Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It's Time to Visit the Garden Again-- Yay!

It's real purty AND you can eat it!
Welcome to the latest update on my food garden, which I am happy to report is OUT OF CONTROL in a very good way. In case you missed the earlier installments, YardFarm Austin built three raised beds in my backyard, filled them with organic soil and plants, and added a timed, drip irrigation system. Yes, that's right, my garden waters itself. A few weeks ago Zach, who heads up YF, came by and put in some tomatoes. I then added still more tomatoes. Being from Jersey, I've got to have my tomatoes. Other recent additions include basil, mixed greens, beets, and still more kale and chard.

Tomato Heaven

The bounty so far has been stunning. And having such beautiful beds has inspired me in a number of ways. For one thing, I actually get out there and weed, which never used to be a strength of mine. In the past, operating under the flimsy excuse that Weeds are Plants Too! I engaged in what I called holistic gardening. That is, I just let everything that came up grow, including volunteer sunflowers, and a bunch of other choking green stuff that I could not identify. No more. Now I've got neat and tidy rows. On top of that, I'm working to make the whole backyard nicer. This is admittedly a slow process, but I do sweep the back patio, and pick up stuff that blows into the yard or that is scattered there by the dogs. Also, because Zach put in irrigation along the fences he built to keep the dogs away from the garden, I've added a bunch of plants along the fence line: morning glories, moon flowers, honeysuckle, English lavender, rosemary, wandering Jew, and a passionflower vine (which, on Zach's advice, is a good distance from the food beds since passionflowers are pretty aggressive). Very soon I'm going to get a new flock of chickens. And, in my fantasy world anyway, I'd love to acquire a couple of pygmy goats. Let's call that a distant goal.

pizza before

pizza cooked. 

In the kitchen, also thanks to the garden, things are getting better all the time. Using my harvest as a guide, I cook accordingly and as a result I'm eating lots of healthy stuff. Some nights I might just grab some basil and use it to top off a homemade margarita pizza (granted not the most healthy but I throw a little whole wheat flour in the dough). But lots of nights I'll go "shopping" in the backyard and use whatever is most abundant to come up with that evening's menu. For example, tonight I'm planning a risotto with mushrooms (store bought but local) and lots of kale and chard. I'll also make a mixed green salad with a homemade mustard vinaigrette. And-- oolala-- I'm going to make a second batch of the outstanding spinach and edamame soup I made on Sunday. It's ridiculously simple and all the spinach comes right out of the garden. Here's the recipe:

4 cups (packed) of fresh spinach picked from your YardFarm garden
4 cups edamame (soy beans) out of the shell
1 good sized onion (yellow or white)
8 cloves garlic chopped
4 cups of water or veggie stock (I use water and it works fine)
Salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

Dice the onion, throw it in the heated olive oil and stir it around until your house smells really good and the onions are pretty soft. Toss in the garlic, which needn't be uniformly chopped, or even chopped up all that tiny. After the garlic has had a few minutes to make out with the onions, add in the water and edamame (I used frozen organic from Wheatsville). Cook this for awhile-- I think I let mine heat up for about 30 - 45 minutes-- until all those ingredients are soft. Now, throw in the well-rinsed spinach leaves just until they wilt. Add in the seasoning. Okay, kill the heat. Puree it all in a blender-- I had to do this in two batches. Voila -- the best damn soup I've had in a long time. If you want, you can add a dollop of plain yogurt or go nuts and top it off with a spoonful of fresh whipped cream, only don't sweeten the whipped cream when you're whipping it-- add a pinch of salt instead. Now wolf it down.

Here are some more pictures from the garden-- some are from a recent dinner party where I asked my guests to pose as if they were in a '70s filmstrip for fifth graders, designed to demonstrate the beauty of gardening. If you want a YardFarm garden, just give Zach a holler-- contact info is here.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Creepy Jesus and a Caption Contest

On the way back from Mustang Island State Park, we stopped at Goliad State Park to check out the old mission there. Back in the 1700s, before the English religious nutcases arrived and started burning so-called witches and handing out pox-infected blankets to the locals, the Spanish were having their way with this continent's original inhabitants. Using brute force they imposed their language, lifestyle and religion in the name of a land grab and the establishment of wealth. I'm hardly an historic scholar, but my eyes tell me that one big tool in their belt of forced persuasion was Creepy Jesus. 

I encountered my first Creepy Jesuses in a very old church in Real de Catorce, a little village in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, about 600 miles south of here. It's a place I've been to many times, tiny but full of old artifacts that demonstrate the Spaniards' hold over the place. There are the ruins of the old silver mine. And there are not one but two churches. I'm fond of both in a sort of horrified way, but it's the older of the two that grips me most. Full of hand drawn, cartoonish images of St. Francis-- left by believers thanking the dude for milagros granted-- it also holds a number of Creepy Jesus statues. These depict JC with massive gashes, real hair, gray skin, and a genuine look of agony. One of the CJs is encased in a glass coffin, sort of like a bizarre twist on Sleeping Beauty. I still vividly recall seeing one little kid hoisting up an even younger sibling and muttering something to him in a foreboding tone. My Spanish is crap but I didn't need a translator to figure that the elder child was warning the younger that if he didn't toe the line he'd wind up answering to sleeping Creepy Jesus.

The statue of Jesus I encountered at Goliad bears quite the resemblance to the Jesuses I visit in Mexico. And always these depictions make me think of the Jesuses of my youth-- sure, Jesus is hanging on the cross in a lot of these icons. And I'm not saying that he looks cheerful necessarily. But the more modern crucifixes of my childhood depict a squeaky clean, very white Jesus. And I cannot look at one without remembering a very long Catholic wedding I attended back in 1989, when I was seated next to an atheist friend of mine who was a cartoonist. He whipped out paper and pen during the service, drew a picture of the Anglo Jesus hanging before us, and placed in his outstretched arms a beach ball. Blasphemy? Perhaps. But to me, all these years later, that cartoon-- particularly when compared to the Creepy Jesuses of Spain-- gets right to the root of how very different indoctrination was as time marched on.

When I'm in Mexico and I see believers clutching candles and crawling on their knees across the thick warped wooden plank floors I am amazed at how devout they are. And I can't help but admire-- in a very disdainful way-- the marketing techniques of the Spanish who, in force feeding their Christianity, managed to win over the locals in part through incorporating elements of their existing belief system.

Ah, religion. Wacky, wacky, wacky.

Another image I saw at Goliad that brought back an instant memory was a painting of Veronica, holding a handkerchief upon which is an impression of the face of Jesus at the crucifixion, a perfect image that allegedly appeared when Veronica wiped Jesus's tortured face. While I'd never seen this exact painting before, I knew precisely what it was because in my childhood home we had a print of a much more famous version, called St. Veronica's Handkerchief. This was as close as I came in my young life to a Creepy Jesus image, and word was that if you stared at the picture long enough, Jesus's eyes would flip open and stare back at you.

My jury is still out about how I feel having our tax dollars spent on preserving Goliad-- doesn't this fly in the face of not mixing church and state? But that said, I concede that they've done a good job at the park, and the mission is part of history, even if it's not an especially pleasant part of history. The placards are offered in English and Spanish (and hopefully the latter won't be outlawed if Leo Berman gets his way and makes English the "official language" of Texas.) And I found at least one quote that makes it pretty clear how the Spanish felt about the folks they encountered.

There's also this installation, in which a monk seems to be telling a young local why his way is wrong, and how important it is for the kid to make the religious switch... or else...

And then there was this picture, which brings us to our caption contest. Okay, can anyone tell me what the hell is happening here? Are the Spaniards readying a baby for roasting?  Is this a predecessor to Burning Man? I can't figure it out. Whoever comes up with a caption that most amuses me shall win a prize.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vacation All I Ever Wanted: Mustang Island State Park

Only recently, after owning a Scion Xb for six years, I learned that you can remove the various headrests and arrange the seats in a way that will sort of accommodate a full sized mattress. This was good news, as I am getting way too old to be sleeping in a tent on the ground. Though Southwest Airlines new Surprise Convertible Top Airplanes were the cause of my suddenly cancelled trip to Portland a couple of weeks ago, Warren and I still had a road trip on the books, so all was not lost.

Like many middle-aged American "campers" we packed enough shit for six months to get us through five days out in the wild-- well "wild" if you consider a paved parking lot with H2o and electric hookups in Mustang Island State Park on par with an attempt to summit Everest. As you can see, taking advantage of our newfound knowledge about the seats, we actually packed a very nice futon with matching sheets.

Above is a closeup of all the crap. And below is my dashboard area, which is always full of crap. Make fun of me all you want, but if I ever wind up in a ditch undiscovered immediately, I will be able to survive for weeks on my day-to-day inventory and sundry ketchup packets accumulated over the years.

What we have here is a very short video of a seagull shot in our rugged campsite. Some people think of seagulls as rats with wings. I, personally, adore them. They are loud and cocky and constantly on the prowl for food, all characteristics that resonate deeply.

What you see above is just one of many lamps I brought with me. I also brought a headlamp, a reading lamp, and of course we had the car light. My big goal for the trip was to read the entire Sunday New York Times (yes, I brought it with me) before the next one came out. (I met my goal. I also read an entire issue of Vanity Fair, an entire book, and-- on my computer (which yes, I also brought) the daily news.)

It was extremely-- I mean EXTREMELY windy out at the park. This made for very pretty sand patterns. It also meant we spent the vast majority of the trip in the car reading and playing Scrabble.

Aww, isn't that cute. This is the view we shared most of the time. I would like to note that our car would have easily fit inside of most of the RVs that surrounded us-- you know the kind I'm talking about. They come towing an SUV, and on the back of that some scooters and bicycles and SeaDoos. Like, why do those people even leave home? I even saw a couple with a house on wheels that had two very freaked out looking cats in the window.

The sunset out my window. So womantic!

Many people make fun of me for my princess-like attitude toward camping. They are, of course, just jealous. Really, I'm not there for the ruggedness so much as I am there to escape my busy life back home, to quit driving for a week, and to read, read, read. Here we have my precariously balanced electric teapot, which is one of the most important camping tools I have, as I use it to create my instant espresso beverage in the morning, which keeps me from yelling at Warren. (Well, for the most part.)

I'm also a huge fan of good food on a road trip. Our laziness prompted us to buy mostly prepared foods, or at least stuff we didn't have to cook, which proved to be an excellent idea since the wind was so damn crazy we never would've gotten our little propane stove lit. Above, a creation of mine: rosemary and salt flatbread topped with sun warmed brie, sour cherry & pomegranate preserves, and lightly toasted cashews. No hotdogs for me. We did go out to eat one night, to a joint called Snoopy's which is near the bridge onto Padre Island. It was your basic over fried seafood combo, but it wasn't bad.

Next installment: Goliad State Park, where we stopped on the way to Houston for Passover.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Austin Art Yard Tour: Coming Right Up!


Hey Y'all,
The Austin Art Yard Tour is this weekend-- Saturday and Sunday. It's totally free and totally worth the time you spend yard hopping, trust me. Pictured above is me and my friend Scott Stevens, yard artist extraordinaire. His Smutt Putt Heaven is on the tour. There are over two dozen stops along the way-- some are drive by and others are come-on-in-and-look-around-the-yard. You can pick up a pdf map here. I'm super psyched to see that 4200 Avenue F and Sparky Park are both featured spots-- each features the art of my friend Berthold Haas. I actually have a room in my house that's painted "Sparky Park Blue," a color Berthold came up with that you can buy over at Breed & Co. Happy yard sailing.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Heart Art!

Today I had the privilege of helping my friend Anne Morgan hang her very first art show. You can see it for yourself at Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Blvd-- it'll be up for a month I think. I LOVE Anne's bright paintings. Mostly she paints plants and flowers and trees. I'd like to fill my house with her whole collection but for today I had my eye on one in particular-- a blue dog. Probably not a surprise that I'd go for the dog painting. I offered to buy it on the spot an Anne just laughed and said she'd actually been planning to give it to me. But in the interest of being her first patron, I insisted she take a dollar bill I found in my bag.

Congratulations to Anne! I am always so psyched when my friends show their stuff to the world. I've got a house full of paintings over here and every one of them has a wonderful story attached. I can't wait to bring the blue dog home and add him to the collection.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I Keep Meaning to tell the REI Story

No doubt at least three out of the six of you recall my rant against LuluLemon last year. What I am about to tell you today does not involve a request for you to boycott, as I believe I asked for with the LLL-Losers. Nor will I likely full-on boycott REI myself. Really, I just want to share a little story.

So it was SXSWi and I was nannying for my friends, spending my days strolling downtown Austin with the most adorable five-month-old in the world. One day, we walked from the Hilton over to REI. I'm not a big shopper by which I mean a) I hate shopping and b) when I do shop, I usually get in and out in five minutes. Once, I walked onto a Toyota lot, asked if they had any Scions and when they said they did, I said, "Good, please ring one up for me." I didn't even test drive it. (And I have no buyer's remorse.)

This particular day in REI, I did sort of go into a trance. I'm convinced retail stores (especially Target) play soundtracks which, like dog whistles, are inaudible to the human ear but nonetheless have a way of lulling you into this drooly state that leaves you buying way more than you intended. I really just wanted one pair of pants. See, I bought this pair of Mountain Hardwear pants last year, and they fit so well, and are so comfortable, that I seriously wear them 5 - 6 days in any given week. I'm very Orphan Annie like that-- find something that works and stick with it. I wish I'd bought three pairs last year, since I find that a lot of companies discontinue styles from season to season.

Of course I couldn't find the pants I wanted so I kept wandering around, semi-believing that if I walked through the store enough times, a heretofore unseen rack-- full of the pants I desired-- would materialize. Never happened, though I found a pair by Patagonia that looked okay. Only they were $70+, which, even if I am going to wear a pair of pants every day for three years and even if they were made by fairly paid workers, is pretty steep for my budget. (I know, I know First World Problem.)

Finally, after way too long, I decided to get the pants and a swimsuit, also pricey but also something I wear everyday of summer as I swim my beloved laps over at the Eastside Y. I approach the register (don't worry, I still had the baby with me). And the chick behind the counter says, "Are you a member of REI?"

This immediately makes me wince. Can I not fucking go to a store and buy something and be done with it? Why does every store I go to want my zip code or blood type or a stool sample or my phone number? I fucking can't stand this.

"No." I say, and I say it firmly.

"Do you want to join?"

"No." I say.

"Do you mind if I ask why not?"

Okay, now I'm chapped. And I give into that chapped feeling. And the conversation proceeds to a place that really does sully my otherwise lovely day. I tell her I don't want to tell her why. Then she says something else, goads me on. And I finally tell her that, you know, I'm fucking sick of corporate America, I just want to buy the pants and can I please buy the pants and be done with it?

She, amazingly, gets in my face and tells me REI is NOT a corporation. Hello? Has she not ascertained that, in saying NO to her several times, I have clearly demonstrated my boundaries and my lack of interest in her store? Apparently not.

Now I'm more chapped. And so I say something like, See-- see, this is what I'm talking about. This upsets me. I come in here to buy pants. You want something from me. I don't want to have the discussion. And now I wind up looking like a bitch. No. I'm not a bitch. I just want my pants.

At which point she, unconvincingly, tells me oh no, I don't seem like a bitch, and that we'll just have to agree to disagree.

Oh we will, will we?

But then, oh get ready for it... After she rings me up, she takes my receipt and TUCKS IT INTO A PAMPHLET ABOUT THE "BENEFITS" OF BECOMING AN REI MEMBER! And she says, "I'm just going to give you a little bit of light reading for later."

You're fucking KIDDING ME, right? I mean, This. Must. Be. A. Joke. I tell her I don't want her stupid fucking pamphlet (only I said stupid and fucking just in my head-- really. See, all the meditation is really paying off!).

But wait, there's more! I then go up the elevator (remember, I have a baby in a stroller) to use the dirty bathroom, and on the way I pass an open office door with a manila folder stapled to the wall. I kick myself for not having photographed it but it said something along the lines of, "Adjusted Goals for Membership." Not that I'm surprised that REI HQ forces their (probably underpaid) employees to try to force membership on shoppers, but this folder clearly contradicted that salesjerk's insistence that she was just trying to serve my best interest.

And then... and then... when I got home and tried the pants on, I thought, You know, these just are not worth $70. So after all that, I took them back. And I know that the extra little nudge I needed to motivate myself to go back to the store came from remembering how the salesjerk refused to take no for an answer, and tried to push that goddamned pamphlet down my throat. After I make the return, I say to the dude now working the register, "So, this will just turn back up on my debit card?"

He says yeah, it will. But probably not for a few days since, he says, the debit refunds are "a little slow." Funny-- when I paid for the damn pants they pulled that money out of my account on the spot.

A week or so later, I went to my favorite thrift store, Top Drawer, and got not one but two excellent skirts for about $5 total. Please remind me, the next time I want some clothes, not to go to REI when a local thrift shop that supports a good cause will do.