Rainbow Eucalyptus by Marcia Maynard
During our military careers, hubby and I moved on average every two years. That was the pattern we had when we were each single and it didn’t change much after we met and married. My first overseas assignment was to Germany and like most Americans, I came back with crystal and decorated beer steins, beautiful carved candles, and that sort of thing. I also bought my first two oil paintings. A few years later, I made the decision that instead of the “standard souvenirs”, I would buy a piece of local art by a local artist in the places that I lived and traveled. After my husband and I were married, he agreed that was a good approach. The end result is an interesting collection of a variety of mediums, although as we spent more time in tropical climates, we tilted toward ocean themes and colors.
My sister once told me that she always enjoyed visiting me in different places because she liked to see how I would arrange things depending on what sort of house or apartment we had at the time. Now that we have settled in a place and with all that we have collected over the years, a lack of wall space has significantly reduced the amount of art that we can buy. In one sense that’s a shame since there are so many wonderful artists in South Florida. In fact, the painting in this post was done not long ago by a friend and as soon as I saw it, I knew it would go well with three other pieces that we had. However, we were also going into the remodel project and I wasn’t sure how we would arrange everything once that was done. We did have the perfect spot for it though and so last week, the Rainbow Eucalyptus came from being framed and hung on the wall. The three other paintings in that particular grouping are also by women artists, one of which was a going away present from a friend.
I was in a brief, but interesting discussion yesterday about happy endings and “formula” books in fiction. Without drifting too far into literature theory, let us, for the sake of this post use something like the big romance chain as formula – the story varies little more than in what setting, age, and socioeconomic level are used. It’s like any franchise restaurant – you know what the menu and décor will be and that’s what you expect. A series by an author is somewhat of a formula because you expect the main character and the recurring characters to be consistent and the “pace” of the book is often the same. Surprises come in with new characters that may be introduced precisely to stretch the boundaries perhaps, show a different side to the main characters, and plot twists are the other means to keep the reader’s interest. Because the author totally controls what happens in fiction, the author also makes the choices about having a happy ending or not. Again, there are “mega-happy endings” to use the quote from the movie “Wayne’s World”, as well as happy, and bittersweet endings. Any of these can work depending on what the author wants as a conclusion. Deciding on a tragic end is fine, too if that serves the purpose of the author, for whatever reason that may be.
The tendency, however, is for some people to say that happy endings aren’t “realistic”. Of course they are, to include mega-happy ones. Are there tragedies everyday in life? Certainly, just as there are wonderful triumphs over adversity. If I want to read tragedy, there are plenty of well-written non-fiction books that can deliver that. When I am looking to relax and be entertained, I don’t want to wade through loss, and sorrow, and cruelty where the “bad guy” wins. There are times when I am in the mood to deal with that in fiction because I enjoy the particular writing style, setting, or whatever, but I want to be aware that is what I’m getting. I don’t want the main character killed off at the last minute unless there are redemptive qualities attached to his or her death. (Think the character that dies while saving the life of another.) So, if the back cover says, “Tragic story of”, “profoundly emotional”, etc., then I know what I’m getting into.
If someone wants to narrow their definition of “good books” to minimize or exclude those with happy endings, that’s fine. I, however, don’t view it in those terms.
Joe’s Food Truck Hwy 1 South, right side, in parking lot of Bait and Tackle Shop, Florida City
I hadn’t intended for this to be a “food-heavy” week of posts. However, things go their own way occasionally and so it was today. I had an event this afternoon and errands to run prior to that, one of which was to go get fresh fish for dinner tonight. While I was hoping for filets, there was the chance it would be whole fish instead since hubby said he was in the mood to prepare them. Okay, there are two food trucks at the place where I was going to get the fish and hubby said he had been hearing good things about Joe’s Burgers. We’d talked about stopping by a couple of times, but there is only the single picnic table in the sun and unless you’re doing take-out or dining in your car, it’s a bit awkward. Today, however, I was planning to buy the fish right at lunchtime and I said that if Joe’s wasn’t too crowded, I would bring burgers home.
In a word – excellent! The burgers were thick, flavorful, and juicy, and the French Fries are fresh cut – not thin and crispy though. I have no doubt that their other sandwiches, wings, and hot dogs are good and they do, indeed, serve gator bites and a gator Po-boy. Joe, very personable, was originally from Ohio, but has been in South Florida since 1986. He was laid off along with most of the other employees he worked with and in October 2012 he decided to try his hand with the food truck – Joe’s Famous Hot Dogs, Burgers, and More. He gets a chance to talk to people from all over the country as well as foreign visitors as they pause on the way down to the Keys or local folks who know about him. His grandson was with him today helping out, learning the business that he seems to have great interest in.
Joe’s bright red food truck is in the parking lot of the Bait and Tackle store next to Race Track in Florida City right before you hit “the stretch” on the way to Key Largo. His phone number is 305 588-2282 and you can find him on Facebook.
Menu Board at Joe’s Famous Hot Dogs. Burgers, and More
BLT with Fried Green Tomato, the Meat Eatery and Tap Room at MM 88
Vegetarians, might want to skip this post. I had heard “Meat” the Meat Eatery and Taproom advertised on the radio and my husband had been told that it was a great place. I had my first chance to eat there when a friend suggested that as a spot for a working lunch. (http://meateatery.com) Let me say that it is small, and in the Keys, waterfront dining is always a plus, and if you aren’t on the water, you go for a special kind of ambience, whatever that may be. Meat, however, has taken a different approach. If you aren’t in a notable spot with a flair for décor, provide wonderful food, throw in some unique twists, have great beer, and a staff that is friendly and attentive. Voila!, you now have a place that people will rave about.
There is no shortage of good restaurants in the Upper Keys and Meat is certainly added to that list. Their menu is terrific and I was having a difficult time deciding what I wanted, but for some reason I had been craving a BLT. They had a classic, which my dining companion chose, and I did the BLT with fried green tomato. (They smoke their own bacon by the way.) In a word, the sandwich was delicious and they brought regular ketchup as well as their special mango ketchup to the table for the fries that were seasoned to perfection.
As you can probably tell, I will be returning and taking my husband, so we can work our way through the menu. Again, if you are looking for that waterfront experience or fine dining with tablecloths, this is not the place. If what you want is a terrific, filling meal in a fun spot – 88005 Overseas Highway, Plaza 88 Oceanside is where you want to go.
Flowers Blooming in the Aero Garden
My husband and I are not what one would call “gadget nuts”, and we rarely go after whatever the latest trend is. There are times, however, when we look at something that has either been highlighted on a show like, “I Want That”, or something we see advertised. While I try to stay away from mentioning brands in this blog, in this case it serves to illustrate a point. A few years ago after seeing one in action, we decided to buy an Aero Garden. If you aren’t familiar with it, that’s the table top system that you set up inside in order to grow a variety of vegetables, herbs, or flowers. It has a base with small circular recesses where specially designed pods fit in and a lamp on an arm above that. The amount of water required in the base of the unit is fairly small and there are nutrients that you add periodically. Whatever you are growing comes out of the seed pods and you simply cut the produce or herbs when ready – no dirt involved.
Since the summer here is too hot for lettuces, our plan was to grow them so we had a year round supply. It does work, however, with only one machine, there were two problems. The first was quantity in that the yield was only adequate to give us about four salads per week and if we’re home, we each have a salad at every meal except on Fridays because that’s always pizza night. The second point is that when you count in the cost of the pods and shipping, the cost of the salads was really pretty high. Now, they do have an option where you can buy pods and create your own with seeds in order to keep the cost down, but we didn’t want to mess with that.
So, as we were moving things around during the remodel, I was also faced with the fact that the loft upstairs where we had the Aero Garden hadn’t been conducive to other plants for a couple of different reasons. In another “Aha!” moment, converting to flowers being grown in the Aero Garden seemed to make sense. It was a good idea, although interestingly, the flowers grow so tall that they bump against the lamp which is obviously not good for the blossoms. The solution to that is cut them and put them into a bud vase which then becomes the center piece for the dining table.
Table That Husband Designed and Built
For those who don’t know, my hubby is a man of many talents and one of them is woodworking. As we constantly moved during our military careers and never knew what kind of a house/apartment we would be in for the next assignment, it was difficult for him to have many of the tools he required to do complicated projects. Now that we have settled for a period of time, he has been able to acquire more of those tools and later in the fall, the garage will undergo the upgrade to become an even better workshop for him.
Despite not having an ideal space, he has designed and created several custom pieces that include drawers and doors and when we decided to have a “pub” table, we talked about different options. Since we also had a large quantity of wine corks left after he’d done some wine cork projects, we blended the two ideas. The result is a table that he designed and built with the top being recessed, filled with corks and layers of an epoxy applied to give it a smooth surface and protect it. It was quite labor intensive and the epoxy process was drawn out because it required multiple “pours”, each of which had to set for several hours and the final pour had to cure for 2 or 3 days before you could set anything on top of it.
It is the perfect addition for the way that we live and it was definitely a interesting experience for him.
One of the many great things about my husband is that we cook together. He has certain specialties and I have mine and no, I never touch the grill. I don’t even know how to turn it on. That has less to do with gender-typing than it has to do with he’s great at it, so why should I bother? Prior to that, I confess that it just wasn’t something I cared that much about. I do, however, admire women who have mastered the technique. I am only sort of straying from the point. Hubby was a bachelor for quite some time and in the days when he would be invited to those bring-a-dish-gatherings, he didn’t want to be the “typical” bachelor who brought a bag of chips and store-bought dip. So, he has this terrific and really simple hearty chili-cheese dip that he would take. It’s always popular for our parties and several people wanted the recipe.
One can of any type chili, although we use Hormel Turkey Chili with beans; one small can of chopped chilies; one small box of 2% Velveeta Cheese; 1 teaspoon of spice mix like Emeril’s Essence.
Cut the Velveeta into cubes, add in chili, chilies, spice mix and put in slow cooker on high for approximately two hours. At about an hour, stir and stir again after 30 minutes. Once the cheese is melted and blended, stir and turn to low or warm if you have that setting. It will last for hours on this setting, although you do have to stir every half-hour and it will thicken the longer it cooks. Serve with corn chips.
The nice thing about this aside from the taste is that you can go vegetarian if you want to and you can add hot sauce or red pepper to increase the heat if you have that kind of crowd.
For those who have followed the remodel project, new appliances were part of it and we bought the new microwave at the very beginning since the kitchen was gutted. The microwave moved from master bedroom to the front room as we created a makeshift kitchen once the new flooring was installed. So, a couple of weeks ago when the only five month old microwave quit working in the middle of cooking something, shall we say that I was not happy? We could use other words and the fact that the repair guy wasn’t going to be able to get there for a few days was equally upsetting. Then of course the part that was required wasn’t on hand and had to be ordered. Of some concern though was he mentioned to my husband that with the new custom built cabinet, perhaps the microwave wasn’t getting adequate air circulation and that had caused the overheating. That idea really didn’t make me happy.
When the part came in, a different technician brought it out to do the repair and after he finished, I asked him about the cabinet. He said that he didn’t think it would be a problem and he then went on to explain that microwaves are being built with these sensors that “blow” and shut down the microwave to keep it from overheating to the point of catching on fire. Okay, I can see that as a safety feature. Then came the interesting part. He said that if a lot of humidity is trapped in the microwave that can also blow the fuse. Humidity as you get when baking potatoes. We do that frequently and since potatoes varying in the amount of humidity, it isn’t the same as cooking something in a bag or with a specified amount of water in a bowl. We have changed our process a bit with potatoes by cooking them the first four minutes, pulling them out of the microwave, wiping the moisture from the interior of the oven, then cooking the potatoes for the remaining time. We will definitely be more careful about moisture build-up and hope that does the trick.
Paella and Rioja as a Pairing
Hubby and I have actually made paella from scratch occasionally, although we don’t have the cool specialty pan for it. More often though we use the mix and oddly enough, the store didn’t have either the Goya or Vigo brands that we like. Not that I don’t have faith in McCormick – we just prefer the idea of a Puerto Rican or Spanish brand. We do have a friend who is a paella expert and would probably cringe at the thought of a box. He has multiple size pans and if I remember correctly, he once did a paella party for sixty people.
The idea of this dish though got me to thinking of the Cajun version which is jambalaya, the similarity of risotto where you can use it as a side or main dish, and I’m not certain of which other cuisines have the same type of dish. We usually prepare paella with chorizo, chicken, and shrimp, but we vary that depending on if we have leftover grilled pork for example, picked up an extra lobster tail, or I tell my husband to go ahead and add mussels or clams that I can pick out. Both the Goya and Vigo mixes come with a can of seafood that I refer to as “yucky”, since it has chunks of clam, calamari, and octopus as well as tiny shrimp. He will often set that can aside and save it for one of the times when I am gone, thereby having double the amount of what he likes and I don’t have to deal with it.
As you can see from the photo, we’ll have a Spanish Rioja with the dish, a wine that we find as a good pairing.
Winterberry Design From Pfaltzgraff
All right, I will confess that part of my push for maximizing the number of cabinets is that I love dishes. I do, always have. I enjoy having specialty dishes, every day dishes, china (although you wouldn’t know it from the really old set that I have), and glassware comes not too far behind that. Like most people though, what I don’t like is having to cram things together and stack items on top of each other which then reduces the likelihood you’ll use something because it’s a pain to get to it. So, after I got everything arranged in the kitchen the way I wanted it and got the new step stool in, I had exactly what I hoped for – an empty shelf (well, two shelves) where a set of holiday dishes would fit. I also found another set of stoneware that I liked, but I’m not going to talk about that yet.
Of course, looking to buy winter-themed holiday dishes in South Florida in the summertime doesn’t lead to many choices that are reasonably priced. Hooray for on-line shopping and especially those sales where free shipping is included. I opted for a classic design, staying away from a snowy motif and Santa Claus heads. Although I do think they are cute, an entire table filled with that is a bit much for me.