Since today is our oldest cat Leiber’s birthday, time for a pair of classics:
Since today is our oldest cat Leiber’s birthday, time for a pair of classics:
Nearly a third of the way through the year, and April 2018 is already shaping up to be a lot less exciting than April 2017. Of course, this time last year involved frantic shelf-installing and box-unpacking after the move from the old gallery space at Valley View Center, so it’s all a matter of perspective. (And if anybody had any doubts about not getting involved with the Rock Candy Mountain promises of artist spaces opening up at the Midtown project allegedly replacing Valley View, they’re gone now.) Yes, the weather keeps fluctuating between “typical” and “too cold to get out of bed right now,” but we haven’t actually gone below freezing…yet.
As far as last weekend’s Manchester United Flower Show was concerned, April follows in the tradition of last February: announce a gallery event, get everything ready to go, and then watch the weather feeds for impending catastrophe as a sudden atmospheric fewmet comes to visit for a while. Last February, it was a last-minute ice storm that hit north and west of Dallas, making a lot of potential attendees understandably reconsider a trip into Dallas if the roads were going to be frozen over by the time they attempted to return home. This time, Friday festivities were greeted with tornado sirens going off over most of North Texas: we got a bit of heavy rain for about an hour, but a friend coming in from Chicago found shelter with a multitude of others in a furniture store north of here, and folks to the south and the west had their own issues with hail and lightning. What issues Friday brought were mitigated on Saturday, where chilly but otherwise excellent weather brought out lots of first-time visitors and Valley View regulars. If nothing else, the weather caused reevaluations of having an outdoor event in spring, because any tents set up in the parking lot would have been blown to Oz and back. Maybe next year.
And on that note, further events in April will be restricted due to the need to get ready for Texas Frightmare Weekend on May 4 through 6, and then things get interesting. It’s too early to discuss particulars, but everything leads to a gallery show on June 30, just in time for everyone uninterested in traveling out of town for the July 4 weekend. The subject of that show is a secret, too, but let’s just say that anyone attending can say with authority that they’ve never been to an art show like this one.
Lateral shift to go back to talking about Texas Frightmare Weekend: the vendor map and listings arrived yesterday, and we’re back on our favorite row. As for most of the decade, the epicenter of Frightmare is at the Hyatt Regency DFW in DFW Airport, thus making the entire wing of DFW Airport by the hotel available parking for the convention. As in previous years, the Triffid Ranch and Tawanda! Jewelry tables will be in the back of the Made In Texas Hall in the hotel basement, right next to the signing lines. Since this coincides with the first-ever Triffid Ranch show a decade ago, those already taking advantage of the Shirt Price discounts have an extra incentive to wear their Triffid Ranch T-shirts to the show: while supplies last, everyone showing up in a Triffid Ranch shirt or purchasing a shirt at the show gets a special present, no additional purchase necessary or needed. It’s just an extra bit of thanks to those who have not only made Texas Frightmare Weekend one of my favorite shows, but who have made the previous nine shows so much fun.
One ancillary note about Frightmare, not for this year but for next year: I’m regularly asked about getting vendor space at Fan Expo, the local convention that inspired the “Malcolm Rule” mentioned a few weeks back. I’ve balked for many reasons, and now my refusal became personal. Ever since the old Dallas Comicon was purchased by out-of-town convention accumulators and turned into Fan Expo, it and its associated Fan Days events always conveniently scheduled themselves against other similar events so that local attendees could do one or the other but not both. (Longtime fans may remember when the Dallas Fantasy Fairs did the same thing in the early Nineties, stunting or killing up-and-coming conventions that simply couldn’t compete against the Flimsy Fair hype machine and guest lists. Those fans who aren’t longtime fans might not be familiar with the name “Dallas Fantasy Fair,” as the Flimsy Fairs blew up very spectacularly in 1996 after choking out all other competition, just in time for the big comics speculation bust that caused Marvel Comics to file for bankruptcy at the end of the year.) Five years back, Fan Expo’s parent company offered to buy Texas Frightmare Weekend for a pittance, and when told no, attempted to run a horror convention within the main show that was an unrelenting disaster. Since then, Fan Expo management concentrated on scheduling opposite the A-Kon anime convention, ultimately causing it to move out of Dallas entirely, and then settled for running two weeks after All-Con.
Well, that was 2018. You can imagine the surprise vendors at Fan Expo 2018 had when they received advance registration forms for 2019, and discovered that Fan Expo had moved its date to the first weekend of May. Not only does this directly conflict with Texas Frightmare Weekend, forcing attendees and vendors to choose one and only one, but May 4 is also Free Comic Book Day across the US and Canada. Frightmare never competed against the many comic shops in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex participating in Free Comic Book Day, but Fan Expo’s list of comic artist and comic adaptation film and TV star guests does, and not just with comics dealers and stores having to man a booth at Fan Expo during their stores’ busiest day of the year. Fan Expo management hasn’t released a statement as to why the schedule suddenly needed switching, but I’ll bet $10 that when it’s finally released, the statement will bray something along the lines of “this is a pure coincidence.”
I’m sure it is. Of COURSE it is. Likewise, it’ll be a pure coincidence that everyone involved with Frightmare, from staff to vendors to guests to attendees, will spend the next year doing nothing but amping their games so Frightmare isn’t just the biggest show in Dallas on that weekend, but the must-attend show of its kind in all of North America. It’ll also be pure coincidence that so many of us involved in Frightmare will do our utmost to have the backs of our comic shop brethren when May 4, 2019 comes around. Refusing to advertise with venues that continue to do business with Fan Expo, for instance, or otherwise demonstrating with dollars or shoe leather that scheduling opposite established events with the attempt to create a monopoly may not turn out the way everyone expected. After all, the Dallas Fantasy Fairs attempted to create a similar monopoly, and a little voice should have told their organizers what Fan Expo management really needs to hear:
And now on a purely friendly note. It’s been about three years since the last Cat Monday event on this site, mostly due to the time taken by the gallery, but its main subject, Leiber, is still going strong. As of Friday the 13, Leiber turns 16: he’s still the so-dopy-he’s-cute FreakBeast he was when we adopted him in August of 2002, but he’s a little stiffer today. Aren’t we all. Those who have met him are welcome to wish him a happy birthday, although he’ll probably only care if the person offering the wishes brings cat treats as well. And so it goes.
Although she rarely has any involvement with actual growing facilities at the Triffid Ranch, the Czarina asked for an exception this year. While my dislike of sweet potatoes isn’t on a par with that of butternut squash or bell peppers, planting them for my own use never really came up on the radar. However, she adores them, and she regularly shares roasted sweet potatoes with our cat Leiber. Yes, the cat loves sweet potatoes, and since his consumption seems to cut down on piles of cat vomit randomly encountered in the dark, that’s a reason alone to try my hand at growing my own.
The reality is that half of the fun of experiencing a new plant is not knowing anything about its initial growth, and watching the whole process. The other half is having a growing area that was criminally underutilized. Since the big silverleaf maples came down two years ago, this space had little to no shade during the worst of the summer heat, and the usual assemblage of tomatoes, white potatoes, or other essentials burned off by mid-June. When the Czarina gave me a stored sweet potato that had started sprouting and asked if I could plant it in the space, I told her “I’ll do what I can, but I can’t make any promises.” I knew they could handle Texas heat, but could they handle our ridiculously low North Texas humidity?
As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. The growing area had become the depository of nearly five years of kitchen compost, dead Sarracenia and Nepenthes leaves, extra potting mix from repottings, and the occasional bag of grass cuttings dumped on top to keep things moist. Five years of earthworms, ox beetle grubs, and the occasional armadillo later, and the soil in that depository had become a fluffy, rich loam, absolutely perfect for both growing and harvesting any root crops growing in it. Harvesting wasn’t a matter of digging out as it was simply brushing off dirt and hauling it in.
But I get ahead of myself. Much like the sweet potato cousin the moonflower (Ipomoea alba), the biggest issue with sweet potatoes is getting them established. I suspect both species work in symbiosis with fungi in a commensual relationship, because the first year of trying to get either to grow is a bear, but after that first year, the seeds or tubers practically sprout the moment they touch the ground. I don’t know if I actually got any sweet potato seeds in the growing area this year, but judging by the number of stunning flowers growing under the foliage, I may luck out. Unlike other members of the genus Ipomoea, these flowers remain hidden under multiple layers of foliage, and I suspect that they fluoresce extensively under UV light, possibly encouraging night pollinators.
About that foliage, that’s one thing about sweet potatoes. It’s not shy about taking over the planet. By the beginning of August, mowing the lawn around the greenhouse was a proposition, as the sweet potato vines spreading outward tend to wrap around and tangle up lawn mower blades. This was about the time we discovered that sweet potato leaves made excellent additions to stir-fry or as a substitute for spinach in various recipes. At that point, the questions was whether the sweet potato would ask for UN citizenship to protect it from the Czarina’s depredations. It actually worked out well, because until Halloween weekend, it was growing new leaves faster than she could strip them out. In the meantime, the vines also offered great shelter for praying mantises and anole lizards, so building a trellis alongside the greenhouse and encouraging sweet potatoes to act as shade plants might be an option.
Sadly, with Halloween came the threat of cold weather, and if there’s one thing that will ruin a sweet potato harvest, it’s the rot spread by dead and dying vines killed off by a good frost. This meant that they had to come out and start curing in a high-humidity area before they went bad. As mentioned before, the soil was so loose that the only hardship was finding the base of the plant. I say this after the vines had swallowed a rain gauge, two sprinkler heads, and a chiminea, but lifting up the mat of intertwined vines finally revealed the crown of the plant, and some quick grubbing around it came across the first of the tubers.
Having never done this before, I fully expected the usual beginner’s harvest: two or three tubers, and won’t I feel great about my accomplishments? Apparently, though, all of those composted Sarracenia leaves contributed to the tilth, because one removed tuber would reveal another. And another. And another. By the time things were finished, I managed to get nearly 15 kilos of tubers out of that tiny little space, and I still think I missed a few.
With the soil not consisting solely of Black Prairie clay, cleanup was remarkably easy: a quick wash with the hose, setting them in the sun to dry, and a quick inspection for damage or rot. Both the wife and the cat were even more impressed by the harvest: Leiber has never had interest in raw sweet potatoes before, but he looked half-tempted to take a chunk right then and there.
Another thing about this adventure is the realization that what we think of as “typical” sweet potato sizes are more dictated by market pressures than by any plant-imposed maximum. The first few dug up were “typical” in size, and then this one revealed itself. I now understand the source of canned sweet potatoes, as this one was too big just to cook up and eat, so it became the core of several batches of sweet potato bread. I had no real interest, but judging by the way friends were tearing into it, it was that much more for everybody else.
Finally, we got this beast, nearly the size of a soccer ball. Upon seeing pictures of this one roasting in a casserole dish, after FIVE HOURS of roasting to get it cooked all the way through, old friend Cat Sparks exclaimed “That’s not a sweet potato! That’s a Sontaran‘s head!!” I couldn’t disagee, and if I can get more spherical ones such as this, I may have a viable replacement for pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns that can grow in our heat. But first, I’m training the next batch to climb up trellises, grow up onto the roof, and shade the garage. I have my priorities in order.
EDIT: Since people started asking about the sweet potato bread recipe, here’s the Czarina’s own recipe, in her own words:
So, I’m giving you the recipe for sweet potato bread. However, be warned. I’m renaming it ‘crack bread’. You have no idea how addictive this bread is. On one side, it is low in carbs, and does have some protein, but it’s not calorie-free.
You’ve been warned.
Sweet Potato bread-
2 cups of brown sugar
1 cup of white sugar
2 cups of cold mashed sweet potatoes
1 tsp of vanilla extract
2 3/4 all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 (or less) tsp of salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup of chocolate chips, dark chocolate preferably.
Now this mixture will get Thick, so I’d pull out the mixer. I nearly killed my little handheld mixer.
In a bowl, combine sugar, eggs, sweet potatoes, and vanilla. mix well.
add all the spices, mix well.
combine flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder, and mix in gradually into your sweet potato mixture. Lastly, add chocolate chips, or if you prefer, a cup of pecans.
Bake at 350, for about 45-50 minutes, testing to see if a toothpick will pull out cleanly at the center of the bread. Time may vary on oven. One mixture equals about three smaller loaves for me.
Now don’t say I didn’t warn you.