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 :-)