Saturday, November 5, 2011


Guess where we're goin' tonight?  I've been hearing about these dances for a while now, and keep saying we're gonna go check them out.  I think tonight is the night.  For one thing, my curiosity is killing me.  Not just about the dances, but about Montesino Ranch and Farm, and all the people involved in the running of it.

You see, I've been thinking about farming and ranching a lot lately, and about who on earth, other than someone who was born to it and who had inherited their own property, would be crazy/brave enough to sink everything they had into buying a farm or ranch these days, knowing what a crapshoot it would be to make a decent living, what with the ever more bizarre vagaries of nature they'd be up against?  I've been thinking about this new breed of young farmer I keep reading and hearing about -- all the young, college-educated people who are chucking the fast-track career paths their parents had mapped out for them, and going off to take unpaid internships on organic farms, to learn the trade "from the ground up", so to speak.

Knowing how my mind works, you probably won't be surprised to learn that it hopped from mulling over this form of mentorship, all the way back to the Renaissance period -- to all the artists who had wealthy patrons of the arts supporting them.  It got me to thinkin' that, maybe, what we need now is some patrons of the art of farming.  What if there were some nice, comfortably off, retired people who owned good, arable pieces of land (not solid rock hillsides like ours) who didn't really need to make a living from this land, but who could really use that agricultural tax exemption, and who would appreciate a steady supply of fresh, organic food, without having to do all the back-breaking work themselves?  And what if you could match them up with some young people who were just dying to live the farming/ranching life, who had learned all they possibly could by interning with experts "in the field", but who just can't figure out a way to get any land of their own?  Could be a match made in heaven, no?

Which brings us back to Montesino and my cat-killing curiosity.  You see, when I first started seeing young David and Melody at the farmers markets around these parts, selling their gorgeous produce and flowers, I couldn't help but wonder how on earth they did it.  They were so young to be doing so well, outshining the older, more experienced farmers, weathering the droughts, the freezes, the pests, and continuing to expand and improve their operation.  Building barns, pavilions and guest houses.  Having other interns working for them.  Hosting events and giving tours.  How on earth did they manage?

Then I discovered that "their farm" was just the front nine acres, on a gently sloping plane of deep soil, of a 172 acre ranch owned by another, older couple, and the light bulb went off.  Perhaps there are some patrons of the art of farming already out there!  But I'm still curious, and want to see it all for myself.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Several properties along our main road have massive old Firethorn, or pyracantha, shrubs growing out by their entries, and come this time each year, they put on a mighty fine show.

One of those shrubs came with our first house in Houston, and Dear Hubby just hated that sucker to pieces.  To pieces, I say!  The problem was, it had been espaliered on the side of our house, just a foot or two from our driveway, so he had to trim on it constantly, to keep it from scratching our cars each time we drove by.  They don't call it "firethorn" fer nothin'.  It left him a bloody mess every time he went near it.  However, the first time he saw these Hill Country specimens in all their blazing glory, and realized how magnificent they could be if given plenty of space and just left alone to do their thing, he had a sudden change of heart.

I think he went right out that very same weekend and bought a couple of small ones to plant on either side of our driveway entry.  Unfortunately, we were still just coming here every other weekend back then, and either the deer, the choking weeds, a lack of consistent moisture, or possibly a combination of all three, did them in before they had a chance to take off.  Each time I drive past that one pictured above, I find myself thinking maybe we need to give it another try.
Maybe this time, though, we should plant them further up the driveway, near our fire pit.  It would still be clearly visible to passersby, but at least our hoses could reach it there.

Hmmm...better yet...maybe we should just plant the dang thing IN our fire pit, since, thanks to our incessant heat, drought, and burn bans, I can count on one hand the number of times we've actually been able to light a fire in the silly thing over the past five years.  That way, each fall we could make our S'mores indoors, then just bring them out to the fire pit, gather 'round it, and "Ooh!" and "Aah!" over the berries!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


It pains me to say this, but I will never be a great cook.  I just don't have the palate for it.  Unlike my favorite chefs and food writers pictured above -- people like Ruth Reichl, M.F.K. Fisher, Judith Jones, and most especially, Alice Waters -- I cannot fully appreciate the subtleties of seasoning, nor can I taste a dish that someone else has prepared, then recreate it at home with the help of my trusty tongue and palate, which have analyzed and identified all the different flavors in the dish for me.  No, just about the only thing my tongue ever says to me is "Needs more salt!"  When it comes to drinking wine, my only criteria is "Well, it didn't curl my toes with its bitter aftertaste, so, two thumbs up!"  With cheeses, I can tell you whether it's too bland or too stinky, but that's about it.  Good thing I'm not French, huh?

On the other hand, if I had been born French, maybe I wouldn't have this problem.   I have always wondered why, when it comes to food, the French are so obsessed with quality, while we Americans are more concerned with quantity.  Reading those books above gave me a pretty good idea as to how our paths diverged, especially that one called The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey Into Terroir, by Amy B. Trubek.  It wasn't near as pleasurable a read as the other books pictured (it reads a bit like a doctoral dissertation), but it did have some fascinating information in it.  One thing that really stuck in my head was the author telling of the time she attended a wine expo in France, and ended up sitting in on an "aroma tasting", for children! 

At the time, she said, you would never find such an event in the U.S. because, beyond our notion that kids love sweets, we didn't really consider children capable of discerning taste.  The French, however, believe that when you eat or drink, it needs to be a shared experience that incorporates sensory analysis as well as sensory pleasure.  Since the ability to discern tastes is  more or less a cultural imperative to them, they believe in training from an early age.  In fact, they even host an annual Semaine du Gout, a week of taste -- an initiative that began in 1990 to help French children learn how to discover tastes and flavor.

All this got me to thinkin', and here's what I'm wondering.  Do you suppose it's possible to teach an old tongue new tricks?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Succulents are about my favorite plants these days.  Not only do I love the funk-factor that they add to my garden, I also love their sturdiness, their drought tolerance, and the fact that all these pesky critters mostly leave them alone.  What I don't love is their lack of cold tolerance, and how expensive it is to replace them all from scratch every year, especially if you want some with any size on them.
Sooooo, this year I am determined to carry some of mine through the winter.  I've made it as far as taking a bunch of cuttings and separating some pups from the bases of my larger plants, and I'm letting them air dry for a couple of days, so the wounds can scab over.  But it's the next step that stymies me.  When I googled "how to overwinter succulents" I discovered that there are just about as many opinions on this as there are varieties!  So, I'm hoping you can help me make up my mind what to do next.  Has anyone out there ever managed to do this, with any success?  If so, won't you share the details with us?  Before it dips down below freezing? Pretty Please?!!!

Monday, October 31, 2011


Guess Who?


Eating something I grew from scratch?  Even if it's just one, teeny tiny tomato?  Even if that tiny tomato took me eight months to grow?
This, my friends, makes me so very happy!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Remember Nate, Lexi's beau?  His folks were here visiting this week, and we met up for lunch yesterday at The Leaning Pear.  They get an enthusiastic four thumbs up from John and me.
They do, however, have a dilemma that needs solving.  They have a daughter, son-in-law and two grand babies who live in Minnesota, and who never plan to leave it.  Then they have Nate, who lives in Austin, and never plans to leave it.  They happen to live in Tennessee, and 'though they like it a lot, what with all the road miles they are clocking up, trying to spend equal time with both kids, and trying to be there for all the important occasions with the grand kids, they think they may have to leave it.

Their solution is to live close-ish to one of the kids, so that there's only one they must travel to see.  Nate's dad says there's no way he's ever going to do those Minnesota winters again, so they decided to come give Texas a closer look.  Texas looks mighty appealing this time of year, especially to folks who are sick of snow and ice, and with the enthusiasm they showed when our waiter described the upcoming Barn Dance at Montesino Ranch, I'd say they were a perfect match for the Hill Country.  Just to be fair, though, we felt compelled to warn them about our summers, and about our water issues.

But, it got me to thinkin'.  What if one had a permanent residence down here, and somewhere to escape to that's an outdoorsman's paradise in summer...somewhere like, say, a wee little cabin in Minnesota?  Well, I ask you, what could be better than a set-up like that?