Christmas plans

We’re having a different kind of Christmas this year. Chris works in retail so he’s a busy camper right up until Christmas day – which also happens to be his birthday. So we haven’t had a Christmas together with him in quite a few years. We decided last year that we would break with our tradition this year and spend the Holiday with him. Tom and his family also decided on something new and headed west. They flew to Salt Lake and will do a few days with Tina’s parents and then drive to San Francisco to do the big day with Tina’s birth mom and the extended family on that side. I’m certainly looking forward to being with Chris but dread the thought of traveling, especially by air, to the Northeast. The airport horror stories are being reported 100 times a day now just to torture me. My thin, Florida blood will no doubt get a serious thermal shock. Luckily I still have plenty of Utah winter gear and I’m sure Chris is stocked with internal anti freeze – maybe in the form of scotch.

Woke up Monday morning to some new visitors. Not sure if they arrived late Sunday or early Monday but the robins are back. The arrival of the robins is not a subtle event in which you spot one or two more every day but rather one day there are none and the next hundreds. And it’s not like you could miss them. They are flitting from tree to bush and the woods are just alive with them. Sounds good but I’ll check the garden this morning with a degree of trepidation. Robins are voracious feeders and they will gobble up tiny new garden plants. Everybody has a mental image of robins as worm eaters. No doubt they do but they also feed on vegetation and whatever kind of berries they can find. We have a local, wild bush called a beauty berry bush. They are loaded with small, reddish purple berries this time of year. They will be stripped in a short time. Ditto the water oaks which have an itty bitty black berry – gone. The parking area by the house is covered with pine needles which the robins are pulling apart, I guess looking for bugs and seeds. None of this was happening yesterday morning so there’s no mistaking when they’ve hit Pierson on their migration. I’m guessing it’s not a coincidence that their arrival comes along with the biggest winter storm in decades from the Carolina’s to New England. It’s cold here – not quite frosty, but too cold for me – probably feels ok to the birds compared to what they escaped from.

I covered the tomatoes and peppers just in case. The peppers have been producing in abundance for the past 3 months but the tomatoes are a couple weeks from ripening. I’m hoping that we don’t get any serious cold weather that can’t be handled with the light crop covers I bought last year – at least not until we’ve picked a bushel or so of the tomatoes. I yanked out the last of the green bean plants and picked off the last couple of pounds of beans. They would have continued producing for a few more weeks but as tender as they are, chances are we’d lose whatever beans were still on the plants. That plus I have a dozen new broccoli plants waiting for a space and they just fill out where the beans were. The other thing I yanked out were a variety of peppers called Volcano. It’s a variety of Hungarian wax peppers. They were just too hot for me but my neighbor said he loved them hot. So last week I suggested he pick them clean or at least get a few bags full. The next day he said the peppers were so hot his wife had a bad reaction just handling them. He still cooked up a batch and claimed he was having trouble too. The plants were beautiful and productive but out they came. I popped them in the compost pile – maybe they will ward off bugs next season. I replaced them with beets and onions. Space in the garden is too valuable to waste on something that’s not great tasting.

About 8 years ago we met a co-worker of Tommy’s from the west coast who had decided to quit life as an engineer and become a chef – actually open his own catering business. He visited Tom in Salt Lake and prepared a complete meal one day which included the most fabulous cole slaw I had ever before, or since, tasted. It was actually a vinegar and oil based pepper and cabbage slaw compared to the traditional mayo based cabbage slaw. We were smart enough to capture the recipe, put it away and forget about it for all these years. I was looking over the garden last week, saw all this new cabbage coming along and wondered about how many different ways there could be to deal with it and that slaw flashed back in my head. Nancy was able to find the recipe and I did the honors using all the stuff from the garden. It was as good as I remembered it and just the right touch to set off the fried speckled perch.

Simon is on the Lake Mary newspaper staff and, of course, we have a subscription. I may be biased but the paper is really good and I usually spot a few articles that entertain and educate me. In the latest issue Simon and his girl friend Julia did a consumer awareness piece in which they compared the holiday season milk shakes at Chic Fil A and Steak and Shake. It was well done and they came to the conclusion that the Steak and Shake offering fell just a bit short. I think these dedicated journalists should extend the survey and not just stop with the holiday season. Add some real tough competition such as Brewsters, Baskin Robbins, and Cold Stone. Tough work but somebody has to do it. I’ve never been in Chick Fil A but after reading this, no doubt I’ll have to give it a try

Spec King

So far December has been perfect for the garden. We had a few cold snaps in November that put down the voracious critters and it’s been a great combination of sunny and overcast days with just enough rain to get the job done. Usually Dec is a dry month but we’ve had good moisture so far. We’re now picking 100% of our salad, and have all the green beans and cabbage we can possibly eat. Next week we will be adding broccoli to the mix and cauliflower the week after that. So from now on for the next 4 months, 100% of our veggies will be fresh from the garden. Snow peas and carrots added in January so we’ll have a nice variety.

Another successful spec fishing day. I read in the paper that little yellow jigs were the trick and it just so happens that I have a couple. In fact, I think I have a couple of everything that could possibly catch a spec. I trolled around with an old standby and caught nothing. So I clipped off the little red rubber minnow imitation and tied on a yellow jig. Caught one about 10 minutes later; then another on a little wobbly spoon. Between those two lures, I caught nine nice fish in about an hour. That’s 3 meals worth. The really good news is that I caught them along a 1200-1500′ stretch of shoreline not too far from my dock. Trolling that stretch I think I encountered three different schools of fish, maybe 100′ off the lily pads. The way it works is that those schools will gradually move towards the pads and shore where they eventually deposit their eggs. The trick is finding the schools because once you do that, they will be there dependably for the next couple of months- at least through February. Last year I didn’t locate them until late January so I’m way ahead of schedule this year. Good for me; not so good for them. Wait, late breaking spec story – got the biggest one I ever caught, anywhere last night. Tom was with me so I have a witness to history. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen one this big, let alone catch it. So in the last couple of days I’ve caught the two biggest spec’s I’ve ever seen. You have to assume I’m not snagging the biggest one in the lake so I’m wondering just how big the biggest, oldest, meanest spec in the lake is. I’m willing to lay claim to being the spec king for Lake Inez right now. And since only me and the guy next door fish the lake for spec’s, chances are I’m going to hold that title for the foreseeable future.

I’ve got a new time killer. I go through Sudoku books at a fairly good pace, compliments of my bride. This week she brought home something new – a puzzle book called Ken Ken. Just what I needed, another time killer. I let it sit on the table for a few days then decided to try it. Big mistake. Ken Ken combines light arithmetic with Sudoku to step up the challenge – or so they would have you believe. I’m challenged enough by the top level Sudoku, and at first glance, I was fairly sure I didn’t need the added complexity. I walked through the sample puzzle and decided to stick a toe in the water. After about 10 puzzles labeled moderate, I tried one labeled demanding, and then onto “beware, very challenging”. To me they were decidedly easier than Sudoku puzzles with the same labeled degree of difficulty. They are like Sudoku with clues all along the way. But at the same time, I liked them better so now what.

I enjoyed the sight of Obama returning from the global warming conference on Air Force One landing in the biggest blizzard to hit DC since the 20’s. Wonder what was going thru his mind. Either that the whole warming thing is a bunch of crap or that maybe a bit of global warming wouldn’t be all that bad.

And touching lightly on politics, the people of central Florida elected a wack job for a congressman last election. I cracked up to learn that one of his constituents has a web site named Making it even more delicious is that this nutcase is suing the author. If he hadn’t, I guess it never would have made the news and given me all this pleasure. In case you are wondering the congressman’s name is Alan Grayson.

Something is leaking

To complete the shed tunnel story. In Florida you never know what’s in a tunnel. The creature that dug it may be long gone and a new resident finds it just to his liking. I was hoping it wasn’t a gopher turtle hole but that’s for sure what it looked like. Gopher are now called an endangered species and if there was one in there, he was probably even more endangered than the average turtle. Not really, I would have very quietly moved him to a better location. I think if the enviro wackies find out you have a gopher on your property, you have to go to extraordinary measures to remove them – even going as far video taping the removal and relocation process. Before I got too close I cut a 12′ bamboo shoot and pushed it through from one side to the other. Nothing came running, slithering, or crawling out and I didn’t feel any impediments so I assume it was currently unoccupied. My neighbor had a load of coquina rock delivered a few months back for a project at his house so I went over and picked up a few small, tunnel size rocks and a wheel barrow full of coquina sand. Filled and plugged as best I could and reset the paving squares. We’ll see.

Went to the dermatologist the other day for a regular 6 month check-up. The doc walks in the room where I’d been waiting for 20 minutes and says “do you use a sun blocking moisturizer to take care of your sun damaged face?” I’m looking at him thinking this guy is in serious need of some sun damage. He must take a bath in SPF 1000 twice a day. Looks about a quart low on blood to me. I break the bad news to him, for about the 20th time, that I’m out in the sun about 16 hours a day and that no, I don’t use any skin moisturizers, sun blocking or otherwise. I sometimes wear a John Deere or Redman ball cap; does that count??? He just nods in that knowing fashion. I was going to ask him if he had a vitamin D problem but decided not to carry on the conversation any farther. Then he says hmmmmm, has that spot on your face right next to your nose gotten bigger? I said, what spot on my face. He gets the mirror and points it out and asks how long it’s been there. I said I think I was born with it. He said he didn’t like it and would cut it out. He does the cutting and then starts scraping. After it’s over he says that the way it felt when he was scraping it, it was most likely a hereditary benign whatchamacallit. That’s what I said, I was born with it. Honestly I had never noticed it before but then I don’t really stare at my face to see what’s new. Probably needed a payment for the Lexus.

The words I fear most from Nancy are “xxxxxx is leaking”. The xxxxx can be anything – sink, toilet whatever. From experience my head immediately goes to a worst case scenario where I spend hours and hours cramped up underneath something trying to get plumbing apart and back together without doing serious harm and eventually ending with a professional plumber and an $800 bill. Nothing I ever do creates the leaks so it doesn’t seem right to me that I end up with headaches, backaches, scraped and cut hands. Nancy doesn’t respond well to suggestions such as “just use the other bathroom and maybe it will fix itself”. Or, “can’t you just use the bathroom sink to rinse off the dishes?” I’ve had three plumbing events in the past two weeks – a leaky toilet, leaky plumbing under the kitchen sink, and a bathtub stopper malfunction – way past my limit. Luckily I was able to deal with the last two in just a few minutes and was smart enough to call my neighbor when the leaky toilet was heading in the wrong direction quickly.

Bread Bomb

Bread bomb. We tried a variation on the Dutch oven, no knead bread. Instead of regular flour, we tried old fashion, 100% whole wheat flour. We prepare the dough in the evening and let it rise overnight. Only this time it didn’t rise very much, reminiscent of the very first loaf we made. Turns out we used the regular yeast instead of the fast rising yeast called for in the recipe and which turned our earlier failures into success. Still we cooked it at the same temp and the same time to see how it would taste. When we cut it, it was clearly not cooked – brown and gooey inside. I’m not sure if using the faster yeast would impact the cooking time or not but next time we try the whole wheat flour, think we’ll cut it a bit longer. I think that’s why it felt like a bomb – it weighed about 3 pounds because all the moisture was retained instead of being cooked off.

As long as I’m discussing bread, hit a real winner this weekend. We occasionally stop at the Fresh Market in Longwood to pick up specialty items. That’s where we got the whole wheat flour. The past two times there I spotted an item that had my name written all over it – cheese and jalapeno corn bread. I’ve always resisted but this time I succumbed and put it in the basket. Probably a big mistake because it is totally awesome. No doubt it will be popping into the basket with way too much frequency. Good thing we don’t live near that market or our grocery bill would be triple what it is now and I’d be 100 pounds heavier in no time at all.

Spec’s finally turning on. As expected, it took a few cold snaps and a full moon in Nov to get things rolling. I had been going out for an hour or so for about a week and each time managed to get only one fish. I’d string it up and then when I got back to the dock with only one on the stringer, let it go. Last night there were 5 on the stringer. So far the ones I’m getting are what I’d call medium size. Last year they were huge and since this is so early in the season, perhaps the big ones are still holding back. I caught them on a small wobble spoon and a plain little bitty rubber minnow. They both seemed about equal in production. My killer lure has been a micro small beetle spin with a green/natural minnow tail. I would have been fishing with that but got it hung up on an underwater something or other and lost it shortly after starting. The wobble spoon is a new addition to the arsenal and I’m fairly well pleased with the results.

Aside from the revelations that the climate scientists have been fudging the data to show global warming, here’s an example of why I never believed a word of it. Two days ago all the forecasters were showing our temp to drop to the low 40’s today. Yesterday they revised that to the low 50’s. Actual morning temp, 67. Not a clue. Even with modern equipment, satellites, and doppler radar – the forecasting models have an accurate horizon of about 20 minutes.

Had another wildlife moment. I have a small, 8×10, plastic shed housing yard equipment. About 5 years ago I set a series of 2’x2′ x 2” concrete squares in front of the shed as an entry way and to make moving the heavier equipment easier. I had noticed a couple weeks back that one of the squares was a bit wobbly and sinking enough to make opening and closing the door a bit difficult. So I pulled it up with the plan to refill the sand that had eroded out. It hadn’t eroded – it was dug out. Under the square was a smooth, cylindrical opening about 8” in diameter that headed back under the shed. Clearly it was a critter made hole. I walked around behind the shed and sure enough, there was the entrance hole and a mound of sand. So the tunnel runs about 10′ right under the center of the shed. I’m not sure if the critter who dug it still considers it home and I really don’t have a good way of filling it back up but if I don’t do something, I’m guessing that it will cause the floor of the shed to give it up. I’d like to run a hose under there and shoot some water through to force out anything calling it home but I’m afraid that would aggravate the erosion problem and maybe cause the shed floor to collapse. If I block up both ends and there’s a guy in there, he’ll just dig out a new tunnel and further undermine the shed. damn. This wildlife moment is threatening to turn into a natural disaster.

Astor Christmas Boat Parade

Down in flames – And I don’t think next season will be dream season. It wasn’t a big surprise since the Gator’s had squeaked through a couple of games that they should have dominated. I never thought they were really the top team in the nation. No doubt the Gators will be in a “rebuilding” phase – hopefully not for the next 10 years. It was fun while it lasted. If Simon ends up in Florida our focus will shift from the football team to the marching band anyway. yeah, right.

I was saved from having to watch the whole game by the Astor Christmas boat parade. We were invited to watch the parade at our friend’s place on the St. Johns River. I had planned to skip the parade and watch the game but at half time I was pretty sure the game was going to get ugly and we headed off for the river. Bill had a nice bon fire going so we watched the parade in high style. There were maybe a dozen boats decorated this year, fewer than usual, but those that were decorated were really done up big time. There was one setup that was by far the best which actually had 3 boats hooked together, each decorated to look like a train car. The first the engine, then a passenger car, then the caboose. Since it was pitch black, they looked exactly like a train with the lighted wheels on each turning in sync. No sign that they were actually boats. The bon fire was a nice touch as we transitioned from fall to Winter last night.

As it turned out, we were destined to be at the boat parade. Another couple joined us who we had never met before. We got to talking and it turns out that the wife was an old childhood friend of the Robison’s – our hosts – and the guy was her second husband, a dentist from Michigan. The gal was originally from Daytona with connections in Cocoa and knew a classmate of mine, Wilt Wagner. Wilt and the Robison’s are cousins, something we learned after meeting the Robison’s a few years ago. We talked a bit further and she and her first husband had worked at the Cape for a while. I mentioned that I too had worked at the Cape for General Dynamics. Wow, her first husband, now deceased, also worked for General Dynamics but not at the Cape. She thought it was GD Casselberry. We corrected that to Longwood and proceeded to dig deeper since I worked at GD Longwood for 10 years. She said her husband Roger was an accountant so I figured he worked in the Accounting dept but she didn’t respond to any of the names I mentioned. She said he worked for an Englishman but couldn’t remember his name. Nancy suggested Dick Axtell and she lit up like a candle. That was him, that was him. At that point I very vaguely remembered her husband, Roger Griswold, He was not an accountant by title but rather a project planner which she confirmed. She had nothing kind to say about Axtell, who I guess drove Roger to eventually quit. So in the course of 20 minutes we found that our paths had loosely crossed in Cocoa during our high school years and again 15 years later in Longwood.

If the Gators had been ahead at half time, chances are we would have stayed home to watch the game and not gone to the parade so I’m sure this was destined to happen and I feel a little responsible for the loss. Sorry Tebow.

Flavorful Compost

Well I guess we got a good comparison between the relative strength of the ACC and the SEC this past weekend. Florida was certainly favored over Florida State so that was no surprise but the two best teams in the ACC were matched up against two very mediocre SEC teams. Clemson was soundly defeated by South Carolina; ditto with Georgia over Georgia Tech. Sorry Utah.

Nancy made another loaf of the no knead bread. I mention this only because it ended up totally different than tries one and two. I think I had mentioned that the recipe called for fast acting yeast but in the first two attempts, she had used regular yeast. The first loaf looked like a pancake which she attributed to using outdated yeast; the second, which seemed perfect to me, used regular yeast but this time with a current use by date. The third loaf used fast acting yeast. You could tell the difference fairly quickly. After a few hours the dough had risen quite a bit higher than the earlier attempts; by the next morning it was way, way higher. We put this back into the iron dutch oven fearing it might rise over the top of the pyrex oven. It came out beautifully. Maybe 50% higher than the second batch. Taste and texture, perfect. Compared to the earlier tries, the bread was lighter and the crust maybe a tad thinner. I think over time we’ll play with other types of flour, maybe try for a whole grain wheat bread.

Another hurricane season ended this week – the wimpiest for twenty some odd years. I’m, puzzled. Clearly the warmer the climate, the more active will be the weather, right?? And I haven’t heard anything about global warming abating, have you?? hmmmm. What’s that all about? They said the ocean temps were slightly cooler which accounts for the modest storm season. So let me get this right, the earth is 2/3 ocean, they’re cooling but the globe is warming. Wow! Next thing will be hearing is that the Polar Bears are really not endangered. They were just hiding out on the other side of the berg when the census taker came around.

We’re getting the first warning shots that there is a winter in the offing. A couple of nights in the mid 40’s brings us back to reality. I’m hoping the winter ends up as passive as the hurricane season with a few hints of frost but none of the real stuff. Just to be on the safe side I planted some Brussels Sprouts this year. I hate them but they really love cold, cold weather so that takes the sting out of frozen tomatoes. Plus I spotted a recipe for Brussels Sprout casserole that shreds the little guys and loads them up with cheese and bacon. My theory is that with enough cheese and bacon, anything tastes ok. (A little side note, did you know that the correct spelling for Brussels Sprouts has the “s” at the end of Brussell. The spell checker kept telling me I was spelling it wrong so I went to the dictionary and sure enough, the “s” is necessary.) Wonder if we’ll have nice red tomatoes in late December or fried green tomatoes sooner?

The compost pile takes on different flavors in different seasons. Right now it’s getting a distinct citrus and cole mixture. Cole is anything in the cabbage/broccoli family. The citrus is mostly grapefruit hulls after the juice has been extracted and converted to greyhounds. I haven’t noticed that the garden does any better or worse based on the changing flavors. In a month or so, George will start dumping his fireplace ash onto the pile, no doubt giving it a hint of burnt oak. I can hear the worms now discussing it amongst themselves, reminiscent of people visiting a vineyard and talking wine. Ahhh, just the right blend of Ruby Red and ash with an undertone of Chinese cabbage. Pure delight.