Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cheating at Landscaping

April 21, 2013

Living in an apartment has its perks. Technically I rent a condo, but the same would apply if and when I buy it. What I'm thinking about right now is landscaping. It's like cheating. You don't have to do any of the work and you get all of the benefits. (Not ALL of the benefits; you don't get to do the design part. But I haven't had much exposure to that anyway, so it's not a big loss.)

I live in a small village (technically a Census-Designated Place) in Austin, TX called Anderson Mill. Behind the condos there's a park built around the rainwater run-off drainage ditch. There is a walk/run trail going around it. These greenbelts are all over Austin. An acquaintance recently referred to this kind of park as a Pocket Park and that's a good way of putting it. There are several in the area; this one happens to run right behind my condo. 

Today is the most beautiful day in the history of mankind. It's possible that I'm a little giddy from being out in the beauty of it all and that I'm exaggerating the tiniest bit. But truly, it's a beautiful day. Not too hot, not cold. The sun pops in and out from behind non-threatening clouds. The birds are singing and the world is just calling for people to come out and dance. So I did; I went for a walk. 

I've been working on a project and I came to a point in which I needed to think. Not work, not look at it, just step back and think about it. So, I wandered to the park and walked under the trees, mumbling to myself as I thought things out. The trail runs on both sides of the gully (ditch is such a prosaic word) and you have to walk quite a way up to a little playground, turn a corner and further up to the nearest neighborhood street to cross over to the other side. You could just go down and back up to cross over any time you wanted, but that defeats the purpose. I was walking along and I noticed how green the grass was and how neatly cut. If you're not from Central Texas you may not understand the full impact of that statement – in the middle of the drought we've been enduring. As I was walking I caught the scent of honeysuckle. I looked back and I had, indeed, just walked past some growing on a fence. God bless those people for putting that in their back yard. There is something about honeysuckle that proclaims Spring with a capital S. There are other signs of spring, and there are other scents that are pleasant, but the light, happy, slightly tipsy smell of honeysuckle is irreplaceable.

Having crossed over on the bridge and heading back on the far side of the gully I noticed for the first time a path leading from the trail to a street. The path went between two fences, so it was clearly not private property. I walked up to the street and there was a small sign inviting people to enjoy Anderson Mill Park by following the set rules that it proceeded to numerate. Across the street a young man was mowing his lawn. That's when it occurred to me that I get to enjoy the beauty of the landscaping – the lawns, the trees, the flower beds that people put in front and back of their homes – without having to be tied to doing the labor myself. If I owned a home, mine would be the one sore spot in the block that was full of weeds and never properly mown. So, it's best that things be the way they are.

Back on the trail, I walked under a bunch of limbs that create a sort of tunnel, tree limbs and leaves that shade the area and old, thick vines that give character and make it one of my favorite spots on the walk. Presently I came to the little foot bridge that brought me back around to my side of the gully and back toward home. What a pleasant walk that was. When the temperature gets to be in the hundreds for a record number of days it won't be quite as pleasant. But for now it is just the most beautiful day imaginable.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Pasta and Herbs

April 2, 2013

Gift from a dear friend:

Herbs for Cooking

(Garlic and Jalapeño are dried – everything is dried. Even the Rosemary is dried and must be pulverized somewhat because it's not sticks like I would have thought.) My friend went to the trouble to gather these herbs individually at a store that sells them in bulk. She put them together in a small, flat tin and hand-wrote on the top of it the spices that she included.

Choice of pasta: Fettuccini. I felt that the flat surface of the pasta would hold the sauce and herbs better than a tiny spaghetti.

Boil the fettuccini according to directions on the package. While it's cooking, put some butter and a turn 'round the pan of extra virgin olive oil. Put about a couple of teaspoons of the herbs into the oil mixture and stir. You don't want the oil so hot that the herbs sizzle, just enough to melt the butter and keep everything warm and kind of working.

When the pasta has finished cooking strain it, keeping some of the pasta water. (Don't worry about straining it too completely, the extra starchy water will help.) Pour the pasta into the pan with the butter and a couple of spoonfuls of the pasta water (or more, if the spirit moves you. I've heard that the starchy water that the pasta cooked in will help thicken everything, like flour or cornstarch.) Grate some parmesan or romano cheese on top. (I happen to have romano and not parmesan on hand.) At this point I also added a dash of salt – because I like salt – and some fresh ground pepper. Fresh ground in this case if you have it. The oils won't be cooked away and you'll be able to tell the difference. Toss it around to cover all of the fettuccini and get everything mixed and thickened. Not too long, we don't want fried fettuccini. Pour into a pasta bowl and enjoy with a lovely white wine

If I had a better camera I would have taken a picture for you. As it is you'll have to imagine the light sauce and dark little specks of herbs on the fettuccini, all piled haphazardly in a hand-thrown greenish ceramic pasta bowl (courtesy of Michael Obranovich).

Thank you, dear friend, for the wonderful gift. I'm enjoying it tremendously.