Mostly Food

Picked up something new this week. Tina’s parents visited for Thanksgiving and John brought a bread recipe with him. He made it for us last Sunday and we were making a batch within 20 minutes of getting home that night. It makes a really crusty loaf, ideal for dunking in olive oil. The beauty of it is that it requires no kneading – just mix the simple ingredients and it’s ready to cook; well, after 12-18 hours of sitting. Cooking is a bit different. You put the dough in a cast iron pot (Dutch Oven) with a tight lid and cook in a 475 degree oven. You can pick up a Dutch Oven at any good camping store – Bass Pro Shop, Gander Mountain, Cabelas. Our first attempt was a flop (literally) which Nancy attributed to using bad yeast but I think the problem was that the mix was too wet. The next batch used fresh yeast, a tad more flour and a pyrex equivalent of the cast iron pot – the recipe said that was OK. It came out beautifully and tasted perfect. I’m a crusty bread kind of guy and this met all my expectations and then some. Anybody that wants the recipe – google no-knead bread.

On the way to Thanksgiving dinner, Nancy decided that the green bean casserole needed more onion rings so we stopped at the Winn Dixie in Deland to pick up a can. I was dispatched in for that one item. The store was quite busy but when you looked around it wasn’t a typical crowd. Probably 90% of the customers were guys walking around hunting for one or two specific items and maybe half of them were standing in front of something talking on a cell phone. I understood immediately what was going on and could hear several of the conversations. One guy was saying he was “standing
exactly where you told me but the stuff was not there. No, I’ve not asked anybody”. Another was saying “the can says Beef gravy and it’s brown. I don’t think this will work, do you?” I scanned the signs over the rows looking for one that said onion rings. I found a sign that seem to come the closest and headed down, scanning both sides. Nope. Two more rows when I heard the guy confessing that he hadn’t asked for help. I went up to a cashier and asked her. She directed me to the row I had first traveled but gave me a hand motion of picking a can off the top shelf on the left side. I went back and only scanned the top row and sure enough, onion rings. The good thing is that because most people were buying one or two items, the checkout process was smooth. The clerk asked for my Winn Dixie card and I told her I didn’t have one – which was true, I didn’t have one. She then asked for my number. I asked her how I could have a number if I didn’t have a card. She gave me a look like she was talking to her 5 year old and said “phone number” and left off the dummy comment she wanted to add on. Sure enough, we have a Winn Dixie card and it knocked $1 off the $4 item. I really felt good when I got back to the car and was able to report that not only did I find the onion rings, but got them with a 25% discount. I know Nancy was sitting there thinking she was going to have to jump in and rescue the whole mission.

The dinner was everything you want in a Thanksgiving dinner – good food and good company. This was an extra special year because the holiday fell on little Tommy’s birthday.

Insofar as the food was concerned, in my opinion, there was one standout item, I’m not a dessert guy and almost always just skip it, but the apple pie caught my eye because it looked just a bit different so I decided to try it. Wow! It absolutely was different than any apple pie I’ve ever had and by far the best. Turns out it was made by Simon and Julia from an old recipe in her family. It was not as sweet as usual and not so wet and gooey – which I guess is what appealed to me. Seemed almost strudel like. I’m going to have to get the recipe and have Nancy try her hand at it. I’m guessing that because it was different, it will have folks that love it and others that will prefer the more traditional pie. They can just have smaller slices – that works for me.

And I’m a little biased but I think my cranberry sauce was exceptional this year. I added a few sections of Honeybelle orange this year to give it just that little extra zing.

Analyzing Tiger gate. I think they concoct a story about sleep walking or total memory loss after the crash. But what I see is the lady Wood, Tigress, taking after el Tigre with a 9 iron. He makes it to the car but she connects with the back window on the last swing. He’s big time escaping at this point and backs into the fire hydrant. She’s closing in again for the kill shot when he crashes into the tree. At this point she realizes that maybe she’s over the top and drags him out of the car and starts wiping up the blood. Frantic call to the lawyer and PR guy. Cops arrive. Now you see why I never took up golf.

Green bean casserole

We’re going to Tommy’s for Thanksgiving and drew the straw that said bring the green bean casserole. We’ve been picking beans since early this month and went out this AM to get a nice fresh batch for the casserole. I planted both green and yellow beans this year so the casserole will be biracial; more yellow than green actually. I planted one 15′ row, 3′ wide and trust me, we’ve had beans, beans, beans. Since there are two families picking from the row I have no solid idea on the yield but I would guess we’ve picked about 15 pounds ourselves. The yellow beans were a variety called Rodcor and they yielded maybe double the green variety. The casserole will reflect that ratio. To be honest when they’re cooked, if I were blindfolded I couldn’t tell the difference. I was thinking about telling everybody that I just left them on the vine too long but some people might actually believe me and avoid the dish. Or how about, gosh, they were all green when we started the casserole but something must have happened on the way to the table. One thing for sure, nobody will have a fresher casserole.

Added a little new technology to my veggie growing. The weakest part of my game has been a rigorous, consistent approach to starting seeds and then nursing them up to the point of transplant in the garden. Since seeds are cheap my modus operandi has been to plant more than I need and have spares ready to handle the attrition. No more. I bought a mini greenhouse for starting seeds. Maybe micro is more accurate than mini. It’s a domed enclosure, 10” x 14” by 7”H. Under the dome is a removable block with 60 1” diameter through holes. Into each hole you insert a tapered, cylindrical sponge that has been impregnated with peat or some other starter medium. You soak the sponges in water than place them in the holes in the block. The sponges have been pre-drilled for seed placement. I’ve been eyeing this system for a while and finally pulled the trigger when I found out that Nancy’s Ott lamp, a quilting lamp, can be used as a grow light.

In the past what I’ve done is sprinkle seeds on various containers loaded with starting soil and keep them outside. It’s been difficult keeping them all properly watered, protected from temp extremes and most importantly, with the proper amount of light. With all that, I still get enough seeds started to get the job done with spares. I then have to transplant the small starts into individual containers or larger flats with individual compartments. That transplant process results in some attrition. Eventually, those that have survived the first transplant are moved to the garden – a process that generally disturbs the roots and results in additional losses. With this new system, you pop out the plant in the sponge and move it directly to the garden, roots intact. According to the brochure, I should expect 100% success from start to finish – seed to plant in the garden.

I commandeered the Ott light and started my first batch on Nov 15 with 30 sponges. Nancy was willing to part with the lamp because this whole process promises to be much neater and eliminate having pots and flats scattered around the screen porch or moved indoors on newspaper when the weather dictated a change. I started Nov 15 with 10 each lettuce, cabbage, and cauliflower and had germination within 2 days on all the cabbage plants; germination of the cauliflower in 3 days; buttercrunch lettuce 5 days. On day 3 all the cabbages had 2 distinct leaves. So far so good.

Another factoid for your garden encyclopedia. Bugs don’t attack all the members of a common set of veggies. In other words, you can have a row of 8-10 cabbages and only one or two will be attacked in a big way. I wonder if those particular plants are putting out just a bit different oder or have a slightly different taste. This is not the first time I’ve noticed it and it lets me rationalize that we’re “sharing”. In one row I planted 2 different varieties of Swiss Chard. One variety has thick, robust leaves and deeply colored stems. The other was promoted as having a more delicate flavored, light textured leaf. No question the bugs prefer delicate flavor. I planted them in an alternating pattern so every other chard plant is getting chewed to pieces while the others remain virtually untouched.

Tangerines and Grapefruit finally sweetened up. Much smaller than last year but will make decent juice. I think this year I’ll try a tangerine-grapefruit juice mix – since my oranges were nailed in the last freeze of 2009.

Had a great day yesterday. I was invited to join Tom and Simon on a trip to Gainesville to visit Florida and meet with a representative of the Ag and Life Sciences Dept. We were joined by Simon’s other grandfather so we overwhelmed the rep we met and her confederate in Admissions. They have built so much since the last time I was there that it was difficult to orient myself except for the old buildings in the immediate vicinity of my old dorm. The old cafeterias have been replaced with food courts with real world, great looking food. For a kid, it would be dying and waking up in a world of fast food places – wall to wall Wendy’s, Burger Kings, Starbucks and many familiar names. I talked to a girl who was an RA at my old dorm and learned, sadly, that they have to do their own linens and towels. That was how I earned my money on campus – in the dorm laundry room. Also the three person suites we endured are now set up for four. We also hit Florida Field and was blown away by how big it is relative to what I still had in my mind. The ROTC drill field is now a giant basketball arena and a parking lot for the stadium – nice improvement there. The pool hall where I earned a few dollars now and again has been replaced with some generic retail space. They’ve preserved enough of the green spaces and the big, old trees that it still has a nice elegant southern feel to it. We went by the band building to see what Simon was facing so far as a place in the Marching Band was concerned. I had some doubts as to whether someone other than a music major had a chance but was surprised to learn that maybe only 15% of the band members are music majors. Chris enlightened me that Music Majors don’t usually do the marching band!!! It sounded like Simon would most likely be able to join the band. But the thing that stuck in my mind the most was when we found gator pajama bottoms in the book store selling for $60. Nancy is wasting her time on quilts.

Gov’t health panel

I can’t understand why everybody is getting so exercised about the Gov’t appointed medical panel saying that they don’t recommend mammograms for women under the age of 50. And not to teach women to self examine. This is exactly what happens in Europe under socialized medicine and what will start happening in this country as soon as the new health care plan is passed. A gov’t panel decides which plans and procedures are covered and for which particular group of people. It will be cold, hard statistics with cold, hard cut off lines drawn. The statistic that gets me on this one is the one that compares effectivity of mammograms for women in the 40-49 age group with women in the 50-59 group. In the younger group, the procedure saves 1 life in 1900; in the older group, 1 in 1300. If it’s linear, that would mean about 1:1600 at 45 – does it make sense to test there? So the panel arbitrarily or with some economic, actuarial accounting concludes that it makes sense to do older gals but not younger ones. If that makes sense to you, apply for a job on the panel.

And a few days later, another panel – or maybe it was a subcommittee of the same panel – recommends women cut back on PAP tests. Didn’t see any numbers on that except instead of annually, maybe every 3 years. What I’m getting from this is that women must be running up the costs of health care. I’m thinking this isn’t going to play politically – economists be damned. That became very clear when, after a few days of stewing, the gal who heads up Health and Human Services said not to pay any attention to the panel.

I also find it interesting that this particular conclusion is being so widely discussed when the one a month or so back that said men shouldn’t have prostate screening so early and so often was passed over with not much heat or light at all. Same deal – too many false positives given as the reason. In fact with prostate cancer they said that even if you have it, don’t worry about it or rush out and get it taken care of. It probably won’t kill you anyway. Anybody see the trend here. These are the biggest people killers via cancer and most interestingly, the death rates from both of these diseases has been dropping for years – coincident with the increased rate of screenings in the past decade. Get used to it!!!!

But not all these panels are bad. How ‘bout the one that just found that a couple of glasses of beer and/or wine every day are good for you and cut the chance of a heart attack by 50%. If the gals who are concerned about the mammogram or Pap smear take up the wine fix, they will eliminate the stress the first panels created. I guess it could exasperate the concerns though – if you know you won’t have a heart problem, then keeping the cancer demons away becomes more important. Really getting complex. And the move to medical marijuana even further reduces the sting.

Just in case you think that I am not qualified to comment on such a feminine issue as mammograms – wrong, I’ve had one. About 10 years or so back I had a lump in my breast and the doctor sent me to get a mammogram. It was quite an experience. The nurse who was going to administer the procedure asked me if it was OK if someone else observed since it was rare to do a male. A teaching experience. The next thing I knew there were a dozen or so female nurses all gathered around, giggling and pulling my chain. I didn’t have much to squeeze so she had a hard time getting it exactly right. Either that or she was enjoying putting me through the torture. I just smiled and joked with them and when it was over, said something like – “so is this what you guys are all jumpy about? Piece of cake, never felt a thing.” Got a lot of hoots from the gallery.

Turkey time

Interesting wildlife sighting. It was about 5:30 PM and I was trolling for spec’s. I was about 1000′ from my dock and heading directly toward it at a very low speed – the lowest setting on the electric motor. I had a good view of my dock and my neighbor May’s property. Her property is a treeless field with her trailer set up about 500′ from the lake. I noticed a flock of turkeys browsing around on her field, generally heading down to the lake and over to the side adjacent to our place. I counted 10 birds which is the most I’ve seen in one flock so far. I kept steady on course and wondered just how close I could get before they spooked. When I got about 250′ away, two of them got nervous and flew off into tall pine trees; two more left when I closed the distance in half; the balance let me get maybe 75′ closer before they bolted. I got close enough to see big white beards hanging down from a couple of them. I also noticed that when they were at the edge of the field and technically on my property, they were eating berries from wild bushes growing right on the property division. We call them beauty berries and I never knew what ate them. They’re small, purple berries and grow prolifically around here. So maybe these turkey’s would bleed purple and have built in cranberry like sauce. I’m always impressed by how big they are, what a gigantic wing span they have and how fast they gain altitude – I would estimate they get maybe 100′ within 50′ of takeoff. Wonder if they’re thinking Thanksgiving?

I got one spec, too small to keep, but it was just nice fishing without a gale blowing. The lake was like a sheet of glass.

Not happy about a development in the neighborhood. We’re mostly in the woods with an occasional clearing. There are lots of nurseries and. at one time, many were fern growers who grew their product in natural shade under oak trees. As you come to our place there has been a 5 acre unused, naturally shaded nursery for sale. It was bought recently by a guy from NY and he’s decided to pull out all the trees and start a palm nursery. You can’t imagine the heavy machinery on the property yanking out the trees and running them through a chipper. To give you some idea of the size of the chipper, according to the operator it consumes 60 gallons of diesel fuel per hour. He said the chips are worth $5,000. I’ve heard in the past they are used as fuel for power plants in Europe so maybe that’s where they’re headed. All I know is this guy has taken a beautiful piece of property and turned it into an empty lot. There’s also an adjacent 5 acre piece that was cleared and it looks like a house may be built there. We may end up living in some awful place like Orlando. Traffic and kids. Trick or treaters. yuk.

And while we were away eating well, the garden critters were eating well too. So we know for a fact that the recommended dosage of Malathion doesn’t slow them down. I mixed up a batch of triple strength diazinon so we’ll see how that works. My next attack is with Seven Dust. This must be like agent Orange since it’s an orange colored powder. After that I go to a tablespoon of each and every bug killing chemical I have and create a master blend. Deep down inside I’m guessing that the only thing that might work is a few nights in the upper 30’s and that’s out of my control. Aside from the caterpillars which I can see and pick by hand, the guys that get the cucumbers and squash are most more insidious. You have to look very closely and find a pin hole.

Fried Shrimp

Made a big mistake this afternoon. We went to FFC for lunch. That was a given since on Friday the mussels are on special and Nancy goes whacko for them. When she’s eating them it’s as if she were listening to celestial music. She talked me into the fried shrimp luncheon special even though I’m not a fried shrimp guy. I think she wanted to try one but couldn’t give up the mussels. Now for sure I won’t be a fried shrimp guy. These were so totally better than any I’ve ever had that it would be punishing to order them elsewhere. First they were big – maybe in the 6-8 per pound range and they gave you 9. Most time you have fried shrimp you pick them up and bite down to the tail – one biters. These were three biters. Then they were dipped in something that was very light, very crisp, very tasty. After eating I went up to the cook and asked him what they were dipped in. The waiters all laughed – and said it was a secret but the base ingredient was potato flakes. But they said don’t bother trying to duplicate it at home that they all had and it just wasn’t possible. Aside from the ingredients they said it was a very special oil and at exactly the right temp for exactly the right amount of time.

One of the Monday specials is fish and chips. I think I’ll come over some Monday and try that for the same reason – I’ve never been much for fish and chips but before burying the concept, I probably need to try it FFC style.

Gave the surf one last try but it was once again big,big, big with an incredible rip tide. I think we must be catching the downside from Ida. It took 100% concentration to keep from ending up in the drink several times. I gave up since it was certainly only a matter of time before I’d screw up and find myself heading out to the gulf stream.

midweek report

The wind is cutting me no slack at all. After 3 days of casting into 25 mph winds and into 10′ breakers, I’m worn down to a stump. What I need is a grease fitting on my rotator cuff. A combination of Bigeloil, Aleve, and Samuel Smith Organic Lager has things under control – but just barely. This morning I switched to lighter, inshore kind of tackle at low tide where long casts are not needed. It sure took the pressure off my body but is not quite right for casting in the surf – at least not this kind of surf. What I’m adding to my necessary tackle list is a new rod – a 7 1/2 or 8′ rod that is super lightweight but stiff enough to handle 2 oz lures. Probably an 18” butt so I can make two handed casts. I’ll know it when I find it.
Thursday and it’s changed again. Yesterday the wind finally turned from East to SE and then from the west late in the day. That caused the waves to build up in height but would normally calm the surf overnight. No such luck. By this AM the wind had rotated and was coming out of the north big time. The strong rip currents that had been moving south to north reversed and, if anything, strengthened. And just to make it perfect, the temp dropped into the 50’s. So not only is it windy, it’s cold. With a big surf there is no way to fish without getting wet and occasionally knocked over so cold is not good. I’ve got a feeling today will not be a big fishing day. Which is probably ok with my body. Four days of Xtreme casting has my body aching pretty near everywhere. So not sure exactly what I’m going to do today – maybe head across the street and fish in the river instead of the surf.

As predicted, the eatin’ has been awesome. We’ve had breakfast at 3 different places now. Nancy still prefers the Java Joint for her Kahlua French Toast. I tend toward the NY deli in Palm coast and the Bialys. We’re working our way through the menu at the Flagler Fish Company. They have great luncheon specials so we hit it late in the afternoon – scheduled around the tides. Our new favorite is a bowl of fish chowder – I get the red, Nancy the white – and a fried calamari appetizer. One of the Friday lunch specials is a giant bowl of steamed mussels. Nancy starts to drool just thinking about it. To mix it up, we did JT’s Fish Shack too. If you like fresh seafood, this area is primo.

Nancy did an afternoon of bridge at the Palm Coast bridge club. Turns out we’re less than 10 minutes from the club and she knows a fair number of the people who play there regularly. She brings most of her quilting equipment with her so between cards and quilting, life is good for her and she could care less about the wind or riptides. What really makes her day is that here we have satellite TV and high speed internet. She’s in heaven and will go into withdrawal when we return to the woods.

First day fishing report

First full day fishing report. Surf fishing is normally a fairly laid back experience. You typically cast your bait out a ways, stick your rod into a sand spike, pop an adult beverage, then sit back and relax. Most guys fish two rods at a time. You can get by with fairly junky tackle and I did for a year or so. This time around surf fishing is challenging. There’s a 25 mph wind blowing right in my face with an occasional rain squall and higher winds; Monster waves and lots of seaweed close in. If you don’t pay attention to the surf, you are likely to be knocked over and dragged into some serious stuff. Strong rip tides so no way to hold any bait stationary. The good news is that the water is nice and clean which means good visibility for a flashy spoon. It’s also warm so when I misjudge a wave or fall asleep and one breaks on me, I don’t fear hypothermia. So I decided the only way to fish it was with large spoons and long casts. I now have excellent tackle so even with the wind, I can cast 150′ or more with a 2 oz Krocodile spoon. I have a 12′ light weight rod and a light weight Quantum reel with a large spool. That combo lets me really get behind a cast and holds the line up above the wave tops and above the seaweed until the lure gets right in the surf suds. About an hour at a time is all I can handle before my back and arms turn into noodles but I have managed so far to catch two fair size – keepers – bluefish. I wondered whether or not I’d even feel them hit – not a problem. When something nearly jerks the rod out of your hand, it’s a blue. Bringing them in through the rough surf is something else. I’m lovin’ it but I’m thinking this is going to be more of an eating than fishing experience.

Another piece of good news – Nancy was sharp enough to bring the Bigeloil so my otherwise destroyed shoulder and arm muscles, are doing just fine. The fact that it’s dark by 6 PM probably saves me too. I’m guessing another couple hours would leave me crippled.

CSI Nancy

Nancy missed a promising career as a CSI investigator specializing on floor dirt analysis. Nancy can spot sand on the floor a mile away and immediately tell you who’s shoes it came from. Maybe it’s not too late since I’ve noticed that if anything, her keen sense of observation is sharpening. In fact, she’s able to spot microscopic traces now and tell if it’s fresh. I never see it and even after she points it out, I can’t distinguish yesterday’s from today’s or figure out exactly which shoes dropped it. That’s quite a bit more advanced than current CSI’s. They can analyze dirt and tell you where it came from but not who carried it in. Nancy can go right to the heart of the issue and identify the perp. One trick she has is to wear special CSI shoes that will not pick up any sand or dirt at all. That way she doesn’t contaminate the crime scene and can be 100% certain that the stuff on the floor didn’t come off her shoes. She won’t tell me whether she buys them that way or has them modified to her spec’s.

I put in the last of the garden starts today so at this point, the garden is 100% planted. I had been taking a kinder gentler approach to fighting garden insects up until this week. I have been spraying with something labeled as eco-friendly – but effective – says the label. Yesterday I decided to closely examine the Chinese cabbage which is rapidly maturing and spotted a small caterpillar munching away at the very heart of the cabbage. I removed him and moved on to each of the 10 cabbages and found a total of 15 enemy invaders. I squooshed them all and moved on to the bean row where I found 100’s of them feasting on my blood, sweat, and tears – not to mention fertilizer and eco friendly bug repellant. OK, no more Mr. Nice Guy. Dumped the wimp stuff and loaded up with Malathion, skull and crossbones on the label. I have about three other chemicals in reserve that have been banned on all continents but to the best of my knowledge, not in Barberville. I haven’t seen any signs by the garden saying not to use them so……………

Next week is our fall trip to the beach. We always love time at the beach but this year I’m especially anxious since the fishing has been so good in the surf and so dismal in the lake. Since we now have a laptop, we’ll be a bit better connected. Who knows, they might even have wi-fi. Looks like we’ll miss the first week of garden harvest since both the yellow squash and green beans will be ready to pick next week. They keep putting out produce for 3-4 weeks so no big deal. When we get back, it will be just about the normal starting time for the speckled perch in the lake.

I’ve been thinking about getting a slow cooker, as in smoker. To really do a brisket right, it’s almost a necessity. Not to mention slow cooked ribs or chicken. Turns out, I already have one. The Holland grill has a slow cooking method that I guess I knew about but had forgotten. It has a grease drip valve which I always keep open so that the grease that drips from meat, sloughs off into a grease bucket. You can also close the drip valve and pour a gallon or so of liquid onto the heating plate, creating a steamer that also holds the temp between 250 and 300 degrees. The Holland Grill people sent me an email – newsletter – that had a recipe for doing brisket and it reminded me that I’ve had a slow cooker all along. I’ll start experimenting when we get back from the beach.