Here in Texas, spring is turning into summer. This year -2013- we have actually had a spring, which is a very big deal if you live in Texas. Most years we go from a lovely spring day in, oh, late April, to 95° the next day, and then nothing but steadily hotter temperatures. It’s kind of the opposite of what Yankees experience with cabin fever, marooned indoors with bitter temperatures outside. We swelter outside, so we stay indoors most of the day. The mornings are the exception. If you get up early enough, that’s the time to be outside. Yesterday I took advantage of our last cool front (cool being an extremely relative term: low’s in the low 70’s), and collected my two new neighbor children to help me pull the last of the winter beets. My new neighbors have well-mannered girls, ages 4 and 6, who are not overly fond of vegetables, according to their mom. They’ve never tried beets. I was hoping to influence them toward beet happiness. I explained the basic principle of loosening a beet from the soil, some gentle circular motion before the tug, and then I let them go. The older girl got right into it, pulling the largest beet from the bed almost as soon as she started. The younger was a bit more reserved, and danced around the edges of the bed before she jumped in… literally. More beets got stomped than pulled, but in the end we managed to bring them all up. Pill bugs proved to be a major attraction for both of them, but at least that distraction allowed me to sort the beets into keepers and losers. Then we twisted the greens off the top so we could wash the beets in a 5-gallong bucket, taking turns – of course – with who got to hold the hose for each washing. I had almost forgotten how democratic you have to be with kids, allowing every one an equal turn. And don’t think they don’t keep track. Wrong! Beets were pulled, washed, sorted and bagged. Mom got two bags of beets — one from each daughter, of course. The girls were looking forward to trying beets at dinner… don’t know yet if they followed through. But late beets have a strong, bitter edge. So after steaming and skinning the beets, I cut them in smaller pieces and sautéed them in a sauce pan. And in that sauce pan was a good chunk of butter, in which I had simmered about a tablespoon of fresh, chopped thyme, then added about 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey, enough to cover the bitter edge on the beets. Cooked the beets for maybe 10 minutes in the butter/honey/thyme mixture and served it to very enthusiastic reviews. That’s one way to take the sting out of strong beets.
Here in Texas.
Mady Kaye 6/2/13
Here in Texas, it’s a perfect late winter day. Temperatures of 65° with clear skies, low humidity and a brisk north wind. Eat your hearts out, Yankees. (But no, soon you’ll be laughing at us. We’ve got six to seven months of heat in our future, and it will be our turn to sing the blues.) The trees are budding out, Cedar Waxwings migrated through town already, and you can smell and taste Spring in the air. Really, today was a perfect day. I jump started my day with fresh groceries from Central Market, then suited up for one of the jewels in Austin’s crown: the Hike & Bike Trail. A first-time visitor to Austin would fall in love with our city after a visit to the Hike & Bike Trail. It winds along Lady Bird Lake (the Colorado River) in downtown Austin. City skylines surround the eye, just beyond the river trail. And every manner of two-legged and four legged critter is out on the trail on a day like today: a mom jogging with her young, long-legged daughter; three-generation families walking together, speaking a language I still haven’t figured out; old people, young people; dogs walking their owners; people walking their dogs. It’s a never-ending parade of a perfect cross-section of our population. Volunteers walked dogs wearing bandanas with “Adopt Me” on them. A troop of boy scouts, aged 10 or so, had an impromptu picnic maybe three feet off the trail. Teenage girls jogged by with profound words: “Like, oh my God, right?” Later I overheard a young woman on her cell phone as she ambled by: “I know who I am and I know what I want.” Good for you, I thought. The bicyclists were ever-present, and I saw my first grown-up three-wheeled bike. Very cool piece of equipment. That was on the pedestrian bridge, high over Lady Bird Lake. Huge populations of coots and ducks filled the lake, accompanied by folks in and on canoes, kayaks, paddle boards and water bicycles. And the sound track: people talking, dogs barking, traffic whizzing by, the Zilker Park choo-choo chugging around its track, and the Mopac train providing the low-end rumble underneath it all. It was a perfect day. Here in Texas.
Mady Kaye 2/16/13
Here in Texas, my non-Austin friends often ask me: “What’s all this about Keep Austin Weird? Explain that.” Those of us who have been in Austin for a good long while, like me, know exactly what that slogan means. But when I try to explain the slogan to outsiders, it’s hard to articulate the many layers of meaning in that phrase. Ah but then today, just today, I had a living example of Keep Austin Weird. It was an ah-ha! experience that brought me back to the 1970’s when Austin was pre-high tech, pre-big city traffic jams, when it was still a sleepy college town and the gotta-love-it state capitol, before it emerged from sleepiness and woke up as a big city.
Today I needed to have my car inspected. A simple enough task on the face of it, but do you know how few places perform car inspections any more? My husband set me straight and directed me to Terry’s Burnet Road Inspection, which you can’t get to any more from Burnet Road because the new neighbor built a fence just about through Terry’s driveway. So I drove down a tiny little street behind Burnet Road called Jim Hogg Avenue to get to Terry’s. And I drove smack dab into a time warp. Along the street on the left is a funky old apartment complex. On the right you pass Keith’s Motors, an upholstery business (run out of an old house) and then Terry’s at the end of the short block. And across the road from Terry’s is 5 Mile Farms, which I investigated while my car was being inspected. (http://www.resolutiongardens.org/farm/) Now how cool is this: it’s an old house, set on a very, very large lot, all of which is under cultivation. Row upon row of spinach, lettuce, chard, beets, broccoli and so forth and just right in the middle of the city and backed up to an apartment complex. It serves as the headquarters for about 12 such sites in the inner city, bringing organic produce and eggs to those lucky enough to be on the distribution list. I got a guided tour by a young man with freshly painted blue fingernails, multiple piercings and a brand new tattoo of a golden apple on his left forearm. He was especially proud of the baby chicks, fluffy brown and white and huddled in a cluster in their warm enclosure. Chickens roamed freely around the compost pile, and he showed me the lovely blue-green eggs they produce. Everyone was really friendly. Everyone had something to say about sustainable agriculture in the heart of the city. And all this was going on in the little sub-culture on Jim Hogg, where state inspection meets organic farming. Speaking of state inspection. I wandered back over to Terry’s when my car was ready. I met Terry and jawed with him awhile, learned he’s been in business for twenty years in Austin. He’s got local musicians’ CDs and thank you notes all over his garage wall, old posters of shows, memorabilia of all kinds. It’s a who’s who of the music scene in Austin, and I felt right at home. As a long-time Austin musician, I know a lot of those folks, and about half of them have been my voice students at one time or another. I’m seriously into food and gardening and cooking, so I had all my passions collide in happy serendipity at the end of Jim Hogg Avenue. I drove away grinning, thinking “only in Austin,” and realized that my experience today is exactly what we’re talking about when we say Keep Austin Weird. Here in Texas.
Mady Kaye 1/30/11
Here in Texas, November is my favorite month. We can finally look forward to three or four months of cooler weather, with no promise of endless heat… like in spring time. Oh sure, we’ll have an occasional 80° day, sometimes even at Christmas. But what we won’t have is 90 days of 100° temperatures – or hotter – that melt your eyeballs and sear your resolve to live in this climate. I do appreciate that Yankees get cabin fever in the winter, I really do. Texans get cabin fever too, only it happens in summer. If you don’t have your outside chores done by 11 a.m., might as well put it off until tomorrow. Just too hot to go out unless it’s to the pool or an air-conditioned palace. Looking for a parking place in the shade is no longer of burning importance in November. Now we can actually park in the sun. We can turn our ovens on again. Take really hot showers. Sit out on the porch. Not get mosquito bit. Occasionally need a jacket. Catch a glimpse of fall foliage (well, by our standards). Plant a winter garden.
Aha! Plant a winter garden! I knew there had to be some advantage of putting up with blistering summers. It’s that we get a second chance at growing vegetables. Our own winter garden has tidy rows of spinach and beet seedlings, the colors just exploding on your eyeballs. (You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the extreme red stem on a beet seedling.) Dill and cilantro are ecstatic to be alive without the heat. The rest of the perennials have joined the growth initiative. And we finally outsmarted the squirrels! My husband designed a frame out of PVC pipe, and then we stretched nylon netting over the beds. Last year the varmints chewed through the netting, so we had to keep mending the holes. This year, the squirrels are really low IQ or just plain lazy. Or maybe it’s that they’re in a complete frenzy of gathering the acorns from our oak trees, which have produced a phenomenal crop. I wouldn’t have figured that drought would produce so many acorns, but that seems to be the case. If it keeps the squirrels out of my garden, that’s just fine with me. Here in Texas.
Mady Kaye 11/7/11
Here in Texas, we finally broke the back of the heat wave. Ninety days of at least 100° temperatures this summer, more than 131 days of over 90° (still counting) and a drought of record. I’ve been washing my car more often than not and hanging whatever I can find on the clothesline, just to tempt the rain gods… but to no avail. Most sane people I know (sane being a relative term) have had the same conversation my husband and I had this summer: where else can we live during the Texas summer months. It brings to mind a song I wrote quite some years back called “So Hot.” It’s my fantasy of being a weather forecaster in Texas during the summer, and what I’d say about the endless heat in the forecast. At the time I wrote it, my tongue was firmly in my cheek. But this summer it all came true, and now my tongue is hanging out and panting. Somewhere in the song is the line: “… ’cause when it’s 105 in Texas and it don’t cool down ’til Christmas, that’s some solid information you can use.” Yep. Reminds me of the old saw about Buffalo having two seasons: winter and the fourth of July. Texas is just the reverse: summer and Christmas day.
“Stickin’ to the facts, I can’t promise any rain,
Though I’d bargain with the devil if I could
Truth is kind of boring, forecasts all the same
So here’s my chance to make it really good:
I’ll tell ’em it’s so hot, the stars are drippin’ from the sky
I’ll tell ’em it’s real hot, my hips are melting down my thighs,
I’ll tell ’em it’s way too hot….
For any fool can tell you that it’s summer…”
– So Hot © 1996 Mady Kaye & Rich Harney
I had never seen tomatoes cook on the vine until this summer.
Oh sure, if you keep your tomatoes into August (that would mean watering twice a day), you’ll see them cook on the vine. But I’m talking about early July, and not just cooking on the vine. Drying out on the vine so we can say, oh yes, we grew sun-dried tomatoes, and went directly from the flowering vine to sun-dried. What a feat! Who needs imported sun-dried tomatoes? We now produce them in Texas.
My perennial herbs fared better, showing some signs of sunburn but retaining their flavor despite the heat. Which is more than I can say for the basils, which turned intensely strong and then finally lost their flavor altogether. They still looked like basil, but tasted more like smoked hiking shoes with overtones of charcoal. The lime basil held out the longest, but even it succumbed to the heat. Ah, but hope springs eternal, and I’ve planted some basil in the fall garden and cut back my perennial herbs for a head start on fall. Now I’m thinking about winter vegetables. It’s a bit early, but with the heat broken, fantasies of home-grown vegetables fill my head. Here in Texas.
Mady Kaye 10/1/11
Listen to “So Hot” from our “Live at Reed’s” CD, #8.