EggPlant and Lemon Cake

Since we’re in eggplant overload mode, I’m always looking for new ways to use the crop. I mentioned that we found a great Cuban restaurant where I chose a mixed vegetable dish as a side. It was a mix of zucchini, onion, and eggplant in a tomato sauce. I have no idea what the name of the dish is but it was really tasty so I decided to try to replicate it. I chopped up all the solid ingredients mentioned above plus a green pepper and sauteed it lightly in olive oil with some salt, pepper and garlic. Added the tomato sauce and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Excellent. There is one minor issue in that the zucchini and eggplant don’t overlap in the garden for too long. Right now I have plenty of eggplant but the zucchini gave up the ghost by the end of June. Still, it’s a good way to deal with the egg plant.

One thing about our eggplant is that it’s not that big, familiar purple variety you see in grocery stores. The variety I’m growing is called Lavender Touch and is a gourmet variety that is mostly white with a lavender tinge. You pick them when they’re 4” to 6” long and 3” in diameter. So, for example, the dish described above uses one whole eggplant and it’s perfect for two of us. They don’t contain as much water as the old classics so you don’t have to salt and press them – just peel and cook. Taste wise, they don’t have the bitterness you associate with the big, purple guys. Even so, we’re giving away more than we’re using ourselves. And the blossoms just keep coming.

Learning something about growing grape tomatoes. It’s not my first time around the block so it’s a little surprising to me. Last year I planted a variety called Napa Grape. They were really bushy and became a jumbled, tangled dense mass that made harvesting difficult because so many tomatoes would be growing inside the mess and not visible. It also was so dense it became a favorite place for rabbits to hide in. I decided this time around to correct that problem by staking them from the get go. The surprise is that the plants are now approaching 7′ tall with branches that are already 4-5′ long. The branches look sparse from a leaf perspective but it may be just because I’m stretching them out instead of letting them bundle together like they did last year. If I continue tying them to taller stakes, they will literally be too tall to deal with; if I stretch them out laterally, two plants will consume an entire 20′ row. I’m having a real Jack and the Beanstalk moment. I now understand why last year they became an unmanageable tangle of branches since this year I have a semi manageable tangle of branches which could potentially become an unmanageable tangle if the stakes get overloaded and collapse. In a way I’m creating a sail of tomato branches just waiting for a good strong wind. On my last trip to the library I happened to be reading up on growing tomatoes and one line mentioned cherry/grape tomatoes and said that some varieties, unnamed, can grow to heights of 12′. Note to me, maybe letting the caterpillars keep them trimmed isn’t such a bad idea after all.

I’m not a big dessert guy but Tom offered to bring the dessert after visiting Simon in Gainesville and dropping by here for dinner. He wanted to do it so we figured we would have a piece of cake or something and have him take the rest of it home. As it turns out, he totally screwed me up for life by bringing the most incredible lemon bunt cake ever made. He bought it in a Deli-bakery in Tampa, Wright’s, so it’s not very likely we’ll ever experience it again but any other cake we have will just not meet the standard set by this particular cake. Kind of the way fried Calamari at the Flagler Fish Company totally screwed us up from ordering it anywhere else.

Student loans

One of the guys running for congress has a commercial where he says that he was raised by a single mother. Is that supposed to be a good thing? Is that supposed to make me want to vote for him? I like guys that had a father. I don’t see this single mom, good and well intentioned as she may be, taking him fishing or hunting or onto the golf course or hitting grounders to him. Probably wouldn’t let him play with b-b guns. So maybe he only has half an education, the wimpy half. I might feel better if he had said he was raised by his grandparents. As it turns out, I wasn’t planning to vote for the guy anyway but if I was on the fence, this would have pushed me off.

I have a theory as to the origins of all the current financial problems. My theory is that student loans are the culprit. I’ve tried to put together what was different about my life at the start of my career and that of my kids and the thing I finally settled on was student loans. Many kids graduating college in the mid to late 80’s and thereafter, left school with a heavy load of loans to deal with – in many cases the equivalent of starting out with a traditional home mortgage style debt load. Twenty years prior to that, there were no student loans. Either your parents paid for it, you worked, or many joined the service and went to school later on the GI bill. The start up burden for the student loan generation was so high that many recipients just blew off the loan and the sense of obligation to repay it. That was understandable because the jobs you got just out of college were not sufficient to finance starting a new life and paying off a giant debt. So this generation didn’t have the fear of debt that earlier generations did and also didn’t take the payoff of debt as seriously. My theory is that this kind of thinking led to ideas that everybody should be a homeowner and that taking on the debt was just not that big a deal. Somehow it would all work out in the end. It did.

I don’t know the technical details as to whether these student loans were guaranteed by the government, making them the culprit, or whether the banks jumped into these unsecured loans on their own. My gut tells me that somehow the feds are behind it. Like many government programs, the premise would be that the whole country benefits if we have a more highly educated population and there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that premise but the unintended consequences of going the student loan route has, in my opinion, brought with it big negatives. Personally, I would prefer a more robust scholarship program for well qualified students and drop the loan programs or loan guarantees completely. I think there are plenty of ways to determine which kids are ready for college scholastically.

Big, unpleasant surprise in the garden. I am getting ready to start putting out new plants for fall harvest, among them new tomatoes plants. My new method is to dig a deep, wide hole, line it with newspaper, and then fill it with mulch and various chemical goodies. I dug down to start the process and about 8” down hit pure white sand, builders sand. What’s that all about? I kept deepening and widening the hole removing the white sand and loading a wheel barrow. About a foot further down, I hit limestone gravel. No wonder the soil tests I had done a few months back showed the PH at 7.8. The layer of gravel was a few inches thick and underlying that was nursery shade cloth which would have kept the sand and gravel from gradually leaching downward. Thankfully under the nursery cloth, which I cut away, was regular soil. Out of the one hole, I got a full wheel barrow load of sand and gravel; out of 3 holes, three full loads. I lined the holes with palmetto fronds and then filled them to the brim with fresh compost so I think anything I plant there will be ok. It literally took 2 days to get 4 planting areas cleaned out instead of the 20 minutes I had programmed for that job. Luckily I had a perfect spot for the sand and gravel as fill in a section of the path to the lake that had subsided into a bit of a depression -nothing scary, but this load filled it back level with the rest of the path.

But all this once again proves the old adage, nothing is ever easy. There is something poetic about trimming the palmetto fronds along the path to fill the holes from which the sand and gravel came and which was used to level the path. The balance of nature, Carbone style.

Surf Rod disaster

Late last year I think I mentioned that I had just picked up a new surf rod which completed the combination for a perfect setup. The rod was a 12′ Daiwa and the thing that set it apart was the weight. It was a slender, light, fast tip rod – perfect for casting large lures into the surf for blues. Being so light, you could cast for quite a while before it wore you out. I could consistently lay out a 1 oz spoon 100 yds. In contrast, after 3 or 4 casts with my other rods, my tongue is hanging out and my arms are limp. Well tragedy struck last week when the rod broke right at the ferrule. It broke in the middle of a cast at the maximum power point. My heart broke at the same instant because I knew this was going to be a hard rod to replace. I took it right back to the place I’d bought it, the Fishin Hole, in Daytona Beach and they said they’d do what they could. Two weeks later they called with a replacement rod. Heart started again. Nancy was in Daytona and went by to pick it up. As soon as I saw it I knew it was not the same rod. This one was the traditional moosey rod for dealing with giant stripers or sharks, double the thickness, double the weight. I have two other rods just like this and they’re great for fishing with bait in a rough surf but worthless for casting a 1 oz nickel spoon.
Here’s the interesting part – I called the Tackle Box and the owner asked me to read off the model number on the new rod which, as it turns out, matches the model number of the old rod. I said no way is this the same rod, no matter what the model number says. He said that Daiwa had obviously changed the design and kept the same model number which is something they do from time to time. No surprise to him at all. Bottom line is that he said to bring the rod back and we’ll see if we can find one that suits me. I am a little boxed here because I know there are a couple rods over there that will suit me just fine but they are $200 rods compared to the $100 I paid for the Daiwa. I had never paid even that much for a rod in the past but had never seen a long, light rod like that for $100 which is why I jumped on it as soon as I picked it up in the first place. Think I’ll go over by myself when I’m looking just in case I have to cough up another $100. Don’t need any witnesses to that.

The Fishin Hole is a great place to do business. I’ve been a customer for years and they’ve never steered me wrong or not totally satisfied my needs. Daiwa, on the other hand, has given me grief in the past. I have a Daiwa surf reel with a broken bail return for which Daiwa has no spare parts. The reel is only a couple years old but no spare parts. I’m done with Daiwa.

I officially started the last piece of the garden expansion, a 12′ x 12′ piece on the SW corner of the existing garden. Doesn’t sound like much but it will take two days to complete, 3-4 hours per day which is the limit in this unforgiving heat. I mentioned one reason for wanting a larger garden was to be able to time space more varieties during the season but I thought of another good reason and decided to jump ahead and complete the expansion a couple of months before I had planned. With more space, you can grow items that take up lots of garden space. I had seeds for butternut squash and spaghetti squash but had not planted any since the very first season. That’s when I learned that these particular varieties put out vines on the order of 15′ and totally consumed everything in their path. The squash we got was great but it took up far more space than could be justified. With this new addition, I have plenty of space for both butternut and Spaghetti squash this season and maybe watermelons next summer.

Good thing for the garden that I didn’t get the iPad. A few months back it looked like an iPad with ATT 3G wireless network was the way for us to get back on the internet. I was justifying the cost by considering switching my WSJ subscription and Nancy’s News Journal subscription to online versions via the iPad. We found out that we couldn’t get 3G connectivity out here in the woods which at the time seemed a big setback. What I failed to fully take into account was how much newspaper I use as mulch liner in the garden. We get the two papers mentioned plus a small Deland paper that comes a couple times a week and use 100% of that in batches from time to time. Right now it’s a matter of minutes from when I finish reading a paper to when it’s installed in it’s new home, the garden. So in hindsight, not having the iPad has worked out just fine for the gardening.

Mourning Billy’s

The other day my brush chipper gave up the ghost. That’s bad because my mechanic in chief is away on vacation for a few months. I went to the local shade tree NAPA operation to pick up a little carburetor cleaner in the hopes that would solve the problem, knowing deep down inside it wouldn’t. There was the usual collection of salty old mechanics that hang around repair shops listening in to my tale of woe. One of them asked what kind of gas I used and I said whatever was closest when I needed it. They all shook their heads and moaned in a way to let me know that I had committed serious mistakes. At least they didn’t break out laughing. They unanimously agreed that you should only run raw gas in small engines, that’s gas with no ethanol. Just so happens there’s a Pure Oil station, if you can believe they still exist, about half way between Barberville and Ormond which they said was the only place around to get the good stuff. They advised that it was quite a bit more expensive but well worth it for high performance small engines. They were right, it was $3.25 vs the current pricing in the $2.6x range. It just so happened that I was ready to refill all of my external gas containers, something I do annually in late summer. I have 3 six gallon containers and a two gallon can which last me an entire year in terms of keeping the mower, chipper and generator fueled. So the timing was right to switch away from the pseudo gas to the real deal. The lady at the station told us that more and more people were putting it in their cars because they were getting much better mileage. I think I’ll experiment with it on my next truck refill – that will be when a hurricane forms up that looks like it could impact us. I go through a fill up, 34 gallons, maybe twice a year so the extra cost won’t tilt anything and if any of the vehicles could use a mileage boost, it’s the truck. It’s also my oldest vehicle so probably hates ethanol the most.

Tried a new restaurant in Deland, Tomasito’s, and was pleasantly surprised by how good it was. Nancy had heard about the new Cuban restaurant that her friends said was excellent. The only Cuban food I’ve ever eaten is a Cuban sandwich so I was lukewarm on the idea. I couldn’t read the menu so picked the daily special which turned out to be a flounder fillet with a great sauce, a unique vegetable mix, and plantains. When we got there, it was early and we were among the first there so I was wondering if the empty restaurant was an indicator. By the time we left it was full with a line to get in – small place with limited parking. The waitress said it was like this everyday at lunch and dinner. Everything I saw being delivered looked incredible so for sure we’ll go back and work our way through the menu.

On restaurants, this is probably the time to mourn the passing of one of our favorites, Billy’s Tap Room in Ormond. Billy’s had been there forever – I think since 1926 – and supposedly there were lease issues. How could you be in the same location for over 80 years and have lease issues?? It was our special occasion spot. The food was excellent but it is excellent in several places whereas the ambiance is not replaceable – an old, New York tavern in the ’20’s kind of atmosphere. Awesome carrot cake and a really nice house cab.

wi-fi plethora

Big news. The Pierson library now has wi-fi. So now if I have any big downloading jobs I am only 3 miles from the big ether dump in the sky. The Deland library that we frequent is 15 miles away, too far to go for an occasional extra high speed romp on the internet but the Pierson library is less than 5 minutes from the house. It’s right near the ACE hardware and just down the street from the Dollar General, the epicenter of our consumer hub. This particular branch library has weird hours and what I don’t know yet is if they keep the routers powered up when the library is closed but with this new tap in point, we are in an internet overload mode.

Update: Nancy heard from a friend who volunteers at the Deland library, that all the branch wi-fi’s are linked to the main system such that they all turn on and off at the same time. She also told Nancy that they figured you wouldn’t be able to sit outside the Pierson library to connect because the walls of the old building were soooooo thick. Personally I didn’t believe they all turned on simultaneously but if they did, I wasn’t much concerned about the wall thickness especially since the building has large, large windows. So I packed up the Macbook and drove the 5 minutes to the library an hour before opening time. Sure enough I instantaneously connected to the internet, thick walls and all, so I guess I have access now from 7AM until 7PM, probably 7 days a week. And since I got there before any of the libraries in the system were open for visitors, it was lightning fast.

Wonder if there will even be libraries in 25 years? Wonder what happens to the business model for printing books as people transition to E-books? Wonder if small, boutique printing shops will spring up to convert bits and bytes to customized hard copy for those who respect and cherish books? What happens to coffee table books?

Learned something today that I should have learned years ago. I’m looking after my neighbors house while he’s away on a 4 month camping trip. I noticed that his air conditioner was never running even though he told me he had set the thermostat at 85 and it was sure as hell hotter than 85. I went in and checked and sure enough the AC was off – the thermostat display was blank. I checked the breaker box and the AC breaker was on. It was obvious because all the other breakers were off. Still, I cycled the AC breaker to make sure it was set. There was another breaker outside on the fan which was also on – toggled that one too just to make sure. George’s brother came over and he looked as well and came to the same conclusion, the AC was not working. First thing he checked were the breakers and he walked through the same sequence I did. I called George and left a message suggesting he contact his grandson who is an AC mechanic. Garret called and said it was probably a breaker but we assured him that the breaker was ok. He came over and had it running in a few minutes and came over to tell me it was ok. Guess what, it was the breaker but not the breaker labeled “AC”. He said the furnace breaker was off and that the furnace is interconnected to the AC such that both breakers need to be on for the unit to function. He said all AC’s were that way and I said that I routinely throw the furnace breaker if I’m leaving for a few days along with the other appliances that we’re not using. I do that in case there’s an electrical storm, hoping that will protect the appliances. But I always leave the AC on to keep the house from getting damp. I threw my furnace breaker just to prove I was right and sure enough, the AC went off. So I guess all the time I thought my AC was running when we were away, it wasn’t. Live and learn.

Saw a political ad for a candidate in our upcoming primary. It was a negative ad and identified the candidate as being in the top 11 corrupt politicians in the country – not just in Florida, but in all America. Is it good news that he didn’t make the top 10? I think it would have been just as bad/good to say he was in the top 100 and I might believe that there is such a list but in the top 11? Wonder what he would have to do to break into the top 10? I’d sure like to see some data so I could calibrate on him. Where does Charlie Rangle fit on this scale? Maxine Waters? Is our guy a bigger or smaller crook than them? What goes into the ranking? Is it a total number of dollars stolen or is it the number of different shady deals he’s involved in? Does the clock reset every year or every time he starts a new term or is it a cumulative crookedness for all his political life. Is he #11 for 2010 or would it cover his term 2008 to 2010? Our guy looks relatively young so I have to guess there’s a new list every year or term and he seems to be the kind of guy who would be involved in lots of little deals rather than a few really big ones. A guy like Rangle’s been doing it for 40 years so our guy wouldn’t stand a chance if the rankings accumulated over time. There should be a annual or term listing and a lifetime award too. The pending election appears to present us in Florida with a selection among nothing but crooks. Really, I don’t think one candidate running is not being accused of being an out right crook by the opposition. Pretty much what I always thought but now everybody will know.

Remembering Wo Fat

Finally getting a break from the heat. Not that it’s cool but much closer to our norms – low 90’s with good chances of mid afternoon rain showers. Even if it doesn’t actually rain, there are clouds aplenty. For the past month it’s been more like 96 along with cloudless skies from dawn to dusk.

We did something a little different Saturday. In last Sunday’s paper we saw an announcement for a historical bus tour of Ormond Beach. Last year we saw the same announcement and when we called for reservations, they were sold out. This time we called quickly and picked up the last two spots. There were two vans, each with a dozen passengers, the driver, and the guide. To give you an idea of the passenger demographics, I was the only guy and probably the youngest person on the bus. There was one old gal,must have been 150, who would occasionally correct the tour guide or add some piece of inside info. For example there was a shell of a building on a canal that dated back over 100 years and this gal talked about eating there with her family when she was a young girl. The historic society lady glommed on to her to pick up each tidbit of new information that she could use on future tourists. Very worth while. In fact within the first 5 minutes of the 2 hour tour I had seen enough to satisfy me. Ormond has some very old homes, 1870 kind of old, that you would never know existed. Some are very unique, aside from just being old. For example one is constructed from railroad ties; another from palm tree trunks. In fact there were two constructed from palm tree logs, one Indian style and one paleface style. Paleface style lays the timbers horizontally; Indian style places them vertically. We took the scenic loop which I’ve driven myself many times but with somebody explaining points of interest, it was quite a different trip. The same historic society has a tour of several of the houses we drove past coming up in December which we will try fit into our Christmas time schedule.

Picked off a couple giant caterpillars from the grape tomatoes. I really hate these critters because they go from tiny to gimongous in short order and can totally strip a leaf/branch/plant in hours. What makes it particularly tough is that they get bright green so they are really difficult to spot unless you look for branches with nubs instead of leaves. You can look directly at one and miss it because it looks so much like a green stem. I loaded up my sprayer with BT which is supposed to work on caterpillars and plan to hit it daily. I’m trying a new trick with BT – mixing in a couple tablespoons of dish detergent. That is supposed to let the BT stick to the leaves better.

Wonder if Wo Fat will make it in the new Hawaii 5-0???

special visitor

Another special week with a drop in visit by Olivia. Nancy and her spent the day Monday shopping in Daytona and Tuesday evening cutting out a new quilt for Tom. I took her surf fishing Tuesday at Flagler. Great time – a few fish, nice cool breezes and surf, a taco lunch at the taco shop there. I think she’d get bored up here if she stayed much longer but a couple of days in her busy schedule is a real bonus for us. To stay another day would have meant competing with some guy named Justin Bieber or Beaver or something. That wasn’t going to happen.

I mentioned that I had planted some acorn squash seeds in peat pots early this week with the intent of moving them to the garden in September. Not exactly sure what I did but the squash plants germinated in 3 days instead of 7 and a couple of days after that are 4” tall and putting on the first set of true leaves. No way these guys will be able to exist in peat pots until September and I’m not sure they’ll be able to deal with the sun and heat if I put them out next week. Good thing early in life I chose not to be a farmer. That would have been a career disaster.

I am pulling out all the stops on these acorn squash plants. We’ve just not had any success so far and I’m this one planting away from just hanging it up on trying. Going all out means taking every piece of soil lore I’ve picked up and applying it wholesale on these two plants. Starting with a large mound of almost pure compost, I hollowed out the center of the mound and poured in some dissolved sugar for a first line attack on the nematodes. Next I lined the depression with newspaper to install a degradable barrier, another nematode foil. I sprinkled in each lined cavity Epsom salts for trace nutrients, sulphur to raise the PH, bone meal to add calcium and other special stuff, and topped it off with a handful of 8-2-8 fertilizer. I even crushed two egg shells and sprinkled one in each spot. This mix should have 2 weeks to meld in with the compost before I install the peat pots holding the Honey Bear squash. My experience with this variety last year was that it started out with beautiful foliage, lots of blossoms, lots of squash starts all of which rotted off before they ripened. That’s the worst kind of disaster because if the plants die early in the cycle, you have time to replant but when they give you months of encouragement and then crater…………………..

I’ve moved Scientists up to the number 3 spot on my list of most distrusted. Not all scientists but those who pursue the softer sciences such as environmental science. The science of gloom and doom where the object is to project fear of some imminent event that just ain’t going to happen. The latest is watching them scramble around trying to find oil damage from the gulf spill where, in fact, the earth’s natural processes have been working to clean up the mess on it’s own – the same as it’s been doing for a jillion plus years. And apparently doing a pretty good job of it. I’m guessing that the use of dispersants has helped a bunch but they’re busy trying to convince the world that dispersants are really bad guys and will get us and the blue fin tuna in a few years. It’s really screwing them up that no oil is showing in any sea critters including filter feeders like oysters. Deep down inside they are hoping to find a drop or two so they can push to kill all fishing. They are now back on solid ground by claiming there are perhaps microscopic things going on that none of us can see, taste, smell, or feel which will totally upset the food chain in decades to come. Pretty safe ground and it paves the wave for millions and millions in federal grants for universities to “study” the situation well into the future.

And the jerk severe weather forecasters who are at it again already this season. We’ve now had two named storms that only existed on radar for a period of hours. Just long enough to give them a name because that’s how they make the pre-season predictions – number of named storms. So we go to bed hearing that a storm that’s not quite there yet will become a named storm soon. We wake up to find out that overnight it had been named and a couple of hours later, denamed when it fell apart. Yeah, right. I think they need to add a criteria that says a storm has to maintain within the definition for 2 days before it’s named. The new season prediction came out yesterday and it’s already down a few storms from the April prediction. The folks in the weather center really get frantic about now ready to pounce on any rain storm that forms in the South Atlantic. I saw one yesterday where they showed a gray spot on radar off the coast of Africa, 2000+ miles from here, and the forecaster said “it may become suspicious”. What’s that all about – it may become suspicious. To me it’s like the traffic guy saying there may be an accident on the interstate tomorrow.