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marlingardener's Blog

Farm living and laughing


Weekly trip into town

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 8:16 pm

I go into town once a week, to do grocery shopping and other tasks. "Going into town" isn't like a trip to the mall, not by any means!
First, I needed to stop by the feed store to deliver the last jar of our honey to the manager who loves the stuff. He paid me for the honey, then gave me a six-pack of broccoli starts for the garden. "I need to get these out of the way," he said. Nice man, bad liar.
Then I went to the local food pantry with a bag of bell peppers. Fresh vegetables! People were peeking in the bag and comparing notes about how their mama used to make stuffed peppers. I got a couple of good recipes out of that! By the time I walked out, most of the peppers had, too. I love folks who appreciate nice veggies!
Then I went to the bank, and ran into a neighbor who lives down the road. While we were standing in line (there is a line since no one is in a hurry and the tellers know everyone and their kin and inquire as to everyone's health) he told me about the 10 acres on the road being sold, and who bought it and what they intended to do with it. Sounds like we are getting some nice new neighbors. Hope they like bell peppers.
The bank teller Cynthia plays in a handbell chorus at the Methodist Church and we talked about the upcoming birthday party for the residents of the nursing home. She and her fellow bellers are the entertainment, and our church is providing the cakes and punch. I asked her for tickets to the Methodist Church's Holy Smoke Barbecue, but she didn't have any.
However, Cara Sue at the post office did have some, so when I was at the PO mailing letters I got two Holy Smoke BBQ tickets. Don't tell anyone, but the Methodists do a better BBQ than the Lutherans. Lutherans can cook really well, but they insist on including noodles in their BBQ plates, and noodles just don't go with BBQ. Beans, slaw or potato salad, brisket, and cornbread--that's what makes you say "Holy Smoke"!
Then to the grocery store, where my checkout lady Tina told me she had tried two of the recipes in my cookbook, and both came out well. Even the kids liked the oregano chicken and they only eat chicken fried (previously--now their palates are becoming more sophisticated). We had a lively discussion about fresh vs. dried herbs, and how to substitute one for the other. The lady behind me in line had an opinion or two on the subject, and we all enjoyed a nice conversation. Did I mention no one is in much of a hurry in town?
Last stop was the library. The librarian on duty was all by herself, and asked if I could take the desk for a few minutes while she took a break. I told her I had groceries in the truck, but I could manage 15 minutes. She made a beeline for the bathroom, poor thing! Of course a couple of acquaintances came in while I was manning the desk, and I found out about a get-well card I need to send, and that a set of new parents have settled on a name for the baby--naming him after the daddy's daddy. Original!
I left home at 8:30 a.m. and got home at 11, and that was one of the shorter trips.
Now y'all know why I go into town only once a week.

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Visitors from Zambia

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Mon Aug 13, 2012 11:30 am

Who knew that moving to a small farm in the back of nowhere would get you international visitors? We had a gentleman from Australia stop by, telling us he was lost. My husband's reaction was, "Buddy, you don't know how lost you are!"
Well, a week ago Friday I was clearing up after supper when there was a knock on the door. A nice young man had trouble with his car--it seems he had a flat, put on the spare, and used the bolts for the regular tire instead of the shorter ones for the spare, and the wheel wouldn't turn. (Any of you who own a Mercedes, take note that two sizes of bolts are supplied). Being a man, he hadn't read the instruction manual and now couldn't get the long bolts off which were wedged against the disc.
My husband gathered up the tools he thought he'd need, but came back for a larger wrench. He told me That the young man's father and nephew were sitting in the car. I went down to the highway and invited them to come to the house and wait where it was air-conditioned. As we were walking to the house, I noticed the father tottered a bit, and asked him if he felt well. He is diabetic and hadn't had dinner. When we got to the house I fixed a sandwich and some cherry tomatoes for him, gave them both water, and settled them in front of the TV to watch PBS. The nephew, a teenager, was fascinated by the size of our TV. (Well, the thing is about 40 years old, but it works!) He was a nice, polite youngster and didn't laugh outright at our small screen.
Meanwhile, down at the highway, a young man was passing going the other way, turned around and came to help. With the three of them working at it, they got the long bolts off, the short ones on, and drove the car up to our driveway to collect the missing family members, who were having a good time snacking and watching TV.
We gave them our phone number in case they had more trouble, but didn't hear from them and figured that was a pleasant interlude but we'd never see them again.
Then this past Saturday, guess who showed up in the driveway? It was Mr. Musoma and his wife. He is teaching business at Texas A&M and had picked her up at the Dallas airport, and they were on their way home. He wanted to introduce us to her, and she is the sweetest little thing. She was born and raised in Louisiana and has the softest accent and is adorable. He said his father wanted us to have his business card (he is the head of an investment firm in Zambia) and "if we were ever in Zambia we were expected to stay with his family." A visit to Zambia isn't likely, but if it were, we'd be knocking on Mr. Musoma the elder's door!

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The Joy of Chickens

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Thu Jul 19, 2012 6:17 pm

When was the last time you received a standing ovation when you entered a room? I get one every morning when I take the ladies their breakfast. The hens hop down from their perch, run to greet me, and make little gurgling noises. Their adoration knows no bounds.
Feeling unappreciated? Go pick a few cherry tomatoes from the garden and toss them into the outside coop. Instant gratitude from the ladies. They bounce around chasing tomatoes and gobbling them up, then give you adoring, expectant looks, hoping for more.
When we work in the garden or mow the barn lot, every move is watched by our fan club. Rock stars don't get this much attention. If we happen to throw some grass into the coop or give the girls a handful of weeds, it's better than a signed autograph from Mick Jagger!
Think you don't have any power or influence? Go to the coop--you'll find out that the ladies consider you to be the bringer of all things good (and you are also the coop cleaning staff). Having their water container filled is a source of constant amazement to them--"Look, she has water in that bucket, oh joy!" When you fill their food tray, it's a minor miracle and only YOU can do it.
It would be awfully hard to be depressed, sad, or lonely around chickens. Hens are great for the ego and self-esteem, and if you ignore the fact that all that adoration is caused by food, you can feel pretty good about yourself.
My fan club and support group:


All together now ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )





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Cooking and Cooking Shows on TV

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Fri Jun 29, 2012 5:58 pm

I dearly love to cook, and being able to grow and use our own produce gives me the chance to experiment with, and even develop recipes.


Bounty from the farm ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

I also love to bake, especially breads.


Homemade breads ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )

That is why I don't understand "cooking" shows like Hell's Kitchen and Master Chef. These shows have nothing to do with the joy and satisfaction of creating good food. It's all about competition and yelling at each other and chefs that don't teach the contestants anything, just criticize and belittle their efforts. Personally, if Gordon Whatshisname spoke to me like that, he'd meet my cast iron frying pan!
I love creating a nice meal--balanced with flavors and colors and textures--and having someone enjoy it. Cooking a nice stew and taking a bowl to someone who may not bother to "cook for one" or giving a bag of new potatoes, some green beans, and a small loaf of bread to a neighbor makes me feel so good. Cooking should be satisfying, both in the preparation, and the eating. Having some son of a Bastianich spit out food and make a caustic comment doesn't help the fledgling chef--it just shows how cruel he can be if given the opportunity.
I love to watch Jacques Pepin, and Eric Rippert--they love food and love to cook! There is a basic respect for both the ingredients and for those who are going to eat the result in their style of cooking. I don't think either Jacques nor Eric have ever been "bleeped".
I have no talent for painting, have a tin ear for music, and can't do much in the way of crafts. Cooking is a creative outlet, even if it's just a batch of cookies I've made dozens of times before. My kitchen creations are something I can share, and enjoy.
I wonder if there is an opening on the Food Network for someone who doesn't swear (at least not on camera) and who just really, really enjoys cooking?





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Texans Don't Brag

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 8:03 pm

Texans have an undeserved reputation for bragging. Folks that have never visited Texas and seen its glories probably started this character defamation. As an adopted Texan, I feel the need to set things straight (or straht, as we say here).

Yes, our grasshoppers are big. There is a booming business in grasshopper saddles--makes riding a 'hopper around all day easier on the nether regions rather than riding bareback. Grasshoppers are particularly adept at herding because they can jump over the entire herd and go after a stray.

We do have rain. Our part of Texas gets about 32" yearly, and I distinctly remember the night it fell.

Texans have a long and proud tradition of serving in the Armed Forces. They have special training for Texans who enter the Infantry. Texans have to be trained to shoot low. They are so tall that they consistently shoot about two and a half feet over the enemys' heads.

Texas used to be a much smaller state. Then one night we got our yearly rainfall and the whole state got washed out flat and became much larger.

Texas has one natural lake, Caddo, and one natural pond, the Gulf of Mexico.

Longhorn cattle are prized for the spread of their horns. One local breeder has specially built cattle trailers for his longhorns. When he transports them he has a lead vehicle and a follow vehicle, and a big sign on both--Caution: Extra-wide Load.

Tyler Texas hosted the Big Foot conference last year. There was no conference this year. Big Foot refused to return to a state where his feet were just considered normal size.

So there you have it. As we say in Texas, "no brag, just fact".

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Puddles

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Tue May 15, 2012 2:23 pm

It's a rare occurence when we have a slow, steady rain here in Texas. Usually our rain comes in sheets, often horizontal, and with enough force to illustrate the term "gully washer". Today we have the slow gentle sort of rain.
There is a certain beauty to puddles. We have a large one just in front of the barn that reflects the big hackberry tree, and slogging through it to get to the ladies and give them their morning treat gives the impression of climbing the tree.
I opened the door to the outside coop, but got the chicken equivalent of "Are you crazy? It's wet out there." Puddles in the outside coop are not a thing of beauty, at least to a chicken.
There is another puddle in the middle of the path to the workshop. That puddle shows up every time we have rain. I've tried French drains, slanting the path, nothing works. We'll just live with the puddle, and it is a convenient bathing spot for the mockingbirds. They enjoy it so much I'm rather glad my efforts to divert the puddle were futile.
All the rainwater containers are overflowing, so there are puddles in front and around each one. The water cascades down the side of the containers and makes a waterfall effect at the bottom, just before it hits the puddle. The splash of the falling water is soothing to hear, especially since last year was a drought!
Although the pond isn't a puddle, the dimpling of the surface is a joy to watch. My mother had a large tray made of beaten aluminum--grey in color with a faceted surface. The pond looks like that tray, magnified.
When it stops raining, which I hope isn't soon, the drops from the trees and the eaves will still keep our puddle surfaces moving. Our toads will come out to wade, and Resident Rabbit will start to eat the long grass in the barnlot and get a drink of water at the same time. The chickens, on the other hand, will stay in their inside coop and grump. They get testy in wet weather.
A rainy day with puddles--who could ask for anything more?

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Goin' fishin' with a checkbook

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Wed Mar 07, 2012 4:28 pm

Last Saturday the pond stocking fish folk were at the feed store. With last year's drought, a lot of ponds (aka "stock tanks") went dry and therefore are fishless, even though we have had good rains lately.
Now, the Pondstockers came down from Arkansas, and they didn't arrive with a few buckets and a net. NO, this was a full diesel truck (Peterbuilt for you truck aficianados) towing a huge flatbed.
On the flatbed were steel bins that looked like small dumpsters--the ones with the lift-up lid that you see behind fast-food places. There were four air cylinders on the back of the flatbed, and aerator pumps attached to each of the bins. On the sides of the bins were signs advertising the fish available--Channel Catfish, Coppernose bluegills (colorful little guys, copper and blue, too), bass, minnows (more about that later), grass carp, and red ears.
I had called Arkansas and ordered 50 fingerling bass. Between my Texas/midwest/allergy accent and her Arkansas accent, we still managed to communicate. The truck was to be at the feed store at 8 a.m. Figuring nothing was ever on time, we arrived at 8:15 and were at the back of a lo-o-o-ng line.
We were sandwiched between a farmer and a rancher. If you ever have to stand in line, try to get between a farmer and a rancher. We found out the current price of feeder calves, who bought a new tractor, the schedule for the agricultural agent's inspection of fields, where there was going to be a good farm auction, and whose wife just had a baby.
We got our three bags of fish--heavy-weight plastic bags filled with treated water and pumped full of air (that's why they had the compressors on the back of the flatbed). We walked off carrying three big see-through balloons with tiny fish swimming about in them.
When we got home we had a cup of coffee and thought it over. We had 50 bass, 200 coppernose, and five pounds of minnows. Locally minnows are called "minners". We even see signs "Bait--worms and minners". I can't bring myself to call them "minners". Maybe that was why the lady in Arkansas had difficulty understanding me when I phoned. Anyway, we knew we could just dump the "minners" in the pond, but we had to acclimate the bass and coppernoses.
So, the two of us, with three bags of fish, two buckets of appropriate sizes, and high hopes, trekked down to our pond. We put the minnows in the pond, put the coppernoses in the large bucket, and then filled the small bucket with pond water (did I mention we were wearing knee high boots and hoping that we didn't get stuck in the mud?). We added about a quart of pond water to the treated water the coppernoses were in, then another quart after about five minutes, then another quart. Well, you get the idea. After we did the coppernoses and released them into the pond, we did the same with the bass. It was a novel way to spend most of a Saturday morning.
The upshot is that, in about two years, with luck and rain, we will have bass that are of a size to be caught and eaten. At this point I'm so fond of the little guys I don't think I'd be able to swallow a bite of bass.
We wouldn't have had any luck fishing if we had left the checkbook at home!

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Trains

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 2:35 pm

From the kitchen window over the sink I can look out across two fields and a road to a railroad track. Trains come by frequently, at least once a day. They are a window on the world.
Some of the graffiti painted on the boxcars ranks with artwork--better than Jackson Pollock, by golly! The auto tranports are see-through cars. The cars inside are just outlines, much like looking through partially closed Venetian blinds. You can see something is there, but can't make out details. I never get a sneak-peak at next year's models.
Some of the flatbed cars carry the large metal containers that come by ship into Houston and are loaded on a train to go up north. They almost invariably have Chinese characters on them. I wonder what they say. . . .
There is a coal-burning electricity generating plant to the south of us, and the coal trains are long--some over a mile long. I hate to think of all that coal being burned, and what the result is to the air. I'm glad the plant is far from us, but I'd rather it weren't there at all.
Once the Barnum & Bailey circus was going to a city north of us, and I saw the circus train! Some of the cars had paintings of elephants and lions and tigers, and all of the cars were brightly colored. I had no idea that circuses still traveled by train. It's more romantic somehow, than traveling by truck.
The train tracks run right through the small town near us. In fact, they cross Main Street. A mile-long train holds up traffic for quite a while (we don't have much traffic, but we cultivate the illusion by having traffic jams every chance we get).
When the barrier arm comes down to block the road, and the red light goes on and the clang-clang starts, we are in for a wait. Since it's a small town, any four people are bound to know one another. When the locomotive goes by, people get out of their cars and trucks, visit with neighbors and acquaintances, and spend the time chatting about weighty matters. It would take just a few more B&SF trains going through town before we'd have the world's problems solved.
It takes a minute or two after the train has passed for the arm to raise and the light to go off, so everyone has time to say "goodbye, come see us, y'hear" and get back in their vehicle.
We hear the train whistles at night (during the day, too but they seem more evocative at night) and I think of all the world's goods rolling by a half-mile or so away from us. It is comforting, somehow.

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Caravaggio in Texas

Category: Serendipity | Posted: Thu Jan 05, 2012 1:14 pm

When we moved to Texas from New York, people kept asking us about "culture shock." Yes, we were shocked at how many cultural opportunities we had here in Central Texas.
Shortly after we arrived, we saw and heard Luciano Pavarotti in Austin. Earlier in the week we had gone to a rodeo where Dan Mortensen, the reigning world bronco rider, rode and won (hey, rodeo is culture in Texas!). Only in Texas can you get dusty at the rodeo on Thursday and hear a premier tenor on Saturday (you need Friday to rest up).
We have also seen the Rockefeller Latin American Folk Art exhibit in San Antonio's Museum of Art. Charming sculptures, wonderfully colorful objects, all collected and then donated by the Rockefellers.
We have visited two art museums in Ft. Worth--the Amon Carter and the Kimbell. The Carter specializes in Western art and has a great collection of Remington statues, as well as paintings of Western scenes.
The Kimbell has a wonderful collection of art all its own--Velasquez, Rubens, and a recently acquired painting by Michelangelo. It also hosts visiting exhibits, often the only venue in the United States. We have seen two Impressionist exhibits (a favorite style of my husband's) and an impressive exhibit of Egyptian artifacts from the only female pharaoh to rule Egypt (Hapshetsut).
Which brings us to Caravaggio--and you were probably wondering when we were going to talk about the artist who was one of the most influential figures in the history of art. The Kimbell is hosting an exhibit of Caravaggio paintings, and paintings of his contemporaries in France, Belgium, Spain, and other countries who were influenced by his new style. We went this past Tuesday and were amazed at the depth of the exhibit. The Kimbell always presents exhibits well, but the explanatory texts, the lighting, the juxtaposition of the paintings made this exhibit one of the best we have seen.
There is another Impressionist exhibit coming in March, and we'll be going to Ft. Worth to see it, and have another great lunch at the Kimbell. They serve a wonderful lunch there, too!
So, we aren't completely over our "culture shock" and it looks like we won't be for quite a while. We're thinking of going to the Impressionist exhibit, staying overnight, and hitting the Ft. Worth Stockyards Rodeo the next day. Yee-Haw!

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Bread baking

Category: Farm Doings | Posted: Sun Oct 30, 2011 6:52 pm

I dearly love to bake bread. I like to measure out the ingredients, use herbs from our garden, knead, shape the loaves, and especially I like to smell the freshly baked bread scent throughout the house. I always have several kinds of bread in the freezer, and we have homemade bread with most of our dinners.
Here are some of the breads I've baked recently:


Homemade breads ( photo / image / picture from marlingardener's Garden )
Starting from the 12 o'clock position, there is rye, Cuban, roasted sweet red pepper bread, pesto bread, parsley/onion bread, and French, with rosemary bread in the center.
There is something very satisfying about chopping herbs, mixing the yeast and flour, kneading, and setting the dough to rise. I have a large wooden cutting board that I use for kneading, and usually leave the dough on the well-floured board with a damp cotton dish towel over it for the first rise.
When it's cold outside, or when you are at loose ends and need something to do, or if you are feeling a trifle blue, there is nothing like cutting loose in the kitchen with a good bread recipe! It warms you up, gives a tangible result, and makes you feel better. Not to mention the great workout you get for your biceps!
If you want any of the recipes, I'll gladly send it to you by private message. I just don't want to bore everyone with all the details of making these breads!
With the holidays coming up I'll be making even more breads to give as Christmas presents. I've found that people are inundated with sweets at this time of year, but a good loaf of bread that they can pop in the freezer if they don't need it immediately, is always most welcome!


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