“I bless the rains down in Baklavaaaa…”

It’s been raining forever down here, it seems.

Remember  literally 3 posts ago where I was talking about the fact that every living thing with roots around here was a mere three days away from sudden death if I forgot to water them? We had some exceedingly close calls with a few Japanese maples, lost some potted plants, and came inches away from losing the spirea. Yeah… that’s changed.

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The aquifer needs it, so I don’t want to be ungrateful, but jesusfuckingchrist.

And now I’m slowly going insane coming up with alternate Toto lyrics because it WILL. NOT. STOP. RAINING.

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The Mexican Olive Tree sure loves it though. You can see the left corner didn’t get weeded or mulched…what a difference, right?

I cut back the triangle bed before the rain started a few weeks ago- almost everything was either dead, struggling with spider mites due to being stressed from lack of water, or just gotten out of hand.  In Texas we prune perennials on a roughly 1/3 in August and 2/3 in February schedule to prevent rank growth and woody stems on many plants such as salvias, mexican oreganos, etc. (they flower on new growth, so old woody stems are undesirable). I was perhaps a bit overzealous and cut the pineapple sage back by 7/8. The fennel was toast so I cut it to the ground, though a few sprigs are popping back up from the bulbs.  I took the dahlias out completely. The pink horsemint was brown and crunchy, so out it came. I was going to try to save seeds but I just popped the whole thing out of the ground and shook the entire 3′ dead plant around the areas I want it next year like some kind of medicine woman. Let it be known I was not shuffle foot dancing through this process, though I was barefoot. Most of the seeds had already dropped onto the concrete at that point, but I figured there had to be some still left in the dried flower heads.

I just about scalped the May Night Salvias… look at these good little things coming back though!

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Mine eyes have never seen finer rosettes!

So the fuchsia May Night salvias were a solid messy mat in this area with some thinning sections in the middle, and now look at those beauties! What some attention, fertilizer, and copious water will do for a plant! What’s that you say? That’s the entirety of the way it works? Oh right…

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A scourge of spurge

I also weeded and mulched most of the triangle bed the same evening I cut everything back. It was a fit of gardening annoyance while the husband was barbecuing and we were hanging out outside. I’m glad I did too because it was perfect timing with all this rain that followed shortly thereafter. Unfortunately I had let the weeds have free reign, and a lot of them set seed… which are now LOVING all the rain as much as the desirable species. There was another kind of rain, this one of seeds, that poured down when I popped a 2′ prostrate spurge out of the ground… and looks like the germination rate was 110% because the picture above is all the spurge seedlings from that spot. Spurge grows in compacted soil, which the front of this bed definitely has- so it’s an indicator that a pitchfork and compost are going to be needed before spring for sure. I also use them as markers for ants- there are ALWAYS ant hills under prostrate spurge plants for some reason. Conditions must be ideal for them both but I’m not sure which comes first in that arrangement. I wasn’t wrong because there were ants under the mother spurge plant, though not fire ants, thankfully.

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Volunteer something

I also found this plant growing under the pineapple sage. I am leaving it in for now, even though it’s MUCH too close to the walkway (as is the pineapple sage, honestly) because I think there might be a distant chance it’s a purple cone flower. Most likely it’s some form of plantain and a weed… but it just doesn’t look quite like other plantains… I have fingers crossed. There is another one in front of the white mist flower too. I was hoping against hope they were rudbeckias (which I love) for a little while, but the leaves are just too smooth in texture for that. The funny thing is- I don’t actually care for purple cone flowers- I doubt I’d ever buy one. But it’s like a stray cat- just because you never actively wanted a black and white cat, doesn’t mean you don’t keep it when it shows up at your door and let the children name it Alabama. I’ll try to get pictures, he’s a cutie.

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These assholes.

We had so much water, so fast, that first week of rain that it caused all the tomatoes to crack as the plants rushed all this newly available moisture to the fruit. I actually had to send the girls out to harvest and toss a bunch of split and wrinkled tomatoes during a break in the rain so the plants didn’t stop producing. (Let me tell you how much they bitched about THAT chore!) The plants have almost no fruit on them right now because of this. In fact, I’ve actually had to buy a box of champagne cherry tomatoes at the store recently and I may have never resented $2.49 more in my life.

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Oh I can’t stay mad at you though!

The plants themselves are UGLY at this point, close to collapsing under there own weight, and too much for even the 6′ t post that is stabilizing them so the cherry vines are leaning precariously. But hope springs eternal and there are a bunch of new blossoms on the top… and a few scattered fruit as well. I even went through and pruned a full armload of dead leaves and unproductive branches off of the bottom of the cherries during that one evening of furious garden activity… not like you can tell or anything.

It’s been so wet, and I didn’t have the collar of pebbles like I should have around their crown, so my thyme plants have both died. Not enough rain will kill plants, too much rain will kill plants…it’s always something. Without thyme, or a ton of parsley like I usually have, I’m down to some spindly basil and an oregano that is right in the path of a regular dog pee route so I’m not real comfortable cooking with it. I LOVE cooking with fresh herbs, so it really sucks honestly. And without the thyme I am SCREWED for making pan gravy. I need a new thyme plant ASAP, but this weather…

Oh, and there is also the large mint patch under the faucet- but I don’t cook with anything that grows in the beds next to the house due to the fact that from 1910 to 1978 this place had at least 4 layers of lead paint that were all STILL flaking off in spots when we had the house painted this winter. There are no huge chips visible lying around or anything, and no one is nibbling on them, but I just have the image of micro-paint chips in the soil so am being a scaredy-but-better-safe-then-sorry-Nelly about the whole thing. So the mint is purely decorative and the one real spot for a larger herb garden is the tomato plot right now… which is full of tomatoes. It is cooling down, so hopefully we can get some of the new larger beds installed this winter and I’ll have more room for herbs soon.

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Plumeria cutting- If you look closely you can see one of the bamboo twigs I cut to use as supports have leafed out at the top because it’s been so wet

And finally, the potted plants haven’t needed a hose dragged back to them in weeks. The picture above is the pot with a cutting of my father-in-law’s plumeria. I took the cutting when we were down there for his one year memorial memorial. My in-laws’ ranch is in zone 9 in the Rio Grande Valley- so his plumeria is an evergreen tree down there that is taller than the roof. We’ll have no such luck this one will reach anywhere close to that size here on the cusp between zone 8B and zone 8A. While some people grow oranges and bougainvilleas in the ground here, their survival is a delicate balance between protected microclimates and luck. This plumeria will be staying in the pot to come inside during the cold weather- hopefully similarly to a new black and white new cat, actually… The flowers are white with yellow centers. Sometimes plumerias can be garish color combos but I do like this one. I can’t recall if it’s fragrant, but I think it is.

I’ve never been much of a fan of tropicals (hibiscus, mandevilla, bananas, plumerias…) But this is a memory plant, you know? It reminds me of my father in law, so in the garden it goes. It was an interesting process taking those cuttings, actually. The plant weeps white sap when cut so the cuttings needs to form a callous or they rot when put directly in soil. The process to do that? Take a one foot cutting, about a broom to shovel handle in diameter, cut all the leaves off, and leave them flat on concrete in the blazing sun for a month and ignore them. I read that on MORE than one website. I though SURELY not, not in South Texas summers… really? But lo and behold it worked like a charm! Roots popped quickly out of the callus and the plants leafed out. I took four cuttings and all four took- I gave two of them to my brother in law to have. Right now I worry that we’re getting so much rain that the soil is over saturated and it risks these plumerias rotting… a sentence I would have never expected to write in Texas, honestly. I may have to bring that pot inside so it can dry out!

 

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Asian Meatballs in Yakiniku Sauce

Yakiniku (Meat Sauce… thanks for generalizing on that one, Japan) is a sweet and sour sauce with fruit juice and sesame seeds used on meat and is tastier than I just made that sound, I promise. So you make the meatballs and brown them, then simmer them in this sauce to finish cooking them and to thicken the sauce to more of a glaze, and then you serve the whole thing over rice and garnish with green onions and oh my god is it really good! PLUS, and here is the kicker and why I like meatballs- I ALWAYS make twice what I need and then freeze the other half (in this case I did the same with half the sauce) and then all I have to do is defrost, simmer, and dinner is le DONE on a school night when I’m dead tired. GEEN-US, mei oui?

I love meatballs a lot, actually, and heck, I even like making them too. I feel like a reflection in an infinity mirror… where you look in and see a million reflections coming to a point in the far distance. I am either the first reflection in this scenario, or the smallest… not sure how the physics work in this analogy honestly, but I am the most recent reflection of all the women, over all the years, who have stood at a counter doing this huge, hours long involved task for their families. There is Sara in ’84 (singing quietly to herself “Cause this is THRILLER, THRILLER night…” as she made her batch), Vi in ’73 (I can’t believe you voted for that asshole twice), Helen in ’56 (check yourself before you wreck yourself with that racism, Helen), Anna, in ’36 (“watch out for that Hitler, he’s a bad egg!”), Adina in ’17 (get a flu shot), and Martha in 1891 (opium’s a hell of a drug)… as well as all the others.

It’s a long winded way of unifying female history through meatballs… because I’m a writer.

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Sara in ’84.               Image by novem a. wahyudi

Ingredients for Meatballs

2 lbs. ground pork
2 eggs
2/3 cup seasoned panko breadcrumbs
Generous fresh ground pepper
1” thumb sized fresh garlic, grated
4 garlic cloves, through a garlic press
Finely minced white part of 4 green onions
½ Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
(This recipe makes a lot- I froze ½ the meatballs and half the sauce for a future meal.)

Ingredients for Sauce
½ cup soy sauce (if using low sodium soy sauce you may need less water)
¼ cup water
1 Asian pear- grated w/ the juice (add the pulpy stuff to the sauce too. I’d never grated fruit before, but it’s easier than cheese. I used the smaller size than what I’d use for cheese on the grater)
4 green tops of green onions, finely diced
1.5 tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. honey
3 Tbsp. sake
2 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
¼ cup Korean BBQ sauce w/ sesame seeds (Kinda a cheat, but I wanted a thicker consistency and more sweetness to the sauce so I added this)
3 garlic cloves, through garlic press

Form meatballs into… balls, roughly bouncy ball sized. Takes longer than you think. Will make one whole cookie sheet worth. Refrigerate for 1 hour- this helps them hold together when browning.

While meatballs are chilling, add all ingredients for sauce to a bowl and mix together, tasting to ensure flavor. Once mixed refrigerate for 1 hour while sauce flavors melds.

Add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to a pan; bring to a medium heat on stove. Brown meatballs in batches, without cooking all the way through. Remove browned meatballs to a plate. Once all meatballs are browned add what you’re cooking that day back to the pan (single layer, but touching is okay) and pour sauce over meatballs. Bring to simmer cover with lid, and stir periodically to coat meatballs in sauce. Remove lid for last few minutes to reduce sauce to thicker consistency. Watch the sauce and don’t let it get too dry.

Serve over rice and top w/ green onions (or cilantro) and sesame seeds.

Die of exhaustion from most complex meal ever.

Questions Unasked

In the refrain of my last few years: the world lost another good one recently. (I am not, in fact, talking about John McCain, mind you. This one’s a little closer to home.)

I am both doing well and extremely sad- it’ll hit at weird times. Watering the plants. Picking tomatoes. Randomly this sense of such loss while I wash dishes. I’m fine though, don’t worry. Grief is the price come due for loving others, I get that. And it makes me think of the others I’ve lost too- which hasn’t happened before; this dredging up of all of them together. I’ll think about how I didn’t ask my uncle enough questions. And then I’ll realize I didn’t ask ANY of them enough questions.

How did my grandmother pick her children’s names? Her oldest son is named David- did she know he was the 7th David with our last name in the family line? Was the family name thing important, or was it just Catholic names are a limited pool to chose from? How’d she get into watching basketball? How’d she raise so many kids in a 3 bedroom house? How’d she ever mentally survive burying two daughters? Was she always so funny?

My uncle- that’s the problem with becoming pen pals with him as a kid- perpetually it seems he appeared in the world fully formed as an adult- springing from Zeus’s head like Athena, I imagine. The thought never actually occurred to me that he was a teenager once- so I never asked him anything about it. What did he do? How’d he get into journalism? Or like… what was his favorite pet when he was a kid? Or did he have any? Or how’d he get into golf. Or did he know how vital it was to an awkward child living so far away from him- who grew up as not the golden child of the family- to have someone who spent time writing her and thought she was great? That said child internalized that and held on to it, and unconsciously used it on the path to successful personhood?  I tried to tell him a few times, but I never asked him if he knew.

My father-in-law. He was a Golden Gloves boxer- and yet I never asked him about it? Why’d he stop and when? Why did he love horses so much? How did he end up so different from his siblings- just because he was the only boy, or what? Why so afraid of the doctor? Why so kind and funny when life hadn’t been to him? How’d he find that sweet spot for so long of “taking no shit but causing no harm?”

Or my grandfather… who I sat with late at night once and watched parliament on C-Span.  I remember how we laughed at the insults and barbs and… was a shoe actually thrown? That doesn’t seem too British, so it may just be the brain playing tricks. But I LOVE Churchill and so did Grandpa… but we never talked about him. We missed that conversation by about 5 years because I came to really like Churchill after grandpa was already gone.  Or his brother… Grandpa had a picture of himself, my grandmother, and his brother on the wall in his TV room… but I never asked him about him. How did his brother die? Why my grandfather left home so young as a teenager… I’ll never know.

I range between “God damn it I never asked enough” and “You can’t ever know someone’s complete life so don’t beat yourself up over it.” Back and forth like ping pong. It’s just… the missed opportunity to know someone better weighs heavy. Or maybe it’s the three volume book about Churchill I’m reading. Minutia and details on someone I never met, and yet I’m over here with just a handful of scraps and facts about the people I actually did.

I don’t know. I do know I am lucky.

When we were in the hospital with our oldest we met a dad of one of the other kids on the floor. Con man obviously pretending to be devoutly Christian. Begged money from us to buy his kid a Christmas gift. We gave him $20. I remember thinking- it isn’t only good people who’s children are sick. It isn’t only good people who are here with their dying children over Christmas. But our child was getting better and so we give $20 to someone who’s child was not because what the hell else could you do?

And so, in a similar vein to what I realized about humanity in that hospital; it isn’t only good people who die. To change the saying a bit- the graveyards are full of replaceable men. But man, how lucky am I that all of mine were good ones? That all of mine are the actual irreplaceable men in those graveyards?

I try to be grateful for the time I had with all of them. It’s a conscious effort to stay on that side of it, and not wallow because they’re gone. But i HAD them, they were there. How lucky to have had so many that were so good.

But god damn it- like, what was their favorite color? I know that for literally none of them… you see what I’m saying?