Smoker maiden voyage

Had the first smoker event – a large batch of pork ribs and chicken drumsticks. Paired with Dutch Cole slaw, cauliflower-broccoli salad, and macaroni salad, it was a great meal. It’s quite different from the Holland grill. The Holland is more of a conventional oven with almost everything taking an hour or less to prepare. It operates at 400 degrees and is easily cleaned after use with a thorough cleaning required every six months or so. The smoker has much more overhead associated with it – more to clean with each use so you wouldn’t want to use it for just a casual meal. Right now I’m looking at the smoker as a special event cooker with company rather than a mid week meal producer. One operational aspect that surprised me was water usage. There’s a water pan that holds a quart or two and supplies moisture to the meat when cooking. Tom had indicated that he had to add water to the pan on an 8 hour smoking experience. The ribs were scheduled to cook 4 hours so I filled the pan expecting it to be down 50% by the end of the process. Instead it was still full – in fact if anything there seemed to be more than at the start. I could understand some rendered fat drippings adding to the water during the cooking process but with an oven temp of 235, I would have expected more water to have boiled off. Wonder why it didn’t?

The detailing job on the truck turned out nicer than I expected. I forgot how it looked when new. The new cover fit perfectly so now it’s set for a while. The guy who did the work asked me if I parked it under pine trees. He guessed that based on the amount of pine sap that had dripped on it and the scratched areas where I had tried to remove it. He had a good idea – don’t park under pine trees. And if you do, don’t try to remove the sap drippings – just live with it. The cover is our solution.

The previously mentioned biscuits passed a major milestone. We had taken the risk of buying and freezing a dozen assuming they would be just as good or almost as good when thawed and heated. Good move. I popped one in the oven to go with the left over turkey soup Nance had made and was overjoyed when it tasted as good as fresh out of the original oven. Now between the Olde Hearth ciabatta rolls and Emma’s biscuits, I’m in the best bread zone since we left Salt Lake where we had Pacific Bay ciabatta bread and biscuits at Ruth’s Diner.

Christmas for the truck

What’s been the biggest surprise of the season? Mark’s home made German pretzels.

Put the smoker together and tested/cured it before the maiden voyage on Wednesday. I think it’s fitting that the first event be ribs and a big batch of Dutch cole slaw fresh from the garden. Full report with pic’s sure to follow.

My truck is having a nice Christmas this year. Nancy bought it a cover (under the guise of it being a present for me). I keep moving the truck around trying to find a spot where it won’t be bombed with pine sap and/or bird droppings, or worse yet, falling dead branches. It’s had a tough couple of years so I’ve decided to go all the way and have it detailed and then covered. Right, me having a vehicle detailed – now that’s a disconnect. To put it in perspective, there’s a guy in Pierson who (I’ve heard) does a good job at a good price. He quoted me $25 to detail it; $50 if I wanted it waxed as well. I went for the full treatment – hold the Armour All on the tires which is not a good thing on dirt roads. A couple of hours after I dropped it off, the owner called and said it would be much better if he compounded the truck before he waxed it. I know that’s true because the paint was fairly well oxidized; $25 more to have it rubbed out (compounded). He helped me make the decision to go the extra $25 by telling me that the job I was getting would normally cost $100 but because things were slow after Christmas, I was getting a better deal. How could I pass on that. I rarely use the truck any more and only keep it because it’s the only way I have to move the poke boat from here to the Tomoka River and because it has way too much sentimental value to ever get rid of it. Too many memorable camping trips; too many memorable trips from Utah to Florida; too many hours spent one on one with Tommy and Simon.

George built a ladder for our dock so I can now climb down into the boat. When the lake dropped so much, he had pulled his boat out of the water and I moved mine into his slip. His boat is bigger and was bottomed out in his slip whereas mine was fine there. The water did come up a few inches and I started catching specs so he needed to get his boat back in the water – what I really needed was a ladder on my dock to let me use my boat from it’s own place. Works like a world champ. So far this winter has been warmer and a bit wetter than normal so the lake is at a higher level than I had anticipated. What gets us in the winter is that the surrounding ferneries pump water in prodigious quantities to protect their crops from freezing. In a two or three day cold snap, they can pull the lake level down a foot. Last year was the coldest in memory so the pull down occurred several times and summer rains never really materialized to replenish the

The end of festivities

Made it through the festivities just fine. I was really surprised to find a smoker under Tom’s tree with my name on it. Tom bought one Thanksgiving 2010 and for the past year we’ve probably enjoyed the output half a dozen or so times. No doubt it will be put to good use here at the lake. Lots of other goodies distributed and it seemed that everyone got what they wanted. Tom smoked a large prime rib to top it off. The next big scheduled event is a Super Bowl party – probably a pulled pork event if I had to speculate.

When we lived in San Antonio we often ate breakfast at a place that made the best biscuits in the galaxy. Those biscuits have been the gold standard for me and every time we try a new breakfast place, I order the biscuits in the hope of coming close. It happened today in a new place that opened in DeLeon Springs, about 6 miles from the house. The breakfast was just ok but the biscuits were incredible. So much so that I asked the proprietor if he would sell just the biscuits on a to-go basis. He thought about it and came up with a price that fit my pocket and said I’d have to wait about 20 minutes while they cooked up a fresh batch. There are now a dozen of these beauties in the freezer to be doled out one at a time, no more frequently than once a week. I can’t take the chance that he goes out of business leaving me once again searching. This is a real hole in the wall kind of place where it is impossible to under dress. It’s the kind of place where you wait until you have at least a 3 day beard before entering or risk having the patrons stare at you and know you are a new kid in town. The dinner special tonight is a 3 piece fried chicken dinner with a choice of 3 sides and a drink for $6.95. Wonder if you can get a biscuit as a side or if perchance it just also comes with a biscuit standard?

Big, really big family news. Simon landed a summer job with the National Park Service in Yellowstone. Not sure what his biggest selling point was – being an Eagle Scout or being an Environmental Engineering Major – but with that combination how could the Park Service miss the opportunity to get him. Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome will be explaining to the head Park Ranger why his father has to be part of the package!! He still has applications outstanding in other Parks so he may be able to get something closer but for sure, one way or the other, it’ll be an interesting summer for him.

Meatloaf Masterpiece

My night to cook so it will be an all Holland Grill masterpiece – meat loaf, baked potatoes, grilled broccoli, and garden salad. The photo is the broccoli and salad in the just picked mode. The red leaf lettuce is a variety named Danyelle. Haven’t planted any potatoes yet (and may not this year) so those are store bought. We use so few potatoes and they are nominally inexpensive so it might just make more sense to use the space for something better eaten fresh. The weather has been so nice this winter that we grill at least 3 times a week – in this case it’s 3 days in a row; gourmet pizza on Wednesday, chicken parts on Thursday, and the meatloaf tonight. I may be mistaken but I think this might be the first season since we’ve been here where we haven’t experience a frost through the end of the year. That’s why we’re still picking an occasional eggplant and green peppers – both very sensitive to cold. In most years they’re gone by Thanksgiving.
About a month ago I lost my favorite pair of clippers. I have maybe half a dozen so the loss of one is neither unusual nor a big problem. Still, I hate it when one minute you have something and then, it disappears. Normally I find them within a few days when I happen on the spot where I set them down but I was fairly sure I knew exactly where these had to be – in the compost pile. I expected to find them when I transferred the contents of the pile to a new location – a normal rotation process when I complete a pile’s transition to the garden. But they didn’t show up. That was back some time in October I think. Since then I turn the pile to aerate it once or twice a week so you have to think if the clippers were in the pile, I’d for sure find them. Got it. Yesterday I turned the pile and was delighted when the pitchfork sounded a big clunk and out popped my red handled clippers. I had turned that pile 6-10 times and it had eluded detection but sure enough, it was right where I thought it would be.

Spec’s starting

Cracked up listening to the talking heads on the tube talking about North Korea after the big man died. They said the country is a basket case: no food, no twitter, no facebook. Honestly, that was the list of hardships these poor folk have to deal with.

You can breath easy now. I finally caught a few speckled perch aka black crappie. I’ve been hitting it once or twice a day since I got the new motor and picked up a bass or a bluegill here and there but no specs – the fine eating quarry. The 3 I caught were nice ones – not the largest I’ve ever caught – but certainly good size and enough for a hearty meal. I did something that I may soon regret. After filleting the fish I have always buried the carcasses in the garden but heretofore haven’t had a bear issue. I went ahead and buried them anyway and will keep my fingers crossed that it doesn’t prove to be a bear magnet.

Got a really interesting compost mix going this time. Aside from all the citrus rinds, the giant leaves from the cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbages, shredded palmetto fronds clipped from the path to the dock, a few loads of chimney ash from the neighbor’s fireplace – this batch has a load of debris from the neighbor’s fish ponds. He cleans them out semi annually which means a load of semi decomposed oak leaves that have been fertilized by thousands of sword tails, mollies, and a few giant koi. I know if I had any sense of smell, this load of nutrients would knock me over. Within the next two weeks, the maple tree will drop all it’s leaves and those will be shredded and added to the pile. For sure each and every compost pile is unique so if you hit upon a magical mix that turned the humble patch into the garden of Eden, it could never be replicated. This particular batch is the May 2012 load. The next load hitting the garden is in the final simmering phase and won’t be distributed until February. That’s the batch that has all the sea weed which has long since just decomposed into the whole mess.

One minute I’m contemplating how O’bama can possibly win re-election. I’m fairly sure he will but It seems to me that he has lost some major constituencies and not gained any that I can think of. So then I’m contemplating how he can possibly lose with the lineup of Republicans it looks like he’ll be facing. No doubt he will have lost a goodly portion of the Jewish vote which has traditionally been a lock solid voting block. I’m guessing that will make a difference in Florida. He’s lost a large number of wealthy Wall Streeters with the constant attack on the monied and support for the Occupy crowd. I don’t see that as a large number of votes but an enormous amount of money. Since more illegals than ever have been deported, not sure how solid the Latino block is. He max’d out the youngster vote and the black vote last go round so not likely that can be repeated in the same numbers – just from a lack of interest rather than a change in thought. The enviro wackies and public unions will hang tough and you have to assume the West coast and New England libs will have no where else to go. The Streisand/Baldwin/Sheen set is locked. Not sure about private unions after the pipeline decision. That was a really clear choice for the greenies and against jobs. What he does have going for him, big time, is a sorry collection of Republican candidates and that may be enough. Romney could probably beat him but no way he’ll end up being the candidate. As long as the Senate changes hands, I’m fine. Clinton was much better when he had an all Republican congress to joust with and no reelection ahead screw with his head.

The Veggie Machine

Wonder what this is all about? Nancy asked me to start a database or spreadsheet for Christmas cards. So I have a spreadsheet with one column for name and one for address. Here’s what’s weird – some of the names type in just fine whereas others flag the spell check. So why would “Reagan” tilt the checker while “Ragusa” flies through just fine. Gilbreath tilts but Christiansen doesn’t.

Here are a couple current crop harvest photos. Not shown are some beets and radishes which hit the table for the first time this week. The beets were really scrawny but tasty. When I first started the garden, all the books said that a decent garden would produce about $1/SF annually in vegetables. In Florida, it’s fair to double that because the growing season is at least double that of most places. With the prices we’re seeing in the grocery stores for fresh produce, that $1 has to be $3/SF now. Each one of those items shown in the photos would be $3 here and each occupies roughly 1SF of garden space. The folks who sell the seeds know that too and have dramatically increased seed prices this year. Still, a bargain.
Other than lots of picking, the garden activities for the week included transplanting a couple of patio tomato seedlings into a container along with a few dozen carrot seeds. There’s a famous book, well famous may be an overstatement; there’s a well known gardening book…. Let me start again, there’s a book known by a few vegetable garden zealots entitled something like Tomatoes love Carrots. The focus of the book is the advantages/disadvantages of co-planting certain varieties. For example a certain plant may ward off an insect that otherwise would attack a companion planted adjacent. Or a particular vegetable may soak up a certain garden nutrient while emitting one that fosters strong growth in an adjacent variety. Lot’s of don’t plant this next to that kind of info. From the title you can guess that the carrot/tomato axis is promoted so I decided to give it a try by planting Kurado carrots all along the base of the patio tomato container. We’ll see.

Also planted what is probably the season finale lettuce seed. That will be ready for the big time garden in mid January and carry us on through March. Much beyond that it gets problematic for lettuce unless we really have a coolish spring.

Party, Party, Party

So far so good on the social events I had been dreading. We attended a graduation party for the students, friends, and parents of Tom’s Video game class. Along with the food and drink, we got to meet a good number of the students and have them demonstrate the games they’ve been working on since entering the program 18 months ago. Very impressive work and we learned that 95% of the students leaving the program were hired immediately. Most had done internships with game companies and had multiple offers for employment.

The birthday party for an old neighbor in Altamonte springs was likewise a nice time. Seven of us met at a local restaurant, had a nice lunch then headed back to Bob’s house for dessert and coffee. He does just a wee bit of gardening so my present was two flats of seedlings – about 8 different things for him to try. He showed me exactly where he planned to put everything. It will be interesting to see how it all works out. The soil looked exactly like mine did 4 years ago but I didn’t mention that. Who knows, he may have some magic ingredient there that doesn’t exist in Barberville.

The third event was a Christmas boat parade on the St. Johns River in Welaka. I think the economy took it’s toll on the parade. There was a total of 4 boats including an airboat. We’ve attended boat parades every year since we moved here and this was without a doubt the wimpiest. The good thing was that the next door neighbor to the people had a large machine that churned out endless margaritas. Like a 7-11 slurpy machine but much better for you. The other good thing was that it was a beautiful, warm evening. We have been to this event in the past wearing parkas but this was short sleeve shirt viewing.

The final event in the string got moved from Sunday to Monday. We’re going over to Joey’s to see the remodeling of his latest acquisition and then meet up with my sister and a couple friends for lunch. I think that’s it for the season.