Cooking With Myra: If you plant it, they will come

By Myra Starkey
Oct. 1, 2013 at 5:01 a.m.

Red snapper with tomatoes, basil and capers

Red snapper with tomatoes, basil and capers

I was covered with dirt. The dirt was in my hair, under my fingernails and between my toes. My friend, Charlotte, did not look much better. Had I looked in a mirror, I would have probably seen dirt smeared on my face. It was hotter than hot and humid like only the South can be in the fall. Folks up north may be preparing for a long winter, but down here, we are planting autumn gardens. I love it.

Charlotte and I decided to plant a garden together, kind of a co-op thing. Because I am usually pressed for time during the week and on weekends, I thought partnering with a friend who can share in the work was a great idea. The plot of dirt is in my yard, but help is always welcome.

A good garden usually produces more than one family can eat. Each of us would contribute to the project with the hope that we would have a bumper crop of fall vegetables.

For most of my adult years, I have had a spring and fall garden. I grew up gardening with my dad, and although I am still learning, I must admit I have had a lot of success over the years. However, a year ago, the deer population discovered my patch of earth and saw it as a free, all-night, all-you-can-eat buffet.

I tried many different methods of keeping these opportunistic herbivores away, with little success. I finally gave up last spring when I had put in my second batch of tomatoes and woke up to see them nibbled to the ground - despite the fact that I had coated them with a specialized deer-keep-away product guaranteed to ruin their appetite. I then waged war and put up an electric fence, which I am proud to say keeps everyone away from the garden, including deer.

It gives off an eerie, sparking noise, sort of like a downed high-voltage power line. I have been shocked more than once, so I approach the garden with fear and trembling until I can pull the plug and deactivate the current.

Several weeks ago, I tilled my garden to get ready for fall planting. During the night, I heard hoof steps on my sidewalk and opened the front door. A buck and about 10 does were feasting on the Saint Augustine grass in my yard. Looking over to the garden, I noticed only two deer with their necks through the wire, which I left unplugged because nothing was planted. They were probably saying to one another, "I cannot wait till she puts in the exotic lettuces like last year."

If only I had a remote control switch. I could have put their little deer bladders to the test. The interesting part of this is that despite the fact that I was about 15 yards from the closest venison steak, they only looked up for a moment and continued to eat unfazed by my presence.

These are obviously city deer. They did not scamper and bound over the fence until I jumped up and down, yelled and flapped my arms like a bird. If you were in the car that drove by during that time, this should explain my behavior on the porch.

Finally, the day arrived when both Charlotte and I could work together to plant the garden. We visited several nurseries to look for plants, which would give us about a six-week jump on the harvest. I had already purchased lettuce, kale, beets, radish and mustard greens in seed form.

Fall is usually a time I plant a lot of greens, so we generally have enough to feed a small army. The soil was ready, having been tilled twice. We fell to our knees to begin planting. We had drawn a plan of where to place each plant, and we generally followed it, although there are probably going to be several surprises because a lot of lettuce seed looks the same. We worked nonstop until about 4 p.m., taking only one break to eat apple slices and drink more water. In the end, we sat back and were pleased with our effort.

I am a romantic when it comes to gardening. I like the garden to be beautiful and bountiful. Organized rows and weed-free paths excite me. However, nothing is more exciting than to cook the fruits of your labor. Most cooking magazines show beautiful photos of farm-to-table dinners in pastures.

Twinkle lights blink overhead while friends feast at 20-foot long tables laden with root vegetables and lettuces so fresh they were picked moments before the guest arrive. I think Charlotte and I can accomplish a dinner like that when our harvest comes in. I haven't yet worked out how I can hang the twinkle lights, but I am sure we will have enough lettuce. Maybe we can even have venison for the entree.

Last week, Taylor and I took my friend, Janet, out for her birthday. Her husband, Bill, and her sister, Cheryl, went with us to The Sendera. This new restaurant is located on the 12th floor of the tallest building in downtown Victoria.

The ranch theme is carried out throughout the dining room and bar area. While we were there, Dennis, a friend who also happens to own the place with his wife, Louise, brought me a sample of a dry-aged steak.

This is one of their specialties. I had never tasted that before. I typically do not eat lots of beef, but the flavor was an unexpected surprise. The meat had a mild, blue-cheese type taste, being creamy and salty at the same time. It was extremely tender and had an amazing flavor. I hope to go back soon and get a recipe or two that I can share.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email



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