Monday, June 27, 2011

Office of Good Deeds Says THANK YOU!! Garden is Almost Done!

American Gothic Remake Two

Hi Y'all,
A few weeks ago, I mentioned that the Office of Good Deeds was officially back up and running. While we often focus on small good deeds done everyday, once in awhile a big good deed that needs doing shows up on our radar. Such was the case when we heard about a young lady-- two years-old to be precise-- who lives in our fine city along with her parents and her her little sister. Both girls recently had to leave daycare and stop going to the park when the older sister started chemotherapy to treat her leukemia. I got a call from my friends and former co-workers over at LIVESTRONG asking if maybe I could help turn the sisters' yard into a healing garden and play area. Why would anyone call ME about a garden?

I gave Zach a Kick Ass Award which, alas, broke in my car pre-presentation. Thanks for Kicking Ass Zach!

Well, because as many of you know, this past year I had the great fortune of connecting with Zach the Gardener, who heads up YardFarm Austin. Zach hooked me up with three raised bed food gardens that are astonishing, gorgeous, and bountiful. He also came up with a fencing design for my yard to keep the dogs from the (hypothetical) chickens and the (hypothetical) chickens from the garden. (Though we still need to figure out how to ship the squirrels to the moon.) I've written a lot about Zach and so the LS folks thought maybe I could get Zach on board. "On board" is an understatement. Zach jumped at this opportunity and, as per his S.O.P., took a look at the yard, and decided if the family was game, he'd like to do a pretty big install, including a screened in porch!


While Zach drew up plans, Yvonne (at LIVESTRONG) and I started air traffic controlling volunteers. A big bunch of folks over at the Statesman came on board to offer cash and human power. People from all over the city donated items to be used in the play area. I mean, it was really, truly, wildly out of control in the best sense. Then, this past weekend, it was time to make it happen. I had a couple of out of town weddings on Saturday, so my job was to just pop by in between my gigs, be a cheerleader, and handout the UNBELIEVABLY DELICIOUS PIZZA that was so GENEROUSLY DONATED by MY FAVORITE PIZZA PLACE: EAST SIDE PIES. Michael, who owns ESP, and his team had pizzas for us both days as a matter of fact.

Big Red ROCKS it!

Sunday, I got to visit the concept of No Pain No Gain as I joined in with the hard labor needed to make the garden and play area really happen. The Saturday team had gotten an amazing amount of work accomplished. I pulled up a little before 9 a.m. on Sunday bearing breakfast tacos, and already we had a team working so hard that Robin broke a shovel! The recently engaged Southpaw and Maggie were there, too (congratulations, lovebirds!). And so many more people. People people everywhere, digging, planting, composting. 

My own son showed up, getting up at 11, about four hours earlier than he's used to. He brought his lady friend and, when they weren't busy re-creating American Gothic, they busted butt, too. Henry-- the youngest male among us-- shoveled tons (probably actually tons) of red gravel. I helped a little, but mostly raked (vs. shoveled) the stuff.

Do Not Ever Piss This Woman Off.

By about 3 pm I admit I was starting to fade. But I was buoyed by sisters Kathy and Patty, who stuck around to work a double, and by Yvonne, who showed up for a second long day of work, and by Zach and Ori and Terrance, all three of whom worked straight through both days. It was the first time in my life I felt like I had pre-burned calories, so I happily indulged in still more East Side Pies, chips, and-- oh thank you lord-- La Paleta from el hombre de las paletas! Not only was the ice cream great, it was yet another chance for me to assault an unsuspecting Mexican man with my horrifying Spanish. (He humored me. No, wait, he GOOD HUMORED me! Ha!)

I know I've mentioned some volunteers here but I'm sure I haven't mentioned them all. Saturday was a big time LIVESTRONG day with Chris and Kim and Helen (and then Patrick and Emy came on Sunday). There was Juan and Kat and Gissela. Gus and Leesa. And a super special shout out to both Terry and Michael (aka Big Red) who worked hard shifts on Saturday and then on Sunday, in the 11th hour when we really needed a push, came back to sweat some more. I worry I'm forgetting some names-- forgive me (it's the exhaustion) and let me know if I missed listing you.

I also want to thank Women and Their Work, who helped me in a hurry with some stuff I needed. And I want to thank the Natural Gardener for their generous donation. And thanks to Chayton Woodworks for cutting us a deal on a custom made, super lovely picnic table. Never enough thanks for YardFarm-- with extra special thanks to Zach's personal team: Dare, Robert, and Devi who came out to help. Plus, again, thank all y'all for sending us stuff, money, and good healing thoughts. We are hoping to do the final final push and finish tomorrow.

If you still want to help, here's something easy you can do: consider ordering an East Side Pie for dinner and the next time you need some garden advice, give Zach a call. (Of course not one of our sponsors or volunteers took part in this project for commercial purposes, but I am a fan of connecting folks, and great folks like ESP and YardFarm Austin are always great to be in touch with.) Oh, and you know what would be great? If y'all would hop over to the YardFarm FB page and give Zach a big thumb's up for his amazing, selfless, backbreaking work this weekend. I'm telling you-- I haven't known him a year and the man has totally changed my life with his great energy.

Post slab, pre-install.

one step at a time-- and one and kick and two and...

little kitty digs a fencepost
little kitty also helped pat down wet cement!

Kim holds up her invisible shovel.

go girls!

Truth: The Vibrams do not lend themselves well to digging.

The picnic table arrives!

Ori tries to put back a piece but we say, "No, Ori! Eat, eat!"

American Gothic Remake One

Mother & Son shovel together happily. Look at my boy!

Ori explains to El Hombre de Las Paletas that "El Spike's Espanol esta muy mal!" He then tells the guy to smile at Spike and ignore her bad Spanish.

Patty is HAND WATERING so as not to violate any city codes.

Isn't this BEAUTIFUL?

Ori demonstrates the amazing capacity for the screens to keep even grown men out.
I'll post some final final pictures soon. Thanks again! Please know that all y'all have made this family's life a little more bearable during a difficult time. Because of your work, these little sisters, who so love love love being outdoors, will now be able to go outside and play again. Oh boy does that make me so happy. Thanks for rocking it so hard, y'all!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

What Do You Get When You Cross Martin Burke, Meredith McCall and a Toilet?

You get magic, people, that's what you get. I am so pumped. My friend Kathy just wrote to inform me that the two people I most hope to marry one day (not to each other, to MYSELF) are part of an upcoming play called Down the Drain. In case you missed my earlier marriage proposal, the two I speak of are Martin Burke and Meredith McCall. In a town crawling with theatrical geniuses, these two are the tops, they're the coliseum! Their performance in last year's The Drowsy Chaperone was so brilliantly hilarious that audience members were warned to show up sporting Depends. Their performance in the Santaland Diaries made me almost like Christmas.

The new project, put on by local theatre company Imagine That Productions, is written by A. John Boulanger. It's going to be put on at Hyde Park Theatre, the best little theater in Austin. And to put it in Kathy's words, "It's a romantic comedy that involves Martin Burke, Meredith McCall and a toilet (oh the possibilities.)" Oh the possibilities indeed!

Catch is, they still need to raise some funds. They've got a Kickstarter going and are hoping to score $2945 within the next 22 days. Please won't you help? I certainly will! And if you do help, you can come to our wedding-- I can't wait to enter into America's first three-way thespian marriage! I'm guessing Dave Steakley will let us host the reception over at Zach-- you will, Dave, won't you?

Once again that Kickstarter link is right here. Please kick in a few bucks, eh?

Monday, June 20, 2011

OGD Garden Update: Still Seeking a Few More Item Donations

We have captured a live gnome to be part of the Healing Garden!

Hey Y'all,
A couple of weeks ago I posted a note about the revival of the Office of Good Deeds. Our first big project is to transform the backyard of a family whose two-year-old daughter is undergoing chemo right now. Her delicate health means no more trips to the park for the foreseeable future, so we're bringing the park to her. Zach of YardFarm Austin is overseeing the project, and as I type this he's getting ready to pour the foundation for a little screened in porch. This weekend, many people have volunteered to do the heavy lifting, moving and planting. We have had so many donations-- goods, services and cash-- that are making this project possible. THANKS to all of you who are kicking in.

We still are seeking a few things to help us make this happen just the way Zach envisions it. Below is a revised list of stuff we're looking for, as well as stuff we've received (so you can see how helpful everyone has been). If you have any of these not-yet-acquired items and can donate, please email me at -- thanks!

  • MUD PIE KITCHEN ITEMS-- If you go here you'll see information on a mud pie kitchen. I'm also posting a picture below. We are seeking a low to the ground table and some old, sturdy (non-teflon) cooking items-- food molds, pots, whisks, etc. Maybe you have a table or a box of kitchen stuff you were going to drop off at the thrift store? We'd LOVE to take them off your hands. 

  • MUSIC TABLE ITEMS-- We'd like a second low to the ground table and some suitable-for-banging-on pots, pans and plastic containers, maybe a cow bell-- stuff that the girls can make music with and, of course, nice sturdy wooden spoons to serve as drumsticks. 
  • LATTICE to create a sort of privacy fence.
  • LUMBER-- this is our biggest cash expense. If you have good lumber leftover from a project, or some Home Depot gift cards you're willing to part with, that'd be awesome.
  • Wooden picnic table with attached benches PICNIC TABLE DONATED!
  • Swing set or small climbing structure (remember the girls are very little so I'm thinking small) (small climbing structure donated!)
  • Hummingbird feeders GOT ONE DONATED!
  • Sandbox with a cover   GOT ONE DONATED!
  • Screening & Lumber (Zach is going to build a little screened in area -- he's still working on design so I don't have specs for screening yet) (SCREENING DONATED!)
  • Human volunteers (I might have enough folks signed up but would like a backup list. Build dates are June 25th and 26th-- we'll be working in shifts so even a two-hour time donation is great.) VOLUNTEERS ACQUIRED!
  • Art Easel  GOT ONE DONATED!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Felling the Tree of Life

For today, I am throwing to the wind my no-spoiler rule regarding reviews. Today I am going to waste time I will never get back detailing for you as much of The Tree of Life as I can recall. It is going to be an exercise in excruciating masochism, for the best course of action I could take-- barring figuring out how to turn back time so that I could choose not to attend the film-- is to scrub away any recollection of the flick as best as possible and move on in my life. Alas, this film is such a long, heaping, steaming, mass of shit that it is with tremendous horror and sadness that I realize it is bound to leave skid marks on my memory for decades to come. Thus I might as well share these nasty brown stains with you.

Before I begin with the details, let me say that two tangential thoughts came to mind as I ineffectively shook my head violently, back and forth, like an overzealous child attempting to shake clean a damaged Etch-a-Sketch. I remember seeing Wild Orchid with Big Red more than twenty years ago, and how we walked out on this Mickey Rourke disaster within moments. And I remember when Gigli came out, and how Ben Affleck, hoping to exercise some damage control, bravely went on Dave Letterman and read aloud some reviews of that "movie." Whether the reviews were real or fake I don't know, but I recall two of them-- one suggesting that the reviewer got eye cancer watching Gigli, and the other claiming to have cleansed his mental palate after viewing Gigli by taking in Mariah Carey's film, Glitter.

That said, given a choice between being forced to watch The Tree of Life Again, or being tied to a plugged in electric chair and beaten continuously while watching a triple header of Wild Orchid, Gigli, and Glitter, I would-- sans hesitation-- choose the latter and even offer to sit through an hourlong preview comprised solely of Barney the Dinousaur episodes.

And now, about The Tree of Life. Oh sweet Jesus, where to begin? The flick is such an over-the-top fucking mess. Let's see-- it opens with a little red-haired girl clutching a goat and then swinging on a swing. No wait, I think it starts with a blurry image that maybe is supposed to be a fetus or maybe it's-- I still have no idea what the fuck it is. There is some whispering-- a most annoying technique that will continue throughout the movie. At some point, a disembodied narrator's voice-- I think maybe red-haired goat girl's?-- tells us we have a couple of choices for how we live our life. These choices are either grace or nature. This is, of course, a false premise. Those of us who have truly lived know that there are many other options for how to live-- by the bottle, by the ocean, by avoiding cinematic dreck that somehow manages to win big awards, etc. Alas, for those of us foolish enough to have not walked out the minute this notion was put forth, we were stuck with trying to suspend our disbelief and buy into grace vs. nature. Ugh.

So let's see, after the girl/goat scene, now we see another redhead. I think maybe this older redhead was supposed to be the goat girl all growed up. There's a knock at the door. A cheerful man hands the grown up goat girl a letter (I found out post movie it was a telegram). She reads it. She cries. And then cut to...

Here I can't remember if we cut to the Sean Penn scene or the National-Geographic-Meets-Land-of-the-Lost footage. I think we cut to the Sean Penn scene, the first of a handful that pop up at random intervals throughout this wreck of movie, reminding us over and over again that Penn should've quit while he was ahead with his portrayal of Jeff Spicoli. Somehow we ascertain (maybe from a movie trailer we've seen or an article we've read, but definitely not from our context) that Sean Penn is somehow connected to the redheaded lady and the contents of the letter that made her cry. Let me cut to the chase here and give it away. See, the idea is, that once upon a time, there was a pretty redheaded lady, and she married Brad Pitt, and he was all handsome and shit and he liked classical music, but he was also a big fat asshole and so when he and the pretty lady had three sons it was Brad Pitt's job to be a scary mean ass and it was the job of one son to grow up and die young, and it was the job of another son to grow up and not die but to be angry at Brad Pitt in order to facilitate some scenes about dinosaurs. (There is no clear explanation for the presence of the third son in the movie.)

At some point while all this confusion is being presented and the viewer is initially thinking, "Oh, I know what's going on here, this is the part where they confuse me at the beginning and use shaky handheld camera techniques and play ominous opera music so that I will feel very in the dark but then I will feel enlightened because after ten minutes of this I know they will use tried and true storytelling traditions to give what I just saw a logical framework that will lead me to say aha! and then tell my friends to see the movie!!!"

Actually, this never happens. The confusion just continues. For example, let's talk about the TWENTY FUCKING MINUTES (or was it a GODDAMNED HOUR? IT FELT LIKE FOUR HOURS) when, with no reason I could ever determine, or will I ever be able to determine, the movie cuts from confusing back-and-forth redheaded-lady-Sean-Penn footage and launches into the aforementioned National Geographic footage. My brilliant friend Ross, who also hated the movie, did a much better job of describing the source of this footage-- would that I could remember his precise words, but he was talking about stock footage from NASA satellites and b-roll from 127 Hours to name but a couple of theories. Really-- for TWENTY FUCKING MINUTES and with NO EXPLANATION beyond the pounding opera music in the background we watch pictures of waves, and mountains and clouds and sunsets and the earth and jellyfish and lava and then there's some of that annoying whispering and at long last I think-- "Oh I know! We're supposed to try to guess what killed the guy whose death announcement came in that letter at the beginning." 

So now I start trying to guess. Did he die falling into a pit of lava? Did he die on a spacecraft? Did he die of sunburn? Did he die out hiking? The montage continues. Suddenly, I think I see dinosaurs and I have to turn and ask Warren if I am seeing the screen right. I think maybe somebody slipped a roofie into my frozen lemonade and when I passed out they carried me into another theater where Return of Land of the Lost is playing. I wait for Sleestaks to appear. Maybe the Sleestaks killed the guy!

But wait, no, now we're at long last cutting back to scenes of the redhead lady-- my god, she is so young. She stays so young through the movie! Her husband is so mean, her kids get older. But she just stays 18 and keeps putting on a different dress in every scene and never appears to weigh more than 80 pounds and has distractedly plump lips and is like this cross between RiverDance and an Ivory Snow commercial. Why is Brad Pitt so mean to the redheaded lady? Bad Brad Pitt. You stop that! And wait-- how does the redhead lady keep her house so spotless with three boys?

Then the redhead lady is hanging out laundry. She is supposed to be in the fifties but I am wildly distracted by the fact she is using clothespins with metal springs in them. Did they even have this type of clothespin in the '50s"? I think they only had the penis-looking clothespins then. For a long time I am distracted making a mental note to google "clothespins" when I get home. But now I am watching the screen again because, oh no! Now a kid is drowning in Barton Springs. The crowd gasps-- not at the sight of a drowning kid, but at the collective note of recognition: Hey, I've jumped off the diving board there! It really chaps me that the kid drowning scene is shot at Barton Springs because now, every time I go to BS, I'm going to remember that sad scene and I'm going to think, "I cannot believe I wasted ten fucking dollars on that movie!"

More stuff happens. None of it makes any sense. The kid actors are pretty good but they can't save this pile of shit from stinking. I can't keep from wondering if Jennifer Aniston is going to see it and laugh her skinny little ass off and praise the lord for creating the circumstances that caused her divorce from Mr. Benjamin Button.

I haven't even gotten to the symbolism yet! You don't need a degree in English to catch the metaphors in The Tree of Life-- like algae choking to death all life within the pond (<-- note, that is a simile, not a metaphor) this movie clobbers you over the head with poetic messages that make Hallmark cards and Lifetime movies seem subtle and nuanced by comparison, and ultimately lead to the horrified conclusion that you have just sat through a three hour evangelical christian indoctrination. By the time the screen filled up with sunflowers, I literally and spontaneously burst out laughing even though I knew I was "supposed" to be somber and reverent with the rest of the audience (or maybe they were all asleep by then). Sunflowers? Really? As if that field of bright yellow wasn't enough of an exclamation point on a cumulative metaphoric insult that runs throughout the movie, then we get this whole kooky on-the-beach scene at the end where the living and the dead come together even though I'm still trying to figure out which kid actor was supposed to be the younger version of Sean Penn and which kid actor is supposed to be the dead one. Then the redhead lady does her RiverDance Ivory Snow thing and spins in her pretty dress and puffs out her preternaturally puffy lips and flares her extraordinarily large nostrils and reaches out her hands like Jesus on the Cross as she Commands Her Son Unto the Lord.

And I'm thinking REALLY? REALLY? Did I just sit through that piece of shit for three hours and now they are trying to fucking BAPTIZE ME at the end?

Look, I'm a pretty major Francophile. In fact, right after The Tree of Schmaltz, Warren and I went to see Midnight in Paris, which was so good you won't even get distracted wondering if Woody Allen really did do anything wrong sleeping with Mia's daughter (aside: I never did get over that and you know, if Warren started dating Henry, that would upset me, too, even though they technically aren't related.) That movie is truly funny, and in particular I loved the scene where Gil is talking to Bunuel about an idea he has for a movie. I am at least as smitten with Paris as Gil's character is. Sure, I felt put off by the recent rape allegations by that hotshot French dude. But still, my faith in the entire country wasn't shaken. Not until, that is, I saw The Tree of Life, which won the Palm Door Award at Can this past Spring. Really? Top honors at this legendary French Film Festival? Mon dieu, my fine froggie friends! Palme de Merde is more like it!

I will try so hard to forgive zee French this one, but it's going to take awhile. Do yourself a huge favor-- don't see The Tree of Life. Take your $10 and spend it on Gigli, Wild Orchid, and Glitter. You'll merci me for the advice.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teach a Man to Sew and...

When I was in eighth grade ('77-'78) home-ec classes were still mandatory for girls. There was a slight shift afoot-- dare we call it progress: boys were allowed to sign up for cooking and sewing classes, too (a couple of them did) and girls could sign up for woodwork and auto shop (at least I think so-- and while I can't recall any of us doing so I'll never forget that when I signed up to lift weights after school, this I had to undertake in the boys' locker room-- where the administrators had decided the equipment should be installed). As possible proof that sewing is not a genetic trait, I -- daughter of an amazing seamstress-- sucked ass at that particular challenge. My teacher, she of the apt, Dickensian title Mrs. Haggard, probably got more frown lines during the time I was under her watch than during all her other years of teaching combined.

My wraparound skirt was a wraparound disaster. My drawstring skirt looked like a flour sack with the bottom cut out. I hated sewing and sewing hated me. As time marched on, irony would creep in, as irony has a tendency to do. Despite my loathing of fabric-related activities, I accidentally stumbled into the world of quilting. What was meant to be a simple, one-off article for the Dallas Morning News somehow morphed into a book about quilting. And then another. And then, yes, a third-- this last a massive tome tracing the history of quilts through all of time and eternity. That one about did me in. Along the way, though I never mastered the art of sewing, I did stick a cautious toe into the waters. I was driven by two things. Thing one: I had a notion (or at least told myself) that if I was going to write about quilts, I should at least master the basics (namely not running a needle through my finger). Thing two: My friend Sarah, who got this whole quilt ball rolling, started taking me to the International Quilt Festival in Houston.

IQF is where each fall nearly 60,000 rabid quilters gather to oooh and ahh over 2,000 award winning quilts. They also shop until they drop. Even if the mere thought of sewing causes you to break out in hives, visiting IQF fosters a very When-in-Rome sort of response. And so, year after year, I'd come out of my trance on the drive home to realize that, even though I couldn't really sew, I had just purchased a bunch of fabric.

Over the years, I actually have cranked out a few incredibly sloppy quilts. (Which reminds me-- I also recorded 23 hours of film footage for a documentary I will likely never finish. Among those I interviewed was a blind quilter I met in Waco who told me that she had actually heard someone standing near her booth criticizing the unevenness of her stitches. In quilt circles, we refer to these assholes as the Quilt Police.) One of my favorite sloppy quilts, still not done, is a wolf-themed quilt I made for Henry, he being one of those kids that loves the whole ironic-wolf-t-shirt thing. I enhanced this quilt with googly eyes and also some doll eyes to maximize the creepy effect. Really, one of my masterpieces.

So last year at IQF, even though I never really got over my sewing aversion, I once again fell into the trance. I noticed, at the end of my tour of the convention center, that I seamed to be clutching an antique Singer Featherweight sewing machine. Oops, I did it again-- made another big sewing related purchase. In fact, this was hardly the first antique machine I'd bought. Because-- oh, still more irony!-- over the past several years I have also operated what is known as Fashion Camp. As at least four of the six of you know, my fashion sense leaves me looking like a cross between a '70s lesbian and Kurt Cobain. But never mind my lack of seamstress skills or fashion sense-- I know how to have FUN and I also know how to hire hip young seamstresses. Thus oftentimes when I spotted an old machine in a thrift store, I couldn't resist-- "We'll use it for camp!" I reasoned, even though each and every machine I lugged to camp netted me not-even-thinly-veiled eye rolls from my assistants.

But the Singer Featherweight-- oh, she is a different beast. She is magnificent. A beauty to behold. Runs like a dream. Doesn't have any fancy settings. You got forward and backward. That's it. Even I find it hard to fuck up on a machine like this (bear in mind we all define "fuck up" differently and I've heard more than a few quilt guild members, upon seeing the show-and-tell I offer after a lecture, burst out laughing at my seams).

Well today I was thinking maybe it's time to finally knock out this current quilt project, the one that's been waiting for about two years for me to finish. This plan was derailed by my son, but that turned out to be a very wonderful thing. Because Henry, who is an amazing artist, recently finished a giant silkscreen patch featuring Audrey Hepburn and a bunch of skulls. He asked if I would sew it onto the back of a denim coat for him. I asked him if he wanted me to teach him how to do it himself.

Give a man a fish, I told him, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.

I continued: Teach a man to sew...

Henry finished: And he'll get a girlfriend!

My boy! So smart!

So he ironed the patch out flat, then I showed him how to pin it on the back of the jacket which, I would like to note, was not the sort of denim jacket I envisioned when he described it. Oh no. He got this super tacky hooded number more often seen on middle-aged women from New Jersey. (I think this is tangentially related to wolf-t-shirt-irony.) Before it was over, we each bled a decent amount, and Henry suggested he might invent pins with little caps for the novice pinners among us. I like this idea-- those little bitches poke a mean and deep hole.

It didn't take anytime at all-- post-pinning that is-- for Henry to get the hang of the machine. Presser foot up. Needle down. Presser foot down. And hit the gas! (I recommended he treat the machine pedal as if he were driving through a school zone. He took this as an opportunity to remind me of the time I called him to tell him that I was driving in a school zone, going the limit-- he himself had just gotten a ticket for driving 25 in a school zone. He cheerfully told me that it was great I was driving 20, but did I realize there was a TWO HUNDRED DOLLAR FINE for talking on my cell phone in that zone?) There was one point when the machine was making a bad noise and he asked for help and we noted, together, that he had sewn through the patch, the jacket back AND the sleeve. I congratulated him, telling him this is how we learn! And then we had a lesson on stitch ripping.

So you can see, it was a most cheerful day. I got so excited I proposed that we open an Etsy shop. I even gave him an idea for our first project. He, being so darling, and wanting to hasten his escape, nodded earnestly.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Mas Desde La Cocina y Jardin

I spent about five hours whipping up a feast last Friday and as I was busting my sweaty behind off, a few thoughts occurred to me. One: homemaking is (or should be) a hobby. Only after my kid grew up and moved out was I able to really dedicate time to all the stuff assigned to housewives. And frankly, I'm pretty choosy times I do play homemaker-- I don't do it often and certain corners get cut when I do. Let's just say I''m not exactly the Queen of Deep Clean. I am, on the other hand, pretty handy in la cocina. Another thought I had was that bit in Outliers where Malcolm Gladwell explains the theory that to do anything really well, you have to log at least an initial 10,000 hours doing it. As I prepped the pesto lasagna, quinoa & chard cakes, homemade brown bread, serrano-punctuated gazpacho, fried green tomatoes and Israeli eggplant salad, I tried to calculate just how long I've been cooking-- nearly 40 years ever since, as a middle child, it often fell to me to cook for the whole family o'eleven. So yeah, maybe I've got my 10,000 hours. I won't ever be a chef, but I've never met a clove of garlic that didn't send my pulse racing. (Don't you love how your fingers still smell like garlic the day after all that mincing?)

A third thought related to food service. Sometimes when I visit my friend Ross, who manages the Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Blvd, I recall my own days waiting on tables and managing the other Magnolia Cafe on SoCo. That was twenty years ago. Utilizing what folks in AA refer to as euphoric recall I still have the ability to romanticize not just my days at the Mag, but the fifteen years I spent slinging hash all over the place: Jersey, Florida, St. Louis and Austin. Never mind that food service is brutal business, breeds incestuous melodramatic relationships, and is peopled by more than a few addicts and felons. I can still smear Vaseline across time's lens and imagine how taking up the apron again would be a joyful thing. Fortunately for me, Ross-- who has been a voice of reason for me in many areas-- pleasantly dismisses any requests I make for a job. Being in my kitchen, standing on concrete floors for five hours straight, frying food in grease, putting out a grease fire I started-- all this was an excellent reality check for me. Go back to food service? BWAHAHAHA.

That said, the meal turned out swell if I do say so for myself. Swell enough that, once I've had a few months to rest, I'll do it again. (As for these homemakers who claim to do this sort of involved homemaking on a regular basis-- I have no idea how they do it.)

This here is a picture of the Simple Brown Bread I make using a recipe from a very good bread book. I'm not going to say what book it is yet because I swear one day soon I am going to dedicate a whole post to the glories of being infected with a passion for yeast (as in bread, not that other kind). In that post I shall reveal my favorite bread books. 


Above we have the filling for my pesto lasagna. If you've read my other food posts, you know I have a thing for pesto. This is rooted in both a genuine love of basil and the fact that right now my YardFarm garden overfloweth with fresh basil. I used my own "recipe" for pesto (secret ingredient: cashews), this time mixing it up with about fourteen pounds of ricotta, mozzarella, and grated romano. This I layered betwixt and between your basic lasagna noodles, threw in the oven for awhile covered, then uncovered, and voila, a main course. This dish, along with several others that night, re-demonstrated an important lesson about food: whenever you pack a dish with salt, fat, more salt, and more fat, you can pretty much bet everyone's going to love it. 

Here I am offering you a fried green tomato. (Don't be fooled, this is a photo so you can't really have a fried green tomato.) I did not choose to make this dish, the universe chose to have me make it. Why is that? Because the goddamned squirrels will not stay the hell out of my garden. Apparently they have mistaken my raised beds for the squirrel version of one of those massive Chinese Buffet restaurants. The other day I went out there with a spade saying firmly but seriously, "Get the fuck out of my garden motherfucker!" and squirrel just looks at me like if I don't back off he's going to call the maitre'd and have me fired. These fat tailed nuisances are fond of just taking a few bites of tomatoes and leaving the rest on the vine. Clearly they have no intention of letting any whole tomatoes remain long enough to actually ripen. But I was able to locate about a half-dozen unscathed green tomatoes and decided to harvest them before the little fat furry fucks scarfed them down. I found a simple recipe on the Internet (thank you Internet) that basically says the key to success is to dip the slices first in milk, then flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. I used Panko because it's fun to say and also because I hear Panko stays crunchier. Seemed to be the case for us.

I can't believe I didn't take any pictures of the quinoa cakes but that picture way at the top is me showing off all the chard from my garden that I used in the quinoa cakes to give the false notion that this dish had any redeeming nutritional value. Oh sure, we used quinoa, the new superfood. And we used greens. But we also mixed in about sixteen pounds of parmesan, a half-dozen eggs and, as with the tomatoes, fried 'em up. (I must credit Warren here-- he was on QC fry-duty and he did a great job of it). I got that quinoa cake recipe from NYT. I find the recipes I get there are kinda hit-or-miss but I'm happy to say that this one was most definitely a hit. 

I'd like to say that next up in this informal series about eating from the garden will be a post about the stunning eggplant dishes I create. Alas, the GD squirrels ate my eggplants, too. So perhaps the next post will be how I transitioned back to meat eating with a nice squirrel brain casserole.