It is the eighth of February, my niece Jackie’s birthday, and we are having a sunny eighty degree day down here in central Texas. I don’t know how much snow Jackie and the rest of the fam may be confronting.*
As I write this Jackie’s daughter Lindsay is still awaiting the birth of Juniper, baby sister to Ruby, way up in the wilds of Maine where there could be six feet of snow for all I know. And while I love the stillness of the woods after a snowfall, and how pretty it all looks on the black branches of bare trees and over the rise and fall of low hills heading out toward the horizon, I like a curtain billowing in a sunny window even more. We don’t have that many open-window days around here.
It was a wonderful day because I finally put the last strokes of paint on the walls and trim of living room, kitchen, and foyer, ending with the stretch of wall between front door and dining room. I thought that last ten feet would go on forever. But it’s done, and it’s clean and beautiful, pale gray, green, yellow and the vividly white trim. I told Floyd that if I ever say the word “paint” again he should shoot me. But he probably won’t.
Evidently I have become a creature of habit in my dotage; this is the same array of colors I put in place in our last house. Maybe it’s simply a failure of imagination. All I knew was, I couldn’t stand three varieties of taupe for another minute. Switched our bedroom from pale-paper-bag taupe to seashore blue late last summer and the die was cast.
I don’t know about you, but once I start a painting project it becomes as intrusive as a half-finished jigsaw puzzle: all I want is for it to be finished, so life can return to normal clutter rather than wet brushes and rollers and displaced furniture and the scary landscape behind the refrigerator. I just want to stand at my sink and watch two dozen finches hang from the tube feeders and scatter tiny nijer seeds all over the place.
As you see, the rest of the stainless tiles have been put into place, and the lovely black stone window sill; and even a nice big stainless sink that’s all one tub even though there are no more babies to bathe in it around here. Maybe Juniper and her tribe will come down for a visit some day. It is a kitchen sink that clamors for a baby.
I would say the year’s indoor projects wrapped up just in the nick of time. Outdoor life asserts itself powerfully on the tail end of winter; Travis and I hiked 3.5 miles in the greenbelt this morning and another three miles after lunch. Although the air around the trees has not yet acquired that pale green haze signaling true spring, there are swelling buds and tiny tentative unfurling leaves all over the place. Daffodils’ greenery thickens, stubby hyacinths shove fat stalks upward, and the pomegranate – foolishly perhaps – seems to be participating in an early leafing contest.
Around the neighborhood, spring tempts.
But memory wants to grab me by the shoulder and shake all complacency straight out of me. Last March we had a very harsh freeze after every resident of the yard had gone into bud, with rather unpleasant consequences. I managed to visit Wild Birds Unlimited over on Bee Cave Road this afternoon and watched people at the nursery next door poring over plants. We still have to be very, very careful.
This would be the time I’d be putting in nasturtium seeds, but I don’t think I’ll bother this year. So many of the wildflower seeds I threw down last fall are germinating, I think I’ll just let them boss the yard around. Of course, I’m going to let the yard take care of itself this year is an utterance the truth value of which is roughly equivalent to I am never painting anything ever again; but I always mean these things when I say them!
In the back yard, unbelievably, the new baby oak tree seems to be forming nice fat buds along all its branches. I still cannot fathom that a pair of people can stick a tree into the ground and watch it establish itself as an enormous living presence. I don’t worry about those buds, nor the maple in the corner by the fence; even young trees of those species can handle a reasonable winter such as we’ve had thus far.
In the sidewalk garden, no sign of poppies; but all the purple lantana are unfurling tiny leaves at this point. One of the roses is covered with buds, no doubt tempting me to forget all about the February 14th radical cut-back day we have around here. My father always said about cutting back roses, You have to be ruthless. I’ll try.
We’ll have lots of Mexican primroses; one coneflower tried to bloom all winter; and the desert mallow closest to the stop sign is covered with buds. Every day I look over the Queen’s Tears, but so far have discerned only two flower stalks. You know how bromeliads are, though: they’ll have nothing but leaves one day and be shot through with flower stalks the next.
Meanwhile the agave tips are colorful and fun in the relatively dank landscape. We have solid red hearts, striped hearts, playfully splattered hearts – as well as the usual assortment of shapes and colors. Just a couple of weeks ago I was working, foolishly, glovelessly, cutting back lantana too close to an agave that likes to hide between the lantana and a big rosemary. I sent an agave tip way into my right index finger.
Stuck a tip protector on that treacherous little puppy as fast as I could get to the garage and back. Punk. It’s amazing I haven’t lost an eye. This year I will be taking out a whole lot more agave than I’ll be putting in – though I wouldn’t put it past myself to plant another splendid silvery Harvardiana. We have little agave pups everywhere, and because they tend to be expensive, people scoop them up instantly when you put them out to share.
As winter alludes to its conclusion, I start thinking of all the things I want to cook before the oven closes down for the season. Last week in a fit of low-carb madness I decided to try a pizza with cauliflower crust. Since I love cauliflower anyway, I wasn’t worried about the taste. The technique involves tossing raw florets into the food processor, whirling them down to the size of rice grains, zapping them in the microwave for two minutes, squeezing out as much liquid as your paltry hands can manage, stirring them up with some stuff, and baking the crust. Top it, bake a few more minutes, and you have a pizza you can eat without whatever guilt or pain you suffer on carb overload.
I used this crust recipe: http://www.theluckypennyblog.com/2013/02/the-best-cauliflower-crust-pizza.html The only change I made was to grate a clove of garlic rather than use garlic powder; I mixed that grated garlic into the cheese and herbs before tossing it all into the cauliflower.
And because I trust all things Kenji, I used Kenji Lopez-Alt’s pizza sauce: http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/10/new-york-style-pizza-sauce.html
The result was delicious, although a little tomato-heavy for Floyd’s taste. I would like to have wrung more moisture out of the cauliflower, or dared bake it directly on a well-oiled pizza stone rather than parchment paper. When I heated the leftovers next day in a nonstick skillet, the crust was much better. Will definitely make again.
Still to run through the oven before the weather turns hot: Tuscan white beans; spinach and cheese enchiladas (trying to get kids and grands over to the house this coming weekend or the following); maybe one more lasagna; and I think a second draft of that pizza.
Unless the sun stays with us, in which case it’s likely to be play outside all day and popcorn for dinner.
*As it turned out, the morning after I started this draft I saw a Facebook post from Jackie expressing appreciation to her employer for calling Snow Day. When businesses tell their employees to stay home, you just know the weather is way out of control.
We don’t really need snow days in Austin because if we are honest we freely admit to taking as many Beautiful Day breaks from our daily drudgery to more than make up for the loss.