The Sun and the Rain

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We’ve had so much rain lately, which is much needed ’round these parts. I reminds me of a blessing we used before meals times at Girl Scout camp:

Oh the Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord!
For giving me the things I need,
Like the sun and the rain,
And the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.
Amen! (Dig in!)

The sun and the rain have been quite good to me indeed, because look! Thar be ‘maters! Ha!

Amish Paste – An heirloom from WI. Produces up to 12 oz, deep-red oxheart-shaped, meaty fruit. Lots of sweet, tomatoey flavors from this coreless meaty fruit. Great for slicing and saucing.

A true black cherry tomato. Grow to produce 1″, round, deep purple, mahogany-brown fruit. Delicious with sweet, rich, complex, full tomato flavors that burst in your mouth, characteristic of the best flavorful black tomatoes.

My other tomato varieties, Cherokee Purple and Brandywine, have been somewhat lackluster.  I’m not sure what the problem really is, though while not dead, they’re fairly puny.  Time will tell if their few flowers will actually fruit.

So beyond the tomatoes flourishing, my potted Mystery Pepper (named such because it had a big question mark on the little planter when I bought it at the plant store and it was subsequently 50% off) has a lone fruit making its debut. I decided to transplant it into the bed, now that those emeffer fire ants finally bought the farm (grr!)

The Mystery Pepper. Woot!

My bed is finally rid of the most hated scourge of the southwest, but I wasn’t sure what to plant. My gardening friends are all producing lovely eats like squash, melons, beans, beets, strawberries, etc. I just needed things that weren’t going to be a wast of a $1.99.  So my primary criteria for what to put in the bed was full sun. So here’s what we have (hopefully you can read the labels, but if not, I have 2 cucumber plants, 1 eggplant, 4 different peppers: Mystery, pepperoncini, bell, and serrano, English mint, and French thyme):

The Bed, de-anted and replanted.

I know I’ve been gone awhile. Life had gotten a bit crazy (travel, children, stuff-n-things).  I’m hoping to have more garden success to show you and expand my subject matter to other interesting things. Maybe I should rename this blog “Beyond the Garden” to motivate me a little bit.

PS – I did do a little guest blogging, if you’re interested to read about something other than ants in my bed and willfully unsuccessful tomato plants. Check it out here: The Texas Treatment blog.

Passover has Passed Over!

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Huevos haminados - photo credit http://www.thekitchn.com

Oops! It looks like I fell off the blagon (that’s blog-wagon. I tried to make a new word. Yeah, anyway…)  I’m kind of notorious for that, by the way. Dropping off the page for a bit and then trying to cram in updates later on.

March is over and we’re in to the middle of April already. Yowza!  The last week was occupied with Passover, or as I like to call it: my Annual Gluten Detox since I do my best to avoid as much matzo as I can.  This year we made a good faith effort to actually be more observant where our son was concerned. He’s four and starting to understand more of why some of the things we do as Jews are different than his classmates (who are pretty much not Jewish) in preschool do things.

This presents a particular challenge for school lunches. Snacks are provided by the preschool and we have a wonderful staff member who is very conscious of Passover and won’t serve chametz for snacks. It’s nothing we ever asked for, but it’s nice to be considered.  He’s pretty accustomed to one kind of lunch: PB&J, cheese cubes, fruit, and maybe some Pirate’s Booty.  Observing Passover makes it hard to have sandwiches and PB&J on matzo is pretty unappealing.

Luckily, in my opinion, we observe Sephardic food traditions during Passover which means we’ll eat certain foods during the week that are forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews (the predominant Jewish ethnic group in the U.S. and who most of the non-Jewish public thinks of when they think about being Jewish in America).  We’ll eat corn and rice and legumes. A bean and cheese quesadilla on corn tortillas is usually a winner in Ben’s lunchbox. However, these foods are in a class called kitnyot and Ashkenazi Jews are forbidden to consume them during the week.  I have to say that being a Sephardic Jew lends itself well to enjoying a wider range of culinary variety during Passover. My Ashkenazi husband has been all too happy to take on the ethnic observances of his wife!

I’ve also found that the Easter/Passover crossover is harder to explain than the Christmas/Hannukah dilemma. In an effort to help my son understand the similarities and differences between being a Jew during Passover and his friends celebrating Easter, I decided to focus on the similarities. The thing he notices most are Easter eggs. We did participate in some egg hunts this year but they got me thinking about lesser known Jewish traditions and how eggs my feature in those customs. It seems we have a Ladino custom of something called huevos haminados (pictured above).

I didn’t discover these until late in the week when a rabbi friend of mine had mentioned them, but I think they’ll be a great, fun activity (and delicious treat) for next year!

Huevos Haminados – Recipe and photo from www.thekitchn.com

Implacable Sweetness of Sound

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"Abstract Fruit" by Laurie Salmela

You thought I was going to talk about food, didn’t you? Gotcha!  I’m going to talk about music instead.

Music is like… well it’s like a… well, hell, I’m not sure how to put into words what music is like for me. I was prompted to write about it because I was shuffling through my iTunes library and I came across a little gem I forgot about. There is a woman in my home town named Datri. Datri Bean to be specific.  She is a musician. A singer. A song writer. A band leader. A fabulous gal.

I have a sort of round about way of knowing her, though in truth, I don’t know her at all. She’s the wife of the man who is the best friend of my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband. I’m sure you get that.

This song I have on loop right now is called “I Saw A Sign”.  It pulses in a delightful way with her slightly twangy voice undulating with the lyrics.  It tastes…sweet. Sweet like a peach, but also a little creamy, almost buttery.

Weird, huh?  That a song tastes like something to me.  Music has always tasted like something when I hear it. It emits a certain fragrance or odor, depending on how it makes me feel.  Ever since I can remember, and more so when I became a musician, I would have these feelings.

It’s not really all that strange if you believe that the phenomenon of synesthesia is legit.  There are people who see color in sounds. They associate color with certain letters or numbers. Sometimes they feel differently when they experience things like dates. Maybe 1920 just feels so much further away than 1990.  The brain is a complicated organ. It can do fascinating things.

For me, I taste and smell sound. In another one of Datri’s songs, “Foolish”, I taste lemons and mint, but I also feel the humid nights of early September. I feel warm and silken.

As I mentioned, I am…was…no, am a musician. A violinist to be specific, so it’s no surprise that orchestral music is particularly enticing. For example, baroque music is warm almost too hot to play. It leaves me breathless. It tastes like clove. Vivaldi. Corelli. Telemann. Clove and a little cinnamon, but just a hint.  Bach tastes like an orange and feels like an ocean wave washing on top of me.  Sibelius? Crisp temperatures. The taste of ice. And Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” just feels like I’m pressing my face against the cold, smooth surface of stainless steel. It tastes like salt, but that’s because it always brings me to tears.

There isn’t a kind of music that doesn’t elicit such vivid sensations. They’re not all pleasant, but most of the time it’s an exhilarating experience.

Dinner from the Garden: Chard with Garbanzos and Tomatoes

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I'm still trying to get the hang of photographing food, but I have to say that this picture is looks almost as delicious as it tasted.

I’ll be completely honest with you: this is a meal of supreme laziness.  Closing in on dinner time and I realized that the chicken dish I wanted to make wasn’t going to happen. Still had frozen chicken. I blame the Supreme Court. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trolling the interwebz for news about the hearing regarding the health care reform act. I digress.

I was headed out to check on my garden bed and see if those m-effer fire ants had finally beat it (oh yeah… didn’t tell you. I have flucking fire ants in my bed. Arrr!!!) I noticed that my chard was out of control and just begging to be harvested.  So I did. I managed to get about a pound and a half of leaves from my three plants.

So now I have this bunch of chard and no idea what to make for dinner, then brilliance strikes. Thank goodness for a well stocked pantry. One can of garbanzos and one can of organic diced tomatoes, a bit of this and that from the fridge and the spice cabinet and viola: chard with garbanzos and tomatoes.

This is a perfect spring time, meatless 20 minute meal.

Chard with Garbanzos and Tomatoes

Ingredients:
1 shallot (or 1/2 a medium onion), chopped small
2 gloves of garlic
1 to 2 lbs of chard, rinsed and chopped
16 oz can of garbanzos, drained and rinsed
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, mostly drained
1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tsp fresh if you have it on hand)
1/2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh if you have it on hand)
olive oil
salt & pepper

Directions:
1. In a large saute pan, heat oil on medium high heat. Add shallots and saute until translucent but not brown. Add garlic and saute a little longer until fragrant.

2. Add chard, garbanzos, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir a bit to incorporate shallots and garlic. The moisture from the beans and the tomatoes will help wilt the chard. Continue on medium to medium-low heat until chard is wilted and flavors meld. Serve hot and enjoy!

We didn’t have any on hand (remember, this was a what-do-I-have-that-I-can-feed-the-hubs), but a slice of sourdough with a bit of butter would go perfectly with this dish!

Let’s Talk Jam: Preface

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The kids and I went out to a great little place called Sweet Berry Farm. It’s a pick-your-own kind of place and right now strawberries are ripe. We had a great time and picked nearly five pounds!  After we got home and we ate our fill, I thought it might be fun to make and can some strawberry jam.  I have the berries already, so how hard can this be?  I picked up some pectin, a canning accessories kit (you know, a jar picker-uppper thingie, a something-or-other stick, some other do-dads that I’m not sure about), and a dozen 4 ounce glass jars with lids and rings.

Since I’ve never canned anything or tried to preserve any kind of food, I did a little search online, and wouldn’t you know it, there is a National Center for Home Food Preservation!  I was very excited about this website and I suspected it would supply me with everything I needed to know about canning. It didn’t let me down. The website first said that if I was new to canning, I needed to read the USDA’s Principles of Home Canning.

So I read it.

I AM NOT CANNING ANYTHING!

Holy Moses, that document has me convinced that I will grow Clostridium botulinum and everyone who eats my jam will get botulism and die a horrible death.

I’m also thinking that making and canning jam at 10 PM might be overly ambitious, so maybe I’ll try it this weekend.

In the meantime, I have some cute berry farm photos. (There are also goats on this farm, but sadly they’re not part of the pick-you-own scheme.)

Enter the Wildflowers

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Wildflower season in central Texas is spectacular. Three years ago, we had one of the most beautiful bluebonnet blooming seasons I had ever seen.  I remember driving out to Inks Lake State Park and through Park Hwy 1 (I think that’s what it’s called.)  The roadsides were a sea of blue. It was really spectacular. The last couple of years have been less so. We’ve been hit by serious drought, but Mother Nature sure knows how to make a come back. I snapped these photos this morning after I dropped the kids off at preschool and before I headed out to an advocacy workshop.  Hope you enjoy them!

Spring Has Sprung!

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Austin ushered in spring last night with a terrific storm. Lots of thunder and lightning and a ton of rain, which was very much needed. The hubs and I covered the raised bed for the night, hoping to keep the winds from knocking around the taller plants.  This morning when I uncovered the garden, I found these guys.  Happy spring, y’all!