Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's in a name? Part I

While I was growing up it was not lost upon me how a family is somewhat subject to the abilities, preferences, and willingness of the chief cook (Mom, Dad, hired or otherwise) to accommodate the various and varying sets of taste buds represented by each family member.

My Mom had a deep seated fear of making somebody ill with her cooking. She simultaneously felt nutritionally bound by her training as a nurse to offer us a colorful variety of foods. Her unexplained fear of undercooking combined with that determination to offer variety laid the groundwork for her lifelong tendency to shop the canned and frozen aisles preferentially over the produce section.

Mom was similarly resolute in her determination to cook every steak or chop served in our home past the point of done, stopping just short of rendering everything into jerky. Pioneer atavism, I have no idea. I just know we never had any protein with any juices running out of it, clear, pink or otherwise.

Meanwhile my Dad had a bleeding ulcer which in those days meant he was on doctor's orders not to eat foods that were spicy, fried, fatty, or remotely interesting in any way.He refused to eat uncooked tomatoes, (Mom's favorite) claiming he was required to eat too many tomatoes while in Panama in WW2 where, according to his version of the story, tomatoes were forced upon the troops to prevent scurvy.[It could be true. My father in law (photo above) made a similar claim sourcing his refusal to eat cooked beans as resulting from his being required to cook and eat too many while an Army quartermaster in Europe and later, supervising meals prepared for the troops and their families in Occupied Japan.]

My little brother wouldn't willingly eat any vegetable with the exception of fried potatoes (which we couldn't have at home, thank you ulcer diet!) and cucumbers. My brother's cucumbers, a stand in for the nightly salads offered the rest of us, had to be peeled, sliced into rounds (no spears) and should be salted, but never peppered. No dressing need apply. Any additions or subtractions to his plate and those crisp rounds would sit untouched.
(photo credit:Kitchen Confit)
Did my mother ever find herself rinsing my brother's cucumber slices off after accidentally combining them with everything else in the bowl holding the salad prepared for the rest of the family? Yes, yes she did. Did I ever try to trick my little brother by carefully rinsing one side of his designated slices off while leaving microscopic traces of salad dressing on the side placed facing the plate? Maybe. Only for strictly scientific purposes though. Not because I was mean or frustrated that he got special treatment all the time.

Clearly I cannot be expected to objectively confess all my own peculiarities. I did eat crusts on my sandwiches (unlike my little brother!) although for years I had to eat the crusts first, separately, so I could then fully enjoy the rest of my sandwich.

I asked for the same bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, iceberg lettuce and a side of potato chips for lunch every day throughout 4th Grade. That was followed by Buddig corned beef with mustard and bell pepper on wheat along with a bag of Fritos for lunch all of 5th Grade. Sixth grade I insisted on buying my lunch in the cafeteria.

I admit I didn't willingly eat peas or green beans at home, although when I mistakenly volunteered the information I liked green beans the way they fixed them at school my Mom surprised me by reacting angrily when I'd thought she'd be pleased at how adventurous I was. I had to be coerced to eat carrots or celery cooked into things although I liked both raw.
Then there was this one epic months-long battle of wills over Veg-All succotash that has me assiduously avoiding anything with that name to this day.

My outright refusal to chew and seeming inability to swallow the vegetable medley took on monumental proportions. At one point my Father took me aside and sternly informed me that although he loved me very much, my Mother was his Sweetheart, and as such, he would take me down without a second thought if I didn't quit giving her fits over clearing my plate whenever succotash appeared.I remember the shock of considering my Mother as anybody's Sweetheart. Honestly, it had never occurred to me prior to my father's comment that my parents ever meant anything to each other. I'd never even imagined them as more than just parents.

I don't honestly recall how it all ended. Maybe I was eventually given a pass on the Veg-All, maybe my Mom quit trying to serve it. But the scar had formed and the aversion stands.

Oh, succotash. Now an emotionally loaded word, it even sounds gross to my ears. While I have subsequently learned to enjoy all the component vegetables typically featured in succotash separately, combine them and call it "succotash" and you've sent me packing.

Handicapped so, it was no wonder the topic of Mom's cooking for our family table had become contentious. When I watched Cher as Rachel Flax carefully compiling the hors d'ouevre trays in the movie Mermaids, there was a frisson of recognition.That was my Mom! She loved us. She loved entertaining and she loved eating with us, she just didn't enjoy cooking for us and being the one responsible for providing everybody with something they liked to eat.

Time passes as does the "who will make dinner?" baton. Please check back in a few days for more on that in "What's in a name, Part II". In the meantime, tell me please.

How did family meal times go when you were growing up? All sweetness and light? Was everybody supposed to eat the same things every night or were there exceptions made? Where there any predilections or diagnoses that dictated what you would or would not see at the table? Any budding vegetarians in the mix? Your turn to share.....

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cross Blogging

I am pilfering from myself this morning - this is a post I wrote for my even-more-neglected-than-the-garden-it-is-about-blog, Gardenista. Rather than insist anybody go one place or the other I decided to rob Peter to pay Paul and post this entry both places. Hope you will pardon the indulgence and more than that, hope you enjoy the post.

We had that lovely three inch rain recently, and cooler temperatures to go with, but then the weather began to snap back into a disturbingly familiar pattern.

Warm by mid morning, hot by early afternoon, no rain in the forecast and despite the promise of a cooler wetter Fall, we all had become too well acquainted with heat and drought to quite buy the hopeful promise of "wet stuff to come". Jaded, we'd already spent weeks that turned into months with no rain or relief from triple digits here in Central Texas.

I had wearily resigned myself to more conversations about how if this does not change, people are considering packing it up and moving. Carrying the weight of The Potential For Hot and Dry Forever and Ever, Amen, as the temperatures climbed, all our heads were hanging a little lower, our steps slowed, hand shaded eyes warily surveying the skies.

But then it happened. Woken last night by a quick flash of lightning, thunder delayed just to the point of having stopped counting "Mississipi"s, and there, did you hear that?

The gently insistent whisper of rain hitting the roof, water flowing from gutters into barrels, all disturbing only the lightest of sleepers.

This morning, when we woke up, the Hub checked his schedule to discover he didn't have to be anywhere at any particular time. It was 65 degrees outside and our gauge was working on catching a third inch.

And so it was decided. Today would be a day to have a sit down breakfast. In the morning.

This might not strike you as particularly earth shattering but around this house we long ago abandoned the idea of any sort of a meal in the morning. Common wisdom be damned, after years of abrupt starts to the day we became "just coffee" in the morning people, and although we still enjoy breakfast foods a great deal, they had exclusively appeared in the guise of "breakfast for dinner" for as long as I can remember.

Not today. We opened the windows to cool breezes and the kind of peaceful quiet only a rainy day can bring (no mowing or blowing in this wet weather). I made nutty pancakes and sausage links and we enjoyed them with slow cups of coffee and watched the rain falling gently onto our grateful garden beds.Cool wet weather. I am not certain I have ever appreciated it so much as I have this year. The weather today soothes like a mother's cool kiss on a child's feverish forehead.I'm off to watch the hummingbirds quarrel over who gets what perch at their feeder. I hope you have a lovely day, wherever and however you are, and I hope you too are surprised by cool or warm or wet or dry, whatever you need the most.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Run this up the pole and see if anybody salutes...

Please pardon me but now that it has cooled off a bit here in Central Texas I have weeks worth of weeding and other work to catch up on out of doors. So while I will be cooking (and eating, no worries about that!) I may not have time to post much here for a bit.

Before you click off however, I did want to share these wonders originally stumbled across on DesignBoom when I stopped for a glass of water a moment ago.

Food Flags of the world. From the DesignBoom site description:
to help promote the sydney international food festival, WHYBIN/TBWA came up with these ads that show different national flags created using foods associated with a specific country.

These are absolutely genius (and yes yes that IS an overworked word but these totally are!)... Take a look at a few of my favorites:

More of these vexillological beauties can be found right here....Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

La Vida Dictionario

My Merriam Webster reflected life continues. Today's dictionary divination was "peregrination" a word taking its meaning from all sorts of roots ranging from a word itself meaning "journey" to another denoting a type of falcon typically captured during its first journey away from the nest.

Don't say I never taught you anything. (No really. True or not, I don't want you saying so....).

Peregrination refers to "an excursion especially on foot or to a foreign country : journey".

And that is precisely what I accomplished. I set out on an excursion, on foot, to a cool wet country foreign to Central Texans for months (and months).It was only a bit above 70 degrees when I set out to view the response to a three day rain in our area. It was deliciously different to see the result of over three inches of falling wet stuff.
Drenched beds, drops of water sitting pooled in every indentation, rain still hanging off every berry,
and leaf.
It has been different indoors as well. Not only because we have been able to leave solar screens raised, windows and sliding glass doors opened to screens welcoming ozone soaked breezes.But also because I painted the kitchen a bright new color, a change inviting me to pause, admire and appreciate a space I spend so much time in that it previously had all but disappeared to my eye.

On the cooking/eating front, the temporary disappearance of the death star from our skies made it reasonable to think about enjoying seasonal produce in some cooler weather prep styles. The other night I tossed grilled Nilgai sausage atop long simmered local black eyed peas layered on some saute├ęd lacinato kale.We had Autumn for dinner, and about time. It being reasonable to voluntarily add heat into the kitchen, I found myself more than ready to bake something. My first foray into a happy dusting off of the indoor oven was the following from one of my favorites, Marilyn's Simmer Till Done blog.

While struggling with technical blog clouds, Marilyn offered her readers silver linings by rerunning a new-to-me recipe for Zucchini-Ginger bread. You'll want to go read her entire post to get the full story. It includes a laugh out loud recorded exchange between a Barista Girl and her Latte Lady customer. This exchange will leave you happy you spent your time spent reading even if you are convinced you don't like zucchini bread.

And if you'll pardon my saying so, if you are one of those folks who don't like zucchini bread? This gingery recipe just might be the trick to open your mind to that moist treat. If you don't like this zucchini bread then I'm convinced zuke bread is simply not for you (and you will please forward the leftovers to me? Thanks!).

For your ease here's Marilyn's recipe again. I chose to add chopped almonds, and used half Splenda and half a really gnarly unrefined unbleached organic whole cane sugar that brings loads of molasses notes and has a large grain. That meant I had to blend it with my eggs a bit more on the front end but this recipe forgave all that. I used my bundt pan and found her suggested baking times to be spot on.Without further ado, from Marilyn at Simmer Till Done:

Zucchini-Ginger Bread

This fine-textured zucchini bread has a gentle ginger bite. I’d planned to top this with a little lemon icing, but one bite told me it didn’t need it. Cold milk – or a triple soy half-caf whatever – will do just fine.

2 cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 tablespoon powdered ginger
1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and grated fine (about 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons)*

2 cups finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini, packed*

optional: 1 cup finely chopped nuts

1 tablespoon vanilla
* I use a fine-holed grater to both shred the zucchini and grate the ginger, for the smallest bits possible. When grating the ginger, be sure to use only the “puree” you’ve scraped from under the grater, and discard the fibrous parts left in your hand.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Use baking spray (and parchment paper, if desired) to prepare at 9 x 5 loaf pan or a 10-inch tube pan. If you make the 9 x 5 loaf, you will have a small amount of batter left over: make a mini-loaf or a few zucchini muffins.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, oil and eggs together for a few minutes, until thick and a slight yellow ribbon falls from beaters.

In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and powdered ginger together.

Fold the zucchini, fresh ginger and optional nuts into the sugar-egg mixture. Fold in the flour mixture and vanilla until thoroughly combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan (or pans), filling large loaf pan 2/3 full.

Bake on a center oven rack for about 1 hour (check smaller items sooner), or until tester comes out sticky but mostly dry. Store, wrapped in plastic, for several days at room temperature.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Merriam Webster Please Stop Making Fun of My Life!

Word of the Day
September 3
\BEE-buh-loh\ Audio Pronunciation
Play Podcast

: a small household ornament or decorative object : trinket

Example Sentence

Donna's children often tease her about her hobby of collecting quaint bibelots, which can be found everywhere throughout her house.

I've shared here before a bit about how much I love to hit a secondhand or thrift store to find discarded treasures. Some items I repurpose, others need a little cleaning or repair to be restored to their former glory. A few items I covet outright, just for what they are and because I do not "need" them technically, I rationalize their purchase because they are priced so well it would be a crime to leave them there in the store, underappreciated and potentially abandoned for all time.

Recently I was having a conversation with a family member who rather gently reinforced the idea that their taste and my taste take somewhat divergent paths when it comes to what gets displayed on surfaces.

Although we share a common admiration of particular color schemes and agree as to the benefit of live plants indoors, their sensibility when it comes to tabletops, bookshelves, mantles, etc. is more like the Hub's than mine. That is to say they lean towards the sparsely populated more minimalist approach, a "less is more" feeling and I, well I tend to not put any more objects on a space than will actually fit. Mostly.

I don't know where this little altars everywhere impulse comes from in me, but I have to fight the urge constantly not to take every wall, tabletop, bookshelf nook or mantle niche and pack that space with some grouping or the other.

Hub on the other hand, visibly relaxes whenever we check into a hotel. That sparse, nothing on top of anything that isn't absolutely necessary to provide information about the site, light, media access, communications with the outside world or beverage service approach soothes his soul. Past that, the only way to make him happier is to align everything so it all stays equidistant from edges and other objects.

In deference to our design extremes a couple of times a year I painfully clear several of the rooms we spend the most time in of as much of the surface clutter as I can stand to move out of sight. This takes several go rounds because what I see as sparse and what is effective in terms of changing the overall effect typically has two layers of stuff sitting in between.

I'll illustrate. To me, a table with a fabric runner and a pottery bowl with fruit in it sitting on top of that is NAKED. To Hub, there is no real reason for the runner or the fruit bowl either one if you aren't planning to sit there and eat fruit. Right this minute.

So I do my best to clear the decks and to his credit the Hub gives me credit for trying, and that is all swell until Christmas (or maybe Thanksgiving....or......Halloween) when I start to layer back in the seasonal decorations. I do this a little bit at a time, inoculating Hub in a way, to the fully viral aftermath of living in the shadow of So Much Wonderful Stuff Everywhere.

In the meantime I will thank the Word of the Day folks to stop poking fun of me from afar with their thinly veiled references to "Donna" and her house filled with "quaint bibelots". I'm doing the best I can.