Mulch – I’m still alive to tell the tale…

So yesterday was my annual mulch day.  I usually do that in late April/early May when the oak process – old leaf drop; tassles; pollen – is completed, but I was exceptionally busy with the Legislature this year and the oak process seemed to go very late.  Anyroad, this was the first weekend I could get to it.  Note to self – Never wait this long again!hotashell

This year, it was 70 bags.  Usually, I go to Lowe’s and collect the stuff myself, but somebody kept saying I was too old for that sort of thing, so I had it delivered.  Hopefully I don’t look 49, but this afternoon I feel like 149.  If I’d’ve picked up the mulch myself, I’d probably be dead now.  I didn’t realize what a chore that was.  The Highlander can only hold 24 bags, so that’s three trips where I load the bags on the flat-bed cart; push with all my might to overcome inertia; and pray there’s a straight shot to the cashier.  Then it’s unloading the cart into the car; schlepping them home (looking like a low-rider in the process); unloading them out of the Highlander; then repeat twice.  Of course, the folks at Lowe’s think I’m either a gardening god or a complete freak.  I missed that attention this year.SI Exif

On Friday morning, a huge truck pulled up with a folk lift and quicker than you could say ‘Jack Robinson,’ I had two pallets of mulch in the driveway.  Yesterday morning was unloading the pallets and distributing the bags.  Then the work began.

Here are some photos – mainly as evidence that I do this crazy thing every year.

Here’s the front – before and after:

SI ExifSI ExifSI ExifSI Exif

And the back:

SI Exif

SI Exif

SI Exif

SI Exif

During the day I stopped a couple of times – when I thought I was going to keel over and die – and got some fairly decent photos.  I’ve seen a lot of dragon flies this year.  This one was particularly colourful – orange wings and a crimson abdomen.

SI Exif

My white Rose of Sharon (hibiscus syriacus) is doing very well.

SI Exif

SI Exif

I’ve noticed that the crepe myrtles (lagerstroemia) in Austin seem to be doing exceptionally well this year.  The ones I planted behind the fence started blooming about a week ago.

SI Exif

For some reason, my clematis (ranunculaceae) is blooming again.  That’s always been my biggest complaint about it; there seems to be an exceptionally short blooming season.  It might be getting more light this year than in the past, so perhaps that’s it.

SI Exif

And I noticed that a titmouse has build a nest in the hollow part of this wrought-iron bear – extremely ingenious!

SI Exif

Well, that’s another mulch day for the history books – Oy gewalt…

Gourds and Goat

SI Exif

So this is what we got in our weekly shipment of produce from Farmhouse Delivery.   Mostly recognizable, but I have no idea how I’m going to use that squash.  It looks more like what I decorate the house with in the Fall.  I wonder if it’s shellacable…  One of the purple potatoes is not much bigger than a lima bean.  I’m definitely not peeling that thing.

I believe these are Armenian cucumbers.  We’ve been told to expect a variety of heirloom cucumbers this summer.  Last week it was Suyo Japanese cucumbers; very interesting, those were.  They were doughnut shaped, so a challenge to peel but they were quite good.

You can also order other things from Farmhouse Delivery like meats and cheeses.  This week we ordered a pork shoulder, beef summer sausage, skirt steak, and ground goat meat.  I’ve had cabrito before but never ground goat meat.   (If they’re still on the menu, you must try the cabrito tacos at Mi Tierra in San Antonio – they’re wonderful!).  I know this is a real stretch, but we have a recipe that calls for boar, but we couldn’t find that.  Since this is probably from Boer goats, we figured eh, close enough.   Anywho, we’re going to be using it for Wild Boar (Boer) Pot Stickers courtesy of Renee Studebaker and the Austin American-Statesman.  I’ll report on how they turn out.

Update:  These turned out very nicely.  There was a sweetish “I-can’t-quite-tell-what-that-is” flavor, but I’ll give them a thumbs up.  The goat meat mixture is extremely loose; great for pot stickers.goat dumplings1

Wild Boar Pot Stickers

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 cup chopped scallions, green and white parts

1 tsp. salt

2 lbs. finely ground wild boar

3 Tbsp. thin (light) soy sauce

2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

2 Tbsp. sugar

5 eggs

1 package pot sticker wrappers (62 count)

2-3 cups water (for steaming batches of dumplings)

1 cup water (for sealing dumplings)

Using a wooden spoon and a large bowl, thoroughly mix all ingredients (except the water and the wrappers) into the ground meat. Place about 1 tsp. of filling in the middle of a wrapper. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, moisten the outer edges of the wrapper with water. Fold the wrapper loosely to form a half circle. Cradle the dumpling in one hand while using the other hand to make 3 or 4 small folds in the top half. Then pinch the top and bottom edges together and set the dumplings on a platter, flat side down. D.J. calls this a “sitting dumpling.” If the pleating seems too tricky, simply fold the dumpling into a half circle and pinch the top and bottom edges together, which produces a flatter pot sticker, which D.J. says her mom calls “sleeping dumplings.”

Coat a saute pan with oil and, working in batches, place about 10 pot stickers flat side down in the pan and cook over medium high heat for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the dumpling bottoms are nicely browned. With a tight fitting pan lid in one hand, reduce heat to medium, add 1/2 cup of water to the hot pan, and cover immediately. (Step back a bit and beware of hot splatters as you add the water.) Check the dumplings in 5 minutes; if the pan is dry, add a little more water. Continue cooking a minute or two more or until dumplings are firm, the meat is fully cooked and the water has evaporated. As the water evaporates, the dumpling bottoms will begin to dry out and re-crisp, so be sure to remove pot stickers before they stick or burn. (Rinsing and drying the pan between batches will help reduce sticking problems). Serve pot stickers on a platter with a small bowl of dipping sauce on the side.

Notes: This recipe makes enough filling for 62 pot stickers. For a smaller gathering, cook half the dumplings and freeze the rest. Arrange raw dumplings in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for 2 to 3 hours; then transfer dumplings to a freezer safe bag or box. If using a fattier pork than wild boar, reduce number of eggs to 2 or 3.

Dipping Sauce

1/2 cup thin (light) soy sauce

3 Tbsp. soy paste

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. chopped scallions

1 Tbsp. finely minced fresh garlic

1 fresh hot red chili, seeded and sliced in thin rings (serrano or jalapeno)

2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

1 Tbsp. Sambal chili paste

Combine all ingredients and serve in a small bowl.

— Der Jane Ho. Recipe written by Renee Studebaker, after watching and taking notes as Der Jane made the dumplings.

Garden Update – First of the Year

So yesterday was my first real ‘work day’ of the year in the garden.  I’ve been piddling around here-and-there all year, but yesterday was the first ‘back-breaker’ as it were.  Odd-number years are never good for me because of the Legislature and this year was particularly bad because I was juggling so many bills and hearings.

All-in-all, everything looks good despite the benign neglect as it were.  The grass is reviving the in back.  The front yard is probably a lost cause.  I know I’m going to eventually have to re-sod, but that’s for another day.  (This session, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 198, (Kirk Watson) prohibiting home owner associations in Texas from banning xeriscaping; I might keep that in the back of my mind.)

SI ExifI cleaned out all the beds in advance of next week’s annual mulch laying *sigh*  It looks good after it’s done, but it’s a nightmare to get it out.  That’s a blog entry in-and-of-itself.  The Turk’s Caps (Malvaviscus drummondii ) are doing really well.  They truly are my go-to plantings – they seem to thrive in almost any condition.  There are heaps of them on the Town Lake running trail.  That’s how I stumbled on them; literally.

I found some great portulacas at The Natural Gardner a few weeks ago for my two stone urns.  I’m very happy with those.

SI Exif

The ‘wild meadow’ experiment I tried last year seems to be doing very well, too.  Probably because we didn’t have any significant freezes over the winter.  The blue daze (evolvulus), daisy bushes (euryops), lantanas (verbenaceae), blue potato bush (lycianthes rantonnetii), and plumbago (plumbaginaceae) are all coming on.

SI Exif

I also planted a Black-Eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia).  I love these, but wasn’t able to find one last year.  SI ExifThey’re supposed to be pretty prolific re-seeders, but alas not for me.

I’ve been trying to reign in my penchant for buying garden tchotkes, but I couldn’t resist this chicken planter.  If I can’t SI Exifhave a real chicken coop, this is probably the closest I can get.

Now that I’ve written about it, I’m going to go enjoy it – grilling a couple zucchini pizzas and quaffing a Pink Cadillac Margarita (you MUST make this drink!)

Genealogy and the Moral Dilemma

So I ran across an interesting article last week on Slate George W. Bush’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather was a Slave Trader.  The article traces the genealogical research establishing that this progenitor of the Bush family was, in fact, Thomas ‘Beau’ Walker, a notorious English slave trader during the last quarter of the 18th Century.  Notwithstanding the heinous trade in which he was engaged, one of the more compelling parts of the article, to me, was the way in which Beau Walker died:

Zachary Macaulay’s journal entry for Oct. 24, 1797, is as follows:

“You have heard of the noted Beau Walker, an English slave trader of these parts. He arrived at the Isles Du Los [off present-day Guinea] lately in an American Brig being bound to Cape Mount [in present-day northwest Liberia] for slaves. He had scarce arrived at the last place, when exercising his usual barbarities on his officers & crew, they were provoked to conspire against him.  As he lay on one of the hencoops a seaman came up & struck him on the breast with a handspike, but the blow being ill directed, did not produce its intended effect and Walker springing up wd soon have sacrificed the mutineer to his fury, had not a boy at the helm, pulling a pistol from his breast, shot him dead on the spot. His body was immediately thrown overboard. Thus ended Walker’s career, an end worthy of such a life. The vessel left Cape Mount, and it is supposed has gone for the Brazils or South Seas. There could not possibly have been a more inhuman monster than this Walker. Many a poor seaman has been brought by him to an untimely end.”

Anyroad, one of the other interesting aspects of the Slate article was the ‘declined to comment’ responses from several members of the Bush family when asked about this revelation.  This has been on my mind a lot since I started genealogy research in earnest several years ago.  What can one really say in the 21st Century when slave ownership is found in the family history?

I’m not happy to report that slave ownership in my family was not uncommon, particularly given that we were in Virginia beginning in the 1690s, moving south (the Carolinas) and westward (Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama) during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  I’ve discovered several wills and other probate documents which transferred possessions and people from one family member to others.  Through the probate records of Stewart County, Tennessee for example, I was able to discover a significant amount of information about my fifth-great grandfather, Mackey McNatt, and his children through the ‘division of Negroes’ belonging to his estate.  Indeed, I was finally able to identify who my fourth great grandmother actually was when I found a deed-of-gift record for Dinah McNatt to her “beloved son,” Enoch; that ‘gift’ being a slave.

The irony of this discovery is not lost on me considering that for many, many African-Americans, there is simply little-to-no documentary evidence to be had which traces lost ancestors before the 1850s, 60s, and 70s.  Slaves were chattel to be divided with the estate when the time came.  Generally just first names, this is typical of the scant records available to researchers today:

“In 1850, the elderly master of a South Carolina estate took pen in hand and painstakingly divided up his possessions. Among the spinning wheels, scythes, tablecloths and cattle that he bequeathed to his far-flung heirs was a 6-year-old slave girl valued soon afterward at $475.  In his will, she is described simply as the “negro girl Melvinia.” After his death, she was torn away from the people and places she knew and shipped to Georgia. While she was still a teenager, a white man would father her first-born son under circumstances lost in the passage of time.”

The excerpt above is from a 7 October 2009 article in the New York Times by Rachel L. Swarns and Jodi Kantor – In First Lady’s Roots, a Complex Path From Slavery, a fascinating genealogy of Michelle Obamasugar in the bloodIn addition to this article about Mrs. Obama’s family history, I recommend Sugar in the Blood:  A Family’s Story of Slavery and Empire, by Andrea Stuart.  A fantastic book which traces slavery and slave families on a sugar plantation in Barbados.  (Terry Gross did a great “Fresh Air” interview with Ms. Stuart earlier this year – it’s really worth a listen.)  Much like Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, this story traces a family where one side owned the other as property.

Like so much we discover when we delve into our family roots, slave ownership is not something one relishes or wishes to acknowledge, but it is one of those unpleasant realities we risk uncovering.

An Old Toilet Seat

So, this was our week for the quarterly bulk trash collection.  Those things are always fascinating for various reasons.  First off, I’ve never understood why the City of Austin tries to keep them so secret, e.g. not publishing them on the city’s website somewhere.  I think I remember reading one time that they were trying to prevent ‘scavengers’ from coming around to take the stuff.  But quite honestly, that doesn’t make a lick of sense.  If somebody wants it, can get some use out of it, and – most importantly – is taking it my off hands, who cares?

And speaking of those ‘scavengers,’ I just love that little army of pickup trucks with flatbed trailers that combs its way through the neighborhood on the Sunday when the collection week starts.  What exactly do they do with the stuff they collect?  Perhaps it makes its way to some garage sale somewhere.  Again, props to them for making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear as far as I’m concerned.

Obelisk With Scary Chicken Finial

Obelisk With Scary Chicken Finial

It’s also really interesting to see the neighbor’s detritus heaped up on the front lawn.  It’s almost like an archeological dig, minus the rooting around.  Sometimes, it’s pretty easy to see why something’s made it to the rubbish tip.  I mean, what self-respecting 10-year-old girl wants to be seen in last year’s Disney Princesses wading pool?  And certainly no need to explain the salmon-and-turquoise palm frond settee sitting by the curb.  Nobody wants their house to look like the set of ‘The Golden Girls.’  But some cast offs are just inexplicable.  For example, one of my neighbors actually discarded this phenomenal lawn ornament.  Can you imagine?!?  I sure as heck wasn’t going to let this get snatched up!  Luckily, there was no moon the night I liberated it from the trash pile, so probably wasn’t seen. 

And now back to the old toilet seat… A couple of months ago, we replaced the toilet seat in the master bathroom.  Not sure what came over us – I guess some mad money in ourold toilet seat pockets and a caprice, but there you are.  So now we’ve got this old toilet seat.  I generally like to stock up on replacements of important items, you know, in case something breaks, but a redundant toilet seat seems a bit like overkill, so we just decided to trash it.  Problem is, it doesn’t fit in the trash can.  Now my dilemma…do I put the old toilet seat out with the rest of the bulk trash?  I’m generally pretty picky about what I put out.   I’d like the neighbors to think we have classy trash.  I mean, who doesn’t, right?  Also lurking in the back of my mind is this:  will the scavengers actually take an old toilet seat?  It’s amazing how much the scavenger’s opinion of my trash has actually come to matter to me.  Every quarter, it’s the same thing – I haul my treasures out to the curb and watch from the window for the scavengers to come and evaluate.  It pains me when something isn’t snatched up immediately.  “I cannot BELIEVE they didn’t take that old barbeque!!!  Sure, the bottom’s rusted completely out, but the top is pristine!  What were they thinking?!?”  So the week has progressed and I’m still plagued – do I put out the old toilet seat or not? 

Well, the City came a day earlier than normal and my heap is no more.  But I still have this old toilet seat…*sigh*

Cemeteries Are Fun!

So I’m a rabid genealogist and cemeteries are like my second home.  I think this has become a trend in recent years – findagrave.com seems to be growing exponentially.  Tracing the different fads and fashions in headstones through history is fascinating.

We’re going to Boston in October and I’m really hoping to go to the Eliot Burial Ground in Roxbury.  One of my favorite headstones is there – Theodora Parke, sister-in-law of my eighth great grand-uncle.  It’s so ‘Beetlejuice.’

Gravestone of Theoda Parke

My favorite cemetery in Central Texas is the Pin Oak Cemetery outside Muldoon in Fayette County.  It’s also known as the Old Blackjack Springs Cemetery.  It’s one of the oldest in Fayette County; at least half the folks buried their are my kin in some way or another.  It’s about two miles off County Road 609, at the end of a cow path.  The first time I was there was in 1975, when I was 11.  My mother was driving my father’s brand new Dodge Charger and we were all convinced the rocks and ruts would take out the muffler.  My great grandmother used to say when she was a girl, they’d ride out there on horse back for a picnic and a chance to commune ‘folks gone, but not forgotten.’  I can certainly see why.SI Exif

Some of the graves there are in elaborate gated areas and above-ground ‘tombs,’ like this one for Dr. Kenzie Routh, my 1st cousin, five times removed –

SI Exif

And some are just concrete slabs, like this one for Enoch Jesse McNatt, my second great grand uncle –

SI Exif

But I think my favorite grave there belongs to ‘Ocean Wave Hamilton.’  I look at that marker and the questions are just endless…

ocean wave hamilton