Salsa di Pomidoro

About that tomato sauce recipe I alluded to a couple of posts back but never produced. We traveled north on vacation for awhile but, upon our recent return, I found the garden had yielded several big tomatoes despite our absence, and lack of water and the extreme steam heat. It jogged my memory. The recipe is good, and it’s here:

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This recipe requires fresh, ripe tomatoes, and the results are lighter than the more typical Italian past gravy, but very tasty nonetheless. I much prefer using a food mill to remove the skin and seeds from the tomatoes, as it simultaneously pulverizes all the good stuff into a thick, sauce-like consistency. If you don’t have one, you can drop the tomatoes into a large pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes until the skins loosen, them drop them into a sink full of cold water, then drain the water, cut out the cores with a paring knife and squeeze out the seeds at your option.

INGREDIENTS:

– 4 to 5 pounds of fresh, ripe garden tomatoes
– 1 large sweet onion, such as Vidalia
– 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
– 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

– Cut the tomatoes into quarters and run them through the food mill, or follow the procedure above if you’re processing them by hand
– Pour the resulting tomato mash into a large, heavy pan. Add half of the onion, sliced thin. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool to near room temperature.
– Pour the sauce into a blender (you may have to do this in two or three batches). Blend until smooth.
– Finely chop the remaining half onion. Add the olive oil to a large, heavy pan, heat and then add the onion. Stir and cook until it turns golden yellow. Add the oregano, basil, salt and pepper and stir for another minute or two, then add the blended tomato sauce.
– Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 15 to 25 minutes.

I think this sauce is great over pasta just as it is. It’s also easily converted to pasta gravy, by adding a little cinnamon, allspice and brown sugar.

That’s our program for today, boys and girls. Happy trails!

Posted in Food, Food Preservation, Garden, Vegetables

Respite

So for once the usually dead-on weather-service prognosticators of Brazos River depths were off, and instead of a flooded weekend full of 50-foot-plus concern, the river “only” reached 46 feet. That’s high, but below flood stage, meaning my neighbors three blocks away were able to park their cars in their own driveways, and no one had to break out the canoes.

Two houses down, my friend Jimmy fashioned five trotlines, anchored them to his back fence, attached several large hooks to each line, secured bait shrimp to each hook, and slung them into the swollen river. A few nice, large blue catfish obliged him for his efforts. Free food from the outback.

As for the Brazos, this morning it is obviously dropping rapidly, and soon we’ll see just how many tons of sand and clay it decides to dump upon the newly dumped sand and clay it just left a few days ago before this crazy weather cycle started up again.

In the meantime, it was almost beautiful for a flood.

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Posted in Brazos River

Bill Me Later

I wanted to write about this simple but awesome fresh tomato sauce recipe I’ve been trying to perfect lately, honestly. The last thing I want to write about again is the damn river. I’m sick of dealing with it, you’re sick of reading me bitch about it. Still, it’s as if, say, former Microsoft chief Bill Gates came for an extended visit. Whatever you think of him, Gates is a big deal, and so you’d have to write about him. Then, if he hung around longer than either of you planned and you’d run out of things to show him and you’d already made him your best dinners and he wouldn’t even discuss open-source software and he was becoming an opinionated pain in the ass – you’d still have to write about him because, hey, Bill Gates.

Except, for us here at the One Acre Ranch, it’s like the Brazos has been our house guest. It’s like that old Zen-like song by that old Scottish singer Donovan, almost: First there is a river, then there is no river, then there is.

First There Is A River.

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Old news is that it rained nearly every day in May and eventually the Brazos River out back got angry, my friends, and swelled up and rose to a depth of more than 50 feet when it’s usually more like 11, which brought water right up to the edge of my back garden, and nearly to my neighbor’s back bedroom, at which point your mind starts wandering to a place you’d rather it not go.

Then There Is No River.

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Over the past several days the rains stopped and the river very gradually dropped, until just yesterday it had almost disappeared from the rear edge of our property. In its place were several tons of sand and mud, accompanied by gnats and mosquitoes, but hey, things were drying out and headed in the right direction.

Then Bill showed up.

Not Bill Gates, but almost as bad: Tropical Storm Bill. Yesterday, Bill came ashore probably 70 miles south-southwest of us, packing not all that much wind but a lot of rain. It swirled, as such storms do, sending fat tendrils of thunderstorms up and out from the center, especially on the east side of the storm, what they call the “dirty” side. That was the side we were on, but there was this area between the main storm and the biggest bands, an area that didn’t get as much rain, and hardly any lightening. We were in that calm area, and we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune.

Except that the areas of heaviest gully-washing downpour, yesterday and again today, right now, include mostly the area in east-central Texas drained by the upper Brazos River. Which of course turns into the lower Brazos River. As in, right out back.

Then There Is.

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So this morning I see that the good folks at the National Weather Service’s river prognostication headquarters are predicting that, by Monday, the good old river is going to rise, coincidentally, to precisely the same 50.1-foot depth from which it just began shrinking a few days ago. That depth is about 2 inches less than the all-time deepest modern recorded depth. What are the odds you’d have a 100-year flood twice in the same month? Is that fair?

It’s approximately like walking down the Ark’s gangplank after having successfully survived that Biblical disaster only to have the Lord realize He hadn’t quite snuffed out all the miscreants yet, and so He orders everybody back on board for another Thunder Cruise.

And then you find out Bill and Melinda Gates are on the guest list.

Posted in Be Afraid, Brazos River, Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be

Aftermath

After the flood: Mud.

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Our near-month of torrential cloudbursts, and the subsequent flooding of the Brazos River, came to an end. That river, which some may recall runs up against our property, washed right over a lot of it, rising from a channel depth of about 10 feet to a crest last week of 50.1 feet, just a couple of inches shy of a modern-day record set in 1994 at 50.3 feet.

I felt compelled to commemorate the topping of the 50-foot mark by wading into what used to be the back yard behind our other back yard, and coaxing my wife to take a few photos of the event.

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This is something, I must say, that you kids should not try at home. However, I wasn’t out as far from dry land as the photo may appear, and there was very little current in this area. On the other hand, the river swallowed many thousands of acres of wild animal habitat, and one had to be very careful not to run afoul of snakes, rats and other vermin displaced by the flood.

Out in the center of the river, by contrast, the Brazos was flowing at up to about 85,000 cubic feet of water per second, which is just crazy. About three days before it crested, the waterway looked like this:

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While water came lapping up near my back garden, our back yard proper stayed high and dry. The dead-end portion of our road, however, – less than a mile from the bridge above, and the equivalent of two blocks from our house – began filling with water once the river hit about 48 feet.

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That water gradually backed up toward our place as the river rose to 50 feet, getting close enough that water began filling the ditch at the front of our property, although the road stayed completely dry and passable.

Even the homes pictured above never took on water; their owners just couldn’t drive in or out of their driveways for a few days. And as far as I have been able to tell, no one, even in a couple of trailer parks that bump up very close to the river, took on water in his or her home.

The basketball tournament, however, was canceled.

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All that’s left now is to wait – wait and wait and wait for the huge load of mud, sand and clay to dry. From past experience, I expect this will take several weeks. The river dumped tons of sand at the back of my neighbor’s yard, some of it finding its way to my property. This is good, as far as I’m concerned, because it’ll probably serve as a barrier in floods to come.

But our lawns are going to look very shabby indeed for a long while to come, as it’s not easy to mow through a 6-inch covering of mud – wet or dry. Not to mention the stray tree limbs and timbers and trash left behind. All told, I don’t mind. If I have to wade through muck and haul off stray logs every 20 years or so, it’s a fair trade for being able to live along what ordinarily is a wild and beautiful body of water.

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Posted in Brazos River, Nature

That Old Stevie Ray Vaughan Line

Oh, it’s floodin’ down in Texas,
All of the telephone lines are down
Oh, it’s floodin’ down in Texas,
All of the telephone lines are down.
I been tryin’ to call my baby,
And I can’t hear a single sound.

Since last I reported on happenings within the Texas rainforest, things got more so, only crunchy. As in 10 inches of rain over about six hours Monday night and Tuesday morning, inside a slow-moving and intense lightening storm complete with down-drafts of wind fierce enough that they pulled an electrical transformer off of its wires on a nearby power pole and flung it to the ground, before ripping out a neighbor’s pecan tree and pushing it across the power lines.

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The fire department blocked off traffic, the school district decided to close and a fair percentage of Houston apparently was under water. We got to try out the new propane-powered electric generator, once it became apparent that 100,000 people from here to Houston were without power, and the electric utility did not consider our little neighborhood a particular priority, notwithstanding power lines lying in the road.

The generator works great. Enough to run the freezer, refrigerator, an upstairs window-unit AC and various laptops and phone chargers, with power enough to spare that we had fresh coffee.

The power came back on at about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, but the crew just performed triage – obtaining electricity for the neighborhood but leaving the tree across sagging lines, and the power pole out front leaning precariously.

Meanwhile, out back, the Brazos River has been absorbing the past few weeks’ statewide downpours to the point where the river is expected to crest above 49 feet on Saturday. That might put it inside my neighbor’s back garden, close enough to the house to elicit sober reflection, I am sure, but not so high as to trigger the packing of suitcases and an evacuation. (Hope I didn’t just jinx us).

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The area above recently was a part of my far back yard. I am sorry for the bluebirds. More pictures (and, unfortunately, mosquitoes) as the flooding progresses.

And remember: “Stop, drop and roll” is not a proper response for every sort of emergency.

Posted in Brazos River, Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be, Texas

Welcome To The Rainforest

Distant thunder gently wakes me, then rocks me back to a deep sleep. Like a snooze alarm with a slapstick punchline five minutes later: Wham! and the house shakes with the force of the lightening bolt, probably the next one hovering right over my head, 800 yards straight up in the sky and coming down fast.

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Welcome to the rainforest.

I’m up with the second crash, heading around the corner to my office computer, dialing in the local weather radar on the Interwebnets, confirming all hell is about to break loose, again, and shutting down the computer and monitor before the little electric men living inside the lightening can crawl up the wires and fry the motherboard.

March, April, May. Three months of incredible rain events, these past two weeks probably the incrediblest, have taken the entire state of Texas and its vast collection of two-thirds-empty river reservoirs and filled them right up, taken our “dry” creek systems and leaking farm ponds, our ground water tables, our Brazos and Colorado rivers, our crackling dry prairies and bare-dirt rice fields and rejuvenated them to overflowing.

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Overflowing with mosquitoes, too. Flash floods and tornado warnings and a river running through the lower back yard like a pack of thieves looking for anything not tied down, and grabbing it up, tossing it into the trailer and driving off downstream to dump it onto the great piles of crap down in Freeport where river meets Gulf.

It happened again this morning. It’s scheduled to happen again tomorrow. Like that old Walt Disney movie where Mickey Mouse is the Sorcerer’s Apprentice and gets the broomsticks marching around with sloshing buckets of water, but doesn’t know how to make them stop.

Keep praying, California, all your dreams can come true. But be careful what you wish for.

Posted in Nature, Nobody Gets It Like They Want It To Be, Texas, Writing

Close Encounters Of The Dog Kind

Here’s how it goes:

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That’s Boo, our new-ish 5-month-old Catahoula. As you could gather from the photo, she is not a shy being. She doesn’t know much yet, but everything is her business. In her canine way, she shoots first and asks questions later.
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That’s the Brazos River, blustering along after about two weeks worth of constant rain, running at a depth of about 41 feet instead of the usual 11. In our part of the state, the Brazos is heavily wooded, and populated by all manner of critters. When floodwater covers up miles of animal habitat, those animals move up the riverbanks. As the river rises, the critters rise with it. Among these are many varieties of snakes.

We had been gradually allowing Boo to spend more of her time unsupervised – along with her older dog uncle, Bosco – in the fenced-in back yard. She has discovered squirrels, and began sneaking through the bushes trying to catch one.

It was Wednesday evening and time for her last meal of the day. I went out to bring her in, and my daughter told me she couldn’t be found. My wife and son joined us outside combing the yards, calling her. Ten minutes went by, and no luck. We all were getting worried. I grabbed a flashlight and started crawling under the house, the only place we hadn’t yet looked.

Boo was there in a corner, shaking slightly and holding up a swollen paw, looking somewhat in shock.

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She’d been snake-bitten, but of course the snake was nowhere to be found. Probably it happened in some bushes along the yard’s periphery, and she ran under the house where she felt safest.

Our veterinarian provides emergency care, but he was somewhere in the outback de-horning cattle. His assistant recommended giving Boo 50 mg. of Benedryl and calling the only area emergency animal care center, in Sugar Land. People at the center told us to bring the dog in right away.

I wasn’t happy with their methods. Instead of consulting with us while looking over the dog, and then agreeing on a treatment, they whisked her away and apparently diagnosed her in a back room somewhere, then came out and tried to push $1,900 in tests and procedures on us, including administering antivenin. I’d read that antivenin isn’t usually needed for a copperhead or water moccasin bite – one of which is almost certain to have delivered the bite in this case. I’d also read that antivenin causes a violent allergic reaction in something like 10% of dogs. The clinic vet and I didn’t get along. She wanted to keep Boo overnight and give a series of three blood tests, plus the antivenin. We settled on them giving us an antibiotic and some pain medication, and we took her home. She marked “AMA” on our invoice – “against medical advice.”

Our regular vet told me the next morning that the blood tests the Sugar Land clinic had insisted on served no purpose given the circumstances. He confirmed what I’d read about antivenin, and said about the only time it’s needed in this part of Texas is in a case where a large rattlesnake bites a dog in the chest. He also told me we were correct to bring our beast home. Most young, healthy dogs such as Boo would recover unscathed from a copperhead bite without any treatment at all, he added – although it would surely be a painful recovery. In Boo’s case, her left front paw seemed hugely swollen Wednesday night – all the way to her elbow. The next morning at our vet’s, the swelling had gone down on its own to about half of what it had been. He gave her a $20 penicillin and steroid shot, and three or four hours later it was hard to see any swelling at all.

There’s still a nasty wound just above her paw pad, and we have to watch her closely to make sure it doesn’t become infected, but I think in another three or four days the whole episode will be just a distant memory.

Not too distant in the dog’s memory, though, I hope, as given the fact we live in the woods along a major river in the Deep South, it’s a certainty this won’t be the only snake that crosses her path.

Posted in Brazos River, Critters, Health Care, Texas