ups and starting seeds in seed starters. I always make sure I have plenty of Basil and Sage growing by now because basil = pesto (which is totally a Fall thing for me) and sage = sage butter and/or Thanksgiving dressing deluxe. So make sure that stuff gets going. Now’s as good a time as ever.

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Mostly it’s a great month to be lazy. To gather your peppers and tomatoes while you may. And make a lot of salsa, to be consumed near a large body of water, if at all possible. Enjoy the fleeting summer and take a nap. You deserve it.

What Would You Do With An Open Barn?

June 4, 2015
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Just in case you didn’t know, or forgot, or because I hadn’t mentioned it recently, I wanted to remind you that I am living in my great grandparents’ former home. The house was built in 1920 … back before there were any real grocery stores around here… so a lot of homes also sported barns, for regular access to milk and eggs. This house has one of those barns. It looks like this.

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One of my neighbors, who is possibly 70, remembers coming over to my now house to get their milk every week when he was a young person. And really that is so crazy because that wasn’t all that long ago. Now he can come over to my house and play NBA 2K15 on the Xbox. I mean, he doesn’t. But he totally could. Anyway, we have this giant structure that once had a use and now really doesn’t at all. But it’s there, in my backyard, and we have built a garden in front of it. It’s basically cute. But it’s a little old and needs some love.

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What’s a little bit interesting about this barn is that after it housed farm animals, it became home to a giant George Washington head, a variety of Hindu gods, totem poles, monkey hands, and spaceships. You know, as things usually do.

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As I wrote about (and Jenny wrote about) and wrote about again, after my great-grandparents lived here, my great uncle then lived here, and he had a float making business. That’s right. A business that made parade floats. And yes, there is a job for everything. (Check out this interview he did in 1978 on float-making)  It was quite a booming business, as parade float businesses go, and over the next five decades, he added five additional barns on the property to facilitate design, creation, construction and storage of large paper mache’ everything.

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It took us about three years to parcel through, clean out, give away and sell the vast majority of the treasures to new lives, uses and homes. And for about five minutes a few of the barns set empty. Then we rented one out to a neighbor who owns and runs a variety of paint-your-own-pottery stores. Two became the home to our infamous barn sales. One became a garage. Another one currently holds lawnmowers and other outdoor tools and random equipment. One became a family storage spot for Christmas decorations and etc. And the other half of that one sat completely empty for a while.

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But you know what they say about what happens when you clear space for something….get ready for what’s next.

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And what’s next, when left thoughtlessly unattended, can easily become a big giant mess of random garbage.

Because open space tends to collect things, a human should really be extra mindful about what she lets into this open space.

I mean, at first it’s no big deal. A box here, an item there. After all, it’s just sitting there, open. For whatever.

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But eventually, you’ll look up and find that beautiful open space is completely cluttered with random things from other people, items you scrambled to save from floods or fires or whatever was important for saving at the time, to the detriment of your own now-deranged space.

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So having learned the lesson that all space is used space…and without specific intention, it’s most likely used for a bunch of crap… I would prefer to be mindful and thoughtful and specific about what this space will be used for next.

It will take about a day or a weekend to clean it out, so that’s not the big deal. It can easily be empty again, at least for a while.

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But I would like to use it for something other than an old walkway. I want to use it for something specific. For something good, or cool or pretty. Something that has a purpose.

It will take some work for sure. The wood has rotted out in a number of places. There are spaces between the walls and roof, where light and ringtails and raccoons and God knows what else can get in.

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So, work to be done. But oh the possibility!

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The space itself is just a portion of the old, original red barn. The front door is the garden. And it runs about 36 feet long and about 12 to 14 feet across. At least, that’s the portion I would start with as I put energy (and time and money) into redoing it.

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So what would you do with about 450 square feet of cool old barn space?

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A long, straight, open space that is currently home to woodland creatures and random garden supplies.

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Oh and it already has plumbing. And is set up for electricity. Sort of, well, it’s set up to be set up for electricity.

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And it has a lot of history. I feel like this space could be used for something really good. And I have some ideas. A studio? An event space? What do you think? Harry is ready to make it into a basketball gym…and that’s not happening. This space is mine. It’s a gift I’m giving to myself. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it. That’s really sums up everything, anything, life in general, doesn’t it?

What will I do? What would you do? Let’s make it something good.

Loquats Are Not Kumquats

May 21, 2015
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Regarding our first printed correction of the New Queso, please note for the record it took no time at all for me to make a mistake. Because my kumquats are actually loquats and loquats are definitely not kumquats. Despite what a number of very confident people told me, this beautiful tree that my great grandmother planted is not of the kumquat variety but rather a very normal loquat tree, and now I love it even more. I am not going to change the name of the Kumquat May martini however, because that name is just awesome. I will buy some kumquats though and attempt to make it and follow up with that there. In the meantime, let’s talk about loquats.

A native of China, a loquat tree fruits in mid- to late spring here in Central Texas. They’re big in southern California…and that makes sense because they look sort of 1960s SoCal to me…they’ve very Donna Parker in Hollywood.  And the fruit is really good…mild, sort of understated sweet. They don’t taste like honey, but they remind me of mild honey for some reason, with a dash of tang. And I was thinking, they’d be really good in salsa.

Because when life hands you loquats, make salsa.

So I did. Check it.unnamed-1

 

Laura’s Loquat Salsa

– 8 Loquats, chopped

– 2 large tomatoes, chopped

– 2 green onions, chopped

– 1 jalapeño, chopped (I take out the seeds to make it milder. Leave in the seeds to make it HOT!)

– 1 bell pepper, chopped

– A handful of chopped cilantro

– Juice from one (or two) limes. (I use two because I like lime juice a lot)

– Salt and pepper

Mix it all up together in the bowl. Serve with chips. Or, I served it on salmon and it was awesome.

And that’s just the beginning … I feel like you can do so many cool things with loquats…

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Photo credit: Loquat Lemon Mint Sorbet from Cafe Liz. I love Cafe Liz. Check her out. 

You could also do loquat strawberry pie.  Loquat lemon mint sorbet. (What?! I am all over this.) Loquat cobbler. (No, THIS!) And of course, Loquat wine & Loquat liqueur. (Loquat wine & loquat liqueur need to age at least one year. Therefore, it would be best to plan in advance. No last-minute drinky here, my friends.) I’ve now given most of mine away, but now that I know what I’m dealing with here… next year, watch out.

Get Started! Plant a loquat tree. 

 

Kumquat May Martini

May 14, 2015
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My great grandmother planted a couple of trees next to (and now under) the giant pecan trees in the backyard of the house I live in. They are large but almost look like overgrown bushes in comparison to the 80-year-old pecans. But I kept them around because the leaves are pretty and they are evergreen and oh my gosh I just figured out that they are kumquat trees. Mostly because they are producing at lot of kumquats right now.

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I told my brother David about this and he mentioned that he had consumed this incredible kumquat drink in Canada (I know, that sentence is funny) and that he would email the bartender to get the drink recipe. Because of course my brother has the email of a bartender who makes mean kumquat drinks in Canada. Just in case.

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So yesterday I get this forwarded email from my brother.

Hello Mr. Harrison!

I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your stay with us at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. It’s nice to know that my cocktail was memorable enough for you to ask for the recipe.  I’m flattered and more than happy to share my secrets with you:

 Although Kumquats would be delicious I’m sure… I actually use ground cherries  for this drink, also known as Physalis.

Fred’s Original Loosey Goosey 

(From the the Mallard Lounge at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler)

-Muddle 6 Physalis in shaker glass

Add:

-1.5 oz. of your favorite gin (I use Tanqueray)

-.5oz. St-Germain Liqueur (also delicious with Champagne)

-.75 oz. FRESHLY SQUEEZED lemon juice

-.5 oz. simple syrup (1/2 sugar 1/2 water ratio)

 Shake all ingredients and fine strain to avoid having seeds in the drink. Serve up in chilled martini glass garnished with ground cherry on the rim.

Cheers!

Wishing you and your wife a great summer.

Sincerely,

Fred Lemieux

So, our take-homes here are A) Fred Lemieux is awesome. And B) I now want to go to Whistler and stay at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Amen.

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Also, I like Fred’s ideas here. But I’m not a super fan of cherries, I don’t really know what Physalis are, and I have about 568 kumquats in my tree outside.

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So I made my own recipe and because I wanted to use what we already had in the house…which mainly means that I didn’t want to put on pants and/or leave my home to go to any stores. This is what I had, so this is what I did:

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Kumquat May Martini  

-Muddle 3 Kumquats in shaker glass

Add:

-1 oz. of your favorite gin (I use Bombay Sapphire)

-.5oz. Prosecco (also delicious with Champagne)

-.75 oz. FRESHLY SQUEEZED mandarin cutie (this would also be really great with lemon but I didn’t have any lemons)

-.5 oz. simple syrup (1/2 sugar 1/2 water ratio) (I didn’t have this so I made it. Boil sugar in water. Done.)

Shake all ingredients and fine strain to avoid having too much fruit in the drink. Serve up in chilled martini glass garnished with kumquat + rosemary on the rim.

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If you don’t have any rosemary, just go ahead and get a rosemary plant and plant it.

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It grows like crazy, smells good, makes the bees happy and you always need it. This one is a little out of control but I’ll do something about that eventually.

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Also, I finally just took a few sips and it’s possibly the most yummy drink ever.

Cheers!

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How to Grow Your Own Kumquats

How to Grow Kumquats in Garden Pots

Buy a 2-3 Year Old Kumquat Tree in a Pot. Party.

Soundtrack: Come What May. Or the Glee version. 

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