Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A BRILLIANT HOUSING OPTION

You'll never guess where I went yesterday. Again.


Same place, different companions. This time, however, the Muses made sure I forked over the moolah to get into the Matisse exhibit. Worth every penny! The lady with the cast on her leg is Outdoor Woman's friend Helen, who had a bad fall a month ago and has been pretty much housebound ever since. She was so excited to be off on an adventure! Fiber Woman was there as well, but she tends to get lost in her own little world as soon as she enters an art museum, and we were unable to round her up at photo time.


Fortunately, we managed to find her in time for dinner at, you guessed it, Luxury!


I passed up the Mexican Dog this time and went for the Chicken Curry. Excellent!

On the way home we just happened to pass a Trader Joe's, which is why I didn't make it home until almost 10:00 PM. But, my-oh-my, what a day it was!

The highlight of the day?  This:


This is where Helen lives, out on Fischer Store Road, but there's more to this house than meets the eye. If you've been reading this blog for long, you've probably heard me mention cohousing communities more than once. That was my original plan for how we would live once we finally moved to the Hill Country. We did find a group who had actually bought property between Wimberley and San Marcos but, for some reason, their project never got off the ground, nor did I find any others in the area. So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Helen and two other couples had built their own tiny cohousing community!


She and these friends from church -- all living in San Antonio at the time, but all wishing to retire to Wimberley -- bought about five acres and designed this complex of three individual apartments connected by a large central screened in common area, sort of dog-trot style.


You enter through these double screen doors to find lots of comfy chairs, a large shared dining table, and a backyard terrace overlooking a gorgeous view.


On the downside, Helen's apartment happens to be the one at the top of those stairs, which has been a major ordeal since her accident, despite the chair-lift her son installed. On the plus side, she has oodles of help close at hand, whenever it is needed.


I'm thinking, perhaps, it's time to revisit this idea -- just in case there have been any new developments here in the area since last I checked.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

IT'S ABOUT TIME

I say it's time for the publishing industry to create a new book category -- one for Foodie Memoirs. The books are definitely out there, and are some of the most influential books there are, yet I have never seen that section in any library or bookstore. Don't believe me when I speak of their power and influence? Well, think about this. When did you start thinking that Tuscany might be a nice place to visit? When did you start seeing houses and condos popping up everywhere, built to look like Italian villas? When did you start eating Tuscan food in restaurants, and filling your shelves with Tuscan cookbooks? When did you start buying so much olive oil, and spending big bucks to get one with superior flavor? When did mass-produced paintings of Tuscan hillsides become ubiquitous?


I'm guessing it was shortly after this book came out.

And, what did we eat and decorate with and book our vacations abroad around before that time? Why, all things "Country French", n'est pas? And why do you suppose that was? Well, it was because a guy named Peter Mayle wrote a book called A Year in Provence.


I'm tellin' ya, these books are revolutionary! Don't believe me? Well think on this. Think about this whole farm-to-table movement that has swept our country and changed the way we eat, shop, and think. Where do you think that got started? Why, in a little cafe called Chez Panisse in Berkley, California, which was opened by a young woman named Alice Waters.


Why do you suppose she was inspired to open this restaurant and concentrate on using only the freshest, most local ingredients she could find or forage? Well, for some reason, she had decided to take time out from her studies and career plans, to go off and spend "a year in Provence." It changed her life. And ours, too.


Revolutionary, I tell ya.

Eventually the furor over Tuscany began to fade, but my interest in Italian travel never did, thanks to the discovery of a whole slew of foodie memoirs by Marlena de Blasi. No other books have ever made me salivate the way these did.


Her book The Lady in the Palazzo got me curious about the town of Orvieto, in Umbria, which led me to this couple, who launched their travel business by inviting people to "Discover Orvieto", and travel in the footsteps of Marlena de Blasi. Know what's really cool? After a while they started bringing in different artists to conduct workshops in conjunction with these tours, including personal favorites like Jacqueline Neubold, Joanne Sharpe, and Tracy Verdugo. Definitely on my bucket list!

Come to think of it, perhaps they need, not one, but two new genre categories -- one for foodie memoirs, and another for foodie fiction. As it turns out, most of my favorite memoir writers eventually turned to writing fiction, and once a foodie, always a foodie.


After all, was not this delightful little mystery responsible for the most memorable meal in an absolutely epic visit to Marseilles?


A little cafe hidden behind a butcher''s shop.
Beef Cheeks with Foie Gras
If only they made it easier to find these sorts of books. We probably would have journeyed to Montreal and Quebec City long ago, if only we could have found just the right books to read. The Louise Penny mystery series is great but, alas, that poor woman must not give a fig about food!

Fortunately, I hit the jackpot when I googled "books set in Charleston" for our upcoming Mother-Daughter adventure. By the time I finished The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White (about a realtor who sees dead people) I not only had an entire page full of places to eat and things to see and do, I knew exactly what to order at each of them!

Monday, August 18, 2014

COLOR MAD MONDAY: JUST ONE THING

If I could only have one art supply -- well, other than paper, a mechanical pencil, and a permanent black marker -- it would probably be a set of these guys. Especially if I was just getting started and had no experience using watercolors.

 
Caran D'Ache Neocolor II Watersoluble Wax Pastels (not to be confused with the Neocolor I, which is basically just a crayon, and not at all watersoluble). The best thing ever exported by the Swiss. Even better than chocolate.


I started out with the basic set of ten, being a bit horrified to see how much more expensive they were than regular crayons. Yet another instance where being so "frugal" came back to bite me in the butt. For, of course, there is just no comparison.

 
When I first started out, I would draw directly on the page with them (fig.1) because I felt more in control that way. Then I would come back with a wet brush to activate and blend the colors (fig.2). The only problem with that is that you tend to end up with some streaky drawing lines that don't get completely blended. So then I started rubbing a wet brush directly on the crayon to pick up a load of paint, then dropped that onto my page, adding more colors in layers until I was satisfied with the result (fig.3).


When I need a large swath of color, for skies and backgrounds and such, but don't want it to be one solid boring color, I can scribble several different colors on my pallet. I then activate it all with water, letting some parts bleed together and some parts stay true. I wet the space I want to fill with some clean water first, then load my brush up with paint - picking up from different sections of color each time - and let it "wash" over the wet paper.

Fortunately for me, I later discovered that some art supply stores sell the crayons individually, in a huge assortment of colors, and I began picking up one or two more at every opportunity...


now having almost four times as many as I started with.  I've had most of these for several years now and, as you can see, they are nowhere close to being used up. Plus they never "dry up." Sure, I have added several other sets of watercolors to my collection now, and enjoy experimenting with each of them. But if I had to choose just one? Well, my inner child would probably hang onto these for dear life!

Whether we express our creativity through art, sewing, quilting, cooking, gardening, photography, writing, fashion, decorating, woodwork or whatever, we all have our favorite tools and accessories. What's your One Thing?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

SAN ANTONIO: PART II

So, back to haute cuisine adventures in San Antonio. If you recall, I was just about to give you the lowdown on this luxurious new dining venue we discovered just across the riverwalk from the museum of art.


No food trucks for us on this hot, sultry day. Instead, we chose something with a little more heft and permanence.  Shipping containers!


Yep, you heard me. Shipping containers. On the plus side, they are surrounded by huge shady trees, and overlook a waterfront view that can't be beat.


Plus, every table sits under it's own little arbor with fans galore. And, if you happen to be like our young friend Karl, who never goes anywhere without his bocce ball equipment, there's this!


Then, of course, there are the menus.


The containers on the right are where you order your food. Take your time before you make up your mind. I usually love just about anything Mexican, so I jumped on that "Crispy Mexican Dog" without really paying attention to what all was on it. It turned out to be waaaaaaaay too manly (fat-laden) for me, and I could not eat it. My hubby didn't want it either, if that tells you anything.


Fortunately, Hubby's Weeping Rooster dish, full of fresh Thai flavors, was delish, and there was plenty for the both of us. Plus the fries were some of the best we've ever had.


Now, on the other side of the L-shaped arrangement of containers, you have your bar.


That's quite the selection of beers, no? Instead of giving you a table number, you get a table creature. Both Hubby and the dragon recommend the Goose Island Honkers beer.


Wanna know how much my hubby loves me? This much!


When it comes to fries, I only really love the little crispy ones. So, imagine my delight when I glanced up to find that he'd been digging through the basket, setting aside all the very best morsels just for me!


Can I pick 'em, or what?

Friday, August 15, 2014

SPLORIN' SAN ANTONE


We had an early morning business meeting in San Antonio yesterday, which is just an hour away from our place. Actually, we were supposed to have three back-to-back appointments, but two fell through. So, when you finish your business within thirty minutes, after driving all that way, what's a person to do? Well, first you go to the nearest groovy art supply store, which happens to be Herweck's, down on Broadway at Third. Then you go splorin', that's what you do! Since we were so close, we decided to check out the new section of the riverwalk that branches off and takes you over to the old Pearl Brewery complex, which is gradually becoming a bit of a foodie mecca, what with it's yummy restaurants, a farmers' market each weekend, a wonderful cookery supply shop, and if I'm not mistaken, there's even a cooking school there.

So, if you head eight or ten blocks north on Broadway after leaving Herweck's, back towards I-35, you will come to Jones Ave. Turn left there and you will come to this.


Since it was mid-week and there wasn't much traffic, we were able to park right there on the bridge and head down to the riverwalk.


I can't believe how much construction is going on in this area. They're throwing up condos right and left. I guess it would be a pretty good place to live if you wanted to be close to downtown, but away from all the tourists.


Everything in San Antonio is so much more lush than where we live.  Both of us are in the Texas Hill Country, but I guess they are just a little further south and get a little more rain and a little less hard freezing. It's like a tropical paradise compared to Wimberley!


If you aren't in the mood for walking, you can always take one of the water taxis up and down the riverwalk. I think they will take you the full length, both old and new sections.


The main reason we came down to this area was to try out a new lunch spot that Outdoor Woman has been raving about -- the one called Luxury that you see there in the top photo. It's directly across the river from the back of the art museum, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to get all the juicy details!

As we passed the rear of the museum I noticed this sign.


Matisse? I love Matisse! We decided to go check it out. Unfortunately, it was a special traveling exhibit, which would have cost us an extra twenty bucks each, on top of the twenty it cost just to get in, and I'm so chinchy I balked.


I've been regretting it ever since!
 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MARKET PEOPLE

If you love people-watching even half as much as I do, there is no better place to be than a farmers' market.


Finally finishing up the projects from week two of my Farmers' Market "food & art" class...


and feeling kinda sad that week three will be the last.
 

Monday, August 11, 2014

WEEDING OUT THE WIMPY


Texans do not give tours of their gardens in August. You'd have to be bonkers to show them off during their worst decline, right? On the other hand, it is the very best time to see who the real workhorses are, and who just isn't worth their water.


There are a couple of plants that I feel are worth putting in each year -- even though they won't survive our winters -- for they look great from early spring until late fall, and add so much color to the hot summer drabness. But only a couple, for I become less and less willing to start from scratch each spring.  One I have mentioned before is the Magilla Perilla above, which still looks fabulous, even in the dead of summer.


I love that Haight Ashbury hibiscus in the metal pot in the front corner, with its copper and coral mottled leaves. However, if I plant it again, I will have to find a shadier spot. It thrives in morning sun, but goes completely limp if any afternoon sun touches it.


I got fed up with having to replace all my purple ornamental grasses every spring -- even the new variety that was supposedly more cold tolerant than Purple Fountain grass. But boy-oh-boy, am I ever lovin' this zebra grass, especially now that I've underplanted it with these precious little Dahlberg daisies. It comes back bigger and better each year, even after a winter filled with hard freezes.


I adored all my succulents, but I was using them in way too many places, and either had to pot them up and bring them indoors for the winter, or start over from scratch each spring. One day I noticed that this one little coral-edged trailing sedum, which hubby had in one of his pots, disappeared over the winter, but came back in spring and took off like gangbusters! So instead of buying all new succulents for my two concrete urns, I planted a red yucca in each and surrounded them with the trailing sedum. Love it!


Then I remembered another sedum that comes back reliably year after year -- sedum Autumn Joy.


My new plants are just beginning to show signs of their dusky coral fall color, which will look fantastic against my Turks Cap with the little coral blooms.


Perhaps I need to add some of the trailing sedum to that grouping as well.


Hubby gets extreme kudos for finally discovering a couple of deer-resistant plants that are managing to hold their own in the extremely dry shade under our oak tree clusters -- Firecracker Fern and Inland Sea Oats. Their lime green foliage really pops in the shade, and the drooping seed heads on the Inland Sea Oats are about to turn the same dusky coral as the sedums. Another possible pairing?


Hubby's designer pot trio is still looking fabulous. The deer did ravish his purple Sweet Potato Vine, but he just replaced it with some purple basil, which I thought was a brilliant move on his part!

Last, but certainly not least, there's nothing like the amazing Yellow Bells to beat the Texas heat, and add a little cheer to the summer garden.


So, that's what's going on in my hotter 'n hell garden. What's goin' on in yours?