Foodie Tuesday: Hot Weather? Cold Treats.

Photo: Black Raspberry Ice CreamI don’t think it necessary to explain to you. That title…you know just what I mean. It’s summer here. All over the whole danged country, it’s summer; it’s hot, or the local equivalent of Hot wherever we are, and we’re a bit uncomfortable with it, most of us.Photo: Chocolate Soft Serve

The solution is obvious. Cool it, my friends. Chilled food and drink save the day. Heck, they can save the whole week, when necessary. I love good cold eats and treats at any time, but especially so in hot weather.Photo: Gianduia Gelato

And there are so many worthy options that it would be impossible to exhaust the inventory before the too-warm season ended. But I’m willing to try. Ice cream, sorbet, frozen fruit. Icy cold smoothies, Thai iced tea, lemonade, and cold, clear ice water. Gelato. Ahhh. You have my permission. You’re welcome.Photo: Sea Salt Caramel Gelato

Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

Foodie Tuesday: A Frosty Reception can Warm the Heart

Hot weather makes us crave chilled drinks. We need to re-hydrate, but biological science says that hot drinks are the sensible approach, inviting the body to cool down in compensation for the introduction of additional heat. But that’s not nearly as satisfying, in reality. So we look for our respite in iced drinks.Photo: Mr. Frosty's Root Beer

I’m pretty much an All-American girl when it comes to my tastes in that regard: briskly icy soft drinks in a frosty mug are particularly welcome. I grew up with the benison of special-occasion A&W root beer in said frosty mug, and I’ve never outgrown that treat. Coming to north Texas, I was happy to find a comparable comfort waiting for me when the ugly reality of Texas summer heat became just a little too much for my tender Northerner sensibilities: the vintage joint Mr. Frosty.

Their in-house root beer is sweet and vanilla-kissed like the aforementioned A&W’s, and is served in freezer-chilled mugs. That it happens in a place that hasn’t changed substantially  in its long life and offers a swell menu of classic diner foods with the appropriate tinge of Texan and southern character is, well, icing on that icy deliciousness. So the frosty mugful of root beer can be accompanied by a burger or hotdog and fries, or that fine and mythic dish, Frito Pie. Chili served over corn chips of the named variety, and occasionally, topped with the usual chili toppings of onions, shredded cheese, and/or sour cream.Photo: Mr. Frosty's Frito Pie

The beauty of this combination is that the temperature and spice of the chili (preferably, without beans, if you’re a traditionalist in Texas) can perform the body-signaling duty of changing one’s internal temperature a little to better suit the weather around it, and the root beer can do its part by providing the psychological cooling that brings it all home. Meanwhile, there’s the pleasure of people-watching, seeing the widely varied crowd that can be pleased by a visit to this kind of old-school eatery. And, like some of the place’s vintage fellows, this diner is host to regular gatherings of vintage-car enthusiasts as well, so whether it’s one of those times or simply a hot afternoon when the need for an icy root beer is high, there can often be a sighting of a classic car or truck to enhance the entertainment. It all goes down so well with an order of Frito Pie and root beer, as any experienced soul can tell you.

If You don’t Like the Weather, Wait a Minute

photoHave you ever seen a pigeon flying backward? I did today. This phenomenal occurrence was not because I spotted a mutant genius helicopter pigeon; that really might be a matter for tales of magic and fantasy, given the modern pigeon’s brain.

It was that windy. The pigeon was making a valiant effort to take off from the edge of a roof and, blown instead straight backward, finally saw the same edge directly under him and came right back in for a landing. What’re you gonna do?

The wind is giving us a good whack here in north Texas today. Two days ago, it was over 80°F/27°C, brilliantly sunny, and calm as a sleeping cat. Tonight, we’re told, we can expect freezing temperatures and should cover all of our tender plants in the garden. A couple of days before our balmy pseudo-summer day, we had a storm pass through. Parts of our town had a little thunder and lightning and a fair amount of rain with a little bit of hail mixed in it, but nothing extravagant by local standards. Our house was in that lucky sector, and so was our car while we drove home in The Weather. Just across town, others were not so fortunate: some had hail the size of golf balls or larger, and tornado-like gusts, and among the downed trees and limbs there were homes where the roofs were destroyed or caved in, cars were damaged or totaled by metal-dimpling all over and glass smashed through, and interiors soaked with the rain and debris thrown in through the broken windows.

We’re torn, in more ways than strictly the physical, around here.

We crave every drop of H2O that we can squeeze out of the sky; even after a relatively mild number of months, our lake levels continue to be well below their norms, some still fully in drought status. It’s not considered a plus if you can drive directly to where your boat is moored, in case anyone wondered. All the same, if the moisture is dumped all at once as though shot through giant firehoses, it doesn’t always stay where it’s needed but instead causes flash floods, undermines foundations, uproots vegetation and breaks down buildings and roads left and right.

Doesn’t matter what you call it—climate change, global warming, a thirty-year cycle, or evil pixies run amok—the weather all around this wonderful, messy planet is more extreme than it had been for much of recent history. The extremes are more extreme, the heat and cold, the wind and dead stillness, the flooding and droughts. Only the inconsistency of the weather seems to be more, well, consistent.

All somewhat amusing, if the worst one experiences is the occasional sighting of a pigeon flying backward. But of course, that’s the least of it. Ask our neighbors who sustained major damage to house, car and property all at once last week. Ask the people—the peoples—displaced by tornado and typhoon, those who have lost home and family to the floods and famines that massacre everyone in their paths throughout whole regions.

I don’t much care about whether we’re partly to blame for the seeming extra intensity of nature’s capriciousness and fury at this point. It’s not all that different, in my mind, from all of the displacements, distortions and destruction in history that we can absolutely attribute to human invasion, conquest, greed, prejudice, ignorance and evil. As horrible as that stuff all, genuinely, is, it is: it exists, already. What matters is what we do now in order not to perpetuate the ills, and better yet, to mitigate them as best we can. We can’t undo history, and we can’t control nature. But we can and should change our attitudes, practices and beliefs (and the governing processes needed to support those societal improvements appropriately) in whatever ways will support a far better world, one where wars, rape, murder, slavery, thievery, violence and all sorts of other horrible human actions are not only universally condemned but undesirable to enact.

And, since we expect that we, and those generations who succeed us, will continue to need to live on this specific planet and its resources, hadn’t we better think up some less selfish and more practical ways of easing the effects of nature just as much as our effects on it? We won’t likely figure out how to stop the wind from blowing with great intensity, floods from filling valleys, hail from pelting like rocks out of the sky, or lightning from searing and exploding whatever it can lay its fiery fingertip on, but if we put our minds to it, maybe we can think up some reasonable ways to protect more people, and care for those who are affected, better.

I didn’t really start out with the intent of rambling on about this stuff, but it’s on my mind. Probably not so different from the pigeon’s reaction when he discovered his original flight plan wasn’t viable. Can I fly backward? I don’t know. But I’ll bet it’s worth trying, if I find myself needing to make an emergency landing. No matter how the wind is blowing.photo

Way Out Back

The ever-marvelous Celi, she of the sustainably-farmed wonders at The Kitchens Garden, challenged all of us to share what we see from our back porch, patio, stoop, door, window or patch of land, and the images pouring in have been a delight. Each so different, each from some other far-flung locale around the globe–but each seen from the home turf of a person joined together in this fantastic community of blogging and readership that makes the otherwise disparate styles and locations seem we are all next door neighbors. What a superb thing, to shrink the world down to a size that can easily fit into a single embrace!photoSo I give you a glimpse of what I see behind my home, too. Our house is situated on a city lot (about the typical suburban US standard of 50 x 100 feet), but it feels both less like a suburban place and much bigger because it backs on an easement, a small ravine for rain run-off and city/county service access. The ravine’s seldom wet (this is, after all, Texas) or used for services, so it’s mainly a tree-filled wild spot and a refuge for local birds, flora, insects, and an assortment of critters that have at various times included not only squirrels and raccoons but also rabbits, opossums, armadillos, deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. There have certainly been, along with the delightful bluejays and cardinals and wrens and chickadees, doves, grackles, hummingbirds and killdeers and all of those sorts of small-to mid-sized birds, plenty of hawks and vultures and, I suspect (since I know others not so far from here who have had visits from them) wild turkeys, though I’ve not seen the latter.photoWhat I have seen recently that is infrequent if not rare, is some very welcome rain pouring down on us here, so I’m showing you slightly uncommon backyard views today. The second picture is taken from our raised patio, but the first is the view as I most commonly see it: through the kitchen window, where I can stand safely out of the lightning’s reach (as on the day shown) and more comfortably in air-conditioned splendor than in the 90-105ºF (32-40ºC) we experience so often here. Believe me when I tell you that the intense green of this scene as shown is rather unusual for this time of year, when we would more often have much more brown and bedraggled plants all around us. But we also have the luxury of a sprinkler system, so if the ravine begins to droop in dry hot weather, we’re generally protected from terrible fire danger and can still be an inviting spot for the local wildlife to take its ease. To that end, and because I generally prefer the beauties of the more native and wild kinds of landscapes to the glories of the manicured, I have my new wildflower swath in place and it’s just beginning to show a variety of the flowers and grasses I’ve planted there; seen to the left of the grey gravel path in the second picture, it stretches from the patio all the way back to the ravine.

A Visitation from Gotcha and You-Know-Who

Ha! Just when the 100°F+  (38°C) weather has dragged on long enough for me to start whining about the lack of lively things happening in my garden and haul out the photo albums of earlier spring and summer shots to moon and maunder over, This. We came driving down to the end of our driveway last night after a concert and I saw something shining in the farthest reaches of our headlights. Then a twitch of movement. Saw a flash of pinkish color in the dim illumination.

photo

Halt! Who goes there?

After three years of living in Texas and only one sighting of an armadillo other than the variety occasionally spotted in a sort of worn-area-rug likeness on desolate stretches of highway, there in my own backyard were a pair of waddling ‘dillos searching the perimeter of the house for tasty bugs and grubs. I’ve known, of course, that living on a property that shares its back border with a little greenbelt ravine, we have all sorts of creatures–possums, raccoons, birds, insects, squirrels, wild rabbits, and the assortment of neighborhood cats and dogs that keep an eye on them all–there were likely armadillos too. I’ve heard from various locals of such residents as wild turkeys and coyotes, as well, and heard from a bobcat itself that it at least formerly inhabited our little slice of the semi-wildness. But other than the one unfortunate flat armadillo that I once found run over on a neighboring street, I’d not seen any hard evidence of their inhabiting this spot.

So it was a delight to see these funny, eccentric looking and shy nocturnal visitors not only in the neighborhood but in our own yard. They were remarkably unmoved by us, even when my chauffeuring spouse stopped the car, rolled up the automatic garage door and let me clamber out with my little camera to try to catch a glimpse of them to keep. They were already rounding the corner of the house almost immediately after we spotted them, so I crept indoors and out the front door. Our porch lights are meant only to light the porch, so there was no real way to see the critters in that dark, but as soon as I stepped out into the black I could hear bits of rustling off to my right. Yes, they’d come out to investigate the front flowerbeds and rummage in the buffet at the foot of the oak trees.

photo

You don’t scare us, we’re just deeply disinterested in your measly (and inedible) humanity when there’s an all-you-can-eat bug fest here.

Lacking any fabulous infrared spy camera or night vision goggles for the occasion, I simply took my little point-and-shoot in hand and, well, pointed and shot. Aimed for the scuffling and shuffling sounds as best I could. Caught a couple of quick little glimpses as the flash went off in its nearly random way. And rejoiced that these delightfully surreal animals had decided for once to pay me a visit when I could actually be on hand to appreciate it. Life does go on, no matter the weather, the season or the condition of my plants. After all, if the plants had continued to be too vigorous, the insects wouldn’t find such rich dining on them and there would be little fascinating forage for my miniature garden-zeppelin friends. And I do thank them for helping with the insect-control efforts here. And probably, for some free fertilizer in the bargain, especially if I startled anyone with my camera flash.

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Two long-tailed blimps bumbling around in the dirt by night . . . what could be better!

Like Ice Cream on a Blistering Day

digital collageIf I’ve learned anything in moving from the Pacific Northwest to Texas, it’s how to handle a wider range of temperatures than I was accustomed to experiencing on a regular basis. Part of that is thanks, I suspect, to a gradual cyclic change of the climate in general, and that was helpful in its way: the extremes at both ends of the weather spectrum had gotten slightly extended outward before I left western Washington, so while it was nowhere near as common to have three-digit Fahrenheit temperatures (around 38C) as it is here in my newer home, it came closer more often. And I can certainly credit a combination of my own tendency to freeze exceedingly easily, even to the point of having a nervelessly cold nose, during much of the year with the counterbalance of that delightful boon of aging, a personal microwave having been activated in my torso at various intervals from my arrival at a Certain Age and forward.photo

Then there was this relocation to Texas and the discovery that even a freezy-bones like me can learn to love air conditioning in the good old summertime, and conversely, that it really doesn’t have to be snowy, icy or even a notably low temperature to feel bitterly cold in the winter if the wind is howling through town sharply enough at the moment.

So what I’m working on is a sort of low-rent version of biofeedback: learning to think my way toward hot-and-cold happiness. Not hugely successfully, thus far, mind you–this is very much a work in progress. But I’m trying to convince myself that if other people can find the blast of the cold air returns in cafes and grocery aisles pleasant and comfortable, surely the temperature can’t be untenable for me. That if they can like sipping screamingly hot coffee or soup on a cool day and not develop third-degree burns, I should be able to warm up my refrigerated self in wintertime without having to set my socks on fire.photo

Now that it’s May and has passed 90F/32C at a hasty trot, I do need to get the whole plot in gear. While my brain is not necessarily already operating at top speed in gathering the necessary data to combat the actual, and already pretty nearly oppressive, heat, maybe if I dig deep into my treasury of imagination and do my best to imagine myself cooling off, there just may be hope yet.photo

It’s Hotter’n Holy Habañeros

Finn's grasshopper

Only the truly fabulous can look good when it's 104ºF in the shade

I generally try to keep a moderately cheery demeanor. Even on days when I’m forced to get up before, say, 10:30 a.m. or when the taxes haven’t been completely totted up and yet the single malt seems to have run out already. But when the thermometer sneers at me menacingly and I open the door to a whack of devil’s-breath heat, that’s it, I’m fried. The only saving grace is when I can retreat to the AC with unladylike speed and lounge around vegetating until my respiratory system and my hide recover and my bifocals turn back from the instant Spy-vs-Spy black they dive into as soon as the relentless rays stab at ’em. I’m grateful for the latter, mind you, as opposed to ocular cauterization, but there is a much greater lag on the return to clear-lens visibility, so why not just lie down until the emergency passes anyway? Perhaps it’s a natural consequence of sliding toward geezerhood, like so many other talents and skills I’ve been developing.

I’m trying to develop a metaphorical exoskeleton, to fend off the stuff that, like high external temperatures, is relatively escapable and inconsequential. So far I haven’t found the technique for making myself completely impervious to external woes, let alone those generated within, from personal crochets and peccadilloes–or are the latter, now that I live in Texas, armadillos?–to hot flashes. But I still fancy the idea that it should be possible to get past, through, and over the junk with which the rest of the galaxy opts to bombard me. A girl can dream . . . .