26 June 2011

Holy Cow!

It is not often you hear, "I've got to go pick up my cow".  Nicole, Cory, John and I purchased 1/8th of a cow in May and it was butchered this week.  Nicole picked it up this morning and we had a cow pool party where I collected my 1/4 of the 1/8th of our cow.  To put 1/8 of a cow in perspective, it is about 85 lbs of meat before the butcher and about 60 pounds after.  It fits into a large soccer mom cooler, but the lid won't shut.  We got a variety of cuts and a lot of ground beef.  We estimate that we paid $3.65/pound for our bounty.  I am especialy going to enjoy trying to find a receipt that will make beef liver taste delicious.  I have a particular vivid childhood memory where I told my mother that the chicken and dumplin's had gone bad because I had accidently gotten the chicken liver, a delicacy reserved for my grandmother Pearl.  In its pre-packaged form, my portion of our cow looks like this.

I don't think I have to question where the beef is
In other" return to retro practices", my garden is battling aphids and General Whitney is not winning that war.  A new strategy is required, but in this picture the battle looks quiet.  I made my first batch of blackberry jam.  It is my favorite of the jams.  Nicole picked the blackberries for me and they were the largest ones I have ever seen.  The jam does not disappoint either.  I'm hopeful for greenbeans soon.  I've got a lot of jars to fill.
Do you see that little yellow tomato? It is a pear cherry tomato.

The aphid war zone

The camera on my phone makes these jam jars look almost angelic.  Let's hope they don't float up to heaven too soon.
My Saturday was completed by my favorite dinner.  I don't quite cook it like Mama does, but I didn't do too bad with fried zucchini, mac and cheese (should have been velvetta) and soup beans with corn bread.  Charlie was my dinner companion and he brought a fabulous bottle of wine for the meal that I made him not open.  We'll share that some other time.  This really is more of a Miller Lite meal and the Blue Moon he also brought complimented the simplity of the meal.  After dinner we walked Liddy around the neighborhood and sat on the porch and watched the neighbors.  Simple summer things are why this is one of the best times of year.

20 June 2011

T minus for Texas

Since I was about 5 years old Texas has always had a special place in my heart.  My barbies were either from Texas or California and the first show I had the privilege of staying up late for (apparently late bed times are a privilege) was Dallas.  I've traversed Texas twice in my Honda Civic (once with a TV in the back seat).  My sister and I drove so long that everything became funny--tumbleweed, railroads, thunderstorms.  Crossing the Rio Grande was not quite as grand as the movies, but we did love pointing out Mexico just to our left. 

Last week, I went to Texas for Chad and Stacy's wedding in Fredricksburg which is in the hill country just outside Austin and San Antonio.  I opted to make this a mini-vacation and stopped into see my friend Sabrina in Houston. I met Sabrina in Cairo.  She was another GSE exchange member, but from the Houston Area.  Sabrina has one of those "what do you want to be when you grow up" type jobs where she works with astronauts at NASA's Johnson Space Center.  Her division trains astronauts on their missions outside of the aircraft or international space station.  Thursday, I got a VIP tour of Mission Control and the aquatic training facility.  It was cool to go to places that people don't normally get to access. 
The original mission control

Mission Contol for the International Space Station

Mission Control for the Shuttle launches

Sabrina at her training pool.

I think as Americans we forget how much our country has gained from a strong science presence and I hate to see that we are diverging away from this strategy. If we are asking our children to be the next great minds, where are they going to aspire to go if we keep continuing to cut funding towards cutting edge science?  I assume they will all head to China.

The NASA theme continued into the evening. After grabbing a tea at the Turkish Restaurant, we went to see the premier of the The Great American Moon Rock Caper .  I've linked the trailer.  The movie was an interesting subject matter as it was based on a real life event where some NASA interns stole some moon rocks and tried to sell them on Ebay.  They were caught.  The film sets the caper in today's time and has some funny lines.  The best actor is actually also the director and producer, Travis Ammons, but it is very hard to get passed the over acting of the other characters and the pimp music in the back ground.  The best song was in the opening credits and it slid downhill from there into a kind of 1970's soft-core porno music from that point forward.  Perhaps it will be a cult classic, but I would need to be paid to see the show twice.  They had DVD's for sale and I quickly passed.  The evening ended at Fusion Taco.  Food trucks are all the rave and if you are in the Houston area I would recommend checking this one out.

My time with Sabrina was well spent and she graciously took me to Hobby between her shifts at work (totally talking to astronauts--I said it right--SPACE).  Sabrina can make your whole day brighten and always treats you like you are the only one in the room.  I wish I saw more of her.

Next stop was Austin, but really only for the airport and the Sonic because those tatter tots are addictive.  One of Stacy's friends from grade school picked me up from the airport.  You learn a lot about a person when you just start with their name, Ashley, and spend an hour and a half in the Texas countryside.  In addition to meeting a lovely and caring individual, we went through Johnson City, TX and Ashley endured my Tennessee stories.

 All of the bridal party and the families of the bride and groom stayed at the Hoffman Haus. In case you are ever there, I stayed in the Indian Paintbrush Room that Stacy had picked out and loved. it, especially the breakfast delivered in the picnic basket and the fun porch. This was an absolute beautiful location for a wedding and it will be a while before I stop gushing about how amazing every thing was.  Below are some photos of the wedding and venue.
Stacy and Chad with Chad's brother's and sisters

The ceremony location

Extra fans for a not-as-hot-as-I-thought Texas evening

Dinner location

Chad and I
On Saturday before the wedding I got an opportunity to tool around downtown Fredricksburg and below are a few snap shots.  Bonus for me was that there is no open container laws in Fredricksburg so shopping with my frozen Bellini only added to my experience.  According to my wine server, Texas hill country is the second most visited wine Appalachia in the US for wine below Napa and Sonoma.  Perhaps at the time I didn't realize that it made them actually third. 

Needless to say, I stayed up pasted my bed time every night but had a blast.  Oh the dancing!! Too bad there are no pictures of that.  It was wonderful to see Chad's family again and to be welcomed by Stacy's family and friends.

I also got a few extra shots of Texas on my drive back to Austin.  Next trip I spend more time in Austin.

The Johnson settlement

Johnson City, TX, Home of Lyndon B. Johnson

Bull at a sculpture garden outside of Johnson City, TX

Stacy and Chad's wedding concluded my wedding season for 2011 and it was definitely worth the trip to Texas. I hope they both enjoy a long and happy life together and I can't wait to plan another trip to Houston to see them.

08 June 2011

Favorite Time of Year

May through July are my favorite times of the year.  Most people prefer the coolness of a spring morning or the way the smell of the fallen leaves add crisps notes to Autumn.  Not me.  Give me rising humidity levels, evening thunder storms and the hopes of a garden harvest.  Maybe it is a reminent of my childhood excitement about summer--school being out, pool/beach time and my birthday.  I am still surprised how hopeful I get at the onset of my garden.  Will this year be better than last?  Will mom teach me something I didn't know before? Did I learn anything since last year about creating boundaries with my natural neighbors (bugs, birds, or squirrels)? When will the first tomato makes it's appearance and from what plant will it be?  What can I learn to "put up" this year?
The professional planner in me is amused by the recent rhetoric and new trends associated with the things I do because my grandparents did them and because I don't want these traditions to die.  My Papa would have laughed me to the end of the driveway if he heard urbanists described his lifesyle. To his generation, these things just made common sense and I don't know when we as a society started going away from it.  Perhaps it was the rise of the modern day subdivision and the deed restrictions against common sense activities like gardening, yard animal ownership(seriously I am no where near owning goats or chickens) and hanging your laudry out to dry on the line.  I offer the following examples:

Trend One: I am an urban agricutrualist.  I have a 5x5 garden plot on the duplex lot I rent.  I also put lettuce and herbs in pots on my porch. Essentially, if you grow anything edible in the city, join me as an urban agriculturalist.  Maybe we'll get our own club t-shirts.

Trend Two: I am an environmentalist for having a garden.  By growing my own vegetables, I am wasting less energy to go to the store to buy vegetables and using less pesticides which are also harmful to the environment (let's face it my garden is not organic.  I love Miracle Grow).  I guess environmentalist overlook the fact that I still visit the farmer's market for eggs, fruit, some meats, honey.  Maybe I'll buy carbon offsets (that whole concept makes me giggle).

(photo taken from National Archives)

Despite having three wedding this spring I managed to get a garden started this spring and even before Mother's Day which is the wivestale deadline my sister recites.  I think in Charlotte vegetable plants have to be in the ground before May. Thus far, I have harvested a cucumber and killed the cilantro (seems par for the course. Cilantro is my Achilles heal. Maybe this year's cilantro sacrafice will look favorable on the garden gods. For more see my cilantro post from last year) RIP Cilantro 2011.

Strawberries have plumped their way into my heart and jam jars.  We've had one bad week for the berries when it rained for five days straight, but even then they are still good for jamin' and freezin'  In the pantry I have jars of strawberry preserves, strawberry jam and strawberry jam with fresh ground pepper (a new variety for my shelf and one I am enjoying as a sweet end to a savory breakfast). Canning brings me to Trend Three.

Trend Three: Preserving food yourself is better for you and fun. Preserving food reminds me of the story of Aesop's The Ant and the Grasshopper. I have often turned down playtime at the pool so I can make a round of blackberry jam. Sure, canning is fun to me, but it is a delayed satisfaction. Preserving is work upfront.(Martha makes everything look easy but she has a staff. My grandmother, Pearl, had a staff of children and grandchildren. I have me)  There is the hot kitchen in the middle of a 90 degree heatwave June and I dare anyone to describe puttin' up a load of corn in mid-July as fun when you're battling gnats and flies. The payoff is having a personal gift for someone or memories of great holidays with food traditions like green beans and creamed corn that you can pass on to the next generation of Nintendo players.

I'll let you know if my hopes rise or sink.  Right now, the summer joy rests on 20+ plants, a supply of city water and Miracle Grow.  

While you wait, enjoy the recipe below. I got from my friend Cory (who got it from Savor Cafe) Mom and I had one using some old gin I got from my uncle's house.

Strawberry Basil Martini
7-8 strawberries
7-9 basil leaves (medium to large leaves)
1/3 cup simple sugar
3 parts gin

Muddle strawberries and mint. (I just threw them into a blender) Combine all ingredients into a shaker and give it a good mixing.  Pour into desired glass.  The recipe should make two martinis because you should always share.