Rest In Peace, old friend

A few weeks back an old, old fishing buddy called me totally out of the blue. We were coworkers and fished together most weekends back in the late 60’s but job changes resulted in relocations so that was that. He lives near Gainesville and also has a place over in St Augustine where he fishes the intracoastal and the Matanzas River so he suggested we meet on the coast for a day of fishing. Turns out it was a frosty morning and normally I would have just cancelled but I was really looking forward to swapping war stories and pressed ahead. We put the boat in and started fishing a few hundred yards from the ramp and had a fish on the first cast. It was a baby bluefish and was followed by a dozen or so in short order. We moved on to try to find trout, redfish or anything bigger than these voracious blues. Next spot, a mile or so away, immediately yielded a few small trout, under the legal limit, and another boat load of baby bluefish. We repeated the move several times, lingering 20-30 minutes at each spot, and picked up a couple of keeper size trout, a couple of flounders, and scads more blues. We quit about 4:00 so we’d have sufficient time to clean the fish in the daylight, not because the fish ever stopped biting. Between us we had to have caught 50+, reminiscent of days on Pelican Lake in Utah or Ruby Marsh in Nevada or the John Day in Oregon catching small bass and bluegill.

I kept about a dozen of the baby blues to replenish the stock of smoked fish for dip. Doing this batch differently (relative to the first batch) since they are really too small to fillet. I just gutted and cut off the heads, intending to smoke them whole and fork off the meat when done. We soaked them in brine overnight and had them on the smoker by noon for the 3 hour cook. The skin peeled off easily but it does take more care getting the meat off the bones so it definitely takes more time to deal with the whole fish than the fillets. We ended up getting 3 small plastic bags of fish chunks as compared to 4 bags with the first batch. Each bag is calibrated to yield a “batch” of dip. The bags go into the freezer and used on demand so, for example, if we go to Tom’s Jan 2 Gator party, we’ll bring a container of dip.

I can’t close without mentioning the passing of an old, trusted family member – the Scanoe. Uncle Vinny spotted the boat on sale in California in 1982 and gave us a call to see if we wanted it. Of course we did so we drove to California to retrieve it the next open weekend. I could go on with stories about adventures in the boat for hours, none more memorable that dumping it in Willard bay during a big storm; almost dumping it on Lake Washington on one of our spring break trips from Utah to Florida; Or being pulled around by an alligator gar way up the Sebastian River; Or paddling as hard as we could to get back to shore when Tom came down with a serious case of swimmer’s itch on Pelican Lake; or almost dumping it when I hooked myself with a lure fishing at Ruby Marsh and passing out. I notice these are all stories of survival so maybe it’s a good thing it’s moved on to canoe heaven. It did go peacefully in Tom’s backyard. I’m giving some thought to bringing it back home to the lake and converting it into a herb garden.

A Happy Holiday

It’s winter again and I guess I have to cover the garden tonight. This time only for one day and nobody’s talking about a hard freeze, just a little nip. I suspect that those few tomato plants that survived last week will be history by Friday but nothing else should have any problems at all.

We spent Christmas at Tom’s and enjoyed the time there. My “big present” was a remote weather station which will take some planning to set up. The instructions say the instruments/sensors should be in an open area with no obstructions but, by their definition, I don’t have any open areas. It does have a 200′ range so it may be that the critical one, wind speed and direction, could be installed down at the dock but that will be a close call. Also got a pair of Titanium bladed clippers – perfect for cutting palmettos. The pair I currently use are about 10 years old and really dull. I keep threatening to have them sharpened but it’s one of those things you never think about until you use them. Got some good reading material and Tom put together an incredible photo album which I can’t wait to look at – assuming Nancy eventually puts it down. The rest of the social season includes an afternoon party this weekend with old friends in Altamonte and a Gator game party at Tom’s on January 2. And if you count a fishing trip as a social event, I’m probably going to visit an old fishing buddy to do some on- shore salty water fishing up in St. Augustine. Randy Brown called out of the blue and suggested we give the intra coastal a shot. Randy and I were close fishing friends and co workers back in the late 60’s so it should be a really fun day, fish or no.

It’s been a week since I started rooting the tomato plants and out of 36, there are only 2 that look a bit wimpy. That’s a good thing because those two really stand out and tells me they’re not all in some neutral, dormant state – not dead but not rooting. I still plan to wait another few days before moving them out of the dark room and into a limited sun environment. After Friday, our daytime temps should be in the 70’s so that would be perfect to start getting them used to the outdoors.

So tired of hearing about the “Fiscal Cliff.” Obama has absolutely nothing to lose letting it go over the cliff – in fact, that is exactly what he would prefer. Think about it. Letting the current low expire maximizes revenue and drastically cuts defense spending – that’s exactly what he’s always wanted – any good Democrat would. He can profess to only wanting to tax the rich, but understands completely that the real money comes from taxing the masses. When the economy staggers, he then takes money saved in defense and increased taxes and does the regular democrat redistribution – beef up welfare, advance socialization of the medical system, subsidize windmills, solar panels, ethanol and other losers. Why settle for anything less when he can blame the opposition no matter what happens. Ditto Harry Reid. I think the Republicans too, are better off letting it go over the cliff. If they’re correct the economy will crash and in the end, no matter how it’s spun, it will be clear (once again) that raising taxes kills economic growth.

Freeze Report and Green Tomato Pasta

The freeze forecast for Saturday morning didn’t happen but it did get plenty cold – I measured forty degrees on the porch. The Sunday morning freeze seemed like much more of a sure thing and sure enough, the pan of water I put outside iced over and the field around the garden was white with frost. It’ll be a few days before we know the extent of the damage to the garden and other plants. Don’t expect to have any bug problems for a while. The rest of the week should be back into the 60’s and 70’s and I’ll remove all the covering Monday. I almost feel guilty about it, looking at little Tommy barely breaking zero and me wimping at 40.

I just finished reading a book that Chris got me last Christmas. I normally read the ones he sends quickly but this was an 850 page Stephen King book and I was intimidated by the size and the commitment to see it through. I finally started it a couple of weeks ago and the pages literally flew by. The book is entitled 11/22/63, the date JFK was assassinated. The story line is a guy is led to a time portal that takes him back to 1958 with the mission to stop the assassination. It’s a well written, fascinating story and I highly recommend it to anyone able to lift it. I think even if you put it on a Kindle, it would be heavy.

Had an interesting supper Saturday – the radish soup mentioned a few posts back plus a new green bean salad. So it was mostly a garden produced meal. The soup was good, not incredibly good, but fine. I think it would be better with some hot sauce to spice it up a bit. I’m OK with saving the leftovers for Joey. The salad was really tasty and will become a regular feature during green bean season. It includes lightly cooked green beans, chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, and a vinaigrette sauce. The previous night’s meal was also 100% local content – fried perch, cabbage, sweet potatoes and lettuce based salad. Tonight is my night to cook and I made pasta with green tomato sauce – that’s also a new recipe (for us). You can only eat so many fried green tomatoes so we’re on the lookout for new ways to use them. It turned out really good and definitely one we’ll repeat. Next time I’ll use linguine instead of angel hair just because I prefer heftier noodles but the sauce/topping was really tasty. Just think, if you don’t grow your own tomatoes, you could never have pasta with green tomato sauce.

Progress report – 5 days ago I took cuttings from the most vigorous tomato plants to try to root them for garden planting maybe in February. I filled two 18 position plant trays, made sure the potting soil was wet, and then set them on plastic in the dark of the guest bedroom. I wasn’t sure how many, if any, would make it. As of now, they all look exactly the same as when I made the cuttings. No wilting, drooping, or change in color. That has to be good because if you break off a piece of a tomato plant and just let it sit outside, it will be totally wilted in under an hour.

Cold Weather- Big Spec’s

It’s Thursday and if the weather folks are right, we’ll be freezing, literally freezing, Saturday morning. That gives me two days to prepare. The first thing I check when I get up in the morning is the temp in Grand Fork ND. It somehow makes me warmer to know that little Tommy is making it in far colder weather than us. He always toughed it out when we’d be fishing in December at Strawberry Reservoir, scraping ice off the motor to get it started, so I think he’ll handle ND just fine. Today I put up the props for the cover but not the covers. Supposedly we’ll have rain overnight so putting the covers up today would not be too smart. One picture shows the placement of the PVC supports before the covers; then the bundled up garden. I will also bring all the tender potted plants onto the porch where I can cover the full lot with one or two old sheets. This will signify the end of the tomatoes and green beans so I’ll do one last pick on Friday. It’s possible that a couple will survive but I’m not counting on it. I also plan to get cuttings from a couple of the better tomato plants and start them in potting soil. If we have a decent winter, I will keep these new starts going until the end of February and then into the garden. As a backup to that, I’ll start new seeds next month.

Ready for Covers
Ready for Covers
All Bundled
All Bundled

While I’m playing freeze patrol, Nancy is making the radish soup. It’s really a large project involving a high number of ingredients, some fairly radical. Would you expect to find anchovy in radish soup? I sure hope it ends up a success since I have a fair number of radishes popping up. She makes the soup base but holds off adding the cream until we’re almost ready to eat it. I tasted the base and it’s not bad. Not sure it will make it to my list of favorites but we’ll see. If it’s half as good as the beef veggie soup or the chicken veggie soup she’s made this month, I won’t complain.

Finally, the big specs have started biting. I went out about 4:30 yesterday afternoon and had landed 20+ by 5:30 so it was fast and furious. All but three were too small to keep but two of those fell into the “very nice” category. Filleted those and will see them again on the table tonight. I have a spot in the garden picked out for the carcasses so those will eventually become Chinese Cabbage-nothing wasted.Big Specs-Finally

Graduation Party

We really had a great weekend. We spent Friday and Saturday night with Lindsay and Sunday night with Nancy and Ali. Saturday morning we picked Tom up at the airport in Charlotte and we went directly to the meeting spot for the caravan to UNCC. The caravan turned out to be a stretched Hummer limo with space for 18 souls. Lindsay was totally surprised. Her father in law brought the adult beverages to make the ride even more enjoyable. The graduation itself was the standard large basketball arena with roughly 3000 grads to pass by the podium and families to scream and blow air horns. The group of PhD’s was first and each was given the time to walk across the stage by him/herself. We made it about halfway through before going outside to await the limo return. It did and we headed back to the original meeting place on the Winthrop campus, the Shack, which had been set up for a private party complete with live music, food, an open bar and another 25-30 people. This too was a total surprise to Lindsay.

Sunday afternoon Nancy and I drove to Spartanburg, had delicious grilled salmon, and then headed for a downtown pub that has to remind you of Cheers. Everybody knows your name kind of place. The Sunday afternoon at Main Street is a tradition that we’ve just fit into and look forward to the next visit. I was chatting with a couple that turned out to have a daughter who is a nurse at the same hospital where Simon was borne. What’s the likelihood of that?

The trip home Monday morning was uneventful with a stop at Costco in Jacksonville. Nancy had to get food and stuff like that but my primary mission was to get a new GPS unit. I fired both my electronic unit and my live navigator after both left me hanging on a couple of occasions at critical Interstate points. In both South Carolina and Jacksonville, the old unit has been left behind by new roads and new interchanges. I could get new software for $80 or a new, modern unit for $100 which includes free upgrades for life and a traffic condition feature.

It was too dark to check the garden when we arrived home but first thing Tuesday I went out and picked the stuff you see in the picture. From this point on until May, it will harvesting like this continuously. What you see in the picture is lettuce, cabbage, green beans, snow peas, tomatoes, radishes and broccoli. Tomorrow I’ll pick a load of collard greens and swiss chard.

Picked this Morning
Picked this Morning

Fish for Dinner

Pre-Dinner photo
Pre-Dinner photo

I did manage to catch a couple of keeper size bass, just enough for a meal. I was really fishing for speckled perch but these two happened to take a liking to my mini spinner bait. They’re fun to catch on the ultra light spinning gear I’m using and since Nancy had suggested she was wanting some fresh fish, easy choice. To calibrate the pictures for you, these guys are about 2 pounds each. About a pound of that ends up in fillets and the rest becomes fertilizer. I guess you could say the bass carcasses end up as cauliflower.

We’re heading to SC Friday to spend the weekend celebrating Lindsay’s graduation. She earned a PhD from UNCC last semester. It’s a 7 hour drive so we’ll leave here Friday morning to get there before dark. We’re staying with Lindsay and Charles in Rock Hill then with Nancy and Ali in Spartanburg on Sunday. Back to Barberville Monday. Should be a nice trip and we’re looking forward to it. Nancy has a few surprises sewn up for the youngest ladies.

The end of the green beans is in sight. Production is falling off even though the weather is holding up nicely. By falling off I mean I can pick two or three handfuls every other day instead of daily. We have enough in the freezer to carry us through the winter until next bean season. I think that particular piece of soil will transition over to a lettuce patch. I put some new seeds in a container this past weekend and they should be ready to plant seedlings just about the time the beans have played out completely. Anything you plant after beans really makes out well because the beans leave the soil nitrogen rich so I like to follow them up with something green and leafy.

Remember the Broccoli picture a few posts back. I think it said ready in two weeks. Wrong. It went from 5” across to 8” across in two days and is heading for the table tomorrow night. Check the difference in the pic’s. Less than 72 hours separate those shots of the same plant. I guess I forgot just how fast these mature. Also did the second large collard green pick, less than a week from the last one. I also misjudged the peas. They’re really difficult to see in the foliage but on closer examination, there were several ready for picking. That means a full meal’s worth by this weekend. Too bad we won’t be here.

Ready to Pick
Ready to Pick
Ready to Eat
Ready to Eat

Plenty of Veggies

Broccoli next week
Broccoli next week
Cabbage next week
Cabbage next week
Peas for New Year's
Peas for New Year's
Swiss Chard now
Swiss Chard now

The pictures show some progress in the garden. Within the next two weeks, we’ll start the serious harvesting and be eating all of our salads, soups, and veggies from the garden until early next summer. To calibrate you, the pea bushes are 40” tall and the broccoli head is 5” across. The cabbage is a heritage variety called Jersey Wakefield which puts out a conical shaped head, not the traditional globe shape. I grow both styles but people, ourselves included, like the Wakefield best. Then there’s Swiss Chard, green tomatoes, and a patch that includes Chinese cabbage, carrots, and onions. There’s lots not yet ready for pictures. If you think all these pictures are here because I don’t have any good fish pictures, you’d be right. Still catching lots of fish but nothing picture worthy.

I’ve mentioned that the lake is quite low which is generating strong lily pad growth. The other change is that the water is crystal clear. Not sure exactly why that is but it’s clear enough that I can see fish strike my spinner bait with the lure 20′ out from the boat and 3′ under water. The other interesting fact is that fish, bass particularly, adapt their own coloring to match the water. The St. John’s River is really dark, tannic water and the bass you catch are almost black. You can look at a string of bass caught in the St. John’s and tell immediately where they were caught. At the other end of the spectrum, if you fish a quarry, as in an old phosphate pit, the fish are chalk white. The fish out of our lake are now much lighter and brighter than in past years. I’ve always thought it was tougher fishing in clear water because the fish can see you easier but with the poke boat, the low profile and quiet propulsion, the clear water doesn’t seem to be a problem.

Had an interesting wildlife encounter while out fishing today. I don’t think it’s related to the condition of the lake but who knows. I saw two birds that I thought were Snowy Egrets flying over the lake – not unusual. A while later I came across the same birds perched on a fence post that extended into the lake and noticed that they were not Egrets but rather Ibises. They are about the same size and have the same snowy, white coloring but they have a very distinctive curved beak. We don’t see them here very often, if ever. I got within about 50′ of them before they started honking and asking me to keep my distance. The honk is really different and sounds like a goose, not a sound you’d expect to come from such a showy bird. I respected their privacy and paddled quietly away. Hope they stay.

If you ever wondered where Barney Fife went after he left Mayberry, he’s alive and well working at the Barberville Post Office. No kidding, when you walk in, there he is. Same hair cut, same glasses, same personality and most unsettling, his voice. It’s got to be him. He’s going by the name Ray but…. I actually go in and chat him up just to see if he slips up and reveals his true identity or drops a little insider information on Andy or Opy.