Another gigantic tomato sauce manufacturing operation going on today. This is 3 giant pots and moves us past the half way point on tomato production. What’s most interesting is that the only tomatoes I grew this season were cherry’s and plum varieties so you can imagine just how many tomatoes it takes to make a gallon of sauce. We’re having a mother’s day gathering at the house so you can guess what’s on the menu. To calibrate you, after the 6 of us ate all the pasta we could handle, there were 20 pints of sauce for the freezer. More calibration – we use 3 pints of sauce with a pound of pasta and a pint of sauce for 2 pizza’s.
Getting ever so slightly concerned about the lake level heading into May. Although we supposedly got much less rain than average this past winter, the lake remains fairly high. Seems like it never really dropped down to a typical winter level. My concern is that we’re starting the wet season without enough space to handle a much higher lake level. Wonder if I should be thinking about converting the garden to a rice paddy?
A crop I used to grow with great success in Utah was winter squash – acorn and butternut – have failed on a regular basis in Florida. Over the past 10 or so years I’ve tried several different varieties of each with zero success. I get good foliage and plenty of blossoms but shortly after the fruit starts to form, they die. I’ve tried so many times and so many different ways that I gave up. We get the squash at Publix and that’s that. But something interesting happened this year. When I clean the squash(from Publix), I toss the seeds along with the shells in the compost pile. For some reason, this year those seeds actually sprouted in the pile and as a joke project, I transplanted several to the main garden. As in the past, great foliage and plenty of blossoms but, for whatever reason, the squash seems to be growing nicely and I’m about ready to pick a couple of Acorns. I have no idea what variety I’m growing and the produce guy at Publix is no source of info on varieties.
Having technical difficulties and the IT department has temporarily relocated to Chicago.
Nice weekend. We met Tom, Tina, Tommy and Kate at Persimmon Hollow Friday night. Traditionally we ate taco’s from the really great place across from the Hollow but have more recently expanded our menu to include wings and this time, Tom had a barbecue sausage sandwich which he said was incredible. The beer was, as usual, great. Then on Saturday, Joey and Mark came up to the lake and took out a trashy tree I’d been wanting to remove plus a lawn mowing and some honey do’s for Nancy. In parallel with us doing the outside work, Nancy cooked up another 10 quarts of pasta sauce using tomatoes I picked from the garden a few hours earlier. This batch will be a little different since the mix of paste tomatoes to cherries was heavily tilted toward the paste variety. Out of each batch we distribute a few pints to Joey and to Tom and still have enough for us to make it thru until the next tomato season. Our problem is usually freezer space. That became an even bigger problem today because it’s officially blueberry season. We usually buy enough from a local farmer to carry us through the whole year. That works out to be $100 worth. This time Joey also ordered the same amount. To calibrate you, that works out to be 15 quart size zip lock bags full of berries for each of us. We use just about 1 quart bag every month. So between tomato sauce and blueberries, the freezers are bursting at the seams.
The weekend still had more to go. On Sunday Tom, Tina, Tommy and Kate came to the lake for a summer celebration or something like that. Tom arrived first and took Nancy and I shopping in Daytona then back at the house. Tina, Tommy and Kate were down at the dock getting ready and enjoying the wilderness. Tom and Kate brought their pit bull, Meadow, so it was a full on party. Tom set up his portable grill and refrigerator and commenced to grill shrimp and corn on the cob. Tina brought a Greek salad and roasted potatoes so we have a real feast. Key lime pie for dessert.
So all in all, couldn’t have had a better weekend.
Tuesday was a great day – Nancy came in second at bridge with 14 1/2 tables and Peter caught a nice pompano in the surf at Flagler Beach. That made his trip complete. They’ll be leaving Wednesday heading south to Key West. A few days there and then they head north to VA and west and south back to California. I think they’ll be another month on the road. Their motor home is really nice and roomy – I was impressed.
The big news is that Tom resigned from UCF to join Iron Galaxy ( the video game company) full time. He’s been operating two full time positions for quite some time now with continuous growth in both endeavors. There’s only so many hours in a day and a certain amount of time needs to be set aside for golf and fishing. Tom’s new title is GM (of Operations I think) with responsibilities in Orlando and Chicago.
The garden is changing rapidly now as summer looms. The greens have been the prominent residents for the past few months but the heat tears them up. The swiss chard is on it’s last legs as are the turnips, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and carrots. The only greens still holding up are collards and kale. Tomatoes are coming on strong and we’ve started converting cherry and paste varieties into tomato sauce. You know you have a serious tomato supply when you can cook up cherry tomatoes into 10 quarts of sauce – and they’re just coming on now. Green peppers also doing well. The jury’s out on squash. They always look good early in the season but often become overwhelmed by critters and heat. The interesting thing about the squash this season is that all the plants popped up in the compost pile from seeds that came from store bought squash and made it to the dinner table – not from seeds I purchased. So no idea what variety they are or whether they’re acorn or butternuts. Also no idea if they’re a variety that can handle our climate. It’s also possible that they are not squash at all but melons. They all look the same early on. So it’s a crap shoot, wait and see crop.
First big lake party in quite some time. The occasion was Peter Ronca’s visit to Florida and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a family reunion. I think the final head count was 20. It started out in the AM with some hard rain but by mid afternoon it couldn’t have been nicer and the lake played a role in the fun and frolics. We haven’t had a party this large in quite a while and we were a little concerned that we’d be overwhelmed. Joey, Mark, Tom and Tina to the rescue. They took over many of the more physically taxing jobs and when they left, there was very little additional cleanup required the next day. Easiest party we ever hosted. I think we’ve got this on a roll now and should plan a few more this summer. As far as food, Nancy and I made a huge pan of baked beans, a large macaroni salad, broccoli salad, and carrot salad. We picked up a large box of fried chicken from Publix – 50 pieces – plus a veggie tray. Tom brought a fully populated giant cooler of drinks plus a cooler full of water which were positioned down at the lake on the dock. We put together another cooler of drinks for the porch. Tina brought another magnificent cake. It was Peter’s birthday making the day even more special.
Peter and Lei are staying at a campground on Flagler Beach – right on the ocean. It’s about a mile south of where we used to spend our beach time so we’re totally familiar with the area. I fixed up a surf fishing outfit for Peter and really hope the surf is good to him. Our plan is to hook up on the beach Tuesday. I’ll drop Nancy off to her bridge game and hook over to Peter’s to go fishing with him. Then I’ll get Nancy and we’ll head back over to the beach and a picnic with Pete and Lei. Not sure what their plans are for the rest of the week but think it involves a trip to the Keys.
Other notable guests to the event were Little Tommy and Kate who drove in from Chicago and Simon and Amy who drove in Alabama. Johnny, Brian, and Joanne and their respective spouses, representing the Brueggemann clan. The big surprise for everyone was just how much Peter looks like Uncle Vinnie. You could instantly pick him out of a crowd as a Ronca.
She’s back! Nancy finished 4th in the 13 table bridge game Tuesday and had several people request her consideration as a future partner. She was having some personal doubts as to her ability after a couple of bad hands last week. I tried to convince her that was to be expected with a layoff of over a year. And who knows, maybe the stitches in her ear have focused her on the game more. They come out on Friday so we’ll have see how she plays after they’re removed.
The Thursday game was even more rewarding – she and her partner came in first! So that totally dispels the notion that the lay-off had any impact on her ability to play. Our phone rang off the hook with potential partners calling.
Friday – the stitches came out easily and it looks pretty good. The bummer was that the cutting did not get all the bad stuff and needs a little more trimming – scheduled for May 3. It’s still very low risk melanoma but it makes sense to have it gone. I guess that’s easy for me since it’s not my ear.
After the stitch removal we went to the retina doc for her eye shot. That seems to have gone well with not a drop of blood showing. The shots have always been administered on Friday’s at 8 week intervals but they are changing that to Wednesdays. Nancy was quite happy with that change since she has a bridge partner that can only play on Friday’s and the shots interfered with that. So now it looks like bridge/surf fishing days will be Tuesday’s and Fridays.
As a reward for all the morning doctoring, we went back to Buc-ee’s. The last time we went was right after the grand opening and it was a madhouse. I needed gas and they’re $.40 under the prevailing prices so it made sense. It was still a total madhouse. You can’t imagine the amount of business they do. Inside we picked up a dozen muffins after the first batch we bought turned out so good. Also decided to get beef brisket sandwiches to take home – excellent. Outside they have 104 gas pumps and I suspect at least 50 were being used.
We’re going to have a great grandson!
Nancy’s melanoma ear surgery came off just fine. We arrived at the hospital at 6:45 AM and left by noon. Full knock out. It took 20 tiny stitches to close it up. The pain has been very manageable and she’s been getting by with a couple of Tylenol every 4 hours. We took the bandage off last night and have been swabbing it with Neosporin. To me, it looks fine.
The Tuesday bridge/surf fishing events came off without a hitch. Nancy came in 4th in the 13 table game so she’s back in the groove. She was beating herself up for not coming back from the hiatus at full speed so this good finish does a lot. The fishing was great but the catching was lousy. The beach was back to being crowded but the weather was perfect. I fished for about 2 hours with not a bite. There were about 20 other rods in the water within eye sight and in that 2 hours, I didn’t see any rods bending at all. Still loved it.
Had Easter at Tom and Tina’s. Tina made a great breakfast and dinner featuring a smoked leg of lamb. Olivia was home from school for the Easter break and we got to see her a couple of times. She’s doing very well in PA school and is really starting to talk like a doctor!!
Starting to pick carrots again and they are really nice – good color and straight. Home grown carrots are often ugly but I planted the seeds in a row I’d been softening and composting with grass cuttings for a couple of years. You can sure tell the difference. The area I’m picking now is adjacent to the turnips and those too have been incredibly productive and picture ready.
Another big event coming up is the start of blueberry season. Weather dependent, that’s usually sometime between the first of April and the first of May. I have an “appointment” at Blueberry Hill Farms in Crescent City where we’ve bought our annual supply of blueberries for the past 10 years or so. We get $100 worth and freeze them in pint size ziplock bags. I have two bags left from last season which will get me thru to the first of May. I could get them for less by picking them myself but……………
Friday is a big day for Nancy – gets the stitches removed from her ear and an eye shot – stitches at 8:45AM; eye shot at 9:45. To brighten the day, maybe we’ll hit Buc-ee’s for cheap gas, super muffins, and brisket sandwiches.
The garden salads now include cherry tomatoes. I think we’re going to have more tomatoes this year than ever before. Also picking small broccoli florets for the salad so these are becoming masterpieces.
The weather is crazy. It’s April 2 and we could have overnight lows in the 30’s – should be in the 60’s. By Sunday we will be back in the upper 80’s for afternoon highs. It’s really confusing some of the garden but by and large, they’re doing well. Sure need some rain though. Another weather phenomena that caused me some trouble is the high winds. It was howling this morning when Nancy and I went to the hospital for her surgery and still howling when we came home after noon. The palm trees were bent nearly horizontal. I went down to the dock to make sure things were ok and found the glider hanging off the dock in the water. It was all I could do to get it back on the dock and tied up. At least I thought it was tied up but about 30 minutes later, back in the drink. Retrieved it again and really secured it this time. I decided to paint the new picnic table with a clear preservative. With the cooler temps, lower humidity and wind I figured it would cure quickly. It did. I ended up using a full quart – along with the top side of the new table, got an old picnic table, and the Adirondack chair. I’ll probably get another quart and do the underside of all those and the glider – if it behaves and stays on the dock. I also painted another old picnic table – bright red – and a final coat on the old metal dock chairs. Good as new.
Nancy’s cousin, Peter Ronca, and his wife are about to start a cross country vacation trip in their giant motor home. They’re scheduled here the end of April and have reservations on Beverly Beach about a half mile from where we used to spend our beach weeks. It’s great surf fishing there and I’m guessing that Peter would love to try it so I decided to break out another couple of my surf fishing outfits for them to borrow. I hadn’t used either in several years so decided it made sense to check them out. No matter how you clean off gear that’s been used on the beach, it’s never quite enough and it’s almost expected that when you don’t use them occasionally, they can be cranky getting started. These two were locked up solid. I almost gave up on them a couple times but in a couple of hours they were humming. Nothing is ever easy! I used to be able to fix reels easily but that’s when I could see much better and my fingers were better connected to my brain.
Mark and Joey came up Friday and we attacked the dock again – power washing, replacing rotting wood, and generally getting it ready for summer use which included assembling a new picnic table I’d bought on sale a few years ago. It had been quite a while since it was thoroughly attacked so it was a multi day event. I have a little more cleaning and painting to do and Mark has a little more carpentry but it’s close to perfect now. Nancy has not been down to the dock in quite a while so I decided to set up a “picnic” to reintroduce her to the potential. She was properly impressed with the results and I think we may repeat the picnic experience in the future. Seems that there’s always a nice breeze off the lake and about 10 degrees cooler than up at the house so it just makes sense. Sort of like eating lunch at the Funky Pelican or Hidden Treasure. Even carried a few craft beers down just in case.
Another Tuesday, another bridge game and surf fishing event. I dropped Nancy along with a large load of greens from the garden at the Bridge game and headed off to the surf. The conditions were near perfect – beach not crowded, light wave and current action, light breeze from the NE. The only problem was that the fish weren’t biting – at all. I gave it two hours then headed to get my chores done – that meant Home Depot to pick up a few things for the dock, Aldi’s for pizza shells (Artisan Flat Bread), and Houligan’s for a brewski. The last time I went to Houligan’s I was a total stranger -not one of the folks I had shared stories with for a couple of years was there. This time a couple of familiar faces turned up so we had year’s worth of catching up to do. I left there about a half hour earlier than usual to hit Home Depot. The dock restoration project is winding down and I’m into some dock furniture painting. That will keep me busy for the rest of the week – squeezing in Nancy’s pre-op Covid testing (she tested negative) and her ear operation along the way. She has a small melanoma that is worth getting rid of and that happens Friday.
The other newsworthy items is that we hit the new, Palm Coast Culver’s for our after bridge treat and the new Daytona Buc-ee’s. Both new venues were jammed, especially Buc-ee’s. For those who don’t know, Buc-ee’s is a way oversized gas station and convenience store. The gas station features 104 pumps, priced $0.40 under the local prices. The C-store is 50,000+ SF, larger than most Publix’s. They have some really unusual items in the C-store featuring freshly prepared barbecue – think Texas brisket; a large bakery with all manor of breads and goodies, a full wall of jerky, a full wall of popcorn, nuts, and wild munchies. Way too much to describe – you pretty much have to experience it to appreciate the scope of it. It was way, way too crowded to fully get the scope of it but I’m sure we’ll schedule the next visit outside of prime time. The one disappointment was that the food is only takeout with no place to sit down and eat – inside or out.
Great day. It’s Tuesday aka Palm Coast bridge day. I dropped her off and headed for the beach to see what the surf conditions would be. It’s been cold, rainy, and worst of all windy for the past few days and I had my doubts about the fishing prospects. Sure enough the waves were large and the water mass was strongly moving south along the coast. I tried a 4 oz pyramid sinker – just about the largest I can handle with the length of cast required. It simply couldn’t hold and quickly washed up on the shore a couple hundred feet south. I tried for about a half hour and finally just gave it up – not bite.
It was too early to convert the afternoon to a brewery day so I drove to the European Village in Palm Coast and decided to hike the path alongside the intracoastal. I reversed directions from my usual trek and started under the beach bridge and walked south to the Waterfront Park. It’s 1.5 miles one way, about 40 minutes for me, and I used to routinely make the round trip walk with a stop for a brewski. Starting at the bridge gave me a 3 mile, non stop hike. I wasn’t sure I was up to that much walking but decided to give it a shot. Surprisingly there were quite a few hikers and bikers – way more than I used to encounter last year. In the past, I could walk the whole path and maybe see 3 or 4 people, hiking or biking. Now, I encountered people every 50’ or so. Must be the crowd that used to inhabit shopping centers. I started running out of gas about half way thru the return trip but pushed thru. Going to be sore tomorrow.
Last year at European Village I had a choice between Moonrise Brewery and Farley’s Irish Pub. The gal behind the bar at Farley’s was my biggest customer for garden greens so I never had to pay for cold brew there. Alas – Farley’s was gone. No doubt a victim of the Covids. Moonrise was still operating so all was not lost. I did my customery one beer and headed back to the bridge club to get Nancy. We decided to stop at a little roadside eatery we’d frequented for years and was from all appearances was nearly ready to collapse. But somehow over the past year it has become a cult favorite and you have to stand in line 15 minutes to get to order. They make one of the best fish sandwiches around and we have to struggle to each eat only a half of a sandwich. I guarantee if you didn’t know about the place, there’s no way you would ever stop there and even if you stopped, it would be tough to bring yourself to eat there. But the word is out.
So lots of changes in the past year.
Made another incredible salad directly from the garden. 3 different types of lettuce plus swiss chard and turnip greens for the green portion. Then the roots – radish, turnip, and onion and finally the tomato. All soaked in Garlic Expressions dressing. I try to slip in something new each time and see if Nancy spots it. The turnip greens are the guest ingredient this time.
The bridge game went just fine and Nancy came out in the middle of the pack. There were 7 or 8 tables so it was a decent size game. The games are scheduled for Tuesdays and Wednesdays only at this time as compared to 7 days a week pre-Covid an Nancy has partners now for both days. She was concerned that nobody would want to partner up with her but that was put to bed quickly. She used to play on Monday’s and Friday’s and would rather have those days open again but until then…………
While she was playing, I went to the beach to play surf fishing. I was surprised at how crowded the beach was but it is Spring Break and lots of good fishing areas were full of kids playing in the surf. I found a spot among several multi-rod fisherman and set up. The surf was a little heavier than ideal but still very fishable. No problems with my gear and within a few minutes was laying out 50-60 yard casts. I ended up catching 3 small whiting – topping off a great day at the beach.
I had an errand to run at Home Depot which just happens to be across the parking lot from my go-to Houligans. There I found absolutely no one I knew – staff or customers. So that was a bummer. This was a Tuesday and my normal day there was Monday so that probably explains some of it. My next trip over is next Tuesday and I’ll try my European Village haunts – the Irish pub and Moonrise brewery. It’ll probably take a few weeks to get all the kinks worked out of our new social schedule. I’m also thinking that the bridge club will add more days in a few months if these games go well.
Garden news – starting to pick turnips. Wish I knew someone who ate the greens. I’ve never had luck with them before and tried a new variety just for a last attempt. I’ll start picking them as soon as Nancy schedules them into a meal. It’s also looking like a bumper crop of tomatoes starting early April and Bell peppers. 100% of both crops made it thru the colder than usual winter and the bushes are loaded with tiny fruit and blossoms.