Monday, July 18, 2011

Marche Ave du President Wilson

It was our last day in Paris and there were two things we had not done yet, gone to the Eiffel Tower and visit my high school friend, now living in Paris, Elise Peirce, who also happens to be known as the Cowgirl Chef at

We decided to meet at Marche Ave du President Wilson or President Wilson Market. Elise shops here often because of its high quality of local French grown vegetables. You can see her video about the market at

Elise and I strolled down the aisles as she pointed out the cheeses, meats and beautiful heirloom veggies. Prices were high as expected, but so is the quality. We stopped by her favorite goat cheese maker and her gave us a generous sample. We ate a sort of quesadilla-ish calzone like cheese and pesto snack.

I purchased soap while my daughter whined, “you don’t neeeeed any more soap.” How I love soap. It is such a luxurious simple pleasure, that while I don’t need it now, I will certainly use at some point in the future...and it smells nice.

But farther on through the market was the gem, a small crepe stand run by a husband and wife with the best and I do mean the best crepes we had. I had the salted caramel crepe and it was love at first bite. I had tried some salted caramel ice cream a few days earlier, but the sauce...oh the sauce.

I quickly learned that Elise too loved this sauce and had a recipe for it. That is another blog altogether. But I will tell you that this sauce rivals my mother-in-law’s chocolate sauce on Blue Bell vanilla ice cream and that is no easy feat.

Our visit was cut short by the lunch crowd that needed our table at a nearby outdoor café and the fact that Elise is in the middle of writing a cookbook with only six weeks till deadline with a whole lotta recipes to test out and write about.

So, we say goodbye for now and promise to see each other the next time she visits her mom in Texas. And off we go to the Eiffel Tower for a look.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In Search of the Perfect Madeleine

Spending a week or so in France has introduced me to the Madeleine. It’s not as if I did not know that she existed. I had seen plastic containers on the shelf in Whole Foods. But, it wasn’t until I tasted a homemade Madeleine in France that I decided I must really know her.

While staying with my niece, Dey, in Mercurey, a tiny village in the Burgundy region of France, I decided to whip up a batch with her requisite Madeline pan. We had most of the ingredients and only needed to substitute a lime for the lemon. However, we had only one liquid measure marked in pints and cups that she had just recently bought as she had become frustrated with converting American recipes into European measurements.

I found an American recipe online and began measuring out the ingredients. First the sugar and eggs, vanilla, lime and salt. It wasn’t until the flour that I realized that I had not exactly read the measuring cup properly. I had read the pints for cups and added way too much sugar. Not knowing how to make up for it I said, “what the heck,” and just kept going. I’m not real sure that the butter was exact measurement either, since it called for 10 tablespoons and the French beurre did not have the familiar tablespoons markings on it. So, I just guessed.

Well the first batch came out a bit…well done; maybe the degrees were off in Celsius since the recipe was in Fahrenheit. We cooled the cookies the specified 5 minutes. Stuck in the pan, though I buttered and floured, they came out a bit broken. The second batch in a cooler oven was only a bit less brown and crunchy. Of course, none of this mattered in the end, since they disappeared by early the next morning.

The cookies did not have the soft and moist consistency of their homemade French woman’s counterparts, but I am not discouraged. I’ve already priced a pan online and will have it waiting in the mail for me when I return. Since then, I’ve talked to my Denton high school friend, Ellise Pierce of

turned Parisian ex-pat and she promised to send me a fool proof, American measured, Madeleine recipe so I can discover the delightfulness of this truly French cookie.

I can't hardly wait...but it will mean that I have to leave France. And that, will be a sad day all too soon.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Then She was a He

Ok, so maybe I had slight rooster denial. I should have seen the signs. After all, Pandora, was the biggest and prettiest of the pack with that long silky iridescent tail feather.

And the first time she jumped on one of the other hens, I freaked out and ran into the house and googled, “hen mounting another hen” only to find a posting about “lesbian chicken activity” which described a dominant hen often takes on the role of a rooster in the absence of one in a flock. Two of my chicken-owning friends validated this activity, so I let that river of denial keep flowing.

Besides, she was almost eight months old and had never crowed…but had also never laid that green egg, yet. I googled, “rooster that doesn’t crow” and apparently I could sell this bird for quite a good price. Goggling “at what age do roosters crow” returned much younger birds – 12 to 15 weeks old.

Still, I had that uneasy feeling that she was a he. I googled images of ameraucana roosters and hens and became even more convinced that I was completely confused. But I suppose that the determining visual factor was that Pandora was beginning to develop tiny little spurs on the back of her legs.

I kept wondering, if she really is a rooster, then why hasn’t s/he crowed? Just then a weak, faint strained sound came from the backyard coop. Cock-a-doodle-doooo. Oh no, and again…the same sound. Cock-a-doodle-doooo.

At that moment, laying in bed, there was no denying anymore. Sorry Pandora, but you have got to go.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Winter vs. Summer Garden

Just finished harvesting my winter garden. The last of its bounty, beets and carrots are being pulled up, the greens being tossed over the fence to the chickens. I managed to can a few more jars of beets, substituting organic blue agave for the sugar, certainly not as sweet, with a bit of a spicy bite to them.

I sure do like that fall/winter growing season and the veggies that thrive during those months – greens of all kinds, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, carrots. Having more than a month’s supply of fresh lettuce and spinach is heaven. I have decided to leave the Swiss Chard in the ground for as long as it can stand the heat. I haven’t found a summer green yet that can be planted in the heat of the summer, so I’ll just see how the Chard does.

Summer in Texas is brutal and this year promises to be drought dry. Even now in the first days of June we have seen the high 90’s almost daily for the past few weeks. I have planted eggplant, okra, jalapenos, tomatoes and basil. In the vertical garden, I have cucumbers, cantaloupe (a volunteer plant from the compost), and watermelon, for the first time. Watering daily is the only chance for survival in this sweltering climate.

For far, the eggplant looks wonderful, some okra to harvest and the first cucumber to be eaten…for lunch.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My Chicken Dream

I finally did what I said I wanted to do for 2 years now. I got chickens. At the end of last year I mentioned to a friend that has chickens that I wanted to build a coop. She flatly said, “Alan and I can help” and the following few days we set posts, stapled chicken wire down, handcrafted a special hutch to close them up at night, built a roost and fabricated a coop door. I was amazed at how quickly the process created the coop. After 3 days of intense hands-on activity, filled with espresso and on the spot design decisions my friends were off to Boston for the new year and I was left with an almost finished coop minus the tin roof that I had just ordered and the hinged door to the coop that I was planning on building alone.

Looking back, I realize that my reluctance on building the coop was not my indecision on whether or not I wanted the responsibility of chickens, but it was based in my belief that “I” could not build one. Clearly I did not build one on my own, but with the help of my ingenious friends, I gained the confidence that I was capable of learning how to build one.

Now I am no stranger to power tools, but it was that one tool that is a must for do-it-yourselfers that scared me off. Not the cordless drill, but the skill saw. In my shop at school, I use band saws, rotary arms saws and table saws, no problem; they are attached to the floor. But, the skill saw really frightened me. There is something about a whirling blade with metal teeth spinning that makes me uneasy. Well, I’m over that now.

I finished the coop myself, attaching the tin roof and creating the hinged door with latch one afternoon. The following day, my daughter and I went to Calahan’s, a local feed store, and picked out 4 teenage girls, or pullets, as they are known. We brought Adele, Lady, Gaga and Buffy to their new home. The breeds are an Ameraucana, Cuckoo Maran, Barred Rock, and a Buff Orphington, respectively. Unfortunately Adele developed a prolapsed ovarian duct during a terrible cold spell in January and died. We replaced her with Pandora and Penelope, an Ameraucana and Araucana.

Since the initial coop building, I added a run so I could introduce the two new birds to the flock. The girls love the space and three out of five are now laying a beautiful variety of beige, tan and brown eggs. The new girls should lay in a month or so, both greenish blue eggs.

Gotta love that life with Chickens.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Vertical Gardening

I have been asked by friends to describe exactly what a vertical garden is and how to make one and grow veggies in it. So here goes. I first learned about this process from Mel Bartholomew's book, Square Foot Gardening. He advocates building raised beds in square foot increments, in narrow long beds as this conserves on weeding among many other benefits. I suggest you find the book. It's been around since the 1980's and is pretty easy to find. The New Square Foot Gardening includes more versions for roof top gardening and gardening in 6 inches of soil.

Generally speaking, Square Foot Gardening consists of dividing a 1' x 1' garden space up and figuring how many plants you can put in that space. For example in a 1' x 1' space, sixteen radishes or nine spinach or one eggplant could fit. He has carefully planned everything out and it really does work! It saves space, water and weeding.

Vertical gardening is an extension of his space saving ideas. Peas and beans are natural climbers and everybody trellises them or stakes them. But how about cucumbers and melons? Anything that grows on a vine can grow vertically. I have had better luck with my cucumbers since they stay off the ground and get more sunshine. I can also see them better and can determine when they are ready to harvest. The ones on the ground tend to hide out longer and get a scaly appearance and some don't get enough sun and are yellowish instead of dark green.

My vertical cukes could win a county fair ribbon, but not the ones on the ground. Everybody asks if it damages the veggies. You can see from my pictures that it doesn't. They seem to be growing perfectly fine. One suggestion, if you are growing melons, find a knee high hose and put the melon in it and tie it up so the melon has some support, but can grow as large as it needs. I did this and it also kept the bugs off of the fruit. If you look really hard in the center of the picture below you can see a cantaloupe hanging in a knee high hose!

I set up my vertical garden with stakes and 2” x 4” fencing wire. I built the garden on a u-shape with the stakes in the center of a 18” wide space. I plant on both sides, alternating the seeds as I plant. During winter and early spring I plant snap peas and in the summer, cukes and melons. It has been tremendous satisfying this summer.

Mel's support frames in his vertical garden is made of electrical conduit. He uses string to trellis his plants but also mentions netting. I have seen snow drift or construction netting which is bright orange used too.

If you have any interest in creating square foot gardens or vertical beds, I highly suggest buying this book. You can easily find it used for under $10 and it is worth every penny. Happy Vertical Gardening!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Vacation

Having just returned from three very different vacations practically back to back, I am feeling rested, invigorated and inspired. Yet, it makes me ask the questions.

Did pioneers need vacations to “get away from the farm?” Could they in fact take vacations? And if they did, who watched the farm?

My first getaway was to the San Francisco Bay area where I feasted on fabulous friendships and panoramic views. As I truly did leave my heart in San Francisco. Flying into the Bay area I am always surprised at the landscape as the plane hurled across the San Joaquin Valley, truly the big valley. The giant lush irrigated valley produces more than 10% of the food consumed in the United States. It seems to go forever and then abruptly ends at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Crossing the Sierras, brown and barren, give way to the massively populated peninsula known as the Bay Area. The development emerges past the mountains and like the valley seems endless.

The second trip involved family and a wedding. I traveled back to my mid western roots to the farmlands of Northern Ohio just south of Cleveland. Out the window of the plane I saw neat and tidy, brown and green patchwork of endless farmland. The corn was knee high and the tomatoes still small and green. I was disappointed that the wedding was in early summer and not late August when the harvest is plentiful. My summers as a youth were spent eating thick slices of beefsteak tomatoes sprinkled with salt, fresh picked corn on the cob and juicy watermelon. Spending days with cousins around Granny's kitchen table crunching potato chips and drinking Pepsi from glass bottles and spending nights in a trailer at the Lorain County Fair while my cousins showed horses and shoveled horse manure.

I returned just a few days ago from the last part of this three-legged adventure from New Mexico, an Enchanted Land of Spirit and Sky. Having spent a week at a yoga camp for women, submerged in practice and meditation, renewing my spirit and inspiring my life, I have returned to my small backyard garden. Relieved that the hurricane rains and some very helpful friends sustained my vegetable garden while I was away. I sit happily munching on cucumbers in the hot Texas heat.

As a part time pioneer, I have the luxury of growing what I can and if I am not successful, driving to the store or farmer's market where someone else has done a better job. My life is not dependent on my harvest and I have the freedom that in a day's time I can travel to another geographic region and find pleasure in those surroundings. Truly the best of both worlds, content and grateful, all at the same time.