Great House Guests

We had house guests for a couple days this week; an old and dear friend of Nancy’s and her daughter. I haven’t seen either since about 1975; Renee was 5 years old. They live in the St. Pete area but still have family in Altamonte so they tacked us onto the end of a family visit. We talked and talked and then talked some more for two days straight. The weather was perfect so we spent hours down on the dock sipping adult beverages, a couple boat rides, fishing, and just talking and laughing. We had a Thanksgiving style turkey dinner one night and pasta the next. The pasta noodles were home made spinach and kale noodles, yours truly as the chef; and sauce was made the day before with fresh tomatoes from the garden, chef Nancy presiding. Of course salad using three different kinds of lettuce about 30 minutes from the garden and cherry tomatoes. I’m sure we’ll see them again before too long.

My neighbor, George, is having heart problems again. This time it’s self induced. He has a pace maker with a defib and up until last week it worked just fine. Last week while loading firewood onto a cart at dusk, he tripped on a log and fell hard onto the log. Right after that his heart started acting up, basically maintaining the same heart beat rate independent of his activity level. Turns out one of the leads on the pace maker pulled out or was partially dislodged. They tried a corrective procedure to pop the voltage a bit which appeared to work but only for a few days. So the next step, later this week, is to try to reinsert the lead. That could be an out patient event if all goes well.

The hawks continue to call this home and the garden, their dining room. Most mornings when I do the first check, at least one and sometimes all three are perched on the bean poles and every now and then, eating something they just caught. In case you wondered, they eat 100% of whatever they catch; teeth, hair, bones, meat. When they finish, there’s nothing but a wet spot on the pole. Also spotted the first robin’s of the season. I prefer the owls since the robin’s will tear up my baby lettuce. I don’t really want the hawks to chow down on the robins but…………… I know that the two feedings I observed were rodents, not birds and I’ve not seen the tell tale sign of feathers around the feeding pole. From the perch they have a great view of the compost pile and my guess is that mice are attracted to that. The thing that still amazes me is how tolerant they are of me playing around the garden within 10’ of the perch; not spooky at all.

I’m having some problems with the French president and his love life news. It’s a definitional rather than a moral problem. I couldn’t care less about the French president’s love life and just assumed they all kept a mistress on the side. It first came out that he was having an “affair” with a movie actress. I assumed he was married because in my definition, you have to be married to be having an affair. They kept referring to his significant other as the “first lady”. Again, I assumed that was his wife; you have to be married to have a “first lady”. You can have a “first girlfriend” I guess but not a first lady. I was shocked, then, to find out that the first lady was actually not his wife and that the “affair” was having a fling with a second girlfriend. Then he announced there was a new “First Lady”. Yeah, I don’t think so.

Sophia’s Done

Question. Can it be too windy to hang sheets on the line? Answer, yes. Especially a fitted, king size sheet. The clue is that sheets are not supposed to hang horizontally. Can it be too cold to hang sheets on the line? Answer, yes. How can you tell if the sheets are dry if you’re wearing ski gloves? The only thing that made it even possible to try is dressing in full Utah mode. Had I not lived in Utah and saved all my winter gear, I’d be totally house bound. This winter takes me back to my winter’s spent in Gainesville where it was actually colder, windier, and all I had was my Cocoa Beach wardrobe. I haven’t broken out my snow mobile/ice fishing suit but I did locate it and will have it on standby for the next arctic blast, polar vortex, early ice age weather attack. I remember back in the 50’s when the climatologists were predicting another ice age, the solution du jour was dropping massive amounts of soot and coal ash on the poles to absorb heat. Wonder if that’s back on the table?

I marvel at how well insulated this house is. The other night during our cold spell, before going to bed I turned the thermostat down from 72 to 65. The outside temp dropped to 40 overnight, a 32 degree drop but the house was 68 in the morning, only a 4 degree drop. The heater never turned on.

I took the covers off the garden and everything was just fine, as expected. The forecast looks like they can stay off for the next 5 days with lows staying in the 40’s and 50’s. I gave it a good watering and picked a few things that were very ready, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli and, of course, cherry tomatoes. Publix is running a sale on cherry tomatoes at $3.99/lb so I picked $10 worth. That bush is finally showing signs of wear and will probably give out totally within the next two weeks. It’s replacement is in the house, about 1” tall and we can actually use a little break from them.

The green tomato cake was really good but quite different from the first time. The first cake was more brownie like whereas this latest creation was similar in texture to carrot cake. What the chef did differently was to process the tomatoes in a food processor the second time rather than roughly chopped as in the first version. I liked them both and suggested that the next time, assuming there is a next time, she should chop half and process half. I think we’re in uncharted water here. There are still plenty on the vines so it’s just a matter of me convincing Nancy that’s it’s a mission of mercy. Since we have more than enough spaghetti sauce to carry us through to the spring/summer crop, I’m fairly happy with the green tomato bonanza.

The Princess Sophia gown is winging it’s way to South Carolina. The big reveal, modeled, should be Monday. The lighting wasn’t very good when I took this pic but I had expected another shot at it before it shipped.

Sophia's Done
Sophia’s Done

We need to move south

Covering up again. Will global warming please kick in. I picked another batch of green tomatoes and convinced Nancy to make another green tomato cake. Also picked enough misc veggies to cover us three or four days with salads and vegetables. We’re down to the point where 75% of the tomatoes have been picked and the plants are winding down independent of the weather. I’m still nursing the green pepper plants along and think I can keep them producing another month or so. Everything else in the garden is hardy and wouldn’t be bothered by a quick dip below freezing and sure enough, I woke up this morning about 6AM to the sound of the pumps that the nurserymen use to protect the fern and orange crops. They use giant diesel powered pumps to draw water from the lake and spray onto the foliage to form a protective ice shield. They can literally pull down our 60 acre lake a couple of inches in a few hours so I hate to hear them. My temp gauges showed 36 degrees so, assuming they are close to correct, I shouldn’t lose anything. This cold snap is supposed to last 3-4 days but this morning was forecast as the coldest in this stretch.

Nancy has another costume project going. Ever heard of Princess Sophia? She’s a character from one of Disney’s new releases. I think she actually likes making these costumes more than quilts. She’s a few days into this one and had to bring out the feared and dreaded serger sewing machine. Of course it wasn’t threaded which is where I come in. Three hours later it was on track for the job. Maybe some day I can get this down to just an hour but it’s a real challenge for a klutz like me.

Princess Sophia
Princess Sophia

The spec fishing has dropped off to almost nothing. That’s earlier than I expected by a couple of months so maybe it’ll pick up again. I still usually pick up a few but they are small and scattered about, not really schooling up. The new guy went out bass fishing and came up empty – as I expected. We’re at least a month from when the bass action normally starts.

Spring Garden Official Start

The lake is undergoing another change. We had several years of low water levels which permitted light to penetrate to the bottom over a wide area. The result was that lily pads popped up in areas where we had never seen them and covered a much larger surface area. That was good and bad depending on whether you wanted to fish or swim. The lake came up nearly 5’ this summer and the pad stems kept up with the rise but no new ones. Now these pads are running their course and dying off with no replacements, I assume due to the deeper water again. The other thing that happens to the lake this time of year is that the water becomes much clearer. My speculation is the much colder water kills off microscopic algae that reduces the clarity. If it wasn’t so cold and windy (Florida standards) I’d go out and see if the improved clarity enhances the fishing.

Mentioning fishing – I have new competition on the lake. George rented out his second house to a guy who is clearly serious about his fishing. I know that because he broke out an old, narrow, low sided, well patched aluminum jon boat with an electric motor and has it dragged up on the shore where it can be in action within 30 seconds. This is not the kind of rig an amateur would fish from. Like me, he’s more concerned about handling the boat in narrow water and wind than things like comfort and stability. The only difference I can see between his boat and mine is that his has many more patches and more duct tape holding things together. I have a slight advantage in knowing where the holes and underwater lairs are but it won’t take him too long to smoke all that out.

I removed the garden covers after a 4 day cold snap in which we had two days with frost on the fields and everything looked just fine. Most of the tender stuff outside the garden, left uncovered, is history so no doubt it got cold enough to do some damage. Covering it took a full day but uncovering is easier and done in about 4 hours. As on previous coverings, I double up on the green peppers and tomatoes and in both cases, all’s well. Right now the weather folks are projecting another freeze/frost in 4 days so I’ll probably be back at it sooner rather than later.

So, the spring gardening season has officially begun. I’ve ordered new seeds and planted, indoors, seeds left over from last season for two varieties of tomatoes and three varieties of peppers. When the new seeds are delivered next week, one of those, another tomato variety, will be quickly planted. Among these are brand new (to me) tomato and pepper varieties. The tomato seed is a conventional red, round variety, but very expensive, from the same grower that put out the incredible cherry tomato. Supposedly it has all the same disease and nematode resistant characteristics as the cherry. You might remember I was shocked by the price of the cherry tomato seed that I inadvertently ordered which subsequently turned out to be a bargain on a cost per unit tomato basis. I have 3 of those seeds left and will baby them along to get the third seasonal planting. In case you think it’s too early to be planting tomato or pepper seeds, they don’t go into the garden for 6-8 weeks which means early March – normally a good time to be cranking up the spring garden. Also I have good protective devices to protect the seedlings from cold if it’s still chilly in early March. My experience is that protecting them from cold early in the season is much easier and more effective than protecting them from insects when it gets hot and muggy so the earlier they get started, the better the end results. I like it all over and done with my the end of June and just let the garden rest (and cook) until early Sept.

Another Cold Spell

Nancy had an emergency sewing job yesterday. A while back she made her great nieces and their young daughters, Grace and Allie, matching aprons. Yesterday she got a picture of Allie, wearing the apron, making cookies with her mom. A few minutes later the phone rings and it’s her saying that she really needed a cook’s hat. That puts Nancy into action mode and a bit of a panic trying to determine what kind of material she can make it from etc etc etc. She calls Allie’s grandmother (who watches her during the day) and requests head measurements. Then to the shed to search out material. She’s back quickly and absolutely ecstatic because she found enough of the “chicken” material that she used for the aprons to make the hat. An hour later the hat is made and it’s in a priority mail envelope for it’s trip to South Carolina. Crisis averted.

Today’s another big cover up the garden day. We have a 4-5 day stretch of near freezing cold weather projected. We usually stay a few degrees above the forecast temps but you never know and at the freezing point, a few degrees make a large difference, literally a life death difference for the plants. I’ll pick enough goodies to cover us for the period and then wrap it up. The trick to doing this easily is to get it done before it gets windy. The worst is when the cold weather is led by a wet, windy day and I’m trying to deal with 20‘x40’ sheeting. It’s like dealing with a large umbrella or parachute in a wind storm.

As part of the picking before covering project, the cherry tomato plant still remains the big star of the garden. I pick several pounds of cherry tomatoes daily. That’s pounds. The plant is starting to wind down with fewer and fewer new blossoms but there’s probably still thousands of green ones that will ripen over the next couple of weeks, weather notwithstanding. Many of the greens ones we picked before the last freeze are ripening and Nancy made another large batch of spaghetti sauce today. I think this is the first January where we’re actually adding to our stocks. And consider this – I will be starting new plants from seeds in the next week or so. Ditto green peppers – still picking beautiful green bell peppers and starting new seedlings at the same time.

The lake level is high for this time of the year, so far into the dry season. Usually by mid January the lake will be down a foot or so from the October peak but we’ve had above average rain and no nursery pull downs either for irrigation or freeze protection. So mentally I’m switching over from concern that there’s not enough water in the lake to concern that there will be too much water if we have only a typical wet season. A wet spring could be a problem.

I mentioned that Aaron and Ali had a fun day catching specs last week. Here’s proof. About an hour after taking the pic, we were eating fried specs. Yeah, I know the fish are small but they sure were good. aaron fish

Green Tomato Cake

Nancy made the green tomato cake and we had fried green tomatoes for dinner so the treasure trove of green tomatoes is rapidly diminishing. That plus a couple ripen every day. So much so that she made a pot of spaghetti sauce to add to the stores still remaining from the summer crop and I’m guessing she’ll be doing it again by early next week. You’re probably wondering how the cake was. We both thought it was pretty good; very moist and not too sweet. It looks like a spice cake. The recipe called for sprinkling powdered sugar on top or using a cream cheese icing but we went with it au natural. I expected it to have a little acid bite but not at all. I think I might cut off a chunk and freeze it just to see how it is when defrosted. That’s important because at the end of the season there’s a good likelihood they’ll all come available at the same time – just before a major freeze, as in coming later this week. The real test was giving a large piece to George and Barbara, very fussy and conventional eaters. I brought it over and told them it was dessert, leaving before they could ask any questions. I asked George about it this morning and he said it was incredible and both of them loved it. I asked what he thought was in it and he said some kind of fruit, maybe grapes or apples but they couldn’t pin point it. He cracked up when I told him it was green tomato based. If I had told them when I dropped it off, good chance they never would have tried it. So at this point between green tomatoes and ripe ones, I’m calling the fall tomato crop a success even if it gets nailed in the next cold stretch projected for the end of the week.

Ali passed on a cabbage recipe, actually a cooking method, that we tried last night. I was going to grill a few chicken thighs which takes about 45 minutes on the Holland grill, just right for grilling a head of cabbage. I picked a small head which Nancy then cored and filled with salt, pepper, and butter. She wrapped it in foil and popped it in the grill-all within 10 minutes of leaving the garden. Delicious, which is especially good news considering the large number of small cabbages growing in the garden. Ditto broccoli. We’re having great success with a new variety that is a cross between broccoli and kale – although it looks more like broccoli than kale. It develops more florets than large heads which I guess is the Kale contribution to the gene pool Thank goodness Nancy was able to replicate (and maybe improve on) the broccoli salad recipe from Dick’s market in Utah. We never get tired of it and I like it so much better raw.

The folks who bought the property across the lake have been pouring money into it for a year – adding fencing, clearing for pasture, and digging out ponds for watering. All in preparation to raise cattle. I guess there’s a deadline for tax purposes so on Dec 31 a handful of cows showed up. I really love seeing them; something peaceful and relaxing about it. Not that I need any more peace and relaxation.

Wow! Traffic jams and dirty politics in Jersey. The next thing you know there’ll be a French president having an affair.

New Boots

Hard to believe but we’re still picking green bell peppers, very unusual for January. I tried a variety from a seed grower in Maine, Snapper, so maybe they’re more cold hardy than the average pepper. I’ve given them special attention in terms of covering them and it seems to be paying off. Interestingly this is a variety I tried with no success when I first started the garden 5 years back so probably the soil improvements have made the difference.

I knew we were going to have a load of green tomatoes after I cut back the plants before the expected deep freeze so I googled “green tomato recipes”. Lot’s of variations on fried green tomatoes but the recipes that cut my eye were green tomato cake and green tomato bread. I’ll let you know how they turn out. If they’re good, it provides a nice way to use and store for later use by freezing.

I’m in and out of the house hundreds of times a day. It’s always been a bone of contention between me and my bride about whether or not I should remove my shoes every time. I can understand her concerns about bringing in dirt on my shoes, but it’s just too much overhead for me to take off my shoes every time. ( Hell, it wasn’t that long ago that people had dirt floors so how bad can it be?) She came up with the solution when she saw some garden shoes at a nursery the other day. She came home, looked them up online and showed me. I liked the looks and decided to pull the trigger on the purchase. They’re called Muck shoes and are a molded rubber slip on. I love them because they’re comfortable and easy, easy, easy to get on and off. There is a potential problem in that these are the heaviest shoes ever. Each shoe is about 5 pounds so after wearing them for an hour or so, I’m dragging butt. My calf muscles are going to be a thing to behold within a few weeks if they don’t freeze up entirely. Thinking about it, at the same time I put on these heavy shoes, I added thick, winter socks, switched from shorts and T-shirts to heavy line jeans, long sleeve flannel shirts layered with a heavy sweat shirt and sometimes a lined vest. I think I’m literally wearing 25 pounds more and doing as much outside work and activity. No wonder I’m tired – just moving around is a full work out.

Muck Boots
Muck Boots

I have a pet peeve with the airlines or maybe it’s with the airports. I wish they could get together and decided how to spell the past tense of cancel. I don’t care if they use one “L” or two but seems like they could be consistent. With all the bad weather every news cast has a article about flight cancellations and show the schedule board at the impacted airport. Some use the one “L” version and as many the two. Personally I prefer the two “L” spelling. While on the subject of airports, did you ever notice that the voice you here over the sound system making generic announcements sounds the same. That’s because it is the same. There’s a small, small company in Maine that does the canned voice announcements for 200+ airports.