Friday, October 17, 2014


Another thing I prize in my garden, even more than flashy blooms, is a tree with bodacious bark.

Take this native Texas Persimmon tree. It happened to be right in the big middle of where we wanted our garden, so we built around it. It was a tiny scrawny twig of a thing when we first spotted it, but it had some kind of fruit on it, so I couldn't bear to pull it out. Then, last year, I noticed the bark doing this peely-curly thing. How awesome is that?

The previous owners actually planted these Crepe Myrtle trees. Boy, was I ever disappointed that, out of all the beautiful colors their blooms come in, they had to choose boring old white! Until I spotted this, that is...

That's when I remembered the variety called "Natchez" which a landscape architect I used to work for used in many of her designs. I think all Crepe Myrtles have beautiful bark as they age. It gets so shiny and smooth you'd think it had been hand-polished. But only the Natchez gets the big brown Pinto-Pony splotches, which pop so brilliantly amidst of sea of green.

Last but not least are all the Cedar Elm trees we inherited. As if those gorgeous clusters of rose-hued samaras weren't enough, they also have this bark that starts to split and peel as they age, revealing a gorgeous cinnamon-colored under layer.

But wait, there's more! They also develop these tendon-like ridges that start to spiral around the trunk over time.

Yep, a flashy bloom that last's a week or two is OK, but bodacious bark is bed-dah!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Someplace in between a harried working mom having to stress herself to the max trying to put a home-cooked-from-scratch meal on the table, and her resorting to grabbing some form of take-out on the way home, lies the one-pot-wonder. Something made with "real" food, but with very few ingredients other that what you already have in your pantry and fridge; something which may take a little while to cook, but which doesn't keep you tied to the stove the entire time; something which doesn't dirty every pan and utensil you own. I think the new one I tried this week, from Martha Stewart via friend Susan Albert, fills that bill nicely. 

Beer-Braised Sausages with Warm Potato Salad
(serves four)

2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 lb. sweet Italian sausages (I subbed Tecumseh Farms organic Polish uncured chicken sausage)
1 med. yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
12 oz. pale ale beer
1-1/2 lbs. small red potatoes, halved
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 T. red-wine vinegar
2 T. chopped fresh parsley

1. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 1 T. oil over med-high. Add sausages and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 min. Add onion and cook until softened, about 7 min. Add beer, potatoes, and 2 cups water. Season with salt and pepper and press to submerge potatoes in cooking liquid. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to med., and cook until potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes.

2. Transfer sausages to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm. In a large bowl, stir together remaining 1 T. oil, vinegar, and parsley. (I added a squirt of spicy mustard, which goes well with Polish sausage. Probably not a good idea if you use Italian.) With a slotted spoon, transfer potato mixture to dressing (leave cooking liquid in pot) and toss to combine.

3. Return pot to high heat; boil cooking liquid until reduced to 1 cup, about 12 minutes (mine boiled down much faster than that!). Return sausages to pot and cook until heated through, 2 minutes. Place sausages and dressed potatoes on serving platter; drizzle half the sauce over top. Serve sausages and potatoes with remaining sauce on the side.

Happy Fall, y'all!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I've been gardening seriously for almost 20 years now. When you first start out, you are always drawn to the flashy blooms. Over time, however, you come to realize that those rarely last for long. Then you are left with a scrawny, scraggly plant taking up space in your garden for the other 50 weeks of the year. So you start looking for plants that offer more bang for your buck, including multiple seasons of interest. What is even more irresistible to me than beautiful blooms? Outrageous seedpods and samaras!

For years I've been seeing the amazing seedpods of the Chinese Lantern Plant in decorating and gardening magazines, but could never find the plant for sale in any of our nurseries. I assumed that meant they wouldn't grow hereabouts, and finally bought myself these twinkle lights instead.  Soooo, imagine my surprise when I was out walking one day, and discovered this growing wild near the entrance to my neighborhood!

It came back on its own several years in a row but, sadly, I did not see it this year. It must have been removed when they repaired the stonework there. Guess I should have grabbed some seeds while I had the chance, huh?

Another melon-like seedpod I love are the ones that appear on the red yucca bloom stalks.

Beans are seedpods, ya know. Check out these Purple Hyacinth Bean Vines that I plant each year, wherever there is a spot the deer can't reach.

Love their shiny purple pods!

I let them dry out on the vine, then gather them up and pop them open to save these precious little oreo-cookie-seeds for next year!

I have no idea what plant this little booger belongs too -- another I spotted out walking the 'hood -- but is it gorgeous, or what?

These are Castor Bean seedpods, and I live for their appearance in my garden each year.

I planted a single plant down in the Cantina Garden once, about five years ago, yet somehow it has managed to reseed itself every year, each time in a different spot. That is another thing that fascinates me -- the many ways that plants have developed in order to increase their chances of survival. Take samaras for instance, winged seedpods designed for flight! These below are from my Cedar Elm tree.

But these guys here? My absolute favorite in the world -- Butterfly Vine!

Best of all, they're self-preserving! I picked a few of those dried brown ones off the vine last year and set them on my curio shelf, thinking I'd ditch them when they began to decay. Well, they are still up there, looking just as gorgeous as the day I picked them!

Seedpods and samaras -- keeping things ever-interesting in the Cantina Garden!

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Well, Mr. Nate finally has his wedding duds, and he couldn't be happier! He ordered a custom-made suit from the folks at Dandy's, whom we first discovered at the Pecan Street Festival in Austin a couple of years ago.

They now have a brick and mortar "shoppe", where one is offered good whiskey while one shops. Plus they have salespeople with awesome facial hair. Two of Nate's fav-o-rite things!

Let's hope Miss Alexis is just as tickled when her gown comes back from the seamstress -- and that it comes back soon! Three weeks and counting...