Green Bean Omelet

Today was a big day. Picked the first few Swiss Chard leaves to put on the pizza. I guess I could sprinkle some French cut green beans as a topping but somehow that just doesn’t seem right but I think I’m going to go for it anyway. I am resisting, this time, the temptation of chopping some kale leaves into the mix. Don’t know how long I can hold out on that. We use a 5 grain pizza crust so this total pie could be the highest fiber concoction that can still pass for pizza – at least in this house.

While on pizza, we picked up a tip from #2 grandson that could change the way I deal with leftover pizza. The pizza crust as described above, is a 10” round crust. We cut it into 4 equal pieces then each eat 1 1/2 pieces for the meal which leaves me with one piece, a 1/4 of the original pie, for the next day’s lunch. Although edible, not much more can be said for nuking it in the microwave but that’s the way I do it. Simon said the way to do leftover pizza is to put it in a frying pan and reheat it on the stove top. I recognized this as a culinary breakthrough and put it to the test today. Didn’t work so well for me. I think the difference is that the pizza we make is thick with toppings so what happened was that the crust got nice and hot and stayed crispy but the top, not so much. Maybe a combo approach, some frying pan to heat and firm the crust followed by a shorter nuking to heat the top.

Ever have green bean omelets? Old Italian meal that I haven’t had for many years. Nancy whipped one up for lunch using beans that were picked about 3 minutes before hitting the pan. Yum.

This year the garden is taking considerably more time and effort. It doesn’t take any more time to produce a good crop than it ever did. Truth be known, that’s becoming easier each season as the soil matures. The problem is that the garden is shifting purpose from just being a food producer to taking on the role of a show garden. We’re, (us and George), getting people just dropping by to see the garden. I guess it’s mentioned at George and Barbara’s church and bike club so we’re getting more drop-ins specifically to get a garden tour. Nancy’s friends occasionally come by for no other reason than to see how the garden is doing. What that means to me is that I have to start paying attention to how it looks, patrolling a couple times a day to see if anything has passed away or fallen prey to critters. I have to have spares on standby so that if I pull out something that’s not developing properly, I have something on hand to drop in it’s place and not just have an unsightly gap in the row. Weeds? I don’t think so. The tourists quickly ask if that little thing growing between those cabbages is a weed? The repeat visitors want to see particular crops – “where’s the Swiss Chard, I don’t see it”. I really like to hear from the critics – “looks to me like you’re watering too much”; “Looks to me like you need more fertilizer”; “Looks to me like you planted the collards too close together”; “Doesn’t make much sense to me to grow onions, they’re so cheap at Publix”. But my all time favorite comment, which I hear frequently, is “you can’t grow those in Florida”. The fact that they’re looking at them and they’re growing beautifully, just doesn’t register. “Yeah, you’re probably right, this is an optical illusion or a picture I cut out of Better Homes and Gardens”.

Brazilian Restaurant

In hindsight, losing to Georgia had to be a great strategic move. The Gators get to finish the season with only that loss and not having to face Alabama. In fact, when all the counting and figuring is done and the dust has settled on the bowl games, it’s possible they’ll end the season ranked higher than Alabama. The SEC as a conference finished with 6 of the top 10 positions; dominance.

Sunday night we were back in Central Florida to celebrate little Tommy’s birthday dinner. (Wow he’s 23 – what does that make me?) They have a tradition where the star of the day picks a place for the family dinner and the winner this year was one of those Brazilian meat places. The food was incredibly good and there was no way to resist over eating. I enjoyed it while it was going down but about 10PM it exacted it’s revenge. No details. Tommy goes back to winter in ND Tuesday but we’ll know he had all the protein loading his body could handle to prepare for the ordeal.

Well we did get a touch of frost Saturday night and then again Sunday. It will take a couple days to see what was damaged. According to the weather folk, it was about 2 weeks earlier than expected but the tomatoes are for sure living on borrowed time. I’d better get the search going for green tomato recipes. I already have one for green tomato spaghetti sauce if I can get my bride to make the leap. The bean strategy worked out fairly well. The bush beans are 90%+ picked and I was planning to cut them out this week anyway to make room for cabbage seedlings. I had planted 3 sets of pole beans for a time span. One is picked and gone; the second is 75% done; the third was planted just in case we had an extra long season. It’s putting out the first small beans and most likely won’t last much longer if at all. I keep getting suckered in by the Global Warming folk who give me a false sense of security that frost is a thing of the past. I mean wouldn’t you think that burning all these fossil fuels for the last 100 years would have moved the first frost date out at least a day or two? How can it possibly be earlier?

While discussing green beans – Chris and Jamie shared an interesting recipe for green beans that they experimented with on Thanksgiving. It creates bundles of beans and some other ingredients which are then roasted on the grill. In their case it was the oven but for us it’s the Holland. With the plethora of green beans on hand, we gave it a try today along side grilling wings. They turned out fine and make the cut for repeating.

The Dip was a hit

Thanksgiving came off without a hitch, best as I can tell. Little Tommy got out of ND just ahead of a snowstorm and the plane arrived on schedule. Everybody seemed to like the fish dip, evidenced by the empty bowl early on. We had thought about making another but didn’t know if it would meet the approval of the crowd. Next time we’ll double the recipe. All the food was good and I picked up on a new recipe for Brussels which, if all goes well, will be available from the garden in January. Ditto for the next day meal which was a special request for manicotti and braciole. Tom, Nancy and the kids did their now traditional Black Friday shopping spree while Tina and I luxuriated in the quiet. I did score one exceptional buy in absentia, a new external hard drive to replace the suspect one I’ve been using. Amazing. The new drive is roughly 4”x6” x 1/2” thick, is powered from the computer and has a capacity of one Terabyte. That’s 1000 gigabytes. Don’t remember exactly what it cost but know it was well under $100 and that was the cost installed by the family IT dept.

One thing that was especially fun for me were discussions of current events with the journalists, Tommy and Julia. Naturally we were not all together on the topics but that’s what makes for good conversation. Before the next big get together, I’ll have to study up so I can hold my own. Tom brought home a load of the papers he’s designed so I got to review his handiwork up close and personal. Very nice. And Julia is going to be the managing editor for the Alligator, the Florida newspaper, next semester. That’s a big deal. Of course the campus paper is a bit lib for my tastes but that keeps the discussions lively.

We had some wind yesterday so I came home to find both the remaining bean pole trellises had fallen victim. I’ve got them propped up so they should continue putting out until the weather does them in, which could be as soon as tonight – frost warnings not too far from here. I definitely have to do something more substantial next season and have a design in mind.

For anyone who’d like put a toe in the garden but is not interested in a major commitment, try radishes. They are a no fail, highly rewarding crop. They germinate quickly, start popping out 3-5 days after planting. They’re tough so if you overplant, you can easily thin and replant the ones you pick out. Best of all, you can harvest them in a month from planting so if you have 30 day visibility, no trips planned, you can do radishes start to finish. If you want to introduce a kid to gardening, nothing can be better for short attention spans since every day introduces changes to the plants. You can eat tops and bottoms, so zero waste. If you buy radishes, most often the greens are missing or pathetic. I can’t wait this year to try a new soup recipe that uses both the greens and the root. The big advantage you have growing your own is that there is now a ton of varieties so you can choose the size, shape, color and heat level that best fits your personal tastes. I found a German variety called Parat where the tubers are the size of golf balls and really mild.

Passed the Test

How is it possible that the Gators are #4 in the nation? I’m for sure a Gator fan but have to admit, they are just not that good this year, record aside. Has to be a computer thing based on schedule strength and win record – nothing for style or how you won considered at all. I’d say they are a legitimate top 20 kind of team and I probably wouldn’t protest a top 10 position, but #4, I don’t think so. We’ll know Saturday when they meet FSU, another team in the top 10. If they do win, which I seriously doubt, I can’t neglect the fact that they did have beaten 4 opponents who have been ranked in the top 10 and that they really should have won the Georgia game. Strange season.

So I had my follow up meeting with the cardio guy to get the results of last week’s tests. As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed and I still get an occasional heart blip. Maybe a little more frequent than occasional but according to the doc, not to worry. He said all the tests came out just fine and the PVC’s are nothing to worry about unless I get dizzy.

The weather has been lousy for almost a week now. It’s been overcast, breezy and cool but no rain. Cool means in the 50’s so I have to wear a heavier sweat shirt. I’m a sunny, 80’s kind of guy not a Northeast, Northwest type. I don’t do gloomy very well, especially this time of year when I naturally revert to my hermit, anti-social character. The plants in the garden do OK with it but the gardener doesn’t.

A couple of posts back I mentioned the monster meat loaf Nancy made. I forgot that I had taken a couple of pictures, before and after. We got a couple of meals out of it and #1 got a meal or two. Here’s also a picture of the raw material for the Thanksgiving green bean casserole. I can pick a load like this every third day and have been freezing everything we’re not eating. What I have to take into account is that the plants will continue producing at nearly this level until a freeze happens and that I can replant beans in March so it really doesn’t make sense to store too many. You might ask why did he plant so many? I plant the same amount each time but, for whatever reason, everything I planted survived the weather, the bugs, and is producing way beyond expectations. Who’s to say if this is the new norm or a bumper crop.

Monster Meatloaf Before
Monster Meatloaf Before
Monster Meatloaf - After
Monster Meatloaf - After
Green Bean Casserole Makin's
Green Bean Casserole Makin's

Will my smoked bluefish dip become a Thanksgiving tradition?

Smoked Fish Dip

I have a big job that I’ve been procrastinating on for a few days. Thinning. A couple of weeks ago I planted carrots, beets, radishes, and spinach. With each of these, the seeds are small so it’s hard not to overseed. You wait until germination is complete and then pull out excess plants to get the right spacing between the ones that remain. If you are really careful in pulling out the excess, you can replant them in another location with fairly good success. The problem is that the whole task is done on your knees, bent over and is a delicate process that takes a slow, steady hand. I have to stop every 5 minutes or so and just straighten up before my back takes a permanent set. I could save most of the grief by just pulling out the excess and tossing them – that’s what most people do – but for some perverse reason, I feel negligent being so callous with these poor, defenseless, baby carrots et al.

Son #3 is visiting a nutritionist and came up with a tip that got my attention. The nutritionist recommended eating purple potatoes instead of white or sweet potatoes because they are helpful in reducing blood pressure. Supposedly they taste the same and are cooked in the same ways. Sounded like bunk to me so I looked it up on the internet. Sure enough, there seemed to be a general consensus and backup studies that found blood pressure benefits. So I think I’ll try to grow some next spring, a Feb planting for an April crop. One thing that does give me pause, the same nutritionist has him eating chia seeds. Those would be the seeds that are used to give the chia pet sheep it’s wooly coat. There’s something obscene about that; something that just doesn’t feel right.

Almost overnight the tangerine tree turned bright orange. I think that mini cold snap we had did the trick. I tasted one yesterday and they are definitely ready but not as sweet as in past years. Last year, the fruit falling from the tree became fodder for rats so I’m going to keep on top of it this year from the get go. I’m thinking that bringing a bushel or so down to Thanksgiving at Tom’s will be well received by the kids.

While on the subject of bring stuff to the Thanksgiving festivities, got to do a dummy run on the smoked fish dip. We had company Sunday and the plan was to sit around, talk, and drink adult beverages until we went to Emmy’s for a little Einsbein, potato pancakes, and Worthsteiner brew. We decided to make a batch of fish dip using one of the three recipes I had retrieved from the internet. This one featured cream cheese, green onions (from the garden), fresh lime squeezin’s, and assorted other spices. It tasted fine to me and apparently to the company as well. That was based on their comments but also on the amount consumed.

Bean cutter to the rescue

The weather’s been so great I had to take the poke boat out and see if any spec’s were lurking about. It’s a little early but I’ve hearing about decent spec catches in local lakes so decided to give it a try. The lake has changed significantly, at least in our cove. There are now substantial numbers of water lilies scattered throughout as a result of the prolonged low water levels. That’s not necessarily bad from a spec fishing perspective but it does mean that my usual method, trolling, is not quite as easy. On this particular jaunt, I didn’t get out until mid afternoon so it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t catch anything but did get to check out the depths, temps, and other necessities for when the fish are ready.

Last week I lost several nice bluefish with snap swivels opening. So I decided I needed to have wire leader rigs without snaps, the hook directly tied to the leader. I hadn’t recalled seeing what I had in mind at tackle shops so decided to get the material to fabricate my own rigs. Sounds very simple but turns out there’s a little more to it getting the piece sizes to line up and it also turns out that by the time you buy the material and the crimping tool, primarily the crimping tool, you easily have $100+ involved. While researching the material I found a source for pre-made leaders exactly as I had intended to make them at $0.60 each so no way would I ever amortize the set up costs to make the first leader. So at this point I have 30 leaders winging their way here in 3 different hook size – that should last me until I’m too old to cast.

Picked another 5+ pounds of beans. If you don’t pick them young enough, they tend to get tough as oak twigs. This batch is probably destined to become the casserole for Thanksgiving. The French cutter finally arrived and it works just as advertised. Really slices them thin and can handle both traditional round green beans and the flattened Romano style. It’s a one bean at a time operation so it still takes a while to whittle through 5 pounds but much cleaner and easier than doing it with a knife. I have some doubt about whether it will become too dull by the end of the bean season but if it does make the full season, probably worth just planning on buying a new one every year.

I think what has this country screwed up is immigration. People from Blue States should not be allowed to migrate to Red States; businesses can move, not people. People who live in Red States don’t want to live in Blue states so that’s not an issue. Let’s revisit the whole idea of a confederacy. I understand Texas is looking into secession. Windmills and solar panels for the blues; oil, gas, and coal for the reds. I think the entire budget of the Red’s could be financed, with a surplus, just selling fossil fuels to the Blues. And then there’s agricultural products as well. I’m trying to think of something the red states need from the blue states but nothing pops into my mind. Maybe ipads.

Green Bean Overload

Florida has to be the luckiest team in the galaxy and for sure the worst 9-1 team ever. They won in the last two seconds of a game against I team I didn’t know existed from a conference that I didn’t know existed. I’m sure glad Georgia won the SEC East so that the Gators didn’t have to face Alabama. Surely that would have been the embarrassment of the season. But now that Texas A&M beat Alabama and they barely escaped defeat by LSU, perhaps a Florida-Alabama matchup wouldn’t be a total disaster.

Nancy made the mother of all meat loafs Saturday. She prepared it in the morning before taking off for a bridge game in Ormond and I put it on the Holland about an hour before she was due home. The recipe came from a TV show called the chew and was presented in a grandmother’s cookoff contest. This meatloaf won the contest and two chefs said it was the best they had ever eaten. It’s a really complicated recipe in terms of ingredients but the schtick is that it’s molded around a major chunk of mozzarella cheese. When you slice the loaf, the cheese oozes out deliciously.

green and yellow beans
green and yellow beans

The big project for the day is freezing green beans. We bought a cutter to French cut the beans and have an ample and continuing supply of raw material. Unfortunately the cutter didn’t arrive on schedule and we had to use the old cut with a knife method. I think I had mentioned that one of the three pole bean towers had collapsed or toppled in the wind and rain of Sandy. I got into it today and picked all the remaining beans and pulled out the plants. The pile of beans I have is almost 10 pounds and that doesn’t included beans we’ve eaten, beans Souza’s have eaten, or beans that Nancy has given to her quilting buddies. Think about what 10 pounds of green beans means. Better yet, look at the pic. It does include beans from the one pole tower and from a 40′ row of bush beans which continue to produce at a high level. The scary part is that I know we’re less than half way done unless we get hit with a freeze, tornado, or grasshopper invasion. Wonder if green beans can be converted into ethanol? We got 7 single meal size bags of cut beans in the freezer. We’re the designated supplier of the green bean casserole for Thanksgiving so I’ll be picking another couple pounds before then.

I was working on my hands and knees in the garden yesterday and happened to glance down and notice that below the knees, my camo pants were turning brown. It took a few seconds and a couple of bites for me to realize I was kneeling on a fire ant nest. A run to the house for an alcohol rubdown and cortizone coating plus an internal dose of benedryl should stem the tide. I’ve learned that quick action usually saves me from big, bad problems.

Stress Tests

I mentioned that I was having a stress test. It’s actually a couple of stress tests administered on sequential days; one a resting test, the other an active treadmill test. The instruction sheet says I have to fast 4 hours before each test. They inject me with something radioactive and send me off to eat a “fatty” meal and drink 3 or 4 cups of liquid. Have you ever been instructed to eat a “fatty” meal? I’m thinking sausage, fried eggs, and a big buttermilk biscuit with an extra slather of butter as prepared by the chefs at Big Rig fits the bill. In fact almost anything you order at Big Rig would fit the bill. Wonder if he’ll tell me I have a heart related problem from eating too much fatty food? I asked the lab tech what constituted a fatty meal and he concurred that any Big Rig fare was likely to meet all the criteria and that I didn’t have to go as far as a triple cheese burger to meet the intent. I also asked him why the fatty meal. Seems that the radioactive material they inject ends up being filtered out in your liver and fatty foods get the liver working over time to take care of the bad stuff. So if you ever ingest anything radioactive, head for your local Big Rig equivalent.

The resting test was nothing. You get the shot, eat the meal, and then have some kind of geiger counter scanner circle your chest taking pictures – about 15 minutes and totally passive. The treadmill was a bit more stressful. They injected the material, hooked me up to an electro cardiogram machine and then started up the treadmill. The objective is to get my heart rate up to a target rate. For me it was 126 but I think the number is a function of your age and maybe other things. They incrementally increase the speed and inclination every 3 minutes while checking your blood pressure every couple of minutes. I was straining when it topped the target rate and my BP was 190/90, higher than I’ve ever seen it. He asked me if I wanted to continue another level and I told him that I was ready to quit anytime he was assuming he had all the data he needed. My legs were getting rubbery so he let me off the hook. Then the fatty meal piece and come back for another round of picture taking with the geiger counter. A couple of guys I talked to had to jump off the machine so I guess I did OK. Before leaving the facility they installed a monitor which is a cell phone looking device with leads connecting to sensors glued to my chest. I have to wear that for 24 hours and then bring the monitor back for analysis next week. I have a diary to maintain so they can sync up between what was happening externally to what the data shows. So far, 6 hours into it, no diary entries. The part I’m most fearful of is removing the sensors from my chest. You know they have them well glued on so ripping out chest hairs or even thinking about ripping out chest hairs is stressful. Other than that, I’m guessing this is much ado about nothing but if it will make the doc feel better, who am I to spoil his day. I won’t know the results of all this until later next week.

Smoked bluefish

Another full day of gardening. It’s the time of year when the weather is perfect, lots to pick and lots being planted. I needed room for another carrot patch so I pulled the jalapeno pepper plants. There were a fair number of peppers still clinging to the branches but they had quit putting out new blossoms so their end was close in any event. I was a little surprised to find enough after gleaning to make another 6 pints of pickled peppers. That brings the total close to 20 pints for the season, from 4 plants. I know my neighbor picked a few too so that’s a good calibration point for the future – better than a pint per plant per season. My rate of eating is maybe 2 pints a month so there’s plenty of overlap season to season. By that I mean we’ll be pickling next years first batch in June before finishing the last of the 2012 jars.

Today I planted 4 rows of Bloomsdale spinach, a classic heritage variety; 4 rows of Harrier beets, and 5 rows of Nantes carrots. These are crops that yield lots from a small garden area. I’ve never had much luck with beets and this is a new variety for me to try. I read that they like bone meal mixed in the soil so I’ll give that a go if I can find any. So far, none in Pierson but I know I can pick it up at Lowes.

I have to sadly report another crop failure. The bugs got the butternuts. Damn, I hate that. All I have to do is spray the plants on a regular basis from when they emerge to when they’re done but I just hate spraying insecticides. I’m convincing myself that with hard skinned veggies, it’s OK to spray so the spring crop will be another shot.

The big project for the day is smoking bluefish to generate the base material for fish dip. I have to defrost and fillet the fish first. (Wonder if the fish carcasses count as bone meal? For sure they are going to be strategically buried in the garden.) The process involves soaking the fish in a brine for a day before smoking so it’s a two day venture. The brine is a fairly complex mix of water and spices. After removing the fillets from the brine they have to be air dried on a rack for 3 to 5 hours. That’s what you see in the pic. I have just enough rack space for the number of fillets so just as well I quit keeping fish when I did. They say this is a very important step because if the fish is wet, the smoke doesn’t work. The smoking itself is a little different from that I’ve used on meat. The instructions are to smoke it for one hour at 200 degrees then drop the temp to 150 degrees for two hours using a strong scented wood such as mesquite or hickory. Turns out that I’ll have no idea what kind of wood chips I’m using. When Tom got me the smoker for Christmas, he also bought a variety of wood types so I’d be equipped to handle anything. Problem is that the labels have all faded away so there’s no way to tell which is which. My smeller has long since left so I can’t take a whiff so whatever it is, it is.

Fillets ready to smoke
Fillets ready to smoke

Results – The fillets were definitely cooked but still moist. I was thinking they might end up with more like a jerky texture. The 16 fillets yielded four 10-12 oz bags of shredded smoked fish, all in the freezer. A bag should mix with an 8 oz block of creme cheese and assorted other ingredients to make a bowl of dip. There are many recipes but the creme cheese base seems to be the most common.

Initial thoughts on the Election

I have to rationalize the election results. First I think this election was really a contest between a Socialist and a Democrat. I was not happy with Romney, a Massachusetts guy, from the get go. The Republicans didn’t have a horse in the race. Considering my advanced age, I’m not expecting much to change on a personal level. I feel sorry for the next generation but they voted for it. I guess the European Socialist model is more appealing to them than the American free market system and maybe this will be a wake up call that our education system has really fallen into disrepair. Nice market reaction. Maybe I can cancel my stress test – this was enough stress to prove my durability and maybe I’m too close to the edge now.

As bad as it was in much of Florida, the voting experience was quite painless out here in the woods. Total time from the house and back was 35 minutes, about half in travel time. There were more people than I’ve ever seen at that polling place, probably 15-20. The problem was that it was a 3 page ballot with a dozen or so referendum issues, a couple of which took a full page of text; other than that it would have been a breeze. I doubt many of the voters I saw in line from Orlando could even read the ballot let alone make intelligent decisions. Maybe that’s the game plan. My socialist son said that his vote cancelled mine. Actually, his vote cancelled his home made veggie soup; And his eggplant parmesan; and his corn and shrimp. There have to be consequences for bad behavior. I should have sent him to a better school maybe Weber State. Maybe his crib had lead based paint. Did the bike accident cause brain damage that we missed? Maybe we didn’t feed him enough seafood during the critical brain cell development period.

Lessons from the election: Repeal the 19th; the Founding Fathers had it right. Boycott Ohio. Windmills are here to stay – Eagles be on alert. 401’s swirling the toilet bowl