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, August 29, 2012

Something Blue

Fingers crossed everybody has a smooth return to school this week.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Out of the Pickle Juice (and into the Fryer)

You know how it goes.  You hear about something for the first time and suddenly you are seeing it and hearing about it everywhere you turn?

It was that way the first time I was pregnant.  I've been told it was a shift in my focus that made the difference but I promise you there had never been quite so many disposable diaper commercials on television until shortly after we discovered we'd be entering the realm of parenthood.

Suddenly diaper commercials were on every five minutes, punctuating every genre on every channel.

It has been that same way more recently with brining.  The technique, once garnering the rare mention each year when it became time to Talk about Turkey, is now being suggested to bring an extra punch of flavor to all sorts of proteins allowing them to be cooked without drying out.
I'm a convert already, nobody has to convince me further that this technique may represent the only good reason to buy certain cuts, including the ubiquitous skinless boneless (tasteless) chicken breast.

What got my attention, really made me sit up and take notice, was when folks started talking about using the juice leftover from jars of commercially sold dill pickles as brine.  I'd always poured that pickle brine down the drain, rinsed and tossed the jar into the "Glass" bin and that was that.

But saving the brine from the pickles to use with chicken?  Talk about recycling!
We are major dill pickle eaters around here.  I often have two different types of dill pickles on hand because while I am a huge fan of the more garlicky pickles offered up as "Polish" style, the rest of my family is sold on the more conventional "Kosher" dill.   We managed to empty out a jar of each style recently so I thought I'd give pickle brined chicken a whirl.

I combined the juices from both jars to assure I'd have quantity.  I was planning on making fried chicken strips, a long time family favorite.

I put two whole skinless boneless chicken breasts, split into halves (so four pieces total) in a container, covered them with pickle brine, and let that sit in the refrigerator overnight.   After an overnight soaking  the surface of the chicken picked up the slightest tinge of green from the brine. Hoping that meant it had picked up flavor as well, I cut the chicken into strips and proceeded with my regular recipe.

Ooh la la!  The differences are subtle but oh so positive.  There is a hint of dill, a vinegary brightness that doesn't permeate any one bite but is rather a background boost to the overall flavor of the dish.  The chicken itself was moist inside and crispy outside - a deliciously perfect one-two punch of fried chicken goodness.

I don't plan on using pickle juice for every brine from this day forward (not that that would be so horrible), but I will never again empty a jar of pickles without knowing there is still significant play left in that game.  Substituting commercial pickle brine for home prepped brine is a ridiculously easy way to add an extra punch of flavor to your dishes.  Try it and see!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Something Blue

A note on Something Blue can be found right here.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


You recent arrivals may not realize Austin Agrodolce had its starting point as a food blog.  Previously all things gardening and outdoors were covered over at my old Gardenista digs.  In fact there has been such a dearth of food or eating related posts here lately you'd be forgiven even if you knew that and simply forgot.  I practically did and I am at least periodically obsessive.  On top of that, I may not garden every single day but I sure enough do eat.  Every.  Single.  Day.

Rather than provide a recipe here today I thought I'd share a technique I've developed to use up leftover proteins.  Dire economic times or no, I hate throwing out food of any sort but especially animal protein. It is wasteful, children are starving, animals gave up their lives, there are all sorts of good reasons to make sure every bite of animal protein you've purchased and/or prepared is consumed and hopefully enjoyed.

But what to do when you are left with bits and pieces that do not in themselves constitute a meal sized portion?  Recently I had roasted pork loin, poached and grilled chicken pieces left from the week's dinnertime efforts.  Sure you can throw them atop salad or into soup but, BOR-ING.

Enter the chimichanga.
According to tradition, a chimichanga is a meat filling in a tortilla wrapping that is deep fried.  Sort of like a burrito only a bit tidier.

When I make chimichangas, however, I finish them off in a hot oven.  There's still plenty of fat calories along for the ride, these are not any sort of restrictive diet type items, but the baked version simply and reliably re-heats better.  The way we eat around here that ability to reheat and serve on demand is essential.

You may be wondering, how much is enough?  I rarely have predictable amounts of leftover meats at any given time.  If what is on hand looks like it won't have enough to feed everybody, I'll put together a few chimichangas using seasoned refried beans in lieu of the animal protein mixture.  (Be sure to check the end of the post if you are planning on using beans, the technique varies slightly.)

What I had on hand today yielded about a cup and a half of meat once pulsed, and that is just about enough to fill the 10 tortillas that come in the packaging of our favorite locally made variety.

Soooo - let's make Chimichangas! Ready?  Wheee!  Here we go!

The cast of characters is as follows:
Cooked Animal Protein (or seasoned refried beans - see end of post for additional notes)
Grated cheese
Flavored mayonnaise** (see below)
Flour Tortillas (6-8 inchers - not those behemoths sold as "burrito" sized)

Assemble your proteins.  Making sure to remove skin and bones as applicable (these can go into your next batch of broth or stock) cut the meat into chunks about an inch in diameter.  As previously mentioned here I am using leftover roasted pork loin, some poached, and some grilled chicken.
You are now going to pulse the meat in a food processor. If you are using more than one protein, you want to sort out what is densest and put that into the processor first, adding the other protein about halfway through. When combining pork and chicken as I am today I pulsed the pork 6 times, then added the chicken and pulsed 6 more times until the mixture looked like this:
Now we'll add a moistening agent to help hold the meat mixture together and keep it from drying out. I've used all sorts of sauces and gravies throughout the years.  Barbeque sauce, green salsa, even mashed avocado have served ably in their turn, but most recently I've settled on using a bit of flavored mayonnaise.

In this case I took a 1/4 cup of Hellman's, added in about 1/16 teaspoon of chipotle powder and smoked pimenton each (to taste) and let that sit in the refrigerator for an hour to let the flavors speed date. You'll want to watch adding salt if your cooked meat is already seasoned.  Plain mayo works fine in a hurry.  You don't want a wet mess, just add enough to barely hold it together, like so.
Prepare your flour tortillas by softening them in melted butter in a skillet over medium high heat.  Flip each tortilla over after a couple of seconds, until it is buttery on both sides, soft and quite pliable. You want to work with warm tortillas so they will fold easily.  Until you get the hang of how many tortillas your filling will require, you can heat and fill a few tortillas at a time.
While not absolutely necessary, I began adding grated Monterey Jack cheese to our chimichangas a couple of years ago.  I often have odds and ends of grated cheese hanging around and any will do, but Jack cheese is our favorite.  The meat mixture will work fine solo, again, this is about using up what you've got on hand rather than running out to the store to buy ingredients.

Put a tablespoon or so of grated cheese into the middle of each softened tortilla.  You are putting the cheese in first because you'll flip the tortilla over prior to baking and you want the cheese on top of the meat.  If the cheese ends up on the bottom it often leaks out while baking thus undoing your work. Sneaky, work-undoing cheese!  When the heat is on you just can't trust it to stay put.  

Now add about two tablespoons of meat filling on top of the cheese.  Fold in two opposing sides towards the middle and then the other two sides in as well to make a neat little package, thusly.

Why do my fingers look so weird?  Ugh.  Please ignore and continue!  Flip each bundle over seam sides down and...

prick the tops with a fork to allow steam to escape while baking.  See?  Easy peasy.

If I am making bean and meat chimichangas at the same time and need to tell them apart I will poke a different pattern into each type.  Also, as you can see, the tortilla flaps stick out on the bottom on two sides. You could orient your chimichangas in varying directions to differentiate types if that is how you roll.  

Continue filling (and obsessively arranging on your baking sheet) until you've used up all your meat mixture.  I had about 1 and 1/2 cups of meat mixture today and that fills 10 tortillas neatly.

I am not above tinkering with the amounts I use per tortilla to stretch or to use up extra filling as required.  If you had extra, could you eat the pulsed meat mixture in a sandwich?  Absolutely.  Might you stand at the counter and eat that last little bit of moistened meat mixture left in the bowl?  Not if you are watching your waistline you won't.  Do as I say, not as I....lalala LOOK!  A squirrel!
At this point the chimichangas can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 24 hours before baking.  If baking from the refrigerator, do allow a few minutes for the bundles to warm slightly first. When you are ready to heat and eat, place the desired number of chimichangas on a foil covered pan (for easier clean up in case you accidentally bought aforementioned sneaky type cheese).
Slide onto the middle rack of a moderately hot oven and bake until golden, about 15 minutes (depending on your oven).  Serve warm.

Depending on appetites, two to three chimichangas is a serving.  You can put out crema (or sour cream) and salsa verde to be used as a bit of a dip with these if you like, but that is definitely gilding the lily.   Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Some of my favorite lilies are gilded.

As mentioned, unbaked chimichangas will hold in a covered container in the refrigerator to be baked to order.  On the off chance you have uneaten baked chimichangas (do we need a term for leftover leftovers? leftovers squared? leftoveragains?), they may be kept refrigerated and then reheated again easily in a warm oven for a few minutes.

I've tried microwaving these for just a few seconds to take the chill off and they are OK that way but to my mind the tortilla gets too soft for my liking.  Once baked these will keep a week tightly covered in the refrigerator but I've never had them last that long.

Are you tired of all this talk about chimichangas?  Me too.  I like eating them a hell of a lot more than typing.

Here's a recap with some suggested amounts.  SUGGESTED....for the love of all that is easy do not get too hung up on amounts.  These are guidelines, not restrictions.


1 1/2 cups Cooked Protein (meat pulsed to a coarse grind or well seasoned refried beans)
1/2 cups Grated Cheese
1/4 cup Moistening agent - Not needed if using refried beans.
10 Soft taco or fajita size flour tortillas
1-2 tablespoons Unsalted butter

Heat tortillas one at a time in a hot skillet on both sides in a half pat melted butter until pliable.  Repeat and reserve.
On foil lined baking sheet, place 1 tablespoon grated cheese in center of each heated tortilla
Add 2 tablespoons meat or bean mixture on top of cheese
Fold 2 opposing tortilla sides in towards the middle, then fold remaining 2 sides in to make a square bundle
Carefully flip bundles over seam side down
Pierce tops with fork
Bake at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes (until lightly golden brown)
Serve warm

Once you've tried these a few times you will doubtless hit upon combinations all your own that will become family favorites.  You could top the meat mixture with pickled onions, a slice or two of jalapeño, chopped olives - be creative.  But by all means do give baked chimichangas a whirl.  You won't be disappointed.

My daughter is a confirmed carnivore and actually enjoys the bean versions best.  Here are a couple of notes for using beans rather than meat as a filling.

For my vegetarian friends:  These are fabulous made with well seasoned refried beans.  If using beans, you will not need a moistening agent as you will with cooked meats.  I've had good luck finding cheese made with non-animal rennet.  If you are not using butter, soften your tortillas in a little flavorless oil.  If you are eating vegan, then adjust further as needed.

Beans should be well seasoned.  I have the best results making the chimichangas with refrigerated refried beans because they hold their position better on the tortillas while assembling.  Again, start with your grated cheese.  Then if you like, put 1-2 pickled jalapeño slices on next, then 2 tablespoons of your beans.  Fold, flip and bake as directed.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grab (a) Bag

Reflecting life in general I have nothing too organized to offer you today but there are a couple of things I wanted to share.

First up, our territorial hummingbirds.  There are least two males and a female that we see daily, with the males providing an ongoing air show.  It mostly takes the form of a King of the Feeder dispute.  This does not seem to involve one bird harming the other, but there is a lot of red throat flashing, dramatic dive bombing, and chittering going on.

That said?  When given any time at the feeder undisturbed whichever bird I am trying to capture in photos often gets caught out looking like a tiny feathered goof.  As in this:
I'm the King of the World!
It is tricky to catch the birds in anything that approaches stillness but I liked the following shot due to the detail caught in the feathers:
Double click on any photo to view a larger size 

Speaking of feeding disputes?  As part of Back to School preparation, many parents responsible for putting together home sourced school lunches are being targeted by advertisers trying to get their kid-friendly foods into lunch bags and bento boxes nationwide.

I doubt any professional campaign could go further than the following video made as part of an after school program called Beats and Rhymes (provided by the Minneapolis North Community YMCA).  Called "Hot Cheetos and Takis".  I'll let the kids show you themselves:

So when it's about a quarter to a 4 and you are rollin' to the store?  You'll want to join the kids as they -snack! -snack! -snack! MUNCH!

I know I wanted to.

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with Takis?  They are a spicy packaged snack from Mexico available here in Central Texas mostly in convenience stores rather than large grocery chains, though all that may change shortly if these mini-stars have anything to say on the topic.  And oh, they so do.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eye on the Sparrow

I had a surprisingly strong emotional reaction to something I witnessed in our outdoor spaces recently.

It began with the sound of fussing catbirds.  Jays are the typical culprits when there is screeching going on in our spaces but this particular morning, there were two mockingbirds who were simply giving it all they had in terms of bird yelling.  You could not tell what they were fussing about from afar, but you could discern by the frequency, volume and intensity of the cries - these birds were on high alert.
I had already seen a fair amount of territorial jockeying going on around the beauty berry bush by the front gate, and it sounded like most of the noise was coming from close by there, so I headed out front with my camera to see what was happening.  
Sure enough, two mockingbirds were fluttering in and out of the berries, taking turns sitting on the gate and yelling.  There was even a squirrel above me in the oaks, fussing.  But.  None of them were fussing at each other.  Both birds' and the squirrel's attention was focused away from the berries, away from me, over towards the loquat trees in our back beds, behind the gate.  I moved in a little closer.  

It was then I noticed a jay had joined the mockingbirds and all three birds were extremely excited about Something in the loquat tree.  As I walked over towards the gate, a fluttering and then a glimpse of much larger wings drew my eyes to a screech owl, retreating from my advance and relocating onto a higher perch in the loquats.  

Judging by the increase in screeching, both mockingbirds and jay as well took umbrage at the movement.  They spent the better part of the next hour taking turns dive bombing and squawking at the owl who, while large relative to their size, was yet a small blur of gray and white in the upmost reaches of the canopy.  As best it could with its noisy entourage, the owl was still and quiet and looked to be mostly unperturbed by the fussing.  

I went around the house to see if I could get a clear shot of this long suffering little owl and had barely gotten two steps down the stone walk in back when I noticed a sparrow at the far end, huddled in an unnatural position.  When it barely moved at my approach, I realized it was hurt in some way, though I could see no outward evidence of a wound.

I retrieved some tools and oh-so-carefully scooped the tiny body up to redeposit it out of foot traffic zones and direct sunlight.  I placed the barely moving sparrow in some ground cover.  I thought lacking any sign of outward damage, if the little bird was mostly stunned it would stand a better chance from there of safely recovering and rejoining the flock.  I watched for a short while, not seeing anything that indicated the bird was getting better or worse either one.  I decided to leave the little bird knowing I would check back after some time had passed, hoping I'd return to an empty spot, indicating the bird had recovered and flown away.

I moved back towards the fracas in the loquat trees.   
I had a bit of a staring contest with the owl.  It seemed quite fluffy, with eyes larger than usual leading me to believe it is still quite young.   I was finally able to get a shot of it and redirected my attentions towards the morning chores left hanging while I'd been out on bird patrol.   

An hour or so later I went back to check in on what I was now thinking of as "my" little sparrow.  

I know.  

I am a fairly pragmatic gal but anything so small and helpless evokes a powerful protective reaction in me.   I was dismayed to find the tiny form right where I'd left it.  It seemed the bird's condition was deteriorating.  

I chose to spend a few minutes, sitting close by, quietly observing as the tiny creature breathed in, breathed out.  It didn't take long.  The sparrow breathed its last and then went absolutely still. 

It always surprises me how readily even the untrained the eye can discern the difference between a body that is motionless, at rest, and a body that is lifeless, no longer animate.  Witnessing the transition from one state to the next for this tiny bird felt intimate in some way I cannot fully explain.  
Please believe me when I tell you I know the facts of the situation full well. Nothing happening in my yard that day is or was unusual in the least.  Birds harass other birds every day.  We observe it all the time, we hear it even when we don't see it with our own eyes.  At our house we even bought a second hummingbird feeder partly to work around the fiercely territorial nature of our most regular visitors of that species each year.  

I am aware that wild animals are carrying out their daily lives, and as part of that process, feeding, birthing young and dying all around us every day.  There was simply something different for me in seeing the actual last breath of that little sparrow.  It deeply moved me.  

After commending the sparrow back to the universe it sprang from, I placed it in the shallowest of graves. I take some small comfort that its body will continue to support Life even after its own life has ended.  

I spent decades of my life in a pew on Sunday mornings. I have a more than passing familiarity with statements in the Gospel of Matthew seeking to reassure believers that God has an eye on the sparrow, so we humans are to take comfort in the idea that God cares for and has an eye out on our lives as well.  

Watching that sparrow die I was starkly reminded.  Being watched over, being cared for, even deeply, are simply not the same things as being rescued.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

About that new header photo...

...and a couple of other slight tweaks to the format you may have noted.

I don't change out blog elements very often - in fact in all the years I've been blogging I've only swapped out the title background three or four times.  Occasionally I simply get antsy to do something fresh, so I play around a little.  It is always my intent that none of my changes feel intrusive but rather add a bit of a fresh look to enhance your experience reading here.

Just for fun: This latest photo featured up top has a bit of a surprise...

If you look up top where it appears on the blog, focusing on the area directly below the "S" in Austin?   A hummingbird silhouette is there, a regular visitor caught while heading in towards a back porch feeder.

I don't get many hummingbirds at a time, but the ones I get behave fiercely attached to the feeder stations so they've won my begrudging admiration for their tenacity and peevishness both.
In other words, the hummingbirds visiting here (the proud, the few) really do seem to fit right in as part of our family!

As always, thanks very much for dropping in here and sharing a little agrodolce.  Y'all come back now, y'hear!?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Bad News/Good News?

When it comes to gardener bloggers, we preferentially feature breathtaking close-up shots of blooms demonstrating evidence of our plans-gone-right.  I suspect if anybody is counting, bloom shots would represent fully 99 percent of bloggers' carefully curated post images.

I don't recall seeing many, if any, photos of folk's dead trees.

I get it, I'm personally not all that interested in spending time online viewing sere limbs reaching up into relentlessly sunny skies.  If that is the sort of scenery I admire?  I've got only to raise the shades and look out back, where recently, rapidly, without warning and for no reason we can discern, one of our prized Mountain Laurel trees simply gave up the ghost.

I wanted to commemorate the event in some way, losing a mature tree is significant.  But I didn't want to do that featuring the photographic equivalent of a death mask.  Again, downer with a capital D, none of us needs more of that.

So......Ta da!  I call this masterwork "The dead tree's reflection on the water out back" or alternately, "Golden, On the Pond" (with apologies to Ernest Thompson).
Yes, for those of you keeping score, the tree dying is/was the bad news.  The good news, at least the good news I am hoping will come to pass, is that the increased sunlight coming in where the tree used to throw shade, will stimulate our Tropicana cannas to set blooms this season.

Earlier this season I tried threatening said cannas (raised fist, "BLOOM!" in what was supposed to be a commanding tone) and that didn't work for beans.  I suppose that is yet another technique that will remain safely in the realm of a professional nurseryman's secrets, how to successfully "force" plants to flower.

And yes, yes, if I was more patient or even perhaps a more clever blogger I'd wait until after the cannas bloomed so I could share that breathtaking close-up with you here to bookend the post.

I am so not that person.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Really Angry Birds

I am under no illusion that hummingbirds are angelic.

If you are at all confused as to the true nature of these tiny flyers, I invite you to spend time watching as one particularly feisty male spends every sunlit hour of the day furiously defending "his" feeder, here at our house.

When he is not actively feeding, he hides in wait to zoom in seemingly out of nowhere, all to chase off his fellow hummingbirds.

An identical dynamic sets up year in and year out, though I have no way to know if it is the same male working to defend "his" territory here, or perhaps a succession of possessors.

If there ever was to be a prototypical Angry Bird?  I'll nominate the Hummingbird to take that prize, absence of green pigs notwithstanding.

Further?  If I was having fever dreams and spotted this out my window,  
Angel?  Hardly.
I believe I'd be forgiven if I mistook the silhouette of this little angry bird for some sort of other, more heavenly messenger.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why Some Introverts (at least the ones I am related to) Ought Not Teach (each other)

According to most commonly accepted measures of versionicity, everybody in my family is introverted to some degree.  Myself included.
Long story short? If you come home from a party energized and ready for more?  You aren't related to me.

One coping mechanism employed to good result by introverts is to insulate ourselves by establishing patterns of practice.  If we have a way we "usually" do something, it becomes less an energy drain and we can bank that energy savings against the needs of other less controllable yet highly demanding situations.  Like doing anything in crowded or noisy spaces (otherwise known as "being in public" or "leaving the house").    

As with any coping mechanism, this strength can (and does) twist around to become a head eating its own tail weakness. Having a usual way to do something way too easily morphs - unacknowledged - from pleasantly repetitive pattern into specificity demanding monster.  

This hardening off of "a reliable way" into "the only acceptable way" to perform a task is as invasive as Bermuda grass and twice as hard to eradicate.  The resulting constriction-of-technique effect democratically splashes over any and everything.  

On any given day according to any one of us in this oh-so-tightly-wound-household of mine there can be an Only Right Way to:    Make Coffee    Leave the suburb    Park the car    Order in a restaurant    Time our arrival at the airport     Make a sandwich    Pack for a trip    Water plants    Choose an outfit    Order takeout   Hold chopsticks    Salt food    Walk.....
Suddenly we are bumping up against THE (One Right) Way to do almost everything there is worth doing.   

It can make for some fraught familial teaching moments.  What we AustinAgrodolce family circle types really mean when we casually suggest we will be "teaching" is that we will, due to boundless generosity of spirit, allow our student-kin a brief glimpse at the greatness that is Our One Right Way to get that something done.  

The specificity requirements of said One Right Way to be matched only by the speed with which our patience evaporates as we watch our targeted student-spouse or offspring fruitlessly attempting perfection on their first run.  Or worse, stubbornly holding to performing the task some "other" way.

Anyone daring to hint at even the concept of a different approach (no matter how equally correct or scientifically supported we maintain it to be) will potentially be subjected to a hailstorm of criticism, all offered up with the sort of optimistic fervor typically accompanying the conversion and thus saving of an otherwise lost soul.   

Best case scenario we might shrug and say "here, let me show you again" when what we really mean is "please, if you are going to bother at all, do it exactly this way or have the dignity to die valiantly trying".  

Not so best case scenario?  What we offer up may come packaged thusly: "Pay very careful attention.  I will be showing you via a series of barks and gestures the Only Right Way To _______ (Under Any Circumstances).  If you have any questions, please hold them forever.  This process has never been before and is most certainly not open now for discussion."  

Either scenario may be followed shortly by the casting of personal aspersions which, after all, is always most effectively done by family members.  

Nobody can imply "you are flawed" with more vigor or specificity than a blood relative.  

What fascinates me most I think is that this my-way-or-the-highway rigidity only extends to immediate family members.  When faced with anybody else, be ye stranger, work acquaintance or friend, as long as you are not an immediate family member you will be treated, and therefore instructed, gently, and with the utmost respect.  

Any one of us will tirelessly use up every iota of patience potentially allotted us for decades to come to teach a stranger.  We may even leap at the opportunity.  As introverts we truly, deeply, constitutionally appreciate a well ordered universe.   Sharing best practices is the shortest route we know to get there.  Or at least closer to there. 

Why can't I be as patient with my family as I am with everybody/anybody else?  I have no idea worth repeating.  I wish I could, I wish I had through the years, especially trying to teach my kids various life skills.  But that patient-with-family teacher was not me, is not me, and I suspect may not be my kids now, either.

I'm not stopping to say what they are, but I'm seeing there are all sorts of lessons to be learned in that.  
There is a saying, "when the pupil is ready, the teacher appears".  I'll just keep my fingers crossed that in this instance, when that teacher appears, it won't be anybody closely related to me.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Frickin' August

I am not a huge fan of August when all is said and done.  June I adore, July is a personal favorite, but at about this time every year the promise of summer has faded as the garden offers little more than heat and drudgery.
There's a path in here somewhere
There is supplemental hand watering if you are still fascinated enough with some specimen to work hard to keep it alive.  Past that there is weeding.  A whole lot of weeding.   Especially if like me, you periodically turn a blind eye to weedy spots.

Such procrastination is dangerous.  Bermuda grass can sense my disregard and whenever left to its own devices hops right to making legions of baby weed producing seed heads.  Don't even get me started on the bindweed.  It seems everything that is not busy dying is busy overgrowing its bounds.

Rather than fall hapless victim to a growing sense of fatigue exacerbated by afternoon heat and Sisyphean chores, I decided the other day to make a list of what I am happy about in my garden beds.  I figure a different perspective may provide the extra little shove I need to keep from disgustedly throwing in the trowel for the season.

So, to follow, in no particular order, what I am fond of in my August garden.
1)  New hardscape elements
I am fortunate to have a late summer birthday in that it provides me with the opportunity to ask for gifts such as a new bench, or bird bath.  I am even more fortunate to be spoiled by The Hub who surprised me with both my requests this year.  A past example is the sundial given me by my Mom over two decades ago.

That is what is wonderful about things versus plants, especially in frickin' August.  Things don't need to be watered, weeded and best yet, they do not die.

2)  Goals reached

I've wanted to grow sunflowers as a returning element close to our major bird feeder each year.  I had several come up and develop good sized blooms but the squirrels kept gnawing the bloom heads from the stems and running off with them leaving little trails of petals in their wake.

Despite that?  I did manage to get one good sized seed head matured.  It matters not how long it has taken me to get to this point.   I prevailed by gum and I'm going to call it and relish it as a VICTORY!
3)  Welcomed visitors

I have been fretting about not seeing very many anoles this year and I've hardly seen any bees.  When I do spot a specimen of either it is exciting, both note and photo worthy.

Where's Waldo?  Double click and see how fast you spot the anole in the vines.  
After bees and anoles, my other most desired visitors are of the flutterby variety, and recently this guy, an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio-glaucus) brought me an hour or so of sheer pleasure as I watched him waft around the lantana.
Hello, gorgeous!

4)  Repeaters

Every year I enjoy the bounty of vigorous reseeders of the non-weedy variety.  Cosmos and Tropical Salvia are two of my favorites, and I can't imagine gardening without these surprise repeaters spontaneously adding their pops of August-resistant color.

Last but not least?

5)  Surprise bloomers

I put garlic chives in what I consider my "kitchen" garden, which is not so much a bed as a collection of plants intended to provide culinary support.  It was a complete delight and a bit of a surprise to see the wonderful blooms they develop.

The best part of making a list of the upside of August in my garden?  It was one late summer task I set myself that turned out to be more gift than challenge.

Despite the heat, despite the weeds, despite the preponderance of seemingly endless and thankless tasks?  As it turns out, my garden is indeed a constant source of delight and wonder.

Even in frickin' August.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Something Blue

Sticks the landing every time.

New to Austin Agrodolce?  Something Blue, explained.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Olympics, Ostrich Style

I initially felt quite savvy with our plans to watch the Olympic Summer Games solely on DVR delay.  I could fast forward past the sports I am not so much engaged by watching (Greco-Roman wrestling, water polo past the one minute it takes me to air my quadrennial jokes about their head gear) and curate the Olympic experience into my own version of greatest hits.

I failed to take into account how difficult the delayed viewing was going to be as it requires dodging the ongoing spoiler effect of the Hub already knowing most outcomes.

Every day the sun rises.  Soon afterward, the Hub does likewise.  He drinks his coffee (the Hub I mean, I heard the Sun gave up caffeine years ago on doctor's advice).  While he drinks his coffee my Hub hits the interweb. Yes, unbeknownst to the world at large, each morning there is a massive news gathering effort going on as routine accompaniment to my dear Hub's coffee consumption.

The fact past that you'll need to know? My Hub is not only an inveterate news seeker but he is a born news sharer.  That man is generous with his fund of knowledge to a fault.  If he reads anything interesting online in the morning, he is going to want to turn around and tell somebody about it.  Pretty much right away.  According to him, sooner is always better than later.  (Later he might forget.)

As a result, withholding race results and medal counts is difficult for him to do if he is to simultaneously enjoy watching whatever it is he's previously read about.  Which is pretty much everything about the Olympics.  Because he knows already, and he (really really) wants me to know, too.   

He doesn't want to wait.  Waiting bad, sharing good.

The Hub especially did not enjoy waiting to news share until after I'd watched the entire qualifying round of women's gymnastics, with its interminable-to-him buzzers and shouts, gasps at near falls, spontaneously offered encouragement for arched backs and stuck landings both.  Silently enduring my sage observations about hair clips, the upswing in glitter spray use and the misfortunes of various painfully young athletes shown dissolving into tears? That did not remotely resemble his preferential cup of tea.

In fact I'd be significantly concerned about the fairness of my arbitrary declaration of How We Will Watch The Olympics if it weren't for the existence of a little sports preference viewing balancer otherwise known as professional football.

After all the pro football games I've sat through, (including commercials thank you) while the Hub watches with remote firmly in hand?  I say I safely get to call how we watch the Olympics for about the next bajillion years.  Or until we both become centenarians, at which point the Hub, if he still cares, can have all control back.    See?  Sometimes I like to share, too.  The difference is, I can wait.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Happy Birthday?

Relax, today is not my birthday.  My birthday has already come and gone this year but its passage was recent enough it got me thinking about birthdays in particular and aging in general.  I'd have to say, my attitude towards my birthday is something of a mixed bag.  

It seems peevish to me when people complain about how old they are getting.  The observance of a birthday speaks on its own to the obvious advantage over the alternative type gathering.  (As in memorializing a life that has been lost.)  How cinchy can a choice get?  Eating cake and ice cream versus being dead.  

Even mediocre cake and melted ice cream wins that bet.

I don't think of myself as ungrateful, and I'd like to resist anything that even smacks of whininess.  I lived every moment of my life, and having been here for the entire ride?  I tell ya.  You just had to be here.

And I'm really truly glad I was.  Is.


Moving on.
Some years my reaction to The Birthday is mostly about The Number.  This year I turned fifty-nine.  It doesn't feel like anything in particular, turning fifty-nine doesn't, but if I had to go out on a limb and sum it up at the front end?  I'd say so far fifty-nine mostly just feels like Pretty Damned Close to Sixty.  

And the prospect of Sixty?  Well, sixty just feels old.  Weirdly, impossibly, officially old.  

[Said feeling mirroring precisely the way my youngest daughter feels about turning twenty-nine.  She considers the year to follow turning twenty-nine primarily as extended dress rehearsal for turning thirty.  Thirty for her representing unknown realms previously only noted (if at all) on her internal chart as terra incognita.  "Here be monsters".]  

So, yeah.  Approaching sixty and there are a couple of things I've already noticed.  First, I was seated on my front porch the other afternoon, enjoying the daily parade that is  our neighborhood when I realized my posture in the chair, right down to how I was holding my glass of water, was a dead ringer for the way my Mom typically sat, as captured in any number of photographs.  It felt eerie, and what was stranger was how off it felt when I arbitrarily tried to change the way I was sitting.  As soon as I wasn't paying active attention, my posture slid right back into the previously noted position.  

is that something genetics would even do?  Pass along a way to sit?  I'm pretty sure my Mom never taught me to sit any particular way at all past trying to stay properly erect and keeping my knees and ankles together when wearing a dress or skirt.  But here I was, reliably duplicating her posture whenever I quit working not to.  

Secondly it has become disappointingly apparent: gravity is indeed a harsh mistress.  Most of what I am uncomfortably aware of as "change" in the way I appear these days has to do with the inexorable effects of gravity.  I'm not unhappy with my thighs per se (for instance) but I am most certainly not thrilled with the way a certain amount of what used to be my thigh has insinuated itself into something of a gentle bulge around and ever so slightly impinging upon the top third of my kneecaps.  

It goes no better with various other anatomical players.  Eyebrows, eyelids, chin line.  Waistline, boobs, buttocks.  They themselves are not so much different or heavier, but they have all ever so slightly detached from where they used to live (where I thought they were happy - I was!) and are edging at glacial speed into nearby territory.  A body fat diaspora if you will.  Fun house mirror effects without any of the fun.  

Me no likee.

Further, this birthday dread reaction to the prospect of the Sixties is simply not my usual birthday set point.  Looking back a decade, I was eagerly anticipating my fifties.  I'd read about biblical Jubilee observances and thought a lot about the freedom offered as I shook the last leaves out of our newly emptied nest.  

But these days when I look ahead, I'm just not leaning forward in any of the same ways towards my sixties.  Sixty-something in part represents the age my parents were when I quit paying significant attention to them so I've got barely any idea of how they themselves weathered those years, just for starters.  I feel I am at a loss for nearby role models. 

Fear not.  I have no plans on hitting sixty unprepared.  The jury may still be out regarding plastic surgery options but at least when it comes to the lack of role models, I've already taken corrective measures.  I contacted several dear friends who are older than I am, (plus smarter, braver, funnier, and a whole lot else I'd like to be more of) and asked them their advice on gracefully sticking the landing that is Sixty.  

As I hear back I'll share their wisdom naturally, but for now it is your turn.

What is your advice on How to Succeed at Being Sixty?  I'm all ears (especially the right one if you'll just excuse me turning my head a bit so I can catch everything you're saying…..?).