Monday, August 31, 2009

Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii )

For seven or eight months a year, our yard is home to a thriving population of hummingbirds. The Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive first and stay longest. The Ruby-throated hummingbirds throng in spring and fall... but a few remain through summer, unwilling to leave the resort.

And one of the reasons they choose our home is the hedge of Turk's cap around the back of the house.

Turk's cap is in the mallow family (think distant hibiscus relative). It's drought-tolerant, deer-resistant, pest resistant, and...drumrolll...blooms in the shade. Turk's cap is very adaptable to soil type and moisture but happiest in full shade to part-shade. Most years, I add supplemental water only in the hottest part of the summer. This year's combination of record-breaking heat and epic drought is requiring a deep weekly watering.

The plants bloom in profusion from May into November and attract a range of butterflies and moths in addition to hummingbirds. In fall, there is berry-like fruit that attracts wrens, cardinals, mockingbirds, and other fruit-eating birds.

Turk's cap is native from central Texas east through Gulf coast states and north to Arkansas and South Carolina. It is deciduous in the cooler regions of the range, where gardeners cut it back to the ground after the first frost. I'm always a little anxious about this--it's scary to lop it all off. But my plants start sending out new shoots in March and we have blooms in May.

Bush size is 3-6 feet, depending on parentage, soil and water. Our experience has been that the plants take a year to get their roots settled, but after that they take off.

I hope you find a place for Turk's Cap in your landscape. The butterflies and birds will thank you.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sister Creek Vineyards

The Texas Hill Country holds 24+ wineries. You may remember Comfort Cellars from an earlier post. I'm thinking now to visit all of them, maybe one a month, and report back. It's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for my friends.

Sister Creek Vineyards is in Sisterdale, about 13 miles from Comfort, in the historic 1885 Sisterdale Cotton Gin. It's not really on the way to anywhere, but not too far away either. And it's worth a drive, even a weekend visit. Stay at a B&B in Comfort or Boerne or Fredericksburg. Enjoy the scenery, eat good food, drink great wine, go home happy.

The town of Sisterdale is small, somewhere between 25 and 63 residents, depending on whom you believe. Fortunately, they don't need a lot of people to make good wine.

The owners started twenty-one years ago with a vision of fine wine from Texas grapes. A lot of folks are dubious about fine wine from Texas, but they haven't been to Sister Creek Vineyards. The winery makes traditional varieties, around 20,000 cases a year of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon blends and Merlot. Most of the grapes are from Texas, some from Sister Creek's own vineyards.

The winery also makes an Italian style Muscat Canelli. I shook my head when they urged me to try it. The grape grows well in Texas but the other Texas Muscats I've tasted were simple and sweet. I want character.

For a nominal fee you can taste all of the offerings, including reserves. I tasted eight wines and thought all had merit. The most surprising was the Pinot Noir, which exhibited characteristic cherry fruit and Pinot dust. I was surprised because the grape is notoriously thin-skinned and hard to grow. And Texas weather is brutal.

My favorites were two of the Bordeaux-style meritages. I'm not the only one who likes them. Both wines won silver medals at the June 21, 2009 San Francisco International Wine Competition. Read my notes below and see what you think.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon 4-Blend Reserve (cabernet sauvignon 39%, merlot 23%, cab franc (from CA) 22%, Petite Verdot (from CA) 16%), $29.95. Rich, full, fruity (blackberry, cherry), balanced with nice acidity and silky tannins.

2007 Vintner's Collection Cabernet Sauvignon 5-Blend (cab 45%, merlot 40%, sangiovese 5%, malbec 8%, cab franc (from CA) 2%), $39.95. Lovely. Balances rich fruit (berry), soft toast and acidity. Satisfying and layered.

And, in the end, I tried the 2008 Muscat Canelli and really liked it. Slightly effervescent with flowers, pears and apricot on the nose, followed to finish in an elegant flow of flavors. I wish I'd brought a case home, it might have made our torrid summer easier.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Just Being

We've had only one rain this torrid summer, but it was enough for the cenizo to bloom as if it there would never be another. And bees to swim in the ocean of blossom.

As I walked past the purple blooms, the vibrating hum slipped into my ears and pulled me to the flowers. I don't know how long I stood watching and listening and smelling, but the hum filled my brain and echoed through my day.

If you'd like a a minute of humful peace, click the arrow, listen and watch, and, for one minute, be completely present.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


Re: Keep Austin Weird

I rolled up behind this ------------------------------------------->
a week after my last Austin foray.

A four-legged wheelerator? New species, and I caught it on camera; I'll be famous.

When the light changed, it resolved into this

OK, I won't be famous but I'm smiling, which is just as good. No, better.

Note the back rider's bouquet of posies (click the picture for a larger view). Plastic, I think, but a fine grape-jelly purple.

Not a block later, this came past

Austin's reputation remains intact.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Green Chile Communion

We went to HEB recently. For my non-Texan friends, HEB is the national grocery of Texas. Works hard to be everything Texans want and need. HEB has a proper selection of salsas and tortillas, an entire aisle of refrigerated beer, and even its own shrimping fleet so we have the best Gulf shrimp. Now if that isn't over-the-Texas-top, what is?

For me, the most exciting grocery time of the year is a few magic weeks in August when HEB trucks in more than 100,000 pounds of green chiles from Hatch, New Mexico. AND roasts them on site at stores around the state. Hatch-chile-nirvana without driving to New Mexico.

Last year, I bought several packages and froze chiles in small batches to throw warmth into winter. That was a long time ago...and I sorely underestimated the depth of my need. So when I saw the Hatch Chile stand last Saturday, I ran, skidding to a stop just short of collision.

A mound of warm, steaming bags rose from the bed of the stand. A well-groomed bearded man and his wife were idly fingering one. They stepped back a pace as I barreled up. I was talking, really to myself but it happened to be out loud, about how wonderful it was to be there on chile day and how wonderful the chiles looked, and how wonderful they were last year. 

I might have implied they were as good as sex. The wife asked me what to do with them. Exclamation points shot toward the ceiling like balloons released by a child. Within thirty seconds, two more women came to run their hands through the bags. Then two more, and two more and more behind them and we crowded close together all talking at once and laughing and sharing a chile exuberance.

My husband says I'm easily amused.  I think he underestimates the power of chile.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Excellent Contagion

Not long ago I met some friends for lunch at the Gristmill in Gruene, on the edge of New Braunfels, Texas. We toasted my friend's birthday and congratulated her on another year.

Her two year old grandson was in the party. His favorite toy train accompanied him. The cars have magnets front and rear to connect to each other. It turns out, the magnets also attract eating utensils. So Thomas the engine whiled away the waiting time by pulling our ice tea spoons in an elongated route around the table. We all laughed and hooted as if we'd never seen a toy train before.

But really, we were infected with her grandson's joy.

Postscript: Aboard the Landa Park train for a post-prandial ride.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tasting Summer

Succulent organic nectarines drizzled with lavender honey, spiked with a grind of pepper. Sweet Heaven...

Monday, August 17, 2009


Last week I was in the throes of a rare bout of patience, with a posole result.

Posole is one of our favorites. It reminds us of the trip we took to Santa Fe for our tenth anniversary. Our experiences on that trip seemed heightened; the art more exuberant, the birds more unique, the food more savory. Maybe everything was magnified by the clear desert air. Or maybe it was the gratitude. Ten years is nine years more than we counted on when we married, at the beginning of my cancer treatment.

Posole is a New Mexico specialty dish and there are as many ways to make it as there are cooks. Hominy is the base, which puts it in the patience-food category, as the dried kernals might require cooking all afternoon to become tender. But the reward is a soup/stew with a rich broth pungent with chilies and spice.

If you can't find hominy locally, you can order it from Santa Fe Cooking School . I used a mix of red, blue and white hominy but it's just as good with a single color.

This recipe serves 6-8.

12 oz. hominy (dried, not canned)
2 1/2 quarts water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tblsp cumin
2 cayenne peppers (or jalapeno peppers or chipotle peppers, or serrano peppers ...whatever you have and like)
1 lb. pork, cut into 1" squares, and the fat cut off
Other choices are beef, buffalo and lamb. The meat should be one of the tougher cuts because it will cook a long time. I wouldn't use pork loin or tenderloin for this.

Put the first five ingredients in a heavy pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and add pork/beef/buffalo/lamb. Let simmer for an hour and check the corn kernals. If the hominy is hard, set timer for another half-hour. Add water if needed. It could take anywhere from one to four hours.

When the hominy has begun to soften, add the following:
Salt & Pepper to taste--I start with a couple of teaspoons salt
1 Tbsp cumin
3 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped

Return to simmer and set timer for 15 minutes. Check hominy and vegetables for tenderness, adding time if needed and adjusting seasonings to taste.

There is something to be said for a food that warms the heart as well as the belly. I hope you enjoy the posole as much as we did.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Writer's City

The unofficial official motto of our state's capitol city is Keep Austin Weird.

It's not emblazoned across the Governor's Mansion or anything, although our Gov does bear resemblance to a Saturday Night Live escapee. Shown on right with his good friend and no-gun-is-too-big compadre Ted Nugent.

Actually, no one lives in the Governor's Mansion since it was firebombed last year. But that's another story.

Austin is full of stories. One morning this week I was driving on Barton Springs Road, coming up to the light at Congress, when a late-model black Honda Civic pulled into the next lane. Bike rack on back with two big locks, no bike. Plastered on the back windshield was a bumper sticker: Reading is Sex

I love this town.

Then I went on to the cafe. Every now and then, I stop in for a breakfast taco. In other states, people eat breakfast sandwiches. Here, tacos. Anything goes--although I draw the line at brains. The cafe I go to now has food names in English.

I took my paper plate to a bar stool adjacent to a group of late-middle-aged men. I've seen them here before. I used to sit a respectful distance away, so as not to intrude on their middle-aged-guy talk, but I couldn't hear the conversation well enough. Now I sit off-center from their table, my back to them and reading material propped in front of me. So they can't see me listen.

The last time I caught them, they were talking about writing. One of them is (evidently) a well-known writer and he was talking about his writing process. Unfortunately, I missed most of the conversation but I did get the part about staying in his chair until the pages were done.

Today, they were on music. Another one is (evidently) a musician and has been in Austin's music scene for many decades. I learned that Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitar wonder, was shy and retiring. And that long-time rocker Delbert McClinton is a character. Actually, anyone who has followed Delbert at all knows that. Denny and I saw him at Gruene Hall last year. It was too much fun and I didn't really dance on the table, no matter what anyone says.

"Well," said the slight man in the faded blue shirt, "Delbert mostly does his own thing. He says he cain't stay with a band no more'n two days."

The barrel-chested guy with the silver beard asked, "Why's that? The drinkin'?"

"Naw, Delbert's been sober for twenty years. Just 'cause you're sober don't mean you ain't crazy."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

If You're Not There When the Miracle Happens, You Won't See It

Wolf Moon
Originally uploaded by Sky Noir
An hour before dawn, I stumbled into the closet and pulled on whatever came first to hand, then stumbled out the front door.

The air was cool. High gauzy clouds draped a dark sky, kissing a mother-of-pearl moon.

I sighed, my sleep-fuddled brain translating the clouds to the moment, No Perseids for me. But before I could lower my gaze, a glowing white streak seared the sky, between me and cloud.

One last silent minute and I smiled my way back to bed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Truck or Train

I stopped by to see a loved one this week. About nine months ago, advanced Lyme disease overcame her immune system. She's had no pain-free moments since and sometimes wonders if her arms and legs now belong to someone else, as she can't always count on them to do what she commands.

She's getting help, mainstream and alternative, every kind there is. The mainstream treatment is akin to chemotherapy--with side effects that are debilitating, painful, and dangerous. A person wouldn't risk it unless she felt like death from the disease.

When I go to see her, I don't ask "Hi, how are you?" For someone whose future is limited to making it through this day, this morning, this hour, this minute, that question is too hard. Instead, I say, "I hope this is a good day for you."

She's evolved a shorthand answer, either "Truck" or "Train". The good days are "Truck". On those days her legs will support her body and she'll have energy to move. On the other days, her partner or her mother will hold her coffee to her lips and support her weight when she tries to rise.

The day I stopped by, the pain was bearable. She'd been able to get up and even go for a short bike and hot tub time. When I hoped for her good day, her face split in a grin and she said "Truck". We all smiled.

When your choice is between being hit by a truck or hit by a train, "Truck" is a good day. And a badge of courage.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Whose House Is It Anyway

Several months ago, Denny pulled the cover back from the propane grill one evening and yelled for me to come. There, under the dark green cover, was a beautifully crafted nest tucked in the front cubby, the cubby meant for holding sauces and what-not. Our what-not isn't appealing--mostly ashes and dust.

The nest was woven from strands of bark and mulch with sturdy brown paper and bits of plastic twine. The little center cup would make a soft place for babies, we thought. But how did a bird get under the floor-length canvas cover? And what kind of bird made a nest like that?

After considerable family discussion, the nest was removed and placed nearby in the garden. An active propane grill isn't a good place for raising babies.

Two days later when the cover was pulled back, another nest had taken its place.

The family discussion intensified. How could we in good conscience remove a second nest in spring, when birds are raising young?

Black-crested titmouse? We'd seen one stealing coconut fibers from my hanging basket. Looked a lot like this stuff.

Last year a titmouse raised a family in a neighbor's smoker barrel. We watched one day as the parent flew to the barrel with bugs in beak and dove down the chimney to a peep chorus. The barrel had good acoustics. I've wondered since if the little titmice grew up with higher self-esteem for having amplified cries.

I argued for a titmouse nest and deactivation of the grill. Denny thought otherwise. Then one day he lifted the cover and a cute little field mouse scurried out. Not a rat, a small furry brown mouse. Something a child might want as a pet.

Denny removed five nests before the mouse quit building them. The cubby has held only dust and ashes since. Then, a few days ago, when Denny removed the cover...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Comment Deficit

When my friends quit commenting on my blog posts, I thought everyone had gone on vacation. There are some European countries where the entire population leaves for the month of August.

Until my mother told me it was impossible to work the comment section. 'Maybe it's just her', I thought. Then my techie nephew and savy husband told me they couldn't do it either.

So the problem was blogspot or me. I'm the more likely I've adjusted the settings. You can put in your two cents now, I hope. Try it and see.

PS Sunday morning, Kathleen Waffle Queen moment, unrelated to anything but fun. Note the tiara.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Along the Road

It's been 38 years since I picked up a hitchhiker. The last one told me not to do it again.

Heat shimmered off the farm-to-market road Saturday. I had just enough time to get to the CSA drop site within the allotted pickup time, when I came up on a big red SUV sitting on the side of the road, crammed full of bicycles.

The vehicles that are occasionally stranded along this stretch are usually old and tired. What was wrong with such a shiny truck? How long had it been there? Would the bikes still be there when the people came back?

It wasn't until I'd passed that I saw three young black men in t-shirts and baggy red athletic shorts walking down the road, away from the SUV. They weren't far ahead, must have just left it.

I wanted to stop. They looked like athletes. Short hair, no visible tattoos. The one in front walked with his eyes fixed on the ground, his shoulders slumping. The other two walked side by side, a few feet behind him. I slowed down and watched the rear view mirror. No one had a water bottle. And they were miles from anywhere.

It hurt to drive by. But as a silver-haired woman, I know better than to pick up three teen-aged strangers.

Two miles up the road, I turned around; couldn't take the weight in my chest. I didn't know what I'd do--give them a ride? Call for help? Go buy water and bring it back? But I couldn't leave them on the side of the road without help. Some years back, one of my friends suffered a heat-stroke. It's not hard to dehydrate in triple digit temperatures--possibly only in the time it would take three teenagers to walk to the nearest convenience store.

They were still walking as I pulled off on the opposite side of the road. A part of my brain registered as odd that they weren't any further from the SUV than they'd been when I first saw them, but I was more consumed by what I could/should do. I was comforted to see the lead walker talking on a cell phone as he trudged. Maybe I wouldn't have to do anything.

I rolled down the window, "Hey Guys, are you all right?"

They all looked over at me. No one looked relieved. The lead walker answered, "Yes, ma'am."

The answer didn't make sense, in light of their circumstances, but it was a proper Southern, Sunday-school-manners answer. Maybe it would be all right if I gave them a ride to town.

It finally clicked that the truck was ever-so-slowly creeping along behind the boys. The driver's side window was down and a clean-cut older man looked out at me. He had on a red shirt that matched the boys' shorts. He nodded assent, the young men were all right, and flashed a megawatt smile, with an enthusiastic thumb's up.

The boys were able to call for help and they weren't alone. I turned around. The man smiled again and threw another vigorous thumb's up as I passed.

The truck and the boys were gone when I drove back from town. Where they were going, why the boys were walking while the man drove, and what happened after I turned around, remain a mystery.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Serendipity 8-5-09

Like a desert ship caught in a rocky sea.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Click the picture to see it in greater clarity.

Monday, August 3, 2009

There's Always Tomorrow

I wanted to grow tomatoes, Sweet 100's like Lela's and my mother's. Little round mouthfuls of succulent acidic heaven.

Denny thinks we should buy tomatoes. He thinks tomato plants tend toward unsightly, particularly if the plant has to be jailed from deer by a wire fence in the middle of the garden.

More so if that fence is in front of the waterfall he built by hand for my birthday two years ago. A physical embodiment of love, our backyard waterfall is the most wonderful gift I've ever received. Denny had to pickax bedrock to create the subterranean pond that stores the water. Then he hoisted and stacked a thousand pounds of rocks to make the water tumble. And he did it in the roast of summer. Now the falling water soothes and heals us, burbling morning welcome and singing us to sleep at night.

I have friends, even novice gardeners, who are growing the most unbelievable tomatoes, right here in my neighborhood. Last year I tried growing tomatoes in a half-barrel. There were only five or six smallish fruit, but over time they grew plump and happy. Then, the day before the color said perfect picking, a deer took a bite out of each one and left the remains on the ground.

This year, I wanted to plant in the ground, with a fence.

After much family discussion, I planted in the only site we thought had enough sun--the center of the back yard, between the porch and the waterfall. I put in a Sweet 100 seedling and Denny installed the wire fence. Every day on his way to add a gallon to the waterfall, he watered the tomato plant and wondered when he'd get to take the fence down.

The plant survived our daily 100+F temps but bore no luxuriant showers of Christmas-red morsels. Just three medium-sized orbs. It must have been mislabeled at the nursery... The tomatoes lingered modest yellow-orange on the vine until finally the bottom one began to pucker in precursor to bursting, and I had to pick. The fence came down one minute after the tomatoes did.

I made a simple and wonderful fresh-tomato pasta dressing...a single meal.

Am already thinking about where we should build next year's raised bed. Denny doesn't know yet...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dwarf Barbados Cherry (Malphigia glabra)

I'm always looking to bring more wildlife into our lives,  birds, bees and butterflies.

One of my first plantings was Dwarf Barbados Cherry, with which we've ringed the front porch. It's evergreen here most years, is a skipper butterfly host plant, and has sweet flowers in spring and fall which attract hairstreak and blue butterflies.

The flowers develop into multiple crops of red berries each year, which the cardinals, mockingbirds, Bewick's wrens and Eastern Phoebes devour. Our strictly-indoor cats appreciate this last attribute since they monitor birdlife from the kitchen windows overlooking the porch and plantings.

Dwarf Barbados Cherry is a southern plant, native to the West Indies and Central and South America. Some sources say cold hardy in zone 8b, some Zone 9b. It will take cold down to the mid-20's before losing leaves. Makes an airy small shrub to around four feet. And it's adaptable. Sun to part-shade. Drought-tolerant, soil tolerant as long as drainage is good. And, drumroll please...Deer Resistant!

Footnote July 2010:  Our dwarf barbados cherries survived temperatures in the low teens last winter.  The foliage dropped but I pruned them back a third in the spring after danger of frost was over.  Added compost and the plants are flourishing.  

Copyright Kathleen Scott 2009-2010.  Prior written permission required for use of material.