Monday, June 29, 2009

Vegetable garden's harvest update

Cherokee Purples, sungold cherries, soyu cucumbers, one jalapeno, and two volunteer Little Porters (above the jalapeno)

Although I’ve hand-watered some (even established drought-tolerant!) plants in the super-sunny front yard and a few potted plants all over the place, I’ve tried to conserve most of my water for the vegetable garden. The tall old elms and sycamore have provided shade enough to help protect the tomatoes from our continued triple-digit heat.

My friend, farmer Larry Butler of Boggy Creek organic farm stand, told me to go ahead and bring inside any tomatoes the minute they showed any hint of blush color, because that first turn of color indicates an enzyme’s working that means it won’t make any difference if the tomato’s on the vine subject to critters or inside, safe. It’s going to ripen, just the same.

I followed his advice but also brought in a few greener tomatoes that had cracks, because I thought the cracks were probably invitations for insects or disease and would rather sacrifice a bit of flavor than the whole tomato.

The squirrels and birds aren't going for these sungold cherry tomatoes.

I still have at least ten decent-sized Cherokee Purples on the vine, under the bird netting.

My first Black Krims, the only tomato I planted from seed to set fruit.

Soyu cucumbers are still producing.

Slow but steady jalapenos

Prolific basil

I just recently learned the procedure (thanks Renee and Carl) for saving tomato seeds from the yummiest ones you eat: put the seeds with their juices (e.g., from your cutting board) etc in a container with a little filtered water, and stir the mixture up with your finger.

After repeating this for two or three days, drain and rinse the seeds clean (again, with filtered water) through a fine strainer. Then let them dry out in the strainer.

This seed-saving procedure seems to work fine if your cat doesn't sip the tomato seed water and/or drag her tail through it.

Don't leave your tomato seed juice on the table if it's so precious.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More from today's Yogurt Shop Murders hearing that resulted in the release of Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen on bond

Unlike past pretrial hearings, the courtroom this morning was very crowded and included head DA Rosemary Lehmberg, first assistant DA John Neal, and police chief Art Acevedo.

Defense attorneys objected to the state’s motion for a continuance because they say the state has had plenty of time--it’s been more than a year since they began the new Y-STR testing--to try to find out the identity of the unknown male DNA, and if they can’t match it to anyone, they should just drop the charges.

Furthermore, the defense argued, prosecutors haven’t said how much extra time they want and they will be using the extra time not just for DNA testing but for “trying to find more witnesses to shore up their case.” Prosecutor Efrain De La Fuente said the state was not looking for additional witnesses.

Judge Mike Lynch said he hadn’t seen the state’s motion for a continuance until he took the bench, and he seemed somewhat surprised by it.

The judge took about a five-minute recess to review the motion before granting the continuance, adding that at the next hearing on August 12, he “expects the state to give a better idea of a trial date or the court will set one” and that there will be “no more continuances.” Although the defense pushed for a September trial date, Lynch said he wasn’t prepared to set the date today.

Defense attorney Dexter Gilford said he wanted to revisit consolidating all four indictments for a single trial, a defense motion denied by Lynch in October 2007. Lynch told Gilford to file a motion with details of what the defense was seeking.

When the specifics of Michael Scott’s and Robert Springsteen’s personal recognizance bonds were addressed, neither the state nor the defense requested any special conditions beyond what’s considered standard for personal recognizance bonds. The conditions are as follows:
1. remain in Travis County
2. report any changes of residence/address
3. do not contact with families of victims or witnesses
4. do not consume alcohol or illegal drugs
5. appear at all case proceedings
Judge Lynch asked Scott if he understood the conditions of his release, and Scott answered, “Yes sir, I do,” in a firm voice.

Judge orders Yogurt Shop defendants free on personal recognizance bond, part 1

In about an hour, Yogurt Shop Murders defendant Michael Scott will walk out of jail with his attorney and wife, having been ordered free on a personal recognizance (PR) bond earlier this morning by state District Judge Mike Lynch. Defendant Robert Springsteen will also be released on a PR bond today.

Yesterday, Judge Lynch issued an order saying that if prosecutors asked for and were granted a continuance--jury selection for Scott's retrial had been set for July 6th--he would set both defendants free on a PR bond. Later yesterday, Lynch ordered this morning's hearing to allow the state and the defense an opportunity to discuss any last-minute problems or issues before jury selection.

But the hearing didn't end up being about last-minute trial issues, because prosecutors filed a motion for a continuance, saying they needed more time for continued DNA testing to try to identify the unknown male DNA found in at least two of the four murder victims. This unknown male DNA was discovered in March 2008 through Y-STR testing, a technology not available in 2001.

Lynch granted the state's request for a continuance (over the defense's objection) and, true to his word, ordered Scott and Springsteen free on a PR bond.

More details from this morning's hearing in a little while. Gotta read my notes.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fun with pots

Painting some plain terra cotta pots and filling them with succulents and natives is my attempt at dealing with the heat—today’s our tenth day of triple-digit heat.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Today’s Yogurt Shop Murders bond reduction hearing

A few surprises were finally revealed at today’s bond reduction hearing for defendant Robert Springsteen, Jr., during which the state and defense were given the opportunity to address DNA testing information contained in each side’s recently filed affidavits. “I want you to take the (DNA) results and tell me why the results are significant, from your position,” Judge Mike Lynch told the lawyers.

What we’ve known so far: March 2008 Y-STR DNA testing (not available in 2000) results from vaginal swabs of Amy Ayers obtained at the crime scene and the medical examiner’s office contain profiles of an unknown male, not consistent with any of the four original defendants. The state’s DNA lab, Fairfax, conducted those tests (plus tests from Eliza Thomas and Sarah Harbison, which yielded no results.) No DNA tests were conducted by the state on Jennifer Harbison.

What we didn’t know: according to defense attorney Joe James Sawyer, since that March 2008 testing, the state has not retested ANY other evidence!

Also using Y-STR, the defense’s DNA lab, Orchid Cellmark, then tested vaginal swabs from Eliza Thomas (no results) and Jennifer Harbison. Jennifer Harbison’s results show a mixture of two male DNA profiles, one consistent with her boyfriend, the other unknown.

That unknown male DNA profile from Jennifer Harbison is consistent with the unknown male DNA profile from Amy Ayers and is not consistent with any of the four original defendants. The state actually agrees with this, based on their DNA expert’s review of the defense lab’s testing. The state questions the reliability of the boyfriend’s DNA, but the defense lab reports it’s present in a mixture on both Sarah and Jennifer Harbison.

According to the defense, the presence of this unknown male DNA, which has been compared to more than 100 firefighters, police, medical examiner’s office personnel, etc, proves that neither Robert Springsteen nor Michael Scott nor Forrest Wellborn nor Maurice Pierce committed these brutal murders.

And even if one WERE to still believe those four guys were involved, the presence of a fifth guy (which is what the new DNA testing indicates) has never been mentioned by witnesses in the first round of trials or in either Springsteen’s or Scott’s alleged “confessions.” The state doesn’t seem to have an explanation when challenged by the defense to answer “who is this fifth guy?”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Garden bloggers’ bloom day

Gulf fritillary on trailing lantana

I feel fortunate to have anything blooming right now, having already endured so many days with temperatures over 95 and so little rain. But that seems to be how it’s going to be around here forever, so I’m going to stop complaining for now and rely more heavily on some potted blooms for kicks. Make sure to see others’ blooms (more exciting than mine) at Carol’s blog, May Dreams Gardens.

plumbago, part of the inspiration for our new house paint

compact crystal palace lobelia I grew from seed


balloon flower (Platycodon "Sentimental Blue")

purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) among the cucumbers and tomatoes

wishbone flower (Torenia Clown Blue)

This Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), while not a bloom, has such a pretty combination of colors and lines that I had to include it.

My usuals--indigo spires salvia, victoria salvia, salvia leucantha, society garlic, ruellia, turk's cap, mexican heather, rosemary, provence lavender, and purple and pink skullcap--are also blooming (barely.)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tomato wisdom from my favorite local organic farmer

Place your prized not-quite-ripe Cherokee Purple tomato (saved from squirrels by bird netting) on a soft towel on your kitchen table because its skin is quite fragile. Be patient with your Sun Gold cherry tomatoes: they are a little slow to ripen on the vine.

That is what I learned this morning from Larry Butler, one of the owners/farmers of my favorite local organic farm stand, Boggy Creek Farm. Carol Ann Sayle, the other owner/farmer and wife of Larry, has always been eager to share her expertise with me, too, ranging from recipe ideas to growing tips.

My first homegrown Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato

I’ve been a regular weekly customer at the Boggy Creek farm stand, in central east Austin, since 2003, and regret I didn’t know about this gem before then!

Husband Kurt and I had just returned from a great summer trip to France (work for him, fun for me) and were intent on trying to recreate some part of that daily French market experience in our hot, Austin summer lives when we heard about Boggy Creek. Yep—call me a Francophile; I can handle it. (However, I really need to become more proficient in French to truly earn the Francophile label, even in jest.)

Anyway, Boggy Creek is the closest thing we found. We’ve learned so many things from Carol Ann and Larry and Cousin Claire and all their knowledgeable staff, including how to eat in season. Running into local chefs (from Wink, Blue Star Cafeteria, Asti, Barr Mansion, Uchi, and Cissi’s—I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone) on market days and asking what they’re doing with certain produce is always fun, too!

Heirlooms I bought today at Boggy Creek

Saturday, June 6, 2009

First ever homegrown cucumbers

I’m so excited to show off my first homegrown cucumbers, and I started them from seed! They’re “Japanese Soyu Burpless”, an organic heirloom variety. The seed packet indicates they grow to 18 inches or longer, but this first one seemed ready to harvest at almost 15 inches.

Second cucumber, not quite ready to harvest

Although they look a little prickly and skinny, they taste great—juicy, a little sweet-salty, and earthy. We ate the first few bites plain and chopped up the rest with a few splashes of white wine vinegar and sea salt.

And the squirrels, which ARE staying away from my tomatoes since we protected them with bird netting, aren’t even touching the unprotected cucumbers. Yippee!