Redefining “Essential”

The project du jour is freezing carrots.   Carrots are not normally a strong crop for me but this year, for whatever reason, all the seeds I planted and the plants I thinned and replanted survived.   So we ended up with hundreds of carrots.   We use the most by shredding and making carrot salad but almost any other way you can deal with them is on our radar.   One of our favorites is to add shredded carrots to pasta sauce.  Sounds weird but very tasty.   And this is the kind of project that works well in isolation – nothing better to do.

The project after the carrots is making our own hand sanitizer liquid.   There was an article in the paper describing a method using aloe verde gel, isopropyl alcohol, and a few drops of essential oil or lemon juice.  We have aloe plants growing all over the place with a couple really large ones in the garden.   The ratio of aloe gel to alcohol is 1:4 with about 6 drops of lemon juice just in case you want to try it.   

I’m gaining some level of confidence with the iPad and can now play sudoku or watch TV shows and movies that Tom has loaded.   Before long I’ll be downloading new stuff myself.  Right now I’m gaining confidence in my ability to use Google Maps to navigate.   What I didn’t ever understand was that the “contact” application on my Mac was used in other applications such as google maps so I was quite sloppy in filling in the contact info.  Because of that, I was unable to find addresses that were in the contact app – just incorrectly installed.    I spent an hour or so yesterday going thru the Contacts to clean them up and get rid of contacts that no longer had any relevance.   I’m going to try it out today letting the machine navigate us to Publix in Daytona.  Of course we have a closer Publix but we’re in no rush and this lets me get some time messing with the maps app.   And more time out and about.   So this trip could be considered a
“double” essential – one to get food and one to get some experience with the iPad.   And Nancy’s friend Esther bought her some quilting material the other day so we have to go by her house and pick it up.   This will really give the navigator an essential test.

Blueberries are “essential”

I didn’t check the list of “essentials”(as in essential to get out of the house and drive somewhere) but I’m pretty sure blueberries would be on the list.  I figured if some over zealous cop pulled me over to find out why we were driving, anybody would classify a blueberry run as essential.  I ran out in Feb so we’ve been without ever since.   The blueberry farmer called today and said my order for 20 pounds was ready to go.  The farm is in Crescent City, about 20 miles north of us and we were ready for a “road trip”.   A friend of Nancy’s has a personal lending library in the town of Welaka – near Crescent City – and I had a large collection of books that I had no real need for so we took them up to her.  Also one of Nancy’s bridge buddies who we usually provide with greens lives within a few miles so I picked a load of kale, chard, and collards for her.   All in all it was a few hour trip just when we were going totally stir crazy.   

We’re not supposed to drive unless it’s for something “essential”.  It’s not obvious what’s essential – as an example the beaches are all closed except for “essentials”.   Walking on the beach, swimming in the surf, or surf fishing are classified as essential.   You just can’t put down a blanket or towel and lay on the beach.  Luckily for Nancy, Hobby Lobby and Michaels got under the wire because they sell material to make face masks.  

We actually ended up with 23 pounds of blueberries – he had over picked and I decided to just get the overage.   Last year we bought 20 pounds and I ran out a month or so early so an extra 3 pounds should cover the shortage next year.  The issue to be solved was how to get them into the already stuffed freezer.   We package them in one pint zip lock bags and we deplete them at a rate of about 2 pints per month – 90% in my morning cereal and a few in the smoothies.  Between freezing tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and greens the freezers are fairly full.  We have 2 six cubic foot freezers plus the one in the fridge and at this point I’m not sure we could get another blueberry in but we did.   Here’s an interesting piece of trivia – the blueberries took up 2 cubic feet in one of the freezers.

Unlimited Car Washing

Seems like there’s a Press conference going on non-stop – the Pres, the Gov, the Mayor, the Chief of Police and misc doctors. The thing that jumps out at me are the signers who are passing on the speeches to the hearing impaired. I really find it almost impossible to believe that anyone can understand that or if they’re really signing what’s actually being said. I’d like to see a reverse test – have the signer give the speech and then have someone who understands it, vocalize. Or to have two signers, out of sight of each other, working simultaneously to see if they’re both doing the same thing. I’m most attracted to the facial expressions and body language. The person giving the speech or answering the question is doing it straight with no facial emotion whereas the signer is using really wild facial expressions and body movements.

One crop I haven’t mentioned in a while is the pineapple crop. I have about a dozen plants scattered about – all started by planting the top of a store bought pineapple. This is the first time I’ve been able to observe a pattern in the life cycle. There are 5 baby pineapples that have popped out of the mother plant in the past several weeks. So I now know that spring is the beginning of the cycle. My guess right now is these will be pickable in May. I don’t see any pattern in the size of the mother plant or the location in the garden but this is the first year that I’ve had multiple new starts at any particular time or season.

March has turned into summer with daily temps in the 90’s now. That’s playing hell with the green veggies so we’ve uptick’d the freezing project. This is the first time we’ve ever tried to extend the greens by freezing and I sure hope it works out as we’re visualizing. Yesterday was chard day; today is kale day. With this social isolation thing going on, I have plenty of time to weed and otherwise keep track of the garden. I’m more on top of it than ever before. For example I spotted the first New Zealand spinach sprout. This is a heat tolerant variety that is classified as an invasive species. I can for sure see why. I planted it once – seeds- several years ago and it quickly took over the garden. Since then I yank it whenever it pops up except for a couple plants that provide my green smoothie makings all summer long. It propagates itself by spreading branches that put out roots wherever it touches the soil and also by seeding.

Sure is nice driving around nowadays. Virtually no traffic and very cheap gas. I filled up yesterday at $1.80; 1 hour trips are taking 45 minutes. If only the pubs were open.  Here’s how boring it is – I noted that a chain of car wash places is offering an unlimited car wash deal for $20/month.  They have locations in Palm Coast, Daytona, Ormond and Port Orange – places we visit.   I’m considering signing on just so we have a place to go.  Now that’s desperation.

New Projects

Observing isolation, more or less. Tom came by the other day and brought us his old I-phone that he had loaded with entertainment – movies and TV shows that we don’t have access to. He connected it to our TV and we now have literally hundreds of hours of new things to watch. I have some vision issues and fat fingers so operating the device can be a challenge but I’m getting better at it. Yesterday I was sitting at the computer when I heard an explosion not too far away that was followed, a few seconds later, with a power glitch. Not too unusual for here but a few seconds later there was a crash over by the TV. I had no idea what that could have been but spotted the phone on the floor, vibrating and buzzing. Apparently the power drop caused the iPhone to go into some vibrating mode that walked the device off the counter. I pushed lots of buttons but couldn’t get it off so I had to call Tom. He walked me thru a reset and it’s been working just fine ever since. One series he loaded on was one Nancy had been wanting to see – Mrs. Maisel – and she loved it. He also loaded several crime/detctive kinds of things for me.

We’re still getting loads of tomatoes from the garden but have enough sauce to last at least a year. Nancy decided to make (home made) stewed tomatoes with the latest batch. It occurred to us that neither one of us had ever had anything but canned stewed tomatoes. Wow, what a difference. So now we’re going into production making and freezing stewed tomatoes.

We’ve been having “summer” for the past couple of weeks and it’s really putting a hurt on the winter greens. Also because Nancy’s activities – bridge and crocheting – have been curtailed, all the greens I would have picked for her friends are wasting away in the heat. But today there was an article in the newspaper about freezing vegetables with lots of information regarding greens. Greens are the main ingredient in my smoothies so normally I quit making them when the garden crashes. This article says maybe I have summer smoothies in my future. So as long as we’re observing this social isolation thing, freezing chard, kale, and collards seems like a great use our time. According to the article, you blanch the greens for 2-3 minutes, move them to an ice bath, dry them off and put into a zip lock or similar container. Sounds simple enough. That’s our project for today and several future days. The limiting factor is the ice bath. We have a limited supply of ice so that will stretch out the project. Between the veggie freeze and the stewed tomatoes, we have a good project load.

A cauliflower challenge

A while back I mentioned picking up some new kale variety seeds. One was called Portuguese Kale and featured very large, soft leaves. It looked great in the catalog but it’s never certain the plants will actually look the same from your own garden. In this case they really do. We’ve got a hot spell ahead of us and that’s not ideal for kale but I’ve seen enough already to know these plants will become spectacular if planted at the right time. And as advertised, they are more like chard than Kale.

There was an interesting (to me) article in the WSJ about the new popularity of cauliflower. It’s the new “kale” and fits into a number of the newer popular diets as a protein. The statistics in terms of growth are incredible but I found one line in the article particularly interesting. I guess it’s easy and fast to grow and quite a bit of it is now growing in California. The article mentioned lots of uses for cauliflower rice and cauliflower based pizza dough is selling like crazy. Apparently people are using the greens in salads. When you grow a head of cauliflower there’s a large bundle of green leaves that come with it. For me it makes the compost pile but apparently it’s showing up in mixed salad greens. That also tells me it would be useable in smoothies although there was no mention of that. I think this year I grew 10 plants but next year I’ll double that. There’s 3 left in the garden now and I just found a cauliflower – rigatoni recipe that sounds great so we’re ending the season with a bang.

Ok, this is the very last tomato sauce production day. I keep thinking the tomatoes are finishing up and the neighbors are picking but when I checked this morning there was a load of vine ripened beauties ready for the sauce pan. And at least half of them are plum tomatoes, grown specifically for sauce. If we were suddenly cutoff from the civilian world, we would have enough pasta sauce and pasta/pasta making goodies to last us at least a couple of months. I don’t have a count, but would bet there are close to 50 Talenti pints and a handful of large ziplock bags ready to eat.

UPDATE

I made the cauliflower recipe mentioned above. It definitely was a test of my ability with lots going on – 3 pans on the stove top plus the pasta water, plus a 475 degree oven – all at the same time. Lot’s of timing issues. It split the cauliflower into two piles – 3/4 to be roasted and 1/4 to be added raw much later in the process. Even had to make croutons from raw bread – a first for me. I knew this was going to be a stress test so requested that Nancy stay clear of the kitchen until dinner was served. She did and I managed to pull it off. The good news is that it was delicious and there was plenty for a “left over” meal.

The yarn eater

This corona virus thing got me to thinking : It’s reported to be potentially deadly for the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions. Are there any diseases that don’t fit into that notch? You could say the same thing about flu, measles, mumps – anything I can think of. Then both Joey and Tommy called off coming up to the lake this weekend because they’ve been out and about all week and potentially exposed to the virus. Especially Joey who’s been flying to Westchester all week. Then it hit me – they are concerned about giving something to us which could be deadly. In other words we’re elderly! I had honestly never given that a thought. Being “elderly” is different than getting “old”. We have friends and acquaintances who are well into their ninety’s and certainly elderly but us? I don’t think so. Elderly means you use a walker or something but if you fish (especially surf fish)and grow veggies or play golf or pickle ball , frequent breweries – you’re perpetually middle aged.

What I’m more concerned about is the forecast for an upcoming hot spell with daily temps in the mid 80’s and dry. The greens in the garden are not happy with that. They love it in the 60’s and 70’s and can handle an occasional shot of the 80’s or 30’s but not for more than a few days. We’ve got a few more broccoli’s, a few more cabbages, and a few more cauliflowers which I can pick if it becomes problematic but the leafy stuff – the chard, kale, lettuce and spinach will be hurting. The parsley collapsed totally after 3 hot days – wimp. I’ll try watering them all a couple times a day since the well water is a constant 72.

If you knit, crochet or do other needle craft – you might want to think twice about getting one of those robot sweepers – aka the ruumba. It’s amazing how they can eat yards and yards of yarn or thread and last time, ate up a 6” square for a quilt in progress. It took me half an hour to clean it out today after it got underneath the bed where Nancy stores her yarn.

The new favorite Brew

Nancy spotted a Rachel Ray recipe for creamy chicken broccoli soup. She mentioned that you could use either broccoli or cauliflower so, with a surplus of both, we jumped all over it – our version used both. Really good and quite different from the roasted cauliflower soup we made last week.

Still harvesting and dealing with tomatoes. I picked about 10-15 lbs today and will be able to do the same Thursday, the day before a forecast freeze. We had a day free of appointments of any kind so decided to whip up another batch of sauce and a large pot roast – to use up carrots. This batch of sauce was the largest so far this season – constructed in a 12 quart pot. We added shredded carrots into the sauce this time – big carrot crop. This batch will end up using 20+ Talenti cups – more than we have at this point so the sauce will be frozen in zip lock bags.
The pot roast is also juiced up with shredded kale.

The other thing we’re running out of is freezer space with a day of reckoning upcoming. We officially run out of blueberries next moth which means another bulk purchase -25 pints or so – before April. So between blueberries and tomato sauce the freezers are overflowing.

We visited Joey’s new restoration project. It’s a 100 year old dwelling on a nice piece of property in Cocoa Village. As all such projects it will cost more and take longer than original estimates but in the end, it will be a prime property. It’s within walking distance to the marina where they’ll keep the boat when it’s finished. After the project tour, they took us to a brewery in Titusville, Playalinda Brewery. I wasn’t expecting much but was pleasantly surprised to find a great selection of home brews and a fine food selection to go along with it. I was hooked on the description of two selections, one a wheat – Orange brew; the other a Meyer Lemon, lavender brew. I first tried the orange brew – and it is now my favorite among all brewery beers. No way I could leave without trying the lemon brew. It too was great but the orange is the winner for me. Nancy had a “blonde” as usual and declared this her new favorite blonde. We each had burgers and they were really good but several people around us ordered nacho’s and that will unquestionably be our choice on the next visit.

Converting Veggies into Brew

I mentioned picking radishes in the last post. That needs just a bit of expansion lest you think I’m growing plain old radishes. These guys are purple skinned – perfectly shaped and not even slightly pithy. Very mild.

Picked another batch of tomatoes which we’ll be converted to sauce within the next few hours. That will make the fourth batch so far and there are still plenty of green tomatoes on the vines. Each batch gets us about 6 quarts – a dozen one pint Talenti cups. One Talenti cup of sauce covers one medium pizza; 3 cups works for a pound of pasta. The tomatoes will play out by the end of this month and I’ve already got the seedlings for the spring/summer crop on the porch. That’s the May – June crop and the official end of the tomato season in the garden. It’s just too hot and humid for tomatoes in Florida July through October. We’ve been on this schedule for several years now and have never run out of sauce. The biggest problem is running out of freezer space.

Any way I measure it, this garden has been the most productive ever. I think I’ve spent more time tending it than before – keeping it weed free, trimmed, harvested and mended with a steady supply of new compost – but it’s really showing. That plus the weather has been nearly perfect – cool but not near freezing; moisture but no frost.

The other thing that’s outstanding this year is the azalea bloom. I trimmed it back a little stronger than usual this summer and the bloom has really been fabulous. I think if we ever decide to sell this place – not that we will – we would do it in February. The walk down to the lake is incredible this year with several different, super bright colors on display.

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My Friday walk in Palm Coast has turned interesting. I usually walk about a mile and a half from Waterfront Park to the European Village adjacent to the Hammock Bridge, have a brew at Moonrise brewery, then walk back to the car. A few weeks back my routine was interrupted when Moonrise was closed for a personal event. As luck would have it, there’s an Irish Pub just a few doors down and I decided to try that as an alternative. Wasn’t sure I could walk all the way back to the car without a refuel. It was mostly empty but the few people there and the bartender were friendly so I mentally set it up as a good alternative. All the patrons were old retirees, mostly down from NY for the winter, so easy to engage. One topic of discussion was the garden. Nothing special but the next week I was greeted with concern from the bartender, Denise, regarding the cold weather we’d had the night before and that she had worried about the garden freezing. It surprised me that anybody would even remember let alone worry. I asked her if she liked greens and learned that her daughter was a Vegan and they’d love fresh greens. The next week I brought a giant bag of mixed greens only to find the Pub, Farley’s, closed. There was a patron outside that told me that Denise had fallen behind the bar and had been 911’d to the hospital. Luckily my old haunt, Moonrise, was open and the gal behind the bar there just loved greens. Anyway, this week I called Farley’s and made sure that Denise was there and still wanted greens. Turns out she had had a pulmonary embolism (whatever that is) which had caused the fall and hospitalization but was back at work and wanted the greens. I brought a gigantic bag of kale and chard which blew her away. She wouldn’t let me pay for my beer so I’ve got a new gig – trading kale for Tangerine wheat.

Political – read no further.
The Dem’s are getting scary at this point. Seems like the end choice for them will be either a Socialist/Communist or a Billionaire New Yorker. Once they took the impeachment path, that killed off Biden. I just wonder whether that was intentional or a lack of judgement. How is it possible that they could end up with candidates who are not really Dem’s- Bloomberg being a Republican or independent at best; Sanders being a card carrying, no apologies Socialist. If you could be a fly on the wall, the best place to be would be the Carville’s – “it’s the economy, stupid!” listening to Mary and James have at each other. Might also be fun to listen in on the Clinton’s or the Obama’s – all straight down the middle, old fashion Dem’s. We’re seeing a classic circular firing squad. I think in the end, this election will be a choice between adults and kids, independent of party affiliation.

Stoneless

Beautiful picking day – a small head of cabbage, a small cauliflower, a handful of Chinese peas half a dozen tomatoes and same in carrots. Plus a head of butter crunch lettuce and a green bell pepper. Where I cut the cauliflower, I planted kale – the Amazing Blue variety. Also picked a few chard and kale leaves for a noon time smoothie.

Survived the week. I think I mentioned that I was having a kidney stone problem which was completely blocking one of my kidneys – (I guess that’s why we were designed with two). They performed a procedure on Thursday at a surgical center that blasted them to pieces (literally) with a laser. We arrived at the surgical center – Tom, Nancy and I – at 6:30 AM and were on the way home before noon. The next few days were uncomfortable as the chips and shards worked/cut their way through the system. kind of bloody, kind of painful but not killer pain – manageable with Tylenol. It nominally cleared up by Sunday PM. The procedure required a stent to be installed and that had to be removed on Monday as the final step. No problems. Unless you count Nancy missing a bridge game as a problem. The doctor just wouldn’t adjust the schedule to work around it.

Through all this I was unable to spend any time working the garden so was anticipating problems. Nope – it looks just great. Picked the first radishes and Romaine lettuce. A head of broccoli is starting to form as well as a few more cauliflowers and cabbages.

Stones

Believe it or not, today I planted tomato and pepper seeds in starter medium.   This is a little earlier than I usually get started but I want to have time to get new seeds if these purchased for 2018 germinate ok.   Assuming they do germinate, I’ll get them into individual containers early and hopefully be able to transplant to the garden a month earlier.  The advantage to that is the plants will get a longer bug free growth period.

I learned yesterday that I have a couple of large kidney stones blocking flow to one kidney.  I’ve suspected a problem for a couple of months so the only surprise is to find how complete the blockage is.   But no pain at all.  The corrective action is a procedure that either goes in and removes the stones as they are or breaks them into smaller chunks using a laser (or hammer and chisel).   The doc expects the laser.   The procedure is scheduled for next week.  I’ll be fully knocked out so Tom or Joey will be pressed into duty getting me home.   There’s a stent involved that will have to come out so I’m guessing I’ll be visiting the urologist a few times in the next couple of weeks.  This whole process will probably screw up Nancy’s bridge games and the special tournament she was anticipating.   Hope not.   

Funny one at the library today.   I was banging away on my laptop when a stranger came over and asked me if I was John Bolton.   I assured him that I wasn’t but he said the mustache was a dead giveaway.  We both had a good laugh.   As he walked away, he kept looking back at me, shaking his head.  

Tom bought us a set of 3 Blue Apron meals this week.  As I understand it, the selections were a default as opposed to selections he made.   I think it’s a timing thing – you have a certain amount of time to either reject, modify, or accept the selections presented and it slipped by Tom when he was in Chicago.   We opened the box and there were three meals, none of which we would ever have selected but anything we got from them in the past was great so there was no real alternative but to try them.   Wow!   As usual excellent.   One was an Indian Chicken dish, another a meatloaf and the final, some kind of pork steak.   We’ve done all three and enjoyed every last bite.   For me, the designated cook, the recipes are tricky and a bit exotic – lots of steps – but I’ve learned to take it step by step and do all the prep work first.  Their recipes tend to favor hot, hot ovens and things happen fast.   I have to pat myself on the back for pulling it off with only a few Oops moments.