Cooking up a mess of blues

Seems like every day’s another record day in the temp department. At least it doesn’t have to be extra hot to establish a record – 90’s enough this late in the season – and I’m ok with 90. It feels especially comfortable when I’m watching 3′ of snow falling in Denver. I’d kind of like it to hold in the mid to upper 80’s for another month. We have a week scheduled at the Beach starting Nov 7th and I much prefer plenty of heat there.

The garden seems to be liking these temps and with just a few exceptions, everything is thriving. It’s hard to appreciate that in about a month, two of the eight rows planted will be finished and replanted with a new crop. A couple of rows will hang on as long as it doesn’t freeze and continuously put out veggies so you really can’t plan on an end date for those. Last year I had a couple of pepper plants that made it more than a year and only crashed when we flooded in July. I have about 20 pepper plants growing but am thinking about pulling 8-10 because they are a hot variety that turned out to be more than I can handle. That will leave a mix of a dozen or so green bell peppers and Jalapeno plants. The onions are really looking good and my staggering strategy seems to be working, so far. Last year I bought sets at the appropriate time and we had way more onions that we could deal with all at one time. This year I shifted from sets to seeds which adds about 2 months to the process but lets me plant a couple dozen every month to spread out the crop.

Tom and I hit the beach this week to check if the blues were still there. The wave of blues that George and I got into last week had moved on but we found another batch had taken their place. I could tell the difference because the ones last week were mostly in the 2# range whereas the ones this week were less than 1/2# – too small to keep. We had a good day and caught plenty of fish but nothing big enough for the pan. That was disappointing because we had some of the bigger ones for dinner the other night and they were great. Many people think blues are not good to eat – too strong, too fishy tasting. If you don’t clean them properly, I guess that’s true but the trick is to deal with them correctly as soon as you catch them. You have to cut them through under the gills to drain out the blood. If you don’t do that the flesh is dark and they do have a strong flavor. Bleed them, and they’re like mountain trout. Nancy wrapped them in foil along with a couple slices of lemon, butter, salt and pepper – grill ready. I put them on the grill for 20 minutes and they turned out perfectly.

People ask me how I can possibly get by with dial-up internet service. I got to thinking about it and there’s a couple of answers. First, I’m a patient guy. Second, about all I do is check my email, which is fairly efficient, check the market, and pull up my blog. With the mail, anything that has a picture or video attached or sends me off to another link or advises me to listen to something really sweet is trashed unless I really, really want to retrieve it. Which is why I take a book over to the computer with me. That way I am, in effect, killing two birds with one stone. I also open iTunes if I see a long download in my future and put on some soothing sounds. And then there’s a glass of Cab. What’s the rush?

The Gators looked a bit better against GA. Not good, but much better. Now I root for Tennessee to beat South Carolina tonight. That clinches the SEC East for Fla.

Social week

This has been social week for us. We had guests from Dallas, Luke and Mary Manies, early in the week; a dinner with some folks from my high school graduating class on Thursday; Senior (as in high school senior) night festivities in Lake Mary where Simon will be recognized for something or other on Friday, along with the Football game; and a reunion event for General Dynamics in Altamonte Springs on Saturday night. So I’m in a social overload mode.

Luke suffers from serious leg cramps in his calfs (or is it calves) which limits his ability to walk any distance at all. I suggested he try the Bigeloil remedy. Believe it or not, within a few minutes after application, his cramps disappeared. We headed off to the feed store to pick up a few more bottles. The proprietor was just opening a new shipment and said it would all be gone before he could even put it on the shelves. He said he bet we weren’t planning to use it on our horses so that must be the official use. I’m thinking maybe we should buy a large supply while the getting is good. Somewhere along the line somebody’s going to notice a jump in sales, do some investigating and find it’s being used by humans. At that point the FDA will jump into it and ……………..

We’re still ping ponging from record heat to record cold. So far this month we’ve had two spells of each. Crazy. But the good news is that I picked up the first spec of the year and the surf is loaded – and I mean loaded – with Bluefish. George and I caught about 25 yesterday in just 3 hours. They’re not giants but not those tiny chicken blues either – maybe 1-2 pounders on average with an occasional line breaker. The spec was fairly large and surprisingly full of roe. Since we only got one, we let it go but this is maybe a month before I usually start finding them. I need to do a little public service research on bass to see if they’ve started biting again. Our hot, hot summer put them out of service basically all summer long. Maybe these touches of cold have stirred them into action. My friend Lou tells me they’ve all of a sudden turned on big time further south and that’s a good sign.

In the garden, the bush beans are starting to blossom. That means beans in maybe 3 weeks. An interesting factoid: I planted a row of green beans alongside a row of yellow ones. The foliage on both varieties is identical but the blossoms are totally different. The yellow beans have purple flowers; the green beans have white flowers. Unless something bad happens, we’re going to have a bumper crop. Enough that we’re going to pick up one of those sealer systems for freezing whatever we don’t eat.

And other than a few losses to grasshoppers, everything seems to be growing right on schedule. I haven’t put in any of the really delicate things like lettuce due to the prolonged hot weather but that has to be happening soon, soon. That will fill the few empty spaces
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Way to go Obama. The two teacher’s unions backed off and are willing to accept merit pay and testing. I figured in the end they would have to do what was offered – where would they go, vote for Republicans??? I don’t think so. What I really thought was that in the end, Obama would back off but this guy Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) is for real. I’d be ok with this admin if that’s all they ever accomplished. To me it’s a given that our taxes and insurance will jump – you have to expect a bear to go after honey. So you just live with it until the next Rep admin comes along and drops taxes again. Insurance will go up no matter who’s running the ship.

Thinning beets

Today the heat is scheduled to break and we’ll leave a record string of 90 degree weather way down to the upper/middle 80’s. I enjoyed seeing the weather report this morning to see that College Station PA was buried in 6” of snow and experiencing the coldest weather and earliest snow in recorded history. Nancy experienced some 28 degree temps in Utah so she’s lovin’ this warm-up for her.

I got out to the garden early so I could get a few things planted before it rains this afternoon and to take advantage of the overcast and cooler temps. Put in a couple rows of celery that I had started from seed about 2 months ago and another row of onions, seeded about a month ago. The big job was thinning beets. For those who haven’t grown beets from seed, let me explain. With most veggies the seeds are singular – that is, one seed, one plant. With beets, the seed is actually a cluster of seedlets and it’s quite common that 3 or 4 plants sprout up exactly in the same location. The instructions are to just pull out the weaker members of the family. But I’ve found that if I’m extremely careful and work the cluster with a tiny instrument – such as a tooth pick – I can wheedle out the individual beet plants and set them back in a new location. I get about 75% recovery so one 8′ row of seeds gets me 3 x 8′ rows after thinning. Beet seeds are cheap so it doesn’t really make any sense to spend so much time bent over the bed, thinning and replanting, but I kind of like doing it and the challenge of making it work.

It also becomes obvious that beets and swiss chard are related. Aside from the fact that both have red stems when they germinate, chard seed are also cluster pods and sprout the same way as beets. If you just look at the first couple of leaves, you can’t tell the difference between them. I thin these guys too. So if I plant just 3 chard seeds, I can end up with 8-10 plants – which is more chard that you can deal with from an eating standpoint. You don’t pull out the plant but just cut off the leaves as you need them so it’s a continuous crop. Of course with beets, it’s one pull. A packet of chard seeds has about a 100 seeds so one packet gets you two lifetime’s of greens. For $3. Beet greens are edible but if you grow chard, why bother. The seed catalog designates some beet varieties as “grow for greens”. Maybe that’s where the line blurs between chard and beets in their evolution.

Not sure what the deal is on the grapefruit this year. They are mostly yellow at this point which is a month or more early. I haven’t cut one open yet but am not expecting them to be really good. It’s pretty well known here that you need a few cold snaps to sweeten the fruit but unless things get really weird, we’re a couple of months from a deep enough cold to sweeten the fruit. And they’re smaller than past years. My guess is that either the really hot summer or the really wet summer has changed the normal cycle

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Found another place I’m ok with Obama so far. This one’s important since it involves forestry and my grandson, Simon, who is considering a major in forestry. There are two theories about running forests. One is to just let them do whatever it is that nature intends. Leave them alone, No harvesting, no thinning, no forest fire reduction activities, no beetle fighting, no roads, no people. Up until now that has seemed to be the position of each Dem administration since Jimmy Carter. The other guys believe in managing forests. That means allowing harvests, controlling and fighting fires, fighting bugs, fungus etc etc. So each time we’ve had an admin change, the forest policy has changed accordingly. But the early rumblings are that this administration may leave the Bush policy in place.

I was always a let nature do what it will kind of guy until the great Yellowstone fires and the Pine beetle infestation took hold out west. I used to spend lots of time in the wilderness when we lived in Utah and never ceased to marvel at the beauty and extent of the forests there. Then came the pines beetles and in the course of just a year or two, hundreds of thousands of acres of lodgepole pine were dead. And if that wasn’t bad enough, fires hit yellowstone. And the theory was to just let it burn. 10 years later and it still looked completely devastated. It just was never the same and never will be in my lifetime. So I jumped over into the managed forest camp and am fine with controlled logging, controlled burning – so long as it can be controlled – and bug and disease control. Obama, being a Chicago city boy, may be ok with Republican style forest policy.

garden progress report

As hot as it’s been, I had no choice but to move my Swiss chard from containers to the real garden. Swiss chard is a big, leafy plant that prefers cooler weather but does handle heat better than, say, spinach. That’s why we grow it – as a spinach replacement. I think any recipe that calls for spinach will do just fine with Swiss
chard. Anyway it was against my better judgement to plant it in this unusually hot, record breaking weather. I planted it late in the afternoon when the sun was low in the west and hoped that a solid 14 hours before it had direct sunlight would give it a fighting chance. It was ok at 8AM but not so ok at noon. I needed to shade it fast or it would cook right in front of me. Have you ever heard of Saw Palmetto? It’s a low growing palm with big, wide fronds atop stems that are sharp toothed like a wood saw. If you handle these bad boys wrong, you are sliced. I have jillions of them in the jungle surrounding the yard so I lobbed off a handful and set them in the garden to shade the chard. It looks crazy but I’m so far off the beaten path that the only person who will give me any grief about it is Nancy. Within the next few days I’m going to have to transplant cauliflower, kohlrabi and celery into the garden for the same reason so if the palmetto solution works for the chard, no doubt I’ll be cutting more shade palms (and fingers). We have a cool front coming in, supposedly, by the end of the week so hopefully I’ll be able to restore dignity to the garden then.

And here’s a little tidbit for those who care – the yellow bush zucchini put out small fruit on 10/13. I planted the seed on 9/20 so that’s about 4 weeks. I’m guessing it will be about that much time before they’re big enough to pick but it seemed surprisingly quick to see little squash babies. At the same time I planted the yellow variety, I planted a green variety and those are not showing fruit yet – probably only a couple days away.

The green bean plants are also growing really fast and I’m guessing a few blossoms will appear in the next couple of days. I was walking the bean row and notice a few leaves were folded over. Sometimes at a leaf tip, sometimes along an edge. It was really easy to spot because the underside of the leaf is almost white and contrasts well against the dark green top side. I pried one open and found a little green worm critter inside. I’m fairly sure this is a butterfly larva since I’ve seen several little yellow butterflies circling the garden. I went to each leaf I saw that was bent over and just squeezed it. That squooshed the interloper and squirted out his green innards. I’m sure I’ll miss some and they’ll manage a new crop of butterflies but I think I’ll win this battle.

I spotted a red fox the other morning about a block from the house. That may explain why the rabbits haven’t been such a problem so far. It would be fairly easy to exterminate the rabbits if I had the heart to do it. They seem to have no fear of me and I can walk right up on them before they move a few feet away. I’m guessing the foxes have a bit more of a chase on their paws.

How bout them Gators. I was fairly sure Tebow would play and also knew Florida was better than LSU. I was hoping, though, that they would start the back-up quarterback, Brantley. We’ve seen him a couple of times when the game was totally out of reach and he’d come in for a few plays at the end but I think it would liven things up a bit with a passing quarterback at the helm for a change. I’ve got a feeling Urban will give him a bit more playing time this season since there are no serious bad ass teams left on the regular season schedule. You never know in the SEC but unless South Carolina trips them up, I think they have a fairly clear shot at the SEC title – that’s looking more and more like a Fla-Ala matchup.

On being a bachelor again

Just a note on October again – we had a week with record colds followed by a week of record highs. I could do just fine without either. An October event that I forgot to mention is Nancy’s trip to Salt Lake so I’m doing the bachelor thing again. She travels to Salt Lake a couple times a year, ostensibly to play bridge, do luncheons, and catch up on all the local scoop. She’s my kind of traveler. We had to leave for the airport by 5:30AM so she set the alarm for 5. And her total luggage was one carry on size bag. Granted it was heavy but still……… I have the routine down tightly now and will be honing my casting skills, surf fishing skills and perfecting the sandwich as the essential meal. It’s still too hot and sunny to do much in the garden so my time will be split between fishing and working on the koi pond project at George’s. Nancy starts putting away leftovers a month or so in advance so I’m well fed and of course the house stays spotless all on it’s own. We have a central vac system so all I do is break out the long hose as soon as she leaves and set it up in the living room for the duration. When I inevitably track in sand, it’s sucked up in 10 seconds. That doesn’t work when Nancy’s here because she doesn’t like the idea of a hose strung across the house all the time.

One thing that happens when Nancy’s away is that generally speaking, I have no idea what day it is. I have no time dependent routines. By that I mean I wake up each day and figure out what it is I want to do and then set about doing it. It really doesn’t matter what day of the week it is – if I feel like or need to do something, well I just do it. Nancy, on the other hand, has a routine that is day of the week dependent. If she goes to quilting, it’s Tuesday; If she goes to Crescent City to play bridge, it’s Wednesday; Welaka, Friday. So I’m in sync with the world by knowing what Nancy is doing on any particular day. I do find that sometimes it’s important to know the day of the week. For example the local newspaper only publishes the fishing reports on Friday so if I don’t happen to know it’s Friday, I might not know what’s going on at the beach or river. And if I lose track of Saturdays, I could miss the Gators football game. Or what if I got up, felt like driving over to the beach to surf fish and found out too late that it was a weekend and the water was full of kids and surfers. I guess I could have her tell me what day it is when she calls but that would really be lame.
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The new item going into the garden this year – Brussel Sprouts. I really don’t like them but Chris assured me that if fixed right, they are edible. He tells me to roast/grill them, coated with olive oil and salt, just like we do for most other veggies now and all of a sudden they’re good. I’m trusting him on this because he always hated them too. One thing about them is that they sweeten up with a deep cold snap. So that gives me something to cheer about when we get the occasional freeze. Wow, nailed the squash but sweetened up the sprouts. I did finally break the code on okra. The trick was to pick them small – as in 3-4”. Anything larger is woody. I guess the bigger ones could be cut in pieces and boiled for a couple of hours but to be edible grilled, they have to be small. The other good thing about okra is that it had no problems surviving with wet roots. Nothing else I tried survived the wet, wet summer – but the okra thrived. Maybe that’s why you link okra with cajun cooking. You just have to pick it every day. So next July when all other crops have gone over the top – I’ll just put in Okra – (anticipate a drought).

Surprise party

Chris had to be in Orlando for a business meeting so he tacked on a few days and spent the weekend here. He suggested that since Nancy’s birthday is later this month, that we leap ahead and have a surprise party while he was home. So we did that Saturday. We had about 20 people and I think she was truly surprised. The other big surprise was the food. I was going to get barbecue from Brian’s but changed my mind and decided to try a local roadside guy instead. This guy has been selling barbecue out of a giant smoker for about 7 years and I’d heard that his ribs were awesome. So I took the chance and placed an order for “enough food to handle 20 people”. Got ribs, chicken quarters, beans and cole slaw. It was ready right on time and enough to feed 30. Fantastic. The meat was fall off the bone done and, in my opinion, much better than Brian’s. And it ended up less expensive. I can see where this place is going to play a big role in my future diet.

The weather behaved – no rain and a nice cool breeze off the lake. The kids got in plenty of swimming and boat riding; the adults dealt with the barbecue and adult beverages. Tina bailed me out with dip and chips and napkins which I had totally forgotten. Had a great, Publix carrot cake. I don’t think that’s Nancy’s favorite but it is mine and since I was doing the ordering………

After the crowd left we were sitting around watching TV about 10PM when we heard this strange sound – which to us sounded like a phone ringing on TV. But it kept up even when the show went to commercial. It was indeed a phone. Simon had left his cell phone and was calling to see if we had found it. Chris figured out what it was and we promised to bring it to him after dropping him off at the airport Sunday morning. At 6AM we were awakened by this weird sound. My first guess was that Chris had set an alarm clock but it didn’t seem to be waking him up. Nancy tracked it down and found it was Simon’s phone in alarm clock mode. So how do you turn off an alarm clock disguised as a phone? When it’s dark and when you are still in zombie mode. One of the buttons she pushed turned it off and we went back to sleep. At 6:11, it went off again. This time it was at least close and I turned on a light to see if I could silence it. I hit the red, end button and it shut up. Must have been a snooze function because 10 minutes later it went off again. This time I carried it out to the living room, put it under a cushion on the couch, piled on all the pillows, and topped the pile with a quilt. Never heard it again. When Chris got up he disarmed it. Turns out I had hit the right button but you have to hold it down for 3 seconds. Who’d a thunk it?

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Put a new wrinkle in the garden – a couple of soaker hoses. I’ve read that the best way to water is with drip or soaker systems and to avoid water on the foliage. We’ll see. Our weather went back to being summer so my cool weather stuff is looking at me like I’ve let them down.

October

For me, October is a swing month, and I love it. By the end of the month the garden will be fully planted and actually producing the first of the fall veggies. By the end of the month, the speckled perch will have started forming up schools and showing up in the Carbone frying pan. By the end of the month, the bluefish should be showing up strongly in the surf and showing up in the Carbone frying pan. The tangerines will be turning orange and the grapefruit will be turning from dark green to light yellow-green. Both will be table ready by Thanksgiving.

I put away the sleeveless shirts and break out the short sleeve T’s. Put away the shorts and switch to light khaki’s or nylon pants with zip off legs. These are my favorite clothes and I’ll have 2 months before switching to long sleeve shirts and lined jeans.

Cut back on mowing from once a week to once a month.

Be on the lake about 5 PM and in by 6, before it gets too dark and just in time for dinner. By the end of October, that becomes 4PM and in by 6 so I have enough time to clean all the fish I’ll be catching.

I particularly like Halloween here. We are so far out in the woods that there are no trick or treaters. None, zero.

And the hurricane forecasters will soon announce that this season is going to be less active than originally forecast. Technically the hurricane season extends into November even though we all figure mid October. That’s so the experts can make the adjustment in October and say there is still 6 weeks left so don’t let down your guard.
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Another tidbit on Bigeloil. George went to the feed store to pick up a couple of bottles but they were sold out. Tried another feed store in Deland and got it just fine. The proprietor told him that he had a customer who bought a case a month. He was a massage therapist and used it on the job. That made me feel a little better than it was safe on humans.
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Obama assessment thru 3 quarters;

The good:
He likes Charter schools and seems on the right track for education reform
He thinks texting while driving is a distraction
He went all out to help Chicago win the Olympic games
He likes good beer, hotdogs, and pickup basketball

The bad:
He favors socialized medicine
He favors a gov’t takeover of large chunks of the private sector
Spend, spend, spend.

The Ugly:
He hates the military, space programs, advanced weapon systems – short sighted
He hates the CIA – scary
He hates free trade – financially disastrous
He has a Neville Chamberlain view of the world and an FDR view of the US.
Putin, Quadaffi, and Chavez love him. Jimmy Carter loves him. Embarrassing.