Texas: Hotter’n a pot of collards

It’s no secret that in Texas, if you want the weather to change, just wait two minutes. Honestly, it’s a real mixed bag around here. You can walk out in shorts and a tank top that morning, and come back a few hours later in need of a pair of woolen underwear, four layers of clothing, and a full-body zip-up sleeping bag with arm and legholes. But that’s just fall.

In the summer, it is hot. Like…deathly hot. Like…walk into a steaming hot blanket kind of hot. You will hear us say all of the time, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” Well, I am here to tell you that it’s both, and it’s horrible. And hint, hint, it gets worse the older you get. I have learned that I need to be inside from about 10:30am until just before sunset. If I can’t do that (and let’s face it, I can’t), then when I AM outside, I’m hugging the treeline to stay in the shadows. It is on days like today that I dream of moving to Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Maine….pretty much anywhere where my shoes aren’t melting on the pavement and where snow is not a rarity.

Fortunately, there are only a few months that are pretty gross, and our winters are mild. Starting mid-July through September, however, I am ready to live in an igloo and hunt caribou. Or whatever igloo-dwelling people do. I don’t care. I no longer wonder why people take mid-day naps around here and siestas in Mexico. It’s because it is too hot to even manage a decent conversation without wanting to kill or seriously hurt someone. You want to see mayhem? Go check out a line of people waiting for ANYTHING in Texas come July. It ain’t pretty.

BUT, at least earlier this year, we got rain. A ton of rain. Enough to scare you kind of rain. And with a lot of rain, you get a lot of wildflowers. And this year, the crepe myrtle were so beautiful, they literally brought tears to my eyes…I swear I saw a double rainbow and white doves and the American flag in the background as I was taking photos. Really.

So please feel free to live vicariously through my happy photos during the month of May and June. Sadly, everything in my front yard now looks like it has been hit with a blowtorch.


Spring Roses




Some of my favorites: Le Marne and Belinda’s Dream. It’s a beautiful year for roses!

Today’s wisteria


This is year #5 of allowing what was once a tiny stub of wisteria to grow. This has been its most productive year to date. I keep it trimmed, otherwise, it would take over the arbor, and probably my entire house! Happy spring to you all!

New Year’s Revolution


Happy 2013!

With the new year, I have decided a few things.

1.  Less meat, more veggies in our diet.

2. Cook at home and stop dining out so much.

3. No more Facebook.

4. Plant a bigger garden

So far, I’ve been doing all four, which is pretty amazing for me.  Of course, we’re only 9 days into the year.

To help me along, I bought some cookbooks for inspiration, because most of my cookbooks are the typical, everyday Southern American diet which consists of 5 major food groups:

1. Bacon

2. Cheese

3. Cream cheese

4. Butter

5. Cream-of-whatever soup

Last week, my new cookbooks arrived.  First up is, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I haven’t made very many recipes out of it yet, but it is like a ‘Joy of Cooking’ for vegetarians.  I did made some aioli (garlic mayonnaise) and served it with an avocado club sandwich and it was PHENOMENAL.  I could have downed about 4 of them.  I actually got to use my mortar and pestle that has been slowly developing a nice dust layer on my shelf.  I had to look up a video on how to use the thing as I was completely clueless.  Luckily, all the garlic DID remain in the little bowl without flying out everywhere.

Next up is Weelicious by Catherine McCord.  This cookbook is geared toward families with young children.  We have been using this cookbook several times a day already.  While I think some of the recipes do need slight tweaking, so far, the majority of them have been hits with the kids. Last night I made the Graham Crackers, and we totally scarfed ’em. Fortunately, they made a huge batch when you roll them out to 1/8″ (and NOT the 1/4″ recommended), so there are plenty left.  I like Weelicious because it is mostly low sugar recipes or uses alternative sweeteners like agave nectar and honey.  You can get many of the recipes for free right on her website, too.  I made the Beet and White Bean hummus a few days back.  I have never eaten a beet in my life and I have to say I was very surprised.  I figured it would taste like dirt (that’s my own weird thought on beets), but fresh beets are very sweet and have a consistency of a carrot.  Not to mention that they are my absolute favorite color: fuschia. Be forewarned, though, because they will turn everything fuschia that they touch.  Anyway, it makes this radical hot pink hummus.  When Jason came home, I whipped out this neon dip with some baby carrots, celery sticks, and bell pepper sticks, and he looked at it like it had a dead rat in the center of the bowl.  Especially after I told him it contained beets.

Poor Jason.  His Granny made him eat canned beets as he grew up and she was a Clean Plate enforcer.  So, Jason HATED beets.  Or so he thought until he tried my dip!  Actually, it just tastes like a good bean dip and nothing more.

In addition to adding more veggies to our diet, I also bought some different grains and rice varieties.  I made a wild rice soup that was just out of this world.  When I served it at dinner, my youngest daughter ran upstairs, grabbed her diary, and made an entry, as you can see above.  She then brought it back down to be sure that I saw it.  In addition to “I hate soop, Mom” you can clearly see the arrow breaking her little heart and ripping it in two.  Because that’s exactly what I was trying to do by making a good, healthy meal, you see.  As I was slaving in the kitchen for a few hours to prepare this soup, I was thinking to myself, “Now what could I prepare to make my child absolutely want to vomit?”  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, neither child would come within 10 feet of the soup so Jason and I got to eat it all.  Oh well. We can’t win ’em all.

Anyway, I can’t say that I miss Facebook.  I have broken up with Facebook and moved on to Pinterest, which I find much more inspirational and I also do not check it constantly like I did with FB. Although some pins are just nauseating (gold staples, anyone?), you can at least search what you like and the comments aren’t irritating.

As far as the garden goes, we planted our onions about 4 days ago.  I’m glad we did, because this week has brought flooding rains that will be great for getting them established, providing that a river doesn’t decided to run through the front yard and carry my baby onions to the bottom of the hill.  I tried a few new varieties this year, including Texas Legend, Super Star, and Red Candy Apple.  We also planted our old favorite, 1015s.  Plus THIS YEAR I planted the things in good, deep compost which I did not do last year, and ended up with the saddest, sorriest lot of onions I ever planted.  Now is the time to start some cole crops, and I’m also getting my taters ready to plant by letting them develop some nice eyes before planting them.  I am also going to try some new things in the garden including bok choy, turnips, and winter squashes.

My Sanity Garden


Now here is a garden I like. This is my herb and rose garden off the back deck. Although there is some Bermuda trying to invade, it is a fine bladed variety, and not the coastal Bermuda that I have nightmares about.

This garden has the following roses: Belinda’s Dream, The Fairy, John F.Kennedy, Duchess du Brabant, and 2 unknown varieties. Why 4 of them are pink varieties, I do not know. I guess subconsciously I love pink?

It has these herbs/veggies: sage, dill, fennel, rosemary, lemon balm, real tarragon, pineapple sage, catnip, hore hound, and chives.

Lastly, the ornamentals: Black and blue salvia, Persian shield, wisteria, violets, milkweed, sweet William, and 4 o’clocks.

It’s my happy (grass free) place.

Grass: 1, Me: 0

Okay, I give up.  I’m crying ‘Uncle’.  I’m tossing in my chips and hanging up my hat.  The Bermuda grass has won.  It has seeped into, and infected, my entire front yard.  There is no denying it is the dominant vegetative growth out there.  Forget the vegetables and my poor little flowers.  The Bermuda has ruined all of my beds and has choked out many of my plantings.

A couple of weeks ago, Jason was lamenting about the grass.  That’s a really nice way of putting it.  What really happened is that he was having to weedeat the front yard YET AGAIN and lost it.  Or maybe I should say he tossed it, because he threw the weedeater, and I do mean he slung it while screaming obscenities, across the yard.  I can only hope that the muffler burned a few blades of Bermuda grass in retaliation.  It was all about the grass.

Ten minutes later, he came back to the front yard.  I was (YET AGAIN) weeding and wisely had kept my head down and mouth shut during his grass tirade.

J: (loudly) Don’t you think this front yard looks like CRAP?  I mean, REALLY LOOKS LIKE CRAP?

Me: Yep.  (still weeding)

J: I have been weedeating for 25 years and I’m not doing it ANYMORE! NOT ANYMORE! (How I would love to see a photo of him with a weedeater held high above his head with a caption that read: AS GOD AS MY WITNESS, I WILL NEVER WEEDEAT AGAIN”)

Me:  Okay, well, you’re a fix-it type person, so figure out what we need to do.

Jason sits down and thinks for a bit.

J: I think we should scrap the whole yard. Fence, beds,brick path, landscape timbers, gates…everything.

I sigh.

Me: I think you’re right.

It’s a very hard thing to look at all of the work you put into something and realize you have to scrap it. I think about all of the hours of planting, laying the brick path, making the beds, putting up the fence…and weeding. Endless hours of ripping up grass.  I’ll be starting over at Square One, yet again, four years after moving in.  Still, there is also a part of me that is very excited. True, everything we did will pretty much be going down the toilet, but we get to start fresh. With no grass this time.

So, we’ll be tearing out the beds, fence, paths, timbers, arbor, and then using a box blade on the tractor to take it all back to sand.  My front yard is going to look like a sand pit for about 6 months.  I am giving us a 6 month break from our yard.  Well, kind of. I’ll still have to yank out the errant weeds, but at least there will be no need for weedeating, anyway.  I’m not sure Jason could handle that anymore.

We will stockpile the compost in the raised beds and I’ll have the fun and exciting job of picking out every sprig of Bermuda I can find.  FUN TIMES. Then, instead of raised beds, we are going to do direct planting from here on out.  The Bermuda just uses the frames as a hiding spot, and I can’t get it all out.  So no more raised beds for us.

Wish us luck. We’re gonna need it.  But at least there won’t be any more flying weedwhackers on our farm.

Fighting the System…AKA To Kill A Mockingbird

I’ve told you previously that there is a pest for any fruit/veggie that you wish to grow.  They’re relentlessly trying to eat the plant before you do.  For a gardener, it’s just a case of winning the battle, but never the war.

Last night, I thought it would be a good time to check for tomato hornworms.  If you’ve never heard of them, they grow to an enormously freaky size and can eat half of your tomato plant in about as much time as it would take you to slurp a spaghetti noodle.  I ended up finding 4, which was surprising, since I hadn’t seen ANY earlier that day, but that’s kind of the hornworm’s M.O.: You won’t notice anything amiss one minute, and the next, half of your plant is eaten.  Using my own “CSI: Tomato” methods, I deduced that the eaten parts of the plant had been done extremely recently and located fresh worm ‘frass’ (aka: POOP).  Sure enough, there was a nice, 4.5″ worm clinging to my plant. Actually, 3 of them (one was small).  Grrr….The sentence handed down was ‘Death by Chicken’.

So today, I was looking out into the garden and a family of mockingbirds decided to build another nest in my blackberry bush.  One of the babies from the first nest was picking my berries off,  one by one.  Mind you, I haven’t even had ONE berry myself this year!  I screamed, “Hey, (insert synonym for male donkey)!”, and ran at the bird with a stick in my hand.  He fluttered off, looking at me with disgust and a sly look that said, “I’ll be back as soon as the front door closes”.  Which I’m sure that he was.  So, I got out in the 90+ degree heat and started attempting to put a net over what was left of the berries.  Not a good idea to try by yourself.  I ended up popping off about 5 nice looking berries when the netting stuck to them, then the netting got stuck to every thorn on the berry vine, not to mention every stick, rock and piece of grass in the way.  Sweating profusely and tired of fighting the stupid net, I went back inside.  I’m sure that the mockingbird was back before I had stepped 2 feet into the house.  Sometimes you have to admit a certain level of defeat.  However, they don’t know about my next move, which is plastic snakes.  I put a fake snake in my plum tree to ward off the birds.  SO FAR, it is working.  Hell, I almost peed myself one night when I was walking by the tree, looked up, and thought I was eye to eye with a snake. And I’m not even remotely afraid of snakes!  So, I hope the birds feel the same way.  I just hope that they can’t read the “Made In China” stamp  on the snake.  Then the cat’s way out of the bag.

The Old Grey Mare…

It’s true.  She AIN’T what she used to be.  I’m mad at myself for not getting my rear on here and blogging.  Irritated that I’m too lazy/tired to upload you some pics.  But it’s spring, and on the farm, that’s super busy time.  Please accept my apologies!

Well, life on the farm is back to its usual hectic pace.  We bought 15 broiler chickens after the junior livestock show, and butchered and processed nine of them.  Please be assured that it is the best tasting chicken EVER.  And, they probably lived out the best week of their life here.  If you are ever interested in processing your own birds, I highly suggest watching videos on Youtube by Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms.  I did a mini refresher course before this batch of birds just so I didn’t forget anything.

I bought eight Broad Breasted White turkeys for butchering later this year.  I plan to grind the breast and leg meat.  I just bought 3 Narragansett turkey poults for breeding purposes.  They are a ‘heritage’ breed of turkey, and can breed normally (broad breasted birds need AI to get the job done), and supposedly have a better flavor than the BB turkeys.  Earlier this year, I was given a Showgirl rooster whom we named Ernie.  Ernie is, without a doubt, the funniest chicken I have ever seen…he even ‘one ups’ the famed Wayward Jones.  I knew he was gonna be a really special one when I gave him a bath with no chicken complaints and….he loves the blow dryer.  Don’t ask me how these critters find me, but they do.  Now I have 17 baby Silkies, hopefully at least some of which are females, who are destined to be Ernie’s ‘lady friends’.  Yes, I want to make more of these odd looking chickens.  On purpose.

Then, the other day, I was at a feed store when I saw the ugliest chick I’d ever seen.     And so, ‘Poindexter’ came home with us for a whopping $1.79.  He/she is a Naked Neck, and bless it’s heart, it’s not even normal.  Its wings are deformed and it will never be able to fly.  See…they find me, I swear it.

A few weeks ago, we bought a 250 pound (or so) Hampshire pig and had him sent off to the processor’s.  We got back 145 pounds of meat.  Fifty seven pounds of breakfast sausage, a ton of chops, 2 racks of ribs, soup bones, 2 roasts, and about 8 ham steaks.  I can honestly tell you that the sausage is the best sausage EVER.  Also, I know that this pig was raised in a pasture and not in a cramped, filthy cage somewhere a la Smithfield! (Take that, Paula Deen) It makes it taste that much better.

In gardening news, I am trying a trellis method for my tomatoes this year.  Thus far, it looks great.  I am happy with it.  I hate tomato cages!  I also am experimenting with mulching right now.  I am using newspaper and cardboard over the ground, then covering it with mulch on my new beds/garden plots.  I HATE BERMUDA GRASS.  I hope every piece of it dies in my yard, seriously.  It is the bane of my existence!!! So, I am hoping that my lazy-man’s method of weed killing will work. So far, it seems to be doing well.  We added 3 new ‘gardens’ to the front yard this year.  I have planted a coupld of apple trees along our garden wire fence to try and create some espalier trees.  We shall see.  I noticed last week some huge inflorescence on my Champanel grape vine that I really whacked back in February.  I am trying to train it along the fence, as well.  I still have a ‘Carlos’ bronze muscadine to plant on the other side of the fence.

I ripped out the cabbages and (completely non-productive) Brussels sprouts today.  Amazing how every year I discover a new insect that’s trying to eat what I want to eat.  This year, the calico bugs were covering the cabbages and sprouts along with the dang cabbage worms.  Sigh.  Every year, I think: Are you freakin’ kidding meAnother cabbage pest???  I’ve already had it out with cabbage maggots, cabbage loopers, cabbage webworms, and now calico bugs?  I’m surprised that cabbage isn’t worth its weight in gold.  And, this year, for whatever reason, the cutworms were HORRIBLE.  I lost more onions and tater plants to cutworms than ever.  Ernie, however, was more than happy to provide the intruders with the famed “Death By Chicken” sentence handed down from me.

So, now to wrap up this boring update.  Out to the greenhouse I go to water the plants again.

Busier than a one legged cat

Well, as we all know, fall is an insane time of year.  After Halloween, my days turn into minutes and before I know it, it’s the New Year.  I have spent the last few weeks baking and preserving and doing all THAT.  I decided a few weeks ago to finally clean out our deep freeze and actually do something with the many bags of juice and tomatoes that I had.  So, with the blackberry juice and the blueberry juice, I made some jelly.  This time around, I used a new type of pectin:

I think that maybe I just bought it because I loved the box.  Seriously, I wanted a low-sugar pectin and had read about this type (low-methoxyl).  It’s very easy to use and causes your jelly to set up rather quickly.  In fact, it gels so well that I should have reduced the amount of pectin called for, since it made my jelly have a ‘jelled cranberry sauce’ consistency.  Anyway, the results were delicious, so who cares?

Here’s the jelly coming to a boil.  I love that color.  Sigh.

Then, a few weeks before that, we had our first ‘freeze’.  Hahaha.  Joke’s on me.  It didn’t really freeze, but since I thought it was going to, I harvested all of my peppers:

As you can see, it was quite a bit.  We were in a hurry, so we threw it all on a tablecloth in my kitchen.  Next came a few hours of chopping and freezing.  Anyway, I’m gonna brag about my peppers here since I have never really grown any great bell peppers.  This year was different.  I got my best peppers in September and October (they were planted in April). Best variety this year?  “Jupiter”, hands down.  I plan on planting lots of those next year!

My biggest bell, a Jupiter:

Trust me, it was a biiig pepper,  even if it was only 4 inches.  Oh well.  I won’t make any lewd jokes here.  So, what are the secrets of growing good bells?  Picking a good variety, fertile soil, and keeping them well-watered.  Not WET, mind you, but in high summer when the leaves droop a bit, your butt had better be out there giving them some water.  Otherwise, the walls of your peppers will be paper thin and pathetic.  You know, like mine were last year.  Moving on…

Mmmmmmm.  Cinnamon rolls.  Who doesn’t love fresh rolls?  I made so many a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t want to look at another roll, or even eat one.  For a great recipe, you can go to Allrecipes, and search for ‘Clone of a Cinnabon‘.  I used the icing from that recipe, but for the actual bread, I used their ‘Sweet Dinner Roll‘ recipe.  Why?  Well, I found that the Sweet Dinner Roll recipe is extremely easy to do and also extremely versatile.  Plus, I memorized it.  And maybe to a lesser degree, I was offended that the ‘Clone’ recipe calls for MARGARINE.  That’s like a slap in the face. Sure, sure, I know I could substitute butter, but….


Well, so that’s what I have been up to.  That and the winter garden.  But I don’t have any pics for you of that, so it will have to wait.

Now, I will leave you with a picture of my faaaaavorite cornbread…my Mamaw’s recipe. I’ll have to add it to my blog so you can experience it, too.  I love ‘cakey’ cornbread with a little bit of sweet.  I don’t like cornbread that you have to swallow an entire glass of tea with because it’s so dry.

Millions of peaches, peaches for me

May I apologize now to you, dear readers, for I have neglected my blog somewhat.  Two things have kept me from being a faithful blogess…#1, my computer came down with a virus.  Well, actually three viruses.  I have had the same computer for seven years and have never had a virus.  Oh, what I would love to do to the little programmer who came up with my viruses.  A baseball bat does come to mind.  Anyway, the good news is that my Jason bought me a laptop to take the place of my ill computer (who is fixed, but anyway).  #2 reason is that it is, as the weather service has been fond of saying lately, OPPRESSIVELY HOT.  When it is OPPRESSIVELY HOT, my brain does not function well.  I become gripe-y and snippy and say things which I would otherwise reserve for my mid-month part of my ‘cycle’.  So, to protect you, the reader, from any more long and annoying ‘On my Soap Box’ posts, I have just refrained from writing for a while.  Now, on to something non-snippy:

This, apparently, was a banner year for peaches.  If you had a properly kept peach tree, you had a ton of peaches.  We severely trimmed back our old, overgrown peach tree last spring.  I wasn’t even sure if it would survive.  It looked like a terrible tree massacre had taken place, but our extension agent who performed the job assured us that it would put off a ton of new growth, on which peaches would form.  Well, either that or it would die from shock.  Happily, it chose life over death and survived its pruning session.  Here are some before and after photos:

As you can see, this peach tree is quite tall with a lot of vertical growth.  Ever drove by a peach orchard?  You will notice that peach growers keep their trees very small, no more than about 8 feet tall or so, if even that.  It makes for more fruit since the tree does not have to put as much energy into all of those branches.  The vertical growth doesn’t produce peaches anyway (they are called water sprouts/shoots), so by removing them, your tree can concentrate more onto making you some lovely peaches.  Here is Joe about to perform some major work:

Now, as you can see, the tree has lost most of its vertical growth.  With peaches, you want the tree to look bowl-shaped, with an open center for ventilation, and keep growth horizontal.  He did leave some smaller branches to try and prevent sun scald on the tree when it did leaf out, since the tree was used to a lot of shade.

Now that the tree had been trimmed, it was just a game of wait and see.  That year (2009), the tree decided to live and it prospered.  There was a ton of new growth to try and replace what had been taken.  So, in February of 2010, we trimmed her again.  This time, not as severely, but mainly any water shoots.  By March, the tree came alive with tons of pink blooms:

We were so excited.  The big killer of peaches around here is an early frost.  Even though this year we received two snows which NEVER happens, we were fortunate enough to not get a late frost.  What often happens is that after flowering, a late frost comes along in April and kills all the little baby peaches trying to form.  Well, this year, that didn’t happen, and we were rewarded by many, many 10’s of pounds of peaches.

I wish I could give you the final tally, but unfortunately, my scale broke in the middle of weighing one day.  My estimate would be a good 60-70 pounds…maybe a little more for that one tree!

So, what do you do with 60 pounds of peaches?  Well, I hate the taste of canned peaches, so I froze them.  It’s very easy to freeze peaches.  First, I take the fresh ones and dunk them in boiling water for about 45 seconds.  Then I put them in a big pot of ice water for a couple of minutes.  This allows the skin to peel right off like magic.  This is also how I peel tomatoes that I am going to can.  Anyway, then you peel them, and I sliced them into halves.  I simultaneously kept the halved peaches in a bath of water treated with Fruit Fresh (calcium citrate, I believe).  This prevents browning.  When you freeze peaches, they need to be in a sugary liquid.  Some people do actually use a sugar/water concoction, but I used organic apple juice instead.  I mixed the apple juice with some Fruit Fresh…whatever the directions on the Fruit Fresh recommend.  I think it’s a teaspoon per cup of liquid or something like that.  Then, I put the peaches in a Ziploc gallon bag, and poured enough of my apple juice concoction on them to cover about 3/4 of the peaches.  I lay the bags flat and freeze them on a cookie sheet so that they freeze nice and flat, too.

Forgive the pictures, they’re not great!!!