Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Of all the plants in my life, this one is my favorite.  It's my Christmas cactus and I thought it appropriate to post a few photograhs of it in its full glory on Christmas Day.  Not only is it a beautiful plant, but it carries a wonderful story.

My beloved grandfather died on December 13, 1984.  He always had a great vegetable garden, small but very productive.  I remember as a kid going to his garden with him to "pluck tomatoes and cukes."  My mother says I get my green thumb from him and I believe her. 

Throughout my entire childhood I remember Pepere (French for grandfather) had this big beautiful plant that would bloom pink flowers around Christmastime every year.  I always wondered how that happened since it never bloomed any other time of year.

When he died my mother inherited his Christmas cactus and when I left home in 1979, I took a few clippings of the plant with me.  I planted and nurtured them.  The cactus grew beautifully and survived many moves throughout the next 30 years.  This plant you see here today is from those initial clippings of my Pepere's Christmas cactus. 

With the exception of the first year it bloomed (which happened to be on my birthday in February the year after my grandfather died), this beautiful cactus has bloomed every Christmas without fail.  Every season when I see the buds beginning to form and know that it will bloom again this year, I silently thank my grandfather.  Merry Christmas to you too, Pepere.

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.  May you be surrounded by loved ones and happy times on this Blessed of Days.

Monday, December 21, 2009


I think you guys know by now that I love mornings...even cold winter ones.  Today I was reminded why.  This is what greeted me when I looked out the windows and over the hillside:

How can you not have a wonderful day when it begins like this?  My best to you all for a blessed day.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gold Beets you already know I love beets and that includes gold beets (I guess you could call them orange beets as well because they really are orange).  Anyway, gold beets are just as good as red beets but they have a milder flavor.  Since gold beets are sometimes hard to find in the markets, I decided to grow my own this fall.   

I harvested my first crop of gold beets a few days ago and they are beautiful! 

My favorite way to cook them is very simple: 

* remove the tops (save the greens...more on these later)
* scrub the beets very well.  The skins are so thin you don't need to peel them.  A good scrub is sufficient.
* place beets in a heavy duty aluminum foil pouch
* drizzle with extra virgin olive oil
* tightly close pouch and roast at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes to one hour
* remove from foil pouch and let cool slightly
* slice thin, sprinkle with good kosher salt or even better, fleur de sel, and serve

Although I wasn't born and raised in Texas, Texas is home and I love living here.  But there are many Texas and Southern foods that I'm not familiar with because I wasn't brought up with them.  Beet greens is one of those foods. 

Since I used to think beets came out of a can, trying to figure out what to do with the beautiful beet greens was a real challenge for me.  So I did what I always do when confronted with a cooking challenge...go online!  I visited (one of my favorite cooking websites) and was amazed at the number of great recipes for cooking beet greens.  I tried the following recipe and it turned out great! 

* wash and spin dry the beet greens
* stem them and coarsely chop
* quantities below are determined by the quantity of beet greens you have
    - butter
    - extra virgin olive oil
    - shallots, thinly sliced
    - sherry vinegar
* Melt butter and olive oil in skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots; stir till tender and beginning to brown, about 1-2 minutes.  Add beet greens, toss until leaves are tender but still bright green, 2-3 minutes.  Add a splash of sherry vinegar, stir 30 seconds to one minute.  Season to taste with salt and fresly ground black pepper and serve.

Sauteed beet greens has become one of my new favorite foods! 

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

First Hard Freeze happened (although a bit early this year)...we had our first hard freeze and hard it was!  Friday night, December 4th, the temperatures dipped to 18 degrees.  That is very unusual for South Texas, even for those of us who live in the hills.  It may be hard to see in this photo, but the hills across the river were covered with a thin white was just beautiful.  

Around 7:30 pm that evening the temperature was 21 degrees and it steadily dropped throughout the night to a low of 18.  Needless to say, I lost some stuff :-(  My tomatoes froze, as did my Italian squash and butternut squash.  These vegetables cannot withstand such a hard freeze. 

Pretty sad, eh?

The beets, carrots, spinach, pak choi and cabbage came through the freeze just fine.  I did cover them with frost blankets and I know that helped.  But these vegetables are pretty frost resistant.   

My Knock Out Roses froze as well, but they are very hardy and "defrosted" just fine. 

I learned a few of things from this hard freeze:
     1.  I should have planted my fall tomatoes earlier than what I did.  At least I might have been able to pick some ripe tomatoes before the frost.
     2.  I should have picked all the green tomatoes from the vines before the freeze.  Even though I'm not from the South and didn't grow up with them, I could have made fried green tomatoes.  I've heard they are delicious.  I also could have tried a recipe for a spicy green tomato jam that is in my canning book.
     3.  I should have picked all the Italian squash, even though they were tiny.  At least I could have had sauteed baby squash one night for dinner :-/ 

All in all, not a fatal event, but a learning experience for sure.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Moving Day

Brrr....another *very* chilly forecast.  Temperatures are predicted to dip well below freezing tonight, tomorrow, Friday and through the weekend.  The weather guys are even predicting snow for Friday...yes, South Texas!  It does happen occasionally but not this early in the season.  It's usually January or February before we get our first chance of snow.  However, with this forecast, I'm not taking any chances.  I worked so hard over this past brutal, hot summer just time keep my plants alive.  I'll be darned if I'm going to lose them now!  It's time to move the patio plants into the greenhouse.

My wonderful husband came home early from work today just to help me move all the tender plants into the greenhouse before dark (he's such a gem).  :-)

I have many plants on the back patio that will not survive a freeze.  One of the intended purposes of my acquiring a greenhouse was to have a place to house my patio plants over the winter.  I have many geraniums, several bouganvilla, a lovely pink and white hibiscus, a prolific lemon tree, an equally productive lime tree and a Texas Everbearing Fig Tree that I just acquired this fall.  I would hate to lose them. 

So hubby and I pulled out my little yellow wagon and began loading up.  It took us about four trips to get everything in the greenhouse...not bad really.  It was pretty cold but not unbearable.  (I grew up in Boston and lived in North Dakota for three years...I know cold.  Today was not cold.)

I feel much better going into this weekend with my precious plants tucked away in their warm cozy home for the winter.

Thank you Harry :-)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Something's Eating My Butternut Squash. . .

. . . and it's not me! :-/  I'm really upset.  I went out to the garden just before we left for a 4-day Thanksgiving holiday and I was crushed.  My butternut squash looks awful.  I had noticed the leaves were beginning to turn brittle and some of the vines were dying. 

Well my survey this morning confirmed my fears...I believe the squash vine borers got to it.  This has never happened to me before.  Last year the Southern Corn Rootworm really hurt my Brussels sprouts but I was able to eradicate them and although I lost one plant, the rest of the sprouts did fine.  No such luck with the B/N squash. 

And I'm pretty sure I know the problem.  It's the soil.  It always comes back to the soil.  I planted the B/N squash in one of my new beds and violating one of my own rules, I didn't add compost, mulch or augment the soil in any way.  Fatal error.  I assumed (mistake #1) that since the soil was new and according to my landscape guy, "the best garden soil there is" (mistake #2 in believing him), that I didn't need to add any compost.  I was wrong.  Here is a sampling of the two different soils...what do you think? 

Can you see the difference?  The soil on the left is hard, clayey and way too tight; the soil on the right (from one of my other beds) is soft, loose, nice & dark and full of organic matter.  There it's all in the soil. 

So I'm disappointed and very annoyed at myself for not following my instinct and adding compost to the new beds.  I was very anxious to use the new bed and planted without doing the necessary initial work.  I just hope I can salvage a few of the squash that are on the vines now.  A few of them are pretty big and I hope they ripen completely before I pull those plants. 

Sigh...Lesson learned.  Unfortunately, I see a huge garden maintenance problem ahead of me in the spring.  I'll have to remove most of the soil in that bed (and the other new bed) and add a lot of compost in order to make it a viable garden bed.  But that can wait till early spring.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Garden Maintenance Project. . .Done!

I can't believe I'm finally finished!  What an enormous amount of work this project has been.  But I must say, it's been worth garden looks great!  All nice and soft to walk on and the best part---no...more...sticker...burrs!

The garden enclosure is about 450 square feet so it's a pretty big area.  Now granted, there are six beds that cover a good bit of the surface area; but still, I bet I hauled 75 wheelbarrels full of kidding.  Here is what the cedar bark mulch piles looked like before...

...and after

Truthfully, I really didn't mind the work.  I love being outside and the weather cooperated with me while I worked on this project.  For the most part, it was sunny but relatively cool.  The mulch piles are under the canopy of two beautiful live oak trees so I had shade while I worked.  Many of the songbirds that populate this area don't migrate and they kept me company with their constant chatter throughout the morning.  I heard the hawks down by the river and I was even lucky enough to be visited by a Black Phoebe, a member of the Tyrannidae family (a flycatcher).   I've seen her before and she is lovely.  Unfortunately, my camera is not very powerful with zoom and I didn't get a very good photo, but hopefully you can see her. 

I'm glad this project is done and I feel very good about the work I did.  But let's just say I'm OK with waiting another two years before I have to do this again!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Look at these beauties I picked tonight!   

I have had this Meyer lemon tree in a big pot on my back patio for about three years and it produces lemons like crazy.  It takes a long time from blossom to ripe fruit, but when the lemons are ready to pick, the fruit is juicy, seedless and delicious.  Each lemon gives me about three to four tablespoons of juice, usually enough to make a wonderful lemon vinaigrette.  I feed my lemon tree every three months with Miracle Gro Shake & Feed Citrus, Avacado & Mango Plant Food. 

Tonight I used the juice from the biggest lemon and some frozen, roasted red peppers I had in the freezer. . .

. . .to make this fabulous Chickpea Barley Salad with Spiced Cumin Dressing.  This recipe is courtesy of my daughter-in-law, Katie, who writes the fabulous blog:

Thanks Katie...the salad is wonderful!

1/2 cup barley, rinsed, cooked and cooled
2 large red peppers, roasted and skinned
3 cups cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained (2 cans)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Cut the peppers into 1/2 inch wide strips and put them in a large bowl with the barley, chickpeas, parsley and capers.

In a smaller bowl or small glass jar, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, cumin, cayenne pepper and oil.  Pour over the chickpea mixture and stir to combine. 

Season wtih S&P to taste.

Buon appetito!

Another Chilly Night

Brrr...the temperature in my garden got down to 29 degress overnight!  That's the coldest it's been this fall.  I left all the vegetables covered from the previous night and upon inspection this morning, they all came through fairly well.  Although I did loose some tomato blossoms.  The blossoms at the top of the plants, the ones touching the frost blankets, did not fair so well.  I lost some of those. 

But there are still plenty of tomatoes and blooms on the vines...hopefully, I'll get to harvest some of these before the inevitable frost takes them out completely.

The lantana by the pool on top of the hill got completely frozen.  But they'll come back; if not this winter, then in the spring for sure.  Lantana is pretty hardy.

Even my cosmos did not escape the frost :-(  This patch on the top of the hill froze completely. 

But Texas wildflowers are pretty tough.  It will reseed itself and come back in full glory next spring.

All in all, my Texas hill country garden came through the first frost pretty much unscathed.